The Internet and assistive technology have the incredible power to level the playing field for people with disabilities. To advance digital equity means to provide vital connections to friends, family, and support networks; in a nutshell – to combat social isolation and barriers to achievement through technology and education.
With its tagline “All Abilities, Limitless Possibilities” Easterseals Washington prioritizes the use of technology, including connectivity and training, throughout all its service lines. Access to the internet and its many applications is key to helping everyone we serve establish and reach their individual goals. One in four Americans has a disability, whether apparent or invisible to others, and everyone should be able to chart their own course regardless of ability.
26 years ago, I started my career with Easterseals Washington as a direct service provider to help people with disabilities get jobs, and through their achievements, improve their lives. That incredibly rewarding work has fueled me every day to lead our organization with our participants’ potential in mind. I’ve watched the internet, devices, and software rapidly evolve and enable our job seekers, students, and program participants to create their own video résumés, apply for jobs online, access spoken language through communication devices, and reconnect with family members across the world via email and social media.
While strides have been made to bring digital equity to people with disabilities, there is still substantial work to be done. According to Pew Research, a quarter of people with disabilities say they never go online, and more than half say they do not have a home broadband subscription (American Association of People with Disabilities).
As part of our dedication to providing technology access to people of all abilities, Easterseals Washington recently partnered with Comcast to open a Lift Zone Lab: Community Learning Space at our Gateway Adult Services facility in Bremerton. It will facilitate digital literacy training for adults with disabilities including sensory, physical, intellectual, and disabilities due to aging. The sky is the limit, with expected outcomes to include monumental gains in participants’ communication, memory, job development, community access, overall independence, computer literacy, motor skills, and so much more.
The Lift Zone Lab is furnished with a variety of technology and assistive devices to tailor the digital experience for each individual. For example, a person with autism will work with virtual reality to overcome anxieties associated with public interaction; and clients with mobility challenges will build independence by learning to operate Smart Home devices, and by accessing them with adaptive equipment.
The Lab’s assistive technology inventory includes:
- Jelly Bean Switches – Make navigating more accessible by using switches to toggle items and more easily select what users are looking for.
- Tetra Mouse – Allows for using a mouse and navigation on a computer by using one’s mouth.
- GlassOuse Wearable Mouse – Worn like a pair of glasses and connects to mobile phones, computers, tablets, and Smart TVs via Bluetooth to revolutionize the technology used for those with restricted mobility.
- Accessible Desks & Device Holders – All desks and device holders are fully adjustable depending on the individual’s needs.
The Lift Zone Lab project achieves an objective in Easterseals Washington’s current Strategic Plan by forming key partnerships that increase equity for people with disabilities in every aspect of life. We envision activation of similar labs around the state in the near future.
I often say that we need to do away with the “do-for” in disability services. Assistive technology, internet access, and funding for training empowers people with disabilities to do things that they never imagined. It allows us, as service providers, to know that we have done more than provide care – we have provided inspiration, challenge, and change.
Connectivity and accessible technology will continue to become more important for people of all abilities. Our mission is to stay on top of the best tools and techniques so that people with disabilities can stay on top of achieving their dreams.