Updates on the Institute during the COVID-19 pandemic

Update: May 28, 2020

Institute Adapts during COVID-19 to Continue and Improve its Work for and with People with Disabilities

Beginning on March 17, the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, College of Education, began to conduct all work remotely, in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Our existing programs have adapted, and in response to needs, we introduced new programs and provided important resources.

Here are just some of the changes we have made to key programs at the Institute.

Leadership & Career Studies (LCS)

The Institute's Leadership & Career Studies (LCS) program is a four-year program for students with intellectual disabilities, providing them with an authentic college experience, including academic challenges, social interaction and career preparation.

Each student is partnered with a coach(s), matriculated Temple University students, to help guide them through each semester.

During the week of March 16, the LCS team worked to re-envision the activities of the program for all of its 20+ students, converting all activities to an online format. Each student needed confirmation of internet capacity and devices needed to attend classes, like every other Temple student. Once the "connections" were made, the online classes began.

Professors have been very supportive, according to Titania Boddie, LCS project manager; some have extended accommodations, even adding one-on-one calls to some students to ensure success.

The coaches are in frequent communication with students to work through assignments, troubleshoot technology and to just be social. To help with the social part, the LCS team has created an ever-growing list of interactive activities, games, etc. and made it available to students and coaches alike.

Titania said that she's received kudos from parents of students complimenting the smooth transition and the continued support that their student has received throughout. More about the LCS program

Assistive Technology Program

TechOWL is Pennsylvania's Assistive Technology program and with several diverse, unique programs, the TechOWL team had much work to do to adapt everything to the new environment.

The team may have been a bit more prepared than others because in early March, the state of Washington AT Act program was severely affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Using their lead, and adapting some of their practices, the TechOWL team began preparing how they would change its processes...at least temporarily. TechOWL is a statewide program, so right away, they researched the work situations of the eight Assistive Technology Resource Centers (ATRCs) across Pennsylvania.

Nearly all ATRC staff members began working remotely and some were even temporarily furloughed. So, in addition to being the ATRC for southeast PA and the coordinating entity for statewide AT work, the TechOWL team at the Institute has had to fill in gaps (virtually) for some of the ATRCs.

For the first couple of weeks, the device lending activity through the Assistive Technology Lending Library (ATLL) was suspended. The team worked to adapt a new service model to provide loans during the quarantine. Currently, training is being provided, as well as demonstrations using Zoom and other video platforms.

Questions about all of the TechOWL programs and services are being addressed via telephone and email. The number one request: tablets so people can communicate electronically during quarantine.

To address this need, a new program called Connect with Tech was launched. People with used iPads, tablets and Kindles are asked to donate them and they will be cleaned and forwarded to a person who needs them. TechOWL has adapted in other ways as well. For example, the reuse program continues to be run through crowdsourcing. In short, technology is getting into the hands of Pennsylvanians who need them.

Information is also getting to people who need it. Much of the face-to-face training and information dissemination that is an important part of the mission of TechOWL is being conducted via webinars. Webinar attendance has been impressive. Recently "AT and AAC in the Time of COVID-19" was attended by more than 430 people. More about TechOWL


Relatively new projects for the Institute, the Action Fund Census project and the Digital Literacy Alliance Census project are both focused on full census participation in Philadelphia. Originally, the plan for both projects relied on a bi-lingual, face-to-face explanation and in-person assistance to complete so residents across the city could complete the census form.

The quarantine made that plan obsolete, so the Institute has worked to produce online materials in both English and Spanish, disseminating key information, including frequently asked questions, explaining the importance of the census and clear, step-by-step instructions on how to complete the census form.

Leadership Development

Like many programs at the Institute, both Competence and Confidence: Partners in Policy Making (C2P2) and Families First are designed as in-person meetings and events, relying on face-to-face networking.

C2P2 meets for eight weekend-learning and networking events to better understand how to become an effective advocate for yourself and/or your family member. Families First helps lead people in Philadelphia through the city's early intervention system.

So how have these programs been adapted during a quarantine?

C2P2-EI had only one more class in the Winter 2020 schedule. That final meeting has been rescheduled for late summer. It's an important class, Cathy Roccia-Meier says, because it's the "graduation," so she did not want to conduct it virtually. The participants have been together for several weekends early in the year and the final class pulls everything together. More about C2P2-EI

C2P2 – Originally set to start in the spring, these dates have been pushed back to start in June. As with C2P2-EI, one of the important qualities of C2P2 is the networking and interaction among the attendees and the presenters, so a virtual program would not have the same impact. More about C2P2

Families First – As usual, the Families First spring calendar was filled with in-person trainings, including its keystone event, the annual brunch. So, Cathy had to turn on a dime and convert, all of these events, including the brunch, to a virtual format. She says it's not optimal, but it's a way to connect with the people in Philadelphia who need to know about the early intervention process. Cathy continues to provide information and assistance on this topic on the telephone and through email. More about Families First

College of Direct Support

The Institute has created a new COVID-19-specific module for the College of Direct supports (CDS). CDS is a nationally accredited, curriculum-based learning management system, created in collaboration with the University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration and DirectCourse.

The COVID-19: Helpful Resources module includes:

  • Hand Washing Procedures
  • Cleaning and Disinfecting
  • The Basics of Hygiene
  • Pandemics
  • Aspects of Infectious Diseases
  • Infection Control and Prevention
  • Signs and Symptoms of Illness

CDS is FREE for people with disabilities, family members and caregivers, person-directed services, administrative entities, support coordination organizations, and Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) staff. CDS has self-directed, engaging on-line lessons, accessible at any time. More about CDS

New Initiatives

In addition to adapting existing programs, the Institute has added several new projects and initiatives to address some pressing issues surrounding the COVID-19 quarantine and the associated impact it has had on people with disabilities, their families, and support and health professionals.

Connect With Tech - Collecting Used Tablets for Donation to Those Who Need Them TechOWL, the Institute's Assistive Technology program, launched a new initiative "Connect With Tech," responding to requests from Pennsylvanians with disabilities and their families. During this time of quarantine, many people with disabilities are unable to communicate with family, friends, doctors, etc.

Connect With Tech is collecting donated used tablets, iPads and Kindles. They clean them and ensure they are functioning. In the meantime, they are accepting applications for these devices from people with disabilities across Pennsylvania.

Kim Singleton, Director of Assistive Technology at the Institute says that she wants to help people handle the anxiety that is so prevalent right now. "Keeping in close contact with others, while still social distancing, is a key part of a coping strategy."

The devices will help people, some of whom are isolated and have been unable to communicate with family and friends. More about Connect With Tech

COVID-19 Focused Resource List The Institute has created and maintained a resource page focused on COVID-19. The list includes important information about activities for maintaining your well-being during this crisis and features topics and resources created by, and for, people with disabilities. More about the COVID-19 resource list

COVID-19 Vocabulary Board Early on during the quarantine, the TechOWL team worked to create a core vocabulary board with icons added in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Vocabulary boards are generally used by people who are unable to communicate in a traditional manner. The board can be used to communicate health issues, food needs, fears and wants. It is available for download online, and a limited number of printed and laminated ones are available. More about the COVID-19 vocabulary board

Story Collecting - Media Arts and Culture The Institute's Media Arts & Culture (MAC) program was awarded a short-term grant by the Independence Public Media Foundation. Lisa Sonnenborn, Director of MAC, will spearhead the collection of stories about living with disability in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

The Institute will assemble a cohort of community partners who can elicit stories from people who represent the intersectionality of the disability community. The stories will live on the Institute's website and excerpts will be shared on social media. Independence Public Media will also share the stories with media outlets across the region in an effort to increase awareness and support advocacy efforts.

Story Collecting - Person Directed Services (PDS) The goal of this project is to collect stories about using PD—how users feel about it; success stories, challenges, etc. PDS users can complete a form on the Institute website or they can send a video. Stories, photos and videos are on the Institute website and actively shared. More about PDS stories

Story Collecting - Public Kiosk Dissemination The Institute is partnering with Short Edition to collect stories from people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. During this time of social distancing, the strategy of the story collection had to change. Writing professionals will work with people with disabilities to compose narratives, poems and even drawings. The stories will be added to, and dispensed by, a story kiosk in center city Philadelphia. The story kiosk has been adapted to accommodate touchless interaction and will be moved throughout the city in the coming months.

Accessible Reading Series Kathryn Helland, AAC Services Coordinator with TechOWL, has started the Speak for Yourself AAC – Accessible Book Reading Series. Fun AND inclusive. More about the accessible reading series.

Salute Your Supports #SaluteYourSupports is a social media campaign that provides an opportunity for people with disabilities to recognize their support professionals who continue to be active partners, even through a quarantine. These Support Service Professionals, Direct Support Professionals and Personal Care Attendants work to ensure that people with disabilities successfully accomplish the tasks of daily life.

Update: March 26, 2020

New Resource - COVID-19 Information

We have compiled a list of websites and other resources relating to COVID-19, for people with disabilities and others in Pennsylvania and beyond. We encourage you to keep up-to-date by following reliable information sources.
COVID-19 Resources

March 18, 2020

As all of you are well aware, the COVID-19 virus is rapidly changing the way we all interact and support one another, and the way we do our work.

In compliance with directives from the Governor of Pennsylvania and the President of Temple University, the offices of the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, College of Education will be closed at least through the end of March.

Though our physical offices are closed, our work will continue – but it will be done remotely. We will all be taking full advantage of the communications options available. We thank you in advance for your patience during this transition.

We encourage you to embrace the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding social distancing, improved hygiene, and other measures to reduce your exposure to the virus. The CDC also will have the latest information about the virus and on what to expect.

Other sites for key information in the upcoming weeks:

At the Institute, some changes have been made regarding our events and services for the upcoming weeks/months:

As we all know, this is a very fluid situation and we do not know how long this will last. Please keep in touch. Please continue to follow us on social media and please feel free to email us – iod@temple.edu.

We wish you and your loved ones good health and we will see you soon!

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