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Center to Demonstrate Assistive Technologies to Residents with Disabilities

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Central Florida residents with disabilities will be able to learn about and test the latest assistive technology devices at a new demonstration center at the University of Central Florida.

The Atlantic Region FAAST Assistive Technology Demonstration Centerwas recently established at UCF's Communication Disorders Clinic in the Central Florida Research Park in Orlando. It will serve residents with disabilities in Brevard, Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Seminole, St. Lucie, and Volusia counties who had to travel long distances to other centers in the state before the UCF center was established.

Specialists at the center will provide demonstrations of equipment and computer systems designed to improve the daily lives of individuals with special needs. They will also assess each person's needs, identify devices that provide appropriate help, assist in obtaining the devices and provide training.

"Estimates indicate that one in five Americans has a disability, and most individuals with disabilities can benefit from some form of assistive technology," said Jennifer Kent-Walsh, assistant professor of communicative disorders and center coordinator.

Yet the availability of assistive technology devices is fairly limited and splintered, she explained. While school-age children may have access to some devices and services through their school districts and elderly adults may have access through some agencies, there are few places that provide comprehensive services and support.

"The new center will provide access to assistive technology for all types of disabilities and all ages," Kent-Walsh said. "We will service clients from across the lifespan: infants, toddlers, preschoolers, school-age children and adults."

UCF's Communication Disorders Clinic was selected as the location of the new center because the clinic already has a broad inventory of computers and equipment designed to help people hear, speak, read, write, eat and swallow. It also has several specialists with expertise in assistive technologies, such as Kent-Walsh.

The center has added a speech-language pathologist who is expanding services for individuals with communication-related assistive technology needs and an occupational therapist and physical therapist who will work with individuals with disabilities involving activities of daily living and mobility and body positioning.

The new center is the fifth regional demonstration center to be established with funding from the Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology (FAAST), a nonprofit organization based in Tallahasseethat promotes the use of assistive technology and is supported by both state and federal monies. The alliance gave UCF a grant to help create its center and the new center will be eligible for additional funding for at least four more years. Other regional demonstration centers are located in Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Tampa and Miami.

"FAAST has wanted to establish a regional center in Orlando for some time," said Jane Lieberman, chair of UCF's Department of Communicative Disorders. "Now residents of eastern Central Florida won't need to travel so far to take advantage of the unique services and support offered by these centers."

UCF communicative disorders, physical therapy and education students will also benefit from the new center. Lieberman said they will have the opportunity to learn about assistive technology by observing and assisting the center's specialists.

"It's rare for a university clinic in communication disorders to provide such extensive service and training in assistive technology," she said. "The new center will enable us to establish a niche in the field, attract students who are interested in this specialty area and offer critical services to the community."

The Atlantic Region FAAST Assistive Technology Demonstration Center is located at 12424 Research Parkway, Suite 155, in the Central Florida Research Park, adjacent to the UCF campus in East Orlando. For further information about the center, contact the UCF Communication Disorders Clinic at 407-249-4770.

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