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Transcription Starts Here:
JOHN EFFINGER: Hi, this is John Effinger. I’m a semi-retired AT specialist, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.
WADE WINGLER: Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs. Welcome to episode number 377 of assistive technology update. It’s scheduled to be released on August 17, 2018.
Today we are going to have a fascinating conversation with my good friend John Effinger. It’s called confessions of a retiring AT professional. John is from the state of Missouri and going to be retiring after many years of service in the assistive technology industry, and we are going to spend time with him today reflecting on that. In fact, when I say “we,” it’s not me. Josh Anderson, who is the manager of our clinical assistive technology program here at Easter Seals Crossroads, and also a frequent voice on the ATFAQ show, our sister podcast, is going to be hosting interview for me again today.
And fun story about frozen treats for summertime. We hope you’ll check out our website at EasterSealsTech.com. Send us a note on Twitter @INDATA Project. Or give us a call on our listener line. We love to hear from you. The number is 317-721-7124.
***[1:38] AT3 Center Blog Post: Frozen treats in the summer heat
WADE WINGLER: From the AT3 Center news and tips blog, we have a guest post from the Michigan assistive technology program by Jen Mullins, who is an MATP staff member. It’s all about the ice cream and frozen treats. In fact, that’s the headline: “AT for Frozen Treats in the summer heat.” They talk about the fact that scooping ice cream requires a pretty good amount of upper body strength. Cold temperature in the hands could be an issue. Hand strength, grip, and muscle endurance in general could be an issue. Because of that, they are suggesting all kinds of really cool ice cream and cool treat related assistive technology. Some of the things they talk about is ice cream scoop and stack, which cuts the slices of ice them and set of scooping it. That makes it a lot easier to use a scooper to get it out of the hard, frozen container. They talk about heat conducting scoops, those old-fashioned ones that you can hold onto, and the heat of your hand actually heats up the ice cream scoop, therefore making it easier to scoop. And then a very cool idea to take muffin tins, let your ice cream soften for a wild, scoop the soft ice cream into muffin tins lined with plastic wrap, and then you refreeze it. Then all you have to do is pop those things out and enjoy a pre-portioned easy to handle ice cream. If you are interested in frozen treats in the summertime — and really, guys, who’s not? You’ve got to check out this blog post over at the AT three Center. We will pop a link in the show notes, but all of the fun and extra calories, you are on your own.
***[3:05] App Worth Mentioning: Next Door
WADE WINGLER: Each week one of our partners tells us what’s happening in the ever-changing world of apps, so here’s an app worth mentioning.
AMY BARRY: Hi everyone, this is Amy Barry with BridgingApps, and this is an app worth mentioning. This week’s featured app is called next door. Next door is an app for neighbor to find out was going on in their community. Once an account is created, users can quickly and easily connect and communicate via the app. Get to know your neighbors, hire a babysitter, find garage sales, or sell unwanted household items. We found next door to be great friends one and especially handy for individuals with special needs. We have found using next door on a mobile device to be vitally important to sharing real-time information about what’s happening in the never heard. It’s easy to sign up for a free account, and the notifications can be customized for how often the user would like to be alerted about neighborhood happenings.
In addition to sharing information about break-ins and possible crime, it’s a helpful tool for getting neighbors together for meetings and activities. City officials also share information widely of you next door, so not only can you receive helpful information about the neighborhood, but you can also scan relevant citywide information that you might not get anywhere else.
The situation where we found it most critical and viable it was during Hurricane Harvey. The app allowed our BridgingApps family to get real-time information from multiple sources in the neighborhood, sometimes as specific as street by street. Since our team member this close to a Bayou, the app gave the most specific information that included screenshots and pictures about the status of when the water went over the Bayou’s banks. Having real-time information assisted the family and making a decision about evacuating the neighborhood. During this extreme weather event and during recovery, next door proved an efficient way to connect with neighbors, share supplies, pool resources together, check on elderly friends, and neighbors, and offer and receive help.
For people with disabilities, chronic medical conditions, and the elderly, this easy to use tool can be a great way to connect with others. Next-door is available for free at the iTunes and Google play store. The app is available for iOS and Android devices.
For more information on this app and others like it, visit BridgingApps.org.
***[5:33] Interview with John Effinger
JOSH ANDERSON: Today, folks, we are welcoming John Effinger to the show. He’s been a friend of the show for a long time and has appeared on this program many times in the past. We have them on today because he’s moving on to another chapter in his life after more than 30 years in assistive technology. But he’s kind enough to take time out of his day to talk to us about his confessions of a retiring AT professional. He’s going to talk about some of the good things, the bad things, and at least at the scene over that time.
So today will be just a little bit different, because instead of talking about a piece of technology, a new app or something like that, we are going to talk about one of the most important parts of assistive technology: someone who helps to train and implement that text to folks.
John, welcome to the show.
JOHN EFFINGER: It’s great to be here, thanks.
WADE WINGLER: I know you’ve had a lot of experience and assistive technology, and I’m sure these folks don’t want to hear me sit here and talk. If you can go ahead and start by giving us a little bit of background on yourself and let us know how you got into this.
JOHN EFFINGER: I’m a speech pathologist by background. I started a long time ago. I got into AT early, because I enjoyed working with computers. Back in the eighties, a lot of technology was just beginning to start and evolve. Because I was interested in that, a lot of people said, why don’t you work with technology? This was before it was even called assistive technology. I started using devices with kids and adapting and modifying wheelchairs and doing all kinds of crazy stuff. After I left or retired from education, I went and worked in the private sector for about 10 years, designing software, hardware. That led me back to a tech act project in Missouri where I worked for the last 10 years doing a lot of assistive technology implementation, loans, that kind of thing, funding. Here I am today.
WADE WINGLER: Very cool. In your experience, since we’re going to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly, let’s go ahead and start off with the good because usually that’s the best way to start. What some of the good stuff you’ve seen and changes in your time in AT?
JOHN EFFINGER: The really amazing thing is the rapid growth of assistive devices. When I started, especially in the world of communication, there were four or five devices. Now I don’t even want to try to count, there are so many. And with the advent of off the shelves and the iPad and apps, there are so many options that are available which is super cool. We are going to talk about white that’s not super cool in a second. But it is super cool. It leads to the idea that we can look at universal design with kids and adults and be more proactive about giving them access to a tool that can actually benefit them. But the beautiful thing is you can go online, you can buy it, download your app. You do not need a professional to tell you what to buy. Now there are some houses with that as well, but you can explore and look at things on your own. Families can do that with kids who are struggling to communicate.
From that part, I think it’s super cool. With social media now, we are now more aware of what’s out in the world. When I’m on Twitter — and most of the information I know get is from twitter and a couple of listservs — every day there is some new thing that comes out. It’s so rapid and fun and exciting, but it also takes a tremendous amount of time to learn what’s new and what’s working.
JOSH ANDERSON: It really does. I know it’s hard to keep up with everything. For me, all the listservs, Twitter, Facebook, all those things, it seems like there’s new stuff coming out every day, replacing stuff for new versions of stuff. It can definitely do that. I do have to say that just because you’re retiring, you can’t tell people they don’t need experts anymore. I have to stop you there. Occasionally we are so important, I promise.
Those are some of the good things you’ve seen, the good changes. What about the bad stuff?
JOHN EFFINGER: The bad thing is what you just mentioned. Just because people can buy stuff off the shelf does it mean that they are an expert at it. We do rely on people who are knowledgeable and have information, but that’s the inherent weird thing about all this, is because there are so many choices, in order to be really good at your job, you have to dedicate yourself to a lot of learning. In my past jobs I just recently retired from, I spent eight hours a day learning the technology that is out there. Then I would go with groups as a down with them and try to help them understand what the technology options are. But it’s only as good as the smartest person in the room. If I go into a meeting, and they are aware of two things, but I have 300 things in my head, it takes a lot of time to get everybody caught up.
With the advent of the explosion of technology, the bad thing is there is just so much out there that we have to learn. That’s also the downside to social media. Social media, whenever there is a new widget, somebody post it online. Then we are all hungry for information and news, so we immediately want to go see it and figure out what I do with it and how should I use it. Than that gets tweet it out to a million other people, and before you know it, we’ve created this momentum. That we start trying it — and that’s the part we really need to address, which is the outcomes part — only to discover maybe it’s not as cool as what we thought it was. The social media part is really good at educating us, but the downside is it really doesn’t always give us the whole story, especially Twitter. It gets kind of trendy. I think AT specialist can be fairly trendy. We see something new, get excited about it, start looking at it. If we have deep pockets, we can buy it. Otherwise we’re talking to other people. It changes so rapidly.
It gets to one of my other pet peeves of what is really an AT specialist. In reality in a lot of states, there is no such thing as an AT specialist. We kind of have a joke in Missouri, after your name, you write AT specialist, you are well within the boundary of the state of Missouri to be able to do that because there are no quote/unquote qualifications for that. Anybody can be an AT specialist. Sure, you can go out and do RESNA and all those things, but I’m a huge fan of people working in their scope of practice and mastering what is in their scope of practice. I’m a speech pathologist, and I taking it upon myself to learn about all the vacation devices that are out there, the software that is in them, how it works, what does it really do so that I can really make an informed choice. Then you are looking at all the features. Eye gaze, and switches, and the mouse, all this stuff. For me, scope of practice is a big deal.
I would almost prefer in the future — and I’m probably not going to win this argument — that we returned of scope of practice. If you are an OT, you focus on those think that an OT does or a PT or teacher, educational access for universal design. Because there is so much stuff, to be a generalist AT person, I just don’t see how it works.
JOSH ANDERSON: I have to agree. It’s very hard to keep up on everything. You brought up a very good point with the trendy stuff. The importance of AT is kind of finding what’s right for the individual, and sometimes the newest, nicest thing, while we think is cool, isn’t what that person needs even though we want to try it out, you want to learn about it, we want to get it in folks’s hands. It’s just not the right thing for them.
JOHN EFFINGER: Yeah. And I’m noticing a trend lately that — and I’m just going to use the term loosely — that it’s almost disposable, in that people will look at an idea. Let’s take an app. They’ll get excited about it, and they’ll use it. Schools will use it. They might even be brave enough to identify it in an IEP. They’ll try it for six months to a year, and then the following year they try something new, especially with communication apps. There are so many of them on the market. I’m old school. I really believe that you should find some stuff that somebody can grow with and stay with that and the develop your implementation and training around that tool so that the individual can master it over time.
I think sometimes it’s the fault of us as assessors, implementers, that maybe we get bored. Maybe we want something new. We want to try it and see if it’s magical, does it really work better for kids and adults. In reality, there are some core things we need to circle back to and stay focused on.
JOSH ANDERSON: For sure. In your talks on social media, I would even add the problem of kick starter, which is sometimes great to kick things out, but I get asked at least once a month that, oh, what about this commission? This would be great for someone. I look at it and say that’s really planning phase right there. A lot of them never come to fruition.
JOHN EFFINGER: It’s sad. I do a lot of training on assistive technology for kids with dyslexia. There is this pen that has been in a kickstart campaign for two years that I’m going to call the miracle pen if it ever works because most pens like this getting OCR pen, you scan it and it will read a pretty quickly within seconds, but this pen was supposed to be a real time reading a pen. As it scans the word, they would read it real time. I’m not going to mention the name is every time I do, you go to the website and they are kicking the can down the road for another six months while they are developing it. To your point, I got so excited about that pain. I shared it in every training. And every month I do an update and say they’re still not there yet.
JOSH ANDERSON: I’ve done the same thing. It’s great that those things are trying to be developed and all that, but I wish it would get farther before we jump on it and get excited about it.
JOHN EFFINGER: I think that’s maybe the lesson and all of this. If we are AT specialist and we have a code of conduct or scope of practice, that we adhere a little bit differently to the way thing shape out in the world. What we bring back to people who are looking for stuff should really have some solid outcome-based things. It’s hard. I work with people all the time who do research, and they’re looking for specific research for a specific idea or software or program. Research — I’m just going to say — is a pain. It was designed to run a couple of people, and you can’t take the information and abstractly give it to everybody in the planet. We really have to be able to look at outcome based stuff and share that better as a group so that people can go, oh, that thing really does work for me. I want to use it in the future.
JOSH ANDERSON: I agree. I’ve had that. What are the numbers on that? What’s the research say? There is not really funding to do research, not time. By the time to get that research done, something else would be out, and they would be asking about that. It does make it a little bit harder.
JOHN EFFINGER: I think we are all clamoring for that because we want proof. With some of this stuff, proof is just give it to the person and let them use it. If it doesn’t work, stop using it. I think we got into this weird world where we have to look at things one at a time and assess the validity. After 30 years, I don’t think like that anymore.
JOSH ANDERSON: I’m sure I’ll get there at some point. What about the ugly?
JOHN EFFINGER: The ugly is a little bit expanding and what we just talked about. There are laws and regulations for professionals that require us to think about implement assistive technology. It’s still a struggle every day. It’s Groundhog Day for me everyday. People call me from a hospital. These are professional clinical people. People call me from schools. I talk about assistive technology like it is a brand-new world that no one has ever heard before. It seems like after all these years, even under IDEA, even under ADA, even under just common sense, that it shouldn’t be such a foreign topic. I’m going to blame colleges and universities for not preparing people for when they graduate to really understand how to look at technology, use it effectively, whatever the practice is, whatever they do. And pay attention — the sad thing about this that frustrates me, and I tell teams all the time, especially school teams, we had to create laws because people refuse to think about doing it. If we would you stop thinking that way, if we would start doing stuff, letting kids have access or letting adults have access to stuff, then we wouldn’t have to be so logged over it. But we are, but still people aren’t doing it. That, I think, is a super ugly thing.
The other thing I think is that we continue to engage in thinks that — we were talking about research and evidence. This is a methodology part. I always tell people it’s easy to pick the technology. It’s a pain to implement it. Especially to support it if you are not there to support it all the time. I think sometimes as AT specialist, we become magical. We walk into a room and we know how everything works and we make every thing work well. The client does it, and they’re doing it really well. We walk out of the room, and suddenly it stops working. We need to look at the evidence of why stuff works and what doesn’t work and then stop doing things. In the world of communication, for example, there is facilitated communication. Every profession on the planet has said we should stop doing it, yet on a listserv, I’ll read over and over again that someone is using that strategy on a communication device. In spite of the fact that 20 people respond and say don’t do that anymore, they still continue to do it. I think the ugly part is that we are not good listeners. We just do stuff that seem to work for us, and that super for shooting for me.
JOSH ANDERSON: That is very frustrating. I’m going to ask you a really hard question, and this may not be possible. Can you think of a story that was really your favorite story of all the experience you had in assistive technology? A person you’ve helped? A thing you’ve worked with? Something you’ve done? I know it can’t be easy to narrow that down. Does one come to mind?
JOHN EFFINGER: It’s a story I tell all the time. It’s the very first kid I have worked with whom I had no clue what I was doing. His name was Tori. He was athetoid CP. We had no clue about how to provide technology for him. He pretty much slammed his hand on switches. We tortured him for a year to the point that because I didn’t know what I was doing, I finally got smart and said I need to bring someone in. At that time, I was in Alaska. I brought someone in from Texas to help me figure out what we do. I think that’s the point to all this. When you are in over your head, you have to call people who know what they’re doing, bring them in and help you. It was from him, Tori, that I got into this field and learned what I had to learn. Because I felt so incompetent about what I was doing with them.
JOSH ANDERSON: I think that something that’s important for anybody looking to get into AT, humility is something you need to learn very quickly. No matter how smart you are, no matter how much you think you know, at least once or twice a day, you’re going to get reminded of what you don’t know.
JOHN EFFINGER: That’s key, right? You can avoid social media, and then you will have a really good self-esteem. Otherwise, you are going to read everyday about people who know a heck of a lot more than you do.
JOSH ANDERSON: Most definitely. Just know you and talking to you, while you might be retiring, I doubt you’re going to be sitting at home and completely enjoying the nice weather. What’s next?
JOHN EFFINGER: For me, there is no such thing as retirement. I look my current job. The beautiful thing about being semi-retired, is I can send my work, which is what I plan to do. I plan to do consulting privately. I’m also going to be doing tele-therapy with a company called Thought Calm [phonetic]. I’m really interested in looking at can remote teletherapy actually help kids and schools, hospitals, whoever. I’m excited about trying that.
JOSH ANDERSON: Very cool. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? How does it work?
JOHN EFFINGER: These are people who sign up with a company to receive services like they would any other kind of service, OT, PT, SLP. My specialty is AAC so I hope to work with a lot of AAC kiddos. I am both consulting and doing therapy where they are going to get on their computer, and I’m going to get on my computer, and we’re going to communicate and interact. I’m such a hands-on person. It’s would be interesting for me. I’ve been trying it for the last year with group trainings, but it’ll be interesting for me to see working with a facilitator in the room and a student, how that will ship out. Contact me in six months and I’ll tell you what I think.
JOSH ANDERSON: We might just have to do that. I think you may have already answered this question, but let’s go back 30 years. What would John Effinger now tell you 30 years ago?
JOHN EFFINGER: Wow. That’s a tough one only — all of this has a life of its own. You have to be super flexible and dynamic. You have to be flexible and dynamic with people. I was a little bit more rigid when I first started. I had opinions and thought about stuff. Now I’m a little bit more, yeah, let’s try that. That’s probably the message I’ll give.
JOSH ANDERSON: Just tell yourself to be more open and outgoing? Just try it.
JOHN EFFINGER: Yeah, just try it and see what happens. It comes back to that whole outcomes and evidence thing. You never know that something you think is a bad idea may be a great idea. Who knows?
JOSH ANDERSON: It’s not until you try it, right?
JOHN EFFINGER: Absolutely.
JOSH ANDERSON: Very good. If people want to find out more about you or learn anything, do you have any contact information you would like to pass on?
JOHN EFFINGER: That’s a good one. I think Twitter would be the best. I’m @Johnslp_AT. That would be a good way to reach out to me in the short term.
JOSH ANDERSON: I want to thank you again for coming on the show today. I know that the world of AT will miss you, but I’m glad that you are still touching on it a little bit.
JOHN EFFINGER: You bet. I appreciate it. Thanks a lot.
JOSH ANDERSON: Thanks again.
WADE WINGLER: Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to www.EasterSealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find other shows like this, plus much more, at AccessibilityChannel.com. The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easter Seals Crossroads, or any of our supporting partners. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.
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