Writer: Tiffany Whisner, Coles Marketing Communications

820698_10200257005085512_898389_o“I want to be a Disney Princess.” Right away I knew Laura Medcalf and I were kindred spirits. Not only do we share a love for Disney but our favorite Disney Princess as well — Ariel. Like Ariel, Laura is strong-willed, independent and courageous. She has learned to do things her way and has never given up on what she wants in life.

“I was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy when I was four. It’s a form of muscular dystrophy,” Laura said. According to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, it is a genetic disease affecting the part of the nervous system that controls voluntary muscle movement. Laura could walk up until she was in about third or fourth grade, but she was completely wheelchair-bound by fifth grade.

“It’s a neuromuscular disease, so it will affect all of my muscles,” she said. It started with her legs, but over the years she has noticed a greater weakness in her upper body. Laura did go through physical therapy, but nothing offered her long-term benefits.

“I just try to do as much as I can independently. That’s my motto. I want to do as much as I can while I can.”

 

Making a positive impact

At 25 years old, Laura is the social media content specialist for the INDATA Project. Promoted from INDATA’s social media intern, Laura is responsible for blogging several times a week for the INDATA Project. She also develops content for and posts INDATA’s weekly Tech Tip, which requires shooting and editing video and interviewing people about assistive technology.

“I’m so excited to come to work every day,” Laura said. “It’s definitely been a positive influence in my life, and I’ve learned more about assistive technology than I could have ever imagined. I never thought I’d have such an intrinsically rewarding job.”

Laura5Born and raised in Indianapolis, Laura graduated from Perry Meridian High School. While she was interested in both writing and teaching, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to focus on after graduation.

“I wasn’t certain about teaching originally,” she said. “But my senior year in high school, I had the most amazing English teacher, Mrs. Schoch, who inspired me in an infinite amount of ways. Because of her, I wanted to pursue a career in literature and grammar. I also realized how much teachers influence their students, and I wanted to influence others in that same positive way.”

So after graduating high school in 2007, Laura went on to study English and secondary education at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. However, it wasn’t what she thought it was going to be.

“It was a lot to take on, and I was a bit overwhelmed,” she said. The typical college atmosphere is an adjustment in itself, but Laura didn’t let that stop her. She had been raised with the “tough love” that has helped her succeed.

 

Take one step at a time

“When I was younger, I was always told I was wise beyond my years,” Laura said. “My parents didn’t baby me because of my disability, and I’m so grateful for that.” One time when she was six or seven years old, she wanted to get up the stairs but didn’t think she could get there on her own.

Laura6“My parents said the only way I was going to learn was to do it by myself. They had all the faith in the world in me.” Laura was pleading for one of her parents to carry her, but no one came. She then made her way upstairs. “I remember having the biggest smile on my face and feeling so accomplished.” She has learned even though she can’t always do things like everyone else — she adapts and gets it done her own way.

Laura went through the mainstream school system with some special accommodations in classrooms and extra assistance. And even though she was in a wheelchair, she continued to put herself out there to new opportunities and experiences.

“I didn’t know anything else,” she said. “The wheelchair was a part of me but didn’t define me. People saw I was in a wheelchair but knew I wasn’t that different from them. Growing up, I was very active in Girl Scouts, show choir and even cheerleading — so I never struggled with making friends or going out there and doing things. A lot of people thought the wheelchair was the coolest thing.” But Laura is certainly aware of isolation and bullying that sometimes targets those with disabilities and strongly believes a lot of it is due to lack of disability awareness.

“I know many people encounter discrimination and bullying. I’m also aware that I’m luckier than a lot of people who have to go through it, and I know I’m very blessed.”

Laura also made lots of friends and gained many social experiences at MDA Summer Camp. It’s a place where kids with the neuromuscular disease can discover a world created specifically for them and meet other kids sharing the same needs.

“We did canoeing, dancing, arts and crafts, singing and theater,” she said. That helped developed her creative side and her love for writing and painting as well. In addition to the fun and friendship of MDA Camp, it also enables campers to grow in independence as they spend time away from home. It was a place where Laura and others could feel like physical disabilities are the norm rather than the exception.

1923833_1019240638997_8707_n“Being in a wheelchair most of my life, I have always been around people with disabilities, whether physical or cognitive,” Laura said. “Having attended MDA Summer Camp for many years, the people I met there had a major influence on my life.”

After her freshman year of college at Ball State, Laura had the opportunity to do a missions trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, with MDA Camp Counselor Ali Campbell. While there, Laura was able to introduce individuals with disabilities to a lot of helpful resources. Her team also put on carnivals for schools, worked with children at orphanages and even put on a camp for individuals with cerebral palsy.

 

Learning a different lesson

Laura’s time at the camp allowed her to express herself through arts and crafts and through writing. It also exposed her to working with others with disabilities, which led her to continue to do so throughout high school.

Laura8“I volunteered during high school to work with students in special education, and that truly lit up my life,” Laura said. “They made every day a joy.”

Once Laura steered away from secondary education at Ball State, she began to pursue elementary education with a focus on special education. She was passionate about working with children, especially those with disabilities.

After four years, she was in the midst of her teaching practicum in preparation for student teaching. Then came another bump in the road.

“When it came time for me to be placed in a student teaching position, I was advised to pursue another career — for liability issues,” Laura said. Being in a wheelchair, she couldn’t lift the 50 pounds required of her. And although her professors were great supporters of Laura and her efforts, when it came down to the advisors and department chairs actually making a decision, it was one that didn’t go her way.

“When they looked at it on paper, being in a wheelchair made me not a good candidate to become a teacher.” The wheelchair hadn’t stopped her before, and it wasn’t going to stop her now. Not only had Laura succeeded in completing four years of college, but she did so living independently in the dorms.

“My family was really all for it,” she said. “They wanted me to live as much of an independent life as possible.” So maybe teaching as a full-time career wasn’t for Laura after all. But she continued on with and finished her teaching practicum. She also took advice from one of her Ball State professors in the special education department, who had been diagnosed with ADHD and dysgraphia, a learning disability that affects writing.

“He said I had more to offer than a majority of his students,” Laura said. “I mean, I go through these challenges on a daily basis, and I think it’s important for individuals with disabilities to know they’re not alone, and they, too, can overcome such adversities. In addition to my physical disability, I also have ADHD. I deal with these issues every day, and I knew there was a way to accomplish my goals.”

 

The art of expression

Throughout college, Laura had continued to study English and language arts. She spent a fifth year at Ball State focused on writing. With classes in poetry and non-fiction writing, Laura was reminded of all she had accomplished.

“Writing really helped me find out who I am and how far I have come,” she said. “I had encountered many challenges in recent years that made me question my ability in so many ways. So many people had told me ‘You can’t do this, and you can’t do that.’ When I was writing these personal essays, it was an eye opener for me and helped me realize I can do anything!”

Laura3Writing was where Laura belonged. And in her writing classes, she also read and edited other people’s writing and got to know them on a personal level.

“Writing can make you very vulnerable, and I love that,” she said. “Words represent someone’s soul on paper, and when people expose their souls like that something magical happens.” It was an experience she would take with her in the future.

In 2012, Laura graduated from Ball State with a Bachelor of Science in general studies with a focus on creative writing and human development.

Through Indiana’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS), Laura was connected with Easter Seals Crossroads (ESC) and their Employment Division. With little work experience, Laura worked with a job coach at ESC for resume help and interviewing tips. She was then placed in her first job — working with Washington Township Schools in Indianapolis.

“I loved it. I really did,” she said. “As an after-school tutor, I got to work with students on a personal level. I helped them, and that’s what I’ve always wanted to do.” But in the end, the 40-minute commute wasn’t worth the few hours a week she was working. So she headed back to her job coach at ESC.

The job coach told Laura about an intern position open with the INDATA Project, helping to increase access to and awareness of assistive technology. She applied and was offered the intern position by INDATA Director Wade Wingler. And, as they say, the rest is history.

 

Passion for the projectLaura7

Now, as INDATA’s social media content specialist, Laura gets the unique opportunity to combine her love of helping people with her love of writing.

“I’m always trying to explore ways to maintain my independence,” she said. “Being in this atmosphere has exposed me to so many new devices and services. I’m seeing a lot of new technology firsthand, and I’m meeting people who are experts in this field. It’s really quite exciting!”

Laura is advocating for INDATA and all the resources it makes available for people with disabilities. Plus, she’s writing about many of the newest tools and gadgets.

“I love writing about technology,” she said. “One of the most memorable blog posts I have written was about Amy Purdy, a double amputee and Olympic snowboarded who was recently on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ With or without disabilities, we all need to see the possibilities that can be offered with assistive technology.”

Laura enjoys making her writing relatable to people, showing them how assistive technology has helped someone in real life, whether it’s going to college, driving or gaining employment.

Laura9“Assistive technology helps people with disabilities live a more independent life,” she said. “INDATA has so many resources and specialists to guide people throughout the state of Indiana with all different kinds of technology, no matter the disability.” Laura has also gained confidence in herself as well as respect for all the people who work at INDATA.

“This has been such a life-changing experience. I’m more aware now than ever of the necessity of everything we do at INDATA. There are so many people working so hard to make things possible. It’s an amazing and humbling experience to work with such passionate individuals who are helping others.”

 

Dreams can come true

Laura is an essential part of the INDATA team, and she makes helping others and making a positive impact her mission. But it’s not always easy.

photo 1[3]“I’ve certainly had times of weakness, but my family is always reminding me what I’ve done and how much I can still achieve,” Laura said.

She lives on her own, in her own house, with the help of caretakers. She also has another helper — her dog, Winnie, or Winifred Eleanor to be exact. She is a two-year-old American Bulldog.

“She’s my baby,” Laura said. “She’s very smart and inquisitive. She’s definitely helped me mentally and physically. She starts every single day off right and gives me a purpose.” Winnie gets Laura in the positive mindset she exudes as she heads to work at INDATA. Laura hopes to continue writing and even become a published author.

“I definitely have more stories to tell.” One of those personal stories is being kissed on the cheek by Jerry Lewis during his annual telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

“I was a state goodwill ambassador for MDA for most of my childhood,” Laura said. “In 1997, my family and I went out to Los Angeles for the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon. My biggest memory was Jerry Lewis swooping me up at the end of the telethon and kissing me on the cheek. I remember blushing — it was on national television!”

293561_2060744917231_769255_nLaura said it was something you experience just once in a lifetime. But after talking with her, I feel certain more of those opportunities will come her way. She will make it happen.

After all, we both love The Little Mermaid. And her favorite quote comes from Mr. Walt Disney himself: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” And she will.

 

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Apps for Apraxia and Dysphagia

by Laura M on July 22, 2014

In last Thursday’s blog, I covered a few apps from Smarty Ears that may help individuals with aphasia, a condition which affects an individual’s ability to express and understand both written and spoken language.  Further, the company also offers helpful tools for individuals with other communication conditions including apraxia and dysphagia.

APRAXIA

The first few apps are helpful resources for apraxia, which is considered a “poorly understood neurological condition,” according to WebMD.  Apraxia affects an individual’s ability to effectively produce speech–the words are there in the brain but may make it out of the mouth.   Apraxia differs from other motor speech conditions as it is not caused by muscle weakness, limited range of motion, or paralysis of any muscles.  It can go by many other labels including childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), dyspraxia, developmental apraxia of speech, developmental verbal apraxia or verbal dyspraxia.  Many children are able to progress with consistent practice and repetition.  Smarty Ears offers many helpful apps to help:

Articulation Scenes is available on iTunes for $29.99.  It offers 1,200 practice words using 72 scenes and provides engaging opportunities to work on articulation.  It differs from similar apps as it practices articulation in a more exciting way in lieu of the flashcard method.  Many individuals work best with a positive reinforcement system; this app offers that by awarding tigerarticulationtrophies upon mastering sounds.

Features:

  1. Compatible with the Therapy Report Center
  2. Four activities:
    I.) find hidden objects;
    II.) tap and say it;
    III.) the movie theater which allows children to listen to each story and target sound in connected speech;
    IV.) the production room which allows children to create their own stories, record them, or continue to practice.
  3. Data tracking capabilities
  4. Track student’s progress over time
  5. Students win trophies as they master sounds
  6. Auditory bombardment activity
  7. Practice words at the word, reading, and conversation level
  8. Built-in voice recorder
  9. Voice files are saved and may be accessed at any time
  10. Offers homework files at no additional cost.

Apraxia Ville is available for the iPad for $29.99.  It is unique and created specifically to help individuals with childhood apraxia of speech and severe speech-sound disorders.  The application offers multiple levels, with both vowel and consonant targets, as well as the ability to create custom words.  Within the app, users will find these three activities:

  1. The Sound Windows: perfect for individuals needing sound and syllable practice.  Each window contains animations for vowels and consonants which provide an animated
    visual aid for phoneme production.  The sound window activity also provides visual feedback by allowing the student to activate the iPad camera and monitor his or her own productions.apraxia-ville-sound-window
  2. The Farm House: this activity is the intermediate step between syllables and multi-syllabic words.  During this, players can practice single-syllable word production at various levels.  The activity is fully customizable by sound groups, vowels, and syllable structure.
  3. The Words Farm: in the final activity, players can learn and practice multi-syllabic word production by combining single-syllable words from the Farm House.
    apraxia-ville-last

Articulate It! is available on the App Store for both the iPad and iPhone for $39.99.  It is a powerful tool filled with constructive content to help a child with articulation delays practice his or her pronunciation skills.  There are two activities: flashcards and matching, with an array of goals: phonological processes, manner of articulation, phonemes, and number of syllables.  Within each activity, the user will find three levels of practice: word level, phrase level, and sentence level.

Word Level: 

articulate-img6

Phrase Level: 

articulate-img7

Sentence Level: 

articulate-img8

Features:

  1. High-quality images: this application features over 1,000 high-quality images, each presented at the word, phrase, or sentence level.
  2. Provides audio examples of each word, sentence, and phrase which allow the child to practice stating each sound independently.
  3. Contains all phonemes of the English language as well as R, L, and S clusters.
  4. Ability to track up to 6 children at the same time each with their own separate targets, tracking and results.
  5. Allows the parent or speech-language pathologist to deselect images he or she doesn’t wish to practice prior to beginning the game, and offers the option to skip any image during the game.
  6. Almost 200 built-in homework sheets which can be emailed or printed.
  7. Includes ability to create and save custom words, phrases, sentences and images.
  8. Features a “Repeat Last Session” button to make it easier getting started.

DYSPHAGIA

Dysphagia is defined as a feeding and swallowing disorder that affects both children and adults, and is caused from different conditions.  Generally speaking though, the affected individual has problems gathering food and getting ready to suck, chew, or swallow it.

Speech-language pathologists play an essential role in the evaluation of infants, children, and adults with dysphagia.

Dysphagia2Go is a helpful, portable tool for speech-language pathologists and is available for the iPad for $39.99. The app eliminates the need for pen and paper during a dysphagia evaluation and replaces that need with the portability and convenience of an iPad.  Throughout the evaluation on Dysphagia2Go, individuals are reminded to asses medications, cranial nerves and all the areas on which any good dysphagia evaluation should focus.  The app provides a thorough evaluation report template to record chart reviews, assessment data, and recommendations in a single document.  The document can then be printed or emailed directly from the user’s iPad.

There is no standardized method of clinical dysphagia evaluation, so this app offers a unique, secure* method for professionals.

For the evaluation, the speech-language pathologist:

  1. Add new patient information which is immediately *encrypted to HIPAA standards ONCE the iPad is locked; **to ensure full confidentiality the user must create an iPad password over a secure network.
  2. Adjust settings on the app
  3. Administer the evaluation beginning with chart review.
    I.) The review includes: reason for referral, physician order, diagnosis, current method of nutrition, consistency, respiratory status, and much more.
    II.) The second part of evaluation includes the oral mech exam (reviews specifics of teeth, lips, tongue, etc.)
    III.) Next includes a review for bedside swallow trials.
    IV.) Lastly one will find the recommendations section, in which the professional can add some recommendations based on the unique need of patient.
  4. After entering the above information, the professional may then email, print, save or delete the evaluation from his or her iPad.

For further information on these apps and more, visit the Smarty Ears website here.

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Tech Tip: Slide 2 Unlock App

July 21, 2014

Anna Leung, iPad specialist at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana, introduces us to the free “Slide 2 Unlock” app–available for the iPad.  This app provides great practice for the “slide to unlock” gesture, which is required for iOS devices.

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ATU164 – Trick my iPhone with Wade Wingler *special episode*

July 18, 2014

Podcast: Play in new window | Download Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs. Show Notes: Trick My iPhone with Wade Wingler * Special episode: Replacing the built-in apps on iOS with alternatives […]

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Smarty Ears: Apps for Aphasia

July 17, 2014

Over the past few years, the company Smarty Ears has aimed to help individuals with communication issues.  They have created several educational apps to help promote speech and language skills for individuals with aphasia, apraxia, dysphagia and more.  Visitors of the website will be able to search for apps by specific area including: AAC Aphasia Apps Apraxia Autism […]

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The Evolution of Elevators

July 16, 2014

After writing a post on the history of the light bulb and GE’s new smart bulb, I pondered the evolution of other everyday inventions.  As I was leaving my office yesterday I began to daydream asking myself, “What is an invention that has an impact on my daily life?”  Suddenly, a bell dinged and an automated voice announced, “First […]

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Smart contact lenses by Google

July 15, 2014

Writer: Laura Medcalf The search engine giant Google has been working on wearable technology for quite some time now. From their smartwatches to Google Glass, their mission of making technology as portable as possible is becoming very evident. The mission will become even clearer with Google’s idea of smart contact lenses. A new patent application details how […]

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Monday Tech Tip: Hand Gestures on iPad

July 14, 2014

Anna Leung demonstrates some helpful hand gestures available on the iPad.  

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ATU163 – Full Page Braille Tablet, National Braille Press, Brian MacDonald, Click2Speak, Enlarge Text on OSX, Windows Store Accessibility

July 11, 2014

Podcast: Play in new window | Download Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs. Show Notes: 163-07-11-14 – National Braille Press – Follow up on Full page Braille Displays – Brian Mac Donald […]

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Shining the light on GE’s new product

July 10, 2014

Over the past hundred years, humans have grown increasingly dependent on electricity; we use it to cook, clean, entertain and even see.  Prior to the invention of the light bulb, individuals would use candles and oil lamps in order to light up their environment.  In the late 1800s, Thomas Edison introduced the world to the first successful light bulb, ultimately impacting […]

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