Today’s employers expect job candidates to be familiar with technology – touch screen cash registers, multi-line digital phone services, and instant messaging communications are commonplace expectations in today’s job market. People with disabilities often need training to develop basic technology skills for job settings from technology specialists familiar with accessibility features of digital technology.
Staff from three of Assistive Technology for Kansans’ AT Access Sites developed an accessible online curriculum focusing on the use of iPads to develop common job skills. Forty-five individuals were selected to participate in the iPad training workshops held in Topeka, Wichita, and Parsons sponsored by UnitedHealthCare’s Empower Kansans initiative.
Workshop participants identified their disabilities and selected a minimum of two employment outcomes. Learning to use technology to find job sites, complete online applications, and develop common office skills were prioritized by 22 of 45 participants. Forty-two of the 45 participants identified mastery of a specific skill to deal with a barrier to employment. The most common targeted skills were scheduling appointments, setting reminders, and managing contact lists.
Twenty-five individuals prioritized managing a health issue to improve their chances of employment. These goals addressed stress management, healthy eating and diet planning, and monitoring blood sugar and medications. Forty-four of the 45 participants completed the four, five-hour workshops. At this time, four are working full-time; five have part-time positions of at least 20 hours per week; and three are managing their own small businesses. Seven are interviewing for positions and one is in the final rounds of a multi-tier interview process.
For some individuals, technology competency opened the door to applying for jobs uniquely suited for them. For example, a woman in Wichita is now employed as a Spanish translator with the Sedgwick County Health Department. She started work a few days after she completed the iPad training class. Sedgwick County only accepts on-line applications so she used the knowledge she gained in class to find and complete the on-line application. She is working 20 to 30 hours per week and has been on the job for almost three months now. Another participant has a traumatic brain injury and is a licensed barber but was not working due to memory and organization issues. Since attending the iPad training workshops, he learned to schedule appointments and track contacts with his iPad. He leased a booth at a local beauty shop in Topeka and is working again while continuing his cognitive therapy.
Other participants were able to expand their hours and increase their business due to access to technology. A young woman in Wichita is conducting product demonstrations at Target. She receives an "invitation" to a demonstration job via email and she can either accept or reject the job. Since getting the iPad, she is able to monitor her email frequently so she has been accepting far more jobs. She is averaging eight to ten jobs a month - previously she was only receiving two or three. Being able to check her email frequently has enabled her to work more hours. She is using the iPad to apply for other jobs too since she wants full-time employment.
A handy man in Topeka is managing his business on Craig’s List while continuing to seek full-time employment. He is doing everything from cutting and hauling wood, to cleaning gutters, building fences, etc. Despite a traumatic brain injury, he is able to schedule appointments, track to-dos for jobs, and promote his services using his device.
Still other participants are embarking on a new employment front by developing a small business plan. A Parsons’ participant is a veteran of the Gulf Wars and is starting an agribusiness. She has experience as a florist and is using the iPad to maintain financial records through QuickBooks, research organic growing strategies, and plan her social media product promotion, and has also applied for an accessible greenhouse through a high tunnel initiative.
Another participant completed an online application and demonstrated the technology skills to serve as an office assistant for a large community service organization. One of the participants who has mental health issues is working two part-time jobs to make ends meet and uses his iPad to track activities on his calendar and relies on apps for stress management. Three other individuals have reached the “final rounds” of interviews and have not been hired yet, but report increased self-confidence after mastering the new technology skills.