My son, Henry, making knoephla while video chatting with his great-grandmother.
My son, Henry, making knoephla while video chatting with his great-grandmother.

Acacia Stuckle, NDSU Extension agent from Emmons County wrote this story for her local paper, and she is allowing us to share it.

It might sound silly to say, but COVID-19 has made me homesick. Definitely not homesick for my home, as we spend more than enough time there these days. However, homesick for my loved ones especially my grandparents. I’m lucky to still have three living grandparents.

My mother’s parents are in their early 80’s and live out of state. My 99-year-old paternal grandmother lives 33 miles away in a nursing home. Both of these scenarios make communication during these trying times extra difficult.

A few years ago, my husband gifted me an Amazon Echo Show device for Christmas. At the time, I wasn’t very impressed with the gift. I didn’t think I would use it for anything more than a kitchen timer. Fast forward a couple years and this device has become one of my favorite gifts.

I purchased mini devices on sale for my mom, nephew and out-of-state grandparents last Christmas. I did not know it would be our link in the coming months. I decided not to buy one for my grandmother in the nursing home. I didn’t think she’d be able to use it because of her dementia.

The video calling device has allowed me to “see” my grandparents, my mom and nephew when it has not been safe to visit.

My 99-year-old grandmother’s dementia has progressed rapidly during the pandemic, making it difficult for her to answer the phone or to hold it. During one of her care conferences, the nursing home staff recommended we contact North Dakota Assistive for suggestions on possible devices.

I’ve had the privilege of working with the North Dakota Assistive staff the past few years through my Extension work, so I picked up the phone and called Beth Stenehjem at North Dakota Assistive. I explained how we were having difficulty communicating with my 99-year-old grandmother in the nursing home and were hoping she had some ideas. I’ll admit, when she suggested getting her an Echo Show device I didn’t think it would work for my grandmother. I was skeptical.

Beth referred me to the Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Services (TEDS) program and said if the device didn’t work we could simply return it and try something else. After discussing with my sister, we decided it was at least worth a try.

Since 2003, ND Assistive has administered the Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Services (TEDS), also known as the Specialized Telephone Program for the State of North Dakota.

ND Assistive contracts with the ND Department of Human Services, Aging Services Division, to implement TEDS. The funds for equipment, client services, and administration for TEDS are provided through a telephone access line surcharge paid by all North Dakotans with a phone line.  Through the TEDS program, they are able to provide qualifying North Dakota residents who have a severe hearing, speech, physical, vision or cognitive impairment with free, specialized phone equipment.

The range of phone equipment available for individuals through this program has expanded tremendously over the years.  Some of the specialized phone equipment have included amplified phones, captioned phones, cellular devices, TTY phones, mobility phones, and big button phones.  Even under certain circumstances, iPads have been utilized for making phone calls and other communication.

Now smart video calling devices qualify as specialized phone equipment under this program!  This addition to qualifying clients truly helps transform communications and give more options to individuals who are hard-of-hearing or have a physical disability.  This will include Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Grand Pads who all have smart devices with screens for video calls.

Video calling is readily available on most devices.  One example is Amazon’s Echo Show.  An Echo Show can be set up from any smartphone which will give the Echo Show access to your contacts list. After that, you will be able to make calls by saying “Alexa, call David”.  Alexa can also call most numbers that are not in your contacts list if you spell them out (“Alexa, call 7 0 1 2…).

The goal through the TEDS program is to find the right phone that has the right features for each client’s needs so they are able to successfully use the phone to speak with their families, friends, and other types of essential communications.  These newly added smart video calling devices is based on the assessment and needs of each client by an assistive technology consultant.  Individuals who are experiencing difficulty using their current telephone equipment are encouraged to apply to receive assistive telephone equipment through ND Assistive’s Specialized Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Service Program (TEDS).

A drop-in visit with my grandma at the nursing home.
A drop-in visit with my grandma at the nursing home.

Thanks to Beth’s recommendation, we’re able to “visit” our 99-year-old grandmother again. Not everyone needs to have a device to utilize the video calling. By downloading the Amazon Alexa App on their phone, my aunts and cousins are able to drop-in and visit my 99-year-old grandmother, too.

My children have been able to play piano, make knoephla and show their new puppy to their great-grandparents because of this technology.  With the holidays quickly approaching, a video calling device might be the best gift ever.

To learn more about the North Dakota Assistive or the Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Services (TEDS) program, visit https://ndassistive.org/ or call (800) 895-4728.

Please contact me with any questions at (701) 254-4811 or email acacia.stuckle@ndsu.edu.

Acacia Stuckle

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