Welcome Elano – AT Specialist in Western Massachusetts

Introducing Elano Dallmeyer, new AT Specialist for the AT Regional Center (ATRC) of Western Massachusetts!

Elano was hired this past summer by UCP of Western Massachusetts which operates the MassMATCH ATRC.

He couldn’t be happier.

Smiling headshot of a man from his webcam

Elano Dallmeyer

“This is a dream job. I get to apply what I love to working with people for a better quality of life. It’s incredible.”

Last week, MassMATCH had a chance to catch up with Elano and learn what brings him to UCP and what excites him about his new position. His enthusiasm was contagious.

“When I heard about the job, I thought, ‘Oh, here’s my job. That’s what I’m supposed to do!'”

Elano explained he has a background in IT but as a technologist, he’d discovered the work wasn’t enough. “I tried the corporate thing, but it wasn’t for me,” he reflects.

He’s a people person.

Before joining UCP, Elano had been working at a residential school for girls who’d experienced trauma. There he’d developed and coordinated activities and provided direct care, including for students with developmental disabilities. Eventually, he’d moved into a teaching assistant position and enjoyed instructing computer classes. “I’ve developed a lot of patience,” he says.

Now, at UCP, Elano is exploring and demonstrating equipment and traveling to homes to set up smart home technology and other solutions for improved independence.

He says he’s delighted by the collision of mainstream technology with assistive technology–the “unintended consequences” of tech developed for everyone that’s proving to be life-transforming for some.

“Installing a Ring Doorbell means people with disabilities have security they’ve not had before,” he emphasizes. “They can let in their PCAs [personal care attendants] and not just leave the door unlocked all the time.”

It’s clear, talking to Elano, that here is a gregarious nerd, as well as someone who brings a light approach to their work.

In a blink, he’s talking about gaming.

“I’m a career gamer,” he confesses and then explains how this is foundational to his perspective on technology and the work at hand. “Gaming teaches problem-solving and motor skills. So much tech innovation is coming from gaming. VR [Virtual Reality], especially. It’s transforming how we tell stories.”

Already he’s bringing this mindset to the ATRC. UCP recently acquired an Oculus Rift S VR headset to explore opportunities for UCP clients. Elano is excited about VR’s potential. “Sensory therapy, social-emotional learning, life skills. Virtual travel! This is on the forefront technology and we’re tracking it here at UCP.”

Is it all about the high tech for Elano? We wondered, and asked…

“Oh no. Some of my favorite devices? Adaptive grip turners! They make such a difference and are so satisfying for users.”

Welcome to your dream job, Elano. We’re delighted to have you.

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Accessible Xfinity TV Now At The Boston ATRC

Check out the newly renovated center (and bring your popcorn)

MassMATCH and its partner, Easterseals MA, unveiled their renovated and re-imagined Boston Assistive Technology Regional Center (ATRC) on October 30th, complete with a new layout and some exciting new technology. In line with its mission to encourage anyone with a need to learn about and try out AT free of charge, Easterseals MA has re-visioned the Boston ATRC to be more engaging and hands-on.

“Here we can showcase technology and easily demonstrate what before had been put away in drawers and cabinets,” says Eric Oddleifson, Assistant VP of Assistive Technology and Community Support Services for Easterseals MA. “The new space has open shelving, more like the ATRC we operate in Worcester.” (Find your closest ATRC.)

Equipment is displayed on open shelving and see-through drawers on two walls along with a wall-mounted TV.

A view of the new Boston ATRC space.

Also similar to Worcester, Boston now boasts television monitors mounted to the wall connected to broadband internet. Different from Worcester, these units have a full cable TV package for browsing by visitors.

What on earth might 250+ channels have to do with AT?

It turns out, everything.

A Showcase for the Xfinity Accessible TV Remote App

Comcast is partnering with the AT Regional Center to help announce their breakthrough in TV accessibility: a web-based remote control.  The ATRC grand re-opening was the perfect venue.

At the unveiling, Adriana Mallozzi, a longtime client and now board member of Easterseals MA, arrived to demonstrate. Mallozzi uses a unique, wireless, mouth-controlled joystick to operate her smartphone and computer. At the ATRC re-opening, Mallozzi used her joystick for something entirely new: complete control of a cable television box.

A woman seated in a powerchair with mounted joysticks gazes at a laptop on a counter. A TV is mounted on the wall above. A man and a woman stand to one side smiling surrounded by shelved equipment.

Adriana using the accessible remote with her own AT

“Before this Comcast innovation, similar AT control of a television would require upwards of $6,000 in specialized equipment,” Oddleifson says. “We’re delighted to showcase it and in exchange, Comcast is providing our new center with broadband internet and cable TV.”

At the event, Mallozzi used her mouth and chin to navigate a wall-mounted television using her device and the Xfinity remote app. The app launched a set of virtual keypads to a laptop computer.

a set of three virtual keypads

The Xfinity virtual remote display

The remote works with all AT input devices, whatever method of computer access a user has. This includes switch scanning and eye gaze devices. It also includes Mallozzi’s Puffin joystick which she designed herself and is now raising funds to bring to the marketplace.

At the opening, attendees were dazzled to see Mallozzi channel surf with her AT that, theoretically, is not quite ready for prime time.

“Our unveiling featured a lot of cutting edge technology,” Catherine Bly, longtime ATRC Boston coordinator, says. “And what better way to  demonstrate the flexibility of the new Comcast accessible remote than to also demonstrate Adriana’s innovation?”

Mallozzi appreciated the opportunity and was eager to promote not only Puffin Innovations but also the services of the AT Regional Center. “I’ve been coming to the Boston ATRC for years and years, she says, and it’s a great way to learn about and play with AT. Unless you actually try it, you don’t know if it’s going to work for you.”

Asked about her experience channel surfing with Comcast, Mallozzi was equally enthusiastic. “It’s a huge improvement over their conventional mobile app. It has everything on one screen, everything a physical remote has as well as access to all accessibility controls. The conventional mobile app requires gestures to access some functions. Now I can do everything.”

Among the additional attendees were Ann Shor, Director of Assistive Technology and Independent Living at MRC and Paul Medeiros, President and CEO of Easterseals MA who cut the ribbon on the new center. NBC10 Boston also covered the event and created a public service announcement about the ATRC (coming soon to the MassMATCH website!)

Joyous ribbon cutting ceremony with balloons and smiles.

Paul Medeiros cuts the ribbon on the Boston ATRC October 30th, 2019. Ann Shor, Catherine Bly, and Adriana Mallozzi look on.

“It was a wonderful day for MassMATCH,” remarked Shor. “We learned about and celebrated not only new accessible technologies but more broadly the vital role programs like ours can have to empower and inspire a new generation to innovate.”

Find the MassMATCH ATRC closest to you.

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Ramping Up to 100 in Hanover

A man seated in a wheelchair surrounded by a kneeling man and two women behind. They are in a livingroom.

Henry Oliveira with his son and daughters in Hanover, MA.

What could a set of portable ramps make possible for your family?

When Kristi Peak-Oliveira’s father-in-law, Henry Oliveira, turned 100 this past summer, he was ready to party. But only if the gathering took place at Kristi and Jeff’s house in Hanover.

The thought of it filled Kristi with dread.

While Henry is in great health, his mind sharp, and he doesn’t look a day over 80, he’d nearly fallen the last time he’d come to visit her, just entering the house with his walker.

“It was very scary,” she says, “and it’s only two steps up from the garage!”

Kristi suggested the party happen at Henry’s assisted living residence, instead, where it is fully accessible for his walker and wheelchair. But Henry didn’t like the idea. Then he said didn’t want the party at all.

“He went back and forth about it,” she says, “until  finally he decided he did want the party,  but only if it were at our house.” That’s when she saw how important it was to him.

“So I told the family, Ok, if it’s happening here, then I’m calling for ramps. I’m definitely calling for ramps.”

A house with portable ramps leading from the lawn to the front doorway.The ramps, she knew, would come from the MassMATCH short-term device loan program: wheelchair-accessible ramps that are portable and temporary and which anyone can borrow–at no charge–for 4 weeks at a time.

Kristi works for Easterseals MA and has a long history of borrowing equipment from the MassMATCH device loan program for use with clients. As a speech-language pathologist, Kristi has often borrowed devices in the category of augmentative alternative communication (AAC), but the loan program includes a wide range of assistive technology including equipment for wheelchair users such as pressure mapping technology, portable scales, and portable ramps.

“A lot of people don’t know you can get ramps this way,” she acknowledges. “Or they don’t think of it. But it was seamless and easy and Henry was right. Our house was the best place for his party.”

To borrow the equipment, Kristi went to the MassMATCH online inventory webpage and requested two ramps she thought she’d need: a ramp for the stairs leading to her front door and a threshold ramp to help Henry enter.

Once her request was made, Kristi heard from her colleague Catherine Bly in the Boston AT Regional Center. Easterseals operates this center for MassMATCH as well as an ATRC in Worcester.

Catherine confirmed with Kristi that the ramps she’d ordered were appropriate for the number of steps and their rise and for Henry’s wheelchair. (The ramp length needed depends on a formula and the formula is different if the user has a power wheelchair or a manual chair.)

About a week before Henry’s party, Ebert, a longtime employee of Easterseals brought the ramps to Kristi and Jeff’s home. “Ebert provides a great service,” she says. “He sets up the ramps and takes them down after the loaner period. He also problem-solves your location. In our case, he studied our doors and entryways and confirmed where we should put them.”

On the day of the party, Henry was impressed as he rolled into the house with ease, but it was everyone else’s reaction that most struck Kristi. “Everyone was so appreciative. And they couldn’t believe how simple it was to arrange for the ramps through MassMATCH.” She says it’s why she wanted to do this story and why she posted about it on Facebook. “More people need to know how easy it is to borrow ramps!”

As for the party, she acknowledges, their house was the best place to have it. Henry had been right. “He was so happy to be there with everyone, and it was easy to show home movies and videos. We looked at parties from the 80s and called out when we recognized friends and family. We had a really good time.”

A man seated in a wheelchair and woman with her arm around his shoulders, smile for the camera.

Henry Oliveira and Kristi Peak-Oliveira

In the future, Kristi says this is definitely a service she will use again. “We love having Henry here and it is a huge relief to know we can get him in and out of the house safely.” She’ll just plan ahead with MassMATCH.

What could a set of portable ramps make happen for your family? Call your AT Regional Center and discuss the possibilities or any other equipment that might make the upcoming holidays more inclusive and enjoyable for all.

 

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Pressure Mapping and Adaptive Scales Demonstration September 18th

A man suspended seated in a sling lift beside another man seated in a wheelchair holding a remote control.

Eric Oddleifson (sling lift) and Robert Billotta (with remote control).

Learn about scales for wheelchair users and digital pressure mapping technology available to borrow at no cost.

When?

Thursday, September 18th
10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Where?

The MassMATCH AT Regional Center at Easterseals Massachusetts
484 Main Street, 6th floor
Worcester, MA

RSVP by Sept. 10th

Or just learn more. Contact:
Robbert Billota, ATRC Coordinator Worcester
508-751-6495
rbillotta@eastersealsma.org

The Weight and Seating Independence Project (WSIP) provides scales for wheelchair users and digital pressure mapping technology (PMT). MassMATCH is making this essential equipment available to individuals with disabilities, family members, caregivers, and other professionals. Participants will learn how to use pressure mapping technology and adaptive scales. All equipment is available to borrow for up to 30 days through the short-term device loan program.

Learn to prevent pressure injuries and take control of your health!

 

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Registration Now Open! Free ICT Accessibility Training Opportunity

Two full days of training to introduce and get you started with accessible information and communication technology (ICT).

Training

When and Where is this Event?

September 23rd and/or 24th, 2019, at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Boston Waltham.
One and two-day registration options are available.

What will be Taught?

Learn about web accessibility and how to make accessible Microsoft Word docs, PowerPoints, and Adobe PDF files. Learn about the laws and standards that help ensure information is readable and usable by a wide audience, including seniors and individuals with disabilities.

Who Should Attend?

The trainings are appropriate for a range of participants including web content managers and designers, policy and legal staff, and anyone who uses MS Word, PowerPoint or who needs to create accessible PDF files. 

What’s the Cost?

There is no registration fee for this event. Only 50 tickets will be issued for each day of training. Your ticket is your commitment to attend. Meals are provided at no charge both days. A block of rooms has been reserved for those needing lodging at a rate of $179/night.

What More Do I Need to Know?

Certificates of Completion will be awarded to attendees who complete training sessions and corresponding evaluations (at the conclusion of either or both days of training).

Participants of Day 2 will have the best experience if they come with Microsoft Office 2013 (or newer) for Windows, and Adobe Acrobat Pro DC installed on their computers.

Learn More and Register

About the Trainers

Rob Carr

Rob is the ICT Accessibility Program Manager for Oklahoma ABLE Tech, Oklahoma’s Assistive Technology Act Program housed at Oklahoma State University. Rob helps organizations to embrace inclusion through technology. He trains and guides state agencies, higher education institutions and the occasional private sector partner to make accessibility efforts into sustainable programs. From high-level topics like accessibility in procurement and building accessibility initiatives to the nuts and bolts of PDF and web accessibility, Rob makes accessibility something that organizations can fit into their existing operations. Rob works closely with peer Assistive Technology Act Programs around the country to provide training and technical assistance around technology accessibility. Rob also speaks at local and national conferences on various accessibility-related topics and organizes Oklahoma’s statewide accessibility conference, TechAccessOK. Rob is an IAAP Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies and an ACTCP Certified ADA Coordinator.

Lyssa Prince

Lyssa is an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Accessibility Coordinator with Oklahoma ABLE Tech. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a Masters of Library and Information Studies degree in 2015 and applies the user-centered approaches from the information world to accessibility. Lyssa enjoys digging into websites and applications to test how accessible they are for all users, and she finds it especially exciting when this testing leads to providing targeted feedback for organizations. In addition to accessibility testing, she provides training and technical assistance on accessibility topics such as Adobe PDF, Microsoft Office, and accessibility testing to various groups across the state of Oklahoma.

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Coming Soon: ICT Accessibility Training Opportunity

""Save the Date: September 23rd and 24th, 2019.

MassMATCH is hosting two full days of training to introduce and get you started with creating accessible information and communication technology (ICT). This event is free!

Learn about web accessibility and how to make accessible Word Docs, PowerPoints and Adobe PDF files. Learn about the laws and standards that help ensure information is readable and usable by a wide audience, including seniors and individuals with disabilities.

Our lead presenter will be Rob Carr, ICT Accessibility Program Manager with Oklahoma ABLE Tech. Rob is an IAAP Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies and an ACTCP Certified ADA Coordinator.

The trainings are appropriate for a range of participants including web content managers and designers, policy and legal staff, anyone who uses MS Word, PowerPoint or who needs to create accessible PDF files. A one or two-day option will be available at registration. The event will take place at the Embassy Suites by Hilton in Waltham, Massachusetts.

More details and registration information is coming soon!

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Use a Power Wheelchair? Pilot the Loro Robot!

Pilot Program Seeks Wheelchair Users to Trial Robotic Assistive Device

Loro Co. is a start-up developing a unique robotic device mountable to a power wheelchair or bedside. The robot is a rotating orb with a camera, speaker, and an app for a tablet computer. Loro may be controlled with eye-gaze or another input so that users can see 360 degrees (with pan and tilt and a flashlight), speak more fluidly, gesture with a laser and control their environment (with smart home integration).

The start-up is based in Boston at the Harvard innovation lab and in D.C. at the Halcyon incubator. The inventors recently met with Catherine Bly at the AT Regional Center in Boston and she was impressed with their enthusiasm and commitment to their mission!

If you or someone you know would be interested in piloting this cutting-edge assistive device, sign up at the Loro website. The site identifies individuals with ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, Spinal Cord Injury, Muscular Dystrophy and others as appropriate pilot participants.

See Loro in action
Sign up for Loro

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Welcome New Program Staff!

UCP of Western Massachusetts and Easterseals have brought on board new MassMATCH program staff

UCP of Western Massachusetts operates the MassMATCH AT Regional Center (ATRC) in Pittsfield. This month the center has welcomed two new program staff, Kathie Sullivan, Assistive Technology (AT) Department Director for UCP who will oversee the ATRC and Katie Walden, Administrative Assistant for the AT Department and coordinator for the Durable Medical Equipment reuse efforts.

Kathie Sullivan comes to UCP from Easterseals Massachusetts where she trained and worked as an AT Specialist, providing technology training and support to individuals with disabilities of all ages. Prior to Easterseals, Kathie worked in special education advocacy for children with disabilities in both public and private school settings. Kathie is delighted to join the staff of UCP of Western Massachusetts in her new role as AT director. “I’m excited to work with the AT Regional Center and to be a part of sharing AT solutions in an environment that does not pressure anyone to buy equipment but instead learn about a range of options to inform those important decisions.”

Katie Walden comes to UCP following service in the United States Air Force where she developed her technology savvy working in the Communications Unit as a knowledge operations manager. Katie has been with UCP for more than a year, first as an administrative assistant for Family Support and Adult Family Care and now as support to the AT Department. Her work in human services with individuals with disabilities of all kinds contributes to her satisfaction at her new role at UCP. “AT can unlock potential and open new doors to success,” she says.

Welcome Kathie and Katie!

Easterseals Massachusetts operates the MassMATCH Alternative Finance Program (AFP), serving residents with disabilities across the state. The AFP provides several programs to help individuals with disabilities acquire assistive technology, including two financial loan programs. This month, Easterseals welcomed Catherine Fradenburg as the new AFP manager and Steven Crays as the new AFP coordinator.

Prior to the Alternative Finance Program, Catherine worked as an AT Specialist at Easterseals Massachusetts and for the League School of Greater Boston. She’s delighted to bring her AT experience to helping people identify and purchase needed AT devices and services. “We help people who may not ordinarily qualify for a bank loan obtain financing. It’s an essential program for Massachusetts residents who may have no other way to acquire life-changing AT.”

Steven also worked as an AT Specialist at Easterseals before moving into the AFP coordinator position. Steven says he values the client-center approach at Easterseals and that it shapes his work in both roles. “I truly enjoy the one-on-one interaction with each client. It’s a dream job to be able to not only help people with disabilities acquire AT, but also see how each device or service positively impacts their daily lives.”

Welcome Catherine and Steven!

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Budget Your Bucks and Buy Assistive Technology with an AT Mini Loan

Hands holding coffee at a desk with a laptop and smartphone and the word Dream spelled in wooden block letters.

MassMATCH is pleased to announce the opening of the AT Mini Loan program. Now individuals with disabilities and their families have a new way to afford assistive technology (AT) they want and need.

AT Mini Loans finance amounts ranging from $100 to $2,000 at zero interest. They are especially helpful for, but not limited to, people who need to build or repair their credit.

“This is a game-changer,” emphasizes Leo Tonevski, Director of the AT Department at Easterseals Massachusetts. “People who have been unable to access credit to finance AT, now have a supportive way to do so.”

Easterseals is administering the program as a direct lender,  “which means Easterseals is ‘the bank,'” continues Tonevski. “And since we understand the lives of individuals with disabilities–including those on a fixed income–anyone with a need for assistive technology should talk with us and apply.”

Easterseals partners with MassMATCH to administer the Alternative Finance Program for purchasing AT. For this new offering, the Southeast Center for Independent Living (SCIL)  is additionally providing outreach to underserved communities in Fall River and New Bedford along with free financial literacy trainings.

“A credit-building option is a great complement to our Budget Your Bucks training series,” says Jessica Stone, SCIL’s Grant Writer/Community Liaison. “Participants with various disabilities are learning how to budget their money, save for unexpected expenses or needs and the importance of credit to achieve their goals. The AT Mini Loan is another affordable way to help achieve them.”

AT Mini Loan applicants can be adults with disabilities, including seniors, or their family members. Kobena Bonney, MassMATCH Program Coordinator, anticipates the program may serve young adults especially well. “Transition-age students, those ages 18-22, often have no credit history and need computers and specialized software or other AT for school or work opportunities. We are pleased to create this solution to assist applicants in acquiring much-needed AT.”

MassMATCH received a grant from the federal Administration for Community Living (ACL) to launch the AT Mini Loan program. This is an expansion of the Alternative Finance Program Easterseals Massachusetts has administered for more than a dozen years. The traditional AT Loan is still available for applicants who need more expensive equipment and services, such as adapted vans and hearing aids through a banking partner.

Learn more about the AT Mini Loan at this Alternative Finance Program web page.
Learn more about upcoming Budget Your Bucks trainings in Fall River and New Bedford.

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Accessible Toys Light Up Rebecca’s Classroom

This year, a little girl arrived for preschool in a town northwest of Boston. Rebecca, four years old, has various physical and cognitive disabilities and was welcomed by her special education team. Her teacher, Mary Ellen Forty, immediately got to work considering how to engage Rebecca in the classroom.

A little girl gazes into the eyes of a teacher who holds her hands

Rebecca working with her team

It was important for Rebecca to join the other children in the play that is so critical for preschool learning. Rebecca could not interact in the same ways that her classmates did. This environment was entirely new to her. So her team searched for resources to help. Through a recommendation at a conference, they found the device loan program of the AT Regional Center in Worcester operated by Easterseals.

Rebecca, Mary Ellen knew, would need toys that stimulate, challenge, and offer a means of success for her motor abilities. She hoped, too, that accessible toys would attract the interest of the other children in the classroom and help everyone get to know one another. She didn’t know how it would go. She didn’t yet know Rebecca well.

That’s the wonderful thing about the MassMATCH AT Regional Centers; multiple devices may be borrowed for up to four weeks at a time. There is no risk of buying the wrong thing or discovering something is a dud for the individual or the environment or both. This is true for all that the loan program offers, from devices for eating independently, gadgets for dispensing medication, communication aids, specialized software, video magnifiers, and even adapted toys.

A seated girl with her hand on a large button switch attached to a plush horse with a cord.

Rebecca reaching for a switch

To try with Rebecca, her team borrowed several “switch accessible” toys. These are battery powered but have been modified to turn on and off using any one of a number of switch options suitable for individuals with various motor impairments. Rebecca’s speech therapist, OT, PT, and paraprofessional worked together to choose equipment they thought might work best for her.

They borrowed a train that blows bubbles and plays music, a giggling Elmo, a vibrating musical bee, a clomping horse and a singing butterfly. They also borrowed a jellybean switch to use with the toys, in consideration of Rebecca’s abilities.

“I hoped the switch toys might work,” Mary Ellen reported a few weeks later, “but I didn’t imagine the success we’d see.”

To her delight, Rebecca brought the toys and herself to life in a way that was infectious.

A seated girl is intent on her puzzle. She wears a chest restraint for seating support.

Rebecca works with shapes on a lightbox

“The other children were pulled into the excitement,” she says. “The kids all wanted to play with this student and her new toys!” Quickly, Rebecca became just one of the kids in the classroom. “It was such a difference. The kids had a new way to engage and get to know their friend.”

The effect was so dramatic, the school district is in the process of purchasing a number of devices as a result of the trial. Without this trial, it would have been difficult to justify the cost, as these devices are extremely expensive. But now Rebecca will have the specific equipment she needs to learn and play.

Catherine Bly, ATRC Coordinator in Boston, spoke to Mary Ellen on the phone to hear how her use of the program had worked out. “This lovely awakening would not have been possible in this way without the help of MassMATCH or the extraordinary commitment of Mary Ellen,” she concludes. “Mary Ellen was so determined to have a range of cool things for Rebecca she borrowed equipment from all three of the AT Regional Centers!”

These days, Rebecca continues to play with her classmates. She is also learning to use apps on an iPad with a Blue2 switch interface, another device Mary Ellen borrowed to trial at the same time as the toys. The “cause and effect” lessons learned with switch accessible toys will undoubtedly serve Rebecca well and will hopefully help her to learn new ways to communicate. Play, her story demonstrates, opens up a world of expression, and first steps toward a lifetime of community.

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