Brandon Reeves was busy working three jobs in Guelph prior to the pandemic, but now he is adapting to a new routine and practising different ways of connecting with loved ones from his supported group living accommodation.
“I realized something was definitely wrong because before I used to go home almost every weekend to see my family,” he said.
Originally from Mount Forest, 35-year-old Reeves has lived in Guelph for eight years and receives residential support from Community Living Guelph Wellington (CLGW), an organization that supports adults living with developmental disabilities.
Due to the provincial lockdown and physical distancing measures, he is no longer working and many of his regular social and physical activities have changed. Now, he’s using a donated iPad to connect with friends and family more regularly.
“I use the iPad to talk with my mom, my dad and some of my friends. I also have an app for music,” he said.
Reeves is one of 156 people living in CLGW residential sites, which are group homes of two to five people with 24/7 staff support. The organization also helps 106 people in supported independent living.
Executive director Laura Hanley says the organization has had to make some significant adjustments during the time of COVID-19. All non-essential services like day programs, employment and passport support, and individualized support have been temporarily suspended. She says their focus is now on residential support for people like Reeves.
“Some people are now in their residence more so we are focused on safety and security,” said Hanley. “Part of that is to ensure that people we support continue to have meaningful activities to do during the day and make meaningful connections by phone or by video.”
In March, CLGW set up a fundraiser to purchase iPads to support their residents to virtually communicate with friends and family. Hanley says the visual communication can make a big difference for some people living with physical or intellectual disabilities.
“For people who don't use their words to communicate, the tablets allow them to communicate with gestures and [physical] emotions and see those responses visually versus just being on the phone,” she said, adding that a loss of routine can be especially difficult.
“[They] don't get to see their families anymore and they don't necessarily understand why that is. Loss of normalcy and isolation has an impact on people's mental health so one of our staff positions is as a morale booster and motivator for staff and for people we support.”
By mid-April, CLGW received several gently-used tablets and raised over $9,000 to purchase 26 iPads thanks to local donors and businesses including RidgeTech Automation and Kindred Credit Union. CLGW hopes to reach their goal of $12,000 in order to supply each of their 35 residences with an iPad equipped with software for accessibility needs.
Hanley says the organization relies heavily on its ‘unsung heroes’ - the approximately 500 staff, most of whom offer direct support to those in residential services.
“They always work hard, but they're doing double duty trying to ensure that the people we support understand what's going on,” she said. “They come up with all kinds of creative things and they’re an incredible bunch of people.”
As a direct beneficiary of this effort, Reeves says he’s managing to stay busy and entertained at home with daily walks, internet activities and social interactions, whether virtual or face-to-face with staff and fellow residents. Still, he’s considering how life may change in the future.
“Once things get back to normal, I think we’re going to see a lot more adjustment. Let's live the life we have because you never know what will happen tomorrow.”
To make a financial donation or to donate a gently-used or refurbished tablet, visit https://clgw.ca/donate/.