There aren’t many providers who specialize in assistive communication technology like Donna Cole Wilson. The Seattle-based speech language pathologist works with people of all ages who have acquired or developmental disabilities and rely on alternative and augmentative communication technologies.

For over 20 years, Donna worked with clients who use assistive technology to communicate. These systems are called speech generating devices. During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Health Care Authority (HCA) gave out Zoom licenses to Apple Health (Medicaid) providers and partners. The Zoom license was easy to obtain through an application process and allowed her to gain telemedicine capabilities without having to enroll with a vendor or change her practice’s other processes. She said that remote appointments transformed her practice, helping her clients make progress she never thought possible.

Before the pandemic, many of her clients often needed to make lengthy journeys to the office for therapy services. Describing one client, she said, “The trip would be very taxing, causing the client to be exhausted, impacting participation.” She said, “There aren’t many of our clinics around that specialize in assistive technology for mobility and communication, so they have to travel in many cases.”

Many of her clients are more vulnerable to infectious diseases and would need to cancel appointments due to medical concerns. Some passed away from COVID-19.

“When someone is nonverbal and you don’t give them opportunities to interact socially and communicate their needs, they can become very passive,” she said. “And they can have increased safety risks or may not get their needs met.”

Having access to telehealth through Zoom sessions made a tremendous difference. “Some of my clients increased their skills more than they would have in person,” she said. Once she got her clients and their caregivers set up for remote appointments, the benefits were immediate.

“I can model, develop communication systems, train caregivers and their friends and families on their devices while in their own home,” she said. “Through our Zoom and telehealth sessions, I can even call a support technician to join our session right then.” Her clients benefit greatly from receiving direction in their own living environments as opposed to a clinical setting.

Remote sessions allowed Donna’s clients to participate in their social lives, make friends, and become more alert, happy, and motivated. She hopes to get permanent telehealth coverage for all speech language pathologists.

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