Halloween Checklist

Halloween Costume

Though Halloween is still several weeks away, chances are your children are eagerly anticipating the holiday, planning their costumes, and thinking about parties and trick-or-treating. If your child has special needs, Halloween can present some extra challenges. But none of these challenges are insurmountable. Check out these tips for a Happy Halloween!

Find the perfect costume
What child doesn’t love playing dress-up? Costumes provide children with the opportunity to pretend, fantasize and express their interests and creativity. If your child uses a wheelchair, incorporating the chair into her costume is a great way to go. Does he love NASCAR? Create a race-car from the wheelchair. Does she dream of being a princess? Turn her wheelchair into a coach. Check out Enabling Devices’ Halloween post from last year for more terrific ideas.

If your child has sensory issues, take care to choose a costume that fits comfortably and isn’t made of scratchy fabric that could spoil your child’s fun. That may mean avoiding store-bought costumes, masks, hats, face paint or other accessories that can irritate sensitive skin.

Prepare for the big day or night
Halloween is tons of fun, but it can also be kind of scary. If your child tends to become fearful or anxious, consider trick-or-treating during the day instead of at night, read books, sing songs and have discussions about what to expect during Halloween.

If your child has communication or social skills challenges, teach her what to say when neighbors answer the door, and practice how to give out candy when trick-or-treaters come to your door. If he uses a communication device, record a trick-or-treat message in time for the holiday.

Prior to Halloween, plot the route you will take when you trick-or-treat. There’s no need to take on the whole neighborhood. Even a few houses may be sufficient for your child.

 Consider dietary needs
Halloween is especially challenging for children with special diets. But how do you help your child to avoid candy and other sugary treats when trick-or-treating or attending parties at school? Autismfile.com has some good suggestions. “Stick with family and friends when selecting which homes to visit for trick-or-treating. People aware of special diet needs or unique behaviors will be prepared for you and your child,” says their website. Alternatively, you can provide your neighbors with healthy treats in advance, and they can give them to your child when he comes to their door.

Keep track of trick-or-treaters
Children on the autism spectrum can sometimes be wanderers. Make sure you or another responsible adult accompanies children when they trick-or-treat, to avoid any misadventures and ensure safety for all.

Throw a party
Having your own Halloween celebration give you more control over how the holiday plays out. Your child can choose decorations, treats, music and party activities so it’s likely that her anxiety will be a great deal more manageable. If mobility, or other physical disabilities make trick-or-treating a challenge, partying at home, where your child is comfortable, may be a great way to remove any obstacles to fun.

 Stay home if it’s right for your family
If Halloween shows up and your child isn’t in the mood, it’s OK to do Halloween “light.” Perhaps your child can have one friend over and they can watch a Halloween-themed movie and open the door for trick-or-treaters. If you sense that a successful Halloween is not in the cards this year, feel free to skip the festivities and stick with your child’s regular routine. Then, try again next year.

Five New Apps Changing Life for People with Disabilities

Photo of SmartPhone with app drawings around it

With new apps being developed all the time, it’s hard to keep up. Here’s a run-down on some new and coming soon apps likely to benefit people with disabilities.

Beam Smart Presence System
Remote shopping is nothing new, but this app, currently being tested by American Eagle Outfitters, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based clothing retailer, promises to make remote shopping a more personal, interactive experience. “The Beam Smart Presence System” will help people with mobility challenges that prevent them from traveling to a brick and mortar store to “beam” into an American Eagle location from a computer or tablet. When users “beam in” they can communicate with a sales clerk, who speaks to them through a tablet at the store. Using a second tablet, the shopper can remotely follow the clerk up and down the store aisles as the clerk shows the shopper store merchandise.

Ability App
Twelve-year-old Alexander Knoll has a bright future ahead of him. Alex is working on developing an app to provide information that people with disabilities can use to navigate public spaces. Writes Joe Fryer of NBC.com, the app tells users about where they can find “wheelchair ramps, disabled parking, braille menus and more.” Recently, Alex appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show where he was presented with a check for $25,000 meant to help him finish developing the app. Hopefully, the app will be available soon.

A dating app for people who want to get beyond the superficial, Glimmer was created by Geoffrey Anderson and launched in Dec. 2016. Anderson developed the app for people like his brother, who has cognitive disabilities, and was frustrated with apps like Tinder, which place so much emphasis on physical appearance. Though Glimmer isn’t exclusively for people with disabilities, it “was designed to promote transparency between users and be welcoming to all people,” according to its website.

While some people seek romantic relationships, others are just looking for friendship. People with disabilities — especially disabilities that impact social skills — may experience challenges when it comes to connecting with others. This new app helps parents of youngsters with disabilities find friends for their children. The app matches people based on where they live, their interests and ages. Says Friendi creator, Ben Raskin, “the app works like an ice-breaker,” and “allows parents to be in control and message one another to explore additional resources.”

Developed by Niall El-Assaad, a wheelchair user in the U.K., this new app makes it easier for people with physical disabilities to negotiate self-service gas stations. It is now available throughout Canada. El-Assaad told CBS News in British Columbia “he created [the app] in response to his own frustration as a disabled driver. El-Assaad, who was paralyzed in a cycling accident, said he felt embarrassed by having to honk his horn and wave his disability card at gas stations to get assistance.” FuelService helps users to locate gas stations, choose gas pumps and alert station staff to the user’s arrival and need for assistance.

Have you discovered a new app that you’d like to share? Let us know about it by posting on Enabling Devices’ Twitter or Facebook pages.

Seven Organizations Helping Harvey Victims with Disabilities

Helping Hurricane Survivors

When a catastrophe such as Hurricane Harvey strikes, the consequences are disastrous for everyone impacted. For people with physical, psychological and developmental disabilities, the situation can be even more dire. Just imagine: trying to maneuver a wheelchair through five feet of water; being blind and having to climb a ladder to safety; having autism and losing your home and the prized possessions that make you feel secure. These are just some of the challenges that people with disabilities are facing in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Amidst the devastation in Texas, nonprofits that advocate for people with disabilities are doing their best to ensure that they aren’t left behind. Here are some that are doing good work or collecting money for people with disabilities. You may wish to support them at this critically important time.

Portlight Strategies Inc.
Portlight and its partner, The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies has been working on behalf of people with disabilities “to promote inclusiveness in disaster preparedness and response plans and to demand provisions for transportation and shelter accessibility,” since 1997.   During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the organization worked with disabled hurricane survivors for 18 months, helping them to replace lost medical equipment, rebuild ramping, and more. Portlight provided similar support for disabled victims of flooding in Louisiana in 2016. Portlight also runs a program called Getting It Right which offers workshops and conferences on issues related to inclusive disaster preparedness and advocates for accessibility in housing and transportation.

Trach Mommas of Louisiana
This nonprofit, geared specifically toward parents, caregivers and individuals with tracheostomies, is collecting and distributing medical supplies to Harvey victims with complex medical needs, those who are dependent on technology or immune compromised.

 National Federation of the Blind/Texas
The local affiliate of NFB has started a Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund for blind and low vision Texans affected by the storm.

AAC Relief
This organization is aiding for hurricane victims with speech and language disorders who use augmentative and alternative communication devices.

Texas Diaper Bank
The Texas Diaper Bank has created a disaster relief fund to provide diapers to babies, people with disabilities and the elderly affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Texas School for the Deaf Foundation
This Austin-based school has started a Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund to benefit students who have been displaced by the storm.

Autism Society of Texas
This organization has set up its own Hurricane Harvey Relief fund for families affected by autism.



Got Wheels?

“Wheelchair bound.” “Confined to a wheelchair.” Referencing wheelchair users like this is not only outdated and offensive, it also reflects a lack of understanding. “People are not ‘confined’ to their wheelchairs,” say the folks at the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, “they are in fact liberated by their wheels. … A wheelchair offers people access to work and shopping or any other travel outside the home.” Sadly, an estimated 100 million people in developing nations across the world who need wheelchairs, are too poor to afford them. But thanks to Dr. Don Schoendorfer and the Free Wheelchair Mission, the humanitarian, faith-based nonprofit he founded, they now have hope.

Schoendorfer’s journey began many years ago on a visit to Morocco. There, he saw a woman who was unable to walk but had no wheelchair, drag herself across a busy intersection. He was deeply impacted by what he saw, and eventually Schoendorfer, a biomedical engineer and inventor, left his successful career to pursue a higher calling: He wanted to help people like the woman in Morocco by designing a wheelchair that was “basic, inexpensive and durable,” enough to withstand the rugged topography of many developing countries.

In 1999, Schoendorfer designed his very first wheelchair. Per Disabled World, it was “essentially a plastic lawn chair with mountain bike tires…” Since then, “the wheelchairs have evolved to include two additional designs, including a foldable wheelchair. All three designs are available to recipients, and depending on the needs of an individual, the most appropriate is given for free.”

This past June, the Free Wheelchair Mission celebrated the delivery of its one millionth wheelchair. The chair went to a 12-year-old Peruvian girl who lived in a far-flung Andes village.  Prior to receiving the wheelchair, the young girl had to be carried from one place to another. However, she would soon be too big to be carried. As she grew bigger, her prospects for the future grew increasingly bleak. Fortunately, receipt of a wheelchair drastically changed the trajectory of the girl’s life.  “Footage of a recent trip to present her with the millionth wheelchair showed her crying, laughing, and applauding her gift,” according to a press release issued by the Free Wheelchair Mission. “Her future is now bright, as she can return to school and play with her brothers.”

To date, the organization has provided wheelchairs to people in 93 countries. Each wheelchair is produced and delivered for a total cost of $80. Up next, Schoendorfer aims to deliver another million wheelchairs by 2025.

To learn more, visit freewheelchairmission.org.

Happy Independence Day!

Boy with American Flag

At Enabling Devices, we’re all about helping adults and children live and play more independently. To that end, we offer over 800 products that make it possible for people with a range of physical and cognitive disabilities to enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with doing more for themselves.

Capability Switches
Enabling Devices offers more than 100 different types of capability switches —the widest variety in the marketplace. From our best-selling, ergonomically designed, super-sensitive Plate Switch to our most versatile of switches—the Ultimate Switch—to our high-quality dependable Gumball Switches, capability switches allow people with disabilities to interact with communication devices, therapeutic learning products, computers, appliances and toys!

The ability to express one’s thoughts and feelings and to converse with others is essential to independence. Our enormous selection of communication devices helps people with disabilities to communicate and serve as terrific teaching tools. From basic communicators such as the Big Talk which records and plays back one message to our Talkable II which records two messages and has built-in icon holders, to communicators that grow with the user’s vocabulary such as the 7-Level Communication Builder, there’s a communicator that‘s just right for you, your family member or student.

Adapted Electronics
Being able to access electronics without assistance from others is a critical aspect of independence in today’s automated world. Enabling Devices’ hands-free mouse, wireless switches and adjustable screen styluses, as well as a variety of CD players and boom-boxes, are just some of the tools that promote self-reliance and connection to the world.

iPad Products
iPads have entirely changed the landscape for all of us. For people with disabilities, their impact has been profound. Now, disabilities need not prevent people from accessing music, education, entertainment and an ever-growing choice of apps. See Enabling Devices’ Ideas & Resources page for a comprehensive list of our favorite applications.

Useful Household and Special Devices
These essential tools help people with disabilities to practice activities of daily living such as cooking, gardening, cutting, writing and can opening.

Visually impaired
Our large assortment of products especially for people who are blind or visually impaired enable them to increase their independence. Lightboxes, tactile communicators, toys and switches with bright lights, high contrast and auditory cueing are just some of the items we’ve created and adapted with the goal of enhancing quality of life for people with visual impairment.

Last, but certainly not least, Enabling Devices’ huge selection of adapted toys, mean that children with disabilities can play and learn just like their typically developing peers. Choose from games, plush toys, blocks, puzzles, activity centers, musical instruments and a wide range of multi-sensory toys that promote auditory, visual and tactile stimulation, increase listening skills, encourage music appreciation, and improve fine and gross motor functioning.

“Me Before You” – What’s Your Opinion?

Opinion graphic

The release of “Me Before You” has been met with a firestorm of criticism from the disabilities community. Based on on the bestselling novel by Jojo Moyes, the film tells the story of Will Traynor, a wealthy, handsome businessman paralyzed after a motorbike accident and Louisa Clark, a pretty yet provincial young woman, hired as his caregiver. Will, played by Sam Clafin of “The Hunger Games” fame and Louisa, played by Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones,” eventually fall in love. Unfortunately, that’s not where the story ends.

Why are people with disabilities and their allies up in arms? There are several reasons:

1. The role of Will Traynor is played by an actor without a physical disability

Given the paucity of roles for actors with disabilities, many in the disabilities community are incensed by the fact that someone with quadriplegia was not cast in the high profile role.

“The casting of non-disabled actors in disabled roles is pervasive across the industry, despite the fact that there are numerous talented disabled actors languishing without work,” writes S.E. Smith for Care2. “Seeing non-disabled people represent the disability experience is offensive, especially when the experience being depicted is itself so offensive.”

2. The film’s depiction of life with disability is extremely negative

Since so few films and television programs have characters with disabilities, viewers who don’t have disabilities or who don’t know people with disabilities only learn about their experiences from examples in films such as “Me Before You.” The result? People view the lives of people with disabilities as being tragic, miserable and pitiful.

“Me Before You” capitalizes on existing widely held negative ideas about disability and exploits them as fodder for entertainment,” writes Emily Ladau, in a piece for Salon. “Prior to becoming disabled, Will was successful and happy, but Moyes implies that anything good in life will come to an end when disability becomes a reality.”

3. The film feels emotionally manipulative

Some disabilities advocates have pointed out that the film is “calculated to play upon the emotions of the viewer by evoking disability.” And it seems to work.

“It’s become almost a running joke that if you want to win an Oscar, play a disabled character,” writes Kathleen Hawkins of the BBC. Think: Daniel Day Lewis for his performance in “My Left Foot,” Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man,” and Eddie Redmayne for “The Theory of Everything.”

4. (Spoiler Alert) The film’s ending implies that having a disability is a fate worse than death.

In the end, despite his love for Louisa and everything else he has to live for, Will Traynor chooses to end his life. His reasons? He doesn’t want to live if he can’t do the things he did before his accident, he doesn’t want to be a burden to Louisa and his family and he doesn’t want her to end up resenting or pitying him in the future.

Members of Not Dead Yet UK, a group that’s part of a global alliance of people with disabilities who oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide picketed the film’s premiere and posted this statement on its website: “ Not Dead Yet UK is deeply concerned to see yet another film which casts non-disabled people as disabled people and shows the lives of disabled people as not worth living.”

Have you seen or read “Me Before You?” We’d love to hear what you think. Talk to us here or on Facebook or Twitter.