Troy was able to fulfill his lifelong dream of living on his own, thanks to assistive technology through Living Opportunities. - Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Left to their own devices

Troy’s verbal communication is limited, difficult to understand. But, with assistance from an iPad, he is able to converse with a stranger via the photographs on his device.

For him, a picture is most definitely worth a thousand words. His photographs are windows into his world.

In a matter of minutes, a visitor learns that Troy has a close relationship with his parents, loves trains, and is a skilled golfer, bowler and equestrian who rides along the ocean surf and barrel races. An ardent Oregon Ducks fan, he scrolls through photo galleries reliving the thrill of attending football and basketball games in Eugene. His body language speaks volumes as he shows off photos of his beloved companion dog Bee.

For those without disabilities, technology makes life easier. For individuals with intellectual, developmental and/or physical disabilities, technology is life-changing.

Troy’s high-tech, hand-held device and the myriad applications installed on it have unlocked the barriers he ran up against on his way to independence. Eight years ago, after receiving his first iPad, the 41-year-old finally realized his dream of living on his own.

Technology also has helped Troy become a team player. His iPad assists him at Living Opportunities, where he receives support services and is employed as a courier. He distributes mail and other items to a dozen locations, including other Living Opportunities sites and the organization’s community partners.

IPads and iPhones are just two of the assistive technologies being used to help individuals such as Troy secure employment, gain independence, build relationships and maintain healthier lifestyles.

While some Living Opportunities clients still require 24/7 supported living, Troy can live on his own with daily check-ins with his family and job coach via Facetime.

He has a grocery app to assist him with shopping and meal planning, and another app called Fitness Pal helps him track food intake and monitor glucose levels to keep his pre-diabetic condition in check. He also uses the Fitness Pal to log his physical activity during sessions at the YMCA.

With preprogrammed menus and prerecorded responses, Troy is able to order meals at his favorite fast-food restaurants.

At home, Troy has security devices to alert his family if there is an intruder, along with fire and smoke alarms specially designed to give him verbal cues.

An automated toothbrush reminds him to brush his teeth for two minutes, and a picture calendar gives him a visual of his daily routine.

The newfound ability to communicate also gives Troy the means to advocate for himself.

Technology “optimizes the choice and control people have over their own lives — choices they didn’t know they had,” said Jason Curtright, a residential support staff member with Living Opportunities.

Assistive technology is any software, equipment or tool that helps people with intellectual, developmental and/or physical disabilities enhance their lives.

Amber Robles, director of employment services at Living Opportunities, explained that assistive technology can be rudimentary models, templates or jigs at workstations that aid folks who don’t read, don’t know how to count, are blind or have poor motor skills.

She believes that everyone can work and that there is a job for everyone.

“Our job is to be creative and tenacious in providing support,” she said. “We assist in designing the best fit.”

David Van Hook, an information technology specialist with Living Opportunities, sees assistive technologies as opportunities “to bridge the gap and break down artificial barriers.”

Using a person-centric focus, the wants, needs and skill sets of each individual are assessed and the technology designed and developed to fit the individual — not the other way around.

“If one solution doesn’t work, we find new products, approaches and innovations that best fit the client,” said Van Hook.

The more the technology is customized, the more successful the client will become.

Brian Johnson, Living Opportunities’ director of consulting, leads a team helping other organizations, schools, government agencies and families develop personalized systems for communication, job training, personal care and behavior management.

The goal, he said, is for individuals with disabilities to earn competitive wages, integrate into the community, advocate for themselves and become valued members in the workplace and community.

Technology, he added, helps clients with inclusion and structuring a better life.

Interactive digital technology also helps many clients with self-direction and self-management, which can mitigate problematic or dangerous behaviors.

Rayne, 23, also receives support services through Living Opportunities and lives in one of the group homes managed by the Medford-based nonprofit.

He is nonverbal, but “he has a lot to say,” said Curtright, who has worked with the young man for the past seven years.

Rayne’s frustration with being unable to communicate his preferences, wishes, desires and thoughts led to acting out behaviors. He also had poor motor skills, struggled with simple daily routines and required cues from staff to complete tasks.

“Understandably, he had some difficulties in life,” said Curtright.

Before his iPad, Rayne used laminated pictures to communicate.

“But, there were not enough to express all the desires and thoughts he had in the course of a day,” said Curtright.

Rayne’s first assistive technology only added more aggravation.

The large, heavy, table-top Dynavox communication device was “a brick with buttons that were nearly impossible to push.”

“You had to practically stand on the buttons,” said Curtright.

Rayne has been able to fine-tune his motor skills and can manipulate the screens on his iPad.

His apps help him with personal hygiene and grooming, and he also orders his own meals in restaurants and selects his favorite movies and music.

Rayne’s trips to the doctor and the dentist are less of a challenge, said Curtright. His device can distract him and keep him calm “in spaces where he would have been overstimulated in the past.”

He also can communicate with the doctor.

“He utilizes (his iPad) for everything,” said Curtright.

Rayne’s biggest breakthrough came when he could finally have a “conversation” with his mother by hitting buttons to vocalize responses.

He was 17 or 18 years old, said Curtright, when he told his mother that he loved her for the first time.

A heart cued him to vocalize “I love you Mom” — words she had never heard.

“The look on his face and hers … Rayne was super excited, super happy. He hit the button again and laughed.

“It was a huge moment.”

A moment made especially poignant because it came on Mother’s Day.

Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at

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