Access Angle Segment

Fitness: Engage, Motivate, and Include

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor

A couple of years ago, I was intrigued when I came across a workout video online with all the participants seated using wheelchairs, and the most enthusiastic, positive, encouraging fitness trainer I’d ever seen! I was glued to my screen. My initial feeling was shock, and I said to myself “this… is awesome, an engaging workout for people that use a wheelchair.” My feeling quickly turned to wanting to be a part of this experience and in no time, I was stretching, reaching, and moving with the music. This workout session was part of an Abilities Expo Conference. The trainer was Justin Graham with W.O.W. Wonders on Wheels. Recently, I learned that W.O.W. offers this wheelchair-friendly fitness class live online, so I signed up for a fitness pass. This was my first week participating and it was great fun! This experience prompted me to focus this month’s Access Angle on encouraging exercise and fitness for all.

The Commit to Inclusion video beautifully highlights aspects of inclusion in fitness and beyond. Great video! Commit to Inclusion is a campaign that supports guidelines and programming for people with disabilities to empower and promote healthy and active lifestyles through physical activities and nutrition. 

A few related Access Angle blogs full of ideas to learn more about fitness and creating realistic goals for yourself or children/students you work with:

Don’t forget to incorporate hydration! In previous posts, I have written about the Giraffe Bottle Handsfree Drinking System, which I use. No matter how you hydrate, keep in mind you may need to increase your intake as you increase your activity.

School Health has numerous fitness resources and supports. Browse through the School Health website under categories such as Sports Medicine, Special Education, Early Childhood, and Physical Education to find products and ideas to support a variety of fitness goals. School Health Physical Education is your one-stop shop for all things PE, including equipment and programs for those with differing abilities. For example, the Visual Exercise System offers a variety of premade, color-coded visuals that look like real people doing real exercises. The visuals facilitate communication and provide structure in exercise programs. The Exercise Buddy Pro is also a great tool that incorporates evidence-based practices, videos, and progress monitoring. These tools can help diverse learners better participate in physical education programs and stay engaged! 

Fitness goals are different for everyone. Find an activity you love and most importantly…remember to have fun! 

Do You Know the History of the Bendy Straw?

Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor


I was honestly grasping at straws, no pun intended here, to come up with topic for this month’s Access Angle. Then, as I focused on the beverage I was drinking, an idea came to me. Of course…it was right in front of me… the bendy drinking straw! I am frequently using bendy straws and always have some with me in my backpack. Surely, I am not the only one who gets excited when a restaurant happens to have a bendy straw! 

Do you know the history behind the bendy straw? Let’s start with a basic definition. A drinking straw is a paper, plastic, or edible[EP1] [RR2]  tube that people use to bring liquids to the mouth. A variation for the straight plastic straw is the bendy straw, or articulated straw. The bendy straw is designed to be more flexible with a bend at the top.

In 1937 an inventor named Joseph Friedman patented the bendy straw. His reason for inventing a straw like this was to assist his young daughter, but little did he know that this tool would continue to be used for decades by people all over the world.

“One day in the 1930s, while sitting in his brother’s fountain parlor, the Varsity Sweet Shop, in San Francisco, Joseph B. Friedman (1900-1982) watched his young daughter Judith at the counter struggling to drink a milkshake out of a straight paper straw. Friedman, an inventor with a natural curiosity and a creative instinct, took the straw and inserted a screw. He then wrapped dental floss around the paper into the screw threads, creating corrugations. After he removed the screw, the altered paper straw would bend conveniently over the edge of the glass, allowing a small child to better reach the beverage. U.S. patent number 2,094,268 was issued for this new invention, under the title Drinking Tube, on September 28, 1937.”  --- Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, The Straight Truth About the Flexible Drinking Straw, 6/1/2002 Broda-Bahm.

A few more interesting facts that were part of this research: 

  • “In 1939, Friedman formed the Flexible Straw Corporation, later named Flex-Straw Company, and by the late 1940s he began producing the straws with machinery he created.”
  • “The Flex-Straw was well-received by hospitals, whose patients could easily position the straw for drinking while lying down, without compromising the flow of liquids. Friedman’s first sale was made to a hospital in 1947.”

According to the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, one of their archivists had the opportunity to meet the inventor’s daughter, Judith, in 2000. Judith had held onto several boxes in her garage which contained detailed documentation of the inventions of her father, including the bendy straw. She gave these to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History to preserve the process and thinking behind the inventions.

My love for bendy straw goes far beyond the sometimes-bright colors or creating fun loops if using the extra length style. Without the use of a straw, I have to rely on someone else to physically bring a drink to my mouth. Don’t get me wrong, I can use a regular straight straw, however, using bendy straws allows me even more independence when drinking a beverage. I can more easily reach the straw to my mouth at the angle that works best for my arms, hands, and neck, which have limited range of motion. I consider it a basic necessity.

Over the last several years there has been a global conversation about not having plastic straws altogether due to the environmental impact and the effect plastics have on the oceans and animals. Some major U.S. cities and restaurants are looking to implement bans on plastic straw use. Many businesses have transitioned to using paper straws or eliminated providing straws to consumers. Many consumers have started using silicone and metal reusable straws as an alternative. The high priority on the environmental concerns and reducing plastic pollution is extremely important. Finding the balance of reducing waste, while still making strides in universal supports is challenging.

The paper, silicone, and metal straws are great alternatives for some people, however for me and those I know with limited upper body flexibility, the paper straws break down before I can finish my drink. Using paper, hard silicone, or metal can often be too rigid, or at the wrong angle for a fixed bend. Sometimes the texture can affect successful lip closure and ability to suck through the straw. In my research for this article, I came across a National Public Radio (NPR) segment which aired on 7/11/18, “Why people with disabilities want bans on plastic straws to be more flexible”, NPR Morning Edition, Danovich/Godoy.

This audio clip/article provides a perspective for consideration related to disability and bans on straws. Aside from drinking beverages, the bendy straw is used by Speech Language Pathologists and Occupational Therapists. They are often working with clients on vocal fatigue, lip closure, sucking and swallowing, respiratory strengthening, and much more. Many examples and videos can be found online for strategies that involve a straw. Products like Whistling Straws look similar to bendy straws and were designed to serve as a tool to strengthen lips and cheeks by encouraging the user to blow air through the straw for breath support. This tool can also be used to work on other oral therapy related goals.

The bendy straw has been around for almost a century, such a small tool with an enormous impact. At this rate I don’t think we will see the… last straw… any time soon. 


Cosmo by Filisia: Interactive and Multisensory Accessibility Switches

Access Angle: Cosmo by Filisia

Interactive and Multisensory Accessibility Switches

Cosmo devices are a set of interactive and multisensory accessibility switches designed for children and adults with special educational needs or physical disabilities in schools, therapy, and home. The switches work together with Cosmo applications. The switches and applications have been “useful and suitable for people with moderate to severe autism, profound and multiple learning difficulties, cerebral palsy, brain injuries, and other physical, social, and communication difficulties,” according to the Cosmo team. Cosmo has assisted learners in turn-taking, attention, reaction time, memory skills, sequencing skills, waiting skills, hand-eye coordination, balance, proprioception, speed and range of movement, field of vision, vocalization, following of instructions, collaboration, leadership, problem solving, executive function, transitions, and more.

Cosmo ExcelCosmo Excel

I recently had an opportunity to use Cosmo and the Cosmo Training Application activities. It took me a few trials to pair the Cosmoids at first, but once the firmware was updated and I learned how to switch between modes for the training application and the switch set up application, the connection worked great. I was on my way to exploring the games and activities. The application is a free download with access to 18 activities and a trial with the option to purchase several more. My favorite three activities were the ones named; Exercise, Whac-a-mole, and Cosmonaut. I enjoyed the challenge of reaching to touch the appropriate switch with either a physical stretch or trying to beat the clock. The vibrant colors and music helped keep things interesting. The ability to reposition the switches based on the activity, or to create a greater challenge, added to the versatility. I can definitely see this type of set up as being a motivating way to increase hand-eye coordination, response/ reaction time, and speed and range of movement for my upper extremities. There is much more to explore with Cosmo, I have only scratched the surface!


Two ways to use Cosmo:

  • Cosmo Training Application (iPad only) – play activities and games
  • Accessibility Switch Set Up Application – (iOS & Android to use third party applications and devices)

Key features of Cosmo:

  • The switches are called Cosmoids
    • Shape and size: Round. 5cm radius. 3.5cm high.
    • Color: Semitransparent white and can light up in 9 available colors
    • Switch type: Mechanical
    • Activating force: Adjustable. Min. 50-grams. Max. 17.6 oz/ 500 grams
    • Battery: Lithium Polymer, 800mAh or 600mAh. Rechargeable via micro usb. Approx. 2-4 hours to charge. A full charge will last around 20 hours. When fully charged, the switch will be green.
    • On/off power button/mode button
    • Mounting holes are included on the Cosmoid and each comes with a magnet for mounting.
  • Cosmo Training Application activities were co-designed by therapists and special educators with a focus on learning, play, and therapy. Cosmo offers a growing selection of activities that motivate learners to develop cognitive, communication, and physical skills through play and music. Multi-sensory activities work towards achieving skill-based, functional, and national curriculum-compatible goals.
  • Switch Set Up Application has multiple configurations to customize the function of the Cosmoid, such as touch sensitivity, brightness, color, function, etc. Once configured, it can be paired to Bluetooth compatible devices such as laptops, tablets, phones that run iOS, OS X, Windows, and Android, Linux operating systems.
  • Switching between Cosmo mode and Bluetooth controller HID mode is completed through a sequence of holding down the power button.
  • There are three types of Cosmo Kits; Cosmo Excel, Cosmo Explore, and Cosmo Switch. The main difference in kits is the number of Cosmoids.


Cosmo has produced a few webinars on YouTube specific to inclusion, to learn more visit Inclusive Learning, Therapy, and Play and Technology for Inclusion.

SchoolHealth is a United States Cosmo distribution partner. The Cosmo devices can be purchased through the website at or reach out with any questions and the sales team will be happy to work with you.

It’s Never too Early to Plan for Secondary Transition

It’s Never too Early to Plan for Secondary Transition 

As one school year ends, it is only a few short months of summer until school is back in session. This can be both exciting and nerve wracking for high school students and their families as they look forward to what will come next when they graduate or promote out of high school. For students with disabilities, there is some support and services that can be helpful during this time of transition.


What are Secondary Transition services?

Transition services are defined by federal law through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This begins when students turn 14 (or earlier, if the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team agrees). From age 14 until students graduate or turn 22, students with IEPs receive transition services from their public-school districts.


Transition services include a coordinated set of activities with measurable outcomes that will move the student from school to post-school activities. There are a growing number of educators and families that start this plan well before the age of 14 for their students in an effort to get the best possible outcome and plan outlined.


Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B, Subpart A, Section 300.43 the regulations state the following.

(a) Transition services means a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that—

(1) Is designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation.

(2) Is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and includes—

(i) Instruction;

(ii) Related services;

(iii) Community experiences;

(iv) The development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives; and

(v) If appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and provision of a functional vocational evaluation.

(b) Transition services for children with disabilities may be special education, if provided as specially designed instruction, or a related service, if required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education.


Why is it important?

Ongoing transition planning helps students develop independence and increase skills needed to be successful which may help them to reach their career, schooling, and adult-living goals. Even when students do not yet know what they would like to do after high school, the ability to have conversations with educators and learn about resources in the community starts to help shape ideas and goals. This is also an important time to explore assistive technology supports that may create even greater access for students.


How do you learn more about Secondary Transition?

There are some wonderful national, state, and community organizations specifically focusing on this topic. Students and families should make sure they are in contact with their IEP team through their school district and start/continue secondary transition planning discussions. To explore additional resources related to this topic, students, families, and educators can browse these national and state resources for ideas and information.


  • Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP): Policy Guidance- A Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth with Disabilities.
  • National Technical Assistance Center on Transition: The Collaborative (NTACT:C) is a Technical Assistance Center co-funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).
  • National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET)- Originally funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) from 2000-2008, focused on the secondary education and transition of youth with disabilities. NCSET coordinated national resources, offered technical assistance, and disseminated information related to secondary education and transition for youth with disabilities in order to create opportunities for youth to achieve successful futures. NCSET is no longer funded through OSEP, however continues to disseminate resources via this website with support from the Institute on Community Integration in the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development.
  • IRIS Center: What is secondary transition and why is it important for students with disabilities?- The IRIS Center is a national center dedicated to improving education outcomes for all children, especially those with disabilities birth through age twenty-one, using effective evidence-based practices and interventions.
  • PACER’s National Parent Center on Transition and Employment- Founded in 2014, PACER’s National Parent Center on Transition and Employment builds on PACER’s decades of experience providing high quality assistance and support to parents, youth, and professionals on transition topics. This innovative project will keep the needs of families at the forefront and help youth with disabilities find success in postsecondary education, employment, and life in the community.
  • Center for Parent Information & Resources -Parent Training Information Centers- These centers are located in states  nationwide and perform a variety of direct services for children and youth with disabilities, families, professionals, and other organizations that support them. They work with families of infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities, birth to 26 to help parents participate effectively in their children’s education and development and they partner with professionals and policy makers to improve outcomes for all children with disabilities.
  • Parents Helping Parents-Connections California- An example of a Parent Training Information Center transition resources. The Connections California program applies to any person with any disability. Everything is organized into five main categories. The goal is to help find the information easily for the transition to adulthood.
  • Think College- Institute for Community Inclusion- A national initiative dedicated to developing, expanding, and improving research and practice in inclusive higher education for students with intellectual disability. It is based at the Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston.

As you explore resources and discuss supports, don’t forget School Health carries a wide variety of products that could play a role in transition planning for students. These products range from Augmentative & Alternative Communication , Living Aids , Positioning & Mobility , Computer & Tablet Access , to Motor skills and more.  Remember it’s never too early to plan for Secondary Transition!


“All students can learn to succeed, but not on the same day in the same way.”

~William G. Spady

Candy Corn and Jelly Beans: More Than Just Sweet Treats

Candy Corn and Jelly Beans: More Than Just Sweet Treats

Accessibility Switches Increase Access to Technology and More

There are many switches on the market for people who need alternate ways to access their computers, tablets, communication and mobility devices, toys, games, and other daily living activities. Figuring out which switches are right for your needs can be difficult. Comparison charts can be a helpful way to learn about a variety of switches and their features. These types of charts provide an easy way to review the switch type, activation type, activation force, type of feedback, size, color, and more.

A few switches I really like are the Candy Corn Proximity Switch and the Jelly Bean Switch. Both switches are highly sensitive to touch and activating them is very easy. Here is a bit more information on each.

 AbleNet LITTLE Candy Corn 2 and BIG Candy Corn Switch

These switches use highly sensitive proximity sensor technology for activation. When the user is near or barely touching the activation surface, the switch will activate. When activated, an auditory beep and light appear. This feature can be turned off if it is not needed. A replaceable battery is included.

AbleNet LITTLE Candy Corn 2 Proximity Switch 

AbleNet BIG Candy Corn Proximity Switch

  • Activation surface is nearly two times the size of the LITTLE Candy Corn Switch
  • Product Dimensions: 3.85-in L x 4-in W x 0.58-in H
  • Plug Size: 3.5mm mono (TS) plug

AbleNet Jelly Bean Switch

This AbleNet Jelly Bean Switch activates by pressing the top in any location. The color of the switch can be changed to red, green, blue, or yellow. There is a clear snap cap for symbol use. You can download the AbleNet Symbol Overlay Maker Application for free to create printable symbol overlays with access to thousands of symbols for devices and accessibility switches. The App. requires an iPad with iPadOS 13 or newer.

AbleNet remarkable ideas- using Jelly Bean and Candy Corn Switch is a five-minute video which provides practical and functional ideas on how these switches can be incorporated into the classroom and daily living activities.

I’ve had the experience of connecting these switches to an AbleNet Powerlink 4 Control Unit to control appliances independently, such as; turning on and off lamps, an oscillating fan, and even a handheld mixer (helping mix muffins) which was possible using either switch. They were both easy to operate. Positioning is always an important consideration when deciding on placement and switch access. Mounting or angling the switch might take a few trials to get it right. 

A longtime friend of mine, Justin, also tried out the Candy Corn Proximity Switch. At the time, Justin was using switches mounted to his wheelchair near the sides of his headrest.

His mom explained, “For Justin, turning his head to the right and left is his most reliable and purposeful movement. Justin has a harder time turning far enough to activate a button switch. By positioning the Candy Corn proximity switch within his range of movement, he was able to access his computer games and switch toys without repeated tries.” 

Judy also said that she liked the audio cue of the Candy Corn, which prompted Justin to move his head back to midline. 

There are many benefits to using switches as they help people with limited movement to enjoy greater independence, improved self-esteem, communication with others, access to technology and computers, an increase in inclusion and participation at home, school and in the community.

School Health is an official US Distributor of AbleNet products. Visit the SchoolHealth website to explore these and other switches.

CSUN Assistive Technology Conference Highlights

 CSUN Assistive Technology Conference Highlights                                                                                                                  

California State University, Northridge (CSUN) held its 38th Annual Assistive Technology Conference March 13th through March 17th, 2023 in Anaheim, CA. This conference is focused on cutting-edge practices in the field of accessibility and assistive technology. The attendees typically are practitioners, educators, advocates, family members, individuals with disabilities, exhibitors, etc. This year the conference held hundreds of sessions, an exhibit hall, and many networking opportunities.

School Health was proud to participate in this year’s conference exhibit hall at booth number 104. I had the opportunity to represent the team along with my colleague Jodi Szuter, Specialist - Special Education, and the representatives from AbleCon as they provided real time demonstrations of the AbleCenter Camera System.

Sharing the products at our table such as the GlassOuse PRO and the Cosmo Devices drew attention from many conference attendees. The best part was meeting practitioners and school district staff looking for ideas to better serve their clients and students. We had many engaging conversations with individuals with disabilities who were looking for tools to assist their everyday lives. Their insights were helpful in understanding the variety and complexity of their needs. 

While at the conference, I made my way around the exhibit hall visiting over 90 booths. Many booths provided assistive technology equipment, software, or resources with focuses on two major areas: low/no vision and accessibility of websites and documents. There were some booths with augmentative and alternative communication devices, employment offerings/accommodations, and smart home speakers and cameras. 

One thing that really stood out to me at this conference was the number of attentive and helpful staff available to assist attendees in finding their way around the venue. Wearing their bright red shirts, they were easy to find, and with so many attendees using canes and guide dogs, their individual attention was exemplary. The CSUN 39th Annual Assistive Technology Conference is already scheduled for March 18th-22nd, 2024 at the Marriott - Anaheim, CA. 

 On a personal note, it’s not every day you meet a famous pop-culture icon but look who snapped a photo with us at this year’s CSUN Assistive Technology conference! Stevie Wonder!!!

Tribute to Judy Heumann: A Lifelong Disability Rights Advocate

Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor 


Tribute to Judy Heumann: A Lifelong Disability Rights Advocate 

This segment is a tribute to an internationally recognized leader in the disability rights community. Judy Heumann was a lifelong disability rights advocate and activist. Judy passed away March 4, 2023. Her legacy will live on as she has inspired people in the United States and around the world to use their voice to make change and ensure access and inclusive opportunities for people with disabilities.

 Photo Resource: Website 2020 The Heumann Perspective


I would like to think that most people have heard of Judy Heumann and her legendary and heroic activism for people with disabilities, however some people are not familiar with this icon. I encourage you to learn more about her life and contributions through the publications shared in this segment. There are many articles written about Judy and her impact, but her website describes her early experience best:

“She contracted polio in 1949 in Brooklyn, New York and began to use a wheelchair for her mobility. She was denied the right to attend school because she was considered a "fire hazard" at the age of five. Later in life, Judy was denied her teaching license after passing her oral and written exams, but being failed on her medical exam. Judy sued the Board of Education and went on to become the first wheelchair user to become a teacher in the state of New York. She has been instrumental in the development and implementation of legislation, such as Section 504, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which have been advancing the inclusion of disabled people in the US and around the world and fighting to end discrimination against all those with disabilities.”  -Judith Heumann (


Judy held senior federal government positions serving under two Presidential Administrations. She was appointed by President Clinton to head the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services and was appointed by President Barack Obama as the first Special Advisor on International Disability Rights for the U.S. State Department.

To learn more about Judy Heumann and her experiences, several publications highlight her life and life’s work:

  • Judy wrote a memoir published in 2020 called Being Heumann, an Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist, which is described through her website highlight in the following way: “a story of fighting to belong in a world that wasn’t built for all of us and of one woman’s activism—from the streets of Brooklyn and San Francisco to inside the halls of Washington—Being Heumann recounts Judy Heumann’s lifelong battle to achieve respect, acceptance, and inclusion in society.” 
  • She also created a young readers edition titled, Rolling Warrior: The Incredible, Sometimes Awkward, True Story of a Rebel Girl on Wheels Who Helped Spark a Revolution.
  • Award-winning documentary, Crip Camp is the story of a summer camp for disabled youth and captures one moment in time, Judy Heumann recounts experiences as a summer counselor at Camp Jened.
  • The Heumann Perspective is a podcast with Judy Heumann, where she highlights conversation with disabled changemakers and their allies around disability culture, art, entertainment, policy and advocacy.

Having the opportunity to listen to Judy on many occasions through conferences and interviews has always been uplifting for me, especially as a person with a disability. Her advocacy for disability rights, accessibility, and inclusion had a direct impact in paving the way for me and many others with disabilities around education, transportation, employment, and essential services. I’m grateful she shared her experience with the world. It’s not always easy to be seen and heard with so many competing priorities for focus, funding, and large-scale change efforts. Access and inclusion are everyone’s responsibility. Challenge yourself to take time to think about the ways you can expand access and inclusion in your work and community!

“Change never happens at the pace we think it should. It happens over years of people joining together, strategizing, sharing, and pulling all the levers they possibly can. Gradually, excruciatingly slowly, things start to happen, and then suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, something will tip.” ― Judith Heumann


Additional Judy Heumann Tributes:

Noise is Everywhere: The Importance of Hearing Protection and Noise Reduction

Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor 


Noise is Everywhere: The Importance of Hearing Protection and Noise Reduction

Noise is everywhere, it is all around us all the time. Learning about hearing protection and noise reduction for those with sensitives to sound is critical.

According to a December 2022, Healthy Hearing, Hearing Loss Statistics at a Glance article, the following statistics were highlighted related to hearing loss. 

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) indicate that about 48 million (or 14%) of Americans report some degree of hearing loss. A similar amount report tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. One of the most common ways people damage their hearing is through excessive noise exposure, leading to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). About one out of every five workers is exposed to hazardous noise in the workplace. Once your hearing is gone, you cannot get it back. The CDC reports these numbers on NIHL:

  • About 40 million US adults aged 20-69 years have noise-induced hearing loss
  • More than 1 in 2 US adults with hearing damage from noise do not have noisy jobs, meaning the exposure is likely recreational
  • About 1 in 4 US adults who report excellent to good hearing already have hearing damage
  • An estimated 12.5% of children and adolescents aged 6–19 years have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise, according to the CDC 
  • Even a mild hearing loss can cause a child to miss significant classroom instruction, according to HLAA”

For individuals with sound sensitivity, common sounds can be uncomfortable or distressing to hear. Those with sound sensitivity hear sounds differently than their peers, often louder. Certain sounds trigger irritation, nervousness, anger, aggression, fear, and anxiety. I have personal experience with sound sensitivity on a regular basis. For me, when this occurs it negatively affects my focus and participation in events and activities.


What can we do to protect our hearing? How can those more sensitive to sound be better prepared?

Learn more about how sounds may be affecting your hearing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an interactive website called Listen Up! Protect Your Hearing.  This site is designed to help people learn more about protecting hearing. The colorful interactive noise meter describes how loud different sounds are and how to protect your ears when around them.


The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders suggests that the best ways to protect your hearing are to avoid exposure to loud sounds, move away from the noise, or turn down the volume. When these options are not possible, hearing protectors such as earplugs can help. The following list are examples of ear protection:

  • Expandable foam ear plugs– These plugs are made of a formable material like soft foam, designed to expand to the shape of each person’s ear canal.
  • Pre-molded, reusable ear plugs–These plugs are made from silicone, plastic or rubber and are “one-size-fits-most” or are available in several sizes. Using these has the same effect as turning down the volume on a stereo lessening the intensity of sound. One example is, Vibes Hi-Fidelity Earplugs.
  • Canal caps– Canal caps are earplugs on a stiff or flexible plastic or metal band. The earplug tips may be a formable or pre-molded material. May be worn over the head, behind the neck or under the chin. There are several versions available, here is one example, NoiseOff Noise Reduction Headset.
  • Earmuffs or Headphones– Earmuffs and headphones come in many models designed to fit most people and are typically adjustable. They block out noise by completely covering the outer ear. Earmuffs come in various sizes with different levels of noise reduction. Examples- HearingSafe Protective Headphones, Maxwell Noise Cancellation Headphones, Sony Noise Canceling Headphones, Deluxe Active Noise Cancelling Headphones, and Flex-Phones Foam Headphones. While using headphones to reduce or block environmental noise, take caution to ensure a safe volume if you are playing music.

A few tips to cope with noise sensitivity include:

  • Be prepared–Think ahead of time about the places you are going and activities you will be participating in- what are the noise levels? If you are not sure, call ahead and ask. When in doubt, take ear protection!
  • Keep ear protection handy– Having something comfortable to use available in your backpack, on a keychain, in a compartment of a car, or wherever is close that you can easily access it as needed is important!
  • Background noise– Sometimes having a tv/radio on in the background or listening to music through headphones can help reduce the sudden startle of various environmental noises that may occur.

In this video, Dr. Ray reviews an alternative way to use Vibes Hi-Fidelity Earplugs as a way for students with hearing sensitivity to move through transitions without standing out or missing important directions.


Carrying a set of ear plugs is crucial for me, not just for loud events like concerts and monster truck shows, but for everyday activities, like a louder than usual restaurants or noisy waiting rooms. I keep a set on a keychain in my backpack, which is always with me on my wheelchair.


Additional Resources

Many smartphones support use of free sound level meter applications like Decibel X and SPL Meter, which are for both Android and iOS. These can be helpful for monitoring levels of sound in your everyday environments.


Did you know that World Hearing Day is celebrated March 3rd each year? This is an annual global advocacy event for raising awareness regarding hearing loss, promoting ear and hearing care, and calling for action to address hearing loss and related issues. Each year, this event covers a specific theme on which the World Health Organization and its partners carry out activities based on this theme. Visit to see registered events around the world which may be of interest to you.


Adopt healthy hearing habits for yourself and encourage your family and those you may work with and… don’t forget the hearing protection!

2022 Year in Review Product Highlights

Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor 

2022 Year in Review Product Highlights

As we head into the holiday season and think about gifts for others or products and tools to support your work starting out the new year, what a better time to revisit several products the School Health team has highlighted through social media this year. You may find the perfect gift, spark an idea that will enhance your learning, or encourage the success of students you support. All of the highlighted products are related to students with disabilities or Special Education supports, and can be found on the School Health website under the Special Education category. The Special Education category is broken down into the following nine subcategories: Sensory, Motor Skills, Augmentative & Alternative Communication, Speech Therapy, Switches, Computer & Tablet Access, Learning, Living Aids, and Positioning & Mobility.

You’ll find a category and link below from several of the products highlighted this year. Look for videos from Talkin’ Tech with Dr. Ray and some of my Access Angle blog write ups that relate to the products. I hope you will enjoy revisiting these products, videos, and blogs as much as I did!



Motor Skills

  • Handwriting- find pencil grips, slant boards, and hands on materials
  • Puzzles- letters, numbers, small knobs and jumbo knobs

Augmentative & Alternative Communication

Speech Therapy


  • Speech Therapy assessment and screening materials, fluency, articulation, phonology, workbooks and resources


Computer & Tablet Access

  • Keyboards and Mice- A variety of keyboards and Mice for all types of learners, including individuals with special needs 


Living Aides

Positioning & Mobility

Due to the multiple uses of some products, they may appear under more than one sub-category on the website.

Just a reminder to subscribe to SchoolHealth Special Education emails to stay in the loop on products and resources, here.

Wishing you all a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season!

Volunteering Throughout the Year

Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor 


 “The broadest, and maybe the most meaningful definition of volunteering:  Doing more than you have to because you want to, in a cause you consider good.” Ivan H. Scheier ~ One of the true American pioneers of the field of volunteerism.


There are many reasons people volunteer their time and talents for what they consider a good cause. Volunteering, by definition, is a voluntary act of an individual or group freely giving time and labor for community service. There are so many opportunities to contribute within your local community and beyond. It may be hard to decide which organization or project you want to lead or participate in. Ultimately, gravitating toward a topic area of interest, or simply where an extra pair of hands are needed, allows you to connect with your community, network with others, and make a meaningful impact. A quick internet search on volunteering will bring up local, state, national, and international opportunities that are in-person or virtual. Time constraints or physical limitations for some people may mean the activity has to be modified in order to participate, but with an open mind and a creative spirit, there are volunteer opportunities out there for everyone.


I've enjoyed volunteering and helping others as far back as I can remember. I know how much I have benefitted in my life from receiving assistance from others. Generally, around the holidays I choose a larger volunteer activity to participate in. The holiday seasons bring additional events and activities looking for volunteers. A few years ago, I assembled 130 small candy bags to be shipped to active-duty military and veterans for a non-profit group called Soldiers’ Angels in San Antonio, TX. This was quite a task for me given my physical disability, but what a great occupational therapy workout for both hand dexterity and hand-eye coordination. One-by-one, I placed each piece of candy into a treat bag knowing that someone serving our country would find a little joy in receiving a small token of gratitude. My grandfather and great grandfather served in the military, and I am honored to find ways to support our men and women in service.

School Health Blog Writer and Contributor, Gabe Ryan

SCOE Turkey Drive 2022–Sacramento County Office of Education, Superintendent Dave Gordon and School Health Corporation, Blog Writer and Contributor, Gabe Ryan

One of the inspirations for this November article topic was my recent participation in the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) Annual Turkey Drive. This drive is in partnership with the Friends of Folsom non-profit in support of the goal of feeding 10,000 families in our community through local food bank and distribution efforts. This is my sixth year participating. I really enjoy helping in organizing the event. Greeting the SCOE staff dropping off their turkeys is something I look forward to each year. More than two decades ago, I received early education services from the SCOE, Infant Development Program- some of the teachers that worked with me still work there today! Having the opportunity to represent School Health and our SH Cares committee and assist alongside SCOE staff on this community event is one of the ways I can give back and help others. This year we broke our record of the most turkeys received for this SCOE event!

I share my experience to hopefully encourage others to lend a hand where needed. We can all find ways to work together more. As Margaret Mead said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."