Friday, February 29, 2008

AT Links

For today, here's some multimedia on Assistive Technology.

Firstly, some nice AT videos from Easterseals, short demonstrations of some common pieces of AT. They also have some good links to AT resources as well.

Next is a pdf guide to assistive technology which provides a nice reference to different types of AT for different disabilities as well as links to the various manufacturers. Provided by ConnSense Bulletin via

Some more good AT info from the University of Buffalo.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wired's take on Autism

Too often mainstream media gets it wrong when writing about disability. However, Wired magazine often gets it right, as they have done with their recent article on autism. Though the picture they use is fairly dramatic, it is an interesting article that starts with a YouTube video of a young autistic woman (which is embeded in the article), known as Silentmiaow on Youtube, but who's real name is Amanda Baggs.

"The YouTube clip opens with a woman facing away from the camera, rocking back and forth, flapping her hands awkwardly, and emitting an eerie hum. She then performs strange repetitive behaviors: slapping a piece of paper against a window, running a hand lengthwise over a computer keyboard, twisting the knob of a drawer. She bats a necklace with her hand and nuzzles her face against the pages of a book. And you find yourself thinking: Who's shooting this footage of the handicapped lady, and why do I always get sucked into watching the latest viral video?
But then the words "A Translation" appear on a black screen, and for the next five minutes, 27-year-old Amanda Baggs — who is autistic and doesn't speak — describes in vivid and articulate terms what's going on inside her head as she carries out these seemingly bizarre actions."

My initial reaction to the description was that it was voyeurism, but then watched the video and read the article. It questions what we know about autism, and the nature of intelligence tests (and makes some good points). Very worth the read.

Another good Wired article regarding Aspergers is "The Geek Syndrome" about why aspergers is surging in Silicon Valley.
Amanda's YouTube page with more videos

Monday, February 25, 2008

Video phones at the Library of Congress

According to Federal Computer Week, the Library of Congress is getting videophones provided by Sorensen Communications to take advantage of video relay capabilities. <link>

Accessible gaming

Accessibility is got a look in at the National Game Developers Conference last weekend.

"The Game Accessibility Special Interest Group (SIG) of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) will be presenting its popular Accessibility Arcade session at the Game Developers Conference 2008...SIG members also want to convey that Game Accessibility does not mean non-creative, non-innovative games. Hinn welcomes both skeptics and supporters of game accessibility to see the opportunities for fostering a more socially aware industry and "to educate themselves and help break down preconceived notions about configuring games and controllers that can also include gamers with disabilities. Come take a look at some of the incredible next generation controllers that we'll have on display from Emotiv, Natural Point, One Switch, as well as game accessibility solutions such as Doom3 and other games with complete closed captioning by Reid Kimball of Games[cc] and "Blind Hero," which allows the blind to play guitar hero using a haptic device developed by SIG member Eelke Folmer at the University of Nevada, Reno. And find out more about our partner sites, and One Switch, to see how we are getting information not just to the game development community but also out to gamers with disabilities themselves about games and controllers that are or can become accessible at one of the kiosks we'll have to showcase these web communities. "

Read the full article

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Home made AT

I love to see home grown AT. Assistive technology doesn't need to be expensive or complicated.

The first is a mechanical switch a teacher made out of acrylic and is available from Teacher Tube. I haven't had a chance to explore the rest of the site, but I'm intrigued. Link to Video or watch below

The other piece of AT is an electric spinner which could be adapted to allow a child who has difficulty rolling dice or spinning a dial to spin the wheel using a small motor hooked to a switch (think Twister or Chutes and Ladders). You will need Quicktime to view the video <Link to Video>

"Brain Control Headset for Gamers"

Interesting piece from the BBC about a headset using electroencephalography (EEG) technology to create a headset where gamers (video game players) can manipulate things on the screen using their mind, reflect users emotions to on screen characters, and has a gyroscope built in so that it can detect movement by the user.
Emotiv's website has three dimensional depiction of the headset. Though no further information is available from their website, the 3D model is worth a look.
From video demonstration it is difficult to determine whether the screen is changing because of the movement of the user, facial expressions or mindwaves.

I would be very intersted to see whether any research is being done to evaluate the potential uses in the assistive technology market. I could see this being an extremely powerful piece of equipment with the right software, allowing users with significant mobility impairments to have greater access to assistive technology.

The headset is predicted to cost $299 and be available by the end of the year.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Taxable SSDI benefits

The Press Release News Wire has an extensive article on taxes and SSDI recipients, especially relative to lump sum payments (resulting from the extended time it take for applications to be approved.)

The federal tax rules applying to monthly benefits are fairly straightforward, but those related to lump-sum payments of SSDI benefits are complex...-General SSDI benefits. As with all Social Security benefits, up to 50 percent of SSDI benefits are potentially subject to tax each year. To determine this, an individual adds up half his SSDI benefits plus all his other income sources, including taxable pensions, wages, interest, dividends, etc., as well as tax-exempt interest income. Married individuals filing jointly will have to pay taxes on a portion of their SSDI proceeds if their total exceeds a base amount, which for 2007 is $32,000. Most other filers will have to pay taxes on proceeds that exceed a base amount of $25,000.

This is important information for VR clients to be aware of. Though the article doesn't mention it, lump sum payments from workman's compensation should also be looked at in case the individual has some tax liability there.

As a side note: These types of lump sum payments can also impact an individual's eligibility for means tested programs, such as financial aid (which looks at the previous 12 month period) where as other programs may only look at the individual's income for the last quarter. In these situations where an individual has been impacted by a lump sum payment, advocacy can sometimes be effective in getting the agency or financial aid officer to look at actual income being generated.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Blind Acupuncturist

Ron Graham at Access Ability has a nice blog on a woman who is working to become licensed as an acupunctuist. He notes;

She currently practices as a graduate intern, has earned a Masters degree in acupuncture and Oriental medicine, and has passed the national board exams...the state board of acupuncture examiners doesn’t think she should be able to practice. In October, the state licensing board cited protecting the public as one of the reasons they had denied her request (for her license)."

Read the rest of the story and find out what precentage of Japanese acupuncturists are blind, head on over to Ron's blog for the full article. <link>

Walgreens and a great approach to employment for those with disabilities

In case you missed it. Here's a link to an ABC piece about Walgreens distribution center in SC where 40% of the employees have disabilities. <Link>
In a 2006 piece by Diversity World, Randy Lewis of Walgreens talks about how he came up with the program. He talks about preparation for the opening of this distribution center and how they connected with local agencies serving individuals with disabilities, as well as schools to develop a network of employees. He describes a strong partnership between community and government agencies.

"We opened up a training center there. One agency provided the building. We provided the equipment. One agency provides the trainers. Not only are the trainees trained on how to do the job, but also on social skills – how to interact properly with other people. Those skills are important when you are working in a building with six hundred other people. "

Walgreens' site has information on their program and how other businesses can benefit from their experience.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Neurology themed stamps

University of Washington has an interesting collection of neuroscience themed stamps from around the world on their page. Interesting assortment of stamps by category of Neuroscientist, Neurological disorders, Research, and Drugs/ Brain safety. (Link)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bob's House (video)

Well done Pepsi for your Superbowl ad "Bob's House" (below for those who haven't seen it.) It's a nicely done ad that's not patronizing and brings some humor to the issue of disability.
A press release from Pepsi notes that it was "created by and features PepsiCo employees who are members of EnAble, an employee network whose mission is to create a more inclusive environment for people with disabilities."
It seems that other reviews of the ad were generally positive, however Pepsi upset others by not captioning their other ads run during the same game. I went to Pepsi's site looking for more information on this group EnAble, but was disappointed.

Ultimately, I applaud Pepsi for doing their piece, and getting it right, even if it was on only this ad.