Monday, July 7, 2014

Possibilities: Smart Homes for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

By Erin Hough
Disability Law Center

In my last post, I wrote about my observations that even though assistive technology (AT) has a huge potential to help people be more independent, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are rarely using it. 

Erin Hough, advocate at the
Disability Law Center
I was feeling a bit discouraged by the trends. Luckily, I recently received a dose of inspiration in South Dakota. At the “Creating Possibilities: Where the Rubber Meets the Road” conference, I discovered many new and innovative ways professionals around the country are using AT with this population. 

Although there were many interesting topics and presentations, I found the most relevant speaker to be Greg Wellems. Mr. Wellems is the Chief Operating Officer of Imagine!, a service provider for I/DD in Colorado. Having worked in the field for twenty five years, he understands the system and the needs of this population well. 

A few years ago, Mr. Wellems oversaw a project which involved the construction of two Smart Homes. 

As described on Imagine’s website, “A Smart Home is a home that incorporates cutting edge technologies to improve the quality and efficiency of services and supports for people with disabilities.” 

They include things like web based communication and video conferencing tools, adjustable counters and workspaces, task prompters, and building sensors. Each home is customized to the needs of the individuals living in it.

U. of Colorado has developed a
Smart Home for people with I/DD.
According to a study conducted by student researchers at the University of Colorado, Denver, residents reported feeling a much greater sense of control over their lives one year after moving into a Smart Home. They also reported feeling safer and more respected by others. They had more personal relationships and were better able to access the resources they needed. In fact, they were doing so well that staff support was able to be reduced.

Interestingly, Mr. Wellems did not suggest building more Smart Homes. Instead he talked about how specific pieces of technology could be used to achieve similar outcomes in already existing homes and facilities. He believes this approach could actually be more cost effective for service delivery systems. 

He suggested AT become a core part of the person centered planning process, and he shared some tools to help providers and state agencies begin thinking through how to make this a reality.

It seems to me that if we want to see people benefitting from all that AT has to offer, then AT needs to become an integral part of our systems that serve people with disabilities. This is what Mr. Wellems is advocating. I’m excited to see what he comes up with next! 

Learn more about Colorado's Smart Home's.

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