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Employment Horizons Uses Technology to Enhance Workplace Training for People with Autism

Employment Horizons’ client using an iPod for additional support in the workplace.
Employment Horizons’ client using an iPod for additional support in the workplace.

Employment Horizons, the premier not-for-profit agency providing comprehensive employment, training and job placement services to persons with disabilities and other disadvantages in the greater Morris County, NJ area, has taken a significant step to address the underemployment and unemployment of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders with an Innovation and Expansion Grant from the NJ Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services.   Through the development of customized, video-based supports matched to an individual’s needs, preferences, abilities and employment, the new program utilizes video-based training and prompting to enhance skills and workplace adaptation. The outcomes for our clients include increased employment opportunities and job retention in integrated work settings.

 The National Survey of Americans with Disabilities (Kessler Foundation, 2010) reports that 21% of adults with disabilities, ages 18 to 64 years were employed in 2010, compared to 59% for the general population.  In order to improve these statistics Employment Horizons is working with the Autism Spectrum Disorders population because they have experienced even greater employment challenges than other disabled populations.  Many of those individuals are already experienced with and adjusted to handheld technological devices so they are an appropriate “pilot” group. Currently, iPod Touches and iPad Minis are being used to provide an additional resource to seven of our clients (imminently expanding to nine). These devices allow job coaches to create videos or use applications to provide assistance and instructions to the client even when the job coach is not present– a type of “pocket job coach”.  The program has helped a young man working as a restaurant Greeter to remember to smile when addressing customers and to expand his repertoire of greetings.  Another person receives structured reminders to clean up her workspace before punching out. 

The technology is more accepted in the workplace and less conspicuous than having a job coach on site and allows those using it to be more independent.  Individuals utilizing the technology can learn and work at their own pace,  watch them again and again or fast-forward to a section they might need help with as they grow to rely less and less on the technology.  This provides self-affirmation and helps to dispel anxiety. 

Thus far, we have experienced an average work performance improvement of 68% with plans to continue expanding the program to persons with other types of disabilities. We have collaborated with Northern Illinois University where this innovative program originated with the potential to conduct further research.

 To support the program with the donation of an iPad/iPod, or obtain additional information about Employment Horizons, please contact Maria Florio at ext. 240.

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