Meet the Mentors

Monday, May 20, 2019 - 16:50

TRC mentors are individuals who have gone through the technology implementation process and wish to help others on their tech solution journeys. Provider mentors are champions for technology use within their organizations and have first-hand experience in finding, funding, and facilitating technology solutions which not only provide increased independence for individuals, but also assist in extending support staff reach as well.

Getting to know Alan Berner, The Phoenix Residence, Inc


Why did you volunteer to be an ARRM Technology Resource Center Mentor?

I joined as a mentor to help encourage the use of technology broadly in Minnesota as well as help people identify and implement technology solutions which will help offset the challenges of the workforce shortage.  


What is the most exciting aspect of technology supports as a whole in your opinion?

The most exciting thing about technology supports is the potential for our current system to be able to more effectively support the needs of a large number of individuals with disabilities in ways that in-person caregiver supports could never achieve.  


What is your role within your organization as it relates to technology supports?

I’m involved with the onboarding, development, and deployment of backend/office solutions as well as the training and onboarding of staff. Overall, I work to encourage a tech-friendly culture by developing solutions and raising awareness to common barriers, availability of technology, and funding options. I know what it takes to make the case for using technology at an organizational level.


What technology is currently being used in your organization and what is its purpose?

Organizationally, we have implemented several back-end technologies we utilize to run the organization.  We have experience with implementing an EHR (Electronic Health Record system), as well as a medication administration program.  We’ve also utilized several solutions for payroll and online scheduling which has significantly changed the way we work. Additionally, we are exploring the use of sensors to help document certain activities being completed.  

We have also begun implementing Echo Dots and are looking to have one in each person’s room. The intent is for individuals to utilize the devices to connect with staff when needed, listen to music, check the weather, and eventually be able to control their own TV as well as the one in the main living area. Our purpose is to give people an easy way to get the help of a staff member from their bedrooms, and also provide an opportunity to experiment and play with the various features Alexa has to offer.  Our long range goal is to add additional smart technology, making it possible for people to have more control over their environment.


What prompted the initial move to technology—what need existed that you were trying to solve for?

As an organization, we identified that there was an opportunity to be increasingly efficient in our residential programs by moving from a paper-based system to an electronic one.  We undertook a purposeful transition about 10 years ago by placing several computers in all of our homes as well as creating a WiFi environment at all locations.  As our staff have become more effective in using computer-based solutions in their everyday work, we’ve been able to help support and accommodate requests of the people we support to access and utilize technology as well.  

Our move to utilizing Amazon Echo devices came when an individual already utilizing an Echo Dot moved in. She uses the device to communicate with her parents, get various updates (like check the weather), and also to read books.  We recognized an opportunity to expand the use of Alexa supported products to not only better support the new individual, but so that others in the home could utilize the technology as well.


How did conversations begin/who brought it up, why, and when?

Our Program Manager, Shawna, first expressed the opportunity to expand the use of Amazon devices after seeing the value and the potential it provided for others.  She reached out to me as the VP of Community Services to start a conversation and look further into it.  


What roadblocks did you encounter or what learning moments occurred during the rollout of the technology supports?

Organizationally, our transition has had a number of learning moments.  We were very purposeful in our rollout, and invested the time to train individuals on the use of a computer and the programs we utilize.  Though successful in the early years as we made the culture change, we did encounter challenges surrounding keeping things up and running and refining our back-up plans when things went down.  Our challenge now is continuing to evaluate our training/onboarding practices to ensure new employees are getting the support they need to integrate into the culture. While we have more resources that can help answer questions, there are times we take for granted what we know and need to ensure we’re explaining it well to a variety of learners.  

With the rollout of Amazon Echo products, we’ve certainly moved slower than, and not nearly as grandly, as we initially planned.  There were pieces that didn’t quite work together the way we intended, and we invested a lot of time trying to learn/problem solve how to make all the pieces fit.  Like with any new solution, until you’ve built the knowledge base needed to troubleshoot and find information on the devices, doing some of the more advanced pieces well can be a challenge.  We also ran into some challenges with a few people where the devices have a hard time understanding them well. Overall, we’ve learned what some of the limitations are and have modified accordingly.  


What advice would you give to someone just getting started with technology support solutions?

First of all, try something.  There are many solutions out there that could be helpful in a variety of ways, and much that can be done with low-cost solutions that can have an everyday benefit for the people we support.  Keeping in mind what people are interested in and need is also important. Just implementing things for the sake of implementing them is often a great way to deploy technology that is underutilized. By keeping focus on evaluating your progress, and moving forward when people are ready to, everyone has a better experience.


Have questions for Alan about a tech solution he’s worked with? Reach out to Alan and other TRC mentors to learn more about their experiences and get their advice.

Connect with a Mentor


Visit the ARRM Technology Resource Center to learn about more success stories and case studies showing how technology is changing the lives of those living with disabilities or learn more about how to start the conversation.


More Interviews

Recently, we were able to sit down for an interview with Lauren Ireland to discuss technology and how it plays a role in her daily life.

According to Angie’s sister, Kathy, “Angie just didn’t want to live with anybody. She wanted to make her own choices.” To maintain Angie’s desired level of independence, she and her team formulated a care and response plan supported by CCRI’s Independent by Design program to utilize technology supports that help maximize Angie’s independence and privacy which was featured in a 2017 TRC Case Study. A follow-up interview with Angie regarding her use of technology has recently been published by Impact and re-posted on the TRC blog.

Having started a remote support company nearly 14 years ago, Dustin Wright, founder of Disability Cocoon, is no stranger to the disability services landscape. His new venture, Disability Cocoon—a disability technology catalyst organization, is bringing the disability community together through events like technology festivals (or conferences).