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Eva has cerebral palsy and is nonverbal. Over the years, she has experimented with many different communication devices and strategies including high-end AAC devices.

At one point she spelled to her mother, "Mom, get me a baseball cap and a laser pointer then Velcro the laser onto the top of the baseball cap." Viola! It has been Eva's primary communication tool ever since.

From time to time Eva is confronted by a professional or vendor in the assistive technology field and asked why she doesn't use an AAC device. The bias seems to be that the more sophisticated and technical the device then the more effective the communication. This is a bias most of us in the field carry whether we like to admit it or not. It was a lesson learned after Eva mastered and then rejected a very expensive, very sophisticated device. I learned that lesson the hard way—as a dad and not an AT specialist.

Simple, elegant and it works!

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Photo: Tristar Vacuum CleanerYou learn something new every day. Over the years I have grown attached to, of all things, a vacuum cleaner but not just any vacuum cleaner. I’m talking a vintage Tristar. Long story short, a number of years ago, driving through Los Angeles, I noticed a garaged door opened with hundreds of vacuum cleaner hoses on display. I pulled over and discovered what could almost be a vacuum cleaner museum and somewhere among all the hoses, vacuums, brushes and accessories—Saul Lewinson—a little old Jewish man stooped over piddling with a vacuum cleaner motor standing at his workbench. Saul was a remarkable man, pushing ninety, a retired vacuum cleaner salesman back in the day when vacuums were sold by an army of door-to-door salesmen just like Saul. And a good one, I walked away with a genuine refurbished Tristar vacuum cleaner.

...continue reading "The Tristar That Got Away"

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Logo: Alliance for Technology Access

“We were emerging into an era that was really transformative for all of us, for our kids and for those of us with disabilities, that it really was going to change what life might look like. And the challenge for all of us was simply to imagine what an answer might be and then to begin to search for people who were approaching those similar kinds of solutions.”

— Jackie Brand

For anyone interested or involved with assistive technology a HUGE part of the story—history, actually—is the Alliance for Technology Access. For anyone new to the field, you may not even know about ATA or its invaluable contributions to so many people with disabilities and their families.

Today, after a Google search for “Alliance for Technology Access,” I got a URL that led to a blank page and a sadness that reflects an organic process that inevitably comes to an end as a grassroots movement morphs into something beyond a founding vision. Things change.

Now, with over thirty years in the field, I continue to witness rebirth, development, innovations, missions and an ongoing vision for accessible and affordable assistive technology. Today, the AT field has evolved and become professionalized which was inevitable and, for the most part, a positive outcome.

With some regret, however, I also watch as AT service delivery is now largely driven by organizational and institutional systems and models that fall short of the sheer energy and creativity of those early years when all one had to do was roll-up one’s sleeves and jump in head first—people with disabilities, mothers, fathers, grandparents, engineers, designers, and mom-and-pop innovators and entrepreneurs that built the AT industry from the garage floor up.

...continue reading "Alliance for Technology Access"

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Illustration: keyboard with face

So we got thrown into the deep end like so many other families who in an instant are swept into the experience of disability—a child, a family member, or oneself. One moment you are in one universe and then the next you find yourself in another. Could happen at birth, after an injury or as a consequence of aging but there you are totally unprepared without even the words to explain what you are feeling.

It’s a much longer story but for now let’s stick to technology. As we reassembled our lives piece by piece it was technology that became the door for me to reach out to our daughter and find a way inside—a stable footing to be a father and have a connection with Eva.

As most mothers do, my wife had an inside track. Her bond with Eva was immediate and deep. For me, I struggled early on trying to find my way across a landscape without language. Unable to know what Eva understood, what she felt, what she wanted, I found myself in a land of trial and mostly error. As with most disabilities, to say one has cerebral palsy is like saying one lives in Los Angeles. It says something but not much of anything. So what did cerebral palsy mean for Eva and our family? What universe had we landed in and, for that matter, what dimension?

...continue reading "A Little History—Part I"

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FreedomTech logo

Just got an word about a new AT funding resource for residents living in California called FreedomTech. The FreedomTech Financial Loan Program provides Californians with affordable financial loans to purchase needed assistive technology. Financial loans range from $500 to $15,000.

The FreedomTech Financial Loan Program can lend you money to purchase a variety of assistive technology including:

  • Hearing aids
  • Computers and adaptive accessories/software
  • Adaptive driving equipment
  • Home modification equipment
  • And more...

For more information about FreedomTech, eligibility and the application process go to www.freedomtech.org.

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Photo: Zebreda Dunham

Meet the one and only—Zebreda Dunham.

When first meeting Zebreda one's impression is shaped largely by her disability but that's really only just a part of Zebreda's story. Born in 1978 with a rare condition known as Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita—a disability typically characterized by deformed joints and very weak muscles—Zebreda is challenged in ways that most people take for granted such as walking, eating, showering and most other activities of daily living.

The other equally interesting part of Zebreda's story is the life she has created for herself. Born in Washington D.C. and raised in Maryland with her mother, father and sister, Zebreda, as a young woman, began to wonder what type of life would be in store for her after her parents could no longer care and provide for her physically. Zebreda began to research and plan for her future—a journey that has led her to the West Coast where she currently lives in Pasadena, California.

What makes Zebreda remarkable is not so much her disability but rather her ability to recognize opportunities—many literally outside her reach—and then to imagine, create and adapt tools and strategies that make those opportunities accessible. Zebreda's world is filled with inventions that enhance and support her daily living in ways that are creative, resourceful and affordable—from a simple re-configured wire-hanger to a programmable and accessible universal remote controller. When spending any time with Zebreda one cannot help but be impressed by her creative and practical designs. What for many would be in insurmountable barrier is for Zebreda just an obstacle to troubleshoot and an adaption or tool to design.

...continue reading "The One and Only"

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Photo: Eva Sweeney
Today, with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram the social media of choice, the generational tech artifacts of blogs, email and, dare I say, telephone calls are all gathering virtual dust by the nanosecond. And so I tip my age with my first blog entry—an effort to think out loud about the current state of Assistive Technology (AT) in a manner informed by experience, reflection and an and an ever expanding curiosity about technology and its relationship to disability.

Why my voice? What’s to say about AT that hasn’t already been said? Where’s the added value that might warrant your time and consideration? Well, time and words will provide the answer to those questions.

I was first introduced to AT some thirty years ago shortly after the birth of our daughter. Eva suffered a traumatic birth injury resulting in brain damage sustained from a lack of oxygen over a period of several minutes. Six months later she was diagnosed as having cerebral palsy. Our world was turned upside-down. That’s where this story begins.

...continue reading "The Beginning…"

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