Cardboard Fairy

by Susan Lowenstien

What if I were to tell you that there is a cardboard fairy that visits Easterseals in Bucks County every few weeks? She delivers hand-made adaptive equipment created out of cardboard that our children can use during their day at school to be more successful. You would think I have lost my mind. But it’s true! Well, sort of true. The material that this “fairy” uses is a sturdier and thicker version of cardboard called tri-wall. It can be purchased from stores like Staples or Lowe’s, but has to be specially ordered. So…have I piqued your curiosity? Want to learn more about our “cardboard fairy”?

Her name is Dorothy Hess. She was a Pharmaceutical marketing executive for many years, but now that she is retired, she is using her creativity and resourcefulness as well as her artistic abilities to help the children at Easterseals achieve their full potential! How does she do this, you ask?

Dorothy completed a 3 day volunteer training through a company called Adaptive Design Association. It was this training, along with her own problem solving and analytic skills, that have prepared her to come to Easterseals to design and create various products for our children. Some examples include:

  • A completely customized chair for young boy named Javohn who attends our APS program. We were having difficulty fitting him in any of our other student chairs. Javohn has shorter legs and arms, but a longer torso compared to his typically developing peers. We had trialed him in many of our chairs, even those that were adjustable, but we were unable to give him the support that he needed to sit upright in class. But never fear, the “cardboard fairy” is here! Not only was Dorothy able to create a chair that fit this young student perfectly, she painted the entire chair and even hand drew an Elmo on the side of it, just to give it that fantastic preschool look!

Javohn and Dorothy


  • Full length adjustable back supports, mounted directly to the back of our standing frames that we use with children who are unable to stand without support. These back supports have helped make it easier for our staff to position children in our standers, while providing the additional back support that some of our kids need to stand in optimal alignment.
  • A customized tray for an adaptive chair which for some time we were unable to use secondary to a broken tray (the product had been discontinued). This is just the first prototype of hopefully many more trays to come, as we have several more chairs that need new trays in order to be used for our children’s educational activities.

The cardboard fairy already has several other projects in the works for us. I can’t wait to see what she brings next time she visits!

3D Printing Comes to Easterseals of SEPA!

by Sandy Masayko

The AT Department has a new tool! We are delighted to have a loan of a 3D printer to create Assistive Technology. (A 3D printer can manufacture objects by laying layers of plastic filament until the object is formed.) Thanks to Andrew Askedall, Senior Director of Product Design at MakerBot, the staff at Easterseals can now use computer assisted design to create switches, communication symbols, keyguards and more using the MakerBot Replicator +.  We thank MakerBot for the loan and we thank the PA AT Foundation‘s CEO, Susan Tachau, for making the connection between MakerBot and Easterseals.

Even before we received the MakerBot 3D printer, six ES staff members attended a workshop on “3D printing and Assistive Technology” at the Franklin Institute in February. We learned to use a free CAD (computer aided design) program called Tinkercad and we began to expand our ideas of what we can create to meet the needs of our clients.  We have begun to make many nifty items.

Skating through physical therapy

by Sarah Garman

My client Trey and I, went on a field trip Tuesday, January 16th, 2018 to the Independence Blue Cross River Rink. Trey had never been ice skating before and we spent several weeks training in order to prepare for the day. During his therapy sessions, we focused on Trey challenging his strength, balance, and coordination during a variety of therapeutic exercises. I also created activities that simulated ice skating to increase Trey’s self-confidence prior to being out on the ice. With each therapy session, our excitement grew in anticipation for the field trip.

Trey and his mom, Katrina, arrived to the River Rink fully prepared for a day on the ice with hats, gloves, and scarves in addition to protective elbow and knee pads. The River Rink supplied the ice skates, popular music, and fun environment. Trey had a blast ice skating with his mom and I. Even though he was well protected- he didn’t fall once! With a little help, Trey discovered that he can ice skate! Trey looks forward to participating in more field trips and even wants to go ice skating again!

Eye Gaze Technology Research

by Sandy Masayko

The AT Department at Easterseals is involved in action research in the field of eye gaze technology for young children. In November, the Easterseals AT Department hosted Dr. Maria Borgestig from Linkoping University in Sweden and Dr. Namrata Grampurohit of Thomas Jefferson University to develop our collaboration on research into eye gaze technology for young children. Dr. Borgestig guided the Easterseals AT Team in the implementation of several standardized measurements, and we shared the results of our own Easterseals eye gaze study, which is now in its third year. Dr. Grampurohit is collaborating with us in obtaining IRB (Institutional Review Board) approval for our study through Jefferson and our collaboration with the Swedish study. Currently, three children are enrolled in the Swedish study and seven children are enrolled in the Easterseals study. This is unfunded research which we are completing to help us make the best decisions possible about our children.


From left: Joy McGowan, Director of Augmentative Communication; Dr. Maria Borgestig of Linkoping University, Sweden; Sandy Masayko, Director of AT; Laurie G. McGowan, AT Specialist

Sharing, Networking & Learning at ATIA 2018

by Sandy Masayko

From presenting sessions to volunteering and networking, Easterseals of SEPA was an active presence at the Assistive Technology Industry Association Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida at the beginning of February.

Joy McGowan, Melissa Spada and Sandy Masayko presented “Eye Gaze Technology: Supporting Preschoolers in Participation, Play and Communication” to a standing-room-only crowd of over 60 people. The audience asked many questions and shared some of their experiences with the technology as well.  Laurie McGowan joined Susan Tachau of the PA AT Foundation and Kirby Smith of SunKirb to share “Smart Home Technology” to a group that included technicians who install this kind of technology as well as therapists and consumers.  Using easily acquired commercial devices has revolutionized home adaptations and has decreased costs significantly.  The presentation was well received.

As a volunteer, Marcia Leinweber assisted presenters in setting up their sessions and attendees in finding the workshops that they wanted to attend.  Sandy and Marcia also attended a workshop to develop the AT program at Easterseals.

Melissa Spada participated in a workshop where she learned to make adapted toys from low cost materials and picture symbols.  She even won a sample toy to bring back to Easterseals!

Networking was an important part of the conference too.  Our team caught up with Mary Elizabeth McCulloch of Project Vive, who shared her latest prototype of a low-cost speech-generating device.  Mary Elizabeth will be visiting Easterseals soon to explore some new switches and to pick up some of our adapted cars that need repair and additional adaptations.  Sandy visited with Lori Binko of LessonPix to hear about her experience of introducing adapted ride-on cars into her inclusive preschool class.  Easterseals of SEPA actually purchased one of the cars for her program several years ago for engineering students at University of Florida to use as a prototype when the students coached us on adapting the ride on cars.  We donated the completed car to Lori’s program, and it was gratifying to learn how the use of the cars increased her students’ abilities to move, socialize and develop cognitive skills.

Presenting at PCOM

by George Russo

On Tuesday, January 23, 2018 I had the honor of giving a patient perspective presentation to 250 second-year medical-students at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM). This was a request from my doctor at PCOM (Dr. Michael Becker). He thought it would be a great opportunity for the med-student to learn how to interact and communicate with a patient who has a disability. Such as, in my case, cerebral palsy.

They asked many great questions? One question was: How do you cope with having a disability? Another question was: What did the Americans with Disabilities Act mean to you?

This was one of the most rewarding two hours I have had in my life. I’m looking forward to going back again next year.



Reflections on a Week of AT in Costa Rica

by Sandy Masayko

Almost a year ago, Susan Tachau and I were contacted by Connie Del Rosario Zúñiga, a teacher we know in Ciudad Quesada, Costa Rica to see if we would come to Costa Rica to share information about Assistive Technology, Communication and adaptations with the teachers and parents at Centro de Educación Especial de San Carlos Amanda Álvarez de Ugalde. The school serves children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities and more, in an agricultural region north of San Jose. After many email exchanges and with the help of Google Translate, we set off for Costa Rica at the end of October and spent a week working at the school, followed by a week of touring in the country.

“No tenemos nada (we have nothing),” our contact had informed us by email. Based on Susan’s experience as Director of PA AT Foundation and as a parent of a man with a disability, and my experience as Director of Assistive Technology at Easterseals of SE PA, we planned to share our perspectives on disabilities and adaptations and to learn from the professionals, parents and students at the school. Susan decided to focus on how she helped her son prepare for independence and work, and to discuss mechanisms for acquiring assistance. Based on my experience with AT for a variety of students, I decided to concentrate on using switches to activate toys and appliances, adapting books and adapting toys. For this reason I packed two suitcases with adapted puzzles and books to leave with the school as samples, and I included a PowerLink, switches and battery interrupters that I purchased on EBay. (The TSA left a note that they had inspected my bags filled with these mysterious items.) In addition I brought some battery-operated toys to use with switches and Spanish Handwriting Without Tears materials. Both of us brought PowerPoint presentations to share.

To our surprise and theirs, the school had more resources than they knew. Once I showed the teachers the technology I brought from the states they began pulling out boxes that had been tucked away. It seemed that they had a lot of equipment that had been put away in boxes by previous employees, but that current employees did not know what those things were. The teachers had speech generating devices, PowerLinks, switches and other things, and although these items were over 15 years old, most could still function. This is a great example of how Assistive Technology consists of both materials and services. Without services or support, technology can be useless.

We spent time observing in classrooms, setting up technology, and trying out adaptations with children and teachers. The response was positive and teachers asked many good questions. A highlight for us was making a presentation, with translation by a specialist from the Ministry of Education, to 28 parents and an occupational therapist and speech pathologist. Cultural differences were evident in some questions, such as when one parent asked Susan, “Why doesn’t your son live with you?” We also noted less emphasis on books than we have in our culture, but people were interested in seeing adapted books. Another cultural difference is that some children with disabilities attend school only part time or even just once a week because they live so far away. Parents stay at the school during the day to help the child with self-care activities if necessary.

Susan and I were involved in different activities our last day at the school. Susan accompanied Connie on a home visit to a teenager who spends all of her time in bed. Because she brought a language board with pictures of the body, Susan was able to show Connie how this girl could communicate pain using the language board. I did a demonstration to small groups of teachers to show them how to use the toys and adaptations we had set up. Veronica, an occupational therapist who had attended the earlier presentation with the parents, listened and translated. After hearing and translating my presentation to the teachers one or two times, Veronica took over the presentation and my job as a consultant was over! Exactly how I would hope this would end.

We completed our collaboration and changed our role to tourists. Costa Rica is an amazing country with friendly, tolerant, intelligent people and an emphasis on family. Volunteering gave us personal perspectives on this stunningly beautiful place and we believe we gave our contacts at the school different perspectives on adaptations and disabilities to be able to consider challenges in new ways. Pura Vida! Pure life! That is the Costa Rican motto. Our trip certainly enriched our lives.