Kelly Charlebois is executive director of TechACCESS of Rhode Island. The group, based in Cranston, works to promote and support accessibility to technology for those with disabilities to strengthen their sense of independence and boost participation in everyday activities. The group is planning the Assistive Technology Conference of New England, which it hosts each year.
PBN: What would you say has been the most exciting recent innovation in the assistive technology field?
CHARLEBOIS: This is a difficult question to answer because the field is constantly changing, but I would have to say that eye-gaze technology – where a person can control a computer for communication or to control their environment [using] their eyes – and smart home technology are the most exciting.
PBN: The Assistive Technology Conference of New England is in the planning stages. Any ideas of the kind of assistive technology innovations that attendees can expect to see?
CHARLEBOIS: Yes! Our program has already been determined and can be seen at our website, www.assistivetechnologyconference.com. This year, we have several sessions on how assistive technology can be used to support STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] and a focus on smart home technologies. We also have sessions on AT for employment, transition, independent living, communication and education. This year, we also have poster sessions.
PBN: The conference’s expo page says that Rhode Island companies that employ those with disabilities will be featured. What are some of these companies?
CHARLEBOIS: The Bringing Access to Life Expo is a feature of the conference that we are very proud of. Most of our expo guests are actually the owners of their very own companies. The expo features art, floral arrangements, home décor, food items and more – all created and sold by some amazing individuals.
PBN: Your website says there have been innovations in technology for leisure and recreational activities for those with disabilities. What would some of those include?
CHARLEBOIS: While there is some technology that exists in this area, I think this is more of a cultural shift and people recognize that individuals with disabilities want to remain active in their communities and in control of their own lives.
Offering tools to make Rhode Island beaches more accessible (i.e. beach wheelchairs), or closed-captioned performances at plays or movies, or adapted yoga classes can help individuals with disabilities enjoy their leisure time and stay connected to their communities.
PBN: What is the biggest challenge in assistive technology right now?
CHARLEBOIS: Funding is always the biggest challenge with technology, particularly for adults with disabilities. While the costs of some mainstream technologies are relatively affordable, it is still out of reach for many and is a barrier to equitable access.
Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributing writer.