Tag Archives: family support

The SMART Road To Assistive Tech for ALL

In 2010, I was working at an educational non-profit when I helped to start a support group of parents and therapists where we shared information on how smartphones and touch tablets could help children with disabilities improve developmental skills. I was interested in how technology could help my youngest son Vincent, who at the age of 6 had the fine motor skills of an 18 month old. I knew that he would never write with a pen and paper, but I also knew that technology could play a big role in his early education and throughout his life.

Vincent had tried joysticks and other technology prior to the tablet to write and communicate, but he needed hand over hand assistance to operate them. However, with the iPad he was able to navigate independently. What a boost to his confidence and an ease to his frustration!

Other parents and therapists had similar thoughts but, because this mobile technology was so new, we spent hours exploring possibilities of which apps were the most helpful for our kids. We were overwhelmed by the sheer number of apps available, so we set out to find a way to make searching easier for parents and professionals. That support group and quest for solutions turned into BridgingApps, a website and program of Easter Seals Greater Houston.

Becoming part of Easter Seals Greater Houston has been a blessing in the most profound way for this program and for our family. With the help of Easter Seals’ leadership and vision to help the program grow as quickly as possible, we have been able to make great strides in its’ development and reach. In 2014, BridgingApps won the Verizon Powerful Answers Award for Education that came with a $700,000 prize.  Our website is filled with resources for people of all ages and abilities – parents, caregivers, therapists, doctors and people with disabilities – looking for the right apps to fit their needs.

We now have three assistive technology labs (Thanks to The George Foundation and ATT&T) in the Houston area and satellite support groups in Austin, the Rio Grande Valley and Fort Worth, Texas.  In 2016, we gave more than 55 presentations and trainings in Houston and around the country. Our website enjoys 9,000 registered users from 187 countries, 7,000 monthly visitors, a podcast segment, an online course, a regular column in a digital magazine, and 3,500 apps in our database. We are excited to explore new ways in which mobile technology can assist young adults with special health care needs, older adults, and seniors through collaborative projects with Texas Children’s Hospital, TIRR Memorial Hermann, Amerigroup/Anthem, UnitedHealthcare, and others.

As a veteran of the US Army, I am thrilled and honored this year to be working on a project that provides services and mental health supports to veterans and their families by using technology. Through a generous grant from TV+FA, we are able to provide technology training in different formats to veterans and their family members.  This spring we have already provided 10 Veterans Access Cafes in locations around Houston to demonstrate how smartphones can be used as a mental health support with apps like Calm, Swirlicity, and Stay Quit Coach. We continue to add content each week to www.bridgingapps.org/veteransresource  to share information on apps and other technologies that benefit veterans and their families.

Cristen Reat, Easter Seals Greater Houston, BridgingApps Founder

 

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“Ideas Worth Spreading” …Corporations & Communities Supporting Veterans

If you’ve watched one of the viral TED talk videos on YouTube, you know their tag line is “Ideas Worth Spreading.” At Easter Seals of Greater Houston, we also think we have ideas worth spreading and ours are focused on collaboration. Being the recipient of a 2016 Texas Veteran + Family Alliance (TV + FA) grant, our goal is to improve the quality of life for Texas Veterans and their families. By working hand in hand with proven Veteran Service Organizations, we are able to have an exponential impact on the community.

We decided to have two large Convenings that would allow us to improve the communication and collaboration of mental health and supportive service in the greater Houston area. Our first convening included Veteran Service Organizations, Mental Health professionals, Veterans and Corporate Partners. This diverse group was chosen so we could demonstrate to all the groups how each one was a vital part of the solution. The event featured an amazing singer for the anthem, Game Show style vignettes to introduce language and culture, break-out sessions that included using technology and apps, features for our partners, nationally recognized speaker COL (ret) David Sutherland of The Dixon Center and a catered lunch.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and there have only been two looming questions for Easter Seals of Greater Houston: When is the next one and can we make the event longer? It seems we have found some great ideas worth sharing and we are truly changing the way that everyone views mental health and veterans services. Our next Convening will be June 13th at Combined Arms.  We invite all greater Houston corporations and businesses interested in supporting veterans to join us at the Convening and learn how hiring Veterans could be amazing for your business!  Please contact Tim Stroud at TStroud@eastersealshouston.org or 713-838-9050 for more information.

Tim Stroud, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Veteran Initiative Coordinator

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Make Our Veterans Program Part of Your Unit

Usually I write about a person who was helped by the services I provide through Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Veterans Program. This time I’m going to do that with a twist, so let me tell you the story. Years ago I met a Marine and after this initial meeting our paths diverged for a long time. About a year ago, our paths crossed again at a Marine Corps birthday celebration in Houston and I learned he was a County Veterans Service Officer. After catching up we discovered that we both worked in the Veteran community to reduce the stigma around mental health, providing services to Veterans and their family members. Though our services are different, they both aim to end the suffering in silence of so many Veterans. Over this year, we have discussed all these things and one thing was clear-we have the same mission. A partnership was born that extends to the many Veterans we meet each week.

You might think this is just a story about two people in the community working together to help Veterans, but it isn’t. Yes, we benefit from the collaboration because of the confidence and trust that is shared between us. I know he will work hard and go the extra mile to help those I refer to him. He knows this of me too. Yet, the most important part of our meeting is how our complimentary services have benefited those that have served and their families. He most often refers individuals who have suffered in silence for years due to experiences from their service. Most often it is combat related. veteran-blogHe tells them how things can get better and how they can feel better. He offers hope from someone who has been there. He helps connect them to the services they need. And they get better. When they come to our Veterans Program I give them information about what they are dealing with, the sense of isolation reduces, they feel the support, more things seem possible, and more gets done. I tell them, “You didn’t get here by yourself, so build a unit that will help you get out of this.” Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Veterans Program can be part of that unit. A County Veterans Service Officer is part of my unit. And we press forward . . . offering hope and services to those who want them and who no longer want to suffer alone.

Dr. Cristy Gamez-Galka, Mental Health Lead for Fort Bend Veterans Case Management Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston

Easter Seals Greater Houston is proud to offer a variety of services that Veterans and their families can benefit from including Fort Bend Veterans Case Management Program, Fort Bend Veterans Companion Dog Program, Bank On Montgomery County as well as the collaborative efforts of the Texas Veterans + Family Alliance.

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Little Steps Big Success with Easter Seals Houston Early Childhood Intervention Program

chelsea linn pic 2Written by a client’s adoptive mother.

‘It was Thanksgiving eve 2014 that I received a call from my husband wanting to know if I was still interested in adopting a baby, my heart sank. My husband and I only had one daughter and she was now 19.  We had always said one day we would try to adopt but had not pursued it, so I was very much surprised by the phone call.

My husband went on to explain that a very distant relative of his had reached out to him to see if maybe we could take a family member’s newborn, if not they were taking her to the local fire station.  We had until midnight to get there (Dallas), and well my response was an immediate YES!!!!  I left work, went straight home and we had a family meeting to ensure our 19-year-old was on board, AND her response was “what are you waiting on… GO”!penguin playing pic

We brought Jordan home that night she was 6 weeks old.  We immediately noticed that she wasn’t crying very much and that she was moving her head and arms very little. I took her to the doctor and they told me she wasn’t moving or crying because she had been left in a car seat or swing for long periods of time and had very little interactions with her parents. The doctor told me babies cry because they need something, but if no one responds eventually they stop crying. It really hit me hard now how much she had been neglected. I contacted the CPS agent in Dallas and she explained what all had happened, she told me that Jordan had been born with 4 drugs in her system and that was why they had an open case, I had a home interview and the file was closed with CPS.

monkey communication pocI had heard about #MakeTheFirstFiveCount and their on-line Ages and Stages Questionnaire.  I filled out an Easter Seals referral form and Jordan was evaluated by Easter Seals Greater Houston‘s Early Childhood Intervention Program (ECI) and on January 28, 2015 she was diagnosed with a NON-categorical four-month delay and she started Physical Therapy & Occupational Therapy with the Liberty County Easter Seals staff.cheetah moving pic

Ms. Leanne Armel, an amazing therapist that has been with Easter Seals Greater Houston for over fifteen years, started working with Jordan intensely, and she told me this wasn’t going to be easy and for me to stay strong…This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, as her mom my first instinct is to protect her from hurting (she had been through so much already). Every time Ms. Leanne saw me she would always reassure me this was for the best and always gave me early intervention caregiver’s techniques to do at home & in the classroom as well while not doing therapy.

Nov 2015 Infant program blog pic3 by Sharon MottA few months into it Ms. Leanne told me not to give up but to be thinking about talking her to the doctor to see if she would benefit from surgery. I was so scared and unsure as to what to do?? Ms. Leanne was so comforting and really listened to me without judging, she understood how hard it was to see Jordan crying during the sessions, but I prayed every day for God to lead guide and direct all decisions.  January we had our second IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan) meeting and Jordan graduated out of the program and was ahead of schedule in most milestones!! Can you believe we were discussing surgery one year ago!!  Now she will be school ready! and we are equipped with more knowledge and resources moving forward!

Sears Family,  Easter Seals Greater Houston Early Childhood Intervention Program Clients

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Pardon the Pun…Rainy Day Investments with our Housing Initiative

Lately it feels like we’re in the middle of a monsoon season here in Houston. From the Tax Day floods to the cresting creeks and bayous, it may seem like we’ll neverBailey family 005 see the sun around here again. And don’t forget, hurricane season is just kicking off too! All of this water can really spell trouble for homeowners. And for potential homeowners, you may be wondering if now is really the time to buy? Even if homeownership isn’t on your radar, it’s hard not to argue that we all need to have a “rainy day” fund.

Our financial coaches and homeownership counselors in our Easter Seals Greater Houston Housing Initiative may not be able to predict the future (or the weather!) but there is a lot we CAN do for those of you who may have questions or need help reorganizing and reevaluating your financial goals:

  • Our Easter Seals Greater Houston Homebuyer’s Education Classes walk you through the process of purchasing a home, plus ways to protect your investment and what to do when the unexpected happens
  • Our Credit Boot Camps help you to understand the credit system and how it can impact you–not just when you want to purchase, but also if you need a loan to help repair your property in the face of events like floods
  • Our individual coaching sessions help you to refine and set financial goals and create an action plan to achieve them. The goals are up to you, and can be anything from managing your budget to save for a rainy day fund, to rebuilding credit, to purchasing a home!

hoyo and son with autism

Our coaches are here to help (rain or shine!) and we look forward to working with you. Additionally, as part of United Way Greater Houston’s THRIVE Network, we’re happy to help connect you to organizations and services to address your needs even when they’re not within the scope of our expertise.

To schedule a class or an individual appointment, or to get more information on how our program may be of use to you, please call (713) 838-9050 x320, or email HousingProgram@eastersealshouston.org.

Dana Adams, Housing, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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The Legacy of The Caroline School

People with charisma often go into politics, the clergy or they run successful companies. They attract admirers and influence those around them. Caroline DeLuca was a child with charisma. While she did not speak with her voice, her charisma, smile and irrepressible charm spoke to people’s hearts-she attracted hundreds of admirers and influenced everyone around her.

heather jo and carolinePowerful people change the world. Caroline was, while living in a young but uncooperative body, a very powerful person. On a personal level, she changed the lives of everyone who knew her. On a community level, she inspired those around her to make the world better for children with disabilities. Her amazing parents, Anthony and Elizabeth, have worked and fought and given so much to ensure that children like Caroline and their families thrive and have the help they need to face the obstacles and prejudices that arise from disability. Her sisters, Allison, Virginia Claire and Lauren-who have very different personalities from each other-each share the common traits of grace, open hearts and strength. I know that along with the example of their parents, Caroline had a lot to do with why they are such extraordinary young women.598926_576373052382236_473731378_n

When they were unable to find a school that provided what Caroline needed, the DeLuca’s founded the Caroline School. Elizabeth said that the school is the place where children, no matter what their disability or medical condition, need and deserve a school where the curriculum is adjusted to their capabilities, where the teachers and aides care deeply about the children, where children feel safe and loved. The school at Easter Seals Greater Houston that Caroline inspired is just that place. Like most 18 year olds, Caroline loved music, swimming, fashion and friends. Unlike most 18 year olds, she had to fight really hard to be here with us-sharing her smile, her strong fighting spirit and her joy. While her physical presence is gone, her spirit lives on in the memories of her friends and family and in The Caroline School and Easter Seals Greater Houston, which will continue to provide a joyful and caring place for children with special health care needs.

Thank you Caroline, for the gifts you gave us all. We will miss you…I will miss you, but I am grateful for having known you and for the hearts you opened, the work you inspired, the joy you shared for the brief time you were here. I will work to do my small part in carrying on your powerful legacy.2013 Caroline and Jonathan

I hope you were as lucky as I am – to have known her, loved her and been inspired by her.   I have struggled for the past few days to write this – I just can not do Caroline justice.   So I will repeat her sister Lauren’s words, “Let Caroline’s courageous spirit inspire you in your daily life. Take the things that she taught all of us and carry them with you: Be the person who takes an extra minute to understand …someone. Treat people with patience and compassion. Ask questions. Never underestimate yourself or anyone else. Stay positive.”

Elise Hough, CEO, Easter Seals Greater Houston

If you would like to contribute in memory of Caroline DeLuca to help us fulfill her legacy –The Caroline School Operating Endowment Campaign

 

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From Fear to Confidence: Rudy’s Unexpected Journey with Technology

I met Rudy and his wife Andrea in April 2015, when BridgingApps, a program of Easter Seals Greater Houston, presented at the St. Luke’s Stroke Support Group on using apps and mobile devices. Like many who were recovering from a stroke, Rudy was interested in how technology could help him, but also overwhelmed by the idea.

“I was resistant because I thought it was too hard,” Rudy confides. “After my stroke, I thought learning was over. I really did.”  When asked what was difficult for him, he gave the example of reading. Rudy loves to read, but post-stroke the task of reading was not pleasurable as it had been before, just extremely difficult.  He would read something, lose his place often and not understand what he just read. It was frustrating and demoralizing.

Wanting to learn more and despite feeling overwhelmed, Rudy and Andrea attended a BridgingApps open house event in the spring, took a tour of the AT&T Assistive Technology lab and asked many questions about how mobile devices stroke_support_st._lukes-300x225might be used. “It would take me a hundred years to learn everything,” Rudy declared. I offered to lend Rudy an iPad to try it out for a month at home to see what he thought of it. Rudy was appreciative, but noncommittal and politely declined. I then suggested another option that might less stressful and invited Rudy and his wife to attend BridgingApps monthly collaborative training at the Apple Store Highland Village. These meetings take place in a distraction-free, low stress accessible room with compassionate, knowledgeable staff.

Rudy and Andrea attended the monthly classes facilitated by BridgingApps at the Apple Store. Though neither of them owned a mobile device, they came eager to learn each month and borrowed different sized devices for the hands-on trainings, including an iPhone, iPod Touch and full sized iPad. We covered everything from the accessibility features of iBooks, to speak screen, using Siri for shortcuts, calendar and notes apps and how to navigate the basics of the device. Rudy diligently took notes at each class, and Andrea was excited about his interest. Andrea said that she enjoyed the slow pace of the class and the fact that the instructor repeats instructions and simplifies them for participants.

One month in the fall, Rudy’s daughter Teresa and her husband attended the BridgingApps training together with Rudy and Andrea to see what her parents were up to. They shared a device, asked questions and practiced the various tasks. Throughout this process, Rudy began to relax and said “the whole experience has made me more aware of what my capabilities are. When I experienced the features of iBooks that allows the words to be read aloud to me, sped up or slowed down and highlighted as I go along, that was amazing to me! It really helped a lot, and if I don’t understand something or lose my place, with the touch of the screen I can hear it again and again.  I feel more confident.”

Fast forward to our monthly training in January 2016, where Rudy proudly whips out an iPhone 6 Plus and places it on the table next to his notebook ready to learn. Andrea giggles and puts her brand new device on the table. After class when I asked when they bought their devices, they answered “In December, Teresa said ‘enough’ and bought them for us!”  I asked how Rudy felt about having a smartphone and what he has been doing with it, he positively glows. “I love it. I read the news, I check the weather, I look at maps, and I FaceTime with my grandson who lives in Brownsville.”

Feb 2016 BA blog picAndrea chimes in “The other day I heard piano music, and there he was playing the piano using Garage Band.” Rudy laughs and adds “I love music and majored in it in school, so I discovered this app. It is fantastic.”

Next steps for Rudy and Andrea? “We love the classes and will continue to come. We are grateful for all that we have learned.”

Having watched this journey unfold and observing Rudy’s initial excitement, fear, hesitation, followed by determination and courage, it has been a privilege to get to know Rudy and his family. Andrea mentions that BridgingApps and this technology has opened up new horizons for Rudy that have surprised and delighted her.

“I really can learn again,” says Rudy with tears in his eyes.

Cristen Reat, BridgingApps Founder, Easter Seals Greater Houston

For more information on our BridgingApps program, click here.
To hear more about Rudy’s amazing story, click here.

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