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A visit to Kingston’s Extend-a-Family facility was a little like going down the rabbit hole in the Wizard of Oz, you suddenly found yourself in a new world you knew nothing about, and it had been in your backyard all along.
According to the Executive Director, Paul McGarvey Extend-a-Family Kingston (EAFK) began in 1981 as a grassroots summer day camp experience for children with developmental disabilities and their siblings. Since then, it expanded into several contracts such as the Developmental Service Ontario Office, a funding agency called Passport, Hosing coordination, family support role, and adult and children’s day programs.
In 2013, however, they decided it was time to revamp their programs to increase their effectiveness and efficiency. This resulted in two major initiatives: the Diversity Garden and the utilization of cutting-edge technology.
The Diversity Garden had two components: the traditional growing part and a “sensory” aspect where their clients could “find some calm space” to reflect or be alone. The garden was underpinned with a “seed to table” curriculum that acted as a teaching and learning opportunity.  
In 2020 EAFK began negotiations with Dunya Habitats about their “tiny farms” or vertical hydroponic octagonal growing pods. Today they have secured the funding to install two such pods, the first of which is now operational, and we got to tour.
Scott Taylor, Director of Data Systems, and Megan Taylor began the tour with a look at some of the new technology which left us marveling.
Such tools as dedicated DTEN ME ZOOM monitors, a video camera attached to eyeglasses that can read aloud to the wearer, another video camera that can read comic books, a watch that monitors not only a person’s health but emotional state, a special monitor called TAPit which stands for Touch Accessible Platform Interactive Technology, a Virtual Reality System and Xbox four screen Centre and an interactive Golf room.

Assistive Technology Tour

DTEN ME Zoom monitor  (page includes a video)
This is a 27-inch, monitor, specially designed to make Zooming as easy and interactive as possible. Twelve were purchased to keep in contact with clients, often with caregiver aid, during the pandemic lockdown period. 
OrCam MyEye (page includes a video)
Manufactured by OrCam, this device was developed for people with blindness or a visual impairment, the camera is attached to glasses magnetically and reads the story to the wearer.
OrCam Read (page includes a video)
This is another OrCam product that scans a page and can read the pictures as well. It is used with clients who liked comics but could not read them.
This watch which may be a Galaxy 3 by Samsung is being used to not only provide fitness health data but emotional data as well. However, at this point, it cannot distinguish between excitement due to stress or happiness.

Four Ultra-High Tech Adaptive Technology Machines

Extend-a-Family included in our tour three devices that required their own “centers”. The fourth was a specialized portable device that was highly adjustable for people with significant physical impairments while providing state-of-the-art interaction with the screen and programs. All four can be viewed on a video produced by Extend-a Family at http://www.eafkingston.com/tech
The Xbox Gaming Centre
This centre houses a four-screen complex connected to an Xbox so 4 players can play. You might notice that the bottom left monitor has marks across the top of the screen; this is because a person hit it with his fist. The room has two small sofas to sit on. 
The Virtual Systems Centre
In this Centre, Scott Tayor demonstrated the use of virtual reality using a monitor and a VIVE wireless adapter.
An example of an Extent-a-Family virtual experience titled Who Will Win, a virtual Archery adventure can be viewed at https://youtu.be/XlCfMHOnTWE
TAPit or Touch Accessible Platform Interactive Technology
Ian Cholmondeley who can be seen in this photo showed us how the machine can be adjusted and some of its screen features.
To view its features, watch this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sv5xwpbDabI
The Virtual Golfing Centre
A much large venue houses a Golf simulation centre where a person hits a real ball off a tie and the machine measures the direction and distance a ball is hit. Some Rotarians got to try it out. 

The Diversity Garden and the Dunya Habitat “Tiny Farm”

Next, our tour took us outside, where we viewed and experienced the Diversity Garden. It is also where Sumi Shanmuganathan shared the development of the Dunya Habitat, a product pioneered while she and her brother were at Queen’s University. The units were designed in Toronto but are manufactured in Kingston and were pilot tested by a farmer in the area. The Extent-a-Family unit is the first commercial pod installed by the company.
This was followed by a peek at a growing pod hosted by Barbara Danielewski, where we looked inside the Dunya Habitat “Tiny Farm” hydroponic growing units and saw the very first set of lettuce to be grown in the unit. 
Danielewski explained that the lettuce seeds were first planted in coco fibre pods because unlike Rockwool, they are compostable. The young plants are then transferred from the growing trays to the vertical wall in the Dunya growing unit. As the plant grows, the roots need to be trimmed or they could not be removed later. The ph of the water is tested daily and adjusted automatically. Of the 1200 plants originally planted at a certain point, every other plant is harvested which permits the remaining plants to grow larger. A growth cycle will occur approximately every 30 – 40 days.
 The goal of the exercise is to provide produce all year round and to use it to teach their learners how to manage to farm and to grow a business as well. The produce will be supplied to Kingston agencies providing meals to those in need.
The visit began with a variety of box lunches provided by Extend-a-Family. We passed a hat for a contribution to defray the cost, however, Executive Director, Paul McGarvey chose to donate it to our exchange student Berenice Perrin’s just-announced fundraising meal.

An example of an Extend-a-Family produced virtual experience

Further Reading
Checkout Wake Labs blog https://www.awakelabs.com/blog
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