ben 4Ben, a client of The Arc of Northern Virginia, uses TravelMate on his iPad to make sure he’s at the right bus stop, and which bus to board.The Arc of Northern Virignia received a $7,500 grant in 2018 from the Education Fund through the Community Investment Funds grant cycle.  This grant supported the innovative new use of mobile apps that allow people with disabilites to navigate the tasks of everyday life.  The Arc of Northern Virginia shared the following inspirational story to show the impact of this support in our community.

There was a time when conventional wisdom dictated that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD) be institutionalized, “for their own good.”  Thankfully we’ve moved beyond that as a society.  Today, we know that people with disabilities are best served and supported in their communities.  We have come to understand that there are many things a person with a disability CAN do, from completing their education and getting a degree to living independently to full and regular employment.  At The Arc of Northern Virginia, it is our goal and our mission to help those with ID/DD live “A Life Like Yours.” 

A unique initiative was launched to help achieve that goal, incorporating the technology platforms made possible by the prolific adaption of mobile devices.  Apps for Independent Living consists of a series of curricula that have been created that allows a person with a disability to navigate the tasks of everyday life.   

Launched in 2014, the first app, TravelMate provides interactive instruction on navigating transit between home and work.  Two years later, EmployMate was added to assist practicing soft skills and act as a “virtual job coach” to help with successful performance of job duties.  The concept is to allow individuals with ID/DD to become more independent, by allowing those who care for them to create the specific content they need based on their own environments, their own experiences, and their own life goals.

ben 1With TravelMate on his iPad, Ben is reminded which Metro train to board, and prompts him to get off at the correct station.Kymberly DeLoatche, Project Manager at The Arc of Northern Virginia says, “People with disabilities have been told most of their lives that they can’t; they can’t travel alone, or they can’t do a regular job.  But with TravelMate and EmployMate, they are proving that notion wrong.”

Initial results provide the proof of concept:  22 travel trainers reported on the nature and level of the travel training competence achieved by 104 of their clients.  With TravelMate, 96% of individuals decreased the need for assistance in using public transportation and could travel more independently than before TravelMate, and 43% of those individuals were able to travel completely independently using public transportation with TravelMate.

It’s this kind of success that support from the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia will allow The Arc of Northern Virginia to build and expand upon.  The Foundation’s support funds additional “Train the Trainer” courses that will ultimately result in 180 more individuals with ID/DD using the apps.

Ben is a young adult living here in Northern Virginia, and was one of the first to use TravelMate on his daily journey between home, school, and work.  The trip requires a Metro train ride and different bus segments each way.  A daunting task for anyone not used to the intricacies of public transportation, a trip like this alone for someone with I/DD would previously be thought impossible.  But Ben is a shining example of what IS possible.

ben 2TravelMate even reminds Ben to take his debit card with him, and instructs him how to reload his Metro card.Madie Pate, Ben’s personal care attendant stated, “Ben picked up TravelMate very easily.  He enjoys electronics, so I believe that being an application on his iPad is very helpful for him.”  Ben added, “I like using my iPad, because people around me are also using their iPhone or iPad.  I look just like everyone else on the train.”

Transportation is at the center of living/working as independently as possible. Most individuals with ID/DD cannot drive and must rely on public transportation. TravelMate provides a completely customized plan that supports their unique needs.  Once at work, EmployMate replaces the costly and often awkward presence of a human job coach, yet provides the same, repetitious prompts that the worker can follow independently.

Natalie Conca, of Lead Changes Therapy Services, is one of the trainers who have been trained to implement the curricula.  She praised the impact of the apps, saying “The curriculums, in a nutshell, mean to me as a therapist, functional independence for people of all ages.” 

Ben agreed, and he’s not stopping with just these first two curricula.  “Moving forward, I want to use the apps to do the other things I need to practice living independently, so I can practice having a good life, and becoming a good adult in the future.  Using my iPad can help me because these apps can be used for any purpose.”

Thanks to the support of The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia, we’re sure Ben - and countless others - will be given the supports they need to live “A Life Like Yours.”

Please consider a donation to the Community Investment Funds to help disconnected youth like Ben gain access to workforce development opportunities that make them successful contributors to our community.