Propelling a Technology Movement
An Interview with Disability Cocoon Founder, Dustin Wright
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). Dubbed by Dustin as a “traveling roadshow”, Tech: Festivals offer information, food, and fun in a relaxed atmosphere which helps to propel conversations surrounding technology support options that foster increased independence.
TRC: What is Disability Cocoon?
Dustin: The way that I like to describe it is a disability technology catalyst because really my main goal with Disability Cocoon was to act as a resource to continue to push enabling technologies further in the field.
TRC: What prompted you to start Disability Cocoon?
Dustin: Having worked for Rest Assured and talking to other remote support and other tech vendors out there, we were all sort of facing the same battle in that it was a big lift of getting perceptions to change about what technology could do. We really didn’t have any venue or collective voice, so that was one of the goals, was to create a venue for technology vendors or providers to talk through to the disability community. The second reason that I created it was to create a resource for the disability community to go and to learn and discover and keep them up to speed on everything that is happening across the country.
TRC: Why is creating a technology movement today so important and how is enabling tech solving workforce issues?
Dustin: It’s important because it creates a pretty unique situation—a win, win, win. A win for the individual served in giving them the ability to create possibilities that they may not have had otherwise. Whether that’s something that assists them in getting a job and in employment type situations; whether that’s living in their home without a staff person; whatever it is, I truly feel, is helping the individuals by giving them options for independence.
The second win is for the provider agencies. And that’s really where it’s helping with that direct support workforce shortage that we all talk about all the time. It’s not going to get any better. Technology is not going to be a magic wand by any means, but it is going to be an important tool, and I think a great resource, for providers to help them at least to create the need in areas where they can.
And the third win is also for the state and taxpayers and Medicaid agencies – as a way to control the growth of Medicaid budgets while expanding and enhancing supports for people with disabilities. In an industry where more than 90 percent of funding comes from Medicaid, if more can be achieved by applying existing resources it’s an important opportunity to capture. It’s a win-win-win situation that makes so much sense you can’t ignore it.
TRC: How does the mission of Disability Cocoon tie in to the Technology First movement?
Dustin: A technology first mindset is what we’re trying to promote in that we feel so strongly that technology should be a big part of everything in the discussion and utilized when and where appropriate that it needs to be the go-to thing first. And if it can be used, then utilize it assuming the person wants it—which is a key aspect of that. If it can be used, go that route first and then if it can’t then you can fall back on other resources that we’ve got and the others services that are available.
TRC: What are TECH:Fests and why are they different?
Dustin: I’ve done a lot of conferences, and they all have great content. Great exhibitors, and obviously people can learn a lot there. But they all feel kind of the same to me, and I wanted to create a different environment that wasn’t a simple conference environment; something that was more fun, festive. I definitely wanted the technology featured there to feel very approachable and presented in a very laid-back, comfortable, approachable environment. So that’s sort of what I’m trying to create. They’re very hipster areas—bringing in food trucks, and, you know, having a tricycle that you can ride around in the event.
TRC: Let’s talk TECH:Huddles. What are they?
Dustin: Tech:Huddles basically provide the same type of content that is delivered at festivals, but they’re done online. They are one hour. I’m typically doing this about once a week, finding up to two solutions and having the company come on and present their solution. For people that maybe can’t get to a Tech:Fest in person or just want to get content on a more routine basis than we’re doing Tech:Fests, they can get it on a weekly basis online. The webinar is almost like being there in person where individuals can hear the presentation, they can ask questions, and interact with each other.
TRC: What piece of technology are you most excited about right now?
Dustin: On my mind today is Voicett, which I did a blog article on. Basically what they’re doing is creating algorithms that will run on smart speakers like Alexa and Google Home that can learn non-standard speech patterns so if someone has a speech impediment and Alexa is currently not able to understand what they are saying, they are writing software that will learn that person’s non-standard speech pattern. So that will open up those types of smart speakers and home automation for the individual that couldn’t before say “Hey, Alexa, unlock my front door”, now they can even if they are not able to verbalize in a standard way. I think that technology has the potential to open up all things that are smart “smart home devices” for individuals that couldn’t otherwise interact [with the devices]. Beyond that, I think remote supports still has the most potential impact on the industry. Especially if you’re just looking at it from a pure, that win-win-win scenario, impact on the individuals life; impact on a provider community DSP shortage; and then also the impact on the cost of services. [Remote supports] has the potential to have the most impact, I think, on the industry.
TRC: What have you heard is the biggest barrier for people when searching for tech solutions?
Dustin: I think education and a cultural change is the biggest barrier. Tech has become a bigger part of our society—in everyone’s life—so that has kind of come down in the last few years slightly, but then also education. You have all these vendors out there and they all have a different product and do things slightly different. Each state’s funding is done differently and you know they’re hearing different things from different people. They’re really hasn’t been a very organized push across the country to create a resource where people go to. Which is again why I created disability cocoon to try and help with that.
TRC: What would you say to someone who thought technology wasn’t “for them”?
Dustin: I guess my first response would be yeah, that’s totally fair. It may not be. First and foremost, if it’s not something that you’re even open to considering and you have that mindset, then you’re probably not going to be happy with it even if it did work for you. So you should not have to do it, would be my first approach.
If it’s not something you want to look at, something that you’re not comfortable with—totally fine. But, I would say that when we’re talking technology, we have to talk about the bells and whistles and how it works for features and those kinds of things, but ultimately I wouldn’t want to start a conversation about technology like “hey, this device can do this.” It’s more what does this person need and let’s kind of take a step back and look at the needs of the person first, and then back into some potential solutions that could work, and here’s how this could change the other aspects of the person’s life. Staying very person-centered, I think, needs to happen.
TRC: What is your advice for someone just beginning their search for enabling technologies?
Dustin: Well, go to Disability Cocoon! I would say to ask questions I guess and the best place to go first would be to go to their service provider, or their case manager, or service coordinator—whoever is in those roles. Because those folks should at least be able to point them in the right direction. But then, you know, get plugged in where you can with Disability Cocoon, with local resource, like what ARRM has done, is amazing. People are out there talking about it, It’s not hard to find.
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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.