Using Innovative Technology to Change Lives
Published on November 12, 2019
By Marisa Jackels, Tellwell
Crystal has a contagious laugh. You can hear it from down the hallway as you walk to her apartment in Moorhead, Minn., where she lives happily on her own. Inside, one of the first things you see is a sign that reads, “Enter with a happy heart.” Crystal herself wears a near-constant smile, easily bursting into her recognizable giggle as she volleys witty remarks between her caregivers.
“Yeah, and I always fall for them!” Tamara Peters, Crystal’s Residential Coordinator with CCRI, said with a laugh.
The Crystal we see today is far different from the Crystal of three years ago. For many years, her ongoing struggle with physical and mental illness meant she lived in a group home and relied on CCRI’s 24-hour staff. She was regularly hospitalized due to struggles with her mental health, and was scared to live without her 24-hour staff—yet she craved independence.
“When I first met Crystal over two years ago, she was lethargic, with no interest in getting up and going for her day,” Charlotte, one of Crystal’s CCRI caregivers, said.
When caregivers came to visit Crystal, they had to contact staff for a key because she would not answer the door. During the week, CCRI staff had to monitor Crystal closely to ensure she was taking her medication. When she attempted to participate in social events, Crystal would often back out at the last minute due to anxiety.
“I always felt too shy,” Crystal said. “I didn’t want to talk about my mental illness to anyone.”
Everything began to change when a CCRI staff member suggested Crystal try living on her own with the Independent By Design program, which uses technology to provide remote care. Tools such as remote sensors on windows, doors and cabinets allow staff to ensure Crystal is safe. A pendant acts as a direct line of contact that can call CCRI staff with the push of a button. A medicine distribution device called a MedMinder distributes medicine at the time it should be taken and gives an audio and visual reminder to alert the individual.
“We knew Crystal was capable of living without 24-hour care. We wanted to offer her more independence while still giving her the comfort of having access to staff support,” Tamara said. “The Independent By Design program is a great fit.”
At first, Crystal was hesitant to try the program.
I was really nervous,” Crystal said. “But now, I can see it was the best decision I’ve made.”
CCRI is one of only three organizations in Minnesota to offer a program that utilizes technology in this way. It’s part of CCRI’s commitment to remain innovative as they live out their mission: to enhance and enrich the lives and learning of people with disabilities. In our current era of rapid technological advancement, CCRI continues to research and explore innovative ways to provide independence. Technology such as voice-activated tools, sensors, monitors and more are truly transforming lives.
Such transformation is clearly seen in Crystal’s story. In the two and a half years since Crystal began living with the Independent by Design program, her friends and caregivers at CCRI have seen a significant change.
“Independent by Design has allowed Crystal the life that she wants to live,” Tamara said. “It provides support where it’s needed, but it also allows her to do whatever she wants when she wants.”
Today, Crystal smiles as she welcomes CCRI caregivers at the door. She volunteers weekly at the Dorothy Day Food Pantry, cracking jokes with the workers. She enjoys the freedom to take the city bus anywhere in the community she would like. She is her own representative payee for her finances, takes her medication independently and manages her mental health.
With her newfound self-confidence, Crystal faces new challenges head-on. This year she completed her first Fargo 5K, attended CCRI’s prom and organized a team to do CCRI’s Polar Plunge on Giving Hearts Day.
“I love being on my own,” she said. “Now, I always have a good smile. And if I’m having a bad day, I know it’s just for today. Tomorrow can be better.”
For Tamara, Charlotte and the many others who work with Crystal, watching her happiness continue to grow is one of the greatest joys of their work.
“Now, she is cheerful and happy and feels good about herself,” Charlotte said. “I am so happy to have witnessed this turnaround in Crystal’s emotional and mental well-being.”
“We are endlessly proud of Crystal and all her accomplishments. It truly has been amazing to see,” Tamara said, wiping her eyes.
“Crystal, you seriously have tears in my eyes!” she added, looking at Crystal—who, of course, laughed and smiled in Crystal fashion.
Most importantly, Crystal is experiencing the independence she has craved for so long, and with it, a sense of responsibility that gives her confidence. The results can be seen in her physical and mental health; whereas two years ago, she was often hospitalized, today, she has not been hospitalized in over two years.
“With the Independent by Design program, I can do what I want to do. And I have the staff that will help me through it,” Crystal said. “I quit a lot of bad behaviors. And I feel really proud of myself.”
See more of Crystal’s story in this video from our friends at Tellwell.
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