Mid-South ACT History
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. In 2018, the University of Memphis' Mid-South ACT and School of Communication Sciences and Disorders/Memphis Speech and Hearing Center joined forces to provide resources, education, and support to establish and sustain communicative competency for students with complex communication needs in Northwest and Southwest Tennessee regions' public schools. The staff of the Center continues 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 includes adaptive seating and positioning, alternative communication systems (such as 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 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 lawsuit.
Since 2003, under the direction of Dr. Lavonnie Perry Claybon, Mid-South ACT continues to provide 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. 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 technology evaluations.
Mid-South 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 and to educate the community about resources available to assist individuals who have disabilities in educational, work, and recreational environments.