Cloud Computing and People with Cognitive Disabilities

Computer Monitor with Sky Blue Screen

I’m here at the University of Colorado in Boulder at a fascinating two-day conference on cloud computing for people with cognitive disabilities. Hosted by the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities and others, the conference focuses on envisioning a future in which people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) use cloud technology to support every day activities. “Cloud computing?” you may ask. What is cloud computing, and what is the relationship to supporting people with I/DD?

Cloud computing is real and is already happening. According to Wikipedia, “Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet).” Think of internet-based tools such as Google docs, Picasa photos, on-line education, or paying a speeding ticket online. Online banking. Applications on your cell phone. Remote supports in residential settings that use off-site monitoring. Smart homes. These are all examples of cloud technology.

Families connected to I/DD need to be aware of the impending crisis: there are not enough personal support staff to go around for all of the estimated 8 million people with I/DD, many of whom are living with aging parents. Add to that equation the rising aging population that will be competing for care attendants. The writing is on the wall – there are fewer government resources to pay for traditional support services for people with I/DD as we know them today. As a result, we need to be looking at alternative solutions to support needs now. Developers of cloud technology are working on supports for people with I/DD that include family involvement and partnerships, supported and customized employment, recreation and leisure, remote therapies and counseling, health promotion, fiscal management, and many other daily supports. While the research is largely catching up to this digital revolution, early indications are that cloud technology advances the independence and self determination of people with I/DD. While this technology will never replace the one-on-one supports needed by those with significant support needs, for many others cloud technology represents a new way of achieving personal goals and moving through day to day activities, with less reliance on others.

The Arc’s Research and Innovations Department will be highlighting cloud technology on a regular basis. Good places to get information online are the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII), Ablelink Technologies, and the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities.