Increasing Capabilities Access Network’s (iCAN) location in the center of Arkansas is a barrier for many individuals with disabilities to travel to from other parts of the state. Recognizing that Arkansas has many underserved areas, iCAN initiated the establishment of an Assistive Technology Mobile Unit (ATMU) in 2017. Always looking to find ways to better serve Arkansans coupled with the need to reach people in all four corners of the state, the mobile unit seemed like a great solution for iCAN. This mobile unit, commandeered by two program coordinators who rotate monthly, is driven to predetermined areas and set up for the day. At these locations, they provide device demonstrations, device loans, and giveaways of limited use AT devices. The ATMU also has the ability to issue and process device loans by printing agreements inside the van as they would in the central office. Because device loans need to be returned to the program in six weeks, the van will also drive back out to locations to have those loans returned. Once an area is determined, iCAN tailors the devices they bring to that location. Locations have included educational cooperatives, the Area Agency on Aging, vocational rehabilitation field offices, and other state agency regional offices. Since the inception of this unit, several hundred individuals have been reached through public awareness, in part due to the van acting as a “moving billboard.” Organizations across the state of Arkansas have been requesting the van since it was first on the road. Moreover, 10-15 loans have been made through use of the van. As such, this mobile unit allows iCAN’s services to be distributed more evenly across the state of Arkansas.
Purchasing a van to create this mobile unit did not come without its challenges. iCAN is housed within the state government, so state leadership had to be educated on the purpose of the vehicle and what funds would be allocated to it. The van required a great deal of customization in order to support the devices being transported. Making the ATMU “road-ready” took over 100 hours of work, and $50,000. If considering establishing a mobile unit, take into account the bureaucratic environment you are working in, what funds can be allocated to such a service, and who’s buy-in may be required. Think about whether purchasing a vehicle is a seamless process, or whether there are hurdles that need to be overcome. In terms of staffing, figure out whether you can ask current staff to drive it or if you would need to hire someone new. Consider the size of your state and the number of staff that would be required to travel the distances. For some programs, it may work better to have a designated person to focus on a mobile unit within their state. If direct customer access to the mobile unit is important, consider making it accessible.