We Got a Bite Out of the Apple

By : Categories : 21st Century Rehabiliation Solutions,Assistive Technology Comment: 17 Comments
Think Different

Think Different

We Got a Bite Out of the Apple

Ron Ustach, a Senior Engineer and the Western States Government Sales Representative with Apple Computers, recently blew into Denver on a strong March wind. This, his second visit to the Mile High City, followed his meeting with the Colorado Developmental Disabilities Council last January, when we heard Ron’s presentation on the new, impressive accessibility features of the iOS7 Apple operating system.

The January meeting with Ron ignited the flames of possibilities for updating rehabilitation practices to 21st Century standards. My fellow DD Council members and I have been passionate about increasing awareness and implementation strategies, including the use of technology. The modern world insists on connecting everywhere, and technology has become the glue which holds the world’s connections together. And yet, people with disabilities, especially those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, do not have easy access to the online community. By working with Apple, we hope to address the challenge of preventing 21st Century Segregation created by professionals without their even knowing it. Our mission is community inclusion, not exclusion.

As we focus on technology and work to determine whether that focus, we must ask this question:

“Do I have a smart phone or a tablet?”

Most rehabilitation professionals will reply they have one or more of these devices, yet less than 10% of people with disabilities have access to the same devices.

Christy Blakely, another special needs parent, is as determined as I am to change that statistic. As a parent representative on the Medical Services Board, her efforts were instrumental in changing rules in Colorado Medicaid policies, allowing Medicaid to fund the purchase of iPads and other similar devices for communication and medical necessity. Good news.

Despite Christy’s efforts, however, few devices have been purchased. Turning to Medicaid officials and to me, she asked if Apple could help.

Three weeks later, Ron, Christy and Maureen Staple from Assistive Technology Partners and DD Council Executive Director, Marcia Tewell and I met at Curious Coffee in preparation for our meeting with Medicaid officials later that afternoon. Each of excitedly shared our small piece of the rehab puzzle with Ron. In turn, he presented information regarding innovations Apple recently made to its operating system. An hour later, we walked across the street, signed in, collected our badges and were escorted to the 3rd floor conference room, the home of Health Care and Public Financing, aka, Medicaid.

We politely sat around the walnut veneer table, then huddled around Ron, who demonstrated the latest accessibility feature—eye gaze control using iPad’s built-in camera. This device has the ability to simplify life for so many; but as technology streamlines life for people with disability, it becomes more and more apparent that the systems supporting people with disabilities are as scattered as a bag of dropped marbles.

That afternoon, we were fortunate to have the right people at the table. After assembling the facts and data, it became as clear as a Colorado blue sky that the problem is that we needed a Medicare-approved vendor who is an authorized Apple product reseller.

We discovered that such a vendor does not exist in Colorado. The task of finding such a vendor seems daunting: How long will it take to obtain the right provider? Do we have anyone currently in the system that might work to serve as a vendor? We held the problem up to the light looking at all the angles. Meanwhile, Ron sat at the end of the conference table texting on his iPhone. Within minutes, he announced he thought he had located a vendor in New Mexico who might just work.

Two hours later, Mauureen, Christy and I sat together in a conference room with Ron at AT Partners, huddled over a speaker phone, listening to our potential vendor from New Mexico. They committed to submit an application to Medicaid by the end of the week.

What an astonishing outcome for an afternoon’s work –it felt as if we had accomplished three year’s work in three hours!

The next day, Ron and I had a conference call with a group of parents in the Roaring Fork Valley. These firecracker parents have been innovating for their children and others using SmartHome technology. Each of them shared their ideas with Ron. Clearly, he was impressed.

“Would you be willing to come to Aspen this summer?” they asked.

“I think I can make that work,” he replied.

And a high tech conference was born.

I think we may have finally stepped out of the 20th Century and into the 21th Century. I couldn’t be happier.




About Katherine Carol

Special needs & community expert, speaker, co-author of The Tango of Publishing and Shining Beautiful, with Mikelle Learned, book coach, mom, and community builder.


  • Adriana

    April 22, 2014 at 3:23 am

    Yay! Great news!

    • Katherine Carol

      April 22, 2014 at 9:35 pm

      Thanks for your support Adriana!

  • Alice Brouhard

    May 3, 2014 at 1:53 am

    So awesome!!!! I am doing the happy dance tonight as I am thinking of the partnerships that are being formed! Thank you for your vision, commitment and passion!!!

    • Katherine Carol

      May 7, 2014 at 8:44 pm

      Thank you Alice! We are thrilled too! Love it when good people with big ideas get together.

  • Hannah

    December 17, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    Is Mikelle intellectually disabled (cognitively impaired)? In other words, is Mikelle Learned’s IQ below average for a 28 year old woman?
    Please reply ASAP to my email, Katherine Carol. Many with CP are cognitively impaired, because Mikelle has spastic quadriplegia CP.

    • Katherine Carol

      December 31, 2015 at 2:27 am

      Thank you, Hannah for your comment. I appreciate your questions and want to respect Mikelle’s privacy.

  • Hannah

    January 3, 2016 at 11:31 pm

    I am so sorry, Katherine Carol. Reply to 17kimha@haslett.k12.mi.us, but why aren’t you sharing Mikelle’s official diagnosis with me? I’ve noticed that Mikelle does have mild intellectual disability.
    By the way, have you ever heard of Mays Mission for the Handicapped (maysmission.org)? If you click on “Programs” after you go to Mays Mission for the Handicapped, you will find a SCHOLARSHIP for Mikelle if she wants a 4-year college program. She must have a 2.3 GPA, an 870 on the SAT or an 18 on the ACT, and she must have overcome handicap (physical or mental). You are to DOCUMENT she has Cerebral Palsy.

  • Hannah

    January 3, 2016 at 11:35 pm

    http://www.maysmission.org/programs for Mikelle Learned. E.W. Mays was an amputee who began a charity for people with handicaps (special education). E.W. Mays would NEVER call names or use that word (“the R-word”).
    You said Mikelle has “spastic arms.” Poor thing.

  • Hannah

    January 3, 2016 at 11:38 pm

    By the way, you said Mikelle’s fingers are gripped with spastic muscles. So why didn’t you send Mikelle to a special needs school? If you want to visit Michigan, you could go to Mason, Michigan, and send Mikelle to Heartwood School, and put her in the “moderate cognitive impairment classroom.”
    Mikelle will love Heartwood School in Mason, MI (check Google), although she’ll meet Callie Romey, a girl with Spina Bifida who was born in the Ukraine.

  • Hannah

    January 3, 2016 at 11:41 pm

    Why did you adopt Mikelle? If she moves to Mason, MI, and enrolls in Heartwood School, she’ll be a Heartwood Tiger–size S (petite), brunette, a lover of Starbucks.
    Did you know that Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation (check Google) is a good resource for Mikelle? True. You are to select a grant from http://www.christopherreeve.org, because Mikelle uses a power wheelchair.

    • Katherine Carol

      January 8, 2016 at 2:34 am

      Hello Hannah,
      Thank you for your continued interest in our website. We are thrilled you find it interesting. We appreciate your suggestions. Thank you .

  • Hannah

    January 9, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    Why do you want to respect Mikelle’s privacy? She has said many times that she has scoliosis and mental retardation from the fact she has a power wheelchair. I will respect her privacy, but I would refer Mikelle to http://www.timesofisrael.com/meet-israels-parallel-olympians-those-with-amazing-stories-behind-the-medals/, to have Israel’s Moran Samuel to teach Mikelle Learned how to row a boat in Paralympics Rowing. (You will have to buy Mikelle an Invacare Manual Wheelchair, along with a Dynavox communication book).

  • Hannah

    January 9, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    http://www.timesofisrael.com/meet-israels-parallel-olympians-those-with-amazing-stories-behind-the-medals/ means that Moran Samuel, Israel’s Paralympics rower, will coach Mikelle.

  • Hannah

    January 14, 2016 at 2:10 am

    -Mikelle Learned NEEDS Heartwood School in Mason, Michigan (when you send her there in late January), and for NEXT September, you can send her to Haslett High School in Haslett, Michigan (where she can be in the Resource Room AND Algebra). Tell them that you want to respect Mikelle’s privacy, but that she will need Heartwood School in Mason, MI ON JANUARY 19, 2016, and that she will need Haslett High School Resource Room Bain and Khan Academy Pre Algebra in Haslett, MI ON SEPTEMBER 1, 2016.
    -Mikelle is 4’11” (very petite; small) because of her scoliosis–Mikelle is 28 but looks mature actually, although she is intellectually disabled and uses a power wheelchair because she is an invalid.

  • Hannah

    January 14, 2016 at 2:19 am

    -Mikelle Learned needs YMCA Parkwood in East Lansing, Michigan, for YMCA Cheerleading. (http://www.ymcaoflansing.org/event/cheerleading-2/ will have little Mikelle as a cheerleading supervisor, as an older cheerleader despite being 5’4″ actually because 5’4″ is small).

  • Hannah

    January 14, 2016 at 2:20 am

    So awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    (http://www.ymcaoflansing.org/event/cheerleading-2/ will have little Mikelle as a cheerleading supervisor, as an older cheerleader despite being 5’4″ actually because 5’4″ is small). Mikelle will be a 5’4″ cheerleader in a wheelchair (power). Isn’t CP a blessing in disguise?

  • Hannah

    January 14, 2016 at 2:25 am

    -Nothing in me wants to give Mikelle such a label, but the MR diagnosis is a necessary evil for http://www.ymcaoflansing.org/event/cheerleading-2/ if you want her to be the only wheelchair bound cheerleader at Parkwood YMCA in East Lansing, Michigan (when you take her there). That’s right, the MR diagnosis is because CP affects the intelligence in Mikelle’s case.
    -Like the word “Jew” (as I am converting to Judaism as of January 30-31). Hitler used the term “Jew” in a terrible way, but the word “Jew” isn’t bad itself. People use “CP” in a terrible way like this, but please, at YMCA Parkwood Cheerleading in East Lansing, Michigan, you need to take Mikelle there by Google and by plane, and to use that necessary evil so that she can be the ONLY Korean-American wheelchair-assisted cheerleader in YMCA Parkwood in EL, Michigan.

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