My Navigation Disability is a “Real Thing”

Busy city sidewalk

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

When I present about Assistive Technology (AT), I usually talk about some of AT that I personally use.  One of my most used (and loved) AT is Global Positioning System or GPS. I have a disability that impacts my ability to navigate.  When I walk, bike, drive, etc., on my own (without my GPS, without another person with me) I can’t work out where I am currently and/or how I need to get where I need to go.  I could be inside of a mall, during my commute to my workplace, inside of a parking garage, etc.; I just can’t work out where I am without outside assistance (even if I’ve been to the destination countless times).  It’s not because I’m “flighty” or “unorganized” or “not paying attention” (real things people have told me that I am when they hear me talk about my navigation disability); I just can’t find my way.  Aerial view of a busy highwayCurrently my disability is unnamed and what little information I find when I research doesn’t really match up to my experiences. I know I’m not the only person who has this disability; my mom and my best friend’s husband experience the same thing as I do when needing to navigate.

After a recent presentation, I talked with a friend who has the same disability.  I said to her that I didn’t know why our disability doesn’t have a name, but it’s frustrating that it doesn’t and I can’t find helpful information or research about it.  She said something along the lines of: if it had a name, it would be considered a “real thing”; it could be more easily described and would likely be taken more seriously. As it is now, when I share about my navigation disability, people have to take my word for it; I’ve found that the majority of people I talk to are still skeptics about it whether or not they think I actually have this disability.  I feel gaslighted and shamed by people because they just don’t believe me.

A Dead End sign against a cloudy sky

When I was learning to drive (early 2000’s), I didn’t have access to the GPS I use today.  I had to rely on asking my dad or sister or someone else who could navigate on their own, writing down the steps, and hoping I didn’t get lost.  Or I had to drive with someone who would tell me where to go.  I was very nervous to travel anywhere because I knew I would get lost (it was a bummer to finally earn my drivers license and then be anxious & scared to really use it fully or drive by myself!)  When I was in college, we used MapQuest to get & print written directions & maps. These were more helpful than just steps from family, but if there was a road closure or something unexpected and I had to re-route myself, I would get completely lost.  There were many times that I would pull out my emergency cell phone (no unlimited cellphone minutes back then) and call my friends who would tell me over the phone how to get where I needed to go. I remember during my out of state internship I was asked to attend an event.  I quickly found someone else who was going and asked to ride with her (I just knew I’d get lost if I tried to go by myself). Once we were in her car, I told her about my navigation disability.  She told me that the same thing happened to her when she traveled! GPS unitBut then, she pulled out a small electronic screen and said “we’ll just use GPS and it will tell us how to get there.”  Using GPS for the first time was like magic! The voice told us where to turn and the map showed us the steps in real time.  We got to the event in time and home just fine! I remember calling my mom that night to tell her about GPS and we both cried at the possibility of being able to drive by ourselves without getting lost! That December we both bought our first GPS units and have been using that AT everyday ever since!  Both of us still get lost regularly when navigating, but our GPS’ get us back on track. 

As technology has improved and cell phones have gotten better & better, I use the Apple Maps or the Google Maps app on my phone more than my GPS unit (though, I still keep it in my car-just in case!).  I am thankful that GPS isn’t just for driving anymore.  Recently I went to my local mall (remember I said I get lost in those?) by myself and used the Apple Maps app to navigate how to get to the store I wanted to go to and back to my car. I didn’t feel lost, I didn’t feel as stressed, I felt like a woman on a successfully completed mission! I was able to do it because I had the right Assistive Technology that I needed.

Peoples' hands high-five'ing

Do you or someone you know have a disability that impacts your navigation?  You’re in good company😉!  Did life change when you started using GPS or a map app on your smart device?  Share about it in the comments😊

AT for Frozen Treats in the Summer Heat!

Up close picture of a waffle cone holding ice cream.

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

The weather where I live in lower Michigan has been fairly hot lately (or at least, hotter than I would like!)  Frozen treats seem to help with cooling down, but sometimes aren’t the easiest to access. Typical ice cream scoops require a good amount of upper body strength, cold temperature tolerance in hands, hand strength & grip, and muscle endurance.  For someone who has a disability that impacts any of these areas, scooping hard, dense, frozen cream/sorbet/gelato/custard with a traditional scoop is not always possible. Thankfully, there are some great Assistive Technology supports available!  

Photo of a person using the Ice Cream Scoop & Stack in a carton of frozen ice cream. The device is then shown putting ice cream onto a cone.#1: The Ice Cream Scoop & Stack cuts slices of ice cream (instead of scoops): “Push the Ice Cream Scoop & Stack into firm ice cream.  The beveled front edge of the scoop makes it easy to cut through even the hardest ice cream. Twist just a bit and then lift. Press the button on the top of the Ice Cream Scoop & Stack to release the ice cream.”  No traditional scooping needed!

Oxo Good Grips I-Series Ice Cream Scoop#2: “Beaked” ice cream scoops like the Oxo Good Grips I-Series offer a more precise solution: the large, aluminum beak of this ice cream scoop breaks into hard ice cream and the ejector or trigger button on the scoop handle helps to get the ice cream out of the scoop.  I like that this scoop also has Oxo’s usual non slip coating; making it easier for my dry-skinned-hands to grip it while I’m scooping.

Zeroll ice cream scoops and spades, shown holding scoops of ice cream#3: Heated-conducting scoops & spades like ones from Zeroll have heat conductive fluid sealed within the handle.  The scoop or spade uses the heat from the user’s hand to warm the fluid in the handle which transfers to the scoop and glides thru the frozen ice cream with less resistance.  Something to note about this scoop is that it needs to be hand washed and can’t go in the dishwasher.

Graphic of an empty muffin panA low tech AT idea for scoops is to use a muffin tin.  Let ice cream soften for a while and then scoop soft ice cream scoops into muffin tins (lined with plastic wrap) & refreeze. When you want a scoop, it’s ready and waiting without having to fight with the chilled cream.

Oven mitt with grippy dots on the surfaceA piece of nonslip drawer liner or a silicone baking mat can be helpful when placed under an ice cream carton.  The liner or mat will do a better job of keeping the container stable while you scoop than a smooth counter surface. And, if the carton is too cold to touch with your non-scooping hand, consider sliding on a grippy oven mitt to better hold the container while you scoop.  You can put the other grippy mitt on as well to help better hold the scooper.

Home ice cream makers can also be great AT for frozen treats as they allow you to decide which ingredients to include to meet your specific dietary requirements.  I also like homemade ice cream because right after it’s done churning, its consistency is like soft serve and it can be “scooped” and enjoyed without the need for brute scoop force!  In a previous blog post, I shared about how I use my Kitchenaid stand mixer as one of my AT supports in the kitchen and it’s worth noting that Kitchenaid does have an ice cream maker attachment for their stand mixers.  A few years ago my sister gifted me the ice cream maker attachment and I’ve really enjoyed using it (plus, it takes up less space than a whole, separate ice cream machine).

Strawberry popsicleFor treats that you can enjoy straight out of the freezer like ice pops, Popsicles, Drumsticks, or my favorite: fudgesicles, there’s also AT that can help with holding, gripping, and cold temperature tolerance:

DripStiks holding a popsicle and an ice cream coneA DripStik can make a small treat handle larger/easier to hold while catching melty drips and can be used to hold larger treats like ice cream cones!  Bonus: you can easily set down your treat when it’s in a DripStik. 

Ice pop sleeves provide a layer of material between the frozen treat and your skin so it’s easier to hold & grip.  Bonus: they are reusable & insulated so they keep the treats colder!  If someone needs a thicker sleeve, duct tape can come to the rescue: position the sleeve on a frozen ice pop and gently wrap the tape around the sleeve until it’s at the desired thickness.  Be careful not to tape so tightly that the sleeve won’t come off of the pop.  

Ice pop sleeves, person holding a sleeve on an ice pop

If you’re  looking for AT supports for your whole bbq or picnic (and not just for dessert), check out our archived webinar: AT for Your Accessible Picnic.

I hope this information helps you stay cool (& frosty!) during this summer season! 😉  Do you use any AT supports for enjoying frozen treats or during a picnic? Comment below; I’d love to learn about them!

Two hands holding two chocolate popsickles together

Telehealth: More Access to What We Need

Graphic of a hand holding a wrench. Text says, "Info, strategy"

By Jen Mullins, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Earlier this year, I had an experience that I think many of us have had: I was home sick with a cold/virus/etc. and couldn’t get an appointment with my regular doctor (not that I really felt up to leaving my home to drive to the doctor & sit in the waiting room anyway).  Thankfully, there was an accessible solution I hadn’t even considered:  a co-worker informed me that telehealth is a part of our health insurance and I could have a video call with a doctor to get checked out & get medicine if they decided to prescribe it.  Shortly after speaking with my co-worker, I had downloaded the app and was “on hold” waiting to video chat with a licensed physician; all from my phone! Hold screen featuring the image of a doctor. Text: You are the next patient to see Rebecca Beach-Beyer, Family Physician.

When a telehealth doctor was available, they greeted me, asked a few questions, looked at the brief medical history I had typed into the app, and prescribed me an antibiotic (she said she thought I had strep throat, but of course couldn’t do the test for it over the phone).  The telehealth doctor said that I should inform my regular physician if I didn’t get better within the next few days and book an appointment with them then.  That’s it!  The video portion took about 8 minutes and there was a prescription ready at my local pharmacy in about an hour.  My credit card was charged the price of a traditional office visit co-pay.  It was so easy & accessible to me, I remember feeling like I had cheated or something (but of course I hadn’t!)  It got me thinking: why isn’t more healthcare more accessible?  Assistive Technology can facilitate more accessible access to healthcare.

Illuminated light bulb

I’m an avid NPR/Michigan Radio listener and recently listened to a piece that talked about Telemedicine for Autism-related therapy.  The therapy mentioned in the piece traditionally requires a therapist to come to the individual’s home to provide An adult woman reading a book to a small to person and the caregivers.  With Telemedicine, the therapist Skypes (does a video call) with the individual and their team/family to observe and provide those same ideas for support/assistance.  The family highlighted in the radio piece lives in a rural area and it’s not always convenient or covered by insurance to have therapists come to them; a video call is a great solution and reportedly works well for their family.

While doing some household chores recently, I turned on one of my favorite podcasts, The No Sleep podcast.  While I listened to the commercial introduction, I heard an advertisement for Talkspace: therapy via an internet connection.  My ears perked up and I smiled at hearing more about other applications of telehealth!  Talkspace’s website shares: “We created Talkspace so more people could benefit from therapy and overcome their day-to-day challenges in a stigma-free environment.  We are not trying to replace in-office therapy. Many people prefer that, which is fine. It can be difficult to wait days or weeks until your next appointment. With Talkspace, you can send your therapist a message whenever you’re near a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.  Talkspace has therapists that can help you with depression, anxiety, the challenges of being part of the LGBT Community or a Veteran, and more.”

Man texting on his phone.

The applications of telehealth I mentioned in this blog post are only a few of what’s available and more and more is being added/made accessible everyday.  Have you used telehealth before?  Would you consider using it?