Staying Connected During COVID

When local governments asked day programs to close in-person services for COVID-19, many were wondering what the future would hold for these programs and the individuals they serve. Individuals living with developmental disabilities participate in these programs to build friendships, learn life skills, and connect with their communities. They and their families have come to rely on these programs to maintain the daily routines and relationships that they’ve grown accustomed to. The closure of these crucial programs raised important questions around whether a transition to virtual services would keep individuals feeling engaged. Agencies were tasked with a rapid pivot to virtual programs while navigating uncertainties around funding, re-opening, and safety. 

Going Virtual: ESCNJ’s Story

Despite these challenges, many I/DD programs have successfully transitioned to a virtual or hybrid model. ESCNJ runs Adult Community Services, a program that helps young adults with developmental disabilities transition into adulthood. Their staff responded in the early days of the pandemic by creating a Google site that brings all the components of their in-person program to an online space. By curating a collection of videos, worksheets, and resources, ESCNJ was able to continue providing most of their curriculum online — including life skills, daily living skills, and prevocational skills. 

Through innovative use of free video tools such as Adobe Spark, their staff also created custom daily living skills videos to help individuals learn and implement these skills at home. They continually adjusted their resources according to individuals’ interests, eventually including virtual visits of tourist attractions and art activity workbooks.

Virtual Engagement

Throughout the pandemic, there have been concerns regarding whether individuals would feel equally engaged online versus in-person. While there is no replacement for the importance of in-person connections, programs like ESCNJ’s have found that meeting one-on-one virtually with individuals can help resolve some of these issues. In many cases, establishing virtual group activities gives individuals the socialization needed to keep them feeling connected. Other agencies have run workshops for their staff, training them on how to be more engaging over video conference tools. Programs have taught their staff to be even more animated than usual and how to respond to any incidents that may occur on a live broadcast. 

Is There a Future for a Hybrid Model?

As agencies look towards the future, there is potential for a hybrid model that offers the best of both in-person and virtual services. For some individuals and their families, virtual programs are proving to be more convenient and comfortable. If virtual services can improve the quality of services while giving individuals more choice, there are endless possibilities for a future hybrid model that delivers day program services in a way that works best for individuals and their families.