Assistive Technology
The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research

Public Meeting on Assistive Technology, held at Arlington, Virginia, January 15, 1998

Members of the Listening Panel:
Judith E. Heumann, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
Howard R. Moses, Deputy Assistant Secretary Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
Thomas F. Hehir, Director of the Office of Special Education Programs
Fredric K. Schroeder, Commission of the Rehabilitation Services Administration
Katherine D. Seelman, Director of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, Chair of Meeting
Comments by Rex A. Hoover, Panelist - Business/Marketing/Technology Transfer

I'm Rex Hoover, the President of the TriTek Corporation located in Northern Virginia.

I believe the issues being addressed here are important and need to be focused on but there is another issue that must be addressed or the vision of the Americans with Disabilities Act will never be realized --- That issue is access to intellectually challenging careers.

The ADA Handbook Preamble states --- "Enactment of the ADA reflects deeply held American ideals which treasure the contributions which individuals can make when free from arbitrary, unjust, or outmoded societal attitudes and practices that prevent the realization of their potential. The ADA reflects a recognition that the surest path to America's continued vitality, strength and vibrancy is through the full realization of the contributions of all its citizens."

Those words describe an extraordinary vision, a vision that I personally have committed my support to help become reality but there is a key stuck in the lock and until it can be turned, the door that represents access to high-tech careers for tens of thousands of people with disabilities will remain closed.

With the current state-of-the-art in personal computer technology, one can design an interface so that anyone who can operate a personal computer can operate equipment connected to it. For example, my family, using our own funds, have developed an optical microscope that a person with no limb mobility can operate as productively as anyone else, and twice as productively as people that use conventional microscopes today. And, we wrote a course to train people with mobility impairments so they could compete for jobs as quality assurance inspectors in places such as the Dominion Semiconductor or Lockheed Martin plants in Manassas. The Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center purchased 2 of our systems along with the course we wrote and has trained 8 people since the fourth quarter of 1996. Since then, neither one of the Manassas plants has shown any interest in hiring the graduates while Virginia Semiconductor in Fredericksburg has. A relatively small company, with enlightened leadership, has demonstrated acceptance of the principles set forth in the ADA preamble, while the largest Government contractor in the United States, and a company that was given very generous tax breaks to locate in the Commonwealth, has hired people to fill jobs that could have been filled by graduates of the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center program.

This is the problem that must be solved, the problem of acceptance by large companies of the vision described in that ADA preamble. Solving this problem, also solves the problems of getting new assistive technology developed and getting people access to it. Companies need trained workers and once they accept that the population of people with disabilities are a valuable source for the mission-critical staffing they need, they will provide the assistive technology for the same reason they provide employees telephones, FAX machines and personal computers; because these tools enable people they employ to provide a product or service at a profit. If there is a market for more sophisticated enabling devices, developers will spend their own funds inventing this new and better assistive technology. Everyone wins --- but first, we have to find a way to convince the people that make the hiring decisions that employing people with disabilities is the best thing for their business operations. I'm asking that this body add this as an issue to be addressed.

Thank you.