Airbnb Adds New Adapted Category for Disabled Renters

Photo credit Airbnb

In November, Airbnb, the highly popular home rental platform, updated its website with a new “adapted” section that includes 1,000+ homes around the world with accessible features for users with mobility challenges.

As reported by Disability Scoop, “These wheelchair accessible homes with wheelchair accessible features have been reviewed to ensure they have step-free paths into and through the home and to one or more bedrooms and bathrooms and also at least one accessible feature in the bedroom or bathroom.”

To accomplish the website improvements, Airbnb partnered with a space data company called Matterport to create 3D maps of each home in the adapted category.

“[They] have gone in and have scanned every single home to make sure that the features that [hosts] say they have are accurate, including the width of corridors and the width of the entry,” Catherine Powell Airbnb’s Global Head of Hosting told Forbes. “We’ve taken some of those images from the 3D scans, and that’s what you will see in the listings.”

As the business community begins to recognize that disabled individuals make up approximately 20% of the population, companies are making long overdue changes to their policies and online features.

Airbnb is an example of a company that was subject to criticism from disabled customers in its earlier years, but has since made significant modifications in the way it does business with disabled customers and employees.

In 2016, the company introduced a non-discrimination policy designed to make the company a more inclusive place for disabled employees to work. The policy seems to have succeeded as Airbnb received 100% on the Disability Equality Index for 2021 and 2022 and was recognized as a DEI Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion.

The company has also worked to improve the Airbnb experience for disabled users. In 2017, the Airbnb purchased Accomable, a small startup that works similarly to Airbnb but is exclusively geared toward disabled travelers. The acquisition added “roughly 1,100 house and apartment listings that can accommodate guests with physical disabilities,” according to Reuters.

“Airbnb hired Accomable’s founders and most of its seven-person staff to build out Airbnb’s wheelchair-accessible housing inventory and provide more complete and accurate information to disabled travelers, who often rely on a hotel emailing pictures of a room to determine whether it is accessible.”

In 2018, the company added 21 new accessibility search filters that allow users to search for accessibility features such as step-free entry to rooms, wide entryways for wheelchairs, elevators, wheelchair accessible showers, ramps, and more.

Three years later, Airbnb updated 13 search filters and also added an accessibility review process which helps to ensure that homes rented are truly accessible. Hosts submit photos of the accessibility features in their homes, and a trained team of Airbnb employees review them.

Interested in listing your adapted home on Airbnb? Check out this video by wheelchair user and Airbnb host Sophie Morgan.

What Are Reasonable Accommodations?

Blog.Stroke-ADA

Last week, television viewers across the country watched Pennsylvania Senate candidates John Fetterman and Dr. Mehmet Oz debate a host of issues affecting Keystone State residents. The debate was noteworthy not just because Pennsylvania is a battleground state, but also because Fetterman, who suffered a stroke back in May, was permitted to use closed captioning technology to assist with stroke-induced auditory processing difficulties.

This blog isn’t about politics and we aren’t taking a stance on who should win the Senate seat. But the debate did get us thinking about the issue of accommodations and why employers are sometimes resistant to providing them.

In many cases – particularly with regard to hiring decisions — employers overestimate the expense and/or burden of providing accommodations. They may mistakenly believe that individuals with disabilities are receiving special treatment or that they are being forced to hire a disabled person.

These misconceptions may come from a lack of knowledge or a misunderstanding of the regulations stipulated by Title I of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Here are the facts:

According to ADA.gov, “Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others. For example, it prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment. It restricts questions that can be asked about an applicant’s disability before a job offer is made, and it requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship. Religious entities with 15 or more employees are covered under Title I.”

But what are reasonable accommodations? The Department of Labor explains them as follows:

“Reasonable accommodations are intended to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have rights in employment equal — not superior — to those of individuals without disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a modification to a job, work environment or the way work is performed that allows an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform the essential functions of the job, and enjoy equal access to benefits available to other individuals in the workplace.”

Contrary to popular belief, most accommodations aren’t expensive. In fact, the majority of disabled employees (56%) don’t require any accommodations to do their jobs. Those who do require some accommodation usually cost their employers no more than a measly $500 according to a 2020 survey by the Job Accommodation Network. Surely, that’s not too much to spare for employees the Journal Nature contends are among the most productive, motivated, loyal and creative team members.

“The results of countless studies speak for themselves,” says Nature: “If the right people with disabilities are selected for the right job and are given responsibility, they often outperform other employees, with higher levels of efficiency, productivity, accurateness, commitment, loyalty, and satisfaction. This, in turn, increases the company’s profitability and overall shareholder value.”

Sounds like a win-win to us! We believe that all employees should receive the accommodations to which they’re entitled!

Celebrate Deaf Awareness Week By Honoring These Nine Recommendations

Blog: Deaf Awareness Week

It’s Deaf Awareness Week, a time to celebrate deaf culture, highlight the organizations that support deaf individuals and encourage the inclusion of people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

What will it take to create a truly inclusive society that is welcoming to deaf and hard of hearing individuals? As many deaf advocates put it, “there is no inclusion without accessibility.”

Below are some suggestions for how to make be inclusive of those living with deafness and hearing loss.

1. Just ask
Deaf people are individuals just like everyone else. They may have distinct communication preferences. When starting a conversation with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, ask them how they prefer to communicate. Then, try to meet their request. Some deaf or hard of hearing individuals may prefer lipreading; some may wish to use writing; others may prefer transcription apps or other communication methods.

2. Get their attention
Wave your hand, gently tap them on the shoulder or ask someone who has their gaze to point to you to let the deaf or hard of hearing person know that you wish to communicate with them.

3. Don’t yell
Though you may mean well, yelling at a person who is deaf or hard of hearing will not help them to understand you. It will only appear disrespectful.

4. Maintain eye contact
Regardless of whether the deaf or hard of hearing person is accompanied by an interpreter, looked directly at the person, maintaining eye contact at all times. Do not talk to the interpreter, even if the deaf person is looking at the interpreter while you’re speaking. Likewise, always face the deaf or hard of hearing person when you are speaking to them. That way it is possible for them read your lips and observe your body movements and gestures which can help to facilitate communication.

5. Make office spaces accessible
Danielle Guth, a blogger for HearingLikeMe.com, recommends “providing visual cues like flashing lights for things like fire alarms, doorbells, phones, and computers.” She also advises holding meetings in spaces where everyone can face one another and using close captioning for any video or audio presentations. Using “note-taking systems like NoteTaking Express or Otter, which transcribe meetings into real-time text transcriptions” is also a helpful resource, says Guth.

6. Watch your language
Never refer to a nonverbal individual as “dumb.” This is an outdated, highly offensive and extremely inaccurate term.

7. Hire an interpreter
When arranging a meeting, performance, seminar or lecture, make sure to provide an interpreter for deaf or hard of hearing guests.

 8. Consider studying American Sign Language
Did you know some colleges offer ASL as an alternative to foreign language study? Even if it’s not realistic to become fluent in ASL, it may be helpful and fun to learn a few words or phrases.

9. Be patient and respectful
When communicating with someone deaf or hard of hearing, you may need to repeat yourself or adapt your language usage to accommodate lipreading. Take your time, and don’t give up. With patience your message will get through.

Your 2022 Back to School Checklist

Blog: Your 2022 Back to School Checklist

In many parts of the country, kids are already heading back to school. That means their parents are busy with back-to-school shopping.  But finding accessible back-to-school supplies, clothing and shoes can be more challenging for children with disabilities. Here are some items to make back-to-school shopping fun, fashionable, accessible, and oh yeah – educational.

1. Adapted Scissors
Scissors are an item you’ll find on most school shopping lists. But what if your child needs switch adapted scissors? No problem. You’ll find them on our website.

2. ADL Boards
One of the hardest parts of sending kids back to school is getting them up, dressed and out of the house. Our ADL Board helps them build the fine motor skills necessary to dress independently. There are boards that teach buttoning, zipping, snapping and lacing.

3. Slant Board
Kids with fine motor challenges will benefit from our slant board. It is ergonomically designed to encourage correct wrist position, posture, stability and good penmanship.

4. Weighted Handwriting Gloves
These gloves provide the proprioceptive input and compression, students need for legible handwriting and other fine motor tasks.

5. PenPalz Handwriting Helpers
Another tool to improve penmanship, PenPalz help students to find the proper writing position. Plus, their high cuteness quotient will make younger kids the envy of their classmates.

6. Adaptive School Uniforms
if your child attends a school where they are expected to wear uniforms, Lands End’s website could be your go to adaptive clothing spot. They offer adaptive shirts, pants, shorts and skirts specially designed for neurodivergent and physically disabled children.

7. Fashion-forward Adaptive Apparel
Kohls has been offering adapted versions of some of their children’s styles since 2019. “With features including abdominal access and sensory-friendly and wheelchair-friendly options, the new adaptive clothing is thoughtfully designed, making stylish, quality apparel accessible to all,” says a press release from the department store. And Kohls isn’t the only store that offers adaptive clothing for kids. Designers are getting on the band wagon all the time. Some of the best collections can be found at Tommy Hilfiger; Target, JC Penney and Patti and Ricky.com.

8. Myself Belts
Even if your child can get his shirt and pants on independently, he may not have the coordination to fasten his belt. Myself Belts close with Velcro, making it simple for children with fine motor challenges to get dressed.

9. Adaptive footwear
Nowadays, more and more shoe sellers are making adaptive shoes that are easy to get on and off. One fashionable choice is Nikes FlyEase shoes. FlyEase are laceless and have a zippered heal so that wearers can just slide their feet in, zip up and go. Other brands to consider are: Hatchbacks, which sells its “Elites” line of shoes designed to accommodate ankle foot orthotics (AFOs). Billy offers shoes and sneakers with universal design, which means they are appropriate for people of all abilities. According to Billy’s website, the company’s “goal was to combine fashion with function—dissolve the line between adaptive and non-adaptive—and create mainstream shoes for the masses, yet still preserve the functionality for those that need it, like Billy.”

10. Chew Necklaces
Some kids with sensory challenges focus better when they’re chewing. Gum has its drawbacks, mainly risk of swallowing, and isn’t usually allowed at school. Chew necklaces make it possible for children to receive oral stimulation while they learn.  It’s easy to find all styles on Amazon.

Words to Drive By

Blog: Podcasts

Despite high gas prices, many Americans – 683 million according to the American Automobile Association (AAA) – will travel to vacation destinations by car this summer. If that sounds like a hot mess, take heart! We’ve got a strategy that will make your road trip go by just like that!

Listening to podcasts and audiobooks on long car rides is an entertaining and informative way to pass the time.

For your listening pleasure, we’ve compiled a list of some of the top disability-related podcasts and audiobooks. Happy road trip!

Podcasts

The Accessible Stall
In this refreshingly honest podcast about living with disabilities, hosts Kyle Khachadurian and Emily Ladau aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. The cohosts share their experiences and provide frank and sometimes controversial opinions on a range of disability topics. They’re always interested in hearing listeners’ feedback as well!

Disability Visibility Project
Hosted by renowned disability activist and author Alice Wong, this 100-segment podcast features discussions with fellow activists and members of the disability community that explore issues related to identity, culture, intersectionality and politics.

Beyond Awareness: Disability Awareness That Matters
Geared toward special educators, parents, and other concerned citizens, this progressive podcast with Diana Pastora Carson, M.Ed, asks questions, confronts myths and assumptions and seeks to increase inclusion, mutual respect and disability rights.

The Disability Equity Podcast
Brought to you by Johns Hopkins University’s Disability Health Research Center, this podcast hosted by Dr. Bonnielin Swenor and Dr. Nicholas Reed explores topics such as health care, voting, and politics through a disability lens.

Two Disabled Dudes
In this engaging and humorous podcast, hosts Sean Baumstark and Kyle Bryant, two young men who live with the rare disease Friedreich’s ataxia, discuss disability, bike racing, rare diseases and more. Guests include Paralympians, authors, inspirational speakers and others.

Audiobooks

The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism & Asperger’s
Scientist, educator, animal welfare expert and autism activist Temple Grandin authored this revised, updated book on the myriad issues facing individuals with autism, their families and teachers. Grandin, who has autism, used personal experiences and research to explore topics that shed light on autistic perspectives. The book includes chapters on early intervention, sensory integration; education; career opportunities; and alternative medicine as they related to people with autism.

Mean Baby
In her new bestselling memoir, actor and multiple sclerosis advocate Selma Blair shares the story of her life up until now – her behavioral challenges in childhood and adolescence, the depressive episodes she medicated with alcohol, her path to motherhood, and coming to grips with her MS diagnosis.

Being Heumann: An Unrepentent Memoir of A Disability Rights Activist
Judith Heumann gained notoriety after she appeared in “Crip Camp” — a documentary about a 1970s summer camp for adolescents with disabilities — but she’s been working to increase rights for disabled people almost all her life. Learn more about Heumann’s incredible journey in her acclaimed memoir.

Seeing Clearly: A Memoir of Vision Loss, Emotional Blindness and Finding My True Self
When author and marine corps officer Christopher T. Monnette learns he has neovascular macular degeneration, an incurable retinal disease, at age 54, he is forced to allow himself to become emotionally vulnerable for the first time. The result is Monnette’s ability to live a more authentic and ultimately, more satisfying life.

Far From the Tree
This award-winning anthology by writer/lecturer Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents raising exceptional children – how they mourn, how they cope and how they love. “Far From the Tree” is a long listen, but every word is worth it!

Be Alert Around the Water

Blog: Be Wary Around the Water!

Last week, the American Lifeguard Association announced a nationwide lifeguard shortage. The shortage has necessitated the closing of one-third to one-half of all swimming pools across the country. Though most beaches will remain open, many will be unguarded and swimmers will be advised to “swim at your own risk.”

In other words, water safety precautions will be even more important than ever – especially for individuals with autism who are prone to wandering and attracted to water. Tragically, drowning is one of the leading causes of death in individuals with autism.

To ensure a safe and happy summer, we’ve put together an updated list of water safety suggestions.

1. Provide swimming lessons from a young age
Help your child to become a competent swimmer by signing them up for swim lessons as early as possible. (Note: In the past couple of years, swim lessons have been hard to come by due to pandemic closures. Now that many people are fully vaccinated, swimming lessons should resume in most places.)

2. Use the buddy system
No one should ever swim alone. This is especially true when there isn’t a lifeguard on duty. If you’re not in the pool or ocean with your child, make sure a friend, sibling or preferably another adult swims with them.

3. Talk about water safety
Even strong swimmers can get into trouble in the water. “Be honest with your child about why they must wear a life vest. Explain why they should never swim when you aren’t with them. Talk to them about the importance of avoiding deep or murky water,” says the YMCA. Also make sure your child understands the dangers of diving in shallow water.

4. Wear a life jacket
“Young or inexperienced swimmers should wear a Coast Guard-certified life jacket around water,” the YMCA advises. Other products such as water wings, noodles, etc. are no substitute for the real thing. Likewise, Coast Guard-certified life jackets are not a substitute for watching your child in the water. Have your child wear a life jacket and keep a constant eye on the pool to keep your child safe.

5. Use social stories to teach water safety
Many children with autism respond well to social stories. According to Autism Parenting Magazine, a social story is a narrative made to illustrate certain situations and problems and how people deal with them. They help children with autism understand social norms and learn how to communicate with others appropriately.” You can create your own social story about water safety or download this one from Positively Autism.

6. Keep pools fenced and gated
If you have a swimming pool on your property, be sure to install a fence and keep gates or doors that lead to the pool locked when not in use.

7. Don’t be distracted
Not even for a second. Don’t walk away, glance at your phone, or hold a conversation while your child is in the pool or ocean. And don’t let little ones or weak swimmers swim alone. According to safekids.org, “Young children can drown in as little as one inch of water, so it’s important to keep them within an arm’s reach of an adult.”

8. Avoid swimming near pool drains
Many drownings occur when children’s hair or bathing suits get caught in an uncovered pool drain. Teach your child to stay away from them.

9. Take CPR training
Make sure you’re prepared in an emergency by receiving training in CPR. Check out your local Red Cross or YMCA or a local hospital to find training programs.

New Platform Helps Neurodiverse Find Employment

Blog: Career Connector

In recent years, American business leaders have finally begun to catch on to what many in the disability community have always known—hiring individuals with disabilities is good business.

Not only do individuals with disabilities bring diverse perspectives, high productivity, strong problem-solving skills, low turnover and fierce employer loyalty, they also “improve your company’s bottom line,” writes Forbes Council member Karen Herson in a December 2021 post for Forbes.

In the same piece, Herson cites research illustrating that “many adults with autism possess higher-than-average abilities in pattern recognition, memory and mathematics—highly sought-after skills in the technology field and many other sectors.”

That’s one of the main reasons why many large corporations such as Ernst and Young, Dell Technologies, Microsoft, Freddie Mac, Ford and JP Morgan Chase have developed or are in the process of developing programs to train and recruit job candidates with autism spectrum diagnoses.

Now, a new job search platform aimed at autistic and other neurodivergent job seekers simplifies the job search for these individuals. According to Disability Scoop, “the Neurodiversity Career Connector is intended to connect neurodivergent job seekers with openings at companies that have neurodiversity hiring programs in place.”

Job openings include employment opportunities at well-known corporations such as Dell Technologies, Google, Travelers, IBM, Microsoft, Salesforce, Freddie Mac, HP, Ford, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Prudential and SAP in locations across the United States.

The idea for the Career Connector was conceived through a business collaborative called the Neurodiversity@Work Employer Roundtable. A program of Disability: IN, “the leading nonprofit resource for business disability inclusion worldwide,” the Roundtable is made up of approximately 50 employers with hiring programs aimed at attracting neurodiverse employees. These employers are all seeking prospective employees with brain differences such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette Syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

According to Disability: IN’s website, “[employers who are part of the Roundtable] share a belief that organizations thrive when they tap into the unique talents of their employees, and individuals thrive when they can present their best self at work.”

The Roundtable is open to new members and its webpage includes information for employers interested in starting their own neurodiversity focused hiring programs. Also on the webpage, employers can list job opportunities on the Career Connector, and find resources and blog posts related to neurodiversity in the workplace and diversity employment and inclusion topics. Webpage visitors will also find diversity hiring stories from Roundtable members, and testimonials from neurodiverse employees.

As recently as 2021, 85 % of college graduates with autism spectrum disorders were unemployed. Here’s hoping that programs such as the Neurodiversity@Work Employer Roundtable and its Career Connector platform can help bring about the change that’s desperately needed.

Disabled Parents Need More Support

Blog: Disabled Parents

This year, Mother’s Day falls on May 8, while Father’s Day will be celebrated several weeks later on June 19. In today’s blog post, we’ll be highlighting the unique challenges confronting the approximately 4.1 million parents with disabilities in the United States.

These days, women with disabilities are becoming pregnant at approximately the same rates as non-disabled women. Yet, disabled moms (and dads) face obstacles that other parents do not. In particular, many parents with disabilities face discrimination because of their disabilities.

Unfortunately, such discrimination is nothing new. Though the right to parent is protected under the United States Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, discrimination against disabled parents remains a significant problem. Parents with disabilities are routinely mistreated by the child welfare system, the medical establishment, the foster care and adoption system, and the legal system. According to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, as recently as 2016, “thirty-five states include disability as grounds for termination of parental rights.”

More specifically, a 2012 report by the National Council on Disability (NCD) revealed the following:

“Removal rates where parents have a psychiatric disability have been found to be as high as 70 percent to 80 percent; where the parent has an intellectual disability, 40 percent to 80 percent. In families where the parental disability is physical, 13 percent have reported discriminatory treatment in custody cases. Parents who are deaf or blind report extremely high rates of child removal and loss of parental rights. Parents with disabilities are more likely to lose custody of their children after divorce, have more difficulty in accessing reproductive health care, and face significant barriers to adopting children.”

The Reeves Foundation encourages disabled parents to know their rights. Along with the NCD, the Foundation created the Parents with Disabilities Toolkit to do just that. The toolkit includes information about adoption, family law, the child welfare system, child custody and more.

Another good source of information and guidance for disabled parents is the National Research Center for Parents with Disabilities of Brandeis University (NRCPD). The center “conducts research and provides training and technical assistance to improve the lives of parents with disabilities and their families. A recent study by NRCPD sought to find out how mothers with disabilities adapted their childcare to meet their own needs and the needs of their children. The study found that disabled mothers manage by “finding or modifying accessible baby-care equipment, home modifications and adaptations, accessing support and information, learning how to communicate in ways that ensured both their and their children’s safety, and receiving help from others.”

But the survey also found that more advice, support and information was needed.

“Mainstream parenting books rarely discussed the intersection between disability and parenting. Participants found general-purpose parenting forums similarly wanting; one mother said that she felt unwelcome and that ‘disabled moms were often isolated.’ Even the occupational therapists some participants worked with were not well equipped to help them develop the skills they needed to care for their children.”

Based on the results of the study, NRCPD concluded that disabled moms and the organizations and systems that support them need:

  • Increased financial support for adaptive baby-care equipment and home modifications
  • More comprehensive training on parenting with a disability for service providers and policymakers
  • Stronger peer networks for parents with disabilities
  • Expanded publicly funded PCA (personal care assistant) services to cover childcare needs

All parents face challenges. Depending on the nature of their disabilities, disabled parents may face additional challenges compared to their non-disabled peers. As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Parents with disabilities deserve the assistance of knowledgeable, compassionate professionals, the creation and implementation of fair, equitable policies that support their rights as parents; and accessible, inclusive communities that take their needs and the needs of their children into account.

Bitty & Beau’s Coffee is Changing the World One Cup at a Time

Blog: Bitty & Beau’s Coffee is Changing the World

As we’ve reported in the past, unemployment among adults living with disabilities remains extremely high—as high as 80% in some parts of the country. That’s despite the fact that many disabled employees make terrific contributions to their workplaces.

That’s why some parents with the means to do so are starting businesses where their children and other disabled individuals can be trained and employed.

Most of these businesses are one-offs that can only accommodate a small group of employees. But Bitty & Beau’s Coffee is an exception.

Established by Amy and Ben Wright in 2016, the Wilmington, North Carolina-based business now has 23 franchises in 12 states that employ more than 200 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Employees, including individuals with Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy, receive whatever accommodations they require. The family sometimes calls the business a “human rights movement disguised as a coffee shop.”

The Wrights were inspired to open the first Bitty & Beau’s by their younger children—Bitty and Beau— who have Down syndrome. Bitty and Beau have two older sisters—Lily, who has autism, and Emma Grace. The couple’s mission is to create “a path for people with disabilities to become more valued, accepted and included in every community.”

In 2017, Amy Wright was named the 2017 CNN Hero of the Year for her work on behalf of people with disabilities. When she accepted her award, Wright told the cheering crowd, “people with disabilities have been in the shadows for too long. But not anymore.” She also had a message for Bitty and Beau, who were watching the presentation at home. “I would not change you for the world, but I will change the world for you,” said Wright.

Wright’s award came with $100,000, which enabled her to expand the business. Eventually, the Wright’s would like to open shops in every state in the United States and beyond.

When prospective employees at Bitty & Beau’s receive job offers, they don’t just get emails. They get parties. For example, when the first Bitty & Beau’s was set to open in Boston, prospective employees were bussed to a location where friends, family, franchise owners and support staff were waiting with surprise job offers, balloons and Bitty & Beau’s logoed aprons. Check out this video of one such hiring event. In other cases, Bitty and Beau’s representatives surprise new hires at their homes surrounded by their families.

Interested in owning a Bitty & Beau’s coffee shop? According to the business’s website, it will cost you between $451,000 and $844,550, including an initial franchise fee of $40,000. Franchise owners must have $200,000 in liquid capital and an $800,000 net worth. Based on the smiles and tears on that video, it’s worth every penny.

For more information about Bitty and Beau’s, visit bittyandbeauscoffee.com.

Adaptive Cockpit Makes Simulated Air Flight Accessible to All

Blog: Adaptive Cockpit Makes Simulated Air Flight Accessible to All

Photo credit: Filma Production

 

At Enabling Devices, we’re all about finding ways for individuals with disabilities to access life’s peak experiences. That’s why we were so excited when we learned about the invention of a new adaptive cockpit that allows wheelchair users to experience the thrill of flying through the “Microsoft Flight Simulator,” a series of flight simulator programs for Microsoft Windows operating systems.

The cockpit was created during the Microsoft Global Hackathon at the Israel Garage – one of 12 spaces all over the world where hackers, makers and innovators envision solutions to local and worldwide challenges. The Garage team was assisted by engineers at the Microsoft Israel R&D (research and development) Center. Previous Microsoft Garage creations include the Xbox Adaptive ControllerEye Control for Windows 10, and Seeing AI.

The adaptive cockpit is wheelchair accessible, providing adequate space for motorized or regular wheelchairs and room for a copilot. It includes “a portable aluminum structure and three monitors that provide a 180-degree, panoramic viewing angle for the pilot,” writes Suzanne Choney, a writer for the Microsoft News Center.

“From their cockpit perch, they fly alongside birds over oceans, urban landscapes, forests carpeted with trees and golden deserts. … cables are hidden so they don’t get in anyone’s way. The cockpit doesn’t require using a keyboard, except for a sign in, which can be done by a staff member. Players use a hand-operated throttle and joystick to maneuver the plane. While that can be an issue for patients whose hands are not agile, the team modified the joystick’s sensitivity to allow for easier distance control.”

After development of the adaptive cockpit was complete, its first stop was ALYN Hospital, a pediatric rehabilitation center in Jerusalem, where 13-year-old Etai Rimel had the opportunity to try it out. Etai lost his leg and sustained brain injuries after he survived a catastrophic car accident. With a professional pilot at his side, Etai was able to experience the sensation of flying over his home from the adapted cockpit. After the virtual flight, the teen said, “It was a once-in-a lifetime experience to be able to fly wherever I want. …I really enjoyed controlling the machine. For a whole hour, I was in a very different world from my everyday life, like a free bird, like escaping from reality.”

The cockpit’s next landing was at a site that is part of the House of Wheels, an Israeli nonprofit day center for young people with disabilities. There, Netanel Gvili and Yaniv Wanda, both twentysomethings with cerebral palsy, had the opportunity to give it a whirl. After using the flight simulator, Gvili said he enjoyed the feeling of independence that the simulated flight offered.

“I can choose where to fly. How to fly. It really simulates a flight. Computer games are not new to me, but all of the additional connected devices with the adaptive cockpit are really cool.”

Clinicians say the cockpit is therapeutic for users.

“The Microsoft cockpit is especially helpful since it involves hand-eye coordination,” says Dr. Maurit Beeri, director general of ALYN. “It’ll give the child an experience of occupational therapy, speech therapy, concentration, cognitive development – and most importantly, it’s fun.”

Seven Ways to Support Individuals with Disabilities in Ukraine

Blog: Seven Ways to Support Individuals with Disabilities in Ukraine

Warning: This is not your typical celebration of spring blog post.

It’s not that we’re not happy to see signs of spring. Warmer weather, songbirds, and blossoming buds are all welcome harbingers of this wonderful time of year.

Yet, recent current events—i.e., the war in Ukraine—make it difficult to maintain a cheerful and optimistic attitude. The war is catastrophic for everyone in Ukraine but perhaps most of all for the estimated 2.7 million Ukrainians with disabilities.

We’ve seen the news coverage of thousands of Ukrainians fighting to save their country, while others attempt to flee war-torn cities and towns to save their lives. Their efforts are heroic and unimaginable for most of us who live in the West. But what about Ukrainians who are unable to fight or to flee? The story of Ukraine’s disabled isn’t covered as much but is arguably even more tragic. Many bomb shelters are inaccessible to wheelchair users, while individuals who are immunocompromised who make it to a crowded bomb shelter face the danger of contracting a deadly disease. Those who need medication to prevent seizures or other health challenges also struggle to stay alive. The greatest tragedy of all may be that some disabled children in Ukrainian institutions are sometimes left behind.

Wondering how you can help? Here are some organizations working to help disabled Ukrainians that need your support.

1. Fight for Right
This NGO defends the rights of Ukrainians with disabilities. It is headed by Ukraine human rights advocate Yuliia Sachuk, who was selected as an Obama Leader by the Obama Foundation, recognizing her as an emerging leader in Europe who has demonstrated a commitment to advancing the common good. Fight for Right is helping disabled individuals and their families to evacuate safely and providing them with necessary funds. The organization is also aiding those who are unable to leave Ukraine by providing food and medication. To support Fight for Right, visit its GoFundMe page.

2. Joni & Friends
Christian organization Joni & Friends is mobilizing churches in Ukraine to find and evacuate individuals with disabilities in the country. Once disabled individuals are found and brought to safety, representatives from Joni & Friends meet them at the Polish border and transport them to Germany or the Netherlands. As a message on the organization’s website reads: “we are currently working with our contacts to relocate these precious people into welcoming homes where they will have food, blankets, medical care, and urgently needed hospital supplies—things even as simple as catheters for urinary drainage.” Joni & Friends has a 3-Star “Give with Confidence” rating from Charity Navigator.

3. Bright Kids Charity
This Ukrainian organization is focused on providing support such as groceries, high-nutrition food, and hygiene products to families of children with disabilities who are not able to evacuate. Bright Kids Charity is on the GlobalGiving.org giving platform. Global Giving vets all charities it accepts on it site for authenticity and impact.

4. International Committee Red Cross (ICRC)
Among the many other services it provides, the ICRC sends visiting nurses to individuals with disabilities who are sheltering at home. Based in Switzerland, the organization has won several Nobel Peace Prizes and has an excellent reputation as an impactful charity. The organization claims on its website that 93.5% of all monies donated are used for field work.

5. National Assembly of Persons with Disabilities of Ukraine (NAPD)
NAPD is an association of 120 organizations that represents the interests of people with disabilities in Ukraine. The organization remains active during the war and is focused on helping individuals who remain in the country as well as advising those who wish to leave on evacuation, border crossing, and humanitarian assistance.

6. Inclusion Europe
Inclusion Europe is working with the VGO (an all-Ukrainian NGO Coalition for Persons with Intellectual Disability) to help individuals with disabilities and their families who are unable to leave the country. The NGO is providing food, water, medicines, hygiene products, and other goods to these families. Inclusion Europe says that 100% of donations to the Ukraine people affected by the war will be used to assist the disabled and their families.

7. Polish Association for People with Intellectual Disability (PSONI)
Many Ukrainians with disabilities and their families who are able to leave Ukraine, need a great deal of assistance once they arrive in their new countries. PSONI, an NGO that is part of the European Disability Forum, is raising money to provide support for these individuals when they arrive at Poland’s borders. According to the European Disability Forum’s website, the funds PSONI collects will be used for “for short-term and long-term accessible accommodation, accessible transportation to cross the border, rehabilitation equipment (e.g., wheelchairs, crutches, rehabilitation beds…), medical supplies (e.g., catheters, diaper pants…), food, assistant and psychological support, translators of Polish to/from Ukrainian/Russian, etc.”

Consult your tax adviser on tax deductibility of donations to international non-profits before making a donation.

MacArthur Genius Grant Recipient Makes Tech Accessible to the Blind

Blog.MacArthur Genius Grant Recipient - Joshua Miele

When he was just four years old, Joshua Miele was badly burned and blinded after a neighbor with mental illness poured a bottle of acid over his head.

Nowadays, Miele who is 53 and a 2021 MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, is making the world more accessible to other blind and low vision people.

A principal accessibility researcher at Amazon, Miele previously worked at the Smith Kettlewell Eye Research Institute. He studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in psychoacoustics—(the science of sound perception) there.

Originally, Miele planned to use his education to prepare him for a career in aeronautics. But after an internship at NASA, he told People magazine, “the tools a scientist needs for measuring, recording and analyzing data were not easy for someone who was blind to use.”

It was then that Miele realized his true calling—building tools that he and other blind and low vision people could use to better access life-changing technologies. According to Miele’s MacArthur grant recipient page, he has invented various tools including “Tactile Maps Automated Production (TMAP), a web-based software that generates tactile street maps of any location that can be printed with at-home Braille embossers. He designed a set of tactile maps for every station of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system—including platforms and street-level features—that is compatible with an audio smart pen, making it possible for blind travelers to virtually explore and plan their route through the BART system.”

Additionally, Miele has worked to improve features on smart phones and portable devices for blind people. For example, the WearaBraille he built, “has sensors attached to users’ fingers to allow them to type Braille text without a special keyboard.”

Of late, Miele has focused on making visual digital technologies, like graphics and streaming video such as YouTube, more accessible to blind and low vision individuals. During his tenure at Amazon, Miele has lent his expertise to projects such as making Braille compatible with Fire tablets and developing a feature on camera-enabled Echo devices that tells users what’s in their pantries.

Miele also instructs blind students soldering—a process of joining two metals together that is needed for prototyping and building electronics. His goal is encouraging more blind and low vision students to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology engineering and mathematics). Among other things, Miele plans to use the $625,000 MacArthur grant to create an open-source foundation that shares the latest research about accessibility for the blind and disabled.

Despite the challenges he has faced since the childhood attack, Miele told People that his resulting disability and facial scarring “was not a tragedy or horror show. It’s just the way things turned out. Yes, it was painful, yes it completely changed my life. I am now burned and I wasn’t before. But I want parents of blind children and parents of disabled children to know that this is not a tragedy. It is just a challenge. It is something that people just have to get through.”