Technology and the environment: supportive resource or barrier for people with developmental disabilities?

      Our society has witnessed an exponential growth in information and the technologies to identify, access, and utilize this information. At the same time, separate assistive technologies (AT) have been developed to enable people with disabilities to access information and control their environment. Recently, the disability and technology design communities have questioned the concept of separate development; that is, the development of technology for persons with disabilities as distinctively different from design for the rest of society. Instead, they have advocated for universal design—design of products and environments for use by all people. Technologies, such as accessible Internet/World Wide Web interfaces, and age-friendly access-ready community environments have the potential to open additional doors to available information, personal control, and equitable participation for people with developmental disabilities. Such technologies and environments, whether assistive or universally designed, hold great promise for people with developmental disabilities who seek to live and participate in the community across the life span. These technologies, however, also carry a significant cost in relation to the financial resources needed to obtain them, the systems to implement them, and the social investment needed to support and sustain their use over time. Thus, technology has the potential to be a “bane” or a “boon” for people with disabilities and, in turn, for others in their everyday social worlds. As demonstrated by the quotations at the start of this article, assistive technology can make a significant difference in a person's life. Unfortunately, whether that person gets access to needed technology in the first place or to what extent it is supported over time is closely connected to the social environment and the level of support it affords. The quotations also illustrate the key role nurses and other health care professionals play in this process as members of that social environment, including the power they may have in determining AT need relative to life decisions such as community living.
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