Monday, November 16, 2015

The Art Of Normal: Art Exhibit That Aims To Change Perception About People With Disabiltiies

photo of reveca torres in her wheelchair by a large water body. An SLR camera is mounted on her wheelchair.

When an able bodied person sees someone in a wheelchair, they may think that moving around in a wheelchair can be limiting. It's not just a wheelchair that sticks out as a cumbersome accessory - any device that people with disabilities use is more often than not perceived as a burden. In order to curtail stereotypes about disabled people and to make able bodied people understand that accessibility devices do not cause hindrance, but instead bring more freedom and ability to be as independent as possible,  Reveca Torres is presenting an audiovisual art exhibit that features six artists with disabilities and portrays their daily lives through the means of photographs, poems and music. Reveca is also the executive director of Backbones, an organization that helps people with spinal cord injuries. 

Majority of able bodied people don't know how to connect with disabled people, and this art exhibit aims to address that. Through this exhibit, the audience will also learn how these artists process the world and how they think others process them. It is all about understanding the world from others' perspectives, focusing on the sensitivities and insensitivities involved, and understanding the challenges disabled people face and how they overcome them. The exhibit will also encourage businesses to help include people with disabilities as customers right from the get go instead of having them as an afterthought. 

"The Art of Normal" opens at the Morton Civic Center in Evanston, IL on November 19 and will close on December 31. Entry to this exhibit is free.

The Art of Normal team is also posting exhibit updates regularly on Twitter (@TheArtofNormal).

Image source: City of Evanston

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Assistive Technology & Rehabilitation Facilities At Helen Hayes Hospital

a person in a wheelchair operating a sip and puff switch to play pinball. This person is also accompanied by a therapist and they both are laughing and enjoying the pinball game.

Helen Hayes Hospital, located in West Haverstraw, NY and known for its specialty rehabilitation facilities, also provides various assistive technology services to their patients as well as individuals outside of its inpatient department with a doctor's prescription. These services include assessments & intervention  for  seating and wheeled mobility,  augmentative/alternative communication , electronic aids to daily living , computer and tablet access and, of course, special apparatus services - if there is no solution available for someone, they will build it for you! A list of such custom built solutions can be found here

Helen Hayes also offers assessment in their state of the art Smart Apartment which has been fitted
an image describing the smart apartment. it says " experience how...the sound of a voice, the power of touch, the press of a button, the blink of an eye." with various assistive technologies that can be used by a individuals with disabilities to control their surroundings.  At first glance, Smart Apartment looks like any other regular apartment but as one walks around in the apartment, they will notice assistive technology devices pretty much in every nook and corner. A blink of an eye can allow a user to write a message on a computer,  turn lights on or start a video chat with someone. Voice controlled televisions, thermostat and shades can be great for people who are in wheelchairs or are bedridden. The integrated assistive technology solutions around the apartment provide ease, comfort and independence not only in the rooms but also in the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry areas. The smart apartment is located on the hospital campus and provides great insights for patients, family and therapists on how a fully  connected house can make everyday living much easier for people with disabilities.

The hospital also recently acquired three new equipment to be used in the hospital’s rehabilitation programs. These devices—which incorporate some of the latest innovations in balance, antigravity and virtual reality technology—are available to patients at the hospital recovering from numerous conditions including joint replacements, multiple sclerosis, stroke, brain injury, neurological disorders and more. 

AlterG Antigravity Treadmill M320

Using innovative, patented NASA technology, the AlterG Antigravity Treadmill can reduce a user’s weight to as low as 20% of its total. The resulting, unweighted treadmill experience—described by users as “walking on air”—allows users to regain mobility, develop strength and fitness, and increase range of motion while minimizing stress on existing injuries. The AlterG’s fall-safe, weight-reduced environment is also ideal for therapy use by individuals with Parkinson’s Disease, traumatic brain injury, stroke, and other neurological conditions, as well as older individuals.

Bertec Balance Advantage CDP (Computer Dynamic Posturography)

The Bertec Balance Advantage is a highly-effective tool for assessing and treating balance deficits in individuals affected by dizziness, vertigo, vestibular disorders, Parkinson’s Disease, stroke, traumatic brain injury, neuro-degenerative diseases, lower limb amputation and more. Offering the latest in Computerized Dynamic Posturography, the device utilizes an immersive virtual reality screen, safety harness, and dual force balance plate to objectively quantify and differentiate among a variety of factors influencing an individual’s static and dynamic balance. Under the supervision of a certified therapist, the individual can then safely work on the Bertec Balance Advantage to reach his or her balance goals, tracking their progress along the way.

BalanceWear BW300 Device

The BalanceWear BW300 is a custom fitted vest which holds strategically placed light weights on its inner shell to compensate for balance impairments. After an assessment by a trained therapist, patients utilize this device during therapy with the goal of acquiring a vest for home use if appropriate. The goal of the vest is to correct for multi-directional balance deficits and aide in improved mobility for patients affected by Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain injury, osteoporosis, ataxia, cerebral palsy, dizziness and advanced age.

These state-of-the-art rehab devices—and many others—are available to HHH patients as part of a full range of multi-disciplinary rehabilitative services dedicated to enabling them to resume active, independent lives.

Visit Helen Hayes Hospital's website to learn more about all their services and solutions related to physical rehabilitation. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bruce Hall: Legally Blind Photographer Who Takes Photos To See

If you have not heard of Bruce Hall, it's time to look him up!

Bruce Hall, who is legally blind, has only 5% sight. Born with various eye conditions, Bruce stumbled into a world full of possibilities when as a child, he had the opportunity to peep through a telescope to look at a star. Glimpse of the North Star through the telescope not only showed him what a star looked like (he had only heard about them but never seen one before), it also made him realize that he could actually see by using optics - any optics that can magnify surrounding objects, like cameras, lenses, magnifiers, telescopes.

Over the years, Bruce has used his camera to be able to see - he photographs everything around him so he could see and experience his surroundings. His motivation for photography is just the fact that he wants to see. Sighted people see so they could photograph. Bruce's case is the exact opposite - he photographs so he could see.

Bruce doesn't use photography just as a mechanism to see - he is also an exceptionally good photographer! Hi work has been featured in various textbooks & magazines, and several international exhibitions. (his underwater photos are really cool)

Bruce also has two sons with severe autism. He photographs them all the time in order to not miss the boys' childhood.

Check out his portfolio on his website to look at the kind of photos he takes, and to also learn about a new book he is releasing soon that capture his children's life through his photos.

Source: NBC Los Angeles

Image Source: Flickr 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

eSight: Eyewear That Brings Vision To People With Legal Blindness

 There are quite many assistive technology  devices available for people with low vision or legal blindness. However, there is one Canadian company that actually brings vision back to people with visual impairment, thus making them as independent as possible and allowing them to carry on with their daily lives without the need for various other assistive technology devices and apps.

eSight has invented an eyewear with sophisticated technology that brings back vision to people with legal blindness that may have been caused by several eye conditions like macular degeneration, glaucoma, retinis pigmentosa to name a few. The eyewear consists of a headset that houses a high definition camera used to capture objects the person is looking at. The headset utilizes eSight's proprietary "bioptic tilt", a feature that lets the user use their peripheral vision. The headset also has technology that can significantly correct impediments like blurriness, blind spots, inability to detect contrast and other symptoms that reduce vision. The image captured is sent to the controller - a small device attached to the headset that processes the image and sends it back to OLED screens on the headset to deliver a real time feed of what the person is looking at. The headset is just a little bigger than a regular pair of glasses and can be easily worn and taken off when not needed.

People have used eSight while doing all sorts of activities - from rock climbing, ice skating, curling, to  using their computers and consoles. Although eSight eyewear is water resistant, it is not water proof, so swimming with it is not recommended. Students have also used it in classroom settings without any trouble.

So far, there have been quite many eSight success stories where people have regained their vision back (or saw their friends, family, surroundings for the first time).  Check out some of the great stories here and on their website.

eSight costs $15,000 and is currently available in the US and Canada. The company understands that not everyone who need eSight eyewear may be able to afford it so they work with other sponsors to make sure a person gets their eyewear funded. The cost includes training needed to know how to use eSight eyewear.

Their blog is a great resource and they are always publishing information on how to use eSight eyewear, how it helps people with various eye conditions, how to use it at work or school and various success stories as well. Demos are free and can be requested via their website.

Image source: eSight

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Claria Zoom: Android App for Seniors And People With Low Vision

claria zoom's keyboard interface with big letters
Getting key features like book reading, speech to text, browsing, email, calendar etc. on smartphones may be taken for granted by a big set of the smartphone user base but then there may be another group of users who may find navigating and using those features overwhelming. 

Elderly people who are losing vision because of AMD, Glaucoma or other similar conditions and
a person using speech recognition to call someone using claria zoom people with low vision or partial sight may find using the smartphones in its traditional/out of the box mode difficult. Smartphone manufacturers don't necessarily provide bigger characters by default (even the size provided by the phone's accessibility setting may not be big enough for some users), contrasted themes, bigger keyboard and speech activation on any screen. The lack of such features may make using smartphones challenging for these users. The presence of icons can be a distraction too.

To curtail these shortcomings, Claria, a French provider of digital solutions for visually impaired people, has recently launched an Android app called Claria Zoom, which removes all the "clutter" and turns an Android into a phone with the most basic features and makes navigation and accessibility much easier with its large interface, simple text driven menus, very large texts, bigger keyboards and speech recognition available everywhere. Users get 20 easy to use features like phone, text messaging, emails, calendar and camera, voice recognition for dictating text messages and emails, vocalized GPS, a book reader and an electronic magnifier. These features are constantly updated and adjusted by Claria.

Watch the video below to see what the Claria Zoom interface looks like.

Claria Zoom can be downloaded from the Google Play Store for $3.99 per month without commitment. A 30 day trial for the app is also available.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Wheelchair Friendly Cities Of The World

Ever wondered which cities around the world are wheelchair friendly and why? Look at the interactive story map below and start exploring!

Is your city in the story map below?

This story map was created by our regular contributor Michael Leavy from Home Healthcare Adaptations.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Monkey Helpers Provide Assistance To People With Spinal Cord Injuries And Other Disabilities

a monkey getting a bubble bath

Just like seeing eye dogs help blind people navigate and dodge obstacles, monkey helpers are highly trained capuchin monkeys that provide in home assistance to people with spinal cord injuries and other mobility impairments. In home assistance can range from fetching objects (think TV remote), flipping pages of a book, inserting straws in a bottle, turning room lights on or off, putting CD in a CD player, turning on tv and flipping channels to scratching itches and repositioning limbs on wheelchair. Essentially, the monkeys are trained in performing routing every day tasks.

With their small size, fine motor skills, long lifespan (30 - 40 years) and their ability to be trained in performing various  chores, service monkeys can bring a lot of independence and engagement to people who are in wheelchairs and/or with limited mobility. The service is provided by Helping Hands Monkey Helpers without any cost to qualified applicants. Applicants have to be eligible to qualify for this service and go through a seven step application process though, which involves written application, references, home video, and a home visit. 

Applicants are carefully reviewed and selected, and a monkey helper who matches their personality and requirements is then selected and placed. A sense of humor is encouraged and the expectation is that the adult applicant will be willing to consider building a relationship with the monkey helper as a project that may take anywhere from 6 to 8 months. The "placement week" is considered pretty intense, where a lot of information is provided to the recipient and their caretakers. 

Capuchin monkeys structure their lives around a hierarchy, and it is important to understand and respect that. There are some monkeys that like loud, dominant people whereas others may get more friendly with quiet, easy going people. For example, monkeys may place the recipient at the top of the hierarchy, their caretaker (who bathes them and files their nails; provides care) next, then themselves, other members of the family, care attendants etc., and finally other pets in the family, if there are any. Being at the top of the hierarchy, recipients get a lot of love and affection from the monkey helper that in turn provides a great level of empowerment. Helping Hands already know their monkeys very well and depending on the personality of the recipient, a matching monkey is placed.

Of all the people assisted by monkey helpers, 55% have spinal cord injuries, 10% have multiple sclerosis, another 10% have muscular dystrophy, and the rest have other type of disabilities (for example amputation due to trauma or disease). 10 - 12 monkey helpers are placed with qualified adults every year.

Monkey helpers are not expected and trained to every type of chores though. For example, they are not trained to retrieve medical pills, brush someone's teeth or dress them, feed or cook, dial the phone, or alert someone in case of an emergency. They are definitely not trained to fetch food from the fridge because that's way too tempting!

Helping Hands has a great set of short videos that show what all monkey helpers can do, how and where they are trained, and how they are making more and more people independent. Watch the shorter videos here, and the longer ones here.

There is a lot of valuable information on their website to make sure to check it out!

Website and Image source:

Monday, September 14, 2015

Virtual And Augmented Reality: A World of Potential for People with Disabilities

a person wearing and interacting with a Oculus Rift VR headset

Gamers are already mostly familiar with the possibilities of virtual reality and are eagerly awaiting the shipment of multiple VR titles and headsets. This gives them a leg up on medical professionals, who might dismiss it as merely a frivolous gaming tool. The truth is that this new gaming development could have wide-ranging applications in healthcare particularly in the treatment of those suffering from autism or disability.

The latest incarnations of virtual reality are a far cry from the clunky, headache-inducing units that achieved notoriety in the '90s. The models that are expected to hit the marketplace very soon use advanced graphics capabilities and motion sensing equipment to deliver experiences that are realistic, attractive and appealing. The user usually has to put on a special headset that projects high-res images in front of the eyes. In order to control the action and change the view, he or she uses a combination of eye and head movements and hand-held devices.

microsoft hololensThree large firms intend to release VR gear in 2016: Facebook, Sony and Microsoft. Facebook
purchased the Oculus Rift, which is perhaps the frontrunner in the VR landscape, in 2014. It will work with regular computers as a plug-in peripheral. Sony's Project Morpheus, on the other hand, is designed to act as a controller for the PlayStation 4 console. Microsoft is serious about making its mark in this newly emerging industry and has even created a special version of Windows to support its HoloLens. The HoloLens differs from most competing products by mixing holographic elements with the real world instead of just featuring a made-up world.

A VR system by MindMaze in Switzerland shows promise in treating those with motor ability impairments. The patient's head is wired up with electrodes, and then he or she tries to manipulate a virtual arm or leg. This causes the brain to more effectively use new neurons or repair damaged ones to compensate for the injury. The CEO of MindMaze has stated that motor function can improve by up to 35 percent after three weeks of using the system.

Autistic people, who often have difficulty interacting in the real world, may find respite in an imaginary setting. A study in North Carolina found that children with autism were willing and able to enter a virtual world, observe their surroundings and move around. Another program at the University of Texas, Dallas explored the use of VR to enable autistic people to work on their social skills by partaking in virtual social interactions. The results showed that those who participated in the study had heightened brain activity in the parts of the brain responsible for social perception.

Virtual reality can extend the capabilities of people who are disabled or suffer from debilitating illnesses. Through the use of a VR system developed by FOVE, even people who have lost the use of their hands can play the piano by using eye movements and blinks to select the notes to play. Another simulation, all the way back in 1994, allowed a boy with cerebral palsy to take a virtual stroll through a grassy field.

image of avatars in a virtual worldMany of the medical applications of VR also translate well into other spheres of society. The ability to enter make-believe environments could be useful in education by allowing students to study distant or bygone places and in sports by enabling people to virtually attend contests and cheer for their teams. In architecture and home security, people could see how proposed changes to a building’s design and various security systems would actually function before doing the remodeling work. The potential uses in marketing are enormous and include advertising, product demos and virtual property tours.

Access to nearly infinite fictional, virtual worlds opens up space for treatments that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. As the technology continues to improve and prices get lower, we'll see a growing use of VR systems to help people with a broad range of conditions, including many disabilities. This will be only a part of a broader move by society as a whole to embrace these exciting advancements.

This blog post was written by Emma Bailey. Emma is  a blogger in the greater Chicago area with a keen interest in technology, astronomy, and anthropology. Emma's regular contributions to the Assistive Technology Blog are appreciated to a wonderful degree!

Image Sources: The Guardian, Techradar, Center for Brain Health

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fridays: Web Show About Being Deaf And Gay

Scene from Fridays' pilot

There are lots of TV shows that revolve around friendships between two people. These shows typically show the great camaraderie between two friends - intimacy, confessions,  cheap humor, love talks, crass talks - you name it, these shows successfully show it. However, have we ever seen a show in which both/all friends are deaf? To take things a little further, how about one of those two deaf friends is also gay?

What we have seen for decades in mainstream film and television always involves able bodied people going through the course of their lives. People with disabilities do make appearances, but their disabilities are always an integral part of their role - they are in the film because of their disability, and not because of their personality or some sort of quirk they may have that can contribute to the storyline.

Shoshannah Stern
Shoshannah Stern
Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman, who are deaf actors,  plan to change just that. They want to encourage people involved in film and television to cast deaf people as fully realized characters, and to create storylines that focus on their daily lives, rather than on their disability. To get things started, Stern and Feldman shot a pilot of a show called "Fridays" - a story about two deaf friends. Stern plays Kate who is newly married, and Feldman plays Michael, who is gay and newly single. Both characters communicate in sign language.

Josh Feldman
Josh Feldman
The pilot depicts their intimate friendship, and glorifies the emotional connection they both share. The dialog they exchange is humorous, crass, and serious, all at the same time, and as a viewer, you cannot fail to notice how different, yet similar, Kate and Michael are as they both deal with their own personal struggles.  Just like anyone else, they like to use pizza and alcohol as effective mechanisms to drown their sorrows and talk about life. Their casual banter makes them more and more lovable, and as the pilot progresses, you realize that them being deaf is not a part of this show. At all.
Stern and Feldman self funded the pilot of the show, which is 12 minutes long, and now they are raising money to shoot the entire first season which will consist of four episodes. Only five days in, they have already raised almost 90% of the $6,000 they plan to raise, and they have 25 more days to go. They more money they raise in the next 25 days, the more episodes they will add to the first season!

Curious about the show? Watch the pilot here.

Go here to read more about their Kickstarter campaign.

 Source: Big Gay Picture Show, Kickstarter

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

[INFOGRAPHIC] Why Diversity in Staff Can Improve Business Performance

It is estimated that in excess of one billion people, roughly 15% of the global population, have some form of disability. Of the one billion, between 110 and 190 million people have difficulty in functioning. This of course can have implications for employment, but it is clear that more needs to be done by employers with regard to employing people with disabilities. In Asia for example, it is estimated that there are 238 million people of working age with a disability, with unemployment often as high as 80% among these. However, the unemployment rate figure for people with disabilities in Canada is a little lower at over 20%. A telling stat is one from the U.S. that indicates that over 60% of people with disabilities in America said they would like to find work, but could not find jobs.
This infographic from Burning Nights aims to increase awareness on the difficulties that persons with disabilities face in gaining employment, while also focusing on some of the benefits that both employers and employees can attain from choosing to employ persons with disabilities. (click here to open infographic in a bigger window, and then click again)

infographic explaining why diversity in staff can improve business performance. Text version is below the infographic.

Text version:

Why Diversity in Staff Can Improve Business Performance

Disability affects a significant portion of  the global population. Here, we look at some of the benefits to both businesses, and people with disabilities, of obtaining employment.

Stats on Disability:

Over 1 billion people, roughly 15% of the global population, have some form of disability. Of the one billion, it is estimated that between 110 and 190 million have difficulty in functioning.

Rates of disability continue to increase due to aging population and an increase in chronic health conditions.

In developing countries, the rate of disability in children is expected to increase due to malnutrition, child labour and diseases.

Children with disabilities  are less likely to start or stay in school in comparison with persons without disability.

Employment and Disability Around the World:

In Asia, it is estimated that there are 238 million people of working age with a disability , with unemployment as high as 80% among these.

The unemployment rate for people with disabilities in Canada is over 20%.

In China, approximately 80% of people with disabilities are employed.

In India, 74% of people with physical disabilities are unemployed.

Over 60% of people with disabilities in America said they would like to find work, but could not find jobs.

What Are Reasonable Adjustments?

Modifying or acquiring equipment.
Facilitating training or mentoring.
Can include making changes to a disabled person's working pattern.
May involve little or no cost.
Ensuring that information is provided in accessible formats.
Reasonable adjustments must be made to support applications from people with disabilities and employees with disabilities.
Making alterations to premises.

Benefits of Hiring Persons With Disabilities:

Enables a business to reach a bigger market, and develop greater flexibility.
Provides social opportunities and an income for people with disabilities.
Diversity in any work environment helps to develop better solutions to business challenges.
Enables companies to better serve their customers who also have disabilities.
Studies in the US found that people with disabilities had better retention rates and less absenteeism rates.
In the UK, B&Q found that employing workers with disabilities had resulted in increased employee satisfaction and better retention and productivity rates.


"Each person is talented in his or her own way, and we should look at what they have and what they don't have." - Tan Tong Hai, Chief Executive Officer  of Starhub Ltd.

"Disability is a matter of perception. If you can do just one thing well, you're needed by someone." - Martina Navratilova, Former world number 1 tennis player

"Persons with a disability bring with them something that a lot of other people  don't have. They are able to manage a very difficult life. They couldn't manage ordinary life without developing excellent problem-solving skills, which makes them an asset." - Mark Bagshaw, Managing Director Innov8

This post was written by Victoria Abbott-Fleming, Managing Director of a chronic pain management company called Burning Nights, a non-profit organization.