Go Green!

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW

I’m behind this year… way behind. With a new baby (5 months is still new right?) and going back to work after leave, I have been short on time for anything at all and have neglected my garden. My colleague Laura had a great blog about getting out and working in the yard, which is also a bit of a disaster at our house. I prefer gardening, so I will focus on just the garden. I usually put seeds in early May. Its early June—-but there is still time and a lot of AT that can help.

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.

a 6 inch tall raised bed with 5-6 tomato plants in cages and some weedy looking chard and small kale seedlings surrounded by a chicken wire fence. Some hedge roses are in the background
One of my raised beds with volunteer kale and chard and tomato seedlings planted this year. I make my own compost and as you can see, there are lots of egg shells in it this year. I heard the calcium is good for tomatoes.

I 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 drainage

My raised beds are not very raised and are starting to decompose so I think this is the last year for them. I have chronic upper back pain and, since giving birth, have also struggled with low back pain so new, higher raised beds are in the plans for next year.

a half a dozen waist high raised beds overflowing with vegetables and flowers
The Ann Arbor CIL hosted a community garden for years. Their raised beds are gorgeous–you can sit on the edges to work them or lean over just a bit. They are my nirvana raised beds.
two women, one using a wheelchair, work on a strawbale bed with tomato cages sticking out of the top
My cheapest option for higher raised beds next year are strawbale beds.
A man using a wheelchair with a raised bed that he can pull his wheelchair under--a tabletop raised bed
Ann Arbor CIL also had some tabletop raised beds that you can pull a wheelchair up to and under. Glen Ashlock,a former staffer and AT guru is pictured here with the bed.

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 make wonderful, small raised beds that would be great for greens or potatoes or even small tomatoes. Straw bale gardens  are cheap, easy ways to create a raised bed and use the decomposing straw to feed your plants. There is a great Facebook group called the Container Gardening Alliance that provides lots of tips and tricks for container gardening.

over the door canvas shoe caddies are filled with dirt and plants are growing out of each shoe caddy opening
An ingenious example of an inexpensive, space-saving, accessible container garden.

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.

handheld tools with built up grips and ergonomic handles

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

There are so many ways to make gardening accessible. What tips and tricks do you use? What are you growing this year?

Be sure to check out our accessible gardening webinar that covers all aspects of accessible gardening: tools, pathways, beds, and container gardening. Go green thumbs!

The Need for Transformation in Special Education

A collection of works related to special education including IEF, Child, Appropriate

I became directly involved in special education advocacy in 1981 when I went to work for Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service. The national special education requirements (The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975) were still relatively new then.

But, over the years, the large-scale vision of educational support customized to each individual student has become rigid and bureaucratic, creating a very complex and administratively expensive set of interacting “standards of care”, to use the medical phrase. This complex of standards is a direct result of the legal struggle that led first to the law itself and then to a long series of school district and court battles that continue today, largely focused on narrower and narrower education issues and often focused on jurisdictional or procedural disagreements (though occasionally big-picture values, like the recent US Supreme Court Decision break through).

I happened to be working in a different role in the early 70’s before the original national special education law was passed, and I participated tangentially in the discussion that parent groups, educators, and legislators were having about what vision the proposed national framework for special education should have.  At that time there were two very different and, in some ways, opposing concepts of that vision:

  • One was what we would call a “wrap-around” model today, involving memoranda of understanding among all the local support systems, and collaborative models of planning, coordination, and implementation of an education plan for a specific student.
  • The other (the one we more or less have now) was to make the local or intermediate school district the final responsible party for all aspects of eligibility determination, testing, plan development, coordination, and implementation.

As I remember (it WAS over 40 years ago), the choice of the second alternative was based on analogy with the then recent civil rights legislative victories and the critical value of litigation in the development of effective civil rights enforcement and local change in law and practice.

Now, I would argue that the momentum of that original vision of special education is largely spent, and current change efforts will increasingly focus on less and less meaningful targets, applicable to fewer and fewer students, even if occasionally, the regressive decisions of individual districts allow for value based visionary court decisions.

I do believe there is a way to harken back somewhat to that original vision (I will go over that as part of my next post in July). But I also believe that we must begin to build a new vision of how special education might transform itself into something that would reflect the best of what we hoped for in that turbulent educational and disability rights ferment of the 70’s.

Next Post: Initial Exploration of the Potential for Transformation in Special Education

 

Adventures in Lawn Work

Spring is finally here!  It’s my first spring in my first home and I’ve been anxiously awaiting the time when I could finally get out in the sunshine and work in my very own yard!  I knew it was going to be quite the job.  Our home had not been lived in for two years prior to us moving in so it was quite overgrown, to say the least.  We moved in late November, so there also wasn’t much time for us to clean up from the fall season.

I was so anxious to make our lawn look nice, that I was left with a sense of disappointment when I couldn’t exactly jump right in.  As a wheelchair user, I’m not able to reach the ground, which seems fairly important for yard work.   The largest job we have to do is raking.  There are still those leaves from last fall and quite a bit of dead and unwanted vegetation.  When I began, I started using a common leaf rake with a grip made of foam rubber tubing.  This allowed me to hold the rake further down toward the tines with the rest of the rake over my shoulder, grabbing the leaves and driving my wheelchair backward toward the leaf pile.  Truthfully, the rake was

Device that attaches to the handle of lawn tools, allowing you to put your arm through a ring and to a grip that lower down on the handle
Robo Handle

extremely heavy to use one-handed and the whole process was exhausting and not that effective.   I realized I needed to slow down and enjoy the process. I’ve been thinking about my abilities and the assistive technology that would work best for me.  When I began researching on the web, I realized there are many options for adaptive lawn tools that I had never thought about and several websites dedicated to the subject.  For example, there are lightweight rakes, telescoping rakes, rakes with interchangeable heads and tools, rake-scooper combination tools, and the Robo Handle, which attaches to handles to allow the use of tools with one hand.  Even a YouTube video of a wheelchair user raking convinced me that perhaps I need to change my technique.

No Bend weederThere is still much work to do beyond raking, however.  Weeding is a never ending chore, which is why I was excited to find the No Bend Weeder.  It is has a long T-shaped handle, and small “claws” that go into the ground (so it does require some arm strength to penetrate the ground).  You then twist, pull up the weed, and press a button to shoot it into your lawn/leaf bag or barrel.

Raking and weeding left some obvious bare spots in the lawn.  One of my favorite lawn duties is spreading grass seed and watering it.  Seeding by hand led to piles of seeds in some spots and none in others.  By using a simcoiled hoseple flour/sugar container with a handle and small spout, I was able to spread the seed much easier and evenly.  Watering without experiencing kinks is a problem for everyone.  I’m looking to invest in a lightweight coil hose that might be easier to use.  I’m finding that there are also many options for hanging hoses at any height.

I’m so excited to finally have a lawn and to discover that there are so many AT options to help me participate in creating my own beautiful space.  We still have much work to do, but I am starting to see the beginnings of my outdoor sanctuary.

view of a mulched tree. wooden fence, small garden plot

Book Scents and E-Reader Sense (Part 1)

Woman holding a book to her face. Text in picture says: Happiness is the smell of a new book.

By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

I am a person who loves the smell of new books and bookstores.  I am not, however, one who loves reading from paper books.  They can be cumbersome, sometimes older books can be smelly in an unpleasant way, and physically distracting to hold and use.  And there isn’t really any Assistive Technology built into the features of paper books.  I purchased a Kindle Paperwhite last year I’ve been hooked on my e-reader ever since; it has made such a difference to me and how I absorb information via text.

I was speaking with my mom recently and commented that I wished e-readers would have been available when I was in K-12 school.  Reading didn’t come easy to me growing up; it took me significantly longer than my peers to understand how letters came together to form the words I heard and said.  I was distracOld book, open with pages face upted by font, size, placement, etc. of text, sometimes the musty book smells, and the cumbersome way some books had to be physically held in order to read their contents.   All of these factors seems to pile on top of my difficulty processing what I read and did not offer me an incentive to enjoy reading.  Though not diagnosed, I think that I had dyslexia as a child and still do as an adult.  “Dyslexia is a specific reading disability due to something in the brain’s processing of graphic symbols. It is a learning disability that alters the way the brain processes wriLetters on a page, some letters are arranged to spell "dyslexia", but it is not spelled correctly.tten material and is typically characterized by difficulties in word recognition, spelling, and decoding.  People with dyslexia have challenges with reading comprehension.” –Definition: part of an article by Medical News Today.

On my e-reader, I can add and set up the supports that I need to process text and really understand the meaning of what I am reading.  I can adjust the contrast of the screen and text, the spacing in between words, the margins, size of the text, and the fonts.  I can also choose to have the screen be horizontally oriented so that pages are wider (versus taller as most books are “portrait”).  The experience of reading horizontally-oriented text makes a difference to me because I seem to loose my place less if more words are on less lines.
E-reader with the screen in landscape mode E-reader with the screen in portrait mode

I love the built-in dictionary feature that allows me to press on a word I am not familiar with and view the definition of it!  Also, my e-reader weighs 5.7 ounces/161 grams (which amazon says is “lighter than a paperback”) and it is easier for me to hold than a paper book; taking away another distraction/barrier.

Before getting my Paperwhite, I was worried about reading on a screen because of the glare and light that might give Outline of a human head with 2 band aids on it.  Text reads: headache no moreme a headache while reading on it.  I selected the Paperwhite over all of the other e-readers out there because I can read for hours on it and not get a headache.  “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.”
Do you use an e-reader?  Which one?  What do you love about it and is there anything challenging about it?   Do you miss paper books?

The words: to be continued
Stay tuned for part 2 of this post where I’ll share information about various types of fonts; specifically one called OpenDyslexic!

Finding Grab Bars

4 different color grab bars with arm and hand grasping one

By Kathryn Wyeth, MATP Team Leader

In my last post, “Simple Things”, I wrote about finding a toilet paper holder that works as assistive technology. I also mentioned that we put in plywood behind all the walls so we can securely place grab bars now and in the future.

The search for grab bars wasn’t as easy as I optimistically thought it would be.  I was hoping that with the numbers of baby boomers aging and the increase in the numbers of people who stay in their homes, it would be easier to find attractive, color coordinating, affordable, non-medical grab bar options. Maybe the market is better now than in the past, but I think there is room for improvement!

Where to place grab bars is an individual decision. If you are not sure, there are professionals, such as Aging in Place Specialists and Occupational Therapists who can help you. Various places have developed guidelines on placement of grab bars in bathrooms. I found this: “Evaluation of Optimal Bath Grab Bar Placement for Seniors” which may give you some ideas. I also found this pdf document on reinforcing walls for grab bars.

For our shower and by the toilet we found curved grab bars we think will work for us. We like the texture – a vinyl which they claim is “warm to the touch” and it came in colors. We chose biscuit to match the roll-shower base. In the shower, we installed it so it can be a support either standing up or perhaps someday, from a chair or bench. We found a matching straight 30” bar to put on the wall of the shower opposite the shower head. We also added this attractive grab bar solution from Moen. It looks like a nice curved shelf and can function that way to. Plus is was fairly affordable and available off the shelf.

curved grab bar   grab bar with a shelf

My dad used well-sanded pine railings and railing hardware to add a bar to the wall of his bathroom by the toilet. He prefers the look of the wood and it was a very affordable solution for them. There are many other options for grab bars available so you should be able to find solutions which work for you.

I hope the options will continue to grow, diversify, become more colorful and fun and come down more in price! Time will tell if we chose correctly and we are happy we’ve reinforced the walls so we can make changes as we change!

Some Additional Resources

Let Me Take You for a Ride!

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

I went back to work after an extended maternity leave in early April, and soon after, my back problems flared up. After trying PT with no success, I set an appointment with my chiropractor who quickly deduced that my new behavior was long drives–not having a child. I was fine picking up my son and carrying him throughout my leave. It was not until I combined it with the driving associated with my job that the pain kicked in.

A close up of Thelma and Louise along with a shot of them in their convertible driving off into the sunset
Every time I get thinking about driving I think about the movie “Thelma & Louise” and my best friend Cristine–the Louise to my Thelma or vice versa. What a pair! I’m not up for that ending though.

With my chiropractors help, I figured out that the way I was sitting in my car was a problem–hips askew, slouchy, one leg at a bad angle with no support… not a great way to sit for the almost 2-hour commute, especially when you add the tension I hold in my body when dealing with the stress of driving–all those other drivers out there that weave, tailgate, aren’t paying attention.

So, back to some mindful driving for me with awareness of how I’m holding my body, regular stretching at home, and doing some stretching that is safe while driving. I also am implementing some stress relief while driving which for me includes use of my smartphone for funny podcasts, good music, and anti-stress music. In case you haven’t already heard, there are actual songs proven to reduce anxiety so I listen to Marconi Union’s Weightless when I need to.  I’ve even used it to calm my colicky baby with some success. At the very least, it calms me so I can help him when he’s screaming. Another option would be the Lotus Bud (ios) app which sounds a chime randomly throughout the day to remind you to check in for a mindful moment–how is your body feeling? What are you thinking about? Where are you? Another mindful app that is useful that can also do check-ins is Mindfulness Daily (ios). Sometimes I find these mindful apps helpful and other times they annoy me. Its worth giving them a try to see if they are useful to you.

Since I’m talking AT for driving, I’d like to share some other resources and AT for driving:

  • Michele Seybert did a great, extensive webinar for us on vehicle modifications.
  • A woman getting out of her minivan pressing up with the handybar stuck into the doorjamb to aid in pushing to standingThe Handybar is a device which is a sturdy handle with a downward pointing beak that extends about 4 inches. It fits snuggly into the U shaped metal piece in the car
    door frame that the lock engages with. When the door is opened, the device wedges into this closed U shape metal piece, providing a stable, strong handle from which to push yourself to a standing position.
  • a black pancake-shaped cushion sits on a car bucket seatI frequently demonstrate the swivel seat which is a round, gel-filled cushion on a lazy susan bearing that helps people swing their feet in and out of the car (sometimes a plastic grocery bag can do the trick for this too).
  • At a recent presentation, a woman said she keeps long kitchen tongs in her car so she can reach things on the other side of the car or things she has dropped.
  • I use a Bucky every day to help support my lower back which helps my chronic upper back pain. It is a buckwheat filled lumbar pillow.
  • One of our demonstrations sites, Disability Network West Michigan, in Muskegon, recently worked with a person that needed an extended seat belt so she could fit her seatbelt around her body safely. The AT person at Disability Network, was told that extended seatbelts are illegal. They did some checking with the local police and this is not the case. She also learned that you don’t have to purchase the extenders made by the car manufacturer. There are other options online that are much more affordable.
  • My car, a Toyota RAV4 has Bluetooth capacity to let me use my phone hands-free. This will help my upper back pain as well as provide better safety while driving. It also is easier to get into and out of than my old car, a Honda Civic.
  • a close up of a woman's hand holding a handle. The end of the handle has a nut and bolt that runs through a set of keys.Several years ago, my friend Carolyn shared with me that some vehicle manufacturers were selling people expensive key turning aids. People with hand strength disabilities, especially arthritis, have a hard time with the pinching and turning motion required to turn on some cars (some now turn on with a button). There are far more affordable alternatives to the vehicle manufacturer devices called key turners. They give a bigger handle to grip and provide leverage.

What devices help you to drive or ride in a car? What works well for you? What has not worked?

Try it Before You Buy It–Short Term Loans

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Program Staff

Michigan’s Assistive Technology Program has a short term loan program. This program allows you to borrow equipment, free of charge, from our inventory, after you participate in a demonstration of the device(s).

Device loans are useful if you are considering a purchase and want to “test drive” a particular product, especially devices that are more complicated or devices that you will use in multiple settings. This way, you can see if the device works for you in the places you would use it.

Our short term device loan program is not intended as a loan closet, not a loaner while your equipment is out for repair, nor to meet the need for a device for a temporary disability. However, there is a network of multiple loan closets throughout the State of Michigan who do provide this type of loan.

Currently short term loans are available in the Upper Peninsula, the Lansing Area, and Oakland and Macomb Counties. Reports from people who have used short term loans are 100% positive. Everyone surveyed who has participated in a short term device loan has been highly satisfied or satisfied. Vision devices have been most popular but devices for hearing, computer access, and cognition have also been well-received. These included magnifiers, big button telephones, reminder clocks, Livescribe pens, adapted keyboards and mice, and TV amplifiers.

People have also tried out devices they might use in transitioning out of the nursing home, back to the community.

If you would like to borrow a device for a short period of time to see if it might work for you in your day-to-day life, contact:

Kellie Blackwell, Disability Network Capital Area (Lansing) 877-652-0403

Carolyn Boyle, Superior Alliance for Independent Living (Marquette) 800-379-7245

Traci Comer or Jenell Williams, Disability Network Oakland Macomb (Southfield) 248-359-8960

Sharon Lotoczky, Macomb Library for the Blind/Low Vision (Clinton Twp) 855-203-5274