Saturday, September 26, 2009

Mobile phone use with special needs children – more lessons learned

Three months ago, as grade school ended, we let our 12yo son carry a T-Mobile PayGo phone (an old phone we had lying around, unlocked after its AT&T contract ended).

We did the usual thing with posting rules and so on – but they were soon forgotten. In fact, I only remember the rules because I reread my prior post!

So how did it go? Was our son able to handle the complexities of a semi-modern cell phone? (His Nokia is much harder to use, for example, than an iPhone)

It has gone well and he’s done well with the phone. I think having the phone connection to us has been terribly important during his first weeks in Junior High. It’s been a great self esteem boost – one of the few times he can resemble his neurotypical classmates. We had some concerns that he was pestering a former classmate, but we’ve checked into that and it’s good so far. He’s proud of his phone, and careful with it.

On the other hand, he burnt through the T-Mobile minutes pretty fast. I also discovered that, contrary to expectations, I couldn’t get any information from the T-Mobile site on what numbers he was calling. That made me nervous.

After he went through $10 in a week I gave up on the Pay-G plan sand moved his phone to our AT&T family plan ($10/month, $20-$30 or so fee for the new number).

I want him to text as a way to develop some basic communication and writing skills so I signed up for that great 21st century scam – the text plan (200 messages/month, but remember one pays to receive (grrrrrr) as well as send, so this is only about 3 messages sent a day).

I hated to pay for the text messaging, but if it helps him with written language it’s well worth much more. I also opted to try another $5/month service - “Smart Limits for Wireless”. It includes …

Text/IM Limits: I set to 100
Download Limits: I set to zero since he doesn’t have a data plan.
Browsing Limits: Also set to zero
Time of Day Restrictions: none yet
Allowed Numbers: these are numbers one can use even during restricted times. None yet.
Blocked Numbers: Useful if he’s harassing someone
Content Filters

I limited him to about 100 text messages, so with those he receives he might stay under 200. The big thing is the IM limits and the tracking. I’ll report back on how well it works.
I didn’t want to deal with Voice Mail, so I set the phone to forward to a Google Voice number that sends me transcriptions of any messages.
So far this has been a successful experiment. If it continues to go well I may get him a used iPhone with a data plan – so he can carry a much more powerful aide.

Update 10/6/09: Still very successful, and much more essential than I'd expected. Junior High School is somewhat unpredictable, and having a cell phone when soccer is canceled sure helps.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Abercrombie & Fitch humiliation of autistic child - no apology

There's a sickness in the culture of this clothing retailer. Emphases mine.
Abercrombie & Fitch fined in MOA discrimination case |

A judge ordered retail giant Abercrombie & Fitch to pay $115,000 for discriminating against a 14-year-old autistic customer at its Mall of America store.

The civil penalty, the largest of its kind in at least two years, came four years after store employees refused to let the autistic teen join her older sister in a fitting room because of the clothing chain's anti-shoplifting policy. The store refused to relent even after the sister, and later the girls' mother, explained that the 14-year-old couldn't be alone because of her disability.

The confrontation humiliated the girl, who testified that the incident made her feel like a "misfit."

"She was singled out and required to hear her sister and mother repeatedly ask for accommodations based on her disability, in front of a long line of customers, at a store that markets itself to young people as a purveyor of a particularly desirable 'look' " administrative law judge Kathleen D. Sheehy declared in her ruling.

When several complaints to the company were ignored, the girl's mother, Elizabeth Maxson of Apple Valley, took the case to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. The investigation encountered fierce resistance from Abercrombie & Fitch, a New Albany, Ohio-based company that posted $3.5 billion in revenues last year. The company even denied that the girl, identified only as M.M. in court documents, had a disability until the first day of the administrative law hearing in April. She was diagnosed as autistic at the age of 2.

In her ruling, Sheehy found that Abercrombie & Fitch violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act and ordered the company to pay the girl $25,000 for mental anguish and suffering. The company also was ordered to pay $25,000 to the state as a civil penalty, $41,069 in attorney's fees, $20,441 to the human rights department for its expenses and $3,753 in other expenses.

Abercrombie & Fitch also was ordered to post signs in its seven Minnesota store explaining that disabled individuals should seek out a sales associate to obtain an exception to the company's policy allowing only one person in the fitting room at a time. The company also must provide an hour of training for all employees in Minnesota who interact with the public to make sure they understand how to help disabled customers.

Abercrombie & Fitch has appealed the fine to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Four years. That's how long the Maxson family had to fight this, while Abercrombie's lawyers sat back and waited for them to give up. Even so the fine is pathetically small; for a company this size a meaningful fine would be on the order of $100 million, not $100 thousand.

Even so, Abercrombie and Fitch not only fails to apologize, they appeal the fine. Minnesota clearly needs much bigger fines.

... Developed and launched a comprehensive training curriculum. It includes e-learning based programs focused on diversity awareness and skill building, as well as, an innovative and provocative approach to education that we call reality-based learning. This approach is unique in that we base the learning on real-life issues that may take place in our store environment and reflects our work culture. The training scene is enacted by actors/inclusion experts during the training program, so that we can generate an interactive dialogue about how to solve relevant management issue...
Of course this statement follows a 2005 class action lawsuit for discrimination. Abercrombie and Fitch paid out $50 million for that one, but it obviously didn't touch their corporate culture.

This is one retailer we can do without. Don't shop there.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Special needs: Mobile communications and surveillance

Posting has been light over the summer. It's been a great summer for us, with all of our children, diverse and neurotypical alike, making progress on different curves.

Now things will pick up again. Our Aspie dude is more assertive about doing his own thing, which means we have to work harder to get him the things he needs but doesn't want. Our complicated guy is entering junior high, which means we have a lot less control and awareness of what's going on.

There's guaranteed turbulence ahead, which should make for more posts.

In the meantime, I've been moving forward on the mobile/messaging strategy I outlined a few months ago ...

... We are starting out with a minimal cost phone and a simple pay-as-you-go T-Mobile plan. When the money is spent the phone stops working until we 'refuel'. For now we share a single number and phone, though if Google Voice ever goes live each child will get a lifelong GV number....
Recent events showed that we made the right call on the cell phone. When our eldest ran off into a crowd of 300,000 people or so a combination of his exceptional navigation skills and the "child phone" meant we didn't need to fuss with police searches.

Now, since Google Voice has opened up, I've also gotten him a Google Voice number and email through our Google Apps family domain. Both of these are under our control -- so his voice mails get routed to both parents as do all his incoming email. I also have the ability to track his outgoing emails. He won't have access to the Google Voice or Google email credentials until he's older. The Google Voice number will be his for life.

My next question will be whether to stay with current T-mobile phone or move him to a smart phone (Android or iPhone). It would be very helpful to be able to track his movements by his phone. We can be do that through AT&T's tracking service (designed to track children) on any phone (if we move him to AT&T), through Latitude on an Android phone or Blackberry, and through MobileMe on an iPhone.

Yes, he'll be entering his teen years under close surveillance, though I'm expecting he won't know of it. This guy gives new meaning to the world 'vulnerable'. Over time I hope we all succeed enough that he migrates from surveillance to on-demand-assistance using the same infrastructure.