Scott Youngs – On the Move

Scott Youngs — On The Move With Assistive Technology

Writing, Video Production and Photography By Joan Grover and Abbie Walker

Scott Youngs finds that his disability and personal experience provides the necessary insight for his job.  As Project Director for American with Disabilities Act (ADA) Nevada and the Nevada Assistive Technology Resource Center (NATRC) at the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the University of Nevada, Reno, he says having a disability is a big advantage, because he has more credibility speaking from a wheelchair.  His clients see him as someone who is able to offer them  peer support.

Initially talking to them over the phone, he finds some clients are antagonistic until they realize through the conversation that he finds himself in a similar predicament.  After that barrier is broken, clients are more open to hearing about the resources he offers.  His connection with the clients is not a bid for sympathy, but more of a relational point so they can get down to business.  He is quick to point out that he considers himself fortunate to have good use of his upper extremities.

“I don’t have a have a severe disability – though others may see it differently,” he says.

Scott can handle almost anything, but 4th floor power outages present a challenge/Photo by Abbie Walker

Scott can handle almost anything, but 4th floor power outages present a challenge/Photo by Abbie Walker

Although confined to a wheelchair, he is able to use hand controls in his car to get back and forth to work.  He relates to what an individual faces when trying to function with a disability in trying to have a normal life. The disability is a constant reminder in how things must be done differently – living arrangements, transportation, coping with your surroundings and accessibility issues maneuvering around facilities.  Using a wheelchair in his work environment means he must have everything accessible.

This was reinforced recently when a power outage occurred in the building where he worked.  His office is on the fourth floor, and the elevators were out due to the power outage.  Others in his office could walk down the four flights of stairs, but Scott could only hope the power would come back on before the end of the work day.  However, Scott told me he was able to use his hands to “walk” down the stairs. His building is wheelchair and handicap accessible, but elevators running on power are a whole different story.

With this first-hand understanding of the difficulties of being disabled, Scott promotes modern assistive technology to help people trying to attain a normalcy in their lives.

“Our project is about trying out different technologies to see what is best for you,” Scott says.

In this virtual-reality environment, Scott Youngs and George McKinlay are seated at the two different workstations featuring a variety of assistive technologies. (VR by Laura Brigham.)

To accomplish that support is why the Assistive Technology (AT) Program was started in 2004.  Two grants for AT were provided by the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation/Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Aging and Disabilities Services Division called the NATRC.

“Our goal is to improve the functional capacity of an individual,” Scott says.

The employment project provides assessments for Vocational Rehabilitation clients to match them with sufficient assistive technology that would help them find and keep a job.  Scott and three associates take referrals from Vocational Rehabilitation and set up appointments.  They rely heavily on the team approach, involving a speech pathologist, if necessary, and George McKinlay with his computer adaptations and electronics expertise. The grant allows for the purchase of equipment.  Though employment focused, this equipment may also help them live independently in their daily lives.

“George and I assess the person’s needs . . . meaning identifying any barriers that the person with a disability may have regarding employment,”  Scott says. “Then we match the technology with their needs.”

The NATRC maintains an inventory of approximately 400 pieces of equipment for demonstration and short-term loan.  Apple products, specifically the iPad, are popular.  The Center also provides training and outreach for clients, service providers and businesses in the public and private sectors regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act and Assistive Technology.

“Any person in Nevada can check out equipment in order to determine if an item might benefit them or their clients,” Scott says.  “We collaborate with many service providers, agencies and the general public to improve assistive technology services throughout the state.”

Scott trains Dora Utchel on technology for the visually impaired/Photo by Joan Grover

Scott trains Dora Utchel on technology for the visually impaired/Photo by Joan Grover

Scott sees the results from these grants in providing AT for disabled individuals.  The blind and visually impaired are especially challenged and their success rate has gone up.  People with more severe disabilities are able to attend school and even graduate with degrees.  The best chance for success he says to catch people soon after they become disabled.  This is especially true for younger people.  Although a large percentage of his clients are young adults, there has been an uptick in the 14-21 age group.  For successful lives later on, he says, the earlier they come in for AT, the better.

He constantly worries about funding.  Besides providing resources for clients, the grants also pay five people’s salaries.  He acknowledges the grants as “soft money,” and as such may be withdrawn at any time.  Not only would people lose their jobs, but many in the disabled community would lose their opportunity to have assistive technology resources.

Scott does not let that deter him from his mission at the NATRC.  He is a strong promoter of improving the quality of life for people with disabilities, and he does not let stereotypes get in the way.

“Being politically correct impacts and prevents communication,” he says.

Scott and George McKinlay discuss AT technology/Photo by Joan Grover

Scott and George McKinlay discuss AT technology/Photo by Joan Grover

Rather than worrying about whether someone is called handicapped or disabled, able-bodied people should strive for understanding and acceptance of those living with a disability.  “Normal” is loosely defined when each person able or disabled is living life to the fullest.

Scott keeps his focus on the favorites aspects of his job – helping people gain resources so that they not only can function professionally and personally, but so that they can achieve that normalcy that means they are living the best life possible for them.