ABN Member Spotlight: ETTAC’s Public Awareness Coordinator, Louise McKown

Louise McKown has been bringing awareness about disability assistance to the East Tennessee community for the past 20 years.

As the public awareness and system change advocate for the East Tennessee Technology Access Center (ETTAC), Louise educates the community and elected officials in state and local government on how assistive technology can help people with disabilities live with maximum independence and dignity.

“Assistive technology is not just computers,” she said. “Yes, it’s adapted hardware and software that help people learn, work, and play, but it is also technology that can help people with vision, hearing, and communication disabilities.”

In 1994, she was asked to serve as an advisory board member with ETTAC after going public about her own disability, a rare neurological condition that affects speech, fine motor control, balance, and walking. Shortly after, in 1996, she was offered a full-time position as the public awareness coordinator.

“I had little training in writing press releases, much less working on a computer, but writing on a computer that could easily correct my typos and let me move around sentences came easily to me, as well as speaking out for the rights of people with disabilities to be included in the community and get the services they deserve to be treated with dignity,” she said.

Louise has been a mover and shaker on several important pieces of legislature that aim to help individuals with disabilities receive affordable, assistive technology. She was honored in 2006 with an award for her advocacy efforts by the American Bar Association Commission on Mental Health and Physical Disability Law. “I am still humbled by this award,” she said.

While ETTAC is based out of Knoxville, the organization helps people in 24 counties in East Tennessee receive training and information on assistive technology.

“People have low expectations for people with disabilities,” said Louise. “However, I assure you many of them are screaming inside, ‘I am somebody!’ It is when those words come out that people reach out and say, ‘Is there a way that this person can have a meaningful life?’ That is when we see them. ETTAC has the staff that says, “Yes, you can do something if you just know about the right tool for the job.” Then we go about the work to make their dreams happen.”

To learn more about the ETTAC, visit their website at http://www.ettac.org/.