Tech Access Program Best Practices
The youthAbility Tech
Access Program, a national collaborative grant administered
by IAJVS and funded by a generous grant from NEC Foundation
of America, came to a close in February 2005. By providing
grants to volunteer agencies to make one-time assistive technology
adaptations to volunteer positions for a person with a particular
disability, the program was able to demonstrate how the effective
use of assistive technology services and devises can increase
the participation of youth with disabilities in community
service. The impact of the project will continue to extend
far into the future, well beyond the duration of this grant,
as the assistive technology modifications will belong to the
volunteer agency, allowing them to continue to recruit additional
youth with disabilities to fill that position.
is defined by the AT Act (P.L. 105-394) as "any item, piece
of equipment, or product system . . . that is used to increase,
maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals
with disabilities." A 1993 study done by the National Council
on Disability surveyed over 130 individuals with disabilities
to evaluate the costs and benefits associated with the use
of different kinds of technology-related assistance. They
found that 65 percent of working-age persons reduced their
dependence on family members, 58 percent reduced their need
for paid assistance, and 40 percent increased their earnings.
disabilities who need AT device to work
can almost always get their costs underwritten by the federal
vocational rehabilitation program in their state. Unfortunately,
this is not so for volunteer service positions where participants
do not earn a salary or wage. These service positions are
often, however, a steppingstone to employment as they help
the participant to build their skills as well as a resume.
Many of the devices people need are simple, low-cost items.
They include amplified phones and assisted listening devices
for those who are hard of hearing; Braille note takers and
output devices for the visually impaired; and simple switching
devices to allow a person with a physical disability to operate
IAJVS project staff
selected recipients through a competitive process, awarding
50 mini-grants to 15 community service agencies across the
country, such as the Cleveland YMCA, the Willow Creek Food
Pantry near Chicago, IL, and the "My Corps Summer" program
in Philadelphia, PA. Facilitated by five IAJVS affiliate
agencies, the successful grant applicants requested a variety
of assistive technology, ranging from transportation assistance
to personal assistance devices, from laptop computers with
special software to reading pens, and from a ramp to allow
access to a building to a WatchMinder to help a student maintain
focus on time-specific tasks. The grants ranged from $60
to $1900, and averaged $448.00.
Among the innovative
mini-grant recipients were:
Nursing Home purchased a WatchMinder with their youthAbility
Tech Access Program mini-grant. The WatchMinder encourages
individuals with attention deficit to stay on task by
reminding the individual to pay attention to the task
at hand. Because it looks like any other watch, the
WatchMinder does not have negative social drawbacks.
The Jewish Vocational
Service in Chicago received Dragon NaturallySpeaking computer
software, which enables users to create and edit documents,
spreadsheets and email via voice rather than keyboard.
The software will allow JVS to continue to utilize volunteers
with physical disabilities.
School and Community Corps, a national service program
that combines national service with urban school reform
as a dynamic part of school restructuring, received Personal
Digital Assistants (PDAs, such as Palm Pilots) to assist
volunteers with time management and organizational skills.
School and Community Corps also received reading pens,
portable audio tools that have the ability to scan words
and/or lines of text, repeat them out loud, and define
them, so that volunteer counselors with reading difficulties
receive help during their volunteer assignments.
to complement the network's youthAbility program, a national
model for the outreach to and recruitment of youth with disabilities
into community service funded by the Corporation for National
and Community Service, this project leveraged those funds
to demonstrate on a national basis how AT can be used to effectively
integrate the target population into national service positions.
Because of the IAJVS network's vast experience in serving
this population, we know the importance of AT services and
devices. They are equalizers that level the playing field,
allowing a person with a disability to participate and develop
their potential. We are proud that our network could share
that knowledge with the many community groups and non-profit
agencies that participated in youthAbility.