Monthly Archives: November 2015

Thankful for Assistive Tech!


paper with "Happy Thanksgiving!" and fall leavesHappy Thanksgiving everyone from everyone at Michigan Assistive Technology Program! We all have so much to be thankful for this year, and with Thanksgiving coming in a few days, I am thankful for devices I use just about everyday.

First of all, I’d be lost with out some devices for low vision. For me, it’s not a technical disability, just eyes which are aging. I would be lost without Control plus the + key to enlarge websites so I can read the text.  I would not be able to indulge my creative side without magnifiers for those small seed beads and my Ott light.  For reading, my Kindle and the ability to enlarge the text size has me reaching more often for this digital text than the traditional books.

As I was just reminded, the auto-correct as typing for spelling errors in Firefox settings is great! I often mistype and well, sometimes just can’t spell words correctly. For that matter all spell check is wonderful.  Voice input too! A combination of meeting needs related to low vision and can’t spell, I use the voice button on my android phone more and more, especially when I can’t find or just don’t want to pull out my reading glasses.

I am grateful for bright light therapy! When I have trouble sleeping, a lifelong issue, I become unfocused and forgetful. I have delayed phase sleep syndrome, (I am a real night person) which is only a disability if you don’t have a night job I suppose. I also have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) I use a light box this time of year to keep my circadian rhythm on track.  I have the Amazon Echo and like to start the day asking “Alexa, what’s on my calendar?” so I don’t forget appointments. Thank you Google calendar and Alexa! Thank you for all devices and techniques to help me remember!

I am short, and no, that’s not a disability! It can be an advantage, like if you are on a budget5 different reachers airplane for example – leg room? No problem!  However, there are some situations and environments built for so called “average height” people that don’t work for me. For example, we have a four wheel drive electric vehicle which doesn’t have adjustable seats. So I’ve duck taped a block of wood on the accelerator petal so I can reach it with out sitting on the edge of the bench seat. Grateful for duck tape, yes!  I also have a reacher I use to get things down off tall shelves and to reach for things like socks that fall behind the dryer.

With chronic neck and shoulder pain, I sometimes have trouble reaching by back to wash or apply lotion, so I am grateful for longer handle brushes and lotion applicators.

I know there are more devices I am thankful for, but need to get going! A busy week for everyone I am sure. What AT are you most thankful for? Have a wonderful holiday!


Why Microfiber Might Save the World


By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

Awhile back my colleagues and I did a webinar on AT for cleaning. While researching for that webinar, I came across a research article that indicated microfiber tools with water were better at cleaning in hospitals than harsh chemicals and sponges or mops. Having worked with members of the MCS Friends Group (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity), this was a boon. So many people with MCS, allergies, asthma, and sensitivities can’t be around harsh cleaning products. A more natural, economical solution was available and worked better! Hooray! I presented on the findings and promptly forgot about them.

Then I was invited to a Norwex party by a friend. I learned that Norwex cleaning cloths are made of microfiber with silver added for additional antimicrobial power. My friend informed me she had been using the cloths in her house and also used the body cloths instead of soap and washcloths and had seen a steep decrease in her rosacea. Packed with this hearty endorsement and my past knowledge, I was ready to give microfiber a try.

I have had recurrent skin MRSA infections for over a year and had done bleach baths and chlorhexidine showers which ruined my skin and caused other types of infection—and I was still getting MRSA. I followed all of the infectious disease doctors’ instructions and was no better off after spending a lot of money and hours and hours of cleaning for months and months with harsh chemicals and daily disinfecting my body, bathroom, clothes with twice weekly disinfecting my sheets and towels.

So—did Norwex do the trick? Yes! I have been using Norwex microfiber body towels and a back scrubber for several months now and have not had a MRSA outbreak. In addition, my skin is glowing. My face is almost entirely clear of acne as well. I don’t think the cloths have to be from Norwex either—the ones in the research article weren’t.

If you are needing options that are free of harsh chemicals for cleaning your body or your home, you might want to consider microfiber body and house cleaning cloths.


Inclusion, Accessibility and Assistive Technology at your Holiday Events


by MATP Staff Laura Hall

A Happy Holidays sign in red and white with a light blue background

The holidays are coming, as we are reminded by every third commercial on television.  These are times of family, gratitude, togetherness, and love.  Yet, what some people don’t know is that oftentimes they are a tremendous source of stress, conflict, and anxiety for people with disabilities.  Oftentimes, when holiday events are held in another person’s home, I have immediate thoughts of “how am I going to get in?”, “I don’t want to be carried”, “what if it’s crowded and I’m stuck in one area?”, “will I have to rely on someone else to get my food?”, “how will I prepare a dish to pass?”, and most importantly, “how will I go to the bathroom?”

These thoughts may seem a bit irrational but more often than not, people with disabilities claim that it is their families (ironically, the people that know them best) who seem to get it the least, and these issues often go unaddressed.  People with disabilities often end up putting themselves in uncomfortable situations, and without access to their assistive technology to appease their family members and the spirit of tradition.  Including and accomodating everyone at our holiday events may seem daunting, but really it’s just a matter of having frank conversations with the person with a disability about how to make them feel most comfortable.  This may mean having your event in a public accessible space, purchasing or borrowing assistive technology like grab bars (which can be temporary) for bathroom access, or rearranging furniture to allow for more space.  Although our holiday events this time of year are likely to be indoors, our recent webinar “AT for your Accessible Picnic” gives some great ideas for things to think about and ways to create inclusion. Worried about creating a dish to pass or want to include a family member into the meal prep?  Check out another fantastic webinar “Tools for Independence: Holiday Cooking”.

Family, togetherness, and love are the most important aspects of the holidays.  What better way to show your love and gratitude than to create an event that meets the needs and includes everyone?

Have a happy, safe, inclusive holiday season!


When the meds don’t work—Resources and AT for depression and anxiety


Aimee Sterk headshotBy Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

My co-worker was asking me about my light box yesterday and that got me thinking about the alternative AT, supplements, and practices I use to help with my depression (seasonal and otherwise) and anxiety. Many visits to doctors had left me very frustrated—and feeling like it was my fault and something was wrong with me—I have nasty side effects to most medications, especially antidepressants. Through many trials, I have never found an SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, the main class of antidepressants) that works for me. I have found that I can tolerate Wellbutrin (an antidepressant that works on norepinephrine and dopamine instead of serotonin) at low levels, and it helps, but I can still be depressed on it, and increasing it makes the side effects intolerable—especially the irritability I develop.

Last week I went to a workshop given by the Institute of Brain Potential. At the workshop, Dr. Michael Lara, a psychiatrist, presented on medical and medicinal foods used to treat mood disorders and inflammation. He presented research—noting the good research and that which was bad/poorly done–on evidence about supplements and told us about websites to use to evaluate the research and supplements, especially,, and the National Nutrient Database. It seems there are many more of us out there for whom medications are only part of the answer. For example, those of us with the MTHFR genetic variation, including me, (and other genetic variations) do not benefit much or at all from SSRIs and may benefit from L-methylfolate or other alternative treatments. Sometimes, increasing precursors or co-factors to neurotransmitters through food and supplements can be a piece of the answer. I am testing and trying some of this myself and finding some good results and some things that don’t work. There’s a great article by Wake-up World with some ideas on increasing dopamine naturally that covers some of the supplements as well as other options.

In addition, there are AT products that can help. I’ve written about some of them before—weighted blankets, yoga, loving kindness meditation, and light boxes. There are also numerous apps for anxiety and depression.

Here are some other ideas to help yourself decrease or manage your depression:

a 12 inch cube fishtank with light, plants, and fish on a desk Get a fish tank as AT for depression. My home office fish tank has a very bright light to help the fish and plants grow, in addition, the light provides some light therapy to me. Watching the fish swim calms me. The gentle water sound of the filter and bubbles relaxes me. The bright colors and movement and plants growing add vibrancy to my life and help me re-center. Watching fish decreases blood pressure and muscle tension as well. In addition, fish tanks can become a hobby to share with others. My husband and I have met cool people at our local fish store and through the aquarium club in our area.

coloring books, colored pencils, markers, and spirographArt supplies and coloring books as the “new” AT. It’s no surprise to me that coloring books are becoming popular with adults. I never stopped coloring. I find it meditative and cheerful. Coloring is now recommended for people with anxiety, depression, and dementia among other things. Coloring can become a mindfulness practice. Concentrating on the one task, choosing colors, purposeful movement, these are all beneficial. Also, as someone who can’t draw, I can still feed my creativity and artistic self through coloring. And, coloring has prompted me to play around with watercolor—a medium where I relish creating designs and colors and don’t feel the pressure to have to make something that looks like something else, like I do when attempting to draw.

a screen shot of a Feel Better playlist with songs like Hope, In a Tree, If I Had $1,000,000, and Live in ColorBuild a playlist that helps you feel better. You can use more than just apps on your smartphone to help with depression and anxiety, use your smartphone music, or go old-school and make mixed tapes/CDs. Dopamine is released when we listen to music. Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter associated with motivation and combatting addiction. Even anticipating listening to music stimulates dopamine. Melancholy music that we know well can create chills and may be beneficial to our mood as we anticipate the different sections of the song. Sad music may help us move to more positive emotions. Our drive and reward systems are activated by music.


While none of these resources or pieces of AT are an all-in-one answer, perhaps they can help on the journey. And if right now you are depressed and none of these sounds good to you, know you are not alone, you matter, you can get through this, depression lies and tells you things about yourself that aren’t true, and get help. If you are open to irreverent and raw, I highly recommend listening to Jenny Lawson read her own book in the audio version of Furiously Happy or follow her blog. Perhaps the book or the audiobook is available from your local library.

This article is not medical advice—consult your own doctor/medical professional and therapist.