Consumer Responsiveness:
Knowing It When You See It

By Robert R. Williams

This article is reprinted from the A.T. Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 2 (1990).

One of the chief aims of P.L. 100-407 is to provide federal assistance to States to help each one develop a statewide program of "consumer responsive" assistive technology services. Indeed, one of the few requirements the law makes of States is that the assistive technology service system each designs and develops be as truly responsive to the needs and preferences of people of all ages with disabilities and their families as possible. However, once having said this, P.L. 100-407 leaves it to the discretion, ingenuity, and hard work of each state to develop a common sense understanding of how best to make its assistive technology service system measure up to this important yardstick.

This is no easy task. No set definition currently exists in federal law or its regulations to help states differentiate between what makes some assistive technology services "consumer responsive" and others not in the least attentive to individual needs or differences. Perhaps no clear and concise definition of this vital concept can or ever will be developed. But some states, along with consumers, practitioners and others, are beginning to decipher what separates a consumer driven service system from one that merely drops technology into people's hands and lives and then walks away.

The principle difference between the two approaches, according to the recent publication "Quality Indicators" by the S.M.A.R.T. Exchange, a regional information exchange project of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, and the United Cerebral Palsy Association, is that the responsive system makes a conscious effort to not only 'deliver the technology' but (actively involves) consumers as decision making partners in the planning, delivery and evaluation of services." In turn, such an effort is exemplified and translated into practice by an organization or system's demonstrated commitment to the belief that:

-- People with disabilities benefit most from assistive technology and services that they, their families, or advocates have played an informed and vital role in assessing and selecting.

-- The continued satisfaction of the individual using assistive technology, his or her family, or advocate is of primary importance in achieving success.

-- Individuals with disabilities, their families, and advocates must have the greatest involvement in and ultimate control over the design, delivery, and evaluation of AT services.

-- Assistive technology must be used to enhance the independence, integration, and productivity of people with disabilities in school, at work, and in the community.

-- AT services, policies, and practices must be flexible and foster organizational change in order to best respond to the needs of people of all ages with disabilities and their families.

-- People of all ages with disabilities have a right to live in an accessible society and to have access to adapted materials and technology that enables them to lead productive and satisfying lives.

The same publication gives six steps that both statewide AT service systems and smaller organizations can take to ensure that their services are truly responsive to the needs and preferences of individuals with disabilities and their families. These steps include:

-- involving people with disabilities, their families and advocates in all phases of the planning and development of AT services;

-- appointing such individuals, their families, and advocates to governing and policy-making boards and committees;

-- valuing and soliciting the active participation of persons with disabilities, their families and advocates in all stages of the AT service delivery process;

-- employing qualified individuals with disabilities in staff, consultant, and volunteer positions;

-- providing training to individuals, their families and advocates to enable them to develop knowledge and skills in such key areas as:

-- and, informing people with disabilities, their families, and advocates:

There is no single right or wrong way to go about designing a reliable, responsible, and responsive AT service delivery system to benefit people of all ages with disabilities and their families. Nor is there a precise roadmap for showing us how to reach our final destination on what promises to be a long journey. But by plodding along, taking one step after another (as outlined above) and keeping true to our commitment, we will get there one day.

How will we know when we finally reach our destination? We will know it when we see it.

The A.T. Quarterly was a newsletter developed by the RESNA TA Project under a contract with the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education (ED). The content, however, does not necessarily reflect the position or policy of NIDRR/ED and no official endorsement of the material should be inferred.

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