Friday, April 29, 2016

Sunday is May Day, aka International Workers' Day

If you live in the United States, you may be forgiven for assuming that International Worker's Day or May Day is a holiday observed in state communist countries. Here's a fact for you: it did not originate in Cuba or the former Soviet Union. May Day actually has its origins in the United States.

The late 19th century saw workers struggling in very difficult, frequently unsafe, working environments, often for 10 to 16 hours a day. Workers began to push for a shorter workday without any cut in pay. In 1884, organised labour issued a proclamation declaring the 8-hour workday that was to go into effect from May 1, 1886.

More than 250,000 workers in the Chicago area were involved in peaceful protests, with several labour organisations, such as the Trades and Labor Assembly, the Socialistic Labor Party and the local Knights of Labor. Public opinion and the clearly expressed sentiment from the workers included strikes. Nearly 100,000 US workers walked off their jobs on the first of May 1886. It is important to note that up until May 3, 1886, all protests had been peaceful, but then violence broke out at the McCormick Reaper Works between picketing steelworkers and police, when the latter, with the help of Pinkerton agents, harassed and beat the strikers. Beatings from police clubs were answered with rocks thrown by the strikers, to which the police responded with gunfire. At least two strikers were killed, and some others wounded.

Angered, a group of leaders called a public meeting in Haymarket Square to discuss the police brutality, attended by only about 3000 people due to inclement weather. The Mayor of the city said it was a peaceful gathering, and the speaker, August Spies, did not try to incite violence toward anyone.

Unfortunately, two detectives went to the police and reported a speaker using "inflammatory" language, and the police went to send home the already dispersing crowd. An unknown person threw a bomb into the police ranks, and the police responded by firing into the crowd. An estimated seven or eight civilians were killed, up to forty wounded, and among the police one officer died on site with another seven dying in the ensuing weeks. Big business and government conducted what some call the first "Red Scare" in the US, aided by mainstream media, portraying the anarchists in a negative light.

Eight anarchists were arrested and, in a gross mockery of justice, in a trial with a jury comprised of business leaders, they were convicted of murder, even though only three of those anarchists had been present at what is now known as the Haymarket Massacre. All were innocent but the world saw these eight individuals convicted, not for actions but for political and social beliefs. Two were hung in November of 1887, but six years later, the remaining six anarchists were pardoned by the state governor, who railed against the travesty of justice committed against these people.

Why are we telling this story? This is not only a story of the birth of International Workers' Day. The roots of the pursuit of social justice are found here. The eight-hour workday, the weekend, improvements in working conditions, and eventually the growth of the civil rights movements all came from this. The rights we enjoy across the world today should not be taken for granted, and there is still much more to do. Let’s not forget the sacrifices of these men, women, and yes, children, in the quest for civil rights in all of society.

A Few Related Links:
Do One Thing: http://www.doonething.org/calendar/workersday.htm
Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Workers%27_Day
Encyclopaedia Britannica: http://www.britannica.com/topic/May-Day-international-observance
India Celebrating: http://www.indiacelebrating.com/events/international-labour-day/

Note: Images in this post courtesy of New York Public Library Digital Collection.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Humpday Hint: 10 Facts About Diabetes from the WHO

This is just a brief list of facts you should know about diabetes, from the World Health Organisation.
  1. About 347 million people worldwide have diabetes. This epidemic is due to lifestyle changes including less physical activity, leading to obesity.
  2. Diabetes is predicted to become the 7th leading cause of death worldwide by 2030.
  3. The two types of diabetes differ. Type 1 diabetes is due to the body not producing (enough) insulin to deal with dietary sugars. Type 2 diabetes comes from the body's ineffective use of insulin.
  4. A third type of diabetes is gestational, raised blood sugar levels during pregnancy. This can cause complications during pregnancy and delivery, and increases the mother’s risk of later developing Type 2 diabetes.
  5. About 90% of all diabetes is Type 2. Childhood Type 2 diabetes is increasing.
  6. From 50-80% of people with diabetes die of cardiovascular disease.
  7. In 2012, diabetes caused 1.5 million deaths worldwide.
  8. In developing countries, most people with diabetes are between 35 and 64.
  9. Complications from diabetes make it the leading cause of blindness, amputation, and kidney failure.
  10. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented by eating a healthy diet and exercising at moderate intensity 30 minutes on most days.

Source: http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/diabetes/en/

Monday, April 25, 2016

Assistive Technology

Contributing Author: Edmundo LoPresti

Computers are an increasingly important tool for communication, employment, education, and recreation. However, standard computer use requires good fine motor control to type on a keyboard and use a mouse, touchpad, or touchscreen; and good vision to see the monitor. For people who have difficulty in these areas, there are a number of hardware and software accommodations that might be of assistance.

Mouse Inputs
A computer access accommodation can be as simple as an ergonomic solution that supports more neutral wrist postures. A variety of ergonomic keyboards and mice, trackballs, and simple ergonomic wrist rests have been developed for the general population. Other solutions accommodate problems with fine motor control by “steering” the cursor with a joystick or providing larger keys, greater spacing between keys, or keyguards that separate keys on the keyboard. Limited range of motion can be accommodated with USB touchpads that only require small finger movements to control the cursor, small keyboards, or a variety of one-handed keyboard designs. The hands can be bypassed entirely by alternative keyboards and mice that use movement of the head, chin, tongue, eyes, elbows, shoulders, or legs.

Some power wheelchairs include a mouse emulation mode, in which the same controller that someone uses to drive their chair can be used as a Bluetooth mouse.

Speech Recognition Software
Voice recognition software, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, can support someone in dictating text to the computer and giving voice commands so that a mouse is not necessary. Voice recognition can also be helpful for people with spelling difficulties, since the software will always spell words correctly. However, the user must recognize if the software chose the correct word.

Word prediction software tries to guess what you might be typing. If it is correct, it will finish the word for you, so that you don’t need to type in the rest. This can save you some physical typing, and can also help if you have trouble correctly spelling words.

Scanning software can replace the keyboard and mouse with a single switch which can be controlled by any body part, or by breath in the case of a sip-and-puff pneumatic switch. Scanning can be slow, but for someone with patience it provides control of all aspects of the computer.

In addition to mouse use and typing, people might have difficulty seeing objects on the computer screen, reading text on the computer screen, or hearing alerts.

For people who have difficulty seeing the computer screen, software is available to magnify objects on the screen. Other software reads aloud what objects are available on the screen, such as the names of windows or the text on buttons or menu items.

For people with difficulty seeing or reading text, text-to-speech software can read text aloud, such as the text in a word processor document, a web page, and e-mail, or a PDF document.

Vision can also be an issue when trying to type on the keyboard. Some keyboards provide larger font or higher contrast on the key labels; or large-font, high-contrast label stickers can be placed on the keys of any standard keyboard.

For people who have difficulty hearing alerts or other sounds from the computer, software can replace auditory alerts with flashes on the screen, or enable captions in online videos. Captioning software makes captioning available as an option, but generally relies on the people who made the video to provide the text for the captions.

Some accommodations are built right into Windows, Mac, and Linux computers, as well as Apple and Android smart phones, through the configuration settings. These settings can slow down or speed up the responsiveness of the keyboard or mouse, provide an onscreen keyboard or basic voice recognition, or provide a basic screen reader.

More information about specific technology accommodations can be found from the sites below.

AbleData database: http://www.abledata.com/
Job Accommodation Netowrk: http://askjan.org/
RESNA: http://www.resna.org

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Best Thing About Community is People

Community. Friendship. Support. All these abstract concepts have one thing in common: they need people. Note that "people" is a plural term. Together, people make a difference that is felt by the individuals within the community and by those who observe them.

Virtual Ability in Second Life has been making a difference for individuals since 2007. It started with three people, then one by one, and more and more. Now nearly nine years later, we are a thriving virtual community of more than a thousand individuals. VAI is branching out; there is also an outpost on Beacon Bay in InWorldz.

ECLIPSE Magazine published their latest issue today, with an article that spotlights Virtual Ability and what it does for people in Second Life, in the words of a few members of its community. To our delight, author Cajsa Lilliehook absolutely nailed the message. We encourage you to view the issue, found here: https://issuu.com/eclipsemagazinesl/docs/eclipse_magazine_april_2016. The article begins on page 112.

You can also visit the Virtual Ability website testimonials page for thoughts of other individuals, in their own words. Members of our community find friends and support. We are empowered to do things we cannot do in the physical world. Virtual Ability, Inc.® and Second Life® enable this, because what people do there is less about our "dis" and far more about our ability.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tip for Tomorrow: Take a Moment to Laugh

April 14 is International Moment of Laughter Day. It was initiated by Izzy Gesell, who says that if breathing is the #1 healthiest thing a person can do, then laughing is #2.

He recommends several ways to laugh out loud on this special day:

  • read the funny cards in a greeting card shop
  • look at yourself naked in the mirror
  • show your baby pictures to someone who's never seen them

Too scary? Try some of these ideas:

Today’s the day to call a friend and tell them a joke or a funny story so you can share a laugh.

Check your email inbox for forwarded sets of cartoons.

Have you watched a hilarious YouTube lately? Share the URL with a family member.

Please tell us what made you laugh today.

Laughter really is the best medicine. Take two, and call me in the morning.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Money Management: It’s You vs. Them

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

When you think about managing your finances, you have to understand that it is you against everyone else. No, I don’t mean you vs. the tax man or the government. I don’t mean poor vs. rich. I mean you vs. those who already have a financial plan and goals, and the discipline and motivation to achieve those goals. By that I don’t even mean your neighbor who has better financial literacy than you do. I mean… professional marketers. They want you to spend your money on their product, whether it will do you good or deplete your wallet. That doesn’t matter to them, but it should to you!

So how do you start improving your financial situation?

Look Carefully At What You Spend
Most people do pretty well keeping track of about nine-tenths of what they spend. Typically these are larger items for which you have credit card or checkbook records. (You do keep those records, don’t you? And look them over each month?)

If you use a debit card, you should also record those purchases in your checkbook, so that you can reconcile your bank balance at the end of the month. Do you pay cash for a latte on the way to work? Use coins at a snack or drink machine in the cafeteria? Tip waitresses or cab drivers? Perhaps you need a little notebook to jot things down on all these smaller expenditures. That way you will have a much better handle on your spending patterns. You will find lots of helpful tools from the National Endowment for Financial Education in their resource library. then search by topic.

It may take you a few months to get used to this record keeping, but it will be worth the effort, because then you can…

Make a Budget
A budget is really just a spending plan. It can be as simple as a pen-and-paper list, or can involve spreadsheets and specialized software. Use whatever strategy works for you, but plan how you will spend your monthly income.

Start by looking at necessities. List what you must spend for:

  • housing (rent or mortgage),
  • transportation (include upkeep if you own a car),
  • utilities (electricity, water, propane, telephone, trash, etc.),
  • food,
  • medicines and medical costs not covered by insurance,
  • insurance payments (renters or homeowners, medical- often paid yearly rather than monthly),
  • loan or other debt payments,
  • carers, etc.

Next list non-necessities, such as entertainment expenses, hobbies, etc.

Are there obvious places you could save some money?

Also, if you come up short at the end of the month, your budget plan will help you realize which bills must be paid (you have to have electricity and water, so pay that first) and which might be let slide til next month (although credit card debt piles up).

Plan to Save
A sad truth: The US is the only industrialized country with a negative savings rate. This means we are spending more than we make!

Why do you need to save? For the proverbial rainy day. That means emergencies as well as the expected future.

One good way to start saving is to set aside any unexpected income, such as presents, bonuses, or winnings. You weren’t expecting that money, so you won’t really miss it if you sock it away instead of spending it. You will still be getting more than you had before, because what you save now earns interest! But if you can, leave the interest in your savings account to allow it to compound, or earn even more interest next time around.

Savings should be a category in your budget. Even if it’s a small amount you set aside each month, doing so will add up over time. And the sooner you start saving, the more you will have when you eventually need to tap into it.

Make Saving Easy
Put your savings goals in writing. Establishing and prioritizing short- and long-term, goals, printing them out and posting them in a prominent place will make them concrete and help motivate you to achieve them.

Plan to save a little at a time. Sometimes the savings goal seems too big to accomplish. If you want a DVD player priced at $120, that’s a lot of cash to think of all at once. Somehow, ten dollars impacts your emotions less than $120, and it feels possible to save $10 a month even if saving up to $120 seems out of reach.

Open a separate bank account for your savings. Put a small amount in it each month. Don’t look at the balance every month (unlike your regular checking account that you should keep a close eye on). At the end of the year, your $10 a month stashed away will total over $120 because of interest it will have earned.

And you can even make savings fun by making your own decorated savings bank. If you are saving for a vacation, decorate a box to stash your “spare” coins in with images of the destination.

Looking at the pictures of the beach or the Eiffel Tower will be a useful motivation to spend less and save more. Those dimes and quarters will add to what you are saving in your bank account.

Don't Cut Out - Cut Back
If you have habits that impact your budget, such as buying fast food for lunch every day, ordering in pizza or Chinese a couple times a week, or eating out every weekend, or buying Starbucks every day on the way to work, or hitting the Red Box every other day, consider cutting back. Maybe packing a sack lunch on Mondays and Fridays, or limiting yourself to one night a week of takeout, or going to a restaurant only every other weekend, or skipping Starbucks on Tuesdays and Thursdays would be a reasonable compromise.

Talk yourself into it. “I’m not missing out on frappuccinos. I had one yesterday and I’ll have one tomorrow.”

Curb impulse buying. Do you spend a dollar for a can of pop because you go past the machine on the way back from the restroom? Opt for the water fountain instead. Do you plug a couple of quarters into the newspaper vendor you walk past on the way to the bus? You can read the same news online.

Try bargaining with yourself. If you buy a treat, put the same amount that you spent into your savings. You’ll be surprised that it’s easier than you thought to start cutting that expense down to a more reasonable size.

Find the Freebies/Cheapies
Do you often hit the Red Box for entertainment? Consider a free library card, then getting DVDs from the library.

Do you phone your distant family or friends regularly? Use Skype instead of your phone. It’s free if the other person also has Skype.

Love going out to the movies? Check matinee prices instead of going at more-expensive prime time.

Consider buying store brands at the grocery. Many are made at the same plants as the name brands, just have a different label on the can or box.

Plan a "stay-cation" and explore local free activities and venues.

Get Organized
Keep all your financial documents in order. How you do it does not matter as much as that you do it somehow.

When bills arrive, be sure they get opened immediately. File them all in one place, in the order you must pay them. If they are auto-paid, write the amount in your checkbook so that you can include it in your accounting.

If you prefer to mail payments in, write the mail-in date on the bill’s return envelope, right where the stamp will go. That way you’ll know when to insert the check and send it off. Be sure to mail payments at least 7 days, preferably 10, before the actual due date for proper credit.

Another quick trick to be sure you are paying all your bills: Write the name of bills to be paid each month above the transaction records, and cross each off as it gets paid (and recorded). That way if you have one or more remaining on the list at the end of the month, you’ll know you’ve forgotten (or lost) the bill, and can contact the company before it is too late.

Consider setting up a separate email account for your financial statements and bills, and it will be easier to keep track of everything. You can also set calendar alerts for key dates such as dates various bills are due, dates for benefits and insurance open enrollment periods, and tax preparation deadlines.

Understand Credit and Use It Wisely
Credit is great. Not all of us have saved enough for large necessary purchases or for emergencies. But we tend not to think of credit properly. When we buy something on credit, whether that means using a credit card or taking out a loan, we are spending tomorrow’s money today.

One way to think about credit is to be sure that the value of what you buy with credit will outlast the pay-off period.

If you buy fast food with a credit card and aren’t paying off that card monthly, is the value of the burger and fries really worth the added expense of the interest you are charged?

Another way to think about credit is to remember that credit companies make money from the services they extend to you. And they will hassle you to get that money back from you. However, if you are not able to meet all your bills some month, pay the necessities (utilities, rent, etc.) first and let the creditors wait. They will pressure you to pay up, but really it’s to their advantage if you are late, because you will just end up owing them more. Do try to pay minimum balances, though.

Drastic Steps May Be Needed
If you really can’t make ends meet, you may need to take more drastic steps.

  • Consult a financial advisor.
  • Get a second (or first) job, or do piece work or odd jobs.
  • Get a roommate or find a cheaper place to live.
  • Use public transportation.
  • Quit using your credit cards… for anything… until you pay them off.

Control Your Cash Flow
Sooner is always better than later to start taking steps toward your financial well-being. Take the marketers’ hands out of your wallet. Spend less than you earn. Get your finances under control by watching your spending, increasing your saving, and using credit carefully.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Importance of Financial Literacy for Persons with Disabilities

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

Consider these frightening facts about people with disabilities in the US:

  • 72% of individuals with disabilities are unemployed (Butterworth et al., 2011).
  • More than one-third of people living in poverty (39%) are individuals with disabilities (U.S. Census, 2010).
  • Overall, persons with disabilities are far more likely than nondisabled persons to live in poverty (26% compared to 9%) (National Organization on Disability & Harris, 2004).
  • Of employed young individuals with disabilities who are four years or less past high school, more than half (54%) earn less than $5,000 per year. And only 11% earn $25,000 or more per year. (Newman et al., 2009).

Those of us with disabilities have to think carefully about our financial situations. Even if we are not living in poverty, we can always benefit from stretching our dollars a bit more.

April is Financial Literacy Month. Virtual Ability celebrates in April by providing blog posts and tips related to various aspects of financial literacy.

Here’s a tip to start things off. Check out the Thirty Steps to Financial Wellness from Money Management International. Steps include organizing your financial information, identifying needs and wants, paying off debts and staying motivated, among other topics. There are plenty of free tools and informational e-books on the site to assist you.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Make It Easier for Others When You Go

Contributing author: Ruby Vandyke

We spend our lives doing all we can for our families, but often at the end of our lives, we leave them with a great burden – having to settle our estates.

Everyone knows they should have a Will, Power of Attorney and other legal papers in order. But, there are a lot of other things you may not think about. Just having your Will in their hands doesn’t help your family to know what to do or whom to contact. Without a list of all your information, your family will have to pore over any paperwork they can find in your home and try to piece together whom they have to contact and notify about your death.

It’s important that you make a list of every company you have an account with, such as cable or satellite TV, electric, water, garbage collection, house and car insurance, etc. Include the names of the companies, their addresses, phone numbers and your customer account numbers. Also, list all bank accounts, investment accounts and your pension and Social Security information.

If you are collecting Social Security or other pensions, be sure your family knows these are the first ones that need to be notified immediately. Any payments sent or deposited into your account after your demise, will have to be re-paid from your estate.

You might want to consider adding a family member’s name to all your accounts, including your car title and especially your bank account. Each state has their own rules, but many banks will not just accept your executor’s word and a photocopy of your death certificate. Banks often require a ‘certified’ copy of the death certificate, which your family has to order through the funeral company and pay a fee for. This can take a week or more to receive. In the meantime, your family has to pay your bills and expenses out of their own pockets, if no one else’s name is on your bank account.

Check with your house and car insurance companies to find out their policy on what happens at your demise. Will they continue to insure your house and car until they are sold by your family? Talk to a financial adviser or lawyer if you have an IRA investment that you will be leaving to your children. An inherited IRA can be difficult to deal with. They cannot be simply cashed out by your children without paying approximately 25% in taxes. Other inherited money, pensions, stocks and bonds are tax-free, but not IRA’s.

If you have particular belongings that you want to go to certain family members, be sure to write it all down and have a copy stored with your will or your executor. Better yet, give copies to all your family members who will be inheriting. That way, they know your wishes and there are no surprises for them when the time comes. No matter how much you might think your children are sensible and will divide everything up between them, you wouldn’t believe how much people can change when it comes to settling an estate, especially while grieving.

Be sure your family knows your wishes when it comes to your burial arrangements. Do you want a traditional burial in the cemetery? Do you want to be cremated? If so, what do you want done with your ashes? It’s best to have it all down in writing, even better to have it written into your will. When my mother passed away, we went to the funeral home and we were surprised to find that she had already made all the arrangements for her cremation and ashes burial. She had ordered her headstone, and paid for everything. She had even written her own obituary! We didn’t have to agonize over making these types of decisions.

Take a few minutes to sit down and think about who you would want your family to notify – your friends? Doctors? Dentist? Magazine subscriptions? Email contacts? Make a list of all these for your family including names, addresses, phone numbers and emails.

This can be an uncomfortable subject to think about, but you will be doing your family a great favor by helping them to be prepared. You don’t want to be a burden to anyone now; why be a burden once you are gone?