Wounded Troops Increasingly Demand Assistive Technology
By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 2, 2008 Wounded servicemembers in need of accommodations for their visual, hearing, dexterity and cognitive disabilities are the fastest-growing group requesting assistive technologies, a senior Defense Department official said in a May 29 interview.
“Recently, we have been overwhelmed with requests from our wounded servicemembers as they are coming back and also learning that they need to have a different type of technology or can benefit from assistive technology,” Dinah Cohen, director of the department’s Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, or CAP, said on the “Dot Mil Docs” program on BlogTalkRadio.com.
When the war on terror began, it became clear that demand for assistive technology would grow from people with established needs to others who previously had no need for the help the technologies provide, Cohen said.
“Post-9/11, it was very obvious to me as men and women were coming back from the global war on terror that many of them were coming back with devastating injuries that would benefit from the same accommodations that are used to meet the needs for people with disabilities,” Cohen said.
“I introduce them to assistive technology. Most of the men and women did not have a clue about it, since they did not need it, being very able bodied at one time. This allowed them to now learn about new technical solutions to be able to do some of the things they did before,” she said.
When the new need became apparent, the CAP program introduced assistive technologies at military medical treatment facilities, starting with Walter Reed Army Medical Center here. CAP representatives worked with occupational therapists to explain to the wounded servicemembers how these technologies work to benefit their lives.
The servicemembers who received the assistive technologies suffered devastating injuries such as amputation, loss of vision or hearing, and cognitive disabilities. The CAP representatives showed them ways to use assistive technologies so they could continue to be a part of a computer environment.
“Many of the men and women wanted to e-mail their friends … and stay in touch with their troops, so I was able to introduce them to the technologies that would allow them to do that,” Cohen said.
This year alone, CAP has received more than 3,500 requests from wounded servicemembers, which has been the fastest-growing population needing assistive technology, she said. Since Oct. 1, CAP has filled more than 7,000 accommodations from both wounded servicemembers and federal employees, and from its inception in 1990, CAP has filled 66,000 accommodations.
People eligible for CAP assistance are given an assessment to make sure the accommodation meets their requirements, Cohen said. CAP has a variety of software and hardware provisions available, depending on the disability.
“We always look and talk to the individual and find out what works best for them, and then try to match it up to the right solution,” said Cohen.
For example, for people with dexterity disabilities, it might be as simple as providing a different pointing device, or it could be on the high end, such as voice recognition, which allows the user to talk into a microphone and have the words appear on the computer screen.
For some wounded servicemembers, this allows them to keep up with today’s technology. “They can use their voice to still be part of today’s fast-moving information environment, still surfing the Web, still being able to do all their typing, still being able to do all of their e-mails,” Cohen said.
She added the people who are eligible for CAP include DoD employees with disabilities, employees with disabilities who work at other federal agencies that have a partnership with CAP, and wounded servicemembers.
“We also provide the accommodations so people can perform their job tasks on a day-to-day level as people develop disabling conditions or if they were born with disabilities,” Cohen said. “It really helps that individual to stay very productive in today’s work environment.”
Cohen said CAP always is trying to educate managers and leaders on their role in improving the employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
“If we have an environment that is truly open and accessible to people with disabilities, then we have an environment that is going to be good for us if and when we become disabled,” Cohen said.
“Any one of us can become disabled at any time, and if we have an environment -- and managers and leaders that truly understand and support the employment of people with disabilities and support the re-employment of our wounded servicemembers -- then we have a truly inclusive environment for all Americans,” she said.
CAP is managed by the Tricare Management Activity, under the Military Health Service.
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg works in the New Media Directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)