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Community Inclusion and Supported Learning in a Social Distancing Culture

The Garth Homer Society is redefining methods and possibilities for remote service delivery for adults with developmental disabilities.

Photo of Geoffrey Ewert
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LifeStreams is changing the landscape of service delivery for people with developmental disabilities.

LifeStreams Until Now

For over 40 years, the Garth Homer Society has been supporting adults with developmental disabilities to make ‘a life, a home, and a place in the world’.  In 2013, the LifeStreams project was developed to explore new and innovative ways of providing post-secondary education for individuals graduating from high school special needs programs.  In the years following, LifeStreams has grown and evolved to meet the myriad of needs of individuals throughout the organization and in the community.

In 2019, LifeStreams initiated a multi-year plan to further develop the program and expand its impact.  Upcoming milestones included: the establishment of the LifeStreams Academy – an ensemble-based, multi-year pre-employment learning program; the formalization and transferability of the LifeStreams Model - complete with methodology, credentialing, and database tracked learning for replication in other regions nationally and internationally; and, LifeStreams Online – a digital platform providing a virtual space for program delivery, resource accessibility, and consulting services.  Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our timelines, workflows, and immediate needs have shifted.

As the current culture of self-isolation started to emerge and take hold an alternative method of service delivery was required.  LifeStreams staff were asked not to develop short-term temporary accommodations that would be cast aside once congregation was once again permitted, but rather acknowledge this moment in time as a permanent shift, requiring forward-thinking and innovation that would have a constructive, long-lasting effect on service delivery moving forward.  With this in mind, we have started the implementation of LifeStreams Online to meet the immediate needs of the clients of Garth Homer, their families and caregivers, and for the sector as a whole – regardless of location.  Originally, LifeStreams Online was planned for 18 – 24 months from now; however, the need created by COVID-19 has moved this initiative up significantly – and it is now central to our ability to provide all of the LifeStreams services.

LifeStreams Online

Most, if not all organizations are moving services online where possible as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – this is not anything new.  What makes LifeStreams Online unique is the role the digital platform will play as a keystone for the future growth and delivery of the program:

Online Learning Database and Digital Credentialing:  since its inception, LifeStreams has collaborated with Edudata Canada.  Edudata is an online learning database that tracks learning strategies, progress, and assessments.  This system has been used in the education system as a tool to support students with learning difficulties.  Edudata has been working with LifeStreams to adapt this service to support post-secondary learners with developmental disabilities whose needs reside outside of a traditional curriculum-based system.  This system will be a core component of the LifeStreams Academy, the LifeStreams Model, and LifeStreams Online by:

  • Tracking and analysing learning systems and progress for individual learners
  • Curating and tracking learning strategies and tactics utilized by LifeStreams staff and other learning facilitators
  • Providing a system for micro-credentialing (i.e. digital badges) that certifies trainings, educational advancements, and skill development – all of which is presented in the learner’s online profile that can be shared with potential employers, further education, and other community organizations
  • Providing a means for disseminating and monitoring of the LifeStreams Model in terms of learning support and quality control.

The Development of Online and Virtual Resources for Adults with Developmental Disabilities: over the past several weeks, LifeStreams staff have been gathering online resources to support individuals who are self-isolating at home.  The vast majority of available resources that have been created to be accessible have been made for children – not for adults with a cognitive impairment.  While many of these resources have been used previously – incorporated in regular day programming – the culmination of all of these resources in a concentrated manner highlights how the abundance of accessible resources for children – combined with the lack of age-appropriate resources for adults with cognitive impairments – has contributed to the systemic infantilization of adults with developmental disabilities.  LifeStreams Online is in the process of developing age-appropriate information resources (such as LifeStreams News – a summary of current events presented in an easy to understand manner), activities, and learning and communication tools that are accessible to people with developmental disabilities, while maintaining their dignity as adults.

Online Hub for the Dissemination of the LifeStreams Model: from the beginning, the intent has been to make LifeStreams a replicable and transferable model.  LifeStreams Online is the virtual hub that will make this possible.  A dedicated portion of LifeStreams Online will be for the sharing on the LifeStreams Model.  Service providers and other organizations will have access to a portal on LifeStreams Online that will provide:

  • Online training for staff and other learning facilitators in the LifeStreams approach to learning, systems, and methodologies
  • An individualized interface with the Edudata online learning database, complete with digital credentialing
  • Access to purpose-built learning resources and tools designed to support adults with developmental disabilities in an accessible yet age-appropriate manner
  • Interaction with the LifeStreams team for ongoing support and quality assurance monitoring.


Moving Forward

The COVID-19 pandemic has not just impacted the timeline for the development of LifeStreams Online, it has impacted its place in the strategic vision for LifeStreams ongoing.  This is our pivot.  Through LifeStreams we support individuals to discover, assess, and adapt – this is yet another opportunity for us to practice what we preach.

What is the need are you focusing on?

People with developmental disabilities are some of the most marginalised in our society. Without adequate support, many are prone to poverty, homelessness, or exploitation.  The remedy for this is learning. By creating a virtual platform, more people will have the opportunity to be impacted by LifeStreams learning supports, and will not be excluded by location or accessibility needs.

Which type of submission are you sharing?

  • Identifying a gap that needs to be addressed
  • Sharing an actual pivot your organization has already made

Describe the business pivot or adaptation in 3-4 sentences.

LifeStreams has an in-person service since its inception. Now, with the culture of self-isolation, online engagement, support, and service delivery are paramount. LifeStreams Online is our answer to this change in need, and will be the foundation on which LifeStreams' future growth and development will be built.

Do you plan to implement this solution?

  • Yes

Describe the impact that this solution will create in the world.

Support adults with developmental disabilities is largely focused on providing accessibility - accessibility in the community, accessibility in learning and employment opportunities, accessibility in social relationships, and accessibility to a purposeful future. LifeStreams Online makes our valuable and tested resources and supports accessible to those that need it - regardless of where they live. LifeStreams Online makes our services available to all people with developmental disabilities globally. We anticipate the early version of LifeStreams Online will be available by the end of May 2020.

What is the name of your business or organization?

The Garth Homer Society

What does your business/company do? Whose needs does your business/company address? Who do you serve?

Since 1977, the Garth Homer Society has been supporting adults with developmental disabilities to have 'a life, a home, and a place in the world'. Through our Community Inclusion day services, geriatrics services, supported employment services, and residential care, we support over 200 individuals with developmental disabilities. The LifeStreams program is a unique and innovative service that promotes ongoing learning for all individuals, regardless of support needs, or cognitive acuity.

What is your profession?

As Director, Learning and Employment Services I oversee the LifeStreams program under the guidance on the CEO.

Where are you located (country)?


Where are you located (region)?

  • North America

What industry is your business/company in?

  • Education
  • Social Work

How many people does your business/company employ?

  • 50-249

How old is your business/company?

  • 10 or more years old

Which classification describes your organization/business?

  • Nonprofit/NGO

What kind of stakeholders and partnerships are needed to pursue this solution?

  • Funding- Grants

Do you need help building partnerships and finding partners?

  • Yes

If Yes to the above, please share 1-2 sentences describing the specific help you desire.

LifeStreams does not receive any government funding, and is maintained completely by annual fundraising efforts - primarily grant support from foundations and other charitable givers. Multi-year, sustainable funding is the single greatest need for LifeStreams.

What do you think are the main barriers to implementing this solution?

LifeStreams currently operates with a minimal team. The ability to hire additional staff, engage outside contractors, and outsource tasks when available will be necessary to achieve this initiative. Not having the funding to meet these needs will be the biggest barrier.

If you are currently working on a pivot, what have you learned so far?

There is incredible need. Our current online services have made a significant impact on the people we support over the past several weeks. We get weekly testimonials from families and caregivers, responding to the online services we are currently delivering. The more innovative we are in our remote service delivery, the more we see the need for a properly developed virtual forum. Many of the people we support at Garth Homer are very comfortable using technology. We have actually seen that there are individuals who are excelling in this type of remote environment. For a significant portion of this population, the opportunity to engage remotely could very likely be a system that better meets their personal needs, rather than being a temporary replacement for in-person service delivery.

Are you aware of any open source efforts, hackathons or other collaborative efforts related to your solution? Are you participating in these efforts?


Website URL


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Geoffrey, thanks for sharing your work, curious what needs you have around accessibility to help make your services virtual and what that looks like right now, and what you dream it might be in the future?

Photo of Geoffrey Ewert

Hi Ashley - responded to your question, but may have posted as a separate comment rather than a reply to you - just wanted to give the heads up. Thank you for your questions!

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