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Kessler Foundation awards $425,000 to University of Hawaii virtual reality employment initiative

WEST ORANGE, N.J. -- Kessler Foundation awarded a Signature Employment Grant in the amount of $425,000 to the Office of Research Services at the University of Hawaii, to advance employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The Signature Employment Grant supports the development of a virtual reality (VR) software application, EmployAble: A World Without Barriers, to help jobseekers with disabilities navigate the world of job hunting and adapt to the workplace.

This Virtual Employment Orientation and Support Center, the first of its kind, will enable people with disabilities, including veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI), to learn job and interviewing skills, build their resumes, and be mentored and matched with potential employers.

EmployAble will be developed by a team of innovative researchers and developers, many of whom have disabilities. Collaborators include the University of Hawaii Center on Disability Studies, Virtual Ability, and Abilicorp.

"Kessler Foundation supports programs that help solve the high unemployment rate for people with disabilities," said Rodger DeRose, president and CEO of Kessler Foundation. "EmployAble is especially important because TBI is the signature wound of our military returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to apply new technologies to our efforts to ensure these veterans' successful reintegration into society." Kessler Foundation Research Center is also incorporating clinical virtual reality in its rehabilitation research in partnership with USC's Institute for Creative Technologies.

EmployAble will draw on innovative components of commercial VR software programs including Multiple User Virtual Environments (MUVE), Second Life (SL) Virtual World Simulation (SIM). Employable will simulate social interactions in the workplace and demonstrate commonly used assistive technology, e.g. screen readers, captioning video programs, accessible document creation, presentation programs utilizing accessible features (VoiceThread, Adobe Flash, etc.), and text-to-speech software.

Participating employers will also learn about supports and accommodations that lead to productive, satisfied employees. According to the 2010 Kessler Foundation/NOD Survey of Employment of Americans with Disabilities, employees with disabilities readily adapt to the workplace, have greater dedication and fewer turnovers.

Awarded yearly, Kessler Foundation's two-year Signature Employment Grants fund pilot initiatives, demonstration projects and social ventures that lead to the generation of new ideas to solve the high unemployment and underemployment of individuals with disabilities.

This Signature Grant is part of the more than $2.7 million in grants awarded by the Foundation in 2011 to benefit people with disabilities.

Contact: Carolann Murphy, PA
Kessler Foundation

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