CAP delivers accessible equipment

Advanced Technology Institute: Accessibility Forum

Whether they work inside the Beltway, in Baltimore, Bahrain or Bangkok, federal government employees with disabilities now can get the special computer hardware, software and other electronic technology they need to do their jobs through a technology program run by the Defense Department.

After a decade of serving defense workers with disabilities, the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) has added 43 other federal agencies as recipients of its services.

Now agencies from the State Department to the Federal Communications Commission and the Institute of Museums and Library Services can turn to experts at the Pentagon for help.

"If a person with a disability knows what they need, we'll get it for them. If they don't know what they need, we'll work with them to identify what they need, and when we find the technology that works for them, we'll buy it," said Seville Allen, a CAP specialist in services for those with blindness or low vision and cognitive disabilities.

"We send stuff all over the world," she said.

CAP recently shipped equipment to State Department employees in Paris and South Africa and provided software and technical support for a tiny federal agency in Arlington, Va.—the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled.

Last October, Congress increased CAP's budget from $2.5 million a year to $4.5 million a year and instructed the program to provide its assistive technology services to any federal agency upon request from the agency head.

Equipment and expertise come at no cost to the requesting agency, Allen emphasized.

Expansion of the program outside the Defense Department has been widely applauded by workers with disabilities because federal agencies have been notably reluctant to spend their own money on assistive technology, she said.

Some pieces of assistive equipment, such as refreshable Braille displays cost $9,000 to $10,000 apiece. Software such as screen readers costs $500 to $700, Allen said.

Increasing the availability of assistive technology should make disabled workers more productive, thus increase their opportunities for promotion, she said.

CAP officials say their program will even provide computers, printers, fax machines and other assistive technology to those who participate in federal "Flexiplace" work plans that permit them to work from home.

In addition to Braille displays and screen readers, CAP provides TTY machines and TTY software for the deaf and hard of hearing, voice recognition software for those with dexterity disabilities and software designed to overcome cognitive disabilities.

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