Sunday, August 26, 2007

Assistive Technology exchanges, an idea whose time has come

While I was a graduate assistant, I would often engage in an exchange of ideas with Sean, my mentor and the coordinator of the DSO. One of the frequent ideas he proposed was, “Why can’t there be an exchange for assistive technology?” To put this in context, his thought was that a group of the numerous colleges and universities in the Houston area could create a pool to share their vast collection of assistive technology resources amongst themselves.

Sean’s idea was sound and logical, in that, a DSO’s budget can be significantly impacted when considering some new AT purchases. If College A had not previously had a Braille user on campus, but with the new semester there is a Braille user and the school suddenly finds that there is a need to provide scanned documents in Braille, or that there is a need for a Braille display on just one computer, the financial impact is quickly felt, adding thousands of dollars to an almost certainly strained budget.

However, if this AT exchange existed, even with only a small group of participating schools, the DSO of that one school could check the co-op’s available inventory and perhaps find what they need. While College A didn’t have the Braille equipment, maybe College B had a Braille embosser sitting idle from a previous need where a student had graduated. Then, College C might also have a Braille computer display, but no current Braille users enrolled. By pooling their resources, this could maximize the use of expensive equipment and also help lessen the overall impact of cooperating schools.

Granted, an endeavor such as this would not be without problems. What would happen when College A is using the embosser and suddenly College B has a new Braille-reading student enroll the next semester? That is when College B would need to lay claim to its property and leave College A back where it was at originally, but at least there was that one semester reprieve. Additionally, what happens when a borrowing school loses software or the hardware is damaged? These potential scenarios would need to be discussed and addressed at the outset of such an exchange.

The idea of an equipment exchange is not new, but I’m not aware of any cooperative that exists among colleges or universities. The exchange could begin small, just within the different branches or campuses of one particular school.

I still believe this is an idea worth considering.

What sparked these memories of this concept of pooled assistive technology resources was a few recent news alerts I have received regarding about a web site launched for Michigan residents,
The At Xchange.
According to the organization's home page, this is A place “where people can buy, sell, or give away assistive technology.”

The concept of this site is good. Provide a place where people who have assistive technology, but no longer need it, or somebody needing some new device, can come together and exchange their devices. The term “assistive technology” isn’t just computer software or hardware, though. This is a broad application of the term here. This includes hospital beds, chair lifts, modified vehicles, as well as other items such as raised commode seats and shower chairs. Yes, these are assistive devices for people with disabilities. So, be forewarned—assistive technology is not always computer technology. Sometimes, the technology can be low tech.

I spent a little time yesterday evening looking over the AT Xchange site and there were 42 items currently listed. These items were mostly for scooters, wheel chairs, lifts, and modified vehicles, but included a few other items. There was no computer technology available, though, at least not right now.

There is a location on the site where users of the web site can put up a notice of items that they need. There is also a helpful informational FAQ page, detailing what the site is all about.

According to an on-line article published in the
Jackson City Patriot,
The AT Xchange site was set up in February and has had only a small amount of traffic, far less postings of items, and even fewer completed transactions.

I believe that, given time, this project will continue to grow. Proof is already present, as the Aug. 21 article cited only 30 items posted to the site and when I checked the site only five days later, I found 42 listed. So, there is growth occurring just in what is being listed. The site’s presence has relied on word of mouth and is just now pushing further promotion. It is a good idea and one that I think should, and will, be emulated.

While writing this post about that site, I googled “assistive technology exchange,”" and got many returns. I was honestly surprised at the extensive listing of the various states/regions that have also begun such endeavors. Instead of posting links to the numerous individual state sites here, I will instead direct you to the
Pass It On Center.
This is basically a central hub which lists and links to these assistive technology exchanges. Most of the individual sites I found were also listed here on this site.

If you know of an AT exchange that is not listed, leave a comment here. Better yet, let the webmaster at the Pass It On Center know about it so it can be included on their site.

No comments: