Tuesday, March 29, 2011

8 Great Online Employment Resources

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

1. Our Ability
A Web portal for mentoring launched March 24th. View and listen to success stories. Post a job or resume. Read about and interact with successful people with disabilities in the education and business world.  The site is the brain-child of John Robinson, general manager for WCNY, AXXESS Media Productions (author of
Get Off Your Knees: A Story of Faith, Courage, and Determination).

2. Accessible Technology for All
AccessibleTech.org is a project of the ADA National Network geared for the business community. The site provides resources on accessible technology and AT. National Hotline: 800-949-4232

3. Workrave
Free ergonomics software download to prevent Repetive Strain injury while working on your computer. (Windows and Linux only). Find more free ergonomics software

4. Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) The Job Accommodation Network (JAN)'s Web page for exploring various accommodation options for people with disabilities in work and educational settings.

5. Employer's Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodations  Another great JAN resource: covers Americans with Disabilities Act basics and info on reasonable accommodations for applicants, interviewees, current and former employees, and employees on leave.

6. Workplace Accommodation Examples
Read case studies about successful workplace accommodations and add your own. This Wiki  was created as a means to share unique accommodation ideas. Located at CATEA's Work RERC site (at Georgia Tech).

7. Punch-In.org
A new self-directed Employment Assistant that is geared for young adults with disabilities seeking to enter the workforce.

8. Solving the Employment Puzzle for Youth with Disabilities
Customizable, free parent training curriculum that focuses on providing specific
information on various employment systems for persons with disabilities. From the Pacer Center. Power Point version

Do you have any employment-related resources that you would like to share? If so, let us know in the comments section below. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mandatory Enrollment of Seniors and Persons with Disabilities in Medi-Cal Managed Care

Many people with disabilities receive medical care, including durable medical equipment and medical supplies, through California's Medi-Cal system. California is rolling out Mandatory Managed Care for people with disabilities and seniors. The questions and answers below outline who is affected and explain the basics regarding the transition. A big thank you to Disability Rights California for sharing this important information.

Written by Disability Rights California

California’s Protection & Advocacy System

Q: I receive Medi-Cal. Will I have to enroll in managed care?

A: Many seniors and persons with disabilities, approximately 380,000
people, will have to join a Medi-Cal managed care plan if they live in
one of the 14 counties on the list below:
San Bernardino
Contra Costa
San Diego
San Francisco
San Joaquin
Los Angeles
Santa Clara

But not everyone in these counties will be affected. You do not have
to enroll in a managed care plan if:

1. You have Medicare as well as Medi-Cal
2. You receive services from the California Children’s Services
(CCS) program, or
3. You receive foster care or adoption assistance benefits

Q: When will these changes take effect?

A: Mandatory enrollment will depend on your birth month.
Mandatory enrollment will begin in June 2011 for people with
birthdays in June; it will begin in July for people with birthdays in July,
and so forth. This process will continue for one year, through May

Q: What is managed care?

A: Managed care means that you receive your health care from a
managed care plan. A managed care plan is an organized network of
health care providers, which emphasizes primary and preventive
care. Hospitals, physicians and other health care providers are
members of the network. The managed care plan can be public or

Q: Are there any benefits to managed care?

A: Yes. Managed care plans can provide you with the following:
• Help coordinating your care
• Help finding primary care doctors and specialists
• Help finding a pharmacy
• Ongoing referrals to specialists
• Telephone advice nurses
• Customer service centers
• Support groups
• Health education programs to:
o Quit smoking
o Prevent and deal with drug and alcohol problems
o Manage chronic pain
o Eat well and exercise safely

• Help getting to and from medical appointments (non-medical

Q: If I’m in managed care, can I keep the same doctors I have

A: Ordinarily, your doctor must be part of the managed care network.
However, if you now have a doctor who is not part of the managed
care network, you can keep that doctor; but only if the doctor is both
willing to keep seeing you and willing to accept the managed care
network’s payment rate or the Medi-Cal fee-for-service rate,
whichever is higher. The doctor becomes a part of the managed care
network just for purposes of caring for you. The doctor will have
access to network providers for purposes of referrals, etc.

Q: If I don't already have doctors I like, will the health plan
provide ones who know about my disability?  

A: The Medi-Cal managed care plan can help you find a doctor's
office that will meet your special needs. Your doctor and the health
plan will be responsible for helping to coordinate your care. This
includes helping you find the specialists you need. In addition, the
managed care plan has telephone advice nurses to answer your
health questions and customer service call centers to answer
questions about your benefits.

Q: What if I don't like managed care – can I get out?

A: No. However, if you have a “complex medical condition” the
managed care plan must provide continuous care with your current
provider for up to one year after you enroll in the managed care plan.
This is true whether or not the provider is willing to accept the
managed care network’s payment rate. The state is finalizing
requirements for this “exceptions process.”

Q: I live in a rural county without any Medi-Cal managed care
plans. Will I have to enroll in a managed care plan?

A: No.

Q: How will I know what to do to enroll?

A: You should be getting letters and phone calls beginning about 90
days before you are required to enroll. The letters and phone calls
will explain the steps you need to take and the options for managed
care providers in your area.

Q: I don’t have to enroll in managed care but I want to. Is it
possible for me to enroll voluntarily?

A: Yes, as long as your county has at least one managed care network
that accepts Medi-Cal.

Q: How can I find out more about the managed care plans in my
area and pick the best one for me?

A: You can find information about Medi-Cal managed care on the
Health Care Options (California Department of Health Care Services)
You can also call Health Care Options at: 1-800-430-4263. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

2011 CSUN Conference

It's that time of year again. The AT Network is currently staffing a booth at the 26th Annual Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference organized by California State University, Northridge (CSUN). We are busy talking to people about the AT Network and wandering the exhibit halls to learn what is new in assistive technology. Stay tuned because we plan to share what we have learned in the weeks to come.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Let Your Money Talk

By Shannon Ramsay, Information and Assistance Advocate, CFILC

Perhaps you have been in a situation where you asked for change and you found out later that you had been given the wrong amount of money.  You could not do anything about this because you did not have a way of checking the denominations of the bills as they were given to you.  Maybe you wanted to pay for something and you found out that the bills in your wallet were different in value than you thought they were.  These upsetting and embarrassing situations confront individuals with vision impairments and print-related disabilities every day in the United States because they cannot tell U.S. currency apart by touch.

Countries in other parts of the world, such as the member nations in the European Union, use currency which is a different size in length and width based on the value of the bill.  The United States does not follow this practice at this time.  American currency feels the same whether you are holding a one-dollar bill or a one-hundred-dollar bill in your hand.  While the U.S. mint has started printing currency with different color markings and larger numbers, these changes to American money do not help individuals with print-related disabilities, those who are color blind, and people with a wide array of visual impairments. 
There are several small, easy-to-use gadgets on the market which you can use to handle the challenge of identifying the money you have.  One money identifier available on the market is called the Franklin Talking Bill Reader, which is sold by Independent Living Aids.  You can find out more about the Franklin Money Identifier and you can also purchase it at the Independent Living Aids website www.independentliving.com

It’s a handheld device which allows the user to immediately determine the denominations of U.S. dollar bills.  The device allows you to present the correct amount of cash at the end of a transaction and to count and sort the change you receive.  The Franklin money identifier will identify any current or recent designs of U.S. currency.  It will speak the value of the bill it reads in English or Spanish depending on what the user prefers, and the announcement can be made aloud or through earphones.  This device couples visual pattern recognition technology with an embedded digital camera to read the currency the user wishes to identify.

The Franklin Bill Identifier has a simple two-button interface, and it employs voice commands to prompt the user.  All the user has to do is point the device at a bill from any angle and depress a button.  The Franklin Money Identifier comes with PC software so the device can be updated if there are any changes in the design of U.S. currency.  An audio CD with recorded instructions and a USB connector also come with the device.  The device operates on two AAA batteries and sells for $299.95. 
Another currency identifier on the market is called the Money Talks Money Identifier.  It is a portable, easy-to-use device which can be used to quickly identify paper currency.  This device recognizes and announces the value of U.S. paper money from $1.00 to $100.00.  To operate this device you simply switch it on, slide the money into the slot on the front of the device, and touch the “M” button.  The Money Talks device will announce the denomination of the currency in a clear male voice.  The device can identify both the old and new versions of American currency, and it can identify either the front or the back of the bill.  This device was developed by MaxiAids, which sells the device.  You can find more information about the Money Talks Money Identifier at www.maxiaids.com  The Money Talks Money Identifier costs $199.95.  The device has a volume control button and a headset jack for privacy.  It comes with print and cassette instructions and is operated by three AAA batteries.  The device measures 4-3/8 inches long by 3-3/8 inches wide by 1-1/8 inches thick, and it comes in a lightweight plastic storage case.

A third handy little device for identifying currency is called the iBill Talking Banknote Identifier.  It is sold by Orbit Research for $99.00-$109.00.  This device can be purchased through the Orbit Research website at www.orbitresearch.com  It helps people with vision challenges to identify the money they are paying with or the change which they receive in stores or restaurants.  This device is very simple to use because the individual simply inserts the end of a bill into a slot on the side of the unit and presses a button.  The denomination of the bill is announced almost immediately in a female voice.  The user can insert either end of the bill into the slot on the side of the device to determine the value of the bill.  This little device is very compact and lightweight.  It measures 3.0 inches long by 1.6 inches wide by 0.7 inches thick.  The iBill identifies all U.S. currency in circulation at this time with 99% accuracy.  Also, the device can be updated when new designs of currency are released.  The unit gives the user a clear error message when a bill is too badly torn or defaced to be identified.

It is very easy to use the iBill currency identifier since it only has two buttons.  The device is operated by just one AAA battery which lasts for about a year with normal use of the device.  The user manual for this device is provided in large print and an audio format.

A great feature of the iBill money identifier is its variable setting for how a bill is identified.  The user can have the denomination of the bill, such as “one” or “five”, spoken aloud.  You can also choose to have the device identify bills using a pattern of beeps or strong vibrations.  The vibration setting for currency identification is especially helpful in noisy settings, and it also makes the device useful for deaf-blind individuals.  In addition, the user can change the volume setting on the device.

A fourth currency identifier is called the Noteteller and it is sold by Brytech for $300.  It operates in essentially the same way as the other currency identifiers which this article describes.  You can find out more about the Noteteller and you can also purchase it at the Brytech website www.brytech.com

An additional solution to the problem of identifying currency is to put bills into a scanner and to use optical character recognition software such as Open Book or Kurzweil 1000 to determine the denomination of a bill.  Most recent versions of these scanning software packages have a function for identifying currency.

Have you ever used a currency identifier? If so, was it accurate? Tell us about your experience with or without a currency identifier in the comment box below. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Simple Speech from Pal Software Design LLC - A brief review of AAC Software for Windows Platform

By Luke Hsieh, Community Access Center, Riverside

When I first came across the Simple Speech website, I was a little apprehensive because it didn’t include the company's physical address or telephone number. It only has a PayPal sign for credit card payment, the name of its CEO and a rather vague statement that the company is based in Brooklyn, New York. True, many small companies that produce software aimed at a niche market tend to use this model to minimize operating expenses—and trust me, AAC software definitely qualifies as a niche market. Using a PayPal payment and direct download of the software means no mess, no fuss. However, most companies do provide their physical address and telephone number to give an impression of legitimacy. So you cannot blame me for being a little weary.

To make a long story short, I took a chance and bought a copy of Simple Speech for testing. It works very much like Proloquo2go from AssistiveWare and Dynavox's MightyMo; it also comes with a full set of Dynavox PEC pictures. However, it does not include a voice engine, so it will use whatever voice engine is already installed on your device. Hence, if the only voice engine you have is the infamous Microsoft Sam, then Sam would have to do.

I like Simple Speech because school districts may be more likely to buy the software for Windows Platform devices instead of buying a $200 iPod or a $500 iPad. The disadvantage is that even with the latest Tablet Windows PC, the Windows Platform device may still not be as portable as an iPod Touch or iPad. So there is something of a trade off there. But if you can afford $45 for IVONA 2 Text to Speech Engine and another $49 for Simple Speech, you can turn any Windows platform PC into a rather pleasing AAC device.

Have you tried Simple Speech or any of the other AAC software discussed above? What were your experiences? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.