A robot that goes to class and collects information when a child cannot. A pen with an internal audio recorder for those who have trouble focusing. Those are just two examples of technology designed for children and young adults with special needs at the Bloomington-based PACER Center.
Now efforts to develop more such technology have gotten a boost. At PACER’s annual benefit in Minneapolis on Saturday, it was presented with a $1 million donation by the Otto Bremer Trust — the largest the nonprofit has received since it was established almost 40 years ago.
PACER has “a long history of providing services based on a model of education, advocacy and empowerment,” said Dan Reardon, Otto Bremer Trust’s co-CEO and trustee. “We are thrilled that PACER is using these funds to provide services to underserved families.”
Paula Goldberg, PACER’s co-founder and executive director, said the money will be used to create a technology and innovation center. “We hope to do very creative and innovative projects that’ll make a difference in the lives of children and young adults,” she said.
Among those plans, Goldberg said, are creating coding classes for young people and developing workshops for families on topics such as mental health and bullying prevention.
Sam Graves, a 22-year-old living with cerebral palsy, said the center’s library, which allows people to check out a wide array of software, apps and other adaptive devices, has been key in his education. On Saturday, he graduated with honors from Augsburg College in Minneapolis with a degree in psychology, and later in the day he was to receive an Otto Bremer youth leadership award.
“Without technology, I wouldn’t be able to be independent,” Graves said.
About one in five U.S. families has a child with a disability or special health care need, and about one of every four American students is bullied each year, according to data collected by PACER.
While initiatives like bullying prevention have helped reduce the stigma around young people with mental health problems and special needs, “there’s still tremendous need in this state and in this country,” Goldberg said.
Youssef Rddad is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.