Thursday, March 31, 2011

Media dis&dat posts from last week of March on Twitter

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Thanks for understanding!

Ireland begins national advocacy service to give people with disabilities there a stronger voice

From the Irish Times:

People with disabilities will have access to a national advocacy service from March 31, which aims to give vulnerable people a stronger voice and a greater opportunity to make positive changes in their quality of life.

The service works by allocating trained independent advocates to disabled people who can advise or support them to make claims for services such as welfare or housing, or negotiate on their behalf on issues affecting them.
The network is funded by the Citizens’ Information Board, with teams based in Dublin, Westmeath, Offaly, Waterford and Leitrim.

Advocates will make an effort to target disabled people who are isolated in the community or who live in residential institutions and cannot represent themselves.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton (pictured left)said the national scope of the support meant it would be available to any person with a disability who needs it.

“A major function of advocacy is to assist these people by providing an independent guide to services and options, someone to assist them at official proceedings and, in some instances, through the move to living in the community,” Ms Burton said.

“It is particularly important that an independent person is available to them where they are totally dependent on a single service provider. Essentially, the service will level the playing field and provide a voice for the more vulnerable of people with disabilities.”

While the service has been discussed at government level for the past decade or more, progress has been held up in recent times due to the state of the public finances.

Under a revised plan, it will not be placed on a statutory footing, as was originally planned, which would have given advocates more powers in dealing with public services.

Nevertheless, groups representing people with disabilities such as Inclusion Ireland welcomed it as a major step forward.

“We’re very glad to see this starting up on a national basis,” said Deirdre Carroll of Inclusion Ireland. “The big issues we keep coming across are entitlement to services, capacity and consent. We think it will make a big difference.”

Tony McQuinn, chief executive of the Citizens’ Information Board, said while many people with disabilities were well-equipped to make their own decisions, some vulnerable people with disabilities were at a disadvantage when claiming their entitlements or making important decisions.

“The service will protect their rights, help them gain their entitlements and make positive changes in their quality of life,” he said.


"I HAD NO NO CHOICES ON WHERE I LIVED, NO SOCIAL LIFE": MARIE WOLFE knows more than most about the benefits of advocacy. She credits having access to independent advice and support while living in a group home for people with disabilities as a key factor in transforming her life.

“Life before advocacy wasn’t great,” she says. “I had no opportunity to work, no choices on where I lived, no social life. Sometimes, I felt like I wasn’t listened to.”

Five years ago, she moved into independent living, with the help of advocates. Since then, her life has changed dramatically.

“It means I can go out and come home when I want. I can invite friends over for a party. I decide when staff call out to me. I have much more control over my life.”

The move inspired Marie to get involved in a range of groups and organisations for disabled people, while she advocates on behalf of other people with disabilities.

“It changes your life by giving you choices,” she says. “More people should have these kinds of opportunities.”

Grace Moore, one of the advocates who forms part of the new national service, says she is looking forward to helping and empowering people like Marie.

“We’re independent advocates, which is crucial,” says Moore, who is based in Limerick. “We’re free of any conflict of interest and we’re there on the side of the disabled person, whether that’s dealing with service providers, their families or public services.”

As part of her work in pilot projects in recent years, she has received referrals for all sorts of cases, ranging from the very simple to the highly complex.

“No day is the same and no case is the same,” she says. “I’ve been involved in helping people seek legal aid, helping a lady get a barring order against her husband; making sure service providers listen to my clients.”

In Utah, police investigate case of torture, crucifixion, murder of disabled woman

From AOL News:

Police in Utah are investigating the death of a disabled woman who they say was brutally abused and hung crucifixion-style inside a small closet.

"It is a very unusual, sad, tragic case," Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal told AOL News. "It is sad to see that somebody could do this to another human being. You just don't see people being treated like this."

Authorities were called to a residence in Kearns, a township in Salt Lake County, on Friday afternoon to investigate a possible overdose. When police and paramedics arrived on the scene, they discovered the body of 22-year-old Christina "Nina" Harms.

Investigators observed ligature marks on Harms' ankles that were consistent with plastic zip ties, Hoyal said. They also found bruises on her thigh and head and discovered a pepper seed in the lower area of one of her eyelids. Harms' hands and arms were completely covered with bandaging material, which would have prevented her from placing or removing the pepper seed from her eye.

"Investigators believed this to be consistent with abuse of a vulnerable adult as they determined the victim was unable to care for herself," Hoyal said.

During their search, investigators discovered a small closet in the living room area that contained an alarm on the doorway. "Inside they found a metal bar [used to] bind the victim in a crucifixion manner," Hoyal said. "Her arms [had been] bound to this bar and [she had been] left in this closet."

Authorities arrested Harms' primary caregiver, Cassandra Shepard, 27, and charged her with murder, domestic violence and obstructing justice.

Shepard's mother, Sherrie Lynn Beckering, 50, and stepfather, Dale Beckering, 53, were charged with domestic violence abuse of a vulnerable adult because they allegedly cared for Harms last year and were aware of the crime, police said. (All three are pictured.)

According to the Deseret News, Harms, the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, was the victim of fetal alcohol syndrome. When her mother died of cancer in 2008, Shepard, a family friend, was granted legal guardianship of the then-17-year-old.

"She was handicapped, but very smart. Very intellectual," family friend Marilee Nelson told the newspaper. "She was a fun child. She could play on the computer. She was just slow. She just needed help. She didn't need to be totally controlled."

A preliminary autopsy on Harms has revealed "significant injuries to the victim's body," but a cause of death is still pending. Hoyal said it could take "several weeks" for toxicology tests to be complete and a final report to be issued.

Harms' death has angered area caregivers, one of whom told AOL News she is "completely disgusted" by the case.

"Where is her family ... the father of her child?" Jessie Peters, a caregiver from nearby Provo, told AOL News. "Why isn't there a system put into place where a person not able to take care of themselves is checked up on like they do for the many foster kids here?"

Peters added: "This woman was tortured to death and the only thing people are saying is sometimes the caregivers get overwhelmed. When did we start sympathizing with the aggressors when we should be focused on what the last hours of this woman's life was like and who is going to take care of her baby. These so-called caregivers ... need to be dealt with accordingly."

Hoyal said police are still trying to determine a motive in the case.

"Obviously, this has been unfolding very quickly with a lot of information coming in," he said. "They're trying to look at all the possible motives and reasons why they did this."

It was not immediately clear today if any of the three suspects had an attorney.

Harms' 2-year-old daughter was living with her inside the home where she was allegedly tortured. According to police, she, along with Shepard's two children, ages 5 and 9, have been placed in protective custody with the state.

"She was a lovely person. She had a heart of gold. I just want to cry when I think about it," Nelson said of Harms in an interview with the Deseret News. "She's in heaven with her mom, thank God. I hope that the people responsible pay."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Washington Redskins stadium must caption all of public address system, appeals court rules

From The Baltimore Sun:

A federal appeals court upheld a ruling March 25 that requires the Washington Redskins to make game content broadcast over the FedEx Field public address system accessible to deaf fans through captioning — including song lyrics.

"Whatever the poetic merit of the lyrics and their relevance to the sport of football, we agree with the district court that the music played over the public address system during Redskins home games is part of the football game experience … and that the [Americans with Disabilities Act] requires full and equal access to the music lyrics," judges from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in the 29-page majority opinion.

That means halftime mix lyrics such as "Y'all don't really want it but the young got time / With a flow so spec like ... technologic" from Lil Mama's "Shawty Get Loose" will now be accessible to all, according to a footnote in the opinion.

The National Association of the Deaf and the Baltimore law firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy filed the suit in 2006 on behalf of three deaf or hard-of-hearing Redskins fans who regularly attend home games. Soon afterward, the team and field owners began captioning most broadcast statements, except for lyrics.

The U.S. District Court in Greenbelt ruled that lyrics had to be captioned as well, and the decision was upheld on appeal.

"The NAD expects that sports stadiums around the country will take notice of this groundbreaking decision and make their game-day experiences fully accessible to deaf and hard of hearing fans through accommodations such as captioning," Bobbie Beth Scoggins, NAD president, said in a statement.

One of the appeals judges wrote a separate opinion, disagreeing with the scope of the lower court's ruling, however. He claimed it was too broad and set a standard that could require all athletic event content to be captured and provided to deaf patrons, even though the Americans With Disabilities Act "itself does not include such a requirement."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Severely brain damaged mother finally awarded visitation rights with her triplets

From CNN:

LOS ANGELES -- A California judge ruled March 25 that a woman who suffered severe brain damage during the birth of her triplets must be granted visitation rights to see them.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick C. Shaller rejected the contention of Abbie Dorn's former husband that it is not in his children's best interest to see their "unfit" mother now.

Shaller said in his temporary order that Dorn (pictured), who lives with her parents in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, must be able to see the triplets, who turn 5 in June, over five consecutive days each summer. The order also provides for a monthly online visit via Skype.

"This is a precedent-setting case," said attorney Lisa Helfend Meyer, who represented Dorn's parents. "This is only a win-win for everybody."

The ruling is technically considered temporary, pending a full trial in the case.

Abbie Dorn suffered severe brain damage during childbirth in 2006.

Her parents and former husband, Daniel Dorn, become locked in a legal battle over whether Abbie is capable of interacting with her children, and whether they should visit her.

Daniel Dorn stated in court documents he wants the children to see their mother when they are older, perhaps 6 or 7 -- if he receives medical evidence that she will be able to communicate with them.

But Shaller ruled Friday that Abbie Dorn poses no threat to the children and smiles at times.

After a visit the children made to South Carolina, Daniel Dorn gave them a photo of their mother.

"They held onto the photograph for a prolonged time," the judge wrote. "It appears that even though the children were with their mother only a short period of time, they bonded with her."

Abbie Dorn had contact with triplets Esti, Reuvi and Yossi in December 2010. They visited her a total of four times that week. Before that week, she was last with them in October 2007.

Paul and Susan Cohen, a physician and former nurse, are conservators of Abbie Dorn's estate and care for their daughter full time at their home in South Carolina.

Susan Cohen told CNN last year that her daughter has made considerable progress after intensive rehabilitation and now communicates by blinking her eyes.

"One slow blink means 'yes.' No response means 'no,'" said Cohen, adding that her daughter smiled Friday when hearing the judge's decision.

Daniel Dorn, who lives in Los Angeles with the children, maintains that his former wife remains in a vegetative state. She is more than physically disabled, he contended in court papers, she is "neurologically incapacitated" and legally incompetent to make decisions involving her children.

Shaller ruled that Daniel Dorn be granted sole custody of the triplets and must be present during the visits. The former husband also must place photographs of Abbie in his home so that the children can see them, the judge ruled.

"The court finds that even though Abbie cannot interact with the children, the children can interact with Abbie -- and that the interaction is beneficial for the children," Shaller ruled. "They can touch her, see her, bond with her, and can carry these memories with them."

With his wife's parents overseeing her medical care, Daniel Dorn found himself a young father raising triplets. He believed Abbie's prospects of recovery were faint. One year to the day after the triplets were born, he notified the Cohens that he was ready to move on.

"I still love Abbie very much, but I am trying to move on and have been and will continue to parent our children, who are happy and are thriving," Dorn told CNN in an e-mail last year.

At Dorn's request, the Cohens initiated divorce proceedings on Abbie's behalf. The divorce was finalized in the fall of 2008.

British college teaching construction adds accessible forklift truck

From Chad in the UK:

People with disabilities are being given new opportunities to get jobs in the logistics industry, thanks to a specially-adapted vehicle introduced by West Nottinghamshire College.

The college is set to unveil a new type of forklift truck at its Construction and Logistics Skills Academy on Wednesday (30th March), which has been adapted to suit wheelchair users, amputees and those with lower limb disorders or dwarfism.

The ‘Freedom 1’ forklift truck is being introduced to the college’s logistics curriculum, in partnership with Freedom Training, a Mansfield-based company, specialising in forklift truck training.

Providing injured former military personnel with an opportunity to retrain for a new career prompted Paul Green of Freedom Training to create the vehicle. It is believed to be the only vehicle of its kind in the world and West Nottinghamshire College will be helping to pioneer its use as a method of improving access to employment for all abilities.

Business development manager for engineering and transport at the college, Craig Done, said: “We’re proud to be introducing this new truck as part of our logistics training courses to provide people with a disability the same access to the logistics industry as able-bodied people.

“Opportunities for careers in vast and varied logistics sector are increasing for wheelchair users, amputees and people with lower limb disorders. More logistics employers are realising that people with a disability are effective employees who add value and diversity to their workforce.

“We hope that this innovative new equipment will help open doors for disabled people keen to enter the sector.”

Bermuda aims for better accessibility, universal design

From the Bermuda Sun:

Bermuda is praised for its beauty and unique architecture, but many residents and tourists face problems getting around.

Disabled people in wheelchairs, moms with strollers, those with sight and hearing impairments and people with crutches often face obstacles in accessing buildings, bars and restaurants or even just heading down the sidewalk.

As the U.S. brings its 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design into force, an architect has taken the time to compile a booklet and set of drawings to encourage Bermuda’s designers and contractors to take on universal design and ADA standards.

Although Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory, we comply with a lot of the American standards and codes.

Vanessa J. Daniel (pictured), a Senior Architectural Technologist at OBM International, produced the guide and AutoCAD drawings independently, out of an interest in disabled people’s rights.

“Returning back to Bermuda after working as an architect in New Mexico, I wanted to get this information out there,” she said.

“From the designer, architect and contractor side of things, there just isn’t the information and drawings available in Bermuda.

“It is about making the built environment more accessible for everyone.

“It’s not just people with physical disabilities, it’s also for the elderly, pregnant women.

“Even mothers with buggies walking along Front Street face different levels and trip hazards.

Miss Daniel has given a copy of her booklet and drawings to Keith Simmons (pictured), accessibility officer at the National Office for Seniors and the Physically Challenged.

The guide features everything from grab bars and clearance space for wheelchairs in toilets, to sink height and the need for braille on signs.

“It’s an excellent resource and tool for designers, architects and anyone in construction,” Miss Daniel said.

“While the (booklet) information may initially help those in the construction industry, it is also useful to all Bermuda citizens as they plan how to upgrade homes, offices, public spaces and so forth.

“It will help them to get Planning approval.

“I can provide the drawings and booklet to anyone who wants them. This could be architects, interior designers, contractors and sub-contractors, anyone in construction.

“They will also help Mr. Simmons to increase awareness of accessibility in all building design. If it helps him in his efforts with Government, then I am happy to assist.

“It’s about making the community better for everyone.”

Mr. Simmons told the Bermuda Sun Government has almost finished a review of the Residential Building Code and will then upgrade its Commercial Building Code. The new ADA standards would therefore make a difference.

“Once completed, it (the Residential Code) will have accessibility codes and also green building codes, so that’s a step forward,” said Mr. Simmons.

“Government looks to upgrade standards every few years and to adopt some of the international building code standards. These include the latest accessibility standards.”

Mr. Simmons said Bermuda’s use of CABO (Council of American Building Officials) and BOCA (Building Officials Code Administrators) standards was now out of date.

Government has adopted the ANSI A117.1 (American National Standard Institute) standards but will be looking at the latest international guidelines in its review.

He said the new 2010 ADA standards would “keep Government in line with any upgrades”.

“There’s one or two changes from the ANSI A117.1, so this will help us move forward in adopting new accessibility legislation,” he said.

“It will bring us up to date in 2011.”

“For example, BOCA requires 50 per cent accessibility in buildings but the new codes have gone up to 60 to 70 per cent of your building accessibility.”

Mr. Simmons said: “Miss Daniels’ booklet will help us in changing the mindset, because unfortunately we still have some architects who are not taking on accessibility.”

In Bermuda he said people not only had problems with buildings and sidewalks, but that, “a lot of the car parks need to be changed, as the entrances are pitched too steeply”.

There were also problems with restaurants and shops.

“A lot of them have poor access. There are some proprietors working to make their premises more accessible, but some just don’t seem to be interested.”

The Bermuda Sun asked for an update from Government on its building standards and the review but received no response at the time of going to press.

Tennessee to remove "idiot," "lunatic" and "retarded" from state laws

From The AP:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A new bill will remove terms like "idiot," "lunatic" and "retarded" from state laws, replacing them with updated language.

The bill sent by the House on March 24 to Gov. Bill Haslam replaces "idiot," lunatic" and "person of unsound mind" with "person adjudicated incompetent."

"Disabled" and "handicapped" are replaced with "people with a disability." And "retardation" becomes "intellectual disability."

Senate sponsor Douglas Henry, of Nashville, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities asked for the changes.

One section wasn't changed, though. There will still be a law that forbids issuing marriage licenses to an applicant who appears to be "drunk, insane or an imbecile."

British Olympics Association claims Paralympics is money loser

From BBC News:

British Olympic Association chairman Lord Moynihan and chief executive Andy Hunt have been suspended from the board of Locog - the London 2012 organising committee - following the legal row over the financial surplus from the Games, the BBC has learned.

Locog has suspended them because of a conflict of interest and both Lord Moynihan and Hunt did not attend a meeting of the board on March 24. . . .

. . . Meanwhile, in a separate development, the International Paralympic Committee has accused the BOA of undermining its vision for London 2012.

The BOA claims that the Paralympics will make a substantial loss.

The IPC's chief executive, Xavier Gonzalez, has written a letter to a number of newspaper sports editors criticising the BOA.

The BOA is entitled to 20% of any surplus from London 2012 and wants its share to be paid before the Paralympics are taken into account.

It has taken its dispute about who should pay for the Paralympics to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

In the letter Gonzalez says that the Paralympics will not make a loss. His projections are in line with those of staff at London 2012, who predict that the Paralympics could make a profit of around £10m.

If that is the case then the hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport would be pointless, as the BOA would actually stand to make more money by taking its share of a combined surplus for the Olympics and Paralympics.

Gonzalez wrote: "In 2005 the vision for London 2012 was for one festival of sport, with an integrated Olympic and Paralympic Games, underpinned by a single budget.

"It is very disappointing that this vision is being undermined by the BOA."

This intervention by the IPC is a clear attempt to increase the pressure on the BOA chairman Lord Moynihan to back down.

On Wednesday Lord Moynihan told a BOA board meeting that he was determined to press on with the action against the London 2012 Organising Committee despite accusations that he is damaging crucial relationships within the Olympic movement, little more than a year before the Olympics begin.

The BBC revealed on Wednesday that Lord Moynihan will face a vote of no confidence if the BOA is defeated at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Disabled Vietnam vet navigates modern VA benefits maze

From The NY Times:

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- John Sanders (pictured) lives in a tidy bungalow in this former fishing village north of Clearwater. His home sits on a small hill, on a street lined with cars, trucks and garages now used for storage. The house was built for him in 1978 to accommodate his wheelchair and the other things he would need to live as a quadriplegic.

Sergeant Sanders was 23 when he was paralyzed on Dec. 4, 1969, while on patrol in Cu Chi, outside Saigon, when his platoon came under heavy fire. While trying to call in a helicopter airstrike, he was shot in the back. He spent the next year in and out of military hospitals before returning to the Panama Canal Zone, where he was born, to live with his parents. When his parents took early retirement, they all moved to Florida so Mr. Sanders could get better medical care.

His life over the last four decades has been a full one. A great wit, he likes to read and talk for hours. He and his aide, Brian Disney, go out every day in his specially equipped van. Mr. Sanders’s Dalmatian mix, Savanna, expects and gets a ride around the block at those times when she is to be left behind.

His outlook was formed early by a conversation with a paraplegic man at the Cleveland Veterans Administration Hospital after his injury. “I said, this is going to be our fate?” Mr. Sanders recalled. “What are we going to do?”

“The best we can,” the other man responded. “There’s no other option.”

Despite his positive outlook, Mr. Sanders’s financial life has been punctuated by struggles to understand the disability benefits he depends on and to budget, while on a fixed income, for unpredictable and high insurance costs in Florida.

Heath Whetsel, a financial adviser at USAA, the financial services company for military families, agreed to look over Mr. Sanders’s finances. A disabled veteran of Army service from 1995 to 2000, Mr. Whetsel has his own stories about being denied benefits and getting them only after appealing or working through another bureaucrat.

One thing their experiences can teach disabled veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq is to never give up if they are turned down for something.

Mr. Sanders, now 65, has three primary financial concerns: understanding the labyrinthine benefits process, managing the cash flow from his disability checks and contending with the rising cost of home insurance in Florida.

The Veterans Administration, he said, has become more helpful in the last few years, but he is still troubled by previous experiences, and that affects how he approaches current concerns.

His worst experience, he said, came in 1997 when he applied for voice-recognition software that would allow him to do everything from writing letters to friends to controlling the lights and thermostat in his room. Until that point he had to rely on his mother for everything. One criterion for receiving the software was that it would improve a person’s quality of life.

After an interview with a counseling psychologist at the local V.A. office, Mr. Sanders received a letter, which he showed to The New York Times, that said: “You are currently independent and the requested equipment is not seen to significantly increase your independence or decrease your dependence within the family and community.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said, growing angry as he told the story. “How was I independent?”

After more than a year of appeals and help from a paraplegic friend who worked for the Paralyzed Veterans of America, he got the software.

“Those first six months, it was like, ‘I’m back in the game,’ ” he said. “I wrote letter after letter to everyone. After several months, my brother said, ‘Have you ever heard of e-mail? ”

Currently, Mr. Sanders is worried about finding the benefit money to widen his bedroom door. Three years ago, he got his first new bed in 37 years, which the V.A. bought for him. But it does not fit through his door. His sister, who lives with him, said she would not be able to roll him out of the house if there were a fire.

The cost to widen the door is $1,250, and at first glance it appears that he has more than that amount available to him through two grant programs. The problem is how those programs operate. Through one, which is meant for larger jobs to adapt homes for disabled vets, he has $3,995 left. Yet, if he pays for the door through that fund, he will lose the remaining money for future repairs.

Another fund, meant for home improvements and structural alterations, allows veterans to take out smaller amounts over time. Mr. Sanders had used his lifetime limit of $4,100, and when that grant was increased last year to $6,800, the increase applied only to people applying for disability, not for recipients already in the program.

“It looks from the history of this thing that Mr. Sanders has gotten every benefit he has ever asked for and gotten them very quickly,” said Tom Pamperin, deputy under secretary for disability assistance at the Veterans Benefits Administration.

When read Mr. Sanders’s rejection letter about the voice-recognition software, Mr. Pamperin said: “In a perfect world things like that wouldn’t happen. You have people who are trying to do the best job possible, and they make judgment calls about things. I’m sure that seemed like a reasonable assessment to that clinician.”

In Mr. Sanders’s case, he is likely to have to sacrifice the remaining money in the grant from the first program to get his door widened — unless he can find something else that needs repair and can be done at the same time.

A spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs said that it was looking for another solution for Mr. Sanders but that the guidelines for the two programs were set by Congress.

Mr. Sanders’s other concern is cash flow. He spends almost all of his disability check to pay for his care. Mr. Disney works for him Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Mr. Sanders pays a second aide to work the same hours on Saturday and Sunday. He also has to cover the fuel and any repairs to his van, as well as upkeep on his house and an electricity bill that often tops $350 a month.

For the last decade, his sister and brother-in-law have lived with him to help after his aides leave. They pay no rent; in exchange, one of them is always there to care for him at night. But he is haunted by a costly and difficult year after his mother died in 1998, when he had to hire a live-in aide to be with him around the clock.

Mr. Sanders has a small amount of savings, and Mr. Whetsel talked to him about putting some portion into higher-yielding certificates of deposit or a money-market account. Mr. Sanders said the rates were so low it was not worth the trouble to split up his savings.

Then there is the guessing game of what his insurance premium will be — not to mention who will provide it. Mr. Sanders pays $3,150 for homeowner’s insurance, up from $2,980 last year but still below the nearly $3,700 he paid in 2009.

This is not a problem unique to Mr. Sanders. Every Florida homeowner in a coastal area has the same concerns. But Mr. Sanders feels pressure, because his disability check has not been adjusted for the last two years.

When Mr. Sanders spoke with a USAA insurance representative, he said, he was told the company could not provide insurance for his home because, like many other carriers, it has largely gotten out of the business in Florida.

The USAA representative did go through his current policy and found several areas of savings from items that had been listed incorrectly, which could reduce his annual premium by at least $500. Mr. Sanders was dropped by his last carrier, Security First, in 2010, so regardless of the savings, he said he thought he had to remain with Citizens, the state-supported insurer, for fear of being dropped again.

Regardless of how these financial matters are resolved, Mr. Sanders said he knew he would have to stay on top of the benefits system and his own finances.

“I don’t see how anyone could do anything else,” he said. ”There is no other option.”

New Zealand sign language interpreter becomes vital communication link for deaf community after Christchurch earthquake

From The Marlborough Express in New Zealand:

What seemed to be a normal booking for sign language interpreter Jeremy Borland (pictured) has taken on a life of its own.

The former Blenheim man has became a vital link to the deaf community following the magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch and he has unwittingly attracted a large online following.

More than 25,000 people have become fans of Jeremy the sign language guy on the social networking site Facebook since he began signing during briefings by Civil Defence and Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker in the aftermath of February 22.

The 30-year-old freelance interpreter who lives in Christchurch said New Zealand broadcasters did not have a good record of providing sign language translation during television programming.

"Quite often the deaf community receive information days later through friends or family and they will usually select information and not leave it up to them to sift through the information themselves," he said.

The former Marlborough Boys' College student had received positive feedback from the deaf community who were pleased to get information at the same time as everyone else.

"They are absolutely amazed and really thankful that interpreters have been provided."

After landing the booking with fellow interpreter Evelyn Pateman, Mr Borland thought the television exposure would be a bit of a novelty with family and friends, but "didn't expect it to take on the life it has".

Mr Parker mentioned on television the Facebook fanpage dedicated to Jeremy the sign language guy, which boosted his fan base even more.

He was now being recognised in public which was an odd feeling, he said.

"I'm a pretty private guy and don't like being in the limelight, so being noticed like some sort of star is very strange," he said.

Mr Borland has been interpreting for about nine years, usually in courts, police stations, hospitals and staff meetings.

Although he had signed for some high-profile people, including Prime Minister John Key and Prince William while they were in Christchurch, he never met them.

"You're right there next to the person you're interpreting for, but afterward it gets busy and people are rushing away," he said.

The eldest of five children, he learned to sign after his younger sister was diagnosed as deaf at about three weeks old.

The family took a proactive stance and all learned how to sign and still use sign language when they were together, he said.

It had "taken a drastic disaster to have this service thrust into the limelight", and the deaf community hoped the translation service was not a "one-off thing", he said.

Access to the news and other types of broadcasting should be provided for deaf people, he said.

"We do have a long way to go, but hopefully this is a good stepping stone to have the gap reduced," he said.

Texas parents sue Medicaid to get power wheelchair for 4-year-old son with CP

From The Southeast Texas Record:

TYLER, Texas - The parents of a child with cerebral palsy have filed a lawsuit against Texas Health and Human Services in an effort to force the commission to pay for a power wheelchair under the Texas Medicaid program.

Lindale residents plaintiffs Charlsie and Jeffrey A., as next friend of minor plaintiff C.A., filed suit against Thomas Suehs in his official capacity as executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission on March 15 in the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division.

"As a result of C.A.'s disabilities and health conditions, he cannot crawl, stand, or ambulate (walk) independently, and he cannot self-propel a manual wheelchair. Therefore, C.A. has a medical need for a power wheelchair for independent mobility," the suit states.

The plaintiffs claim the 4-year-old child is an eligible Medicaid beneficiary entitled to all medically necessary services, including durable medical equipment, under the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment program for Medicaid beneficiaries. The lawsuit states that the power wheelchair is considered durable medical equipment.

For the past two years, the parents have repeatedly requested authorization for the power wheelchair but have been denied. The denial was based in part on the parent's request for an attendant control, which the parents equated as providing the same as holding a child's hand while walking across the street.

"Independent powered mobility for C.A. will not only enable him to independently ambulate, but will also facilitate social and education integration, improve his psycho-social development, and enable him to grow to become a productive and integrated member of society," the suit claims. "Without independent mobility, C.A. may develop learned helplessness, and experience delays in both physical and cognitive domains."

The commission's letter regarding the wheelchair stated that the denial was because the child could not use the power wheelchair without the help of another person and therefore, does not have a medical need for a power wheelchair.

The Texas HHS is accused of violating the Social Security Act by denying the child his entitlement to all medically necessary durable medical equipment.

The lawsuit is asking the court to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction enjoining the defendant from violating the Social Security Act and to require the defendant to immediately provide and authorize all medically necessary services and durable medical equipment, plus an award of attorney's fees, costs and expenses.

The plaintiffs are represented by Peter Hofer of Disability Rights Texas in Austin and Mary Ann Overath of Texas Legal Services Center in Austin.

U.S. District Judge Michael H. Schneider is assigned to the case.

Lawyer argues Georgia should no longer be the only state that sets highest legal threshold possible for MR claims of death-row inmates

From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

A lawyer for a convicted killer said Georgia should no longer be the only state in the country that sets the highest legal threshold possible for death-penalty defendants who raise mental retardation claims.

In arguments on Monday before the state Supreme Court, David Gossett, a lawyer for Alphonso Stripling, said requiring such defendants to do this -- proving mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt -- is unconstitutional.

Because of Georgia's law, "One thing is certain: mentally retarded defendants will be executed," Gossett said. The U.S. Supreme Court prohibited this in a ruling handed down in 2002, he noted.

Among states with the death penalty, 22 require defendants to prove mental retardation by the lowest legal threshold -- that he or she is more likely than not fits this description. Four other states have adopted a slightly tougher test.

About 10 Georgia death-row inmates who failed to prove mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt could receive new hearings if the court finds Georgia's standard unconstitutional.

Stripling was convicted of and sentenced to death for killing two of his co-workers during a 1988 robbery of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Douglasville. But his capital sentence was overturned when a judge found evidence Stripling was mentally retarded. The state Supreme Court is hearing Stripling's appeal before his re-sentencing trial.

On Monday, a Douglas County prosecutor asked the court to uphold the law. When the U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of the mentally retarded, it left it up to the states to decide the burden of proof for defendants raising such claims, he said.

If Georgia were to adopt a a more lenient standard, James Dooley said, defendants who are faking it could be found mentally retarded and barred from being executed, he said.

During Monday's arguments, Justice Robert Benham asked Dooley if the tough burden of proof results in mentally retarded inmates being executed should that be accepted as "mere collateral damage?"

Dooley agreed such an outcome would be wrong. But he countered that Georgia's law sets up adequate safeguards to prevent that from happening.

Stripling finds himself in a difficult position on appeal. In 2003, a year after the U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of the mentally retarded, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard. Last June, a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court found Georgia's standard unconstitutional, but the full court vacated that ruling and is reconsidering the issue.

NJ Attorney General explains legislation to protect people in mental health facilities, nursing homes from sexual assault.

From WDEL radio:

Attorney General Beau Biden takes the wraps off legislation to better protect patients in mental health facilities and nursing homes from sexual assault.

Under state law, it's legally necessary to prove that a patient did NOT consent to sexual activity.

Attorney General Biden says this bill seeks to change that.

"It removes consent as a defense. It makes it illegal for people, who are charged with the care of people in institutions, from having ANY sexual contact with their patients," explains the Attorney General.

The crime is a felony punishable by up to 15 years behind bars.

Biden says by removing consent, they're removing the gray area that's clouded prosecution in the past.

"When that victim goes and says something happened to them, there's a chance that the person won't believe them. The criminal knows their victim's credibility is undermined," says Biden.

The legislation would apply to all health care facilities in the state, including hospitals, nursing homes, and substance abuse and mental health programs.

Biden refused to comment on how many instances of patient abuse may've spawned this legislation, but he says no specific targets are in mind.

The state Attorney General says elderly or disabled Delawareans depend on their caretakers, and this legislation would better ensure their safety.

"They should have the extra protection to know that their loved ones, who are in these institutions, are not susceptible to any sex crime," explains Biden.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

British scientists develop new way to deliver medications directly to brain cells, may better treat Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, muscular dystrophy

From BBC News:

A new way of delivering drugs to the brain has been developed by scientists at the University of Oxford.

They used the body's own transporters - exosomes - to deliver drugs in an experiment on mice.

The authors say the study, in Nature Biotechnology, could be vital for treating diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Muscular Dystrophy.

The Alzheimer's Society said the study was "exciting" and could lead to more effective treatments.

One of the medical challenges with diseases of the brain is getting any treatment to cross the blood-brain barrier.

The barrier exists to protect the brain, preventing bacteria from crossing over from the blood, while letting oxygen through.

However, this has also produced problems for medicine, as drugs can also be blocked.

In this study the researchers used exosomes to cross that barrier.

Exosomes are like the body's own fleet of incredibly small vans, transporting materials between cells.

The team at Oxford harvested exosomes from mouse dentritic cells, part of the immune system, which naturally produce large numbers of exosomes.

They then fused the exosomes with targeting proteins from the rabies virus, which binds to acetylcholine receptors in brain cells, so the exosome would target the brain.

They filled the exosomes with a piece of genetic code, siRNA, and injected them back into the mice.

The siRNA was delivered to the brain cells and turned off a gene, BACE1, which is involved in Alzheimer's disease.

The authors reported a 60% reduction in the gene's activity.

"These are dramatic and exciting results" said the lead researcher Dr Matthew Wood.

"This is the first time this natural system has been exploited for drug delivery."

The research group believes that the method could modified to treat other conditions and other parts of the body.

Dr Wood said: "We are working on sending exosomes to muscle, but you can envisage targeting any tissue.

"It can also be made specific by changing the drug used."

The researchers are now going to test the treatment on mice with Alzheimer's disease to see if their condition changes.

The team expect to begin trials in human patients within five years.

Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "In this exciting study, researchers may have overcome a major barrier to the delivery of potential new drugs for many neurological diseases including Alzheimer's.

She said the blood-brain barrier had been an "enormous issue as many potential drugs have not been properly tested because you couldn't get enough of them into the brain."

She added: "If this delivery method proves safe in humans, then we may see more effective drugs being made available for people with Alzheimer's in the future."

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "This is innovative research, but at such an early stage it's still a long way from becoming a treatment for patients.

"Designing drugs that cross the blood brain barrier is a key goal of research that holds the promise of improving the effectiveness of Alzheimer's treatments in the future."

Exosomes may have other medical applications.

Alexander Seifalian, a professor of nanotechnology and regenerative medicine at University College London, told the BBC: "Experimental evidence indicates that exosomes can prime the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells, making them a potential tool as cancer vaccines."

He also said exosomes "could well form the cornerstone of nanoscale drug delivery systems of the future."

He added: "The apparent versatility and established biosafety of exosomes underscores the potential of these biological membrane vesicles to be of tremendous potential in the realm of nanotechnology and regenerative medicine."

Canadian study shows blind people can "see" with their ears

From The Toronto Sun:

MONTREAL, Canada – Some blind people can "see" using their sense of hearing in a process that’s honed during infancy, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Montreal say the brain's sight centres can reorganize itself in blind people to receive acoustic and spatial information.

The lead researcher, Dr. Olivier Collignon, compared brain activity among two groups: 11 people born blind and another 11 who had sight.

Their research corroborates earlier studies that show the blind have a heightened sense of hearing. But Collignon says it's only recently that the researchers realized that the ears in blind people might be connected to their sight centres.

"These structures maintain a functional organization that’s comparable to what we see in a sighted person," said Collignon.

The area in question is the visual cortex, which takes images gathered by the eyes and processes them in a rear area of the brain known as the occipital lobe. This eye-to-brain communication is absent in people who are born blind.

Researchers exposed test subjects to sounds of varying tones and locations and then performed MRI scans of brain activity.

The visual cortex continued to process sound and spatial information even in blind subjects whose brains were not receiving information from their eyes.

"The brain (region) is so flexible that it’s able to carry out tasks which are similar to those required by the (ears)," said Collignon.

The findings raise questions about how and when the visual cortex re-wires itself in blind people. Collignon says the process might take place during childhood, but he says the theory requires further study.

The findings were published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Psychologists want right to prescribe medicine

From The Washington Post:

In any given year, more than a quarter of U.S. adults have a diagnosable mental health problem — from depression to bipolar disorder — yet fewer than half get any kind of treatment for it. The figures are similar for children.

Many who do receive care get it through their primary-care physician rather than a mental health professional like a psychiatrist or psychologist. That’s partly by choice: People prefer to talk to someone they know and trust about medical problems, and for many, there’s still a stigma in seeing a “shrink.”

But part of the reason people turn to their primary-care doctors or go without care is that it can be tough to get an appointment with a mental health expert. Psychiatrists, in particular, are in short supply, especially in rural areas.

A recent survey conducted for the Tennessee Psychological Association, for example, found that the average wait to see a psychiatrist for a non-emergency appointment was 54 days for patients with private health insurance and 90 days for those covered by TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, says Lance Laurence, director of professional affairs for the TPA.

“It’s a huge access issue,” says Katherine Nordal, executive director for professional practice at the American Psychological Association, a trade group for psychologists.

Psychologists say they have a solution to help address the access problems: Give them more authority to prescribe psychotropic medications. They can already prescribe in New Mexico and Louisiana, as well as in all branches of the military and the Indian Health Service. A half-dozen other states are considering measures that would give more psychologists prescribing authority.

Some of those states have considered and rejected such legislation before, but Nordal says her group is “cautiously optimistic” that it may succeed in a few states this year.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors with a specialty in psychiatry; psychologists have doctoral degrees, and their training includes coursework in diagnosing and managing mental illness. Any medical doctor, from dermatologist to surgeon, can prescribe psychotropic drugs; but before psychologists can prescribe drugs — in the jurisdictions that allow it — they must complete work equivalent to an additional master’s degree in clinical psychopharmacology, says Nordal. With the exception of psychiatrists, she says, no medical professional is as well versed in medication for mental disorders as prescribing psychologists.

In addition, psychologists provide other types of treatment, such as talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, in contrast to psychiatrists, who often only prescribe drugs; a national survey found that only 10.8 percent of psychiatrists offer talk therapy to all their patients. “We have a bigger toolkit than many others do that prescribe,” Nordal says.

Health insurance generally covers prescription drugs to treat mental illness, but coverage for therapy sessions with a mental health provider is less routine. This has resulted in an over-reliance on drug therapy in recent years, all agree. Experts say this imbalance should change under the Mental Health Parity Act, which took effect last year; it requires mental health benefits, if offered, to be at least as generous as benefits for medical and surgical care. Even if the type of treatment shifts somewhat, however, many patients will still need drug therapy.

Physician groups such as the American Medical Association and some patient advocacy groups, however, are cool to the idea of letting psychologists prescribe drugs. “These are serious drugs with serious side effects,” says Mike Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a consumer advocacy organization. “We feel strongly that [prescribing] should be handled by someone with medical training.”

The problem is likely to become more acute with an estimated 32 million people expected to gain health insurance under the health-care overhaul law. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortage of 45,000 primary-care physicians alone by 2020.

Experts agree that solutions lie in better integration between primary care and mental health care. This makes sense in part because for more than a third of patients with mental health problems, the only practitioner they see is a primary-care provider. In addition, people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma are significantly more likely to have mental health problems than those without chronic illness. People with serious mental illness, in fact, die 25 years sooner, on average, than the rest of the population.

The health-care overhaul, with its emphasis on medical homes and accountable care organizations that take responsibility for managing a patient’s health rather than just providing medical services, offers promising models for integration, experts agree.

In clinical psychologist Benjamin Miller’s primary care “dream world,” mental health providers work alongside primary-care physicians, in the same office. Miller is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Colorado’s school of medicine in Denver. Part of his job is to integrate mental health into the family medicine department’s clinical, education and research functions.

“There’s a range of mental health needs that will be seen in primary care,” he says. “You can’t tease it out from the other conditions that an individual is facing.”

In Uganda, advocates want census of deaf, blind people so their needs can be met

From New Vision in Uganda:

The National Association of the Deaf and Blind (NADBU) has appealed to the Government to carry out a census of the deaf and blind people in the country, so as to plan for them effectively.

“Our needs and problems are not catered for because our existence is unknown,” said Yona Waswa, the NADBU programme officer.

Waswa was addressing an advocacy workshop at NADBU offices on Kanjokya Street, Bukoto in Kampala recently.

He said programmes advanced toward person’s with disabilities mostly benefit those with physical disabilities, leaving out the deaf and the blind.

Waswa said the deaf and blind can benefit from government programmes like UPE and USE given the right devices.

He said failure of government to engage them in development programmes had made them more disabled.

Fred Lukabule, a member of the group, urged the Government to carry out compulsory immunisation against rubella, one of the causes of deafness and blindness.

People classified as deaf and blind include those with partial sight and low hearing impairment or both.

NADBU consists of 200 members some of them professionals such as auditors, lawyers, accountants and teachers.

Houston man charged with sexually assaulting disabled roommate

From KTRK-TV in Texas:

HOUSTON -- A Houston man accused of sexually assaulting his 20-year-old mentally disabled roommate was behind bars March 22.

According to the Houston Police Department, Mario Dean Aguilar was picked out of a photo lineup by his victim.

Since the victim moved in with Aguilar in June 2010, he had been forced to perform sexual acts on a daily basis, officials said.

The man decided to move out of Aguilar's east Houston home and started to pack his things to leave March 12, police said. That's when police said Aguilar found out and grew angry, telling the victim "to go into the bedroom and drop his pants," court documents state.

Aguilar became angrier when the young man refused and he commanded a dog to bite the victim, police said.

Investigators said the man was afraid after the dog bit him that Aguilar's threats to have the dog hurt him again were true, so he complied with Aguilar's demands.

The victim later told his case worker with the Harris County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Association what happened, and she called police to launch an investigation.

Aguilar, 52, has an extensive arrest record with charges in Harris County dating back to 1993 and ranging from drug possession to assault and prostitution. He was arrested Monday and charged with sexual assault of an adult. He was being held at Harris County Jail Tuesday without bond.

Thai researchers unveil standing wheelchair

From The Nation in Thailand:

Disabled people who are normally confined to a seated position in a traditional wheelchair are now be able to stand up and stretch out with ease and safety thanks to the local development of a standing wheelchair.

The standing wheelchair, developed by a research team at Thammasat University with funding from the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), will be one of the highlights at the NSTDA's Annual Conference, starting on Thursday at Thailand Science Park.

The head of the development team Bunyong Rungroungdouyboon, said the semi-powered standing wheelchair was assistive technology, similar to a standing frame, which allowed a wheelchair user to raise the chair from a seated to a standing position. The standing wheelchair supports a person in a standing position and enables interaction with people and objects at eye level.

The device took two years to develop, and the first standing wheelchair was ready for use in late 2009. Since then, more than 50 standing wheelchairs have been built and are in daily use by disabled people.

"We were supported by research and development funding from NSTDA. As the result we have developed and provided 50 standing wheelchairs for disabled people in Thailand at a cost of Bt 15,000 each, and that is much cheaper than imported models," Bunyong said, adding that the development was based on machine engineering and the standing wheelchairs are produced by the Thai Wheel Company.

This standing wheelchair won a national engineering award in 2009 and a consolation prize in "i-Create 2009" - the IBM Assistive Rehabilitative Technology Student Design Challenge.

Apart from the standing wheelchair, many other examples of local research and development will be demonstrated at the NSTDA's Annual Conference (NAC 2011), which will run from Thursday through Saturday.

The theme of the conference relates science and technology to preparing to deal with a disaster of global proportions. There will be more than 100 research and development showcases and seminars with 30 different topics - for instance, "Facing Climate Change Impact with Science & Technology: From Urban Floods to Forest Fires" by Chinese climate-change researcher Professor Ding Chen.

Technology showcases will include rapid-prototyping technology and a basic building block for carbon nanomaterials called GrapheneX.

Rapid-prototyping technology involves the automatic construction of physical objects using additive manufacturing technology. It takes virtual designs from computer-aided design (CAD) or animation modelling software, transforms them into thin, virtual, horizontal cross-sections and then creates successive layers until the model is complete.

The head of the research team at the National Metal and Materials Technology Centre Kriskrai Sitthiseripratip said the project aimed to develop novel materials that would allow a basically industrial process to be given medical applications, especially for bone implants.

The raw materials usually used by rapid-prototyping technology are unsuitable for medical applications, so the process had to be converted to silicone or plaster moulds, and these required additional procedures, time and cost, he said.

However, the process was eventually refined and is now used to improve the quality and safety of surgery for Thai patients. To date, about 850 patients in 77 hospitals throughout the country have benefited from this research.

Meanwhile, GrapheneX is a basic building block for carbon nanomaterials such as 0D buckball, 1D carbon nanotubes and 2D graphite. It has several advantages, such as providing large 2D electrical conductivity, a large surface area, high elasticity, high thermal conductivity and transparency as well as a tuneable band gap.

It also has high mechanical strength, being almost 200 times stronger than steel and, more importantly, it is based on graphite, which is commercially available at a low cost.

The director of the Nanoelectronics and Microelectromechanical Systems Laboratory at the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec), Adisorn Tuantranont, said his research team had come up with a proprietary formula for synthesising graphene polymer conductive ink by using a method called electrolytic exfoliation.

It can be used as a transparent electrode to replace indium tin oxide (ITO) in flexible displays.

"When Thailand has uplifted its capability in graphene-based electronic-device technology, we will be able to use it not only for displays but also to build nanotransistors down to 10 nanometres, with 100GHZ and memory devices," he said.

Graphene also provides a large surface area that is suitable for electrochemical sensors and molecular-gas sensors because it boosts sensor sensitivity by more than 50 per cent, he said.

India joins worldwide efforts to unchain mentally ill people

From the Times of India:

NEW DELHI, India -- India is all set to be part of the global movement to free mentally ill people from chains.

A shameful practice often referred to as a blot on human rights, mentally ill patients in the southeast Asia region, including India, are chained to poles or their beds in institutions meant to cure them.

In the Erwadi tragedy in India in 2001, over 20 people with mental illness were burned to death after a fire swept though an institute in which they were chained to their beds. Now, India in its draft Mental Health Care Bill 2010, which comes up for national consultation on Tuesday, prohibits "chaining of mentally ill patients in any manner or form".

It also prohibits electro-convulsive therapy without the use of muscle relaxants and anesthesia, electro-convulsive therapy for minors and sterilization of men or women, when is intended as a treatment for mental illness.

The bill also says that mentally ill patients can't be subject to compulsory tonsuring (shaving of head hair) and have to wear own personal clothes and not be forced to wear uniforms provided by the facility.

The bill gives special mention to how minors with mental illnesses need to be handled. It says any person under the age of 18 years (minor) can be admitted to a mental health facility only in exceptional circumstances and when two psychiatrists have independently examined the minor on the day of admission or in the preceding seven days and both conclude that "the minor has a mental illness of a severity warranting admission to a mental health facility".

The bill gives least amount of importance to seclusion and admission in "facilities".

It says: "Mental health services shall provide treatment in a manner which supports persons with mental illness to live in the community and with their families. Long-term hospital-based mental health treatment shall be used only in exceptional circumstances, for as short a duration as possible, and only as a last resort when appropriate community-based treatment has been tried and shown to have failed."

According to the draft bill, physical restraint or seclusion may only be used when it is the only means available to prevent imminent and immediate harm to the person concerned or to others. Also physical restraint can only be used if it is authorized by the psychiatrist in charge of the person's treatment at the mental health facility.

The draft bill also calls for the setting up of a Mental Health Review Commission within three months of the Act coming into force to exercise the powers. The commission's president has to be of the level of a HC judge.

DREDF to produce short videos on health care experiences of people with disabilities


The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) has received a grant to produce 10 to 12 short (maximum 5 min.) videos on the health care experiences of people with disabilities. Our concept for this project is to use video storytelling as an advocacy tool by presenting unvarnished stories that illuminate the problems people with disabilities frequently experience when they seek health care.

We hope to illustrate the impact on health care outcomes when people with disabilities encounter barriers and problems including but not limited to difficulty communicating with health care professionals because Sign Language interpreters are not available; lack of accessible equipment such as height adjustable examination tables, wheelchair accessible weight scales, and mammography equipment; inadequate time for office visits; or that result from incorrect assumptions or negative attitudes of some treating professionals about people with disabilities.

The videos will be captioned and accompanied by a narrative explanation of accommodations that should have been provided in each case, and that also may have been required by law, or an explanation of the impact on health outcomes when providers lack disability awareness. A resource guide will also be developed as part of the project. We plan to disseminate the final videos and related materials widely, at no charge, on the Internet and through various disability and public health networks.

Teachers and instructors can use the videos individually or as a group for classes in public health, law, cultural awareness, and medical and other professional health care and continuing education. Disability advocates can use the videos in awareness campaigns and as an adjunct to public policy and legislative campaigns. They can also be presented at conferences, meetings, and workshops on a wide variety of healthcare topics that include discussions of diversity, quality of care, wellness and prevention, and care coordination.

Please help us identify people who might be interested in participating in our project by telling their stories. We hope to identify a diverse group of people of various ages, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and who are from both rural and urban areas who are willing to share their experiences with us.

While it will not be necessary for people who participate to identify the name of their health care provider, clinic, or hospital, we ask that participants identify themselves, their disability, and their place of residence. Our grant provides funding for a film crew to travel to a few locations throughout the country, so we have the capacity to meet with some individuals either in their homes or offices in order to make this process as efficient and easy as possible.

If you know of people who have stories they would be willing to share, please either ask them to contact me or, with their permission, provide their contact information to me.

We are very excited about this project and think the final product will help support advocacy for improved health care for people with disabilities. If you have any questions please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.

Many thanks.
Best regards,
Mary Lou Breslin
Senior Policy Advisor
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)
3075 Adeline Street, Suite 210
Berkeley, CA 94703
510-843-4062 (message)

Alabama advocates want last institution for people with intellectual disabilities closed


MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Dozens of people turned out in Montgomery March 22, supporting the effort to close the state’s only remaining institution for the developmentally disabled.

The Partlow Development Center in Tuscaloosa will shut its doors in September—a move that has created a divide among the public.

There are lawmakers who want to keep the facility open and soon they will propose legislation that would call for such action. But members of the group “People First” say that Partlow needs to close in an effort to give its residents a better way of life.

“People with disabilities should have a right and a choice in their lives, not being spoon fed. Do this. Do that at 9. Medication at 10,” Jeff Ridgeway who supports Partlow’s closing said. “In the community you have choice. You get to make your own friends. You get to live more independently.”

People’s First of Alabama is a group of individuals with developmental disabilities already living in communities throughout the state. Soon, the 150 people currently living at Partlow will be placed in community based homes.

Ridgeway actually compared being in a facility like Partlow to prison. He and others say this is the best thing that could happen for the residents.

Officials with the state’s Department of Mental Health say for the amount of money it costs to house one person at Partlow, they can house three people for the same amount in the community

Florida school wants girl with life-threatening peanut allergy home-schooled so it doesn't have to protect her health

From Reuters:

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Some public school parents in Edgewater, Florida, want a first-grade girl with life-threatening peanut allergies removed from the classroom and home-schooled, rather than deal with special rules to protect her health, a school official said.

"That was one of the suggestions that kept coming forward from parents, to have her home schooled. But we're required by federal law to provide accommodations. That's just not even an option for us," said Nancy Wait, spokeswoman for the Volusia County School District.

Wait said the 6-year-old's peanut allergy is so severe it is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

To protect the girl, students in her class at Edgewater Elementary School are required to wash their hands before entering the classroom in the morning and after lunch, and rinse out their mouths, Wait said, and a peanut-sniffing dog checked out the school during last week's spring break.

Wait said school leaders will meet this week with parents to address concerns and try to halt inaccurate rumors that children's mouths were being wiped with disinfectant.

Chris Burr, a father of two older students at the school whose wife has protested at the campus, said a lot of small accommodations have added up to frustration for many parents.

"If I had a daughter who had a problem, I would not ask everyone else to change their lives to fit my life," said Burr.

Attempts to teach the girl's parents for comment on Monday were unsuccessful.

Stadium in Sioux Falls, SD, to add wheelchair access

From The Argus-Leader:

Howard Wood Field (pictured) will stand one story taller at the conclusion of a $6.9 million renovation project scheduled to begin next month.

Officials redesigned the high school sports venue's new press and coaches boxes to sit above a new platform for handicap-accessible seating. At the top of the home side of the grandstand, there will be 36 spaces for handicapped spectators and 36 seats for their companions.

Jeff Kreiter, operational services director for the Sioux Falls School District, said the original design would have put those seats on either side of the press box, but spectators would not have been able to move from one side to the other.

The redesign puts the press box 10 feet higher and eight feet closer to the field and improves sightlines for the handicap-accessible seats beneath.

It's an improvement for everyone watching the action, Kreiter said, and "it was actually slightly cheaper."

With elevator-access, it should be a dramatic improvement for fans such as Charlene Harbert, who uses a scooter outside the home.

"When I was able to climb the bleachers, I would go to every Roosevelt game and some of the others," she said.

But with her mobility now limited by multiple disorders that cause pain and muscle weakness, watching games at Howard Wood no longer is much fun. The 54-year-old stadium was built decades before Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it has no wheelchair-accessible spaces above ground level.

"It's not as fun because all I see is helmets and butts," Harbert said. "It's just not a very friendly place."

The entire project - rebuilding the press and coaches boxes and replacing the track and concrete grandstand - should be done in time for the 2012 high school football season. That's three years behind the original repair schedule, which was postponed while the city and school district considered building a new events center on the site.

Construction bids are due back to the school district March 29, and precast manufacturing for the grandstands will begin soon after. The significant work will begin after the Festival of the Bands in October, the stadium's last major event this year, and the track will be rebuilt starting in May 2012 after the Howard Wood Relays.

School officials point out the new stadium will function much like the old one, but there are some upgrades. The coaches boxes will have restrooms for the first time, as well as a commons area and two-tiered seating, and will be better equipped for technology.

From the parking lot, fans will see a grid of metal panels and windows on the back of the new press box. Depending on the bids, fans also might see a series of large mesh banners with sports themes that distract their eyes from the concrete columns.

"I think it turned out very nice," Kreiter said of Koch Hazard Architects' design. "It's going to give it a totally different look."

The most fan-friendly amenity will be installed next month - a $785,000 Daktronics video scoreboard with instant replay. Sanford Health gave the district $600,000 for the scoreboard, and insurance proceeds from the collapse of the old scoreboard will cover the rest.

In New York state, voters approve funding school district's ADA compliance


ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Voters approved a major renovation project for the Naples Central School District.

The school district says 788 people voted yes, 657 voted no to spending $21 million dollars in capital improvements.

This was the second public vote on the project in the last four months.

The project in the Ontario County community was presented to voters in December and it failed by 32 votes.

"We have to preserve our aging schools," said District Superintendent Kimberle Ward. "and the measure only failed by 32 votes. That's why we went back to people, and made some changes."

Right now, the schools are not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, making it tough for some students and visitors to maneuver the hallways, Ward said. One narrow corridor leads to a small cafeteria, and next door, students play basketball in a gym with large cracks on the wooden floor.

"We're also worried about the old boilers that heat our pool," Ward said. "The brick around the utilities room is so old, it's starting to crumble."

The new, scaled-back plan reduces the cost of the project by $815,000, and the district plans to use $600,000 worth of Capital Reserve monies to reduce borrowing.

At the Junior-Senior High School, the overall addition was decreased by 1,000 square feet, and the entryways were made smaller. The district office, which administrators had hoped to move, will remain in it's current location.

"We started looking at the main entrance and made it more traditional for security reasons," Ward said. "We also decided to add technology classrooms, and renovate, but not expand the gym."

The total cost of the project: $21,710,000. A large chunk of the funding will come from the State Education Department's "Building Aid."

But that still requires extra money from taxpayers, and some say, any increase is too much.

Property owners will pay $1.38 per $1,000 of assessed value. That's roughly an extra $138 in one year for a $100,000 home.

The school district says project bids will be awarded in the late summer of 2012 with construction expected to start next fall.



Segways become mobility aid of choice for many disabled vets

From 10 TV News:

SAN DIEGO -- Some 30 military veterans injured in Iraq or Afghanistan are in San Diego training for a new mission and using what has been described as a miracle device.

Jerry Kerr broke his neck in a diving accident 13 years ago. Confined to a wheelchair, it wasn't until he obtained a Segway, a self-propelled two-wheeled device, that his life changed forever.

"I was able to do more. I was better able to serve my family. My family had a better quality of life," Kerr said.

Kerr got the idea that if it worked for him, it might work for veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan who had suffered traumatic injuries.

Army Sgt. Justin Bond, who lost a leg from an improvised explosive device in Iraq, has been on a Segway for two years.

"When I go home, I'm disabled. When I take a shower, I'm disabled. When I'm on the Segway, I don't look disabled, so I don't feel disabled," said Bond.

The nonprofit Segways for Veterans program, which started five years ago, relies on donations to purchase the Segway, which even at a discount costs roughly $7,700 apiece.

"We started by giving three away to deserving veterans," Kerr said. "In five years, we've been able to give 500 away."

Army Sgt. Armando Mejia, who was wounded in Iraq, has never been on one before but took to it immediately.

"You don't remember you have your injuries. You just whoosh and I always wanted to be this tall, too," said Mejia.

Thirty more Segways will be given to veterans on Wednesday aboard the USS Midway museum.

Justice Department tells state attorney generals they must fight illegal exclusion of individuals with HIV/AIDS from occupational training and state licensing

From DOJ:

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department has issued letters to the attorneys general of all 50 states, as well as U.S. territories to request their assistance in addressing the illegal exclusion of individuals with HIV/AIDS from occupational training and state licensing.

Persons with HIV and persons with AIDS are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which gives federal civil rights protections to persons with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, and state and local government services.

The Justice Department has learned that public and private trade schools for barbering, cosmetology, massage therapy, home health care work and other occupations, as well as state licensing agencies, may be illegally denying individuals with HIV/AIDS admission to trade schools and/or occupational licenses because of their HIV status.

However, because HIV cannot be transmitted by casual contact or by the circumstances present in these occupations, HIV-positive status is irrelevant.

In his letter to the attorneys general, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez asked that they review their respective jurisdictions’ admission and licensing criteria for trade schools and licensing agencies to identify the existence of any criteria that unlawfully exclude or discriminate against persons with HIV/AIDS, and to take the steps necessary to bring all such programs into compliance with the ADA.

“It is critical that we continue to work to eradicate discriminatory and stigmatizing treatment towards individuals with HIV based on unfounded fears and stereotypes,” Assistant Attorney General Perez said. “The ADA clearly protects individuals with HIV and other disabilities from this kind of exclusion or marginalization.”

The department recently entered into a settlement agreement with Modern Hairstyling Institute Inc., a private cosmetology school in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, for delaying the admission of an HIV-positive individual. That settlement agreement requires the school to remove questions about applicants’ HIV/AIDS status and to promptly enroll the aggrieved individual in its cosmetology program.

The department has also addressed related issues in its guidance entitled, “Questions and Answers: The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rights of Persons with HIV/AIDS to Obtain Occupational Training and State Licensing” (

Singapore aims to make its digital content more accessible

From Future Gov Asia:

While we exploit technology and work on interoperability to share digital contents over multiple platforms, what we don’t realise is that we might inadvertently leave behind a group of individuals who may have difficulty accessing these digital content, said Chia Woon Yee (pictured), Director of Technology & Vocational Training at the Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD).

While countries aim for a knowledge workforce and government moves digital, individuals with visual impairment, physical disabilities, hearing impairment and learning disabilities may have been neglected. These people may not be able to interact with digital contents unless the contents are made accessible, explained Chia to FutureGov Asia Pacific.

“As more and more information is transferred electronically, making digital content accessible becomes a social responsibility, especially if the content is meant for the public,” she said.

Hence, SPD has made a formal advocacy appeal to the Government to reinstate a direction on accessible ICT and web accessibility in the Intelligent Nation 2015 (iN2015) Masterplan, and to take the lead by making all government and e-government portals conform the international standards of web accessibility by 2015.

According to Chia, making digital content accessible is neither a difficult nor expensive task. “Most common software applications like Adobe PDF maker and Microsoft Office have built-in tools for making documents accessible,” said Chia.

While providing accessibility benefits people with disabilities who are deemed a minority group, Chia said that it should not be forgotten that these same accessible features are also useful for non-disabled people—such as older persons who are slower, people with low literacy, people who have low Internet bandwidth, and individuals accessing content through mobile devices.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outlines the following four basic principles in making websites accessible:

•Perceivable— Information and user interface components must be presentable to users such that they can perceive the presented information, i.e. it can’t be invisible to all their senses

•Operable— Users must be able to operate interface components and navigate. The interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform

•Understandable— Users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface

•Robust— Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. Users must be able to access the content even as technologies advance

In U.S. Army, first double amputee leads recruits through basic training


Losing both of his legs did not mean the end of Captain Brian Brennan’s career in the U.S. Army.

Brennan (pictured), 23, has become the first double amputee to lead a company of recruits through basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.

On May 7, 2008, he was a lieutenant in Afghanistan leading a convoy of the second platoon of Delta Company, 506th Infantry Division, 101st Airborne, when his Humvee struck a roadside bomb near the village of Zambar. Brennan went into cardiac arrest.

He sustained an acute brain injury, a collapsed lung, internal bleeding, a ruptured spleen, multiple compound fractures of his left arm, and a shattered femur. Like his gunner, Brennan lost his legs in the blast that also killed two other soldiers and a civilian.

He endured extensive rehabilitation, and with the help of advanced prosthetics,

Brennan put himself in a position that no other amputee has by leading young soldiers through basic training. Only a handful of others like him are still in the Army at all, performing less physically demanding duties.

Interaction with horses helps ease mental health problems of some youth in New Zealand

From The Bay of Plenty Times in New Zealand:

Young people in the Western Bay battling depression and anxiety are among those reaping the benefits of weekly equestrian therapy sessions at Tauranga Riding for the Disabled (RDA).

Co-developed by Tauranga occupational therapist Gail Morley, the therapeutic care programme is designed to improve the self-esteem, confidence and self-belief among children aged 10 to 17 who are battling the challenges of mental illness.

Others face obsessive compulsive disorder, Aspergers and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Tauranga RDA chief executive Kat MacMillan said horses were successful in helping overcome mental illness.

"The people coaching are just a facilitator. Because it's a big graceful, potentially intimidating, animal it seems to stimulate the absolute natural reaction. If it's a fear they learn to overcome it, if it's empathy that may have been locked up, it suddenly triggers that empathy to come out. It cuts out all the nonsense that they've been using as self defence to protect their own feelings and they just get on with being who they really are."

The eight-week course covers topics including communication, relationships, responsibility, trust, independence, teamwork and achievement, finishing with a group dressage performance to music.

"It's amazing, the feedback we get from parents and the riders themselves is often fantastic," Ms Morley said.

The programme gives young people, who often struggle with behavioural and emotional problems, the chance to learn and experience being able to do and succeed at something independently.

"This course is designed to give these kids that feeling on a weekly basis while they're here," Ms Morley said.

In the second school term, Ms Morley and registered nurse Julie Jensen will run a programme called Girls Rule at Tauranga RDA which will use equine therapy to boost the self-esteem of six girls, aged between 12 and 14.

Ms Morley said the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association programme had been successful in America in helping treat eating disorders, addiction and with family violence survivors. The programme does not involve any riding or care of horses but uses interaction with the animals as a treatment for mental health.

All clients are referred to the programmes by Bay of Plenty District Health Board's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.