Thursday, April 28, 2011

Colorado bill to help fund a disability benefits support program, named after activist/writer Laura Hershey, signed into law

From The Greeley, Colo., Tribune:

A bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, that would help fund a disability benefits support program has been signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“Too many people are led to believe that once they are declared disabled, they no longer have options,” Riesberg said in a news release April 27. “With this bill, we’ve found an innovative way to help fund the effort to reach out and empower disabled Coloradans to apply for the benefits they’re entitled to.”

The measure, House Bill 1216, will allow the state to auction personalized license plates that have been retired. Money raised from the sale of these plates will fund the creation of the Laura Hershey Memorial Disability Benefits Support Program. This program will provide education, direct assistance and advocacy to enroll those who are eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance, Supplemental Security Income and Long Term Medicaid, according to the release.

The program is named after Laura Hershey (pictured), a lifelong Colorado resident and disability-rights activist, who helped organize the effort that led to the bill, passed away last year.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, in the Senate and cosponsored by Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, in the House.

Aurora, Colo., lifts pit bull ban for service dogs


AURORA, Colo. -- The Aurora City Council voted April 25 to allow pit bulls back into the city on a very limited basis.

The Council voted 6-3 to allow disabled residents to use the dogs as service animals. The Council also reduced the number of banned dog breeds from 10 to 3.

Under pressure from residents who were angry about pit bull attacks, Aurora banned pit bulls in 2006.

But a federal change to the Americans with Disabilities Act now forbids communities from banning any type of service dog. Both Denver and Aurora have been sued over their pit bull bans.

Three pit bull breeds, the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier, will continue to be outlawed in Aurora, except for disabled residents who meet the city's licensing requirements.

At Monday evening's City Council meeting, a handful of residents weighed in on the proposed ordinance. Several said the dangers of pit bulls have never been proven and that the ban should be tossed out entirely.

Councilman Bob Fitzgerald, who has clashed with pit bull advocates in the past and voted against the ordinance, said the new A.D.A. mandate effectively junks the pit bull ban.

He questioned whether pit bull owners would take advantage of the looser restrictions by bringing dogs into the city to which they're not entitled.

Federal judge says lawsuit that accuses Georgia of discriminating against deaf and mentally ill people

From WSB-TV:

ATLANTA -- A federal judge has given the green light for a lawsuit that could be a major blow to Georgia's mental health system and cost taxpayers millions.

The lawsuit accuses the state of discriminating against deaf people who are also mentally ill.

“Financially, emotionally, mentally, it’s a strain on me,” Gale Belton told Channel 2’s Diana Davis.

Belton's daughter Renita is deaf and mentally ill. When Belton tried to get her counseling, she said it was a struggle.

“I had 10 providers to turn me down before I found one,” Belton said.

The state of Georgia has services and funding set aside for mentally ill Georgians without hearing disabilities, but almost nothing for people like Renita.

“Deaf individuals are left out in the cold and do not have the services that hearing people have,” lawyer James Radford Jr. said.

According to the lawsuit, Georgia lacks therapists and counselors who speak American Sign Language. Communication is usually through hand interpreters, but third-hand communication doesn’t work well when it comes to psychiatry.

“A lot of people, I think, just don’t understand how different the communication needs of deaf persons are,” Radford.

Since there are no group homes for the deaf mentally ill, Belton had to buy one for her daughter with her own money. Even with that home, she had trouble finding anyone trained to staff it.

“Deaf people are people too, and they have a right under the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) to have the appropriate services,” Belton said.

Beltons lawyer's will meet with state officials in a few weeks to hammer out a program. If they don’t get what they want, a federal judge can order the state to make the changes.

Blind journalist in Britain goes undercover to discover discrimination against guide dogs

From BBC News:

Some businesses and restaurants routinely refuse entry to blind people with guide dogs according to radio journalist Sean Dilley (pictured) who argues that current laws are too weak and should be changed to end discrimination. Each week, the Daily Politics offers a platform to a famous person to make a film with their personal views on a subject, before debating them in the studio.

I went out in London to secretly film the reaction of business owners to my guide dog Chipp with a camera hidden in the strap of my rucksack.

We were refused entry at three neighbouring restaurants, and one hotel.

The businesses featured have a blanket ban on all dogs, including assistance dogs. We were barred despite me clearly pointing out that Chipp was a guide dog.

It seemed to make no difference, even when staff checked with their bosses.

Fortunately, these kinds of scenes are rare in the UK and we were allowed in at a neighbouring supermarket, a newsagent and two cafes.

But they do happen, and in some areas they happen again and again and again.

I'm a political reporter, not a disability rights campaigner, but I work with a guide dog, and that can cause me problems.

If you knew me, you'd know that the only 'chip' I sport is on the end of my arm - and his name is Chipp, my guide dog.

Larry the Downing Street Cat is happy to have Chipp on his manor.

Like violence at a student protest, Chipp is a regular sight around these ways, although he's actually welcomed and revered throughout the corridors of power.

But you don't have to go far from Westminster to find doors slammed in your face for no other reason than you happen to work with a guide dog.

Now I'm not one to play the blind card, and not just because I can't see where I put it down.

But it's a blind injustice that the discrimination against the 4,600 guide dog owners in the UK is somehow more acceptable than other types of discrimination.

Chipp is recognised and welcome in Westminster In France, the law is very clear. Guide or assistance dog owners who are refused access to any place open to the general public can dig out their phone - dial 17.

And before you can say Inspector Clouseau, a smartly dressed French copper will come out and fine them 305 euros.

But here in the UK, the law is as clear as a politician's answer.

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) says business owners must make "reasonable adjustments" to make their premises' accessible to disabled people, such as waiving a no dogs policy for assistance dogs.

Nowhere does the law specifically say that guide dogs must be admitted, and the DDA can only be enforced in the civil court.

One word describes that, pathetic!

These are real problems affecting real people, so come on Westminster. Isn't it time for change?

Deaf woman reportedly shot dead by LA police

From City News Service:

A woman who was sitting on the porch of her home in Watts after firing a weapon at her daughter and grandchildren was fatally shot by police April 28, authorities said. The woman reportedly may have been deaf, and did not hear police calling on her to put her gun down.

The indications were that the woman had shot at her family members before police arrived, said Officer Karen Rayner of the Los Angeles Police Department's Media Relations Section.

Officers were called about 7:15 p.m. to the 10000 block of South Anzac Avenue, near Century Boulevard, Rayner said.

The woman died at the scene.

The shooting Wednesday evening was the second LAPD fatal officer-involved shooting in Watts.

Jose A. Solario, 46, was shot to death around 8:25 a.m. after failing to drop a weapon, authorities said.

People with disabilities in Gambia ask for empowerment

From Today in Gambia:

People with disabilities have bemoaned modicums of prejudice and discrimination towards them in society. According to them, many people unfairly cling to narrow views that disabled people cannot take part in issues of common national interest.

They called for the full participation of disabled people in national development endeavors since they also have a responsibility to contribute their quota in the development of the country.

Mr. Musa Jassey, a physically challenged youth of Serrekunda told TODAY that disability is only a deficient physical condition which curtails one’s physical ability to do things but this is not to be misconceived as inability. He said that some people perceive disabled people as a burden and have been looked down upon as having no means of contributing meaningfully to human life. This, he said, brings about some form of discrimination against disabled people in the collective adjudication of state resources. He noted that everyone has the right to development and as a result, one’s physical condition must not deny them the opportunity to the common good.

A person’s physical ability should not deny them of the golden opportunity to partake in national development efforts and nobody should use it to gauge their readiness to serve country and contribute to its progress and prosperity, he said.

“I think it is high time that the presence of disabled people is also felt in terms of contributing their own piece to national development. We have some very talented disabled people who only need some form of inclusion in society’s salient decisions. This will definitely augur well for building the confidence, security and sense of belonging in them all together,” he emphasized.

According to him, the plight of disabled people desperately needs a rethink especially in the African context where they suffer of prejudice greatly.

This, he said, makes many feel inferior in society and thus cannot contribute meaningfully to the socio-economic transformation of society. He noted that every person has some talent which when practiced through empowerment, would always pay dividends.

“We have seen some intelligent people who are disabled. They went to school and showcased their talents, which is very important to make them feel recognized in society’s development endeavors,” he added.

He also stated that the participation of disabled people in society is crucial for their psychological stability and people should take issue with this fact and help them in their activities which are of human interest.

Mr. Jassey said that it is empowerment that many disabled people need at present since they are often faced with a lot of difficulties to better their lives in society, noting that many disabled people suffer because of the little or no empowerment they receive from the larger society. This, he added, does not augur well for their living conditions.

Mariatou Sidibeh, who agreed with Musa Jassey said the society must do everything possible to remove the stereotypes attached to physical disability.

“Empowering people with disabilities is very important as it would make them have a sense of awareness in their own realms. This would beget an accelerated sense of belonging for them to take part in endeavors geared towards socio-economic progress in a country,” Ms Sidibeh said.

In Saudi Arabia, 700,000 disabled people petition for better government services

From the Saudi Gazette:

ASIR, Saudi Arabia -- Over 700,000 people with special needs have submitted a petition to the Shoura Council calling for better services from government departments.

They accused government departments of negligence and recklessness. They raised 15 demands in their petition and asked for the Shoura Council’s support.

Abdullah Al-Hajiri, the founder of a website for people with special needs, called for the creation of a higher commission to look after people with disabilities.

He said this demand is part of the United Nations protocol signed by the Kingdom in 2006. Saad Al-Sarhani, a young man suffering from partial paralysis, said in the petition that Prince Naif Bin Abdul Aziz, Second Deputy Premier and Interior Minister, should exempt people with special needs from paying traffic fines.

Sultan Al-Dhahiri, a person with a disability, said people with autism, Down Syndrome, dyslexia and cystic fibrosis only receive monthly financial aid of SR823. “Instead we are demanding a lump sum stipend from SR10,000 to SR30,000 to be determined according to the degree of a person’s disability.”

They also asked for modified cars to be given to people with disabilities, after a medical examination to determine whether they are fit to drive a car.

Mansour Al-Shamrani, a person with a disability, asked for the Shoura Council to draw up legislation that would make it obligatory for the Ministry of Health to bear the cost of treatment abroad. The law should also ensure that the cost of treatment is cut by 50 percent locally.

They also asked for working hours to be reduced from eight to six hours; be given Thursday and Friday off; annual paid leave of three months; and ensure their monthly stipend is raised so that their salaries are at least SR5,500.

Muhammad Al-Shahrani, another person with a disability, said: “We are also asking for government to provide residential units for us and to reduce the pension age.”

In their petition, they asked for the newly created anti-corruption committee to monitor the performance of ministries and agencies involved in providing services to people with disabilities.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park renovating for better ADA accessibility

From the National Park Service:

HAWAI'I NATIONAL PARK, Hawai'i -- Restrooms at Nāmakanipaio Campground in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park are closed for renovation, and will reopen in July. Three portable restrooms are in place in the meantime.

A Park maintenance team is upgrading the facilities for people with disabilities, as outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines.

The renovated comfort station will feature a new unisex ADA-compliant stall with grab bars that is easily accessible from the parking areas, plus three stalls for women, and two stalls and one urinal for men.

Workers will also install a new wash sink for campers and will replace lighting with environmentally friendly skylights and a solar light tube system.

The upgrades are expected to be complete by mid-July.

Nāmakanipaio Campground is a tent camping area within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, located at 4,000-ft. elevation off Highway 11, 31 ½ miles south of Hilo. No reservations, permits or check-ins are required but Park entrance fees apply and may be paid at the Park entrance station. Drive-up tent camping is on a first-come, first-served basis.

The campground is a large open grassy area nestled beneath tall ‘ōhi‘a and eucalyptus trees, and is a half-mile walk from Jaggar Museum. Nāmakanipaio features barbecue pits, picnic tables, and water for campers. Stays are limited to seven days in one month, not to exceed 30 days a year.

In Malta, state TV station to add news crawl for hearing-impaired people

From The Times of Malta:

The state television station is to introduce a news crawl soon to help hearing-impaired people keep up-to-date with current affairs, Public Broadcasting Services’ chief executive officer, Anton Attard, said.

The news crawl will consist of text running along the bottom of the screen listing the main headlines. It was expected to be introduced within a few months during the 8 p.m. bulletin, he said.

Earlier this month, the opposition spokesman on the family, Justyne Caruana, criticised PBS for not giving enough consideration to the needs of people with disabilities and not using sub­titles for the hard of hearing.

George Vella, a deaf person and former president of the Deaf Association, said a film without sub­titles was a disappointment and waste of time for people like him. “I struggle a lot to understand people talking during a film, educational programme or series... Subtitles are helpful to link deaf people with the subject of media.

“Educational captioning and subtitling provide benefits to deaf people by granting them informative equal access to media. Subtitling needs money and it requires specific support to provide and stipulate this access,” he said.

Mr Attard said PBS was looking into the feasibility of having regular subtitles on all programmes aired on TVM. However, the fact was that this was costly because it needed specialised equipment and a team of people to write subtitles.

The state-funded station, which also depends on commercial advertising for revenue, would start by introducing the news crawl during its 8 p.m. news and, possibly, extend it to other bulletins, he said. The station already provides sign language inter­pretation during the 6 p.m. news.

The deaf won a small subtitle battle last November when two cinemas started showing films with subtitles a couple of times a month.

The need for subtitles in cinemas was highlighted through a survey carried out by Lithuanian student Ieva Lolat. She found that the 30 deaf people she interviewed craved more subtitles on local TV stations and cinemas so they too could follow the dialogue.

Cinemark theaters in California to add closed captioning to comply with ADA

From The Associated Press:

BERKELEY, Calif. — Cinemark will install closed captioning devices for people with impaired hearing at all 64 of its California movie theaters by the middle of 2012.

The company's decision, announced on April 26, settles a lawsuit filed in Alameda County in December by a Berkeley, Calif.-based disability rights group.

The group, Disability Rights Advocates, said Cinemark Holdings, Inc. was the only one of the nation's three largest movie chains not to offer closed-captioning equipment. Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Entertainment Inc. provide captioning, though not at all hours and in all theaters.

The settlement only applies to California. But Sid Wolinsky, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the suit, tells the San Francisco Chronicle that advocates are meeting with Plano, Texas-based Cinemark and other chains to try to get closed captioning in other states.

Oklahoma high school kids mock deaf people in video

From Danica Lawrence at Fox 23 in Okla.:

It's suppose to be a Grove High School project.

Two girls, Natalie and Sonja are satirising a school issue. They chose teen pregnancy.

"It's outrageous they they did this video out in the school," says 20- year-old Bridget Welch.

Welch, a 2009 graduate of Grove High School, who was pregnant at 16, feels the girls are bullying pregnant moms and says the video does more than that.

"All it really did was make fun of pregnant people, and stereotype how deaf people talk and how Hispanic people talk," says Welch.

The mother of one of the girls in the video says this video is being blown out of proportion.

I contacted the teacher who created the assignment. This is what he wrote back.

"Unfortunately due to privacy laws, FERPA and confidentiality, I cannot comment on student issues without parental permission." And the Superintendent says the same.

But some FOX23 viewers had plenty to say....

One person writes:

"They like to sweep everything under the rug (referring to Grove High School officials) I was a teen mom in grove in 2004. I not only was a teen mom, but I have a deaf daughter. She can't speak at all, let alone talk the way that was portrayed in that video. It is very disheartening to watch such inappropriate behavior be chalked up to being "simply a project." I am completely disgusted. "

-Jennifer Wicha- Former teen mom.

Another writes:

"Those girls who made that video are excellent students & good examples. What you don't know is these pregnant girls go on Facebook & attack the virgin girls. They weren't picking on people, they were addressing a HUGE problem!" -Jamie Watoyi

Canadian civil liberties group seeks to legalize assisted suicide there

From All Headline News:

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association filed a lawsuit to challenge the country’s laws against assisted suicide on April 26. The group sought to have euthanasia legalized in Canada.

The association filed the lawsuit on behalf of Kay Carter, a Canadian who was forced to seek euthanasia in Switzerland. She had a disease that confined her to a wheelchair and would have left her totally paralyzed.

Carter’s family explained that Kay, 89, wanted to die with dignity after she reached a point that Kay could no longer move herself, eat by herself, became incontinent and totally relied on others for basic life functions.

The association argued that adults who are suffering from serious and incurable ailments should have the right to end their life, under certain safeguards. The safeguards include several visits to the doctor and assurance from the person making the choice that he or she is mentally competent.

Lee Carter, the daughter of Kay, joined the association in the lawsuit. Lee accompanied Kay to Switzerland in 2010 to seek euthanasia.

Grace Pastine, litigation director of the association, said it is time for Canada to review the issue almost 20 years after the Supreme Court of Canada decided against medically assisted suicide and such procedures being available in other countries.

Gallaudet University breaks ground on new DeafSpace building

From Gallaudet University:

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallaudet University unveiled specifics on its newest campus development at a groundbreaking ceremony featuring remarks by Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz, District of Columbia Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commission Chair Bill Shelton, and Washington Post columnist Roger Lewis, among other local area notable guests.

Chartered in 1864 by President Abraham Lincoln, Gallaudet University is the world’s only accredited liberal arts university for deaf and hard of hearing students that offers a bilingual learning environment in American Sign Language and English.

The groundbreaking took place at the future site of the university’s “Living and Learning” residence hall, also known as LLRH6. The new residence hall is the second construction project on campus that incorporates an emerging architectural concept known as “DeafSpace,” in which building design features are used to maximize deaf people’s visual access in educational, work, and living environments.

“For 147 years, Gallaudet University has served as an innovator for education, communication and language for people who are deaf or hard of hearing…and a way of life for many deaf people around the world,” said Hurwitz. “The considerations of deaf people in terms of visual and communications accessibility are unique… [and] extend beyond the classroom to our living and working environments.”

DeafSpace emphasizes sensory awareness, mobility and proximity, acoustics, and light and color treatments. The first structure built on the Gallaudet campus using the DeafSpace concept is the Sorenson Language and Communication Center which opened in 2008.

“LLRH6 will serve to expand the DeafSpace approach to a unique mix of residential, academic and social spaces to foster lively interaction within a visually attuned environment,” said Hansel Bauman, Gallaudet University director of design and planning. “The academic spaces are open to the entire student population and will include a ‘CoLab,’ a flexible studio space where students can work collaboratively on innovative projects; and the ‘Terrace Lounge,’ the main social space with a terraced floor configured to the gentle slope of the site.” Students can either gather in multiple small study groups on the terraced spaces or gather in a large group to watch a movie with clear sight lines to all parts of the space, noted Bauman.

The LLRH6 project team was assembled with the assistance of a selection committee that included Gallaudet students, faculty, and staff as well as representatives from the surrounding Washington, D.C., community. To further promote community involvement, Gallaudet has recently hosted several job fairs to identify qualified District of Columbia residents, with preference given to candidates of Ward 5 and the Trinidad community, for construction jobs at the project.

In addition, sustainable design strategies will be employed to obtain LEED Silver Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, including the introduction for the first time ever to campus a geothermal heating and cooling system, as well as water-saving and high efficiency fixtures, recycled and regional content and materials, and the use of mechanical (HVAC), electric, and plumping systems installed with a focus on efficiency and controllability.

“Our hope is that as we continue to introduce new building and construction initiatives, such as the university’s 2012-2022 master plan and beyond, we can further develop opportunities for greater sustainability, as well as create jobs and career development opportunities for our students as well as community residents,” said Hurwitz.

The $16 million new residence hall will house 175 students and total 60,000 square feet across five stories. Commons areas of the structure will be open to the entire campus community. The project is expected to be completed by the summer of 2012.

Gambia's deaf community asks government to ratify disability rights law, add sign language to national TV

From Today

Members of the Gambia Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (GADHOH) have called on The Gambia government to ratify the Person With Disability Act in the country and employ sign language interpreters at the national television and other institutions. This call was made during the association’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) held last week at the GADHOH headquarters in Kanifing.

According to president of the association, Mr. Abdoukadirr Drammeh, they are lobbying the government to provide or employ sign language interpreters at the national television – Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS).

According to him, his association is doing its best for the government to sign and ratify the United Nations Convention on the Right of Person with Disabilities (UNCRDP), but he quickly added that some strides have been made in other areas in the convention.

Drammeh also cited some sections of The Gambia Constitution that gives rights to persons with disabilities in the country and appealed to government institutions, ministries, and tertiary institutions to work with the association in order to establish and finance training programs for sign language interpreters and teachers for the deaf. His words: “We are also lobbying for the institution of high school for the deaf and hard of hearing students at college and university to be provided with sign language interpreters.”

According to the GADHOH president, all persons are equal before the law and God has created all equally, therefore disabled persons should be treated equally in the society.

Drawing from the 1997 Constitution, Drammeh said the rights of the disabled and handicapped to respect and human dignity is inviolable and should be recognized by the State. “The disabled persons shall be entitled to protection against exploitation, against discrimination, in particular as regard to health services, education and employment.”

He highlighted that GADHOH’s vision is empowerment, equity and barrier-free society for all deaf and hard of hearing persons, while their mission states “to promote equal opportunities, rights and full participation of deaf and hard of hearing persons in The Gambia.”

The GADHOH president also narrated the series of activities they have organized and implemented in 2010, ranging from the formation of active board membership as well as holding regular board meetings.

He disclosed that the association has also participated in training programs on capacity building of Western and Central Africa aiming at strengthening organizational development of deaf awareness lobbying and advocacy work in human rights of deaf people amongst others.

Also speaking, the secretary general, Mr. Abdoulie Sallah outlined the organisation’s activities in 2010, saying they have continued to discourage organized mendicancy by deaf people, and have carried out sign language teaching and interpreters services. The association also participated in national environmental sanitation exercises.

According to him, the media awareness campaign would be ongoing, as sign language interpreter’s services delivered at the Gambia Technical Training Institute and joint activities between GADHOH and other development partners would continue.

Sallah further disclosed that the association has also participated in both local and international sporting events as well as in local and international conferences.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

California wheelchair user writes children's book with hand-cyclist as crime fighter

From The News-Tribune:

RICHLAND, Calif. -- Richland author Dave Carl (pictured) isn't a superhero. But he shares some characteristics with John, the hero of his book, Super Cyclist.

In the children's book, John, a boy who uses a wheelchair, is told by his peers that he can't be a crime fighter. But instead of giving up, the boy works hard to follow his dreams with the help of a three-wheeled bicycle powered by his hands to fight crime as a superhero.

Like John, Carl uses a wheelchair to get around. Carl has spina bifida, a birth defect -- his spinal cord wasn't fully developed when he was born. It's the most common birth defect that disables someone for life, according to the Spina Bifida Association of America.

And like his protagonist, Carl, 36, has had to overcome obstacles, although his have dealt with employment and health rather than a desire to fight crime.

Carl uses the word "obstacles," not "barriers." Barriers, he said, stop people. Obstacles just slow someone down until a way around is found.

For example, people with spina bifida frequently tend to become ill, he said. That's how Super Cyclist was born.

Carl said he was sick in bed and bored when he came up with the idea.

The book was published by Etcetera Press of Richland and illustrated by Kathryn Mack, a North Idaho woman who is legally blind.

Some of the proceeds from the book will go to the Spina Bifida Association of America. Carl said he hopes that some of his donations will be used to help people with spina bifida live independently.

He has sold several hundred copies since the book came out in February 2010.

The freelance social worker hopes Super Cyclist starts the conversation with parents about what to do when their child is diagnosed with a disability.

Just because someone has a disability doesn't mean he or she can't do things, he said. And that's one of the messages he hopes to spread to children and parents through his book.

It's a message he got from his parents and family while growing up near Buffalo, N.Y. Carl said his family helped him develop confidence.

After all, Carl said, everyone has difficulties to overcome, whether a disability or something else.

"They taught me how to see beyond the wheelchair," he said.

For example, Carl said he has traveled the world playing sports. He's participated in everything from wheelchair racing and wheelchair basketball to skiing and kayaking.

He is a frequent volunteer and public speaker. He is a case manager at Kennewick's Shop CI, where he helps people with disabilities work on their communication skills and is also a coach for Special Olympics.

Carl said when he has read Super Cyclist to children, the questions fly. They also give him suggestions for the next book.

Super Cyclist is available at, from

Monday, April 25, 2011

Texas boy with CP denied having his First Holy Communion


FLORESVILLE, Texas -– A young boy preparing to receive First Holy Communion was denied the opportunity because he has cerebral palsy.

It was a religious milestone that Irma Castro spent months preparing her grandson Kevin (pictured) for.

But when it came time for his First Communion, he was denied.

"It hurts and I think it's a form of discrimination," Castro said.

Castro was told by Fr. Phil Henning, with the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, her grandson Kevin had the mental capacity of a 6-month-old and he did not qualify to receive his First Holy Communion.

"He said because he was not able to understand the meaning of receiving the body of Christ," Castro said.

Canon law requires that a child receiving Holy Communion have "sufficient knowledge" of Christ, but it does not define what level of knowledge is considered sufficient.

Deacon Pat Rodgers, with the Archdiocese of San Antonio, said oftentimes the decision is left to the priest.

"It's never our desire, hope or wish to withhold a sacrament from someone who wants or needs it," Rodgers said.

Fr. Henning offered his family an alternative to the First Holy Communion, the anointing of the sick, but Castro found his gesture to be offensive.

Tokyo Airport features universal design, aims to be barrier-free

From The Independent in the UK:

The universal design principles incorporated into the passenger areas at Haneda Airport's new international terminal have been acclaimed as world class and can serve as a blueprint for integrated "barrier-free" facilities in similar facilities around the world.

So much thought has gone into the design of the airport, which serves Tokyo, that it even has dedicated indoor toilet facilities for people who are accompanied by a guide dog.

Tokyo International Air Terminal Corp. said in a statement that it has endeavored to make the new terminal as user-friendly as possible, "incorporating the principles of universal design so that every customer can make use of our facilities easily and with peace of mind."

The operator of the airport set up a design committee in the earliest planning stages, including people with disabilities - ranging from wheelchair users to people with vision and hearing impairments - as well as representatives of airlines and railway companies that serve the airport.

One of the biggest debates was over the design of the toilets for people who need assistance from a helper. A problem the designers encountered was with automatic doors that open when the user approaches, but can also be triggered by the helper and expose the person on the toilet (pictured).

The panel eventually opted to use doors that are opened manually but are made of very lightweight material to make them easier to open and close.

Emergency buttons in the elevators are designed for people with hearing impairments and, because an intercom system cannot help them, airport employees trained in sign language are immediately dispatched to the elevator.

Similarly, the terminal's arrivals and departures boards use clearer fonts and larger text than are used in other airports, while information counters also have message boards for hearing-impaired travelers and staff to communicate. Maps of the facilities are also provided in braille

The terminal also has a number of state-of-the-art mobility carts to transfer people with physical disabilities, the elderly or people traveling with young people, while the airport is also the first in the world to incorporate boarding bridges that do not slope up or down for passengers.

The designers have also tried to make the experience of using the airport easier for other passengers, with 85 staff on hand at information counters, all of whom speak English and many also able to communicate in Chinese and Korean.

Alabama threatened with a lawsuit over cuts to phone relay service for deaf residents


MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Public Service Commission member Terry Dunn says the Legislature can expect a lawsuit if it goes ahead with a bill to take $30 million from a phone service for deaf Alabamians.

The Alabama House has passed a bill to take $30 million form the Dual Party Relay Fund and use it in the state education budget. The bill will be considered Wednesday by a Senate committee.

All three members of the state's utility regulatory board are fighting the bill. But House budget Chairman Jay Love says the money is needed to help pay for children's health insurance.

Landline phone customers pay 15 cents a month to the fund. It allows a deaf person to type a message which is relayed by an operator to the person on the other line.

Fenwick, Island, Del., works toward more accessible beaches

From Delmarva News:

FENWICK ISLAND, Del. -- Officials have approved the installation of Mobi Mats along a few of the town's beach access dunes.

The mats are portable and removable rollout access pathways that can be used for pedestrians, wheelchair users and vehicles. They are made of rigid, corrugated polyester fabric spread over the dunes to assist in crossing.

The town received approval from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control's Division of Parks and Recreation for the purchase of the Mobi Mats using a $20,000 state grant.

The product is available in 50-foot and 33-foot lengths and cost about $3,950 and $3,607, respectively. For $40,000 -- which includes a $20,000 contribution from the town -- the municipality can purchase about 500 feet of the mats.

"I think going with the grant, it gives us the possibilities of doing different scenarios at different streets," said Councilman William Weistling.

While no decision has been made as to which streets will have the mats installed, beachgoers could see them in June, although the council may choose to wait until after the beach replenishment project is complete, said Town Manager Win Abbott.

Mayor Audrey Serio said the towns with Mobi Mats have been very satisfied. Fenwick joins South Bethany, Cape Henlopen State Park and Rehoboth and Bethany beaches in using the mats.

"It makes it easier to traverse over the sandy dunes," she said. "They have proven they do work."

Councilman Todd Smallwood suggested only buying one mat to test for the summer at one of the town's more popular beach streets -- such as Atlantic, Dagsboro or Farmington -- to see how it holds up.

"I believe they are effective, but not having them in place, I'd really like to see how they would really do over an entire summer," he said. "If we had a hurricane coming, we'd probably have to get those off the dunes; I'm not sure what kind of hassle that will be."

The mats are secured in the sand by 50-foot poles and are relatively maintenance free, according to the company's website.

Abbott said the Fenwick Island Beach Patrol and the town's Public Works Department will take care of the upkeep, which involves sweeping them regularly and power washing them at the end of the season.

"They've been proven by the military," said Councilman Gardner Bunting. "If they can drive tanks over them and land helicopters on them, I don't think we can destroy them."

Abbott said realty transfer taxes would cover the town's cost for the mats.

"Simply purchasing these is not going to add to your personal tax bill over the coming years," Abbott said.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

UN aims to vaccinate 41 million people in Western Hemisphere

From AFP:

WASHINGTON — The Pan-American Health Organization said April 22 it is aiming to vaccinate 41 million people in 45 Western Hemisphere nations against a variety of diseases in its ninth annual vaccination week.

The effort by the UN agency in the week of April 23-30 coincides with similar vaccination drives in other regions aiming to target polio, influenza and yellow fever, among other diseases.

Health workers, volunteers, government officials and celebrities throughout the Americas are gearing up to participate in what has become the hemisphere's largest multi-country health effort.

"We have every reason to be proud of vaccination week in the Americas," said PAHO director Mirta Roses.

"It has not only helped spread the benefits of immunization to people throughout our hemisphere, it has provided a model for what can be achieved with vaccines if we all work together. Given the tremendous momentum, I am confident that next year -- on the 10th anniversary of own initiative -- we will see the first truly global vaccination week."

The agency said Europe will celebrate its sixth initiative, the Eastern Mediterranean will celebrate its second and the African and Western Pacific regions will celebrate their first-ever vaccination weeks bringing participation to more than 180 countries and territories worldwide.

The Americas region was the first to eradicate smallpox, in 1971, and polio in 1991. The last case of endemic measles in the Americas was reported in 2002, and the last case of endemic rubella in 2009.

But the agency said many children in the Americas have not completed their vaccine schedules, and hard-to-reach populations continue to have lower rates of coverage.

Theatre troupe for people with Down syndrome forming in Nova Scotia

From The Chronicle Herald in Canada:

SYDNEY, Canada — A black light theatre troupe is being formed in Sydney for people with Down syndrome.

"We call it the Weird Beard Black Light Theatre and it’s going to be a lot of fun," said organizer Joanie Cunningham. Cunningham’s son, Nico, was born with the syndrome two years ago and she calls him her ray of sunshine.

"Since then, our family has had so much fun, so many belly laughs all the time," she said. "His outlook on life, already present at this early age, is truly enviable.

"I am hoping that the community we are pulling together will have just as much fun and will see this as an opportunity to be wildly creative as we work together to put on a fun show."

The troupe plans to produce an adapted version of The Three Little Pigs with life-sized puppets. Cunningham said she and a friend are building the puppets together.

"We’re looking for people with Down syndrome and their families to work behind the scenes or onstage," Cunningham added.

Virginia pushes state's businesses to hire more disabled people

From the Richmond Post-Dispatch:

Virginia Commonwealth University policy analyst Jack Brandt (pictured) is like a lot of young professionals.

The 31-year old works, socializes and is looking to move ahead in the world.

But unlike most other people in his position, Brandt, a former Boy Scout who has a degree in political science and philosophy, has cerebral palsy. He gets around in a motorized wheelchair and needs help with basic functions.

Other than the frustration of not being able to always communicate his points verbally, life is good, Brandt said.

Brandt is one of thousands of disabled Virginians working throughout the state every day. Their disabilities range from intellectual to severely physical, but in most cases the disabilities don't interfere with their duties.

Virginia's Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services is pushing businesses to bring even more disabled people into the workforce.

"We have to work with employers to get the word out" that there is an untapped workforce, said Joseph Ashley, assistant commissioner for grants and special programs at the state agency. Ashley is blind.

The agency works with businesses to find qualified applicants, to find ways to make the workplace accessible to people with disabilities, to train current employees and to find tax incentives for those who hire the disabled.

It also works with the disabled to find and maintain jobs as well as providing resources, including tips on how to earn more money without the risk of losing Medicare or Social Security the current difficulties in the job market for the disabled.

While the jobless rate for the general workforce has been inching downward in recent months, the unemployment rate nationally for the disabled in March was 15.6 percent, up from 13.9 in March 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

"It is staggeringly high," Doug Payne, director of communications for Greater Richmond ARC, said of the unemployment rate.

ARC provides training and jobs at its center in North Richmond and elsewhere for more than 220 people with physical and intellectual disabilities.

Payne said businesses need to understand that the disabled are solid workers who make the best of opportunities because they appreciate the job.

"In my experience, people with disabilities, perhaps because they have such difficulty securing and keeping employment in the first place, seek something beyond monetary compensation. They recognize in a much keener sense than a lot of us 'abled' workers the nobility in work itself," Payne said.

One of the major obstacles faced by those helping get the disabled jobs is perception.

James Rothrock, commissioner of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, knows firsthand the negative perceptions and challenges of disabled people.

Rothrock lost the use of his legs after a sledding accident in 1965.

At school, he had to be carried up and down three flights of stairs to get to class. When he applied to college in 1967, only three schools in the country could accommodate him.

After graduating from college, Rothrock said getting a job was very difficult because "I couldn't get into a lot of buildings."

"It's been interesting to see, after four decades, the vast changes. Yet the transparency that one feels when one is seen through or looked over is still there, here in 2011, to a degree," he said.

Yet Rothrock cherishes the opportunity to prove doubters wrong and remind people that a wheelchair is not an impediment.

"I still get joy, when people assume that I might not be who I am, to remind them that I've an IQ of three digits, a couple of degrees and have been appointed by a couple of governors," he grinned. "That's all."

To help counter the negative perceptions and to encourage business owners to consider hiring the disabled, the state agency joined several other agencies across the country last year in running a series of public service announcements urging business owners to "think beyond the label."

The campaign stressed, in a humorous way, that a disabled person could do most any job that a nondisabled person could do. It then sent viewers to its website for information.

Getting that message to the people making hiring decisions is vital to changing minds, disability experts say.

"The biggest barrier (for getting the disabled work) is attitude," said Fred P. Orelove, executive director at the Partnership for People with Disabilities, an affiliate of the School of Education at VCU. He's also Brandt's boss.

"Many employers believe that a person with disabilities is less reliable, less dependable, that they won't work fast," Orelove said. Follow-up surveys with employers who have hired the disabled prove all that false, he said.

Bernard Mantlo, president of Henrico County-based high tech firm Synergy Systems, said some employers are wary of hiring disabled workers because of a "fear of the unknown."

"People with disabilities, I've found, make some of the best employees," he said.

Locally, several companies and nonprofits hire disabled workers, including HandCraft Cleaners, Ukrop's Homestyle Foods and Positive Vibe Café.

Several companies also belong to the Virginia Business Leadership Network, a business-to-business group that helps educate employers on the benefits of hiring the disabled.

Mantlo, who has hired about 10 workers with varying degrees of disabilities in the past five years, has worked with the state agency to help find qualified applicants for his company.

"DRS does a tremendous job finding the right fit, looking for the skill sets that we need," he said of the state agency.

When VCU's Orelove went looking for a policy analyst almost two years ago, Brandt's skill set stood out. Brandt "had experience both on a personal and professional level. He's very thoughtful, very funny and has a very deep sense of social justice," Orelove said.

While Brandt uses a wheelchair and is difficult to understand, he works with policymakers to come up with programs that help people with disabilities as well as dealing with families, advocates, health care providers and politicians on issues facing the disabled.

And if a full-time job wasn't enough, Brandt also is working on his master's degree in rehabilitation counseling at VCU and likely will pursue a doctorate degree.

"He's very aware of the fact that he's disabled," Orelove said, "but that disability is not his identity."

Brentwood, Calif., plans accessible playgrounds

From NBC Bay Area:

Brentwood playgrounds offer fun for all kids -- even those with special mobility needs.

The facilities are still a work in progress, according to the CC Times, but work is well underway with new swing sets that are accessible to kids of varying sizes. The swings have platforms and harnesses that allow wheelchairs to swing safely.

In the future, a larger playground for special-needs kids will feature even more specialized equipment. That could include items that stimulate kids with sensory handicaps, and quiet areas for kids for whom sensory stimulation is unpleasant.

The swing sets, which cost $1,100 a piece, are just the beginning. Construction on larger elements is expected to begin next year. The designers are playing close attention to wheelchair users' needs, but have also emphasized elements for other types of disabilities.

The accessible playground won't come cheap. Costs are estimated to be between $100,000 and $200,000, of which only $36,000 has so far been raised. The project is currently being overseen by the Special Kids Foundation.

DA in Pennsylvania re-files criminal charges against caregiver in death of man with Down syndrome

From WHTM-TV in Pa.:

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The Franklin County District Attorney's Office has re-filed criminal charges against a Chambersburg caregiver in the death of a mentally challenged man.

Joseph Easton, 39, faces charges of involuntary manslaughter in the September 9 death of Tim Smith.

A district judge dismissed the charges during a preliminary hearing last month, saying Easton showed no evidence of criminal behavior when he straddled Smith's chest during a struggle.

Smith, who had Down syndrome and required 24-hour care, had charged at Easton and scratched at his eyes before the caregiver was able to restrain him, according to court documents.

Easton, an employee of Person Directed Supports, continued to restrain Smith until other caretakers arrived at the Guilford Township home and found Smith had stopped breathing, the documents state.

An autopsy determined Smith died of traumatic asphyxia.

Easton's instructor testified at the hearing that caregivers are trained to never restrain clients, but to move to a safe location until the person tires or calms down.

A preliminary hearing was scheduled before another district judge on May 10.

Australia mourns death of talented disabled athlete, wheelchair designer, Nick Morozoff

From the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia:

Some people seem to live life at half-speed and leave little behind to be remembered. Other people, such as Nick Morozoff, do so much in one too-short life that it seems impossible to squeeze the list into one obituary.

Along with an exotic background, Morozoff was in turn a ballet dancer, wheelchair athlete, wheelchair designer and manufacturer, mentor to other wheelchair-bound people and a proud and happy father.

Nikolai Pankratyevich Morozoff, or just Nick Morozoff in Australia, was born on August 8, 1956, in a small village near the city of Hailar in what is now Inner Mongolia, the son of Pankratti and Lidia Morozoff.

Advertisement: Story continues below Pankratti's parents had left Russia during the communist revolution and settled in China, then, in 1958, the Chinese communists forced the family out to Hong Kong, with plans to migrate to Australia.

On the way, they had five years in Bolivia, before arriving in Sydney in January 1964 to learn another new language to go with the four Nick already spoke.

The family settled in Lidcombe and Nick went to Granville Boys High School. School holidays were spent camping, learning to love their new land. At age nine, Nick also fell in love with ballet dancing. He performed as part of the Sydney Dance Company and with a Russian folk troupe, and performed at the opening of the Sydney Opera House in front of the Queen in 1973.

Then, in 1979, a motor vehicle accident left Morozoff paralysed from the waist down. He spent months in Royal North Shore's spinal ward then in rehabilitation. His enthusiasm and willingness to push the boundaries made him a favourite patient for the medical team and he quickly learnt remarkable wheelchair skills. He represented Australia in the 1980 Stoke Mandeville Games (started after World War II as rehabilitation for injured servicemen and now an international event as the IWAS World Games) and in 1984 was part of the Paralympic wheelchair basketball team.

He also represented NSW, played in the National Wheelchair Basketball League for another two decades and is in the Wheelchair Sports NSW Hall of Fame.

Morozoff was also a gifted rock climber and did some remarkable climbs, not the least of which was scaling the Three Sisters with his wheelchair tied to his waist. In 2008 the Herald photographer Tim Clayton snapped an award-winning picture of him hanging from a rock with his wheelchair hanging from his waist.

Morozoff was a sailor as well and part of the team that won gold at the first Australian Disabled Sailing Competition. He could water-ski, snow-ski, fish, play tennis and handcycle - the list goes on. One year, he rowed 1600 kilometres on the Darling River system to help raise funds for charity.

In 1990, Morozoff travelled to Russia, including remote regions of Siberia, to meet his relatives. During the trip, he visited the spinal hospitals of Russia and was shocked by what he saw.

He spent weeks with the authorities educating them on wheelchair design, wheelchair skills, fund-raising, wheelchair sports and opening up opportunities for local wheelchair users. When he returned home, he co-ordinated shipments of wheelchairs and equipment back to Russia.

In Australia, Morozoff volunteered countless hours to peer support and mentoring programs for wheelchair users, especially for children.

By the early 1990s, he was building custom-made ultra-light wheelchairs in his garage in Lidcombe. The wheelchairs gained a strong following among active wheelchair users and led to the ''Knix'' wheelchair range. In 1993, he and two other wheelchair users opened a successful business supplying mobility products to the Australian market. The business was sold in 2001.

Morozoff was instrumental in the beginning of a still-successful business, Seating Dynamics, and remained a part owner-director until February this year. From 2001 to 2010 he also worked as a sales consultant for GTK Rehab, until illness prevented him from working.

In 1999, Morozoff married Allison Wright. Despite all his accomplishments, the thing he cherished most was what he called his ''Little Family'', Allison, their children, Lara and Sasha, his mother, sister, brother and nieces and nephews.

Last year, Morozoff was diagnosed with late-stage esophageal cancer. He and Allison faced this last challenge with characteristic courage and the most positive of attitudes.

Nick Morozoff is survived by Allison, daughters Lara and Sasha, mother Lidia, brother George and sister Nada.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Actress Isabella Rossellini's love of animals leads her to help train guide dogs

From The NY Times:

For young Bau, there is a lot to learn yet. For instance, that it’s not a good idea to walk your human full speed into a lamppost. Especially when your human has a money face. When she is, say, Isabella Rossellini.

Ms. Rossellini is, of course, an actress of some renown, but during a recent stroll in Midtown Manhattan, she wasn’t acting, she was training. Bau, the trainee, is a 6-month-old black Lab who, if he proves to be a good learner and have the right personality, will some day be a guide dog for a blind person.

“I do like a lot of animals, but dogs are so close to us,” Ms. Rossellini said during the stroll down Eighth Avenue with Bau. “No; leave it.” That last phrase was directed at Bau, who was eyeballing a pigeon that was pecking at someone’s trash on the sidewalk. Any other puppy would see an opportunity for fun; Bau was learning that there is no pigeon chasing while on the job.

Ms. Rossellini is a “puppy walker,” someone who will spend a year with a young dog teaching rudimentary skills and habituating the animal to crowds, bright lights, cats and, yes, pigeons. If Bau shows promise in that year, he will be turned over to another trainer to gain the specialized knowledge needed by a guide dog. The dogs, Ms. Rossellini said, can learn 200 commands.

Ms. Rossellini also walks a four-legged trainee around town in “Animals Distract Me,” an hourlong documentary she made for the cable channel Planet Green that is having its premiere on Saturday. In the film, that dog, Sweety, drops in on some of Ms. Rossellini’s famous friends, like the chef Mario Batali, and Ms. Rossellini gets a chance to expound not just on guide dog training but also on her broader concern for animals, cruelty-free menu choices and other subjects.

Ms. Rossellini’s acting résumé is certainly eclectic: highlights include David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” in 1986 and “Wild at Heart” in 1990, the foodie favorite “Big Night” in 1996 and a recurring role on the ABC series “Alias.” But for real eclecticism, you need to see her work as a filmmaker. In one especially ridiculous scene in “Animals Distract Me,” Ms. Rossellini and André Leon Talley, the fashion editor, begin talking gibberish to illustrate how Sweety perceives their conversation.

Two series of very short films that Ms. Rossellini made for the Sundance Channel, “Green Porno” and “Seduce Me,” about the sex lives of spiders, dolphins and assorted other creatures, border on the bizarre. They are droll and informational at the same time and, like some vignettes in “Animals Distract Me,” feature Ms. Rossellini in an array of outlandish costumes. For instance, the whale suit she dons to show the male half of that species in midreproduction leaves nothing to the imagination in terms of the animal’s appendages. Ms. Rossellini may have a highbrow pedigree — her father was the director Roberto Rossellini, her mother Ingrid Bergman — but she has a wicked, winking sense of humor.

“She always has a point of view about the world that is a little off center,” said Laura Michalchyshyn, president of Planet Green, part of Discovery’s group of channels.

In the new film “she’s making a big statement about how humans and our interactions influence the world, but she doesn’t do it with straight finger-pointing, she does it with humor,” added Ms. Michalchyshyn, who first worked with Ms Rossellini when she was an executive at the Sundance Channel. “She doesn’t take herself so seriously that she can’t talk dog-talk with André Leon Talley or can’t dress up as a cabbage.”

She is serious, though, about the work she does for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown, N.Y., on Long Island. Bau — the name is from the Italian equivalent of the sound of a dog’s bark, as in bow-wow — is the eighth dog she has trained. She also sometimes acts as a midwife to pregnant dogs being used by the foundation; she takes them into her home in the Long Island town of Bellport and oversees the birth and the first five weeks of the puppies’ lives.

“Mostly they are Labs or golden retrievers,” Ms. Rossellini said, though efforts are being made to turn poodles into guide dogs because some people who are allergic to other breeds aren’t allergic to them. Another trend comes from war: “Now they’re breeding very big dogs that act like walking sticks” for veterans with head injuries that leave them with impaired balance, she said.

On the stroll through Midtown, at 40th and Eighth, Bau was a bit distracted by a food cart. Crosswalks were still a problem. And so were obstacles like trash cans and lampposts.

“The dog is always calculating so he doesn’t walk you into a pole,” Ms. Rossellini said, referring to fully trained dogs, not to Bau. She then demonstrated his need for work in this area by letting him walk near a lamppost. Sure enough, Bau — the dog is always on the human’s left side, by the way — didn’t have the calculation thing down yet; he left himself enough room to get past the pole, but Ms. Rossellini, had she been blind, would have clanged right into it.

An amble down a sidewalk, though, is only the simplest thing a guide dog is asked to do; any old mutt can probably manage that. But it takes a dog with a certain kind of personality, Ms. Rossellini said, to make the command decisions that are sometimes needed.

“The dog has to be obedient, but it has to be willing to overrule,” Ms. Rossellini said. For instance, a blind person going by sound may be ready to step off the curb to cross the street, but the dog needs to have the last word, in case a bicyclist or a super-quiet electric car is coming along.

“The puppies she raises for us are very well-adjusted dogs,” said Doug Wiggin, a field representative at the Smithtown foundation who has done the next level of training on some of Ms. Rossellini’s graduates. Especially useful, he said, is Ms. Rossellini’s fearlessness about taking the puppies to the city, into crowds and so on. “The puppies have quite a bit of exposure, which is great for our purposes,” he said.

The walk ended at Penn Station, a spot nicely suited to Ms. Rossellini’s needs. “All of this is fantastic for training: loudspeakers, crowds, that noise,” she said, as she prepared to disappear onto an ordinary commuter train with Bau for the trek to Long Island.

When she’s out and about with a trainee like this, who gets the most attention, the movie star or the dog?

“Probably the dog,” she said.

Chicago nursing home resident dies when he tries to escape nursing home with tied-together sheets

From STMW:

CHICAGO -- A man who tied sheets together and used them to try and lower himself out a window of a nursing home accidentally fell and died April 20 in the Logan Square neighborhood on the Northwest Side.

Ramon Crisantos, 57, who lived at the Woodbridge Nursing Pavilion at 2242 N. Kedzie Blvd., woke up early Wednesday and a nurse saw him begin his normal routine so the nurse began her daily duties, according to a Shakespeare District police lieutenant.

But about 5:20 a.m. Wednesday, someone downstairs heard a noise and went to investigate. That person saw Crisantos lying on the ground, with bedsheets tied together into a makeshift rope, according to the lieutenant.

The lieutenant said it appeared Crisantos had been trying to “escape” the home by using the sheets to lower himself out of a window, but accidentally fell 10 to 20 feet.

A nurse called an ambulance and he was taken to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 10:30 a.m., according to the Cook County Medical Examiner's office.

An autopsy Thursday determined Crisantos died of multiple injuries in a fall from height and his death was ruled an accident.

It was not known immediately why Crisantos was staying at the home.

Grand Central Area detectives are investigating.

Virginia law that public schools, colleges, universities must accept ASL for foreign language credit receives final approval

From the Virginia Gazette:

RICHMOND, Va. – Public high schools, colleges and universities in Virginia must accept American Sign Language toward fulfillment of foreign language requirements under a bill that received final approval by the General Assembly last week.

House Bill 1435 says high schools must “count completion of an American Sign Language course toward the fulfillment of any foreign language requirement for graduation.” Moreover, such courses “shall be counted toward satisfaction of the foreign language entrance requirements of a public institution of higher education in the Commonwealth.”

The General Assembly had passed the bill in February during its regular session in February. But Gov. Bob McDonnell recommended minor edits in the wording. On Wednesday, when legislators held their “reconvened session,” they approved the governor’s recommendations.

Under a 1998 policy by the Virginia Department of Education, high school students could use American Sign Language classes to fulfill foreign language requirements to graduate. However, college admissions officials did not have to accept American Sign Language as a foreign language credit.

HB 1435, proposed by Delegate Richard P. “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, strengthens the education agency’s policy and makes it a state law. It will take effect July 1.

Students enrolled in an American Sign Language course at Loudoun Valley High School, in the town of Purcellville in Northern Virginia, contacted Bell with the idea for the bill.

“They were the inspiration for it. And when they contacted me looking for a sponsor for the bill, I thought it was a wonderful idea, so we became partners,” Bell said.

In February, HB 1435 passed in the House 95-3 and in the Senate 34-6.

“The bill received amazing bipartisan support in the General Assembly,” said Bell, whose district includes the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton.

He said the legislation will remove some of the barriers that deaf and hard-of-hearing students face in applying to colleges and universities. Bell also said the law provides new opportunities for high school students to learn about deaf people and sign language culture.

Virginia Tech, Radford University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and George Mason University are among the schools that already offer American Sign Language as a foreign language credit.

VCU offers two American Sign Language courses through the Department of Rehabilitation Counseling.

“I think the most important thing about the bill’s passage is the fact that it improves access to higher education for a lot of people,” Bell said. “It breaks down barriers between cultures, and it improves the ways we can communicate.”

Bell said the Loudoun Valley High School students also benefited by learning about the legislative process as their idea worked its way through the General Assembly.

“Just as important, perhaps, is the civics lesson taught to this high school class who had an opportunity to participate first-hand in the process of seeing their good idea become law,” Bell said.

UN Special Rapporteur on disability, who is a wheelchair user, barred from boarding Swissair flight

From The Malta Independent:

European disability rights movements were flabbergasted on hearing that a high United Nations disability representative was prohibited by Swissair from boarding a flight that would have taken him from London to Geneva.

The passenger, the UN Special Rapporteur on disability, Shuaib Chalklen, who is a wheelchair user, was not allowed to board flight LX353 from London to Geneva on the grounds of his disability.

According to the European Disability Forum, the airline’s reason for not allowing this passenger to fly is in direct violation of EU law governing the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility.

Subsequently, the Commission vice-president for transport, Siim Kallas, released a report on the functioning and effect of this regulation. This report additionally demonstrates the gravity of such discriminatory behaviour. Freedom of movement is the EDF’s top campaign in 2011. Therefore, in response to this incident, the disability movement called on the EU to step up its monitoring of EU law and for a clear definition of concepts to improve the journey for 80 million persons with disabilities.

On Monday 4 April, Mr Chalklen was informed that he couldn’t board the flight he booked if he planned to travel unaccompanied, because the Swiss Air Medical Department argued that he could not use the sanitary facilities independently. The standard flight time for this route, from London to Geneva, is one hour, 40 minutes, and although Mr Chalklen is a frequent and experienced flyer, he was refused access on the grounds of his disability.

The EU regulation concerning the rights of disabled people and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air clearly states that it is illegal to deny air travel to disabled people and that these rules apply to all commercial passenger air services on departure, transit or arrival within the territory of the EU, in this case the UK. The only exception to this rule can be made “in order to meet applicable safety requirements established by international, Community or national law”. However, Mr Chalklen was denied carriage because he could not independently use the bathroom, which is clearly not a flight safety issue.

Commissioner Kallas published a report on this regulation, mentioning that “some carriers tend to mix up requirements related to flight safety”. The Commission repeated that “if boarding is denied for safety reasons, this must be done solely for flight safety reasons”, recognising that there are still problems with the implementation of the regulation and hinting towards the misuse of the rules.

This incident is a prime example of the discriminatory attitudes that persons with disabilities face on a daily basis when travelling. In response to this case, vice-president Kallas clearly stated that the series of measures contained in the Commission report, which was released earlier this week, intended to clarify and strengthen their rights, with the purpose to “avoid situations where people with a disability or reduced mobility are unduly refused access”. To further alleviate the situation and limit such barriers to free movement, the disability movement suggests that airlines consider improved staff training that includes a disability perspective to ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities.

The EDF has devoted its efforts in 2011 particularly to the issue of freedom of movement and increasing the accessibility to transport and similar services. The EDF regards that in this case, as in many others, the right to free movement was infringed due to a lack of understanding and awareness of disability issues. Yannis Vardakastanis, president of the EDF, added that “persons with disabilities cannot yet freely move, work and live in other countries as simply as other EU citizens. The EU has committed itself to guaranteeing freedom of movement to all citizens; it is now time to deliver this promise to the 80 million Europeans with disabilities as well.”

Residents at Hawaii public housing complex file ADA, Fair Housing complaints in court

From The Star-Advertiser in Hawaii:

Kapalama residents fed up with what they say is substandard public housing conditions filed class-action lawsuits in state and federal courts yesterday against the state for the alleged lack of repairs.

The Circuit Court suit was filed by residents of Mayor Wright Homes, alleging the Hawaii Public Housing Authority failed to provide safe and sanitary conditions. The suit filed in U.S. District Court claims the authority failed to meet standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.

Victor Geminiani (pictured), executive director of Lawyers for Equal Justice, who is representing the residents, said poor conditions at the housing project have been a long-standing problem.

"We're waiting for changes to be made," Gemi­ni­ani said yesterday at Mayor Wright Homes.

Residents have complained that unsanitary conditions, vermin infestation and overflowing Dumpsters exacerbate their health problems, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, he said.

Also, the lack of ramps and a lower side to bathtubs makes accessibility difficult for disabled residents, Gemi­ni­ani said. The state is required by federal law to seek reasonable accommodations for residents, and "the state doesn't do that. The state ignores them," he said.

The residents have campaigned at the state Capitol over the lack of hot water that most have suffered through for about seven years, this year winning a promise of action from the governor. Many residents say they have been forced for years to boil water.

Disabled resident Frances Wong, who has lived at the project since 1970, has a difficult time entering the bathroom because her wheelchair is wider than the doorway. Wong, who is paralyzed on the left side of her body after a stroke three years ago, must depend on family members to get in and out of the bathtub, the state suit says.

Fetu Kolio, president of the Mayor Wright Homes Tenants Association, said residents are frustrated with the state's neglect. Contractors were hired and repairs are budgeted, yet there are no results, said Kolio.

There is a lack of urgency or importance because it is a low-income housing project, he added.

Infrequent extermination services have resulted in an infestation of rats, mice and roaches on the property. Unwanted odors waft through the air from overflowing Dumpsters, while feral cats tear plastic trash bags open, resulting in more trash strewn on the grounds, according to the state court suit.

Gangs, violence and drug activity increased due to inadequate security, said Kolio. The project's playground is covered with graffiti. Overgrown trees block lighting to the property at night.

"Parents are afraid to allow their children out after dark," the suit says.

Mayor Wright Homes, the state's second-largest public housing project, has about 364 units.

Nicholas Birck, housing planner with the public housing authority, declined comment on the suits, saying officials had not had a chance to review them.

More banks making ATMs accessible

From The McPherson Sentinel in Kan.:

MCPHERSON, Kan. — Bryce Brewer has his work cut out for him.

The Peoples Bank and Trust Vice President for Technology is in charge of retrofitting or replacing nine ATMs for the bank before March 2012. He has one complete and eight more to go.

Brewer and employees at nearly every bank and credit union across the country realized a heft to-do list following the adoption of new rules and regulations for ATMs from the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act.

The new compliance requirements are complex and technical and will require nearly all ATMs to be updated. That means time and money for financial institutions.

“While the new ADA compliance standards have been on the ATM industry’s radar for many years, the reality of fully understanding the intricacies of the new rules and actually complying with them within the next 17 months will be an overwhelming task for many ATM deployers,” said Sam M. Ditzion, CEO, Tremont Capital Group.

The ADA regulations will require every ATM to be voice activate, have Braille keypads and, for indoor machines, have automatic doors and sufficient space for wheelchair access.

Jan Seiler, vice president at Home State Bank and Trust, said the bank has already started brining its machines into compliance. The new auto-bank location meets the new ADA standards and plans are in place to replace the bank’s three remaining machines. Seiler said replacement is more cost-effective than trying to update old technology and machines.

John Paulson, president of Citizens Community Bank, said the ATM located at the bank’s McPherson branch is relatively new and therefore will require minimal upgrades. But the bank is facing some major expenses at its other locations.

The ATM at its Arlington branch is substantially older and is located inside the foyer of the bank. The decision of whether to upgrade or replace the machine was made easier by thieves, who attempted to rob the ATM in February.

“It was an opportune time for us to make a commitment to safety and accessibility by purchasing a new ATM which will be installed in the wall of our building outside in our drive-thru,” Paulson said.

Peoples Bank will be able to make three ATMs complaint through software upgrades and replacing a keypad Brewer said. The remaining six ATMs will likely be replaced.

Even small changes Brewer said, aren’t cheap or simple. Machines without voice capability will require major changes to accommodate both sound and a head phone jack which can be a very complex upgrade.

For exterior and stand alone ATMs, the process will be slightly easier Brewer said.

All banks were required to have ADA compliance plans submitted to the government by March 15 and will have until March 15, 2012, to make all of the outlined changes.

"Paul Reiser Show" cancelled before young disabled actor, Brock Waidmann, has his TV debut

From The Futon Critic:

LOS ANGELES -- As expected, NBC has pulled the plug on "The Paul Reiser Show" after two low-rated outings.

Repeats of "The Office" will fill the Thursday, 8:30/7:30c slot for the remaining four weeks of the season, network sources have confirmed to the site exclusively.

The April 21 episode of "Reiser" drew 2.377 million viewers and a 0.9 rating among adults 18-49, down from its already modest opener on April 14 (3.372 million viewers, 1.1 rating among adults 18-49).

Here's an interview with Brock Waidmann from June 2010 in Wheelchair. Brock was supposed to play one of Reiser's two sons.

State cuts in North Carolina threaten group homes many disabled people rely on

From The Gaston Gazette in N.C.:

After years of battling the developmental disabilities they were born with, Eric Falls (pictured) and Clint McManus have found a measure of ease in the local group home they have shared since 2004.

The quiet, stable environment with round-the-clock attention has done for the men what previous years spent living in state institutions could not. And yet a complex state funding issue may soon force them to move back into a more crowded special needs facility, despite the fact that taxpayers could end up spending more for the men’s care if that happens.

“Moving them back into an institutional level of care is not in their best interest,” said Rita Thuot, executive director of Gaston Residential Services, which oversees the group home where the two live. “If it happens, it’s going to be a true injustice.”

Falls’ and McManus’ dilemma is an example of why some 20 local family members of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities recently drove to Raleigh to meet with Gaston County legislators. They lobbied for a continuation of services that have already sustained drastic funding cuts of late, and which stand to be reduced further because of the state budget deficit.

Revised laws have made it harder for the developmentally disabled to acquire certain state funding if they are already receiving Medicaid. That has most notably affected a small group of people with specific disabilities such as Falls and McManus. They are being better served in their home communities, but are faced with being thrust back into detrimental living situations elsewhere, said Beth Haywood, clinical director of Gaston Residential Services.

“These are folks who through no fault of their own happen to have a disability, and they need help,” she said. “It’s less expensive to keep and care for them where they are now, which is where they belong.”

Falls, 45, and McManus, 40, suffer from autism, mental retardation and neurological conditions that prevent them from communicating verbally. Falls is listed as the second-oldest person in the world with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, a genetic disorder that prevents most of those who have it from living past their 20s, Thuot said.

Both men lived in state-run facilities years ago that catered to people with special needs, but they did not do well around the large groups they had to interact with . Even being placed in a group home with five other people proved unsuccessful.

“When we started serving them in 1996, we realized they were easily overstimulated by too many noises, people and activity,” said Thuot. “We tried to find funding that would allow them to succeed in an environment where they wouldn’t hurt themselves, or be hurt.”

By 2004, Gaston Residential Services — a private nonprofit that aids people with developmental disabilities — had located funding to place Falls and McManus in a home together. And the pairing worked. They coexist well, with the help of clinical caregivers who assist them with medications and monitor them regularly.

“It’s amazing. No one ever would’ve thought it could happen,” said Thuot. “They’re quite content. They do grocery shopping, house cleaning. They pick up recycling for our organization and they participate in activities that are hopefully helping them to develop further.”

North Carolina’s efforts to control mental health care costs led to it reform its mental health system in 2003 — a move that has been widely criticized since then for its failures. Continued attempts to provide quality care more efficiently led to a change in law in 2008 that limited people such as Falls and McManus from receiving state funds if they also receive Medicaid.

Since 2008, Gaston Residential Services has spent more than $200,000 of its own money to support the two-person group home while trying to find a more permanent state funding solution, Thuot said. But it won’t be able to continue doing that after June 30.

“Our board of directors has been very accommodating to this point,” she said. “But unfortunately we are a business, and we can’t exhaust our savings.”

Caring for Falls and McManus in the group home where they live now costs $100 to $400 per person, per day. Should they have to be institutionalized again, it would cost at least $500 per person, per day, Haywood said.

Members of the Gaston Residential Services Family Support Group that traveled to Raleigh this month met with Gaston County’s five legislators in the Senate and House of Representatives. But no local legislators serve on any of the committees that are debating mental health funding.

Falls’ mother, Barbara Falls of Bessemer City, has tried to have her son live with her in the past, but has been unable to provide the care he needs. She visits him daily at his group home in Gastonia.

Lawmakers have told Barbara Falls they are trying to work out a solution for the small subset of people such as her son who have fallen through the cracks. At the very least, she has hoped some type of funding extension could be approved while a permanent answer is found.

“(Gaston Residential Services) has been great the last two years,” she said. “They carried them, but I just don’t know how much longer they can.”

She remains hopeful that someone in Raleigh will come to their defense.

“They’ve had to make cuts in Raleigh they don’t want to,” she said. “I do understand. But I also understand that we had this funding, and they took it away.”