Facebook Adds Accessible Feature to Make Site More Inclusive to People with Vision Impairments and Blindness

fb_icon_325x325People share over 2 billion photos across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp every day. Visual content provides a fun and expressive way for people to communicate online; however, consuming and creating it can pose a challenge for people who are blind or visually impaired.

There are more than 39 million people who are blind and over 246 million people who have severe visual impairments. This leaves many people feeling excluded from conversations surrounding photos on Facebook. Facebook is looking to make a change to make their social media site more inclusive which is why they are introducing automatic alternative text.

Automatic alternative text is a new development that generates a description of a photo using advancements in object recognition technology. People using screen readers on IOS devices will hear a list of items the photo may contain as they swipe past images on Facebook.  Before automatic alternative text, people using screen readers would only hear the name of the person who shared the photo, followed by the term “photo” when they came upon an image in their News Feed. Now, a richer description of what’s in the photo is offered.  For example, someone could now hear, “Image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.”

Each advancement in object recognition technology allows the Facebook accessibility team to make technology even more accessible for more people.

Facebook is launching automatic alternative text first on IOS screen readers set to English, but plans to add this functionality for other languages and platforms soon.

Obama to Forgive Student Loan Debt for People with Permanent Disabilities

President Obama Holds Bill Signing In Oval Office Of White HouseOn April 12, the Department of Education announced it will forgive an estimated $7.7 billion dollars in student loans for 387,000 people with permanent disabilities.  Starting next week, the Department of Education will send letters to Americans who have been identified as eligible for what is called a “total and permanent disability” loan discharge because they have a disability and are unable to work. The Department of Education and Social Security Administration worked together to identify borrowers who have been receiving disability payments and are eligible to have their loans discharged.

By law, anyone with a severe disability is eligible to have the government discharge their federal student loans. The administration took steps four years ago to make the process easier by letting people who have a “total and permanent disability” to apply for a discharge using their social security designation, but few took advantage.

This is why the Department of Education and Social Security Administration began to identify borrowers who have a specific designation of “medical improvement not expected.” Of the 387,000 people identified, about 179,000 of those people are currently in default on their loans, putting them at risk of losing their tax refunds and having their Social Security benefits garnished.

Starting next week, borrowers identified in the match will receive a letter form the government explaining the steps needed to receive a discharge. They will not be required to submit documentation of their eligibility. Notification letters will be sent over a 16-week period.

Tax Credit Proposed for Caregivers of People with Disabilities

tex-credit-1A bill introduced in the beginning of March in the House of Representatives would allow family members who care for people with disabilities or aging family members receive up to $3,000.00 in tax savings annually. The bill is known as the Credit for Care Act.

The tax credit offsets expenses for things like home modifications, groceries, transportation and hired help to care for individuals with long-term needs who need assistance performing at least two activities of daily living such as eating, walking, dressing or grooming.

Family members could qualify for providing care to a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, child, niece, nephew, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, father-in-law or mother-in-law. To be eligible, caregivers have to be working and earning at least $7,500.00 per year.

“This is more than just another tax credit,” said U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., who introduced the legislation along with U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y. “This is about how we can help older adults and people with disabilities live independently in their own homes and communities.”

Accessible Prescription Labels are Available

scripview_example2_300_199Misreading a prescription drug label can be dangerous. Luckily, there are accessible prescription labels available to help people with low vision/blindness take medication correctly and independently. Rite Aid and Walmart pharmacies have these labels available nationwide, but due to North Dakota law, they’re not available here.

However, accessible prescription labels are available via mail order from these national mail order pharmacies:

  • com Home Delivery (audible prescription labels)
  • Express-Scripts.com/Tricare (large print labels)
  • Walmart Mail Order (audible prescription labels)
  • Humana Mail Order (audible and braille prescription labels)
  • Rite Aid Mail Order (audible, large print, and braille prescription labels)
  • United Healthcare/OptumRx Mail Order (audible prescription labels)

The following options are available:

  • Large Print labels
    • To create large print labels, pharmacists use what is called Scripview. This is a non-glare, high contrast, durable label that presents all the needed information in a large print booklet style label. The information is presented in 18 point font. Scripview works for any prescription.
  • Braille labels
    • BRL prescription labels meet the guidelines and recommendations set by the U.S. Access Board’s Working Group on Accessible Prescription Labels. These prescription labels contain the same information as any other prescription label.
  • Audible labels
    • A ScripTalk Station is required to create audible labels. Press a button and place the special talking label over the reader. You will h ear a voice reading the information printed on the label. The ScripTalk Station works by using RFID and text-to-speech technology. A thin antennae and microchip embedded within the label are programmed with all the printed information. Because the data is stored in the label itself, it can be used on any size bottle, box, vial, tube, or other prescription container.

Brain Injury Awareness Month Open House

The North Dakota Brain Injury Network and Dakota Center for Independent Living are hosting an open house on March 17, 2016 from 2-5pm for Brain Injury Awareness Day. Brain injuries don’t just happen to professional football teams. People are dealing with the oftentimes debilitating aftermath of brain injuries here in North Dakota.

Brain injuries can present a complicated set of health issues that last long after the initial cause of injury. Changes to thinking, behavior, and emotions are often not readily apparent or don’t present themselves until later. As a result, individuals who have suffered a brain injury find themselves attempting to navigate a labyrinth of health and human services ranging from support groups to rehabilitation.

The open house will have several resource booths available with information regarding brain injuries. There will be activities that let people experience what it could be like to have a brain injury. There will also be food and refreshments available.

North Dakota Brain Injury Network is also partnering with Dakota Center for Independent Living in Dickinson to host a Brain Injury Awareness open house on March 8, 2016 from 2-3:30pm.

Hiring a Home Health Care Employee

It can be difficult to hire a home health care employee. Having a stranger come into your family’s home and care for a loved one can be nerve racking, but sometimes it’s necessary. If you are a caregiver, it is important for you to care for yourself, and arrange for time away from caregiving. When you have made the decision to hire a helper, these guidelines may help you.

Gather Information:

  • Ask family, friends, neighbors, and other persons you trust for recommendations. If you know someone who utilizes a home health care service, ask them about it. This can often be the best way to gain information.
  • If you attend a support group, ask other members what resources they would recommend based on their experiences.

Decide If You Would Like to Hire Someone Through an Agency or If You Would Prefer to Hire Someone Independently:

  • Hiring someone through an agency saves time and paperwork, and may provide trustworthy satisfactory assistance; however, it will be more costly.
  • Hiring someone yourself can reduce costs, but will take time and effort. If you pay someone more than $50 a quarter, you are required by law to withhold social security benefits, and make quarterly payments to the IRS. If the person you hire is already self-employed, they should then be paying their own social security taxes.
  • It is important to weigh costs, convenience, and legal responsibilities.

Be Specific About the Job Description, Hours, Rules, and Wages:

  • Be clear about the duties of both the helper and employer. A formalized agreement is vital in the case of disputes over wages, tasks, etc.
  • Make a list of tasks and questions that meet your needs and address your particular situation.

Ask Questions, Check References:

Ask the potential employee questions such as:

  • Where have you worked before?
  • Have you ever given care to someone with dementia (or whatever the health issue may be)?
  • Why are you choosing this type of work?
  • Request references, and advise them that you will be checking references and other resources regarding their employment history and character.

Ask references questions such as:

  • How long have you known the applicant?
  • In what capacity?
  • How did they get along with you and the person for whom they provided care?
  • Were they reliable and dependable?

The Process:

  • When you decide to hire someone, show them what a typical day is like and describe your loved one’s habits. Show him/her around the house and how to use specific appliances. Don’t expect him/her to plan meals. Instead, write down menus and details. For example, write down how the person likes his/her chicken or how much sugar he/she likes in their coffee.
  • Make a list of who to call in case of emergencies and what time your loved one may require medications. Make a chart for the time of each medication and have the employee cross off when it is given. This helps to eliminate any confusion related to when a medication was dispensed.
  • If you do not live near the person who is in need of care, make sure you get the phone numbers of neighbors and friends, as well as giving them your loved one’s house keys in case of emergencies.

The Agreement:

  • Write down his/her responsibilities, salary, vacation, benefits and day that he/she will get paid. Make expectations very clear. Request that he/she give you two days’ notice if they can’t be there for specific day.
  • Let him/her know if you don’t want them to have visitors or make long distance phone calls. Spell everything out very clearly so there are no misunderstandings.
  • Put all money and jewelry in a safe. Have checks from pensions, investments, and Social Security deposited directly into an account, and do not give home health care aides access to bankbooks or finances.
  • Be sure to maintain a professional relationship. Letting him/her become a member of the family opens the door to possible exploitation, especially if you don’t live nearby and cannot monitor the situation closely.

Finding a good home health care employee is invaluable so make sure you find the right fit for you and your loved one.

People with Disabilities Allowed to Pick ABLE Programs from Any State

hand20dropping20money20into20a20piggy20bankThanks to a tax law passed last month, consumers eligible to open an ABLE account will be free to select a plan sponsored by any state, rather than being restricted to their home state’s plan. The change will make it possible for people across the country to start an ABLE account as soon as the first state program begins. Experts expect there to be competition among states to attract out-of-state residents to their ABLE programs, which could result in lower fees and better investment options for consumers.

About 35 states have passed legislation to sponsor ABLE programs and it is thought that many programs will begin later this year. Officials in Nebraska, Virginia, and Florida say they plan to make ABLE accounts available in 2016.

Now that these programs can attract contributions from other states’ residents, experts say it is unclear whether all states that passed legislation will set up their own plans. Some may put their programs on hold and reassess once the initial ABLE plans are operating to see whether the market is big enough for additional players. Other states may opt to subcontract with another state or join a multi-state consortium to achieve economies of scale to reduce investment costs and account fees.

Some experts say families who want to maximize their contributions to these accounts should set one up in 2016, even if there are relatively few plans to choose from. This is because annual contributions are limited to $14,000 a year per beneficiary.

Families may want to wait until the end of 2016 to open an account so they have more options to choose from. They should keep an eye on the offerings from other states that enter the market. If they find a plan with lower fees or better investment options, they can initiate a tax-free rollover of their assets from one state plan to another.

While out of state plans may offer some benefits, it is thought that many states may offer a state tax break for using a home-state plan. States that currently offer one include Oregon, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, and Wisconsin.

If maintaining SSI benefits, which are suspended once a person’s assets reach $100,000, isn’t a concern, a family may want to shop for a state plan that allows them to set aside the most money possible. On average, ABLE programs cap the balance at $300,000 per person, but some states are planning to cap the balance as high as $480,000.