When Mark Coppin came up with the idea 14 years ago for a "technocamp" where special-needs students could learn to use adaptive technology to express themselves through art, all he wanted was to help the students learn new ways to express their creativity.
Coppin, the assistive technology director at the Anne Carlsen Center in Jamestown, will be in New York City Monday to speak at a United Nations conference about the technocamps and how these camps helped special-needs students around the world achieve success in their careers and lives.
The U.N. conference, "The Way Forward: A Disability Inclusive Development Agenda Towards 2015 and Beyond," is being organized by the Ministry of Family and Social Politics from Turkey. Coppin said Fatma Sahin, the Turkish minister of Family and Social Politics, will lead a panel with four to five companies. Each company will make a 15- to 20-minute presentation about the conference's topic. Coppin, representing the ACC, will also make a make presentation.
"This is a very high-level U.N. event with high-level attendance from all over the world," Coppin said. Dignitaries expected to attend include the president of Turkey.
Coppin said his presentation will include the results of the Technocamp he held in Ankara, Turkey, about two years ago.
Coppin said the first Technocamp, which was held on the ACC campus in Jamestown, had about 20 students in attendance. Since then the Technocamp has grown in popularity and is held annually at Elks Camp Grassick, Dawson N.D, at the end of June.
"We get about 25 kids from around North Dakota, take them to Camp Grassick and expose them to various adaptive technology," Coppin said. The campers are given technology like digital cameras, laptop and tablet computers and video cameras that have been adapted for use by people with limited physical abilities.
"We have cameras with large switches on them so a person with limited mobility can push the switch, rather than a small button, to take pictures," he said.
Coppin said a video in 2010 showing an ACC student editing video with two switches and using just her head caught the attention of some people in the Turkish government, who work in adaptive services. The Turkish officials contacted Coppin about hosting a technocamp in Turkey. Coppin, who was named an Apple (Computers) Distinguished Educator in 2009, worked with other Apple Distinguished Educators to hold a camp over Thanksgiving in 2011 for 11 students in Ankara.
"It was held in a hotel, so it wasn't a real 'camp,' but after a rough start the students really connected with the different technology we had," Coppin said.
The students started putting out videos and interviews using the adaptive technology. The hotel where the camp was held was next door to the Turkish Parliament building. Soon parliament members were stopping by the camp to check out what the students were doing.
By the end of that week, Coppin said he found himself at a national press conference with Sahin and her top officials talking about adaptive technology and how it can help expand the boundaries for special-needs people.
Coppin said as exciting as it was speaking to the entire nation of Turkey, he still is finding it hard to believe he'll be speaking at the U.N. Monday.
"It has been kind of really surreal," he said.
More exciting to Coppin is that Turkey is talking about building a series of technoparks around the country. Special-needs people from different areas of Turkey would be able to go to these parks and learn how to use adaptive computers, cameras and other technology.
"You're looking at a country making significant changes. It's nice to be at the ground level of a movement like this that is making a significant change in a government," Coppin said.
During the last 10 years or so, Coppin has traveled to countries around the world including Singapore and Brazil. He said he will be in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in November.
Coppin said the best part about these visits has been talking with other teachers and people who work with special-needs students.
"I've been able to go and visit these different schools. It's exciting to see how teachers and professionals around the world are addressing the same challenges," he said.
Sun reporter Chris Olson can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org