Michigan Assistive Technology (AT) Program Blog
A Feisty and NonCompliant View on AT!
In her 2017 TedTalk, ‘Why Design Should Include Everyone’, Sinéad Burke (writer, educator, and little person) asks, “who are we not designing for? Design impinges on the clothes that I want to wear. I want garments that reflect my personality. It’s difficult to find in the children’s wear department. And often women’s wear requires far too many alterations.” Sinéad spotlights something that people with disabilities deal with everyday: clothes that fit (and flatter!) our bodies in the ways that we need.
In recent years, the fashion industry has started becoming more inclusive of our bodies and needs. Last year, “the Cerebral Palsy Foundation (CPF) held its third Annual Design for Disability Gala, which showcases new fashions for people with disabilities. Outfits, which feature innovations in fit, closures, and form, are designed by students from Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.), Pratt Institute and Parsons School of Design, with insights from CPF’s disability experts and designer Anna Sui. The fashions were remarkable: gorgeous in design as well as the way they incorporated dozens of innovations which made them easier to be worn by people with disabilities. This short film showcases the design process for the event.”
Some designers are creating entire clothing lines that attempt seamless accessibility based on feedback they’ve heard, “Tommy Hilfiger heavily considered feedback from the disability community when creating the new line, and was sure to make significant improvements from its first line after customer feedback.”-Elle. A 2018 article from Mashable shares, “Tommy Hilfiger is expanding its innovative disability-friendly clothing initiative by unveiling Tommy Adaptive, a new line that includes a variety of new and stylish pieces. The line includes the essential fashion pieces like shirts, pants, shorts, dresses, and jackets — but Tommy Adaptive clothes are easier to put on. Modifications such as adjustable hems, one-handed zippers, side-seam openings, bungee cord closure systems, adjustable waists, and magnetic buttons and velcro make the fashionable designs much more disability friendly. Some shirts are even made with easy-open necklines and expanded back openings.”
It’s exciting that access is being thought about in these practical ways and becoming sewn into clothing. Will universal design hang on every hanger in our closets someday? Maybe, but until then, here are a few Assistive Technology (AT) devices that can make dressing & undressing the current clothing in our closets & dressers more accessible:
- Stiff and sore fingers, tremors, or loss of dexterity can turn buttoning a shirt into a frustrating struggle. Try a button hook to fasten regular-size buttons. Or, to avoid buttons, apply/sew Velcro to buttons and clothing; you can pull and push closure together rather than […]
By Guest Blogger, RoAnne Chaney
I have always liked cats, my own and friends’ pets. Dogs are OK, but cats are my favorite fur babies. They are soft, cuddly, and usually, have unique character features. When I started using a wheelchair and my last cat died from illness causing me a lot of pain and grief, and as day-to-day tasks got more difficult to do, I decided to not have pets for a while. My husband and I agreed it would be better to use our energy for traveling and other entertainment for a while. He had lost a dog recently and found this hard to experience too.
My husband and I occasionally talked about getting a cat, but we were never ready, so years went by until late summer 2018 when I had an AFIB and two small strokes and was quite sick for a few months. One day my husband said I needed to get better, get out of the hospital, and come home. My friend said, “how about you agree to get a cat when she gets home.” Even though he knew he had been manipulated a bit, my husband agreed and we now have adopted Zinnia. She is a bit of a goofy diva, but cute.
Some assistive pet care is not really AT, but making an accommodation. Initially, only my husband was feeding Zinnia which meant she went to him for attention and cuddles. We put her food dish on a table which is easier for me to reach and feed her (elevated food dishes are also available). I have exclusively fed her since and she has warmed up to me. She clearly wanted to ride on my power chair with me, but every place she tried to perch was vinyl, so she would slide off. My husband decided to attach a basket to the back of my chair where my headrest goes, but which I rarely use. He found the perfect size basket at Meijer for $7.50 and we lined it with a small, soft blanket. Zinnia has loved this basket – riding with me, sometimes taking naps in it and sometimes putting her head on my shoulder and purring in my ear. I’m also comfortable when she is in her basket with me because I don’t have to worry she will be “underfoot” which means she could get her paws or tail run over by a several-hundred-pound chair.
For play, I tend to use long-handled toys, such as the cat dancer or feather wands, that don’t require long arm extension. There are also electronic, automatic toys that shoot laser beams, wiggle feathers, dart mice across the floor, and so much more.
For now, I am leaving the litter box duty to my husband. However, I have researched several […]
Most of the focus of MDRC’s AT work in domestic violence involves assuring that people with disabilities who are assaulted are able to access existing resources to the same extent that anyone without a disability can. These resources include shelters, support of personal resource needs, support for personal and family safety, and effective use of law enforcement remedies. When full and flexible use of AT is available, it allows the personally customized use of all community resources by the person and family, so that people with disabilities can safely exercise their personal autonomy in the crisis.
But AT can also support people with disabilities through the recovery process from domestic violence, a process that is usually much longer than the resolution of the crisis triggered by a domestic violence instance. Recovery from domestic violence shares much with recovery in other circumstances, such as PTSD, natural and personal disasters, chronic pain, mental illness, addiction, the onset of chronic medical conditions, and other breakdowns of personal and social stability.
Viewed this way, recovery isn’t a passive process of restoring what existed before but is more like the use of the recovery process in mental illness and addiction communities. Most broadly, this kind of Recovery is the way people use their personal decision and social and community support systems to create a new way of living a life of freedom and choice. Such Recovery is focused on building personal control by creating ways to manage personal emotional and other symptoms, immediate and more distant barriers in the person’s environment, and social losses that are part of the trauma-caused breakdown in support. Recovery doesn’t distinguish between “inner” and “outer” barriers. All of these barriers can be goals for the creation of management skills by the person and family. As the saying goes, “Recovery is a Journey”, with no preset map.
AT chosen by the person and used to manage and support their Recovery Journey can be indispensable. Being able to find, understand, and effectively use AT in the Recovery Journey is essential for persons with disabilities as they build their new future. Because one of the barriers to Recovery is the loss of belief in the ability to control one’s future, this post will discuss some options rather than offer “solutions”. People choose a Journey of Recovery, and they choose the tools and methods that make the most sense to them in their current circumstances. There is no other way to truly recover.
AT for Assuring Personal and Family Safety:
There are a large number of personal safety apps out there. They have many different capabilities, and it is important that you think through what you want to be able to do, and whether the initiators, for the capabilities you need, fit your disability characteristics.
- bSafe: This app has a wide range of support capabilities. These include private messages to friends about your arrival at a destination, your changing GPS location, an audible alarm, automatic video capture. To make the most use of the app, your friends need […]
Now that the severe frigid temperatures have lifted, people are beginning to venture out again. But people with disabilities who use assistive devices don’t have the option or want to just stay inside all winter. Despite whether the ground-hog saw his shadow or not, we have more winter to come! And believe it or not, some people like winter!
And if you are feeling tired, hungry all the time and depressed, you might have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Getting natural light is really important to help with SAD, you can read more on our previous post The Nights are Longer and SAD is Here.
I hope you can get out and enjoy our winter wonderland, enjoy and stay safe!
By MATP Staff Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS
“Though plastic straws are a luxury for some, they are a necessity for others. Straws function as an accessibility tool and have historically been used to offer independence for people with disabilities.” –Mashable, 2018.
During a trip to Washington D.C. last year, my first meal in the city was at my hotel’s restaurant. When I was served my water and ice tea, I wasn’t given a straw. I waited until my server came back around and asked for a straw. Her response was that the hotel no longer carried them and this was the way the hotel had chosen to “go green”. I replied that I really needed a straw to drink; I also shared with her that many people need straws to drink and that getting rid of all of them was a barrier to some customers of the hotel and restaurant. She said she understood and would go check with her manager. About 10 minutes later the manager came to my table, a little breathless, holding a single straw in a napkin. He shared that he was sorry for the wait; he had had to go across the street to get the straw. I thanked him and shared the same info I had shared with my server. He communicated that he understood and even said, “My mom has Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and needs straws to drink because she shakes, spills, and chokes when she tries to drink without them.” I was a little taken a back and asked him if he understood, then why did the restaurant choose to get rid of straws. He looked down, seeming to feel uncomfortable, and said that he knew what I was saying and he would try to speak up to his boss about this. That was the end of our conversation. I didn’t desire to shame him, but I do think this needs to be a conversation that gets brought up with restaurants and the like more often.
I’ve read articles and herd from friends that plastic straws are ruining our planet and killing animals & sea life. While single-use plastic straws play a role in adding to the Earth’s garbage & pollution problems, they are just one type of single-use trash. Other single-use plastics and styrofoams are causing harm and many restaurants continue to use them (even after they’ve gotten rid of straws!). Why are straws being targeted?
In 2018 when Starbucks announced their ban on plastic straws, National Public Radio (NPR) published an article where they shared, “For many people with disabilities, going without plastic straws isn’t a question of how much they care about dolphins or sea turtles [the environment in general]; it can be a matter of life or death. There are many alternatives to plastic straws — paper, biodegradable plastics and even reusable straws made from metal or silicone. But […]
By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff
Sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for my daughter’s name to be called, I glanced at the magazine offerings and a telephone caught my eye. At first I thought it was for patients to use to call for a ride after their appointment, but then I noticed it had a sign on it encouraging waiting room occupants to give it a try. It was a captioned phone. We were at the ENT (ear nose throat) doctor–many people coming to this office experience hearing loss. What a great opportunity to interact with some useful AT while waiting for an appointment!
My daughter’s name was quickly called so I didn’t get a chance to try the phone but it made me want to do a little more investigating. I did see the CaptionCall branded phone had a clear, large readout on the touchscreen. The screen said the phone also has a loud ring, amplification (on the website it says 58db of amplification) and other features like captioning in English or Spanish.
Harris Communications is a well-respected Midwest provider of products for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing so I decided to check their website for reviews and further information. According to the Harris website reviews and product information, captioning is provided via CaptionCall (and other brands of similar devices) for free via the funding from FCC. CaptionCall provides nearly instant captioning of calls through use of the phone which must also be connected to the internet. While reviews are overwhelmingly positive, there are some noted concerns mentioned at least a couple times—the quality of the speakerphone seems to be low and some people also mention the quality of the handset is also poor so that people with significant residual hearing are having a hard time using the handset and/or speakerphone. It also seems that while the captioning is good, upgrades sometimes are noticeable in a down tick in quality of captioning for some time. Also, the accuracy of the captioning for phone numbers and addresses has been lower. Some people also noted that Harris needs to notify CaptionCall when a phone is purchased for white glove support in delivery, set up, and connection and this did not occur. It might be better to purchase a captioned phone directly from the manufacturer to avoid these complications.
According to the CaptionCall website, CaptionCall uses advanced technology and a communications assistant to provide the written captions. The captioning is secure and encrypted. Free delivery and installation is provided by CaptionCall employees across the country.
All of the captioned phones on the Harris website are $75. Some have worse reviews thank CaptionCall (Clarity Ensemble Amplified Captioned Phone with ClearCaptions) and some are at about the same level (CapTel). On the CaptionCall website, if you qualify, the phone itself is actually free. On the CapTel website, there are three phone options depending on need/comfort with a touchscreen and […]
I attended the Accessible Learning Conference at Michigan State University in December of 2018. There were many interesting presentations, but the one that helped me the most was a discussion of the new additions to the web and mobile accessibility standards, known as WCAG 2.1. The standard itself is pretty dense, and I found that this presentation’s focus on those success criteria improvements that have clear value for all of us was very helpful.
The presentation was titled, “What’s New in WCAG 2.1“, and the presenter was Graham L. Pierce, Assistant Director, MSU Usability/Accessibility Research and Consulting. His overview of the portion of the additions that could be worked on now (as opposed to those additions that were very technical), gave me the courage to revisit the standard and to summarize the changes.
There is not an expectation that these new criteria will suddenly be implemented. Rather, the new criteria allow developers and organizations to begin the implementation rolling out success over time.
New Success Criteria:
Here, orientation refers to the familiar “portrait” vs. “landscape”. The criterion says that the user (say, you on your smartphone) should be able to choose the orientation to fit your immediate needs. Exceptions to this include things like a bank check, a piano application, slides for a projector or television, or other situations in which a specific orientation is essential to make use of the content.
Identifying the Purpose of an Input (1.3.5)
The point of this criterion is to make sure the user understands why and what they are inserting into an input field about themselves before they do it.
The reflow criterion makes sure that you can access and use the content on a mobile phone without losing any functions and without scrolling, a pet peeve of mine now.
Non-Text Contrast (1.4.11)
This criterion requires that there be significant color contrast between user function elements, graphical content necessary to understand or use the overall content, and any nearby elements on the screen. Meeting this criterion will make sure people with a variety of visual disorders can make use of the content.
Text Spacing (1.4.12)
These standards make reading text easier for everyone and are similar to what you might see in a word processor program’s default style.
Content on Hover or Focus (1.4.13)
If your pointer, however that is defined on your device, triggers some additional content, you can get rid of it or use the new content without losing it by moving over it. (Another pet peeve).
Character Key Shortcuts (2.1.4)
If a keyboard shortcut only uses a letter, punctuation, number, or symbol, there is a way to turn it off or remap so that the user can make complete use of the keyboard for navigation and use of content. Important for people with visual impairments and some mobility impairments among others.
Pointer Gestures (2.5.1)
With the spread of gesture-based control of mobile platforms, multiple step or path gestures must be reducible to one step. Important for persons with mobility impairments among others.
Pointer Cancellation (2.5.2 )
If you can trigger […]
My colleagues and I are coming up with holiday wishlists of AT (assisitive technology). Since one of my favorite hobbies is cooking, of course, I want some things to help me out in the kitchen. I have chronic upper back pain that usually flares up if I have to do a lot of chopping or when I am doing dishes. Our dishwasher is a big help in this arena and my husband has graciously agreed to be our household dish cleaner for the rest of the items.
That leaves chopping as my back’s nemesis.
I came across the Chef’N Veggie Chopper in a buzzfeed of 36 Clever Gifts for Food Lovers You’ll Want for Yourself. In the article it is $47 which is ridiculous, but a little searching on Amazon landed the same item for $17-$18 (prices fluctuate rapidly for the same product on Amazon on an almost hourly basis). Watching the video of the way the product works and reading reviews, this is now top on my wish list. If I do receive it as a gift this holiday season, I will definitely use it to chop nuts and onions—both of which I hate doing by hand, but am rarely willing to go to the work of getting out the food processor for. This simple device could fulfill a need with little clean up afterwards.
My other AT wish is for higher countertops/sink in my house. Since that isn’t in the budget, I did some research on options to relieve my posture-related back pain. I have read that standard countertops are all too low if you are over 5’5”. I’m 5’8”, which seems close, but I guess because of my body type, they are really low for me. One option is to build a raised cutting board so that I can maintain better posture when I am chopping things. I would love a custom, cutting board built to my specifications.
While I wait for my close friends and family to acquire custom carpentry skills, I came up with another solution from some more online searching—stacked, thick wooden cutting boards. I looked at where my hands end up when I bend my elbows at 90 degrees and it is a good 5-6 inches higher than my counters. I am going to wish for one, 2 inch or taller, sturdy cutting board to stack on a lovely, thick wooden cutting board I already received as a gift from my aunt to see if 3-4 inches relieves some of the postural back pain caused by my too-low counters. I found some nice options on Amazon and Etsy.
What AT items are you wishing for this holiday season?
By MATP Staff Jen Mullins
During a recent trip to Washington D.C., organizers from Community Catalyst arranged for me to meet with staff from Senator Debbie Stabenow‘s office and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell‘s office. In preparation for these meetings, I was encouraged to talk about the need for continued protections for medicaid and medicare and also asked to speak about any other issues I was passionate about; issues that impacted my own, everyday life. One issue that I brought up in both meetings was the need for the protection of net neutrality. Wired describes net neutrality as, “the idea that Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) like Comcast and Verizon should treat all content flowing through their cables and cell towers equally. That means they shouldn’t be able to slide some data into ‘fast lanes’ while blocking or otherwise discriminating against other material. In other words, these companies shouldn’t be able to block you from accessing a service like Skype, or slow down Netflix or Hulu, in order to encourage you to keep your cable package or buy a different video-streaming service.” Access to something so important that a majority of us use everyday, the internet, should be equal for everyone.
Alice Wong, founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, is quoted having said, “Net neutrality is a civil right.” She shares, “With the Disability Visibility Project, I’ve been able to build community & amplify our media to the public with Twitter chats, a podcast, and blog posts. As a co-partner in #CripTheVote, an online movement encouraging the political participation of disabled people, I’ve seen first-hand the power of hashtags that create a space for action and conversation. Without net neutrality, I wouldn’t have the same reach, platform, or voice. A majority of my work takes place online. It’s also where I go to find support, solidarity, and friendship across time and space. Some disabled people like me encounter barriers while being out or are isolated socially and geographically. There are disabled people who cannot leave their beds who are badass activists with incredible social media presence because of the Internet. It is a literal lifeline for many including myself.”
When I spoke with the staff from Sen Stabenow’s office and staff from Rep Dingell’s office, I shared that during this past July, while firefighters were working tirelessly to put out the devastating wild fires in California, they lost their ability to communicate with one another wirelessly because they had used too much data. “Verizon virtually cut off the internet connection to a vital command and control vehicle used to receive calls for help and to coordinate firefighters and equipment. One firefighter said the service became basically unusable, cutting off firefighters from vital emergency communications. Why? Because the fire department had maxed out […]
By MATP Staff Laura Hall
It’s that time of year again! I’m getting excited about the upcoming holiday season, and I’m sure you are too. Keeping with tradition, I am sending you my wishlist for my top AT items I am hoping for this year. Now, I know in the past, some of my requests have been a little silly. The twirling spaghetti fork was perhaps one of the silliest. However, you have also brought me some extremely helpful assistive technology off of last year’s wish list that given me much more independence. For example, the Get U Up transferring lift now allows my personal care providers to get me out of bed without lifting or straining their backs.
My requests this year feel even more urgent as I have fallen in my bathroom many times. As you know, we purchased my home three years ago, and while it has some accessibility features, such as ramps and a roll-in shower, the bathroom has always been problematic. We have looked into remodeling, but because of the concrete interior walls my home has, and because of the sheer magnitude of the project, the price tag for such a remodel is far above what we are able to pay. Until I win the lottery or my financial fortune changes, I’d like to make a few requests for some more moderate pieces of assistive technology that may help prevent more falls and enable me to become more independent in the bathroom.
One of the biggest problems with the bathroom is the lack of space for handrails and grab bars. There is simply not enough wall space by the toilet where the bar needs to be located. I believe a solution to this problem could be a flip-up grab bar that could be mounted to the wall behind the toilet and lifted up out of the way when I’m not using it. Another option may be to use the space that is vertically available vs. taking up space horizontally. There are floor-to-ceiling poles with grab bar extensions that can be placed in a customized area. Many of the pole bars that I’ve been researching are tension mounted, wand don’t require bolting into the ceiling or the floor. Most people may prefer this,but I want to make sure it is very sturdy, so would prefer something like the SuperPole, which is securely fastened to the floor and ceiling. The SuperPole also has a “SuperBar” grab bar extension that rotates and locks every 45 degrees so I could orient it in the way that works best for me.
I am so grateful that I have a roll-in shower, as it is expensive to have one installed. However, as a stand-alone fiberglass stall, it is not […]