CANTON — Allyson Purdy has used assistive technology most of her life.
The native of Massillon, 21 years old, is quadriplegic, that is to say that she does not have the use of her hands or her legs. She became paralyzed when she was 11 months old, she said, and started using assistive technology in preschool or kindergarten.
“They put me on my first computer so I could work with my head,” Purdy said.
His computer is connected to a pair of glasses connected to a mouthpiece. She bites on the mouthpiece to click on different things on her computer. It’s a useful tool in her daily life as a student at Kent State University in Stark.
“I only found these glasses probably four or five years ago,” she said. “And I think part of that is that I’ve gotten older and the world has changed and the technology has changed. … It’s been frustrating at times, but it’s also been worth it to be able to find the right things that work for me the best.”
Purdy’s experience is just one example of how Stark County residents with developmental disabilities are incorporating assistive technology into their lives and becoming more independent. It’s part of a statewide push to increase the use of assistive technology amid a years-long shortage of direct service providers in the disability care sector.
What is Assistive Technology?
Assistive technology is equipment designed to improve the daily lives of people with disabilities. This can range from a keypad with large keys for someone with limited manual function to a text phone that allows people who are deaf or hard of hearing to make and receive calls.
The Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities has worked in recent years to make assistive technology an option for Ohios with disabilities through its Technology First initiative. Service and support administrators should consider assistive technology before traditional staffing models when creating an individual’s service plan.
The disability care industry was in a workforce crisis even before the pandemic.
Direct support providers have a high turnover rate and the problem has worsened due to the national labor shortage.
In particular, the disability care industry is working to fill this gap through remote assistance services.
Weston Eberhardt, 31, uses a program called SafeinHome. The Jackson Township resident has cerebral palsy. SafeinHome provides him with regular check-ins scheduled by remote support professionals, as well as access to 24-hour support.
“They have these things called care plans,” Eberhardt said. “Care plans will say ‘Did you take out the trash? Did you cook?’ Just friendly little reminders.”
He’s been using the program for about a year, he said. He lives alone and likes the opportunity to talk to someone when he is bored or needs support.
Stark County sees increased use of assistive technologies
Bill Green, superintendent of the Stark County Developmental Disabilities Board, said the agency has taken a “gradual” approach to expanding the use of assistive technology in the county. Between 65 and 70 Stark County residents with developmental disabilities have assistive technology or remote assistance systems in their service plans.
“We monitor it month to month,” Green said. “So what’s working, what’s not working for that person. … It’s exciting when people can have just a bit of technology and they become more independent.”
Jessica Hoffarth, assistant director of service and support administration for Stark DD, said the 65-70 figure does not include technology that was not purchased with a waiver through Stark DD. She also said that some assistive technology is a one-time purchase that does not remain active on an individual’s service plan.
Families and individuals can test assistive technology at the upcoming event
The Stark County Technology Collaboration is hosting a trial technology event for vendors, individuals and families from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Stark County Council for Developmental Disabilities, 2950 Whipple Ave. NW.
Vendors from Wynn-Reeth Inc., THS Remote Support Services, Vector Security, J-Tek Solutions, AngelSense, LADD Inc. and SafeinHome will be in attendance, along with representatives from the Ohio Tech Ambassador Network.
Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions and try out assistive technology.
Contact Paige at 330-580-8577 or [email protected], or on Twitter at @paigembenn.