Looking for Lodging? Accessibility Matters


Assistive technology is about accessibility. Recently, this idea was taken a step further. AirBnB announced a set of 24 filters enabling travelers with a physical disability to more easily find lodging accessible for their needs (e.g., if they use a wheelchair to get around). This feature saves these travelers the burden of having to call multiple places to inquire whether they are accessible to their needs, according to an informative blog piece that goes into detail about how to use the many features now available on the AirBnB app.

The user can obtain detailed information on the residence, as well as outdoor and common areas and whether an accessible (“handicapped”) parking spot is nearby. The accessibility filters can be set to one’s own specific disability.

With more and more people with physical disabilities enjoying travel, this new feature will be welcome news, especially to those using the AirBnB platform.


Ablenet’s New Blue2 Bluetooth Switch Offers Access to Many Apps and Programs

Ablenet Blue2 Bluetooth Switch

The Ablenet Blue2 Bluetooth switch offers easy wireless access to iOS, IOX, Windows, and Android apps and programs.

The Blue2 offers either single- or dual-switch access to Apple devices running iOS 7, as well as the company’s desktop or laptop computers running OS X Mavericks. Blue2 also provides access to apps and programs running on the Windows and Android operating systems. Connection to one’s favorite device via Bluetooth is easy and quick to set up.

Find out about the Ablenet Blue2 Bluetooth switch. It’s this week’s #AssistiveTechTuesday feature, described on our website blog. Not sure if you want to make the investment? New Jersey residents can try it out free at our Technology Lending Center!

Getting to Know the Miracle of Living with Deaf-Blindness

Helen Keller, deaf-blind graduate from college

Helen Keller is the most well-known deaf-blind person. With the advocacy of her teacher, Annie Sullivan, and her own determination, Helen proved one could undertake higher education and graduate.



We all know about Helen Keller, notably through the astonishing performance by Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker. Helen Keller is the most famous deaf-blind person; her name is a household word – and rightfully so. Yet, many people do not fully understand what it is to be deaf blind. With that, President Ronald Reagan in 1984 proclaimed the last week of June as Helen Keller Deaf Blind Awareness Week. To keep the awareness fresh, every year the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Adults Youths and Adults (HKNC), publicizes this important declaration with a national campaign. HKNC is part of the National Family Association for the Deaf-Blind (NFADB).



What Is Deaf-Blindness?

What is deaf-blindness? According to the NFADB, “The term ‘deaf-blind’ seems to indicate the sum of deafness + blindness. However, the combination of these two sensory losses is much more like deafness multiplied by blindness = Deaf-blindness.” The combined loss of both senses poses unique challenges, with independence, access to  information, interpersonal communication, and special navigation is indeed profound. However, contrary to what most people believe, deaf-blindness is not a total loss of seeing and hearing. This is rarely the case. The National Center on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB) provides an excellent overview of the condition covering children, assessment in school, educational services, environment, communication, social-emotional concerns, and motor-movement issues.


Assistive technology in the form of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices are an important pathway to accessibility to full inclusion in society and independent living. http://www.assistivetechnologycenter.org/at/augmentative-communication  For New Jersey residents, the Advancing Opportunities Assistive Technology Center can be an excellent resource, offering both one-on-one assistance and the chance to try out costly equipment before committing to a purchase.



A Famous Deaf-Blind Person (Aside from Helen Keller)

Haben Girma is an Eritrean-American woman who was the first deaf-blind person to graduate Harvard Law School. As an attorney, she has been an outspoken disability advocate for inclusion, accessibility, and Universal Design. Haben recently with current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, all of whom have praised her important work as a disability advocate and self-advocate.



Usher Syndrome

The most common form of deaf-blindness is a condition called Usher syndrome. Usher syndrome is characterized by hearing loss, combined with a loss of vision over time and deficiencies in balance, as the condition starts in the inner ear. There are three types of Usher syndrome, which are characterized by the severity of the symptoms. Usher syndrome is genetically inherited.



Did You Know?

  • Nearly 10,000 children and young adults are deaf-blind.
  • Some 2.4 million people in the U.S. have combined vision and hearing loss.



Further Resources

Project Sparkle Family’s Guide

Deaf-Blind Education

Eye on the Cure Blog 

Deaf-Blind International

National Coalition on Deaf-Blindness

European Deaf-Blind Network


The Genius of Braille: A Real Eye-Opener

Louis Braille was a disability advocate for the blind.

Louis Braille (1809-1852)

In 1809, on January 4, Louis Braille was born.  At age 5, the curious boy was blinded in an accident with one of his father’s tools.  However, Louis refused to let his disability stop him from getting the most of life.  As a teen at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, he self-advocated by developing the system of writing that, to this day, bears his name.  In his honor, the 4th of January has been declared World Braille Day.

Braille’s alphabet consists of a series cells containing, in a 2 x 3 grid, as a raised dot or a blank space. Though there are only six dots or spaces, they can be combined in 64 different ways, allowing for other characters, including letters from the alphabets of other languages.  In other words, braille is not a language, but a code for transcribing many other languages.  Nowadays, there are two main types of braille: Grade 1 and Grade 2.  Grade 1 is a functional letter-by-letter transcription of text.  Grade 2 uses combinations of letters in a single braille character, allowing for much shorter documents; it is the most widely accepted form of braille.


 Br The basic braille alphabet consists of cells of six dots, raised in a variety of combinations and permutations. There are also symbols for punctuation and letter combinations.

Braille provides access to written communication for blind people, in other words, accessibility beyond physical means such as access ramps.  In other words, braille is a form of inclusion, allowing everyone to participate in an important aspect of society, regardless of their disability.  In creating the braille system for reading and writing for the blind, Louis Braille was advocate and self-advocate for people with disabilities par excellence.  And for his part in developing the braille writer, Louis Braille was also one of the great assistive technology specialists of all time.




The braille writer creates the raised dots for braille text rather than printing individual letters or characters. As with the typewriter, the basic layout of the braille writer has been incorporated in modern assistive technology braille input devices.

“Access to communication … is access to knowledge, and that is vitally important for us if we [the blind] are not to go on being despised or patronized by condescending sighted people. We do not need pity, nor do we need to be reminded we are vulnerable. We must be treated as equals—and communication is the way this can be brought about.”

—Louis Braille




Forthcoming New Jersey Conference: Facing the Future with Employment for People with Disabilites


Early bird registration is open for the March 24, 2017, “Facing the Future: To Employment and Beyond” conference hosted by the Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities and NJ ASPE, the Association of People Supporting EmploymentFirst.

Advancing Opportunities will be presenting on how assistive technology can play a role in employment for people with all disabilities.


Looking Back: 2016 Was a Good Year for International Disability Sports Competition

This summer, we had the Rio Summer Olympics.  Then, there were the Rio Paralympics.  And in October, the best of championship athletics for people with disabilities and the latest in assistive technology are combining forces in what is known as the Cybathlon. Among the technologies used were robotic prostheses, brain-computer interfaces, all-terrain powered wheelchairs, and powered exoskeletons.

The first international competition of its kind, Cybathlon was conceived and organized by the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, ETH Zürich.  Founded in 1855, it counts Albert Einstein among its alumni and professors.  Cybathlon was a competition in six disciplines:

  • Powered exoskeleton race
  • Powered arm prosthesis race
  • Powered leg prosthesis race
  • Brain-controlled computer game
  • Powered wheelchair race
  • Muscle-stimulated bike race

The top moments can be seen and relived in a series of videos on the Cybathlon YouTube channel.  In the future, according to a PBS report, robotic arms and other limbs can be life-changing for our wounded veterans.



As to be expected, coverage was widespread:

  • Scientific American and the BBC brought the complex technology to the interested lay reader.
  • Swissinfo and Endgaget covered the events before, during, and after the Cybathlon, “combining innovation and competition.
  • Techradar hailed the Cybathlon as an important force that will influence the Olympic games in the future.

In short, the Cybathlon will be a critical element in promoting assistive technology for people with physical disabilities in all walks of life.







Library Equal Access Program: Providing Visually Impaired Patrons Full Access to New Jersey Libraries


A new effort in New Jersey, the Library Equal Access Program (LEAP), offers speech and magnification assistive technology training to blind and visually impaired consumers 55 and older.  Libraries throughout the Garden State are offering classes in basic and intermediate computers. Advancing Opportunities is collaborating with the NJ State Library Talking Book and Braille Center and the NJ Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired to provide training.  Fred Tchang, Director of Assistive Technology Services said, “There are many people who need assistance learning how to use an iPad and who need help browsing the Internet because their vision is changing. This unique partnership gives older clients with vision impairments the support they need to succeed in learning new technology.”