Social Simentor, a local non-profit organization dedicated to helping people with autism and other cognitive disabilities reach their employment goals, has launched and unveiled its new website www.socialsimentor.org. Social Simentor develops technology-delivered training ("e-learning") that assists these individuals in preparing for employment interviews and handling social situations frequently encountered on-the-job and in their personal lives.

Unemployment rates for people with disabilities are grim, hovering at about 70 percent and probably much higher for people with cognitive disabilities. Studies show that their difficulty in obtaining and/or retaining jobs is due to poor social skills more often than a lack of technical know-how or job task ability. Many of these individuals want very much to be active workforce participants, making this statistic even more unfortunate.

Social Simentor is a unique and interactive software program that uses role-play to assist individuals in improving their social skills and behaviors. Social Simentor immerses students in a realistic simulated environment, and offers the opportunity for situationspecific

instruction, repetition, and rehearsal.

"Social Simentor allows learners to try out different social behaviors in a safe virtual environment, then practice those that produce positive outcomes," said New Canaanite Lucy Baney, president and CEO of Social Simentor. "Its visual interface and game-like approach increases engagement, motivation, and utilization -- improving their skills and confidence when interacting in the real world."

Once developed, Social Simentor simulations will be available for licensing by individuals and families, schools, and agencies. The software can effectively reinforce and augment social skills learned through other forms of instruction and support, and offers a great deal of flexibility in how it is integrated into an overarching vocational and/or life skills curriculum. A built-in learning management system enables learners, parents, educators, and case managers to track usage and performance, which assists in the identification of appropriate next steps and/or interventions.

Several grants have supported research demonstrating the viability and effectiveness of Social Simentor. A prototype was also developed and has been used in a vocational center for people with disabilities, in a school for youth with special needs, and in a group home for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

"Our experiences over the past five years of development and research have demonstrated that individuals with disabilities

enjoy working with technology, including appropriately-designed e-learning, and consider Social Simentor a valuable skill-building tool," Dr. Christine Casey, vice president of curriculum programs and marketing, said. "We are excited about our planned release of this proven prototype into the marketplace as a functional high-quality product. We are confident in its ability to help individuals with disabilities become productive workers and contributing members of society -- just as they desire and strive to become."

The mission of Social Simentor is to provide experiential technology-based simulated training in social and employability skills to individuals with cognitive disabilities to help them obtain and retain employment, and to initiate and improve relationships with friends, family and significant others. These improved relationships will promote productivity within

the work environment, contribute to family stability, community citizenship and build a better quality of life. Visit socialsimentor.org for more information.

Baney is also an experienced CEO of a small technology firm, Access Technologies Group, which designs e-learning solutions for private industry and social services organizations. She has extensive experience helping public, private and non-profit organizations develop -- in both incumbent and potential employees -- the attitudes and behaviors necessary to enter, reenter and succeed in the workplace. ATG's simulation-development platform, Simentor, addresses a wide range of soft skills pertaining to countless business scenarios, effectively equipping learners to obtain and retain employment.

Baney modeled Social Simentor after ATG's successful Simentor product, working closely with a team of specialists to adapt it to the unique needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other cognitive disabilities, including extensive research and testing with Social Simentor's target population.

Casey is Social Simentor's vice president of curriculum programs and marketing. In this role, she will conduct field evaluation of the product and develop, design and market Social Simentor across educational and adult service venues. She has been a key member of the Social Simentor team since the start, playing a very active role in bringing it from concept to reality.

Casey's life's work had been defined by a commitment to empowering youth and facilitating the potential of underserved populations. Her many honors include recognition for her service to students with special needs by the Council for Exceptional Children and a Congressional Award as a Beacon of Hope for All Americans for her "continuous unselfish service to children and education."

Casey holds a doctorate and two masters degrees from Columbia University, Teachers College and a third masters segree from Hunter College. Her more than 30 years in the education field have focused on maximizing the individual potential of students participating in both general and special education programs and included curricular, administrative, and regulatory responsibilities.