Another Piece of the Puzzle

How a small piece of technology can provide big peace of mind
Thursday, January 16, 2020 - 13:59
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Many people think nothing of going out in the community to run errands or engage in interests. For individuals with both seen and unseen disabilities or conditions (as well as their family members or caregivers), real worry or anxiety may exist preventing independent outings.

“What if something happens and I’m not there to help control the situation?” or “What happens if I have a seizure while I’m out—how will I get help?”

Questions like these are being answered by utilizing assistive technology devices that promote greater community access for people with disabilities by increasing their confidence and ability to utilize natural supports. It all comes down to dignity of risk.

Watch the video "At the Intersection of Independence and Safety"

The Story

Hammer Residences (Hammer) is no stranger to seeking out and utilizing assistive technology to not only assist the individuals they help support achieve their dreams as part of their person-centered approach to care, but also to assist their staff in daily activities and the organization as a whole.

Though beginning with pre-packaged technology solutions, Hammer found some of the larger all-encompassing technologies tended to be very expensive and difficult to maintain. By looking for any tool possible and creatively utilizing technology to work for the person and their unique goals, Hammer engaged in a “different mindset that was less about buying a big package of technology to help someone and more about saying, how do we take the tools that are out there and make them work for people we support,” said Sue Walker, Chief Program Officer of Hammer Residences.

Knowing how valuable supportive technology can be to an individual and to their independence, Hammer received a grant to hire a “person-centered technology person” to help them move to more individualized solutions, said John Estrem, Chief Executive Officer at Hammer. Enter Sean Henderson, Systems Analytics Manager. Sean’s original focus when hired seven years ago as the Person-Centered Technology Manager was seeking out devices and re-adapting them to solve specific needs, many in a different setting than the manufacturer had originally intended. Read about Sean’s adaptations of a Flic smart button to replace an outdated intercom system on the TRC.

“When I started my position as the person-centered technology manager, we really wanted to dive into how we could better utilize technological supports for the people in our services involving remote overnight supervision, as well as other technological supports as simple as iPad use or access to the internet or social media,” said Sean.

A core philosophy at Hammer has been to think creatively, and staff have been encouraged to bring ideas forward that they believe will help individuals live more independent lives. Expanding on their approach and dedication to helping individuals live as independently as possible, and to what Sean described as allowing them to “sit at the intersection of independence of safety”, the organization recently integrated a new application into its service offerings as a “no brainer” decision and opportunity to increase independence for people while alleviating the safety fears that come from families that may prevent greater community access.

The Vitals App™ (Vitals) is one community-based service/application available designed to help improve the interactions between law enforcement and first responders and individuals with disabilities.

While initially rolling out the application to a small subset of residents, strong family and advocate support has led to the program becoming an opt-out model for individuals living in the residential setting under Hammer’s support.


The Technology

About a decade ago, Hammer and the Plymouth Police Department began doing training sessions so the police could “learn a little more about Hammer, the residents, and how to make any possible future interactions more comfortable for all” following an incident “that left all parties feeling a little uncomfortable.” said John. Technologies are able to take interactions like these one step further and allow for a more individualized interaction and understanding, should a need arise.

The Vitals App™ was created to help reduce the risk of misunderstandings, and promote greater independence for users. Essentially, the application communicates with a beacon (a small Bluetooth device) which is carried by the person-served. When a police officer or first responder involved with the program comes within 80 feet of the beacon, they get a notification via their phone with the individuals pertinent information. Information includes a photo, caregiver information, communication preferences, and de-escalation techniques, among others.

By providing an enhancement of natural supports while someone is out in the community, technologies like these have the ability to facilitate communication and allow individuals to have their needs communicated clearly without the individual needing to relay their information personally, such as “I have anxiety when I'm approached by a stranger" or “I am non-verbal and will not respond if questioned or told an order.” Being able to communicate these pieces of information could be crucial to a person’s safety.


The Rollout and Data Privacy

Last spring, Hammer began rolling out the Vitals App™ program to a select group of people (35 individuals) whom they determined were best suited for the app—individuals in their apartment program who were seeking greater independence. As part of their rollout plan, Hammer hosted open houses with both Vitals staff and Hammer senior leadership so families, guardians, and individuals they help support could get all the information they needed prior to opting-in to the program—both from the source as well as the people that would be providing it to them. Topics covered included how the product works, how it could benefit individuals, and how personal information would be used and stored, among others.

When rolling out any new care solution involving personal information, data privacy is, of course, a concern. The application that Hammer is utilizing is HIPPA compliant and does not store any information on phones themselves, but on secure databases that only “feed” the information to the phones during an interaction based on proximity to the beacon device. Once the interaction is over the data is inaccessible from the device.

To make sure their practices concerning data were as airtight as possible, Hammer first got a business associate's agreement with Vitals to ensure that both organizations were covered from a liability standpoint. Hammer also created a consent form for the opt-in which explained to guardians and people they support what the technology does and what they planned to do with that information.

The information accessed via the application was provided by Hammer staff. Investing in a good electronic health record system has not only helped Hammer increase organizational efficiency by being able to view multiple points of data in one place, but also helped eliminate additional staff time hours in the rollout of the program. Because their electronic health record system was able to connect with the application and houses each individual’s care plan information already, Hammer was able to upload profiles en masse and manage the information in one system. Without such a system, each user profile would have needed to be set up individually to include their needs, support plan, and other critical information.



Hammer was able to successfully manage the rollout of its pilot program by starting small. By gathering information—going house by house or individual by individual—to understand what challenges there were going to be, they were able to put processes in place for the future. The application has proved to be a useful tool that facilitates effective communication between first responders, police, and community partners and is planned to be utilized by 75 or more individuals at Hammer Residences this year.

In looking to all available resources and hiring a dedicated team member to find (or augment!) technological supports, Hammer Residences is able to provide individuals with the care they need while creating opportunities for increased access and independence. By providing individuals the dignity of risk, they are able to help people achieve their goals while at the same time providing another layer of safety.

“Technology like the Vitals App™ provides a secure handoff from the safety that we can provide as their service provider to the community—those natural support entities that we weren't able to give direct information to on a case-by-case basis—instantly. Now we can facilitate that even when we're not there. Even if that person has alone time and needs help, we're still there; able to provide that safety just through the natural support of the community.”

Sean Henderson, Systems Analytics Manager | Hammer Residences


Watch the accompanying video "At the Intersection of Independence and Safety" on the TRC


More Case Studies

Hammer Residences, who is no stranger to sourcing and implementing technology solutions, has recently rolled-out a community-based/service application to provide an enhancement of natural supports while someone is out in the community. Check out the 3 minute video to learn more and be sure to keep a look out for the full roll-out story in an upcoming TRC Newsletter!

Though experiencing health issues that would ultimately require her to need more intensive care, including possible round-the-clock assistance, Angie wanted to maintain her independence and continue to live on her own without being reliant on a staff person constantly in her home.

As people served were expressing a stronger desire to be more independent, Dungarvin staff thought through scenarios on how to navigate both the independence desire and how they would provide services in the future. Technology was their answer.

The thinking is changing around what “accessible” can mean and the role technology can play.

An exploration of technology support options began when a group of men with developmental disabilities expressed their desires for increased privacy and independence.