Monthly Archives: October 2013

Stand Up While You Work


By Aimee Sterk, MATP Staff Member

Aimee's Standing Desk w/gel padI first heard about standing desks 5 years ago and wondered if they would help with my chronic upper back pain. Two years ago, I took the plunge and bought a used standing desk from the Herman Miller factory store. It has taken some getting used to, but I have seen the benefits, my back pain has decreased, my posture has improved, and I just plain like it.

My standing desk has a hydraulic pump that allows me to adjust the height with the click of a switch without using electricity. Electric varieties are also available. My desk is 3 ft deep. The 12 inches furthest from where I stand can raise and lower at angles for holding documents or supporting other things at an angle. I don’t use that feature, but I do find the extra-deep desk useful as I can put my lightbox and monitor and less-used papers further away from me and save working space closer to me.

I have read that standing desks help you burn more calories and keep your more active. I was pretty fidgety in chairs, but I do think my legs are stronger from standing for longer periods of time. I’ve also read studies about sedentary lifestyles leading to heart disease, blood clots and other conditions. Hopefully, my standing desk is helping with these odds.

Some have suggested that people perform mentally taxing tasks better while sitting down. When I do have longer grants to write, I bring in a chair and lower the desk.

I have also found that proper cushioning under my feet is a necessity. The floor in my office is laminate wood. I tried a cheap gel pad that I found at my local Costco but that didn’t cut it, so I had to go ahead and order a real gel mat. Standing for hours is no longer a problem with the right cushion.

I’ve seen people online with homemade standing desks that leave their shoulders and hands at angles that could lead to problems, so if you are thinking of making your own standing desk, get it to a height so that you are not leaning forward or backward while you work. Also, make sure your wrist can stay in a neutral position and you can bring your keyboard close in to your body.

How have you adapted your workspace to accommodate your disability or your preferred way of working?

Additional Resources:

Information from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) about ergonomics in the workplace at A to Z: Ergonomics

In November, JAN will  be releasing a “Just-in-Time” training module on Ergonomics in the Workplace to its library on the Multimedia Training Microsite. This module will explore various medical conditions that could benefit from an ergonomic assessment or job analysis, ergonomic products that could constitute a workplace accommodation under the ADA, an overview of ergonomic assessments, and how ergonomics can be applied in a variety of settings, including manufacturing, healthcare, and office jobs.

This entry was posted in AT, Employment, Employment and tagged back pain, employment, ergonomics, gel mat, job accommodation, lightbox, standing desk, workstation on by .

The Nights are Longer and SAD is Here


By MATP Staff Member Aimee Sterk

I can feel the change in the seasons and I’m not enjoying it. Shorter days and longer nights start the cycle of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for me. This time of year I start feeling the energy drain and the pull of my bed increase.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the causes of SAD aren’t entirely known but there is felt to be a genetic component and a chemical component. The chemical components are related to several possible factors:

  1. Biological clock or circadian rhythm—the reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter might disrupt your internal clock, that regulates sleep/wake cycles, which then leads to depression.
  2. Serotonin levels—it is theorized that less sunlight means less serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Lower levels may trigger depression.
  3. Melatonin levels—melatonin is our sleep hormone. Changes in seasons can disrupt the balance of melatonin.

The risk factors for SAD include living in places like Michigan—the further you live from the equator, the more common SAD is which is likely due to the decreased sunlight during winter.

Luckily for me, there are some treatment options involving assistive technology (AT) and lifestyle changes that really help me:

Light Therapy

Woman at computer with lightbox to her sideA couple of years ago, when I was complaining about the dark falls and winters in Michigan, and my belief that I had SAD, my coworker told me about lightboxes. Each morning I start the day with 45 minutes in front of my lightbox. In fact, I’m writing this blog with it on. The bright light mimics outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood, most likely increasing serotonin. Studies have found that light therapy is effective for SAD and may be effective for nonseasonal depression.

I position myself 12-24 inches from the lightbox and have it off to the side of my computer monitor. I use it in the morning almost every day.  My box has bright white full spectrum light and produces 10,000 lumen. In the past, many SAD light therapy boxes were using blue light wavelengths, but recently research has indicated that broad spectrum light is more effective. For the past several years, my lightbox has helped make my SAD much more manageable.

I want people to know about possible side effects of light therapy and contraindications so I’ve copied some warnings below to be very aware of:

Are there any side effects or conditions where light therapy should be avoided?

“Individuals whose skin is especially sensitive to light, such as those with lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus) should consult a physician before attempting light therapy for any condition. You may be advised to avoid light therapy if you have a history of skin cancer or if your eyes are sensitive to light because of conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, retinal detachment and retinopathy. In addition, light therapy has been reported to lead to mania in some patients with bipolar disorder (manic depression) and to cause suicidal thoughts. For these reasons, patients using light therapy boxes should report any mood changes or disturbing thoughts to their health care practitioners.

Certain drugs can increase sensitivity to sunlight and may cause skin reactions as a result of light therapy. These include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, some anti-histamines, lithium, the supplement melatonin and the herbal remedy St. John’s wort. If you’re taking any drug or supplement on a regular basis, check to make sure it won’t cause a reaction to light therapy.

Some ophthalmologists have warned that blue light, part of the full spectrum of light used in light therapy, could damage the retina and increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a progressive eye disorder that is the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 55. So far, however, no research has confirmed that risk.

If you’re bothered by the glare from your light box, the blue light is probably responsible. You can screen it out by wearing special eyeglass lenses or clip-ons during treatment. There are also light boxes available that filter out the wavelengths believed to be most harmful.

Other side effects of light therapy are minimal. Some patients report headaches, eyestrain or eye irritation or nausea when they begin treatment, but these effects usually are mild and disappear after a few days.”


In this case, my DVD player and online streaming device are AT. My therapist informed me that exercise boosts serotonin and I find it helps me feel better about myself while reducing anxiety and stress. I regularly start my day with an exercise DVD or a streaming program when it’s too cold, dark, wet, or snowy outside to exercise out of doors.

Getting outside

There were brief periods of sunlight this past weekend and I made sure to get outside and hike and work in the yard. The Mayo Clinic suggests that getting outside within two hours of waking in the morning is most effective and that even on cold and cloudy days, getting outside is helpful.

Brightening My Home and Office

Couple at breakfast under a solatubeI make sure to open my drapes and have installed solar tubes in darker areas of my home (our hallway). I have painted the walls in our darkest rooms bright, light colors. When I’m up before the sun, I turn on all the lights in the area of the house that I am in.

Taking a Vacation Someplace Warm and Sunny

I know that I hit my limit of coping with Michigan weather every February so I save up all year to go someplace warm and sunny every year. If only I could find a way to bill that to my Health Savings Account. Funny thing is, the article from the Mayo Clinic even recommends taking a trip as a way to manage SAD, “Take a trip. If possible, take winter vacations in sunny, warm locations if you have winter seasonal affective disorder .”

Do you have SAD as well? What AT or strategies have worked for you?

Additional Resources

  • Center for Environmental Therapeutics Bright Light Exposure Risks
  • A light box can brighten your darker days—when used correctly
  • The Wikipedia article on has useful information on managing SAD.

Savoring the Successes


As the weather turns colder and the skies turn darker, it is a sure sign that the end of the year is coming.  Whether you’re an organization or professional reviewing your upcoming end of the year data, or an individual taking stock of what you’ve accomplished this year, its easy to get bogged down in what was left undone, the needs that are still unmet, and what you could have done better.  We often think this way without reflecting on how that can overshadow our accomplishments and successes.

We know at the Michigan Assistive Technology Program (MATP) that there will always be more to do and better ways to meet the assistive technology needs of people in Michigan.  Yet, this is also the time of year where we are able to reflect on what we have accomplished through our program and in our partnerships with other organizations.  One area this is reflected most concretely is through our device demonstrations and resulting success stories.  The MATP partners with our local Centers for Independent Living (CILs) by offering training, funding and devices that allow CIL staff to provide personalized (individual and group) demonstrations of AT devices and equipment in the local communities.

Gwen, posing and smiling for the camera

Read about Gwen and her AT Success Story

We invite you to take a look at these success stories.  See the impact that assistive technology is having in the lives of people with disabilities in our own communities, and celebrate the independence that assistive technology affords.


Leveraging the Wheelchair Lemon Law


By Laura Hall

My first power wheelchair was a Quickie P320, that I began using at the age of 16.   It had none of the power seating mechanisms nor any of the bells and whistles of today’s power mobility devices, just a solid frame and two workhorse batteries that saw me through my active high school days and those first long, cold winter jaunts across MSU’s campus as a college freshman and sophomore.  “Greased Lightning”, as I called it, was loud and clunky, but sturdy and dependable and never had a breakdown or a mechanical failure.

By the time I was ready for my second power chair, much had changed in the world of power mobility.  Quickie (now Sunrise Medical) had begun to focus more on manual wheelchairs, and because I was in college, power seating (i.e. tilt and recline) became more necessary for me to provide pressure relief and repositioning.  However, more electronic components, naturally, lead to more potential sites for breakdown.  Stronger competition among manufacturers and lower insurance reimbursement rates have forced them to produce cheaper parts and electronics and “streamline” customer service in a way that prevents them from being as responsive as they once were.  For all of these reasons, the three subsequent powerchairs I’ve had have had more than their share of breakdowns and repairs, including a repair on my current chair that left me without mobility for two months.  I often wonder if manufacturers and durable medical equipment providers truly understand the devastating impact that a major (or even minor) breakdown can have.  For those two months, I felt quite literally trapped in my home, unable to go to work or even to the bathroom on my own, not to mention the pain that came from lack of pressure relief and trying to sit without the proper supports .

Unfortunately, my repair experiences are not uncommon.  At the Michigan Assistive 

cartoon graphic of a wheelchair in flames with tires meltingTechnology Program (MATP) we often receive calls and emails from people in the same situation, desperate to regain their mobility and independence.  We decided to address the issue head on by forming a workgroup to take a closer look at the problems that arise in the repair process.  One of our first tasks was to research whether there was any legislation that offered protections to owners of mobility equipment.  As it turns out, there is!  Public Act 54, otherwise known as the “Michigan Wheelchair Lemon Law”.  The legislation states that any defect or malfunction with a wheelchair must be fixed within a “reasonable number of attempts” for the same problem – further defined in the legislation as four attempts. If a defect or malfunction is not fixed within a reasonable number of attempts, the consumer must notify the manufacturer (within 1 year from the date of purchase in the case of a new wheelchair, and 60 days from the date of purchase in the case of a used wheelchair) of the malfunction or defect and make the wheelchair reasonably available for replacement. The consumer is then entitled to a replacement wheelchair (which must be provided within 30 days of the old wheelchairs return), or a refund of the price paid.

Having a wheelchair lemon law on the books is certainly a positive step, however, the question is, is it usable?  Given the repair process is often long and arduous, is it reasonable that a person could wait through four attempts to repair their wheelchair and still have time to notify the manufacturer within one year of purchase (or 60 days in the case of a used wheelchair)?

Your feedback of these issues is critical to the work of this workgroup.  What is your experience with wheelchair breakdowns and repairs?  Have you ever had a “lemon”?  Have you used or heard of someone taking advantage of the Michigan Wheelchair Lemon Law?  Let us know, and look for future blog article on the topics of wheelchair maintenance and repair as we continue to work on this important issue.