DoD Program Provides Technology for Disabled Workers
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2004 A Defense Department program that provides the technology and services disabled workers need to use computers and other basic office equipment evens the employment playing field for the disabled while making it easier for managers to hire them, according to the DoD official who has run the program for the past 14 years.
Dinah Cohen said the DoD Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, or CAP, "is truly moving the employment of people with disabilities to the next level" and helping DoD reach its goal of increasing employment of people with targeted disabilities to 2 percent of its civilian work force.
"The biggest impact has been that we have truly changed both the culture and the perception of people's ability to work in today's information environment," Cohen said during an interview today with the Pentagon Channel and the American Forces Press Service. "People now look at people with disabilities as a truly untapped resource that they should take advantage of."
Since its launch in 1990, the CAP program has filled over 40,000 requests for accommodations for people with hearing, vision, dexterity and cognitive disabilities, she said. This equipment, referred to as "assistive technology," ranges from Braille terminals to computers that enable people to make telephone calls to special keyboards for people who can't use traditional ones.
The program's Technology Evaluation Center at the Pentagon showcases much of this technology so disabled workers as well as their managers are able to see it, either in person or by videoconference. The center staff also conducts needs assessments to help disabled workers determine which assistive technology and services might work best for them.
"It totally demystifies how people with disabilities can be a part of today's work force," Cohen said. This, she said, makes it easier for managers "to tap into this wonderful pool of people and say, 'I'm going to hire you.'"
"We level the playing field for the employment of people with disabilities by providing assistive technology free of charge to that manager for that employee," she said.
Two of the program's newest areas of focus are wounded servicemembers returning from deployments and employments who develop disabilities, whether through the aging process, accidents or other causes. Both are geared to helping them adapt to their disabilities and remain employable.
"You don't throw away talented people. You accommodate them," Cohen said. "And that's where I think we have a very strong focus: making sure people stay competitive and are accommodated throughout their employment lifecycle."
The Defense Department has long been a leader in recognizing the strengths disabled people bring to the mix, she said. "DoD understands the value of its people and its resources," she said. "They know that we have to have the smartest and the best, ready every day, all the time."
This, she said, includes making the fullest use of all its employees, including those with disabilities, whom Cohen said tend to be "really good problem solvers."
"We have to be. This world wasn't designed for people with disabilities," Cohen said. "So as a disabled person myself, I am always thinking, what happens if ? I have to have a Plan A, a Plan B, think through different scenarios that can become potential problems that may be very personal to me."
Since 2001, CAP has served not just DoD, but also other federal agencies. DoD is in partnership with 61 federal agencies, Cohen said.
"We pay for their accommodations because we feel a commitment to ensure that people have the assistive technology they need to be part of today's work force," she said.
For more information about the program, visit its Web site or call (703) 681- 8813. The TTY number for the hearing impaired is (703) 681-0881.