Tools and apps improve the lives of people receiving support
Stephanie Tilley’s technology toolbox is full of fun, learning and passion. It’s a toolbox that’s never full. She’s always adding new tools as she teaches six technology-related classes each week — Assistive Technology, Cause and Effect, and the iPad. Her toolbox includes things like:
• Adapative switches — in all colors and shapes used for various needs triggered by movement or pressure.
• Dragon Voice Recognition software.
• iPads containing a host of applications….or apps.
• Apps that bring pictures, music, writing, dance, yoga, math, puzzles and visual menu recipes all to life.
Stephanie is a direct support professional (DSP) at Imagine! Colorado. She works at Imagine!’s Boulder campus, and in her DSP, role she is Imagine!’s Assistive Technology Lab facilitator in its CORE/Labor Source program. She is a certified therapeutic recreation specialist and also a published author of the book — “101 Adapted Games for Kids.”
Imagine!, a proud ANCOR member, serves about 2,500 clients and the Boulder CORE/Labor Source program serves about 280 clients per year.
Each month Stephanie writes a blog, “Technology Tuesday,” and in it she shares how she is using a specific technology tool or app to improve the lives of the people she supports. Click this link to her recent blog post about how she integrates the use of iPads into her classes.
A DSP for 11 years, all at Imagine!, she explains why using technology is so important to those with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
“Technology helps level the playing field for individuals with developmental disabilities or multiple life challenges. It supports their independence and helps them participate more fully and do the things others can do,” she said. “For example, someone who is non-verbal may use a communication device to share their thoughts and feelings, whereas they weren’t able to do so before and they can more independently engage with others. I think it can help build their self-esteem as they do things they couldn’t do before or things others told them they couldn’t do.”
Here are examples of what she’s doing in her classes:
• During the assistive technology class, some clients have been working on writing posts for the Imagine! Voices Blog. Robert Strieby, for example, has been working on using Dragon voice recognition software to become more independent in writing his blog posts.
• She teaches two cause and effect classes to non-verbal clients. They use the adaptive switches for various things. One woman enjoys jazz music and uses the pressure switch to turn on her music and control her environment.
• In an art and technology day during the art at work class, clients worked on taking pictures of themselves or objects in the classroom using iPads. They learn how to frame pictures in the camera and how to zoom, focus and crop pictures. After the clients have taken some photos, they review the photos and talk with staff about different colors and artistic designs in each photo.
• The iPad class allows clients to work and learn an array of educational skills, including but not limited to: writing letters, reading, spelling, reading comprehension, numbers, counting, math, puzzles, thinking skills, shapes, colors, hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills. One man with cerebral palsy learned to count and is now working at a local brewery in Boulder, helping maintain the brewery’s inventory.
Navigating with a mouse or joystick
In the assistive technology class, each computer is set up individually. One station has a joystick for mouse navigation. Another has switches to direct the mouse, and one station has the mouse set on the left side of the computer.
“We often adjust the font to be much larger on at least one of the computers and each station has a touch screen so clients who have challenges with fine motor skills can use the touch screen instead of the mouse (this also works on their fine and gross motor skills),” Tilley explained.
Also, the tabletop in the lab is set at a height so anyone can maneuver a wheelchair right up to the computer.
How does using technology affect the DSPs and their work?
“Technology supports DSPs in that we can adapt activities to fit the needs of the individual so much more than before with the adaptive technology input methods. It also helps to ensure that we aren’t speaking for individuals,” Stephanie explained. “As a DSP, when I feel like I’m really helping the client be more independent, it makes me happy that I’m making a difference and hopefully improving someone else’s quality of life.
“I think that happy, supported DSPs can be more creative and positive, which can improve the quality of programing overall. It’s a domino effect of positives for DSPs and the people we support!”
Tom King is a writer and communications consultant.