The pandemic is a wake-up call for all people to be connected by technology, especially people with disabilities.
At the same time, technology statistics show that society could better serve people with disabilities who need new technology and training to help them gain more independence.
According to recent research, people with disabilities:
• comprise about 23 percent of all adults in Massachusetts;
• across the state, more than 20,000 residents are caring for a family member with an intellectual or developmental disability at home;
• are far less likely to use the internet, at 54 percent, compared with 81 percent of adults without disabilities;
• and less likely to own a desktop or laptop computer, at 67 percent for ages 18 to 64, compared with 84 percent of nondisabled people of the same age group.
These statistics — from the Massachusetts Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, Pew Research Center, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — show that many people with disabilities are left behind. Technology is vital to survive during this crisis and to function in society. For people who report having computers, many lack the knowledge and training necessary to make them work optimally. They report bandwidth and connectivity problems, as wells as hardware and software issues.
UCP of Western Massachusetts has an answer: its brand new Community Tech Support Center.
It offers tech set up, training and ongoing technical support for people with disabilities, who have received hardware and computers from Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission Vocational Rehabilitation program. Many of the services can be handled remotely, and the service is free, serving people from Pittsfield to Worcester. This program enables people to adjust to the new "online" normal — helping them seek employment and fill out job applications online, take college courses and conduct online job training.
“This type of service is useful and practical for the entire family,” says Sal Garozzo, executive director of UCP's Western Massachusetts office.
With such a large percentage of the population reporting a disability, this takes a toll on the entire family unit, Garozzo notes. He wants the Western Massachusetts region to know that UCP stands ready to help.
“We’re here each step of the way for families, while we connect them with vital community resources to overcome their challenges,” Garozzo says.
The agency operates two Family Support Centers in Pittsfield and North Adams, which provide care at all stages and ages of life with programming for children, students, adults and seniors. Its newest family program, serving nearby Franklin and Hampshire counties, called Intensive Flexible Family Support, provides help for families experiencing crisis situations, which could result in children being at-risk.
Garozzo notes that support areas include food stamps, fuel assistance, social security, health insurance or financial assistance.
In addition, UCP offers assistive technology across all of the agency’s programming throughout Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties.
If you or a loved one receives state Vocational Rehabilitation services and need technical support, call Elano Dallmeyer at the Community Tech Support Center at 413-442-1562, ext. 113, or toll free at 844-393-9333. For information on Employment Services, visit mass.gov/vocational-rehabilitation. For Family Support Services, call Jennifer Summers at 413-664-9345, ext. 228. Visit ucpwma.org for more.