It Takes a Village

A young man in a wheelchair smiles from his patio.

Tyler at home

The Massachusetts Alternative Finance Program makes a critical difference for a single mom and her son’s security.

Last fall Lynne Tucker realized, all at once, that she needed a whole-house generator. High winds had taken out the power in Pembroke and for three days she’d had to travel to where she could charge her son’s durable medical equipment. “It was already unsustainable,” she says. “And then I thought, what if this were January?”

Lynne is a divorced mom of two sons who both receive Disability. Tyler, her youngest, is 13 and relies on a food pump, two nebulizers, a suction machine, a cough assist machine, and an oximeter. His room was built on to accommodate his hospital bed and includes a mini-split for electric heat. Without power, Lynne realized, his room would freeze.

“The stress was too much. People would say, ‘If you lose power just take Tyler to the hospital.’ But he’s big now, taller than me. Getting him up and ready, packing his bags, his meds, and 12 hours worth of food (it always takes the hospital 12 hours before they get his meds and food right), it’s too much. Plus every time I go, my other son–who has Asperger Syndrome–needs someone checking in on him.”

Just the year before, Tyler’s care had transitioned to being “complex.” He’d always had medical needs, but now his seizures had stopped responding to medication and he required the addition of a food pump. For Lynne, there was suddenly a lot to keep up with. Still, it took the high winds of September to get her to Easterseals.

“I’d known about them for years, so I decided to check them out. Easterseals is wonderful.”

The generator cost over $9,000, unaffordable for a single mother who is a full-time caregiver. Easterseals and Lynne worked together to find a creative solution.

“The gentleman I worked with was communicative and caring,” she emphasizes. “He helped direct me.”

Easterseals manages the Mass. Alternative Financing Program (AFP). With its partner, Santander Bank, the AFP’s AT Loan Program helps people with disabilities and families purchase the assistive technology and services they need with a low-interest loan and better terms than what is traditionally available. The program is overseen by a committee that understands the lives of individuals and families with disabilities, and works hard to find its way to “Yes.”

“It’s not always possible,” admits Steven Crays, Easterseals AFP Coordinator, “but Lynne’s case was urgent and her resourcefulness impressive.”

Lynne reduced the loan amount she needed to $6,000. “I got $1,500 from BAMSI [Brockton Area Multi-Services, Inc] and another $1,500 from the Giving Angels. I came up with $500 in cash, myself.”

Still, the bank wouldn’t approve her application. “They didn’t want to take on the risk,” she says. “And it’s understandable. I was already paying off $26,000 on my accessible van.”

That’s when Easterseals went the extra mile.

“I couldn’t believe it. They took on the risk themselves. I was just amazed. Easterseals guaranteed my loan.”

Lynne now has a Generac that kicks on automatically should the power go out. It can run everything: her fridge, lights and Tyler’s heat, and equipment. She’s making payments of $108/mo. and she’s picked up transporting Tyler home from school, a reimbursable expense that is helping her afford the payments.

“Easterseals is a lifeline,” she says. There are now two other families within a mile of Lynne who also have children with equipment but don’t have generators. If there’s a power outage, she says, they can come to her house.

“And I can be their lifeline too.”

Learn more about the Massachusetts Alternative Finance Program

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MassMATCH ATRC Boston & Worcester – This week’s Video

Screen shot of Episode 4 @EastersealsMA Device: Traveller HD

MassMATCH makes it possible for individuals with all abilities to learn about, access, and acquire assistive technology (AT). And the MassMATCH Assistive Technology Regional Centers (ATRCs) help people with disabilities make informed decisions about AT they can use to increase their independence. Easterseals MA’s mission is to ensure that children and adults with disabilities have equal opportunities to live, learn, work and play.

During the current pandemic, the Boston and Worcester ATRCs are continuing to work towards the MassMATCH and Easterseals missions by offering weekly videos about the MassMATCH ATRC program and the types of inventory available to help people make informed device loan decisions.

Be sure to tune-in every Tuesday on social media using #AssistiveTechTuesdays for tips, demonstrations, and stories of how assistive technology can help you live, learn, work, and play more independently!

Episode 4 – Desktop Magnifier to Help with Vision Issues

MassMATCH Assistive Technology Regional Centers (ATRCs)

Easterseals MA

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A Sad But Grateful Goodbye To Dr. Lester W. Cory

This week, the MassMATCH community is saddened to learn of the passing of our friend, colleague, and longtime Advisory Council Member, Dr. Lester (“Les”) W. Cory. Dr. Cory passed away peacefully surrounded by his family on Friday, April 24th.

MassMATCH was fortunate to have had Dr. Cory’s service on the Council since our program’s inception in 2007.

“Dr. Cory was a pioneer in the field of assistive technology,” reflects Ann Shor, Director of Independent Living and Assistive Technology Programs at the Mass. Rehabilitation Commission. “He was so important in developing the MassMATCH programs and was truly a leader in making AT accessible for all who needed it. He was also a kind and thoughtful man who will be sorely missed.”

Dr. Cory lived through and contributed to an important part of modern assistive technology history. He broke new ground for the fields of AT and rehabilitation engineering, and yet his legacy is as much about overturning conventional perceptions of what it means to have a disability as it is to tear down barriers for individuals with disabilities.

Many of us are familiar with Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicist with ALS who was an early adopter of assistive technology for speech generation. But years before Stephen Hawking needed augmentative and assistive communication (AAC), Dr. Cory, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, was building a computer voice solution for a young woman with cerebral palsy he’d read about in the local newspaper.

Linda Texceira is the first person to gain speech using a computer with a speech synthesizer for personal use. Dr. Cory’s innovation drew attention from the Boston Globe and USA Today. By 1985, Dr. Cory was at the White House receiving the Volunteer Action Award from President Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan shaking hands with Dr. Cory.

Dr. Cory receiving the President’s Volunteer Action Award in 1985

In 2012, MassMATCH Quarterly News interviewed Dr. Cory and learned about his work with the Texceira family, a story he’d told many times over the previous 30 years. Linda, he explained, was 24 years old when he met her; she had a fourth-grade education and communicated with her eyes using a Plexiglass letter board to spell messages to her mother. He emphasized fundamental lessons Linda Texceira soon taught him: don’t make assumptions about another person’s capabilities, drive, or ambition, regardless of their disability. Do ask for their own goals. In this way, Dr. Cory arrived at key principles shared by disability advocates, principles that help guide MassMATCH, the Mass. Rehabilitation Commission and our program partners today.

Dr. Cory asked and learned that what Linda wanted was a high school diploma so she could get a job. In 2012, he explained:

“Here was a person who didn’t speak or use her hands or walk, and she’s saying she wants a job. So I asked her, What would you want to do? And she told me, ‘I want to do something to help people less fortunate than myself.'”

Her words left a deep impression.

This is how Linda Texceira became the first client of the nonprofit SHARE Foundation, the Society for Human Advancement through Rehabilitation Engineering. Dr. Cory founded SHARE in 1983, along with colleagues Phil Viall and Richard Walder, at what was then Southeastern Massachusetts University (now UMass Dartmouth). Its mission is “to empower physically challenged, non-speaking children and adults to express their basic wants and needs, communicate with others, control their immediate environments, and achieve the greatest practical level of independence.”

The following year he became the founding director of the university’s Center for Rehabilitation Engineering. With funding from SHARE (and a contract with the Mass. Rehabilitation Commission), the Center went go on to assist over 3,800 individuals in 38 states and 8 countries with highly customized systems they fabricated, programmed, and/or adapted to suit each individual. The systems are re-engineered again and again for each person’s changing needs and goals. SHARE’s client relationships last decades, Linda Texceira included.

In 1991, Texceira earned her GED with the use of SHARE-designed technology. She later went on to take English courses at a community college. She has given numerous presentations on her journey with SHARE over the years, and she enjoys writing poetry (read the complete 2012 article at this archived edition of MassMATCH Quarterly News as well as a poem by Linda Texceira).

Dr. Cory retired from UMass Dartmouth as Chancellor Professor Emeritus in 2008, but he continued fundraising for the SHARE Foundation for years after. In 2012 he told us SHARE was providing ongoing technical support to over 1,000 individuals. Fundraising was not what he preferred to do but he was mindful of all the people waiting for services, he said.

In 2016, for an interview with South Coast Today, Dr. Cory was very much looking toward the future of technology. He was excited for what the dawning of computer-brain interfaces and virtual reality would do and mean for individuals with disabilities.

Kara Caldarone, Chief Development Officer for the SHARE Foundation, assures us, “We will continue to carry on his legacy through the support of our community, investors, family, and friends. Together we’ll bring SHARE to the next level of success for the next thirty years.”

The family plans a memorial at a future date beyond current restrictions on gathering. Memorial donations can be made to SHARE Foundation, 128 Union St., STE. LL3#6 New Bedford, MA 02740.

Read Dr. Cory’s obituary.

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Free Home Access for AT Software

Makers of assistive technology (AT) software are stepping up during the COVID-19 crisis.

Access Key on keyboard

Freedom Scientific and Don Johnston, Inc. are advertising free access to their software in response to the need for sheltering at home.

Freedom Scientific is offering those in the US and Canada a Free Home License of JAWS, ZoomText, or Fusion which will expire June 30, 2020.  “We know many of you must remain at home and will need to continue to work or attend school remotely. To ensure that your life remains accessible we are offering those in the US and Canada a Free Home License of JAWS, ZoomText, or Fusion which will expire June 30, 2020.” Learn more at this Freedom Scientific webpage.

Don Johnston, Inc, makers of literacy software relied on by many students throughout the US and abroad, is reaching out to schools, districts, and practitioners (OT, SLP, PT, AT, Educator, etc.) to request free access for students. This is the maker of Co:Writer, Snap&Read, and more. Both current, as well as new customers, are encouraged to request access. Parents may also get in touch with their schools for this purpose. Learn more at this Don Johnston, Inc. webpage

Is there an AT tool you need access to for use at home to stay safe and productive during this stressful time? Contact your vendor and learn if they, too, are stepping up. After all, customer loyalty is built this way. Need help? Contact your local AT Regional Center for assistance.

Also of interest: many AAC (communication) apps are going on sale in April for Autism Acceptance Month. Here is a document with links and pricing (thanks Lauren Schwartz Enders!)

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Four Just-In-Time Tips for Sending Accessible Home Work

A sad boy leaning against a pile of papers.

Educators! You’re building the plane while flying it, we know. Here’s a starting place for keeping in mind your students with disabilities who use assistive technology to access the curriculum.

One. Did your printed worksheet start as a digital file?

Provide it as a digital file, too. Assistive technology can access digital files more readily, and often with built-in features of computers and mobile devices.

Two. Avoid making PDF files. Create a Google Site instead.

Google sites are vastly more accessible than most PDF files. They are also reasonably easy to create. Start here toward the goal of a curriculum that is Universally Designed for Learning.

Three. Test your Google Docs, Sheets and Slides with Grackle.

Grackle is Google’s accessibility checker. Run it and make corrections. Your students who use assistive technology will benefit. Here is the Grackle Chrome extension.
Here’s the complete Grackle Suite of tools (free).

Four. Don’t link to a site you can’t tab through.

Websites that cannot be navigated with the tab key, but only a mouse, are not going to work for most assistive technology. There are other barriers at websites, of course, but this is a starting place to know if your student who uses AT will have access. Test the site with your tab key. Can you see where you are as you tab along?

More resources:

These tips were gleaned from an online Town Hall hosted by Mike Marotta (Director of the NJ AT Program) on Monday with a distinguished panel of AT experts who are ready to help everyone from parents to educators. View the Town Hall COVID-19, School Closures and AT: What Do We Do?

Mike also shared a Google doc of crowd-sourced information, “Providing Access to Distance Curriculum”.

Thank you for all that you do for students!

Accessible Materials for All Learners, including tips for IEPs and eLearning Days from SETDA and AEM Center

Office of Civil Rights Short Webinar on Online Education and Website Accessibility (3/16/2020)

Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Schools While Protecting the Civil Rights of Students (3/16/2020)

Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (3/2020)

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AT and Coronavirus Preparedness

Steps, products, and resources to prevent infection, educate others and prepare for staying at home this COVID-19 season. Updated March 16, 2020.

Microscopic view of a virus

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Wash Your Hands Often While Singing the ABCs

Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Washing can protect you from infection and help protect others if you are a carrier of the virus. On the go, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if you have no access to soap and water. Here’s a Popular Science recipe for homemade hand sanitizer gel (many stores are running low, but some on these ingredients, too, unfortunately).

Go to CDC What you need to know about handwashing video (no audio).

Disinfect Your Assistive Technology (AT)!

According to a new study, the virus can survive on hard surfaces for up to 3 days (such as plastic and stainless steel) and up to 24 hours on cardboard. The CDC says, “Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.”

Door knobs, drawer pulls, light switches and counters, sure, but don’t forget your AT! Mobile devices, computer equipment, braille displays, white canes, mobility equipment, communication devices, anything you, and especially anything that others, touch should be frequently disinfected.

Some AT devices are not supposed to be cleaned with spray cleaners (consult the manufacturers’ recommendations).

Here is what Apple recommends:

“Using a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, you may gently wipe the hard, nonporous surfaces of your Apple product, such as the display, keyboard, or other exterior surfaces. Don’t use bleach. Avoid getting moisture in any opening, and don’t submerge your Apple product in any cleaning agents. Don’t use on fabric or leather surfaces.”

Here is a CDC list of approved cleaners for use with COVID-19.
Here are the CDC’s Environmental and Cleaning Recommendations for Households Infected with COVID-19.
Here is advice on cleaning surfaces and devices from NPR

Don’t Buy Masks to Protect Yourself

They won’t protect you from coronavirus infection but can protect others from your sneezing and coughing if you are infected. Masks are also useful if you are not able to sneeze or cough away from others (such as into the crux of your arm).

Do Avoid Touching Your Mouth, Nose, and Eyes

In addition to hand washing and disinfecting surfaces, the CDC says to:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

To avoid touching your face, one suggestion frequently recommended is to use a scented lotion or even rubbing raw onion on your fingers to alert you when reaching toward your face.

Go to the CDCs COVID-19 Stop the Spread of Germs video (no audio).)

Stock Up to Stay Home

As of this writing, there are people instructed to stay at home for a variety of reasons (travel history, compromised immune systems, other precautions, illness).  Clearly, some preparations are in order. If you are a caretaker for a family member who lives on their own, prepare their household as well. Here is a downloadable infographic that explains the need to prepare in simple terms (thank you TechOWL, the Pennsylvania AT Program).

Prepare to Work from Home

Some employers may ask employees to work from home as cybercommuters. If your workplace does not already subscribe to one, consider a video conferencing service. There are a variety of ways to remain productive as a team, from Skype with screen sharing to Zoom subscriptions. There are free plans and services that don’t require downloading software (browser-based). Here is a comparison of six video conferencing options. Remember to keep in mind accessibility.

Combat Social Isolation

Therese Willkomm, Director of the ATinNH (the New Hampshire AT Program), notes this may become a critical issue this virus season, particularly for elderly family members. “This is where technology can be especially useful,” she notes. If you have a tech-phobic loved one who doesn’t have the internet, one solution is taking an old smartphone and using it to create an internet hotspot (if they’re not in a cell service dead zone).

“Take out that old backup phone, add a line to your cell plan, and plug the phone in under their bed or somewhere,” Dr. Willkomm recommends. “Now you can connect an Amazon Echo Show and drop in on your parents face to face!” 

She recommends Echo Show ($90 new on Amazon) because your loved one does not need to touch it or do anything to receive the video call. For face-to-face visits, both parties can use an Echo Show or you can drop in using the Alexa app on your smartphone or tablet. Regardless, both parties will need to download the Alex app to their smartphones. The Alex app allows users to select which of their contacts to permit to “drop-in.” Read How to Set Up and Use Drop-In on Amazon Echo Devices. Here is a product review of the Echo Show for use with seniors.

Another cheaper option is voice-only drop-in using an Echo Dot ($50). Again, this is a way to talk to a person without their having to touch or answer a device (like an intercom).  Learn more about free voice and video calls using Alexa devices from PC Magazine.

Further reading:

5 Things to Know About Coronavirus and People with Disabilities
CDC’s comprehensive COVID-19 preparedness web page.

Also related:

MassHealth is authorizing 90-day supplies of medication for Masshealth members (PDF)

Masshealth has issued guidance to both PCA agencies and independent PCAs on how to provide service during the new coronavirus outbreak

This post was first published at the AT3 Center News and Tips blog and is reposted with permission.

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MassMATCH Empowers Your Choices

MassMATCH thanks Easterseals MA and the Southeast Center for Independent Living (SCIL) for partnering with us to create the Empowering Choices initiative.

It’s hard to be in charge of your life when your finances feel out of your control. Getting to a place with choices and greater independence can be a long climb — one that’s particularly steep if you’re living on a limited income with a disability and the equipment you need is out of reach.

That’s why in 2018 the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) — the umbrella agency to the MassMATCH program — applied to the federal Administration for Community Living (ACL) to fund “Empowering Choices.” The grant-funded project would expand opportunities for financial literacy training and provide an easier way to finance assistive technology.

Funded in 2019, the Empowering Choices initiative created two new resources that can help individuals with disabilities in Massachusetts achieve their goals and acquire tools needed for independence. They are:

1. Financial Literacy Training

How do I make a budget? How do I avoid scams and identity theft? Is this purchase a want or a need? What is credit, anyway?

These are among the popular topics included in Budget Your Bucks trainings offered by the Southeast Center for Independent Living. SCIL has been providing the 6-week Budget Your Bucks training series for a number of years and Empowering Choices made possible curriculum revisions for, and outreach to, the low-income and diverse communities of Fall River and New Bedford.

The impact has been measurable

52 individuals with disabilities from Fall River and New Bedford participated in Budget Your Bucks during the grant-funded period. 45% improved their financial literacy scores, and those with the lowest initial scores saw their scores improve an average of 23.5%. An impressive 87% completed the 6-week series (and earned a Walmart gift card and certificate of completion).

SCIL also provided financial literacy training to 130 youth through their Youth Transition Programs. The trainings were carried out at area high schools and at a workshop at the annual Youth Leadership Forum.

“And they were so proud when they finished!” reflects Heidi Collins, SCIL Program Director.

A large room of young people with disabilities face a man holding a microphone before a projected image of a quiz game. There is a table with SCIL materials.

SCIL presents at the Youth Leadership Forum

Since then, outreach conducted in the Fall River and New Bedford communities has continued to pay off. SCIL has been invited to provide Budget Your Bucks at a behavioral health center and a public housing development. The local domestic violence shelter is now also making regular referrals.

“We’re seeing participants learn from each other, not only the curriculum. One woman in shelter got into subsidized housing. They help each other. It’s powerful to see,” emphasizes Collins.

Feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive: improved banking habits, better checking account balances, comparison shopping. Some report following a monthly budget and cutting out unnecessary spending such as eating out often.

“One woman used the spending tracker tool, stopped bringing takeout coffee and bought herself a coffee pot. Another saved for a vehicle so she could get a better job,” Collins says.

Another exciting result? Financial literacy training will soon be available statewide. The curriculum has been shared with all the Massachusetts Independent Living Centers (ILCs) and SCIL has provided training on its components.

“We’re delighted to see Empowering Choices take off in this way,” says Ann Shor, Director of Assistive Technology and Independent Living Programs at MRC. “Working together, we can make these resources available to so many more communities.”

2. Mini Loan Program

The second resource made possible by Empowering Choices is a new affordable way to purchase assistive technology: the zero-interest Mini Loan Program.

The Mini Loan is a new offering of the Alternative Finance Program that MassMATCH partner, Easterseals MA, has managed for years. What makes the Mini Loan Program different is a zero-interest rate, loan amounts ranging from just $100 to $2,000, and a very fast turn around from application to check in hand. Best of all? Persons with low credit scores or no credit history are encouraged to apply.

“We wanted to create an affordable way for people to buy the assistive technology they need as well as a way to improve their credit scores,” reflects Steven Crays, Coordinator of the Alternative Finance Program at Easterseals MA. “Instead of using a banking partner, Easterseals MA is the direct lender. This gives us more flexibility and speeds up the process considerably.”

A handful of loans have been made to date, so help us get the word out! Each has had a profoundly positive impact on the life of the applicant. They include:

A man seated in a wheelchair smiling in a parking lot with accessible parking icon painted on pavement.

Dan Moore with his new wheelchair

  • An elderly woman who’d felt trapped at home when her condition worsened, now gets out and about thanks to the financing of a $1,800 ramp.
  • A high school graduate with autism is financing the computer he needs for college and building credit for adulthood.
  • A woman whose husband had a stroke has financed a unique stairlift wheelchair so she can safely move him in an emergency.

And then there’s Dan who has multiple sclerosis as well as college and medical debt.

“I still can’t quite believe how easy it was to get help from Easterseals MA and their ‘Mini-Loan’ program for assistive technology [….] Before I knew it, I had a check in hand that would cover the lion’s share of my wheelchair expense. [The loan terms] meant the difference between me getting the technology I needed and being housebound.” — Dan Moore (read Dan’s story)

Do You Know Someone Who Could Use Empowering Choices?

One lesson learned from this project is the power of word-of-mouth from trusted neighbors. We can put out the message on social media and spread flyers with local organizations, but nothing is as effective as hearing directly from one another.

To better reach the communities of Fall River and New Bedford, the Empowering Choices initiative created Community Ambassadors. These were individuals trained on the offerings of the program who came from within these communities. Community Ambassadors attended events and community gatherings to “talk up” Budget Your Bucks and MassMATCH services. One of the Ambassadors had previously completed Budget Your Bucks herself, and while serving as a Community Ambassador saved up for a car, improving her capacity to get around the neighborhood. This is the sort of success that sells a program!

As a member of our MassMATCH community: who do you know who could benefit from a zero-interest loan to purchase technology? Who do you know who could use financial literacy education?

Contact:

The Alternative Finance Program at Easterseals MA to learn about financing AT.
Your local Independent Living Center and ask about financial literacy training.

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Protect that Home Button!

Do you have a student who likes to switch apps mid activity?
Do you need a way to prevent home button fatigue?

Well … there’s a sticker for that!

Close up of fingers holding an oblong disc with a hole in the middle, hovering next to an iPad home button.

BubCap Pro is a durable aluminum sticker with a small hole that protects the home button from overly eager fingers. The aluminum cover prevents home button depression, but a pen tip may be inserted to achieve this operation. The problem is common enough that the RJ Cooper picked up this invention for their website.

Cost is $12 for 2. Bulk options are available. According to RJ Cooper, each sticker may be removed and re-installed several times.

Problem solved!

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AT Mini Loan Program Success! Dan’s New Chair

The Assistive Technology (AT) Mini Loan Program is a MassMATCH financial loan program managed by Easterseals MA. Thank you, Dan Moore, for sharing your powerful story and helping to get the word out about this new way to finance assistive technology. 0% interest loans are available for up to $2,000 for the purchase of assistive technology. Individuals with no credit and poor credit are encouraged to apply.

A man seated in a wheelchair smiling in a parking lot with accessible parking icon painted on pavement.Nothing is easy when you have Multiple Sclerosis (MS). By the time you’re dressed and ready to get out the door, you’ve used up so much energy that you’re ready to turn around and collapse into your bed.

Equally difficult is the constant wrangling with healthcare providers, insurance companies, and agencies that are ostensibly there to help you, but too often burden you with red tape, endless waits, and exorbitant fees.

So I still can’t quite believe how easy it was to get help from Easterseals MA and their “Mini-Loan” program for assistive technology. When I realized that my only chance of reclaiming my mobility and independence was to spend thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for a power wheelchair, I felt crushed. There was no way I could afford it, and the idea of adding to my existing medical and student loan debt was utterly terrifying.

I found Easterseals MA during a desperate Google search session. I quickly got in touch with Steven Crays, the coordinator of their Alternative Finance Program. He was so understanding and responsive. He always got back to me immediately, and after discussing the options he thought the Mini-Loan program might be just what I needed.

How right he was! Steven put me in touch with another super competent and helpful team member there, Catherine Fradenburg, the manager of the Alternative Finance Program. Before I knew it, I had a check in hand that would cover the lion’s share of my wheelchair expense. The unbelievable terms of the loan—5 years at 0% APR—meant the difference between me getting the technology I needed and being housebound.

Thank you, Easterseals MA!

Learn more about this program and other ways to finance assistive technology at the Massachusetts Alternative Finance Program.

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New! The Tar Heel Shared Reader

Dinosaur Bones and photo of a dinosaur skeleton. Below are icons for communication and in the upper left the word Look and a symbol for the number of comments recorded.

A Tar Heel Shared Reader book screenshot

Here’s an exciting new resource to know about.

The Tar Heel Shared Reader is an evidence-based tool for reading with students who have significant cognitive disabilities. The Tar Heel Shared Reader brings together the celebrated, accessible, age-appropriate Tar Heel Reader library with new onscreen tools and supports to encourage interaction and comprehension.

Reading together with the strategies and tools encouraged by the Tar Heel Shared Reader helps develop the knowledge necessary for eventual reading success, for example:

  • Vocabulary
  • Concepts of print
  • Knowledge of the alphabet
  • Phonological awareness
  • Expressive communication

Find the Tar Heel Shared Reader at www.shared.tarheelreader.org. Each book includes onscreen customizable communication and commenting supports.

Learn how to use the Tar Heel Shared Reader. Visit www.sharedreader.org and find seven professional development training modules, implementation guides, and quick reference and how-to supports.

Check out the bibliography of research used to create the Tar Heel Shared Reader.

Thank you, Center for Literacy and Disability Studies of UNC — and Karen Erickson, Ph.D — for all you do for students with disabilities! The original Tar Heel Reader has grown over the last 12 years to include thousands of titles. Books may be speech-enabled, accessed by a variety of assistive technologies and include a range of subjects of interest to adults as well as children.

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