A guest blog from: Alicia Johns
National Assistive Technology Awareness Day is a day acknowledging that assistive technology (AT) devices provide opportunity for persons with disabilities and older adults to fully live their lives. This day of recognition would not have been possible without the dedication and hard work of my wonderful colleagues providing services through the 56 State and Territory AT Act programs, recently reauthorized by Congress as the 21st Century Assistive Technology Act which will become effective in June of this year (2023). The District of Columbia Assistive Technology Program (DCATP) has been working to increase access to and acquisition of Assistive Technology devices and services for thirty years. This national effort by the AT Act programs increases the visibility of persons with disabilities using AT devices to live independently in their communities and pursue employment and educational opportunities.
In recognition of National Assistive Technology Awareness Day, DCATP will be hosting its first post-COVID pandemic open house for the community to explore some of the latest available technology devices. This event will provide an opportunity for participants to learn about the features of various assistive technology devices, try them out, and discuss their use. The open house will showcase some the latest AT devices to support speech communications, low vision and blindness, hard of hearing and deafness as individuals navigate employment, education, and community living. DCATP will also provide demonstrations of technology applications available to support individuals in need and showcase some of the latest smart home devices that can be used for communication, home automation, recreation, organization, health, and safety. Attendees will have the opportunity to borrow some of the devices to try in their natural environments.
I was introduced to AT devices and services when the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) was the implementing agency for the DC Assistive Technology Program. I had the opportunity to interact with persons with a variety of disabilities and observe different treatment modalities. The NRH AT department was relatively new and unique in introducing AT devices to patients as part of their treatment plan. Healthcare professionals worked as a team to provide coordinated care to their patients. I had the opportunity to see the development of emerging technologies such as JAWS, augmentative communication devices, head switches, specialized seating, and the latest prosthetics. A vendor demonstrated a stand-up wheelchair that looked like a small military tank. I saw patients playing wheelchair basketball, adapted bowling, and learning to drive adapted vehicles. I remember meeting a delegation of visitors from China who were deaf. They signed with their feet for communication. These AT interactions were fascinating, and many dignitaries including the Queen of England visited the AT department to learn and see the benefits of these AT devices.
DCATP services are essential to increasing access to AT for DC residents. I share my experiences beginning at NRH to my current work as Director of DCATP to offer witness of the growth of AT from an infancy to the present. There are so many new emerging technologies that emphasize inclusion of all persons with disabilities and older adults. We encourage you to observe the use of AT devices by persons with disabilities in all areas of your life, as you engage in the community, at work, at play, in the media and the performing arts. The possibilities are endless. I am grateful to have been part of this ongoing national AT movement and happy to celebrate National Assistive Technology Awareness Day 2023.