Consumer Highlight: Laura Medcalf

Laura Medcalf

If you regularly read of our blog, then you already know the great writings of our Social Media Content Specialist, Laura Medcalf. However, you might not know a lot about her or that she once was a consumer at Easter Seals Crossroads.

Laura was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy when she was only 4-years-old. Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a genetic disease that affects the nervous Laura Medcalf as a little girl system that controls voluntary muscle movement. Prior to her diagnosis, she was having trouble walking without leaning on something. She told me that she often relied on “those kiddie shopping carts to get around.” Once she was diagnosed, she received her first metal walker. In elementary school, she started having hand tremors and her grip was very weak. This made activities like writing and cutting shapes very challenging for her. Laura worked with occupational and physical therapists in the Perry Township school system to address her needs. They assisted her in getting accessible scissors and large pencil grips so she could do school work independently. 

Throughout elementary school her main mode of young Laura Medcalf with family navigation was a walker. However, she was getting more and more fatigued and would fall often. By the end of her 5th grade year, she was entirely dependent on a manual wheelchair. She received her first power wheelchair in 6th grade. She was excited to get her power chair because she would be going to a bigger school and pushing her manual chair was fatiguing. 

In middle school, Laura was starting to learn to type and this was difficult for her as her wrists would become very tired. She started to use ergonomic wrist rests to reduce fatigue. She said that this “made a huge difference as they gave my arms/wrists something to rest on when typing.” 

Laura was also diagnosed with ADHD when in middle school. She found herself very easily distracted from tasks. She told me that one of the low-tech solutions her therapists came up with was to use a bookmark to follow text when reading. She said this really helped her focus on the text one line at at time instead of jumping ahead to look at the entire paper, which would get her off track. 

In high school, Laura says her power wheelchair was her main assistive technology. She remembers one of Laura with friends at high school prom her biggest struggles in school was the weight of her textbooks. She would often have extra books at home so she would not have to lift them out of her locker or backpack. She always wanted to be as independent as possible. She feels like she would have really benefited from today’s technology of ebooks and tablets. It would have made her reading assignments much more accessible to her than having to lift heavy school books. 

In her senior year, Laura spent a lot of her time volunteering with student in special education classrooms through a program called Best Buddies. She told me she was “so excited to get involved with Best Buddies and got paired up with a sweet girl named Kelly from the class.” “It was so rewarding working with these students in ways I didn’t understand at the time, but it influenced what I wanted to do with my life greatly.” Laura talks about how important this experience was for her, “I was often embarrassed by my physical disability, but working with these students taught me that we are ALL the same, we just do things a little differently!” 

Laura graduated from Perry Meridian High school in 2007. At that time, her career goal was to become a special education teacher. Laura knew she wanted to laura in cap and gown at graduationcontinue her education and she knew she would need different support systems to accomplish her goals. To help her with those goals, she contacted Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) to get assistance with things she would need to go to school and eventually obtain employment. Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a state agency that assists people with disabilities in preparing for, obtaining, or retaining a current job.  VR helped with some of the college tuition expenses and later helped Laura obtain services that assisted her in becoming independently employed. 

When Laura first enrolled at Ball State she intended to become a special education teacher, but in her last year she decided to change her degree to Creative Writing. Laura indicated that one of her biggest struggles in college was taking notes in class. She indicated that writing notes throughout a lecture would often times seem “challenging…impossible for me”. She would often take advantage of the disability services provided through the school and have a notetaker attend class with her. This was helpful for her to be able to concentrate during the lecture and ease her anxiety knowing that all the notes would be captured.

After her freshman year, Laura was ready to pursue driving to gain even more independence. To prepare for and determine Laura’s driving needs, her Vocational Rehabilitation counselor referred her to Easter Seals Crossroads’ (ESC) Driver’s Evaluation and Training Program. She was assigned to work with Suzanne Pritchard, Occupational Therapist/Certified laura in adapted van Driver Rehabilitation Therapist at ESC, for an evaluation to determine Laura’s strengths, weaknesses, and what type of equipment would be necessary for Laura to safely be behind the wheel. Laura said that Suzanne was great at making her feel at ease. She said, “ I was so very anxious about driving, but working with Suzanne was so exciting and reassuring.” This evaluation set things in place for Laura to eventually have an adapted vehicle. 

After graduating college, VR referred Laura to Employment Services at Easter Seals Crossroads. This program helps people in getting jobs by assisting them in resume writing, practicing interview skills, arranging internships, and providing job placement laura in cap and gown at college graduationservices. Laura was assigned to a job coach who came out to her house to meet with Laura and her family. During this meeting, the job coach learned about her goals, strengths, and weaknesses. Laura said, “I had ZERO ideas on how to apply for jobs, build a resume, et cetera…you know all that scary real world stuff.” Laura said her job coach “guided me through the ENTIRE process. She helped me with interview skills, resume building, job applying…everything!” Her very first interview that her job coach arranged was with Washington Township Schools for their After School Achievers program. She got that job after her first interview with them and worked with fourth graders from fall 2012 until spring 2013. In the summer of 2013, her job coach told her about two internship programs that might lead to full time positions. One was working with the Department of Public Works and the other was with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads. She was offered an internship at both places and decided to do both of them.

Laura Medcalf at the wheel of her adapted van During this time, Laura obtained a van and VR paid to have modifications made to the vehicle so Laura would be able to drive on her own. Laura loves the independence her van provides. She had been dependent on IndyGo bus transportation and that could add hours to her commute time. Laura told me about her van saying, “My van is a 2010 Chrysler Town & Country. It is just like one you would buy from a standard dealership, except it has a few modifications. A company called BraunAbility converts these stock vans by lowering the floor, widening the doors, removing a few seats, and adding a ramp with a self-kneeling system. Anyone can buy a BraunAbility adapted van from an authorized dealer.”

She goes on to tell me, “my van takes it a step further with adaptations with the addition of an EMC AEVIT 2.0 system. This system provides me with Laura Medcalf behind the wheel of her adapted van primary controls over the gas / brake and steering with simple plug and play joystick systems. While is sounds simple in concept (having a gas/ brake and a mini steering wheel) there is actually a pretty complex system of computers and modules under the hood to allow me to easily drive with my hands while seated in my wheelchair. The system converts the up / down and left / right movements of joysticks into steering motor and servo actions. The van can easily be switched over for an able-bodied individual to drive, with all the standard OEM controls still in-place.”

The combination of BraunAbility and EMC controls allows for people of varying abilities to live independent lives. Laura said, “Before I had this van, I had to rely on others for transportation to and from my daily activities.  Now I am able to hop in my van and drive anywhere I desire, one step closer to a completely independent lifestyle.”

Laura has always loved writing and was thrilled to have found a position where she could bring her unique perspective and use her experience with assistive technology and her creative writing skills to research and write about other assistive technologies that help others. Laura has first hand knowledge of what it is like to be a person with a disability using assistive technology. This understanding helps her write meaningful blogs that reach people and enhance their knowledge about assistive technology.  She has been using many different types of assistive technology throughout her life and continues to find more helpful technologies all the time.

When Laura’s internship ended at the Department of Public works, she expressed her interest in having a permanent position at the INDATA Project. After her successful internship, she was hired on for the permanent position of social media content specialist. She now spends her days learning about all the different technology available to people with disabilities and sharing that through daily blogs. Her personal experiences and love of writing make Laura a perfect fit for working with the INDATA Project to assist in getting the word out about assistive technology.

When Laura was asked about her role as social media content specialist she said, “My favorite thing about my job is that I am ALWAYS learning about assistive technologies. I have used a myriad of assistive technologies throughout my life, but working with INDATA has helped me grow even more independent by finding more technology ideas and to help others grow more independent! I love learning about different AT for those with learning disabilities, autism, physical, visual, hearing and other special needs.”

Laura is a positive and friendly person. She always greets you with a smile and enjoys helping others. This comes across in the blogs she writes for the INDATA Project and we are so happy to have her as part of our team. She loves her position and is grateful for all the assistive technology that she has in place to help her live independently.

Laura answering door through phone systemThanks to assistive technology Laura has been able to not only work independently, but live independently with her beloved dog, Winnie. Laura’s home has been modified with wheelchair ramps, lowered cabinetry, a wheelchair accessible shower, and some home automation in place that allows her to control lights, locks and other householdLaura Medcalf in front of her home on wheelchair ramp items. She uses her iPhone for many accessible features including the home automation app called iVera. iVera is an app that allows Laura to control her lights, thermostat, and door locks via the remote control app. 

Laura uses assistive technology daily which enables her to live independently and write about assistive technology to educate others about assistive IMG_4614technology so they can increase their independence. We hope you have found (or will find) inspiration in Laura’s story or in past or future blogs that may enhance your life or the lives of someone you love. The INDATA staff believes in the importance of people being able to live as independently as possible and hope that we can be a source of information for our readers to achieve or help someone achieve that goal. We believe with Laura’s ability to write and her personal understanding of the need for assistive technology that she will continue to provide our readers with meaningful blogs. We thank Laura for her contribution in providing great content and working hard to spread the word about assistive technology.

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