“Technology is part of our lives, everywhere we go,” Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities Executive Director Roger Webb recently told legislators. “We are finding that many of our grantees are employing and deploying technology in new and unexpected ways.” For people with disabilities, this can be specialized assistive technology products or the same products used by other people, such as smart phones and software applications, global positioning systems that enable some people with cognitive disabilities to independently move around their neighborhood or city, computers and social networking tools.
Webb was invited to talk to the Texas House of Representatives Committee on Technology on March 30, along with other speakers from a TCDD employment project in the Rio Grande Valley. Project HIRE, Helping Individuals Reach Employment, will assist 50 persons with developmental disabilities in Hidalgo County who are between the ages of 18 and 25 to attend South Texas College and find jobs.
TCDD announced the five-year project to the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services earlier this year, and the first 12 participants have been selected. The students will receive a laptop and other assistive technology, intensive summer training including self-determination and advocacy, and support by a team of people, including individual business mentors and educational coaches to help them succeed in higher education, as well as job training and employment.
“This is a wonderful project,” said Rep. Aaron Peña, chair of the technology committee. “It is doing great things with technology that will assist people with disabilities in preparing for and obtaining careers in the mainstream.”
TCDD is also funding two other five-year projects that started this month, which will develop new technology to increase employment of people with disabilities. These projects, awarded to Educational Programs Inspiring Communities (EPIC) and Strategic Education Solutions (SES), will both be pilot tested in Houston. EPIC will create an interactive mobile application for use in inventory, requisitions, shipping and receiving, and similar jobs. SES will develop a virtual job coach application containing lessons on job search, applying for work and employment.
“As part of this effort, TCDD will support organizations and businesses to explore how collaboration between technology companies and people who have developmental disabilities might further increase the level of creativity involved in the design and marketing of technology,” Webb explained in written testimony. “Additionally, designers may find that collaboration with people who have disabilities enables them to create technology that is more functional for and appeals to a wider range of people. For example … the field of robotics holds great potential for helping people with significant disabilities live much more independently with fewer paid caregivers in their lives.”