Gabe Ryan

School Health Blog Writer and Contributor

Top 5 Strategies for Increasing Accessibility in Presentations

Access Angle: Top 5 Strategies for Increasing Accessibility in Presentations

By: Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor

How do I increase accessibility in presentations you ask?

Keeping some considerations in mind when developing your next presentation will enable even more participants to access the content you are sharing. Several computer programs have made it really easy to create presentations with lightning speed. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the colors, graphics, and animations. In an effort to ensure the widest access to participants with differing learning styles, consider these top 5 strategies.

  1. Closed Captions for Multimedia Content: When including videos or audio clips in presentations, turn on the closed caption option. This option can also be turned on when hosting an online meeting.  Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, that are able to read, would potentially be able to access the material should an interpreter not be present. Closed captions also benefit those who may be viewing the presentation if they are in a noisy environment, not able to use their sound, or prefer to read along.
  2. Fonts and Colors: Certain fonts are easier to read for individuals with visual impairments or dyslexia. Examples of fonts that you might try are Arial, Calibri, or Verdana. Color of text and background are also important. The computer lets us choose all the colors under the rainbow, however not everyone can see certain color combinations. For this reason, choose color combinations that are high contrast between the font and the background. Avoid conveying information using color alone, include descriptions or labels where possible.
  3. Alt Text for Images and Graphics: Include descriptive alternative text (alt text) for all elements that are visual such as pictures, graphics, charts, etc. This helps to provide context for someone not able to clearly see the image or graphic. Alt text should briefly describe the image or graphic.
  4. Minimize Large Blocks of Content: Structuring content with headings and bulleted lists improves organization and allows participants to see key points easier. Participants that use a screen reader can best access content when it includes the formal structure of headings and subheadings or numbered and bulleted lists. Limiting clutter of several animated or unnecessarily overlapping graphics helps to keep the focus on your content. Breaking the information down into smaller segments of content or splitting the information up across several slides makes for a better participant experience.
  5. Learn, Practice, Ask: There are several software programs that include an accessibility tab, for example Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, both include accessibility checkers that provide suggestions on improving the accessibility of your page or presentation. A quick search online will land you on documents and YouTube videos with tutorials on how to format materials. There are even companies that, for a small fee, offer to edit your materials to ensure they meet the standard compliance requirements. Ask your participants for feedback on your materials to see if in fact they are accessible to the population you were trying to reach.

Learning how to make presentations and materials accessible takes time and practice. When you take the extra step to incorporate these considerations, it expands access and increases the possibility for participants with a variety of learning needs to benefit from the content presented.

“Accessibility allows us to tap into everyone’s potential.” ― Debra Ruh

Let us know: Did you find this article interesting? Would you like to read more of these types of articles? Do you have a topic you would like to see highlighted? Contact me, Gabe Ryan, through email: I’d love to know how you’ve used the information from the School Health Access Angle segments.

The Importance of Audiobooks and Accessibility

Access Angle: The Importance of Audiobooks and Accessibility 

By: Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor


Audiobooks revolutionize the way we interact with literature. They can be valuable for individuals with learning disabilities, visual impairments, or that have difficulty reading or physically holding printed material.


What are Audiobooks?

Audiobooks, sometimes described as a “talking book,” are audio files or recordings of books and other pieces of literature that are read out loud. A reading of the complete text, word-for-word, is called “unabridged,” while an edited version that is shorter is called “abridged.” The recordings are available on records, cassette tapes, CDs, and most popular in digital formats at the present time. Depending on the format, they can be listened to on CD players, Walkmans, computers, tablets, smart phones, home and car entertainment systems, etc.

Spoken word recordings were invented in the late 1800s by Thomas Alva Edison, but the early 1900s is when audiobooks emerged as a result of the creation of a recording studio that supported this purpose. “In 1931, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and Library of Congress Books for the Adult Blind Project established the ‘Talking Books Program’ (Books for the Blind), which was intended to provide reading material for veterans injured during World War I and other visually impaired adults,” according to Matthew Rubery, ed. (2011). "Introduction". Audiobooks, Literature, and Sound Studies. Routledge. pp. 1–21. 

You read that right!…Inclusivity and access for people with disabilities was one of the main reasons audiobooks were further established back in the 1900s!

The developments of audiobooks opened the door for Shakespeare’s plays, popular novels, and even the Bible and the Constitution to become available in this audio format many years ago. Audiobooks gained more popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s when further technology, such as digital media players, became available. By 2017, as technology continued to evolve and expand, consumers were listening more to a digital source rather than physical CDs or audio cassette tapes. Shared by Writer’s Digest in 2022, “…audiobooks are the fastest-growing format in book publishing,” and are, “…predicted to become a $19 billion dollar industry by 2027”.

Originally, audiobooks were read by one narrator and this person was not necessarily the author of the book. It has become popular in more recent times, that Authors narrate their own books or that an entire cast be a part of the recording, instead of just one voice. This has drawn even more people into enjoying and connecting with the material in digital format. Audiobooks provide opportunity and access for people to read more content than ever before since they can read books and “how to” manuals while commuting or multi-tasking.

In education, the use of audio material is invaluable. As an individual with both visual and physical impairments, I was able to take advantage of audio access of printed material back in the late 1990s through early 2000s. I was assigned a cassette player and the books for book reports and class assignments were sent home with me as multiple cassettes. Schools could request to borrow these materials from organizations that support individuals with blindness and visual impairment. At the time, my textbooks were chopped up and scanned into a large digital scanner. There was a program on my assigned laptop that could read the material and highlight the words as they were being spoken. This was certainly a great deal of work for those scanning each page. However, a bit later, the digital copy of the textbooks was available within the teachers’ materials, and we could then use those, instead of having to request the deconstruction of the textbooks. I personally am grateful these materials and access has further developed. I can look up just about anything now on my tablet or smart speaker and listen and learn. I’ve been able to participate in book clubs and discussions about books and related material without having to special order or carry around a cassette or CD player. There are several audiobook platforms that have subscriptions or offer free materials. I am excited to see what the next chapter will unfold in this technology!

Now, with the tap of a screen or the click of a button, a wealth of knowledge and information becomes accessible to all.

Let us know: Did you find this article interesting? Would you like to read more of these types of articles? Do you have a topic you would like to see highlighted? Contact me through email– Gabe Ryan I’d love to know how you’ve used information from the School Health Access Angle segments.

Inclusive Recreation– Exploring the Shoreline with Beach Wheelchairs


What are Beach Wheelchairs? 

Beach wheelchairs are specially designed to navigate sandy terrain and access beaches with ease. They often feature balloon like tires that glide over the sandy surface. These large tires distribute weight more evenly and don’t sink into the sand as easily. Traditional wheelchairs and transport chairs mostly have narrow wheels, which do not move through the sand very well or at all.


Beach Wheelchair Features

Beach Wheelchairs come in a variety of styles, so the materials, operation, and customization vary. Some general features include:

  • Frame: Constructed from durable materials such as aluminum or stainless steel to withstand the saltwater and sand. Some models have been created with PVC pipe as well
  • Tires: Large tires that are soft to roll over the loose and compact sand, gravel, and uneven terrain.
  • Arm rests/Footrests: Some models have removable armrests and footrests to make transfers easier
  • Seating: Some have an adjustable backrest or seat depth for customized support
  • Fabric: Typically made of strong, waterproof, UV-resistant and materials to withstand wear and tear and fading.
  • Floating ability: Some models have floats attached so the chair can go further into the water without tipping over
  • Safety: Seatbelts are common, along with brakes for the wheels and some have anti tipping features to prevent the chair from falling backwards in the sand
  • Manual/ Power: Some chairs are designed more for a caregiver or companion to push the user, while others have a joystick and operate like a power wheelchair.
  • Transport: Some models can be broken down into smaller pieces to be transported in a car or packed into a large bag for plane transport.

While beach wheelchairs are primarily associated with coastal environments, their use can extend far beyond the sand. They are well-suited for navigating other outdoor terrain, including parks, nature trails and even the snow. These types of chairs offer individuals the ability to explore a wide range of outdoor spaces.

Beach Access:

There are several beaches along the coasts of the United States that are accessible. The main accessibility features of these beaches include, accessible parking, paved pathways and boardwalks, beach access mats, portable beach walkways and ramps. Several beaches have equipment rentals or beach wheelchairs that can be borrowed. It’s important to “know before you go” when planning a trip to the beach to make it a smooth and fun activity. Researching online can be extremely helpful as many families and those that use wheelchairs share their experience of visiting various locations. Visitor centers that are near coastal towns may also include detail of access for people with disabilities. Many more initiatives nowadays are aimed at promoting accessible tourism for individuals with disabilities in the United States and around the world.


Beach Wheelchair Experience:

Going to beach has always been an adventure. When I was younger people could just carry me onto the beach. As I grew older and bigger my family had to become more innovative with how we would get me down to the water’s edge. Certain strollers would work okay when pulled backwards, snow sleds worked okay for a time, carrying me across the sand in various lawn chairs was fun but required a lot of heavy lifting. Then one year, I had the opportunity to try a beach chair that belonged to my good friend Justin. It was the best experience ever and he was gracious to let me borrow his chair many more times! We could stroll down the beach for miles and the distance between the parking lot and the edge of the water was not a factor because these chairs are easy for a caregiver to push. About eight years ago, I got my very own beach wheelchair, it’s called a Sand Rider and is shown in all the photos! I’ve now visited several beaches along the California, Oregon, and Washington coasts. The type of chair I have breaks down into smaller pieces allowing it to fit it into a car top carrier or in the back of a vehicle. This style does have a seatbelt and wheel brakes.


A few tips from my experience: If you have access to the beach chair ahead of your ocean trip, spend the time to figure out seating and safety. It’s so much better to already know the steps you’ll need to take for a successful beach trip, than trying to figure it out in the parking lot for the first time. If you do not have access to try things out ahead of time, pack a few extra items for comfort/safety. Consulting with a PT/OT may be extremely helpful for positioning and safety ideas.

  • Positioning: Seat and back pads are a must for me. I use a custom wheelchair, so positioning is critical. I place a non-slip material on the seat of my beach wheelchair and a separately purchased seat cushion. I have a wedge cushion I use for my back. Typically I will also roll up a few towels to place on each of my sides.
  • Safety straps: Although my beach chair has a seatbelt, traversing over the sandy terrain can often move your body from side to side. I prefer a chest strap to help stabilize me better. Special chest straps can be purchased for this purpose. I also added a calf strap to my chair for additional support.
  • Sun/wind gear: With all the excitement about being on the beach. Remember to include the essentials. A hat, sunglasses, water, sunscreen, jacket/lap blanket to match the weather, etc..
    Don’t forget the small Ziplock to carry the seashell treasures you’ll find!

Beach wheelchairs provide individuals with mobility challenges the freedom to explore and enjoy the beach, creating opportunities for unforgettable experiences and memories to last a lifetime!

Beach wheelchairs provide individuals with mobility challenges the freedom to explore and enjoy the beach, creating opportunities for unforgettable experiences and memories to last a lifetime!


Let us know: Did you find this article interesting? Would you like to read more of these types of articles? Do you have a topic you would like to see highlighted? Contact me through email Gabe Ryan I’d love to know how you use information from the School Health Access Angle segments.

Supporting Parents of Children and Youth with Disabilities

Access Angle: Supporting Parents of Children and Youth with Disabilities

By: Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor


Parents and guardians of children and young adults with disabilities taking an active role in the special education process and as a member of the Individual Education Program (IEP) is extremely important! Learning about how their child’s disability affects their participation in school and in the community helps parents to be more informed decision makers for their child.

For many families of children with disabilities, finding information, when they need it, related to services and supports can be overwhelming and sometimes difficult.

In this Access Angle segment, I want to spotlight a fantastic resource for parents and families of children with disabilities. Across the nation, parent organizations are available to support families of children with disabilities as well as young adults with disabilities. These parent organizations may operate differently from one another and from state to state. However, there is one consistent purpose, and that is to support and assist parents with resources, information, and training to be the most informed they can be as they effectively participate in their child’s education and development.

According to the Center for Parent Information & Resources website, there are nearly 100 Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs) and Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs) in the US and Territories. You can find the PTI in your state by using their Find Your Parent Center page at

In California, there are six PTIs, these centers serve parents of children ages birth to 26 years old. In addition to the PTIs, California also has over 40 Family Resource Centers (FRCs) which are funded to serve ages birth to 3, and 32 Family Empowerment Centers (FECs) funded to serve ages 3 to 22.

I have personal experience with these centers in California as my family has accessed them for supports and services over many years. My mom, Robin, served as a Resource Specialist at one of the FRCs in Sacramento. She worked there for many years before moving on to a California Department of Education state training and technical assistance project, which supports and provides assistance to the FECs and aspects of Family Engagement. The last couple of years have been exciting for California in relation to the Family Empowerment Centers. FECs were originally enacted through legislation in 2001, and by 2006, there were 14 centers serving 27 of California’s 58 counties. There was not enough funding to have a center in all FEC regions of the state. Sixteen years later, additional funding was allocated to expand the establishment of the FECs to the rest of the state. In the last couple of years, 18 new FECs have received funding, which brings the total to 32 centers serving all regions of the state! Learn more about the FECs at the Seeds of Partnership webpage related to Family Empowerment Centers. If you are in California, I encourage you to reach out to a center if you are looking for this type of resource and support. They are mostly staffed by parents of children with disabilities, so they have first-hand experience!

Learn more about the type of supports and services offered in your state by accessing the parent centers. They are a great place to start when seeking resources and support for you, as a family, or families you serve. If you are an educator or a support provider, reach out to explore what collaborative partnerships can be made. I am excited to spread the word about these agencies and the wonderful work they do each day!

Let us know: Did you find this article interesting? Would you like to read more of these types of articles? Do you have a topic you would like to see highlighted? Contact me through email Gabe Ryan I’d love to know how you’ve used information from the School Health Access Angle segments.

Gift ideas…when the average gift just won’t do.

Gift ideas…when the average gift just won’t do.

Written By: Gabriel Ryan 

The holidays are fast approaching, did you get everything on your holiday list yet for your family member or someone you know with disabilities? If not, don’t worry, because I have various adaptive gift ideas you could consider. I recently came across a few holiday gift guides and lists designed specifically for thinking about products which may be helpful or of interest to people with disabilities. These types of lists can be a great starting point for learning about products you’ve never considered before. It can be tough to find the perfect gift. There’s nothing wrong with a gift card or cash, however, unwrapping an item that can make everyday tasks a bit easier or bring an element of fun into someone’s life is exciting! I want to give a shout out to the Cerebral Palsy Foundation for their Annual Accessible Holiday Gift Guide. This year’s guide is one of the best I’ve ever seen. This guide has ideas for all ages and abilities. I can’t begin to describe how much fun it was to go through each page and point out items I’ve personally tried and have great memories of using. There are several items in the guide I currently have and use every day. I loved reading about ideas and products I’ve never heard of before, that I look forward to exploring further. 


I was inspired to create a short list highlighting a few products found on the School Health website, which may be just the gift you are looking for.

Giraffe Bottle Handsfree Drinking System and Giraffe Bottle Journey Hydration System

Water bottle with flexible straw. This product is great for keeping hydrated. Read more about this item in this Access Angle Product Review: Giraffe Bottle

Theragun Pro Plus

Handheld massage and vibration therapy tool. Relieves pain, helps you recover faster, treats join pain, improves mobility.


GRIP Boards, Activity Pad, GRIP Rolls, and Cat Tongue Grip

Multiple use non-slip texture material that makes almost any surface a no-slip, non-sticky place for your food, books, tablet or other daily items. Read Access Angle review of Cat Tongue Grips.


Inflatable Jump Balls and Hop Balls

Inflatable balls provide bouncing fun and aides in development of muscle strength and balance.


Fold and Go Trampoline

Small portable trampoline for ages 3 and up and holds up to 150lbs.


Color Changing Bubble Tube w/ Beads

Sensory Lamp Bubble Tube helps stimulate your senses.


Tangle Therapy

A twisty and fun way to get hand, joint and muscle therapy and stress relief all in one


Dimpl Digits

Squishy, silicone bubbles captivate fingers in a way that's impossible to put down. 


Pin Art

Board of pins creates impressions of any object with its moldable pins.


Cuddle Ball

Round sensory pillow made with the softest fabrics.


Franklin QB Cornhole

Target toss game fun for all players and brings an interesting, creative twist to your cornhole games.


Bean Bags: Canvas, Nylon, Fleece, Numbered and Franklin Bean Bag Toss Game

Assorted colors of beanbags in various materials and one target frame for a bean bag toss game.


Don’t forget to check out this Access Angle: Travel Friendly Essentials video where Dr. Ray and I discuss a few items from the list above and more great products.

These lists are great for Christmas, as well as throughout the year, for birthdays or other special occasions. The more we share great resources, the more we expand opportunities to find just the right gift!


Wishing you a very happy holiday!

Warm Up With Winter Gear

Winter is near, it’s that time of year… to get out the jackets and rain gear. I will be highlighting some warm winter accessories for you or someone you know that uses a wheelchair, scooter, stroller, or something similar. Finding a way to keep the extremities warm and dry can take some additional planning. The lap blanket from the company Bundle Bean called Adult fleece-lined wheelchair cosy has continued to be such a great find. Its convenient to take along in my backpack, its warm, windproof, and keeps me dry from the rain.

If you or someone you know uses a wheelchair, scooter, stroller, or something similar, you probably also know that finding a way to keep the upper and lower extremities warm and dry can take some additional planning. I have used a wheelchair for a very long time and often found that I’ll be warm and cozy in a flannel shirt or winter jacket, but my legs become very cold. It is difficult sometimes to keep my entire body warm as my temperature fluctuates. If I am participating in an outside activity, I must take along a blanket or wear a few layers of pants. These methods work well, but can be bulky, take extra time to put on, or become too hot.

Several years ago, I was introduced to a couple of great products that I really like. These are worth checking into if you are looking for solutions to this same challenge for your child, student, family member, friend, or yourself.

X-Ability Bodycoats:

A couple of years ago, my Aunt Katherine saw the following news story about these specially designed jackets for people that use wheelchairs: 9&10 News WWTY Parents Invent Coat to Keep Kids, Adults in Wheelchairs Warm and Dry. This coat was designed by a mom for her daughter with Cerebral Palsy that uses a wheelchair. She created a prototype attaching two jackets together, making a full bodycoat. My Aunt surprised me that Christmas and purchased one for me. I was very excited; I have never seen anything like this jacket before. It is like wearing a sleeping bag with arms and a hood! Very warm and the zipper runs the length of the coat so I can have it all zipped up, half, or fully open in the front, without having to completely take the coat off. This bodycoat is great for use year-round for kids or adults as they come in different sizes. I have had the opportunity to use this bodycoat on a sailing trip in San Francisco Bay, it was perfect. I could enjoy my time and not be concerned about feeling uncomfortable due to tight muscles from the cold weather.
Bundle Bean:

I’ve been in search of a lap blanket, but not just any lap blanket. I used to have a waterproof lap cover with elastic sewn into the lower part that fits snug around my feet. It was originally part of a stroller used when I was a toddler. I kept that piece for a few decades, but it was misplaced in a move a few years back. This was one of the best tools for guarding against rain and wind. Earlier this year, I was thrilled to find an adult version of this similar item. The company Bundle Bean has a product called Adult fleece-lined wheelchair cosy. Woo hoo! One of my favorite winter apparel items, but made even better – it’s fleece lined! They offer a variety of patterns and colors for kids and adults. I chose black so it would match whatever jacket I decide to wear. What makes this type of item handy is that it is easily folded up and fits in a backpack. It features an elastic that hugs around the foot area, and elastic and Velcro straps on the reverse side keep it from dragging on the ground or getting caught in wheels. It’s very warm and waterproof. In the summer, I participated in a local 5K race to support Shriners Children’s Hospital. This wheelchair cosy was perfect for the early morning race start temperatures. I wear mine covering just my legs, but I can pull it up higher; mine is long enough to cover my feet all the way up to my chest while seated.

These are a few great options to consider for students waiting for a school bus, participating in recess, outdoor physical education classes, sports, and so much more!

Stay warm out there this fall and winter!

Access Angle: AbleNet Quick-Ready Mounting Solutions

By: Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor


Access Angle: AbleNet Quick-Ready Mounting Solutions

The AbleNet Quick-Ready Mounting Solutions includes a variety of products that allow the user to control the positioning of assistive technology devices and/or tablet computers. Here is a brief description of four mounts currently available as described by AbleNet.

Quick-Ready One

A single adjustment point on the One mounting arm allows you to control the precise positioning of assistive technology or a tablet computer. The single point of adjustment controls three movable joints. 

Quick-Ready Latitude 360

Three fully articulating joints provide 360-degree movement for precise positioning.

Quick-Ready Flex

A gooseneck arm that allows you to quickly push or pull assistive technology or a tablet computer into position. 

Quick-Ready Cling

Has two suction cups that stick to almost any flat non-porous surface. The suction cups on Cling allow you to quickly mount assistive technology or a tablet computer onto any flat non-porous surface.

All mounts mentioned have a micro adjustment head for precise positioning. They are built to endure bumps and other environmental conditions. The mounting arm is compatible with any AbleNet Quick Ready mounting plates, mounting plates that use a ¼”-20 threaded rod to attach, or mounting plates from RehAdapt that connect with the Spigot Link System (SLS). The One, Latitude 360, and Flex all have a Super Clamp that attaches to almost any flat table edge or a round/square tube on a wheelchair or bed frame.

The Quick Ready Mounting Plate for Assistive Technology is used to mount most assistive technology to an AbleNet Quick Ready Mounting Solutions arm. Included with the mounting plate are Dual Lock strips used to attach the device to the mounting plates.

Also, part of the Quick Ready Mounting Solutions is a Quick Ready Tablet Holder which is used to mount an iPad or tablet computer to a mounting arm. The tablet holder is compatible with most tablets that have a screen size of 7 to 11-in and cases up to 1-in thick.

Recently, I had the opportunity to try the Quick-Ready Flex, Quick Ready Tablet Holder, and Quick Ready Mounting Plate for Assistive Technology. The following are some highlights and some considerations from my trial use. 

Quick-Ready Flex: I found the gooseneck arm to be extremely sturdy. The arm stayed in the position I wanted it to until I repositioned it. Although the Super Clamp is versatile, on my specific wheelchair there were limited locations where the arm could be mounted that would not interfere with reaching the driving controls or having to remove the mounting arm each time my tray was added, or I moved out of my chair. The mounting location that suited me best was toward my knee area, therefore, the length of the gooseneck arm at 19 inches brought the mounting surface within my reach.

Quick Ready Tablet Holder: The tablet I typically use is over 12 inches in size so it was not something I could test. The tablet holder is compatible with 7–11-inch tablets. I did try a tablet that was slightly over 10 inches, which fit securely in the table holder. I noticed the buttons for volume and power were not accessible to me and that when using the tablet in portrait position, if the tablet operating system requires the user to swipe up from the bottom to open the screen, the bottom of the touch screen was not easy to reach past the holder edge. The only solution I found was placing the tablet in landscape position to reach the screen controls. The tablet holder frame and retracting spring seemed strong and durable.

Quick Ready Mounting Plate for Assistive Technology: I attached the mounting plate to the Flex arm and used the Dual Lock strips that come with the plate. I added a Dual Lock strip to my phone case and snapped my phone onto the mounting plate. Using the mounting plate with the Flex arm placed my phone in an ideal position for me to see and use. I could easy reach the buttons and swing away the arm when not in use. The connection of my phone to the mount was solid and I didn’t worry about my phone falling off. When I went to take the phone off the mount, both sides of the Dual Lock came off, this may pose an issue for continued adhesiveness over time.  One solution might be swapping out the Dual Lock for a strong magnet if the item you are mounting will be frequently removed. The Dual Lock added extra thickness to the phone case impeding the use of a magnetic charging phone feature. The mounting plate was easy to add and remove from the Flex arm.

Overall, I enjoyed using the Quick-Ready Flex and Mounting Plate for Assistive Technology. Users will all have varying experiences depending on how and where the Super Clamp can attach to their wheelchair or positioning chair. The good news is the Super Clamp can easily attach to almost any flat table edge or bed frame offering a variety of mounting options. This just may be the perfect mount for your assistive technology or tablet computer mounting needs.


To learn more about the AbleNet Quick-Ready Mounting Solutions visit the School Health website.

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.