Shawn Dunaway has two sons — ages 5 and 7 — who keep him busy.
“I have one kid who is into tech and gaming and another kid who loves to be outside,” he said. “Sometimes, I have to divide and conquer.”
As a single dad, he’s constantly looking for ways to make things easier and faster. And that journey has affected him personally and professionally.
Shawn, of Johnstown, has worked for the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities for the past 10 years as a support administrator. He supports families with children ranging in age from 3 to 12 and often talks to them about different types of assistive technology that can help them gain independence.
His suggestions sometimes come from his own experience. Shawn has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
Over the past year, he’s spoken at several Ohio technology conferences about the devices and “low tech” options that have worked for him.
“I have two little kids, so that’s the majority of how I see the world,” he said. “But I also see it as a person with a disability and a person working in the field. Those things — when I talk about living my life — they all kind of blend together.”
Shawn has been sharing his experiences as a wheelchair user since childhood.
At age 5, he was chosen by the Easter Seals to help promote their programming and spent time on television.
Years later he had an internship at ADAOhio and got comfortable presenting to large groups of lawyers, and architects. He got experience with another audience, speaking to college students, while working for Recreation Unlimited.
So when he was invited to speak at two virtual tech events — one organized by the Clearwater Council of Governments, the Ohio Self Determination Association and Disability Cocoon, and another organized by the Delaware County Board of DD. He wasn’t nervous, but it was different to talk about the technology and other solutions he’s come up with over the years.
The Amazon Alexa has been a game changer for him, and he has five throughout his home.
“When I started getting services in Licking County, I had a panic button that I would hit (if I needed to) call for help,” he said. “It was pretty expensive and eating up my budgets. I had to wear the thing on my wrist and it’s hard to keep track of something on my wrist with the kids. So I started thinking about different ways to do that.”
His Alexa is now set up to call a family member, the fire department or police station in case of an emergency. It’s so simple, he’s taught his sons how to use it, Shawn said.
He also loves having smart switches and timers so he can run his lights and other devices on his phone. He’s planning to install several other smart devices this spring and summer to be able to keep tabs on his boys and make activities with them easier.
At work, Shawn uses Dragon software to dictate information and keep up with case notes.
While high tech solutions have definitely made a difference, Shawn also spent time at both conferences talking about the “low tech” devices he uses.
Some are as simple as magnetic or velcro tape. Containers with lids, handles and hooks help him reach things while one-handed knives and cutting boards allow him to cook for himself and his sons.
Certain tools like button pullers and grabbers can be very inexpensive, but very valuable.
Shawn is quick to admit that he doesn’t know everything about assistive technology and he is learning more all the time.
But after speaking at both conferences, he’s made connections with people in other counties who not only asked him questions but offered suggestions.
He’s hoping to eventually help start a technology blog to talk more about different options so that everyone can have access to the information. He’s especially interested in talking about “life hacks” — using a conventional item for an unconventional purpose.
“I think the thing that’s missing is the one central place to say, ‘This is what we experienced, this is what worked for me,’ and giving someone a place to start,” he said.
When he talks to families he supports at the DCBDD, his suggestions are the same as what he would tell anyone considering an assistive device.
“You have to be patient…you aren’t going to know everything right off the bat,” he said. “Give yourself time to go through, one space at a time and figure out, what do I need here…It took me so long to sit down and pay attention to what I needed to be successful in daily living and in my work. And honestly if it wasn’t for my kids. I probably wouldn’t have done this stuff, but I’m glad I have. You can spend a lot more time doing the things you really want to do.”