Agency procurement officials need training tools related to purchasing accessible technology, according to a report by the Department of Labor.

The DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy technical assistance center’s Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology held two online chat sessions from May to June and from Oct. 11 to Oct. 21, 2016, about accessible technology in the workplace and released a report on its findings on March 2.

“What is the best way we can increase the adoption and use of accessible technology in the workplace?” participants were asked.

DOL decided that the best idea was to provide tools to procurement officials on how to buy technology that people with disabilities can use. The idea was chosen because DOL could write regulations to enforce that these tools be provided.

Yohan Lee, a management analyst for Xicon Solutions and a participant in the DOL’s dialogue, offered the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) as a good example. CAP buys technology for active-duty, wounded service members, and Federal employees with disabilities for the Department of Defense.

First, CAP collects information about the limitations experienced by the customer because of their disability, whether the accommodation is reasonable and appropriate for the customer’s current diagnosed disability and diagnosis, and if there are any other products that better meet the needs and the functions of the customer’s reasonable accommodation request. This information is then compiled into documents for the acquisition team to use during the procurement process.

During the procurement process the team asks how will the customer benefit from the identified accommodation, what comparable products are available on the market, and how does the chosen accommodation meet the needs in a way the comparable products did not.

“Staying educated on the different accommodation solutions and how they work can also contribute to the successful procurement of assistive technology,” Lee said during one of the chat sessions. “Since CAP is constantly working within the different disability communities it is easy for us to stay apprised of the different assistive technology. It may be more difficult for a procurement specialist that does not work with reasonable accommodation requests on a daily basis to be able to discern the pros and cons of each product.”

Other ideas that were discussed include providing resources for workers with disabilities to advocate for their needs in an environment where they feel comfortable doing so, infusing accessible technology awareness into company training, and creating an organizationwide IT accessibility policy.

Chat session participants also noted that often company leaders view accessibility and accommodation as just another standard to address in order to meet obligations. A cultural change needs to occur for company CEOs to view accessible technology as a means for innovation.

Participants also said that more research needs to be done on the benefits of universal design, accessibility specialists could mentor technology designers to influence the creation of more accessible technologies, Federal incentives could be given to companies that use accessible technology, and Federal agencies could encourage bring-your-own-device programs and support initiatives that include accessible technology skills in job requirements.

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Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.