IndependenceFirst reaches out to businesses to help people with disabilities

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 10:04 am

Milwaukee-based IndependeceFirst has a unique way for companies to think about their "green" initiatives. The non-profit agency wants companies and individuals to donate their out of date, used computers so they can be refurbished and given to local individuals with disabilities, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford one of their own.

IndependenceFirst is directed by and for the benefit of people with disabilities. Its main goal is to empower individuals with disabilities through education, advocacy, independent living services, and coalition building.

Since its recent move to a remodeled facility on First street in Milwaukee’s Fifth Ward, IndependenceFirst has also embarked on a mission of becoming a primary resource for companies and individuals looking to get rid of outdated, gently used desktop and laptop computers.

“We started the program almost 10 years ago, but when we started we were shipping out 6 to 10 computers a year. Now we are up to around 200 to 300,” said Thomas Uyehara, IndependenceFirst IT director.

IndependenceFirst uses department of defense standards for clearing and removing existing hard drives. Once the drives are clear, the computer is cleaned, and any components of the computer that do not work correctly are replaced, Uyehara said.

From there the computer is loaded with an operating system, and free software available online.

“We will include anything that helps the computer’s user to be productive,” he said.

According to Uyehara, the program is run almost completely on the generosity of volunteers, so it is important for the organization to keep costs down.

IndependenceFirst has a relationship with PC Pro Schools, and MATC, so students can gain hardware experience, and collect internship hours, and individuals with IT experience who are in between jobs, and corporations looking for volunteer service hours have also donated time to the cause.

“We can offer a great opportunity for companies to gain volunteer hours by offering a team building experience, where they can come in as a team and disassemble and reassemble the computers getting ready for shipment,” said Carol Voss, public relations and marketing director. “That really helps us out too, because instead of getting, three or four computers done in one day we can do 30 to 40 with a larger group.”

Individuals looking to receive a computer must complete an application form, have a disability, live in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington or Waukesha counties, and must demonstrate a financial need and reason for having the computer, Voss said.

Applicants are then placed on a list, and receive a computer once one is available.

“The waiting list right now is somewhere around 200 people,” Uyehara said. “The problem is the donation stream isn’t consistent. We may finish five to six PC’s a day, but we also receive a half dozen requests each day for those computers too.”

IndependenceFirst is seeking both donations and volunteers to assist in the refurbishing.

“We would like companies in the Milwaukee area to know that this is a great way to recycle their old computers free of cost, it’s tax deductible, and it works well with their green initiatives,” Voss said.

The minimum criteria for a computer donation includes: Pentium III processor or better, 128 MB RAM memory or better, 600 MHZ or better, 17-inch monitor or larger.

To view more information related to donating or volunteering visit the IndependenceFirst website.

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