Finishing Up My Study Tour at Ability Centre in Perth

by Sandy Masayko

This is the tenth post in a series about assistive technology in Australia.

Ability Centre, as with the other two sites I visited, provides an extensive array of services for people with disabilities. My last day on my study tour included learning about a mix of supportive services: CP Tech, a workshop that constructs customized adapted equipment; Goodwill Engineering, an industrial workshop that employs people with disabilities; a meeting with Scott Langmead, a seating specialist in mobility for young children; and a meeting with Hillary Brand, principal of Sir David Brand School, an independent school that serves children with multiple disabilities. The school is not a part of Ability Centre, but the therapy services are provided by Ability Centre.

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Fraser Clarke showed me a computer-controlled drill that can form customized seating from a block of foam at CP Tech.

I climbed up into Fraser Clarke’s SUV for the 15 minute drive to Malaga, north of the Ability Centre’s location, where both CP Tech and Goodwill Engineering are housed in an industrial site. Fraser guided me on a tour of CP Tech, a facility that can fabricate all kinds of adapted equipment and seating. I saw a computer-controlled drill that is capable of forming a customized wheelchair cushion from a block of foam as well as the upholstery workshop and wheelchair repair stations. Goodwill Engineering is attached to CP Tech and looks like any factory although when you look closely you can see many people in wheelchairs at their workstations. The company produces building supplies such as the wires that stabilize brick walls.

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Goodwill Engineering is an industrial site run by Ability Centre that provides employment for people with disabilities.

Back at Ability Centre, I met with Scott Langmead and learned about his development of the Ability Centre’s Wizzy Bug fleet through grant funding. Scott came up with the idea to obtain the little powerchairs after taking a worldwide study tour several years ago and learning about these mobility devices on his trip. Scott has offered to share his paper describing his visits with mobility and seating experts from around the world. I shared some of our Go Baby Go resources with him.

My final visit was to the Sir David Brand School adjacent to the Ability Centre, but not a part of the Centre. Principal Hillary Palmer met with me and gave me a tour of the facilities. We enjoyed comparing and contrasting educational practices of Australia and the US. It seems that parents in Australia are less litigious than parents can be in the US. The school is identified as an independent school, similar to our charter schools in Pennsylvania. It is exclusively for students with multiple disabilities. Contracting with the Ability Centre for therapy services gives the school consistency in therapy staff, unlike some other schools that rely on numerous contractors.

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OT Maria White arranged for me to meet at the Ability Centre with a group of therapists interested in eye gaze technology for young children.

Two weeks can fly by. And that is what has happened with my study tour. It’s been an intense two weeks to meet so many generous people carrying out an amazing array of programs. I am very thankful to Easterseals National Office and Southeastern Pennsylvania for this opportunity. I would especially like to thank Maria White, Scott Langmead, Fraser Clarke, Catherine Greenway and Suzie Cowcher at the Ability Centre for the program that they arranged for me in the past two days, and I’d like to thank the clients for sharing their programs with me also. I hope that we will be able to keep in touch to continue to exchange ideas about programs to support people with disabilities

If you would like to read Sandy’s previous posts, you can find the first one here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, the fifth here, the sixth here, the seventh here, the eighth here and the ninth here.

Ability Centre in Perth

by Sandy Masayko

This is Sandy’s ninth post in a series about assistive technology in Australia

Ability Centre in North Perth is the last site on my study tour of Ability First Australia affiliates. I continue to be warmly welcomed by my Australian colleagues. Each center that I have visited has had a broad range of programs and each has had some unique programs. At Ability Center, as with Rocky Bay and Northcott, accommodation for people with disabilities is a focus. The living arrangements vary but the old fashioned nursing home for people with disabilities is thing of the past here, having been replaced by small apartments and shared housing with support.

The unique programs at Ability Centre include access to an early mobility device call a Wizzybug. This is a powerchair designed for 1-4 year old children. Not available in the US, the Wizzy comes from the U.K. Ability Centre imports the mini powerchairs for Australians and maintains a fleet that children can trial and borrow. Here is what they look like:

Another unique program developed by Ability Centre therapists is a program to address sleep issues including temperature regulation and positioning during sleep. Using custom-designed bolsters and temperature control fabrics, the Sleep Solution teams can help their clients achieve restful sleep.

OT Maria White was very interested in Easterseals of SEPA’s work with eye gaze technology with young children. She invited a group of therapists from Ability Centre and from community agencies including the Independent Living Center in Perth and Edith Cowan University to hear my presentation of our AT Department study of eye gaze technology with young children. Some therapists participated from remote sites. The therapists asked many pertinent questions and shared their own experiences with implementing eye gaze technology.

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Maria White, in dark blue shirt on the right, organized a group to hear my presentation on eye gaze technology with young children.

I was very pleased to complete the day with therapists at Ability Centre by carrying out client observation and visits. We considered issues around teaching eye gaze technology to a child, adapting access for an adult eye gaze user, and adjusting environmental controls through a phone used by an adult with cerebral palsy and visual impairment. The clients were kind to let me participate in observing them work with their therapists, and all of us discussed alternatives that might make participating in their home and schools easier and more efficient for the clients.

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Speech Therapist Charlene Freedman coaching her young student in using eye gaze technology to select a song that she wants to hear.

Thank you to CEO Suzie Cowcher and Catherine Greenway, General Manager of Therapy and Health Services, for sharing with me their strategies for dealing with the changes in the marketplace, funding and customer relations through implementing prototypes of new systems. There is an Innovation Hub at Ability Centre that is providing leadership in change in the organization.

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Catherine Greenway and Suzie Cowcher

You can read Sandy’s first post in this series here, her second here, the third here, the fourth here, the fifth here, the sixth here, the seventh here and the eighth here.

Innovative Programs at Rocky Bay

by Sandy Masayko

This is the eighth post in a series about assistive technology in Australia

Rocky Bay has several innovative and unique programs. Today, February 21, I spent the day learning about the Community Refurbished Equipment services, Posture Tech, Assistive Technology & Milo, a talking robot who teaches children about emotions and feelings. Expansion of awareness and access to AT through development of AT Mentors in the state is another unique program at Rocky Bay that I heard about.

Refurbished Equipment & Posture Tech

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AT Manager Cheryl Lockland discusses inventory with Ken, the warehouse manager of Community Refurbished Equipment.

Have you ever wondered what happens with used equipment once a person no longer needs it? At Rocky Bay, wheelchairs, bath seats, walking devices and more are refurbished so that they look like new. The devices are available for purchase at about half the cost of what a new item might cost. Look at the photo above to see just a portion of the equipment that is available for people to purchase.

At another Rocky Bay program, Posture Tech, technicians and upholstery specialists can customize and repair equipment to meet individual needs as recommended by therapists. Posture Tech has a complete workshop including a robotically controlled saw that can cut out cushions to match the postural needs of individuals. Posture Tech even has a van and can make calls in the community for repairs and adaptations.

New AT in Australia

Acquiring new Assistive Technology can be challenging for Australians because some items are not released in Australia when they are released in the US. Two examples are the Google Home and the Liftware Steady spoon. At the request of Rocky Bay OT Kelvin Kong, I brought these two devices to Perth so that Kelvin could get a head start in trying them out to be prepared when they are available in the Australian market.

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Kelvin Kong investigates his new AT from the United States at a team meeting.

After presenting the items to Kelvin and the Rocky Bay therapists, I had a discussion with the therapists about the challenges of funding for equipment and services in the US. The therapists are curious about ways to manage funding requests, which may be similar to insurance proposals in the US with the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in Australia.

Milo the Talking Robot

Another unique program at Rocky Bay is the use of Milo, a talking robot who has the ability to demonstrate facial expressions and to teach children how to interpret emotions. He also can provide strategies for appropriate responses in social situations. Milo is used in conjunction with speech therapy sessions twice a week for a period of 10 weeks. Rocky Bay is researching the effectiveness of this tool. The pilot study indicates that the outcomes are positive.

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Speech Therapist Lauren Constantine and Children’s Program Manager Mai Welsh demonstrated Milo’s ability to teach the meaning of facial expressions and appropriate behavioral responses.

AT Mentors

An additional innovative program at Rocky Bay is a training program for community members to become AT mentors in a nationally accredited certificate programs. The eight participants are being coached by Rocky Bay AT Specialists to provide guidance to community members on the wide array of AT that is available to enhance function. Because the state of Western Australia is about a third of the size of the US, with a population about the size of Chicago, serving people in remote areas is a challenge. By establishing community liaisons who can mentor people who might benefit from technology, Rocky Bay is increasing access to AT for residents of Western Australia.

Sharing with Colleagues

One of the most important aspects of this study tour has been sharing ideas and strategies with other managers of AT Services. Cheryl Lockwood, Manager of AT, and Linda Chiu, Director of Clinical Services have been generous with their time and expertise.

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Cheryl Lockwood, Sandy Masayko & Linda Chiu at a restaurant overlooking the Indian Ocean.

Finishing Up at Rocky Bay

After two days at Rocky Bay, I will finish up in the morning by visiting community living arrangements with Kylie Murphy, Director of Leisure and Independence. Rocky Bay has a wide range of accommodation options for people with disabilities in new apartments and shared housing. It appears that people with disabilities have many more options for accommodations in Australia compared to the US.

Thank You Rocky Bay!

Thank you for the well-planned visit, tours and discussions. I am especially grateful to CEO Michael Tait, Executive Assistant Sally Connor, AT Manager Cheryl Lockwood, Clinical Services Director Linda Chiu, and Leisure and Independence Director Kylie Murphy. I will not forget your kindness and your generosity.

You can read Sandy’s first post here, her second post here, her third post here, the fourth post here, the fifth here, sixth here and finally the seventh here.

 

Rocky Bay: Wide-Ranging Services in the Region of Perth

by Sandy Masayko

This is Sandy’s seventh post in a series from Australia

Perth is considered to be one of the most remote cities in the world, but life in the city seems remarkably similar to life in the western US. The ranch style houses with their red tiled roofs and beach front properties surrounded by Eucalyptus trees remind me of California. It’s a wonderful place to visit, but even many Australians do not make the cross-country trip to see this region.

Services for people with disabilities are part of the fabric of the community in Perth. Rocky Bay is an agency that started out as the Western Australia Society for Crippled Children about 80 years ago. When the location of the center moved about 25 years ago, it adopted the name of the location where the main offices are. It now serves all people with disabilities. As with Northcott, Rocky Bay provides an impressive array of services for people with disabilities. I was warmly welcomed with a tour by the CEO Michael Tait and enjoyed morning tea with the senior executives of the organization. I had met many of the folks at the staff celebration on Saturday night, but on Monday morning everyone was back in work mode. Here are some of the highlights of my visit:

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As part of the Leisure, Lifestyle and Learning Department, a sensory room is available to residents and community members. Pauline Castles & Kylie Murphy showed me the accommodations and programs that develop independence.

Accommodations for people with disabilities are a rapidly expanding service at Rocky Bay. Facilities at Rocky Bay include spaces for recreational programs including woodworking, crafts, community dances, and a sensory room open to the public for a small charge. The living arrangements vary from group living with nursing support to individual adapted apartments for one to four people located in the community. The wide-open spaces and universal design promote accessibility. Several apartments contain height-adjustable sinks and stoves that are changed by using hand cranks, something that I had never seen before.

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Emma Bogue demonstrated the height adjustable sink.

Rocky Bay is experiencing rapid growth due to the changes in funding and the merger of organizations. I met with members of the HR Department and later the Strategy Team to discuss how the agency is managing recruitment and retention of staff, professional development, quality assurance, planning for future growth and communication. Communication Manager Rachel Horton edits a weekly e-newsletter that staff uses to share programs and issues. This is important because staff members can work in consulting roles throughout Western Australia, an area approximately as large as one third of the US.

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Human Resources Team members Rosanna Abannizie, Jackie Vernon & Wendy Tappe

You can read Sandy’s first post here, second post here, third post here, fourth post here, fifth post here and sixth post here.

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Party in Perth!

by Sandy Masayko

This is the sixth post in a series from Sandy’s trip to Australia

Saturday morning I flew across Australia from Sydney to Perth, almost as far as flying from Philly to San Francisco, a trip that took 4 ½ hours. I am now in a city that’s about as far as a person can get from Philadelphia; if I were to continue flying west I’d be on my way back to Philly. My first visit will be at Rocky Bay.

Penetrating dry heat enveloped Perth on the day I arrived. Perfect weather for a party! The evening of February 18, about 650 employees and guests of Rocky Bay dressed up for the Staff Ball, which was a celebration of all that the teams have accomplished over the past year and a chance to honor staff members who have made special contributions to the agency. One of the honorees was a member of the AT Team, John Roberts, who has worked at Rocky Bay constructing adaptations for clients for many years.

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Cheryl Lockwood, Manager of AT and AT Team members and guests socialized prior to the award ceremony.

Sandy is writing is a series of posts from her assistive technology adventures in Australia. You can read the first one here, the second one here, the third one here, the fourth one here and the fifth one here.

Study Tour in Australia at Northcott Transition, Reconciliation & Innovation

by Sandy Masayko

This is the fifth post in a series from Australia

Transition, reconciliation and innovation were the focus of my last two days at Northcott on February 16 & 17. I continued to share many of the activities with Cristen Reat of Easterseals Houston.

Transition: Vocational Services for Young Adults & Links for Families

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Young adults in the Penrith Vocational Skills Program

Services for young adults who have left school and who are developing employment skills and links for families who need help with their children’s development are the focus for support in two of Northcott’s programs. As in the US, many students have difficulty finding employment after leaving high school and need assistance to identify their passion and to develop work skills needed to succeed. We joined Penrith Vocational Skills for some of their group lessons and a delicious barbecue at their site. In the afternoon we met with Link workers who provide support to families of children up to age 9 with developmental issues. Thank you to Michelle Budden, Office Manager for these programs, for introducing us to these fine programs.

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Link Workers provide support to families of children with developmental challenges

Reconciliation: Inclusion of Aboriginal Communities

 Many group meetings in Australia open with a statement acknowledging the Aboriginal people who were the first people in Australia, and one meeting I attended began with a welcome by an Aboriginal artist, speaking in her first language. Northcott is committed to reconciliation, or building “an inclusive society where people can live a life they choose.” This includes acknowledgement of Aboriginal culture and ensuring that Aboriginal people are able to fully participate in the programs offered by Northcott, as employees and as customers. We had an informative and frank discussion with Debbie Frail, an Aboriginal woman who advises on Aboriginal and Torres Strain Islander Programs at Northcott. She shared the Reconciliation Action Plan with us, the agency’s plan to address recognition of the cultural heritage and perspectives of Aboriginal people.

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Nichola Midgley, Senior Manager; Cristen Reat, Easterseals Houston; Debbie Frail, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Program Advisor; Sandy Masayko

Innovation: Step Climbing Wheelchair

Innovation is being addressed at Northcott in an independent agency that is wholly owned by Northcott: Northcott Innovation. Sam Frain, an OT, directs the program that has developed many new designs including an add-on to a power wheelchair that allows the chair to climb one step. See the YouTube video here for a demonstration of this amazing invention. It is not yet commercially available. Apps, adapted equipment and orthotics formed from 3D printers are also in development at Northcott Innovation.

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Sam Frain describing some of the Northcott Innovation’s projects

The commitment to providing excellent services, empathy, and professional knowledge are evident at Northcott. Even though the agency is going through some adjustments because of the new National Disability Insurance Scheme, which turns people with disabilities into customers who have control over their funds and how they will be spent, the staff members were upbeat and welcomed the change. I want to thank all the people who spent time with me the past week explaining their programs. We did a lot of talking in the cars as we traveled western suburbs of Sydney. I especially want to thank Nichola Midgely who arranged my visits with the professionals and added some extra meetings to meet my curiosity about programs.

Read the first post in this series here, the second here, the third here and the fourth here.

Wheelchairs and Accommodations at Northcott

by Sandy Masayko

This is the fourth post in a series of post from Sandy’s visit to Australia

Exploring the farm is part of the fun of living there. But for an 11-year-old boy who was being jostled about in his chair because the standard wheels on his current chair are not designed for uneven terrain, exploration was not so much fun and not really safe. Adapting the power wheelchair so that his young client can drive all around the dirt roads on his family’s farm was the focus of Northcott OT Santheesh Thiruchelvam’s day on Feb. 15. We accompanied Santheesh on a one-hour drive into the country to meet with his young client and the boy’s family.

Santheesh had arranged for a vendor for an Australian wheelchair company, Glide, to bring wheelchairs with wider tires out to the farm for some test drives. As soon as he was in the new chair, the boy took off down a dirt road, turned around and returned with a grin on his face. He really liked the smoother ride on the larger tires. Next challenge was driving into his parent’s van. This test revealed that the tires were too large for van entry. Next trial was with a chair fitted with slightly more narrow tires. The second trial proved that with the narrow tires chair could go up the ramp.

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OT Santheesh Thiruchelvam supervises his client’s trial with a power wheel chair adapted with wide tires for uneven terrain.

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Although the tires on this wheelchair proved to be too wide for the child to drive into his parents’ van, when he tried another chair with more narrow tires the child was successful. His OT, father and Cristen Reat of Easterseals Houston look on.

After returning to Northcott, we met with Tara Ozturk who is an Accommodations Services Manager. She oversees the operations of several community living arrangements where folks can live in their own apartments, in shared or independent housing. Support is given as needed from the workers on staff according to the plan developed with the customers. We visited an accessible garden apartment complex where 12 people live in 8 apartments with some common space for barbecues, gardens and meetings. Residents proudly showed us their apartments. Northcott has a network of housing and supported independent living services throughout the area, giving people with disabilities choices in housing.

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Tara Ozturk, Cristen Reat, a Support Worker and Sandy Masayko chatted in the garden courtyard of a shared housing apartment complex.

Read the first post here, the second here and the third here.