Tag Archives: Assistive Technology

I am More than my Disability

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We are working with Comcast Cable on their new eye gaze remote control for the TV which Time magazine says is one of the best inventions of 2019! Comcast Xfinity X1 Eye Control is one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2019 We are very excited that our Easter Seals Greater Houston client, Alexis, was able to join us to help with the demo. Alexis’ unique way of communicating enables her to use her eyes as her mouse to navigate her on-screen keyboard and other pages of information on her tablet. AND makes her the perfect person to demonstrate the new EYE CONTROL remote for TV from Comcast! For more information on the Eye C9ontrol remote please contact Comcast! Read more about Alexis and her story below!

Alexis is a twenty-three-year-old young adult that has a physical disability known as Cerebral Palsy or (CP) which affects her muscle control of her upper and lower body extremities. She uses a wheelchair for mobility and is non-verbal. Her mother states that ” Alexis has a very sharp mind” and often described by others as a very talented young lady with such an awesome personality, a great sense of humor and is known for her beautiful contagious smile that will light up an entire room.

Alexis currently utilizes a Microsoft Pro Surface Tablet which is a Windows Base computer with the capability of eye-tracking technology to meet her communication needs. The eye-tracking technology also has a camera built-in with infrared lighting that tracks and follows the use of the retinas of her eyes as she navigates her computer (tablet) and her on-screen keyboard.  Alexis’ unique way of communicating enables her to use her eyes as her mouse to navigate her on-screen keyboard and other pages of information on her tablet. QUY_6916.JPG

To help get a better understanding of what it means to Alexis to have access to this type of advanced technology it has not only given her independence and ”  a voice” to independently communicate her own thoughts, feelings, wants, needs,  likes and dislikes, but it has also given her the ability to carry on an efficient conversation with family, friends, and individuals as she looks /dwells on a specific letter, word or phrase by just the use of eye gaze. The computer then immediately makes the information readily available to be typed and seen on her screen and has the capability to put her tablet into a voice output mode similar to (text to speech) to generate a voice to speak/ read aloud Alexis’ word , sentence, and/ or any other information that she has composed. This advanced type of assistive technology also continues to help support Alexis with the necessary tools she needs to continue to strengthen her self -advocacy skills. She is also able to text, email and access the internet. She is known by her family as the ” Queen of Amazon ” as she browses and makes purchases independently and always seems to have something saved in ” her cart”.

Alexis enjoys her leisurely time attending and participating in a wide variety of community events with her family and friends. She loves going on road trips, to parks,  The Rodeo, movies, the Mall, watching Netflix, Hulu, is always up for a good read and spending time with her yellow lab “Jasmine” at various dog events and visiting various dog parks.

Alexis wants to reach out to the community with a friendly reminder that her disability doesn’t define who she is … she doesn’t want people to identify her as ” the young lady with a disability “, ” the girl with Cerebral Palsy ” or ” the girl in the wheelchair”. She would like to be known by everyone as Alexis first and foremost. Alexis really appreciates when individuals see past her wheelchair and her disability and recognize her for her unique abilities instead of focusing on her disability.

Despite the daily challenges and barriers that Alexis faces she has many similar goals, dreams, and aspirations as her able-bodied peers. Alexis was educated alongside her able-bodied peers while attending public school from elementary thru her high school years. As her High School peers were doing the ” volunteer thing” she was given those same opportunities, she volunteered in the summer and really enjoyed giving back to her community. Alexis was able to develop new friendships and enlarge her friendship circle as well as gain new work-related skills while volunteering, which she hopes to be able to reach.  Her current goal is working really hard on things that will enable her to carry over those work-related skills along with her technology skills to possibly gain employment soon with a local business in her community.  She really feels that when given the proper training and supports and implementing her unique technology skills that she can be an asset to local business ‘.

Alexis wants to send a ” shout out” to everyone out in the community and if you happen to see Alexis when your “out and about ”  please take a moment to stop by and introduce yourself! She is really looking forward to meeting you and would love to chat!

Alexis Mendoza, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Client and Alexis’ Mom

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School is in Session

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It’s been a great three weeks back in session at The Caroline School at Easter Seals for new and current students alike as well as teachers!

We have enjoyed getting back to our schedule and seeing old friends, like Mr. Bernie, the pet therapy dog, as well as meeting new friends and teachers. In Classroom One we welcomed Mrs. Tiana, Violet, and Paxton and in Classroom Two we added Clarke!

Our teachers were excited to use the new OATECA assessment and curriculum thanks to Anthony and Elizabeth DeLuca. This new curriculum measures goals and objectives that are created from the curriculum to foster each student’s learning experience.  tcs6

What better way to get to know each other than to ask questions and share experiences? Classroom Two did this by creating a collective Summer Adventures book. Students used communication devices, voices, and assistive technology to share pictures, text, and even color preferences.

All students at The Caroline School have access to utilize high tech assistive technology devices such as iPads and Apple TV’s to low tech devices like the Big Mac through Easter Seals BridgingApps, award winning smart technology lab and program. Teachers and staff implement assistive technology for communication, academic goals, and if necessary as a positive reinforcement on a daily basis and as appropriate for each child.

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We would love to add new friends to our book! To learn more visit CarolineSchool.org

Tabitha Hernandez, Caroline School Director, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Have You Ever Heard of “Ear Reading”?

Last August, I was excited to become the Program Coordinator for BridgingApps, one of the many programs of Easter Seals Greater Houston.  Before joining the BridgingApps team, I worked as a special education teacher in a variety of classrooms including resource, co-teach, inclusion, and adaptive behavior settings.  As a former special education teacher, helping students with disabilities and their families remains close to my heart.  Being a part of the BridgingApps team has allowed me to find and share creative ways of using technology to improve all students’ learning opportunities with my fellow educators. AmyLou_Podcast_mode

As school starts up again, I wanted to share a bit about a term you may have heard lately- “Ear Reading”.

What in the world is “ear reading”?  You have probably done it, but did not realize or know how helpful it can be for people of all abilities.  Remember reading aloud as a child?  Ever listen to an audiobook?  Educators used to be taught that all children have to learn to “eye read” and maybe even inadvertently given the impression that students who were unable to do so weren’t as smart as their peers. boy with book

Dyslexia specialists and interventionists, however, have known otherwise for years!

According to their website, the International Dyslexia Association defines ear reading as a process where “rather than the written words being taken in through the eyes and processed in the brain, the verbal words are heard through the ears and then processed in the brain.”

So, how can this help in the classroom and what does it have to do with technology?  I have seen first-hand the positive effects that read-alouds have on comprehension, predicting, and many other necessary reading skills.  Technology has allowed us to have the power to essentially provide an appropriate level read-aloud for every child in the class (or at least for the number of electronic devices- tablets, laptops, etc. available in the classroom).  It also allows those students who may not have been able to fully participate in a group discussion of a book due to their lower reading level to listen to that book and have meaningful discussions about it.

Listen to the Podcast here!

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Below are a few of the apps for ear reading that you can find in our app search tool at https://search.bridgingapps.org/dashboard:

Audiobooks.com (free app for iOs and Android, free trial period and then $14.95 per month- 1 book per month)
Kids A to Z – free to download, but requires a subscription to use
Audible – free to download, but requires a subscription to listen to books

Sign in using library card:
Hoopla
Overdrive
Libby, by Overdrive

Services that your students might be eligible dependent on their diagnosis:
BARD Mobile (eligible patrons of the NLS- National Library Service, can borrow audio and braille books to use along with a braille reader on an iPad)
Bookshare:  Web-based service that is free for US students with qualifying diagnoses and offered as a subscription for others.
Voice Dream Reader app can be used to access Bookshare service

The apps below allow users to take pictures of books, documents, etc. using their device and then have it read to them:
Avaz Reader – currently $29.99 to download the app
Speechify – free

Ear Reading

Amy Fuchs, Easter Seals Greater HoustonBridgingApps Program Coordinator

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The Debt We Owe Our Heros

Veterans are not a monolith. They possess a variety of talents and skills and needs after the epic storm that crashed and stalled over Houston in Aug of 2017.  Hurricane Harvey was a call to action and many Veterans responded valiantly putting themselves in harm’s way once again to assist their own families, their neighbors, and the community-at-large. 

They borrowed John-boats and utilized high clearance vehicles, expertly jimmying equipment for high water rescue. They guided the confused and grief-stricken with clear and simple instructions to pack a survival bag and abandon things that could not be transported to higher ground. They stood up distribution warehouses and procured supplies from a generous nation and efficiency and effectively pushed water bottles, diapers, and sanitation supplies to where they were needed most in this flooded city.

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 They rendered physical and psychological first aid with compassionate and comforting expertise. They applied training, insisted on teamwork, established chains of command and networked with over-saturated emergency response systems. They warned us of the various toxic exposures in water-born illnesses, insect carried diseases and predicted the rapid growth of mold between brick and sheetrock. When they faced obstacles, they engaged in creative problem solving to invent new ways to overcome.

Technology-assisted them including Easter Seals Greater Houston’s BridgingApps program. Facebook and Instagram, walked talkie apps, even Pinterest crowdsourced ideas and speed help around a city that knew we had to help ourselves, just as we knew we depended upon each other for our literal survival. Websites were born that matched people who needed help mucking and gutting with volunteers ready to get to work clearing a path to recovery. As mountains of debris piled on curbsides, rotting in the blazing sun, the next phase of the disaster began. Once the urgency subsided, and the adrenaline supply was exhausted, aspects of community-wide post-traumatic stress became evident. 

And our Veterans suffered from familiar foes of fatigue and survivor’s guilt, hypervigilance and insomnia, nightmares and relationship turmoil, numbness and self-neglect. They were triggered by the ever-present helicopter traffic that reminded them of the sounds of war. They were triggered by cramped sleeping quarters in large rooms filled with cots and chaos.  As the immediate aftermath of the disaster waxed, Veterans of the Storm named Harvey eventually went home to their own personal disasters, that were very real whether or not their own houses were damaged by the slowly receding muddy waters that had engulfed the city. 

We owe a debt of thanks to the heroes that walk among us in civilian dress. Veterans hide in plain sight but still carry the weight of duty and profound responsibility to serve and protect this nation.  We owe them more than simple gratitude.  

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ESGH was and is proud to be at the forefront with them through Harvey and our Harvey Recovery work thanks to our community, Save The Children, The Mayor’s Fund, Americares, Freddie Mac, Simmons Foundation and so many more. (https://www.eastersealshouston.org/Programs/harvey-heroes.html) AND we are proud to be able to continue offering our veterans programs and services to our current and retired military – through our #TexasVeteransandFamilyAlliance, our #mentalhealth program and so much more as well as continuing in our efforts for Harvey Housing recovery.

Amy Harkins, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Veterans Program and Harvey Recovery, Psychologist

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Technology Bears No Age

Audra Success Story | Older Adult & Stroke Survivor Using Mobile Technology

Ms. Audra Evert is an amazing artist, and her home is covered with her colorful abstract paintings. She suffered a stroke some years ago, and she needed help using a desktop windows computer and a flip phone for her technology needs. Her interests include internet searches, emails, saving and sharing photos, creating word documents, and excel spreadsheets. A nephew of hers recently asked for her knowledge about the family. She developed a goal to create a family tree.

 ESGH BridgingApps digital trainer, Jana Rodriguez helped Audra research a few options to create a family tree and offered the free website service FamilyEcho.com. Together Jana helped Ms. Evert create her family tree, as seen in her printed copy. A copy was also sent via PDF to her nephew. She hopes to expand the details with more research on other family members. At the beginning of this journey she dreaded the thought of how difficult this task would be. She was so pleased with the ease and design which she described as “perfect”!

Audra owns a flip phone and has been frustrated with not knowing how to take photos and then share them with others. Jana of ESGH BridgingAPPS  program has been working on basic phone skills with Audra, who has been practicing manipulating photos on her phone.  She is learning how to take photos, rotate and crop them, and send them to friends and family via email.  She has been thrilled with her progress!

By: The BridgingApps Team, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Adult Program Gives Participant Sense of Pride

Meet one of Easter Seals Greater Houston’s awesome young adult clients. Every week she participates in our Life Enrichment for Adults with Disabilities (LEAD) Young Adult Day Program. During the LEAD Young Adult Day Program this non-verbal woman with autism, along with other participants blog2ages 18 to 30, partakes in activities focused on enriching life skills and social skills as well as fun recreational activities. During LEAD, we incorporate her communication device as much as possible; while the rest of the time, we speak to each other through eye contact and gestures. Her mom continually says that this is the only place where she feels comfortable enough to leave her daughter.

We love to see how being in the LEAD program has enriched our participants’blog1 lives. For example, this young woman loves to have things in their place, such as, crayons cannot have wrappers on them, water cannot sit in a cup for too long, and shoes come off as soon as it is allowed. One day during Easter Seals Greater Houston’s LEAD at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, we made hats (seen in picture) and instead of ripping off the decorations as soon as she got home, she put it on her head and paraded it around. We provided her the opportunity to create something (with a hot glue gun, I might add) that gave her a sense of pride and independence. This hat was made last year and I am told it sits on her dresser, with every ball, flower, and sequence still intact.

We are proud of all of the growth that our Adults experience by attending Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Life Enrichment for Adults with Disabilities Day Program. We have two Adult Day Program groups, ages 18-30 and another ages 30 and up. We also serve our clients through a variety of other services. Please reach out to Lindsey Holton at LHolton@eastersealshouston.org for more information on how you and your loved ones can get involved!

Easter Seals Greater Houston, Adult Programs

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Miraculous Megan: Longtime Client and Friend

Megan Fry is an amazing 17 year old girl. She has been part of the Easter Seals Greater Houston family for over 10 years. She has the mind and the personality of a typical developing teenage girl. She loves art and has her own website, Just My Eye, that meg-w-dvox-300x225showcases her creations. One of Megan’s many unique qualities is that she was born with cerebral palsy, with an end result of being nonverbal and using a wheelchair to maneuver around. You need to be careful because she drives her chair around very fast! She communicates and shows off her big personality by using a Tobii. The Tobii is a device that allows Megan to use her eyes to pick out her words which are then shared through the speaker.

Over the years, Megan has attended our summer camps, participated in Family Day Out, received In-Home Respite, and participated in our BridgingApps program. Her family has participated in our Lil’ Rustler Rodeo night with the Houston Livestocgroupk Show and Rodeo, used a Respitality weekend, participated in our Walk With Me at the Houston Zoo event and our Hats Off to Mother’s Luncheon. We were fortunate to have Megan as our summer intern this past year. She created and distributed our Easter Seals Montgomery County newsletter. Megan is currently participating in our Family Day Out program as a Junior Director. She is amazing with our clients and our families.

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Megan is a true success story and ambassador for Easter Seals Greater Houston. Megan and her mom even went on speaking engagements last year to represent Easter Seals during the United Way campaign. She has received services and continues to give back to our community. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Megan because we know there is nothing she can’t accomplish!

Kristie Carlisle, Respite Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston

Check out Megan’s dad’s post about how assistive technology helped him connect with his daughter here!

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