Frontline Initiative DSPs and Technology

Using computers and the Internet to connect and speak out

Frontline Initiative interviewed Katie McDermott to learn more about her work using computers and the Internet to connect with and empower other self advocates. Katie is a leader in the self-advocacy movement. She serves on the Board of Advocating Change Together (ACT), and has been a Self Advocates Minnesota (SAM) Representative from the Twin Cities for two years. She has completed self-advocacy training through ACT, Merrick, Inc., and Partners in Policy Making at the Minnesota DD Council. Creative, fun, and engaging, Katie is a skilled leader with a passion for connecting people with the self-advocacy movement.

What happens in the Computer Club at Advocating Change Together (ACT)?  

Katie McDermott: We get together in a room in the ACT office. We invite self advocates and people who don’t really know a lot about computers, and teach them how to make a Facebook and email account. We show them the government Internet pages, and we get Internet savvy. I don’t know too much about the Internet, but I’m learning as well. 

The Computer Club is still kind of new, and we’re trying to reach out to new advocates. We’re also looking for advocates to join the ACT Board and SAM (Self Advocates Minnesota). We’re trying to reach people, and sometimes we use Facebook. That’s why we came up with Self Advocates in Computers, so we can connect with advocates from anywhere and communicate. There’s a Facebook group you can join. There are about 59 advocates on there right now.

We can connect with advocates from anywhere and communicate.

What kinds of things do people talk about on Self Advocates in Computers? 

Katie: We talk about things like the self-advocacy conference. People post about what is going on with their self-advocacy meetings. It’s a place for advocates to communicate together when they are on Facebook. 

Do you think people who are not involved with self-advocacy get chances to use computers and the Internet? 

Katie: I think people do get chances to use computers. They may have their own computer in their room, or a shared one in their group home. They get to use the Internet, but I’m not sure whether they learn how to use Facebook or other things like that. 

Is there anything Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) can do to help people learn about computers and the Internet? 

Katie: DSPs can help people get involved. And if they really want to know about people with disabilities, or the history, I would recommend taking the class Partners in Policy (offered through Developmental Disabilities Councils in many states). A direct staff person and advocate could take that together, or join a self-advocacy group like the ACT Board where we all work together as a team. If they want to get involved, they are more than welcome.

When did you first start learning about computers? 

Katie: When we were in school, we used them, but I didn’t have my own computer at home till I was 26. Usually I would go to the library and stuff, but now that I have one at home I’m a Facebook junky! I check my email first, but then I have to check Facebook to see who’s on. 

Who have you connected with on Facebook? 

Katie: I connected with a lot of new friends on Facebook, and self-advocates I knew from Mankato and South Dakota, and even some people from Kansas and Oklahoma have Facebooked me, so I get connected all over. It’s nice to talk to them, because you don’t see them all the time.