DSP of the Year Uses Technology to Improve Lives

 
6.29.15

In this age of smartphones, tablets, and apps that can help a person do virtually everything, direct support professionals (DSPs) are also discovering that modern technology is helping them better serve people with disabilities. One DSP, Alex Andrews, of Imagine! of Lafayette, Colorado, who, in his fifteen years with the organization, has created various applications, software, and other machines that help people with disabilities learn how to live and thrive in their community.

For his efforts that go above and beyond his job description, Andrews was named the 2015 ANCOR DSP of the Year.

Sterling Ward, Public Relations Coordinator of Imagine!, which is a private, not-for-profit organization that serves over 3,000 Boulder-area individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, nominated Andrews for the award.

“Alex started out working in our employment division, called Labor Source, working with people as a job coach through the community,” Ward says.  “When Alex became a host home provider he started to apply his natural curiosity and used technology and music and photography to explore how he could make music more accessible for people,” he says.

One of the people Andrews was supporting had behaviors that were associated with attention seeking, including breaking things in order to get people to come over and engage with him. Andrews, whose official title at Imagine! is Technology Architect, helped build a musical system that would engage his client. “We were looking for ways in which he could entertain himself for a little bit,” Andrews says.” We started building a cause and effect lab, where he could use a synthesizer and lights would go off and a lot of tactile things. He’d just have to press a few buttons and it would be in time and sound good. We had a tactile vest that had a speaker in that he could wear. Lights would go off and the bass would come through the vest. We set it up to see what he liked. It ended up that he liked everything going at once—he really wanted to be over-stimulated!”

“I’ve always had a fascination with technology,” he observes. “Technology has multiple uses, you just have to look at what it does and how people can use it.”

One of Andrews’ most significant breakthroughs involved creating an app on a tablet for a woman, Leah Walker, who had difficulty living by herself and taking care the many difficult chores that come with living alone.

Imagine! has an apartment downstairs from their offices, which is set up with cameras and serves as a testing ground to help get the people with disabilities that they support out into the community. “It allows us to practice living skills,” Andrews says. “We’re working on all the activities of daily living around what it would take to use a kitchen, bathroom, laundry. So we have a task prompting system, so we can program in all kinds of prompts to remind Leah of what’s going on during the day. She can’t tell time, so telling her it’s 11:30 doesn’t mean anything to her, so giving her explicit prompts lets her know it’s lunch, and other time-related chores.”

One great innovation involves recording Walker so that she can essentially remind herself to do these chores, as well as how to do them. “She actually records the prompts, so she’s actually telling herself what’s going on throughout the day,” Andrews says. “In the past, she’s had issues with motivation and didn’t like people telling her what to do. Historically, people have done things for her instead of engage her in the activity, because she didn’t like to be told what to do, which created a power struggle. The beautiful thing about this app is that she’s telling herself what to do, so the power struggle is gone.”

“Leah’s gained skills which also allows her to gain other skills more rapidly. After a few months of this, we can set her free and trust that she knows what she’s doing.”

The DirectCourse/College of Direct Support (CDS) applauds Alex Andrews and Imagine! for their groundbreaking work, resulting in the DSP of the Year Award. Courses such as “Person Centered Planning and Supports” and “Positive Behavior Support” encourage the kind of imaginative solutions that Andrews and Imagine! are creating every day.

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