BOX 5-2: Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers

The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) has funded 10 regional Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers--DBTACs--since 1992. The 10 DBTACs represent one of the Federal Government's principle sources of ADA technical assistance. They aim at providing employers, people with disabilities, and others with responsibilities under the ADA with information, training, technical assistance, and referrals to local sources of ADA information and expertise. These centers currently are funded with 5-year grants, but NIDRR's aim is to develop a system whereby the regional centers eventually will be regarded as State and local resources and affiliated with State and local governments. For this reason, the DBTACs are encouraged to establish relationships with State and local agencies throughout their regions.

To help identify needs and coordinate activities, the DBTACs have organized regional, State, and local advisory committees made up of representatives from small and large businesses, State and local service providers, citizens with all types of disabilities and their family members, and disability support and advocacy groups. To reach as many people with an interest in the ADA as possible, the DBTACs are developing mailing lists of people with disabilities; employers; personnel and recruitment agencies; business groups such as chambers of commerce, small business associations, better business bureaus, minority business associations, and others; State and local government agencies; disability advocacy groups; and service providers. The mailing lists are used for direct-mail campaigns to draw attention to the provisions of the ADA and the DBTACs resources, and to generate information for data bases and reference guides on local sources of ADA information and expertise. Each of the DBTACs provides a toll-free technical assistance hot line for information and referrals. Also, the DBTACs provide training sessions, including regional conferences, and State and local workshops, and presentations. Several DBTACs have focused to some extent on psychiatric disabilities. Their advisory committees and mailing lists include individuals with psychiatric disabilities and advocacy/consumer groups representing this constituency. One DBTAC in Washington State helped to craft language for the 1993 State Civil Rights Act barring discrimination in employment for people with mental disabilities, and helped to develop training about workplace accommodations for people with psychiatric disabilities. Another DBTAC is working cooperatively with IBM to develop a self-paced software program about Title I of the ADA with situational examples that will include accommodating people with psychiatric disabilities in the work place. The Northeast DBTAC in Trenton, New Jersey is developing a televised panel discussion, "Making the ADA Work: Reasonably Accommodating People with Mental Illness," which features a successful employee with a psychiatric illness, an employment specialist, and an employer. The Southwest DBTAC is working with the Texas Rehabilitation Commission to develop a model training program on the ADA and people with psychiatric disabilities.

Technical assistance hotline requests concerning psychiatric disabilities generally form only a small percentage of total requests, however. This suggests that employers and the general public do not yet see the ADA as being related to psychiatric disabilities or they do not see the DBTACs as providing such information. The majority of those requests for information are from individuals with psychiatric disabilities or their employers, followed by mental health agencies, therapists, and rehabilitation counselors. People with psychiatric disabilities typically ask how to approach employers about an accommodation, whether it is necessary to document psychiatric disability, how such documentation is used, and the procedure for deciding an appropriate and reasonable accommodation. Employers usually ask whether they can request documentation of a psychiatric disability, what types of accommodation are appropriate, and how to determine the existence of a direct threat.

SOURCE: Office of Technology Assessment, 1994.
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