Assistive Technology conference set for Feb. 3

By Niraj Parikh       

As I work alongside members and staff, integrating assistive technology (AT) into the culture at Gompers, I have noticed many positive changes.

Students in our school who were basically nonverbal now talk, sometimes in full sentences. A handful of individuals in our Employment Services center whose physical abilities provided a barrier to performing simple tasks now are able to work. And a couple of members in our Day Training for Adults program with limited to no manual dexterity now are finding it possible to loom and to paint, respectively.

lift chair photoAll of this was made possible through assistive technology, whether we’re talking about SMART Boards and iPad apps or lower-tech devices developed by staff.

Everyone here is excited about the positive differences AT has made — so much so, in fact, that Gompers is hosting an assistive technology conference in the near future.

“Developmental Disabilities and AT: Learning Workshops” is set for 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, at Gompers. Dr. Larry Latham, assistant director of Arizona’s Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), will be our keynote speaker at the event. We also will have breakout sessions and a selection of vendors who will bring AT products that event attendees can see and try out to understand how they work.kelly looms As we move forward with assistive technology at Gompers, we have learned the focus on AT can be increased with clients who have developmental disabilities in Arizona.  That is a large part of the reason we are hosting this conference. We want to engage individuals who work on a daily basis with people who have mild to severe developmental disabilities.

We will be limited to 50 attendees, so we want to be sure we are reaching DDD case managers, supervisors, support coordinators and any others working in the trenches to benefit individuals with disabilities. It’s important for these people to have an education in what AT is so they can advocate at the state level to benefit the people they are entrusted with serving.

In many ways, Arizona is a great state for those we serve. Through the Arizona Long Term Care System, or ALTCS, individuals with disabilities are covered to receive services provided through the state.  Many other states do not offer similar benefits. However, because federal mandates provide a narrow definition of what assistive technology is, augmentative communication devices are one of the few AT items funded. AT can be something as simple — and as essential — as a weighted spoon to decrease tremors. Right now, that spoon is not funded through DDD. With greater understanding and sharing of knowledge, we hope to effect a systematic change that defines AT in much broader brushstrokes, so that more people are able to achieve greater independence in their lives.

The bottom line is simple: We want to educate providers and advocate for our members in a better way. We also want representatives from other agencies like Gompers to come to the conference, so  they can see what we’ve learned about AT and how we’ve improved our services as a result.

If you are someone working with a person who has developmental disabilities, this conference is where you need to be. We want all of the aces of DDD to be under one roof. For more information, please call me, Niraj Parikh, at 602-336-0061, ext. 152, or email

Niraj Parikh is Gompers’ assistive technology specialist and coordinator of the upcoming AT conference.