UVic-based organization CanAssist has a growing reputation for excellence when it comes to providing assistance to people with disabilities. The group is notable not just for the quantity of cases in which it has provided services, but for the quality of those services, and the inventiveness of its customized devices and individually tailored solutions. In a tour event on Sept. 26, CanAssist Executive Director Robin Syme showcased several such technologies.
Comox Valley MLA and Social Development and Social Innovation Minister Don McRae was a prominent audience member and active participant. Also in attendance were representatives of Community Living B.C. (CLBC), including interim CEO Doug Woollard. CLBC is a provincial Crown agency that works to help adults with developmental problems, as well as being a staunch ally of CanAssist that provides significant financial and logistical support for their activities.
The latest special needs solutions provided by CanAssist can be broadly sorted into two main categories. The first consists of software, most often built from the ground up with tablets and other touch-based electronics in mind. Innovative and customizable methods of control are layered onto existing programs such as Skype or iTunes, providing large, easy-to-hit buttons and menus that are less abstract and more intuitive, such as a virtual CD player with images of discs that can be dragged onto it.
Perhaps the most impressive software presented was the aptly named CanPlan, an application for iPad and iPhone that can guide a person with a cognitive disability such as Alzheimer’s through their day. Once a schedule has been created, a clean and simple interface provides the user with step-by-step instructions for tasks such as brewing coffee, as well as a schedule of their entire day, presented to them one milestone at a time.
The second category includes a wide array of new versions or combinations of physical devices—technologies that already exist, but not quite in the right form to suit particular individuals. As an example, Kary, a client of CLBC, demonstrated the use of a custom Food Prep Station: a chopping board equipped with stabilizing prongs to hold vegetables in place underneath a large kitchen knife, the tip of which is anchored to the board by a metal loop. With McRae’s occasional assistance, Kary showed how the station allows a person with limited motor skills to chop food more easily.
Another prominent group of items in the second category is the Customized Tablet Mounts. Most are designed to attach to wheelchairs and are capable of alternating among a set of specific positions according to the user’s unique posture and range of movement. While they are deceptively basic in principle, in practice, a mount structure that fulfils this level of personal requirement is non-existent among regular commercially available products. The same goes for all of CanAssist’s devices, but especially for their custom designs, each one created solely because it was what one individual really needed.
The message here is clear: ultimately, in order to achieve an acceptable quality of life, certain individuals require technology that is tailored to them on a case-by-case basis, beyond the uniform commercial solutions. Those special solutions are CanAssist’s very admirable specialty.