Augment Therapy, innovators of augmented reality software that turns children’s therapy into a game, had the opportunity to take part in the Developmental Disabilities Conference (DDC) at the Ohio State Capitol in Columbus on March 2, 2022. Every year, Ohio’s Developmental Disability Council invites people with disabilities to the Capitol so that they can meet directly with legislators and various agency leaders. This year over 400 people attended, including adults and children with disabilities, their caregivers, family members, representatives of healthcare organizations, insurance providers, educators, and legislators. Augment Therapy co-founder and CEO Lindsay Watson PT, MPT was honored to be included among the invitees and had the privilege of demoing the software for this audience. A diverse array of attendees used and observed the Augment Therapy software, and everyone came away impressed.
The Live Demo
For the first time in its history, the Developmental Disabilities Conference featured an interactive technology room, and this gave Augment Therapy a stage upon which to shine. After connecting the iPad to the tech-room TV and booting up the software, Lindsay let people line up to give Augment Therapy a test run. Within the span of about 3 hours, 42 people of varying heights, body types, and cognitive and physical ability levels engaged with the software in quick succession. Among the users were people with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Down Syndrome, neurological syndromes, and traumatic brain injuries; some were ambulatory and others were wheelchair-bound. This incredibly diverse sample of participants took to the software enthusiastically, taking a turn at play and then trading off with only thirty seconds to a minute between each user. Players sampled every activity Augment Therapy had to offer, including a flying exercise, obstacle course, ball activities, and lower extremity strengthening exercises. Before long, a crowd formed around the Augment Therapy demo and became very involved, cheering on the participants as they played. To this point, Augment Therapy hasn’t tested so many people at so many ability levels at such a rapid rate, but the Capitol demo went off without any hiccups.
What We Learned
As CEO of Augment Therapy, Lindsay went in knowing that her product was good, but the Developmental Disabilities Conference showed her just how good it truly is. The conference was effectively a coming out for Augment Therapy, as the company hadn’t demoed the software at any in-person events since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020. Naturally, Augment Therapy has evolved and improved over the course of the pandemic, but the development team still had uncertainties about how it would function in this type of setting. The live demo at the Developmental Disabilities Conference thoroughly allayed those concerns. The DDC demo made it obvious that the software is functioning at a level even its creators weren’t totally aware of, while at the same time revealing the virtues of Augment Therapy for everyone who took part.
On full display for users and onlookers was Augment Therapy’s accessibility for patients. It’s difficult to build software that’s accessible to a wide variety of physical and cognitive ability levels, but Augment Therapy breaks down those boundaries. The games proved to be readily accessible throughout the full spectrum of cognitive levels, as the conference users included everyone from non-verbal people functioning in the lower cognitive range to older adults. This level of access is unprecedented. Normally, if therapists do find a solution that works for one portion of the population, there will still be an enormous section that just can’t do it due to cognitive or physical factors. Augment Therapy provides accessible resources for a range of abilities in a single program.
This establishes Augment Therapy as a great resource for therapists, as well. Lindsay was attending the conference as a representative of the company, yet she found herself slipping into therapist mode over and over again as she witnessed Augment Therapy working its magic. Even though she helped develop the software, she was nonetheless “a little blown away” upon beholding just how many different needs it could serve, and the high level of engagement it garnered. Therapists typically spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to engage patients who are all very different, but Augment Therapy provides an all-in-one answer. “Seeing one solution that could fit that bill in one place,” Lindsay offered, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.” To see that Augment Therapy was so engaging to so many people, with a crowd huddling around the demo at all times and Lindsay having to nudge each user to make way for the next, strongly suggests that the software is deeply immersive and can function far better than conventional and virtual physical therapy technologies currently in use.
What appears to set Augment Therapy apart is its ease of use, and the Developmental Disabilities Conference made this abundantly clear. In Lindsay’s estimation, the audience “couldn’t believe that what they were looking at was just generated from the iPad or from the iPhone and simply opening the device and connecting to the TV. Everyone was pretty shocked that there weren’t any sensors anywhere of any kind.”
For many users with disabilities, Augment Therapy’s absence of equipment didn’t just make physical activity easier, but it actually provided access to video-gaming itself. Most of these users have a profound interest in gaming technology, but have experienced difficulty interacting with it since standard consoles require handheld controllers and joysticks. Because they might not possess the dexterity for conventional gaming, these individuals have to this point found themselves on the sidelines as observers of other people playing video games. Augment Therapy, then, provides access not just to “gamified” therapy, but to gaming in general. So in addition to doing something fun, users were also getting the opportunity to do something that’s good for them.
And on account of that lack of joysticks and wearable accouterments as per other therapy software or video games, there was no need to wipe down any equipment between users. No wearables means no need for repeated sanitization. This not only saves time and effort, but also addresses health concerns that will be top-of-mind in a post-pandemic world.
Applications and Implications
The Developmental Disabilities Conference also put Augment Therapy in contact with key players in Ohio healthcare. Over the course of the conference, Lindsay received numerous inquiries from members of Ohio’s Developmental Disability (DD) boards. These boards are located in counties all throughout the state, one of their main functions being to facilitate workshops that provide employment opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities. Accordingly, the DD boards are continually trying to come up with fresh and exciting ways to provide benefits for developmentally delayed adults, especially concerning nutrition and fitness. Board members were very excited to learn about the options that Augment Therapy could provide for helping people with developmental disabilities meet their physical fitness goals.
Ohio has had a longstanding commitment to technological innovation as it relates to developmental disabilities, and that shows through in the people that have been chosen to legislate. While at the Capitol conference, Lindsay had the good fortune of meeting Kim Hauck, the recently appointed director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities. Upon observing the Augment Therapy interface, Hauck promptly tested the software herself. Her participation speaks volumes to Ohio legislators’ active commitment to healthcare technology.
Lindsay also got the chance to talk to other state leaders on the all-important topic of remote therapeutic monitoring codes, which apply directly to technologies like Augment Therapy. These codes are a new feature of Medicare, and bringing them to Medicaid in short order would be a necessary and momentous development. Lindsay was able to suggest as much to the state agency representatives, on the grounds that adding remote therapeutic monitoring to the Medicaid physician fee schedule would greatly benefit patients and healthcare providers alike. With this legislation in place, time spent using software such as Augment Therapy could be paid for by private or federally run insurance. The state of Ohio has already proven itself a trendsetter for telehealth reimbursement, and now it has the potential to lead the way with remote therapeutic monitoring reimbursement for Medicaid, as well.
All in all, the Developmental Disabilities Conference made it obvious to Lindsay and the Augment Therapy team that their software is working even better than they’d originally thought. The versatility of the software was on full display in the Ohio Capitol on March 2nd. Now it’s clear to Lindsay, her team, and likely everyone that attended the demo that Augment Therapy is well-equipped to address the needs of people with a vast array of physical and cognitive disabilities. The general feeling among Augment Therapy’s innovators is that they’ve found the perfect combination of engagement, ease of use, and therapeutic benefit all in one neat little app. The DDC demo showed that the software is easy, adaptable, and runs seamlessly, accommodating a variety of body types and cognitive levels, all of which makes it ideal for fast implementation in home and hospital settings.
Given that the Developmental Disabilities Conference was, in Lindsay’s words, “a huge success,” she has made it her goal to seek out more conferences like this in the near future. Due in large part to the pandemic, Augment Therapy has been operating in a sort of “stealth mode,” as Lindsay describes it, in that the company hasn’t been outwardly showcasing the software to the degree they would have hoped. To this point, not many people have had the opportunity to peer under the hood of what Lindsay and her team have built, nor have they seen the full array of its functions. Moving forward, Lindsay thinks it’s high time to start letting people test the software; with public spaces opening up again on the tail end of COVID-19, there will undoubtedly be more and more venues for Augment Therapy to show the world what it can do.