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?



AT to the Rescue!

By MATP Staff Laura Hall, MSW


MedCenter 31-Day reminder system showing color coded pill boxes and alarmRecently, I had to take a leave of absence from Michigan Disability Rights Coalition due to a illness.  Normally, I am an extremely organized person, but in this case, all of that went out the window.  During that period and even now, assistive technology has been my saving grace.  Here are just a few of the things that have been getting me through:

My medication changed drastically during this time and it was hard for me to manage the new dosages.  I used the MedCenter 31-Day Reminder System with Talking Alarm Clock.  This system holds all of my pills for the month in daily pill boxes.  The boxes are numbered and color coded so I can know if I’ve taken by pills for the day.  The alarm clock, which I affectionately call “the nag” reminds me… repeatedly… when to take my pills).

Amazon Echo Dot in white and blackI have had an Amazon Echo (also called Alexa) for quite some time.  It became so useful to me while I was ill, I bought three more Echo Dots! Alexa was able to play relaxation music, play games with me, read my Audible books, and send voice messages to friends, family and co-workers, and even turn on and off my lights.   The things that Alexa is able to do (her “skills”) grows every day and I am excited to see what else she can do!

While I was at home, I was often unable to get into my power wheelchair.   As luck would have it, my power wheelchair also broke down at this time.  Transferring, especially into the shower with the help of my personal care attendant, was more dangerous than it has ever been.  To help with showering, I used a tub transfer bench (which comes in a variety of sizes and models), a pocket shower curtain to easily reach shampoo, etc, and…scuba shoes!  Scuba shoes? Scratching your head a little on that one?  Let me explain.  Scuba shoes are designed for scuba divers to protect their feet from rocks and debris and they have mesh that allows them to dry quickly . For me, they provide great grip and traction on slippery surfaces!  I also use them in aquatic therapy for protect the bottom of my feet.

Bottom of a scuba shoe showing tread and grip


I am so grateful to assistive technology for getting me through this rough patch.  I am also really happy to be back in action with the Michigan Assistive Technology Program (MATP) and contributing to this blog again!

How does AT “come to the rescue for you”?



Adventures in Lawn Work

Spring is finally here!  It’s my first spring in my first home and I’ve been anxiously awaiting the time when I could finally get out in the sunshine and work in my very own yard!  I knew it was going to be quite the job.  Our home had not been lived in for two years prior to us moving in so it was quite overgrown, to say the least.  We moved in late November, so there also wasn’t much time for us to clean up from the fall season.

I was so anxious to make our lawn look nice, that I was left with a sense of disappointment when I couldn’t exactly jump right in.  As a wheelchair user, I’m not able to reach the ground, which seems fairly important for yard work.   The largest job we have to do is raking.  There are still those leaves from last fall and quite a bit of dead and unwanted vegetation.  When I began, I started using a common leaf rake with a grip made of foam rubber tubing.  This allowed me to hold the rake further down toward the tines with the rest of the rake over my shoulder, grabbing the leaves and driving my wheelchair backward toward the leaf pile.  Truthfully, the rake was

Device that attaches to the handle of lawn tools, allowing you to put your arm through a ring and to a grip that lower down on the handle
Robo Handle

extremely heavy to use one-handed and the whole process was exhausting and not that effective.   I realized I needed to slow down and enjoy the process. I’ve been thinking about my abilities and the assistive technology that would work best for me.  When I began researching on the web, I realized there are many options for adaptive lawn tools that I had never thought about and several websites dedicated to the subject.  For example, there are lightweight rakes, telescoping rakes, rakes with interchangeable heads and tools, rake-scooper combination tools, and the Robo Handle, which attaches to handles to allow the use of tools with one hand.  Even a YouTube video of a wheelchair user raking convinced me that perhaps I need to change my technique.

No Bend weederThere is still much work to do beyond raking, however.  Weeding is a never ending chore, which is why I was excited to find the No Bend Weeder.  It is has a long T-shaped handle, and small “claws” that go into the ground (so it does require some arm strength to penetrate the ground).  You then twist, pull up the weed, and press a button to shoot it into your lawn/leaf bag or barrel.

Raking and weeding left some obvious bare spots in the lawn.  One of my favorite lawn duties is spreading grass seed and watering it.  Seeding by hand led to piles of seeds in some spots and none in others.  By using a simcoiled hoseple flour/sugar container with a handle and small spout, I was able to spread the seed much easier and evenly.  Watering without experiencing kinks is a problem for everyone.  I’m looking to invest in a lightweight coil hose that might be easier to use.  I’m finding that there are also many options for hanging hoses at any height.

I’m so excited to finally have a lawn and to discover that there are so many AT options to help me participate in creating my own beautiful space.  We still have much work to do, but I am starting to see the beginnings of my outdoor sanctuary.

view of a mulched tree. wooden fence, small garden plot

Assistive Technology: Not a Replacement for Social Responsibility

SignAloud Gloves - black gloves with micro processors on the wrists

One of the most exciting parts of working for the Michigan Assistive Technology Program is that it puts me in social media circles where I am more likely to see the latest prototypes of equipment and devices.  It seems like I see some sort of device, app, or equipment that amazes
e every day,  Just this week, I came across, gloves that turn sign language into speech, an electric mountain biking handcycle,  and a wheelchair accessible motorcycle.  The potential of assistive technology is limitless, and the ingenuity of people who develop new technologies keeps me in a constant state of awe.

Yet, I keep thinking back to a conversation I had several days ago,  I was talking with a woman who asked about my career,  When I told her I worked with assistive technology and explained what that was, she immediately became very excited, and recalled a video she saw online of a stair-climbing wheelchair.  “Isn’t it great?”  she exclaimed, “Pretty soon we won’t even need to build ramps!”

A power wheelchair ascending stairsNo.  Not great, for several reasons.  First, and most obviously, Many of these innovations that we are seeing are prototypes,  They may or may not ever become available on the mainstream market.  If they do become available on the market, it is most likely that only the most affluent, who are able to pay out of pocket, will be able to obtain them.  Most assistive technology tends to be low cost/lower tech and paid for by insurance,  People with disabilities and advocates are fighting for coverage of even the most basic equipment (durable medical equipment is an excellent example), let alone the latest cutting edge designs.

Secondly, the argument that stair climbing wheelchairs would negate the need for ramps in based the medical model of disability.  It’s saying to people with disabilities that their disabilities are the “problem”, and puts the responsibility on them to negotiate a world that is not accessible to them.  It puts the social responsibility of access as a civil right on technology and not on society, where it should be.  As a person with a disability, I am given the message that I am the problem, and that being afforded accommodations is “special” or “extra” in a thousand different ways every day.  In reality, my disability is a gift, not a problem.  The problem lies with society and the idea that we need to be fixed or in some way made better by technology instead of being granted the same access (physical and otherwise) as everyone else.

Finally, sometimes, the latest and greatest technology cannot and should not take the place of other methods or technology.  For example, many people now argue that there is no longer a need for people who are blind to learn Braille because screen readers and other auditory technologies are available.  However, by relying solely on auditory technology, a person may be missing out on important literacy skills.  There are also places where Braille may be the only way to obtain necessary information, such as locations and orientation within buildings.  It is also important to consider that communication via Braille and American Sign Language are very important aspects of disability (Blind, Deaf) community and culture.

Innovations in assistive technology are a wonderful, exciting thing.  I am certainly not arguing that progress and development should stop.  However, technology should not take the place of the social responsibility we have to provide access and accommodations to all – it is a civil right.  We also must be mindful that these cutting edge technologies may not be available or appropriate for everyone, and that existing technology and methods often play an important role in the disability community, pride, and culture.