Category Archives: Community Partners

The Odyssey of Giving Back!

by Kirstyn O’Donnell

When 3:30 p.m. hits and my shift at Easterseals is done for the day, home is the last thing on my mind. Almost every other day, I am on my way to an Odyssey of the Mind meeting, that myself and my friend coach. What is Odyssey of the Mind? In short, it’s a sport for your mind. It’s a team everyone can join from kindergarten to twelfth grade to problem solve in a creative way. They use those problem solving skills in a skit that they perform later in the year at regional competition.

On Monday, March 19th, the Pennsbury High School Odyssey of the Mind students visted Easterseals with three boxes of Spring Meal Packages. The Students- Rowan Leventhal, Sarah Uhlman, Danielle Gershman, Becca Uhlman, and Noah Petroski, gathered food for over two weeks with the full intention of giving their donations to some Easterseals families. When the students arrived at the school, they sorted a big box that was overflowing with food into thee separate boxes. Then they were able to tour the school. The air was filled with question after question as they learned about what the staff at Easterseals provides to the children in our community. They were able to see what the school has to offer and were in awe to see the classrooms, the gym and the sensory room.

The students were also able to see some of the equipment that the children use daily, such as standers and gait trainers. They learned how and why these items are used. What they loved most about Easterseals was how the staff finds creative ways to help the children progress in their daily lives. The students later told me that Easterseals was something that they have never experienced before. In that hour and a half of time, they learned something that was very important. They learned that no matter who you are, or how old you may be, giving back to your community is always important. One thing is for sure, Easterseals impacted their lives and they are very excited to return one day in the future!

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students working on their donations.

Cardboard Fairy

by Susan Lowenstein

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.

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.

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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.

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.

Behind the scenes of a Merry Christmas

 

Without a doubt, the Delaware Valley Children’s Charity toy drive is the highlight of each year for many of the Easterseals community.  This is an event that is impossible to describe, but must be experienced to fully appreciate the generosity of so many people.  Arriving at the ‘Y’, you are greeted by volunteers who have already spent hours upon hours carefully wrapping and labeling enough gifts to fill many trucks of various sizes.  For the children we serve, the Easterseals team is charged with moving the gifts from the trailers to rental trucks for transport to the respective programs, where they are offloaded and stored for pick up or delivery.  The energy and excitement of the Easterseals team is evident well before arriving at the Upper Main Line YMCA (which serves as the distribution center for the gifts) and explodes as staff see the packages of wrapped gifts, bicycles and assorted items.  Each gift is personalized and intended to make each child’s Christmas special.

This spectacular day truly ushers in the holiday season, literally bringing tears to the eyes of many first time participants as well as seasoned veterans.  This event, which enjoyed its’ 32nd year in 2017, has grown from serving 5 children to nearly 7,000; from 2 cars filled with gifts to 3 semi-tractor trailer trucks and 26 twenty-four foot moving trucks.  Easterseals is fortunate to serve as the conduit between the Delaware Valley Children’s Charity and the families of the children served by our community and we thank them for allowing us to be a small part of such a powerful expression of caring.  It is noteworthy that the donors will never see the faces of the children they’ve touched, only reinforcing the idea that this is all about the kids!  As their website offers, they believe “. . .  that a new winter coat or bag of toys may not change a life, but it can change a heart, and that is where it all begins.”

We thank the DVCC for allowing us to be part of such an incredible day!