Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Was "X Factor" contestant with Asperger's vetoed off show because of the "Susan Boyle effect"?

From The Mirror in the UK. Here's Scott James' audition interview.

Scott James, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, forgot the words during a TV performance seen by 8.9 million at the weekend.

Sept. 28, it emerged the 22-year-old had suffered a series of panic attacks before failing to make the final 24.

The Mirror told earlier this month how ex-recluse Scott, of Stockton-on-Tees, has now overcome his phobias.

But his parents Sharon and Ken reckon ITV bosses vetoed him in case he cracked up in the spotlight of the finals like SuBo - who spent time in a clinic after her rise to global fame in Britain's Got Talent.

Scott's singing coach Linzi Hunter said: "It might have been different if he'd come along before Susan. I think they were worried how he'd cope with the live shows - but his future still looks good."

Sears to pay $6.2 million to settle EEOC lawsuit for illegally firing disabled worker

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Sears Holdings Corp. has agreed to pay a record $6.2 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that accused the retailer of illegally firing a disabled worker.

The consent decree, approved today, represents the largest settlement ever for the agency in a single lawsuit alleging violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the EEOC said.

The lawsuit, filed in 2004, arose from a charge of discrimination filed with the EEOC by former Sears service technician John Bava, who repaired appliances. Bava was injured on the job at the former Sears, Roebuck and Co. and took workers compensation leave, the agency said. He remained disabled due to the injuries, but repeatedly attempted to return to work. But Sears “could never see its way clear to provide Bava with a reasonable accommodation which would have put him back to work and, instead, fired him when his leave expired,” said EEOC Chicago District Director John Rowe in a released statement.

According to the agency, documents released as a part of pre-trial discovery revealed that hundreds of other employees who had taken workers’ compensation leave were also terminated by Sears without the company seriously considering reasonable accommodations to return them to work while they were on leave or seriously considering whether a brief extension of their leave would make their return possible.

“Inflexible leave policies which ignore reasonable accommodations making it possible to get employees back on the job cannot survive under federal law,” John Hendrickson, regional attorney of the EEOC Chicago District Office, said in a statement. “Today’s consent decree is a bright line marker of that reality.”

Sears agreed to the settlement to avoid the time and expense of what would have been a lengthy legal process, said company spokeswoman Kimberly Freely. “Sears anticipated this matter to continue for up to an additional five years and both parties agreed that it was in their mutual interests to resolve the matter through the $6.2 million settlement.”

Fifty-eight-year-old Bava, who hurt his back, knees and wrist when he fell down a flight of stairs at a customer’s home, welcomed the agreement.

“I think it’s phenomenal,” he said. “It’s great. My whole thing of doing this was for other people out there that this has been done to for them to come out and stand up.”

Bava said he found out he was terminated after his wife’s discount card was rejected. He received no prior notice that he had been fired, he said, adding, he hopes the settlement sends the message to employers that they should “treat your employees fairly and try to accommodate them if they’re injured.”

Freely said despite the settlement, Sears “continues to believe that it reasonably accommodates its associates on leave due to work-related illnesses or injuries under the ADA.”

Under the three-year consent decree, approved by federal District Judge Wayne Andersen, Sears is required to abide by the ADA. Sears also is required to amend its workers compensation leave policy, provide written reports to the EEOC detailing its workers compensation practices and train employees regarding the ADA.

Sears has created a centralized leave management team to administer the terms of the consent decree and assist managers and associates “with leave-end issues,” the retailer said.

Golfer Ken Green, who is now an amputee, to return to Champions Tour

From The Seattle Times:

Ken Green (pictured) has overcome depression, financial troubles and a bad back. He doesn't plan on letting the loss of a leg keep him off the 50-and-older Champions Tour.

Green, 51, had his lower right leg amputated after a recreational-vehicle accident in June that killed his brother and girlfriend. He said Sept. 28 he hopes to be back on the Tour by April.

"It's probably not realistic; July might be better," Green said. "But I don't know. I've never done this before. The question is, can I get back to the highest level? Our level and just golf are two different worlds."

The five-time winner on the PGA Tour was in his hometown of Danbury, Conn., where pros including Fred Funk, Curtis Strange and Mark Calcavecchia played at Ridgewood Country Club to help raise money to pay some of his medical and personal expenses. Officials expect the event will bring in about $150,000, and plan a similar fundraiser in Florida in November.

Green was with his brother, Billy, and Ken's girlfriend, Jeannie Hodgin, when the RV his brother was driving blew a tire and went off Interstate 20 near Hickory, Miss, hitting a tree. Ken Green was the only survivor.

Green said he doesn't remember the accident, just waking up in the hospital. He said doctors told him they might be able save his leg, but that it would never function properly.

"I told them to cut it off, because that was my only chance," he said. "I wouldn't have been able to swing properly with that leg the way it was."

Green's sister, Shelley White, has been with him since the accident. She said he has been focused on golf almost since the moment he woke up. Green, who is being fitted with a prosthetic that includes an ankle that will pivot, had hoped to be able to play a few holes Monday, but said the pain in his leg would not allow it.

Green said this isn't the toughest thing he has been through. He went through a bout with depression in the 1990s that, combined with a back injury, almost cost him his golf career.

Father of boy with autism in Canadian murder-suicide Sunday sought help for son

From CBC TV News in Canada:

The deaths of a man and his 11-year-old autistic son on Sept. 27 were the result of a murder-suicide, Edmonton police said Sept. 29, after receiving confirmation from the Edmonton Medical Examiner's Office.

On Sept. 27, police found the bodies of the man, 39, and the boy in a home in northeast Edmonton, after they received a call from the man's common-law wife.

She was worried because she couldn't get in touch with him.

When officers arrived at the home around 12:42 p.m., they found the man and the boy dead in the basement.

Police said they will not be releasing the names of deceased in order to protect the privacy of the family and to protect the identity of other children in the family. They will also not be releasing the cause of death.

The boy was autistic and had been living at a group home.

The family had become desperate for help because the little boy had become difficult for the family to manage, said Karen Phillips, who works with the Autism Society of Edmonton Area.

Phillips had worked with the family and said the mother asked her to share their story.

"To say that this can't happen for other families."

"The dad just felt he couldn't do it any longer and he just didn't think he could get the help he needed," she said, as her eyes welled up with tears.

At one point, the family took the boy to the emergency department of an Edmonton hospital, where he was later admitted to the psychiatric unit, Phillips said. But the staff there weren't equipped to help a child with autism.

Eventually, a place was found for the boy in a group home, but that search was a struggle, because many group homes are not set up to deal with autistic children with extreme behavourial problems.

The case highlights a lack of emergency services to help the families of autistic children, Phillips said.

"There is no emergency service. So parents are stuck at home with their children in situations that, if the general public knew, they'd be appalled," she said.

"They would think, 'none of us could cope with that.' But it's an everyday occurrence for families who have ... behaviourally out-of-control children with autism."

Families are told to call police who in turn will take the child to the psychiatric unit of a hospital, but the staff there don't have the kind of training required to help the child, Phillips said.

"They're very good. They try their best, but they're not trained in autism and the doctors there will say clearly, this is not the place for children with autism."

The government was working on emergency respite services for families, but recent cutbacks mean the plans have been put on hold, she said.

Malaysians with disabilities fight for better accessibility

From The Star in Malaysia. Pictured a disabled person must use the road because the sidewalks are inaccessible.

It takes K. Bathmavathi some time to manoeuvre herself out of her car with some assistance and she is used to this. But what she dreads is going round and round looking for a parking bay designated for the disabled.

“Time is wasted looking for a place to park and it is frustrating to find that others are using lots meant for the disabled.

Bathmavathi, wheelchair-bound since 19, said life was tough as very little was being done for people like her.

StarMetro went along with her recently and saw just how bad facilities for the disabled are.

Some had been vandalised while others were not done in accordance to the needs of a disabled person.

Even going to the banks is a problem as the buildings are not disabled-friendly - with high entrances and some without ramps.

So how do they do their banking?

“We usually wave from outside the glass door and if the security guard notices, he will come over and help carry the wheelchair up the kerb or stairs,” said Thomas Yeo.

When going out with friends, Yeo who uses a motorised wheelchair, said he could only go to a few cafes or restaurants in SS2 as not all were disabled friendly.

“Every shop has its own design and it is like travelling on a rocky road,

“Our wheelchairs cannot go up a kerb and it is not easy to push yourself up without assistance,” said Yeo, who lives with some friends at the Beautiful Gate home near SS2.

He said the journey home was also a scary one at night when cars speed past without noticing them.

He added that most of them had an emergency light attached to them or wearfluorescent vests to be noticed.

While the council has allocated parking lots for the disabled, extra space would help as they need this to get out with their wheelchairs.

StarMetro found only certain areas had allocated parking lots for the disabled but the signages had been vandalised.

The residents would be compiling a list of recommendations that the council could look into implementing to make the city a disabled-friendly city.

“We will compile a list and send it to the mayor so that he could look into it and make the necessary changes,” said Bathmavathi who is also in the sub-committee for the All Petaling Jaya Residents’ Asso­cia­tion Coalition (APAC) as well as the Association of Women with Disabi­lities Malaysia.

Razali Adom, who lives in Taman Medan, said disabled people were always looking for places to meet with their friends, sometimes for small gatherings.

“Having to organise such events in community halls is difficult as most are not disabled-friendly.

“Sometimes we want to hold gatherings with friends in larger areas but this is a problem. We have no choice but to hold this events in our houses where we are more comfortable,” said Razali who is also a member of the Malaysian Spinal Injuries Association.

Sam Foong said she only obtained her driving licence recently and realised that getting around on her own was much easier in the city.

However, just like the rest, Foong hopes the council would make available better public facilities for the disabled as they, too, want to move around and enjoy various activities like everyone else.

During a recent council fullboard meeting, PJ mayor Datuk Roslan Sakiman said all building plans would have to comply with the MS1184:2002 code of practice of Access for the Disabled People Outside Buildings and urged the departments involved to look into planning guidelines for disabled facilities.

He said several aspects that the council would be looking into seriously were the accessibility of ramps, connectivity, tactile and guilding block, lift, railings, pedestrian crossing, hand rails, grab bars, toilets and signages.

Google defends its conduct in Italian court case about online video of bullying of disabled teen

From IDG News Service:

A Google Inc. engineer appeared in court in Milan today to defend the company's conduct in connection with the posting of a video showing the bullying of a disabled teenager.

The video had been handled by servers in the U.S., said Jeremy Doig, one of the engineers who helped create Google Video. Google staff in Italy had not been involved in the process, and the video was removed as soon as Google received a report of abuse about it, he told the court.

The three-minute mobile-phone video was posted to Google in 2006. Four Google executives, chief legal officer David Drummond, privacy counsel Peter Fleischer, former Chief Financial Officer George Reyes and former head of Google Video Europe Arvind Desikan, are on trial in Milan for defamation and violation of Italy's privacy law.

Google staff monitored the content of videos before they were posted and the company responded rapidly to reports of abuse coming from its users, Doig testified, according to lawyers present at the closed-door hearing.

"Doig told the court that the offensive video was eliminated in just two-and-a-half hours from when the company first received a complaint," Giuliano Pisapia, a lawyer representing Google, said in a telephone interview.

The first complaint was received from a user and almost immediately afterward the company was contacted by the police, who had been alerted to the video by Vividown, a charitable organization representing the interests of people with Down Syndrome, Pisapia said.

The video, which was shown in court Tuesday, showed a handicapped teenage boy being harassed by four classmates in his Turin high school. The boy did not have Down Syndrome and has withdrawn as a plaintiff from the case against Google.

Pisapia said it was difficult to tell from the video that the boy was handicapped. Vividown became involved because at one point in the film one of the bullies pretended to telephone, saying "We are from Vividown. Look at this Mongoloid boy, come and collect him," Pisapia said.

The boy had been bullied at school for two years and was relieved when Google's collaboration with the police enabled the identification of his tormentors.

"From that moment on he was reborn. An unpleasant incident has given rise to something positive," Pisapia said. Italian law does not require the prior monitoring of digital content before it is posted to the Internet, only that content providers remove offensive material at the request of the judicial authorities and assist in identifying the perpetrators of a crime, as Google had done in this case, Pisapia said.

Critics say Google allowed the offensive video to remain online for two months despite complaints from users. "Those complaints were in comments posted under the video. They were not reports of abuse," Pisapia said. "I think the hearing went very well," he said.

Guido Camera, a lawyer representing Vividown, which claimed it was defamed in the fake telephone call contained in the video, said the hearing did not go entirely Google's way.

"Numerous significant aspects emerged from a technical point of view," Camera said. "The crux of the case concerns what happened before the complaint was lodged and the way sensitive personal data was handled. I can't say in all sincerity that what we saw today was a triumph for the theories of the defense. Let's wait and see what the verdict has to say."

The trial was adjourned until Nov. 25, when prosecutors Alfredo Robledo and Francesco Cajani will present their summary arguments.

Wheelchair-using father says more children's literature should include disabled characters

From Tim Rushby-Smith at The Times in the UK:

Among my daughter’s collection of Playmobil figures there is one of special importance to me. It is a man in a wheelchair (grey hair and beard hastily removed and replaced with a younger look), and it offers me a presence in the story unfolding in her imagination, if only in the crowd scenes.

I’m sure that placing oneself in the story is a part of making sense of the world as a child. Pretty much everyone will have a favourite book from childhood, and a character they identified with. Clearly, for me, the instinct to be part of the story has not diminished, even if I am now in a wheelchair and the tale is being constructed by four-year-old Rosalie.

Similarily, if disabled children have role models to identify with, it must help them to feel they belong to society. And, while wheelchairs are available from Playmobil, it’s more important to give them a presence in children’s literature. Such visibility helps the 770,000 disabled children in the UK to feel part of everyday life, and, importantly, shapes the attitudes of all children.

In the light of the Fiona Pilkington case, where a mother was driven to take her own life and that of her disabled daughter, much has been said about the failure of the police and the local authority to respond to the harassment and violence directed at the family. However, the case also highlights a more fundamental problem with attitudes towards disability. We are at a point where racially motivated attacks are properly recognised and widely reported, yet assaults and bullying directed at a person with a disability is merely perceived as “anti-social behaviour”.

While the arrival of David Proud as a wheelchair user in EastEnders is rightly seen as progress, the “normalisation” of attitudes towards disability can best begin when children are young. Books and education provide an opportunity to move away from a point-and-stare culture, and can help all children to perceive those with a disability as part of normal, everyday life.

In The Picture is a pioneering campaign set up by Scope, the disability charity, to address this issue. The aim is to encourage publishers, illustrators and writers to include disabled children in picture books for young readers. The project has resulted in a vibrant collection of works from a wide range of children’s book illustrators.

There are images from household names, as well as exciting new artists. Quentin Blake has drawn a girl in a standing frame picking fruit with a friend, Jane Ray depicts a fairy with wings, a crown and crutches, and in Hannah Turner’s picture of a busy swimming pool, an empty wheelchair sits by the side while the owner plays in the water with everyone else.

“Traditionally, images of people with a disability in children’s books have tended to be negative — from Captain Hook to the hunch-backed witches in fairytales such as Hansel and Gretel,” says Ray. “They are either there to paint the hero or heroine in a good light or they are miraculously cured, as if this is the only possible positive outcome. In the past 10 to 15 years there have been more books containing images of children with disabilities, but they have tended to be factual. Explaining hearing aids for example, but nothing with imagination or mythology.

“The campaign is about showing disabled children in books because they’re there, a part of the story along with all the other kids. But you can’t do it with one book. The key is to have so many that it just becomes part of the way people think.”

It is a bold ambition, and it’s impossible not to be impressed when looking through the extensive resources that the In The Picture campaign has managed to collect and make available online.

As I was not disabled as a child, I was curious to know how the portrayal of disability in children’s books and television has changed. Ade Adepitan, a Paralympic basketball bronze medallist and TV presenter, says that when he was growing up there was a notable lack of role models. “When I watched We are the Champions on TV, I always wanted to take part but there were never any disabled kids involved,” he says. “And as for books, there weren’t even any black faces in them, let alone characters with disabilities.”

As I play tennis with Adepitan every week, I have seen the impact that he has on today’s children. When we get together, I am frequently asked by children in excited whispers if he’s “that one off of Desperados” — a reference to the BBC drama series about a wheelchair basketball team in which he starred. Interestingly, these comments come from able-bodied youngsters — the best demonstration of the way television can shape the attitudes of all children towards disability.

The BBC announced in June that it is launching an online directory of disabled talent, with the support of the actors’ union Equity, and a nationwide search for disabled actors and performers for drama, comedy and children’s shows. But as Cerrie Burnell knows, progress is sometimes slow. Burnell, a presenter on the BBC Cbeebies channel for the under-fives, is also involved with the In The Picture campaign. Having been born with no right forearm, she has helped to raise the profile of children’s understanding of physical disability. The negative reaction of some parents when she first appeared on screen, however, raises questions about how such attitudes could affect a child with a disability. One parent wrote on the channel’s message board that their child had “freaked out” on seeing the new presenter. “There’s a time and a place for showing kids all the differences that people can have, but nine in the morning in front of two-year-olds is not the place,” the parent added.

Burnell agrees with Adepitan’s view that there has not been enough diversity in children’s literature and programming.

“Floella Benjamin [the black former Play School presenter] did a lot to change that. I know that when she started working, there weren’t any black stories. But things have moved on, so that now with Charlie and Lola for example, you have Lotta as a black character. I think it’s nice that we’re getting to the point where it’s not unusual to have a different ethnicity. It’s important to have a good mix of characters as a reflection of every day.”

And it is certainly noticeable that there are one or two wheelchair-based characters appearing in children’s programmes. But picture books represent a major part of the world of the under-fives and, critically, it is a world where they are able to dictate time and decide what characters they want to focus on. This gives them the opportunity to find someone in a picture that they can identify with. Perhaps there is simply a need to have more disabled characters in the background rather than as the main focus of a tale about overcoming adversity.

“It’s important for them to be in the wider crowd scene, fitting in to society,” says Burnell. “But at the same time you want to explore what it means to have a disability, and have that portrayed honestly. All children deserve to have their lives represented by the power and beauty of story.

“But it’s been done the wrong way so many times. I think there’s a secret story waiting to be discovered. And it’s one that can be done imaginatively, creatively through children’s literature. It’s got to be in a way that’s cool and appealing. It must not be boring and it can’t be alienating.”

Attitudes toward disabled children have changed immeasurably since Scope was founded as the National Spastics Society in 1952, and I’m sure that society’s view of disability has also changed profoundly in the past 57 years, although the story of Fiona Pilkington indicates that we still have a long way to go.

Now Scope is aiming to change attitudes by providing a valuable resource that enables children with disabilities to get In The Picture. And a bit more of a search through the Playmobil catalogue shows that we can get them in the toybox, too.

Illinois budget cuts to eliminate personal assistant program for IL center

From the Galena Gazette in Illinois:

Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to cut a program serving hundreds of disabled Illinois residents, including nine in Jo Daviess County, has many involved up-in-arms.

Last month, Quinn notified the Northwestern Illinois Center for Independent Living (NICIL) that the state was planning to cut funding to the organization's Personal Assistant Program, serving more than 200 disabled residents across the state. The cuts would remove funding for NICIL to train and refer personal assistants.

"The decisions (the state) is making do not make any sense," Kathy Fischer said.

Fischer is the executive director of NICIL's Rock Falls Center for Independent Living, one of 22 centers in the state that help disabled residents find personal assistants. These personal assistants (PAs) work for a disabled person, helping them live a more independent life by assisting with daily activities. The amount of assistance varies, depending on the individual needs of the disabled individual.

The program is scheduled to be cancelled Sept. 30, after which NICIL will no longer be able to provide PA's for hire, assist in PA management, advocate for more PA hours, assist in obtaining PA services, or offer training for PA's.

"We are worried that people won't know where to turn," Fischer said.

Disabled individuals can still search for and hire assistants on their own, but Fischer worries that without NICIL oversight, some people could be taken advantage of.

"Our program recruits, trains, and maintains a referral list of PA's for the public to draw from," Fischer said. "Technically there is no certificate required for this position, but if people work with us they know that they have had a class and that we can arrange for a background check,"

She said some people don't know how to act as an employer, and that their program helps guide them to trained, responsible individuals who can assist them. She worries that this won't be the case if the program is cut.

"We don't want people coming off the street, claiming they are qualified, and take advantage of people," Fischer said.

The state made the cut to avoid raising taxes, and to save money, but Fischer said the move could have the opposite effect.

"If (the disabled) can't find assistance they are going to be forced into nursing homes, and that costs twice as much as if someone lives independently," Kay Arity, PA program coordinator said.

Arity said keeping just one person in each of the five counties that NICIL serves, the state will save $175,000. If all 236 participants move into nursing homes, the cost could be $8 million to the state.

Arity said an influx of people into nursing homes could hurt much more than the state's pocket book.

"It's about people's independence," Fischer said. "They don't want to go into nursing homes." Fischer said.

Until the Sept. 30 deadline, NICIL is trying to reach out to the community and stress the importance of this program.

"The general public doesn't realize that disability is a blink of an eye away from any of us," Arity said.

Tom Green, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Human Services, said the decision came down to tough choices.

"As you know, the state of Illinois is facing unprecedented fiscal challenges as we begin Fiscal Year 2010. While all the programs we offer are worthy and important, difficult choices had to be made to make cuts to programs that have the least impact on our customers."

Green said the cuts would not reduce services to customers.

"Most customers are able to find their own PA," Green said.

Baltimore restaurant settles ADA lawsuit, will make itself accessible

From The Daily Record in Baltimore:

The Donna’s café in Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon neighborhood will soon be accessible for patrons with disabilities, thanks to a long-awaited settlement with the Department of Justice.

Under terms announced Sept. 29, the 109-year-old brick building at 800 N. Charles St. will get an inclined platform lift up the stairs from the lobby to the first floor, and the bathrooms and counter area will be modified to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The settlement came none too soon for Robert Reuter, who remembers complaining to the Maryland Commission on Human Relations after being unable to get a warm beverage on a cold, rainy day in 1997.

“It’s been a long wait for that coffee,” said Reuter, a wheelchair user and activist. “It better be good.”

According to the agreement, 800 North Charles St. Limited Partnership LLLP, which owns the building, has four months to install the lift and five months to make the two first-floor bathrooms wheelchair-accessible after the necessary permits and licenses are obtained. The bathroom alterations include adding grab bars and moving the toilets and mirrors.

“I think we’ll be done with the work in perhaps as little as 100 days or less,” said Alan Hoff, the attorney for the building’s owner. Hirsch estimated the lift will cost $50,000 and said the other “cosmetic” changes are “minimal … in terms of scope and cost.”

The owners must also add signage outside the building and inside the restaurant and come up with some way for patrons of My Thai, the restaurant in the basement, to communicate with the restaurant from street level.

The Palamino Corp., which operates the restaurant, must make four changes in three months.

Charles Hirsch, the Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll LLP attorney who represented Palamino, said the restaurant will not have to close to fix its space. Hirsch’s brother, Alan, owns the café with Donna Crivello. Donna’s also has cafes at the University of Maryland hospital, and in Charles Village, the Village of Cross Keys and Columbia.

Hoff agreed with Reuter that the period from complaint to resolution had been many years, but offered a different perspective.

“This was not an adversarial thing. This was an amicable thing,” said Hoff, of Sellman Hoff LLC, whose offices are just blocks south of Donna’s. “When we learned there were concerns about a lift, we worked for years with the Department of Justice and the Human Relations Commission to find a way to make this property accessible without creating hazards. We jumped through hoop after hoop after hoop to make this happen.”

The parties had to consult with the city Fire Department to make sure the lift did not impede the exit in the event of an emergency. This complication prevented the possibility of a lift to reach My Thai, an issue Hoff called “the biggest stumbling block in this whole thing.”

“The result was something everybody was thrilled with,” Hoff said. “This was a win-win situation for everybody.”

A spokesman for the Department of Justice called the voluntary out-of-court result “a good story all around.” Alejandro Mijar, the spokesman, said there are “still thousands of restaurants out there that are not in compliance,” so the department’s Civil Rights Division welcomed the opportunity to avoid time-consuming litigation.

Reuter, however, said the building’s owners “fought and fought.”

“I think they spent more on their attorneys than it would’ve cost to fix it in the first place,” Reuter said, speculating that the matter could have been resolved a decade ago.

Reuter, a Vietnam War veteran and an engineer with Access Systems, which does accessibility work for transit systems outside Maryland, said he’s lost count of the times he’s taken formal ADA-related action.

He has sued or complained over accessibility of the Cylburn Arboretum and Mansion, A Cook’s Table in Federal Hill, and the polling place to which he was assigned in 2002. His 1998 complaint over the U.S.S. Constellation resulted in it being the first historic wooden ship to be wheelchair-accessible below deck, he said.

“I’m sort of tenacious, like a bulldog,” Reuter said. “Either that or stubborn, I’m not sure which. Take your pick.”

He cautions, however, that he only complains about establishments he wants to visit and can’t — and that he doesn’t do it for money.

“If anything I lose money,” he said. “It’s the principle of the thing.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Florida HS Athletic Association considers allowing wheelchair athletes to become official members of track teams

From Tampa Bay Online:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The Florida High School Athletic Association's Board of Directors is considering to allow wheelchair athletes to become official members of high school track teams and recognized wheelchair events would be contested.

What originally started last spring as a request by one teen wanting to better her personal times has developed into a request to add adaptive track to the state rulebook.

The board voted unanimously Monday to approve the concept and form a subcommittee to report back to the board at the November meeting. Perhaps it will look at neighboring Georgia, which has had adaptive track for seven years.

FHSAA Executive Director Dr. Roger Dearing is as close to this as anyone. His daughter is confined to a wheelchair after being paralyzed from a car accident.

"I'm going to give you my perspective," Dearing said following the four-hour general business meeting. "When I go into building, I evaluate whether they have ADA (American Disabilities Act) accessibility. You know, from one end of the dining area to another. Obviously this is a different perspective, but the number of disabled people is increasing geometrically. Years ago, there weren't that many disabled people – not just in the public schools but in the general population. There are more car accidents … more athletic accidents. It's getting to be much more predominant than it used to be."

Dearing added there will be undoubtedly be other issues that the board will have to address, including the process certifying the disability by a licensed medical physician, the type of equipment used to compete in and who will be required to provide that equipment.

"I don't think there's a fear of where it will end. I think the concern is how, as an athletic association No. 1 and as an individual school No. 2, how can I afford to meet all those needs? For example, right now we only know one person in the state that wants to compete in the wheelchair category for track. But all it takes is one. It's not a fear, it's a concern on how we'll be able to accommodate because that's what it's all about – being able to accommodate," he said.

Saudi Arabia will require everyone arriving in Mecca this November to receive polio vaccine

From The New York Times:

Saudi Arabia has announced that everyone arriving for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (pictured) in November will have to swallow a dose of oral polio vaccine under the eyes of health officials.

The kingdom has become more and more aggressive in its fight against polio, which has hovered on the brink of eradication for years. Until recently, the Saudi authorities asked for proof of vaccination when pilgrims applied for visas and forcibly vaccinated only those arriving from countries where polio was endemic.

In New York last week, the country’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, and Ted Turner, the cable television billionaire and chairman of the United Nations Foundation, announced that Saudi Arabia would donate $30 million toward global polio eradication. While that is only a small contribution to the $6.1 billion spent over the last 20 years, it is symbolically important.

Polio is endemic in only four countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and regions of Nigeria and India with a Muslim majority. It persists largely because of a persistent rumor that the vaccine is a Western plot to sterilize Muslim girls.

Each year, travelers from endemic countries seed outbreaks in other poor countries, where vaccination drives had been dropped when the disease was thought to have been eliminated. In some years, it has reached Saudi Arabia, where millions of pilgrims live close together in tent cities for the holy week.

California counties try to find the funds for many more programs for students with autism

From The Press-Enterprise in California. In the picture, autism specialist Ruth Prystash works with Kaigee Wilson, 4, at the Rob Reiner Children & Families Center in Perris, Calif.

Five years ago, the Riverside County office of education created a class for one preschooler with autism.

Today, there are 28 classrooms for students ages 3 to 22 and another 120 students attending in-home programs, said Rebecca Silva, county special education administrator.

Students with mild autism often can be blended into general classroom environments.

But for more severe cases, Silva said, it's not uncommon to have a teacher and two education assistants for eight students to provide intense, one-on-one instruction.

The smaller classes required to teach autistic children cost an average of $36,000 per student, compared to just under $8,600 for mainstream students, according to the California Department of Education.

Federal and state funding hasn't kept pace, forcing districts to be creative about staffing classrooms, finding additional resources for more services and tapping innovative programs that have worked elsewhere.

Fundraising activities and grant-writing have helped offset some increasing costs at schools in the region.

Some school districts and county offices of education are trying to establish foundations to raise money.

With autism affecting one in 150 children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention, and the number of children diagnosed rising rapidly in recent years, school districts nationwide are struggling to provide autistic students with the best education possible given the limited resources.

Timothy Walker, special education director for Riverside Unified School District, said recent state funding reductions don't change the fact that each district has an obligation to provide a "unique and individualized" education program for each autistic child in the least restrictive environment, as required by federal law.

In addition to being highly individualized, the curriculum for autistic education programs is becoming increasingly sophisticated, said Anita Ruesterholtz, who has spent three decades in special education.

Ruesterholtz is administrator of the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools' East Valley Special Education Local Plan Area, working with the Colton, Redlands, Rialto, Rim of the World and Yucaipa-Calimesa school districts and the San Bernardino County office of education.

She said creating quality programs for autistic children requires recruiting qualified teachers and paraprofessionals, as well as training them in the latest classroom techniques.

Ruesterholtz said autism programs have improved far beyond the days when the focus was simply getting kids to eat, dress and groom themselves.

"Now we're more aware of how capable the kids are," Ruesterholtz said. "We really look more at focusing on the academic things and work our way back to functional skills if they need that."

Special education coordinators in Riverside and San Bernardino counties say they've managed to keep recent major budget cuts away from special education programs, but some class sizes have been increased.

One bright spot for California special education funding this year came in the form of nearly $1.3 billion in federal stimulus money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, said Anthony Sotelo, a consultant with the California Department of Education's special education division.

Sotelo said in most cases, the extra money is allowing school districts to shift less of their general education funding to cover special education expenses.

Autism is a developmental disability and generally the result of a neurological disorder that affects brain development in the areas of social interaction and communication, according to the Autism Society of America, a 24,000-member parent advocacy group based in Bethesda, Md.

Because autism affects individuals differently, programs must be tailored, special education teachers say. And rather than reinventing the wheel, special education coordinators look to successful programs as models that are less expensive to implement.

Sotelo cited as one example a special education program the state is encouraging preschools to emulate. The Creative Learning Opportunities and Understanding Differences in Students preschool program in Etiwanda identifies the needs of students at an early age and provides academically challenging curricula aimed at helping set the stage for success later on in school.

Speech pathologist Kristin Ludovico said partnerships between district administrators, teachers and others at the school, families and community members accounted for the successes.

The diversity of autistic students and wide range of needs is illustrated in a Hemet High School classroom where Teresa Ramirez teaches the Yes I Can course.

One autistic student can barely speak, another has behavioral problems and another has one of the highest IQs in the school.

Dennis Massey, former head of Hemet High's special education department, learned about the Yes I Can course during an autism conference at the University of Redlands.

The course has proven successful in Santa Clarita and in schools outside California, Massey said.

Loni Kuhn is an autism specialist and board-certified behavior analyst who works with Ruesterholtz in San Bernardino County. Kuhn focuses on creating "applied behavior-analysis" courses that typically involve a weekly regimen with more than 30 hours of intense, often one-on-one reinforcement techniques to help children speak, play, learn and function in the world.

Kuhn has seen students unable to speak learn to talk. Others can, for the first time, sit in chairs, sit in class and respond to their teachers. Parents often tell Kuhn they can finally take their children out to public events, she said.

The quest to create enough quality programs for students with autism has Inland schools struggling to find qualified teachers, Silva said. There is also a critical need to train special education teachers properly in the latest classroom techniques that have shown good results.

Ruesterholtz said there hasn't been the money to keep up with software and other new technology that assists students.

There's also little money for substitutes who can step in when special education teachers need training, Ruesterholtz said.

Walker said California is moving toward creating a teaching credential specific to autism education, and as that becomes a requirement there will be more recruitment or a need to support staff in obtaining the credential.

Silva said educators have learned to be creative about finding new ways to staff classrooms. This school term, instructional assistants who previously worked in homes have been brought inside classrooms, Silva said.

Hemet Unified School District's governing board recently opted to pay up to $180,000 this school year for the private firm Behavioral and Education Support Team Services to provide tutors, consultants, supervisors and trainers for students with autism. That expenditure is less than what it would cost to hire trained, full-time staff for the 100-plus students with autism, district officials said.

In Riverside Unified, where more than 300 students have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, the district is examining the need for outside agencies and wants to provide services using its own staff, Walker said.

Fundraising has helped offset some increasing costs at schools in the region. One fundraiser at Pechanga Resort & Casino, for instance, raised more than $30,000 to help fulfill wish lists of special education teachers from Temecula Valley Unified School District.

Silva, in the Riverside County office of education, noted that educators and researchers are constantly learning about autism.

"In the past, estimates were that 75 percent of children with autism were also intellectually delayed or impaired," Silva said. "We know now and research backs up that 75 percent are normal or have close to normal intelligence. We truly believe as we work with every child that they are normal."

Film that chronicles lives of twins with spina bifida on festival circuit

From You can hear a radio interview with Hannah Guggenheim on KCAW-FM public radio in Alaska here.

A year after befriending her wheelchair bound neighbors, film student and first-time filmmaker Hannah Guggenheim, began to shoot them as subjects for her master’s thesis project at SFSU. She continued to pursue the story for years after finishing her degree. The result is Benji and Judah (pictured), an emotionally powerful story centered around twin brothers born with spina bifida, (a birth defect that involves the incomplete development of the spine during pregnancy) and their mother, Jeanette, who struggles to find a home for her physically-challenged sons and seven other children. The film screened at the 2008 Mill Valley Film Festival as part of the Home In the Heart series.

The film chronicles the twinsʼ lives from infancy to teenage years and begins with Jeanette explaining, how while pregnant, she had been given the grim news of their condition. She was advised to terminate the pregnancy but chose against it. Soon after the boys were born, she and her husband divorced, leaving Jeanette a single mother of eight. As the documentary unfolds, Jeanette is illustrated as the rock of the family, whose quest to provide a safe environment for her children inspires independence and strength in her sons. The family, living in limited-term government housing, face eviction and Jeanette exhausts every possible resource to find a wheel-chair accessible home.

Much of Benji and Judah is filmed from the twinsʼ perspective. Guggenheim taught the brothers to use cameras, realizing that their story would be better told with their assistance. Four years of footage was slimmed down to just thirty-one minutes of joy, struggle and persistence.

With camera in hand, Benji and Judah come alive with the silliness of teenage boys, making faces at the camera and picking on each other as siblings do. But they also allow us an intimate view into the ups and downs of their experience. We are invited to their 17th birthday party, bowling excursions, senior prom and long hospital visits. The bond between the brothers is evident but we are also provided insight into the different nature of each twin: Benji who exudes quiet strength and Judah, whose hard shell masks a lifetime of frustration and pain.

Benji and Judah is a story about defying the odds. An inspiring story of the determination of the human spirit, it will certainly find a home in your heart.

NIMH awards $1.85 million to Michigan project that studies play interventions for autism

From Crain's Detroit Business:

The National Institute of Mental Health has awarded Richard Solomon, medical director of The P.L.A.Y. Project, a $1.85 million grant to fund research on play-based early intervention for autism.

Solomon is conducting a three-year study of The Play and Language for Autistic Youngsters Project Home Consulting model, a parent-training program that addresses the need for intensive early intervention for young children with autism.

The Ann Arbor-based project addresses the shortage in personnel trained in intensive approaches for working with those children by using structured monthly home visits focused on modeling, coaching and video feedback, to train parents to engage their autistic child in ways that promote emotional connection and communication.

The program also reduces costs for parents to about $4,000 per year, or a tenth or less of what other intervention programs cost, The P.L.A.Y. Project claims.

Cleveland may hire hundreds of special ed teachers to comply with inclusion classroom rules

From The Cleveland Plain Dealer:

The Cleveland schools may have to hire dozens, even hundreds, of additional special-education teachers - if an arbitrator's decision is followed to the letter.

By union contract, "inclusion" classrooms, which mix children with disabilities and other students, must have both a regular teacher and special-education teacher present full time, arbitrator Donald Pearson ruled last month. The district does some of that but more often removes children with disabilities from different classrooms and sends them to a central location for extra help.

The ruling, if strictly applied, would force the financially beleaguered district to hire up to six teachers per school, according to a teachers union estimate. The decision grew out of a complaint filed by a third-grade, general-education teacher.

Talks on how to comply with the ruling began last week. Teachers union President David Quolke would not disclose details but indicated that a compromise is possible.

"We want to work collaboratively," he said. "We want a workable solution."

Special education places heavy demands on the Cleveland schools.

More than 20 percent of the nearly 50,000 students are considered to be disabled, and a fourth of the 3,884 teachers are in special education. Still, many inclusion classes have more than the maximum number of special-education students - three in elementary schools, four in high schools - set by the union contract.

Federal law requires schools to place children with disabilities in general-education classrooms, if possible. Advocates say inclusion spares such students from being isolated and stigmatized, and it ensures that they receive the same quality of instruction as other children.

Cleveland Legal Aid lawyer Jennifer Martinez Atzberger helps needy families argue for special-education services. She sympathizes with the district's financial plight but says pulling children out of class and sending them to work with another teacher can violate the spirit of inclusion.

"It defeats the purpose of having them in the general-education classroom," Atzberger said "It singles them out as being different."

Chief Academic Officer Eric Gordon defended the strategy. He said the district chooses the option not to save money, but because it is part of the "individual education plan" developed by a school and a child's parents.

"IEPs can't be dictated by economics," he said. "There are lots of court cases that school districts have lost when they tried to make it about economics."

"Co-teaching," as the pairing of general- and special-education teachers is known, is gaining popularity across the country, said Marilyn Friend, head of the Department of Specialized Education Services at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Pulling students out of class can cause them to miss instruction on which all the students will be tested, Friend said. The teacher tandems are better able to spot who's struggling, and they have more options for grouping students, she said.

"You put the two of them together, and you get instruction that cannot be matched when it's done well," Friend said.

Amputees in Gaza face long wait for prosthetics

From Ma'an News in Gaza:

GAZA – "My life has changed," 23-year-old university student Reyad Rabi told Ma'an in Gaza last week. "They promised to find a prosthetic for me and indeed they were serious; I'm living my life normally."

"The second day of the war, I was standing with my father near our house when a missile fired from a jet hit us," he continued. "Me, my father, and my brother were all hurt. I lost my left leg and the right one was damaged severely."

"It changed me," he added, recounting months without hope, of despair and fatigue, obsessed with what the future would hold. "I treated my wife differently, and my family, too. I watched them walking everywhere, while I was confined to a house - 24 hours a day."

Yet today Reyad can carry his boy, born after the war, and leave his home without anyone's help. Although he's still searching for a job that could accommodate his new reality as an amputee, Reyad said he considers himself lucky.

Fresh after Israel's assault on Gaza last winter, and due to its ongoing blockade of the coastal strip, finding prosthetic limbs is for the first time more difficult than affording them, which was once patients' main concern. And they're only available in one place.
Dr Hazem Ash-Shawwa is the director of Gaza City's Artificial Limb and Polio Center, which operates thanks to the generosity of local civil society and nonprofit organizations like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. He said his limited staff does its best for patients seeking to replace limbs lost during the latest assault, but the wait has never been longer.

Most frustrating, the specialist insisted, is that his center could construct its own prosthetics were it not for the ban on most of the necessary raw materials. While European intervention has occasionally forced Israel to budge, "under normal circumstances" his center was already providing services to some 5,000 injured in the second intifada and other accidents - all before the blockade that began in 2007.

And that was months before the air assault and invasion shocked the world late last December. During the three-week offensive, Ash-Shawwa says, his list of patients increased by the hundreds.

Sadly, according to the doctor, is that it is Egypt's permanent closure of the Rafah crossing that prevents most Gazans from receiving treatment there, since Israel's borders are all but off-limits. He said his center receives offers of aid from abroad for everything it would need to help the amputees, but none of it matters when Cairo opens Rafah sporadically, at best.

Nevertheless some relatively fortunate Palestinians were able to temporarily escape to Egypt during the assault. Umm Murtajy lost a leg, in addition to her journalist son, while checking on neighbors after her family heard a loud blast from next door.

"A warning missile arrived on their [the neighbors'] roof," she explained. "When I got up to see what happened, another struck ours, killing my son, severing my right leg, and wounding my left one."

Although Murtajy was transported to Egypt for medical treatment during the actual assault, doctors were unable to immediately heal her stump well to fit a prosthesis, and sent her home to make room for more patients. "So I came back to Gaza, and I'm waiting my turn."

EEOC sues Las Vegas cab company for rejecting driver applicant with one arm

From The AP:

LAS VEGAS — A federal agency is suing a southern Nevada taxicab company, alleging that a driver applicant was rejected for a job because he had an arm amputated.

The lawsuit filed Sept. 28 in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas accuses Vegas Western Cab Co. of refusing to hire single-arm amputee Joel Walden in February 2006.

The EEOC identifies Walden as a former military reservist, and says federal and state regulations allow an amputee to be employed as a taxi driver if he or she uses a prosthetic arm and passes a physical examination.

Western Cab in Las Vegas did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting disability discrimination by the company, plus unspecified monetary damages for Walden.

Soldiers in Afghanistan to hold first Buddy Walk for Down syndrome in a combat zone

From Carriage Trade PR:

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The first ever Buddy Walk for Down syndrome to be held in a combat zone will be happening October 2 at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Inspired by the Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society’s Buddy Walk October 3 in Savannah, soldiers serving overseas that are unable to be present for the Savannah Buddy Walk Festival will be walking in Kabul to raise awareness and funds to support families touched by Down syndrome. All proceeds generated will be directed to Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society (LDSS) and the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). (Last year's LDSS Buddy Walk is pictured.)

Coordinated by Sergeant Samantha Allen—stationed at Camp Phoenix in Afghanistan with a National Guard Unit out of Macon, Georgia—the event has generated great excitement among the troops, many of whom are walking in honor of a friend, relative, or neighbor that they personally know who has been touched by Down syndrome.

Sergeant Allen has a baby nephew named Jaxson who was recently born with Down syndrome. Five month old Jaxson Hurst—a Savannah resident who lives in Pooler with his family (mom, Shannon, dad, James and two year old brother, Brayden)—is Allen’s inspiration for launching the first ever Buddy Walk in Afghanistan.

Shannon and James Hurst met in 2006 at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah where they serve in the 3rd ID. They fell in love, got married and settled down in Savannah to start a family. When their second child, Jaxson, was born with Down syndrome in 2009, the Hursts’ immediately reached out to LDSS for support and began learning everything that they could about the condition to ensure that Jaxson would have the proper support to live a fulfilling and healthy life. They quickly learned about the upcoming Buddy Walk in Savannah and decided to get involved.

Shannon Hurst began discussing the Buddy Walk with her sister Samantha Allen. Allen, in Afghanistan, was disappointed that she would not be able to join the family in Savannah for the walk. Sergeant Allen decided that she wanted to get involved to raise money and awareness among the troops and organized a Buddy Walk of her own in Afghanistan to honor Jaxson and others with Down syndrome.

Kicking off National Down Syndrome Awareness month, the Camp Phoenix Buddy Walk will happen in Kabul on Friday October 2 at 10 a.m. Hundreds of soldiers are signed up for the one mile walk. A stationary buddy walk wall will be posted at the track and soldiers are encouraged to bring a picture of those that they know with Down syndrome in order to honor them as they are celebrated on this day. Many of the soldiers at Camp Phoenix are from the southeast region. The event will be followed by a festival complete with BBQ, music, a dunk tank, pie-in-the-face, and morale events such as volleyball, football and a horseshoe tournament.

The Buddy Walk, introduced in 1995 by the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS)—a national advocate for the value, acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome—was a major breakthrough in promoting the acceptance and inclusion of all people with the condition.

A nationwide campaign to raise awareness and funds for programs that support families touched by Down syndrome, the Buddy Walk enables NDSS affiliates to advocate for individuals with Down syndrome in their community, which has opened many minds and doors for people with Down syndrome.

The Buddy Walk started with just 17 walks in 1995, and increased over the years, totaling more than 260 walks in 2005. This year in 2009 the NDSS expects over 300 Buddy Walks to occur nationally during the month of October, which is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

Kerala, India, to establish Centre for Disability Studies

From The Hindu in India:

With an aim to empower differently-abled persons, the Kerala government is planning to set up a Centre for Disability Studies in the State capital. G. MAHADEVAN spoke to Dr. G.N. Karna (pictured), Chairman of the Working Group on Disability for the 11th Five Year Plan on the scope of this proposal.

Dr. G. N. Karna is a member of the National Human Rights Commission Core Group on disability and Chairman, Working Group on Disability for 11th Five Year Plan. He is a member of the Consultative Committee on Scheduled Castes, Other Backward Castes, and Social Welfare for Mid-Term Appraisal of 11th Five-Year Plan and is the Honorary President, Society for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies, New Delhi.

He was in Thiruvananthapuram last week to participate in a meeting called to discuss the setting up of a Centre for Disability Studies under the LBS, in Thiruvananthapuram. Based on discussions he had with The Hindu-EducationPlus while in Thiruvananthapuram he agreed to respond to questions emailed to him. Excerpts:

In layman’s terms, how would you define Disability Studies?

Disability Studies could be defined as a field of knowledge or academic inquiry, which reformulates the study of disability by perceiving it as a social phenomenon, social construct, metaphor and culture, and thereby suggesting adoption of rights-based perspective. Disability Studies is primarily centred on how disability is defined, viewed and represented in society.

The complexity of defining disability has aggravated because of indiscriminate and loose use, by scholars, of terms like ‘impaired’, ‘disabled’, ‘physically handicapped’/ ‘physically challenged’, ‘mentally challenged’ and ‘differently abled’. Though the fact remains that there is classical distinction in the meaning of these terminologies, they all convey some or other disabling situations and provide a fragmented perspective of disability. The most accepted terminology from rights-based perspective is persons with disabilities or disabled persons.

What is the status of disability studies in India? Is there adequate academic focus on the social, cultural, economic, educational issues relating to such people?

Ironically, despite plethora of studies and research carried out in developed societies, the area of disability studies, still, remains quite grey and unexplored. It continues to be ignored in the curricula of schools, colleges and universities in India and due attention has not been given to address issues related to disability and rehabilitation policies from inter-disciplinary paradigms. This could be reflected in the way the plethora of degrees and diploma courses are restructured over the years by national institutes with sectoral perspectives with medical/ clinical orientation.

This tendency has resulted in the issue of disability being studied and analysed as merely the part of the syllabi of certain specific disciplines such as, medical science, bio-technology, psychology, social work, special education, community health, rehabilitation medicine, labour economics and sociology and that, too, in a piecemeal fashion.

Moreover, there is far too rigid a compartmentalisation of disciplines in the curricula of Indian Universities and academic institutions, which has contributed to a reduction of cross-flow between various fields of research and obstructed progress in the specific field of disability. Since disability is basically a human rights and developmental issue, its multitudinous dimensions must be approached from interdisciplinary paradigm.

What should be the role of a Centre for Disability Studies such as the one proposed to be set up by the Government of Kerala?

The proposed Centre for Disability Studies (CDS) to be started by Government of Kerala should undertake the following activities in order to actualise the goal of empowering the persons with disabilities at the grassroots level. Among the major activities and roles identified for the proposed CDS are: imparting teaching and research at the level of MA/M.Sc., M.Phil. and Ph.D. programmes in Disability Studies with interdisciplinary perspectives; organising short-term and long-term training programmes for the rehabilitation personnel; developing resource materials for the use of persons with disabilities as also professionals and social activists for delivery of services to the stakeholders; conducting institutional and community rehabilitation programmes; establishing better linkages between university and government/non-governmental organisations working in disability sector; acting as a cleaning house on various disability aspects in terms of assistance, promotion of research and dissemination of information; conducting innovative research for promoting inclusive education practices at school and college level for students with disabilities; carrying out participatory action research on issues of contemporary relevance for disability sector ; espousing for incorporation of disability, rehabilitation and human rights related issues into the curricula of subjects being taught at school and college levels; and most importantly sensitizing at the grassroots level about the imperativeness of changing the mindsets of society.

Since the courses to be offered by the proposed centre should be multidisciplinary in nature, development of interdisciplinary team of experts/ professionals would be necessary.

Imparting courses on Disability Studies as part of higher education involves expertise from plethora of academic disciplines. The centre could initially offer MA/ M.Sc., M.Phil. and Ph.D. programme on Disability Studies. Apart from academic programmes, the staff of the Centre should also actively engage in research, training and development of psycho- educational tools.

How can the best of students be attracted to disability studies?

Insofar as attracting the best students for the programmes are concerned, a national level entrance test should be held in major cities of the country to select the competent candidates with interest in pursuing the career in Disability Studies.

Another important way to encourage talented and promising students/ scholars for opting academic, research and professional career in Disability Studies could be to institute certain scholarships/ fellowships. There could be adequate scope for degree holders of CDS for employment avenues in central and state universities, colleges, national institutes, organisations and donor agencies working in disability sector at national and international levels. Those who achieve excellence in research at doctoral level could also stand good chance of getting Ford Foundation and Commonwealth Fellowship for advanced career in Disability Studies in foreign universities/ academic institutions. For exceptional scholars with outstanding contribution to Disability Studies, there could also be scope for applying for the most prestigious Ed Roberts Post Doctoral Fellowship for higher research in the USA.

What are the steps that need to be taken to establish such an institute? How would it be funded?

The most important step required for Department of Education in Kerala is to constitute a high-power Core Group on Disability Studies Teaching and Research in Schools, Colleges and Universities with the mandate of laying down a broad outline for setting up a Centre for Disability Studies as part of LBS Centre for Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram. Total estimated financial support/grants- in- aid required to meet the expenses against plan headings for a duration of five years could be approximately Rs.10 crore or so. In addition, a Corpus Fund could be instituted so as to make the operation of centre sustainable in due course. In that case the centre might not have to look for financial support/grants at every stage of its institutional development. Insofar as mobilisation/allocation of financial resources is concerned, the Government of Kerala could allocate financial grants-in-aid/support of Rs.10 crore or as much as possible (including the plan expenses on salary and perks of staff for five-year period) for this purpose. The rest Rs.10 crore could be generated by managing part financial support from Thiruvananthapuram/Kerala-based major public sector banks and public sector undertakings.

What are the challenges faced by the disabled in the country today? What other measures can be taken to mitigate those challenges?

Given the gargantuan dimension and complex nature of the problem of disability in India, the greatest need of the hour is neither more programming nor even specific entitlements for the disabled individuals but a re-orientation of policy framework of disability from rights-based approach. Despite launching of plethora of schemes/plans and investing crores of rupees by Government of India on physical and vocational rehabilitation as also legal empowerment, the goal of mainstreaming the persons with disabilities into society is still as far way as ever. There is a wide gap in policy formulation and implementation. Though there is lack of accurate and reliable data on disability in our country it could roughly be assumed that not less than ten per cent of the total population are affected by physical, mental and sensory impairments and around 75 per cent of the total population is concentrated in rural, hilly and far-flung backward regions of developing countries.

If this yardstick is adopted to ascertain the quantum of population incapacitated by various disabling situations in our country, it could come around the staggering figure of ten and eleven crore.

Despite so much brouhaha in policy circles over empowerment of the disabled/disadvantaged, the situation is quite alarming at the grassroots level and a minuscule part of the disabled population has so far been benefited by governmental schemes/programmes. Even the scheme benefits do not go to them without pinches because of rampant corruption involved in delivery of services.

The monitoring and watchdog mechanism put in place has so far failed to ensure delivery of services and justice to the genuine disabled beneficiaries in villages.

British mother who killed her disabled daughter and herself suffered years of abuse from neighbors, inquest rules

From The AP:

LONDON — Years of torment from young neighbors led a despairing single mother to kill herself and her disabled daughter, and police inaction contributed to the deaths, a British inquest jury ruled Sept. 28.

Fiona Pilkington (pictured left) suffered more than a decade of abuse from a gang of youths who terrorized her family by urinating on her house, taunting her developmentally challenged daughter and beating her severely dyslexic son.

Despite repeated calls to police and desperate letters to her local lawmaker, no one intervened to stop the persecution, and Pilkington killed herself and her 18-year-old daughter (pictured) when she set fire to their family car in October 2007.

"This has been a shocking and immensely distressing case," British Home Secretary Alan Johnson told journalists after the verdict, adding that police and local government officials had "some hard lessons" to learn.

An inquest into Pilkington and her daughter Francecca Hardwick's death heard that the pair endured having their home pelted with stones, eggs and flour and having their garden ransacked. At one point Hardwick, who had the mental age of a four-year-old, was a verbally assailed by more than a dozen youths who demanded that she lift up her nightdress.

Pilkington's son Anthony, now 19, also was abused over the years. He was once taken to a shed at knifepoint and locked in by the gang — some of whose members were as young as 10. Later, he was attacked with an iron bar.

The inquest in Loughborough, in central England, heard that 33 calls to police did not result in any prosecutions for bullying or harassment. In one case police reported back that Pilkington had been "overreacting" — in another case she was simply told to draw her curtains.

The inquest — which under British law must be held when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or of unknown causes — ruled that police's failure to respond to the family's pleas for help contributed to their deaths.

Leicestershire police said it was "extremely sorry" over the deaths, and the force's Temporary Chief Constable Chris Eyre offered his "unreserved apologies" to the family and the wider public after the verdict.

Pilkington's family said the case highlighted problems faced by parents of disabled children, and campaigners and academics said the police's sluggishness in responding to the attacks showed that hate crimes against disabled people were often ignored.

"The failure to take seriously the 'drip-drip' of daily violence against some disabled people is at the heart of the Pilkington case," said professor Alan Roulstone, who researches disability issues at De Montfort University in central England. He said that while British society had made strides toward tackling religious or racially-motivated hate crimes, disabled people were often "last on the list."

The sentiment was backed by the chief executive of disability charity Scope, Jon Sparkes, who said that while police were getting better at recognizing attacks against ethnic minorities or homosexuals, "in general, there is a profound lack of awareness about disability hate crime."

"Often people do not even accept that a disabled person can be targeted simply because they are disabled," he said.

Britain's police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said it would investigate Leicestershire police's handling of the case.

MDA CEO receives pay raise despite layoffs of 7% of employees

From KPHO-TV in Arizona:

PHOENIX -- The leaders of the nation’s top charities and foundations received average pay raises of 7 percent last year, according to a Chronicle of Philanthropy study released Monday.

The study tallied increases for the national biggest nonprofit organizations, which include four Arizona organizations.

According to The Chronicle’s study, chief executive officers for the the Muscular Dystrophy Association, St. Mary’s Food Bank, Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Valley of the Sun United Way all received raises in 2008.

Sept. 28, representatives from each organization told CBS 5 News their CEOs have no plans to take pay cuts, despite drops in donations.

The most highly paid CEO, according to the study, is Muscular Dystrophy Association President Gerald Weinberg.

The longtime Tucson executive made $402,732 in 2008, despite laying off 12 percent of his staff to make up for a 10 percent drop in donations.

A representative from the charity said Weinberg will participate in an association-wide weeklong furlough during the week of Thanksgiving.

Make-A-Wish Foundation President David Williams also made more money in 2008, receiving a 9.1 percent raise that included a $75,000 bonus.

His pay totaled $354,487 in 2008.

Make-A-Wish Foundation Media Relations Manager Brent Goodrich said Williams' salary is low, considering he runs a $202 million charity.

"He's doing a great job for us. He's making sure that even more kids get their wishes, and that's the bottom line for us,” Goodrich said.

At the Valley of the Sun United Way, President Merl Waschler’s salary was $209,943, plus another $104,342 in benefits in 2008.

The authors of the Chronicle of Philanthropy study said, when the organization’s approximately $58-million income is factored in, Waschler's salary is higher than most nonprofit CEOs.

A United Way spokesperson said Waschler has since frozen his salary.

Representatives from each organizations also said their CEOs' pay for 2008 was determined in 2007, before Wall Street collapsed.

St. Mary’s Food Bank CEO Terry Shannon’s salary is $123,230. He received a small raise in 2008, but he is pulling in about one-third of the average salary for a CEO at a large nonprofit organization.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the average salary for nonprofit CEOs at the nation’s 253 largest organizations in 2008 was $361,538.

In 2007, it was $330,395.

EEOC says AT&T violated ADA by refusing to hire job applicant who is insulin-dependent

From TMCnet:

AUSTIN, Texas - AT&T Services, Inc., doing business as Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, L.P. (AT&T), a major telephone company, violated federal law by refusing to hire an applicant simply because he is an insulin-dependent diabetic, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed Sept. 28.

According to the EEOC's suit, AT&T violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to hire an applicant as a cable splicer technician in Austin only because of his "insulin use" for type 2 diabetes. Indeed, according to the EEOC, the applicant indisputably had the necessary experience and expertise to perform the job and had previously safely performed a similar job for AT&T for many years after he was diagnosed with diabetes.

Refusing to hire a qualified individual because of his or her disability, record of disability, or because the employer perceives a person as being disabled, violates the ADA. After the EEOC's San Antonio Field office determined that AT&T had violated the law, it filed suit (CASE NO. A09CA700JN) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages for the victim, as well as injunctive relief.

"Hiring decisions should be based on an applicant's qualifications and not on myths, fears and stereotypes about actual or perceived disabilities related to diabetes and insulin use," said Senior Trial Attorney Eduardo Juarez of the EEOC's San Antonio Field Office.

According to its web site, Dallas-based AT&T "is recognized as one of the leading worldwide providers of IP-based communications services to businesses." Further information about the company is available at its web site,

"Employers must make hiring decisions based on the applicant's ability to perform the duties of the job," said Supervisory Trial Attorney Judith G. Taylor of the EEOC's San Antonio Field Office. "This company flatly refused to consider an applicant for employment simply because he is an insulin-dependent diabetic. AT&T should not have relied on generalized and grossly incorrect assumptions about a diabetic's ability to perform a job, especially considering that the applicant worked for about 13 to 14 years in a similar job for AT&T, approximately ten years of which he was an insulin-dependent diabetic."

Negative comments about a disabled person on Canadian radio show violates country's broadcast code


OTTAWA, Canada - Negative comments about person with a disability made during the morning show on Toronto’s CFNY-FM (102.1 The Edge), violated the equitable portrayal code, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) has found.

The Edge’s morning show, called The Dean Blundell Show, features news, weather, music, humorous banter among the three hosts, and, occasionally, in-studio guests. One recurring guest was Spencer Miller, a man with cerebral palsy who referred to himself as "Spencer the Cripple” and appeared on the program to speak frankly about life with a disability.

The CBSC received a complaint about the January 5, 2009 segment, which a listener called “offensive and degrading towards persons with disabilities”. During that segment, Blundell and his co-hosts asked Miller about his personal hygiene habits and said that they did not believe Miller when he insisted that he is able to wipe himself after using the bathroom. They also discussed Miller’s sex life, suggesting that Miller is not an active participant in such acts and that his “assistant” has to lie him down first and wipe him off after. At one point, one of the hosts also imitated what he believed a disabled person would sound like while performing oral sex.

The CBSC Ontario regional panel examined the complaint under clauses of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code relating to abusive comment, stereotyping, stigmatization and victimization, and degradation, as well as the Human Rights Clause of the CAB Code of Ethics, and concluded that the segment violated all of those clauses.

In its decision, the CBSC said that the hosts

“unrelentingly made Miller the target of jokes and mockery. The routine based on the wheelchair-bound Miller’s ability to wipe himself was not merely in bad taste (that being an issue for the listener’s on-off switch), but it was also a form of victimization and stereotyping. One of the unnecessary and utterly inappropriate examples was host Blundell’s accusation: “I don’t think you can wipe your own bum. Admit it!” A cruel, harsh, finger-pointing differentiation for what is for most adults a basic (if generally undiscussed) activity. [...] All in all, the Panel finds that the hosts’ comments in the areas of personal hygiene and sexual performance inappropriately portrayed Spencer Miller, as a result of his disability, as helpless and incapable. It also finds that their comments in these areas were reproachful, insulting and condemnatory [...].

There were numerous examples of laughter and tonally inappropriate comments at Spencer Miller’s expense. In one example that the Panel found particularly shocking, Shapiro even made a mocking sound of a vocally-challenged person, which of course had no relevance whatsoever to Miller’s physical affliction, unless one were making the assumption that all persons with a disability could be put in the same container, as in ‘seen one, seen them all’.”

The Panel also found that some of the comments made during the discussion about Miller’s sexual activities were too explicit for the time of day at which they were broadcast, which also violated Clause 9(b) (Radio Broadcasting) of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Biotech firm that developed pregnancy blood test for Down syndrome fires top officials for mishandling data

From The New York Times:

A biotechnology company developing what was expected to be a groundbreaking blood test for Down syndrome fired its chief executive, a top research official and three other employees Sept. 18 after an investigation into “mishandling” of test data and results.

The company, Sequenom, announced the mishandling of the data in April, saying that the superlative results it had announced for its prototype test could no longer be trusted. A committee of independent board members then hired a law firm to conduct an investigation.

Sequenom said Tuesday that its investigation concluded that the company had “failed to put in place adequate protocols and controls” for studies and that some employees had failed to exercise adequate supervision. As a result, the company said in a regulatory filing Monday, “inadequately substantiated claims, inconsistencies and errors” about the Down syndrome test had been disclosed to investors.

The board fired Harry Stylli, the chief executive, and Elizabeth Dragon, the senior vice president of research and development, effective immediately, as well as three other employees whose names were not disclosed. Paul Hawran, the chief financial officer, and Steven Owings, the vice president for commercial development of prenatal diagnostic tests, resigned.

The company said the individuals who were dismissed or resigned had denied any wrongdoing. But it said the “committee’s investigation has raised serious concerns, resulting in a loss of confidence by the independent members of our board of directors in the personnel involved.”

Sequenom’s announcement left many questions unanswered, in particular how exactly the data was “mishandled” and whether what happened was mere sloppiness or outright falsification and fraud.

The lack of detail prompted one investor on Sequenom’s conference call Monday to accuse the company of “dancing around” what had happened, saying that would undermine investor confidence in the company.

Harry F. Hixson Jr., the chairman of the company, replied that the company could not say more because it was under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and had been sued by shareholders. Sequenom said it would present the results of its investigation to the staff of the S.E.C.

Still, Mr. Hixson said that it did not appear that the officers who were fired or quit had profited financially “from any of the transactions here.”

Sequenom, based in San Diego, was developing a test to detect the chromosomal abnormality Down syndrome in fetuses, using a sample of the pregnant mother’s blood. Such a noninvasive test might have eventually replaced the tests now used, amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling, which are more invasive and can cause miscarriages.

The company’s work drew widespread attention from Wall Street, the medical community and the news media, especially after it was reported that in early trial runs the test was virtually perfect in detecting Down syndrome, with no false positives or false negatives. Down syndrome, in which a person has an extra copy of a particular chromosome, is marked by some mental retardation and unusual facial characteristics.

The data, though announced by the company, had not been published in peer-reviewed medical journals.

The company’s shares, which had been as high as $28 a year ago, fell sharply in late April when the company said the data could no longer be trusted. In after-hours trading Monday, the stock fell by nearly half to $3.23.

Mr. Hixson, a former chief operating officer at the biotechnology giant Amgen, was named as the company’s interim chief executive. The company said it was taking numerous steps to correct the problems, such as a new organizational structure, new training for employees and new procedures for storing samples.

Mr. Hixson said that the company still had confidence in its technology. “We continue to believe that Sequenom has the potential to develop important noninvasive prenatal diagnostic tests,” he said, adding that the data problems were “more a setback in time than anything else.”

He did not say, however, when the Down syndrome test, which the company had initially expected to introduce last June, might be ready. The company has said that data on the test’s performance will have to be validated by independent researchers.