Empowering Individuals with Disabilities and Employers through the Workforce Recruitment Program

By Guest Blogger Randy Cooper, Department of Defense Disability Program Director, Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity

Answering the call to serve

“Talent has no barriers” is Robert Zambrana’s favorite mantra. Mr. Zambrana’s determination and drive to succeed from an early age perhaps foretold a young man’s journey to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) where he’d find ample opportunity to show the workforce his many talents and launch a career at the leading agency for aeronautics and aerospace.

At age two, Mr. Zambrana was diagnosed with hearing loss. Zambrana faced discrimination and barriers in school and elsewhere for his disability which he channeled into confidence, a competitive spirit and compassion for others in the face of many challenges. He tells the story of a formative moment in high school when a school counselor suggested that, as a hearing impaired student, Zambrana would never pass the standardized exams he needed to graduate. Zambrana said simply, “Thank you for motivating me to pass this test.” And he did. In short, obstacles to Zambrana are the fuel that drives him to succeed.

After learning American Sign Language and graduating from Gallaudet University, Mr. Zambrana answered the call to public service. During a job fair, he connected with a representative from the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP), which links highly motivated college students and graduates with disabilities to public and private sector employers nationwide. The WRP is geared toward individuals with disabilities who are eager to prove themselves in the workplace. For someone like Zambrana, who was “ready to show the world what I could do,” the program was a perfect fit. It was through his WRP placement at the Department of Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) where he became a leader among his colleagues and a mentor to others with disabilities. At DEOMI, he remains well-respected for his strong performance, work ethic and love for learning.

Strength in diversity

At the Department of Defense (DoD), people are our most important resource. The Workforce Recruitment Program is an essential part of DoD’s strategy to hire individuals with disabilities and add to the diversity of our Total Force. Diversity goes beyond demographics to include different ways of thinking, abilities, backgrounds, cultures and skills, which give the Total Force a strategic advantage in achieving mission success and maintaining our highest state of readiness.

The WRP is a lynchpin for recruiting and retaining such talent and diversity across the entire federal government and the private sector. Since the program’s expansion in 1995, more than 6,000 students and recent graduates have received temporary and permanent employment opportunities. Within DoD, we consider the WRP a pipeline from the community of individuals with disabilities to our civilian workforce. Our WRP hires range from archives technicians to disaster preparedness assistants, graphic designers, biologists and program analysts, like Mr. Zambrana. Others help support emerging mission-critical fields such as security risk analysis, cybersecurity, epidemiology and biomedical science. DoD also leans on the depth of the WRP candidate pool to meet demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-focused positions. Opportunities abound for both temporary and permanent positions in the United States and abroad as well as the provision of reasonable accommodations through the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program to ensure each participant is fully equipped for success.

In DoD’s Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity (ODMEO), we closely collaborate with the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) to manage the Workforce Recruitment Program. The WRP makes for efficient and effective hiring. However, the program is widely underused or unknown. Here in DoD, we have increased our federal training of supervisors and personnel specialists, so they are informed about how to hire individuals with disabilities swiftly using the excepted hiring authority known as Schedule A. Last year, the WRP became exclusively a Schedule A hiring mechanism, making it the largest federal source for Schedule A-eligible candidates. For agencies and organizations seeking to strengthen and diversify their workforce, the WRP is a leading program that draws talent from a wide range of backgrounds.

The Workforce Recruitment Program: What you need to know

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management endorses the WRP as a model strategy for the recruitment and hiring of individuals with disabilities in response to Executive Order 13548, Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities. That’s something we are very proud of.

The WRP candidate application and selection process is straightforward. During the fall, trained WRP recruiters interview college students and recent graduates with disabilities throughout the country. Recruiters evaluate each candidate. Those who qualify are included in a WRP website portal and categorized by job interest, degree program and geographic location. By early December, the password-protected portal is made available to employers in the federal and private sectors. Once activated, prospective WRP employers are able to make direct contact with candidates to arrange interviews and make job offers. Employment may begin any time after January 2 and concludes by September 30 each year. The program is flexible. Agencies may hire candidates for temporary or permanent positions for full time or part time employment.

WRP funding is centralized for several federal agencies. Hiring managers in the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, for example, are able to draw from their agency’s WRP funding pool to cover the cost of a WRP participant’s 14-week employment period. The WRP does not limit participants’ salary. Participants may be hired at the highest grade for which they qualify – even up to the GS-15 or equivalent level.

This year’s WRP candidates are extraordinary. Among nearly 1,850 participants, 8 percent hold an associate’s degree; 72 percent have graduated with a bachelor’s; 14% hold a master’s; 1 percent have a doctorate; and 3 percent are law school graduates. They hail from 290 schools across 45 states as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Ten percent of our candidates have already served the nation in uniform and all are eager to prove their abilities in the civilian workforce. In 2014, DoD capitalized on the WRP talent, filling 265 positions across 31 states as well as in South Korea.

“I wanted to make a difference and enact change.”

Mr. Zambrana was compelled to participate in the WRP because, he said, “I wanted to make a difference and enact change.” He continues to do just that. As a budget technician at DEOMI, he learned the inner workings of the government and budget execution skills. He even became a motivational speaker for one of DEOMI’s courses and volunteers his time helping children with disabilities. The WRP, according to Zambrana, “gave me the opportunity to show my potential, my work ethic and my passion [for] the workplace. I had the opportunity to excel.” His experience at DEOMI through the WRP propelled him to land a full time position at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where he currently serves as a program analyst supporting the Launch Services Program. He devotes time to organizations that support diversity and inclusion because, he says, “diversity makes us stronger.” He stands out in his work and continues to break barriers and stereotypes in the workplace.

Mr. Zambrana is only one of many outstanding participants who have made a difference in the WRP. To the employers out there, I hope you will seize the opportunity to hire a WRP participant. Nearly 1,850 candidates are currently in the database and eager to positively impact your organization. Check out the WRP database today. To the many students and recent graduates with disabilities who follow this blog, I hope you will consider sharing your talents with the WRP and encourage your friends and classmates to do so as well. Countless federal agencies and organizations greatly benefit from your expertise, ambition and motivation. If you are an eligible candidate, please visit this page for more information. Show the world what you can do.

If you would like to learn more about the WRP, please send your questions to: [email protected]

Engage with the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity on social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Diversitydefense

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ODMEO

Instagram: https://instagram.com/odmeo/

About the Guest Blogger

As the Department of Defense Director of Disability Programs, Randy Cooper provides oversight and strategic guidance for DoD on matters pertaining to the employment of individuals with disabilities. He develops and promulgates DoD policies and programs for the direction and enforcement of Federal laws and regulations concerning disability programs. Mr. Cooper works to eliminate barriers for individuals with disabilities, including Veterans. Mr. Cooper is responsible for eliminating technological, architectural and other barriers to advance equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities, as well as Veterans.

Powered by WPeMatico

America Works Best When Everyone Is Included

By Guest Blogger Michael Morris, National Disability Institute Executive Director

All Americans should have equal opportunity to achieve financial independence, while also acquiring the skills to effectively manage their finances and make informed financial decisions.

Unfortunately, at the present time, this is not the case. Even now, 25 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) promoted “economic self-sufficiency” for people with disabilities, we continue to face many systemic hurdles that block access to a life of financial independence. Overcoming these challenges will not be easy, but today – for the very first time – we have a clearer picture of the path forward – with the release of a new National Disability Institute (NDI) report, Banking Status of Adults with Disabilities: Findings from the FDIC Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households.

Based on data mined from FDIC’s 2013 National Survey on Unbanked and Underbanked Households, the report highlights the nearly 50 percent unbanked and underbanked status and financial behaviors of people with disabilities. This report provides much-needed quantitative data that – until now – has been missing in research being conducted at the intersection of the disability and asset development communities.

Included in this report are recommendations for policy and program changes to address the financial and behavioral challenges that individuals with disabilities identify as barriers to being fully banked, a key aspect of financial inclusion.

Highlights include:

  • Among households headed by working-age persons with disability, nearly one-fifth were unbanked (18.4 percent) and more than one-fourth were underbanked (28.1 percent).
  • Households headed by working-age persons with disability were significantly more likely to report using alternative financial services than households headed by those without disability (46.7 percent vs. 35.1 percent, respectively).
  • Households headed by working-age persons with disability were significantly less likely to have a savings account (with or without a checking account) compared to households headed by those without disability (46.7 percent vs. 72.5 percent, respectively).

These findings amplify what we learned last year with the release of the NDI report, Financial Capability of Adults with Disabilities, including:

  • 81 percent of people with disabilities did not have an emergency fund to cover three months of expenses, as compared to 54 percent of people without disabilities;
  •  70 percent of people with disabilities could not come up with $2,000 in an emergency, as compared to 37 percent of people without disabilities; and
  •  50 percent reported they were “not at all satisfied” with their current financial condition, as compared to 30 percent of people without disabilities.

There is no quick reversal of trust or confidence from persons with disabilities, or other economically challenged populations, and there is no single or simple solution that will change the status, behaviors or attitudes among them. However, with public and private sector involvement, we can expand the inclusiveness of the banking system by engaging the disability community. Through the cooperation of government, financial institutions, businesses and community groups, we can design and implement strategies that improve informed financial decision-making, increase access to affordable and accessible financial products and services, build financial confidence and increase the economic inclusion of individuals with disabilities.

With the reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which helps job seekers succeed in the labor market – especially youth and those with disabilities – and the passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act late last year, which will help improve the financial security of individuals with disabilities and their families – there is more opportunity than ever before for people with disabilities to join their peers without disabilities in the economic mainstream.

Mere months from the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, we can do more together to define and implement pathways to full financial inclusion.

To learn more about National Disability Institute, please visit www.realeconomicimpact.org

About the Guest Blogger

Michael Morris is the executive director of National Disability Institute (NDI) in Washington, D.C. Morris has over 30 years of experience in and outside of government, pioneering new strategies to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Morris serves as an advisor and technical expert to multiple federal agencies on policy and systems relationships at federal, state, and local levels to advance economic stability, mobility, and asset development for persons with disabilities.

Powered by WPeMatico

The Fair Housing Act Protects People with Disabilities Against Discrimination

By Guest Blogger Bryan Greene, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

I’m Bryan Greene, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It’s a pleasure to blog again for Disability.gov in honor of Fair Housing Month. This April marks the 47th anniversary of the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing because of, among other things, a person’s disability.

In this post, I would like to highlight the issue of housing discrimination against deaf individuals, particularly the discriminatory treatment that prospective tenants who are deaf may experience when they contact housing providers. Deaf individuals who rely on assistive services, such as the Internet Protocol (IP) Relay system to conduct telephone calls, may experience less favorable treatment than non-deaf individuals. Some housing providers may refuse to discuss available units with deaf individuals, or may quote them higher prices or other inferior terms. If proven, such treatment of deaf individuals may violate the Fair Housing Act.

Recently, some of HUD’s fair housing partners have pursued cases involving allegations of discrimination against deaf prospective tenants. These groups alleged that testing they conducted revealed discrimination.

Testing is a way to compare the treatment of similar individuals who only differ on one characteristic, such as disability. It is one of the techniques used to investigate housing discrimination. Often, testing uses individuals posing as prospective tenants to find out if a housing provider will treat them differently. For example, two testers – one with and one without a disability – might contact the housing provider about the same unit in a similar time period. The testers would present themselves as being equally qualified to rent the unit. If, for instance, the housing provider tells the tester with a disability that the unit is not available, while offering to show the unit to the tester without a disability five minutes later, this could be evidence of discrimination. While an individual might suspect differential treatment, it can be difficult to prove. Thus, testing is an important investigative tool.

Last month, Access Living, a disability rights organization, sued several housing providers in Chicago, alleging that they discriminated against deaf individuals seeking apartments. Access Living conducted tests that allegedly showed housing providers “abruptly hanging up on the [deaf] tester, refusing to provide information, not returning phone calls, and/or providing different pricing information than was provided to the non-deaf tester.” In one lawsuit, Access Living alleged that a housing provider responded to a deaf tester by stating that none of the apartments were “handicapped safe.” Access Living, which receives a HUD Fair Housing Initiatives Program grant, conducted these tests with HUD funding.

Similar allegations have been made in other cases. Over the past year, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) reached nine settlements resolving allegations that housing providers in multiple states treated deaf testers using IP Relay less favorably than non-deaf testers when they inquired about renting an apartment. NFHA and NAD obtained $277,000 in the nine settlements. These complaints were filed with HUD, and while they were settled prior to investigation, HUD staff assisted with obtaining a resolution.

Finding the right place to live can be a challenge when one has a disability. HUD and our fair housing partners are committed to ensuring that individuals with disabilities do not face unlawful barriers.

Persons who believe they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed at www.hud.gov/fairhousing or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple devices, such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

About the Guest Blogger

Mr. Bryan Greene has devoted his professional career to fighting housing discrimination. From his start as a fair housing investigator in the Boston Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to his current position as the General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Mr. Greene has always worked to promote diverse, inclusive communities. Mr. Greene oversees the policy direction and operational management of HUD’s 580-person Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. Under his leadership, HUD has pursued large-scale high-profile cases that address systemic discrimination and provide widespread relief. Mr. Greene was the 2007 recipient of the Presidential Rank Award, the highest federal honor bestowed upon federal senior executives for outstanding service. Mr. Greene earned his degree in Government from Harvard University.

Powered by WPeMatico

The Arc Launches TalentScout – Guide for Employers on How to Successfully Employ People with Autism

By Guest Blogger Jonathan Lucus, Managing Director, The [email protected] at The Arc of the United States

One in 68 children today is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The unemployment rate of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including ASDs, is 85 percent. This appalling statistic, coupled with the increase in prevalence of kids being diagnosed, demands action from all sectors of our economy to ensure that people with ASDs are finding appropriate employment at a fair wage, and retaining that job with the proper supports to be successful and have a career of their choosing, just like people without disabilities.

With nearly 65 years of experience working with and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including autism, The Arc is launching an exciting new resource called TalentScout for employers to unlock the talents of people with autism in the workplace. TalentScout is s a first-of-its-kind resource toolkit that gives employers essential insight and tools to harness the fullest potential of their employees with autism and lead to higher levels of productivity in the workplace.

People with autism have a lot to contribute in all aspects of our society. In the workplace, their individual, unique talents need to be maximized to benefit both the goals of their employer and their personal desire to have and keep a job that adds meaning to their life. Far too many people with autism are left on the sidelines of our workforce and entities that have recognized the benefits of hiring someone with autism are reaping the rewards. Whether it’s the loyalty that someone with a disability may bring to their employer, or their unique skill set that gets the job done, people with autism are ready for hire.

TalentScout is a valuable resource for government agencies that are working to implement President Obama’s initiative (EO 13548) to hire 100,000 people with disabilities into the federal government workforce and for federal government contractors who need to bring their companies in compliance with the new 503 regulations on employment of people with disabilities.

TalentScout is a unique resource for employers in that its content has been vetted by people with autism and it includes their first-hand accounts and insights as job applicants and employees. It is backed by years of nationwide experience from The Arc’s vast chapter network and by Autism NOW: The National Autism Resource and Information Center.

We’ve gotten great feedback from the business community too:

“TalentScout is an extremely valuable guide. This sets the bar high for employers.” – Jose Velasco, SAP, Head, Autism at Work Program.

“The personal stories and insights took this document to another level.” – Kristie King, Comcast/NBC Universal, Manager, Diversity Recruitment.

TalentScout is one component of The [email protected], which is leading the way in developing innovative workforce solutions for the government and private sector by connecting employers with talented employees with I/DD and supporting the recruitment, on-boarding and retention process.

About The Arc

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of more than 665 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

About the Guest Blogger

Jonathan Lucus is the Managing Director of The [email protected] at The Arc of the United States. In his role, he is responsible for creating social enterprise programs that support businesses in hiring and retaining individuals with I/DD in their companies and for developing workforce programs for The Arc chapter network around the country.

Before coming to The Arc, Jonathan has had over twelve years of program administration experience that has supported marginalized populations that ranged from refugees to under-served women’s populations to at-risk youth. He has overseen national technical assistance programs for the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement and created a national job placement and a training agency that has supported refugee populations across the U.S. During this time his work on integration and workforce development was recognized as an international best practice by the U.N. Commissioner for Refugees. He has written language for Congressional legislation that was passed into law and has provided consultation to the United Nations, European Union, Department of State, Department of Health and Human Services, and various countries around the world.

Jonathan is the founder and president of Alexandria West Rotary Club and has been a member of Rotary for over a decade where he has lead humanitarian projects in Russia and Zimbabwe.

He received his MPA from the UNCG, certification of Russian language and culture from Lomonosov Moscow State University, and a BS in Psychology from Greensboro College.

Powered by WPeMatico

A Roadmap to “Life After High School”

By Guest Blogger Tracey Fecher, Vice President of Programs for Community Gatepath

Throughout the next decade, more than half a million young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in America will be “aging-out” of the education system when they turn 21 or 22. Those statistics are alarming. Families will face overwhelming changes when the systems that have been in place to support both child and family disappear once school services end. The premiere of NBC Dateline’s investigative report, “On the Brink,” earlier this week created a great buzz in the autism community across the nation, effectively shining a spotlight on this crisis. Camera crews documented the emotional journey of two families, during the course of a few years, who navigated this important transition in their child’s life.

ASD is the fastest growing developmental disability nationally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of people diagnosed with ASD is increasing rapidly and expected in some states to double during the next decade. Federal and state governments must respond to the growing demand for adequate support systems and services for adults so individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities can thrive and aren’t left floundering when they no longer have the education system that has supported them since they were preschoolers.

Young people with autism and their families need tools to help them prepare for the transition into adulthood. The mother of one of the young men highlighted in “On the Brink” described this life-phase as equivalent to sadly being “pushed off a cliff.”

To ensure those families prepare themselves for this critical life-change, AbilityPath, in partnership with Special Olympics and Best Buddies, published “The Journey to Life After High School: A Road Map for Parents of Children with Special Needs” – a comprehensive resource guide and report that can be used as a tool to chart a child’s transition into adulthood. It gives an overview of what lies ahead and a detailed list of resources for where to go for support.

“Life After High School” guides families along the journey that they and their children will take after high school. Parents of children with special needs learn to assertively navigate a social, legal and educational maze to secure the services they and their children need. But what goes on during childhood pales in comparison to the years that follow. All too often, families discover that there is little coordination – and a lot of fragmentation – among agencies and services for those with special needs who are over the age of 18 or 22. Too many communities lack quality services and programs available for young adults with special needs.

Families are often faced with difficult decisions and limited knowledge of available resources. Building the new support structure for their adult child requires sorting through a maze of options while also learning about a variety of new laws, systems, benefits and requirements. At the same time, young adults with special needs are grappling with the physical and emotional changes brought about by adolescence just like their typically-developing counterparts. Their feelings about the future may be complex or even contradictory. Parents too may feel overwhelmed and not sure how to help their child move into the wider world.

Not every teenager with special needs will go on to a four-year college. Some will choose community college. Some will get vocational training. Some will work. Some will go into day programs. Some will stay home. In any case, the transition brings profound physical, emotional, social and legal changes.

Young adults with special needs and disabilities should have the same opportunities as their peers for a productive life after high school. They want the same things as their peers – to learn, make friends, discover what they are good at, find meaningful work and achieve independence. However, only one out of five people with a disability are working today. There are agencies throughout the United States, like the Silicon Valley-based agency Community Gatepath, that are actively working with businesses to develop employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.

“Life After High School” is intended to be a guide for families to help them find the right pathway for their child through the legal, social and regulatory changes that come with the transition to adulthood. It is filled with practical information and advice from other families. It clearly explains the laws and services that protect someone with special needs, creates a guideline for the individualized education program, and lays out the various paths an individual can take after high school. The report culminates in the first-ever national directory of state agencies that help families everywhere find the support services they need.

Dateline’s “On the Brink,” which followed two families through this important transitional phase, was a realistic and alarming glimpse into what lies ahead for the millions of young people with developmental disabilities. It’s important for families approaching this critical stage in life to know that there are tools available to help them navigate the journey ahead so they can be better prepared for the change.

“Life After High School” is the third in a series of original reports published by AbilityPath.org, an online forum of Community Gatepath dedicated to serving the families of individuals with special needs and disabilities.  It is available for FREE download at www.abilitypath.org.

About the Guest Blogger

Tracey Carrillo Fecher has a unique background that brings together children’s services, employment programs and project management. Tracey joined Community Gatepath in 2010 and currently holds the Vice President of Programs position, where she oversees all of the organization’s programs that serve individuals from birth through retirement. Most recently, she served as the Administrative Director of Children’s services. Tracey has dedicated the last 15 years of her career to working in the non-profit space with an emphasis on developing programs for children, youth organizations and families.  During this time, she demonstrated significant expertise in leading complex projects which included a variety of stakeholders with diverse needs.  Before to her non-profit focus, Tracey spent 10 years working for an industry leading computer company utilizing her consultative and sales experience to collaborate and find solutions to her customers’ technical needs.

About Community Gatepath

For more than 90 years, Community Gatepath has been “Turning Disabilities Into Possibilities.” As one of the premier nonprofits in Silicon Valley, we provide inclusive programs for people with special needs at all stages and ages. These programs enable Gatepath to create opportunities of greater independence for children, youth and adults with special needs and disabilities, empowering both individuals and families through diverse, individualized education and support services. Our dedicated staff encourage physical, developmental and social well-being at all levels, including early intervention and therapy for children, inclusive preschools, support services for families, social communication programs for youth, vocational training for adults and employment placement. An online resource center is available at AbilityPath.org and peer-to-peer programs allow parents to share expertise and insights.

Powered by WPeMatico

Start the Conversation: Why We Need Affordable Personal Care Options

By Guest Blogger Eli Gelardin, Executive Director, Marin Center for Independent Living

My earliest memories of disability did not come from my own experience with dwarfism and hearing loss, but through my grandfather, Irv, who experienced a massive stroke shortly after I was born. The stroke resulted in full paralysis on the left side of his body and my grandfather required full-time personal care thereafter. Like many Americans, he became disabled later in life.

My grandfather’s story is not unique; in fact, one of the significant challenges our country is facing today is that we are aging and consequently aging into disability. According to the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, 70 percent of adults older than the age of 65 will need homecare supports in their lifetime. Since approximately 14 percent of our country’s population is older than 65, this means roughly 4.4 million Americans will need homecare in order to continue living independently in their communities.

My colleague, Alice Wong, wrote an excellent article published on Disability.gov’s blog, entitled “Consumer Directed Personal Care as a Human Right.” In her post, she describes the cost-effectiveness of personal care versus nursing home care and/or other medical institutions. As she notes, California spends three times more on nursing facility care ($32,406 per user) than home and community based services ($9,129 per user). She also discusses the value of consumer directed personal care programs like In-Home Support Services (IHSS) in California and describes the tremendous impact they have on keeping individuals with disabilities living and working in the community.

Unfortunately, there is still a gap in services for many people with disabilities, as not everyone has access to government care programs. To qualify for programs like In-Home Support Services, an individual must meet Medicaid eligibility criteria. Typically, this means having limited assets (less than $2,000 per individual) and a total income below Social Security’s Substantial Gainful Activity Level (currently $1,090).

While there are exceptions for individuals who are working and disabled to retain Medicaid eligibility like Social Security’s 1619B provision and California’s Working Disabled Program (allowing a California resident to earn up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level while receiving Medicaid), these programs typically apply to younger individuals with disabilities and not to older adults and retirees. As are result, millions of Americans who are aging into disability do not qualify for Medicaid and government-funded personal care.

Additionally, the cost of private home care is rising. According to Genworth Financial Inc., the median cost of private home health services is $20 an hour with a five-year annual growth rate of 1.32 percent each year. This would mean that someone, who has aged into disability, does not qualify for Medicaid and requires a minimum of 12 hours of care per day, could potentially rack up more than $2,000 a week in homecare costs. This is simply unaffordable for the majority of Americans.

So how do we as a country ensure that individuals who are aging into disability can continue living in their communities? Long-term Care Insurance and Long Term Disability Insurance are two options, but purchasing them in the private market can be expensive, and unfortunately, they do not cover most older adults who already have a disability. While there have been legislative attempts like the CLASS ACT to create universal long term care insurance programs, these efforts have failed to gain bi-partisan support and fizzled.

There is no silver bullet to address the long-term care crisis, but I believe we need to continue to search for innovative solutions. We need to develop affordable personal care options for all individuals with disabilities, including those who do not qualify for Medicaid services. We also must grow a highly skilled workforce of care providers, which will require an investment in training and educational resources. These needs can be met by aging and disability service providers, health plans and other community-based organizations.

In California, one option is using online personal care registries like the one developed by my organization, QuickMatch.org. Our online registry has allowed our small organization to reach a much broader spectrum of individuals who need affordable personal care services but do not qualify for Medicaid. Ultimately, this country must recognize the urgent need for a quality personal care infrastructure and invest in creating solutions.

In order to reach this goal, we must advocate. We need to share our stories. We have to educate our communities about the importance of quality personal care and how it is crucial to the long-term well-being of our family and friends. We need to talk about care providers and the economic and social value they bring to our community. And we must preserve personal care as a right of every individual regardless of age, race, ability or socio-economic status.

So let’s talk: how do we ensure that everyone has a right to affordable and high quality self-directed care? Leave a comment or tweet at @MarinCIL using the hashtag #selfdirectedcare to get the conversation started.

About the Guest Blogger

Eli Gelardin serves as the executive director of Marin Center for Independent Living (MCIL). Mr. Gelardin has more than a decade of experience working in disability services and advocacy. During his leadership at MCIL, the small grassroots organization has grown to an annual budget of approximately $900,000 with 11 staff members and serves more than 800 individuals with disabilities each year. In 2013, MCIL was recognized as a California Center of Excellence by its peers.

Mr. Gelardin also serves as the co-creator of QuickMatch.org, an innovative Web application that blends the high tech capacity of an online personal care registry with the high touch services of local nonprofit community-based organizations. QuickMatch.org was recently featured as a model for homecare innovation at the National Home and Community Based Services Conference in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Gelardin translates his personal experience as an individual with a disability into his professional roles. He currently serves as the Chair of the California State Independent Living Council (CA SILC), Chief Financial Officer of the Mission San Rafael Rotary Foundation and a board member of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers (CFILC) and the World Institute on Disability (WID).

Mr. Gelardin lives in the Bay Area with his wife, Christina, and their two children. They are a multigenerational disabled and proud family.

Powered by WPeMatico

Inspired to Connect

By Guest Blogger Wayne Connell, Founder and President, Invisible Disabilities Association (IDA)

Yes, I’m one of the 72 percent of online adults who visit Facebook at least once a month. Actually, I check my Facebook multiple times a day. There were more than 1.4 billion active Facebook users worldwide as of January 28 and more than 890 million use it daily. And of course I use Twitter too, along with the 288 million other users sending 500 million tweets a day, according to Twitter’s statistics page.

I founded the Invisible Disabilities® Association in 1996 and we launched our first website in 1997. The Internet, or World Wide Web, was just getting started. Yet we had twenty- to twenty-five thousand people a month visit our site. Why so many? I believe that people living with illness and pain were trapped in their homes and the Internet became a window to the world for them.

In 1999, we launched our first online community on Yahoo groups and the Invisible Disabilities® Community (IDC) was born. IDC became a place to share the triumphs and tragedies of life with people who were on similar journeys. In 2007, we moved the community to the Ning platform, which was like a private MySpace. The community grew to more than 4,500 during the next seven years.

“I joined [the IDA Social Network] soon after I had to quit work and it saved my life. To this day (over 5 years later) I still maintain friendships that span the country (no, the world). It is a website that values your feelings and your privacy.” – Jane

In 2014, we moved the Invisible Disabilities® Community to Facebook and Google+; between the two groups, IDC grew to almost 9,000 members. We soon learned that Facebook and Google+ did not have the capabilities of the old Ning platform and the groups became more of a free-for-all. We needed a platform with the ability to have skilled moderation, a solid track record of management and a breadth of services and offerings. We found it on the Inspire platform.

The Inspire platform will allow the Invisible Disabilities® Association Community’s members to have access to over 200 support communities, more than 80 trusted partners like IDA and access to over 580,000 members! Since the launch on February 19, the Invisible Disabilities® Association Community (IDAC) has grown to almost 800 members. The IDAC can be reached at either http://invisibledisabilities.inspire.com or http://invisibledisabilitiescommunity.org.

Yet the question still remains, is social media a good place to connect and build relationships? Over the years, we believe that the answer can be a resounding yes. We see posts daily such as the one previously mentioned above, that the IDAC was a life-saver, a place to no longer feel alone.

Many understand the value of support groups. The Mayo Clinic, under their Healthy Lifestyle and Stress Management blog, sheds the following light on support groups:

Regardless of format, in a support group, you’ll find people with problems similar to yours. Members of a support group typically share their personal experiences and offer one another emotional comfort and moral support. They may also offer practical advice and tips to help you cope with your situation.

Benefits of participating in support groups may include:

  • Feeling less lonely, isolated or judged
  • Gaining a sense of empowerment and control
  • Improving your coping skills and sense of adjustment
  • Talking openly and honestly about your feelings
  • Reducing distress, depression or anxiety
  • Developing a clearer understanding of what to expect with your situation
  • Getting practical advice or information about treatment options
  • Comparing notes about resources, such as doctors and alternative options

Support groups are a key component to being able to navigate a journey with illness and pain as noted above. There are many great in-person support groups, yet because their energy levels are measured hour by hour, many with invisible disabilities cannot attend in person at a specific time and place. The value of an online support group is that they can attend whenever they have the energy to go online.

The Emotional Life PBS.org blog shares about how close relationships, which I believe are built through online communities, help with happiness:

Belonging to a group or community gives us a sense of identity. It helps us understand who we are and feel part of something larger than ourselves. Researchers also find that people with strong social connections have less stress-related health problems, lower risk of mental illness, and faster recovery from trauma or illness. Friends and family can also encourage and support us in healthy lifestyle habits, such as exercise and moderation.

Researchers have found that people are happier when they are with other people than when they are alone—and the “boost” is the same for introverts and extroverts. They also are finding that happy people are more pleasant, helpful, and sociable. So being around people makes us feel happier, and when we are happier we are more fun to be around, creating an “upward spiral” of happiness.

Even celebrities such as Avril Lavigne are impacted by the value of an online community. According to US Magazine:

In December [2014], Lavigne began to field questions from fans as to her whereabouts. A fan Twitter account under the handle of @AvrilMusicChart posted a screenshot of direct messages with Lavigne, in which she spoke about her health issues.

“I feel bad because I haven’t been able to say anything to fans to let them [know] why I’ve been absent,” she reportedly said at the time. “I’m torn as I’m quite private… I’m not feeling well. I’m having some health issues. So please keep me in your prayers.”

While she chose not to give any further information on her mysterious illness, Lavigne did tweet to her supporters that week, “Thank you to all the fans for the sweet get well messages and all the tweets. I appreciate the lovely notes and well wishes from everyone.”

CNN reported that the Canadian singer has revealed to People magazine that she was bedridden for five months after contracting Lyme disease.

“I felt like I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t talk, and I couldn’t move,” she told the magazine. “I thought I was dying.”

The 30-year-old performer said she recuperated in her Ontario home, where her husband would use tour breaks to care for her and her mother moved in to assist.

“There were definitely times I couldn’t shower for a full week because I could barely stand,” she told People. “It felt like having all your life sucked out of you.”

After her direct message about her health went viral, Lavigne was inundated with concern from fans.

“The get-well messages and videos they sent touched me so deeply,” she said.

The power of social media to be used for good is noted in the reactions of Lavigne’s community of fans. They spread her story across the Internet and the request for prayers. She responded with kind words and gratitude.

Noted in my blog, The Loneliness of Illness and Pain:

As someone who has been a caregiver for almost 20 years, I can understand and relate to that isolation and loneliness. My wife, Sherri, and I hardly ever have guests visit our home and the phone rarely rings, except for calls from telemarketers. We understand firsthand how people’s perceptions and misunderstandings regarding illness and pain many times cause them to stop connecting with those they are closest to.

At IDA, our mission is to encourage, educate and connect people and organizations touched by illness, pain and disability. We will continue to provide ways to connect in community for people who feel isolated and alone due to their illness. Join us at the Invisible Disabilities® Association Community on Inspire today. Find new friends, people who are on similar journeys who truly understand illness and pain. Be part of a loving group who find happiness despite the difficulties because people caring for each other really does matter. Be believed does help relieve the stress. I hope you are now inspired to connection. Let’s all envision a world where people living with illness, pain and disability will be Invisible No More®.

About the Guest Blogger

Wayne Connell, the founder and president of the Invisible Disabilities® Association, established IDA in 1996 out of the desire to educate friends and family about his wife’s debilitating illness. Soon afterwards, people around the globe began sending emails sharing how IDA had changed their relationships with their loved ones. He is co-author of the book, “But You LOOK Good, How to Encourage and Understand People Living with Illness and Pain.” Wayne’s background fueled his passion for helping people living with illness, pain and disability. His experience includes that of a professional, multitasking husband caregiver with an extensive background in management, media and technology. This man on a mission quickly launched IDA into a world-wide outreach for millions living with invisible disabilities.

Make sure you check out IDA’s website for additional resources and stories at www.InvisibleDisabilities.org. Share your personal video story with us at www.InvisibleNoMore.tv. You can also be part of other people’s stories by joining them at www.Facebook.com/invisibledisabilities or becoming a member of InvisibleDisabilities.Inspire.com.

Powered by WPeMatico

Getting Hired for Work-at-Home Is a Different Process

By Guest Blogger Paula Reuben Vieillet, President and Founder of Employment Options Inc. 

Even though there are many similarities between applying for a local job and applying for a virtual work-at-home job, there are many significant differences. Your knowledge about this process can be the edge you need to secure the job you want!

The Application Process

Unlike jobs in your local community, almost all work-at-home jobs require an application to be submitted online. This submission tells the employer that you have access to a computer and you have a specific skill set to use the Internet and follow detailed instructions online. Most will not take phone calls or emailed resumes. They require you to use the submitted form.

Unlike applying in-person, tech issues can get in the way. Nevertheless, they can be overcome with patience and persistence! Below are some tips to solve some of the most common problems.

If you encounter Internet problems when accessing or submitting the company’s form, first, try to change your browser. For example, if you are applying using Google Chrome, try Mozilla Firefox instead. (Often companies will give you tips on the best browsers for different computer systems). Second, clear any cookies or caches before submitting an application.

Third, try later as the problem may not be on your end – that is, the company may be having technical difficulties.

Assuming that the form and your computer are cooperating, try to save frequently just in case. In addition, be sure to take your time and proofread before submitting the completed application. This is key! It is very common to scroll right past a question online or press the SUBMIT button without reviewing your grammar and spelling. Most forms do not spell check for you!

Remember, that “saving” a form is not always the same as “submitting.” Be sure to actually submit your application. Then, be patient! It may take two or three minutes to fully process the form. Don’t close your browser until you get a confirmation of a successful submission!

Response by Phone or Email

Just like applying for a local job, you will most likely hear if you have an interview by phone or email.

Be sure you have a good working phone number, and most importantly, a professional sounding voicemail. Call yourself and listen to your message as if you were the hiring manager. Is this the impression you want to give a prospective employer? (You can always change it back after you obtain a job.) Be sure and check for messages frequently!

First impressions also count with regards to online applications, especially when it comes to email addresses.  Don’t use something like [email protected] or [email protected] Keep it professional. Be sure to check your email a few times a day and if you don’t hear from the company, be sure to check your spam folder!  Their email may have ended up there.

Computer, Software and Phones

Since you will be required usually to have a landline for a virtual position, the work-at-home employer will require a compatibility test on your landline phone and your computer’s technology. But it isn’t a big deal. It is usually a link and a series of steps. They do it because their software may require a minimum Internet upload or download speed to work properly.

For work-at-home positions, there is often a typing test for speed and accuracy. Take this helpful practice test, where you can practice and improve your scores before applying online. Typically work-at-home employers want at least 25 words per minute and accuracy counts as much, if not more, than your speed.

Virtual Interviews

Although there are companies that have applicants talk to one recruiter, many work-at-home jobs are conducted as a group interview. You will need a phone or computer and sometimes a USB headset for this interview. The employer will send you a phone number to call or he or she might provide you a link that will connect you. (Note: While you might be able to use a cell phone to interview, most employers require a landline to actually work from home.)

Group interviews usually consist of one Human Resource professional and 8-15 other applicants. If they can see you, make sure you look well-groomed. Initially, they will inform you more about the job, hours, shift schedule and responsibilities to make sure you still want it.

Many people often get screened out in the first interview because they are not willing to work the hours required, which may include weekends and holidays for many entry work-at-home positions.

It is important to carefully study and read the job requirements before interviewing. It is best to be realistic about your availability when you first decide to apply and not wait until the interview stage. Not all employers have the same schedules or operating hours.

Paid Training

If you are offered the job from home, (way to go!), most W-2 employers will pay for your training. During training, you will be learning their proprietary software and procedures. Many work-at-home jobs require full-time training hours, even if you are accepting a part-time position. Be sure that your schedule allows for this. Depending on the complexity of the job, training can range from several days to many weeks. You will have assignments throughout the process and your complete attendance and participation is mandatory.

Where to Apply Online

Now that you know key tips to consider for work-at-home, make sure you are applying with ‘legitimate’ work-at-home employers. For a quick refresher on how to avoid work-at-home scams, check out my YouTube Video.

Remember, most importantly, it should not cost you to get a work-at-home job with a direct employer. The only items an employer might ask for with regards to up-front money are your background checks, or at times, certain small equipment like a special headset.

If you are a person with a disability, you might be able to receive free help in finding work-at-home jobs as part of the free Ticket to Work program. Only agencies and companies certified by the Social Security Administration are eligible to work in this program. Many local agencies do not have access to work-at-home positions, so if you are looking to work-at-home consider using an Employment Network that specializes in this area and serves multiple states.

About the Guest Blogger

Paula Reuben Vieillet is president and founder of Employment Options Inc., a certified Social Security Administration Employment Network in the Ticket to Work Program, which assists those on SSDI/SSI benefits in returning to the workforce. They specialize in work-at-home Employment and have long-term relationships with national employers. In addition, they offer community on-site jobs serving 47 states. Her company, which also has a Facebook and Twitter page, lets interested jobseekers apply online for their free services at www.MyEmploymentOptions.com. You can also learn more about their Work-at-Home Specialties. Paula is a frequent consultant to the SSA on the Ticket to Work Program and has authored three books on job placement. 

If you have any questions about the company’s free services, nationwide job openings or resources for people with disabilities, email Lori Adler at [email protected] or call 800-441-3114, ext. 754 (Shieka) or ext. 763 (Lori).

Powered by WPeMatico

Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Program on Interacting with People with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities

These training materials were developed by the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to help state law enforcement officers safely and effectively communicate with people with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families. This link opens a PDF file.

Visit Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Program on Interacting with People with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities

The post Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Program on Interacting with People with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities appeared first on Disability.gov.

Powered by WPeMatico

University of Southern California Pain Center

Find information for patients, their families and medical professionals about the treatment of chronic pain. Learn about the services the center provides and options for dealing with chronic pain. For more information call 323-442-6202.

Visit University of Southern California Pain Center

The post University of Southern California Pain Center appeared first on Disability.gov.

Powered by WPeMatico

Quench The Fire – Resources for Californians with Chronic Pain

Supports education, research and treatment of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, also known as Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome, and Neuropathic Chronic Pain diseases. Learn about the University of Southern California Chronic Pain Support Circle and other resources for people living with chronic pain. Find volunteer opportunities. For more information call 323-442-6202.

Visit Quench The Fire – Resources for Californians living with Chronic Pain

The post Quench The Fire – Resources for Californians with Chronic Pain appeared first on Disability.gov.

Powered by WPeMatico

U.S. Access Board Proposes ICT Update

By Guest Blogger David Baquis, U.S. Access Board

In February, the U.S. Access Board, an independent federal agency, released a proposed rule to update accessibility requirements for information and communication technologies (ICT). Long in the making, this proposal is the culmination of a decade of effort that began with recommendations from an advisory committee organized by the Board, the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee which comprised a broad cross-section of stakeholders representing industry, disability groups, government agencies, and other countries.

The proposal, which is officially known as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), refreshes standards for electronic and information technology in the federal sector covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It also updates guidelines for telecommunications equipment issued under Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934. The Board is updating both documents jointly to ensure consistency in accessibility across the spectrum of ICT covered, including computers, telecommunications equipment, multifunction office machines, software, websites, information kiosks and transaction machines, and electronic documents. Examples of ICT accessibility include captioning of videos, providing controls for captioning and audio description, and compatibility of websites, documents and software with assistive technology.

The proposed rule contains performance-based criteria as well as technical requirements for hardware, software, and support documentation and services. Access is addressed for all types of disabilities, including those pertaining to vision, hearing, speech and manual dexterity.

The proposed rule updates various requirements to address fundamental shifts and trends in the market, such as the convergence of technologies and the increasingly multi-functional capabilities of products like smart phones. Another key goal of this update is to promote consistency with other requirements in the U.S. and abroad in order to improve accessibility and to facilitate compliance. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are incorporated by reference and are applied to web-based content, as well as to software and documents, including those that are offline.

The proposed rule includes parallel chapters separately addressing application and scoping of the Section 508 Standards and the Section 255 Guidelines (Chapters 1 and 2). These sections reference functional performance criteria (Chapter 3), technical requirements for hardware and software (Chapters 4 and 5) and criteria for support documentation and services (Chapter 6). The functional performance criteria of Chapter 3 are outcome-based provisions that address accessibility relevant to disabilities impacting vision, hearing, color perception, speech, manual dexterity, reach and strength. The online version of the rule includes guidance in the form of advisory notes to further explain or clarify the requirements.

The Board seeks public comment on the proposed rule as well as a preliminary assessment of its estimated benefits and costs. The Board welcomes comment on any aspect of the proposal but is particularly interested in responses to the more than 40 questions on various topics it has posed in the rule. The rule includes instructions on submitting comments which are due May 28, 2015. Comments can be submitted or viewed through the federal rulemaking portal at www.regulations.gov. Comments also can be sent in by email ([email protected]), fax (202-272-0081) or mailed or delivered to the Board (Office of Technical and Information Services, Access Board, 1331 F Street NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20004-1111).

During the comment period, the Board held public hearings on the rule in San Diego (March 5), Washington, DC (March 11) and Salt Lake City (April 29). After the close of the comment period, the Board will proceed to finalize the rule based on its review of public comments. The Board will publish the final rule in the Federal Register.

Following publication of the rule, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council and federal agencies must incorporate the revised 508 Standards into their respective acquisition regulations and procurement policies and directives within six months. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is responsible for enforcing the Communications Act and has issued regulations that contain requirements based on the Board’s original Section 255 Guidelines. The updated 255 Guidelines will similarly be available for the FCC’s use in its enforcement of the Communications Act.

Visit the Board’s website at www.access-board.gov/ictrefresh for further information on this rulemaking.

About the Guest Blogger

David Baquis is an Accessibility Specialist with the U.S. Access Board. He delivers presentations, writes technical assistance materials, and responds to public inquiries on Sections 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and 255 of the Telecommunications Act. He is currently involved with updating the Board’s rule on information and communication technology accessibility. His background blends experience in healthcare, consumer education, disability issues, technology and public policy.

Powered by WPeMatico

Balance Problems after Traumatic Brain Injury

This article explains common balance problems that can result from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and treatment options to help improve balance and coordination.

Visit Balance Problems after Traumatic Brain Injury

The post Balance Problems after Traumatic Brain Injury appeared first on Disability.gov.

Powered by WPeMatico

Rights of People with Hearing Loss

This article explains the legal rights of people with hearing loss, including information on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. Includes tips on advocating for yourself. Also has a list of state resources to find further information and assistance.

Visit Rights of People with Hearing Loss

The post Rights of People with Hearing Loss appeared first on Disability.gov.

Powered by WPeMatico

American Foundation for the Blind Center on Vision Loss

The Center, located in Dallas, TX, helps Americans with vision loss find resources, services and independent living solutions. Has more than 500 devices available to try out that help people with visual disabilities read, use a computer or telephone and live independently and safely. For more information call 214-352-7222 or email [email protected].

Visit American Foundation for the Blind Center on Vision Loss

The post American Foundation for the Blind Center on Vision Loss appeared first on Disability.gov.

Powered by WPeMatico

A Parents’ Guide to First Aid

Offers tips on keeping your home and children safe. Includes information about poison prevention, first aid, emergency preparedness and protecting your family from fire.

Visit A Parents’ Guide to First Aid

The post A Parents’ Guide to First Aid appeared first on Disability.gov.

Powered by WPeMatico

Summer Safety Tips

Information from the National Weather Service about how to stay safe during the summer months. Includes information on avoiding heat stroke, staying cool and protecting your pets during hot weather. Find pool safety tips from the American Red Cross.

Visit Summer Safety Tips

The post Summer Safety Tips appeared first on Disability.gov.

Powered by WPeMatico

Technologies in the Works That Will Improve Quality of Life

By Guest Blogger Kathy Pretz, editor in chief of The Institute, IEEE’s member newspaper

Engineers around the world are hard at work developing technologies that will make life easier for those with disabilities. Members of IEEE – the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity – are among them. The ones featured here are working on projects to help people with ALS, those who are wheelchair-bound and others who need a helping hand with household chores.

A Communication Device for ALS

Lama Nachman, director of Intel’s Anticipatory Computing Lab in Santa Clara, Calif., is leading the team that is upgrading Stephen Hawking’s communication system and making it open source. This will eventually help others living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – better known as ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that causes muscle twitching, weakness and speech impairment – to better communicate. Hawking, the famous British theoretical physicist and cosmologist, relies on an Intel computer system to type and voice his thoughts as well as navigate computer applications and Internet browsing. His upgraded system reduced the number of words he needed to spell out completely by adding word-prediction technology that is used in smartphones. It also sped up common tasks such as opening a document or browsing the Web.

While the current platform is tailored to Hawking, Nachman says it should be easy to adapt for others by making the word-prediction software more conversational and expanding the motion-sensing capabilities to detect movements beyond a twitch of the cheek, which is how Hawking controls the system. Her team is now working on a facial-gesture recognition tool so that users can, for example, choose an application or open a new document using various facial expressions.

A Wheelchair That Adjusts to its Environment

Mahesh Krishnamurthy, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, created a low-cost, power-assisted wheelchair that could sense its surroundings and would be simple to operate. Krishnamurthy began with a widely used conventional manual chair and added an electric power boost. He then combined a classic motor control method with a novel approach that lets the wheelchair adapt to the driving conditions.

One challenge for a wheelchair user is caused by the moderate changes in a sidewalk’s center-to-street grade. In conventional power-assist chairs, such banking can cause the chair to veer toward the street unless additional force is applied to the street-side wheel. Another problem occurs when a wheelchair going uphill needs to turn left or right. More force must be applied to just one wheel. Such variations require extra muscle effort and could cause the chair to tip over.

Krishnamurth’s chair will be able to sense moderate changes in a sidewalk’s center-to-street grade, making adjustments accordingly. The torque automatically increases as the chair goes uphill. On a banked sidewalk, the system automatically distributes torque between the wheels. “No matter what the driving circumstances – uphill, downhill or banking – from the user’s perspective, ideally we want nothing to change,” Krishnamurthy says. “They should be able to push equally on both sides so that one arm does not feel any more tired than the other. We are trying to reduce stress on patients’ muscles while at the same time avoiding muscle atrophy,” Krishnamurthy says. “We hope that people who use this chair find it to be a simple yet effective addition to their daily lives, whether it is for a short or long period of time, without having to learn to use it.”

A Robot Helper for the Home

Takeo Kanade, a professor at the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute in Pittsburgh, is the founder of the university’s National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center, which develops quality-of-life technologies such as robots that perform household chores. Clinicians and caregivers are involved, describing patient needs and giving feedback on prototypes. “Instead of starting out with engineers saying, ‘Let’s build this cool robot and see if people like it,’ you need to start with what people want and how they’ll accept working with a robot,” Kanade says.

The Home Exploring Robot Butler, affectionately known as HERB, is a two-armed silver robot on wheels that stands 54 inches tall and weighs 400 lbs. It assists with household tasks such as picking up objects, opening and closings refrigerator doors, and microwaving meals. The Personal Mobility and Manipulations Appliance is a wheelchair with arms that can be controlled by the rider or remotely by a caregiver. It is the first fully robotic mobility and manipulation device for people with disabilities.

An impetus for Kanade’s focus on quality-of-life technologies was his aging mother’s rapid decline after an accident that significantly decreased her mobility. Kanade was visiting her frequently in Japan and he wanted to monitor her between visits. He wondered whether robotics could help. “My mother died before I got the grant,” he says, adding that her spirit propels his work. “As a young engineer, I think I was romantic about the future of robotics,” he says. “I believed that robots and computers would be smarter than humans. Now, I believe that robots and humans enhance each other’s performance. I see them as having a beautiful friendship.”

About the Guest Blogger

Kathy Pretz is the editor in chief of The Institute, IEEE’s member newspaper. IEEE has more than 426,000 members in over 160 countries.


Powered by WPeMatico