Interview with Betsy Dalton
Betsy Dalton is the Director of Development and Research, and a consultant for special projects at TechACCESS of Rhode Island. I met Betsy when I started my independent study on assistive technology; Betsy introduced me to the world of assistive technology, giving me background information for the course. We continued to work together at Cranston Public Library as we implemented the newly established exploration station. When planning these interviews, her name was at the top of my list. Her interview is as follows:
From what I understand, you do a lot of work with people with special needs. Can you tell us a little bit about this population and why you enjoy working with them?
I actually began my work with persons with special needs through the Special Olympics Program when I was in college. I majored in Psychology and was aware of the need for volunteers in this program, so I got involved. This led to my first job after college – teaching adapted aquatics at the Ladd School pool. I worked full-time, with residents from all of the different buildings – all ages and all ranges of developmental disability. After a year, I decided that I had the patience and personal abilities to work effectively with folks with varying needs, so I went back to school and got certified in special education. This began my teaching career – in the public schools in special education, and later in higher education – teaching special education teacher candidates how to teach. Along the way, I became involved with technology as a tool to support varied needs. This became a significant part of my life’s work in special education.
Have you worked specifically with teens or young adults with special needs? How is this age group different?
I have worked with individuals with disabilities and/or special needs of all ages, including students in middle and high school, as well as adults with developmental disabilities and adult students at the community college. The issues that teens and adults with disabilities face are similar to those that teens and adults in the general population face – growing to become their own person, recognizing and taking on the responsibility for their own lives and actions, thinking about and planning for the future, and being able to live and work independently. The difference for the individual with a disability or special need is that this additional variable needs to be addressed in some way that it does not pose a barrier to accomplishing the person’s goals and dreams in life. It is hard for me to realistically discuss the challenges that face persons with disabilities in this general way, as there are so many variations in the challenges facing each person, dependent on the nature and extent of the disability. An individual with a mild learning disability faces very different challenges than an individual with profound cognitive difficulties or an individual who is completely blind, or profoundly deaf. This is the wonderful challenge in being a special education professional, to understand this great range of variation of needs and abilities, and to help each person to build a plan that can address the unique challenges that they face. It is a wonderful and rewarding field to work in.
Do you have any advice for librarians interested in adaptive or inclusive programming?
Yes – I think that the best way to understand why adaptive or inclusive programming is important is to volunteer in some way with children or adults with disabilities. This is the same advice that I give to students who are considering becoming special education teachers- volunteer directly with someone who has a disability. Come to know them. Work with them. Play with them. This, I believe, is the best way to develop the empathy needed to be a true professional partner in inclusive learning.
Can you provide us with an overview of your work with Tech Access?
I’ll try. I helped to establish TechACCESS of RI as a not-for-profit agency in 1991, nearly 25 years ago now. I was the first Chairperson of the Board of Directors, and served in this position for 10 years. At that time, I was working in the Special Education Department of RI College, and established several courses in collaboration with Judi Hammerlind Carlson, then Executive Director of TechACCESS, on assistive technology for educators – at basic and more advanced levels. TechACCESS began as a very small agency, mainly focused on providing information and demonstrations on assistive technology for the RI community. Since its early years, TechACCESS has grown to provide the primary assistive technology services for both RI schools and for the adult rehabilitation community. My current work with TechACCESS is as a professional consultant to special projects, most of which involve curriculum and program development and/or training – but I do provide some direct assistive technology services, too – such as assistive technology demonstrations, as needed.
How does Tech Access work with libraries?
TechACCESS has a long history of working with libraries. Actually, the RI Office of Library and Information Services (OLIS) provided the initial space for the first TechACCESS Center in 1991, and continued to provide this free space to house the agency for its early years, until TechACCESS grew enough to stand on its own, financially. We have always worked together with the Talking Books Plus program of OLIS, and over the years TechACCESS has provided training in assistive technology for several libraries. Some of the assistive technology supports that were purchased and housed in libraries ended up not being adequately supported with ongoing updates or training. Sustainability of technology supports has become a primary focus for our current work together with libraries through the ALL ACCESS in the Libraries program. The assistive technologies that are part of this projects have been carefully selected with ongoing sustainability in mind – and the professional development training is designed to prepare librarians with the understanding, skills and competence to be able to support the assistive technologies themselves for their patrons. It is an exciting new model that is receiving great feedback form those involved. We are piloting the model in 2 libraries now, but hope to expand the model to many other libraries in the future.
Do you have any advice for librarians interested in Assistive Technology?
Accessibility is the focus that librarians should take. Focus on achieving accessibility to information and accessibility to the physical resources of the library. Technology is a great tool for accessibility – but it can also be a barrier for persons who have different access needs. There are lots of roads one can follow when seeking information about accessibility, so it is very important to keep one’s focus on FUNCTION, not disability. What is the function that needs to be accessed, what barrier(s) might this individual face to achieving this function, and how can technology help to reduce or eliminate this barrier? This has always helped me to keep my focus on the goal – and not the disability.
What resources do you consult when purchasing or researching Assistive Technology?
RESNA – Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America. This organization offers Assistive Technology Professional certification.
SETT Framework – This assistive technology decision making framework is widely used in the field. Developed by Joy Zabala, her website offers many resources on SETT.
QIAT – Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology. A professional resource site with many guides for decision-making and system development for assistive technology
Inclusive Learning Network – This professional learning network is affiliated with ISTE (international Society for Technology in Education) and is the voice for diverse and varied needs in technology. Resources, webinars, and information on accessibility, assistive technology, and Universal Design for Learning are available.
TechACCESS of RI – TechACCESS is the RI statewide (and southern New England) assistive technology center. TechACCESS provides assistive technology assessment services, AT demonstrations, an AT loan library, AT professional development training, and an annual regional assistive technology conference each November – the Assistive Technology Conference of New England (ATCNE).