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C_Griffin By Assistant Secretary for Disability Policies and Programs Christine Griffin

Over the past 25 years, we have witnessed the advent of innovative assistive technology–everything from “kneeling buses” to software for computers that speak to blind or visually-impaired individuals to video phones that allow individuals who are Deaf to sign to each other.  These and other devices have made significant strides in simplifying life for elders and people with disabilities. Simply put, “assistive technology” (AT) includes products and systems that expand the capabilities for those with functional limitations.  Each and every day, AT changes people’s lives.

As someone who has had a disability for more than 30 years and has spent many of those years advocating for increased employment opportunities for all people with disabilities, it is access to affordable assistive technology that will allow more people with disabilities to obtain and retain competitive employment.

Many AT products are designed for people with functional limitations but offer benefits to the public at large, making their design benefits truly universal. Who with a stroller or bicycle hasn’t benefited from a curb cut that’s designed to accommodate people using wheelchairs? Or voice activation software that is designed for people who are not able to use their hands? This innovation is now commercially available to the busy executive, teacher, student or even grandma. By modeling and designing products, policies and environments that are simple and accessible to the broadest possible range of  users, the thought leaders in this arena are truly creating what has become known as universal design (UD).

More than 34% of the population over the age of 65 in Massachusetts is identified as having a disability; 5.9% of residents between the ages of 5 and 17 are identified with a disability, and 8.9% of individuals between 18 and 64 are identified as having a disability. These numbers illustrate the need to adopt universal design and assistive technology within local communities across the Commonwealth.

In this interest, Governor Deval Patrick and the Executive Offices of Health and Human Services, Education, and Housing & Economic Development are co-hosting  a conference and free expo on “Products & Technologies that Change People’s Lives: Universal Design and Assistive Technology in Massachusetts” this Friday, September 23at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. The Institute for Human Centered Design is partnering with the Commonwealth to convene this event. For more information about the more than 75 assistive technology exhibitors who will participate, or to register: visit: www.changepeopleslives.org.

I hope you’ll join us for a day of thought-provoking discussion, an exchange of ideas and vision, and access to information about products that are improving the quality of all of our lives.

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