By Sean Henderson, Person Centered Technology Manager
According to The Arc of the United States, a national organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, two-and-a-half percent of the U.S. population lives with a developmental disability; that’s nearly eight million people.
As America grows, so will this number. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening within social services. The number of direct support professionals, trained individuals who care for this population, dwindles each year while critical government funding also tightens.
Hammer Residences, and agencies similar, will need to be more efficient in providing services for more people with fewer resources in the near future. While it may sound bleak, we are preparing for this by implementing new methods of support, such as the use of person-centered technology.
Providers like Hammer currently use a physical supervision model, where the needs a person exhibits dictates the supervised hours they receive. Service is provided by the aforementioned direct support professionals. This model has worked well in the past, but it might prove difficult in years ahead.
Previously, three direct support professionals might have been scheduled to support four individuals with developmental disabilities. In the future, because of a shrinking talent pool of qualified candidates and reduced government funding, we may only have one or two on schedule. This diminished team, of course, will need to be in four places at once to ensure the same level of support.
This is where technology comes in. Our goal in using person-centered technology is to promote independence, life fulfillment and safety for the people Hammer supports. Through the use of connected devices, like accessible tablets, sensor systems and adapted cell phones, people can receive targeted support when they need it. This not only enables independence, but also allows staff members to be connected to others simultaneously. Be it an automated medication administration device, a tremor-canceling spoon or a simple yet effective call button, each solution is customized to address that person’s needs.
In no way am I advocating that technology replace people. Hammer will continue to function as a “people helping people” organization – just supported by the added benefits and choices the right technology provides. But, we need to prepare ourselves for the change that’s coming. The disability services field needs to focus on a future of diminished “staff power” and take advantage of the technology all around us. It can be a more independent future where anyone can attain new levels of independence and self-reliance.
I believe it can also be a safer future, where help is always there when you need it and readily available when you don’t. Most importantly, a future supported by technology will be a more connected future, where people with disabilities are the center of their support and not just a part of it.