High-tech living: Assistive technology apartments are a boon for Clevelanders with disabilities

Individuals with developmental disabilities (DD) are getting an assistive-technology hand, courtesy of an innovative new housing option from a pair of Cleveland organizations.

The Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, in partnership with North Coast Community Homes (NCCH), is now offering short term-apartment rentals for developmentally disabled Cuyahoga County residents who are seeking independent living options.

Chris West, CEO of NCCH and Cuyahoga DD superintendent and CEO Kelly PettyThe partners announced the project during a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Tuesday, Aug. 2 at the Cranford Apartments in downtown Lakewood. The building is now home to four TryTech smart apartments—refurbished units to meet the daily requirements of people with DD.

The dwellings are designed to be safe and comfortable for the region’s special-needs population. To that end, the county board tapped NCCH’s decades of experience in fulfilling the housing requirements of Clevelanders with disabilities.

The apartments feature doorbell cameras, lights activated by verbal command, and specialized bedroom and bathroom lifts. One of the apartments is wheelchair-accessible.

High-tech units are available with short-term leases, offering participants tools for everyday living they would not have the chance to experience otherwise. By definition, assistive technology (AT) is any equipment or item used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities for the DD community. People aided by these innovations may have a physical impairment or a cognitive issue such as autism or Down syndrome.

“We have a demonstration room with assistive technology at our building in the Central neighborhood,” says Cuyahoga DD superintendent and CEO Kelly Petty. “We thought about housing beyond the demonstration, and how it would be great if people could live with this technology 24/7 to help them be more independent.”

Renters can live in the apartments for several weeks, where they are assisted by live on-call support staff at with a click of a buttonRenters can live in the apartments for several weeks, where they are assisted by live on-call support staff at with a click of a button. They can also have a family member join them on site over what is typically a three-week stay. Cuyahoga DD pays most of the rent, with residents chipping in $50 per week.

The nearly month-long trial gives officials time to determine next steps for their charges, whether integrating technology into a current family situation or helping stake out permanent independent housing.

“[Renters] can come back and say I definitely want to live on my own, or I love where I was living before, so let’s keep that going,” says Chris West, CEO of NCCH. “It’s so important for our residents to have options. To know what else is out there for them and the ability to decide for themselves.”

NCCH owns the building, purchased for $1.5 million, and invested another $100,000 for the tech-based additions. Cranford Apartments also has 10 market-rate units and a wheelchair ramp at the back of the property.

The partner groups will continue to research smart technology for future upgrades, officials say. An overarching goal of independent living for residents with disabilities is boosted by a simple enjoyment of the work, notes West.

“It’s been fun watching this collaboration from a couple of mission-focused organizations,” West says. “It’s wonderful how the whole thing is based on our residents.”

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.