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Comcast NBCUniversal Grant Will Fund Innovative Solutions For Disabled People

By Lyric Esparza

As of 2010, 56.7 million people in America had a disability – that’s 1 in 5. Easterseals, a global nonprofit organization, has been working to improve the lives of children, adults, seniors, and veterans affected by disability for nearly one hundred years. This summer, Easterseals Washington received a $20,000 grant from Comcast NBCUniversal’s Assistive Technology Fund. The grant will go directly towards building a new Technology Achievement Center for people with disabilities in the adult day center at Easterseals’ Bellevue location.

In 1919, Ohio business man Edgar Allen founded the National Society for Crippled Children. Services initially focused on children affected by polio and orthopedic impairments. By 1945, the organization had expanded their mission across the nation to incorporate care for adults, veterans and people with any disability.

Before the Americans with Disabilities Act – a law which made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability – was passed in 1990, Easterseals was a major proponent of the legislation. The organization lobbied passionately around the country, fighting for the rights of disabled people to be seen and treated equally in the workplace and the community. Easterseals created powerful pro-ADA campaigns, aiming to target and decrease discrimination.

Fred Maahs, a member of Easterseals’ board of directors and a Comcast executive, wrote about what it was like to be disabled before the ADA: “…my first job was on the second floor of a two story building with no elevator. Each day, my coworkers would have to carry me – wheelchair and all – upstairs to work.

These days, Easterseals works with people affected by disability to provide resources that work towards greater independence and quality of life. People in need of their services can expect affordable, high quality care as most programs are subsidized by government agencies and insurance. Summer McGrady, the Vice President of Community Engagement for Easterseals Washington, informed me that most participants pay nothing out of pocket. “We help people find alternate sources of funding if they have trouble with our fees.” she said.

The Technology Achievement Center, made possible by Comcast NBCUniversal’s grant, will replace obsolete resources like outdated computers and leftover floppy disks. The center will boast “new CPUs, adaptive devices and state of the art educational software.” All participants will have access to sessions in the Technology Achievement Center, which will include young adults with autism, seniors who experience dementia and disabilities related to aging and adults of any age who have mobility or sensory issues. “Many [of the participants],” McGrady said, “will interact with technology for the first time in their lives.”

McGrady also said that the expectations of adult day programs are rapidly changing. There was a time when the goal was to keep adults out of nursing homes and under safe supervision. Today, programs that work with disabled adults are expected to provide help towards the development of educational and vocational goals that increase independence. Easterseals is confident that the assistive technology in the new center will help program participants make measurable progress towards their goals.

Participants with physical or cognitive challenges will have resources like voice recognition software, large switches and head mice – a technology that enables users to control a mouse and computer with slight movements of their head.

One of Easterseals’ primary goals with the Technology Achievement Center is to help participants “quickly gain a baseline of computer literacy, and then begin improving their vocabulary, memory, motor skills and more.” In a few short months, the Technology Achievement Center in Bellevue will be replicated in Easterseals’ Des Moines and Bremerton centers, more than doubling the number of people with disabilities impacted.

Some of Easterseals’ programming directives center around play, like their thirty campgrounds nationwide – the most robust program of its kind in the country. These camps offer activities from horseback riding to archery, and aim to help campers “discover and explore their interests, values and talents while creating lifelong memories.” Some campers are separated from their parents for the first time, which gives them a chance to trust themselves and gain a sense of anonymity.

In addition to programs that provide respite for caregivers, integrate veterans into the workplace and make mental health services available, Easterseals runs a Senior Community Service Employment Program. The largest federally funded program of it’s kind, the SCSEP works to empower lower income seniors to gain economic independence. Easterseals partners with nonprofits and government agencies to “provide participants with opportunities to update their [job related] skills.” Since the program’s inception in 2003, 9,000 job seekers have been served, and 2,000 transitioned out to employment.

With such comprehensive and effective programming, it’s no wonder that Easterseals is fervently supported around the globe. Want to get involved? Volunteer or donation opportunities are offered through their website.