Thursday, July 31, 2014

SmartHomes Update

Recently, Imagine! Foundation grant writer Christina Craigo prepared a report on the progress of Imagine!’s SmartHomes for one of the funders of the project, The Collins Foundation. The report is a great overview of how far the SmartHomes have come, as well as what’s coming next. We thought it would be worth sharing with our blog readers.

Brief overview of the progress of the project. 

The first goal of Imagine!’s SmartHomes Project (which includes both the Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome and a second home – the Charles Family SmartHome in Longmont) is to strengthen Imagine!’s capacity to meet the need for comprehensive care for local individuals with I/DD. Objectives related to this goal include: a) to increase the amount of appropriate and maintainable local housing for people with I/DD; and b) to identify fourteen individuals with I/DD who would benefit from living in a home equipped with adaptive and assistive technologies and move them to the SmartHomes.

These objectives were met. Construction of the Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome was completed in June 2009. Assistive technology systems were installed soon after, and in July, the SmartHome’s eight residents moved in and began to get accustomed to their new home. Since that time, Imagine! staff members have been refining the technologies to better meet the needs of the individual residents, training the residents to use the systems, and using the SmartHome as a site for testing, modifying, and adapting technologies and technology strategies for use in other environments. The residents of the SmartHome continue to flourish, as described below.

As mentioned previously, the Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome sustained significant damage during the flood last September. We are pleased to report that the cost of repairs was covered with funding from a variety of sources including the ANCOR Foundation, Boulder County Worthy Cause, the Foothills Flood Relief Fund, and individuals. In other general news, Ingrid Winter, who has been bringing her therapy dog Raven to the Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome every week for the past two years, was selected as a 7Everyday Hero by Denver’s 7 News. Please visit to see Ingrid and Raven interact with SmartHome residents.

How many individuals and/or families have benefited from this investment? What have been the most significant results?

Eight vulnerable individuals and their families have benefited directly from this investment, and many others have benefited indirectly. The second goal of the SmartHomes Project is to create, test, and share innovative technologies and technology strategies to address the nationwide crisis in available services for people with I/DD and similar populations. The first objective relating to this goal is to maximize SmartHome residents’ self-sufficiency and ability to engage with the community. Imagine! continues to make progress toward this objective. Residents use their accessible Email system (Endeavor) and an accessible Facebook application developed recently by AbleLink to stay connected with family and friends. They have enjoyed learning to cook with the help of AbleLink’s task prompting system.

Imagine! staff members are working directly to adapt applications and tools to further residents’ self-sufficiency, including an interactive tool for adding and subtracting prices of ingredients for meals, a literacy game, a computer-based medication task minder, and a game for multiple players called “Pirate’s Cove.” This game teaches players (some of whom use AAC devices) to practice skills including taking turns, recognizing letters, and composing words. One resident at the Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome is now using an application called Interactive Ledger to gain more independence in money management. Staff members are also working with an engineer from Plexus to help create a prototype of a mobile sensor system that could set up a perimeter, or an “invisible wall,” that could send notifications to caregivers when the perimeter is breached. This could be especially useful for individuals who are prone to elopement or for individuals who aren’t able to use certain appliances (such as stoves or ovens) safely.

The second objective relating to this goal was to optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of caregivers in the home. Again, Imagine! is continuing to make progress toward this goal. For example, Imagine! has begun providing training to Direct Service Professionals (DSPs) on how to encourage individuals receiving services to handle an increasing array of tasks on their own. Examples of lessons include “How to Reinforce Skill Development,” “Ways to Facilitate Task Independence,” and “Ways to Determine Needed Support Levels.” Video tutorials on teaching clients to care for themselves to the extent possible are being developed and will be accessible to DSPs via Imagine!’s online training system in 2015.

The third objective relating to this goal was to show through the SmartHomes how technology can increase energy efficiency and lower costs and carbon footprint. As reported previously, this objective has been achieved. The SmartHome’s solar PV system has been in operation for nearly 20,000 hours and has reduced the home’s CO2 emissions by an incredible 28 tons to date! Its geothermal system continues to reduce natural gas costs significantly.

The fourth objective relating to this goal was to move successful technologies and technology strategies into Imagine! residential care facilities, day programs, and family homes. Imagine! continues to make progress toward this objective. Examples of recent activities in this area include the completion of a new Assistive Technology Laboratory at CORE/Labor Source’s location in Longmont (equipped for clients who are non-verbal and have very limited mobility), the installation of an interactive multi-user computer station in Imagine!’s Manhattan Group Home to facilitate educational activities and communication with friends and family, and the provision of iPads to individuals in day programs and residential settings. Please visit to see the impact of technology on a client who moved to Imagine!’s 19th Street Group Home after nearly 50 years at the Wheat Ridge Regional Center.

The fifth objective relating to this goal was to share the current and future benefits of technology for comprehensive care and family home care. Since the SmartHome Project’s inception, Imagine! staff members have made presentations and/or served on panels at 54 conferences for providers of residential services to this and similar populations. Recent additions to this list include:
  • The Interagency Council of Developmental Disabilities Agencies (IAC) Technology Conference in New York – speakers; 
  • The 2013 Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities’ National Conference – speaker, with University of Colorado Professor Melinda Piket-May (“Building Community Through Collaboration”); 
  • Technology Best Practices Provider Meeting (in conjunction with the 2013 Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities’ National Conference) – hosts/facilitators; 
  • South Dakota Council on Developmental Disabilities Conference – keynote address (“Creating Possibilities: Where the Rubber Meets the Road”); and 
  • Alliance 2014 Summit – speaker (“Technology COPs – An arresting presentation on how three organizations from around the country are working together to improve services and supports”). 
In August, Imagine!’s Greg Wellems will serve as a panelist for a session entitled “Integrated Data Systems to Improve Quality” at Reinventing Quality, a biennial conference showcasing best practices in supports and services for people with disabilities. The conference is jointly hosted by the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services, the Research and Training Center on Community Living at the University of Minnesota, the Human Services Research Institute, the University of Delaware National Leadership Consortium, the American Network of Community Options and Resources, and the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

In related news, last April, SmartHomes Project Team members provided guidance to The Community Life Project, a local parent-organized group interested in developing a nonprofit housing cooperative for adults with autism, including those who aren't eligible for developmental disability services or who are on a waiting list, and those who receive services but need more support. Last November, Greg Wellems was quoted in an article in the Hartford Business Journal about changes in the healthcare industry and how technology can be used to help aging adults continue to live a high-quality, meaningful life in environments of their own choosing.

Over the years, Imagine! has given more than 170 tours of its SmartHomes and hosted more than 1,200 individuals from around the country as well as several international guests. Recent visitors (to the Charles Family SmartHome and/or the Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome in Boulder) included the Director of the Colorado Department of Human Services; the Director of Colorado’s Office of Community Access and Independence; representatives from the Colorado Department of Healthcare Policy and Financing and the Colorado Department of Developmental Disabilities; three State Senators and three State Representatives; the President of Thrive Communities; the Executive Director of TLC Learning Center (formerly the Tiny Tim Center); the Executive Director of Cheyenne Village; the President of the Human Technologies Corporation, the Mental Health Program Manager from North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, five students from Longmont High School; a group of nonprofit professionals from Cameroon, Hungary, Kenya, Oman, and Saudi Arabia; and representatives from East Carolina Behavioral Health, Extreme Sports Camp (which serves individuals with Autism Spectrum disorders), and I-Reach 2, Inc.

Imagine! has also expanded its collaborations with universities. Its work with the University of Colorado has continued and deepened, with engineering students producing a wide array of adaptive devices to benefit Imagine! clients, including SmartHome residents. Recent projects have included (for example) a Wheel-of-Fortune based game; interactive mazes, activity boards, puzzles, art boards, and games; a wheelchair arm stop; an accessible universal remote control device; and light panels, hanging lamps, and floor lamps. Some are geared toward helping clients improve fine motor skills, counting skills, literacy skills, or social skills; others solve particular problems, such as a client’s inability to move his arm back into his wheelchair if it fell outside the chair. CU PhD student Jeff Hoel is working closely with Imagine! clients in his research, which he describes as follows: “My research is basically in trying to find ways to make the Internet and the web easier to use for people with cognitive disabilities of all levels. And part of it is if we can look at that, we can find solutions that help a lot of other populations that we’re not necessarily focusing on – this is our universal design approach. So, for example, how are senior users or elderly users using the web, and what’s holding them back and how we can make that easier? …As we know, the web is being used more and more by everyone for more things, from getting news and shopping online to connecting with friends and making plans…So if we can help lower those barriers of entry to Internet use we can help people live more inclusive lives.” (A Daily Camera article about Hoel’s research can be found at

Recently, Imagine! launched a similar collaboration with students at the Baskin School of Engineering at the University of California Santa Cruz. Students are helping to create apps for Imagine! clients as part of their classwork. The applications must store data on individual users, building a baseline of knowledge and tracking progress with a range of skills such as color and shape identification and basic financial literacy. Last fall, Imagine! also partnered with University of Wyoming students, who created devices including modular, adjustable tables for wheelchair users and a robot arm and wrist support for people who use wheelchairs as well as AAC devices.

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