Wheelchairs and Airline Travel: A Turbulent Experience

By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to represent the Michigan Assistive Technology Program at the National Symposium of AT Act Programs meeting and visit Capitol Hill to speak with legislators about the importance and benefits of assistive technology.  Typically, I fly to this event, but due to some bad experiences in recent years, chose to travel by rail (an adventure all of its own that I will write about soon).

Cartoon of an airline conveyor belt delivering broken wheelchair parts to a wheelchair user
Photo Credit: Doug Davis, New Mobility Magazine

If you use a mobility device or other type of expensive AT, I’m sure you can understand why I made this choice,  Taking a flight often means you’re taking the gamble of your equipment coming out in one piece.  Since most mobility devices can’t be brought aboard, they are typically stored below with luggage, and just like luggage, they can be lost or damaged.  I’ve had my power chairs arrive at my destination with broken armrests, headrests, joysticks, and in one situation, completely inoperable.  Airlines are required to compensate for damaged wheelchairs, however, the process of getting payment and the repair itself can take many months.  I am not alone – a United Spinal Association Survey of Wheelchair Damage and Air Travel found that on average, people with disabilities experience wheelchair damage aboard flights 1 to 3 times.

A few companies have marketed products to improve transferring and protect equipment in-flight.  For example, the Comfort Carrier and Transfer Pants are portable products that claim to assist with transfers during travel.  “The Flyer” Wheelchair Protection Case is a rigid box with a top and bottom piece that claims to be “armor for your wheelchair”.   It should be noted that there are few reviews on these products and the MATP never promotes or endorses any particular piece of assistive technology.

Fortunately, there are disability advocacy groups working hard to require better standards related to passengers with disabilities and their mobility equipment.  I recently participated in United Spinal Association’s webinar: How to Improve Air Travel for Wheelchair Users.  In addition to discussing the problems that passengers with disabilities experience, the presenters also spoke of efforts that are being made to improve air travel.  Specifically, they are working with lawmakers to pass the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act of 2017-2018.  This legislation would increase penalties for damaged wheelchairs, and allow passengers with disabilities to sue in court.  It would also require higher standards for accessibility, safety, and airline/airport employee training.  Finally, it would help create a Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights and a federal advisory committee on the air travel needs of passengers with disabilities.  If you would like to support this legislation, United Spinal urges you to contact your legislators to co-sponsor and support S. 1318 (Senate) and H.R. 5004 (House).

Have you experienced problems with air travel?  Do you have tips or tricks for minimizing the chance of damage to AT equipment?  Leave us a comment!

Universal Design in Learning

by MATP Staffer Laura Hall

The term “universal design” has been around for quite some time.  Universal design refers to the idea that if structures are built to accommodate a particular group, say, people with disabilities, they also accommodate the rest of the population.  Power doors, for example, help people with disabilities navigate entryways, but they also help people with strollers, older adults, delivery people, etc.

This same idea is now being applied in education through Universal Design in Learning (UDL) Did you know that learning styles can be as unique to a person as their fingerprint?  The idea behind UDL is to make goals, methods, materials, and assessments accessible to every learner.

Pictures of different ways to express learning with pictures under each style. Includes: Interactive Writing, E-Book, Podcast, 5 profiles, visual narrating, narrated art, screencast, puppet video, quick edit video, Geo Map, Simulation Game and Digital StoryTaking into consideration diverse learning skills, this may mean that goals for a particular piece of the curriculum are expressly stated, written, or perhaps the student can develop his or her own goals.  Perhaps the method of teaching could vary with written instructions, verbal instructions, the use of pictures, video or other types of media, hands-on experience, etc.   The assignment a student turns in may not be something written.  A model or diagram, video or music, picture, podcast or oral story are just a few of the ways that learning can be demonstrated.

So how does this relate to assistive technology?  Just as power doors assist more than just people with disabilities, I believe that assistive technology in the classroom can assist all students, not just those with disabilities.  Photos that are described using alt-text, traditionally used by people with visual disabilities, could help any student who may be more of an auditory learner, as could audiobooks and textbooks.

Pen friend being used to identify cereal boxes
Pen Friend

I recently attended a conference session where the presenter was discussing UDL.  He gave an example of UDL in a college course.  For this course, the professor chose 4-5 students to submit their class notes to be scanned and uploaded to an online system that all of the students could access.  Some students took copious notes, some used outlines, some drew very detailed graphics, and another chose to highlight keywords.  All of these different styles of note taking could then be accessed by students with different learning styles.  Imagine if notes could also be taken with the Livescribe Pen, which records audio and synchronizes it with the text written, then accessed by all students. What if the Pen Friend, an audio labeling device, was used to help students learn the parts of the human body?  Test questions could be read with the labeler and answers given in writing, auditorily, or by demonstration.

It should be noted, however, that UDL should not replace accommodations or specific assistive technology need by students with disabilities in the classroom.  UDL provides the opportunity for AT to be used in a broader sense, but each student should be assessed for their individual needs and be provided accommodations or technology that meets those needs.

Personally, I know that I am an auditory learner, one that takes detailed notes, and expresses myself best through writing.  What type of learner are you?  What do you think of Universal Design for Learning?

 

 

 

Transitioning from School to Life: AT Considerations

By Laura Hall, MATP Staffer

Graduation cap, diploma, and books

Transitioning from school to life is an exciting time for any student.  Yet, accessing assistive technology once out of school can be a much different process.  In K-12, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that assistive technology be considered for all students during the IEP process.  If AT is determined to be necessary, the school district must provide it.  School districts also have access to ALT + Shift’s AT lending library.  The lending library allows schools to borrow devices for up to eight weeks, enabling the IEP team to evaluate the effectiveness of the AT before purchasing the product.

The process changes once a student transitions out of high school.  Students are no longer covered under the IDEA and schools are no longer obligated to provide assistive technology.  This means that students must be more proactive in advocating for the assistive technology they need whether they are transitioning to higher education or employment.  Students should be involved in transition and IEP meetings to discuss and prepare for their assistive technology needs beyond high school.  In K-12 education AT is considered the property of the school district, however, it may be worth asking if the student can take the assistive technology with them beyond high school or purchase it from the district.

In higher education, the student is responsible for pursuing the AT and accommodations they need in college.  Most colleges and universities have disability services offices that can help with this.   Professors may require a formal letter to request accommodations, like extra time on tests, or a notetaker in classes.  The Michigan Association of Higher Education and Disability (MI-AHEAD) has resources on transitioning from high school to secondary education, including a list of considerations related to AT and accommodations.

Green and white road sign reading "new job, just ahead"Michigan Rehabilitation Services can help students transitioning from school to work. through their Pre-Employment Services.  They can attend IEP’s and offer consultation services beginning at age 14, so becoming involved with MRS early may support the transition process.  The Youth Transition Services FAQ document through MRS contains a wealth of information about the services they provide.

For more information on transitioning from high school to life, check out the resources below:

The Michigan Assistive Technology program also has an archived webinar “AT and Secondary Education” and a resource document as well.

Have you transitioned successfully from school to life?  What was your experience?  Do you have any other resources to share?

Winter Weather Protection for Your AT

by Laura Hall, MATP Staff

Old man winter blowing out snow

Well, the weather outside is frightful today, with the Lansing area expecting up to 10″ of snow.  For users of assistive technology, winter weather is certainly not always delightful.  During these months we are often more reliant on our AT, which makes it even more important that they are well maintained and protected from the elements.

As a powerchair user, winter can feel isolating because it is so hard to drive in the snow.  As great as my new chair, the Flash is, it doesn’t stand a chance against the white stuff.    While snow and ice will always be difficult for wheelchair users, ensuring that your chair is in the best shape possible can help.  Replacing bald tires can make all the difference.  In her blog “Maintaining Your AT – Wheelchair Edition”  Lucia Rios gives some great tips for maintenance, like working with a bike shop to replace parts.Mobility Light on WalkerSpiked walker or cane tipShoes with traction cleats

Using a walker, cane, or crutches can be especially treacherous during the winter months, and while care must always be taken to reduce falls, there are a few AT items that could make things easier.  For example, a mobility light, that attaches to the tubing of a walker, crutches or a cane, can help increase visibility and awareness of obstacles.  Spiked tips for walkers and crutches may also help with stability.   Shoe traction cleats may also provide more grip while walking in the snow.   The American Foundation for the Blind has other tips for white cane users in their article Traveling with Your Cane in Winter Weather.

man's head, wearing a headband with warmers over earsDid you know that winter weather can cause damage to hearing aids?  Cold temperatures can drain batteries faster.  Damage can occur when moving from the cold weather outside to the warmer temperatures inside as condensation builds up.   Audiologists recommend opening the battery compartment when not in use to allow for airflow. Wearing earmuffs, a hat, or a headband (some have inserts for hand warmers) may also protect the device, and some people use a hearing aid dryer or dehumidifier.

To discover other ways to protect you and your AT this winter, check out our webinar “Your Assistive Technology in Winter“.

As much we may complain about the winter and snow, there is no denying it’s beauty and the fun that can be had during the season.  I hope these tips help you to get out and enjoy what the season holds.

 

 

Winter scene from the Keewenaw Peninsula
Winter in the Keewenaw.  Credit: K. Wyeth

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.