Agency Spotlight – SPARK

Green and blue background image with text "SPARK Agency Spotlight by Stanley E. Taylor,Jr., MSSW Assistant Director SPARK." A light beam is projecting from the bottom of the image to the SPARK branded graphic. Pathfinder's branded graphic is to the right of the word 'agency' and above the last three letters in 'spotlight.'

The start of a new school year can create both excitement and anxiety for children and families. Meeting new teachers and classmates, maybe attending a new building, learning new schedules, all pose potential challenges in the first month back.

This can be especially true for students with disabilities and their families, who have to make sure specific needs are met in order for learning to take place. One thing that can help many students is access to adaptive equipment and technology.

In Knoxville, the nonprofit organization Spark helps provide that access. Spark was founded in 1988 as the East Tennessee Technology Access Center by a group of parents, business people, service providers and members of the disability advocacy community who believed in the power of technology to help people with disabilities reach their goals.

Over the years, Spark has provided a wide range of assistive technology services to thousands of people with disabilities throughout East Tennessee.

For school-age children in particular, Spark has several resources available. The first is consultation and informal evaluation to understand a child’s needs. That can be followed by referrals to other existing services, or by Spark staff working directly with the family to provide durable medical equipment or adaptive technology.

One example is Victoria Bonilla-Pena, a young girl born with multiple severe disabilities. When her mother, Leslie, wished for a special toy that Victoria could call her own, Spark stepped up to customize a special turtle. Victoria was captivated by its lights and sounds, and her reaction assured her team that Leslie’s wish had come true. (To meet  Princess Victoria and her tortuga especial, visit here.)

 

Spark’s “Toy Lending Library” offers a variety of adapted, sensory, and developmental toys for children with disabilities to borrow and enjoy year-round. These toys support cognitive and language development, fine motor skills, socialization, and play. Also, every year Spark gives adapted toys to children with disabilities during its holiday Toy Tech event.

“Children with disabilities and their parents know how much difference adaptive equipment and technology can make to their learning and development, both at home and at school,” said Mary Thom Adams, Spark’s executive director. “Spark is happy to help fill those needs for families in East Tennessee.”

The agency also offers training for all ages in the use of JAWS (“Job Access With Speech”) technology, a screen reader that allows people with low or no vision to access the internet on their own.

And its new Spark Connects service repurposes older donated computers to make them accessible to people with disabilities.

Adams said, “People with disabilities have a wide range of needs. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions. That’s why we work individually with every family to make modifications and provide specific assistance tailored to their situation.”