Teaching life skills to adults with disabilities is the main responsibility of our life skills tutors. Before the COVID-19 pandemic led us to close our office doors temporarily, a tutor’s daily life varied widely. One day, a tutor would meet with one participant in the office to go over budgets, and the next day they might meet at the McGaw YMCA to support healthy living goals.
Because of our person-centered philosophy, our tutors’ experiences are different with each participant. Each individual determines their own goals based on their hopes and dreams. After that, tutors work with the individual to create action plans, which are the basis for tutoring sessions. These individualized plans mean that tutors are usually out in the community, supporting local cafes and shops while teaching life skills to our participants.
The pandemic disrupted much of the work we do at Independent Futures, but our Direct Support team pivoted quickly. With many local businesses closed and a stay-at-home order, our tutors needed to start teaching life skills remotely.
Teaching Life Skills To Adults During A Pandemic
Three months into our stay-at-home order, tutoring looks a lot different than it used to. “Tutoring during the pandemic has evolved,” reported life skills tutor Dee Dee Goldman. “Much of what I do is teaching and modeling, so the physical distance has changed that.”
Another tutor, Cynthia Witherspoon, said, “During the first week Independent Futures instituted the work from home policy I met with the participants I tutor using texts, FaceTime, and phone calls.” However, as the governor modified the stay-at-home order, “I returned to meeting in person with most of my participants in their homes. We practice safe distancing and I always wear a mask. For those who have not felt comfortable returning to face to face meetings, I stay in touch with FaceTime or phone calls.”
Turning Challenges Into Opportunities
Working and tutoring remotely meant new challenges for tutors and participants. The first step was figuring out how sessions could continue. Dee Dee shared, “We have been very creative by using screen share, dictation, and new forms of learning to do daily tasks.”
Because tutors are teaching life skills to adults with disabilities using new tools, the topics individuals are learning have changed too. The challenges associated with teaching someone how to cook, combined with adapting to remote learning, meant tutoring topics changed too.
During Cynthia’s tutoring sessions, she and participants have gone for walks to change their scenery. She also used the pandemic as an opportunity to discuss, model, and practice safety through personal hygiene routines. But the need for distance learning with life skills led to new technology challenges.
“One learning opportunity was understanding how to order groceries online,” Cynthia said. “It is surprising how many things need to be considered, like choosing which store you want, using a debit or credit card to pay for groceries, and scheduling time to have groceries delivered. It’s a complex process with a lot of steps to learn.”
Adjusting To A New Normal
Many of our participants work in grocery stores and remained working as essential employees throughout the pandemic. Still, some participants felt their anxiety increase. For participants who were furloughed, the changes to their routines were difficult. These types of changes in day-to-day activities were difficult for many of us to grow accustomed to.
As we all adjusted slowly to the necessary COVID-19 precautions, our tutoring participants adjusted too. “At first, participants would tease me about wearing a mask and gloves, maintaining 6 feet of distance, and putting items on the ground,” Cynthia said. “Now everyone sees these as common practices, and they are respectful of the guidelines I follow. They know I am doing it to protect them.”
Moving Our Supports Forward
Throughout this time, individuals employed their independent living skills to face brand new challenges. However, only 3 of Dee Dee and Cynthia’s participants left their homes to live with family. Tutoring continued in a new format and adjusted to individuals’ changing needs.
We learned that teaching life skills to adults with disabilities during a pandemic required new tools and flexibility. Our tutors rose to meet this new challenge. By creatively using Zoom, screen sharing, and other tech solutions, the team continued supporting participants near and far. As we prepare for the rest of this year, we are deciding which tools we will continue using. Have thoughts you’d like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know what you think!