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ATU501 – Center for Linking Lives with Stacey Villani and Jeffery Boucher from the Northeast Arc

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Your 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.

Center for Linking Lives – Northeast Arc
Stacey Villani – Division Director of Family Services
Jeffery Boucher – Assistive Technology Coordinator
Northeast Arc website:https://ne-arc.org/
Center for Linking Lives website:https://ne-arc.org/linkinglives/
Salem News Story: https://bit.ly/3fT4xAX
ATIA Link: www.atia.org/ATupdate
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———————– Transcript Starts Here ————————-
Stacey Villani:
Hi, my name is Stacey Villani and I’m the division director for the family services division at the Northeast Arc.

Jeffery Boucher:
And I’m Jeff Boucher, the Assistant Technology Coordinator for the Northeast Arc and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello and welcome to 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 individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson with the indata project at Easterseals Crossroads, in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 501 of Assistive Technology Update. It is scheduled to be released on January 1st, 2021.

Josh Anderson:
On today’s show, we’re very excited to have Stacey Villani and Jeffrey Boucher from the Northeast Arc on, to talk about their new Center for Linking Lives, which includes an assistive technology loan library.

Josh Anderson:
A very happy new year to all you listeners. And let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
As I’ve told you before, one of my favorite events of the year is the ATI annual conference. Every year I look forward to meeting with a global community of folks who use assistive technology to enhance their lives or the lives of their family, friends, students, or clients. Now like so many other events, this year, the conference will be held online. This virtual format means there’s more opportunities for flexible scheduling and registration options and I hope that means each of you will join me online for ATI this winter.

Josh Anderson:
ATI 2021, AT Connected, will be held online January 25th through the 28th and February 1st through the 4th of 2021. The conference will feature the same professional development opportunities we’ve all come to rely on, with educational strands dedicated to AAC, vision and hearing technologies, education and learning and AT for physical access and participation.

Josh Anderson:
Plus leading assistive technology companies will be showcasing the latest in AT. There will be CEUs available and more than 150 education courses. And there are a ton of flexible scheduling options so you can attend some sessions live and catch up on recorded sessions that will be available through June of 2021.

Josh Anderson:
This year, there’s also a range of registration options, including full conference, single strand, one day and even a free option. In addition, you can also join into the daily social activities with your friends and colleagues. I will be attending and I really hope to see all of you there. You can learn more by visiting ATIA.org/ATupdate. Again, that’s ATIA.org/ATupdate and I’ll see you all at ATI in January.

Josh Anderson:
Do you find yourself with a little bit more time on your hands? Maybe you’re really busy and only have a little bit of time to listen to podcasts or maybe listening to this has you thinking, “Well, what about this? What about that?” Well, if you’re short on time, or if you have questions about assistive technology, we have other podcasts that might just fit your needs.

Josh Anderson:
The first one is Accessibility Minute. This one minute long podcast gives you a little taste of assistive technology and really kind of wets your whistle to have you go out and find out more about a piece of technology and how it might help those you work with yourself, or maybe a friend or family member. If you happen to have questions about assistive technology, we have Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions or ATFAQ.

Josh Anderson:
The show is hosted by Brian Norton and features yours truly, along with Belva Smith and Tracy Castillo, as we all talk about assistive technology with questions that come in from email phone calls, and other means. We also don’t always know the answer, so it’s very important that we have listeners that can help us out with some of those questions because while we like to think every once in a while that we may know everything, we’re proven wrong almost daily on that one.

Josh Anderson:
So if you’re looking for more podcasts to listen to, if you’re short on time and need a really quick podcast, or if you have questions about assistive technology, make sure to check out Accessibility Minute and Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, wherever you get your podcasts.

Josh Anderson:
On today’s show, we’re doing something just a little bit different to start off 2021. Today, I have Stacy Villani, the Division Director of Family Services and Jeffery Boucher, the Assistive Technology Coordinator for Northeast Arc and Massachusetts on the show and they’re here to talk about their programs but more specifically about their new Center for Linking Lives, which includes an assistive technology loan lending library and we can’t wait to hear all about it. Stacey, Jeff, welcome to the show.

Stacey Villani:
Thank you.

Jeffery Boucher:
Yeah. Thank you.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah. I’m really excited to hear all about Northeast Arc and about these new programs but could you start off by telling our listeners a little bit about yourselves and your backgrounds?

Stacey Villani:
Sure. So again, I’m Stacey Villani and my background is, I kind of came to this role because I have a 25 year old who has cerebral palsy and so I got into the world of disability and disability services that way and ended up at the Arc about eight years ago, working in family services. And Jeff, do you want to tell a little bit about you and how you ended up here?

Jeffery Boucher:
Sure. So, like I said, my name is Jeff Boucher and I got into the disability services field. I was kind of lost a little bit after college and wasn’t sure what I was going to do so I ended up taking a job at the Perkins School for the Blind, which is in Watertown. And I worked in their secondary program there for a couple of years. Really found it was like my niche, my thing. Moved on to a school in Waltham called Milestones Day School and worked in the secondary program there and the transition program. Those are students that are 18 to 22, kind of transitioning out of the education system. And now I’m working for the Arc. So yeah, that’s how I finally got into this field.

Josh Anderson:
And we’ve done a lot of work, just in my program, with Perkins before. So it’s great that you got in there and found it and I’m glad that I guess, either assistive technology found you or you found it, however you kind of want to look at that.

Jeffery Boucher:
Yeah, I’m not really sure. I think that in those schools, there’s a big focus on collaboration with OTs, PTs, all those different fields and so I think I kind of picked up a lot of that field and I got to see it, I guess, how technology really improved people’s independence, really improved how they saw themselves, when they realized they could do a task, that prior to this, they weren’t able to do.

Stacey Villani:
I have to say, one of the reasons that I loved Jeff and Jeff came to the Arc was thinking about assistive technology, not just from a kind of high tech side of things, like what can your Mac do, or what can your iPhone do, but also the smaller little things that made life easier. Things that made buttons easier to push and pants easier to zip up and little things like that, that Jeff kind of had just a knack for.

Josh Anderson:
Yes. Definitely we call it MacGyvering here. Yes.

Stacey Villani:
Very-

Josh Anderson:
Most definitely. Well, before we get into talking about the Center for Linking Lives, tell us a little bit about the Northeast Arc.

Stacey Villani:
Sure. The Northeast Arc is founded in 1954 by parents really, that didn’t want the status quo, that they didn’t want their children in centers, they didn’t want kind of the status quo of the way their children were being served. They wanted to be innovative. They wanted to get their family members out into the community and so that’s kind of how the Northeast Arc… Well that’s how [ARCs 00:07:40] in general came about and how our Arc came about. And we are in the Northeast corner, about 30 minutes outside of Boston, and we serve both autism services and family services in the area. So we specialize in exactly that. Getting individuals connected with their own communities.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Now the real reason we had you on the show was to talk about the Center for Linking Lives. So let’s start off with, where’s it located?

Stacey Villani:
So the Center for Linking Lives is located in Danvers, Mass. It’s in the Liberty Tree Mall. And what we did was we took over existing community space that was already here in the Liberty Tree Mall, which is an older mall. It was kind of starting to die a little bit. And we took over a lot of space so that we could redefine what shared community space could look like, so that when our individuals came to participate in our day programs and in our recreational and family programs, they were right here in the community. We could take advantage of the other things in the mall. There’s a fitness center and a Panera Bread, and a lot of other community activities that we could easily take part in.

Stacey Villani:
We also started a storefront called parcels, which is all products that are by people with disabilities, or that have companies that are founded by people with disabilities. And so we’re selling those products right here in a storefront, in the Liberty Tree Mall and it shows the community what we can do, what the possibilities are, what people with disabilities can create and the value in some of these companies. It also was really good for my Christmas shopping, which I’ve already started there. So it has a lot of great products. And we’ve been getting products from all over, not just our local products. We have a lot of local products too, but we’ve been purchasing products from all over the country that are made by people with disabilities.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. And Stacey, what are some of those products?

Stacey Villani:
Yes, so they’re great. So some of them… I mean, I just bought these candles that were really cool. They’re calling Man Candles, for stocking stuffers for my guys and they have some ceramics. I just also bought these little olive oil dishes that are really nice. There’s a lot of artwork there. We also have a Shine jewelry, which is our own Northern’s Arc company that has very beautiful jewelry. Some new pens just came in that were really nice. Also some handmade pens. We have some gifty type things, like gift bags with different things on them. So there’s a really wide variety of products. It’s a really cute gift shop, definitely. Lots of good hostess gifts, wine charms, and things.

Stacey Villani:
But I think the artwork is a big stuff, which we also have throughout our Linking Lives space. So it’s really nice because our new office space is just full of all this beautiful artwork that was made by people with disabilities, including… We also have a program called [Art Works 00:10:36], which is kind of a therapeutic art center that also, they’ve been creating art for us as well.

Stacey Villani:
And something that I left out is that I didn’t really talk about all that the Northeast Arc has. The Northeast Arc, not only do we have the family services division that Jeff and I work for but we also have the residential program. So we have over 30 residential homes throughout the Northeast. We have a day habilitation program, so we have different day programs, the individuals come and participate in. We have a large desk services program. We have a personal care management program, an adult family care program. We also have a large specialty service program, which is an ABA program, applied behavior analysis for individuals with autism. We have the autism support center, the autism waiver program, which is part of a state program that we run here.

Stacey Villani:
We also have Northeast Clinical, a nursing division, which is part of the Northeast Arc. So it’s a very large agency with a lot of different programs and they can get segregated and so the new Center for Linking Lives has brought us a lot of our services together… So that Jeff is sitting in an area with work supports, which is our program for helping individuals get back to work or start working, and actually in our Assistive Technology Lending Library, we’re set up to help them do applications and things like that, in the future after the pandemic, when they can come back into that space.

Stacey Villani:
And then the way the Northeast Arc does it, is that all of our day programs are in with our administrative services. For example, where Jeff and I sit, we’re in the administrative services kind of side of things in our offices, but our day program, the people participating in our day programs are sharing the same kitchen, sharing the same bathrooms, they’re in our space with us. We see them all day. So, we’re interacting, whereas in the past a lot of disability agencies and I guess some still do, they have their programs in segregated spaces, which we don’t do that.

Stacey Villani:
Our current CEO when she took over, that was the first thing she did. She closed down any spaces that were segregated and moved all of our day programs into our own spaces together. So it kind of changed the feel of how we all interact with each other.

Josh Anderson:
Well, as another part of the Center for Linking Lives, I know that you have a new assistive technology loan lending library. Tell me a little bit about that.

Jeffery Boucher:
Sure. I’d love to. The Assistant Technology Lending Library was funded by the Department of Developmental Services, which is a government run program. And I don’t know, Stacey was it you who approached them or they approached you?

Stacey Villani:
Yeah. It was kind of in a conversation in one of our meetings that we decided we really need some assistive technology. A way that individuals in their homes could get… So a lot of times we’re giving them assistive technology, but they have no know how. And so the product is sitting in the corner somewhere, not being used because the parents don’t know, or their loved one doesn’t know how to get it going. So we not only needed the products, but we also needed somebody with some expertise. So that’s how we kind of started the program and pulled Jeff in to run it.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. And what kind of devices and assistive technology are available in the loan library?

Jeffery Boucher:
Yeah. I think as we were saying earlier, we try to run the whole… I don’t know, run the gamut. I don’t know if that’s the phrase to say but we try to check all the boxes. So we have some very, I guess, “low tech” solutions for people, which they could be like adaptive spoons or like SonicWall devices, those kinds of things. And then we go all the way up to smart home technologies like the Google Home or the Alexa Show, that people can explore.

Jeffery Boucher:
We also have blinds that can be remote controlled and lights that you can control through the Google Home. We also have iPads and Chromebooks and we’re trying to figure out the best apps and extensions to put on those because that itself isn’t necessarily the most assistive device unless you start to get those kinds of apps on there that people would want to use.

Josh Anderson:
You brought up some great points there. I mean, especially the one about folks maybe getting assistive technology but not knowing to use it and ended up with expensive paper weights essentially, because it doesn’t do any good if you don’t know how to use it. So besides just the loan library, do you also offer demonstrations on those kinds of things as well?

Jeffery Boucher:
Yeah, that’s something we’re trying to work on, as we’re still in some of this pandemic, where a lot of people are remote. I think we’re trying to… Part of my goal is to start uploading some things up to the web of just demonstrations of things. I was just talking with the Department of Developmental Services. They have an autism division. I was just talking with some of the people there and they were saying like, “Oh, it’d be really useful for them, tutorials and how just like an iPhone could be used.” Just our actual assistive pieces already uploaded onto the iPhone, how those can be used to help the people that they work with. So we’re trying to get that up and running.

Jeffery Boucher:
But in the future, we would also like to see like myself, when people come in, they can have me demonstrate, show them how things work but also go into their home and help them with the setting up of things. Because a lot of times certain people’s disabilities, it may be difficult for them to remember what words to say to a device, to get the reminder to how to set up reminders. So there’s a lot of assistive technology devices where you can just schedule those things, that automate those processes for people. And that’s one thing that we would like to offer through this tech library.

Stacey Villani:
Yeah. Because one thing we set up, is we set up a kitchen cart and we put small tech kitchen stuff on it so that we can kind of roll it right into our kitchen at the Arc and show people what we bought. An induction cooktop, so that if somebody is learning to cook and they don’t necessarily want to use gas to start out, the induction cooktop is a lot safer.

Stacey Villani:
And then we also have a thing that opens jars easier and the Google Home can tell them how to do a recipe. So we’re trying to set it up in ways that if we go into their home and see what we want to first identify what the problem is, so that we’re giving them solutions that are correct, instead of giving people solutions that don’t solve a problem they had.

Josh Anderson:
Sure. Definitely. Well, I like the whole kitchen cart idea because you’re putting things together.

Stacey Villani:
Yeah.

Josh Anderson:
Because there’s usually not just one need, it’s some different needs. But being able to show them, “Hey, this works with this, that works with this.” But no, yeah, not just throwing a bunch of technology at them because then you’re going to overwhelm somebody. And with some disabilities, you’re just going to make the issue worse. So I like that you’re taking that into consideration. Now, as far as if somebody needs to check out an item, what does that look like?

Jeffery Boucher:
Yeah. So I think how that process would work is they would come into the library and I would talk through with them what the issue was, what they were trying to solve, I guess. What were they trying to improve in that? What was the goal for them? We talk through some solutions and in the Center, they can start off working with it, working with the device and then they could talk to me about taking it out for either two weeks or four weeks or a trial period in their house. That’s how we envision it working in the future.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. And I know that’s a great thing because especially with assistive technology, some things can be very expensive. I mean, the low tech pieces and everything is great. Some of it can even be seemingly a little overpriced for what you end up getting, so being able to try it out a little bit, especially in their space is a huge, huge help to folks. And I know I’ve used our different loan library here in Indiana, many, many a time just with working with folks because getting it in their hand, letting them try things out and be able to see it, which I know during a pandemic is a giant challenge in and of itself. But hopefully someday things get back to some semblance and normal and that’ll be a little bit easier.

Josh Anderson:
Well, guys, I’m sure, and you probably have quite a few of these, but could you tell me a story or two about someone that’s been helped by either the Lending Library or maybe some of the other services at the Center for Linking Lives?

Stacey Villani:
Yeah. Well I can tell you about my own son, his apartment. So I’ll kind of give him as an example. But his own apartment has used a lot of the assistive technology things. So he has the blinds. They would sit all day long, him and his roommates, who also have disabilities, would just sit in the dark all day long. But now the blinds go up at a particular time. They have the care.coach, which is a 24/7 connection to a real person on the other end and so if they have an issue and there’s no staff, it reduces the need for staff, like at night and other times because if they wake up and they have an issue, they can wake up the care.coach and get some advice. Whether this is something they need to call 911, or they could relax a little.

Stacey Villani:
They also have the Google Home, which can turn on all the lights, turn on the air condition, the lights in the hallways, where it was dark before. I have a motion detector that turns out a strip light that goes along, so that they now have light. So those are some examples. They also have, their bathroom has been updated. It has the simple push button things for shampoo and soap. They have a automated shower that has a large screen on it with the temperature and so everyone can set their temperature, so it can only go to like a 100 degrees, so you don’t have to burn yourself and staff doesn’t have to put their hand in to make sure it’s warm before you get in. So it kind of restores dignity and that you’re showering, by yourself and not with other people.

Stacey Villani:
So those are some of the examples of just some of the technology things that we’re trying out. We have a whole bunch of laptops that we’re donating. And so during this pandemic, it really connected people that got sent home from their day programs because their day programs closed and so they were unable to access… Their parents are 90 and they’re 70.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah.

Stacey Villani:
And so they don’t have the access to the technology in their homes. So we get computers to them. I don’t know, Jeff. We lent out like 10 iPads and some Chromebooks. And we actually had some that were donated that we could give to people as well. So during this pandemic, it really highlighted how quickly we were able to get people reconnected through technology. So those are some of the simple things.

Stacey Villani:
I don’t know if you have any other examples, Jeff, that you can think of?

Jeffery Boucher:
One of the funny things that I think, because there’s an assistive technology field, you kind of think that people with disabilities are really encouraged and know all about… There’s sort of this assumption that people with disabilities are automatically really into technology. I think of autism spectrum disorders. But through my role here, I really found that there’s actually a pretty big chasm between the use of technology and by people with disabilities and sort of the rest of the United States are sort of more normal communities. And I think this pandemic has kind of highlighted how this community of people is sort of isn’t being as integrated into technology as they should be. So it’s been really good to be able to donate these computers.

Jeffery Boucher:
I’ve been trying to work with a gentleman. His programming has become all remote, the nature of his disability, he’s unable to connect to those programs, so I’ve been trying to work with him, trying to find solutions with maybe connecting to the Zoom calls through an Alexa device or some of those things. But those technologies don’t necessarily all integrate. You can’t necessarily just integrate your Zoom into the Alexa or Google Home interface. They don’t communicate. So it’s been really challenging to find solutions that will actually work for people so they can actually connect because the Zoom numbers are very complicated, if you’re not scheduled. If you’re not into scheduling things in a digital way, it’s very complicated and difficult for somebody to start to learn that all of a sudden.

Stacey Villani:
Yeah.

Josh Anderson:
No. And it really is. And you brought up some great points there, just about how much, by this pandemic has kind of exacerbated some of those issues. And yeah, there is a big misconception that folks are automatically tech savvy, just because they have a disability or that they’re automatically using all these things, or that they even know half of it exists.

Jeffery Boucher:
Right.

Josh Anderson:
And you talked earlier about just making videos that just show, “Hey, these accessibility features are here.” If you’re blind or visually impaired, you can still use a tablet or an iPhone or those kinds of things. Or if you have mobility challenges, there are things built in that you can do it. And most folks don’t know those are there. And especially with some disabilities that are acquired, some folks just kind of give up and think I’m not going to be able to do anymore because of this disability or this acquired injury. And it’s like, “No, you’re going to be able to do it differently, but you still might be able to do the thing.” So yeah, you brought up great points there.

Josh Anderson:
And Stacy, you really brought up something about dignity. And for me, assistive technology has always been about dignity and independence and just being able to be independent. What can I do? What can I put in place, so this individual doesn’t have to have staff or someone help them with all these different pieces and parts. What can you do by yourself? Because I’ve always felt like when you lose that, it can make you feel down or kind of bad if you have to rely on other folks, especially when they’re not there and you still want to do those things.

Stacey Villani:
Yeah. It does. It’s huge.

Josh Anderson:
It really is. And I think that’s our goal really, in kind of all the things that we do, assistive technology are not, really in the disability community. I really feel like independence is the main goal of really pretty much most of the programs that we do have.

Josh Anderson:
Well, guys, if our listeners want to find out more about you or about the Northeast Arc or about really any of the things that we’ve talked about here today, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Stacey Villani:
They can go to our website. It’s N-E-arc.org.

Josh Anderson:
We’ll make sure to put that down in our show notes so folks can easily get over to that. Well, Stacey, Jeff, thank you so much for coming on the show today and telling us about all the great things that you’re doing there at the Northeast Arc and at your new Center for Linking Lives. A very cool idea and a great way to use some space that maybe wasn’t really getting used too but really to get that forward-facing. I know that sometimes organizations are almost hidden and kind of hard to find. So being able to do that, I’m sure you’re helping out a lot of families and maybe even a lot of families that didn’t know such things were available to them.

Stacey Villani:
Thank you. Thank you for having us. We hope that the Center for Linking Lives with all the mall space around the country that is dying, similarly to older malls like that, that other disability organizations kind of take a look at what we’ve done here and kind of model that because it really is, it’s a safe creative space for individuals with disabilities to be able to try things out. Usually there’s public transportation that goes to the mall and they can practice crossing the streets and there’s just a lot of things that are helpful in that environment for people with disabilities.

Jeffery Boucher:
All the individuals that I’ve seen that have been coming to programming, just really love the new space and seem very happy.

Josh Anderson:
Well good. We wish you all the best and have a very happy New Year.

Stacey Villani:
Thank you. You too, Josh.

Jeffery Boucher:
You too, Josh. Thank you.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Shoot us a note on Twitter at indata project, or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.eastersealstech.com.

Josh Anderson:
Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more, head over to accessibilitychannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the indata project. This has been your Assistive Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson with the indata project at Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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