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.
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.
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.