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,


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!