In 2018 FitzRoy was lucky enough to be awarded Ian Karten Charitable Trust funding to buy 8 iPads and a Clevertouch screen to be used at our On Track day service for those with learning disabilities in Petersfield, Hampshire.
Each day, before the COVID-19 pandemic, these items were being used to support our members via a daily menu of activities, from playing games on iPads, through to watching sensory projections on the Clevertouch screen.
This equipment was already well used and well loved but by the time the COVID-19 pandemic struck little did we know how vital a role these items of assistive technology would play during the past year.
When On Track was lawfully required to close its doors in March 2020, our support workers set about doing all they practically could to help those who needed it. Their outreach programme included phone calls and as many doorstop ‘hellos’ as possible, but while the virus raged, most of our On Track staff were re-deployed to support the challenge of keeping our registered care homes for those with learning disabilities fully staffed.
However, as summer came, and our On Track staff resumed their usual roles, they began to think about how they could use the iPads and Clevertouch screen technology to bring the usual schedule of daily activities into the homes of those they support.
They were acutely aware that the absence of daily contact had taken its toll on our members’ mental health, who were telling us that they were feeling isolated, lonely, and depressed because everything they enjoyed had been taken away from them. Our On Track team were also concerned about the impact the sudden loss of support was having on the households and carers of those we help. These people were finding it particularly tough; they knew they had to stay at home and keep their loved ones safe, but they too were feeling alone, bereft, and exhausted, having dedicated all their time since March to caring, with little or no time for respite.
With in-person activities impossible, the team decided to embrace technology and find a virtual way to be with people in their own homes instead. As part of this they loaned Karten funded iPads to individuals who did not have access to a digital device and began using the Clevertouch screen to deliver online classes. These classes take place Monday to Friday, are 30 minutes long and happen six times a day. On Track has been running these virtual sessions since September and the response has been fantastic!
Each day our staff use the Clevertouch screen to beam themselves into the homes of around 30 people who have chosen to take part in an array of activities. The daily schedule of activities includes arts and crafts, Makaton, Zumba classes, Disco afternoons, and themed Fridays such as Toy Story day and Grease the Musical Day. The team have also been using a Karten funded iPad alongside the Clevertouch screen to create a breakout group for those who need extra help, and to get close-up images of any of the activities which they might be doing.
The most popular event so far has been the hugely enjoyable Pancake Day Zoom! In the run up to the occasion, our dedicated staff took each On Track member two pancakes and toppings such as chocolate spread, jam, sugar, and sprinkles, before everyone came together over Zoom for a pancake decorating competition and lots of enthusiastic pancake tossing!
The Karten funded technology has transformed the way On Track has been able to operate during the pandemic. Danielle Styles, On Track’s Activities Coordinator has said how ‘incredible’ the Clevertouch screen has been, saying ‘we wouldn’t have been able to deliver activities as well without it. Using a TV screen or laptop screen just wouldn’t have had the same effect’. This technology has also had many other benefits on our On Track community. Because of it our members have continued to engage with the service despite not attending in person. Friendships have been maintained with other service users and staff, members have been more active, and feelings of isolation and loneliness have reduced.
The mother of one of our members has been extremely thankful emailing to say the ‘Zoom sessions have been a really great resource, especially as they offer such a wide range of supported activities each week-day. The difference they have made to Mark’s life has been enormous.’ She like many of those we have spoken to have highlighted how essential these Zoom sessions have been to not only improving mental health and well-being during this time, but also for the respite it allows the carers of those we support.
Everyone in our On Track community is so grateful for the funding we have received from the Ian Karten Charitable Trust. Although our members are very keen to see each other in person and not on a screen, the Clevertouch screen and iPads have been, and will continue to be, an essential lifeline into the months and years ahead.
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