Monday, November 11, 2019

Ethan's Employment

Ethan and his Vocational Counselor Nancy McNamara began working together in late 2015. Ethan showed a great interest in working in the food service industry, but he did not have a work history and lives in a rural area with limited employers. Ethan has difficulty answering questions and articulating his abilities in an interview, so Nancy advocated for working interviews. The Owner at Don Pancho's Cantina in Franklin determined Ethan would be an asset to them and decided to give him a chance.

Ethan does well in his job because he is friendly and hardworking. Management always makes note of how much the customers love Ethan. They also can always depend on Ethan coming to work on time with a great attitude. His current tasks are to buss tables, clean the parking lot, and host. Hosting includes greeting and seating people and giving them menus, bringing them chips, salsa and silverware.

Nancy maintains monthly communication with the Managers and Owner of Don Pancho's, as well as with Ethan and his mom, to ensure everything is going well at work. Nancy, his Managers and his family have seen that Ethan has become a much more sociable and responsible person since he began work. He is currently working to save money to go on train trips which he enjoys.

In his free time, Ethan goes on train trips and participates regularly in the Special Olympics in bowling and swimming. His employer sponsors him every year in the Special Olympics Polar Plunge! He also enjoys going to the Tides baseball games.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Trivette's Sweet Success

Trivette and her Vocational Counselor Nancy McNamara began working together in the summer of 2015.  Trivette was interested in a position in the food industry.  Although Trivette did not have any prior work experience, and lived in a rural area with limited employment options, they were able to find her a job as Lobby Attendant at the local Dairy Queen, where she started in September of that year and is still working there four years later.  Nancy describes Trivette as hardworking, responsible and reliable, three qualities in demand by employers.  

Trivette works hard and always strives to do her best, which had helped her to excel in her position. She recently received a raise and promotion to Food Prep Worker, where she is doing an amazing job.  Instead of cleaning the lobby, restrooms and parking lot, and interacting in a welcoming and positive way with guests, she is now responsible for food prep for salads and sandwiches.  When not involved in her primary functions, she continues to take care of trash removal and refilling the ice.  She is a busy employee!

"Trivette has grown a lot since she started working. She has matured and become a more responsible person and has also grown socially. She is less shy and more able to communicate effectively" says Nancy.  Trivette also is now able to contribute financially to bills in her home, including food and her cell phone.  Nancy has noticed that Trivette appears to be much happier now that she is employed and part of a team at work.  Nancy continues to support Trivette by communicating regularly with her, her aunt and her managers.  If Trivette needs support, Nancy helps her problem solve and understand expectations at work. 

In her free time, Trivette enjoys attending church, going out to eat, and shopping.  She especially enjoys spending time with her godbrother, taking him to the park and playing games with him.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Joshua Grows With Employment

Joshua's Success Story: "Joshua Grows With Employment"

Joshua and his vocational counselor, Justin, began working together in April of this year. Together they found an available position at a local KFC restaurant where Joshua has been employed for the last six months. 

In the beginning, Joshua and Justin completed several assessments to determine Josh's interests and the positions that would be the best fit.  This was followed by interviews and finally a job offer. Although having to overcome difficulties with social skills, including being comfortable speaking with others, Joshua’s social skills have improved greatly. Justin helped Joshua work on new ways to approach and greet guests, as well as helping him to remember his daily job duties, which have also significantly improved since first starting employment at KFC. 

Joshua has a strong drive to learn new things which has really helped him in his job. He has a very positive attitude and is always excited to come to work. Some of his job duties include washing the dishes, as well as the windows, and he really enjoys doing them both. His two favorite parts of the job are using the squeegee to clean the windows, as well as the three-compartment sink to clean the dishes. 

Joshua has achieved so much since beginning employment at KFC and has become much more comfortable in speaking with others. He is able to complete his task list multiple times during a shift and communicate with his supportive associates if there is a problem. When Joshua first began he was very nervous about passing out free desserts to customers in the restaurant, but has since grown and come to enjoy this task. 

Justin continues to support Joshua on the job by demonstrating work site activities, such as engaging with others to do tasks such as passing out free desserts. Justin also provides him with positive feedback and encourages him to do his best. 

His managers and associates at the restaurant love working with Joshua because he has such a positive attitude and great personality. Joshua receives frequent recognition on his great work ethic and is often praised for his great work and growth.

In his free time, Joshua loves to workout at the gym and go on nature walks. He is always giving his parents and counselor advice on choosing better options when it comes to food because he really enjoys health and fitness.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Leon Loves His Job

Leon Loves His Job

Leon Turner and his vocational counselor, Nancy, began working together in July 2017. Together they found his current position at Hardees in September 2017, and he has now been working there for almost two years. Prior to Leon finding his current employer, he lived in an area that offered few opportunities in cleaning, where he had prior experience. With limited transportation, Leon needed to walk or bike to work, which then sparked his interest in working in food service. As they spoke with employers to identify job opportunities, Nancy and Leon found that the local Hardee's in Waverly was hiring!

Leon was offered the job at Hardee's and accepted. His current duties include trash removal, mopping, sweeping, cleaning the parking lot, as well as preparing and cooking all of the food for the line. Leon cooks chicken, chicken tenders, string beans, mashed potatoes, and chicken gravy. He is extremely productive and personable. Everyone at Hardee's always comments on how hard working he is and how much they love him, which makes him such a great fit for the job.

Nancy has noticed that since Leon began working at Hardee's, his self-confidence has improved greatly. She says that, "Leon used to feel hesitant to try new things and felt unsure of his abilities, but he now knows that he is able to tackle new things." Leon is a much happier person since he has been employed, has more financial stability and enjoys working with others as a team.

Nancy checks in with Leon as needed, stopping by the restaurant and following up with his manager. She contacts Leon to ensure that everything is going well, that all of his tasks are being completed and that he continues to succeed in his current position.

When he is not hard at work, Leon loves to ride his bike and spend time with his friends. Keep up the great work, Leon and thank you Nancy for submitting this great story on your client!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

2 billion people will need this tech by 2050: Injured vet shares the good and bad

Phil Swinford's house is full of tech that helps him live more independently, but he's betting it's also going to help him to walk again.

Phil Swinford plays music on his phone.Megan Wollerton/CNET

(Phil Swinford plays music on his phone.Megan Wollerton/CNET)

"OK Google, text Pamela ICE [in case of emergency]," says retired US Army Col. Phil Swinford from his home in the Virginia suburbs, roughly an hour's drive from Washington, DC. He's using Google Assistant on his Android phone to talk to his wife, Pam, who's working today at her consignment shop, the Copper Cricket, a few miles away. I'm listening in, which feels a little too invasive, but it's OK: This text is just for demo purposes.

"Sure," Google's AI responds. "What's the message?"

"Hey, babe. I love you," Phil says clearly and deliberately into his phone.

"I got, 'Hey, babe. I love you,'" it speaks back to him. "Do you wanna send it or change it?"

"Send it," Phil says.

"OK. Message sent," it confirms.

Demo or not, it's sweet that this is the message he chooses to send.

I first met Phil and Pam in 2017 at the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center at the McGuire VA Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, where they talked with me about the smart home technologies he uses everyday.

I'm here now to see all of it in action.

Phil is an incomplete quadriplegic. His injury was caused in a mountain biking accident in 2015. The "incomplete" part means he has some movement, mainly in his fingers, hands and arms, but he relies on an electric wheelchair to get around.

For injured veterans, smart tech is crucial to quality of life
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About 3.6 million Americans and more than 250,000 veterans use wheelchairs, according to a 2018 study. More than one billion people in the world need at least one type of assistive technology; only one in 10 people have that access, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports.

Assistive technology is a category of specialized, often costly, tech designed to help people with disabilities live more fulfilling, independent lives. The smart homeindustry is a mainstream extension of assistive technology. App- and voice-controllable smart locks and LED lights might be a convenience purchase for you and me, but for Phil (and so many others), it means there's one less thing he has to ask Pam -- or one of his caregivers -- to do for him.

Access to smart home technology could also potentially be live-saving, a way to contact someone if he's on his own, to let them know something's wrong.

Together Phil and Pam make a concerted effort to keep up-to-date on all of the latest innovations. Pam searches New Mobility Magazine for the newest devices. Phil reads about research studies and university programs doing interesting work related to spinal cord injuries. He volunteers to test beta software and one-off devices from all over the world -- and provides feedback on what's working and what isn't.

Largely because of their efforts, their house is full of smart home technology. "Even [within] the VA, you have to fight for everything," he explains, and Pam is his strongest advocate. Phil knows he's lucky, and that many don't have the same access. He believes it also helps that he retired as a colonel, a high-ranking position in the US Army.

"[Part of] a senior officer's job is to write and speak, to advocate for his unit, the Army, and if necessary, himself. A guy who gets medically retired as an E4 specialist in the Army [a comparatively low rank -- read more about Army ranks] is not going to have those skills, more than likely," he explains.

The WHO estimates that the number of individuals needing assistive tech will double to two billion people by 2050. Hopefully access will improve with this growing need, but for now, Phil might just have one of the most decked-out setups around.

I'm here to find out what technology is in his house, how he uses it, how well it works and what he'd like to see that hasn't emerged yet.

The tech

Control4, a professionally installed smart home system, is the brains powering Phil's smart home. It isn't marketed as an assistive technology, but it is commonly used for that purpose. The McGuire VA alone has requested about 26 Control4 systems for veterans in the past five years, Melissa Oliver, assistive technology program coordinator at McGuire, tells me over email.

(The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a nonprofit that builds custom homes for veterans and first responders critically injured in the line of duty, installed Control4 in the home they built for retired Marine Sergeant Rob Jones.)

Control4 consists of touchscreen control panels, an app and Amazon Alexa speakers to control various connected devices. You could install and configure various smart home devices in a similar way yourself, but Control4 unites them under the same app, which makes them more manageable.

"Due to the vast integration and customization possibilities of Control4, our systems have been installed for many veterans and those who use technology to improve their lives. We love seeing the ways that a Control4 smart home can help, even [in] just the smallest ways," Brad Hintze, Control4 senior director of product marketing said via email.

Phil has Amazon Echo Dot speakers, security cameras, door locks, fans, lighting and doors -- all controllable via Control4. During my visit he demonstrates opening the door in his bedroom, turning lights on and off, turning on the TV and changing the channel, playing music, and even answering a Ring doorbell.

He says the tech works "nearly 95% of the time," which seems about right. He experiences the classic voice assistant annoyances we all do: When Alexa or Google Assistant (on his phone) either doesn't respond when you give a command or thinks you said their name when you didn't.

There were some other issues, particularly in the specialty assistive technology Phil's testing out.

One such software, called Open Sesame by startup Sesame Enable, was developed by Giora Livne, a retired naval officer from Israel who's quadriplegic. Open Sesame had a successful Indiegogo campaign back in 2015, where it raised nearly $60,000.

The Open Sesame app, which costs $20 per month, uses the cameras in Phil's phone and laptop to scan his face (note: Open Sesame is only compatible with Android and Windows at this time). He then navigates apps, responds to emails and plays games -- all using head gestures, with his nose as the cursor.

When Phil uses Open Sesame head gestures to click the Ring push notification, Open Sesame will crash.Megan Wollerton/CNET

(When Phil uses Open Sesame head gestures to click the Ring push notification, Open Sesame will crash.Megan Wollerton/CNET)

But Open Sesame doesn't work perfectly -- the voice command that used to work to open the app has stopped working, and the app crashes when it's competing with a secondary video feed, like the live stream from the Ring doorbell Phil and Pam have out front.

Now he has to use a joystick or his head array (a physical device with built-in sensors that allows Phil to control things with head movements) to pull up the app, which slows things down. That's especially frustrating when he's trying to do something time sensitive, like answer the front door, which is compounded by the issues with the secondary video feed.

Phil likes to order pizza for Pam when she works late. He always instructs the delivery person to bring the pizza inside, but they always ring the doorbell first. (I don't blame them, honestly. I'd probably be hesitant walking into someone else's home too.)

When they buzz the Ring doorbell, Phil gets an alert on his phone. He uses Open Sesame to answer it, but the technology can't continue to scan his face and simultaneously pull up the video of whoever's out front. So instead, Open Sesame crashes, and by the time Phil gets the app open with the joystick or head array to tell them to come in, the person is long gone.

We tested out the Open Sesame/Ring doorbell issue ourselves, along with CNET video producer, Vanessa Salas, and it did indeed stop working. Vanessa waited at the door for at least a minute as Open Sesame stopped and Phil had to switch to a different technology. When it's working, Open Sesame is his fastest option, so it's typically his default choice. But it's essentially a beta technology, so there are glitches.

I also messed up Open Sesame for him at least once by accidentally sticking my head in front of the phone's camera as he tested it out, which, of course, confused the face-tracking software and caused it to crash.

I saw his frustration, navigating these technologies that don't always work the way he needs them to. But Phil is hopeful; he has plans way beyond his current range of motion -- and his current array of smart home tech.

  Phil is training to walk again.Megan Wollerton/CNET

(Phil is training to walk again.Megan Wollerton/CNET)

His goals

Marita Allen, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) who's one of Phil's caregivers, grabs an iPad and shows us videos of Phil walking at the Fairfax DPI Adaptive Fitness Training Center.

In the videos, he uses a walker and electrical stimulation bands attached to his legs that send signals to his brain to help him move. While the staff keep close by in the videos, Phil is walking, the strain of determination clear on his face.

He has a specific goal in mind: his daughter's wedding is coming up, and he wants to walk her down the aisle. My hope is to someday regain upper body movement from the implantation of stem [cells]. I think I'm well along the way in terms of eventually being able to walk with minimal help.
Phil Swinford

He uses electrical stimulation technology at home to continue strengthening his legs when he isn't at physical therapy, as well as something called a mobile arm support to strengthen his arms.

"Until I gain functional movement of an arm that would allow me to use a remote, or open the computer, or open the iPad, I pretty much have to have somebody here [to help]," he says.

Arm strength is also crucial to helping him walk again.

The mobile arm support is an arm brace that helps him extend his arm for things like eating, which, in turn, helps strengthen his arm. There are fewer than 50 of these devices in the United States, he says, because the company stopped selling them here. Pam found it in New Mobility Magazine, and they jumped at the chance to have one.

"I've actually regained some strength and mobility in my right arm [from using the mobile arm support]," he says. Soon, he plans to switch the mobile arm support device to his left arm to help strengthen it, too.

This goes way beyond feeding himself, though, and even beyond walking his daughter down the aisle. Phil is actively trying to keep up his strength so he's ready for future technologies.

He's waiting for Dr. Harkema at the University of Louisville's Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center to further develop her embedded electrical stimulation research, designed to help people with spinal cord injuries to walk again.

"My hope is to someday regain upper body movement from the implantation of [electrical stimulation]. I think I'm well along the way in terms of eventually being able to walk with minimal help," he says.

He also mentioned the Miami Project, which is working on upper-body mobility for quadriplegics.

Phil is eager to participate in the research studies, but doesn't qualify for most of them. They are often looking for complete, rather than incomplete quadriplegics -- individuals with no mobility.

"I don't think I look like a "normal" quadriplegic [Phil says "quote, unquote normal" here]. I still have significant muscle mass. I mean, I can sit on a leg press and press 220 pounds," he explains.

In addition to his hope for embedded electrical stimulation, Phil wants an embedded device that helps him breathe. He currently uses a diaphragmatic pacing system to assist with breathing -- it's a battery-powered device that stimulates his diaphragm, allowing it to contract more naturally.

"Instead of me having to carry this Star Trek Tricorder around [the pacing system], we can embed microcontrollers in my body and then recharge it at night, the way pacemakers work," he explains.

Phil kicks me out at exactly noon. His schedule is pretty full today, but he says I should drop in on Pam at her shop. 

Pam's got Phil's back taken in 2017 at the McGuire VA Hospital.Tyler Lizenby/CNET

(Pam's got Phil's back taken in 2017 at the McGuire VA Hospital.Tyler Lizenby/CNET)

The advocate

Phil walks his daughter, Jillian, down the aisle. Wendy Atkinson

(Phil walks his daughter, Jillian, down the aisle. Wendy Atkinson)

When I walk through the doors of Copper Cricket a little after noon, the shop is buzzing and Pam is nowhere to be found.

I eventually find her far in the back, after walking past a maze of rooms packed full of breakable tea sets, mirrors, paintings and a myriad of other collectibles. One particular embroidered wall hanging of birds looks strikingly similar to something that used to hang in my grandmother's house.

Pam is in the middle of lifting a giant planter to bring it to a customer's car. I ask if she needs help with it; she says no.

The area where they live has a lot of former military and state department employees who've moved a lot, she tells me as we walk back to the front of the the store, so she gets items from all over the world.

She talks fast; she has a lot of customers to get to. She reiterates something I remember Phil mentioning when we first met at the VA hospital two years ago -- that technology is great when it works and not so great when it doesn't.

She clearly isn't fazed by it, though. She and Phil will figure it out together.

I find out later that Phil did indeed walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. Now he's one step closer to his goal.

This is part of CNET's "Tech Enabled" series about the role technology plays in helping the disability community.

Original story written by MEGAN WOLLERTON of CNET.COM

For the link to the original blog, click here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Joseph (Karate) Chops his Way Into a Career

Joseph (Karate) Chops his Way Into a Career

Joseph began working with his vocational counselor, Justin, beginning in June 2019. Together, they found Joseph an internship at Laughing Dragon Kung-Fu, a local martial arts studio, where he has been for 2 months now. While Justin was there to guide Joseph into finding employment, Joseph was the one who initially thought of pursing a position at the studio. After speaking with the manager of the studio, they got the green light for Joseph to start the internship! The manager informed them that everyone at the studio thought it was a great opportunity for Joseph to excel and use his skills to teach others.

In the beginning, Joseph had to work on his social skills when teaching the children at the studio, but has shown great improvement. Since beginning the internship at the studio Joseph's patience has increased tremendously and his motivation to work and help others has improved greatly as well. Joseph's determination to do well is one of his strengths that has allowed him to put his best foot first, regardless of his disability. He once told his vocational counselor and mother that he "is just as normal as anyone else and will show everyone just what he can do." His patience became a big strength for him, although at first it was hard to understand how to approach and or talk with younger children. With the support Joseph has received from Justin and others he was able to understand and learn how to address the children and it has proven to be a great fit.

Joseph's daily tasks at the studio include cleaning the Dojo before class, along with the bathrooms, as well as vacuuming, dusting and sweeping. He also teaches two different classes, both classes being for kids younger than he is, 13 years and under.

Although Joseph had to work on his patience at first, he has grown tremendously in his teaching skills. Justin continues to support Joseph by encouraging him to keep improving, and to remember to teach the children rather than just tell them what to do, a skill he has learned in this position. Rather than being quick to anger when he is not understood, Joseph has learned to take things slowly and repeat himself without getting upset. When Joseph is not working at the studio he enjoys playing video games and reading. Keep up the great work Joseph, and thank you Justin for submitting this client success story!

Monday, August 26, 2019

Nathan Finds Work at a Local Brewery

Nathan Finds Work at a Local Brewery

Nathan and his vocational counselor, Justin, began working together in April of this year. Nathan has currently been employed in his position for two months. Before finding Nathan work with his current employer, Justin and Nathan met weekly to determine the field in which Nathan would like to find employment. Together, they then completed several situational assessments to determine the best fit for Nathan. Nathan and Justin came to the realization that Nathan liked working in a warehouse environment, so they completed an application for Three Notch'd Brewery, and the client received and accepted the job offer.

Initially, Nathan had to overcome some obstacles like working on his pace at the job, multi-tasking, as well as working on communication. Although, this wasn't an issue for long, he is a very hardworking and determined person so he was able to quickly improve on his speed, communication and multi-tasking. Nathan is responsible for packaging 6, 12 and 24 packs, along with palletizing the finished product and multi-tasking between loading the empty cans, bottle tops, and packaging.

Justin continues to support Nathan with his employment by motivating him to try new things and to also try new ways to increase his speed on the job. He also continues to support him by communicating with Nathan and his managers to ensure that Nathan knows his managers also support him.

In his free time, Nathan enjoys spending time with his grandchildren, going on walks and watching television. Keep up the hard work, Nathan, and thank you to Justin for sharing this client success story!