Category Archives: Recreation

Our Increasingly Assistive Technology


By Norman G. DeLislethe earth with arrows to things with words The Internet of Things

“The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data.” -Wikipedia Article on The Internet of Things

Recently, I’ve noticed an uptick in the attention that the IoT is paying to devices and networking that would be of use to people with disabilities, and the general use that the IoT is increasingly having for everyone, including people with disabilities.

The most obvious example is making driverless cars a reality. And it isn’t simply the goal of totally driverless cars. Each incremental effort by manufacturers to make cars safer by automating safety actions or reducing information and decision burden makes cars easier to use for everyone, including people with disabilities. (See post by M. Catherine McAdam “My Driverless Car“)

There are others. I recently posted a link to a device that uses ultra-small amounts of microwaves to detect glucose levels so that no finger prick is required. In addition, it uses an app to record ongoing glucose levels so that more information about the dynamic of blood sugar is available for use by the person in making short term glucose management decisions and in understanding the long term trend of, say, Type 1 diabetes.

In addition to “things” that increase personal control over health or physical status, there are other potential tools for supporting recovery on the horizon. If the core of the Recovery Movement is the expansion of personal control over life through management of symptoms that reduce control and the building of a personal social network that supports the recovery journey, then the IoT will have “things” to offer us as well.

The use of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is currently only a research tool in depression, pain control, empathy development, and a variety of other issues because (it seems just plain weird) it is expensive to do, and there is no solid framework for understanding what it does. But it is also non-invasive and has predictably short term effects allowing for eventual actual personal control over its use. Is it too strange to envision a genuinely portable device that you could use as a specific method of controlling a specific symptom? Is it even much too “stranger” to imagine a social network of people using TMS as a part of their social interaction?

Although environmental control has been a possibility for people with disabilities for some time, it has traditionally been a very expensive tool requiring the development of highly customized control systems. Now, because of the ubiquity of wireless and smartphones, and the drop in price for small devices that can control house systems (the expansion of the whole consumer market for such devices and environmental control), it is possible to create a voice managed control system using something like the Amazon Echo inside the house and a smartphone app when outside the house. Your personal system can be assembled a bit at a time, allowing you to customize it to your needs as you go.

There is a distinction in disability studies between “accommodation” and “accessibility” which points to the fundamental difference between a community response that creates access (accommodation) for a specific individual (segregation) and one that allows everyone (accessibility) to use the community (inclusion). I think the IoT is beginning to muddy that distinction by making universal access to the community a part of the general development of the IoT and the parallel creation of devices that can be customized by the individual person to connect to that general community. IoT is a trend worth watching by our community. We will also, as always, need members of our community to be at the forefront of making IoT realize the possibility it has for all of us.


  • Internet of Things could be the low-cost ‘connectivity key’ that transforms lives in developing countries
  • Beyond the Hype: These Technologies at CES Can Help People in Need
  • Can the Internet of Things bridge the digital divide?

Virtual Reality and Assistive Technology


By MATP Staff Member Norm DeLisle

side by side view from a roller coaster seat out towards the track
Virtual Reality (VR) is beginning its ascent to a big media platform with the availability of Oculus Rift, various VR viewers and VR prominence at the recent Game Developers Conference.  Naturally, there is deep concern in our community over how accessible such technologies will be, especially if education, information, and financial services will become dependent on the use of VR. Also, if VR is genuinely accessible, it will allow everyone to have immersive experiences that would otherwise be unavailable.

Absent clear access capability, it would be foolish to spend $2,000 on a VR ready PC and the headset needed to make high end VR usable. But high-end isn’t the only way to dabble in VR. A smartphone and Google’s Cardboard Viewer (which can be made from scratch out of your cardboard, or purchased forless than $30 complete with a strap to hold it to your head) is a viable alternative with a surprisingly large number of apps.In some, your eyes can be used to trigger movement and change exploration direction. It is also possible to trigger effects in games with your eyes. Most of these apps are free, and are surprising in their variety.

In addition to the obvious game and entertainment uses, both VR and VR gaming have the potential to support choice and skill building for everyone as they age, regardless of disability. VR offers the possibility of performing tasks around the home through devices and hardware of the sort used in “Smart Homes”. Because VR can be immersive, and is only restricted in its “reality” by computing power, it would be possible to do detailed work in a 3-D environment that would be difficult or impossible in the real world or even on a PC. VR can assist in exercise, and even Physical Therapy, without the need for a trained personal assistant, since the VR app can be directive and self-correcting of you efforts.

We all know that learning is most effective when action is supported, and VR offers the possibility of direct action in VR environments when the real world examples are too expensive or physically unavailable. As accessories to increase the breadth and depth of the VR experience beyond sight, sound, and typical gaming movements become available, we need to advocates that all of them have access and accommodations built in.

Like any other big change in our relationship to reality, VR will pose moral issues as well.  Disabled World has a nice discussion of a proposed “Virtual Code of Conduct and Ethical Concerns” that opens what should be an ongoing conversation about the effects that VR is having on real people in the real world.

We need to embrace VR and drive the evolution of the technology by making sure we are at the tables of that evolution, constantly demanding and getting inclusion every step of the way. We need to Play for Real in VR and make it a tool of our personal autonomy and independence.

This entry was posted in Innovation, Recreation and tagged Access, virtual reality on by Norm DeLisle.

AT for Gardening


By Aimee Sterk, LMSW

Spring is actually in the air at our house—the birds are chirping in the morning and the witch hazel by our garage is blooming with the bright scent permeating the yard. Daffodils are popping up. The earth is turning green and bright.

I have a favorite Rumi quote, “And don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It’s quiet, but the roots are down there riotous.” Those riotous roots have done their work all winter, and now the shoots, leaves, buds, and flowers are bursting forth.

Spring is my favorite time of year; a time of renewed energy, longer days, getting back out doors, and new life.

With the unfurling of the buds and leaves, dreams and plans for my garden overtake my thinking. To be sure, I ordered my seeds in the dark of winter—plotting and planning for the growing season gives me hope. Now, its time to get started in the garden, and there is a lot of AT that can help with that.

We have a great accessible gardening webinar that covers many aspects of accessible gardening: tools, pathways, beds, and container gardening to get you started.

Personally, I plan what I grow based on what my family likes to eat, how much space I have, and potential cost savings. For example, we eat a lot of carrots and onions, but I find them harder to grow and relatively cheap at the store, so I don’t grow them myself. I do grow herbs, kale, fancy greens/salad greens, and heirloom cherry tomatoes. This year I’m also growing sunflowers—more for the beauty and the birds than for cost savings.
Three people working at an accessible-table height raised bed at the Ann Arbor CILI grow my plants in raised beds or containers right next to our driveway—seeing them when I come and go reminds me to water them. Raised beds and containers provide a variety of benefits:

  • If your soil is poor, it provides a method for adding good soil
  • It allows for people with physical disabilities to more easily access the beds—they can be raised to counter height if need be
  • It allows for better drainageA woman using a wheelchair and a woman standing bent over a row of straw bales with tomato cages in them

Raised beds and container gardening don’t have to be costly either. A cheap, large pot or 5-gallon bucket on some pavers or bricks makes a great, small raised bed that would be great for greens, potatoes or even small tomatoes. There is a great Facebook group called the Container Gardening Alliance that provides lots of tips and tricks for container gardening. One tip from me–be sure you can reach all the way across your raised bed/container so that produce and weeds stay within your reach throughout the garden season. I’ve fallen into my too-wide garden bed trying to reach a tomato in the center.

Straw bale gardens  are cheap, easy ways to create a raised bed and use the decomposing straw to feed your plants. A row of large plastic pots sitting on top of large bricks to raise them to thigh height

Adapted garden tools and watering systems also increase access to gardening. Hand tools can be built up with bicycle grip tape or pipe insulation. Handles can be lengthened or shortened as needed to give people the reach they need. Drip systems or sprinklers attached to platforms with hoses run to them that do not obstruct pathways prevent the need for carrying heavy watering cans.

garden gloves, a garden hat and several trowels with built up and curved handles

You don’t need a yard to have fresh herbs, flowers, and vegetables. A sunny window or patio and some pots are all you need—and the plants will brighten your day, feed you and clean your air for you.

There are so many ways to make gardening accessible. What tips and tricks do you use? What are your gardening plans?



An Endorsement for Things That Talk


by MATP Staff Member Cathy McAdam

tv remote close up showing microphone buttonI’m going to spend some time writing about a cable provider who is getting this accessibility thing right, but it’s not an endorsement for Comcast, more of an endorsement for universal design in this digital age. Yes, I am a person who is blind who does “watch” TV. Most providers now are getting pieces of this puzzle known as accessibility, and that’s part of the problem. Part way there leads to wanting more and frustration when something doesn’t work.

I’m having a good time with my TV remote!

I can, if I choose, talk to it to switch channels, or I can press a button and get feedback that I’ve chosen the correct channel, no easy feat with HD. With the press of another button I hear “what’s on now” and if I choose to record something I’m given prompts all the way through the process.

This is truly the first time I can record, play back recordings and manage options for deleting programs when I’m done with them. I can also find and play on demand shows.

With my last provider I could do some of these things using an app, but I couldn’t delete recorded programs, or find on demand offerings. And, I needed a second device rather than the nearby remote. And, oh yes, I get detailed descriptions of shows so I can decide if they may be worth my time.

By the way, I’m not a huge TV fan these days, but I love the “control” I have in this mundane part of my life!

The Business Case

So, what do you think the effect on marketing is for businesses who “get it”. They know many and even most people will never use these options, but they also know it’s a smart business decision in the long run.

Do you have a favorite mainstream talking device?


  • Blog article: Technology for the Blind
  • US Business Leadership Network