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Inspired by Max, but for everyone

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Max (centre) is the face of Max & Me Gear, which is helping disabled children across the US

After seeing her son Max’s struggle to find socks to cover his orthotics, having lived with the effects of a perinatal stroke since birth, Steph Degodny set about designing some herself.

And from that desire to solve a problem for her own child, has emerged a thriving business making socks for children with disabilities across the United States, with a fast-growing presence in the mainstream market through what Steph terms the ‘inclusion revolution’.

Max & Me Gear now sells long socks in an array of designs – all of which have been confirmed as being ‘cool’ by their inspiration, Max himself – and are helping to transform the confidence of children and young people at formative stages of their lives.

For Max, now 12, who lives with ongoing challenges from his stroke, including hemiplegia on his right side, behavioural challenges and the need for additional learning support, his difficulties with daily practical tasks are now helping to improve the lives of countless others.

“The socks happened because a problem came to light that Max had, which it turned out so many other kids and families were having too,” Steph tells NR Times.

“This is now so much more than I ever set out to create, but to know it’s having an impact on families like ours and kids like Max is an amazing thing.

“It’s also given Max a greater purpose, he’s been so empowered by it – but he does get so embarrassed when he gets recognised and people come up to him in the street. I say ‘Max, you’re the face of the business, enjoy it!’”

From the earliest days of Max’s life, Steph and her husband were warned of the challenges that might lie ahead for their son – but typical of Steph’s ‘can do’ approach, she turned the prospect of what may not be possible into what can be done.

“I remember the doctor looking at me saying ‘We don’t know whether Max will ever walk, we don’t know whether Max will ever talk,’ and those feelings of utter shock and disbelief, like I had left my body,” recalls Steph.

“But by the time the doctor had explained this to my husband, I’d already reached ‘OK, so what are you going to do?’ I was calling people, sharing my story, reaching out to people who I knew could help us, who had been through what we were going through.

“And I think that has been the approach with Max & Me Gear, when you know the problems you face, you know others will experience the same things, so let’s do something about it.”

Max works alongside his mum to create socks which conceal orthotics and have the same pattern when folded over, which was the main issue prior to the creation of Max & Me Gear.

“We live in a cold climate and Max loves basketball, so he wears basketball shorts all year round, but he needs to wear long socks too,” says Steph.

“I’d get him extra large men’s socks, so they could fold down over the orthotic he continues to wear on his right leg, but the pattern would then be upside down. On his favourite pair of socks, which have his idol Steph Curry (who plays for his favourite basketball team, Golden State Warriors) on them, his face would be upside down when folded over.

“So I wanted to create some cool socks he’d be happy to wear, which people couldn’t tell if they’d been folded over or not.”

Steph set about designing socks – approved by Max, of course – and quickly realised the demand.

“I get so many parents with older kids saying they wish this was around when their child was wearing orthotics, and so many who are so pleased to have found them for their kids now – but as well as the market for kids with extra needs, they’re actually so popular with everyone,” says Steph.

“I’d say half of our sales now are from people who aren’t from the disabled community. People just love cool socks.

“We have one customer who’s an avid horse rider and she says they’re the greatest things, and there’s another who has MS and she has cramps in her legs and hates trousers them, but these socks have helped her so much.

“I think we’re seeing such an inclusion revolution and the stuff that’s designed for disabled people is actually really cool.

“When Nike launched their trainers inspired a kid with Cerebral Palsy who wrote to them, that you don’t need your hands to put on, they sold out instantly – and the people buying them didn’t have a disability, they just loved them because they’re cool.”

Such has been the inspiration created by Max & Me Gear, Steph is now creating the means for people to donate the cost of a pair of socks, which can then be donated to children who need them.

“It started as one of my friends bought 25 pairs of socks and said ‘Give them to kids who need them’. People are so kind and reach out to me to say ‘I don’t need the socks, but please find someone who does’,” says Steph, who also donates $1 from every purchase to We’re All Working on Something (WAWOS), an organisation dedicated to changing the conversation around disability.

“Having a child with extra needs is expensive and I wish our socks could be free, but by creating the means for people to donate the money to buy those socks for them, we are helping with that. If parents who need them reach out to me, I’ll get them to their kids.

“My IT guy is creating that on our website now, he loves what we do so much he barely charges me. He’s on a month vacation at the minute but is still working on our website from coffee shops, which just shows the kind of commitment that goes into making Max & Me Gear happen.”

And as well as the impact Max & Me Gear is having on children across the United States, Steph, as a CEO of a fast-growing e-commerce business, is also proud to be a woman in business.

“I have three nieces who I’m really close to, and they have watched me take the tragedy we faced with Max’s diagnosis and problem solve from there – they’ve watched me take the lead and grow a business, and as a female entrepreneur I’m really proud of that,” says Steph.

“I always say I’m just a mom who understands, who saw a problem and created a solution. If I can inspire people too, then that’s an amazing thing.”

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QEF’s accessible technology wins international awards

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The new Care and Rehabilitation Centre in Surrey, developed by Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People (QEF), has won 2 international CEDIA awards for its innovative use of accessible technology, which was supplied by technology solutions partner Imperium Building Systems Ltd.

These awards recognise the improvement technology can make to the lives of disabled people, which is reflected at a UN event that forms part of this year’s International Day for People with Disabilities. The global UN awareness day today (December 3) highlights the challenges and discrimination disabled people face around the world, and pushes for positive change towards greater inclusion, accessibility and equality for disabled people.

This year on December 3, the UN is co-hosting an event specifically looking at ‘Reducing Inequalities through Technologies’ noting that: ‘persons with physical, sensory, cognitive/learning or invisible disabilities represent nearly 15 per cent of the world population’ 1 and that ‘for some kinds of disabilities, assistive devices/technologies are key “equalizers” that promote inclusion and full participation in all industries and dimensions of life’. 1

The event also highlights that ‘One billion persons with some form of disability can benefit from assistive technologies that can facilitate their social, economic and political engagement, including their participation in decision-making processes that affect their lives and ambitions’ 1

QEF’s Care and Rehabilitation Centre provides neuro rehabilitation for people after an acquired brain injury, stroke, incomplete spinal injury or other neurological condition and clients are supported by expert staff to relearn core skills, so they can rebuild their lives and be as independent as possible.

QEF’s vision for the new Care and Rehabilitation Centre was to use technology to give each person greater control over their personal space, no matter what a person’s impairment may be. It’s easy to take for granted being able to close the blinds when the sun is in your eyes or turn the lights off when you want to go to sleep – until you can’t do it for yourself. QEF wanted a system that empowered clients to have a greater sense of self-determination and influence over everyday activities during their rehabilitation.

Imperium developed the project with QEF, producing a cost-effective ‘smart home’ solution, using easily available technology that is adaptable to each persons’ specific requirements. Five connected smart devices have been installed in each bedroom which can be controlled in different ways; either with standard voice commands, pre-programmed accessible switches or programmable text to talk commands.

Ann, a client at QEF’s Care and Rehabilitation Centre, says: “I wasn’t sure about it at first – it was odd to sit in my room on my own and talk to something, but now I use it all the time. You can have the blinds down, lights on or off or the TV on or off. It’s another step on the journey of independence, so I don’t have to ask someone to do it for me.”

Chris Thorne, director of Imperium, says: “The technology we have installed for QEF will allow service users to have control over the lights in their room, temperature, day light via shading blinds, and audio-visual equipment. So, someone could stay in one position and manage their entire room, either with switches or voice controls. It also needed to be technology that service users could easily access after they left the service; creating independence that could continue beyond QEF’s walls.”

The international CEDIA awards recognise technical excellence and product innovation in the home technology industry. Imperium’s project with QEF was announced in November 2021 as winners in the ‘Multi Dwelling Unit Design’ category and also went on to win the overall award for ‘Life Lived Best at Home’ which reflects the project that gives the best experience for a client.

Judges for the Life Lived Better at Home award said: “This entry is outstanding for its sensitive and pragmatic response to the brief and for the way the technology meets the changing needs of the users. And all this achieved on an extraordinarily tight budget. I hope there will be many more projects like this in the future!”

Karen Deacon, QEF’s chief executive, says: “Our new Care and Rehabilitation Centre gave us an opportunity to use technology in an innovative way that would directly benefit clients as they relearn core skills. Adapting to life after an acquired brain injury is challenging for anyone and if technology can help give someone back their sense of control over everyday activities then we wanted to be able to offer that as part of our neuro rehabilitation programme.”

  1. Reducing Inequalities Through Technologies: A Perspective on Disability Inclusive Development https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2021/11/IDPD2021ConceptNote.pdf

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Webinar to explore the future of brain injury rehab

Join our panel of expert guests as we discuss the challenges and opportunities in improving patients’ lives

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The future of brain injury rehabilitation and how patients can be supported in new ways is to be examined by leading experts from across the sector at an event held next week. 

Brain injury rehab has made huge strides over the years, innovating and developing to better meet the needs of people living with life-changing injuries. 

Through changes in technology, developments in medicine and the advances in neurorehabilitation, brain injury patients should face an outlook which is better than ever before. 

However, the lack of resource within health services, exacerbated by the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and mounting pressures on the NHS, mean that progress and change is not being seen at the rate many would hope for.  

In 2020, the British Society of Rehabilitation Medicine (BSRM) identified the increased pressure on neurorehabilitation, highlighting the “unquantifiable additional case-load of patients with post-Covid disability presenting with a wide range of problems due to cardio-pulmonary, musculoskeletal, neurological and psychological/ psychiatric complications of the disease.”

In an upcoming webinar – What does the future of brain injury rehabilitation look like? – to be held on Wednesday next week (December 8th) and organised by NRC Medical Experts in association with NR Times, this matter will be examined to assess the scale of the challenge, the opportunities that exist, and what more can be done to better support patients. 

The panel will comprise:

The live hour-long event, from 4.30pm to 5.30pm, will include a panel debate, with questions welcomed from the audience. 

“Health and social care services have been under increasing pressure from an ageing population for decades and this has now been exacerbated by the disruption created by COVID-19,” says Edmund. 

“Brain injury rehabilitation services have always been poorly resourced in the UK, and are now under increased strain while professionals are diverted into the acute management and rehabilitation of COVID-19 patients. 

“It is essential therefore that we consider how to improve service delivery models so that people with brain injury do not fall further behind in the queue. 

“Technological innovation in its many forms offers much potential here, but realising this will be a substantial undertaking for which we are as yet ill-prepared. 

“During this webinar we will explore some of the major opportunities and problems.”

To attend the webinar, registration is required in advance. To sign up, visit here 

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Thousands supported by communication training

In its first year, the Communication Access project has engaged over 4,500 organisations and individuals

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Thousands of organisations and individuals across the UK have benefitted from an initiative to support people with communication difficulties since its launch a year ago. 

The Communication Access UK scheme, a free e-learning tool, delivers training on accessible face-to-face, telephone and online conversation and customer service, in support of the millions of people in the UK who live with some form of speech, language or communication disability. 

Organisations that complete the training will be able to display the Communication Access Symbol in their workplace, demonstrating their commitment to supporting customers and staff who experience difficulties in communication. 

More than 4,500 businesses, organisations and individuals have already taken part in the initiative, which launched last November and was developed by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT), in partnership with the Stroke Association, Headway, MND Association, Business Disability Forum, Communication Matters, The Makaton Charity, and the National Network of Parent Carer Forums.

And on the first anniversary of its launch, two organisations have achieved landmark ‘firsts’ in support of Communication Access. 

Barnsley FC has become the first football club in the UK to undertake Communication Access training and commit to supporting people with speech, language and communication barrier. Its charity arm, Reds in the Community, has also signed up to the initiative.

Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust (NDHT) has also become the first NHS Trust in England to gain accreditation to the standard, offering the package to its entire workforce. 

The success of the scheme to date comes as the campaign to secure better access to speech and language therapy continues, with thousands supporting a petition to the Government and 20 APPGs calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson for action.

“Communication disability in the UK affects millions of people, so I’ve been thrilled to see so many organisations and individuals register for the free multi-award winning Communication Access training in the last year,” says Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists’ chief executive, Kamini Gadhok.

“Barnsley Football Club has just become the first football club to be CAUK accredited, while North Devon Healthcare NHS Trust is the first NHS Trust to commit to training its entire workforce to enable them to provide communication accessible services and it’s been fabulous to see organisations setting the bar for others in this way.

“Of course, we’d like to see many more businesses and people register for the training, so please visit the website and register for the training today.”

Barnsley FC’s CEO, Khaled El-Ahmad, said: “Our club has a number of touchpoints, both of digital and physical nature, and it is integral that we provide the best service possible to supporters. 

“Knowing that we are making strides to communicate in an inclusive manner is positive, as we look to improve our offering and overall experience for individuals living with disabilities at Oakwell.”

Andrea Bell, deputy chief nurse at NDHT, added: “At NDHT, we encounter a huge variety of patients with extra communication needs, from those who may have had a stroke to people with visual or hearing impairments. It’s vital that we are able to communicate with them to give them the best possible care.

“We’re extremely proud to be the first Trust in England to become part of Communication Access, and we hope other Trusts will follow our lead in facilitating the best possible communication with patients.”

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