Spring 2015 Newsletter

Equine therapy offers tangible benefits

By Dory Chamas

On horseback, Fernando becomes taller — in more ways than one.

horse 2I have started taking students to equine therapy because I believe it is really valuable for students who have disabilities. The class has been visiting Arizona Horseriding Adventures™ in Waddell over the past couple of months.

During each visit the instructor and ranch owner, Anita Norton, works in one-on-one sessions with three students. Before they begin, each student must be wearing his or her name badge. The students literally start from the horse 3ground up — first working on getting to know the horse by brushing it, feeding it and cleaning its hooves. They also get to play with the horse and get to know him or her. Once Anita believes a student is ready, it’s time to ride.

One of the activities our students do from horseback is a ring toss, where the student on the horse throws a ring to try to land it on a post, and the students on the ground retrieve the ring. Fernando really responded. Nate, while riding his horse, started to verbalize.

horse 4“Every nonverbal child that I’ve ever had here has started speaking after working with the horses,” Ms. Norton told me. “It’s one word at a time, but they keep building on it until they become Chatty Cathys.

“He has it; it’s inside,” she said of Nate after a recent session. “He know the words. It’s being encouraged, being asked, being expected. You will notice as we’re going that I am asking, I am encouraging and I’m expecting.”

As his teacher, I truly feel that Nate will start saying words soon. This is not just a hobby or activity; it’s much more than that. It’s so beneficial for my students, and I’m so grateful we have this learning opportunity.

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


Walmart tour opens members’ minds to job opportunities

By Mark DeAngelis

Preparing for employment is like getting ready for a marathon. You need to understand what’s expected of you physically and be skilled in doing it — whether it’s shrink-wrapping, lifting, placing documents in a scanner or perhaps typing — but you also need to have a clear mental picture of what a job entails so you are sure it’s the right fit for you.

group at walmart jan 2015 1

Part of getting our members in the right mindset for employment is showing them all of the different opportunities available in our community, and one of those is of course Walmart, one of our nation’s largest retailers.

Recently we visited the Walmart at 35th Avenue and Bethany Home Road with Gompers members Carolynn, Christine, Mary, Philip and Vanessa in attendance. Store representative Zaide took us around from department to department, explaining what happens in each one.  We got to meet other staff and everyone was able to taste freshly made tortillas in the Deli area.

mary at walmart jan 2015 2Mary was having a hard time walking around, so I asked Zaide if there was a battery-operated cart available for her. Zaide really went out of her way to get one for her, and that really made Mary’s day. In explaining the different areas of the store and the roles employees play in each one, Zaide was so helpful. She said we can come back any time and I explained to her that I was rotating clients so we would like to do that. Zaide has been a real positive representative for Walmart, as she volunteered to take our first group on a tour at the last minute several months ago when the Walmart rep who had scheduled the tour was not available. She also gave us a dozen cupcakes to take with us when we left.

Our members learned a lot at Walmart during their tour. Mary walked away understanding more about the process for making flour tortillas, and also about the variety of flowers and fertilizers in the Garden Department. “I thought the employees at Walmart are friendly and outgoing; they explained things simply so everyone can understand,” she added.

“I learned how much food they carry in their deli!” Carolynn exclaimed.

And, speaking of food, an unexpected bonus came in the form of an anonymous gentlemen shopping that day. He had asked Zaide about our group and, when he learned our purpose for being there, he donated $40 for the group to have lunch at McDonald’s. It was a perfect ending to an informative tour.

Mark DeAngelis is an Employment Services Supervisor who presently oversees safety and behavioral issues for approximately 40 members at Gompers Employment Services. DeAngelis has a master’s degree in special education with an emphasis in visual impairment (certification) in the State of Arizona.

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 khanacademy.org.

Niraj Parikh is the Assistive Technology Specialist at Gompers.

Neighborhood project builds understanding

By Roger Cardillo

Sometimes, looking at something from a different angle makes it easier to understand.

With that thought in mind, my students and I are becoming builders together and we are assembling a scale model of the local community. neighborhood 1Using paper, paint, cardboard and popsicle sticks, we’re going to create a bird’s-eye view of our little corner of the world.

This is not simply an art project; it is a way of getting our class to look at the city with fresh comprehension and a new set of questions: How do city streets work? If I want to get to Circle K, what’s the best way to get there? What route gets me to school every day?

During our “build,” we will be discussing awareness of our environment and talking about how cities are planned, the difference between houses and commercial buildings and the different ways we can get from Point A to Point B.

Gompers’ Director of Education, Mitch Henderson, definitely sees the value in this particular lesson.

neighborhood 6“Students better understand relative location by being able to identify specific places in relationship to where they go to school or nearby places with which they’re familiar,” Mr. Henderson notes. “Students with increased abilities will use the scale model to create turn-by-turn directions and calculate distances. This hands-on lesson creates a more meaningful learning experience for the students which they will be able to apply on their next community outing.”

One boy in my class, Abel, really seems to enjoy the time we are spending building this miniature community.

“It’s fun,” he says. “I like to count the houses.”

By the time we’re done, there will be plenty of houses and buildings to count!

Roger Cardillo earned his master’s degree in special education from the University of Phoenix and is certified in all related developmental delays and disciplines.

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 nparikh@gompers.org.

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

Bridget sees the light — in the best possible way

By Mark DeAngelis

When it’s hard to move your gaze, it’s more challenging to learn.

I have been working with a student named Bridget in Heather Hall’s classroom. Bridget has a visual impairment that challenges her ability to track motion — like Ms. Hall pointing to the SMART Board, for example. Because of this impairment, she will fixate on one thing for several minutes.

bridget 2 small fileBridget’s goal is to be able to track movement and visually focus on a new object for a few seconds. Since November, she and I have been working together every school day for about 45 minutes to improve her tracking ability. We do this using several assistive technology devices.

You may have heard many references to assistive technology, or AT, before at Gompers. We use AT a lot here. Many believe it is another term for computerized devices that help people communicate, but AT is more than that. Any device that is able to increase an individual’s independence can be considered assistive technology, whether it’s a shovel with a soft grip to make it easier for someone with arthritis to use or an iPad app that teaches the alphabet to a child.

bridget 3 small fileFor Bridget’s vision, we use (among other things) a toy wand topped by a ball that lights up and spins. Bright lights cue Bridget’s vision, and she especially seems to like red. Often, when I hold up the wand and wave it slowly in her path of vision, she will turn her head to keep it in sight. The fact that she moves her entire head, rather than just willing her eyes to follow the light, may indicate she doesn’t have complete 180-degree peripheral vision; still, it is encouraging to see she is able to track its movement.

bridget 4 small fileWe also have a number of free iPad apps — like Gravity, Electra and Doorbells — that provide visual and audio stimulation. Often, I will help her get her hand on the iPad screen so she is able to see the streams of light that follow the movements her fingers make there.

At first our sessions moved slowly, because I was new in Bridget’s world. Now that we’ve established rapport, she is starting to respond to the lessons. We’re working on different daily activities to try to keep her visual focus for 15 to 20 seconds at a time. After we have mastered that, we will try to increase that length of time — because it will mean an improved ability to stay on task in class.

Mark DeAngelis has a master’s degree in special education with an emphasis in visual impairment (certification) in the State of Arizona. He also is an Employment Services Supervisor who presently oversees safety and behavioral issues for approximately 40 members at Gompers Employment Services.

Gompers Gators ‘strive’ to do their best!

By Rose Gonzales

Just as we go for the gold in Special Olympics, we also strive to become healthier athletes!

gators 2Recently, before our state-level soccer competition, our Gompers Gators had the opportunity to participate in Strive. Formerly known as Healthy Athletes, this initiative offered through Special Olympics helps teach our athletes how to be healthier and stronger by offering information on nutrition and hydration along with a series of flexibility activities to practice before competing on the field.

We had athletes doing squats, planks, sit-ups, sprints, ball tosses, long jumps and other activities with trainers observing their technique and helping them do the activities in the safest and most effective ways possible. Ray was timed for squats and was especially pleased with his progress:

“I did 15 squats in 30 seconds!” he said. “I felt it in my muscles.”

gators 4Strive was a great activity, because our Gators now know how to warm up before all practices and all games and understand that stretching is very important to help them stay healthy and in shape.

After everyone was limber and ready to go, we competed. The difference between our practices in the gym and playing in competition is intense; these athletes gave it their all. We tied it five times in the end, so our goalies had to face off — and we lost by one point.

But, with the attitudes our Gators displayed, it was like they walked away with first place. Our team displayed excellent sportsmanship as they congratulated the other team with smiles on their faces. They played their hearts out and, as their coach, I couldn’t be any happier. Go, Gators!

Rose Gonzales is a habilitation technician in Gompers’ Day Training for Adults Program and the proud coach of the Gompers Gators.

Freedom Bus visit is learning experience

By Heather Hall

Earlier this week, my classroom went on a field trip to see, of all things, a bus.

This was not any ordinary bus. It was the Freedom Bus, which is part of the Americans with Disabilities Act Legacy Tour. Led by photojournalist Tom Olin, a longtime historian of the disability rights movement, this bus tour will be rolling across the country to raise awareness and build excitement about ADA25 — the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Freedom tour busPassed by Congress and signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H. W. Bush, the ADA is a wide-ranging civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on disability. The Freedom Bus is wrapped in images of the disability rights struggle and the signing of the ADA, and at tour stops Olin talks about the events he photographed over the course of nearly 30 years that culminated in a greater understanding of the needs of those with disabilities and sweeping change to prohibit discrimination in employment, public services, accommodations and telecommunications.

Going to the Freedom Bus Tour was an amazing experience. It was great to hear about the history of the American Disability Rights movement. The students had a great time and were very interested in hearing Tom Olin talk. Everyone also seemed really excited to see the Freedom Bus and get their pictures taken. It was a great field trip with a lot of history and education.

Heather Hall received her master’s degree in special education at ASU. She is trained in the TEACCH Model and is working on becoming a certified trainer in both TEACCH and the PECS communication system.