Back to school clothes shopping is a rite of passage for most students, but it can be tough for kids with developmental disabilities. The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh and American Eagle Outfitters are working on a potential solution that would let students with special needs shop remotely.
Satchel Heidelberg was one of the students who participated in a pilot event held for the program. She and her speech pathologist, Allison Dillon, made a video call on a tablet computer at the Institute in Squirrel Hill. The screen showed the entrance to an American Eagle store. Then, a few stylists walked into the frame to greet them, asking what Heidelberg might want to buy.
"I want a yellow dress," said Heidelberg, through an iPad equipped with a special speech program. At the store was a Beam Smart Presence System, which looks a bit like a smart tablet equipped with a camera mounted on top of a Segway. From her own tablet, Heidelberg controlled the Beam's movements among the racks of clothes.
Heidelberg has a rare neurological condition and is mostly limited to communicating through sign language, gestures or her iPad. Normally, shopping like this would be a challenge for her, but Dillon said the Beam changes that.
"It totally levels the playing field for her," said Dillon.
Heidelberg's shopping trip was an early trial run, as American Eagle continues to try to perfect the remote experience.