Monkey Helpers: Our Future
Innovative Technology for Those Living with Physical Disabilities
As an organization dedicated to working with those living with disabilities and bringing humans and animals together, we can look at our history with great pride. Now, Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers (HH) is in an exciting transition phase, undertaking initiatives that will allow us to continue to serve the disability community by providing resources through the utilization of robotics, Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
HH is looking to take the 40+ years of experience, intellectual property, and insights it has gained in service to the disability community and offer it in collaboration with robotic, AR, VR and AI research organizations, firms and service providers.
The goal of our new Innovative Technology Strategy is to offer new technologies, now coming on the market at a rapid pace, that help empower individuals with physical disabilities to live more independent and engaged lives. As when we trained service monkeys from the 1980s through the early 2000s, our goal today is to provide tools that allow individuals with physical disabilities to have opportunities to pursue meaningful careers, advanced educational degrees, and fulfilling personal lives
Currently, HH is looking at three areas to implement immediately, including:
- Assistive and adaptive devices
- Virtual reality (VR)
How Does It All Work?
Technology and how individuals use it or what technology they need may vary. Many adults may need assistive or adaptive devices to help them daily, and provide the independence necessary to get to work or school. The initial gateway offering in the HH Innovative Technology Strategy is the Assistive Device Program, which will begin in 2022, working with a small population and growing into a larger program. These devices could be technology that can be purchased online, are easy to use, and make an individual’s day-to-day life easier. It might be a technology that is not covered by insurance and an individual or family cannot afford on their own. (i.e., Amazon’s Fire TV Cube or Echo). The device will not only provide independence for the person living with the physical disability but may also provide the caregiver with some free time to go about their own daily activities.
Please check back in late summer for an online application and complete instructions for applying to the need-based Assistive Device Program.
We are beginning our Robotics and Virtual Reality (VR) Programs with pilot programs in late winter/early spring 2022. Both projects will ascertain how robotics and VR technologies provide independence to someone with limited mobility. Our robotics pilot brings together George, who has multiple sclerosis, and Deborah, his wife and primary caregiver, with a team from the Institute of Experiential Robotics at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. Together the two parties will experiment to see what helps George in in his daily living needs and also what Deborah finds useful. The virtual reality project allows Billy, one of our current recipients living with a spinal cord injury, to experience time in Paris from his home in the US. The goal is to expand both of these programs to include hundreds of individuals and their families.
Join Us in Our Work!
Robots, virtual reality, and assistive devices are the future for Helping Hands and we want you to be part of our future. HH is confident that collaborations like the ones we are piloting will allow robotic and enhanced reality technologies to provide ever-increasing physical, emotional, and psychological independence to people living with a disability. If you are a high-tech company and want to be involved, or if you are interested in supporting our work financially, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to speak with you.
We can’t do this work alone, and we welcome your support.
Imagine something that looks like an animal, smells like an animal, responds like a friend or a teacher, and is as easy to care for as your phone.
Imagine a child on the autism spectrum who can’t have a pet but needs a way to learn about caring and connecting. Can we help children like this foster friendships and reduce the potential for loneliness and resulting negative outcomes.
Imagine a prisoner in solitary confinement who would enrich their humanity as a result of nurturing a virtual pet.
Imagine an elderly widow very much alone who would love to have an animal companion but isn’t physically capable of caring for it.
Imagine being able to use the therapeutic values of a human/animal connection to mitigate or help prevent anxiety and stress, depression and hopelessness, anger, irritability, hostility, panic attacks, poor impulse control, social withdrawal, outbursts of violence, psychosis, self-harm or suicide.
Helping Hands is known for our work in the disability community and for our work training nonhuman caregivers (monkeys) to work with humans. We will now take this knowledge and apply it to the use of technology to help individuals with disabilities live better lives. With the constant, rapid advances in technology, HH does not know exactly where such collaboration with robotics, AR, VR and AI groups will take us. However, at Monkey Helpers, our journey over the next couple of decades will open up horizons that cannot be imagined today. We know that in that process, perceptions we may have today may be proven accurate, unrealistic or be totally transformed through the collaborative process. However, at the outset of our exciting journey, here are some of HH’s initial thoughts about where the journey may lead.
As technology advances, HH envisions that robotics will increasingly play a larger role in providing nonhuman personal assistants to people with disabilities. At the outset, HH knows that its knowledge and observations can be of great benefit to research organizations and technology firms in these areas to better understand how disabled individuals interact with nonhuman personal assistants in a productive manner.
Moreover, as technology progresses, HH believes that increasingly there will be a convergence between robotics and machine learning/AI. The robots will need first to be “trained” to provide the services needed. However, as both robotics and machine learning/AI are combined, those nonhuman personal assistants will be able to adjust to the specific needs of their client. HH has 40 years of intellectual property and experience in the training of nonhuman personal assistants to provide service to the disability community. Moreover, HH is probably one of the only, if not the only, organization with insights into how the nonhuman assistant “learned” from its interactions with a disabled individual and adapted how it provided its service to the individual while still providing the parameters of services as it was trained.
As robotics and AI technologies advance and converge, HH believes that its knowledge and observations can be of great benefit to research organizations and technology firms to better understand that dynamic of adaptation by the nonhuman personal assistant to the individual needs of the disabled person while maintaining the safety and efficacy of service provision.
& ARTIFICIAL REALITY
& ARTIFICIAL REALITY
HH has always looked with great admiration and appreciation to organizations that are striving to find cures for injury- and disease-related causes of immobility. We look to continue to complement those heroic efforts through addressing quality-of-life issues for disabled individuals. HH sees the profusion of firms within the AR and VR areas as offering a great potential for the disabled community included but not limited to:
• neurological rehabilitation;
• experiential opportunities that can provide some degree of temporary “independence” of movement and engagement with the community at large; and
• training and employment potential that need not be tied to a specific location.
However, based on its 40 years of experience, HH also knows that on the day-to-day level, dealing with immobility disabilities can weigh down an individual on the physical, emotional and psychological levels. We have direct experience and understanding of this challenge. In our decades of relationships with clients, we have worked with and learned from them as they struggled through various stages of their disability:
• newly disabled due to disease or injury;
• striving to obtain as much quality of life as possible;
• coming to terms with plateauing and reversals in their progress through either a relapse or physical/technological limitations; and
• end-of-life issues.
HH looks to partner with AR and VR groups to apply its understanding of the unique life cycle needs and issues of immobility for disabled individuals as these firms develop and offer their technology and services in an effort to provide increasing opportunities for various degrees of independence and engagement with the wider community.
These are only a few of the areas HH envisions participating in as we look at the next generation of service provision for the disability community. That is why HH is so excited to collaborate with other groups to test these ideas; determine the viabilities; and, imagine and develop opportunities that we have not even begun to imagine as we begin this journey. We welcome you to join HH’s journey to the future.
Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers (HH) has been providing quality of life services to individuals with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and other disabilities for over 40 years.
We are now embarking on an exciting transition that will allow us to continue to serve individuals within the disability community in an innovative manner. As part of this transition, HH is in the process of developing collaborative strategic relations with research institutes, technology firms, complementary service providers, and funders involved in finding cures and providing service to the disability community.
At Monkey Helpers, our future with such collaborative partners, will enable us to apply our 40 years of intellectual property, experience, insights and networks to inculcate our knowledge into the next generation of service provision to the disability community. Please let us know if you and your organization are interested in exploring such potential collaboration.
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