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The Arc of Massachusetts has been advocating for the Commonwealth to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities when necessary to ensure equal access to the COVID-19 vaccine. We’re thrilled to report that the Commonwealth and local Boards of Health have developed a statewide program to offer in-home vaccinations for homebound individuals who cannot leave their home to get to a vaccination site.
Home and community-based services will get a boost through the latest American Rescue Plan, which is much-needed but only provides funding for one year. Congress must get behind pending legislation to provide dedicated and continued supports for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Without these supports, we will not move the needle on inclusion and equity.
Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Task Force
The Innovation and Technology Task Force (Task Force) is a partnership between the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Department of Developmental Services (DDS), Massachusetts Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP), and The Arc of Massachusetts (The Arc).
From October 2019 to January 2021, The Arc of Massachusetts (The Arc) spearheaded an Innovation and Technology Task Force (Task Force) and drafted a Technology Forward report to identify needs and recommendations regarding innovative programs and supportive technology to benefit people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including autism. We would like to recognize how the work of other states like Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), Minnesota, and others – that launched similar task forces/committees recognizing access to technology as a right and priority for the I/DD community – helped Massachusetts develop its framework for our Task Force. Before setting up our task force, we reviewed many innovative and technology focused programs for people with disabilities from across the country.
In Massachusetts, we established the Task Force as a partnership between the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Department of Developmental Services (DDS), Massachusetts Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP), and The Arc. We wanted to ensure we were examining inventive programs for our community within the purview of what was attainable and cost efficient by DDS (and other state government agencies) and service providers. Our 24 Task Force members represented diverse roles and perspectives from the I/DD disability community and service delivery system. The Task Force formed three programmatic subcommittees – Employment & Day Subcommittee, Residential Subcommittee, and Family Supports Subcommittee – to focus on specific guidance related to employment and day supports as well as residential and family supports.
We began the task force in October 2019 with the intention of preparing a report for the spring of 2020; however, our plan was interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the immense challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, it also illustrated supportive technology’s potential in bridging the access issues across healthcare, education, employment training and social connections, as well as helping to lessen the impact of social isolation, service interruption and caregiver burden. The pandemic forced service provider organizations that support people with disabilities to enter virtual programming rapidly with little preparation or training, highlighting the necessity for a thoughtful and strategic approach. We took all this information learned and developed a Technology Forward plan to 1) Build Supportive Technology Competency & Capacity in Massachusetts and 2) Outline Recommendations to Develop a Supportive Technology Pilot Program.
Due to our Task Force’s work, the FY’21 and proposed FY’22 DDS budget includes a technology “line item” totaling $500,000. In addition, DDS and Massachusetts’s Medicaid Program (MassHealth) are currently negotiating with the federal government for new technology services in our Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) waivers to ensure a federal funding match. The purpose of the state’s 2021 proposed HCBS amendments is to “Add Remote Supports as a waiver service, expand the scope of the existing Individualized Home Supports waiver service, expand the scope of the existing Assistive Technology waiver service, and increase flexibility for certain waiver related administrative activities to occur remotely/via telehealth.” Also, a request for proposals was released for Massachusetts service provider agencies to begin work in this area. The Arc and ADDP continues to meet with EOHHS and DDS about our Technology Forward plan.
The Task Force’s mission includes addressing the following needs and objectives:
- Use individually tailored technology to increase independence of people with I/DD and autism.
- Discover efficiencies and increase effectiveness of services.
- Focus on human and civil rights regarding communication and preferences.
- Expand the number of people with disabilities who receive services.
- Address the role AT can play in remediating an uneven transition of persons with I/DD & autism to adult life (e.g., approximately 1,250 persons graduating from high school annually request services from DDS).
- Address shortage of qualified direct support professionals.
- Evolve a system of supports based on person centered goals and needs.
- Promote equity using technology.
One of the challenges to friendships developing between people with and without disabilities is simply the discomfort—even fear—that people often have when faced with someone with whom they are unfamiliar. Appearances, behaviors, adaptive equipment, communication issues, etc. have all been identified as things that “get in the way” of relationships.