This KenCrest Team Member Wins Technology First Award
Sharon Thomas receives the Dustin A. Wright Tech Champion award for using and advocating for technology use in KenCrest residential homes.
By Sydney Kerelo
KenCrest Program Manager, Sharon Thomas, became the recipient of the Dustin A. Wright Tech Champion award during Direct Support Professional Week, September 12-18th. She received this award for her ability to demonstrate, advocate and utilize technology in her residential homes to help increase the people she supports independence and lifestyle.
She is just one of five employees working in a direct support capacity to receive the award.
Sadly, Dustin A. Wright passed away earlier this summer, but he was a proud human service industry leader. He founded Disability Cocoon and while simultaneously leading the technology first movement.
But, before he became an enabling technology industry leader, he was a DSP and saw first-hand the need for assistive tech in residential homes, just like Sharon Thomas.
“I was talking to Julie, KenCrest’s Director of Enabling Technology, about possibly getting one of our residents an Apple watch to wear at work—during his lunch break, he tends to dig through the trash. Having a way to contact me during that time instead would be helpful for him,” laughs Thomas. “That’s when she told me how I’m always thinking of ways to incorporate technology into the people we support’s lives and that she nominated me for an award. I was completely shocked I won; I didn’t even know she nominated me until after I won.”
According to Tech First Shift, the Dustin A. Wright Tech Champion Award honors people working in direct care who embody what it means to be a Tech Champion. That includes those pursuing an education/training in technology; those advocating for tech implementation in the home, workplace, or community; those empowering individuals to self-advocate for technology and its integration into daily routines and activities; and finally, those championing Technology First practices within the organization to sustain transformation.
Thomas is the perfect example of a team member who embodies what it means to be a Tech Champion. She is constantly thinking of ways to help increase her resident’s independence in their homes.
“Technology is important,” says Thomas. “There are many people out there who believe that using technology will risk the safety or the health of the people they support. Or it will cause them to be out of a job,” says Thomas. “But that’s not true; it will only help.”
In each residential home Thomas oversees, they utilize a variety of technology, including a med dispenser, iPad, a Ring doorbell, and a technological bed pad, to name a few.
“We have people who want to be more independent,” says Thomas. “But we know they may overeat or go into the kitchen and eat something they’re not supposed to. The bed pad alerts us when a person leaves their bed. While the kitchen sensor tells us when someone enters, and through Alexa, it will ask that individual, ‘do you want a healthy snack?’ Helping them live independently and make their own decisions.”
With the help of enabling technologies, Thomas’ residents not only have a greater sense of independence in their homes, but they can also utilize that tech outside of it.
“Everybody’s outcome is basically to have more independence or to travel the world,” Thomas says. “My six residents travel all over. Between both houses, they went to Bermuda, Mexico, Jamaica, Vegas, and the Poconos this year alone.”
Assistive and enabling technologies help many people at KenCrest, and across the globe to have independence, make their own choices, and feel as included in their community as possible, which was Dustin A. Wright’s mission, one that will continue long after his passing.
“As direct care workers, we are excited that our work is being seen,” says Thomas. “I have a great team and enjoy working with the enabling tech department; I received this award on behalf of everyone as a team.”