State aims to rely more on tech, less on staff, to support people with disabilities

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GREENEVILLE, TN (WJHL)- Facing challenges to find caregivers, the state is now turning to technology to support people with disabilities.

Last week we told you about Carl Lipford, a man with disabilities who is now living independently thanks to a new home equipped with supportive technology. Some of the features in his home include a video doorbell, a sensor that sends an alert if the stove or other appliances are left on, and a bracelet he wears that alerts staff with just the push of a button.

Lipford is the first to live on his own through the “Enabling Technology” program.

Cara Kumari with the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities said the DIDD has received a recurring amount of $500,000 to expand the program. DIDD launched the pilot program last year, studying how to best use technology to support people with disabilities.

“We had people who received services through the DIDD programs that can and want to be more independent. They don’t want staff 24 hours they want to live by themselves and many people have the ability to do that with just a little bit of technological support,” Kumari said.

Kumari said DIDD is aiming to help create “technology first” agencies, with the goal of one in each region.

“An agency would commit to use technology as the first option for supporting people, they would look at everyone they support, say what could we do with technology, and then where do we need to have staff,” Kumari said.

She said this is, in part, an answer to a big issue they see when looking for staff.

“As the economy’s improved, it’s been harder and harder to find people who want to be on the front lines of supporting people with disabilities,” Kumari said.

Kumari said DIDD aims to spread the use of supportive technology statewide. Kumari said the state is also developing a model home in Greeneville so people can see for themselves what technology can do. She said they hope to have it done in the fall.

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