Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Air Travel with AT

by Shannon Coe, AT Network Program Coordinator

As people are traveling home from their summer vacations, it is helpful to know what to expect when arriving at the airport.  Travelers with disabilities that use AT devices may have additional concerns about how their devices will be screened by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

I recently attended a webinar entitled 'Travelers with Disabilities and Medical Conditions'. Even though I myself have traveled extensively, I was not aware of all of the resources TSA offers for travelers with disabilities.     
man in wheelchair at airport secutiry and TSA person is wearing blue gloves and checking the man's feet.
TSA has resources available to support and educate travelers with disabilities to make sure they are prepared for the screening process.  For instance, TSA Cares has a toll free helpline, 1-855-787-2227, to assist travelers with disabilities and their families before they even arrive at the airport. This hotline helps travelers know what to expect for the screenings that are relevant to the traveler’s specific disability at the security checkpoint.  They can help answer questions about medically necessary liquid, diabetes, metal joint implants, mobility disabilities, and respiratory equipment.  They can also arrange checkpoint assistance or training for travelers with disabilities and their families.  Some of the trainings include a mock boarding program where travelers with disabilities can familiarize themselves with the airport and screening process before flying. 

At every airport, there are also Passenger Support Specialists (PSS) available near all checkpoints to provide proactive assistance to travelers with disabilities.  PSS personnel are Transportation Security Officers and Supervisors who have received special training on disability etiquette, civil rights and assisting and resolving concerns of travelers.  Now that I know there are PSS Supervisors at most checkpoints, I will tap into that resource if I need assistance with resolving any issues concerning my disability.

Below are some helpful tips for travelers with disabilities:
·         Arrive at the airport early
·         Know your needs and communicate your needs
·         Separate medically necessary liquids and disability-related devices from your other property
·         Request a private screening, if desired
·         Request that a traveling companion stay with you during screening
·         Request the assistance of a Passenger Support Specialist (PSS)

If you need to contact TSA’s Disability Branch, please email TSA.ODPO@tsa.dhs.gov.  If you have a civil rights complaint, contact the Office of Civil Rights & Liberties, Ombudsman and Traveler Engagement. Visit www.tsa.gov for more information.

Have you found TSA to be helpful when you have traveled?  How have you and/or your AT been treated during air travel?  Put your experiences in the comment box below and thanks for sharing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Access Seat Included

By Christina Mills, CFILC's Deputy Director

No way. Really? Cars are being made accessible at the design level? That’s what I thought to myself when I heard that the new Toyota Sienna came with an accessible backseat right off the lot. Initially, it was difficult for me to imagine that a car company might actually be thinking about accessibility. Toyota calls it the "access seat" and they refer to it as a "dynamic personal assistant". Isn't that something? Toyota is talking about personal assistance just like we do in the world of Independent Living.

Many of you know that I drive a Honda Element and if you have been following my blog posts you also know that I came up with a pretty simple system to get my daughter in and out of my Element while in her car seat. That was 18 months ago. At that point she was a wee little thing and I could have tossed her into the car any old way. Times have changed and, 21 pounds later, our car loading and unloading system has changed a bit and it isn’t as easy as it used to be.

My daughter isn’t on her feet yet and what that means is that I’m still carrying and lifting her A LOT from my manual wheelchair! Putting her into the car and then into her toddler car seat is a slightly longer process. It works for us, but when I heard about the “access seat” in the new Toyota Sienna I got super excited. I made a call to the local dealer and went down to see it for myself. Needless to say, I took my daughter with me and tested it out to see if it would make our commuting lifestyle easier. Check out the video of our adventure below.

It makes sense that companies are coming up with ways to appeal to the ever-growing aging population. My guess is that Toyota was thinking about seniors and how challenging it can be to get up into an elevated vehicle seat. Therefore, they developed their own Toyota assistive technology in hopes of increasing sales to families who want to include their aging relatives on family outings. I'm not sure if they were thinking about a short stature, wheelchair user parent who could benefit from an “access seat” when putting a non-ambulatory toddler safely into her car seat.

The “access seat” works with the press of a button like almost everything these days. The van doors slide open and close with a push of a button. The trunk goes up and down with a push of a button and, of course, the alarm and windows open with a push of a button. I hear that some cars now start with a push of a button as well.

As you hold the button on the access seat, it turns to the side and faces the door. The frame of the seat then expands and this allows the seat to actually come out of the van and then lower until it is about two feet from the ground. It wouldn’t be ideal in bad weather, but, hey, we live in California and I don’t think we’re due to have an El Niño year till 2015, right?

The dealer who let us try it out was a good sport. Yes, he wanted to make a sale, and I was hoping to help him reach his quota, but the cost for the optional “access seat” is out of my price range. A fully accessible converted van with a dropped floor and ramp nearly costs the same. That is my only issue, but it’s a big one and a deal breaker for our family. However, if you can afford it, do it! The “access seat” is an awesome feature and makes it possible for people that have a hard time getting in and out of cars to get out and go somewhere.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

AT Funding Success Story

At the AT Network, we love to learn about the innovative ways that our partners assist  consumers in seeking funding options for AT devices and equipment. Jorge Ruiz, Assistive Technology Coordinator at Center Coast Center for Independent Living (CCCIL) in Salinas, sent us the following success story and we wanted to share it with our readers.  
Juan Jose came to CCCIL in 2012 seeking assistance in transitioning out of a skilled nursing facility where he had been a resident for close to three months.  He is a young man with a diagnosis of C3 Quadriplegia and relies on help from caregivers and technology in order to live as independently as possible.

Juan Jose sits in an electric wheelchair in his room. You can see his bed and some posters up behind him.
Juan Jose
Watching television is an activity that Juan Jose enjoys, but each time he wanted to watch TV, he would have to find and ask someone to assist him.  When I became aware of the Voice IR, an assistive technology device that is able to operate anything with an infrared receiver, it was clear to me that my consumer would benefit greatly from this technology. 

However, due to the high price and limited resources that are available to him, he was not able to purchase the device on his own.  It was for this reason that we reached out to the Change a Life Foundation for funding and support.

We submitted an initial application in June 2012 however the application was not taken into consideration for that grant cycle. Fortunately, the applications remain on file and it was taken into consideration in April of 2013. We were thrilled to find out that it was accepted for funding in May of 2013.

Picture of the device VoiceIR Envirnomental Controller Configurator that is oblong, thin and stands on 3 short legs.  Looks similar to a cable box.

VoiceIR Environmental Voice Controller Configurator

Receiving the Voice IR has become a life changing experience for Juan Jose.  For the first time in over 16 years he is able to power-on his television, change channels and adjust the volume on his own.  He is able to navigate “Netflix” and select what movies he wants to watch.  Many of us take this every day occurrence for granted, but for Juan, this device is a major benefit to his independence, as it has allowed him to make his own choices independently.

And, this is just the beginning. Juan will also be programming his other electronic equipment using the Voice IR, integrating the additional hardware that came with the device in order to manipulate the lights and other power devices like his fan and humidifier.  

We hope that Juan's story inspires people everywhere to never give up on those  important pieces of AT that  allow them to be more independent. For more funding ideas, here is a recent archived training by the AT Network entitled: Find It! Fund It! Technology and Gadgets to Increase Independence.  

For more trainings, visit our Calender page at: http://www.atnet.org/news-events/calendar.php

Do you have an AT funding success story to share?  Post it below in our comment box. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Free / Low-cost Broadband Internet Service and Computer Training Classes for Californians

We are pleased to announce that the AT Network is partnering with Connect 2 Compete (C2C) to provide free and/or low-cost broadband (fast!) internet services and refurbished computers to low-income Californians that qualify.

It is easy to find out what is available in your area and to see if you qualify.  Just click here and enter your zip code. You will then be prompted to answer a few quick questions to learn what programs are offered in your area and how to apply.

Are you new to using a computer or the Internet? Click here to learn how to use a computer and find free training programs near you.

Unlike other programs that California has had in the past, not all that qualify need to have school-aged children living in their household. Furthermore, the internet service is broadband—meaning it is faster and more efficient.  C2C is currently negotiating offers with internet providers throughout the state, so if it is not yet available in your area, you should check back periodically for new offers of computer offers in your area.

C2C is a national non-profit that brings together community leaders, the private sector and leading foundations. Connect to Compete’s mission is to make high-speed internet and devices affordable to everyone, regardless of their age, race or education level.  
For more detailed information about this exciting new program, watch the AT Network’s training about this new program below.