In 2008, I was working in rural Oregon, USA, providing speech therapy to 3 main K-12 schools and 2 one-room school houses located in remote areas. During the icy winter months, I was worried about driving down steep canyon roads to get to the remote one-room school houses. The IT director suggested I provide therapy via Skype. Skype was new at the time and I had never used it before, there was no screen sharing or any bells and whistles, it was just like a phone call with the video piece. I wasn't sure how or if it would work at all, but I was really worried about the icy roads, so I thought I would give it a try.
The teacher was amazing! He was supportive and participated in sessions and was willing to work with the student between sessions. The student was also amazing, he participated and had no trouble waiting through glitches and the video freezing - and most importantly he made progress! An idea was born!
In 2009 I moved to Arizona and started working on the Navajo Nation, commuting several hours each way on adobe roads which would wash out in the rain or snow, making it impossible to provide consistent services. I talked to the school about setting up a pilot program to conduct virtual services and they were interested. A few years before, they had bought very expensive video conferencing equipment and wanted to use it, but I couldn't afford to buy the same equipment to use on my end to make it work.
Luckily technology was exploding, and there were several video conferencing platforms now available via the computer. After extensive research, I chose to use Oovoo and my brother (a techy who helped me navigate setting up virtual therapy) found a screen sharing program that had to be downloaded separately. It was amazing! I went from holding up pieces of paper to show the kids, to being able to play fun online games (I started with PBSkids.org) and sharing documents. The kids LOVED it! Even kids with ADHD would sit patiently if we froze.
The pilot program was a complete success! The speech therapy assistant working with the students at the school was shocked at how well it worked and later told me she had been very skeptical about virtual therapy, but ended up being a supporter.
Virtual therapy worked so well that I started an online speech therapy clinic. I expanded my business to over 24 US states and hired over 200 speech therapists. I have since moved on from that company to expand into the global market with Virtually ConnectEd. There are so many children globally who are not getting the services they need, so Sarah Wollheim, OTR/L, (one of the first OTs who ever worked virtually!) and I have partnered up to create a global virtual clinic that provides comprehensive special education support to children around the world. We now provide speech therapy, occupational therapy (ergo-therapy in some parts of the world), special education teachers, counseling, tutors, English as an additional language (EAL), as well as virtual Psychoeducational evaluations for learning disabilities, ADHD, ASD...etc.