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Michigan Assistive Technology (AT) Program Blog

A Feisty and NonCompliant View on AT!

AT for Gardening: Containers and Beds

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

I’ve been a gardener for years and a vegetable gardener for at least a decade. I joined a vegetable garden farm share program about 20 years ago and loved the fresh veggies from down the road and began exploring some easy options to grow some myself. My farm share taught me the joy and beauty, as well as ease, of growing kale, chard, and heirloom tomato varieties. My kids have added in their own delight at picking and eating strawberries in our yard, juice running down their chins.

When I first began to explore gardening on our smallish lot, I learned about the Square Foot Gardening method—using your space as efficiently as possible to grow veggies and fruit that give the most “bang for the buck.” The method worked and I was quite successful right away at growing things that fed my family.

More and more people are interested in growing their own food, especially now that we are months into the pandemic, grocery workers are coming down with COVID-19, and some food shortages are happening.

There are lots of ways that people with disabilities can use AT to grow their own food! In this video, I show two options for affordably growing vegetables and fruits in containers. Containers make it easier to garden, especially if you use a wheelchair or walker or have other disabilities that make bending and stooping uncomfortable or impossible. Containers bring the vegetables to a height that works for you. Additional container gardening options and much more information is also available on a webinar on Accessible Gardening in our archives.

In addition, Michigan State University Extension has great resources on choosing and growing a smart garden in our state. Other state university extensions around the US are also great resources.

Have I gotten your gardening juices flowing? What do you want to plant?

Are you a veteran gardener? What are your favorite things to grow? What containers and methods do you use to help you garden accessibly?

Stay Home, Stay Safe with Amazon’s Alexa

By Laura Hall, MATP Staff

In the video linked to this blog, I demonstrate just a few of the things you can do with Amazon’s Alexa that could be helpful during this time of “Stay Home, Stay Safe”. The device used in this video is the Echo First Generation, but I also mention the Echo Dot and the Echo Show.   The full array of devices and products that work with Alexa can be found in Amazon’s Echo and Alexa Devices Catagory.   In this video, I ask Alexa to do the following:

For even more ideas, check out Amazon’s blog: Helpful Things Alexa Can do During COVID-19

Alexa has hundreds of thousands of skills.  To explore and search for skills see Amazon’s Alexa Skills store (note: most skills are free to enable)

To learn more about how to use Alexa in general, visit the Alexa User Guide

Part 2: AT for Cutting Without Cuts!

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

In the video linked to this post, I share about a few more AT devices and strategies that might make cutting up food in the kitchen safer and more accessible.  Below are the devices from the video along with links where you might find the devices online.  Please note, MATP is not a vendor and does not sell AT.  Also listed below is are our current resources for AT for accessible gardening (a viewer from last week asked about this topic and we wanted to share the information we have far and wide!)

Do you use AT in the kitchen? What do you use? If you have any questions about AT, please comment! Thanks for tuning in 🙂

AT for Cutting Without Cuts Part 1

Devices mentioned in the video:

Our current resources on AT for accessible gardening:

AT for Cutting Without Cuts in the Kitchen: a Vlog!

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Due to precautions related Covid-19, many of us are cooking from home more.  For someone whose disability impacts their vision, fine motor, hand dexterity, and upper body strength and coordination, cutting and chopping food can be challenging.  Assistive Technology (AT) devices are available that may help.  In the video linked to this post, I share about a few AT devices and strategies that might make cutting up food in the kitchen easier and safer.  Below are the devices from the video along with links where you might find the devices online.  Please note, MATP is not a vendor and does not sell AT.  Also listed below is a list of our previous blog posts related AT that may help when it comes to cooking, baking, food prep, grocery shopping, and more.

Do you use AT in the kitchen? What do you use? If you have any questions about AT, please comment! Thanks for tuning in 🙂


Here’s the list of our previous blog posts related AT that may help when it comes to cooking, baking, food prep, grocery shopping, and more:

AT and Coronavirus Preparedness

Thank you to Eliza Anderson and the AT3 Center for this post. Originally posted on the AT3 Center News and Tips page.

Steps, products, and resources to prevent infection, educate others and prepare for staying at home this COVID-19 season.

A cartoon germ

Wash Your Hands Often While Singing the ABCs

Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Washing can protect you from infection and help protect others if you are a carrier of the virus. On the go, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if you have no access to soap and water. Here’s a Popular Science recipe for homemade hand sanitizer gel (many stores are running low).

Go to CDC What you need to know about handwashing video (no audio).

Disinfect Your Assistive Technology (AT)!

It is still undetermined how long this new coronavirus may survive on smooth dry surfaces, but it could be up to 9 days (depending on what source you read).  The CDC says, “Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.”

Door knobs, drawer pulls, light switches and counters, sure, but don’t forget your AT. Mobile devices, computer equipment, braille displays, white canes, mobility equipment, communication devices, anything you and especially anything that others touch should be frequently disinfected.

Some AT devices are not supposed to be cleaned with spray cleaners (consult the manufacturers’ recommendations). One option is a microfiber cloth that is disposable and anti-bacterial. Use your best judgment. For better or worse, spray cleaners can access crevices.

Here is a CDC list of approved cleaners for use with COVID-19.
Here are instructions from WIRED for cleaning mobile devices.
Here are instructions from wirecutter on disinfecting electronics.
Here are the CDC’s Environmental and Cleaning Recommendations for Households Infected with COVID-19.

Don’t Buy Masks to Protect Yourself

They won’t protect you from coronavirus infection but can protect others from your sneezing and coughing if you are infected. Masks are also useful if you are not able to sneeze or cough away from others (such as into the crux of your arm).

Do Avoid Touching Your Mouth, Nose, and Eyes

In addition to hand washing and disinfecting surfaces, the CDC says to:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

Go to the CDCs COVID-19 Stop the Spread of Germs video (no audio).)

Stock Up to Stay Home

As of this writing, there are people instructed to stay at home for a variety of reasons (travel history, compromised […]

By |March 13th, 2020|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Wearable AT for Navigation!

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

In a previous AT blog post, I shared that I have a disability that impacts my ability to navigate.  When I walk, bike, drive, etc., without my GPS, I can’t work out where I am or how I need to get where I need to go.  More than just getting “a little turned around”; without GPS, I get completely lost, panic, and need to phone someone (who’s willing to be patient) for help to get where I need to be.  GPS truly makes traveling on my own possible and it is Assistive Technology (AT) that I use daily.

I use Apple Maps on my iPhone to successfully navigate within my local community and beyond.  Recently, I purchased an Apple Watch and was excited to learn how to use a new (to me) technology.  Because my watch is paired to my iPhone, it mirrors what I do on there.  For example, if I’m listening to a podcast on my phone, controls for the podcast appear on my watch (like volume controls, pause, skip, etc.).  When I use Apple Maps on my phone, navigation also shows up on my wrist.  In addition to showing the turn by turn directions, my watch also vibrates and beeps when I’m coming up on a turn or exit I need to take.  While I’m driving, I usually only visually follow along with the navigation on my phone screen, but having those additional audible and physical cues on my wrist makes me feel more aware, safer and more confident about following the course Apple Maps lays out for me.

Do you use Apple Maps or a navigation app?  Which one?  If you use it with an Apple watch, what have you thought about the additional cues you get with your wearable tech?  Comment to keep this conversation going 🙂

“I didn’t quite catch that. Can you repeat it?” -Siri on iPhone

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Voice Assistants (VAs) are software that has been programmed to listen to users and (hopefully) perform resulting actions.  “Users can ask their [voice] assistants questions, control home automation devices and media playback via voice, and manage other basic tasks such as email, to-do lists, and calendars with verbal commands.” –source.  Some of the most popular VAs include (in order of popularity by a study by Adobe Analytics): Alexa, Google assistant, Siri, Cortana, and Bixby.

Source: Pexels

More than a convenience, voice assistants can be Assistive Technology (AT) for some users with disabilities.  “For many people with disabilities, voice assistant technology can be a key tool for living independently. Voice assistant technology makes it easier to set up schedules and reminders, have more control over the home environment and lets people to connect with others easier. It can help people learn language and communication skills.  Smart homes can empower people with disabilities to live more independently, giving us control over our environment and freedom to make choices able-bodied people may take for granted.  As smart home technology becomes more widespread and affordable to those who need it most, our world will continue to become a more accessible place.” –The Mighty

You might be thinking, ‘if VAs are so great, why doesn’t everyone use them then?’  One of the challenges in using VAs that people with disabilities may face is getting their VA to understand them.

Source: Pexels

For people whose voice is impacted by their disability (sometimes called a ‘disability accent’), it can be extremely frustrating to have to repeat, repeat, and repeat when trying to ask their VA to do something; even more so when the VA can’t help them at all because it doesn’t understand their voice.  Unfortunately, as is with many current VAs, if your accent isn’t one that the software has been trained to understand and respond accordingly to, it will have a hard time understanding you.  Amazon/Alexa has taken some steps to help devices “learn your voice” and better understand individual users, but it is ultimately the work of the user to “train” their VA to understand them.

Recently, Google launched Project Understood to, “create a database that can help train Google’s technology to better understand people with Down syndrome.”

Source: Disabled and Here

The need is great and Google’s initiative is very needed/smart business for them, but why did Google single out only people with Down syndrome?  Why not include people who have Cerebral Palsy (CP) accents?  People who have a Stoma?  People whose voice has been impacted by a stroke or brain injury?  Why not people who are deaf?  Why not everyone who has a hard time with their VA understanding […]

Yay for Bidets!!!

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

A bidet seat with arm controls the options on the arm controls read: stop, rear, soft rear, front, dryer

My friend, Joe Stramondo, is a great many number of things, a dad, a philosopher and professor, a disability justice activist, and he is a champion of bidets, spreading word near and far of just how awesome they are.  According to Joe, “Self-reliance when using the toilet is generally overrated, but even still, if a disabled person is looking for a way of cleaning themselves that does not require typical reach and dexterity, a bidet is an excellent option. For me, the biggest benefit is that it has sped up the process a great deal. Many mundane tasks take me longer than I’d like as a disabled person, but my bidet has taken bottom wiping off that list.”

Joe thinks bidets should be everywhere for everyone. And, in fact, in most parts of the world outside of the United States, bidets are quite popular.

Bidets originated in France in the early 1700s when bathing the whole body was considered an inconvenience. Now they are used widely all over the world, but haven’t taken hold in the United States. In Japan, for example, 70% of households have bidets.

Bidets provide a spray of water to clean your anal and/or genital areas. They can attach to a toilet or they can be a separate plumbing fixture. Modern bidets offer things like heated seats, heated water, and differing types of spray such as oscillating and pulsating. Many bidets offer air dryers as well.  They range in price from $79 for a non-electric bidet seat to more than $6,000. Electric bidet seats start in the low $200 range for a “value” bidet seat to $600+ for luxury bidet seats. Bidet/toilets range from $2,000-$6,000+. I can’t really think of a benefit of having a separate bidet altogether as it would require more bathroom floor space, additional plumbing to add to your bathroom, and another transfer, but if you’re in the market for a new toilet, one that comes as a bidet/toilet could make sense if you have the budget for it. A new standard toilet plus a bidet seat is still cheaper than a bidet/toilet though.A freestanding bidet next to a toilet

I’ve seen bidets a couple times in my life but haven’t actually tried one so I did a little googling and found these videos to be informative about what it’s like to experience a bidet for the first time (warning not exactly completely free of toilet humor and some of the comments below the  are offensive while others are helpful) and what’s actually happening when a bidet is in operation (again some useful and some offensive comments below the video). There is a helpful wiki on standard usage of standalone and built in bidets that you could use as a starting off point and adjust based […]

By |January 10th, 2020|Categories: Uncategorized|1 Comment

Disabled And Here

Six disabled people of color smile and pose in front of a concrete wall. Five people stand in the back, with the Black woman in the center holding up a chalkboard sign reading “disabled and here.” A South Asian person in a wheelchair sits in front.  Photo by Chona Kasinger, Disabled And Here project.

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

One of the most engaging aspects of my job is marketing!  I am a storyteller by nature and so I enjoy listening to others tell their stories and crafting my own narratives.  A well told story can bring people together by sharing about a specific cause and/or increasing awareness.  In text-based marketing, I very much agree with the old adage that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.  I use photos and other visuals (such as emojis on social media or thoughtful spacing and use of white space in between text) whenever possible.

Missing photo icon that says “Image not found”

Both in general marketing efforts and specific marketing efforts that include stories about people with disabilities and their Assistive Technology (AT), I have found hardly any inclusive, representative, and high quality stock photographs to use.  The majority of photos I have found are lacking; many of these photos have been taken thru the “medical model” lens (so to speak) where people with disabilities are portrayed as something to be cared for.  On the flip side, people with disabilities can often be portrayed as “inspiring”, but we’re not here to inspire you; for more on this check out Stella Young’s TedTalk.  To me, these kinds of photos can be harmful if they are the majority of photos we see of people with disabilities in marketing; we are more than just needs and we don’t want your pity!  As a womxn with a disability myself, I know I look different from the outdated photos I see; it’s extremely frustrating not to see people with disabilities portrayed as as authentic, capable, confident, and whole people.

I’ve spoken with co-workers about accessing the kinds of stock images we really want to exist and thankfully I’ve been met with agreement and enthusiasm about the need for these kinds of representative & authentic photos.  One of my co-workers and I have even discussed brainstorming a campaign where we have an open call for anyone who wants to be photographed and creating a shared image library.

Close-up of a Black woman putting a hearing aid into her left ear. She is dressed in all black, with her pulled back by a scarf, and looking into a tabletop mirror.

I’m happy to share that over the weekend I learned about Disabled And Here.  “The Disabled And Here Collection is a disability-led effort to provide free and inclusive stock photos shot from our own perspective, […]

Pumpkins, Pirates and Pride: AT and Halloween

by Laura Hall, MATP Staff Member

Each year around this time, I write a blog about Haloween costumes that incorporate a person’s assistive technology.  It’s one of my favorite posts of the year, which is interesting because Halloween has never really been my favorite holiday.  When I was a kid, I always found that choosing a Halloween costume was difficult and my choices were limited because of my wheelchair.  I couldn’t wear anything stiff, bulky, or long, as it would get caught in my tires.  With trick-or-treating, I always felt a little left out because I could never get up to the homes of my neighbors who had steps.  Instead, my sister would have to get my candy (and she would always pick the best stuff for herself) and no one would ever even see my costume.  Over the past several years, however, there has been more and more attention given to costumes that incorporate a person’s mobility equipment or assistive technology.  I enjoy looking for these costumes and writing this blog every year because, to me, this represents disability pride, pride in one’s assistive technology, and a spirit of inclusion.

A smiling girlin a pink princess dress models target's princess carriage wheel covers.  A smiling boy in a pirate costume models the pirate ship wheel covers that show the sides of a boat and oceanIn fact, this is the first time ever I have seen a national retailer get in on the action.  Through their Hyde & EEK Boutique line, Target is featuring four Halloween costumes with kids with disabilities in mind.  The princess carriage and pirate ship are wheelchair covers sold separately from the costume to complete the ensemble, and the shark and unicorn costumes have been designed with no tags, flat seams, plush construction, and the option to remove attachments like hoods and tails for kids with sensory disabilities.

Some of the most ingenious costumes that are enhanced by assistive technology are those that are made at home.  After much thought and research, my top three costumes in the do-it-yourself category are:

 

A smilinmg girl in her wheelchair in a judge's robe behind a large desk that reads "The Notorious RBG"

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg

 

Young girl in a goldfish costume inside a toliet that surrounds her wheelchair

Fish Burial at Sea

Girl with punk rock hair stands behind a drum set that is attached to her walker.Let’s Rock!

 

For a few lucky kids with disabilities, the non-profit organization Magic Wheelchair aims to create costumes that are not just cool, but “epic”.  Magic Wheelchair brings together artists, builders, families, and communities to create costumes for kids ages 5-17 who primarily use a wheelchair for mobility.  The process typically takes about 8 weeks, and the results are amazing.  2019 Magic Wheelchair costumes featured dragons, […]

By |October 28th, 2019|Categories: Assistive Technology|0 Comments

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