ATU141 – US Army Major Scotty Smiley – Blind Mountain Climber | Eric Alexander, Social Security Benefits and Employment Webinar, JAWS for Windows 8.1 Tutorial, Livescribe 3 Wins Award at CES, Text-to-911, Clothing Line for Wheelchair Users


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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:

US Army Major Scotty Smiley – Blind Mountain Climber | Eric Alexander | | |

“Employment and Social Security Disability Benefits – Important Considerations”

Web Accessibility Webinar:

Jaws Guides | VIP Software Guides

Livescribe Press Center :: » Livescribe 3 Named Innovation & Design Winner by Envisioneering

What You Need to Know About Text-to-911

Ottawa man to unveil clothing line for wheelchair users – Ottawa – CBC News

App: Time Timer


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—–transcript follows——

SCOTTY SMILEY:  My name is Scotty Smiley. I’m a major in the United States Army, and going to summit Mount Denali this spring.

ERIC ALEXANDER:  This is Eric Alexander, and I am a climber, speaker and author of “The Summit.” This is your Assistive Technology Update.


WADE WINGLER:  Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a 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. Welcome to episode number 141 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on February 7 of 2014. I’m excited today about our interview. We talk with U.S. Army Major Scotty Smiley and his friend Eric Alexander. Major Smiley is blind, and he and his friend are going summit Mount Denali coming up this spring, and they talk a little bit about what that’s going to be like and how assistive technology can be part of the process.

In other stories, we have some JAWS guides for Windows 8.1, Livescribe has won an award for one of their products, interesting information about how you will soon be able to text 911 for emergencies, and a story coming out of Canada about a gentleman who is designing some interesting and innovative clothing for people who use wheelchairs. We hope you will check out our website at Shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAproject, or call our listener line and let us know what’s in your assistive technology toolbox. The number is 317-721-7124.

On February 25, from 11 AM to 4 PM Eastern Standard Time, the INDATA Project is offering a free webinar on web accessibility for developers. Our friend, Dennis Lembree, is going to spend some time with us and of getting under the hood and talking about the nitty-gritty details of how to make your website more accessible for users of assistive technology. If you’re interested in participating, head on over to, and you can register there for free.

From our friends over at Top Tech Tidbits, we learned that David Bales has written some guides for using Windows 8.1 with JAWS. If you’re interested in learning about how to navigate the start screen, the search pane, taskbar, file explorer, those kinds of things, check our show notes because we’ll have a link over to Mr. Bales website where you can find all kinds of tutorials, but specifically some of these new ones for Windows 8.1.

We love to see when assistive technology products get awards in the mainstream. The folks over at Livescribe have won an Envisioneering award. So the Livescribe 3 pen, that allows you to take notes in all kinds of cool ways, was named one of the most innovative products at CES here recently. There were 18 companies and 22 innovations that won awards, and they ranged from high-efficiency miniature power adapters, self-balancing robots, inflatable liking, ultra book workstations, USB video adapters, and contactless scanners and 360 degree cameras. Some of the companies who are recognized are Brother, HP, Honeywell, Fujitsu, Lenovo, and Livescribe is in good company with their Livescribe 3 pen. I’ll pop a link in the show notes over to the press release. You can learn more about the awards, some of the winners, and what Livescribe is doing with their pen.

There might be lots of reasons why a person might want to be able to text a 911 call instead of making a voice call. Folks who are deaf or hard of hearing, who are augmentative communication users, or maybe even in hostage situations or situations where it’s too noisy more difficult to make a regular phone call, having the ability to text your 911 call is important. On January 30, the Federal Communications Commission here in the US have sent out a press release that talks about the intention of making the largest wireless telephone providers in the US to make 911 texting available by May 15 of 2014, just a few short weeks away. There’s a lot going on with this deployment here for texting 911, and I’m going to pop a link in the show notes to a PDF version of the press release so that you can find the FCC information about this. Check our show notes and learn more about how we’re going to be able to send text message number one calls in the near future.

Our friends over at RESNA made us aware of an interesting story from Ottawa, Canada, about a gentleman named Travis Iverson who is working to create a clothing line for people who use wheelchairs. This includes extra fabric into the sides and back of certain pieces of clothing, removes pockets and seams in places that might cause pressure sores, and some interesting things that are both functional and fashionable. I’m going to stick a link into the CBC news article. You can watch the video, learn more about it, read more about this line of clothing for folks who utilize wheelchairs.

Are you somebody who receives Social Security disability benefits and wonders how employment might impact that? Laura Coffee with Virginia Commonwealth University is going to offer a webinar on February 13 on this topic at 2 PM Eastern time. The cost is $20 unless you’re an individual with a disability. In that case, the cost is zero. You can participate in that for free. It’s going to include about a 45 minute presentation with Miss Coffee and then a chance for about half an hour of chat room for questions and concerns and things like that. If that’s a topic you’re interested in, check out our show notes and I’ll have a link.

Each week one of our partners tells us what’s happening in the ever-changing world of apps, so here’s an App Worth Mentioning.

JULIE SMITH:  This is Julie Smith with BridgingApps, and this is an App Worth Mentioning. Today I want to tell you about the app Time Timer. This edition is for the iPad. You can find it in iTunes. It’s $4.99. This app was developed by Time Timer, LLC. Time Timer is a very easy to use and customizable timer app. It can be a great motivational tool and help kids or adults focus. Visually seeing time pass can be very valuable for those who don’t understand the abstract concept of time. The app can save up to four timers at once. You simply tap “add timer” to create a new timer, even swipe to hide the amount of time. To name the timer, and if you need to adjust the settings. In the settings, you can adjust the sound the time makes in the color of the timer. It’s important to make sure that your device isn’t in sleep mode when using the timer because this could interfere with the timer.

There is a version for the iPhone and one for the iPad and iPod touch. This is helpful in the event that you need a timer on the go and your iPad isn’t available. You can quickly grab your iPhone and have it, ready to use. The app also has a quick start mode for when you need a timer very quickly.

This app was used in early childhood special education classroom. For example, when a child did not prefer an activity, we would set the app so they knew exactly how long they needed to participate. Or if I child overly preferred an activity, we set the timer so that they knew the preferred activity had come to an end. We also used it during lunchtime so the children would use to eat in a timely manner, preparing them for kindergarten. To learn more about this app and others like it, visit

WADE WINGLER:  As we record this interview, I’m sitting in a very cold, very windy, central Indiana where temperatures are supposed to get about 15 below zero within the next couple of days. However, the two gentlemen that I have online on Skype and via telephone have experience with much more brutal conditions than that and are planning to spend some time climbing a mountain very soon. I’m very privileged to have on the phone and on Skype US Army Major Scotty Smiley and Eric Alexander. Gentlemen, are you there?



WADE WINGLER:  Good, so I have recently seen some very interesting things come across the news about the fact that you guys are getting ready to climb or to summit Denali coming up in May. Is that right?

SCOTTY SMILEY:  It is. We’re both excited to summit Mount Denali this coming spring and May. Hopefully we can get there before May ends, and if not early June. But it’s a very exciting trial and challenge that were both looking forward to.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s great, and I know that you both have experience with climbing mountains and lots of outdoor activities, but the reason that I’ve invited you guys to be on this particular show is Scotty, you are somebody who’s blind, is that correct?

SCOTTY SMILEY:  I am. I was blinded in Mazul, Iraq, in 2005 just 30 yards away from a suicide car bomb that ended up exploding. I was standing in a Stryker vehicle and it took my eyes and I had to learn to live life without eyesight. It was challenging while at the same time excited and had brought me so many more new opportunities to continue forward.

WADE WINGLER:  And the research that I’ve done on this show, it sounds like you’re living a very full life doing all kinds of cool stuff. As a look at your manly resume, I’ve got to say it includes things like phone climbing and surfing and skydiving. You continue to be an active duty soldier. Is that right as well?

SCOTTY SMILEY:  It is. I wrote a book, Hope Unseen. It follows my life in the trials and things that have gone through, but also some of the climaxes and fun times that I’ve had. I was a physical individual before I was blinded, and that something that I didn’t want to give up. We all could these challenges in life, and when those challenges hit, many times we give up on our aspirations and thinks of we want to do. Physical activities and outlets were something that I never wanted to give up, so working out, lifting weights, running, swimming, riding bikes and even following someone like Eric Alexander up a mountain are challenges that I still want to continue forward in.

WADE WINGLER:  There you go, good. Eric, in a minute, I’m going to ask you about your mountain climbing expertise. Major Smiley, the one thing that I wanted to hit on, you are still active in the military, and you’re teaching younger soldiers. Is that right?

SCOTTY SMILEY:  I am. I’m still active duty in the United States Army, one of the first active duty blind officers to continue on active duty. I’ve served everywhere from Virginia, North Carolina, New York, Georgia, and now Washington State where I’m looking at Gonzaga University with the ROTC department teaching, mentoring, and counseling young future officers. It’s just an awesome blessing to continue to serve our country.

WADE WINGLER:  We certainly thank you for your service in the past and as your continuing on here. Eric, you’re a Mountaineer. Tell me a little bit about the high places on earth you been in the recent past.

ERIC ALEXANDER:  I love climbing. I love the outdoors, and I guess I’ve been blessed with the opportunities to travel the world and see some of the most beautiful places and experience some of the most beautiful mountains on the planet. I guess the most notable climb that I’ve been a part of was climbing Mount Everest with my good friend Erik Weihenmayer, who is also completely blind. We did this in 2001. We had a training climb in the Himalayas the year before, one where I had an accident and nearly lost my life, but was able to come back the year after and climb Everest with my friend Erik.

We’ve also made a sense where we been able to ski from the summit of these peaks, and I’ll take him as a blind skier. It’s just been a lot of fun. Also from that I guess we’ve been able to give back and work with young people who are also blind and lead treks along the Inca trail to Machu Picchu and also a summit of Kilimanjaro for blind students. For me it’s fun personally, but it’s also fun to give back to others.

WADE WINGLER:  I want to talk a little bit about the different kinds of climbing youth done with folks with disabilities. Before I forget, you’ve also written a book. You want to plug that’s really quick?

ERIC ALEXANDER:  I’d love to. It’s called “The Summit.” In it, I talk about these experiences that I’ve had in climbing Everest as well as the treks and other climbs and some other life experiences. Losing my best friend two months before I was to go to Everest. He died in a snowboarding accident here where I live. Kind of about wrestling with fear and doubt in our lives, and it’s also about a personal faith story that I get to share. It’s available in iBookstore, so adapted technology can help people read that.

WADE WINGLER:  I will stick a link in the show notes to both of your books, that way folks who are interested in reading those can just link right on over to that and get those. Erik, you have done a lot of mountain climbing with folks with various kinds of disabilities. I’m sure that some of my listeners are going to think, how is that possible? How is that safe? What does that look like? How do you not get hurt? Talk to me little bit about some of your experiences in terms of the adaptive nature of this climbing.

ERIC ALEXANDER:  Those are all great questions, and I ask myself those same questions all the time. How do we make this safe? Because every person is different and everybody has different skill sets and abilities. That’s kind of a fun and unique challenge of it is I have to think of creative ways to teach and adjust and I’m with everybody because not everybody is blind is the same. Likewise I’ve climbed with people that have missing limbs or have spinal cord injuries, so you really just have to adjust, and every situation is different.

Ultimately it is about that. It is about safety, but it’s also about enjoyment and pushing ourselves in exploring what our boundaries and limits are. Sometimes we let others impose those on us. Sometimes we impose those on ourselves. I like to come alongside people in just believe in what is possible in their lives. For me that’s the greatest joy in it.

I see these blind teenagers who have been basically held down or kept down in the name of safety. I can understand why, but when they have a chance to kind of jump out and be free from that and explore a little bit, it’s life-changing. For example one of the kids I took on this trek to Machu Picchu, he had never really been able to leave his house and go out and check the mail, go to the end of his driveway. He was just so protected. Somehow, I don’t know how, he was allowed to go on this trip. It was truly life-changing for him. For me that’s the joy. It is indeed about making it safe, but we work together to make that happen.

WADE WINGLER:  You guys, as we are recording this look like you’re about four or five months out from climbing Denali. For folks who don’t know, I was taking a school a little bit. Denali is also known as Mount McKinley, but Denali is the more appropriate term for that. I’m sure you guys are training and preparing for that. What does that training look like?

ERIC ALEXANDER:  Scotty, do you want to tell them about our training last week?

SCOTTY SMILEY:  Last week, we all met down in Salt Lake City and climbed in the Wasatch Mountain range, attempting to summit one of the higher peaks down there. I was very surprised at just the load that we were going to have to take. The only other true mountain that I summited was Mount Rainier in Washington state, 14,410 feet which is a challenge.

While following Eric, carrying a backpack, carrying a sled for the first time in which I was surprised to know that I had to carry more weight than I thought I was going to carry. Then more so the 25, 35 mile an hour winds, very cold temperatures, snow in our face, winds blowing which made it very difficult for me to hear, snowshoes on for the first time, following a three inch deep track in which I’m having to attempt to follow. It was a lot more difficult than ever thought it would be and really gave me the knowledge that I have to not just work my legs but work out cardiovascularly, endurance, and really prepare because a two day climb you make down there is nothing in comparison to the possible 21 day climb at altitude on Mount Denali.

WADE WINGLER:  Wow, that sounds like a pretty grueling kind of experience. It sounds to me like it’s equipment intensive, tool intensive environment anyway, but can you tell me a little bit about the adaptive nature? I think I read in one of the articles that one blind climber is paired up with two-sighted guides. There’s the use of low tech stuff like bells and things like that. Can you tell me a little bit about what the accommodations are for somebody like herself was blind or visually impaired?

SCOTTY SMILEY:  Eric has a lot more knowledge than I do, but what he was using bear bell which is used to chase bears or scare bears away. Though I felt like running from Eric’s bell because of the torment that he was causing me, he would wear it on his finger on his hand and then as he’s walking, I just follow the sound of the bell. Sometimes it is hard to hear with the wind and the snow and sometimes blizzard like conditions, but it’s a distinct in very lightweight device in which a guide can use for a blind person to follow.

The person behind me at times can adjust, if I’m continuing to fall to the left of the trail or to the right, can say left or right, or if I’m following Erik, he’ll tap his ski poles together to say low tree here, tree branches in your face, so there’s a lot of talking technique used while at the same time when you’re at altitude you want to minimize the talking just for conservation’s sake. Though the technology is low-cost and lightweight, it’s what is needed to continue to climb safely.

ERIC ALEXANDER:  Wade, you had brought up those environmental conditions, and those can make it incredibly difficult when the wind is howling and you’re wearing a hat and a hood and Scotty relies so much on his ears to hear even the sound of the snow and where might be crunchy and packed out versus soft and powdery, listening for my feet on the snow in my voice, the wind can wreak havoc on that.

We had perfect training conditions last week, but this bell that we use, I’ve used it with Erik [Weihenmayer] and kind of got that idea from him. It doesn’t require a battery, it’s super simple, it’s easy to just pass around from person to person. I had always had the idea of using a boombox so someone could follow their favorite tunes up the mountain, but it’s heavy and requires batteries, you have to constantly maintain it.

The great thing about the bell is I can bring it where I want Scotty to be as opposed to where I am. It’s almost like sprinkling pepper on the trail. You can imagine a bloodhound stiffing out the trail. It’s kind of that same thing where he can listen to the fine details of where he should be walking. Also at altitude, with that cold dry air, I’m more likely to lose my voice, so if that happens, he still has something that he can follow. While there is a lot of verbal communication, it’s just one more tool that we have.

We do have one person in front and one person behind, both people giving directions as we climb. Ultimately that’s how it goes. He doesn’t use a white cane on the mountain. It’s just not going to slide along very well. It’s also a little bit too flexible. We’ll use sturdy trekking poles and he can probe the trail around him with those.

WADE WINGLER: That makes sense. Having high tech, low-tech really is irrelevant. You need to have the right technology. It sounds that you guys have been able to narrow those down to the things that really work and are tested. Scotty, tell me a little bit, and we’re running a little short on time here, but tell me a little bit about the assistive technology you use in your day to day life. I know you and I connected via email, and I think I heard a screen reader in the background at one point. Tell folks who are listening what’s in your assistive technology toolbox for day to day stuff.

SCOTTY SMILEY:  This world is so technology-based. If I didn’t have this technology, I would truly be lost and not just personally, not knowing where I’m located, but mentally being caught up to date. Every day I use JAWS, a screen reader software by Freedom Scientific, on my personal computer, both my laptop at work and at home. It gives me the ability to check my email, go on the Internet, use Word, Excel, PowerPoint. It enables me to teach class, prepare documents. It enabled me to get my Masters of Business Administration at Duke University. It enabled me so much and opened up so many doors while the same time communication is key. I had a Nokia 6620, and then updated to add iPhone with voice over. I also have an iPad at home and the voiceover technology has increased drastically which enables me to listen to books on my iPod, on my iPhone, music. The technological basis has just advanced so drastically that it really opens the door for me and makes me so much more independent than I ever thought I could be.

WADE WINGLER:  I think a lot of our listeners are going to feel comforted in that those are familiar sounding kinds of technologies. When they get those things mastered, then maybe it’s time to start doing some mountain climbing, right?

SCOTTY SMILEY:  Of course, I just got back from blind rehabilitation center on the south side of Chicago and got more technology with Open Book which I can read printed documents, printed books and literally just turn the page. It takes a picture of the two pages that are open and then I can flip through a book within half an hour or so then I just read your whole entire book on my computer in a word document format. That technology has advanced so drastically that it really just opened the doors and helps me assist my wife and pay bills, invoices, everything to that extent. I just encourage people to not get frustrated, not feel that the doors have closed in, but be willing to open up their mind and be willing to learn, though it may take time. It will open up a lot of great opportunities.

WADE WINGLER:  Excellent. And we find that as well, assistive technology really does increase independence and allows folks to do things that might not have been possible before. We have just about a minute or so left. What advice would you guys have for somebody who is maybe blind or has another kind of disability and is interested in trying some more of these outdoor exciting activity. What advice do you have for folks?

SCOTTY SMILEY:  For me, it’s not to have fear. To trust, to love, and to have faith. Through those three, you can do anything. You can set your mind that on the fear and anxiety but understand that you can do what you want to do and go have fun. I think Eric can answer this question so much better than that, though.

ERIC ALEXANDER: I think Scotty took the words right out of my mouth. You have to get over your fears and doubts. The best way to do that is to take a step of faith and trust and then surround yourself with good people. It’s about relationships. That’s one of the greatest things that I found in working with people who are blind and being on the trail is it creates a special bond of trust. Ultimately comes down to relationship. Start somewhere, go out and find a simple trail. Get out hiking and quit making excuses.

WADE WINGLER:  I think that’s absolutely great advice. Major Smiley and Eric, I appreciate your time. I wish you luck and coming up in May to summit Denali. I know that you’ll be in my thoughts and prayers. We’ll be thinking about you, and maybe we can catch up with you guys at the board and see how it went. U.S. Army Major Scotty Smiley and Eric Alexander will be summoning Denali coming up this May. Scotty’s book is “Hope Unseen,” and Eric’s book is “The Summit.” We’ll stick a link in the show notes for you guys to check those out. Thanks for being on the show, guys.

WADE WINGLER:  Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124. Looking for show notes from today’s show? Head on over to Shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. That was your assistance technology update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.

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