Closing the Tech Skills Gap for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
By Terry Z. Long, Chief Executive Officer, The Arc Southern Maryland
Looking for a job, learning how to type, using an ATM, creating a budget, or making social connections online – these are all skills many of us take for granted as technology is so ingrained in our everyday life.
However, for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), accessing these skills can be a challenge. That’s why The Arc has partnered with Comcast NBCUniversal to create Tech Coaching Centers across the country, including at The Arc Southern Maryland to put tech in the hands of people with I/DD, along with individualized instruction and support to help them pursue goals that are important to them. We’re one of six affiliates of The Arc in the country to be selected by our national office and Comcast NBCUniversal to launch a Tech Coaching Center, and by 2019, a total of 16 centers will be up and running nationwide.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly reports that the percentage of working-age people with disabilities in the labor force is about one-third that of persons with no disability. In our Prince Frederick community, like many others, people with I/DD are focused on finding and keeping a job, learning tech skills like how to submit a resume online that can lead to that job, or how to type or use various computer programs commonly used in the workplace. Once they have an income, basic tasks like using an ATM or tracking banking online can be a challenge. Through our Tech Coaching Center, participants are gaining skills through interactive learning. Here are a few examples:
Samantha works for The Arc Southern Maryland part time, helping to cover the front desk and office manager duties during our office manager’s lunch breaks. She has a bachelor’s degree from Edinboro University. In the Tech Coaching Center, she is working on using online tools like Indeed to find a full-time job.
Another participant, Amy, recently landed a job working for World Gym, in part due to the interview and online job application skills she learned in the center. She also enjoys making slideshows of photos showcasing her accomplishments cheerleading in the Special Olympics.
Casey, who has already authored one book, hopes to use our center to write and publish a second one. She also enjoys shopping at Build-A-Bear. She’s learned how to look up what’s available online prior to going into the store and purchasing a bear.
Our Tech Coaching Center students are also sharing the skills they learned with other individuals we support. One program participant, Ember, has assisted others in creating presentations. Casey has taught formatting techniques to other students who were typing up poems they had written.
With eight new computers and other equipment, thanks to Comcast NBCUniversal’s support, we are now serving a need that will lead to skills that support people with I/DD to be a bigger part of their community, and lead to greater independence.