Organization Made Easier

By Guest Blogger Kellie Blackwell, Disability Network Capital Area

 

Pen Friend 2 with buttons labeledThe Pen Friend is a device that I have demonstrated to many individuals over the last few years. It is a great tool for labeling many things. I wanted to take a moment to share some of my tips for maximizing its use. I would love to hear from others as well, please feel free to share any ideas you may have on ways it can be used.

As someone who experiences vision loss, I have found it to be useful with labeling file folders; keeping track of utility bills and other important household documents. I have also found it useful for labeling different items that may have detailed instructions. An individual that I was working with a while back shared that he placed one of the stickers on his iPad, as a reminder tool for some of the apps and important settings within the iPad. I found this idea to be very helpful! Another individual shared that they used it for each of their debit/credit cards, as a way to store the card numbers, as they were not able to see the numbers on the cards. I should also mention that for some tasks, individuals may need sighted assistance.

Pen friend being used to identify cereal boxesI must say one of the most beneficial ways I have used the Pen Friend is labeling grocery items. Here is what has worked for me, as well as for others.

I use the stickers, along with index cards and a rubber band. I place the stickers on the index card and use a rubber band to secure the card on the food item, such as a soup can. This way, when the food/packaging item is used up, I have the index card and the sticker. This also then becomes a way to create a grocery list. I can then take each of the index cards with me to the store.

Pen friend RFID stickers showing large square stickers, small circles, and magnetic buttonsI also love how each of the stickers can be reused. As an example, think of when you have thrown out the last bit of cinnamon spice and you now need that sticker for a new box of cereal; just place your index card with sticker on your next box of cereal and record over your last message. Also, because the device uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, you can also use just one sticker to label, let’s say 4 of the same item!

Interested in trying out this device? Please feel free to contact Kellie Blackwell to set up a demonstration of the Pen Friend and many other devices through Disability Network Capital Area.

All I Want For Christmas is My Two AT

By MATP Staff Laura Hall

Santa's hand writing on naughty/nice list

Dear Santa,

Can you believe another year has gone by?  I’ve spent another great year working with the Michigan Assistive Technology Program.  I hope it brings a twinkle to your eye to know that we’ve helped people with disabilities learn about and acquire some great AT though our demo and short-term loan programs, the ATXChange,  and the Assistive Technology Loan Fund.  I am thankful for the people we work with around the state that make this possible.

I’ve had a lot of changes this year, and although some of them have been frustrating, I hope that I am still in good standing on your nice list (you wouldn’t let me take a peek at that list sometime would you?).  I bought a home last year and when you visited you may have noticed that we have quite a bit of work to do to make it more accessible.  In particular, I could use some help transferring in and out of my new wheelchair, which I named the Flash.  I’m sure you know that adjusting to a new wheelchair or sleigh can take some time.  That is why this year, my requests involve AT for transferring.

Bed rail with nightlightIt is really difficult for me to change positions in bed while I’m sleeping.  I also have a hard time swinging my legs to the side the bed when I’m ready to get up.  After consulting with a physical therapist and an occupational therapist I think a bed rail may be part of the solution.  Not only would it help with rolling over during the night, I think it would also help, along with my leg lifter, to get my feet onto the floor and ready for a transfer.  There are many different lengths and shapes and types of handles but I think a short rail like this SturdyCare bed rail may do the trick.  It comes with a bonus nightlight too!  Between now and Christmas, I’m going to be checking to see if any of the Michigan Loan Closets might have something that will fit the bill, but if not, it sure would be a great gift.

A man and assistant using a sit to stand deviceAfter getting out of bed the next challenge I have is transferring into my wheelchair.  I’d like to be less reliant on my caregivers.  Recently, I tried to sit-to stand transferring device that still allows me to use my own leg strength to stand but also has a sling that supports my back to stay in the standing position.  After that, someone just pushes the sit to stand over to my wheelchair and it lowers me back down into the seat.  Unfortunately, these devices are quite expensive.  I know this may be something that you won’t be able to get me this year, but perhaps you could put in a good word with my insurance company.  I’m using the resources in our funding strategy – a letter of medical necessity for example, but I think a good word from you could never hurt.

Thanks for considering my wish list, Santa.  More than anything though, I know there are many others who need AT too, so I hope others receive the items they need.

‘Till Next Year,

Laura

Thankful for Assistive Technology

By MATP Staffer Laura Hall

As Thanksgiving approaches, I see friends and family creating daily gratitude posts on social media.  It’s a lovely idea, and although I am grateful for many things, I just don’t have the forethought to post every day.  However, writing this post close to the holiday has led me to think about my gratitude toward assistive technology.

I use so many pieces of assistive technology in my daily life, it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few.  I’d have to say I’m most grateful for my power wheelchair, my accessible van, and those handy reachers.

My powerchair, the Flash (read all about it in my previous blog post) is a new addition to my life, and the most critical.  Of course it helps get me around, but it also has functions that help my posture and positioning, allow me to get into bed independently, and enables me to reach things around the house and in places like the grocery store.

vanI am extremely grateful to have an accessible vehicle.  It allows me freedom in my work and personal life beyond that which I can have with public transportation.  Accessible vehicles can be quite expensive, as evidenced by the number of calls we receive for people looking funding avenues.  I am grateful for our Assistive Technology Loan Fund that provides loans specifically for the purchase of AT, and for the ATXChange, where used accessible vehicles are often posted.

Reachers – Simple, low cost, but indispensable.  I have one in even room in the house and even an extra backup in case I need to reach a reacher that I dropped.  They come in all different shapes and sizes.  My favorite type, the Ergomateergo, has a small pull lug to bring dropped items closer and a magnet on the end.  Quite handy for picking up those tiny things that fall, like paper clips.

Since Thanksgiving usually involves eating, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the AT that can help people enjoy the holiday feast.  Built-up forks, spoons, and knives can help people better grip their utensils.  Plate guards, scooper bowls, high sided plates, and double handled cups are just a few of the things that can help keep your food in your mouth and off your lap.  This past year, we have also heard of good experiences people have had from trying the Liftware, (electronic stabilizing utensils) during device demonstrations.

No matter how you’re spending your holiday, we wish you a happiness and give thanks to you, our followers of this blog.

 

The Coolest Halloween Costumes Include AT!

By MATP Staffer Laura Hall

I have to admit, this is my favorite blog post of the year.  For the past few years, each Halloween, I have written a blog that features Halloween costumes that incorporate mobility devices and other AT into them.  Every year I find costumes that are more innovative than the year before.  Not only is it a fun topic, but it gives me a good feeling because these costumes represent not only pride in one’s disability identity but pride in one’s assistive technology as well.  So often, ableism and internalized ableism makes people feel as though their assistive technology is something shameful or something that should be hidden.  By creating a costume that uses AT in its design, it is a way of claiming your assistive technology, and your disability with pride.  So without further ado here are the top five Halloween costumes I wish I had thought of as a kid.

C’Mon Down!

Boy in wheelchair with Wheel of Fortune wheel on his wheel covers. He is holding a $5000 wheel piece.

A Giraffe in its Natural Habitat

Girl in a giraffe costume. Her crutches make up the front long legs

Winter is Coming

Young man in a powerchair wearing clothing from the series "Game of Thrones". His wheelchair is fashioned to look like the Iron Throne

No High Sticking!

Young child in wheelchair wearing a hockey jersey and holding a hockey stick. His wheelchair is surrounded by a penalty box

My Little Pony Chariot

Girl in her wheelchair that has rainbow wheels, a cloud surrounding the chair, being pulled by a "My Little Pony"

Halloween is a special time for many kids and Magic Wheelchair is an organization that strives to make it, as they say, “epic”.  A volunteer group of designers and builders work together to create extra special costumes for kids with disabilities picked through an application process each year.  The My Little Pony costume above is an example of their magic.

Costumes are not the only barrier for people with disabilities on Halloween.  The Connecting for Kids website has helpful considerations to think about related to creating an inclusive Halloween.  For example:

  • Keep in mind that children who are nonverbal may not be able to say “trick-or-treat” or “thank you.” Do not push for verbal responses and be sensitive to children who do not give expected social feedback.
  • Be prepared to describe treats for children with blindness or low vision issues.
  • Make sure that you are handing out treats in a well-lit, accessible area. If your house is not accessible, consider handing out treats in a different location (for example, in the driveway or in a community common area).
  • When addressing trick-or-treaters, make sure they can see your face and mouth as you speak. This can help children who struggle with speech and hearing issues. Better still, learn some simple Halloween signs (video).
  • Be observant. Children with anxiety or other issues may wander from a caregiver or safe area.

Happy Halloween!

Introducing: The Flash!

By MATP Staffer Laura Hall

Laura her power wheelchair

Last week I got a new power wheelchair.  It’s hard to explain to people who don’t use mobility devices, but getting a new wheelchair is like Christmas, Easter and your birthday all rolled into one. Way more exciting than a new car.  Obtaining a new wheelchair is usually a long process.  Typically you can only get a new chair every 5 years, and that’s assuming your prior chair is worn out and your seating needs have changed (from growth, etc.)   It involves an individualized assessment, a mountain of paperwork, a pre-authorization process, and a ton of waiting as the insurance cogs slowly turn. Needless to say, delivery day is exciting.

 

A manual wheelchair reclined back showing the various angles of the tilt in space feature

My new wheelchair (also known as “The Flash” for it’s red and yellow design is a Permobil M3  It is a mid-wheel drive configuration, which gives me a tighter turning radius than my previous chair.  This is helpful for getting around corners in my new home.  The are other drive configurations, front wheel and rear wheel that have their benefits and drawbacks.  People often tell me that my wheelchairs are fancy or have all the bells and whistles.  My chair has a lot of features that allow me to change my positioning, but they’re certainly not luxurious or frivolous in any way.   The tilt-in-space feature allows me to shift my body weight to prevent pressure sores.  Pressure sores, once you have them, are serious and difficult to heal.  It is also the way I transfer into the chair because it allows my hips to flex and slide back naturally.  The other benefits of tilt-in-space functions have been well documented.

 

 

Woman reaching into her microwave using the Active Reach feature

My chair also reclines, meaning the back only reclines, so I am able to stretch my hip flexors.  Spending 16 hours+ in a wheelchair can cause contractures and shortening of the muscles if not stretched periodically during the day.  To help with circulation and blood clots, the footrests also elevate out.  There is a new feature on the Permobil M3 is called Active Reach, this feature is invaluable, as it tilts the seat up slightly and forward.  This enables me to reach doorknobs, counters and lowers the seat a bit for easier transfers.

 

Finally, the Flash has a seat elevator that raises me up about 12 inches.  I use this feature when I’m getting into bed, cooking, needing to reach something at the grocery store and even when I want to have a conversation eye-to-eye.  People often don’t understand the importance of the seat elevator of having a conversation at eye level.  There is a certain power dynamic that you feel when someone is looking down at you.  Unfortunately, insurance doesn’t usually cover this feature, deeming it “not medically necessary”.  This is a feature I will be paying for out of pocket for quite some time, but for me, it is absolutely necessary.

Wheelchairs that are custom fitted and have features like mine and called Complex Rehab Technology, meaning that they are not the type of wheelchairs you could buy as off the floor at a medical supply company.  Unfortunately, insurance companies have steadily been lessening their coverage for equipment like mine as a cost containment measure.  In particular, customised manual wheelchairs that have features like tilt and recline are at risk, as insurance companies are now calling extremely critical parts of wheelchairs “accessories” that are not medically necessary.  The National Coalition for Assistive and Rehab Technology (NCART) is an organization of suppliers and manufacturers of Complex Rehab Technology working on legislation and policies to change and improve what is covered by insurance companies.  In my previous work with this organization, they have stressed the importance of users of this type of technology telling their story to legislators.  If you are interested in this type of advocacy, NCART would be a great place to start.

I am off to the races with my new sidekick the Flash.  We hope to see you sometime….if you can catch us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sleep with Me

Night scene with a tree, crescent moon, and figure in the moon reaching for a star

By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall

I have always had trouble sleeping.  Even as a little girl, I’d lie awake thinking that I was the only one in the world awake. I’d wake up my sister, who would not be happy and certainly not comforting.  Now I’m an adult, and thankfully understand the concept of people awake in different time zones, shift workers, etc.  However, the bedtime anxiety has never gone away.  I can’t seem to slow down my thoughts, and it seems like all I do is keep myself awake by worrying that I’ll never fall asleep.

A figure reading a book from behind. Headphones surround the figureWatching TV or using my phone keeps me awake because of the blue light.  My Cerebral Palsy makes it difficult to hold books, so I sometimes listen to books through the National Library Services‘ free service for people who have print disabilities, BARD.  I have started getting myself into a bedtime routine, often using the Amazon Echo’s skills to play Jeopardy and then relaxation music as I prepare to wind down.  I’m finding this is helping, but my heart still races when I lay down and turn the lights off.

Sleep with Me Podcast LogoDuring a random conversation at lunch, my colleagues on the Michigan Assistive Technology Program were discussing which podcasts were their favorites.   Someone mentioned a podcast called “Sleep with Me“.  I laughed at first but she explained that it was a podcast meant to help you fall asleep.  I thought it was going to be more relaxation music, but I gave it a try.   The podcast host, “Scooter”, explained that he was going to help me sleep by telling me a bedtime story.  Odd, I thought, but I kept listening.  Some gentle music started, and Scooter began talking.  Several minutes went by and I realized  that I had no idea what he was talking about.  I laid there trying to make sense of it, and, ironically, fell asleep.  I tried it a few more times, and always fell asleep.  Soon, it dawned on me that the podcast isn’t supposed to make sense!  The genius of this podcast is that it is supposed to distract you from your racing thoughts and bore you to sleep. Even if you don’t sleep, (and I have yet to stay awake for an entire podcast) Scooter is there to keep you company.

Listeners have also created their own facebook page dedicated to the podcast.  Posts range from tips on sleep hygiene, funny animations, or just posts from people who can’t sleep during the night.  The best part is that someone is always awake and online to chat with so you never feel alone.  Several people, called “Noderators” monitor the page and are available no matter what time it is.  I finally don’t feel like I’m the only one in the world awake!  The Sleep with Me podcast is an unusual, but free and effective form of assistive technology that helps me with my anxiety and insomnia.  Are there other tactics you use?

Coloring Outside the Lines

By Laura Hall, MSW,  MATP Staffer

US Flag within a circle and the words Happy Labor Day

Happy Labor Day!   You might wonder why I’m working on Labor Day and talking about stress.  Isn’t work stressful enough?  Sure it is.  Everyone experiences stress in their lives, and sometimes it is magnified when you have a disability and can’t be as independent as you want to be.  For example, public transportation is not running today, so while I would like to attend the gatherings and barbecues, it just wasn’t possible today. That still doesn’t mean that I’m not annoyed by it…

I’ve been thinking all weekend about ways to de-clutter my mind and come back to work on Monday feeling refreshed.  I’ve grappled with it all weekend and just found myself getting more frustrated.  Then someone gave me a suggestion for what to do when I feel stressed and just can’t let it go: “Do something that you can feel and do at the same time”.  So simple.  Keep myself occupied while doing something I love.  Time to turn to my assistive technology (AT) toolbox!

JournalI like writing, so I bought a journal.  Argh…I have Cerebral Palsy and fine motor skills are difficult.  My hand quickly began to get tired and I began looking at other options. I considered a journaling app like Penzu, that allows you to journal on the computer or with the IOS/Android app. Penzu allows you to use audio, pictures, and other tools to capture thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Then again, maybe I could use Dragon Naturally Speaking, software that turns speech into text.  Even though these were great options, I still felt stressed so I gave up the journal idea.

I know that are many apps that teach ways to relax.  Breathe2Relax, Fluid, and Headspace are a few of my favorites, but there are an infinite number of others.  Speaking of apps, did you know you can try different apps and hundreds of other pieces of AT by requesting a device demonstration through your local Disability Network ?

Personally, apps and podasts work wonderfully to help me relax. However, this weekend they also put me to sleep.  Sleeping is good, very good in fact, but I still wanted to enjoy my day off, not sleep it away.    It was time to try something new.

Well, then there’s that coloring thing that’s the new fad. I’ve tried it.  Don’t really get it.  Part of who I am, and, ironically, part of the reason I’m so stressed,  is that I am a rule follower.  I hate to make mistakes, I have to have things orderly and I definitely cannot color outside of the lines!  Why?  Heck if I know.  It just irks me.  The adult coloring books that I had seen had all been beautiful and interesting and fun, but there were so many tiny lines to fill in.  How is that fun?Highly Stressed

Then, I found something that looked interesting.  A coloring book called: This Annoying Life: A Mindless Coloring Book for that Highly Stressed by Oslo Davis.  Davis’ book shows everyday situations that are super annoying, like a tangle of cords, or the cat sleeping on your face. and encourages you to color it any way you want! Scribbles, doodles, mosaics, it’s totally up to you!

Coloring outside the lines helped me have a stress-free Labor Day.  What types of assistive technology help you when you need to get away from it all?