D-MAN Foundation giving freedom back to clients with new technology amid COVID-19

Isolation is something many of us have felt over the last few months due to the pandemic. But some people deal with it every day of their lives.

The community at The D-MAN Foundation, Danny's Miracle Angel Network, is working to change that amid COVID-19. 

Many believe music has the power to heal and is the one thing that unites us all. And that is evident at D-MAN's music studio in Berkley

The D-MAN Foundation is a nonprofit founded by Ziad Kassab. Ziad's younger brother Danny was hit by a car at the age of seven, leaving him a c-1 quadriplegic requiring 24-hour care. Despite his paralysis, his family did everything they could to make his life as happy as possible from travel to music to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, right up until the day Danny passed away in 2009. 

"You're filled with, sometimes, regret of what you didn't get to do with your brother or with your family member when you lose them," Kassab said. "I did this to be able to help a lot of other people who don't have that necessarily family support or the financial resources."

And so, Danny's Miracle Angel Network was born. Every year it reaches more and more people living with physical and mental disabilities and provides them with unforgettable experiences and invaluable resources.

But then COVID-19 hit. 

"We had a cruise ship; we were taking a lot of our artists or our clients here on a cruise ship so we had to cancel that. We do our annual Dreams Come True on Woodward event every year; we had to cancel that. We have our Hollywood night every year in October; we had to cancel that this year," Kassab said.

Like countless others, Kassab and his team at the D-MAN Foundation had to pivot and find other ways to reach out and engage their clients. 

"You can imagine how frustrated we all were in quarantine - they're like in quarantine almost every day," Kassab said of his clients.

That's when the focus shifted primarily to music therapy. The D-MAN team went to work connecting with clients over Zoom, Skype and Facebook Messenger - but there was a problem.

"What we found was a lot of folks don't have the technology at home. Some of our folks don't have the internet at home. They don't have a working phone," Kassab said.

Determined not to let this hurdle stop the music, D-MAN began awarding assistive technology grants to those who needed them the most. The grants provide cutting edge technology to allow some of their most severely disabled musicians.

"Imagine if you're paralyzed from the neck down. I mean, you can't open the door by yourself. You can't turn the lights on. You can't turn the fan on. But that's what this technology does. You can open the door with your breath or with the movement of your eyes," Kassab said. "There's multiple interfaces depending on the disability we can use. So, turn on the TV, change the channels, turn the volume up. It seems like no big deal but if you can't use your hands it's a huge deal."

With that incredible technology, they built an online community of musicians who can now talk, support each other and collaborate. They are also able to seamlessly interact with their music therapists.

"The isolation is definitely a big problem. Obviously, we wish we could all be in the studio but when that's impossible I think seeing someone's face over Zoom is really helpful and there's something really special about being able to connect with music," said Anna Roty, a music therapist with D-MAN. 

"It's freedom. It's your hands and your feet. You don't have them but you can still do things like if you did," Kassab said. "Like I said, the things we take for granted, you know, it's a blessing for them to get that back."

If you'd like to learn more or make a donation to D-MAN, visit www.mydman.org