AUSTINTOWN — It can be tough for anyone to learn to use a new technology, but that can be particularly frustrating when the new tech has the potential to make life more independent.
To help clients and families get over that learning curve and open more doors to independence for people with developmental disabilities, the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities is creating a community education room.
Once the renovation of the room at the board offices at the Leonard Kirtz School is complete, students, family members, friends and others will be able to come in and sample different tech tools, learn about special features, learn how to set the device up and ask questions, said George Gabriel, a community service provider supervisor at the board, and Ashley Carocci, a community service provider.
Once complete, the room will be set up to reflect different areas of a home where a device might be found, Carocci said. Until then, an office with several devices and staff on hand to help is set up, and videos with helpful information about the device are being created and uploaded to the agency’s YouTube channel, which can be found by searching for “Mahoning County Board of DD” on the site.
Gabriel said the program is possible in part thanks to a $30,000 grant from the state to be shared in $10,000 segments between the MCBDD, Portage County and SafeinHome — a company that offers intelligent home systems that incorporate technologies of different platforms, security and 24/7 in-person support. The three applied for the grant together. The money is being used to purchase the devices they need to demonstrate and the renovation.
Once the money was granted, Gabriel and Carocci traveled to other counties where similar programs exist, including Cuyahoga and Medina counties, to learn more.
“They’ve been doing a little bit longer than us, so they’re a little more developed. We’re just starting, but we’re getting there,” Gabriel said.
The state has been supportive of efforts to increase the use of adaptive or assistive technology among people with developmental disabilities and increasing efforts to make it more widespread and accessible, Gabriel said.
Most of the devices cost under $100 and are used by others in everyday life, Carocci said. But, many of the devices have features that can help people with disabilities be more independent, she said.
Some families are a little more tech savvy than others, Carocci said. But with a little help, even those uncertain about the technology find it easy to use with a human guide, she said.
“We say, ‘hey, Alexa could help you with all of these things to make you independent.’ They already know what the device is, and kind of know how to use it, we just show them the other things that they might not have been aware of,” Carocci said.
Sometimes, there is a short period of time after school, before parents come home, maybe just an hour and a half or two hours. It may be difficult to get a caregiver to come for a short amount of time to keep an eye on things. But, the devices can make parents more comfortable with leaving the older child or young adult alone because there are ways to check in on them and control entry and exit, Carocci said.
Google and Amazon interactive smart devices are popular with the clients and more well known. But there is also a smart lock that parents can use to monitor who is coming and going at home when they or a caregiver aren’t home, Carocci said. And, there is a device, Safe Awake, for people with hearing problems that connects to a smoke alarm system to vibrate and light up when the smoke alarm goes off.
One device connects with a microwave, so users can ask it to cook something for a certain amount of time, instead of fiddling with the buttons.
It gives the users a sense of pride that they are able to be independent at times, without having to rely on someone else, and gives parents reassurance, she said.
There are also GPS locators that look like jewelry, so caregivers can give a client more distance and privacy, while also ensuring they’re where they need to be.
“It is a boost to self esteem,” Gabriel said. “They don’t want people around them all of the time. Who wants somebody looking over their shoulders all of the time?”