Virginia’s AT Act program, the Assistive Technology System (VATS)

 AT for Aging in Place

Assistive technology (AT) products and services are essential resources for today’s seniors to remain independent and interact in society as active citizens.  As a natural part of the aging process, all citizens will eventually experience functional losses that may be mitigated with the support of AT devices and services.  Accordingly, over the past year, Virginia’s AT Act program, the Assistive Technology System (VATS), has placed a significant emphasis on developing targeted trainings and technical assistance for the aging population, caregivers and professionals that serve seniors.  To our surprise, seniors are very interested in AT and embrace technology readily!  

How We Got Here:  VATS is housed in the state’s vocational rehabilitation (VR) program. In July 2012, a new agency was formed in Virginia: the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS).  DARS was created by merging the former Department of Rehabilitative Services and Department for the Aging in 2012 to help older Virginians and those with disabilities to maximize and secure their employment, independence and full inclusion into society and guide the Commonwealth in preparing for an aging population.  In July 2013, the adult services unit from Virginia's Department of Social Services joined DARS as its Adult Protective Services Division.  

That’s Great, But What Does This Mean? OPPORTUNITY! With the newly formed DARS, VATS saw a great opportunity to reach out to “Vintage Virginians” to help them access affordable and appropriate AT to maintain their independence as long as possible.  In November, 2012, VATS developed a new staff position to improve access to assistive technology devices, services and resources statewide.  VATS hired an AT & Aging Coordinator at 20 hours per week.   During the last year, with the support of DARS leadership and the guidance VATS’ Advisory Council, VATS has identified key stakeholders and established collaborative programming to promote the use of AT to support aging in place.  

How Does This Help Support AT Act Requirements? In the past, VATS’ “transition activities” focused heavily on students with disabilities, within the meaning of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  This was important, and remains important to VATS.  NOW, VATS has added more emphasis on seniors in transition-giving them or caregivers tools to keep them aging in place and, when appropriate, transitioning into more supportive living arrangements.  The Assistive Technology Act of 2004, as amended, requires AT Act programs to spend at least 5 percent of its funds dedicated to State Leadership activities on Transition Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities.  In addition to students with disabilities as stated above, this includes adults who are individuals with disabilities maintaining or transitioning to community living.  In other words, VATS is able to meet federal requirements and expand services to meet the needs of Vintage Virginians…go figure! 

If You Build It, They Will Come?  NO! Although this was a natural fit for our AT Act program, a significant amount of planning took place.  VATS worked extensively with its Advisory Council, Lead Agency, Regional Sites, and community partners to plan for and actualize this program.  VATS’ AT & Aging Coordinator has integrated himself with statewide Area Agencies on Aging (AAA), Aging Councils, caregiver support groups, and various associations and advocacy groups dedicated to supporting the independence and well-being of older Virginians.  The result has created non-stop opportunities to engage with individuals, family members, caregivers and professionals through targeted AT trainings and technical assistance activities.  For more information, please contact VATS at (804) 662-9990 or email Robert.Krollman@dars.virginia.gov 

-Bob Krollman & Barclay Shepard, Virginia Assistive Technology System