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.

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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.

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.

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!