Meet the first openly autistic woman elected to political office

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Sarah Hernandez sitting at her desk smiling wearing a flowery green and yellow dress

By Kathleen Wroblewski, Director of Communications, Bay Path University

It’s difficult for many people to approach a stranger’s house and knock on their door. It’s quite another matter if you are knocking on doors and running for public office.

Within minutes, you need to introduce yourself and connect with the person on the other side of the threshold. We call it being face to face—a fundamental form of human communication.

When Assistant Professor Sarah Hernandez, ’14 G’15, of the occupational therapy department decided to run for the school board in her local town, the process of canvassing in the community and meeting strangers was absolutely terrifying. “At first, I had to watch how people did it. And, slowly, I learned to pick up certain cues and how to handle myself in different situations. People were very patient with me. It was a big step when I knocked on that first door.”

Sarah’s success is all the more remarkable because she is neurodiverse: she is on the autism spectrum. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a development condition defined by social and communication difficulties and repetitive, inflexible patterns of behavior.

When you first meet Sarah, a mother of three with a friendly and welcoming smile, she appears to be the opposite of society’s profile of being autistic. But appearances can be deceiving. Sarah, along with many other young girls and women, has mastered what is known as “social camouflaging,” or hiding in plain sight. In many ways, this coping technique has led to women of all ages to be misdiagnosed, or in some cases, not diagnosed with autism at all. And that gets to the heart of Sarah’s story:

“I was diagnosed in my thirties, and that is not unusual for women. I knew that I was different somehow, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. There were times that I just had to shut down and not communicate. I was lucky to learn it was a form of autism because most women fly under the radar and never find out. They live in a world of inner turmoil. It’s only recently that researchers are looking at the gender differences in autism. In fact, the criteria for diagnosing ASD are based on data gathered from the studies of boys.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disorder is 4.5 times more common in boys than girls. As awareness of autism grows, new protocols are being developed that indicate the gap may not be as wide as once thought. In the meantime, there are discernable shifts in society’s perceptions of autism.

Expanding the Definition of a Diverse Workplace

Sarah, like many others on the spectrum, has learned to live with her autism. She is a role model for her occupational therapy students, sharing her experiences to make them more sensitive to the differences and contributions of the members of her “tribe.”

“I let my students know right up front that I am autistic. And I share my knowledge of the strengths of autism—our ability to think in patterns, to visualize, and to be problem solvers,” she says.

In fact, this skill set is prompting companies and organizations to expand their definitions of a diverse workplace. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage, by Robert Austin and Gary Pisano, reports that the neurodiverse population remains a largely untapped talent pool. With a vast number of IT and IT-related positions going unfilled, HR departments are re-examining their recruitment practices and working environments to accommodate neurodiverse employees. In companies with active neurodiverse hiring programs, such as Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Ford, and others, they have already realized productivity gains and a high number of innovations. They have found that diversity does deliver.

Standing Shoulder to Shoulder

“I know I am incredibly lucky to be working at Bay Path,” states Sarah. “I am doing what I love, and I can be honest about who I am.”

Sarah’s generosity of spirit does not stop at Bay Path. She and her husband have one biological child, have adopted two children, and are therapeutic foster parents. When one of Sarah’s children experienced difficulties in school because she is darker in complexion, she knew she had to step forward to give voice to her daughter and others. She decided to run for the school board.

“I can hide my disability, but my daughter can’t turn her skin color off. I decided that I needed to stand shoulder to shoulder with others on the spectrum, as well as represent all those who need a spokesperson.”

So, Sarah left her comfort zone and began knocking on doors, participating in debates, and attending meetings. She never hid her autism. And she won.

But her victory wasn’t just for the schoolchildren in her town. Through social media, her election gained broad attention. NBC Hartford did a profile on her, and at a national conference on autism, she shared the stage with former Senator Tom Harkin, who introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into the Senate.

For Sarah, the attention was sometimes hard to believe: “As a person on the spectrum, I believe we live in a world that wasn’t made for us. But we have to keep participating, and we have to work to represent ourselves. I like to say, ‘We have to put our pants on in the morning.’ We just need to show up.”

Sarah certainly has.

Source: baypath.edu

Special Olympics New York Athletes To Attend Dream Ride Experience As V.I.P.S

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Motorcycle rider takes Specia Olympics participant on a Dream Ride around town

Farmington, CT – Twelve athletes from Special Olympics New York have been selected to attend the multimillion-dollar Dream Ride fundraiser. The Dream Ride Experience is the flagship fundraising event for The Hometown Foundation, Inc., which supports individuals with intellectual disabilities in conjunction with Bozzuto’s, Inc.

This exciting weekend features numerous activities and attractions, including live entertainment, chili cook-offs, athletic exhibitions, and more. Last year, the Dream Ride Experience raised its largest sum yet: $2 million.

The event begins Friday, August 23rd with a welcome for all attendees. Saturday’s activities feature rides in vintage cars and a red carpet entrance. The Dream Ride itself, a motorcycle tour through Farmington, happens Sunday.

“Dream Ride weekend is a one-of-a-kind experience for our athletes and a fantastic celebration of inclusion and community,” said Stacey Hengsterman, president and CEO of Special Olympics New York. “We are so grateful to the Hometown Foundation, Bozzuto’s, and Special Olympics Connecticut for the opportunity to be a part of this exciting event.”

“I am thrilled to attend the Dream Ride,” said Will Smith, one of the 12 athlete invitees. “It has been a tremendous experience to make new friends, not just from this country, but from around the world as well. It was an honor to attend the 2019 Dream Ride in Australia in April and I cannot wait to be a part of the 2019 Dream Ride in Connecticut.”

The following athletes will attend the Dream Ride:

– Ed Lawless – Colonie, NY
– Anthony Lawless – Colonie, NY
– Will Smith – Granite Springs, NY
– Kyle Kirshner – White Plains, NY
– Alyse Mackey – Somers, NY
– Christina Gagliardo – Poughquag, NY
– Tom Moran – Hopewell Jct., NY
– Tyrone Hawkins – Ossining, NY
– Tim Angi – Yorktown, NY
– Chris Santacroce – White Plains, NY
– Austin Kulp – Yonkers, NY
– Kevin Brown – Albany, NY

About Special Olympics New York

Special Olympics New York is the largest state chapter in the country, serving more than 67,000 athletes across New York with year-round sports training, athletic competition, and health screenings. The organization also partners with more than 150 schools statewide to offer Unified Sports. All Special Olympics New York programs are offered at no cost to athletes, their families or caregivers. Learn more at specialolympicsNY.org and #SpecialOlympicsNY.

Boy born without a hand meets a soccer player just like him

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boy born with no hand meets soccer player with same

There are moments every parent lives for — the moment your child feels the same, even though he’s different. Joseph Tidd was born without a left hand and is one of around 2,250 babies with limb differences born in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I cried, I instantly cried… but honestly I don’t know why I worried, look at Carson, look at Joseph, they’re perfect,” said Colleen Tidd, Joseph’s mom.

His parents constantly remind their 22-month-old son that his limb difference makes him unique, but that he’s not alone. Carson Pickett plays defense for the Orlando Pride and is one of Joseph’s favorite soccer players.

“It’s great having him in the stands, and his family,” Pickett said.

“Every time, we’ll cheer on Carson and she always can hear us, and she came over in that instance and we were able to take that picture,” Tidd said.

A photo was recently snapped of the two arm-bumping after a recent game and it went viral.

“The look on my face, it was authentic. It wasn’t made up, I didn’t plan it,” Pickett said.

The photo was proof that the smallest moments can have a huge impact.

Continue on to CBS News to read the complete article and view the video.

Born This Way Actress Shatters Disability Stigma

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Cristina Sanz poses on red carpet

Fans of the hit A&E docu-series Born this Way know Cristina Sanz as a lovable, fun and family-oriented dancer and romantic. In 2016, Sanz became the first Hispanic woman with a disability as part of an ensemble cast to be on an Emmy award-winning show.

In 2018, she shattered stigmas by getting married to her longtime fiancé Angel Callahan.

The two already had been dating for five years before the show premiered. Their desire to live an independent life together—and get married—was a consistent plot line throughout the show. The first season ended with their engagement; the fourth season finale was an hour-long episode featuring the wedding between these two individuals with developmental disabilities.

“I wanted to show everyone that you can have a disability and get married,” Sanz told People magazine.

Her wedding, moving out on her own and working at two jobs are things her parents never imagined as Cristina was growing up.

“I will not wake up waiting for my daughter to come back from a date like my mother did for me,” her mother, Beatriz Sanz, said she used to think. But Sanz was the first of her siblings to get married.

While studies show many people within the Hispanic and other communities do not publicly discuss their own or a child’s disability due to negative stigmas, Sanz and her parents lead by example by allowing television viewers to watch her life unfold on TV. Therefore, she is an important example of RespectAbility’s #RespectTheAbility campaign, which features people with disabilities who succeed in their chosen career.

When disability is depicted in pop culture, it tends to be all white. Real storytelling requires exploring people of all backgrounds. In addition, far too many Hispanics and Latinos in America who have a developmental disability are not receiving the diagnosis, school accommodations and high expectations they need to succeed. Today, only 65 percent of students with disabilities graduate high school, and only 7 percent complete college.

“[Born This Way] tells our stories, our dreams,” Sanz said. “People can see that our lives are most of the time very typical. People with disabilities have jobs, fall in love, have businesses and enjoy time with friends.”

Our nation’s economy is strongest when it is inclusive of the value that diverse talent brings to the workplace. Harriet Tubman had epilepsy, performer Selena Gomez lives with lupus, business leader and Shark Tank superstar Barbara Corcoran is dyslexic and gymnast Simone Biles has ADHD. Each of them, like Sanz, is a positive role model for success.

Sanz works for her dad’s school as well as at a senior center. Our nation’s economy is strongest when it is inclusive of the value that diverse talent brings to the workplace. Celebrities like Sanz are making a difference.

“What Cristina really inspired us, is that we want to focus on the abilities of everybody—not what people can’t do, but what they can do,” Elaine Hall, founder of the Miracle Project, said.

Source: respectability.org

Surf For All provides ‘flying’ experience for disabled during Surf Week in Long Beach

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young girl on a surfboard with instructor balancing her in the water

She sat in a wheelchair, waiting her turn. “Are you excited?” a woman asked. “Are you ready?” “Yes,” she answered. When her time came, a volunteer took her on his back, and slowly walked into the waters. She plopped atop the surfboard, and they headed into the waves. Soon, she was surfing for the first time in her life.

The one word Emma Greenfield, 19, used to describe it: “Flying.”

Greenfield was one of around seven surfers, most from the Henry Viscardi School for the disabled, who rode the waves of Long Beach Thursday, while close to 40 friends, family and staff cheered them on.

The surf outing, part of NYSEA’s 10th New York Surf Week, is hosted by Surf For All, a nonprofit dedicated to providing a surfing experience for the disabled.

“It goes much further than just the waves,” said co-founder and Long Beach native Cliff Skudin. “The moment of the wave goes into their everyday life, being able to overcome small barriers that we’re now breaking down.”

Each surfer, with help from volunteers, is carried onto a surfboard, usually belly down. The board has jet propulsion built into the bottom that helps the surfer advance to catch a wave.

It can take a lot of effort and nerves, but for Greenfield, it was worth it.

“The waves are crashing into you, and you’re trying to close your eyes and close your mouth and remember everything that everyone said,” she shouted excitedly, describing her experience. “Once you’re up there, it’s like you’re free, and you enjoy it.”

Her father, Robert Greenfield of Hicksville, was just as excited.

“Anything that can make her feel normal … is great for her self-esteem, is great for her healthwise,” he said.

Surfing is only one of the many things she has done, he said. Emma, who has cerebral palsy, played the piano, danced ballet, works out and even wants to ride a zip line. He’s been there along the way.

“A lot of parents don’t let their kids do that, and it’s a mistake. You got a handicapped child, you got to let her loose,” Robert said. “If you didn’t have a kid with a handicap, you wouldn’t stop him from running or falling or riding a bike or from hurting himself.”

Another parent, Floyd Flynn of Queens, was a bit nervous when he saw his son Zion, 9, who also has cerebral palsy, out in the ocean.

“I was scared,” he said, laughing. “But kids like this, who may not be able to physically do the stuff, mentally they want that experience. And he’s like that.”

Continue on to Newsday to read the complete article.

The Pretty One: With a New Memoir, Writer-Activist Keah Brown Is Redefining Disability on Her Own

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Keah Brown book cover The Pretty One shows Keah smiling with an outdoor background

How do you say the word “disability”? Does it feel shameful or derogatory, or does it roll off of your tongue, matter-of-factly? Writer and disability activist Keah Brown wishes we were all less precious when talking about disability, because while it may be a fact of her life, it’s far from the whole of it, as she reveals in her new, but already acclaimed book of autobiographical essays, The Pretty One, which has garnered praise from luminaries like Deepak Chopra and Roxane Gay, who wrote:

“What does it mean to live at the intersections of blackness, womanhood, and disability? In her admirable debut, The Pretty One, Keah Brown answers this question with heart, charm, and humor. Across twelve finely-crafted essays, Brown explores the matter of representation in popular culture, the vulnerability of facing self-loathing and learning to love herself, the challenge of repairing fractured relationships with family, the yearning for romantic love. Through her words we see that Brown is not just the pretty one; she is the magnificently human one.”

For those of us whose knowledge of cerebral palsy extends about as far as remembering “Cousin Geri” on Facts of Life, it’s worth noting that the title of Keah Brown’s debut book is a story, in and of itself. Aside from being born with cerebral palsy, she was also born a twin, just ahead of able-bodied sister Leah—who was often dubbed (you guessed it) “the pretty one” by classmates and potential suitors.

Keah’s reclaiming of the phrase came after reckoning with years of physical and emotional pain, insecurities, jealousy, reconciliation and ultimately, accepting her ridiculously talented, #DisabledAndCute existence, the hashtag that garnered the writer her first book deal (and earned her a spot on 2018’s The Root 100). Speaking with The Glow Up, Brown explains how she found her pretty—and why she neither desires nor will accept anyone’s pity.

The Glow Up: You have cerebral palsy, which you describe as a disability both visible and invisible. You also talk about having a part of your body “working for and against you at the same time.” For those of us unfamiliar, can you explain how that manifests for you?

Keah Brown: Well, CP [cerebral palsy] is different for everyone who has it. For me, I have a mild form of hemiplegia that impacts the right side of my body. This means my reaction times are slower, I have delayed motor function and the right side of my brain sends its signals to the right side of my body at a slower time as well. I also walk with a limp and tire quicker than your average non-disabled person. My body is working twice as hard to function. So, it’s working for me to live, which I love, but because of my disability, it’s also twice as much work so on the bad days it feels like it’s working against me.

Continue on to The Root to read the complete article.

Kindness caught on camera: Boy with cerebral palsy gets help from friends

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Thunder Island mini golf course image inFulton

A video of two Central New York children helping out a friend who has cerebral palsy is now going viral on social media.

The video was shot by Jeffrey Mackey’s mom, while he and his friends, Raya Joyce and Kane Raymond, were playing at Thunder Island in Fulton.

Because of his condition, Jeffrey can’t always keep up and needs to slow down.

“When he gets cold, his muscles get tighter than normal. So it just is harder for him to walk,” said Andrea Mackey, Jeffrey’s mom.

That’s what happened last week at the water park, a moment of vulnerability for Jeffrey where he began to tense up and had trouble walking. His friends Kane and Raya didn’t hesitate to run over to help. Jeffrey’s mom caught the whole thing on camera.

“Because his legs, they, he couldn’t really walk and I had to hold his hand up the stairs,” said 5-year-old Raya Joyce, Jeffrey’s friend.

The two did this all day, on the water slides, near the pool, you name it, they were there. A comforting sight for Jeffrey’s mom.

“Whether your kid has a disability or not, you always worry about them. With Jeffrey, I worry a little more, I always have. And that was just affirmation for me that you know, somebody will always help him,” Andrea Mackey said.

A reminder for the rest of the world, too.

Continue on to LocalSYR.com to read the complete article.

High-Tech Jobs for the Neurodiverse

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image of wheels cranking with man holding cell phone in his hand

Expandability, a not-for-profit division of Goodwill of Silicon Valley, uses a neurodiverse set of professionals to operate its innovative employment program, Neurodiversity Pathways, formerly called Autism Advantage. The organization increases accessibility to high-tech jobs for neurodivergent individuals, many of whom are on the autism spectrum.

Neurodiversity advocates promoting support systems (such as inclusion-focused services, accommodations, communication and assistive technologies, occupational training, and independent living support) that allow those who are neurodivergent to live their lives as they are, rather than being coerced or forced to adopt uncritically accepted ideas of normality, or to conform to a clinical ideal.

Designed for underemployed or unemployed neurodiverse adults who hold or are working toward a two- or four-year degree (or equiva-lent), the program equips them with workplace and personal effectiveness skills needed to succeed in today’s work environment. Neurodiversity Pathways also supports and educates employers across industries including financial services, networking, security, and enterprise software, on the value of hiring neurodiverse candidates.

Expandability used a $50,000 grant from Symantec Corporation to enhance its program and extend its reach. Cecily Joseph, Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at Symantec, said, “The Expandability program provides crucial access to high-tech jobs for a group of tremendously skilled people within our community, who are often underrepresented by traditional hiring practices.”

Building on previous success, the Neurodiversity Pathways program makes a direct connection between employers and neurodivergent individuals, while also raising awareness in the community to their unique skillsets. To ensure success, the program trains hiring managers and their teams on how to create an inclusive environment. Continuing to build best practices and engagement will bring more employers and candidates to the program and increase employment opportunities.

“Expandability has a unique opportunity to address a need often overlooked,” said Trish Dorsey, Executive Director of Expandability. “Employers are looking for strong technical talent to fill critical roles. Talented people on the autism spectrum can help fill this gap. With Symantec’s generous grant, we can provide training and make corporate connections that are not afforded with traditional education and recruiting processes.”

For more information, visit ndpathways.org.

What is DOBE Certification?

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women in wheelchair looking at laptop held in her lap

The Disability-Owned Business Enterprise (DOBE) certification is granted to businesses that are at least 51 percent owned, operated, controlled, and managed by a person with a disability. With this certification, disability-owned businesses have increased access to contracts offered by large corporations and market advantages over competitors.

As a group that is considered to be “disadvantaged” in the United States, disability-owned businesses are often more attractive to large businesses involved in national, state, and local supply chains.

Benefits of Diversity & Inclusion

Disabilities come in a variety of shapes and sizes, just like business owners. Though many people tend to view disabilities as an obstacle, these traits are unique and special, setting a disabled individual above others. For business owners with disabilities, this distinction is an asset within the corporate world. A ‘disadvantage’ can become a positive advantage, letting business owners join a diverse global supply chain where every voice can be heard and possibilities are endless.

Why Get Certified?

Disability:IN created the Disability Supplier Diversity Program to help disability-owned businesses expand through a diverse supply chain. By certifying your business, you have access to increased resources and a more level playing field than non-certified disadvantaged business owners. Disability:IN offers supplier events, webinars, monthly teleconferences, better business opportunities, a scholarship program, and a Mentoring & Business Development Program to help you better your business opportunities and operations.

Large companies and corporations are becoming increasingly interested in creating diverse supply chains, which opens several opportunities for diverse businesses. Adding a certification to your business can also improve your reputation within your industry, community, and network, making your company more attractive to individuals and businesses alike. The DOBE certification opens the door to networking and matchmaking events throughout the country, allowing you to make connections and relationships with important corporate contacts.

How to Get Certified

To certify your company through Disability:IN, you must meet specific requirements. Read through the questions below to see if you qualify for a DOBE certification:

  • Do you have a physical and/or mental disability that substantially impairs one or more major life activities?
  • Do you own a majority (at least 51%) of your business? Can you verify this through supporting financial and business documents?
  • Is your business independent and not significantly reliant on another business for day-to-day operations?
  • Are you involved in the day-to-day operations and management of your company, including decision making?
  • Are you able and willing to submit the business and financial information required by the USBLN? This information will be used to evaluate your eligibility for this certification and will be confidentially reviewed in a secure, permanent environment.

Are you interested in increasing your access to business dealings with private sector corporations who want to do business with DOBE-certified businesses?

Sources: connxus.com, disabilityin.com

Disability Owned Business Enterprise (DOBE)

A business that is 51 percent owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a person(s) with a disability.

Veteran–Disability Owned Business Enterprise (V–DOBE)

A business that is 51 percent owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a veteran, but disability was not incurred during their time of service.

Service-Disabled Veteran–Disability Owned Business Enterprise (SDV–DOBE)

A business that is 51 percent owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a veteran, who sustained their disability during their time of service.

If you are ready and interested in pursuing this certification, start the process by completing the application offered by the Disability:IN.

Source : disabilityin.com

Tips for People with Disabilities Starting a Business

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man sitting at desk in a wheelchair wearing a business suit

By Larry Mager

Small business ownership gives people with disabilities an exciting opportunity to have more flexibility in their work—wiggle room that is often unavailable through traditional employment.

Starting a business with chronic pain, a mobility issue, a visual impairment, or another type of disability comes with its own set of unique challenges, however. Here are ideas on the type of businesses that you could benefit from pursuing, in addition to tips on how start a business without taking attention away from your personal needs.

Don’t Start From Scratch
If you want to start a business, but don’t want to start from square one, consider opening a franchise. This will lessen the risk, and allow you to have access to existing branding and other assets. Owning a franchise has a numerous benefits for an entrepreneur with a disability, including already-established branding, marketing efforts, and guaranteed assistance when it comes to construction, repairs, and staffing. This can be an especially smart path for veterans with disabilities who want to run their own business but don’t want to burden themselves with too much stress soon after returning to civilian life. Mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction (which can also be linked to discrimination) can all be exacerbated if a veteran takes on too much stress.

Start a Home-Based Business
Entrepreneurs who want to run home-based businesses can pursue a myriad of opportunities. Many are online-related, including graphic design services, website building, IT consulting, and social media consulting. In addition, you can use other skills to start a home-based business, such as services related to marketing, accounting, writing, and retail, among others. If you are dealing with mobility issues, a home-based online business could be better suited for your needs than running a traditional brick-and-mortar office or storefront. The overhead costs are lower as well.

Don’t Sacrifice Your Health
You should devote considerable time to exercising, eating healthy food, and getting enough sleep. In addition, you might benefit from meditation or another relaxing activity. Without devoting time to your mental and physical health, it will be more difficult to start and grow your small business, so ensure that you can balance your personal needs with running a business. While small business ownership can be a wonderful opportunity for individuals with disabilities, it can also present challenges. Before you start a business, ensure that you have a solid plan that will help you prepare for the responsibilities that come with being a business owner. It’s a fun dive into the unknown, but do remember that it is a dive!

Source: forafinancial.com

Meet The Kenyan Engineer Who Created Gloves That Turn Sign Language Into Audible Speech

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Kenyan engineer is seated at work station holding up the sign language glove wtih his right hand

Twenty-five-year-old Kenyan engineer and innovator, Roy Allela, has created a set of gloves that will ultimately allow better communication between those who are deaf and those who are hearing yet may not necessarily know sign language. The Sign-IO gloves in essence translate signed hand movements into audible speech.

Allela’s gloves feature sensors located on each finger that detect the positioning of each finger, including how much each finger will bend into a given position. The glove connects via Bluetooth to an Android phone which then will leverage use the text-to-speech function to provide translated speech to the hand gestures of a person signing.

The inspiration behind the Sign-IO gloves comes from the personal experience of having a young niece who is deaf. He nor his family knows sign language and often struggled to adequately and consistently communicate with her.

“My niece wears the gloves, pairs them with her phone or mine, then starts signing. I’m able to understand what she’s saying,” Allela shared in an interview with The Guardian.

Allela’s vision for the gloves is to have them placed in schools for special needs children throughout his home country of Kenya and then expand from there to positively impact the experiences of as many deaf or hearing-impaired children as possible. His gloves are amongst a number of cutting-edge projects that are contributing to the growing market of assistive technology devices that seek to provide aid to those with specific impairments and limitations.

Continue on to Because of Them We Can to read the complete article.