SULPHUR — Oklahomans with disabilities can now try out specialized aids and equipment before they decide to buy, thanks to an assistive technology loan program sponsored jointly by Oklahoma ABLE Tech and the state Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS).

Program sites in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Muskogee, Sulphur and Stillwater will give people with disabilities greater access to “assistive technology,” the term now commonly used for all types of devices and software that help individuals carry out daily tasks or work despite their disabilities.

The program offers short-term equipment loans, product demonstrations and information on both simple and sophisticated technologies that can help people compensate for many kinds of disabilities.

Oklahoma Able Tech contributes assistive technology devices and equipment for loan while DRS director Linda Parker, this joint venture has positive results for all concerned. She says, “People with disabilities will be able to learn what technologies answer their needs. Employers and schools will have a way to find out which equipment works for an employee or student before buying it. And agencies like ours will have new tools to evaluate what technologies really help our clients achieve their training and employment goals.”

Technology sites are expected to yield an added benefit as training centers where rehabilitation counselors, teachers and other professionals can become familiar with technology to benefit the people they serve. ABLE Tech program manager Linda Jaco stresses, “Federal disability law now recognizes that well-informed consumers and agencies make sounder choices about how to spend limited funds. Both the national Assistive Technology Act and the Rehabilitation Act tells states to make more assistive technology information available and give people with disabilities better ways to determine what equipment will help them most.”

Persons of any age or disability can use the equipment loan program. Also eligible are families with a dependent who is disabled, and agencies providing education, employment and other disability services.

The loan program does not offer equipment such as wheelchairs and crutches.

Each site specializes in certain types of technology. For example, at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Oklahoma City, an extensive technology lab shows individuals with every level of vision loss what kinds of devices can help them function more independently.

“Types and levels of vision loss are extremely varied, so the technology that will work for one individual may not work at all for another,” says Bob Utley, a DRS program manager and coordinator of the technology lab. “Now a person of any age can check out a print enlarging system or a computer with speech and find out if this item is really going to be helpful. If a person’s eyesight changes, he or she can come back and test out the other types of aids for accomplishing tasks despite added vision loss.”

Assistive technology loan and demonstration sites are:

- Oklahoma Library of the Blind and Physically Handicapped, 300 N.W. 18th St., Oklahoma City, Okla. 405-522-0524 or 800-523-0288, TDD 405-521-4672.

- Oklahoma School for the Blind, 3300 Gibson St., Muskogee, Okla. 74403, 918-781-8200 or toll-free 877-229-7136. This site specializes in educational and daily living aids for people with visual disabilities. Assistive devices to try out or borrow include talking appliances, magnifiers, closed-circuit TVs for print enlargement, electronic Braille notetakers and much more.

- Oklahoma School for the Deaf (OSD), 1100 East Oklahoma St., Sulphur, Okla. 73086, 866-309-1717. Equipment for loan includes vibrating baby cry monitors, visual and vibrating alarms, telephone amplifiers, telecommunications devices for the deaf known as TTY’s or TDDs, assistive devices, closed caption decoders, and many other aids for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

- Mary K. Chapman Center, University of Tulsa, 2820 E. 5th St., Tulsa, Okla. 74104, 918-631-2913. Items for demonstration and loan include both simple and high tech devices to aid communications, including devices that produce computerized speech. A variety of switches, mounting equipment and adaptive toys are also part of the inventory here.

- Oklahoma ABLE Tech, 1514 W. Hall of Fame, Stillwater, Okla. 74078, 405-744-9748 or 800-257-1705. Technology available at this site includes communication aids, software and devices to enable people with varying disabilities to use computers, and assisted listening equipment. Nominal rental fees may be charged for loaned equipment at this site.

A complete list of equipment available at each site can be found at the ABLE Tech website, http://okabletech.okstate.edu/loan/. Call the site numbers above to schedule equipment demonstrations or loans.

The state Department of Rehabilitation Services creates opportunities for Oklahomans with disabilities to live independent and productive lives. The agency provides education, rehabilitation, career training and employment, as well as other specialized disability services. For more information on services call 405-951-3400 or 800-845-8476, voice or TTY.

Oklahoma ABLE Tech is the state’s designated assistive technology program authorized under the federal Assistive Technology Act. For more information on assistive technology and ways to obtain it, call 800-257-1705 or visit the ABLE Tech website, http://okabletech,okstate.edu.