6 Sensory Activities for the Season

Blog.6 Sensory Activities

Fall is here and the season offers a variety of spectacular sensory experiences for children and adults alike. Below are some of our favorite autumn activities.

1. Admire fall foliage
Fall is the perfect time to enjoy the great outdoors. Visit a local park with accessible hiking trails; embark on a driving tour; or even take a fall foliage train ride to see the changing leaves in all their glory. The colorful scenery, clean fresh air, flocks of birds flying south and the sounds of the leaves under foot provide a truly fabulous feast for the senses.

2. Carve a pumpkin
Whether you purchase one at a supermarket or visit a neighborhood pumpkin patch, pumpkin carving offers an array of sensory experiences. Designate an adult with excellent fine motor skills to carve the pumpkin. Observers can participate by touching the pumpkin, noticing its physical characteristics and coming up with ideas for what the carving should look like. Once the pumpkin is carved, let observers touch the gooey insides of the pumpkin and smell the pumpkin’s sweet aroma. Cap the experience by cooking and tasting pumpkin seeds, or making and eating some pumpkin pie.

3. Go apple-picking
Visit a local orchard to learn about and sample the variety of apples available. Is the apple sweet or tart? What is the apple’s texture and color? Pick the apples you like best, take them home and make an apple pie or apple sauce. Taste and enjoy!

4. Take a hayride
If accessible, take a hayride. Feel the wind in your face, the texture and smell of hay, and enjoy the slow bumpy ride. Nothing says fall like a hayride!

5. Pick leaves
While a trip to a park is great fun, you can pick leaves just about anywhere. Recognize the colors, shapes and textures of leaves from different trees. Listen to the sound of the leaves when you crumple them in your hands, or walk and ride over them in your wheelchair. Then come home and make a leaf collage.

 6. Make a fall sensory bin
You know those leaves you picked? They can go into a fall sensory box which may also include gourds, mini pumpkins, acorns, dried corn husks, kernels and beans. Add some plastic measuring cups and scoopers, and let the kids touch, scoop and pour. Sensory box users who don’t have use of their hands can try Enabling Devices’ switch-activated pouring cups to get in on the fun.

While you enjoy these sensory activities, start your Halloween planning. It’s time to for kids and older Halloween enthusiasts to decide how they want to dress for the holiday. Think about favorite book, TV and movie characters they may want to portray, and begin brainstorming about costume ideas. Look for Enabling Devices’ upcoming Halloween blogpost for more ideas.

8 Cooking Hacks for Chefs with Disabilities

Blog: 8 Cooking Hacks for Chefs with Disabilities

Cooking can be challenging when you live with a disability. But with the right tools and techniques, many people can find their way around the kitchen. Here are some tips you can try.

1. Use automatic and adaptive devices
Automatic and adaptive devices can make many cooking activities easier. Electric can openers, adaptive utensils, vegetable choppers, knives designed for safety, switch-activated battery operated scissors and switch-activated adapted pouring cups are just some of the products that can make cooking possible for individuals with impaired fine motor skills or inability to use their hands.

2. Collect simple recipes with step-by-step photographs
Individuals with intellectual disabilities will benefit from short recipes that don’t require too much reading and photos that will show them what their recipes should look like. Visit this website for more information.

3. Cut prep time
Take advantage of pre-cut and pre-washed veggies, fruit and semi-prepared meat as well as high quality, healthy frozen meals. Trader Joe’s sells yummy pre-seasoned dishes such as ready to heat pesto chicken thighs, lasagna, soups and all sorts of frozen pizzas at reasonable price points.

4. Use a rolling or bar cart to transport food and ingredients
In a recent Washington Post article, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a wheelchair user, says she “uses a child’s lap desk and balances food and plates on a tray that fits on it. The senator also advises loading up a bar cart. ‘I can just roll myself while pushing the bar cart with everything in it from one room to another without risking spilling hot food or drinks in my lap,’” she said.

5. Use voice-assisted technology
If you’re visually impaired or have motor challenges, avoid going back and forth to your recipe or cookbook by having voice-assisted technology read your recipe aloud.

6. Design your kitchen to meet your needs
If it’s not cost prohibitive, redesign your kitchen with your needs in mind. For instance, if you use a wheelchair, lower your counters to wheelchair level. If that’s not an option, get a rolling prep table that’s wheelchair height. Likewise, electronic touch or hands-free faucets make food preparation easier. An induction stovetop is a great idea for vision impaired cooks or those with impaired fine motor control since its surface or cooktop doesn’t get hot. Imagine – you can touch it and not get burned!

7. Consult with an occupational therapist
Not sure where to begin? Work with an occupational therapist who can teach you to simplify cooking routines and help you to set up your kitchen so it’s more user-friendly.

8. Check out Accessible Chef
Created by Anna Moyer, who experimented with all kinds of cooking hacks to help her brother who lives with Down syndrome, this website is full of helpful ideas, recipes, and product suggestions that make cooking accessible for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Bon appetit!

Disability Media Network Offers Rarely Seen Content for Disability Community

Blog: Disability Media Network

Frustrated by the paucity of disabled representation on mainstream television?

The new streaming service Disability Media Network (DiMe) offers free content including movies, documentaries, sports coverage and short series that deal with disability-related themes and present the work of disabled filmmakers and actors.

According to its website, DiME’s content is “specially curated to ensure that disabled viewers see more authentic versions of themselves when they turn on the TV. …”

DiMe founder Jennifer Price told New Mobility that “the platform has two purposes—one from a viewer standpoint to allow people to see people who look like them, [and one] from a filmmaker standpoint to give another distribution outlet to their content.”

Price, a non-disabled disability rights attorney, launched DiMe in June 2021 on Roku TV. Since then, the service has grown and DiMe content can now be viewed on the DiMe website, Apple TV and Fire TV as well. Subscriptions are free. New content is available each month.

Sound interesting? Here’s a sampling of what’s available now.

1. “For Better, For Worse,” a short Australian film, tells the story of John and Lizzie, a couple with Down syndrome trying to convince their friend Reuben to be best man at their wedding. Why is he so resistant? Find out in this entertaining romantic comedy.

2. “Groundhog Night,” another Australian short, is written by and stars wheelchair user Emily Dash. In a piece for The Equity Magazine, she told writer Kate Hood that she “wanted to make a film that looked at the impact disability had on family dynamics, and showed that living with disability could be funny, as well as poignant.”

3. Set in 2040, the 2020 short film “Here Comes Frieda” is a science fiction thriller about a blind woman trying to redeem a lottery ticket that will allow her to leave climate-change ravaged Earth.

4. “Deafening Darkness” a short Canadian horror film made in 2017 tells the story of a deaf woman searching for her missing friend. In the process of her search, she meets a stranger with a disturbing history.  This film includes a fully deaf cast and dialogue in sign language.

5. “To Pop a Wheelie,” a 2015 documentary written and directed by Teryl Warren follows three “adrenaline junkies” forced to feed their thrill-seeking addictions in new ways after they sustain life altering spinal cord injuries.

6. “Dancing Outside the Box” is a short documentary directed by David Block, a legally blind filmmaker. The film focuses on wheelchair user Ray Leight, who created a ballroom dancing curriculum that enables wheelchair users to dance with standing partners.

7. The documentary Mapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita chronicles the work of Dr. Jack Kessler, a stem cell biologist who decided to focus on using embryonic stem cells to find a cure for spinal cord disorders after his daughter Allison has a disabling ski accident.

Accreditation for ID Post-Secondary Programs Commences

Blog: Accreditation

A couple of weeks ago, we told you about plans for the expansion of Shepherds College, a faith-based institution in Wisconsin that offers post-secondary education for students with intellectual disabilities. Shepherds is unusual because it provides an authentic college experience including campus life, recreational and extracurricular activities that are similar to those at mainstream colleges and universities.

But Shepherds isn’t the only place where ID students can continue their educational journeys post-high school. According to Disability Scoop, “the number of programs at colleges and universities aimed at this population has ballooned to more than 300 in recent years, but they vary significantly in structure, length, how integrated they are in the campus and much more. As a result, families have had little way to assess different offerings despite program costs that can rival traditional college tuition.”

That’s where a new accrediting agency called the Inclusive Higher Education Accreditation Council comes in. The nonprofit agency will use a set of standards developed by the Think College National Coordinating Center Accreditation Workgroup to evaluate postsecondary programs in areas such as mission, curriculum, faculty, student achievement and financial status. Schools and programs are not required to become accredited and some may choose not to since the accreditation process can be costly in time and money.

Still, Martha Mock, executive director of the council and chair of the Think College National Coordinating Center Accreditation Workgroup, told Inside Higher Ed that post-secondary programs that become accredited will have certain advantages. Says Mock, “[Accreditation is] a way for programs to demonstrate and share how they are providing a high-quality program to students.”

It will take time before all students benefit from the accreditation standards. Just five schools are expected to complete the process from now through the end of the 2024-2025 academic year. Western Carolina University’s University Participant Program was the first program to begin the process. A site visit to the program took place last month.

Meanwhile, ID students and their families are clamoring for a spot at one of the 300-plus programs already in operation. As Inside Higher Ed reported, statistics from one study at University of Massachusetts Boston showed that “59 percent of students who completed such a program had a paid job a year later, compared to a 19 percent employment rate for adults with intellectual disabilities in the general population.”

An additional benefit? Post-secondary programs also help students to learn skills of independent living that allow them to be more self-reliant.

Disneyland’s Toontown is New, Improved and Inclusive!

Blog: Disneyland’s Toontown

Walt Disney Parks have always been disability-friendly destinations and the company continues to make its rides, attractions, dining establishments and grounds more accessible and inclusive for guests of all abilities.

As part of the Disney 100th anniversary celebration, Disneyland in Anaheim, California, recently unveiled its newly refurbished Mickey’s Toontown.

Toontown, which originally opened in 1993, is a cartoon-themed area that caters to young children and families. In Toontown, young guests can meet Disney cartoon characters such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto.

With more greenspaces, improved wheelchair access and thoughtfully conceived auditory, visual and tactile stimuli for visitors with sensory processing disorders and autism spectrum disorders, the area is now more welcoming than ever before.

To make Toontown fully accessible to wheelchair users, Disney has done away with curb cuts, added ramps and kept pathways open. A water play attraction includes interactive water tables set up at wheelchair height. Additionally, reports Disability Scoop, “a roller slide down an embankment hill will have a dedicated landing area where kids will have time to get back in their wheelchairs without pressure to get out of the way for the next slider.”

Likewise, the Dreaming Tree, which represents Walt Disney’s boyhood spot for daydreaming, includes a maze for climbing that’s wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs.

Visitors on the autism spectrum will benefit from designated areas where they can release pent-up energy, find shade, get away from crowds and noise, picnic and relax after an over-stimulating day at the park. Additionally, Toontown attractions such as Goofy’s How to Play Yard and The Popcorn Park feature calming soundtracks. Donald Duck’s boat is designed with hands-on sensory experiences. Toontown’s structures are painted in spa-like hues that won’t overwhelm guests who are sensitive to bright colors.

“We got a lot of guests who utilize our parks in different ways—who see, hear and feel our experiences in different ways and want every child to know that when they came to this land… that they were seen and that this place was welcoming to them,” said Jeff Shaver-Moskowitz, Portfolio Executive Producer at Walt Disney Imagineering, at a press preview last month.

Toontown also has family restrooms and the EngineEar Souvenirs gift shop, which sells Minnie Mouse ears headbands specially designed for visitors who use cochlear implants.

Disney hopes that the area will benefit not only people with disabilities, but all families who need a place to rest and rejuvenate after a hectic day at Disneyland.

Yes, You Can Go On Safari in a Wheelchair!

Blog: Yes You Can Go

Have you ever considered what it would be like to go on an African safari? To see animals such as giraffes, elephants, zebras, leopards, baboons, hippos, buffalos and all sorts of birds, close-up and personal and in their own environments instead of behind bars in a zoo?

When evaluating vacation options, many assume that Africa travel — especially safaris — is too difficult for individuals with mobility challenges. Yet, nowadays, there is no reason for wheelchair users to rule out this life-changing travel experience. The keys to a successful safari vacation are knowledge and careful planning.

In a recent article in Travel Weekly, Maija de Rijk-Uys, managing director at Go2Africa, confirms that “Africa’s great wilderness is becoming more and more accessible to travelers who use wheelchairs.” Adds Rijk-Uys: “As lodges have made it more accessible for people with disabilities to travel, we have seen a greater demand.”

South Africa is particularly accessible for individuals with mobility disabilities because airports and many tourist attractions, hotels, wineries and dining establishments are set up to accommodate wheelchair users, says Rijk-Uys. The country is also a safe destination for medically fragile individuals since its sophisticated medical infrastructure assures good care in the event of an emergency.

Rijk-Uys says that popular South African sightseeing locations such as gorgeous Table Mountain which overlooks the city of Cape Town, are accessible to wheelchairs. Likewise, beaches in South Africa such as Fish Hoek, Big Bay, and Camps Bay provide beach wheelchairs that move smoothly in the sand and can even be driven into the water.

Africa tourists who use wheelchairs will find that safaris are typically conducted by jeep so that mobility challenges needn’t be a major obstacle. In some safari locations, walking is even forbidden for safety reasons.

Safaris are made more accessible by the fact that some  operators “now have specially designed or adapted wheelchair accessible vehicles for their game drives,” says Responsible Travel, an operator that runs environmentally conscious Africa trips that give back to the communities in which it operates. Responsible Travel recommends wheelchair users consider vacationing in Botswana, another location that is increasingly accessible.

“Botswana is well set up for wheelchair users, with adapted vehicles available including jeeps, boats and the mokoro canoes used to traverse the lagoons and waterways of the Okavango Delta. While you’re game-watching, your wheelchair is kept securely to avoid any damage,” according to Responsible Travel.

Cape Town-based tour operator Travel with Rene offers wheelchair accessible vehicles for tours and transfers. Founded by Renè Moses, who has quadriplegia, the company specializes in wheelchair accessible travel. Moses’ vehicles “have been adapted with hydraulic wheelchair lifts to cater for wheelchair users, family and companions. For the clients’ safety, wheelchairs are secured to the floor by means of 4×4 floor restraints. A body belt is placed around the wheelchair user and the wheelchair to ensure their safety.”

To confirm that a safari will meet your accessibility requirements, be sure to research the following details:

1. Ensure that your lodge is situated on flat ground instead of on a hill or mountain top. Elevators and lifts are extremely rare in the African bush.

2. Make sure that your lodge has walkways that can accommodate wheelchairs. Lodges that are based on sandy terrain may limit your ability to get around.

3. Find out if your lodge has a generator. In South Africa, the government has implemented “load shedding” – the temporary interruption of energy a couple of times a day to save power. This can be extremely inconvenient without a back-up generator.

4. Ask if your lodge has outdoor showers. According to Travel Weekly’s Dorine Reinstein, “showering outside is a safari tradition; it’s a lot of fun to be under the sun or moon and to have nature all around you. Outdoor showers on decks are often a lot more spacious than indoor ones plus there aren’t ledges or doors to navigate.”

5. Make sure that your lodge has wheelchair accessible vehicles. Otherwise, you will need to be carried in and out of the vehicle by others, not an ideal scenario for many people.

Ready to go? Prepare for the time of your life!

Zara’s Parent Company to Double Disability Hiring

Blog: Zara's Parent Company

In a 2021 column for Forbes, Karen Herson, Founder & CEO of Concepts, Inc., a disability and woman-owned communications business, explained that companies that recruit individuals with disabilities will see “improved bottom lines; discover untapped potential; reduce turnover; improve company morale and culture; expand their consumer market; qualify for financial incentives; and meet federal contract requirements.”

It looks like some corporate leaders have listened to her advice. Certainly Inditex, the Spanish company that owns Zara, the world’s leading retail clothing brand, did. On Jan. 25, the company announced plans to double the number of disabled employees the company hires over the next two years.

The announcement, which took place at a meeting between Inditex CEO García Maceiras and the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Gilbert F. Houngbo, was made following Inditex’s endorsement of the ILO Global Business and Disability Network, an international group that advocates for workplace disability inclusion.

According to Disability Scoop, “the hiring push will increase inclusion in stores, warehouses, offices and across Inditex’s logistics platforms worldwide with more than 1,500 people with disabilities expected to be hired.”

Inditex’s plan exceeds disability hiring mandates in areas where its businesses are located. In regions where are no hiring mandates, Inditex pledged to make approximately 2% of its workforce people with disabilities.

“Disability inclusion in the workplace is a core component of our commitment to people,” said Maceiras. “Diversity, fairness and inclusion are values we all embrace, values we pursue day-to-day, in order to have an impact within Inditex, as well as all around us: our pledge is to design opportunities for everyone.”

Inditex’s support for ILO and its promise to dramatically increase its hiring of people with disabilities is one of four priority areas related to disability inclusion that were cited in a recent company press release. The areas are: “championing inclusive recruiting and career development; fostering accessible workplaces conducive to ensuring equal opportunities; facilitating an inclusive shopping experience; and raising team awareness about disability.”

Inditex isn’t the only international corporation that has recently stepped up its disability hiring practices. The company joins Microsoft, which trains and supports neurodiverse job candidates; L’Oréal, which founded the #Break the Silence on Disability Program and recently introduced an accessible makeup applicator; Proctor & Gamble, which recently partnered with Gallaudet University and Rochester Institute for Technology to recruit employees and interns who are deaf; Dell, which initiated the Dell Autism Hiring Program; and Uniqlo, which has been recruiting disabled employees since 2001 in Japan. These are just a few of the major corporations to recognize the many benefits of hiring people with disabilities. Here’s hoping that more companies join their ranks!

Six Reasons Why Video Games Are Awesome

Blog: Video Games

Since their debut in 1958, video games have been a source of controversy.  From claims that they cause violent behavior to assertions that they contribute to obesity, virtually everyone has something negative to say about gaming.

Yet, studies show that video games have many positive effects – particularly for those with disabilities. Here are some of the most convincing reasons why video gaming can be a worthwhile way to spend your leisure time.

1. Increased socialization
A frequent criticism of video games is that they encourage players to isolate themselves. On the contrary, gaming with others may encourage the building of friendships among individuals with mobility challenges or travel limitations by allowing socialization to take place without leaving the house. Additionally, gaming is a great way for individuals with unusual interests to find like-minded people.

2. More Accessibility
Now that video games have features like adaptive controllers, closed captions, and virtual sets they’ve become far more accessible for people with a wide range of disabilities.  One product that has made a huge difference to disabled gamers is the Xbox Adaptive Controller. As Anita Mortaloni, Director of Accessibility Xbox at Microsoft, told Ability Magazine, “[Xbox Adaptive Controller] started the momentum that accessibility can go beyond features like captions and difficulty settings and showed that we can really be innovative and meet the needs of people that previously were excluded from gaming. It allowed us to use the controller as gold standard to show the impact it can have on the industry.”

 3. Cognitive skill development
According to Ablegamers.org, “many video games involve critical thinking, reading, writing, decision-making, and more activities that can help [people with disabilities] learn new things in a fun, easy-to-understand way, improving their cognitive skills through the decisions they make during gameplay.”

4. Improved mood
Video games have been shown to improve mood among depressed individuals. According to Ablegamers.org, “Video games can provide an outlet for people with disabilities to de-stress, allow them to be whoever they want to be, work toward a specific goal, feel a sense of accomplishment, and even help improve their self-esteem.”

5. Multisensory stimulation
Video games provide an immersive experience through a mix of auditory, visual and tactile stimulation that can benefit sensory seeking individuals.

 6. Educational benefits
Video games provide opportunities to practice academic skills such as math, reading, history, programming and geography. According to EdSource, “As more schools have brought computers into the classroom, educational video games have become an easy way to engage students — especially those who might be bored by class lectures, educators said.”

Feeling Contento: Accessible Dining Done Right

Blog: Contento

Dining out should be one of life’s great pleasures. But for wheelchair users, finding a restaurant that is truly accessible can instead be one of life’s great frustrations.

Too often, wheelchair users arrive at a dining establishment that advertises itself as ADA compliant and/or wheelchair accessible and find that it’s anything but.

Contento, which opened in New York City in June 2021, is a welcome exception.

Located in East Harlem, Contento bills itself as a “casual place with food that has a Peruvian flair.” The restaurant was started by sommelier Yannick Benjamin and business partners George Gallego, Oscar Lorenzzi, Mara Rudzinski, and Lorenz Skeeter. Benjamin and Gallego are both wheelchair users and they’ve designed the restaurant with wheelchair users—and excellent food and wine—in mind.

Guests approaching Contento will find a wide smooth ramp up to the front door. Upon entering the restaurant through the (weather permitting) open front door, they will see the restaurant’s accessible bar—one half is typical bar height (40-42 inches) while the other half is wheelchair accessible height (34 inches max).

In designing the restaurant, Contento’s owners prioritized accessibility at the expense of being able to accommodate bigger crowds.

“We sacrificed a lot of tables and chairs so people in wheelchairs can come in comfortably, and myself and George can work there comfortably,” said Benjamin in an interview with RESY. “We could easily have three or four more tables, and that’s a lot of money to throw away. But I think in the long run, there’s definitely been a return on investment. I would say on a daily basis, five to 10% of our clientele has some kind of disability.”

In addition to being placed far apart, Contento’s tables are somewhat higher than typical dining tables in order to accommodate most wheelchairs. The restaurant’s large bathroom is outfitted with grab bars and a touchless sink, has an enormous but easy to maneuver sliding door, and it’s located on the same level as the bar and dining room. Adaptive flatware is available upon request.

Contento’s owners and staff are also attuned to the needs of guests with disabilities that may not require the use of a wheelchair such as “those with intellectual disabilities, invisible disabilities, those who are part of the low-vision and blind community, or the hard-of-hearing and deaf community,” Benjamin told RESY. “Part of that is simple verbiage. It could be, ‘Do you need me to talk louder?” or, “Do you need me to lower the music?’ We have a QR code on the menu for people in the low-vision community that they can scan to hear the menu read.”

While it’s highly unusual to find a restaurant geared toward the needs of the disability community, there is more to Contento’s success than that. Contento, which means happy in Spanish and Italian “is above all, a very enjoyable place to have dinner and a few glasses of wine,” writes New York Times restaurant reviewer Pete Wells.

Here’s hoping that restaurants around the country will follow Contento’s example.

Puppets for Disability Awareness

Blog: Puppetry Arts

Some disabled artists and educators have found that disability-themed puppet shows are an effective way of increasing understanding and improving attitudes about disability among the school-age children who watch them.

The Kids on the Block was one of the first puppet arts program to use puppets to educate children about disability. According to The Arc of Chemung-Schuyler (New York), the child-size puppets “were first developed in 1977 in direct response to US Public Law 94-142, sometimes called the “mainstreaming law.”

Since then, Kids on the Block puppet shows have been presented in schools and community venues all over the United States and in 30 countries around the globe. “Each Kids on the Block program is thoroughly researched and field tested before it becomes available to school districts, community service organizations and special interest groups.”

The Kids on the Block troupe include puppets with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, hearing and visual impairment, autism, ADHD, epilepsy, and learning differences as well as puppets without disabilities.

After each puppet show, young audience members have the opportunity to ask questions about the puppets and their disabilities. “The Kids on the Block program is powerful in helping break down barriers, enabling children to be candid with their questions and concerns. The puppets also help children feel positive about themselves, accept individual differences and learn valuable personal skills,” says The Arc.

Though Kids on the Block may be the most well-known puppet troupe to instruct children about disability, they are not the only one. Below are descriptions of other disability-themed puppet programs that teach school-age children about disabilities.

“What Happened to You?”
Puppet artist Nikki Charlesworth’s production, “What Happened to You?” is based loosely on her own experiences living with disability. Featuring three puppets with disabilities, the show raises awareness about the challenges people with disabilities face on a daily basis.

“Each puppet’s story explores our preconceptions about disability in a playful and humorous way and showcases the endless opportunities out there once barriers of all kinds are removed,” Charlesworth explains on her website. “What Happened to You?” is accessible to all audiences because it provides embedded audio description, integrates British Sign Language and is presented in a sensory friendly environment. The show was first performed in the UK and will soon open in Toronto, Canada.

Special Kids, Special Families Koscove Kids
SKSF, a nonprofit based in Colorado Springs, also uses puppetry to explore disability themes. Featuring the seven Koscove Kids, multicultural puppets with distinct disabilities, SKSF’s puppet shows educate students in area schools and other venues about how disabilities affect their disabled peers and promote respectful and positive attitudes toward individuals with disabilities.

Addy and Uno”
Touted as the first family musical about disability, New York City-based “Addy and Uno” tells the story of Uno, a math prodigy with autism who qualifies for a math competition but is afraid to compete. His puppet friends, all with different abilities, encourage him to participate.

Pacer’s Count Me In
Pacer’s Count Me program was established in 1979 and operates mainly in Minneapolis. Schools can request Count Me In programs, or they can purchase their own puppets and present their own onsite shows. Pacer’s sells child-size puppets that represent diverse children with a range of disabilities. Schools can choose between several packages that include puppets, a custom-built wheelchair, props, and resource books. They can also arrange trainings for aspiring puppeteers. Pacer’s also offers anti-bullying puppet programs that include puppets with and without disabilities.

Joseph Maley Foundation’s Disability Awareness, Hope, and As You Are Program
The Maley Foundation offers puppet summer camps where seventh and eighth grade students are trained to facilitate puppet shows and lead post show discussions with their classmates.

Camping for Wheelchair Users

Blog: Camping for Wheelchair Users

When the weather’s hot, being out in the forest is one of the best places to commune with nature. In fact, says Wild Learning, “the shade provided by trees can reduce our physiologically equivalent temperature between 7 and 15°C, depending on our latitude.”

That’s just one reason why July is a great month to take a camping trip. Other reasons include reduced levels of stress, depression and anxiety; improved mood and sense of wellbeing; lower blood pressure; better immune function; heart and lung health; and the chance to unplug from electronics and your regular routines.

Being a wheelchair user shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the joys of camping. With a little pre-trip planning, a vacation in the great outdoors is in your future!

1. Location, location, location
Location is always key to a successful vacation. But when you use a wheelchair, it’s even more important. While the Americans with Disabilities Act has made many campgrounds accessible to individuals with disabilities, not every accessible campground is created equal. If you’re interested in camping in a national park, check out individual park websites to learn about each one’s accessibility. For further reference, this blogpost from BraunAbility provides a list of the 9 most accessible campgrounds.

 2. Get an Access Pass
An access pass from the National Park Service permits free lifetime access to national parks and other federally managed national forests and grasslands. The pass also provides discounts on camping fees, tours and boating. For more information, visit outsidepulse.com.

3. Choose the right tent
A tent that is roomy enough to store your wheelchair and has a wide and flat entryway is critical to a comfortable, safe and restful trip. There are also tents especially designed for wheelchair users. For example, check out the Eureka Freedom Tent.

4. Sleep comfortably
Sleeping under the stars doesn’t have to be a dream, with the right set-up. Consider sleeping on a cot rather than roughing it on the ground. This will make it easier to transfer from your wheelchair and will likely be more comfortable – especially if you bring along a mattress pad. Likewise, a backpacking quilt without cumbersome zippers is lighter than a sleeping bag. See these top backpacking quilts to find one that best suits your needs.

5. Have a backup plan for hygiene
Most likely, you’ve chosen a campground with ADA compliant rest rooms and showers. But you never know what you will find once you reach your destination. Be on the safe side by packing a privacy tent, portable shower and fold-up commode.

6. Be prepared for unexpected medical needs
You’ll feel more confident knowing where you can go in the event of a medical emergency. Before you set out, know where the nearest hospital and urgent care clinic is located. Likewise, bring extra medication and medical supplies.

 7. Don’t forget to bring:
High SPF sunscreen, heavy duty bug spray, flashlights and extra batteries, maps, spare phone charger, and clothing for rain and unexpectedly cold temperatures.

Have a blast!

Products mentioned in this article are the results of our own research. We’re not endorsing any product, nor do we have any relationship with their manufacturers, nor do we profit from the sales of any of the products mentioned in this article.

Mock Airplane Cabin Takes the Stress Out of Air Travel

Blog: Mock Airplane Cabin

Recently, we reported on the “Microsoft Flight Simulator,” a series of flight simulator programs for Microsoft Windows operating systems that give wheelchair users the exciting sensation of flying an airplane.

But that’s not the only aeronautic innovation that benefits disabled individuals to make headlines this spring/summer travel season.

A mock aircraft cabin in the Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) International Airport’s main terminal is helping passengers with disabilities and anyone else who may find air travel stressful, to practice boarding procedures before they fly.

Part of The Travel Confidently MSP Education Center, the cabin was formerly used to train Delta employees in Atlanta, Georgia. The 33-foot cabin, equipped with 42 seats, is useful for people with sensory, cognitive and physical disabilities and people traveling with service dogs. The cabin will also be used to train public safety and airline crews.

Individuals who enter the cabin will find opportunities to practice getting luggage into overhead bins and buckling their safety belts. They will also learn protocols for flying with a wheelchair and be able to orient their service dogs to an airplane before taking them on a flight.

“This unique facility will be a hallmark for MSP’s programs that support equitable and inclusive travel,” Brian Ryks, executive director and CEO of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), said in a press release.

“Thanks to a generous donation from Delta Air Lines, we can provide a life-like training environment without the use of an actual aircraft, which will build confidence in air travel for more people in our community.”

Other funding for the mock airplane was provided by the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) and Airport Foundation MSP.

“We are always looking for ways to build travel equity,” said Rick King, MAC chair. “It’s easy to take air travel for granted, but for many it presents unique challenges and requires different resources. The Travel Confidently MSP Education Center is one more way we can provide resources to the community and lower the barriers to flying for as many people as possible.”

Another feature that makes the mock aircraft unique is that it features artwork by four emerging artists from Minneapolis-based Juxtaposition Arts, a non-profit youth art and design education center, gallery, retail shop, and artists’ studio space.

So, if you weren’t planning a trip to Minneapolis-Saint Paul, this summer, you may want to reconsider your travel plans!

Here’s hoping that more airports will eventually offer “travel confidently education centers!”