For many residents of The Boston Home (TBH) located in Dorchester, Massachusetts calling for help is not a simple task. Most residents have limited mobility due to diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), making it difficult if not impossible to reach the help button wired to the wall. Many residents of TBH, however, regularly use iPads attached to their wheelchair. Along with my teammates, I worked with residents and staff of The Boston Home to develop InstaAid, an iPad app that enables residents to call for help more accessibly. We began this project last fall through the course 6.811, Principles and Practices of Assistive Technology, a class founded by Professor Seth Teller and continued by William Li and Grace Teo.
InstaAid has two separate interfaces - one for the residents to use to call for help, and another for the nurses to view and respond to requests. With InstaAid, residents can send custom requests for assistance and also video chat with the nurse. The application has undergone an extensive cycle of prototypes and revisions, and has been used by residents at The Boston Home since December 2014 to send requests with great success. Although the course ended, I continued to develop the application through Spring 2015 to ensure the sustainability of the solution for The Boston Home. The app may be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store (search for "InstaAid"), and a grant from the MIT Public Service Center enabled the purchase of an iPad to be permanently installed at the Boston Home for use with InstaAid. Requests are made and processed daily thanks to the app. The app empowers individuals to live more independent lives by providing them with a means to call for help when they need it. The application has potential beyond The Boston Home, as many assistive living communities could benefit from a similar solution.
Through this project, I had the pleasure to work quite closely with one resident, Margaret Marie, who inspired me with her tremendous vision and dedication to making The Boston Home a better place for all. I also enjoyed collaborating closely with Don Fredette, Adaptive Technology specialist of the home and a source of great insight regarding assistive technologies.
"I'm a person who has lots of ideas, but I often can't put them into practice without help...sometimes I can, but usually I need some help. But with you [the MIT team], I felt I could be an ideas person, because I had a team who could implement the idea. It gave me a lot of confidence in being able to think something though and be able to implement it. It's great to feel like you are part of a team even though you physically can't do something - it's wonderful."
Margaret, InstaAid Co-Designer
"The InstaAid Nurse Call project represents the myriad of ways that technology can be used to enhance the lives of people with disabilities. It is a solution that improves the communication between individuals and their care givers in a long term care setting that was born out of a desire to improve quality of life and an the result of an intense focus on an individual’s needs and desires. Perhaps its greatest asset is the adaptability to the changing needs of people living with progressive neurological disorders and the use of relatively low cost ubiquitous technology and infrastructure. The Boston Home and its residents are very excited to be partnering with Beth to develop this technology."
Don Fredette, an adaptive equipment specialist at TBH
"InstaAid is now the preferred communication for residents to reach assistance in any location on our campus. The Principles and Practices of Assistive Technology course created by the late Professor Seth Teller has its roots in the early work with the residents of TBH. The projects, most notably InstaAid, began with a need expressed by a resident and an idea for solving the challenge. The collaboration has been gratifying for all involved. As an increasing number of our residents have Ipads, now one third, the use will only increase. InstaAid further empowers our residents to be independent and know that if needed, help is available. Beth and her team are to be commended for their commitment to improve quality of life for our residents."
Marva Serotkin, TBH CEO
"The InstaAid app has already been instrumental in providing emergency communication for at least one Boston Home resident, who found herself trapped in her power wheelchair in a closed area of an off-site building. Fortunately the building had an active WiFi signal, and the resident had her iPad mounted to her chair. She was able to activate the InstaAid app, initiate a Facetime chat, and speak directly with a Boston Home secretary to indicate her predicament. This staff member then was able to call over to the other facility to send assistance to move the resident to a safer area. Without this link, it is unclear how long the resident would have been unable to move her wheelchair before someone found her."
Alexander Burnham, Director of Rehabilitation Services