Inside DOD   Partnerships

Assistive Tech Optimizes Options for Employees With Disabilities

March 12, 2021 | BY Katie Lange, DOD News

Most DOD personnel require computers and other technology to do their jobs — that’s nothing new — but the average equipment doesn’t always cut it for employees with disabilities. 

Like all federal agencies, the DOD has a mandated goal that requires 2% of its employees to have targeted disabilities, while another 12% must have general disabilities. There’s a good chance those employees may need assistive technology to work without limitations, so that’s where the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, or CAP, comes in. One of its main goals is to let people know that technology is out there to help them. 

A keyboard with yellow keys and large print sits on a table.
CAP assistive technology
A ZoomText large-print keyboard is displayed by the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program at a table at the Joint Disability & Reasonable Accommodations Summit in Alexandria, Va., Aug. 28, 2019.
Photo By: Eboni Everson-Myart, Army
VIRIN: 190828-A-WP504-1009

“There are a lot of different tools out there, whether it's a tool that allows a blind person to use the computer … or something that can be done with memory loss to attend meetings and take notes,” Michael Cushman, CAP’s outreach coordinator, said. “We get people the right tools … [so they] aren't stuck being unable to work because they don't have the right piece of technology.”

Hundreds of Options

It turns out there are a lot of assistive tech devices out there, such as screen readers, Braille displays and magnification software for individuals who are blind or experience low vision; and videophones, amplification devices and assisted-listening devices for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. There are voice amplifiers, text-based devices and word prediction software to help with communications issues. People with dexterity problems can get items like alternative keyboards, pointing devices and ergonomic mice. 

A man holds his hands over a keyboard attachment that allows him to read Braille.
CAP assistive technology
An employee uses a Braille display to navigate his computer.
Photo By: Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program
VIRIN: 210311-O-ZZ999-095
A special keyboard has several blue buttons and a line of Braille.
CAP assistive technology
A Braille display is an example of the assistive technology that the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program can provide DOD personnel.
Photo By: Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program
VIRIN: 210311-O-ZZ999-098
A device with six small levers sits on a table.
CAP assistive technology
A Speech Adjust-A-Tone voice amplifier available from the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program is displayed at a table at the Joint Disability & Reasonable Accommodations Summit in Alexandria, Va., Aug. 28, 2019.
Photo By: Eboni Everson-Myart, Army
VIRIN: 190828-A-WP504-1011

Angelo Bonilla, a medical support assistant at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia, was able to update his desk with the latest assistive tech to help him combat debilitating physical issues that stemmed from his military career. He said a lot of his officemates are envious of his setup. 

"The CAP program is allowing me to be more efficient while preserving my muscles, joints and posture," Bonilla said. "If I had not been referred to CAP for assistance, I don’t know where my mental and physical health would be."

A man behind a display desk hands a man in a wheelchair a pen-like device.
CAP assistive technology
Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program staff register attendees at the Joint Disability & Reasonable Accommodations Summit in Alexandria, Va., Aug. 28, 2019.
Photo By: Eboni Everson-Myart, Army
VIRIN: 190828-A-WP504-1013

For folks with cognitive issues, CAP has speech recognition software and memory aids. Cushman said one of the most common products requested by wounded service members with traumatic brain injuries is an electronic smartpen, which records speech as you write. 

"They can take notes while also having a record of everything going on in that meeting," Cushman said of the product, which also comes with a type of smart paper. "You can use that pen to tap on where you’re taking notes in that smart paper, and it will play back the audio from that exact moment in time." 

CAP gets its products from commercial industry vendors. Its list of about 600 commonly requested items is updated often.

Training, Needs Assessments Available

The program also provides training for the devices and software, as well as American Sign Language interpreting services. But most importantly, it offers a needs assessment for those who may not know what they need — especially people with new disabilities or a deteriorating condition. The assessment allows CAP to get a sense of what that individual’s workday is like. 

"There really aren't any other centrally-funded, reasonable accommodations assisted technology programs in the federal government," Cushman said. 

A man shows another man how to work a special keyboard.
CAP assistive technology
Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program staff demonstrate assistive technology devices at a wounded warriors hiring event in 2019.
Photo By: Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program
VIRIN: 210311-O-ZZ999-097

The vast size of the DOD makes it challenging for CAP to make sure no one falls through the cracks, he said. But most DOD agencies have disability program managers or an assistive technology liaison to get employees set up for success. CAP also works closely with military treatment facilities, including Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, to help injured service members. 

"It’s the physical therapists and that wide range of medical personnel at these facilities that CAP works with mostly as part of that rehabilitation process," Cushman said. 

After 20+ years of service, Army Capt. Jennifer Vicks suffers from spinal degeneration. She works as a deputy secretary at 1st Special Forces Command, so she’s often sitting. Vicks used CAP’s service to get a removable back-support for her chair, which cuts down on her back pain. She said a back brace helps for standing and travel, but it wasn’t meant for daily prolonged use, so the chair support is crucial to making her day easier, especially since she can take it with her to meetings. 

Two people behind a table show various pieces of technology to two people in front of the table.
CAP assistive technology
Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program staff show off assistive technology devices available to DOD employees at a diversity day event in 2019.
Photo By: Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program
VIRIN: 210311-O-ZZ999-096

Wounded service members who transition out of the military can keep the tools CAP provides. However, if you're a DOD civilian or a service member remaining on active duty, the product is the property of your agency or command.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, CAP only shipped items to an individual’s workplace. Now, assistive technology can be sent to a person’s home. CAP will even double up on tech that doesn’t transfer easily from the office to the home. That way, an individual can have a device at each location. 

If you want a needs assessment or tech demonstration through CAP, you can schedule an appointment by emailing cap.captec@mail.mil. Employees of other federal partner agencies can get needs assessments done, too, but CAP can’t provide them the actual technology. 

Since 1990, CAP has helped reduce barriers to federal employment and absorbed costs that can strain an agency’s budget.