Computers for Special Needs traces its origins to around 1981 when a small group of Christchurch people working with people with disabilities recognized the potential of micro computers and other emerging technology to revolutionize the lives of disabled people. A meeting of interested persons was advertised and was responded to by a wide range of people from health and education backgrounds, parents and caregivers as well as people with disabilities themselves. Regular monthly meetings of the Computers for Special Needs group began, where new aspects of computer technology and software were explored, with various newly-made ‘experts’ presenting on many interesting topics.
It seemed that membership of the group expanded as fast as new technology emerged and in March 1996 the group became incorporated, prior to running a major national conference ‘Towards 2000’ which was held at Lincoln University in 1997. At the same time a charitable trust, the Computers for Special Needs Trust, was established. CSN Inc as it was known played a significant role in the adoption of computer and assistive technology on a national basis, working with other organisations and government agencies to promote the benefits for people with special needs. A regular newsletter was introduced and soon grew to a journal format.
As computer technology became more mainstream and specialist commercial products became commonly used in the areas of special education and assistive technology, the need for monthly meetings reduced. With the emergence of email groups and then Internet, the need for regular paper publications to disseminate new information also reduced. Rather than being a new and emerging field, technology for people with special needs became both a norm and a routine professional specialty area. A new national organisation, ATANZ, was set up to provide oversight and professional development to professionals working in the area, the latter impacting somewhat on CSN’s previous role. Consequently, around 2004, CSN looked at its function and purpose as an organisation and decided on a fairly major change in direction.
A few years previously, in September 2000, the Computer Loan Scheme had been set up under the Computers for Special Needs Trust, to make computers available to people with special needs. There was big demand for loan computers, which were directed to recipients who were not eligible for funding for a computer through other sources, but who were seen as benefiting from having a system. About two years later another new initiative, Barrier Free Computing, was set up to provide supported computing sessions for people with special needs at Burwood Hospital’s Allan Bean Centre.
With ‘professional development’ no longer being a core activity the decision was made to close down the incorporated society, which was offering no functional benefits that could not be achieved through the trust. Consequently Computers for Special Needs Inc was deregistered in November 2005.
While marking the end of one role, this also signaled a new focus. Today the Computers for Special Needs Trust exists to support and operate the Computer Loan Scheme and Barrier Free Computing, providing benefits directly to people with special needs within the Canterbury area (and Nelson/Marlborough for loan computers). Detailed descriptions of these activities can be found in the relevant sections of this website.