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Smart technology unlocks outside world

Today, most people use technology in a wide range of ways: enjoying access to entertainment, providing instant opportunities for mobile communications, and so on. Just when you think nothing more can be added to the list of how we can use technology, innovation surprises us.

By Judd Krasher
Social Media Marketing Manager
Living Resources

Kevin Harding
Director, Information Technology

Most people with intellectual and development disabilities (I/DD) are locked out of many areas of technology. Many providers and ANCOR have committed themselves to unlocking those doors and ensuring that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are fully participating members of this technological revolution. One innovative way providers are doing this is by building SmartHomes.

Imagine!, a provider of services in Colorado for people with I/DD and a member of ANCOR, opened its first SmartHome in 2009 (the Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome). It was designed with the goal of creating a space where people with disabilities could use technology to increase their independence and self-sufficiency. Since then, Imagine! received a HUD grant to help build a second SmartHome, the Charles Family SmartHome. The SmartHomes project has received numerous awards, and the homes have hosted 1,500 visitors from 12 different countries.

Imagine! SmartHomes are living laboratories. They feature “SmartSupports” — assistive technologies that can be used in family homes to keep people with developmental and cognitive disabilities living in their own homes, or their family homes, for as long as possible. Photo courtesy of Fred Hobbs, director of public relations for Imagine!

Residents at the Bob and Judy Charles and the Charles Family SmartHomes are connecting with their family, friends and members of their support team via an accessible email system (Endeavor Email). Residents are also using a newly developed, easily accessible Facebook application with great excitement as they further connect with family, friends and co-workers.

These tools have been developed by one of Imagine!’s main technology partners, AbleLink Technologies in Colorado Springs; and this partnership continues to evolve thanks to the input from residents and staff members. SmartHome residents are sharing their experiences through a variety of blogs.

The technology being used in the SmartHomes was never meant to be permanent. As Imagine! discovers which tools and systems work, they are pushed out to other service areas of Imagine!, including day programs and other group residential settings.

For example, a resident at Imagine!’s 19th Street group home is working with his DynaVox communication device to take the first steps toward independent decision-making.

Auditory cues

The resident presses a switch with his head to interact with his device, and the speaker connected to the switch provides the resident with auditory cues based on his choices.

Utilizing similar technology, an Imagine! Communication Class consisting of three non-verbal students who use communication devices, and one partially verbal student who does not use a communication device, are working on different objectives, such as letter recognition and device navigation. Imagine! staff members have developed a game of Hangman that allows students with very different levels of communication skills to achieve similar goals with this one classroom activity.

Living Resources, a provider of services in New York for people with I/DD and a member of ANCOR, has worked over the past five years to build the first Smart House in New York State. With $750,000 in public and private grants, Living Resources recently opened its SmartHome, exclusively serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and severe mobility issues, welcoming six individuals into their new state-of-the-art, 4,000 square-foot home. The technology encompassed within this SmartHouse is having a major, positive impact on the residents and the community at large.

The house uses universal design to eliminate mobility barriers and 22,500 watts of solar collectors and solar heat storage to lower its carbon footprint.

Programmable technologies were built into the construction design that allows all six residents to control their individual room environment: lighting, shades, fan, phone, TV and website access. Another crucial goal was to build spacious bedrooms so that each resident could invite friends and family to visit in the privacy of their own personal space.

Located on a two-acre plot of land, Living Resources has plans to build outdoor recreational space and raised gardens over the summer months.

Thanks to a $50,000 kitchen design grant from Hannaford Supermarkets, the kitchen is set up to allow each person to safely participate in food preparation and cooking. All kitchen counters and appliances are ADA compliant. Each individual can safely use the stove; an induction stovetop designed so that it heats only the cookware without becoming hot to the touch and is programmed to shut off when not in use.

With these technologies, SmartHome residents are able to fully negotiate their environment. ANCOR and community service providers like Living Resources across the U.S. believe that SmartHome designs create many opportunities for individuals with I/DD to exercise real choice, safely and independently, without limitations.

Imagine!, Living Resources, and ANCOR operate on the philosophy that individuals with intellectual disabilities have much to offer their community. They believe technology offers people with intellectual and developmental disabilities more opportunities for greater independence. To this end, ANCOR collaborates with the University of Colorado’s Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities in offering an annual Technology Summit held in October which is open to providers, people served and their families. Imagine! and Living Resources have long been active members in ANCOR, and Imagine!’s Chief Operating Officer and Director of Business Development, Greg Wellems, serves on ANCOR’s Board of Directors. Imagine!, Living Resources and ANCOR continue to believe the more services we can deliver using technologies that provide for lifelong learning and greater self-sufficiency the better the future will be.

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