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Securing technology funding: empowering parents.

As the value of assistive technology equipment became clear, parents who could not afford to pay for assistive devices were dependent on professionals, as well as manufacturers and retailers of assistive technology devices, to take the lead in finding funds. Now if parents have information about potential sources of funds and can present the purpose of technology for their child in an effective way, they may be able to find the necessary dollars by themselves. Most funds are available in local communities. There are few national resources that one can turn to either for funds or for knowledge about funds.

RESOURCES FUNDING INFORMATION

Parents need specific details about the sources of funds in each community and information about how to apply for the funds. A resource for providing information should include: 1) Success stories about how parents have worked with different programs or agencies to find funds and how the equipment has been integrated into a child's program. Ideally, these stories would be presented in a step-by-step fashion so parents can learn about the entire funding process; 2) Stories describing how local schools were able to find the funds within their system or outside it; and 3) Descriptions of the use of parent's health insurance programs for these purchases.

When parents understand both the short-and long-range purposes of technology in the life of their child, they are more likely to make an effective presentation. It is not enough for a professional to tell parents that a particular kind of equipment is required for their child. When parents are informed about a child's needs, they are better able to work with the various health and education professionals who make recommendations that will help get equipment. Parents are then able to explain why they need specific hardware or software and present systematic information about the challenges their child faces and the options available.

Insurance coverage is an area that can be very difficult unless parents have specific know-how. It is not uncommon for insurance companies to reject the first request that is made. First, most insurance companies have little experience with the value of the new technology. Second, since health insurance usually pays for medical support but not for educational support, descriptions of how parents can work with healthcare professionals to create presentations that fit the guidelines of the insurance company are critical.

Some manufacturers of adaptive technology have said they have never been turned down by insurance companies when they have an effective working relationship with parents. There is more money available for equipment today than ever before. There are more and more local resource centers to provide information to increase parental knowledge.

SETTING PRIORITIES

Parents always want to do the best for their children in order to give them a better opportunity to grow and develop. Most families with youngsters with disabilities have extra expenses associated with helping the child. Often, they are forced to make judgements about the value of expenditures and then set priorities. Therefore, it is important that they are able to distinguish those situations when equipment is central and when it is not. Sadly, some parents have gone through the whole process, gotten the equipment, and then found that it did not do what was expected and never used it at all.

KNOWLEDGE IS THE KEY

Focusing on funds for a specific piece of equipment for a specific child will not change the pool of money available very rapidly. Increasing the knowledge about the role and potential applications of technology in enhancing the growth of and aiding the functioning of individuals over the course of their lives can change how everyone views the importance of technology-families, schools, employers and communities. Changing attitudes and practices will facilitate the development of new applicants and financial support.

Parents have been at the forefront in developing ways in which computers can be used for children with a variety of disabilities. They are more likely to be informed about the needs of their child and the kind of equipment that would be helpful. In this sense, parents are now advocating for the rights of their children to technology just as they did in earlier days when they were advocating for educational and therapeutic services that were not available or not being provided.

It is also important for teachers and other school personnel to know about the value of technology in their efforts to help children with disabilities. Parents can encourage this by asking for the inclusion of technology in an individualized education program (I.E.P.). Often this is not done because parents do not think that technology will be provided. In addition to negotiating for the use of technology within an I.E.P. at school, parents can also push for technology at home to reinforce school efforts.

In educating school decision-makers, as well as the community at large, it is important to explain that identifying and purchasing the equipment is only the beginning of the utilization of technology for the child and the school. Parents and professionals need materials that explain how computers are useful in school situations with youngsters with different kinds of disabilities. Everyone involved will need support and training in order to make sure that the technology becomes practical and useful for individual teachers and families. Parents and professionals can continually work together to find funds within the system.

FUTURE GOALS

Without a sense of rising expectations, parents may become discouraged in their day-to-day search for help. Just because technology that will solve particular problems does not exist today, we can be hopeful about the future. Rapid changes in technology take place over short periods of time. This means that we can look forward to expanding the child's ability to function.

Parents, professionals and others need to remain open to change, because the process of developing and accepting new technology requires change. The use of technology challenges everyone's desire for stability, because technology provides rapid change. As a result, many of the groups that parents and their children must use respond to such change by resisting it.

In educating school systems, one goal must be to help the system look beyond getting a piece of equipment for a specific child or into a specific building. Schools will face issues such as how to recycle and reuse equipment that a child has outgrown, just as parents do at home. By taking a look at the needs of the system over long periods of time, equipment purchases cannot only assist a particular child at a particular moment but could be available to assist children who will follow.

In making expensive purchasing decisions, some people tend to buy so that a child will "grow into it" and get a few years out of it. People also hear there is a new product coming out and that it will be less expensive. This thinking can then become "if he's a little older he'll get more use out of it so we'll wait." But children cannot wait. This is the last time that the child will be eight or nine. Today, children need to be acquainted with computers at an early age. Otherwise, a child's disabilities might get worse while adults are thinking about when to purchase equipment. When everyone waits and the child continues to fail, his/her self-esteem may become diminished to the point where the child may believe he/she will never be able to learn. It is also important to prepare parents and professionals for thinking about how technology may fit the needs of their child over the course of his/her lifetime.

Appropriate technology can even be integrated into early intervention programs. If specific equipment that is computer-like is not used, there are a variety of games and activities that will help prepare youngsters for the future use of technology.

PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT

There are parents, professionals and centers around the country that have special expertise in helping families and schools think about and solve some of these problems. The information and experience these people have needs to be organized so that it can be shared with other families. This will not only require funds, but also an understanding about the possibilities of technology.

With support, people will have the hope and energy to solve both the financial and intellectual problems. The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-407) did not exist two years ago. The federal government is now beginning to fund centers in states. The goal of the centers is to disseminate information to potential users. Hopefully, these centers will evolve so that there is active parental involvement. Without parental involvement and consumer support, these centers will never fulfill the initial expectations.
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Title Annotation:8th Annual Computer Technology Directory, 1991
Author:Brand, Jacquelyn; Pressman, Harvey; Grady, Ann; Sweezy, Sue; Elting, Susan; Bailey, Neil
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Nov 1, 1990
Words:1452
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