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How Assistive Tech is Breaking Communication Barriers for Children with Cerebral Palsy

How Assistive Tech is Breaking Communication Barriers for Children with Cerebral Palsy

It is important to recognize the health and wellness disparities that some children with disabilities face. Cerebral palsy is one of the most common of all childhood disabilities and malpractice birth injuries, and it can cause a number of complications. Among these, an important one is difficulty communicating. This can prevent a child from getting good healthcare, from socializing with peers, and from learning. Assistive technology is changing how these children communicate to help them live happier, healthier lives.

Assistive Technology for Cerebral Palsy

Assistive technology is any device, equipment, or software that helps someone perform an activity. For instance, a wheelchair or walker is an example of simple assistive technology that can help a child with cerebral palsy get from one place to another. Technology that helps with eating, breathing, using pens and pencils, reading, writing, and communicating with others is considered assistive technology and has the potential to improve communication, academic performance, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, and overall health.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Also known as AAC, augmentative and alternative communication refers to any way of communicating other than verbally speaking. AAC can be low-tech, including sign language or using pictures, but newer technologies are making AAC more practical, faster, and easier for children with physical disabilities like cerebral palsy communicate their needs and emotions:

  • Electronic communication boards and tablets help children with limited fine motor skills or speech use pictures, letters, and words on a screen to communicate.
  • Speech-generating devices use the same types of cues as communication boards but also translate them into verbal speech that other people can easily understand.
  • Eye-tracking devices help even the most severely disabled children communicate. Using just eye movements a child can select images, letters, and words to speak with others.
  • Hearing aids are always advancing technologically and can help children with cerebral palsy that have resulting hearing impairments. A cochlear implant can even bypass damaged components of the ear, improving hearing.

Benefits of Communication and Assistive Technologies

A child with cerebral palsy may have a whole range of complications, from mobility limitations to difficulty eating and breathing, to behavioral disorders. Communication aids are essential for many of these children to maintain good health as well as overall well-being. At the most basic level if they cannot communicate pain, symptoms, hunger, difficulty breathing, or thirst, their health suffers. Better communication means better health.

Beyond their basic health needs, being able to communicate allows children to participate more fully in all areas of life from school and sports to family conversations. Improving communication increases self-confidence, independence, opportunities, social skills, and so much more. Assistive technology is always evolving, and it has become an important part of the lives of nearly all children with cerebral palsy.

Thanks to our friends around the world for providing the text for this this blog.

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ICT Leadership in Inclusive Employment of Persons with Disabilities

SourceAmerica and the World Information Technology Services Alliance have announced the release of their joint paper ‘ICT Leadership in Inclusive Employment of Persons with Disabilities: An Economic and Social Imperative‘.

As Information and Communications Technology touches nearly all aspects of human life, the technology sector can play a vital role in addressing the persistent unemployment of persons with disabilities. The paper and accompanying policy recommendations address the social and economic imperatives of employment of persons with disabilities and lay out a roadmap for the ICT sector to grow as leaders in supporting the employment of persons with disabilities.

Please share this paper and the accompanying press release with your networks and partners.

WACA certificate

Website Accessibility Certificate Austria announced

The first independent quality seal in Austria for barrier-free websites has been announced. From now on, the  Österreichische Computer Gesellschaft (OCG) (Austrian Computer Society) can award a seal to organisations that comply with detailed accessibility requirements.

The “WACA” certificate was developed by the OCG in cooperation with an expert consortium consisting of scientists from the University of Linz, employees of the Hilfsgemeinschaft der Blinden und Sehschwachen Austrian, myAbility and the Vereins Accessible Media (Accessible Media Association), as well as experts from digital agencies.

Advisory board smiling and holding the certificate

Advisory board members: from left to right: Wolfgang Leitner (Zensations), Michael Aumann (GF myAbility), Rhea Göschl (auditor, myAbility), Werner Rosenberger ( OCG, project manager WACA), Jo Spelbrink and Wolfram Huber (both Accessible Media).

The initiative has been launched following a pilot project carried out with the food company REWE International AG.

After a successful audit, the WACA certificate will be awarded by the OCG in three grades – Gold, silver or bronze for two years, after which re-certification is necessary. WACA approved websites are visually awarded by the WACA label.

FInd out more by reading the full press release (German language only).

Be part of the purple revolution

Be part of the Purple Revolution!

#PurpleLightUp

3rd December, International Day of Persons with Disabilities was launched in 1992 by the United Nations, it is now globally recognised as a day that brings together a united voice to celebrate and empower disabled people. #PurpleLightUp powered by PurpleSpace will amplify millions of voices around the world.

#PurpleLightUp aims to celebrate the economic power of persons with disabilities around the globe.

In 2017, 56 major organisations across 66 countries celebrated #PurpleLightUp in some way. For 2018, corporations and public bodies are already lining up and will be flying purple flags and ‘purpling’ their websites.

Get involved by joining in with a range of options including lighting up iconic buildings and bridges, office buildings, cooking purple cupcakes, purple dress codes, purple flags, boats blogs or bows on dogs! Go wherever your purple imagination takes you!

Make sure you tell Purple Space your plans and ideas as you work towards December 3. Get in touch with Sarah Simcoe, #PurpleLightUp Design and Engagement Lead: sarah@purplespace.org.

Find out more by visiting the Purple Space website.

The Disability Matters Logo - Silhouettes of persons with disabilities rising on a ramp

2018 Disability Matters Europe Award Honorees Selected

Springboard Consulting have announced the Award Honorees for the 2018 Disability Matters Conference.

Marketplace: Dans Le Noir?

Workplace: Cisco Systems BV, Dow Europe GmbH, UniCredit Bank Austria AG

Workforce: Delhaize Serbia, Pandora Production Co., Ltd

Steps-to-Success: Barilla G&R Flli spa

The Honorees represent the Gold Standard when it comes to the commitment required, and actions necessary, to successfully mainstream disability in the European workforce, workplace and marketplace.

The winners will be honoured at Springboard Consulting’s 6th annual Disability Matters Europe Conference & Awards between 5th and 7th November 2018 in Horgen.

In addition to celebrating the success of the Honorees, attendees of the conference will be further educated by subject matter experts across the spectrum of disability.

Find out more on the Disability Matters website.

 

A panel of experts at the Zero Project Conference
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Zero Project Shortlists 152 Practices and 21 Policies

Creating the shortlist becomes tougher and tougher each year! Both for us, and for our network of close experts around the world. It is so sad to say goodbye to some of the incredible projects that had made it into the first stage of the competition. We sincerely hope to stay in touch with everyone and we will be watching the projects thrive from afar!

But in order to have winners, we must first have a shortlist – And what a shortlist we have this year! 152 incredible, inspiring practices and 21 innovative forward-thinking policies from 61 countries. We are excited by the range of topics and the geographical spread around the globe – from training decision-makers in Phnom Penh to supported housing models in Azerbaijan, and from personal ombudsman services in Sweden to free Legal Advice in Honduras. It really is inspiring to see so many dedicated people from all around the globe and from all walks of life working tirelessly to make things better for persons with disabilities!

Congratulations to all those who made it onto the shortlist. Regardless of what happens in the final stage, they will all have the opportunity to attend the Zero Project Conference and network with experts and leaders from around the globe as a recognition of making it to this stage.

We have now opened the voting for the final round, where the winners will be selected. Over 2,000 experts in the Zero Project network will be asked to undertake the unenviable task of sorting the excellent from the great, in order to select the projects to be awarded in February.

Find out more about where the projects come from by reading our shortlist press release.

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The story of Jim Gibbons, user of Exceptional Lives resources

“I would highly recommend the Exceptional Lives Guides to all parents and caregivers of children with disabilities.”

My name is Jim Gibbons. My wife and I have two children (18 and 20). Katie, our youngest child, has been disabled her entire life. She is non-verbal, uses a wheelchair and is 100% dependent on others for all daily living tasks. As Katie approached the age of 18, I as a parent had a lot to do. We needed to apply for guardianship and get SSI for Katie. I had no idea where to begin. Luckily, I found out about Exceptional Lives and their free, easy-to-use Guides.

I was able set up an account and look over all the Guides that Exceptional Lives provided. I knew the Guardianship and SSI Guides were going to help us a lot. I was able to preview the processes and get an idea of what lie ahead. I really liked being able to download all of the forms needed and work on them at my own pace. I was able to go back and get more information when necessary, and the checklists kept me organized. After gathering all the required paperwork, the Guides walked me through the filing process.

We were successful at obtaining guardianship and getting SSI for Katie. Transitional ages like turning 18 are difficult on parents, but having supports like the Guides help to make it go a lot smoother. I would highly recommend the Exceptional Lives Guides to all parents and caregivers of children with disabilities.

Read more about the resources nad guides developed by Exceptional Lives by reading the factsheet.

A photo of Imran Ganchi
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The story of Imran Ganchi, associate at NOWPDP

“Instead of helping persons with disabilities to walk, we should teach them how to stand on their own.”

My name is Imran Ghanchi, and as a post-polio affectee, I have been working with NOWPDP since 2012, currently working with their External Engagement department. However, earlier I was a part of NOWPDP’s Rickshaw Project, where we pioneered the design for retrofitted rickshaws for people with lower limb impairments.

During my childhood, I never wanted my parents to treat me any differently than my other siblings due to. After 9th grade I had to leave my education due to lack of accessibility at my school, however, I still managed to get training and excel in different trades such as, plumbing and auto-mechanics. Despite being professionally sound, people, organizations and shops wouldn’t hire me because of my disability and this would leave me demotivated and disheartened.

This is where NOWPDP came in. I came across NOWPDP while searching for jobs and was able to join them through the Rickshaw Project, further developing my skills and working towards an inclusive society. NOWPDP’s model accessible workplace helped me to move around independently and unhindered, allowing me to complete any task as well as anybody else at work.

The chance to work at a barrier free organization has been comforting, while the ease has helped me enhance my skill, all the while boosting my morale and sporting my positive outlook on life.

Read more about how NOWPDP is supporting businesses in creating accessible workplaces and infrastructure by reading the factsheet.

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The story of Jack Mendez, Director of Technology at the Louisiana Center for the Blind

Inclusion in action: Jack shows students what’s possible with Office 365, a screen reader and a keyboard

When a sighted person walks into Jack Mendez’s classroom, one of the first things they notice is a workstation without a screen. For Jack, this is a striking example how far assistive technology has advanced.

“I have a computer without a screen, and that’s intentional because I want people to understand that all you need is a keyboard and some headphones.” said Jack. “You can produce and consume content and use the computer and navigate just with the screen reader and your keyboard.”

As the Director of Technology at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, Jack is in charge of the school’s IT systems and the software used to prepare students for life outside of school. When you enter his classroom, you discover a flurry of activity. Jack deployed Office 365 on all the school’s workstations. “It’s the best that’s out there. If you find something better, let me know.”

Students manage their calendars and access email through Outlook. They use OneNote to take notes and access them across multiple devices. Jack is a big advocate for the use of Office 365 built-in accessibility checker to make content more inclusive, saying,

“It’s just something that it makes sense to click on. It takes a second, and a lot of times for most recommendations that the tool produces, it’s like a five-second fix.”

If students want to know how to perform a task in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, they use Office 365’s Tell Me feature and ask how it’s done. The answers are quickly provided. For Jack, these accessible technologies are a game changer for him and his students.

“I can now open up Excel or PowerPoint or Word and I can produce content that someone across the world would look at and never know a blind person had a role in that production. It be just as appealing, just as in-depth as anything else someone with no disabilities could have produced.”

Jack says that students want to come to the school for technology classes because they see how productive you can be if you have good training and understand how the tools work.

“My hope for all of my students is that they’re able to use technology to make their lives better. Many of them go on to college. A lot of them start working. Some of them already have careers and they’re using this time to enhance their ability to be more independent at their current job.”

In addition to working with students, Jack shows companies the ways that accessible technologies can enable them to expand their workforce and employ more people with disabilities, like blindness. During a recent demonstration he did for some local bankers generating a visual presentation on a computer without a screen, he opened up Office and started producing a document.

“I wrote some things, I changed some fonts, I saved the document all using the keyboard, all without a screen.”

Since that demonstration, some of his students have earned employment with those same bankers. Jack serves as an example of how to personalize and maximize the use of technology. He says he was always curious as a child. When he got in touch with computers, he realized this meant even more stuff to explore. During a routine visit to his dentist at age 15, Jack overheard staff talking about a problem with the computer. When he told the dentist he could fix it, the dentist hesitated before he gave him a chance. Jack repaired the computer and earned $500. The dentist then recommended him for other jobs, and that was the birth of his career in IT.

Jack’s hopes that accessible technologies become a given in the future, which he believes will make life and business better for everyone.

“When I’m able to help a business understand that when you make a hiring decision with someone who’s had good training that they’re going to help the entire company,” he said.

As for teaching? “It’s about helping a student understand what’s possible.”

Learn more about Microsoft’s comprehensive accessibility strategy by reading the factsheet.

A photo of Hilda Laura Vazquez Villanueva
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The story of Hilda Laura Vazquez Villanueva, a HearColors collaborator and user

“I consider that these kinds of projects provide direct benefits to the persons with disabilities but they are also an example to other private companies, governments, and institutions that should involve us all and generate inclusive programs.”

My name is Hilda Laura Vazquez Villanueva. I have a visual disability. I was born blind. I am currently 45 years old and I am married. I live with my husband who is also blind. I recently had some health problems and I now also have some motor limitations.

I went to school and with the support of the Braille system I was able to finish high school and continue my education. I have a BA in social work from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and a Masters in business administration. I had the opportunity to work in the public sector as well as in different NGO´s.

The use of technologies in my education and professional context started in the nineties but at the beginning the devices and the tools were very expensive not many people with disabilities had access to them, its use was occasional and selective. In Mexico this has evolved and the use of technology has become indispensable and more accessible. Nowadays the promotion and usage of ICT´s is a breakthrough for the persons who live like me with a disability so that we can take advantage of our abilities, increase our knowledge and perform our professional activities.

In Mexico, approximately in the year 2000, the use of ICT´s for persons with visual disability was promoted through different projects. Different alternatives of screen readers and screen magnifiers were presented and since then we started to use them. Nevertheless as we started to navigate the web, we discovered new barriers to access information, as the sites are not accessible. There were no laws to support the creation of accessible content and programmers and designers did not have the knowledge of web accessibility, they did not understand its economic and social impact.

In 2014, there was an important change as different laws were approved to implement web accessibility criteria. This task has not been easy as web accessibility is a new culture and we need to take into consideration both the persons with disabilities as users who are capable of using a computer and access information as well as the programmers and designers who need to understand our needs.

I am against projects specifically targeted for persons with disabilities but I have been working with HearColors and its Web Accessibility Lab since it started and I believe it is a great project that has been able to join organizations that work with persons with disabilities, private companies, government institutions as well as programmers and designers to promote a new web accessibility culture that can benefit us all. I have been particularly involved in doing user testing of the accessible sites and the accessible content that HearColors and the Web Accessibility Lab produces. I am particularly pleased to participate in a project that detonates the active participation of the persons with disabilities as final users.

In my capacity of representative of persons with disabilities, I have also been able to spread the work of HearColors and the Web Accessibility Lab, helping NGO´s get web accessibility benefits. We launched a call for applications so that HearColors and the Web Accessibility Lab could donate accessible web sites to NGO´s that work with persons with disabilities.

I consider that these kinds of projects provide direct benefits to the persons with disabilities but they are also an example to other private companies, governments, and institutions that should involve us all and generate inclusive programs. I am currently collaborating with HearColors as a tester of their sites, as a facilitator in their capacity building workshops and as an active final user of accessible content. I will continue to actively work so that web accessibility as a right for all is a general practice, a social commitment that will continue to break down barriers and to open opportunities for all.

Read more about how HearColors is working to improve web accessibility expertise by reading the factsheet.