Assistive technology or “AT” encompasses all technology used by people with disabilities to perform daily tasks that would otherwise be difficult, inaccessible, or impossible. Assistive Technology is any piece of equipment that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functioning of individuals with disabilities.
An Assistive Technology Service is any service that helps an individual to select, obtain or use an Assistive Technology device, such as assessing an employee's technology needs and customizing an Assistive Technology device.
Everyone in the workplace has one thing in common; they are all working and doing so with the help of technology. Today’s progressive companies large and small know that tapping into the power of technology is simply smart business. Technology can give employers a competitive edge as they retain their most valuable employees and recruit the most talented people. The type of technology used to help individuals with a disability complete a task is called assistive technology (AT).
Most of us have a phone that sits on our work desk that has both speakerphone capabilities and speed dial, a convenience. For someone with a motor impairment, speed dial is Assistive Technology because it eliminates the holding of the headset and punching a lot of numbers. Technologies available to improve people’s performance are as unlimited as the imagination.
These are just a few examples of real life AT options in use today. Examples can be found in every industry.
There are several ways that a person can figure out what Assistive Technology device is right for him or her. Being evaluated through a formal Assistive Technology Evaluation is typically performed by a certified Assistive Technology Professional, an Occupational or Physical Therapist, or a Rehabilitation Engineer. Visiting an Assistive Technology Demonstration Center to view different devices allows the individual to learn about a range of devices.
Trying a device before purchasing it - by borrowing a device to try out in an individual's own environment (at home, at work or at school), the person can find out if the device works in the way expected. Most states have an AT Device Demonstration Center or an AT Device Loan program that employers and employees can use to find the right technology. Contact your state AT Act program to find a demonstration or loan center near you.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires employers with 15 or more employees to make reasonable accommodations in the workplace for qualified employees with disabilities. Assistive technology can be one element of meeting this requirement. In most cases, it is the employer’s responsibility to provide on-site job accommodations for an employee. However, the employee is responsible for providing personal accommodations such as hearing aids, wheelchairs, and personal attendants. Accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis and may not be required when it results in an undue hardship to the employer.
Situation: A woman with a severe developmental disability worked in an envelope manufacturing facility, operating a machine that stacked boxes. She needed to stack 20 boxes at a time, but could not keep a mental count past 10.
Solution: The employer installed a punch counter and trained the woman to include punching in her routine-tape, stack, punch; tape, stack, punch. As the woman's productivity soared, the employer realized that keeping count is difficult for many people and decided to install counters at other machines.
Situation: A secretary had a back impairment and experienced pain when reaching for things such as documents, files, and the phone receiver.
Solution: To reduce the need for reaching, she was provided an adjustable work station, a telephone headset, a copy holder, and a horizontal filing cabinet. For someone who doesn't necessarily have back problems, these corrections would still provide comfort as they cause less stress on the body.
Situation: A cashier with diabetes has difficulties standing for long periods during her eight-hour shift.
Solution: By altering her work schedule to allow her breaks and installing an anti-fatigue mat, she is able to work as a productive cashier.
Situation: A construction contractor has a prosthesis arm, which makes it hard to complete forms at the job site.
Solution: The contractor uses a modified clipboard with PVC tubing so he can slide it over his prosthesis and brace it in his stomach to fill out inventory forms.
Situation: An individual with an intellectual disability has a job working in the produce department of a grocery store. He often has difficulty remembering how to do various tasks, which jeopardizes his productivity, and thus limiting his work hours.
Solution: A simple low tech cueing solution was fabricated out of cardboard and laminated that allowed visual cueing to assist in the employee in performing various job functions such as when to remove old produce and procedures for stocking new produce. This solution worked so well that it improved the employee’s productivity, and allowed for the employee to work full time.
Situation: A 19-year-old male with a hearing impairment is completing a special education program at his school. The program focuses on his workplace skills. As part of the program, the young man works at a local convenience store. His supervisor is very happy with the young man’s performance as a cashier, although the supervisor mentioned to the young man’s job coach that sometimes he is not able to tell when new clients are entering the store. This may cause safety issues for him and other customers in the store. Recently, the young man’s work at the convenience store became jeopardized because of a reduction in the “job coaching hours” available to him. His job coach assisted him, with tasks such as prompting him when a customer is entering or leaving the store. It became clear that without coaching support, the young man would not be able to maintain his job.
Solution: After some meetings with the young man’s school staff, VR personnel, and his current employer, a low tech assistive technology device helped him to perform his job independently. The assistive technology solution used is an alert system, which consists of a light bulb that blinks every time a customer enters or exits the store. This low cost and simple visual solution allows the young man to acknowledge the presence of a customer in the store. With the support of this assistive technology device, the young man was able to remain at his job, his job coach was able to reduce his role, and the young man is able to complete his job tasks independently.
Situation: A construction contractor with left extremity prosthesis requested a clipboard modification for inventory task requirements. The contractor’s left hand prosthesis made using a standard clipboard unfeasible while standing and walking.
Solution: A simple low tech solution consisting of one-hand clipboard modification was fabricated for the contractor’s needs.
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) maintains a database of simple to complex accommodation solutions that you can browse. Click on this external link: http://askjan.org/soar/
JAN also addresses issues pertaining to accessibility and is nationally recognized as a prime resource for employers.
Finding help to understand more about Assistive Technology in the work place is easier than you think! Connecting with an AT expert, finding services and supports, or identifying funding sources for AT is all here!
Statewide Assistive Technology Programs
The Assistive Technology Act provides federal funds to support a Statewide AT Program in each state to make available information about assistive technology. The Statewide AT Programs conduct activities to expand access to technology for individuals with disabilities of all ages through comprehensive statewide programs. These activities include the following:
• Information and referral about what devices and services are available, where to obtain them, and how to fund them
• Device demonstration centers in which an individual can try-out devices
• Device lending library services so an individual can borrow devices for a short period of time
• Device exchange and recycling programs that provides individuals with used equipment at little to no cost
• Affordable financial loan programs that allow individuals to borrow money to purchase AT
• General training to promote access to AT and tailored technical assistance tailored for individuals using specific AT devices
To find the program in your state, go to State AT Act Programs.
RESNA, the Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology Society of North America, is a national professional organization that is dedicated to promoting the health and well-being of people with disabilities through increasing access to technology solutions. Members include rehabilitation engineers who can design custom workplace accommodations for businesses and their employees with disabilities. Contact RESNA at or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your specific workplace need or use this online search function: Job Accommodation Experts
Tax Incentives and Credits
Tax incentives and credits for small and medium-sized businesses make tapping into the disability community an attractive recruiting strategy. There are three tax incentives - the Small Business Tax Credit, Architectural and Transportation Tax Deduction, and Work Opportunity Tax Credit - available to help employers cover accommodation costs for employees or customers with disabilities to make their business environment more accessible. For more information, go to the following external site: Funding for AT
Alternative Financing Programs
Alternative Financing Programs (AFPs) are federally-funded programs which provide affordable financing options for the purchase of assistive technology devices and services. There are 33 AFPs in the United States and territories. Additionally, there are 8 states that have financing programs similar to an AFP but that are funded differently. Go toFunding to find an AFP throughout the United States.
Interested in learning more about how to use Assistive Technology in the work place? The following training presentations provide information on Assistive Technology in the workplace and examples of effective Assistive Technology solutions for employment:
General Information on AT and Employment (PowerPoint Format)
Using Scan and Read Pro (PowerPoint Format)
Using Zoom Text Magnifier/Reader (PowerPoint Format)
Training on ROI AT @ Work Modules developed by Pennsylvania's Employment Network (DOC Format)
DEI Training: Access Series - AT and the One Stops - Part 1 (PowerPoint Format)
Training used to orient Department of Labor Disability Employment Initiative grantees about assistive technology and the services that AT Act Entities provide.
DEI Training: Access Series - AT and the One Stops - Part 2 (PowerPoint Format)
Training used to provides DEI Disability Resource Coordinators with strategies to use AT to help the one-stop centers integrate accessibility into the center services.
Webinar: Assistive Technology and the Interactive Process of Employee Accommodations
It is important that employers understand new technologies, accommodation strategies and best practices to assist and support employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. AT Act Programs and ADA Regional Centers have valuable free services to assist employers and employees with job accommodations. The RESNA Catalyst Project and the SW-ADA Center presented a webinar on how AT Act Programs and the ADA Network work to enhance the interactive accommodation process.
US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) is the national business organization currently representing BLN chapters in 32 states and more than 5000 employers using a "business to business" strategy to promote the business imperative of including people with disabilities in the workforce. The BLNs provide an opportunity for employers to identify and share best practices on the employment of people with disabilities. Visit their web site athttp://www.usbln.org/.
Disability.gov has a comprehensive web site of disability information for employers. Topics include everything from assistive technology to federal and state resources, to assistance with recruitment and workplace accommodations. To access this site, click on https://www.disability.gov/employment.
RESNA Catalyst Project Employment Hub
Resources on various employment topics. Go to http://www.resnaprojects.org/crossprograms/employment/index.html.
Think Beyond the Label’s Hire Gauge Webpage
The Hire Gauge calculates the financial and cultural benefits of hiring people with disability. View athttp://www.thinkbeyondthelabel.com/Learning-Tools/HireGauge.aspx.
Abledbody.com is a news and media platform for the 54 million Americans and 20 million families touched by physical or mental disability, and those who engage with the disability community. It’s a place where consumers can read the latest disability-related happenings in technology, workplace, design and life/culture. Find out more at: http://abledbody.com.
Accessible Technology for All
Accessible Technology for All promotes full and unrestricted participation in business and society by persons with disabilities through the use of electronic information technology. Go to http://accessibletech.org/.
ADA National Network
The ADA National Network provides information, guidance, and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Go tohttp://adata.org/.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Hosts Accessibility Clearing House
This FCC website is designed to help people with disabilities keep up with the communications revolution. There are good resources for mobile apps, service providers, hardware, software, fact sheets, directories of organizations, and resources. The Statewide AT Programs are all listed in the "Programs and Initiatives" section. Go tohttp://apps.fcc.gov/accessibilityclearinghouse/index.html.
Wisconsin’s Medicare Infrastructure Grant Funding for Workplace Objectives: Resources for Universal Design in the Community and Workplace. To access this site: http://access-mainstreet.r2d2.uwm.edu/.
WorkSource Wisconsin is a not-for-profit initiative with the goal of providing Wisconsin employers with accessible and complete information regarding the employment of individuals with disabilities. Through a comprehensive Web site, toll free phone line, and statewide training for employers, WorkSource Wisconsin seeks to provide Wisconsin employers with the resources necessary to recruit and retain employees with disabilities. Find out more at: http://www.wimentalhealth.org/userimages/WorkSourceWI.pdf.
Connect-Ability: Connecticut’s Premier e-Learning Website
Connect-Ability began in late 2005 with a federal grant to the State of Connecticut to identify and remove barriers to employment faced by people with disabilities. Their purpose is to bring employers and people with disabilities together. www.connect-ability.com
Hyatt: View the YouTube clip below:
Imagine the Possibilities - Innovative Hiring Through Assistive Technology
Walgreens - Profiles in Excellence
A Prescription for Opportunity
Nebraska’s Assistive Technology Partnership Success Story
In 2006 Sy Doan, owner of Sy's Tailor Shop in Omaha, sustained a spinal cord injury. While struggling to manage pain and accept his paralysis, Sy's passion for sewing and his customers gave him the courage to contact Nebraska's Vocational Rehabilitation. Watch Sy's video to see how he was able to return to work, and the Assistive Technology he uses to independently perform the essential functions of his business.
If you have the time and looking to dig deeper into the world of Assistive Technology, the following publications can assist you in understanding AT and the inclusion of people with disabilities into the labor market.
Ready and Able: Addressing Labor Market Needs and Building Productive Careers for People with Disabilities through Collaborative Approaches (2011) (pdf)
This report provides research on employer and market driven initiatives to recruit, hire, train, and retain people with disabilities.
Leading Practices on Disability Inclusion (pdf)
In this report, the United States Business Leadership Network (USBLN) features companies and leaders that provide valuable insights on the successes they have realized through the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of their corporate enterprises as well as in their marketing.
States as Model Employers: Strategies for Moving People with Disabilities into Careers in State Government (2011) (pdf)
This brief examines the practices that states are using to become model employers, including strategies being implemented to expand the recruitment and hiring of people with disabilities within state government agencies.
Integrating Job Opportunities for People with Disabilities into State and Regional Economic and Workforce Development Strategies (2011) (pdf)
This brief offers some background on recent trends in economic and workforce development strategies, and highlights two regions that have been piloting initiatives to include opportunities for people with disabilities in their regional activities.
Investing in America: The Public Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Program Employing the Talents of Qualified Americans with Disabilities in the Workplace During Challenging Economic Times (2012-2013) (pdf)
This CSAVR report includes recommendations for employment for people with disabilities and employment success stories.
Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact (2012) (pdf)
"Low Cost, High Impact" is a study conducted by the Job Accommodation Network that consistently shows that the benefits employers receive from making workplace accommodations far outweigh the low cost. Employers reported that providing accommodations resulted in such benefits as retaining valuable employees, improving productivity and morale, reducing workers' compensation and training costs, and improving company diversity. These benefits were obtained with little investment. The employers in the study reported that a high percentage (57%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500.
Small Investment-Big Savings: A look at how vocational rehabilitation agencies save money by partnering with their statewide AT program (2012) (pdf)
Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies are finding that working with their statewide AT Act programs can save them funds. This Resna Catalyst Project publication describes how Vocational Rehabilitation agencies have realized big savings by partnering with four statewide AT programs.
Work, Assistive Technology and Transition-Aged Youth: Funding of Work Related Assistive Technology Through Special Education Programs, State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies, Medicaid, Medicare and SSI™s Plan for Achieving Self Support (2011) (pdf)
This 35-page article/AT funding manual was originally published in 2001 and 2004 under the Funding of Work-Related AT title.
Roadmaps for Enhancing Employment of Persons with Disabilities through Accessible Technology (Roadmap I) (2008) (pdf)
The first Roadmap report designed to enhance the hiring, retention, and advancement of persons with disabilities and others through accessible technology.
Roadmaps for Enhancing Employment of Persons with Disabilities through Accessible Technology (Roadmap II) (2009) (pdf)
This report is a continuation from Roadmap I, and presents the work of the Assistive Technology (AT) Collaborative, a group of national organizations that were funded by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) to address AT issues and provide policy recommendations related to the employment of individuals with disabilities.
General Disability Reports
World Report on Disability (2011) (pdf)
The first ever World report on disability, produced jointly by the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Bank, suggests that more than a billion people in the world today experience disability. Chapter Eight focuses on Employment and Disability.
Publications by AT Act Programs
General Self-Help and Resource Information Regarding Accessible Document Preparation and Website Accessibility (2011) (pdf)
FAAST, Inc., through support from the Florida Department of Education, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, has completed research and development of a comprehensive 20-page technical assistance self-help resource guide entitled General Self-Help and Resource Information Regarding Accessible Document Preparation and Website Accessibility.
This guide was created to promote accessible, electronic and information technology accessibility to assist those working on document preparation in relation to website accessibility to help further compliance with accessibility requirements under the ADA, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and §282.601 - .606, Florida Statutes.
FAAST, Inc. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Site Survey Instrument - Building Accessibility Evaluation Survey (2011) (pdf)
This ADA site survey instrument is designed to assist ADA site survey teams in conducting self-evaluation surveys and engaging in collaborative efforts that are designed to facilitate practical enhancements to facilities thereby increasing compliance with the ADA.
FAAST-Employment Resources & Self Help Guide (2010) (pdf)
Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology, Inc.(FAAST) employment self-help resource guide.
General Self-Help Resources: To Promote Effective Transition Planning with Students with Disabilities under IDEIA of 2004 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as Amended (2012) (pdf)
FAAST, Inc., through support from the Florida Department of Education, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, has completed research and development of a comprehensive 14-page general self-help resource guide. This guide helpsto promote effective transition planning with students with disabilities under IDEIA of 2004 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended.
This resource guide is created to provide resource information to help foster cooperation among public school officials, parents, family members, caregivers, guardians, advocates or representatives, and other agencies or transition partners as they work together to accomplish effective transition planning for students with disabilities.
As there are many national and state resources designed to promote effective transition planning to receive necessary and required transition services this self-help resource guide provides comprehensive national and state resources that are user-friendly and hyperlinked for convenient reference.
This guide provides hyperlinks to an array of informative websites, frequently asked questions (FAQs), factsheets, federal and state laws, regulations, and rules, and many other relevant and helpful effective transition planning resources.