How it all began – in Ian Karten’s own words

It started with a smile – a smile of joy and pride in achievement which lit up the face of a young man paralysed from the neck down and rendered unable to speak by cerebral palsy. He had just completed the first letter he had ever written. I had watched him putting it together on a computer. He had a stiff collar around his neck, fitted with three large buttons which he was able to press with his chin. This, together with a special software programme in the computer, enabled him to create words on the monitor, each character followed by a pause while the programme scanned the alphabet for the next character.

What I had seen was a graphic demonstration of how computers, together with assistive devices such as those described above, and with appropriate training, can transform the lives of even the most severely disabled people. Assistive computer technology can enable them to communicate with others nearby or far away, provide mental stimulation for them, and in many cases enable them to be trained in computer-related occupations, and to be integrated in society.

The Ian Karten Charitable Trust is what is called a grant-making trust. In 1996 the Trustees decided to devote a substantial part of the Trust’s resources to the establishment of centres for disabled people for computer-aided vocational training, education and communication, to be known as CTEC Centres. What all the Centres share is firstly their determination to use assistive computer technology to provide training at the highest level of excellence to people with disabilities in order to improve their quality of life, and in suitable cases to improve their employability by vocational training; and secondly their commitment to exchange information with other Karten CTEC Centres and with the Trust in order to spread best practice and to benefit from each other’s specialized expertise.


The rest as they say is history!  Sadly, Ian and his wife Mildred are now deceased, but Ian’s legacy and the work of the Ian Karten Charitable Trust continues to have a considerable impact for people with disabilities.

The first CTEC Centre was established in 1997 in Crowthorne, Berkshire by a sister charity of the Ian Karten Charitable Trust. At the same time the Trust embarked on an ambitious programme for the rapid establishment of a sizeable “family” of Computer-aided Training Education and Communication (CTEC Centres). In order to achieve this the policy of the Trust was to find suitable charities which share its enthusiasm for the use of assistive technology to improve the quality of life and the independence of people with disabilities. The Trust then offers to provide generous funding for all the equipment, software, assistive devices, and furniture for the Centre, and in some cases a contribution to other related costs, in return for an undertaking by the charity to establish and operate the Centre on a basis acceptable to the Trust.  Since 1997, more than 100 Centres have been established in the U.K., Israel and Eire.

There are many differences between the Karten Centres, and between the organisations which operate them. The latter include Universities, Colleges, Hospitals, the remainder being charities, mostly with Day Centres and Centres for older people. The size of the Karten Centres varies as does the range of technology they use. Some specialise in a particular disability, others cover a range of disabilities. Some Centres are strongly focused on vocational training, while others concentrate on providing training in communication and life skills for people with learning disabilities.Karten Centre

Early Karten CTEC Centres were typically rooms with fixed computer workstations that people went to in order to access the technology.  However, with ongoing technological advances, and more recently the very exciting mobile revolution our modern Karten Centres appear very different to the initial suites, but the underpinning principles remain unchanged.  The Trust is committed to improving life outcomes for disabled people through the use of assistive technology throughout the network of Karten Centres.