2004 Conference Proceedings

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PREACHING TO MORE THAN THE CHOIR: ADVOCATING AND COLLABORATING FOR COMMUNITY CHANGE

Presenters
Mary Lester - Executive Director,
Russ Holland - Program Director,
Alliance for Technology Access
Local community technology center director - TBA
Email: marylester@ATAccess.org 
Email: russholland@ATAccess.org

The Alliance for Technology Access, like most of us, has been trying to make a difference with assistive technology for many years. We have worked with consumers, families, educators, and service providers. Together we have accomplished a tremendous amount. But as we participate in this CSUN Conference for the 16th time, we feel some concern as to whether we are mostly 'preaching to the choir.' As we look at communities and community organizations across the country, the accomplishments are a small fraction of the potential. We must develop and implement new and bold strategies to accelerate accomplishment of our collective mission.

People want and need to get their information about access and assistive technology in their own communities. If it is not available in their schools, libraries, churches and in community organizations, they are unlikely to become aware of or find it. If they have to go to one organization for some services, such as learning computer skills for employment, but another to find out about, acquire and learn the tools to use the computer, we will have failed in far too many instances. This is especially true in a time when local community organizations are being lexpected to provide more of the services that have traditionally beenavailable through government and other social service sources.

In an awareness of what is left to accomplish and where we have been coming up short, and an attempt to develop and model strategies for community change, the Alliance for Technology Access has partnered with CTCNet and community technology centers across the United States to pilot training and technical assistance. ATA Center staff and Associate Members who have a wealth of expertise and experience, serve as trainers and provide ongoing technical assistance. This information includes accessibility information across the needs of most community organizations - communications, facility, program, technology, web access and advocacy. The information has been distilled into: a manual entitled "Access Aware: Extending your reach to People with Disabilities;"accompanying training materials; and the 4th edition of the ATA book, Computer and Web Resources for People with Disabilities.

ATA seeks out projects through which community organizations can receive a beginning complement of assistive technology and the skills needed for its successful use. Relationships are being developed between community organizations and ATA members to provide ongoing support. And since very few community organizations have the bandwidth to become experts across all types and degrees of disability issues, these relationships provide the experience and expertise needed to solve those problems.

We have learned a lot through these efforts, and have a lot more to learn. We know that advocating and collaborating for community change involves relationships with innovative and sometimes non-standard partners. We actively seek out and invite involvement of all interested partners in this effort.

We know that for people to become aware of, select, acquire and successfully use assistive technology, the search must at least be started in their own communities, through organizations they are familiar with. We know that in order to begin to effect these changes on the scope needed, we have to be preaching to far more than the choir.


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