Return to Headlines

SMARTroom: The Future Is Calling!

By Donte’ Little, Assistant Director to the E. H. Gentry Facility Executive Director

A teacher stands with 4 students sit around a table with their laptops. An RBT Zooms on a screen. There is no doubt we are living in the lifetime of the infamous George Jetson, a fictional character in a 1960s animated sitcom with robot companions, high-speed computers, flying cars, and video calls. Much like The Jetsons, E. H. Gentry Facility (EHG) has incorporated robotics, advanced computer technology, and now, a fully-accessible videoconferencing room dubbed the “SMARTroom.”

Similar to the way individuals interact with voice-activated apps and “smart” devices, the SMARTroom will provide users an enhanced, fully-accessible sensory experience. The SMARTroom is equipped with dual large screens on all walls, surround-sound, high-quality microphones, 360-degree cameras, and touchscreen panels – just like a scene from The Jetsons.
“I have always liked fixing computers and working with technology… I once built my own gaming computer,” said Thomas Kelly, a 2015 graduate of Alabama School for the Deaf and a current EHG student in the RISE Autism program that serves individuals with autism and sensory loss.
“Through these types of experiences, our students like Thomas can better understand how technology systems are assembled, composed, and implemented, and how teamwork is needed to turn vision into reality,” explained Abby Jordan, EHG Job Developer. “As a person who is deaf, I believe this SMARTroom makes it easier for us to choose our seats, and not really think too much about seat placement and how to receive information — with multiple screens, we can see the speaker and American Sign Language interpreter from all angles.”
“The additional video displays will allow multiple opportunities for individuals with vision loss to get a front row seat,” stated Doug Nixon, EHG Computer Specialist and Assistive Technology Field Services Manager. “These options allow us to provide people with training who, for countless reasons, may be unable to participate in-person in a residential program or travel to one of Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind’s statewide regional centers.”
Patrick Smith, AIDB Information Systems Manager, noted the SMARTroom will serve all Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind units and programs as a fully-accessible space for distance learning and meetings. The SMARTroom will also support students training in video recording and editing with potential applications in STEM fields. “IT doesn't normally get that first-hand experience assisting our students or consumers, but this has changed that in the best way,” Smith said “We are excited to see the students' further involvement as new projects arise. Who knows? Maybe they will be inspired to be the next Steve Jobs.”

This project was supported with a $20,000 grant from Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, LLC and $58,000 in federal Title II, Part A funding through the Alabama State Department of Education. Title II, Part A funding is intended to support teachers, principals, and other school leaders in their work to improve the overall quality of instruction and ensure equity of educational opportunities for all students. AIDB is honored to be a recipient of both grant awards as it helps our students and consumers jet toward their limitless futures!