Using Technology to Empower People With Special Needs

chris_benson_and_kidsBy Elise Hough, CEO, Easter Seals Greater Houston

Without therapy, training or intervention, people with disabilities can face lifelong challenges. That includes millions of children with disabilities, and for many of them it is not a lack of intelligence or ability, but a lack of training, education or access to the tools and technology that limits their futures.

Consider the Gonzalez family, whom I met a few months ago in my office at Easter Seals Greater Houston. The two youngest Gonzalez children, ages 5 and 6, are healthy, funny and talkative,while the two older children, Matthew, 9, and Matilda, 11, can neither walk nor talk. When we met, their mother told us that Matthew and Matilda were assumed to be very low functioning because of their significant physical disabilities. Unfortunately, they were never given an assessment to determine if technology could help them. It could.eric_ferazzi_and_friend

Within the first 15 minutes of working with an Easter Seals specialist, Matthew, who has limited use of his hands, was using a touch screen on a communication device. Matilda, who can only control the movement in her eyes, was using a communication device powered by her eye gaze. They both sped through the basics – “yes” and “no,” then four-word sentences, and then on to more complex communication. Within minutes, they were communicating, for the first time in their lives, with their mother and siblings.

This is the sort of life-changing impact we have every day at Easter Seals Houston, in part due to the support of our community and partners like Comcast who understand that we all deserve an opportunity to succeed.

Last year, Easter Seals Houston received a grant from the Comcast Foundation to support our BridgingApps Project, which helps families, like the Gonzalez’s, bridge the gap between technology and people with disabilities.Comcast’s support allowed us to significantly expand in-person services and our website content, which reached over 20,000 users each month. The grant also helped us expand the project to Austin and the Rio Grande Valley in collaboration with Easter Seals Central Texas and Easter Seals Rio Grande Valley.tcea-conference-2

With the impact of projects like ours in Houston, Comcast broadened its support last January by naming Easter Seals its newest national partner, launching the Comcast Assistive Technology Grant Fund to support Easter Seals affiliates who are working to bring technology resources to individuals and families. The partnership also includes airtime for public service announcements to raise awareness of Easter Seals’ services, particularly our early intervention programs such as Make the First Five Count. We are thrilled about our partnership with Comcast, which this year will allow us to develop a year-long “camp” for children with disabilities, siblings and parents to learn how to use technology focused on improving communication, and support other Easter Seals projects across the country that are helping children and individuals with special needs achieve the best quality of life.



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