Workplace Accommodations R&D Digest - October / November 2010

Volume 8, Number 1

An update from the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Workplace Accommodations (Work RERC) on our research, project activities, and resources of interest. More information about the Work RERC can be found at http://www.workrerc.gatech.edu/


October Is Disability Employment Awareness Month

October 2010 has been named National Disability Employment Awareness Month, with the theme "Talent Has No Boundaries: Workforce Diversity Includes People with Disabilities." Twenty years after the passage of the ADA, people with disabilities are still underrepresented in the workplace. In September 2010, only 21.6% of people with disabilities were in the labor force, compared to 69.9% for persons with no disability. The unemployment rate for those with disabilities was 14.8%, compared with 9.0% for persons with no disability, not seasonally adjusted. Disability Employment Month seeks inform the public that workers with disabilities represent a diverse and vibrant talent pool for hire.

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis issued the following statement:

People with disabilities are an integral part of our diverse workforce, and access to fair employment for everyone must remain a priority for our nation. To that end, the Labor Department will continue building a long-term infrastructure that helps bring together employers and job seekers, including those who have disabilities. That commitment will endure not just through National Disability Employment Awareness Month, but every single day.

For more information and Secretary Solis' full statement, visit: www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/odep/ODEP20101400.htm.


Tagtalker: Communication for the Workplace

The Work RERC is investigating ways in which employees who use communication devices can access pre-programmed phrases faster. One approach is "TagTalker", an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) application that provides a method for storing and retrieving workplace-relevant utterances based on tagging concepts. Tags are defined as non-hierarchical keywords or terms assigned to a piece of information. The concepts of TagTalker were derived from the paradigms of tagging made popular by sites such as Delicious and Flickr. This unique way of organizing phrases gives the user great power and speed in retrieving and selecting conversational items. For example, "I completed my project" might be a phrase tagged with "Work" or "Accomplishments".

TagTalker running on a Dynavox AAC device

The TagTalker development team has applied for a provisional patent and is currently testing and revising the system. A pilot study of the Tag Talker software allowed us to refine the design, and changes have been made based upon initial user feedback. A user manual is now available, and further user testing will begin this winter.

Future work will include designing a version of TagTalker that will work with smaller-screen devices. Dynavox, Inc. has donated one of their small, handheld AAC devices to help with this effort. In addition, the development team is investigating the use of context aware technologies to activate tags that fit the conversation partner and/or location. For more information about TagTalker or other parts of the AwareComm project, contact Melody Moore Jackson - melody@cc.gatech.edu.


Database of Accommodation Case Studies Relaunched

The Work RERC's popular "Accommodation Examples" resource is now being hosted on the ATWiki in a new "AT Applications" section. This change will make it easier for people to add interesting accommodation ideas and stories. The database currently contains about 80 case studies that can be searched by functional limitation, type of job family, or type of technology involved. Examples include several custom devices to help a people working as ticket takers, accommodations for people to work while supine, and jigs for people packaging items. Many of the case studies come from RESNA's Job Accommodations Special Interest Group.

The database was accessed over 27,000 times last year, and we anticipate that even more people will be able to make use of the resource in its new form. Check out the new format and consider sharing your own accommodation stories. Visit the new case study database at www.workrerc.gatech.edu/accommodations.php


Have You Responded To Our Surveys On The Use And Cost/Benefits Of Workplace Accommodations?

The Work RERC is currently running two online surveys to learn more about what accommodations are being used in the workplace and their costs and benefits.


Training

Are you interested in finding out more about workplace and other accommodations? CATEA will be offering several professional education courses in the upcoming months, including several which will be conducted online as a series of webcasts:

For further information and to register for courses, visit www.catea.gatech.edu/courses.php .


Disability and Employment Updates

Return-to-Work Toolkit Announced

A new online "Return-to-Work Toolkit" is now available to help employers understand the return-to-work process and provide resources to help them get employees back to work quickly and smoothly. The toolkit was created by U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and its Job Accommodation Network. View the Return-to-Work Toolkit at www.dol.gov/odep/return-to-work/

Date Set for Compliance with Updates to ADA Standards for Accessible Design

Final rules revising ADA Title II and Title III regulations, including updated ADA Standards for Accessible Design, have now been published in the Federal Register. As described in our previous newsletter, changes that could impact employees include changes to the definition of "service animal," rules on the use of mobility devices such as the Segway PT, and inclusion of video remote interpreting as a method of effective communication. New requirements are listed for reach ranges, toilet room clearances, circulation paths, and building entrances. Finally, new rules also address the accessibility of recreation facilities and judicial facilities, both of which could impact people with disabilities who work in those settings. These final rules will take effect March 15, 2011. Compliance is required by March 15, 2012. For further information about the ADA standards updates, visit www.ada.gov/regs2010/ADAregs2010.htm.

Public Comments Sought on Potential Revisions to the ADA Regulations

The Department of Justice has scheduled public hearings on four Advance Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRMs) , which seek public comment on the possibility of revising the ADA regulations. The potential revisions would address accessible web information and services; movie captioning and video description; accessibility of Next Generation 9-1-1; and accessible equipment and furniture. The ANPRMs were published in the Federal Register on July 26, 2010, and the comment period for them closes on January 24, 2011.

The public hearings are scheduled for the following dates and locations:

For additional information, including the procedures for registering to comment at the hearings visit: www.ada.gov/anprm2010/public_hearing_anprm_2010.htm.

21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act Signed into Law

On October 8, President Obama signed into law a measure to make Internet-based communication and consumer electronics, such as smartphones, more accessible to people with disabilities, particularly those with sensory impairments. The law (PL 111-260) directs the Federal Communications Commission to update its existing regulations issued under Telecommunications Act of 1996 and other laws to cover access to newer communication technologies, including those that are web-based. For more information about the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, visit http://thomas.loc.gov.

Improved National Resource Directory for Military and Veteran Communities

The U.S. Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs have launched a new and improved National Resource Directory that provides access to thousands of services, programs and resources for service members, veterans, and their families. New features include an improved search engine, news feeds, e-mail updates, and new subject areas such as "Homeless Assistance." The new features allow the Military and Veteran community to identify and stay informed about the thousands of resources that are available to them as well as browse for information they may not have known about it the past. Visit the National Resource Directory at www.nationalresourcedirectory.gov.


Featured Accommodation - Ginger Spelling / Grammar Checker

Ginger software is a comparatively new product that uses contextual cues in a person's writing to correct spelling and grammar. Whereas conventional spell checkers try to find words that have the most similar letters, Ginger also searches for words that might not match up as well letter-for-letter, but which make sense in the context of the sentence. The software also examines common spelling errors made by people with dyslexia and the phonics of what was spelled to suggest words. Thus, "enuf" would be correctly recognized as "enough." In addition, the grammar checker can correct misused words (e.g., their vs. there), prepositions, and split words (e.g., "in side" vs "inside"). An entire sentence can be corrected at once, without prompts to fix each word. Ginger works with Microsoft word processing or email programs.

One factor to note is that Ginger's online language database is accessed over the Internet rather than being loaded on the user's computer. This may pose a challenge for people who are using portable computers and who may not have an Internet connection throughout the day.

Ginger costs $66. For about $30 more ($99), Ginger Premium includes a text-to-speech reader so users can hear sentences before and after correction. It also provides progress reporting (a useful feature for teachers). A free trial version can be downloaded. For more information about Ginger, visit: www.gingersoftware.com.


Other Upcoming Events


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