Project Name
Access to Technology-Creating Connections in a Time of Social Distancing

Areas of Emphasis 
Quality Assurance and training in self-advocacy, leadership, and self-determination

Project/activity year

Population of focus
People with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Strategies used 
Barrier Elimination, Systems Design, and Redesign
Other activities

Project Description
The Council began making moves towards more digital/virtual development of information and resource development and dissemination during this five-year planning cycle and moved almost exclusively to a virtual/digital format during the pandemic. One drawback to this change in format is the fact that many Kansans with I/DD did not have access to technology or broadband internet. To overcome this barrier, KCDD initiated an Access to Technology project that offered self-advocates a smart phone and data plan so they could participate in online training opportunities offered by the Council as well as connect with other self-advocates, friends, and family members to overcome loneliness and isolation due to social distancing measures during the pandemic.

Twenty-three individuals participated in the project. When talking with providers and self-advocates, it was found that low participation rates were due, largely, to the number of iPads that KDADS had made available to waiver participants (over 4,000 across all waivers). Almost universally, project participants said that having access to the smartphone made them feel safer and provided them with the opportunity to reconnect with friends and family during social distancing measures.

Impact (or impact-to-date) of the project/activity for people with ID/DD and their families
The Council had initially expected that project participants would increase social connectivity in Council sponsored activities such as a Virtual Coffee House via Zoom. (Zoom was preinstalled on all phones prior to delivery to project participants.) The Council soon learned that independent use of the phones dramatically increased personal independence of project participants and allowed them to make social connections on their own terms in the communities of their choice.

Story perspective
Person with ID/DD

What were things like BEFORE you/your family/partner/community participated in the project/activity?
Project participants did not have mobile broadband internet access and weren’t able to connect with the outside world with limited options for support from healthcare and support providers.

What are things like AFTER you/family/partner/community participated in the project/activity?
One project participant reported that they were able to obtain competitive, integrated employment as a result of the phone because she was now able to access public transportation and felt safe riding the bus to work with the aid of navigation apps and having the ability to contact support if she needed help. Another project participant noted that they increased their independent living skills by being able to use the phone to participate in an online cooking class offered by their local Center for Independent Living. One targeted case manager reported to KCDD staff that a project participant was able to independently contact them for the first time ever without support (and/or interference) from the service provider.

KCDD chose phones for the project that had reported long battery life, up to three days on a single charge. This was vitally important for one participant whose community experienced an ice storm and he and his family were without power for a couple of days when water pipes froze and flooded their house. This participant said the phone was the only access they, and their family, had to the outside world and allowed them to be safe and get help and repairs started.

Two separate project participants noted that they experienced better health outcomes after experiencing a seizure as they would use word games (one used find-a-word app and another used a Bible verse app) and math apps to help reorient themselves after having a seizure. One project participant with diabetes reported that access to the smartphone allowed her to eat healthier meals because she could now have groceries delivered to her home. She noted that before this option was available to her, she would struggle with grocery shopping because of her difficulty walking due to nerve damage in her feet from her diabetic condition. This same participant also reported that the phone allowed her to contact support to help her in her home when she would fall. Prior, the participant said that they would lay on the floor, sometimes for hours, yelling for help until one of her neighbors would hear her and call 911 for emergency services to help her.

Participants also reported being able to explore personal interests and hobbies on their phone that they hadn’t had a change to do before; one participant relayed that they were a lifelong Elvis fan, and the phone allowed them to virtually visit and connect with other Elvis fans.
What was most beneficial to you/family/partner/community from participating in this project or practice?
While project participants didn’t connect with the Council and Council activities to the extent that originally anticipated, the Council was encouraged by participants reporting that the phones helped them overcome social isolation during periods of social distancing throughout the pandemic. Participants reported connecting with friends and family members who they hadn’t spoken to in years.

Role of the DD Council in achieving positive outcomes through this project.
The Council soon learned that independent use of the phones dramatically increased personal independence of project participants and allowed them to make social connections on their own terms in the communities of their choice.

Contact Information
Craig Knutson
(785) 296-1980
Council location