Monthly Archives: January 2015

Weighed Down for Better Sleep


By Aimee Sterk, LLMSW, MATP Staff

Aimee with her weighted blanket sitting on a couchI have a long history of battling insomnia. Lately, I have been having even more problems sleeping following a series of life traumas and increased anxiety. My therapist suggested trying a weighted blanket. I had previously heard of weighted blankets as calming options for people on the Autism Spectrum. I never knew they have a variety of other uses.


According to an article in Psychology Today,

“Weighted blankets are one of our most powerful tools for helping people who are anxious, upset, [and feeling out of sorts],” says Karen Moore, OTR/L, an occupational therapist in Franconia, N.H. These special blankets are filled with weighted pellets, which are sewn into compartments to keep clear plastic pellets the size of small lentils used to make hypoallergenic weighted blankets. Image from Peaceful Productsthem evenly distributed. Weighted blankets are also sometimes marketed for general use as an aid to sleep and relaxation.

“These blankets work by providing input to the deep pressure touch receptors throughout the body,” Moore says. “Deep pressure touch helps the body relax. Like a firm hug, weighted blankets help us feel secure, grounded, and safe.” Moore says this is the reason many people like to sleep under a comforter even in summer.

What a revelation!  After posting on Facebook, to friends inside and outside the disability community, looking for local resources to try a weighted blanket, several  friends chimed in that they too thought these blankets would be helpful for them. Some even said they were using one without realizing it—heavy comforters were their preference all year. One friend, who runs an Autism Center, connected me with some online options for buying weighted blankets and making your own. Another connected me with Christie DePrekel at Peaceful Product . These chance connections via social media have changed my life!

Christie of Peaceful Product is local and offered me several hospital grade weighted blanket with vinyl-type fabric on a dentist chair. Image from Peaceful Productweights of blankets to try as I was hesitant to commit to the investment without knowing if the blankets would help me—though I had a feeling they would. I stopped by the same day to pick up the sample blankets. I later learned she also makes hospital-grade weighted blankets for use in doctors offices and dentists.

I tried a 15 pound and a 10 pound fleece blanket and found I far preferred the heavier variety—and that my sleep and anxiety were much improved. I slept soundly (for me) the night before I had to give a speech to a nationwide audience—which normally would not be how I’d sleep before such a big event. I have found I also like sitting on the couch with the calming weight on me.

Christie mentioned that some members of her family have sensory processing disabilities, which is why she started making the blankets herself—looking to make quality items to meet their needs. Talking to her more about sensory processing, I realized that I too am sensitive to sound, pressure, smell, sight, and touch. Since I was a child, I remember self-soothing by rolling my hands back and forth over a favorite blanket. I also achieve great peace when watching repetitive things like sprinklers or machines at work. I have met others friends who have the same type of soothing response. I also have created my  own type of squeeze machine having my partner hug me hard and/or lay on top of me while I’m on the floor, comforted by the intense pressure (until it’s hard to breathe). I wonder if it is all related.

Christie has seen weighted blankets help people with Autism, Aspergers, ADHD, Anxiety, PTSD, Insomnia, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Restless Leg Syndrome.

After deciding I definitely wanted my own weighted blanket, I met Christie at a fabric store and picked out some microplush fabric to cover my blanket. You should have seen me at the store with my eyes closed plunging my hands into the bolts of fabric to test their softness and soothing qualities. I then specified the size and weight I wanted, and one week later, my blanket was ready.

A 60 X 80 two sided thick blanket. One side is covered with microplush or "minky" fabric with multicolored birds on it. A corner is folded back to reveal a solid bright blue back.

I now sleep with it every night. The pressure is comforting on a primal level. I have trouble with night sweats, so the lightweight microplush has been helpful (the sample blankets were a thick fleece). If the weight didn’t affect the heat of the blanket at all, I would have gotten even heavier of a blanket.  I joked with Christie that I’d like one half-filled with ice cubes. We’ll see what she comes up with next.

The formula commonly used to choose the weight of the blanket is 10% of the body weight plus 1 or 2 pounds for children.  In older teens and adults this formula can be quite heavy so trying different weights like I did might be your best option. I found that in my arms a 10 pound blanket felt very very heavy.  But, once that weight was spread out over me, I thought it was way too light.

Have you tried a weighted blanket or have you been doing your own version of weighted-blanket-sleeping without even realizing that is what you were creating on your own?

What other sleep, anxiety, or sensory processing solutions work for you?

Do you think something like this might work for you or someone you know?


Steps to Successful Vehicle Modification


By Michele Seybert, Michigan Assistive Technology Loan Fund (MATLF) Manager, United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Michigan staff

White van with lift downWhen beginning to consider the selection of a vehicle that will fit the needs of an individual with a disability, it can feel overwhelming.   I receive requests for funding for modified vehicles on a regular basis.  In fact, it is always the most requested item each year.   Below are some steps to consider when making this important decision.

  • Personal Driving Assessment – Modifications are not one size fits all, so specific recommendations are very important
  •  Licensing Requirements – Restrictions may apply based on the modification.
  •  Vehicle Selection – Will the modification require a van or would another type of vehicle work for you?
  •  Funding Sources – There are a variety of sources to consider.  Please check out the Funding Strategy
  •  Training – Be sure to train with a qualified driving instructor.
  •  Maintaining Equipment – Regular maintenance is very important for safety.

For more detailed information please refer to the webinar entitled “Customize Your Ride” .  You will discover some important resources to assist with the purchase of a modified vehicle.

Do you have any additional tips to share?

This entry was posted in Funding, Traveling with a disability and tagged modified vehicles on by .

5 Techie AT Tools for Physical and Emotional Crises


By Aimee Sterk, LLMSW, MATP Staff

Many of us feel as though we need to keep physical and emotional crises hidden, when in reality, reaching out is what we really need.

This past year I experienced two miscarriages, both of which required medical intervention and one required much on-going testing, treatment, and doctor visits. Both left me physically and emotionally drained and the first one knocked me into a long-term, full blown depression. I’m still dealing with the fatigue from the chemo and grief from the second one.

Also this year, a friend developed stage III pressure sores and was off of work for a long time while going through a divorce and caring for her young son. Another friend was in emotional crisis upon the death of her sister and the near-death of her husband. Another friend had to miss work because of repeated problems with the tilt on her powerchair. Another friend had repeated problems with her personal assistants that compromised her health and independence. A family member fought cancer. A church friend died of cancer. Another friend worked to care for her aging parents’ needs while also caring for her immediate family and keeping up with her work responsibilities.

All of us had physical and emotional needs to be met along with our everyday life needs. Some of us kept these needs hidden and paid a price in not asking for help. Others asked and used tools to get us through. Through these personal experiences, I found some tech solutions to cope with stress and depression, organize, and seek support. Here are 5 tech tools that worked for us:

1)      Facebook: While there are many access issues to Facebook, and on-going efforts in this arena, Facebook was my lifeline. It provided a way to let people know how I was doing without having to interact individually with people, which I found difficult and deeply draining. Friends provided words of support that were helpful (and some were not helpful—read the 4 worst things to say to a friend who’s suffering). I had an outlet to feel loved and cared for when I needed it, on my terms, sharing what I wanted to share—and to easily give updates without having to notify people individually. Facebook also provided comic relief and a way to get out of my own head with funny videos, striking natural beauty, good news only options, interesting articles, links to helpful articles and blogs, posts of friends, and cute animal pictures and videos. I also like that you can block and unfollow negative/unhelpful people without having to use the mental energy to unfriend them and deal with the consequences. The virtual community on Facebook of people you may never meet in real life can also be a great lifeline. There are groups on all kinds of topics in which to seek support. Personally, I really appreciate a group for people with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and Disability Thank You Notes (DTYN). DTYN is a closed group where you can share (in the form of sincere or snarky thank you notes a la Jimmy Fallon) and get support for all of the ableism we as people with disabilities have to deal with in daily life. This includes stress-relieving snarky fake notes to medical professionals who add to the trauma of your situation with judgments or condescension. It also includes sincere notes to other medical professionals who understand the intersection of your disability and your current medical crisis—I’ve written both.  The people and comments in the group have been a great release valve and support to me.

2)      PTSD Coach App: I’ve relied heavily on this app for managing symptoms of anxiety, sadness insomnia, and being reminded of trauma/triggers. It works well for PTSD but is really broader than that. Created by the US Department of Veterans affairs and offered for free for iOS and Android users, this app has been downloaded more than 100,000 times and is now available in French. There are 17 different tools to choose from and a desktop version as well. The coach allows you to choose what symptom you are having, then choose from a variety of activity suggestions including very nice guided imagery and breathing exercises; and suggestions to call a friend, or take a walk, or try a grounding activity they provide, or progressive relaxation. What I appreciate is it learns about you and tailors the suggestions based on the level at which you rate your distress. Then you can tell it if you like or did not like the suggestion. If you like the suggestion, the app keeps it in the rotation, if it doesn’t, you don’t necessarily see it again. You can take a weekly self-assessment to track how you are doing and if you are experiencing a lot of symptoms, the app suggests you seek professional and other support. It also allows you to create a support system list and you can select to call any of the people on the list right from the app.

3)      Lotsa Helping Hands: This website is just plain brilliant. Several steps up from Take Them A Meal and more expanded than Care Pages, With Lotsa Helping Hands, you or someone you trust sets up a calendar of what you need and when—meals, rides, someone to sit with you, a babysitter for the kids during an appointment, chores, help with pet care while you are hospitalized; then friends and family members in your community of support can sign up for when and how they can best help. My colleague used this very effectively for several months during health crises of her and her husband. This answers the question/problem of people saying “How can I help?” and “Call me when you need me.” With concrete ideas. People help in ways that work for them and actually help you. There are also community building and sharing options where you can post updates, send well wishes, and share pictures.

4)      At Ease app (iOS , Android, Windows, Blackberry): Shout out to Therese Wilkomm, director of the AT center at University of New Hampshire, for talking about this at her lecture in Michigan this fall. I now use it frequently. This app provides a great tool for getting started with guided breathing meditations and journaling for anxiety and worry. I have tried other similar apps but did not like the voice of the guide—though my colleague loves Relax with Andrew Johnson and his Scottish accent. I appreciate the calm and soothing female voice on At Ease app and the other supports like podcasts that Meditation Oasis provides on their website and Facebook page. Some are free and some are paid (hint the podcast app is for a fee but the podcasts are free on the website).

5)      Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) app/book:  There is an app version (iOS and Android) and print version of this tool I have been using for several years after a friend told me about it. Born from the mental health recovery movement and the Copeland Center, the WRAP is a vital part of this evidence based program that can be used by anyone at any time for any type of challenge. The app and system was developed by people with a lived experience of mental health disabilities but really works for any disability type. You use the program to develop a wellness toolbox—create a daily maintenance plan, list triggers/ways to tell if you are declining in any way, early steps to take to try to manage those symptoms, ways to tell if things are breaking down, action and crisis and post crisis plans. My biggest beef with the book was that I didn’t want to have to carry it around with me. Now, it’s on my phone and with me all the time so I can remind myself what the early signs are of my physical and mental disabilities flaring up and go through a list I created myself of tools to use to manage them.

What techie tools have you used to help you manage in crises?

What Facebook groups have you found with “like minded” people that have been supportive and helpful?


Updating to IOS 8: The Good the Bad and My Wish List!


by MATP Staff Member M. Catherine McAdam

Oapple's logok, I finally updated my iPod to IOS 8.1.2.  I’m not a big fan of change once I get to learn a helpful technology, at least I’ve noticed that more as I get older! I also believe in waiting for the bugs for most updates to clear a bit, but I took the plunge!

Jonathan Mosen released his book iOS 8 Without the Eye before some bug fixes, but it is very worth the read! Maybe you’ll have a better experience when you hear all those different languages pop up on your screen after this new software is loaded, as he warns you not to panic and explains that your device knows what language you previously were using.

There is one major glitch remaining if you use a blue tooth key board with voice over on your I device.  You may find that you can’t seem to type when in an edit field.   Try pressing the right and left arrow keys, and you’ll hear quick nav off, and you should be able to type in any edit field. This has not been corrected with the 8.1 update but is still widely discussed as a concern and is definitely on my wish list. Bluetooth-keyboards-and-voiceover.

There has been a lot of excitement about using a simulated braille key board in this new release, but I find it spatially challenging and am not yet a fan, would love to hear from others.  It certainly is exciting that this is even an option and of course there are already ideas about how to improve it.

More information about braille input.a Braille keyboard and smart phone

Now, there are at least four things you may find worth the change. It is much easier to delete emails from any provider with a simple swipe up, and our friend Siri will now tell you what song and artist, is playing on your radio, just ask “what’s playing”.

A bit more seriously there is a health app where you can create emergency contact and medical information. (not sure the dash-board is accessible so my wish is that it will keep improving…). And several people are pleased with changes to the zoom feature.

Here are two older articles worth checking out.

  • 25-things-you-can-do-on-ios-8-that-you-couldnt-do-on-ios7
  • 7 features for visually impaired-ios-8

What’s been your experience with updating your IOS device?