Monthly Archives: June 2015

AT and Accommodations for Addictions in the Workplace


By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

Alcoholism and drug addiction are very common in the United States. According to the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 21.6 million persons aged 12 or older in 2003 were classified with substance dependence or abuse (9.1 percent of the total population).

For people in recovery, the workplace provides both a setting for success and continued inclusion, and also a source of stress and barriers. Assistive technology (AT) and other job accommodations are rights of employees under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and other laws. People with alcoholism and/or drug addiction are considered people with disabilities under the ADA as long as the person is no longer using illegal drugs, is in treatment, or has completed treatment and is in recovery, and the addiction has substantially limited one or more life activities.

JAN (The Job Accommodation Network) has accommodation ideas for a variety of disability including alcoholism and drug addiction. Below are some excerpts from their series with a few additional ideas from our work at the Michigan Assistive Technology Program.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What limitations is the employee with addiction experiencing?
  2. How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
  3. What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
  4. What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
  5. Do supervisory personnel and employees need training regarding addiction?

Accommodation Ideas:

Treatment Needs:

  • Allow use of paid or unpaid leave for inpatient medical treatment
  • Allow use of paid or unpaid leave or flexible scheduling for counseling or to attend support meetings
  • Provide a self-paced workload or the ability to modify daily schedule

Difficulty Handling Stress:

  • Allow frequent breaks
  • Provide a self-paced workload
  • Provide access to meditation and stress-relieving apps
  • Reassign to a less stressful job
  • Do not mandate job-related social functions where there would be exposure to drugs or alcohol
  • Provide positive reinforcement and consider apps that do this as well

Difficulty Staying Organized and Meeting Deadlines:

  • Provide clerical support
  • Make a daily to-do list
  • Use electronic organizers
  • Maintain a current calendar
  • Remind employee of important dates
  • Schedule weekly meeting with supervisor to determine goals and address employee’s questions, concerns, and work progress
  • Write clear expectations of employee’s responsibilities and the consequences of not meeting them
  • Establish written long term and short term goals


  • Schedule periodic rest breaks away from the workstation
  • Allow a flexible work schedule and flexible use of leave time
  • Allow work from home
  • Implement ergonomic workstation design

Maintaining Concentration:

  • Reduce distractions in the workplace
  • Provide noise cancelling devices or noise-blocking headphones
  • Provide space enclosures or a private office
  • Plan for uninterrupted work time
  • Allow for frequent breaks
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and steps
  • Restructure job to include only essential functions

Exposure to drugs/alcohol in the workplace (e.g. hospitals, pharmacies, bars):

  • Provide workplace supports
  • Provide extra supervision
  • Reassign to a position that does not involve exposure to drugs/alcohol

Getting to Know Alexa: Amazon Echo


I ordered the Amazon Echo months ago, having received an invitation to buy, but didn’t get it till just a few weeks ago. It is now available to anyone and will start shipping July 14th.  I am getting to know “Alexa” the Echo’s voice assistant.

So what is the Amazon Echo? It’s an awesome wireless speaker and also a digital assistant. It has many applications as potential assistive technology too, though it was not designed specifically with that in mind.

The voice recognition is good, and it learns your voice the more you use it. I set up an account for my husband on the Echo, he speaks with a Cerebral Palsy (CP) accent, and he was amazed that Alexa understood him on the first try.  I find myself adding please and thank you to the commands as it seems to directive to just say things like “Alexa!” “Stop!”, though it does give me a sense of power (grin).

People who have cognitive issues, like memory problems,  can ask Alexa the day, the time, the weather, have her read your news flash (you set this up on the web or app interface).  I use the integration with Google Calendar to ask her what my schedule is for the day when I first get up in the morning.  You can also ask questions about cooking, the weather, traffic, sports, shopping and more.  You can set up a common travel route and then ask how the traffic is on that route for example.

The Echo also has a built-in to do list and shopping list. If you also have the app on your smart phone, the shopping list is handy at the store. I chronically leave my hand printed shopping list at home, so this is handy for me!

There are also several smart home device integrations, the Belkin WeMo and Philips Hue connected devices, though I haven’t tested these yet. I had a Belkin Switch, but dropped it hard and it stopped working. I haven’t replaced it yet.  Here’s an article from CNET about the Echo and connected devices.

I am just beginning to explore the recipes in “If this then that (IFTTT)” for Amazon Echo.  Some use (hack) the to do list and the shopping list to accomplish other things. For example there is a recipe that will send a short SMS via voice to anyone through Echo’s To Do list. When you use this, the recipient will receive a text with the content of all items you add to your To Do List.  So if you want to text “I’m Running Late”, for example, simply say “Alexa – add ‘I am running late’ to my To Do List”.  Of course, once you hack your To Do List this way, you would not use it for a To Do list anymore.

If I wanted to add a quick event to the Google Calendar, there’s a hack to do this via voice command to Alexia using the To Do list.

You can also be very annoying using this recipe which connects the Echo and Gmail and will send a clapping animated image to everyone once you complete an item on your to do list. Of course, you can also create your own recipes on IFTTT.

So is the Amazon Echo “Assistive Technology (AT)”? Of course it depends on the person and how it is used. I’d say it is AT for me!  Right now, I am using it for listening to music, which is relaxing after a morning of computer problems. When the phone rings, I can just say “Alexa!” (The blue light comes on on the top rim of the Echo) “Off please!”.  I think the reminders and voice commands will certainly be AT for many people.

Have you used the Amazon Echo as AT? Are you considering getting one? Please share!



Shining a Light on Accessible Parking


By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall

If there is any access issue that is problematic for almost every person with a disability it is the issue of accessible parking spaces (or “blue spaces” as I like to call them).  Generally complaints fall into one of several categories.

1. Accessible parking spots are taken by people without a placard or license plate.   We’ve all seen it, and it can be infuriating.  The general responses of “nobody was using it”, “I was just running in for a minute” and “I forgot my placard” don’t typically sit well with people with disabilities.  It is illegal without the proper identification, period.  Unfortunately, too often there is a lack of enforcement of the law, making it an issue that some people don’t take seriously.

2. People with invisible disabilities are harassed even with the proper identification.    It is easy to jump to conclusions when a person doesn’t “look” disabled.  Yet, there are many conditions that are invisible that make walking long distances just as hard as if I were walking in my walker.  Fibromyalgia and Lupus are two disabilities that come to mind, but there are many more.  People with invisible disabilities are subjected to judgement and assumed to be violators of the law just because their disability doesn’t fit society’s model of what a disability should look like.

 3.  Parking on the cross-hatches or striped zones.  The striped areas next to blue spaces are not for decoration, nor are they additional spaces for other vehicles, snow or grocery carts.  They are for vans with lifts that generally need eight additional feet to deploy and allow a person in a wheelchair to exit the vehicle safely.  Whether a person is a passenger or the driver, other cars parked in the striped zone blocks access for that person to return to or exit their van.  This can be particularly frustrating for disabled drivers, who cannot get into their vehicle to move it.  Some lift vans (such as mine) don’t have a driver’s seat (I drive from my wheelchair using an EZ-Lock) so I cannot simply ask someone to move the vehicle for me.  On more than one occasion I have been stuck waiting in a parking lot for a person to move from the striped zone, or have to wait for that vehicle to be towed (if I cannot find the owner or they refuse to move).


4. General lack of accessible parking.  Yes the Americans with Disabilities Act has standards related to this, but it doesn’t mean that all businesses comply.  Also even if a business has the minimum required number of spaces, they simply might not be enough.  At large grocery chains it is not uncommon to see all accessible spaces filled.

Shining Light on the Issue

In Russia, it is estimated that 30% of drivers park in accessible spaces illegally. Dislife, a nonprofit organization came up with a powerful campaign to raise awareness and stop violators in their tracks.  In one mall, they installed special scanners, that, once a car pulls in the space, scans for the appropriate sticker in their windshield.  If the driver does not have the sticker, holograms of real people with disabilities appear explaining their need for the space, and powerfully stating, “I am more than just a sign”.  Check out this video to see how the campaign works.

What is your experience with accessible parking?  Do you think a campaign like Russia’s would work in the United States?  Is education the key?  Enforcement?  Let us know what you think!




Why recreate the wheel, right?


AT and tips for helping your child with anxiety (or you)

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

It seems I get all my news and information from Facebook lately and when my good friend (and Montessori teacher extraordinaire) posted a link to an article “13 Helpful Phrases You Can Say to Help Calm an Anxious Child”  from the Lemon Lime Adventures blog I did a little bit of falling down an internet rabbit hole. Initially when reading it, I thought that these are great and not just for kids. Then I jumped to the need to blog about them. Then I started clicking through to the links and found out about sensory backpacks, calming jars, books, tools and resources for anxiety (geared at kids but some of these are going to be great for us adults too).

Once I dove in, I realized this has been done well before—so I’d like to just get you started on

I have worked in schools with kids with anxiety, have kids with anxiety in my life that I love, and have adults with anxiety in my life that I love (including me). I know when I, or someone I care about, are in anxiety mode, it really helps to have a go-to resource. So, I’d say first, take a look at all these options of phrases, practices, and tools and make a list of ones to try. Then try them and keep the ones that work for you/the child/the person you care about on a laminated list or a list on your smartphone or both. Make copies of that list and put them where they are easily found.  Your and your child’s processing skills decline steeply in crisis. Pre-plan and prepare and have that list and items ready for the urgent. times you need them.  I also keep my list in the WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) app on my smartphone—but I also know that when I’m spiraling into anxiety I sometimes don’t even have it in me to check that list. So, I either need to notice the beginning of the spiral and use the list or have people around me help me use the list. Your child needs that help too—someone helping them notice earlier signs of anxiety and using tools to slow/stop it and someone there to guide them through useful practices and tools when the anxiety gets high.

Create your own anxiety/sensory AT. Options include worry stones, an anxiety tool box, rocket cardboard squish box, pool noodle squeezies, and play-dough filled balloon squeeze balls. Photo Credit:

OK—let’s get you started where I started—after visiting and reading the 13 tips for phrases/practices to help calm anxiety, why not take a peak at 15 tips for helping calm down which includes links to making a calming jar, creating a peace corner, hugging it out; creating an anxiety box, squish kit, sensory kit; and the “blow out your fingers” activity. Then, to round out your adventure, take a look at “Beyond take a deep breath: Helping your anxious child practice calming strategies at home.” There, you can follow links and learn about relaxation CDs, Kimochis (to help learn about and express feelings), having fidgets available, and using alternative breathing, activity, and relaxation techniques.

Finally—take another swing through the Lemon Lime Adventures and look at 10 Simple Sensory Hacks for Calming an Angry Child.  These tips work for both anxiety and anger—and many times anxiety in children is expressed as anger. My favorite hack is to create a fire breathing dragon out of a simple cup to help children practice deep breathing. There are also great tips on making your own fidgets, calm down ice cubes, and DIY squeeze balls.

Which devices or practices to you use to help with anxiety for yourself or a child you care about?