On Sept. 7, final approval came from the office of Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-26) confirming that the Cornell Program on Employment and Disability (PED) would receive a $1.1 million grant — $5.5 million total distributed over five years — to benefit workers with disabilities.
The grant will provide increased access for people with disabilities to many technologies, from web design tools to hardware and software that will allow students and employees to take advantage of the most modern equipment.
The Northeast Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC) will oversee the project in PED.
“We are looking to help people achieve independence in the workplace arena and to really start early educating young people with disabilities,” said Dr. Susanne M. Bruyere, director of the program.
Created to provide assistance, information and training for people with disabilities, PED operates out of the extension division of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR). The program receives funding from 17 different national, state and local grants that support projects similar to DBTAC.
“I have always felt that it is important to give everyone fair and equal opportunities in education,” said Christina Homrighouse, a human resource studies and technical consultant in ILR. “I believe right now in our computer labs [in Ives Hall], we have a couple of stations set up for wheelchair access, but other than that I don’t believe there are other tools [to assist the disabled].”
Andrea Haenlin Mott, project director at the assistance center, applied for the grant in March and is excited for the project’s new life to get underway on Oct. 1.
“We have always been involved in the project, but the grant puts Cornell in the lead for managing and facilitating it. It’s really a natural progression,” Haenlin Mott said.
The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research in Washington, D.C. oversees university research efforts, and the U.S. Dept. of Education organizes each program based on geographic location. Cornell — in federal region II, which includes New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands –will now lead its region.
“The current unemployment rate for people with disabilities is between 60-70 percent. This is unbelievable when you think about it,” Haenlin Mott said.
The idea at PED is to bring the new technology and information to local schools, workplaces, and communities around the country in the hopes of providing people with disabilities easier access to the information they require, in addition to jobs for the unemployed.
“Technology is incredibly enabling for people with disabilities. They have e-mail and special conference calls for people who are deaf now, ViaVoice for those with Carpel Tunnel Syndrome, [and] the list goes on,” Haenlin Mott said.
The project will work with web designers to make sure web pages are designed properly for people with disabilities.
“If a web page isn’t structured with the right elements, a blind person won’t be able to read it,” she said.
DBTAC, based in Ithaca, will add four new staff members to answer a telephone hotline and work with regional companies in New Jersey and community colleges and universities, according to Haenlin Mott.
Questions that DBTAC receives ranges from architects who need design clarification in accordance with current disability guidelines, to general workplace questions from employees.
Technical assistance will be provided on-site, and parents and children with disabilities will learn about the new technology available, many for the first time.
“The accommodations and opportunities are endless. I look at us as a disseminator of information. We are really the model that our constituents use to show how these types of programs can be run,” Haenlin Mott said.
One-hundred percent self-supported, PED depends on grants for its livelihood, working with the other organizations that reside in Federal Region II.
“We currently have a staff of 25 employees, some of which are working on regional projects at the moment in Boston and Chicago,” Bruyere said.
Groups across the country and around the world, such as the Employers’ Forum on Disability in London, rely on PED as a direct source of information and consultation with regards to nondiscrimination of people with disabilities.
“We are so excited about the possibilities that will exist with DBTAC,” Bruyere said.
Archived article by Chris Westgate