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Beverly Biderman , Vice-Chair
Canadian Hearing Society
450 Briar Hill Avenue
Toronto, Ontario Canada M5N 1M7
Penny Parnes , Director
Canadian Hearing Society, Toronto
271 Spadina Road
Toronto, Ontario M5R 2V3
The authors have been involved in the strategic planning of services for disabled persons in Canada, the United States, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Thailand. We have come together at the Canadian Hearing Society in Toronto, Penny Parnes as the Director of Consumer Services, Beverly Biderman as a Vice-Chair of the agency's Board of Directors. In view of the scarcity of resources for providing services and technology for disabled persons, and the need to be sensitive to the needs of the clients being served and the culture in which they live, strategic planning is of utmost importance. The two projects we will describe and then point out the parallels between are: a Canada-Thailand project to develop assistive technologies and services for persons with disabilities, and strategic planning at the Canadian Hearing Society, an agency providing assistive technology, services and advocacy for deaf, deafened and hard of hearing persons.
Thailand currently has approximately 1,057,000 people with disabilities (1.8% of population).1 Those with disabilities have far fewer opportunities to enter educational institutions (only 2.9-5.5% of persons with disabilities receive proper education). In 1991, the government passed the Rehabilitation Act, in order to extend the opportunities for those with disabilities to participate in appropriate education and work. Many activities in Thailand have been initiated to help realize the potential of this Rehabilitation Act. Among these is the establishment of an assistive technology (AT) committee under the chairmanship of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
Another project initiated was one that was a joint Canada-Thailand venture. In 1998, three agencies: ICACBR, NECTEC and Rathchasuda College entered into a project to enhance the understanding and use of technology for persons with disabilities in Thailand. The project was supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
The International Centre for the Advancement of Community Based Rehabilitation, at Queen's University (ICACBR), is an organization committed to advancing the concept and practice of community based rehabilitation in partnership with persons with disabilities and their communities around the world. ICACBR is one of six Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funded Centres of Excellence. The Centres of Excellence programs aims to encourage and support bold and imaginative teaching, training, research and public awareness related to international development.
The second partner, the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center of Thailand (NECTEC), is part of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Energy. NECTEC also acts as the secretariat for the AT committee.
The third partner in the project, Ratchasuda College, a division of Mahidol University at Salaya, Thailand was established in 1992, as an academic institution to provide various programs for and in support of persons with disabilities. The Academic Department offers a master's degree in Rehabilitation Services related to persons with disabilities, certificate programs for the deaf, and various short training courses for the blind. Realizing the need in the area of assistive technology for people with disabilities, the college has started a new program to provide individualized assessment for appropriate technology for computer access and environmental control by rehabilitation master degree students with Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy backgrounds.
One of the key outcomes of the Canada-Thailand AT project was the joint development of a strategic plan to move the issue of assitive technology for persons with disabilities forward in Thailand and to influence other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
In order to develop the plan a number of activities were undertaken:
The Canada-Thailand AT strategic plan was developed within the context of a number of principles:
The plan focused on all four different but related areas. In each area, the current situation was documented, the desired changes agreed upon, and strategies for achieving the changes developed.
The Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) is a 60-year old agency head-officed in Toronto, Canada, serving deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing consumers of all ages. Although the agency's name indicates that it serves all Canadians, in fact, except in the case of mail order provision of assistive devices, its scope is limited to the province of Ontario, the country's most populated province. Our core services provide employment assistance, personal counselling, communication with the community about hearing impairment, audiology, and interpreter services. The agency is the major provider of assistive technology to persons with a hearing impairment in the province. It is also the largest agency in the country serving those with a hearing impairment.
CHS has grown from 1.5 employees in 1940 to approximately 250 employees in 24 regional offices and a provincial headquarters located in Toronto. The breadth of the CHS's mission is one not found in most agencies serving those with a hearing loss; moreover, it is unusual to find the same agency serving the culturally, signing Deaf, the oral deaf and the hard of hearing consumer. These three groups often have different needs and different cultures, and these differences are often highly politicized. This makes it essential that the CHS be sensitive to the needs of its varied consumer base, and check back with it periodically to determine if the agency is on the right path.
Hearing loss is the largest chronic disability in North America. It is also the fastest growing disability because of the aging of our population and the increase in noise pollution. The common number used is that 1 in 10 Canadians has some degree of hearing loss. This translates into approximately 1.1 million people in the province of Ontario which the CHS is directly mandated to serve.
The first step taken in undertaking strategic planning for the organization in the year 2000 was to solicit feedback on a province-wide basis from stakeholders via questionnaires and focus group discussions in the winter/spring of 2000. In the spring/early summer, the responses were analyzed, and issue papers on salient issues were developed. Each issue paper was prepared by a team of one senior staff member of the agency, and one member of the agency's Board of Directors. The papers were devoted to four identified themes:
The Board has representatives from all three of its major consumer groups (deaf, deafened and hard of hearing), and many of the senior staff are also with a hearing loss. The spirit of the retreat was wonderfully warm and friendly, with everyone exhibiting an enthusiasm for rolling up their sleeves to help plan for the future of the agency. The retreat was itself, not surprisingly, an excellent team building exercise.
For each of the four themes on which issue papers were developed, presented, and discussed, the resulting plan contained a summary of the consensus reached at the retreat, a statement of the general strategic direction the agency should take for that issue, followed by specific goals. The goals were further broken down into activities with outcome indicators and cost estimates.
We also included with the plan a flow chart depicting the interrelationships of the strategic plan activities, showing how the output from one activity might be needed as a resource for another activity. For example, it was recognized that many of the activities needed detailed information about the clientele served by the agency. Plans are underway to develop a database to collect and provide such information.
For more detail on timelines and who will be responsible for particular activities to support the strategic plan, we produced a separate operating plan.
The immediate result of the exercise has been a greater awareness of, and understanding of the challenges facing the organization, and the possible responses that it can make. The plan helps to put the organization firmly behind the steering wheel, and allows it a mechanism for orderly change that will allow the agency to be responsive to its clientele, and responsive to changes in the environment in which it operates.
In summary, strategic planning for scarce resources to provide assistive technologies and other services to persons with disabilities is crucial, and in our two examples, plans have been developed that aimed to:
1 Note, this is at considerable variance with data from other parts of the world, where the estimation is approximately 10% (reference). This is probably due to the definition of disability used in the Thai study.
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