Kevadvotech at 1 Year – It’s been an emotionally rewarding journey!

Kevadvotech at 1 Year – It’s been an emotionally rewarding journey!

Bringing Kevadvotech to life a year ago was the culmination of something I’ve been thinking about for a few years. I wanted to examine topics important to special needs families like ours. And along with sharing those findings, I wanted to share our own personal experiences in hope those stories might benefit others.

So I decided to combine two things I’m passionate about: serving the special needs community and exploring capabilities of emerging technologies. I thought it would be interesting to research emerging technology trends and share with our audience. And at some point, I felt it would be pretty cool to network and partner with technology firms interested in bringing new products and solutions to market for sake of improving lives of those with special needs and their caregivers.

In search of stories, we’ve met so many people that were enthused to sit down and share from their heart what they or their companies are doing to improve lives for those with special needs. Many have dedicated their lives and careers to it. Buts it’s also the many volunteers within the vast special needs community that amaze and inspire. It’s been incredibly rewarding to discover and meet so many of these fine people.

Kevadvotech is grateful for the encouragement and kind words of support we have received from family, friends, old colleagues and new friends we’ve made along the way. You are our source of inspiration and we thank you!

Here’s what I have learned and enjoyed along the way. I hope you enjoy the recap of our journey to date.

Know your limitations and hire good people

The headline says it all. It’s is a no brainer. Focus on your core business and hire good people to do the things you are good at. It’s what most of us in any business have learned as we’ve grown over the course of our professional careers. Yet somehow, I managed to ignore that important factor early on in the planning and build phase.

Setting up a website, along with social media platforms and tying it altogether to your newly formed LLC is pretty simple, right? Writing a couple blogs to get started and creating a youtube video or two, no problem. All I need is to secure my domain name, pick a hosting platform and a paid subscription of WordPress, and off we go!

Not so fast!

As Clint Eastwood proclaimed as Inspector Callahan in his old ‘Dirty Harry’ movies, “mans got to know his limitations.”, I soon realized I was in a bit over my skis and that Dirty Harry always called it right. While it might be pretty simple and basic stuff for someone with some tech savvy, I realized how far removed I was from my technical comfort zone. There’s a reason I left technical type roles nearly three decades ago. Besides being very average at it, I much preferred the ‘people’ side of the business and moved into sales roles by the mid 1990’s.

In fairness, I still enjoy technology and tracking emerging trends and dabbling with new gadgets, but to build and do what I was trying to accomplish for the newly formed Kevadvotech, it was a stretch for me. After a few months of frustration and many wasted hours, I leaned into my very expensive MBA degree and many years of business experience and concluded what I knew all along: Just hire someone already! PLEASE!

Thank goodness I corrected course and hired an amazing firm to help me through the planning and build phase. I highly recommend Andy Clor, who owns Artistik Designs and his wife Meghan who runs Andy is the tech heavy who designed and built my website, created my logo and set up my social platforms. Meghan took me through her social media marketing program and taught me a ton, including best practices on how to write a blog. I couldn’t be where I’m at today if I hadn’t found and hired them. They are both terrific at what they do, and I highly recommend them.

I view them both as my chief strategists, always there to provide great advice. And the best part is, they are two of my biggest cheerleaders and genuinely care about what I am doing.

Look beneath pain and suffering and you’ll find inspiration

Early on, I started to follow more Facebook Groups that target caregivers and parents of someone with special needs. There are many of them. I wanted to not only get a deeper feel of what others like my wife and I are experiencing, but to get a sense of what they see as gaps in services, support and technologies that may assist.

Some of the stories out there will tear your heart out. There is lots of sacrifice. So many that have foregone careers and dropped off the grid completely to provide the care their loved one needs. Some become isolated, not only from friends, but even their own family. Many parents and caregivers are broken and need support; emotionally, physically and financially. Social services are not often readily available.

If there is a post where I think I can contribute something, I’ll jump in. But there are so many others that are regular contributors, jumping in to lift someone up. It’s a beautiful thing to see. I am so humbled and amazed as I witness this interaction. It is group therapy at its finest.

Along the way, I had the pleasure of meeting Dennis Farrar, who is a frequent contributor to many of these facebook groups. Dennis is the father of a child with autism, and understands the struggles families go through when they too have a family member with a disability. Dennis is also a licensed Financial Professional and helps these special families plan for the long term care of their child. We did a video podcast interview back in May of 2022.

In April 2022, I was thrilled to introduce John Langan to our audience. John is one of the first people I met when we bought here in The Villages, FL in late 2018.  John has meant so much to all the special needs families in that community and is so giving of his heart, his time, and his knowledge. In this podcast interview, John shares some key things to know regarding planning for your special needs adult child. While much relates to services and programs available in the state of Florida, there are key takeaways that apply to to any state across the country.

We are proud to recognize and thank the wonderful people out there who provide valuable information and offer guidance and encouragement to so many caregivers and parents who are in desperate need of support.

Technology out there is promising but it’s the people behind it that are amazing

Meeting people in technology the past year has been both fascinating and a whole lot of fun for me. They have been eager and gracious with their time spent with me on podcasts sharing their vision and mission. One of our first interviews was with Scott Lien, CEO and co-Founder of Grandpad. I really enjoyed our conversation and was inspired by Scott’s passion for serving the senior community with a tablet that is simpler and easier for them to keep in communication with friends and family. We saw applicability for the special needs community as well, and we continue to use this for our son Kevin.

In September, Kevin and I were special guests for a guided tour at MCity in Ann arbor, MI. It was a chance to ride in an autonomous (driverless) vehicle as it navigated through the proving grounds, which is set up like a real-life small town, complete with obstacles and challenges necessary to put the technology through the rigors. Vicki Waters was our gracious host and educated us throughout the tour. There are a number of companies partnering with the University of Michigan to bring this mode of transportation to everyday life. Some communities have already embraced it and are leading its adoption. We envision this technology as a game changer to eventually present transportation opportunities for people with various disabilities and special needs. You can find that article here.

In October, we learned of the Scott-Morgan Foundation , who is dedicated to continue the late Dr. Peter Scott-Morgan’s passion to help others overcome severe disabilities through the use of adaptive technologies. I first reconnected with an old colleague, Logan Wilt, who had recently joined appliedAIstudio to focus on Human-centered artificial intelligence (AI) solutions that positively impact lives. At the time, AppliedAIstudio and Lenovo were preparing to host a buildathon, which is quite a unique approach to collaborating for sake of developing new assistive technologies for benefit of those with disabilities and special needs. The Scott-Morgan Foundation was set to sponsor. I had the honor and great pleasure of interviewing leaders from all three organizations during a video podcast.

Microchips implants: Science Hope or Science Fiction?

Click above for article “Would You Be Willing to Microchip Your Special Needs Loved One?”

We examined the topic of microchip implants in humans and wrote two articles in April. The first one explored some of the emerging trends in microchip implants for sake of monitoring vital health functions. Think of it as a more sophisticated level of a smart watch or other wearable devices. The microchip is typically inserted somewhere in your hand. Other possible uses of it could be to store important information such as emergency contact and medical info. Chip implants are commonplace for dogs, so why not humans?

Our 2nd microchip article examined Elon Musk’s Neurolink company. Their mission is incredibly ambition but takes microchip implants to a whole different level. While their goals are admirable, we weren’t yet comfortable with the thought of robotically inserting a chip directly into someone’s skull. We were taking a flyer on it and will check in with them on a later date.

Companies are more embracing of Neurodiversity in the workplace

It’s been encouraging to learn that more companies are hiring those with special needs. More importantly, they are looking far beyond minimum wage, task oriented, repeatable process type jobs and presenting opportunities to build meaningful careers. We interviewed Pam Weiss in September, who shared the inspiring story how her special needs daughter, Ingrid has been thriving the past few years since her hiring by IBM. As a retiree of IBM after a 30 year career there, I’m very proud to know IBM is presenting exciting career opportunities for the neurodiverse community.

In December, Pam joined me again for a podcast interview, along with Anthony Pacilio, VP of Neurodiverse Solutions at CAI. Pam shared more detail about what she and her employer are doing to bring neurodiverse talent into the Legal industry, as they offer meaningful career opportunities. We commend Pam and her company for their commitment and efforts to expand opportunities for this special pool of talented people.

Anthony’s story is amazing and inspirational in so many ways. Anthony shared his own personal struggles from adolescence through early adulthood. He overcame some unique challenges and today is thriving as he helps companies build neurodiversity hiring programs.

Sharing our own personal experiences

Early on, we felt others might benefit from sharing our own personal dilemma of whether or not to follow doctors’ recommendations to try various prescription drugs early on following Kevin’s traumatic brain injury in 2001. You can find that March 2022 article here. There were a number of years following his accident that we made some regrettable decisions regarding Kevin’s ongoing healthcare, specific to medication choices.

It took a long time, but we eventually found a core team of doctors that suggested what we pretty much felt we already knew; some of the previously recommended meds only made Kevin worse. With this new team of doctors, their approach to Kevin’s healthcare and well being was a more natural approach, and one where minimal doses were administered. And they were quicker than previous doctors to change course if sudden, negative side effects surfaced.

Today, the only prescription drug Kevin uses is a rare, occasional, low dose of something to help alleviate anxiety if we see his stress suddenly building.

Also in March 2022, we shared our experiences with Kevin regarding management of his safety and well-being. There were times he was a flight risk from leaving the house or a hotel room, sometimes in the middle of the night. These were very frightening moments. Along the way, we found some low tech, low cost options that were helpful. And they certainly provided us some peace and comfort of knowing we can immediately react to a situation. You can find that article here.

Wider coverage of exciting happenings in The Villages, Florida

As our first year progressed, we felt the Villages was a place that warranted more frequent and deeper coverage. In some ways, the special needs adult children and their families (parents and caregivers) were a best kept secret here. But as we exposed in an April podcast interview with John Langan, he shares how this community has so many things available to keep our special needs community active and thriving. As mentioned earlier in this article, John’s big heart is one of the reasons.

In June, we interviewed Jack Wood, a resident here in The Villages who established a citizens chapter of Best Buddies. Best Buddies creates one-to-one friendships between adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) in the community (defined as a ‘Buddy‘) and adults without an IDD (defined as a ‘Peer Buddy‘). These opportunities for friendship and inclusion are especially important for adults with IDD, who often have limited opportunities for social connections as they age.

What Jack started from the ground up has amazingly developed into a thriving club of over 130 members in a little more than one year. You can see that video podcast interview here.

Throughout 2022, there were so many interesting storylines developing throughout The Villages. We highlighted some of that in a November article here. Our ‘Buddies’ were treated as special guests by The British Motoring Club here in The Villages. It was a special evening for our ‘kids’.

And just recently in January, we shared all the exciting things building here in The Villages for our special needs community as we wrapped up 2022 with an article here. This resident population of volunteers is so giving of their time, and have really jumped in with support. Along the way, our local entertainers and celebrities have embraced our children as well. It’s been a beautiful thing to watch develop.

Unexpected benefits of having my own platform

Having a platform has presented unexpected opportunities to share some very personal experiences and stories; even when not related to special needs. In June, I decided to write an article about Father’s Day. It was an opportunity for me to examine how important the role a father plays in a child’s life. In today’s society, I suggest that fatherhood is often overlooked and undervalued.

But this was also a very personal opportunity for me to recognize my own father, and how special he’s been in my life, even today. He, along with my mother, have been the foundation for our core family values. It felt good to openly share my feelings while my father is still here today to read it.

In August, a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown by Kevin and I inspired an article down memory lane about how baseball played a role as we raised our two boys, Brian and Kevin. Whether through little league baseball participation, fantasy baseball, or visits to a number of stadiums around the country to attend games, it created lifelong memories for our family, along with a special bond between father and son.

I also noted how pleased I am to see Brian share similar love of the game with his son (our 7 year-old grandson, George). They’re building their own unique baseball experiences that will surely create lifelong memories.

Other feel good stories

In June, Kevin and I had the opportunity to support a charity event for autism awareness. It was held on campus at The University of Michigan. Our VIP tickets allowed Kevin and I a personal photo-op with football head coach, Jim Harbaugh. He’s not only the coach of our beloved Michigan Wolverine’s football team, but Coach Harbaugh was the featured speaker. It was great to know he supports such a worthy cause.

But the star of the evening was a young man named Xavier DeGroat, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of four. Despite facing many obstacles, he rose above it all and took on the challenge of being a voice for so many others on the autism spectrum. In 2009, at the age of nineteen, Xavier began his journey as an autism advocate, and in 2018, created the Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation.

You can read that story here. It’s amazing the star studded network that Xavier has established across the globe, especially given he’s only 31 years-old.

Perhaps my favorite podcast interview so far was with a young woman named Megan Wilcoxon, It’s not often you find young people that choose to establish themselves in a career serving those with disabilities and special needs. Megan shared her passion for serving others and described her college training and work experiences to date.

Her genuine enthusiasm shined throughout our brief interview. I personally am so grateful for Megan and young people like her that have made this type of career commitment. Our audience was so impressed with the maturity and enthusiasm she had on display. You can find that podcast here.

Using our platform to relate Kevin’s challenges

Those who’ve only known Kevin since after he sustained his brain injury in 2001, often have a difficult time figuring out how to communicate with him. Despite well intentions and various attempts by others to get closer to Kevin and make him feel part of the conversation, it sometimes ends with Kevin feeling anxious or frustrated.

When the family of well-known actor, Bruce Willis announced last April that Bruce stepped away from his acting career due to developing aphasia, it hit me on a very personal note. Aphasia is one of Kevin’s challenges that was brought on as a result of his injury. The general public is not often familiar with the definition of aphasia, which is the loss of ability to communicate.

Given the fame and recognition of Bruce Willis, his now publicly revealed disability allowed me the opportunity to express similarities to Kevin’s situation. My hope was it would help others understand how to best communicate with Kevin, or simply view it as a learning opportunity to become more familiar with effects of aphasia for anyone that may be dealing with it. You can find that article here.

Just recently, I learned an old colleague, Steve had suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2018. Even though I was still working for the same company as him at the time, I had no idea he was dealing with this very difficult disability. It was wonderful to reconnect with him, and I expect to follow up with a podcast and a visit in the near future. Our conversation was so impactful, it inspired me to write an article earlier this month. You can find the article here.

What Steve was doing to rehabilitate himself to whatever degree of improvement possible was so inspiring to hear. he also shared some of the very But he also shared the dark side of dealing with this trauma, especially early on in the aftermath of a brain injury. In some ways I felt that if our Kevin was more verbal and able to relay his feelings more coherently, we would hear some things similar to what I learned and heard from Steve.

I am looking forward to follow on conversations with Steve, including interviewing him as part of a video podcast.

What’s in store for 2023?

I’ve quickly learned there are amazing stories everywhere. They just need to be further examined, written and shared. There is no shortage of people to meet or topics to uncover. There are probably 30-40 stories I’ve been wanting to write but simply haven’t gotten around to it yet.

I also see a book (maybe two) in my future. I’ve had one in my head now for the past 5 years. It’s simply a matter of shifting priorities and taking the time to write it. I’ll get there and write it someday, but probably not in 2023.

There have been a few technology companies that have reached out to express interest not only in doing podcast interviews and articles, but perhaps to partner more deeply for sake of promoting their current or future technology solutions. Bringing new technologies to improve lives of those with disabilities and special needs has certainly been a goal of mine from day 1, as I expressed at the top of this article.

I don’t rule out a return a return to the technology industry, provided it aligns with my goals and passion of serving those with special needs. We’ll see how these conversations develop.

Meanwhile, I’m having too much fun meeting new people and writing blogs. In terms of fulfillment and satisfaction, it has wildly exceeded my initial expectations.

Dream for Kevin’s future

Above all, I will continue to stay laser focused on Kevin’s future relative to long-term housing and his ongoing care. In my most recent article, I raise an ongoing concern of many of us with dependent, adult children with special needs: Where will they live when we die or can no longer care for them?

The article highlights all the amazing programs and activities that our adult children have available to them. It is allowing them to live their best lives possible. But the lack of a plan for group housing and care weighs heavily on our families. We continue to pray and hope for a solution.

Somehow, our website continues to reach so many incredible people. Just recently, a film maker noticed us and we’ve had some very exciting conversations. Our interests intersect on this very topic; the long term care crisis for special needs children who are now outliving their parents and primary caregivers.  Where will they live?

I don’t want to get ahead of myself but I’m hopeful this project will be taken on by this film producer. There are many rivers yet to cross to make this project a reality. We have an inspiring story here locally in The Villages that we’d love to share. It could surely help elevate awareness in hopes of gaining a commitment to address this growing need and concern. Not just here in The Villages, but for so many other deserving special needs families and communities around the country.

We thank you for all your support and kind words of encouragement since our launch a year ago. And we hope you will stay with us as we continue this amazing journey!