STAR Point Transcript - Assistive Technology of Minnesota
Guest: Carol Fury
Host: Earle Harrison
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From the depths of ingenuity, to the heart and soul of assistive technology for people with disabilities, STAR is a System of Technology to Achieve Results!
STAR does not endorse or recommend any particular product, individual or agency. The information expressed on STAR Point is educational in nature and does not imply endorsement by STAR's funder (the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research) or the State of Minnesota.
Transcript begins here:
EH: Hello and welcome to yet another addition of STAR Point, the assistive technology the program that discusses high tech and low tech solutions as well as access issues in general for people with disabilities. My guest in the studio today is Carol Fury, Executive Director of Assistive Technology of MN. Hello Carol, thanks for joining us today.
CF: Hello, thank you for inviting me.
EH: Why don't we go ahead and start out by hearing a little bit about yourself and what it is you do at ATMN.
CF: I've worked in the field of helping people with disabilities for about 28 years in a variety of positions. Most frequently you'll find me in a position working with a non-profit organization in the area of start-up or trouble shooting--helping to make some systemic changes or organization changes in the area of focus on the rights and needs of people with disabilities. In some of the work that I've don't in non-profits as a board member, I've had the opportunity to support organizations in unique developments, such as when I was on the ARC board we were the initial group that started their Value Village project.
EH: A lot of our listeners don't know what ARC is, maybe you can elaborate a little on that.
CF: ARC is a Hennepin County/Carver County based program that supports people who have developmental disabilities and they've been around for many decades. They have moved through transitional stages from a focus mainly on children to now focusing on the rights of citizens in MN who happen to have disabilities and that's where their name came from.
EH: Very well and that's just one organization with whom ATMN is aligned.
CF: Correct. To move into the present and some of the work that I'm currently doing. Assistive Technology of MN was created in 1998 as an initiative of the Governor's Advisory Council on Technology for People with Disabilities and the STAR Program. We were created to fulfill the needs of the community with regard to assistive technology because of the potential for the STAR Program to sunset in the near future. And so that was back in 1998. Fortunately, the government has continued the STAR Program up until today and we're in the year 2002 and we do not know what that future is. Assistive Technology of Minnesota was created for that reason so that at the time when the STAR Program does sunset, if it does indeed, we will be there to pick up the activities and carry on working with people in Minnesota who have disabilities specific to assistive technology. That's all we do and it's our total focus. In the year 2001, the governing board on behalf of Assistive Technology of Minnesota decided that it was the right time to move our agency into the private sector and began a search for an Executive Director to start up the program and that's where we are today. I was hired in March of 2001 and we have been in existence now in the community for about a year.
EH: Ok, and since the STAR Program hasn't sunset, has there been a shift in your focus?
CF: There certainly has been a shift in our focus. When I became the Executive Director of Assistive Technology of Minnesota, there had been some work done to enhance and create a mission for our agency and our mission is to create a comprehensive consumer responsive system of assistive technology for Minnesotans with disabilities. What had been set up in our agency were 2 financial assistance programs. One is called our Micro Loan program which we'll talk a little bit more about later, and the other is a scholarship or an educational grant program. Those two things were existing at the time when I came on board with Assistive Technology of Minnesota. What we anticipated would happen over the first year would be that Assistive Technology of Minnesota would take over some of the activities that STAR is currently doing such as the funding directory, training for a variety of different kinds of services and a lot of information and referral. However, since STAR has not sunsetted, and we certainly are going to advocate that they do not sunset, we're focused more on developing collaboratives and partnerships out in the community that utilize existing providers to fulfill services throughout our whole state, and that's a shift.
EH: Give me an example of some of the participants in the Collaborative.
CF: The most recent thing we've been working on, very exiting is the MN Assistive Technology Collaborative. Are partners there are the STAR Program and the 6 Regional Assistive Technology Networks formally known as CANs or the Community Action Networks. Those are regional groups of volunteers who provide assistive technology services in their region in the state of MN. Regions meaning, primarily they have about 12 to 14 counties in their region and the regions were outlined using the parameters that were established by the McKnight Foundation in their development of the initiative foundations throughout the state. We simply used the regional design that McKnight used when they set up their initiative foundations. So if you look at west central MN, and their initiative foundation, we would have the same geographical parameters for that region, region 3, that they would have for their initiative foundation, that's how the regions were designed.
The MN Regions Assistive Technology Collaborative was stared in the year 2001 to assist the out state regions in seeking financial support and insure that we continue to provide those services statewide as well as to expand those services to regions and underserved populations. Right now we are in the process of developing our entire organization as we re-form this partnership, including a development plan for funding, mission, goals and then a work plan.
We have been successful in working with two of the larger foundations in the state of MN who will be supporting our project as we move forward and that's great for out state MN so we can continue to those services.
EH: Are you at liberty to name those organizations yet?
CF: I guess I wouldn't name them just yet.
EH: Fair enough.
CF: When the time comes we will acknowledge those foundations in many ways.
EH: Talk a little about the Micro Loan Program and how did that come into existence and where is it now?
CF: One of the reasons that ATMN was created had to do with the parameters of the Federal Technical Assistance Act of 1998. Through that act, a federal mandate, it stated that part of the dollars that were given to the states for their technical assistance projects, was to go to individuals in some way, shape or form who needed financial support to purchase assistive technology. The state of MN, the STAR Program, looked at some of the modals that were out there in other states throughout the union, and decided that the most successful models they have seen were the models that were using a micro loan fund. In our case the Micro Loan Program was developed so that people who have some income and are able to pay back loans, would have the vehicle in which to purchase the technology now, and pay for it over time. That's how the Micro Loan Program got started and to date we are working with US Bank as our banking partner and look forward to extending that to the Bremer Bank.
EH: And what kind of outreach have you done in terms of really spreading the word about the Micro Loan Program?
CF: In our work regionally throughout MN and with all of the service providers, which we're part of a couple of different networks of service providers specific to assistive technology, we've made available information. We have it up on our Web site. We are on the STAR Web site. We are also linking up with some of the larger organizations that our Web site is linking up to theirs to get the information out. We've also looked at newspaper articles and we've been invited by Access Press to submit an article on behalf of the Micro Loan Program to get the word out.
EH: It's a pretty low interest rate isn't it?
CF: It's a low interest rate loan. Basically what we have is a predetermined interest rate on an unsecured loan, different then if you're buying a car. So, unsecured is a loan where the bank really doesn't have anything to return in case you default on a loan. So in this case, the bank has a predetermined rate of 10 percent and the piece that brings Assistive Technology of Minnesota into it is that we support the individual by buying down the interest from 10 percent and we can go all the way down to 2 with a maximum financial support of $2,000. So we can make a loan affordable.
EH: Well 2 percent, (laughter) you won't get that by walking into the loan agency.
CF: No we won't.
EH: And have people been taking advantage of the program?
CF: We've had some great successes and a couple of nice partnerships. We had a gentleman who actually bought a van and had all of the conversions done. We've had several people who have purchased assistive technology related to computer software and hardware. We've helped people purchase hearing aids. And right now we're in the process of reviewing. We have 7 applicants in the past 3 weeks and those range from adaptations for vehicles, home modification and some support for children and adaptive equipment.
EH: What is the minimum criteria for qualifying for one of these loans?
CF: We have a pretty flexible eligibility or criteria established and that was established by our governing board of directors. There are 3 primary areas that a person must meet the criteria in order for them to be eligible to apply for the loan. That is that they are a MN resident, that they do indeed have a diagnosis of having a disability and that they meet an income requirement and basically the income requirement is not a dollar figure, it is something that's rather subjective. The Micro Loan Program is used as a last resort, so if an individual has health insurance or another means to pay for the assistive technology device or service they need, they would not be eligible.
EH: You're also working on another project that seems to be pretty exciting, that is the Grants to Individuals Program, why don't you talk a little bit about that.
CF: One of the values of Assistive Technology of MN is to look at the services that are available to people and then fill the gaps in the service delivery system. What we identified as we worked with our partners throughout the state of MN is that there was one program that no one offered and that program was financial resources to help a person purchase assistive technology without any strings attached and basically a grant. We determined that program wasn't available by doing research with all the different programs that provide assistive technology services and there was not a provider who was currently doing that. We also determined that, that was a very high need based on the information and referral calls we received on a regular basis. About 50 percent of the calls we receive each month are looking for financial support and do not have the means of paying back a loan and do not have any other resources under which they could pay for a simple device--something that they need for their computer. It could be anything. So our board of directors decided that it would be a grand idea to initiate a program like that and at the same time partner with some of the other organizations who were engaged in similar type services such as United Cerebral Palsy in that they're looking at a very small amount of dollars that they are able to use for a Grants to Individuals Program. And how can we most affectively partner with other to insure that people have the financial support to purchase technology. So we got started on our fund raising in December of 2001. Our goal is to raise 10,000 dollars to kick off the program. We are about a third of the way to the $10,000 goal. At the time we reach our goal of $10,000 we will kick off the campaign by doing a newspaper press release and then work with United Cerebral Palsy of MN and probably the Jade Foundation. We're working on a partnership with them and a company called Mobility for Independence and doing some matching grants for people. This will be limited and will only be able to support some one up to a dollar amount and right now we're looking at $1,000 per individual on a 1-time basis. But that's better than what is out there right now and unfortunately there are no two individual programs that cover all ages and all types of disabilities. So we're hoping to fill a niche in the delivery of service that is not there right now.
EH: What qualifications will they need to meet?
CF: This will be very similar to our Micro Loan Program. They will need to be a MN resident, have a disability diagnosis and be in financial need and be able to demonstrate that they have no other resource to pay for the technology.
EH: Ok, and once again it goes before the committee?
CF: It goes in front of the advisory committee. Every application that comes in are reviewed by our advisory committee which is made up of community members from throughout the state of MN. They make a recommendation back to Assistive Technology of Minnesota and we move forward. We carefully screen people so that we don't let them down. If an individual comes to the program and they have a need, and we know of someone who might provide financial or other kinds of support, we'll connect them up to that other program first before they come to us for a full application cycle so that we can take advantage of all the other programs that are out there that might help some one.
EH: Very good. Well if you're just now hopping on board our automated stream, listening on one of the radio reading services across the world or listening on your local radio station, you are tuned to STAR Point, the assistive technology program that discusses high tech and low tech solutions for people with disabilities as well as access issues in general. My guest today is Carol Fury, Executive Director for ATMN, Assistive Technology of Minnesota. We're going to take a short break and when we get back we'll continue our discussion with Carol.
EH: Hello and welcome back to STAR Point a production of the MN STAR Program, a System of Technology to Achieve Results. Our guest in the studio today is Carol Fury, Executive Director for Assistive Technology of Minnesota (ATMN). Carol, why don't we talk a little about awareness for both people with disabilities and let's say family members, employers or people who don't even know that this type of assistive technology exists.
CF: Well thank you for that intro because one of the things that ATMN is really all about is building awareness and helping people throughout the communities of Minnesota, educate them about assistive technology; what it is, where you can find it, what it can do for you and how can it really change your life. As I came on board with ATMN over a year ago, one of the things that we have paid particular attention to is to create opportunities for people with disabilities to find out about assistive technology--what it is, how to find it, who has it, what is the best idea and concept as well as device for the individual and then, where can you get it and who can train you to use it. So we've been spending some of our time working in the community at expos, going to trade shows, simply on using the concept of building awareness of people who come to the show who might be disabled or come to the show and are not disabled. We provide a lot of information. We have stacks, if you will, of catalogs that describe assistive technology devices, show pictures of them, places where you can go on the internet to find out about assistive technology, referrals to local schools to other organizations that have the materials on hand and in general help people who either have a disability or know some one you could use technology to get out there and see what's happening and become part of the movement because as America is changing the way in which they do business because of technology, that's also happening to people with disabilities. It's changing the way in which people with disabilities can access products, can use products and make a true difference in their lives.
EH: And in a nutshell what is assistive technology?
CF: There are a variety of definitions that are floating around in the community about what is assistive technology. Originally when the federal government created the mandate to provide assistive technology services to all people in the United States who have a disability, they came up with a definition, that definition was past down to the states and the states handed it out to people in the communities. What we use is sort of a working person's definition of assistive technology. Kind of a combination of state and federal guideline and definition and then put it into the perspective of what do most people understand. So we say that assistive technology is a device or service that when used by a person with a disability allows them to complete a task, to be mobile, or to do something that they normally could not do without that product or service. And that's our definition of assistive technology because when we use the more off the shelf type of definition from the government, a lot of times people misunderstand what we're saying. We try to put it in layman's terms and make it simpler for the end-user, which is the person with a disability to understand.
EH: Does ATMN interface with the private sector in any way, I guess in terms of employers and opening their eyes to the possibilities of people with disabilities?
CF: Absolutely we do. I've been involved with a group from the Twin Cities and a national group that are ADA coordinators and Human Resources Executives from large companies such as American Express, Northwest Airlines, Wells Fargo, the Mayo Clinic, Fairview Foundation, large groups of people. And creating awareness by simple doing lectures and going out and doing demonstrations. I've been meeting with them on a regular basis and we've been going through actually a curriculum of different avenues that they might look at as employers in order to use assistive technology now and in the future, particularly as they are looking at expanding so that they automatically deal with the issue of access when they're adding on a new division or a new piece to a building, so that they talk to their architects about hallways and lighting and things that are going to help people with access.
EH: Talk a little bit about the events that ATMN sponsors and co-sponsors.
CF: Well this year we're pretty excited about being out in the community for some of the up-coming national events. We're going to participate as a vender in the up-coming cerebral palsy national convention happening here in Minneapolis in April. We're going to be participating with the conference sponsored through RESNA, which is the Rehab Engineers Society of North America. That'll be taking place at the end of June, Early July where we will also be involved in a demonstration of a new product which is a recumbent bicycle created by a local Minnesotan and it's called Just Two Bikes. It's very promising. We're going to have the experts from all over the country take a look at this product and give our designers some ideas. Hopefully we'll have a product created here in Minnesota that will be much more user friendly than it is today. After we finish up with RESNA, we're looking forward to participating at the end of July in the National Brain Injury Association's annual convention that will also be held here in Minneapolis. And as we move towards the fall we have some rather large events for Assistive Technology of Minnesota. We'll be putting together our first annual golf tournament. Yes, we're going to do a golf tournament just like every one else (laughter). We're planning for that right now so we're looking for people from the community to participate in a variety of ways.
EH: So all you golfers contact Carol.
CF: All the golfers contact me (laughter) and if your company is interested in having a team we are signing folks up. We already have about ten teams that are up and ready to go as soon as…
EH: And you're doing that in the fall.
CF: Yeah, we're going to do that in the fall. And at the end of September we're looking forward to participating with the Twin Cities Marathon as a part of their system, doing some volunteer work with them, and it's part of a partnership. That should take us to the end of the year.
EH: And how about Closing the Gap, do you participate in that?
CF: We will be participating this year at Closing the Gap. Last year we did not take that opportunity into consideration as we were planning our year. This year we'll be there.
EH: Ok, so you'll actually have a booth?
CF: We'll actually have a booth.
EH: Great. So what's your vision for ATMN in the coming years?
CF: Because of the fact that technology is rapidly changing, we know that our company is going to be changing along with technology. We'll be expanding the numbers of people that we can serve. We look forward to increasing opportunities through partnerships such as the Minnesota Regions Assistive Technology Collaborative. We want to make sure that throughout the entire state of Minnesota that people with disabilities know about assistive technology, know where it is, what it is, how to find it, where to get it so that even in the smallest town and in the corners of the state people with disabilities can use technology to enhance their lives, to help them have a full quality of life and be totally included in their communities and that's really our vision.
EH: Do you do a lot of traveling yourself?
CF: In Minnesota yes. Outside of the state I was down in Florida and not on a leisure trip but on a business trip this winter to participate in the Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference which was a fabulous event with people from throughout the whole United States demonstrating their products and showing us how technology is changing every day right in front of our eyes.
EH: How can people find out more about ATMN?
CF: There are a variety of ways. We are listed on the Internet at www.atmn.org. You can call our office at 763/479-8239. You can look us up on STAR's Web site which is…
EH: I should know this one. www.admin.state.mn.us (laughter). It almost left me there for a second.
CF: And you can call us for more information, look for us in the local news papers when we're doing some education and awareness training and in your mailboxes through our newsletters. If you'd like to be on our mailing list give us a call and we'll add you. Thank you.
EH: Well thank you Carol Fury Executive Director of Assistive Technology of Minnesota. It's been a pleasure having you on our show today. Thank you so much for joining us today and thank you so much for the work that you're doing out in the community.
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You've been listening to a broadcast of STAR Point, a production of the MN STAR Program, a System of Technology to Achieve Results. If you would like to provide feedback, be a guest on our show, or if you'd like to find out more about the STAR Program, please visit our Web site at www.admin.state.mn.us/assistiveetechnology. My name is Earle Harrison. Thank you for listening.