Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Amazon Kindle: A Review

By Luke Hsieh, AT Advocate at the Community Access Center in Riverside

Let's get one thing straight—the Amazon Kindle is not the Apple iPad. For one thing, the functionality of the Kindle is not on par with the Apple iPad; it was designed for one purpose, assisted reading. Secondly, the durability of Kindle may arguably be frailer than iPad. I broke my Kindle within a week and had to return it to Amazon for a replacement. While you can leave the iPad on for weeks, you cannot do the same to Kindle without its LED display caving in.

However, considering its purpose and cost, I think it is a charming little assistive device. For $189 you get free Wifi 3G. To me, that already justifies the cost. 3G Wifi normally costs $40 a month, so if your kindle lasts a year or two, it would be economically justifiable. Kindle comes with text-to-speech voice navigation and also text-to-speech narration. Although its choice of voice engines leaves something to be desired, at least the functionality is there.

Another advantage Kindle has over iPad as an assisted reading device is that the Kindle is not touchscreen based. The learning curve for people who are blind would be less steep than the iPad. Theoretically one can operate a Kindle with just eight keys, and 4 of them are arrows. In short, despite being seriously outdone by iPad in terms of functionality, durability and versatility, I'd still recommend Kindle to students with disabilities who have visual and specific learning disabilities.  
Have you used the Kindle before? What is your experience of it as an assisted reading device?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An AT Advocate's Perspective

All 29 Independent Living Centers in California receive funding for at least one staff member to work on AT advocacy and services coordination. Below is one AT Advocate's perspective on his role.

By Jorge Ruiz, AT Coordinator at the Central Coast Center for Independent Living in Salinas

Working at Central Coast Center for Independent Living has given me the opportunity to meet many different and interesting people. Often I am asked what it is like to be Assistive Technology Coordinator. People want to know the duties of my job. Fortunately, my duties vary from day to day.

In a nutshell, as the assistive technology coordinator my job is to increase public awareness of the broad range of assistive technology available to people with disabilities and to provide case coordination for those consumers that need a particular item or service.

Most people think that AT is only electric and manual wheelchairs. That might be because many people associate disability with wheelchairs. Little do they know that mobility is just one category of AT. So how does an AT Coordinator educate the public? The answer is very simple—by attending resource fairs as well as doing presentations and informing the audiences about AT. On any given weekend I might be setting up a booth at a health and resource fair, giving a disability awareness training that includes using tools of daily living during the hands on section, or providing an in-service presentation to one of our TBI Support groups.  After meeting someone at a presentation or an outreach event, I am often asked they can find funding sources to pay for AT. This is probably the most challenging part of the job.

Sometimes consumers need AT and their insurance covers it, but they have no idea that it would. The hardest cases are when consumers need AT and have no medical coverage of any kind, as was the case with one of my most recent consumers. She has difficulty walking and was in need of a scooter or power chair. In this case the consumer received a scooter that was donated to our ILC. If she had not taken this equipment, it might have ended up in storage taking up space or, even worse, in a landfill. As you can see, Assistive Technology is not a one-size-fits-all tool. The job of the Assistive Technology Coordinator is not the same week in and week out.

 Have you received services at an Independent Living Center? If you are an AT Advocate, what are the challenges and rewards of your position?  

Friday, December 10, 2010

8 Online Resources for Student Transition

Thank you to AT Program News for sharing the resources below:

1. Teacher Resource Guide on Transition

PDF download from the Wisconsin AT Initiative (WATI)

2. Student Resource Guide on Transition

3. Questions to Ask Colleges about AT Resources
LD Online Web page

4. Preparing for College: An Online Tutorial (for students with disabilities)
DO-IT Web page

5. Healthy and Ready to Work National Resource Center
Transition to work resources

6. Family Information Guide to Assistive Technology and Transition
Family Center on Technology and Disability Web page

7. Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology Transition QIAT Web page

8. Students: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities US DOE Office of Civil Rights Web page for students with disabilities preparing for postsecondary education.

Do you have any student transition resources you would like to share? Please feel free to comment on the resources above or share other resources in the space below.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What’s the scoop on Medi-Cal hearing aid coverage?

Written by Kim Cantrell, CFILC’s Director of Programs

With so many cuts to Medi-Cal and other social service programs, it makes sense that many of us are confused when it comes to Medi-Cal coverage. Lately the AT Network has received many questions from people throughout California who want to know if Medi-Cal still covers hearing aids and hearing exams, and if so, under what circumstances. Medi-Cal reduced benefits coverage in 2009, which makes now a good time to review Medi-Cal’s scope of audiology benefits, including hearing aids and hearing exams.

Medi-Cal currently covers hearing aids for people with at least a 25 dB hearing loss in the better ear and moderate to severe loss in the other ear when prescribed by a qualified physician. Since July 1, 2009, Medi-Cal no longer covers the hearing exam needed prior to being prescribed hearing aids.

However, there are exceptions. According to the Medi-Cal website, people in the following situations still receive hearing exam coverage:
a. Pregnant women will receive the optional benefit if it is part of their pregnancy-related care or for services to treat a condition that may cause problems in pregnancy.
b. Children or young adults who are 20 years old and younger and receive full scope Medi-Cal.
c. People who live in a licensed nursing home such as a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF), Intermediate Care Facility (ICF), ICF for the Developmentally Disabled (ICF-DD) and Sub Acute Facility.
So unless you are under 21-years-old or live in a nursing home, chances are you have to pay for a hearing exam out of pocket if Medi-Cal is your only insurance coverage. I find this process frustrating because people who can’t afford the hearing exam are forced to go without needed hearing aids.

Once you get your hearing aids, Medi-Cal no longer covers testing them unless you are one of the populations listed under A, B and C above. You are also on your own for replacement batteries unless you are EPSDT-eligible. The good news is that Medi-Cal continues to cover hearing aid repair and replacement parts.

Have you had any experiences with Medi-Cal’s new audiology coverage limitations? Have you or someone you know who has Medi-Cal been unable to receive a needed hearing exam?

Monday, November 22, 2010

AT for the Holidays

Written by LaCandice McCray, CFILC's Outreach & Training Advocate

It’s that time of year when we spend time with family, friends, and food. With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we all need tools to make the season merry, bright, and simple. Here are some low-cost gadgets available for preparing and cooking holiday meals:

Locking Lid Stainless Steel Pot: This pot has a lid that locks in place and allows a person to strain liquid with one hand.
Where to find it: http://www.maxiaids.com/store/prodView.asp?idproduct=434&idstore=6&product=Easy-Pour-Locking-Lid-Pot
Cost: $23.95

Talking Scale: The weight bowl and talking feature allow you to get weights of multiple ingredients. The bowl is also removable.
Where to find it: http://www.amazon.com/My-Weight-Vox-3000-Talking/dp/B000G6ZLM0
Cost: $31.20

Black Cutting Board: Good tool for those with low vision or arthritis. The board also has a suction cup to prevent sliding.
Where to find it: http://www.maxiaids.com/store/prodView.asp?idproduct=7010&idstore=6&product=Hold-and-Cut-Black-Cutting-Board-for-Low-Vision
Cost: $29.95

Talking Digital Thermometer: This thermometer, with an easy to read display, will announce the temperature of your cooked meat.
Where to find it: http://www.maxiaids.com/store/prodView.asp?idproduct=9328&idstore=6&product=Talking-Digital-Thermometer-with-LCD-Display
Cost: $39.00

Stove Knob Turner: This device is designed for wheelchair users to reach the knobs of the stove.
Where to find it: http://www.maxiaids.com/store/prodView.asp?idproduct=1086&idstore=6&product=Stove-Knob-Turner
Cost: $16.95

What are some other tools you have used in the kitchen? How have they made preparing meals easier?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Find Used AT @ the AT Network

Written by Allan Friedman, CFILC's Technologies Manager

The Internet has made finding used assistive devices both easier and challenging at the same time. In the past people looked to local organizations or classified ads in their newspapers. Today, items can be posted on websites like craigslist, freecycle, oodle, ebay, abledata, as well as any of a number of websites run by non-profit organizations that serve the disability community. There are so many places where used equipment is posted that searching online can be quite time consuming with as many misses as hits.

So, we’ve developed and added a number of search tools to ATnet.org that can help you find what you’re looking for.

First, there is the AT Services Directory, a database we developed several years ago and continue to refine. It contains almost 1100 records of providers who sell devices, provide services, funding, or repair AT. It also contains records of organizations and businesses that provide training, customization and many other services. Click here to use the directory to find new devices or related services near you.

We recently added two new search tools developed by fellow Assistive Technology Act projects in Nebraska and Colorado. The Nebraska Assistive Technology Partnership developed the AT Exchange; a website where used devices can be sold, given away or borrowed.

The AT Exchange is a place where you can post classified ads for used devices you would like to sell or give away and allows you to post want ads for items you are searching for. You can also search the inventory of 13 AT device lending libraries around the state. These libraries will lend devices for 30 – 60 days (sometimes longer) to fill a temporary need or so you can try before you buy. And it’s all free! Click here to access the AT Exchange.

Our most recent addition to the site is the AT Finder, developed by the University of Colorado’s Assistive Technology Partnership. This handy search tool allows you to search for used AT on Craigslist, Ebay, Ebay Classifieds, and Oodle in a single search. Using your search terms and zip code, you can find assistive devices posted on any of these sites and get results tailored to your location and needs.

At the AT Network we believe used equipment fills a need and is good for both the environment and the pocket book. In addition to the tools I’ve described above, we’ll be adding links to other sites where used AT can be found as well as more tools to help you find the right device.

We hope you find these tools useful. Just remember that any devices or equipment you find should be based on a professional evaluation and recommendation from an Assistive Technology Specialist to assure proper usage and fit. You can find AT Specialists on ATnet.org; just check the AT Services Directory or give us a call at 800-390-2699.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Come See What’s New at ATNet.org!

We recently launched a revised version of the AT Network website, www.atnet.org, designed to be easier to use and more informative for consumers, caregivers, service providers and others with a need for AT. The new site divides information into four easy to use sections:

  • Law & Advocacy: where you can learn about federal & state AT laws and your rights to assistive technology devices and services.

  • How to: has information about how to find AT, fund AT and use it to succeed in life.

  • Find it now: is a resource-rich page with several web search tools to help you find new and used devices as well as services in your community.

  • News and Events: allows you to keep up with the latest news about assistive technology, AT Network events, and training opportunities provided by the AT Network and its members

Visit the new AT Network website at : www.atnet.org and let us know what you think. We welcome your resources and ideas.

Guided tours of the new website are available every Thursday at noon through the month of October. To join the web tour, login at 12:00 pm (pacific time) Thursdays in October at: http://tinyurl.com/atnetour

Thursday, October 7, 2010

AT & Disability Employment Awareness Month

Written by LaCandice McCray, CFILC's Outreach & Training Advocate

The AT Network salutes October as Disability Employment Awareness Month! And speaking of employment, guess what many people with disabilities use in the workplace? That’s right. Assistive Technology. 

This year’s theme of Disability Employment Awareness Month is “Talent Has No Boundaries: Workforce Diversity Includes People with Disabilities.” In addition to the growing diversity in the workplace, the use of assistive technology is also increasing. Many people with disabilities use AT to adapt to their work environment or to improve their job performance. Some examples of AT used at work include: adaptive keyboards and mice, BrailleNotes, video relay equipment and services, and variety of computer software.

In recognition of Disability Employment Awareness Month, the AT Network will be participating in these upcoming events:
6th Annual Bone and Joint Expo, October 16, 2010, Napa, CA
·       RespectABILITY Conference, October 22, 2010, Los Angeles, CA
·       Inland Empire Disability Resources Expo, October 23, 2010, Riverside, CA
·       5th Annual Northern California Tech Expo, October 23, 2010, Santa Rosa, CA
·       Living Healthy with a Disability Resource Fair, October 29, 2010, Sacramento, CA

What are other examples of AT used in the workplace? How are you observing Disability Employment Awareness Month?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Telephone Access For People With Speech Disabilities

by Bob Segalman, Ph.D.
 Do you have a speech disability and live in the USA (including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico)? If so, you can now use a free telephone service 24 hours a day. “Speech to Speech” (STS) provides communication assistants for people with difficulty being understood by the public by telephone. The Federal Communications Commission regulates Speech to Speech, which is a form of relay service. STS is also available in Australia, New Zealand and Sweden.

STS is provided through the TTY relay in each state. Unlike TTY, STS users communicate by voice through a communication assistant (CA), as many people with speech disabilities have difficulty typing. Many STS users have Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy, ALS, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy or stroke. Other users stutter or have had a laryngectomy.

 People with speech disabilities can dial toll free to reach a patient, trained CA who is familiar with many speech patterns and has excellent language recognition skills. This CA makes telephone calls for them and repeats their words exactly in a 3-way calling environment. STS is the only way for many people to telephone others not accustomed to their speech.

Speech to Speech helps speech synthesizer users, users of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices by putting their device next to a speakerphone. AAC users may ask the STS communication assistance to set up the call, negotiate the menu, introduce the call explaining AAC and then go into the background. This enables AAC users to communicate independently once the other party is on the line.

I have cerebral palsy and developed the concept of STS. Now it makes telephone use much easier for me. To try out STS, report problems or request information call 1-888-877-5302 and then ask for me at 916-448-5517. Visit the STS website: http://www.speechtospeech.org/ where you will find the Speech-to-Speech 800 access numbers.

FCC regulations state that individuals can also access STS by dialing 711 and asking for Speech to Speech, but compliance is an issue. If the CA can not place an STS call, please e-mail me (drsts@comcast.net).Have you used STS? If so, what have been your experiences? What can you do to advocate for the increased use of STS by people with speech disabilities and AAC users?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Multi-purpose Assistive Technology Device - Does Apple iPhone Make The Grade?

Written by Luke Hsieh of Community Access Center, Riverside

June 4th is a very important date to me. No, it's not because on that day in 1989 the Chinese government ordered a general crackdown on Tiananmen Square students, but it was on June 4, 2010 when I obtained my iPhone 3GS. This device has fundamentally changed my life.

The first device I retired was my much beloved iPod Touch (which I gave to my sister). The second device I retired was my 7-year-old Fuji Digital camera, which I probably chucked under the bed somewhere. The third was my Citizen Eco Drive watch, which I gave to my dad.

It is becoming fairly apparent that the Apple iPhone was designed to be an all-purpose PDA. Those who claim Apple’s iPhone 4G is inferior to HTC Droid because it comes with a 5 Megapixel camera as opposed an 8 Megapixel camera have completely missed the point.

The attraction of the Apple iPhone lies with the tens of thousands of third party applications for us technophiles to enjoy. Those third party applications are generally safe, cheap, and useful. Take my iPhone for example. I have turned it into an AAC device with Proloquo2go from Assistware, a GPS Navigation tool with Copilot, a hearing aid with Sound Amp from Ginger Lab, an 8 x Electronic magnifier, a barcode decoder, a portable scanner, dictionary, and a website reader. My customized iPhone feels like an extension of my brain. 

The problem with customizing an iPhone as an assistive device is that the iPhone performs every task at about 60% efficiency compared to a single purpose tool. For example, iPhone Electronic Magnifier won't be able to do real time color inversion because the video memory won't allow it to perform the task. The barcode reader won't locate 40% of the decodes inputted. The hearing aid drains battery power like nothing on earth, and the GPS could not find my house number. The iPhone comes with a built-in voice-over function for people with low vision or who are blind. However, operating an iPhone in the Voice Over Mode is so frustrating.  It is difficult to use without practice.

Having pointed out the limitations, I am devoted to my iPhone and would never regret the purchase.  However, as an Assistive Technology device, it is a light at the end of the tunnel, not the end of the tunnel itself. I look forward to the day when the iPhone XG can do all the assistive functions at 100% efficiency and cost about $200.

How have you customized your iPhone as an assistive technology device? What are some recommendations you have for Apple to improve the iPhone’s efficiency?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Surf, Sun and AT

Written by LaCandice McCray, CFILC's Outreach and Training Advocate

Often times we think about using assistive technology in the home, at work, or at school. What about using assistive technology for fun? A conference I recently attended in Irvine reminded me that recreation is also an important part of daily living.

August 26-27 was the Amputee Coalition of America’s national conference. For the past 3 years, this conference has been held in Atlanta. 2010 was the first time this conference took place in California. I attended workshops about orthotics and prosthetics, learned about the concerns of the amputee community, and networked with vendors and organizations from all over the country. I also tried different types of AT used for recreation like an adaptive skateboard. Similarly, there were several organizations attending the conference in the field of adaptive sports. Information about swimming, tennis, hiking, and extreme sports was largely available for attendees.

One example of an adaptive sports organization in California is the Association of Amputee Surfers. AMP Surf (for short) organizes surfing clinics for amputees, veterans, and people with disabilities around Southern California. Their mission is to encourage adaptive surfing and other outdoor activities through PIER: Promote, Inspire, Educate, and Rehabilitate. In addition to participating in surfing clinics, there are opportunities to volunteer with AMP Surf or sponsor a clinic. For more information about the Association of Amputee Surfers, visit: http://www.ampsurf.org/.

Organizations like AMP Surf remind us that we all need a little sun once in awhile. Not only can recreation be fun with assistive technology, but its use can promote pride in disability and participation in mainstream activities. What are some recreational activities you have participated in with AT? Have you encountered any barriers along the way?

Friday, August 27, 2010

The AT Network salutes the members of YO! Disabled and Proud for their ACR 162 Victory!

written by Mazuri Colley, CFILC's Information & Assistance Advocate
Congratulations to all of the youth organizers who worked tirelessly on the Disability History Week Campaign. The bill passed unanimously by both the Assembly and Senate because of all of their hard work and dedication! The bill was introduced by Assembly Member Beall.
The 2nd week of October is now California's official Disability History Week!
The significance of this victory will benefit our state for years and years to come; it will begin the process of infusing the importance of Disability History in our schools and other institutions. Soon people of all ages and abilities will be more aware of the many important contributions made by people with disabilities. The youth that were mobilized through this campaign have done great work. Hopefully their dedication and professionalism will inspire advocates of all ages to take action.
Read the bill here: ACR 162
Learn more about: YO! Disabled and Proud
Learn more about the: Youth Leadership Forum
Please join us in congratulating the members of YO! Disabled and Proud on their accomplishment!

What disability history resources have you encourntered that you would like to share with the community? Please share resource names and/or links in the comments section below.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Enjoy the wonderful world of Disney through Assistive Technology!

Summer time is a great time to take trips and visit new places. Read one Disney aficionado’s review below of the assistive technology features at Disney World. Disney is planning to unveil the same audio description technology at Disneyland Resort in California in 2011.
Sample Disney’s new theme park outdoor audio description assistive technology
by Ricky Brigante
On June 27, Walt Disney World began a new advancement in assistive technology allowing guests with visual disabilities to “see” theme park surroundings by way of highly-detailed audio description.
The descriptions are delivered to guests by way of Disney’s patented handheld device (pictured above), which has been in use at the Walt Disney World resort for several years. In addition to providing closed captioning and assistive listening for rides, shows, and other attractions, the device is now being updated to include the important and interesting information about outdoor theme park areas.
Read the rest of the article here Inside the MAGIC!
Have any of you visited a theme park that used Assistive Technology to make the park accessible? If so which ones? What was your experience?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Reuse and Recycle: Expanding Access to Assistive Technology

Written by Allan Friedman, CFILC's Technologies Manager

In a time of severe budget cuts that imperil the ability of Californians with disabilities to live independently, the reuse and recycling of assistive technology is a moral imperative. Reuse is one of the most effective ways to enable more low income individuals to acquire devices that empower them to participate in their communities and retain their independence.

California is the birthplace of the Independent Living Movement. We’ve always been on the leading edge of public accommodations and integration of people with disabilities in our communities. But we lag behind many other states when it comes to the reuse of assistive devices. Successful reuse programs flourish and thrive in places such as Salt Lake City, Austin and Atlanta. Georgia, Kansas and several other states have shown that AT, which is often customized to meet the unique needs of users, can be successfully refurbished and reused without compromise for the individuals who receive the devices.

So why not here? While there are several programs that refurbish computers and get them to low income users with disabilities, only a handful of organizations in California accept donations of communication devices, durable medical equipment and other AT for reuse. True, there are challenges to running a reuse program, including issues around liability, sanitation and space. But programs in other states have met those challenges, and California can too.

We need to increase the supply of used AT. Not only will more reuse programs increase access to AT for people with disabilities who would otherwise go without, reuse programs can also be an important part of our state's disaster preparations; a resource that can be readily tapped in an emergency to replace devices left behind by people affected by our all too common forest fires, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

It will take action by the whole disability community to take reuse to the next level. We need a coordinated system that encourages reuse, provides a means for consumers to donate devices, as well as support for organizations willing to take on the challenges of turning one person’s trash into another person’s saving grace.

Are you interested in learning more about AT reuse? If you want more information about plans for AT reuse in California, or if you want to be part of the planning process, please let us know in the comments section below.

This article reflects the opinion of the author.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dangling participles get ready to be undangled! (A review of the Ginger Software spelling and grammar checker)

By Luke Hsieh, AT Advocate at the Community Access Center in Riverside

I first saw this software at the CSUN International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego. I was so impressed by the demonstration that as soon as I got back to Riverside, I purchased a copy of my own and ran it on a 96 page document (the novel that I happen to be working on).

Let’s just say, it was a vast improvement over traditional grammar and spelling checkers and for $70.00, it is an affordable vast improvement. Any lover of this language will tell you that English is very analytical; it’s notorious for its many grammatical exceptions and prepositional oddities. This means that the vast improvement on traditional grammar checkers still requires human tweaking here and there. So don't expect Ginger to perform a miracle, the 96 page document still took a little less than three hours to correct.

Furthermore, its heavy dependence on the Internet server means it may not function properly without an Internet connection. Ginger Software will also be a hard sale when trying to convince an I.T department that may see it as making the system vulnerable. Other than that, I think the software has much potential.

Who knows? Maybe in the near future, Ginger will even correct my subject-verb agreement, dangling participles, and split infinitives. Since I’m not too paranoid about Internet security, I consider my $70.00 well spent.

Check it out by clicking here.

Have you tried Ginger Software yet? What did you think? Has anyone tried another type of software that is similar? Let us know in the comments section below…

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It's the ADA's 20th Anniversary!

By Mazuri Colley, CFILC's Information & Assistance Advocate

The Americans with Disabilities Act turns twenty this year! This milestone means that there is a whole generation of youth in the United States of America who never experienced life before the ADA. Every year and with every victory for the disability community the task of making our country a better place for new generations becomes more of a reality than a dream deferred.  The signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 was the culmination of decades and decades of advocacy powered by the disability rights movement. 

By ensuring equal opportunity and access for people with disabilities in areas of employment, transportation, public institutions, commercial establishments and governmental entities the ADA changed the social and cultural landscape of our communities. Finally cities and towns across the country were altered and policies were changed in order to accommodate all members of the community.

Every aspect of life requires participation on the part of every individual. Before the Americans with Disabilities Act people with disabilities were discouraged from participating in life due to lack of an inclusive infrastructure in our laws. No one was required to think outside of their own experience when creating policy, which was an unacceptable reality. This is why representation of people with disabilities by people with disabilities is so important and is why there is an ADA.

On July 26th, 2010 the Americans with Disabilities Act will celebrate twenty years of changing our country for the better.  There are still many barriers that need to be broken, voices that need to be heard and more victories to come!

Join CFILC in supporting, Senate Joint Resolution No. 35, Introduced by Senator Corbett.  “This measure would commemorate the 20th anniversary of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, encourage all Californians to recognize and celebrate the important historical significance of the act, and reaffirm the Legislature’s commitment to, and urge Congress to reaffirm its commitment to, the civil and constitutional rights of Americans with disabilities.” Read the resolution in its entirety here: Senate Joint Resolution No. 35

Be Informed:
The U.S. Department of Justice provides information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) through a toll-free ADA Information Line. For general ADA information, answers to specific technical questions, free ADA materials, or information about filing a complaint, call: 800 - 514 - 0301 (voice) 800 - 514 - 0383 (TTY), or log on to www.ada.gov
Celebrate! :

Check out CFILC’s event calendar for ADA events in your area:
CFILC's ADA Event Calendar

Click these links for more ADA events!
DOR's ADA Event Calendar
American Association of People with Disabilities ADA Event Calendar

Please join us this July as we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the ADA in Sacramento on July 26, 2010! For additional information please go to www.cfilc.org.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

To Reuse AT start by reusing OPI

Written by Allan Friedman, CFILC's Technologies Manager. 
California is a unique state (although, I’m sure every other state considers themselves unique too).  A diverse population spread over a large geographic area with several large urban areas and many remote rural communities poses a number of challenges for service providers intent on inclusion and reaching all citizens with AT needs.  But those challenges are not unique to California.  AT programs across the country face similar challenges to providing services and meeting the needs of their communities. 

When it comes to expanding the reuse of AT, the secret to meeting those challenges is to reuse OPI; other people’s ideas.  We need not re-invent the wheel.  Rather, we only have to look at successful programs and learn from them.  For instance, Utah, Wyoming and many other western states have populations spread over vast distances.  But AT programs in these states have found creative solutions to the problem and expense of shipping devices.   Partnerships with private companies, libraries and others that move goods around their states have helped these programs control their costs and get devices to consumers.

The Create Program makes extensive use of volunteers to refurbish and distribute power wheelchairs, scooters and pediatric equipment.  Georgia’s Star Network brings several organizations together to share resources and collaborate to provide reused AT to consumers. Get AT Stuff is a collaboration of several New England states that make used AT available.  Another New England collaboration enables school districts to share AT.

There is nothing truly unique in the challenges we face. We have only to look to the rest of the country for inspiration and ideas on how to meet our challenges. It’s time for California to step up, show that we do have what it takes to expand our reuse programs and make used AT a significant part of our efforts to meet the needs of our disabled and aging population.

Have you experienced AT Reuse programs in other states? If so, please share your experiences below.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Take Action 4 Accommodations

By Princess Rehman, Youth Advocate, CFILC
Did you know that many community college students with disabilities around California are not getting their accommodation needs met? They registered with Disability Students Services. They followed the proper protocol. Yet many students are having their requested accommodations delayed. Some students are not receiving their accommodations at all. Instead, they receive a letter from their college stating that they will not be receiving accommodations due to budget cuts.

The California Community College system received cuts to disability services that provide accommodations to students who need them to access higher education. Although system-wide the community colleges have experienced average cuts of about 2.5%, they have cut disability services more than 40%, according to the California Association for Postsecondary Education and Disability.
As a result, accommodations are being delayed up to 7 weeks, and in some cases, denied altogether. Mobility assistance, readers, note takers, large print books, audio books, sign language interpreters, captioning, campus transport services and other essential accommodations are being delayed or denied, putting the academic careers of students with disabilities at risk.
The Take Action 4 Accommodations Campaign is working to make sure that students with disabilities are getting their reasonable accommodations met in California’s community colleges. Also, we are working to make students with disabilities aware that they can make a complaint if their accommodation needs aren’t being met. By law, students with disabilities are entitled to have their reasonable accommodation needs met after they have registered with disability student services.

Many students with disabilities are receiving letters in the mail stating that they aren’t able to get their reasonable accommodation needs met due to state budget cuts. If you or someone you know is not getting their reasonable accommodation needs met at their community college, and they have registered with Disability Student Services, you can file a complaint simply by clicking here.

Have you or anyone you know been denied accommodations at a community college recently? How was it resolved? Or was it?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What’s Wrong with Used AT?

By Allan Friedman, CFILC's Technologies Manager

There seems to be some reluctance on the part of many AT professionals to recommend or assist consumers in acquiring used assistive technology devices. Medi-Cal, Medicare, the Veteran's Administration and other funders will not fund the purchase of a used AT device; only new will do. Why?

The number one barrier to getting AT is cost. Consumers who lack insurance are often ineligible for funding from other sources. With little or no income of their own, they are regularly forced to endure long waits to replace worn out devices or to get AT in the first place. Used devices could fill this void, allowing more people to live independently.

The need is especially great for durable medical equipment (DME). Wheelchairs, scooters, lifts and other devices can mean the difference between dependency on others and maintaining one’s independence and quality of life.

With such a great need and demand for AT, I wonder why so few organizations serving people with disabilities are willing to accept donations of used AT. Indeed, much of the DME that is donated often ends up overseas, serving a valid need in the third world. But much of that equipment could just as well be serving the need here at home.

While there are challenges to running an AT reuse program, especially for DME, successful programs in other states prove it can be done without harm to the organizations or compromise on the part of the consumers. By extending the useful life of devices, we keep waste out of our landfills, fill a need in our communities and maximize the return on investment for cash strapped government programs that are often the funders of new AT.

New is not necessarily better. Properly sanitized and refurbished, most AT and DME can continue to be useful and meet a need for those who receive them. We’ve got to give up our tendency to dispose of things and begin to think seriously about reuse. It is the easiest and least expensive way to expand the availability of AT and DME for people in our communities with the greatest need and least resources.

The above article represents the opinion of the author.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Where the AT Network and the Refueling Act Meet

Written by Mazuri Colley, Information and Assistance Advocate

You may know that calling 1-800-390-2699 will lead you to the AT Network’s Information and Referral Line, but what you may not know is that you can find that number (or should find that number) posted at every gas station across the great state of California.

At this point you may be wondering, why? And if you are, you are asking a great question! What do gas stations across California and the AT Network have in common? I can tell you the answer in two words….Refueling Act (also known as Business and Professions Code Section 13660).

In short, the Refueling Act states that people with disabilities displaying a license plate or placard from the DMV should receive assistance with refueling upon request. There are a few exceptions that release a gas station owner from this provision, like, for example, if there is only one person on duty.
It’s also required that gas stations post notifications stating whether refueling service is available and if there are certain times when it will not be offered during the day. However, if more than one person is working at the gas station—and the second employee is not exclusively involved in food preparation—regardless of posted refueling hours, the gas station must provide refueling assistance.

There are three types of individuals that call from gas stations, and I have broken them into sections below:

Refueling station owners: Owners call because they want to remain in compliance with the law and they want to understand it better.

People who have not received their right to refueling service: When someone calls because they went to a gas station and did not receive refueling services, they want to know what their rights are and they want to make a complaint. These complaints are made to their local district attorney’s office or with their local police department.

People who called the wrong number: People who think they are calling the corporate offices of Shell or the manager of their local gas station have the wrong number. They are usually either calling to say they got the wrong change back or that pump number three isn’t working.

What do you do if you are at a station that is noncompliant but are still need of refueling service?

One caller who recently was put in the situation of being low on fuel and at a station where she was being refused refueling services was diligent and resourceful in resolving this issue. Without enough gas to get home or to get to another station this person was in a situation that seemed hopeless. She called our information line, but since it was a weekend she left a message to find out how she could make a complaint, but she still needed gas to get home. This resourceful caller was able to call her local police department’s non-emergency line and talk to an officer about her situation. An officer was able to come out and help her get gas and also speak to the owner and employees of the station.

The situation described above is an extreme one, but it pays to be knowledgeable about your options and the resources available to you. Have you or someone you know ever been refused refueling services? How was the situation resolved? How many of you will now think of the AT Network every time you go to fill up your tank?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Does it really have to cost so much: Custom building an electronic magnifier.

By Luke Hsieh, Assistive Technology Advocate, Community Access Center, Riverside

When my supervisor saw the 13-year-old webcam that I have lying around my office, he asked me if I could turn it into an electronic magnifier using a Windows computer and USB port. The technology involved really isn't rocket science. Bierley is selling a USB based MonoMouse magnifier for approximately $200, so my response to him was, "Besides optical zooming and autofocus, the rest is just software." That statement effectively commenced the experimental project codenamed Webcam. (I told you it wasn't rocket science!)

My choice of webcam fell on the Logitech Webcam Pro 900, one of the higher end webcams that has a 4x optical zooming capacity and autofocus. It even comes with a Carl Zeiss lens and a built-in microphone. They sell for around $70 each.

The prototype was designed so the webcam would hang on a stand to be used as a CCTV. The problem with the prototype was that 4x optical zooming simply wasn't enough for it to function as a CCTV Magnifier and purchasing a battery powered digital camera with higher optical zooming capacity would cost $250.00 or more. (Merlin costs $2700.00 for a reason.)

I knew I wanted autofocus for a reason! All I had to do was bring the camera closer to the paper by wedging the camera into a circular lunchbox and poking a hole on the other side for the USB cable to go through. The prototype mimicked the Bierly Monomouse instead of the CCTV.

The next question was which software to use for color inversion. After trying out more than several trial versions, demo versions, and free versions of video software, I chose Debut Video Capture made by NCH Software, an Australian company, which costs approximately $39.

So the end bill for this exercise is $70 for the camera, $39 for the software and $2 for the lunchbox. Of course, if one has the money, it's better to buy professionally designed video magnifiers like Merlin, Jordy, Ruby, etc. However, this exercise does show how people with limited resources can build their own electronic magnifier with color inversion for a little more than $100.00.

Have you built your own assistive technology? Whether you have built a high- or low-tech device, we want to hear about it. Please share any of your tips or tricks in the comment section below.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Budget Committee Votes Down Caps on DME/AT Benefits!

The Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health & Human Services just completed its action on the Governor’s May revision of the State budget. Both houses have rejected cuts proposed by the Governor which removes them from further consideration in this year’s budget. Among the items rejected were Medi-Cal caps on benefits including durable medical equipment, medical supplies such as wound dressings, incontinence products, & urinary catheters, hearing aids, and over the counter drugs.

We generated over 110 letters that let the legislators know how vital these benefits are to Californians with Disabilities. Your action, along with those of many other disabled Californians, their caregivers, friends and families helped convince the committee members that the proposed caps would be counter-productive and threaten the independence of many citizens.

Soon the Budget Conference Committee composed of 3 representatives from each house (2 democrats, 1 republican) will begin meeting to consider areas of differences between the 2 houses and possible solutions for dealing with CA’s continual financial crisis.

The battle to insure that vital services continue to be funded is not yet over. Please join us in thanking the members of the Health and Human Services Subcommittee for their support. Let them know we appreciate their efforts on behalf of Californians with disabilities.


Have you taken action? Let us know by posting a comment below.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

DME / AT Are Not Optional!

A Call to Action:

The California Department of Health Care Services has proposed to cap benefits for several categories of "optional" services under Medi-Cal in the Governor's budget proposal now before the legislature. These caps will limit the maximum annual fiscal year reimbursement that Medi-Cal will pay for such things as hearing aids, wheelchairs, IV equipment, respiratory equipment, incontinence supplies and much more.

California's legislature must approve these caps as part of the budget process. Medi-Cal is the largest State funded program behind education and must therefore make substantial efforts to reduce cost and rein in expenditures.

Assembly and Senate members must be made aware of the counterproductive impact these caps will have on the state's budget and the dire effects they will have on the lives of people with disabilities. Cuts and limits that reduce the ability of disabled citizens to live and work in the community result is a demand for more costly institutional care, more emergency room visits and increased administrative costs for local governments, Medi-Cal, providers and beneficiaries.

The Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) has calculated the annual cap for each category at levels they believe will be sufficient for most beneficiaries (see below). However, the caps will reduce or entirely eliminate critical services for many beneficiaries who need them most. Those that use multiple products/services, require higher quantities of a single service or rely on more expensive items will be forced to go without. These caps could affect the health and safety of those who are forced to do without and may result in more expensive institutional care.

Now is the time to contact your legislators and tell them how these caps will affect you. Sharing your stories and letting those that will vote on these proposals know the real world consequences of their actions will make these cuts real to them. Take Action now to prevent these cuts and raise the caps to levels that are adequate to cover the needs of those most vulnerable to these reductions.

The proposed caps include:

Hearing Aids: Medi-Cal has covered hearing aids when supplied by a hearing aid dispenser through the prescription of an otolaryngologist, or attending physician. Effective July 1, 2009, and with certain exceptions, Medi-Cal no longer considers audiology services to be a covered benefit. This proposal will establish a cap of $1,510 per fiscal year.

Durable Medical Equipment: Examples of DME items include: ambulation devices, bathroom equipment, decubitus care equipment, hospital beds and accessories, patient lifts, traction and trapeze equipment, communication devices, IV equipment, oxygen and respiratory equipment, and wheelchairs and accessories. This proposal will establish a cap of $1,604 per fiscal year.

Select Medical Supplies: The select medical supplies include: incontinence supplies with a fiscal year cap of $1,659; urological supplies with a fiscal year cap of $6,435; and wound care supplies with a fiscal year cap of $391.

Similar to the elimination of certain optional benefits that DHCS implemented in FY 2009-10, certain Medi-Cal beneficiaries will be exempt from these reductions and certain benefits in these categories will not count against the cap.

Benefit Cap Exemptions:

1. Pregnancy-related benefits and benefits for the treatment of other conditions that might complicate the pregnancy if not treated;
2. Beneficiaries under the age of 21;
3. Beneficiaries residing in a long-term care nursing facility that is both: (A) A skilled nursing facility or intermediate care facility as defined in subdivisions (c) and (d) of Section 1250 of the Health and Safety Code, and (B) Licensed pursuant to subdivision (k) of Section 1250 of the Health and Safety Code;
4. DME items associated with compressed oxygen and respirators; and
5. Disposable medical supply items associated with tracheostomy, respiratory care; ostomy care; IV infusion; and diabetic testing; disposable gloves and miscellaneous medical supplies

Take Action Now!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Come to Disability Capitol Action Day on May 26

Written by LaCandice McCray, CFILC's Outreach & Training Advocate

Disability Capitol Action Day (DCAD) is one of the largest cross-disability events in our country since its beginning in 2004. This year, on May 26th, 2010 the Disability Action Coalition will host its 7th annual Disability Capitol Action Day in alliance with the California In-Home Support Services Consumer Alliance (CICA).

Together we will join in solidarity to recognize the 20th year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Civil Rights act for the disability community, on the West lawn of the Capitol. Despite the ongoing State Budget threats to our communities, we will join forces and educate the Legislature on what Californians with disabilities need in order to remain in their own homes and living in the community.

The day will start with a March to the West Steps of the Capitol from 15th and L streets, followed by an Educational Rally including testimonials about the impact of the ADA, performances, and guest speakers. Throughout the day, a Resource Fair will take place on both sides of the West lawn featuring 30+ organizations from around the state. Lunch will also be served midday, and the day ends with participants making legislative visits inside the Capitol. There is still time for you to register for DCAD 2010 and find out more information by visiting, www.disabilityactioncoalition.org.

For those of you who have visited any of the past 6 Capitol Action Days, what have been your experiences? Why is this event important for people in the community to attend? If you cannot attend this year’s event, how do you plan on celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ADA? Are you planning to attend?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Review: Premier Assistive Literacy Software Bundle

Written by Luke Hsieh, Assistive Technology Advocate, Community Access Center, Riverside

In the field of assistive literacy software, one cannot go very far without talking about WYNN and Openbook from Freedom Scientific. I believe they have achieved a marketing triumph, therefore WYNN and Openbook have become a staple in assistive technology labs everywhere. This article is neither about Wynn nor Openbook, though I'd be happy to write one by popular demand. This article is about what can one do if one does not have $995.00 for WYNN Wizard or $995.00 for OpenBook.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Premier Literacy Bundle. For $249 you get a talking word processor, talking dictionary, text to mp3 conversion software, scan and read software, word prediction software and a PDF editor. Now, I am not going to lie, the software has minor glitches here and there, and—for crying out loud—don't run the talking grammar checker on a 96-page document. The voice engine (Cepestral) included in the bundle is, quite frankly, horrendous. But even with all the above mentioned failings, if one switches the voice engine to Ivona or Neospeech, the software can be very charming.

The talking word processor comes with spell check, grammar check, thesaurus and word prediction. It may not be as powerful as Microsoft Word 2007 (so don't try to do footnotes), but it does get little jobs done, and I adore how it automatically proofreads after every sentence.

Word Prediction Pro works in conjunction with other software such as Microsoft Word 2007. It's a real time saver, but it drains memory, so be ready to reboot now and then.

Despite the harsh review, I actually love this bundle very much. I'd not hesitate to recommend it to all my friends and fellow AT enthusiasts because it does little jobs so well and big jobs are often made of many small jobs. I definitely do not regret buying the bundle. It does just about everything WYNN and Openbook do and then some.

What type of assistive literacy software do you use? DO you have a favorite? If given the choice, would you buy it again?

The above article represents the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the AT Network or its staff.

Monday, May 3, 2010

CSUN Conference Reflections

By Owen Camarco, AT Advocate, Resources for Independent Living, Sacramento

I learned a lot of useful information during a couple sessions at the 25th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in March. It’s related to Assistive Technology on the computer.

One way Google is accommodating people with disabilities is with a new section for Accessibility that adds up the points for a website’s Search Engine Operation (SEO) Score. A high SEO score is important because it determines which order each website is placed during a search, and a website with a higher score will be placed on or near the top of the search results. So, with the addition of adding the Accessibility section on a SEO score, web designers are making a business case for companies to design an accessible webpage so they can get more web traffic.

Firefox also developed downloadable “Add-Ons” that will improve Internet accessibility. One Add-On called “Readability” enables a user to set many viewing controls (such as text size/color) and eliminate webpage clutter (such as advertisements). You can set controls to display a webpage as text only, which is useful for screen readers. You can also convert to an MP3, which can be transferred to a portable MP3 player. One additional feature of Readability includes a summarizing control so you can lengthen or shorten the amount of reading. This “Add-On” works very well and it’s free, which makes this tool a best friend to anyone with low vision or blindness.

Other free accessibility applications are the built-in Universal Access Programs on operating systems such as Mac OSX Snow Leopard. Snow Leopard includes tools that will assist users with Low Vision/Blindness, Hard of Hearing, Cognitive Disabilities, and Physical Disabilities. Snow Leopard also includes keyboard shortcuts that help to quickly enable any Universal Access Tool. The nicest part of having built-in Universal Access Tools is that the programs interface well with each other, because compatibility has been a problem with assistive technology software in the past.

People with disabilities can use these features to make their computer use easier. AT Coordinators, AT Specialists and Advocates may find this information useful for training and advocacy purposes. They can use these and similar tools to train consumers how to use AT on the computer for education, vocational, or recreational purposes.

What cool new software have you encountered recently? What FREE AT software would you recommend to others?