Just a few months after CanAssist and WorkSafeBC joined forces, their partnership quickly began having a remarkable impact on the lives of several people who were seriously injured on the job.
Thanks to WorkSafe's vision and CanAssist's ability to create customized technologies, the goals of some very vulnerable clients are being met in ingenious new ways.
For instance, a Vancouver man who suffered a traumatic brain injury is now using specialized software so he can connect regularly with his family; another client received a device that holds a cellphone securely to his wheelchair for easy dialing; and still another is back working in his garden, able to mow his lawn for the first time in years.
"If you think only in terms of off-the-shelf technologies, you're really limiting yourself," says Doug Tolson, CanAssist's associate director.
"So when we meet with a client, we don't show them a bunch of ready-made technologies. Instead, we ask them, 'What do you want to be able to do? What are your goals?' Then we try to develop a customized technology that enables them to reach that goal."
Early in the partnership, nine clients were referred to CanAssist by WorkSafeBC's Special Care Services department. SCS focuses on the needs of those whose lives have been forever changed by a very serious workplace injury. SCS relies on the expertise of medical specialists, case managers, psychologists, social workers and community services to provide a holistic and highly individualized treatment approach for each client.
Fittingly, a big part of CanAssist's role lies in developing unique, customized technologies for people with disabilities. CanAssist, an organization at the University of Victoria, employs engineering staff, computer programmers and others to improve the quality of life of those with special needs.
By November 2010, six SCS clients had received a total of 14 CanAssist technologies. CanAssist is also in talks with Vocational Rehabilitation Services, another WorkSafeBC department, which helps injured workers return to their jobs.
"The spectrum of disabilities and the range of clients' needs that we're seeing are vast," says Tanya Switucka, CanAssist's client relations coordinator, who attends almost all the meetings with WorkSafe clients.
"The people we're working with range from a man who is a complete quadriplegic and requires a ventilator to breathe, to another person who is able-bodied but has severe memory and cognitive challenges."
The customized technologies that CanAssist provides to each client are likewise extremely varied.
An example of a relatively complex project involves the creation of an iPhone application designed to help a Langley man recall multi-step tasks he needs to complete both at home and in a new position at his workplace.
A more straightforward project required modifying a lawnmower so Michael Forrest, a client from Lake Cowichan, could once again take part in outdoor tasks.
"This is a huge day for Michael, an emotional day," said Michael's wife, Deborah. "Mowing the lawn may not seem like a big deal to most of us, however for Michael it means so much. Now he can just get out there like the other guys on his street and take care of his own front yard."
During its first year in partnership with WorkSafeBC, CanAssist aims to demonstrate just how beneficial customized technologies can be in improving clients' quality of life and helping them reach their goals.
"Not only does this view help the people who have been injured, but it also helps WorkSafeBC staff by giving them the ability to think more creatively about the tools they might be able to offer their clients."
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