Marvin Williams demonstrates some of the devices available through the Assistive Technology Resource Center on campus.

Assistive technology

Resource center open house demonstrates opportunities for collaboration

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10:33 a.m., May 23, 2012--Lynn Okagaki, dean of the University of Delaware's College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), formally welcomed the New Castle County Assistive Technology Resource Center (ATRC) to campus at an open house for the center on May 16.

The ATRC, which houses assistive devices for people with mobility, sensory, cognitive and communication limitations, is part of the Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative (DATI) at the Center for Disabilities Studies (CDS).

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Okagaki pointed out that, since it was established in 1991, DATI has helped to bring about improvements to assistive technology access and use through research, training and leadership, while providing key services including equipment demonstration, equipment loan, alternative financing and device reuse.

“This is a tremendous resource for our citizens, helping provide them the tools they need in order to learn, work and play safely and independently, often at reduced or no cost,” the dean said. “Having the ATRC relocate to the Center for Disabilities Studies will also provide a tremendous resource for the University and the College of Education and Human Development.  We are identifying ways to better integrate classwork and field experience, to ensure our students are well-prepared as they enter their chosen field.”

According to Okagaki, now that DATI is on campus, it will be easier for its staff to teach graduate and undergraduate courses, such as Technology and Assistive Technology in Early Childhood; provide guest lectures in courses across campus; support students interested in working with individuals with disabilities by offering experiential learning, including extended internships; and provide access to AT equipment for projects, class demonstrations and personal use.

“We look forward to identifying new opportunities to collaborate, as we work together to improve access to assistive technology for all Delawareans with disabilities. Welcome you to your new home,” Okagaki concluded.

Also speaking at the open house was Cole Galloway, associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy. He shared his excitement at the possibilities the ATRC offers to his department and the University as a whole.

Galloway said that physical therapists view their work as a way to empower people to increase their functionality, but they don’t often think of assistive technology in this way. This is about to change, he predicted, with the ATRC now located at UD.

“I see this as my space,” Galloway said, adding that he looks forward to conferences with a focus on assistive technology and other collaborations. He described assistive technology as a “power chassis” that fits in with the daily functioning of all individuals as well as the academic mission of the University.

Thomas Webb, director of the Office of Disabilities Support Services, also welcomed the ATRC as a resource for his office. He noted that assistive technology often is the “lifeline” for the students, faculty and staff served by his office, many of whom have “invisible disabilities.” They will benefit by being able to try out and borrow cutting edge equipment, such as speech readers, right on campus, Webb said. 

With the ATRC and DATI now at the Center for Disabilities Studies, CDS Director Beth Mineo said she is excited about the center being a place to bring ideas. She added she is pleased that so many individuals from the campus and broader community attended the open house and learned the value of having the ATRC on campus.

Among the 65 people who visited the resource center were Jann Sutton, program manager in Professional and Continuing Studies for distance learning. She wanted to get some ideas and be “more proactive” regarding audio transmission issues with students who are enrolled in the distance learning program. She had the opportunity to speak with Marvin Williams, AT specialist at the New Castle County ATRC.

Kevin Chang is a UD biomedical engineering student who is president of the Biomedical Engineering Interest Group. He wants to develop a hands-on project “to see the effects of what we do” and is excited about the prospect of working with the DATI staff.

When Sarah Bergan, administrative coordinator of the Laboratory Preschool, was speaking to Williams, she learned about an interactive whiteboard similar to the one used in many schools. Bergan plans to make an appointment with Williams to get more advice about using this device in the Lab Preschool’s classrooms

As Williams was showing visitors some of the hundreds of items on the tables and shelves of the ATRC, he remarked that people often consider a device to be assistive technology only when it is expensive. But Williams said he finds it challenging and fun to find a solution for somebody’s needs by using “something that’s already out there,” including the mobile devices used by the general population.

Also on hand to demonstrate assistive technology devices were Dan Fendler, AT specialist at DATI’s Sussex County ATRC in Georgetown, and Eileen Mapes, a DATI staff member who assists people with funding for assistive technology. Fendler and Williams share the responsibility for staffing the Kent County ATRC in Dover. The New Castle County ATRC formerly was located at the Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children.

For more information about the ATRC, call 302-831-0354.

Article by Michele Sands

Photos by Ambre Alexander

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