Empowering people with disabilities through assistive technology

Assistive technology helps improve the functional capacities of individuals with disabilities.

Supportive programs and mainstreaming of technology has opened a myriad of opportunities for people with disabilities to achieve their independent living and economic empowerment goals. One of these programs is the Guam System for Assistive Technology (GSAT), which is administered by the University of Guam Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service. The program assists people with disabilities not only to procure assistive devices and equipment but to also avail of facilitative services.

Assistive technology refers to “any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, assist, maintain, or improve the functional capacities of individuals with disabilities.”

AT services, on the other hand, refers to “any services that directly assist an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition or use of an AT device.”

ATs include wheelchair, speech communication devices, home modification and portable ramps, electronic magnifies, voice-to-text- systems, visual alert systems, hearing aids and listening devices, lifts and vehicle modifications, braille printers, among others.

According to Carla Torres, assistive technology and special programs coordinator, the focus of the GSAT program is to help individuals with disabilities and their families have access to assistive technology and help increase the acquisition of assistive technology.

According to Torres, ATs could be a simple or complicated device that enables people with disabilities to be independent and productive. So, a simple non-motorized wheelchair or a pencil grip are considered AT.

GSAT has a demonstration and resource center where information on ATs as well as opportunities for guided exploration are provided to the community. Program staff also conduct product/device demonstrations for free to people with disabilities and their families as well as to education, health and related services providers. The guided tours and demonstrations help an individual make informed decisions on the best ATs to meet their needs.

GSAT also has a device loan program where clients can take a particular device home for free for 30 days. During the period, the client can test the particular device at home, school or even at the workplace. This is also part of the process of allowing the client to make an informed decision before committing to a purchase.

GSAT also has a recycling and equipment exchange program for previously owned assistive devices. Under the program, people with disabilities can purchase previously owned ATs at a lower cost instead of buying new one. Community member with used ATs can also donate and sell their devices through the program.

In terms of funding access and support, GSAT is offering the Guam Options for Alternative Loans-Assistive Technology (GOAL-AT) and Get Guam Teleworking (GGT) Loan Program. These federally-funded programs provides affordable financial loans to persons with disabilities for the purchase of ATs. The GGT loan program, in particular, enables eligible clients to purchase equipment for telework such as computers, software, and scanners. Telework, as defined by the program, involves paid part-time or full-time employment that is regularly performed at a worker’s home, telework center, or a place other than an employer’s office or business.

During Developmental Disabilities Month, GSAT staffers facilitated a resource center tour and device demonstration which highlighted the programs as well as available ATs and services for people with disabilities on island.

The open house was just one of the activities organized by the program to mark the month. Leah Abelon, GSAT Center assistant facilitated the tour, where approximately 50 guests visited the GSAT office for the event.

Rosalind D.C. Cruz, one of the participants, said she was glad to have made the decision to visit GSAT that afternoon. Cruz said the tour enabled her to see the various devices available to people with disabilities. She said it is important to disseminate information on GSAT to help people with disabilities know their options.

Aside from service clientele, representatives from nonprofit and government agencies such as the Guam Developmental Disabilities Council, and other partners participated in the tour which highlighted key areas including daily living, computer-related issues, special accommodations, environmental adaptation, mobility and seating, among others.