2002 Conference Proceedings

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ACCESSIBILITY CONNECTIONS: INCREASING ACCESS TO ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY IN UNDERREPRESENTED COMMUNITIES

Stuart P. Hanson
Center for Applied Local Research
5200 Huntington Avenue, Suite 200
Richmond, CA 94804
Tel: 510/558-7939
Email: shanson@cal-research.org 

Mary Lester
Alliance for Technology Access
2175 East Francisco Blvd, Suite L
San Rafael, CA 94901-5524
Tel: 415/455-4575
Email: marylester@ATAccess.org 

Julia Petchey
Center for Accessible Technology
2547 Eighth Street, Suite 12A
Berkeley, CA 94710
Tel: 510/841-3224
Email: jpetchey@CforAT.org

Accessibility Connections, a demonstration project commissioned by The California Endowment, is designed to be a seamless regional network of assistive technology providers and community organizations spanning several Bay Area counties. The Accessibility Connections project consists of five community anchor organizations, including mainstream technology centers and other organizations such as senior centers, neighborhood groups, and family support organizations. These human service agencies provide services to a wide range of consumers in underserved communities of low-income persons, people of color, and/or non-English-speaking persons. Some target their services both to non-disabled and disabled persons, while others focus solely on people with disabilities and their families. Each anchor will be at the center of a network of other community organizations and assistive technology service providers. These networks will interconnect.

Accessibility Connections is coordinated by the Alliance for Technology Access (ATA), and supported by training and technical assistance from the ATA and the Center for Assistive Technology (C for AT). Impetus for the project resulted from The California Endowment-funded needs assessment reported in Assistive Technology Connections: Meeting the Needs of Californians with Disabilities (See www.ATAccess.org). This study found that more than six million Californians with disabilities could benefit by using assistive technology to assist them in their daily lives. Unfortunately, most go without knowledge of, and access to that technology. A broad variety of public organizations provide some elements of information, guidance, funding, and ongoing support for users of assistive technology, depending on the consumer's age and type of disability. However, most communities lack any mechanism for unifying these organizations, making the search for assistive technology extremely frustrating. Accessibility Connections aims to reduce fragmentation of services and increase access to assistive technology for persons with disabilities in these communities.

A major product of the project will be guide to community resources entitled: Community Handbook for Finding Assistive Technology.

With the assistance of an independent evaluator, ATA also will conduct a process and outcome study to determine the effectiveness of the regional network approach. This study will focus on outcomes directly linked to the Accessibility Connections project and not on functional capabilities and related performance outcomes of individual persons with disabilities in either the short or long term. The evaluation is designed to measure changes in the organizations and service communities resulting from the capacity-building and collaborative strategies and activities of the ATA, C for AT, and the designated anchor organizations. Accessibility Connections is funded through April 2003. The evaluation will cover activities beginning in the fall of 2001. Early results will be available in March 2002.

The results of this study will have important implications for the development and expansion of regional technology networks throughout California and in other states, especially in underserved communities. Lessons learned from this pilot project will apply to regional technology networks involving:
* Other community-based mainstream technology centers;
* Mainstream human service organizations, such as community programs (libraries, recreation centers, cultural centers), community health service centers, senior centers, adult education programs, and school districts;
* Disability-specific programs such as parent support organizations, early intervention programs, independent living centers, Area Agencies on Aging, Development Disabilities Centers, and affiliates of the Multiple Sclerosis, United Cerebral Palsy and other associations; and,
* Other organizations such as food programs, shelters, faith-based organizations, childcare, aftercare, informal education networks, recreational programs, and such programs and groups that may be identified during the project.

To ensure that the lessons learned from the TCE-funded pilot project become available to the assistive technology community, the major products of this evaluation will be:
* A final report analyzing the implementation of the pilot project and its accomplishments, and
* An Operations Manual to accompany the Community Resources Inventory that describes selected elements drawn from the overall model and each of the anchor organizations and describes key implementation considerations.


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