Jim’s Place at SAU goes virtual

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Jim’s Place on the campus of St. Ambrose University allows persons with disabilities and caregivers the opportunity to view and evaluate adaptive solutions that can make life at home easier to manage.

Lindsay Steele
Veterans Mike Etzel and George Raes chat after a press conference at Jim’s Place on St. Ambrose University’s campus in Davenport on Oct. 27, as Jon Turnquist, director of the assistive technology lab at St. Ambrose, looks on. Behind the men is a computer displaying Jim’s Place’s new Virtual Demonstration and Training Site for Home Independence.

Now, people don’t have to walk through the front door of Jim’s Place to get ideas. They can access the house from anywhere through their computer or mobile device, thanks to a Virtual Demonstration and Training Site for Home Independence (VDTS). By visiting www.sau.edu/virtualjimsplace, guests can take a 360-degree tour of the home and click on the solutions for which they’d like more information. For example, by visiting the kitchen, guests can learn about drop-down cabinets, assisted feeding equipment and French door ovens. They can click on the wall to get ideas for building a custom kitchen.

The technology was made possible through a grant of $185,234 from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The project required video recording of the home with fisheye lenses, editing, programming, website design and hosting. The funds also helped with an adaptive remodel of the existing kitchen; costs for the kitchen were controlled with the help of Russell Construction, which provided project manager supervision as an in-kind donation, and Zeglin’s TV and Appliance, which sold new appliances at cost and negotiated a price reduction from the manufacturer.

U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), who assisted in the grant application process, said a huge need exists in Iowa for VDTS, especially among veterans. “There are 14.2 million veterans 55 or older, and 35 percent report having a service-related disability,” he said during an Oct. 27 press conference at Jim’s Place. Furthermore, 70 percent of Iowa veterans live in rural areas where access to health care and health care resources is limited. “This is the perfect resource,” he said.

George Raes of Welton, a retired Navy chaplain, attended the press conference with his wife, Twilah. They echoed the belief that the technology will help people in rural areas research adaptive solutions, especially those who use wheelchairs. “You can look at something, know it exists, and have someone to contact,” Twilah said. “It’s one thing to tell someone (about an adaptive solution.) It’s another to see it.”

Jim’s Place opened six years ago to provide a community service and to serve as a professional resource for state-of-the-art training, as well as to enrich lives using assistive technology solutions.

Supporters of VDTS were encouraged by early interest. Less than a day after going active online, Jim’s Place VDTS logged its 1,000th visit. Jon Turnquist, director of the assistive technology lab at St. Ambrose, will make a presentation on VDTS at the American Occupational Therapy Association national conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, in April.

At the press conference, the university’s president, Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, thanked everyone who had a role in making VDTS at Jim’s Place possible, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “We are very grateful to Veterans Affairs for its confidence in St. Ambrose and the community, and to the brave men and women who protect our freedoms and often pay a great price to do so.”

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