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By Emma Morrison, communications fellow at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services

You know when you leave your house without your Blackberry or iPhone and you get that sinking feeling?  We have all been there: the panic sets in and without your ‘smart’ phone, you feel like you are not really whole all day.  Or what about when you leave your iPod at home when you go to the gym?  I hate running without my music!  These are everyday occurrences that highlight just how much we depend on technology.  But consider for a moment you are an individual with a disability and you really do rely on assistive technology (AT) every day to make your life more independent and manageable.  Forgetting your phone for a day seems trivial doesn’t it? 

You may be surprised to find out just how many individuals in the Commonwealth live with a disability or are elders, and rely on some form of assistive technology on a daily basis.  According to the 2009 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau:

  • 5.9% of Massachusetts residents ages 5-17 have a disability
  • 8.9% of Massachusetts residents ages 18-64 have a disability
  • 34% of Massachusetts residents ages 65 and over have a disability

As all forms of technology continue to evolve, assistive technology (AT) is rapidly developing and impacts a growing number of people living with disabilities in the Commonwealth. 

Assistive or adaptive technology refers to what the U.S. Assistive Technology Act of 1998 outlines as "products, devices or equipment, whether acquired commercially, modified or customized, that are used to maintain, increase or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities."   

AT change people’s lives for the better and helps individuals live more independently.  Keith Jones and Joe McCormick are two such residents; their lives have changed considerably thanks to AT and they cannot imagine their lives without it. Keith is the President and CEO of Soul Touchin’ Experiences; Joe is a sophomore at Harvard.

Without the use of his arms, Keith uses his feet for virtually everything requiring manual dexterity. He stresses “the role of technology” and how it’s ”bridging the gap between what the American dream is for American people and what the actual American reality is for people with disabilities.”  As a result of AT innovation, Keith works from home using his iPhone, iPad and iMac – and his feet.  Keith reminds us that there’s no such thing as “we can’t do it” for people living with disabilities and elders, because, he says, the technological solutions available today have truly changed the way Keith lives and works every day.

Joe is a student at Harvard University who is legally blind.  Advents in AT have provided Joe with invaluable technological tools to study.  For example, Joe uses a Zoom-EX (a portable book scanner) to read texts and assignments and to write papers.  Joe says devices like the Zoom-EX “make me more independent, they let me do everything that anyone else can do at the same rate as them.”  Maybe I don’t rely on my iPod as much as Joe relies on his Zoom EX.

To help recognize and celebrate September as Universal Design and Assistive Technology Awareness Month, on September 23, 2011, Governor Patrick and the Executive Offices of Health and Human Services, Housing and Economic Development and Education will co-host “Products & Technologies that Change People’s Lives,” a daylong conference and exhibition of the latest developments in assistive technology, at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.  Check out the event’s website to learn more:  Everyone depends on technology, some people just a little more!

To learn more about Keith and Joe’s stories and how AT has changed their lives’ visit:

 Keith Jones: AT at work

 Joe McCormick: Learning with AT


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