Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cochlear implants changing deaf education

The intro to a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer. In the picture, Sarah Gross claps out syllables in words while working with Cara Iuliano, a speech and language pathologist at the Clarke School for Hearing and Speech.

The children are busy making a paper circus train, describing their favorite animals as they go. One boy announces he likes elephants; a classmate prefers snow leopards, explaining that they are "white as snow."

It could be a preschool class anywhere, except that the group is unusually small, with just five children, and all are wearing sophisticated electronic devices in their ears.

These children, and others at the Clarke School for Hearing and Speech in Bryn Mawr, are all deaf or hard of hearing. Yet instead of using American Sign Language, all have learned to speak, in most cases aided by devices called cochlear implants. All are headed to mainstream kindergarten.

"Listening and speaking are sensory partners of reading and writing," said Judith S. Sexton, director of the school, which also has a Philadelphia campus.

Researchers are still examining how well that theory holds up in the long term, as the first generation of children with cochlear implants enters adulthood. Some do well with the devices, which require surgery and extensive follow-up therapy, while others struggle to adapt.

What's clear is that the implants, two decades after they were first approved for children, have had a big effect on educating the deaf. The devices do not provide normal hearing, but they deliver electrical signals directly to the auditory nerve, enabling the deaf to perceive sound.

With the advent of newborn screening for hearing loss, deaf children are getting the surgery earlier than ever - in some cases even before the federally approved benchmark of 12 months - and evidence suggests they learn to speak better as a result. Meanwhile, with more deaf children in regular public schools, enrollments have declined at traditional schools for the deaf. That has raised concerns for some in the deaf community, a proud group that boasts a rich culture and does not necessarily see hearing loss as a disability needing to be fixed.

There are approaches between the extremes. At the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Germantown, 30 of the 220 students have implants, and all are taught bilingually, with some classes in English and some in American Sign Language. New Jersey's Katzenbach School for the Deaf in Ewing uses a technique called "total communication," involving the simultaneous use of speech and signs.

Myrtle Beach, SC. restaurant owner arrested for refusing to serve woman with service dog

From Carolina Alive:

A Myrtle Beach restaurant owner was arrested May 27 after police say he refused to serve a woman who was accompanied by a service animal.

Hrachya Avagyan, 28, was arrested by Myrtle Beach police at Seafood World at 411 N. Kings Highway and charged with interfering with the rights of a blind or disabled person.

A police report says the woman called police after Avagyan refused to serve her on grounds the restaurant is private property and has a sign posted that says 'No Dogs'. Upon arrival, she told police she attempted to give Avagyan the dog's paperwork, but he refused to look at it. The dog had a 'Service Animal' vest on and was properly certified.

Grand Strand service dog advocates say the Americans with Disabilities Act is well understood by most business owners today, as it relates to disabled people with service animals.

Marianna Thompson of Surfside Beach (pictured) has been a trainer for Carolina Canines, a non-profit group based in Wilmington, NC that places service dogs with disabled people in the Carolinas.

Thompson said it's rare to see business owners who resist allowing dogs on their premises.

"As service dogs became more used and there was more information about service dogs, it's happened less and less."

But Thompson, who used a service dog herself for many years due to debilitating muscle diseases that weakened her body, said on rare occassions, she was confronted by a restaurant or hotel owner ignorant of the law.

"Sometimes, they will ask and say to me, you don't look disabled, in which case I say thank you, and I say that this is a dog to assist me with my disability and that's as far as you're allowed to ask."

The law doesn't require a disabled person to reveal his or her disability and the service animal is not required to wear a vest or any other identification.

Thompson said some business owners refuse service dogs simply because they don't like animals.

"Not everyone feels that an animal should be in a restaurant and it's something that it's just going to take time to change. Most of us keep our animals extremely clean and I would dare say a lot cleaner than a lot of children."

There is at least one exception to the ADA law, according to Rick Kaplan of North Myrtle Beach, president of Canine Angels, Inc., which provides free service dogs to disabled veterans.

"If your dog misbehaves in any way, you can be asked to leave," Kaplan said, though he said that's rare, because service dogs are usually well-trained and well-behaved.

Kaplan said he's taken his service dogs to many different businesses and venues, including symphony concerts in New York, with few problems. Kaplan said the federal ADA law supercedes any other state or local laws that business owners may cite.

"The way I read it is, if you have a service dog, that dog has every right you have," to enter a business, Kaplan said.

Thompson said she tries to be an ambassador for service dogs, to make compliance with the ADA law easier for business owners and the disabled.

"I always wanted my dog to be well-behaved, well-groomed, so that everyone else has it easier who goes behind me," Thompson said.

British girl wants to follow in the track blades of Paralympian Oscar Pistorious

From The Daily Mail in the UK:

An amputee who was encouraged by a Paralympic star to fulfil her dreams of running again finally got to meet her hero.

Danielle Bradshaw, 12, (pictured) who had her damaged leg amputated last year set her sights on competing at the Rio Games in 2016 after hearing about Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius (pictured).

The schoolgirl met the 24-year-old South African athlete nicknamed the 'blade runner' and shared her experiences at a stadium in Manchester.

Danielle, from Newton in Hyde, was born with a dislocated knee and hips and chose to have her useless right leg amputated last year.

Since then she has gone from strength to strength and has now set her sights on competing in the next summer games.

Danielle said: 'Meeting him has made me more determined to do well in sport - I want to be like him one day.'

The Astley Sports College pupil had wanted to meet Oscar for three years and was granted her wish by organisers of the BT Paralympic World Cup at Sportcity in Manchester.

But she had a shock when Oscar, who has a double amputation, revealed that her story has also helped spur him on.

Oscar, who was born with a congenital foot defect that led to him having both legs amputated, said: 'Danielle's story is incredibly moving - it's been great to meet her.

'She is a real inspiration to me and can fulfil all her dreams.

'She just has to keep training and believing and she will get there.'

The pair even compared prosthetic limbs with the top disabled athlete joking that Danielle's leg is 'cooler' than his famous carbon fibre prosthetic limbs.

Unlike Oscar, Danielle had a healthy left leg but did not want to spend the rest of her life 'dragging the other one' behind her.

Surgeons told her that they could perform a number of operations and skin grafts to save her leg but admitted the limb would be useless so she opted for an amputation last summer.

She now has a false leg and is learning how to run with the help of coach Shelley Holroyd, a Salford-born javelin thrower who competed internationally for 17 years.

Danielle added: 'It was absolutely amazing to meet Oscar - he was very kind to me and I couldn't believe he described me as an inspiration.'

Indiana special ed teacher's comments about students on Facebook upsets parents

From The Indy Channel:

BAINBRIDGE, Ind. -- A special education teacher's Facebook comments have incensed parents and prompted an investigation by the school district.

Amber Russell, a teacher at North Putnam Middle School, posted on Facebook, "I love dumb people. I call it job security," along with "5+1=Freedom from the Hell hole" and "I feel sorry for preachers and teachers. No matter hard they work, there's always an incoming batch of sinners and dumb people."

Although Russell's Facebook wall is private, parents who were Facebook friends with her copied the comments, 6News' Kara Kenney reported.

"I don't want the kids to think that about themselves, because it's not true. I think it's totally uncalled for," said Paula Shepherd, whose son is in Russell's class.

The parents demanded answers from school board members and administrators, who held an emergency meeting Friday to discuss the matter.

"Obviously, she doesn't want to be there," said Tasha Leonard, whose son, who has ADHD, is in Russell's class. "As a parent, it makes me wonder if she feels comfortable enough to post that on Facebook having 425 friends, what's happening behind closed doors? How is she treating children?"

Superintendent Mary Lovejoy would not allow 6News to attend the meeting. Afterward, she called the Facebook comments unacceptable.

"This situation is going to be carefully investigated and aggressive action is going to be taken under the constraints of the law," Lovejoy said.

The district's employee handbook prohibits harassment or discrimination, including "written or graphic material that defames or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group because of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability."

School Board President Charlie Boller said he supports the investigation.

"It's appalling if this is truly what's going on with certain teachers within our corporation," he said. "Any time there's a negative comment about kids in general and if the kids see that, it'd be hard to go to school. You have to be in a good frame of mind and in a positive environment to get educated."

Parents 6News spoke with said the comments should cost Russell her job.

"I think they need to get to get rid of her, and if she really feels that way, she needs to find a new profession," Leonard said.

"I just don't think it's right," Shepherd said. "I don't think the kids should be discriminated like that."

Lovejoy would not say if Russell would be disciplined, but said teachers should be held to a higher standard.

"We are professional educators, and we need to be very cautious about what we say on Facebook," she said. "Of course, we all have freedom of speech, but we need to be very aware of how we represent ourselves to parents, students and the community."

Russell did not respond to a phone call and email seeking comment Friday.

The Indiana State Teachers Association represents teachers in North Putnam, but a spokesperson for ISTA was unavailable Friday.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Dancing Wheels in Cleveland celebrates 30 years

From The Plain Dealer. In the picture, choreographer Dianne McIntyre, right, rehearses members of Dancing Wheels in her new work, "Dancing on a Dream," which salutes the company's founder and artistic director, Mary Verdi-Fletcher, front.
Mary Verdi-Fletcher was all of 3 when she decided she might want to spend her life as a dancer. Only one thing loomed as a potential obstacle: spina bifida, the birth defect with which she was born.

But Verdi-Fletcher was so strong-minded and so inspired by her mother, a dancer, and father, a musician, that she never let formidable challenges alter her course.

"I would dream of how I would dance if I wasn't disabled," she said recently. "Gradually, I realized how I could."

Verdi-Fletcher realized a lot more in the decades that followed. Along with the capacity to move with artistic grace and imagination in a wheelchair, she learned how to nurture a dance company and school for people with and without disabilities.

This week, her Cleveland-based creation, Dancing Wheels, celebrates its 30th anniversary. At a bash Saturday at the Cleveland Agora, Verdi-Fletcher will join supporters for an extended party and performance that includes an appearance by singer Gloria Gaynor, who'll take the stage during the company's world premiere of "Dancing on a Dream" by Cleveland choreographer Dianne McIntyre.

The biographical piece salutes Verdi-Fletcher for her remarkable achievements as dancer, educator, artistic director and advocate for the disabled. To devise the work, McIntyre employed the process she always uses before making a move: she interviewed Verdi-Fletcher and members of Dancing Wheels about their lives and experiences.

"Dancing on a Dream" is set to popular music of the 1980s -- the music Verdi-Fletcher was dancing to in clubs with a partner during this period, when she also established Dancing Wheels as the first physically integrated dance company in the country. It began to garner recognition nationally in 1990, when it became affiliated with Cleveland Ballet and Verdi-Fletcher opened Dancing Wheels School.

In chatting with the company's young performers before developing "Dancing on a Dream," McIntyre was delighted to discover how many tunes from the 1980s they knew.

"That just floored me," said McIntyre. "We tried to find things that had that moving-forward and not-holding-you-back."

A reflection, in other words, of Verdi-Fletcher.

"People only know me as a dancer or as director of this company," she said. "They don't know that the determination I had stemmed from what I didn't have as a child."

Such as a normal life. The young Mary Verdi was often sick and hospitalized. She underwent more than a dozen surgeries. She recalls thinking at 7 that "if I got better than I was, I wouldn't waste a moment of my life."

As she followed her muse, Verdi-Fletcher explored every dance option she could contemplate. She broke many wheels on her wheelchairs in the early years of experimentation. But she also shaped a new movement language influenced by dance she loved in movie musicals and television shows.

In 1980, Verdi-Fletcher and her dance partner, David Brewster, entered the "Dance Fever" competition in Willoughby. The capacity audience went silent when the wheelchair dancer and able-bodied dancer appeared onstage.

"They could not imagine what someone in a wheelchair would do in a dance competition," said Verdi-Fletcher. "The wheelchair weighed 55 pounds. I weighed 68 pounds." (As she does today.) "The crowd went wild."

So did the media, which spread the story of Verdi-Fletcher and Brewster, who were named alternates to perform on the weekly TV variety series in California.

It was on the night of the Willoughby competition that Verdi-Fletcher named her company Dancing Wheels, "because my wheels were dancing."

McIntyre -- who created another work, "Sweet Radio Radicals," for Dancing Wheels in 2008 -- said of Verdi-Fletcher that she admires "the conviction and fortitude and vision she had inside of her.

"She was born with the attitude, 'I'm not going to let anything stop me.' That's what Mary's about -- and why this company has thrived to today."

The company's dancers are among Verdi-Fletcher's most ardent champions. Samantha Fox, a stand-up member in her first season, said absorbing wheelchair techniques has benefited her artistry greatly.

"It changes your perception of why you move the way you do -- the momentum, turning, flow of energy in the shoulder," Fox said.

Another stand-up dancer, Franklin Polk, was teaching a martial arts class for Dancing Wheels when Verdi-Fletcher asked him to join the company. A former dancer with SAFMOD, the multimedia performance ensemble, Polk had a close friend in a wheelchair who died in 2007.

"So my heart was already here," he said.

Mark Daurelio, who's been working on and off with Dancing Wheels for five years, became a paraplegic after an accident on a dirt bike a decade ago. He expressed reluctance when he met Verdi-Fletcher at the Gravity Games and she asked him to join the company.

A former member of the Cleveland Wheelchair Cavaliers, Daurelio finally decided to let Verdi-Fletcher teach him how to dance, which was challenging at first.

"Sometimes you turn without using your hands, and you twist your body and learn trunk control," said Daurelio, 40.

He calls Verdi-Fletcher "a great role model."

"Just the passion she has for dance is incredible," Daurelio said. "She's always busy with the company, even on her day off."

Verdi-Fletcher's dedication is partly an extension of her role as advocate for disability rights. She began her company first to do educational outreach and second to present concerts.

And she has inspired many others by example. Dancing Wheels is one of 50 physically integrated dance companies in the United States. With her organization's annual budget of nearly $500,000, Verdi-Fletcher is able to offer dancers 52-week contracts -- the only company of its kind in the country that does so.

It's no surprise, then, that no one will be celebrating more at Saturday's anniversary bash than Verdi-Fletcher, who'll collaborate with her colleagues in McIntyre's "Dancing on a Dream."

"The greatest joy is when I'm dancing," said Verdi-Fletcher. "So Dianne has given me a real gift."

Clemson University graduates first class of students with intellectual disabilities

From The Independent Mail in S.C.:

CLEMSON UNIVERSITY — Mary Alice Shartle, 24, (pictured) dreams about getting a job someday working with small children.

At the same time, Shartle is clear about the hurdles she faces.

“I have Down syndrome,” she said. “I have trouble thinking sometimes.”

Shartle learned how to speak frankly about her disability during a two-year life skills program at Clemson University. She built on her strengths and can articulate her challenges — both key to a prospective employer, said the program’s director, James Collins.

This spring, Shartle and five other intellectually disabled young adults were among ClemsonLIFE’s first class of six graduates.

“They are adults now,” said Sharon Sanders, the program’s founder and former director. “They were not when they came to me. We treat them like adults. We so often treat them like children, and they grow. All students do that.”

ClemsonLIFE is among five college programs in South Carolina for intellectually disabled adults seeking higher education. The state’s public schools allows these students to remain in high school until they are 21, but there were no further education options for them until three years ago, when the first such program started at the University of South Carolina.

Without opportunities to keep learning, the prospects for independent living are poor for these adults, said Donald Bailey, executive director for College Transition Connection. His non-profit organization coordinates state funding to five colleges, including Clemson, that offer higher education for the intellectually disabled.

South Carolina has about 2,000 intellectually disabled adults who would be eligible.

With 92 percent of this population unemployed, the benefits to the state are obvious, Bailey said. A similar program at Tate College in California has reported that 88 percent of its graduates over the past decade are employed.

“This will ultimately save the state millions of dollars,” Bailey said.

Shartle not only forged friendships with other disabled adults, but also with mainstream Clemson students. She also tried a range of jobs she might someday take on full time.

Her parents live in Greenville. After moving away from home, Shartle learned online banking, sharing chores with roommates, traveling by bus on her own, shopping for groceries and cooking her own meals. She attended Clemson football games and recitals at the Brooks Center.

“I like to cook healthy foods,” Shartle said. “Salmon is my favorite.”

Collins said Shartle shared a normal college experience with other people her age.

Shartle’s mother, Janice Shartle, said her daughter has always wanted to learn.

“As a parent, we found out she can do more than we expected,” she said.

ClemsonLIFE has grown from six students to nearly 20 this coming fall and has acquired dedicated office and classroom space in Godfrey Hall. Created as a two-year program, ClemsonLIFE will add a third-year program in the fall for four students who want to get work internships and try living off campus without a mentor.

Cally Vollmer of Atlanta will be one of those students. She has a summertime job selling jewelry at a store in Delaware, and her parents had to discourage her from taking on too many hours.

“When I first got there, I was completely nervous,” Vollmer said of ClemsonLIFE. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t expect to be with so many awesome kids.”

She and her classmates interacted with more than 130 Clemson student volunteers.

Clemson has drawn several out-of-state students because of the relative rarity of the programs.

“These kids desperately need them,” said Saralynn Vollmer, Cally’s mom. “We couldn’t have made it any better than it was.”

This past year, 30 students were enrolled in the state’s five new programs, but Bailey predicts that number will quickly grow closer to 100 over the next year.

The College of Charleston and Clemson each had 20 applicants for the fall, he said. Two challenges still facing families are affordability — tuition is comparable to full tuition and board for a regular university — and awareness.

“Families didn’t plan on their intellectually disabled son or daughter going to college,” Bailey said. “Then there are families who flat can’t afford it.”

This past year federal Pell grants became available to such programs for the first time, and South Carolina students can get some tuition assistance though the state’s vocational rehabilitation program. Lottery funds that mainstream college students can access for college tuition, however, is not available to these students.

“We are very, very, very lucky,” Saralynn Vollmer said. “We’ve done well. Usually kids who are learning disabled come from low-income situations.”

Bailey said South Carolina is setting a national standard for its public support of the programs. The state Legislature appropriated about $1 million over the past five years to launch programs at Clemson, USC, College of Charleston, Winthrop and Coastal Carolina.

“The Legislature has stepped up; educators have stepped up,” Bailey said. “And they have made a good name for themselves nationally.”

Bailey said he got involved because he wanted in-state higher education options for his own intellectually disabled son, also named Donald. He has a form of high-functioning autism and was unable to finish high school.

Earlier this month, Donald, 23, walked the stage at the University of South Carolina as the first graduate of that school’s LIFE program. Today, he has a job at a county park near his parent’s home in Mount Pleasant.

“He drives himself back and forth,” Bailey said. “He lives on his own. He’s independent.”

Service dog helps both Virginia father, son

From The Winchester Star:

WINCHESTER, Va. -- Nathan Selove used to have "meltdowns" every week. The symptoms of a minor one might go unnoticed - fast talking, avoiding eye contact, refusal to listen to others - but the screaming and yelling of a major meltdown are harder to ignore.

A yellow Labrador retriever named Sylvia (pictured) changed all that.

Ramon Selove, 46, had meltdowns of his own, sometimes literally running away from situations he found overpowering.

A chocolate Labrador retriever named Coriander changed all that.

Nathan, 15, is a sophomore at Sherando High School. His father, Ramon, is an associate professor of biology at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown. Both have Asperger's syndrome - a high-functioning autistic disorder in 1 percent of the population that is characterized by repetitive patterns of behavior and difficulties in social interaction.

Other potential effects include the aforementioned meltdowns, but with the help of service dogs, both Nathan and Ramon have experienced fewer difficulties associated with the disorder.

"With Sylvia, I can connect with people," Nathan said. "She's a great social friend to me and a gateway to the neurotypical world."

Minutes before class begins, Nathan chats with friends as Sylvia flops down under his desk.

Wearing jeans, a red T-shirt and sneakers, he looks the part of an average teenager.

The 5-year-old Lab by his side is the only service animal in Frederick County Public Schools and often the only sign that Nathan has a disability.

"Students treat him better, now," said Nathan's mom, Shellie Selove, 44. "They used to just think he was weird. When he came back with a service dog, they realized he had a disability."

Back at his house, Nathan shows off his "Aspe Superpower," a term he and his dad coined to refer to a rare intellectual ability that often comes along with the disorder.

Both father and son compare talents. Ramon can read most anything -- from physics to cooking instructions -- and understand it immediately,

Nathan can memorize all the lines in a movie after watching it only two or three times. He shows this off by reciting a scene from the cartoon "Shrek," incorporating each character's accent and inflection perfectly.

As a participant in area plays, he also memorizes fellow actors' lines.

"It's kinda a curse, though," he said with a smile. "You know the line and you feel obligated to correct them."

Shellie gets emotional when she thinks about her son's life before Sylvia -- the night terrors, the bullying, his severe hyperactivity -- and how he'd often chew holes or weave pencils through his shirt during class due to anxiety.

Nathan was nine or 10 when he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, and because it's a genetic disorder, his father was diagnosed shortly after.

Dogs always had a calming effect on Nathan, so when his psychologist mentioned a service dog as a treatment option, the family agreed.

Ramon, who found himself getting more and more stressed in loud or crowded situations, decided to get his own service dog when he saw how effective it was for his son.

Now, when Nathan feels a meltdown coming on, Sylvia will climb into his lap and soothe him, and when students surround Ramon after class with questions, Coriander will move in between him and the encroaching throng to calm his anxiety.

"Our service dogs allow us to be more independent," Ramon said.

In addition to his involvement with the Winchester Little Theatre, Nathan is also involved in Interact Club and forensic competitions -- activities that were impossible before Sylvia. Long car rides and back-to-school shopping are also now doable.

Ramon continues to teach, but his anxiety has decreased to a level that doesn't adversely affect his health.

For Shellie, their happiness means everything, especially Nathan's.

"It's really, really wonderful," she said with tears in her eyes. "He's just become happier. It used to be really painful and difficult (for him to) be in his own skin."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Thousands of veterans with PTSD die after service, Freedom of Information Act research shows

From The Bay Citizen: Pictured is the railroad track where William Hamilton died.

This month, the Department of Veterans Affairs informed the parents of William Hamilton (pictured), an Iraq war veteran, that it was not responsible for his death.

Mr. Hamilton had been admitted nine times to a V.A. psychiatric ward in Palo Alto. He saw demon women and talked to a man he had killed in Iraq. His parents allege that the V.A. illegally turned away Mr. Hamilton — three days before he stepped in front of train on May 16, 2010, at the age of 26.

The agency denied the wrongful-death claim in a one-page letter: “The VA did not breach a legal duty,” wrote Suzanne C. Will, the agency’s regional counsel in San Francisco.

Mr. Hamilton’s death was recorded in an obscure government database called the Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem death file, which contains records for all veterans receiving benefits since 1973. The file provides a detailed portrait of the mental and physical wounds of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the high rate of suicides and risky, sometimes-fatal behaviors.

Records from that database, provided to The Bay Citizen under the Freedom of Information Act, show that the V.A. is aware of 4,194 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who died after leaving the military. More than half died within two years of discharge. Nearly 1,200 were receiving disability compensation for a mental health condition, the most common of which was post-traumatic stress disorder.

“There are failures and people falling through the cracks who need care,” said Representative Jerry McNerney, an East Bay Democrat and member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee who is investigating Mr. Hamilton’s death.

The new data comes amid growing criticism of the V.A. for its handling of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. On May 10, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, cited the V.A. for “unchecked incompetence” and ordered an overhaul of how it provided health care and disability benefits.

The decision grew out of a 2007 lawsuit in which two veterans groups accused the V.A. of failing to provide proper care for hundreds of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with post-traumatic stress.

The V.A. has refused to comment on the ruling. The Justice Department, which is representing the agency, has asked the court for more time to evaluate the decision before deciding whether to appeal.

David Bayard, a V.A. spokesman, said the agency was working hard to treat veterans with mental health issues. “V.A. has some pretty fine programs,” Mr. Bayard said, “but unfortunately we aren’t always successful.”

In October, The Bay Citizen, using public health records, reported that 1,000 California veterans under 35 died from 2005 to 2008 — three times the number killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same period. At the time, the V.A. said it did not keep track of the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who died after leaving the military.

The V.A. database does not include veterans who never applied for benefits or who were not receiving benefits at the time of their death, according to the agency. The V.A. said it also did not keep track of the cause of death.

Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington and chairwoman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the lack of an accurate accounting by the V.A. prompted her to work with state health departments to “ensure they report data on suicides among our veterans who never access the care and benefits they have earned.”

Veterans groups said they believed that the methodology would reveal a higher number of deaths.

“V.A. still doesn’t get it,” said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, a nonprofit advocacy group.

The agency, Mr. Sullivan said, is “intentionally and outrageously ignorant about what’s happening to our veterans.”

The V.A. redacted the names and hometowns of the veterans who died, saying disclosure of such information was prohibited. But details about Mr. Hamilton’s case and others reveal the suffering of many veterans.

Mr. Hamilton died when he stepped in front of a train on the Union Pacific track alongside Highway 99 in Modesto. There were three other recorded deaths involving Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that day: one man drank himself to death in his car in Pennsylvania; another, who had traumatic brain injury, died in an Illinois hospital. The third was a Navy veteran who could not be identified.

Mr. Hamilton’s family traces his deteriorating condition to an episode in Mosul, a city in northern Iraq. In 2005, Mr. Hamilton was guarding a rooftop when his best friend, Christopher Pusateri, was shot to death by insurgents. When Mr. Hamilton returned home, he was racked by guilt, said his mother, Dianne Hamilton, a Modesto teacher.

Her son started abusing methamphetamines and cocaine, Ms. Hamilton said. He moved in with her, spending most of the day alone in his room.

“He would sit there and talk with a man he killed in Iraq for 45 minutes,” she said. “He would have an entire conversation; just talk, talk, talk.”

In September 2009, his father, Cecil Hamilton, a former aircraft mechanic, moved his son to Sonora in the Sierra foothills, hoping the clean air and open space would help him. But Mr. Hamilton continued to deteriorate.

On May 13, 2010, Mr. Hamilton became so disturbed that his father called the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department. At 2 p.m., deputies rushed Mr. Hamilton to nearby Mark Twain St. Joseph’s Hospital. Hospital staff members reported that Mr. Hamilton was delusional.

“Speaking of demon women and bright flashes of light, he is not able to respond to where or who he is — was wandering around naked, refusing to eat/take meds/engage in treatment,” Megan Harris, a Calaveras County crisis worker, wrote.

Health records show that the hospital staff tried to transfer Mr. Hamilton to three V.A. hospitals, including the one in Palo Alto, but “they do not start transfers this late in the day,” Ms. Harris wrote at 3:45 p.m.

At 4:39 p.m., a V.A. social worker, Paul Symmonds, wrote that Ms. Harris had contacted the Palo Alto hospital but “was told they would not accept a transfer for admittance of veteran this late in the day.”

V.A. officials said they had no record of Mr. Hamilton’s being denied care. Dr. Stephen Ezeji-Okoye, deputy chief of staff at the Palo Alto V.A. hospital, said the inpatient psychiatric ward operated continuously and was not at capacity that day.

“We have gone through and talked with our staff to try to determine if there was anyone who had received any contact from Calaveras County,” Dr. Ezeji-Okoye said. “We feel confident that indeed our policy was being followed.”

That night, a hospital on Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield admitted Mr. Hamilton. Two days later, he asked to leave and was discharged.

Mrs. Hamilton picked up her son on May 16. She said she cried the entire drive home to Modesto, fearing that he would not survive.

The next day, Mr. Symmonds called Mr. Hamilton’s brother Chase to apologize for the transfer problems. Chase Hamilton interrupted him: “There won’t be any need for that. Thank you,” he said, according to Mr. Symmonds’s notes.

Mr. Hamilton was dead.

British Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, 11-time Paralympic champion, asks, is Paralympic sport losing focus?

From BBC News in the UK, from Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, 11-time Paralympic champion:

The history of the Paralympic movement might be relatively short, but its growth and development continues to move at great speed.

Much of the discussion at the moment is whether athletes such as Oscar Pistorius, or Sarah Storey will compete in both Games in London 2012.

My view on this is simple: good luck to the athletes who can do it - but we must recognise that there are limited opportunities for this to happen.

It also opens up another discussion. Is there a danger that the story of Olympic inclusion could overshadow the achievements of other disabled athletes who are fighting much greater discrimination in the outside world to get to be the best in their field?

It is useful to remember that disability sport grew up because of discrimination - and that the original programmes at Stoke Mandeville was limited because it was created largely to deal with the significant number of people injured in the Second World War.

In the 1940s, if you had a spinal cord injury life expectancy was between two and seven years and most of the time you were left in hospital to die of complications.

We have to be careful we are not in danger of discriminating within disability sport by picking those events which appear to be the most aesthetically pleasing and least likely to make the public feel uncomfortable watching.

In harsh terms, bed spaces were needed, people need rehabilitation, and so sport was used.

As the programme of Paralympic events evolves, if events for higher impairment groups drop off, where will young disabled people see their role models compete?

Furthermore, in the attempt to drive the Paralympic movement forward, we have to be careful we are not in danger of discriminating within disability sport by picking those events which appear to be the most aesthetically pleasing and least likely to make the public feel uncomfortable watching.

In the world of Paralympic sport, Boccia (pictured) is the main event for athletes with severe impairments.

At this week's Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, the sport got the opportunity to shine with a demonstration game between Great Britain and Ireland and an emphatic win by GB.

Nigel Murray, the GB team captain, admits to feeling a certain sense of frustration about the lack of media coverage and profile for his sport, especially considering its success. However, he believes that their best chance of improving their profile is to carry on winning.

It does feel that we are over-obsessed with including minimal disability in Paralympic sport because it is easier to understand achievement and also easier for athletes to make the transfer to mainstream sport.

For those people who are fans of the 400m, it is easier to see where Oscar Pistorius fits amongst the best mainstream runners in the world.

For athletes with higher levels of impairment, there is already a challenge around understanding of what elite performance means in real terms.

Boccia has athletes competing from 40 countries around the world, but they struggle with recognition for their achievements.

And, what about swimmers like Britain's Fran Williamson?

The Cambridge swimmer, who has cerebral palsy, has won six Paralympic medals, but where is her profile? If she had won six Olympic medals, she would be a household name.

After winning gold in the 50m backstroke in her S3 category at last year's IPC World Championships in Holland, she discovered soon after that the event would not be on the Paralympic programme in London.

From racing in four events in Athens, she competed in just two in Beijing in 2008 and now only has the 50m and 100m freestyle events to race in London.

She is disappointed by the decision, which she describes as "devastating", and admits it made her re-evaluate her future in elite sport.

"The Paralympics is meant to be about inclusion," she points out.

The International Paralympic Committee have a clear view on this. A spokesman said: "The Paralympic Games has a maximum number of medal events that it can include for each sport and we endeavour to ensure that there is a wide spectrum of sports covering a range of impairments.

"It is simply not possible or practical to organise a Games whereby each sport covers events in every single class and gender. If it was possible then the Games would take weeks to complete.

"Therefore, the sports programme for London features events and classes which have a naturally deeper pool of world-class athletes eligible for qualification and subsequent participation."

The IPC is not writing off some of the events forever but believes that individual countries need to do more to develop sport across the weaker areas.

Now as we approach the biggest Paralympic sporting event that Britain will ever host, can we, hand on heart, say that everything is being done to ensure that children with more severe impairments are getting access to sport in school, and also outside?

By missing out on these children, there could be long-term implications for the future of the GB Paralympic team.

The Games themselves should not be used as development events. The more that we can do to promote the Paralympics and the athletes across all classes, the better it is for everyone

I strongly believe that whatever happens, the Paralympics should never become the B final as this will leave a big chunk of the movement behind. We have to ensure that there is opportunity to compete at the highest level.

Richmond Times-Dispatch profiles vets, showing the value they bring to workplaces

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

During fighting in Fallujah, Iraq, in November 2004, an explosion blew a stone wall on top of Chad Ellinger (pictured).

Buried from the neck down in the rubble, knocked out, and then in terrible pain, the Marine sergeant was bleeding from a compound fracture of his right arm, his knee was broken, and his body had suffered yet more injuries internally.

"When you hit rock bottom, you can go sideways or up," Ellinger said.

"It took about 18 to 24 months to fully recover," he said. "I'd just learned to walk again before my daughter was born."

In 2007, Ellinger received one of the Virginia Department of Transportation's first work internships for wounded warriors.

"It was place to get back on my feet," Ellinger said, "and it offered a career, a place to get back to work."

VDOT's federally funded program is designed to allow veterans — who are unable to return to a former job because of service disabilities or because the position is no longer available — to revamp old job skills and develop new ones.

The state transportation department is just one of many efforts by government agencies, private employers and nonprofit groups to help former military personnel, particularly those with injuries as a result of their service, move into fulfilling civilian careers.

About a quarter of veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan have a service-connected disability, according to a federal report, about twice the rate for all U.S. military veterans.

"It's been a real win-win" for the veterans and the department, said Freddie Jones, VDOT's Civil Rights Division administrator, who oversees the internship program. "The veterans bring different attitudes, very solid work ethics, and, for the most part, transferable skills."

Now, the 32-year-old Ellinger is VDOT's fleet operations manager for its far-flung Staunton highway district. He also has graduated from college — with honors.

"If the taxpayers were going to support this program, then I, as a vet who was taking advantage of the program, should give them their money's worth," said Ellinger, who was medically retired from Marine Corps in 2008. In fact, "I'd give them 110 percent."

Twenty-nine wounded veterans have completed internships so far, and the department expects to have a total of 25 interns on the job this year.

"Work is great rehab," said Dr. Shane McNamee, chief of rehabilitation medicine at the McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in South Richmond. "It's challenging, it's complicated, it's fatiguing."

On Oct. 1, the veterans hospital, which sees the most severely wounded, will start a pilot vocational rehabilitation and job placement program for patients with amputations.

"My goal is 'Sgt. Smith' spends six months with us, and on Friday he leaves the service, gets his discharge, and on Monday he's got a paying job he works into," McNamee said. "How realistic that is, don't know," he said, but, "I'm an optimist."

Study abroad opportunity offers more for Oregon university sophomore who will visit her homeland of China

From the Oregon Daily Emerald:

At age 11, Ming Canaday (pictured) left the Chinese orphanage she had lived in her entire life and started a new life with her adoptive family in the United States.

“I feel like I’ve lived two lives — one there and one here,” Canaday said of China. “Life there is like a lifetime ago.”

Now, nine years later, Canaday, a University sophomore studying international relations and Chinese, has dedicated her education to learning about her native country. She hopes doing so will help her to make a difference for its people.

“Most people don’t get the opportunity to go back to the past and change things,” Canaday said of her numerous trips back to China. “I feel like I have that opportunity.”

With the funds from the prestigious Boren Scholarship awarded to Canady for her interest in China, Canaday plans to return in January for a five-month study abroad program followed by a four-month long internship.

But for Canaday, the experience is about more than studying in a foreign country. It is an opportunity to give back.

As a child, Canaday suffered from a severe case of scoliosis that required a 24-hour surgery to treat when she came to the United States. Without the surgery, she likely would have died by 20, Canaday said. Post-polio, a condition that affects polio survivors years after they were affected by the virus, has also left Canaday physically handicapped. She plans to use this opportunity to return to China to offer the aid that she received to others in its physically disabled population.

“I want to see what it’s like to just live as a disabled person in China,” Canaday said. “I think it will give me a lot of insight into how disabled people’s day to day lives are and how they manage the inaccessibleness of China.”

The Boren Scholarship, awarded to undergraduate students who plan to study abroad in countries critical to U.S. interests, provides up to $20,000 to its recipients. Canaday was one of 151 who received the scholarship this year — 944 applied. Combined with her other financial aid, Canaday expects the award to cover the entire cost of her trip.

“I applied because I thought it was a good opportunity,” Canaday said, adding that she hopes the program and following internship could lead to job after graduation.

“It’s the opportunity to get a job right after undergrad and see how the government functions so that I could know how the policies and legal side of things work,” Canaday said. She plans to use this understanding of government policy to “help create laws and policies that help the disabled population.”

And as for apprehensions about leaving her family for nearly a year to go halfway around the world, Canaday is far from concerned.

“I just felt at home with the country,” Canaday said of previous trips to China. “I grew up there. It didn’t feel like a foreign country.”

Rachel DeWoskin's new novel, Big Girl Small, focuses on its 16-year-old main character, who is a little person

NPR review by Maureen Corrigan:

Don't read this novel if you have teenagers. Or ever were a teenager — especially a teenage girl. It will bring back high school in raw, oozing detail, like a psychic skinned knee. The cliques, the whispers, the glossy girls, the frantic parties, the stupid drinking, the disconnected sexual encounters and, perhaps worst of all, the carnival of lost souls that is the lunchtime cafeteria. High school: a world so hostile to the outsider that even a Navy Seal might hesitate at the threshold.

There's one compelling reason, however, to ignore my warnings about Rachel DeWoskin's new novel, Big Girl Small: the voice of her narrator, Judy Lohden. Judy is 16 — a sarcastic, smart, gutsy and thoughtful incarnation of 16 that any parent would be reassured by. Because, in addition to her other strengths, Judy also possesses a Susan Boyle-sized voice, her loving parents, who own a diner in Ann Arbor, Mich., scrape up the money to transfer her to the Darcy Arts Academy, a private school for the performing arts. When Judy walks into Darcy the first day she says:

"The halls were bulging with kids hugging each other, throwing books into their lockers, slinging on fashionable backpacks, singing, leaping. It was like that old movie Fame ... I felt sick, tried to focus on the student murals my parents had pretended to admire ... The lockers are all painted by students, too ... It's a big competition, of course, and there are stories of the most famous lockers ever, like Sophie Armaria's. She graduated 10 years ago but people still reminisce about how she painted herself naked on her locker, in thick, glistening oil, so that the combination dial was one of her nipples."

Home schooling anyone?

The complication here is that Judy is a "little person" — all of 3 feet, 9 inches tall. In the novel, Judy's size functions as both reality and metaphor. Practically speaking, being a dwarf affects Judy's every social encounter and makes the whole high school ordeal harder; for the average-sized reader, however, Judy's size is an intensified version of the alienation that all of us who were marked as different — by accent, class, weight, acne, sexual preference, shyness, you name it — could identify with.

Things seem to go surprisingly well for Judy during her first months at Darcy. She bonds with a couple of other outsider girls: Molly, one of the few African-Americans at the school, and "Goth Sarah," whose dyed, oily black hair and piercings — Judy describes her as looking "riddled by bullets" — mask a sweet personality. Judy lands a showcase part in the fall show and even picks up a boyfriend of sorts, Kyle Malanack, a standard-sized hottie. Maybe her parents' anxious hope that she'd become popular with the rest of the kids — or, as Judy wryly puts it, become "a beloved Lilliputian among the Brobdingnagians," has actually come true.

But, sadly, we readers know it ain't so. We know because Judy is telling us her story retrospectively, in hiding, from a dump called The Motel Manor on the edge of town. The press is looking for her, and so are her parents and friends. Something really, really horrible happened to Judy at Darcy Arts Academy; something that makes this novel's acknowledged forerunner, Stephen King's Carrie, read like a mere drop in the bloody bucket of teen humiliation.

Big Girl Small is not flawless. Just as Judy can't imagine a life beyond her current miserable state of suspended animation at The Motel Manor, DeWoskin can't seem to figure out how to give her novel an ending that's of a piece with Judy's harsh experiences and her resilient response to them. The ending that DeWoskin supplies here is too pat. But, apart from that disappointment, Big Girl Small is a distinctive addition to the already packed cosmic library of coming-of-age stories. As DeWoskin's novel wistfully reminds us, the destruction-of-innocence plot never gets worn out because the ways in which innocence can be destroyed are apparently infinite.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

“Different is the new normal,” says American Idol contestant with Tourette's, Asperger's

From Helen Henderson, Disabilities Reporter for The Toronto Star. In the picture, James Durbin is front row, third from left.

“Different is the new normal.”

That’s what heavy-metal rocker James Durbin (pictured) remarked on The Ellen DeGeneres Show this month after making it to the final four before being voted off American Idol. The country sound may ultimately have won top spot, but Durbin, who grew up coping with Tourette syndrome and Asperger’s, stole the show.

“It’s so special and so heart-warming to know that not only am I going . . . to try to fulfil my dream but I am also going on to be a voice for people . . . who find it too hard or are too afraid to speak out,” Durbin told DeGeneres, a former Idol judge.“It’s okay to be different, to be weird,” he said, adding that he has embraced his “freakishness.”

Would that we all could come to such a wise self-realization.

Tourette (tourette.ca) is a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary, rapid and repeated movements or vocalizations. Asperger Syndrome (aspergers.ca) is an autism-spectrum disorder that inhibits the ability to interact in society. Kids growing up with either diagnosis battle anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem, bullying and social isolation.

But glimpses into their world are growing more common on television. And with that exposure, we can only hope that the world will realize what Durbin expressed so eloquently.

Among other television shows giving us a look into diverse worlds, Parenthood portrays autism in the character of Max Braverman, who is diagnosed with Asperger’s. (Writer/executive producer Jason Katims has a 13-year-old son with the condition.)

Growing up is hard enough at the best of times. Disability adds one more layer of complexity.

All of which puts me in mind of an intriguing question posed in a recent podcast by the crew at the BBC’s irreverent disability-issues site, Ouch!, (bbc.co.uk/ouch). Knowing what you know now, what would you tell your 16-year-old self if you had the opportunity?

This is an unusually important question for people who are born disabled because “it’s always said that the disability ‘Get It’ moment doesn’t happen until your late 20s,” explains Liz Carr of Ouch!

Among the answers the team came up with: Figure out how to get independent. Understand that you will get through this; you will get a boy/girlfriend. You can’t imagine the amazing things that will happen. Enjoy life. Take strength from other kids with disabilities and embrace difference.

Added reader, Chris Page: “I’d tell myself not to take anything for granted—especially education – and to be more aware of discrimination. I’d also tell myself to stand up to those who bullied me.”

And don’t forget James Durbin.

If you have a chance, check out Front and Centre (arts.on.ca/Page4070.aspx), a celebration of Disability and Deaf Arts at the Art Gallery of Ontario Thurs., June 23. There is no charge but advance registration by June 3 is required.

From 1 to 2:45 p.m., there will be a panel discussion, with artists reflecting on their arts and career development. The panel will be followed by a tour of AGO exhibitions and a reception.

Panelists include media artist Chantal Deguire, percussionist Luis Orbegoso and photographer Jes Sachse. Performing artist Alan Shain will moderate. And I’ll have a few words to say.

ASL interpretation, captioning, attendant care and a quiet, private space will be provided.

The afternoon is hosted by the Ontario Arts Council, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Canada Council for the Arts.

In Britain, disabled student who was protesting says police assaulted him

From The Guardian in the UK:

The student protester Jody McIntyre (pictured) reacted angrily after the Metropolitan police rejected complaints that hitting him with a baton and pulling him from a wheelchair amounted to assault and brutality.

Scotland Yard's directorate of professional standards (DPS) said an internal investigation into McIntyre's allegations had rejected his complaints arising from the anti fees demonstration last December. The DPS found that pulling McIntyre from his wheelchair had been done for his own safety in a "volatile, dangerous situation during violent clashes" at the student demonstration.

McIntyre questioned a complaints system which allowed the Met to investigate itself and said he may lodge an appeal with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). Footage of him being tipped out of his wheelchair and pulled across a road was broadcast across social media websites and on national news programmes hours after the incident.

McIntyre told the Guardian: "This decision confirms the corruption and complete ineptitude within the Metropolitan police. Firstly we should be asking ourselves why they investigate themselves? And secondly for them to say there no evidence to support my complaints of assault when there was video evidence viewed by hundreds of thousands of people is laughable. What more evidence to you need?"

The DPS inquiry was supervised by the IPCC, which decided not to launch its own investigation. Acting Commander Carl Bussey, head of the DPS said: "The allegations made by Jody McIntyre were extremely concerning and we have carried out a very thorough investigation under the supervision of the IPCC to establish the facts. The investigation did not find evidence to substantiate any of the complaints and given how damaging these allegations were to the reputation of the MPS and relationship with both protesters and London's disabled community, it is only right that we report back."

The Met acknowledged that "there is evidence that Jody McIntyre was inadvertently struck with a police baton." But the inquiry found this was "justifiable and lawful" because of the "volatile and dangerous situation." "The investigation has found that violent disorder was occurring at the location where Jody McIntyre was positioned," the DPS found.

"At this location officers were under sustained attack and were required to use force to protect themselves, whilst attempting to control the disorder."

The DPS said McIntyre had been tipped out of his wheelchair and pulled across the road for his own safety. The Met said the directorate of professional standards had taken advice from the the force's disability independent advisory group, who have written guidance on the most appropriate way to remove an individual from a wheelchair should it be necessary to do so.

"His removal from his wheelchair was also justifiable given the officers' perceived risk to Jody McIntyre," the Met said.

McIntyre's complaint that he suffered discrimination on the basis of his disability was also rejected.

He was particularly angered by the Met's suggestion that they had pulled him from his wheelchair for his own safety.

"Not only is that incorrect, in the sense that you do not insure a disabled person's safety by pulling them out of their means of transport, but also it is highly patronising to suggest that you know better than a disabled person what is in their best interests," he said.

"I have faced this kind of discrimination in my life for many years but it's quite disgusting to see it coming from the police." The IPCC said it could not endorse the Met's findings and if McIntyre was unhappy with the investigation he could appeal to the IPCC within 28 days.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Can polio be eradicated worldwide within 2 years?

From Health Zone in Canada:

Polio could be eradicated world-wide within 24 to 36 months, according to a Canadian physician and epidemiologist who heads the polio eradication program at the World Health Organization.

“I could see this thing (polio) being finished in 24 to 36 months,” Bruce Aylward told the Star in a phone interview from his home in Geneva. “There is no reason for children to be paralyzed by the wild polio virus in 24 to 36 months.”

Aylward said that in the past year the odds of achieving full eradication have changed substantially. Even up until last year the odds were in favour of the virus – which can lead to paralysis and death.

But now the odds have turned against the virus this year. That’s thanks to a development of a new oral vaccine that targets Type 1 and Type 3 polio virus, tough new monitoring and oversight, new tactical strategies for delivery and political support from the world’s leaders, he said.

On Friday, the G8 leaders reiterated their commitment to the eradication of polio – a promise that has pleased Aylward.

The communiqué stated: “We stress our continuing commitment to the eradication of polio which is a reachable objective. Our past support has contributed to the 99 per cent decrease of polio cases in the developing countries. We flag the need for a special focus on this issue and renewed momentum. To this end, we will continue to support the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.”

It is a surprise to many that polio still exists in the world. And Aylward recently spoke at the TED lecture series on the campaign to eradicate the disease, giving an insightful history lesson of the disease and a plea for continuing action.

World-wide Type 2 polio has been eradicated since 1999. The last case was in India and it hasn’t been spotted since, he said. But two other types continue to plague parts of the developing world.

Type 1 and Type 3 remain active in two provinces in northern India, northern Nigeria, southern Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But unless the pockets of virus are wiped out the disease will continue to thrive, potentially paralyzing and killing millions, Aylward explained.

So two years ago, international health officials put together a tough new plan, relying on government, community, and religious leaders in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and northern Nigeria, to help develop individual strategies to get children vaccinated.

In northern Nigeria the governors, who control the levers of state, were called upon to help get the vaccine out. And traditional and religious leaders were asked to buy into the program and tell community members to get vaccinated.

In India, the virus was pinpointed to the Kosi River basin, which is a 100 kilometre area that is often flooded at least half of the year. After satellite mapping of all the cases, the state government helped build temporary facilities to get kids vaccinated there.

In Afghanistan, the international Red Cross played a role in making sure there was safe passage for vaccinators. “In every one of these places there was a different set of solutions,” Aylward said.

And they seemed to work. “What we’ve seen is a 95 per cent drop in total cases of polio (Types 1 and 3) between 2009 and 2010 in India and Nigeria. So that’s a huge drop in cases in both countries. And that’s important because they had the most polio and they were the areas where other countries were getting re-infected from.”

Another amazing thing has also happened, he added. “We’re still scratching our heads – but there has been about a 92 per cent drop in Type 3 globally. These are huge achievements.”

In 2009 there 1,604 cases of polio around the world. And in 2010 there were 1,288 cases – a 20 per cent drop, he reports. But if you look at those 2010 numbers, about 900 cases were in the two countries with big outbreaks – the Republic of the Congo and Tajikistan. So Aylward thinks the back of the virus may be finally broken.

He points to Nigeria where the cases have dropped to 21 and India 40 for 2010. And so far this year, India has had only one case of polio in January and Nigeria only 9 cases. And those cases were Type 1 polio.

The positive stats are fueling Aylward’s optimism. “We haven’t seen Type 3 polio in Pakistan, Afghanistan or India for nearly six months. If that holds then the second type of polio is gone…Type 3 seems to be gone. But we want a good solid 12 months before we can say for sure.”

There is much still to be done, however. Type 1 polio virus has continued to roar along in Pakistan, Aylward said. There are 160 cases globally, and 40 of them are in Pakistan, he explained. And that’s high. Afghanistan has only two cases and India only one.

Aylward will be meeting with Pakistani officials next week to try to come up with a specific plan to deliver the vaccines to those who need it.

Every year the eradication program vaccinates 500 million kids. The program has a budget of $2 billion and has a short fall of $665 million over the next two years. “At the end of the day, it’s a big price tag. But it’s going to pay off massively.”

Aylward points to a recent Harvard study that suggests once polio is eradicated the savings to “low-income” countries will be $40 to $50 billion. And that’s a conservative estimate, he said. “It’s a great buy and you do really great things for humanity.”

In Britain, pensioners, disabled people shut down traffic with protest of government cuts

From BBC News:

Pensioners and people in wheelchairs held up London traffic for almost an hour protesting at government cuts.

Wheelchair users Sam Brackenbury and Daniel Estermann handcuffed themselves to the back of a double-decker bus in Oxford Circus.

Members of the Greater London Pensioners' Association stood in front of the bus holding placards.

They said they were "taking direct action" against cuts for the disabled and elderly.

The eight demonstrators were eventually moved on by police, but not before drawing a supportive crowd of passers-by and causing a tailback of about 20 buses.

Terry Hall, 76, handcuffed himself to the doors of the bus.

"I have had cuts to my heating," he said. "The bus passes will probably be next.

"At the end of the day, it's about real people."

Mr Brackenbury said he did not yet know how the cuts would affect him.

"I'm not protesting for my own benefit but for all the disabled people who will be affected," he said.

Protesters said they had been brought together by communicating on social media.

The administrator of the Facebook group Disability Defence, Howard Jones, who has cerebral palsy, lost his job as a graphic designer three years ago.

"There is a lot of publicity that goes into talking about people who are on disability benefits being scroungers, but it is a smokescreen to get people off benefits to cut costs," he said.

"I have 27 years of work experience but have not been even able to get an interview, despite applying for 176 jobs. What chance do these people stand?"

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said the government is committed to helping pensioners and the disabled.

"We are reforming welfare to make sure that the billions we spend on benefits goes to those who need it and severely disabled people who need support will always get it," he said.

"We have given the state pension a 'triple lock' so that it increases by the highest of earnings, prices or 2.5%, and we will reform the state pension to provide a system that is fairer and simpler for future pensioners."

British research: Autistic brains are different

From BBC News:

The brains of people with autism are chemically different to those without autism, according to researchers.

A study, published in the journal Nature, showed the unique characters of the frontal and temporal lobes had disappeared.

Different genes should be active in each region, but autistic brains had the same pattern of gene expression.

The National Autistic Society said the results could be important for future treatments.

Autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger's syndrome, are common and affect more than 500,000 people in the UK.

They are thought to be caused by a combination of genetics and the environment.

Professor Daniel Geschwind, from the University of California, Los Angeles, said: "If you randomly pick 20 people with autism, the cause of each person's disease will be unique.

"Yet when we examined how genes and proteins interact in autistic people's brains, we saw well-defined shared patterns. This common thread could hold the key to pinpointing the disorder's origins."

The scientists in the UK, US and Canada compared samples from 19 autistic brains and 17 without.

They noticed that 209 genes linked to the way brain cells work and talk to each other were working at a lower level in autistic brains while 235 genes linked to immune and inflammatory responses were expressed more strongly.

The researchers said many of these genes had already been linked to the condition.

They also noted that there was no longer a difference in the genes expressed in the frontal and temporal lobes in the brain.

Professor Daniel Geschwind said: "Instead, the frontal lobe closely resembles the temporal lobe."

It is likely due to defective brain development, they argue.

Richard Mills, director of research at the National Autistic Society said: "We are beginning to better understand the differences between the brains of people with autism and those without.

"If replicated these findings are important for the development of interventions which may reduce the more disabling effects of autism.

"They also confirm the importance of research that can shed light on underlying mechanisms. It is critical that we continue our investment in high quality research consortia."

Human echolocation activates visual parts of the brain

From Neurophilosophy:

We all know that bats and dolphins use echolocation to navigate, by producing high frequency bursts of clicks and interpreting the sound waves that bounce off objects in their surroundings. Less well known is that humans can also learn to echolocate. With enough training, people can use this ability to do extraordinary things. Teenager Ben Underwood, who died of cancer in 2009, was one of a small number of blind people to master it. As the clip below shows, he could use echolocation not only to navigate and avoid obstacles, but also to identify objects, rollerskate and even play video games.

Very little research has been done on human echolocation, and nothing is known about the underlying brain mechanisms. In the first study of its kind, Canadian researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor the brain activity of two blind echolocation experts. Their findings, published today in the open access journal PLoS ONE, show that echolocation engages regions of the brain that normally process vision.

Psychologist Lore Thaler of the University of Western Ontario and her colleagues recruited two expert echolocators for the new study. One, a 43-year-old man referred to as EB, was born with retinoblastoma - a form of cancer that affects cells in the retina - and had both eyes removed at 13 months of age. The other, a 27-year-old man known as LB, lost his vision at the age of 14, following degeneration of the optic nerve, which carries visual information from the eye to the brain. Both have trained themselves to be expert echolocators. Both of them use click-based echolocation on a daily basis, to navigate their home cities and explore unfamiliar ones, go hiking or play basketball.

The researchers seated their participants in a sealed room, placed various objects in front of them, and asked them to produce echolocation clicks. As they did so, the sounds they produced - and the faint echoes - were recorded with high quality stereo equipment. They also asked the participants to do the same thing in an outdoor courtyard surrounded by buildings, and made more recordings. Some of these contained echoes produced by a tree, car or lamp-post, while others did not.

EB and LB could accurately determine the size, shape, position and movements of objects in both situations. Crucially, they could do the same from the sound recordings when they were played back later. EB, for example, could distinguish a 3° difference in the position of a pole in the sealed room, as well as from the pre-recorded sounds. LB, was slightly less accurate, distinguishing 9° differences in position of the pole while in the room, and 22° differences from the recordings.

Thaler and her colleagues then scanned the blind participants' brains, and those of two sighted controls of the same age and sex, while they listened to the pre-recorded sounds through earphones. They found that the recordings activated the auditory cortex, which process sounds, in all four participants. The sounds also activated parts of the visual cortex in the blind participants, but this activity was completely absent in the sighted controls. EB exhibited greater visual cortical activation than LB. This may reflect the fact that he is more experienced at using echolocation.

The researchers observed another difference when they compared the brain activity evoked by outdoor recordings with and without echoes. The recordings without echoes produced the same pattern of activity as those used in the first experiment. Remarkably, though, the recordings containing echoes activated the visual cortex in the blind participants, but not the auditory cortex.

Although it is somewhat limited by the small number of participants, this study suggest that EB and LB both use echolocation in a way that is very similar to vision. The exact role of the visual cortex in human echolocation is unclear, but Thaler and her colleagues suggest that it might be processing spatial information contained in the echolocation clicks.

The researchers are cautious in their interpretation of the findings. They note numerous studies which show that blindness can lead to extensive brain re-organization. Such changes can produce cross-modal activation, whereby sensations activate brain regions that would not normally process them. But the observation that the echoes in the outdoor recordings activated visual but not auditory cortices in the blind participants supports the researchers' conclusion.

The use of pre-recorded sounds overcomes a number of difficulties in scanning the brains of echolocating people, and could stimulate other neuroimaging experiments of the phenomenon. Future studies of blind echolocators may confirm these new findings, and comparisons with sighted people who have been trained to echolocate and blind non-echolocators with an increased sensitivity to echoes could provide further insights into the underlying neural mechanisms.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ohio advocates say people with disabilities should work in community, not sheltered workshops

From The Columbus Dispatch:

If he had been born 50 years ago, Ian Baustian (pictured) might have been institutionalized. Locked away.

No one would have discovered whether he was capable of more.

Back then, Baustian wouldn't have been a laboratory clinical assistant at Fairfield Medical Center in Lancaster, where he works alongside people who don't have disabilities - people who embrace him and his autism.

His kind of story is both triumph and tragedy, as far as advocates are concerned. As far as Ohio has come in employing developmentally disabled adults, the state has much further to go, they say.

Story continues belowAdvertisement About 21,000 developmentally disabled Ohioans who receive services through their county agencies are employed, but seven of every 10 are segregated with other disabled workers instead of working in community-based jobs such as Baustian's. That rate is roughly the same as it was a decade ago.

Twenty-four states do a better job than Ohio at finding community-based work for disabled adults.

Advocates say that means too few people with developmental disabilities - everything from autism to Down syndrome to brain injuries - can meet their potential. Too few have the opportunity to earn a good wage. Too few are offered the chance to live lives of dignity.

Too many people are shredding documents or sorting clothes hangers or assembling cereal boxes with only other disabled workers.

"We can't make the assumption that they're not capable of doing something more," said John Pekar, superintendent of the Fairfield County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

Three things are keeping Ohio from moving forward, advocates say: complacency, the economy and prejudice.

Good enough?
In the 1960s, Ohio brought developmentally disabled people out of institutions and homes and gave them a way to make friends and work in a safe, secluded environment.

"At that time, opportunities and employment for folks with disabilities didn't exist. The cutting-edge approach was sheltered workshops," said John L. Martin, director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities. "People from other states came to see what we were doing in Ohio."

Decades later, the once-progressive workshop system remains strong in Ohio.

Of the state's 88 counties, 70 have publicly funded workshops. Many are skilled at obtaining contracts for work for everything from gluing cardboard for packaging to assembling electrical outlets.

Employees mostly are paid at a per-item rate that takes their disability into account: The slower they work, the less they earn. But work is optional there, and people can choose to do crafts or other activities at any time. Historically, those employed in workshops are unlikely to seek other jobs. They stay.

Most advocates agree that "the shops" still serve a purpose.

"Not everybody's going to be able to have community employment. That's very unpopular to say. Because of the nature of their disability, we have to be realistic about that," said Susan McCrary, a social worker whose clients have developmental disabilities. She serves on a state advisory council, and her 30-year-old son, Jon, has a developmental disability.

Some have medical needs or such significant disabilities that work isn't an option - they need round-the-clock medical care or are unable to communicate. In addition, many parents of older adults with disabilities prefer workshops because they are comfortable and safe.

But more people can find jobs outside workshops, McCrary said.

Ohio government agencies believed that, too. So they created enclaves, which are less protective than sheltered workshops but offer a support system. Disabled people work as a group, sometimes in a community setting. The earnings potential in enclaves often is lower than in a true community-based job.

There are enclaves through county boards of developmental disabilities that clean state office buildings, collect trash at state parks, work in manufacturing and do lawn care.

One in Clermont County cleans hotel rooms at a Cincinnati Fairfield Inn & Suites.

Between eight and 10 workers together clean up to 20 rooms a day. Individually, these employees work much more slowly than a typical housekeeper, and they have an on-site supervisor from the county board to keep them on task.

Combined, they are paid roughly the same as one typical housekeeper. Paid per cleaning task, some earn less than 75 cents an hour; the top wage is $3.10 an hour. A nondisabled worker starts at $7.75 an hour.

The hotel views their presence as a blessing and a reflection that part of its mission is to include all types of people.

"This isn't a cost-saving thing for us. It's probably a little more expensive than hiring an individual housekeeper," said Joe Griffin, the general manager. "They're a family for us now."

That enclave signals a shift for Clermont County, where the workshop was the only employment option two decades ago.

"When I came here, there was one person working in the community. It is our belief now that anybody who wants to work in the community should," said Sharon Woodrow, superintendent of the Clermont County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

In Clermont County, along the Ohio River east of Cincinnati, about 120 adults are employed in the sheltered workshop. About 70 are working in one of several enclaves. A few years back, Woodrow tried to limit how long people could work in enclaves as a way to encourage them to use their training to get a community-based job. The idea was abandoned.

"There were a lot of hard feelings," she said. "For many, (enclaves) seem 'good enough' sometimes."

Last hired, first fired
County boards and state agencies are supposed to look outside workshops and enclaves for jobs for the disabled.

But many who have tried have found a foe in this economy.

In the past decade, more Ohioans with developmental disabilities who receive services through their county boards were not working at all. There were 6,000 in 1999 but nearly 10,000 in 2009.

"There's an old saying that the disabled are the last hired and first fired," Martin said. "We've gone through a retrenchment period."

The county-funded workshop in Vinton County, in southeastern Ohio, has felt the sting of its crippled local economy. Forty adults are served through the county board, and all are employed in the sheltered workshop.

For most, it has nothing to do with their abilities. Similar barriers exist throughout the state.

"I think more people could be employed," said Jed Morison, superintendent of the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities. "I think our challenge is convincing employers that people have skills, even with disabilities."

Some employers don't hire disabled people because they think making accommodations will be expensive. There haven't been high-profile studies that explore the cost of integrated employment for people with developmental disabilities, but research has shown that there is little to no added cost to employ people with physical disabilities.

Most of job coach Melissa McCrady's efforts to get people ready for the workplace involve breaking tasks into smaller parts, printing out step-by-step instructions and working with them until they master the job.

One of the newest roles for county boards is that of salesperson.

To find jobs for people, advocates must first ask businesses if they're willing to hire, if they're willing to train and willing to become diverse places to work. Experts say that getting buy-in from the CEO makes all the difference; they hold up Walgreens as the gold standard in creating diverse workplaces.

Last year, about 50 people came to the Fairfield County board for services. Three-quarters of them were placed in community jobs. Pekar, the superintendent there, said that Fairfield has been successful because he and the staff there have made it a priority to find meaningful work - and limit the number of people who settle into the workshop.

Not every Ohio employer's doors have swung open with the same gusto.

Many county boards have started art studios featuring the work of disabled adults partly as a way to combat entrenched attitudes about the abilities of developmentally disabled people and partly as a way to create work for them.

Workers can create art and then sell it to the public. Some designs are mass-produced for sale.

"It's a great opportunity to build social capital. They tend to expose the general public to what people with developmental disabilities can be," said Pekar, who also is superintendent of Vinton County's developmental-disabilities board. He has helped art studios to grow there and in Fairfield County.

"A lot of it is knocking down stereotypes."

Overcoming expectations
McCrady, the job coach, once trained a woman with a traumatic brain injury. No one thought she'd ever work. It took six months to teach the woman to collect trash, and she got a job doing that at the Fairfield Medical Center. Although she's unable to safely leave the building, she works in the real world.

"I coached a person who cannot read or write to do data entry," said McCrady, who is based at the hospital but works for the Fairfield County board. She also trained Ian Baustian.

McCrady believes almost all people with disabilities belong in workplaces, not sequestered in workshops.

"They have dreams and aspirations like anyone," she said.

Finding employment for disabled people can be tough, advocates say.

No clearly stated statewide initiative makes it a priority, which contributes to the complacent attitude about employment in some parts of Ohio. The two agencies that most often work with developmentally disabled adults, the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission and the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, don't have a history of working well together.

And the department says it can't force county boards to take on the issue, nor has it urged them to do so.

But it has begun nudging county boards to take steps. It just awarded 10 small grants to county boards to do what, for so many years, officials and advocates said they ought to be doing: taking people in the workshops and showing them the rest of the working world.

The goal is to move at least five people per county into a community job. Franklin County won a grant. So did Clermont County.

"Some people are afraid," Claudia Baustian said.

Don't get her wrong - she worries about her son sometimes. He is more trusting, less aware of danger. He could be safer in a workshop. He could be working a simpler job.

"There are adults who work at Kroger and bag groceries. For him, that would not be an acceptable job," she said.

Baustian is where he belongs.

He comes to work on time, eager to be there. He stocks kits for drawing blood to exact specifications. He files biomedical records with precision. He makes $8.95 an hour and works part time four days a week.

People at the hospital say hello to Baustian, and not in the singsong way you might greet a child. They respect that he wheels his cart of biomedical records to the hospital's back elevator, which is slightly quieter than the other, closer one, and therefore kinder to his hypersensitive hearing.

They understand when he needs to adjust his headphones to quiet the din of the hospital.

Back when Baustian was still in school, someone suggested that a workshop might be an option. But his mother has always known he could do more.

"You want them to be all they can be."