History of Adaptive Computer Empowerment Services

The origins of Adaptive Computer Empowerment Services trace back to the dream of a small group of friends to help people with disabilities enhance the quality of their lives through the use of computers. After learning more about the potential benefits of computer use for the disabled, in 1995 they formed Adaptive Computer Training, Inc, a California non-profit public benefit corporation. Its original mission was to provide computer job skills training for the severely disabled in order to facilitate their return to the work force. However, this mission was never fully realized due to lack of long-term funding.

Paul & Friends

With its vision and mission revised, initial operations were conducted out of a residential garage. Computer parts were contributed from throughout the community and were repaired and donated to four San Diegans starting in 1996.

By fall of 1997 a larger contribution of computers was received from Louisiana Pacific Corporation, thereby enabling the donation of ten systems. That winter the Board of Directors officially changed the name of the organization to Adaptive Computer Empowerment Services, to more accurately reflect its new mission.

By spring 1998 a partnership with Urban Corps of San Diego facilitated a move of the ACES warehouse and workshop operations out of the garage and into a location at the Naval Training Center, which was to last until spring 2001, when city redevelopment plans forced all tenants out. Training of the Urban Corpsmen in computer repair as part of the collaborative arrangement was initiated the following year.

Through publicity provided by Marilyn Salisbury of the San Diego Union Tribune and later by Rod Luck, with KUSI-TV, ACES productivity grew to 100 systems. Community volunteers as well as some who had received computers from ACES pitched in to assist with administration, deliveries, installations, tutoring, computer repair, donation pick-up, and troubleshooting. A weekly volunteer night and weekend day were established for repairs.

Since ACES recognized that the primary tool of empowerment for homebound disabled individuals lay in access to the Internet, most systems were equipped with modems. Several local Internet service providers, TNL-Online, CTS Net, and SmartCities all generously made available reduced rate services for ACES recipients. In addition, an online discussion group for the recipients was formed, facilitating even more interaction.

Although 59 ACES volunteers provided 163 computer systems and support services to the community during 1999, the waiting list of applicants had grown to nearly a year. With a growing abundance of donated equipment, very limited storage space, and the burgeoning waiting list, the decision was made to accept only working equipment for refurbishment. Also, efforts were made to seek funding for staff coordinators.

Through the generosity of the Weingart-Price Advised Fund of the San Diego Community Foundation, one year funding for part-time technical coordinating greatly facilitated ACES growth in productivity to 366 systems in 2000, a reduction in the waiting list of applicants, and a reduction in equipment inventory. Funding for repair parts was also made possible by Hilton Hotels Corporation, the San Marcos Community Foundation, Radical Corporation, AIDS Walk San Diego, Leatherjam and the Kiwanis Club of Pacific Beach. Microsoft Corporation provided Windows 98 software licenses.

The pool of 99 volunteers was greatly enhanced by a number of skilled Navy IT technicians. In addition, ACES became known as a "hands on lab" for students from many computer repair training programs. Several online community groups were formed – one being San Diego Disability Advocates for fostering legislative participation by recipients through funding provided by San Diego Foundation for Change. In partnership with the San Diego Futures Foundation a computer loan program was developed as well. ACES founders, Paul and Mary Adams, were selected for Channel 10 Leadership Awards, providing additional publicity.

By years end, however, it became evident that ACES had totally outgrown its capacity to effectively manage its own size with part time volunteers. Thus the board initiated an effort to partner with a local well-established nonprofit organization.

During 2001 plans were formulated for United Cerebral Palsy of San Diego to work toward assimilating ACES as one of their program components, complementary to their Assistive Technology Lab. Also during the year, despite losing the NTC workshop space, a three-month stay at the former location of School Portraits in Pacific Beach, and ultimately a return of the workshop to the Adams’ residential garage, productivity has continued at the rate of one system per day with a waiting list of approximately six weeks. Administrative assistance had begun by United Cerebral Palsy. Also, Pangea Foundation, which develops special software for people with disabilities, among other programs, had provided workshop space with ACES providing testing for this software. County TV Network provided excellent coverage of the ACES program and needs for space.

ACES has now been located in its Santee location for approximately 5 years. We continue to be blessed with a cadre of excellent volunteers who have allowed us to be able to produce a minimum of 1 computer per day, and has reduced the waiting list to 1 to 2 weeks. Our incoming donations have continued to prosper, and many more people are aware of us.

As a grass roots, all-volunteer group and funded entirely by private donations, ACES has drawn its strength from the sincere desire of ordinary people to reach out to those in need. Indeed, in keeping with the ACES philosophy of passing on assistance, each computer recipient is asked to volunteer in whatever way is possible to help another. In this way, ACES continues to grow and expand its mission of service while always adhering to its founders’ dream of empowering the disabled through computer technology.

ACES founder Paul Adams is no longer with us, but our dedication and desire to Adapt Computers and Empower disabled and elderly communities with our Services is still here! Long time volunteer, Juan Todd is your contact now, and he is happy to help you with any questions you may have on obtaining a computer, or fixing one you already received from ACES.

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