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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many industries have been updating and adjusting services to meet current social guidelines, including adapting to those with disabilities.

According to Nicole Gerami, speech-language pathologist, and owner of Nicole Gerami LLC and FIT Camp in Beachwood, and Samantha Voshall, director of marketing and strategic communications at Julie Billiart Schools in Lyndhurst and Akron, many of the changes involve online learning, counseling, and interactions with students and clients due to social distancing guidelines.

“Right when this whole thing started happening and the governor announced everything was shutting down, we immediately switched over to teletherapy via Zoom and started seeing kids that way,” Gerami said. “I wasn’t sure how that was going to work, but 90% of the kids have responded very well, even for those with severe disabilities. We were able to keep most of our kids supported and it has been pretty amazing. We were shocked we were able to do it – but I think the parents also worked hard to make it work.”

Gerami added for those clients who come in to the office, “strict protocols” are in place, including hundreds of masks available on-site and Plexiglas partitions. Parents also can’t come inside with their children. A staff member comes out to the parking lot to pick up the child, and everyone’s temperatures get taken.

At Julie Billiart Schools, which serves students with learning differences and other special needs, Voshall said a few changes were implemented, such as virtual lessons and therapies.

“Our art teacher created a virtual art show and one of our kindergarten teachers created a virtual gardening video for her class,” she said. “Our occupational therapist made videos like ‘how to do a push up’ to help kiddos with their motor skills. We did a virtual lunch bunch, where students could practice conversation skills in a fun setting. There are so many examples.”

Other adjustments included the creation of a distance learning library, created by JBS board-certified behavior analysts, therapists and intervention specialists. Videos in the library are open to the public and include topics like motivation, independence, managing behaviors and using controlled choices. Students also had a distanced graduation, where graduates remained in their cars until their name was called, followed by a vehicle parade.

And many students took to the changes very well, Voshall said. She shared a story from a JBS parent, who explained that though the pandemic changed the world overnight, their child was prepared for anything that came their way. The parent added their child is now able to function as an independent distance learner.

“We were inspired by how readily our kids took to virtual lessons and therapies,” she noted. “It was wonderful to see them interacting with each other and with their teachers, just like they would in a traditional class. We were also inspired and invigorated by amazing feedback from parents.”

Offering these services helped make sure those in need weren’t left behind by the pandemic and related changes, Gerami said.

“Our biggest fear was living kids with no services, feeling abandoned,” she explained. “Many kids need consistent therapy, and sometimes, after working so hard to achieve their goals, without therapy they’d see a significant loss in skills. So, we found it very important to get things back up and running to offer those services.”

In the grand scheme of things, Gerami reiterated changing services was all about continuing to be a support system for vulnerable populations while everything else around them changes.

“The driving factor was to not leave anyone behind, and to be resilient enough to be there for them,” she stated. “So, it was amazing to be able to dig in and say we could do this and not leave anyone behind. Coming together as a group of therapists, we were shocked about what we could offer these kids that need us now more than ever. It’s amazing how resilient the kids are in the face of uncertainty.”

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