CSUN Assistive Technology Conference Showcases Innovations For a More Inclusive World

LinkedIn
Photo by Lee Choo

By Jacob Bennett

The CSUN Assistive Technology Conference has a specific purpose — to advance knowledge and the use of technology that improves the lives of individuals with disabilities — but its impact is wide-ranging.

In addition to companies that specialize in such things as captioning technology for people who are deaf and hard of hearing and voice-controlled devices for people who are visually impaired, the 34th annual conference, held March 11-15 in Anaheim, was attended by representatives from banks, grocery stores, retail chains, medical companies, airlines and many more companies with vast customer bases.

If attendees weren’t developing assistive technology, they were certainly interested in using it.

At a corner booth in the bustling exhibit hall, the three-person team from Feelif, a tech company from Slovenia, found themselves addressing a steady stream of potential business partners. There was no time to check out other areas of the conference, as the Feelif team was busy showing off their premium tablet for people who are blind and visually impaired, which uses vibrations to simulate the experience of feeling Braille dots.

“It’s very busy,” said Rebeka Zerovnik, the company’s international business development associate. “We don’t have enough people to work the booth.”

The 34th CSUN Assistive Technology Conference — organized by the California State University, Northridge Center on Disabilities, and known in the industry as the CSUN Conference — attracted exhibitors, researchers, consumers, practitioners, government representatives and speakers from around the world.

For the first time, the conference was held at the Anaheim Marriott after a long run in San Diego. The change of venue didn’t seem to hurt attendance — final attendance numbers hadn’t been tallied early this week, but attendance approached 5,000.

Peter Korn, director of accessibility for Amazon Lab126, a research and development team that designs and engineers high-profile consumer electronic devices such as Fire tablets and Amazon Echo, said this was his 28th CSUN Conference, beginning when he was with Berkeley Systems, which developed the outSPOKEN screen reader so that Macintosh computers could be used by people who were blind or partially sighted, and continuing for the past five years with Amazon. In that time, he said, the company has dramatically expanded its footprint at the conference.

“CSUN is the premier assistive technology conference in the world,” Korn said. “Of course we’re here.”

The conference included more than 300 educational sessions, with updates on state-of-the-art technology as well as insights into where the industry is headed. For example, attendees could learn about how artificial intelligence will be critical to improving assistive technology applications, and best practices for including people with disabilities in usability studies.

A seventh annual Journal on Technology and People with Disabilities will be published after the conference and will highlight the proceedings from the conference’s science and research track.

A highlight of the conference was the exhibit hall, where 122 booths showcased time-tested and brand-new solutions. A wristband used sonar to locate obstacles near people with visual impairments, then vibrated to help navigate around the obstacles. An app connected people who are blind or have low vision to trained agents who serve as “on-demand eyes.” A real-time transcription and captioning service helped students who are deaf and hard of hearing access distance-learning courses.

The new venue kept all informational sessions and the exhibit hall on the same floor, which had not been the case in San Diego.

“We were very pleased to see that the attendance stayed strong at our new venue for the 2019 event,” Sandy Plotin, managing director of the Center on Disabilities. “The benefits of having all the conference activities consolidated on one floor in a ‘mini-convention’ space seems to be providing the positive outcome we were looking for. I’ve heard people say they’ve been able to network even more, and that’s probably the most important component to having a successful conference experience.”

Johanna Lucht, the first NASA engineer who is deaf and who has taken an active role in the control room during a crewed test flight, delivered a keynote address that aimed to remove barriers to developing assistive technology. She noted that many of the most beneficial technologies for people with disabilities were not designed with that purpose. As an example, she noted that ridesharing services such as Uber removed potential miscommunications that occurred when people who are deaf and hard of hearing ordered taxis through interpreter services — the new apps have enabled people to type in exact addresses.

Conversely, closed captioning can benefit even people without disabilities: For example, it enables people to understand what sportscasters on TV are saying in a noisy and crowded bar.

Lucht noted that assistive technologies are designed to level the playing field for people with disabilities, which implies a sense of “catching up.” Instead, she advocated for designers to think in terms of “universal design,” identifying potential barriers and fixing them before products are launched. She showed a zoo fence that would disrupt the view for visitors in wheelchairs. An assistive design would install a ramp to see over the fence, she said. A universal-design alternative would be a see-through barrier that provides views for everyone.

“The point I’m making is, society is too hung up on the definition behind assistive technology,” Lucht said. “This technology can also benefit everyone.”

Kodi Lee, Singing Phenom Who Is Blind and Has Autism, 22, Wins America’s Got Talent Season 14

LinkedIn
Kodi Lee performs on America's Got Talent

Kodi Lee is the winner of America’s Got Talent!

After weeks of competition, Lee has been crowned the champion of season 14. On Wednesday’s episode, the star bested fellow finalists opera singer Emanne Beasha, violinist Tyler Butler-Figueroa, dance troupe Light Balance Kids, singer Benicio Bryant and Ndlovu Youth Choir.

Quartet Voices of Service (fifth place), dance troupe V. Unbeatable (fourth place), comedian Ryan Niemiller (third place), and the Detroit Youth Choir (second place) made it into the top 5.

In addition to the honor of being the winner, Lee takes home $1 million and headlining shows from Nov. 7-10 at Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

Lee immediately captivated the audience and judges with his viral audition during which he blew everyone away with his rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You.” Gabrielle Union was so impressed that she gifted the 22-year-old singer with her Golden Buzzer.

Along with his unforgettable vocal talents, Lee’s life story has made him a fan favorite. The Lake Elsinore, California, native was born with optic nerve hypoplasia and diagnosed with autism at age 4. His mother Tina accompanied him on stage for the entire competition.

“He’s making people believe in something they didn’t even know is attainable. He’s magic,” Union previously told PEOPLE of Lee.

Continue on to People to read the complete article.

A young woman, a wheelchair and the fight to take her place at Stanford

LinkedIn
Sylvia Colt-Lacayo outside in her wheelchair wearing a floral dress

Sylvia Colt-Lacayo is 18, fresh-faced and hopeful, as she beams confidence from her power wheelchair. Her long dark hair is soft and carefully tended, and her wide brown eyes are bright. A degenerative neuromuscular disease, similar to muscular dystrophy, has left her with weak, underdeveloped muscles throughout her body, and her legs are unable to support any weight. Each time she needs to get in or out of her wheelchair — to leave bed in the morning, use the bathroom, take a shower, change clothes — she needs assistance.

Throughout her young life, Sylvia has been told her disability didn’t need to hold her back. And she took those words to heart. She graduated near the top of her high school class in Oakland with a 4.25 GPA. She was co-captain of the mock trial team at school, served on the youth advisory board of the local children’s hospital, interned in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and is a budding filmmaker. In April, Sylvia learned she had been admitted to Stanford University with a full scholarship for tuition, room and board.

To move out of her family home and into a dorm, her doctor determined she would need at least 18 hours of personal assistance each day to help with the daily tasks typically done by her mother. As she began to research options, Sylvia came to a startling conclusion: Despite the scholarship, her family wouldn’t be able to afford the caregiver hours she would need to live on campus. And she would learn in coming months that she was largely on her own to figure it out.

Over the past several decades, medical advances have allowed young people with disabilities to live longer, healthier lives. But when it comes time to leave home, they run up against a patchwork system of government insurance options that often leave them scrambling to piece together the coverage they need to survive.

“On paper, I did everything right,” said Sylvia. “You get into this school, they give you a full ride; but you still can’t go, even though you’ve worked so hard, because you can’t get out of bed in the morning. It’s mind-boggling.”

People with serious disabilities face a frustrating conundrum: Federal and state insurance will pay for them to live in a nursing home, but if they want to live in the community, home-based care is often underfunded.

Over the past several decades, medical advances have allowed young people with disabilities to live longer, healthier lives. But when it comes time to leave home, they run up against a patchwork system of government insurance options that often leave them scrambling to piece together the coverage they need to survive.

Continue to Mercury News to read the complete article.

Comcast Partners With The American Association Of People With Disabilities To Help Close The Digital Divide

LinkedIn
woman suing computer with internet access smiling

At the Newseum recently, Comcast announced a series of initiatives designed to help address the digital divide for low-income Americans with disabilities through the Internet Essentials program, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive Internet adoption program for low-income households. 

The largest of these was a grant from the Company to the American Association for People with Disabilities (AAPD).  The Comcast grant will help fund the creation and delivery of digital literacy training programs specifically designed to address the needs of low-income people in the disability community.  Once developed, the programs will be delivered at 10 AAPD affiliates across the country, as well as shared online for anyone to access.

According to Pew Research Center, 23 percent of people with disabilities say they never go online and 57 percent say they do not have a home broadband subscription.

The grant follows last month’s announcement that, since 2011, the Internet Essentials program has connected more than eight million low-income Americans to the Internet at home, including nearly 210,000 in the greater Washington, D.C. metro area, 90 percent of whom were not connected to the Internet at home until they signed up through Internet Essentials.  In addition, the company made the most significant eligibility change in the program’s history, expanding eligibility to all low-income households residing in the Comcast service area, including all low-income seniors, adults, and people with disabilities.

“The Internet is an incredible resource so long as you have the skills and the tools to use it,” said David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast Corporation.  “By partnering with AAPD and working with the disability community, we want to address and break down the barriers to broadband adoption that are unique to this population.  The first step is to address digital literacy issues and facilitate digital skills development.  So, we’re going to create relevant training programs and then fund their delivery at locations across the country.”

“Having an Internet connection at home is absolutely vital for low-income people living with disabilities,” said Maria Town, President and CEO of the American Association for People with Disabilities.  “I commend Comcast for extending its Internet Essentials program to people with disabilities because it will help us advance our mission to provide equal access, integration, and full inclusion for Americans with disabilities.”

In addition, Comcast held events across the Washington, DC area to raise awareness of the digital divide with special guests Paralympic Gold Medalist and Purple Heart Recipient Rico Roman, and Olympic Gold Medalists from the U.S. Women’s Hockey Team Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando.

As part of the day’s events, the Company held a digital literacy assembly at Walker Jones Elementary, where Cohen surprised 50 sixth graders with free laptops and six months of complimentary Internet Essentials service.  The company also hosted a digital inclusion event at the Hattie Holmes Senior Wellness Center where 100 seniors were given free laptops to help them stay connected to family and friends in the 21st century way of life.  Lastly, Comcast held a Youth Hockey Clinic with Roman, Lamoureux-Davidson, and Lamoureux-Morando, where the Company surprised 25 students from Cornerstone Schools in Ward 7 with free laptops to help further their education.  In partnership with Dell Technologies, the companies provided new equipment to Friends of Fort Dupont Ice Arena for its computer lab.

Internet Essentials has an integrated, wrap-around design that addresses each of the three major barriers to broadband adoption that research has identified.  These include: a lack of digital literacy skills, lack of awareness of the relevance of the Internet to everyday life needs, and fear of the Internet; the lack of a computer; and cost of internet service.  The program is structured as a partnership between Comcast and tens of thousands of school districts, libraries, elected officials, and nonprofit community partners.

Source: Comcast

20-Yr-Old With Autism Conquers “American Ninja Warrior” With Unmatched Enthusiasm

LinkedIn
Brian Burke swing across obstacle course on Ninja Warrior stage

Like many individuals on the autism spectrum, Brian Burk can find it hard to connect with others. The Pasadena, California native is undeniably intelligent, but he struggled to find his way socially and often chose staying at home and studying over spending time with other people his age. But once he discovered the show “American Ninja Warrior,” that started to change.

On “American Ninja Warrior,” all kinds of people compete on various obstacle courses in an effort to reach Mount Midoriyama. Contestants are often larger-than-life personalities who push their bodies as far as they can go. And the moment Brian saw his first episode, he knew he had what it takes to become one of them.

Brian began exercising three times a week to increase his strength and stamina. The very act of leaving his house and interacting with others at the gym helped him break out of his shell. He became more social with each passing day. By the time he competed in the Los Angeles City Qualifiers in 2019, he was more than ready to show the world what he could do!

The now 20-year-old is pursuing a college degree in aerospace engineering and immediately inspired the ANW crowd with his powerful journey to becoming a ninja warrior. They can be seen cheering loudly as he approaches the jaw-dropping obstacle course.

In the video, we see Brian’s parents, Thomas and Pamela Burk, jumping up and down on the sidelines as their son repeatedly lands his moves. He flings his body through the air and ignores the weariness in his arms as he muscles his way up the intimidating Mount Midoriyama to successfully complete the course.

“This means everything to me! I’m so thankful!” Brian tells the show’s hosts. Then he celebrates by doing a full split on top of the mountain… because why not? If you’ve got it (and Brian certainly does), flaunt it!

Continue on to InspireMore to read the complete article.

Kellogg’s Rice Krispies made sensory love notes to support kids with autism

LinkedIn
childs hand holding a special Rice Krispies treat

As the school year gets underway, Rice Krispies is thinking about what notes parents may want to tuck into their kids’ lunch boxes. (Exhausted parents, on the other hand, may be counting down the days until they can foist lunch-making duties back on to the school cafeteria, no judgment.)

Last year, the Kellogg cereal brand teamed up with the National Federation of the Blind to create specialized “Love Notes” with phrases like “You’ve Got This” to “Love You Lots” written in braille for parents to share with children who are blind.

It was a sweet, inclusive message. Now Rice Krispies is continuing its mission with a new kind of love note, this one designed with children living with autism or on the autism spectrum in mind.

Since not every child communicates love through words, the cereal company partnered with Autism Speaks to create touch-and-feel sensory “Love Notes” so children can actually feel love and support as they transition back to school.

The four “lightly reusable” stickers come in a range of supposedly calming colors and different textures, including fleece, faux fur, satin, and velour for sensory-focused kids to feel the love through a tactile experience.

Continue on to Fast Company to read the complete article.

One Warrior’s Illuminating Journey

LinkedIn
Michael Landry standing outside at a sporting event

The future looks bright for this veteran entrepreneur, who miraculously regained his once lost eyesight.

By Annie Nelson

Marine Corps 1st Sgt. Michael J. Landry Jr. was returning from his 5th combat deployment as a Field Radio Operator when he received orders to Okinawa, Japan in August 2014. He underwent an eye exam and was told his vision had changed but not to worry.

However in Japan, Landry noticed his vision was getting worse—so much so that his optometrist thought he was exaggerating his condition. It was then he was told that both of his corneas were shattered and he was legally blind in both eyes.

I spoke with Landry about his amazing journey, from regaining his sight to competing in the Marine Corps Trials to starting his own lifestyle clothing and music businesses.

Tell me about your journey to being able to see again?

I was medically evacuated from Okinawa in March 2016 and sent to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, Calif. In Japan, I was still able to make out the outlines of objects because of the cloudy weather, but in California, I wasn’t able to see anything because it was so much brighter. I was fitted for hard-lens contacts until I received a corneal transplant in my left eye. The crazy thing was the eye transplant I received was originally blue! But then genetics took over and the eye eventually turned brown.

Due to my amazing doctor, the day after the surgery for the first time in two years, I was able to see the eye chart. Over the next 20 months, the vision in my left eye improved to the point that I was able to get prescription glasses, but only for the left lens because I was still blind in my right eye. Last February, I received the transplant for the right eye and today, I still have 12 stitches inside that eye but my vision overall is constantly improving.

You recently competed in the Marine Corps Trials—what events did you compete in and how did you finish? Are you going to the Warrior Games?

Yes, I competed in several events including track, shot put, discus, 100m sprint and powerlifting. For the powerlifting event, my doctor recommended to limit the weight because the excessive eye pressure could still cause damage. I was scheduled to run the 200m and 400m, but I pulled my hamstring during the 100m sprint. I ended up finishing first place in all events except powerlifting. I competed in the visually impaired category for field events, however, I did out throw every other competitor overall. I was also selected to compete in the Warrior Games and I’m looking forward to it.

What did the Marine Corps Trials teach you?

It taught me that I’m able to do more than I think. I’ve never competed in any of those sports before and it felt as if it came naturally. It also taught me that I need to learn to stretch better so I don’t get hurt!

You are a new entrepreneur. Tell me about your businesses and how you started?

The birth of One Life Clothing started when I was going blind. I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t true so I began sewing with the thought that in order to sew, you have to be able to see. Going blind at the age of 32 forces you to see life in a different perspective. Tomorrow isn’t promised and you never know what can happen so you should always enjoy the “One Life” you have.

My second business I actually credit with saving my life. I was going through a lot mentally and physically with the loss of my sight and was severely depressed. At one point I was contemplating suicide until one day my brother, who is a rap artist, called me to vent about his music career, or lack thereof due to bad business deals. To help him, I started One Life Entertainment Music Group, LLC. Thus far, we’ve released four solo albums and two compilation albums.

My non-profit organization, One Life At A Time Outreach, helps not only feed the homeless, but also provide necessities like clothes, toiletries and shoes.

Michael Landry portrait with children Makiya and Michael III
Michael with children Makiya and Michael III

What does the future look like for you?

Bright I would say. Losing your vision and gaining it back is a blessing on its own, no matter what life throws at me. I’ve already won because I can see again. I’m embracing the new me. Business-wise, I would love to get into government contract designing and making uniforms as well as getting my clothing line into stores.

What advice would you give other service members who are recovering from an injury or illness?

You have to embrace the new you. I know what it feels like to be completely alone and to be stuck in your own head, but you have to remember that you are here for a purpose. God will never give you a task that you can’t handle. We are all gifted—find your gift and get out of your comfort zone.

Continue to follow Landry’s journey at onelifeclothing.net and on onelifemuzik.com

Jonas Brothers surprise fan at hospital after she had to miss concert for chemotherapy treatment

LinkedIn
Jonas Brothers surprise teen with cancer and stand next to her to her hospital bed for a picture

Teenager Lily Jordan was supposed to be rocking out at a Jonas Brothers concert this past weekend, but instead she had to undergo chemotherapy treatment. So, the famous family stopped by her hospital room to pay her a very special surprise visit before the show.

Late last week 16-year-old Jordan posted a screenshot of an Instagram story, letting her followers know that she couldn’t make the Jonas Brothers’ Hershey, Pennsylvania, concert on Saturday due to chemotherapy.

“I was supposed to be at your Hershey concert tomorrow but instead I’m across the street doing chemo,” Lily wrote on Instagram. “If y’all wanted to pop in I’ll give you my room number.

The hashtag she used, #LilySeesTheJonasBrothersChallenge2019, went viral — even Pennsylvania Representative Scott Perry shared her post.

“Our good friend Lily is fighting for her life in Hershey tonight and so badly wanted to see the Jonas Brothers tomorrow night at Hersheypark, but can’t because of her urgent treatment,” he wrote on Facebook Friday. “If there is anyway for them to visit her, we are lifting up her hopes and our prayers for help.”

The Jonas Brothers saw the posts and couldn’t help but stop in to visit Jordan at Penn State Children’s Hospital before their concert.

The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center posted a sweet video of the famous trio walking into the teen’s room. “We saw your messages, we had to come over,” said Joe, to the smiling Jordan. “It went everywhere, my entire feed was filled,” added Kevin.

Even Nick’s wife, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, tagged along for the visit and met Jordan. After chatting for a bit, Nick asked Jordan if she had a favorite song they could dedicate to her during their concert that night. While Jordan was a bit flustered, she said their 2007 hit “S.O.S” was her pick — to which Kevin answered, “Done.”

The brothers also signed autographs and snapped pictures with the teen.

Continue on to CBS News to read the complete article.

Double amputee, 9, to walk New York Fashion Week runway: ‘Disability doesn’t stop you’

LinkedIn
Daisy May walking with prosthetic legs into makeup room before an event

A young girl in the U.K. isn’t letting her disability stop her from achieving her dreams. Daisy-May Demetre, 9, will reportedly become the first child double amputee to strut her stuff on the runway at New York Fashion Week in September, SWNS reported.

Daisy-May, of Birmingham, was born with fibular hemimelia, a birth defect where part or all of the fibula bone is missing. The condition is rare, occurring in 1 in 50,000 births, according to the Generic and Rare Disease Information Center. 

When she was 18 months old, Daisy-May’s parents Alex and Claire Demetre chose to have both of the young girl’s legs amputated — the right above the knee and the left below the knee — in the hopes of giving her a better quality of life with prosthetics.

“We had the choice for her to live like that or to go for the operation,” Alex, Daisy-May’s father, said. “We didn’t know at the time that Daisy-May would be as good as she is now.”

Indeed: Daisy-May is living proof determination can defy all odds. She is a gymnast as well as a model for Boden, the country’s largest clothing catalog, according to SWNS. She’s also modeled for Nike and the British retailer Matalan, among others.

But come Sept. 8, Daisy-May will take her modeling career to new heights when she walks the runway at New York Fashion Week. Daisy-May will walk for the French-inspired children’s fashion line Lulu et Gigi Couture. She was approached about the opportunity after the line’s founder and head designer, Eni Hegedus-Buiron, spotted her modeling in London.

“I was asked if I was OK with having an amputee walk in my show. To be honest I was surprised by the question. For me, a child is a child and thus is beautiful and perfect,” Hegedus-Buiron told the outlet. “So of course I said yes.”

Alex told SWNS he is proud that his daughter will make history, but noted he and his wife hope to see more child amputees featured on the runway.

“Disability doesn’t stop you —  it definitely doesn’t stop Daisy,” Alex said, adding his daughter “belongs on the catwalk.”

Continue on to Fox News to read the complete article.

Target Unveils Adaptive Halloween Costumes For Kids With Disabilities

LinkedIn
child dressed in pirate costume sitting in decoratedwheelchair

Target’s newest Halloween offerings include adaptive costumes for kids with disabilities ― a sign that major retailers may finally be stepping up to make the commercial costume industry more inclusive.

The big-box giant is selling four disability-friendly costumes and two themed wheelchair covers through its Hyde and Eek! Boutique. Two of the options ― a princess dress and pirate ensemble ― are aimed at kids who use wheelchairs.

According to the online store descriptions, they were “thoughtfully designed with openings in the back that lend ease of dressing.” The costumes coordinate with decorative pirate ship and princess carriage wheelchair covers, which retail for $45 each. The princess dress and crown set costs $20 and the pirate get-up is $25.

The new line also includes sensory-friendly unicorn and shark costumes to accommodate kids with sensitivities. Per the website descriptions, both feature “an allover plush construction for a soft and cozy feel,” “flat seams with no tags,” “a hidden opening in the front pocket for convenient abdominal access” and the option to remove attachments like hoods. Each retails for $30.

Over the years, lots of children and adults with disabilities have gotten creative around Halloween time, with many putting together homemade costumes that incorporate wheelchairs and other assistive devices. There have also been adaptive costume options from small-scale vendors on sites like Etsy.

Target’s latest product line appears to be the first such costume offering from a major retailer.

Continue on to the Huffington Post to read the complete article.

‘Born This Way’ To End With Digital Wrap-Up Series & Finale Special On A&E

LinkedIn
Born this Way cast gathered on stage

A&E’s Emmy-winning docuseries Born This Way is coming to an end, with a fifth and final season.

The network said recently that the series will wrap with a six-part shortform digital series to begin premiering later this year on AEtv.com, and a one-hour linear series finale holiday special, to air in December on A&E.

Born This Way concluded its fourth season in May 2018. The digital series will pick up following last season’s wedding of cast members Cristina and Angel, and will continue the story of Elena, John, Megan, Rachel, Sean, Steven, Cristina and Angel.

In the hourlong series finale special, the cast will reflect on their personal growth across the four seasons of the show and discuss Born This Way’s impact on the way society views people with disabilities, according to A&E. “From finding jobs to navigating relationships and break ups to exerting their own independence, the cast will rejoice in the journey they have been on together and thank fans for all of their support along the way,” A&E said.

It’s not often that you get to make television like Born This Way which has had such a positive impact on the world. The show unquestionably changed how society views people with Down syndrome and how people with Down syndrome see themselves,” said Executive Producer Jonathan Murray. “It has shown that no one should have to live with artificial limits placed upon them and all of us, no matter what challenges we face, want the same things – independence, a chance for meaningful employment and a chance to contribute to our families and communities.”

“Being a part of the amazing and inspiring journey of our cast over the past four seasons has been an honor for myself and everyone at A&E,” said Elaine Frontain Bryant, EVP and Head of Programming, A&E Network. “We have all learned so much from their openness, resilience and spirit, and we will be forever grateful to them for welcoming us and viewers into their lives.”

Continue on to Deadline to read the complete article.