Monday, January 31, 2011

Fiji celebrates history-making win from Paralympian

From The Fiji Times:

Iliesa Delana (pictured) created history in New Zealand by winning a Silver Medal at the World Paralympics Championships, which was held in Christchurch.

Delana's achievement was the best ever from a Fiji disabled athlete.

The 26-year old said his achievement on Saturday was only made possible through hard work.

Delana said he knew he would be competing against some of the best athletes in the world but was confident of achieving his aim.

"Before leaving for the games I stated that I would be aiming to create history and I cannot ask for more after winning the silver medal," the Nadrala man from Nadroga said.

"I want to thank my coaches and my sponsors for helping me prepare and travel for the competition but most importantly I would like to thank the Lord for giving me the power and strength to stand up and compete in a top competition like this.

"The World Championships is the biggest competition for disabled athletes and I'm thrilled to be given the opportunity to compete against the best from around the world," Delana said.

"I've been competing in international disabled competitions since 2006 and I knew what to expect in New Zealand," he said.

Delana said the second place finish in Christchurch was not the end of the road for him but was an inspiration to continue and aim for a better finish in his next international competition.

Delana jumped 1.73 metres behind Guo Weizhong of China who took gold with a jump of 1.76 meters.

The good performance last weekend has qualified Delana a place in the 2012 Paralympics Championships in London.

Delana's coach SainianaTukana said they would now turn their focus to the 2012 London games.

Tukana said Delana and Lusiana Oli performed to their best and even though Oli was not in medal contention she was able to achieve her personal best.

Oli competed in the T36 100 and 200 meters event.

Digicel chief excutive David Butler said Delana's achievement was the best ever from a disabled athlete representing Fiji.

"So we are very proud to be associated with Delana and the Fiji Paralympics team to the World Championships in New Zealand.

"What he achieved was absolute incredible and Digicel is proud to be associated with him," Butler said.

Before leaving for New Zealand, Digicel signed Delana on as an employee.

Competing in international competitions is not new for Delana. He has participated at the Paralympic Games, FESPIC Games and the Arafura Games.

Fiji Paralympics training officer Freddy Fatiaki said Delana's achievement was a boost to other disabled athletes who will represent Fiji to the Pacific Games in New Caledonia this year.

FBI exploited trader's hearing impairment to catch alleged insider trading

From Business Insider:

Samir Barai might as well have just handed over the evidence the FBI needs for their case against him in person.

Barai is severely hearing-impaired, so much so that he records all of his calls and uses high-tech sound enhancers everyday. Imagine the smiles on the faces of the two FBI agents who raided Barai Capital in November when they found that stash.

The FBI seems to have or know of a call on which Barai and an analyst (probably Jason Pflaum, who's cooperating against him) allegedly received information ahead of Marvell's earnings and then traded on it, earning over $820,000.

With all that hard evidence that potentially implicates him, of course Barai is now part of the main focus of the FBI's case. He's named a "co-conspirator," the first manager to be given that name yet.

But Barai is a small fish. He only manages ~$100 million.

The other people named in the case are pretty high profile. But they are not named co-conspirators (as far as we know).

So does this mean that the insider trading scandal hinges on Barai? And thus, evidence he kept because he is basically handicapped?

That's like a cop catching a bankrobber in a wheelchair and fingerprinting the wheelchair to find out who's pushing him around, and discovering that they might be members of the mafia.

The FBI's wide-reaching scandal could be awesome and do a good job of restoring confidence in the government's ability to catch the people who defraud the market (something the government regulatory bodies desperately need after Madoff) -- if only they hadn't caught their "big guy" because of his handicap.

Justice Department reaches Americans with Disabilities Act settlement with H&R Block

From the DOJ:

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department Jan. 31 announced a comprehensive settlement agreement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with HRB Tax Group Inc., H&R Block Tax Services LLC and HRB Advance LLC (H&R Block) to ensure effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing in the provision of income tax preparation services and courses at more than 11,000 owned and franchised offices nationwide.

The settlement agreement, which resolves an ADA complaint filed by an individual who is deaf, requires, among other things, that H&R Block furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including sign language interpreter services, when necessary to afford a person who is deaf or hard of hearing equal access to the goods, services and accommodations made available to others.

"By signing this agreement, H&R Block has affirmed its commitment to providing effective communication with people who are deaf and hard of hearing not only at their tax preparation offices in San Antonio, where the complaint originated, but at their locations across the country," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The agreement will ensure that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing have equal access to tax preparation services at more than 11,000 offices nationwide."

The agreement requires that H&R Block:

•Provide auxiliary aids and services, including qualified sign language interpreters, to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing when necessary to ensure effective communication of its tax preparation services, programs and courses;
•Adopt and enforce a policy on effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing for all H&R Block offices nationwide, post the policy on its websites and in its employee manuals, and distribute the policy to current and new employees and contractors;
•Establish and maintain a list of sign language interpreter providers;
•Post and maintain in a conspicuous location in all reception areas of H&R Block offices a notice stating that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing have a right under the ADA to request a sign language or oral interpreter or other form of auxiliary aid or service if needed;
•Provide staff training on the ADA and H&R Block’s obligations to provide effective communication to individuals with disabilities;
•Monitor franchisees' compliance with this requirement consistent with monitoring of compliance with the franchise agreements and other requirements of federal, state or local laws; and
•Pay $5,000 damages to the individual who filed an ADA complaint and a $20,000 civil penalty.

The ADA prohibits discrimination against customers with disabilities by businesses that serve the public. Among other things, the ADA requires tax preparation services, accountants, lawyers, doctors and other businesses to provide equal access to customers who are deaf or hard of hearing. When services such as tax preparation involve important, lengthy or complex oral communications with customers, businesses are generally required to provide qualified sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids, free of charge, to individuals who are deaf, are hard of hearing or have speech disabilities.

Other auxiliary aids may include the use of relay services for telephone communication, exchanging notes for brief and uncomplicated communications, providing assistive listening systems and receivers in classes for attendees who are hard of hearing, and providing captioned videos. The appropriate auxiliary aid to be provided depends on a variety of factors including the nature, length and importance of the communication; the communication skills and knowledge of the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing; and the individual’s stated need for a particular type of auxiliary aid.

Auxiliary aids must also be provided for individuals who are blind or have low vision, such as materials in Braille, large print or accessible electronic formats such as email or HTML, qualified readers and assistance in filling out forms.

Gambling addiction is not a disability, court rules

From Diversity Inc.:

An employee of a defense contractor developed a gambling addiction. He failed to pay $30,000 in casino debts and was arrested for larceny. He failed to inform the company of the arrest, as required by company policy and government contract.

When he finally came clean about the arrest and gambling issue, he was fired for failure to follow the policy. He sued for disability discrimination, claiming that major depression was his disability and gambling was a manifestation of that condition.

The ADA contains exclusions for several conditions that Congress viewed as "improper or immoral." Even if they are serious mental conditions, they are specifically placed outside the ADA's requirements for reasonable accommodation or other protections.

Compulsive gambling is one of these "sin exceptions." The court rejected the "gambling as a manifestation of depression" plea as an unsubstantiated effort to work around the exception. It dismissed the case. Trammell v. Raytheon Missile Systems (N.D. Ariz., 2010).

Italian doctor continues his challenge of cause, treatment of MS

From NPR. In the picture, Cleveland Clinic Center for Medical Art & Photography At the Cleveland Clinic, technician Larry Raber and physician Mei Lu practice the ultrasound technique to measure CCSVI in patients with MS on medical student Claudiu Diaconu.

One day 7 years ago, after a long walk with his dog along the Hudson River in Manhattan, Marc Stecker noticed he was limping. Not long after, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

"Fast forward now, and my entire right side is pretty much paralyzed and my left side is weakening," Stecker says.

In CCSVI, vascular changes — like stenosis (narrowing) or reflux in valves — can lead to reduced blood drainage from the brain.

Stecker is now confined to a wheelchair, from where he writes a blog about his disease, called Wheelchair Kamikaze.

More than a year ago, Stecker started writing about a theory Italian physician Paolo Zamboni proposed in 2008 called chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI.

Its been thought that multiple sclerosis is caused by a misguided immune system that attacks the nerves of the brain and spinal cord and can lead to muscle weakness, paralysis and death. However, Zamboni suggests that the disease instead is the result of blocked blood veins — leading to inflammation, which, in turn, causes the immune system to attack nerves in the brain and spinal cord.

Zamboni proposed that treating it may be as simple as opening them up. Stecker was hopeful.

"Because my disease is so aggressive, I have been very willing to be equally aggressive in trying to combat it," Stecker says.

To clear the veins, his doctor tried opening them with a tiny balloon. Zamboni calls it "the liberation procedure" but it is actually a common technique known as angioplasty when it's used to open clogged arteries — not veins.

"At first, I was very skeptical. But anecdotal reports started coming through of almost miraculous results from it.…So, I decided, you know, hey it was worth a shot," Stecker says.

But it didn't work. Although the doctor who treated him in New York found a significant blockage, he was unable to correct it, Stecker says.

Still, some would say Stecker was lucky. Many desperate patients have spent their life savings flying overseas to have the procedure, only to have it fail a few months later. Others elect to have tiny metal tubes, known as "stents," placed in the veins to hold them open and have suffered serious complications, including life-threatening blood clots. Several patients have even died as a result.

Stecker says if he had it to do over again, he would have waited for more research. But he says he was eager to try something that offered him the first real glimmer of hope for a cure.

"CCSVI equals hope and a lot of MS patients just are completely devoid of hope," Stecker says. "People don't want to have MS. They want to go back to who they used to be. You know, along comes this theory that offers an easy-to-understand solution, so it's very, very, very seductive."

It's so seductive, in fact, that Canadians and Americans with MS have been flocking overseas to get the "liberation procedure." Something that many researchers find very troubling. Robert Zivadinov of the Buffalo Neuroimaging Analysis Center in New York says that not only is the procedure unsafe and costly to many patients, it is impeding necessary research.

"Even if the treatment is not useful for patients with MS, I don't think that we can abandon the idea of vascular involvement in MS," Zivadinov says. "And I think this merits very detailed understanding of what is going on."

What is going on is still a bit of a mystery. Critics argue that although Zamboni's original research suggests a vascular cause for MS, other studies don't. These discrepancies, and growing public controversy, prompted the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in the U.S. and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada to take Zamboni's claims seriously. They funded a number of independent studies to investigate the relationship between CCSVI and MS.

Robert Fox, a neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic, currently oversees one of the studies funded by an MS Society grant. He says part of the confusion comes from variations in how CCSVI is measured.

"That's absolutely one of the potential problems in the previous studies: Are the techs who got negative results, did they just not know how to do the ultrasound in the way that Dr. Zamboni described doing the ultrasound? And that's a very important issue," Fox says.

Fox says he sent his technicians to a special training to learn how to properly measure the veins because it's not something most technicians ever do.

Meanwhile in Buffalo, Zivadinov says his research on CCSVI already shows a clear picture emerging.

"CCSVI is not the cause of MS but might be a consequence or a contributing factor to progression, and I think that has to be studied," Zivadinov says.

Studying how the vascular system is involved in neurologic disease is an entirely new concept, Zivadinov says. One that may have an impact beyond any single disease.

"What professor Zamboni discovered in terms of veins is something much bigger than multiple sclerosis," Zivadinov says. "We need to understand the role of the venous system in the pathology of central nervous diseases and aging."

Zamboni himself says that even if it turns out he's wrong, coming to a greater understanding of the disease would be the big reward — both for him and thousands of MS patients.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Indian author Malini Chib: Society needs to better address physical, emotional and sexual needs of disabled people

From The Times of India:

Author Malini Chib (pictured) wonders why women with a disabling condition are considered asexual and are supposed to be bereft of emotional needs?

When did your family first get to know of your disabling condition?
I was born in Kolkata in 1966. My mother was in labour for a lengthy 40-hour period and during this process, the umbilical cord got entangled around my neck, resulting in a lack of oxygen for a few seconds to my brain. That resulted in me having a severe disabling condition called cerebral palsy. I am told that the paediatrician in charge kept repeating to himself: 'It was a mistake. I should have carried out a Caesarean... Let's see if she survives... I am not sure if she will survive... at the most 72 hours". But I survived and my parents decided that shifting to London would be the best bet to address my condition. So, we went.

How much of what you've achieved in life will you attribute to the fact that you come from a very privileged and well-educated family?
I am fortunate that I came from a very well educated family. Both my grandfathers had been educated in England and my great aunt was Lotika Sarkar — the first woman from India to have gone to Newnham College, Cambridge. Both my father and uncle had their higher education at Cambridge too. I educated myself, learnt to type with my one little finger and speak through the Lightwriter. I have two international Masters degrees in Women's Studies and Library Sciences and Information Management. I've traveled
extensively in India and abroad and have delivered a lecture at the Sorbonne University as well. I have lived alone in London, learnt to navigate through the traffic with my electric wheelchair, gone holidaying with friends to France and pub-crawling in London too.

Your book, One Little Finger, mentions the divorce of your parents as one of the most traumatic periods of your life...
After the Centre for Special Education was set up, my mother put in a lot of her contribution. While my mother was eager to spend her free time with my brother and me, my father wanted more of her time so that he could take her along with him when he needed to socialize and network for being in the advertising profession. This led to little time for each other and a realization that they were incompatible in many ways. My parents got divorced and what followed was a traumatic time for my mother, brother and me. I was eight and my brother three. Although I had no friends, my cousins were, and still remain, my close friends.

You've also desired a man who confessed to have feelings for another man...
Yes. He was a dear friend called Zubin. He understood me perfectly. We shared a great deal together. One day, Zubin told me that he loves men sexually and had a partner from Belgium. I was devastated. For days, I would weep silently. I was 21 then and wanted male attention like all my other girlfriends. I have had a hard time accepting that I'm trapped in a rejected body that is not sexually attractive. But most men look at me as asexual.

What do you think is society's assumption about sexual urges of disabled women?
Society thinks it is enough to include disabled people but what about including their physical and emotional needs? Once when I had said that I too have sexual desires, people around me had asked: "Why would you need sex?" I have also written an article on this titled "No Sex Please, You're Disabled". I admit to have outbursts too. Weddings often served as reminders that I possibly would never share such an equation with someone.

Despite all this, you remain a very positive person. What keeps you going?
I believe that life is beautiful. I have my moments when I can't control my tears. When I go to a restaurant and the waiter offers the menu card to everyone at the table except me, I feel bad. Even today, people who don't know me automatically address the person I am with. They will talk about me in front of me but never with me! I'm a completely different person on the Net. Social networking has opened a new world for me. I realize I'll continue to struggle and adjust to the reality of people shunning me. It's the attitude of people that can make me feel included or excluded. I think, the art of living lies not just in confronting our troubles but minimizing them and focusing on the positive sides. Most of us are swimming against the tide of trouble but we need to make it to the shore and not let the wave engulf us.

Having written an autobiography, what would you want to pen next?
I don't know. May be, a romance. I love reading romances.

Kansas City welcomes talking crosswalks

From The Kansas City Star:

Trucks and cars hum down Prospect Avenue, but under the traffic noise, Melvin Smith can hear the steady “ping” sounding from the crosswalk at 75th Street.

The ping helps Smith, who is blind, find the crosswalk.

As at most intersections, a button activates the crosswalk signal, but this one plays a recorded message telling Smith when it’s OK to walk. He uses it every day to get to his job at Alphapointe Association for the Blind, a nonprofit agency that trains and employs people with blindness.

“It’s like another weapon in the arsenal,” said Smith, who has lobbied area cities to install more of these devices.

Accessible pedestrian signals are a long way from being commonplace, but several cities are gradually installing more.

Kansas City has them at 20 locations, with plans for more than 30 others in the next two years. The city has 550 to 600 signalized intersections.

Prairie Village, Overland Park, Independence and Liberty use similar devices at a handful of places.

The policy of the Kansas City Public Works Department is to add audible crosswalk signals whenever an intersection gets a new traffic signal, city spokesman Dennis Gagnon said.

It’s relatively inexpensive to place the devices as part of a larger project. And officials believe that accessible signals will become a standard.

“People shouldn’t have to always make requests,” Gagnon said.

That’s how it used to be in Kansas City, and how it still is in many communities. The signals go up only because a citizen asks for one. Most cities say they get few requests.

“I think people don’t like to advocate for themselves,” said Smith, who jokes: “I’m not shy. I’ll talk to the devil himself.”

Australia and Sweden have used accessible signals for decades, but they didn’t start catching on here until the 1990s, according to Janet Barlow, a North Carolina-based consultant with Accessible Design for the Blind.

“It’s fairly new technology for traffic engineers,” Barlow said.

The National Federation of the Blind, a leading advocacy group, doesn’t take a hard line on accessible pedestrian signals. They can be useful, especially at roundabouts and high-traffic intersections, an official said, but it’s more important for people with low or no vision to get mobility training, which helps them navigate their homes, offices and neighborhoods.

“Unless and until these devices are universally installed … blind people are going to have to deal with intersections that don’t have them,” said spokesman Chris Danielsen.

Alphapointe, where Smith works, is contracted by Missouri to provide mobility training. People who are blind can get around without accessible signals, but the devices increase safety and accessibility, said Clay Berry, Alphapointe’s director of rehabilitation.

“It’s life or death when you’re out in traffic,” said Gina Gowin, the nonprofit’s director of development and public relations.

Barlow agrees that mobility training is essential. But she argues that it’s only fair to install accessible pedestrian signals.

“Blind people deserve to have the same information as sighted people,” she said.

The accessible signals are more expensive. Overland Park spent about $8,000 to install the devices at one intersection, city traffic engineer Brian Shields said. The regular signals cost a few hundred dollars.

Seven or eight Overland Park intersections are equipped with accessible signals, and most were placed in the past four or five years, Shields said. They’ve all come about because someone in the public asked. The first was near a school attended by a blind student.

Though the city definitely will work with citizens who make requests, Overland Park has no immediate plans to make accessible signals a standard feature.

“It’s possible,” Shields said, “but at this point, there are a lot of issues we would need to look at.”

For example, he said, engineers have to consider noise pollution. It’s one thing to install a constantly pinging signal near a business district, but it might not be appropriate right next to someone’s bedroom window.

And Gagnon said it’s likely that accessible signals will require more maintenance than current devices.

Independence isn’t making accessible signals a standard, but the city — whenever it builds or upgrades an intersection — will consider them, said public works director John Powell.

In the recent past, Lee’s Summit has had only one request for audible signals, traffic engineer Michael Park said. The city studied it and decided it was more cost-effective to offer that person mobility training instead.

There is still some debate over how widely audible signals should be used, he said.

“I don’t think there is 100 percent agreement in the industry.”

At this point, Liberty has one such device. Alma Rodick, who is blind, asked for it at Gallatin and Mill streets in 2009.

Rodick uses that intersection whenever she walks her son to classes at Franklin Elementary. The traffic at that corner can be tricky, she said, so an audible signal helps her cross safely.

Liberty agreed to her request without a big sales pitch, Rodick said.

“At first, they weren’t really aware of the need,” she said.

Rodick would love for Liberty to install more accessible signals, especially on its square.

“You can never have too many of those.”

Wheelchair marathon world champion sets sites on Paralympics

From The Australian:

Australia's Kurt Fearnley (pictured) gave an early but loud warning 18 months out from the 2012 London Paralympic Games with back-to-back world championship gold medals in the wheelchair marathon.

The 29-year-old followed up his gold from 2006 in Assen in the Netherlands, with gold again in New Zealand at the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) world titles in Christchurch.

The titles are the last major meet before next year's summer Games and since Fearnley has the Paralympic gold from Athens and Beijing, he has let his fellow competitors know he wants the hat-trick in London.

The 42km marathon today was raced over a 14km course that athletes had to complete three times.

There was high confusion at the start when the local organising committee failed to put full road closures in place throughout the Christchurch streets.

New York marathon winner David Weir, of Great Britain, and Canadian Josh Cassidy, the winner of the London Marathon, withdrew from the race due to concerns about traffic, unwitting pedestrians or even dogs running into the path of athletes.

Fearnley was disappointed with the course conditions at such an important event.

“We train on the roads all the time, you get used to traffic so that doesn't bother me,” he said, “But that's not fair to make athletes have to make a choice like this at a world championships.”

Despite the mixed emotions at the start, Fearnley maintained a commanding position in the lead pack before edging out Swiss world record holder Heinz Frei (silver) by a few hundredths of a second in 1hour:31min:09 seconds. Masazumi Soejima, of Japan took bronze (1:31:10).

Fearnley's win took the Australian gold medal tally to eight. That equals Ukraine and Germany but is well behind China on 21 gold, Russia on 18 with Great Britain on 12.

British government to launch £400 million drive to tackle mental health treatment

From The Telegraph in the UK:

Ministers are to launch a major £400 million drive to tackle the way mental health is treated on the NHS – including the ambitious target of "curing" up to a million sufferers in the next four years.

The move, designed to put mental health treatment on the same footing as physical illness or injury and to end the stigma attached to depression and other conditions, is to be unveiled in the next few days by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister (pictured).

Ministers want the doctors to stop simply prescribing pills to patients with a range of conditions including eating disorders, self harm, addictions, attention disorders and post-natal depression – a practice which has led to claims the NHS is turning Britain into a "Prozac nation".

Instead they are targeting a massive take-up of "personalised" services, including one-to-one counselling and group therapy. The coalition believes at least one million people will take up these options over the next few years.

In addition, ministers want the NHS to "cure" up to one million sufferers by the next general election, expected in May 2015, by which time they hope that more than 70,000 people currently out of work with mental health problems will be back in employment, the Telegraph has learnt.

Mental health problems are estimated to cost the economy £77 billion a year – with sufferers dying, on average, 10 years earlier than the rest of the population.

As a symbol of the drive to "normalise" treatment, the ancient law that sees an MP automatically losing their seat if they have spent at least six months in a mental hospital is to be scrapped.

Patients will have new rights effectively to force their GPs to refer them to a mental health specialist – or simply to book appointments themselves.

The government also wants a new focus on the "neglected areas" of mental health – particularly among the elderly, whose conditions are often simply put down to the effects of retirement, and children, who are told their problems are just "part of growing up."

The £400 million to fund Mr Clegg's drive is a significant "capture of funding from The Treasury at a time when Whitehall budgets are suffering 25 per cent cutbacks. Spending on the Department of Health, however, has been ring fenced until 2014-15.

A coalition source said: "We've got to get away from the Prozac nation, Valium culture sort of approach where GPs just prescribe antidepressant drugs to people rather than trying to treat them and to cure the underlying problem.

"Much much more can be done, more usefully, using personal services including counselling and group therapy."

The mental health drive is billed as a key part of the coalition's highly ambitious programme of NHS reforms – which include scrapping primary care trusts (PCTs) and handing effective control of the large majority of the health budget to GPs by 2013.

"Any willing provider" – including private companies – will be able to offer NHS services if they can supply them at NHS prices, while 10 regional health authorities will be scrapped.

The plans have attracted criticism – not least because they were not spelt out in the coalition agreement, the detailed statement of policy put out by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the weeks following the formation of the new government last May.

The agreement did, however, specifically address mental health issues – with ministers promising to increase access to talking therapies, and to explore alternative forms of secure, treatment-based accommodation for the mentally ill.

The treatment of dementia, meanwhile, was "prioritised" within the NHS research and development budget.

The decision to scrap the law that forces an MP to stand down from their seat if they are sectioned under the Mental Health Act for more than six months follows criticism from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health.

A recent published by the committee found that one in five MPs had personal experience of a mental health problem. The group said that it was inconceivable that any MP who was physically incapable of working for six months due to a serious illness would be forced to stand down.

Parliament last considered the law, section 141 of the Mental Health Act, as recently as 2007, and voted to keep it. Since then campaigners, including Alastair Campbell, the former Downing Street communications director, have lobbied hard to scrap it.

Labour had a patchy record on mental health during its 13 years in power, according to charities and campaigning groups.

The King’s Fund, the health think tank, reported last year that suicide had fallen to historically low levels and said specialist services for people with severe mental health problems, introduced under the 1999 National Service Framework, had enjoyed some success.

However, The King’s Fund also expressed concern that the National Audit Office had concluded that the national dementia strategy “lacks the mechanisms to bring about large-scale improvements”.

Texas mental health budget could be cut as much as 40%


BRAZORIA COUNTY, Texas -- Mental health services could see drastic cuts, if a similar version of the draft budget passes the Texas Legislature.

Texas ranks 49th in the country in per capita spending on mental health programs. The proposed budget would cut spending by 40 percent.

Mike Winburn, who works with the mentally disabled in Galveston and Brazoria counties, was in Austin for the news.

“[I’m] shocked,” he said. “Totally shocked -- I was pretty mad all the way home.”

Winburn said he struggles with the thought that losing millions could close clinics and force an even larger bill on taxpayers.

“The jails will become filled with people with mental illness and they don’t need to be there,” Winburn said. “They need to be treated.”

Jamie Travis said the change could severely impact her household. Travis’ 31-year old daughter
Christy was born with disabilities, and has the mental capacity of a 6 month old.

“She’s non-verbal,” Travis said. “She’s non ambulatory. She doesn’t walk and uses a wheelchair.”

Money from the state helps Travis stay at the West Columbia home.

But with dramatic budget cuts proposed in Austin that could soon change.

“It will be a cut,” said Travis. “It will be a budget cut for us. It will make a difference in Christy’s life.”

Travis’ plan is to stay at home with Christy no matter what. She’ll just have to wait and see if she’ll keep getting state help to do it.

Autism coverage bill makes it through Virginia House Commerce and Labor Committee

From The AP:

RICHMOND, Va. — A Virginia bill that would mandate some employee health plans to cover treatment for autism cleared a major legislative hurdle Thursday that has been the measure's killing field.

Backed by Speaker William J. Howell, the House Commerce and Labor Committee voted 15-6 to report the bill for a floor vote, likely early next week.

The measure would compel companies that employ 50 or more people and state government health plans to provide up to $35,000 per year in coverage for applied behavior analysis for autistic children ages 2 to 6.

Psychiatric and medical officials say ABA is the most effective and promising for children with autism, but annual costs in the tens of thousands of dollars have either put the treatment out of reach for many middle-income households and wrecked others financially and emotionally.

After the vote, parents of autistic children hugged and posed for photos to mark the unprecedented victory before a panel where powerful insurance and business lobbies had successfully targeted it before.

"We're very grateful for the support we got this year from the leadership in the House," said Theresa Champion of the Virginia Autism Project, the mother of an autistic son.

"We've got the most narrow bill we can possibly have and we've got the best that we're going to get in Virginia today," she said.

The bill's chief sponsor, Del. Thomas A. Greason, R-Loudoun County, acknowledged as much in presenting his bill to the panel. Unlike his bill, last year's legislation was introduced with no yearly or lifetime limit on costs, and it applied to children ages 2 through 10.

Some legislators were mindful of critics who warned that costs might soar, despite the annual expense cap and a provision in the bill that would allow any employer to opt out of autism coverage should its costs increase their premiums by more than 1 percent over any year.

"There's legitimate concern within the business community," said Del. Robert Purkey, R-Virginia Beach, in considering a sunset clause that would end the coverage mandate after three years unless it's extended.

In other states where autism treatment coverage has been mandated, costs have remained stable, Greason said. "The costs in the bill before us will not suddenly explode," he said.

But the bill's limited scope didn't placate insurance and business lobbyists who worked for days behind the scenes, seeking to sidetrack the bill. They complained it would place undue burdens on business and suggested hypocrisy by Howell and other lawmakers who oppose federal health care mandates while imposing them at home. They made it clear they're taking names.

"When allies change their position on something as important to small business as mandates, and do it without warning and without discussion, it deeply worries us," said Mike Thompson, chairman and president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, a pro-business think tank, and a state board member of the National Federation of Independent Business.

"Don't you see the disconnect when the honest concerns of business seem to be left in the dust by those who consider themselves pro-business," Thompson said. "NFIB and the Virginia Chamber (of Commerce) will be using this vote in their voting records this year as will many other groups."

Howell rejected comparison of his opposition to the federal mandates and adding autism coverage to some policies in Virginia.

"It's a mandate, but it's a reasonably priced mandate. It's not going to cost a lot of money," Howell said at a news conference.

Reggie Jones, a lobbyist for the Virginia Association of Health Plans, argued that the $35,000 annual cap will most likely be meaningless because of federal mental health laws that supersede such caps. And that, he said, could cause costs to business to spiral.

But supporters noted a study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the General Assembly's investigative arm, that estimated annual costs for covering ABA treatments would add only about 58 cents per month for each covered employee to the premium costs.

The same study also showed that costs to Virginia government for adding the coverage for state employees would range from about $590,000 to $820,000.

Assured that the cash will be available in the 2012 budget, the committee reported the bill directly to the House floor without detouring it to the writing Appropriations Committee.

In Dallas, three disabled seniors stuck with no heat, running water


DALLAS - Three wheelchair-bound senior citizens have been living with no heat or running water in their Dallas home.

The family called News 8 after they didn't receive any answers after calling their Dallas council member, Senior Services and the city housing department.

The home in which they live in has buckled siding, a collapsed foundation, missing doors and uneven floors. The seniors have been wearing coats and using blankets to keep warm.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Floyd Goodjoint, the trio's nephew.

Goodjoint flew in from Washington with the hope to meet with Dallas city leaders. He wasn't expecting a freebie, but said he thought he could get some help with repairs.

"They say, 'Well, call this department, call that department,'" he said. "They go on and on and on and say, 'We have no funds; We have limited amount of this.'"

The best Dallas County Health and Human Services could do for 83-year-old Abe Washington, his 84-year-old wife and 74-year-old sister was to advise them to move, saying the agency doesn't rebuild homes and can only help turn on the heat. That's something Washington said he wishes they would do since he can't afford to move.

"I would thank them and get on my knees and pray and cry if they would," he said through tears.

News 8 also reached out to Senior Services and Washington's council member Pauline Madrano, who referred WFAA back to Code Compliance, the only agency that ever showed up to the house. It is also the only agency that fines homeowners for poor upkeep.

Late Thursday, Adult Protective Services stepped in and told News 8 it will decide if city housing and community services should provide assistance with home repairs.

Catholic council: Faith community must fight stigma of mental illness

From Catholic News Service:

WASHINGTON -- The entire faith community is responsible, as individuals and collectively, for addressing the nation's mental health crisis that contributed to the tragedy in Tucson, Ariz., a Catholic organization said Jan. 26.

The Council on Mental Illness of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability said an underfunded mental health system and the "stigmatization, stereotyping and isolation from society" experienced by those who are mentally ill and their families were factors in the Jan. 8 shootings outside a Safeway grocery store in Tucson.

Jared Lee Loughner, 22, is charged with killing six people and wounding 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., in the incident.

"It seems evident that Jared Loughner was and had for some time been experiencing a mental illness," the council said in a statement. "We are saddened by the knowledge that with appropriate treatment this tragic act likely could have been avoided."

The group urged prayers "for those who have died, for the healing of those injured and struggling to recover, consolation for those who have lost ones they love, and peace for a community that has experienced this trauma."

Citing statistics from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the council said one family in five is affected by mental illness, with approximately 6 percent of the population -- or one person in 17 -- experiencing a significant mental illness.

"Most people with mental illness suffer silently, often hiding to escape the stigma of being known as a person with this condition, sometimes hiding in full view," the council said. "Regrettably, such individuals often are unable to find access to needed services due to underfunded mental health systems incapable of delivering proper care."

In addition to the stigma attached, people with mental illness "may even lack support from a faith community unwilling or ill-equipped to welcome them as children of God, made in God's image and endowed with human dignity," the statement said.

The council offered resources and recommendations to help parishes and individuals "take the proactive steps needed to support parishioners experiencing mental illness and their families." Its recommendations included:

-- Education about the causes of mental illness and treatments available.

-- Advocacy for better services.

-- Actions against the stigma that keeps people from seeking help.

-- Welcome and support in parishes for those with mental illness and their families "to help them overcome the isolation they often feel."

"Treatment works; recovery based on biological, psychological, social and spiritual health is possible," the council said. "As people of faith, we can provide a welcoming community and a faith life rooted in Christ, offering hope and comfort to those in most need."

The council was founded in 2006 to "assist the Catholic community in reaching out to and accompanying our brothers and sisters with mental illness and their families."

In a separate statement after the shootings, Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization formerly called the National Mental Health Association, said those with mental conditions "are no more likely to be violent than the rest of the population," although a small number of people "with a specific type of mental health symptoms are at greater risk for violence if their symptoms are untreated."

"Science has not developed tools to predict reliably individuals at risk for violence," the statement said. "But we can reduce the small risk of violence in those with certain mental health conditions by investing in proven intensive, coordinated community-based mental health services and making certain that they can access these services."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

In California, woman with CP explains what the devastating realities of state cuts mean to her life

From the Oakland Tribune:

OAKLAND, Calif. -- When Kimberly Williams (pictured) chipped her molar last year, she couldn't go to the dentist to fix it because the state had cut dental care funding for the developmentally disabled.

Instead, Williams, who has cerebral palsy, said she had to wait until the chipped tooth turned into a "medical emergency" in order to receive proper medical attention.

In the months that followed, Williams' tooth worsened, first turning into an abscess and then an infection that swelled to the point where Williams could not open her mouth. Yet, she said, she continued through the excruciating pain because "I'm not a baby."

Eventually, Williams, 46, was able to have her condition treated after an emergency room doctor declared her infection a medical emergency and the state finally agreed to pay to treat her, she said.

Williams' dilemma serves as a perfect example for what more than $700 million in state budget cuts to the developmentally disabled will mean to those who count on the money to survive.

The Antioch resident shared her struggles Jan. 28 with dozens of others who have disabilities and the service providers who help them during a town hall meeting held in hopes of persuading the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to lessen the cuts currently proposed.

In an attempt to solve the state's more than $25 billion budget deficit, Brown has proposed cutting more than $750 million from the state's developmentally disabled support system, or roughly 16 percent to 27 percent of its overall budget.

Those cuts, service providers and developmentally disabled residents said Friday, would basically kill a system created to help those most in need.

"This is the kind of cut that will destroy the system," said Barbara Maizie, executive director of Contra Costa ARC (Advocacy, Respect, Commitment). "This number has to be smaller; this cut is not survivable and this group doesn't have the political influence to get their way."

The East Bay Developmental Disabilities Legislative Coalition sponsored the town hall meeting in Oakland in hopes of building more political influence to lessen the proposed cuts.

The meeting consisted of dozens of disabled residents who told stories about how programs funded through the state have allowed them to lead productive lives and deal with their disabilities.

Their struggle to gain political support, however, was evident in the attendance of only two elected leaders, Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.

Other elected officials, including assembly members Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, and Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, state senators Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, and representatives George Miller, D-Martinez, and Pete Stark, D-Fremont, sent legislative aides instead of attending the meeting.

Nevertheless, the coalition spent three hours explaining how service providers are crucial to the lives of the disabled and how the budget cuts proposed would not only hurt disabled residents but also the state's economy.

More than 100,000 state residents work within the developmentally disabled sector, which generates $400 million to $500 million for the East Bay economy alone, Maizie said.

If the proposed budget cuts are passed, she said, hundreds of jobs will be lost and service providers will be forced to close their businesses.

"This is something that has a major impact on the economy," she said. "The job losses would be drastic."

But more importantly, the cuts would drastically hurt the lives of the disabled, such as Nicole Bouslog, 34, who could not leave her bed for two years because the state cut the funding she needed to fix her wheelchair.

"I had no life, I had no freedom and I had no self-respect," Bouslog, of Antioch, said. "I felt like I was in hell. I was stuck in bed, a prisoner of my own body."

In addition to seeking help from the state legislature to lessen the burden on the disabled, participants at the meeting also urged residents to support a series of tax increases that will go before voters in June.

Without those tax increases, the group said, the cuts to the developmentally disabled will be even higher.

"Without the increases, the cuts will be twice as bad," said Mark Polit, chairman of the East Bay Developmental Disabilities Legislative Coalition and the father of a developmentally disabled son. "There is not a lot of flexibility in this system to accommodate additional budget reductions."

While the group understands that they must face some cuts to the support system, many said Friday the state appears to be focusing on them because they do not have the same political clout as other groups.

"We all understand we will get cuts, but this cut has to be smaller," Maizie said. "This is about moral responsibility."

Disabled Illinois man beaten to death in group home, authorities say

From the Chicago Tribune:

Just last year Paul McCann (pictured) was contemplating moving from his group home in Charleston to one in Crest Hill to be closer to his family in the south suburbs, his sister said.

But even after spending a weekend at a residency facility blocks away from his elderly mother, McCann decided he wanted to stay downstate, where he knew more people and enjoyed the scenery.

"He said… 'I want to be with my friends in Charleston,'" said Kathy Slovick, McCann's older sister. "He put some thought into that."

Now McCann's family is struggling to understand what could have led to his tragic death at Graywood Foundation, a facility he called home.

McCann, who grew up in Joliet, was 42 and mentally and developmentally disabled. His death is the second in less than three years where there have been allegations of an attack by employees at the group home, officials said.

"There were many kind people that loved and cared for Paul and are very sad by this," Slovick said. "This is very painful because it is so sudden. … He was taken from us."

Coles County State's Attorney Steve Ferguson could not be reached for comment. According to reports, he said two employees at the group home attacked McCann on Jan. 19 after they accused him of stealing food.

After the incident, McCann was hospitalized. He was interviewed and identified his attackers, authorities said.

According to Charleston police, McCann died four days after the attack at Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center in Mattoon. An autopsy showed McCann suffered internal bleeding and ruled his death a homicide.

Keyun D. Newble, 25, and Marquis A. Harmon, 22, have both been charged with first-degree murder, authorities said. Newble is a resident of East St. Louis and Harmon is an Eastern Illinois University student from Danville.

In news reports, officials from Graywood called McCann's death a tragedy and said the incident is being investigated by the Illinois Department of Human Services' office of inspector general.

McCann's death shocked and devastated his family. His mother, Lois McCann, lives in an assisted-living home in Joliet, and his sister lives in Glen Ellyn.

"My mother and I have talked about how sad it is, not just for our family, but for the families of those (arrested) men as well. We know they must be hurting, too," Slovick said.

McCann attended public schools in Joliet, she said. Despite his disability, he was inquisitive, sensitive and curious. He had a zest for life, Slovick said.

"My brother was a very kind, gentle, sensitive person," she said. "He was very sweet and he'd do whatever you asked him to do. He had an unusual way of expressing himself, but he was very poetic."

For much of his life, McCann's parents' cared for him. But when they became elderly, McCann went to live in a group home in DuPage County, Slovick said.

Four years ago he moved to Charleston because the group home there was a good fit for him, Slovick said.

"We only regretted that it was so far away," she said.

For the first couple of years, McCann's parents would drive to Charleston to visit, staying there a week at a time, Slovick said. And after their father died, Slovick and her mother would make frequent trips downstate to take McCann shopping, to the movies, to dinner and to visit museums and landmarks.

"My mother really worried about Paul, and she called him every day and they'd talk," Slovick said. "He'd ask her about her day and he'd tell her any news he had, or what they had for dinner. They spoke every single day."

Slovick said the family has been remembering her brother's life and spirit in order to cope with the sadness.

"When you sit and think, it really hits you," Slovick said. "I didn't expect him to go so soon."

London Olympics to put spotlight on disabled artitsts

From Artinfo:

LONDON — In summer 2012, the London Olympics, with 26 sports, will be followed by the Paralympics, which will feature 20 sports for disabled athletes. Along the same lines, the London Cultural Olympiad — arts programming during the period leading up to the Olympics — will spotlight disabled artists through its Unlimited program, which has just received over £820,000 ($1.3 million) in funding.

Thirteen artists across the U.K. have been commissioned for projects that range from a "bipolar circus" to a wildflower sculpture installation to choreography that incorporates physical disabilities.

In a press release, London 2012 outlines the planned performances and installations. In Yorkshire, Michele Weaver will develop "Bipolar Circus," a show intended to "challenge public perceptions of bipolar disorder — both the negativity associated with depression and the contentious links between mania and genius creativity."

In London, Candoco Dance Company will commission two emerging disabled choreographers, Marc Brew and Claire Cunningham (pictured), to make a large-scale dance piece for disabled and non-disabled dancers. Additionally, Brew will choreograph a piece to be performed in Ipswich, London, and Birmingham, while Cunningham will perform "Ménage à Trois," a solo piece that she created about a lonely disabled woman who crafts a male companion out of crutches.

While theater and the performing arts are emphasized, some visual art is in the mix as well: Paul Cummins will create an English garden installation of up to 10,000 hand-crafted ceramic flowers on stems of galvanized steel, and Simon McKeown will create digital art based on 3D software treatments of the movements of disabled athletes.

Sir Vernon Ellis, chair of the British Council, said in a statement that the Unlimited program "provides a wealth of opportunities — taking the work of these artists to new audiences, building their credibility and confidence, and enabling the arts world to work more effectively with disabled and deaf people."

With a total budget of £3 million ($4.75 million), the Unlimited program is mainly funded by the National Lottery through the Olympic Lottery Distributor and principally administered by London 2012, Arts Council England, and the British Council.

Meanwhile, Arts Council England is facing a financial crisis, having had its funding slashed by 30 percent. The organization is now considering selling some of its art collection to buy other works, the BBC reports. Up to a third of its collection is on loan at any given time, and the Council's chief executive, Alan Davey, said that the organization would like to increase that figure to 50 percent. The Arts Council recently announced that 600 arts organizations are likely to be denied funding in light of the budgetary cuts, according to the Guardian.

Montana eighth grader creates short documentary to educate others about dyslexia

From The Bozeman Daily Chronicle:

Dyslexia, as 14-year-old Kade Leachman (pictured) sees it, isn't a disability, it's a gift.

The Sacajawea Middle School eighth-grader is an aspiring filmmaker, whose first 10-minute video documentary, "The D-Factor," will have its premier tonight in a free showing at the Museum of the Rockies.

Kade said he hopes his documentary will make more people aware of the struggles for kids like him who have dyslexia.

"I think people should definitely know it is a gift," Kade said in an interview Wednesday. "No matter what, you're not stupid. You have a different way of thinking.

"You have to work harder to get stuff across to your brain. It kind of makes you a better person."

Kade made the documentary under the tutelage of Christopher "CJ" Carter, 21, of Bozeman, a Montana State University student with an independent major in film, geography and social sciences. They met through a local climbing team that Kade and Carter's younger siblings had joined.

Carter said the collaboration has been "a cool experience."

When he first started teaching Kade about storytelling, sound and lighting, Kade was very quiet. Over the past year, he has opened up, as he had to set up interviews and organize the production.

"I've watched him crawl out of his shell," Carter said. Filmmaking has given Kade "a voice."

"It definitely gave me the tools to make future films," Kade said, "and the skills to communicate better, and write better e-mail and talk (with strangers) on the telephone."

In "The D-Factor," Kade interviews adults with dyslexia, teachers and experts, and follows one Belgrade student, Jacob Morris, through his school day.

One of the biggest obstacles the young filmmakers had was finding a student with dyslexia willing to be filmed. Five other kids or their parents said no.

Ryan Hannahoe, an astronomer, photographer and teacher, discloses in "The D-Factor" that as an adult with dyslexia, he sometimes struggles to read his own writings. When he was young, he said, he was sent to a different classroom to get help with reading, and other kids called it "the retard room." They thought he was "lazy or crazy."

Kade said when he was diagnosed in kindergarten, he realized that other kids were having an easier time learning to read and spell, and that hurt his confidence. And as he got older, going to a reading classroom became more of a stigma. That has to change, he said.

"You definitely struggle a lot more," Kade said. "(But) so many people ... with dyslexia are real smart people and you definitely are more visual. Your brain learns differently. You may need more time to learn something. It's like a decoding error in your brain."

Kade said he has received a lot of support, as well as the gift of a video camera, from his parents, Jamie and Logan Leachman. His dad is an architect whose hobby is photography. His mother homeschooled Kade part of each day when he was young to give him one-on-one tutoring. Both his siblings and has dad have dyslexia, Kade said.

Jamie Leachman said the documentary is a kind of celebration for Kade.

"It's been a very long journey for him," she said. Even now, he has to start every morning an hour before other students to meet with his tutor.

Still, she agreed that dyslexia has been a gift, because he's "always so creative. He has a refreshing viewpoint."

The documentary will be shown tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Hager Auditorium. The audience will have a chance to ask questions of Kade, Hannahoe, teacher Kelly Smith and Sacajawea Principal Gordon Grissom. The Museum of the Rockies donated the auditorium for the premier.

Kade said he's also hoping to show his documentary at the International Dyslexia Association annual convention in Chicago in the fall. He also wants to get back into climbing, and keep skiing with the Bridger Ski Foundation freestyle team, cooking and making films.

"I want to explore other genres as well," Kade said.

Texas budget cuts could shrink mental health help

From the Texas Tribune:

Early budget debates are filled with plenty of cost-cutting buzzwords. Finding efficiencies, trimming the fat, justifying investment. Things that Andrea Richardson says aren't easy to do when talking about money spent on community mental health services.

"It's difficult to measure that value until you look at the impact on our communities," said Richardson, the executive director of Round Rock's Bluebonnet Trails, a community mental health and mental retardation center serving eight counties in Central Texas. "When you look at the persons that will wind up in jail, in the state hospitals and in our emergency rooms, or persons that will no longer be able to be at work or be in school effectively — that's the value we provide."

Richardson said that while benefits from mental health services may be hard to quantify in a budget, the effect of budget cuts is an easy equation. "In 2010 we served almost 16,000 persons. For the next biennium what we've determined from those numbers is that we're going to be able to serve 3,400 persons fewer than we did in 2010," she said — 1,900 adults and 1,500 kids cut loose.

Barry Cunningham has services for now. He has a bipolar disorder, and he has had a drug addiction over the years which has lead to some jail time. He came to Bluebonnet needing rehab and a stable environment. He says he was lucky to find both. He worries what will happen to others in need if budget cuts take away future treatment opportunities.

"Probably more people locked up in jails … institutionalized. I don't really know the whole picture of how the system works but I'd hate to see the services taken away," he said.

Bill Gilstrap knows what happens to him without support. Before moving to Bastrop in 1997 and getting help at Bluebonnet, his mental illness cycled in and out of control. "I've lived in the bushes. I've come off the streets into programs like this in St. Louis, in Seattle," Gilstrap said. "I'll pick myself up and work for a time. And then my symptoms will become severe again and I'll retreat into a pretty dysfunctional way of living."

He said listening to the state budget debate, especially over proposed health and human services budget cuts, has been a blow. The talk has transformed him from a person to a cost center — a thing that could hurt the Texas economy, if taxes are raised to pay for the services he uses.

"The fact that I'm able to live in the community, be a respected part of the community, be a taxpayer, be a homeowner — how do you say that my tax revenue shouldn't be spent for that because it's benefited me entirely?" he said. "I'm not dependent on the Texas economic engine. … I'm a part of it."

NJ doctor accused of beating daughter wil Prader-Willi syndrome receives probation

From The Daily Record in N.J.:

A medical doctor who lives in Morris Township was admitted Jan. 19 into a special probation program for first time offenders to resolve a charge of beating her mentally disabled daughter with a ruler.

Dr. Adina N. Alexescu, a 55-year-old internist who practices in Roselle Park, was accepted by Superior Court Judge Philip Maenza into Morris County's Pre-Trial Intervention program.

The doctor did not admit any wrongdoing, and an aggravated assault charge will be dismissed and she will not have a criminal record if she completes one year on probation and 12 hours of community service. She must pay $125 in fines and continue counseling.

The victim, who authorities said has the intellectual capacity of a third or fourth-grader, was 18 in March 2010 and attending a special school in Chatham when welts were noticed on her back, sides and thighs.

Defense lawyer Vincent Nuzzi said the physician, who has undergone therapy for anger management, became overwhelmed one day with her daughter's behavior and lashed out. The victim also has Prader-Willi syndrome, which is a medical condition characterized, in part, by an insatiable appetite and skin-mutilation or picking.

''One day she just reached her frustration level,'' Nuzzi said of the mother.

Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Mattheu Nunn said the office had no objections to Alexescu entering PTI. He acknowledged that Prader-Willi syndrome is a serious illness.

After the aggravated assault charge was filed, the young woman was removed from her mother's care and now lives at a school in Pennsylvania for individuals with Prader-Willi. Since admission into PTI does not represent a conviction, Alexescu's medical license is not expected to be impacted, Nuzzi said.

In Idaho, 1,000 people confront lawmakers about cuts to services for disabled people

From The Spokesman-Review:

BOISE, Idaho -- Close to a thousand people flocked to Idaho’s state Capitol on Jan. 28 to plead with lawmakers not to cut services to disabled Idahoans, from their children to their clients to themselves.

“I’ve been in two group homes and I know for a fact that it’s not very fun,” Jack Hansen of Boise, a young man with developmental disabilities, told lawmakers. “You guys are my only hope. … If you make these cuts, I swear you’ll be making a huge mistake.”

Denise Wetzel of Coeur d’Alene, mother of a 10-year-old son with disabilities, said she’s grateful that the youngster has been able to attend his local public school and receive the developmental therapy that he needs.

“I never give up … on what he can accomplish and achieve,” she said. “I want to see my son as a taxpaying citizen in the state of Idaho.” But, she said, “He needs support from trained and professional providers.”

Faced with a recommendation from Gov. Butch Otter to cut $25.2 million in Medicaid services next year - and with Otter and legislative leaders on Friday saying the latest estimates show the state’s budget crunch may be even worse - lawmakers have been considering proposals including eliminating psychosocial rehabilitation services for the mentally ill, services provided to adults by developmental disability centers, and more.

More than 140 people signed up to testify at Friday’s hearing, and 82 people from all over the state testified. Hundreds more filled the state Capitol’s largest hearing room and five overflow rooms, and many more submitted written testimony.

Nearly all had the same message: The state won’t save money by cutting services to the disabled, because more will be forced into institutions. Instead, speaker after speaker called for preserving the services and considering tax increases, from going after sales taxes on online sales to raising taxes on cigarettes, beer and wine.

Ironically, as the hearing stretched for four hours, news came that House Speaker Lawerence Denney has single-handedly sidelined a pending measure to allow Idaho to take the first step toward taxing online sales. Denney buried the bill in a leadership-controlled committee that rarely meets.

Katherine Hansen of Boise presented the lawmakers with 13,740 petitions signed by Idahoans calling for consideration of a tax increase, rather than cuts to home- and community-based services for people with disabilities. The signers, she said, are “13,740 Idahoans from every county and every city in this great state. … The people who signed these petitions urge you to approach the current budget crisis in the same way they approach their budget crisis - everything needs to be on the table.”

A mom from Jerome, Terri Scarrow, told of caring for her once-promising daughter, profoundly disabled after being hit by a drunk driver at the age of 15, at home rather than putting her in a nursing home. She asked lawmakers, “Where would you want to be?”

Samuel Page of Homedale testified with his 21-year-old son, Jonathan, by his side in his wheelchair; the former 4.0 student, injured in a near-drowning accident as a teen, now goes daily to a developmental disability center. Page told lawmakers, “I’d just like for you to consider, and you have, all the Jonathans that can’t speak for themselves.”

The heart-wrenching testimony moved Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, to tears. “We had some very moving testimony from people that clearly have no other sources for assistance other than their government - that’s pretty compelling,” she said after the hearing. “I think that it would be less than human to sit here, with some of what we have heard this morning, and not be impacted. So the challenge will be, what do we do next?”

Keough said she was surprised to learn of Denney’s move, even as person after person testified to the committee that the state should go after online sales taxes or take other revenue-raising steps to avoid cuts.

“I don’t want to second-guess the speaker, because I have no idea what his intentions are, but it definitely was interesting timing,” Keough said. “In this session, everything’s on the table, from the services we provide to the structure of our tax system. Everything has to be on the table.”

Denney told the Associated Press he wants to re-examine why the online tax bill is winning support now when it’s been rejected in past years.

Friday’s hearing was only the second time in history that Idaho’s joint budget committee has taken public testimony; the first time was a week earlier, when hundreds came to the Capitol to testify on public school funding.

“It’s extremely painful,” Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, co-chair of the committee, said of Friday’s testimony and the task that awaits lawmakers.

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, the other co-chair, said, “I am always grateful to put a face with a number. … That face will always be before me.”

Paralympics Ireland launched

From Sports News Ireland:

The Paralympic Council of Ireland, the body responsible for the development of elite Paralympic Sport in Ireland and the management of Irish representative teams at Paralympic Games and World Championships, has relaunched Jan. 26 as Paralympics Ireland at an event held at Bewley’s Hotel, Ballsbridge, Dublin, Ireland.

Established in 1987 as a Coordination Committee for the 1988 Seoul Paralympic Games, the organisation has evolved into its current remit to develop performance and manage all elite representative Irish Paralympic sport.

A new Paralympics Ireland logo has been designed to reflect the dynamism of Irish Paralympic Sport and the new logo will adorn all Paralympics Ireland collateral from January 2011 including the Irish team’s official London 2012 Paralympic Games performance and leisure wear.

To highlight the power of Irish Paralympic athletes to inspire others through their achievements and the journey each Paralympic athlete has taken to become an elite athlete for Ireland, Paralympics Ireland has adopted a new tagline, Inspiring Beyond Belief, which will feature prominently in all organisation messaging.

Liam Harbison, Chief Executive Officer of Paralympics Ireland, commented, “The launch of Paralympics Ireland today marks a very significant milestone in the history of the organisation. The aim of this process was to deliver a dynamic new name and logo that clearly reflect the talents and abilities of Ireland’s Paralympians and the dedication and commitment to the Paralympic movement by the Organisation. These changes have been made following a process of engagement with our Irish Paralympic athletes and our many existing and new corporate partners. We look forward to increasing awareness of Irish Paralympic Sport in the build up to London 2012 and to building on the success our athletes have delivered to date.”

RTE’s Colm Murray who has reported from every Paralympic Games since Sydney 2000 was on hand to officially launch the new name and logo. As the event’s guest speaker Murray addressed the invited guests sharing his memories and experiences of Irish Paralympic teams. A number of leading Irish Paralympians including Bray’s current Boccia World Champion Padraic Moran (BC1) and handcycling world champion Mark Rohan (HC1) from Ballinahown outside Athlone were also on hand to launch Paralympics Ireland.

John Treacy, Chief Executive of the Irish Sports Council said “The Irish Sports Council is proud of its long and successful relationship with Paralympics Ireland. It is one of the outstanding success stories of Irish sport over the past decade. Today is an important milestone in its continuing development as an ambitious, strong and independent organisation that provides excellent services and leadership to its athletes, sports and the wider community”.

A seventy strong elite panel of Irish Paralympic athletes across nine sports bidding for the London 2012 Paralympic Games was also announced at the launch event by Paralympic Performance Director, Nancy Chillingworth.

Paralympics Ireland have announced panels on an annual basis in order to ensure the focus of preparations for the London 2012 Paralympic Games prioritises the athletes most likely to represent Ireland at those Games. The athletes announced on the panel today have met the agreed performance criteria for inclusion. This panel will participate in Paralympics Ireland training camps, performance and preparation programmes this year.

The panel includes reigning 100m and 200m Paralympic Champion Jason Smyth, reigning Paralympic 800m champion Michael McKillop, current Boccia world champion, Padraic Moran, current world handcycling champion Mark Rohan, and a 14 strong soccer panel led by Luke Evans which took bronze at the European 7-a-side Football Championships in 2010.

Nancy Chillingworth, Paralympic Performance Director said: “To have seventy athletes in the running to qualify for London at this stage is extremely promising for 2012 with the strong likelihood that it will be Ireland’s largest Paralympic Team ever. These athletes now have a tough and exciting year ahead as they target qualification for the Games. They are the focus of Paralympics Ireland’s preparation plans for London and will travel to Portugal in August this year to participate in a dry run of our London 2012 holding camp. We are looking forward to working closely with them and their support teams to secure qualification for London 2012”.

Family of autistic man killed by since-fired LAPD officer awarded $1.7 million

From The LA Times:

After deciding this week that a former Los Angeles police officer fired for dishonesty was liable for killing a man, a federal jury Jan. 26 awarded the victim's family $1.7 million.

Joseph Cruz killed Mohammad Usman Chaudhry (pictured) early on a March morning in 2008, when Cruz and his partner encountered the 21-year-old autistic man lying in the bushes alongside a Hollywood apartment building.

Since the killing, Cruz has insisted that Chaudhry tried to attack him with a knife and that he fired his gun in self-defense. On Monday, however, after four days of testimony, the jury rejected Cruz’s account when it returned a unanimous verdict finding that the ex-officer had used excessive force and acted in “a reckless, oppressive or malicious manner” when he shot Chaudhry.

During the trial, lawyers for the Chaudhry family presented evidence aimed at putting doubt in the minds of the jurors over Cruz’s account. Testing on the knife that Cruz said Chaudhry had used, for example, found one person’s DNA profile on the handle and blade but showed that the DNA was not Chaudhry’s.

Also, after Cruz claimed he had never met Chaudhry before the shooting, a man testified that he had been present on multiple occasions when Cruz confronted Chaudhry and called him by name.
After the verdict, the jury was asked to decide how much money, if any, to award Chaudhry’s parents. Attorneys representing Cruz and the city of Los Angeles had tried to limit the size of the award by arguing that Chaudhry had had a frayed relationship with his parents that lessened their suffering.

Lawyers for the family countered that the parents cared deeply for their son, despite the strain on the relationship caused by his autism.

“We’re very pleased. I think the jury saw the truth in this case,” said Olu Orange, an attorney for the family. “This was about restoring the honor of this family’s son.”

Orange called on the city, and specifically Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to forgo an appeal.

“In light of the findings of the jury on the facts of this case, I hope Mayor Villaraigosa would apologize to the Chaudhry family on behalf of the city, accept the verdict and not put the family through further trauma over the loss of their son," he said. "If the city doesn’t, they’ll just be spending more taxpayer money to defend a dishonest cop.”

John Franklin, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office, declined to comment on the verdict or whether the city would appeal. Peter J. Ferguson, who represented Cruz, could not be reached immediately for comment.

The award punctuates the awkward role the city played in the case. After the shooting, the LAPD fired Cruz for dishonesty in an unrelated case. At the time, lawyers for the city argued that Cruz had destroyed his credibility.

During the trial, however, the LAPD and city attorney’s office tried to persuade the jury that Cruz was, in fact, credible and that his account of the shooting should be believed.

Justice Department signs agreement with Fairfax County, Virginia, to ensure civic access for people with disabilities

From the DOJ:

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department Jan. 28 announced an agreement with Fairfax County, Va., to improve access to all aspects of civic life for persons with disabilities. The agreement was reached under Project Civic Access (PCA), the department’s wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“Access to public programs and facilities is a civil right, and individuals with disabilities must have the opportunity to participate in local government programs, services and activities on an equal basis with their neighbors,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. “Fairfax County has made significant progress towards achieving full ADA compliance, and this agreement sets out a realistic plan for the county to get there. I commend the county officials for making this commitment to its residents and visitors with disabilities, and for working with us to attain equal access to all of its programs, activities and services.”

As part of the PCA initiative, Justice Department investigators, attorneys and architects survey state and local government facilities, services and programs in communities across the country to identify the modifications needed for compliance with ADA requirements. The agreements are tailored to address the steps each community must take to improve access. This agreement is the 186th under the PCA initiative.

Under the agreement announced today, Fairfax County will take important steps to improve access for individuals with disabilities, such as:

•Making physical modifications to facilities surveyed by the department so that parking, routes into the buildings, entrances, service areas and counters, restrooms, public telephones and drinking fountains are accessible to people with disabilities;
•Providing access to county programs;
•Surveying other facilities and programs and making modifications wherever necessary to achieve full compliance with ADA requirements;
•Administering a grievance procedure for resolving complaints of violations of Title II of the ADA;
•Ensuring that any county programs for victims of domestic violence and abuse are accessible to people with disabilities;
•Providing accessible polling places;
•Providing effective communication;
•Posting, publishing and distributing a notice to inform members of the public of the provisions of Title II and their applicability to the county’s programs, services and activities;
•Undertaking the required planning and modifications to ensure equal, integrated access to emergency management for individuals with disabilities, including emergency preparedness, notification, evacuation, sheltering, response, clean up and recovery;
•Ensuring that 9-1-1 emergency service calls placed by persons with disabilities who use text telephones (TTYs) are answered as quickly as other calls, that such calls are monitored for timing and accuracy, and that employees are trained and practiced in using a TTY to make and receive calls;
•Ensuring that the county’s employment policies comply with the regulations of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission implementing Title I of the ADA;
•Ensuring that the county’s official website and other web-based services are accessible to people with disabilities;
•Amending the county’s police policies and procedures for law enforcement; and
•Implementing a comprehensive plan to improve the accessibility of the county’s sidewalks and pedestrian crossings by installing accessible curb ramps throughout Fairfax County.

Fairfax County was formed in 1742. The county consists of 395 square miles of land and 12 square miles of water. It is the most populous county in Virginia, with more than 1 million residents, comprising more than 13 percent of the total population of the state. According to U.S. Census data, more than 100,000 Fairfax County residents have a disability.

Today’s agreement was reached under Title II of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by state and local governments. The department will actively monitor the county’s compliance with the agreement, which will remain in effect for 7½ years. The department will actively monitor compliance with the agreement until all required actions have been completed.

SC therapist charged with sexual assault of autistic child

From WIS-TV:

MANNING, S.C. -- A Sumter man is accused of sexually assaulting an autistic child under the age of 11 and police are concerned there may be other victims.

27-year-old Bradford Smith of Sumter turned himself in to Manning police on January 19 and was charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct. The mother of an autistic child brought the charges against Smith.

Police say Smith was a therapist with South Carolina Early Autism Project in Sumter. The boy's parent's filed the complaint with Manning Police in December 2009, at which point EAP Manager Beth Dabbs says her office ended their relationship with Smith.

Manning Police Detective Eric Rosdail tried to prosecute the case in 2009, but didn't have what they needed. "With what we had, we presented it to the solicitor," said Rosdail. "We didn't feel at that time we had enough to move forward."

So investigators kept working, pairing the victim with another therapist and waiting for the trust to build. "We're talking about an autistic child that needs to build relationships with an individual before they really open up to that individual," said Rosdail.

When the victim opened up, Rosdail says investigators got the information they needed to charge Smith. Smith was taken to the Clarendon County Detention Center and has since been released on $50,000 surety bond.

When we spoke with Smith Wednesday afternoon at his Sumter home, he said he has been advised by his attorney not to comment about the case. "I've been advised by my lawyer not to even open the door," Smith commented. "There's a reason that this will all come out."

Because of Smith's position, investigators think there could be other victims. "We know that Mr. Smith had contact with other children and these children, especially if we're dealing with other autistic children, might not be something they verbalize, but the parents may have noticed a change in behavior or something doesn't seem right," said Rosdail.

Girl with Down syndrome wants to be model for children's book character

From O.C. Now in Calif.:

About a week ago, Audrey Presby (pictured) and her mother, Nicki, came across a contest that they just had to enter.

The Fancy Nancy Fantastic Fan photo contest just seemed perfect for Audrey, a 6-year-old Costa Mesa resident who is a big fan of the popular children’s books.

Last March, for her birthday party, Fancy Nancy was the theme. She enjoys dressing up like Fancy Nancy. The photo from the party would be the right one to send in for the contest, as her mother registered the entry online and friends and family members voted for Audrey, each day.

Yes, entering the contest just seemed natural. Nicki Presby’s friends shared the link on Facebook and encouraged others to register and vote for Audrey.

Nicki Presby began to realize how special it would be if Audrey were to win. The contest winner will be featured in a new Fancy Nancy book.

Nicki Presby believes that winning, or even reaching the top 20, could send a powerful message.

Audrey has Down syndrome and Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, or as Nicki Presby sometimes calls that, “a little extra fanciness.”

“Most books featuring children with special needs are found in the special needs section of libraries and bookstores,” Nicki Presby said. “But if Audrey were to be chosen and included in an illustration in the next Fancy Nancy story the book would be center stage, front of the store, out there for everyone to read and see. How amazing would that be? What started as a fun idea turned into a mainstream inclusion possibility.”

Nicki Presby has watched with excitement, as her daughter has shot up the ranks. She is now No. 45 out of 611 entrants. If she finishes in the top 20 by Jan. 31, she will be among the finalists who will be judged by a panel of HarperCollins Publishing employees to become the winner.

Nicki Presby has been doing her best to spread the word on Facebook, asking friends to vote for her daughter. Being featured in a Fancy Nancy book just makes sense for Audrey.

Fancy Nancy is known for having an extraordinary personality, always dressing up in extravagant clothes. She’s different and fancy.

Audrey can identify with that, her mother says.

“We’re all a little bit different, but we’re all the same,” said Nicki Presby, who is the director of education and outreach at the Down Syndrome Foundation of Orange County, which is in Newport Beach. “I think that’s why all the girls like [Fancy Nancy]. There’s no norm. It’s who and what you want to be … To have a girl with Down syndrome as a character would be amazing … It kind of seems it was meant to be.”