Thursday, June 30, 2011

Disability Studies Quarterly Call for Editor

From the Society for Disability Studies:

Disability Studies Quarterly
June 2011

Disability Studies Quarterly (DSQ) is the publication of the Society for Disability Studies (SDS) and the flagship journal of disability studies scholarship. It is a multidisciplinary and international journal of interest to social scientists, scholars in the humanities and arts, disability rights advocates, and others concerned with the issues of people with disabilities. It represents the full range of methods, epistemologies, perspectives, and content that the field of disability studies embraces. DSQ is committed to developing theoretical and practical knowledge about disability and to promoting the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in society. DSQ is published in an online, open access format and is hosted by The Ohio State University Libraries as part of a KnowledgeBank initiative.

SDS now seeks to appoint a new Editor or Editors to replace the current team, which will complete their term on June 30, 2012. The new Editor(s) will work with SDS and the DSQ Editorial Board. They will closely collaborate with The Ohio State University Libraries team, which publishes the journal.

Responsibilities include:
• Overseeing and ensuring the timely delivery of the journal in 4 issues per year;
• Collaborating with the publication team at The OSU Libraries
• Chairing and leading the work of Editorial Board;
• Recruiting, managing, and editing manuscripts
• Liaising with authors and reviewers over the peer review of manuscripts and making decisions on manuscripts;
• Appointing and liaising with Review or special section editors;
• Liaising with representatives of SDS;
• Representing DSQ at conferences and other events as appropriate.

A $5000 annual payment is available to assist with the administration and expenses associated with the post.

Qualifications: Applicants should possess: project management skills and the ability to meet deadlines; previous publishing and editorial experience; the ability to recruit quality manuscripts; excellent organizational, networking, and communication skills; and the ability to work as part of a creative and dynamic, and multidisciplinary editorial and publishing team. Comfort with online information management systems and collaborating remotely is essential. SDS especially welcomes editorial teams comprised of members with expertise in varied disciplines within disability studies to apply.

Applicants should send a letter of application describing the qualifications, administrative resources, and ideas they bring to the post. Please attach curriculum vitae for all applicants.

The closing date for applications is September 15, 2011. The appointment will be made by SDS, in consultation with a search committee and the journal’s Editorial Board. The new editors will be announced in December 2011. They should plan to travel to The OSU for an orientation to The OSU Libraries Team before responsibilities commence in July 2012.

Applications and questions can be directed to the Chair of the Search Committee:

Susan Baglieri
Email (preferred):
Phone: 718.488.1387
Fax: 718.488.3472

Long Island University- Brooklyn Campus
School of Education
1 University Plaza
Brooklyn, NY

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In Russia, real estate experts, disabled people say Moscow lacks adapted apartments, housing programs and accessible infrastructure

From The Moscow News in Russia. In the picture, a fifth grader using a staircase hoist cart for wheelchairs at the Comprehensive Secondary School.

For five years Moscow City Hall has been trying to force construction companies and municipal departments to adapt homes for people with limited mobility.

Much as the city’s authorities wished to make Moscow more accessible, there are only slight changes so far to housing and infrastructure. Real estate experts and people with limited mobility say the capital lacks adapted apartments, housing programs and infrastructure.

“The department does its best to ensure that this category of Muscovites receives specially equipped apartments in time. The law says that apartments adapted for disabled people are provided under a contract of uncompensated use,” Nikita Kolesin, spokesman for City Hall’s housing department, told The Moscow News.

The department’s own figures show there are 429 families with one member in a wheelchair that need special housing in Moscow.

Between 2008 and 2010, 241 specially designed apartments for disabled people were built in the capital.

So far this year 10 families in Moscow have received such apartments, taking the total since 2005 to 529.

Moscow’s Soviet-era accommodations lack special infrastructure for disabled residents, which the newer business and luxury sector offers.

Real estate experts say Moscow would have to rebuild most of its housing, although construction firms now have to meet new regulations on building standards.

Anna Levitova, managing partner at Evans Property, told The Moscow News about an American family with children, one of whom was in a wheelchair, which was looking for a home.

“This was very embarrassing as it turned out that there were no apartment blocks where you can get to the elevator without climbing up the steps. There simply were no elevators where the width of the doors would allow entry in a wheelchair,” she said.

For comparison, the United States has since 1978 required public and state property to be adapted for the use of people with disabilities.

“For our American clients the experience with Moscow’s real estate market was shocking,” Levitova said.

Some real estate experts say it is rare that a disabled person tries to rent or buy an apartment in Moscow. They simply don’t come.

“Frankly, I cannot recall a single case of dealing with people with limited mobility. It is difficult to suppose that such a person in search of work would decide to move from another region to the capital,” Maria Zhukova, first deputy director at MIEL Arenda, told The Moscow News.

Many people with disabilities are jobless and have no means to rent or buy an apartment, so the real estate market in Moscow has very few suitable apartments for disabled people.

“Rental prices of housing do not change if a client is disabled, but as housing for this category of people imposes specific requirements, the cost may be somewhat higher than average,” Alexander Ziminsky, director of elite property department at Penny Lane Realty, told The Moscow News.

Maria Gendeleva, an expert on inclusive education from Perspektiva NGO and a wheelchair user, told The Moscow News that people with disabilities found it near-impossible to rent or buy suitable apartments in Moscow.

“First of all, it’s almost impossible to ask a landlord to adapt an apartment or the entrance to the apartment block for such people.

“Plus, the housing is very expensive and disabled people very often have no jobs, meaning that they can only rely on apartments that they can receive from the state,” Gendeleva said.

Gendeleva said that if construction companies built at least 10 specially designed apartments per building that would help many people with disabilities.

“There would be more chances for the disabled to receive an apartment,” she said.

The biggest problem with housing for people with disabilities, Gendeleva said, is the lack of infrastructure inside the building and outside of it.

“People with disabilities can’t even get out of their apartments, as the buildings are not equipped at all – no special lifts, no ramps. So, a person stays indoors and becomes very asocial.”

In Gendeleva’s case, she said it took three years to get a ramp built to the entrance of the building she was living in.

Among them:

-- 14,300 people are visually impaired or blind
-- 3,700 are deaf or hard of hearing
-- 20,300 have muscular and orthopedic disabilities
-- 1,700 have cerebral palsy

City Hall’s infrastructure statistics:

-- 54 per cent of public buildings are officially adapted for the disabled
Entrances to residential buildings have 1,221 lifting platforms
-- 500 are equipped with remote or extra visual controls
-- Another 138 lifting platforms will be installed in 2011
-- 27,000 ramps have been built around the city
-- Over 2,000 parking spaces for the disabled were allocated in 2010


-- 66 apartments for the disabled were built in residential blocks in 2010
-- 111 apartments are scheduled to be built in 2011
-- 740 apartments were adjusted for people with disabilities in 2010

In Canada, researchers develop one-button Skype system to aid disabled people, senior citizens

From The Times Colonist in Canada:

When wheelchair-bound Luke Melchior (pictured) recently considered a surprise party for his wife, his disability made it impossible. He can't dial a telephone number without help or her knowing.

But Melchior, who lives with muscular dystrophy, has big hopes for new system called CanConnect. It's an enhancement, or simplification, of Skype, the faceto-face computer link that allows people to talk live, on screen.

With CanConnect, Melchior can find a contact, dial it and hang up, all with the push of just one button. With that capacity, he can make secret arrangements for something like a surprise party - or simply reach his friends.

"Trust me, anything that can increase my independence will be much welcomed," said Melchior, 38, of Victoria.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark met with Melchior at the University of Victoria Monday and the two conducted a demonstration of the CanConnect system.

Clark was on hand to announce a $3.5-million grant to assist the development of a partnership called Connect for Care. It's dedicated to using the Internet to create tools to build personal support networks among health-care providers, clients, patients and families.

Clark said the new project is a perfect fit with the government's policies dedicated to allowing seniors to "age in place" - in their own homes, where possible, and in their communities.

"It will help senior citizens stay in the communities they have grown to know, where they have raised their children, where they made their lives and in the communities that they have built," said Clark.

The government's grant will help build a partnership among three groups:

- CanAssist, a UVic organization dedicated to creating technological devices to assist people with disabilities.

- Tyze Personal Networks, a technology service that creates personal, private, secure online connections for people vulnerable to isolation, like seniors or people with disabilities or severe illnesses.

- The Plan Institute for Caring Citizenship, a group providing training and assistance related to family leadership and social networks to a wide variety of groups. Its mission is to reduce the isolation of marginalized people.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

India on verge of eradicating polio

From the Los Angeles Times:

Reporting from Moradabad, India — Scientists, health workers and community outreach officials in India believe they're finally on the cusp of a major milestone, the defeat of polio throughout the country.

The polio virus, which attacks the nervous system, has been largely eliminated in most other countries through immunizations. But it has remained a frustratingly significant threat in India, as well as in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, largely because of unsanitary conditions. It wasn't too long ago that polio killed or crippled 100,000 children in India each year.

In a nation that sees itself as a future superpower, the disease's continued widespread existence puts the spotlight on the side of India where most of its 1 billion population lives, far from the widely promoted "Incredible India" advertisement campaigns, expensive BMWs and glitzy shopping malls.

Moradabad, in western Uttar Pradesh state, has for some time been among the worst-affected polio districts worldwide, because of poverty, dense living conditions, poor sanitation, entrenched superstition and transient population. The disease spreads when virus-infected fecal matter enters a person's digestive system, usually through contaminated food, water or hand-to-mouth contact.

But now, as a result of a more effective vaccine, billions of dollars spent over many years and other factors, there are signs of success.

The number of reported wild polio cases in India, the kind that most often causes paralysis, has dropped dramatically from hundreds just two years ago to only one in 2011, and none in Uttar Pradesh. Also promising are record-level numbers of immunizations and virus-free water samples in places such as the slums of New Delhi and Mumbai.

"It's a little premature to take out the champagne," said Lieven Desomer, UNICEF's chief polio manager. "But we're extremely encouraged."

About 100 million Indian children younger than 5 in lower-risk areas receive the oral polio vaccine two or three times annually, and about 70 million children in high risk areas such as Uttar Pradesh receive it 10 times a year.

Donor organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, Rotary International and foreign governments have set an ambitious goal: to eliminate polio worldwide by 2013.

Some people in India remain wary. There have been near-victories before. And polio is a wily opponent. The real test will come after the July-September monsoon season, when water-borne transmission is greatest.

Furthermore, nations are considered polio-free only after going three years without an outbreak, something that requires constant vigilance. New epidemics can flare quickly.

Critics say the efforts to beat polio have commanded a disproportionate share of resources and that money could be better spent on deadlier diseases. Dr. Yash Paul, a pediatrician based in Jaipur, also argues that reporting is skewed by Indian officials inflating progress to protect their jobs.

Deepak Kapur, a New Delhi-based printer and head of Rotary International's Indian polio program, said one of the biggest problems, particularly in impoverished Muslim communities, is a suspicion that vaccines are actually chemicals designed to sterilize their children.

Muslim cleric Mohammad Omar, 37, is a key ally in fighting such misconceptions. From the Moradabad mosque's loudspeaker, usually reserved for calls to prayer, he belts out his message across the neighborhood. "I recommend you get polio drops for your young children today."

He says people trust him. "And it's not just for them," he said, dressed in a light blue traditional shalwar kameez and green scarf. "If someone gets polio and I could've prevented it, I must answer on judgment day."

Neighborhoods using the vaccination as leverage for obtaining government services present another challenge. Such services in India are often poor and corruption is entrenched. Late former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi once said that often less than 15% of government spending reaches its intended recipients. So when polio vaccinators show up, they're sometimes a lightning rod for pent-up frustration, prompting some residents to resist unless they get other benefits.

"Some say, 'If you give us a road, we'll let our children be vaccinated,'" Kapur said. "Their kids become a bargaining chip."

Health workers respond by trying to explain that the residents are only hurting themselves.

Another challenge comes when children contract polio despite repeated inoculation, which parents cite as "proof" the vaccines don't work. However, filth, limited clean drinking water and lack of breastfeeding result in chronic diarrhea, leaving children unable to hold the vaccine in their bodies for long, said UNICEF specialist Rod Curtis.

Haddi Mill, a community along Moradabad's rail tracks filled with impoverished migrants from West Bengal, is of particular concern to scientists because the only significant case of wild polio this year came from West Bengal. Medical experts say everyone traveling home is a potential conduit for re-infection.

"It's very alarming," said Dr. Hamid Jafari, the World Health Organization's polio project manager in India. "We don't want any virus getting a foothold."

Aiding in the fight are local women put in charge of getting neighborhoods inoculated. Handouts distributed at the vaccination booths to attract more parents include wheat supplements, whistles and visors. And teams of children known as bulawa tolis, or calling groups, go house to house on inoculation days browbeating parents.

"If parents refuse, I keep at it," 12-year-old Aggarwal said. "I enjoy helping."

In Kansas, man with CP becomes a "kicking guru" to train football players

From The Morning Sun in Kan.

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Not many people know what they want to do for the rest of their lives when they’re 4 years old and not many people get to live it.

Doug Blevins (pictured) knew what he wanted to do when he was 4, just as long as it involved football.

“I've got cerebral palsy and could never play,” Blevins said. “I got interested in football when I was 4 years old. I got involved in a Pop Warner program and a Little League program in my hometown of Abingdon, Va. I started learning from a coaches' perspective. I knew I wanted to work in professional football and do this for a living.

“So, about my 10th grade year of high school, 1978, I began to study kicking because nobody knew anything about it and it led to being my specialty, to a college scholarship and now that's all I've ever done. I wouldn't know how to do a real job if I had one. Football, pro football and college football, have been my entire life.”

According to a 2004 Sports Illustrated article, Blevins was a huge Dallas Cowboys fan, coming of age during the halcyon days of “America’s Team” — Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Bob Hayes, Calvin Hill, etc., and head coach Tom Landry. As a kid, he wrote Landry and Staubach letters and they wrote him back, answering his questions, telling him about their lives or the game, wishing him well and sending him signed photos.

Blevins studied kicking like nobody had ever studied the subject. He ordered every tape, every instructional manual and he watched every National Football League kicker on film, especially focusing in on Hall of Fame-caliber kickers like Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen and what made them successful. Blevins noticed good and bad tendencies and began incorporating his observations into a way to make kickers better at their livelihood.

Overcoming skepticism from management professionals unlikely to hire anybody who’s never played football to instruct their high-paid players, even kickers, Blevins eventually proved himself a guru and established a successful career of his own as kicking consultant.

“I've been with the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, NFL Europe, Arena Football League,” he said. “I've worked personally with Adam Vinatieri of the Colts and previously of the Patriots. We know what Adam did.”

Vinatieri credits Blevins for his kicking success — “I wouldn’t be here without him,” Vinatieri said in Sports Illustrated.

Players like Vinatieri — who kicked two Super Bowl-winning field goals for the Patriots — and Buffalo Bills punter Brian Moorman have given kickers and punters greater credibility in recent years as being “real” football players integral to the game, less associated with images like Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian’s failed pass in the Super Bowl or the Charlie Brown who never got to kick the ball due to Lucy and her skullduggery.

Never mind that, in 1943, Sammy Baugh led the NFL in passing (23 touchdowns), interceptions (11) and punting (45.9 yard average). Of course, those were the days of two-way and three-way players, not specialization and situational substitutions.

“Kicking is underrated, very overlooked and so forth,” Blevins said. “It's a science because the guys who do it well make it look easy.”

Blevins discovered an unlikely gift and he continues to give back, instructing potentially successful kickers at his kicking camps, which he held for the first time in Pittsburg Thursday-Saturday at Hutchinson Field.

Nine area athletes attended the Saturday morning session and Blevins said there will be a second kicking camp in Pittsburg July 21-23.

“It's been real successful,” Blevins said. “We put it together quickly, in a matter of days. We have some good kids out here. I am real pleased with how the Pittsburg kids have come along. They've been hitting the ball real well.”

Blevins said this was his first visit to Pittsburg and he loves what he’s seen of the town, only encouraging him to hold future kicking camps in town.

“First time I've been here,” Blevins said. “I've wanted to move my business west, to Texas or Kansas because of their high school football and how prominent it is here. This has been fun and gives me a good idea of what I can expect when I move west from Virginia.”

Equipped with the ability to spot kicking talent, Blevins mentioned Pittsburg High School sophomore Zach Stewart and 8-year-old Cruz Blair of Frontenac.

On Stewart: He's an offensive tackle here, a sophomore, and he was saying, 'I can't do this. I can't do this. I can't do this.' Now, today, he's out here crushing the ball. That's what you want to see in a three-day or four-day program . . . to have kids come in and get better. He's done that.

On Blair: He's 8 years old and started hitting the ball yesterday. He's going to be special, a phenomenal kid. A lot of people might say, 'How can you tell?' I've dealt with a lot of young men at that age who are in the National Football League. He's done a great job.

Blevins thinks Stewart could fill the void at kicker for PHS after the graduation of previous kickers Ryan Buckner and Drew Mattson, and he called Blair a kicker with unlimited potential.

On Saturday, it seemed like his instruction was paying off, as kick after kick made their way between the uprights at Hutchinson Field. And, not only those footballs kicked by St. Mary’s Colgan All-State kicker Austin Barone.

“Obviously, at a camp like this, you come in and hit the mechanics, the basics like where the plant foot comes down, the positioning of your body upon contact, the follow through and teaching kids what the objectives are,” Blevins said.

Providence, R.I., woman with Down syndrome lives independently, thanks to a network of assistants providing a new style of care

From The Providence Journal:

Megan Reynolds (pictured) is chatting with visitors, her foot resting on her knee as she puts on a sneaker, preparing for a trip to the gym.

Amie Cabral, next to her on the couch, gives Reynolds’ elbow a little nudge. “Wrong foot,” she says.

Reynolds, 22, switches feet. She resumes tying her sneaker and answering questions about her relationship with Cabral, 20 –– a Rhode Island College student who is one of her four employees.

“I usually prefer women to men,” Reynolds explains, “because women have better ways to help me put my emotions in check. My anger is an issue. …

“They help me with my daily living skills. They help me by bringing me to the doctors. They remind me to get my medication when I need to take it. They help with transportation to social events with friends.”

Reynolds, who has Down syndrome, participates in a program called self-directed care. With her mother coordinating, she uses the state money that supports her (in her case, about $35,000 a year) to hire her own assistants, rather than having an agency take care of her.

She lives with a roommate in a Providence ranch house, and personal assistants come to help for 45 to 55 hours a week. On her own, she takes the city bus to her job as an office worker and also does volunteer work.

Reynolds is the new face of developmental disabilities –– a young adult who never lived in an institution, who went to school, who takes care of herself and who has high expectations for independence and employment.

“She appears very, very capable if you were to meet her, and she is very capable, but she also needs help,” says Reynolds’ mother, Renee Doran.

The arrangement that supports Megan Reynolds exemplifies the web of services that have grown up since the state started moving people out of the Ladd Center, the notorious state institution, in the 1980s — a web that providers and advocates say is now at risk of unraveling.

The system of care for developmentally disabled people is facing an upheaval, made all the more difficult by expected drastic cuts in funding for services. Starting July 1, the state is revamping its payment methodology, introducing a new system intended to increase fairness and accountability.

The new system, called Project Sustainability, is also intended to save money — but not nearly as much as the House of Representatives wants to cut.

The House Friday approved $213 million for services to people with developmental disabilities in the fiscal year that begins Friday. That’s $25 million less than the revised budget for the current fiscal year, and $11 million less than what the governor recommended. (Because these services are funded by Medicaid, just under half of the reduction is savings for the state; the rest is federal matching funds that the state will not receive.)

Project Sustainability has been in development for two years, with the participation of providers. But the House budget cuts are new and unexpected, and come on the heels of three consecutive years of cutbacks. Even before the latest changes, several provider agencies had sued the state over payment cuts.

“The cuts are just so massive, it’s so hard to get my head around,” said Thomas P. Kane, president and CEO of CranstonARC, an agency serving some 400 people with developmental disabilities. “We’re going to have to stop some of the services we do.”

“There’s no easy answer here because we all know, including the advocates, that resources are shrinking,” said Mary Okero, executive director of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, a state agency that is federally mandated and funded. “My concern is that some of our lawmakers don’t understand what a family goes through on a day-to-day basis to raise a child with special needs.”

John Young, deputy secretary of health and human services, acknowledges that, if the Senate goes along with the House budget, providers will be hard hit. But he pledged the state would work with them. “We have the obligation to figure it out as best we can,” he said. “Then, we will tell the Assembly if there are gaps we haven’t managed to close.”

The state is responsible for 3,597 adults with developmental disabilities — lifelong conditions such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or autism that impair one’s ability to live independently. Only a minority live in group homes — and, in fact, one in eight lives alone.

The rest live in supervised apartments, with relatives, or in “shared living” with a nonrelative. They draw on an array of services to help with daily tasks, provide transportation and keep them active and, often, employed. Caring for a person in a group home costs, on average, $108,000 a year, while these community-based services average one-quarter to one-third that amount.

Each individual receives a set funding level from the state based on his or her needs. Most clients choose one of 39 agencies to provide supports, but a few, like Megan Reynolds, hire help on their own.

Over the years, each of these agencies negotiated different payment rates, so that today the state pays different prices for the same services. The state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals introduced Project Sustainability to bring clarity and fairness to the system.

Project Sustainability has two key aspects: a new method of assessing clients that ascertains which services each one needs to maximize independence; and a new payment schedule that pays each provider the same amount for a given service. There is little disagreement about the need for a fair payment structure, nor the value of the new assessment tool, but many concerns linger.

“Project Sustainability has become the cover for paying less money,” says Ray Arsenault, executive director of Spurwink RI, an agency serving 60 people. “We’re equalizing rates at a much lower level than the system needs.”

“If we were in a time of expanding budgets, this would be easier to absorb and adjust to,” says Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of RI, a trade group representing 19 provider agencies. With the latest cutbacks, Martin fears some agencies will shut their doors.

The state hopes to encourage more of its developmentally disabled clients to move into self-directed care like Megan Reynolds. This approach allows greater independence and control, and sometimes costs less. Although self-directed care has been available for two decades, only 240 are taking advantage of it, and state officials say many more could.

But not everyone with a developmental disability could do what Reynolds does. Some people have severe intellectual or behavioral problems. (The state says that nearly half the developmental disabilities population will always need 24-hour care.) And not everyone has a smart, youthful, dedicated mother like Renee Doran, who spends countless uncompensated hours working as a one-woman employment agency for her daughter.

Doran, 46, a software engineer, lives in North Attleboro and has two other much younger children. But she still owns the house where Reynolds grew up and now lives, and five years ago she found a roommate for Reynolds, a woman who fills in as personal assistant only when one of the regulars is unexpectedly unavailable.

“My daughter by nature would tend to be isolated, so it’s important that she has people around her to talk to,” Doran says. “Otherwise, she’d spend her whole time watching TV or reading on the computer.”

Doran usually hires college students from nearby Providence College or Rhode Island College. Reynolds then meets the prospects to see if they hit it off. The personal assistants help Reynolds manage her life, prodding her to do such chores as her laundry — tasks she knows how to do, but has trouble staying focused on.

Doran worries that her daughter may become a victim of her own success. Will the state decide that she needs less help because she’s doing so well, or will it understand that she’s doing so well only because she has all this help? Will there be enough flexibility for Reynolds to try new things and grow in new ways?

“I want her to be striving to be better, striving maybe for a new job, or striving to develop new hobbies,” Doran says. “I want her to grow and change.”

NY school for students with severe learning disabilities graduates its first high school class

From the NY Daily News:

A Richmond Hill school for students with severe learning disabilities has proven that where there's a will, there is a way.

The School for Language and Communication Development celebrated its first high school graduation last week after opening its doors nearly 25 years ago with an elementary school. All five graduates passed their state Regents exams and are heading to college this fall.

"It was worth the pain and the struggle watching these kids come to the stage and accept their diplomas," said the school's executive director, Ellenmorris Tiegerman (pictured).

The school wanted to add a high school program earlier, but was embroiled in a roughly decade-long legal battle with the state, which wanted to limit the number of students at the school.

The school has its elementary program in Glen Cove, L.I., and its middle school in Woodside. It works with students with disabilities that, in some cases, fall on the autism spectrum.

The school provides small class sizes, extended days and a longer school year - as well as training for parents - to help the students get up to speed, Tiegerman said.

"My expectation is that they are going to complete the college program that they applied [to] and then lead independent lives," she said.

That's a life that Denise Owens, 44, of Floral Park, L.I., could only dream of for her son Connor Owens, 18.

Doctors told her that her son - who suffered from oxygen deprivation to the brain as a newborn - would never finish high school.

"Connor couldn't speak for the first few years of his life, so he would draw," she said. "If he wanted a box of crayons, he would draw a box of crayons."

But Connor proved the experts wrong. He finished school and plans to study graphic design and illustration at the Pratt Institute in the fall.

"A lot of hard work went into it," he said about his graduation. But "I wanted to move forward from high school into college."

Valedictorian Stacey Santana said her future was uncertain until she transferred to the Richmond Hill school. The aspiring author plans to attend the Borough of Manhattan Community College in the fall.

"When I was at my public school, I was thinking it would be very hard for me to graduate," she said. "I worked so hard to be where I am today."

Susan Hyman, a University of Rochester professor who specializes in children with disabilities, said these success stories are "an incredible accomplishment."

"What's so exciting about having these students graduate high school is that they surpassed expectations," she said. "We as a society need to expect people with special health needs to be contributing members of society."

Younger disabled people increasingly trapped in nursing homes

From AM NY:

Robbie Cunningham (pictured) would like to live independently but sees no way to get out of the Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital & Nursing Facility, his home for the past four years. “I’m not sick,” he said. “I’m a quadraplegic."

In the nursing home, he explained, “I have tremendous constraints on what I can do. I would like to choose what kind of food I eat, when I eat and when I go to bed.”

Cunningham, 52, feels safe at Coler, a sprawling Roosevelt Island facility, but he doesn’t feel free. “As long as I’m alive, I want to keep moving,” said the Manhattan makeup artist, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident seven years ago.

According to a 1999 Supreme Court decision, people with disabilities have the right to live in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. But Cunningham and thousands of other relatively young people institutionalized by strokes, heart attacks, neuromuscular disorders and traumatic injuries are trapped in nursing homes — segregated from society by bureaucratic bungling and foot-dragging.

“You need a book on how to escape the nursing-home system — you really do,” said Jim Cesario, outreach coordinator at the Mount Sinai Spinal Cord Model System.

These patients often wind up in nursing homes as a result of hospital social workers under pressure to quickly come up with an acceptable discharge plan, said Cesario. When a social worker locates a place in a facility with on-site services, “Boom! It’s done!”

A catastrophic medical event may not only disable and impoverish a person, but render them homeless. A newly disabled person may no longer be able to afford his home — or be unable to return to it because it was not designed to accommodate a motorized wheel-
chair. If family and friends are unable to care for the person, they may be sent to a nursing home.

According to 2010 data from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 14.5 percent of New York State’s 106,931 nursing-home residents are under age 65. Of all residents, 22,248 formally have indicated their desire to live in regular housing.

This scenario costs taxpayers: Nursing-home care in New York State tallies between $114,000 and $119,000 a year per person — among the highest rates in the nation, according to the Genworth Financial Cost of Care Survey.

A policy paper issued by the Center for Disability Rights and the New York Association on Independent Living showed how the state could save $1 billion over five years by redesigning services to be compliant with the federal ruling. (Medicaid usually pays for nursing-home care. Community placements vary in cost but almost always are less expensive.)

So why are people with disabilities often warehoused against their will? Advocates said the reasons are manifold:

- A lack of accessible, affordable housing for people reliant on motorized wheelchairs.

- An opaque and tangled bureaucracy with no central agency responsible for enforcement: Despite 22,248 people having indicated their desire to live in the mainstream community, the state Department of Health has enrolled only 900 participants in the Nursing Home Transition and Diversion Waivers program. Obtaining waivers and subsidies is a time-gobbling process riddled with difficulties, experts said.

Golden Willoughby, 53, a retired lawyer who has been living in Coler-Goldwater since 2009, applied to Medicaid for a housing voucher. Medicaid sent him to the state health department. “They sent me to CASA [Community Alternative Systems Agency] and said I could be eligible, but I need housing first in order to get it!”

It’s true that a person requesting CASA services must be living in the community or have a signed lease so that the agency can assess their situation, said an HRA spokeswoman. But Willoughby, she added, should have been directed to the Visiting Nurse Association of Staten Island, which handles waivers for local patients. The VNA did not respond to requests for comment.

- The “institutional bias”: “So many people make money off the system [that] trying to change it is like trying to change the economy during Reconstruction,” said Bruce Darling, director for the Center for Disability Rights in Rochester.

- Poverty: Advocates said that 70 to 80 percent of the severely disabled are unemployed. Many lose their jobs when tragedy strikes. “If you have SSI [federal Supplemental Security Income], no one is willing to take you. You have to put your name on a NYCHA [NYC Housing Authority] list,” and the waits can be interminable, Darling said.
NYCHA did not respond to a request for comment.

Several hundred of the 1,300 residents at Coler are eligible to live outside the facility, said NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation spokeswoman Ana Marengo.

Even so, Coler staff located placements for about 200 residents last year. However, challenges abound in trying to secure housing appropriate for wheelchair-bound individuals., Marengo explained.

Coler has failed to find a residence for Willoughby, Marengo said, because he wants to live in Manhattan with his wife, Maxzine, a Coler resident — who also is in a wheelchair — her two young daughters and his teenage daughter.

City Hall spokeswoman Evelyn Erskine said the Department of Housing Preservation and Development has created 40,430 new residences and preserved 72,702 units of housing during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure. In new units, 5 percent are set aside for people with mobility impairments and 2 percent for people with vision and hearing impairments.

Set-asides are not the same thing as units built to spec for people in wheelchairs, said Darling. Regular residences — while theoretically adaptable — may not be designed to allow a disabled person to cook or use the bathroom, and they often are given to able-bodied people.

Experts said reforms are needed to abolish segregation of the disabled. Among them:
- Expedited enrollment: Simplifying paperwork and documentation requirements could reduce the time it takes to get a Nursing Home Transition and Diversion Medicaid waiver approved. This would curtail unnecessary admissions to facilities and prevent many disabled people from losing their homes.

- Increased flexibility: There is a pilot program in which the “money follows the person,” but the government needs “a more flexible understanding of disabilities” so that disabled people have more input as to how the money they receive is spent, said T.K. Small, a Brooklyn disability rights attorney.

- More housing: The “woefully inadequate” housing set-asides for the disabled should be doubled and more custom units built, said Darling.

After all, Darling added, “there isn’t any other group of people who are illegally locked up like this who haven’t done anything wrong. There’s no other group of people who are blameless but, through circumstance, have lost their rights to live in freedom.”

Gallaudet finds Deaf people don't see better, they see differently

From WAMU in DC. In the picture, Gallaudet University's classrooms are arranged in semi-circles, not rows, to help maintain students' visual attention.

A new discovery at D.C.'s Gallaudet University challenges a widespread notion about people who don't hear.

As the Community Engagement Coordinator at Gallaudet's Visual Language and Visual Learning Center, or VL2, Melissa Malzkuhn often gives presentations to first-year students.

"I ask them if they think that deaf people see better. And oftentimes the students say, 'Yes,'" Malzkuhn, who is deaf, says through an interpreter. "And so I tell them that science actually says that we don’t see better. We just see differently. Which is an eye-opening experience to them."

VL2 director Tom Allen says if we think of vision as how well a person can see, "there really are no differences between deaf people and hearing people."

But there are differences, Allen says, when it comes to something called "visual attention."

"[Visual attention is] the ability to attend appropriately to things through the visual modality. In other words, where are you directing your attention?" he says.

And for people who are deaf, it's been discovered that visual attention is heightened in their peripheral vision. A hearing person has 360 degrees of perception, since your brain can locate objects based on sounds. But those who are deaf, Allen says, lose 180 degrees of that perception.

It's this intuitive sense that I've always had, that I thought or knew that something was different.
So researchers think the deprived auditory areas of the brain reorganize to better process visual information. As a result, people are more sensitive to moving stimuli in their periphery, like a car speeding toward them in the street.

But that heightened awareness can actually have a downside, like in the classroom.

"In a classroom with students who can hear, there's noise pollution issues; you have to be concerned about intruding noises. But in a classroom with deaf students, you have to be concerned about visual pollution," Malzkuhn says.

Because the better people can detect things in their periphery, the harder they must work not to be distracted by it; it's called "selective attention." That's why deaf students tend to perform better in smaller classes, where distractions are more predictable. And never underestimate the importance of good lighting.

"If there's bad lighting, that can be very annoying and very distracting. You have to make sure that you have windows with natural, bright lighting in the classroom. That's a very important part of the set-up," Malzkuhn says.

The seating arrangement is also critical. As Allen points out, you'll often see hearing classrooms with the desks in rows.

"But at Gallaudet classrooms are circular, so you have visual information coming in from all directions, and every student in the class can see every other student in the class," he says.

But this "selective attention" we're talking about isn't just applicable to speeding cars or focusing in class. It's also key in reading.

"Reading involves looking at a word in your central field of vision and processing the word, and then regulating your field of vision as it moves along the page. And if you have a broader field of view, there may be less of your attention or resources allocated to the center," Allen says.

That's why some experts recommend a "windowed" reading technique for deaf students, where they see words in smaller chunks, not complete sentences.

Malzkuhn is an avid reader and says she's been aware of her heightened visual attention for a long time.

"It's this intuitive sense that I've always had, that I thought or knew that something was different," she says.

In spite of this "difference" she's constantly reminded of how everyone, hearing and deaf, are the same.

"It's really the essence of humanity. We all have that innate desire to communicate with others," Malzkuhn says.

In short, people have the need to reach out and touch someone, regardless of how visually or auditorily inclined, they may be.

Meet Dust, a rock band of blind young men from China


Over the years, 22-year-old Xu Haozhi has learned to maintain a good sense of humor about things – indeed, as a blind person, he's come to believe it's necessary not to take life too seriously. One very serious moment, however, occurred recently, when the rock-n-roll band he founded with his fellow classmates – all blind or near-blind – was invited to perform at a welcome ceremony for a disabled persons' federation from Macao.

The invitation came after the group won the third place in the final round of a huge battle of the bands hosted by Tianjin-based instant-food-and-beverage giant Tingyi (Cayman Islands) Holding Corp in Jilin Province on Friday.

In addition to the honor, the band won 2,000 yuan ($309) in the competition, which will mainly be used to upgrade and repair their instruments, Xu said.

"I'm overwhelmed," the sophomore acupuncturist major at Special Education College of Changchun University in Jilin Province, told the Global Times. "Not only were we the only blind band in the competition, but everyone else's equipment was light years ahead of ours in terms of quality – just one of their guitars, for example, was worth two whole sets of our instruments."

The band, dubbed Dust, was founded in December 2009 under the notion that "dust is everywhere in the universe – though it's tiny, it's essential," said bassist Wu Xuebin, 26.

The five boys, who are majoring in acupuncture studies at the college, all had basic training in music from primary school, and when they found each other at university, they forged an instant bond.

Che Binbin, 24, the band's lead singer, is the only one among the six with weak eyesight, enough to see things in close reach, while the other five are totally blind.

Lacking instruments at the very beginning, they raised 3,000 yuan to buy a second drum set and a new electric bass, and borrowed an electronic organ from friends. They then set about perfecting the melodic power-pop styles of their favorite Chinese bands, including Power Station, Mayday and Zero.

"We want to play encouraging songs that can cheer people up," Wu told the Global Times. "Life has too many difficulties as it is – why not give the crowd something that'll make them happy for a while?"

They turned to writing original materials not long after hitting their stride with the covers, though they admit that writing is a whole different beast than merely playing.

"The progress can be achingly slow," Wu said. "We're not professionals – we're just writing based on our feelings. Sometimes the songwriting sessions will last so long that we'll skip lunch and dinner without even realizing it."

It also goes without saying that as blind people, the boys of Dust don't have the benefits of scores, sheet music or fret diagrams to guide them, but must rely on their ears and hands to reach the right consonance.

"We just have to feel around until we get it right," Xu said.

Unsurprisingly, the school hasn't seen much rock-n-roll activity in its history, meaning that Xu and his band often face a major struggle finding a place to rehearse, migrating from the school conference room to the warehouse to the classroom and most recently to the dorms, where Xu said he had to practice his electric guitar stylings "silently" so as not to disturb his roommates.

After persistent discussion with teachers and administrators, they were recently given an empty dorm room on the first floor of their building, though they were warned they'll likely have to move again when the next term starts in September.

"All the moving really gets on our nerves," Xu said. "Sometimes we're moved to buildings without any power outlets, for example. In addition, it's hard to progress when you can't stick to a normal practice schedule."

Frequent relocating even forced them to cease practice for about four months last year, he said.

Still, Xu says that they give it their all when they do manage to practice. "People may think we're sacrificing our studies in order to work on our music, but that's just not true," he said. "For one thing, playing our instruments helps us with our tactile sensitivity, which is crucial in acupuncture. In addition, we're just happier, more engaged students when we've got music in our lives."

"We've gotten incredible feedback from everyone," said 20-year-old drummer Liang Tao, also boasting about a solo concert they held at the school last June which drew a crowd of 300 eager listeners.

"But I know we're nowhere near the peak of our abilities – we still have so much room to improve."

Monday, June 27, 2011

ADAPT storms Boehner district office; demands new strategy for Medicaid spending


TROY, Ohio -- 20 members of ADAPT, the national disability rights direct action organization, are at the Troy district office of U.S. Representative John Boehner, demanding that Boehner set a date to meet with them on federal Medicaid spending strategy.

Boehner and the Republican party want to make drastic cuts to Medicaid spending; ADAPTers say that money can be better saved by ensuring that a greater proportion of Medicaid spending be invested in home- and community-based supports.

“People with disabilities and seniors want to be able to live in our own homes, not nursing facilities and institutions,” said Ohio ADAPT Organizer Darrell Price. “As a person with a disability, I know that these supports mean the difference between being part of my community and being totally isolated.”

Price believes that as a key Republican leader in the current federal budget talks, Boehner’s leadership could make the difference for the 49 million poor children, seniors, people with disabilities and pregnant women who rely on Medicaid.

On Sunday, the ADAPT members visited Boehner’s church in an effort to talk with parishioners about the Medicaid crisis and Boehner’s role. The parish priest refused to dialogue with the group and instead called the police to have them removed from the church premises.

“Republicans talk all the time about fiscal conservatism. The strategy of investing in home- and community-based supports is a proven cost saving measure,” said Chicago ADAPT Organizer Rahnee Patrick. “We don’t see this being available equally in every state, so we are asking that John Boehner make this part of his federal budget strategy. Not having these supports is what forces us into costly nursing facilities and institutions.”

The Troy district office is located at 12 S. Plum #2 in Troy, Ohio.

For more information about ADAPT, please visit ADAPT is also on Twitter at

TSA defends security officers after patdown of 95-year-old wheelchair-using Michigan woman

From CNN:

The Transportation Security Administration stood by its security officers Sunday after a Florida woman complained that her cancer-stricken, 95-year-old mother was patted down and forced to remove her adult diaper while going through security.

Reports of the incident took hold in social media, with scores of comments on the topic and reposts appearing hourly on Twitter Sunday afternoon.

The TSA released a statement Sunday defending its agents' actions at the Northwest Florida Regional Airport.

"While every person and item must be screened before entering the secure boarding area, TSA works with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner," the federal agency said. "We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally and according to proper procedure."

Jean Weber told CNN's Fredricka Whitfield on Sunday that the security officers may have been procedurally correct, but she still does not believe they were justified, especially given her mother's frail condition.

"If this is your procedure -- which I do understand -- I also feel that your procedure needs to be changed," she said.

Weber said the two were traveling June 18 from northwest Florida to Michigan, so her mother could move in with relatives before eventually going to an assisted living facility.

"My mother is very ill, she has a form of leukemia," Weber said. "She had a blood transfusion the week before, just to bolster up her strength for this travel."

While going through security, the 95-year-old was taken by a TSA officer into a glassed-in area, where a pat-down was performed, Weber said. An agent told Weber "they felt something suspicious on (her mother's) leg and they couldn't determine what it was" -- leading them to take her into a private, closed room.

Soon after, Weber said, a TSA agent came out and told her that her mother's Depend undergarment was "wet and it was firm, and they couldn't check it thoroughly." The mother and daughter left to find a bathroom, at the TSA officer's request, to take off the adult diaper.

Weber said she burst into tears during the ordeal, forcing her own pat-down and other measures in accordance with TSA protocol. But she said her mother, a nurse for 65 years, "was very calm" despite being bothered by the fact that she had to go through the airport without underwear.

Eventually, Weber said she asked for her mother to be whisked away to the boarding gate without her, because their plane was scheduled to leave in two minutes and Weber was still going through security.

By this weekend, the 95-year-old woman -- who was not identified by name -- was doing "fine" in Michigan, where her niece and her family "was treating her like royalty because they love her so much."

"My mother is a trouper," Weber said.

This is not the first time that the TSA's pat-downs of passengers have come under fire, nor the first time that the agency has rallied behind its officers and policy.

Last year, the administration announced it was ramping up the use of full-body scanning and pat-downs to stop nonmetallic threats, including explosives, from getting on planes. The goal is to head off attacks such as the one allegedly attempted in Christmas 2009 by Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, who allegedly had a bomb sewn into his underwear on a flight from the Netherlands to Michigan.

The TSA estimates that only 3% of passengers are subjected to pat-downs -- and then only after they have set off a metal detector or declined to step into a full-body scanner. Yet the new policy has triggered an uproar online and in airports, from a relatively small but vocal number of travelers who feel their rights and privacy were being violated.

But the federal safety agency hasn't backed down, making some adjustments but no major changes to its policy.

"Every traveler is a critical partner in TSA's efforts to keep our skies safe," Administrator John Pistole, who ordered the new approach, said last fall. "And I know and appreciate that the vast majority of Americans recognize and respect the important work we do."

More recently, outrage erupted over a video-recorded pat-down of a 6-year-old passenger last April at New Orleans' airport. The video, which was posted on YouTube, shows the girl protesting the search by a female security officer at first, though she complies quietly while it is underway.

Pistole addressed this controversy at a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee meeting last week, explaining the pat-down was ordered because the child had moved while passing through a body imaging machine. He told committee members that "we have changed the policy (so) that there'll be repeated efforts made to resolve that without a pat-down."

The next day, TSA spokesman Greg Soule said that the new policy -- which will apply to children age 12 and younger -- is in the process of being rolled out. It will give security officers "more options," but does not eliminate pat-downs as one of them.

"This decision will ultimately reduce -- though not eliminate -- pat-downs," Soule said.

Wheelchair skateboarding gets a visibility boost with Los Angeles event

From The LA Times. Jonathan Stark, 20, of Pittsburgh attempts a wheelchair trick.

Walter Molo wouldn't go.

"Go, Molo, go!" his friends yelled.

The once-avid motorcycle rider is not one to shy from adventure. But to dive 4 feet down a steep concrete embankment — in a wheelchair, while paralyzed from the waist down?

"Yeah," Molo said, gripping his wheels a few feet from the edge. "I'm gonna have to take a moment to think this one over."

A skateboarding park on Venice Beach transformed into a training ground Saturday morning as several dozen paraplegics and quadriplegics learned to drop, roll and dive on curved walls as tall as school buses. They did so all while sitting in their own wheelchairs.

The event was held by Life Rolls On, a group born out of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to help people with spinal cord injuries stay active. They teach surfing and this year, for the second time, skateboarding.

Participants, some as young as 6, showed up strapped to wheelchairs with legs that don't work or barely do. They're survivors of car crashes, shootings and surgeries gone wrong. Some were born with spinal defects.

Molo, 36, was struck by an SUV as he rode his motorcycle to work one day five years ago. The driver was on her cellphone. She made a left turn on a red light and plowed head-on into the computer repair technician.

For almost two years, Molo stayed in his house, too depressed to go out. He watched television, played computer games. Mostly, he slept. Then he found Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, which encourages wheelchair sports.

Three buddies from the center egged him on until he finally let go and took on the embankment — in one smooth, perfect swoop.

"Oh, yeah," he said proudly.

Others tried their luck and lost. They spun out of control, hit the ground hard, face down, one limp leg on top of the other.

Each time, they got up with help, laughed it off and kept trying, like any regular skateboarder would.

"That's part of the thrill," said Rancho Los Amigos therapist Adam Wilson, who looked on from the sidelines, "that there's a fear factor, and they can still challenge themselves."

Among the bravest were the little ones, such as Leland Moore, who was born with spina bifida.

Like most, the fourth-grader with a freckled face had never attempted to skate. He imagined the park on his ride up from Carlsbad:

"I thought it would be huge, full of super scary, super deep curves," he said.

But when he saw it, he said, he thought: "Ah, this is nothing."

He raced around the bowl as fast as his skinny arms could push him, up and down banks, trying to imitate his hero, Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham, a 19-year-old professional wheelchair skater who tours the country competing.

Fotheringham was on hand to teach the novices, along with other extreme riders. He is known for landing the first wheelchair back flip. He also does hand plants, wheelers, rollouts and mid-air 180-degree turns in a special, high-tech wheelchair.

Chelsie Hill went home to Monterey content, knowing she had accomplished her goal: rolling down an embankment — not once, but several times, all on her own.

The former dancer lost the use of her legs about a year ago when her friend, who had been drinking, crashed into a tree after a party. Out of the five people in the car, the 19-year-old was hurt the worst.

Today, she's part of a wheelchair hip-hop dance team. She also surfs and delivers motivational speeches to high-schoolers. And now she skates — a little.

Sitting in her cotton-candy pink and cheetah colored wheelchair, she smiled and said one of the most important things she shares with students:

"I'm not letting this stop me."

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Actress Teal Sherer premieres her new TV pilot, "My Gimpy Life," June 30 at ITVfest

From 2011 ITVfest Official Selections Announcement. The party will be Thursday, June 30, 2011 from 7:00 PM - 11:30 PM (PT), Los Angeles, CA. You can watch the trailer for Teal Sherer's pilot here.

Come join us for the Official Selections Announcement Party. The 2011 International Television Festival is only 2 months away. We'll be announcing one by one the Official Selections from the 250 submissions entered this year. It's going to be exciting and star-studded.

Beginning with a Red Carpet from 7:00 to 8:00.

Screenings with Q& A from 8:00 to 9:15 including the world premiers of:

1. Easy to Assemble - Season 3 (Illeana Douglas)

2. Bad Love - Season 2

3. Six Gun Savior - Season 1 (Don Stark -That '70s Show)

4. My Gimpy Life - (Teal Sherer, pictured -The Guild)

5. Invention with Brian Forbes - (Brittney Powell - Xena, General Hospital)

The Official Selection Announcements will be done by the cast of Goodnight Burbank beginning at 9:30.

In honor of the anticipated release of Six Gun Savior - the party will be WESTERN THEMED. So wear your cowboy hats, boots, dusters, etc.

We look forward to seeing every there - YEEEHAAA!!

Executive Directors

Frank Zanca & Ken Nicholas

Australian re-engineers century-old artificial limb

From The Billings Gazette in Montana:

Two amputees -- one American, one Australian -- are linked by sheer determination, and by an artificial arm patented in 1904.

Australian Mark Lesek (pictured) arrived in Billings on June 24 to strengthen the common thread that connects him to the grandfather of Nancy Kinsey, of Park City.

As a young man, Kinsey's grandfather, William T. Carnes Sr., lost his arm after it got caught in a cog in a machine shop accident. Carnes went on to become an inventor credited with several U.S. patents, including a forerunner of the jukebox.

After losing his arm at the Pennsylvania machine shop, Carnes engineered a sturdy artificial limb that strapped to the shoulder and relied on gears, springs and cogs to flex, rotate and grip objects. A mechanism designed like a revolver's firing pin allowed the wrist to rotate and lock into position. The prosthesis had movable fingers and 250 moving parts.

"Carnes tried out various arms that were on the market, and like me, found nothing very suitable," Lesek said. "So he invented one himself. With his left arm and his mouth, he put his first arm together."

Carnes began manufacturing the artificial arms after another amputee set him up with a factory in Kansas City, Mo. Advertisements billed the Carnes Arm as the artificial limb that "puts you back on the payroll."

"It was way ahead of its time," Lesek said.

Advertisements claimed amputees could tip their hat using the arm and carry a suitcase. But most of all, the arm was touted as allowing amputees to do manual labor in a machine shop.

Many were sold to veterans returning from World War I, and the company remained in business until the end of World War II.

Lesek, a 54-year-old who runs a machine shop, lost his right arm in a car crash in 2003. Because his amputation was so close to his shoulder, most sophisticated prosthetic arms weren't suitable. State-of-the art prosthetics rely on sensitive electronics to trigger nerve impulses, which initiate movement.

Lesek tried a cosmetic arm, but nicknamed it "Dudley" because it was a nearly useless dud. Six years ago, he bought a sophisticated arm built in Germany. But the $80,000 arm was too fragile for machine-shop work, and when it broke, it had to be sent back to Germany for repairs.

Three years ago, Lesek sought another solution. Doctors in Sweden screwed a bolt into the few centimeters of bone in his upper arm. The bone implant surgery, known as osseointegration, is not approved in the United States or Australia.

"The bolt gave me the shoulder function back," Lesek said.

Using the bolt as a base allows him to point the arm and feel connected to it.

About six years ago, Lesek ran across the Carnes Arm in a display case filled with antique prosthetic devices. Lesek was intrigued by online blueprints for the Carnes Arm.

Through friends and Internet connections, he found a Carnes Arm manufactured in 1920. The arm had been tucked away for 60 years after someone found the artificial limb after a flood hanging in a tree beside the Arkansas River.

"It started life as a left hand, I had to convert it to a right hand," Lesek said.

He later bought two other Carnes arms on eBay from different model years and meant to be worn with below-the-elbow amputations.

The Carnes Arm had a unique clockwork mechanism in the hand with finely beveled gears. But the top part of the arm was made out of willow wood, a material so heavy that Lesek doubted the arm could be used for any length of time.

Inspired by the century-old device, Lesek decided to refashion the arm, replacing certain parts. His Carnes Arm has new, lightweight materials above the elbow, but uses the original fingers and wrist rotation system.

"The actual moving parts are pretty well-original," said his wife, Angela.

Lesek intends to reinvent the arm with lightweight carbon fiber materials and modern machining techniques at his shop in Hobart, which is on the island of Tasmania, at the southernmost tip of Australia. His goal is to produce an arm that's simple and extremely sturdy.

Lesek contacted the descendants of William Carnes because he felt a kinship to the arm's inventor.

"They encouraged me to research the history of their family," Lesek said. "They're proud of their grandfather's achievements and were encouraging me to tell the world."

Last year, he visited the Kinseys in Montana. Last week, he returned to Montana with his wife before heading back to Australia on Sunday.

"We support all he does," said Nancy Kinsey.

She and her husband, Jim, are both aware of the daily hurdles faced by amputees. Jim had a leg amputated after battling deadly infections and other health problems.

Lesek intends to "reverse engineer" the artificial limbs, using a casting of an amputee's sound arm to tailor as a model for the missing arm.

He hopes to be able to begin putting out copies of the re-engineered Carnes Arm within a year.

For him, Park City was the last stop on a swing through the United States that included showing his arm at the Amputee Coalition of America conference in Kansas City and at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Lesek is intent on stirring support for approval of the bone implant surgery in America, which he thinks could benefit injured soldiers and other amputees.

Georgia neighborhood blocks disabled vet's planned home

From 11 Alive TV news:

EVANS, Ga. -- Construction of a specially adapted home for a disabled veteran and his family has been blocked by a neighborhood property owners' association, which says the 2,700-square-foot design is too small.

A group called Homes for Our Troops worked with the Knob Hill Property Owners Association for about a year planning the home for Sgt. 1st Class Sean Gittens (pictured). The group has helped build over 100 homes for severly injured veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gittens' wife, Sharon Gittens, said her husband was injured by an improvised explosive device in Iraq about three years ago and later had a stroke.

"Shockingly, it appears that the Knob Hill community has decided it does not want to welcome SFC Gittens and his family, as we were previously told," Homes for Our Troops Founder John Gonsalves said in a statement.

Association member Tom Rogers said Homes for Our Troops did not have written approval from the association's architectural review board. The group gave conditional approval for the house but rescinded it on grounds that houses in the neighborhood are 5,000
square feet or more.

Construction was supposed to begin June 24.

Friday, June 24, 2011

All Kids Can CREATE debuts artwork from children with disabilities in 2011 touring exhibition

From PR Newswire. In the picture, artwork by Mazin Hasabelarsoul from Humboldt Senior High School in Saint Paul has been selected to represent Minnesota in the 2011 All Kids Can CREATE national touring exhibition.

WASHINGTON -- CVS Caremark All Kids Can, a $25 million commitment to support children with disabilities, and VSA, the international organization on arts and disability are showcasing their commitment to supporting inclusive arts education with the announcement of the 2011 All Kids Can CREATE student artists.

All Kids Can CREATE is an annual national program where artwork submitted by students, ages 5-15, is selected to represent each state and the District of Columbia for a national art exhibition. This year, All Kids Can CREATE invited young artists with and without disabilities to submit a piece of artwork under the theme, "Imagination Across America."

The 2011 All Kids Can CREATE national touring exhibition will feature a total of 102 pieces of artwork, representing two student artists from each state and the District of Columbia and will debut in Washington, D.C. on June 15, 2011.

An expert panel of judges, including artists and art educators selected the 102 pieces of artwork out of more than 4,700 entries submitted from artists across the country. All of the artwork submitted this year, from paintings to sculptures to photographs, will be featured in an online gallery at

"For the fourth year, we are proud to collaborate with VSA on All Kids Can CREATE, the only visual arts program of its kind that showcases how students with and without disabilities learn through the arts," said Eileen Howard Boone, senior vice president, Corporate Communications and Community Relations for CVS Caremark.

"This program offers a wonderful opportunity for personal expression and we hope the artwork featured in this touring exhibition drives further awareness of the positive impact arts education can have on each and every child."

The All Kids Can CREATE exhibition is just one part of VSA and CVS Caremark's yearlong partnership which also includes support of state VSA affiliates that encourage learning and community engagement through artistic expression.

Strategic grants at the state level also support artist-in-residence programs in schools that expand access and document learning through the arts for students with disabilities. CVS Caremark employees also participate by volunteering in activities in their communities and/or schools to help build inclusive environments.

"It is clear from the thousands of submissions we receive every year for the All Kids Can CREATE program that the arts empower youth to learn and exercise their creativity," said Jennifer Wexler, VSA director of visual arts. "We're proud to partner with CVS Caremark once again to encourage inclusive arts education and provide increased public awareness of the arts in the lives and learning of young people with disabilities."

Miss Florida USA, who was born with spina bifida, scoliosis, says exercise eliminates pain for her

From The Sun-Sentinel in Fla.:

South Florida's Lissette Garcia (pictured) represented the Sunshine State in the 2011 Miss USA pageant this month. A medical student in addition to a beauty queen, she eats lots of vegetables (and chocolate) and exercises up to six days a week, sometimes twice a day. Garcia said she was born with spina bifida and scoliosis, so exercise also helps eliminate pain.

Why do you keep fit?

I enjoy 100 percent eating healthy and working out. It's who I am. If I'm not building muscle, then I'm leaning out for onstage competition.

What's your workout routine?

It varies from month to month. A lot of walking on the treadmill — I don't do the StairMaster — plyometric exercises on the mat. Vinyasa yoga — it's yoga but keeping the heart rate up by constantly moving. I do Pilates. I do circuit training and swimming.

I work out five days per week for an hour and 20 minutes each time, and a week out of a month, I go twice a day. Sometimes up to six days a week if I want to do some extra yoga.

I do have a pageant trainer that's helping me. I used to do a lot of weight training with heavy weights and my body was muscular. But the trainer did a complete 180 on my routine, and now I do more plyometrics and Pilates to keep long, lean muscle.

Are any of your routines for Miss USA or other pageants physically demanding?

Not really, except you have to balance your energy because you're getting little sleep and have to keep it up all day. As well as wearing 6-inch heels. That is atomic!

Do you have a personal fitness motto or philosophy?

In it to win it!

Have you ever considered cosmetic surgery?

Yeah, later when gravity hits!

Do you ever take extended breaks from working out?

It depends. In competition mode, there's no break except on Sunday. I never really work out on Sundays. [Two months ago], I took a week off just to keep the body guessing.

Have you played competitive sports now or in school?

Mostly recreational volleyball and basketball. And I was a dancer in high school.

Does your family keep fit?

My mom tries to keep fit when she sees me working out and getting ready for pageantry. My dad sees the benefits of keeping fit, but like a good Cuban family you can't keep away the Cuban food.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Google gets closer to YouTube auto-captions for deaf people

From Scientific American:

Visitors to YouTube, which now boasts the Internet's second-largest search engine, have uploaded hundreds of millions of videos since its launch in early 2005. For most people YouTube (Google bought the video-sharing site for $1.65 billion in late 2006) is a valuable outlet for sharing personal videos, catching up on college lectures, consulting "how-to" clips and absorbing pop-culture nuggets like "Weird Al" Yankovic's parody of Lady Gaga.

Until recently, however, the tens of millions of deaf and hearing-impaired (in the U.S. alone) could not take full advantage of YouTube because they were getting only half of the experience. Google and YouTube engineers are working to fix this by improving software that can automatically add captions to all videos, although this has been a difficult process.

Google's mission is to organize the world's information, and a lot of that information on the Web is spoken rather than written, says the company's research scientist Mike Cohen, who joined Google in 2004 to head up speech technology development. Television, which introduced closed-captioning in the early 1970s and made it more widely available throughout the 1980s, in many ways has had an edge over the Web in serving the needs of the deaf, he adds.

Throughout much of the deaf community, "there was a feeling that after spending years winning the legal battles to have television programming captioned, all of a sudden the world had moved to YouTube," Cohen says. "We wanted to re-win that battle for them in a way that's scalable; it had to be done with technology rather than using humans to input captions with each video."

Google introduced the ability to manually add captions to videos on its Google Video site in 2006 and in 2008 added captioning to YouTube. Google introduced machine-generated automatic captions to YouTube in November 2009 and has since sought to improve the technology with the help of speech-recognition modeling software and lots of data. Thus far, more than 60 million videos have been auto-captioned, according to Google.

The company's speech-recognition model has acoustic, lexicon and language components. The acoustic portion is a statistical model of the basic sounds made in spoken language (all of the vowels and consonants, for example). This is a large and complex model because those sounds often vary based on context (that is, where a speaker is raised and the dialect spoken), Cohen says.

The lexicon is basically a list of words in a given language and data about how they are pronounced (consider the two vowel sounds that are acceptable in pronouncing the "e" in "economics," for example). "For something like voice search we have a vocabulary of about one million words with the right pronunciations for those words and the variations in pronunciation," Cohen says.

The language component of Google's speech-recognition model is a statistical model of all of the phrases and sentences that might be used within a language. This helps the auto-captioning function analyze how different words are often grouped together (the word "go," for example, is often followed by the word "to") and predict probable pairings based on that information.

Much of the speech-recognition technology is tuned for the English language, although the company plans to expand auto-captioning to additional languages. For now, YouTube serves its global audience by translating auto-captions into more than 50 languages.

Auto-captioning is an easy sell to the deaf community because it affords them access to more of YouTube. Yet, this feature is often frustrating for deaf users, who find little use for video on the Web if the captions are not accurate. "I love the idea of auto-captioning because it allows me to understand many of YouTube's clips that I [otherwise] would not have," says Arielle Schacter, a 17-year-old junior at The Chapin School in New York City. Schacter, who is hard of hearing, adds, "The reality, however, is that the auto-captioning is often wrong. Instead of being able to read the actual dialogue, I am forced to view nonsensical statements or letters/numbers."

Auto-captions can become jumbled for several reasons, in particular source separation. The software must distinguish different wave forms in an audio stream to find the dialogue that needs to be captioned, as opposed to background music or conversation. This is particularly difficult because many videos uploaded to YouTube have poor audio quality and a lot background noise, says Michiel Bacchiani, a senior Google staff research scientist specializing in speech recognition. "This is what YouTube is working to improve," he adds.

Auto-captioning also has difficulty transcribing language with very specialized words, such as those used during an academic lecture, Cohen says, adding, "These words aren't part of the common vocabulary, but if they're missed, you miss a lot of the meaning of the lecture."

Google claims that the most recent version of its auto-captioning software has reduced error rates by 20 percent. Indeed, an early version of the software could not recognize the word "YouTube" when it was used in videos, says Ken Harrenstien, the technical lead on the YouTube captioning project. Harrenstien, who is deaf, is the principle engineer behind the infrastructure that serves, manages and displays captions and a primary motivating force for the company's captioning projects.

Harrenstien recounts that most of the team working on the captioning project was "extremely concerned" about the quality of the first auto-captions. "I kept telling them over and over and over that, as one of the potential beneficiaries, I would be ecstatic to see even the most inaccurate captions generated by our algorithms," he says. "Most people don't realize that TV captioning for live events [such as sports] is generated by humans but can still often be atrocious to the point of illegibility. Still, if you know the context and have a good grasp of puns and homonyms, you have a shot at figuring out what's going on—and it's a lot better than nothing."

Despite the difficulty generating highly accurate auto-captions, Harrenstien says he was confident from the beginning that YouTube's automatic speech-recognition algorithms would improve over time and that the more auto-captions were used on the site, the more likely the company's engineers would be given an opportunity to improve the technology. "It works as well as we can make it, and I love it for that reason," he adds. "It is not perfect, does not pretend to be perfect, and may never be perfect, but it's a stake in the cliff we're continuing to climb."

The best way to improve auto-captioning accuracy in such a way that it can be used by the millions of videos on YouTube is to feed more data to a larger, richer model of spoken language, essentially training the YouTube software to better interpret spoken words and place them in context, Cohen says.

In the near term there are other ways to improve caption quality. People posting to YouTube can download auto-captions added to their videos, correct any errors and then re-upload the captions to YouTube. Or they can upload their videos with captions already in place, Harrenstien says, noting one clear incentive—accurately captioned videos get "many, many more views globally."

Latest series from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant of "Office" fame will be mockumentary about little person actor

From Christopher Campbell at SPOUT:

It seems every cable station has at least one show involving little people these days. Yet these are mostly “real” (as in reality TV) people rather than actors, though Peter Dinklage continues his rise in stature, if you will, with “Game of Thrones.”

So maybe I shouldn’t be too annoyed that Universal’s “Snow White and the Huntsmen” has cast Ian McShane, Ray Winstone and other non-little people as its dwarfs. My first response had been to label the casting as equivalent to blackface.

Of course it isn’t exactly, but I’m one to think there must be enough good little actors at least comparable to the “Time Bandits” gang, to employ more faithfully and respectfully. But I don’t even know that there’s been any protest from actual dwarfs or other diminutive persons, actors or not.

After all, the other “Snow White” movie in the works, the Tarsem-directed one, will feature little people, including some of those reality TV stars (Sebastian Seraceno and Ronald Lee Clark of “Pit Bosses” are among the septet). Also, while major role Hobbits in “The Hobbit” will be portrayed by big people, diminutive Kiwi actors are being cast as extras.

And just when I was wondering what guys like Verne Troyner, Deep Roy, Tony Cox and Warwick Davis are doing while Hollywood is gaga for fantasy and fairy tale roles but not so hot on short people when camera tricks and CGI render them unnecessary (cue Randy Newman), I see that at least Davis has an exciting new project.

Of course, it’s on the small screen, where real little people are more likely to be seen these days. The “Willow” and “Leprechaun” actor stars in “Life’s Too Short,” the latest series from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant for BBC Two (and later HBO) that takes a mockumentary look at the (fictional) life of the little guy who got his start as Wicket in “Return of the Jedi” and is now apparently struggling in a world where he can’t win big little roles (because they go to guys like McShane and Winstone?).

There’s a new promo for the show here. And additionally Davis will reprise his roles this summer in the final “Harry Potter” movie and some heist flick about a gang of thieving dwarfs titled “Shortfellas.”

Can Davis and Gervais be a saving grace for other diminutive actors? Seems things may be, um, looking up?

Tennessee community rallies on both sides of custody case involving grown daughter with Down syndrome

From The Tennessean:

A formerly homeless mother battling for custody of her child with Down syndrome was described as neglectful, abusive, a shoplifter and a hoarder by her estranged older daughter in court Tuesday.

Sandra Kohler, 39, testified that her mother, Renee Arnold (pictured), beat her when she was a child and neglected to take her to the doctor even though she suffered seizures.

“I helped her shoplift when I was a child,” Kohler said in court. “It didn’t occure to me until later on that I was exploited.”

Davidson County Probate Judge Randy Kennedy kept the court hearing going until 9 p.m. But with a dozen more potential witnesses, Kennedy said the case would resume on July 25.

The custody battle over Lisa Arnold, 20, who has the mental capacity of a 3-year-old, started in January after a group of good Samaritans filed a court petition stating concerns over her safety.

Renee Arnold, also known as Renate Arnold, and her disabled daughter peddled The Contributor, a publication written and sold by the homeless and formerly homeless, at the Brentwood exit off of Interstate 65 and at other locations.

The court granted conservatorship of Lisa Arnold to Belinda Mitchell, a caseworker with The Arc of Davidson County, a nonprofit that helps the disabled.

The community has rallied on both sides — some don’t want the daughter separated from the mother; others are concerned about Lisa Arnold’s safety and development. The mother and daughter are well known in the community, both in Davidson and Williamson counties. People have often donated money, food and shelter to the duo.

Mitchell testified that she met the homeless mother and daughter in October when she helped them get a hotel room. Mitchell noticed that Lisa Arnold was often peddling the paper in the cold, improperly dressed, with cracked lips and face.

Renee Arnold’s lawyer, Randy Lucas, painted Mitchell as a controlling advocate during cross-examination. Mitchell had suggested to Renee Arnold that she should take advantage of services, including medical, to help Lisa.

Lucas asked if Mitchell’s motivation to have Lisa removed stemmed from the mother’s resistance to getting help.

“Yes,” Mitchell replied.

Jad Duncan, Mitchell’s attorney, put Kohler on the stand first. She had to catch a flight back to Chicago, where she teaches at local universities and colleges.

Kohler, who was born in Chicago, said she has not seen her mother in 20 years. She decribed an unstable childhood. She said that she was raised in Germany in her maternal grandparents’ home, where her mother would hoard items such as furniture.

The family moved to New York and then to Belgium, where she went into foster care after she complained to social services. She ran away and returned to the U.S. in 1989.