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ATU532 – Servants at Work (SAWs) with Bob Richmond

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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.

Special Guest:

Bob Richmond – Executive Director of Servants at Work (SAWs)

www.sawsramps.org

FaceBook Brain Control Story: https://bit.ly/3A5Aj6z

Captions and Transcripts brought to you by:

INTRAC – www.relayindiana.com

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—— Transcript Starts Here ——

 

Bob Richmond:
This is Bob Richmond and I am the executive director of Servants at Work, commonly referred to as SAWs. And this is your assistive technology update.

 

Josh Anderson:
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 in data project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana.

Josh Anderson:
Welcome to episode 532 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on August 6th, 2021.

Josh Anderson:
On today’s show, we’re super excited to have Bob Richmond on to talk about Servants at Work or SAWs and an amazing milestone they’re coming up on. We also have a quick story about Facebook trying to give you new ways to control your Oculus device.

Josh Anderson:
Let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
I have a story called, “Facebook Gives up on Mind Reading Headsets to Focus on Wrist-worn Devices.” It’s from Screen Rant written by Alan Truly. And this story is about Facebook’s work with a BCI or a brain computer interface.

Josh Anderson:
Now, I don’t use Facebook. I haven’t for quite a few years. I kind of got off social media probably six or seven years ago, somewhere in there. But I found this really important because basically as you may or may not know, Facebook bought the virtual reality headset company Oculus. So they’re looking for different ways to be able to control the Oculus instead of the weird kind of hand motions you might have to do, or weird ways you may have to type in the air or use the little controllers to do stuff, they’re looking for new ways to control it. So they started all this research and development in a brain computer interface.

Josh Anderson:
They did make some really good advances. In fact, it even says that they were able to assist individuals who could no longer speak, basically use a list of about 50 words and speak at a rate of over 15 words per minute, using just their brain. So not having to use eye gaze or any sort of muscle movement or anything like that. All that they were using was just thinking the word and boom, it pops right up at about a rate of 15 words per minute.

Josh Anderson:
Does say while that’s really great for assistive technologies, that’s nowhere as fast as normal kind of hand joystick or whatever interface they were already using could go. So they kind of scrapped the project at least for Facebook and Oculus, but they did make that brain control interface software completely open source so that other folks could use it maybe for assistive technology. It should be noted though, that in order to make this work, it required the electrodes to be implanted in the brain. That was the other thing Facebook didn’t really want to do. They didn’t want to have to deal with the actual implants. They wanted something wearable and not quite as invasive. And I can’t really truly say that I blame them.

Josh Anderson:
So since they moved on to a wrist band type controller and this wrist worn kind of controller would involve detecting motor neurons in the wrist. Now it says here, the Apple recently announced a similar technology in watch OS8. Now this allows you to use assistive touch to control your Apple watch by using finger motions with the hand on the wrist that the watch is worn. So basically if you make a fist or take your thumb and forefinger and pinch, you can control some of the things on your Apple watch.

Josh Anderson:
Facebook wants to go farther and make it to where you can actually control augmented reality and virtual reality with hand motions by wearing these bracelet-style devices. Now, whether this actually will help and work on anything for Facebook, who knows, but it could be another input method that could end up being something extremely helpful for individuals with disabilities. As I said, kind of at the beginning of this story, this brain computer interface they were trying to build did have some different applications in the world of assistive technology, although maybe not in the world of virtual reality, Oculus and Facebook.

Josh Anderson:
Hopefully, before long we’ll have something that doesn’t require actually putting electrodes into the brain to control devices. But at the same time, hey, they are kind of working towards it. And I’m glad that as they try to make these technologies and they find assistive technology uses for them, they make them open source and allow them to go that way.

Josh Anderson:
I’ll put a link to this story over in the show notes so that you can go and read all about it.

Josh Anderson:
So the wheelchair ramp is maybe one of the most important pieces of assistive technology to those who need and utilize them. Was an organization based in Indy that has helped many individuals with accessing their homes. We’re excited to have Bob Richmond, executive director of Servants at Work or SAWs on the show today to talk about the organization and a huge milestone that they’re quickly approaching.

Josh Anderson:
Bob, welcome to the show.

Bob Richmond:
Thank you very much, Josh. Glad I’m here.

Josh Anderson:
And I am glad you’re here too. I’m very excited to talk about this big milestone and about Servants at Work. But could you start off by telling us just a little bit about yourself and your background?

Bob Richmond:
Sure. I was in the healthcare industry for over 35 years, had all sorts of various positions and I retired the end of 2017. And I’d always been one of those individuals that wanted to give back. Worked on Habitat for Humanity. I did some saws, ramp building. After my retirement I was asked to join the board. And it was one of those things I missed the first meeting because we were on vacation, but then came to the second meeting just to find out that not only was I on the board, but they had elected me treasurer. So it’s the common practice of be careful when you miss a meeting, you might get assigned something.

Bob Richmond:
So I became the treasurer and that was great. I enjoyed working on the board. And then in March of last year, our executive director left us as we were sliding into COVID. I just turned to our chairman and I said, “Look, I know the finances. I know the staff, I know the operations, let’s not waste any time here. Things are kind of in turmoil and the instability of COVID coming on, I’ll just take over. You can appoint me interim. You can appoint me executive director, whatever you want.” And they were just so happy to have me step in. They said, “Well, why don’t you just come in as the executive director and just take over from there?”

Bob Richmond:
So I’ve been the executive director since March of last year, and it’s really been a lot of fun. And despite COVID, we had a record year, as far as donations. We still built about 230 ramps statewide. And that was after being shut down for 11 weeks during the pandemic. So I think it was a very successful year and we’re having a great year this year.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, that’s awesome. I know sometimes, especially when leadership changes in an organization, it can, as you said, kind of set the whole thing in turmoil. So that’s excellent that you could be able to move into that role and keep everything rolling especially during the odd times that we were all a part of.

Josh Anderson:
Well, Bob, you already started telling me a little bit about it. But tell us about Servants at Work.

Bob Richmond:
Well, we were founded in 2003 by a gentleman who still works with us. His name is Rick Heggerty. And we were kind of sourced out of a large church here in the Indianapolis area called Second Presbyterian. They kind of were the scene where we started the whole organization. And from that, over time, a couple of other churches got involved. The one that I attend, St Luke’s Methodist, just up the street from Second Pres, also got onboard. And we started building six ramps a year, and then it was 10 or 20 ramps a year.

Bob Richmond:
And we were doing all the prefabrication in the parking lot of the Second Presbyterian Church. And as we got bigger and bigger and bigger and more people got involved, we got linked up with the Ortho Indy Foundation. They are a very large orthopedic hospital located on the Northwest side here of Indianapolis. And they partnered with us, supported us financially and also got us a warehouse space. And then from there, we just kind of took off, got our 501C3 in 2011.

Bob Richmond:
And so we have been gradually building the numbers of ramps to be built. We did a 150, then we’re up to 200. So last year we did over 230. This year, I think we’re going to have more of the same, even in spite of having to digest some very, very expensive lumber prices, which are now pulling back finally. But we’ll build about 250 ramps again this year statewide.

Josh Anderson:
Wow. And for the folks you serve, how do they qualify for this kind of service?

Bob Richmond:
Well, the two pillars are primarily, they have to be disabled in some sort. Most of ours are wheelchair bound. Some are on walkers or rollators, but most of them are wheelchair bound. And then we do 80% of what is called area mean income, as far as their income goes. We don’t want to pull up to a house and help somebody that’s got two Cadillacs and a boat in the backyard.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah.

Bob Richmond:
We really want to serve other people that are in low income and we provide these ramps for free to them.

Josh Anderson:
So Bob, take me through, what does a typical build look like?

Bob Richmond:
Well, first of all, the answer to your question very quickly, you can jump on our website, saws ramps.org, and there’s plenty of pictures and there’s plenty of photos of the ramp constructions and so forth. We even have a 90 second video of how the ramp gets fast forward and put together from the time the volunteers get there with the raw lumber until it’s finished. It’s a very short video that everybody can watch. And it’s very entertaining also.

Bob Richmond:
But to answer your question, we take ownership of the client from the minute they apply. And we vet them to make sure that they meet our income and disability requirements. And we also make sure that they either own the home or they have permission from the landlord if they are renters, that we can build the ramp on the site.

Bob Richmond:
So once those issues are resolved and we get waivers and so forth and documentation, we then will go out and our project manager will provide a site evaluation to make sure that the way we construct ramps will fit on the site, whether it’s a side door or coming off the front door and get them to a landing area, which we will- I’ll explain just in a moment how that works.

Bob Richmond:
So we’ll do the site evaluation. Then we have a software program that we’ll put that into to build the ramp. It’ll spit out the lumber that we need. We have about eight standard SKU’s or different sizes of lumber, two by four, two by six, various links, that it will spit out how many of those boards we need. And then every Thursday at our warehouse, then we will prefab anywhere from three to five ramps on a Thursday morning. We’ll load them on trailers and then everything else is volunteered.

Bob Richmond:
And the only thing that donations go towards is we have four paid staff people and lumber. That’s it.

Bob Richmond:
So we’ll load all that lumber on trailers. And then on Saturday morning, the project managers we’ll hook up the trailers and take it to the job site. We have volunteers that we’ve already got assigned to those projects, and we’ll start about 8:00 or 8:30 in the morning. And depending on how complex the ramp is, our average ramp is 20 to 30 feet in length. We’ll have that ramp built by 11:30, 12 o’clock that day. And the client will come out, go down the ramp, the ribbon cutting ceremony, very humbling experience.

Bob Richmond:
So that’s kind of the nuts and bolts of how the operation works on a weekly basis.

Josh Anderson:
That’s excellent. I love the way that you guys have the volunteers kind of do the final build. I think that’s always important for folks to be able to volunteer, to have those kinds of opportunities to be a part of something.

Bob Richmond:
We have some of the best volunteers in America. Much of our donations come from churches and corporations and organizations. And a lot of corporations have PTO time now where they give community service back. We have volunteers that just want to give back and we have a website that allows them to sign up. We post the job on our website and they can volunteer right there onsite to, “Yeah, I’d like to go to this build this Saturday at this address.” And we normally take anywhere from eight to 10 people to help us build a ramp.

Bob Richmond:
But our volunteers are what is the heart and soul of this organization, as well as our donors, but we couldn’t do it without them. They’re tremendous people and they just love to give back. And it’s a very humbling experience to do the build and all in the same day you get to see the client and the finished product.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, yeah, it definitely is.

Josh Anderson:
Bob, kind of expanding on that, where all are your services available?

Bob Richmond:
Right now, as I was mentioning earlier, we started in Second Presbyterian Church and kind of grew from there, which is we kind of canvassed Marion county, which is where Indianapolis is located. And then we kind of did the surrounding counties, the donut counties. We grew into those counties. There’s about nine counties that touch on Marion county. And then about three years ago, when I came on the board, we started doing statewide. And we kind of do that with a hub and spoke approach where Indianapolis happens to be a hub and it serves the nine counties right around Indianapolis. Then we have another hub up in South Bend and they serve the nine counties around South Bend. We have another hub in Evansville, which is Vanderburgh county and they serve the six or seven counties right around Evansville. And so that’s the way we’ve kind of built out the state. We have 92 counties in the state of Indiana and we’re right now serving 67 of those counties.

Bob Richmond:
And then we had a board member who had retired from Eli Lilly, Charlie Russell’s his name. Just a fabulous individual. And his kids had moved to Virginia and he and his wife decided, “You know what? We want to be close to our kids. We’re moving back to Virginia and I’m going to start a SAWs, Virginia operation.” He’s done that. Now, he’s been in operations for about five years and he builds about 25 to 35 ramps every year. And so they’ve got a great foundation laid down out there. Charlie’s doing a great job and, who knows, in another five or 10 years, they could be doing over a hundred ramps a year.

Josh Anderson:
Wow. Wow. That is great. So it sounds like if you have more board members move away even further it may even expand to other states.

Bob Richmond:
Maybe that’s the key, Josh. Maybe that’s the key.

Josh Anderson:
Maybe that’s the way to kind of spread the good news.

Josh Anderson:
Well, wow that’s awesome.

Josh Anderson:
And I know many folks don’t really understand all the ADA regulations about safe and effective ramps. Could you tell us maybe some of the basics to consider when trying to maybe make things more accessible for folks?

Bob Richmond:
Sure. So let’s start with, first of all, all of our ramps are built with treated lumber. They’re all wooden. They’re all customized. And we do not dig any postholes. We don’t pour any concrete, anything like that. We have kind of a, what I’ll call a faux patented design. It’s not patented, but we ought to do that. And when you see it on our website, you’ll see it kind of floats on the surface. So we don’t need to dig any holes or anything like that. So they are wooden. They are customized. And in the ADA requirements are the following. Let’s say that you’re standing in your front door threshold and you want to get to the sidewalk. And the elevation drop is let’s just say 30 inches. Well, the ADA guidelines say that you can only decline the ramp up one inch per foot. That’s about every four degrees is one inch.

Bob Richmond:
So you gradually descend the client in a wheelchair to the landing area, which would be the sidewalk. So in order to do that, it kind of, it looks like if you were standing and looking at a turnstile, if you were at an amusement park, so you come out the front door and you’ll transition maybe to the left, to maybe eight feet and then you’ll hit a platform and then you’ll transition and come back to the right about another eight or 12 feet to a platform and then transition again until you finally get down to the landing area, whether that’s the driveway or the sidewalk. We gradually transition you down one inch per foot. So a 30 inch drop, you’re going to need about 30 feet of decline or elevation to get down to the landing area so that the client lands safely, either on the sidewalk or in the driveway.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. I think it’s very important to talk about those kinds of things. Just cause I know some folks don’t really realize that and think, “Well, it’s a ramp. It’s definitely accessible.” But yeah, if the grades a little bit too much, then getting up it is going to be impossible and getting down it it’s going to be a little bit too fast.

Bob Richmond:
Yes. And you just can’t, “okay. Let’s just build this ramp.” My gosh, the client would be right out in the street if you want 30 inches straight out. You just can’t do that. And I might add that all of our ramps, we add handrails also. So they’re extremely safe. You’ll see that on our website, how easy it is to navigate our ramps with a platforms and the gradual elevation decline .

Josh Anderson:
And Bob, you have a big event and a kind of a big milestone celebration coming up soon. Can you tell us about that?

Bob Richmond:
Yes, sir. We’re very excited about this. We were founded in 2003. And on August 14th of this year, we’re going to build our 3000th ramp in the state of Indiana. And we’ve chosen a client here in Indianapolis and we’ve partnered with a great partner called Rehab Medical. They are one of the mid-west leading distributors of power wheelchairs. They’ve been a great partner. So they’re going to actually be doing the volunteer build for us. You’ll see that on our website. That’s right on the homepage. If any of your listeners would like to donate, we’re trying to raise $30,000 so we can get a jumpstart on the next 3000 ramps. And you’ll see all of the details of the ramp and the partnership that we’ve got with Rehab Medical and the 3000 ramps.

Josh Anderson:
And that’s just an amazing number of individuals helped. I mean, 3000 folks.

Josh Anderson:
Well, Bob, as we kind of look back at all those different, thousands of lives of individuals, you guys have been able to change, can you tell me a story about maybe a few of them?

Bob Richmond:
Oh my God.

Josh Anderson:
I know it’s very hard to kind of whittle it down, isn’t it? But maybe just one or two that maybe stick with you?

Bob Richmond:
Yeah. So I’m a very passionate individual. So I’m one of these individuals, a proud American who probably sheds a tear at the National Anthem. So these are tough. There’s so many of them.

Bob Richmond:
We got a call last fall. We build normally from March until late November, weather dependent, you’re in the Midwest. We got a call in early October about a young, 19-year-old gal who was she and her girlfriend were at an apartment building and they were going to pick up friend. And this was towards evening, about 6:30 or so 7:00 at night. And there was some random gunshots. And this young lady was struck by one of those bullets. We did not know it at the time, but we said, “Well, it’s late in the year. I don’t know whether or not we’re going to have enough time weather permitting and so forth because we have our schedules pretty well booked. I don’t know if we’ll have the time to build it this season.” And as we had more dialogue with the mother, we found out that she’s a paraplegic now, which just crushed us and our staff. And so our project managers, and we just said, “We got to build this ramp. But we got to do it right now.”

Bob Richmond:
So we made some changes in our schedule and late November, a beautiful sunny warm day, we went and built this ramp for this young lady. She’s actually pictured on our website and what a story, what a sad story. But that’s the kind of thing we do is we help others that are really, really in need. And that was a very fulfilling day. We normally have eight to 10 volunteers. We had 30 people that day wanting to help.

Bob Richmond:
I think the other thing that really strikes me on some of these impact stories is we did a build for a lady in her mid-seventies, confined to a wheelchair. Hadn’t been out of the house in almost a year, which is not unusual. We have many people that they’ve been shut in because they can’t get out or they’ve got to have loved ones carry them to the car.

Bob Richmond:
So this young lady, 75 years old, was confined to a wheelchair. We built a ramp for her and she was just so gracious. And she meets the standard disabilities and also the income level. Well, the following week, we were at the office and my outreach coordinator come to me and hands me a card. She has tears in her eyes. And I said, “Oh no, not one of those.” And she said, “Yes.” And we get this quite often. This was a thank you card from this young lady that we had just built a ramp for and included in the thank you was a check for $800. Pretty touching.

Josh Anderson:
It really is. And it’s amazing because so many folks don’t know these things are out there. And a lot of these folks have probably done so many nice things for other folks, but people have a hard time asking sometimes, kind of asking for that help or even knowing where to find it and or even that such things are available. So, no, I know exactly how that feels, Bob. And it is an absolutely amazing feeling.

Bob Richmond:
It really is. I think that’s why I do this. That’s why I do this. So, that says it all right there.

Bob Richmond:
We’ve been on builds where most of the people that we serve are probably, I think the numbers that we’ve got are 72% of the people we serve are over the age of 55. So we have grandchildren that will be wanting to help us, a grandchild of one of the clients, and they’ll come out with their piggy bank and give us everything in the piggy bank, $16.52 cents.

Josh Anderson:
Well, I guess that just shows that you’re doing good work that is actually needed.

Josh Anderson:
Well, Bob, if our listeners want to find out more, maybe sign up to volunteer, donate, anything like that, could you give us the website again?

Bob Richmond:
Yes. It’s www dot saws, that’s S-A-W-S, ramps, R-A-M-P-S dot org.

Josh Anderson:
And we’ll make sure to put that down in the show notes as well so our listeners can find out about the celebration for the 3000th ramp, as well as just find out everything about what you guys do and find a place to donate and sign up as well.

Josh Anderson:
Well, Bob Richmond, thank you so much for coming on today and just telling us about all the amazing things that the Servants at Work has done for Hoosiers here in Indiana. And it sounds like expanding on over to Virginia as well. But thank you guys so much for what you do and thank you for coming on and telling us all about it.

Bob Richmond:
Well, it’s an absolute pleasure, Josh. And I must say thank you for what you do in the whole Easter Seal organization and I really appreciate what you do for your audience.

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 so, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org, or shoot us a note on Twitter @indataproject.

Josh Anderson:
Our captions and transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation or INTRAC. You can find out more about INTRAC at relayindiana.com.

Josh Anderson:
A special thanks to Nicole Prietto for scheduling our amazing guests and making a mess of my schedule. Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and fraught over by yours truly. The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the Indata Project, Easterseals Crossroads, our supporting partners or this host.

Josh Anderson:
This was your Assistive Technology Update. And I’m Josh Anderson with the Indata Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.

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