Dinah Cohen is the Director of the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) at the U.S. Department of Defense. Ms. Cohen works closely with senior leadership throughout the Federal sector to ensure employees, beneficiaries, and members of the public with disabilities have equal access to Federal services and employment. Ms. Cohen also initiated a program to provide assistive technology and accommodation support to wounded service members to aid in their rehabilitation and recovery process.
Dr. Beth Loy, a Principal Consultant at JAN, had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Cohen this month about the mission of the CAP program, the importance of making effective accommodations in the Federal sector, and their role in ensuring people with disabilities have equal access to Federal employment opportunities.
Can you talk about CAP, its mission, and how CAP’s mission has changed over the last few years?
The Department of Defense (DoD) established the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) to eliminate employment barriers for people with disabilities. CAP’s mission, since its inception in 1990, is to provide assistive technology and accommodations to ensure people with disabilities and wounded Services members have equal access to the information environment and opportunities in the DoD and throughout the Federal Government.
CAP has expanded beyond the DoD to partner with 68 federal agencies making it the largest provider of reasonable accommodations in the world. The program’s vision is to increase employment of people with disabilities and disabled veterans by ensuring they have access to accommodations throughout the DoD and Federal Government.
Since 9/11, we are seeing more disabled veterans returning to the workplace as civilians with a range of disabling conditions. They are tech-savvy and are ready to work. The assistive technology options still lag behind the general technology changes.
What do you feel is the most important change you have seen in the field of assistive technology since being the Director of CAP?
I have noticed there are more assistive technology solutions and successful integration of the technologies that can address the needs of individuals with multiple disabling conditions. Next, the cost of accommodations has gone down and I have noticed there are more embedded solutions in the operating systems and general applications and tools. Since the baby boomers are getting older, the market for enhancements and some accommodations are being required by a larger number of individuals.
For individuals who are reluctant to ask for modifications on the job, what can CAP do to support them?
I believe if the individual is armed with the information of their assistive technology needs AND the FREE price tag, they would be more comfortable requesting the accommodation solution. Most individuals are hesitate to bring the accommodation conversation to managers IF they think it will add a cost factor to the decision for employment OR they are not sure what would work. The employee should be familiar with their accommodation solutions to help with this conversation.
What trends do you think will occur in the near future in the field of assistive technology?
The new mobile environment has provided flexibility and user-friendly solutions to many individuals with disabilities via lots of free apps and embedded technologies. There will always be a need for some assistive technology solutions to support an individual in the workplace. We need employers to consider the needs of their employees with disabilities as they move forward on their strategic plans for the company/agency’s information environment and enterprise solutions. More and more able-body and people with disabilities want to have a flexible work environment and telework. Unless we are looking on how to provide the right tools for EVERYBODY and have a secure and flexible information environment, we will miss the opportunity of being the employer of choice.
Can you give an example of a situation involving an individual who came to CAP, received assistive technologies, and was successful in implementing the technologies at work?
We have over 100,000 stories on how we have provided accommodations and how the individual has used it in the workplace. I encourage your readers to go to the CAP website and see the videos of the technologies and to YouTube to hear the testimonial of our customers and how they are using the technology in the work place at www.cap.mil.
I encourage your readers to visit our Website, download the CAP APP, be a CAP Fan and continue to work with CAP and JAN to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities and wounded Service members.