Saturday, September 23, 2006

Access World: a rich resource for tech info

I will be without computer access for the next week, so I want to leave readers with a resource I’ve known about and used for several years. It the American Foundation for the Blind’s
Access World

Access World is a bi-monthly publication of the AFB that documents and reviews the latest technological innovations and how taccessible the various products are to those with visual impairments. The on-line magazine is a rich resource for everything from comparisons of screen readers, OCR programs, and CCTVs to examining the accessibility of the latest models of cell phones. There was a recent feature on accessibility of different office copy machines. If you think those are confounding, you ought to try using one of those multi-tasking machines with little or no sight. That review really grabbed the essence of how inaccessible the world of most stand-alone copy machines are.

As if Access World were not resource enough, I’ll toss one other one out here. It is the
Official AFB web site.

While I will be off-line for a few days, fret not. AccessAbility will be back soon. Check back at the beginning of October. Until then, here’s to a more accessible world.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Federal Complaint About Monkey's Therapy/Assistance Role

Did you read about Debby Rose, the Springfield, MO woman who has filed a complaint with the federal government against the local health department? The reason for her complaint is that the health officials have ruled that her monkey is a therapy animal, not an assistance animal as she alleges, and has disallowed her access to establishments that serve or handle food.

According to the article in the Springfield News Leader:
“Rose said her monkey, Richard, is a service animal that helps her cope with a debilitating anxiety disorder, which includes a racing heart, high blood pressure and panic attacks in certain situations -- particularly public activities. Richard helps relieve that and, according to the Americans With Disabilities Act, she said, he should be allowed into public food places.”

“Director of Health Kevin Gipson maintained the health department's position that, according to its interpretation of ADA law, the monkey is a therapy animal or a pet -- not a service animal — and therefore not allowed in food establishments. According to health department research, "a service animal by definition has to perform a physical function for that person," Gipson said.”

“Gipson said he would reverse the decision if the federal government says Rose's monkey is a service animal. He encouraged Rose to file a complaint.”

This difference in opinion is exactly what I was writing about in an earlier post and to make certain that your school has a policy in place regarding assistance animals as well as therapy animals. Service animals do not always come in the canine variety. Don’t forget that just a couple of years ago a few miniature horses were trained to function as guides for blind people.

If interested, the full article about the woman’s allegation is at
the Springfield News Leader web site.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New Multi-Language Driver for FS Pac Mate

If you have any visually impaired students who use the Pac Mate model note taker from Freedom Scientific, the following news release may be of interest to them, particularly if they are bilingual.

Freedom Scientific is pleased to announce the immediate availability of the new Multi-language keyboard driver for PAC mate, allowing you to add the ability to input text in eight different languages on your PAC mate QX.

This driver requires that you be running version 4.0 or later of the PAC mate software.
With this driver installed, you can choose from eight different keyboard layouts, allowing you to enter text in Spanish, Italian, German, European French, French Canadian, Brazilian Portuguese, French Swiss, and German Swiss. American and U.K. English already are included on PAC Mate QX models running PAC Mate Version 4.0 or later.

What Does It Cost?

The multi-language keyboard driver is a free download.

How Do I Get It?

A link to this download is available from the PAC mate Headquarters page on Freedom Scientific's web site, or you can go directly to the page by visiting

Follow the instructions on this page regarding downloading and installing the driver.

We're sure customers who work with multiple languages will enjoy the additional power and functionality this offers.

Jonathan Mosen.
Vice President, Blindness Hardware Product Management
Freedom Scientific BLV Group LLC

Saturday, September 16, 2006

AHEAD in Texas 2006 Fall Conference

I have just sent in my registration for the AHEAD in Texas 2006 Fall Conference, To be held Nov. 9-10 at Texas State University in San Marcos. If you still need to register or want more information about the event, then check out the conference web site at:

If you don’t already know, conference attendees get free membership in AHEAD in Texas for the next year. Aside from that perk, this event is the best opportunity to learn the latest trends in DSS and to also meet the professionals providing these services throughout the state.

Being the target audience of AccessAbility includes students with disabilities and their family members, I have a question for you if you are somebody from either of these two groups. Did you know that you can also join AHEAD in Texas?

It is true, and for those who can not make the annual conference, fear not. for you, membership is offered at a reduced fee from the professional members. Parents can join as an advocate member for $25 per year and students can join as student members for a mere $15 per year.

AccessAbility is not stumping for AHEAD in Texas, but simply serving as a conduit of information for those who may not know this information.

AHEAD is the parent organization for professionals in the DSS field. AHEAD in Texas is an affiliate of AHEAD. However, membership in one does not bring membership in the other.

Still, if you want to know what is going on at the state level, AHEAD in Texas is the pipeline of information that can keep you in touch. Membership also brings you into a networked group of professionals serving a common cause.

Check out the AHEAD in Texas web site for membership and contact information.

If you’re planning to attend the Fall Conference, I’ll see you there.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Undiagnosed Traumatic Brain Injury in Veterans

Service members injured during wartime who return stateside with a medical discharge and work to further themselves by attending college is not anything new. The current battle situation, however, involves innovations in battle armor which are much improved over past military incursions and the result is the potential for undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries.

According to an Associated Press article,
Brain Injuries are the Signature Wound of Iraq War.

The article indicates the person’s other, more obvious injuries may mask the symptoms of the TBI and preclude proper treatment.

“Doctors say traumatic brain injuries are the signature wound of the Iraq war, a byproduct of improved armor that allows troops to survive once-deadly attacks but does not fully protect against roadside explosives and suicide bombers.

So far, about 1,000 patients have been treated for the symptoms, which include slowed thinking, severe memory loss and problems with coordination and impulse control. Some doctors fear there may be thousands more active duty and discharged troops who are suffering undiagnosed.”

A related news article describes the situation getting worse as,Defense Department funding for its ten brain injury facilities is
being cut in half.

The reason for posting this information here on AccessAbility is to hopefully serve as a conductor of enlightenment, especially at those schools where a strong number of your population might be returning service members.

DSS Coordinators might want to evaluate your caseload and check for any clients who might be veterans fitting this profile. A follow-up could include an interview with any noted clients to discuss their diagnosis and ensure that it is proper. The ethical thing to do is to ensure that your clients are receiving the correct service from your office. Our veterans deserve this much consideration and then some.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

ADHD Awareness Day is Sept. 20

One of the greatest rewards of the DSS field that I experienced on several occasions was helping somebody who felt like there was something going on, but they weren’t sure what it was. After gathering the symptoms, the usual result was a suspected LD or ADHD. The payoff came when the person returned with documentation supporting their newfound disability and they became a client of the office.

With this in mind, I offer the following reminder.

ADHD Awareness Day is September 20, 2006.

As in previous years, ADHD Experts on Call will also return again on that day.

If you are not familiar with that program, ADHD Experts on Call is an educational hot line that allows people affected by ADHD to speak with representatives from patient-advocacy groups, teachers, doctors, school nurses and parents. It is a great opportunity for someone who is dealing with the symptoms but not having a diagnosis to get some input from folks in the field who know what the experience is all about. This might be the very push that helps somebody go out and get the diagnosis. You’ll know if they come in later with their documentation in hand.

The toll-free number is 888-ASK-ADHD (888-275-2343), or you can chat online live with an ADHD expert at,
All callers and Web chatters can receive free information about ADHD.

Please share this information with anybody you feel may beneifit from it.

An awareness day is a great opportunity for your office to plan outreach activities. Do you have anything planned for Sept. 20? How about any other day?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Managing suicide risks: What about your school?

Last week, I posted about 1 in 5 students self mutilating at two Ivy League schools. In that post I mentioned that I was doing research, but never said what I was researching.

The research topic was suicide at college. My line of thinking was trying to understand if those students who commit suicide are living with a diagnosis and possibly receiving services from their DSS office for Depression or Bipolar disorder. I’m still looking at information I have been gathering.

Directly related to this subject, just yesterday, I didn’t have to look far to find the latest news story about college suicides. The Associated Press had one plastered on the site of my local paper, announcing
Colleges Grapple with student suicides
for all the world to see.
The deeper issue at the heart of that story is that the female student profiled had attempted suicide and was kicked out of her dorm for violating the school’s policy against suicide. Pop quiz…isn’t it depressed people that attempt suicide? Isn’t depression covered under the ADA?

Apparently Hunter College finally saw the error in that line of thinking and settled with the student, allowing her to continue classes and paid her a financial settlement as well. Additionally, the college is abandoning its suicide policy, but may still temporarily remove troubled students from residence halls. However, a spokesperson said that evictions will not be automatic.

The supporting information in that article suggests that schools may be held liable if a student commits suicide in his or her dorm room. Two judges have ruled that a school may have a duty to act in a preventive capacity if the student’s risk of suicide was foreseeable. As a result, some schools have tried to act in a more aggressive manner and sent students home when this risk became apparent.

Interesting thought provokers here, don’t you think?

How about your school, does it have a policy banning suicide? If so, how does this impact your students with psychological disorders? Is this legal? Is this ethical? Is it the right thing to do?

STEM subjects and blind students

As a DSS Coordinator, have you ever sat and wondered why rarely any blind students, not even the brightest of them, pursue STEM subjects?

If you’ve been in the DSS profession long enough, you already know the reason to that situation. While a myriad assortment of Assistive Technology (AT) does exist, it falls woefully short in providing full access. There is little that cracks the patina of what students in the STEM- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics- tracks would require. The burden to gather the proper resources to make the material in these courses accessible is monumental and will leave even the most veteran DSS Coordinator scrambling for help to find what tools exist to meet the student’s needs. For example, I know of one university that was recently saddled with getting a blind student’s graduate-level math book transcribed into braille. Due to the technical need for the nemeth code, the cost for translating just that one book was estimated near $10,000.

If you’re interested in a further informed and insightful discussion on STEM subjects and blind students, check out Chris Hofstader’s Blind Confidential blog at:

Chris is a blind computer engineer and, thus, knows first-hand of the difficulty faced by students who pursue these academic tracks. He is also very well versed in the field of AT—he has previously worked as a software engineer at
Freedom Scientific
for six years.

Chris discusses two resources in the post, The Virtual Pencil and Gardner’s Accessible Graphing Calculator, which may not be common tools in many DSS Coordinator’s toolboxes. If interested in either of these, I offer the below information and links.

The Virtual Pencil is a software application which was originally designed for blind and low-vision students. However, the program has also been discovered to be of assistance to students with learning disabilities. If you want more information about this innovative product from the creative mind of Ted Henter, the original engineer who developed the JAWS screen reader, then go to the
Henter Math

The official web site for theAccessible Graphing Calculator is:
The information on that web site describes the tool as follows:
“The Accessible Graphing Calculator (AGC) is a computer software program and was developed by the esteemed Science Access Project at Oregon State University, directed by Dr. John Gardner. This group is dedicated to the development of methods for making science, math, and engineering information accessible to people with print disabilities. "Print disabilities" include low vision, blindness, and dyslexia.”

Finally, going back to the Blind Confidential blog, if you continued scrolling after the discussion about STEM subjects and blind students, you also read Chris’ next post, offering a very brave and candid dialogue from the perspective of a blind person also dealing with severe depression and suicidal ideations. I applaud Chris for offering this frank understanding of what it was like for him to face the depths of hopelessness. While his language gets rough in some spots, he gives you a glimpse inside the mind of a person dealing with a major psychological event in his life. I believe it demonstrates very well how the perils of mental health can fall very hard on people with disabilities.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities

As a DSS coordinator a question I liked to ask my students was what their goals were beyond school. Where are you going with the education you are working on now?

Of course that was just the bait and was followed up with questions about what else they have done to prepare for the workplace. Ultimately, going to work is what they were usually getting their education for and, quite often, they had not even addressed the second question.

Naturally, a good resource for students with disabilities is the campus Career Counseling office. However, for more specialized attention, you can direct your students to the,
Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities
(COSD) web site.

The website has a strong collection of resources and a national network of individuals, universities, and employers to assist in providing resources to students with disabilities seeking employment. It is specialized and serves the same population you serve. Check out the link above and take the time to explore the site. Registration is free and gets you access to the growing membership database. It is one of those tools that it can’t hurt to have at your disposal.

It was actually a Career Counselor at my university who introduced me to COSD during my graduate assistantship. I quickly realized that there is some good work going on at COSD.

To maximize service to your students, there is a good opportunity to explore a strong alliance between the DSS office and the Career Counseling office. During my job as a DSS Coordinator, my colleague and I frequently called upon our Career Counseling office. It really helped that the Director of Career Counseling was housed across the hall. Our offices had a close working relationship and we often collaborated on services to the DSS clients.

What do you think? Is this a feasible collaboration at your school? If a DSS office is unable to provide assistance in helping its student’s reach their end goal of going to work, have you really done all that you can to serve your students?