Families at the Forefront of Technology Conference

By Sallie Bernard – June 20, 2017

Breakthrough technologies were presented by a dynamic group of exceptional speakers and exhibitors at the annual Families at the Forefront of Technology for Special Needs Conference in Snowmass Village June 2 – 4. Speakers from the Coleman Institute, Google, The Arc of Colorado, expert consultants, and various universities as well as families and advocates, provided information on technology that can be used today. Here are just a few highlights from the conference, which is held annually each year in Snowmass, Colorado.

Biosensing Devices
Matthew Goodwin, PhD, Associate Professor at Northeastern Technology Institute, spoke about new technologies for identifying and understanding more impactful support strategies for those on the autism spectrum. Goodwin talked of devices with biosensing activity that help those on the autism spectrum with facial and emotional recognition–both in practicing their own facial expressions and identifying expressions in others. The computerized device can help compensate for social communications deficits and help an individual learn how to use facial expressions.

In addition, Goodwin presented wearable biosensor technology that “can predict with about 79-80 percent accuracy based on the last three minutes of your physiology whether or not you are going to aggress to someone else or aggress to yourself” within the next minute. This enables aggressive behavior to be self-regulating or to be regulated by a support person.

Google Accessibility
Robin Pegg, MEd, COTA/L, ATP consults on assistive technologies in the classroom for individuals with disabilities. She explained that through Google Accessibility, Bookshare, Tumblebooks, WordQ, and other services, there are free or low cost tools available to make material easier to access or translate to a different level. For example, a textbook or piece of literature can be shown in larger type or with a contrasting background or read out loud enabling a person with a disability to follow along independently. Other app features can change the reading level of a text, for example, changing a book or article from a college-level reader to an 8th grade reading level, so that content can be understood by everyone.

Competitive Employment
Thanks to the Workforce Investment Opportunity Act which became a law in July 2014, there is an expectation that anyone can be competitively employed. Presenter Shaun Woods of the Washington Initiative on Supported Employment, described the many transitional services provided by schools, as well as Vocational Rehabilitation state grant programs that assist individuals with disabilities in obtaining employment administered by the Department of Education.

Proloquo2Go
With the help of Larysa Miller, Ascendigo’s Life Enrichment Clinical Coordinator, Zach, one of our clients, demonstrated how to use Proloque2Go, a symbol-based communication app for children, teens and adults who cannot speak. Zach uses the app to order at a restaurant, to talk to his coaches, to talk about his inner feelings, and to journal. Zach and Larysa were part of a self-advocates panel at the conference. Panel members explained how they are using technology in everyday lives.

Paralympic Athlete Uses Computer to Walk
Featured speaker Jon Lujan, Sochi Paralympic Athlete and Wounded Warrior, inspired the audience on how anyone can succeed regardless of disability. Lujan has a computer device which helps him walk. Lujan was wounded in Iraq serving as a Marine. He now competes as an alpine skier.

Note: Sallie Bernard, founder of Ascendigo Autism Services, is a founding member of Families at the Forefront of Technology for Special Needs and also serves on the steering committee. Ascendigo has sponsored the FFT Conference for the last three years.

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