Technology Spotlight: Project Understood

Technology Spotlight_ Project Understood Russ Ewell.png

Google is a seasoned pro when it comes to developing reliable and modern technology that promotes inclusion amongst all users. We are living in an era where voice technology is becoming the norm as pivotal software to assist users with a variety of tasks. Digital voice assistants like Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa have quickly become a necessity through all tech mediums like smartphones, tablets, and home devices.


However, the Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS) noticed that voice technology can lack the capability to correctly understand and transmit the voices of individuals with Down Syndrome. The way that individuals with Down Syndrome speak can be anomalous compared to those without, making the software difficult to use. Although, it is likely that individuals with a number of disabilities would benefit from the technology the most.


With this mission in mind, the CDSS set forth to find partnership in one of these major tech companies to not only recognize the issue at hand but join them in developing a solution that they have named Project Understood. Google was quick to jump on board and, with the society’s help, is testing its technology.


The initial test was to record 1,700 words and phrases spoken by individuals with Down Syndrome. From there, researchers could analyze whether or not Google’s voice technology was able to learn from the repetitive input of this voice data. They started with about nine volunteers.


After the initial testing, researched could confirm that Google’s voice technology was able to understand about 2 of 3 words spoken by individuals with Down Syndrome and that it has the capabilities to learn more with further data. Now the project just needs to secure more volunteers to feed Google’s voice technology more data.


Google and the CDSS are now seeking to collect about a thousand different voices of individuals with Down Syndrome to donate their time to developing this dynamic software. Not only will this help teach the system to learn to recognize speech from individuals with Down Syndrome, but it should also benefit other individuals with disabilities or atypical speech.


Google and the Canadian Down Syndrome Society are just a few of a number of companies that are working to build a more inclusive future for individuals with disabilities. Voice recognition, along with other smart technologies, has the capability to enhance the lives of all users, no matter their differences.

Originally published on

Carnival Cruise Ships Sail Towards Inclusion

Carnival Cruise Lines Sail Towards Inclusion Russ Ewell.png

In recent years, a growing number of institutions have been doing their part to be more sensory-inclusive and help those with autism, Down’s syndrome, PTSD, and ADHD. Now, Carnival Cruise Line is taking part as well.


In an announcement made this month, Carnival revealed that KultureCity, a non-profit, Alabama-based group whose purpose is the promotion of accessibility, has certified six of their ships’ crews based in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale as sensory inclusive.


This includes the Carnival Sunrise, based in Ft. Lauderdale, and the Carnival Horizon, Carnival Magic, Carnival Victory, Carnival Conquest, and the Carnival Sensation, all based in Miami. According to Carnival Cruise Line spokesman Vance Gulliksen in an interview with USA Today, employees across the entire Carnival fleet will be sensory inclusive certified by March 2020.


In What Ways Can a Cruise Ship be Sensory Inclusive?

Hundreds of Carnival’s staff members who interact with guests will be trained within these inclusive guidelines, whether that’s in guest services or through direct work with children with Carnival’s Camp Ocean youth programs. The staff will be fully capable of answering any questions that the guests may have in regards to how the various attractions onboard the ship may affect those suffering from sensory issues.


On top of this, all youth staffers have been trained in how to spot the signs of a sensory overload. They are able to then differentiate this from a regular run-of-the-mill tantrum and deal with it accordingly. They will be expected to can assist the child or children and help them to calm down safely and effectively. Special gear such as weighted vests, conversation cards, and sensory games will also be part of the standard uniform to help ensure that the staff has everything they need at their disposal.


KultureCity has also curated special “sensory inclusive bags” for guests to use during their cruise which will be available free of charge. The bags include fidget toys, noise-canceling headphones, and a special feeling thermometer which allows guests to non-verbally express their emotions and needs with pictures. A lanyard is also part of the kit to help aid the crew in knowing who they can assist. Sensory Inclusive Bags will be available at guest services.


Co-founder of KultureCity Dr. Julian Maha has said, “We appreciate Carnival Cruise Line for taking this important step in making their vacations accessible to everyone.” Carnival Cruise Line is just one example of many accommodation companies that are making it possible for the entire family to enjoy a safe and relaxing vacation.

Originally published on


Sensory-Friendly Shopping Russ Ewell.png

The holiday shopping season can be quite unnerving for most people. Long lines, loud music, bright lights, and what sometimes feels like 100 screaming children can be annoying at best and overwhelming at worst. For families with children with autism, ADHD, or any sensory-triggered disability, shopping in public can be an uneasy and unpredictable experience.


That’s where shopping chains like Toys “R” Us and Target shine with their inclusivity efforts. In the United Kingdom, toy retailer Toys “R” Us hosted sensory-friendly shopping days, where families with children who have disabilities could enjoy a quieter, relaxed, and calmer shopping experience. With displays of sensory-friendly toys available to try, and the ability to navigate the store easily made for a successful experience.


This caught the attention of an autism advocacy group in Pennsylvania. With a little effort and teamwork, the Toys “R” Us store in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, offered a sensory-friendly day. The event was marked as a success for local families.


One child, whose only communication ability comes from an application on a tablet, was able to pick out his own bed for the first time. With a generous helping of tears from his mother and associates alike, this child felt comfortable enough to sit, and then lay, on a beautiful red car bed. His mother returned to buy the bed the following Monday.


It is experiences like these that turned the local Target to happily agreeing to a similar shopping experience. Though there are no plans to continue forward with the experience nationally, the local Target did set up a day for sensory-friendly shopping and received similar success and praise from appreciative families.


Bass Pro Shop, located in Foxborough, Massachusetts, had rolled out an initiative called “Sensitive Santa”. This allowed families with children who have disabilities to enjoy a Santa visit before regular store hours bring packs of visitors. They even included a pictograph guide explaining each step of the process so that there will not be any surprises – something that can quickly upset individuals with disabilities.


Initiatives like these show fantastic support for sometimes overwhelmed families, making life just a little easier and happier. Inclusion is necessary, and understanding the needs of the community is essential. Bringing joy to everyone during and after the holiday season is what a good community should strive to do.

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Supporting the Siblings of Children with Disabilities

Supporting the Siblings of Children with Disabilities Russ Ewell.png

There is nothing quite like having a sibling. From arguments over toys and bathroom time to presenting a unified front to the world, a sibling makes life fun, challenging, and interesting. However, being a sibling to a child with a disability comes with its own sets of complications and rewards. Understanding and helping a child navigate this potentially rough territory is imperative to foster healthy and strong relationships throughout the family.


The first step is to allow a child to express their emotions. It can be awkward for a child to express their emotions to friends and teachers, but allowing a safe space for those thoughts and feelings to be communicated is essential. Regardless of being positive or negative, children need to be able to express themselves without fear of anger or backlash resulting from communication.


Setting high but achievable expectations are also important. Every child in a household should be expected to shoulder the same responsibilities and chores if able. Keeping the expectations similar for each sibling will cut down on rivalry and the feeling that a double-standard regarding the disabled child exists would be nullified. Children should be treated as equally as possible.


Make sure there is individual time for each child. It can be hectic and overwhelming at times to raise a child with a disability, but every child needs time, love, and attention. Being present and available to siblings is just as important as being there for the disabled child. Bear in mind that there will be conflict. People argue – it is natural and part of growing, learning, and understanding. Allow for healthy conflicts and help each child work through issues both individually and together.


Be sure to celebrate each child’s individual milestones. It is important to remember that every child needs to feel seen and appreciated. While milestones for a child with disabilities might seem to be cause for larger celebrations, siblings need to know they are cherished as well. Keeping that in mind helps children to see that they are equally loved by their parents.


There are many other ways to help siblings understand their unique family dynamics. Making sure information is readily available at age-appropriate levels can answer unasked questions. Forewarned is always forearmed and understanding is essential to raising healthy, happy siblings.

Originally published on

Self-Driving Cars for Drivers with Disabilities

Self-Driving Cars for Drivers with Disabilities Russ Ewell.png

How can self-driving cars make life easier for individuals with disabilities?

It can be frustrating how the most simple of tasks can become quite a challenge for people with disabilities, especially those of which involve motor skills. When it comes to driving, these individuals have riskier driving conditions, also becoming a safety problem for others on the road. What if drivers with disabilities could maneuver a vehicle better than the most experienced driver? Imagine the hardships and problems that it could fix, including traffic, accidents, and traveling speed.

The development of self-driving cars can bring all drivers more freedom, making roads safer than before. There are a few reasons why many businesses are developing these technologies, benefiting drivers with disabilities in particular.


User-Friendly Technology

As mentioned, self-driving cars barely need any preparation or driving skills to use. As we experience more advancements in automotive technology, artificial intelligence will drive these vehicles as safely as a professional driver would do. This means that the market will be greater for these companies while more and more people can enjoy the benefits of fast transportation. These user-friendly technologies include constant smartphone communication with the passenger and connectivity with other smart vehicles on the road to increase safety.


Freedom And Safety

The safety of self-driving cars helps people with disabilities to reach their destination effortlessly, all while enjoying the trip. Drivers could use this freedom to do other tasks without worrying about the vehicle, such as reading a book, watching videos, or taking a nap. Distracted driving could be a thing of the past.


Affordable and Accessible

You don’t necessarily have to own one of these high-tech vehicles if it is not convenient for you. Many automotive companies like Uber are implementing a network of self-driving vehicles in different locations. Anytime you can use a smartphone application to pay for the trip, the vehicle will move to your location. It makes self-driving vehicles affordable and accessible to anyone.


The Bottom Line

Even though self-driving technologies are expensive to develop, they bring many opportunities for people with disabilities. It is a positive way to reduce traffic and increase safety on the road, providing mobility freedom to those individuals who deserve to complete simple activities without limitations.

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Teaching Social Skills to Children with Disabilities

Teaching Social Skills to Children with Disabilities Russ Ewell

Adolescent behavior has been studied for generations, and there are some fundamental challenges that seem to consistently show up in each age group. Social skills obviously vary from one child to the next, and this area has always been an outlier for researchers who study child psychology and adolescent behavior. In recent decades, new and interesting challenges have emerged for children with disabilities and other groups of children that have special circumstances. Ongoing research is developing important data related to teaching social skills to children with disabilities. Some of the more effective rules of engagement are outlined here.


Success Starts in the Home

Despite differences in schools of thought and personal philosophies, researchers overwhelmingly agree that children with disabilities experience success in adapting to social settings when they are given support in the home. Children become confident in interacting with their peers in an unfamiliar environment when they are consistently praised for exploring their surroundings and trying new things. Parents can create mock interactions by using puppets, role-playing, and scheduling playdates with new friends. Children who learn to accept new situations in their home environment are more likely to be successful when they encounter new people and situations in the outside world.


Choose Appropriate Activities

Arts, crafts, and physical activities are a great way to introduce children to new friends. When choosing activities for children with disabilities, it is absolutely vital to consider the physical, mental, and emotional capacity of the children involved. This will avoid stressful situations such as anxiety or embarrassment that may result from a child being put on the spot in a new activity. Help them become accustomed to new activities by practicing at home and also by being an active role model.


Encourage Chance Interactions

Most children learn best by watching others. Adults who spend time around children with disabilities often marvel at the behavior exhibited by these children. This phenomenon is quite simply explained. Children adapt to their surroundings and learn acceptable behaviors, actions, and reactions by watching those around them. They are able to learn and imitate the behaviors of the adults around them and pick up all sorts of habits. Effective social skills can best be taught to children with disabilities by the example of those around them on a regular basis.

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Homework Help for Children with ASD

Homework Help for Children with ASD Russ Ewell

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, alters the way your child communicates and behaves. One of the biggest adjustment periods in your young child’s life will be when they start going to school. Homework is perhaps the hardest aspect of school because it requires the completion of a lot of difficult tasks over a long period of time. These are the four ways you can provide homework help for children with ASD.


Develop a Daily Routine

Developing routines is crucial when living with ASD, and this is no different when dealing with homework. Your child will have a much easier time completing their homework if it is done at the same time every day. The homework also needs to be done in the same location, so it would be wise to dedicate a desk or table exclusively to schoolwork. Once a routine is developed, they will gladly open the books without any issues.


Make Sure They Understand

It is impossible for your child to finish their homework if they do not understand the assignment. Since communication is one of the aspects that kids with ASD can struggle with the most, this will likely be a fairly common occurrence. Do not let your child get frustrated because they do not understand the assignment. Take the time to slowly explain everything that needs to be done before they start working.


Provide Small Rewards

It is hard for children to understand that they are getting something valuable out of their homework. This is why it is important to start a reward system. If your child completes the assignment without any behavioral issues, then they need to get something in return. This reward will obviously be determined based on your child’s interest, but it should be something small like extra television time or their favorite snack.


Small Periods of Work

Homework is a tedious process for every child. They do not want to spend hours on an assignment after being in school all day. This issue is even more prevalent when your child has autism. The best way to get the assignment completed without any behavioral problems is by breaking it up into small sections. This will prevent the homework from feeling overwhelming while also giving them a sense of accomplishment every time a section is finished.

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