Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Expanding our Community, Vision with new AT DLL

By Derek Zarda, Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco

Being the newest Assistive Technology Device Lending Library (DLL) on the AT Network, I can say that these past few months following its inception here at ILRCSF have been truly remarkable. We at ILRCSF are very thankful for the opportunity to participate in this program and provide AT devices not just to consumers locally, but also throughout the AT Network’s DLL centers.

We stocked our DLL initially with a diverse array of AT items to meet the various needs of our community. Our inventory ranges from vision aids such as portable video magnifiers, listening devices such as the Pocket Talker Ultra, smart media devices that include iPads, Kindles and Tablets, and mobility aids such as multi-fold ramps and walking canes with foldable seats. Popular items that we have seen so far include our ACER PC notebooks (with JAWS screen reader software), ramps, and reading/cognitive AT devices.

I want to mention ramps again as we have learned just how vital it is that the AT DLL program offers ramps. Of the ramp rentals we have completed so far, one loan enabled a senior advocacy organization to have an accessible stage at an event (at no cost), while another ramp loan is currently aiding a consumer who uses a wheelchair to test out accessing her van for travel with her family.

Our first AT DLL loan was an ACER PC notebook to a veteran with a disability, who is a member of a veterans art guild that meets weekly at ILRCSF. With this loan, he has been able to store and edit photos for a mural project that he’s organizing with his fellow veterans with disabilities. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook how big an effect one device loan can have in the community.

Outreach to high schools and colleges about our AT DLL program has also been a major focus point for us. One of these visits was to a class at the City College of San Francisco to give a presentation about general services and our AT DLL, and I have been asked to return for follow-up presentations. One of the students from that class even contacted me the very next day to set up an appointment to discuss her AT needs, and within a week she had a Reading Pen 2 to try out. The excitement in the student’s eyes said it all – a whole new world of possibilities was opened up to her.

Our new DLL is really a big hit here in San Francisco, and it is just the beginning of new developments to follow in the upcoming year. We look forward to working with consumers and the other DLL centers in providing short-term loans of invaluable AT devices to open the borrowers’ minds to new opportunities and prospects. With the initial reception we have received in these first few months, the best is yet to come.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

An Abilities Expo Perspective

by Shannon Coe, CFILC’s Reuse & Finance Coordinator

During the weekend of November 19th and 20th, I got the chance to attend the Abilities Expo in San Jose.

There were new faces and animals at the event. I saw horses giving rides to people with autism as a form of therapy. There was a hot air balloon with accessible views and a motor home with lifts to bring a person with a physical disability inside the motor home so they can go on adventures. The Expo also had a film festival that showed documentaries submitted by people with disabilities. 

The AT device I liked the most at the Expo was a manual wheelchair that could become a motorized wheelchair when you attach an electronic device that looks like the front of a standard bicycle to it. The device looks like a motorized bicycle. It is currently not in the market but I saw a participant riding around in it. The inventor went to the Expo to show off the device in hopes of getting a venture capitalist to invest in the wheelchair. Overall, I was impressed with the creative inventions and art that permeated the event.

Have you been to an Abilities Expo? If so, what was your experience like?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

You Gotta Have a Plan When Searching for AT Funding

Are you looking for alternative funding resources to pay for the assistive technology you need? There are fewer funding sources out there these days, but if you are organized and able to justify your need for AT, then you may be able to get what you need.

The AT Network has resources online to help you develop a funding strategy and find alternative funding sources. Also, if you need to write a letter documenting your need, the AT Network has a template you can use.

Click here to learn how to develop a funding strategy.

Click here to find possible alternative funding sources.

Click here to view a funding request letter template.

And if you would like to talk to us about your specific assistive technology funding situation, please contact the AT Network's information and referral line at 800-390-2699 or email us at info@atnet.org.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Accessible Hot Air Balloon Rides

By Kim Cantrell, CFILC’s Director of Programs

While at the Abilities Expo in San Jose last weekend, I came across an exhibit showcasing an accessible hot air balloon basket made for wheelchair users. It was an amazing sight. Now wheelchair users can easily enjoy hot air balloon experiences. The accessible basket has a ramp, lowered rail and a window allowing more than 180 degree visibility for all passengers.

Currently there is only one company offering accessible hot air ballooning experiences in the United States. Located in wine country, Up & Away Ballooning takes off from the Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa. If you are a wheelchair user interested in a hot air ballooning experience, click here to check it out.

What accessible adventures have you had? Please share in the comment box below.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Repair and Reuse Fund is available!

By Shannon Coe, CFILC’s Reuse & Finance Coordinator

It’s alive! The AT Network has resurrected its Repair and Reuse Fund. With a new face lift to the online application, we would like to highlight some of the changes. The most important change is that organizations can now submit up to five devices for repairs each week, up to $1000 for each device. After submitting the applications and attaching the photos of the devices and a 501(c)(3) letter for first time applicants, tracking numbers will be sent to the applicant to ensure all devices submitted are matched to the photos attached to the online application. Receipts for the devices repaired must be submitted within 30 days from when the application was approved.

Only organizations with a 501(c)(3) letter that accept donated AT devices can apply for funds. Organizations may not use the funds to repair AT devices owned by individuals. The repaired device must be reassigned to new owner. We will be accepting applications on a continuous basis until the fund is exhausted or until April 30th, 2012.

You can learn more about the AT Repair and Reuse Fund at http://www.atnet.org/repairfund.php and apply for funding at http://atnet.org/application/application-for-funding.php. If you cannot access these links, you can also go directly to http://www.atnet.org and click on “Limited time only: AT Repair and Reuse Fund Application.”

What skeletons, I mean devices, are in your closet?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

It's Disability History Week!

The Second Annual California Disability History Week is being celebrated around the state this week (October 10th- October 14th), the result of a long-fought effort by young people with disabilities determined to create a better understanding of the contributions people with disabilities have made to our society. In honor of this important week, students, teachers and schools around the state are preparing dozens of activities to take place both during and after school.

"California's youth with disabilities led the effort to create Disability History Week because we know that by learning about the past, we can help change the future." said YO! Volunteer Penelope DeMeerleer.

"Giving teachers the chance to create lesson plans and encourage conversations in class about the history of the disability history will go a long way in helping to reduce ignorance on campus and increase awareness and tolerance" Jonny Vallin, a student at CSU Los Angeles, explained.

Part of a national youth-led movement to increase awareness of disability history, California's Disability History week encourages schools and colleges to highlight the disability rights social movement, the disability leaders and actions that led to Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in the Olmstead case. Schools are planning events including: rallies, classroom activities, panels, assemblies, outreach, and guest speakers.

Efforts to pass the resolution to create Disability History Week, authored by Assemblymember Jim Beall (D-San Jose), were supported by the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers and YO! Youth Organizing! Disabled & Proud and comes after youth movements in several other states were successful in gaining recognition of Disability History Weeks. Nationwide, efforts to recognize disability history are supported by the federal Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy.

"Our history is so rich and diverse in California, yet many of my peers have never learned about the history of the disability community. I think this lack of knowledge is a major reason why so many young people with disabilities experience bullying at school," said Ania Flatau, a student at Monterey Pennisula College. "This is why it is so important for Disability History Week to get started. I know that if my classmates had more information about the disability community, there would definitely be a greater understanding between students with and without disabilities."

The Second Annual Disability History Week will be particularly timely, as an effort to overturn the recently adopted Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act at the ballot will be required to submit over 500,000 valid signatures on October 12th in order to qualify. The FAIR Act will lead to schools including information about the disability rights and LGBT rights movements in social studies and history classes in K-12 education. A month after Governor Brown signed the FAIR Act into law, several anti-gay groups launched an effort to prevent the historic Act from going into effect. Youth with disabilities from around the state are determined to make sure that these efforts to exclude certain parts of our history do not succeed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Looktel Money Reader--a user's perspective

by Dane Geer, AT Advocate at the Independent Living Center of Kern County

LookTel Money Reader is a helpful mobile assistant that’s simple and easy to use. While shopping I use the application to verify money while checking out or to ensure I am getting the right amount of change back. It can also be used to quickly and easily sort money with total independence from virtually anywhere.

LookTel Money Reader instantly recognizes US currency and speaks the denomination, enabling people with visual impairments or blindness to quickly and easily identify and count bills. Simply point your iPhone or IPod touch’s camera at any US bill and the application will tell you the denomination in real-time. It supports $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills. There's no need to hold the iPhone or the IPod touch still or capture a photo and wait for a result – recognition happens continuously and in real time. Additionally, the app does not require any internet connection, which means it can read money quickly at any location, anytime.

I really like the pricing compared to other money readers out there, it’s amazing how well it works for me and other blind people that I have talked to about the app. They all say that it is a very useful app to maintain their independence without relying on others.

For more information please visit their website at: www.looktel.com

Monday, October 3, 2011

On the News--iPad apps for children with autism

A recent news story on the bay area's channel 7 features iPad apps for children with autism. Debbie Drennan of Parents Helping Parents is also featured. To watch the video and read the story, click here.

To check out Debbie's AT Network training on apps for iDevices, click here

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Check out the AT Network’s archived trainings

Have you wanted to attend the AT Network’s webinar trainings but haven’t had the time? Fortunately, it is not too late to learn about the latest in assistive technology.
The AT Network currently has over 30 archived trainings available to view. Each webinar is approximately 60-90 minutes. Follow any of the links below to watch archived trainings from the comfort of your computer. Make sure that your computer speakers are turned up so you can enjoy the full webinar experience. Once you have chosen an interesting topic, grab a snack, then sit back, relax and enjoy the show!

AT Network Archived Training Topics:

  • AT & Transition: What Happens After High School? Click here to view.
  • An Overview of iDevices and Apps. Click here to view.
  • Your Rights to AT in the Workplace. Click here to view.
  • AT for Attention and Deficit Disorder. Click here to view.
  • AT and Medicare. Click here to view.
  • Overview of AT Assessment Tools. Click here to view.
  • Reaching Today’s Struggling Readers with Accessible Digital Books. Click here to view.
  • AT Consideration for School-aged Children. Click here to view.
To view a full list of the AT Network’s archived trainings, click here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September is National Preparedness Month

September is National Preparedness Month

In his proclamation designating September as National Preparedness Month, President Barack Obama stated, “In April of this year, a devastating series of tornadoes challenged our resilience and tested our resolve. In the weeks that followed, people from all walks of life throughout the Midwest and the South joined together to help affected towns recover and rebuild…Disability community leaders worked side-by-side with emergency managers to ensure that survivors with disabilities were fully included in relief and recovery efforts. These stories…underscore that in America, no problem is too hard and no challenge is too great.”

Disability.gov’s Emergency Preparedness section has many tools and resources that can help people with disabilities and others prepare for, and recover from, emergency situations and disasters.

Here are a few examples of the resources you’ll find on Disability.gov
• Tips for people who have pets or service animals
• Information about emergency kits and supplies
• Preparing for emergencies at work and school
• Accessible shelters and emergency housing
• Help recovering from a disaster 

Disability.Blog also has information about the importance of including everyone in emergency management planning, preparing for emergencies in the workplace and taking into account service animals when planning for emergencies.

Reprinted from the Disability Blog

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

10 Things Every School District Should Know About AT

School is back in session, which means that assistive technology and individualized education plans (IEPs) are on the minds of many students and teachers. 

The Georgia Project for Assistive Technology (a program of the Georgia Dept. of Education) created a four-part video series framing essential concepts and action steps for the responsible provision of AT services. Useful to school systems in any state (as well as parents, educators, therapists, and others), whether you have an AT program in place or are in the process of developing a program, here are 10 Things Every School District Should Know About Assistive Technology

Thank you to the AT Program News for sharing this resource.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Beyond the Apps Store!

Fingers on a keyboard.
10 Web pages with apps for special education and adults with disabilities

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

As the volume of apps for mobile devices explodes, websites are cropping up to help us learn, review, and share about them. Below is a selection to help you get started:

1. Apps for Children with Disabilities (a4cwsn.com)
Videos of apps in action to help parents, educators, caregivers and professionals make more informed purchases. The creator is a parent who has also launched an effort to give away 50 iPads in 50 states. 

2. IEAR.org; I Education Apps Review
Founded by an education technology specialist, this site has created a community of over 500 educators, administrators, and app developers, including 30 volunteer "educator" app reviewers.  Apps are categorized by grade level and tagged by subject. There is also a special education category with 10 reviews so far. A great place to explore (and help grow?)

3. Teach with your iPad
This is a Wiki with a special education page. There are a lot of educators out there creating Wikis to share education technology advice and this is one of them.

4. Mobile Learning for Children with Disabilities
Founded by a special educator, this Wiki includes 140 iPad/iPhone apps organized by category in addition to articles, video case studies and captioned video tutorials on devices.

5. Moms With Apps: Disability page
An online catalog of apps created by family-friendly developers.

6. iPodsibilities
"One teacher's thoughts on using iPods and iPads in the classroom."  Apps, reviews, lesson plans and more--including for special education.

Beyond Special Education...

7. iPhone/iPad Apps for AAC

8. iPhone/iPad Apps for Magnification and Vision Support

9. iPhone/iPad Apps for Literacy Support
These link to large spread sheets explaining, comparing, and reviewing apps! The AAC page sorts apps with symbols/pictures only, apps with symbols and text-to-speech, and text-based-only apps. The Vision page sorts apps by magnification and other vision support. The Literacy Support sheet is more of a listing only. They are provided by the Spectronics Web site--a supplier of inclusive learning technologies in Australia and New Zealand.

10. AAC TechConnect Apps Assistant
The Apps Assistant is under development to help sort through the sea of AAC apps through a series of basic questions. Check out the apps list and sign up for beta testing.

Happy searching!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A 5 minute request from people with speech disabilities

By Dr. Bob Segalman, President, Speech Communications Assistance by Telephone, Inc.

People with speech disabilities are asking others to help urge the FCC to update technology regulations to improve their telephone access. The FCC is considering whether Speech-to-Speech (STS) should be upgraded to include a video component, called Video Assisted Speech- to-Speech (VID-STS). The information provided by the video component makes them understandable even if their speech is too distorted to use traditional STS.    

Users of VID-STS would make calls using a broadband connection as well as a camera and microphone on their PC.  A trained VID-STS operator, who can help users be understood on the phone, would relay the call between the user and the called party.  During these calls, the VID-STS operator would watch the AAC device (voice output PC) and/or the face of the caller with a speech disability. This operator would observe any gesturing or facial expressions made by the person with a speech disability, and use this combination of information to relay the content of the phone call to the recipient of the call. 

Please let the FCC know that you support improved telephone access for people with speech disabilities. We need input from: potential users, family member/caretakers, disability advocates, allied medical professionals, government utility associates, and telephone industry associates. Many people with speech disabilities have other disabilities which prevent them being activists, so a few minutes of your time is needed to act on their behalf.  

A support statement is available at www.speechtospeech.org: Go to the middle of the home page and click on the "Support Statement for VID-STS", and please complete your contact information. Your responses will go to the FCC.

For additional information, contact:
Bob Segalman, Ph.D., D.Sc. (Hon), President
Speech Communications Assistance by Telephone, Inc. (SCT)
515 P St., #403
Sacramento, CA 95814
Call 1-888-877-5302 and then ask for me at 916-448-5517

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fear of Abandonment

This is a guest post by Jeff Symons, MSE, ATP, a rehabilitation engineer located in Northern California. Jeff provides AT and ergonomic assessments to individuals and clients of the California Department of Rehabilitation as well as other agencies.

I recently got feedback from a counselor that many of the clients that I assessed had quit using the voice recognition software I recommended. I also had another client send back a device that I had recommended. I took these as signs to wonder about technology abandonment. I did some research and found two articles that discussed this issue. Click here to access the first article and click here to access the second article. Both articles listed several key factors that may be involved in technology abandonment. These factors are:

1. Lack of consideration of user opinion in selection;
2. Easy device procurement;
3. Poor device performance;
4. Change in user needs or priorities;
5. Assistive technology training;
6. Follow up.

I try during the assessment to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the options and make sure I understand the user’s perspective. At the end of the assessment I hope that the client, counselor and I are on the same page and agree with what I am going to recommend. We may not always agree on the best solution, but I try to document that in the report.

As I look at these recent instances and the factors of technology abandonment, one conclusion I came to is that follow up and training may be an area that I need to focus on more. I assume that things are going OK unless I hear a complaint, but that may not necessarily be true. In the case of voice recognition software, I have seen a number of people who have stated that it did not work well for them. However, after showing them how well it can work once someone is properly trained, they are generally more interested in learning how to use the program.

I would like to know what reasons people have given for not using what was recommended. I use voice recognition for my reports, and also I'm using it to write this newsletter. I use voice recognition not because I have to, but because it is much faster for me than typing. So again, I would be curious about the reasons people quit using what was recommended.

In the case of the client who sent back a device I recommended even though she had tried it during the assessment, it is likely some follow-up training also may have helped. I do not think she knew how to set up the device and, therefore, did not think it was working properly. A phone call may have solved this problem.

My dilemma is that I would like to follow up with clients to see if they have received the equipment recommended and, if so, to learn how is it working. The problem is that sometimes they have not received recommended equipment for various reasons or their case has been closed. If there is an issue, this could create a problem if we have to re-open their case. I would really like some input and advice as to how to solve this dilemma.

What are your thoughts on technology abandonment? Have you abandoned technology that you thought would meet your needs and later learned that it would not? Any tips you would like to share? 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

AT is Going Back to School

Shannon Coe, CFILC’s Reuse & Finance Coordinator, interviewed Nellie DeMeerleer, YO! Volunteer

As students are getting ready for the new school year, I wanted to find out what kind of AT youth are using these days in college.  So I decided to interview Nellie, a youth volunteer for the Youth Organizing (YO!) Disabled and Proud Program.  Nellie is 21-years-old and is also a third year student at Sacramento City College (SCC).  Due to her hydrocephalus, she is blind in the left eye and has Petit Mal Seizures. Nevertheless, Nellie is able to succeed in school because of accommodations, including AT, provided for her by the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at SCC.  In my interview with Nellie, this is what I discovered.

1.    When did you start using Assistive Technology (AT) for school?

I started using AT at a very young age.  In school I use large print because it makes reading less difficult.  I also use a magnifier when large print isn’t available. I also wear glasses to help my Nystagmus and farsightedness.   

2.    What are some of the accommodations you request at school?

Some accommodations I like to have are: a note taker, extra time on tests, a recorder to record the lecture, and a desk in the front of the class.

3.    Which AT do you find most useful and why?

I really like using a recorder for lectures because it makes me less worried about getting all of the notes down. Instead I get to relax and listen to the lecture and participate in class discussions.

4.    How can you access AT in your school?

I get the AT I need at the DRC at Sacramento City College. Once I enroll in my classes and figure out which accommodations I need for each class, my teacher fills out a sheet for me to sign, and I give it to the DRC. 

5.     What made you realize that AT is essential at school and work?

I realized that using AT can help me be more successful at school and work, and that using AT is not a hassle or a stigma anymore.  When I was in high school, there was a stigma with using AT.  But as youth are becoming more aware and open to AT, I see more of my peers using AT in school now. 
6.    How has AT helped you be more independent at school or work? 

Using AT makes me feel more independent because I don’t need to ask for assistance at school or work to get my assignments completed.  Also, AT has changed a lot in the last few years.  In the past, I carried 14pt. font large print materials to class but now I only need to carry one book because my teachers post electronic documents online.  All I have to do now is change the font size.  AT has helped me a lot so I encourage other students to take advantage of it. 

After my interview with Nellie, I came to realize how much AT has changed and improved in the last decade, especially the perception of AT among youth.  It no longer has the same stigma as in the past. Now youth with disabilities can succeed in their education without the fear of being different.

Now I want to hear from you. How has AT helped you succeed in school?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Will AT Save IHSS?

By Allan Friedman, CFILC's Technologies Manager

California made a BIG bet in March.  We (the disability community, caregivers and the legislature) bet that AT devices for a few at-risk individuals will save the state $140 million dollars in prevented hospitalizations.  And if we’re wrong? A cut to IHSS hours for all.

When SB 72 was signed into law March 24th, the clock began ticking on an ambitious pilot project to see if California could reduce Medi-Cal hospital costs by ensuring that patients take their proper dosages of medications at the proper times.  More than a dozen states have succeeded in reducing hospitalizations due to medication mismanagement, so hopes are high.

The technology being piloted is called a Medication Dispensing Machine.  Loaded by the Medi-Cal recipient or caregiver with a month’s supply of medications, the machines are programmed to dispense the proper dosages at the proper times.  The user is alerted with both a visual (flashing light or sign) and auditory signal (a recorded voice, bell or other sound).  If the dispensed meds are not taken in a set amount of time, they are withdrawn into the machine and a text or audio message is sent by telephone to caregivers, doctors or other designated receivers. All dosages are recorded and can be monitored remotely.

But will California realize the savings from this use of assistive technology in time to prevent cuts to IHSS hours?  It's doubtful.  The Department of Healthcare Services has only just begun to work out the details of how they will identify those at risk and how they will deliver the service to them. Their most recent progress report (available on the pilot project webpage) shows that implementation will not start for several more months, most likely in 2012. 
Yet the bill calls for reporting to begin in October and that evidence of savings must be reported to the legislature by April 2012 or else the budget committees will begin planning a reduction in authorized hours for IHSS recipients beginning in October of 2012. This budgeting tactic is being called a "trigger."

The Medication Dispensing Machine Pilot Project has a lot of potential to reduce costs and help consumers stay healthy and out of hospitals.  It is likely that, even with delays to its implementation, it will be continued in the next budget cycle.  But it seems clear that the saving from this program probably will not come soon enough to avert cuts to IHSS services.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How to fund the eyeglasses you need

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

As an assistive technology advocate, I often get requests from consumers on a variety of different pieces of equipment and services. Recently many of our consumers have inquired about funding assistance for basic eye glasses. Of course, before acquiring glasses one must first acquire a prescription from an eye doctor in order to have glasses made. This is the first barrier as many of our consumers don’t have vision coverage or don’t have the resources to pay for those services.  Furthermore consumers often believe that Medi-Cal  can pay for those services.  Here is what Medi-Cal’s vision care policy from their website:

As of July 26, 2010 Medi-Cal again started covering an eye exam from an eye doctor for beneficiaries 21 years or older.

What will Medi-Cal now pay for?

Medi-Cal will now pay for these services if you are any age:
·        To see an eye doctor to test your eyes
·        To test for a prescription for eyeglasses
·        To test for a prescription for contact lenses if you have eye diseases
·        To check the health of your eyes
·        To check to see if you have low vision

What vision-related expenses will Medi-Cal NOT pay for?

Medi-Cal will not pay for these if you are 21 years of age or older (except in some cases):
·        New eyeglasses or to fix your glasses
·        Contact lenses
·        Things that will help you see better (like magnifying glasses)

What are the exceptions?

Medi-Cal will pay for eyeglasses, contact lenses or other things to help you see better for only these people:
·        Pregnant women; and only if your doctor says that not having them will be harmful to your baby or pregnancy
·        Children or people less than 21-years-old who have full Medi-Cal
·        People who live in a nursing home

There you have it. Unless you fit in that small population, you won’t be able to get glasses through Medi-Cal.

As an advocate, my next step is to brainstorm solutions that fill this gap when consumers don’t have the proper coverage to acquire glasses. The first places I look are service organizations like the Lions Club, an organization that recycles eyeglasses throughout the world. Our local Lions Club assisted my consumers in acquiring much needed services. But what can we do when there are no Lions Clubs available to help?

Recently I found out about the organization called New Eyes for the Needy that helps with the cost of prescription glasses for low income individuals in the United States. The applicant submits an application along with a copy of a recent prescription for eyeglasses and, if approved, the applicant receives a voucher from the organization for the cost of glasses. The applicant will then have to find a dispenser that will agree to make glasses for the consumer at the rates printed on the voucher. Once the glasses are made, the organization will reimburse the dispensary for the work completed. The hard part of the program is finding a dispensary that takes the voucher, but once you do, the process is much smoother. Furthermore, the organization is partnering with Wal-Mart vision Center and many Walt-Marts have started taking the voucher.

We often have to think outside of the box to find resources that meet our needs or the needs of the people we serve.

Have you found any new funding sources that fill the gaps that insurance coverage doesn't provide? 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Expanding Access to Communications Technology for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Communities

By Shannon Ramsay, CFILC’s  Information & Assistance Advocate

We increasingly communicate using advanced devices that zip data back and forth between us over the Internet. Since many of these new types of communication technology have not been designed to be accessible for those of us with hearing impairments, it has become necessary to update and expand existing telecommunications laws to address these accessibility barriers. The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) was passed to ensure that this next generation of Internet-based and digital communication technologies is accessible to those of us with hearing and speech disabilities. In this article I will review the changes which the CVAA is making to hearing aid compatibility requirements as well as the expansion of the relay service. 

Until now section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 only required newly manufactured and imported phones using the traditional public switchboard network to be compatible with hearing aids. Section 255 did not make any provisions for manufacturers of new Internet-enabled phone technology to incorporate hearing aid compatibility into their products. Click here to find out more about past hearing aid compatibility requirements under section 255.

In Title I, section 102, the CVAA extends the current regulations for hearing aid compatibility to include all equipment and devices which offer Internet protocol-enabled (IP) communication services. IP-enabled devices, such as Internet phones, tablets, and PDAs, transmit your voice through the Internet using technologies such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) instead of the traditional switchboard system. Today many people and organizations use Internet phones to communicate more cheaply and easily, but there is no guarantee that you will be able to hear and understand the person calling you using an Internet phone if you wear hearing aids. The CVAA mandates that the manufacturers of new IP-enabled telecommunications devices must incorporate hearing aid compatibility into new products by including things such as acoustic handsets in their designs. Regulations spelling out the requirements for hearing compatibility of IP-enabled telecommunications devices will be issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the fourth quarter of this year. I am personally looking forward to a time when I can use an Internet phone and know that I will not experience any interferences with my hearing aids. 

Right now telecommunications relay services (TRS) are only intended to facilitate functionally equivalent communication between people with hearing and speech disabilities and all other people. Section 103 of the CVAA updates the scope of relay services to require equivalent telephone communication functionality between parties regardless of disability and to increase relay service obligations for all VoIP service providers.     

Have you experienced any difficulties using Internet-enabled communications technology as a person with a hearing impairment?                                                             

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What is an ATP, and why you should work with one

by Fred Tchang, ATP and Director, Assistive Technology Services in New Jersey

People working in the field of assistive technology have many different backgrounds--education, technology, therapy.  The one credential that unites us is the RESNA Assistive Technology Professional (ATP). 

How does a credential differ from a training course?  Training courses are great for learning new material. The ATP is not a training course—it is a credential that recognizes professionals who have reached an internationally accepted standard of knowledge in assistive technology.  The certification process includes work/education eligibility, the passing of a 200-item examination, and an on-going commitment to practice at the highest ethical standard in the field of assistive technology. 

Why do people seek to earn the ATP?  Earning an ATP identifies the certificant as a trustworthy, dedicated expert.  Those who hold the ATP credential are listed on RESNA’s website for easy identification and referral.  An ATP certified professional takes a holistic approach to every situation, assessing your situation and influences, and then determining what equipment will enable you to optimize your life at home, school, work and in the community.

Know where to find an RESNA certified AT professional (ATP)? Visit www.resna.org and click on “Find a Certified AT Professional.” 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Show Us Your AT!

By Allan Friedman, CFILC's Technologies Manager

Most of us tend to think about big things in AT--communication devices, wheelchairs, ramps, iPads, computer screenreaders. But it's the little things, low-tech improvisations, that often mean the most to users of assistive technology. Whether it's taping a stick to a hair brush to extend one's reach or hanging a pull cord on a door knob, simple devices that people fashion for themselves tend to be extremely useful and valued.

Necessity is the mother of invention and people with disabilities, especially those with limited incomes and resources, are always inventing solutions for themselves. We'd like to share those  solutions with others. By sharing our creativity we can inspire others and perhaps provide a bright idea for someone who is stymied by their limitations.

We'd like you to share your AT solutions with us so we can share them with others via the AT Network website. If you've got a favorite gadget or device that you have put together and depend on, write us at feedback@atnet.org and tell us about it. Better yet, send pictures! We will share your ideas by posting them in the "How to Succeed with AT" section of our website. Together we'll show people that creativity and AT go hand in hand when it comes to providing functional solutions to functional needs.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Good Idea Gone Bad

by Allan Friedman, CFILC's Technologies Manager

Competitive bidding sounds like a good idea, right? Get the lowest price and the best deal. Save money. What could go wrong?

Plenty, especially when it's Medicare running the process and durable medical equipment (DME) vendors doing the bidding. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Competitive Bidding Program for certain Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS) is causing havoc in the home healthcare industry.

The Medicare Modernization act of 2003 (MMA) required Medicare to replace the Home Medical Equipment (HME) payment fee schedule for certain items with a "competitive acquisition" or government contracting program. The program was implemented on January 1, 2011 in nine cities (including the Riverside/Bakersfield area) and will expand to 91 metropolitan areas later this year in round 2.

In California, round 2 cities include: Bakersfield, Fresno, LA-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Sacramento-Roseville, San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marco, SF-Oakland-Fremont, San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara and Visalia-Porterville.

So what's wrong with the competitive bidding program? Well, for starters it is driving suppliers out of business, limiting choice for consumers, lengthening hospital stays and causing much grief for consumers.

As a result of the bidding process, many vendors who provide a variety of home healthcare products and DME were awarded contracts to supply a single item or none at all. In some areas, out-of-state vendors won contracts to supply products, forcing consumers to drive long distances or rely on mail order to obtain supplies and products they previously purchased locally.

Hospital discharge planners are delaying releases because they cannot match patients to contracted providers with the appropriate products such as wheelchairs, oxygen equipment and sleep therapy devices.

One Medicare recipient was waiting for her diabetes test strips for more than two weeks and could no longer receive them from her original provider since the company was not contracted. Another patient needs oxygen 24 hours a day and relies on portable oxygen to visit her physician. Her HME company did not win a contract and the user needs physician approval to switch to a different company. She has no access to oxygen and cannot visit her physician.

So what can we do? For starters, Consumers in the Riverside-San Bernardino area who have been affected by this program need to tell their stories. At the AAHomecare’s website (http://www.aahomecare.org/) They can click on the ‘Competitive Bid Problems?’ button and provide feedback on how their access to home healthcare products and services has been affected by the program.

We also need to get behind HR 1041 and urge its passage before the program expands to round 2 later this year. HR 1041 would roll back the flawed pilot project and institute an up-to-date and fair pricing schedule defining what Medicare will pay for certain equipment. The bill has 132 cosigners, none from California. Advocates, consumers and others who are concerned, should write their representatives in Congress and urge them to cosign the bill.

A lot of Californians are already experiencing difficulties as a result of this program. Many more will unless we join the national effort to stop it. The time to advocate is now!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Future of Robotic Vacuum Cleaners

By Shannon Coe, CFILC’s Reuse & Finance Coordinator

Yesterday, as our country celebrated Independence Day with friends and family, I also got to enjoy a clean Independence Day with my husband and friends with the help of Wally.  No, Wally is not a dog or a cat.  He is cleaner than any dog or fury pet because Wally is a Robotic Vacuum Cleaner.  Think of Rosie the Robot from the Jetsons, a cartoon I used to watch in grade school.  I can’t believe the future has arrived for us to have a robot that cleans the floor.  Of course, Wally looks nothing like Rosie but he has helped me gain more independence. 

As a wheelchair user, I have difficulty vacuuming and sweeping while pushing my wheelchair at the same time.  Since I always feel exhausted after trying to vacuum, I rarely do it and delegate the responsibility to my husband.  But with our busy schedules, we don’t have the time to clean the dust bunnies underneath our bed or the dirt on the floor left by my wheelchair every day. 

We programmed Wally to clean the floors everyday while we are away at work.  Since then we have not seen any dirt or dust bunnies.  Sometimes Wally gets stuck underneath the kitchen counter and we have to bring him back to his charging station, but once he is charged up, he goes back to work. 

Before we purchased Wally, we did some research online and found that there were a few brands out there that sell robotic vacuum cleaners.  Of course, none of them are cheap, but a good vacuum cleaner is never cheap.  After much research, we went to Fry’s Electronics store and bought the Neato Robotics. After watching some YouTube videos comparing the different brands out in the market, we decided that the Neato was much more methodical in how it cleans so it does not bump into the furniture as often.  Basically, the Neato is programmed to scan the room and start vacuuming without me having to hold or control it.  When the dirt bin is full, it is also easy for me to empty it.  Wally has definitely made my life less stressful.

Other brands of Robotic Vacuum Cleaners include:

To get an idea what Robotic Vacuum Cleaners can do, you can watch it on You Tube.

Do you consider Robots to be a friend or foe in the world of Assistive Technology?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Ramp Up to Accessing 21st Century Communication Technology

By Shannon Ramsay, CFILC's Information and Assistance Advocate

So many of the ways that we communicate vital information are not fully accessible to people with disabilities. The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (from here forward referred to as “the Act”) was signed into law by President Obama on October 8, 2010 to give people with disabilities access to these communications services.  This overview article is the first in a series of posts which will explain the provisions of the Act.

 The act is broken down into two major sections, each of which is made up of several subparts.  In the first major section, the act addresses barriers to communication technology, such as the incompatibility of smart phones with hearing aids and inaccessibility of content on the Internet.  The second major section of the act focuses on increasing access to video programming through closed captioning and audio description.          
Currently, many of us who wear hearing aids experience interference on certain types of phones, such as smart phones, or we are not able to hear the sounds on the phone clearly enough. These incompatibilities cause us to miss critical pieces of information which are necessary for us to communicate effectively. I have experienced situations in which I have needed to take my hearing aids out to hear conversations on my phone.  There are provisions in the first section of the act which address the problem of hearing aid compatibility with certain types of phones.     

Right now a large amount of online information is still not easily within the reach of people with disabilities.  We are denied equal access to information about employment and educational opportunities because far too many websites are still not designed with screen reader access or closed captioning integrated into their design.  Also, many times assistive technology comes into conflict with Internet hardware and software preventing web access. Provisions are stated in the first section of the Act to reduce these barriers and to make it possible for us to check e-mail, shop for music, apply for jobs, follow the latest news, and track the amount of funds we have in our bank accounts as easily as our peers without disabilities.

Frequently, people with disabilities become stranded and lose access to the technology and personal assistance we need during disasters such as floods and earthquakes because emergency information is not presented in an accessible format. The first section of the Act includes provisions to ensure that emergency service providers make information about disasters and disaster relief services accessible through audio description and closed captioning.  In the second section, the Act states that an emergency information advisory committee should be established to come up with the best methods for increasing access to emergency information.

Furthermore, the first section of the Act contains provisions requiring the establishment  of a relay system which will assist deaf individuals to communicate more easily by phone with people who can hear.  The first section also includes requirements for the distribution of communications equipment for people who are deaf-blind. 

 The second major section of the Act mandates that video programming must be made more accessible through the increased availability of closed captioning and audio description.  

 All of the provisions of this act are intended to set new standards so that Americans with disabilities can take advantage of the technology our economy depends on.  This is especially important in today's job market when every worker needs the necessary skills to compete for the jobs of the future. 

 If you would like to get more information about the history of the law and read the entire text of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, click here

What barriers have you encountered to communications services and video programming and how do you think this act will help you overcome them?