Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reading made easy ... again

When you live with a disability, you’re always on the lookout for ways to make life easier. I’m not talking about playing the latest lottery creation. I’m interested in devices that help me compensate for my physical limitations.

Don’t get me wrong. A big pile of cash would be nice. But I’m talking about life-changing technology: the equipment that enables me to drive my van, the power wheelchair that gives me reliable mobility or the portable ceiling lift that is no bigger than a toaster but moves me with ease.

And now my new Kindle.

That’s right, my Kindle. Because of my declining upper body strength, reading books - holding them open to read, even turning pages - is a battle. Now it’s as simple as pushing a button. Not only is it easy to hold and read, but also buying books is a snap. Instead of rolling around a bookstore where I would always require assistance, I buy books online and they appear in my Kindle within minutes.

I considered buying an iPad instead of the Kindle. A lot has been written about how the iPad is a great device for people with disabilities. Just google iPad and disabilities and you will find numerous stories about how the tablet is helping people with special needs.

But I’m not sure I would find it all that useful. I struggle with touch screens because of my weak arms and my fingers are, well, girthy. Not only is typing on a touch screen frustrating, some of the 2-finger commands are impossible. That’s why I use a Blackberry instead of an iPhone.

While the iPad has dominated the tablet market, a host of other companies will be releasing tablets in 2011 that will make the devices more affordable. And with more devices flooding the market more people will have access to the technology and more adaptive uses will follow.

With lower prices and more applications for people with disabilities, tablets clearly will be a life changer for more and more people. I might get one eventually, but for now, my latest life changer will have to be my Kindle. It’s not a flashy tablet but it has enabled me to enjoy books again.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A good neighbor indeed

Nothing warms my soul more on a snowy day then to see my neighbor, Ray, a retired school teacher, crossing the street with his snow blower to take care of my driveway.

Ray’s the kind of neighbor you speak to a few times a year or wave to as you drive by. It’s not like we drink beers together and watch football or share family events, but he is always there if I need help.

And for a man in a wheelchair, that’s very reassuring.

I know I could pay to have my driveway cleared but Ray steps up to the plate because he knows I could use a hand.  I don’t even have to ask.

Not only is Ray good with a snow blower, he is also part of my support network in case I get into a jam when I am home alone. Live in a wheelchair and you’ll realize those things happen more than you care to admit.

I’m forever thanking him, but it never seems to be enough. Neighbors like Ray make good neighborhoods and I think municipalities should go out of their way to honor residents who voluntarily help neighbors who are disabled.

In fact, I’d love to see my town initiate a program where neighbors sign up to assist a disabled neighbor. Call it the Good Neighbor Network. I’m sure other residents would gladly volunteer. Then at the end of each year we could nominate a Neighbor of the Year and hold a dinner to honor all the nominees.

What do you think? If you have a person with a disability in your neighborhood will you sign up to help?