Friday, August 21, 2009

A Ramp to Freedom!

When steps just aren't good enough.

Some people believe that the world was created in seven days. To be honest, I've always believed that claim to be more metaphorical than literal, but a recent experience has convinced me that miraculous things can indeed happen in such a short period of time. In my case, a new world was not created, but rather was opened up to me, and it only took three days instead of seven. Let me tell you all about it, in pictures as well as words.

Day 1 - 9:00 am: Here you can see me standing at the top of our old steps which lead up into the sun room at the rear entrance to our house. Clearly they have seen better days. In fact, an occupational therapist recently described them as "hazardous." She was not exaggerating. The steps were cracked, the rails were shaky, and even termites seemed to shy away from them. Clearly, they had to go before they killed someone.

That someone would be me.

Day 1 - 5:00 pm: By the end of the first day, the old steps had been dragged away (and I'm told they now rest upon a nice pile of old lumber scraps somewhere, waiting to be burned - this thought makes me strangely happy) and the framework of the ramp was already in place. As you can see, new steps now lead up to a sturdy platform where the old steps once stood. Construction was delayed a bit while suitable lumber was located and brought to the site. Only the best will do when Accessible Renovations does a job, and it took more than one stop before enough lumber could be found. Thanks guys. I appreciate the extra effort.

The new steps are wider, and lower in height. If need be, I can use these steps while the rest of the ramp is under construction. Elapsed time, about 6 hours including lunch and rest breaks. I am more than a little impressed. Oh, did I mention this? The "work crew" is comprised of exactly one man. Let me introduce you...

The Crew: Here he is folks. His name is Rick and he works for Accessible Renovations, the contractor placed in charge of this job by The Ability Center of Toledo, and of course approved by me before construction began. Rick doesn't exactly strike you as a superman, until you've seen him hoist a stack of twelve-foot 4x4's onto his shoulder and carry them from the truck and around the house to the work site all by himself. It was like watching a magician perform a magic trick... you wanted to ask him how he did it, but on the other hand, you just didn't want to spoil the sense of wonder. It's all I could do to keep myself from pulling up a chair to watch.

Day 2 - noon. The framework is really coming together now. The railings are up, as is the flooring of the ramp from the doorway to the first platform, where I'm standing. Not sure what I was pointing at when the first photo was taken, but I'm sure it must have been interesting. LOL!

Not much left to do now, it seems, except finish the flooring and rails on the second ramp segment which will "switch back" from here toward the house... or more precisely, the concrete patio area, and the side entrance to the garage. The slope is so gentle (30 degree angle if I remember correctly) that walking up and down takes almost no effort at all. My ramp is nearly finished now, I'm told. I find myself growing excited.

Day 3 - 4:00 pm. Today the last flooring section was finished, and the entire ramp structure was spot checked, sanded, and then checked again. I'm no carpenter, but I'm willing to bet that this ramp may well outlive the house. The site was then cleaned up perfectly, and I was invited to inspect the finished project. I walked the full length of the ramp for the first time, and smiled. I can't wait to run this baby in the wheelchair (still on order as I write this) and I am certain it will be a perfect fit.

Prologue: I felt an odd sense of freedom as I walked this ramp for the first time. Before now, I'd considered the old steps a nuisance. But if I'm to be honest, they were much more than that. Of late, I've been (subconsciously perhaps) avoiding having to leave the house. As I age, and my disability progresses, climbing steps is no longer such an "easy" task. Some days, when I'd come home especially tired, I required the help of my sweet wife (hi Lydia!) to make it up the last step. Clearly, I was losing my freedom. Now I have regained a measure of that, thanks to Rick, and Matt Lee of Accessible Renovations, and Mary Kowalik of The Ability Center of Toledo, and of course others known (and unknown) to me. Thank you all, for returning to me my freedom. If I can ever return the favor, you know where I live. Feel free to use the ramp. :)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Autism + Internet = ?

The ZAC Browser... a solution to a very real problem.

As my trip to the "ADA Day at the Zoo" event last week reminded me, there's still a whole lot I don't know about the hardware and software that already exists to help those of us who live with a disability. A case in point is Autism, and some software I discovered only last week that could make cruising the internet a lot easier (and safer) for anyone with that disorder.

The ZAC (Zone for Autistic Children) Browser offers a simplified interface that makes accessing the web much easier and less confusing for most users. What follows is the story of the ZAC Browser in the creators own words. Please see their website for additional details, and important compatibility information.

The origins of Zac Browser

ZAC Browser was originally designed in response to a family problem. In 2002, we were blessed with the arrival of our grandson, Zackary. From very early on, Zackary demonstrated signs of development disorders and in 2005, he was diagnosed with severe autism. For the love of our grandson, it was a pleasure to call together our talents to create an Internet browser specifically dedicated to his needs.

The beginnings of Zac Browser

Zackary demonstrated a lot of frustration with computers at his school. We were able to determine several reasons whenever he used a conventional browser. First we recognized that there were just too many useless functions for Zackary. The right hand mouse button would be a source of frustration. The functions used to reduce or close the browser would have the window disappear and give access to the task bar and the Windows menu functions which all lead to accessing diverse software on the computer along with the uninstall program function.

The creation of Zac Browser

Following the disappointing results obtained with the use of a conventional browser, we designed a software package specifically adapted for him. We designed a "full screen" program that cannot access the task bar, the Start menu and also cancels the right hand function of the mouse. The buttons are limited to essential functions and the browser prevents the child from accessing inappropriate sites. Children suffering from autism are known for being able to adapt easily to PECS (pictograms) so we designed an icon based navigation system like the PECS system.

Zackary’s first experience with the Zac Browser

From the moment that Zackary tried out the Zac Browser we noticed that he had no more frustrations when using the computer. He was no longer able to click on anything that would bring up unpleasant surprises. So we gave complete control to Zackary and so he was able to play, be entertained and took best advantage of what technology has to offer.

Once we noticed the benefits for Zackary it became obvious that this immense virtual playground should be shared with the whole world.

We know that parents who take care of children with autism must dish out a lot of money to ensure the well-being and the proper development of their child. We wish to contribute in our own way and offer you Zac Browser absolutely free.

The official launch was at the end of April 2008 and it was an instant success thanks to the wide media coverage that we were lucky to benefit from.

The future of Zac Browser

We can now count on over a million users in different languages: English, Spanish and French. We don’t expect to stop there. We are following through with our commitment and continue refining Zac Browser so as to always be on the cutting edge of technological advances. Without you having to continually upgrade, Zac Browser automatically adds new sites and videos as they become available. We are also committed to expanding Zac Browser with other languages. If you wish to get involved and contribute to the expansion of Zac Browser, please consult our "Associate" section.

What’s new in Version 1.5

A drawing board
New sites
New videos
Compatibility with the latest Flash sites
Increased speed in loading videos
Color changes of the Browser background
Changes to the "Smiley" in another category
Added application for "Zac Crash Recovery"
Added shortcut to "The Autism"
Added shortcut to our new forum

Ordinarily I'd close with a short summation of this products features, and my own observations and evaluations. However, this time that has proved problematic at best. While I could download and run the browser, I lack the expertise or experience to give this product the proper review it deserves. Therefore, I leave that up to you. If you've tried the ZAC Browser, or are willing to try it, I'd welcome any comments, positive or negative, that you'd care to post.

Until next time, thank you for your readership, and support.