Thursday, January 22, 2015

Sharing the Love of Sign Language: Love Letters by Emily

It was at the 2014 Assistive Technology Conference of New England that I met Emily and her mom Carolyn. I had seen the name of the vendor, Love Letters by Emily, come across the planning committee correspondences. I was intrigued to find out what they were. The products were photos and collections of photos of hands ASL signing letters; I had done something similar a few years ago with my son who is of typical hearing abilities, so I already loved the idea. But when I read the story and met the family, it just made my heart sing. Love Letters by Emily is a labor of love, family and dedication.
I had the chance to connect with Carolyn Maxwell and talk a little bit about the business, being a parent of child with special needs, and the role of assistive technology in Emily's life. 

Emily was born with developmental delays and hearing impairment. She attended the Rhode Island School for the Deaf during which she received extensive educational and therapy services to support her growth and communication. But when she had completed her role as student and was transitioning to a new role productive working citizen, mom Carolyn wanted Emily to be engaged in something she loved to do, shop and sign.

Photographing Emily's hands is a beautiful way to share her knowledge and experiences. But the ETSY shop isn't just a portfolio of her hands. There are many tasking in running the business that Emily partakes. She shops for the frames and materials, goes to the post office, addresses notes and envelopes, and visits local shops to restock inventory. It isn't just a picture, it is a purpose.

I asked mom about technology's role in Emily's life. She candidly shared a story about her experience.

"I have always been conflicted about using AAC apps - not embraced by the Deaf culture ~ one of my more memorable personal Facebook postings happened after a loooong conversation in sign with Emily at the grocery check-out observed by a Job Coach working with the bagger who asked, "Have you thought about getting her a Voice Box, I think she'd do well!" My thoughts were, she is communicating well, the rest of the world just needs to learn sign language!"

Emily has had experience with ProLoQuo2GO (available on iTunes for $219.00) in the school setting; but when she graduated, she had to return the iPad that was loaded with all the personal information. And community outings with the app are frustrating because the recipients of the speech output either can't hear it or just are surprised by its use. So for Emily (for now) low tech picture cards are a more efficient way for getting others who don't know sign to know what she is thinking.

However, the iPad and computer is a great leisure tool for Emily. She enjoys watching YouTube, looking through her photo library and cruising Facebook. It inspires socialization. The have used Stories2Learn (available on iTunes for $13.99) to join text with photos to write social stories.

I know that this is one of many stories across the world that touch upon so many barriers to living life to its fullest. From navigating doctor's visits to school system conflicts to developing meaningful vocation. But take it from Emily and Carolyn: don't be discouraged, be inspired.

Visit their shop, Love Letters by Emily on ETSY or follow them on social media via twitter @LoveLettersByEM or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LoveLettersbyEmily.

"♥ Love Letters by Emily ♥ was inspired by a Valentine’s Day gift from our daughter’s Teacher of the Deaf who photographed her hand fingerspelling L-O-V-E with American Sign Language letter handshapes. It’s one of the sweetest and most thoughtful gifts from the heart we’ve ever received, and it’s a gift of love that we wanted to share. One idea led to another ~ and another . . . and our Etsy shop was born!"


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Easy Pickings with Pick-Ease

This past October, I came across a local inventor mom, Melissa Desrochers, thanks to social media.  Her idea was simple and intriguing: a food pick inspired by necessity.  Her son was a picky eater.  Toothpicks worked, but she didn't like the idea of handing over a splinter of wood to her toddler.  With that, Pick Ease was born.  Once we connected, Melissa sent me a few Pick Ease to try.  I was very eager to use them with my own picky eater.
From an occupational therapist's view point, this product has a lot of great features including a fun and friendly sticker design and a 1" by 3/16" circular area to promote developing grasp patterns.  The unique design has a stopper for the tips of the fingers to help remind children not to use a fisted grasp around the utensil.  For children with typical cognitive development, Pick Ease could be a great transition tool from finger feeding to pierced food utensil feeding.  However, even though the tip is considered rounded, mine was still pretty sharp.  Because of it's small (and sharp) conical end, children, but especially those with developmental delays, need to be closely supervised with this product.  Impulsive or ataxic movements could cause accidental injury when self feeding.  With that being said, the tip can pierce a variety of soft and firm foods, especially those that have been cut into small pieces.   Crispy foods do not work, they crumble beneath the force.  Pick Ease could also be used to help with pacing.  One can only get so much food onto the Pick Ease. When only given a little bit of food at a time on the plate, a child may learn to take his or her time.
From a mom's perspective: it's really unique.  It's dishwasher safe, though the decals are starting to come off.  And it's BPA free.  My Mudge is a relatively picky eater.  He thought these were fun to use.  And though he wouldn't try the nugget with it, he enjoyed poking at his plated meal.  Combined with his Fun with Food Fred Plate, (another local RI distributor) and the old school mini Tupperware pitcher with 1 ounce cups (available on eBay and Amazon), the Pick Ease added another option to encourage new foods, along with his "Trying Something New Star" on his Star Chart.
Melissa is always posting creative ways to present tasty, healthy foods for the finicky kid on social media.   She has also shared a free, downloadable eBook "29 Healthy Kids Snacks" through her website since fun presentations can help increase the picky eater's edible repertoire.  So if you are looking to try something new because you have been struggling with a picky eater in the house, the $8.95 cost for a set of two may be an option for you, without breaking the plate.



Friday, December 26, 2014

Rehabilitating Santa's Elves

Everyday is not Christmas Eve, as most would like to believe, up in the North Pole.  The other 364 days of the year are very strenuous to every "body" in the North Pole which is why, in fact, Santa had called upon an occupational therapist to evaluate and treat the millions of elves that reside and work at his workshop.

Try as they might, workplace injuries do occur in the workshop.  So when the percentage of worker's compensation claims became statistically overwhelming last year, Santa contacted an OT to assess ergonomics, develop workplace hardening programs, and evaluate for any assistive technology needs.

Needless to say, when the Big Guy calls, you get on a sleigh and head up due North.  What I, I mean the OT, found was astounding.  No one had thought to do this before.  Though much of the technology was up to date, the layout of the mechanics left more to be desired.  The heights of the conveyer belts were much too high causing unnecessary strain at the shoulders and back.  There were no stools or chairs to use as support during the long hours of standing at the toy building stations.  Many of the tools which had been used for hundreds of years had handles that had been whittled down to nearly the width of a reindeer's hair.  And the work schedule?  Well, the OT was quite concerned about the work/leisure balance.  The Workshop Gym was so dusty from disuse, you could build a snowman with it.

So with the detailed evaluation in hand, the OT presented her results as jolly as she could.  Santa, his wife (and co-owner of the shop) and his top elf listened intently.  He tapped his pipe (which I later informed him of some Smoking Cessation Programs), adjusted his spectacles and with a Ho, Ho, Oh.... asked what he should do.

The OT suggested to revamp the Workshop with joy all around, including the recreation program.  She had used an online survey program, like SurveyMonkey.com, to assess the hours of work, desired leisure activities, and pain scales to get a rough idea of what was needed.  The OT suggested to incorporate stretching and yoga programs periodically throughout the day.  And since many of the elves desired to dance more, scheduled dance aerobics including Zumba, Jazz, and Waltzing into the gym program.  The gym was rearranged to make easier-to-use circuit program for whole body strengthening; but for those in need of more specific therapeutic treatment, the OT declared she would evaluate on a as-needed basis. And since the commute would be quite, um, extensive, she decided to incorporate telehealth programming quarterly to check in on the overall health of the Workshop Employees.

To address the height differential of the equipment to the workers, it was noticed that the conveyer belts and tables were ADJUSTABLE!  With just a few clicks, the positioning of the work surface was more conducive to proper posture.  The elves made their own stools, all decorated to fit the decor, and were relieved to be able to sit, half stand or half kneel during the work day.  The workers would be more comfortable.  Tool handles were adapted with Sugru, clay, and foam to improve grasp comfort.

The Naughty and Nice computer stations were also assessed.  Just moving the monitors and keyboards, adjusting the brightness and contrast,  and providing some speech to text software, like Dragon Dictation, the Naughty Nice Brigade was up and running.   A variety of mice and headphones were recommended to decrease the repetitive stress disorders.

Overall, Santa was very jolly to hear that with minimal expense and redistribution of funds and energy, the Workshop Employees would be healthier and happier.  One year later, it is with a joyous heart that Santa declared worker's compensation claims have decreased by 50% already.  The elves are happier and healthier and have added even more activities into the gym and leisure programming. Santa, too, appeared to have stopped smoking his pipe and looked a little leaner this Christmas after realizing he had an affinity to Zumba.