HEALTHCARE: ‘Smart’ Walking Stick Helps Visually Impaired Grocery Shop

By Alex McFarland: For Complete Post, Click Here…

A team of engineers at the University of Colorado Boulder are using artificial intelligence (AI) to develop a ‘smart’ walking stick for the blind or visually impaired.

The research was published in IEEE.

According to the team, the smart walking stick could eventually help blind people navigate various tasks, such as shopping at the grocery store or finding a place to sit.

Shivendra Agrawal is a doctoral student in the Department of Computer Science.

“I really enjoy grocery shopping and spend a significant amount of time in the store,” Agrawal said. “A lot of people can’t do that, however, and it can be really restrictive. We think this is a solvable problem.”

The walking stick resembles a cane, but it is a bit different. For one, it has a camera and uses computer vision technology, helping it map and catalog its environment. It can then guide users by using vibrations in the handle and with spoken directions.

The team says the device isn’t a substitute for making places more accessible, but the prototype can help millions of individuals become more independent.

“AI and computer vision are improving, and people are using them to build self-driving cars and similar inventions,” Agrawal said. “But these technologies also have the potential to improve quality of life for many people.”

Savings Accounts for Disabled People Are Opened to More of Them

By Ann Carrns: For Complete Post, Click Here…

Only those who became disabled by age 26 have been eligible for ABLE accounts. But Congress raised the age to 46, so more military veterans and others can qualify as of 2026.

Disabled Americans recently scored a victory when Congress approved an expansion of state-based accounts that let them work and save money without risking the loss of public benefits like Medicaid.

The change means an estimated six million more people, including about one million military veterans, will eventually qualify for the tax-favored accounts, advocates for disabled people say. The accounts, known as ABLE accounts, are named after the 2014 law that created them, the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act.

Forty-six states and Washington, D.C., offer ABLE accounts, which first became available in 2016 and are loosely modeled on 529 college savings accounts. But saving in ABLE accounts has been somewhat slow to catch on, partly because they have been limited to people who became disabled before the age of 26.

Now, the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, included in the omnibus spending bill passed in December, has raised the threshold for the onset of a qualifying disability to age 46. That means people can be eligible if their disability occurred after their mid-20s, in a car accident, say, or from a neurological disease they developed, like multiple sclerosis. It may also help people dealing with the lingering effects of Covid-19, said Thomas Foley, executive director of the National Disability Institute.

The accounts let people with disabilities save and invest for current expenses and future needs, including housing, education, transportation and legal costs, without the funds disqualifying them from need-based federal help like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income. In general, a disabled person can’t have more than $2,000 in savings or other assets to qualify for those programs. But money in an ABLE account doesn’t count toward that total.

“It’s a safe place to save money,” Mr. Foley said.

The age expansion was crucial for the ABLE program overall, supporters say. A 2019 report from the National Association of State Treasurers warned that participation was too low to maintain affordable fees for ABLE accounts and sustain the programs over the long term. The association’s charitable arm, the NAST Foundation, has started several initiatives to promote awareness of the accounts.

Direct Care Worker and Behavioral Health Workforce Employee Discussion Group Survey

From MDHHS: For Complete Post, Click Here…

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has engaged Public Sector Consultants (PSC), a nonpartisan public policy firm based in Lansing, to conduct an analysis of Michigan’s behavioral health and direct care workforces.

PSC is conducting small-group discussions with behavioral health or direct care professionals as well as leadership at places that employ these professionals, such as hospitals, health centers, nursing homes, aging service providers, and more. Please complete this brief questionnaire and, if you qualify, you will be invited to join a 90-minute group discussion. If you are selected, you will be invited via email to participate. If you participate in one of these focus groups, you may qualify for a stipend.

MDHHS outlines improvements in protecting children in state’s care

From MDHHS: For Complete Post, Click Here…

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) today shared an update on the transformation it has made to the child welfare system that has resulted in improved safety for children and families since the inception of a federal lawsuit.

MDHHS appeared virtually in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan for the latest update, which has been tracking progress since a 2008 settlement agreement following a 2006 lawsuit. “I am delighted with the progress that has been made since we adopted the (corrective action plan) last April,” said Judge Nancy G. Edmunds. “I think the state has taken huge steps under (MDHHS) Director (Elizabeth) Hertel. Congratulations are in order for sure,” Judge Edmunds said, adding that more work needs to be done to address issues mentioned by federal monitors.

Specifically, the department emphasized in court how child safety has improved through the increased monitoring of and investment in congregate care facilities where foster and juvenile justice youth are placed. The update came nine months after MDHHS and federal court monitors unveiled new strategies to target 14 areas in the child welfare and juvenile justice system as part of a corrective action plan. “We maintain our steadfast focus on ensuring the safety of all youth receiving treatment in congregate care facilities through intensive improvements in oversight of the facilities where our children are placed,” Hertel said. “I am proud of the work we do and the improvements we have made as we continue to work toward excellence in our child welfare system.” Recent MDHHS actions that are producing results include:

Youth lead anti-corruption talks on disability

From EDYN: For Complete Post, Click Here…

The 1st episode of the Youth Lead Anti-corruption Talks series named “Inclusion and leadership of youth with disabilities to contribute to the achievement of SDG16″ took place virtually, on December the 9th 2022, and was dedicated to the Human Rights Week and the International Day of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities celebrated on December the 3rd. These talks are being organized by the Youth Lead Board of the UNODC’s GRACE initiative. Each of these talks is dedicated to a certain UN observance day and thus focuses on a given topic. For instance, the first edition was focused on disability inclusion and was prepared by Esma Gumberidze and Sylvain Obedi from the Youth Lead Board.

‘God of War: Ragnarök’ Wins Big In Accessibility

By Frankie Negron: For Complete Post, Click Here…

The Game Awards have recognized accommodations in the gaming industry since 2020 and on Thursday night that award went to “God of War: Ragnarök.”

The Innovation in Accessibility Award was developed to honor games that ensure as many people as possible can play. This means adding in as many accessibility options to address any kind of need that could come up. The selection panel for this award is made up solely of disabled gamers.

Four other games were considered: “The Last of Us: Part 1,” “Return to Monkey Island,” “The Quarry” and “As Dusk Falls.”

“Ragnarök” had a groundbreaking list of features, more than 70 options designed to suit whatever need a player encountered. This ranged from color-coding subtitles so players would know who was saying what line, changing the size of text and color-coding enemies and allies when it came to combat. The features weren’t solely designed for visual needs, but a variety of needs.

Santa Monica Studio sought consultation from disabled gamers and advocates in order to focus on what would really help to make it accessible, not just adding subtitles and giving options to change game brightness.

Mila Pavlin, a team leader at the studio, had spoken to BBC News and explained that “it was the biggest thing that we looked out for at the beginning of the process of making the game – how to make it more accessible to more people” and pointed out to how “there were many gamers who wanted to play in 2018 but were unable to because of things like low vision, motor issues and cognitive or hearing disabilities.”

California’s power outages are a life-and-death issue

By Alice Wong: For Complete Post, Click Here…

ngd-This is a critical issue in Michigan as well. Great problems that laste dfor days to weeks happened in the 2013 ice storm…

A perspective on the impacts of storms for people with disabilities.

The terms atmospheric river and bomb cyclone were not in my vocabulary until recently. During the first two weeks of 2023, however, the San Francisco Bay Area was deluged with a series of storms. I am a disabled person who depends on power to live. When I came home after four weeks in the ICU last summer, I was tethered to a feeding machine that pumps food into my stomach, as well as to a ventilator that’s attached to a hole in my throat, among numerous other devices. The stakes for potential harm during a power outage have exponentially increased. My anxiety, vulnerability and fear are real.

Jan. 3, 2023, 10:44 p.m.: Texted my caregivers on what to do if a power outage happens while I am in bed tomorrow night. Air mattress will deflate, and I will immediately need to be transferred into my wheelchair. I will need to use my backup electric batteries for medical devices such as my suction machine, since I need to suction hourly every day.

Jan. 4, 10 a.m.: Mentally calculating how much battery life some of my machines need before needing to use my backup electric battery. My other devices do not have a built-in battery.

1 p.m.: Bookmarked the link to Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) Outage Center, so I can look up all the outages by location and report one if it happens in my neighborhood.

1:30 p.m.: Asked my father to make sure my backup electric batteries are fully charged.

2 p.m.: Let my morning caregiver leave her shift early so that she can get home safely before the brunt of the storm arrives. Did not hydrate today, because my nighttime caregiver will not arrive until 9 p.m. Worried for her, and worried for me. I hope I don’t get a full bladder.

3:02 p.m.: Tweeting information about the storm. Noticing that many weather-related Tweets do not have alt text in graphics and captions in videos that contain vital information about the storm, evacuations and road closures.

3:30 p.m.: Watching the news and scrolling Twitter. My father, who thinks I’m being an alarmist, said, “The news always exaggerates the dangers.” After living with me for decades, he still doesn’t understand.

6:01 p.m.: Pre-emptively charging some of my devices, topping them up with power tonight, just in case.

6:19 p.m.Uh-oh. My bladder feels a little full. Let’s see if I can hold on until 9-ish when my caregiver arrives. I hope she makes it.

And Much More…

Celebrating Ed Roberts Day With A Special Message From WID Co-Founder, Judy Heumann

Bu Judy Heumann: For Complete Post, Click Here…

My name is Judy Heumann, and I’m a proud co-founder of the World Institute on Disability (WID). It’s hard to believe that WID is 40 years old. As I think about WID’s future, I harken back to the early days when so many activists were pushing for broader representation of disabled people. At the time, there
were no public policy think tanks for disabled people. Ed Roberts, Joan Leon, and I wanted to change that and thus WID was born.

It is fitting that on Ed’s birthday today, we also celebrate WID’s founding and 40th anniversary, for they are forever linked in a global movement for the rights, opportunities, equity, and justice for all people with disabilities.

Ed is known by many as the “Father of the Independent Living Movement” and I’m often called the “Mother of the Independent Living Movement.” Together, we were instrumental in advancing Centers for Independent Living across the United States. We were able to influence and develop policy at federal, state, and local levels with a mission to achieve the full inclusion of people with disabilities throughout all facets of our society.

As we look at the next 40 years of WID and beyond, I believe we can all carry with us Ed’s fighting spirit that enabled him to make an ever-lasting change, in our community and the entire world. Ed is an example of the power of one, but he is also an example of what community engagement looks like.

Dyspraxia And Apraxia

By Jillian Enright: For Complete Post, Click Here…

ngd- This has been an issue with me over the years and seems to be worsening as I get older…

Motor and coordination issues in Autism and ADHD.

Communication is a basic human right

Humans place an unreasonable level of importance on communicating verbally, but that’s an ableist belief of superiority based on speech being the method of communication preferred by the majority of the population.

Building on my previous article, I do acknowledge the potential flaws in the rapid prompting method of communication (RPM) and Facilitated Communication (FC).

Despite some drawbacks to certain types of assisted communication methods, I’d still much prefer to support avenues which increase autonomy and options for effective communication for everyone.

Acknowledging the weaknesses of some methods will hopefully lead to improvements and thus, even better options coming about in the future.

This article isn’t about that, specifically, but it is related. Many Autistics who have unreliable speech or are non-speaking use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), RPM, FC, and Spelling to Communicate (S2C).

Many Autistics and people with ADHD have co-occurring conditions called dyspraxia and apraxia, which can significantly impact one’s speech, but do not impact a person’s intelligence. People seem to understand this in principle, but not in practice.

OneButtonPIN increases security for blind and low-vision tech users

From University of Waterloo: For Complete Post, Click Here…

New authentication method helps protect data from privacy attacks.

Working closely with blind and low-vision (BLV) users, researchers at the University of Waterloo and the Rochester Institute of Technology have developed a new authentication method that could help BLV technology users more securely access their devices. The new method, OneButtonPIN, allows users to input PIN codes using a single large button and a series of haptic vibrations.

People with BLV frequently express frustrations with existing authentication methods such as drawing patterns, fingerprint and face scans, and PIN codes. Some methods are difficult to use effectively without visual data. Others are vulnerable to privacy attacks.

OneButtonPIN addresses these security issues by using haptic vibrations imperceptible to outsiders. When prompted to enter a PIN code, the user presses and holds a large button on their smartphone screen. This activates a series of vibrations separated by pauses; the user counts the number of vibrations corresponding to the number they desire to enter, then releases the button and repeats the process until the desired numbers are entered.

While biometrics such as fingerprints and face scans are unique and easy to use, a person’s biometrics cannot be changed or reset, explains Stacey Watson, a lecturer in computer science and one of the researchers on the study.

“More traditional forms of entry are vulnerable due to many BLV people’s use of screen reader technology,” said Watson. “PIN users are vulnerable both to eavesdropping and shoulder surfing attacks, which is where someone nearby can observe a user’s device without their knowledge.”