2002 Conference Proceedings

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Janet Peters, Coordinator Simon Technology Center
8161 Normandale Blvd
Bloomington, MN 55437-1044
phone - 952-838-9000

Mary Kay Walch, Sales Consultant AbleNet, Inc.
1081 10th Avenue S.E.
Minneapolis, MN 55414-1312
(612) 379-0956 ext 618

The Simon Technology Center, a project at PACER Center, is a technology center that has been in operation since 1988. It offers free individual technology assessments, a software and device lending program, a computer lab hours with open hours for the community, free workshops on assistive technology, information and referral, and an early childhood technology training program.

AbleNet, Inc. is a vendor of simple assistive technology products that help empower teachers and students with disabilities so students can develop skills, build literacy, foster independence and encourage participation. AbleNet's goal is to inspire fun and meaningful learning for teachers and students. The following core beliefs guide AbleNet's actions and decisions: Everyone can learn, everyone can participate in any activity, and everyone can communicate. making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities by creating ."

In 2001, Simon Technology Center and AbleNet, Inc. collaborated to provide a series of assistive technology workshops free for parents and professionals who work with children with disabilities. There was an average attendance of 50-60 people at the workshops. The topics were:

* Communication
* Electronic Aids for Daily Living
* Literacy and Technology
* Play and Learn: Assistive Technology in the Early Childhood Classroom
* Technology Fun for the Family, Experiencing Assistive Technology in the Home

The workshops were 4 hours in length and each had a very effective hands-on component. Participants received a packet of information and a certificate of attendance for continuing education credit.

The instigators and coordinators of the workshops were Mary Kay Walch and Janet Peters. Some of the responsibility delegations included purchasing food, combining mailing lists, creating a workshop flyer, contacting the media, and posting advertisements on list serves and to e-mails personal contacts. After each session the staff of PACER center and AbleNet would debrief to capture learning plan for the next workshop, and celebrate the success of the day. The presentation content was a collaborative effort utilizing the expertise of each group and then blending them together.

All parties involved benefited from the workshop collaboration:

Benefits: Simon Technology Center: Furthered it's mission by educating parents and professionals regarding the use of assistive technology. The Simon Technology Center gained exposure and increased community knowledge of resources available.

AbleNet, Inc.: Reached and educated parents about simple technology, reaching parents is harder for vendors due to confidentiality. AbleNet, also gained brand exposure and expanded local network of local contacts for future projects. It was also an opportunity to show AbleNet's low tech devices in combination with high tech devices.

Benefits to Both: The combination of resources such as mail list, equipment and staff was of great impact. AbleNet and Simon Technology Center increased visibility locally and state wide and built a stronger relationship between organizations.

Attendees: The workshop participants gain knowledge and hands-on experience with a wide variety of high and low-tech options. They were able to network with other professionals and parents and obtain resource/research information relating to topic. Many commented on the "fun" with hands-on opportunities and how many functional application ideas they learned. Attendees were also able to purchase resource books and equipment at a discount.

There are several steps to approaching a collaborative event between an ATA center and vendor. Making a personal contact is essential. Both parties should be clear about the outcomes and goals of the presentation, including how to maintain a vendor "neutrality" quality to any presentation. Planning early is also key, there are many organizational hurdles and processes to be ironed that the individual organizations presenting alone might not face. It is also important to be clear on the responsibilities and roles of each Debriefing soon after the event and open discussion of what worked and what didn't is very helpful.

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