Assistive Technology at Easter Seals Hawaii

Most of us feel completely lost if we misplace our smartphone or tablet. Somehow, over the years, it has become just as essential as the other items on our mental checklist when we leave the house – Car keys? Check. House keys? Check. Smartphone? Check. While there was a time in the not-too distant past when smartphones and tablets did not even exist, they have now become the items that keep us connected to our friends and colleagues, keep track of where we are supposed to be and when, store humorous “selfies” that we cannot bring ourselves to delete, and so much more.

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For anyone with a developmental disability it is much more critical, and different forms of technology can be used to overcome the barriers that have been a hindrance to meaningful engagement with his or her community in many different ways. Fortunately, Easter Seals Hawaii offers an invaluable service called assistive technology.

Specialists in assistive technology work directly with the Easter Seals Hawaii participants to provide equipment and services that empower the individual to minimize their challenges at home, at work, at school, or in their daily lives. For instance, people who have difficulties with hearing, vision, or mobility could potentially use modified touch screens, communication devices, adaptive software, and/or alternative keyboards. These technologies are designed to maximize the skills of each individual and could potentially be used to help job-seekers perform essential skills.

At school, tablets, iPads, computers, and other devices could be used to help the students comprehend and keep up with the curriculum. Since there are hundreds of potential options available, the assistive technology specialists serve as an essential resource and help identify the most useful and targeted application, depending on the exact needs of the participant.

How can you help? It’s easy. If you or anyone you know is upgrading to a new computer, laptop, or handheld device, consider donating your used equipment to Easter Seals Hawaii. It could help shape someone’s life, help them succeed at school or work, and will guarantee to make them smile.  

Please contact Kelly Ikeda Ellis, Development Office, with donations at (808) 529-1709 x1163

In Hawaii, Easter Seals Hawaii is one of the largest organization that provides services from birth which (if needed) continues throughout their life. Initially, behavior services are provided to help the recipient overcome the challenges they face. Early intervention by the assistive technology specialist is extremely helpful for both the individual and the families, and it is never too early to engage with a specialist. Once the technology has been identified or modified to fit the needs of the individual, the assistive technology device grows and evolves as the persons become more familiar with how to use it. This is a critical step in Easter Seal Hawaii’s overarching goal of helping to empower every individual to move from dependence to independence, and realize their full potential.

 

Autism Services: Katie Thomas’ Story

For Kathleen Thomas, nothing in the world is better than seeing her daughter, Katie, smile. Diagnosed with autism at a very early age it is imperative to Katie’s health and wellbeing that her life be as stable and consistent as possible, and Kathleen has dedicated her life to making this a reality. Fortunately for her Easter Seals Hawaii has been a true partner and a source of support for many years, and has been there to help her guide Katie through some of life’s greatest challenges.

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When Katie was in the third grade, she enrolled in the Pacific Autistic Center (PAC), where she thrived. A few years later the director of PAC sold the school to Easter Seals Hawaii. When Kathleen explained why it was so important to remain engaged with Easter Seals Hawaii, she said she knew Katie would move seamlessly into adulthood under the umbrella of this established organization. Kathleen said: “I know Katie will thrive here, and be loved, and be safe, and be a part of the community, and be valued, which is all that matters.”

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2014 was an emotionally difficult time for Kathleen and This was also an emotionally difficult time for the family. Katie’s father was diagnosed with cancer, and his greatest fear was for Katie and her future. Fortunately before he passed away, he was comforted in the knowledge that Easter Seals Hawaii’s trained staff would know exactly how to handle this emotional period of the passing of her father. To help her Easter Seals Hawaii therapists put together a photo book with photos of Katie’s father and their family, routinely walked her through what had occurred, and helped her understand why her father would not be returning home.

When Kathleen looks to the future for Katie, her dreams for her daughter are pure and simple. She noted, “I want Katie to be loved, to be valued, to have a purpose and a joy every day of her life. I want her to have a job, be happy, and be healthy. That is what I want, for Katie to have friends and a place that feels like home.”

Easter Seals Hawaii strives to make Kathleen’s dreams a reality for Katie.

Sean Tarrant, Director of the Easter Seals Hawaii Autism Center

Easter Seals Hawaii is very respectful to its tradition of providing a vast range of exceptional services for children and adults diagnosed with disabilities or special needs and their families. It is also committed to evolve and to be responsive to its participants and to the changing needs of the community, so when it recognized a growing need for autism services in Hawaii it took the initiative to expand and grow the program.

In June 2013, Easter Seals Hawaii hired several new full time staff members who brought with them decades of experience in diagnostic and assessment services, in developing effective treatment plans and communication, and, perhaps most importantly, family member support, education, and training. Easter Seals Hawaii was very fortunate to hire Sean Tarrant as its director of autism services.

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Sean has worked for over 15 years within the field of developmental disabilities and applied behavior analysis (ABA), a scientifically validated approach to understanding behavior and how it is affected by the environment. While still pursuing his undergraduate degree in psychology in 1999, Sean began working in the field of ABA as a behavior therapist for adolescents and adults with severe problem behaviors. Since then, he has worked in multiple areas within the field of developmental disabilities and ABA including in-home therapy and parent training, consultation with public and charter schools, residential and center based therapy, and the ethical reduction of severe problem behaviors. Over the years, Sean has come to realize that one of the most important things a parent can do to achieve positive changes in behavior is to increase the level of communication with their child.

Many individuals diagnosed with autism are unable to communicate, which leads to challenging behavior. According to Sean, being able to ask your child what they want and how they feel, and know that they are able to tell you this is incredibly important.
The Easter Seals Hawaii Autism Center is committed to focusing on increasing the
level of communication and also utilizing the many techniques available for increasing functional behaviors and reducing those that may cause harm or interfere with learning. It provides complete and coordinated care throughout a child’s life to bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior, and empower the individual to realize
his/her full potential.

Kauai Aquaponics Program

Kahiau, Easter Seals Hawaii’s service center in Waimea, Kauai, provides services to adults and children on the west side of the island. Part of the building serves as the Kauai Police Department Waimea sub-station. The police officers are great neighbors who have taken the time to get to know the program and Easter Seals Hawaii participants. We would like to thank Officer Damien Mandiola for generously offering to teach Easter Seals Hawaii participants how to build and maintain an aquaponic system. He donated the entire system as well as 40 golden tilapia fish food and starter plants.

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Officer Damien worked alongside our participants to construct the system and teach our participants and staff how to maintain the right acidity levels for optimal plant growth. Families of participants supported this project by donating more starter plants and fish. Officer Damien continues to oversee this project. As with anything new, there are ups and downs and he has taught our participants to evaluate and overcome obstacles. There were moths and aphids and some of the fish died, but ultimately it was a huge success! All of the vegetables are now used to prepare the daily lunches. The participants learn reading, writing and team work to maintain and operate the aquaponic system. It is also part of a curriculum on nutrition, healthy living, and making healthy choices The system has proven to be a wonderful vehicle for teaching, and an opportunity to expand this system at the service center in Kapaa.

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Tackling Adversity By Helping Others

In one moment, Tisha Takazawa’s life would never be the same. After suffering a brain injury from a car accident at the age of 21, she was forced to re-learn everything from writing, to walking, to even talking. She lost a considerable amount of fine motor skills and the entire right side of her body became weak. She now lives with new physical challenges on a daily basis, but Tisha does not complain. She’s rather humbled by the opportunity to genuinely understand and deeply empathize with those she serves. Tisha has been working with people with disabilities and special needs at Easter Seals Hawaii for over 11 years.
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As the Adult Day Health Program Manager in Hilo, Tisha wakes up every morning with gratitude in her thoughts and happiness in her heart: “Before starting with ESH, I wanted something where I could make more of a meaningful impact. I wanted a change, I felt a calling, and now I’ve fallen in love with the work that I do.” She has been instrumental in the growth of the program, having had started with just five participants to now helping serve over 82. Adult Day Services, intended to provide adults with stimulating environments, opportunities, and experiences through community-based settings and activities, promotes substantial growth among participants and the community alike:
“Our job is to make the community aware, to open their eyes a little at a time, and to show them that people with disabilities are just people, like you and me.”

Tisha recalled a time when a particular gym owner in the community only addressed the staff member accompanying two participants and questioned: “so what can’t they do?” His blatant disregard for the two individuals was not of malicious intent; however, its impact was nevertheless felt. After about five succeeding interactions, the very first thing the owner did was address the participants directly, look at their faces, shake their hands, and ask for their names. This type of transformation exemplifies why Tisha believes the work Easter Seals Hawaii does is so important. Without it, bridging that gap – getting people with disabilities integrated, understood, and accepted within the community – seems unattainable.

Tisha is driven, however, to make a positive change. She embodies that which Easter Seals Hawaii aspires to do every day: change lives with Aloha. After experiencing such discouragement and despair on a personal level, she realized that despite all she had lost, in the end, she really had everything to gain – and remains thankful for all that she has:
“I look forward to coming to work, seeing the participants every day, enjoying their progress and happiness. It’s amazing what people can accomplish when they’re given the chance. [The participants] teach us all a lesson about what’s really important in life. And for that reason, Easter Seals Hawaii is just a good place to be.”

Dennis Maher’s Unbreakable Commitment

Dennis C. Maher has spent an entire lifetime living with a family member with an intellectual disability. His brother, now 41, has Down syndrome, cannot speak, and is legally deaf and blind. His son, 12, has autism. Many people would find a reason to complain, but what truly sets Dennis apart is his unbreakable commitment to his family, his community, and everyone with a disability.

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Dennis is the director of facilities and security at Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk, and one of his responsibilities is looking for ways to improve and streamline the day-to-day operations. The hotel has a green program focused on recycling, and he realized that finding a charity to benefit from the 5c recyclables would be a win-win for both the hotel and the charity – it would save the hotel valuable resources if another entity took over the program, and the charity would benefit from the regular revenue stream. Since his brother had been engaged with Easter Seals Hawaii for many years he made one phone call which, as it turned out, was all he needed to do to start the program which now provides many recipients the opportunity to be employed and engaged with the community.

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Working closely with representatives from Easter Seals Hawaii he has grown the program to extend far beyond the Trump Hotel and include other condos in the area. For Dennis, his passion and devotion to assisting people with intellectual disabilities has been a lifelong commitment. When he was in high school he worked in a summer camp for people with disabilities. Now, in addition to being engaged with Easter Seals Hawaii, he was a coach for several sports through Special Olympics and is also on the board of Autism Hawaii. As with many true heroes he sees the best in others, and is the first to give the credit to other people he has known who also give their time freely. He noted, “I have a child with a disability, I have a brother with a disability. I have a reason to do this. That is where it comes from. I give a lot more credit to those without a family member with a disability, those are the real heroes. The real heroes are the people that do not have a reason other than a big heart. I give them a heck of a lot more credit than I give myself.”

Roxann Kehus: Employment Services

“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible.” –Audrey Hepburn

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So many of us float through our day-to-day lives forgetting the inherent simplicity of possibility: add a space, an apostrophe, and a rightfully earned, capitalized “I” and impossible transforms into I’m possible.

Roxann Kehus, the Statewide Employment Services Manager for Easter Seals Hawaii, speaks of this truth as it relates to the groundbreaking work she and the Easter Seals team are undertaking. Through years of work with non-profit organizations, she has become quite familiar with the impossible-to-possible transformation. These exciting possibilities center around the vision of a new program that, after many years of intent, is now being implemented: employment services. This program aims to foster true community integration and support of self. Focusing on individual strengths, interests, gifts, and talents as opposed to weaknesses and deficits, Easter Seals Employment Services strives to make every individual an equally respected and independent member of society.

Discovery Process
With the help of a practice known as Discovery, individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to experience, or discover, the workplace. They observe different jobs, speak to different people, and authentically establish an area of interest through experiment and/or experience to successfully facilitate job placement. Discovery is a valuable process, one in which Roxann believes in fully due to past experiences with it. As an employment consultant in Seattle, WA, Roxann worked with a high school graduate who had a Discovery meeting with family, friends, and neighbors. His interest in shredding papers caught the attention of one neighbor in particular, who turned out to be a local school principle. She offered him a job shredding old report cards and crafted a beneficial situation for everyone involved. The young man now had a job doing something he enjoyed, the school was getting rid of unnecessary documents, and the students were able to assist him, increasing their own awareness and interaction with people with disabilities. It eventually led to further work opportunities when the local city parks department requested his paper-shredding assistance as well. This epitomizes the beauty of the practice: one Discovery meeting can present unexpected and previously unimagined job opportunities, spawning chances for people with disabilities to actively contribute to and participate in society.

Through employment services (including the Discovery program) individuals not only expand their network of people and supporters – otherwise known as social capital – but also build character. They develop a greater sense of self, are better prepared to make decisions, and have a means by which to improve their current quality of life. A few job seekers on the Big Island are a testament to this. After working on pre-employment skill building (interview etiquette, question-response preparation, etc.), practice interviews exposed an air of confidence within each individual. They were able to communicate an answer, explain themselves, express their own thoughts, interests, and strengths, and appropriately partake in a conversational setting. This type of equality for all persons, in all environments, all of the time sets valuable precedence. And just as a bike tire need only an occasional flick to stay in motion, so too the employment services program need only a nudge to perpetuate its forward motion.

Roxann, therefore, sees herself in a supportive role – inspiring communication, teamwork, and learning throughout each of the programs on the various islands. She believes in possibilities: “We’re changing a system that’s been in place for many, many years but know that our vision is leading us in the right direction. I trust the process and know it’ll look and turn out in a way that’s greater than I even imagined in the first place.”