Michigan Disability Rights Coalition is a disability justice movement working to transform communities.
Assistive Technology Connections News
Welcome to Assistive Technology News!
Are you interested in more Assistive technology and web accessiblity news? We also have an email newsletter that is published roughly quarterly throughout the year. To sign up for the newsletter, please send a message to us using our Contact Us page and include "AT News" in your message asking to subscribe. In addtion, the program has an active twitter feed MIAssistTech: Follow the program on Twitter!
Ramps: Beyond the Slope
Ramps – in theory they are easy to conceptualize. We generally think of them as simple structures designed to provide access at a certain height and slope. In reality, however, building a ramp requires careful and thoughtful consideration of federal standards, the needs and comfort of the user, and ongoing maintenance. The Michigan Assistive Technology Program (MATP) has received many inquires related to the construction and funding of ramps. In response, this article provides an overview of the standards for construction, highlights the various types of ramps with benefits and drawbacks to each, and provides some resources on ramp programs around the state and potential avenues for funding.
The Americans with Disabilities Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) dictate how ramps are designed for all public places. These guidelines provide basic guidance for constructing a ramp that is usable, safe and sturdy.
According to the ADAAG a ramp must have:
- A minimum width of 36 inches.
- Edge protection to keep anyone from slipping off.
- Landings at top and bottom that are as wide as the ramp and at least 60 inches long.
- Handrails on both sides of all ramps that rise steeper than 6 inches or have a horizontal projection of more than 72 inches.
- Cross slopes of less than 1:50 and surfaces slip-resistant and stable
A Note on Slope
The minimum standard for the slope of a ramp is 1:12, meaning that for every inch of rise (height) a ramp should extend horizontally 12 inches. For example, if a doorway is 29 inches from the ground, the ramp would need to extend 348 inches (12 x 29) or 29 feet. However, a ramp with the 1:12 ratio may still be difficult and dangerous for people using manual chairs, and under certain conditions could even cause power wheelchairs to tip backward. For this reason, the ADA Guidelines recommend slopes of 1:16 to 1:20 to provide a gentler ascent/descent and ensure safety. Keep in mind that if the ramp is for your personal residence, you should design for your own comfort level or for the person or people who will be using the ramp.
Types of Ramps
Ramps can be built from a variety of materials and all have benefits and drawbacks. Before building, you may want to consider how the ramp will be used. Will the structure be temporary or permanent? Will the user be in a wheelchair, use a cane, or a walker? Will the ramp be exposed to the elements? With these questions in mind, let’s review some common types of ramps:
- Concrete – A great choice for permanent ramps, holds up to the elements, less maintenance, ideal for all types of mobility devices, can brush anti-slip properties into the concrete before it dries, but expensive and not portable.
- Wood –inexpensive and easily obtainable, allows for customization and design. Requires protection with a sealer or varnish to prevent warping and rotting. Wood must be placed close enough together to prevent uncomfortable bumps and tripping hazards but far enough apart to allow for water drainage. Handrails must be finished to prevent splinters. Wood ramps can be extremely slippery when wet and require non-slip properties to be added after construction.
- Galvanized Steel – Strong, but heavy and prone to rust and corrosion, using an open surface pattern allows for water to escape and avoids collection of dirt and debris.
- Aluminum – Relatively lightweight, portable, resistant to rust, and can be bought commercially, ready made in pieces or as a folding unit. Weight capacity is limited and may not be appropriate for power chairs.
Ramp Programs and Funding Resources
Unfortunately, there are no national or statewide programs devoted to the construction or funding of ramps. Several communities, however, do have ramp programs for people with disabilities and older adults with limited incomes and resources.
- The Capital Area Center for Independent Living in Lansing at times partners with The Lansing Habitat for Humanity to construct ramps at no cost. This program is limited dependent on funds available at the time. For more information contact Ellen Weaver at (517) 999-7510.
- Home Repair Services in Grand Rapids offers ramps to residents of Kent County with limited incomes. Both homeowners and renters (in houses or apartments with 4 units or less) are eligible to apply. An application is required, as well as proof of income for all household members, proof of identification (driver’s license or state ID) federal tax returns, and the deed to the home (if a homeowner). Home Repair Services determines eligibility, and a small co-payment may apply. For more information contact Home Repair Services at (616) 241-2601
- At United Cerebral Palsy of Metro Detroit the “Quick Ramps for Kids” program provides portable aluminum ramps to families with children under the age of 18, with Cerebral Palsy or other conditions causing paralysis. The process requires a signed application, doctor’s prescription or medical documentation, and a photo release (included in the application). For more information call (248) 557 -5070 or download and fax an application.
Funding often depends upon your location and circumstances (i.e. Veterans, people who are working, older adults, etc). Check out MATP’s funding strategy for more ideas of resources and links for funding ramps and other home improvements.
Finally, the Michigan Assistive Technology Loan Fund provides low-interest loans to individuals toward the purchase of assistive technology. Many people don’t realize that these loans can also be used for home modifications, such as ramps. For more information, visit the Michigan Loan Funds site through United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan or contact Michelle Seybert at 1-800-828-2714.
Success Story: Freedom at Home
For many people, assistive technology means time saved, a job done better, more efficiently, communication with the click of a button, and information in the blink of an eye. And, for Sharon and Colleen, assistive technology helped pave the way back to independence.
Sharon and Colleen both have physical and visual disabilities and were living in nursing facilities until becoming involved with the Nursing Facility Transition Program. As part of their transition back to their own apartments, they received demonstrations of equipment and devices that would help them with daily living tasks from staff at the Capital Area Center for Independent Living (CACIL) in Lansing. These demonstrations are made possible through Michigan’s Assistive Technology Program at the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition.
Coleen expressed that it was the “simple things” that she missed doing independently; reading the newspaper, her mail, and prescription bottles. She also was taking many medications and finding it hard to manage them all. With these needs in mind, staff demonstrated the MedCenter Monthly Reminder System, a 31-day pill alarm system that allows you to set up to four daily medication reminders. This system had a large print display that more easily allowed Colleen to see the time, date, and pills for the day as well as have it announced audibly. In addition, she tried several magnifiers and found the Optelec Power Mag to be the best fit for her needs because it added light. Both of the devices were funded through the Nursing Facility Transition Program. In addition, since Colleen had just bought a new iPhone, CACIL staff helped her identify several useful applications. Up until that point, she had no idea that her phone had these capabilities. Today, Colleen is back in her apartment, living independently with the help of assistive technology. She remained so pleased with her medication reminder system that she demonstrated it for the nursing facility staff.
In a similar situation, Sharon sought assistance from CACIL staff for help with medication management, magnification for reading, cooking, and help to organize her daily schedule. She was shown a large print address book, different types of magnifiers, assistive cooking utensils, as well as other household management tools. Again, these items were funded through the Nursing Facility Transition Program. Sharon too is now back in her apartment, reading with ease, and thrilled by her new-found independence.
These success stories demonstrate that it’s not always the latest, shiniest, or fastest technologies that make a difference in life. With the help of knowledgeable staff and few relatively low-tech, inexpensive devices, Sharon and Colleen have regained the freedom to do some of the things that we so often take for granted.
Assistive Technology Program Helps History Professor
You likely know the feeling – your heart starts beating fast, your stomach clenches, you begin to sweat, and suddenly it becomes hard to concentrate and focus. We’ve all likely had an experience like this, and for many of us, it occurs at the least opportune time – often while taking a test. For Suzan Travis-Robyns, the stakes were high. As a history professor, she needed a math score of 500 or better to be accepted into a Ph.D. program.; Yet, in addition to retaining all of the material, and dealing with typical test anxiety, Suzan faced another challenge. As a result of a genetic, degenerative eye condition, Suzan had difficulty completing math problems on paper. She had a hard time seeing the numbers, and the longer the problem got the more the numbers tended to jump around on the page making it difficult for her compute the correct answer.
She was referred to the Superior Alliance for Independent Living (SAIL), the Center for Independent Living in her area, by United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan. After talking with them about her needs, staff demonstrated a standard talking calculator that is in the inventory of items from MDRC’s Assistive Technology Program. Suzan realized that the auditory feedback provided by the calculator could help her ensure she was inputting numbers in the correct places to solve the problems.
After identifying the type of technology that best suited her, SAIL staff then worked to find the exact calculator that would meet her needs in taking the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). They researched online and browsed through catalogs and were able to find a talking scientific calculator with a high contrast display and large buttons capable of handling the complex math problems that she would encounter on her test. Perhaps best of all, SAIL was able to connect Suzan with funding from the United Way, allowing her to obtain the calculator at no cost to her. When she takes the GRE, she will be able to use a paper copy of the test rather than having to take it on a computer.She will also be allowed to use her large button, talking scientific calculator to help her keep her answers straight.
Suzan’s story is a great example of the way that assistive technology can open up doors and allow people with disabilities to pursue their future goals. It also shows the powerful impact that collaboration among organizations can have, as her journey began with a referral from United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan, which led to working with AT staff at SAIL, then to trying out a device provided by MDRC and finally obtaining the needed device funded through the United Way.
Good Luck, Suzan. We are glad we were able to have a part in helping you find the assistive technology you needed, and look forward to the day we can call you Dr. Suzan Travis-Robyns, Ph.D.!
Assistive Technology (AT) and Falls
In 2009, the CDC reported that 2.2 million nonfatal fall injuries were treated in emergency rooms, and 26 percent of those falls required hospitalization. Falls are the biggest reason why seniors wind up in nursing homes, with with one in three adults 65 and older falling every year, according to the CDC. About one-quarter of seniors who suffer hip fractures die in the year following a fall, according to Cayuga Medical Center.
It is obvious that we need to prevent falls if we can and detect falls as quickly as possible to reduce the impact of fall-related injury. Can AT help in this critical health issue?
Preventing Falls and AT
First Some Tips from the Mayo Clinic
- Check with your doctor for medical and medication factors that increase your likelihood of falling and increase the damage you could experience if you do fall.
- Keep Moving! Check Tai Chi as a way to maintain and improve balance at Wear Sensible shoes
- Remove hazards (loose rugs, barriers to movement, etc.)
- Add lots of light to where you live
- Use AT!
Some basic examples of AT for fall prevention include:
- Cane, walker, or scooter/wheelchair - Mobility Aid Categories
- Hand rails for both sides of stairways - DIY
- Nonslip treads for bare wood steps -DIY
- A raised toilet seat or one with armrests
- Grab bars for the shower or tub or DIY Grab Bars
- A sturdy plastic seat for the shower or tub plus a hand held shower nozzle for bathing while sitting down.
Some other ways to use AT to prevent falls:
- Using motion to turn on lights
- Using a clear shower curtain to support body orientation
- Color contrast on steps
- Use hip protectors if you have osteoporosis (see resources)
Fall Detection and AT
Home-level Fall Prevention
- Using motion to turn on lights
- Using a clear shower curtain to support body orientation
- Color contrast on steps
- Use hip protectors if you have osteoporosis (see resources)
Fall Detection and AT
Home-level Fall Prevention
There is a burgeoning industry in systems that detect falls anywhere in the home, and Rating Labs has reviews of the major systems. All these systems cost money-installation and subscription fees-and they typically send notification to a staffed monitoring services.
Because smartphones and tablets have become part of our daily lives more and more, there is a growing list of phone and tablet apps that detect falls. Some were begun to market to people whose exercise activities put them at risk for falls, such as mountain bikers. Others were developed specifically for older people and others who might have higher risk for falls, such as people with ataxia. Personal apps can detect falls wherever you are, since you carry the app in your phone or tablet.
The device needs an accelerometer and a GPS chip to make it practically useful in detecting falls and warning someone that you have fallen. Obviously, you need to be in a place where there is mobile service. Typically the app works by detecting your fall, giving you time to turn off the warning, and sending an email or text message to someone (or in some cases several people) with a note that you have fallen and that you are located at specific GPS coordinates. All of the current ones available need to be considered “beta” apps. That is, they are still in development.
AT Helps History Professor
You likely know the feeling – your heart starts beating fast, your stomach clenches, you begin to sweat, and suddenly it becomes hard to concentrate and focus. We’ve all likely had an experience like this, and for many of us, it occurs at the least opportune time – often while taking a test.
For Suzan Travis-Robyns, the stakes were high. As a history professor, she needed a math score of 500 or better to be accepted into a Ph.D. program. Yet, in addition to retaining all of the material, and dealing with typical test anxiety, Suzan faced another challenge.As a result of a genetic, degenerative eye condition, Suzan had difficulty completing math problems on paper. She had a hard time seeing the numbers, and the longer the problem got the more the numbers tended to jump around on the page making it difficult for her compute the correct answer. Read more about how the AT Program helped Suzan
Funding Assistive Technology for Work: Social Security Programs
So you found a device which will help you do what you want! Now, how to get it? It is not ever a simple answer as there are many things to consider such as: the way you plan to use assistive technology; the type of equipment or device you need; your personal resources such as income and expenses; and the availability of funds at the various resources.
The Michigan Assistive Technology Program and UCP Michigan’s Assistive Technology Loan Fund have used information from other state technology programs (notably the STAR program in Minnesota) and our combined experience to provide an online funding strategy. The funding strategy outlines factors to consider when thinking about obtaining assistive technology. The first steps, 1 through 3, focus on determining what assistive technology you need, while steps 4 through 7 walk through identifying costs, vendors and resources. The concluding steps, 8 and 9, discuss receiving a funding response and filing an appeal if needed.
The purpose of the funding strategy is to help you think broadly and creatively about how to identify the assistive technology you need and the funding to purchase it.Some of the funding sources outlined in the document are notoriously underutilized. One example of this is the Social Security work incentives programs, most notably Plans for Achieving Self Sufficiency (PASS) and Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE).
A Plan for Achieving Self Sufficiency (PASS) is a work incentive that lets you use your own income or assets to help you reach your work goals. For example, you could set aside money to go to school to get specialized training for a job or to start a business. A plan is meant to help you get items, services, or skills you need to reach your goals. This can include the Assistive Technology you need! Best of all, the money, saved in a separate bank account designated for the PASS, is disregarded when Social Security is determining your monthly benefit amount.
Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE) are expenses that you pay out of pocket, that are related to work and your disability, and can be verified with a receipt. Medical devices, home modifications, vehicle modifications and other assistive technology used in the workplace can all be considered for IRWE. However, you must always ensure that the Social Security Administration approves your expense as an IRWE before you can utilize it as a work incentive. Like the PASS Plan, the cost of your Impairment Related Work Expenses is not considered when Social Security is determining your monthly benefit amount.
How do you know if you are eligible to use Social Security work incentives? You could always visit your local office or consult the Social Security Red Book of Employment Supports, yet there is an even more dynamic, interactive way to understand the impact that income from employment will have on your state (i.e. Medicaid) and Federal benefits (i.e. SSDI). The benefits calculators online at Michigan Disability Benefits 101 were designed for Social Security beneficiaries living in Michigan. By anonymously (no name, Social Security number required) inputting some information about your age, living situation, social security benefits, and work situation (either current employment, or employment you would like to explore in the future) these calculators will determine how the particular employment scenario will impact your state and federal benefits like SSI/SSDI, Medicare/Medicaid, food stamps, and state supplement payments. In addition, these calculators will determine which work incentive programs may apply in your particular situation. If you would like more information about a certain program or term, you simply click the link to learn more. If you are in school, or are preparing to transition from school to work, the School to Work calculator was especially designed for you, as certain rules and programs are only available to students and young adults.
Welcome to MDRC's Assistive Technology Team: Laura Hall
Last Friday, I returned home from working on one of my first days of working at Michigan Disability Rights Coalition (MDRC) as Assistive Technology (AT) Information Coordinator. After entering my apartment I saw a plain brown box on my dining room table. I smiled. The new iPhone 4s I had ordered just yesterday had already arrived! It took only a few minutes to set up and I was off to exploring the applications and settings. At some point, a voice came across the speaker, asking “What can I help you with?” A smile of recognition crossed my face as I realized that this was Siri, the iPhone's “intelligent personal assistant” software. I had been dying to try this. “Siri?” I asked, “will it rain tomorrow?” I closed my eyes, hoping for relief from this heat. “Yes, it is likely to rain tomorrow”. Thrilled, and impressed with Siri's abilities, I asked her to send a text message, remind me of an upcoming meeting, and compose an email. She did them all, and I didn't even have to use my tired, spastic fingers! I was hooked, thoroughly convinced that I was going to quickly going to become a Siri addict, and that I was going to love my new job in assistive technology.
Growing up in a small town outside of Jackson, you were considered lucky to have technology that had already been out in the bigger cities for a year. I remember being one of the first kids in school to type up my homework on a word processor, using the IBM my mom brought home from work. Soon, I was connecting with others who had Cerebral Palsy, using bulletin boards, an old modem, and Prodigy. At 16, I got my first power wheelchair and felt the freedom of mobility. In college, I became exposed to some of the standard assistive technology we think of today: books on tape, micro-recorders, Braille devices, and screen readers. I received a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education and a Master's degree in Social Work from MSU. Once I met other young people with disabilities, I knew that working in disability rights was the career path for me.
After graduate school in 2006, I began working at Disability Network/Michigan, the statewide association of Centers for Independent Living. It was during this time that I began to understand the powerful role that technology could play in advocacy and systems change. Using social media, I could connect to entire groups of advocates at a time, communicate with job seekers about various programs and initiatives and organize a letter writing campaign at targeted legislatures at the click of a button.
When Disability Network/Michigan downsized in in 2011, I started work with United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan as a Community Work Incentive Coordinator and as Regional Coordinator of the East Central Region of RICC's – advocacy groups run by people with developmental disabilities engaged in their local communities.
AT Oral History Project
The Assistive Technology Oral History Project is an archive of pioneers in the field of assistive technology (technology for individuals with disabilities). It includes the histories of assistive technology (AT) specialists including occupational therapists, physical therapists, experts in blind and low vision, special educators, audiologists, rehabilitation engineers, software and AT device inventors, and more.
IRS provides assistance for people with disabilities
Individuals who are blind or visually impaired can download hundreds of the most popular federal tax forms and publications from IRS.gov. These products range from accessible PDFs to e-Braille formats and are accessible using screen reading software and refreshable Braille displays. Visit IRS Accessibility page to download these forms and publications. Also, view a video that highlights IRS products and services available for people with disabilities.
Free Tax Return preparation help is also available
People who are unable to complete their tax return because of a disability may get assistance from a local IRS Tax Assistance Center or through a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or Tax Counseling for the Elderly site (VITA or TCE). To find a Tax Assistance Center near you, go to IRS.gov and then select "contact your local IRS office".
You can also find a nearby VITA or TCE location by calling 1-800-906-9887 or at http://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep for VITA and www.aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide for TCE. The IRS sponsors VITA and TCE. Publication 907, Tax Highlights for Persons with Disabilities, explains the tax implications of certain disability benefits and other issues, and is available at IRS.gov. Visit www.IRS.gov and enter "accessibility" in the Search box for more information.
Mobile Tech Tips for Weak Hands
Don't let hand weakness interfere with using a tablet, e-reader or smartphone:
Technology has put the world into the palms of our hands through hand-held mobile devices such as the iPad, smartphone and e-reader. But when disability caused by muscle disease takes the “hand” out of “hand-held,” the tips and products detailed in this article may help.
Council of the Blind denounces Kindle Fire
Amazon’s Kindle Fire is enjoying a big demand from customers who are placing more than 2,000 orders an hour -- more than 50,000 a day -- for the new tablet aimed at taking market share from the mighty iPad.
But not everyone is happy with the new tablet’s features, or lack of features.
In a strongly worded statement today, the American Council of the Blind says it “denounces the introduction of Amazon’s inaccessible Kindle Fire” because it does not include a magnifier or a screen reader to help people with impaired vision.
Here is a statement from Mitch Pomerantz, president of the American Council of the Blind:
"I had expected that, unlike previous releases of Kindle devices, Amazon would have included accessibility to Kindle Fire for people with disabilities right from its design phase given the accessibility that has been included in similar products that are on the market. Amazon’s blatant disregard for the blind consumer demonstrates a profound arrogance and represents technological discrimination against our community."
Groups like the American Council of the Blind and the affiliated Coalition of Organizations for Accessibly Technology have been pushing to make broadband, wireless, and internet technologies accessible and affordable for people with disabilities.
Welcome to the Accessible Technology Coalition
The Accessible Technology Coalition (ATC) is a new resource on assistive technology (AT). Their goal is to make access to AT easy and available to everyone. They have a new website for AT Information and if you don't find what you need, you can Ask an Expert for assistance. They also offer webinars and in person trainings on various AT topics.
The AT Coalition is a project of the Center for Accessible Technology (CforAT). CforAT is one of the oldest and most respected AT Center in the US, and our staff are known for their ability to solve complex AT issues and work with people with a wide range of disabilities, including people with multiple disabilities.
The mission of the AT Coalition is "to develop a consumer driven, grassroots program that provides people with disabilities, and those that work with them, accurate answers to their technology questions allowing them to identify appropriate solutions - particularly for those who do not have access to a local AT Center".
October is AAC Awareness Month
Effective communication for all...in our lifetime! AAC=Augmentative & Alternative Communication=other ways to communicate besides speech. Many people still wait in silence for someone in their life to believe that they can learn to communicate better, who will provide technology, training and ongoing support to communicate their wishes, hopes and dreams--and will keep trying methods to find one that works. www.aacawareness.org and www.everyonecommunicates.org
The mission of "Hacking Autism" s to develop innovative, touch-enabled applications for the autism community and make this software available for free on HackingAutism.org. If you have an idea for a touch-enabled application you can visity the webpage to submit your idea. You can also read other ideas and choose your favorties to to help the organization decide which apps to develop. Developers can sign up to be a part of the "Hackathon" coming in 16 days.
Switch Access to Kindle
The Orion 18 has many of the specs you’d expect on an Android tablet: Wi-Fi and 3G, GPS, an accelerometer, camera, 32GB of internal memory, an SD card slot, and a full-size USB port. However, in place of a traditional screen, the Orion sports a Braille display, capable of showing up to 18 characters. In July, LevelStar co-founder and chief product engineer Marc Mulcahy—who is blind—introduced the first Android tablet for the blind at the National Federation of the Blind’s annual conference.
New Look for the Assistive Technology Web Page
Have you visited our web page lately? If so you will have noticed a new look and layout. We are still working on adding new materials and would love to hear your feedback on the new page.
One big item we'll be working on building is the new Assistive Technology Directory, located under the Find it Now link. We are looking for new resources to add to the directory so if you know of any, or of organizations and individuals to add here, please ask them to use this form to add their information to the directory.
Technology Helps with Independence
After living most of his adult life in group homes, Jeremy Collins has a townhouse in Coon Rapids where, with some help, he can live mostly on his own. See the article in the Star Tribune about how technology is used to help Jeremy and his circle of support.