Headlines — AT&T, A&E, Accessible Tent, Fibromyalgia

Circa 2006



The AT&T Foundation, the philanthropic arm of AT&T Inc., has announced a $1 million grant to the Community Technology Centers’ Network (CTCNet), a national network of community technology centers (CTCs) and other nonprofits that provides technology access and education to underserved communities. This grant will provide new technology resources for people with all types of disabilities.

CTCNet will collaborate with the Alliance for Technology Access (ATA), a national network of communitybased Assistive Technology Resource Centers, technology developers, community-based organizations and individuals, to upgrade technology services and equipment at CTCs nationwide.

CTC staff will receive training on universal design and assistive technology to help them accommodate multiple learning styles and abilities. The grant will also fund the purchase of assistive technology devices, ensuring that CTCs are able to serve everyone, including the 20 percent of the U.S. population that has disabilities and very few opportunities for technology training.

“Assistive technology is not just beneficial for people with disabilities but has been proven to improve the technology training experience for all, ensuring success in today’s economy,” said Kavita Singh, executive director of CTCNet.

Additionally, Laura Sanford, president of the AT&T Foundation, noted that wider availability of technology is key to community development. “Technology is the gateway to jobs, education and information in the 21st century,” said Sanford.

Mary Lester, executive director of ATA, explained that the services funded by the AT&T Foundation grant will go a long way toward equalizing opportunity. “Lack of information about what technology exists and how to use it is still the primary barrier preventing people with disabilities from accessing the technology that can dramatically improve their quality of life and economic status,” said Lester.

The grant to CTCNet is part of the AT&T AccessAll signature philanthropic initiative, a landmark three-year $100 million program that connects families and communities with technology tools that can improve lives. The program builds on the AT&T Foundation’s existing investment in technology for the underserved, which totals nearly $83 million.


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A&E Network has recently collaborated with The Media Access Group at WGBH to expand its accessible programming with the availability of a descriptive narration track on the A&E website for Touch The Top of the World, a film based on Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind climber to summit Mt. Everest. The film debuted recently on A&E and stars Peter Facinelli (Six Feet Under, Fastlane, The Scorpion King) and Bruce Campbell (The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., Homicide, The X-Files).

Audio description of the visual elements of the film are available for the next month and a half via the A&E Network website, where visitors can access an audio stream that includes moment-by-moment descriptions of the action in the movie, including gestures, costumes, settings, who is speaking and text that appears on screen.

In 2001, Weihenmayer began his ascent up the tallest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest, but the film chronicles his journey from much earlier in life when he was diagnosed with a genetic disorder that ultimately led to total blindness by the time he was 13. In the wake of the sudden death of his mother, he and his family began taking treks into remote mountain areas to keep their lives intact. Soon Weihenmayer was taking on greater challenges, including rock climbing, while finishing college and starting his teaching career. While teaching, he fell in love with a colleague, Ellie, and they married and moved to Denver. After conquering numerous major peaks, Weihenmayer decided to confront his biggest challenge yet—Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. Along the journey, Weihenmayer and his team faced unbearably treacherous conditions and witnessed the frozen remains of those who had failed in similar attempts years earlier. Finally, Weihenmayer and his colleagues made it to the top of Mount Everest, quite literally the top of the world.

Video descriptions make television programs, feature films, home videos and other visual media accessible to people who are blind or have low vision, allowing them to fully engage with the story. A carefully written script is prepared by a trained describer, read by a professional narrator and mixed in a professional audio production suite for broadcast-quality results. A full Descriptive Video Service (DVS) mix consists of the main program audio combined with these narrated descriptions.

A&E and The Media Access Group have worked together for years to make a variety of A&E programs accessible via closed captioning to viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. Touch the Top of the World presented the first opportunity for the two organizations to work together in making an A&E film accessible via video descriptions to viewers who are blind.


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The National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) recently awarded Wellbox: The Body Optimizer with the NFA Seal of Approval, making the therapeutic massager only the second product to receive this distinction.

Wellbox initially made its debut in the health and beauty markets as a treatment to reduce cellulite. But Dr. Chrisanne Gordon, a physician who was using the Wellbox for cellulite, discovered that the technique also eased her fibromyalgia symptoms of muscle soreness and pain. The Ohio physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor was so impressed that she developed a study using the technique with ten of her fibromyalgia patients. Forty percent of the participants experienced symptom reduction of 80 percent or greater. These findings led the European-based company Guitay, the makers of Wellbox, to fund further studies, including one by renowned fibromyalgia researcher Dr. I. Jon Russell of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, who is in the final stages of a clinical trial looking at the Wellbox effect on the muscular pain syndrome.

Praising the efforts of Guitay, Lynne Matallana, president of the NFA, remarked, “It’s a rare organization that will dedicate time, effort and funding to develop clinical trials for an alternative therapy such as Wellbox. Thus, after reviewing all the materials and results of the studies, and ensuring that Wellbox passes our strict guidelines for corporate partnerships, the NFA is pleased to award a Seal of Approval to Wellbox, which has demonstrated its effectiveness in treating the symptoms of fibromyalgia.”

In response, Michel Van Welden of Guitay commented, “We are very honored to receive the NFA’s Seal of Approval for the Wellbox. With this partnership, Guitay will further show its commitment to support the services of the NFA while providing a product that is scientifically proven to be safe and beneficial in the management of muscular pain in peoplewho have fibromyalgia.”

Over 10 million Americans experience long-term pain associated with fibromyalgia. To date, there is no medication approved by the FDA to treat the condition. Last year, the NFA awarded its first Seal of Approval to 024 Fibromyalgia, an all-natural pain relief oil developed by Swiss Medica, Inc.


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In response to an identified need for more accessible products for enjoying the wilderness and outdoors, BlueSky Designs has developed the Freedom tent, an accessible tent that is attractive, easy to use, affordable and appealing to a wide audience of campers. An industry first, the Freedom tent is the collaborative effort of the Eureka! manufacturing group and BlueSky Designs, a design firm noted for its work in the biomedical and rehabilitation fields. The tent’s universal design, together with assistive technology, has provided people with disabilities a tent they can set up and use themselves, or offers their caretakers conveniences not found in other tents. Extra room and easy-tomanipulate features also make the tent ideal for families with children and campers needing additional storage for extended trips.

The Freedom tent is the product of a research and development grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for designing tent technology that meets the needs of people with disabilities while also appealing to a broader audience. Outdoor recreation is a significant source of revenue for rural areas, and products that allow people with disabilities to camp expand this important market. Grant-funded focus groups indicated that redesign of tent technology could significantly improve the usability of tents, and several different designs were developed, with the Freedom tent chosen for broad-scale manufacture and marketing by Eureka!

The tent’s amenities include the following: 1) a five-pole tapered rectangular dome with self-supporting aluminum frame; 2) a design combination of pole pocket and continuous rod sleeves with post and grommet assembly that allows setup from one side of tent or from a wheelchair; 3) a patent-pending zipperless vestibule fan door that requires minimal dexterity and reach; 4) pull handles on the internal door and window zippers that allow easy grasp and operation; 5) combination side-entry doors/windows in the sleeping area that provide excellent ventilation and are sized for side transfer of a person onto a cot; and 6) a large useable vestibule area that allows for recreational space or extra storage.


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