Tag Archives: assistive technology

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.

Easter Seals Joins Other Philly Agencies to Learn About Low Cost Adaptations

by Sandy Masayko

With support from a grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities has partnered with the Adaptive Design Association and community agencies in fabrication of adaptive equipment (seats, slant boards, wheel chair trays, mobility devices, etc.) from tri-wall cardboard.  Easter Seals supported the grant and is very pleased that three of our staff members are participating in the program.

Assistive Technology Specialist Laurie G. McGowan and Occupational Therapist Adrienne Krysiuk traveled to New York City in March for a one day introduction to the processes of making adaptive equipment. Cathleen Thompson, Occupational Therapist, completed the introductory training on another day. Now the three Easter Seals staff members are ready to participate in six additional training days in May and June to become expert at using this low cost material to fabricate adaptive equipment. The May and June sessions will take place at Philadelphia Woodworks in Manayunk.

We will have the opportunity to train another team in the summer.

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 From left: Rochelle Mendonca, Temple University Occupational Therapy Program, Deb DeVito, Elwyn and Laurie G. McGowan of Easter Seals worked together to learn how to assemble triwall into a seat.

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Adrienne Krysiuk checking out the Tippy Chair that she created with her team

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Example of a customized and personalized chair made by a team at the Adaptive Design Association.

For more information about the Adaptive Design Association, visit http://www.adaptivedesign.org/

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.

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.

Save

Engineers to the Rescue!

by Sandy Masayko

Three amazing groups of volunteers have given Easter Seals of SEPA valuable service by repairing adapted electronic toys and speech generating devices for our students. Each repair saves Easter Seals at least $60 and, more importantly, puts the toys and equipment back where it belongs: in the hands of our students. The three groups that have helped us are the Senior Engineering Students at the Science Leadership Academy, a Philadelphia public high school; Dan Frank, graduate engineering student at the University of Florida, who has organized groups to help us at least three times in the past; and Project Vive, a non-profit under the direction of Mary Elizabeth McCulloch in State College. Here are the details about each group’s contribution:

After visiting Easter Seals to see the kinds of toys that our students need, the Science Leadership Academy students repaired toys in their lab at their high school. They returned them in December and then spent more time in the classrooms seeing how adaptations can promote participation. Their next project is to design toys and switches.

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Toy repairs completed by Science Leadership Academy

Dan Frank, a doctoral student in engineering at the University of Florida, has organized toy repair and ride-on car adaptations for Easter Seals in the past by recruiting his friends and fellow students. This December he came through for us again by spending a day of his vacation at our Bucks County Division repairing toys. Each year on the day before holiday break, Dan brings a few of his friend with him in what is becoming a yearly tradition for the AT Center at Bucks. This December, for the third year in a row, he came through for us again by spending a day of his vacation repairing toys with his sister Janelle and longtime friend from high school, Samantha.

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Volunteers Janelle Frank, Samantha Ahern and Dan Frank

Project Vive really came to the rescue! This organization, which is dedicated to designing low cost speech generating devices, took away broken items in October and returned at the end of January with 62 toys and speech generating devices. The toy delivery coincided with Project Vive’s leadership in conducting a workshop to switch-adapt commercially available electrically powered child sized ride on Jeeps for our students. Muchas Gracias to Project Vive! To learn more about Project Vive visit: http://www.projectvive.com

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Easter Seals AT Department was amazed by Project Vive’s delivery of 62 toys and speech generating devices on January 30, 2017.

Here are some photos of Project Vive in action repairing toys:

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Project Vive’s soldering, rewiring and TLC got these cows to moo and a bug to squeak.

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Elmo required thoracic surgery at the Project Vive hospital.

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Project Vive took responsibility for testing the repairs!

Thank you to all the engineers who helped repair our toys and speech devices!

Assistive Technology in the Land Down Under!

by Sandy Masayko, Director of Assistive Technology

When you think of Australia, what comes to mind? Kangaroos, perhaps? Or koalas, crocodiles or the Great Barrier Reef? Probably Assistive Technology wasn’t at the top of the list, but I am about to travel to Australia to explore how the Aussies are using and developing AT to serve people with disabilities in their country.

This afternoon I am setting out for Sydney, Australia, on the first part of my study tour of three Easter Seals affiliates in Australia.  In the fall I was delighted to be selected by the National Office of Easter Seals to visit Ability First Australia agencies: Northcott in Sydney; Rocky Bay and Ability Centre in Perth. My goals are to learn how AT is delivered in Australia, to investigate new technologies, and to share information about our programs at Easter Seals of SEPA.  And to enjoy Australia!

With about 20 hours of flying time and additional time for layovers and transportation to and from the airport, this will be a very long trip from Philly.  First I fly to Los Angeles, and then after a three-hour layover, I will board a plane for Sydney, a 14 hour flight that involves crossing the International Date Line.  I will be arriving in Sydney 8:45 am on Friday, February 10.  My strategy for adapting to the time change is to stay awake as long as I can on the flight out of Los Angeles by reading and watching films, then pull my sleep mask over my eyes to catch a few hours of sleep. When I wake up, it should be about time to land in Sydney.

Over the next three weeks I will share my journey with you by blogging at our Easter Seals of Southeastern PA website.  I look forward to your comments and questions.