What's In It For Me:
Involving Consumers In Assistive Technology Systems Change

By Rachel Wobschall,
Executive Director, System of Technology to Achieve Results (STAR)

This article is reprinted from the A.T. Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 4 (1990)

"Technology made it possible for us to express our ideas and feelings and let us discover that we do have things to say." - Person with a disability, Minneapolis, Minnesota

In October, 1985, then Governor Rudy Perpich created a 19 member panel to explore ways to increase access to assistive technology devices and services to Minnesotans with disabilities. From the start, the Governor's Advisory Council on Technology for People with Disabilities took its charge seriously. It went directly to Minnesotans with disabilities and their families to acquire both insight into the present system and a better vision for tomorrow.


In developing Minnesota's STAR (System of Technology to Achieve Results) program, the panel held five public hearings to gather testimony on the barriers individuals with disabilities face trying to access technology that could assist them to work, attend school, play and just plain live like everyone else. Over 150 people from all across the state attended the hearings. This gave Advisory Council members ample opportunity to hear first hand the concerns and recommendations of persons with disabilities, their families, and those who work directly with them.


The recommendations which came out of these hearings formed the basis for the plan of activities that makes up the STAR program. Once Minnesota STAR received federal funding, the Governor's Advisory Council once again traveled the state and held five consumer training sessions in conjunction with the Minnesota Centers for Independent Living. The primary purpose of the training was to provide Minnesotans with disabilities and their families with a basic overview of P.L. 100-407, the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988, and with the STAR program. But the sessions served another equally vital purpose as well: they brought all different kinds of people with disabilities together to talk about the power and potential of assistive technology in their own lives.

Accordingly, much of the training also focused on discussing issues and concerns as:


Obviously, the last of these concerns was the most critical aspect in the implementation of a truly consumer responsive program that could ultimately result in real systems change. As a first step to soliciting that involvement, STAR staff developed an interest inventory that asked consumers to identify the ways in which they might wish to be involved in the STAR Program.

Some of the options which the inventory listed for getting and staying involved in systems change efforts included: serving on the Advisory Council and steering committees of special task forces; reviewing public education materials or policy paper; serving on peer review panels for community based grants or the mobile outreach program; supporting legislative initiatives, or serving as reviewers of overall STAR program activities and effectiveness. A total of 134 consumers responded to the interest inventory. While STAR still is in the process of perfecting mechanisms to make the most of these individual's abilities and perspectives, already a number of individuals have become involved with the STAR Program.


Ten citizens from throughout the state currently serve on the Consumer Task Force on Insurance. This task force which explores the barriers to acquiring assistive technology through private insurance, to date has focused its efforts on:

A final report and recommendations for policy action is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 1991.


Thirty-eight individuals with disabilities and family members, along with STAR grantees, participated in a workshop on evaluating consumer responsive systems. As part of this effort, the group developed a listing of key indicators which STAR should use when looking for evidence of consumer involvement, consumer satisfaction and consumer-responsiveness in the design and delivery of AT services:


According to this group, the term consumer involvement would mean that:


The same group believed that to determine whether people with disabilities and their families are actually satisfied with assistive technology devices and services, we must ask ourselves the following questions:


Finally, in respect to consumer-responsiveness, this working group felt the term means adhering to procedures, anticipating problems and making things easier for people to participate. Moreover, it also involves documenting needs regardless of services provided by organizations and looking for other resources for referral and follow-up.

The indicators developed by these 38 consumers and family members and STAR grantees are now being used along with other quality indicators developed by S.M.A.R.T. Exchange to evaluate the STAR grant activities. The STAR program relies on the input, advice and participation of individuals with disabilities for the success of its programs. The STAR staff and advisors appreciate the involvement of individuals throughout Minnesota in the implementation of STAR.

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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