Assistive Technology Program Helps Disabled People Advance
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 12, 2014 In a small office on the second floor of the Pentagon’s “D” ring, the world’s largest provider of assistive technologies helps thousands of wounded service members and disabled federal employees stay and advance in the workplace.
Bernard Werwie, a Defense Logistics Agency contract specialist, uses Zoom Text, a screen enlarger, to test the compatibility of software for users with disabilities. The Defense Department’s Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program provides workplace accommodations for people with disabilities. DOD photo by Amanda Neumann
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, or CAP, was established in 1990 to provide assistive technology and accommodations at no cost to make sure people with disabilities have equal access and opportunities at the Defense Department. The program has since expanded to include 68 federal partner organizations.
The CAP Technology Evaluation Center, or CAPTEC, in the Pentagon, is a DOD evaluation and demonstration center for assistive technology.
“Our partnerships with other federal government agencies are very important to us so we make sure that we assist them in promoting the programs,” CAP Director Stephen M. King told American Forces Press Service.
“We see ourselves as the assistive technology and reasonable accommodation program for the federal government,” he added, “because our focus is quite large and our impact is quite large.” Since 1990, the program has provided more than 130,000 assistive technology solutions to federal employees and wounded or injured service members, King said.
Michael Young, CAPTEC center manager, is hosting two open house sessions in the Pentagon today. People also can make appointments to tour the office, he said.
“The idea,” he said, “is that through this open house we can educate people and invite them in so they can see what we do, so they can feel the technology and see it demonstrated.”
Among the technologies the center offers are help for people with carpal tunnel syndrome, back and neck problems, difficulty seeing or hearing, or a need to be able to sit and stand at a workstation or have computer information magnified or changed in color.
Many civilians and military personnel don’t know about the CAPTEC center, Young said. “We have some who say, ‘I've been trying to cope with my back injury or my low vision or my traumatic brain injury for X amount of time and wasn't successful, because no one in my agency knew about CAP and CAPTEC to refer me to you,’” he explained.
Young said CAPTEC can help federal managers and supervisors comply with executive orders and DOD and Equal Employment Opportunity regulations and help give the civilian and military workforce the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.
“And who doesn’t like free?” he added.
King said that one of the most important things about CAP and CAPTEC for people with a disability is that it shows the kinds of technology available to keep them independent and working. “You may have no clue what you need, but I guarantee you from Michael's experience and that of the entire CAP team that we can lead you in the right direction,” he said.
The application process begins at http://www.cap.mil, where anyone can submit a request for an accommodation.
“For apparent types of disabilities such as blindness or deafness, generally you're not going to have to provide documentation,” King said. “For other types of issues -- maybe some dexterity issues or other types -- we may ask [for documentation] to make sure you're getting [the kind of equipment] you need.”
When the CAPTEC team is determining what’s best for a person, they need to know the diagnosed condition and, more importantly, what limitations the person is experiencing, Young said.
“Four of us might all have the same diagnosis, [but] it's going to affect us in different ways. And I also have to ask about your job duties,” he said. “Are you working in graphics or in spreadsheets, on a computer or on paper? What's your physical environment? [And] your electronic environment?”
If the limitations affect the ability to perform essential job functions and the person could benefit from a technology accommodation, he said, that’s all it requires.
At the CAPTEC center, Young added, visitors will see a variety of some of the most commonly provided and most often requested accommodations for people with dexterity disabilities, including carpal tunnel syndrome, bilateral amputations, quadriplegia, vision loss or total blindness, hearing loss or deafness, traumatic brain injuries, learning disabilities and communication deficits.
“For, say, a service member who had a hand amputation and shrapnel damage to the other hand, and physical input to a computer is not an option, we can provide voice recognition software,” Young said. “That’s where a user can perform [with his or her voice] any function on a computer that is typically performed with a keyboard or mouse.”
For a person who has difficulty seeing electronic information on the computer -- perhaps because of eye trauma or retinitis pigmentosa -- and has blurry vision or floating blind spots throughout his or her field of vision, he said, “we can provide software that will allow the person to magnify it two to six or more times -- whatever they need.”
Color changes on computer screens also can help some people, he said. “If I have photophobia and migraines and looking at that sea of black letters on a white background kills my eyes, I can change it to white on black or yellow on blue,” he explained. “If I can't see that darn little white arrow, I can make it triple-size lime green.” Technology is available, he added, that enables the computer to read emails, documents or websites aloud.
King said CAPTEC regularly conducts remote needs assessments around the world, using video teleconferencing to view people’s workstations, review their job requirements and discuss their job functions.
Young added that the CAPTEC team also does onsite visits, such as a reasonable accommodation lecture last month at the Army Special Operations Command at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
While there, he said, the team performed seven industrial hygiene needs assessments at Womack Army Medical Center, briefed several other departments, the Warrior Transition Brigade and the Concussion Specialty Center, and conducted a briefing and training for 35 case managers and recovery care coordinators.
“We will take our show on the road to get good value for the government's money,” Young said.
CAPTEC also has a website and a YouTube channel with training videos to show how the technologies work, he added.
“We do whatever we can to support retention, hiring and advancement of individuals with disabilities across the federal government,” King said, “and, of course, in support of our transitioning wounded service members.”
CAPTEC is open 8a.m.-5p.m. Eastern time in Pentagon Room 2D1049. The phone number is 703-614-8416, the video phone number is 571-384-5629, and the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinAFPS)