Music is my Assistive Technology

Tablet, laptop computer, mouse & mouse pad, and headphones on a desk.

By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Woman listening to headphones connected to a smartphone.How often do you listen to music?  Do you turn it on when you wake up?  Do you listen in the car/transit as you head to work & go about your day?  Is it on when you’re in the shower?  When you’re doing chores?  While working out?  Maybe a better question to ask is when is music not on?  In my life, music is almost always on (either I’m actively listening or have it on in the background); that is to say, when I’m not listening to podcasts. Music has a powerful, positive effect on my mood, productivity, and attention.  “It turns out that a moderate noise level is the sweet spot for creativity. Even more than low noise levels, ambient noise apparently gets our creative juices flowing, and doesn’t put us off the way high levels of noise do.  The way this works is that moderate noise levels increase processing difficulty which promotes abstract processing, leading to higher creativity. In other words, when we struggle (just enough) to process things as we normally would, we resort to more creative approaches.”

Vintage radios stacked on shelves.

Music can illicit memories and feelings from a different time in my life and gives me all the good nostalgic feels.  Stevie Wonder was quoted saying, “Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it.”

Lit up keys on a soundboard.Music has been able to lessen the pain of a headache and give me more energy & motivation.  Usually if I’m anxious, worried, or upset it’s partly because it’s been a while since I heard a song I enjoy.  As soon as I can turn on music which I have chosen, I feel relief and hope; music is my Assistive Technology.  A study showed that, “Preferred music was found to significantly increase tolerance and perceived control over the painful stimulus and to decrease anxiety compared with both the visual distraction and silence conditions. Pain intensity rating was decreased by music listening when compared with silence.”

Child playing with an electric guitar.While I was growing up, music was strongly integrated into many things that my family did; especially family road trips where we would listen to (and sing along with) Crosby, Stills, & Nash!  I learned my love (and need) of music from my parents; I learned how it can help me throughout my daily life.

When I was in high school, my family got cable and I got to sneak listening to 2 music video channels, MTV and VH1 (I still miss those pop up videos!)  During that time in the 1990’s, music was still on CD’s and downloading 1 song from the dial up internet took hours (there was no YouTube yet!)  Cassette tapes.I remember it being such a struggle to listen to the music that I wanted to hear (tape recording songs off of the radio when they were played was a challenge and I always got some of the DJ talking over part of the songs).  As I’ve grown, so has technology.  I read an article recently about Menials (or Xennials) growing up with the Internet & technology.  It shared, “As we were growing up, technology matured along side us. We had time to get used to it and were still young enough to feel right at home with it.”  I feel like the same applies to access to music.  Starting with cassette tapes, moving to CD’s, then to MP3 players, and now to streaming services on our smart devices.

This year I decided to start paying for a subscription to Amazon Prime’s music streaming service, Prime Music.  I now have access to virtually all of the music I want (the teenager inside of the 32 year old me rejoices daily about this!)  I can listen on demand on my iPhone, in the car, on my computer, etc.  Having access to music that I choose to when I need to listen to is extremely cathartic and helpful for me.  I can listen to old favorites from high school years (oh hello Spice Girls), expand my appreciation for indie music, and enjoy new music (I have fallen in love with Miles Davis’ ‘Concierto de Aranjuez: Adagio‘)!  Person blowing chalk into the air. It looks like magic to me.As Tom Petty once said, “Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things.”

How does music impact you?  How do you access it?

Tasty Tools: Assistive Technology in the Kitchen (Part 6)

Kitchenaid stand mixer

By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Welcome back to our Assistive Technology in the Kitchen series, Part 6 :-)!  Today we are talking about using a stand mixer (or standing mixer) as an Assistive Technology support in the kitchen!  

Graphic of a handheld mixer with beatersMixing by hand can require precision, endurance, and fine motor control.  Handheld, electric beaters can be difficult to use; holding the power button down can take a lot of grip/pinch strength and holding the device itself takes a fair amount of upper body strength. Knowing I can set the stand mixer to do its job makes cooking and baking seem less daunting and more accessible to me. 

When you think of a stand mixer what comes to mind?  Having a lot of time available to “play” in the kitchen?  That’s what I thought at first too and I couldn’t justify spending a larger sum of money on something I’d maybe use once a week.  But then I searched “uses for kitchenaid stand mixers” on Pinterest and found that (along with other surprising uses), I could shred cooked chicken breast using a stand mixer!  

2 forks shredding cooked chickenI have been making bbq chicken in my slow cooker for years, but there’s a step in the recipe where I need to shred the cooked chicken with 2 folks.  Using 2 forks to shred up a protein (even if tender) can require upper body strength, fine motor control, and muscle endurance.  Not to mention that your hands are really close/touching hot meat and that can be painful.  By using the stand mixer to shred the chicken, I now just use tongs to place the hot, cooked chicken into the mixer, mix for 30 seconds on low with the paddle attachment, and all my chicken is all shredded and ready for bbq sauce & bun (maybe a little coleslaw too)!  😉

Shredded BBQ chicken sandwich, topped with coleslaw

I use my mixer with the whisk attachment whenever I want something really thoroughly mixed: Jello, instant pudding, ranch dressing/dip, fluffy eggs for scrambled eggs & omelets, box cake mix, meat for meatballs & meatloaf, etc.  

Tray of soft pretzelsStand mixers often come with that paddle attachment I mentioned with the shredded chicken, the whisk attachment, and a dough hook attachment.  You can make lots of great, yeasty dough’s for soft pretzels, breads, rolls, etc. using the dough hook.  I especially love using the dough hook to make quick breads; the dough hook attachment doesn’t over mix and ends up giving them the best texture!

  • Pro tip 1: When I bought my mixer, I purchased a second bowl & paddle attachment so that when I was making a recipe that required 2 different batters or preparations, I didn’t have to stop to wash my one bowl & paddle.  The bowls I have are the lighter, stainless steel ones.  Kitchenaid has some pretty ceramic and glass bowls available, but they are heavy and therefore can be cumbersome to use, wash, scrape batter out of, etc.  In addition to the food weight inside of the bowl, the glass & ceramic bowls add 3 additional pounds!  

Stand mixer with ceramic mixing bowl

  • Pro tip 2: Stand mixers are heavy and can be difficult to lift (even just to scooch over a bit).  Mine lives on my counter so I don’t have to deal with moving it to store it after I’m done using it (besides, it’s pretty and I like looking it lol).  I’ve found that by putting small, furniture felt pads on the bottom of the stand, the mixer scooches around on the counter a lot more easily.  And if the pads get dirty they are easily replaceable.

3 stand mixersStand mixers in general are relatively expensive and if you’re going for the bright, colorful, and popular models (ahem, Kitchenaid), be prepared to pay $300-$400.  I saved for a few years before I purchased mine and during that time did a lot of research to find out which model would be best for me.  After visiting stores (Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table tend to have various models in their stores) to physically touch the mixer controls & watching the America’s Test Kitchen equipment review of stand mixers, I purchased an Artisan Kitchenaid Stand mixer (in the green apple color) with the “head tilt”.  I got mine from Kohl’s when it was on sale.  At that time, I had a 30% off coupon and they offered a rebate (saved me about $100).  I bet you could get the same deal if you checked their site (I think they list sales on Saturday’s) and keep your Kohl’s coupons/look up Kohl’s coupon codes.  Note: I wouldn’t recommend the Kitchenaid mini because I’ve seen that it doesn’t mix as well as the other models.

Do you have a stand mixer?  What do you use it for most?

If you missed them, check out Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, & Part 5 of this AT in the Kitchen series!

Tasty Tools: Assistive Technology in the Kitchen (Part 5)

Food processor containing cucumber slices

By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

In Part 4 of this series, we had gotten back from grocery shopping, put our goods away and were starting to prep food for the week (remember those oven eggs?).  When I do my food prep for the week, it’s not typically right after I put all my food away (I’m usually tired & hungry and can get frustrated more easily.  Anyone else feel that way?) 😉  When I start prepping, it’s helpful and less overwhelming for me if I start with a clean(ish!) kitchen: my sink is usually clear, random things on my counters are put away, etc. I’ve found that this helps me keep my motivation/keeps me on task because I’m solely focusing on food prep (rather than also cleaning & putting random things away).  

Clean sink and counter top

A few years ago, I started looking into purchasing a food processor.  “A food processor is a kitchen appliance used to facilitate repetitive tasks in the preparation of food. Today, the term almost always refers to an electric-motor-driven appliance, although there are some manual devices also referred to as ‘food processors’.”

Food processor with attachments“Food processors are similar to blenders in many forms. The primary difference is that food processors use interchangeable blades and disks (attachments) rather than a fixed blade. Also, their bowls are wider and shorter, a more proper shape for the solid or semi-solid foods usually worked in a food processor. Usually, little or no liquid is required in the operation of the food processor, unlike a blender, which requires a certain amount of liquid for the particles to move around the blade.”

Food processors can be helpful for individuals who have support needs centered around fine motor use in their hands/arms: instead of holding a knife, cutting board, & the food item while trying to cut it, with a food processor one can “feed” food through the “feed tube” and the machine slices it for them.  I find my food processor specifically helpful because it can chop my veggies, fruit, and cheeses up for me via the slicing discs that came with my model.

Food processor blending solid food into liquidFood processors can also blend food to a puree/liquid consistency for salsas, soups, and for those who may need a liquid form of solid foods.

  • Pro tip: my food processor has “a specially designed locking system with leak-resistant [red] ring that allows you to fill the work bowl to capacity with ingredients.”  I really like this feature, but the ring is made of a rubbery material and makes it difficult to open and close.  An easy fix I’ve found is to rub a little vegetable oil on the seal & inside of the lid before I use my food processor (the lubrication from the oil doesn’t impact the seal’s ability to keep in liquids).

Loaves of french breadIn addition to chopping & grating food for me, I use my processor to make bread dough (it has a special blade for this).  Kneading bread dough the traditional way can take a lot of continuous upper body strength.  With a food processor, one can put the ingredients into the machine, push the button, and in a few minutes have bread dough ready.  

Hand cutting butter into flour using 2 butter knivesOne of my favorite uses for my food processor cutting butter into flour.  As I’ve said before in this series, I love baking!  For scones, biscuits, & pie crusts I need to use very cold bits of butter (the butter melts in the oven and produces steam which makes the flaky layers many of us love!)  Traditionally, a pastry cutter or two knives are used to cut the butter into the flour.  This process requires a lot of fine motor control and continuous upper body strength.  With my food processor, I measure in my flour, place my stick of butter in, and turn on the machine.  After a minute or less I have what I need to bake some up some deliciousness!

Big food processors can be expensive and it took me a while to make the decision to buy one.  I did a lot of research!  While I was deciding, I purchased a smaller one to see if I would really use it.  Though this smaller one does not slice food for me, it does chop it.  I use it to chop peppers, onions, and cheeses for quiches & omelets and to chop nuts & dried fruit for cookies & breads.  And the first pie crust I ever made was with this little processor.  

Mini Kitchenaid food processor

Do you have a food processor?  What do you use it for? 🙂

If you missed them, check out Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 of this AT in the Kitchen series!

Tasty Tools: Assistive Technology in the Kitchen (Part 4)

Whole eggs in a muffin pan, inside of an oven

By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Welcome back to our ‘AT in the Kitchen’ series!  Last time in Part 3 we went to the grocery store and utilized apps to grab groceries in efficient, supportive, and less stressful ways.  This time we are back in the kitchen with loads of fresh ingredients just begging to be chopped, cooked, and/or baked into deliciousness!  Eating healthy and using what’s on hand can be difficult for everyone; specifically individuals who have support needs centered around memory, organization, and sometimes motivation.  I don’t know if you’re like me, but once I have my fridge stocked, I can feel a little overwhelmed of what to do next with all the fresh ingredients.  It can be challenging to remember everything I have and plan out what I can make with it before it goes bad.  Screenshot of the Fridge Pal appThe Fridge Pal app has been really helpful to me; I can basically create a visual copy of my fridge on my phone so I remember what’s available to use.  “You scan items in using the bar codes. Fresh produce can be entered manually. Look up recipes that combine ingredients so you know how to use items about to go bad.”  In the app, you can also enter an expiration date for each food item.

  • Pro tip: I hate wasting food so I try to organize my refrigerated shelves by keeping in mind what will keep best the longest.  The things that will keep for a while (eggs, cheese, hearty veggies like carrots, etc.) go in the back.  In the front of the shelves, I put things that have a shorter life (avocados, softer fruit like strawberries, fresh deli meat, etc.) so I’ll remember to use those before they go bad.  

Once my fridge is organized, my next step is to prep and start using ingredients.  Hard boiled eggs are a favorite of mine; I can eat them on their own with a little salt, put them in salads, pickle them (yes really!), etc.  Now, I have a confession to share with you: I am terrible at boiling eggs on the stove.  What I do instead is make oven hard boiled eggs using my oven and a muffin tin.  Along with getting more evenly cooked & easier to peel eggs, this method feels safer to me as I don’t have to deal with a big, heavy pot of boiling water once the eggs are cooked.  Here’s my method for baking hard boiled oven eggs (or as I call them ‘Oven Eggs’):

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Place 1 whole, un-cracked egg in each muffin well (no muffin papers needed).
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • When 30 minutes are up, use silicone-tipped tongs to carefully take hot eggs out of the tin and gently place them into a medium-size bowl of ice water (I like using these Oxo bowls with the grippy handles and weighted, textured bottoms).
  • Once cooled, you can peel your eggs and put them in your fridge or leave them in their shell (to peel whenever you want to eat one) and place in your fridge (I keep mine in a big plastic sandwich bag so they don’t take up too much room.

3 Oxo mixing bowls

I have some recipes that I like to use in my weekly cooking/baking rotation, but I’m regularly searching for new things to try.  These days, many people have created their own blogs where they share their own recipes.  I’m a repeat user of Pinterest and find that many of the most yummy-sounding/looking recipes on there are from individuals’ food/life blogs; with every amazing cookie recipe, there’s a charming story that goes along with it.  Confession #2: sometimes I just want the recipe.  Am I the only one who feels this way? 😉  Screenshot of a No-Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake Mousse.I’ve found a trick to help with this desire/need: when I scroll thru the blog post to get to the recipe, there’s usually a link to “print version of this recipe”.  When I click this, I get to see just the recipe; I take a screenshot of the print version of the recipe and then I just have it saved as a picture I can access.  Using this trick, you get all of the info you need with less noise and less information to try to sort thru (which can be overwhelming and sometimes a barrier to actually making the dish).  I also find it helpful that I can zoom in on the picture of the recipe if the text is too small in the screenshot. 

Here’s the link to the No-Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake Mousse that’s pictured as a screenshot in this article (spoiler alert: it’s an amazing dessert!).

What tips or tricks do you have for organizing your fridge/pantry and using ingredients?  Share in the comments! (I’d love to know!)

If you missed them, check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this AT in the Kitchen series!  

Tasty Tools: Assistive Technology in the Kitchen (Part 3)

Hands pushing a full grocery cart down a grocery aisle.By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Picture this: you’re at your local grocery store and you have a full cart of groceries.  You picked out some healthy things, some treats, and some multi-purpose ingredients.  You did good and know you won’t have to go on a big grocery trip again for a while (hooray!).  You’re about to get into line, but oh no!  You forgot the milk…and it’s on the complete opposite side of the store.  Is anyone getting that sick/annoyed feeling in the pit of their stomach right now just thinking about this?  You’re not alone!  Thankfully, Assistive Technology can help us prepare and plan so that this doesn’t happen/happens less frequently on future trips.  

Welcome to Part 3 of our Tasty Tools: AT in the Kitchen series!  If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, be sure to go back and check them out.  Ok now, this post isn’t technically about AT in the kitchen per se, but it is about AT in the grocery store…which is a means to get the food into the kitchen…You see where I’m going with this right? 😉

Written grocery listLet’s start at the beginning.  How do you make your grocery shopping list?  Do you write your list on paper?  Do you throw caution to the wind and just go to the store with no list (oh the horror lol!)  Do you give consideration to the order that you write down the grocery items in?  I plan my list out by which door I plan to enter my local grocery store through; by doing this I am less likely to forget something and won’t have to go back across the store for it.  For example, if I park by the fruit, veggie, & bakery door, the beginning of my list is going to include strawberries, carrots, hamburger buns, etc.  For people who have needs geared around mobility supports, sometimes it’s not an easy or accessible feat to “just go back” to the dairy aisle; planning by store layout can be a real help.

I gave up my paper grocery list years ago in favor of an electronic list on something that I always have on me; my phone.  I started using the AnyList – Grocery Shopping List & Recipe Manager app to keep track of my needed grocery items and life has not been the same!  I don’t have to worry if I grabbed (or lost) my paper list because it’s all in one place on my phone.  And my life partner can add to our grocery shopping list from his own device (he usually adds mini reese cups)!  For someone with needs that center around memory, this app not only offers a reminder of what to buy, but also an option for others (Direct Support Professionals, family members, etc.) to add items to the person’s list from their own mobile devices.  And on this app, it doesn’t matter which order you input grocery items onto on the list, you can move them around once they are on there (without having to retype them all in).  

Shopping List Free app screen displaying grocery items.Another grocery list app that I have found beneficial is the Shopping List Free app.  It’s similar to AnyList, but it has good contrast between the white text and dark background in the app (can be helpful for people who have low vision).  If you’d like to try out AnyList, Shopping List Free, other grocery shopping list apps, and other shopping supports, contact your local Disability Network and ask for an Assistive Technology demonstration.  

Sam's Club Scan & Go app scanning the bar code for a bunch of bananas.An app that came out this past July (and I love using) is the Sam’s Club Scan & Go app.  With this app, there is no need for the checkout line!  You scan the bar codes of the items you want using your phone or smart device and virtually “checkout” and pay all in the app.  When you’re leaving the store, you just show the staff your confirmation of payment on your phone or smart device and you’re all set.  Waiting in line to checkout is an activity which almost no one enjoys.  For people who have a lower tolerance for sensory input or who have some types of anxiety, bright grocery store lights, fellow shoppers in personal space, and loud, echoing noises can be really disruptive, overwhelming, and stressful.  This bar code scanning & checkout app from Sam’s can make all the difference when grocery shopping; one less barrier to getting the food from the store to the kitchen!  Speaking of the kitchen, stay tuned for Tasty Tools: Assistive Technology in the Kitchen (Part 4).  Coming soon!  

Thanks for reading!

Tasty Tools: Assistive Technology in the Kitchen (Part 2)

Black background, white text. Text says, Siri set an alarm for 60 minutes.

By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

For any of us who enjoy cooking and baking, we know that time is a key ingredient of many recipes.  How long we need to bake cupcakes for, boil water & noodles for, fry an egg, etc. can mean the difference between delicious and disgusting!  The built-in timers on a lot of ovens/appliances are not great to use: text is tiny/hard to read, buttons are cumbersome or inaccurate, the alarm is too quiet or way too loud, etc.

Last year, I started using Siri to tell me when my scones had been in the oven for long enough (usually 16 minutes for my oven).  Early on I learned an important lesson: Siri is not always a great listener.  When I said, “Siri set an alarm for 16 minutes”, Siri heard “Siri set an alarm for 60 minutes.”  There is a huge difference between 16 minutes and 60!  Luckily, my sense of smell helped me realize the error and I was able to get the scones out before they burned!  I told this story to a friend of mine and he suggested telling Siri “one six” instead of “sixteen”.  I tried his idea out and I haven’t had a problem since (fingers crossed).

Scones

There are a lot of alternatives to the standard, built-in timers (including voice assistants like Siri and Alexa) and I’ve included a few in this post.  If you think you might be interested in trying some of these out, contact your local Disability Network and ask for an AT (Assistive Technology) demonstration.  You’ll get to use various kinds of timers and see if they are a good fit/learn about other options.

Screen capture of the Easy UP/down Timers appiTunes App: Easy Up/Down Timer

Timer with number buttons and screen Taylor 10 Key Style Timer

Alarmed app logo iTunes App Alarmed

Pocket Talking Timer and ClockPocket Talking Timer and Clock

Time Tracker Visual ClockTime Tracker Visual Timer & Clock

Time Timer clock screen iTunes App: Time Timer

Round kitchen timer (not digital)Large Print timer

Happy cooking & baking!  Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series, Tasty Tools: Assistive Technology in the Kitchen!  Here’s Part 1 if you missed it.

Tasty Tools: Assistive Technology in the Kitchen (Part 1)

 

OXO angled measuring cup.By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Bowl with cherry pits and OXO cherry pitter.

If you come into my kitchen and look on the counter tops, open the dishwasher, and peek in the drawers & cabinets, you’ll find a common theme: most of my utensils & kitchen tools are the OXO brand.  From the pizza cutter to the salad spinner, whisk to mixing bowl, and ice cream scoop to prep knives, cherry pitter  to angled measuring cup, it’s mostly OXO.  Why?  OXO tools are easier for me to grip and hold than other brands out there; they make up a large number of the Assistive Technology that I use in the kitchen (stay tuned for Part 2 of this post where I’ll go into other AT I use in the kitchen).

Hand on top of an OXO salad spinner. Lettuce is in the background.I have Eczema and for me that means I usually have very dry skin; particularly on my hands.  Because of my Eczema, I have very little grip on slippery things like typical metal spatulas, can openers, and pizza cutters.  Oxo tools usually have grippy, weighted handles that fit in my hand and don’t slip out of my grip.  Even on the salad spinner, the button to push to “spin” the salad is larger than on other spinners and is coated in that grippy, OXO coating and the bottom of the bowl is weighted and grippy so it won’t tip over.

OXO intentionally has built their products to be used by as many people as possible.  “OXO was founded on the philosophy of Universal Design, which means the design of products usable by as many people as possible.  More than 25 years ago, Sam Farber noticed his wife Betsey was having trouble comfortably holding her peeler due to arthritis. This got Sam thinking: why do ordinary kitchen tools hurt your hands? Why can’t there be wonderfully comfortable, easy-to-use tools?  Sam saw an opportunity to create more thoughtful cooking tools that would benefit all users and promised Betsey that he would create a better peeler.”Collection of various prototypes of potato peelers.“In 1990, after extensive research, hundreds of models and dozens of design iterations, the first 15 OXO Good Grips kitchen tools, including the now iconic peeler, were introduced to the US market. These ergonomically-designed, transgenerational tools set a new standard for the industry and raised the bar of consumer expectation and performance.” (from the OXO site).  

Do you use OXO tools?  What’s your favorite?

OXO kitchen tools may be available for free demonstration and/or short term loan through your local Disability Network.  Search by county to find your local Disability Network and ask them about an Assistive Technology (AT) OXO kitchen tools demonstration.

See you for Part 2, thanks for reading! 🙂