If you are a non-disabled person, you may think of your Alexa assistant or your smart TV as a convenience that makes your life easier or more fun. Increasingly for people with disabilities, smart technology is also helping increase independence and self-determination.

Danielle Epperson, Behavior Analyst for Aspire Living & Learning, has been leading the charge toward smart technology. Her goal is for everyone receiving services from Aspire to have the opportunity to consider how smart technology or assistive communication could benefit them.

Last fall, she participated in extensive training geared towards providing and supporting smart communication and assistive communication at Aspire. Danielle quickly realized how valuable her teaching skills would be for introducing new technology: “People need training on these systems so they can make the most of them.”

One of the first people to benefit from Danielle’s new expertise will be Seth Ehrlich. Seth lives in his own apartment with a friend. Independent and fun loving, Seth has been employed at Goodwill for many years. He loves music and is a big fan of CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo. He is close to his family too. With their help, he’s already using Alexa to access his favorite broadcasts and radio station. “I ask her to put on CNN and she’ll do it. And then I go, ‘Alexa, play KC 101’ and she does it.” So he was open to trying some new technology when his mobility decreased recently.

Seth relies on direct support professionals for everyday activities like dressing, cooking, and transportation. Beverly James, a DSP who works with Seth, noted that while Seth has someone with him for meals and at night, he has many hours on his own. She’s confident that smart technology will help him stay safe and independent, “I think that it’s a fabulous idea.”

Danielle reports, “We conducted an assessment of the whole person. We looked at reading and math skills that might be needed to use the devices, his mobility, and we talked to him about his challenges.” Post assessment, Danielle made serval recommendations to increase Seth’s independence. Some were simple, low tech ideas: Adding a tray to his walker so he can safely carry his coffee, and getting a different toilet paper holder he can fill himself.

Other needs seemed best served by smart technology. Even so, Seth had some mixed feelings, “I’m not sure I’m ready for it yet. I need to know more, and I can think about it.” Support for learning about smart technology and how to use it makes these devices empowering rather than intrusive. Seth recognizes that some devices can make his life easier. For example, he is sometimes reluctant to answer the phone because of telemarketers. Having a phone with voice ID will let him know when it’s his sister or a friend calling.

Aspire applied for and received a $4,000 grant from the state of Connecticut to cover the cost of smart devices and subscription fees for Seth. By April, he’ll be able to operate lights and devices remotely, and to view and control the front door. He’ll have an Echo Show for socializing, and a wearable button to summon help. Sensors that attach to furniture will alert the staff if he doesn’t get up in the morning or appears to have fallen.

The last step to putting this technology in place is a presentation to the state’s Human Rights Committee. This review ensures that the technology is being used to support Seth’s goals and that it doesn’t limit his freedom or privacy.

We’re looking forward to checking in with Seth this summer to see how his new technology is working for him. Maybe you know someone who could benefit from this technology, too. With folks getting $1,400 stimulus checks soon, this is a great time to help people explore whether smart technology or assistive communication could help them take more control of their lives.


Smart Technology: A New Path to Independence