Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Knowledge Utilization and ADA Technical Assistance Information

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Knowledge Utilization and ADA Technical Assistance Information

Article excerpt

With the growth of disability-related initiatives in domestic policy making in the postwar era and passage of rights based legislation focused on access and service provisions, information dissemination and the provision of targeted technical assistance on new practices, emerging policies, and recent research assumed a prominent role in program development (Gallagher, Danaher, & Clifford, 2009; O'Shaughnessy, 2011; Rogers, Martin, & NCDDR Knowledge Translation Task Force, 2009; Salyers et al., 2007; Washko, Campbell, & Tilly, 2012). Many of the early national disability initiatives--the formation of the ARC US in the 1950s, President's Panel on Mental Retardation in the Kennedy administration or the creation of the National Council on Disability in the 1970s focused on public awareness through information dissemination as a core mission (National Council on Disability, 1997; President's Committee on Mental Retardation, 1986). In the years since, information dissemination centers have been an important adjunct to program development and a fixture in the rehabilitation infrastructure. The reasons for the emphasis on information dissemination over the years are not hard to discern; the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the employment and social mainstream is a relatively new endeavor in historical terms. Innovation is a priority and thus philosophies and practices have rapidly evolved along with a legal and policy landscape that is constantly shifting. Vetted information is at a premium. Thus, a significant investment has been made over the years to facilitate the dissemination of disability and rehabilitation information. These efforts have generally used some mixture of methods ranging from passive dissemination of materials to the use of "knowledge brokers" who facilitate the gathering, synthesis and distribution of information (Gagnon, 2011).

Current examples of these latter efforts include Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN), Job Accommodation Network (JAN), and the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) funded through the U.S. Department of Labor; Center for Parent Information and Resources through the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP); and the national network of regional centers focused on the Americans with Disabilities Act supported by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), among others.

How is information used by our stakeholders and to what effect? The question is deceptively simple. The effectiveness of information dissemination and informational technical assistance (TA) remains largely an article of faith in rehabilitation. Since the 1993 Government Results and Reporting Act (GPRA) and its provisions for assessment and objective measurement of the impact of federal programs, agencies have been committed to outcome-based evaluations. In turn, the use of outcome measurements is increasingly part of the mantra of accountability among recipients of federal funding (Borden, 2011; Rivard, 2012). The conventional "process" measures that use TA activities--phone calls answered, number of businesses contacted, etc.--have largely been devalued as indicators of program efficacy (Ellig, McTigue, Ellig, & Wray, 2012). But the lack of data on outcomes is understandable: there are significant conceptual and technical challenges in evaluating the use and utility of technical information. The type of information, the manner in which it is distributed, to whom it is given, and how the information is used encompasses an incredibly diverse range of activities. Assuming the information does have an effect on a program outcome, it is likely indirect, and occurs in a complex, layered environment where other factors likely impede or facilitate its utility. Only rarely is it possible to directly assess the processes by which the act of technical assistance leads to substantive changes.

Partly in response to ambiguity over the impact of information dissemination, the process of producing and using information has been the object of considerable attention, most notably in the health services field (Bowen & Graham, 2013) and recently in rehabilitation applications (Bezyak, Ditchman, Burke, & Fong, 2013). …

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