Author Archives: Aimee Sterk

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity


By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

May is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) awareness month. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is a disability in which people have multi-system illnesses as a result of contact with or proximity to substances or airborne chemicals (EPA). MCS is a chronic condition. Many people who have MCS lived or worked in areas where they were exposed to pesticides, smoke, fumes, or other pollutants. Substances that affect people with MCS include those listed above and perfumes and scented products, candles, food preservatives, aerosols, personal care products, paint, new carpets, formaldehyde and things that off gas formaldehyde like laminate floors, newspaper ink, cleaning compounds, printing and office products. Symptoms can range from headache and runny nose to fatigue, migraine, breathing difficulties, nausea, skin problems, and pain, to life-threatening reactions like seizures and anaphylaxis (MCS America).

Because chemicals, especially chemical fragrances, are so common in everyday life, people with MCS are at severe risk of not being able to access housing, employment, or meeting basic needs like shopping or participating in the community.  Many people with MCS are unemployed and some cannot leave their homes. Others’ homes are making them sick but locating housing that is free of toxic chemicals is very complicated. Additionally, a person may find that initially a home worked for them, only to develop reactivity to chemicals in that environment later.

The MCS Friends is an organization we at MDRC have partnered with in the past, looking at options for addressing housing issues. Their website has a variety of resources and ways of connecting to peer support groups. They also have a Facebook page.

I found some basic tips on accommodations and assistive technology (AT) options for the home and the workplace on the MCS America website and the Job Accommodation Network website:

  • Adopt a fragrance free policy in your home and workplace
  • Masks and respirators may work as AT for people with MCS to get out into the community
  • Live and work in places with working windows
  • Use good quality ventilation systems with HEPA filters and well-maintained ducts
  • Test the indoor air quality for dust, mold, mildew, and volatile organic compounds
  • Check the National Air Filtration Association for a local referral for air purification systems that are building-wide or at individual work stations
  • Notify people of plans to apply pesticides, paint, shampoo the carpet, or wax the floor so they may make alternative work arrangements
  • Use non-toxic materials and cleaning products
  • Use e-mail and telephone to communicate with people who choose to use fragrances
  • Build with non-toxic, chemical-free products
  • Consider organic clothing, bedding, cleaning products, and food

Do you or someone you know have MCS? What AT or accommodations are most helpful to you?


Increasing Access for People with Cognitive and Sensory Processing Disabilities


By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

I recently attended a great webinar put on by ILRU on increasing access (Creating Cognitive Access and Inclusion in the Independent Living Movement). The presenter was Julia Bascom, Deputy Executive Director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.  The webinar was the best of its type I’ve ever attended. I’ve participated in trainings and presented on accessibility many times so I was excited to learn a few new things, especially in the realm of including people with cognitive and sensory processing disabilities.

Some key take aways for me that involve AT that could help increase access:

  • Use non-fluorescent lighting
  • Provide and follow a schedule
  • Create sensory-free/respite spaces
  • Warn for noise and use no flash and fragrance free policies
  • Use sound systems that are high quality and don’t create feedback
  • Use name badges—consider using a color communication system on the badge that indicates people’s desired level of interaction/type of communication
  • Have one person talk at a time and use an object for the person talking to hold to signify that person is the person talking
  • When a person uses AAC, mic the AAC device, give the person time to type responses, and use good facilitation skills to assure full inclusion of all
  • Provide CART to help people who have auditory processing disabilities
  • Use visual cues in addition to sound cues

The webinar provided a wealth of information so I really encourage you to access it in its entirety. I’ve just given you a brief overview of some things that were either new to me and/or not often discussed when talking about accessibility.

What access issues do you notice are least discussed?

How have events creatively and smoothly addressed your access issues?

What area of access for you/someone you know are often not addressed?


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?