Friday, April 29, 2011

Testing Prompting Systems To Increase Employment Opportunities

Assistive Technology Partners (ATP), part of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, has been funded by the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for the Advancement of Cognitive Technologies (RERC-ACT) to develop smart assembly work stations. Imagine! consumers, including some of our SmartHome residents, are helping to test the prototype work stations.

The video below demonstrates the prototype workstation. The workstation “watches” an assembly line person, and can prompt them through the series of steps necessary to complete an assembly line job. Using web cams as its eyes, the work station can determine the activity currently being performed. Using the “work stations eyes” in conjunction with sophisticated Human Robotic Interface (HRI) software, the work station can assess what the next steps are when building an assembly.

The idea behind this project is that a sophisticated prompting system that can react to actions as they happen, and provide appropriate prompts accordingly, will open more doors to employment opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities and related disabilities.

The system is in the very early development phase, but ATP hopes to begin research testing with the system on a larger scale in 2012.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Easter At The SmartHome

Here are some nice pictures of Easter at the Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome in Boulder.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Students Lead The Way For New Assistive Tech

A group of CU Engineering students in a 2011 Spring Semester class taught by Associate Professor Melinda Piket-May are working on projects to design simple adaptive technologies that aid increased independence for some of the folks Imagine! serves, including some residents of our SmartHomes. Below are some videos of the students demonstrating their projects. The videos are short and well worth your time – this is some amazing stuff.

Students demonstrating a Wii Fit board adaptation for wheelchairs:

Students demonstrating a wireless infrared mouse:

Students demonstrating an adaptive stroller:

Students demonstrating a laundry cart wheelchair attachment:

Students demonstrating a computer communication wrist band for those with limited mobility in their hands and arms:

Students demonstrating a magnetic tray:

Thanks to all of the students for their hard work and willingness to make a difference in the lives of those with disabilities. Special thanks to Professor Piket-May for inspiring her students!

Read more and see a video about last year’s projects here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Donna's Diary - April 2011

Next month, Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome residents Gerald and Donna plan on visiting Sally Sue and Magoo. Who are they? Find out by checking out Donna’s latest online diary entry below.

And click here to see all of Donna’s diary entires.

What a relief. I got my power wheel chair back yesterday. It had been in the shop for repairs, and was fixed by PEAK Wheelchairs. My husband Gerald got a brand new power chair, and we are both excited to have more independence back in our lives.

Last week, we called Gerald’s mom, and we plan to visit them in the next month. We’ll go see mom, dad, and the two dogs, Sally Sue and Magoo. The dogs are both beagles.

On Easter I went to church and then came back home in time to hide Easter eggs. My housemate Rebecca, one of our staff (Caitlin), Gerald, and I colored the eggs together

I’m still working at In Clover putting dog treats in bags on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. On Mondays and Tuesdays I have art and music classes. Both my job and the classes are through Imagine!’s CORE/Labor Source department and I’m happy with my schedule.

Gerald is still working on learning his numbers. He works seven days a week to improve his number recognition. He’s working extra hard because he knows that once he learns his numbers he has a job waiting for him at Twisted Pine Brewery. Speaking of Twisted Pine Brewery, Gerald and I went there last Sunday. There was a fundraiser for the Autism Society of Boulder County so some of what we spent went to a good cause.

As for what’s coming up, in June we’re planning to go to the Millennium Hotel for the Friday Afternoon Club on the 17th. Imagine! will have a booth there, and kids are invited to come to the booth and paint and draw. Gerald and I think we’re going to take the year off from painting during the event and just enjoy the music and socializing. It’s a fun time though, and I hope some of you will join us there.

Monday, April 25, 2011

John At Work

Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome resident John works at EcoCycle in Boulder, paying taxes and spending his hard earned money in the community. Take a look at a few pictures of John hard at work!

John has been asking if we'd come by to get a picture of him working. He's truly proud of his job, and works hard, quickly, and is very efficient.

John at the sheering machine. The machine is sort of a large guillotine with many safety features. It only cuts when the operator has both hands on buttons at the far left and right side of the machine.

You can see the blade slicing through the book. The hard cover is opened up with the front and back cover fanned out away from the blade because if you cut through the hard cover it dulls the blade.

You can't get much closer to the book's binding than John did on this book. It's important to get as close to the glued binding as possible as that way more paper gets recycled.

Friday, April 22, 2011

More Tour News

It has been a busy week for tours!

We mentioned earlier this week about the various people who toured the Charles Family SmartHome in Longmont, including: Tony Shockency, CEO of the Longmont YMCA, Sheridan Wolfe, a Longmont YMCA Executive, Matt Marshall from TetraTech, David Drake and Scott Carter from Digital Data Services, and Dick and Carol Cummings Ken and Jan Alford, who are all grandparents of children with Down syndrome.

We had more people touring later in the week.

On Tuesday, representatives from Minnesota-based Dakota Communities were in town visiting the Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome in Boulder.

On Wednesday, some new friends from British Columbia’s Developmental Disabilities Association and Ohio’s Koinonia Homes took the opportunity to see how our SmartHomes are changing lives.

It is so gratifying to know that so many people and organizations, be they local, national, or even international, are looking to our SmartHomes as a blueprint for the future of services for those with developmental disabilities, as well as related disabilities.

If you are interested in touring either of our SmartHomes, just click here to schedule a tour online.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Donna and Gerald – Community Leaders!

Our goal at Imagine! and for our SmartHomes is to provide the individuals we serve with opportunities to become contributing members of their communities. But we know that many of the folks that receive services from us can do so much more – they have tremendous capabilities to become leaders in their communities.

Today, we’d like to share an example of that leadership. Yesterday, Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome residents (and super-cute couple) Donna and Gerald were guest lecturers at two classes at Metropolitan State College of Denver. The classes were for students who were studying to be Special Education teachers.

Gerald and Donna talked about their experiences growing up, what sort of education they received, and of course, discussed living in the SmartHomes and the variety of technologies they were using to become more independent. The students got to see an example of that technology first hand, as Gerald used his DynaVox communication device to share his thoughts and ideas.

The two lecturers were a big hit. Dianne Carroll, a member of Imagine!’s Board of Directors, and the professor who arranged for Donna and Gerald to speak, sent this nice note of thanks (Andrew is the SmartHome support staff member who assisted Donna and Gerald during their lectures):

THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!! Donna, Gerald and Andrew were a huge success. My students thought the information was terrific, and the faculty who came to observe had great comments too.
Congratulations to Donna and Gerald – you two are truly inspirational leaders in our communities!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Guess Who's Touring The SmartHomes?

Lots of people are interested in touring the Charles Family SmartHome in Longmont.

Today, more than a dozen people took a tour, including: Tony Shockency, CEO of the Longmont YMCA, Sheridan Wolfe, a Longmont YMCA Executive, Matt Marshall from TetraTech, David Drake and Scott Carter from Digital Data Services, and Sharon Haan, Dick and Carol Cummings, and Ken and Jan Alford, who are all grandparents of children with Down syndrome.

If you are interested in touring either of our SmartHomes, just click here to schedule a tour online.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Communications Class

Starting today, Longmont SmartHome residents Wes and Toby will be participating in a communications class for their DynaVoxes (computerized communications devices). The class will focus on device operation, communications skills, socialization, and literacy.

Good luck guys! This is a great first step toward more independence!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Imagine!’s Assistive Technology Laboratory

Part of Imagine!’s goal for its SmartHomes project is to raise awareness of the incredible opportunities that exist for using technology to serve those with a variety of disabilities, and to increase access to technology for those with disabilities. We are hoping to create an Assistive Technology Laboratory to help meet those goals. We’re not there yet, but we’re working on it! More information on the why, what, and how of the laboratory is below.

Imagine!’s Assistive Technology Laboratory (AT Lab) will be a new headquarters for helping individual consumers identify, obtain, and learn to use the specific assistive technology devices that will allow them to reach their full potential.

The capacity of assistive technology (AT) devices to expand the functional capabilities of people with disabilities is widely accepted. The United States Assistive Technology Act of 2004 (Pub. L. No. 108-364) recognizes an "assistive technology device" as "any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities." Numerous reports and entire journals, such as Technology and Disability, demonstrate the benefits of various assistive technology devices for people of all ages, with a variety of disabilities, and in a variety of settings, from the home environment, to the classroom, to the workplace.

However, people with disabilities in Imagine!’s service area are not routinely evaluated in order to determine whether any AT devices might be useful to them unless their families request and pay for such an evaluation. Even in the best of circumstances, these evaluations are brief and intensive. While it may meet the needs of (for example) a communicative, blind adult of typical intelligence, this system is inadequate for many of the individuals in Imagine!’s service population. Nonetheless, the resulting documents typically determine what devices may be funded by private or public insurance for five years or more. In addition, the process of securing such funding and obtaining and learning to use the recommended devices is complex.

For years, Imagine! staff members have been helping individual consumers find and use technologies that allow them to live richer and more independent lives. Some of these individuals have con-ditions that result in paralysis – including, for example, Cerebral Palsy, Bilateral Congenital Hip Dysplasia, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis, and Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Imagine! estimates that approximately 80 adults will be served during the AT Lab’s initial year of operation, and that 10 - 15 of these individuals will be individuals with paralysis-related disabilities. For these individuals, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices are often the key to increased independence and enhanced well-being. Not only do they allow non-verbal individuals with developmental disabilities to communicate with their care providers, family members, and friends with greater clarity, depth, and ease, but they also can also be programmed to allow individuals with paralysis to activate switches on electronic devices. AAC devices have allowed some of the SmartHome residents to turn their lights on and off, open and close the blinds in their bedrooms, and independently select videos or television programs – for the first time in their lives.

Imagine! consumers are the primary stakeholders in the AT Lab project. During this initial phase of the AT Lab, participants will be selected from a pool of clients who are perceived by case managers, direct care staff, and personal and professional caregivers as those most likely to benefit from an assistive technology device.

As mentioned above, Imagine! works collaboratively with an extensive network of organizations and individuals who provide care and opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. In addition to ongoing case management services, Imagine! staff members in every department work with the community-based organizations, businesses, and government entities that are able to pro-vide the best support to clients. For example, the SmartHomes are being developed, constructed, and equipped in collaboration with a wide variety of partners, offering the chance for real-world application and testing. Examples of these partners are AbleLink Technologies, a Colorado Springs-based business whose mission is to change lives with cognitive support technologies, and the University of Colorado’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, whose students are creating tools to help residents accomplish a wider variety of tasks independently. Imagine! anticipates that such collaborations will be established in relation to the AT Lab as well.

Imagine! will rely on professional evaluators to conduct some of the formal evaluations and produce evaluation reports and/or prescriptions for individual clients. However, Imagine! has found that evaluators are very committed to identifying and recommending devices to assist people with disabilities. The shortcoming of the existing system for people with developmental disabilities is the structure of the evaluation – brief and intense, with little time for someone with cognitive limitations to acquire any needed skills and no time for exploration of untapped potential. Fortunately, Imagine! has an excellent working relationship with Assistive Technology Partners, the area’s leading provider of professional evaluations and the area’s leading resource for information on funding for AT devices.

Funding for two computers and touch screens has been secured. In March 2011, this basic equipment was acquired and installed in the AT Lab. Timing of subsequent steps depends in part on the availability of additional private funding for the project; however, it is likely that during April, May, and June, Imagine!’s Director of Information Technology and Technology Architect will refine the selection of tools and protocols for assessing the needs and capabilities of participants and create a database for storing information on AT devices, structured to facilitate matching consumers with optimal devices. If sufficient additional funding is secured, Imagine! will launch the AT Lab during July and August 2011. This will involve hiring the AT Lab Coordinator, ordering equipment, and installing and testing all technologies. During September, the Coordinator will enter data about AT devices into the database.

Beginning in October, 2011 and continuing through June, 2012, Imagine! will assess the needs and capabilities of individual consumers with multiple disabilities, help clients gain familiarity with a selection of technologies to determine which devices would best meet their needs, and provide training and support to clients and to family members who care for them.

The goal of Imagine!'s AT Lab is to help people with developmental disabilities or a combination of developmental and physical disabilities to achieve their full potential through assistive technology devices. Imagine! will meet this goal by accomplishing the following three objectives: 1) developing a means of assessing consumer functionality; 2) identifying consumers who can benefit from AT devices; and 3) assisting these consumers in acquiring and using AT devices that match their needs and capabilities. AT Lab participants will benefit from the in-depth assessment, the introduction to various devices outside the evaluation setting, accurately-paced training on how to use the devices, and support as they become accustomed to the devices they obtain. Imagine! expects that program participants, including those living with various forms of paralysis, will demonstrate an increased ability to communicate, increased mobility, increased control over the home and/or work environment, and/or an increased ability to perform daily tasks without assistance. Their family members will also benefit from training and support related to the AT devices.

Imagine!’s Technology Architect, Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists, and other staff members worked together to determine which residential clients might derive the most benefit from living in Imagine!’s SmartHomes. No single existing assessment instrument or protocol was ade-quate for this purpose, so the staff began to develop a new, cross-disability assessment tool, which includes aspects of the Supports Intensity Scale developed by the American Association on Intellec-tual and Developmental Disabilities along with cognitive criteria (e.g., the ability to distinguish be-tween colors or symbols) necessary for the operation of various technological devices. This tool, along with an accompanying, evolving protocol, provide a procedural foundation for the AT Lab.

Imagine! will evaluate the success of the AT Lab by administering pre- and post-tests of consumer functionality using a refined version of this cross-disability assessment tool. Imagine! will know that the AT Lab has been successful if at least 64 (80%) of the participants who completed the pro-gram during the project’s initial year demonstrate abilities increased by at least 50% in at least one area of functional capability when re-assessed while using the recommended AT device. Imagine! will use the results of its evaluation of the AT Lab to improve the project design and (if the ex-pected outcomes are achieved) to help other organizations serving people with developmental dis-abilities or similar populations to establish their own assistive technology programs.

Imagine! will undertake the following activities to accomplish the goals and objectives listed above:

• Refining tools and establishing methods for assessing clients’ needs and capabilities;

• Developing a database of AT devices; • Assessing the needs and capabilities of individuals with developmental disabilities or a combi-nation of developmental and physical disabilities;

• Determining which AT devices will best meet the needs of those clients who can benefit from the devices;

• Conducting (or making referrals for) formal evaluations resulting in reports or prescriptions for particular AT devices;

• Providing training and support to clients and to family members who care for them.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

SmartHomes On The Radio

The interview was rescheduled, but it is still on! Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome resident Mandy and SmartHomes project ManagerSterling Wind will be interviewed on KGNU radio Monday, May 9th at 3:00. Mark your calendars now.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Save The Date: Longmont SmartHome Open House

Save the date! Charles Family SmartHome in Longmont Open House: Thursday, May 26, 4 to 7 PM. Share this remarkable achievement with the Longmont community and see first hand how technology is changing the lives of individuals with cognitive, developmental, physical, and health related needs. More info soon!

Friday, April 8, 2011

More On Gerald's Job

In SmartHome resident Donna's recent online diary entry, she discussed her husband (and SmartHome-mate) Gearld's use of technology to get the first job he's ever had - at the age of 49! Imagine!'s CEO Mark Emery recently made a post about that job and the great company that is making this dream a reality on his blog. Check it out below!

We have a new business partner for the supported employment arm of Imagine!’s CORE/Labor Source department. Twisted Pine Brewing Company, located in Boulder, has recently begun using a Labor Source work crew. The work crew’s tasks are relatively simple. The crew puts four cartons for six packs into larger case boxes and then fills the six pack cartons with a variety of Twisted Pine beers to create variety packs for sale.

The tasks may be relatively simple, but the results are profound. When companies like Twisted Pine hire individuals with developmental disabilities, they are offering them the opportunity to develop vital job skills and become active participants in their communities. The folks they hire take home paychecks, pay taxes, and spend their hard earned dollars in the community. If that isn’t a great definition of community inclusion, then I don’t know what is.

The good folks at Twisted Pine have demonstrated their commitment to providing supported employment to those with significant needs even further by carving out a special position for Gerald. For those of you who don’t know him, Gerald lives in the Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome in Boulder. Gerald has significant physical disabilities, including limited mobility and a limited ability to communicate vocally. Over the past few years, however, Gerald has used an assistive communication device called a DynaVox to improve his ability to communicate his needs and desires. He has also used the device to begin to learn how to read and write – at the age of 48!

Twisted Pine is collaborating with Gerald, Labor Source, and the staff members at the SmartHome to create some tasks that Gerald can perform at Twisted Pine using his DynaVox, including assisting with inventory and even making posts on the Twisted Pine Facebook page! Gerald has already shown his willingness to be a dedicated employee – he has studied feverishly to get up to speed on his numbers and counting using the DynaVox.

Thanks to Twisted Pine for demonstrating their commitment to their community and the individuals Imagine! serves. Congratulations to Gerald and the other members of the Twisted Pine work crew for demonstrating their true capabilities.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Resident News – John

Two weeks ago, Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome resident John returned from a trip to Arizona with his parents. “The plane ride was a little bumpy, but a lot of fun,” John said. He and his family went to a couple Colorado Rockies spring training baseball games. John got a kick out of seeing the large saguaro cactus, with their outstretched “arms.”

John is still excited about his job at Eco Cycle and is looking forward to hiking in Estes Park this spring.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Our First Longmont Tour Is Tomorrow

The first “official” tour of the Charles Family SmartHome in Longmont is scheduled for tomorrow!

Touring will be Mary Anderies, who was instrumental in helping us arrange for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding to help pay for the home, along with close to a dozen AmeriCorps volunteers.

Enjoy the tour, everyone!

If you’d like to tour the Charles Family SmartHome in Longmont, or the Bob and Judy Charles Family SmartHome in Boulder, simply use this online form to get signed up.

We hope to see you soon!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Loren and Toby

For your enjoyment this Friday, here’s a nice photo of Charles Family SmartHome in Longmont residents Loren and Toby hanging out and relaxing after a long day.