The transition to virtual services that’s been forced upon disability service agencies by the pandemic hasn’t been smooth for many providers.
While some agencies have been successful — particularly in employment services, where participants already had the technology skills necessary to access services online — others we talk to have struggled to provide services remotely throughout the pandemic.
No matter which camp your agency falls into, the reality is that virtual services are here to stay. Many states have already adopted remote services — including California, Washington, and Missouri — and others are sure to follow.
In spite of the challenges, that’s good news for providers. Even as states reopen, virtual services will allow providers to give participants more choices about how they access services. Not only that, but delivering services remotely will cut down on transportation costs and allow DSPs to serve more individuals in a day because they’re not commuting between job sites. That’s especially true in rural areas, where DSPs might drive 45 minutes each way to see their clients. And, there are no more snow days — meaning agencies can provide services and get paid even on days when their physical locations might be closed.
It also means that, going forward, providers will need to prioritize teaching technology the same way they teach other skills. Here at SETWorks, we’re not just software providers — we’re tech experts. We’ve put together four steps you can share with your DSPs to help prepare individuals to access virtual services:
The first step is to figure out what access the individual has to technology. In order to participate in virtual services, the individual will need equipment such as a computer or mobile device. Do they have a working smartphone or iPad they can use? Or, will you need to figure out how to get them public access to a device that will run Zoom or other necessary applications?
In addition to equipment, the individual will need access to a reliable internet connection. This could be a broadband connection, WiFi, or cellular data. If the individual doesn’t have access to the internet at home, you’ll need to figure out how to get them connected. Most libraries offer free access to both computers and the internet, though they may need to sign up for a library card. If the individual has access to a device but no internet, then restaurants, coffee shops, parks, bus and train stations often offer free WiFi.
Of course, getting participants connected isn’t as simple as handing them a tablet. You may need to teach them that WiFi or data is a necessity in order to use the device. Some individuals will already be familiar with this from using tablets or devices for other activities, like watching videos or using Facebook. However, even those who use devices regularly may not realize that they need to be connected to the internet in order to use apps like FaceTime or Zoom.
Be sure they know how to connect, which may include turning on data, locating and entering a password, or plugging into a hardwired connection. They may also need to learn to confirm they’re connected by checking the WiFi or data icon on their device.
Once the individual is comfortable connecting to the internet, you’ll want to practice using the application used to deliver the service . If you’re unfamiliar with the participant’s device — for example, they use an Android but you’re used to an iPhone — be sure to practice the skills yourself first before teaching them.
You’ll need to show them which app will be used, how to locate the app, and how to open it. It may be helpful to move the desired app to the home screen. You’ll also want to show how to navigate the app screens and model gestures like scrolling, tapping, and swiping to answer a call.
Consider what tools might make the device more accessible, such as a tablet stand or headphones. In addition, you can help them take advantage of built-in accessibility features on the device, such as voice commands and screen size adjustments.
It can be challenging to teach tech skills remotely — so you’ll most likely have to practice during in-person sessions first, especially if you were unsuccessful in providing remote services throughout the height of the pandemic.
As with any new skill, individuals need opportunities to practice tech skills regularly. The more they practice, the more confident and independent they’ll be when it’s time to connect for a virtual session. Encourage participants to use technology whenever they can — not just for virtual services. Once the individual sees that using their device lets them chat with their friends or connect with their favorite aunt, they will be more likely to use it in their daily lives.
Which skills you should practice depends on the individual’s goals and comfort level with tech, but some ideas include:
By following these steps, you’ll be in a much better position to prepare your participants for virtual services — whether that’s another shutdown, a snow day, or just providing additional options for individuals to access services. We hope you found some useful information that you can share with your direct support staff. And, don’t forget to subscribe to SETWorks’ blog for more helpful tips and resources.
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