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Published on September 21st, 2022 📆 | 4504 Views ⚑

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Stark County Developmental Disabilities to host assistive tech event


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CANTON – Allyson Purdy has used assistive technology nearly all of her life.

The 21-year-old Massillon native is quadriplegic, meaning she does not have the use of her hands or legs. She became paralyzed when she was 11 months old, she said, and started using assistive technology in preschool or kindergarten.

"They set me up with my first computer that I could work with my head," Purdy said.

Her computer is connected to a pair of glasses attached to a mouthpiece. She bites on the mouthpiece to click different things on her computer. It's a useful tool in her everyday life as a student at Kent State University at Stark.

"I didn't find these glasses until probably four or five years ago," she said. "And I think part of that is just as I've grown older, the world has changed and technology has changed. ... It's been frustrating at times, but it's also been worth it to be able to find the right things that work for me the best."

Purdy's experience is just one example of how Stark County residents with developmental disabilities are incorporating assistive technology in their lives and making themselves more independent. It's part of a statewide push to increase the assistive technology usage amid a years-long shortage of direct service providers in the disability care industry.

Allyson Purdy, a Massillon native who is quadriplegic and uses assistive technology uses Bluetooth glasses that are connected to a mouthpiece that she can bite down on to click on different things on her computer.

What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is equipment designed to enhance the daily lives of people living with disabilities. It can range from a keyboard with large keys for someone with limited hand function to a text telephone device that enables individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to make and receive calls.

The Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities has worked in recent years to make assistive technology an option for Ohioans with disabilities through its Technology First initiative. Service and support administrators must consider assistive technology before traditional staffing models when creating an individual's service plan.

The disability care industry has been in a workforce crisis even before the pandemic.

Direct support providers have a high turnover rate, and the problem has become worse amid the national labor shortage.

One way the disability care industry is working to fill that gap is through remote support services.

Weston Eberhardt, 31, uses a program called SafeinHome. The Jackson Township resident has cerebral palsy. SafeinHome provides him with regularly scheduled check-ins from remote support professionals, along with access to 24-hour assistance.

"They have these things called care plans," Eberhardt said. "The care plans will say 'Did you take out the trash? Did you cook?' Just friendly little reminders."

He has been using the program for about a year, he said. He lives alone and likes having the ability to talk to someone when he's bored or in need of support.

Stark County sees more assistive technology usage

Bill Green, superintendent of the Stark County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said the agency has taken an "incremental" approach to expanding assistive technology use in the county. Between 65 and 70 Stark County residents with developmental disabilities have assistive technology or remote support systems in their service plans.

"We monitor it month-to-month," Green said. "So what's working, what's not working for this person. ... It's exciting when people can have just a little technology and they become more independent."

Jessica Hoffarth, assistant director of Stark DD's Service and Support Administration, said that the 65-70 figure does not include technology that wasn't purchased with a waiver through Stark DD. She also said some assistive technology is a one-time purchase that does not stay active on an individual's service plan.

Allyson Purdy is a Massillon native who is quadriplegic and uses assistive technology.

Families, individuals can test assistive technology at upcoming event

The Stark County Technology Collaborative is hosting a try-it tech event for providers, individuals and families on from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Stark County Board of Developmental Disabilities, 2950 Whipple Ave. NW.

Vendors from Wynn-Reeth Inc., THS Remote Support Services, Vector Security, J-Tek Solutions, AngelSense, L.A.D.D. Inc. and SafeinHome will be in attendance, along with representatives from the Ohio Tech Ambassador Network.

Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions and try out assistive technology.

Reach Paige at 330-580-8577 or pmbennett@gannett.com, or on Twitter at @paigembenn.

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