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Advancing technology can help those with cognitive disabilities live more independently

A new initiative helps outfit tech where needed
Advancing technology can help those with cognitive disabilities live more independently
Posted at 9:55 AM, Jul 26, 2022

Paul Simeone’s job is understanding new technologies and how they can help those with cognitive disabilities.

“This is a med dispenser,” Simeone said, explaining one of the devices. “It can text you, it dispenses the medication daily."

Simeone is the director of speech language pathology at Proven Behavior Solutions.

“This is really technology that helps people achieve goals that they might not be able to achieve otherwise,” he said. “People with Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy.”

He also oversees the assistive technology programs here.

“These are commercially available products that are out there and it's just finding a way to make them accessible for someone who might not have the same mobility levels…or communication,” he explained.

Recently, Simeone was able to help Greg Hemenway, outfitting him with helpful tech.

Simeone worked with Hemenway to figure out what his needs were and provide him with the appropriate tech and training. This included everything from a smart oven to a pill box with a daily reminder alarm and remote support technology. Simeone said they now have the resources and – more importantly – the time to spend with people to help them learn the new tech.

Helping people like Hemenway live more independently with technology has not always been so easy.

“Ever since the Americans with Disabilities Act and the focus on people living in the community and being more integrated and included, technology has gone to center stage,” Leo Sarkissian, the executive director of The Arc of Massachusetts, said.

The Arc of Massachusetts is a part of a large federation that advocates for services for people with disabilities, specifically intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Now we’re seeing across the country states embracing technology,” he said.

The initiative is called Technology Forward. It’s a partnership between the state, local entities and the broader community.

“We’re starting with maybe hundreds of people. We’re hoping it will get across the 40,000 plus case load at the Department of Development Services,” Sarkissian said.

States can get funding through federal reimbursement for these programs.

“Technology Forward, some places call it Technology First. Ohio, Tennessee…,” he said. “Across the country, different states are trying to do it in different ways.”

But the goal is the same.

“I've seen in the last few months a lot of people have access to things they've never had access to before. Just a lot of joy and a real feeling of empowerment for people,” Simeone said.

It also helps with the shortage of staff in this space.

“Something has to be done to support people differently because there's just not the staff there used to be,” Amy Pratt with South Shore Support Services said.

The nonprofit provides support to people with developmental disabilities.

“I think over time it’s just going to be a whole new way to support people.”

The program is just ramping up, but with advancing technology and increased funding, Simeone said the possibilities are endless. This tech can give a new feeling of independence for those who haven’t had it before.

“It’s really about equity and making sure everyone has the same access,” he said.