Services Maximizing Independent Living and Empowerment

How SMILE Uses Cisco to Empower People with Disabilities

Services Maximizing Independent Living and Empowerment (SMILE) is a center for independent living located in Yuma, Arizona. One of five living centers for people with disabilities in the state, the nonprofit provides peer mentoring, social security benefits counseling, home modification for accessibility, an adaptive equipment lab, and an assistive technology showroom.

SMILE provides all of these services to individuals in two counties — with only five staff members and a few interns and volunteers.

With a background in computer science, Laura Duval understands how technology can transform people's lives. As the director of SMILE, she has a keen eye not only for finding ways to improve efficiency among her small staff, but also for tools that can empower members of the disabled community. Through TechSoup, Duval has received donated software and hardware, including an Ethernet router from Cisco.

With such a tiny staff, Duval often finds herself filling in as the staff IT person. She knew that the organization needed a network that could accommodate the large number of people coming to the organization: staff, interns, volunteers, computer lab users, and representatives from visiting agencies. SMILE also required a router with a high level of security because the organization stores a lot of personal data from clients on its servers.

"I knew from my background in computer science that Cisco products are great products," she said. "When I saw routers on TechSoup, I knew it was probably time to upgrade to a product with good security."

Having a secure network in place means that SMILE staff can focus on other projects, such as the assistive technology showroom and lab, where people can come into SMILE and test out adaptive technologies before they invest in them.

Donated technology such as Cisco products not only helps day-to-day staff operations, but also has directly supported SMILE's clients. For example, assistive computers help clients brush up on job skills and even search for employment opportunities. SMILE's clients rely on technology to live an independent life and flourish in their careers.

This story originally appeared on the TechSoupBlog. It was written by Ginny Mies, senior content curator, TechSoup.