iPad app touches lives of Glenwood Springs family
Post Independent Intern
In 1986, Kara Brouhard was hit by an out-of-control skier at Sunlight Mountain Resort. She was 5 years old at the time, and her skull was shattered.
She suffered a traumatic brain injury that left her in a coma for two months, and she awoke legally blind and paralyzed on her left side.
Ever since, her parents have dedicated their time to improving Kara’s life. Despite the challenges she has faced, she is now living independently roughly six blocks from her parents’ home, primarily because of an iPad.
“Really, there’s no way Kara should be able to live independently with the disabilities she has, but technology has transformed her world,” explained her mother, Alice Brouhard. “She’s happy. She has her own little house, she has a dog and she has support people that are there when she needs it.”
Using the iPad, Alice and Kara have organized a detailed schedule of voice prompts, which guide Kara through her daily tasks. From waking up in the morning and putting laundry in the washer to cooking dinner and locking the door at night, Kara’s iPad, “Paddy,” leads her from moment to moment.
“A lot of times, a person with a brain injury really loses contact with time,” Alice explained. “We all have an inner voice in our head, telling us what to do all the time, but [Kara] doesn’t have that. This [iPad] is the inner voice in her head that guides her through her whole day.”
Living her dream
According to both Alice and Kara, living independently has always been a dream of Kara’s.
“Ever since I was little, I have wanted to live in my own house,” said Kara in a recorded presentation Alice takes to conferences and uses in her teaching. “I follow my voice reminders to help me succeed. I am very independent because of Paddy, and I am proud of myself.”
Kara lived with her parents for roughly the first 20 years after her accident, working her way through the public school system in Glenwood Springs. After her graduation in 2000, she spent two years at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, where she lived in the dorms.
After returning home, she remained with her parents until 2007, at which point the Brouhards turned to technology to transition Kara into her own home.
“She’s always wanted to live independently; she’s always wanted her own life,” Alice said. “For the last 10 years, that’s what I’ve really focused on, trying to find a way for her to live as independently as she can. I found it with technology.”
Kara’s original setup involved a specialized software program called Visions, which cost more than $3,000. After buying a computer, a touchscreen monitor and speakers to complete the arrangement, Alice said they had spent more than $5,000.
“It was timed voice prompts, with someone telling her what to do all day long,” Alice explained. “But it wasn’t her voice, so sometimes she’d listen and sometimes she wouldn’t. She outgrew it.”
When the original computer crashed in 2009, the Brouhards were forced to invest in a new one, which also required a software upgrade. Alice said the new program, Voyager, cost $1,200 and was difficult to operate, but Kara’s dependence on the voice prompts didn’t leave them any other options.
Then, in 2010, Alice discovered the iPod Touch and the iPad, recognizing the technological promise they held.
“My husband had a brain tumor, and he was left with some challenges, mainly memory and organization,” Alice said. “I started using an iPod Touch for him to record voice memos and help with scheduling and calendars. Then I thought there might be things on the iPad for Kara.”
By 2012, Alice had completely transitioned Kara from the $5,000 software and computer setup to an iPad system for $451. She replaced the $1,200 software primarily with a 99-cent app — Aida Reminder — that allows users to record and schedule their own voice prompts.
Now, the majority of Kara’s audio reminders are recorded in her own voice. Some of them incorporate songs to keep them interesting, and Alice is able to alter the recordings periodically to make sure Kara doesn’t lose interest.
“The reason I’m so passionate about the iPad is that the cost is so much lower, and it’s easy to program and use,” Alice said. “It’s been life-changing for Kara. There’s so much more dignity in living your own life, rather than having people tell you what to do all the time.”
Alice has found a number of iPad apps to improve Kara’s situation, including Visual Impact, which pairs audio recordings and visual imagery to provide step-by-step instructions for tasks such as cooking. At $49.99, it’s the most expensive app she has purchased, but she has also found a number of free applications that provide similar options.
Since introducing the iPad into Kara’s life, Alice said she has seen new uses arise consistently.
“I work at Valley View,” said Alice, who has been a registered nurse there for 34 years, “and one of the things I think about all the time is how to use the iPad to help the elderly and other people with disabilities. I’m thinking all the time about how we can use technology to help people be more independent and self-sufficient.”
Alice also discussed the iPad’s potential for war veterans returning home with traumatic brain injuries, as well as for autistic individuals, who tend to work well with the tablet.
To spread the knowledge gained from her experience both as a nurse and as Kara’s mother, Alice started a small business, Tech Able LLC, about a year ago. She provides iPad training for several agencies that work with people with brain injuries and cognitive disabilities, and she teaches classes on iPad use at Colorado Mountain College.
“With my background as a nurse, I was used to looking for answers to problems,” Alice said. “There are so many people who could benefit from thinking outside the box about how to use technology.”
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Imagine Glenwood and The City of Glenwood Springs is slated to host a virtual town hall at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 11.