Use Case: George Mason University
The Mason Learning into Future Environments (LIFE) program serves to provide young adults whose disabilities have traditionally excluded them from higher education, with an inclusive university experience that will further their academic skills, prepare them for employment, and encourage independent living.
In addition, the program provides George Mason University (GMU) students, who are majoring in human service studies, such as health fitness and therapeutic recreation, education psychology, to obtain hands-on-training. This experience of learning from, and working with, the Mason LIFE students presents the support staff with a chance to develop the necessary skills to work successfully with students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Under the College of Education and Human Development and the Kellar Institute for Human DisAbilities, the Mason LIFE program (MLP) began as a pilot in 2002 with 3 students and has systemically grown, adding residential and employment components now serving 50 students.
Life Skills Pilot
In early 2018, the staff at Mason Life was introduced to Life Sherpa via the George Mason Entrepreneur Program. At the time, the staff was testing multiple assistive technologies to address specific use cases including cooking, life skills, finance, etc. The challenge was that each of these applications was its own silo, which means separate log in, user names, set-ups, data outputs, etc. etc. Think about that with this population.
What intrigued the team at Mason Life is that all of those use cases could potentially be handled on one platform, thus one log in, one unified way to look at data, etc. In addition, many platforms claim to be self-service but in reality takes a lot hand holding. The Life Sherpa team took a different approach, spent a fair amount of time on site with the administrators and students to design and create a specific program for the Mason Life team that they could test against.
The setting for the research was the residential dorms where students were required to complete 8 steps by a designated time. Overall, the team wanted to answer two simple questions:
- Will the Life Sherpa app increase students ability to complete their morning routine?
- What do participants think about using the Life Sherpa app?
Life Sherpa in an Employment Setting
Based on the success of the life skills pilot, the Mason Life team proposed using the Life Sherpa platform on the more complex issue of job training.
Individuals with IDD often require ongoing supports to learn and maintain mastery of independent tasks in the employment setting. This can be costly to hire and maintain a person in a one on one setting. The use of technology allows for management of the clients remotely and at a reduced ratio. Using technology like Life Sherpa to remind, reinforce and reward targeted behaviors could have many positive benefits.
Starting in October 2018, using a $30,000 grant from Modus Create, a global software company that is interested in hiring neurodiverse individuals to be software testers, the Mason Life team is commencing an additional research study using Life Sherpa to answer these key ?’s:
- Is there a functional relationship between using Life Sherpa and increased productivity of targeted work skills.
- Will student participants in single subject intervention group have increasd measures on language, employment skills, flexibility, and quality of life indicators compared to students in the control group
- What are the thoughts of the student participants
- What are the thoughts of the support staff participants
Overall, there was great success with the students using the Life Sherpa App to complete their morning routines. Students enjoyed the sense of freedom and independence of the reminders of the App versus being what to do next by their RA’s. They felt a sense of accomplishment and independence. Additionally, by starting their day successfully, they were more prepared for the rest of the day.
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