Adaptive technology provides disabled people with technical skills

The Trust for the Americas was witnessing a problem of nearly epidemic proportions: Some 80% to 90% of the 50 million people with disabilities in Latin America were unemployed due to widespread discrimination and limited access to rehabilitation, education and training tailored to their needs. As a result, many disabled individuals were living in poverty.

Those statistics prompted the Trust for the Americas to implement the Partnership in Opportunities for Employment through Technology in the Americas (POETA) Accessible program in 2004.

The nonprofit organization, an affiliate of the Organization of American States, started with a pilot project in Guatemala, where it used Microsoft's Unlimited Potential digital literacy curriculum to train disabled individuals to enter a competitive employment market.

The program has grown over the past eight years, and today it provides dozens of training centers throughout Latin America. Partnerships with public and private sector organizations enable POETA to train people with disabilities and at-risk youth at the centers, and to promote social inclusion through awareness efforts.

The Trust equips each center with up-to-date adaptive technology that enables disabled individuals to take full advantage of the program's curriculum. These resources include voice recognition and screen reader software, adaptive keyboards and mice, electronic pointing devices, sit-and-touch systems, hand wands, and mouth sticks. This range of technologies makes POETA unique among technology training programs, many of which remain limited for individuals with disabilities in Latin America.

The program measures its success based on the number of participants trained in information and communication technology skills and job-readiness skills per quarter, as well as the number of students graduating per term and the number of graduates who have obtained employment. It also considers, among other measures, the impact each center has on the lives of participants and its effect on a community as a whole.

The organization has experienced challenges in reaching its goals, particularly around placing POETA participants in jobs and furthering their education. To address this, the Trust requires its local partners to conduct targeted analyses of the job markets in their communities so the centers can focus their technical skills training programs and curricula to meet local workforce demands.

Since its inception in 2004, POETA has trained more than 70,000 individuals with disabilities, increasing employment and education opportunities for them. It has also partnered with more than 200 businesses and universities and has achieved employment placement rates of up to 30%.

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