Special Education

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. 


Simplifying the Start of the School Year


I ran into a former colleague of mine at a local community festival last week. After some quick catching up, I asked how the preparations for the new school year were coming along. He responded with, “It is not like it used to be. Remember how the first day of teacher in-service was the plenary meeting followed by the trend of the year training, lunch, and then department or grade level meetings? Day two was simply setting up your classroom, textbooks, and lists. Ah, the good ol’ days!”

So, I asked him what his upcoming teacher in-service days were going to look like. He shared that day one was going to be a series of technology trainings focused on logging in to the new school system daily, proper email access, the new student management system and how to handle grades with attendance, updating and maintaining a webpage, and the proper methods for digital documentation for any classroom or parental issues. Day two was going to have the morning filled with state and federal updates (I did clarify that the blood-borne pathogens video would be part of these sessions!) while the afternoon session was a brief one led by the counselors on how to support the students.

To say I was shocked was a mild understatement! Where are the meetings with the departments or grade levels? Where is the focus on the student and the teacher – not on the administrative tasks? Now let me also state that there are many districts with whom I have spoken where more student-centric sessions are being conducted. I also know of districts where the conversations are focused on access and holistic support. Unfortunately, those do not appear to be the norm.  Even my son, who has entered the ranks of substitute teachers this year as he pursues his acting career, shared with me that he had a two-hour session completely focused on the “acceptable” ways to interact with students. The videos all focused on what not to do, without giving solid strategies for positive interactions. At the end of my meeting with my former colleague, he asked, “How would you recommend the school year start? Let me know as I will look to start next year differently.”

All of the described topics are very important for teachers, administrators, substitutes, and other staff to understand. Focusing on those at the beginning of the year does not always set a good tone for what we are attempting to do in school though – educating our students. These topics can be interspersed with other important student and teacher-centric topics as well as be presented in a virtual format with accountability measures built in to know that the material was reviewed. How can we align topics like the ones above with solid professional development at the beginning of the year? Simplify!

What I mean by simplifying is not to water down information or minimize it in any manner. Instead, review what needs to be shared and the way that information can be shared. After my conversation, I connected with colleagues throughout the country to see how they were handling the start of the year.  Major topics varied from district to district and state to state.  here were several that stood out, though, and those will serve as the basis for our simplified start to the school year.

1. Focus on the teachers - I had a couple of interesting ideas from administrators regarding this.  The one that stood out to me was an administrator who sent out a message in July asking each teacher to list out their three most important ideas for the upcoming school year. All the ideas were placed on a list and the suggestion mentioned the most was given a 90-minute block for discussion and idea sharing. In this school, there were eight suggestions that received four or more people bringing it up. Obviously, the first suggestion had its own session for everyone. The other seven sessions were each given a classroom and two 60-minute sessions.  her day was divided like this:

  • 8:30-9:00 introduction to the day
  • 9:00-10:30 most mentioned topic
  • 10:45-11:45 Session 1
  • 11:45 – 12:30 Lunch
  • 12:45-1:45 Session 2  
  • 2:00-3:00 Session 3

Each of the sessions contained seven rooms with each room dedicated to one of the other ideas. By the end of the day, teachers had attended four sessions, three of which they selected on their own. That was purposely done on day one so that the teachers knew they were being heard. Day two began with a 60-minute session by the administrator on the most important updates she had to share along with a link to videos she and others created to go more in-depth on those topics. There was also a two-hour session which focused on mental health support for the students and faculty. After lunch, there were brief grade level meetings and then time for classroom set-up.  

2. Create Sessions that can be used with all students - Years ago, some of us would see sessions that focused on specific groups of students or sessions that had great ideas but limited examples of how to utilize them throughout the year. Think about any experiences you might have had with interesting and potentially great sessions which died on the vine because the ideas were presented in a vacuum with no follow-up by anyone. Don’t minimize the time allotted to these sessions either. If the session and idea behind it is important for the students, then it is important enough to have significant amounts of time given to it initially and on a regular basis

3. Give Teachers the time for their own preparation - I remember back in the mid-80s, the first day of school was relegated to handing out textbooks and writing down the correct textbook number by each student’s name as well as developing a seating chart. Imagine that the first day of class was filled with administrative tasks for the students! We have come a long way.  However, teachers and administrators alike need time for the final touches on classroom and student preparation. Build that into the in-service days as well. That takes pressure off teachers by not having all classroom prep be done on their own time at the end of the summer.

4. Make the Classroom as User-friendly as possible - Set up the classroom with an organizational mindset to help facilitate the classroom behaviors you wish to see from them. Use color-coded areas for things like homework or daily activities. Have visual cues throughout the classroom to assist in understanding what goes on in certain areas. Have some simple AAC devices like Talking Brix2 or Big Macks in places where auditory reinforcement would be helpful. Finally, as you are creating presentations and videos for the students, make sure they are accessible with captioning and alt text to enable a larger number of students and their parents the ability to access them through different media. By creating accessible materials initially, you set the tone of inclusivity along with having materials that can be used and easily updated for years to come.

5. If it can be done and accessed by video, MAKE A VIDEO! - Administrators, review some of the administrative topics you must make sure the faculty and staff understand. Can you turn what you were going to say into a video? If so, do it and put it into a library where only individuals with permissions can access them. Speak to your IT people as well and learn if you can also receive reports on when people accessed these videos. That way, you have a record of their viewing. A question I get asked often is, “What if they simply turn on the video and walk away? Then they did not learn what they needed to learn.” My response to that is you have no way of making sure that they would be paying attention in person either. So, use your time with them for information to which they will pay attention.  

Teachers, make accessible videos for your students with instructions and guides that they can refer to at any time. These videos are helpful for those with processing issues as they can go back, watch, and listen to your information multiple times.

There are five ideas to help simplify the start of the academic year by focusing on what we can do to best support our students. Again, the other administrative information is important, but can also be shared in ways that support the members of the school community. The old days weren’t always better, and we did not have all the advantages that faculties have today because of technology. In the same way, the advantage we did have is that there was more simplicity in approach, and we did not have the same levels of information or anxiety as individuals have today. Simplify and your year will begin well!

Getting the Assistive Technology and Sensory Supports You Need, with the Funding You Don’t Know You Have!

Getting the Assistive Technology and Sensory Supports You Need, with the Funding You Don’t Know You Have!

By Dr. Raymond Heipp

As we move into 2023, we recognize that our students need so much support as the aftershock of the pandemic continues to reverberate in our schools. We have been faced with a funding struggle for decades as we have tried to support our individuals with differing abilities. Now, it is exacerbated by the needs of the neuro-typical students, as they too, struggle with mental health concerns stemming from the pandemic. We have heard of ESSER funding, but still find that many districts have not fully tapped into how those funds can be used to a wider extent while staying within the legal guidelines of the requirements for the funding.

A recent report showed that around 50% of the roughly $122.8 billion in ESSER III funds provided had yet to be used by our schools. There are many reasons for this. The primary causes stem from the fact that the original set of funds were focused on the return of the students into classrooms and had strict guidelines for usage. This has caused districts to evaluate their needs and strictly review the requests for technology and other supports within the school settings. There has also been some confusion as the rollout of these funding programs have caused much questioning about the dates for when the funds need to be spent. To be clear, the first wave of these funds which was about $13 billion has already been spent and the final date for accessing them has passed. That is why some administrators may be telling you that they already spent their funds. ESSER II funding which included about $54 billion in funding has a deadline of September 30th of 2023. Finally, the ESSER III funds have a deadline of September 30th, 2024. That is another reason that much of that funding has not been touched.

As we take a look at the ESSER III funding, we learn that there is significant emphasis on technology, recovery from learning loss, and support for mental health. There have been cases where those making the decisions on this funding are focusing on the upper layers of needs for all of the students, and not drilling down to other supports for both our neuro-typical and neuro-diverse learners. Your insights and support on this can assist them as well as your students in making purchases which address the concerns for the students and operate within the proper guidelines of usage for these funds. In the next few paragraphs, I will take a look at how some districts are using these funds and the rationale that they are using for proper funding usage.

When we look at technology purchases, we have seen so many districts focus on 1:1 initiatives with Chromebooks or iPads. These purchases cover the surface level of providing technology to the students, as these are devices that can be easily adapted to both in-person and virtual environments. The issue is that it does NOT address the needs of our neuro-diverse learners who cannot access these devices without assistance. The argument for fair and equitable access applies to these individuals as well. Thus, we are able to include those assistive technology devices which allow for access to Chromebooks, iPads, and any other technologies used within the classroom. When we look at devices that would be supported through this argument by ESSER III funding, we see items like the Glassouse, Blue2 Switch, alternative keyboards (including those that are designed for those with Dyslexia), other switches based on the abilities of the individuals, like the Movement Sensor Switch or the Finger Switch. In all of these cases, the devices create fair and equitable access to the technologies being purchased for the classrooms.

Using the same argument of fair and equitable access, we see that AAC devices can also be included in this technology-focused funding. We recognize that some students have higher dependence upon AAC and so their insurance may cover items from groups like Tobii-Dynavox and PRC-Saltillo. However, there are those students who do not qualify under insurance, yet still need support in communicating their immediate thoughts and needs within a classroom setting. This example leads to the acceptance of the purchase of devices like the 7 Level Communication Builder, the GoTalk 9+, and the Big Mack. Each of these devices provides a student the ability to communicate and participate in the classroom and a fair and equitable manner.

When we look at the idea of technology and learning loss, one may want to focus on the area of Literacy. We have found that a number of students in the stages of early literacy have struggled as the directed guidance of in-person learning was not available during the pandemic. We also witnessed some regression on the part of those with Dyslexia as our therapists did their best in virtual formats but still faced limitations. As a support to those with Dyslexia or other reading processing issues, the Reader Pen2 offers an effective approach to reading support for any print documents. The outside world often forgets that many texts are still in print and therefore screen readers are not going to work. Being able to have the words read to you through earbuds and have access to a dictionary is huge in combating these types of issues. As we look toward notetaking, both the Livescribe Echo II and the ScanMarker platform can assist in the ability to learn and have things in both visual and auditory formats.

On the side of mental health, our students need to feel less anxious and be able to handle situations that can occur both inside of the school and in their community. When dealing with social situations, a software solution like The Social Express gives students real scenarios and suggestions for how to deal with those situations. School and classrooms can also create sensory areas, including calming areas for when students are escalating or over-stimulated. These areas can be simply made by creating an area in the back of the classroom with smaller products like a Cuddle Ball, Beanbag Chair, or Vibrating Pillow. Larger scale sensory rooms also support mental health and can be purchased. Ready-made kits like the Serene Scene Sensory Bundle can support larger numbers of students and become a place of respite from the heightened anxiety the students are facing today.

The critical piece for you is to know what products will best support your students, approach those who handle the ESSER funds and supply them with the correct rationale for their purchase with those funds, and be sure to use them with as many students as possible. If you have questions or would like to discuss your needs, feel free to reach out to either of our Specialists for Special Education, Jodi Szuter, at jszuter@schoolhealth.com or me at rheipp@schoolhealth.com and we will be happy to assist you.

May 2023 be a year of helping our students and ourselves continue on the road of recovery from the pandemic and assisting in the educational development of all!

Creating a Happy Holiday Season for All!

Creating a Happy Holiday Season for All!

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp


“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” We hear that phrase echoing from the radio throughout the month. It's interesting to now see some radio and streaming stations moving toward “holiday favorites” from November 1st on until the end of the year. A recent poll showed that many working adults believed that they needed another two weeks to be sufficiently ready for the holidays. “Black Friday” now starts earlier online (like, by weeks, on some sites) and we have “Cyber Monday” carrying on for a full week. Take all these things and add to them the excitement that can be in many environments, and one has the recipe for either an amazing season or a state of dread and overwhelm, effecting both neuro-diverse and neuro-typical individuals. How can we find ways to make this that amazing season?

First, start with you! Take time every day for yourself. Those who have heard me speak or read my blogs know that I am a big proponent of the “five-minute me time” on a daily basis. Taking just five minutes at the very beginning or end of your day can help calm your nerves and reenergize your body for all that life throws at you. Unfortunately, there is not an easy way to get the marketing of this season completely off our screens or out of our ears. Keeping a strong sense of self, staying with any exercise or stretching routines, practicing breathing, and having a nice cup of tea or coffee can assist in the body and mind being focused and dealing with life one moment at a time.

Next, bring the individuals with whom you work or live into focus. Start with the holidays that you and they celebrate. How can the ideas and essence of each of those holidays be emphasized?  If they are not celebrating a holiday which some of their peers are celebrating, how can that be explained in a manner that is accepted by them? What about those who will only celebrate the New Year at some point and do not identify with other holidays? We have to remember that it might be difficult to understand why a friend celebrates with a cornucopia or Christmas tree, when they celebrate with a Hanukkah Menorah.  Sharing the reasons behind these celebrations helps to create an understanding around the beautiful differences each one of us has. The communication of these differences through these celebrations and the highlighting of their own celebration helps to bring a better understanding of how we are all one family. This is a good place to start in preparation of this season.

We hear a lot about the creation of switch-accessible or adapted toys at this time of the year. It is great that we can create toys for so many to access by simply using a soldering iron or a battery-interrupter.  My first question is why do some only focus upon it at this time of the year? My second question is where in your community can you go to bring toys and have the support you need in making these toys accessible? Look around your community and see if any groups are sponsoring days to create these toys.  I always like to shout-out my colleagues Matt and Holly at the Virginia Tech TTAC who host events like this and supply the training and soldering irons to make this happen. There are also sites like the School Health website where adapted toys are available for ordering.  Just make sure that the individuals have a switch that they can use.

In this month’s Talkin’ Tech with Dr. Ray, I also describe how to take stuffed animals or items like vibrating pillows and add a little weight to them to add another sensory dimension to favorite toys that can also serve to assist in calming individuals. Other options include weighted animals and weighted lap pads which have already been made at a certain weight. Please work with your OTs for precise ideas on the weighting for your individuals always keeping in mind the idea that anything weighted should be only 10% or less of their body weight unless reviewed and approved by an OT. The sensory side should always be considered for our individuals and sensory “toys” may be very appropriate!

As for the “sights and sounds” of the season, we need to have our individuals ready as well!  As a child, I remember my parents driving my sister and me around the city to see all the lights. That can be a wonderful experience. We also must be aware that the visual stimulation of too many lights or the flash patterns of some lights may also be overwhelming. Start slow and small. Be aware when an individual may become over-stimulated. Have space to go where there are less lights or even have them put on sunglasses to tone down the brightness.

On the auditory side, be certain to have tools that can allow an individual some quiet time. Bringing noise cancelling headphones may be a good idea for some. Other products that are not as easily seen and may give noise reduction rather than cancellation, like Vibes, might be a good call for other individuals. Again, it is important to know the limits of your individuals. 

Finally, be sure to dress appropriately for the weather. If you live in an area where it is cold outside and you will be outdoors for some time, bring hand warmers or additional layers of clothing. No matter what the weather, bring socially and event-appropriate fidgets like a School Health Sensory Tangle Toy or a Cuddle Ball to provide some soothing for those who may become overwhelmed by the emotions of those around them or the temperature of the environment they are visiting.

We need to be centered ourselves in order to think of those events which may be triggers for some of our individuals. We do not need to initiate a level of trauma by what we think is something simple. One example is trying to make sure our individuals who celebrate Christmas do not “catch” Santa or someone placing gifts beneath the tree. I can assure you that the escalation which comes with not “catching” the gift placer is not one you want to experience! 

With each one of us remembering to center ourselves and then support our individuals, we create a season of joy and celebration! We are also creating routines and actions which can be replicated throughout the year and for many years to come.

I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season filled with much joy and minimal escalations!

Closing the Gap 2022 – Reconnecting and Recharging

Closing the Gap 2022 – Reconnecting and Recharging

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp

For the first time since the onset of the pandemic, we were able to gather in person at the Closing the Gap Conference. This convergence in person created an energy that was uplifting as well as refreshing.  We grew empowered with the success stories while looking at what we must continue to do to support our individuals through inclusivity. That work, although sometimes feeling like we are facing an uphill battle, becomes so much more manageable when we know we are not alone and that experts surround us. Here are some takeaways from sessions and discussions that I wish to share with you.

I was able to enjoy dinner one evening with three amazing people-- Mo Buti, Candice Steel, and Jodi Szuter. The energy from that dinner alone could light the world for decades. One of the topics of which we spoke was the pre-conference session which Mo and Candice presented. As they looked at addressing deficit areas within students on the Autism Spectrum, they included sensory processing and social emotional learning. I am always reminded in discussions like this how EVERY student can benefit from strategies which focus on the sensory and social emotional parts of daily activities. Mo never ceases to amaze me with her energy and ability to help districts focus on expanding their educational approaches. For those of you who have not had the opportunity to hear Candice present, be sure to sign up for any sessions you see with her in future conferences. Her pragmatic ways of handling students has been a calling card of hers during her career. Now, she can share so much more and spread ideas that work. Finally, Jodi has such a depth of work and understanding in literacy especially for those struggling to read. She spoke about the sensory side of literacy and going back to engaging the students in tactile feedback with letters as well as numbers to create an inclusive foundation.

Kelly Fonner is one of the busiest people in the AT world! That was evident with her pre-conference workshop as well as five other presentations! Although our interaction was brief (we keep threatening to present together and someday we will!), I appreciate her efforts around the idea of mentoring in our AT world. AT needs are as varied as our students. How does one keep up with everything?  How can one make sure that evaluations are done properly and with the strengths of the student in mind? Kelly is that person in our community who keeps us focused on the high level and not get bogged down in the minutiae which is easy to do. Reach out to her about this idea of mentoring!

Finally, one cannot engage in any presentation with a PowerPoint and not be influenced by the work of Kelli Suding around making material accessible. I am more aware now of how much digital information is not fully accessible because of her message. At CTG, she spoke on how to build capacity through effective PD. This message is essential within education as for too long, PD was something we had to do.  A well designed and developed PD program can expand inclusivity through a grassroots pedagogy and not detract from any educational progress.

When we looked at some of the new or “renewed” products, we saw a return to access and literacy support. We also recognize the need for overall sensory support in ways that we had not previously considered.

The C-Pen Reader Pen 2 made its debut in the US. Icons now make it easier to interact with the menu.  This device continues to assist those with dyslexia and other reading issues through giving access to printed texts without having to connect to the internet. The built-in dictionary offers individuals the ability to quickly review word meanings while staying within the text itself. The fact that the words are also highlighted while the text is being read aloud also helps with word-recognition.

The Scanmarker Reader also came to Closing the Gap. Introduced into the US earlier this year, the Scanmarker Reader offers individuals the opportunity to scan and read texts through the Scanmarker app. This device also comes with a unique way of helping those with fine motor issues move along text in a straight line. An amazing strength of this full platform approach is the ability to scan in one language and have it translated into one of many other languages almost immediately. The Scanmarker Reader platform is a game-changer for our ESL students and their families.

Livescribe has also returned to action and was demonstrated. I prefer the Echo II for its ability to record (up to 200 hours) and utilize the special notebooks just like before. The playback is also improved. As individuals get older and begin to transition into the workplace, the Symphony along with the Livescribe app can provide support necessary for individuals to remember and review important information.

When looking to support those with visual impairments, AbleCon devices provide excellent individualized support at a fraction of the cost of other products.  The AbleBaby made its impression on me and many others as a portable vision support system that can hook directly to a laptop or computer and allow magnification, contrast change, and OCR capabilities for less than a document camera without OCR. Its additional products like the AbleGrabber, which sends an individual the signal of what is being broadcast on an interactive whiteboard, as well as the AbleCenter, which gives an individual control of what is being shown around a room helps to make our classrooms even more inclusive for the visually impaired.

Many of you already know that I am a huge fan of Time Timer Visual Timers. The new Time Timer watch along with the ability to have it used in a fob instead of on the wrist lets those with sensory issues around the arms still have access to a smaller and more private visual timer. The dry erase board that works with an insert of a Time Timer Mod can help to lay out specific times or agenda items that can use that timer as well.

Many of you may be familiar with the Active Floor. I remember visiting their headquarters in Denmark back in 2012 and seeing one of the early versions of it. It is a fantastic way to bring interactive learning into any room. The issue that schools with whom I spoke had related to the fact that early versions were only able to be mounted in the ceiling; thereby limiting access. They still have the ceiling mounted version (Active Floor Pro2 or the Active Floor Giga for larger spaces). As you might imagine, the quality of the interactivity and projected images is amazing. I watched it demonstrated under the full light of the conference Exhibit Hall and still was able to see the floor clearly.  For me, the key addition they have to the Active Floor Family is the Mobile Max. They have taken the idea of the Active Floor and made it portable! I can envision buildings using it for many inclusive activities and have the students all work together in movement-based learning.

Finally, the Visilift+ made its US debut. When the TAPit came to its end, many districts began looking at alternative products. Simply using an interactive monitor on a stand does not give the same access that devices like the Visilift+ give to many groups of students. Yes, it is multi-touch and it allows for that touch to be established with any manipulative. I think back to students that I helped interact with the TAPit by using wiffle balls or wands and am excited for the possibilities.

Closing the Gap 2022 was a return to the energy and excitement we have around supporting our individuals. It was a concrete reminder that we have products, the likes of which we have never had before. We also have the ability to create our own products or work with groups like Enabling Devices to personalize devices for our students. Most important though, is the message that when we join together, utilizing each other’s knowledge, we can create a world where inclusivity is transparent because it is naturally occurring.

Thinking through October and all it brings for our Individuals

Thinking through October and all it brings for our Individuals

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp

During a brisk October morning, I thought about all the wonderful activities that occur in October and throughout autumn. Remembering my days as an administrator, October would bring us to the end of the first quarter of the academic year, along with student testing. The academic side of this month was only one endeavor October brought. We were in the midst of the fall athletic season and the beginning of the winter season. We moved closer to the start of major extracurricular activities in theatre, speech, and other clubs. Depending upon the district, we were potentially looking towards Halloween or other holiday activities. In all, October is both busy as well as transitional to progress the school year. Let’s review these ideas and what we might want to keep in mind.

Starting with the end of the month, I have read and written pieces about preparing our students for communities which celebrate Halloween. This can be one of the most over-stimulating holidays for individuals. The sights, sounds, tastes, and movement can create high levels of both excitement and anxiety. We want to make sure that individuals come to an understanding that some might dress in “scary” ways. If that preparation is not done, the first appearance of a werewolf or zombie could be confusing and frightening. Pictures and old costumes can be shared with individuals to prepare them for Halloween events. We also need to make sure that we are educating nutrition information to not eat all the candy or snacks in one sitting. Additionally, we should be aware of individuals who need unique costumes. Think of those in wheelchairs or those who use walkers and what can be designed specifically to their interests to allow them to participate with their peers. Do not forget that some of our individuals may not be able to afford a costume. How can we repurpose what we have or use items that we can pick up at a local dollar store or resale shop? Sometimes, simple costumes can be better as they might not cause sensory adverse reactions, allowing better participation. If you are in a building or community which celebrates Halloween, please be sure to have your individuals ready for a fun-filled and not fright-filled evening!

In addition, October brings back thoughts of outdoor sports. Having participated in and coach fall sports, one wants to be used to the needs of individuals based upon the weather. I had the wonderful opportunity to spend many October nights in the mid-to-late 1990s at the ballpark with my father watching playoff baseball with our Cleveland team! (Great to see them back in the playoffs this year! I know that Dad is looking down from some great seats above!) My father spent the last 30 years of his life in a wheelchair due to suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. That never inhibited his love of our pro teams and desire to see them in person. It was at these sporting events that I learned how clothing needs to be assessed individually. My father always had his winter coat, gloves, and hat ready. For a long time, it was assumed that his jeans would be enough to keep his legs warm. We later realized that having a wool blanket to cover his legs made it more comfortable for him. Gabe Ryan, in his Access Angle blog, discusses some of the clothing available today, which really works at keeping the entire body warm. This allows more enjoyment at any outdoor event or even the travel to and from events in cold or wet weather. Not all clothing works for everyone, so be sure to learn what works best for your individuals when they are going out in multiple environments. We want everyone watching these events to be included and not allow the weather to interfere.

As I mentioned above, October brings us to the end of the first quarter of the academic year. There are times when that transition between quarters is overwhelming. During October, we specifically “Go Red for Dyslexia” to bring attention to the number of individuals who struggle with this condition. We want to provide any support we can for these individuals and understand that the use of devices or software does not mean that these individuals are “cheating” when completing work or taking tests. We want to understand that there is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. I was recently involved in a conversation with a district who simply wanted to address dyslexia in students with software on Chromebooks. I think that is a great idea, but let them know that they also need to have alternative devices for students who are trying to interact with papers or physical books. Many students become embarrassed if they have to use another person as a “Reader” when interacting with these materials. Having a device as simple as a Reader Pen can not only increase an individual's confidence in their own abilities, but also create a stronger sense of independence.

The more we are aware of conditions that can inhibit individuals from participating in academic, social, or personal events, the better we can prepare to help them. Consider all the various environments our individuals may be encountering and think through how we prepare to go to a high school football or soccer game. Now, expand what we do through the eyes of our individuals to pick up some other ideas about how to help them become more fully involved. Autumn can be a beautiful time of the year when everyone has access to all of its activities!

Keeping Warm on the Go: Fall is Here – Time for Winter Gear

Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor

Fall is here and that means the weather is getting colder as we head into the winter months. It’s time to talk about some of my favorite winter apparel items that help keep you warm and dry.

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!

Changing Perspectives

Changing Perspectives

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp

A few weeks ago, I ran into a former student of mine who graduated from the Class of 1987. It was enjoyable to catch up on life and share some fun anecdotes from the past. Then, last Friday, I virtually connected with a teacher to discuss some approaches that she was seeking to use to help keep her students calmer this academic year. As we wrapped up, I heard a thunderous sound from outside that kept getting louder. It was a clear and sunny day, so I had to investigate. To my surprise, it was the Blue Angels flying by. This should not have surprised me, as it’s a normal event for the Cleveland Airshow over Labor Day weekend to have the Blue Angels flying in my area. As I sit here on Labor Day, I am reflecting on those three events and thinking about how our perspectives in education have changed over time and what they are now.

If we go back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, Labor Day not only meant the suggested, “end of summer,” but also the factual end of summer vacation for us students. School started on the Tuesday after Labor Day, so we cherished that last chance to enjoy the outside freedom and play from dusk until dawn without homework! We knew that teachers were in school the week before, as the rooms were always decorated and bulletin boards were ready to display our work. When I became a teacher, I had the chance to visit with some of my own elementary teachers. They shared that the week before Labor Day was focused on getting the classroom ready, as well as making copies of worksheets for the activities throughout the first month of school. Those of us from certain generations remember the “Ditto Machines” and how careful we had to be with the master copies and to be ready to clean the blue ink off of our hands! It was an action that we don’t put much thought into today as our worksheets are either online or in a file, which makes printing a simple task.

Thinking back to my former student from the Class of 1987, we began school the week before Labor Day. This was done so teachers could get the administrative tasks (seating charts, assigning of textbooks and numbers, handing out of syllabi, etc.) completed and begin teaching before the weekend. Some of my colleagues used that long weekend to assign a paper or an extended homework assignment, while I knew that students would put in little effort because of the longer weekend. When speaking about past classroom environments, it was different than today. I was on the fifth floor of a 100-year-old building. “Air conditioning” meant that I opened all of my windows and my classroom door, and the teacher across the hall did the same thing. Teaching in Cleveland also meant that the Friday before Labor Day was practice for the Blue Angels at Burke Lakefront Airport. You did not want to schedule any tests or quizzes on that day as the noise did not allow any concentration. Making sure we had air circulating and that the students were not hanging out of the windows were our most important responsibilities. Today, air conditioning and air purifiers keep us comfortable and healthy.

How times change! My last Labor Day, which only focused on administrative tasks and continuing the movement into the new school year, came on September 3, twenty-one years ago. As a veteran administrator, the school year had already started, and we were getting ready for parent back-to-school nights. Another school year had begun, and everything was moving along. It would be only eight more days until the unthinkable would occur and I would never be able to look at the start of the school year with thoughts of simple planning again.

Although I was already out of administration and working with School Health, Labor Day weekend of 2020 meant something completely different for my colleagues that were still in schools. Administrators were furiously making sure students had access to equipment, internet, and other requirements for virtual learning. Teachers were adjusting for another year’s worth of lessons to be conducted in a virtual format. Some even needed to plan to conduct both virtual and in-person classes simultaneously. The focus became how we could teach in an environment that we never have before.

This year, the focus of teachers and administrators is looking at the health and well-being of our students. I want to remind all educators that we need to also make sure that we are taking care of ourselves within that structure! Breathing breaks, sensory breaks, calming areas, and yoga sessions are part of how we can all continue to move forward and live healthier lives. We need to look at education in a holistic manner and understand that a 30-60 second sensory break or teaching a student how to use breathing to calm down, creates a life skill that will assist them forever. Our students, as well as ourselves, are still in an anxious state of mind. By modeling how we can grasp all of the unique events that come our way each day, it gives them a greater lesson, compared to teaching them a science concept or a math equation. We give them a way to live.

Over the summer, I had an administrator ask me how much more difficult I thought it was to be in education now, compared to 20, 30, and 40 years ago. I told him that it was simply different. Our world 40 years ago was local and today it is global. Thirty years ago, we still had to research topics and questions in libraries using reference materials and today, we have students jump on their cell phones for the same information. Twenty years ago, we were focused on the safety and security for our schools and ourselves, and today we are more aware of everyone’s well-being. Perspectives and students are the key parts that have changed. We still need to operate with the idea of, “in loco parentis,” and adjust it to teaching life and coping skills. The most important thing for myself that I shared with the administrator, was how we, as educators, are now more aware of how our mental well-being is the key factor for us to bring our students to that same level.

Although the perspectives have changed, there is one task that we continue to do. We give our students the tools to make differences in their futures and, therefore, keep those perspectives changing to adjust to the world around them!

Preparedness: Don’t delay, do it today!

Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor

September is National Preparedness Month. Launched in 2004, this is an outreach campaign sponsored and managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Additionally, in August 2022, the White House issued a proclamation recognizing September as Preparedness Month. The goal is to educate and empower Americans throughout the year to prepare for and respond to emergencies and disasters. National Preparedness Month ends on September 30th, which is National Preparedness Day.

What does preparedness month mean to you? Do you already have a plan for a disaster or emergency?

The United States Ready Campaign includes a section for, “Individuals with Disabilities,” which describes its program as a national public service campaign to educate and empower people to prepare for emergencies. Their webpage includes helpful tips for those with a variety of disabilities, such as; mobility, vision, speech, intellectual disabilities, etc. This campaign encourages individuals to do four key things in order to be better prepared:

As a person that uses a wheelchair, I have thought a lot about preparing for different types of emergencies. What would I do first and how would I get to safety? I’ve tried to educate myself by attending seminars and reviewing information on disaster preparedness with a focus on persons with a disability, such as those sponsored by our state Office of Emergency Services (OES). This OES in California has established the Office of Access and Functional Needs (OAFN) within the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Their goal is to identify the needs of individuals with disabilities and others with access or functional needs before, during, and after disasters and to integrate them into the State’s emergency management systems. They have established an interactive emergency management tool map, which may guide individuals to resources during a disaster or emergency. Programs like Listos California have offered webinars that are simple to follow and provides resources available in over 20 languages. To find local official agencies and resources for your region, you can visit the FEMA: Search Your Location webpage.

I recently added a new item to my emergency essentials. I had a few experiences where I had to evacuate a building on a moment’s notice due to an emergency. One of those times was at a hotel in the middle of the night and another was during a doctor appointment. Luckily, in both situations, I was on the ground floor and was able to find an exit that did not have any steps to fully access the door leading outside. I have also had experiences where I have been stuck in an enclosed, accessible platform lift and/or situations where nobody was available with a key to operate the lift. These types of scenarios got me thinking, is there something I can carry with me that could help in these situations?

In doing some research, I discovered the perfect tool for me – a personal transport sling. This is a lightweight, compact sling, with multiple handles, that can be used to carry someone with mobility impairments to safety. There are a few varieties on the market, such as the Tuk-'n-kari Transfer Sling, or the one I tried, which is the ADAPTS portable transfer sling. These slings can not only be used for emergency transport, but in everyday use, such as transferring to a dentist/physician exam chair or a manual transfer versus using a mechanical lift.

Check out this demonstration video where I try out a portable transfer sling to go up and down some stairs. Having an item like this in my backpack is just one more way I can be prepared in the event of an emergency or a situation where I am in an area that my wheelchair is not able to go.

In doing some research, I discovered the perfect tool for me – a personal transport sling. This is a lightweight, compact sling, with multiple handles, that can be used to carry someone with mobility impairments to safety. There are a few varieties on the market, such as the Tuk-'n-kari Transfer Sling, or the one I tried, which is the ADAPTS portable transfer sling. These slings can not only be used for emergency transport, but in everyday use, such as transferring to a dentist/physician exam chair or a manual transfer versus using a mechanical lift.

Check out this demonstration video where I try out a portable transfer sling to go up and down some stairs. Having an item like this in my backpack is just one more way I can be prepared in the event of an emergency or a situation where I am in an area that my wheelchair is not able to go.

A portable transport sling would be a great addition to businesses and schools that already provide evacuation chairs. Transport slings would complement evacuation chairs, usually located in stairwells, as they fold up to the size of a piece of paper, weigh about one pound, and ensure multiple people have access to quickly get to safety. These could be located in strategic spots in classrooms and offices, issued to students/adults with mobility needs, and could also be included as part of first aid and safety kits on sports fields.

What is one item that you can add to your emergency essentials? Don’t delay, do it today!

For additional School Health resources related to preparing for disasters and emergencies, visit the School Safety Center web page to read the safety blog and access related products.


“Better to have, and not need, than to need, and not have” ~ Franz Kafka

Adaptive Fashion: Inclusive, Stylish Clothing, and Accessories

Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor 

Years ago, finding adaptive clothing that was both functional and looked good could be difficult. There were specialty catalogs that carried some items, but mainly they were geared toward senior citizens, not so much toward children and young adults. Often, people that needed adaptive clothing creatively modified regular clothing themselves or enlisted the help of someone with skills in using a sewing machine or in clothing design. 

Fast forward to present day, it is exciting there are now several options when it comes to finding fashionable clothing for people of all ages and abilities.


What is adaptive clothing?

It is clothing specially designed for people with a disability that includes modifications to make it easier to take on and off for the individual or a caregiver. The type of modifications needed are unique to each person and their levels of independence, mobility, sensitivities, and dexterity.

Several popular clothing brands and mainstream stores have adaptive clothing lines. There are professional clothing designers willing to make adaptive clothing and smaller home-based businesses where a family member or individual is able and willing to showcase and share their creations. The internet has made it easy to find smaller companies that specialize in creating adaptive clothing.

As someone who uses a wheelchair, I am in the seated position a lot. Wearing pants that have a comfortable waist, not a lot of tags, and seams that are flat, rather than bulky, are important to me. Also, having fabric that stretches, isn’t tight on the hips and knees, as well as pant length, are all key factors. My arms are tight in the elbow and don’t straighten out all the way, and for this reason, many shirts can be difficult to get my arm through the opening if the fabric is too stiff. Sure, buying a larger size would fix this issue; however, the length and width of the shirt would be far too big and baggy. It is understandable why so many people that have difficulty with typical clothing rely on wearing sweatpants and basic t-shirts. These items are comfortable and are easy to take on and off. Sweatpants are a great choice, but what if you want more variety and options, fabrics, or styles, such as a pair of nicer pants or collared button up shirt? Luckily, you don’t have to look that far to find multiple selections of Adaptive wear in clothing stores and online.


Helpful clothing adaptations include examples such as the following list:

  • Magnetic closures on shirts and pants, replacing buttons
  • Velcro or zippers on the sides of pants or shirt arms
  • Larger neck openings on shirts
  • Magnetic zippers that can be connected with one hand
  • Zipper pulls that are longer and easier to grasp
  • Clothing that is shorter in the back for those who use wheelchairs
  • Shoes that slip on, have Velcro, or zippers
  • Elastic for adjustable cuffs and waists
  • Snaps for adjusting size width and length

The following companies design and promote adaptive clothing with a focus on the unique needs of individuals:

Zappos Adaptive­– Offers single and different size shoe options. You can buy a single shoe or buy a pair that are two different sizes. A quick search of the Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFO) friendly option came back with over 50 choices! When I was younger, it was always difficult and limiting when shopping for shoes to fit AFOs. It is amazing to see shoes with zippers that go around the entire front of the shoe. They also carry an entire section of colorful covers, belts, and pads related to G-tubes, insulin pumps, tracheostomy tubes, and more.

Tommy Adaptive– Promotes magnetic buttons on shirts and pants, that look like traditional buttons, but they easily connect and close. Easy open necklines, longer zipper pulls, one handed zippers, drawcord stoppers, pull up loops on shorts and pants, seated wear with Velcro closures in the back or side seams, and sensory friendly clothing. Jeans with Velcro and magnetic closure, which replace the button and zipper… that is awesome! It’s impressive that a popular brand like Tommy Hilfiger has a section included right on their main website for adaptive clothing.

JCPenney– Online catalog includes adaptive clothing and accessories with many features such as hook and loop fasteners, tag free, flat seams, easy shoulder openings, wide neck openings, pull on loops, adjustable waistbands, hidden abdominal access openings, magnetic buttons and zippers, adjustable leg openings, etc. They have their items separated into collections, including easy on and off, sensory friendly, seated wear, adjustable features, bodysuit closures, etc. They have so many clothes to choose from in a range of prices and even have a big and tall section.

IZ Adaptive– A fashion forward company creating clothing that is stylish and comfortable. Izzy Camilleri is a fashion designer that has created custom adaptive clothing since 2009. Her mission is to make great looking and well-fitting clothes accessible to everyone. The focus this company has on inclusion and the detail put into their “Game Changer Seamless Back Pants” is captivating. These are not just a pair of pants – to this company, they are a part of independence and self-expression.

Etsy– A quick search for adaptive clothing and you’ll find several handcrafted custom-made pieces such as pants and shirts with side openings, Velcro, magnets, etc. This is a great place to find small businesses who will even customize and make clothing to fit more specific needs.

BILLY Footwear– This footwear was developed by a person who is paralyzed with a goal of seeking to find ways to get dressed more easily. This brand uses a FlipTop Technology zipper shoe where the entire front of the shoe opens to place your foot inside.

Nike FlyEase– These athletic shoes include easy open or close, step-in heel, and adjustable straps. I personally wear the version with the wraparound zipper with a hook and loop strap on most days. The ease of sliding my foot into the shoe and zipping it up saves time and eliminates having to bend my foot in an odd position.


Aside from practicing dressing skills in real time, there are ways people can brush up on their fine motor skills and hand eye coordination through dressing skills tools and supports. Products designed for practice can be helpful for both children and adults. Some examples of tools used for practicing these fine motor skills, that can be found on the School Health website include; Manual Dexterity Learning Vests, Manual Dexterity Learning Boards, Dressing Board Set, Melissa & Doug Basic Skills Board, Dr. Pooch Dressing Pet Pal, and Learn and Play Teddy. There are also many “do it yourself” tutorials on YouTube for creating even more practice opportunities.

These are just a few of the many companies out there now highlighting adaptive clothing as part of their offerings. There are many, many more clothing designers and companies focusing on this type of apparel, and it is much easier to find and purchase adaptive clothing than ever before. In addition to all of the creative openings, closures, magnets, and pockets that makes the clothing unique, there is a notable increase in companies including people with disabilities in their advertisements as well. Not just in the section for adaptive clothing, but throughout different parts of their websites.

“Adaptive clothing expands inclusion with each stitch” ~ Gabriel Ryan