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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Wheelchair User? Stay Healthy With New Equipment From Your Local AT Regional Center!

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

Eric Oddleifson, Easter Seals Assistant VP for Assistive Technology and Employment Services (in the sling lift) and Robert Bilotta, Worcester AT Regional Center Coordinator (with scale controller)

Last month, MassMATCH hosted a series of AT Regional Center open houses to showcase the scales and pressure mapping systems now available for borrowing by wheelchair users, their families, clinicians, and other service providers. The devices are essential for the prevention of pressure injuries, a common cause of infection and incapacitation among persons with paralysis.

In Boston, Worcester and Pittsfield, the AT Regional Centers (ATRCs) warmly welcomed community members to learn about the new equipment that is now a part of the centers’ Short-term Device Loan program inventory.  Attendees ranged from community members and staff from local Independent Living Centers to officials from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission and other related agencies.

The events celebrated the statewide expansion of the Weight and Seating Independence Project (WSIP). Initially grant-funded by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation in 2017, WSIP expanded in 2018 through support from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC).

“The goal of the program is to make it possible for people to gain greater control of their health with the kind of information that most of us take for granted,” reflected Ann Shor, MRC’s Director of Independent Living and Assistive Technology. “Everyone should be able to know their own body weight and no one should risk pressure injury because of inadequate seating or positioning with their equipment.”

Participants had the opportunity to get hands-on with scales and pressure mapping systems.

A woman seated on a pressure mapping system with a Smart Board displaying graphs. A man in a wheelchair in the background and another woman standing, helping operate the equipment.

An open house attendee tries out the pressure mapping system.

In Worcester, MassMATCH Coordinator Kobena Bonney and Eric Oddleifson, Assistant VP of Assistive Technology and Employment Services at Easter Seals Massachusetts,  took turns trying out the portable Hoyer lift with scale attachment.

A man seated in a sling lift suspended off the floor talking to a smiling man kneeling beside him. A woman stands smiling in the background.

Kobena Bonney takes a ride in the portable Hoyer lift with scale attachment as Eric Oddleifson looks on.

“We learned from members of the paralysis community how important access is to these devices,” remarked Bonney.  “In Worcester, Springfield and Pittsfield we convened focus groups and heard how it is nearly impossible for a person who uses a wheelchair to obtain their weight at a doctor’s office. We heard how few places there were for wheelchair users to weigh themselves in general. Some even reported relying on UPS mail scales.”

Pressure injuries were also a common experience among the focus group members MassMATCH convened, but access to pressure mapping systems to help evaluate their seating and positioning was not. Louise Colbourne, who is an OT assistant,  manages the ATRC in Pittsfield that serves Western Massachusetts and has taken the lead with WSIP. “People were losing months confined to bed with pressure injuries,” she explained. “These tools can make a real difference when people get the information they need.”

A woman speaking holding a device next to a table with equipment and an UCP banner. There are balloons and food on a table in the foreground. Three men stand listening.

Louise Colbourne discusses portable roll-on scales in Pittsfield with (left to right) Josh Mendelsohn, MRC Assistant Commissioner for Community Living; Kobena Bonney, MassMATCH Program Coordinator; and UCP Berkshire Executive Director Salvatore Garozzo.

The open houses helped broadcast the availability of the equipment and celebrate the expansion of the project to Eastern Massachusetts. The AT Regional Center in Boston now also provides loans of WSIP equipment, and all three AT Regional Centers have an expanded variety of scales and pressure mapping systems suitable for all ages. “We’re looking forward to more people knowing we have these devices and taking advantage of the loan program,” said Boston ATRC Coordinator Catherine Bly.

In addition to scales for borrowing, the project has installed roll-on scales at four Independent Living Center locations in Central and Western Massachusetts. Robert Bilotta, the ATRC Coordinator in Worcester, reminded visitors that one of these scales is available at the Center for Living and Working (CLW) downstairs from the Worcester ATRC (located at Easter Seals in the Denholm Building). “So people can see the equipment available for borrowing here and also check out the roll-on scale at CLW while they are in the building. We have a lot of options now.”

A webinar training opportunity is in the works for early in 2019 on the use of pressure mapping technology. MassMATCH plans to record the event and upload the video to MassMATCH.org for consultation by interested borrowers and technicians for years to come.

“The Weight and Seating Independence Project hopes to fundamentally, positively impact health and quality of life for individuals with spinal cord injury and other disabilities,” Louise Colbourne said. “Please tell your friends and family and make use of this wonderful program. We are here to help.”

Keep up to date on the Weight and Seating Independence Project at this MassMATCH.org  WSIP webpage.

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Coming Soon! A New Way to Finance AT – the AT Mini Loan

MassMATCH is very delighted to announce the receipt of a grant from the federal Administration for Community Living (ACL) to expand the Massachusetts AT Loan program. The funds will create a new way for residents to buy the assistive technology (AT) they need while also building or repairing their credit.

MassMATCH partners with Easter Seals MA to operate the AT Loan Progam (MATLP) which for over 12 years has helped residents purchase AT devices and services such as adapted vans, hearing aids, and environmental control units. Since 2005, the MATLP has financed more than $14 million to residents with disabilities and family members.

“The problem is the program has not been able to serve everyone,” notes Eric Oddleifson, Assistant Vice President for AT and Community Support Services at Easter Seals. Until now, MATLP has provided loans with a banking partner at a competitive interest rate and favorable terms, “But applicants with no credit or poor credit are rarely approved,” he says.

In January, the MATLP will launch a new AT Mini Loan program designed for these applicants. AT mini loans will finance devices and services valued between $500 and $2,000 with a very low fixed interest rate. Significantly, the loans will be administered directly by Easter Seals MA.

“Adults and seniors who have been unable to access credit to finance the AT they need or want will have a supportive way to do so,” says Oddleifson. “Easter Seals understands the lives of individuals with disabilities who are often living on a fixed income, and we understand how AT can open new doors.”

Ann Shor, Director of Independent Living and Assistive Technology at the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission notes the importance of this opportunity for many adults and seniors, but particularly young adults. “Transition-age students, those ages 18-22, usually have no credit history but often need computers, specialized software, and training to be successful at school or work. The AT Mini Loan program could help a lot of young people to become financially independent and launch their own lives.”

The traditional AT Loan program is still an option for loans above $500, but the Mini Loan program will have greater latitude working with individuals with disabilities who have low credit scores or no credit history.

Individuals with financial need who want to acquire AT valued less than $500 should consider the MassMATCH Long-term Device Loan Program. This program provides devices to qualified applicants for as long as they need to use them.

Learn more about all MassMATCH AT financing options at www.massatloan.org.

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Check Out The New Assistive Tech!

Christopher Bugaj, MA CCC‐SLP, has a new book! The New Assistive Tech: Make Learning Awesome for All! 

Published by ISTE, the book is geared for educators interested in the effective use of assistive technology in the classroom. ISTE promotes it as “a catalyst for breaking down walls between special education and general education, and will help all educators realize they have tech knowledge (and can build upon that knowledge) that can be used to support students with disabilities.”

Bugaj is a founding member the Assistive Technology Team for Loudoun County Public Schools and is well-known as a popular presenter on AT themes at numerous venues both live and online, nationally and internationally.

He is also hilarious.

Check out The New Assistive Tech if you are interested in:

  • how an educational team can request assistance to determine technology needs;
  • how to conduct and document assessments to help an educational team make informed decisions about technology needs;
  • a proactive approach to professional development for individuals and for those who train others on the use of technology;
  • creating an action plan for developing a culture of inclusion;
  • how Buguj covers this while interweaving stories, songs, and other exciting features to make learning fun.

Here’s the link to Bugaj’s new book on Amazon (there’s a Kindle version too!)

Cover of the New Assistive Tech.  By Christopher Bugaj. Uses chartoon graphics and shows a young girl wearing a headset, head tipped back with a speech bubble: Make Learning Awesome for All!

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The Worcester AT Regional Center is OPEN!

Want to learn more about assistive technology available for your students with disabilities? Looking for an exciting field trip for your entire class?

Schedule a tour of the new ATRC in Worcester operated by Easter Seals! This is a great way for students to learn about the increasingly high-tech world of disability technology.

Students and staff in front of smart board

Worcester Transition to Adulthood Program students on a field trip to the new center

Interact with the VGo robot

Smiling teenage boy with VGo robot and staff smiling in the background.

Worcester students talk with Desi Forte at the ATRC in Boston via VGo

Draw on the giant smartboard!

A teenage girl draws on the smartboard using a stylus.

Play with switch-adapted toys!

A teenage girl looking at a counter of switch adapted toys along a wall with a monitor hanging overhead.

Explore technology for the workplace!

A woman looking at materials and devices in the corner of a room

Hang out with ATRC Coordinator Robert Bilotta and meet his guide dog, Kilroy!

A man in a wheelchair at a workstation smiling with devices around him and a service dog laying in the foreground

Contact Robert Bilotta:

508-751-6495 or
800-244-2756

Email:
ATRCWorcester@eastersealsma.org

Visit:
484 Main Street,
Denholm Building, 6th floor
Worcester, MA, 01608

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Join MassMATCH at Abilities Expo Boston Sept 8-10!

Abilities Expo logo

Check out the MeasureX pressure mapping system and the Lilly Pad wheelchair-accessible scale!

Abilities Expo showcases cutting-edge assistive technology, adaptive sports, daily living aids, inclusive dance, dynamic workshops, local and national exhibitors, and more! This year, MassMATCH is demonstrating the pressure mapping systems and wheelchair-accessible scales now available to borrow from the AT Regional Center in Pittsfield. Stop by booth 727 to check us out!

A woman in a wheelchair tries out a portable scale with the assistance of two women

Lilly Pad portable scale demonstrated at a recent ADA celebration event

When: September 8-10th, 2017. Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Hall C.

How Much?: Registration is FREE

Learn more: Abilities.com/boston

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Wheelchair User? Learn to Prevent Pressure Injuries!

Pressure Mapping Technology is now available. Learn to borrow and use PMT (it’s free!)

Two pictures show a woman pointing to a pressure map on a screen and a woman in a wheelchair looking at a pressure map on a display. A caption beneath the pointing woman reads "Mary Jo Wagner at a recent training."

Spread the word! Through a grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, MassMATCH is providing trainings on the use of digital pressure mapping technology (PMT) to anyone with an interest or a reason to learn. The trainings are targeting western and central Massachusetts where, until now, pressure mapping has had limited availability. Join us:

September 19th, 2017 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at UCP-Berkshire, 208 West Street, Pittsfield MA 01201

November 6th, 2017 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Easter Seals MA, 484 Main Street, Worcester MA 01608

To register for either training please email your interest to info@massmatch.org or call Tanya Bombard at 617-204-3851

Learn about pressure injuries, their stages, causes and risks. Learn how to prevent them, including positioning strategies for sitting and sleeping. Learn how digital pressure mapping can be a helpful tool for understanding the unique needs of individual wheelchair users. If you or someone you know has ever had or is at risk for a pressure injury, this is a must-attend event!

Pressure Mapping Technology for both seating and sleeping is now available for borrowing from the MassMATCH Short-Term Device Loan Program in Pittsfield (and soon in Worcester). These mats may be borrowed for up to 4 weeks at a time for use at home or with a clinician. They come with a comprehensive user guide and supplementary information on the prevention of pressure injuries. MassMATCH is working to refine this information in partnership with individual users who may provide feedback for the benefit of future borrowers.

The trainings are geared for both professionals and individuals with paralysis and are led by Mary Jo Wagner, OTR/L, ATP, of the Department of Developmental Services; and Sarah Bandzak of Blue Chip Medical Products, Inc. Together they have decades of experience with seating and positioning.

This is a unique opportunity intended to help build capacity with this equipment in an underserved region of Massachusetts. All wheelchair users, and particularly persons with paralysis, should have access to this comprehensive information and the equipment they need to stay healthy and active members of their communities. Wagner and Bandzak are also experts in the area of the DME funding process with insurance providers. Register today! Tell your friends and colleagues and get on the e-mailing list for the Weight and Seating Independence Project to learn about future equipment demonstrations. Contact: info@massmatch.org or call Tanya Bombard at 617-204-3851.

Training participants will be awarded a certificate of attendance by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.

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Have Paralysis? Learn about Interface Pressure Mapping!

Woman in wheelchair observing digital pressure mapping image on a screen.

Do you or someone you know or work with have paralysis and want to learn more about the prevention of pressure injuries? The MassMATCH Weight and Seating Independence Project is pleased to provide trainings on the use of Interface Pressure Mapping for persons with disabilities, caregivers and other professionals.

Pressure Mapping Technology will soon be available to borrow for free from the MassMATCH AT Device Loan Program. Learn how to make the most of this valuable equipment. The next training is August 2nd 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Stavros Center for Independent Living in Amherst.

Interface pressure mapping is used to show pressure points when someone is sitting or lying down. Too much pressure at one point can lead to skin breakdowns or other injuries. Pressure mapping technology is useful for determining appropriate seating and positioning for users of wheelchairs. These trainings are intended for individuals with disabilities, family members, home care providers, personal care attendants and others working with individuals with paralysis-causing conditions.

The trainings will be conducted by Mary Jo Wagner, OTR/L, ATP, of the Department of Developmental Services; and Ron Resnick and Sarah Bandzak of Blue Chip Medical Products, Inc. To register, please email your interest to info@massmatch.org or call Tanya Bombard at 617-204-3851. Learn more about the Weight and Seating Independence Project and upcoming training opportunities.

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