BOARDMAN — In past years, a person with a developmental disability had to have a caregiver on hand to help with daily life.
Today, thanks to changing technology, that person can live more independently and still function in a safe environment. That technology is on display at the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities’ “Tech House” in Boardman.
The house features a vast array of devices and technology that can be demonstrated to clients. Depending on needs, one, several or all of the technology can be used to make for a happy, worry-free life, board officials said.
“The Tech House has been up and running for about eight months now,” said MCBDD service and support administrator supervisor George Gabriel. “The house enables our clients to visualize and experience the devices available.”
Gabriel said the idea came from a $10,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities. Because of the grant, MCBDD was able to develop four technical experts who were trained in the latest technologies. The four trained experts were titled service and support administrators.
To showcase the technology available, the SSAs needed a place to house it all.
“It started in my office with just a few devices,” Gabriel said.
To display the wide range of technology would require a lot more room, so why not a house? Gabriel said Medina and Cuyahoga counties each have a tech house. As for the MCBDD, it didn’t have one yet, but a house on Glenwood Avenue behind the Boardman Plaza already was owned by the MCBDD. According to Gabriel, it served as a group home, but two years ago, it was vacated.
“We were going to use it as a COVID-19 respite home, but with technology now at the forefront, we said, let’s do this,” Gabriel said.
With the grant, Gabriel said vendors were approached about their technology and devices that could benefit those with developmental disabilities and who want to be more independent. The response was overwhelming, and companies such as THS, Wynn-Wreath, and Safe-N-Home jumped on board and offered training on their devices.
Over the past eight months, the home in Boardman was filled with high-tech devices and now serves as a showroom for things that can make life more comfortable for a person with disabilities. The tech starts at the front door.
“We have four different hubs in the house to manage devices and run the house,” said SSA Guy Young.
He said hubs like Alexa are used to do everything from seeing who’s at the door, to raising or lowering blinds, turning on lights, turning on a television or playing music.
In the bedroom, devices amplify already existing warning devices. A special bed is connected to a device that senses smoke and carbon monoxide. When one of those devices goes off, the sensor turns on a motor connected to the bed that shakes it violently, waking the person up so they can get out of the house.
Another interesting device is a control box that sits on top of the stove. The device senses the burners are on, and if no action takes place around the stove, the gas is automatically shut off.
Items in the kitchen and bathroom, such as the microwave, a soap dispenser and the faucet, can be turned on by simply speaking to one of the hubs.
Some of the tech tools are standalone devices such as pill dispensers that can dispense two weeks of pills, or pour devices with pitchers for those who may have shaking hands.
Other advanced tools include some that are not electronic. There are straps that can help hold a spoon or fork for those who want to feed themselves. There are jar lid openers that allow for more pressure, or even an automatic opener that does all the work by itself.
The technologies and devices available today are almost endless and the tech house has most of them, Gabriel said, adding it all comes down to matching the right items with the right client.
“It starts when a person with a disability shows interest,” he said. “They are met by one of our SSAs, who helps them select what fits best in their life, then a team meeting is held and the person is set up with the selected devices and technology.”
Young said six months after the client is set up, a review is done to ensure the devices and technology are working for them and to see if any further devices may be helpful.
Gabriel said a lot of clients have already toured the home and are working with the SSA. He said the program may be expanded when schools return later this month.
“We want to open this house up for special-needs teachers, so they can see what is available,” Gabriel said.
He added that down the road the tech house could be made available for those in homes for the elderly. It could also be used as a test house.
“Right now there is no one living there,” Gabriel said. “We hope to get to the point that we can have people spend a week here to see what works for them.”
For now, the Tech House will serve to showcase what is available in a hands-on format.
“The Tech House enables us to visualize and see devices,” Young said. “It is better than just seeing a review online.”