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Teaching Special Needs Students during School Closures

In the past month or so school administrators and teachers have been contending with how to continue education programs for students with special needs. There are many questions associated with this topic and they entail multiple components, not just the educational aspects.

Image of a Hand
Special Kids
Special Needs

Special education has always been an interest of mine. I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination and find the more I research and learn the more questions come to mind.  Technology offers so many possibilities but there are many issues yet to be resolved. A good example of this is the problem of on line accessibility for all ranges of learning disabilities (LD). Technology alone cannot meet all of the needs, and many small, rural schools lack the community infrastructure for connectivity in outlying areas.  In some cases, there may be budget constraints. 

As the coronavirus spread and states began to shut down schools, many educators found themselves scrambling to find ways to complete the school year. As for the LD students, in an article on the Atlantic Website, Faith Hill reports:  “For students with special needs-roughly 7 million in the U.S. ages 3 to 21-the coronavirus pandemic, and its attendant school closures, can be especially scary. At school, they get individualized attention from professionals who are trained in and deeply familiar with their unique ways of thinking, perceiving and processing.” Hill feels: “No amount of love and care at home can turn the average parent into a special-education teacher overnight. Nor can it enable them to practice occupational speech, or physical therapy-services that are provided in many schools.”

Parents who have had successful careers in areas other than education suddenly find themselves with the demanding task of maintaining their special needs child’s education. Homemakers, businesspersons, construction workers and factory workers with no psychology, speech therapy, physical therapy, or educational training suddenly find themselves as teachers at home. Working from home, in isolation, parents are asked to become special education teachers and wrestle with the dilemma trying to fill the gap of continuing their children’s education.

For many LD students using such online tools such as Zoom and Microsoft teams may not be accessible for a variety of reasons. Regarding this topic, Hill finds: “Students with disabilities often use assistive technology; for instance, a student with visual impairments might use screen-reader software to have text read aloud or a braille reader to read text themselves. But a lot of online platforms aren’t compatible with assistive technology-and even when they are, other problems frequently arise.”

During the extended shutdown many parents and special education teachers are worried about backslide or regression in academic progress. This occurrence already happens yearly, which Hill calls “melt of skills” or “summer side”

Parents who have taken on the role of teacher for their children need helpful advice. Access to special education information at home seems to be sparse at best and if the family is not tech savvy or has no internet access, they may find themselves in a depressing, impossible position.

While looking for suggestions for this article, I asked for some advice from Chad Shippee, a principal of a small rural school in upstate New York. Mr. Shippee responded with a few pointers he shares with parents:

1. “Keep open lines of communication with any school personnel that your child worked with when school was in session. Resource, therapy, and counseling should ideally be available, even if done remotely. These professionals can also help with some suggestions on how to make things go smoothly at home.”

Better together
Parents and Teachers

         2. “Keep a structured schedule. Many students with disabilities work best with structure and know what to expect when one is followed.”

         3. “Don’t be afraid to take a break, or pick and choose what you can and can’t do with your child. No schoolwork is worth the anxiety and stress that can impede on your home life with your child. Do what you can, and just do your best.”

Mr. Shippee also commented: “I see these as the big points. Especially number 1.”

There are a number of web-based articles providing some suggestions. For example, Theresa Harrington has written an interesting article on the Times-Standard website in which she provides five basic tips:

Father and daughter
doing school
work
  1. “Do not try to replicate school at home. Home-schoolers are not even really home-schooling right now because normally, our world is our classroom. Think about it as quarantine schooling.” Remember you are a parent, not a teacher. As Harrington goes on to explain: “It’s going to be messy. Don’t worry about it.” The majority are in the same boat, we are all trying to survive, and keeping money coming in during this pandemic is the priority, and Harrington realistically reminds us that during this time: “Academics may need to come second.”
  2. “Be gentle with yourself, your kids, your partner, and your coworkers. This is unprecedented. Both parents should share in the duties, whether for homeschooling, childcare, or housework.” Harrington mentions concern about “women” in this situation “taking it all on.” 
  3. “Ask your children what they would like to learn. This is a wonderful opportunity to not just do worksheets. Do real life. Make a meal, make a bed, fold laundry, serve meals, clean up, do chores, and do repairs around the house. This helps parents and gives kids skills in gardening, sewing, and fixing things, along with reading, playing, inventing, building things, and singing, dancing, and experimenting.”
  4. “Recognize that learning doesn’t just happen with a teacher or a book at a desk. It can happen anywhere. Children are learning even when they’re playing with Legos.”  This brings up an interesting point (having children myself) why do Legos now come in pre-defined sets such as “Star Wars” themes or pre-designed boats or planes. Why not just throw away the directions and pictures, give them a box of Legos and let their imaginations, creativity and problem-solving skills go wild and develop. One may be surprised by what children using their own minds can come with. Another idea is to give a child some matchbox cars and a box of sidewalk chalk and watch what they do with it. I have watched my grandson spend all day drawing out city streets and parking lots on a section concrete. We need to look at things through their eyes, as Harrington points out: “You don’t have to teach your children everything.”
  5. Be flexible. Learning doesn’t have to take place during regular school hours. If you’re staying home and working, maybe you can shift school work to weekends, evenings or afternoons.” Harrington also suggests: “Use the internet or games as a tool, but don’t feel guilty if you need to rely on them at times to get things done.”

To me, one of the best take-away from the majority of the information found for parents who in this crisis suddenly find themselves being a teacher, remember this is a crisis, you have to do what is necessary during this pandemic so just do the best you can.

In another blog article entitled, How to Homeschool Your Kids During the Pandemic, Claire Sasko provides 10 Tips:

  1. “Use your teachers as your tutors”
  2. “Lower your expectations”
  3. “Start  early in the day”
  4. “Establish a structure”
  5. “Give your kids snacks”
  6. “Keep the little ones out of the room”
  7. “Schedule free time after schoolwork, especially if your kids are ahead”
  8. “Find online resources you trust”
  9. “But don’t forget about books”

“And remember: You don’t always need to force online learning”

There are links to full versions of these articles and others listed at the end of this document.

Finally, although many schools and educators have been working on and preparing for an event like our present situation, there is still much to consider. Their efforts are a work in progress. Remember COVID-19 was sudden and we are all attempting to battle through it.

Technologies have made great progress and continue to make advances in special education. Not all of these tools are yet completely accessible, and broadband is still missing in many rural communities. Demographics are such that not all families have access to individual computers and if a parent now works from home, sharing a computer becomes a challenge in home teaching. Additionally, not all parents have the necessary skills or patience for the task; this opens the possibility for abuse at home. These areas continue to improve, but in the meantime, if you know someone without internet access, struggling with this topic, please share any portion of this information with them.

A Special Thanks to:

Chad Shippee, PreK-12 Principal, Bolton Central School for taking the time to provide suggestions and encouragement, which were a guide for the writing of this.

Additional Resources:

Hill, Faith. (April 18, 2020) The Pandemic Is a Crisis for Students With Special Need Some Students Rely on Schools Foe the Personal, Hands-On Attention of Specialists. What do they do now? Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2020/04/special-education-goes-remote-covid-19-pandemic/610231/

Harrington, Theresa. (April 16, 2020). Homeschooling due to coronavirus? Expert tips on doing ‘what’s best’ for your family. Retrieved From:
https://www.times-standard.com/2020/04/16/qa-homeschooling-due-to-coronavirus-expert-advises-parents-to-do-whats-best-coronavirus/

Sasko, Claire. (April 23, 2020). How to Homeschool Your Kids During the Pandemic: 10 Tips From Homeschooling Parents. Retrieved from: https://www.phillymag.com/news/2020/04/23/homeschooling-tips-pandemic/

Family Education. (March 18, 2020). At-Home Learning Resources for the COVID-19 Outbreak. Retrieved from : https://www.familyeducation.com/at-home-learning-resources-for-the-covid-19-outbreak

Unknown. (March 16, 2020). Homeschooling during a pandemic lockdown. Retrieved from: https://zephyrnet.com/homeschooling-during-a-pandemic-lockdown/

Parenting Advice. (April 19, 2020). Top Tips from Parents on Home Schooling During a Pandemic. Retrieved from: https://senresourcesblog.com/2020/04/19/top-tips-from-parents-on-home-schooling-during-a-pandemic/

Fox, Goldberg, Eleanor. (March 19, 2020). 14 parents share their work from home plans, and tricks they’re using to do 2 full-time jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved from: https://www.insider.com/parents-share-tips-for-working-from-home-during-coronavirus-pandemic-2020-3

Others Works Sourced:

PBS. (March 24, 2020). The switch to remote learning could leave students with disabilities behind. Retrieved from: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/the-switch-to-remote-learning-could-leave-students-with-disabilities-behind

Snelling, Jennifer and Fingal, Diana. (March 16, 2020). 10 strategies for online learning during a coronavirus outbreak. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/explore/learning-during-covid-19/10-strategies-online-learning-during-coronavirus-outbreak

Autism Awareness

Neglecting the Autistic During Covid-19

Jig Saw Puzzle Globe
Autism Support
Network Logo

There seems to be a great deal of concern about this pandemic and it is not unreasonable to believe this is even more unsettling for young adults and children. During these times of uncertainty, coping with all of the unknowns, and adjusting to major life changes affects all of us. For those people afflicted with autism this can go beyond worrisome, it becomes bewildering and frightening which may increase anxiety, and cause involuntary behavioral problems.

To some degree, we are all struggling with isolation and cabin fever.  The importance of reaching out to each other has become abundantly clear.  This is especially important for disabled and autistic community members. Navigating school closures, the sudden loss of support providers, as well as caregivers and friends and having one’s activities restricted due to fears of contracting the virus is especially hard for those with autism. While writing for the Mighty.com, Christine Motokane claims: “A lot of autistic people thrive on routine”, in the case of the current pandemic, there may be times when you’re experiencing increased meltdowns from your autistic loved one. It is important to recognize that the sudden life style changes brought about this pandemic can cause major changes in an individual with autism and these behavioral difficulties are a part of the coping process.  Motokane emphasizes: “Explain to the person that this will not last forever and that we have to utilize “social distancing” (like not going to a favorite restaurant or seeing favorite people) so we can conquer the virus faster.”

While talking about COVID-19 with someone with autism under your care the Autism Support Network recommends: “If you are caring for a child or family member with autism, it’s important to talk with them about coronavirus to ensure they have the information they need, but without unnecessarily frightening them.” On their web site: http://www.autismsupportnetwork.com/news/autism-and-coronavirus-covid-19-993087   they provide 6 steps of guidance to help with your conversation and avoid frightening:

  • Try to talk with your child before they hear about the situation elsewhere, so you can understand what they heard and provide facts that are suitable for their age and level of understanding.
  • Convey the information using a method the person prefers, such as stories or pictures.
  • Allow the individual to process the information, this may mean they play out or talk about fearful topics. You can be on hand to soothe these fears and to be available to answer questions.
  • Talk with you support system, such as school contacts, caregivers and any other support groups.
  • Be on the lookout for signs of distress, there may need for additional support if they are anxious or showing signs of stress.
  • “Be a source for assurance and positivity” for the autistic person to provide a feeling a safety during frightening situations.

People with autism may require additional assistance and encouragement while facing the challenges in understanding, communicating and adjusting to the modifications needed to maintain safety through the duration of this pandemic. There is an increased chance of anxiety and depression that may be intensified during our current stressful period. The University of North Carolina (UNC) on their web site, https://afirm.fpg.unc.edu/supporting-individuals-autism-through-uncertain-times  has set up 7 support strategies which are designed to meet the needs of individuals with autism during this uncertain time.

“7 Strategies to Support Individuals with ASD through Uncertain Times”

  1. Support understanding
  2. Offer opportunities for expression
  3. Prioritize coping and calming skills
  4. Maintain routines
  5. Build new routines
  6. Foster connections (from a distance)
  7. Be aware of changing behaviors

In addition to these strategies, there are ready-made resources that are intended to help caregivers quickly and easily utilize these aids. The caregiver may want to consider involving the individual with autism in making the decision on which tools may be the most helpful. These tool kits are taken directly from the University of North Carolina AFIRM website (Autism Focused Intervention Resources & Modules).

UNC Tool Kits:

Supporting Individuals with Autism through Uncertain Times Packet

The Supporting Individuals with Autism through Uncertain Times Full Packet contains all of the content, strategies, and resources related to supporting individuals with ASD.
Supporting Individuals with Autism through Uncertain Times Full Packet.pdf

Supporting Individuals with Autism through Uncertain Times Article Only

The Supporting Individuals with Autism through Uncertain Times Article Only contains all of the content and strategies related to supporting individuals with ASD. This content is adapted from Hume, Regan, Megronigle, & Rhinehalt, 2016.
Supporting Individuals with Autism through Uncertain Times Article Only.pdf

Resources for Adults with Autism for Uncertain Times Full Packet

The Supporting Adults with Autism through Uncertain Times Full Packet contains all of the content and resources related to supporting adults with ASD.
Supporting Adults with Autism through Uncertain Times Full Packet.pdf

We are undergoing extraordinary times and as we attempt to navigate our way through lockdowns, social distancing and social isolation. In our own efforts to adjust, we may have unknowingly become complacent in regard to some the most vulnerable members of our population.

In a news article for health24.com, Hlengiwe Mkize describes: “autism is a developmental disability characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication, autistic persons should be assisted to ensure that they are protected from contracting COVID-19 as they may be unable to communicate to seek medical help or rely their symptoms.”

Also during this time of social separation, because of the possible lack of communication skills, individuals with autism are also considered a group susceptible to gender-based violence as they may not have the ability to report abuse. Mkize points out: “children with autism may not understand what abuse is.” The non-speaking person with autism is at a higher risk of all forms of abuse due to the inability to communicate with others.

There have been many unanticipated consequences due to lockdowns. For instance, the parents of children with autism no longer have the help of speech, physical, occupational and the other therapists needed to assist their child.

Mkize states: “Just missing one month of therapy will have a major impact on our autistic children. We need to begin exploring ways of how these gaps are going to be addressed once the lockdown has been lifted.”

The importance of is not just confined to the United States, this seems to be a global concern, as Mkize emphasizes: “To reiterate the UN Secretary General’s Words ‘” The rights of persons with autism must be taken into account in the formulation of all responses to the Covid-19 virus.”’

This is an extremely complex topic and it is difficult to cover all aspects of autism, my only hope is that by writing this I have caused people to begin to think about those who are easily overlooked.

Below are some of the many resources I discovered on line and perhaps by sharing, one or two may be of benefit or relevant to the readers.

Resources:
https://themighty.com/2020/04/coronavirus-pandemic-autism-routine/?utm_source=yahoo&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=in-text-link

http://www.autismsupportnetwork.com/news/autism-and-coronavirus-covid-19-993087

https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/coronavirus-how-talk-child.html?WT.ac=p-ra

https://afirm.fpg.unc.edu/supporting-individuals-autism-through-uncertain-times

https://www.health24.com/Medical/Autism/News/opinion-autistic-persons-vulnerable-during-covid-19-outbreak-20200402

https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/7-essential-tips-for-making-the-most-of-online-therapy-during-covid-19

https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/daily-quarantine-routine-for-depression-chronic-pain

https://www.healthline.com/health/5-tips-for-coping-with-cabin-fever-during-a-shelter-in-place

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/covid-19-serious-effects-people-with-mental-health-disorders

https://autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu

Works Cited

Autism Support Network. (2020). Autism and coronavirus (COVID-19). Retrieved from: http://www.autismsupportnetwork.com/news/autism-and-coronavirus-covid-19-993087

Mkhize, Hlengiwe. (2020). OPINION: Autistic persons vulnerable during Covid-19 outbreak. Retrieved from: https://www.health24.com/Medical/Autism/News/opinion-autistic-persons-vulnerable-during-covid-19-outbreak-20200402

Motokane, Christine. (2020). One Reason the COVID-19 Pandemic Might Be Extra Challenging for Autistic Adults. Retrieved from:  https://themighty.com/2020/04/coronavirus-pandemic-autism-routine/?utm_source=yahoo&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=in-text-link

University of North Carolina. (2020). Supporting Individuals with Autism through Uncertain Times. Retrieved from: https://afirm.fpg.unc.edu/supporting-individuals-autism-through-uncertain-times

Image:

Autism Support Network log. Retrieved May 2020. Retrieved from: http://www.autismsupportnetwork.com

Mental Health Awareness Month

Emotional Health of Front Line Workers

May is Mental Health Awareness month. The current pandemic provides an opportunity to investigate some of the resulting tolls on mental health this virus has taken.

As this article began there was a striking news story, that emphasizes the importance of mental health awareness

On Sunday April 26, 2020, according to Zachary Dowdy of Newsday:  “Doctor Lorna Breen, medical director of the emergency department at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital in the northern tip of Manhattan, died in Charlotte, Va., where she was staying with family.”

Dr. Breen who was 49, received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Cornell University, and completed her residency at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Dr. Breen doubled in Emergency Medicine and Internal Medicine.

It was while at New York-Presbyterian Hospital that Dr. Breen became infected herself with the coronavirus. After recuperating, she returned to work. Following a week and a half back at work, she was sent home. Concerned, her family brought her back home to Charlotte. It was there, Dowdy writes: “Police officers responded to a call seeking medical assistance on Sunday.” Dowdy continues: “the victim was taken to the U.Va. Hospital for treatment but later succumbed to self-inflicted injuries.”

Dr. Lorna Breen’s father, Dr. Philip C. Breen said in an interview with the Times, as Dowdy recounts: “That his daughter had no mental illness that he was aware of. But he said she did recently seemed  ‘detached,’ making him suspect she was having problems coping with the fact the virus had so ravaged the city that patients were dying before they could be removed from the ambulances arriving to the emergency room.”  Dr. Breen went on to say: “She tried to do her job, and it killed her.”

Finally, Breen told newspaper reporters: “She was truly in the trenches of the front line,” and then went on to say: “Make sure she’s praised as a hero because she was.” He’s right.

There are so many concerns with the Covid-19 pandemic and with the complexities and diversity of our population that it is far from a simple task to arrive at solutions which are all encompassing. The chances of neglecting one group or another is a certainty. The passing of Dr. Breen brings to light one of the groups which are not so much neglected as they are taken for granted. Often expected to just be there, it may be incorrectly assumed there is no need to worry about a highly educated doctor, they know how to care for themselves.

In a blog, Sigal Samuel reminds us: “If you’re finding it hard to stay home right now, imagine how it would feel to be a doctor or nurse. Health care workers don’t have the luxury of holing up in their homes to shield themselves from the coronavirus.” For us, the current isolation is challenging, but for those dedicated to saving lives, separation from families for long periods of time is necessary rather than taking the risk of transmitting the virus to their love ones.

It has been reported that physicians have a higher suicide rate than those who are in the military which is considered a career that is very stressful. In this research reported by Pauline Anderson, she writes that the: “rate exceeds that of the general population by 2.5 to 4 times.” It seems while trying to understand the reasons for the high rates, that the most common diagnoses is attributed to mood disorders, alcoholism and substance abuse.

As this pandemic spread across the world and the anxiety which correspondingly accompanies the illness, consider the impact on our first responders and healthcare workers. As emergency rooms became overwhelmed with cases of the Coronavirus, a shortage of supplies and the seemly endless rising number of people requiring medical attention the call went out for more help. Doctors, Nurses, EMTs and other health care workers and responders were forced to face mounting cases of the infection.

When discussing the mental health toll on health care staff, Sigal refers to Italy as an example: “Doctors there had to choose which patients got put on a ventilator, a heartbreaking decision that may cause lasting psychological distress.” In the United States, shortages in ventilators loomed over most hospitals and in particular in New York City. Fortunately, medical personal here were not forced to make the choice of who lives and who dies.

In the U.S., emergency room staffs soon became inundated. Samuel, using Italy as a comparison, details: “Because there aren’t enough infectious specialists to tend to all the Covid-19 patients, other doctors like ophthalmologists and dermatologists are being trained to care for them, for example by providing supplemental oxygen.” Most have no experience watching a patient intubated or die in front of them, being forced to hide or delay their grief, and unable to share their emotions, some of them may end up with post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health problems down the line.” In America, doctors with varying specialties stepped up to help, wherever they could.

While first hand witnessing the increasing death toll, combined with little break from the epidemic and long hours, many hospitals quickly resembled something like a wartime MASH unit. Stress, anxiety and weariness, for some, provides the potential for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a reality.

In her article for Psychologytoday.com, Shaili Jain M.D. has found: “the intensity of exposure to disaster plays a big role in determining who will develop PTSD in the aftermath.” Being isolated from family or being fearful of subjecting family to the disease, while attempting to maintain their chosen career mission of preserving life, mixed with concerns for the wellbeing of fellow workers and the frustrations of patients needing treatment with little options available the exhausting, frustration easily leads to helplessness and depression. The results are that they are reminded of their own vulnerabilities.  As doctor Jain wrote: “the high stakes demands that force them to ‘carry on and defer’ grieving and the processing of emotions and subsequent self-quarantine mandates which left them isolated from their traditional support systems.”

Finally, doctor Jain finds: “the collective lessons we have learned from prior disasters tell us what needs to be done to prevent an epidemic of PTSD among COVID-19 essential workers: in the immediate term, fundamental resources to help secure their personal safety and in the mid to longer-term a systematic, coordinated response that provides active outreach, identify vulnerable subgroups and if necessary, offer psychological treatment. Fortunately, the mental health community has developed effective therapies specifically tailored to treat and manage PTSD. There is no reason for this side effect of the COVID-10 pandemic to persist.”

Frontline healthcare workers require systematic action to fight the mental health effects from the high pressure of the reality of treating those people who have contracted the virus. To be successful at defending against the deteriorating mental health of caregivers requires more than lip-service, or sympathy and rhetoric. What is required is a long-term commitment of funds, resources, and societal support and understanding.

If you would like to help provide mental health support to health care providers visit: https://www.drlornabreen.com/

Are You In Crisis? Call the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 800-273-8255

Works Cited:

Anderson, Pauline. (2020) Doctors’ Suicide Rate Highest of Any Profession. Retrieve From: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20180508/doctors-suicide-rate-highest-of-any-profession#1

Dowdy, Zachary, R. (2020) Top Manhattan ER doctor dies by suicide, cops and report say.
retrieved From: https://www.newsday.com/news/health/coronavirus/manhattan-emergency-doctor-suicide-1.44212330

Jain, Shaili, M.D. (2020) Bracing for an Epidemic of PTSD Among COVID-19 Workers. Retrieved From: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-aftermath-trauma/202004/bracing-epidemic-ptsd-among-covid-19-workers

Samuel, Sigal. (2020) Doctors and nurses are risking their mental health for us.https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/3/26/21193122/coronavirus-mental-health-doctors-nurses-covid-19

Image Cited:

Dr. Lorna Breen Retrieved From: https://heavy.com/news/2020/04/lorna-m-breen-dead/



Fighting Home-office Stress

By: Chas Barrie, Accessibility Advocate
Date: 04/22/20

Don’t Pull Your Hair-Out

It has been some time now since many of us have been working from home. Our hats are off to all of you who are continuing to be productive in this strange new reality of a home office.

Working from home is something that works easily for some and not for others. For all who are successful and for those of you who are still struggling with this new workplace environment, kudos to all of you for still having your hair, or most of it.

Fighting distractions and interruptions, spouses, children, news on the pandemic, isolation from family, friends, and neighbors, while dealing with work-related isolation (that is to say the lack of collaboration among coworkers) are a few of the complications occupying our minds while coping with this new lifestyle. As we attempt to tackle this lifestyle change and the overwhelming desire to get out of the house, our mental state may be deteriorating. We begin to stress and depression may be sneaking in. Don’t let it and remember you’re not alone.

It’s not surprising that there are a number of blogs and articles on the internet relating to this. A caveat to this quantity of information is that during this pandemic and the rise in unemployment, not all stress relieving suggestions are practical. One blog in particular, by Amy Morin has some simple technics which, in our focus to stay productive in our jobs and trying to stay sane, we may have overlooked. Below are Amy’s 5 stress relievers that can be done at your desk:

1. “Progressive Muscle Relaxation”

News media, as they should, have been continuously reporting on the current pandemic crisis. For the majority of people this increases stress levels.

This increased stress, as Morin points out: “can cause you to tense certain muscles in your body. Over time, you may become accustomed to that tension that you stop noticing that your muscles are tight. Sore muscles-especially in the neck and shoulders can stem from chronic tension. Progressive muscle relaxation lets go of that tension.

Spotlighting the neck and shoulders, try slowly tensing and relaxing your muscles. Focus on one group at a time beginning with your toes and moving up to your neck. Below are a few links which may help. Remember, like everything, it takes practice to master progressive muscle relaxation.

Below are a few of the many sites to get you started:

https://grokker.com/yoga/video/yoga-at-your-desk/54ad8d5cbdf702ee66cd4fe8

I have used the next suggestions for years and they actually work for me. Once again, they take practice.

2. “Visualization”

Visualization can be a very powerful relaxation tool. Although you can’t physically be at your favorite peaceful place or you place of Zen, taking a momentary mental break in your chair can do wonders to relieve stress while you go to your favorite place.

Remembering that favorite place, Morin suggests: “Close your eyes and spend a few minutes imagining you are there. Engage as many senses as you can by thinking about what you’d see, hear, smell, touch, and taste as if you were really enjoying that relaxing scene.”

Taking this little mental vacation can relax both your body and mind reducing stress. Try visiting these sites, and there are more:

https://www.verywellmind.com/visualization-for-relaxation-2584112

3. “Deep Breathing”

Of all the subconscious activities our body performs, breathing is one many people never give a second thought too. This is a completely automatic life function. Yet when we allow ourselves to be aware we discover it can have an impact and it affects our bodies. Performing routine deep breathing exercises has the ability of yielding a natural relaxation. In her article, Amy Morin reports: “Deep breathing is so powerful that The American Institute of Stress even named it `the best stress reduction technique’ of all.”

The act of deep breathing increases the oxygen supply to the brain. This increased oxygen supply stimulates a state of calmness, which in turn relaxes the body. A calm body and brain fosters greater creative thought and increased productivity. Slow deep breathing combined with visualization skills can provide immediate stress relief.

Below are just a few links that may help:

https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-relief-breathing-techniques#1

https://www.verywellmind.com/how=to-reduce-stress-with-breathing-excercises-3144508

https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2255

https://www.stress.org/take-a-deep-breath

4. “Engage Your Senses

Another way to refocus our attention and to escape the deep dark hole of worry is engaging your senses. Reflect on which of our senses is the most helpful and push aside the ones that are hindering us.

This is a very useful suggestion but requires experimentation as to which activity is helpful. Some examples might be; eating some of your favorite candies, squeezing a stress ball, looking at family pictures, or, listening to music. I find it music very relaxing and at the same time very creatively stimulating. Once again, with a little practice one can find the sensory trigger that provides the most stress relief.

Additional sites to help with sensory stress relief:

Find sensory stress relief right now

https://psychcentral.com/blog/quick-stress-relief-tips-through-your-5-senses/

5. “Laugh”

Amy Morin reminds us: “It’s true what they say-laughter really is the best medicine.” There is nothing more refreshing than a belly laugh, it eases stress and tension while increasing circulation. Laughter is known to increase endorphins in the brain while producing relaxing and almost euphoric feelings.

Though surrounding yourself with funny pictures, humorous cartoons and silly jokes are all useful tools, don’t forget to have or develop a willingness to laugh at yourself. This can serve as a good reminder not to take life too seriously which can serve you well in reducing stress.

https://stress.lovetoknow.com/Humor_to_Relieve_Stress

https://www.verywellmind.com/maintain-a-sense-of-humor-3144888

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/high-octane-women/201205/quotes-about-stress-will-tickle-your-funny-bone

While researching for this blog and trying to come up with solutions for the different varieties of stresses we are all attempting to confront at this time, I came across a number of sites with a wide array of suggestions and antidotes, but unfortunately most were difficult to apply during a pandemic and a stay-at-home order. There is one suggestion which was recurring and was felt to be important and perhaps forgotten by some of us:

This is a temporary situation and it will get better, just keep everything in perspective, relax and smile.

Finally, I have seen videos and have read articles about chair dancing. As silly as it sounds, it is refreshing and a great stress reliever. If this sounds interesting to you attached is a website link as an example:

WARNING: make sure the first time you try this, no one is home. My spouse happened to walk into my office and saw me. I can’t even describe her facial expression. I have since not lived this down. At least be sure they know what you’re doing before you surprise them. Remember to keep a sense of humor about yourself.

A CALM BRAIN! Remember a calm brain is the key to a calm body and also helps us to learn, to be creative, and to be productive. So keep your hair in place.

WARNING!
Don’t let this happen to you.
Even the best hairstylist can’t fix this.
Be positive and laugh, a lot!!

Works Cited:
Morin, Amy. (2020). 5 Powerful Stress Relievers You Can Do At Your Desk. Retrieved from:      https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2015/07/29/5-powerful-stress-relievers-you-can-do-at-your-desk/#170480ca3cc6

Image Sources:
Faley, Chris. (1995). Tommy Boy. Paramount Pictures, https://milwaukeerecord.com/film/holy-schnikes-lakefront-brewery-will-screen-tommy-boy-avalon-theater-february/

Unknown. (2019). 5 Facts about the Hairless Sphynx Cats. Retrieved from:  www.lifewithcatman.com/catman/facts-about-sphynx-cats/

Additional References:

https://www.verywellmind.com/the-stress-of-working-from-home-4141174

https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/minding-the-body/201111/10-solutions-work-home-stress

https://time.com/5804130/covid-19-social-distancing-wellness/


The Disabled and Covid-19

By: Chas Barrie, Accessibility Advocate
Date: 04/08/20

Are Your Prepared?

We seem to be consumed with information about the COVID 19 outbreak throughout the world, and especially here in the United States. As the reality and the seriousness of the virus is realized after being confronted with the number of cases and the death rates throughout the world and such cities New York and others, it becomes apparent this threat is universal and real.

As previously stated, this virus doesn’t discriminate. The Corona virus does not care about race, gender, political affiliations, how educated you are, how much money you have, or whether you are disabled or not.

The COVID-19 virus crisis has the majority of people alarmed and looking for ways to protect them from becoming infected. In his blog for Forbes magazine, Andrew Pulrang writes: “One group faces additional risks and consequences, as well as anxieties: [people with disabilities] and/or chronic illness.”

The website arcmi.org states: “One in four adults in the US has a disability. Globally, well over 1 billion [people have disabilities].” This site also informs the reader: “[Persons with disabilities] require the same resources and assistance that everyone does-adequate information and instructions, social and medical services, and protection infection by those who contract the virus. However, some persons with disabilities may have needs that warrant specific steps by the public and private sectors that may not be necessary for others.”

In this article Pulrang provides 5 points to keep in mind for people with disabilities

1. The people most often cited as being at serious risk are largely, by some definition, people with disabilities.

Having a disability doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a greater chance of contracting the coronavirus. From the onset of the outbreak health officials warned those with underlying conditions were a greater risk, therefore the many people with specific disabilities or chronic conditions must be aware that the virus poses a much higher risk for them.

With every news report, or each time a health official voices a new concern about COVID 19, the anxiety for the person with a disability elevates. Every time there is a statement in the media attempting to reassure the public that this virus isn’t that deadly because it mainly kills or injuries high-risk people, for the disabled and the elderly this is alarming. As this continues, the lines between the chronically ill and the disabled become hazy, resulting in unfair stigmatizing. All the fear factors surrounding this pandemic, for people with disabilities this may be resulting in significantly increased anxiety, and anxiety itself poses a number of health risks.    

2. It can be harder for people with disabilities to take prudent steps to protect themselves from the coronavirus outbreak.

It is logical to be prepared for an outbreak and to follow a plan, but many people with a disability or the chronically ill have experienced medical bureaucracy and difficulties with the response and flexible assistance they have needed. This has created an atmosphere of distrust for following effectively any previous recommendations.

It can be difficult for some people with a disability to isolate themselves as easily as recommended. For some there is a need for daily, direct one to one personal help for everyday care.

Normally grocery shopping can be an exhausting challenge for the disabled. Besides being extra demanding, in many cases this also requires arranging transportation.

For the non-disabled, frequent washing of hands is often not given a second thought, but for those with physical restrictions, along with possible interrupted service or environmental barriers, this simple task becomes difficult.

Finally, people with chronic health conditions worry about maintaining an adequate supply of needed medications. During normal times just keeping up with scheduled refills is challenging, but this becomes even more stressful during a public crisis.

3. COVID-19, coronavirus threatens not only the disabled’s health but their independence. 

To begin his third point, Pulrang explains:Some [people with disabilities] depend on regular help and support from others to maintain their independence-that is, their ability to live in their own homes, rather than in nursing homes, group homes, and other institutional settings. Outbreaks of communicable diseases can disrupt these services. Aides and caregivers may become sick themselves, or the risk of catching or spreading illness may require aides and caregivers to stay home, interrupting the [people with disabilities] services.”

During an outbreak, it is important to consider that an organized care facility may not necessarily be a safer place for the elderly and disabled. Although these facilities have an abundance of medical assets, one person with a disability with one or two cautious and prepared caregivers, may be better off at home with limited, and controlled isolation. This means we need to reexamine the views we may have about safety for various types of disabilities.

The risks from COVID-19 for the disabled and the elderly may not be from the actual disease, it may be from the resulting interference in normal services and the changes in daily routines.

4. This outbreak has the potential to add new perspectives and urgency to a number of long-term disability issues.

“Workplace accommodations and flexibility…”

For all of the people with a disability or chronic illnesses who continuously fight for flexible work arrangements like reasonable accommodations, and telecommuting, with the arrival of the coronavirus online technologies are now being seriously considered with a new appreciation by employers for the possibilities they offer for many employees, and not just the employees with disabilities and chronic health conditions.

“Centralized care in institutional facilities vs. decentralized home and community based services…”

In his blog, Pulrang notes:preconceived ideas about the relative health risks of centralized care and decentralized home care are being viewed now in new ways. Many disability activists have for years contended that the purported safety of nursing homes and group homes for elderly and disabled is overrated.” Now that we are in the midst of the Corona pandemic Pulrang continues: “the fact despite the apparent advantages of more controlled, medically-supervised environments, there are also health risks involved in housing people with health vulnerabilities in hospitals and other kinds of care facilities.”

“Health care organization and affordability…”

One of the most polarizing topics in politics at this time is health care. While the politicians and the public alike have strong ideas concerning the cost and structure of the health care system in America, for the public to be able to control contagious disease necessitates the immediate access to medical care, reasonable cost and with minimal red tape. While developing a balance between taking preventative steps and the associated high medical bills, the public suffers.

5. You can help a lot just by being aware and sensitive to the specific risks and obstacles faced by people with disabilities in an outbreak of contagious illness like COVID 19.

Remember that panic is not beneficial. Do not diminish the risks or attempt to talk a person with a disability out of being apprehensive about their health risks. Considering the person with a disability’s possible past experiences, their concerns may be justified. In all likelihood it is not getting sick that worries them, it is the support system they have to rely on.

The disabled need everyone they associate with to allow as much emotional support as possible and as they may need. Pulrang believes: “now is not the time to tighten the reins, or try to impose what you think is best for the [person disabled].”

Take their concerns seriously; remain healthy so you are able to help.

Arcm.org reminds its readers: “[Persons with disabilities] must be able to receive timely and accessible information about steps they must take to minimize the risk of infection; what actions are being taken that may affect their living arrangements; and the availability of services, caregivers, medication, and other changes critical to their personal planning and preparedness that may directly impact their daily life.”

This statement continues on:” Government entities must provide communication that is equally effective to all at all times. This includes ensuring that all televised public announcements are live-captioned and provided by qualified sign language interpreters. Websites and other digital and electronic information must be accessible to people with vision, hearing, learning, and dexterity disabilities, and to individuals who do not read print because of their disability.”

There is much more information on the concerns about COVID 19 and the disabled on line. Below there are listed a small sampling of available websites for additional information.

Works cited:

Pulrang, Andrew. (2020). 5 Things to Know About Coronavirus and People with Disabilities. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewpulrang/2020/03/08/5-things-to-know-about-coronavirus-and-people-with-disabilities/#784012ce1d21

[Noted: the termed Disabled people or persons in this articles has been edited to comply with NYS People First Policy]

Michigan, The Arc. (2020). Planning & Response re: COVID-19 for persons with disabilities. Retrieved from: https://arcmi.org/2020/03/04/planning-response-re-covid-19-for-persons-with-disabilities/

For additional Information:

https://www.disabled-world.com/news/america/covid19-treatment-rationing.php

https://www.disabled-world.com/health/influenza/coronavirus/2019-coronavirus.php

https://www.newmobility.com/2020/03/disability-specific-recommendations-for-covid-19/

https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/wysk/wysk_ada_rehabilitaion_act_coronavirus.cfm

https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/03/28/ocr-issues-bulletin-on-civil-rights-laws-and-hipaa-flexibilities-that-apply-during-the-covid-19-emergency.html

https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/wysk/wysk_ada_rehabilitaion_act_coronavirus.cfm

Accessibility and the World Wide Web

By: Chas Barrie, Accessibility Advocate
Date: 04/08/20

Can You Access Me Now?

Watching and listening to the news at this time is not what one would call warm and fuzzy. By and large, newscasters, as they should be, are consumed with information pertaining to Covid-19.

We are continuously being informed that for further information we should consult this website or that website. I have not heard anything that tells me Covid-19 discriminates. To the best of my knowledge, this pandemic makes no distinction whether a person has a disability or not, it strikes universally. How much of this information on the web is accessible and how many people even know what web accessibility is all about?

During this global crisis the information pertaining to this situation must be available to all. The information should be timely, accurate and accessible. Technology is of critical importance today and particularly the internet. What better way to get your message out to the world’s diverse population than by using the internet?

Background

As detailed on the EPA website: “Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. § 794d), as amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-220) requires federal agencies to develop, procure, maintain and use information and communications technology (ICT) that is accessible to people with disabilities – regardless of whether or not they work for the federal government. The US Access Board established the Section 508 standards that implement the law and provides the requirements for accessibility.” The important concept behind this rule is to make technologies such as online training and informational web sites available to everyone.

History

There are a number of people who believe there is no other invention that has had a greater effect on the world than that of the internet. It may be considered a greater innovation than Gutenberg’s printing press back in the 1400’s.

One of my favorite websites, WebAim, states: “The Web Offers Unprecedented Opportunities, the internet is one of the best things that ever happened to people with disabilities.”

Long before the internet, the Sunday newspaper was just printed words on paper. How would people who are blind be able to read this? They couldn’t. There were Audiotapes or Braille versions, but they were expensive and the New York Times was too bulky too handle. They had to rely on other people to read the paper to them. This method worked, but made people who were blind dependent on others.

Today, most newspapers can be found on line and the sites have been written in a format that has the ability to be read by someone who has visual difficulties by using a screen reader software program. These programs are a far cry from the massive print versions or waiting for audio tapes. Now the user can simply use a web browser and listen to the screen reader with no time delay.

People struggling with mobility, unable to pick up a paper or turn pages can now read the paper, with the use of adaptive technologies. Once again, it is a matter of browsing the internet.

Laws and standards

In 1973 the United States adopted the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504 and Section 508) as well as the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act concern themselves with accessible websites.

  • Section 504 was meant to ensure that the people with disabilities living in the U.S. would not be discriminated against because of their disability.
  • Section 508 requires that the federal government procure, create, use and maintain ICT that is accessible to people with disabilities, regardless of whether or not they work for the federal government.

There have also been many nations that have passed international laws addressing accessibility. Additionally, the U.N. General Assembly has designated the Department of Global Communications as the focal point for web accessibility in the United Nations. This site is part of DGC’s effort to fulfil its mandate and promote web accessibility in the UN system.

According to the U.S. Justice Dept. “More than 50 million Americans – 18% of our population – have disabilities, and each is a potential customer. People with disabilities are living more independently and participating more actively in their communities. They and their families want to patronize businesses that welcome customers with disabilities. In addition, approximately 71.5 million baby boomers will be over age 65 by the year 2030 and will be demanding products, services, and environments that meet their age-related physical needs. Studies show that once people with disabilities find a business where they can shop or get services in an accessible manner they become repeat customers.”

So despite the great potential the web offers for people with disabilities, because of lack of accessibility, this potential is still today unrealized.

Categories

For website designers, focusing on the layout, content and optimization of the site is critical, but if you truly wish to maximize the number of visitors to the site it is just as critical for the designer to put themselves in the shoes of someone with a disability and ask themselves if they could access this information.

WebAim has placed the vast variety of disabilities into 5 general categories.

  • Visual: Blindness, low vision, color-blindness.
  • Hearing: Deafness and hard-of-hearing.
  • Motor: Inability to use a mouse, slow response time, limited fine motor control.
  • Cognitive: Learning disabilities, distractibility, inability to remember or focus on large amounts of information.

As WebAim points out: “Each of the major categories of disabilities requires certain types of adaptations in the design of web content. Most of the time, these adaptations benefit nearly everyone, not just people with disabilities.

Guidelines

There are international guidelines set up to assist with creating accessible websites (The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)). They were developed by the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C). see links below for more information:

WCAG checklist https://www.wuhcag.com/wcag-checklist/

Worldwide Web Consortium (also provide testing) https://www.w3.org/

WebAim (information, training and testing)https://webaim.org/intro/

Final Comments and Observation

For web designers, here are just a few observations and recommendations I wish to bring to your attention:

  • For many seniors, they have had little or no experience with not only the web, but technologies. Web designers and IT people know or have learned lots of exciting tricks and gimmicks to use. For seniors this is new and in many cases scary; keep it simple if you want to get information out. Functionality and simplicity is the name of the game. Is your site understandable to everyone?
  • Not everyone loves or uses Google. Remember to check on how your site appears on multiple search engines and be sure all your work shows up correctly.
  • Technologies today go far beyond an old desktop computer. Cell phones tablets and an assortment of other devices are now capable of connecting. Be sure your site will adjust to this variety of screen sizes.
  • As well as multiple devices there are also multiple social media that can be linked together. Although most social media services try their best to be compliant, there are gaps. Care should be used to avoid having important information or the essence of your message to be lost.
  • Finally, for designers, there are three very important rules:
    • Test
    • Test
    • And if you think you have it right—Test the site again! (there are plenty of testing tools on the internet)

Bottom-line, accessibility is not only the law, IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

For additional information visit:

ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments  https://www.ada.gov/pcatoolkit/chap5toolkit.htm

Getting Help with Accessibility

https://www.washington.edu/accessibility/help

Introduction to Web Accessibility

https://www.w3.org/WAI/fundamentals/accessibility-intro

U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section: Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities

 https://www.ada.gov/websites2.htm

Section 508.gov, GSA Government-wide Accessibility Program

https://section508.gov/

EPA. (2019). What is Section 508

https://www.epa.gov/accessibility/what-section-508

WebAim, Web Accessibility in Mind

https://webaim.org/