Workplace Accommodations R&D Digest - April 2011

Volume 8, Number 3

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.workplacererc.org/


National Engineering Design Challenge: U.D. Award

Congratulations go to Hotchkiss High School for winning a Work RERC-sponsored award for "Best Application of Universal Design Principles" as part of the National Engineering Design Challenge (NEDC). The NEDC challenges high school students from across the country to design and build a workplace accommodation device to help a person with disabilities from their community.

Man on crutches walks down a hall while wearing The Caboose 
harness that tows his suitcase

The Hotchkiss H.S. students won both the UD award and the overall competition for their design of "The Caboose" a hands-free method for people to transport their luggage while traveling for work. The device is a backpack like harness that attaches to a carry-on bag, allowing the user to tow the bag. Although initially designed for an individual who uses crutches, the students noted that it would also be useful for individuals with gripping difficulties, as well as people who were simply trying to hold on to too many items at once. Watch their semi-finals presentation here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g88F_ytUoJI.

The competition is organized by the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS) and AbilityOne (formerly known as the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Program). NISH is one of two national, nonprofit agencies that support the nonprofit agencies participating in the AbilityOne Program. For more information, visit http://www.jets.org/programs/nedc/index.cfm.


Data Analysis Continues for our Survey of Accommodation Use

The Work RERC would like to thank all of you who participated in our survey on the use of workplace accommodations. Data analysis is underway, and we are beginning to release some of our preliminary findings.

In March, a paper was presented at the Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference (aka CSUN), focusing on the use of workplace accommodations by people with visual impairments. Preliminary findings include:

To view the presentation slides, visit: http://www.workrerc.gatech.edu/Presentations/2011/csun2011.pdf.


State of the Science Conference: The Potential of Emerging Technologies to Increase the Participation of Employees with Disabilities in the Workplace

The invitation list is set for our State of the Science Conference, which is scheduled for April 26, 2011 at the Hyatt Regency, Bethesda, MD (immediately preceding, and at the same location as the NARRTC conference). This one-day conference will establish a national dialogue on the current state and future directions of workplace accommodations.

The conference will focus on emerging workplace technologies and the potential that they may have as workplace accommodations. The Work RERC's conference will take the form of a working meeting, with attendance limited to 75 participants, representing technology developers, rehabilitation experts, and business. Our intention is to develop an agenda for future directions in research, service delivery, and product development based on user needs.


Other Upcoming Events


Professional Education

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

Disability Employment Statistics for March 2011

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in March 2011, the percentage of people age 16 to 64 in the labor force was only 32% for people with disabilities compared to 77% for people without disabilities. For this age group, the unemployment rates for people with disabilities is 17%, compared to 9% for people without disabilities. For more information, visit http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t06.htm.

Regulations Published for Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA)

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) final regulations to implement the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) were published in March. The ADAAA, which was passed at the end of 2008, clarified the definition of who is covered under the ADA as having a disability. Under the original ADA, the primary criteria for determining if a person had a disability was whether he or she had a "physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of that person's major life activities." The new regulations keep this definition, but provide a broader interpretation. For example, major life activities now include the operation of "major bodily functions." Thus, employees with chronic impairments (e.g., cancer, HIV) are more likely to be included. In addition, the regulations state that a "substantial limitation" does not require that the person is prevented from performing the activity, but rather, has limitations "compared to most people in the general population."

The EEOC has published several documents about the regulations to help the public and employers understand the law and new regulations. These documents, along with the ADAAA regulations, are available on the EEOC website at http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/adaaa_info.cfm.

FCC Proposes Rules on the Accessibility of Advanced Communications

Also in March, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued three Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRMs) as part of its efforts to implement the "Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010" (CVAA). The NPRM that has the greatest impact on workplace accommodations is one dealing with the accessibility of advanced communications services, equipment and networks. The FCC is seeking comments on how to ensure that manufacturers make their products accessible (or at least compatible with AT solutions) and how to enforce the new regulations. They are also seeking comments on the specific issue of how to make mobile phone Internet browsers accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. For more information, visit http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/cvaa.html.

Workforce Recruitment Program Connects Students with Disabilities to Employers

Seeking recent graduates or summer interns with a disability? The Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) is designed to help employers fill positions with talented college students with disabilities. This year's database contains information about over 2000 students and recent graduates, from a variety of majors, from more than 230 colleges and universities nationwide. For more information about the WRP program, visit http://www.askearn.org.

Fact Sheets on the Interactive Process

When determining accommodations, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends an "interactive process," in which employers and employees with disabilities work together to find a solution. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has recently released fact sheets that outline this process for employers in both the private and Federal sector.


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