Category Archives: Pride & Power

Parenting with a Disability


By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall

Laura holding a sleeping baby. His head on her chest and her cheek resting on his head

Several nights ago, as a newly married couple, my husband and I were lying in bed talking about our desire to have a baby.  We both are confident that we are fully capable of having a child, taking care of a child and being amazing parents.  Yet, as we were having this discussion the issues of lack of information about parenting with a disability and social stigma came up.  Although both of us had been around babies and young children, neither one of us has much experience with the day-to-day tasks of childcare.  I have been told many times that I am not capable of being a parent, or should consider adopting an older child.  As a person in a wheelchair with Cerebral Palsy, I found that many of the parents with children in my world were overly cautious when it came to allowing me to hold and care for their babies.  As a result, I don’t have much experience with feeding, or changing a diaper, or lifting a child because they were always carefully placed in my lap and I was watched with a careful eye.  We know if we do become pregnant that we will have to educate ourselves, practice, and find assistive technology (AT) that will meet our needs as parents.

For this reason, I am so excited that the Michigan Assistive Technology Program is holding a webinar on “Assistive Technology for Parenting with a Disability” on April 27th.  Preparing for the webinar has been extremely informative, but also a bit of a roller coaster ride emotionally, as so little is written on the topic, and much of what is written focuses on the challenges of parents with disabilities, the debate about whether they should be parents at all, and stories of parents who have lost custody of their children on the basis of disability.  However, finding resources like Through the Looking Glass, that provides trainings and publications on the topic or the Disabled Parenting Project which highlights assistive technology for parenting, a support community and more, have given me hope and confidence.  Even more encouraging are the stories we have heard from parents with disabilities, describing the ways they have used both commercially available products and their own ingenious modifications or methods to handle childcare tasks.  We hope that you will register and join us for this innovative webinar that will challenge stigma and show that people with disabilities are, and can be wonderful parents.

Are you a parent with a disability?  We would love to hear from you!  Leave a comment below.


Did you vote yesterday?


Aimee Sterk headshotBy Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

Did you vote yesterday? If so, how did it go? Historically, people with disabilities have voted at a far lower rate than the general public. As an organization, we at Michigan Disability Rights Coalition and the Michigan Assistive Technology Program believe and out our philosophy “Nothing about us without us!” We are an organization of people with disabilities, run and managed by people with disabilities, working to assure the disability voice is at the table when decisions that impact our lives are being made. The biggest, most important table, where we can exercise our hard-fought right to vote, is the voting booth table.

President Obama voting at a voting machine with two other voters voting next to him at machines. An American flag is on the wall behind them.

In 2002, Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) with a mandate to “ensure the full participation in the electoral process for individuals with disabilities, including registering to vote, casting a vote, and accessing polling places.” HAVA requires that all polling places are ADA accessible and that all polling places have a device (Assistive technology—AT) available so people with disabilities can cast their votes privately and independently. Michigan uses the AutoMARK system. The law also requires that the means of registering to vote and requesting an absentee ballot are fully accessible.

Two different autoMARK machines on tables. In front of one, a person using a wheelchair is pulling up to the table, in front of the other, a person using a white cane is approaching.

Do you use assistive technology? Did you use the AutoMark system? Did you encounter barriers to voting/accessing the polling place/accessing voter registration or absentee voting applications?


the "I voted" sticker given out at many polling places.Michigan Protection and Advocacy Services, a partner organization, is the federally designated agency in Michigan to protect people with disabilities’ right to vote. They operate the Protection and Advocacy for Voting Access program. If you or someone you know have questions or concerns about access to voting and access to AT for voting, contact them at 800-288-5923. They can also help you register to vote if you haven’t A button that says "every vote counts" in red white and bluealready done so. The Secretary of State’s Voter Information Center has information on registering to vote, sample ballots for elections, and directions to your polling place. That November general election is just around the corner and we want your voice to be heard—help us change the tide and increase our power, help us become a powerful constituency of voters whose voices are loud, proud, and heard.



Assistive Technology and Politics


Poster covering common techniques for making content accessible for people with Visual, Auditory, Ambulatory, and Cognitive characterisitcs

Abilities Affect Digital Access

An article about the response by the real time captioner at the recent Republican debate to the chaos of the debate caught my eye and got me thinking about the potential role of AT in the modern political process.

So much of what passes for presidential campaign politics now is emotional and ideological. Being unable to capture the full real range of the communications in debates, advertisements, interviews, and other real-time communication venues make it more difficult to appreciate the meaning of the campaigns, and the intentions of the candidates. I believe this greater dependence on real-time communication is very different from previous campaigns (my memory of them goes back to the 1956 campaign), back beyond the time when radio was easily available.

Technology has now allowed the “any-time” streaming of such events whenever we wish to review them. But this constant availability of digital versions still doesn’t deal with accommodations that would make the meaning of the events in their visual, auditory, cognitive, and emotional dimensions transparent, permitting us the best possible judgement of political meaning.

Real time captioning is available at the national level for many network political events, but is often not available through local events.Audio description would be a good addition to many events, but is only beginning to spread as a tool of communication. Accessible social networking apps (both text and text to speech) would help to expand ease in the understanding of political communication. But access requires some personal work to create and use these apps in a consistent effective way.

Perhaps the greatest lack in the universe of political communication accommodations is in the area of real-time cognitive accessibility, especially online. Summaries (whether in text or audio), links to further description, reading level assessment and editing, and supplemental information can all make it easier to understand the political and personal meaning of communication, but there is no standard or universal way to assure completeness in the communication of meaning. The reason for the difficulty that we face in cognitively accessible inclusive communication is a combination of deeply set information processing habits that we all have, and the reality that effective cognitive accommodation always requires a degree of individual customization to be effective. For all the talk about “mass customization”, it requires real work to make it happen in our common universe of cognitive diversity.

If this presidential campaign has taught us nothing else, it should point out to us in the starkest possible terms just how important our individual and disability community political engagement is. That engagement hinges on accessibility just as much as it requires any other factor of the political process.


Art as Assistive Technology


by Norman. G DeLisle, MATP Staff Member

MDRC staff do a presentation on AT to support cognitive activities, and one of the most colorful doodles with Be Creative and colored pencilscommon statements about the presentation by participants is, “I didn’t realize how much I was using technology to support my own cognition”.

Apropos of that sentiment, I saw an article the other day about a deaf artist who was creating art using sound (see Deaf Artist Christine Sun Kim Is Reinventing Sound), and it got me to thinking about the role of art in supporting cognition, perception, and emotional experience that is beyond what we currently accept as our personal world. This artist was creating sound pieces that altered the interpretation of her audience about all sound, and was doing so by breaking the boundaries of what (shall I say?) “percepto-typicals” think sound can actually mean, or what it is for.

woman amputee with long organe Queen Ann stlye table legs DancingArt, whether visual, audio, tactile, performance, or whatever, has always been about supporting new ways of experiencing meaning. Since meaning is the basic stuff of life, the context of our human experience, in much the same way that water is for fish, we need it to reach out from where we are to some place we have never been before. If independence and autonomy are partly about the expansion of what reality means to us, then art is Assistive Technology, and the experience of art, as well as its creation, should be a centerpiece in the whole idea of advocating for accommodations to build fulfilling, autonomous lives.

In this new, probably very scary and exciting year of 2016, go out, create, and enjoy new meaning through art!