Technology Instead of Human Caregivers?
The following innovation will either seem like very good news to you, or a chilling instance of how technology is increasingly being used to replace actual human beings doing actual things for other human beings. The Dayton Daily News reports that Ohioans with developmental disabilities will be able to have their homes provided with video cameras and motion-sensing monitors that can be monitored from a remote location. As Disability Scoop says, the technology is meant to be an “alternative to traditional in-person supports” and would only be installed in residences where all the occupants are “on board” with such a system.
Installing and using the new equipment would cost less than having a worker come to the residence to make sure that individuals are taking medications or that food preparation has been done. The technology will be “tailored to individual needs” and could include a web-based monitoring system, motion sensors, live audio or video feeds and equipment for two-way communication with the person being monitored. Cameras would also be installed in common areas (kitchens, living rooms) and programmed to turn on at set times, unless activated by a resident. Medicaid will start paying for the technology services on July 15.
Administrators with agencies that support individuals with developmental disabilities emphasize that the technology is not a requirement. As Mark Gerhardstein, superintendent of the Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities, says:
“This isn’t something that replaces people. It’s not about spying. It would be a personal choice.”
The costs for such “remote home monitoring care” are certainly a factor in the state of Ohio offering such services in place of actual workers. The Dayton Daily News notes that a 2005 investigation by the University of Wisconsin-Madison into the cost effectiveness of remote monitoring for 138 Dane County, Wisc., residents with developmental disabilities found a saving of nearly $1 million. The cost for the equipment, installation and maintenance in Ohio is capped by Medicaid at $5,000 and would be paid by the Medicaid Individual Options Waiver.
Ssuch systems — while they do seem very “Big Brotherish” — can actually make it possible for some individuals with developmental disabilities to be more independent as Tom Weaver, executive director of the Dayton-based, Choices in Community Living, says. Though there is never a substitute for actual human beings supporting individuals like my son, such a monitoring system could indeed have its uses, if used in conjunction with staff (i.e., human staff) support.
For instance, I could see my son — Charlie is 14 years old and on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum — living in a residence with such a monitoring system, again in conjunction with staff. One man, Tom Keating, set up just such a system in the apartment of his brother James, who’s autistic; Keating is thus able to keep track of his brother’s activities remotely and in a non-intrusive way. (Read Tom Keating’s account of this system and of growing up with his brother James via Woodbine House.)
My son can’t live with us forever and for my husband and me to able to check in regularly on what he is up to when he’s not living us is simply necessary; there have been way, way too many reports of physical and other abuse of individuals with developmental disabilities by staff workers. This is not to denigrate all workers but to acknowledge the reality of my son’s communication and other limitations: He can talk a little, but couldn’t tell us if something like abuse occurred. He has to be able to live as independently as he can; we are not going to be around forever.
I’m hopeful that, by the time Charlie is living on his own, computer monitoring systems can be further developed and that we can continue to find, train and support staff to assist individuals with disabilities to live and work in our communities. It is a great thing if technology can increase independence and make Charlie’s life, and those of others like him, better and even freer.
Photo by Blyzz