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Sack lobbies Congress to pass Assistive Technology Act

Monday, November 1, 2004
Photo of Sara Sack

By Jamie Willey
Parsons Sun, November 1, 2004

A local woman helped legislation find its way through Congress this year to President Bush's desk. Sara Sack, an assistant professor of research for the University of Kansas' Affiliated Programs at Parsons State Hospital and Training Center, traveled to Washington, DC, several times this year to testify before Congress about the impact of the Assistive Technology Act of 2004. Bush signed the law last week.

Technology Act of 2004 extended the funding for the programs.

The legislation provided for a networked program throughout the state and the country to allow centers to share equipment and information on how to get disabled people the tools they need to live more independently.

"We really use that national network to solve problems and for new ideas," Sack said. If the legislation had been allowed to expire, it would have left a big void in the network of assistive technology centers.

In 2003-04, 20,138 requests for services were met for consumers, family members and providers in Kansas, and 4,222 consumers and professionals trained on the use of assistive technology devices and 1,176 Kansans received assistance in developing a funding solution for needed devices, according to information from Assistive Technology for Kansans, a statewide project coordinated by the Kansas University Center on Disabilities at Parsons.

The federal legislation allows Kansas to operate five assistive technology access sites, including one at Southeast Kansas Independent Living in Parsons. Each is a demonstration site that gives users a chance to see the product before buying.

The legislation also funds new technology, training and other resources as well as the Kansas Equipment Exchange Program, which allows users to buy used equipment. Each state will get a minimum of $410,000 from the federal government for its programs.

Assistive technology equipment can include any device that helps a disabled person live more independently. Equipment ranges from magnification systems for people who can't see well to communication devices and powered wheelchairs.

It wasn't easy getting the legislation passed.

Sack and several of her peers traveled to Washington, DC, to testify on behalf of the legislation before the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee. Sack testified to that committee twice and was the lead presenter.

"That was quite an experience. It actually turned out to be fun if you can believe it. It was nice," she said.
She and about a half dozen other speakers were allowed 10 minutes to give speeches to the committee. They then had a question-and-answer period that lasted several hours.

"It gave you a lot of appreciation for all the work our legislators and their staff do. I have utmost admiration," she said.

Sack also served on two working committees and was the chairman for one, meeting several times in the spring.

"Most were held by teleconference, but throughout this process I've been to Washington probably monthly," she said.

Sack said Sen. Pat Roberts and his staff were interested in the legislation and how it helped Kansans with disabilities. She said the bill might not have passed without Roberts pushing for it. Roberts was a co-sponsor of the bipartisan bill originally introduced in June by Sens. Judd Gregg, R-NH, and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. Sack was in Washington again last week at the John F. Kennedy Center, at which she is a finalist for a one-year public policy fellowship. If she receives the fellowship, she would live in Washington next year and work on disability-related legislation.

"It's a really tough competition, and most of the applicants have a public policy background and I have more of a programmatic background. I have a lot of experience in disability issues but more on the program side, so I'm probably a different candidate," Sack said.

Sack was a speech language pathologist for many years before starting the technological program for the KU Center on Developmental Disability in 1992 after the legislation began providing funding.

Kansas was one of the last states to join the technology network.

"Kansas has a very, very strong program and a good foundation, and once we got funding we used it well," she said.

The state is highly respected throughout the nation, and many people call Sack looking for solutions or information. The national association of technological programs has chosen Sack as president-elect.

Sack said that finding solutions is her favorite part of her job.

"I like helping people solve their personal access problems. I like helping an individual so they can be as independent as they want to be and live their lives the way they want to live them," she said.

For more information contact project staff at 620-421-8367 or go to their website at www.atk.ku.edu.



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