United States Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (USSAAC) has launched a new campaign called “Amplifying AAC Voices,” designed to provide people who rely on AAC more opportunities to be heard. The initial initiative involves the creation of an online “AAC Speakers Connection,” a web portal that facilitates the matchmaking between AAC Speakers and those that wish to engage them as paid speakers for a wide variety of purposes.
If you know of any adults who use AAC and enjoy public speaking that would like to join USSAAC’s AAC Speaker Connection, please encourage them to sign up at https://speaker.ussaac.org/
Also, Just FYI from this non-profit —
Their first fundraiser is a Virtual Auction, October 1-15, 2021.
In addition to presentation videos, conference handouts and a complete list of TechSummit 2021 vendors & their websites are available.
As I was reviewing the information from the 2021 TechSummit Conference, and the many technological advancements that give people with disabilities more options to live independently with supports, I am reminded of the importance of a piece of technology much earlier in my life.
Or as Billy Joel put it in part of a well-known song lyric –
“… I knew it complete When I wore a younger man’s clothes …”
I am reminded of a portable transistor radio with a single ear earpiece.
Why am I bringing forward this decades old technology when the 2021 TechSummit was discussing some of the newest technology? Please journey with me for a few moments.
Over my numerous surgeries and medical procedures as a person with Cerebral Palsy, many of them entailed 3-4 months or more far away from home in the hospital. Many times, television was only available for an hour or two in the evening. And, as I again betray my age, smart phones and the internet were many, many years away.
But I could have a portable handheld transistor radio with a single ear earpiece – about the size of a small paperback book.
This gave me access to the outside world and intellectual stimulation at a time when most of my energies were taken up with surgery, post-surgical physical challenges joined by considerable pain and rehabilitation. The radio allowed me intellectual freedom with news, sports, music, talk shows and the like from local stations. In a time when physical focus and recuperation was the top priority, this now simple technology kept my thinking brain engaged and kept my energy up for the next day’s physical therapy (also, it gave the nurses, aides, janitors, cooks, and other staff a rest from my constant questions and discussion as I tried to keep my thinking up to date in addition to physical improvement).
Okay, before I relate this discussion back to the 2021 TechSummit, let’s answer the question: WHAT’S THE MOST FREQUENTLY MANUFACTURED ITEM IN HISTORY?
As you may have guessed, it is the transistor (although it may not now be the same type as in my handheld radio).
In a 2018 article, computerhistory.org says “MOS transistors are microscopic electronic devices that serve as the fundamental building blocks of silicon computer chips. Millions could fit inside the period at the end of this sentence.”
It goes on to say, “In 2014 industry analyst Jim Handy estimated that 2.9 sextillion transistors had been manufactured by the industry since the first one sprang to life in late 1947. A sextillion is one followed by 21 zeros—that’s orders of magnitude greater than the number of stars in the Milky Way. He recently updated the total to 13 sextillion. As modern graphics and artificial intelligence chips each contain billions of transistors the total continues to build at an astronomical rate.”
Last point, how does my trip down transistor radio memory lane and the 13 sextillion transistors made as of 2018 relate to the 2021 TechSummit and new possible choices for people with disabilities to live more independently with supports and help from the latest technology?
First, listen to some or all the presentations from the TechSummit conference at the link above.
Next, I submit for your consideration that this new technology has the potential to change, support and enrich our lives as people with disabilities in the same way my transistor radio gave me freedom and choices in a time in my life when my choices were not that numerous.
Don’t be afraid of these new technologies and just say I want to keep things the way they are. Learn all you can. That’s what events like the TechSummit are all about (and thanks to all the sponsors you’ll see on the website for making the conference possible). Ask a lot of questions. Try out new things to see if they will work for you.
This new technology might just give you access and support the same way my little radio did so many years ago.
Mannington Mills is an international company that makes fine floor tiles with several plants, including one in Madison, Georgia. In March of 2020, an employee started feeling poorly, went to the hospital and tested positive for Covid19. The HR department at Mannington then started to interview people regarding possible close contacts. That’s when things got interesting.
One of the people interviewed was the gentleman’s sister, who also worked at Mannington. They asked her if she had visited his work station during his last shift, and she said no. They then asked her if she had any other close contacts with him, and again she said no. The next day, however, HR called her and said a few witnesses had seen her talking with her brother for several minutes, while he sat in the car and she stood just outside the open window.
She claimed she forgot about that conversation and apologized and was subsequently sent home to quarantine for 14 days. She claimed in later court filings this action made her feel “diseased and discarded” which, if nothing else, is an excellent use of alliteration. The following day, HR called her and told her they felt she had been dishonest with them regarding the conversation, rather than the innocent forgetting she professed. One day later she was fired from Mannington Mills.
The woman sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), claiming she was fired because she was the sister of someone who had tested positive for Covid19. Remember, this case originated in March of 2020, when people were on edge about Covid and so much was unknown. Even given that, her claims seem legally dubious.
The ADA was passed during the heights of the AIDS epidemic in our country. It was an unknown disease, and a scary one. There was a powerful social stigma associated with having AIDS and, in the early stages of the epidemic, there was no cure or effective treatment. People weren’t just being fired for having AIDS – they were, in some cases, being fired because the employer THOUGHT they MIGHT have AIDS. In this scenario, the ADA covers them if they are perceived to have the disability (even if they do not) and face discrimination based on that assumption.
I don’t think that argument applies here. Covid19 is indeed serious. Approximately 1.6% of the people in Georgia who tested positive for Covid ended up dying of it. But for the overwhelming majority of people who contracted Covid, they were sidelined for a couple of weeks and then recovered. Many were asymptomatic. By comparison, when AIDS came along, contracting it was assumed to be a death sentence.
In the 40 years since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic (as of 2018) approximately 700,000 Americans have died of AIDS, which is strikingly similar to the amount of people killed by Covid in the past 18 months (682,569, as of this writing). But contracting a disease – even one that can be fatal – doesn’t automatically (or even generally) make you a person with a disability. And yes, while people in 2020 or 2021 would keep their distance from someone who has Covid, there is simply no comparison between this type of public health decision and the stigma attached to contracting AIDS 30 years ago. Her feeling “diseased and discarded” because she was asked to quarantine doesn’t measure up.
The plaintiff’s brother got Covid. There is no indication that Mannington Mills fired him for it. And while it is possible he could have long-term effects from Covid that might render him a person with a disability someday, there’s no indication that this is the situation now. Absent evidence to the contrary, he appears to NOT meet the definition of a person with a disabilty under the law. And, even if he did, there is no indication in that the employer fired his sister (and not him) because he got Covid.
It’s possible she may have a case for wrongful termination. I’m not a lawyer, but getting canned for forgetting you talked to your brother seems a tad harsh. But her brother getting Covid doesn’t make her a person with a disability, or give her coverage under the ADA. The case was dismissed.
I received this note from Dr. Shengli Dong, from the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems at Florida State University. He is a leading researcher on the incredibly important topic of transitioning to work and post-secondary education for people with disabilities. He is looking for people with disabilities to fill out a survey regarding employment outcomes.
Clinical research on the employment of people with disabilities is so incredibly important. It is an area of life where there is so much more progress left to be made. If you are a person with a disability, please consider taking the survey (you can even win a $20 gift card!). If you are not, please forward it on to someone who is. Thank you!
“You are invited to participate in a study on resource seeking strategies and impact on employment outcomes among individuals with disabilities. The study is conducted completely online and will be kept confidential. To participate you must be an individual with disability, at least 18 years of age, and will work either fulltime or parttime. The survey should take about 10-15 minutes of your time. You will be given the opportunity to opt into a raffle for a $20 gift card (given to approximately one of every 25 participants). This study has been approved by the FSU Internal Review Board as part of the research requirements. If you have any questions about the research study or need an alternative survey format, please contact Dr. Shengli Dong by e-mail: email@example.com
From Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities “NewsBits”
Nisonger Photo Contest–Deadline August 1
The Nisonger Center at The Ohio State University has extended its deadline for the annual ‘In Sights’ Photo Contest. Enter for a chance to win up to $500. This year’s theme is Sports and Play Activities. For additional details, call 614-685-3196 or click below: http://nisonger.osu.edu/photocontest
Self Advocates Wanted to Participate in Nisonger LEND Program
Nisonger Center is recruiting for two self-advocates to participate in the LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) as trainees. Trainees learn about disability, advocacy and will participate in a leadership project. Trainees are paid for 10 hours of work per week. Letters of interest and resumes can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 614-688-8472 for more information.
‘Crip Camp’ the Oscars and the tenancy of one legendary activist
Disability rights advocate Judy Heumann in Washington, where she has lived since 1993. (Shuran Huang/For The Washington Post)
By David A. Taylor May 25, 2021 at 9:00 a.m. EDT
From May 30, 2021 “The Washington Post Magazine”
Judy Heumann’s pandemic year started off extremely well. In late January 2020, she attended a Sundance screening of “Crip Camp,” a documentary about disabled young people — including her — who, after meeting at a Catskills summer camp run by hippies in the 1970s, went on to shape the disability rights movement and change federal law. It was a surprise hit and became an Oscar nominee for best documentary.
The following month, she published a memoir called “Being Heumann.” (She hadn’t known when the film would be released, so the timing was a coincidence.) Publishers Weekly hailed the book as “thoughtful and illuminating.”
Then, just days before the world shut down, Heumann — who has made her home in D.C. since 1993 — joined Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show.” At one point in the interview, Noah called her a “badass” and asked her about the time, in 1972, when she “decided to shut New York down” with a disability rights protest.
In the midst of their friendly exchange, however, Noah made a reference to “able-bodied” people — and Heumann doesn’t like that term. “I call you ‘non-disabled,’ ” she said with a smile, “because the likelihood of you acquiring a disability, temporarily or permanently, is statistically very high.” A slightly dazed look crossed Noah’s face. “Did you just threaten me?” he asked, deadpan.
If “Crip Camp” and Trevor Noah introduced Heumann to a wider audience, then it’s arguably about time. Susan Mizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Disability Rights Program, calls Heumann “the mother of the disability rights movement in so many ways” — an activist “who doesn’t take crap, never has.”
Unable to walk since before age 2 because of polio, Heumann, now 73, grew up in Brooklyn, where she felt championed by her parents. Werner and Ilse Heumann were German Jewish immigrants who lost family in the Holocaust. In the early 1950s they didn’t know about access for disabled kids, but they knew their daughter was going to school. When they took her for her first day, however, the school principal physically blocked them at the entrance, saying Judy was a fire hazard.
America then had no room for disability, and the Americans With Disabilities Act was still four decades away. Judy’s father worked long hours at a butcher shop, so the “day-to-day work of fighting fell on my mother,” Heumann writes in her book. “Telling Ilse Heumann that something wasn’t possible was a big mistake.” Dubbed Mighty Mite by her husband, Judy’s mother simply didn’t hear the word “no.”
As an adult, Heumann continued the fight her mother had started — for instance, suing the New York Board of Education when it denied her application to be a teacher. It was a lawsuit, she told me, that even the ACLU wouldn’t take back then. Yet when the case came before Constance Baker Motley, a civil rights pioneer turned District Court judge, she agreed to hear it. New York settled and gave Heumann a job.
Heumann laughs in discussing stories that back up her badass rep: shutting down traffic in Manhattan (to protest Richard Nixon’s veto of the 1972 Rehabilitation Act), getting hauled off an airplane by security (for insisting she had a right to her seat) and launching a sit-in at a federal building in San Francisco, with meals provided by the Black Panthers, to try to get a crucial section of the revived Rehabilitation Act enforced and end discrimination against people with disabilities.
From 2010 to 2017, Heumann served as special adviser on international disability rights at the State Department, working to make disability part of the department’s agenda and to pass an international treaty similar to the Americans With Disabilities Act. More than 180 countries have ratified the 2006 convention, but not the United States because of political division. How to get it ratified? You get around the nos, like her mother did, says Heumann. “You figure it out.”
New challenges continue to arise: The pandemic, Heumann, notes, has amplified the issues faced by many in the disabled community. For people who need help getting dressed, bathing, cooking or going to the bathroom, the coronavirus and the shutdown created “definitely a more difficult situation” by making it tougher to find helpers who could come into the home. Some disabled friends of Heumann and her husband, Jorge Pineda — who also uses a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury — had to leave D.C. to live with family elsewhere.
At a Q&A after a Sundance screening of “Crip Camp,” someone asked: “Why didn’t we know this story?” In our conversation, that question brought Heumann back to her exchange with Trevor Noah, and a truth it revealed. She was taken up short when he pronounced himself “threatened,” but then saw an honesty in that. That’s because non-disabled people do feel threatened, she told me. “It’s one of the big reasons why really getting meaningful, engaged discussion” about disability is difficult. Most people avoid what they feel threatens them — what they don’t know.
At the Academy Awards, Heumann — wearing a custom Markarian silk suit — joined “Crip Camp” co-directors Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham on the red carpet. Although they would, in the end, leave the Oscars without a statue, Heumann says the film “still won because it’s gotten where it is”: a top feature streaming on Netflix in 29 languages globally with subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and audio description available in 15 languages.
And if seeing Heumann’s story on-screen brings viewers closer to understanding disability, then it wouldn’t be the first time she has changed minds: During a conversation this spring on her podcast, “The Heumann Perspective,” LeBrecht — who was a few years younger than Heumann when they met at Camp Jened — credited her with inspiring his activism. “You’re the reason I got involved with disability rights,” he said. “And that never left me, and it’s the reason that I didn’t want this story to be lost to history.”
I tried surfing once, and I was awful at it. My wife and I went to Hawaii a few years ago for our 25th wedding anniversary and no trip to Hawaii would be complete without trying to learn to surf. We spent an hour in Waikiki Bay with an instructor who was one of the more patient people I’ve ever met, and failed miserably at surfing. At the very end, we were both able to get on the board for a few moments — long enough to get some snapshots which will be misleading for all eternity. A picture, in this case, does not tell a thousand words.
I do, however, love the beach. I just got back from one of my favorite places in the world – Nokomis Beach in Florida. Jill and I have been going down there for over 30 years and, added together, I have spent over one year of my life in Florida, hanging out at the beach. Beaches are great — free parking, free fun. Put on some suntan lotion, grab a good book and something cool to drink, and you have a truly enjoyable experience.
For people in wheelchairs, however, the beach can be impossible. It is pretty hard to draw up a fun location to go to that is less accessible by it’s very nature than a beach. People in wheelchairs can go out on the pier, or the jetty, if they are set up correctly. They can go in a boat, provided the boat or marina has a lift to help them aboard. But it is incredibly difficult to actually go to the beach itself or (pipe dream) surfing, if you are a wheelchair user.
There is a wonderful organization called AmpSurf that is trying to change all of that. In partnershp with students from University of California at Berkeley they are creating a prototype of a power wheelchair that will handle beach terrain. This is actually not new…. There have been created before that could help wheelchair users go on to the beach. What makes this effort unique is that this chair is being designed to help users with disabilities to surf.
The chair has a side rack to carry the surf board. The user drives the wheelchair out into the shallow water and, once they have taken out the board and dismounted the chair, pushes a button on their phone to send the chair back to the beach. When the surfer is ready to come out, the chair will return to the water to help the user exit the ocean.
This type of technology sounds incredible and it will no doubt have a profound impact on some people. It does, however, highlight how tough the field of assistive technology can be. One of the questions to be asked when a new product comes along is: Who is it for? In this case it is apparently for (a) wheelchair users who (b) live near the ocean and (c) want to surf and (d) have the money to spend on it. I fear that would be an pretty small piece of pie in the end.
Surfing is a very niche sport and activity. But millions of people love going to the beach. Over half of the states in the USA border an ocean or one of the great lakes. Many warm weather states, like Florida, cater to an elderly population. If this product can be marketed to beach lovers (with the added bonus to surfers), it might have a chance. I wish them well – because everyone deserves a day at the beach!
Last week Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, First Lady Fran DeWine, Ohio State University President Kristina Johnson, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities Director Kevin Miller, and many others visited Assistive Technology of Ohio. AT Ohio Executive Director Dr. Bill Darling provided an update on the latest technology to assist Ohioans with disabilities to become employed and/or be more independent and interactive in their homes and communities.
Mr. Brad Whitmoyer – a small businessperson with a disability who is nonverbal – showed us how he uses current technology to communicate and run his own business. Mr. Whitmoyer uses the Accent 1400 AAC device from Prentke Romich. It is an interactive computer where he selects icons that correspond to words that allow him to quickly build complete sentences. He uses a combination of eye-gaze technology and a switch to select the appropriate icon.
This meeting brings several important issues to mind that I wish to highlight.
First, as an Ohioan with a disability, it is good to be represented by elected and appointed folks who have spent many years directly working with people with disabilities, advocates, and many others, supporting our full participation in employment and our communities. FYI, longtime advocates like me remember, as a U.S. Senator, Mike DeWine helped author the original 1999 Workforce Investment Act that ensured that all employment programs work with the Vocational Rehabilitation program for people with disabilities leading to more employment opportunities and additional support for independent living programs.
Next, with the utmost reverence for the over 580,000 Americans who have died from COVID – 19 and many, many more with long-term illness, I submit that we must not forget or relinquish all the societal and technological advances that have come to the forefront and been widely accepted.
For most of my life, working from home was forbidden (no job if you can’t be in the office) or required special permission and many, many human resources forms to be sure it was allowed. Now, suddenly, not only is working from home necessary to keep us all healthy; it is also a “great new idea” to increase productivity.
Of course, this is where technology comes in. A myriad of creative and assistive technology has given all of us new ways to work, communicate, learn, and interact on a daily basis. Because of this – and a once in a century pandemic – society worked out what people with disabilities have done all our lives, figured out more than one way to achieve something in our work, our community, and our lives.
Governor DeWine’s visit reminded me that we have elected & appointed officials who know, support, and are constantly learning new ways for us to achieve independence and employment in our communities to the full extent of our abilities – And we need more of them.
Finally, since it seems we have now “learned” that with technology and ingenuity there are many ways to work, learn, communicate, and interact with each other; we cannot and will not return to “the way it was before”.
If you want a job, to attend a meeting, communicate with family & friends, be independent to the full extent of your abilities, and help in learning and growing new abilities, don’t allow anyone to say you/we can’t do it.
Suggest a way that works for you. Ask for help or an accommodation to figure out a way to do it. Talk about your abilities and all the things you can do.
Times and technology will constantly change. The pandemic simply accelerated some of that change.
We were honored to host Governor Mike DeWine, First Lady Fran DeWine and the president of The Ohio State University, Dr. Kristina Johnson, to our offices at Assistive Technology of Ohio! We were also blessed to be joined by Kevin Miller, Director of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities.
Assistive Technology of Ohio, based in the College of Engineering at The Ohio State University, runs a statewide disability technology lending libary, focusing on the types of technologies that help people with disabilities succeed in employment, compete in the workplace, and live more independent and interconnected lives.
We were able to spend some time with our honored guests on Wednesday, April 28, to show them the types of technologies available to be checked out and tried out by any Ohioan with a disability. The tour included a presentation by Brad Whitmoyer, a small business owner who is non-verbal, and who utilizes a power wheelchair. Brad demonstrated how he uses an Accent 1400 augmentatitve communication device made by Prentke Romich, a Wooster-based company that is a world leader in the area of AAC devices.
“Assistive Technology of Ohio is a hidden jewel at Ohio State,” DeWine said. “What they do can transform people’s lives.”
Other technologies which were shown to the governor included portable CCTV devices for people with visual impairments, the Clear Reader+ device, for blind users, which quickly transforms printed text to spoken words. The tour showcased assistive technologies made in Ohio, including HomeSense, made in Akron, which helps prevent kitchen fires by turning off unattended cooking food, as well as the Obi, made by Dayton-based Desin, Inc., which is a robot that puts people with disabilities back in charge of feeding themselves.
Governor Mike DeWine, First Lady Fran DeWine and OSU President Kristina Johnson watch Brad Whitmoyer communicate via a Accent 1400 device from Prentke Romich.
US Department of Labor opens dialogue to ensure equity in employment for people with disabilities from historically underserved communities
Initiative will inform future policy, programs, funding opportunities
WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Labor announced, beginning April 12, it will open a two-week national online dialogue to gather ideas for ensuring equity in employment policies and programs for people with disabilities from historically underserved communities. Those seeking to participate should register at RacialEquity.ideascale.com.
The department will use input received between April 12 and April 26 to help identify strategies for dismantling systemic barriers to employment and participation in workforce services that people with disabilities from diverse backgrounds, communities and identities face. This group includes communities of color, religious minorities, LGBTQ+ persons, rural communities and those otherwise affected by persistent poverty or inequality.
“This national dialogue gives us a unique opportunity to listen to those with lived experience, and opens a valuable line of communication,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy Jennifer Sheehy. “Outreach like this strengthens our understanding and better equips us to ensure equity in our policy work and grant programs and respond to the needs of all Americans with disabilities.”
“The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs plays a vital role in rooting out entrenched employment inequities and ensures that federal contractors – which employ about 25 percent of the U.S. workforce – fulfill their contractual promise and deliver equal opportunity and affirmative action in their workplaces,” said Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director Jenny R. Yang. “Hearing what workers with disabilities from diverse backgrounds and identities face will guide our efforts to remove their barriers to opportunity and ensure their access to good jobs.”
“We know that the strongest policies don’t overlook marginalized communities and are designed to work for everyone,” said Women’s Bureau Director Wendy Chun-Hoon. “Engaging stakeholders as we seek to make sure our actions and policies support workers across many identities and experiences, including gender, race, sexuality, ability, religion, geography and wealth, is a core priority that ensures better employment outcomes for all.”