Cause-connected technologies improve education, interaction and outcomes for Israel’s most profoundly disabled

Cause-connected technologies improve education, interaction and outcomes for Israel’s most profoundly disabled

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015


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There was the dot com bubble. The real estate bubble. Today, new technologies are zooming on to the marketplace faster than you can say pop – but it doesn’t look like computer and other mobile innovations are going anywhere.

The good news is that technology is not just about money or market share (though sometimes it is). It is often cause-connected and usually solution driven. For people with disabilities, technology has shifted their ability to interact with the world.

Matthew Arnheiter—vice president of innovations, research, and development for Netsmart, America’s longest-standing healthcare information technology company—says today is “a better time than yesterday” for struggling with a disability. Arnheiter says that with the increased focus on understanding the brain, the drive to reduce the stigma of people with disabilities, and the dedication to creating new solutions to meet the needs of people with disabilities, “we’ll figure out better ways of bridging the gap.”

At ALEH, Israel’s largest organization supporting people with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities and medical conditions, staff employs innovative evidence-based practices in combination with new technologies to help its clients communicate more, participate in daily life, and achieve the highest successes they can as individuals, according to Rivka Keesing, director of academia and research for ALEH.

Among the most recent efforts to use technology was the adaptation of a virtual reality solution developed in Israel for the 2004 Olympics in Greece, which allows lifelike images to be screened onto the floor or wall. ALEH calls this pioneer program Therapeutic Virtual Reality (VR) and uses it to allow residents at its ALEH Gedera facility to reap the physical and emotional benefits of interacting with a simulated environment where disabilities are irrelevant.

“The virtual reality systems allows us to take our children into surroundings like snow or the grass or a football yard, exposing them to the joys and senses of normal life, which they otherwise could not take part because of safety concerns,” explains Yael Press, the occupational therapist who spearheaded ALEH’s VR program.

Press, who is also an occupational therapist consultant at Israel’s Social Ministry health services department, noted that research shows that virtual reality is more successful than standard approaches in motor and cognitive treatments; the simulated activities are perceived by the brain as real.

“It empowers them so much,” Press says, noting that use of technology is commonplace and appropriate today, which makes the experience seem “normal.”

In addition, ALEH has integrated multisensory stimulation Snoezelen rooms, which can be used to stimulate, relax, calm or energize patients by adapting the lighting, atmosphere, sounds, and textures to the specific needs of the patient at the time of use. Keesing explains that Snoezelen elements are employed during hydrotherapy to help maximize therapy sessions, as well as employed to enhance areas of daily living.  They are also installed at ALEH’s dental clinic, to help create a calming atmosphere during treatment.

Snoezelen has seen international success among low-functioning patients who demonstrated positive verbal and nonverbal feedback. According to the Snoezelen website, a recent study found that adults with autism showed a 50 percent reduction in in distress and stereotypical behavior, and 75 percent less aggression and self-injury in a Snoezelen environment.

Press says ALEH staff are always looking for new ways to improve the world for their clients, and they are quick to embrace new technologies and tech toys, such as the Eye Click Toy and the iPad, for therapeutic, communication and educational purposes. These technologies can also include taking traditional computers, for example, and adapting them with touch screens, customized mice and switches.

ALEH has been using the iPad touch screen and built-in camera in conjunction with vocal switches to allow residents to communicate with their family members via Skype, showing them pictures of their surrounding and activities. It’s even more unique than it seems, since this is a population that has extremely limited or no communication skills at all.

“They choose from a series of photos that related to messages that can be record: ‘Hi,’ ‘Bye,’ ‘I miss you,’ ‘I love you,’” says Press. “They send these messages to their families. It is very, very important.”

Various apps allow patients to who cannot speak to show staff what they want. Other apps assist with tuning fine motor skills, such as handwriting.

“Technological innovation is transforming the prevalence and functional impact of child disability, the scale of social disparities in child disability, and perhaps the essential meaning of disability in an increasingly technology-dominated world,” writes Paul H. Wise in his 2012 report, “Emerging Technologies and their Impact on Disability.”

At ALEH, Wise’s report comes to life, says Press.

“Technology has opened up a new world for this population. The computer, the tablet, virtual reality — sometimes for me it feels like this world is especially for these children,” she says.


Article by: Maayan Jaffe

Published on Sunday January 14th 2015 – The Jerusalem Post