Technology First: A Growing Movement in I/DD Services (Part 1)
In our work with organizations that provide services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we are encountering the term “Technology First” more and more. It’s not just a slogan letting you know that a provider uses technology – it’s a movement! You don’t have to look far to see evidence of this evolving movement; for starters, check out the amazing technology pilot program happening in Tennessee. Other states have joined the Technology First movement as well – for example, Ohio.
Today in Part I of this blog post, we’ll discuss what this growing movement is – and what it isn’t! (Part II is here.)
“Technology First” does not mean these organizations are replacing or revising their emphasis on person-centered planning and support. In fact, Technology First can help organizations really embrace their person-centeredness. So what does it mean?
As part of disability support services, many states are working to integrate technology into home, work, and community activities. In the Technology First movement, technology is not an add-on feature. Instead it is used as a natural support.
A natural support is someone or something that supports a person’s effectiveness in their daily life. With the use of smartphones and smart speakers, technology is becoming a support for many of us in our daily lives. Now, technology is also being included in many community supported living (CSL) program models as a form of natural support, creating a bridge to independence for many individuals.
Defining “Tech First”
To be Technology First, an organization embraces technology as the first source of support when addressing outcomes in service planning.
Many service planning teams are starting to ask, “What technologies are available to support this individual at home, at work, and at school?” As they review the Individualized Service Plan (ISP) goals, this question reminds the planning team to include technology.
For instance, could the individual benefit from reminders about certain tasks? An icon-based checklist app may empower them to be more effective in their workplace.
At home, audible reminders at certain times of day may enable them to be independent with daily activities, such as chores or a hygiene routine to prepare for the day.
A Technology First approach also highlights the desire for people to learn more about how to use technology to improve their quality of life at home, at work, and in the community.
The state of Tennessee has included online courses and in-person training for the individuals participating in their Enabling Technology Transformation project. Before technology is ever installed, self-advocates watch a video story and learn more about their technology. When the technology vendor comes to install the equipment, the individuals are there to learn how to use the technology. Staff support the individual as they continue to practice and learn the technology as time goes by.
While a Technology First approach does not replace staff, it could have some long-term effects on where staffing is allocated. Staff responsibilities may include some direct support but may also be reallocated to respond to alerts, teach skills, and serve more people. Ideally, staff will be directed away from ‘doing for’ people, and towards enabling individuals to take ownership of things they can do on their own with the support of technology.
Ready to learn more? Stay tuned: tomorrow’s blog post features Part 2 of this discussion: “How to Become a Technology First Organization.”