A handful of freedom goes a long way

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From left demonstrating the communication possibilities of new technology are Cheryl Lapointe, director of supports and services, Open Hands, Ann-Marie Vivian; and Joe Geneau, quality assurance manager, Open Hands.

An agency which supports individuals in the community with developmental disabilities, has recently announce a shift in focus on how they will provide their services.

“We are embarking on a journey,” said Open Hands director of supports and services, Cheryl Lapointe, who explains that by tapping into communication technology, they have set their sights on enhancing individuals’ communications skills, ensuring that “everyone has a voice.”

The recent shift will certainly keep in mind the agency’s primary mission to support individuals’ wants, needs, hopes, dreams and aspirations, said Lapointe. “Most of the individuals we have have limited communication skills and are unable to share those with us.”  

Augmentative communication tools that were previously expensive and difficult to understand, are now readily available, she said, adding that there are communication aps which adapt to different levels of need.

“(It will) be as unique as the individuals themselves.”

This new focus on communication will be all encompassing, she explained, from the subtleties of body language, and celebrating successes, no matter how small, with a “word bubble wall” in their training room, to the application of the more user-friendly technology that is just recently available to them.

“With people who have limited communication skills, there is an assumption that they have limited expressive communication and receptive skills as well, said Lapointe. “We know that the folks that we’re supporting have a lot to tell us and we’re very excited, once we give them some tools, to hear what they have to say. We can’t wait to see where we end up.”

For Mike Crowder, whose son Ryan, 30, is one of those individuals, there is hope again.

Crowder explained about the frustration that he and his wife, Brenda, have felt at not being able to communicate with their son, not to mention the frustration of their son at being able to ask for something as simple as a cookie.

Sometimes that frustration would be expressed by throwing things or banging his head, said the emotional father.

Throughout the years, they had tried several methods of communication, including sign language, however, he said, Ryan did not have the mentality or skills to learn. Nothing seemed to work.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, Crowder admitted that the hope of ever communicating with his son was diminishing.

That change almost instantly, the first time that the IPad was introduced.

“It immediately got Ryan’s attention,” said his father. Within no time, “he started swiping the screen, not hitting it.”

Now, very hopeful, Crowder dreams of the day, that he will be able to visit his son at his group home, and that he would press a button that says, “Hi dad.”

“Wow…Just to be able to communicate with my own son.”

Open Hands will gratefully accept any donations from the community to support their program. For further information call 613-933-0012, or visit www.ocapdd.on.ca.

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