Monday, May 31, 2010

New "hire people with disabilities" campaign urges businesses to think beyond labels

From WLS-TV in Chicago:

CHICAGO -- Several months ago, a $4 million national disability awareness campaign hit the airwaves with high hopes for increasing employment among people with disabilities.

"Think Beyond the Label" is a 30-second TV spot featuring Chicago artist, and founder of Dance>Detour, Alana Wallace. She said this was more than an acting job.

"Because I really embraced the message. I embraced the fact that it was clever and funny and it was unlike the usual messages that we see people with disabilities depicted in. You know, where it's the pity party," Wallace said.

Health and Disability Advocates, a Chicago-based national policy and advocacy group, created this campaign.

"The Think Beyond the Label" campaign is the first campaign since the old "Hire the Handicapped" campaign in the 1970s, and we wanted to take this new approach that would get employers, especially small businesses, who I think we are seeing through the Bureau of Labor Statistics are just starting to hire," said Barbara Otto.

Otto is Health and Disability Advocates' executive director.

"The focus of the campaign was supposed to be on how we label everybody in the workforce. Everybody in our office, the close talker, the volume syndrome, the guy that talks too loud on his phone. There's always-- as we sat down and talked about it with out creative producer-- there's always that person who makes coffee in the office," said Otto.

The commercial aired first aired in February and has gotten a lot of positive feedback.

"We got lots of e-mails and phone calls from businesses who are thrilled," Otto said. "We got an email from Scotland saying, 'Thank God, finally somebody's got a sense of humor about disability and focusing on our contributions instead of our deficits'."

"That is so funny because that label truly fits me," Wallace said. "I can't make a good cup of coffee. I just can't do it. I'm totally coffee impaired."

"Think Beyond the Label" will continue to air for the next few years.

Veterans groups push for better employment opportunities for returning soldiers

From Harvey Lipman, columnist at The Record in NJ:

Veterans groups have been pounding the doors of Congress — literally and figuratively — for the past year demanding action to reduce the high unemployment rates among the soldiers back from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"One of our major focuses this year has been veteran employment," said Tim Embree, legislative associate with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). "We've been running around the halls of Congress looking for anyone who would listen."

It looks like they're finding an audience.

Legislation introduced in both the Senate and House on Tuesday would make it easier for businesses to claim a federal tax credit for hiring recent vets.

The bill is being co-sponsored in the Senate by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Iowa Republican Charles Grassley, the committee's ranking minority member. Minnesota Democratic Representative Tim Walz introduced it in the House.

Businesses can already claim a Work Opportunity Tax Credit of up to $4,800 for every disabled veteran they hire and $2,400 for other veterans within five years of their discharge from active duty with one of the regular branches of the military. But many don't, simply because they don't know about it.

"A lot of employers, especially small businesses, just don't have the time to educate themselves about this," Embree said. "And a lot of veterans don't understand what they qualify for."

To address that problem, one key element of the legislation requires the military to brief service members about the credit upon their discharge and provide them with written instructions about how to apply for it — to give to potential employers. The government would also work with IAVA, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other groups to create documents about the tax credit that veterans can download from their websites and include in their resumes.

The idea is to have the veterans themselves help market the credit

to business owners.

"This credit is dramatically underutilized because it comes as a surprise to the vets' employers," said Eric Hilleman, legislative director for the VFW. "The VFW is committed to help spread the word."

Two other key changes in the bill would expand the number of veterans who would be covered by the credit. For the first time, reservists and National Guard members who have been on active duty for at least 180 days would also be included.

Secondly, the legislation would simplify the certification process for businesses and veterans to prove their eligibility. Currently, the veteran being hired must have applied for unemployment benefits within four weeks before being hired and must go through a complicated certification process to prove that. The Baucus-Walz bill would eliminate that requirement.

"You would no longer have to have applied for unemployment," Embree explained. "Say I get out of the Marine Corps and for the first four months I don't know what I want to do and I burn through my savings. Then I realize I've got to get a job. I was unemployed, but I never applied for unemployment."

That would change so that the only paperwork veterans would need to give new employers is a discharge document issued by the Defense Department or National Guard showing they'd served 180 days on active duty in the past five years.

What's driving the veterans groups' efforts is the stubbornly high unemployment rate among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: 13.1 percent in April, compared with 9.5 percent for the nation as a whole.

As The Record reported in March, New Jersey's Army National Guard members have been particularly hard hit. An internal survey by one battalion found 18 percent of its members were jobless.

Embree said the unemployment figures for Guard members nationally have skyrocketed to 10.6 percent, quadrupling since 2007. That's especially disturbing given the fact that many of them had civilian jobs before they were deployed.

"No veteran returning home from the service and looking for work should be greeted with an unemployment check instead of a job," Baucus said in a statement announcing the legislation.

Veterans groups have been pounding the doors of Congress — literally and figuratively — for the past year demanding action to reduce the high unemployment rates among the soldiers back from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"One of our major focuses this year has been veteran employment," said Tim Embree, legislative associate with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). "We've been running around the halls of Congress looking for anyone who would listen."

It looks like they're finding an audience.

Legislation introduced in both the Senate and House on Tuesday would make it easier for businesses to claim a federal tax credit for hiring recent vets.

The bill is being co-sponsored in the Senate by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Iowa Republican Charles Grassley, the committee's ranking minority member. Minnesota Democratic Representative Tim Walz introduced it in the House.

Businesses can already claim a Work Opportunity Tax Credit of up to $4,800 for every disabled veteran they hire and $2,400 for other veterans within five years of their discharge from active duty with one of the regular branches of the military. But many don't, simply because they don't know about it.

"A lot of employers, especially small businesses, just don't have the time to educate themselves about this," Embree said. "And a lot of veterans don't understand what they qualify for."

To address that problem, one key element of the legislation requires the military to brief service members about the credit upon their discharge and provide them with written instructions about how to apply for it — to give to potential employers. The government would also work with IAVA, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other groups to create documents about the tax credit that veterans can download from their websites and include in their resumes.

The idea is to have the veterans themselves help market the credit to business owners.

"This credit is dramatically underutilized because it comes as a surprise to the vets' employers," said Eric Hilleman, legislative director for the VFW. "The VFW is committed to help spread the word."

Two other key changes in the bill would expand the number of veterans who would be covered by the credit. For the first time, reservists and National Guard members who have been on active duty for at least 180 days would also be included.

Secondly, the legislation would simplify the certification process for businesses and veterans to prove their eligibility. Currently, the veteran being hired must have applied for unemployment benefits within four weeks before being hired and must go through a complicated certification process to prove that. The Baucus-Walz bill would eliminate that requirement.

"You would no longer have to have applied for unemployment," Embree explained. "Say I get out of the Marine Corps and for the first four months I don't know what I want to do and I burn through my savings. Then I realize I've got to get a job. I was unemployed, but I never applied for unemployment."

That would change so that the only paperwork veterans would need to give new employers is a discharge document issued by the Defense Department or National Guard showing they'd served 180 days on active duty in the past five years.

What's driving the veterans groups' efforts is the stubbornly high unemployment rate among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: 13.1 percent in April, compared with 9.5 percent for the nation as a whole.

As The Record reported in March, New Jersey's Army National Guard members have been particularly hard hit. An internal survey by one battalion found 18 percent of its members were jobless.

Embree said the unemployment figures for Guard members nationally have skyrocketed to 10.6 percent, quadrupling since 2007. That's especially disturbing given the fact that many of them had civilian jobs before they were deployed.

"No veteran returning home from the service and looking for work should be greeted with an unemployment check instead of a job," Baucus said in a statement announcing the legislation.

e-Therapy may revolutionize mental health care in Australia

From The Age in Australia:

Mentally ill Australians are increasingly being diagnosed and treated online in virtual psychiatric clinics, without ever seeing a doctor.

Patients suffering from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder are being assessed by computer and given ''e-prescriptions'' for online counselling courses instead of medication or treatment sessions with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Doctors who provide e-therapy say it produces better results than face-to-face treatment but at a fraction of the cost.

Private appointments with mental health specialists cost an average of $100 an hour.

With e-therapy, patients are clinically diagnosed after completing psychiatric reviews by answering online questions. They then have the option to enrol in a free electronic self-help treatment program or receive assistance from an online therapist at limited cost.

Advocates predict it will revolutionise the way mental illness is treated, particularly in remote areas where access to services is limited.

The Sunday Age believes the federal government is so supportive of e-therapy it will this year offer GPs in every rural Australian community free training in an online treatment program developed by a leading Sydney mental health clinic.

In Melbourne, David Austin, the co-director of the National eTherapy Centre's Anxiety Online program, which is run from Swinburne University of Technology, said the service did not attempt to treat people with more serious conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder but there was scope for that in the future.

''Within five to 20 years we will have a proven e-therapy for most of the psychological conditions. Once you do that, you have 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week low-cost access for everyone,'' said Professor Austin. Since the launch in October, more than 5000 patients with a range of anxiety disorders have been diagnosed by the service, which offers free self-help programs or internet-based therapy sessions with postgraduate psychology students, costing $120 for a three-month course.

Patients log on anonymously to complete modules on cognitive behavioural therapy and breathing and relaxation techniques through videos, podcasts, online forums and interactive questionnaires.

Next month, courses will begin for people with eating disorders and gambling addiction.

''It's a radical departure from the mental health system we have now where even though less than 10 per cent of people with a psychiatric problem seek professional help there's still waiting lists, there's still problems with access; people in regional and rural areas haven't even got an option to go on a waiting list because there is no service. E-therapy just completely wipes away all those issues,'' Professor Austin said.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and the Australian Psychological Society are largely supportive of e-therapy but remain concerned that seriously ill patients could miss out on appropriate care if they rely solely on online programs.

Bob Montgomery, the society's president, said underlying emotional issues or substance abuse often caused mental health problems and e-therapy could fail to detect them.

''I have grave doubts about whether it [e-therapy] will be the panacea some people tout it as being so it's important that people have access to full-blown therapy,'' he said.

More than 360 doctors across Australia are also using a program developed by the University of New South Wales and St Vincent's Hospital's Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression in Sydney, which allows GPs and psychologists to refer patients with mental health issues for online treatment by buying a $100 pad of 20 e-prescriptions for 20 patients, each providing a six-week counselling course.

The federal government has trialled the program in New South Wales and, with funding extended until June next year, it is expected to be introduced in rural communities nationally.

The program allows people to record their emotions with electronic mood monitors that are tracked by their doctor, who can intervene if they feel extra support is needed.

It has become the hospital's treatment of choice for people with anxiety disorders, and those behind the program are now in discussion with the United States and New Zealand governments which want to replicate it. Gavin Andrews, who heads the online research unit clinic, said more than 2000 patients had been treated and the program had been found to be 13 times more cost effective than face-to-face treatment.

''For every two people you treat, you get one fully better and they stay better for six months. When you're treating depression with antidepressants you get one better for every five patients you treat and for cognitive behavioural therapy you treat four and you get one fully better … The results are quite staggering.''

UK businessman wants to back deaf candidate for the Scottish Parliament

From The Scotsman in Scotland:

A businessman is offering to pay the deposit for any independent deaf candidate to stand at the next Scottish Parliament elections.

Writing in The Scotsman today, Jeff McWhinney said the barriers for a deaf candidate, such as the need for interpreters for British Sign Language (BSL), prevented proper representation of issues important to 100,000 Britons.

And experts said Scotland and its proportional representative list system would allow such a potential politician to break through for the first time.

Mr McWhinney was chief executive of the British Deaf Association from 1995-2004. He is now managing director of Significan't, a social business which provides a video interpreting service for deaf people.

He said he would happily "put my money where my mouth is" by supporting potential candidates in any UK elections or by-elections.

He said: "Deaf people have been marginalised, ignored and unheard for decades. Perhaps if there were deaf MPs, or at least deaf candidates, the parties would take notice of the issues that dominate their daily lives.

"Last week, in its programme for government, the new coalition government at Westminster said that it 'will introduce extra support for people with disabilities who want to become MPs, councillors or other elected officials'. I hope this includes interpreter support for deaf candidates.."

Mr McWhinney cited the example of Liberal Democrat candidate for Lewisham East in the 2001 General Election, David Buxton, who faced £500-a-day costs for interpreters.

He said: "Since good interpreters do not come cheap, he soon reached his limit. Because he is deaf he was automatically put at a disadvantage.

"Significan't would be prepared to pay the deposit for any deaf BSL user standing as an independent candidate in any British constituency at a by-election or general election."

Professor Graham Turner, director of the Centre for Translating and Interpreting Studies in Scotland at Heriot-Watt University, said a number of developments with BSL have taken place in Scotland. And he said there were precedents for elected politicians who were deaf in other countries, such as Hungary and Canada.

He said: "The list system in Scotland would create a potential opening that does not exist south of the Border. We know it's not beyond the bounds of possibility, though the first-past-the-post voting system works against a deaf candidate.

"A proportional representation system would be the only way you could imagine people putting support behind a deaf candidate."

Sign language expert Tessa Padden "says" the offer is good news for deaf people in Scotland. She signs, from top: "good"; "news"; "deaf person/people"; "Scotland".

The thumbs-up gesture is recognisable to everyone as representing something good; "news" is signified by the letter "N" – created by placing two fingers on the palm – then two fingers just below the ear signifies "deaf"; the sign for "Scotland" involves a mime of playing the bagpipes.

Cleveland Clinic researcher hopes to develop breast cancer vaccine


CLEVELAND -- Chances are the only vaccine you've received since you were a kid was maybe a flu shot. Cleveland Clinic immunologist Dr. Vincent Tuohy couldn't understand why there aren't more vaccines for adult diseases.

"We have a wonderful vaccination program for children that protects us from polio, measles and seventeen different diseases actually but it stops at age 13," Dr. Tuohy says.

So for the last eight years, he's researched breast cancer and believes he's discovered the vaccine that will prevent it. He tested it on genetically engineered mice predisposed to breast cancer.

"By ten months one hundred percent of the mice that were not immunized had breast tumors and none of the mice that were immunized had any tumors," Dr. Tuohy says.

What's more, the vaccine seems to inhibit the growth of existing tumors.

"There's nothing fancy about it, we're vaccinating against something that isn't there unless you have tumors so it shouldn't harm you and it should kill the tumors," Dr. Tuohy says.

The trigger is a protein found in lactating breasts called a-lactalbumin. The same protein is also found in breast tumors but not found in healthy breasts. Women who are done breast feeding would get the vaccine that would boost their immune system giving her own body the tools to kill cancer but not damage healthy breast tissue.

"We think that breast cancer is a completely preventable disease in the same way that polio is completely preventable," Dr. Tuohy says.

Incredible news for breast cancer survivor Patti Berns who worries about her daughters facing the disease. "I can breathe easy she doesn't have to start in her thirties getting mammograms because of my history it doesn't have to hang over her head and wonder if I'm going to get it because my mom did," Patti says.

Dr. Tuohy's dream is to create a single shot to give women a shot against a deadly disease. The next step is to get funding so the vaccine can begin human trials. Dr. Tuohy is hoping help may come from Komen for the Cure and the National Cancer Institute. The first research subjects would be women with metastatic breast cancer and a second group of women with the breast cancer gene BRCA 1 or 2.

If all goes well, he hopes a vaccine can be available in about ten years.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Video of police kicking deaf man in Florida arrives on YouTube

From WTSP-TV in Florida:

TAMPA, Fla. -- There are many different ways you can interpret a video posted on YouTube, showing a police officer kicking a man on the ground.

From the view of the police officers, they were using a move they are trained to use when a person is not being compliant, which they say is what was happening.

And then there's the view of the man on the ground and his attorney.

"When I look at the video, I see angry police officers that are using a high level of force," attorney Michael Maddux told 10 Connects.

The video was captured in February following the Gasparilla Knight Parade.

It shows the moments after a group of people were kicked out of Gaspar's Grotto because of an argument with bouncers.

It shows about three plain-clothed officers trying to subdue a man on the ground, who Maddux identifies as his client, 26-year-old Jacob Cowie.

A uniformed police officer is then seen walking up to the scene, trying to help and the kicking the man twice.

While the officers write in Cowie's arrest report that they used force to gain compliance after repeatedly telling him to stop resisting, Maddux says his client never heard the commands.

"All of their screams we're literally falling on deaf ears," said Maddux.

Maddux says his client is hearing impaired. He also tells us Cowie did not realize the plain-clothed officers were police officers because he was approached from behind.

Maddux claims his client was only trying to help his friend, who got into an altercation with one of the bouncers at the club and was trying to pull the bouncer away from his friend when he was approached.

"Our position is the officers failed to assess the situation, used excessive force when they could have calmed the situation down," said Maddux.

The Tampa Police Department and the Tampa City Attorney's Office is not commenting on the case because there is pending litigation and a pending Internal Affairs investigation.

The case was turned over to IA this month once the department was notified by Maddux of the video.

However, according to TPD policy, an officer can use force if it is in self-defense or to get compliance.

What you don't see on the video is the man holding his hands underneath him on the ground and refusing to comply, according to the report.

Officers wrote in the report that they "struck him with a closed right fist in both the upper shoulder. This had little effect and I then struck Cowie in the face and he moved both of his hands from under his body and toward his face."

Another officer wrote, "Cowie became more and more enraged, and continued to kick, and pull away from us. I then delivered two Drive Stuns from my department issued Taser gaining immediate compliance."

The officer seen kicking Cowie in the video wrote, "In an attempt to quickly stop the defendant from further kicking, I struck the defendant one time in the upper leg with a straight leg kick."

Maddux questions whether this would have happened if Cowie was able to hear their commands and knew they were officers.

"My client was not there to fight or argue with the police that night. The was actually there to be the sort of peacemaker for a situation that got out of hand," he said.

The disorderly conduct charge was dropped against Cowie, who Maddux says has never been in trouble with the law before.

He says his client suffered a torn rotator cuff and injuries to his face as a result of the incident.

New play in NJ focuses on woman with autistic daughter

The NY Times Review:

Joe DiPietro does crowd-pleasing for a living. Mr. DiPietro is the playwright who gave us “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” and, on Broadway this season, the musical “Memphis.” With “Creating Claire,” now in its world premiere at the George Street Playhouse, he seems to be trying to please both sides of a fierce debate: the one between religion and science, creationism versus evolution.

This is an awfully well done production, with notable performances, strong direction by David Saint and powerful projection design, from the literal (fish with tiny feet emerging from a prehistoric sea) to the cosmic (observatory-style starry-night skies), by Michael Clark. But throughout the play, as the writer’s voice comes through, it is manipulating us shamelessly.

The protagonist is the title character, who gives tours of the Museum of Earth and Sky. (This is presented as a much more demanding, time-consuming career than you might think.) One day, in the middle of her “Origins of Life” tour, Claire throws in an unscripted comment. Maybe, she says, all of this happened over billions of years because there was a designer behind it all, a designer with a plan.

This is strange because Claire has always been a proud agnostic. And no precipitating factors that might explain her sudden change of heart are ever mentioned.

Claire is played by Barbara Walsh (pictured right), who was so good as the “Ladies Who Lunch” sophisticate Joanne in the 2006 revival of “Company.” Ms. Walsh is calm, confident and self-possessed, even when she realizes that her little ad lib may cost her her job. It would probably have been a very different production if Sandy Duncan, who was originally scheduled to play the role, were the star. (Ms. Duncan dropped out earlier this month because of illness.)

Considering that Claire’s behavior is inexplicable, Ms. Walsh gives a remarkable performance. Michael Countryman is strong and sympathetic as her baffled husband, Reggie. As their teenage daughter, who has autism, Celia Keenan-Bolger (pictured left) is outstanding, committing fully to the girl’s condition and maintaining her dignity even when her comments are played for laughs.

The only somewhat weak link, and it’s a surprising one, is Lynn Cohen as Victoria, Claire’s boss, who sticks to her atheist guns but tries to be understanding of whatever Claire is going through. Ms. Cohen, now best known as the nanny employed by Cynthia Nixon’s character in the television and film versions of “Sex and the City,” seems well cast. She also has some of the juicier lines (like, “There is nothing more insidious than a person with a higher purpose and a lawyer”). But I never believed a word she was saying when she stood up for the rights of nonbelievers.

It’s not clear whether that was a deliberate choice made by Mr. Saint (who is also the playhouse’s artistic director) or by the actress herself. Another possibility is that the character is just too hobbled by Mr. DiPietro’s dialogue, which includes some sweeping generalizations that hint strongly at which side of the aisle he really wants to cater to.

At last Sunday’s matinee, theatergoers groaned at religious lines like Claire’s reaction to the death of Victoria’s partner: “She’s in a better place now.” But that was a Northeastern audience; the reaction might be very different at a performance in the Bible Belt. And that, it appears, is just what “Creating Claire” is counting on.

Colorado amputees want to show life's possibilities after a disability

From Colorado Daily:

Losing a limb doesn't have to mean the end of an active lifestyle.

For 33-year-old Chad Butrick (pictured), in fact, it meant the beginning of one.

Butrick lost his leg in 2005 after he was involved in a car accident in Missouri. He'd always enjoyed getting outside, but the accident brought the inspiration he needed to follow his dream: He wanted to climb mountains. So Butrick moved to Colorado and became a patient of Angela Montgomery, who manages Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics in Boulder.

On May 31, Butrick will join a dozen of Montgomery's patients -- some are also amputees, some use orthotic braces -- who are, for the first time, walking the Bolder Boulder together as a group.

"I see patients every day, many of which would like to know each other," Montgomery said. "We need a better community so people can share ideas and not feel alone."

Five years into being an amputee, Butrick has it pretty well figured out. Montgomery has made him several activity-specific prosthetics, and he's used them to climb rocks faces, ice flows and mountains across Colorado. This spring, Butrick and another amputee, Chad Jukes, even made a trip to climb in Alaska's remote Ruth Gorge.

Montgomery said she now has a handful of patients like Butrick, and she's asking them to reach out to more recent amputees. That's where events like the Bolder Boulder come in. And Butrick -- director of operations for Paradox Sports, which helps disabled people access outdoor activities -- is psyched to help.

"I want people with a disability to understand that their life isn't over, no matter how bad it is," Butrick said. "That's my whole purpose. That's why I went to Alaska. That's why I want to do the Bolder Boulder."

New book discusses disability hate crimes

From Ashgate publishers about the book, Disability Hate Crimes, Does Anyone Really Hate Disabled People?:

Disability hate crimes are a global problem. They are often violent and hyper-aggressive, with life-changing effects on victims, and they send consistent messages of intolerance and bigotry. This ground-breaking book shows that disability hate crimes do exist, that they have unique characteristics which distinguish them from other hate crimes, and that more effective policies and practices can and must be developed to respond and prevent them.

With particular focus on the UK and USA's contrasting response to this issue, this book will help readers to define hate crimes as well as place them within their wider social context. It discusses the need for legislative recognition and essential improvements on the reporting of incidents and assistance for individual victims of these crimes, as well as the need to address the social exclusion of disabled people and the negative attitudes surrounding their condition.

About the Author:

Mark Sherry is Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department at the University of Toledo, Ohio, USA.


"Mark Sherry's book is a major expansion of disability studies. It is of importance to everyone interested in the interface between the law, law enforcement, and the power of stereotypes. A necessary addition to the scholar's, the lawyer's and the judge's library."
Sander L. Gilman, Emory University, USA

"Mark Sherry’s book Disability Hate Crimes guides readers through some of the darkest corners human experience. These places previously have been left virtually unexplored, but they cannot be ignored. Society needs to confront these crimes and to do so we need to understand the attitudes that create them."
Dick Sobsey, University of Alberta, Canada

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Californian trains to be first person with CP to climb El Capitan in Yosemite

From the San Diego Union Tribune:

CORONADO, Calif. — Stephen Wampler (pictured training) can’t walk, but if all goes according to plan the 41-year-old Coronado resident will become the first person with cerebral palsy to scale the 3,000-foot El Capitan granite monolith at Yosemite National Park.

His climb is set for the last week of summer.

“My first thought was, ‘That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,’ ” said Wampler’s wife, Elizabeth. “But I know him. He wouldn’t say it if he didn’t mean it.”

Wampler said his desire was fueled about a year ago while visiting Yosemite with a couple of friends — Mark Wellman, who in 1989 became the first paraplegic to ascend El Capitan, and Steve Muse, who in 2008 was the first quadriplegic to scale it.

“I looked at both and said, ‘If they can do it, I can do it,’ ” Wampler said.

But he is not doing the climb for himself. His goal is to raise $2 million for the Stephen J. Wampler Foundation, a nonprofit he started that sponsors camps for children with physical disabilities.

Wampler, who had never climbed before, began training May 18, 2009. He had more than a few doubts.

“I’m getting back to the gym after so many years of not training and going, ‘How am I going to do this?’ ”

Now he’s working out five days a week at the Family Gym in Coronado, and he recently went to Joshua Tree National Park with friends to practice his climbing technique. His biggest test came a couple of weeks ago when he scaled 2,500 feet to the Nose of El Capitan.

When he got back to camp, “people would give me a hug and I was so sore, it physically hurt just to touch me,” Wampler said.

He will basically be doing one “pull-up” at a time, bringing him four to six inches closer to the top. He expects to climb 400 to 450 feet per day. Wampler will employ much of the routine gear — ropes and bolts — along with a unique climbing apparatus he designed based on inventions used by others with physical disabilities. The project will cost roughly $400,000, which includes the climb and a crew documenting the experience for a film called “Wall.” He hopes to raise much of the money for his nonprofit through the film.

Ken Yager, president and founder of the Yosemite Climbing Association, has hiked El Capitan multiple times. He said the mission is difficult for even the most experienced athletes.

“At the beginning you get these self-doubts like, ‘Am I up for doing this for five days?’ ” Yager said. “The last few days the body is hurting and the hands are stiff.”

Yager in 2005 led Kelly Perkins, the first person with a heart transplant to scale El Capitan. He said more people with physical disabilities are climbing the Yosemite landmark. Scott Gediman, a park ranger and spokesman for Yosemite, said the park does not keep records of all who attempt to scale the summit but has seen a 12-year-old and a blind man succeed.

Wampler’s climb will raise money for an endowment to provide scholarships to those with physical disabilities to Camp Nejedly northwest of Lake Tahoe.

“It’s not like a usual camp where the camper would go with 150 people and get lost in the shuffle,” said Jenny Yarrow, director with the Steve Wampler Foundation. “This is 16 campers, 16 counselors.”

Wampler attended a similar camp when he was 9.

When the program almost closed, Wampler began his foundation to help save it. It raised $110,000 over two years.

“I am trying to give these kids the same experiences I had and hopefully the light will go off for them, too,” he said.

One of those kids is Jackie Schmidt, a senior at Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks. Schmidt suffered a spinal cord injury when she was 10 while riding on an ATV. She uses a wheelchair, but counselors carry her around at Camp Nejedly.

“They are my legs for the week,” said Schmidt, who talked glowingly about the outings.

Wampler wants others with disabilities to share the same experience.

“Life is not over because you’re in a chair. There’s so much more you can do,” Wampler said. “You’re in a chair now. Move and create a new life for yourself.”

New Tajik polio outbreak prompts swift measures from Moscow

From Radio Free Europe:

The reemergence of an old disease in Tajikistan has led to an outbreak of a "polio war" between Moscow and Dushanbe.

The dispute erupted after news emerged in April that the viral disease, which primarily spreads in areas with poor sanitation and can cause paralysis within hours of contraction, had returned to Tajikistan in a big way.

Two deaths resulting from polio have been confirmed in the Central Asian country, although Russian officials have placed the number as high as 15. Some 104 cases of wild polio virus have been confirmed, and nearly 440 cases of acute flaccid paralysis, the most common sign of polio, have been recorded.

In Russia, where hundreds of thousands of Tajik migrant workers trek for seasonal work, suspected cases have appeared among young children of Tajik migrant laborers in hospitals in Moscow and thousands of kilometers away in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region. These illnesses have led officials to introduce a number of measures to prevent the disease from spreading.

Tajik children less than six years of age, the most likely group to contract the virus, have been barred from entering the country and testing at border points has begun. In another move that threatens to further damage Tajikistan's already battered economy, imports of dried fruit were banned by Moscow.

At the same time, Russian officials, including chief sanitary inspector Gennady Onishchenko, have begun to make alarming statements.

"We should bring our children back from Tajikistan,” Onishchenko said. “We have more than 1,000 Russian children there, the children of [Russian] officers. They will be leaving."

On May 26, Onishchenko said that a Russian girl who recently returned to St. Petersburg from Tajikistan carried the polio virus with her. Onishchenko said the girl herself was healthy but was a carrier of polio, adding that there are "several" other cases of Russian children recently returned from Tajikistan who are also carriers of the virus.

The WHO's Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which updates its list of polio cases on a weekly basis, had not officially registered a confirmed case in Russia as of May 25.

Onishchenko also said if Tajik authorities do not heed the ban on Tajik children under six traveling to Russia, then Russia's sanitary control agency would take "effective measures."

At least three citizens of Tajikistan, termed "carriers" of polio by Russian health officials, have been deported to Tajikistan since May 26.

The World Health Organization declared its European region -- which includes Russia and Tajikistan -- polio-free in 2002. Its reemergence is seen as a blow to the WHO's all-out effort launched in 1988 to eradicate the disease from the globe.

In 2009, there were about 1,600 cases of polio recorded in 23 countries, according to the WHO. In Russia the disease had not been seen in 15 years, and no case had been recorded in Tajikistan since 1997.

Tajik Deputy Health Minister Sayeda Jobirova said the reappearance of the disease in Tajikistan came as a surprise. "Many world regions, including Tajikistan, have been free of this disease for the last 10 years,” Jobirova said. “As research shows, the virus entered our country from outside and it is a so-called ‘wild poliomyelitis.’”

Officials have claimed that the virus, which is not endemic to Tajikistan, came from India.

Nine cases of polio have been recorded this year in Afghanistan, neighboring Tajikistan. In Uzbekistan, according to the WHO, three cases of acute flaccid paralysis had been recorded along the country's border with Tajikistan as of April, although no poliovirus cases had been confirmed.

Tajikistan's outbreak of polio is so far confined to the Dushanbe and Khatlon areas, which border Uzbekistan.

The outbreak has led Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to coordinate in launching mass immunization campaigns, according to UNICEF. The UN body reports that history shows that three rapid, large-scale campaigns "can quickly stop an outbreak of polio in a previously polio-free country." The third round is planned for the first week of June.

Tajik Deputy Health Minister Aazam Mirzoev, who this week advised Russian sanitary inspector Onishchenko against "politicizing the situation," has blamed the outbreak on a failure to follow up on inoculations.

"Certainly, there are children who missed the opportunity to be vaccinated due to migration from Tajikistan, and inside of the country,” Mirzoev said. “Some of them have not been vaccinated year after year. They have a role in the outbreak, because they do not have a shield against the disease."

While Tajikistan has a vaccination program in place for polio, Mirzoev notes that migrant laborers sometimes take their families with them to Kazakhstan or Russia and in so doing miss the regular inoculations. Also, he suggests, people in urban areas can miss regular visits or invitations from medical authorities when they change residences.

Polio is a highly contagious and viral illness that can cause difficulty in breathing, paralysis, and death. Early symptoms include fever, sore throat, vomiting, back stiffness, muscle spasms, general fatigue, and headaches.

It can be spread quickly through person-to-person contact, and also through contaminated food and water, and is most often seen in areas with poor sanitary conditions.

Rukhsor Rahim, a Dushanbe resident whose child is thought to have polio, tells RFE/RL's Tajik Service that officials did not provide adequate information to the public. "There was no information about the nature of the disease and what people should do," Rahim said.

One thing that WHO does not recommend doing is imposing restrictions on the international movement of people. But that is nevertheless one of the measures taken by some of Tajikistan's neighbors.

Russia's ban on Tajik children entering the country is the harshest measure, but Uzbekistan also announced this week that it was barring Tajik citizens living in areas bordering Uzbekistan from entering the country.

Meanwhile, there have been reports that Kazakhstan has tightened its border controls with Uzbekistan due to concerns about polio.

Utah scientist says immune system may be key to treating mental illness

From KSL-TV in Utah:

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- It is heartbreaking to see someone you love suffer from mental illness. Now a famous Utah scientist says he's made a big breakthrough in the research to find a cure.

Doctors have traditionally treated mental illness with drugs to alter the brain's chemistry, but the University of Utah's Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Dr. Mario Capecchi tried a new approach on a lab mouse. He treated the animal for the illness the same way you would many other illnesses -- by treating its immune system.

Microglia are immune system cells that originate in bone marrow and migrate from blood to the brain acting as the first and main form of active immune defense in the central nervous system (CNS) defending the brain and spinal cord, constantly excavating the CNS and attacking and engulfing infectious agents. Capecchi says compulsive behavior doesn't just affect people. In fact, he had a lab mouse who was suffering from the condition trichotillomania, where one pulls their own hair out. Scientists say it was the mouse that led to the ground-breaking discovery as they found a way to cure him.

"There's a direct correlation, in essence, between the immune system and behavior," Capecchi says.

He says scientists have known for years that there is a connection between behavior and the immune system, but they didn't quite understand it. Now he and his team have discovered it all has to do with a tiny cell called microglia.

Microglia were believed to be "scavenger cells" that would clean up damage in the brain, but Capecchi says the cells are much more powerful than they were letting on.

"What we're saying is microglia are much more sophisticated and are actually controlling behavior, and they have to do it by interacting the nerve cells in your brain," Capecchi says.

They found people and animals afflicted with behavior disorders have deformed microglia cells. So, instead of treating mental illness the way doctors traditionally have -- with medication to alter brain chemistry -- they tried a new approach by treating the immune system.

The researchers used a procedure on the mouse that's commonly practiced on cancer patients -- a bone marrow transplant.

"That cured the disease permanently," Capecchi says. "All the hair grew back, all the lesions were healed, and the mouse no longer removes the body hair."

Capecchi says this new discovery could lead to cures for mental disorders from autism to schizophrenia.

"The book is just opened, and so there are many, many possibilities; and hopefully not only will we pursue it, but also hopefully it will interest other researchers, other investigators, to pursue similar experiments," Capecchi says.

Wheelchair ramp stolen from home of disabled woman in Ohio

From Fox8 TV:

A wheelchair-bound Ohio woman had her wheelchair ramp stolen from outside her home, reports.

Cordelia Simpson, 34, said she woke up Thursday morning and realized her ramp was missing.

"I just couldn't believe they would take a wheelchair (ramp). Most people, if you break in, take TVs, computers or something. But they took a ramp, which is like the main access for us to get into and out of the house," she told

Simpson suffers from bone deterioration in both legs and can't get around without a wheelchair or walker.

And to add insult to injury, Simpson says whoever stole the ramp also kicked her three-legged dog in the ribs.

Elyria police are still searching for the missing wheelchair ramp.

New medication for MS shows promise


NORFOLK, Va. -- A new pill approved by the FDA in March may be a potential medical breakthrough for the nearly 10,000 Virginians living with Multiple Sclerosis.

MS is a disease that affects the central nervous system and stops people from moving.

Lamont Walker of Virginia Beach leans on a cane when he walks because his left foot does not move very well anymore.

He was diagnosed with MS in 1991, which was a devastating blow to this avid athlete.

"Back in '85 I went to Booker T and we won the state championship, and I was named Eastern district player of the year," he said.

Eventually he had to give up basketball, but never gave up on himself.

"I know I have multiple sclerosis but it doesn't have me," he said.

His doctor, Marcus Rice, prescribed a new drug called Ampyra, and they are seeing dramatic results.

"It is just so amazing to me that it happens like that," said Walker, as his foot bobbed up and down.

His Neurologist, Dr. Marcus Rice said, "What it seems to do is it helps to improve the conduction of electrical current through the spinal chord."

Dr. Rice cautions, however, that the pill it is not a cure. Side effects can include tingling, nausea and headache, which usually go away in a few weeks. There is also a risk of seizures, and the medication does not work for everyone.

"But those who do respond well, respond remarkably well, and they're able to walk 25 percent faster, and in some cases have been able to get rid of canes, or walkers, or even wheelchairs," said Rice.

Lamont does not dream of getting back on the basketball court, but the new treatment is giving him a shot at a new goal.

"I just want to be able to walk with my daughter and my son to just hold hands and walk around the block, that's my goal," he said.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation to review police Tasering of teen with Asperger's

From WSAV-TV in Georgia:

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation will now conduct an investigation into the case of 18-year old Clifford Grevemberg, the autistic young man, tased by Tybee Police May 28.
Tybee Chief James Price says, "Due to the high level of interest in the recent case of an autistic man being tased by a TIPD officer, I have requested that an agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation perform a thorough and objective investigation of the incident, using whatever means are available or discoverable by this agent."

Grevemberg, who has Asperger's Syndrome, was sitting outside a restaurant. At the time, Chief Price said in a news release, "We are sincerely apologetic for the injuries suffered by Mr. Grevemberg. We are also sorry that he was left unattended.

The Chief said, at the time, officers had no way of knowing that Grevemberg was autistic and that he showed characteristics of an intoxicated person.

The family says Grevemberg does not use alcohol. He was charged with disorderly conduct. At this point, those charges remain.

In his release today, Chief Price says the investigation begins today, Thursday, with interviews of the two officers directly involved, a review of the incident reports and a review of the Department's Use of Force Policy with an emphasis on the Taser policy.

Student with CP in India denied admission to college because of need for elevator

From The Deccan Chronicle:

Kruti Beesam (pictured) was denied admission when she approached St. Francis Degree College for Women. The reason — she was suffering from cerebral palsy and needed to use the college lift.

According to the law, no institution can deny a student admission on the basis of an illness or a disability as every child has the right to education. However, in Kruti’s case this right was denied to her when her mother approached the college.

“I have cerebral palsy (CP) and I may not be an outstanding student but I am capable of writing exams and faring well. Earlier too the staff and students at Roots school and Nasr, where I studied, extended all possible help to me and treated me well. But recently when we approached St. Francis Degree College for Women for admission into their B.A. Psychology stream, the principal turned us away,” says Kruti, adding, “When my mother told the principal about me and requested her to allow me use the college lift, she was shown out of the college asking her to look for another institution.”

D. Sridhar Babu, minister for higher education, says, “According to the law no institution can deny admission to a student on the basis of illness or a disability. If such a thing has happened with Kruti and she registers a complaint with us, we will initiate action against the college.”

“Kruti was really keen on joining St. Francis since all her friends are going there this year and we had heard that the college has good facilities for their differently-abled students. But all we got was disappointment,” says Radhika, Kruti’s mother.

Luckily, for Kruti, Shadan Degree College for Women has agreed to admit her. “The college authorities have agreed to extend all possible help to me during my stint there. They have also said that I am free to use the college lift to get to classes while I am studying there,” says Kruti.

The principal of St. Francis Degree College, Sister Alphonsa, was unavailable for comment. However, the vice principal, Sister Sandra denied the claim saying, “It is unlikely that the principal would have turned away a prospective student on grounds of a physical disability. In fact, we don’t mind admitting special category students even if they’ve scored considerably less than the other candidates.”

Citing earlier cases, she adds, “In the past we have had blind and physically handicapped students who have studied at our institution. From our end we have always provided them with special facilities like scribes during exams and also a special exam room so that they don’t have to climb the stairs.”

On an average the college has at least five students, who fall under the special category, every year studying at the institution. She adds however, “So far we have never had a student with cerebral palsy.”

New Hampshire budget cuts may mean loss of services for people with disabilities there

From NECN in Manchester, N.H.

New Hampshire lawmakers are racing toward a June 1 deadline to close a massive budget gap. Families who have handicapped loved ones are hoping they do not get left behind, as they are already struggling with cuts to services.

Yvie Livernois was born with renal failure and had a kidney transplant at two-years-old. Now, 10, she is hearing and vision impaired, suffers from cerebral palsy and has lung damage.

A private insurance company covers most of her care, but Medicaid picks up a handful of supplies, like her respirator, feeding tube and the wheelchair that has been modified many times.

She needs this equipment to live. The state has just cut its Medicaid reimbursement to medical equipment providers to cost plus 10%.

The cut is one of many instituted April 1 at the Department of Health and Human Services as it tries to trim costs in the midst of New Hampshire's fiscal crisis. It has left medical equipment providers with a tough decision.

New research says helping kids with autism communicate has only partial benefits

From Reuters Health:

Helping kids with autism learn how to communicate doesn't improve their symptoms, British researchers reported at an international meeting on the developmental disorder.

But it does benefit parent-child interaction, the study, which was also published in the journal The Lancet, shows.

"The story is kind of mixed -- positive and disappointing," said Dr. Jonathan Green, of the University of Manchester, who worked on the study.

Autism spectrum disorders affect about 1 in 100 children and cost healthcare systems billions of dollars each year. Green said neither behavioral nor drug treatment had been very successful at improving autistic symptoms, such as poor social skills, slow language development and repetitive behaviors.

But a few smaller studies had suggested that communication-focused treatment -- based on recent insights into autism development -- might be effective.

So Green and colleagues assigned 152 autistic preschoolers randomly to receive either this treatment or standard care. Throughout a year, they held language-therapy sessions for the treatment group, in which parents learned to adapt their communication to their kids' impairment.

After one year, they compared the two groups of kids, measuring their symptoms with a widely used test. The treatment turned out not to be effective when accounting for group differences such as age and treatment center.

"The way we designed the trial was to give the treatment a stiff test," Green told Reuters Health. "We didn't find what we hoped for."

Yet children communicated more with their parents after the treatment, said Green, adding that "parents reckoned that the treatment had done a very good job of shifting their children's symptoms."

Audrey Thurm, a child psychologist at the US National Institutes of Health, said the new research was more trustworthy than earlier studies.

"We have very few studies that are as rigorous as the study that just came out," she told Reuters Health.

She added that most US children with autism get treatment similar to the one tested by the British researchers, and that the results should not deter such efforts.

For one, she said, "in child-parent interactions, they did find meaningful changes." And for another, some children may respond well whereas others might not, canceling out a potential effect.

"Autism is a hard nut to crack," said Green. "We've got ways to go yet."

DC special ed chief apologizes to parents for mishandling of "reintegration plan"

From The Washington Post:

The District's top special education official apologized to a roomful of anxious parents May 26 for mishandling an attempt to remove their children from private schools where they had been placed at public expense because the city was unable to meet their needs.

Richard Nyankori, deputy chancellor for special education, acknowledged serious problems with the initiative known as the "reintegration plan," which he undertook because he says the city now has the capacity to serve more students with disabilities in public and public charter schools or through some other form of support.

But many parents were angered and alarmed by what they described as the ad hoc, uncommunicative execution of the plan, saying they were informed without any previous consultation that their children would be moved at the end of the current school year. They said placement specialists hired by the District had notified them of the impending moves, in some cases just weeks after their individual education plans -- the documents specifying the special support their children would receive -- were reviewed.

"I get that, and I apologize for it," Nyankori told about 200 parents and lawyers who filled the cafeteria at Randle Highlands Elementary School in Southeast. But he added that the District would continue to pursue the goal of returning students in private placements to public schools when appropriate.

"The reintegration idea is one we're going to hold on to," he said. "The way it's being executed is not."

The District will spend a projected $283 million this year on tuition and transportation for nearly 2,700 disabled students in private schools -- in the Washington region and in residential facilities as far away as Georgia and Colorado. The proportion of the city's special education population in non-public placements (more than 25 percent) is far above the national average, officials say, and the amount of time that disabled children in the District spend with non-disabled peers ranks close to the lowest among the states.

The use of private schools is in part a legacy of failures in the District's special education program, which has been under federal court supervision, for many years. Parents pursued private schools for their children under federal law because the District could not serve them.

Nyankori acknowledged the system's "state of chronic failure" but said the public school system's capacity to serve some special education students has improved. Nyankori and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee frame the reintegration effort as a civil rights issue, asserting that the District has for too long ignored federal mandates that children with disabilities have their educational needs met in the "least restrictive environment."

"We have the most segregated school system in the nation," Nyankori said, adding that the District was not serving disabled children properly by keeping them indefinitely in settings where they receive the most intensive help. Such students need to be "stepped down appropriately," he said.

The District has pursued a similar approach at one of its publicly funded special education facilities, the Jackie Robinson Center. The school's 57 students in first through sixth grades, most of whom have emotional and behavioral issues, will be moved to regular public schools this fall. Nyankori said some students will never be candidates for inclusion in general education schools. That includes "medically fragile" students with disorders such as spina bifida, the seriously mentally ill, and children with a history of violence or as sexual predators.

But Nyankori said there are children with mild and moderate learning disabilities who could be successful in public schools. About half of the District's private special education population is 17 or older, Nyankori said, adding that at 18, those who have had rights legally transferred to them could make their own choices about where to go to school.

He said children are not being well served by some private schools.

"I can't overemphasize that some students enrolled in private schools are not getting what they deserve," he said.

Although Nyankori cites equity and civil rights concerns, there are also financial issues underlying the reintegration attempt. Rhee has identified savings in special education programs as a way to help fund the new performance pay program that is part of the proposed contract with the Washington Teachers' Union. The first three years of the program will be funded with donations from private foundations. But the District will need about $10 million in public money to carry the bonus system from 2013 to 2015, according to an outside analysis of the contract commissioned by Rhee.

Under the reintegration plan, Nyankori directed placement specialists, many provided by contractor First Home Care, to review the cases of all District-supported private school students to see who might be candidates for reintegration. An initial list of more than 200 was developed.

But parents, with children enrolled at private schools such as Kingsbury, Ivymount and Katherine Thomas, told Nyankori on Wednesday that some of the placement staff came to IEP meetings with little or no knowledge of their children's cases. Others said that students older than 18 were being unfairly pressured to withdraw from private settings. The mother of a girl at Kingsbury, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear that her child's chances of getting the support she needed would be hurt, said she received a series of phone calls at odd hours of the evening from placement personnel telling her how well her daughter was doing.

Families and advocates said they fear that the budget pressures are creating a rush to action that overlooks the needs of individual students. They said they are not convinced that the District has expanded its capacity to serve special needs students and planned to file "stay put" actions, invoking their legal right to remain in private placement until the case is reviewed by a hearing officer.

"It is not enough to grow up next to your non-disabled peers if you never learn to read. That's not civil rights," said Judith Sandalow, executive director of the Children's Law Center, which provides legal representation to families dealing with the special education system.

Before the meeting was over, Nyankori announced that any family that had had an IEP reviewed in March, April or so far this month -- and had been led to believe that a child would remain in private schoo1 -- could disregard any notice of reassignment received.

"We're going to revamp the whole thing," he said.

Nyankori's announcement was welcome news to Wendell Belew, whose son Matthew is an eighth-grader grade at Katherine Thomas School in Rockville. He said Matthew's IEP had been approved last month and called for his continued enrollment at the school, at a cost to the District of about $32,000 a year.

But Belew said he was notified last week that his son, who has what Belew called "severe speech issues," was one of 22 Katherine Thomas students who had been identified for transition to D.C. public schools.

"It's being couched as a civil rights issue, that this is the last vestige of segregation," Belew said. "My reaction is that the great thing about Katherine Thomas is that it's an environment where Matthew feels most typical. He feels really included."

Higher testosterone levels in fetuses may lead to autism symptoms, new research says

From The Ottawa Citizen in Canada:

Higher testosterone levels in unborn babies can lead to permanent changes in the brain that contribute to the development of autistic traits, new research suggests.

According to British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, autism is the result of an "extreme male brain," leading to a mind that is predominantly hardwired for understanding rules, identifying patterns and building systems.

In people with autism, such neurological traits tend to be highly developed. A functioning female brain is largely hardwired for empathy -- the ability to read and respond to another person's thoughts or feelings.

Studies by Baron-Cohen's research team at Cambridge University show children with autistic traits such as low empathy, limited language skills and a highly developed sense of order and routine also tend to have had higher levels of testosterone in the womb.

Baron-Cohen tested his theory by examining the hormone levels of 235 pregnant women who had amniocentesis to screen for any fetal abnormalities. He then followed the children of these women years after they gave birth.

Baron-Cohen discovered that compared to children with normal testosterone levels in the womb, children with high fetal testosterone levels had a smaller vocabulary at age two; by age eight, their mothers also noticed that they had lower-than-average levels of empathy and unusually well-developed abilities to identify patterns and details.

The findings suggest testosterone plays a key role in how the brain develops, Baron-Cohen said Tuesday at an autism conference sponsored by McGill University.

"Testosterone is a very interesting candidate for how the brain might become masculinized in the general population," said Baron-Cohen, who has spent more than two decades studying autism spectrum disorders.

Baron-Cohen is among a growing number of neuropsychological researchers who are taking a fresh look at autism. The condition, they say, shouldn't be thought of as a disease to be eradicated. It may be that the autistic brain is simply different -- an example of the variety of human development.

These researchers assert that the focus on finding a cure for autism -- the disease model -- has kept science from asking fundamental questions about how autistic brains function.

Indeed, Baron-Cohen points to more effective ways to teach people with autism.

For example, his Cambridge team has pioneered the use of DVDs to help autistic children read emotional cues in everyday social interactions. The DVDs, The Transporters ( and Mind Reading (, allow children to see actors demonstrating a variety of emotions. Unlike real life, where social interactions are quick and fleeting, DVDs allow children to study methodically and replay the situations that cause different emotions.

"It's not the natural way that most of us learn about emotions," said Baron-Cohen.

"Most of us learn about emotions through social interaction in the playground or with our siblings, our families. But here, we're suggesting that maybe children with autism, if they're not picking up emotions in the usual way, might find it easier to learn about emotions through computers. And that's because computers are very predictable, they are rule-governed systems so people with autism might prefer to learn in that format."

Northrup Grumman receives Disability Matters employment award

From Global Newswire:

BALTIMORE -- Northrop Grumman Corporation's Electronic Systems sector has been named a recipient of the 4th annual Disability Matters Award, sponsored by Springboard Consulting LLC.

The award is presented to companies for their demonstrated support of employees who are disabled or who have a child or other dependent with special needs. Northrop Grumman was specifically recognized in the diversity category.

"At Northrop Grumman, we have worked extremely hard, partnering with external and internal organizations, to raise awareness and provide career opportunities for employees from all demographic communities," said Bob Vetere, a Northrop Grumman human resources specialist, who was on hand for the awards banquet and conference in New York to accept the award on behalf of the company. "People with disabilities have as much to offer to a prospective employer as any candidate."

Vetere is an active member of VOICE, a grassroots employee resource group that focuses on the needs of employees and family members with disabilities. Operation IMPACT is another company initiative that aims to provide career opportunities to severely injured Gulf War service personnel or the primary wage earner if the service person is unable to work.

"This Disability Matters Award validates the company's proactive approach and commitment to developing the talent and maximizing the many contributions of people with disabilities," added Rick Schmaley, vice president of human resources and administration for Northrop Grumman's Electronic Systems sector. "From Operation IMPACT to the grassroots VOICE employee resources group, our many, proactive disability-related initiatives reaffirm we are on the right track."

"Providing employment opportunities to military service members severely injured in overseas combat operations is more than just being a good corporate citizen," added Steve Kawakami, manager of Electronic Systems sector talent acquisition programs. "It's also about capitalizing on the unique talents, experiences, and capabilities of these Wounded Warriors."

Other ongoing Northrop Grumman disability initiatives include disability awareness and etiquette training, flexible work arrangements, backup child care and adult/elder care programs, an employee and family assistance program and a reasonable accommodation program.

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a leading global security company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in aerospace, electronics, information systems, shipbuilding and technical services to government and commercial customers worldwide.

Unique New Mexico farm serves women with autism

From KOAT-TV in Albuquerque, N.M.:

There's a special place tucked into Albuquerque's south valley: a four-acre farm devoted to helping women with autism.

Mandy's Special Farm was founded in 2000 by Ruthie Robbins after a disappointing trip to a group home in California that wasn't the right place for her daughter, who has autism.

"Her life was just difficult, and was going to stay difficult, until we found a place to meet her needs," said Robbins. "Driving home, I'm depressed, my husband's depressed, our daughter's just out of control almost, from tantruming to not understanding what's going on and I looked him in the eye somewhere in Arizona and said, 'We can do this better.'"

Mandy's Special Farm is the only place of its kind in the United States. Four women currently live at the residential learning center, caring for animals and tending to gardens and orchards.

"They thrive here, it's such a great environment for them," said executive director Heidi Rishel-Brakey. "People with autism typically need a lot of structure and predictability and we provide that."

This year, the farm is planning to take the produce they grow at the farm and selling it at local farmer's markets.

Mandy's Special Farm is trying to raise money so it can some day start a day program to help even more autistic adults.

Rishel-Brakey and Robbins said they also hope others will follow their lead and open 24-hour care locations so that more autistic women can have the chance to thrive.

Company that developed tongue sight device looks for business partner

From Med City News:

It’s not exactly bringing sight to the blind, but Wicab Inc.’s technology has a similar effect.

The company’s BrainPort device (pictured) works by translating images from a digital camera mounted on a user’s sunglasses to electric pulses on a device that’s worn on the tongue, allowing a blind person to learn how to interpret those pulses to identify different visual shapes. (More on that later.)

“Information is the same whether it comes from the eyes or the skin,” said Aimee Arnoldussen, a neuroscientist with four-employee Wicab. “The key is in the interpretation.”

Founded in 1998 by now-deceased neuroscientist Paul Bach-y-Rita, Wicab is facing what looks to be a critical juncture. The company has largely been funded by government grants, but with its recent application for federal regulatory approval of its BrainPort vision device, Wicab may finally be ready to sink or swim on its own. Assuming the Food and Drug Administration approves it, the vision device could be on the market by the end of the year.

To commercialize the BrainPort, Wicab is looking to form a partnership with a bigger company or land some venture funding. Arnoldussen said Wicab is in the midst of those discussions. The company has conducted several studies, with about 100 patients having logged eight hours or more with the device — the time period needed to grasp the basics, Arnoldussen said.

“Through grants we’ve taken the technology to a strong position,” Arnoldussen said. “We’ve demonstrated its usability and capability to improve people’s quality of life. Now the challenge is to find the best way to commercialize it.”

Since 2004, Wicab has pulled in about $5 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health, with the majority of that coming from the National Eye Institute. The NEI gets about 80,000 grant applications each year and funds less than 20 percent of them, said Michael Steinmetz, a scientific review officer with the NEI.

“The unique and innovative aspect of this is the use of the tongue as an input,” Steinmetz said. “I don’t know any other companies doing that.”

Steinmetz said he doesn’t view the BrainPort as something that a blind person would wear all day because the so-called “lollipop” piece sits in a user’s mouth and prevents eating or speaking. The device is best employed at certain times when a user needs to visually interact with his surroundings. For example, one user told Steinmetz the device helps him play tic-tac-toe or roll a ball across the floor with his young daughter.

“This isn’t a replacement for tapping with a cane, for example, but it might have a particular role in assisting with mobility and recognizing the environment around you,” he said.

Wicab conservatively estimates the market for the BrainPort vision device at about $25 million per year, but that number could grow much larger as new markets for “low-vision” technology emerge, Arnoldussen said.

The BrainPort’s lollipop contains about 400 electrodes that each correspond to a set of pixels in the camera, with white pixels yielding strong electrical signals that feel like champagne bubbles and black pixels giving no signal. Users then learn to detect patterns based on the pulses they feel and eventually recognize shapes, in a sense “seeing” their surroundings.

In addition to its use as a vision device, the BrainPort can also be used to correct the balance of people suffering from vestibular disorders, which result from damage to the parts of the inner ear and brain involved with controlling balance and eye movement. Instead of a digital camera, the balance device has an accelerometer, which provides a reading of the body’s angle relative to the floor. The balance device has been approved for sale in Canada and Europe.

But it’s the BrainPort’s ability to help the visually impaired that’s drawing attention to Wicab and earning accolades from those who’ve tried the device. A British soldier, blinded by a grenade in Iraq, said the device’s potential to change his life is “massive.”

Michigan high school student to teach his classmates about the joys of wheelchair basketball

From The Flint Journal in Michigan:

SWARTZ CREEK, Mich. — When Justin Coburn (pictured) is on the basketball court, all he’s thinking about is stopping the other team from getting the ball — and scoring, of course.

“Going into the game with a winning attitude — that helps,” says the 16-year-old Swartz Creek High sophomore.

He just does it in a different way. In Justin’s case, he plays basketball from the seat of a wheelchair.

Justin, whose legs were paralyzed five years ago, will have a chance to showcase his athleticism before a high school and public crowd at 7 p.m. Wednesday, when he performs in an exhibition benefit game at the school. There is a twist: His able-bodied classmates, none of whom have played wheelchair basketball, will also play in chairs brought in for the occasion.

Wheelchair basketball is played essentially like the traditional kind. Most of the rules — no double dribbling, for example — are similar. But players need to move the ball and their chairs down the court at the same time, Justin said. They do that by putting the ball in their lap, giving the chair two pushes, dribbling the ball, and repeating as fast as they can go.

How fast do they go?

“Just as fast as you see them do in the NBA, if not faster,” said Justin, who watches collegiate wheelchair basketball on YouTube.

Swartz Creek history teacher Karen Stahler came up with plans for the benefit as a teaching experiment. Her rationale was two-fold.

If students can experience first-hand what it’s like to try to control a basketball and a chair at the same time, “maybe they will have a little better understanding of what it means to have to be confined in a wheelchair,” she said.

But it’s also an opportunity to showcase “the possibilities of those in wheelchairs,” she said.

Tickets are $4. Proceeds will benefit the Michigan Thunderbirds, a Paralympics wheelchair basketball team, and Muscular Dystrophy research.

Justin is one of two wheelchair users in the school. Josh Parsons, 15, also a sophomore, has muscular dystrophy and started using a wheelchair in seventh grade. Stahler says it’s been helpful that the boys have had each other to experience the day-to-day struggles of getting around the school. She considers her own 12-year-old grandson, who has muscular dystrophy. He is the only wheelchair user at the school he attends in Florida.

Josh and Justin talked about their experiences this week.

There are still plenty of places where accessibility isn’t available for wheelchair users, they said. There are restaurants they can’t get into because they don’t have ramps. Crowded school hallways between classes are the worst.

“You’re either ignored or treated badly when you ask people to move,” Justin said.

He recalls trying to go up a school ramp when a vending machine supplier was heading down it, apparently oblivious to the student.

“Now how did you expect us to both fit?” Justin said. “They just stand in the way.”

For his part, Josh said he could do without the same tired jokes.

“You just ran over me,” Josh says people joke. “OK, that’s getting old. Or, oh, my God, you almost hit me. That’s getting really old, really fast.”

“Like, seriously,” Justin adds.

“If people understand how hard it is they might think of what they’re saying next time,” Josh says.

Sophomore Kayla Myott, 16, agrees those attitudes exist. She signed up to play in the benefit because she wants to help, plus she thinks it will be fun.

“Honestly, I’ll try my best. I’ll just have to watch Justin to see how he does it,” said Kayla. “He’s really cool, really nice.”

Justin plans to practice his game this summer and sign up with the Junior Thunderbird team. His teacher says he has a great shot at a scholarship for the sport. Justin says there are several colleges nationwide that sponsor wheelchair teams.

Justin was in the fifth grade when an aneurysm ruptured in his spine. The signs were horrible back pains. When he arrived at the emergency room, he tried to stand up and just collapsed. “As we say, that was it,” Justin recalls.

Before the paralysis, Justin played every sport he could get his large, limber hands on: basketball, soccer, baseball. But he loved to practice basketball out at the net on the driveway at home the most.

Three years ago, Justin attended a sports camp for wheelchair-users at Michigan State University in East Lansing and two significant events happened: he rediscovered his love of basketball, and he met the man that would become his mentor, a player with the Michigan Thunderbirds.

Justin doesn’t practice with the team, but he does have pick-up games with them on Fridays in a school building in Troy.

“It was fun and it just kind of made me feel like I can still do stuff,” Justin said.

New book from Temple University Press explores music, disability

From Temple University Press:

Musical talent in Western culture is regarded as an extraordinary combination of technical proficiency and interpretative sensitivity. In Music, Disability, and Society, Alex Lubet challenges the rigid view of technical skill and writes about music in relation to disability studies. He addresses the ways in which people with disabilities are denied the opportunity to participate in music.

Elaborating on the theory of "social confluence," Lubet provides a variety of encounters between disability and music to observe radical transformations of identity. Considering hand-injured and one-handed pianists; the impairments of jazz luminaries Django Reinhardt, Horace Parlan, and "Little" Jimmy Scott; and the "Blind Orchestra" of Cairo, he shows how the cultural world of classical music contrasts sharply with that of jazz and how musicality itself is regarded a disability in some religious contexts. Music, Disability, and Society also explains how language difference can become a disability for Asian students in American schools of music, limiting their education and careers.

Lubet offers pungent criticism of the biases in music education and the music profession, going so far as to say that culture disables some performers by adhering to rigid notions of what a musician must look like, how music must be played, who may play it, and what (if any) is the legitimate place of music in society. In Music, Disability, and Society, he convincingly argues that where music is concerned, disability is a matter of culture, not physical impairment.

About the Author:

Alex Lubet is Morse Alumni/Graduate and Professional Distinguished Teaching Professor of Music, at the University of Minnesota, with additional appointments in Jewish Studies and American Studies. He is co-editor (with Matthew Bribitzer-Stull and Gottfried Wagner) of Richard Wagner for the New Millennium: Essays in Music and Culture.

NSW in Australia sued over taxis' discrimination against wheelchair users

From ABC News in Australia:

The New South Wales Transport and Infrastructure Department and two taxi companies are being taken to court accused of discriminating against wheelchair passengers.

Quadriplegic Greg Killeen claims he cannot fit into some cabs because they do not have enough room inside to close the door.

Mr Killeen was so fed up with trying to fit into a cab that he cut the handles off the back of his wheelchair.

But that was not enough as there are still some taxis he cannot catch.

Mr Killeen says the transport department knows there is a problem but will not take action.

"The ministry has actually held a meeting with all stakeholders to look at what the issues are, what the impact would be if the vehicles were required to be compliant with the standards, and the ministry has decided to do nothing about that," he said.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre CEO Robin Banks says the transport department needs to interpret the standards correctly.

"That means that the space that is defined in the standards would be a three dimensional space that a person using a wheelchair could fit into," she said.

"At the moment the way its being interpreted isn't as clear as that and it certainly has resulted in taxis that we say are inaccessible, in fact potentially dangerous to people."

Mr Killeen says he does not want compensation from the Federal Court action - only action to make sure all new wheelchair -accessible cabs are built to accommodate those who rely on them.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Judith Heumann to join U.S. State Department as Special Advisor for International Disability Rights

From David Morrissey, Executive Director, United States International Council on Disabilities:

Judith Heumann (pictured), an international leader in the disability rights movement and a governmental representative to the USICD Board of Directors, will be joining the U.S. Department of State as their Special Advisor for International Disability Rights.

This position was announced last summer, when President Obama and Secretary Clinton declared that the United States would sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Heumann resigned her position as Director of the Department on Disability Services for the District of Columbia, and will assume her new position at the Department of State on June 7, 2010.

"This is a significant step forward to the U.S. government's capacity to include disability in our foreign policy. The knowledge Judy will bring to the State Department will be invaluable to international development programs, U.S. ratification of the CRPD, and our country's approach to international engagement," says USICD President Marca Bristo. "As longtime colleagues and friends of Judy, the USICD Board of Directors is elated with her appointment and we wish her all the best in her new role."

Previously, Heumann was the Advisor on Disability and Development for the World Bank from 2002 - 2006, and served as President Clinton's Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services from 1993 -2001. She was a cofounder of the World Institute on Disability in Oakland, California, and served there from 1982 -1993. She was also a cofounder of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living, serving as their Deputy Director from 1975 - 1981.

In March 2010, prior to her appointment to the State Department, the Minnesota-based nonprofit Courage Center announced that they will grant Heumann the 2010 Medtronic National Courage Award this September. Heumann was selected for the 2010 award in acknowledgment of her lifelong advocacy on behalf of children and adults with disabilities. Heumann was the first recipient of the Henry B. Betts Award in 1990.

Deaf coalition opposes California bill about who will provide info to parents of deaf children

From the Stop AB2072 Now! website:

A diverse coalition opposes Assembly Bill 2072, which provides that the point of information about options for deaf babies is to be an audiologist or “other related professional,” because the bill fails to address six key areas. We all recognize the importance of providing information to parents of newly diagnosed deaf babies, but it is our position that this bill is seriously, deeply, grievously flawed. It ensures privatization of deaf babies by wealthy special interest groups.

Deaf stakeholders and allies want the following from any legislation that impacts us: Accountability, Transparency, Inclusiveness, Balance, Comprehensiveness, and Evidence-Based.

AB 2072 would strip accountability from the State of California and put it into the hands of private corporations, foundations, and organizations. This will result in no accountability at all to ensure that information is accurate and balanced.

AB 2072 would remove transparency from the information-giving and referral process by blindly trusting for-profit entities who stand to gain the most if they are put in control of information dissemination.

AB 2072 has not been inclusive. The bill author did not include all key stakeholders in the beginning, insisted on pushing the bill through the Assembly without ensuring that Deaf attendees had proper access, refused to postpone the Assembly vote when this omission was realized, and only promised to meet with Deaf stakeholders as an afterthought. We remain unconvinced that this bill will truly include our input and needs.

AB 2072 is thoroughly unbalanced. Audiologists are trained to diagnose and “fix” problems with speech and hearing. Their training makes them inherently biased in favor of speaking and listening without signing. Their job is, and should be, to simply diagnose babies and to communicate with the state of California in order for a more balanced entity, such as the California Department of Education, to contact parents and provide information.

AB 2072 is far from comprehensive. Comprehensiveness includes the need for accuracy as well as breadth and depth. There are no cued speech programs in California that we are aware of. With extensive research, we were only able to locate one speech pathologist, located in Northern California that uses cued speech, and no programs of any kind. If this is not a viable option, it should not be in the legislation at all. Total communication is not defined in the bill, but in the brochure accompanying it, it defines total communication as speaking and signing at the same time, which is false. Total communication is a philosophy that requires a teacher for the deaf to work with whatever communication modality the child uses.

AB 2072 proposes no real solutions. The current law which is the State’s Newborn Hearing Screening Program involves three state entities, two of which provide information and resources to parents of deaf and hard of hearing children: the California Department of Education, and the Department of Healthcare Services. It requires the provision of written information on the availability of community resources and services for children who are deaf or hard of hearing, including but not limited to those provided by Early Start. The need for comprehensive legislation addressing the gaps and concerns regarding the State Newborn Hearing Screening system as a whole is not resolved in this bill. This bill serves as a band-aid approach with many holes.