Thunderbird Charities provide Gompers with a decade of support

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TBCharities-4CThunderbird Charities is a cornerstone of support throughout greater Phoenix communities. Contributing to many deserving organizations they truly make a difference in the lives of children and families across the valley.


We are blessed to be the recipient of their support for nearly a decade. Over the last ten years, Thunderbird Charitiesteacher working with student
had given nearly $212K to Gompers in an effort to support the empowerment of individuals with disabilities. Their impact on the lives of our students and members has been significant. From funding our sensory room, where students and members have the opportunity actively engage in learning techniques that regulate their behaviors by stimulating their nervous system, to resurfacing our indoor basketball court where our “Special Olympians” learn about the importance of physical fitness, competition and teamwork, Thunderbird Charities has been on the forefront of ensuring that these integral opportunities remain in forward motion.  In addition, their contribution to the building of the infrastructure of our assistive technology program has given our students and members an opportunity to perform tasks that were once beyond their scope of reality.


Thunderbirds Charities m003ost recent generous contribution to our K-12 special education school funded improvements in equipment, teaching materials, innovative curriculum and training to ensure our students will receive individualized and innovative support through a structured educational environment. Students are maximizing their abilities and developing important  life skills leading to their successful transition to adulthood.


For many, the Thunderbirds have helped turn dreams into reality. Here at Gompers, we provide a space that emphasizes growth and development, that values each person’s abilities, and that guides individuals to reach their true potential, treating all who come through our doors with the dignity and respect they deserve. We are so grateful to Thunderbird Charities for supporting us in these endeavors.

Need assistive technology just DIY!


When you care about someone with a disability, you soon learn the things we often take for granted are not as simple as they seem. We really get that at Gompers because the people we serve through our programs and services are very important to us.

IMG_3858Every day our staff works with our students and members to find simple, inexpensive solutions to overcome barriers and solve physical challenges. Increasing independence for the individuals we serve is deeply rewarding to everyone at Gompers. In fact, it has become a passion.
On Friday, October, 23rd, the “Macgyvette” of Assistive Technology (AT), Therese Wilkomm, showed us a how to create a myriad of items using common materials in five minutes or less. She demonstrated this as she was eating lunch with one of our members, Mattie Matlock who relies on someone to hold his soda can for him to have a drink.  Therese immediately provided a solution to give this young man the ability to drink his soda independently! She clamped down a quick release grip on the table, and faceted a holder out of Velcro, rug gripper tape and lock line and behold, a drink holder for Mattie!

With a huge smile on his face, Mattie added, “The whole workshop was very interesting.”

Therese has a unique view on how she approaches assistive technology. During her workshop, she expressed how solutions should cost less than $5 and take five minutes or less to create. We live in a fast-paced world and individuals who need and should have access to everyday items like Mattie’s soda, need quick remedies instead of lengthy discussions and weeks of trial and error using a fancy product that may not work in the long run.

IMG_3906In attendance at the DIY AT Solutions in Minutes Workshop were teachers from our school, staff from our Day Training for Adults (DTA) and Employment Services programs, professionals from outside agencies and of course our Gompers DTA members. Everyone was able to take away a new perspective with ideas to apply to their lives and work. One Gompers member in attendance, Drew Bolender, is using one of the tasks we created to make an adaptable silverware holder for his girlfriend who has Cerebral Palsy.

“The workshop was great! The tasks were cool!” exclaims Drew.

Making assistive technology solutions in minutes really embraces the quote by Benjamin Franklin “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

“It was such an honor to finally come to Gompers and to involve everyone in creating assistive technology solutions through hands-on learning and making assistive technology solutions,” Therese Willkomm concluded at the end of the day.

Our team is geared up now and rethinking everyday items one would have never considered helpful before, because we now know that we can use them in unique ways to improve the independence of people important to us – our students and members.

Leading our AT program

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Mrs. Candice M. Steel, B.S. SLP-L, AT Specialist

Gompers Assistive Technology Specialist Candice SteelRecently, Candice Steel joined our team as Gompers AT Specialist and her experience is greatly benefiting our students, members and staff. Assistive technology includes items, piece of equipment or products that are used to increase, maintain or improve the capabilities of an individual with disabilities.

Mrs. Steel received her Bachelor of Science in Speech/Hearing Sciences from Arizona State University in 2003. She began her studies in Music and Speech/Hearing Sciences at The University of Arizona and has taken graduate level course work through Northern Arizona University’s Interdisciplinary Program for Assistive Technology.

Mrs. Steel brings 11 years of experience in Speech-Language Pathology plus four years of field work with mild to severe/profound developmental disabilities in private, charter and public schools. Her expertise has afforded Mrs. Steel opportunities to collaborate on developing and implementing inclusive service delivery models focusing on the importance of life skills curriculum for K-8 self-contained students. Mrs. Steel has received training in various aspects of assistive technology, speech/language techniques, behavior analysis/management and leadership. Assistive Technology has been an integral part of her approach to learning and using functional communication since the start of her career; “it’s the key that unlocks the smallest of possibilities for someone.”

Mrs. Steel is married, has a son, two dogs, a cat and a fish.  She enjoys getting outdoors, nutrition and spending time with family and friends.

Visit our Website to learn more about how AT is benefiting students in our school program, or members in our Day Training program.

Assistive technology locks in life lessons


By Dory Chamas

Gompers Board Member Billie Enz examines the AT classroom car seat designed by teacher Dory Chamas.

Gompers Board Member Billie Enz examines the AT classroom car seat designed by Mrs. Chamas.

In my classroom, assistive technology turns doing into learning.

It has been exciting to see assistive technology, or AT, make its way through Gompers and truly create changes in people’s lives. Some of the AT items are high-tech — like the augmentative communication devices that give a voice to those without speech, or iPads with access to a variety of educational apps.

There also are AT devices that staff at Gompers have conceptualized and made themselves, like the car seat/seatbelt setup and other gadgets now being used in my classroom.

Danica practices tying shoelaces.

Danica practices tying shoelaces.

The idea for an AT seatbelt device came to mind because my class had been going on field trips regularly, and none of my students knew how to fasten their seatbelts. Because society is in a hurry all the time, sometimes it’s easier for someone to say, “Here, let me help you” — but that isn’t always the best answer.

I went to our Facilities Director, Steve Tolle, and told him what I had in mind. Using part of a discarded chair, a sturdy wooden base with locking wheels, a seatbelt and a metal post, Steve got to work. The finished product sits at the same height as a regular car or van seat. The seatbelt is linked to the post (slightly behind and above a passenger’s left shoulder) and to the box — much as the double straps on a car seatbelt are positioned — and my students can take turns sitting down, drawing the strap across their laps and clicking the latch into place.

Nate can show anyone how to zip!

Nate knows how to zip!

Being able to practice in class without the imminent excitement of a trip allows the students to take their time and really focus on what they’re learning.

AT doesn’t stop at the seatbelt, because there are other everyday tasks my students need to master. Through the use of other AT aids designed in my classroom and the repurposing of items originally intended for other uses, students are learning to fold shirts, tie their shoes and operate zippers.

Not everyone works at the same level, and that is okay. Each of my students has room to grow, and all of them are capable of learning and proud of what they can do.


Dory Chamas, who earned her master’s degree in special education from Arizona State University, teaches our high-school classroom at Gompers Private School.


Assistive technology adds up to better understanding


By Niraj Parikh

In Gompers’ Assistive Technology Lab, the phrase “team teaching” takes on a bit of a different meaning than it does in a traditional classroom.

Today, Jeffrey Schultz — a volunteer in Gompers’ Assistive Technology Lab and a student at ASU — is working with DTA member Cody in building his math skills. The two are using Khan Academy, a free online program open to anyone wishing to work on various skill sets at his or her individual pace.

cory 2Khan Academy flips the traditional educational model upside down. It provides theoretical knowledge and encourages students to do their work alongside a teacher so, if they get it wrong, the teacher is right there to explain and pupils can better understand how to determine the correct answer.

The math exercise Cody and Jeffrey are using today is not simply numbers on paper. The online instructor “draws” on the computer screen and illustrates a problem using coins, pieces of fruit or other tangible items to help the learner reach the correct answer. This is “assistive” technology in the sense that it is providing an alternate way of looking at a problem. Seated nearby, Jeffrey is able to reiterate the lesson using a pad of paper and written numbers so Cody is better able to understand the correlation.

In the AT Lab, Cody likes having the dual approach with the Khan Academy program and Jeffrey nearby to assist. “I think it’s a good way to learn,” he says.

For more information about this free program, go to

Niraj Parikh is the Assistive Technology Specialist at Gompers.

Assistive Technology conference set for Feb. 3

By Niraj Parikh       

As I work alongside members and staff, integrating assistive technology (AT) into the culture at Gompers, I have noticed many positive changes.

Students in our school who were basically nonverbal now talk, sometimes in full sentences. A handful of individuals in our Employment Services center whose physical abilities provided a barrier to performing simple tasks now are able to work. And a couple of members in our Day Training for Adults program with limited to no manual dexterity now are finding it possible to loom and to paint, respectively.

lift chair photoAll of this was made possible through assistive technology, whether we’re talking about SMART Boards and iPad apps or lower-tech devices developed by staff.

Everyone here is excited about the positive differences AT has made — so much so, in fact, that Gompers is hosting an assistive technology conference in the near future.

“Developmental Disabilities and AT: Learning Workshops” is set for 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, at Gompers. Dr. Larry Latham, assistant director of Arizona’s Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), will be our keynote speaker at the event. We also will have breakout sessions and a selection of vendors who will bring AT products that event attendees can see and try out to understand how they work.kelly looms As we move forward with assistive technology at Gompers, we have learned the focus on AT can be increased with clients who have developmental disabilities in Arizona.  That is a large part of the reason we are hosting this conference. We want to engage individuals who work on a daily basis with people who have mild to severe developmental disabilities.

We will be limited to 50 attendees, so we want to be sure we are reaching DDD case managers, supervisors, support coordinators and any others working in the trenches to benefit individuals with disabilities. It’s important for these people to have an education in what AT is so they can advocate at the state level to benefit the people they are entrusted with serving.

In many ways, Arizona is a great state for those we serve. Through the Arizona Long Term Care System, or ALTCS, individuals with disabilities are covered to receive services provided through the state.  Many other states do not offer similar benefits. However, because federal mandates provide a narrow definition of what assistive technology is, augmentative communication devices are one of the few AT items funded. AT can be something as simple — and as essential — as a weighted spoon to decrease tremors. Right now, that spoon is not funded through DDD. With greater understanding and sharing of knowledge, we hope to effect a systematic change that defines AT in much broader brushstrokes, so that more people are able to achieve greater independence in their lives.

The bottom line is simple: We want to educate providers and advocate for our members in a better way. We also want representatives from other agencies like Gompers to come to the conference, so  they can see what we’ve learned about AT and how we’ve improved our services as a result.

If you are someone working with a person who has developmental disabilities, this conference is where you need to be. We want all of the aces of DDD to be under one roof. For more information, please call me, Niraj Parikh, at 602-336-0061, ext. 152, or email

Niraj Parikh is Gompers’ assistive technology specialist and coordinator of the upcoming AT conference.

Assistive technology adds up to success

By David Flagg
Lead DTA Staff Member

andrew pizza 1How hard is it to make math more fun and interactive? Well, it can be as easy as pie — a pizza pie, that is.

Andrew is one of the members served by Gompers’ Day Training for Adults program. We have been doing much more with assistive technology (or AT) in all of our program rooms as we try to find high- and low-tech ways to encourage greater independence for our members as they accomplish everyday tasks, so recently DTA Room Supervisor Joseph Nofsinger and I sat down with Assistive Technology Specialist Niraj Parikh to do an AT assessment for Andrew.

andrew pizza 2In the past, getting Andrew through his math exercises has been a challenge — so the goal was to figure out how we could get Andrew to be independently motivated to complete a page of math problems. Niraj, Joseph and I brainstormed on what Andrew likes to do on a day-to-day basis and, as we talked and compared notes, we realized he loves to do puzzles and also loves pizza. Why not combine the two and see if we can come up with an answer that works for him?

Using some simple colored paper, lamination and Velcro dots, we created a couple of different interactive “pizzas” for Andrew to use while working his math problems. One of the pies was divided into six detachable slices with removable pepperonis, while the second was a whole pie with removable pepperonis and onion slices (for a little variety in counting).

andrew pizza 3“There’s more to this AT solution than providing a new puzzle for Andrew,” Nofsinger pointed out. “We are trying to transition him to Gompers Employment Services, where he will be able to earn a paycheck. If he takes on a job where he needs to put 10 spoons in a package, for example, he is going to need to have counting skills. This pizza is one more tool that gets him one step closer to increased independence.”

While Andrew still works best with a bit of guidance while working his math sheet, he does it willingly and is able to do the counting — simply by removing or reattaching pieces of the pizza — and come up with the answers on his own. Math seems to have become much more enjoyable for him with this new way to process the task.