A fun, low-cost, low-tech solution to lighten the negative impact of the pandemic on individuals with disabilities and older Missourians, while simultaneously opening the door to greater focus on assistive technology within IL Centers and AAA’s, was the central idea behind the Robotic Pet Project. Participants in the program “adopted” a pet for a minimum of five weeks and agreed to participate in a survey of social isolation and the impact of the robotic pets to reduce social isolation. MoAT administered and provided the robotic pets, IHD developed the study survey and evaluated the data, and the AAA’s and IL Centers served as conduits to identify applicants and administer the survey questions during the length of the program. The program was made possible by the state’s receipt of COVID relief dollars.
As of this writing, the program's data results are not finalized. The initiative addressed the pressing issue of social isolation as it helped to increase interactions between isolated individuals, family members, service providers, plus it has led to discussions between IL Centers and AAA’s on future endeavors around greater understanding and use of AT among their clients. The program has also led to several requests to present at national conferences. Plans are to replicate the program again once additional funding is secured.