Saturday, January 31, 2009

British bomber with Asperger's, learning disabilities receives 18 years in prison

From the BBC:

A Muslim convert has been jailed for life and must serve a minimum of 18 years after launching a failed suicide bomb attack on a restaurant in Devon.

Nicky Reilly, 22, (pictured) was the only person injured when he accidentally set off his home-made nail-bomb in a toilet of Exeter's Giraffe restaurant last May.

He later admitted attempted murder and preparing an act of terrorism.

Police believe the Plymouth man, who has learning difficulties, was encouraged by extremists in Pakistan.

Officers are in contact with authorities in the country via the British Embassy in a bid to trace those who contacted him, Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed.

Sentencing him at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Calvert-Smith said it was "sheer luck or chance that [the bombing] did not succeed in its objectives".

"The offence of attempted murder is aggravated by the fact that it was long-planned, that it had multiple intended victims and was intended to terrorise the population of this country," he added.

Reilly had been preparing to detonate three bombs, created using glass bottles and containing about 500 nails, caustic soda and kerosene, when one exploded in his hands.

Dozens of customers and staff fled the restaurant in panic, but no-one else was injured. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: "This case demonstrates that the threat to the UK from violent extremists remains real and serious.

"We need to work together to prevent people, especially young people, getting drawn into illegal activities."

Reilly - who converted to Islam between 2002 and 2003 - had admitted the charges last October, but sentencing was delayed to allow doctors to assess his mental state.

He has learning difficulties and Asperger's Syndrome, struggled to make friends and is thought to have a mental age of 10.

Friday's hearing was briefly adjourned earlier as Reilly's mother Kim broke down in tears in the public gallery.

The court was told she had first taken her son to see a psychiatrist at the age of nine, reporting obsessive behaviour and temper tantrums. He felt rejected by his father and later began to self-harm, taking an overdose at the age of 16.

Reilly came from a "loving and fairly normal family unit" but was "seduced" by a cause he "wrongly and almost fatally interpreted and probably never understood", said the judge.

While accepting the attack was "unsophisticated", he added: "There is no dispute but that this defendant currently represents a significant risk of serious harm to the public."

But he added: "Unfortunately those who attempt to commit suicide and in doing so murder other people are almost invariably unsophisticated in many aspects.

"That lack of sophistication saved many Londoners [in a series of failed bomb attacks] on 21 July 2005."

Devon and Cornwall Police initially said Reilly - who had changed his name to Mohammad Rashid Saeed Alim - had been "preyed on, radicalised and taken advantage of".

However, after Friday's hearing, the force's Assistant Chief Constable Debbie Simpson said that while he was "encouraged" by literature and individuals via the Internet, Reilly was "self-radicalised".

"He acted alone, he clearly had vulnerabilities around Asperger's Syndrome but we would say he was not radicalised and acted under his own steam.

"We believe there is an association in Pakistan. It remains a live investigation and we are not in a position to confirm the details," she added.

Officers have already travelled to Pakistan in search of two unidentified people who contacted Reilly via an extremist website. The investigation has involved some 500 police staff.

Before sentencing, Kim Reilly told BBC News that her son was "very remorseful".
"He's sorry to the people of Exeter and those in the cafe that day."

Prior to his failed suicide bombing, Reilly left a note saying: "I have not been brainwashed or indoctrinated. I am not insane."

Reilly claimed he was simply doing "what God wants from his mujahideen".

"Everywhere Muslims are suffering at the hands of Britain, Israel and America. We are sick of taking all the brutality from you," he wrote.

The note attacked drunkenness and sexual immorality as "unacceptable to Allah and the true religion Islam".

Defence barrister Kerim Fuad described his client as the least sophisticated person to have been charged with terrorism.

Target Web site accessibility settlement leading to more awareness of disabled consumers

From Internet Retailer:

In the nearly six months since Target Corp. reached a landmark court settlement with the National Federation of the Blind, agreeing to make its e-commerce site more accessible to and usable by blind people, there has been a steady stream of inquiries from retailers and groups representing disabled consumers to the law offices of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP, which represented the federation in the case.

The common request of the callers, says partner Daniel Goldstein, who tried the case on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind, is for advice on how to move forward in making web site improvements for disabled people without further lawsuits.

“Two significant things have happened since the settlement,” Goldstein says. “Other retailers have come to us, asking what they need to do to make their web sites accessible without entering into lawsuits, and blind people have come to us to tell us about web sites they’re frustrated with trying to use.”

The Target settlement with the NFB, along with other recent developments in international web site design standards and a growing base of assistive technology applications for building more universally accessible and usable web sites, is putting growing pressure on retailers to get on board with e-commerce sites that are user-friendly for virtually anyone, regardless of their physical limitations. “There’s no reason why any web developer can’t figure out how to make a web site more accessible,” an NFB spokesman says.

In addition to Target, a growing number of retailers, including Canadian Tire Corp. and Home Hardware Stores Ltd., are making their retail web sites more accessible with innovative technology that provides web page navigation without a keyboard or mouse. “We recognize the importance of accessibility in all dimensions of the customer experience,” says Home Hardware Stores CEO Paul Straus. “It’s more than just the right thing to do. It’s good business practice.”

Making a web site support screen-reading software used by blind people can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $2 million, depending on a site’s size and volume of content, says Anthony Franco, president of site design firm EffectiveUI. Deploying software to make sites usable by sighted people who are physically unable to use a mouse or keyboard in the conventional way, however, can cost far less, without requiring any special infrastructure coding, says Simon Dermer, managing director of Essential Accessibility Inc., a provider of such software.

For retailers who make their sites more usable by disabled people, the benefits can be substantial, proponents say. For one thing, the number of people with some form of disability is estimated at more than 50 million in the U.S. alone, with aggregate annual income of more than $1 trillion and $220 billion in discretionary income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Moreover, coding a web site to support assistive technologies like screen readers also improves search engine optimization for improved natural search results, and it renders the site with open technology standards that support new platforms like mobile commerce, says Paul Rosenfeld, senior vice president of federal accessibility solutions at SSB Bart Group, which provides technology that helps design more accessible web sites.

But retailers working toward more usable web sites for disabled people are still the exception to the rule, experts say. “Accessibility and usability are an afterthought for many online retailers,” Franco says. “Most launch a site, then ask if it’s accessible and usable. The truth is, most web retailers are not thinking of usability by disabled people, they’re just thinking, ‘What will the customer do for me?’”

The Target settlement is helping to change that mindset, experts say, as retailers weigh the cost of providing more usable web sites against possible legal action.

In its suit brought in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the National Federation of the Blind alleged Target violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and two California state laws by failing to make support screen-reading software that enables blind people to convert web site content into audio files.

When Judge Marilyn Hall Patel certified the case as a class action on behalf of all legally blind individuals in the U.S. who had been denied Target’s services when attempting to use, she made a crucial distinction that went against the retailer’s contention that a web site was not subject to the same public accessibility laws as physical stores, Goldstein says.

“Because the certification addressed services of a business establishment, it avoided the whole question of whether a retail web site is the same as a bricks-and-mortar store,” he says. “That set a terribly important precedent that anyone who puts up a commercial web site operation in California and makes it inaccessible to disabled people does so at their own peril.”

Target, in addition to establishing a $6 million fund against which litigants in the California lawsuit can make claims, has taken several steps to make both its retail e-commerce sites as well as its internal employee sites more usable by blind and other disabled people, a spokeswoman says. These include images coded to support verbal descriptions that assistive technologies like screen readers can interpret, and improved keyboard navigation to assist visitors unable to use a mouse.

Within a few months after the settlement, Apple Inc. agreed in a Massachusetts court to work with the NFB to make its popular site more accessible to blind people. Between the start of the Target case and the settlement, Inc. and RadioShack Corp. also agreed to work with the NFB on accessibility issues.

“We expect there will be more agreements coming down the pike,” says John Kemp, an attorney who specializes in accessibility issues for disabled people at the law firm of Powers Pyles Sutter & Verville PC. “The Target settlement sent a loud and clear signal that if you don’t make your web site accessible, there will be a bull’s-eye on your back.”

The settlement has coincided with other recent developments helping to push more web sites toward designs more suitable for people with disabilities. During last year’s United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, more than 130
countries agreed that disabled people have equal rights to public information, particularly in electronic form.

In December the World Wide Web Consortium, which sets web technology standards to support widespread use of the Internet, released a new set of guidelines for making web sites accessible to people with disabilities and those dealing with common limitations of old age. The group’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, available at, were designed to make web site content and functionality more operable as well as understandable by handicapped users as web sites introduce more interactive Web 2.0 technologies, such as online video and other forms of interactive rich media.

SSB Bart Group provides a web-based accessibility management platform that shows whether a web site supports the deployment of assistive technologies. For a retailer doing about $50 million to $100 million a year in revenue, SSB Bart will charge from $40,000 to $80,000 to use its software to audit a web site’s infrastructure to see how well it can support assistive technology like screen readers; the cost could double if a retailer also wants SSB Bart to remediate any problems, Rosenfeld says.

For retailers who do their own audits, SSB Bart offers software-as-a-service for about $1,000 per month.

Screen readers include JAWS for Windows by Freedom Scientific Inc., Window-Eyes from GW Micro Inc., BrowseAloud by Texthelp Systems Ltd., and Easy Web Browsing from IBM Corp. Microsoft Corp.’s Vista operating system comes with the built-in Narrator screen reader as well as other tools including a text magnifier and an on-screen keyboard.

Essential Accessibility (logo pictured) has developed a software suite that gives people without full motor skills the ability to navigate web pages without regular use of a mouse or keyboard. The software, already deployed by Canadian Tire and other retailers, comes in a variety of applications.

A disabled shopper, after arranging to download or receive a CD of free software from the retailer, simply needs to be able to exert pressure on an electronic device, such as with a fingertip press by someone who can’t move his hand side to side, or, for a paralyzed quadriplegic, with a head movement.

In one “radar mouse” application, for example, a line that extends from the center to the outer edge of a web page slowly circles the page like a second hand on a watch. Once the shopper sees that the line is approaching a particular section of a web page—a shirt for sale, for instance—she engages the finger- or head-activated device to stop the moving line; a second press of the device will send an icon up the line toward the shirt; when the icon lands on the desired point of the page, such as the Buy button for the shirt, the shopper activates a third press of the device to make a purchase.

The same application works with an on-screen keyboard that enables the disabled shopper to enter information such as billing and shipping information.

Technology companies are also producing applications that let web developers simulate web page functionality—or lack of it—in a way that would likely be experienced by a disabled person.

IBM’s aDesigner for Flash tool, for example, lets developers simulate accessibility issues experienced by visually impaired people trying to use multimedia content on a web page. By experiencing the same blurred view that a person with cataracts might see, or the shadows seen by a person with color blindness, developers can adjust a web page’s coding to make it more usable by a visually impaired person, IBM

There also is more information available to help retailers keep up with changing disability policies and technologies. Attorney Kemp, for example, last month began working with TecAccess, a consulting firm specializing in web site accessibility applications, to publish a quarterly Digital Accessibility Trends Analysis report.

Indeed, it’s not lack of technology or information that is holding back broad web site accessibility and usability, experts say. “It’s not about technology limitations, because most technology platforms can accommodate an accessible, usable experience,” Franco of EffectiveUI says. “It’s about planning your site infrastructure.”

Friday, January 30, 2009

Kareem Dale, Paul Steven Miller to advise President Obama on disability issues

From the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services:

At the spirited Disability Pride and Power pre-Inaugural ball (Jan. 18), it was announced that Kareem Dale would become a Special Advisor to President Obama on disability issues.

We heard later that noted expert in Disability Studies Paul Steven Miller would be playing a role in helping the Obama Administration to ensure that people with disabilities will be well represented in positions within the Administration.

Tony Coelho, former United States congressman from California, primary author and sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, current chair of the Epilepsy Foundation's national board of directors and a lead organizer of the Ball is also playing an active role in advancing disability interests and hires within the Administration.

Finally, note that the new Chief of Staff to the Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Liaison Michael Strautmanis is known to be very sensitive to disability issues, as referenced in a Washington Post Op Ed he authored last year.

Kareem Dale (pictured right) bio:

Kareem Dale is founder and chief executive officer of The Dale Law Group (DLG) in Chicago and served as the Obama campaign’s Disability Vote Director. Dale, partially blind, tried to broaden the campaign’s reach and involve even more voices in the Obama campaign.

Prior to his appointment as Disability Vote Director, Dale also served as a volunteer on the Disability Policy and the Arts Policy Committees for the Obama For America campaign.

Dale is a native Chicagoan and received his bachelor’s degree in Advertising from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He graduated Cum Laude with a law degree and an MBA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May, 1999.

Paul Steven Miller (pictured left) bio:

He is the Henry M. Jackson Professor of Law and Director of the University of Washington Disability Studies Program. An internationally renowned expert in disability and employment discrimination law, Professor Miller joined the faculty in 2004, after spending twelve years in public service in Washington, DC.

He was one of the longest serving commissioners of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency which enforces employment discrimination laws. While at the EEOC, Professor Miller spearheaded the development of the agency's successful mediation program. He has also served as the White House liaison to the disability community and as Deputy Director of the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs.

Prior to joining the U.S. government, Professor Miller was the director of litigation for the Western Law Center for Disability Rights (now the Disability Law Center) and taught at the law schools of Loyola University and UCLA. He began his career as a litigation associate at a Los Angeles law firm.

Since 2006, Professor Miller has been the director of the University of Washington's Disability Studies Program, an interdisciplinary program that examines the social, cultural, historical and personal experience of disability. He is also a member of the UW Graduate School faculty, a Faculty Associate of the UW Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, and a faculty advisor to the UW School of Law Health Law Concentration Track.

Professor Miller currently serves as a member of the board of Mental Disability Rights International, an international human rights NGO; a member of the National Advisory Board of the Center for Genetic Research, Ethics, and Law at Case Western Reserve University; the Medical Ethics Committee of Seattle Children's Hospital; a member of the Grants and Community Leadership Committee of The Seattle Foundation; and an International Associate of the Employers' Forum on Disability based in London, England. He also serves as an appointed member of the HHS Secretary's Advisory Committee on Genetics Health and Society.

Professor Miller is an active member of the American Bar Association's (ABA) Labor and Employment Section, and he is a Fellow of the ABA Foundation. He was also elected to be a Fellow in the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers. Professor Miller is a Fellow of the British American Project. In 2003, Professor Miller received an honorary Doctor of Laws from CUNY Law School. He is a former trustee of the University of Pennsylvania.

Wal-Mart settles ADA complaint over service animals

From the Penny for your thoughts blog at

On January 16, 2009, the Civil Rights Division of the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reached a settlement agreement with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). to improve access for people with disabilities at the company’s many locations, nationwide. The agreement resolves several complaints which people with disabilities had filed with the department, alleging that Wal-Mart had refused to make reasonable modifications to its rules, policies, procedures and practices to accommodate their needs. Many of the complaints alleged that people with disabilities were denied access to Wal-Mart stores or were denied an equal opportunity to shop, free of repeated challenges by Wal-Mart staff, because they were accompanied by service animals.

The settlement agreement covers all facilities located in the United States where Wal-Mart sells any good or service to members of the public, including all Wal-Mart stores, Supercenters, Sam’s Clubs, and Neighborhood Markets. The settlement agreement, which will be monitored for three years, by the DOJ Civil Rights Division to assure the corporation’s compliance, requires Wal-Mart to take several actions to improve store access for its customers with disabilities.

Wal-Mart will be expected to develop, implement, and train its employees concerning a new corporate-wide policy with respect to service animals and the people with disabilities who rely on them to accomplish the tasks of daily life. Managers and greeters, who will have specific responsibilities under the new policy, will receive specific training in the legal protections that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees people with disabilities, including those who utilize service animals.

Wal-Mart will post the new corporate policy on its web site and in stores where employees can be expected to see it, and the corporation will establish a toll-free hot-line where people with disabilities can report alleged violations of the policy and the law, and file grievances. Wal-Mart will be expected to investigate such complaints, immediately, and to take appropriate steps to correct violations if any are found and provide relief to complainants. In addition, Wal-Mart employees will be expected to assist customers with disabilities to locate, lift and carry items when they request such assistance while shopping at Wal-Mart stores.

Under the settlement agreement, Wal-Mart will also pay $150,000 into a fund to compensate certain individuals with disabilities who filed administrative complaints with DOJ alleging Wal-Mart’s refusal to make reasonable modifications, including the denial of equal access to people with disabilities who use service animals. The Civil
Rights Division will determine which complainants are to receive damages from the fund and the amount of damages to be received.

Wal-Mart will also pay an additional $100,000 into a fund which the Civil Rights Division will use to finance a public service announcement campaign to increase public awareness of the access rights of people with disabilities who use service
animals. The nature and scope of the public service announcement campaign will be determined by the Civil Rights Division.

The settlement agreement is posted on the Department of Justice’s ADA Home Page at, and you can find a fact sheet that summarizes the requirements of the settlement agreement here:

It is reassuring to know that, nearly two decades after passage of the Americans
with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Division at the U. S. Department of Justice continues to remain alert to corporations and others who still ignore the civil rights of people with disabilities. It is good to know that anyone with a disability who encounters discrimination on the basis of his or her disability can easily file a complaint with the Department, that complaints will be investigated, and, where patterns of discrimination are found to exist, solutions will be mediated, and remedies sought.

I am reassured to know that the Disability Rights Section in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division will be monitoring this, and other settlement agreements, to assure compliance and to guarantee my civil rights under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

And, it is good to know that, as of January 16, 2009, those of us who are guided by our service animals to the Sam’s Club shelves where the Milk Bones are sold in bulk won’t have to deal any longer with greeters who shout that we can’t bring our dogs into the store, or who ask to see our “IDs.” No more hearing the footsteps of
employees who tell us we have to wait while they go get the manager (to kick us out), and maybe, if we’re lucky, no more encounters with terrified clerks who don’t understand that our dogs, who are trained to perform services that allow us to cope with disabilities, are not aggressive. The only things our guide dogs protect us from are tripping over curbs and falling down stairs and walking in front of moving vehicles. They do not bite!

So, our shopping experiences at Wal-Mart stores should improve, and we can all hope that, as business owners and corporations are made aware of the DOJ-Wal-Mart settlement agreement, our collective shopping experiences at other
businesses and stores where customers are served, will improve as well.

Described video of Obama inauguration now available online

From WGBH in Boston:

WGBH's Media Access Group provided closed captioning and live description of PBS's inauguration coverage, making the historic ceremony accessible to the 36 million
Americans with hearing or vision loss.

On television, the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer aired LIVE coverage of the inauguration ceremony on WGBH 44 and WGBH World from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. You
can watch the complete Newshour broadcast of Barack Obama's presidential inauguration with Descriptive Video Service® courtesy of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions and Dunkin' Donuts.

Grammar Girl takes on disability language

I am a fan of the Grammar Girl podcasts and she takes on disability language Jan. 30. Here's the transcript and its references:

Grammar Girl here. Today's topic is the language of disability and disease. When I was a technical writer, questions came up all the time about how to write about people with medical conditions. So today, guest-writer Bonnie Trenga will educate us.

When tackling how to refer to people who have disabilities or who suffer from illnesses, the bottom line is that we need to be sensitive to the feelings of others.

I’m glad to report that times have changed. It’s no longer acceptable to say a sentence such as “Hey, I saw a deaf and dumb cripple today.” That would be extremely offensive (1, 2). Here is a list of words you need to wipe from your vocabulary unless you’re writing a character who likes to be offensive: “crippled,” “mute,” “deaf-mute,” and “deaf and dumb” (3).

On the other end of the spectrum, some people have been too eager to create euphemisms for diseases or conditions in an effort to make such conditions seem less of a big deal, but euphemisms such as “differently abled” and “handicapable” are now considered condescending (4). There’s no reason to try to be too nice about it.

So how do people who can’t walk or people who can’t hear wish to be referred to? The preferred terms to use these days are “disability” and “disabled.” These words have replaced “handicap” and “handicapped.” It’s no longer OK to call someone “handicapped” (5), but it is acceptable to use “handicapped” in common phrases such as “handicapped parking.”

If you must refer to someone with a disability, it’s a good idea to put the person first. So it’s better to say, “He is a person with disabilities” than “He is disabled” or “He is a disabled person.” The phrase “a person with cerebral palsy” might sound a bit awkward, but since people with disabilities and the organizations that serve them might prefer this phrasing, we should respect their wishes (4).

Now that society is more sensitive to all its members, we need to follow disability etiquette. The United Spinal Association, for example, offers online a 36-page PDF on how to be sensitive to people with all kinds of disabilities. The Association reminds us, “People with disabilities are individuals with families, jobs, hobbies, likes and dislikes, and problems and joys. While the disability is an integral part of who they are, it alone does not define them. Don’t make them into disability heroes or victims. Treat them as individuals” (6).

You might be wondering how to refer to people with vision, hearing, and mobility problems or specific diseases. It’s OK to refer to someone as “blind,” but it’s better to say, “a person who is blind” than “a blind person” (2), although organizations that serve people who are blind have names that reflect the old way of thinking, for example The American Council of the Blind. On the site for the Perkins School of the Blind, for instance, people who are blind are referred to as “people with visual impairments” and “people who are visually impaired” (7).

You can refer to a person who can’t hear or who has partial hearing loss as “hard of hearing” or “deaf.” There’s no need to avoid the term “deaf.” In fact, there is a Deaf culture, where Deaf has a capital D. Members of the Deaf culture “belong to the community that has formed around the use of American Sign Language as the preferred means of communication” (8).

As for someone who is in a wheelchair, you can just say, “wheelchair user.” It’s considered inappropriate to say, “confined to a wheelchair” (6).

And as for people who suffer from any number of illnesses, from asthma to diabetes to cancer, you could just say something like “a person who suffers from asthma” or “a person who has diabetes.” Sure the people might be asthmatic or diabetic, but that’s not who the people are. Their disease doesn't define them.

In summary, no matter what disability someone has, you need to be polite and sensitive to that person and use an appropriate term.
1. American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005, p. 132.
2. American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005, pp. 62-3.
3. American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005, p. 310.
4. American Heritage Guide to
Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005, pp.
5. American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005, p. 213.
6. "Disability Etiquette," United Spinal Association, (accessed Oct. 19, 2008).
7. Perkins School for the Blind. (accessed Oct. 19, 2008).
8. American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005, p. 131.

Aging-in-place becomes a trend for baby boomers

From The Washington Times:

More aging homeowners are choosing to alter their current homes in an effort to accommodate their changing needs. They simply want to grow older in comfortable and familiar surroundings. Trade organizations, along with the homebuilding and remodeling industry, are taking notice of what aging homeowners want.

The aging-in-place movement has become big with 89 percent of people older than age 50 wanting to remain in their own homes indefinitely, according to a recent AARP survey.

"As baby boomers prepare for retirement, they want to stay in the community they've lived in for many years," said Kelly Mack, communications manager for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelers. "They know the community well and the people in the community who help them and support them."
NAHB, in partnership with AARP, developed the Certified Aging-in-Place
Specialist (CAPS) program to teach professionals (such as builders, remodelers, architects and designers) how to modify homes for people to age comfortably in
their homes. According to NAHB, the CAPS program has become one of their fastest-growing education efforts.

Darryl Hicks, vice president of communications and government affairs with the National Aging in Place Council, said his organization was incorporated in 2004 and has members who represent a wide spectrum of professions. The organization works with professionals and corporations to promote aging in place and encourages senior citizens, retirees and baby boomers to be proactive in planning for their future housing needs.

Regardless of age or functional abilities, experts say that homeowners who want to make their house their home for a lifetime look to make specialized modifications to their homes instead of moving into a retirement community or nursing (assisted living) center.

Creating fully functional living quarters on a main level and doing bathroom and kitchen modifications rank among the most popular upgrades when seniors remodel their homes.

Ms. Mack said that there are a lot of different factors to consider when modifying a home to age in place but that some of the most important rooms to pay attention to are the kitchen and bathroom. "These are the most difficult rooms to navigate," she said. "It's importation to make the floors less slippery, have better lighting and add lever handles."

Louis Tenenbaum of Potomac was a remodeler for years before becoming a special design consultant. He now writes, lectures and trains professionals on all aspects of aging in place, universal design and home modifications.

"One of the issues with older clients is getting into and out of a house," Mr. Tenenbaum said. "There are a number of ways to achieve the no-step entry, including integrating a lift into the landscaping.

Mr. Tenenbaum said it's a team effort to achieve a design that works for each homeowner and that he often works with builders, developers, architects, designers, social workers and families on the design and product selection.

The universal design concept calls for making homes and furnishings that work for people of all ages. Last summer, AARP unveiled a universal design show home in the District. The remodeled, two-story brick house was built for six elderly residents to illustrate the concept of making spaces that are both accessible and comfortable.

In the kitchen, some of the features included pull-out shelves to allow users to reach items in the back of cabinets. Toe space was added around appliances such as the stove and dishwasher to allow wheelchair users easy access. The kitchen sink had easy-to-operate sink handles.

Other suggestions from NAHB and AARP include having a low- or no-threshold entrance to the home with an overhang, no changes in levels on the main floor, nonslip flooring at the entryway, wider halls and doorways, handrails at all steps, controls and handles that are easy to use and conveniently located and raised electrical outlets.

CAPS-trained professionals use techniques such as lighting from multiple directions to reduce glares and shadows, light sockets with more than one bulb (in case one burns out), contrasting colors for depth perception and a convenience shelf at an entryway to place grocery bags while looking for the keys.

Mr. Tenenbaum said the bathroom can become a scary place for elderly people because it often is wet and has hard surfaces. He said such features as a no-step shower and tub and toilet grab handles are important.

Chuck Riley, a Realtor with RE/MAX Allegiance in the District, has the Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation that qualifies him to better meet the needs of maturing clients when selling or buying.

He agreed that bathrooms are important considerations for seniors when looking for a home. "Bathrooms are important; kitchens - not so much. Younger people are more concerned about the kitchen," said Mr. Riley.

When remodeling is not a viable option, seniors may find themselves looking for a more accommodating place to live. Mr. Riley works with a lot of seniors who are scaling down and selling their homes to move to one-story condominiums or apartments.

Mr. Riley said that by working with a real estate agent who has the SRES designation, older clients benefit from having someone who is knowledgeable about their needs show them prospective homes that fit their lifestyles. He also talks slower and uses fewer acronyms with his older buyers and sellers.

"Many older sellers bought their homes 40 or 50 years ago, and I have to explain to them what selling a home entails and how it affects them," Mr. Riley said.

He added that although there are not a lot of senior developments in the District, his clients prefer to stay in the District and look for ground-floor units. He said they are familiar with the different communities and often have a church family in the area.

Industry experts believe the trend to age in place is here to stay. NAHB reported that 63 percent of upscale builders and 56 percent of average home builders believe they'll see a growing trend toward universal design during the next decade as baby boomers age and face more health concerns.

Winchester Homes Inc. is one of several builders in the area that has built houses in suburban Virginia and Maryland with universal design elements such as wider doorways, an easy roll-in, no-step access between the garage and the main floor of the home, and a camera over the front door that allows the occupant to see who is ringing the doorbell.

Mr. Tenenbaum said aging in place empowers older citizens with choice, control and dignity.

"The Polio Crusade" on PBS Feb. 2

The PBS show, "The American Experience," will show the documentary, "The Polio Crusade," on Feb. 2. You can also watch it on the "American Experience" Web site. Here's what the show's Web site says about it:

In the summer of 1950 fear gripped the residents of Wytheville, Virginia. Movie theaters shut down, baseball games were cancelled and panicky parents kept their children indoors — anything to keep them safe from an invisible invader. Outsiders sped through town with their windows rolled up and bandanas covering their faces. The ones who couldn’t escape the perpetrator were left paralyzed, and some died in the wake of the devastating and contagious virus. Polio had struck in Wytheville. The town was in the midst of a full-blown epidemic. That year alone, more than 33,000 Americans fell victim — half of them under the age of ten.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE presents The Polio Crusade, a one-hour documentary
from filmmaker Sarah Colt (Geronimo, RFK) that interweaves the personal accounts of polio survivors with the story of an ardent crusader who tirelessly fought on their behalf while scientists raced to eradicate this dreaded disease. Based in part on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Polio: An American Story by David Oshinsky, The Polio Crusade features interviews with historians, scientists, polio survivors, and the only surviving scientist from the core research team that developed the Salk vaccine, Julius Youngner.“Daddy and Mama took everything Sonny owned, all of his clothes, his bed, his chest of drawers, and he had a fabulous comic book collection. They took everything out to the middle of the garden and they made a pile and burned everything he owned. They were told to do that, so we would not get it,” recalls Anne Crockett-Stark, who was just seven years old when her brother fell ill during Wytheville’s polio epidemic.

The victims found an unlikely champion in New York lawyer Basil O’Connor. His innovative public relations campaign transformed polio — a devastating, but relatively rare disease — into a nationwide cause. He rallied the American public to fight a war against polio.

In 1928, O’Connor inherited the leadership of a polio rehabilitation center from his law partner — future president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As the nation reeled from the economic trauma of the Great Depression, O’Connor faced a pressing challenge: funding. He took an unlikely new approach, turning to the public for donations. Rather than relying on wealthy philanthropists, O’Connor asked every person to contribute what small change they could. His pleas struck a chord with Americans — within days, envelopes stuffed with change flooded the White House mailroom, and “The March of Dimes” was born.

Basil O’Connor made a pledge to provide care for every polio patient in America, and to invest in scientific research to create a vaccine that would end the disease forever. One young researcher caught O’Connor’s attention, a scientist whose sense of urgency for a vaccine matched his own: Dr. Jonas Salk, the director of the virus research program at the University of Pittsburgh.

During World War II, Jonas Salk was part of a government effort to develop an influenza vaccine. He believed he could apply the same killed virus approach to polio. But established researchers scoffed at Salk’s theory and dismissed his methods. A
bitter feud arose between Salk and his leading rival, Albert Sabin, an established polio researcher at the University of Cincinnati who was working on his own live virus vaccine.

The two men were unrelenting in their pursuit of a vaccine, but it was Salk who would introduce his formula first. On April 26, 1954, at the Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia, the Salk vaccine field trials began. It was the largest public health experiment in American history — no one was certain it was safe, or whether it could provide effective protection against the crippling disease. By June 1954, nearly two million school children in forty-four states had taken part.

On April 12, 1955, almost a year since the end of the field trials, the Salk vaccine was ruled “safe, effective, and potent.” Within just a few years of being licensed, the Salk vaccine decreased the number of polio cases in the United States by fifty percent. By the early 1960s, the number of Americans contracting polio fell to a few thousand annually.

“This vaccine vindicated twenty years of giving dimes, twenty years of volunteering. It was a victory for millions of faceless people who had done what they could to end the scourge of polio,” says David Oshinsky in the film.

“The story of the polio crusade pays tribute to a time when Americans banded together to conquer a terrible disease,” says AMERICAN EXPERIENCE executive producer Mark Samels. “The result was a medical breakthrough that saved countless lives, and had a pervasive impact on American philanthropy that continues to be felt today.”

Canadian deaf community advocates for real-time texting

From Georgia Straight in Vancouver, Canada:

On the highway one night, your tires start slipping, your car fishtails, and you go into a ditch.

When you regain consciousness, you realize you’re trapped. What do you do first? Call 911, of course.

For those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-impaired, the situation is an even bigger nightmare. Without an easy way of communicating with emergency services, they have limited options. They can send text messages to friends and hope one calls the police, or wait for another driver to help them.

One technology can make this situation—and all sorts of interactions most people take for granted—much easier for hearing-impaired persons. It’s called real-time text, and it could be coming to your cellphone, if its advocates are successful.

Real-time text, or RTT, can be done on a personal computer or a mobile phone. Two conversation boxes are displayed on-screen, one for each user. As one person types a message, the other sees the words forming, letter by letter, in one text box. In the second box, she can write responses, interrupt, or ask questions simultaneously. In this way, real-time text is more dynamic and flexible than instant messaging or texting.

“I think it’s an absolutely excellent idea,” Jane Dyson, spokesperson for the B.C. Coalition of People With Disabilities, said of real-time text. “This technology has huge implications for the independence of deaf people and hearing-impaired people. I also think it’s a great security device.”

Dyson added by phone, “This technology could be great on so many levels, from the bigger issues of security and being able to contact someone if you’re in an emergency, to the day-to-day things that all work together to promote independence.”

For Arnoud van Wijk, disabilities project coordinator for the Internet Society, a great advantage of real-time text is that besides helping deaf people communicate with each other, it enables them to interact more with the rest of society.

“The best thing is that RTT is not limited to deaf and hard-of-hearing users,” said van Wijk, who is deaf, by e-mail. “There is no communication barrier between deaf and nondeaf when using text.”

Founded in 1992, the Internet Society is a Virginia–based nonprofit organization that works to ensure the open development and use of the Net. In keeping with its mandate to increase accessibility, the society launched the Real-Time Text Taskforce in July 2008. The task force aims to make real-time text available worldwide and all of its applications compatible with each other.

According to Arthur Rendall, vice president of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association’s Hamilton, Ontario, branch, real-time text makes it possible for people with hearing impairments to participate in natural, direct interactions that are very much like spoken conversations. The Georgia Straight interviewed Rendall, who is deaf, through real-time text, using a Web-based prototype.

“RTT to me is amazing,” he typed. “You have the ability to roam with your handheld device anywhere.”

Real-time text also has the potential to benefit those without hearing or speech impairments. It could be used in settings where talking is impractical, including noisy environments, or instead of an expensive long-distance telephone conversation.

The networking technology behind real-time text is similar to that used for Internet-based telephone systems like Skype, and it is already being used in some European countries—including Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. But wireless carriers have been hesitant to adopt it in Canada. Canadian providers don’t offer mobile phones with real-time text capability, but third-party software is available for BlackBerrys and other smartphones. As well, Canadian companies don’t offer data-only packages; if you’re using a device, they assume you’re talking on it.

Rendall said he has spoken to various wireless carriers about real-time text being made available to all Canadians. According to Rendall, company officials told him that, while the technology holds promise, they are hampered by implementation costs.

As a result, Rendall has decided to approach the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in an attempt to convince the regulatory agency that real-time text is needed by hearing-impaired cellphone users. The CRTC could potentially make it mandatory for wireless carriers to provide RTT. Rendall also wants an area code set up for deaf and hard-of-hearing people that would identify them as a user group that requires unique telephone service.

Raymond Kruyer, chief executive officer of 4C Telecom—a company that provides real-time text services in the Netherlands—said there’s little financial incentive for telecommunications companies to serve the niche market of the hearing-impaired.

Kruyer claimed that many companies don’t really understand the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing customers, and sometimes even confuse their needs with those of blind people. He said that, considering the intelligence, persistence, and drive of the deaf community, he thinks this is a huge disservice to society.

“Having a conversation in real time is such an incentive for deaf people to engage in text communication,” Kruyer said by phone. “It’s really all about participation and being part of the world.”

Funding cuts for four British Paralympics sports, eight Olympics sports

From AFP:

LONDON — British teams in eight Olympics sports had their funding slashed on Thursday, raising fears that the host nation will be unable to field a team in every sport at the 2012 London Olympics.

Four Paralympics sports also had their funding cut for the 2012 Games due to a budget shortfall of 50 million pounds.

The allocation for shooting -- a sport in which Britain performed poorly at the Beijing Olympics -- suffered a severe cut of 3.8 million pounds, forcing the team to be slimmed down from 46 funded athletes to around 10.

Water polo was hit with a 50-percent reduction to 1.45 million pounds, sparking warnings that the British team, who are far below world-class standards, may miss out on a rare chance to participate in an Olympics in 2012.

"It's pretty bleak. We think the absolute cheapest you could do it on would be about 2.5 million pounds," water polo performance director Nick Hume told the BBC.

"We've got some tough decisions to make but we'll not rush into them, and we'll explore every possible avenue."

Last month funding agency UK Sport increased its financial support to many Olympic sports, including the successful cycling team which won 14 medals in Beijing last year.
But the funding gap for more minor sports arose after a government campaign failed to raise any money from the private sector struggling with the effects of the global recession.

Sue Campbell, the head of UK Sport, said: "It was vital that, having successfully targeted our medal prospects, we also maximised the chances of every sport for London 2012 within our limited resources."

Accessible gadgets for blind or deaf people

From NPR:

A new videophone provides real-time communication for the deaf, and electronic readers and GPS devices help blind users get around. They are part of an array of gadgets that enable people to navigate the world a little easier.

Technology For The Deaf

Many deaf consumers use e-mail, text messaging and two-way pagers to communicate with someone who isn't in close proximity. But the disadvantage is that these modes of communication don't offer real-time communication.

Viable has a portable product called VPAD+, which is a video conferencing system. It's a type of videophone that works on Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and is about the size of a piece of paper (only thicker). It has a 10-inch touch-screen, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi so users can travel with it wherever they go. The product (which costs $699 for the general public; a government-subsidized $99 if you're deaf or hard of hearing) comes with free access to the company's video relay service. That means you're connected automatically to a live person who serves as an interpreter to translate voice into American Sign Language or vice versa at all hours of the day.

"The deaf rely on that [which is] communicated by facial expression and body expression," says Jason Yeh, Viable's vice president of technology. He says the company is also developing a single solution that will integrate real-time text, video and audio.

Another new development will benefit deaf and hard of hearing consumers: They're now able to obtain a 10-digit phone number that will connect callers directly with video relay services that use sign language or with Web-based connections that use English. That means they can simply give out a phone number to someone when they want to arrange real-time conversations, instead of having to give out a screen name or an IP address.

For those interested in learning American Sign Language, Krown Manufacturing has developed a hand-held sign language translator that will sell for $199. When a user types in one of 3,500 words, a video of a person pops up onscreen to demonstrate how to indicate that word in sign language (pictured).

Accessible Gadgets For The Blind

The National Federation of the Blind cites a number of features that help to make devices usable for the blind community. These include controls that have good tactile feedback; a "start over" control that is clearly documented; easy layout of rotary controls; using different sounds to signal errors, menus and selections; and having a predictable set of steps to access each item in a menu that has multiple layers.

Some consumer electronics developed specifically for the blind include GPS and electronic readers. Global Positioning System devices for the blind differ from other GPS consumer products by enabling everything to talk on the device, including all menus and selections. What's more, it describes the streetscape (e.g., "Walgreens, 215 feet on your left") and this information can be delivered by speech, Braille or a combination of both.

"It's narrating the environment to me in this look-around mode," says Mike May, the president and chief executive of Sendero Group, a California-based company that makes accessible GPS for the blind and visually impaired. "And that's not something a sighted person would want; it would just be too much chatter."

GPS is also an essential tool because it can be used in a virtual mode to research hotel or store locations and walking routes before walking out the door. Sendero Group's GPS software costs $895.

Another technology that is widely used is the KNFB Reader Mobile, software that enables a cell phone to read printed text aloud through synthesized speech to a blind
person. The user puts a piece of paper he wants read on a flat surface (it can
be oriented in any direction, even upside down) and takes a photograph of it with his cell phone camera. Within five seconds, the device begins reading the document aloud. The manufacturer, KNFB Reading Technology, plans to release an
upgrade in the next few weeks that will enable translation from 16 foreign languages into English. The software costs about $1,000 without the compatible cell phone, or closer to $1,400 with the phone.

IPods And Beyond

Some MP3 players that are accessible for the blind include HumanWare's Victor Reader Stream. Until recently, the iPod wasn't accessible for the blind community.

"People had been after Apple for a long time to provide accessibility and they didn't," May says. What changed? Last September, the National Federation of the Blind and the Massachusetts attorney general reached an agreement with Apple to make iTunes, Apple's digital music and video application, more accessible for the blind. Now, the program has a speech-enabling check box that allows users to put voice tags on every single song.

"It's exciting as well," says Stevie Wonder, "because it's accessible and for you to be able to hear where you are in the menu to hear, 'OK you're in songs.' And you want to scroll to find the song you want, and after you push the song menu — or if it's albums or if it's books or whatever it is — all in a small thing that you hold in the palm of your hand. It's incredible. And to be able to share that information or your songs — with let's say you're a teenager — to be able to share those songs with your sighted brother or sighted sister, that makes you feel, 'Wow, I'm a part of the visual world and that I'm able to connect.' "

The Apple Nano is the company's only iPod that is user-friendly for the blind and visually impaired, May says. But other third-party devices like the iTell, a wired remote, and the Accenda, a voice controller for the iPod, allow the visually impaired to use other models of the iPod.

Another interesting product that has the potential to make life easier for all consumers — including the blind — is the BlueAnt V1, a voice-controlled Bluetooth headset. It was designed so that you don't need to see it to operate it. There are a variety of voice commands, and the buttons also have good tactile feedback.

Stem cell transplant shows promise for reversing MS symptoms

From Reuters:

CHICAGO -- U.S. researchers have reversed multiple sclerosis symptoms in early stage patients by using bone marrow stem cell transplants to reset the immune system, they said on Jan. 29.

Some 81 percent of patients in the early phase study showed signs of improvement with the treatment, which used chemotherapy to destroy the immune system, and injections of the patient's bone marrow cells taken beforehand to rebuild it.

"We just start over with new cells from the stem cells," said Dr. Richard Burt of Northwestern University in Chicago, whose study appears in the journal Lancet Neurology.

Multiple sclerosis occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath protecting nerve cells. It affects 2.5 million people globally and can cause mild illness in some people and permanent disability in others.

Symptoms may include numbness or weakness in the limbs, loss of vision and an unsteady gait.

"MS usually occurs in adults," Burt said in a telephone interview. Before they get the disease, their immune systems work well, he said, but something happens to make the immune system attack itself.

His approach is aimed at turning back the clock to a time before the immune system began attacking itself.

Burt said the approach -- called autologous non-myeloablative hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation -- is a bit gentler than the therapy used in cancer patients because rather than destroying the entire bone marrow, it attacks just the immune system component of the marrow, making it less toxic.

Burt and colleagues tried the treatment on 21 patients aged 20 to 53 with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, an earlier stage in the disease in which symptoms come and go.

Patients in the study were not helped by at least six months of standard treatment with interferon beta.

After an average follow-up of about three years, 17 patients improved by at least one measure on a disability scale, and the disease stabilized in all patients.

Patients continued to improve for up to 24 months after the transplant procedure, and then stabilized. Many had improvements in walking, vision, incontinence and limb strength.

"To date, all therapies for MS have been designed and approved because they slowed the rate of neurological decline. None of them has ever reversed neurological dysfunction, which is what this has done," Burt said.

Other teams have seen improvements in patients using a more aggressive approach. In one study led by Dr. Mark Freedman of the University of Ottawa last year, 17 MS patients treated with the more aggressive approach were showing signs of remission two years after treatment.

Burt stressed that the treatment approach needed to be tested in a more scientifically rigorous randomized clinical trial, in which half of the patients get the transplant treatment and the other half get standard treatment.

That trial is under way.

Mental health advocates say calling Rod Blagojevich "crazy," "psychotic" offensive

From the Chicago Tribune:

In recent days, Rod Blagojevich has been branded as sociopathic, delusional, narcissistic, grandiose and psychotic, as well as cuckoo, crazy, wacko and off his rocker. And mental health advocates are upset about it.

The language offends many and blames mental illness for alleged criminal behavior, they say.

Ann Raney, CEO for Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center in Skokie, said the center's board members were so disturbed about the name-calling that they devoted much of a meeting last week to talking about it.

"We need to be clear that unethical or confusing or bad behavior should never be construed as mental illness," Raney said.

On the contrary, statistics show that people suffering from mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime than they are to be perpetrators, said Fran McClain, program director for the Josselyn Center for Mental Health in Northfield.

What's more, a true diagnosis should be left to a professional, said Barb Maier, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter in northern Cook County.

"No one should be slinging around pejorative terms, let alone diagnosing someone they have never met," she said.

Of course, this does not rule out the possibility that the governor is mentally ill.

"If he is, rather than prosecuting him and making him a criminal, what he needs is treatment," Maier said.

Mistrial declared after judge allows deaf witness to IM testimony

From The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa.:

It was trial by instant message in Northampton County Court on Jan. 28 -- until, that is, the judge decided the experiment had failed and declared a mistrial.

With prosecutors' main witness, the accuser, deaf and a sign-language interpreter unavailable, a jury was forced to endure typed questions and answers in the trial of a man accused of assaulting the Easton woman, then breaking into her apartment a week later.

The ad hoc approach to Jennifer Davis' testimony brought protests from Iman R. Sharif's defense attorney and included more than a few strange occurrences: sentences that seemingly made no sense, and at one point a mistaken foray into an e-mail program after Davis accidentally opened it while answering a question.

It also brought concerns from an advocate for the deaf community, who said a trial involving a deaf person shouldn't have gone forward without an interpreter.

Shortly after Davis returned to the stand after lunch, Judge Stephen Baratta sent out the jury and stated the obvious: Testimony by instant message wasn't working.

''It's just going to be a mistrial, if not me then by the Superior Court,'' Baratta said.

Sharif, 36, of East Orange, N.J., faces charges including burglary, stalking, and simple.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blind teen, known for his ability to "see with sound," dies

From a McClatchy Newspapers story about Ben Underwood's memorial service:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Ben Underwood, the remarkable blind Elk Grove, Calif., boy who inspired people around the world, continued to do so Monday even in death.

Close to 2,000 people, many of whom knew Ben (pictured) only from news stories about his religious commitment and his amazing ability to "see" with sound, gathered to pay their respects to him and his family.

They were treated to a nearly three-hour celebration of Ben's life -- a sort of spiritual revival and a mini concert from iconic musician Stevie Wonder, who befriended the teenager after his story became public.

Wonder called Ben "a prince of love" who "could not see, but had vision." He also sang two songs, including a gospel version of "Happy Birthday," as people snapped photos with their cellphones. Ben, who would have turned 17 years old on Monday, died a week ago from a recurrence of cancer that took both of his eyes when he was a toddler.

His blindness never stopped him from navigating the world. Ben used his extraordinary senses of hearing, smell and touch, combined with a skill known as echolocation that has rarely been documented in humans, to live a life of adventure.

By making clicking noises with his tongue and listening to the sound waves he created, he learned to identify objects and get around safely. Motivated by his mother, Aquanetta Gordon, Ben attended mainstream schools and refused to carry a white cane identifying him as blind. He played basketball, danced, practiced karate, surfed, and skated and bicycled through his Elk Grove neighborhood.

After the Sacramento, Calif., Bee newspaper published his story in May 2006, he became a worldwide celebrity, an Internet sensation and an inspirational speaker. He traveled across the country and as far away as Japan and Great Britain to tell his story. He was featured in network television news broadcasts, documentaries, radio interviews and TV variety shows including the Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey programs.

Monday's service was held in an auditorium that holds 1,325 people, and every seat was filled, with hundreds of others standing shoulder to shoulder along the sides and back of the room.

People clapped, swayed and sang along as a band played spiritual songs and speaker after speaker talked about Ben. Ben's brothers performed a song they wrote about him, and Ben's own voice, in a gospel rap tune that he wrote, served as a backdrop to a picture collage of him and his family shown on a video screen.

Stevie Wonder met Ben at a convention after hearing about him on TV, he told the crowd.

"Ben had the vision," he said. "I was blessed to have the pleasure of meeting the prince of love."

Since then, the musician has quietly visited the family in Elk Grove, even accompanying Ben to some of his medical appointments. On Monday, he sat in the front row next to Gordon.

"Ben was my little hero," said his mother, who has four other children ages 13 and up.
He was brave, sarcastic, creative and kind, Gordon said at the service. But above all, she said, he was fearless. Because of his belief in God and heaven, she said, he had no fear of dying.

"When I told him 'Baby, you might die,' after he was diagnosed, he told me 'You just be ready to meet me"' in heaven, Gordon said.

"Ben could see beyond what we call sight," she said. "Ben saw the heart of a man. I know where Ben is now, and he is 100 percent, perfectly whole."

Wearing a white suit and a red carnation, Gordon smiled broadly.

After the service concluded, relatives and friends formed an orderly line and walked one by one to the front of the Harvest Church auditorium, where Ben's body was laid out in a lime green shirt and black tie with green dots.

Each person passed his casket, bidding him a final goodbye. Some cried. Some were somber. Others said they were filled with joy at having known Ben. Wonder bent down and gave him a soft kiss on the cheek.

Then Ben's mother stared at her incredible son for a long, final time. Pallbearers, including two of his brothers, surrounded his casket and carried it outside to a limousine, which took Ben to his final resting place.

Mental health advocates worry about cuts to services in Ohio

From The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio:

There may be relief for Ohio prisons in Gov. Ted Strickland's State of the State speech Jan. 28, but advocates for Ohioans suffering from mental illness fear there will just be more pain.

Details of the Democratic governor's third speech to a joint session of the General Assembly and other state officials were a closely guarded secret yesterday.

However, a group of mental-health advocates who gathered at the Statehouse issued dire warnings about what they fear will happen to the fragile population if Strickland's state budget-cut mandates continue.

Mental-health programs have "taken a real beating" in three rounds of state cutbacks, said James Mauro, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio. Advocates fear more reductions are coming in the two-year budget proposal Strickland will share Monday.

"When these cuts are in place," Mauro said, "people are doing to die."

Terry Russell, head of an association of small group homes that serve the mentally ill, said, "If we are judged by how we treat the neediest among us, we should hang our heads."

Russell said group homes get $28 a day for each person in their care. He said that is $1 less than he paid recently to kennel his dog. The $28 figure might be reduced, he said.

Sources said that in his speech, Strickland might propose changes aimed at alleviating prison spending, pegged at $1.7 billion annually, and overcrowding, which yesterday was 32 percent over capacity statewide.

Among the ideas discussed: equalizing disparate penalties for crack versus powder cocaine, diverting nonviolent inmates to community corrections instead of prison, greater use of electronic monitoring and time off for inmates who get educational certificates and degrees. Most would require legislative approval.

Terry Collins, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said the prison population yesterday stood at 50,600, slightly under the record set last October. Strickland has not informed him of prison-related provisions in the State of the State, or of final numbers for the upcoming budget, he said.

"I've long been an advocate of community alternatives. We have to do something different. You can still punish somebody without putting them behind prison fence," he said. "I captain a ship that I have no control of the cargo. I never get to put up a 'no vacancy' sign."

Mental-health advocates, including Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, urged Strickland and lawmakers to avoid shredding the safety net for people in need.

Carolyn J. Givens, head of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation and former director of the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, said suicides are climbing as feelings of isolation and despair increase.

"Not another person should have to go through thinking death is the only answer," she said.

Stratton, a longtime proponent of mental-health assistance through the courts, said those with mental illness, as well as taxpayers, benefit from treatment before they end up in the legal system, a far more costly alternative.

With cutbacks continuing to erode services, prisons are often "one of the few places where they will get a bed and three meals," she said.

Officials said the cost of imprisonment is at least five times that of community treatment.

Canadian woman with ALS, Asperger's to receive much-needed home care

From CTV in Canada:

TORONTO — A woman in Sudbury, Ont., suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease who has been without home care for more than two months will soon receive the treatment she needs.

Minna Mettinen-Kekalainen, 42, has been relying on friends and family to help her, but needs the professional help of a home-care nurse to change her adult diaper and feeding tube and to bathe her.

She also has Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, which can make her behave erratically, so home-care nurses refused to deal with her, the woman's advocates say.

When she was still receiving care, the nurses deemed her behaviour to be part of an unsafe work environment, so they refused to provide her with care, said Ontario NDP health critic France Gelinas.

The two other contracted, for-profit nursing agencies in the area also would not provide Mettinen-Kekalainen with home care, Gelinas said.

In Ontario, community care access centres assess a client's home-care needs and contract for-profit nursing agencies to provide the services.

Gelinas stepped in and spoke with the North East Community Care Access Centre on Mettinen-Kekalainen's behalf. After a lengthy conference call this week, she said a solution was reached.

Mettinen-Kekalainen, the centre and one of the agencies that had been refusing care came to an agreement they were all satisfied with, Gelinas said.

"They basically bent over backward to try to find a creative, innovative solution," she said.

Care for Mettinen-Kekalainen will resume Monday.

Now that the matter is settled, Ontario needs to take a hard look at its home-care system, Gelinas said.

"In the short-term I wanted to get Minna some care," she said.

"We've achieved that goal and that was the prime motivator, but you have to look back and learn from those tragic incidents as to how do you change things so it never happens again."

Former Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris brought in competitive bidding for home care in the 1990s in an effort to reduce the cost for taxpayers, Gelinas said.

Before that, the Victorian Order of Nurses and other charitable organizations had government funding and provided excellent home care, Gelinas said. Now, the for-profit companies Gelinas is aware of pay low wages and have no benefits or pension plans, which does little to attract top-quality nurses, she said.

"There has to be policy change in the way home-care services are delivered in this province," Gelinas said.

"Otherwise there will be more and more Minnas out there, and this is not acceptable."

Audience participation planned for winter Paralympics ceremonies

From Pique Newsmagazine in Canada:

Whistler residents will be an important part of the cast of the closing ceremonies for the 2010 Paralympic Games.

The just appointed producer of the Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies, Patrick Roberge, believes that audience participation will give the events an honest and emotional quality, which will make them unforgettable to those who watch and those who participate.

"We want to make the shows very participatory," said Roberge, who founded B.C.-based Patrick Roberge Productions in 1986. "We want to let people have an opportunity to be part of this once in a lifetime opportunity."

An estimated 1,350 athletes from 40 countries will be at the two-hour Opening Ceremony in the 55,000-seat B.C. Place on Friday, March 12, 2010. The closing two-hour ceremony takes place Sunday, March 21, at Celebration Plaza in Whistler. The celebrations are budgeted to cost $4.8 million.

Roberge was a stage manager at the 1988 Calgary Olympic Games and he said the experience has helped him understand how truly powerful it is for everyday people to be involved.

"It was an unbelievable experience that I will never forget and I bring that with me whenever I do these projects," said Roberge."You have to remember that it is about the shared experience. That is the most overwhelming part of it.

"There were 6,000 performers and they were all from Calgary. They were excited to be part of it and I remember the emotion and the legacy that created for the people... They had an opportunity to do something that they knew they would never get to go through ever again in their lives.

"If we can create that kind of participatory enthusiasm for both these events then I will go away from it thinking we did a job well done.

"What a great opportunity for everyone in Whistler to say we are here and we are going to put our best foot forward."

PRP has produced events and spectacles around the world. Veterans of Expo 86 and the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary, PRP has created memorable events including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Royal Jubilee visit to Vancouver; the inaugural Chinese New Year Parade in Hong Kong; the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Emblem launch and mascot launch; and most recently produced the Canada Games'
ceremonies in Whitehorse and events at the B.C.-Canada Pavilions in Torino, Italy and Beijing, China.

PRP's experience in telling unique Canadian stories has included anniversary celebrations for Rick Hansen's Man in Motion Tour, the 25th anniversary of the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope and the opening of the North American Indigenous Games.

Roberge said he is excited about working with an outdoor venue in Whistler
and points to the Lillehammer Winter Games in 1994 as one of his personal favourites because it used the ski hills as the backdrop to the ceremonies.

"...They produced opening ceremonies right on the ski hill and had people popping out of the snow," said Roberge of Lillehammer.

"They didn't try to hide the fact that that was what they were and that was what they were all about."What is spectacular about (the Celebration Plaza) is that you look around and there is no question that you are in Whistler.

"You are not in any arena anywhere in the world. You are in a very special place in the world. So from that perspective I am very excited because I think it lends itself to do some very creative things and it's going to celebrate the fact that we are right there in the heart of it."

Job losses leading to mental health concerns in Singapore

From Asia One Business:

The past year has been challenging for Singaporeans, with many witnessing job losses, pay cuts and stocks losses first-hand. The reality, reflecting a rise of anxiety and depression cases could not be more true.

'There is definitely an increase in patients suffering from anxiety, panic attack and depression over the past 12 months,' said Yeo Seem Huat of Yeo Seem Huat Psychiatric Clinic. Many private psychiatric clinics in Singapore have noticed an increase of 10 to 15 per cent in depression cases, and the economic crisis is cited as the root cause.

Public hospitals such as Singapore General Hospital (SGH), National University Hospital (NUH) and the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) have also reported an increase in cases since 2007.

SGH reported that 400 more people sought treatment for a variety of mental health problems in 2008 as compared to 2007. This figure represents a 3.2 per cent increase in patients treated. NUH also reported an increase in patient consultations, but a larger one of about 15 per cent.

Out of the various mental ailments treated for, the most common ones are anxiety and depression.

Anxiety is commonly associated with bodily tension and is usually accompanied by physical effects such as heart palpitations, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath, stomach aches, or headaches.

Depression on the other hand, is characterised by overwhelming feelings of sadness and hopelessness, but it can manifest itself in many ways such as becoming socially withdrawn, being unable to function in daily activities and in most extreme cases, suicide.

Chua Hong Choon, vice-chairman of the IMH medical board estimated in a report last November that around 5 per cent of Singaporean adults are affected by depression. The report was presented in the Singapore-based Medical Tribune newspaper and was based on a survey conducted in 2004.

Although this figure is lower than that in the United States, Dr Chua said that they were comparable to many developed European Countries.

Till now, mostly white-collared workers have been feeling the brunt of the economic meltdown, and majority of patients seeking treatment belong to the middle and high income group, said Ang Yong Guan of Ang Yong Guan Psychiatry.

Polyclinics, which provide subsidised healthcare for the masses, have seen only slightly fluctuating numbers over the past 12 months, with numbers remaining stable over the entire year, National Healthcare Group corporate communications assistant manager Christine Wee said.

As explained by Barclays Capital economist Leong Wai Ho, 'this crisis is hitting people disproportionately and is currently affecting professionals more than lower income workers.'

Patients seeking treatment for anxiety and depression usually fall into one of six categories, Dr Ang said.

The first category consists of patients who have been retrenched recently and are therefore experiencing some form of anxiety or depression.

The second comprises of patients who are still holding onto jobs but fear getting retrenched. The third is middle management who are tasked with retrenching employees and are unable to decide who to axe, resulting in stress and anxiety.

The next comprises of patients who as a result of company retrenchments have to work doubly hard in order to meet company's expectations.

Housewives make up the fifth category, seeking treatment due to their anxiety over spouses' loss of jobs or paycuts.

In the final category, patients experience anxiety due to the falling prices of property, stocks and bonds with fear of being unable to hold onto investments made during the boom period.

While it may still be too early to attribute all the increase in cases to the harsh economic climate, Adrian Wang, a consultant psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre feels that the recession is bound to affect everyone in some way or other.

Head of Psychiatry at SGH, Ng Beng Yeong said that the inability to control the financial crisis also results in distress for patients.

With a future so unpredictable, worry and anxiety seem almost inevitable. However, solutions do exists and a depression attack can be prevented, Dr Ang said.

An anxiety or depression attack is best identified by a sudden change in behaviour. As such, colleagues and family are more likely than others to notice changes and play an essential part in the intervention process.

Companies for one, can engage the help of company doctors to monitor the mental well-being of employees periodically.

In December last year, Dr Ang gave a talk to employees of a pharmaceutical company on how to stay happy in an uncertain world.

Although drastic action need not be taken, Dr Ang suggests companies to have wellness managers to check the wellbeing of employees. 'These wellness managers can help in both prevention and intervention of stress-related ailments by organising relaxation programmes as well as being available to offer a listening ear', he added.

On the national level, help is already being offered to ensure the mental wellbeing of Singaporeans.

The government recently announced that it is injecting another $35 million over the next three years to support efforts aimed at raising the mental emotional resilience and well-being of Singaporeans. This commitment, on top of the $88 million announced in 2007, will give further impetus to synergise efforts to improve mental well-being in the community.

However, with the recession soon to affect more of the population, depression is a serious worry for some doctors who are afraid that no amount of intervention will be sufficient.

This is because some individuals are unable to engage in positive thinking, Dr Ang said. This results in them getting trapped in a mindset of negativity which is really dangerous.

'Some patients feel that they can only be cured if they find a new job, and no amount of psychotherapy, counselling or medication will help,' he added.

But there is hope, even for this group of people.

18,000 jobs will be created over the next two years, the government announced in Thursday's Budget. This will hopefully curb the rise of job-related depression and improve mental well being in Singapore.

Connecticut school district refuses to fix ADA violations

From Journal Enquirer:

ENFIELD, Conn — Calling a state report that cited Fermi High School for numerous violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act “another unfunded mandate,” Board of Education members said Tuesday that they couldn’t support a proposal to hire an architect to design fixes for the problems.

Superintendent of Schools John Gallacher had asked the board to approve spending $10,000 to $15,000 on an architect to devise a compliance plan for the school.

But board Chairman Andre V. Greco began the discussion Tuesday night by saying the school system doesn’t have the money for such a project.

“This is millions of dollars to bring a 40-year-old school into compliance,” Greco said. “I can’t support it and won’t. We don’t have $10,000.”

Board member Judith Apruzzese-Desroches agreed with Greco’s assessment that the recommendations by the state Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights represent an “unfunded mandate” on the school system.

Gallacher said the school system can address some issues identified in the report, such as lack of paint identifying handicapped parking spaces, and will do so. But he said many other changes called for in the report would require “a lot of construction.”

Board member Greg Stokes said the school system should have the town attorney review the report to see whether it will have to comply.

But board member Tom Arnone expressed concern that, because the school system now knows about the violations at Fermi, it could face legal liability.

“I don’t think we can just ignore this,” he said. “If we were a private industry, we’d face fines. I’m not sure this falls into an unfunded mandate.”

State officials found the violations during a series of visits to the school in October and November 2007.

Violations include narrow doorways, a lack of fire alarms in some classrooms, unmarked passenger loading areas, bathrooms that aren’t accessible to the handicapped, sinks and drinking fountains that disabled people can’t use, lack of accessible seating for certain sporting events, and main entrance doors that disabled people can’t operate.

The state officials said in the report that the school can be brought into compliance “by means of redesign of equipment, reassignment of classes or other services to accessible buildings, assignment of aides to beneficiaries, home visits … alteration of existing facilities and construction of new facilities … or any other methods that result in making its programs or activities accessible to handicapped person(s).”

The state’s review of Fermi, which was built in 1971, is part of a random inspection process conducted each year throughout the state to determine compliance with accessibility and other non-discrimination requirements.

The school system must report back to the state by Feb. 9 with a plan to fix the violations.

“I can say that we plan to address some items that we can do with our own maintenance and explain the financial situation,” Gallacher told the board. “We can say we won’t do the rest and see what the state says.”

Gallacher cautioned the board that the violations found at Fermi relate to a federal law. If the government “wanted to play hardball,” he said, it could freeze federal funding for the town’s schools.

Lawyer charged with stealing millions in assets from more than 20 disabled people

From The NY Times:

Steven Rondos was supposed to help people with mental and physical illnesses care for their money. Instead, prosecutors said Wednesday, in the last seven years he helped himself to their money, stealing $4 million from 23 people who could not help themselves.

Mr. Rondos, 43, who had been appointed as guardian for the people, was indicted in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on charges that he stole their assets and used them for personal expenses, like the mortgage on his home in Ridgewood, N.J., kitchen renovations, landscaping and a home theater. In some instances, prosecutors said, Mr. Rondos continued to steal money from victims’ estates after they had died.

Mr. Rondos stole more than $1 million from a 32-year-old patient with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia, prosecutors said. In another case, he took a total of more than $400,000 from a person with bipolar depression, before and after the patient died in 2007, prosecutors said.

This was “a pretty vicious guy,” Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, said Wednesday at a news conference in his office.

Mr. Rondos has a law firm in Brooklyn with his wife, Camille Raia, Mr. Morgenthau said. Ms. Raia has not been criminally charged and the district attorney’s office is unlikely to charge her, said Daniel J. Castleman, the chief assistant district attorney.

Prosecutors have filed suit against both Ms. Raia and Mr. Rondos for more than $4.7 million, which includes the total amount that prosecutors say was stolen and the value of their law firm, Raia & Rondos. The money will be used to repay the victims or the estates that were assigned to Mr. Rondos, prosecutors said.

Mr. Rondos was arrested Wednesday morning at his home in New Jersey and charged with money laundering, grand larceny and scheme to defraud. He was being
held in New Jersey on Wednesday night and was expected to appear before a judge there on Thursday morning. If he waives extradition, he will be taken to Manhattan for arraignment. If convicted, he could spend up to 25 years in prison.

Mr. Rondos’s lawyer, David Frankel, did not return telephone calls and an e-mail message seeking comment. Calls placed to Mr. Rondos’s home and office were not returned.

Mr. Morgenthau said a “good Samaritan” notified the authorities of Mr. Rondos’s activities, though he would not identify the person. Although the indictment charges Mr. Rondos with defrauding 23 clients, he could have defrauded up to two dozen more, prosecutors said. The assets he controlled in the cases covered in the indictment total between $20 million and $30 million, prosecutors said.

Mr. Rondos has indicated that he faces similar charges in New Jersey. He consented to being disbarred there this month after saying he was under investigation on charges of knowingly misappropriating clients’ funds.

In a sworn statement dated Dec. 10, 2008, included in the disbarment file, Mr. Rondos also acknowledged that “these allegations are true, and if I went to a hearing on these matters, I could not successfully defend myself against those charges.”

In an attached letter dated Dec. 19, 2008, Daniel A. D’Alessandro, a Jersey City lawyer, wrote that Mr. Rondos was being treated for depression and was taking prescribed antidepressants.

Guardians in New York are appointed by judges to manage the affairs of people who cannot handle their own because of physical or mental problems. Judges must also assign examiners to ensure that a guardian is handling the finances appropriately. Guardians must, for instance, present examiners an annual summary to show what, if anything, has been done with an account’s assets.

Mr. Rondos often did not file the summaries, and the examiners often did not report that failure to judges, said David Bookstaver, the spokesman for the New York Office of Court Administration.

“The court examiner failed to do due diligence,” Mr. Bookstaver said, adding that Mr. Rondos’s activities probably would have been caught earlier if the examiners had done their jobs properly.

In response to the Rondos case, Mr. Bookstaver said, the office, which oversees the operations of the entire New York court system, will start keeping a central database to ensure that guardians report to examiners on time. The database will allow court administrators to know when a guardian’s summary is past due, Mr. Bookstaver said, and will automatically generate a meeting with the judge in charge of the case.

In the past, court administrators had no central oversight of guardians and their dealings with examiners, Mr. Bookstaver said.

“While it’s an aberration, this certainly brought about this change today,” Mr. Bookstaver said.

The change will come after years of problems concerning guardianships. In 2004, after a Long Island City lawyer stole $2.1 million from assets he was assigned to protect, a special grand jury in Queens issued a report saying the system for appointing guardians for incapacitated people had “gone horribly wrong” and needed to be overhauled. The report recommended several changes, most of them concerning supervision of examiners.

In Mr. Rondos’s case, it appears that the examiners may have been too friendly with him and turned their heads to the fact he had not been filing his summaries, the authorities said. One examiner was fired and another suspended because of the Rondos case, Mr. Bookstaver said.

The thefts did not result in the loss of vital medical services for any of the victims, prosecutors said. Some of the money could be recovered through insurance and a state fund that reimburses clients up to $300,000 when their funds are misused, the authorities said.

As a guardian, Mr. Rondos was entitled to collect fees of 2 percent to 5 percent of the assets he controlled. Prosecutors said that his appointments came from six or seven judges, and that there did not seem to be a pattern of political patronage in the Rondos case.