IDEATE Innovates and Collaborates to Support Inclusion

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For Kaelynne Koval, director of RHD’s IDEATE, the program’s mission can be simply stated. “We pursue inclusion through employment in technology,” she says. Based in Philadelphia, IDEATE provides clinically-driven support to individuals with barriers to getting and sustaining earning opportunities.

Because IDEATE’s work incorporates technology, things are always changing. From January 19 to February 2, 2022, IDEATE joined forces with Arcadia University and Philly eSports to bring together students, staff, and others. The goal of this collaboration was to determine, “Does having a disability impact your ability to participate in online culture?” Koval says, “The answer is, it does not.”

IDEATE will be giving a presentation on this subject during the 12th annual Philly Tech Week, May 6-14, 2022. Philly Tech Week consists of a series of in-person and virtual events and is led by, news and informational website that covers the tech industry. The presentation is tentatively scheduled for May 9, 4-6 pm at the IDEATE clinical computing lab at RHD’s offices, 4700 Wissahickon Ave, Philadelphia. There will be a 25-person capacity to attend the event on-site; there will also be virtual seats available for access to a live online stream.

“A lot of the students that wanted to participate demonstrate some of the same traits and some of the same special interests that our participants do,” says Koval. “What [IDEATE, Arcadia, and Philly eSports] were curious about is why do some go into human services and receive support and then others are completely mainstreamed?  Some of the students had never met a disabled person before. And one of our participants said, ‘Well, I’ve never met a college student before.’  They got to learn about eSports, and you start to see that skillset, regardless of disability status, is exactly the same.”

Koval adds, “We just want to think about how can technology be used to reduce stigma? And we don’t have the answers yet.”

This is just one of several innovative projects on IDEATE’s docket. The clinical computing lab opened last year. “It’s a clinical space for those with mobility impairment to be able to try out devices that might support them to live more independently.” Another project in development will help nonverbal people use a deck of cards to communicate. Additionally, Koval, IDEATE co-founder David Markowitz, and clinical manager Riki Geyer will be initiating a 40-week, data-driven pilot with the goal of understanding “the actual tech use and tech need for the people that live within RHD.”

Kovel cites one of IDEATE’s success stories: George, who receives both employment and technology support from IDEATE and runs his own eCommerce site. “In any given session, he could have no less than five pieces of technology that allow him to work like you and I do.” George uses a robotic arm, laptop, tablet, desktop, and “a really big monitor. And maybe any number of tools or adaptive equipment and interfaces.”

Koval stresses the significance of paid employment and community inclusion for individuals identifying as disabled. George is the commensurate entrepreneur.  “We all take for granted, ‘Oh I have a job.’ But for some folks, the level of independence and self-control it takes to be able land a job, it’s a huge step.”