By ARDEN BASTIA Thanks to $900,000 in funding from the CARES Act, the Ocean State Center for Independent Living (OSCIL) has launched a home access program, allowing those with disabilities to live more independently through adaptive and accessibly
Thanks to $900,000 in funding from the CARES Act, the Ocean State Center for Independent Living (OSCIL) has launched a home access program, allowing those with disabilities to live more independently through adaptive and accessibly technology.
During the organization’s 33rd annual meeting, held Tuesday in their new Airport Plaza location, OSCIL leadership gathered with stakeholders and consumers to share how the organization helped over 560 individuals last year.
Mireille Sayaf, executive director of OSCIL, shared that the organization received about $900,000 in CARES Act funding, which allowed them to be able to launch new programs, like providing grocery store gift cards, COVID relief bags, and investing in adaptive technology to assist consumers.
Sayaf was elected executive director this year, after serving as finance director for the organization for the last 27 years.
Sayaf explained the organization rented the space, called OSCIL West, at 1800 Post Road, next to Chipotle, so they had “extra space for COVID activities, food drives, and a location to display adaptive technology available for consumers.”
OSCIL West is the organization’s third location in the state, the first at 1944 Warwick Ave and the second at 175 Main Street in Pawtucket.
“The center is all about giving a person with a disability the resources to overcome barriers and be independent,” said Corrine O’Donnell, the independent living program director, during Tuesday’s meeting. “Every time you see how a consumer is being touched by the things we do or anything we help them with is a feel-good moment for sure.”
Vinny, an OSCIL consumer who attended the meeting, says the organization has given him a “life of independence.” Vinny, who did not share his last name, is visually impaired and wheelchair bound. OSCIL has provided him with assistive technology and ADA compliant home modifications to help Vinny live on his own.
In working with OSCIL, Vinny says he’s “learned lots, like how to advocate for [himself] and others, and problem solving skills.”
A big resource for Vinny has been the OSCIL food drives, a service he says has helped him continue to live and work on his own.
The organization has held two drives so far this year, one in January and one in June.
OSCIL staff worked to pack up more than 600 boxes of food for the January food drive, in which over 100 consumers were served, according to O’Donnell. In a partnership with Dave’s Marketplace, the center was able to provide gift cards to the grocery store as well.
The June food drive served over 200 people, each receiving a $400 Stop and Shop gift card in addition to personal protective equipment like masks and gloves.
“Let me tell you, for folks who could not get out of their home, could not get here, maybe they were bed-bound or still afraid to go out, we delivering everything that we said we were giving out,” shared O’Donnell.
Throughout the pandemic, OSCIL delivered grocery store gift cards to 149 consumers.
Another project that the organization launched with CARES funding was assembling COVID relief bags.
The drawstring backpacks were filled with masks, hand sanitizers, wipes, toilet paper, and gloves. Consumers that picked up food from OSCIL food drives or received other services throughout the pandemic also received a relief bag.
“Our staff got on the phone, and literally called hundreds of past and present consumers to ask what do you need? Are you having any food insecurities? Are you having any health access issues? Are you having any technology issues?” said O’Donnell.
O’Donnell shared the story of another OSCIL consumer, Mark, no last name shared. Mark is a 67-year-old who suffered a spinal cord injury in his 30s. “He relies on assistance everyday for bathing, dressing, meal prep, at his bedside, positioning, and range of motion exercises. He’s totally dependent for all of his care,” O’Donnell said.
Through OSCIL, Mark was able to receive a bedside table, among other household items like a magnifier with a light, large highlighters and markers that are easy to use with limited dexterity, and an air conditioning unit powered by a remote.
“He tells us that without us, he would not be able to feel so independent. And with our assistance, he can comfortably spend time carrying out the daily tasks that he enjoys,” she said.
Leslie Tracy, the interim program manager for the home access program at OSCIL, says that the CARES funding has allowed the organization to invest in adaptive technology to make the lives of their consumers easier.
“During the pandemic, the home access team was faced with the struggled of adjusting to working remotely with limited access to our consumers,” she shared on Tuesday.
But despite the challenges, Tracy and her team were able to provide home modification services for 262 consumers, assistive technology services for 125 consumers, low or no cost hearing aids for 51 consumers through a partnership with the University of Rhode Island, and Medicaid assessments for 64 consumers.
“Our technology program with the CARES funding allows consumers to obtain the technology and training they needed during the pandemic to connect with doctors, remotely order food for delivery, and stay in contact with family and friends,” she said, adding that the technology received includes tablets, laptops, iPads, and cell phones.
Tracy also pointed out the technology on display at the OSCIL center, including a MagniLink One, which is a foldable, user-friendly video magnifier that can help consumers read books, pay bills, and more, and Liftware, eating utensils designed to counteract tremors.
Tracy says the pandemic highlighted “a big need” for adaptive technology.
“We developed the technology program, where even if someone already had a tablet but maybe didn’t know how to use Zoom, we could provide the training on how to do that,” she said. “And in the instance where they didn’t have the actual tools, we could actually purchase the technology for them and train them on how to do it.”
Tracy said that consumers were “teary or even a little bit overwhelmed” when faced with technology they didn’t understand, but Tracy and her team worked with consumers, sometimes several times, to achieve more comfort and confidence.
She said the next plan for the home access team is looking into incorporating more smart home devices.
“It’s definitely something we want to move forward with, trying out automatic door locks or Alexa devices so those who have mobility problems or are visually impaired can find out the news or the weather,” she said.
Currently, Tracy and her team are working on outreach programming to spread the word about home access services. She’s already seen a rise in demand for smart home technology, and expects it to keep growing.
Tracy shared the story of Barbara, another OSCIL consumer. Barbara, no last name shared, is an 87-year-old woman who lives alone, but is experiencing rapidly declining vision due to glaucoma.
“Her goals were to stay in her own home, but wanted to make her daily tasks easier, such as filling her K-Cups for her coffee every morning, reading her mail, looking at pictures, and reading her blood pressure cuff monitor,” she said. “Another goal she has was to be able to make phone calls to her doctors and family or in the case of an emergency, but she couldn’t see the numbers on her phone.”
Thanks to the OSCIL home access team and the technology programs, Barbara received a video magnifier, bump dots, a talking scale, a talking meat thermometer, a liquid level indicator, a talking blood pressure cuff, and a large print deck of cards. A tech coach worked with Barbara to set up her iPhone with Siri, voice commands, and accessible apps so that she can stay in touch, all while being more independent.
To learn more about the services provided by OSCIL, visit www.oscil.org, call (401) 738-1013, or email email@example.com.