Michigan Assistive Technology (AT) Program Blog
A Feisty and NonCompliant View on AT!
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 As a womxn with a disability myself, I know I look different from the outdated photos I see; it’s extremely frustrating not to see people with disabilities portrayed as as authentic, capable, confident, and whole people.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, […]
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.
In 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:
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Fish Burial at Sea
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 Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff
Recently, I got to meet and talk with Alisa Grishman of Access Mob Pittsburgh (AMP). Alisa is the inventor of the “Light Up Cane”; although she says that she’s not an inventor and just “had a good idea”. Sure sounds like an inventor to me! The Light Up Cane is essentially a cane that has a string of small lights and a small power bank attached to it.
Alisa’s idea came about while she attended an outdoor, nighttime concert. Using her cane, she was trying to make her way to the bathroom and no one could see her, so she kept getting knocked around. She made her way to one of the vendors where she bought a string of fairy lights & a power bank. She wrapped the lights & power bank around her cane and secured them with tape. When she walked somewhere during the concert, she could be seen and safe. Since the concert, Alisa and AMP has partnered with HackPittsburgh to do safety lighting installations on people’s power chairs and have other ideas in the works for illuminating AT for safety.
If you’d like to make your own light up cane or wheelchair or other illuminated AT device, AMP has recommended these lights. Additionally, small fairy lights are available and as well as small power banks. To secure the lights & power bank, Alisa & AMP used blue painters tape (less likely to leave stickiness on your device if you needed to remove it).
Sometimes the best inventions are born out of necessity. 🙂
By Paul Miller, Community Inclusion Specialist, MDRC
Paul, on the left with his walker, at a leadership development retreat where Paul taught the group about interdependence, disability pride, and leadership.
Independence is something we strive for as we grow up, but as an adult I have grown to understand that interdependence is a more accurate view of life. Interdependence is a concept explained best by saying that our independence relies on the help of others. My Dad passed away in January 2019 and when I think about him I think what a big part of my life he was. My dad loved to work with tools. He did a lot of work on my walker. He put on a cupholder and added some new wheels and a hinge. I use my walker to go all over town. I think of it as a symbol of independence. When I ride on the bus I fold it and have it against my legs. When I get to the store, I put a small grocery basket on it and shop. My walker, like any Assistive Technology, is a big part of my life. It is also a symbol of the relationship I had with my dad. While ridesharing is possible now, up until a few years ago, when I had an emergency with my walker, I called my dad for a ride.
The concept of interdependence is that no one is totally independent. Our independence depends on the help of others. This is a concept that is well understood in the disability community. The opening paragraph tells how my dad helped with my walker, which helped me be independent as well as helping me to bond with my dad. Last time I got some work done on my walker I got some help from a nice man in my church named Phil. When this happened I felt connected with my church. You also can get some work done on walkers at bike shops. At one time I did get some brake work done to my walker at a bike shop. I think the reason why interdependence is so loved in the disability community is it builds connections with other communities. It could also build up the disabled community itself since we help each other by talking about news and protests and opportunities in the disability community.
You have interdependence in any relationship like friendship or a work relationship. While working on this blog I got advice and grammar help from Paige, my personal assistant. This is an example of interdependence at work. Another example may be help with a presentation. The story I told about my walker is one example of how interdependence works. I don’t want to say independence is a negative concept. Independence may be what we say we want when we are young but interdependence, as a viewpoint, gives us community.
James works at Pathways in Marquette doing janitorial work and at times needs to communicate with his employer or even the bus driver who brings him to work. Due to his many disabilities, one of them being extreme hearing loss, James has a very hard time communicating clearly with others. His mom, Judy, is usually able to understand him but oftentimes finds herself struggling as well.
James was referred to Tanya, Assistive Technology Advocate at the Superior Alliance for Independent Living (SAIL). When Tanya met with James and his mom for the first time, it became a true mission to find something that would help him communicate clearly with others. Through a device demonstration, James learned about the application “Verbally” for his iPad, which turned out to be the answer he was looking for. When Tanya showed James how the application worked he was eager to tell us how he was doing when asked. After showing him the repeat button, he typed in “I love you Mom” and kept hitting repeat.
Upon leaving his house! Tanya said, “See you later alligator” to which he replied with his iPad, “After while crocodile” several times all while laughing with a big smile on his face!
By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff
I’m working on a trauma certificate and recently attended a symposium on Somatic Experience therapy for children who have experienced trauma. The presenter, Maggie Kline, LMFT, explained that for young children (birth to 18 months) who experience trauma, the body holds the memory and that therapy needs to focus on dissolving extra energy in the body, helping children find and feel safe, and helping the shock/trauma (reptilian) part of the brain heal.
According to Maggie, we are hard wired to overcome and release trauma. We are built to be resilient and there are tools to help children who have experienced trauma access that healing. These tools can help build from our innate resilience.
Maggie mentioned the Poly Vagal Theory developed by Dr Stephen Porges which explains that our nervous system has three modes:
- Connection mode—the state in which we can socially engage, interact and function;
- Fight/flight—our body’s immediate reaction to a threat that affects every part of the body to help us stay alive by either fighting the danger or fleeing as quickly as possible;
- Shutdown—when the fight/flight has not worked and we sense impending death, this system kicks in and causes freezing as a form of self-preservation
Maggie taught our group that children who have experienced trauma can have triggers that remind their body of trauma and then their body flips from fight or flight into shutdown mode. Somatic Experience therapy and other therapeutic models seek to help children become grounded in their bodies and come out of fight/flight or shutdown mode by activating the calming parts of the nervous system. The goal is to reorganize and rebalance the nervous system after being overwhelmed by trauma. Then, children’s bodies don’t respond to a trigger when they shouldn’t.
If a child you care about has experienced trauma, please consult a therapist to help them work through the trauma and prevent or treat PTSD. That therapist will likely use toys and tools you can use yourself at home to help with rebalancing the nervous system. These toys are things you can use yourself with a child but they should not be used as a sole means of treatment of trauma. Professional support is needed. These are listed here as ideas you can use in addition to the support of professionals.
Tools and Toys for trauma:
- Bubbles—help children extend their exhales longer than inhales which activates calming centers in the nervous system.
- Rocking horses and hammocks/swings– activate the vestibular (body positioning) system to help with grounding knowing where your body is in space.
- Drums—rhythmic, repetitive movements are soothing and activate the brain in ways that are therapeutic. This can also be seen in biking, running, yoga, and other rhythmic activities.
- Maracas and other toys that create a shaking movement when used—shaking off is a physical response that is seen in other animals too—discharging the fight or flight energy. I frequently know […]
By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Program Staff
In June I was paging through my copy of Woman’s Day Magazine and was impressed with an article on Veterans and AT use: How My Veteran Husband Copes with His War Injuries . The focus is on caregivers/family/friends of veterans’ views and support, but the AT used is directly helpful to the veterans themselves. I’m excited that the article is finally online and I can share it here. As someone who has had PTSD, I found the PTSD Coach app very helpful. The ideas in the article are especially helpful for veterans but are useful to anyone with PTSD or PTSD symptoms.
What did you think of the article? Have you used any of the apps or tools yourself? What are your experiences of the AT?
By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff
Renown Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has been one of my favorite artists since I was a young girl. A few years ago, I was excited to learn that Kahlo also had disabilities and she shared about them in her art and writing; in this way, she has inspired and emboldened me to do the same in my own artwork. Recently, I read an article that featured a photo of Kahlo using Assistive Technology (AT) to help her paint. While she was a young adult, Kahlo traveled on a bus that was in a terrible accident. “The accident broke Kahlo’s spinal column, collarbone, ribs, and pelvis, fractured her right leg in 11 places, and dislocated her shoulder. Those severe injuries left her racked with pain for the rest of her life, and she frequently [felt most comfortable in bed]. But during these times, Kahlo picked up her father’s paintbrush. Her mother helped arrange a special easel that would allow her to work from bed.” In this photo Kahlo is laying on her back, painting while in bed. She is situated with pillows behind her head, a paint palette resting on her stomach, a large, tilted easel at her waist, and a vase filled with paint brushes on a nearby side table. A young child is at her side (near the vase of paint brushes) watching her paint.
Kahlo’s story and this photograph of her made me interested to find out what other kinds of easels are available for artists with disabilities. Just like Frida Kahlo and her family discovered, I found that there are different types of easels available that may work as Assisitive Technology for some:
- Though I can’t say for certain, from the photograph it looks like Kahlo is using an adjustable drawing board. These boards can be placed on a variety of surfaces and the slant or tilt of the board is adjustable depending upon the needs of the artist.
- The Alvin Reflex Table was designed with wheelchair access in mind, The device has a semi circle cut out for accessibility of wheelchairs. The 30″ × 40″ top has a raised, black, PVC edge that prevents items from falling off. The base of the table is wide enough to allow wheelchairs to maneuver through and has telescoping legs to adjust the height.
- The Convert-able table is a large, multipurpose and adaptable table with 0º-90º of tilt. The optional Art Easel top keeps paper unwrinkled on a roll while horizontal guides hold the paper in place.
- Danette Smiths Rotating […]
“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.” Grace Lee Boggs
This quote came up in my Facebook memories this week, posted by a friend and colleague some years ago. It provided a moment of synchronicity for me (a term my friend and teacher Jan Lundy uses often). Synchronicity is when two or more things happen that seem related but don’t have a causal connection that you can identify. For me, this quote from Grace Lee Boggs is related to the work we are looking at doing to address social isolation of people with disabilities in nursing homes. People residing in nursing homes are disconnected from their friends, families, pets, support systems, homes, belongings, interests and hobbies, their communities. Their fabric of connectedness is torn apart. Could assistive technology for computer/internet access be a tool that will help weave connection again?—repairing and building new critical connections for people who end up in nursing facilities.
A member of our board sent along a frightening article/news story on the social isolation, depression, and suicidal thoughts and actions of people in nursing facilities.
Having worked in nursing facilities and having worked as an ombudsman to improve conditions in nursing facilities, I can see where even very good nursing homes are places where people develop or return to deep depression and hopelessness. The online communities of my choosing have been huge sources of support for me when I have had strong depression symptoms—communities of peers, communities of neighbors, communities of nature lovers and book readers, communities of women who have experienced multiple pregnancy loss like myself. Having the internet, Facebook, Facebook Groups, email and other social media keeps me connected in ways that are meaningful and supportive for me.
What if people in nursing facilities could access communities that are important to them? While it would not solve the problem of being in a nursing facility if the person really wants to be in their home, it could provide an avenue for sharing stories, providing mutual support, learning and growth.
There is a digital divide. People with disabilities do not access computers and the internet at the rate that the general population enjoys. My guess is that nursing home residents have an even bigger gap in access.
Are there ways we can work together to bridge that divide?
What AT do you use for computer and internet access?
In what […]
by MATP Staff Member Laura Hall
The number of items in your home that can now be controlled remotely, by smartphone, or by voice is staggering and growing every day. I’ve been slow to upgrade my home to “smart home”, but now that I’ve been bitten by the bug there may be no stopping me.Over the holidays, I purchased a Nest learning thermostat, and when I enrolled in a peak energy program through my provider, it cost me almost nothing. The large print display lights up as you walk by the thermostat, and you can control the temperature using the ring along the side, your smartphone, or voice, using Amazon’s Alexa devices. I found this to be much easier than the small button you had to hold down on my old thermostat. You can also schedule when to turn the heat up or down, or the Nest also learns your favorite settings in about a week and you can enable it to auto-adjust. The”leaf” icon when you choose a setting that saves energy. For me, this is a good reminder that even a degree or two can lead to savings.
When we decided to get a security system for our home, I decided that I had to be able to manipulate the door locks, or else they would go unused. There are many assistive technology devices designed to help with holding and turning keys, but I always met them with varying levels of success. Initially, I was only considering a numeric keypad lock. I have several personal care staff that come in on different days and during different times, so I was looking for something that would allow me to program multiple unique access codes that I could easily change if there was turnover. However, when the home security company came to install the system, they showed me a smart lock that had both the numeric keypad and the ability to lock and unlock from my iPhone. The smart lock works with Z-wave technology to send a signal wirelessly from my phone to the lock. It’s also tied in with the app that controls my security alarm system, which means I can lock and unlock the doors, arm and disarm the alarm and monitor, who is coming and going all from my phone. I can’t get out of bed without the assistance of my personal care staff, so it’s been extra helpful to be able to disarm the alarm from bed from when they arrive (they can still unlock the door on their own using the keypad).
When it comes to environmental controls, lights are one of the easiest things to make hands-free. You can now buy many smart plug outlets for under $20. You simply plug any lamp into the outlet and it can be turned on using your smartphone (typically with an app that works with the outlet) or smart speakers […]