Monthly Archives: April 2016

My Driverless Car!


By MATP Staff Member M. Catherine McAdam

Driverless care with doors open and 2 people sitting insideYes, I want one,  a Self-driving car, and have been asking family and friends if they will take a ride with me, (a driver who is totally blind)!  Many have said yes, and some hesitate wondering as many do just how safe these autonomous-vehicles will be.

My initial excitement has been a bit dampened by the reality of licenses needed and the current demand for a steering wheel and breaks and in most cases a backup driver. (See The conversation about driverless cars.)  However I still feel for many of my low vision friends and others with disabilities that there is tremendous potential for driving, and adding to public transit options this the driverless taxi.

I did read one comment (buried within the references/inks listed)  where a wheelchair user expressed concern for maintaining his current adaptive equipment, and this of course is a valid concern. How many times do people make assumptions that something we love, use, and even need, is no longer a valid approach, and then removed from the market? (For example, simple, basic cell phones.)  For many others the increased support of warnings for backing up or changing lanes, and assistance for parallel parking may already be a welcome support. I choose to believe that somewhere on this winding trail there will be many benefits for those of us across the disability spectrum. Some with low vision now drive with the help of optical lenses, and surely will appreciate some of the progressive changes already in motion. Many who have difficulty concentrating, or processing information under stress will also silently benefit as safety features increase.

Google seems convinced that a true driverless car without a steering wheel is possible. (See lifeline for the disabled.) Some propose that the software is “the driver” leaving room for revising licensing: legal and ethical considerations.

One of the things I found when researching this was very exciting.  4 people sitting facing each other inside car, table in between and screen on one sideThe inventor of cruise control was an engineer who was blind. Fears of his invention parallel some of the concerns that drivers will day dream, not pay attention to their surroundings and lose control.

(Maybe you were pulled into the hoax of a Stella award given to a woman/man who left cruise control on to go make a sandwich in the back of their Winnebago: Incredible-lawsuit-tales.)

So I imagine we’ll hear many exaggerated stories about this awesome technology being developed for my driverless car. The more we include people with disabilities in the development, testing and real discussions about this technology the better the outcome! I’ll still be waiting to drive my real friends even if it takes 20 more years!

woman standing next to google driverless car, holding a white caneWill you come for a ride with me?




AT Round Up


By Aimee Sterk, LMSW

I’ve heard about and used some cool AT recently that doesn’t all fit in one category for a cohesive blog post, but I still want to share these with you, so in no particular order, enjoy these apps, devices, and resources.


The Atlantic had a great article about relieving anxiety through singing using the Songify App. I’m very much going to give this a try! Songify allows you to take intrusive anxious thoughts and make them feel more trivial by turning them into a funny song. The author took her fear of having contracted leishmaniasis and turned it into a song you can listen to in the article. My brain does a great job of generating fears. I think Songify will help me fight back. My psychiatrist also informed me that negative thinking/negative self-talk can also be mediated using singing. She gave the example of singing “I’m so stupid” to Camptown Races. The beauty of music therapy of all sorts! Songify is available on iOS, Android, and Google Play. What apps and AT do you use for anxiety and/or negative self-talk?


Inspired after seeing her grandmother struggle with eating after developing Alzheimer’s, the designer of EatWell created an adaptive dining set. It is user-centered design and helps to increase food intake and maintain dignity, while also making the process of eating as easy as possible. In this way, users can feed themselves for as long as possible. The design has more than 20 features including colors to help users distinguish food, no-slip bases, slanted bottoms to help users gather food without having to scoop, ergonomic handles, and spoon heads that match the curves of the bowls and basin. The set even comes with a tray with clips which would allow the user to attach a bib or apron to prevent food staining clothes. The EatWell set has won many awards including the 2014 Stanford Design Challenge.

An Eatwell set on a tray that includes clips to attach an apron, two cups woth large bases and contrasting bright colors and large comfortable handles, two ergonomic, built up spoons, two plates that are deep with slanted bases to aid in loaning food on the spoon.


Making Food Preparation Easier

I’ve been having more trouble with fatigue lately, especially after finding out I’m pregnant. For me this means having the energy to cook healthy meals is a challenge. I also was talking to some people I know who use home and community based supports to live in the community. They were talking about finding the energy to cook for themselves because the Meals On Wheels in our community is just not very good. We discussed cutting back on the need for intensive prep and clean up to conserve energy and swapped recipe ideas for Sheet Pan Suppers and One-pot Meals. There are some great options for recipes online that require less energy and time in prep and clean up. EatingWell has some delicious sheet-pan recipes, though they have more costly ingredients than some other recipe sites. I especially enjoy the kale potato hash with eggs and the mini meatloaves with green beans and potatoes. I also found some sheet-pan recipes on Allrecipes I want to try. I find myself using things like pre-shredded cabbage and my food processor more often now and digging out my 30 minute meal cookbooks. I also put away my heavy cast iron cookware and get out lighter pieces like my ceramic non-stick everyday pan which can cook an entire meal but is light weight and easy to clean. It can also go from stovetop to oven or vice versa. What are your cooking hacks?

the ceramic everyday pan is a 12 inch saute pan that is deep and has rounded handles on both sides riveted to the pan. It has a dome lid with a large handle on top and is ceramic non-stick lined.

You know, maybe these aren’t so random after all–I do a lot of cooking and eating when I’m anxious–and I’m working on the anxious eating part.


AT and Resources for Safe Driving


By Aimee Sterk, LMSW

Paging through my latest AAA magazine, I noticed they were promoting their resources for older drivers and their families: While I am not an older driver, my husband and I both have noticed our vision at night is not what it used to be, especially on rainy nights, so I decided to check out the website for hints and tips for myself and to blog about. You may also want to check out my blog from late last year Stickshifts and Safety Belts for other AT for driving.

There are a couple of areas of the website I found particularly useful. The first, RoadWiseRx, which allows you to enter the medications you are taking, check for possible interactions, and check for driver warnings. I learned that the blood pressure medication I am on, when combined with one of the antidepressants I take, has a potentially moderate interaction with the antidepressant increasing the effects of the blood pressure medication. Interesting (and in my case, ok). I also learned of some side effects that may or may not impact my driving abilities. This confidential web portal is worth a look.

Even more interesting and potentially useful is the website’s Smart Features page. On this page, you can select your needs from a list including: limited knee range of motion; hip or leg pain; short statured; overweight; arthritis in the hands; decreased motor skills; limited upper body range of motion; back, neck, shoulders arms; diminished vision; or cognitive decline.

When you select one of the needs, a list of potential features that might help pops up. For example, for cognitive decline, the site lists classically designed cars—a less is more approach reduces distractions and improves familiarity with controls; high contrast instrument panel for better visibility with quick glances; and a rain sensor to turn wipers on and off automatically to lessen driver distraction.

One of the suggestions for limited upper body range of motion is a rear back up camera. Having this disability myself, I have loved that my new car is equipped with this feature. For limited knee or hip range of motion recommendations include a low door threshold and adjustable foot pedals. Keyless ignition is a great AT device for people with arthritis in their hands which often results in difficulty twisting ignition keys.

With Smart Features, you can select the features you are looking for and then get a list of cars that have those features to consider along with their MSRP and fuel economy ratings. I was pretty excited when I selected for comfortable seats, back up camera, and tilting/telescoping wheel, along with “classic car” design, my Toyota RAV4 did come up as an option.

Overall I think the website is a great resource for drivers with disabilities of any age and worth a look. I just scratched the surface; there are many more areas of the site I haven’t checked out yet.

What devices and features help you drive? What features do you wish were available? Will you give the website a look?


“Ok Google” as Assistive Technology


KathrynBy MATP Staff Member Kathryn Wyeth

I have this powerful assistive technology and haven’t been using it effectively. I noticed my mom was having trouble using her Android phone to make calls. She is losing vision due to a variety of issues including Macular Degeneration.

In researching and playing around with settings on her phone, I realized the Google Now assistant could help.  Google Now is already installed in all Android 4.1 (and above) devices and can be downloaded on Windows Phone and iOS devices too. Setting up Google is simple: Just open the “Google” app and answer a few questions, like your home and work locations, transport means, interests, and so on. (You can skip questions you don’t want to answer.)

screen shot with G in red circle (google icon) and the word "Listening..."First, I needed to move the Google app to her home page, since it wasn’t there. She still wants to lock the phone, so does need to unlock it first, but now can just say “Ok Google” followed by what she wants the app to do.

So calling people was the first issue. Now she can just say, “Ok Google” then the person’s name as it is listed in her contact. Of course, the contacts were a bit of a mess, with multiple listings for some of the people, so we spent a bit of time cleaning this up.

Then we found this tip: How to set up Google Now Contact Relationships.

Google has updated Google Search (and thus Google Now), adding the ability to recognize commands based on the relation the contact is to you. So for people she calls often, like me, she can now say “Ok Google” then “Call my daughter.” This avoids some potential confusion with multiple contacts who have names that are or sound a like.

The other thing we needed to do was make sure that phone numbers for people who had multiple numbers had descriptions that she could remember. If there is more than one say, Mobile or Home number listed, it could be confusing. So in my listing, we edited the contact, selected “custom” for the phone type and gave it a name she’d remember.

She has more than one son. We set them all up as “Ok Google, ____ is my son”. When she says “Ok Google, Call my son”, the phone lists the first two names or and then she can say the name of one of the other 2 sons if she wanted to call someone else. So not quite as good, but it still works.

Woman with glasses and hat smiling

Mom on 80+ birthday

So I wondered if we could assign nicknames for some of her contacts who had the same or similar sounding names. For example, if there were two Susan’s she might call frequently, one could be “Neighbor”, the other would be “Susan”. This did not work. Only relationship names seemed to work.

The advances in technology are great! Now many things that used to be expensive assistive technology are built-in. Voice input can help everyone, including people with disabilities who either can’t see, manipulate a touch screen, or have better spoken than written literacy. My mom and I have just started the learning curve in using Google Now via voice command. Do you use it? What do you use it for?

Here are some additional resources for using Google Now

  • How to use Google Now
  • The complete list of ‘OK, Google’ commands from CNET
  • Huge cheat sheet tells you everything you can do with Google Now voice commands