CSCU, Aging and Disability Services Announce Digital Accessibility Specialist Training at WCSU

The innovative program is designed to provide career opportunities for individuals with disabilities who are either unemployed or under-employed and to also address a growing workforce need in the state.

The Connecticut State Colleges & Universities (CSCU) and the Connecticut Department of Aging and Disability Services today announced the launch of the Digital Accessibility Specialist training program at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU). The innovative program is designed to provide career opportunities for individuals with disabilities who are either unemployed or under-employed and to also address a growing workforce need in the state.

According to the US Department of Labor, only 19.3% of individuals with disabilities were employed in 2019 compared to 66.3% without a disability. Coupled with the challenges of gainful employment, the United States has seen a year over year increase of the number of adults 18 years or older reporting a disability. While the national average sits at 26% of adults reporting at least one disability, Connecticut reports 22% of its adults (613,853) having a disability.

The Digital Accessibility Specialist program aims to provide a career path towards gainful employment that also addresses a current and future workforce need to produce accessible content and materials for everyone regardless of abilities or barriers.

CSCU has made digital accessibility a priority, with the Board of Regents for Higher Education passing a system-wide policy in 2020.

“Individuals with disabilities are qualified and productive employees, yet far too often they are left behind in the workplace,” said CSCU President Terrence Cheng. “The Digital Accessibility Specialist program not only provides a specialized training opportunity for folks with disabilities, it also helps meet a key and growing workforce need.”

The Connecticut Department of Aging and Disability Services, led by Commissioner Amy Porter, houses both the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services and the Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind - long-established Vocational Rehabilitation programs that help individuals with disabilities prepare for, find and keep a job. The Bureau of Rehabilitation Services is also home to the CT Tech Act Project, whose mission is to increase access to Assistive Technology for work, school, and community living.

“We applaud CSCU’s commitment to accessibility, and we are happy to partner in this innovative program,” Commissioner Porter said. “Not only does the training program provide skills in an emerging field, it also has the potential to lead to good, competitive jobs for individuals with disabilities.”

WCSU has been a leader within CSCU with regards to accessibility efforts and was quick to volunteer to lead the pilot program.

“We want to ensure that all persons with disabilities at the university, along with professors, staff and administrators, have the information they need to make WCSU as accessible as possible for everyone,” said Dr. John B. Clark, WCSU president. “This program will help us, and every CSCU institution, reach that goal.”

Three individuals are currently progressing through a tailored digital accessibility training program that provides core technology training coupled with real work experience. The goal of this new training program is to provide career paths that address a workforce need for skilled individuals who can support the creation of accessible content and materials for the benefit of all.

David Doukas, Director of the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services, remarked, “It has been a longstanding goal of BRS to collaborate with the Connecticut State Universities and Community Colleges to create workforce development programs that provide residents with disabilities such opportunities for career success in emerging labor markets.”

The partnership with Western Connecticut State University provides an opportunity for the learners to immediately apply concepts and techniques by supporting the staff and faculty at the university in the creation and remediation of accessible content and materials.

Elisabeth Morel, WCSU’s Director of AccessAbility Services has been coordinating the program locally and shared that “the Digital Accessibility Specialist training program has been an amazing program all around. We have been able to watch the participants grow and learn about digital accessibility, while also applying their skills to directly impact the accessibility of material at WCSU. It is a win, win all around.”

For more information about the available training opportunities at the Connecticut Department of Aging and Disability Services or if you are interested in hiring a recent graduate of the training program please contact Carly Duffy at carly.duffy@ct.gov.

For more information

For more information, please contact Leigh Appleby, Director of Communications at 860-723-0617, applebyl@ct.edu