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A Sense of Independence Matters at Any Age

Tonight while I was watching my 4 year old get ready for bed, she unscrewed the lid from her water bottle, filled the bottle and replaced the lid. The look of elation on her face when she discovered she could reach the faucet and get herself a glass of water was so innocent and joyful. This applies to every new skill she learns. She was so ecstatic when she figured out how to use chopsticks to eat she used them for every meal for a week!

My two year old spends all day, every day, making it perfectly clear that she does not want help with ANYTHING. I mean, just check out the amount of attitude and determination on her face (see below)! In the morning there is no way she is accepting help with putting her pants on, brushing her teeth, eating her breakfast, putting her shoes or coat on. She insists on climbing in and out of her carseat, taking her shoes off and doing every other daily task as independently as possible. 20180330_075415.jpg

The sense of accomplishment witnessed on the face of a child when they get behind the wheel of a customized, accessible ride-on electric car and go where they want, in the path they want, how fast they want, is AMAZING. 20180227_115517

At the other end of the age spectrum and with the introduction of disability, my mother faced declines in her ability to move around the house and perform many daily tasks during her battle with cancer. She was frustrated when she could no longer do her own cooking and grocery shopping. She regained a little light in her week when she discovered online grocery shopping. And she was so grateful when we modified the home environment to accommodate her needs and enable her to navigate to the bathroom and take a shower on her own.

My friend’s mother is experiencing age related decline in her abilities to safely navigate around the house, use the bathroom and perform daily hygiene tasks. She refuses to rely on Assistive Technology and often resists help from family at this stage. She craves the ability to hold on to every last opportunity for independence.

Whether you are 4, 40 or 104, these seemingly small moments of independence matter. They matter A LOT.

Why should we expect that throughout stages of life, or experiences of impairment a person’s desire for independence in daily activities would lessen?

I know, as a caregiver it can be difficult to take a step back and just let things happen. We are protective about the people we love. When you take a step back, sometimes you witness a grand success and other times you are needed to come in to finish the process. But the key is that you first work to enable the person you care about in their attempts to be independent.

Whether through age, illness or other disabling events, the reality is that everyone yearns to maximize their current abilities and strives to achieve their goals. The presence of an impairment does not imply a decreased DESIRE to be independent in tasks, simply because they face new limitations to their abilities.

As a Rehab Engineer my job is to help people of all ages find solutions to their unique challenges with life’s activities; to help them find the customized solution that enables the pursuit of engagement and independence in the life activities that they desire.

The use of simple Assistive Technology solutions, like the ones in Sydney’s case can improve an individual’s ability to feel confident in their daily tasks and give them confidence to pursue hobbies and activities that give their life purpose. Understanding the person’s goals and abilities, as well as how to match a person’s abilities to AT solutions is essential for a comprehensive assessment and positive outcomes.

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Sydney independently opening a can

Sometimes the biggest challenge for an individual or family is to know what possible solutions exist in the wide world of Assistive Technology. It can save time and financial resources to have an expert in AT assist in matching a person’s goals and abilities with the best AT solution.

Assistology has the expertise and passion to help empower individuals to reach their potential and gain unrestricted access to educational, vocational, recreational, home, and community activities.

Is there something you or a loved one wants to do with greater independence – give us a call!

It Started with a Vision

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

President/CEO

Increased Independence Through Home Grocery Delivery

With the frigid winter temperatures,  I find myself dreading the random grocery store run for our household essentials like applesauce pouches.  Have you ever had to tell a toddler you are out of her favorite snack?  It is not fun.

I am pretty particular when it comes to my grocery shopping list.  On the occasions that I send my husband,  the list has more details than a legal document.  So I started thinking –

What would I do if I was not able to go do my own grocery shopping?

In the past we have used online grocery ordering for curbside pick up.  I used this a lot when I was pregnant or had an infant.  I have often used it during basketball season when my husband’s coaching schedule keeps us all busy.  But, this was out of convenience not necessity.

My parents utilized grocery home delivery when my mom was going through chemotherapy because she was also very particular with her grocery list and did not have the interest in creating a legal document for Dad  That is probably where I got it.  Anyway, there was a stage when she could not go to the store for any number of medical reasons, but she really wanted some control over her daily life.  Discovering online grocery shopping and home delivery gave her just a little something to feel in control and maintain her independence .

Then it dawned on me.  

Home grocery delivery is assistive technology!

Hear me out. I define assistive technology as anything that helps you do anything easier. Additionally, it offers a means for increased independence.  Home grocery delivery meets both those standards.

This presented a great opportunity to offer information for individuals with impairments that make in store grocery shopping a challenging or impossible activity.  So, I did some research.

I knew there were options – but I had no idea HOW MANY options exist for the delivery of basic to gourmet groceries!

This trend is spreading like wildfire, so while some options are not yet available in all areas, chances are they will be soon. Many of these offer a discount on your first order or free delivery for orders over a minimum amount.

  1. Hyvee Aisles – This system has an easy to use online portal to shop all departments and specify everything from quality to level of ripeness of produce.  They provide options for curbside pick up or home delivery. The pick up or delivery fee is waived with purchase over a minimum amount.  https://www.hy-vee.com/grocery/
  2. Bakers Click List – This system offers the same abilities as Hyvee Aisles with regard to access to all departments and specification, but currently only offer curbside pick up.  This is a relatively new initiative for Baker’s so I suspect they will expand to delivery in the future.   https://www.bakersplus.com/
  3. Hello Fresh – This is a fresh food delivery service rather than groceries specifically.  This service offers opportunities for delivery of healthy, high quality meals.  Rather than choosing all specific ingredients, users choose meal options and Hello Fresh delivers all ingredients (premeasured) for the number of meals chosen.  Users can schedule delivery each week or just order when wanted.  Hello easy meal planning! This service offers good options for every day meals or all the fixings for a special occasion or dinner party.  https://www.hellofresh.com/
  4. Peapod – This grocery delivery service is the first I ever learned of when I lived on the East Coast.  It functions like Hyvee Aisles, but is fulfilled through its own store network.  https://www.peapod.com/
  5. Whole foods – Whole foods offers options for curbside pick up or home delivery.  With the acquisition by Amazon, delivery service areas and options are bound to keep expanding.  This service allows you to search all areas of the store and specify details for your order. https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/service/order-groceries-delivery
  6. Brandless – This was a new one to me!  This company offers natural and organic options for food and household goods.  All products are brandless, and get this –  EVERYTHING is $3 with a $1 delivery charge. Product offerings are limited to packaged goods, and do not include fresh groceries.  https://brandless.com/category/household-supplies
  7. Walmart – Didn’t know Walmart offers grocery service? Me either! You can shop all products in the grocery department, just like the other grocery store services. Currently, curbside pick up is the only option, but Walmart is constantly striving to maintain its status as a top retailer, so maybe home delivery is not far behind.  https://grocery.walmart.com/
  8. Thrive Market – Organic grocery delivery service. They carry packaged and household items for order.  This service does not offer fresh grocery options. https://thrivemarket.com/landing/thrivehome/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=newengen%20-%20Nonbrand%20-%20Generic%20-%20l_DB1%205186&utm_content=48452069217&utm_term=242309711255-kwd-296951691513&device=c&ccode=FIRST3&ccode_force=1&gclid=Cj0KCQiAyZLSBRDpARIsAH66VQJiCZ73EfhRlhMOR-BaD3p9ls3RNT2q1BAPgzsUqaATUUYaTvxcz0gaAnGoEALw_wcB
  9. Amazon Fresh – For those areas served by Amazon Fresh you can order dairy, bakery, produce, perishables, pantry items and household goods.  Additionally, since they acquired Whole Foods you can also shop Whole Food offerings. https://www.amazon.com/AmazonFresh/b?ie=UTF8&node=10329849011

These 9 options offer access to a wide range of products and they can be ordered from the comfort of your own home.  

Their existence makes grocery shopping more accessible to more members in our community.  

These services help give individuals who have previously been fully dependent on others to stock their shelves gain increased control and independence over the what and when of their grocery shopping.

Happy shopping!

Let’s Play! Part 4: Creative Recreation

Welcome back to Let’s Play! Part 4: Creative Recreation!

One of my favorite books in recent years is UnThink by Erik Wahl .  That is right, UnThink.  Not stop thinking, but UnThink.  UnThink the way we approach problems.  UnThink what we accept as the norm.  The result?  We regain access to our unrestrained inner creative capacity. By opening this window into our younger, less restrained self we can further develop ourselves, our skills and tap into talents we forgot we had.

In Let’s Play! Parts 1, 2, & 3 we covered a lot of very active recreational activities.  While I am creative, I am not artistically or musically inclined.  Music and art based activities can offer a lot of enjoyment, stress relief, rehab and other benefits.  I am excited to share some innovative ways to experience these activities and not let barriers stand in your way.

I still have not found my artistic ability beyond stick figures, but I recognize that there is a sort of magic in the creative arts.  This is what makes it so important that all individuals realize there are solutions out there to remove barriers to accessing art and music activities.  And if they are not readily available, they may be able to be created!

Let’s start with MUSIC.  I mean, even my 1 year old drops everything – even her coveted Goldfish crackers – to dance when music comes on.  Personally, I listen to music all day while I work.  I NEED it to be able to function and access my creativity.  Music is good for the mind and soul.  

The benefits of music therapy have impacted children and adults alike, including enhancing recovery from injuries.  Whether used as a therapeutic tool or for recreation there are options for children, adults, casual and serious musicians alike. For the recreational musician just looking to have some fun and make some noise there are musical toys that are switch activated, providing a medium individuals with all levels of abilities can access.

 

For the more traditional or serious musician there are many ways to gain access to your favorite musical activity. The Orbit is an example of an adaptive guitar pick that reduces the grasp demand when strumming the guitar strings.  There are many other ways to make this activity accessible utilizing a standard universal cuff, Instamorph or other things around home.  

If the barrier is related to balance, stability or strength to stabilize an instrument, there are quite a few musical instrument stands available for stabilizing a variety of wind instruments.  Emily Ziegmeyer shows us that there is no reason to let not having arms stop you from pursuing your dream of being a Cello player.  In addition to physically accessing the instruments, sensory impairments should not be an insurmountable barrier.  Blindness should not exclude musicians from getting their groove on – Braille sheet music is readily available!

If you want to learn more about the myriad of applications for music therapy check out the American Music Therapy Association .

 

There are so many ways to make ART activities accessible..  Let’s start low tech and the most simple.  Using a foam hair roller, tennis ball, Instamorph, some variation of a universal cuff you can easily create a larger diameter for a paint brush, marker or other art utensil.  You can also purchase commercially available adapted paint brushes, scissors and other art materials.  

If the barrier to participation is related to accessing the art surface, using a drafting table or table-top easel provides flexibility in the positioning of art materials.  

Since pottery wheels are already foot-switch activated it is feasible to create accessibility through moving the activation location or further switch adapting this apparatus. For someone with limited motor control in their lower extremities who is unable to activate the traditional foot pedal for the pottery table, using another activation location or alternative switch could remove a barrier and open the door to the pottery world.

Have you ever wanted to bring your friend, child, sibling or other individual to an activity based event, but the activities were not accessible to them?  It’s heartbreaking to me when people who want to share an experience are excluded because the activities were not designed with all individuals in mind.  While disappointing, these instances also inspire and motivate me.  They are fuel for creativity and a driving force for creating better solutions for our communities.

One of my passions is creating ways for activities to be accessible and inclusive.  Another passion is rooted in my love of engineering – creating or modifying equipment to make things more accessible.  

Zot Artz embraces both of these concepts and the result is amazing!  Zot Artz exists to “create adaptive art tools and make them available to teachers, therapists, residential providers, hospitals, parks, and other facilities who could offer art experiences to children. Zot Artz currently has a complete line of adaptive tools that make the creation of art possible and fun for children with and without handicaps.” They do more than sell adapted art tools – they also host art events where they bring all the tools and facilitate an art experience accessible for all members of the group.  (https://zotartz.com/)  

Are you inspired yet?  Did you UnThink what you thought you knew about accessible art activities?

If you want to see an activity adapted to be more accessible – Assistology would love to help you!

If you have an idea for an inclusive, community based recreational event, but do not know how to make it happen – Assistology would love to partner with you to bring it to life!

We strive for collaboration and impactful partnerships that result in a more inclusive community.

Let’s work together to expand the accessible opportunities for individuals in our communities!

 

 

 

Let’s Play! Part 3: Adapted Fitness

Being active not only helps maintain a level of physical health and wellness, but can have a significant impact on mental health and wellness.

I am not a psychologist and I don’t play one on television, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that when we get to actively participate in activities and positively engage with people, our mental health improves.  Lack of and access to options play a large role in isolation and declining mental health for individuals with disabilities and their families.

In this blog there may be some overlap from Let’s Play! Part 2: High tech and adapted Outdoor sporting, but there is also lots of new AT options to explore.

Adaptive Bikes are a great therapeutic tool often used in a rehab therapy setting, but these same bikes are available for consumer use and can open doors for engagement previously not accessible.  Having an adapted bike allows an individual who may typically be excluded from traditional bike riding activities to participate. This could mean a family can now ALL go together for a bike outing. Or a child now has a means to play with the other kids in the neighborhood.

Additionally, here in Omaha, there is the Wheel Club through the Monroe Meyer Institute that provides tandem bikes and a buddy to do most of the work, giving individuals with disabilities another great opportunity to experience bike riding.

It is true, these bikes are expensive.  The Friendship Circle does an annual event called Great Adapted Bike Give Away where they give away dozens of adaptive bikes every year.  The event happens in the Spring so now is a great time to start exploring the options!

Not all solutions to exercise equipment have to be high tech.  For example, you can use cuff weights as an alternative to traditional dumbbells or use resistance bands on a rod system for increased ease of use and safety.

If you have access to a gym or professional recreation facility you may find higher tech options like the FES indoor rowing machine or the ICARE motorized elliptical (developed right here in our home state at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital’s Research Institute in Lincoln, NE) that offer additional points of support to allow individuals with limited strength or balance to successfully use the equipment.

There are several companies who offer adaptive aquatics classes, but there are also adaptive equipment you can purchase for use in a pool independent of a paid program. Foam pool “noodles” can be used in a variety of innovative ways to create a buoy system to help support swimmers of many ages and abilities.

There are more things out there than I can cover.  A blog “Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs” provides an expansive list of equipment and supplies.  I mean, check out the floating pool mat!

Blog: http://teachinglearnerswithmultipleneeds.blogspot.com/2008/06/swimming-with-special-needs.html

Many dance, music, theater and gymnastics programs and working to create programs that are more inclusive and accessible for participants of all abilities.  Some of these programs are designed specifically for individuals with special needs, others are designed with an inclusive model where children with and without special needs participate together.  There are also programs that offer adaptive dance where the entire class participates from a seated position, making the activity even more accessible for persons of any age and ability.

Here are a few options in the Omaha/Lincoln area:

  1. Metro Stars Gymnastics offers a “Special Starts” program, gymnastics taught by Occupational Therapists.
  2. Rennae’s School of Dance offers “Special Expressions Dance,” classes for children with special needs.
  3. X-treme Dance Force offers a special needs dance class.
  4. The Rose Theater has theater classes adapted for children with Autism, Down Syndrome and American Sign Language Interpreted.

And while this program is not in the Omaha area, this video is so feel good I had to share!

When kids with special needs get ‘A Chance To Dance,’ just watch them shine

With the right coach and determination champion athletes are developed.  Check out this inspiring story of Chelsea Werner’s rise to an USA Olympics team!

https://www.today.com/news/champion-gymnast-down-syndrome-overcomes-obstacles-inspires-others-1D80381285

If you are looking for a well established program with dedicated coaches, I suggest exploring opportunities with Special Olympics Nebraska.  If your child is under 8 check out the Young Athletes program within Special Olympics .

To close, I want to share one of the most inspiring adaptive fitness stories I have ever followed has been the journey of Team Hoyt.  Dick Hoyt (father) has made it his life practice to participate in high level competitions in tandem with his son, Rick.  They have not let anything stop them from running, biking and swimming together. It just goes to show that truly, if there is a will, there is a way.

“Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not disabled.” ~ Rick Hoyt

 

Moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to DREAM BIG and get out there and PLAY!

Be on the watch for Let’s Play! Part 4 where we explore Assistive Technology options for arts and music!