Sunday, August 31, 2008

AP analysis of Gov. Paterson's place in national politics

Michael Gormley, the Albany, N.Y. Capitol Editor for The AP, gave the following analysis of Gov. David Paterson's performance on the national stage during the Democratic Convention and the implications of a nationally known blind politician:

Last week, America saw that New York Gov. David Paterson is blind. That image carried by TV from the Democratic National Convention wasn't news to his childhood friends in mainstream schools and in street basketball games, or to his competitors in law school and in the New York City Marathon, or to those who saw him thrust into the governor's job in March and then take on special interests many feel run New York state government.

To them, Paterson's disability just hasn't been much of an issue. Although the party's political strategy was obvious, it was a bit unusual for some New Yorkers to watch Paterson use part of his short speech in Denver to predict a new era for the disabled would be ushered in under a president Barack Obama.

Paterson said Obama would work with a Democratic Congress to revitalize the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act that he said was weakened by the U.S. Supreme Court and Republican Bush administration. He noted unemployment is 90 percent for deaf Americans and 71 percent for the blind.

"Let's give (Republicans) four more months and then elect Barack Obama," he shouted among the cheers. "Barack Obama will restore prosperity and will make the changes we need to write a new chapter in the story of the promise of America."

It was a rare and serious foray for Paterson into the topic of disabilities. He's not one to declare that he won't let blindness stop him, or that he refuses to use his disability as an excuse.

Paterson doesn't dip into those profile-in-courage cliches, as inspiring as they can be. He mostly deals with his disability by, seemingly, not dealing with it all. As a kid, for example, he refused to use a white cane, half-joking that in his neighborhood it would make his next stop the hospital as a crime victim.

It's not like you can ignore Paterson's disability.

But those who have worked with him or covered him for any part of his 20 years in Albany know that when you think of adjectives to describe him, "blind" doesn't come up for a while. He has not only kept up with the well-educated, well-connected and well-heeled power brokers in Albany, he leaves many of them in the dust.

So what he does attracts far more attention than what he can't do. He does it by memorizing long speeches filled with economics statistics and arcane legal precedents, such as his 3,400-worder to the National Press Club in July that touched on food stamp qualifications, subprime mortgage trends, and Wall Street revenues. He does it by filing away the fuzzy outline of people he partly sees through one eye and their voices so that he often greets people first, by name. And he does it by listening to an aide's call at 6 a.m. each day to run down the top newspaper stories, schedule details, and other data.

Paterson's blindness, until last week, was most often used as a way to nail a point with humor. In his 2006 campaign with Eliot Spitzer, Paterson running for lieutenant governor would often say that he would help Spitzer implement his view of New York, "because I sure don't have the vision."

And nervous consultants spiked this TV ad during the 2006 gubernatorial campaign: "I see a New York state with property taxes under control, school funding up and class sizes down, a New York where our kids have stopped moving out and begun moving back," he says sternly to the camera.

Then with a sly grin, he adds: "And if you say you can't see all that, well, you're blind."

After hiding, almost denying his disability for much of his life, Paterson realized that pretending he wasn't blind didn't help those who were.

"As I have grown, I want to be known that way," Paterson told The Buffalo News editorial board this summer. "It gives people still struggling a feeling of hope when they see someone like that."

African disability advocate may be deported from UK

The Croydon Guardian in the UK reports that although he fled persecution in his native Kenya because of his disability rights campaigning, Peter Gichura continued his disability advocacy after he moved to the UK. "But despite his efforts to remain in the country and continue this much needed work he faces deportation and almost certain death," the newspaper reports.

Boston Globe writes about "Labeled Disabled"

Back in May, I wrote a post about this first grade teacher's innovative curriculum teaching kids about disabilities and the film she made about it, "Labeled Disabled." Finally, the Boston Globe is giving Cambridge, Mass., teacher Maggie Doben some publicity.

Team Ghana upset no sponsorship for Paralympics available

From Ghana News August 30:

The Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled (sports wing) has expressed surprise about the refusal of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports to sponsor the Ghana Paralympics Team to compete in the Paralympic Games in Beijing, China.

It said it came to its notice per a publication in a national daily that it was impossible for the ministry to provide 90,000 dollars that it requires for the travel arrangements of a team of four athletes whom it claimed were not qualified for the Games.

Mr Abdul-Aziz Mohammed, Chairman of the GDSP Sports in a press briefing to react to the stand of the Ministry in Accra on Friday noted that it was wrong for the Ministry to have based its decision on the advice offered by its Director of Sports, Dr. Emmanuel Owusu Ansah.

The Beijing Paralympics Games would be held from 6th to 17th September.

He said that the two athletes, Botsyo Nkegbe and Ajara Mohammed are not only participating for its sake but have a great chance of winning medals.

The Chairman said Nkegbe presently holds the best time in Africa in the 100 and 200 metres races and is among the ten best disabled athletes in the world after a three months training in the US while Ajara is a 1500m African champion and a gold medal winner in the last All Africa Games in Algeria and has improved on her time.

Mr Mohammed urged the Ministry to rescind its decision of refusing to sponsor the Paralympics Team to compete in the Beijing games and made a passionate appeal to all Ghanaians and corporate bodies to donate generously to enable the team purchase their tickets and for their allowances for two of the athletes, a coach, a medical officer and an official to make the trip.

He said if the ministry thinks it is expensive to fund the trip of the team, it should
either cut down on the number of officials or seek further financial support to enable Team Ghana make its appearance at the Games.

Mr Mohammed said it is not true that competing on a wild card does not qualify an athlete for a medal as said by the ministry and that taking part on a wild card would be a non-scoring event at the Games.

“Wild card is given to, especially, countries that have difficulty taking part in at least two world championships sanctioned by the International Paralympic Committee, (IPC) but meet the minimum requirements and have a potential to make a difference in the Games”.

“It is a special intervention by the IPC to help developing countries and it does not indicate that one is participating on a non-scoring basis. Every athlete competing in the Games has an equal chance of winning medals like others, except that wild card holders are offered limited events”.

Mr Mohammed explained that Ghana was offered the wild card because its leaders failed to put in place the necessary measures that would enable her qualify and also failed to pay Ghana’s membership dues of the IPC on time and to present any athlete at any of the IPC sanctioned world championships.

“The fact that Ghana is a wild card country has no bearing on their inability to win a medal contrary to what is being portrayed to the Ghanaian public but it is because the IPC recognizes the importance of Ghana’s presence in the Beijing Games”.

The Chairman explained that the Society started organized disablity sports with the help of other partners, Johny and Friends Organisation, Jean Driscoll’s ‘Determined to Win Inc.’ from the United States of America, Danish Sports Organisation for the Disabled and USAID-Ghana who have continued to support the athletes with training and equipment including the current Ghana Paralympics Team.

Mr Mohammed said since the formation of the Association of Sports for the Disabled and the National Paralympics Committee, the Society decided to concentrate on grassroots sports development for the physically disabled with coordination from the National Sports Council.

Nkegbe explained that they are capable of winning medals for the country even with their wild card status since they have adequately prepared for their events.

Finland municipalities now responsible for providing personal attendant services

From YLE in Finland:

A change to Finland's disability policy will force municipalities to wholly organise personal assistant services for seriously handicapped inhabitants. Disabled persons will no longer be forced to act as employers to their assistants.

Seventy municipalities in Finland are, however, unable to provide personal assistants for handicapped inhabitants. Social workers and officials have also struggled with defining the qualifying criteria for personal assistant services.

Under the old system handicapped persons were forced to employ assistants and thus had employers' obligations. Those employing assistants were entitled to subsidies from the municipality.

Some 15,000 people need personal assistants to keep them living at home and not in institutions. There are, however, only enough assistants in the country for 10,000 disabled persons. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health says a lack of resources can't obstruct the provision of services that people are legally entitled to. The legislative change takes effect in September.

Neighbouring Sweden is also overhauling legislation on personal assistants for the disabled. Sweden has actively recruited immigrants to work with the disabled -- a model that Finland is also planning to test.

Study shows Americans continuing intolerance for people with mental illness

From a University of Pennsylvania press release on Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Aug. 29, 2008) — A new study by University of Pennsylvania sociology professor Jason Schnittker shows that, while more Americans believe that mental illness has genetic causes, the nation is no more tolerant of the mentally ill than it was 10 years ago.

The study published online in the journal Social Science and Medicine uses a 2006 replication of the 1996 General Social Survey Mental Health Module to explore trends in public beliefs about mental illness in America, focusing in particular on public support for genetic arguments.

Prior medical-sociology studies reveal that public beliefs about mental illness reflect the dominant mental-illness treatment, the changing nature of media portrayals of the mentally ill and the prevailing wisdom of science and medicine.

Schnittker’s study, “An Uncertain Revolution: Why the Rise of a Genetic Model of Mental Illness Has Not Increased Tolerance,” attempts to address why tolerance of the mentally ill hasn’t increased along with the rising popularity of a biomedical view of its causes. His study finds that different genetic arguments have, in fact, become more popular but have very different associations depending on the mental illness being considered.

“In the case of schizophrenia, genetic arguments are associated with fears regarding violence,” Schnittker said. “In fact, attributing schizophrenia to genes is no different from attributing it to bad character — either way Americans see those with schizophrenia as ‘damaged’ in some essential way and, therefore, likely to be violent. However, when applied to depression, genetic arguments have very different connotations: they are associated with social acceptance. If you imagine that someone’s depression is a genetic problem, the condition seems more real and less blameworthy: it’s in their genes, they’re not weak, so I should accept them for who they are.”

Schnittker’s study also shows that genetic arguments are associated with recommending medical treatment but are not associated with the perceived likelihood of improvement.

“While the stigma surrounding mental illness has not diminished, the rate of treatment for psychiatric disorders has increased,” Schnittker wrote. “The culture surrounding mental illness has become more treatment-focused with direct-to-consumer advertising of psychiatric medications now a mainstay of popular media.”

According to Schnittker’s research, genetic arguments have, in fact, increased public support for medical treatment but at the same time aren’t clearly associated with improvements in overall tolerance levels. The study explores tolerance in terms of social distancing: unwillingness to live next door to a mentally ill person, have a group home for the mentally ill in the neighborhood, spend an evening socializing with a mentally ill person, work closely with such a person on the job, make friends with someone with a mental illness or have a mentally ill person marry into the family.

British charity wants Paralympics to lift ban on competitors with intellectual disabilities

From the British charity Mencap:

Mencap has called for the ban on athletes with a learning disability from competing at the Paralympics to be lifted ahead of the start of this year's games in Beijing next week.

People with learning disabilities were first barred after the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney when it was discovered that members of the Spanish basketball team had falsely claimed to have a learning disability. Thousands of pounds of lottery funding for athletes in the UK has since been lost.

A decision on whether to overturn the ban will be made by the International Paralympic Committee after the Beijing games closes, on 17 September.

Mencap chief executive Jo Williams said it would be a “terrible disgrace” if athletes with learning disabilities were not allowed to compete in the 2012 London games and called on the government to reinstate lottery funding.

Williams added that many athletes had become disillusioned and were dropping out of sport altogether. Chris Pugh, who competed at Sydney 2000 and who currently holds two world records in swimming events, said he now no longer trains after being told that he was barred from competing in Beijing.

The International Sports Federation for Persons with an Intellectual Disability was responsible for monitoring eligibility of athletes for the Paralympics before being suspended in 2001. The IPC said that the verification process had been “grossly mismanaged” and that fair competition could not be ensured until the organisation got its act together.

Surfer with Asperger's makes waves in new documentary

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin has a feature on a talented surfer with Asperger's who is the focus of a new surfing documentary, "Just Add Water:"

Professional surfer Clay Marzo isn't concerned about his next contest win or whether he'll become world champion one day. He's entirely focused on what's happening in the present, which has helped make him one of the most exciting and innovative surfers on the waves today. Eight-time world champion Kelly Slater has said that nobody in Clay's age bracket comes close to what the 19-year-old accomplishes every time he paddles into a set. And there's a reason for that.

"He's not capable of conforming," says Clay's mother, Jill Marzo. "He's just capable of being him. And that's the beautiful thing. Nothing bothers him because he's in the moment. For years I tried to change him to fit in, but I've been forced to accept and live in the moment with him."

Clay, who grew up in Lahaina, is the focus of a new Quiksilver documentary/surf film called "Just Add Water." More than a movie about a rising young star, however, it details Clay's aptitude and unique personality, and his life with Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that can make school and social situations challenging but also allows him to hyperfocus and exhibit exceptional talent in a specific arena.

Adam Klevin, the cinematographer for "Just Add Water," notes that while most athletes' skills decline with fatigue, Clay can handle four surf sessions -- up to eight hours -- in a day. "And he never stops going bigger," Klevin says of Clay, who is renowned for his ability to take off late and rack up "an amazing percentage of tube rides." It's an intuitive rather than conscious pursuit, Klevin believes.

Indeed, "getting barreled" is what Clay says e likes best about surfing. He'd rather not wear a wet suit, and does so only when the water dips into the 50s. "I can trunk it in 60," he says without an ounce of boasting. He likes to travel "where the waves are firing" but also appreciates returning to his refuge on Maui. He remembers everything and never lies. And he doesn't try to emulate anyone else.

"I look at (Asperger's) as a gift," says Jill. "He's wired a different way, and it's something we're just starting to understand. His social cues are not the same as yours and mine, and never will be."

With his pale blue eyes, tousled, sea-salt-drenched blond hair and lean frame, Clay remains happiest in the water and doesn't speak unless he has something to say. "People always wanted to find a label for Clay," notes Jill, "but I knew intuitively that keeping him in the water was what he needed."

New Mobility: McCain-Palin ticket bad news for Americans with disabilities

From Josie Byzek's blog for New Mobility, a magazine for wheelchair users:

The choice of Sarah Palin has many pundits scratching their heads, trying to figure out what to make of her candidacy. Some are calling her the “anti-Hillary,” as choosing her seems an obvious ploy on McCain’s part to lure women who want to see that last “glass ceiling” shattered away from the left with a female candidate who is diametrically opposed to just about every major feminist cause.

Palin’s supportive of McCain’s health care package, which seems to be a glorified tax credits program. She’s virulently anti-choice, which besides putting her outside the mainstream of most of America, is a slap in the face of the feminists who had so much invested in the dream of a progressive woman president. And here’s the kicker — Palin, 44, has five children, the youngest of which, born less than a year ago, has Down’s syndrome. Already we’re hearing some in the disability rights community thinking this might give Palin an instant sympathy with our issues, but the kid’s not even a year old, and the only “points” Palin gets is she kept the baby, which is her choice.

And where on earth do I start with McCain? Yes, the guy has a disability, and he’s given lip service to the ADA and the new ADA Act Amendments. But he’s pledged to put even more right-wing extremists on the Supreme Court and federal courts, and this will mean more anti-ADA and generally anti-civil rights rulings. So he tells those of us who are for civil rights that he supports the ADA, and yet he gives the ol’ wink-nod to those on the right by pledging to seat judges who’ll undo all of our – and Congress’ – good work. Sure, he may be gunning for Roe v. Wade, but experience says justices who are pro-life are also generally anti-civil rights.

And McCain is stubbornly, publicly against the community choice act. Why in the name of all that is good does he hold such an indefensible position? The irony here is that the CCA, formerly known as MiCASSA, was first sponsored by Newt Gingrich, who as we all know engineered the Republican take-over back in ’94. What on earth is McCain’s game? He says he’s for disability rights, for the ADA, for integration, and yet his actions declare just the opposite.

Sending son with autism to jail in his quest for adulthood

The New York Times "Modern Love" column Aug. 29 featured the story of a mother who decided to press charges against her son with autism and schizophrenia after he stole her car because she felt his actions were a quest to be treated like an adult.

Paralympics coverage available online at Universal Sports

Universal Sports, owned by NBCU and InterMedia Partners, will host multi-platform broadcast of the International Paralympic Games.

Sponsored by General Electric and Visa, which will provide branded promotions with integrated media placements on Universal Sports TV, the Paralympic Games will be available in the USA on,, with daily live and delayed highlight shows.

Daily video highlights will also be available at the official site of the U.S. Paralympic Team. A schedule of events is available at Universal Sports TV. The Paralympics are Sept. 6-17.

TV coverage will consist of three-hour segments. NBC will televise a special presentation of the events on Oct. 18. Additionally, the U.S. Olympic Network will re-air portions of the 2008 Paralympic Games at the beginning of 2009.

NPR: Louisiana tries to improve nursing home evacuations during hurricanes

Joe Shapiro of National Public Radio reports on All Things Considered, August 30: "Some of the most shocking deaths during Hurricane Katrina occurred in nursing homes, where elderly and disabled residents were trapped or abandoned. Now, Louisiana has new state rules designed to make sure residents in senior housing are evacuated before it's too late."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Scooter users banned from Metro in Northern England

From the Newcastle upon Tyne Chronicle in the UK:

Transport operator Nexus is facing a backlash from many of the 200 to 300 scooter passengers who regularly used the system.

As reported in later editions of last night’s Chronicle, the ban comes after a series of near misses involving mobility scooters.

From the first trains Aug. 27 the scooters were outlawed from all 60 stations across Tyne & Wear.

Nexus imposed the law which overrides the restriction laid down in April, which banned scooter users unless accompanied.

Manual and powered wheelchairs and lighter scooters carried and folded are not included in the regulations.

Nancy Porter, 58, of Falstone Square, Gosforth, Newcastle, told how she had just bought a new £2,000 scooter.

“I’ve totally lost my freedom now. It’s devastating,” said Nancy, who has relied on her electric scooter since she slipped a disc 13 years ago.

“I used the Metro to go shopping, meet friends, for hospital appointments and to go swimming. That’s gone now.”

Nancy, a former state registered mental nurse, added: “I collected 1,000 names on a petition from people against the first ban but it hasn’t made a blind bit of difference.”

Beth Ford, 34, who supports scooter users at Shopmobility in South Shields, and uses an electric wheelchair, said: “This is only penalising the majority for the mistakes of a few. There will be a serious impact on hundreds of people.”

Beth won’t be banned herself as she uses an electric wheelchair, but knows of hundreds of scooter-users who will be affected.

But defending the restrictions, Nexus chiefs showed CCTV footage of scooters and their passengers shooting off platforms on to tracks and ploughing through train doors.

In one a woman user was seen boarding a train and crashing through doors on the other side of the carriage on to the trackside – minutes before another train hurtled through.

Bernard Garner, director general of Nexus, said: “If a scooter fell on to the Metro line and was hit by a train then not only would its user probably be killed or seriously hurt but so would perhaps dozens of people on the train if it was derailed.

“That risk is not acceptable. There is also the danger of passengers standing in the path of a scooter could be injured as it boards the confined space of a carriage.”

The ban follows a risk assessment by health and safety staff, with the help of scooter user-groups.

The findings have been passed on to Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate.

Ken Mackay, director of rail infrastructure at Nexus, said: “Scooters are not designed to manoeuvre in confined spaces like platforms and trains.

“If a scooter goes on to the track and people are on there assisting we have an uncontrolled situation.

“Heaven forbid the type of carnage that could occur if a train ploughs into them. We have reached a situation where we have to eliminate risk. Our first and foremost responsibility is to maintain a safe railway.”

Nexus will review the ban in six months, to study work it is undertaking to reduce the risks associated with scooter use on Metro services.

Mr Garner added: “Our first responsibility is to protect the safety of all our passengers.

“Mobility scooters are vehicles designed to drive on urban roads, not confined spaces like station platforms and trains.

“This ban won’t be popular with scooter users, but it is the right thing to do.”

There were up to 300 mobility scooters using the trains before April’s ban on lone travellers. Now alternative arrangements for them are being looked at by Nexus, including community travel schemes and TaxiLink. There have been four accidents in the last 15 months.

Disabled delegate says Democratic Convention very accessible

From The National Journal interview with Mary Troupe, a wheelchair user and delegate from Mississippi:

Mary Troupe is attending her first convention as the first disabled delegate from the state of Mississippi.

Troupe is the director of the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens With Disabilities, a nonprofit based in Jackson, where she lives. She praises the city of Denver and the Democratic Party for the convention's wheelchair accessibility. True, she, like others, is staying at a hotel "in the boondocks." But she's there with the rest of her delegation.

And that's how Troupe has always wanted things.

"It's very, very important that the disability community be inclusive with the general population," she said. "They need to learn who we are, and we need to do outreach to them and tell them that we want to work."

Troupe has been wheelchair-bound since her husband shot her in 1971. Even as a victim of spousal abuse, she still had trouble winning custody of her 5-year-old child because of her disability. "That still happens today," she said.

"I guess from the day that I was injured, I started working and advocating because I was advocating for myself," she explains. "But as I went to rehabs and hospitals, I saw people that didn't have the skill level, that didn't have the family support that I had, that were not being able to access services."

Troupe, now 61, raised her son and has a daughter from a second marriage. These days, with her children fully grown, she's able to enjoy life as a grandmother.

Troupe, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, also sits on the federal Access Board. She has also been involved with the Equity and Inclusion Campaign, a policy advocacy group, where she has helped people with disabilities who were affected by Hurricane Katrina.

The Americans with Disabilities Act made life much easier for many disabled people, Troupe said, but there is still work to be done.

"We have talent, we have intelligence," she said, "and let's focus on the abilities, not the disabilities."

Czech firm creates car for wheelchair users

From the Prague Daily Monitor in the Czech Republic:

Prague - Two Czech firms have completed the development of a mini-car that will allow wheel-chair-bound people to ride inside the car without having to move from the wheel-chair to the driver's seat, daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) writes Aug. 27.

"We have a function prototype and we are planning to produce two to three models for homologation," MfD quotes Ladislav Brazdil, head of ZLKL Lostice firm, as saying.
The other firm taking part in the project is Auto Projekt Centrum.

Brazdil said his firm has gained a subsidy from the European funds and that a prototype can already been seen in the streets of Plzen, west Bohemia.

It took two years to develop the mini-car that can seat two people, MfD writes.

"We are considering making a battery-powered version and a variant for people without any physical handicap," Vladimir Friml, from Auto Projekt Centrum, told MfD.

The two firms hope to gain homologation by end-August 2009. Brazdil said the car will cost 150,000 crowns and more, depending on the engine.

ZLKL counts with making up to 500 cars annually, MfD writes.

The car does not yet have any name. The producers wanted to acquire the Velorex brand, but they have failed.

Velorex, a three-wheel car with a pipe framework covered with imitation leather was developed and started to be produced in then Czechoslovakia in 1936 for handicapped people. It can still be seen on Czech roads.

Four Velorex cars will cover the legendary Route 66 running from Chicago to Los Angeles that all Americans consider one of their fundamental symbols this autumn. The journey will be some 4000 kilometres long.

Unlike Velorex, the new car will not be covered with imitation leather. Its frame is made of aluminium and the body of composite materials, MfD writes.

Accused British hacker with Asperger's to be extradited to USA

From Reuters August 27:

LONDON - A British computer expert accused by the United States of "the biggest military hack of all time" lost an appeal on August 28 and could be extradited within weeks.

Gary McKinnon, 42, (pictured left) had asked the European Court of Human Rights to block his extradition to the United States, complaining that he could face inhumane prison conditions if convicted there. The court rejected the appeal.

McKinnon could face up to 70 years in prison if convicted in America of illegally accessing computers, including those of the Pentagon, U.S. army, navy and NASA, and causing $700,000 (381,134 pounds) worth of damage.

"The appeal is lost," said Karen Todner, of Kaim Todner solicitors, representing McKinnon. "He is completely distraught, all of them are, his family, his girlfriend."

Todner said her client would now appeal to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to try to persuade her to reconsider an earlier decision and prosecute her client in the United Kingdom.

"Failing that he will be extradited ... probably within the next three weeks," Todner added. She said her client had recently been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and hoped Smith would take this information into account.

McKinnon lost his appeal in July to Britain's highest court to block extradition to face charges in the United States.

He told Reuters in 2006 he was just a computer nerd who wanted to find out whether aliens really existed and became obsessed with trawling large military networks for proof.

His lawyers have argued that sending him to the United States would breach his human rights because he could be prosecuted on account of his nationality or political opinions.

California advocacy group sues on behalf of disabled homeless people

From The San Francisco Chronicle:

SAN FRANCISCO -- A Berkeley nonprofit filed a federal lawsuit Aug. 27 against San Francisco's Care Not Cash program, alleging "pervasive discrimination" against disabled homeless people.

The lawsuit says the city's homeless program illegally prevents disabled people who receive federal aid from accessing certain services, such as the reservation system for shelter beds.

City officials called the lawsuit frivolous Aug. 27. There is no shortage of beds for disabled people, and the Care Not Cash program is open to anyone, disabled or not, who does not receive federal assistance, said Trent Rhorer, executive director of San Francisco's Human Services Agency, which manages the city's shelter and welfare programs.

The lawsuit filed by Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates states that because most disabled homeless people receive some form of federal aid, they are excluded from the San Francisco benefits that are available to everyone else.

"If you're not in Care Not Cash, you can't make a reservation for a bed and you're thrown into this Byzantine system where every day you have to stand in line and try to find a bed," said attorney Sidney Wolinsky, the founder of Disability Rights Advocates. "It becomes survival of the fittest, and disabled people lose and end up sleeping in alleys."

The Care Not Cash program was developed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and became a cornerstone of his 2004 campaign. Newsom and the Board of Supervisors are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Care Not Cash cut county welfare payments to homeless people in San Francisco in exchange for shelter guarantees and other services, such as counseling to help people find permanent housing. About a quarter of San Francisco's 1,300 shelter beds are set aside for Care Not Cash participants, who can reserve beds up to 45 days in advance.

People who do not qualify for county welfare - including anyone who receives Social Security or other federal benefits - are not able to participate in Care Not Cash, and therefore can't reserve beds. That means they may have to wait in lines some nights for a bed to become available.

Rhorer noted that disabled people who have not applied for federal aid can join the Care Not Cash program; at any given time, about a third of Care Not Cash participants are disabled, he said.

"Care Not Cash serves a subset of the homeless population: those receiving county welfare. It's a rational and nondiscriminatory policy," he said.

Rhorer added that 75 to 100 shelter beds go unused each night.

"They're assuming the shelter system is full and there are massive turn-aways every night, and it's simply not true," Rhorer said. "We feel this is a frivolous suit that's entirely without merit."

Target will make Web site accessible

From The San Francisco Chronicle:

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Target retail chain will make its Web site accessible to the blind and pay $6 million to visually impaired Californians who have tried unsuccessfully to use the site, under a settlement announced August 27.

The nationwide settlement, filed with a federal judge in San Francisco, is intended as a model for the retail industry, said a lawyer for the National Federation of the Blind, which sued Target in 2006.

"We hope that what Target does can be used as an example for other retailers," said attorney Julia Pinover of Disability Rights Advocates. "It can demystify how to become accessible."

The company must now equip its Web site,, with an embedded code that can be read by software to provide a vocal description of the page, and links that
allow a blind person to navigate the screen with a keyboard instead of a mouse.

The improvements are supposed to be completed early next year and will be
monitored by the National Federation of the Blind for three years.

Steve Eastman, president of the Web site, said the company was pleased to have reached the settlement and would work with the federation on further refinements. "Target is committed to serving all our guests," he said in a statement.

Target has 230 stores in California and more than 1,600 nationwide. In its lawsuit, the federation accused the company of violating federal and state laws that entitle the disabled to equal access to business and government services.

In a key ruling, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel refused to dismiss the suit in September 2006. Rejecting Target's argument that the discrimination laws prohibit only physical barriers to a company's stores or products, she said the American With Disabilities Act requires removal of all barriers to "a disabled person's 'full enjoyment' of goods or services," quoting from the 1990 law.

The Aug. 27 settlement, subject to Patel's approval, incudes $6 million for legally blind Californians who have tried to access since February 2003, using their own screen-reader software, and have failed because of the site's limitations.

Claimants will be entitled to $3,500 each, or $7,000 if they have tried more than once. Claims must be filed under penalty of perjury and will be reviewed by an administrator. Specifics on how people can apply will be announced after the settlement is made final.

Pinover said she expects thousands of claims to be filed. She said most commercial Web sites are only partly accessible to the blind, and that retailers who re-equip their sites will help themselves as well as their customers.

"For people who can't drive to a mall, it's particularly important to be able to buy things online," she said.

Pakistan announces 3-year program to improve inclusion of disabled people

From The International News August 27:

Islamabad -- To help disabled persons socialise so that they could play an active role in the community, a three-year project titled ‘Promotion of Social Development Participation of Persons with Disabilities’ was launched here on Aug. 26.

Funded by the Japanese government, the project is to be initiated in 12 districts of Abbottabad by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in collaboration with the Department of Social Welfare and Community Development, District Abbottabad.

The project includes training of Persons with Disability (PWD) so as to equip them with leadership skills and facilitate them in the formation of Disabled People Organizations (DPOs), Self Help Organizations (SHOs) and family Associations. The aim of the project is also to build an interface between disabled and non-disabled people through awareness raising, dissemination of information and experience sharing. Addressing the media, JICA Resident Representative Takau Kaibora said that a study was conducted in the area before the formulation of the project.

“Our expert Naoto Ikeda trained a team of 15 disabled persons which conducted a survey to point out the major issues that need to be addressed on an urgent basis,” he said.

Citing an example of one such case, Kaibora said that during their study they found a disabled woman who had not seen the world outside her home for 40 years.

“The basic problem faced by these people is their exclusion from society and the project thus would focus on the issue,” he said.

Highlighting the aim behind launching the pilot project, he said that it would assist the Pakistan government in National Plan of Action (NPA) that was developed to implement the National Policy for Persons with Disability.

“Lessons learnt from the project will help in implementing the NPA throughout the country,” he hoped.

The federal government sought JICA’s technical assistance for the implementation. In this response JICA dispatched a study team from May to June 2007 to Pakistan for prioritizing possible areas of support and proposed a strategic framework for long-term potential support for disabled persons.

JICA Programme Officer Nazia Seher told ‘The News’ that the study had revealed that non-cooperation and lack of participation of PWDs in social activities hinders the implementation of other key areas of NPA such as provision of medical treatment, education, vocational training and employment.

“The team concluded that there is need for such approaches that not only focus on providing more quality services but also aim at promoting social participation of PWDs.” She said that according to census 12 percent of the population was disabled which reveals that a huge number of people need special attention.

She said that two Japanese experts would visit Pakistan in November for the purpose of training officials in this regard.

“We will also provide trainings in Japan, Malaysia and Bangkok,” she said, adding that those trained persons would then organise PWDs in groups and identify key leaders who could act as catalysts in future. Nazia said that the Japanese government would also provide special vehicles and equipment that could be used for this purpose by the disabled persons.

“The project is designed in a way that more and more disabled persons could be involved in the process,” she added.

On the occasion, Kaibora announced that the Japanese government was also planning to fund a children’s hospital in Peshawar on the pattern of the same built at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS).

Discussing the accessibility issue for PWDs, Director General Special Education Khalid Naeem said that the government was planning to make all provincial headquarters disabled-friendly as a first step.

“Slowly the main cities and then the entire country will be made disabled-friendly,” he added.

Provincial Secretary for Zakat and Usher Committee for NWFP Shah Sahib said that such investment was vital as huge complexes were built for disabled persons by the government but majority of the population was not ready to send their special children to such institutions.

British program describes theatre performances for blind audience members

From Evening News 24 in Norwich, UK:

Radio plays pre-date the advent of television, and still remain popular with listeners who find the lack of visuals don't hamper the drama. But what if the storyline is meant to be seen as well as heard? Blind and partially sighted people are confronted with this dilemma every time they go to the theatre or cinema. Following the dialogue will only get them so far.

Anne Hornsby was working at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton in the 1980s when a blind theatregoer approached her with a grand idea.

“Described theatre was new from the States. There was only one company in the UK doing it, and a blind customer, Sheila Birkett, proposed we try it. Sheila hadn't always been blind but had always loved theatre, so she knew what she was missing.”

Hornsby is now the director of Mind's Eye, a professional service that allows visually impaired people to experience the immediacy of theatre even though they might not be able to see the action on stage.The organisation regularly does audio-described performances at Norwich Theatre Royal. Theatregoers wear headsets and Hornby explains what is happening during the gaps in the dialogue.

“Sheila found she wanted to know what the actors were wearing - what the fabrics looked like. She could sense the audience's reaction, but not know what it was to,” says Hornsby. “A blind person can't just turn to their companion and ask what's going on because it disrupts those around them. You can imagine the sense of isolation.”

The Disability Discrimination Act, which gives disabled people rights in accessing employment, services, goods and facilities, means arts venues are now expected to budget to reach all members of the community.

“I think there is a lot of room for it to grow,” says Hornsby. “It began with smaller theatres with Arts Council funding going for it, then the more commercial theatres joined in because legislation said they had to - but this can just mean one described performance a year, or every few months. It would be great to give people more choice.”

The Theatre Royal is more committed than many to bringing a complete experience to disabled customers, and Hornsby, whose specialised job involves travelling the country to supply audio commentary to shows, film festivals and museums, recently delivered a specially tailored script of South Pacific to select Saturday matinee customers.

“Matinees are popular for described performances because often older people don't like going out too late at night,” she explains. “Or maybe they work during the week, or have to rely on public transport.”

A group of about 10 people who would be using the Mind's Eye facility met Hornsby before the show so she could take them on a 'touch tour' around the set. Performers in leg warmers, doing stretches and last minute run-throughs were still littering the stage when she began the mini-excursion.

“Here is the make-shift shower in which Nellie will wash that man right out of her hair,” says Hornsby. She passes around some grass skirts and extravagant papier-mâché head gear. Later, she explains, “The touching of a grass skirt is a novelty. Some people are partially sighted and need to get up close to make things out. The touch tour gives that chance.”

When the touch tour is finished, those who will be listening to the described performance collect headsets from the box office and join the streams of theatregoers buying ice-cream and programmes. Before the lights go down, Hornsby describes the visual characteristics - “full figured, dark-eyes, heavy jaw” - of the characters, so when they first appear, listeners are already acquainted with their visual quirks.

“In Norwich, there was one thing that threw me,” says Hornsby. “The Polynesian children, Ngana and Jerome, are found locally, and I'd described them as being dark-skinned. But Norwich being less multi-cultural than areas like, say, Bradford, they were much lighter-skinned than I'd imagined. One just wants to describe the details accurately.”

It might seem unlikely to fully-sighted people, used to enjoying the dramatic shapes and movements of live performance, that a described version can still be visceral and exciting. Talking to Hornsby it becomes apparent those tuning in are getting just as unique an experience, equally reliant on things 'being alright on the night'.

“I'm often asked why the descriptions aren't recorded, but of course, they couldn't be, because the gaps in the dialogue are never going to be exactly the same. It's different every time. You need to be prepared and confident. I often watch at least three run-throughs, plus videos over and over. I write the script myself, so know it well. You are complimenting what the actors are doing and it should all blend together. 'I didn't even notice you' is the best compliment I could get.”

Does she ever feel like an actress?

“I have done a film festival where I had to read the speech subtitles as well as describe, and it was a bit of a one woman show, but generally you just match delivery with piece. It must be pleasant and not jarring. If it's a romantic scene your tone should reflect that, but not so much that you're weeping if someone is dying on stage.”

It sounds like both an arduous and rewarding job.

“When someone says, 'I loved it when you told me so-and-so had pinched someone's bottom - I could just imagine it' or 'you made me cry', you know you've brought something to life for them. The other day a woman said to me, 'you made me feel like I was back in the land of the living.'

“These kinds of initiatives allow everyone to have an equal footing. Blind people have just as much right to access facilities - they pay taxes too and contribute to society. When you've lost your sight, something has been taken away from you and this is a way of enjoying the things one perhaps used to love.”

Budget cuts in Nevada could affect personal attendant services there

From the Lanhontan Valley News in Nevada August 27:

A number of disabled Nevadans told state officials Aug. 26 that budget cuts will result in many of them losing jobs, losing their independence and being institutionalized.

"What they're cutting is bathing, grooming and dressing," said longtime disabled advocate Paul Gowins.He and Robert Desruisseaux, of the Nevada Disability Advocacy and Law Center, said the cuts, which will save about $1.6 million this fiscal year, are short sighted because they will result in people now living on their own being placed in much more expensive institutional care.

The initial letter from Nevada's Health Care Financing and Policy division advised people their personal care services could be cut in half and that the exercise services for those in need would be eliminated because of the state's budget crisis.

Those services provide the severely disabled with help bathing, getting dressed and other services to enable them to continue living on their own. Candy Roper of Carson City said she is wheelchair bound but, with the services she now receives, is able to work, support herself and maintain her own residence.

But that requires six hours of help a day, she said."I am one of those people who is going to be really hurt by this cut," she said. "It takes me two and a quarter hours to get ready to go to work. If it's going to be cut to three hours a day, what am I supposed to do the rest of the day?"

She said she would lose her job and home and have to move to an institution.

Division Administrator Chuck Duarte told her that initial letter will be followed by one specific to her case and doesn't mean every person receiving services will see them cut in half. He also indicated that services may be increased in some cases "to prevent institutionalization."

And he said there is an appeal process she can use. But Gowins said that appeal is very limited in most cases.

Marina Valdez of Las Vegas said she is a single mom with a severely disabled 20-year-old daughter who, if her services are cut in half, may have to be institutionalized. She said that will cost the state upwards of $200 a day because the state won't provide a few hours of personal care services.

New Illinois program provides free public transportation for low-income disabled people

From the Chicago Sun -Times August 27:

A new law that gives free public transit rides to the low-income disabled was signed Tuesday by Gov. Blagojevich.

"It will help people get to work and school and medical appointments," said Jim Watkins, an advisory co-chair to the Regional Transit Authority on disability issues. "It will enhance their daily lives."

But the new program, which goes into effect Oct. 24, is expected to cost the already cash-strapped RTA up to $10 million a year. The CTA alone expects to lose $8 million in 2009.

The CTA also expects to lose $26 million in 2009 from giving free rides to seniors, $500,000 from giving free rides to members of the military, and $32 million from the loss of the state's reduced fare subsidy, for a total loss of $66.5 million.

CTA President Ron Huberman said the agency is "excited" to be able to provide free rides for individuals with disabilities who are least able to pay. But he added, "There's nothing free about the free rides program."

"We are very concerned on the impact this will have on our 2009 budget," said Huberman.

Despite increasing ridership, the CTA is being hurt by high fuel and labor costs and lost tax revenue due to the slumping real estate market.

The senior free rides program took effect March 17. The number of seniors riding the CTA has grown from an average of 63,000 per weekday in 2008 to 90,000 per weekday in July.

To qualify for the new free rides for the disabled program on Metra, CTA or Pace, an individual must be enrolled in the Illinois Circuit Breaker program as a low-income person with a disability. Income limits for eligibility range from $22,218 for an individual to $36,740 for a household of three or more.

NY Gov. Paterson: Obama can change country for Americans with disabilities

From Newsday August 27:

Referring to his struggle to overcome near-blindness, Gov. David A. Paterson yesterday told the Democratic National Convention that only presumptive presidential nominee Barack Obama could usher in a new era of economic opportunity for the disabled and all citizens.

Paterson, who made history four years ago as the first blind person to address such a gathering of Democrats, recounted his early years in Brooklyn and Hempstead, and being discriminated against.

But Paterson said his success as a state senator over 21 years and as governor for five months was part of the larger American Dream nurtured by previous presidents. He then blamed the Bush administration for rising unemployment among the disabled, including nearly 90 percent of the deaf and 71 percent of the blind.

"Let's give [Republicans] four more months and then elect Barack Obama," Paterson said to cheers from the New York delegation and others inside Denver's Pepsi Center. "Barack Obama will restore prosperity and will make the changes we need to write a new chapter in the story of the promise of America."

The governor, who lost his vision because of an infection while an infant, said Obama would work with congressional leaders to overturn U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have undermined the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act.

The five-minute speech was the most militant and partisan that Paterson has made from a national stage since becoming governor on March 17 when Eliot Spitzer resigned. There also were echoes of Paterson's praise of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry at the 2004 convention in Boston.

On both occasions, Paterson showed flashes of his trademark humor. He feigned "shock" yesterday when the sparse crowd, responding to his open question, shouted "no" that Republican presumptive presidential nominee John McCain wasn't capable of bolstering the economy.

Paterson then cut into McCain, noting he had touted the Bush administration's economic policies. "If he's the answer to the question, the question must be

Company, FDA changing label on MS drug

From The Wall Street Journal August 26:

Biogen Idec Inc. and Elan Corp. are working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to amend the label for the multiple-sclerosis drug Tysabri after two patients in Europe got a serious brain disorder while taking it.

The FDA is working with the companies to amend the product labeling to inform patients of the two cases. A company spokeswoman said the updated label will be based on the two cases, which the company had confirmed in late July.

The patients had been taking the drug, as a sole treatment for multiple sclerosis, for more than a year, according to an alert the FDA issued to health-care professionals that was posted on the agency's Web site Aug. 25.

The drug is available in the U.S. only to patients with elapsing multiple sclerosis or Crohn's disease who are enrolled in a risk-minimization plan, under which every patient is closely monitored for serious infections.

The FDA said it still believes Tysabri, taken alone, may confer a lower risk of the brain disorder progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy than when it is used in combination with other treatments.

Following the FDA posting the notice on its Web site late Aug. 25, shares of Biogen rose about 2%, closing at $53.48, and Elan gained close to 5%, closing at $14.25. In after-hours trading, Biogen shares rose to $53.51, while those of Elan increased to $14.47.

Dancing away prejudice against Down syndrome in Argentina with Tango

From The Earth Times in London, UK:

Buenos Aires - Four couples move around the small dance floor to the tune of a tango coming from a CD player. Students, who cannot yet dance well, wait their turn and sit on colourful plastic chairs lined up against the wall and watching their friends in the meantime.

One of these onlookers is Martina. She loves to tango, and she proudly shows off her new black leather, high-heeled shoes or real tango shoes.

Every Thursday, she spends an hour on the bus which takes her to the tango lessons offered by the AMAR association.

According to its website, AMAR seeks to "develop abilities." And this tango school is unique in the world because it teaches people like Martina and her friends - all of whom have Down's Syndrome.

Tango, an erotic, melancholy dance invented by nostalgic immigrants in the early 20th century, is inseparable from Argentina.

Tango dancers, through their unique performances, give their audience a glimpse of Argentine culture, says AMAR tango instructor Carlos Rodriguez Robert.

"It is exactly the same with these dancers. It's only that they have other mental capacities," he notes.

Rodriguez Robert is proud of his dancers, whom he describes as "artistas."

The four advanced couples form a dance group that has already toured the whole country. People in the audience are often moved to tears, an enthusiastic Rodriguez Robert says.

"Most people assume that people with Down's Syndrome are incapable of doing anything."

However, the dancers' performances prove this assumption wrong. And yet the students do not find dancing easy.

"People like you and I need a year to reach a certain level," the instructor says.

His pupils, in turn, need about 10 years to learn to tango well as many have motor system and hearing problem while others have difficulty making themselves understood. Three psychologists stand by the dance instructors during the lessons.

These particular dancers are not easily disciplined. Rodriguez Robert groans and smiles when he talks about how hard it sometimes is to keep his pupils under control.
As soon as the music stops, the dancers just leave their partners standing. The instructor and his assistants then have to build new pairs, but the pupils bustle about, hug each other and chat, and it takes some effort to get them back to dancing.

Thirty years ago, a programme like this would have been unthinkable, Rodriguez Robert says as most parents were ashamed of their "handicapped" children and would have kept them well hidden behind closed doors.

Pedro Crespi, of the association for parents of children with Down Syndrome (ASPRA), agrees that things have changed for the better. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner recently ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he notes.

However, there is a gaping hole between legislation and reality. Although the law stipulates that every handicapped child has a right to special teaching, state schools fail to comply for financial reasons. Only expensive private schools offer such instruction.

"This leads to a situation where only the handicapped children of wealthy parents receive a school education," Crespi says.

Thus, only some 10 percent of all Argentine children with Down's Syndrome can attend school at all.

Such social discrimination continues into the workplace. According to Crespi, around 80 percent of all Down Syndrome sufferers in Argentina are unemployed.

The AMAR dance group, however, makes it remarkably clear to Argentines that people with Down's Syndrome should not be dismissed as clumsy as they can also become good workers, artists and even devoted tango dancers.

For Paralympics coverage, visit Australian TV online

Australia has already proudly reported that it will have the most TV coverage of the Paralympics in the world. Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) kicked off with a video Aug. 25 about the upcoming event for disabled athletes internationally.

ABC also has a wonderful Web page about the Paralympics with photos, athlete profiles and other news. It appears once the games begin, ABC will be posting video of events as well. For those of us who live in a country with little coverage of the Paralympics (USA, I'm talking to you!), it's a great resource, unless you can get to Beijing and see the event in person.

Not Dead Yet has new home

Stephen Drake, research analyst for the disability rights group Not Dead Yet, reports that the organization has a new home affiliated with the Center for Disability Rights (CDR) in Rochester, NY.

Diane Coleman, founder and executive director of Not Dead Yet, is now the Assistant Director of Advocacy at CDR. Not Dead Yet was formerly affiliated with the Progress Center for Independent Living in Forest Park, Ill.

New contact numbers and address:
Not Dead Yet
497 State St.
Rochester, NY 14608-1642
Phone: 585-697-1640
Fax: 585-697-1641

Robo-skeleton may add to mobility options for paraplegics

From the BBC August 26, which also has a video on the site to see the Robo-skeleton in motion:

A robotic suit is helping people paralysed from the waist down do what was previously considered impossible - stand, walk and climb stairs.

ReWalk users wear a backpack device and braces on their legs and select the activity they want from a remote control wrist band.

Leaning forwards activates body sensors setting the robotic legs in motion.

Users walk with crutches, controlling the suit through changes in centre of gravity and upper body movements.

The device effectively mimics the exoskeletion of a crab.

Former Israeli paratrooper Radi Kaiof has been paralysed for the last 20 years following an injury during his service in the Israeli military.

He says the device has changed his life.

"I never dreamed I would walk again. After I was wounded, I forgot what it's like. Only when standing up can I feel how tall I really am and speak to people eye to eye, not from below."

The device, which is now in clinical trials in Tel Aviv's Sheba Medical Centre, is the brainchild of engineer Amit Goffer, founder of Argo Medical Technologies, a small Israeli high-tech company.

It was Goffer's own paralysis that inspired him to look for an alternative to the wheelchair for mobility.

The company claims that by maintaining users upright on a daily basis, and exercising even paralysed limbs in the course of movement, the device can alleviate many of the health-related problems associated with long-term wheelchair use.

Kate Parkin, director of physical and occupational therapy at NYU Medical Center in the US said the potential benefits to the user were two-fold.

"Physically, the body works differently when upright. You can challenge different muscles and allow full expansion of the lungs.

"Psychologically, it lets people live at the upright level and make eye contact."

Dr Mark Bacon, an expert at the UK charity Spinal Research, said: "There are a number of devices about which stabilise the trunk and can help with gait.

"Often they are very bulky and are only used for rehabilitation in specialist centres."

He said ReWalk might be a good option for some people.

"Sitting down in a wheelchair can be an issue for some people. Devices like this one might be appealing. However, it might not be any better than a wheelchair in terms of convenience.

"And these devices are only suitable for people who still have good control over their hands and shoulders."

China quake survivor, now disabled, plans for future

From The Standard in Hong Kong:

Teenage Sichuan earthquake survivor Yang Liu - who had both legs amputated below the knee so she could be pulled from the ruins of her collapsed school - is dreaming of a university place in Hong Kong.

Brave Yang, 18, who spent 70 hours in the rubble after the May 12 quake and had her limbs removed without anesthesia, hopes to study chemistry and will visit Hong Kong University and Polytechnic University during her six-day trip to the territory.

Also on the itinerary for the wheelchair-bound teen are the more touristy spots, including Ocean Park, Disneyland and Lan Kwai Fong. She also plans to watch China's Olympic gold medalists who are set for a Hong Kong show on August 30.

The plucky teen, described by mainland media as "the poorest girl in the Sichuan earthquake," said Hong Kong was beautiful and she was happy about her first visit out of the mainland.

Yang, in Hong Kong courtesy of District 303 of the Lions Club International, will also visit some rehabilitation organizations.

Her health is now stable after several therapy sessions, and she will soon be fitted with artificial limbs.

Doctors took only about 20 minutes to remove her legs during the hasty on- site operation. With her legs crushed under tonnes of rubble, rescuers had feared infection would set in and prove fatal. Yang accepted her fate without complaint.

Disability, however, has not dampened the earthquake victim's hunger for learning.

Yang wants to complete her studies in a Shenzhen high school, which will give her a chance to enter university in Hong Kong.

Both of Yang's parents survived the magnitude 8 quake, as did her 11-year- old sister, but the family home was wrecked.

Yang recalled the events of May 12.

She and her classmates were having lessons when the quake struck.

Her parents' love and happy memories of being with friends kept her alive for those 70 hours, she said.

"For the dreams, hopes and care of my parents and friends, I have to survive," Yang kept repeating to herself.

But the ordeal - and the screams and moans of her classmates - stuck in her mind long after the quake. Many of those classmates never made it.

Yang became depressed but, with the encouragement of doctors, her will to live revived.

"I am still alive. When there is life, there is a way. Without my legs, I can still study in the university," Yang told herself.

To help her dreams come true, the Lions Club has given her a wheelchair and a notebook computer, while ReHabAid Society will provide free physical evaluation.

Meanwhile, a volunteer medical team in cooperation with the Beijing Disabled Persons Federation and the ReHabAid Society of the Polytechnic University will be going to Sichuan in September and October.

Awareness of mental illnesses growing in Cambodia

From the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia:

The life of 53-year-old Sok Mach fell apart when her marriage failed and she lost one of her children to a preventable childhood disease.

When she began suffering incapacitating pains, she assumed she was simply delirious with grief. Unable to get her life back on track, she never suspected that she was suffering from an undiagnosed psychological disorder.

"I got headaches, I couldn't sleep and I would vomit almost every day," she recalled. "I went to see a doctor and they diagnosed me with psychasthenia. Only then did things start to get better."

Psychasthenia, a disorder characterised by phobias, obsessions, compulsions and excessive anxiety, is one of many psychological conditions, recognition of which is now emerging into the Cambodian mainstream. But for a country so accustomed to physical hardship, it is often difficult for individuals and even health institutions to recognise, let alone diagnose, internal pain. It is not only Cambodia's turbulent history that has left a legacy of mental illness; the social and economic problems people encounter today are increasingly taking their toll.

Psychologists in Phnom Penh say they are now dealing not with long-buried psychological trauma but with contemporary psychosocial problems.

"We encounter a whole range of conditions in the younger generations: depression, anxiety and stress, along with psychological problems stemming from sexual abuse, dealing with HIV/Aids or other forms of severe trauma," says Dr Ken Wilcox of the Wilcox & Associates psychology practice in Phnom Penh.

"Psychologists in Cambodia are not dealing [primarily] with postwar trauma anymore," Wilcox said.

Chea Sophal, like Sok Mach, now realises that stress-related social problems were what triggered the onset of his mental illness. The Kandal province native says that he felt he "was a crazy person" for years before he got up the courage to ask for help.

"For many years I didn't want other people around me.... I couldn't control myself," he said.

Wilcox said unwillingness to seek professional help, coupled with a complete lack of knowledge about mental illness, was a common problem.

"Among the local population, we do see many instances of psychological trauma related to family and cultural issues." he says.

"Often people do not know how to cope with the stresses they suffer, and so they internalize it. They have no outlet," Wilcox said.

Yim Sobotra, deputy head of psychiatry at the Cambodian-Russian Friendship Hospital, acknowledged that the predominance of family-related stress means that
women were most afflicted by mental illness.

"Most patients are women, twice as many as men, because women get pressure from both their families and society," he said. His hospital, which deals with up to 200 patients seeking regular consultations and medical prescriptions, receives around 20 new patients a day. But he worries that there are still many people who are unable to recognise the seriousness of their psychological problems.

"Some of them don't know they have a mental illness. They think they have been hurt by black magic or that they have done something to offend their guardian spirit."

Traditional ways of dealing with different kinds of psychological disorders are still common among the older generation of Cambodians, who are more likely to seek help from herbalists or faith healers. But Wilcox is more optimistic for the future.

"While older generations will suppress their problems or look to spiritual means to cope, the younger generations are starting to seek help when they are concerned about their psychological health," he said."We now see many 15- to 25-year-olds who see that there are options available to them."

Kang San, program coordinator of the Trans-Cultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO), also expressed the importance of a back-to-basics approach to psychological health.

"I think we can reduce the number of instances of mental health problems among Cambodian people in the future if we can address some of the more serious issues in society right now," he said.

For Kang San, poverty alleviation and education will play an integral part. "If we can reduce the poverty of those with psychological problems, provide them with a job and educate them about their illness, I hope we can effectively treat them."

A surge in autism rates among Somali children in Minnesota

From the intro to the story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

As an educator, Anne Harrington had her suspicions.

As a pediatrician, Dr. Dan McLellan also had his.

Both noticed an unusual number of Somali children turning up in their autism programs in Minneapolis and began to wonder why.

Now that question has captured the attention of state and federal health officials, as fears about a possible surge in autism have swept Minnesota's Somali community.

Autism, a brain disorder that can cause disruptive and withdrawn behavior, has been rising rapidly throughout the country. The discovery of a cluster among Somalis, experts say, could help scientists shed light on why. Or, it could just be a statistical fluke.

Recent news reports have prompted speculation about all kinds of potential culprits, from vitamin D deficiency to genetics to vaccines.

In Minneapolis, fears have been fueled by some puzzling statistics. Last year, Somali children made up just under 6 percent of the school population, but 17 percent of those in the early childhood autism programs (14 of 81 children). The numbers have been creeping up for several years, especially among young children.

"People are worried," said Saeed Fahia, who heads a Somali community group. "Nobody remembers any autistic children in Somalia. I'm sure there must have been some, but there were not that many."

Wheelchair basketball gaining popularity in Uganda


When Monica Piloya decided she wanted to play basketball, she did not know where to turn. Sure, there were women's basketball teams in Gulu. But Piloya, 31, who severely injured one of her legs in a landmine explosion in Gulu in 1996, she has to limp or walk with a cane.

Then, last August, she found refuge in Gulu's start-up basketball team for the disabled, a small operation that has grown from three to nearly 15 members in its first year.

"I love wheelchair basketball," Piloya said. "I really like shooting and dribbling. It is so exercising."

The team has grown significantly in terms of members and team enthusiam.

They practice often at the Gulu Disabled Persons Union, according to head coach Denis Akena, also the chairperson of the Gulu Hawks.

He said he likes coaching this team for many reasons. "When you see someone with a disability smiling, laughing and enjoying the game, it really motivates you," he said.

The best part, at least for the players, is that they now have a chance to be athletic - to play a sport that usually requires the quickness of legs.

"After the games, I feel physically fit. I get the exercise," says 19-year-old Florence Acen, a lifelong Gulu resident. "Usually disabled people are neglected, so I feel happy that I can play the game even with my disability."

They practice once a week at the union in the eastern part of town. Practices last a couple of hours and include team meetings, warm-up drills and three-on-three competitions.

However, the team is hindered by the lack of sponsorship. It does not have proper wheelchairs to play in or uniforms to wear.

Currently, the team wears extra Hawks jerseys and uses wheelchairs that are made for everyday use rather than competitive sports.

Wheelchairs produced specifically for basketball, which have better features such as belts, can cost upwards of sh400,000($250) - a costly endeavour for a group without much support, according to the Gulu team's project coordinator, Patrick Okello, 25.

The union donated the wheelchairs - which have a plastic chair base - but now only three remain. The rest have succumbed to injury.

Team member Irene Laker, 28, said the lack of appropriate wheelchairs cause many problems when she competes.

"It's slow and bad for turning," she said. "We fall over a lot."

The fact that this is Uganda's only basketball team with people with disabilities also affects play, as they are looking for competition that is nowhere to be found.

The closest to competition the players can find is in Lira. While there is currently a court in Lira for the athletes to practice, there is no one to lead them, said Okello. The lack of basketball teams for the disabled is not uncommon.

Just nine out of 53 African countries have wheelchair basketball teams, according to the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation, a non-profit organisation that strives to provides basketball opportunities for those with disabilities.

Those countries - Algeria, Cameroon, Eritrea, Egypt, Gabon, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco and South Africa - have the opportunity to participate in world competitions.

If nothing else, the athletes now have the opportunity to exercise, meet and practice a sport they love, despite obvious logistical disadvantages compared to other basketball players.

Okello dislocated his spine in 1999 at the age of 16 when he fell from a tree. Since then, the Gulu University student of development has tried to bring attention to persons with disabilities in Gulu.

This team, he said, is a good start. "This is one way of social development to help persons with disabilities," he said. "Hopefully it can help all of the disabled community."

Senator makes case for assisting Nigerians with disabilities

From This Day with news from Africa:

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory , Senator Anthony Agbo, (PDP Ebonyi North) Aug. 24 enjoined governments at all levels to show concern for persons with disabilities, expressing dismay that such class of people had been left in their ruins.

Speaking to newsmen in Abakaliki, barely two weeks after he organized a summit for the physically challenged in Abuja , he tasked both governments and organized bodies to always give considerations to the physically challenged in everything they do especially in the constructions of public buildings that are to be used by both the able and disabled alike.

Agbo who is the patron of the National Association of Persons with Disabilities, disclosed that the body was already putting up a blueprint on the type of assistance they require from public spirited individuals and government, adding that assisting the needy tallies with biblical injunctions.

"We are going to establish the association (for the disabled) in every state, teach them how to read and write, that is for the deaf and dumb, just to remove from them the stigma of their disability, even those with mental disabilities, the mad people on the streets are going to be part of the group because they are disabled," he said.

One reason why he decided taking on such philanthropy, Senator Agbo said: "It is a religious duty of being a brother's keeper. I feel concerned on them and it was not just a social function but a religious responsibility as one who worships his God. I have always been concerned on how the disabled people are forgotten and stigmatized as if they committed heinous crimes.

"I was also moved by the inaction of governments and organizations that make no considerations for them, especially in buildings. They are left to street begging and we want to see if they can develop their own talents and skill through sensitization to help them realize their God-given special gifts."

The Senator stated that the disabled organization will use the four acres of land that has been promised by the FCT minister in Abuja to erect a skills acquisition and welfare centre.

"I have made up my mind on this mission, whether as a Senator or not, I will continue to assist the disabled, it was designed from the spirit but we are hopeful that both the private and public sectors will assist us," Agbo promised.

Blind Malaysians denied access to banking services

From The Star in Malaysia:

Life has never been easy and if you’re disabled, it gets tougher.

Earlier this year, 31-year-old blind entrepreneur Allan Wong wanted to open a savings account at a bank in Kepong.

However, the bank officer refused to give him the application form as the bank policy did not allow a blind person to own an independent account.

Disappointed, Wong went to another bank in Kepong and received a similar response from the bank officer.

“I was told that if I were to have an account it must be a joint account with a sighted person and the ATM card must be under the person’s name as well,” he said at a press conference held at KL Sentral on Aug 23.

His friend, Ajong Sidim, 52, had managed to apply for an ATM card for himself. However, when he went to collect his pin number from the bank, the bank manager said Sidim had no right to apply for the card in the first place due to his condition.

“I argued with him that I was given the application form by the bank employee and the person was aware of my condition. But the manager refused to give me the pin number,” said Sidim.

Mokhtar Soom, 53, experienced other issues with the local bank services.

He was made to get a waiting number and had to wait for his turn as there were no special counters for the disabled and the elderly.

“I can hear the number being announced but how am I suppose to know the number on my ticket? There are some banks with special counters which makes it convenient for us.

“On another incident, when I went to apply for a housing loan, I was told by the staff member to bring three copies of the sales and purchase agreement but when I returned with it, they refused to give me a loan saying that I was an ‘income earner’. Isn’t that a good thing,” said Mokhtar.

For Gunabal Govindasamy he felt that the banks have marginalised the blind by not allowing them to own an independent bank account.

He said banks were only interested in its own security.

“Some of us are lucky to have ATM cards as these banks most probably overlooked our condition. And we know how to use these cards at the ATM machine because we have memorised the procedures. Otherwise, there is no Braille on the punch points or any voice system like it is in Singapore,” he said.

Govindasamy added that they had been e-mailing the Bank Negara and the Finance Ministry about their banking problems but nothing had been done so far.

“Due to this discrimination we have not been able to make progress in our business ventures. It has also led us be victims of house robberies, snatch thefts because we are forced to keep our cash with us,” he said.

Nineteen NY disabled delegates attend Democratic Convention

The NY Times reported August 24 that the Democratic Convention has 19 NY disabled delegates, and 14 who are veterans.

The story also focused on one disabled NY delegate, Anastasia Somoza, who is a long-time friend of the Clintons:

Anastasia Somoza’s first brush with politics came before she even turned 10, attending City Council meetings at her mother’s side. She and her twin sister, Alba, were born with cerebral palsy. Their mother, Mary, fought bitterly with the city school system to have Alba, whose case of cerebral palsy is more severe than Anastasia’s, placed in a regular classroom instead of in special education.

The case drew national attention after Anastasia, who was 9 at the time, appealed to President Clinton from her wheelchair during a question-and-answer session for children at the White House.

That encounter, she said, forged her bond to the Clintons. When she was 16, Ms. Somoza volunteered for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s first Senate campaign. She then interned for Mrs. Clinton after she was elected and volunteered for her again during this year’s presidential campaign.

Now 24, Ms. Somoza, whose father’s family ruled Nicaragua for much of the 20th century, said that as a disabled person, she admired how Mrs. Clinton continued fighting to become the Democratic nominee even after many people were counting her out. “If you believe in something, don’t give up,” said Ms. Somoza, who advocates for the disabled and will be an alternate delegate in Denver. “I really, really felt that she had the experience I experienced.”

British teen's protest against inaccessible movie theater may lead to its relocation to accessible building

From the Hereford Times in the UK:

Hereford's Odeon cinema has said it is in talks with developers about re-locating to another city site.

Speaking outside the Commercial Road building, Odeon’s regional manager Jo Rigby said further details were not available but would be issued “in due course”.

Her comments came as a group demonstrated outside the venue after wheelchair-bound Hereford schoolgirl Amy Clements had to crawl up the cinema’s stairs to watch a film because there was no disabled access.

Fifteen-year-old Amy, a pupil at the Bishop of Hereford’s Bluecoat School, was surrounded by more than 30 friends and family as they gathered signatures in support of their campaign to make Odeon wheelchair-friendly.

“I didn’t think this many people would turn up,” said Amy, from Saxon Gate, off Ross Road. “The cinema should definitely have wheelchair access and I hope today will help them change their minds.”

Odeon says it has not been feasible to provide wheelchair access, prompting the search for a change of venue. But despite the news that new sites are being looked at, the protest group is not raising its hopes.

Nicola Hill, whose daughter Lauren was one of the demonstration organisers, said a new cinema could be some time away, and questioned what people in Amy’s situation were to do in the meantime.

“It’s not the fact that Odeon can’t fit anything, they won’t,” she said.

“We all hope this protest will make them think twice about installing disabled facilities as soon as possible, but to be honest I don’t hold out much hope.”

Amy’s misfortune at the Odeon has prompted The Courtyard to offer her a family ticket to a film of her choice during its autumn season.

The theatre’s chief executive, Martyn Green, said his venue offered facilities for all sections of the community.

Number of Taiwanese with disabilities rising

From China Post in Taipei:

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The number of citizens with physical or mental disabilities has continued to increase in Taiwan, having climbed to 4.47 percent of the country's population as of the end of June 2008, according to a report released Aug. 22 by the Ministry of the Interior.

The figure rose from 4.37 percent at the end of June 2007 and 3.37 percent at the end of 2001, the report stated.

At the end of June 2008, the number of registered disabled individuals totaled 1.027 million, up 26,000, or 2.6 percent, over the year-earlier level.

Of these disabled individuals, those with limb disorders formed the largest group, accounting for 38.9 percent of the total disabled population, followed by those with hearing impairments at 10.7 percent and those suffering loss of important organ function at 10.37 percent.

Multiple disabilities accounted for 9.7 percent, chronic mental disorder accounted for 9.6 percent, mental retardation for 8.98 percent, sight impairments 5.34 percent, dementia 2.46 percent, speech disorders 1.27 percent, and other disabilities 2.64 percent.

Compared with the same time last year, the number of people suffering loss of important organ function increased by 6,245, which represented the biggest rise, followed by an increase of 4,261 among persons with chronic mental disorders.

In terms of percentage, the largest growth, 13.8 percent, was recorded for people with dementia.

Meanwhile, 36.15 percent of the disabled population was determined to have mild disabilities,34.3 percent moderate disabilities, 18.26 percent serious disabilities, and 11.29 percent extremely serious disabilities.

Malaysians with disabilities hope for disability-friendly 2009 government budget

You can read the story from Bernama, the Malaysian National News Agency, here.

Jim Abbott says people with disabilities need to be given opportunities

From when Jim Abbott, an Olympian and major league baseball player who was born without a right hand, spoke at the Little League World Series:

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Jim Abbott brought a message to the Little League World Series that he urged people to heed.

Abbott's message wasn't a slogan or political statement. His message served as a simple reminder to American employers that a disability wasn't a liability.

He's Exhibit A for that message.

"I was lucky that my talents were on the baseball field," said Abbott, the former Olympian who pitched for 10 seasons in the Major Leagues. "But there may be people with talents in other areas."

It is that message Abbott, born without a right hand, is bringing to more places than Williamsport. In partnership with Major League Baseball and the U.S. Department of Labor, Abbott is helping to spread that message through a campaign called Proving Individuals with Talent Can Help or PITCH.

According Labor Department statistics, two-thirds of the 50 million disabled Americans, a deep pool of untapped talent, are jobless. Those men and women face obstacles in trying to prove to employers their disability doesn't limit them, Abbott said.

He can tell any boss who's open to listening to look at what he accomplished. From Flint, Mich., to a long career in the big leagues, Abbott succeeded in the face of challenges that might have forced lesser people to relent.

What helped Abbott to succeed was the strong support system behind him. It all began with his father, who didn't let his son dwell on what he couldn't do. His son could do whatever he set his mind to.

Baseball coaches proved willing to give Abbott an opportunity.

"What's special about baseball is the inclusiveness of it," he said shortly before he went out to throw a ceremonial first pitch at the World Series. "If you can do it, the opportunity will be there."

Blind middle schooler plays on football team

From The Emporia Gazette in Kansas:

Having been completely blind since the age of 6, Charlie Wilks doesn’t have much daylight at his disposal when he steps on the football field for Emporia Middle School’s (EMS) eighth-grade team.

Good thing, then, that he has the tenacious mentality of a nose guard to scare the living daylights out of the guys on the other side of the ball.

Once the ball’s snapped, Charlie’s off on his mission to blast through the offensive line, hit the ballcarrier and bring him down.

“It’s like as soon as I hear ‘Hut,’ I’m like, ‘Waaaaaaaahhhh!’” Charlie said. “And I just take out whoever gets in my way.”

Charlie’s passion for football and on-field tenacity are things he came by before surgery to remove a brain tumor, discovered when he was 5, took his sight away. He was inspired to play by his grandfather, Al Reynolds, who played offensive guard for the Kansas City Chiefs during the 1960s.

“I was naturally interested in it when I was a kid,” Charlie said, “because I’d sit down on the couch and be watching TV, and all of a sudden I see these guys going, ‘Waaaaaaahhh — I’m gonna kill you!’ You see these guys hitting each other, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I wanna do that.’”

When Charlie joined EMS’ seventh-grade team last year, head coach Beau Welch knew he would learn as much about adapting a blind person to football as Charlie would learn about football itself.

Welch, now an an assistant on the eighth-grade team to head coach Mike Schoenberger, said getting Charlie a position on the field was a matter of finding a spot for him to be safe and comfortable. Nose guard turned out to be a good fit.

“He just loves attacking,” Welch said. “In fact, last year — in a game he never did, but in practice — he made about three or four tackles where he busted through the line, and they went up the middle, and he hit the running back.