Making Homes More Accessible

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Rosemarie Rossetti and her husband, Mark Leder, sitting in the living room of their home and smiling at the camera

By Rosemarie Rossetti, PhD

On June 13, 1998, my husband Mark Leder and I went for a bicycle ride on a rural wooded bike trail in Granville, Ohio. After riding for a few minutes, Mark thought he heard a gunshot and slowed down to investigate. As he scanned the scene, he saw a large tree falling. He shouted, “Stop!” But the warning was too late. Instantly, I was crushed by a 7,000-pound tree and paralyzed from the waist down.

Coming home from the hospital in a wheelchair in July 1998 after my spinal cord injury, I realized how my home intensified my disability. My husband and I knew that we had to sell our home and find something more suitable.

Universal Design

Since the 1980s, architects, interior designers, and other design and building professionals have embraced the concept of universal design, which is a framework for creating living and working spaces and products to benefit the widest range of people in the widest range of situations without special or separate design. Universal design is human-centered, accommodating people of all sizes, ages, and abilities.

Building the Universal Design Living Laboratory

My husband is 6’4″ tall while I am 4’2″ seated in my wheelchair. Our heights and reaches were factors in the design of our home so that we would both be accommodated.

In September 2004, we hired architect Patrick Manley to draw the house plans for our new home. Mark and I bought an acre and a half lot in December of 2006. We broke ground in September 2009, and moved in May 2012.

In addition to being accessible, universal design and green building construction principles were followed. Mark and I served as the general contractors of our home, named the Universal Design Living Laboratory. (www.UDLL.com) We received the highest levels of certification from three universal design certification programs, making our home the highest rated universal design home in North America.

Independent Living

The first noticeable improvement when I moved into our new home was the ease in navigating on the hardwood and tile floors. My shoulders were no longer strained as they had been on the carpet in my previous home. I realized that my carpal tunnel syndrome pain and numbness in my hands was lessened.

Living in the Universal Design Living Laboratory for the past seven years has given me a unique perspective. As a person who uses a wheelchair, I have learned the importance of space planning, and that small differences in the width of a door, the height of a threshold or the slope of a ramp can impact a person’s independence. Safety features like grab bars in the toileting area and shower have kept me from falling, and they make transfers easier.

Kitchen Design Keys

As others plan to remodel or build, they need to consider features that allow occupants independence. Universal design features in the kitchen include the overall design of the circulation pattern, cabinet design, countertop height, and appliance selection.

  • A minimum 5-foot turning radius throughout the kitchen allows a person who uses a wheelchair the ability to do a 360-degree turnaround. Power wheelchairs and scooters      may need additional space.
  • Side-hinged ovens are preferable to those hinged at the bottom, installed at a height that is easy to reach from a wheelchair.
  • Cooktop controls and the ventilation control panel at the front and at waist height make them accessible by all.
  • Multiple countertop heights, such as 40, 34, and 30 inches, accommodate a diverse population. A 30-inch countertop with knee space underneath works well for someone  who remains seated during meal preparation.
  • At least half of the storage space should be accessible from a seated position, including drawers and cabinet shelves.
  • Cooktops and sinks with knee space beneath make for user-friendly work areas.
  • A dishwasher raised 16 inches off the floor eliminates the need to bend down low.
  • A side-by-side refrigerator/freezer provides easier access from a seated position.

Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. is an internationally known speaker, trainer, consultant, and author of the Universal Design Toolkit. To get a free chapter and learn more about the Universal Design Living Laboratory, visit UDLL.com. To contact Rosemarie and learn about her speaking services, visit RosemarieSpeaks.com.

From Curb to Gate: Improving Air Travel for People with Disabilities

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empty wheelchair sitting in Airport terminal

When we travel by air, most of us don’t instinctively think about the process and the number of industries and services involved in our experiences at the airport and on our flights. We, instead, focus on how to get from curb to gate as quickly as we can and, preferably, with as little drama as possible. The “curb-to-gate” experience is also a focal point for airports as they seek to provide positive customer experiences for all travelers, including those with disabilities.

The American Institutes for Research (AIR) recently worked with Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) and the Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority to address common obstacles faced by passengers with disabilities and identify opportunities for improving disability awareness and access among airport personnel and vendors.

This included interactive, online training, developed with and through the experiences of travelers with disabilities. For the 26 million adults with disabilities who travel annually (Open Doors, 2015), this promotes respectful customer service interactions and recognizing travelers with disabilities as the expert on their own needs.

For airport personnel, it increases their skill sets and knowledge about a segment of their customer base and promotes high standards of customer service. It also helps businesses identify ways to go beyond the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) to create a culture that reflects all passengers when reviewing and implementing changes to impact traveler experiences.

This is just an example of the type of work that AIR does to contribute to a more equitable world through research; translate evidence into user-friendly products; and provide technical assistance customized for specific audiences. This type of work can illuminate or eradicate previously held assumptions and provide valuable information to governments, communities and businesses. Consider two recent AIR studies that demonstrate that the workforce and socioeconomic diversity within the disability community:

● “One Size Does Not Fit All: A New Look at the Labor Force
Participation of People With Disabilities (2015),” includes a stateby-
state breakdown of workforce participation among people with
disabilities; and
● “A Hidden Market: The Purchasing Power of Working-Age Adults
With Disabilities (2018)” examines the significant and growing
economic power of the disability community.

Individuals can use such research to advocate for increased workforce opportunities and to reinforce their impact on the economy. Businesses and government may use the same research to inform their review of organizational and federal practices and enhance policies that maximize inclusion and contributions of people with disabilities in the workforce.

Recruitment, development and retention of employees is another ongoing focus across industries. But how can business and employee be supported when circumstances impact an individual’s ability to work due to an injury or illness? The Retaining Employment and Talent After Injury or Illness Network (RETAIN) Demonstration Project combines capacity building coaching and resources, research and evaluation to help states, employers and employees address that question through strategies that help the injured or ill employee return to work or stay at work (RTW/SAW) as soon as possible. Led by the Office of Disability

Employment Policy at the US Department of Labor, and in partnership with the Education Training Administration and the Social Security Administration, RETAIN states work in multi-sector teams that include healthcare, workforce and disability services to determine what RTW/ SAW model works best with the potential to replicate evidence-based and promising practices across their states. Through our diverse portfolio of work on disability issues and our role as a knowledge broker and translator of research, improving outcomes for people with disabilities is part of our missionaligned work to create a better, more equitable world.

Conducting and leveraging research for business, industry, government and organizations presents the opportunity for all involved to achieve this goal.

For more information about AIR and our work, please visit air.org.

Autistic Boy Can Name Any Car Ever Made—and Makes Amazingly Lifelike Photos With his Model Collection

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Classic truck and trailer picture with photo credit to Anthony Schmidt Photography

People with autism generally see the world through a different lens than the rest of the world, and it’s often one with a singular focus. Such is the case with 12-year-old Anthony Schmidt. Anthony is driven—by his obsession for cars.

His extensive collection of model cars is mind-boggling, but Anthony’s love of automobiles doesn’t stop there. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of pretty much every car that’s ever been built from their first inception to today’s latest models.

Show him a car, and he can tell you everything about it down to the smallest detail. It was a skill that came in handy for some New York detectives who had only a grainy image of a suspect’s car in an ongoing criminal investigation.

When Anthony saw the picture, he was able to identify its make, model, and year immediately—making it one getaway car that didn’t get away after all. Thanks to Anthony’s fine-tuned savvy, the suspect was apprehended soon after.

Anthony lives with his mom, Ramona, near Seattle, Washington. She says her son’s car enthusiasm began when he was about 2 years old. By age 6, he’d begun creating a photographic series of tableaus starring his model cars staged in hyper-realistic settings.

When he was 9, Ramona launched an Instagram page to showcase Anthony’s extraordinary work. He’s got a Facebook page as well.

“Everyone freaked out,” Ramona told the Woodinville Weekly. “He gets recognized in public. There was an overwhelming response from people asking for calendars or coffee table books.”

Continue on to the Good News Network to read the complete article.

Photo Credit: Anthony Schmidt Photography

Convening in the Time of COVID-19: Disability Advocates Converge on Zoom for The Arc’s National Convention

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Business people working together on project in work studio

While this year’s COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted business as usual for many businesses, it has also presented unexpected opportunities. Like many others, The Arc was forced to cancel and shift all in-person events starting in March.

When the time came to plan our annual convention—which draws people with disabilities, family members, The Arc’s chapter leaders, and allies together to learn, grow, and celebrate and advance disability rights—the choice was obvious: go virtual and give more people than ever before the ability to attend our flagship event. The best part? The event was free. In an era when time and money are short for many and screen fatigue is more prevalent than ever, it was important to The Arc to ensure this year’s programming was valuable, accessible, and affordable. A record nearly 3,000 people registered, surpassing previous in-person attendance almost threefold. The format also enabled more first-timers than ever before to participate.

The event featured speakers from a wide range of backgrounds: grassroots advocates, policymakers, The Arc’s chapter staff, and The Arc’s national office. Sessions covered everything from voting to police safety to community supports and organizational hardship in the time of COVID. Sessions were also carefully curated to be accessible through captioning, real-time American Sign Language interpretation, and accessibly designed slide decks and support materials. Between structured sessions, attendees had the opportunity to connect in more informal settings and share their knowledge and challenges with others facing similar circumstances. These new—and renewed—connections will provide networks of support as advocates, family members, and professionals prepare to dive into the coming year.

People with disabilities and those who support them are at a critical inflection point in our history. Existing budget crises, waiting lists, and other service delivery challenges have been exacerbated by the pandemic. As we navigate the challenges of today and work to build a better tomorrow, The Arc is proud to provide ongoing resources and support.

As a benefit of this year’s online format, you can watch archived sessions from the event on-demand for free.

And, save the date for next year’s event which we expect to hold from September 27 – 29, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana!

Would You Like to Learn About A Safe Non-Drug Alternative for Anxiety, Insomnia, and Depression?

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Cervella patient and nurse at table talking

I am Byron, a 53-year old male suffering from anxiety, insomnia, and depression for the past 30 years. I have been on many different medications in the past with minimal to moderate success.

I started using Cervella approximately 2 months ago. On day one I had significant relief of my anxiety that lasted approximately 48-72 hours. I had not had this type of relief in over 30 years, even when using medication. I would often feel like my brain was short-circuiting and that would keep me from making clear decisions.

Normally I shut down mentally and am easily overwhelmed with everyday tasks and organizing my day.  Tasks that are simple for most people have become the bane of my existence. After the treatment, I felt like the clouds parted and the sun shone through and I was no longer overwhelmed.

After using Cervella I could finally see the path in front of me and the tasks that seemed impossible feel attainable.  I felt like I could take a few tasks at a time and not feel pressured to do it all and that everything would not come crashing down if those tasks were not completed that day. I also had a difficult time with making and taking phone calls. When I would hear the phone ring I would cringe knowing I had to answer it or return the call. This would be very impactful to both my work and personal life.  I am now able to reach out and became more proactive having better control over that part of my life.

I also did not have an interest in anything outside of work (and on occasions even work) and would not want to see people, do any hobbies, or do things that I used to enjoy. I would have to work myself up for hours to even participate in things on a very infrequent basis.  I have started to have those feelings lift and I have started working on some projects and spending time with friends.

Thanks to Cervella I am starting to have hope again. I feel like I can start putting behind those days when I had felt that life was not worth living. This feeling of hopelessness has started to lift and I am becoming more active in my life.  I am very excited to continue Cervella and see how my journey continues to improve. This has been life changing.

Source: Clover Medical

Simple Accommodations Lead to Workplace Success

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Ray Muro, PRIDE Industries employee, shows his workplace accomations in the company warehouse

Studies show that companies with a diverse and inclusive workforce benefit from greater employee retention and higher productivity rates. But some people think that accommodations are always expensive and complicated.

With just a bit of imagination and effort, any company can attract, accommodate, and retain highly productive employees.

At PRIDE, our 50 years of experience prove that accommodations don’t have to be costly or complex. Ray Muro is one example of an accomplished employee. Blind since childhood, Ray has worked as a Stock Clerk in the Self-Help shop at U.S. Army Post Fort Bliss in El Paso. Among his many duties, Ray manages the store’s inventory, registers new customers, and organizes the supplies.

Ray is one of the shop’s most productive employees, consistently earning high praise from customers and fellow employees alike. The reasons for his success are no secret—Ray has arranged his work environment to accommodate his needs. With PRIDE’s support, Ray has used a few inexpensive tools and modifications to set himself up for success.

Before joining PRIDE, Ray earned an Associate degree in Human Services and Liberal Arts and a Bachelor’s degree in Multi-Disciplinary Studies from the University of Texas, El Paso. Despite his qualifications and enthusiasm, Ray could not find a permanent job due to misconceptions about his disabilities.

Ray was born with Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), an eye disease common in premature babies. It causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the retina and can lead to blindness, as it did with Ray, who has been blind since childhood. Working-age adults with significant vision loss have a 30% employment rate.

PRIDE IndustriesHired as a Stock Clerk in the Self-Help shop, Ray manages the inventory of parts such as paint or batteries, registers customers into the database, and categorizes new supplies. To master his position and make it easier for him to navigate the shop, Ray spent two weeks labeling everything with braille stickers to serve customers faster.

“When I attended college, I didn’t have access to braille books, so I had to use speech technology or a reader,” said Ray. “But braille often works better. It’s such a powerful tool to help people who are blind navigate the visual world.”

READ MORE… https://prideindustries.org/blog/becoming-the-shop-expert-rays-story/

World’s First Study on Disability Inclusion in MBA Programs Launched

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A student in a wheelchair using a laptop in a library

Little is known about the experience and representation of people with disabilities in MBA programs so far, but that’s about to change.

Access to Success Organization, Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), and researchers from the University of Winnipeg and University of Toronto have partnered to launch what is believed to be the world’s first study on disability in global MBA programs. The study will begin with an online survey asking current, former, and prospective MBA candidates who identify as having a disability to share their experiences. The results of the survey will be published in 2021.

Leveling the field for MBA students with disabilities

The State of Disability Inclusion in MBA Programs 2020 survey aims to address a missing piece of diversity in business schools. Survey respondents will be asked about their experiences in five areas – pre-admission, academic, social, recruitment, and post-graduation.

The data collected from the survey will help inform a comprehensive understanding of the experience of students with disabilities. This will in turn shape recommendations for making MBA programs more accessible and inclusive. The research will be led by Dr. Katherine Breward, Associate Professor at the University of Winnipeg, and supported by Dan Samosh, Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Toronto.

“We need more people with disabilities in leadership roles, and MBA is a key gateway to these opportunities,” said Varun Chandak, founder and President of Access to Success Organization. “Making MBA programs more accessible will not only level the playing field for students with disabilities but also improve the experience of the entire cohort.”

“I believe this study will be a great enhancement to what we offer schools in terms of industry knowledge regarding diversity trends,” added Kendra Johnson, GMAC’s Director of Disability Policy & Services. “We are looking forward to building on our strong foundation of market intelligence to tap into the graduate management education patterns of this sometimes overlooked segment.”

The study is being conducted with the support of CIBC, the lead sponsor of the initiative. Current, former, and prospective MBA students are invited to participate in the survey by visiting their website here.

Article Courtesy of PR Newswire

Chris Nikic Shatters Stereotypes to Become First Person with Down Syndrome to Complete an IRONMAN

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Chris Nikic and Dan Grieb running past the finish line

As the sun barely began to rise at 5:52am on Saturday morning, 7 November 2022, Special Olympics Florida athlete Chris Nikic and his Unified partner and coach Dan Grieb, entered the water in Panama City at the start of the IRONMAN Florida triathlon.

Sixteen hours and 46 minutes later, as the nighttime darkness settled in, Chris crossed the finish line and made history of as the first person with Down syndrome to finish a full IRONMAN race.

Chris conquered a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 marathon run to complete the IRONMAN in a total time of 16:46:09. During the race, Chris suffered an attack by ants during a nutrition stop and fell off of his bike a couple of times. With blood dripping from his knee, he jumped right back on in a show of true sportsmanship and grit.

Chris’ achievement landed him on the Guinness World Records list. Craig Glenday, Editor-in-Chief, watched Chris persevere with great joy saying, “It’s an honour to welcome Chris into the Guinness World Records fraternity as the first athlete with Down syndrome to complete an IRONMAN, and I look forward to seeing what more is in store from this remarkable young man.”

To stay motivated during the long months of training, Chris and his father Nik developed the 1% better principle – get better, faster and stronger by 1% every day. According to Nik, IRONMAN is further proof that all things are possible with a plan and determination. “To Chris, this race was more than just a finish line and celebration of victory,” he said. “IRONMAN has served as his platform to become one step closer to his goal of living a life of inclusion and leadership.”

“I’m no longer surprised by what Chris can accomplish because I recognize who Chris is; a human being who has goals and dreams just like everyone else,” said Coach Dan. “He wants to make the path easier for those just like him and can follow his lead.”

Continue on to the Special Olympics to read the full article

Photo Credit: Getty, Michael Reaves / Stringer

 

iPhones can now tell blind users where and how far away people are

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A woman using her iphone

By Devin Coldewey of Tech Crunch

Apple has packed an interesting new accessibility feature into the latest beta of iOS: a system that detects the presence of and distance to people in the view of the iPhone’s camera, so blind users can social distance effectively, among many other things.

The feature emerged from Apple’s ARKit, for which the company developed “people occlusion,” which detects people’s shapes and lets virtual items pass in front of and behind them. The accessibility team realized that this, combined with the accurate distance measurements provided by the lidar units on the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, could be an extremely useful tool for anyone with a visual impairment.

Of course during the pandemic one immediately thinks of the idea of keeping six feet away from other people. But knowing where others are and how far away is a basic visual task that we use all the time to plan where we walk, which line we get in at the store, whether to cross the street and so on.

The new feature, which will be part of the Magnifier app, uses the lidar and wide-angle camera of the Pro and Pro Max, giving feedback to the user in a variety of ways.

First, it tells the user whether there are people in view at all. If someone is there, it will then say how far away the closest person is in feet or meters, updating regularly as they approach or move further away. The sound corresponds in stereo to the direction the person is in the camera’s view.

Second, it allows the user to set tones corresponding to certain distances. For example, if they set the distance at six feet, they’ll hear one tone if a person is more than six feet away, another if they’re inside that range. After all, not everyone wants a constant feed of exact distances if all they care about is staying two paces away.

Continue to Tech Crunch to read the full article.

3 Ways Elevating the Narrative on Disabilities Leads to Business Success

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A woman in a wheelchair, going down a hallway

By Sheryl Snapp Conner of Entrepreneur 

In a recent column, I introduced Ric Nelson, a 37-year-old disability advocate in Anchorage, Alaska. Nelson has cerebral palsy and requires full-time assistance to manage his physical needs. Despite his challenges, he’s dedicated his career to advancing programs and understanding of the disabled in Alaska (which ranks third in the U.S. for the strength of its programs) and throughout the U.S.

After graduating in the top 10 percent of his high school class, Nelson secured associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in Small Business Management and Business Administration on scholarship, followed by a master’s degree in Public Administration.

Nelson serves on multiple boards and has testified in Washington D.C. toward advances in the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Appointed in 2007, After six years’ service as a committee member of the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education (GCDSE), he was elected as the program chair for two years and hired as a staff member from September 2015 until September 2020 as the program’s Employment Program Coordinator.

Most recently Nelson has assumed the role of Advocacy and Outreach Specialist for The ARC of Anchorage, one of 600 U.S. locations for The Arc of the United States, an organization launched by parents of people with developmental disabilities in the 1950s and headquartered in Washington, D.C.

The Covid-19 recession has hit the disabled particularly hard, Nelson says. The disabled have lost nearly 1M jobs between March and May of 2020. Complicating factors include jobs that ended due to the extra risk of immunocompromised conditions and the predominance of lower-level positions in industries that have been most heavily hit. With DEI (Diversity, Equality and Inclusion) becoming one of the highest priorities for this year’s end and the seasons to follow, what do businesses need to know and do to support the disabled from here forward?

In an interview, Nelson reinforced the need for self-advocacy among the disabled and the need for greater awareness and education of the businesses and communities they serve. Public perception is tantamount, he says, to avoid the creation of further problems by the very solutions we attempt to create.

For example, he notes the extreme difficulty (and even impossibility) of having a savings account when government programs assume any earning potential should be used to reimburse the cost of Medicare needs.

“The cost to Medicare of a full-time assistant may be $100,000, regardless of the person’s activities,” Nelson says. “But if a fully-employed disabled person makes $50,000 or $80,000 – a rarity in itself – and loses their qualification for Medicare funds, they can’t go to work without suddenly incurring this debt.”

Other issues include the right to continued health care benefits if they marry, or to put away retirement savings or to maintain equivalent benefits if they move to a different state. Many of these issues require continued advocacy to state and federal agencies.

Continue to Entrepreneur.com to read the full article. 

Tips for Conducting Virtual Interviews with Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Job Candidates

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A man with a headset conducting a job interview on his laptop.

By Susan Murad

With National Disability Employment Awareness Month just concluded, the Center on Employment at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf is offering tips for employers conducting virtual interviews with deaf and hard-of-hearing job candidates.

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize that the usual approach to the interview process has been dramatically impacted, and many employers are turning to virtual platforms to conduct their interviews,” said John Macko, director of RIT/NTID’s Center on Employment.

Employers can ensure that deaf and hard-of-hearing job candidates have full access to communication for a successful interview. Here’s how:

  • Avoid having bright lights or a window directly behind you that can create glare and cause eye strain for the candidate. Make sure there are no distractions in the background, as well.
  • If the candidate is not familiar with the platform (Zoom, Google Meet, etc.) used for the interview, allow them to perform a test connection to make sure the candidate can connect at the time of the interview.
  • Encourage the candidate to let you know if communication is unclear. Ask questions and clarify comments to ensure the candidate understands everything that is happening during the interview.
  • Use a dry erase board, writing tablet, chatroom, or comment feature to help clarify your communication.

Continue to  RIT.edu to read the full article.

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