In Alaska, Technology Helps Create Connection and Independence
In the state of Alaska, feeling connected can be a challenge, with neighbors sometimes miles away and reliable internet access often only available via satellite. Alaska is the least densely populated of all U.S. states and the state capital, Juneau, boasts a population of only 32,000.
But one service provider, REACH, has long been on a mission to connect the people they serve – many of whom have intellectual or developmental disabilities – with the services they need and the communities they live in.
REACH’s newest venture? Taking technology to the next level, to promote the independence and choice of the people they serve.
A New Frontier for SimplyHome
During the spring of 2017 Allen and Jason Ray (SimplyHome's CEO and CDO) were invited to travel to Alaska to speak with several providers who want to incorporate technology into their service models, to empower people with disabilities to live more independently.
One of the most excited providers they spoke to was REACH. Based in Juneau, REACH provides both services and advocacy to people with disabilities. As Sabrina Cardinal, adult service coordinator for REACH, puts it, “Our overall goal is to ensure the people we serve and other fellow Alaskans are safe and are taken care of in the home they want to be in.”
REACH recently began using SimplyHome technology in the homes of some of the people they support. After only a few months of using the technology, REACH has seen measurable results with each client. Sabrina says the staff are really proud of what REACH is doing: "Already we are seeing technology make a difference.”
Living at Home with Cerebral Palsy
One individual who accepts services from REACH, “Alice,” lives with her mother in her family home. Alice has a history of falling asleep in the bathroom, which has contributed to a history of falls. She is unable to get up by herself due to her cerebral palsy.
With the goal of making it possible for Alice to be as independent as possible when it comes to her living situation, SimplyHome implemented a voice prompt that doesn’t allow Alice to fall asleep in the bathroom context. Since the system was installed, Alice has not had any more falls in the bathroom, and if she does need assistance, she is able to press her wearable pendant, which sends a text message to her mother. The system has not only contributed to Alice’s overall safety, but to her privacy at home.
The SimplyHome system has also allowed Alice’s mother to have more peace of mind. Because they live in a remote area, Alice’s mother had concerns about her daughter needing help if she wandered outdoors, fell in the home or on the property, or left outside doors open (due to bears’ tendency to enter homes). Now the sensor-based system sends a text to Alice’s mother if Alice leaves the house or leaves an outside door open. Alice also wears a pendant so that if she does fall in or around her home, she can quickly summon assistance from her mother. This has been very reassuring to Alice’s mother, enabling her to sleep better at night.
Discovering New Abilities
TK also accepts services from REACH, and he lives in his own apartment. Recently his care coordinator and guardian had concerns that TK was scared and not sleeping in his bed at night. They were considering taking him out of his home and looking for a group home placement.
However, TK has lived in group homes before and he has never thrived like he does now, with the supports and independence he is allowed in his own apartment. Furthermore, despite being nonverbal, TK has made it very clear that he enjoys his independence and having his own space.
Once REACH implemented the SimplyHome sensors in TK’s home, REACH was able to obtain data showing that TK was indeed going to bed, and that he was not leaving his apartment when he was alone. The staff from REACH was able to use the SimplyHome notifications as prompts to check in with him visually (via a video home monitor system). The SimplyHome system gave the guardian and care coordinator more peace of mind, knowing that TK was okay and could be checked on if any concern arose. As a result, TK was able to continue living in the environment that was his first choice. As REACH coordinator Sabrina Cardinal puts it, “We have realized as a team that TK is way more capable than we all gave him credit for.”
REACH Looks to the Future
Two more people receiving services from REACH will soon have their own SimplyHome systems installed, with the goal of increasing their independence, alleviating family concerns, and optimizing staff hours to the best times of day for that individual.
Though REACH plans to expand their program as soon as they get the funding for it, right now they are “at the mercy of grant funding.” Currently they rely heavily on mini grants from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, and are applying for any other grant opportunities they can find.
With the initial implementation of these first few systems, REACH is focused on sharing these stories with families and clients, to show that it really can make a difference. Even when not physically present 24 hours a day, families, staff, and caregivers can know if someone wanders from their home or if an unsafe person approaches the home. They can be notified if there are cooking and medication compliance concerns, so they can react swiftly if there is a fire or other emergency.
For the folks at REACH, implementing enabling technology has huge rewards. They see it as being able to make their clients’ wishes come true: to stay in their own homes.
About SimplyHome: Based in Asheville, North Carolina, SimplyHome designs and implements person-centered technology solutions for independent living, empowering clients, families, caregivers, organizations, and policymakers through enabling technology. Learn more at the SimplyHome website.
About REACH: Based in Juneau, Alaska, REACH grew out of the dream of a group of local families who wanted to organize activities for their children with disabilities. What started out as a small, family-run group meeting in a church basement has developed into an agency now supporting 400 individuals and families with nearly 300 employees. REACH is committed to creating communities free of barriers for people with disabilities. REACH, Inc. honors and respects the people they serve by promoting choice and well-being through advocacy and services. Stay up to date with the latest from REACH.