Some in the crowd knew what was on the easel, hidden underneath a cloth that was about to whisked away. Others were pleasantly surprised.

At the Art for ETTAC fundraising auction last week, Mayor Madeline Rogero joined ETTAC Executive Director Mary Thom Adams and Development Director Jenny Newby for the official reveal.

After 30 years of serving the disability community in a 24-county region, ETTAC now has a new name and a new look.

Same mission. Same steadfast commitment to serving its clients.

East Tennessee Technology Access Center is now Spark.

Why the change?

The new identity as Spark better reflects the mission to empower and energize people with disabilities. Spark, with its growing coalition of community partners and supporters, is focusing more than ever on using technology, staff expertise and creativity to help people live better and more independently.

“It was necessary, because although people know of ETTAC’s work, the acronym itself doesn’t really convey what we do,” Adams says. “It doesn’t really trigger anyone’s imagination.

“It’s really important to embrace the mission of the past 30 years, but technology is exciting and changing, and so is what it can do – what we can do – to transform lives.

“Technology can provide a spark, and that can lead to rapid change for the good. And that’s why, going forward, our organization will be known as Spark.”

Spark’s new ambassador, Sparky, is a salamander – and that’s also in step with the new look and identity.

“Salamanders represent many of our principles and the qualities of the people that we serve,” rector Mary Thom Adams explains it: Salamanders can regenerate tails and limbs, symbolizing rebirth and renewal. They also demonstrate incredible resiliancy and determination.)rector Mary Thom Adams explains it: Salamanders can regenerate tails and limbs, symbolizing rebirth and renewal. They also demonstrate incredible resiliancy and determination.)Adams says. “Salamanders can regenerate limbs and tails, symbolizing renewal and rebirth. They also demonstrate amazing, inspiring resiliency and determination in the face of adversity.”

For a group that can tailor a solution to an individual’s challenge, allowing someone to overcome hearing, sight or communication impairments, the symbolism of a salamander can be a powerful reminder of what’s possible.

What isn’t changing

Spark’s 12 programs uniquely serve East Tennesseans with disabilities. Those won’t change, except for growing and expanding them.

“What we do ranges from low to high tech,” Adams says. “Some of our services are helpful to many clients. Sometimes, what’s needed is a carefully tailored approach to help one person.”

For example, Spark will continue to provide much-needed low tech help by distributing each year thousands of lifts, wheelchairs, canes, walkers and other assistive devices through its Durable Medical Equipment program.

On the high-tech end of the spectrum, Spark, sometimes collaborating with Knox Makers volunteers, works with individual clients, connecting them with technology and finding a way that they can work, or enjoy a hobby, or live more independently.

“Either way, it doesn’t really matter at its core. Our staff is committed to serve,” Adams says. “That’s been engrained throughout everything we’ve done for the past 30 years, and I look forward to all the good that Spark will be able to do in the next 30 years.”


Written by: Eric Vreeland

About the Author

Eric Vreeland, a former News Sentinel local news editor who is now the City of Knoxville’s Senior Director of Communications and Government Relations, has long admired the work of Spark’s staff and volunteers. In January 2017, he joined the group’s board of directors.