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!
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!
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!
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.
Andrew Askedall brought the 3D printer from Brooklyn as a loan to Easterseals. Here Andrew is demonstrating to Sandy Masayko how to set up the printer.
MakerBot Replicator+ 3D printer.
The MakerBot at work creating a bright pink keyguard to help our students activate their speech generating devices.
Easterseals staff members Laurie McGowan, Laura Slotkoff, Marcia Leinweber, Alesha Polles, Sandy Masayko and in front, George Russo, at the Franklin Institute at the February 21 workshop “3D Printing and AT” at the Franklin Institute. People are holding items made with the 3D printer (except for George, who is holding an item from another workshop).
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!
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
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.
Lori Binko of Lesson Pix with an adapted car that was funded by Easterseals
Melissa Spade with an adapted toy made from common materials and communication pictures
AT@ATIA From Left: Melissa Spade, Speech Pathologist; Laurie G. McGowan, AT Specialist; Sandy Masayko, Director of AT; Joy S. McGowan, Director of Augmentative Communication; Marcia Leinweber, AT Specialist
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.