by Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa, courtesy of the Arizona Daily Sun
The NAU Institute for Human Development (AZ) is home to two separate libraries that lend out all sorts of gadgets, toys, devices and even computer programs that allow students, teachers and families with disabilities the opportunity to try before they buy technology that may make their lives easier.
“We offer seven core services,” said Jill Pleasant, the program director at the Arizona Technology Access Program. Those services include two libraries that lend out tools, toys and gadgets to the public and educators for a short time, a loan program to help people with disabilities purchase items that may make life easier, a product demo program, a training program to use various devices, a device reuse program and a consultation program that can help people decide which device works best for them.
“It’s a great program and offers a lot of benefits to people that they might not be aware of,” Pleasant said. “We can’t buy something directly for someone, but we can educate them on what’s out there. And there’s no sales pitch, so there’s no pressure to buy anything. “We want people to make a good decision.”
NAU’s Mountain Campus is home to the Arizona Department of Education’s Assistive Technology Loan Library. The ADE library was created in 2005 with assistance from the Arizona Department of Education.
This library is for schools and contains nearly 3,000 items. It loans out items, such as large-type computer keyboards, educational toys, computer programs, books, and assistance devices like clamps to attach things to wheelchairs free of charge to teachers across the state.
The items in the ADE library are available only to district schools, charter schools and approved private schools. In order to borrow from the library a school or school district has to complete an annual form, Pleasant said. And they must have a physical address that the item can be shipped to, no P.O. Boxes allowed.
During the 2016/2017 school year, the ADE library loaned out 2,199 items to 103 different public education agencies in nine different Arizona counties, said Janelle Bauerle, the ADE Loan Library’s program coordinator.
The items from the ADE library are loaned out for free about four weeks, she said. This allows teachers and students to learn about the item and try it without having to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for it first, she said. The loans can also be used to temporarily replace something that a student already uses while the student’s item is being repaired.
The ADE library also has laptops that they mail out for free for teachers to check out computer programs that might help students, Bauerle said. Loaning out a laptop along with the program allows a teacher to check out specific software without having to download it onto their school computer.
The organization also holds regular workshops around the state that allow teachers and the public to try out various assistive technology, Bauerle said. They also have workshops for educators that teach them how to adapt the singing and dancing stuffed animals that you find in drug stores around the holidays with switches that allow adults and children with disabilities to use them.
Bauerle said she’s always checking out the toy aisle for more toys, educational items such as puzzles or blocks that she can modify in some way to make them more accessible to students or adults who may have a learning or physical disability.
For example, she’ll snap up packages of giant sized, brightly colored shapes, because the larger size is easier for some students to handle and the bright colors are easier to see for students who might have vision problems.
AzTAP also has an Assistive Technology lending library for the public to use. The main branch of the AT library is in Phoenix, but it also ships, for free, items across the state. Members of the public A smaller branch of the library is located at NAU’s mountain campus. The AT library was started with a federal loan in 1994, Pleasant said.
This library has many of the same items that the ADE library has but this library only loans out items for a couple of weeks and it loans directly to the public. However, shipping to and from the library is currently still free. This library also needs a physical address to ship to and has late and damage fees. Lenders also have to sign paperwork accepting responsibility for the item while they are borrowing it.
If a client isn’t sure which technology is out there for their needs or what might work best for them AzTAP has specialists who can demo a product for them and help them select from the thousands of items in either library, Pleasant said.
Both loan libraries are funded by federal grants and with aid from state partners, she said.
Once a parent, teacher, student or member of the public has found something that works for them through the lending library, AzTAP can also help them apply for a loan to purchase an item through its Arizona Loans for Assistive Technology program, she said. AzTAP does not and cannot purchase items for individuals or schools.