Tag Archives: assistive technology

Visit to St. Giles in Hobart, Tasmania

by
Sandy Masayko

Have you ever traveled over 10,000 miles, entered a new place and felt like you were at home? That was my experience in January when I visited St. Giles, a branch of Ability First Australia, which is an organization in Australia similar to and affiliated with Easterseals in the US.

My visit came about at the invitation of Occupational Therapist Lisa Melvey of St. Giles, who visited our Yaffe Center when she was on her Easterseals study tour in the fall. Lisa encouraged me to visit when she learned I would be in Australia in January.

Lisa gave me a tour of the modern, light-filled facilities where the agency offers speech, physical and occupational therapy as well as autism, behavioral and social support services, seating and assistive technology to people of all ages and their families. In addition to therapy services the agency has several unique programs, such as “Chat Fit” for adults who use augmentative/alternative communication (AAC). The participants use their communication systems while participating in fitness groups, leisure or community activities and enjoy socializing while honing their use of AAC. Another unique program that is offered by St.Giles is a Toy Library that is open to the community as well as families who are participating in therapeutic services at St. Giles.

Tasmania is a beautiful island state of Australia, located south of the Australian continent, with a climate similar to that of Northern California. About the size of West Virginia, it has over 500,000 inhabitants. Most of the island is rural so providing services in remote places can sometimes be a challenge. St. Giles has 3 main locations and also serves people in their home and community settings. To learn more about St.Giles, visit StGiles.org.au

Visiting St. Giles was a highlight for me when I traveled to Tasmania. With its friendly people, farm fresh foods, beautiful topography and amazing animals, Tasmania is a wonderful place to visit.

Maker Spaces Launched at Easterseals SE PA with Workshops

by Sandy Masayko

The Assistive Technology Department, working in collaboration with our grant funder Comcast and our community partners Science Leadership Academy, Drexel University, Project Vive and MakerBot, is excited to report that our development of Maker Spaces at Easterseals SE PA is well underway! This project consists of two parts: Education of Easterseals staff and local high school student education to provide the basis for creation of Assistive Technology (AT); and setting up maker spaces at each Easterseals SE PA approved private school. The maker spaces will be supplied with 3D printers, soldering kits, moldable plastics, tools, and more. But before anyone can use this new high tech equipment, they need to learn how to design solutions to meet needs and the basics of use of the tools. To meet this need, the AT Department organized two workshops in the fall.

Workshop 1 was held at Drexel University’s Westphal College of Design in September and focused on 3D printing. After a review of AT by Sandy Masayko and an overview of the multiple use of 3D printers by Laurie McGowan, Laura Slatkoff shared her personal experiences in discovering 3D printing and using it to make a customized keyguard for a student. Marcia Leinweber introduced step by step instructions for Computer Assisted Design. Mary Elizabeth McCulloch of Project Vive presented concepts to consider in the design process. The thirty participants then got to work on their shared computers to design the top of a switch. AT Staff members, assisted by Science Leadership Academy (SLA) students who were familiar with 3D design, coached the participants. During the workshop, the SLA students increased their knowledge of AT, and they also videoed and photographed the workshop. At the end of the workshop, Easterseals staff members had homework to complete over the two months before the next workshop: participants were asked to finish their designs and email them to Marcia for printing on the Makerbot 3D printer.

The next workshop, held at SLA in November, allowed the participants to complete their design by constructing a switch for AT. Switch assembly necessitated soldering and wiring of the switch, activities taught by Mary Elizabeth and Joey McCulloch from Project Vive. The participants also learned what tools were in the Maker Spaces and how to use them. Laurie McGowan led participants in creating battery interrupters that can be used to enable toys and devices to be activated with a switch. Sandy introduced how to use a moldable plastic that can be used to create adaptations. As with the first workshop, the SLA students proved to be great coaches to ES staff members as they learned to wire and solder.

Response by the staff to the workshop was overwhelmingly positive. In our pre and post testing for each workshop, the staff members indicated that they significantly increased their knowledge of AT, 3 D printing and tools for creating solutions for people with disabilities. The next phase of the project will be establishment of the Maker Spaces at each approved private school sites. We can’t wait to see what our staff will create!

Project Vive Repairs Easterseals GoBabyGo Cars

by Sandy Masayko

Thanks to Project Vive, our wonderful volunteer partners from State College, Easterseals students will soon be driving their adapted vehicles again. After a year of hard use, the cars needed some repairs, and those repairs were beyond the abilities of our AT Team.

So Project Vive came to the rescue! Braving the perils of the Schuylkill Expressway at rush hour, Project Vive came by van in mid May to transport the adapted cars back to State College where the engineers at Project Vive could repair starters, switches and driving mechanisms. The engineers will be adapting some of the cars with new capabilities such as joystick control. The volunteers took a few other broken items with them as well as the cars.

Three cars have already been returned to the Yaffe Center. We are very grateful for the help we get from Project Vive staff.

We will be working with Project Vive to test out some of their unique augmentative/ alternative communication products. For more information about the exciting work that Project Vive is doing to design low cost augmentative communication, visit their website

Check out the pictures of the Project Vive volunteers loading up our kiddie cars into their van, and some of the refurbished cars upon return to Yaffe Center.

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.

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.

ADA team 2

 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.

Adrienne ADA

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

ADA chair

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.

fraser-w-drill

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.

goodwill-engineering

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.

maria-white

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.