2002 Conference Proceedings

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Russ Holland
Alliance for Technology Access
San Rafael, CA

Julia Petchey
Center for Accessible Technology
Berkeley, CA

The growth in the use of technology to help individuals in their everyday lives has been phenomenal. And for no group is this more dramatic than for people with disabilities. Today the possibilities are limitless. With the support of appropriate technology, people with all types of disabilities should be able to enter the mainstream - at school, on the job, and in the community.

* A person without the use of their hands can enter text by talking to a computer.
* A person with severe hearing loss can freely use the telephone.
* A person without sight can instruct a computer to read aloud everything on the screen.
* A young child with no voice can communicate through a talking computer.

This is a critical time in the evolution of technology and our society. It is an especially critical time for people with disabilities who have so much to gain by having access to emerging technologies - and so much to lose if access is denied.

While the incidence of disability in the general population is 20%, it is even higher in communities of color, poor and rural communities. 67% of all adults with disabilities are unemployed. Disability (seen or unseen) is a part of every community and it is critical that everyone move toward a more accessible environment.

Recent research conducted by the Alliance for Technology Access showed:

* most people with disabilities in communities of color, in rural areas, and communities where English is not the primary language are not connected to disability organizations;
* people with disabilities want to be able to get services from the same community- based organizations as everyone else; and
* while organizations want to do the right thing in terms of serving all people in their community, there are barriers.

The primary barriers are lack of understanding and information about what is needed and how to begin. It is imperative that individuals with disabilities be empowered with the knowledge of what is available and have opportunities to search for the technology that they need.


Community-based programs can make a very loud statement to the community about the importance of embracing diversity by thinking and planning for all members of the community. This is even truer for those organizations providing access to and training on technologies that can make a tremendous difference in participation and independence for people with disabilities.

You have an opportunity to take an important role in increasing access within your organization and community. Do it not just because it is the law, but because it is the right thing to do. Success will depend on the commitment you make to the process.


Access is not something that happens overnight - it is a process that takes a proactive effort. It begins with the understanding that access exists along a continuum and it applies to more than buildings, bathrooms and parking.

Access does not have to be complicated, expensive or accomplished all at once. Start with what is feasible and affordable.

Understand that there is a great deal of variability of abilities. Impairments that affect the ability to hear, see, speak, walk, learn or manipulate things can be mild to severe and affect people's lives in very different ways.


Previous Access Aware sessions focused on developing facilities, programs and environments that are welcoming and accessible to people with disabilities. Assuming that we have made progress in that direction, we will turn our attention here to the role that the consumer with a disability needs to take in that process.

The potential of assistive technology to enable people with disabilities to participate more fully in all aspects of mainstream life has existed for over 25 years. Yet very few of those who can benefit from it do. One of the reasons for that is that we far too often apply what might be termed the typical medical model to the assistive technology search. Various professionals evaluate the consumer and develop prescriptions for their technology. This leaves the consumer out of the process, rather than acknowledging the key role that they must play in it. They are in by far the best situation to determine what they need, needing professional help only to provide trial experiences that give them the information they need to be savvy consumers.


Since ATA's inception in 1987, we have been committed to grassroots and national strategies to get technology into people's lives. During that time we've assisted over three million Americans with disabilities. ATA's mission is to connect children and adults with disabilities to technology tools. Our vision is a future in which people with disabilities derive great benefit from technology which is flexible, inexpensive, accessible and seamless in connecting us to the world. The technology to turn dreams into realities for people with disabilities already exists. It is our job to make these tools available on a vastly larger scale than they are today.

We wish to influence and support the availability of quality assistive technology tools for all children and adults who might benefit from them, as well as to promote the adoption of consumer-directed service delivery models. Consumer direction in the design and delivery of services is a critical component of the success of the Alliance model, and we seek to encourage mainstream and assistive technology service providers to work with people with disabilities to develop a consumer-directed service delivery model.

Consumer direction means that people with disabilities are in charge of their own lives. They set their own goals and direct the process of their attainment, with the support of family members or representatives when appropriate. This means that the consumer determines what they want to accomplish with the technology. They are the leader of the team searching for and implementing solutions. It is the responsibility of service providers, such as ATA Members, to provide information and experiences people need in order to become knowledgeable consumers. The ATA is committed to a fully consumer-directed approach to assistive technology services along with governing powers that are strongly consumer led.


Emphasizing consumer direction when you are conducting outreach is perhaps the most important part of the process. You have to not only make people feel welcome and let them know you want to serve them, but you should empower and encourage them to direct the process of seeking out their own solutions. You hopefully have at this point a facility and technology that has the potential to meet their needs. They are the only ones who can determine successfully just what that will be. They need to have the options available and the expertise to help them explore them. You are letting every participant in your program know from their very first contact, that you value them as human beings, for their diversity and uniqueness and are prepared to work with them to explore and get to know the full range of tools that they might use to maximize their abilities and successfully pursue their goals.

After sharing the video on individuality and empowerment we will engage in group discussion of the element that can empower participants in your programs and facilities.

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