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?