By Daphni Steffin,
Director of Assistive Technology & LifePrint Management
Technology has transformed the way we live, the way we work, the way we learn, and the way we communicate. Many of us use Assistive Technology (AT) every day whether we have a disability or not. The alarm clock that woke you up this morning, the GPS that gets you from point A to point B, the remote that controls your television, or better yet, a cell phone that can do all of the above. Many of us don’t even think of these items as AT, but in reality these are all assistive devices that make our lives easier. And isn’t that what technology is all about?
Judith Heumann, a well-known disability rights activist once said that, “For most of us, technology makes things easier. For a person with a disability, it makes things possible.” Many people with disabilities may be unable to accomplish everyday tasks such as communicating, bathing, dressing, driving, and working without appropriate AT.
Recently, I spoke with a young man from our center in Dundalk who has used an electronic communication device for many years. I asked him what his day would be like without it…unable to use his voice. He responded with one word, “trouble.”
Whether it’s a communication device for a child who is non-verbal, or a big button telephone for a person with low vision, we believe that access to the right tools can be truly life-changing. That is why, through our AT program, we strive to enhance opportunities for individuals supported by The Arc Baltimore to improve their lives through the use of technology with increased awareness, access, and support.
Awareness of the benefits of Assistive Technology devices and resources; access to assessments, trial of devices, and funding; and support in integration of the appropriate technology into one’s life.
We often begin by thinking about what tasks a person is dependent upon another person to complete. Why does a staff or family member do it for this person? One specific example occurred in our centers at lunch time where some people were not feeding themselves. One man had difficulty holding the spoon, but a spoon with a bigger grip was really all that he needed. Eight dollars later, he is now able to feed himself and is very proud of his newfound independence. This same man could not change the channel because the buttons on the remote control were too small. We tried out a big button simplified remote with him and he looked at me with a look of amazement and said, “I thought my TV only had one channel.” These are some low tech tools that have helped him overcome barriers to independence in his daily living. The tools are simple – but the impact is profound.
We often think of technology as futuristic – but it is a very real part of our present to embrace. As staff, family members, co-workers, or self-advocates, we all share a connection to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There is a world of AT with endless possibilities. Our AT Program aims to be that bridge from one world to the other.