Monthly Archives: September 2015

Internet of Things (IoT) for AT? Pay Attention to the Details.


By Tony Ferack, Hearing Loss Association of America

I was reading a recent article titled “AT&T unveiling Drawing labeled "internet of things" and "Connect the world"Internet of Things-linked wheelchair“ and felt compelled to write this blog. First, if you have not yet heard the buzzword “Internet of Things”, I’ll fill you in. Internet of Things is often abbreviated IoT and has been around for several years. In a nutshell, the “Things” in IoT are simply devices that are connected to the internet.

If you have a Smart TV, it could be considered an IoT since the TV is connected to the Internet via your home router. Most, if not all, of the major appliance companies, are advertising Smart Appliances. The biggest advantage of having a smart appliance is that it can update itself if the manufacturer has made improvements on how the appliance operates. I’ve never heard of an appliance being recalled because the manufacturer found a way to make the device perform better.

With Smart technology, a manufacturer can make the improvement to your device automatically as long as the appliance is connected to the internet. Imagine a refrigerator that can alert you if there is something wrong. For example, wouldn’t it be cool (no pun intended) if your refrigerator sent you a text message if the temperature in the freezer went below a designated temperature? To take it a step further, how about a reminder phone call if you are low on eggs?

Now, let’s take this technology to Assistive Technology, the whole premise of this article. Let’s say you need to take your heart medicine at certain times during the day and you have a Smart pillbox. If you forget to take your medicine, a Smartwatch could vibrate to remind you. To take this further, a Smart pillbox could even detect if it has been filled with the correct medicine!5 different smartwatches

The above mentioned article talks about a Smart wheelchair. The features that the article talks about are “Seating Position and Cushion Pressure”, “Battery Level and Predictive Maintenance Requirements”, and “GPS Location and Fleet Management”. I am okay with this type of internet sensing since it doesn’t affect how the wheelchair moves or stops. What gives me the willies is when manufacturers sneak in additional functionality without the users knowledge.

For example, there was a recent article that mentioned how two researchers were able to hack into the computer of an automobile. This is scary stuff. The end result is that the manufacturer issued a recall to correct the problem. The problem could have been avoided. In this case, the vehicle was designed to give remote control of some critical functions of the car. This was indeed a major flaw. The recall removed the ability to remotely control vehicle safety functions. Think about how a wheelchair manufacturer might want to build in the ability to control the wheelchair. From a service standpoint, it could eliminate the need to send a repair person to service your wheelchair. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. If the manufacturer can control a device remotely, so could a hacker.

So, what about Internet of Things as it applies to hearing aids and cochlear implants? To the best of my knowledge, there is no hearing aid that has direct connectivity to the internet but there is an indirect path. This path is through a smartphone. Since some hearing devices connect directly to a smartphone (via Bluetooth) and the smartphone can connect to the internet, there is always the possibility that a hearing device could be altered remotely.

Keep Internet of Things in mind when a Smart product fails to work properly. There may be someone else watching you.


Back to School with Assistive Technology


By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall

A young boy using a communication device in the classroom

It’s that time of year again.  Kids are headed back to school with backpacks full of notebooks, pencils, and binders.  In addition to the traditional school supplies, some are headed back with assistive technology (AT) to create an equal learning environment in the classroom.

The Michigan Assistive Technology Program (MATP) works with many
organizations that provide services to parents and children in the education system.  We wanted to give an overview of resources related to AT and education to make sure you or your child are receiving the services and AT they need for a successful school year.

In K-12 education, school districts bear responsibility for providing assessments to determine a child’s need for assistive technology.  Typically these needs are written into the child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan.

Michigan Alliance for Families is a statewide resource to connect families of children with disabilities to resources to help improve their children’s education.  They help facilitate parental involvement as a means of improving educational services and outcomes for students with disabilities. Michigan Alliance can assist you in knowing your rights, effectively communicating your child’s needs, and advising how to help them develop and learn.  Each Michigan Alliance staff member is a parent or family member of an individual with disabilities who has first-hand experience with the aspects of the special education system.  Check out their website (above) which is full of helpful resources.

The Center for Educational Networking is another resource that works with the Office of Special Education and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education ACT) grant initiatives.  Their website offers more useful resources and documents.  CEN can also be a resource for parents with students in the special education systems.

Michigan Integrated Technology Supports (MITS) is another resource that can help students receive needed assistive technology.  Their lending library contains AT devices that are only available to K-12 school districts.  The MITS “Freedom Stick” is a USB drive that can be obtained for free.  It has the full Open Office suite (comparable to Microsoft Office), the Balabolka Text-To-Speech system, an on-screen calculator which allows students to paste their math work into homework or test documents, a “mind mapper”, the Audacity audio recorder/player, and many more supports.

If you or your child are looking for services as they transition from high school to college or employment, Michigan Rehabilitation Services can help provide these services beginning at age 14.  Similarly, the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons can provide transition services beginning at age 14.  Additionally, the Michigan Department of Education – Low Incidence Outreach  (MDE-LIO) MDE-LIO provides educational materials, supports, and services to families, local school districts, and intermediate school districts to support students who are blind/visually impaired  and students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing (K-12).

Off to college or post-secondary education?  The Michigan Association on Higher Education and Disability (MI-AHEAD) has information for students on transitioning from high school to college, assistive technology, requesting accommodations.  Check out our webinar, “AT and Secondary Education” that the MATP created with MI-AHEAD.  A second webinar, “AT in Special Education” also offers great information related to K-12 students.

If you are having trouble receiving the services and supports you need, Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service can provide resources, advocacy, and in certain cases legal support.

Welcome back students.  Best of luck for a great school year!  Remember, educating yourself is the best way for you and your child to advocate for their needs in the classroom, and assistive technology is so important both in and out of the classroom.





Make and Take Assistive Tech and more DIY!


Make and Take Assistive Technology Workshops

By MATP Staff Member Kathryn Wyeth

Norm’s post last week, Bricolage and Assistive Technology, reminded me of the idea of having “Make and Take” assistive technology (AT) workshops. I know schools, AT Programs, and other organizations around the country have held these sessions.

In a Make and Take workshop, an organization arranges the instructions and materials, finds a room to hold the session. Then people sign up, often paying to cover the cost of materials, come to session and have fun working alongside others to make an assistive technology device. The best part is they can take it home at the end of the session.

Sessions range from making a device to reach items on a shelf, to adding a switch to a toy for a child with a disability. They also range from small to major design competition events! Some ideas I found when searching the web were:

  • DIYAbilities Teaches Maker Skills and Adaptive TechnologyAlien toy being modified with switch access
  • Design-athon,
  • UCP’s Life Labs

There are a number of sites where you can find instructions for making your own assistive devices. Here are just some examples:

  • AT Solutions (ATS): creates an environment that fosters the innovation of new assistive technology. It archives and disseminates information, particularly engineering information and fabrication instructions sufficient to replicate assistive technology devices with local fabrication resources.A drawing of a desk with a lazy susan turn table on it
    • Desktop Lazy Susan
    • 3 Ring Binder Opening Tool
  • “Make:” Website has many DIY (Do it Yourself) Projects, for example: Hack a Video Game Controller for Greater Accessibility
  • A lot of ideas on Pinterest!
    • DIY OT
    • DY Assistive Technology
    • Disability DIY inventions
  • From “Instructables” web site
    • Custom Adapted Spoon
    • Adapted Door Lock
    • Homemade Switch Activated Pouring Measuring Cup Instruction Sheet
  • Lifekludger: gadgets, hacks & kludges for people living with disabilityMaking a mouse house
  • And some more ideas:
    • Loc Line Switch Mounts (PDF)
    • Make a Mouse House

Therese WilkinsonAnd of course, I have to mention the two books by Therese Willkomm, who is with the New Hampshire AT Program: Assistive Technology Solutions in Minutes.

I thought this would be a short blog post, but really am finding an ever expanding world of ideas! For more, I recommend this blog post from the RESNA site: “Looking for a Good: DIY Design Idea?”

So, are you interested in attending or better yet holding a “Make and Take” Assistive Technology workshop? Let’s talk!

Do you know of other great DIY or hacks for Assistive Tech? Let us know!

Other Related MATP Blog Posts:


Striving is not Thriving


By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

Who decided that walking is so much better than using a wheelchair, powerchair, or walker? Who decided that should be the goal for humans? Who told us to strive to use no AT, to blend in? And why do we believe that person/them? Who told us we should pretend things haven’t happened to us? Who told us to keep quiet and “soldier on?”

I just finished reading “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara. It is a giant book, a story of four friends, and really a story of unspeakable abuse and its lasting impact—and how all the love in the world can only go so far in coping with childhood trauma. The main character, Jude, has been severely physically and sexually abused for many years and this abuse has resulted in physical and mental illnesses. In one of Jude’s adult relationships, his partner verbally and physically assaults him and chastises him—telling him not to use his wheelchair, not to be a wimp, to walk if he can walk at all. And Jude, who is a brilliant lawyer and a mathematician, buys into this psychological abuse and societal views that he is less than because of his disabilities. He endures pain and exhaustion instead of using his wheelchair.

Why can’t we understand that constant striving to blend in and appear “normal” means that we will never thrive? Jude never learns to love himself for the disabled person he is. He hides his disabilities and loathes himself instead of loathing those that who have hurt him. He has nightmares and flashbacks and excruciating physical pain as lifelong aftereffects—and blames himself and calls himself disgusting.

And sadly, I can relate some. I find it easier to blame myself than others who have hurt me—I’m right here to blame and they are not. Maybe if I blame myself I can “fix” myself. Self-blame is easy to do, I’m with myself 24 hours a day. I wash dishes when my back hurts because I don’t want to feel like a burden—and I’m most likely to do this when I’m not taking care of myself. I don’t tell my story as a way to escape into the crowd—and I do tell my story and then wish I didn’t. I use AT for my PTSD but then I feel funny about it and don’t bring it with when I know it will help.

Aimee fat tire mountain biking in the woods--tapping into thriving!

Aimee fat tire mountain biking in the woods–tapping into thriving!

But when I am my best self, when we are best selves, we know using assistive technology and accommodations are not a sign of weakness—they are a sign of setting forth in life to thrive. Saving your energy, telling your story, and not telling your story when you don’t want to, are all signs of thriving.

We can help each other fight this internalized ableism. Our disability community can be our refuge and comfort. Our community can help us find the space for ourselves and our truth. We can give up on striving striving striving and live in our own personal, deep, beautiful version of thriving.

How do you reconnect to your thriving? How do you let go of striving to be something or someone you are not?