The roots of the Enabling Support Foundation can be found in the 1980s when the pioneers of computer networking were persons with disabilities and teachers of K-12 education. In 1981 Bill McGarry created the first electronic mailing list for persons with disabilities, and in 1985 Patt Haring and Robert Carlitz created Kidsnet, a Listserv mail group aimed at K-12. It was within this milieu that the future leaders of the Enabling Support Foundation learned the basics of telecomputing.
There are two important features of this early background. The first feature is experience in the application of technology to persons with disabilities and education for mainstream and special needs students. The second feature is based on the relatively low levels of technology that was available during those times. The World Wide Web had not been invented and telecomputing was limited to email, egroups, and ftp. Graphics meant ASCII art. Most computers were still equipped with 8 bit processors and 1200 baud modems were top of the line.
In 1994 Robert Ambrose founded the Enabling Support Foundation, a 501c(3) non-profit whose mission was to provide computer networking to persons with disabilities. He located and refurbished donated computers and provided training in their use in New York City. Robert Zenhausern who taught at St. John’s University was able to provide free Internet access to the ESF clients. Ambrose moved to Boston where he continued computer donations to schools in the area. Zenhausern concentrated on the online aspects of computer networking with K-12 education in the United States.
In 2006 Ambrose retired and Zenhausern replaced him as CEO and recognized the early experience with low technology and persons with special needs would be of particular benefit to emerging countries. In many cases in those countries technology is limited to Internet Cafes and some schools do not even have electricity. Education for mainstream students is limited and those with special needs are given caretaking at best. ESF has concentrating on providing online support to teachers and caregivers who then work with students under the supervision of ESF staff. We have learned to make the best use of whatever technology is available.
During the past 7 years ESF has been facilitating the activities of grassroots NGOs and has created the Peace Flame Network of over 250 organizations with of a mission of Social Good. One hundred seventy of those NGOs is registered in the Archive of Social Good, a resource that can be searched by country, population served, and mission.