Breaking Ground 107 - Enabling Tech Paves a Path to Independence

Introduction by Council staff; stories contributed by Steven Stock (Vice President, AbleLink Smart Living Technologies) and Kerri Pinger (Marketing & Communications Manager, CreateAbility Concepts, Inc.)

Since 2017, our friends at the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) have been developing their “Enabling Technology” program. DIDD defines enabling technology as “the use of … devices and technology to support a person with disabilities to live as independently as possible."

DIDD’s program has mainly focused on helping disability service providers use technology in creative ways for the people they serve through Medicaid long-term services and supports. But there is good news for people not getting those services: anyone can use technology tools to become more independent!

We know from national data that less than 1 in 5 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are getting paid disability supports (see new publication from the Administration for Community Living: "30 Years of Community Living for Individuals with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disabilities (1987-2017)"). 

That means many Tennesseans with disabilities may need some support to live good lives in their homes and communities but are not getting formal services. Technology can be a great resource for those people with disabilities and their families.

We asked for stories from two of DIDD’s Enabling Technology vendor companies: AbleLink Smart Living Technologies and CreateAbility. We wanted their best examples of how their apps can help Tennesseans with intellectual and developmental disabilities live self-determined, independent lives. Below are the stories they shared.

Note: Some of these products are designed with provider agencies, job coaches, or support workers in mind – but anyone can purchase the tools through the companies’ online stores.

Technology for Transportation and Employment Support

Wayfinder (AbleLink)

In Chattanooga, Kenny wanted to be able to get to his job at Barger Academy without relying on his support staff for a ride. His support team at Orange Grove Center decided to purchase AbleLink’s “WayFinder” app through the DIDD Enabling Technology Community Inclusion Pilot Project.

WayFinder provides GPS-based multimedia prompts to help people independently navigate fixed bus routes. Working together, staff from the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) and from Orange Grove traveled the route from Kenny’s front door to the front door of Barger Academy. They set GPS waypoints and recorded instructions for Kenny to follow. Cues helped Kenny remain confident and focused during his trips:

  • “Walk down the street past McDonald’s to get to your bus stop.”
  • “This is not your stop, Kenny, do not get off here.”
  •  “You are almost to work, Kenny, it’s time to pull the bus cord.”

WayFinder displays pictures of landmarks and other key points along his route to work for further support to help Kenny know that he is in the right place. Kenny is very proud of his newfound travel independence and is looking forward to learning new bus routes with help from WayFinder.

Endeavor (AbleLink)

When Anita started her job at a local Taco Bell, she got daily support from a job coach – a person to help teach her the job duties. This left Anita feeling micromanaged and frustrated, so a new plan was needed. Her supporters from Core Services of Northeast Tennessee decided to use DIDD’s Enabling Technology program to access the AbleLink “Endeavor” app to help Anita become more independent at work.

Endeavor is a research-based, accessible, multimedia scheduling system designed specifically for people with cognitive disabilities. Her support staff looked at Anita’s job duties and schedule at Taco Bell. They then re-created her schedule using the Endeavor app, with familiar, personalized audio and visual reminders. Anita began using the system by strapping her phone to her upper arm and accessing the automated schedule via her Bluetooth headphones so that her hands remained free to do her work.

Now, Anita is now usually able to perform all duties during her six-hour workday without any help from her job coach, which means the world to her. Because of her efficiency, she has received additional job duties that are more challenging, and she is growing personally.

Employment Pathfinder (CreateAbility)

For Jordan and Mindy, two people with disabilities served by Madison Haywood Developmental Services (MHDS) of Jackson, TN, the idea of “independence” includes having a job and making their own money. Rance Thetford, the Supported Employment Manager at MHDS, knew that helping them find the right job needed to start with learning about their talents, strengths, passions, and interests. This process is often called “exploration” and “discovery” in disability employment services. Rance decided CreateAbility’s Employment Pathfinder app, designed for people with intellectual disabilities, would be a good tool to use for this first step in their employment journey.

Jordan worked through the Employment Pathfinder assessments with his job coach, using the voice feature to help navigate the questions. Mindy chose to take the assessments from her home, downloading the app to her phone and taking the assessments by herself, in her own time.

After the assessments are done, the app creates a report for each person with helpful information that supporters can use to:

  • Develop the right job coaching strategies for that person.
  • Learn next steps for finding a job in the right field.
  • Explore tools and technologies to support the person at work.

Employment Pathfinder provided for Jordan and Mindy a list of career options that were not only jobs they could do, but careers they could both excel at and enjoy doing. Currently, they are applying for careers in the fields suggested by Employment Pathfinder. They are hoping to take the next step in their journey – getting a job that’s right for them!

Employment Pathfinder is one of several technology options in CreateAbility’s Employment Suite of programs and tools. It also includes:

  • MeMinder - technology for task prompting and instruction so that people can feel more confident and productive while working.
  • Evalu8NOW - Avatar-led “check-ins” that ask people about their job satisfaction and well-being.

Explore and learn more

  • Learn more about how disability programs are using enabling technology to support Tennesseans with disabilities on the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities website:
  • AbleLink Smart Living Technologies, founded in 1997, has been working closely with the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities on a variety of projects to provide personal technology for people with cognitive disabilities. Current efforts include a pre-employment technology pilot project featuring AbleLink’s JobQuest service and an expansion of the WayFinder project in Chattanooga. Visit to learn more about their technology solutions.
  • CreateAbility has been building technology solutions for individuals with intellectual disabilities and traumatic brain injuries since it was created in 2001. Most of the enabling technologies they have developed are the result of research-based evidence and funded by agencies such as the NIH, USDA, and NIDILRR, who believe that technology should be an affordable solution for all. Visit to learn more about their technology solutions.