“You’re Welcome”

Those two words had the ability to simultaneously annoy and confuse me this morning. I got off the bus and was waiting to cross the street when a man pops into my field of vision, grabs my arm and yanks me backwards.  I lost balance and staggered, before I could turn my head at him, mouth agape, he says: “you’re welcome.”

Am I?

Am I, really?

‘Welcome?” For what? Was I supposed to thank him for invading my personal space and accosting me? Maybe if I had actually fallen down he would have thrown me a party (after throwing me to the ground). Aside from being physically forced back out of the blue the part that bothered me was the sense of satisfaction this man had at (in his mind) “saving me.”

I want to be clear: I was standing still. I wasn’t moving, I was on top of the truncated domes waiting on the light. There was nothing to be rescued from, other than air pollution, but you can’t really do anything about that for someone else. What I needed to be rescued from was the patronizing attitude of this guy who felt the need to assault me and then, before I had a chance to curse him out , or (again, in his mind) thank him, proceeds to try and force gratitude from me.

I wasn’t grateful.

I was pissed.

After getting my wits about me all I managed to say (because at that point the walk signal had come one) was: “don’t ever do that again.” I’m sure the man was confused at why I wasn’t falling all over myself to thank him (after all, he had helped the falling part earlier), but I didn’t have time to stand on a street corner and explain that he shouldn’t just grab people (with or without disabilities, but I’m sure he’d never grab someone he viewed as competent). It may have been a lapse of advocacy on my part, but it was early and I had a job to get to.

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Noticing Accessibility

I am a huge fan of movies and my tastes range from family friendly to horror. I am also a huge fan of accessibility. Naturally these two passions overlap from time to time and I am thoroughly pleased when I notice accessibility included in film. Over the weekend I saw the movie Big Hero Six and really enjoyed it, at one point there was a chase scene down a street in the fictional city of San Fransokyo and I saw curb cuts and truncated domes on the corners of the streets. I wish this didn’t make me as happy as it did, I long for a day when seeing these items on a sidewalk will be commonplace and mundane. For now, however, I acknowledge that the inclusion of these items wasn’t an accident, it was intentional because this is an animated film and all of the scenery and characters have to be designed and rendered, so somewhere along the line an animator/illustrator intentionally designed a cityscape that would be inclusive and accessible. Unlike other movies that have these barrier removal devices, the cuts/domes weren’t included for a specific character who needed them (although I would have loved to have seen a featured character with a disability) like in The Theory of Everything, they were just there, because of course people with disabilities live and work in San Fransokyo.  Good job Disney Animation!

Bravo! Now we need more films that feature characters with disabilities played by people with disabilities.

A woman approaching a curb cut with truncated domes in front of her

A curb cut with truncated domes. Photo credit: atnetworkblog.blogspot.con

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Absurd Moment: Universal Access

Some people get a little confused when they encounter a person with a disability, their stress levels go up as they try to figure out how to accommodate someone.  I had this happen just the other day and I was attempting to board a MARTA bus. For those that don’t know, I am blind and use a white cane. I was heading to the bus when I heard the it beeping, not really thinking I go to get on and get smacked by the ramp that the driver decided I needed. Instead of an apology for unfolding part of bus on me I instead get a reprimand “I was trying to put the ramp out so you could get in!” I was still a little confused and shocked at having a bus literally reach out and hit me, so it took a second to formulate my response.  “Why would I need the ramp? I’m not riding the cane!” was the best I could do.

There’s not “one accommodation to rule them all” as far as people with disabilities go, we just need to ensure that people are trained properly and learn how to do courteous things, like ask the person what supports they need and not just assume.  Have you had an experience like that? I’d love to hear it!

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Find What Works for You

“Find what works for you” is my motto for working with people regarding assistive technology (AT). Personally, I’m biased when it comes to technology, I’m Apple fan through and through, mostly because it works for me. Whether it’s the iPhone, iPad or MacBook, I know that I will be able to have access to features that make the device usable, whether is’t VoiceOver reading the screen, Zoom making things larger for or Dictation allowing me to write a letter or text without using the keyboard.

Thanks to Tools for Life, I have been able to try some different devices and experiment with their accessibility and usability, so I can better demonstrate to our consumers.  I was pleasantly surprised by the Microsoft Surface, the Narrator (screen reader) works fairly well with the apps that come installed, but has issues with 3rd party installations, the Magnifier tends to get in the way and doesn’t work the way I’m used to/prefer. It’s a neat experience, and I can definitely see a lot of potential, the fact that you can install full programs on it is very handy and I know a lot of people would like a laptop feel in a tablet.

I’ve also been using the Google Nexus, a tablet that has a great zooming feature, but a less that spectacular screen reader. Getting to learn more about these devices and trying them out first hand has really helped me see the differences of these products. Still, I  can say that the iPad still has the most robust and fleshed out accessibility of any tablet I’ve used. Assistive touch and voice commands make the device great for people with mobility/dexterity disabilities. Plus there are built in switch controls that can be used with a keyboard or separate switch controller, the fact that iOS devices can also interact with your hearing aids and there are subtitle/caption options for videos.

If you want more hands on experience with some of these devices you can always make an appointment to come in, or feel free to attend our 2014 Tablet Showdown on Tuesday, December 16th from 1-3pm in our office.  There will be a brief presentation and then we will have 2 iPads, 2 iPad Minis, 2 Microsoft Surfaces and 2 Google Nexus tablets for hands on demonstration. Hope to see you then!

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Theories and Accessibility

Over the weekend I saw the Theory of Everything and really enjoyed it. I also noticed that kept paying attention to things that my friends who have seen it may have overlooked. At one point, Stephen Hawking is eating dinner a few months after finding out he had ALS and I saw that he was using a spoon that was bent to accommodate his adjusted grip, the improvised ramps were another thing that were kind of in the background, but jumped out at me.

The movie, overall, did a good job with showing that a person with a disability is just like anyone else: they fall in and out of love, have children, have jobs and can be just as independent as anyone else with the proper supports.  It also highlighted how being the only caregiver for someone with a progressive disability can weigh on a person. Having a wife/husband/friend who can provide supports is great, but respite is important for the attendants as well.

Attitudinal barriers are something that were touched upon as well. Midway through the movie the Hawkings have moved a bed downstairs on the main floor as he can no longer climb the stairs, shortly after they have their third child and it was assumed by the family members that it couldn’t possibly be child of Stephen Hawking and that the wife and cheated. People with disabilities are often not seen as sexual beings, just because someone uses a wheelchair or has a motor related disability doesn’t mean they can’t/don’t have sex (the functioning of “down there” was less subtly stated earlier in the movie).

I didn’t feel as if the movie tried to evoke a sense of pity or even the “super crip” tropes that are so common in Hollywood. Instead, this was just a well done biographical movie that highlighted a great physicist and the obstacles he faced acquiring a disability starting in the 60’s when access wasn’t the best and the assistive technologies we have today were in their infancy.

What did you think?

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disABILITY and Health

Here in Georgia we often forget about frost bite and hypothermia – when the body temperature drops to dangerous levels due to exposure to the cold.  With an ice storm on the way, it is a good time to think about prevention. 

First, keep the skin covered so there is less exposure to the cold.  This is especially important for people who might have less feeling in their hands, arms, legs or feet.  Warm dry socks and mittens are a must, as well as dressing in layers.  It is also very important to stay dry.  Body heat is easily lost through wet clothing.  Keep an umbrella or rain poncho handy.  If using plastic garbage bags for protection, do not use them around the head or face.  It is too easy for the nose or mouth to become blocked, especially in the wind.

Second, check your skin periodically.  If hands and feet are paler than normal, or nail beds/lips become pale – or worse, blue – get to a warm shelter as soon as possible.  The change in color means the body is not able to keep warm.  Another sign of limited blood supply is pain in fingers/toes, etc.  There is pain before numbness sets in as well as pain when warming up.  Pay attention to the pain. 

Shivering is another early sign of needing more body heat.  If shivering begins, get to a warm dry shelter as soon as possible; add another layer of clothing for warmth; and if possible drink warm fluids, like tea or cocoa.  

If shivering worsens, or one becomes light-headed or confused, the hypothermia is worsening.  This means it is urgent to find a means to get warm as the body temperature is becoming dangerously low.  Do NOT lie down outside at this point – it is important to keep moving to keep the blood circulating at a higher rate.  

The signs of impending death are the exact opposite of what is needed – undressing due to confusion and the determination and desire to curl up in a small space to rest.  This is the animal instinct being activated – not logical human decision-making.  If you see someone in this state, get them help immediately.  It is easy to mistake this level of hypothermia with being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or low/high blood sugars. Do not ignore it or leave the person lying down out in the cold. Call for help.   It is always better to be safe than sorry when it is so cold outside.

For folks with electric heat, hypothermia is a concern when the power goes out.  Stay in the warmest area of the house – often away from windows.  Stay covered in bed – with a hat on.  If possible, put the whole family in the same space under the covers along with the family dog.  We do not lose body heat as fast when in groups.  If using kerosene space heaters or the fireplace for heat, take precautions to keep sufficient air circulating and flammable material away from the flame.

Don’t forget to check your smoke detectors and fire extinguishers regularly.

Let’s all stay warm and dry!!!!!

 

 

 

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Working WITH not FOR

Prepositions make all the difference. At disABILITY LINK we work with and not for the consumer. Independent Living Philosophy is about taking charge and working with your peers to be in control of your life.  I noticed that I kept having to politely correct people’s pronouns while at the Moral Monday Medicaid expansion rally on Monday. There was a great atmosphere: a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the shared cause we were united under. The problem is that I kept hearing people coming up to me and my coworkers and say: “we’re doing this for you!” And some of the signs had language that wasn’t really empowering for people with disabilities. On the surface this may look  bad, but deep down it’s a great opportunity to educate people who may not have necessarily have worked with people with disabilities before and show them that we are in this fight together.

I love these “teachable moments.” Moral Monday is a fairly new movement in Atlanta and they’ve had a couple of stumbles while working with the disability community, but I feel that we are on a good path for making sure that future meetings and events are going to be accessible, inclusive and informative. This recent event was a success, we have a fantastic turnout, we even had the support of State Senator Vincent Fort, who chose to get arrested with nine other individuals attempting to deliver a letter to Nathan Deal. While speaking with people about Medicaid expansion we were able to share information about ADAPT, a great organization that frequently uses civil disobedience to draw attention to issues and force change.  Some were surprised to learn about ADAPT, but all were interested in learning more and we might even get a few new ADAPTers out of it. Our Independent Living Specialist, Margo, handed out a lot of stickers from a Medicaid rally that were worn with pride. I look forward to working with the Moral Monday organizers to share a message of change that is also empowering for everyone involved.

Learn more about Moral Monday Georgia here: http://www.moralmondayga.com

Like us on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/disabilitylink

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