Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Next Generation of Service and Support Organizations

Last week I had the pleasure of hosting a roundtable discussion at the Twelfth Annual Coleman Institute National Conference, The State of the States in Cognitive Disability and Technology: 2012.

My topic for the roundtable was “The Next Generation of Service and Support Organizations.”

The discussion at the table was lively as we looked into the near future and the needed changes to services and supports in the field of serving individuals with one or more developmental disabilities. Below are some ideas, in no particular order, which came from the discussion.

The next generation of providers will adopt the use of emerging technology through organizational cultural shifts. Technical skills will override care giving in the description of the new support staff. A generation ago, we spent hours training caregivers how to manipulate a wheelchair and an accessible vehicle. Moving forward, navigating the variety of devices that are specific to the client of services support will take precedence. Providers and Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) will be team oriented and geographically dispersed. They will be connected with other team members and those they serve in real time via social and enterprise network tools. Future DSPs must be able to find a story in the data set and provide a coherent narrative about key data insight. DSPs must also be able to communicate with numbers, visually and verbally.

The next generation of providers will not strive for personal independence among the population it serves; rather, it will create an environment within which people will thrive. Providers will continue to undergo cultural shifts. We have moved from institutional settings to smaller institutional settings, to group homes, to host homes, to maintenance and support in the parents’ home. What happens next? I’m not entirely sure, but I know this – organizations need to be preparing now. For example, at Imagine!, we already have a Tech Architect and an Assistive Tech Specialist. Right now, those titles may sound exotic, but they will be standard positions for service organizations in the future.

Provider companies will be using cloud-based data, and lots of it, to inform company decisions. Company decision-makers will all be data savvy and include a person responsible for managing big data. This will further find its way to direct service and supports. We will collect and have access to huge amounts of real time mobile information that will inform very specific details about support touch points.

End-users of services and supports are no longer isolated. They are far savvier than their predecessors. They have a presence in the social media world. They are exercising their rights to an extent that was unthinkable only a few short years ago. Providers are no longer the decision-makers. Control has shifted, and rightly so. The idea that our goal is for people to be independent is old and ridiculous. Sure, people need touch points of support and service. The goal now is to thrive. The hermit life of independence, lonely self-sufficiency is not it. So let's stop pretending.

The discussion lasted an hour, which was unfortunate, because I felt we could have gone on much longer. I was really impressed by the deep thought and creative ideas that came from the roundtable participants.

I’d love to hear what my blog readers think, as well. Please leave a comment below.

Then again, what do I know?


  1. Mark, I find the tech developments we have seen, particularly in the last 5 years or so, to be remarkable. They open up a new world of possibilities for teaching and gaining independence for the clients we serve. The sharing of information across all levels allows for new ideas to develop at lightening speed and for those ideas to reach a much broader audience. I have also seen a trend of replacing interaction with technology in many settings. The double edged sword that all technology brings with it is that of increasing isolation. We see all around us as people increasingly disappearing behind their laptops, Ipads and smart phones and losing their ability to interact with one another on a personal, human level. I think the challenge that DSPs will face is balancing the capability with the humanity. Yes, we serve clients who want to be more independent and want to access more technology but these same clients often find themselves in an isolated world because of ignorance, prejudices, fear, etc... The hands on and interactive element that DSPs provide cannot be lost in the technology shuffle. The work our DSPs do in helping our clients to be welcomed and understood in all settings is unmatched. While technology can play a role in this, I think the human element is being lost too quickly. I think the key and the most difficult part of this paradigm shift will be striking the correct balance between the two.

  2. Hi Mark. I think this word independence is tricky. It can lean in the direction of isolation, but it can also lean in the direction of feeling capable and competent to do things for ourselves. I don't think people want to feel like they have to depend on others. They can enjoy some sense of autonomy. At the same time, we are social creatures, so autonomy shouldn't mean isolation.

    One thing that concerned me at the conference was the zeal with which this idea that technology is going to solve all our problems was presented (of course this was just my impression). I only hope that the architects of the future will remember the problems that can be created by technology as well, such as all the environmental issues we face today, or, as Michael points out above, how people seem to be "increasingly disappearing" behind their devices. Well said, Michael.

    Point in case, my twenty-eight year old son's whole life seems to take place within the 12 or so inches of his laptop screen. He's an avid gamer and YouTube fan. I have to admit I worry that he has no connection to the earth, sky, oceans, and trees. Talk about isolation. I think we have to be careful that our quest to have more control over our lives doesn't completely isolate us from the natural world of living critters and flowing rivers.

    Again, I acknowledge Michael's words. "Striking the correct balance" seems to be the key. Identifying what exactly it is we're trying to balance is crucial as well.

    That said, I do think technology can help better the lives of the people we serve. I just hope the focus is on what serves the whole person.

  3. I think both Sean and Kim are spot on with the perspective of balance. Last week I heard the term "digital prosthetics for life." We remain very comfortable with physical prosthetics to address vision, hearing, ambulation, and I could go on. If emerging technology can offer a person more autonomy (different from independence) then it will be a good thing. All of humanity wants personal interaction; no more and no less for people with I/DD. This is maybe where we strike the balance. I will count on voices like yours to insure that the humanity is not lost.