(Photo by Maggie Heffernan)
From fitness classes to lessons in its greenhouse, SPIN has provided all kinds of services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities since the Northeast Philly nonprofit was founded 46 years ago.
Now, after receiving a $10,000 grant from Comcast in June, SPIN will be able to expand one of its more recent initiatives: teaching its members how to use technology.
“Life after school can be daunting for individuals with special needs and their families since special education services end when you either graduate from high school or turn 21,” explained SPIN Director of Strategic Communications Adam Hymans. “So by using this grant to improve and expand our digital literacy program, we can help these individuals prepare for and maintain meaningful employment.”
One of those members is JJ, who works stocking prescriptions at a local pharmacy. SPIN’s Director of Employment Services Andrea Consigny told us that he’s learned how to use his phone to deal with anxiety at work. When he gets stressed or forgets what he needs to do while at work, he refers to a list of job tasks and reminders that he has saved on his phone. Another member, Stanley, said SPIN helped him find a job and taught him how to check his pay stubs and bank account online.
SPIN currently serves over 3,500 children and adult members in Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley, according to the organization. Its digital classroom, which is located at SPIN’s Norcom Community Center near the Somerton neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia, serves 150 people a week. It’ll be renamed the Comcast Digital Literacy Lab in October.
Classes change every three months and focus on topics like improving digital communication skills, familiarizing students and staff with available assistive technologies and learning how to research using search engines.
SPIN plans to use the grant money to buy more equipment, like assistive communication applications, attachments to make its computers more accessible and tablets, which digital literacy teacher Elinore Spiotta described as an unsung assistive technology tool.
“Tablets are particularly accessible, and they also don’t stand out as assistive technology because they are devices that everyone uses,” said Spiotta, who teaches a class called “Email Buddies” at the Norcom Community Center where students practice communication skills by emailing with friends and family.
By October, SPIN plans for the lab to be equipped to serve double the amount of individuals it currently does. In April of next year, SPIN hopes to convene over 200 teachers, employers, individuals with disabilities and their families for the first Comcast Disability Digital Literacy Expo at the Norcom Community Center.
SPIN hopes the expo will “educate potential employers on how to best accommodate workers with disabilities.”
“We want to make as many people as we can aware of assistive technology,” Consigny said.
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