Outline of the state of Massachusetts with people inside and "MassMATCH"MassMATCH NEWS Quarterly

Maximizing Assistive Technology in Consumers' Hands

Spring 2011
All Welcome (and many present and accounted for!)
AT Regional Center Helps "Technology Native" Keep His Job
AT For Employment Toolkits
Get AT Stuff Highlights
Product Spotlight: ErgoQuest Workstations
Did You Know? The Average Cost of a Reasonable Accommodation...
8 Great Online Employment Resources
Upcoming Events
All Welcome (and many present and accounted for!)

business woman in wheelchair working on laptop at a deskThe State as a Model Employer

Massachusetts is one of less than a dozen states across the country that has adopted a State as a Model Employer initiative for the hiring and retaining of employees with disabilities.  The effort began in 2007 when Gov. Patrick signed an Executive Order within his first 30 days in office recommitting the Commonwealth to improving the recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups, including people with disabilities. It then culminated in 2008 with the creation of the "Strategic Plan to Make Massachusetts a Model Employer for People with Disabilities," a plan that today is in full swing through the Massachusetts Office on Disability (MOD) and the state's Human Resources Division (HRD).

Model Practices to Address the Employment Gap

As with Model Employer initiatives in other states, the governor's over-arching goal is to help address the under-employment of people with disabilities (including older workers aging into disabilities). The initiative works to do so by creating and modeling best practices, policies, procedures, and awareness activities that may then be adopted by other branches of state government as well as the private sector. It's an approach that recent surveys suggest is badly needed. According to surveys released in 2010 by the Kessler Foundation and the National Organization on Disability, over the past 15 years, companies around the country have scaled back their disability hiring initiatives. Today 21 percent of working-age people with disabilities have a full- or part-time job, compared with 59 percent of people who don't have a disability.

State Goal: More Employees with Disabilities

The governor's immediate goal, however, is to increase the number of people with disabilities employed by the Executive Branch. To do so, Massachusetts will be revising its human resources procedures to ensure appropriate outreach, recruitment, hiring, retention, and promotion of individuals with disabilities. These efforts will be integrated into the state's HR modernization planned for later this year. In addition, the state has expanded and marketed its summer internship program for young adults with disabilities has created a capital fund to help state agencies pay for providing reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, and is designing workplace diversity trainings to address disability awareness.

Data Shows Progress Despite the Recession

Challenging progress, of course, is the recession and the state's hiring freeze.  Yet even with the hiring freeze on, data suggests the initiative may already be proving effective.

Between March 2007 and December 2010 the percentage of state employees who self-identified as a person with a disability went from 1.7% to 2.8% (see the winter 2010 edition of HRD's Dialogue newsletter).

The increase likely reflects the effectiveness of an aggressive awareness campaign launched by MOD and the HR Division in year one of the initiative. The campaign encouraged the self-identification of current employees with disabilities and also helped create a welcoming climate for new hires. "After all," notes MOD's General Counsel and ADA Liaison Barbara Lybarger, "even with a hiring freeze, the state is really always hiring [due to turn over]."

The effects of this awareness campaign may also be seen in the growing number of  "reasonable accommodations" the state has provided over the past three quarters for employees with disabilities. "Reasonable accommodations" is an ADA term and refers to any change or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or workplace practices that allow individuals with disabilities to perform job functions, apply for a job, or enjoy equal access to benefits. Providing better and more timely access to reasonable accommodations is an objective of the Model Employer initiative and new data shows accommodations trending upward: from 414 accommodations made in the last quarter of FY2010 to 476 in the first quarter of FY2011 (also see the sidebar article).

"The campaign helped us create a supportive environment.
It raised awareness that state workers with disabilities are already here doing the same jobs as everyone else. And it helped send a welcoming message to those with hidden disabilities to seek the supports and reasonable accommodations they may need [now or in the future]."
Poster: l am a person with a disability. I do my job, and I do it well. Change starts with you. Come forward and be counted. Fill out a Self-identification form today. The Commonwealth: Working to be a Model Employer, Deval L. Pattick, Govemor
Campaign Poster
"The bottom line," Lybarger asserts, "is that people with disabilities are very welcome in state government, are already here, and when things start to look better [economically], we'll be in a much better position to be bringing people into state government--into an environment that is really conducive to their success."  
AT Regional Center Helps "Technology Native" Keep His Job


A Cautionary Tale  

Joe G seated at workstation in his lab with alternative mouse, ergonomic keyboard, and wearing a headset and wrist brace.
Joe G. in his BU lab

In March of 2010, Boston University graduate student, Joe G., suddenly had extreme pain in both wrists. For months he had been working in a lab, funded by grants, conducting cancer-related research in his field of bioinformatics. Now he found he couldn't even touch a keyboard.
A doctor initially diagnosed Joe with Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. Later that diagnosis would change to Repetitive Strain Injury. Regardless, it was an extreme case, and rare that it came on without warning. Joe was sent to an occupational therapist and began wearing wrist splints. Unable to work, he met with BU's Disability Services office which next referred him to the MassMATCH ATRC in Boston run by Easter Seals.

The onset of Joe's injury may be rare, but his disability is one that ATRC Coordinator Cathy Bly is seeing with increasing frequency among young adults who have grown up as "technology natives." She met with Joe to consider his goals and needs.

Joe needed to access his computer to keep his job and continue in his profession, but it was unclear what devices would work best. Would he be able to use an ergonomic keyboard? An alternative mouse? Would he need to go with voice recognition software? Or some combination? Joe didn't know, but with Cathy's help and the deep device resources of the ATRC demonstration and loan program, he began his journey.

On that first visit Cathy demonstrated various alternative computer access devices. Joe decided to borrow several to get an idea of what might work. He found that an ergonomic keyboard was better than a standard keyboard, but still didn't solve his problems. He tried and eventually purchased Dragon Naturally Speaking which allows him to control his computer with his voice. Voice recognition seemed the best option for him, particularly as he experienced flare ups, and realized that he would likely never go back to just typing.

The journey, Joe emphasizes was a long one. In December he returned after another flare up. He needed a better mouse option, and confessed to Cathy that he was going hoarse using Dragon. Cathy demonstrated some alternatives: a head mouse, a foot mouse, as well as some switches and a touch screen. She also recommended upgrading to Dragon Professional for its verbal shortcuts.

Today Joe credits the ATRC's demonstration and loan services with saving his job.  "I could never have learned about and tried all those products on my own. It would have been too expensive." He now says "zip" to switch windows ("I can say that 100 times a day!") and uses a touch screen in addition to large switches for particular repetitive commands. Significantly, he is also using ergonomics software* to remind him when to take breaks. Once he was sure of what would work, he purchased the equipment for himself (and was later reimbursed for much of it by his employer).

"There are times when I cannot type at all, but now it's really not a problem. Either way, I can work at full speed. In fact for numbers, Dragon is actually a lot faster!"

*Ergonomics software is a download (free or for a fee) that can interrupt you while you work with suggestions for stretches and movement. You can program options to recommend specific exercises, play music, and even freeze your computer until you comply! Joe G's preferred (FREE!) software:  Workrave (works with Windows and Linux only)

More Free Ergonomics Software
Download a handout of desk stretches (PDF)

AT For Employment Toolkits

Rolling nylon travel bag with handle extendedThere are probably hundreds of different accommodations workplaces are now providing to employees with disabilities. Most are simple, like wrist supports or a schedule modification. Others are more complex like screen reading software, a modified workstation, or the option to telecommute. Regardless of the solution, it's the ability to think creatively about workplace practices and environments--coupled with a general awareness of assistive technology (AT) tools--that is often critical to employment success for individuals with disabilities.

To help develop these awareness skills, the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) recently partnered with Easter Seals MA to create AT for Employment Toolkits. The toolkits are for use by employment specialists and job developers. MassMATCH provided technical assistance to steward the design of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)-funded project, brainstorming needs with job placement specialists, and then helping to contract with Easter Seals to design and assemble them and provide trainings on their use.

About the Toolkits:

The toolkits are wheeled suitcases packed with information and equipment. The contents are targeted to raise awareness among employers, counselors, and potential users about the power AT can have leveling the playing field for individuals with disabilities. In total 29 kits were created, one for every MRC area office.

What's in them:
  • A guide to using the toolkit
  • Sample devices for use with individuals with different disabilities (i.e. trackball mouse, digital recorder, personal amplifier, smart pen, magnifiers, iPod Touch with memory/organization apps, etc.)
  • A binder of referral and resource information for employers and MRC staff (including the Job Accommodation Network Accommodation and Compliance Series by disability, information on Universal Design and AT, comparison charts on specific product types, open source information, etc.)
  • 3 desktop easels with presentation information on AT for individuals with different disabilities as well as information on employer tax credits and work place accommodations. 
How the toolkits are used:

The toolkits are currently integrated into employer sensitivity trainings on working with individuals with disabilities, and are helping to facilitate conversation about different types of disabilities and AT. According to Bill Allen, MRC's statewide employment placement director, most employers do not know what is available and having something in hand can make a very big impression.

MRC is also ramping up to integrate the toolkits into cross-trainings the agency has planned with major Massachusetts employers including MBTA, Allied Barton, Manpower, and Adecco. Cross-trainings allow MRC to learn about these workplaces and what is required of their employees, and for employers to learn, in turn, about services, accommodations, and on-the-job trainings MRC can provide to help fill their positions with qualified VR clients.

Allen is excited by the role he sees the AT toolkits will play to further these employer partnerships. ARRA funds, he explains, have also been used to hire six employment specialists with marketing and business backgrounds to do outreach, and create new employer relationships. The mission of that initiative dovetails nicely with deploying the toolkits. "It's all part of this infrastructure we're building for the future," he says, "for MRC's creating long-term sustainable relationships. We have a strategic plan to tap into market sectors like health care, IT, construction (for when that gets going again!) And AT is going to lead the way. As technology changes the workplace, we're going to be the go-to people for businesses when they understand what we do and all that we offer."

To learn more about what's in the toolkits: Download the AT For Employment Toolkit Power Point

Questions? Email MassMATCH Coordinator Kobena Bonney


Get AT Stuff Highlights

GGetATStuff logo: image of New England States with recycling arrows around themetATStuff--the New England "Craig's List" for AT--currently has hundreds of items available for sale or free throughout the six New England states.

As of this writing, GetATStuff highlights include:

10 Vision-related items

including a CCTV- Merlin 20" Video Magnifier for $1000 or Best Offer in East Dover, VT

2 Hearing-related items

including an FM system for $500 or Best Offer in Woonsocket, RI

19 Speech Communication-related items

including a free Zam communication device in Boston, MA

11 Learning, Cognitive, Development related items

including an Erica Eye Gaze System for $1,959.99 or Best Offer in Sudbury MA

379 Mobility, Seating, and Positioning related items

including a DuraGlide adjustable level glide bath/commode transfer system for $500 or Best Offer in Braintree, MA

305 Daily Living related items

including a bathtub safety handle for $25 in Boston, MA

66 Environmental Adaptation related items

including a Hoyer Lift for Best Offer in Manchester, NH

53 Transportation and Vehicle Modification related items

including a car topper (for a folding wheelchair) for Best Offer in Acushnet, MA

9 Computer related items

including a free eye blink switch in New Milford, CT

12 Recreation, Sports, and Leisure related items

including a special needs ride-on toy (Power Pumper 2000) for $250 or Best Offer in Sudbury MA

Go to www.getatstuff.org to search items by category or geography or to list what you need. Go to the MassMATCH AT Swap and Shop web page to learn about additional AT reuse sites.

Quick Link
Product Spotlight: ErgoQuest Workstations

man in recliner using ergotech workstation

ErgoQuest is a Michigan-based company that makes recliner and over-bed workstations. Complete workstations range from $1,500 to $10,000 and may be motorized or non-motorized. The company also sells "zero-gravity" recliners and workstation accessories.

Check out the ErgoQuest Web site.

Reminder: MassMATCH and the U.S. Department of Education make no endorsement, representation, or warranty expressed or implied for any product, device, or information set forth on this newsletter. Neither MassMATCH nor the U.S. Department of Education has examined, reviewed, or tested any product or device contained in this newsletter.

Did You Know? The Average Cost of a Reasonable Accommodation is...

stack of cash with ruler measuring itMassachusetts now has data. Beginning in late FY2010, the state has been tracking the cost of providing reasonable accommodations for its state employees and applicants with disabilities. "Reasonable accommodations" is an ADA term and refers to any change or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or workplace practices that allow individuals with disabilities to perform job functions, apply for a job, or enjoy equal access to benefits.

The Human Resources Division has been tracking the information as part of its State as a Model Employer of people with disabilities initiative.

Here's some of what was learned:


-During 3 quarters of tracking, a total of 1319 reasonable accommodations were made, ranging from duty and schedule modifications to furniture and equipment acquisition.

-The most common type of accommodation made was in the category of furniture and equipment (from specialized seating to computers), at an average cost of $262.00. 

-The most expensive category tracked was telecommunications, with an average cost of $530.00.

-The average cost of all reasonable accommodations made during these quarters was $170.00. 

"This data is consistent with the Job Accommodation Network's findings regarding the low cost of accommodations provided by employers around the country," notes an article in the winter 2010 edition of Dialogue newsletter (published by the state's Human Resources Division). "It demonstrates that providing accommodations is a practical and sustainable strategy for hiring and retaining employees with disabilities."
Download the full report at this Mass.gov Web link.
8 Great Online Employment Resources 

Hand typing on laptop


1. Work Without Limits 

State and national resources/information on employment for people with disabilities, family members, employment service providers, and employers. Developed with support

from the Massachusetts Medicaid Infrastructure and Comprehensive Employment Opportunities Grant (MI-CEO)


2. Accessible Technology for All 

AccessibleTech.org is a project of the ADA National Network geared for the business community. The site provides resources on accessible technology and AT. National Hotline: 800-949-4232 

3. Ergonomic Tips for Workstations

From Cornell University. 


4. Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR)

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN)'s Web page for exploring various accommodation options for people with disabilities in work and educational settings.


5. Employer's Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodations Under the ADA Another great JAN resource: covers Americans with Disabilities Act basics and info on reasonable accommodations for applicants, interviewees, current and former employees, and employees on leave.


6. Workplace Accommodation Examples 

Read case studies about successful workplace accommodations and add your own. This Wiki was created as a means to share unique accommodation ideas. Located at CATEA's Work RERC site (at Georgia Tech).


7. Punch-In.org 

A new self-directed Employment Assistant that is geared for young adults with disabilities seeking to enter the workforce.


8. Solving the Employment Puzzle for Youth with Disabilities 

Customizable, free parent training curriculum that focuses on providing specific

information on various employment systems for persons with disabilities. From the Pacer Center. Power Point version.

Upcoming Events

April  6th, 10am-12pm

Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston

Autism Technology Resource Fair 

April 27th, 12pm-2pm

Assistive Technology Regional Center at United Cerebral Palsy, 208 West Street Pittsfield, MA

Manage your healthcare information. Learn more about the C.A.R.E. memory wristband.

Learn how easy it is to have all of your medical history, medication and your whole medical profile available in case of an emergency. It can be in the form of a bracelet or a key chain, available at a moment's notice for EMT's, doctors and hospitals.
May 11th, 12-2pm
Assistive Technology Regional Center at United Cerebral Palsy, 208 West Street Pittsfield, MA

Dynavox Training

Learn about the newest Dynavox device - The Maestro. Learn about the features of the newest member of the Dynavox family of AAC devices.

May 11th, 10:30am-2:30pm

AT Fair sponsored by Cape Organization for Rights of the Disabled at Hyannis Resort and Conference Center at 35 Scudder Ave Hyannis  

May 18th, 12-2pm
Assistive Technology Regional Center at United Cerebral Palsy, 208 West Street Pittsfield, MA

ATRC Open House

Come in and see what the ATRC has to offer you! Do you have a friend or maybe a loved one who may need some assistance in their daily living? See if there is an AT device that they could "trial" to see if it would help them with their independence.

Save the Date!


September 23rd, 2011 at the Hynes Auditorium


Products and Technologies that Change People's Lives: Universal Design and Assistive Technology in Massachusetts

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MassMATCH | Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission | 27 Wormwood Street, Suite 600 | Boston | MA | 02210