2001 Conference Proceedings

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Russ Holland and Joyce Hakansson
Alliance For Technology Access
2175 E. Francisco Blvd., Suite L
San Rafael, CA 94901


The intent of this paper is to engage important discussions critical to the future of the Alliance for Technology Access. We have addressed these issues in different forums over the years. These issues have been addressed by consumers, centers and the ATA board. Our program committee often deals with these issues when there is a new center application that does not fit our traditional model, but from a group committed to connecting people with disabilities to technology tools.

If the Alliance is to remain vital in the ever-changing technology and assistive technology landscapes, we must and have moved ahead.

Mission of the Alliance for Technology Access:

to connect children and adults with disabilities to technology tools

Initially the ATA was unique because information about these tools was very scarce, and we were definitely the only ones providing that access in a consumer directed environment. We filled a critical role. It was and remains an excellent model. The information we had was needed. Our philosophy was unique. The economic and political climate were more kind to non-profits. We articulated our uniqueness and that was a large part of our appeal.

As we began to grow, we wished to retain that consumer directed uniqueness and we developed requirements for new centers intended to do just that. We asked for such criteria as non-profit status, consumer/family/professional governance, services to all individuals regardless of age, nature or degree of disability - as a way to try to ensure the consumer experience. These guidelines served us well in our formative years. It was a new frontier of assistive technology and we developed and implemented the right model to try to ensure that individuals with disabilities could indeed pursue their own search for and acquire tools to increase their independence. We joined and supported centers where people could come and pursue their search. We joined with developers and vendors to make sure that all possible options were available. And it worked.

Much about the environment has changed during the last decade. The economic and political climate are not nearly as kind to non-profits. The information we share is much more widely available, and there has been a slow shift in philosophy generally toward consumer directed services. In many ways these factors are indicators of our success. We existed to give away our information and our philosophy and we have been successful. That success and these changes leave us somewhat less unique programmatically and more vulnerable fiscally.

Our values are still the same ones they have always been:

And still only a fraction of people with disabilities who might benefit from access to technology tools have that access. We need to keep making the connections: we need to keep advocating, we need to keep making sure that people have places to go and people to help in their searches. We need to ensure more opportunities for consumer directed experience.

We still want to accomplish our original mission, goals and values. We want to connect children and adults with disabilities to technology tools. The question we face is how do we best accomplish this in today's environment? Is the original model still viable in its entirety? How many centers have already needed to modify it to survive, move under an umbrella or state agency for fiscal stability, vend assistive technology, or take on a wide variety of collaborative or contractual arrangements or disappear? We have always learned from our collective experiences - shared, supported, evolved and gotten stronger to meet changing situations and demands. We need to keep on doing this - together.

Centers are, as they have always been, the core unit of the Alliance - the place where most of the work is done and searching takes place. How do we best ensure that they are strong and vital, how do we serve more geographical areas and more people in the areas where we currently exist?

In addition to all of our strengths and success, we have been frustrated in several areas. There are many geographic areas completely underserved, and we have been unsuccessful at proactive efforts to seed centers in these areas.

We have been unable to develop and put consistent resources behind a center support model. How do we accomplish this: by funds and resources somehow procured by a central office; by providing technical support to each other; and/or by looking at economically viable alternatives or modifications to the traditional model that are still consistent with our values?

Are non-profit status and autonomous consumer governance still the necessary requirements to ensure the quality of consumer experience we want? Or are there other ways? Can we all continue to be independent, or are creative and collaborative relationships with other groups who share some of our passion and philosophy to be investigated? Many groups such as Urban League, CTCNET and Computers in our Future are starting community based computing initiatives. Should we work with them so that all are accessible, or continue to try to start our own, or both?

There are many other entities out there providing assistive technology access through a variety of models - with varying degrees of success and congruence with our philosophy. The observation that most of the leaders in the assistive technology field are involved in the Alliance is no longer true. Do we best serve our mission with a tight definition of who we are and are not, or should we search for ways to define new relationships that are inclusive in some way of all entities in the AT field? Might we broaden our definition of an Alliance center? Or might we better define new sets of relationships to be inclusive of colleagues in the field? Or both? Can the Alliance become the organization under which the broad field of assistive technology providers are associated?

In what ways do we share mission and goals with such as:

Are there ways that these entities might have a relationship that enable them to provide a better service and support the Alliance mission as well? Might they subscribe to the Alliance for technical, disability rights or advocacy support? Might we become a forum to bring them all together to greatly expand the critical types of training and support that we know as Institute?

In the future, might not the Alliance for Technology Access be inclusive of all those, service providers and vendors, who support the consumers right to search for technology tools? Might not the centers as we currently know them continue to be at the core of the Alliance, with concentric circles of newly defined relationships going out in ever more inclusive and less constrictive circles? Might we not then be influencing a much broader array of assistive technology providers, reaching many more consumers, and speaking with a much more powerful advocacy voice?

And what are the risks in this discussion? Do we risk the reality or appearance of "selling out" to those with a more traditional perspective? Can we define how we broaden our scope to minimize these risks? And are they greater or less than the risks of staying solely with a purist membership model? And is the more important discussion about "who we are" or "what we want to do"? Does the identity define the mission, or do we want our mission to define our identity? Isn't our obligation to constantly be using our mission to redefine and evolve our identity in order to best accomplish it in a rapidly changing environment? Shouldn't we really be concerned that only a fraction of people with disabilities have access to technology tools?

And might there now be a window of opportunity in which we either decide together to evolve, or by default perhaps miss an opportunity to realize our maximum potential in a changing world?

If we are only limited by our dreams, it is incumbent upon us to take the time to dream!

Based on the above thoughts, as well as the collective discussions and opinions expressed throughout the Alliance over the last several years, it is imperative that we commit ourselves to goals such as...

... and that we begin immediately to implement together on a local and national level to make the Alliance for Technology Access a more inclusive organization embracing all who support our mission.

As we move forward with our plans, it is vitally important that we also receive input from the individuals and organizations that we are reaching out to. Their contributions will be invaluable.

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