Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Baby/Toddler Assistive Technology Carriers

By Christina Mills, CFILC's Deputy Director

There are several different types of baby carriers on the market. Fortunately, they come in all different shapes and sizes. In my opinion, some are relatively easy to take on and off while others are more complicated and take some practice in tying, wrapping around or buckling independently. 

My husband and I researched carriers online and also went to a couple of different stores to try some out. Our research taught us that what worked for me, as a short stature wheelchair user, and him, as an ambulatory short stature person with shorter arms, was not the same. Furthermore, we had to take into account that our baby is also a person with a disability and needs a carrier that wouldn't put too much pressure on her body and would still allow us to safely get her in and out of the carrier without putting her or either of us in some pretzel or fancy yoga-type positions. 

We didn’t pick out what we thought would work the first time. In fact, the first time we went we simply tried on what the store had available and then went home and read reviews on the ones that worked best for each of us. When we made our second trip to the store we tried on the carriers we liked the best again and then wore them around the store to see if they still felt right while moving around. For me, this was really important because I would be wearing a carrier while pushing my manual wheelchair. I had to test how it impacted my push and transferring on and off of my chair. 

It may sound funny, but I really wanted to make sure that if my daughter and I were alone and she was in her carrier and I had to go to the restroom, that I would be able to do it.  Just a few weeks ago I found myself in that exact situation and fortunately I could do it. It worked!  Of course she despises the sound of the toilet flushing, but I was happy that we learned that we could do it successfully.

Originally I carried my baby girl in a Balboa Baby Sling. It has an adjustable shoulder strap that stays in place and allowed me to carry her high enough on my chest to where it didn’t rub on my wheelchair tires. It didn’t work so well for my husband so instead he went with the Infintino Baby Carrier. 

The issue that we found with all upright type carriers was that the area between where the baby’s legs would go was typically too wide for our daughter’s small hips. Therefore we used medical tape to make everything that required us to put her legs into it narrower by wrapping tape around it a couple of times. This included her bouncer, walker, and carrier. I was able transition from using the sling to the carrier for a couple of months but now my wheelchair comes in handy for the two of us.

Now that she’s a toddler and has gained better balance, control of her trunk and is getting too tall for any type of carrier, I often get her around by sitting her on my wheelchair footplate and lock her in with my legs around her torso. She loves it so much that she often gets upset when we stop moving or when I put her down!  Enjoy our short mommy/daughter video clip, It's a Two Seater.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Disabled Community College Students Fight Budget Cuts in Classroom AT and Other Academic Supports

by Henry Contreras, CFILC's Public Policy Director

“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

---Late U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen”

As we’re all painfully aware, California has experienced a decade of state budget deficits.  They’ve caused massive budget cuts reducing or eliminating vital programs and services for people with disabilities. 

However, after being blasted by seemingly endless news accounts about multi-billion dollar revenue losses and cuts, the public has become weary and apathetic about the issue.  Reductions involving hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions or billions of dollars have become “same old, same old” news.” 

People are aware of the job losses and program closures. They also know that education and health care programs were hard hit.  But it’s merely a numbers game to them, unless they’ve been personally affected. The harm and human consequences simply do not resonate. 

Yet, the disability community has never lost sight of how budget cuts have undermined the lives and futures of people with disabilities.  It’s because they affect our daily lives.

One particularly glaring example is that disabled community college students have lost critical higher education supports from Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS) budget cuts.  Even though community college system-wide cuts averaged 10%, DSPS absorbed a 40% hit.

These disproportionate reductions began in 2009 after categorical programs like DSPS were targeted for massive cuts.  All budget cuts are painful, but these cuts are denying students equal educational opportunities. 

DSPS funds vital supportive services that help students keep pace with classroom demands.  It provides critical aids such as assistive technology, sign language interpreters, video captioning, readers and note takers, mobility assistance, transportation, and adapted or specialized classes.

Disabled students and their supporters are fighting back to protect their civil rights.  They know that DSPS is essential for the completion of their studies and job market entry. 

The loss of DSPS not only hurts their lives, but it leaves California with a less educated and skilled population. More importantly, they violate the hard-fought protections of the ADA and state and Federal laws.

A survey revealed some startling results.  It found that 26% of disabled students were forced to drop classes or withdraw from school.  Shamefully, 73% of students surveyed didn’t receive learning disability assessments.

Additional consequences were long delays for counseling and denial of alternative media and other accommodations. Some campuses blatantly violated Federal law by reducing or eliminating test examination accommodations.  

Students and disability advocates are mobilizing to restore DSPS funding and the filing of Federal civil rights discrimination complaints jumped by 30%.  The battle to restore DSPS funding is gaining momentum!

To put a human face on these cuts, students have testified before their community college district boards.  They also testified at the Legislature’s budget subcommittee hearings. 

At one hearing, a blind woman tearfully explained how she lost a prestigious scholarship opportunity after her GPA fell because her reader was laid off.  That classroom assistance was essential because math figures needed verbal translation. 

Another mobility-impaired student testified that losing transportation services made moving between campus buildings extremely painful.  It also affected her grades when attending some classes became impossible.

After listening to these heart-wrenching stories, the Chairs of the Senate and Assembly Education budget Subcommittees jointly authored a bill, SB 705, to restore $25 million for DSPS. 

The bill was unanimously voted out of its first policy committee.  However, the struggle isn’t over because legislative process and budget negotiation obstacles still remain. 

The student mobilization is producing successful outcomes. The fight for their civil rights is sending the Legislature the disability community’s unifying rallying cry: 

Nothing About Us, Without Us.”

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Wheelchair Accessible Baby Bathing Station

by Shannon Coe, Program Coordinator

One of my favorite activities with my 5 month-old baby is bath time.  This bonding activity would not have been possible if my husband had not built a wheelchair accessible bathing station in our bathroom.   

Before our daughter was born, we researched different types of tubs for babies. However, most of them were too difficult and/or impossible for me to use. They were all either too heavy for me to lift or required me to kneel down by the bathtub. I use a wheelchair, and none of these were viable options.     

There are smaller tubs that fit into the bathroom sink, but our daughter would only be able to use one of those for about six months.  We wanted a tub that she could use until she was at least one year old.  
When I asked other mothers with disabilities how they bathed their babies, they shared with me that only their husbands were able to give their babies baths. They suggested that I do the same thing and just have my husband bathe our baby. Even though my husband would be happy to do this, I really wanted to share in this important task with my daughter, too. I was determined to make something work because it is important to me that I am able to do things for my daughter independently.  

Fortunately, my husband is handy; he built a bathing station in our bathroom that I can roll up to and put the baby into the tub.  He bought a faucet with a spray handle, tubes, plywood, and tile board to make a table with a back wall to keep the baby safe.  He measured the height of my wheelchair to make sure it would fit underneath the table.  We went to IKEA and found a perfect sized plastic bath tub for a baby.  

My husband cut a hole in the tub to install a drain, and another hole in the table top for the IKEA tub to fit in. Then, he installed the faucet on the table by the tub and connected the tubes to the pipes under the bathroom sink.  He also bought and installed a bendy plastic drain-pipe to put under the bathing station so the water would drain into the toilet.  Finally, we inserted a contoured foam baby tub into the IKEA tub to provide more comfort and cushion for our baby.  
Shannon in front of her wheelchair accessible bathing station

As she gets bigger, she will transition to using only the IKEA tub.  We found a mini changing pad at Buy Buy Baby to put on the table next to the tub so we can easily transfer our little one from the tub to the changing pad to dry and dress her all in one station.   

Our daughter loves bath time and I would not have wanted to miss spending those times with her.  I wish there were more accessible devices for parents with disabilities in the market but since there are not, our best resources are each other.

What device have you or has your partner created to meet the needs of your family?