The growth of the Mid-South Access Center for Technology (ACT), a division of the
Center for Rehabilitation and Employment Research (CRER) has been phenomenal over
the last nine years. The staff of the Center continue to be resources for teachers,
clinicians, parents with children who have disabilities and individuals with disabilities.
In 1995, Dr.Tom Buggey established a small assistive technology center at the University
of Memphis. Assistive technology is defined as any piece of equipment that will allow
persons with disabilities to better access and participate in their environment. This
definition includes adaptive seating and positioning, alternative communication systems
(e.g. sign language, Braille, or computer generated speech), orientation and mobility
devices for persons with visual impairments, adapted manipulative for persons with
limited motor skills, etc. Dr. Buggey worked with The University of Memphis to purchase
a cart and some augmentative communication equipment that could be used to educate
pre-service teachers at the University.
Dr. Buggey began this effort to educate teachers in assistive technology following
a needs assessment of the region. He visited numerous schools and the Arlington Developmental
Center and was appalled at the lack of assistive technology applications. This was
especially true for alternative communication systems. Many persons with cerebral
palsy were placed in institutions or classes for students with severe cognitive disabilities
because they did not have the opportunity to express themselves. Most did not have
access to literacy because they lacked the motor skills necessary to open a book and
turn pages. Most lacked even basic self-help skills because people were administering
care rather than teaching empowerment through adaptive equipment. The reason why this
situation existed was, and is, quite obvious. Shelby County was the only area in the
state that is not served by an Assistive Technology Center. Assistive Technology Centers
provide assessments, training, and fitting of appropriate equipment. Without such
a center, Shelby County has fallen drastically behind the state and country and, has
thus under served its population of citizens with developmental disabilities.
Later, Dr. Janna Robertson was hired as a special education professor in the College of Education, Health and
Human Sciences. Dr. Robertson added to the Center's expertise for the Assistive Technology
Center to transcend merely being an aid to being a resource for pre-service teachers.
The next step was to establish a fully functional, fully accredited, regional Assistive
Technology Center to serve the needs of the Mid-South Region.
The University granted space and assigned two graduate assistants to help manage the
center. The staff of the center and Dr. Janna Robertson developed a state-of-the-art
service delivery model (see Our Access Model) in the late 1990s. The center now has
a preview site for some of the top software and hardware producers in the country.
When new technology is developed, the Center will have access to it before it is released
to the public. The center collaborates with the ATTAIN center to provide assistive
technology resources for individuals and clinicians in the Loan Library. The value
of our hardware and software inventory has risen to over $125,000. Most of this inventory
was obtained through donations from the equipment vendors after being designated a
preview site. Additional funding to purchase assistive technology tools and devices
was received from a grant from the Inclusion in Higher Education Project at the University
of Tennessee Boling Center for $3000, funds from the College of Education, Health
and Human Sciences for $500, and a University of Memphis grant of $5000 and a $35,000
grant by the Tennessee Department of Education to assist in establishing a regional
assistive technology Center.
In December of 1998, The Center established ties with the University of Memphis Foundation
as a not-for-profit organization. At this time we changed the name of the center to
the Mid-South Access Center for Technology (ACT). The ACT has a board comprised of
members of various community organizations, parents, and persons with disabilities.
Many of the advisory board members have expertise in the areas of assistive technology
and services to individuals with disabilities. Most of the Advisory Board members
are involved with agencies with whom we have established collaborative agreements.
ACT became a member of the Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) on July 1, 1999. This
membership will allow ACT to receive and disseminate information to 48 other nationally
recognized sites and to over 70 vendors who collaborate with these sites. Mid-South
ACT is the first ATA site associated with a university; thus, we are in a unique situation
for research and development activities and dissemination. We were awarded year 3
of a $35,000 grant by the Tennessee Department of Education to assist in establishing
a regional Assistive Technology Center. We currently have contracts with the Tennessee's
Early Intervention System (T.E.I.S.), the State Department of Vocational Rehabilitation,
and are Waiver Provider for the Members of the Class-Action law suit.
Mid-South ACT is not only involved with teacher and service provider education, but
offers direct services to persons with disabilities. Professionals at the Mid-South
ACT conduct evaluations/assessments and facilitate training. Professionals have expertise
in areas such as: vision, assistive technology, literacy, early intervention, counseling,
and augmentative communication, seating and positioning.
Mid-South ACT has moved to a new location within the College of Education, Health
and Human Sciences. They are now a division of the Center for Rehabilitation and Employment
Research (CRER) and are housed in Patterson Hall on the campus of The University of
Memphis. The space is adequate and allows for an instructional lab, evaluation lab,
staff offices and observation rooms for one-on-one training and evaluations. The CRER
services includes vocational evaluations, psychological evaluations and assistive
ACT continues to seek funding necessary to stay on the cutting edge of technology
and maintain the staff necessary to meet the needs of our clients.