As I sit down to write this reflection on the development of Assistology over the last couple of years, it is easy to recognize the parallels to what my mom must have been going through almost 30 years ago while she and my aunt launched into their dream of creating Children’s Respite Care Center – which continues to flourish all these years later.
My journey with Assistology started with a vision. A vision about how to better meet the needs for unrestricted access to life’s activities for individuals and businesses in our community. I recognized that there was a lack of expertise available to provide the range of services that were needed. And there are a vast number and varied types of needs not being met. These “needs” should be a right of human passage.
From the understanding of the range of needs in the community, a vision emerged to provide specialized services in a way that removes barriers and expands opportunities to create unrestricted access to educational, vocational, home, community and recreational activities for all ages of members in our community.
When I think back to March 2017 I am truly blown away by the evolution of Assistology over the past year.
When I launched Assistology, I set out on a path to build a company that would offer Assistive Technology related services in a way that had not been done…maybe had not even been envisioned.
I knew I brought a unique perspective to the table based on personal, educational and professional experiences and that I had the ability to use this skill set for the benefit of individuals with disabilities and the businesses that serve them.
At the same time I secretly harbored a fear that I would be the only person who saw the value in what Assistology was going to offer to the people and businesses in our communities.
That fear quickly dissipated as Omaha lived up to its reputation for generosity – generosity in time, resources, mentors, and collaborative efforts.
Over the last year the opportunities to positively impact our communities has exploded in more targeted directions than I originally envisioned.
This journey started focused on reaching individuals, but we realized organizations in our communities that serve individuals with disabilities were in need of additional resources to help them best serve their clients. Businesses throughout the community were lacking in resources and expertise to best enable them to create spaces and provide services in a way that were accessible to and beneficial for all members of the community.
Another enlightenment occurred as I talked with professionals whose job it is to create spaces and design services. Many reported a lack of education in their academic pursuits related to understanding impairment and how to apply their training to the benefit of the greatest percentage of our populations. These realizations ignited Assistology’s efforts to develop professional level trainings related to Disability Awareness and Universal Design. They also triggered opportunities to partner with academic institutions to provide educational opportunities relevant to their students for their future professions.
It continues to be evident that the scope of need in our community encompasses all aspects of our community….individuals, spaces, and specific services.
The year has not been without challenges. The first was – concisely explaining, “what the heck is a Rehab Engineer?” Great question! We are awesome, that is what we are! No really, we are trained to understand impairment AND be able to design and apply technological or training based solutions to solve a human centered problem.
Generally and in all seriousness, people don’t like change. Anytime you push people to think differently you ultimately face a battle against, “The way we are doing things is working just fine”. It is my job to demonstrate how we can do them better, not just differently. This applies to designing spaces, training staff, creating programs, expanding educational opportunities in impairment and providing Assistive Technology related services.
Another parallel to my mom’s experiences is that there have been regular moments of frustration around reimbursement options for working with state funding sources – such as the Community and Home Based Medicaid Waiver that works to provide services in a home setting and prevent individuals from being unnecessarily relegated to long term care facilities. It will be a tedious and frustrating educational battle, but we will continue to fight for changing minor points in legislation that will increase an individual’s equal choice in service provider.
A large portion of the year has been focused in raising awareness of the needs and possibilities that exist. It has been an effort well worth it – people are paying attention! In our initiation year, we have gained over 160 Facebook followers (individuals and businesses) and there have been people from over 28 countries who have checked out Assistology’s website. In February 2018, a Go Baby Go project we engineered drew media coverage that was shared across news broadcasts nationally, with a video that was viewed over 117,000 times in the first two weeks!
The other day someone asked me a curious question.
“In your initial year, what were your biggest surprises?”
Over the course of the last year, I have learned MANY things (including that I do not love Quickbooks), but the most impactful has been to never underestimate the breadth of support and opportunity to be found when you believe in yourself.
Coming in a close second is the scope of opportunities that can develop when you present the expertise and resources to accomplish previously undreamed dreams. Give people the freedom to dream, and the needle on opportunities quickly starts to shift more toward inclusion.
Over the last year we have made great strides toward “Changing the way people experience their world, creating more inclusive communities.”
Some of our favorite highlights from the year:
Co-authoring of Let’s Go Out! A Business Case for Dine-Able Restaurants. This collaboration with Stuart Shell, an architect, has lead to an presentation at the Rocky Mountain Green conference in Denver, Colorado to talk to architects about the importance of considering the human experience in the design process.
Establishment of co-locating industry partnership with Metro Community College (MCC) Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology. This academic-industry partnership serves to expose the MCC faculty and student community to the applications of Assistive Technology, and provide the community with greater exposure to the developments in emerging technology and prototype programs. It has also provided a platform to expand continuing education offerings to include Disability Awareness for a Culture of Inclusion and Universal Design for Business.
A Muti-party collaboration with UNMC, UCP of Nebraska and MCC to expand the reach and offerings to provide Go Baby Go modified PowerWheels cars for children with mobility impairments. This initiative provides an avenue for children to experience early independent mobility, expand opportunities for socialization and further development of motor and sensory skills.
Establishment of a partnership with UCP of Nebraska to launch Tech Tools Lending Library at the Metro Community College Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology. The purpose being to expand access to adapted toys and equipment for the northeastern communities in the Omaha area. This partnership also supports funding that expands access for individual families to participate in the Go Baby Go program.
Helping an individual pursue their goals for independent living through the application of adapted kitchen equipment and utensils.
The inspection and environmental assessment of a manufacturing and production facility to provide recommendations to further employee safety, productivity and employment opportunities.
I would be remiss to not give a shout out to some key mentors and contributors to the development of Assistology and its partnerships. Thank you to each and every one of you in the role you have played in fostering the success of Assistology and our ability to remove barriers and expand opportunities.
John Fitzgerald, in addition to my Chief Strategy Officer, he is also my dad and was instrumental in giving me the final push to pursue the development of Assistology. He is both one of my biggest fans and biggest critics – something we all need!
Joe Rahal, President of Rahal Consulting, has been a key advisor with regard to building relationship, developing partnerships, sales and marketing. He is both a friend and valued professional resource.
Joyce Davis has been most valuable in her advising of marketing and promotion strategies. She always pushes me to take things a step further and go outside my comfort zone to really increase the impact of our efforts.
Christine Johnson, as the co-founder of CRCC with my mom she understands the highs and lows in building something needed, but unfamiliar, and has been an asset in providing perspective to situations that arise.
Amber Burk, a long time friend and colleague has offered support and expertise related to grant writing that was instrumental in the establishment of partnership opportunities.
Pat Buffum, stellar graphic designer, and Susan Klaus, talented copywriter, have been an amazing marketing team. They took the time to get to know me and Assistology and as a result have produced high quality work. They have been extremely supportive and are always willing to offer their honest opinion on ideas.
Thank you to everyone who has supported and partnered with Assistology in the last couple of years. We had a great year and are immensely excited about what 2018 has in store.
Meaghan Fitzgerald Walls, BS, MSBE, ATP