By CANDY NEAL
In this time of isolation, technology has been shown to help people connect to others.
This connection is vital to people who have a disability.
“People with disabilities are particularly affected by the pandemic and the isolation, especially those who live in remote areas,” Kelly Mitchell, CEO/president of Southern Indiana Resource Solutions, told the Dubois County Commissioners last week. “We have found during the pandemic that technology can open so many doors for people with disabilities.”
SIRS is hoping to get a state grant to help cover the costs of expanding access to technology to people, in particular to those with disabilities.
The grant is called Community Connections for People with Disabilities and comes through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, said Jenny Matheis of the Indiana 15 Regional Planning Commission. “They are partnering with the Division of Disability Services to provide grants to communities,” she said, “to provide technology and to connect services for people with disabilities.
SIRS has several ideas that its wants to use the grant to implement. Mitchell said one goal is to place hot spots in different areas, including for people who are in remote areas.
“We want to pursue this so individuals with disabilities that may not have access in their homes or if they do, [they] may not be able to afford internet access,” Mitchell said. “[They] could access the internet in order to get services for simple things like groceries or rides, but also the social connection.”
SIRS would also like to have at one of its sites a work station that would be accessible to people who have communication or mobility difficulties. It would have things like a touch screen and remote access, Mitchell explained. The organization would also like to have a system for lending out tablets to individuals with disabilities “so that they can connect to the internet at their location or to a hot spot,” she said.
SIRS is looking to create a social network in which people with a need could state that need on the network, so that someone in the community could volunteer to help with the need.
“This is not limited to individuals served by SIRS. This is for individuals with disabilities,” Mitchell said. “We also see the benefit to other community members. If we have internet access to some of those rural, remote areas, that would benefit other people as well.”
The commissioners were supportive of the idea and agreed to be the lead agency for the grant. “It sounds like a big win for the county,” Commissioners President Chad Blessinger said.
The stipulations of the grant require the county to be the recipient, so long as it is working in partnership with a nonprofit focused on serving people with disabilities.
The grant application is due Jan. 10, and a public hearing must be held prior to submitting the application, Matheis said.
The grant covers the cost for the equipment, installation and first year of internet service. Mitchell said SIRS is willing to be an internet hot spot, but she hopes to get others to be willing to help cover the ongoing internet cost to have hot spots in other areas.
“I’d like to see some other locations throughout the county,” she said, “if individuals are willing to partner.” She hopes that internet providers would be willing to give a discount on service for the program.
“This benefits people with disabilities,” Mitchell said. “But it benefits the community as a whole.”