an ever-present help in times of trouble
At the start of the Community Circuit Breaker, rehabilitation therapy was initially classified as a non-essential service. ABLE had to find a way to continue providing therapy for clients with acquired disabilities. ABLE quickly evaluated various videoconferencing platforms and settled on Microsoft Teams. Through videoconferencing, ABLE’s therapists learned to provide virtual rehabilitation for our beneficiaries.
In order to minimise disruption to our clients’ rehabilitation journey, ABLE commenced Tele-Rehabilitation services right from the start of the Circuit Breaker, conducting more than 250 sessions in April and May. This was the first time for ABLE to provide virtual physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and employment support. ABLE’s therapists had to improvise and work with available objects within our beneficiaries’ homes for the rehabilitation sessions.
There are limitations in conducting rehabilitation through video consultations, especially for some beneficiaries suffering from certain medical conditions, which demands face-to-face rehabilitation therapy. Fortunately, in the later phase of the Circuit Breaker, the Ministry of Health re-categorised rehabilitation and therapy as essential services, albeit with safe distancing.
Since the re-opening of our centre in late May 2020, our therapists have continued to provide the option of tele-rehab for clients who need it. Our in-house training sessions have continued online as well.
Tele – Kopi for Caregivers
Caregivers are sometimes sidelined in a rehabilitation programme, but they are critical to maintaining loving and dedicated care for their loved ones who are facing debilitating situations. ABLE recognises the severe impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on both physically-challenged persons and their caregivers. Caregivers who look after the needs of their care recipients may experience increased feelings of loneliness and social isolation during this time.
ABLE launched a “Tele – Kopi” programme to help caregivers stay connected during the Circuit Breaker. This programme continues to serve as a structured support group that provides caregivers with the opportunity to share their challenges with each other. It is open to caregivers of persons with disabilities.
“Caregivers like myself appreciate the support given by ABLE, as through our participation in the ‘Tele – Kopi’ sessions, we get to connect with other caregivers and share our experiences in looking after our care recipients. Hearing the real-life stories shared by other caregivers gives us a sense of comfort and strength,” says Mrs Jane Koe, Caregiver.
ABLE Respite has since expanded our range of virtual activities for caregivers to include tele-cooking,
tele-upcycling sessions and even tele-gardening.
Tele-Respite for Care Recipients
Mental wellness is often overlooked. However, everyone experiences anxiety, stress and duress during uncertain and challenging times, including physically-challenged persons and their caregivers.
Music and art therapy have been shown to provide a sense of normalcy for people who may otherwise not have opportunities for social interaction. Just before the start of the Circuit Breaker, ABLE’s Respite team packed and delivered individual care packages to its beneficiaries. These care packages included musical instruments and art materials for beneficiaries to harness music and art as therapy during these stressful times.
ABLE has been conducting music and art therapy sessions online to help beneficiaries express themselves and deal with difficult emotions. Since the re-opening of the Respite Centre at limited capacity, these sessions have become hybrid sessions with some beneficiaries attending in-person and some virtually. ABLE has also been facilitating virtual volunteer-led befriending sessions to help beneficiaries stay connected in the community.
At the start of the Community Circuit Breaker, ABLE had to stop operations as we were not included in the list of essential services. However, this would have impacted some of our regular transport clients who use our services to commute safely to their thrice-weekly dialysis appointments.
ABLE’s Transport team immediately sought and was granted an exemption for these clients. The team was able to continue bringing these clients to and from their dialysis appointments throughout the Circuit Breaker period.
When the rest of ABLE’s services resumed in-person operations towards the end of the Circuit Breaker, our Transport team was then able to return to serving the rest of our clients, with new safe distancing measures in place. This included reducing the number of passengers allowed by half and thorough cleaning after every trip.
Our team at ABLE SEAS had to adapt the most to the COVID-19 situation, as our PWD colleagues are in the high-risk category.
The first two weeks of work-from-home were challenging and the team worked hard to help colleagues who did not have the necessary equipment. One colleague’s desktop had to be brought to her home from the office, and another colleague did not have WIFI in her home before this, so ABLE SEAS sponsored a home internet plan to enable her to work from home.
The use of cloud accounting systems and online collaboration tools ensured that services to our clients were not disrupted. Some of our older colleagues had to learn new technology quickly, such as using video calling software for the first time. More IT savvy colleagues became the de facto “call centre” for less savvy colleagues during this time.
Some clients made special arrangements to post documents to specific colleagues’ homes instead of to the office, and new protocols regarding confidentiality were set up to accommodate this change. We also had to help clients quickly transition to internet banking and cloud-based accounting systems.
For clients who were unable to give us access to documents during this time, plans were made to ensure that we could clear the backlog of work once circuit breaker was over and access to documents restored.
Even when Singapore entered Phase 2, our PWD colleagues were asked not to return to the office for their own safety. To ensure that everyone was coping well and not feeling too isolated from being at home all the time, weekly video call meetings were set up and time set aside for talking about how everyone was doing mentally and emotionally, instead of only discussing work. A common topic was food and sharing what everyone had been cooking and eating.
These adaptations from staff, management and clients alike ensured that our work could continue while everyone stayed safe and healthy, physically, mentally and emotionally.