|Author: Darlene Alu|
|Online Portfolio of Intervention Materials Makes Life Easier for SLPs and Audiologists
|As a practicing speech-language pathologist, Michelle Eral, MS, CCC-SLP, traveled between five different facilities to see patients. She kept everything she needed—flash cards, activities, worksheets, books—in the trunk of her car. Going from place to place with all of these materials removed from and thrown back into her trunk, she would often be unable to find what she needed when arriving at a facility.
Because she also felt that she spent too much time photocopying materials to use in her sessions, she decided it would be easier in the long run to create her own materials on her computer so that she'd have them when she needed them. When other therapists started asking for copies of the materials she was using, she found that there was not only a need for these materials, but also great interest in what she was doing.
Consulting a financial advisor with her business plan, Eral was introduced to a local investment group. "Within a week," she says, "I had the money to start TheraSimplicity." That was 10 years ago.
TheraSimplicity is a web-based resource of educational, therapeutic and professional materials for speech pathologists and audiologists. The web site provides an online collection of useful tools, illustrations, activities, worksheets, games, explanations, reference materials and discussion forums for therapists in the areas of Cognition, Communication and Swallowing. New areas are currently being developed for Occupational Therapy and Literacy Development. Therapists can utilize intervention materials created by guest authors or create their own materials with provided templates.
"The great thing," says Eral, "is that when they save the materials they've created, they are saving them to our server. So the user can access the materials from any computer with an Internet connection. So they do not use up space on their own computers and they can go from site to site, computer to computer, and as long as they have an internet connection, they have access to these materials."
She continues, "Because it is a web-based resource, it is dynamic and ever-changing. There is nothing to install onto your computer, which means no upgrades or patches are necessary when a fix has been made or new material is available. We are able to add materials on a daily basis. All new materials are made instantly available to our users. And because users must log-in to their account, their saved materials are only accessible to them."
TheraSimplicity currently has over 12,000 images that include photographs as well as color and black and white illustrations, and over 5,000 pre-created worksheets and handouts. And those amounts continue to grow.
When users first visit the web site, they are offered a free 30-day trial. "That's how confident we are that people will go in, see it, use it, and love it," beams Eral. "Most of our fan club consists of people who tried it and discovered the convenience of not having to cut, paste, photocopy or search for worksheets they can't find. Instead, they find that they can customize our templates to fit their needs, categorize them and save them, building their own online portfolio of intervention materials."
Although TheraSimplicity's largest customer base consists of those with pediatric patients, materials are available for any age group and any diagnosis. Tools available include game boards, communication boards, story boards, sequencing boards, stickers, flash cards, reinforcers, caregiver suggestions, anatomy images, and worksheets and slide shows in various areas. Content areas include Critical Thinking, Memory, Problem Solving, Articulation and Phonology, Fluency, Voice and Resonance, Receptive and Expressive Language, Hearing, Swallowing, Cognition, Auditory, Social Communication, and other Communication Modalities such as pragmatics.
The collection of materials continuously grows as themes are added for holidays and events, and new areas are developed based on user requests. "We are about 70 percent based on user request," says Eral. "We answer every email request, meet once a week to discuss user requests, and try to meet those needs on a persistent basis."
The website offers 24/7 technical support for its users. "We have someone on-call at all times," Eral verifies. "The nonstop tech support works great because we constantly take these calls, which provide us with ideas on ways that we can improve the site. Not all users are tech savvy but most of them are and, when one has a problem, we assume that others are experiencing the same problem."
The site also provides users with tutorials on the home page as well as within each special section of the site. And when users first sign up, they receive a "cheat sheet" which instructs them on creating worksheets, slide shows, boards and themes, as well as how to search the website. One-on-one tutorials are available for both trial users and subscribers.
The discussion forums on the website are available in three sections: Audiology, Speech-Language Pathology and Cognitive Therapy. This area includes discussions on evaluation, treatment, therapy approaches, populations, settings, techniques, resources, materials and products. Eral acts as moderator, as does one of her contract authors.
Eral has run the business from her home for 10 years but, as it grew, she built a staff and secured office space where operations will be set up soon. "It has grown so much that we are getting out into our own office space," she says. "With the volume of calls we get and things becoming the way they are with a full staff, we need our own space in order to be more functional."
Eral now has a staff of five, whose responsibilities include sales and business development, client liaise and university alliance, graphic design, and bookkeeping. About 17 guest authors have helped with developing and adding content to the system. Some guest authors are compensated for their contributions while others have simply asked that their subscription fee to the service be waived.
"My husband came on board to do the sales and marketing and is such a people person," Eral shares. "I am kind of behind the scenes doing the developing but he is out there talking to people all the time. People who hear about the business will probably mention Joe Eral's name before they mention Michelle Eral and that's okay with me. I'd rather be behind the scenes."
Developing a university alliance partnership for TheraSimplicity, Eral gives universities the opportunity to use the service for free. User accounts are set up for students at participating colleges. As long as these students are enrolled in the school, they will have access to TheraSimplicity's resources. When the students graduate, their user accounts are closed and new ones are set up for incoming students.
"Our longest participating university is on its third year," says Eral. "And we just added our 40th university to our list of clients. We make really good use of the university program. The university is only charged for our trainer to go out to the school and train someone in the web site's use. It is a train-the-trainer type of session wherein we conduct training once, instructing them in how to use the products and how to train their students in using the system."
Although this program is essentially free to universities, it is sure to grow Eral's business in the long run. Once the students graduate and start careers in their field, these former users of TheraSimplicity are probably going to want to subscribe to the resource having already experienced and enjoyed its benefits.
TheraSimplicity currently has subscribers in more than 14 countries around the globe. Both graduate and undergraduate speech-language pathology programs use TheraSimplicity. It is especially beneficial to students because they can access the materials from campus, internships, externships, clinics or at home. Some university partners include Northwestern University, St. John's University, Utah State and Alabama A&M.
The Milwaukee Public School District in Wisconsin and Clark County School District in Nevada, the fifth largest school district in the country, are recent clients, as well as the United States Department of Defense, Education Division, which has schools all over the world that will use the product. The contract with the government is TheraSimplicity's largest single order contract to date with 201 subscriptions.
Another way that Eral spreads awareness of TheraSimplicity is through industry conferences sponsored by professional organizations. "We present at a lot of conferences," she says. "We are always at American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's national conference. And, because occupational therapy works with a lot of the same areas as speech therapy, we are now introducing into the area of occupational therapy, and will be debuting TheraSimplicity this spring at the American Occupational Therapy Association conference."
Eral does a lot of presentations in similar regions where training is scheduled at universities. She recently introduced new materials called "Get a Clue in Pragmatics" at Los Angeles Unified School District. Pragmatics is a fairly new section to TheraSimplicity. This area offers materials focused on topic maintenance, turn-taking, personal space, initiating and terminating, and making adjustments.
Currently, the TheraSimplicity team is about halfway into the three-year process of developing a literacy module. "It will enable the therapist or educator the ability to combine what they're doing in the reading classroom with parts of the book. This could include the cover of the book, the table of contents, the pictures in the book, or the back of the book. For example, if they are reading The Three Little Pigs, the therapist or educator will have the ability to create a sequencing board, a communication board, help the students write their own story, or create a follow-up story using the exact the same characters that are in the book."
"It's a huge opportunity," she continues, "because if you can imagine how many books there are out there and all the graphics we have associated with templates, and the fact that we use all of our graphics developed by our own artist, the possibilities are endless."
Although she no longer sees patients because of her extensive travel schedule, Eral remembers well the days of huge caseloads. "I do not believe it has gotten any easier," she says. "For me, that is why the excitement and interest is there for what I do. I believe that by providing therapists with quick, professional and customizable material options, that I am helping."
TheraSimplicity's web site can be found at http://www.therasimplicity.com.
Michelle Eral, MS, CCC-SLP, is the Founder and President of TheraSimplicity, based out of New Richmond, Wisconsin. Eral earned her bachelor's degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders from St. Cloud University in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and her master's degree in Communicative Disorders from the University of Wisconsin in River Falls, Wisconsin. She is a member of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
Darlene Alu is a writer from the Philadelphia area. She is on the Editorial Staff of NEWS-Line for Speech-Language Pathologists & Audiologists.