"It Gives Me Something to Look Forward to": How Virtual Services Change the Game During COVID-19

By Sara Porcaro | Jan 21, 2021
Virtual Services, Zoom, Online, Safety, COVID-19, Disabilities, Rhode Island
Milton using his tablet

The air is as cold as any other January, turning the tips of our ears red and biting at the skin of our hands and face. But if that didn't make it easy enough to want to stay inside, huddled up in blankets with warm cups of tea and hot chocolate, the continuing pandemic has made staying inside not only the preferred course of action, but the recommended one. In fact, many typical services offered this time last year, like in-person Adult Day Services, remain closed or limited for the time being--and that means hunkering down for another chilly season of social distancing.
However, in this digital age, there's been plenty of hope and positive change. Perspectives' professionals have banded together to find ways to keep individuals engaged, inspired, and most importantly, having a blast with their friends, all through virtual day services. From one-on-one lessons on mathematics and reading, practice with measuring and other kitchen skills safe to do over Zoom to group activities and crafts that individuals can follow along with at home, the virtual Adult Day Services have been a great success. And it's not only because of the continuation of quality experiences led by talented professionals; it's also because of the opportunities for more social interaction, within and without typical service hours, that are helping individuals stay connected and emotionally supported during the pandemic.
"These services are helping individuals continue to achieve their goals in their daily living skills and other goals," says Director of Non-24 Hour Services Mary Lyons, "but beyond that, it's also helping individuals not feel so disconnected and lonely while social distancing. That face-to-face piece of these virtual services is hugely valuable."
One individual partaking in virtual services, Lydia, agrees, as she enjoys reading together with support professionals and working on her math and money skills. "I think it's a really good way to receive services in a safe way that makes me comfortable and lowers my stress," she says. "It means a lot to me because COVID-19 scares me and [DSPs] are able to spend time with me in a safe and fun way."

Navigating the Way Forward Together

Since April, the team has been working with individuals over Zoom and constantly thinking of ways to improve their never-before-seen virtual service model. The nature of the pandemic, with the sudden shelter-in-place and complete halt of in-person services, meant there was no time to lose; Perspectives' ADS professionals, like Field Supervisor Jennifer Drake and Program Manager Matt Marco, along with other Direct Support Professionals and leadership, quickly developed new activities while also problem-solving any technical or other issues as they came about. Most importantly, professionals have made their best efforts to simply be there for individuals--and that alone has been a huge comfort.
"Some people just need a place to vent about the pandemic," says Program Manager Matt Marco. "Some people want someone to act as a game show host, or a place to talk about whatever's bothering them. Whatever they need, I'll be that guy; it's great to be able to provide these services flexibly and safely."
"Whatever they need, I'll be that guy; it's great to be able to provide these services flexibly and safely."
Mary adds, "We've never had options like this in Adult Day Services before, and I'm impressed with how our professionals have been able to make these services a success together, especially with how quick it had to be launched."
By taking the time to truly get to know individuals, creating questionnaires to see what kinds of activities individuals prefer and what they're hoping to accomplish through these virtual services, individuals have not only been having a great time having fun and learning together; they've also been increasing their confidence. Their Zoom sessions are events they look forward to, and group sessions, which are available to anyone simply looking for a fun activity to enjoy with others, are a great chance to socialize and brighten their spirits. Considering the epidemic of loneliness, only exacerbated by this pandemic and leading to a 66% increase in anxiety among adults, these services have helped reduce the toll of isolation on individuals who are staying safe at home with their families--and their loved ones have taken notice.

Bringing Positivity and Community Into Individuals' Homes

"One mother of an individual we support had a lot of praise for [virtual day services]," says Field Supervisor Jennifer Drake. "Her daughter was isolating pretty heavily in her room before they started, but now, thanks to how everyone communicates with her over Zoom, she's been coming out and opening up to others; this is something eventful in her week."
Cindy, an individual that has especially been enjoying learning Spanish and spending time with others via virtual day services, says, "These activities make the time go by faster. They give me something to look forward to and a way to socialize; I enjoy all the activities I'm doing right now!"
With such a positive experience to look forward to in their schedules, this has become a viable alternative to in-person services. Given that as the pandemic continues to develop in often unpredictable ways, individuals often choose to stay home regardless of what restrictions on daily living are lifted or re-imposed per health guidelines, and these virtual offerings allow them the freedom and opportunity to continue building relationships, knowledge, and more. And even for issues that once interrupted traditional day services for individuals in the past--such as bad weather or the occasional cold that they don't want to spread to others--the virtual alternative makes it possible to continue the fun. Beyond that, sometimes individuals living on their own simply need someone to talk to at the end of the day, and through Zoom, they can access professional support at times outside traditional services.
"It makes it a lot easier to support someone because anyone, at any time, can hop on the computer and be with that individual," says Matt. "I don't have to think about who's available in Providence or Westerly; anyone can be 'in the house' with someone without actually being in the house, and that can help build that sense of community.
For that reason, the team is looking forward to keeping virtual services going after the pandemic ends. As we dive further into the new year, with our eyes set towards a new--and improved--future, it's important to consider not just a return to our normal lives, but how all the tools and tricks we picked up along the way can continue to benefit us. For the professionals in Perspectives' Adult Day Services, that means always looking to improve the new services they've built together, and always keeping an eye out for ways to make all services more accessible, inclusive, and engaging as time goes on. We're impressed with the effort and hard work everyone has put in to continue providing quality services, and we wish them the best as they continue onward!


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