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DoD Technology Aid Program Called Federal "Model"

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 4, 2000 -- A Pentagon program that makes life easier and employment possible for thousands of DoD employees with disabilities was lauded recently by Attorney General Janet Reno and the federal agency that sets public access standards for people with disabilities.

In a Justice Department report released in April, "Information Technology and People with Disabilities: The Current State of Federal Accessibility," Reno called DoD's Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program a model for other federal agencies.

In its March report, the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board specifically recognized CAP, stating the program "is a model for accommodating individual needs, completing more than 477 training/integration requests during fiscal years 1997 to 1999."

CAP Director Dinah Cohen said the DoD program has provided "assistive technology" to more than 17,000 DoD employees with disabilities since its inception in 1990. The technology helps these employees access telecommunications, computers and electronic information at no cost to defense employees or their agencies.

Hiring people with disabilities isn't just "the right thing" to do, it's the law, she said. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination based on disability, requires affirmative action and mandates accessibility with regard to employment with the federal government. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 further mandates that telecommunications service providers and equipment manufacturers make their products accessible to people with disabilities.

With an annual budget of $2.6 million, CAP strives to make DoD facilities accessible for people with disabilities and to provide workplace accommodations for all employees with disabilities. Cohen said agencies are more likely to hire individuals with disabilities if the cost of accommodating their special needs doesn't have to come out of the agency's budget.

"I think the true benefit of the CAP program is that we really work with managers to bring people with disabilities into the workforce," Cohen said.

Technology to aid people with disabilities has moved forward in leaps and bounds in recent years, she said. When the program began, most accommodations were made in the form of Teletype machines for people with hearing impairments. Today, CAP helps people with visual and hearing impairments, dexterity and communications problems, and cognitive disabilities.

And accommodations aren't necessarily expensive. Cohen said 70 percent of the items the program buys cost less than $500. The process is simple, too. Individuals requiring assistance fill out a two-page request form and a short needs assessment conducted by one of the six CAP staff members.

"We help them determine what exactly they need to help them accomplish their job," Cohen said. "Would they benefit from hardware, software, communications equipment?"

Accommodations can come in many forms. CAP can provide computer input and output devices, telecommunications and assistive listening devices, Braille keyboards and readers, touch screens, and captioning services, among other things.

Cohen or a member of her staff purchases the equipment using a government credit card, and the accommodating technology is delivered directly to the requesting individual, usually in about a week.

"We've had people say, "This can't possibly be for me, I just put in my request two days ago," Cohen said.

More information on CAP or on requesting accommodations

The full Justice Department report

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board report