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

No Please, Don’t Drop that Mic!

By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Standing, human shape dropping a microphoneRecently I attended a professional conference in a facility which was equipped with newer technology.  On my registration form, in the accommodations space, I requested in advance that presenters use microphones so that I could hear what they shared.  At the conference, no microphones were used.  Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon experience which I or others have had.  Microphones have not typically been used at many of the conferences/events I’ve attended.  Years ago, a colleague explained that even when a presenter thinks they are “being loud”, the sound of their voice is coming out of only one source and is not at a constant, even volume.  When a typical microphone & sound system is used, the volume of the speaker’s voice is constant/level, and the sound is evenly spread out around the room; making sound more accessible to more people.

Microphone in an auditorium of peopleEven if someone has not specifically requested that the presenter use a microphone, I usually use one when I am in the presenter role.  Hearing loss is much more prevalent than many realize.  The Better Hearing Institute provides these statistics regarding hearing loss:

  • 3 in 10 people over age 60 have hearing loss;
  • 1 in 6 baby boomers (ages 41-59), or 14.6%, have a hearing problem;
  • 1 in 14 Generation Xers (ages 29-40), or 7.4%, already have hearing loss;
  • At least 1.4 million children (18 or younger) have hearing problems;
  • It is estimated that 3 in 1,000 infants are born with serious to profound hearing loss.

In an article by by Gilda Bonanno, 5 Reasons Why Presenters Won’t Use a Microphone, Bonanno states, “Used well, a microphone can demonstrate that you’re a smart and respectful presenter who cares enough about your audience to use every tool at your disposal to ensure they can hear and understand your presentation.”  To me, it just make sense to use a mic!  When in a presenter role, I want to know that more people can hear me, rather than question if the information I’ve spent hours putting together is really being received as I intended it to.
Presenter using a handheld mic in front of a group of people during a presentation

Google Home: Useful Services

4 colorful circles with speech bubble "Hi, how can I help"

Virtual Assistants and home devices are evolving rapidly. Alexa had a sizeable jump on the market and is doing very well with a huge number of “Alexa Skills”. But Google Home also has capabilities that can be of use to people with disabilities and you don’t have to enable them as you do with Alexa. All you have to do is say, “Hey Google, Talk to (Name of Service) or Control (Name of Service)”. The correct command for use is directly below the name of the service

Everything is voice activated, so potentially any service could be useful to our community. The ones I describe below are a sample.

There are a lot of services and you can review them by opening the Home App on your smartphone, tapping the menu in the upper left-hand corner of the app’s home page, and tapping More settings. Services is down the list.

  • CareGeneral: task management and support service specifically designed for home-based care delivery
  • Autovoice: You can run customized voice commands using Tasker with this android app
  • Control Nightingale: Nightingale is the first smart home sleep system designed to ensure better and more restful sleep.
  • Dominos Pizza Order: You can order and track your pizza’s life journey when you have that special hunger
  • Harmony by Logitech: Use Harmony to control your TV with voice, channel changing, volume, play and pause, etc.
  • World Air Quality Index:  How bad is the air around me?

Many services such as information about public transportation is specific to a location, but you might want to try the service, Next Transit to see if there is something around your location.

Obviously, more services will be developed, For more information about the Services available through Google Home, see the Google Home Help page for 3rd party services and apps.There is also a continuously update list of services

A Piece of Candy or a Fish Cake? Up for Interpretation!

A grouping of various, different EmojisBy Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Let’s set the record straight, is it “Emoji” or “Emojis”? Merriam-Webster tweeted that it’s both and defines Emoji or Emojis as, “small images, symbols, or icons used in text fields in electronic communication (as in text messages, e-mail, and social media) to express the emotional attitude of the writer, convey information succinctly, communicate a message playfully without using words, etc.” I really enjoy using Emoji and Emojis! I use them daily in text messages, facebook posts & comments, and sometimes in emails. I feel I’m able to express a little more of my own meaning when I text a sarcastic message to a friend and include a winky face with it.A classic winky emoji; winking and smiling.

I know how I interpret Emojis, but (as with many things) how others interpret them can be very different. National Public Radio’s (NPR) article, Lost In Translation: Study Finds Interpretation Of Emojis Can Vary Widely, states, “Emojis were supposed to be the great equalizer: a language all its own capable of transcending borders and cultural differences. Not so fast, say a group of researchers who found that different people had vastly different interpretations of some popular emojis. For example, the researchers found that when people receive the ‘face with tears of joy’ Emoji face smiling while crying tears of joy emoji some interpret it positively, while others will interpret it negatively.”

Emojis can be a visual representation of something, and by use of screen readers/VoiceOver, they can also be something we digest audibly. Screen readers/VoiceOver may interpret an Emojis differently than we do. For example, the Emoji of an index finger touching thumb to make an open circleemoji represents something that means “excellent” to me, but when I use voice over, my iPhone calls it the “okay hand”. Though ‘excellent’ and ‘okay’ are two, typically positive responses, they can always be interpreted differently based on the sender, receiver, situation, etc.  Side note: many of us type a word and then insert an Emoji that represents that word right after it.  When a screen reader/VoiceOver reads this, it’s read as double.  For example “french friesEmoji for french fries” is read as “french fries french fries”.

When in doubt about what a particular Emoji means, I’ve found that the Emojipedia site can be helpful. Once on the site, users can type in what we’re wondering about. For example, I’ve been using what I thought was an Emoji that represented a piece of candy for a while now. It has a pink swirl on it so I searched for “pink swirl”. The result that was returned informed me that the Emoji I had in mindEmoji fish cake actually represents a “Fish Cake with Swirl: A fishcake (or fish cake) that is used in some Asian meals, known as Narutomaki in Japanese. Each slice includes a spiral design for visual flair.”  A fish cake is definitely different than a piece of candy and its Emoji symbol is still very much up for interpretation!

Simple Things

by Kathryn Wyeth

Post-it note

Sometimes it is the small things that really can make a difference. There were so many decisions to make in designing our addition and the bathroom was one of the hardest rooms to figure out. Part of the problem was designing for future, unknown needs as we want this house to be where we live as we age.  Yes, I never want to have to leave!

We realized we can’t possibly anticipate every need so did the best we could.  For example, we have 5 feet plus of turning radius and put in plywood behind the drywall so we can put grab bars anywhere we might need them in the future. We installed a comfort height toilet and a roll-in shower with a handheld option for the shower head. We have grab bars that work to meet my husband’s current needs.

toilet paper holder with cardboard inner tube on it However, one option I found was only about $20 (on sale!) and makes just a nice difference every day. It’s the toilet paper holder. Most holders we’ve had in the past were the spring-loaded type. With limited fine motor control in his hands, my husband found these nearly impossible to take on and off. So I’d go in to find an empty roll. Not good.cat standing up tearing toliet paper on with other cat standing on a pile of paper on the floor

We also tried the type of holder which is simply open on one end. That worked, but the roll would get easily knocked off onto the floor and become a cat toy.

After looking and many different options, I found the perfect holder. The bar that goes through the roll pivots up so you can just drop the roll on it, push it back down and ta da, it’s done. No more empty cardboard tubes!

We purchased this one from Kohler, on sale, despite some bad reviews. We’ve been very happy with it.toilet paper holder with motion indicating bar pivots up

Since then also found one from Moen which functions the same way.

person pivoting up the bar on a toilet paper holder

Genius. Sometimes it the simplest things that make me happy!

Top 5 AT Items for Dressing

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

While I have chronic back pain and other hidden disabilities, I didn’t have a need for AT for dressing until I was very pregnant. Now, I have a new appreciation for it! I’m interested to hear what others use for dressing, but in the meantime, I’ve compiled this list from my personal experience and my work advocating for supports for community living.

  • Elastic Shoelaces or slip on shoes plus long handled shoehorn: Elastic shoelaces have been a revelation to some people I’ve met—they turn tied shoes into slip on shoes. Easily and cheaply obtained, they are a great piece of AT. Pair them with a long handled shoehorn, and getting shoes on in the morning just gets easier.
  • Dressing Stick: Dressing sticks tend to be 18-24 inches long with one side with a “c” hook on it for pulling zippers and shoelaces and the other end has a puller/pusher hook on it for putting on shirts and pants/skirts or pushing down skirts/pants and socks. It is especially helpful when you have use of one arm or have limited arm movement or trouble reaching or bending.
  • Sock Aid: Another item beneficial when reaching or bending is a barrier—I used my sock aid often in my third trimester. The one I used has a terry cloth side to help grip the sock and hold it in place until you get it on your foot. I’ve seen videos featuring the Sock Slider on Facebook and it, too looks promising—like the sock aid I used but no need to pull on handles, it sits on the floor with the sock opened by a plastic tube for you to slip your foot through and into your sock.
  • Doff N Donner: A lot of people have shared with me the need for something to help them get compression stockings on. The Doff N Donner is a newer product designed to help with this taxing task. Shaped like a very large, ribbed, rubber cuff for a sweatshirt, this product can be used with an accessory called a cone (the cone really just looks like a mini Washington Monument to me with a suction cup base) to load the stocking on the cuff. You can also use a baseball bat or your arm to load the stocking on the cuff. According to the manufacturers website, people can use the Doff N’ Donner themselves or with the help of an assistant. It can be used with a sock aid to reach your foot with practice as well.

It’s hard to describe the action needed to make the Doff N’ Donner work but there are great videos on the manufacturer website and a couple on YouTube. There is even one showing how the Doff N’ Donner can be used to put stockings over bandages.

We have these devices available to try through our AT demonstration kits throughout the state so you can see and try them and decide if they work for you. Our website lists locations for these kits.

  • Adaptable Clothing: So… in looking for resources for adaptive clothing, all of the websites I came across were pretty ableist and most were geared toward older adults with all the models on the website being older white men and women. Many used outdated language like “handicapped” and some just looked like medical gowns and hospital gear. If you have some more inclusive adaptive clothing resources to share, please do! Adaptive clothing includes items like shirts with back snaps so that you don’t have to raise your arms to put them on or put them over your head and ponchos that cover wheelchairs for warmth instead of the hassle of a coat. It also includes easy on and off items, and even shoes that are adaptable for swelling. In my own life, I’ve found that more universally designed clothes helped a lot. I had swelling and back pain—and a growing stomach—during pregnancy so found the tall and curvy leggings from Lularoe and yoga pants with a fold down waist from Target were easy to get on and worked really well. I could not get maternity pants to stay up. Tunic tops were also a necessity with changes in my body size. I found a pair mesh clogs that kept my swelling feet cooler and were not tight to begin with. I also wore a lot of dresses that were breathable cotton and had ruching on the sides that allowed for expansion.

What devices or clothing hacks have you devised to help with dressing?

Assistive Technology: Not a Replacement for Social Responsibility

SignAloud Gloves - black gloves with micro processors on the wrists

One of the most exciting parts of working for the Michigan Assistive Technology Program is that it puts me in social media circles where I am more likely to see the latest prototypes of equipment and devices.  It seems like I see some sort of device, app, or equipment that amazes
m
e every day,  Just this week, I came across, gloves that turn sign language into speech, an electric mountain biking handcycle,  and a wheelchair accessible motorcycle.  The potential of assistive technology is limitless, and the ingenuity of people who develop new technologies keeps me in a constant state of awe.

Yet, I keep thinking back to a conversation I had several days ago,  I was talking with a woman who asked about my career,  When I told her I worked with assistive technology and explained what that was, she immediately became very excited, and recalled a video she saw online of a stair-climbing wheelchair.  “Isn’t it great?”  she exclaimed, “Pretty soon we won’t even need to build ramps!”

A power wheelchair ascending stairsNo.  Not great, for several reasons.  First, and most obviously, Many of these innovations that we are seeing are prototypes,  They may or may not ever become available on the mainstream market.  If they do become available on the market, it is most likely that only the most affluent, who are able to pay out of pocket, will be able to obtain them.  Most assistive technology tends to be low cost/lower tech and paid for by insurance,  People with disabilities and advocates are fighting for coverage of even the most basic equipment (durable medical equipment is an excellent example), let alone the latest cutting edge designs.

Secondly, the argument that stair climbing wheelchairs would negate the need for ramps in based the medical model of disability.  It’s saying to people with disabilities that their disabilities are the “problem”, and puts the responsibility on them to negotiate a world that is not accessible to them.  It puts the social responsibility of access as a civil right on technology and not on society, where it should be.  As a person with a disability, I am given the message that I am the problem, and that being afforded accommodations is “special” or “extra” in a thousand different ways every day.  In reality, my disability is a gift, not a problem.  The problem lies with society and the idea that we need to be fixed or in some way made better by technology instead of being granted the same access (physical and otherwise) as everyone else.

Finally, sometimes, the latest and greatest technology cannot and should not take the place of other methods or technology.  For example, many people now argue that there is no longer a need for people who are blind to learn Braille because screen readers and other auditory technologies are available.  However, by relying solely on auditory technology, a person may be missing out on important literacy skills.  There are also places where Braille may be the only way to obtain necessary information, such as locations and orientation within buildings.  It is also important to consider that communication via Braille and American Sign Language are very important aspects of disability (Blind, Deaf) community and culture.

Innovations in assistive technology are a wonderful, exciting thing.  I am certainly not arguing that progress and development should stop.  However, technology should not take the place of the social responsibility we have to provide access and accommodations to all – it is a civil right.  We also must be mindful that these cutting edge technologies may not be available or appropriate for everyone, and that existing technology and methods often play an important role in the disability community, pride, and culture.