By Secretary Catherine Raggio, Department of Disabilities
This year as we celebrate the 22nd Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we are focusing on technology and the impact it has had on the lives of individuals with disabilities. When the ADA was passed in 1990, for many people, it was the beginning of access, freedom, inclusion and the opportunity to lead productive and independent lives.
The ADA opened doors for thousands of people with disabilities, and technology is helping turn their dreams into accomplishments. Today, computers are “reading” documents and other written sources of information for people who are visually impaired. Video phones and text messaging are assisting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing enabling them to communicate with each other and the hearing world. Smart phones and iPads are taking this technology out on the road and giving a voice to young Marylanders like Sharia, a Columbia resident recently profiled by CNN.
Together, we’re working to bring this technology to Marylanders with disabilities. Through the Maryland Technology Assistance Loan Program, we have approved more than $9 million in loans to help nearly 900 Marylanders find and purchase assistive technology devices. The WorkABILITY Loan Program has approved 73 loans for more than $900,000 to help Marylanders overcome barriers to employment and take advantage of home-based employment opportunities.
Over the past six years, the Division of Rehabilitation Services, a Division of the Maryland State Department of Education, has purchased assistive technology devices for more than 12,500 Marylanders with disabilities to support their entry or re-entry into the job market through low vision devices, computer hardware, and service and software and hearing aids. Together, we have provided vehicle devices and modifications for over 100 Marylanders, enabling them to get to and from work independently.
And the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, through its various waivers, provides assistive technology to over 1,000 people each year with physical or developmental disabilities.
In our State there is no such thing as a spare Marylander. Each of us is needed and we’ll continue to use technology to help and connect with more Marylanders.