Skip to content

Category: disability

Celebrating Mobility and Inclusion

International Wheelchair Day was first launched in 2008 and is observed every March 1st. Wheelchair user Nabila Laskar says the day’s goals are:

  • To enable wheelchair users to celebrate the positive impact a wheelchair has in their lives so that they can access employment, participate in the community, get involved in social activities and more.
  • To celebrate the great work of millions of people who provide wheelchairs, who provide support and care for wheelchair users and who make the world a better and more accessible place for people with mobility issues.
  • To acknowledge and react constructively to the fact there are many tens of millions of people in the world who need a wheelchair, but are unable to acquire one.
Colorful illustration of a person in a wheelchair with word bubbles exclaiming March 1st International Wheelchair Day

Progress

In 2023, many wheelchair users took to social media. They expressed the impact their mobility devices have on their freedom and quality of life. Here are 10 of their reflections. Last year I was also introduced to a cool company called Izzy Wheels. Founded by two sisters who creates cool wheelchair covers so that wheelchair users can customize their look.

In the past, I’ve also posted about off-road wheelchairs being made available in public parks. From those in my own state of Minnesota, to the beaches of Oregon and beyond. Unfortunately wheelchair users still face many frustrations. Especially when traveling by air.

Problems

Last Fall, a video went viral of an American Airlines baggage handler. Showing a passenger’s wheelchair sliding down a jet bridge chute. It crashed into a metal barrier, flipped over and tumbled onto an airport tarmac.” Sadly, this is not an uncommon occurrence.

In 2022, the 10 largest U.S. airlines lost, damaged or destroyed more than 11,000 wheelchairs and scooters, according to the Department of Transportation. That represents 1.5% of all wheelchairs and scooters boarded onto planes. 

CBS News

When an airline damages, loses, or delays a passenger’s wheelchair, it is a significant problem. It endangers that person’s health and can seriously limit their mobility and independence. Just last month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced a new proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that would ensure airline passengers who use wheelchairs can travel safely and with dignity. This proposed rule would be the biggest expansion of rights for passengers who use wheelchairs in the United States since 2008.

Potential Solutions

The proposed rule would take major actions in three key areas: 

  1. Penalties and remedies for wheelchair mishandling 
  2. Safe, dignified, and prompt assistance 
  3. Improved standards on planes 

It’s unclear if this was prompted by Senator Duckworth’s MOBILE Act from 2023. Whatever the case may be, I hope for an outcome that will lead to more accountability and accessibility for travelers with disabilities.

Leave a Comment

Against Technoableism

2023 has been a great year for books in the disability space. Previously, I posted about Sounds Like Misophonia by Dr. Jane Gregory. Most recently, my copy of Against Technoableism arrived.

When bioethicist and professor Ashley Shew became a self-described “hard-of-hearing chemobrained amputee with Crohn’s disease and tinnitus,” there was no returning to “normal.” Suddenly well-meaning people called her an “inspiration” while grocery shopping or viewed her as a needy recipient of technological wizardry. Most disabled people don’t want what the abled assume they want—nor are they generally asked. Almost everyone will experience disability at some point in their lives, yet the abled persistently frame disability as an individual’s problem rather than a social one.

The MIT Press Bookstore

Technology needs to do more for people with disabilities. Ashley Shew argues that it’s not the individuals who need “fixing,” it’s their environment. The author is participating in an upcoming free talk. The ITS Technoableism seminar series presents: Ashley Shew on Monday, January 15th, 2024. She was also a guest on The Disability Rights Florida podcast last month.

Against Technoableism: Rethinking Who Needs Improvement (A Norton Short)

Prior to that, the most recent addition to my non-fiction book stack was The View From Down Here: Life as a Young Disabled Woman by journalist Lucy Webster. In her own words, it is “a memoir exploring what it’s like to live at the intersection of ableism and sexism, how these forces have shaped me, and how society often fails to see disabled women as women at all.” Get the book and sign up for her newsletter!

The View From Down Here: Life as a Young Disabled Woman By Lucy Webster book cover Out Sept 2023

Skipping back to October, a couple of significant things occurred. After years of wondering, I was formally diagnosed with autism and ADHD. On the same day I had my final session with my fantastic clinician, a book I pre-ordered arrived. And, in the most ADHD move ever, another copy of the same book showed up the next day. Apparently, I’d pre-ordered it two days in a row without realizing it. That book was Unmasked: The Ultimate Guide to ADHD, Autism and Neurodivergence by Ellie Middleton. Thankfully, I was able to give the second copy to a friend who has been pondering her own neurodivergence.

“Learning the way my brain works has changed everything for me,” she says, and describes herself as almost being a poster girl for what can happen when you get the answers you need.

Ellie Middleton BBC Access All
Author Ellie Middleton grinning while holding a copy of her book Unmasked: the ultimate guide to ADHS, autism, and neurodivergence
Leave a Comment

IDPD 2023

Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD); a United Nations day that is celebrated every year on the 3rd of December. The theme for 2023 is ‘United in action to rescue and achieve the sustainable development goals for, with and by persons with disabilities.’

Given the multiple crises we are facing today, the world is not on track to reach numerous Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets by 2030. Preliminary findings from the forthcoming UN Disability and Development Report 2023 indicate that the world is even more off-track in meeting several SDGs for persons with disabilities.

Our efforts to rescue the SDGs for, with, and by persons with disabilities, need to be intensified and accelerated, given that persons with disabilities have historically been marginalized and have often been among those left furthest behind.

A fundamental shift in commitment, solidarity, financing and action is critical. Encouragingly, with the adoption of the Political Declaration of the recent SDG Summit, world leaders have recommitted themselves to achieving sustainable development and shared prosperity for all, by focusing on policies and actions that target the poorest and most vulnerable, including persons with disabilities.

United Nations
Ugandan Sign language alphabet drawn on the wall of the Kamurasi Demonstration School in Masindi, Uganda.

Make Disability Advocacy Part of Your Daily Life

From Meryl Evans:

  1. Listen to the voices of people with disabilities.
  2. Be yourself. Always.
  3. Provide two modern communication options always. Online and in person.
  4. Avoid assumptions and ask. Meryl’s example: Getting me an ASL interpreter without asking will deprive someone else who needs the interpreter. There’s a shortage of interpreters. Let’s make sure the right people have access to them.
  5. Understand one person does not represent an entire disability category.
  6. Involve people with disabilities from start to finish and beyond. Pay them for their time. Turning off the sound does not mimic the experience of a person who depends on captioning every day. Refer to No. 4 as companies and product development often make assumptions.
  7. Hire qualified people with disabilities. Data shows that people with disabilities tend to be the most loyal and best workers who bring in more revenue for companies who hire them. The hiring process needs to change.
  8. Make progress with accessibility every day. It can be small steps like adding alternative text (image descriptions) to images. Make captions part of your video creation process.
  9. Skip using overlays on your website to fix accessibility. This isn’t making progress. It’s a step backward.
  10. Avoid hiring speakers who know little about accessibility and disabilities. Some people with disabilities aren’t qualified to speak on these topics.
  11. Ensure XR, virtual reality, and augmented reality are accessible.

Leave a Comment

Sounds Like Misophonia

National Disability Employment Awareness Month just ended, but it’s on my mind all year long. I’m making this post in the hope that it will help someone else. Or help some folks better understand me and my non-apparent disabilities.

Misophonia

The most recent episode of The Allusionist podcast hits home for me. It tackles two topics I identify with: misophonia and alexithymia. I’ve always been more sensitive to sensory input (sounds, scents, visuals – especially flashing lights and shaky cam). Over a decade ago I made the connection with misophonia for my auditory issues. All the pieces are falling into place now that I’ve finally been diagnosed with both autism and ADHD. If I ever snapped at you or seemed preoccupied during a meal, or when you were maybe drumming on the back of the car seat I was sitting in (hello my musician friends), this is why.

being over-responsive to sensory information, more tuned into sensory information, and more likely to apply meaning or context to sensory information, and that is really a very common feature in both autism and ADHD and therefore it predisposes that person to develop misophonia

Dr. Jane Gregory

I’ve particularly struggled with the sounds of other people eating. I lived with one partner who clanged cutlery against his teeth and it absolutely enraged me, which made me feel awful. Then I worked for a company that had a cafeteria and expected employees to sit together to eat lunch. The acoustics and lighting in the space were so overwhelming it nearly brought me to tears. I opted to take a daily lunch walk instead and quickly eat at my desk afterward. I’ve developed these coping methods over the years. Avoidance or noise canceling headphones are my main tools.

Alexithymia

Alexithymia is the thing I don’t have a handle on yet. I remember being frustrated when a therapist would ask me to describe my feelings or where in my body I felt them. I have no idea. But now I know *why* I have no idea.

“Alexithymia is a neuropsychological phenomenon characterized by significant challenges in recognizing, expressing, and describing one’s own emotions. It is associated with difficulties in attachment and interpersonal relations. While there is no scientific consensus on its classification as a personality trait, medical symptom, or mental disorder, alexithymia is highly prevalent among individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ranging from 50% to 85% of prevalence.”

The Book

This book contains everything I wish I’d known when I was a teenager, hiding a giant whirring walkman in the pocket of my school uniform so that I could block out the sounds of my classmates clicking through all the colours in their four-pens. It’s not just coping strategies (although there are plenty of those), it’s also full of ideas to help your brain make new associations with sounds, which brings down the intensity of your reactions. I cover some of the exciting research that’s happening in the world of misophonia, connect you with your inner miso child, help you deal with big emotions and embrace the meerkat within. Adeel Ahmad shares stories from our volunteers who worked through the book while it was being written. There are several out-of-date pop culture references, and you’ll be happy to hear that my editors and early readers very firmly encouraged me to remove the rest of them.

Dr. Jane Gregory: Sounds Like Misophonia
Sounds like misophonia banner with cover of the book. How to stop small noises from causing extreme reactions by Dr. Jane Gregory with Abdeel Ahmed published by Green Tree
1 Comment

Disability Employment Awareness

Somehow it’s already November. But every October, it is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This celebrates the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. And showcases supportive, inclusive employment policies and practices that benefit employers and employees. The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) chose “Advancing Access and Equity” as the theme for NDEAM 2023.

I shared these resources within my company at our monthly Accessibility Community of Practice meeting:

I also shared the good news that civil rights litigator Karla Gilbride was sworn at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The role was vacant as she waited a year and a half to be confirmed. She will lead the EEOC’s critical litigation efforts on behalf of workers accusing their employers of discrimination based on race, sex, age, disability, and other characters. Gilbride is blind and the first person with a known disability in the role of general counsel at the EEOC. This is in line with our “Nothing About Us Without Us” motto and I’m glad of it.

Visit Global Disability Inclusion for more information! On the history of disability employment awareness in the United States, and some of the stigma still surrounding it.

Collage of arrows in various colors pointing forward, with images of disabled people at work. The text reads “Advancing Access & Equity, National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Celebrating 50 years of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.” Also #NDEAM, #RehabAct50 and dol.gov/ODEP.
1 Comment

International Color Blind Awareness Day

September 6th is International Color Blind Awareness Day. It was John Dalton’s birthday. He was one of the first scientists to study the condition and to make strides in color blindness research.

Color blindness impacts 1 in every 12 men and 1 in every 200 women. Most color blindness is inherited genetically. People often become aware of their condition in childhood. However, some people may not realize they are color blind simply because they are not aware that others see color differently. That’s where testing comes in. There are a number of color blind tests online. Eye doctors can also administer testing. The most common type of color deficiency test is the color plate test.

Ishihara test plate to test for color vision deficiency

Color contrast between text and background is important. It affects many people’s ability to perceive the information. Colors with poor contrast will increase the difficulty of navigating, reading, and interacting with websites and apps. Good design includes sufficient contrast between foreground background and colors. Not just for text but also for images links, icons, and buttons. This is an evergreen (pun intended) post about the importance of color contrast in digital accessibility.

Leave a Comment

August Accessibility News Round-Up

Some fun news for a Friday! Writer and wheelchair user Sophie Morgan enjoyed the first wheelchair-accessible safari in South Africa’s Klaserie National Park. “The African bush and all of its delights are just waiting to linger in the memories of those who are able to experience her. Now, the world’s first luxury wheelchair-accessible safari is ensuring that privilege can belong to everyone.”

In the US, here are 10 Wheelchair-friendly Trails Through the Country’s Best National Parks. These accessible national park trails are suitable for people using wheelchairs, scooters, crutches, and walkers.

In my home state, our Great Minnesota Get-Together (State Fair) started just yesterday, Thursday August 24th, 2023. And runs through Labor Day, September 4th, 2023. This year they’ve made some improvements to make it even more inclusive. Their accessibility guide provides information about:

  • Mobility options, including electrical outlets for recharging electric mobility scooters
  • ASL interpreting services
  • Captioning services
  • Audio description services
  • Sensory friendly visits
  • Service animals

Last month was Disability Pride Month. It’s a time for us to celebrate within the disability community, sure. But also to put the spotlight on some challenges we face. In the case of athlete Alex Parra, it is the high cost of athletic prosthetics:

When I was told that a running blade was going to cost $35,000 I thought I was never going to be able to run again. My life changed when I received my running blade from the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Not from my medical provider or from the help of insurance but from a non profit that was willing to help

As time went on I realized there needs to be change so I wanted to bring awareness to the disability community and how much that we have to spend on any disabled equipment or medical devices that we NEED.

So I wanted to run a Marathon on crutches. Although I didn’t finish the 26 miles (16 miles total) I was still able to accomplish something that I never thought I would’ve been capable of doing

This would not have been possible without everyone’s love and support along the way so truly from the bottom of my heart thank you. With your help we have been able to raise a total of $2500 and bring change along the way!

Alex Parra


Last but not least, I love this silent disco story. Vibrating haptic suits give deaf people a new way to feel live music. Made possible by Music: Not Impossible. An off-shoot of Not Impossible Labs, which uses new technology to address social issues like poverty and disability access. A recent event at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts called “Silent Disco: An Evening of Access Magic” showcased the suit’s potential.

Concert goers dancing at the Silent Disco dance party at Lincoln Center, New York City on Saturday, July 1, 2023. Haptic suits designed for the deaf community were provided by Music: Not Impossible.
Lanna Apisukh for NPR
Leave a Comment

Disability Pride Month 2023

Disability Pride Month is celebrated every July. It is an opportunity to celebrate the Americans With Disabilities Act. July 26th will mark the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A lot has happened since the ADA was signed into law. In theory it prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government’ programs and services. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go in practice. 33 years later we have Section 752 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023. This signals a new chapter in the pursuit of digital accessibility for federal agencies.

“The federal government can be the exemplar and catalyst for private- and public-sector accessibility by continuing to prioritize the employment of people with disabilities while providing the appropriate accessible infrastructure that facilitates our success.”

Anil Lewis, executive director of blindness initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind

And just as with June’s Pride month, organizations should ensure that any gestures they make aren’t performative, empty ones. Sheri Byrne-Haber made a great list of Dos and Don’ts. 10 things to think about before organizations “celebrate the ADA” July 26th.

ADA 33 (1990-2023) Americans with Disabilities Act. Celebrate the ADA! July 26, 2023
1 Comment

June Accessibility News Round-Up

In my last post I mentioned that June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. After, I began physical therapy with a PT who specializes in headaches, and stayed overnight in a sleep lab. That visit confirmed my sleep apnea and need to look into Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines and CPAP alternatives. There have been other big accessibility topics this month.

Not all wounds are visible. PTSD Awareness Month.
Leave a Comment

An Invisible Disability

June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month.

I have a personal connection to this sort of chronic pain. I’ve had migraines since I was a teenager. Thankfully, those tapered off in my 30s for the most part. But last November I started having a headache that never stopped. After two visits with my primary care doctor, I was referred to neurology in December. I booked the first available appointment with a headache specialist. That appointment was May 31st. It has been an awfully long time to wait but I want to gush about how great specialists are. The woman who saw me really knows her stuff. I finally have a treatment plan in place. It’s not going to be easy but I feel hopeful for the first time in a while. She confirmed my suspicions. My occipital nerve is inflamed. Once aggravated it can be difficult to calm down.

  • I’ve started taking amitriptyline daily before bed, and will slowly increase the dosage on a schedule.
  • June 1st I received an occipital nerve block injection in the back of my skull and trigger point injections in my neck and shoulders. A cocktail of pain killers and prednisone.

The specialist made referrals for:

  • A sleep study (consultation is this week)
  • A TMJ specialist (need to start wearing my night guard again)
  • Physical therapy (first appointment is coming up)

I like posting about these topics to raise awareness, and it gets people talking and sharing their experiences. But I want to point out the tremendous amount of privilege I have. I’ve got great health insurance through my employer, a flexible work schedule, and a reliable car. And it still took that long to get a treatment plan in place. It’s so much harder for folks who don’t have the advantages I’ve got.

June is National Migraine & Headache Awareness Month
1 Comment