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ATU516 – VocFit with Dennis Cleary and Andy Persch

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Special Guests:
Andy Persch – Assistant Professor of OT at Colorado State University and Director of the Transition, Employment and Technology Lab
Dennis Cleary – Assistant Professor and Senior Researcher in Disability Services at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
Find out more about VocFit: www.vocfit.com
Bridging Apps: www.bridgingapps.org
INDATA Web Accessibility Webinar: https://bit.ly/3cWgAxL
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If you have an AT question, leave us a voice mail at: 317-721-7124 or email tech@eastersealscrossroads.org
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—————— Transcript Starts Here ———————-
Dennis Cleary:
Hi, this is Dennis Cleary and I’m an Assistant Professor and Senior Researcher in Disability Services at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.Andy Persch:
And I’m Andy Persch, I’m an Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy at Colorado State University and Director of the Transition Employment and Technology Lab. And this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology, designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis Indiana. Welcome to episode 516 of Assistive Technology Update, it’s scheduled to be released on April 16th, 2021. On today’s show, we’re super excited to have Dennis Cleary and Andy Persch on to talk all about Voc Fit. We also have Amy Fuchs on with an app worth mentioning. Now, let’s go ahead and go on with the show. After all these months of lockdown, maybe you’re looking for some new podcast to listen to, well, make sure to check out our sister podcast Accessibility Minute and ATFAQ or Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions. If you’re super busy and don’t have time to listen to a full podcast, be sure to check out Accessibility Minute our one minute long podcast that gives you just a little taste of something assistive technology based so that you’re able to get your assistive technology fixed without taking up the whole day.

Josh Anderson:
Hosted by Tracy Castillo, the show comes out weekly. Our other show is Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions or ATFAQ. On Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, Brian Norton leads our panel of experts, including myself, Belva Smith and our own Tracy Castillo, as we try to answer your assistive technology questions. This show does rely on you, so we’re always looking for new questions, comments, or even your answers on assistive technology questions. So remember if you’re looking for more assistive technology podcasts to check out, you can check out our sister shows Accessibility Minute and ATFAQ, wherever you get your podcasts now, including Spotify and Amazon Music. Are you a developer interested in learning more about web accessibility? Well, join renowned web accessibility, professional Dennis Lambri for a full day of training. This webinar training begins with a background on disability guidelines and law.

Josh Anderson:
Many techniques for designing and developing accessible website are then explained, basic through advanced levels are covered. The main topics include content structure, images, forms, tables, CSS, and ARIA. Techniques on writing for accessibility and testing for accessibility are also covered. If you’re involved in web designer development, don’t miss this wealth of practical knowledge. This webinar is put on by the INDATA Project in Indianapolis, Indiana, and will take place on May 12th, 2021 beginning at 11:00 AM Eastern time. So again, if you are a developer or involved in web design or development, don’t miss out on this wonderful training to learn how to make sure that everything you create is a little bit more accessible. We’ll put a link to the webinar registration over in the show notes. Next up on the show we’re happy to welcome back Amy Fuchs from BridgingApps with an app worth mentioning Amy, take it away.

Amy Fuchs:
This is Amy Fuchs with BridgingApps, and this is an app worth mentioning. This week’s featured app is called PictureThis-Plant Identifier. PictureThis is a plant identifier app that identifies plants by pictures in one second. The app also provides professional plant care tips. The app is capable of identifying over 10,000 plant species with an accuracy of 98% better than most human experts. PictureThis is fun and educational for users of all ages and abilities. The app is available for both Apple and Android. To identify and diagnose plants, simply open the app and tap, identify plants. You can take a new image or select an image on your camera roll, the apps artificial intelligence recognizes the image and then displays images, a description, plant care tips, and lots of other information about the plant. We trialed the free version, but you can upgrade to an annual subscription of 29.99 per year. PictureThis is available for free at the iTunes store and Google Play stores and is compatible with iOS and Android devices. For more information on this app and others like it, visit bridgingapps.org.

Josh Anderson:
So I told you listeners many times that employment and ensuring that individuals have the tools necessary to find and maintain gainful employment is a personal passion of mine. It’s what led me to Easterseals Crossroads, to assistive technology and in a very roundabout way to having the pleasure of hosting this show. I’m always excited to learn and hear about new tools that can assist individuals with disabilities find employment that matches their interests, skills and goals. And that’s what led me to learning about Voc Fit and the tools that they have available. We’re super excited to welcome Dennis Cleary and Andy Persch from Voc Fit on the show to tell us all about it, Dennis, Andy, welcome to the AT Update.

Andy Persch:
Hi there, thanks for having us.

Dennis Cleary:
[crosstalk 00:05:35].

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, I’m really excited to learn about the technology, but I’d love it if you guys could start us off by just telling us a little bit about yourselves, Andy, do you want to start off and just tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Andy Persch:
Sure thing. My background is in pediatric occupational therapy, clinically I provided services to children with disabilities in the public schools, and it was in that context that I noticed poor post-secondary outcomes in the population of people with disabilities. And so specifically the poor employment outcomes that people experience after they left high school. That was part of my motivation to move to Ohio State and earn a PhD. And I now embrace this work from the academic side as an assistant professor at Colorado State University. I’m responsible for teaching and research and service, and that work is focused on the transition to adulthood and employment.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. And Dennis, what about you?

Dennis Cleary:
I too am an occupational therapist. And so I’ve worked as an OT for about 25 years, for about 10 years clinically, primarily with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. And then I took a faculty position at Ohio State and that’s where I met Andy. And we were both part of a transition program at the Nisonger Center, which is the university’s center for excellence in developmental disabilities at Ohio State. And we really were fortunate to be part of a group that had two US Department of Education grants to help support young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, come to Ohio State audit classes and get employment training and support. And so we used the Project SEARCH model at Ohio State at the time and so that’s really how we were introduced to figuring out how to use internships and supporting people in employment at Ohio State.

Dennis Cleary:
I was on faculty at OSU and then Andy was a PhD student and then later a faculty member. And so together, he and I created this process for helping to match interns to internships and later, job seekers to jobs.

Josh Anderson:
You made a perfect lead in there. So let’s get in, let’s talk about what is Voc Fit.

Andy Persch:
At its most basic Voc Fit stands for Vocational Fit Assessment. And so the first thing that that Voc Fit is is an assessment, what’s unique about the vocational fit assessment is that we have two applications. And those applications are to the worker, that is the person with disabilities that is seeking employment or in a job and then also the job itself. And using the vocational fit assessment, we assess workers and a potential universe of jobs independently. So those parts are separate, but what’s exciting is because the constructs, essentially the items of the vocational fit assessment are consistent between the worker and the job, that allows us to make some database comparisons and drive intervention in clinical and community settings. So we use the vocational fit assessment worker to assess the worker’s abilities. For example, an item would read, to what degree does the worker demonstrate the ability to communicate face to face with other people? And then we score that worker as having high, some, or low ability, those get transformed into scores of two, one or zero.

Andy Persch:
Similarly, we use a vocational fit assessment job addition to assess jobs and items in the vocational fit assessment job sound like to what degree does the job demand? The ability to communicate face-to-face with other people. And we again have a rating scale, high demand, some demand or low demand. Now, because we assessed jobs and the worker using the same item or construct we can do some mathematical comparisons. And so the data that are collected through the vocational fit assessment, then get leveraged and supplied to users of Vocfit.com in the form of a number of reports. Our key report is called the job matching report, and that is the comparison of one individual worker to some number of potential jobs. And as Dennis mentioned earlier, those could be internships where the person with a disability is completing work or training activities, or they could actually be paid jobs in the community.

Josh Anderson:
Very nice. And I can really see how that can help. And I forgot to even talk about earlier, Andy, you brought up something that I know we talk about a lot. Here, all the supports that individuals with disabilities may have in school to make it through, but yeah, then after that, it seems like everything’s just pulled back and you’re on your own. So it’s great that you guys are putting these kind of tools together in order to really be able to get folks match. So how does this help the employment process for individuals with disabilities?

Dennis Cleary:
So Andy talked about doing math and so all of us love math, especially individuals that work in special education have a special interest in math. And so once you’ve filled out the assessment, so the VFA worker or VFA job takes about 15 to 20 minutes to fill out that assessment. And once the comparison is run, we give you those scores back to you in colors. And so we look at the match between, does the individual have high ability, some ability or low ability? Does the job have a high demand, some demand, low demand? We run an algorithm to compare those two and we give them back to in greens, yellows, oranges, and reds. And so we use data visualization. When we were at Ohio State, there was a human factors engineer that was the college that we were in. And so her research was in how to help nurses at shift change, to exchange information about patients in a safe manner.

Dennis Cleary:
And so we really learned some good information from her about using color and that we can give you, instead of decimals, we can give you colors that give you a lot of really good information. And so in addition to that job matching report, which is pretty and gives you a lot of information in a pretty quick view, we also have a report that just gives you information about the student or intern or worker. And then we can look at that person on day one, and then we can look at you again at day 45. And then we have a measurable skills change report to look and see if there was some change in one of those 133 items that we measure.

Dennis Cleary:
And then the other report that we have is a Raider agreement report, which allows multiple Raiders to assess a person at one point in time. And it’s not that one Raider is right and the other one is wrong, but it lets us, especially at an IEP meeting, at an employment planning meeting, to have those conversations. Because really what would Voc Fit is at its best is a conversation tool to really try to give you some information, to help the individual first and foremost, make the right decision for themselves and also to give good information for the other people on the team. So these reports, IEP teams or transition teams or employment teams, can use them to really help write a transition IEP that’s focused on employment and can help you set goals and really guide intervention. And so that’s really what Voc Fit does and how it can help long-term employee or improve employment rates for folks with disabilities.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. I can see how that can help really folks with really any abilities because anybody coming out of high school could probably use that kind of help, not just individuals with disabilities. So you guys might have-

Dennis Cleary:
Absolutely. When we first proposed this to Ohio State to go through the intellectual property process, the guy from IP that came to talk to us about it, was sort of funny. And that’s what he said, that this is not a tool just for folks with intellectual disabilities, which is our first proposal for it, but really was something that could be used for everybody. And so for us, that’s a valid and reliable tool for that 18 to 22 year old age group, because that’s who it was tested on. But we’ve used it with folks as young, as 12, as old as 64, with and without intellectual disabilities. So it’s just, if you want to use that whole, the valid and reliable terminology, you just keep it at that 18 to 22 year old range.

Josh Anderson:
Andy, you guys talked about Ohio State, everything, but do you have other partners in this program, who are some of them?

Andy Persch:
Good question. So our biggest partner is Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, where Dennis works now, and their Project SEARCH program. It sounds like you’re familiar with Project SEARCH, but briefly, they are a business led internship program that is designed to lead to competitive and integrated community employment. And so Project SEARCH is possible through the consolidation and focusing of resources from schools, vocational rehabilitation, State departments of developmental disabilities, on the person with a disability in their last year of high school eligibility. And so Project SEARCH students are typically 19 or 20 years of age, in their last year of high school. And they rotate through three internships at a host business. And the idea is that each of those internships provides an opportunity to practice and develop new skill. In addition to that three internship model, Project SEARCH interns also participate in a functional academic curriculum about an hour, a day, that’s focused on things that are going to be important for adult life.

Andy Persch:
So implicit within the Project SEARCH model is a need to make decisions about which internships are good opportunities and why. And that really is where the synergy between Dennis and I and Voc Fit and Project SEARCH came from. Our assessment allows Project SEARCH to, is one of the ways that Project SEARCH can make database decisions about support services for people with disabilities. And so we have grown Voc Fit within the context of Project SEARCH. When we started, I think Project SEARCH, Dennis, correct me, was that at about 200 sites across the country in the world? At present Project SEARCH is approximately 650 sites. Each site is a special educator, a job coach or skills trainer, and an eight to 12, students with disabilities. And so the impact for the disability community through Project SEARCH is huge. And so they are, and Denis now with you being at Project SEARCH are absolutely the primary partner for Voc Fit.

Andy Persch:
But we do have our eyes towards the larger worlds of impact. And so specifically we’re looking to extend this to the larger world of special education. And Project SEARCH, certainly is a form of a special ed model, but there are many others, so we want to extend to the larger world of special education to lower ages, and then also to the post-school world of vocational rehabilitation. Because as you referred to, there really is a cliff, a services’ cliff at the point of transition from high school into adult services. And so part of what we think we can do with Voc Fit is target areas of need earlier in a child’s educational process, and then start to intervene earlier. And so instead of waiting until 16 or 18, or perhaps later, to focus on work skills. We think that we can identify areas of need and then start working on them when kids are freshmen in high school, 14, perhaps stepping that down to middle schools and trying to figure out how middle school responsibilities or tasks then get connected to adulthood work skills.

Andy Persch:
So from Project SEARCH, which is our primary community partner to the larger worlds of special ed and vocational rehabilitation is really the space that we’re operating in and where we find most of our partners.

Dennis Cleary:
The other thing, so Project SEARCH is primarily a high school transition program, but there are some adult programs that are also working and then some that are hybrid that have some adult and then some high school programs as well. So just one of the examples, how we’ve worked with Project SEARCH, but also have helped other organizations through that is, with COVID, our timing was good in terms of some of the updates that we did to Voc Fit in early February. And so it’s basically now tele health, tele education enabled. So all of our assessments can be done virtually, and also all of our reports can be sent to people virtually. So in April, I did a couple of talks for Project SEARCH. And basically because, if you remember back when COVID first hit and everyone was sent home, just trying to figure out how we could continue to provide assessment and intervention remotely.

Dennis Cleary:
And so I did a couple talks to about a thousand people, and there were certainly Project SEARCH folks that were there, but also a lot of our partners in Project SEARCH with VR, DD and educational agencies that really saw this as a really good way. It’s a great tool outside of COVID, but during COVID, it’s even better just because of the virtual component. So our growth has been pretty phenomenal. We had about 3,500 users in March of 2020, and we now have about 7,000 users. And so the users would be an employment support professional, so special education teacher, VR counselor, job coach, skills trainer, DD, service provider, kind of across the board. And so we were just happy to be able to fill the gap in some way. And so we’ve had a lot of folks that have reached out to us. So of our 7,000 users, the vast majority of them are not Project SEARCH folks. So we would have probably around 1500 to 2000 Project SEARCH users. And the other 5,000 are really from outside of Project SEARCH, so.

Josh Anderson:
Very nice. And I can see how the Project SEARCH model was part of it though. Because I know we have, I think three Project SEARCH sites through three Easterseals Crossroads as well in different hospitals. And yeah, I can see the parallels by the skills training and everything that’s in there as well as what you guys are doing. But like you said, it’s definitely not limited to that. I can see how it can help in just a wide, especially in vocational rehabilitation and all the different things that they do and job coaches. Yeah. It can help out a ton of folks because it’s a little bit more than just what do you want to do?

Dennis Cleary:
Yeah. When they were able to hire a research team, so I started July 1st, I’m just incredibly passionate about employment for folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and there’s not a better group to work with than Project SEARCH. When you think about, as Andy said, the number of programs we have around the country and we serve over 4,000 interns a year, so it’s a pretty big N, so we have a lot of opportunity to use Project SEARCH to help improve transition services for everybody. So within certainly, primarily, for folks within Project SEARCH, but also across folks that are in need of supported employment or customized employment services. Andy, we didn’t mention the NIH as a partner.

Andy Persch:
Sure. So Voc Fit and Vocational Fit Assessment are currently supported in part by National Institute of Health grant. We’re conducting that work, Colorado State University, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, but also University of Florida and Temple University. If anyone is interested in learning more about that project, vocfit.com has information about our current research.

Josh Anderson:
Along that same line guys, could you tell me a story about maybe someone who found success after using Voc Fit?

Dennis Cleary:
Absolutely. So I think back to when we first were developing the tool, when we were at Ohio State, there’s one person in particular that just really stands out as someone that had phenomenal skills, but had some real strengths and then some areas that he struggled in. And so really what Voc Fit helped us do was to help him figure out what he was really good at. And then it gave some really good information to the job developers that he was working with. And so that together they were able to really use the strengths-based of Voc Fit, to really look at these are the things that he does really well and let’s concentrate on identifying jobs that focus on that. And so I probably shouldn’t give his employer, but it’s a really cool employer in Columbus, Ohio that just really, they really worked on his skills to customize a job around what he was was great at.

Dennis Cleary:
And so it really is a strengths-based approach. We have a lot of Project SEARCH teachers that are always much smarter than Andy and I are. And so a lot of our growth in terms of reports have come out of there, what they’ve done. And so just an example of that is that, we had a teacher down in Florida that talked about how he uses Voc Fit for, especially some of the students that he supports that can have a lot of challenges. And he said, he goes to Voc Fit and he looks at their strengths first. And so that’s how he builds his strengths-based IEP, starting with, these are the things that this particular student does really well. Because especially, it can be challenging sometimes when we’re supporting folks that need a lot of extra supports to focus on those strengths and Voc Fit really does help to do that.

Josh Anderson:
If the listeners want to find out more about Voc Fit or even start using it, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Andy Persch:
Vocfit.com. So V-O-C-F-I-T.com. And you’ll be able to get ahold of both Dennis and I through that website.

Josh Anderson:
Perfect. We’ll put that down in the show notes. Well guys, I could probably talk about employment and disability for, well, the rest of the day, but no one’s going to listen to a show that long and I can’t take up either of you guys’ day for the whole time. So I will definitely just say thank you so much for coming on the show today. We’ll put a link to Voc Fit over in the show notes and as things progress, if things change or you get anything new, we’d love to have you back on and talk a little bit more about it. So thanks again, gentlemen.

Dennis Cleary:
Thank you.

Andy Persch:
Thanks so much. Appreciate the opportunity.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Shoot us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project, or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.eastersealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more, head over to accessibilitychannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the INDATA Project. This has been your Assistive Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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