Assistive Technology for Kansans (ATK), the Kansas Assistive Technology Program, coordinated by the University of Kansas at Parsons was one of four programs nationwide to be invited to present on the benefits of assistive technology at the U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.
Lauren Herren, twenty-one and a college student from Wichita, accompanied by her parents, Mitchell and Lisa Herren and Director of ATK, Sara Sack, attended the Department of Education presentation in Washington, D.C. Lauren, Mitchell, and Lisa, as well as assistive technology users from North Carolina, Wyoming, Washington, and Illinois told Department of Education staff members about their experiences accessing, acquiring, and learning to use assistive technology. Lauren and her family told the audience that they first came to ATK when Lauren was quite young, continued to work with program staff throughout her high school years, and now the focus has shifted to using assistive technology to help Lauren transition from student to employee.
When Lauren's disability began to show itself in the early months of her life, her mother was told, "Lauren was born at a good time because of all the technology being developed." This statement was prophetic.
In the early years, Lauren and her family accessed the ATK Device Loan System to borrow positioning equipment, switches, and Intellikeys to help with activities of daily living, and to learn by exploring her world. These experiences resulted in purchasing equipment that really did work. Not only did ATK staff help the Herrens find equipment and technology for Lauren but also helped to customize and show Lauren how to utilize it.
Lisa, Lauren's mom, attended the AT Expo each time it was held. Meeting others who lived the philosophy of empowering people with disabilities was critical as Lauren and her family grew up with complex needs for support.
ATK staff provided assistance in the acquisition of her communication device. They assisted Lauren's speech language pathologist (SLP) in writing the evaluation report to get funding for Lauren's device. Her communication system allows her to talk with co-workers, provide direction to her personal attendant, share her thoughts as she plans for the future, and keep up with friends and family.
Lauren has worked at a large, local grocery store as part of a non-paid work experience through the school. She used her wheelchair and her communication device as she did product returns and customer service.
Currently, Lauren is in the post-high school transition period. She has volunteered at the zoo in the education department, and currently is doing a community job trial at an elementary school. Lauren's communication device, her power chair, and her ability to access her e-mail, the Internet, and her phone all play significant roles in her path to independence and ultimately, employment.
Lauren uses her communication device to access the Internet for social reasons as well. She can get on social media outlets such as Facebook. She can use her texting ability via her Bluetooth phone to make plans with friends or set up a hair appointment, or to ask her volunteer coordinator what next week's lesson is so she can prepare her part of the presentation.
Lisa Herren was the wrap up presenter at the DOE meeting and closed by saying, "The theme I kept hearing throughout all the presentations is that the AT program gives our family members access to critical communication, to education, to family and communication, and to opportunities for employment, but it also gives US ACCESS TO THEM and their gifts and contributions as with each representative's story there was an element of how they have enriched their communities. I think of Domineaux and how she does event planning, and the sisters of the young girl who started a group which then reached out to other teens with communication disorders."
Sara Sack, ATK Director said, "The Assistive Technology Act programs support individuals with disabilities throughout their lives—as they identify technology, as they learn how to use their technology to the fullest extent, when teachers and therapists change, when new needs are identified, and as their needs and technology change."
In addition to talking with DOE staff, Mitchell, Lisa and Lauren met with staff of members of the Kansas delegation. As Mitch Herren so eloquently stated: "Our daughter will continue to need support throughout her life, but because of the services that have been provided since she was small and the access to assistive technology, she will be a much more independent and productive member of society. The returns seem large compared to the relatively small funding price of the program, especially when you consider that it helps minimize or avoid other costs that would be necessary if Kansans like our daughter did not have access to the technology."
ATK connects people with disabilities and health conditions of all ages with the assistive technology they need to learn, work, play and participate in community life safely and independently.
Each of the five AT Access Sites have experienced staff who can assist Kansans to see and try a device, borrow a device, get a used device or help locate funding for a new or used device, or teach individuals or groups how to maintain and use technology. The AT Access Sites are located in Oakley, Salina, Wichita, Topeka and Parsons. An affiliate office for obtaining high quality refurbished technology is located in Garden City.
You can contact your regional AT Access Site by calling 800-KAN DO IT (800-526-3648). Management staff can be reached by calling 620-421-8367.