An interview with Kathy Hayfield, assistive technology resource manager, Virginia Assistive Technology System
The mission of the Virginia Assistive Technology System is to ensure that Virginians of all ages and abilities can acquire the appropriate, affordable assistive and information technologies and services they need to participate in society as active citizens.
1. What is assistive technology (AT)?
An assistive technology device is any item, piece of equipment, or product system that may be used by a person with a disability to perform specific tasks, improve functional capabilities, and become more independent. An AT service is any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in selecting, acquiring, or using assistive technology devices that result in greater independence, safety, or comfort.
2. How does the Virginia Assistive Technology System (VATS) support youth and adults with disabilities?
VATS is committed to helping children and adults learn, work, and live in inclusive settings. To this end, VATS teaches consumers about the range of available technology, helps clients select the most appropriate devices, provides training on how to use the devices that clients choose, and finds resources to pay for needed equipment. Specifically, VATS provides the following services to qualifying consumers:
- Information and Assistance (I&A) - Through the I&A system, clients have access to a considerable amount of information on AT products, funding options, and resources that range from therapists to service providers to assistive technology vendors. Clients may access this system by calling 1-800-435-8490 or by selecting the appropriate subject area on the VATS website, http://www.vats.org.
- Advocacy - Clients who wish to know their rights concerning AT may request assistance to advocate for the equipment they need by calling the VATS central office at (800) 435-8490 or the VATS southeast regional office at (757) 683-3639.
- Demonstrations - VATS staff members demonstrate a variety of AT devices at all VATS regional sites, so that clients may try out equipment prior to purchasing it. The southeast regional site, which serves Superintendents Regions 2 and 3, is located at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. Consumers may contact Joann Ervin at (757) 683-3639 for additional information or to make an appointment to visit this regional office.
- Recycling of Assistive Technology - VATS has a statewide network of AT recycling programs to provide a resource for those who are uninsured and cannot afford to purchase the equipment they need. Gently used AT devices and equipment donated by the public are sanitized, repaired, and redistributed at no cost to the consumer. Additional information about this initiative is available at the VATS website, http://www.vats.org, by clicking on the "Equipment Recycling" button, including a list of recycling programs.
- Public Awareness, Training, and Technical Assistance Activities - Public awareness, training, and technical assistance activities are offered to public and private community groups to increase knowledge of AT and how it can benefit people of all ages and abilities.
- Transition Services - VATS provides services to ease the transition from one level of education to the next, from school to work, and from one job to another. At the VATS office that serves eastern Virginia, these transition activities include (a) co-sponsorship of Say YES to College, a conference for college-bound students with disabilities and their parents; (b) collaboration with the Department of Rehabilitative Services and its clients to identify AT to support employment; (c) a lab where VATS staff demonstrate and students may try out a variety of technology and software; and (d) assistance with identification of technology that may be purchased through the MR or DD waiver program.
3. Are there costs associated with VATS services?
VATS does not charge for the services it provides. Although VATS does not provide or pay for equipment that consumers need, staff members can help clients navigate potential funding sources such as the Department of Rehabilitative Services, private health insurance companies, and Medicaid.
4. How can youth and their families create powerful partnerships with VATS?
They can spend time navigating the VATS website to learn more about the services it offers and/or visit the regional VATS office to learn about available technologies designed to address the child's specific educational needs. Families can serve as volunteers in the VATS equipment recycling program. Finally, both youth and families are invited to share their ideas, comments, or concerns with the VATS Advisory Council by e-mail at VATSCouncil@drs.virginia.gov.