Holiday Wishes

Continued Universal Design of Products

triangle warning sign with man tripping over a blockI love gadgets and technology that make life easier. Some of the items we’ve added to our house recently are the Amazon Echo and Smart Plugs. My husband has difficulty with fine motor control and balance. We tried other options like a touch lamp and motion detection. Coming into a dark room and finding even an adapted lamp switch or light was a hassle. The cat kept turning on and off our touch lamp and setting off the motion sensor. We connected lamps to smart switches so now he just asked Alexa to turn on the lights.  I am convinced this has prevented a few falls!cat half in a basket on the floor

What is really wonderful about some of the AT options we’ve added recently is they are mainstream consumer items. My holiday wish is for this trend to continue. It is so much easier to build accessibility into the infrastructure than it is to retrofit or do remediation after the fact. Which leads well into wish number two!

More Accessible Web Resources

I attended the Accessible Learning Conference at Kellogg Center in East Lansing this month and was really pleased to see the strides made in making learning, including documents and web resources accessible. We’ve come a long way since I first designed a website using html code back in the mid 90’s!  There is so much growth in this area and it’s a challenge to keep up but so important to strive for equal access for everyone.  It’s just the right thing to do of course, and the recent court cases, like the win against Winn-Dixie and settlements as a result of advocacy by Marcie Lipsitt with the Michigan Department of Education continue the push for access!

Want to learn more about Web Access?

Al Swain at a picnic tableLife is Good

A wonderful  person and friend who was active with the disability community in Lansing once said at a Michigan Disability Rights Coalition (MDRC) Board retreat that his wish for the future was for everyone to wake up in the morning with the thought “Life is Good”.  Thank you Al Swain, I miss you.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
May all your wishes come true!

Watercolor paining of a dandelion flower in seed

All I want for Christmas is some new AT (And I want to share this other article too)

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Team Member

This year for Christmas, I am asking for the Fisher Wallace Stimulator device. I heard about it from my therapist. According the website, it uses electrical impulses to stimulate the brain to produce more serotonin and melatonin while reducing cortisol. It can be used for depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Fisher Wallace notes that the device is FDA cleared and has been used in many research studies.

The device is shaped like an elongated deck of cards and has a pyramid on the front with four lights in the pyramid indicating the strength of the neurostimulation and two cords attached to two sponge electrodes.
The Fisher Wallace Stimulator and a man using the device with the moistened sponge electrodes applied to his temples and held in place by a headband. Image from the Daily Beast: https://www.thedailybeast.com/fisher-wallace-stimulator-behind-the-do-it-yourself-shock-therapy

All of this sounds so good to me right now. I was on an SSRI while pregnant with my son and it really helped me combat depression and anxiety associated with pregnancy, losses, and PTSD while I was carrying him. I took half the lowest dose of the medication prescribed. Still, just as I am highly sensitive to meds, it seems my son is too, and he had withdrawal symptoms from my medication after he was born. This was devastating to me at a time that we were already in crisis as my son had to be in the NICU after delivery for another condition.

This pregnancy, I’m determined not to take an SSRI, but am again experiencing significant anxiety and depression. I had looked into non-pharmaceutical options when pregnant with my son (specifically TMS) but the cost was very high, sometimes I met the clinical criteria and sometimes I didn’t, and the commitment of daily, somewhat painful treatment, for 4-6 weeks, at a facility across town seemed overwhelming.

So, this year, I want to try the Fisher Wallace Stimulator as a non-invasive and less costly option than TMS (it still is expensive at $699). I do wonder if I can commit to using the Fisher Wallace twice a day for 20 minutes though–with a 1-year old and another baby on the way along with a full-time job, life is pretty busy right now.

I put the word out there to coworkers, friends and family to see if anyone I know has used the device. It turns out the husband of a friend is currently using it to treat his ADHD and has seen improvements as he tries to get off of his medication.

I also did some googling. In addition to the company’s website, if you are interested, you may want to check out the guest blog on Scientific American that details another user’s story and has links to some relative research. You may also want to check out the reviews on Drugs.com which tend toward neutral or negative with some people wondering about a placebo effect.

Currently, the device is out of reach financially for me, but possibly, when my Flexible Spending Account balance refills January 1st, I’ll get a prescription and consider giving this device a try (unless Santa delivers one first). In the meantime, I’m tracking my mood, taking my vitamin D, practicing mindful self-compassion and the lovingkindness meditation.

Have you tried the device? Did it make a difference in your life? What AT or techniques have you used for depression and anxiety when medication wasn’t an option?

And speaking of mental health, I have to share this amazingly good article that I learned about from Disability Network Southwest Michigan staff. It deeply speaks to me and has also touched colleagues and friends—a must read for people with mental illness and allies. It covers the dangers of being “High Functioning” (the authors words, ones I don’t use myself) mentally ill and touches on the damage of disability hierarchies and the intersectionality of mental health/disability and other identities.  Why I’m Done Being a Good Mentally Ill Person.

The Little Things

cartoon frogs around a minature mobil home with scenary and luggage
A Short Trip

All my life, I have had a fine motor coordination problem with my hands. My cursive writing is illegible. When I was in Catholic elementary school the nuns made me practice my cursive for an hour every day for an entire school year before concluding that I simply couldn’t improve.

My printing is only somewhat better, and if I am in a hurry, it too is illegible. Even my signature shows symptoms of actual brain damage in that my repeated signatures have different numbers of strokes. Computers have been a godsend to me, though not without their problems, too.

I have always simply taken it for granted that I would have a tough time using my fingers for anything delicate. So, I wasn’t surprised when my use of a smartphone was plagued with misses and sliding finger taps, making my use of apps in general and smartphone typing systems in particular fraught with mistakes. I have to double-check everything, even content I have created many times before. I also have a terrible time using the same amount of pressure with my finger each time I do so, often producing no result or one that shows I pushed too long.

Entirely separately, I got tired of wiping the greasy finger marks off my smartphone every morning and decided I would try using a stylus to reduce the grime. I assumed I would have as much trouble with the stylus as I did with my fingers-maybe even more.

Blue Cheap Stylus against fake wood background
A Tool

I was wrong.

There was a vast difference in the quality of my input when I used the stylus as compared with my finger. My error rate dropped very noticeably when I used the stylus, making my smartphone use more enjoyable and productive.

So, If you have trouble with fine motor tasks and it shows up on your smartphone, you might want to try a stylus too.

You can get styluses in bulk for about $.25 each or you can get better quality ones almost anywhere.  The link below is to the Amazon page for styluses that show you the enormous variety and broad cost points for these products. Check to make sure your choice works with your device.

Amazon Selection of Stylus Options page

All I Want For Christmas is My Two AT

By MATP Staff Laura Hall

Santa's hand writing on naughty/nice list

Dear Santa,

Can you believe another year has gone by?  I’ve spent another great year working with the Michigan Assistive Technology Program.  I hope it brings a twinkle to your eye to know that we’ve helped people with disabilities learn about and acquire some great AT though our demo and short-term loan programs, the ATXChange,  and the Assistive Technology Loan Fund.  I am thankful for the people we work with around the state that make this possible.

I’ve had a lot of changes this year, and although some of them have been frustrating, I hope that I am still in good standing on your nice list (you wouldn’t let me take a peek at that list sometime would you?).  I bought a home last year and when you visited you may have noticed that we have quite a bit of work to do to make it more accessible.  In particular, I could use some help transferring in and out of my new wheelchair, which I named the Flash.  I’m sure you know that adjusting to a new wheelchair or sleigh can take some time.  That is why this year, my requests involve AT for transferring.

Bed rail with nightlightIt is really difficult for me to change positions in bed while I’m sleeping.  I also have a hard time swinging my legs to the side the bed when I’m ready to get up.  After consulting with a physical therapist and an occupational therapist I think a bed rail may be part of the solution.  Not only would it help with rolling over during the night, I think it would also help, along with my leg lifter, to get my feet onto the floor and ready for a transfer.  There are many different lengths and shapes and types of handles but I think a short rail like this SturdyCare bed rail may do the trick.  It comes with a bonus nightlight too!  Between now and Christmas, I’m going to be checking to see if any of the Michigan Loan Closets might have something that will fit the bill, but if not, it sure would be a great gift.

A man and assistant using a sit to stand deviceAfter getting out of bed the next challenge I have is transferring into my wheelchair.  I’d like to be less reliant on my caregivers.  Recently, I tried to sit-to stand transferring device that still allows me to use my own leg strength to stand but also has a sling that supports my back to stay in the standing position.  After that, someone just pushes the sit to stand over to my wheelchair and it lowers me back down into the seat.  Unfortunately, these devices are quite expensive.  I know this may be something that you won’t be able to get me this year, but perhaps you could put in a good word with my insurance company.  I’m using the resources in our funding strategy – a letter of medical necessity for example, but I think a good word from you could never hurt.

Thanks for considering my wish list, Santa.  More than anything though, I know there are many others who need AT too, so I hope others receive the items they need.

‘Till Next Year,

Laura

‘Tis the Season for Cheer and Chills, Family and Fevers, and Gifts and Ginger Ale

Person laying on a couch with a blanket covering their head and most of their body

By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Recently, a virus swept through my house and left my partner and me in slow recovery mode.  As I think about how we got through the worst of it, I now realize that Assistive Technology definitely made the process better.

After years of apartment living, my partner and I purchased our house a few years ago.  Our first winter in our house was a sobering experience; it was one of the coldest winters on record and our heat bill was really expensive.  After talking with some friends of ours who own a house as well, we invested in a few space heaters which we put in our bedroom and den.  We also bought some thick, microplush blankets.  Now instead of keeping the thermostat in the low-mid 70’s in the cooler months, we can turn it down when we head to bed and switch on our space heaters; the heaters cost less to run than keeping the furnace at a higher temp to heat the whole house.  While I was getting through the worst of the virus, I was so very thankful for the space heater in our bedroom.  I closed our bedroom door, set the heater to 80 degrees, and fought the chills underneath our thick blankets.  Tall, ceramic heater.The heater we purchased for our bedroom is a tall, ceramic tower heater with remote.  I really appreciate that I can change the temperature from bed using the remote!  The heater also has an oscillation function so it slowly tuns to blow warm air all over the room.  One thing I’ve done to get even better air circulation is to place the heater up on a sturdy chair so that it’s up off of the floor and circulates a little more effectively.  Normally I would be nervous about keeping a heater off of the ground, but the heater we have has a tip-over and overheat protection for added safety (I keep it unplugged when not using it).

I was the first one in our family to get the virus (we tried to keep my partner on the other side of the house for the most part so he wouldn’t catch it).  While I was battling the germs, I found it incredibly helpful to be able to text with my partner; even if he couldn’t be in the same room as me, we could still text and share words of comfort.  Though, sometimes when I tried to use the voice to text feature, the message got a little lost.  Text message asking if my partner would go pick up a few things for me from Kroger. Siri translated my speech to text incorrectly and left my partner confused.

KindleWhen I started feeling a little better, but still didn’t feel I could get out of bed, I found the bright, direct light from my smart phone hurt my eyes (and head) too much to check facebook.  I found solace in reading books on my Kindle Paperwhite, “Kindle Paperwhite guides light toward the surface of the display with its built-in front light—unlike back-lit tablets that shine in your eyes—so you can read comfortably for hours without eyestrain.”  For more about supportive features of e-readers, check out my Book Scents and E-Reader Sense blog posts (Part 1 & Part 2).

What AT do you use to feel better when you’re sick?

 

Thankful for Assistive Technology

By MATP Staffer Laura Hall

As Thanksgiving approaches, I see friends and family creating daily gratitude posts on social media.  It’s a lovely idea, and although I am grateful for many things, I just don’t have the forethought to post every day.  However, writing this post close to the holiday has led me to think about my gratitude toward assistive technology.

I use so many pieces of assistive technology in my daily life, it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few.  I’d have to say I’m most grateful for my power wheelchair, my accessible van, and those handy reachers.

My powerchair, the Flash (read all about it in my previous blog post) is a new addition to my life, and the most critical.  Of course it helps get me around, but it also has functions that help my posture and positioning, allow me to get into bed independently, and enables me to reach things around the house and in places like the grocery store.

vanI am extremely grateful to have an accessible vehicle.  It allows me freedom in my work and personal life beyond that which I can have with public transportation.  Accessible vehicles can be quite expensive, as evidenced by the number of calls we receive for people looking funding avenues.  I am grateful for our Assistive Technology Loan Fund that provides loans specifically for the purchase of AT, and for the ATXChange, where used accessible vehicles are often posted.

Reachers – Simple, low cost, but indispensable.  I have one in even room in the house and even an extra backup in case I need to reach a reacher that I dropped.  They come in all different shapes and sizes.  My favorite type, the Ergomateergo, has a small pull lug to bring dropped items closer and a magnet on the end.  Quite handy for picking up those tiny things that fall, like paper clips.

Since Thanksgiving usually involves eating, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the AT that can help people enjoy the holiday feast.  Built-up forks, spoons, and knives can help people better grip their utensils.  Plate guards, scooper bowls, high sided plates, and double handled cups are just a few of the things that can help keep your food in your mouth and off your lap.  This past year, we have also heard of good experiences people have had from trying the Liftware, (electronic stabilizing utensils) during device demonstrations.

No matter how you’re spending your holiday, we wish you a happiness and give thanks to you, our followers of this blog.

 

Weighed Down for Better Sleep

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

a cartoon person awake in bed with bloodshot eyes, sheep jumping over them and a cat snuggled in on their lap.I have a long history of battling insomnia. Lately, I have been having even more problems sleeping following a series of life traumas and increased anxiety. My therapist suggested trying a weighted blanket. I had previously heard of weighted blankets as calming options for people on the Autism Spectrum. I never knew they have a variety of other uses.

According to an article in Psychology Today,

“Weighted blankets are one of our most powerful tools for helping people who are anxious, upset, [and feeling out of sorts],” says Karen Moore (link is external), OTR/L, an occupational therapist in Franconia, N.H. These special blankets are filled with weighted pellets, which are sewn into compartments to keep them evenly distributed. Weighted blankets are also sometimes marketed for general use as an aid to sleep and relaxation.

“These blankets work by providing input to the deep pressure touch receptors throughout the body,” Moore says. “Deep pressure touch helps the body relax. Like a firm hug, weighted blankets help us feel secure, grounded, and safe.” Moore says this is the reason many people like to sleep under a comforter even in summer.

What a revelation!  After posting on Facebook, to friends inside and outside the disability community, looking for local resources to try a weighted blanket, several  friends chimed in that they too thought these blankets would be helpful for them. Some even said they were using one without realizing it—heavy comforters were their preference all year. One friend, who runs an Autism Center, connected me with some online options for buying weighted blankets and making your own. Another connected me with Christie DePrekel at Peaceful Product . These chance connections via social media have changed my life!

Christie of Peaceful Product is local and offered me several weights of blankets to try as I was hesitant to commit to the investment without knowing if the blankets would help me—though I had a feeling they would. I stopped by later the same day to pick up the sample blankets.

I tried a 15 pound and a 10 pound blanket and found I far preferred the heavier variety—and that my sleep and anxiety were much improved. I slept soundly (for me) the night before I had to give a speech to a nationwide audience—which normally would not be how I’d sleep before such a big event. I have found I also like sitting on the couch with the calming weight on me.

Christie mentioned that some members of her family have sensory processing disabilities, which is why she started making the blankets herself—looking to make quality items to meet their needs. Talking to her more about sensory processing, I realized that I too am sensitive to sound, pressure, smell, sight, and touch. Since I was a child I remember self-soothing by rolling my hands back and forth over a favorite blanket. I also achieve great peace when watching repetitive things like sprinklers or machines at work. I have met others friends who have the same type of soothing response. I also have created my  own type of squeeze machine having my partner hug me hard and/or lay on top of me while I’m on the floor, comforted by the intense pressure (until it’s hard to breathe). I wonder if it is all related?

Christie has seen weighted blankets help people with Autism, Aspergers, ADHD, Anxiety, PTSD, Insomnia, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Restless Leg Syndrome.

After deciding I definitely wanted my own weighted blanket, I met Christie at a fabric store and picked out some microplush fabric to cover my blanket (you should have seen me at the store with my eyes closed plunging my hands into the bolts of fabric to test their softness and soothingness). I then specified the size and weight I wanted, and one week later, my blanket was ready.

Weighted Blanket
I choose a colorful pattern of birds for one side of my giant weighted blanket and a lush blue for the other side.

I now sleep with it every night. The pressure is comforting on a primal level. I have trouble with night sweats, so the lightweight microplush has been helpful (the sample blankets were a thick fleece). If the weight didn’t affect the heat of the blanket at all, I would have gotten even heavier of a blanket.

The formula commonly used to choose the weight of the blanket is 10% of the body weight plus 1 or 2 pounds for children.  In older teens and adults this formula can be quite heavy so trying different weights like I did might be your best option. I found that in my arms a 10 pound blanket felt very very heavy.  But, once that weight was spread out over me, I thought it was way too light.

Have you tried a weighted blanket or have you been doing your own version of weighted blanket sleeping without even realizing that is what you were creating on your own?

Do you think something like this might work for you or someone you know?