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Michigan Assistive Technology (AT) Program Blog

A Feisty and NonCompliant View on AT!

AT for My 8 Month Old

Theo holding Anneliese in their window seat

My daughter, Anneliese, is turning 8 months old next week. Her brother, Theo, turns one year and 11 months old today. Having two kids under two is exciting, enlivening, and life-changingly wonderful, and busy. Having both of our kids in our 40s after a long battle with infertility and losses, and having worked and lived as a member of the disability community for more than a decade, my partner, Joe, and I were pretty prepared for the possibility that our kids would have disabilities.

As a believer and practicer of disability pride, that is an interesting thing to consider. I have my share of internalized ableism–negative beliefs about disabilities turned inward on myself. I have experienced depths of depression that had me thinking that other people with disabilities deserved to have children but maybe I didn’t, because the fight to get to them was so hard and my body wasn’t cooperating. I’ve also known that I would be able to teach our children about disability pride and help them grow it, and at the same time, wanted them not to have to face additional barriers people with disabilities experience.

Anneliese's first day with her helmet

Right now, it is not clear if my son has any disabilities, most likely not, other than some sensory processing things he has with bright lights and certain sounds. My daughter is also doing well, but qualifies as more than 20% behind and is having an evaluation from Early On this week. She also has a helmet for brachycephaly that is on 23 hours a day. The back of her head is very flat–more than six standard deviations from the mean of baby head roundness.

I struggle to explain to friends that I am both anxious for and about Anneliese, and at the same time ready and willing to help her explore life as a person with a disability, if she is a person with a disability for her whole life.
The computer-generated mold used to make Anneliese's custom helmet

Right now, I do consider her a baby with a disability. Because she is a baby, she doesn’t face the same stigma of adults with apparent disabilities, but she does get some curious looks with her helmet and some pity/looks of concern. For now, they don’t concern her and really don’t concern me either. Some children in her Kindermusik class are a little fascinated with her helmet strewn with images of butterflies and some of their parents are worried about their fascination, but we handle it easily.

We have visits to the orthotic and prosthetic lab at Mary Free Bed in Grand Rpaids every couple weeks to check on her progress and progress is being made. I expect we will also have follow up and monitoring after the Early On evaluation.

I also have mental health disabilities including anxiety, depression, and PTSD related to medical […]

By |November 14th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Barriers to the Ballot Box


By Laura Hall, MATP Staff Member

When I arrived at my polling place this morning, like many voters, I was excited to take part in this important election.  I felt prepared because I had ensured I was registered to vote, found my polling place, researched the candidates and issues and filled out a sample personalized ballot (that I took with me to the polls) on the Vote411 website.  As I handed my ID and paperwork to the poll worker, I saw a look of dismay fall over her face when I told her I would like to use the electronic voting machine that is required to be at every polling place.  “We were having trouble with it this morning”, she replied.  It seemed like there was a short in the connectors”.  However, she noted that someone had come to take a look at it, and they reported that everything was fine, so lets “give it a shot”.  Unfortunately, everything was not fine.  As I prepared to vote there was a scurry of activity as people tried to identify who knew how to initialize the ballot in the Dominion machine (note: in other areas of the state the Hart InterCivic and the Election Systems and Software machines are used).  It seemed like no one really knew what they were doing, but they opened their giant election binder and began looking at the directions.  I asked whether, as poll workers, they were trained on the machines. Apparently, they were, but very briefly according to the poll worker.  However, I was excited when they were able to get the machine working with relatively no problems.


The Dominion voting machine offers several accessible features: touchscreen, audio playback with headphones, audio-tactile interfaces (a controller with arrows to tab through options with a large button to make your selection), sip and puff, and paddles (large red and blue buttons to navigate through your ballot and make selections).  You can also enlarge the text and change the contrast of the text on these machines.  I chose to use the touchscreen option with the audio input to help me insure I made the choices I intended.   I was able to navigate my ballot with relative ease and was happy that it didn’t take too long.  I selected to print the ballot, and then my heart sank.  My ballot only partially printed, and the screen on the voting machine instructed me to contact an election official.  The poll worker came over, looked at the screen with a heavy sigh, checked the printer for a paper jam, couldn’t find one, and shrugged their shoulders, out of ideas.  What was the next person who requested the machine going to do?  They offered to help me fill out a paper ballot, but I would need two poll workers affiliated with different political parties to be present.  I am able […]

By |November 13th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: |0 Comments

Seeing the Beauty in Trying Something New


This story comes to us from Jenell Williams of Disability Network Oakland & Macomb:

J. Thomas is very active in her community. She loves spending time with her family and friends. Most of all she loves her early mornings. In the morning she has her special routine where she fixes her breakfast and sits down to read or play a game on her phone. She realized that as she aged, certain things in her life would change. However, she didn’t expect her sight to be one of those things.

One day her friend asked her to come down to support her in attending an Assistive Technology (AT) Outreach presentation at their building. Her intent was to support her friend but she ended up gaining so much more. She was presented with the opportunity to make some changes. Although she uses her prescription glasses, she knew those 156-powermag-handheld-magnifier_sudokuwouldn’t be enough in order to maintain an independent life style. Making a change is exactly what she did! She tried out a 3.5x Power Magnifier and instantly noticed the difference it made. Having had the opportunity to explore something different not only helped her to maintain her independence but begin to see the beauty in trying something new.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”- Confucius.

If you or someone you know would like to learn more about AT and devices that might be available to help, please visit our Michigan Assistive Technology Program (MATP) website.

By |October 18th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: |1 Comment

Back to School Assistive Technology

by Laura Hall, MATP staff

This morning, I awoke to the sound of the school bus in my neighborhood.  I knew my commute to work would begin to take longer as students now inhabit the city within the city that is Michigan State University.  It’s back to school time, and we wanted to start the year off right with some examples of assistive technology that can support a successful student.

Thinking back to my own education, I could have used assistive technology that may not have been available at the time were in the areas of note-taking, organization, and time management.  I know I’m dating myself, but back before laptops, iPads, and iPhones were allowed in the classroom, I used to have to ask for accommodations to get the teacher’s lecture notes or PowerPoints ahead of time, request a scribe, or borrow notes from a classmate.  Today, technology is available to help with notetaking that doesn’t rely on support from another person.  For example, with the Livescribe pen, you’re able to record audio while you take notes.  Using Livescribe’s special paper, you can then review the audio in sync with your notes merely by tapping the pen to the page.  audionote app logoIf drawing pictures or writing down key concepts is a better way for you to learn, you still have the audio that corresponds with what you put down on paper.  Your notes can also be downloaded and saved along with the synched audio to share at a later time.  Similarly, AudioNote, an app for Apple and Android, allows you to type notes on a screen and record audio that is time stamped with the notes.

Organization can take many forms, including calendars, to do lists, reminders, and more.  Many people are now using the calendars built into their phones or email program, such as iCal or Google Calendar.  There are other apps, some that are aimed at students, like iStudiez Lite (Free) and Pro Watchminder with the time and ($2.99) manages your class schedule, teacher contacts, and upcoming assignments/tests. It’s a school-specific calendar app and to-do list rolled into one.  Sometimes, shared to-do lists, like Wunderlist or ToDoist are helpful when working in a group or just to have another person help keep you on track.  Built into many of these apps are notifications that can alert you to an upcoming event or task on your phone or desktop as well.  The Amazon Echo and Alexa devices can also verbalize your tasks for the day either by asking her to create a to-do list or linking your iCal or Google Calendar.   However, some people might need more than a simple alert.  On the lower-tech end, the Watchminder can vibrate on the wrist with a message on the screen that is pre-programmed such as “Pay Attention” or customized to your need.  Higher tech wearables, like the […]

By |September 4th, 2018|Categories: school|0 Comments

My Navigation Disability is a “Real Thing”

Busy city sidewalk

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

When I present about Assistive Technology (AT), I usually talk about some of AT that I personally use.  One of my most used (and loved) AT is Global Positioning System or GPS . I have a disability that impacts my ability to navigate.  When I walk, bike, drive, etc., on my own (without my GPS, without another person with me) I can’t work out where I am currently and/or how I need to get where I need to go.  I could be inside of a mall, during my commute to my workplace, inside of a parking garage, etc.; I just can’t work out where I am without outside assistance (even if I’ve been to the destination countless times).  It’s not because I’m “flighty” or “unorganized” or “not paying attention” (real things people have told me that I am when they hear me talk about my navigation disability); I just can’t find my way.

Aerial view of a busy highway

Currently my disability is unnamed and what little information I find when I research doesn’t really match up to my experiences. I know I’m not the only person who has this disability; my mom and my best friend’s husband experience the same thing as I do when needing to navigate.

After a recent presentation, I talked with a friend who has the same disability.  I said to her that I didn’t know why our disability doesn’t have a name, but it’s frustrating that it doesn’t and I can’t find helpful information or research about it.  She said something along the lines of: if it had a name, it would be considered a “real thing”; it could be more easily described and would likely be taken more seriously. As it is now, when I share about my navigation disability, people have to take my word for it; I’ve found that the majority of people I talk to are still skeptics about it whether or not they think I actually have this disability.  I feel gaslighted and shamed by people because they just don’t believe me.

A Dead End sign against a cloudy sky

When I was learning to drive (early 2000’s), I didn’t have access to the GPS I use today.  I had to rely on asking my dad or sister or someone else who could navigate on their own, writing down the steps, and hoping I didn’t get lost.  Or I had to drive with someone who would tell me where to go.  I was very nervous to travel anywhere because I knew I would get lost (it was a bummer to finally earn my drivers license and then be anxious & scared to really use it fully or drive by myself!) When I was in college, we used MapQuest to get & print written directions & maps. These were more helpful than just […]

By |August 23rd, 2018|Categories: Navigation|Tags: , , |1 Comment

The Quest for Sleep

by Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

I first wrote this piece in 2013 and have dug it up to share again in honor of my respiratory therapist, David Gritter, retiring. He actually retired in May, but I was on maternity leave so I’m sharing this in my first post since returning. Dave is among a group of medical and helping professionals from a variety of disciplines that have come into my life and saved it. Because of him, I tried again to use devices to help me sleep. Because of him, I am no longer dangerously sleepy at the wheel. Because of him, I’m now an evangelist for sleep studies and have gotten at least one friend to go in (and find out she needed a CPAP too). Because of Dave, and my new sleep specialist physician Dr. Jason Coles, I am now using a BiPAP and I made it through four pregnancies, two losses, and IVF which all complicated my sleep. Because of them and their help and guidance, I get to partner with my husband to raise two beautiful kids and participate actively in the communities and work that I love.

Bipap My trusty BiPAP and face mask which Dr Coles and Dave helped me get during my pregnancies when my air swallowing made my CPAP unusable for me. BiPAPs have two levels of pressure (lower pressure on the exhale) which helped make my air swallowing more manageable. I added the cardboard flap on the front to cover the bright light that comes on when you turn the machine on.

July 2013

I have been on a quest for good sleep for the better part of 8 years. I can remember having trouble sleeping even as a kid, but it didn’t affect my energy level during the day. As I age, the lack of energy is catching up with me. I sought help from a sleep specialist when my tiredness was affecting my ability to drive safely.

The first sleep specialist I saw didn’t believe my assertion that my hormonal problems (I have polycystic ovarian syndrome—PCOS) were related to my sleep. He discounted my feelings and my evidence and told me I needed a series of sleep studies and likely I was experiencing sleep problems as a result of clinical depression. I had clinical depression previously and knew I didn’t have it again. I didn’t appreciate the way he talked to me or his jump to diagnose or his statement that I needed many sleep studies for thousands of dollars to get to the bottom of this problem.  I didn’t make a follow up appointment.

I did some research on my own, switched up some of my medications, and had some relief for a while, then, I again had trouble driving safely. I looked for a new sleep specialist.

The next sleep specialist I saw listened to me, believed me, and convinced me to have a sleep study.

The sleep study showed I have

By |August 16th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

AT for Emergency Prep and Response: Overview of the Series

Damaged wheelchair in a flood damaged home in Illinois A Damaged Power Chair in a Flood Damaged House

This is the first of a number of blog posts on keeping ourselves safe and enabling our return to normal when our lives are churned and overturned by emergencies and disasters.

Although hurricanes and wildfires in the border states have gotten the most press coverage, the Midwest, including Michigan, have their share of regional emergencies and disasters, including flooding, ice storms, wildfires, tornadoes, powerful thunderstorms, blizzards, and so on.

People with disabilities in Michigan share the same concerns for preparation and response that occur in those emergencies that receive more press coverage.

This post is an introduction to these issues. Future posts will cover the issues in more depth.

For our community, emergencies and disasters pose additional barriers and problems to getting ready for, robustly responding to, and ultimately recovering from, disaster:

  1. Preparing for disaster requires a different mindset and a much more serious focus for the disability community. I will use the metaphor of the GoKit to frame the issues of preparation for disasters in our community.
  2. Our community can’t count on our social networks to automatically have the requisite skills to support us during a disaster. We have to work to build in those skills (and the redundancy of those skills) so they are available during the disaster.
  3. Although Emergency Shelters have dramatically improved their accessibility and accommodation resources in recent years, we all know that these are general resources, not necessarily customized to our individual needs. We need to take steps to assure that we have what we need when we need it, wherever we might end up.
  4. Our community, more than most others, needs to think about the organizations and services that we use in our ordinary life and whether those same services are prepared to continue their support in a significant emergency.
  5. We must take responsibility for building emergency preparation and response into our personal networks as a normal topic for discussion and development among our friends and allies in the disability community,
  6. Over the longer term, we must assertively collaborate with emergency response services long before emergencies occur to build both an understanding of our community’s needs and to deepen our community’s understanding of the how and the why of emergency preparation in the regions where we live.

I hope that readers will consider sharing their experiences with significant emergencies, how they coped, and the lessons that they learned as these posts roll out.

By |July 22nd, 2018|Categories: Emergency Response|0 Comments

Tiny Words on Thin Pages

A Demonstration and Short-Term Loan Story

Mark smiling while holding up the book reader machine

Mark served his community for years through his work as a substance abuse counselor, care worker for a residential facility, and mission work in a prison and drug rehabilitation center. His whole life he had been an avid reader of the bible. After losing a leg to diabetes as well as some of his vision, Mark began adapting to a new way of living. However, he was concerned he might not be able do to do all the things he used to do well anymore.

When Mark and his wife were referred to the Superior Alliance for Independent Living (SAIL)* in March 2018, assistive technology (AT) was completely new to them. Mark’s wife initially called for information on services available for them when they were referred to the accessibility specialist to learn about AT.

Mark identified reading as a new area of difficulty for him. He stated prior to his vision loss, he read the bible regularly and would like to continue to do so. SAIL staff member Emily demonstrated the Max Detail Viewing Glasses and the Talking Book Player, which Mark took a liking to both and thought they were “pretty cool.”

Mark brought out his bible, which had tiny print on thin pages. He put on the Max Detail Viewing Glasses and began to read aloud slowly, but with complete accuracy. He was not sure how long he could read this way but was smiling because the tiny words on thin pages were no longer so difficult.

Mark was still interested in the Talking Book Player, so he and Emily completed the application for the National Library Service. Aside from the bible, Mark was excited to learn about his options for talking books, and expressed interest in westerns and history. Mark took out the viewing glass on a short-term loan to compare the two devices. 

When the talking book player came in the mail, Mark stated he was able to operate it on his own and stopped using the glasses because he preferred listening to the tapes in his free time. His wife stated that it was good for Mark to find something to keep him busy when he is home by himself.

As small of a change it was, it has given Mark independence in a big way by giving him the chance to return to a sense of normality in his daily life.

*SAIL works with Michigan Assistive Technology Program (MATP) to provide AT services across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. More information about Demonstration and Short-Term Loan Services.

By |July 19th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Know Your Voting Rights

"Get Out the Vote" with the dynamic wheelchair accessibility symbolThe AutoMARK voting machine with headphones


The Michigan Primary Elections are taking place on August 7th and today is the final day to register to vote!  Candidates for Governor, U.S. Congress, and state Senate and House members are among the important decisions on the ballot.  If you haven’t registered already, you can still do so through the Secretary of State’s Voter Information Center.

Traditionally, people with disabilities as a group, have had a lower voter turnout rate than other groups.   According to the AAPD’s Voter Statistics and Data, the voter turnout rate of people with disabilities was 6 percentage points lower than that of people without disabilities during the 2016 election.  Does 6% make a big difference?  Would higher rates of voting among people with disabilities make a difference?   Absolutely!  if people with disabilities voted at the same rate as people without disabilities who have the same demographic characteristics, there would be about 2.2 million more voters!  It is important that our voices and choices are heard.

Part of the lower voter turnout rate may be due to a lack of information about your rights as a voter with a disability.  Let’s address some of the major rights.

  • Polling places must be accessible.  Federal and state laws require polling places to remove or make accommodations for any barriers that prevent voters with disabilities from voting. For example, doors should not be blocked, alternatives to stairs such as ramps or elevators should be available, and lighting and seating should be adequate.
  • At least one voting station should be adapted to allow a person to vote while seated. In addition, all voters, including voters with disabilities, have access to the AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal.   The AutoMARK features a touch screen, a keypad marked with Braille, and the opportunity for voters to use their personal sip-puff device, a stylus or a footpad to mark their ballots. The AutoMARK is wheelchair-accessible and is equipped with headphones so that voters may hear the ballot read aloud to them if they wish.
  • ID is NOT required to vote.  If you do not have identification or did not bring your ID to vote, you can still vote by signing an affidavit confirming your identity.  Once signed to can cast your ballot.
  • You have the right to take someone with you to assist you to vote.  However, they cannot be your employer, your union representative, or a candidate. Poll workers can also help you vote, as long as there are two people representing at least two political parties.
  • You can request an absentee ballot if you need assistance getting to your polling place or need assistance casting your ballot.  To receive an absentee ballot you can contact your local county clerk or fill […]
By |July 9th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

AT for Frozen Treats in the Summer Heat!

Up close picture of a waffle cone holding ice cream.

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

The weather where I live in lower Michigan has been fairly hot lately (or at least, hotter than I would like!)  Frozen treats seem to help with cooling down, but sometimes aren’t the easiest to access. Typical ice cream scoops require a good amount of upper body strength, cold temperature tolerance in hands, hand strength & grip, and muscle endurance.  For someone who has a disability that impacts any of these areas, scooping hard, dense, frozen cream/sorbet/gelato/custard with a traditional scoop is not always possible. Thankfully, there are some great Assistive Technology supports available!  

Photo of a person using the Ice Cream Scoop & Stack in a carton of frozen ice cream. The device is then shown putting ice cream onto a cone.#1: The Ice Cream Scoop & Stack cuts slices of ice cream (instead of scoops): “Push the Ice Cream Scoop & Stack into firm ice cream.  The beveled front edge of the scoop makes it easy to cut through even the hardest ice cream. Twist just a bit and then lift. Press the button on the top of the Ice Cream Scoop & Stack to release the ice cream.”  No traditional scooping needed!

Oxo Good Grips I-Series Ice Cream Scoop#2: “Beaked” ice cream scoops like the Oxo Good Grips I-Series offer a more precise solution: the large, aluminum beak of this ice cream scoop breaks into hard ice cream and the ejector or trigger button on the scoop handle helps to get the ice cream out of the scoop.  I like that this scoop also has Oxo’s usual non slip coating; making it easier for my dry-skinned-hands to grip it while I’m scooping.

Zeroll ice cream scoops and spades, shown holding scoops of ice cream#3: Heated-conducting scoops & spades like ones from Zeroll have heat conductive fluid sealed within the handle.  The scoop or spade uses the heat from the user’s hand to warm the fluid in the handle which transfers to the scoop and glides thru the frozen ice cream with less resistance.  Something to note about this scoop is that it needs to be hand washed and can’t go in the dishwasher.

Graphic of an empty muffin panA low tech AT idea for scoops is to use a muffin tin.  Let ice cream soften for a while and then scoop soft ice cream scoops into muffin tins (lined with plastic wrap) & refreeze. When you want a scoop, it’s ready and waiting without having to fight with the chilled cream.

Oven mitt with grippy dots on the surfaceA piece of nonslip drawer liner or a silicone […]

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