The Guam System for Assistive Technology (GSAT) has been hosting an annual conference for the community for a very long time now- an impressive 21 years to be exact! Each year, GSATâ€™s program coordinator and its advisory council has the challenge of putting on an event that will be interesting and meaningful to a wide range of participants.
This yearâ€™s event kicked off with a legislative resolution presented by Senator Tina Muna Barnes that recognized GSAT for its efforts in increasing the access and acquisition of assistive technology (AT) on Guam and improving the quality of life for individuals with disabilities. Following the resolution came a heartfelt and inspiring keynote speech by Maria Pineda. Maria shared her story of living with vision loss and how with the aid of assistive technology, community resources, and support from her loving family, she has maintained her employment with the federal government and is still living life to the fullest.
GSAT program coordinator Carla Torres took things back to the basics with an opening presentation of AT 101: An Overview of AT and AT Resources on Guam and a session on Becoming a Wise AT Consumer. This gave everyone foundational knowledge on the various types of AT and services and how one can maximize limited resources.
Other presentations included one from Guam Legal Services Disability Law Center staff attorney Matthew Wolff titled â€œMeeting Communication Needs under ADA, Â§504 & IDEA.â€ Wolff explained that with recent legal cases and new guidance from the US Department of Education and the Department of Justice, there is a clear directive for schools to understand section 504 of the American with Disabilities Actâ€™s â€œeffective communicationâ€ access requirement and how that can be different from free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (special education law) and the implications it creates for the provision of assistive technology.
Ben Servino, Director of the Department of Integrated Services for Individuals with Disabilities, presented community access updates. Servino highlighted various initiatives being worked on to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities on Guam such as the Individualized Budgeting Program which allows individuals with disabilities the opportunity to choose the services and supports independent from typical programs offered by the government of Guam. The individuals in the program have control over their allowed budget.
The afternoon offered conference goers a choice of 4 different hands-on AT make-it workshops. During the workshops, participants learned how to make low-tech assistive technology tools from inexpensive household items, the applications of these tools, the types of disabilities they serve and the various environments and tasks in which they can be used. Related service providers from the Guam Department of Educationâ€™s Special Education Division teamed up with GSAT to facilitate 3 of the workshops.
Evaluations collected at the completion of the conference show that participants were pleased to have attended. They felt like their knowledge of assistive technology has increased as a result. Many appreciated seeing that AT supports could be fabricated at low cost and quite easily too. Stay tuned to see whatâ€™s in store for year 22 of the annual GSAT AT conference!