Last week was Autism Awareness Week from April 1 through 7 (in the midst of April being Autism Awareness Month), during which Port Washington-based Spectrum Designs was awarded two grants, one from the Flutie Foundation and one from the New York Industries for the Disabled (NYSID), and will be showing its documentary film This Business of Autism.
In honor of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, the Flutie Foundation, whose mission is to help families affected by autism live life to the fullest, announced the 2019 recipients of its Allison Keller Education Technology Grants.
“Access to technology has proven to help people with autism communicate, learn and become more included in their communities. We are proud to partner with these great schools and agencies to help level the playing field for people and families affected by autism,” said founders Doug and Laurie Flutie.
The foundation awarded more than $60,000 to local area organizations to help find ways to make learning more comfortable and accessible for individuals with autism. The grants will not only furnish computer labs in schools and residential centers, but will assist with expressive communication and the creation and recording of adaptive music, all through the use of interactive SMART Boards and Jamboards, laptops, iPads, an array of apps, along with a variety of technology training and accessories, supporting more than 1,000 students with autism. Of the 10 recipient organizations, Spectrum Designs Foundation was on the list.
Spectrum Designs received $6,764 to purchase the Google Jamboard, which is an interactive white board that is fully integrated with Google’s suite of software products, providing students with new ways to learn. Since many people with autism are visual learners, the Jamboard enables those with autism to better digest and exchange information.
Spectrum Designs’ plans for the grant include professional development classes, occupational skills training, daily scheduling and communication across its three locations.
“We are excited and grateful to have been awarded an opportunity to invest in technology,” said Nicole Sugrue, co-founder of Spectrum Designs Foundation & Nicholas Center, executive director of the Nicholas Center and development specialist for Spectrum Designs Foundation. “In my experience, our employees learn best by doing, experiencing and constructing, rather than listening to auditory information. This technology grant, funded through the Allison Keller Education Technology Grant from the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism, will help bridge the gap between them and their coworkers and peers by increasing their participation and communication success. The Google Jamboard’s vibrant display and interactive functionality will undoubtedly allow us to bring out everyone’s potential.”
The technology will be used in a variety of ways and will ultimately help Spectrum Designs hire and retain more employees with autism.
“From my experience, individuals with autism thrive while working and communicating with digital technologies, because it provides the structure they depend on with the flexibility that allows us to cater to people on an individual level,” Dave Thompson, director of workforce development, said. “The Google Jamboard is essentially an autism educator’s dream because it brings out people’s creativity, personality and the ability to communicate in a way we’ve never seen before, creating an even more meaningful and productive experience for our participants.”
That same week, the Spectrum Designs Foundation was awarded a Matching Grant for $16,691 by NYSID, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “advancing employment and other opportunities for individuals with disabilities.” This allowed the foundation to purchase three state-of-the-art emroidery machines, enhancing productivity by 100 percent and adding a minimum of 50 hours of paid employment each week for its workforce of individuals on the autism spectrum.
“This grant and our ongoing partnership with NYSID will enable Spectrum Designs to advance our commitment to develop in-house processes and trainings, which in turn assists us in securing and maintaining competitive employment for individuals who are traditionally underemployed or unemployed. We are proud to work with NYSID to create jobs for New Yorkers with disabilities,” said Patrick Bardsley, CEO and co-founder of Spectrum Designs.
“A job can change everything: the way you view yourself, your capabilities and your fit and impact on the world around you. NYSID is committed to assisting its membership, including Spectrum Designs, with financial supports to invest in new equipment and make other improvements to grow their Preferred Source business and create more jobs,” said Maureen O’Brien, president and CEO, NYSID.
On April 9, there was a U.S. Capitol Policy Discussion and Reception with Congressman Mike Kelly and Tom Suozzi, which included a showing of the documentary film This Business of Autism, which showcases the Port-based nonprofit while emphasizing the need for federal investment in supporting inclusive employment opportunities and the societal benefits of providing meaningful employment for those on the spectrum.
Also during Autism Awareness Month this April, the foundation continues conversations about replicating its business model in Westchester and received a grant for a second van for the Navigators to increase reach and access into the Port community.
Spectrum Designs, the largest and fastest growing nonprofit of its kind, offers customers a meaningful purchase by providing gainful employment and significant vocational experiences to people with disabilities. Working with its educational partner, Nicholas Center and affiliate enterprises, Spectrum Bakes and Spectrum Suds, the organization seeks to raise awareness of the abilities and employability of individuals with autism. Visit www.spectrumdesigns.org for more information.
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