Nov. 23, 2005
Making the difficult easier
New Canaan software developer to create application to help disabled workers
By Harold Davis
Special Correspondent, The Advocate
Access Technologies Group Inc. of New Canaan, which develops and markets Web-based training software, hopes to cast aside the negative attitudes of individuals with disabilities who feel they are incapable of completing work-related tasks.
Lucy Baney, Access Technologies Group
President & CEO
Access Technologies recently received a Small Business Innovative Research Grant from the federal Department of Education to produce simulation software that mentors individuals with disabilities in dealing with difficult work-related interactions. With $75,000, the company will develop a prototype application called Social Simentor.
"This is an extension. We're repurposing our existing simulation software, but this is dealing with interpersonal issues," said Lucy Baney, president and chief executive officer of the company. "The need is so great for this. The purpose is to increase job placement and job retention of disabled people," she said. The program will be aimed at improving responsiveness to a given situation by individuals with autism, Down syndrome, low cognitive ability or other disabilities.
This online mentoring program utilizes real-life scenarios in a role-playing format. Individuals can practice various work-related lessons on the job and at home. The hope is that individuals using the program will become more comfortable when dealing with customers and difficult assignments by learning about these situations through routine practice.
Though still in development, the prototype should be ready by February, said Baney. The company will begin testing it by March. "As we're testing, we will be analyzing the results and I'm responsible for reporting results to the government," said Baney. "If all goes well, we'll be eligible for a grant of $500,000 to launch this as a business," she said.
Access Technologies began in 1993 as a sales consulting and Web site development firm. When Baney bought the company in 1996, she expanded it to include Internet training. Baney, who spent 19 years with IBM, said she believed that real-life simulation was an area that could grow. The company has produced other successful training programs besides the Simentor, such as Facilitest and Intellisheet.
Elizabeth Power, chief executive officer of the E Power Institute in Nashville, Tenn., and an advocate for the disabled, believes that Social Simentor will be a great way to reach the disabled. "I know a boy with autism that loves computers. This can help the disabled achieve and makes them more employable. This is a credentialization program that says this individual has confidence and competence in these areas. It reduces the anxiety of the employer," said Power, an author who is disabled herself.
Power said that although disabled individuals can have issues with nonverbal communication, have poor social judgment and be misunderstood, they bring many positives to a work place.
"Disabled workers tend to be loyal, have lower absenteeism, their productivity levels are higher and have longer tenures of work," Power said. Power thinks there may be opportunities in offering employers some sort of training in dealing with the disabled. "It's as important to train the people without disabilities as well as the ones that do. How can you value a person that you see as invisible whether you meant it or not?" Power said.
While there are other products on the horizon from Access Technologies, Baney said the company's main focus is now on the Social Simentor.
"I have a personal commitment to this. I think it's exciting for me because it's a real positive for people's lives," she said.
©2005 Southern CT Newspapers, Inc. Reprinted with permission.