Saturday, October 31, 2009

With more funding going to AIDS, other more prevalent killers of children in the developing world go untreated

From The New York Times:

JOHANNESBURG — Diarrhea kills 1.5 million young children a year in developing countries — more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined — but only 4 in 10 of those who need the oral rehydration solution that can prevent death for pennies get it.

“All the attention has gone to more glamorous diseases, but this basic thing has been left behind,” said Mickey Chopra, chief of health at UNICEF, which is trying to put diarrhea back on the global health agenda. “It’s a forgotten disease.”

His observation lies at the heart of a wider debate over whether the United States and other rich nations spend too much on AIDS, which requires lifelong medications, compared with diarrhea and the other leading killer of children, pneumonia, both of which can be treated inexpensively.

The debate is flaring at a time of great opportunity and risk. Recent data has documented remarkable progress in reducing child mortality and treating people with AIDS. Foreign assistance, which has often delivered disappointing results, is helping save millions of lives, the new figures show.

But as the United States and other rich nations hit by the global financial crisis face their own daunting challenges, there is heightened competition for foreign assistance. President Obama has proposed a 2 percent increase in spending on H.I.V. and AIDS for 2010 and a 6 percent rise for maternal and child health, according to the Global Health Council, but the disparity in American spending on AIDS and the big child killers remains stark.

In Africa’s two most populous nations, Nigeria and Ethiopia, the number of people who died of AIDS in 2007 — 237,000 — was less than half the 540,000 children under 5 who died of pneumonia and diarrhea. But this year, the $750 million the United States is spending on H.I.V. and AIDS in the two countries not only dwarfs the $35 million it is spending there on maternal and child health, but is also more than the $646 million it is spending on maternal and child health in all the world’s countries combined.

“AIDS is still underfunded, no question,” said Jeremy Shiffman, a political scientist at Syracuse University who has documented global health spending patterns. “But maternal, newborn and child mortality is a tremendous tragedy and gets peanuts.”

Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel — a bioethicist, White House official and brother of Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff — has contended that international aid for health is limited and would save more lives if increases focused on maternal health and the “mundane but deadly diseases” that kill young children. Such choices are necessary, he and a co-author wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association in April, “if the United States is going to shoulder the burden of choosing which lives to save in the developing world.”

Jeffrey D. Sachs, the Columbia University economist, countered that wealthy donors still spent far too little on global health and rejected what he called the wrong-headed idea that “we need to make a terrible and tragic choice between AIDS or pneumonia.” The United States has invested heavily in the fight against AIDS, and other wealthy nations should pick up more of the cost of other global health priorities, he says.

“Rather than tearing down what’s working, we should continue to invest in what’s needed,” he said.

Mr. Obama has promised to put greater focus on child and maternal health and proposed a 53 percent increase next year in money to fight malaria, a major killer of African children, the Global Health Council estimated. But he has also committed to major increases in money to fight AIDS in coming years that, if enacted, would ensure that AIDS remained America’s global health priority, constituting over 70 percent of its global health spending, he said.

International commitments to combat HIV and AIDS rose at an average annual rate of 48 percent from 1998 to 2007, reaching $7.4 billion and making up almost half of donor financing for global health, according to Professor Shiffman’s analysis of data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Still, more than half the people with the disease who need drug treatment still are not getting it. Two million died in 2007, according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.

The toll of women and children who die of easily preventable or curable conditions is even higher. Pneumonia alone killed 2 million children under age 5, and diarrhea 1.5 million more, out of the almost 9 million young children who died last year.

Dr. Olivier Fontaine, who described himself as the only person at the World Health Organization working full time on childhood diarrheal diseases, said health ministry managers in poor countries knew diarrhea was a crucial cause of child mortality, but focused on other diseases that have gotten more attention and financing from abroad.

Two days after her month-old son’s bout of diarrhea began, Marcia Mankense (pictured), 23, took him to a hospital here in Johannesburg where a doctor administered fluids through an intravenous line threaded into his scalp.

Before his birth, she said, no one told her she should give him oral rehydration salts — known as O.R.S. — as soon as he got diarrhea, though she was counseled on the need to get tested for H.I.V. Nor did anyone give her a packet of the salts to take home.

“He’s my firstborn and I know nothing about kids,” she said, exhausted next to his crib after days of vigil. “I just feel like I need to be here for him. What if he’s crying?”

Public health experts agree there is tremendous potential to lower child deaths from diarrhea and pneumonia substantially. New methods of distributing rehydration salts and cheap zinc tablets, also recommended for diarrhea, are being tested, including giving them away during national campaigns to hand out antimalarial bed nets and to vaccinate children against measles.

“Everyone should have O.R.S. at home like we have Band-Aids,” Dr. Fontaine said.

For an extra $3 billion to $4 billion in coming years, children in poor countries could be inoculated against pneumonia and the rotavirus that causes about a third of diarrhea deaths, according to the GAVI Alliance, a broad group of donors.

On the diarrhea ward at the hospital here, most of the babies and young children had mothers patiently sitting next to their cribs, comforting them. But one little boy, just 2 months old, was alone. His mother, a 10th grader, was at school. He had come in dehydrated, with sunken eyes, too enervated to even cry. But after being given fluids intravenously, life flowed back into him.

When he howled, a nurse or one of the mothers would look into his eyes. He would fall quiet, his cries muting to soft mewling, his eyes widening curiously.

“He wasn’t even crying when he got here,” Mrs. Mankense said happily. “Now we can hear his voice. He’s naughty!”

DC took two years to act on quality of care issues at group home

From The Washington Post:

The group home provider was under the gun. The District was unhappy with the quality of care at Individual Development Inc.'s home on Edson Place NE. Effective immediately, the city said in 2007, it was taking steps to relocate its developmentally disabled residents.

Except it didn't.

A letter released this week makes clear that the city waited almost two years to take decisive action against IDI, a nonprofit group run by three prominent D.C. lawyers, and then did so only after questions were raised about the deaths of three IDI residents.

In the months before the city moved, the fragile, disabled people living in IDI's homes on Edson Place and 53rd Street SE endured a litany of indignities and mistakes, which are catalogued in a confidential report prepared by a federal court monitor and provided to the District.

At the 53rd Street home, a resident was slapped by an employee this year and was hospitalized last year with a head wound after the staff failed to secure the disabled person's seat belt in the shower, according to the report. Over three months last year, the same resident did not leave the home for a single documented community outing, the report said.

At Edson Place, one resident went without a recommended Pap smear or necessary dental treatment last year, according to the report. A wheelchair for the same person, promised for months, still hadn't arrived earlier this year, leaving the resident to use a wheelchair with inadequate support.

Details of the problems fill 16 pages of the report, which was released this week by the District under the Freedom of Information Act with names of residents redacted. Eleven more pages of the report detail the care of seven IDI residents who have died since 2004, including the three from Edson Place and 53rd Street.

The federal monitor's report spurred the city to act this month and laid the groundwork for a settlement finalized this week that requires IDI to improve its performance or face tough penalties.

Critics of IDI have been waiting for the District to act since October 2007, when it vowed to start pulling people out of Edson Place. Advocates asked repeatedly why the city wasn't keeping its promise, said Sandy Bernstein of University Legal Services, which represents many IDI residents.

"We never got a clear answer," she said.

The problem, said D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, was that officials needed the consent of the residents, their families or their attorneys to move them, and none would provide it. But the city did not take more aggressive steps, such as revoking IDI's license or going to court, as it did this time around.

On Oct. 5, the attorney general's office asked a D.C. Superior Court judge to appoint a receiver to run the Edson Place and 53rd Street group homes. A day later, the District's disability services agency suspended referrals to IDI's 11 group homes, which care for about 70 profoundly disabled people.

The dramatic action led to weeks of negotiations between the District and IDI, and to the settlement announced Wednesday night. Under the terms of the agreement, IDI must make significant improvement to all its homes over the next year or face the loss of its licenses. An outside monitor, selected by the city and IDI and paid by IDI, will oversee the nonprofit agency's compliance and will have the power to impose fines and other sanctions.

IDI's homes are funded solely through Medicaid. Many residents require round-the-clock medical attention.

The episode has been a striking reminder of the problems that plague the city's care of residents with profound developmental disabilities. For decades, many were housed at Forest Haven, a city-run institution in Laurel. But abysmal conditions there led to a class-action lawsuit in 1976 and to a court-ordered closure of the facility in 1991. Many residents were moved to group homes of four to eight people, typically operated by private entities under contract with the city.

Led by lawyer and lobbyist David W. Wilmot, ID emerged in 1996 to take over several group homes whose operator was foundering. Wilmot serves as IDI's president and is chairman of a three-member board that includes two other politically connected lawyers, A. Scott Bolden and Frederick D. Cooke Jr. Wilmot is paid $300,000, an unusually large salary at a nonprofit group such as IDI, and he has borrowed $300,000 from the organization.

Wilmot, who did not respond to a phone call seeking comment for this article, has, in a previous interview, defended his salary, IDI's performance and the loan he received from the organization. The attorney for IDI, Nicholas G. Karambelas, did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.

For years, Bernstein said, IDI has avoided meaningful sanctions by making promises that it doesn't keep. With IDI's leadership running the homes, Bernstein said she's not convinced that she will see lasting change, even with this week's agreement.

"How many chances does this provider get?" she asked.

Nickles said that past efforts to improve IDI had fallen short but that Wednesday's settlement was a step forward. "I thought more dramatic and pointed action was needed," he said, "and, very happily, the folks at IDI came to the table."

New Jersey women face charges of neglecting disabled people in group home

From the Hunterdon County Democrat in N.J.:

Two women face numerous charges for allegedly neglecting the disabled people they were supposed to be taking care of in a group home in Hunterdon County.

Debra Sloan, 55, of Bloomsbury and Bridget Grimes, 52, of Philipsburg are named in the grand jury indictment which was handed up on Oct. 28. It charges them with two counts of aggravated assault, second degree; six counts of official misconduct, second degree; three counts of neglecting and elderly or disabled person, third degree; two counts of violating a law to protect public health and safety, third degree; two counts of theft by failure to make required disposition, third degree and two counts of criminal restraint, third degree.

The charges follow an investigation into the death of a 28-year-old developmentally disabled woman living in a state- licensed and funded care home in Alexandria Township.

According to published reports, Tara O’Leary was removed from the home in September 2008 following a tip to officials regarding the quality of care she and the home’s two other residents were receiving.

The 4-foot-10-inch woman, who died at Hunterdon Medical Center on Nov. 10, reportedly weighed just 48 pounds when she was removed from the home.

Both women allegedly caused serious bodily injury to O’Leary between December 2006 and Sept. 11, 2008. They allegedly also hurt Erin Germaine between March 2007 and Sept. 11, 2008.

Starting in 2002, Grimes allegedly abused her position as a habilitation planning coordinator for the Division of Developmental Disabilities to steal money and merchandise from O’Leary, Germaine and Lydia Joy Perry, restrain them, assault them and otherwise refrain from doing the duties of her job, for the benefit of herself and Sloan on several occasions.

Besides allegedly allowing O’Leary and to starve, the two defendants allegedly kept her in her room and denied her family members access to the home.

They allegedly also kept Germaine confined in her room, failed to provide proper nourishment and failed to seek medical treatment in a timely manner.

Sloan and Grimes allegedly put Perry in charge of taking care of O’Leary and threatened to remove Perry from the home. Sloan and Grimes also allegedly failed to provide medical care to Perry and kept her family from accessing the home.

Wounded servicemen get new Segways

From Stars & Stripes:

ARLINGTON, Va. — As he prepared to receive his Segway on Thursday morning, Spc. David Mayer reflected on what he expects it to add to his life.

“Ease of mobility,” said Mayer, who uses prosthetics after losing his legs to a mine in Iraq in March 2008. “I don’t walk very fast. I’m very slow, very meticulous when I’m in my [prosthetic] legs. With something like this, I’ll be able to get to and from appointments with a lot less stress on myself, on my legs. It’s going to make everything just faster, quicker and easier.

“Once I’m on it,” he added, “I’m just as good as anyone else, two legs or not.”

Twenty-seven other wounded servicemembers received Segways at a ceremony at the Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial. These, and another group scheduled to get theirs in San Antonio on Veterans Day, bring the total of the personal mobility devices donated through Segs4Vets in the past four years to more than 400.

“You go to Walter Reed, you’ll see Segways all up and down the hall, guys using them to come to therapy,” said Jerry Kerr, founder and president of Disability Rights Advocates for Technology (DRAFT), a non-profit group that sponsors the program. “They can leave it all on the table there; they know they’ve got the energy to get back. It’s allowing them to really work hard in their physical therapy, knowing they don’t have to preserve as much energy to get back to their quarters or their home.”

It’s more than a tool for therapy, though.

“It’s going to give me a way to chase my kids around the grass, stuff like that,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Letterman, who was wounded in an bomb attack in Iraq in May 2008. “You can be a really good walker with prosthetics, but unless you’re a [below-the-knee amputee], you’re not going to be able to keep up with everybody else.”

Letterman went through the one-day training course on Wednesday, but wasn’t ready to ride off on his Segway. He’ll get additional training at Walter Reed.

First Lt. Joseph Guyton, who lost his legs to an IED in Afghanistan in August, knew he wanted a Segway soon after his arrival at Walter Reed.

“One of the first things I saw when I got to Walter Reed, some of the other amputees riding around on Segways,” he said, adding that a Segway was preferable to a wheelchair. “I’m building up to where I can stand on my legs for short periods of time, but as far as being able to go out with family and friends and do something on weekends or at the end of the workday, you need something else.”

Segways aren’t classified as a medical device, so funding has to come from projects like Segs4Vets. There were over 600 applicants this year, and Kerr believes that points to a need for some outside help.

“There’s really no good reason for our organization to exist,” he said. “If the government gave the men and women who served the nation the tools they need, the right tools — that would be a Segway. And not just [recently disabled veterans] — the guys from Vietnam, all those folks who don’t have access to this device and know it would change their lives. Whether they’re 18 or 80, they ought to have it and they deserve it. Then we can move on to something else. We’d be delighted. It wouldn’t hurt our feelings at all.”

Illinois disabled man champions tae kwon do for other disabled people

From The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill. In the picture, Danny Hicks practices a wheelchair-specific move that his teacher, Bill Auvenshine, showed him. Auvenshine, right, opened his tae kwon do school after he became a paraplegic.

In tae kwon do, age doesn’t factor into where you rank in the classroom. What you’ve achieved does.

Danny Hicks has a front-row position at the Auvenshine School of Tae Kwon Do in Auburn. His hard work over the past decade has made him one of the highest-ranking students in the school: a first-degree black belt.

And he got there in a manner few, if any, have: from the seat of a wheelchair.

Hicks, 37, of Springfield suffered a spinal cord injury when a vehicle he was traveling in went off West Lake Shore Drive and into a grove of pine trees in 1990, just weeks after he graduated from Lanphier High School. Factors in the accident included alcohol, high speed and the lack of safety belts. One passenger died. Hicks spent a month in a coma and 4 1/2 months at Memorial Medical Center undergoing rehabilitation.

His injury left him paralyzed from the chest down and with short-term memory loss. The day of the accident was the worst day of his life, he said, and the days that followed were challenging, embarrassing and scary.

But Hicks has never been the type of guy who lets much get in the way of what interests him, and that philosophy didn’t change.

Today, he’s a full-time employee for Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s Think First program — an injury prevention program funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation that teaches students to make safe decisions; a member of the Land of Lincoln Barbershop Chorus; host of his own public-access cable television show; a speaker for drunk-driving Victim Impact Panels; an Elvis Presley impersonator and a shepherd for his church, East Keys Baptist.

“I like to think of myself as someone that a person with a disability can look up to,” he said. “Lots of people shut themselves up in their houses and are afraid to do anything with their lives. That’s not the case for me — I’m living proof of it.”

‘If he could do it, I could do it’

Every time he attends class at the Auvenshine school on the east side of Auburn, Hicks brings along two apples for his teachers: a yellow one for schoolmaster Bill Auvenshine and a red one for Auvenshine’s wife and fellow schoolmaster, Patty.

“He’s the teacher’s pet,” said Patty, a schoolteacher in Kincaid and a fourth-degree black belt.

Hicks also has proved to be a shining example and inspiration for the other students who practice with him. Bill Auvenshine, a sixth-degree black belt, believes Hicks is one of only a few students — and the only one that he knows of — to achieve black belt status from a wheelchair.

Auvenshine also is wheelchair-bound. A paraplegic, he suffered his injury in 1995 after an old pickup truck he was driving hit a patch of black ice, flipped twice, struck a telephone pole and landed in a frozen ditch. His background as a martial artist and outdoor enthusiast served him well during his rehabilitation process, and he soon had adjusted to his new way of life.

The Auvenshines had planned to open their own tae kwon do school before Bill’s accident. Afterward, he wasn’t sure they should proceed.

“My first thought was, ‘Well, that’s out the window,’ ” Bill said. “It was easy in the early days to feel helpless.”

Patty, however, wasn’t going to let his pity party last for long.

“She said, ‘I know if you open a school and you fail, you’ll move on.’ She knew I couldn’t play the ‘what if?’ game forever.”

With the help of a grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services, the Auvenshines opened their school in Auburn. The financial boost, along with strong support from the community, has kept the couple in the black the entire 12 years the school has existed. Last year, they opened a second school in Taylorville.

Hicks learned about the Auvenshines’ school in 1997 while speaking at Auburn High School as part of his then part-time role with the Think First program. The Auvenshines’ son, Harold, introduced himself to Danny after the presentation and told him about his father.

“When he said his dad had opened a school and he’s in a wheelchair, I thought, ‘You gotta be kidding me,’ ” Hicks said.

A year or so later, Hicks was invited by another friend in a wheelchair to join him and his rugby teammates — all quadriplegics — in a special tae kwon do class at the Auvenshines’ school. It was then that Hicks saw what Auvenshine was able to achieve from his wheelchair.

“I thought, hey, if he could do it, I could do it,” he said.

Soon after forming the wheelchair-only class, Auvenshine realized he was doing the members a disservice. Because he focuses so much on self-defense techniques, he feared they weren’t learning how to protect themselves from the people most likely to approach them: able-bodied people.

So he told them he’d never charge them a fee for taking classes, a policy he still offers today for any disabled student. But they had to integrate with the other students.

A month later, only Hicks remained on board.

Tae kwon do relies heavily on kicking. When a participant is paralyzed from the chest down, some improvisations are necessary.

For Hicks to move up the ranks in the sport, Auvenshine created modifications or substitutions — often a hand strike in place of a kick. Hicks also was expected to learn the same rules and credos as other students, and learned each group of forms (a series of movements) required for each colored belt.

“I made it very hard for him,” Auvenshine said. “I did not make it easy. But he didn’t give up. He wouldn’t give up.”

Hicks suffers from short-term memory loss. For the first three months he was a student of Auvenshine’s, he required written directions to ensure he made it back home. He’s constantly posting reminders on sticky notes and has a calendar in nearly every room of his house to keep him on track. Memorizing the tae kwon do forms — upward of 400 different movements — proved to be a challenge.

The Auvenshines made movies of the forms, and Danny took them home and watched them repeatedly.

“He knew them all,” Bill Auvenshine said. “He didn’t just memorize the wheelchair moves I created. He also learned the forms for able-bodied students. That was important to him.”

Keven Krone of Springfield, who began taking classes with his son several years ago and is now a fourth-degree black belt and substitute instructor at the school, learned Hicks’ adapted moves so the two could spar, further aiding Hicks’ training.

It took five years for Hicks to move from a white belt to black belt, a feat that led him to be inducted into the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame three years ago. He’s owner of at least 15 five-foot-tall trophies and nearly 50 smaller ones, some of which he’s loaned to the Auvenshines to display at their Taylorville school.

Though he’s no longer actively training, which requires two nights of classes per week, he still attends classes when he can and often travels with the school to judge competitions or help emcee.

When he does compete, he does so against other black belts. Auvenshine often will loan the competitor his wheelchair, though Hicks also has the option to spar a competitor who is standing. It’s not something he prefers to do, however.

“I enjoyed it, but I was getting kicked in the head more than anything,” he said, laughing. “It’s more entertaining to have them fight in a chair.”

At a tournament this summer, Auvenshine said he watched as Hicks knocked a high-ranking black belt and the wheelchair he was in to the ground with two consecutive punches. The whole room erupted.

“I was laughing so hard, I almost fell out of my chair I was sitting in,” Auvenshine said.

JoAnna Magelitz of Virden has been taking her two oldest sons to Auvenshine’s School of Tae Kwon Do twice a week, year-round, for six years. The sport appeals to her family because of the respect and self-discipline it creates for students, especially young people.

Having Hicks practice alongside her sons, she said, is “truly inspiring.”

“It shows them there’s plenty of obstacles to overcome — and that there’s always somebody facing a more difficult situation than you are,” she said.

Hicks said he enjoys seeing how tae kwon do changes a young person for the better, just as it did for him.

Through his job with SIU, Hicks has had the chance to speak to more than 100,000 teenagers about the dangers of drinking and driving. He once told Auvenshine that if he’s helped only one of those thousands of young people, it’s been worth it. Auvenshine said he’s pretty sure Hicks has affected more than just one.

“That’s the great thing — that I’m still able to make a difference,” Hicks said. “Not only in my job, but in this activity. Our life is limitless. Whatever you want to do is up to you. The determination is all up to you.”

NFL players, union say they share blame for head injuries

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The helmet sits under glass at the headquarters of the football players union, memorializing the play-at-all-costs warrior who strapped it on every Sunday. Four swaths of duct tape suture the crown. Screws are broken, the enamel is cracked, and two Raiders logos cling for dear life. During his 15 years as an N.F.L. lineman, this was the only helmet Gene Upshaw wore.

Upshaw was immensely proud of this, his associates recalled, from the day he retired through his 25 years running the players union and up until his death in August 2008. That helmet protected him. Kept outside forces away and his inside thoughts intact. One of those thoughts was that playing football had nothing to do with the dementia and cognitive decline so many of his fellow retired players were experiencing — despite outside and even union-financed research that claimed a strong relationship.

“I think we’re just a reflection of society,” he said in a 2007 interview. He added: “I don’t want to take that next leap to say, you know, football caused dementia. I just don’t believe that.”

As a House Judiciary Committee hearing examined football brain injuries Wednesday and strongly criticized the N.F.L. and its concussion committee for their research and approach, lawmakers, players and Upshaw’s successor, DeMaurice Smith, accused the union of lethargy while others sounded alarms. Although all regretted speaking ill of the dead, they said that Upshaw’s reticence at the top stunted progress and awareness below.

“They should have been the first to jump on top of the issue and press the owners to do something about it — they were asleep at the switch,” said Representative Linda T. Sanchez, Democrat of California, who before joining Congress was a top A.F.L.-C.I.O. official in Orange County. “When you’re the person negotiating the working conditions for a unit, you must look at the dangers or potential to cause injury. You’re the designated person to educate members to be aware.”

Tiki Barber, a former Giants running back who was among the players who kept Upshaw in office, added: “The union shares responsibility, too. And us players. Especially since you now see the issues that are arising. I don’t know if they could have been headed off, but at least the discussion would have started earlier.”

Upshaw was often criticized for appearing too genial with the league, but he did support many safety-related rules changes, helmet research and repeated disability-plan improvements for active and retired players. The labor agreement he struck in 2006 was so favorable to the players that the owners soon counted the days until they could opt out of it.

But as a player who wore only that one helmet on Oakland’s offensive line from 1967 through 1981, an era in which concussions were ignored like hangnails, Upshaw — who felt no notable cognitive decline, associates said — simply did not believe that football substantially affected the brain.

Upshaw authorized $172,000 in union grants to finance research by the University of North Carolina’s Center for the Study of Retired Athletes, according to the center’s records. But as the published survey studies from 2004 to 2007 crossed his desk and indicated a substantial link between N.F.L. concussions and later-life risk for depression, Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment, Upshaw consistently played down the findings and did not push the league to act.

Asked about the union’s responsibility to pursue concussion research and warn players of risks, an N.F.L. spokesman highlighted Upshaw’s positive contributions — like support for new concussion guidelines in 2007 — and declined further comment.

Upshaw did hire Dr. Thom Mayer, an emergency and sports-medicine physician, to become the union’s first medical director, in 2001. In an interview Friday, Mayer said that in private conversations, Upshaw cared more about football head injuries than he let on publicly, for reasons Mayer said he never understood. Mayer pointed out how Upshaw kept his pancreatic cancer secret from even those closest to him for months before his death — a sign that he loathed any admission of weakness. It was one area where, as the union’s leader, Upshaw might have retained too much player to be a protector.

“There’s a gladiator mentality that separates the ones who make it to the N.F.L. and stay there,” said Mayer, adding that he began speaking with Upshaw about mounting literature on head injuries in 2006. “Look at how he died — ignoring pain. I mean that charitably. Particularly guys from that era, you just got through it. You just sucked it up. No excuses.”

The union’s questionable approach to concussion-related science continued after Upshaw’s death. Last December, his job still unfilled, a letter on players association letterhead was mailed to every living retiree to say the union was “supporting and endorsing” an N.F.L. study of retired players, “trying to determine if there are possible long-term effects on the brain from playing in the N.F.L.” — implying that the question remained open.

The support and endorsement was given with no participation in devising (and scant knowledge of) the study’s methods, which have since been criticized by members of Congress and outside experts as underpowered and rife with conflicts of interest.

And one month ago, when a union lawyer analyzed data from the 88 Plan, a joint league-union program to reimburse retirees for medical expenses deriving from dementia, mathematical and methodological errors led him to assert that N.F.L. retirees were experiencing dementia at a rate similar to the general population.

Experts in epidemiology, neurology and dementia later said that correcting for those errors resulted in a situation in which football retirees between ages 60 and 89 probably had moderate to severe dementia at four or five times the national rate.

After succeeding Upshaw in March, Smith looked to shift the union’s approach to many issues, including the brain-injury controversy. He successfully requested Mayer to become the union’s first representative on the league’s concussion committee, and assembled a union committee to study the matter independently. He admitted that the players union had been “slow to embrace all of the medical literature” regarding the effects of head trauma. And in his written testimony before the House committee Wednesday, he took a far less conciliatory tone toward the N.F.L.’s handling of outside research.

“The days of denigrating, suppressing, and ignoring the medical findings must come to an end,” said Smith, who played no organized football beyond high school. He added, “Unfortunately, the N.F.L has diminished those studies, urged the suppression of the findings and for years, moved slowly in an area where speed should have been the impetus.”

Members of Congress praised Smith’s remarks but remained skeptical given the union’s past. “The players essentially wasted years by how poorly they responded to this early on,” said Representative Anthony D. Weiner, Democrat of New York.

Sanchez added: “I sincerely hope he’s serious in that effort. The proof will come in the future.”

Several players who followed last week’s hearing said they began to appreciate how they, and not just the league, held responsibility for allowing the situation to evolve as it had. Rick Jones, a former linebacker for the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Colts from 1977 to 1983 who now cleans windows in Birmingham, Ala., spread the blame.

“We’re all culpable — players, coaches, owners, doctors,” Jones said. “We all have a hand in it. We didn’t know it. We did not know about brain injuries in my day. But the minute our union knew it was dangerous, it was their job to take care of the guys who were hurting like me, and to keep it from happening to anyone else.”

Friday, October 30, 2009

Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities names actor Henry Winkler its honorary chairman

From PRWeb:

WESTPORT, Conn. -- Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities, Inc. (SKLD), a nonprofit organization serving parents of children with learning disabilities and ADHD, announced Oct. 29 that actor and author Henry Winkler (pictured), best known for his role on the popular 1970s television sitcom "Happy Days," has agreed to join the organization as its honorary chairman.

SKLD also announced it had raised over $15,000 in grants from various organizations.

Winkler, who himself struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia as a child, was honored with SKLD's 2009 Community Service Award in April for his commitment to supporting children with learning disabilities. His children's book series, Hank Zipzer: The World's Greatest Underachiever, features a hero that kids everywhere with learning disabilities can relate to. Hank's triumphs over the everyday challenges of school faced by a child with dyslexia inspire kids with learning disabilities to do the same.

There are so many children in our country today with learning challenges who really feel 'less than,' who are so afraid that they're never going to realize their dreams
I'm here along with Smart Kids to tell them, 'You can; you will - eventually you can be who it is you dream of being.'

When asked if he ever expected to write a book, Mr. Winkler replied, "Never. There was a time when it was hard for me to read a book, so it is monumental to be able to write one." The 17th and final volume in the Hank Zipzer series will be published next spring.

"There are so many children in our country today with learning challenges who really feel 'less than,' who are so afraid that they're never going to realize their dreams," Winkler said, when asked what it meant to become honorary chairman of SKLD. "I'm here along with Smart Kids to tell them, 'You can; you will - eventually you can be who it is you dream of being.' "

After his iconic role as "The Fonz" on the long-running sitcom "Happy Days" in the 1970s, Winkler went on to an award-winning career as an actor, director and producer. His best-known film roles include "Night Shift" (1982) and "Heroes" (1977). In addition to "Happy Days," Winkler has appeared on numerous television shows, including "The Practice" and "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit."

SKLD's recent grant awards include $10,000 from the Laurence W. Levine Foundation for continuing support of its ongoing programs. Also, the Lone Pine Foundation awarded SKLD a grant of $2,500 for its pre-literacy skills program in Bridgeport, Conn., while the Westport Rotary Club and Westport Sunrise Rotary Club both awarded grants of $1,000 and $1,200, respectively, and the Westport Woman's Club, $500 for SKLD's educational programs.

Hadley School for the Blind wins federal Award for Excellence in Rehabilitation Education and Training

From PRWeb:

WINNETKA, Ill. -- The Hadley School for the Blind has received the prestigious Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Commissioner's Award for Excellence in Rehabilitation Education and Training. Hadley also received a $500,000 grant ($100,000 per year for five years) from the RSA to continue its successful distance education Braille courses for blindness professionals.

The Hadley School for the Blind provides Braille courses free of charge to people who are blind and visually impaired

For nearly a century, Hadley has been teaching braille at no cost to people who are blind and their families around the globe

By offering Braille instruction at a distance with personalized attention from highly-qualified instructors, we are doing something unlike any other organization. We are thrilled that the RSA has recognized our efforts to address the current crisis in braille literacy and is providing us with additional funding to continue training professionals in the field.

The RSA award recognizes programs that support the state-federal vocational rehabilitation (VR) program, honoring excellence in effective partnering among state agency, educational and federal leaders. It was given in recognition of the Hadley School's ongoing commitment to braille instruction and the teaching and training the school provides to ensure that individuals who are blind have the braille education necessary to be contributing members of society. Hadley currently offers 13 different braille courses - 10 for tactile learners and 3 for sighted individuals - taught by 14 braille instructors.

"For nearly a century, Hadley has been teaching Braille at no cost to people who are blind and their families around the globe," said Hadley President Chuck Young. "By offering Braille instruction at a distance with personalized attention from highly-qualified instructors, we are doing something unlike any other organization. We are thrilled that the RSA has recognized our efforts to address the current crisis in Braille literacy and is providing us with additional funding to continue training professionals in the field."

To be considered for the RSA Commissioner's Award, nominees must be a current or past RSA training grantee, have demonstrated an innovative training program and shown a special emphasis on partnering with the vocational rehabilitation program or the public vocational rehabilitation community. Michigan State University's Office of Rehabilitation and Disability Studies is also a recipient of this year's award, which will be presented today during the National Rehabilitation Education Conference in Arlington, Va.

Effective October 1, the federal Braille grant will support the continuation of Introduction to Braille and Contracted Braille as well as the development of two new courses, Braille Teaching Methods for Pre-Readers and Braille Teaching Methods or Previous Print Readers. The grant will also allow Hadley to convert its Basic Nemeth Code course to an online format. Over the next five years, more than 1,500 blindness professionals will complete these tuition-free courses, making them more confident and competent in their work with blind and visually impaired students and clients around the country. The grant represents Hadley's only government-funded curriculum.

Founded in 1920, The Hadley School for the Blind's mission is to promote independent living through lifelong, distance education programs for people who are blind or visually impaired, their families and blindness service providers. The world's largest educator of braille, Hadley enrolls more than 10,000 students in all 50 states and 100 countries each year.

TV organizations create programs for disabled filmmakers

From Variety:

Two TV industry foundations have teamed to launch a scholarship for filmmakers with disabilities.

The Loreen Arbus Foundation has donated $40,000 to create the Focus on Disability scholarship fund, to be administered by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation and the Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television. The fund will present one scholarship to a filmmaker with a disability or to a filmmaker whose work sheds light on the lives and achievements of people with disabilities.

The other scholarship will go to the winner of an AWRT competition that calls for student filmmakers to create a 60-second public service announcement highlighting the achievements and social contributions of people with disabilities.

The scholarship was created to commemorate the upcoming 20th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Arbus is the daughter of ABC founder Leonard Goldenson, who was the driving force behind the formation of the United Cerebral Palsy org.

The first Focus on Disability scholarships will be presented April 10 as part of the ATAS Foundation's annual College Television Awards.

NAMI says, Don't add to stigma of people with mental illness this Halloween

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) press release:

ARLINGTON, Va. -- As Halloween approaches, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is issuing a Halloween "stigma alert" for costumes and other seasonal attractions that feature inaccurate and offensive stereotypes regarding those with mental health illnesses.

NAMI points out ghosts and goblins are one thing, but when "haunted house" attractions become "insane asylums" featuring "mental patients" as murderous ghouls, it's time for the organization, and public, to protest. U.S. Surgeon General has determined that stigma is a major barrier to people getting help when they need it and NAMI chapters across the country are working to make sure Halloween does not turn into a chance to perpetuate these stereotypes. What to do?

• If offensive Halloween attractions or products appear in your local stores, contact sponsors, advertisers or sellers personally. Educate and ask them to remove offensive parts of any attraction, advertisements or merchandise that mock mental illness.

• Alert local NAMI chapters, family and friends to phone, send letters or e-mail the sponsors or stores.

• Contact local newspaper editors and television news directors. Educate them about stigma and your concerns.

For example, NAMI New Jersey is fighting an "Asylum of Terror" sponsored by a local museum and supported by a local Wal-Mart and Dunkin' Donuts, to name a few. There are several ways supporters of NAMI and advocates of those with mental illnesses can also help spread the message that perpetuating stigma towards persons with a mental illness is a national -- as well as local -- concerns.

GAO reports more students with disabilities in higher education

From the Government Accounting Office (GAO) summary. You can read the full report here.

Research suggests that more students with disabilities are pursuing higher education than in years past, and recent legislative changes, such as those in the Higher Education Opportunity Act and Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, have the potential to increase the number and diversity of this population.

GAO was asked to examine (1) what is known about the population of postsecondary students with disabilities; (2) how postsecondary schools are supporting students with disabilities; (3) what challenges, if any, schools face in supporting these students; and (4) how the Department of Education is assisting schools in supporting these students.

To conduct this work, GAO analyzed federal survey and some state data; conducted site visits; interviewed agency officials, disability experts, school officials, and students; and reviewed laws, regulations, and literature.

Students with disabilities represented nearly 11 percent of all postsecondary students in 2008, according to a federal survey. Moreover, this population appears to have grown, based on selected federal and state data. Also, in 2008, students with disabilities were similar to their peers without disabilities with regard to age, race, and the schools they attended. Students reported having a range of disabilities in 2008, and the distribution of disability types had changed since 2000.

For example, the proportion of students that reported having attention deficit disorder had increased from 7 to 19 percent. Postsecondary schools use different approaches and accommodations to support students with disabilities. Schools are required to provide reasonable accommodations, such as note takers and extended time on tests, tailored to individual students' needs. Further, some schools offer enhanced or more comprehensive services than are required by law.

For example, some schools GAO visited provided support on time management and study skills. Other schools offer specialized programs, such as one designed to help students with learning disabilities transition to meet college-level reading and writing requirements. Assistive technology has expanded the educational opportunities for students with disabilities. For example, voice recognition software can help students prepare papers by "talking" to the computer. Schools face a broad range of challenges in supporting students with disabilities as they transition to higher education.

For example, schools face challenges in supporting students who are unaware of their rights and responsibilities regarding accommodations and in providing services that involve specialized knowledge. Another challenge schools reported was a lack of awareness among some faculty members regarding legal requirements for supporting students with disabilities.

Schools also anticipate facing challenges in supporting two growing populations of postsecondary students: veterans with newly acquired disabilities and students with intellectual disabilities. Education has provided some assistance to postsecondary schools to support students with disabilities through three offices.

However, the agency has no mechanism to systematically share information across offices and coordinate their technical assistance efforts. These offices--Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE)--have different missions and priorities, focus on different clients, and provide different types of assistance to schools.

Although OCR's primary role is enforcement, it has taken the lead in providing assistance to postsecondary schools regarding disability topics. OPE has focused its technical assistance primarily on those 47 schools that received grants in 2008 related to students with disabilities.

According to OPE officials, the office does not provide broader technical assistance on disability issues because it lacks expertise in this area. School officials told GAO they need more guidance and information about serving students with disabilities.

Inclusion in the Arts opposes Abigail Breslin playing young Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker" revival on Broadway

From The New York Times Arts Beat:

Two weeks after a group of deaf actors protested the choice of a hearing actor for a deaf role in an upcoming Off Broadway production, the issue has surfaced again: Should producers have chosen a deaf or blind child actress to play Helen Keller in this winter’s Broadway revival of “The Miracle Worker”?

The producers announced on Oct. 28 that Abigail Breslin (pictured), a 13-year-old newcomer to Broadway who was nominated for an Academy Award for her role as the beauty pageant contestant Olive in “Little Miss Sunshine,” would play Helen in the production, which is set to open this winter. Ms. Breslin can see and hear.

Sharon Jensen, executive director of the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, an advocacy group for blind and deaf actors, among others, said in an interview Oct. 28 that her organization strongly opposed a decision by the producers to not audition actresses for the part who shared Helen’s disabilities.

“We do not think it’s O.K. for reputable producers to cast this lead role without seriously considering an actress from our community,” Ms. Jensen said. “I understand how difficult it is to capitalize a new production on Broadway, but that to me is not the issue. There are other, larger human and artistic issues at stake here.”
The lead producer of the revival, David Richenthal, said in an interview that he had already made up his mind about his casting criteria for Helen when he chose to revive the William Gibson play -– he wanted a star. The only way to make money for his investors in a commercial Broadway revival of a play these days, Mr. Richenthal believes, is to cast stars, and his research did not turn up any young well known actresses who were deaf or blind.

“It’s simply na├»ve to think that in this day and age, you’ll be able to sell tickets to a play revival solely on the potential of the production to be a great show or on the potential for an unknown actress to give a breakthrough performance,” Mr. Richenthal said. “I would consider it financially irresponsible to approach a major revival without making a serious effort to get a star.”

Mr. Richenthal said that he and the production’s director, Kate Whoriskey, as well as their casting director, planned to audition deaf or blind actresses to be Ms. Breslin’s understudy, and would hire sign language interpreters for the auditions of the young deaf women.

The distinction between the lead role and the understudy is that the show can sell tickets with its lead actress, Mr. Richenthal said. He emphasized that if he could not find a “qualified” deaf or blind actress who was right for the part, he would cast a hearing and seeing actress in the role.

Ms. Jensen’s organization was among those that complained vehemently early this month that New York Theater Workshop and the director Doug Hughes had retained a hearing actor to play the deaf character Singer in the workshop’s upcoming production of “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” an adaptation of the Carson McCullers novel.

Deaf actors, as well as the alliance and advocacy groups for deaf artists, demanded that the actor Henry Stram be replaced as Singer by a deaf actor. Mr. Hughes and the workshop met with several deaf actors and searched for some common ground, but could not agree on the central issue; Mr. Hughes said he would not fire Mr. Stram, who had played Singer in an earlier production of the play that Mr. Hughes directed in Atlanta. Mr. Hughes had auditioned deaf actors for the role in Atlanta.

So, first Singer and now Helen Keller: Should producers and directors audition and hire whoever they see fit for these seminal roles? Or, as Ms. Jensen asserts, if deaf or blind child actors do not start getting work that will turn them into stars, how will there ever be any for producers like Mr. Richenthal to audition?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Levi Johnston says Sarah Palin called her son with Down syndrome the R-word; Palin's response: He's "propagating lies"

From Inside TV on

On 'The Early Show,' Levi Johnston (pictured), former boyfriend of Bristol Palin and father to her child, continued to offer interesting tidbits on the Palin family.

According to Johnston, Sarah Palin repeatedly joked about her son Trig's Down syndrome, using a disparaging term to refer to his condition. And that's not all, said Johnston. He's apparently witnessed other damaging things while Palin was Governor of Alaska that could "get her in trouble."

Watch the video here.
Sarah Palin had this response, which is on the MSNBC Web site:

"We have purposefully ignored the mean spirited, malicious and untrue attacks on our family. We, like many, are appalled at the inflammatory statements being made or implied. Trig is our 'blessed little angel' who knows it and is lovingly called that every day of his life. Even the thought that anyone would refer to Trig by any disparaging name is sickening and sad. CBS should be ashamed for continually providing a forum to propagate lies. Consider the source of the most recent attention-getting lies - those who would sell their body for money reflect a desperate need for attention and are likely to say and do anything for even more attention."

Is Larry David an equal opportunity offender?

(I wrote about the "Denise Handicapped" episode Oct. 20).

From Inside TV on

Does 'Seinfeld' creator and 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Larry David like to poke fun at Christians, or is he just an equal opportunity offender?

The Catholic League says it's the former, taking issue with the Oct. 25 'Curb' episode in which the TV version of Larry was taking a medication that led him to have an extremely, um, forceful urination experience. As a result, while using the bathroom of a woman who had a painting of Jesus hanging beside her toilet, Larry's splashings hit the wall -- and the painting -- leading the woman to think her Jesus painting was crying and that she was experiencing a miracle.

HBO described the episode as "playful," while Fox News reports that Catholic League president Bill Donohue was less than amused by the plot.

"Was Larry David always this crude? Would he think it's comedic if someone urinated on a picture of his mother?" Donohue said in a statement. "This might be fun to watch, but since HBO only likes to dump on Catholics (it was just a couple of weeks ago that Sarah Silverman insulted Catholics on 'Real Time with Bill Maher') and David is Jewish, we'll never know."

Clearly Donahue isn't a regular 'Curb' viewer, because, in response to his question, yes, TV Larry is frequently that crude, and beyond. In the previous Sunday's episode, in fact:

- The narcissistic Larry dated a wheelchair-bound woman (pictured), and refused to go to a different restaurant when the one they arrived at had no handicap ramp and a big set of stairs to enter.
- Larry also used the woman's wheelchair status to mend a rift with friends.
- He made a date with another wheelchair-bound woman and rolled her into a closet when the first woman was about to catch him with the second one.
- He offended friends who'd just adopted an Asian baby by asking them if the baby had proclivities towards using chopsticks.
- He got into a physical tussle with Rosie O'Donnell when the two were arguing about who should pick up a lunch check.
- He almost allowed his best friend/manager's teen daughter to drown in the ocean because he didn't want his Blackberry to get wet.

And 'Curb's' seventh season kicked off in September with an episode in which Larry tried to break up with his African-American girlfriend Loretta (Vivica A. Fox) before she got the results of a cancer test, obligating him, he felt, to stay with her. Loretta did have cancer, but an undeterred Larry made her think he was cheating on her so she would dump him.

In a statement in response to the controversy, HBO says, "Anyone who follows 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' knows that the show is full of parody and satire. Larry David makes fun of everyone, most especially himself. The humor is always playful and certainly never malicious."

Despite Donahue's claim that David should "quit while he's ahead," 'Curb's' seventh season has largely been praised by critics for boasting some of the show's best episodes. The season has included TV Larry's split with wife Cheryl (mirroring David's real-life split with wife Laurie David) and a planned 'Seinfeld' reunion show that has led to guest appearances by Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards.

Colorado teen with CP says he was bullied, tied to fence

From The Denver Channel:

FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- Kevin Kaneta, 15, said walking is hard enough but school is a nightmare.

Kaneta, who was born with cerebral palsy, said he has been the target of bullying since third grade and each year, it gets worse. When asked, "Why?" Kaneta said it had to do with his disability.

"They go after me because they see me as a vulnerable target," said Kaneta.

Kaneta walks slower than most kids and tends to drag his feet because his brain is working overtime to tell his legs what to do. His mother, Tyleen Wilson, said the attacks and bullying were so bad she feared for his safety every time he went to school.

"I worry if he'll come home today ... What if they really hurt him?" said Wilson.

Wilson said the kids trip her son, pin him down and pour dog food in his mouth and kick him between the legs. But the latest incident enraged her.

Kaneta, a ninth grader, had his Facebook page up and she noticed a picture where his hooded sweatshirt was tied tightly, up around his face.

"I thought it was a joke. Then he told me the story," said Wilson.

Kaneta said his classmates tied the sweatshirt tightly around his face and forced him to walk around the playground. Kaneta said kids then ganged up on him and ripped the sweatshirt off, which cut his eyelids.

Another picture that a classmate tagged on Facebook showed Kaneta up against the playground fence.

"They tied both arms of my sweatshirt to the fence post. They zipped up my jacket and just watched me struggle to get out," said Kaneta.

Wilson said she is furious with Liberty Commons Charter School for not doing anything to protect her son.

"They said they have a zero tolerance policy," said Wilson.

The school's headmaster, Russ Spicer, sat down with 7NEWS but would not comment on the incident or allegations of rampant bullying.

Wilson said she was removing Kaneta from the classroom. She said it's unfair but the only way to keep him safe.

"He's not going back. I won't put him through that anymore. He has a right to a decent life, just like everyone else," said Wilson.

The father of the boy who posted the Facebook photos told 7NEWS he would have his son remove it but said he had not heard anything from the school about it.

President Obama signs Hate Crimes Bill that includes people with disabilities

From The AP:

President Barack Obama on Oct. 28 signed and celebrated hate crime legislation that extends protection to people based on sexual orientation, sealing a long-fought victory to gay advocates. The president spoke of a nation becoming a place where "we're all free to live and love as we see fit."

The new law expands federal hate crimes to include those committed against people because of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It also loosens limits on when federal law enforcement can intervene and prosecute crimes, amounting to the biggest expansion of the civil-rights era law in decades.

"No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love," Mr. Obama said in East Room reception, surrounded by joyous supporters. "No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are, or because they live with a disability."

Civil rights groups and their Democratic backers on Capitol Hill have tried for a decade to expand the hate crimes law, but fell short because of a lack of coordination between the House and Senate, or opposition from President George W. Bush. This time, the bill got through when Democrats attached it to a must-pass $680 billion defense measure. Mr. Obama signed the combined bill in a separate ceremony earlier on Wednesday.

Conservatives have opposed the legislation, arguing that it creates a special class of victims and could serve to silence clergymen or others opposed to homosexuality on religious or philosophical grounds.

The bill is named for Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, whose family members stood with Mr. Obama. Shepard, a gay college student, was murdered and found tied to a fence in Wyoming in 1998. The same year, Byrd, a black man, was chained to a pickup by three white men and dragged to his death in Texas.

"We must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits; not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear," Mr. Obama said.

Groups pushing for the expanded civil rights protections rejoiced. "This is a landmark step in eliminating the kind of hate motivated violence that has taken the lives of so many in our community," said Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Hate crimes law enacted after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968 centered on crimes based on race, color, religion or national origin.

Some 45 states have hate crimes statutes, and the bill would not change current practices where hate crimes are generally investigated and prosecuted by state and local officials. But it does broaden the narrow range of actions — such as attending school or voting — that can trigger federal involvement and allows the federal government to step in if the Justice Department certifies that a state is unwilling or unable to follow through on an alleged hate crime.

At the urging of Republicans, the bill was changed before it was passed in Congress to strengthen free speech protections to assure that a religious leader or any other person cannot be prosecuted on the basis of his or her speech, beliefs or association.

The hate crimes measure came as part of legislation that Obama also touted for other reasons: a crackdown on careless military spending.

British college student with Down syndrome barred from BBQ by vote

From This is North Devon in the UK:

A student with Down's syndrome was barred from a college barbecue after a classroom vote.

Lisa Pidner, 20, wanted to go to the event hosted by Petroc, formerly North Devon College, where she is a student.

But lecturers allowed her classmates — who also have learning difficulties — to take a vote on whether she should be invited.

The students voted to keep her out.

Lisa's mother Shirley Pidner, from Kingford, Umberleigh, is furious at the way the matter was handled.

She said: "What kind of organisation allows special needs people to decide the fate of other special needs people? It is nothing short of discrimination."

Shirley believes the reason for holding the vote was because of Lisa's diagnosed compulsive addiction.

It means she often picks up items and hides them from people.

Shirley said: "I am fully aware that this form of compulsion is annoying to others — indeed you only have to ask her family who live with it 24/7.

"But this is besides the point. This is her individual problem, the same as some students may be confined to a wheelchair."

The college would not confirm if Lisa's habit of picking things up and hiding them was the reason behind the vote.

Shirley had not been aware of any problem Lisa faced in the classroom and said she is usually "hard working, loveable and friendly", which made the situation all the more confusing.

Huw Davies, Petroc's director for curriculum and innovation, investigated the matter.
He said: "Whilst I cannot talk about the specifics of this case, my colleagues are working with a vulnerable group of adult learners.

"It can sometimes be extremely difficult to balance the needs of individual students with those of their classmates and other learners.

"On the rare occasions where issues like this arise, we are not always able to resolve them to everyone's satisfaction."

He added that the college always has the best interests of their learners at heart.
But Shirley said: "I just cannot believe that teaching staff could allow such a cruel and obviously unfair situation to even happen."

Mr Davies is due to meet Lisa's family to discuss the issue further. Lisa still attends the college.

Dartmouth students with disabilities say access some better, LD services poor

From The Dartmouth:

Almost five months after the release of a student report arguing that the College’s Accessibility Services Office fails to provide students with disabilities the accommodations they need, several students with physical disabilities, in interviews with The Dartmouth, said the College has made progress addressing their difficulties, while students with learning disabilities were critical of the quality of services they receive.

Dean of Faculty Carol Folt, who now also serves as interim provost, and acting Dean of the College Sylvia Spears sent a letter to faculty at the beginning of Fall term reminding professors that they must comply with authorized accommodations for students. The College has also worked to improve the Accessibility Services web site and make other accessibility-related information more readily available.

These changes, according to several students with learning disabilities, have done little to address their concerns.

A female member of the Class of 2013, who wished to remain anonymous due to her continued work with Accessibility Services, said she encountered difficulty receiving her necessary accommodations this fall.

The student, who is dyslexic and requires her books to be scanned into a program that reads them aloud, said she did not receive the electronic form of her texts in a timely fashion because of a miscommunication about her syllabus.

“I’ve been behind in most of my classes because I don’t have books, and I need to read,” she said.

Accessibility Services director Ward Newmeyer, in an interview with The Dartmouth, said he could not comment on specific cases. He did say, however, that there have been a few instances when students did not give him pertinent information about their classes.

The student said that Accessibility Services gave her the impression that the office would have access to her syllabus via Blackboard. The office later informed her that her books were not ready for one of her classes because she had not sent in her syllabus.

“[Newmeyer] made it seem like it was mainly my fault because he said I didn’t send the syllabus,” she said. “I didn’t know I needed to do that.”

Derek, a member of the Class of 2011 who has high-frequency hearing loss and did not want to be fully identified due to the sensitive nature of the subject, said he experienced difficulty communicating with Accessibility Services when he first came to the College.

Derek said hearing aids would have improved his academic performance, especially in larger lecture courses his freshman year, but that he was unaware of resources he could use to address his situation.

“I didn’t really understand what accommodations were available to me,” Derek said, adding later, “If I had known, I think I would have used them freshman year.”

Derek, who is also a member of a committee formed this summer to advise College administrators on disability related issues, said he would like to see more results from the committee’s assessments.

“I’m happy that we’re identifying problem areas,” he said. “But I’d like to see more action.”

Newmeyer said Accessibility Services reached out to students with disabilities in a letter to the freshman class and that he worries about students who are not aware of their disability and might not know to seek help.

“I think we can do more to increase the profile of the [Accessibility Services] office so that students are aware that there are services available to them,” Spears said in an interview with The Dartmouth. “I think we can do more to help students understand what their rights are here, and do more to help staff and faculty to understand what our responsibilities are in meeting the needs of students with disabilities.”

The gap between primary school, where the brunt of the responsibility for diagnosing and addressing disabilities lies with the school, and college, where it is a shared responsibility, can create a stark culture change for students, Spears said.

The female member of the Class of 2013 said she experienced that change dramatically, as her mother primarily took care of coordinating her accommodations in high school.

“I’m a freshman, and I didn’t know how it’s supposed to work,” she said.

Newmeyer said he approves new accommodations for a “relatively short period of time” so that students are required to check back in with him.

In the best cases, Newmeyer said he meets with a student twice: once to approve accommodations for a disability, and a second time to renew the accommodation through the expected date of graduation if the accommodation is working well.

Jonithan Odland ’12, a student with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, said he met with Newmeyer once to approve his disability and again in the spring to renew his accommodations.

“After I met with him the first time, I was on my own,” he said. “No one really kept in touch with me to see how I was doing, if accommodations were working out.”

Spears said that the administration plans to further explore accessibility on campus.

“We’re actually going to study this issue more — where there either could be enhanced communication, enhanced education or enhanced follow-through for students to ensure that once we know what the accommodation is, that indeed it’s in place and that indeed the student is successfully making their way through the class,” she said.

While some students with learning disabilities struggle to receive the accommodations they need from Accessibility Services, several students with physical disabilities said the College has made substantial efforts to assist them.

Jonathan Sigworth ’12, who uses a wheelchair, said the College has “effectively and promptly” dealt with many of the issues he faces.

He gave the example of a door to Wilson Hall, where one of his classes is located, that provides access to the building’s elevator. He said the door was difficult for him to operate due to its weight and the presence of a concrete lip. Within a week, the sidewalk had been repaved and an automatic door installed, he said.

“I couldn’t characterize it as the typical experience for a student with disabilities,” he said.

Although Accessibility Services has been very responsive, Sigworth said, much remains to be done.

“The College is in dire need of [American Disabilities Act] compliancy,” he said.

Dean of Residential Life Martin Redman said that the campus is “where we want to be, legally,” but said the legal requirements are only a minimum that he would like to exceed.

More than 60 percent of undergraduate facilities offer accessible accommodations, Redman said. The Office of Residential Life also works with students on a case-by-case basis to ensure their needs are met.

“The law can’t take into account certain nuances — medical issues — that may or may not fall under [the American Disabilities Act],” he said.

Although ORL prides itself in its individual approach, the College still has further work to do, Redman said.

Karen Afre ’12, who had difficulty walking up stairs due to an injury over Spring term, said her experience being relocated to a more accessible room went smoothly. Afre said her community director contacted ORL.

“It only took her like a day or two,” she said.

Rachael Class-Giguere, director of housing, said that students rarely have to wait for new housing.

“I think that people generally feel like their situation’s been dealt with quickly and effectively, and that they’ve known what their options were,” she said.

Mental health professionals in Boston say violence rare among psychiatric patients

From The Boston Globe:

Assaults on therapists, such as the stabbing of a doctor by a psychiatric patient in a Massachusetts General Hospital clinic yesterday, capture widespread attention, but several mental health professionals said such events are rare. Still, they said, doctors can take precautions when treating psychiatric patients.

A study published earlier this year in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry found that mental illness by itself did not make a person more prone to violence. Only when it is combined with other factors, such as substance abuse or a history of violence or stressful situations such as losing a job or divorce, did mental illness predict future violence in the study of more than 34,000 people.

“This is not an ever-present issue,’’ said Dr. Joseph Glenmullen, a private practice psychiatrist who supervises doctors in training at Cambridge Health Alliance and worked at Harvard University Health Services for 20 years. “It’s very rare. I’ve never felt unsafe.’’

Glenmullen said that he had an alarm button under his desk at Harvard services but never used it. He also pointed out that doctors can take precautions when there is the possibility of violence from a patient. During his first year of training, he treated a patient at a state hospital who had lunged at the face of a previous therapist. He said he met with the patient in a large common room as a precaution.

Yesterday’s incident, in a building Mass. General leases for its Bipolar Clinic and Research Program, follows several other high-profile cases of violence that shook the mental health community, including the killing of a New York City therapist and an attack on a psychiatrist last year, allegedly by a man who blamed the psychiatrist for having him institutionalized nearly two decades earlier. In 2006, Wayne Fenton, associate director of the National Institute of Mental Health, was beaten to death by a schizophrenic patient.

Several psychiatrists who worked in emergency room settings said that violence was a real risk. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, the annual rate of nonfatal violence in the workplace was higher for mental health workers than for other medical professionals between 1993 and 1999. Physicians experienced 16.2 violent victimizations per 1,000 workers, and nurses experienced 21.9 per 1,000 workers, while mental health professionals experienced 68.2 such victimizations per 1,000 workers.

“Much more needs to be done in psychiatric training to prepare people,’’ said Dr. Carl Bell, director of the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Part of the difficulty that psychiatrists have when they’re attacked by patients is that they’re a healer. . . . They’re very conflicted about these conversations, because on the one hand it’s ‘do no harm,’ but on the other hand it’s ‘wait a minute, I have a right to defend myself against violence.’ ’’

Dr. Julie Holland, who spent nine years working weekends in the psychiatric emergency room at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City, said that in her time there she was punched in the face once by a patient. While violence is a risk when dealing with mentally ill patients, she added, a much better predictor of violence was someone who was intoxicated.

“I do think there’s sort of a lot of public misperception about how dangerous psychiatric patients are,’’ said Holland, who recently chronicled her experience in a book, “Weekends at Bellevue.’’

Marc Kullman, cofounder of the National Bipolar Foundation, worried that the attack would reinforce stereotypes about people with mental illness.

“It’s a vicious cycle, because the more stigma is created from an incident like this, the less people that need help will come forward to get help,’’ Kullman said. “People need to see this is an isolated incident, but also take this opportunity to discuss bipolar openly and begin to seek help for people that are affected.’’

Princeton student with learning disabilities sues university for refusal to allow her extra time on exams

From the New Jersey Law Journal:

A learning-disabled freshman suing Princeton University for refusing to allow her extra time to take exams was dealt a setback this week, as a federal judge refused a temporary restraining order on the eve of midterms.

But plaintiff Diane Metcalf-Leggette still has a shot at getting a preliminary injunction in January, when final exams begin, if she can show probability of success in her suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Metcalf-Leggette, of Centreville, Va., contended that a poor performance on the midterms would constitute irreparable harm, but U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson in Trenton, N.J., said the school could deal with that after the fact.

Thompson set a hearing date for Jan. 11, a week before the start of finals, in Metcalf-Leggette v. Princeton University, 3:09-cv-05428.

Metcalf-Leggette, represented by Seth Lapidow and Jonathan Korn of Blank Rome in Princeton, asked for an accommodation in a series of meetings with university officials before suing the school on Monday, the day before midterm exams began.

Metcalf-Leggette has been diagnosed with a series of disorders that limit her ability to concentrate, process information and communicate in writing.

Metcalf-Leggette learned of her diagnoses in 2003. Later, at the private school she attended, she received a 100 percent time extension for exams; a 100 percent extension on the SAT; and a 200 percent extension on the ACT.

Her older brother, David, who also had learning disabilities, graduated from Princeton University in 2008 and was given 100 percent extended time for exams while there. Metcalf-Leggette says she was told his extended time was approved by the predecessor of Eve Tominey, the director of Princeton's Office of Disability Services. Tominey left the extended time accommodation in place for David Metcalf "as a courtesy," the plaintiff says in her suit.

Metcalf-Leggette's suit says she disclosed her learning disabilities to Princeton during the admissions process.

She says university attorney Hannah Ross told her during a Sept. 19 meeting that independent study and deadlines are a major part of the school's instructional program, and the school did not need to offer extra exam time if doing so would harm the "essence" of a Princeton education.

According to the suit, Metcalf-Leggett has:

• Mixed-Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder, which limits her ability to comprehend language, express language or recall material.

• Disorder of Written Expression, which leaves her ability to communicate in writing below the level expected based on age, intelligence or life experiences. When she writes, she has to repeatedly re-check what she has composed.

• Developmental Coordination Disorder, which leaves her ability to spell, punctuate and form sentences below the level expected based on age, intelligence or life experiences. She needs to read material several times over, isolate key words and highlight them so she can locate them again. Also under this disorder, her visual-motor processing skills are in the sixth percentile, "far below the average person, let alone the typical Princeton University student." She also suffers eye strain when taking tests and needs periodic breaks because of the way she reads passages over and over.

• Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which limits her ability to focus. When reading, any distraction requires her to go back to the beginning of the passage.

Princeton did grant Metcalf-Leggette several accommodations, including the right to take tests in a "reduced distraction testing environment," a 10-minute break every hour during tests and a one-exam-per-day limit.

In an Oct. 21 letter to Metcalf-Leggette's attorneys, Ross said, "Our office has found it to be a relatively rare occurrence that an attorney is very familiar with the type of action that might be contemplated against the university in a situation like this."

Ross enclosed copies of two cases she said provided "the best information about both the probabilities of success of such an action and the university's current and historical resolve in vigorously defending these types of cases."

She cited Connell v. Princeton, A-6388-99, a 2001 case where the Appellate Division upheld the university's dismissal of a student who sought an injunction to force the school to readmit him pending a determination of whether his dismissal on academic grounds was discrimination based on disability.

Ross also cited Zakharia v. Princeton, a 1999 Law Division case in which the court denied the plaintiff a temporary injunction barring the university from suspending him.

Lapidow, Metcalf-Leggette's attorney, says neither case is on point.

He says giving his client extra time to complete exams would not be unfair to other students.

"The literature is pretty clear that extended time doesn't do any favors for students who are not disabled. What my client needs is to do is cut through the haze of her disability, which is a labor-intensive process," says Lapidow. "She's very bright and very able. She has some significant hurdles presented by her disabilities that she's overcome."

Cass Cliatt, a university spokeswoman, says the school declines to discuss ongoing litigation.

New short story collection focuses on disabled characters

From Powell's Books about Call Me Ahab by Anne Finger:

Synopsis: Imagine a Hollywood encounter between Helen Keller and Frida Kahlo, two female icons of disability. Or the story of Moby Dick, or, The Leg, told from Ahab's perspective. What if Vincent Van Gogh resided in a twentieth-century New York hotel, surviving on food stamps and direct communications with God? Or if the dwarf pictured in a seventeenth-century painting by Velazquez should tell her story? And, finally, imagine the encounter between David and Goliath from the Philistine's point of view. These are the characters who people history and myth as counterpoints to the normal. And they are also the characters who populate Anne Finger's remarkable short stories. Affecting but never sentimental, ironic but never cynical, these wonderfully rich and comic tales reimagine life beyond the margins of normality.

The Publisher's Weekly review:

"In this marvelously original collection, Finger (Basic Skills) explores the nature and function of legendary outcasts, from Goliath, initially ridiculed for his giantism before he became a savior of the Philistines, to Vincent Van Gogh, tortured madman and impoverished artist caught in a bureaucratic vacuum as he waits for his Social Security benefits. In 'Helen and Frida,' Finger imagines with absurd relish Helen Keller and Frida Kahlo featured in the same empowering movie (Helen is played by Jean Harlow). In 'The Artist and the Dwarf,' Finger configures an elaborate inner life for the dwarf Mari Barbola in Velzquez's Las meninas, juxtaposed with the dialogue between a medical illustrator in Auschwitz and her doomed subject, the famous circus dwarf Lia Graf. Most ambitious is 'Moby Dick, or the Leg,' in which Finger suggests a touching, untoward intimacy between Ishmael and Captain Ahab. Brisk, inventive and intelligent, these stories do their own thing, and do it well."

Is the Kindle DX more blind-friendly?

From WLS-TV in Chicago:

The next wave of textbooks will be downloadable and easy to carry.

This summer Kindle DX came out with adaptable textbooks for everyone, including people with visual impairment.

From experts in the field of adaptive technology for people who are blind and visually impaired, the reviews of Kindle DX are mixed. They hope improvements are made to accommodate different levels of vision impairments.

Hadley School for the Blind in Winnetka provides educational services to people who are blind and visually impaired all around the world. Students don't come to school, they are taught by phone and computers using standard textbooks.

A devices like Kindle DX would be ideal, says Andre Lukatsky, director of computer services.

"The benefit of the DX is the large screen and gives someone with low vision access to large print materials," he said. "It's not good for people who are completely blind because the user interface doesn't speak; it doesn't have text to speech for the features in the menu. It doesn't allow a person who is blind to actually select a book through speech access."

The Kindle DX is light weight, larger than eBook, has an 18-point font and can be underline, which is essential for textbook usage.

Text to speech is also available.

The cost is around $500.

Allen Maynard is an access technological specialist who is legally blind.

"It's really a nice device. It's just unfortunate that being blind, I really can't use it because it reads the books but the menus don't talk and the control buttons aren't labeled they're not textual," Maynard said.

However, these experts believe there is a great future for Kindle DX.
"If Amazon can add just few more features to the Kindle if Amazon can make the menu speak so that a blind person can actually navigate the books and download the book without sited help," Maynard said.

For students like Jacqueline Anderson, the Kindle DX could be on her holiday wish list.

"I would want it to be able to read books and to be something that I could use easily. One of the most difficult things with technology for a person with visual impairment is that it would be fully accessible," said Anderson.