Program Gives Technology Access to Disabled GIs, Employees
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 10, 2006 A Defense Department program that 64 other federal agencies have adopted sees to it that wounded servicemembers from Iraq and Afghanistan and other people with disabilities have equal access to the information environment and opportunities throughout the federal government, a senior DoD official said here May 8.
The Defense Department and other government agencies have the challenges of bringing people with disabilities back to work, Dinah F.B. Cohen told the audience May 8 during DoD''s Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month observance in Honolulu. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Dinah F.B. Cohen, director of the Computer and Electronic Accommodation Program, spoke at the DoD Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month observance.
Cohen said the program, established in 1990, is centrally funded and pays for assistive technology for disabled employees. Over the years, CAP has been expanded to serve the entire federal government's accommodation program.
"If you have colleagues, friends or people with disabilities in other federal agencies, chances are they're getting their accommodations from CAP," Cohen told the audience.
Cohen said the war-wounded patients at military medical centers can benefit from assistive technology.
"CAP says when you're an able-bodied Marine, the last thing you probably know about is assistive technology - why would you?" Cohen said. "So we said, 'Let's take this expertise to the hospitals and let them know there's technology that will allow them to continue to work.'
"I met an Asian Pacific Islander who lost both of his hands and his sight to the explosion of an improvised explosive device and almost lost his arms," she continued. "He was on television holding his twins who were born while he was deployed, and he will never see. He was introduced to a lot of technology through occupational therapy, including the technology for people who are blind. He's now thinking about being a lawyer."
Whether he reaches that specific goal doesn't matter, she said. "I don't care if he becomes a lawyer; I just care that he has a vision for the future," Cohen said. "That's what we need to be focused on -- that vision for the future for our employees with disabilities and our wounded servicemembers."
Cohen said CAP is going to the hospitals showing wounded servicemembers assistive technology, telling them about new opportunities for employment and introducing them to new ways to new careers.
She encouraged the audience to visit the CAP Web site for a lot of information about the Workforce Recruitment Program, a CAP spotlight.
In fiscal 2005, Cohen said, CAP filled more than 3,000 requests for accommodations within the DoD family and more than 2,000 in other federal agencies.
"The demographics are always interesting, because we think of people in their minority populations, but when we think of people with disabilities, we think of about their disability," she noted. "I'd like to put that layer of disabilities on top of those demographics, because how many Asian-Pacific Americans have disabilities and how well are we doing?
"I challenge you to look at the numbers - they're not very exciting," Cohen said. "We need to constantly remember that people with disabilities are not blind and deaf and bound to wheelchairs. They are white, African-American, Asian-Pacific American and Hispanic. They're males and females. They cross all groups. Our challenge is to always think that way."
She pointed out that CAP provides assistive technology to any employee who needs it. "If you have an employee with a disability who needs assistive technology, I've got it," Cohen noted. "I've paid for it. I give it to the user. It's just that simple. It's not reimbursable. It's not out of your pocket. It's out of mine."
At the Pentagon CAP center , Cohen said, visitors can look at the equipment that allows a person with no hands to talk to the computer or a person with no vision to listen to a computer, and other technology for disabled people.
"We also do installation and training," she pointed out. "It's not enough to just buy stuff and leave it on their desk. We've got to make sure it's installed and people know how to use it. We want to make sure they're using it and using it well."
CAP ensures that everything possible is done to support recruitment, placement, retention and promotion of people with disabilities, Cohen said.
David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, picks up the salaries for more than 200 summer students with disabilities every year, she noted. The college students work in a wide range of occupations -- everything from computer sciences and engineering to administration.
"More than 30 percent of the students involved in the Workforce Recruitment Program are minorities," Cohen noted. "It's a great way to deal with disability and diversity. I make sure that my WRP students represent the American population."
CAP also helps agencies with workers' compensation processes, telework solutions and equal employment opportunity complaints. Cohen said people injured on the job make up a "population that takes a lot of money for them to sit home and watch television."
"I think there's better ways of doing things," she said. "We need to shift gears and think of people who are out on workers' compensation as people with disabilities. We accommodate people with disabilities. So let's start accommodating people who got injured," she said. "Let's see if we can bring them back to work."
Cohen said CAP is ready to meet the challenges that lie ahead. "We have challenges to bring people back with disabilities," she emphasized. "We have the challenge of hiring people with disabilities and bringing them to our work force. We have the challenge of keeping the people who become disabled. We have the challenge of bringing back our wounded servicemembers and making sure we can accommodate our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen."