Call Us Today! (800) 578-0280

Michigan Assistive Technology (AT) Program Blog

A Feisty and NonCompliant View on AT!

Make Your Voice Heard – Hearing Loss

By Kathryn Wyeth

This past week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Hearing Loss Association of America’s (HLAA) Annual Virtual Convention.  HLAA’s mission is to “open the world of communication to people with hearing loss by providing information, education, support and advocacy.”

Banner for HLAA 2021 Convention

While all the sessions were very interesting, I thought the sessions on access to health care to be of particular importance. Currently, burden of achieving communication access in medical encounters largely lies with the individual or their caregiver. The HLAA Communication Access in Health Care program is working toward the goal of achieving preemptive, systemic solutions that ensure effective accommodations in all medical encounters for people with hearing loss.

Patient-provider communication is a cornerstone of patient-centered care that is respectful of an individual’s values, expectations and needs. Research suggests that people with hearing loss incur higher health care costs, experience higher rates of health care utilization and are less satisfied with care than their peers without hearing loss. Untreated or undertreated/accommodated hearing loss can lead to or exacerbate dementia, falls, and certainly isolation.

What Can People with Hearing Loss Do?

Speak Up!

The health care settings need to know they currently serve people who have hearing loss and that this is a real and increasing need. When you go to the doctor, hospital or other health care setting – let them know you have hearing loss. Ask them to look at you when they are speaking. Ask them to speak slower (Not louder!) Let them know what you need!

Participate in Surveys and Research

Complete John Hopkins Disability Health Research Center Study.


If you or someone you love has hearing loss, consider joining HLAA!  MATP had a long-standing project in collaboration with the Michigan State Chapter of HLAA. We worked with the Hearing Loss Technology Resource Specialists to reach people who have hearing loss with some of MATP’s services, such as training and device demonstrations. While this collaboration ended a few years ago, MATP continues to value the work of the Michigan Chapter.  The peer support given through the local chapters, along with the opportunities to learn more are definitely worth the cost of membership!

Learn More!

HLAA’s quarterly newsletter “Hearing Life Magazine” will be having a series of articles on access to health care. You can access this magazine if you are member of HLAA.

You can learn more about devices that can help with hearing loss through MATP’s Device Demonstration and Short-Term Loan Program!

By |June 28th, 2021|Categories: Hearing Loss/Hard of Hearing|0 Comments

A Fidgetarium of Possibility

One of my minor autistic traits is fidgeting. When I was a kid, I had to learn how to do hidden fidgeting, because people (especially adults) thought fidgeting meant I wasn’t paying attention, or I was acting weird. Actually, I needed to fidget to focus my attention, though I didn’t understand that at the time. I just knew I was “born to fidget”. I did things like silently tap my foot, tap my tongue around in my mouth, or by carefully hiding one hand to repeatedly touch my fingers with my thumb, in turn.

I do much less fidgeting now that I am older, but I still think it is an important tool that people use to manage their available attention and the brain resources to make it through life. I know a lot of people who use fidgeting this way, and who had to hide their fidgeting when they were young.

So, I found the successful marketing of “fidgets” (toys to make fidgeting more effective or entertaining) a few years ago very interesting, though I didn’t make it further than superficial glancing at the time. Recently, I wanted to buy a gift for my wife, who likes to fidget, especially with bubble wrap and “touch-me-nots”.

Fingers popping bubblewrap Poppin’ The Bubbles

Touch-Me-Not Seed Pods on the plant Pinchable Pods

So I looked on Amazon for the fidget toys I remembered when they were a fad.

Was I in for a surprise!

There are Kits of Fidget Toys for just about any occasion, for both kids and adults, and the sheer variety of individual toys is astounding!

The full search page for Amazon contains many additional choices. For us fidget fans, a true panoply of personal playthings!

Fidget Toys on Amazon

If you like to fidget, or wanted to fidget, but felt you would be stigmatized for doing so, the current environment of fidgeting possibilities is made for you.

Sample the devices and make (or remake) fidgeting a part of your personal play repertoire!





By |June 1st, 2021|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , |0 Comments

Access to Facebook

Phone with facebook log on screen

It is so wonderful to see advances in the social media platforms in recent years to make content more accessible to people with disabilities! Some of these advancements are within the platform and you don’t need to do anything. However, there is still quite a bit you can personally do to make sure your content will be accessible to people with disabilities who use Assistive Technology to access your page.

General Tips

  • Provide additional ways to contact your organization such as an 800 number or a general contact e-mail address for more information.
  • Always put your main content first and put hashtags and @mentions at the end of a post
  • If you are using hashtags (#) capitalize the first letter of each word, for example #AlternativeText
  • Avoid the use of acronyms, abbreviations and text messaging shortcuts.
  • Avoid using emoticons. If you do use these, put them at the end of the post and use sparingly.
  • If you are linking to a document, make sure the document is accessible. (Contact us if you need more information!)

Use of Images

Facebook has added automatically generated image descriptions, or alternative text (also known as “Alt Text”) to it’s platform. To make sure your image is accessible though, you should check and most likely edit this automatically generated text. Facebook provides instructions on how to do this.

It is best not to post a graphic of text, instead, type out the text. If you do post an image that has text in it, be sure to include this in your alternative text.

As for what to write in the alt or alternative text, think about why this photo/image is on the post. (Context is everything!) These sites have some information about what to write in your description of the image or “Alt Text”.

Multimedia Content – Video

If you use video, be sure to include captions and/or a link to the video where captions are available. While captions are tremendously important for the nearly 50 million Americans with some degree of hearing loss, it’s also estimated that 85% of Facebook videos are watched on mute — another great example of how producing accessible content benefits people with and without disabilities.

Thank you for ensuing access for everyone to your Facebook posts! What other questions do you have about insuring access to your Facebook posts? Do you have tips to share?

By |April 6th, 2021|Categories: Accessibility|Tags: , , , , , , |0 Comments

The Future of AT in Employment

Using AT to gain employment and support work over a lifetime has been a goal of our community for as long as we have been around. We have seen huge gains in the variety and flexibility of technology we can use as AT for employment in the last few decades. But, I think there may well be no change to our use of AT for work that will be more powerful than the changes that the pandemic has forced on most people in the last year.

Woman in distress working at her computer Control Work with Symptom Management

Many of the AT and other accommodations our community has requested and been denied for decades have become the “normal” for most workers in the last year. Remote Conferencing and Meeting software with closed captions and shared documents is now typical for many kinds of work. This remote access has extended to national conferences, reducing the notorious inaccessibility that we have struggled against for many years in attending conferences in hotels, as well as opening these events to people who couldn’t afford the extravagant costs. This shift is also a great boon for people with characteristics like multiple chemical sensitivities, allowing them to use their better control of pollutants and fragrances in their own living environment. Many other issues that cause problems in the standard work environment (catheterization, fatigue, stress reactions, structural problems in accessibility, etc.), can be eliminated or dramatically altered in their impact by moving aggressively from telecommuting (which assumes that the existing work process and workflow are maintained in a remote location) to telework (in which the job is restructured to produce the important work outcomes and products using technology that is truly accessible for all).

There are so many choices for video conferencing that it is difficult to choose one. There is also an ongoing struggle among the competitors to improve the accessibility of their products. I think such an evolution has happened because these products have gone mainstream (inclusion is the key) and organizations want to use a product that won’t cause problems with their workforce, i.e., us. We need to continue to push for expansion of accessibility in all products. Our community should be able to assume accessibility regardless of where we work.

computer controlled with keyboard and braille reader Control Work with Braille Reader

We want both accessibility and practical tools for working from whatever place allows us to be productive and safe.

Here are some resources that can support “accessibility and practical tools”:

I’m sure there will be many more changes […]

By |January 27th, 2021|Categories: Apps, Assistive Technology|0 Comments

Zoomsgiving: Connecting While Decreasing Social Isolation & Loneliness

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

When I think about Thanksgiving, I think about connecting with my loved ones and enjoying food I like!  This year with the pandemic, getting together with family for the holidays will be different.  A friend recently shared an article with me about this: “Remember that ‘different’ does not have to mean ‘awful.’ It’s okay to feel disappointed about the loss of a traditional holiday season, but avoid labeling canceled celebrations as disasters. Acknowledge that different is just that — different — and that you have the ability to design opportunities that may not be exactly the same, but are familiar in ways that can evoke positive feelings and a sense of belonging.”  Nice right?  I’ve been trying to keep that in mind as I’ve been helping my family organize our own Zoomsgiving together.

I read recently that, “Zoom will lift its 40-minute limit on free calls globally from 12 a.m. (Detroit time) Nov. 26 through 6 a.m. Nov. 27.”  This is great news and I hope folx get to take advantage of extended togetherness online!  A long video call with loved ones can seem really fun and at the same time, a little daunting!  I’ve learned though multiple family Zoom calls that it’s usually important to have a plan; and if you’re like me, it’s fun to put together a plan and be the ‘ringleader’ (or host!)!  If you’re planning or helping to plan your gang’s Zoomsgiving, below are my best tips and ideas that can make celebrating online together a little more fun, feasible, and accessible.

Think about logistics:

Which video call platform do you want to use?

Some options are Zoom, Google Meet, Facebook Messenger (not just text messaging, you can use it for group video calls too!), Skype, and others.  Check in with loved ones before the call to make sure they have the computer program or app installed that they’ll need to join the call.  Note: the platforms I listed are free to use for basic plans.

When do you want the video call to start?

At the beginning of dinner or before?  Sometimes I like to give people a window of when the video call ‘room’ will be open, for example: the room will be open from 1pm-3pm.  Join us at the start or pop in whenever you like!’  I think this gives people a little more freedom while decreasing anxiety for some.

  • Once you have your start time, if you’re setting up the video call, send out the link to join a few days before the big event and the day of (your loved ones will appreciate having the link at the top […]

AT to Help with Wearing a Mask!

[Image description: the featured image of this video is of Jen Mullins, a white woman who has her wavy, brown hair up in a ponytail.  Jen is smiling under a floral printed mask and is holding a silicone mask insert on the outside of her mask while holding up a thumbs up.  Note: the silicone mask insert goes inside the mask, but for this photo Jen is holding it in front of the mask to show what it looks like.  In the background is a wooden bookshelf, a wall with various art pieces, and a closet door.  End image description.]

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that wearing masks can help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.  Wearing a mask is really important AND wearing a mask can be really uncomfortable.  For someone who is Neuodiverse, on the Autism Spectrum, has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or has another sensory-related disability, wearing a mask “as is” can be really difficult.  It seems like this aspect is getting left out of conversations of mask-wearing and I think we need to make space for it and come up with solutions & improvements.

For me, something I have a hard time with is inhaling while I am wearing a mask.  That sensory of the fabric being pulled into my mouth when I’m breathing makes me feel really anxious and when I’m breathing hard, it makes me feel like I am not getting enough air.  I am aware that there have been tests that show that mask wearers aren’t actually getting less air, and my response is that unfortunately this knowledge & peace of mind doesn’t make it easier for me to breathe while wearing a mask.  I’ve been researching possible solutions like wearing a face shield instead of a mask, but am unsure if that would work for me and my upper body shape.  Also, according to the CDC, “At this time, it is not known what level of protection a face shield provides to people nearby from the spray of respiratory droplets from the wearer. There is currently not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of face shields for source control. Therefore, CDC does not currently recommend use of face shields as a substitute for masks.”


Recently I learned about a silicone insert that can be worn inside masks that acts as a flexible, hollow frame that lifts the fabric of the mask off of the wearer’s mouth.  I’ve been trying this silicone insert for a few weeks now and I’m thankful that it has been working for me.  I can breathe deeply or quickly and don’t feel like I’m sucking the fabric into my mouth while I’m breathing in.  This is the silicone mask insert I […]

The Marriage of Captions and Sounds

A conference slide presentation with captions in a conference hall. Captions Are Useful Everywhere

With a little practice, you can increase your enjoyment of videos, slides, and movies by playing available captions along with the sound track of the media.

I have personally learned the value of combining these tools of accessibility over a period of decades.

My first taste of the possibilities of combining captions and sounds was in the mid-’90s when I staffed the Michigan Rehabilitation Council. We experimented with combining real-time captioning  and video conferencing for a single MRC meeting using Michigan’s network of university-based video-conferencing systems to allow people statewide to see the MRC meeting and follow the meeting discussion. We had already been using the video-conferencing network as an ongoing experiment for a year at the time, and felt that adding real-time captioning would be a powerful step to make the MRC meetings more broadly accessible to Michigan’s statewide disability community.

Expanding the universal accessibility of our meetings this way was not routine in the mid-90s. There were a number of different standards for video-conferencing at the time, and universities chose them more or less at random. All the choices needed a significant investment in equipment, software, storage, and technical expertise. The variety of possibilities meant that we had to hire a technical expert whose sole job was to “bridge” the different video systems in real-time to assure that everyone who wanted to could participate in the meeting.

Conference Presentation with multiple methods of accessible content including ASL signer and real-time captioning by a stenographer Multiple Ways to Provide Accessible Content

Real-time captions were much more unique then than now. No third party captions from the other side of the world. We hired a stenographer, and had the stenographer and the site Audio-Visual people work together so that the captions would show up throughout the statewide video-conferencing system and on a screen that was located in the actual meeting.

The experiment went well. I had the opportunity to simply observe the 70-80 attendees at the MRC meeting site as they went about their personal engagement with the content. I also paid attention to my own response, and discovered (to my surprise) that I preferred reading the captions on the screen to listening to the conversation. When I looked around, it seemed to me that about one-third of the participants in the room were also looking at the captions on the  screen rather than simply listening to the Council. Since only a handful of the participants were deaf or hard of hearing, this meant that there were a lot of people who found it easier to engage the content through print in the real-time captioning rather than listening to the voices of the speakers.

My next smaller epiphany was to always turn on the captions in Youtube videos if they were available. This allowed me to do little bits of work and note taking without losing the thread […]

By |July 28th, 2020|Categories: Assistive Technology|0 Comments

3-D Printed AT for Writing, Painting, and Drawing (with Jen)!

[The featured image of the video above is of Jen Mullins, a white woman with long, brown, wavy hair.  Jen is smiling and wearing a coral-colored cardigan and black shirt underneath.  In one hand, she is holding a Palm Pen Holder device that is holding a paintbrush.  In her other hand, Jen is pointing at the device.  On the wall behind Jen is a collection of art and a closet door.  End image description.]

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Tune in as I share about 3-D Printed Assistive Technology (AT) devices for writing, drawing, & painting.  In the video, I turn the camera around and show how 2 different, 3-D printed devices work with a pen for writing, a pencil for drawing, a paintbrush for painting, and an Apple Pencil for creating art on an iPad Pro using the Procreate app!

The devices that I show in the video were printed by an organization called Makers Making Change (MMC).  MMC is a part of the ‘Assistive Technology (AT) makers movement‘, “a small but growing movement among people with disabilities, engineers, students, families, and others who cherish personal independence and freedom of choice to take access to Assistive Technology (AT) to its next stage.”  In short, MMC connects people seeking solutions/devices to ‘makers’ who can 3-D print them.  Users can create a free account on the MMC website, browse and search for various devices that are available to be printed, and request the device(s).  MMC then connects that request with a local ‘maker’ in the user’s geographical area who can print the device for them and arrange for them to pick it up or have it shipped to them (typically the user is responsible for shipping fees).  There is a cost range included for each of the devices listed on the site, but sometimes that fee is less than purchasing a commercially available device from a store or online shop.  And some of the devices listed on the MMC website aren’t currently available in traditional stores/online shops.

While you’re searching/browsing their site, if you don’t find a device that meets your needs, MMC offers a way to submit a need/idea. Once your idea has been submitted, makers & users who are connected with MMC start brainstorming and it’s very likely you’ll hear back from them about ideas for solutions. Personally, I think this feature feels very validating and gives me hope that it is possible to get/create the AT I need.

[Image description: a watercolor paint palette, a Pen Ball device holding an Apple Pencil, a piece of watercolor paper, an iPad, a Palm Pen Holder device holding a blue drawing pencil pointing to a piece of sketch paper and small sketch of a hill and sunshine, a lined piece of paper with writing […]

New Accessibility Features for iPhone, iPad, & More-Coming this Fall!

[Image description: 4 people wearing masks take a selfie in front of a painting of the Mona Lisa; the Mona Lisa is wearing a mask too! End image description.] Image source By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

This past Monday Apple announced that it will be releasing its iOS 14 update in the fall.  Note: OS is the abbreviation for operating system.  In general, an OS is the software that runs your device.  I’ve been learning about some of the new accessibility settings that are included in the update and I’m excited about the possibilities!  Here are a few that seem particularly useful:

[Image description: A pair of Apple AirPods next to a silver iPhone. The iPhone is turned over and the camera and back of the phone are visible. End image description.] Image source I have a hearing disability and also use Apple’s AirPods headphones so I am very interested in the updates Apple is making in the settings for hearing features together with Apple’s headphones (AirPods Pro, second-generation AirPods, select Beats headphones, and EarPods).  Users will be able to customize the audio settings for what’s right for them. Users can set up to nine unique profiles.  We’ll be able to create (and save!) a setting for when watching a movie, a setting to use during phone calls, and more!

Your device will be able to detect if someone on a FaceTime call is using sign language during FaceTime chats between multiple people. When it detects the person signing, it will make their window more prominent in the call; making it easier for participants to see the sign language interpreter.

[Image description: A person smiles while looking at the screen on their iPhone. The person is shown sitting in bed while sun shines on them. End image description.] Image source [Image description: A dog has their mouth open; implying that they are barking. The wear a yellow hat and stand in front of a pink background. End image description.] Image source Your device will be able to listen for 14 different sounds and alert you when it hears these sounds.  Sounds include a door knock, doorbell, sirens, smoke detector alarm, dog barking, a crying baby, and more.

When you double or triple tap the back of your device, you will be able to make actions happen (supposed to work even if you have a case on your device).  You can set your “Back Tap” to turn on your device’s Magnifier, have Siri read the text on the screen aloud (like read a text message aloud), turn on VoiceOver, and other commands.  […]

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.

Other MATP resources on AT for accessible gardening:

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?

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,246 other subscribers


Follow us on Twitter