Shermare is putting out forest fires. Though she has a physical disability with limited range of motion, Shermare is able to use an iPad for the first time, thanks to an adaptive switch that she can activate with her hand, forearm or even her cheek. Each time she taps the switch, the animated helicopter on the screen drops a bucket of water onto the cartoon fires below. Shermare squeals with delight as the last fire is doused.
Shermare E. is a client of JEVS Community Supports and Adult Residential who has spastic cerebral palsy and requires significant support from caregivers to complete almost all tasks. When she recently acquired an iPad, she found she was unable to use it by touching the screen, and had to rely on staff to pull up her email.
Enter JEVS’ Assistive Technology Professional Madeline Schlusser, who met with Shermare, completed an assessment, and recommended the wireless two-switch that enables Shermare to play switch accessible games and use apps likes Netflix and iTunes.
After using the switch, something clicked in Shermare right away. Her life seemed to brighten and her world opened up. “I did not know it was possible,” Shermare said.
“When you first came here, I never was on my iPad before. Now I know things that I never knew before. You helped me a lot, Madeline.”
“She was like, ‘oh my gosh, I can do this myself!’” said Schlusser.
While the video games are interactive and fun for Shermare, they also teach her several skills. “This particular game allows her to see the cause and effect of using a switch with her iPad, and also helps her to develop better hand-eye coordination.”
The goal is to get Shermare comfortable using the switch so she can develop the skills she will need to use more advanced apps, like a speech generator she can utilize when her voice tires or if an aide is struggling to understand to her vocalizations.
“Shermare’s confidence has grown immensely over the last few months,” said Schlusser. “She’s been very excited by the opportunity to gain more independence.”
The switch, the app, and even the assessment and training provided are all examples of Assistive Technology.
What is Assistive Technology
Assistive Technology, or AT, is any device, software, or equipment that enables someone to work around their challenges and perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. It also includes direct training and instruction to the user. AT often means increased independence, freedom, safety, and autonomy.
Many AT interventions are low cost or even free. For example, AT can be as simple as changing the size and color of your cursor in your computer settings, which can make a world of difference for someone who has difficulty with visual tracking. And while anyone can buy equipment, more benefits are seen when a certified AT Professional is able to assess what will work for someone and then train that person and their caregivers on how to use it.
“JEVS is building this service within our agency to help find solutions to support more independence,” said Clara Thompson, vice president of community living and home supports at JEVS. “There is a huge need for someone to be able to assess a person’s abilities and identify what technology will help them live more independently and be more connected to others. We are filling that gap with Madeline’s skills and certification for all of the persons we support.”
“While certification was a personal goal of mine, my motivation also came from the individuals we serve,” said Schlusser, who had to accrue 1500 hours of direct experience with assistive technology before she could sit for the exam. “It allows me to further support our clients and make a meaningful impact on their lives.”
Schlusser is providing Assistive Technology support to individuals across an array of JEVS programs.
Tikvah Residents Make Connections Using AT
Recently JEVS Tikvah Residence received a grant to purchase AT devices for each of their eight residents.
“We were able to purchase an Amazon Echo dot and Fire Tablet for each resident,” said Schlusser. “My role has been to install the Echo devices in the residents’ apartments and instruct them on how to use them.
“Most residents have been using their Fire Tablets to connect virtually with their family and friends during the pandemic. By staying connected with loved ones, residents avoid becoming isolated and improve their mental health.”
Independence Network Members See Benefits of AT
After performing AT assessments with some members of JEVS Independence Network , Schlusser found they too could benefit from the use of smart home technology like Amazon Echo devices. “They’re great because they are commercially available and low cost. One member is using her Echo device to develop a morning and nighttime routine to improve her health and wellness.”
“It has changed my life,” said Independence Network member Chrissy A. “The Echo device reminds me to leave for work on time. Now I am trying new recipes for dinner. The Echo Show makes it easy to look up new recipes.”
Fellow IN member David M. agrees: “I think it has changed my life because it helping me to stay organized. The device reminds me of things like what time to take the train to work and what time to leave for work. I think the Echo devices are amazing and cool. I wish I had it years ago.”
IN member Josh S . uses his Echo mostly for emergency calls in case he doesn’t have his phone and has a medical emergency. And since Echo Show has a camera that can be covered with a slide, his parents or staff members can drop in on him via video.
“I think the Echo devices are fun and helpful,” said Josh. “It’s going to change my life by making things easier and helping me to remember things. The devices help me to be more independent.”
To help him at work, Josh is also trialing a Livescribe pen, which transcribes handwritten notes into a text file on a computer. “Josh usually writes by hand during appointments then has to rewrite it into the computer afterward, which is double the work,” said Schlusser. “This tool cuts out typing what he has already written and saves him time. He can also dictate to the Livescribe pen as well.”
The Livescribe pen and other AT devices are available through a state program run by Temple University called TechOWL. It functions as a free AT lending library where it is possible to borrow equipment for short term use.
“TechOWL is very helpful,” said Schlusser. “We are starting to build our own library within JEVS. Right now we have some Echo devices, some switches, and a Tile for losing keys – yes, that’s assistive technology! We are also hoping to get a 3D printer to make simple devices like prescription pill bottle openers, zipper pulls, key holders — the possibilities are endless.”
Moving Beyond iPad Games
For Shermare, iPad games are just a start. In fact, she has mastered her iPad now and is looking for something more challenging, so Schlusser is training her on a speech generation app, as well as looking into different types of switches to try.
“There’s a Sip and Puff switch which she can blow into to signal her device. Down the road, the ultimate recommendation may be eye gaze technology. We really need to research best options. This is just the beginning!”
For more information on Assistive Technology, contact JEVS at firstname.lastname@example.org