Tag Archives: adaptive equipment

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.

Build, Engage, and Change with Adaptive Design Association Inc.

by Jo Booth

On Friday, July 28th, I had the good fortune to be able to attend a training sponsored by the Adaptive Design Association Inc. in New York City. Through a grant, the Adaptive Design Assoc. hosted a training for designers, therapists, and skilled craftsmen from the Philadelphia region on the construction of adaptive equipment for people of all abilities. Gratefully, EasterSeals of SEPA was well represented! The goal was to spread both techniques for making products as well as to set up pockets for collaborators to continue this important work by consulting and constructing items of need within their home communities. It doesn’t really matter what “the norm” is, as we all have needs and will most probably require an adaptation at some point in our lives. You see, sometimes it may be to change the angle or view for an individual so that they can complete their work, provide postural support, or be able to complete daily routines or activities of daily living by changing the structure up a bit. If you begin to presume competence in others, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by what a person is indeed capable of doing or understanding.

About ADA

The Adaptive Design Assoc. was founded by the vision of Alex Truesdale so that the designs and their construction could improve the quality of life for individuals to simply function within their environment. ALL items are customized for EVERY CLIENT and can be made from simple tools and construction materials. Many of the adaptations were made from tri-ply cardboard, glue, and “wooden nails”. The lifespan of the adaptive devices made from these simple but humble materials far outlasted many commercial materials, and in fact, many could be adapted quickly as a person’s needs changed rather than purchasing new equipment altogether. Alex in her overview of her life’s work described the unique relationship between the designers, creators, and clients. She stated that this relationship was the ground or heart of the creative process. When pieces were made from mutual respect, open communication, and yes – love; they could address the needs of the client in a more organic and direct manner. One of my favorite pieces was a stairway to assist a child in independently getting in and out of his wheelchair painted in a Spiderman motif that was totally awesome! When viewing pictures of the designs from the past, it was fascinating to see that what stood out was the individual, and not the design itself. The technology had simply fallen away from view. The Motto for this community of makers is: “Build for One, Engage Everybody, Change Everything™” . At ADA, anything is possible.

Participating with the Adaptive Design Association

The ADA encourages active participation from all as they believe that by using many hands, no detail goes unnoticed. Improvements spontaneously arise from collaborative efforts. The ADA offers many opportunities for learning and involvement. Visiting their website is not only inspirational but also a source for people to learn – tutorials on the process of making adaptations are offered on the website. Workshops, intern positions, and opportunities to volunteer are all ways to become involved and so that you can make a difference in your community. Over the next few months, I hope to show you in more detail, the process of learning to fabricate adaptations that are made with cardboard.