Monthly Archives: July 2015

Dressing for the Dream (Part 1)


By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall

Two gold wedding rings next to a bouquet of pink and white flowers

You know how they say that women plan their weddings (and particularly the perfect wedding dress) from the time they were little girls?  I am not one of those women.  In fact, as soon as I got engaged, anxiety about the dress began creeping in.  My mind flashed back to the last time I was a bridesmaid.  The wedding was out of state so we had to send our measurements to the bridal shop via phone.  When I gave my measurements to the seamstress, she gasped and told me the measurements couldn’t possibly be correct as they were so disproportional.  I tried explaining that I was in a wheelchair but she still just couldn’t believe it.  I was humiliated and shamed.

People told me to start looking for ideas online.  This confused me even more.  All of the dresses looked fabulous on the models who were standing, but how would they look on me?  I waited as long as I possibly could, and resigned myself to the fact that I would probably end up wearing something non-traditional, loose-fitting, and frumpy.  My friends eventually convinced me to look at a bridal shop, and from there I learned several important lessons about making the dress work with my assistive technology (in this case, my powerchair).  If you’re a bride-to-be, preparing for prom, or just dreaming I hope these tips will be helpful.

1. Make an Appointment and Ask Questions

I found that making an appointment at the bridal store was critical.  I knew I would need extra time, and wanted them to be aware of the fact that I was in a wheelchair ahead of time.  I asked if their shop was accessible, had larger changing rooms, and if they had someone who had worked with brides in wheelchairs before.  When I arrived everything had been pre-arranged.  They ensured that aisles were wide enough, that the larger changing room was available, and my consultant seemed to have a few ideas ready ahead of time.  I also brought along several friends, both with disabilities and without, both to help with dressing and to help me think through any issues with the wheelchair.  It was also great to have support from people I knew would be honest, but also loved me for who I was.

2.  If You Have AT that Would Allow You to Stand – Bring It!

Even though I’m not using my walker in the wedding, I really wish I had brought it just to help get the dress on and fitted properly.  When I went in for alterations, suddenly the undergarments that fit before were not fitting!  I panicked and was sure that I gained 20 pounds in three weeks.   In reality, the clothing just wasn’t pulled down properly…something difficult when you’re sitting.  Once I stood with the help of a friend and got everything situated, things fit perfectly.

3. Alterations Can Work Magic

I was surprised at the creative ideas the tailor came up with to add comfort to the dress and ensure it would work with my powerchair.  For example, because I’m sitting and have supports at my sides, the top of the dress rode up a bit and caused irritation at the neckline and armpits.  He told me that reshaping the neckline and armholes was an easy way to deal with this problem.  In addition, in order to keep the dress from getting caught in my wheels, he is adding buttons and loops (similar to a bustle) behind my legs to pull the sides inward a bit.  That brings me to another point – comfort.  Do you really want to be sitting on a dress with tons of beading on the bottom?  Is it practical for the back to have 100 hook and eye enclosures?  How do you plan to use the bathroom?  Are your feet and legs spastic?  Will those amazing shoes cause welts by the end of the night?  Personally, I’m opting for some bedazzled canvas shoes (no one will be seeing much of my feet anyway).

4. Accessorize, Accessorize, Accessorize!

Like everyone, I have areas of my body that I’m uncomfortable with, (in my case, it’s the mid-section) and I was worried that sitting would only accentuate this.  I was able to address this simply by adding a sash around this area.  The color really makes the dress “pop” and it has become my favorite part of the dress.  Jewelry and other accessories can also add to the look and draw attention to different areas of the body.  There are some great jewelry aids available to help with donning these important pieces of flair.  Extenders, magnetic clasps, and clip on adapters can make this process much easier as well.

5.  And Finally…..

If you’ve read this far, you probably want to see the dress, right?  Hey fiancee, if you’re reading this….stop now!  

Laura in powerchair wearing a long white wedding dress with a lacy bodice and sleeves, and a blue/turquoise sash

Grooms – I haven’t forgotten you…stay turned for more blog posts about clothing and other ways that assistive technology is influencing my wedding adventure!


Have You Considered an AT Loan?


By Brenda Henige, Michigan Assistive Technology Loan Fund (MATLF) Coordinator, United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Michigan staff

Symbol of a wheelchair user wit a gearAre you a Michigan resident with a disability or a senior with age-related functional limitations? Or are you a parent or guardian of someone with a disability? Or a family member or friend? Very often, people who have disabilities greatly benefit if they can use assistive technology, or AT, which is any item, equipment, or device that enables a person with a disability to improve individual independence and quality of life.

The cost of these items ranges from less than $100 to thousands of dollars, so you may or may not have the funds to make such a purchase. In addition, many people need multiple types of AT to more easily navigate through their daily lives, including the areas of employment, education, housing, transportation, and recreation. And although there are various grant funding opportunities and other programs that assist in making such purchases, people often must come up with their own funds to obtain needed items. So, you may be interested in the Michigan Assistive Technology Loan Fund (MATLF), which provides loans for assistive technology to the above mentioned individuals.

Besides assistive technology, a loan can be used to cover warranties, service agreements, and the cost of training to use the purchased equipment. A single loan may be used to purchase more than one AT item. Repayment terms are based on the expected useful life of the assistive technology device and on the borrower’s ability to make the monthly loan payments, and are as long as possible, up to a maximum of seven years, in order to give the applicant the lowest monthly payment possible.

Cartoon of 2 peole using a computerExamples of items that Michigan residents have taken out loans to purchase are modified vehicles, accessible home modifications, telecommunication equipment, environmental control units, computer-related devices, hearing aids, wheelchairs, talking and Braille items, and modified recreational equipment…there are so many possible types of AT…that they cannot all be listed here. The potential borrower must have enough money in his or her monthly budget to repay a loan, be creditworthy, and have a reasonable debt to income ratio.

To learn more about the loan program, visit The UCP Michigan website and click on the link, Assistive Technology. You may also review MATP’s Funding Strategy for other possible options for obtaining assistive technology. Local application sites may be contacted throughout the state, or contact me at 1-800-828-2714, Ext. 303 for further details about the MATLF


Computer Chaos and Basic Computer Training


By MATP Staff Member Cathy McAdam

black and white cartoon of man deeply frustrated by the computer, pulling his hair out. The computer screen shows a question mark

I’m not sure there is really such a thing anymore as basic computer training! This may be even more true for those of us using screen reader or magnification software.  Sure you need to back up and be sure the person who used to see well enough to be a two-finger typer, can use the full keyboard, but that’s a whole lot more complex than learning the alphabet.

Computer lingo itself takes a lot of new learning.  I think the visual graphical cues may speed this along without the need to understand all the information and even terminology behind the task.  When teaching some of the basics, family members often have a hard time following because they’ve never used terminology such as a dialogue box to appreciate the options available for printing a document. Or using a combo box to select the day and date in a form…  For a screen reader user these terms become second nature because they are identified in order to know the next step to take to complete the task.

So if you are already befuddled by my explanations, you have dipped into the complexity of basic training.  By their nature some assistive technology necessary for using a computer requires some complex processing and as I age, I better appreciate this.  Today we have so many choices for our main computing and I’m probably using the one that will disappear first, the desk top computer vs the lap top, or a multitude of tablets.   And, everyone becomes an expert when recommending options based on their own usage and preferences. Unfortunately what works for one may not be the best for another especially with low vision which includes font size, color contrasts, cursor or mouse size and shapes and speech options.   Relearning is as complex as starting from the beginning.  Demonstrations can help and trials of software are also useful.

There is online training and videos. including AFB e-Learning Center. The Carroll Center, and Hadley online courses.   You can also try searching YouTube for a specific product/software

One of the best ways to use online training is the buddy system. I strongly recommend finding a computer buddy, group of users, friend, grandchild or other partner.  The only caveat is they must be willing to think out of the box and agree to learn new things with you.

P.S. don’t forget the maintenance issues, for viruses, spy ware.  The beginning user will need support; reason basic computer training may be a misnomer!


do you have a computer buddy?



It’s Raining AT


By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

I started my Monday morning with a thunderstorm and that has me thinking about AT for summer weather.

Here are some of my favorite items that we have in our Small Changes Big Differences kit that are available for you to see/try at Disability Network West Michigan (Muskegon), The Disability Network (Flint), Disability Network Oakland Macomb, Superior Alliance for Independent Living (SAIL—Upper Peninsula) and our newest partner, Area Agency on Aging Region 2 (Lenawee/Jackson/Hillsdale).

versa cart overflowing with groceriesThe VersaCart—I use this cart as I travel the state showing people low-cost assistive technology. It has served me well for more than 6 years. It is made of a heavy-duty washable canvas and is built on the chassis of a stroller for easy folding and storage. It also has a cover you can Velcro on to protect the items you are transporting in a rainstorm. My colleague uses it to grocery shop. It is easy to maneuver and still quite rugged.

The Midland Public Alert Radio—give yourself some peace of mind by getting a head’s up from the National Weather Service that bad weather is headed your way. This system has voice, tone, and visual read out alert capabilities. It also has an input so you can add a strobe light alert.

The handybar for cars—when its raining it helps to be able to get in and out of cars quickly andthe handybar is a strong rubber grip with a 5 inch perpendicular beak at one end that slips down into the car door jamb where the lock engages as easily as possible. This device helps you get a stable platform to push up from.
A couple other things that might be helpful:

an elongated umbrella with a hinged handle that has a clamp at the bottomThe Sportbrella—for hands free umbrella coverage from sun or rain, this could clamp to your wheelchair or walker or the VersaCart.

A rain poncho—most big box stores carry these, or in an emergency, you can make one out of trash bag. Bigger ponchos can cover you and your wheelchair or other AT. They fold up and some even come in their own carrying case. A good item to have on hand.

What items do you keep on hand for summer weather?