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How COVID-19 forced two low techs to go high tech - well high tech for us!!!

26 June 2020

A happy story of forced technology upskilling by David Stewart and Shannon Gifford. 
Words by Shannon with input and approval by David. 

a man and woman sit holding a lego set eachPre-COVID-19, David and I had been working together for about 7 months. David had engaged me to help him build some skills that would get him closer to moving out on his own sometime down the track. (His Mum and Dad reckon that is a l-o--n-g way down the track ... but just quietly, David is not averse to possibly proving them wrong!) But anyway .... 

BAM! By early March COVID-19 had stopped the world in its tracks.  Everyone's usual activities ceased with little warning.

Both of us asked, “What are we going to do now?” David and I had built a positive and mutually beneficial relationship, and David had been making remarkable progress on his personal goals.  We scurried to find a way to keep “working” together even when we would be forced to ‘lock down’ in ISO 2020.   

To tell this little ‘tech success’ story effectively it is important to get to know David a little better.  He is without doubt one of the nicest people I have ever known.  He a super kind, empathetic, caring, patient and he shows the people around him that he is interested in them. He is a ‘hands-on’ type of guy and likes to ‘do things’ and help others around him if he can.  David volunteers at a local nursing home one day per week and he works at McDonald’s doing stock control tasks on three half days per week.  David is NOT however a tech nerd.  In fact, (and here, please picture David cringing while you read this) A LOT of the time his iPad and an iPhone are flat because he doesn’t think to charge them (but he’s working on changing that).   

If you were ever lucky enough to get to know David, you would learn that he is a self-confessed Lego nut.  It’s an interest David shares with his parents and their home proudly displays many of their amazing ‘builds’ (that’s a Lego nut term if you didn’t know).We would often chat about whatever he was working on at any given time but it’s not something we ever did together.  UNTIL COVID-19! 

So, just before ISO became mandatory we did three things: 

  • Firstly, I guided David and his Mum through a few online shopping sessions to select some appropriate resources for David to use independently while he was going to be stuck at home.  David was able to purchase some awesome games and puzzles which suited his interests and abilities.  Importantly, David had a variety of activities to ‘play’ on his own, but we could modify them to play together over Skype as well. We also ordered two identical sets of LEGO to be sent to one another’s addresses for the same purpose. 

  • Secondly, I helped David (and his parents) install Skype on his iPhone and iPad, taught them how to make and receive audio and video calls, and practiced positioning his screen in both the dining room and outside on the deck so we would be able to do “virtual” LEGO building sessions once I could no longer visit him in person. 

  • Thirdly, I found some exercise and art classes on YouTube and David added them to his ‘favourites’ on the family’s smart tv so we could possibly do those activities together via Skype too.  

Our first Skype session was a huge success! An hour and a half flew by and we both felt like legends for getting this Skype thing right. We had no issues connecting and although at the start of the session I could only see the top of David’s head and lots of ceiling, David was able to follow my verbal instructions to reposition the camera so we could both see each other well.  
A woman builds lego whilst on a video call to a man building the same lego

For the next six weeks David and I did two Skype sessions a week of LEGO building.  We did every step of the build simultaneously, from opening the box and the numbered packets of the hundreds of little pieces. We turned the pages of the instruction booklet at the same time and fell into the groove of telling each other when we were ready to go to the next step. And yes, I’ll admit, David did have to say, “I’ll wait for you,” quite often!!!  

During ISO we finished two builds – an Avengers Ultimate Quinjet and a Star Wars Sith TIE Fighter.  Apart from the fun we both had, working together via Skype benefited David in ways beyond being entertained a couple of times a week.  I used the time online to get David to explicitly practice his conversation and expressive language skills.  He also learnt and became adept at independently setting up his iPad and successfully using Skype for video calling. 

This may be no big deal to some, but for David, the usually UNenthusiastic tech user, it was a completely new technology to learn and adopt.  And, David’s enthusiasm for the task meant he kept his iPad charged all the time too!  As yet, that habit has not extended to keeping his iPhone and phone watch charged too but David keeps assuring me he is working on it! (Yes, you would be right to be visualising David’s, “Yeah, thanks for that Shannon,” look on his face now.)  

man holds up assembled lego to camera and in top right is picture-in-picture of woman holding same lego set

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