by Molly Shannon, OTR/L, ATP, on the ATandOT Blog
Recently our AT tech support staff person was heard to say that he probably was going to send about 50 older Powerlinks to surplus. (These were older than the current Powerlink 4 from Ablenet www.ablenetinc.com !) “What did you say, sir?” To an OT who has been specializing in assistive technology (AT) for almost 30 years, “them there are fightin’ words!” (Yes, I am originally from Texas!). So what can I do as an occupational therapist and an AT advocate? I can provide training in my school district and spread the word about creative ways to upcycle the older AT, such as Powerlinks, for use with persons of all ages with disabilities. These early environmental control units can assist them with their physical and cognitive challenges, as you will see as we review these 10 upcycling ideas. Some of these creative adaptations are my own, while others I’ve learned from the wonderful teachers I’ve had the privilege to work with through the years and from excellent online resources.
You can find used Powerlink 3’s on EBay from $40-$80.00 and the newest Powerlink 4 from Ablenet for $239.00.
Remember that these devices can be set to direct activation for true cause and effect, latched for on and off, set to a specific time limit, and they can also be used with wireless switches. Sometimes a tag team is needed with one student holding an item and the other operating the switch connected to the Powerlink. For example, think of pairing a child with a physical disability with one with a cognitive disability, or a regular ed peer buddy with the student with a disability. All of these activities should be performed with an adult present for set-up, of course, as well as to monitor safety. What if the user manual for the Powerlink 3 is missing? Here is a link to one online: http://www.kusd.edu/sites/default/files/document-library/english/PowerLink_Manual.pdf
The current Powerlink 4 specs from Ablenet note the following: “120V models (US version) provide two outlets to allow choice-making activities with a variety of appliances, up to a total of 12 Amps (1700 watts each side).” Here are two reference charts of household appliances for reference (Watts divided by 120=Amps) http://www.georgiapower.com/in-your-community/electric-safety/chart.cshtml and http://www.donrowe.com/usage-chart-a/259.htm
Caution: Two appliances plugged into one duplex outlet cannot exceed 1700 watts combined. Never connect two heat-producing appliances to one duplex outlet, such as a popcorn popper and a hair dryer. Also, please note that some toys or appliances say they are “electronic” but they really operate on batteries, which means you need battery interrupters and switches. Therefore, you need toys and appliances with an electrical plug to work in the Powerlinks.
10 Upcycling Ideas
1. Get’er Done! Take that older Powerlink out of the closet or storage and tie it with something simple that you have readily available in your classroom or home setting, such as a table fan. You plug the fan into the Powerlink and the electrical cord from the device into the wall outlet. Choose your method of input as direct, latched, or timed. It really is that easy! Tie on ribbons for visual attention or how about some aromatherapy oils dabbed on them for olfactory stimulation?
2. From the Horse’s Mouth: Make sure you check out the great suggestions from the manufacturer Ablenet themselves. I have been a long-time proponent of this outstanding company and they offer lots of free online training and resources as well. Check out their “Remarkable Ideas” about Powerlink ideas which include free activity downloads: https://www.ablenetinc.com/resources/remarkable_ideas?s=powerlink&sort=&post_type=remarkable_ideas
3. Winner, Winner! The BEST resource I’ve ever found online about switch use that includes Powerlink use is from PISP (old name, PROVINCIAL INTEGRATION SUPPORT PROGRAM). Great inclusive and age-appropriate ideas; no one can match their creativity! It is now called the Provincial Inclusion Outreach Program in Canada: http://www.pisp.ca/. Here are their general instructions for the Powerlink: http://pisp.ca/equipment/documents/PowerlinkInstructions.pdf
They also share easy-to-implement suggestions for all ages:
- PISP for Elementary: http://www.pisp.ca/strategies/strategies34.pdf
- PISP for Middle and High School: http://www.pisp.ca/strategies/strategies94.pdf
- PISP Using Appliances in Meaningful Routines: http://www.pisp.ca/strategies/strategies60.pdf
- PISP: Using A Switch in Day Programs and Community Activities: http://www.pisp.ca/strategies/strategies89.pdf
- PISP: Adults Using Switches with Appliances: http://www.pisp.ca/strategies/strategies98.pdf
4. I’ve Got the Music in Me!: You can use any of the following with a Powerlink: radio, CD player, cassette player, DVD player. Yes, I still see cassettes in classrooms and they do work very well with Powerlinks as do radios. Using a CD player is a bit tricky as it often will keep repeating the same bit in a song. (If you’ve figured a way to bypass, this please share!)
5. Sensory Stimulation: My older students in self-contained classrooms also love a good disco ball with lights and movement attached to the Powerlink and often paired with music or a fan for lots of sensory stimulation. Other fun sensory ideas: electronic bubble blowers, fog machines, holiday lights with music, holiday trees with lights, electronic blowers for therapy balls or inflatables.
6. The Joy of Cooking: Participating in cooking activities has always been a great way to introduce independent control and cause and effect to those with disabilities via use of a Powerlink and switches. I’ve co-taught with my speech therapist buds in classrooms for making smoothies and pancake mix in blenders. Think of how many newer appliances you may have at home or can find at a garage sale or the Good Will. What about popcorn makers, waffle machines, snow cone or ice cream makers, cupcake or donut maker appliances, coffee or nut grinders to assist with cooking? Perhaps an electronic kettle for hot cocoa with assistance? (Picture is of the newer Powerlink 4.)
7. I’ve Got a Job! Classroom/home chores or pre-vocational? Some of these can be cooperative tasks if the student or adult cannot hold the item, for example a pencil in an electronic pencil sharpener. One student holds the pencil into the slot and the individual with a disability then presses the switch using the Powerlink to operate it. How about turning on the table lamps in the classroom, perhaps in a reading area? Turning on the class computer or Smartboard in latched mode? Electronic staplers, hole punchers, sweepers/dust busters for a two-person clean up (again with supervision). Some students could even be assigned to turn the classroom computer on and off with a latched Powerlink.
8. Feeling Crafty? Try a two-person cooperative team to use electronic scissors for cutting component tasks for crafts, scrapbooking, cards, etc. Try operating a fan to dry paintings or painted objects such as pumpkins or ceramics, or to blow marbles dipped in paint for painting in a box lid. Perhaps rock tumblers or critter makers found at Michael’s at holiday times. (Did you know that if you are a school district employee with a badge that you get 10-15% off at Michael’s?)
9. Classroom Fun in Centers: How about make-up mirrors in a home center, a nail dryer in a play area for pretend, or a relax/calm-down tent or area with holidays lights or music? Or what about a Lite Brite or sound machine? (Remember, you can plug up to 4 devices into one Powerlink at a time with 2 different switches.)
10. I Can Do it Myself, Thank You! Some of these self-care tasks might be more likely in a home setting. Could the person with the disability turn on the hair dryer that was mounted on a stand or operate a make-up mirror, water-pik, or electronic toothbrush? Again it could be a simple latch on/latch off control of the device, but it would give some control of the activity to the child or adult.
So there you have it! Get that older and less-used AT out of the closet and into your classroom, therapy session, or the home for maximization of functional skills for our clients with special needs. So power up those Powerlinks today!
Molly Shannon, OTR/L, AT , is an occupational Therapist with 33 years’ experience and currently working in the public schools as a school-based Occupational Therapist in NC. She has specialized in the provision of Assistive Technology for 29 of those years and is RESNA certified as an Assistive Technology Professional. In addition, Molly is an Adjunct Professor of Occupational Therapy at Cabarrus College of Health Sciences in the Master’s Program teaching Therapeutic Adaptations/Assistive Technology in OT. She loves to present and train others in Assistive Technology and has been a national-level conference presenter since 1989. She has worked with clients of all ages and with a wide range of disabilities in public/private school settings, non-profit educational/therapeutic agencies, outpatient/inpatient rehabilitation, and with the North Carolina Assistive Technology Program. You can connect with Molly on Twitter site, Pinterest Boards, or her ATandOT Facebook page.
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