Over the past two decades, institutes on disability have become a driving force for enhancing independence, quality of life, community awareness, and access to assistive technology for persons with disabilities.
Most of these organizations conducting disabilities research belong to a national network called the University Centers for Excellence in Disability (UCED).
One such organization on the leading edge of change is the Institute on Disability (IOD), located at the University of New Hampshire, in Durham, NH.
The IOD evolved out of a major social shift in the 1980s when the state sought to replace dedicated schools for the disabled with more community-based support systems. The IOD provides an academic focus towards the goal of reducing the resource access gap among disabled populations.
"We do meaningful research, demonstration projects, programs of study -- nine in all -- built round the question of how can people with disabilities have fulfilling, self-directed lives," said Matthew Gianino, the IOD’s communications director.
The IOD is mostly grant funded and receives a small amount of assistance from UNH. It began in 1987 with a staff of four and a $160,000 annual budget; 24 years later, they have 70 employees and an $8 million budget.
IOD Focus and Services
The University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability focuses on five key areas:
To execute its vision, mission, and values, the IOD provides the following services:
- Trains students, self-advocates, families and professionals through coursework, seminars, workshops, and conferences
- Provides technical assistance to organizations and individuals to improve their capacity to include all citizens
- Serves as a resource for information to policymakers and government officials
- Disseminates information to families, consumers, community members and professionals via books, monographs, articles, videos, newsletters, the Internet and press coverage including TV, radio, newspapers and consumer forums
- Conducts applied research to better understand and address the needs of individuals with disabilities
- Engages in collaborative activities and joint projects with organizations that share common goals.
Assistive Technology in New Hampshire (ATinNH)
A major IOD project is Assistive Technology in New Hampshire (ATinNH), a program that seeks to expand and development assistive technology services and training throughout the state.
On the community level, ATinNH has three primary goals:
- Expanding access to demonstrations and loans of assistive devices throughout the state
- Increasing the reuse of assistive devices
- Providing training and educational opportunities in the Assistive Technology field.
In addition, ATinNH seeks to expand the collaboration among campus organizations and faculty with an interest in assistive technology.
Giving Persons with Disabilities a Platform
"We try and give people with disabilities a voice;" Gianino said. "The voice of disabled is front and center at our annual autism conference."
Gianino said an aging population would likely fuel the IOD's growth in the coming decade. "There's a huge and growing population that traditionally, has not considered themselves disabled, but who are aging into disabilities and activity limitations," Gianino said. "Luckily, New Hampshire has a lot of consumer organizations and programs to support families in times of transition."
The IOD envisions a future where all persons with disabilities are fully engaged members of the community where culturally appropriate supports are available throughout one’s life that enhance independence, productivity, and quality of life.