From smart phones and smart homes to tablets and touch screens, the technology wave has hit just about every aspect of daily life; except, that is, the daily lives of people with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities, where the tech wave has looked more like a tech trickle.
The problem extends beyond a lack of resources to buy the devices or software; it includes the need for services to evaluate an individual’s specific needs, identify and adapt devices, and provide training. It’s the coordination of these resources that turns a device into a virtual ramp to the world instead of gathering dust on a shelf.
Sherwood Community Services in Lake Stevens knows first hand the rewards and hard work of putting all the pieces of the technology puzzle together. Through its Assistive Technology Services program, Sherwood helps children and adults with I/DD access readily available technology, adapting it to work for each person’s individual needs.
He stared at a box of Kleenex, put his head down, and looked back at the box of tissues. Urie said they knew then and there that Ron needed a communication device so that he could use his own words to tell people what he was feeling.
Assistive Technology Service’s program manager, Andrew Urie, points to 60 year-old Ron as an example of the positive impact technology is playing in people’s lives. “Ron communicated by using his own signs. Some were recognizable if you understand [American Sign Language], but most were not. When he first came to us for an evaluation for services, his DDA Case Resource Manager brought in a binder with a 12 page summary of all his likes and dislikes, what his signs mean and how to tell if he’s happy, sad, lonely. It was an exhaustive list.”
When Sherwood’s team asked Ron how he communicates his feelings, his staff pointed to the book. Urie said they asked him again, and Ron looked around the room. He stared at a box of Kleenex, put his head down, and looked back at the box of tissues. Urie said they knew then and there that Ron needed a communication device so that he could use his own words to tell people what he was feeling.
“Our team, which consists of a Speech-Language Pathologist, Occupational Therapists and Program Manager, started working with Ron to use an iPad and a communication app. Ron loved using the app and started being able to answer questions and make requests all on his own. However, due to gross motor limitations, he had difficulty making direct contact on the iPad, which caused him a lot of frustration.”
Over a three-month period of trial and error, including having Ron participate in one of Sherwood’s Communication Groups, they decided to reach out to Prentke Romich & Company (PRC) and setup a consultation with their local representative to evaluate the use of an eye tracking system.
“Even after the first try,” says Urie, “Ron was in control and he knew it.”
The team worked with PRC and Ron’s home support staff to obtain an Accent 1400 communication device and a NuEyeTracking System. The whole process took nearly 6 months from start to finish.
Not long ago, while visiting Ron at home, Urie says, “Ron put his hand out and looked at his screen and asked, How are you today? When I answered, I’m well, thank you. How are you doing? He responded, I am not feeling well. I am going to my room. That exchange may seem very simple, but in the past, with Ron using his gestures and the book, it could’ve easily been a 20-minute guessing game. Now, with his new technology and his freedom, he can tell us exactly how he feels.”
Sherwood’s Statewide Outreach
Sherwood’s Assistive Technology Services has been so successful, and the need so great, that they’ve begun helping individuals and families throughout the state to tap into resources for purchasing a variety of devices to meet individual needs through their Supplies and Equipment Services (SES) program.
Lance Morehouse, Sherwood’s Executive Director, says, “We can’t provide the service end of things [like occupational or speech and language therapy] for people outside our area, but we can help get the technology into people’s hands if they’re eligible for Community First Choice.”
Community First Choice (CFC), a new state plan that includes personal care services, comes with an assistive technology benefit of $500 per year. Sherwood is the first to step up and contract with the state to help people on CFC purchase devices, such as refurbished iPads. Medicaid Waivers are another source of AT benefits.
“The only catch,” according to Morehouse, “is that technology has to be needed to perform an Activity of Daily Living.”
Morehouse estimates that about 13,000 people on CFC could potentially qualify for the assistive technology benefit. The challenge, he points out, is that CFC only covers the cost of the device, and not the services needed to adapt the device and/or train the individual and their family/staff how to use it. Assistive Technology Services can, however, help people identify resources to pay for those services, such as private insurance, DDA’s Individual & Family Services and CIIBS Medicaid waivers, or school.
“When people are referred to us to get the device,” Morehouse says, “we’ll help them figure out where to turn locally for the services and supports to make sure whatever device they have isn’t just sitting on a shelf.”
“…we’ll help them figure out where to turn locally for the services and supports to make sure whatever device they have isn’t just sitting on a shelf.”
Urie explains his role in helping to get devices into the hands of people who need them. “I mostly work with the case resource managers, but oftentimes I get to work with a family member or teacher or speech therapist to procure whatever they are requesting. I received a call in May from a parent we helped in March and she just wanted to thank us for helping her daughter receive her iPad. She said, ‘The process was so simple. I just called my [DDA Case Resource Manager], we talked about what our options were, I called you and within a week or so my daughter had her iPad. We took the iPad to her speech therapist who helped us set it up and now she won’t put it down!’
“There is a learning curve to all of this,” Urie adds, “but the case workers have been wonderful to work with. The families have a lot of questions that we are happy to answer and if we don’t know the answer, we get the answer as quickly as we can.”
To learn more about Assistive Technology Services, email Andrew Urie or call (425) 404-3111.
Supplies and Equipment Services (a program of Sherwood’s Assistive Technology Services)
Contracted with the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) to provide Supplies and Equipment to eligible individuals. If you’re unsure if you qualify contact your case resource manager at DDA and ask about this service.
Washington Access Fund
Low interest loans and matched savings accounts for low-income households.
Washington Assistive Technology Act Program
Information, referrals, training and device loans.
Washington Initiative for Supported Employment
Technical assistance to adults and high school students with I/DD seeking employment and job training.
Therapy and Assistive Technology Clinic Serving King and Snohomish Counties.