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Consumer responsiveness: knowing it when you see it.


One of the chief aims of The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-407) is to provide federal assistance to states to help each one develop a statewide program of "consumer responsive" assistive technology services. Indeed, one of the few requirements the law makes of states is that the assistive technology service system each designs and develops be as truly responsive to the needs and preferences of people of all ages with disabilities and their families as possible. However, once having said this, P.L. 100-407 leaves it to the discretion, ingenuity and hard work of each state to develop a commonsense understanding of how best to make its assistive technology service system measure up to this important yardstick.


This is no easy task. No set definition currently exists in federal law or its regulations to help states differentiate between what makes some assistive technology services "consumer responsive" and others not in the least way attentive to individual needs or differences. Perhaps no clear and concise definition of this vital concept can, or ever will be, developed. But some states, along with consumers, practitioners and others, are beginning to decipher what separates a consumer-driven service system from one that merely drops technology into people's hands and lives and then walks away.

According to Quality Indicators, a publication by S.M.A.R.T. Exchange (a regional information exchange project of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research and the United Cerebral Palsy Association - see page 64), the principal difference between the two approaches is that "the responsive system makes a conscious effort to not only deliver the technology' but (actively involves) consumers as decision making partners in the planning, delivery and evaluation of services." In turn, such an effort is exemplified and translated into practice by an organization or system's demonstrated commitment to the belief that:

* People with disabilities benefit most from assistive technology and services that they, their families, or advocates have played an informed and vital role in assessing and selecting.

* The continued satisfaction of the individual using assistive technology, his or her family, or advocate is of primary importance in achieving success.

* Individuals with disabilities, their families and advocates must have the greatest involvement in and ultimate control over the design, delivery, and evaluation of assistive technology services.

* Assistive technology must be used to enhance the independence, integration and productivity of people with disabilities in school, at work and in the community.

* Assistive technology services, policies, and practices must be flexible and foster organizational change in order to best respond to the needs of people of all ages with disabilities and their families.

People of all ages with disabilities have a right to live in an accessible society and to have access to adapted materials and technology that enable them to lead productive and satisfying lives.


Quality Indicators gives steps that both statewide assistive technology service systems and smaller organizations can take to ensure that their services are truly responsive to the needs and preferences of individuals with disabilities and their families. These steps include:

* involving people with disabilities, their families and advocates in all phases of the planning and development of assistive technology services;

* appointing such individuals, their families and advocates to governing and policy-making boards and committees;

* employing qualified individuals with disabilities in staff, consultant and volunteer positions;

* providing training to individuals, their families and advocates to enable them to develop knowledge and skills in such key areas as:

* how to identify personal

technology needs;

* how to review existing


* when to use assistive technology

services and devices; and

* how to obtain needed payment

for appropriate assistive

technology services and devices;

* informing people with disabilities, their families and advocates:

* that appropriate assistive

technology services and devices

are available;

* that suitable solutions to their needs can be found; and

* that they have a right to assistive technology.

There is no single right or wrong way to go about designing a reliable, responsible and responsive assistive technology service delivery system to benefit people of all ages with disabilities and their families. Nor is there a precise roadmap for showing us how to reach our final destination on what promises to be a long journey. But by plodding along, taking one step after another (as has been outlined) and keeping true to our commitment, we will get there one day.

How will we know when we finally reach our destination? We will know it when we see it.

Editor's Note: To obtain a copy of Quality Indicators or for more information on this exchange, write to: S.M.A.R.T. Exchange, P.O. Box 724704, Atlanta, Ga. 30339, (404) 238-4568 or 4694, (404) 238-2275 (TDD) or (800) SMARTIE. Quality Indicators includes information on 51 specific quality indicators that can be used to help plan, deliver and evaluate assistive technology services. It was developed with the input of persons with disabilities, their families, technology experts and state agency administrators with funding under a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

This article was reprinted with permission from Assistive Technology Quarterly (Spring, 1990, Volume 1, #1), a publication of RESNA Technical Assistance Project, 1101 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 857-1140.

Robert R. Williams is a policy associate for United Cerebral Palsy Associations (UCPA), inc., Governmental Activities Office in Washington, D.C. He represents UCPA on civil rights and housing, including independent living and personal assistance services. He is also a newsletter editor for RESNA Technical Assistance Project in Washington, D.C. in addition, Williams serves as an executive board member of The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps and is a consultant for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Williams holds a Bachelor of Arts in urban affairs from George Washington University. He lives in Washington, D.C.

The S.M.A.R.T. Exchange

The S.M.A.R.T. Exchange is a three-year federally-funded project which seeks to facilitate and/or improve the delivery of technology-related service delivery throughout the southeastern region of the United States by:

(1) Identifying and selecting successful programs, practices and components in accordance with a set of quality indicators developed by the project.

(2) Disseminating information regarding successful programs, their components and practices via a variety of multi-dimensional diffusion strategies.

(3) Providing direct technical assistance designed to facilitate the exchange of information between identified successful programs and agencies, organizations or schools interested in increasing and improving the delivery of successful technology-related services.

(4) Developing a resource list of professionals and expert consultants in assistive technology within the eight-state southeastern region.

The S.M.A.R.T. Exchange assists service providers who offer technology-related services to all age groups and disabilities. It is assisted by a regional advisory board of distinguished professionals, parents and individuals with disabilities from the southeastern region.

The Exchange concentrates on the following areas:

* Early Intervention/Preschool

* Education

* Transitional Services

* Employment

* Independent Living

* Recreation & Leisure

* Positioning & Mobility

* Augmentative Communication

* Computer Access

* Adaptive Toys/Games

* Adaptive Environments

The S.M.A.R.T. Exchange has selected several organizations that demonstrate successful components and practices in the delivery of assistive technology services. A few examples are:

(1) Assistive Therapeutic Systems, Inc., 7710 Reading Road, Suite 110, Cincinnati, Ohio 45237, (513) 761-2868

(2) The Center for Enhanced Computer Applications, Humanities and Social Sciences Computing Lab, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. 29208, (803) 777-7840

(3) Community Reintegration Program, Office of Research & Services, Curriculum in Leisure Studies & Recreation Administration, 730 Airport Road, Suite 204, CB #8145, UNC-CH, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514, (919) 962-0534

(4) FACTT: Facilitating Augmentative Communication Through Technology, Clayton Board of Education/Language Research Center, GSU/Emory, 3401 Panthersville Road, Decatur, Ga. 30034, (404) 243-8287
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Author:Williams, Robert R.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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