Census deems its assistive technology pilot a success

Census deems its assistive technology pilot a success

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

The Census Bureau has chalked up as a success its pilot of an interface tool that increased productivity among disabled volunteer users.

The 11-month pilot at the bureau's National Processing Center in Jeffersonville, Ind., began with four users from Census' Industry and Occupational Coding Group, said David Hackbarth, the center's assistant division chief for technology and information.

After expanding the pilot and seeing productivity gains, the bureau is now considering ways to spread the use of the program to other disabled employees.

There's definitely a user group for such tools, Hackbarth said. At the center alone, Census employs 6,000 workers, and more than 800 of the center's 4,500 PC users are disabled, he said.

A Census center has seen productivity gains among disabled volunteer users of a Stanford-developed assistive technology tool.

User-specific interface

Using the Archimedes Total Access System, the pilot allows for user-specific interfaces depending on the needs of each user. The interface uses intelligent-agent software to make the use of assistive access devices transparent.

The assistive device links to a user's PC through a translator, which the system's developer calls the Total Access Port. The TAP interprets the disabled user's intentions, said Neil Scott, leader of the Archimedes project at Stanford University.

Upgrading a PC with the Total Access System costs roughly $5,000 per seat, including training and technical support. Stanford University licenses the system and distributes it through Synapse Corp. of San Rafael, Calif. More information is posted at www.archimedes.stanford.edu.

The TAP lets a user access a device such as a speech synthesizer and then emulate keyboard or mouse commands. The translation of the commands is handled through a standardized data communications link called the TAS Protocol, Scott said.

The Total Access System allows for multiple inputs at the same time, he said. A disabled user, depending on the severity of his physical limitations, could use speech recognition, head tracking, eye tracking and foot tracking all at once via multiple TAPs, he said.

A TAP is slightly larger than a computer mouse and attaches to the host through the keyboard or mouse ports, Scott said.

During the pilot, the four Census programmers performed dismally at first, using DragonDictate 3.0, a voice-activated application from Dragon Systems Inc. of Newton, Mass., Hackbarth said.

'There were numerous false starts,' he said at a General Services Administration conference last week. 'So, we moved to Dragon's NaturallySpeaking product and put more emphasis on technical support.'

The switch to Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional 4.0 and additional training did the trick, Hackbarth said.

By the end of the 11-month trial, the technology-assisted users were outperforming the unit's other users, he said.

The pilot expanded to two additional users in the center's High-Speed Data Capture Department with good results as well, he said.

At first, the data capture pilot users achieved 25 percent of the productivity maintained by the non-assisted group users, he said. Eventually, the pilot participants reached 36 percent of the productivity standard, Hackbarth said. Previously, these users could not do this work.


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