Skip to main content


two women sit at a table, one is using an ipad while the other watches/supportsTechnological innovation continues to push the boundaries of smart homes and even smarter ways to access information. With the digital revolution accelerating on all fronts, YAI is launching the region’s first center dedicated to evaluating how assistive technology can improve the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). YAI’s Center for Innovation and Engagement kicked off the two-year pilot program in February.

Over the course of the pilot, a team of Person-Centered Technology Specialists (PCT Specialists) will work closely with more than 150 people supported by YAI to assess how smart home technologies can best meet their needs. YAI is working with industry leader SimplyHome, which will provide smart home devices to program participants.  

“Technological support could be as simple as an app that helps a person schedule their day or a sensor that alerts them to turn off the stove or lock the door as they leave,” said Judith Bailey-Hung, Behavior Intervention Coordinator for YAI’s Bronx, Manhattan, and Hudson Valley regions, who is helping to lead the Center pilot. “Each person who is part of the pilot will complete a person-centered assessment to determine which technologies they may benefit from.”

Over the next two years, YAI will conduct a series of surveys in the pilot homes as well as staff time studies in two YAI pilot residences to assess improvements made to quality of life, independence, and, in the case of the residences, staff time allocation. These findings will be published in a white paper that will be used to interest additional sources of support to expand the program’s reach.

“Since this is the first large-scale tech study by this agency, we hope to recruit more families over time once we can demonstrate results,” Bailey-Hung said. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but we do want to see how existing technologies can be used in a way that helps people with I/DD lead more independent lives.”

YAI’s CEO George Contos agreed, adding it’s imperative for the agency to explore how technology can improve the lives of people with I/DD.

“The opportunities that technology offers this community are too big and too important to overlook,” he said. “It may not be the answer for everything, but we want to demonstrate that the difference it does make is meaningful and scalable.”

Jason Ray, President of SimplyHome, agrees, also noting the potential for smart technology to support community living and aging in place for people with I/DD. 

“We are excited to collaborate with YAI in building the Center for Innovation and Engagement,” said Ray. “Very few organizations globally have dedicated themselves to pioneering new support models, and the creation of the Center shows YAI's commitment to embracing technology-supported care. This unique partnership will show what is truly possible when organizations combine innovation with best practices in person-centered support.”

A 2017 report in the International Journal of Developmental Disabilities found that an Apple Watch app that supplemented verbal directives with visual cues increased the ability of a person with I/DD to successfully follow those directives 41 times out of 50, compared to just 21 times out of 50 when no visual cues were supplemented. 

It’s this potential that is most exciting for Contos.

“I see technology as a great equalizer that can level the playing field,” he said. “If the technologies we’re researching can help someone in a group home live on their own or travel independently so they can find work, then we’ve accomplished something tremendous.”

YAI’s Center for Innovation and Engagement is supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, and the Gladys Brooks Foundation.