2000 Conference Proceedings

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WHADDYA KNOW? UTAH'S AT TRAINING PROGRAMS

Martin Blair
Utah Assistive Technology Program
Phone: 435-797-3886
Email: meblair@cc.usu.edu

The Utah Assistive Technology Program (UATP), located at the university-affiliated Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University, is Utah's Tech Act Project. As such, our specific charge is to provide outreach, public awareness, training and technical assistance, and collaboration among state agencies and consumer groups. To better meet our technical assistance and training needs, UATP staff has conducted several needs assessments to determine the types of information that people are seeking with respect to assistive technology. This presentation briefly discusses the outcome of these needs assessment activities and describes Utah's response. A description of the specific skills and resources used in our training program is included.

Needs Assessment Activities

One issue that seems to be of high concern to the disability community in Utah is the needs of people with developmental disabilities who are aging. In an effort to address the technology needs of this population, the UATP submitted a proposal to an interagency funding source to develop training. One facet of this training proposal was the development of a statewide survey of consumers, family members and providers of people with developmental disabilities who are getting older. The results of this survey indicated that consumers and their caregivers desire information on financial considerations for people with developmental disabilities who are aging. There was less emphasis on assistive technology and accommodations and much more emphasis on making arrangements when caregivers, traditionally parents, pass away. The question that parents often ask is "what will become of my son or daughter when I die?" Of similar importance is how to accommodate housing needs to ensure that individuals with disabilities have access to accessible housing.

The Administration on Developmental Disabilities, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has identified assistive technology training as a special training initiative program through its university-affiliated program (UAP) system. The UATP, a member of the UAP system, has established a 5 year training program to teach service providers and consumers in various disability networks about assistive technology. We are currently in year one. The training population for this year includes staff of Independent Living Centers, United Cerebral Palsy Association of Utah, and Easter Seals of Utah. A survey of training needs from this group indicated that assessment and evaluation of AT needs is of greatest concern. This is closely followed by issues of seating and positioning, and mobility devices. Respondents were also very interested in learning about the types of communication devices available as well as characteristics of this technology. In the area of activities of daily living, respondents were most concerned with learning about environmental control units and low-cost adaptations to make simple accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

A recent survey by Dr. Cyndi Rowland and Tim Smith at Utah State University described websites at universities and other public institutions that are inaccessible to people with disabilities. Web sites of 90 institutions were surveyed. Results indicated that fewer than 1 in 4 of these institutions had home pages accessible to people with disabilities, and that less than 3% had secondary page links that were accessible to people with disabilities.

In 1996, Dr. Martell Menlove surveyed nearly 200 special education teachers throughout Utah regarding their knowledge and use of assistive technology devices and services for students in special education programs. The results of his study indicate that: (a) there are certain concepts that special educators should understand and apply to ensure that students have access to appropriate assistive technology through the IEP process, (b) many IEP teams do not consider a student's need for assistive technology due to, among other things, a perceived lack of financial resources, and (c) assistive technology assessments in schools are not clearly defined and seldom occur.

Utah's Response

As the needs assessment data shows, people with developmental or acquired disabilities and their families are in need of information regarding services and technology to help them gain, maintain or regain independence. This need is ever increasing. For example, people with developmental disabilities who are getting older require a great deal of information about preplanning. It is safe to assume that as this population gets older and their family caregivers pass away, they will have a need to be much more independent in their communities. Skill acquisition is a very real and present need.

The Utah Assistive Technology Program has designed training programs to meet the needs identified in Utah. These are briefly described below.

The staff of Independent Living Centers and consumer organizations come together once every three months to receive training on assistive technology skills. This competency-based training is designed to increase the skill level of practitioners who are currently working in the disability/technology field. Participants benefit from a flexible training schedule that accommodates their current employment needs and uses validated and/or field tested training materials and procedures. During the months between in-person training opportunities, participants come together via the Internet to gather resources, complete course assignments, and consult with their peers in similar employment situations as themselves. These activities prepare individuals to be practitioners who can address a wide variety of assistive technology needs and issues. Further, individuals who complete these training course will be prepared to take an assistive technology practitioners credentialing exam.

The time for ensuring web accessibility is now. The federal government has declared that it will impose stringent accessibility guidelines on all federally-funded programs sometime during the year 2000. In order to be ready for this mandate, money was granted by the U.S. Department of Education to Utah State University (USU) to design a training program for web developers at higher education and other public institutions to ensure that websites are accessible to people with all types of disabilities; universal design of electronic information. USU staff will create and evaluate models of: (a) dissemination, (b) training and technical assistance, (c) tool development, and (d) institutional reform. These activities will be accomplished with the help of various partners which include the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University, the Western Governor's University, the Public Broadcasting Systems Adult Learning Services system, and a software developer, MadDuck Technologies, who offers the Web Course in a Box program used on over 300 college campuses nationwide. This training program will use consumers as a central source of information in the planning, development and evaluation of all activities undertaken.

Currently, there are no statewide efforts toward meeting the needs of special education teachers. This initiative is being considered by the Utah Assistive Technology Program. However, the outreach staff of the UATP has done an excellent job of developing materials for use by individuals with disabilities and their families, including those who are of school age. Examples of this include the Utah Guide to Purchasing a Hearing Aid, the Family Guide to Assistive Technology, and the AT Learning Series video program. A series of nearly 50 targeted fact sheets is being developed during this project year. The School Series, targeted to parents and professionals, was completed in the first phase.

Specific Skill Training

Assessment and evaluation is a constant theme across all training programs developed and offered by the UATP. While we do not pretend to train people as licensed therapists, we do strive to provide community-based practitioners with the information they need to talk knowledgeably with these professionals. For example, individuals living in rural southern Utah rarely have access to professionals who can appropriately provide seating and positioning assessments. If the community-based professionals can conduct a preliminary assessment and acquire information that will be of use to a seating and positioning evaluator, this will greatly enhance the appropriateness of the prescribed device and presumably increase consumer satisfaction and safety. We believe this type of training reduces the likelihood of technology abandonment.

Specific skill training to assist professionals in the maintenance and repair of assistive technology devices is of paramount importance. Specific maintenance and repair skills taught to participants in our program include: (a) evaluation of wheelchair axels and bearings; (b) proper maintenance of wheelchair wheels including spokes, hubs, and inner tubes, if appropriate; (c)proper maintenance and repair of wheelchair seats, backs and leg/foot rests; (d) general programming issues for communication devices including maintenance and selection of device access points; and (e) simple repair and/or fabrication of low-cost devices used for activities of daily living.

One of the largest concerns of service providers and consumers is how to pay for the technology deemed appropriate through the assessment and evaluation process. The "skill" of developing funding requests is an additional training topic in our programs. This skill includes teaching people 4 sequential tips to increase the probability of receiving funding approval. These tips include: (a) a knowledge of various funding agencies and the ability to determine the best possible funding agency for a given device or service; (b) learning the right phrases and words, and how to use them to justify a medical necessity and/or essential need for a given funding agency; (c) learning how to file an appeal with an appropriate state agency, in other words, learning the due process system; and (d) being knowledgeable of other funding sources who may be able to provide funding for a specific essential need.

Resources

Participants in our training programs are expected to gain the skills necessary to search out various informational resources. First and foremost, we expect our participants to gain information from the worldwide web. Examples of skills required to access this information include: (a) appropriate Internet search techniques; (b) learning about various search engines; (c) becoming knowledgeable about specific websites providing information to service providers and consumers; and (d) the ability to download information from the Internet to either a printer or a disk.

While not as popular, yet still very useful, are fact sheets and telephone/toll-free information and referral services. There are many who still do not have access to the Internet. Therefore, information gained from fact sheets and toll-free information and referral services is still extremely valid. Participants in our programs are required to gather information from these sources as well.

Conclusion

The Utah Assistive Technology Program has diligently sought the input of consumers and service providers throughout Utah to determine training and informational gaps. The outcome of these needs assessments has resulted in the development of separate yet interrelated responses including training for web developers, training for practitioners in public agencies and private disability-related organizations, and information for individual consumers and their families. This training goes beyond simple information by providing specific skills in the area of assessment and evaluation, maintenance and repair, funding, and resource gathering. The ultimate result of all of these efforts is to increase the independence, quality of life and satisfaction of the nearly half million individuals with disabilities in Utah.

References

Menlove, M. (1996). A Conceptual Analysis of the Appropriate role of Assistive Technology in the Education of Students with Disabilities. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Utah State University, Logan.


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