Bethesda Health Group is using smart-home technolog

A digital lifeline

Bethesda Health Group is using smart-home technology to help foster independence for those with disabilities 

By Brett Auten

As we have not only entered, but planted our flag in the digital and information age, smart technology can unlock the outside world for the intellectually and developmentally disabled.

For those with disabilities, having accessible homes is a major factor in promoting independence and having the freedom to live to their liking. Creating a truly accessible home has become easier thanks to smart-home technology.

Bethesda Health Group is currently piloting a person-centered, outcome-based approach to integrate technology in licensed group homes in St. Peters and St. Louis. There are a variety of assistive technologies being used and monitored and how the pilot programs will inform the next steps in the integration.

Blossom Mahan is a Qualified Developmental Disability Professional with Bethesda who works with the people supported at the homes located in St. Peters. Mahan has witnessed how both the individuals supported and staff alike use the technology in pilot homes on a daily basis to support independence.

“The technology has not only fostered independence but also accountability,” Mahan said. “We have seen an increase in engagement. At first, the residents were a little hesitant and unsure about using it and the staff thought that it was just added job duties. But both have bonded over it and it has increased communication on all levels.”

Barb Silver-Thorn, a Bethesda Technologist, leads the assistive technology pilot programs throughout the country.

In particular, Bethesda is testing voice command technology such as Amazon’s Alexa, tablets and two-way video technology that can assist with tasks such as turning on the lights, making a phone call or even writing a grocery list and searching for recipes.

“The use is dependent on the individual,” Silver-Thorn said. “Some individuals know what they want but they have difficulty putting together a shopping list and don’t have a way to get to the store. For others, the mere challenge of even getting out can be stressful. It is empowering; you can match the right need with the right technology.”

Mahan said that the Bethesda staff have found value with the technology as they are able to continuously add and update appointments along with traffic and weather updates.

Recently, there have been several adapted software programs and apps created to meet the needs of those who are intellectually disabled to promote their self-determination and social participation.

As smart-home technology continues to gain in popularity, availability and affordability, there is a greater effort to implement a wide range of assistive tools and services that allows people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to lead a more autonomous and independent life.

Two of the more popular systems are the Amazon Echo and Smart Lock.

The Amazon Echo is an ideal starting point for any smart home setup. The Echo family of products allow you to control devices in your house using your voice. You can also download the Amazon Alexa app for your smart phone, and use it to control your devices when you’re not home.

August Smart Lock has streamlined the keypad concept. Smart Lock uses each user’s smart phone as a key. You can give users admin, guest, or temporary access, or even limit the days and times they can enter the home. The app keeps a log of who has entered your home and when, so you can confirm your kids or home health aide arrived on time and removal of access can be done in seconds.

The Internet and a smart phone provide access to tools that can transform environments. These mere conveniences, like Uber or GrubHub, for the non-disabled can be life-changing for those who are.

CUTLINE: Photos provided by Bethesda Health Group

Cover-tech1 Brenda is using technology devised like tablets and Amazon’s Alexa to schedule reminders and keep track of appointments.

Cover-tech2Technology like Amazon’s Alexa can help those with disabilities to search for recipes and create shopping lists.

Cover-tech3 Jeff uses two-way video technology to increase independence.