Summer 2004

Cool Tools, Affordable Access
by Daniel Schackman

Making technology accessible for people with disabilities is one of the hallmarks of the community technology field. It is estimated that one in five Americans has some form of disability. Technology can be a key component to improving their quality of life. CTCNet has teamed with the Alliance for Technology Access (ATA), along with TechMission, to deliver accessibility training and resources for CTCs and community- and faith-based organizations through the Connections for Tomorrow (C4T) initiative. ATA's mission is "to increase the use of technology by children and adults with disabilities and functional limitations." ATA's "Cool Tools" workshop is a sampler of the latest and greatest assistive technology. ATA workshops strive to increase awareness of the breadth and depth of tools to make technology more useful to people with disabilities, develop strategies for customizing standard computer interfaces, and share information about the tools with the most potential for your center and environment.

While some organizations may feel daunted by the prospect of assistive technology, perhaps believing that it is going to be a major financial drain, it need not be. Through Connections for Tomorrow, ATA has developed an Assistive Technology Package with exciting and innovative tools for less than $500. The package is being successfully implemented by C4T grantees such as the Lake County Center for Independent Living in Mundelein, IL. These are not only affordable resources, they are some very cool tools!

When planning for bringing assistive technology into your site, there are some fundamental questions you need to begin with: Who uses community technology centers and who doesn't? How can you welcome unserved people from your communities? How can you meet diverse learning and physical needs? Becoming aware of the breadth and depth of tools available can help you make your center more accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities.

At the Cool Tools workshop, attendees learn to customize computer interfaces to meet the needs of all visitors, especially for people who have difficulty with reading and writing, seeing and hearing, mousing and typing. Tools include alternate input technology (hardware and software), voice recognition systems, on-screen keyboards, word prediction software, screen enlargement and screen reader programs, reading and writing tools, reading comprehension tools, writing support tools, and screen enlargement with supplementary speech software. The session, presented by Russ Holland and David Grass, includes hands-on demonstrations, discussion of features of the tools, strategies for implementing their usage, and examples of how they are being used at other CTCs.

Russ Holland, Program Director of the Alliance for Technology Access, has been involved in the field of assistive technology for the past 25 years--as a classroom teacher, the founder and director for nine years of Techspress (an ATA Center in upstate New York), co-founder of Adirondack AccessAbility Inc., another ATA affiliate, and an independent consultant, he has been involved in advocacy work, training and consulting directed at eliminating barriers faced by people with disabilities.

David Grass is the Executive Director of the Northern Illinois Center for Adaptive Technology which opened its doors in January 1990. The NICAT center is a local partnership with the United Cerebral Palsy Blackhawk Region, the Rockford Public Schools, and people with disabilities and their families. Their mission is to help people with disabilities reach their full potential by providing information on the latest technology and matching adaptive devices to their disabilities, empowering them to more effectively interface with their environment.

Dan Schackman has served as CTCNet's CTC AmeriCorps VISTA Member and Information Management Associate from June 2002-June 2004.

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