Wednesday, November 29, 2023

November is National Family Caregivers Month

Elderly Man standing by Lady in a Chair  Lady standing by a child in a wheelchair

This month we honor our family members who care for those of us with disabilities. They are a large invisible, unpaid, often unthanked workforce. Their work is often considered informal.

Sure, there are professional caregivers. They are paid, often trained for the tasks they undertake, and have limited roles in the lives of those who depend on them.

But in the US, three-quarters of caregiving is performed by family members. Over 65 million people in the US care for a family member or a friend who is disabled, chronically ill, or aged over 70. About two-thirds of these caregivers are women, and many are also caring for their own children or grandchildren.

Caregiving can involve unpleasant and embarrassing tasks. As Mike Ervin famously said, “Blessed are the butt-wipers.” Caregiving can be extremely intimate.

Family caregiving is tiring and highly stressful. Almost three-quarters of family caregivers show signs of depression. The National Alliance for Caregiving advocates for improving the mental and emotional health of family caregivers through a “whole health system approach.” We need to take better care of our family caregivers.

Rosalynn Carter said, “There are only four kinds of people in this world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers. Caregiving is universal.” That’s well worth remembering, if you are not yet giving or receiving care.

To learn more about family caregiving and to access caregiving support, please visit the poster set “November is National Family Caregivers Month” on Virtual Ability’s Healthinfo Island:

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

You Can Lower Your Utility Bills

It seems like everything is getting more expensive lately. Here are some ways you can better control the cost of energy your household uses.

Power Down

Lighting is one part of your home environment that uses electricity. Here are some ways to control lighting costs:

Turn off lights in rooms that are not in use. You can install motion detectors to turn lights on when someone is in a space, then turn them off when the person leaves.

• Use energy-efficient light bulbs. Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs) last longer than incandescent bulbs, so even though they cost more initially, they will save you money over time.

Dust off your light bulbs. (Did you know that dirty light bulbs provide about 1/3 less light than clean ones?) Keep windows and skylights clean.

Sleep mode for items such as computers or gaming systems still uses energy. If not in use, turn off electronic devices all the way. Find out the advantages of hibernate, sleep, and shut down modes, and make a smart choice when you are AFK.

Invest in a smart power strip. These devices detect when an electronic device that is plugged into the power strip is in standby mode, and cut power off to it automatically.

Stay a Little Hot, or a Little Cool

Your local weather can have a big impact on your home energy costs. Heating and air conditioning are a significant portion of home energy expenditures. The closer your indoor temperature is to outdoor temperatures, the less you will be using your HVAC system.

• The US Department of Energy recommends a daytime thermostat setting of 78 degrees F (26 degrees C) in the summertime and 70 degrees F (21 degrees C) in the winter.

• A programmable thermostat can be set to automatically change the temperature in the home. This makes it easy to leave your home with less comfortable temperatures when you are not there, and have it more comfortable when you return.

Keep the filters in your heating and air conditioning clean. These filters trap dust, germs, pet hairs, pollen and other air contaminants. Regular cleaning improves their efficiency, but sooner or later they should be replaced.

Consider Time-of-Use

Utility companies know that there are certain times of day when their customers are most likely to use energy for home tasks such as preparing food or doing laundry, which puts more demands on the energy delivery system. Peak energy usage times tend to be in the morning when people are waking up and preparing for their day and in the evening when they are returning from school or work. Some companies offer time-of-use discount rates. Running your dishwasher or turning on entertainment devices at 9pm instead of at 6pm could save you money.

Set Energy Usage Goals

Examine your utility bills over the past few months. Instead of looking at the dollar cost, look at the kilowatt-hours (kWh) used. By using the strategies listed above, can you lower your energy usage a little before your next bill? Perhaps some of the steps on this checklist of energy-saving measures for commercial buildings will give you some ideas.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Cover Native Americans?

Native Americans have the highest rate of disability among all US population groups. Sovereign Tribal Nations are generally not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act’s requirements. Tribal governments are specifically excluded from ADA coverage, although private employers on reservations are included. Because of a lack of disability services due to rurality, cultural attitudes, and other reasons, many disabled Native Americans do not receive the support needed for independent living and good quality of life. Other less-well-known disability legislation does apply to Native Americans. This includes the Individuals with Educational Disabilities Act (IDEA) and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  IDEA guarantees free, appropriate public early interventions and special education services for all children. ESSA requires state education agencies to consult with tribes and allows the Bureau of Indian Education to apply to states for discretionary funding. For more information about disability support for Native Americans and a list of tribal disability services in each state, please download the “How does the ADA apply to Tribal Nations and what resources are available within Region 8?” PDF document here:

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

How to Manage Financial Stress to Improve Your Health

 Did you know that 73% of Americans say that their financial situation is the main source of stress in their lives?

You may be one of them. It could be affecting your health. 

Any single event, such as a bounced check or an unexpected expense, can cause stress. That stress can cause physical and emotional symptoms such as:

• back pain

• frequent colds and respiratory infections

• headaches

ยช irritability

• nausea or upset stomach

• sleep issues

Even worse, long-lasting stress contributes to health issues such as:

• anxiety

• depression

• diabetes

• heart disease

• high blood pressure

• mental health problems

• reproductive issues

Here are some ways to control financial stress and improve your health:

1. Track your spending. Once you know how much you are spending on what, you can decide what items or categories to spend a little less on.

2. Set up a payment plan, if your debt is too great to handle otherwise. Many creditors would rather you repay them gradually than to have to go through the legal system to regain what you owe them.

3. Set up a written budget. Stick to it! This requires self-discipline, but you can do it.

4. Focus on one big financial decision at a time. Don’t do too much at once. Baby steps will get you to your goal. If you must make major purchases, do them one at a time.

Keep in mind these strategies for dealing with any form of stress:

• Avoid unhealthy habits that too many people adopt for dealing with stress. Don’t eat lots of junk food, drink alcohol, use illegal drugs or tobacco. These actions lead to negative health outcomes.

• Use healthy stress-reduction strategies. Try breathing exercises, meditation, prayer, spending time in nature or with a friend.

Gain control of your financial stress, and improve your health.

Friday, November 10, 2023

There Is Nothing Wrong with Being in a Supporting Role

This blog posting is for the International Disability Affirmation Rights Conference, being held now on Friday November 10, with a theme of "Do, Create, Live."  I am a deaf private tutor and use English and American Sign Language to communicate in person and online.  I earned three professional tutoring credentials from the Tutoring and Instructional Programs (TIP) at Gallaudet University as part of my job training.  I started my business in 2004 and had a variety of clients, both hearing and deaf.  I was also a provider of tutoring services for vocational rehabilitation for all three regions, Maryland, DC, and Virginia, in the greater DC metropolis. My best memory as a provider is when I tutored a deaf man at the Library of Congress and saw the floor to ceiling rolling book racks in the basement that he worked with.   I was a provider given access to a privileged section of the Library of Congress that few people see.   I love books, have a library in my living room, and I enjoyed my time at the Library of Congress.  So, naturally, the epitome is being at the Library of Congress and seeing their racks of books.  I help people experience the joy of learning English. Tutoring my students and clients opens the world of books up to them.  I have seen my clients go on to be successful in their own ways.  

It is not necessary to have a high quantity of clients in order to be successful as a tutor.  For example, while I was tutoring someone for business administration, I read in the textbook about a company that is exclusively in service to one and only one other company.  In other words, that company had just one customer.  I often had just one client for a long time.  I’ve worked with them throughout their entire schooling and seen them graduate with an undergraduate or graduate degree, including one Ph.D. degree in linguistics.  

The range of academic subjects I was exposed to as part of my tutoring role was from general education requirements to college majors and graduate specializations.  My knowledge of academic subjects was broadened and updated as I corrected grammatical mistakes, edited sentences for clarity, reorganized ideas logically, and provided overall feedback on my clients’ academic papers and homework. Knowledge was a key benefit that I had received as a result of working behind the scenes in the supporting role of a tutor.

I had also been a deaf tutor for three different colleges as their employee, not as a freelancer.  It was a joy to meet people from all over the world and to work with them on their English or Spanish skills.  Tutoring them meant working with them one on one on projects of their choosing.  I had been a study table tutor with just a few students in the evenings and later, a language lab teacher with a classroom full of students.  A teacher has a starring, highlighted role in the classroom as all the students depend on the teacher to lead them.  A tutor, on the other hand, usually lets the student decide how the session will go.  Having interesting interactions with the students’ individual personalities and developing cordial working friendships with them were the advantages that I gained.  I was not seeking fame, but many of the students have me on their friend list on Facebook and I am pleased that they want me on their friend list.   

I also appreciate the moment of literary fame when my clients list my name in a publication that I have helped them with as their editor.  Editing papers for formal publication is a natural extension of tutoring.  As a side note, I am also a self-published author and have some experience with publishing ebooks and print books on various online platforms, including  The process of submitting a paper for publication is widely variable, and I learn how other people react to the content and style of my client’s paper.  Sometimes, it is pleasurable to hear positive feedback and the potential reach that a paper will have once it is published.   Helping the deaf client achieve this kind of influence and fame is another reason why a supporting role is good.   

There is a negative side to having too much fame in the Deaf World, unfortunately, and it is called the Crab Theory.  The theory goes like this:  If there is a deaf person successfully climbing the ladder of success, other deaf people on the same ladder or on other ladders will reach up and pull down the deaf person out of jealousy, spite, or selfishness.  People in the Deaf World are not united, and factions often exist for minor differences that hearing people do not typically understand. 

One analogy I can think of that religious people can relate to is the minor differences between the various Protestant churches and denominations that they fight over.  A Buddhist or Muslim may not understand the infighting of the Protestants at all.   That being said, being in the limelight often means being subject to brutal and cruel criticisms that may or may not be justified.   Someone in a supporting role is able to avoid these zings, maintain objectivity, and even help the person being targeted respond to the criticisms constructively.   

Laypersons may not know that well-written criticisms and counter arguments are expected and encouraged in academic research and literature.  Rational thought processes and data-driven research is subject to reactions and alternate interpretations as individual as the researchers who write up their papers.  It is good for debates occur on paper because they help to build a better understanding of the academic field for future generations of researchers.

In conclusion, I hope that my supporting role as a tutor helped many students and clients achieve their goals and gain recognition from society at large. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

IDRAC Session 9: Heather Markham speaks at IDRAC, 1:30pm SLT Nov. 10

International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference
Friday, November 10, 2023

Heather Markham

Heather Markham embodies the conference theme of “Do, Create, Live.” Despite living with progressive muscular dystrophy, she is an engineer, and assistive technology professional, an ADA architectural barriers specialist, a public speaker, and educator.

Heather is the CEO and Chief Creative Officer of Making Waves for Good, which consults on ADA Standards for Accessible Design compliance. She goes beyond that into ADA Usability; showing companies with physical locations that it doesn't have to be hard, scary, or expensive to achieve accessibility.

She is also a competitive Para Surfer, golfer, and award-winning fine art photographer as well as the author of a memoir, Rough Waters: From Surviving to Thriving with a Progressive Muscular Dystrophy. During her presentation, “Words Matter: You can choose the title of your own story,” Heather will read an excerpt from her memoir.

IDRAC Session 8. Judy Mittag for the WIN! Nov. 10, 12:30-1:30pm SLT

International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference
Friday, November 10, 2023

Lymphedema is swelling in the arms and/or legs due to build-up of lymph fluid around cells. Lymph is part of the body’s defense system against infection and toxins. Lymphedema occurs when lymph can’t drain properly. This may be due to genetic causes, surgical removal of lymph nodes, or radiation treatment for cancer. Lymphedema can’t be cured, but its symptoms can be treated, for example, with pressure garments. For more information on lymphedema, please see the poster exhibit here:

Judy Mittag lives with advanced stage 2 lymphedema in her legs. For many years, she has been an advocate for Medicare insurance coverage of necessary lymphedema compression treatment items. She went to Washington, DC, in person during legislative sessions to persuade her legislators to amend just a few phrases in the Medicare guidelines from the mid 90s to enable equal medical treatment according to specialized medical diagnosis and prescription, regardless of how the disease was acquired.

Due to the efforts of Judy and other advocates with lymphedema, the Lymphedema Treatment Act was passed by Congress on December 23, 2022, and will take effect January 1, 2024. In her conference presentation, Judy will describe the advocacy process and its results.

Logo: Lymphedema Treatment Act

Poster: "We did it!
The Lymphedema Treatment Act was Passed by Congress.
December 23, 2022"

IDRAC Session 6. Interview with Keri Gray, Nov. 10, 11:30am-noon SLT

International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference
Friday, November 10, 2023

Keri Gray

Keri Gray is a cancer survivor, entrepreneur, speaker, and facilitator. She is the CEO of the Keri Gray Consulting Group, LLC, where they strive to create professional communities of understanding through disability and racial justice education.

Keri is also founder of the National Alliance of Melanin Disabled Advocates (the NAMED Advocates), which creates spaces for disabled leaders of color and BIPOC allies to gather, learn, connect, and grow around racial and disability justice. She is passionate about the importance of the intersection of racial and disability justice.

Through her various roles, Keri has recruited approximately 4,000 professionals for over 100 organizations and Fortune 500 companies. She has also designed and managed programs for over 1,000 professionals that has helped participants secure competitive employment, identify transferable skills, build an influential network, and gain notable opportunities.

Keri’s work has been featured in Teen Vogue, The New York Times, People Magazine, Time Magazine, PBS NewsHour, Madamenoire, and the Diet Coke campaign #Unlabeled. At the IDRAC conference, Keri will be interviewed by Suellen Heartsong.

Logo: Keri Gray Consulting Group

Logo: The NAMED Advocates

IDRAC Session 5. The Education Panel at 10:30AM SLT


International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference
Friday, November 10, 2023

Two panels of Virtual Ability community members will be part of this year’s International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference. The panel members show what people with disabilities can do, create, and live when their rights are respected.

Panel 1

The Education Panel at 10:30am SLT will be moderated by Thomas Swift. Panelists include Carla Broek, Itico Spectre, and OperativePhoenix. The panelists will share their experiences with various education projects in the physical world and in Second Life.

Healthinfo Island Displays and Exhibits for November 2023

Healthinfo Island
Click the image to teleport there!

You can teleport to any of the eight displays and exhibits using the links in this blog post, including clicking on the posters! Once at the exhibit clicking each poster gets you a message with additional information and live links.

NOTE: This month's poster sets support the International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference, Nov. 10.

Find out about the conference presentations here:

Central Pavilion of Healthinfo Island

Check out the calming breathing exercise on the back wall!

November is National Family Caregiver Month


IDRAC Session 7. The Arts Panel at 12:00 (noon) SLT

International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference
Friday, November 10, 2023

Two panels of Virtual Ability community members will be part of this year’s International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference. The panel members show what people with disabilities can do, create, and live when their rights are respected.

Panel 2

The Arts Panel at noon SLT will be moderated by Itico Spectre. Panelists include Don Setzer, Tarquin Evermore, and Daisy Gator. The panelists will describe their work in a variety of art forms, from dance to sewing to writing.

Monday, November 6, 2023

IDRAC Session 4. John and Mark Cronin, Nov 10 - 9:30am SLT

International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference
Friday, November 10, 2023

John (left) and Mark Cronin (right)

We are excited to announce that the son-father duo of John and Mark Cronin will be presenting at Virtual Ability’s International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference on Friday, November 10.

John and Mark exemplify the conference theme, “Do, Create, Live.” Together they created John’s Crazy Socks, the world’s largest sock store and a social enterprise with a mission to spread happiness. They have been named EY’s Entrepreneurs of the Year.

John is not only a 26-year-old entrepreneur, but he has also Down syndrome. He serves as the Chief Happiness Officer of John’s Crazy Socks. Every day, John shows what people with differing abilities can do – more than half his colleagues have a differing ability. John has testified twice before the U.S Congress and spoken at the United Nations.

John and Mark are fierce advocates for the rights of people with differing abilities, having recorded two TEDx talks. They are members of the CEO Commission on Disability Employment.

Together, they create unique customer experiences and have developed a workplace culture that leads to an engaged workforce. And they show their gratitude through their Giving Back program that has raised over $630,000 for their charity partners. 

Their session will start with a film about John and his store, and will conclude with a Q and A session. Please join John and Mark in the Sojourner Auditorium on Virtual Ability island on Nov 10 at 9:30am SLT.

IDRAC Session 3. Emily Wright on rebalancing her mind - Nov 10, 8:30am SLT

International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference
Friday, November 10, 2023

Emily Wright

Emily Wright is a writer, speaker, and mindfulness guru. They have been called “a rising voice in their generation.” Their work focuses on the psychology of discrimination and the power of the mind to enact great positive change, both on an individual and collective level. She points out a significant advocacy problem, that "We're talking about accessibility, but the people that we're trying to get access to, don't have access to tell us how we can help them get access."

Emily will present “Rebalancing the Mind” on Friday, November 10, at 8:30am SLT (Pacific time). Their Presentation takes us through their journey from Chaos to Calm after receiving multiple traumatic brain injuries. She is the creator of It’ll be Alwright ™ and her first book, The100 Days of Colour, will be out soon.

Please join us on Friday in the Sojourner Auditorium on Virtual Ability island to hear Emily’s presentation and ask her questions.

IDRAC Session 2. Dr. Erin Willis and Daniel G. Garza, Nov 10 - 7:30am SLT

International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference
Friday, November 10, 2023

Dr. Erin Willis

On Friday, November 10, Dr. Erin Willis and Daniel G. Garza will present “Patient Influencers: The next frontier of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical marketing.” At this IDRAC presentation, Willis and Garza will discuss the new trend of patient influencers and how pharmaceutical companies are leveraging patient stories to build trust and strengthen relationships with consumers. They will talk about the benefits and drawbacks of this kind of marketing practice.

Are patient influencers actually unregulated (and often unpaid) advertisers, or are they advocates?

Dr. Erin Willis is an Associate Professor in the College of Media, Communication and Information at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Dr. Willis’s research interest is how health messages influence people’s behaviors. She is particularly interested in how personal health behavior is shaped by everyday information and technology.

Daniel G. Garza is multitalented. He is an actor, stand-up comic, podcast host, patient leader, and energy worker. He is the cofounder of Lilmesican Productions, Inc.. and the author of Grumpy Bunny and the Colors Game. Daniel is an HIV and anal cancer survivor, and an Ostomy Advocate.

Please join Erin and Daniel at 7:30am SLT (Pacific time) in the Sojourner Auditorium in Virtual Ability island on Friday, November 10.

IDRAC Session 1. Joseph English, Founder of QuadRebuild, speaks at the IDRAC conference, Nov 10 - 7:00am SLT

International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference
Friday, November 10, 2023

Joseph English

Joseph English was a successful entrepreneur and an award-winning stone carver when his life changed dramatically in an instant. A car wreck left him fighting for his life. He was given only 24 hours to live by the doctors who initially treated him, but now he lives as a quadriplegic, 6 years later.

As part of rebuilding his life, Joseph established the QuadRebuild charity. It assists persons with spinal cord injury to rebuild their lives and their homes in order to have a better future.

Joseph is also the author of Living With a Spinal Cord Injury: My life as a quadriplegic. He will be speaking at 7am SLT at the Sojourner Auditorium on Virtual Ability island as part of the International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference.

QuadRebuild Logo