January 2010

Commemorative Coins for Disabled Veterans

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On February 21st, the first of two commemorative coins honoring disabled veterans is scheduled to be released. The coin, known as the 2010 American Veterans Disabled for Life Silver Dollar is struck from 90% silver and 10% copper, and is authorized by the American Veterans Disabled for Life Commemorative coin act of 2008. Each coin features an image of the legs of three disabled veterans on the obverse of the coin along with the inscription “THEY STOOD UP FOR US.” The reverse shows a wreath of oak branches with a forget-me-not flower at its base. Inside the wreath the inscription “Take This Moment to Honor Our Disabled Defenders of Freedom” is found.

Labor Department Listen Tour Targets Employment for Disabled

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Improving the job prospects for the disabled is the target of the US Labor Department listening tour. They are also focusing on gathering information on what programs are working. On Wednesday, the “Tour” pulled into the Pennsylvania Convention Center in center city Philadelphia. Keith Williams, a wheelchair bound advocate for the disabled, stated “Sometimes the public — or employers, mainly — think that people with disabilities might be suited to different jobs like computer system work, information systems work, or something behind a desk when, actually, if you think a little creatively and outside the box, people with disabilities can be well suited for any kind of a job.” Kathy Martinez, the Labor Departments assistant secretary for disability employment believes that there’s been a lot of progress made over the last twenty years but more needs to be done to improve job opportunities and services for people with disabilities.

Nobel Prize Winning Non-Profit Arrives in Haiti with Prosthetics

Nobel Peace Prize winning organization Handicap International expects to stay in Haiti for the long haul. The first plane load of short term prostheses has already arrived. They have logged 500 amputees, and based on information received, Handicap International anticipates the number of Haitians who have had to have limbs cut off has exceeded 2000.
The numbers are staggering when you factor in the disproportionate number of amputees as well as those who will be left para and quadriplegic. Right now they are focusing on setting up a facility in Haiti that will produce long term prosthetics, and hope to have it up and running within months. Wendy Batson, executive director of the US branch of Handicap International said: “We’re setting up a database and moving in the medical equipment we need so that as soon as stumps are healed enough after surgery, we can put on DynaCast prosthetics, which last four to six months.” By the time the temporary prosthetics are ready to be replaced, the new production facility will be in place.

About Handicap International: Handicap International was founded in Thailand in 1982 by two French doctors. The first orthopaedic centres were set up in refugee camps in Cambodia, Burma and Laos. Simple, locally available equipment was used enabling Handicap International to provide immediate, effective and practical aid and to train competent local teams. The organization extended its work to other countries.

More Information

Update on Tongue Powered Wheelchair

We have an update on the tongue powered wheelchair, which you all have been very interested in over the past several months.

Paralyzed from the neck down from a skimboarding accident, Cruise Bogle was flown to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta where he was chosen to test drive a new piece of technology. Joining forces with scientists from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Shepherd is trying out a new wheelchair that is not powered by a keyboard or buttons or a wand in the mouth, but by the patients tongue.

One of the major advantages of the tongue is that it is directly connected to the brain,” says Maysam Ghovanloo, assistant professor at Georgia Tech and head of the project. Once Cruise Bogle mastered the movement of his tongue to generate different commands for his chair, his tongue was fitted with a magnet, no bigger than a piece of rice. The magnet works much like a mouse pad with the tongue as the cursor. Moving the tongue forward sends a wireless signal to six sensors in the headset that cause the wheelchair to go forward. Moving the tongue back and the chair goes in reverse. Bogle was able to navigate an obstacle course of cones by touching his tongue to certain parts of his mouth.

Researchers at Georgia Tech are working on ways to improve the equipment. The original trial only worked with six commands, but The Tongue Drive system being developed now has the ability to capture a larger number of movements, each will represent a different command. Other mouth-manipulation techniques are being worked on by other researchers, however, Georgia Tech is the only group focusing on the tongue.

More at: CNN

Three out of Five Medicare Claims for Power Wheelchairs Wrong

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In a recent oversight report done by the Department of Health and Human resources and released in December of 2009, it was concluded that the federal government and Medicare beneficiaries are footing the bill for $112 million in improper Medicare payments made to suppliers of power wheelchairs.
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) used a random sample of 375 claims for standard and complex rehabilitation power wheelchairs. Three out of five claims did not meet Medicare documentation requirements, and two out of five power wheelchair claims had multiple errors. The documentation error rate for standard power chair claims is 58%, and 93% for complex rehabilitation power chairs.

“The OIG report actually confirms what wheelchair providers and physicians have said for the past three years–the Medicare documentation requirements for power wheelchairs are inconsistent, far too complex, and must be improved so both physicians and wheelchair providers can serve patients and successfully meet Medicare regulations,” said Tyler J. Wilson, OIG president.

Have you had trouble filing claims for your power wheelchair?

Congress and VA Urged to Reduce Backlog of Disability Claims

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Peter Gaytan, executive director of The American Legion’s headquarters in Washington is urging the Veteran’s Administration to clear its backlog of disability claims. Right now there are over 400,000 new claims and another 200,000 denials being appealed. Gaytan believes that it is a problem that will not go away anytime soon, but can be reduced. “One of the most effective ways we can help veterans and their families is to make sure these claims are processed carefully and thoroughly–and that the correct decision is made the first time,” he said. Legislative division director, Steve Robertson, is meeting with federal legislators with a recommendation that Congress use its oversight authority to measure progress being made by VA.
Claims can take the VA from six months to a year to make a determination on a claim, and if a claim is denied, it can take several years to be resolved. Many claims are rejected due to lack of documentation, and VA doesn’t tek the time to investigate. VA employees get a work credit each time they make a decision on a claim…whether or not it is the right decision or not. Steve Smithson, disability claims expert for The American Legion stated: “That kind of work incentive program can compromise quality, because getting the proper information and making a proper decision often takes a lot more time. If you start taking shortcuts, then mistakes are made and claims are erroneously denied.”

Faithfully Disabled: ADA Laws Do Not Apply to Churches

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Photo by Joe Woodruff on Flickr

Shawana Bulloch said it best. “The one place you should be able to go is in the church without assistance, you should be able to walk in—or roll in.” Yet years after passage of the ADA, separation of church and state means that houses of worship remain beyond the law’s reach. State laws meant to tackle this problem face many problems. Not only are they tricky to enforce, but Churches say that they are costly and impractical.

The definition of what is “reasonable accommodation” for one, may not apply to another. Enforcement is left up to local officials. As the disabled community expands, there is a growing demand for a more prominent place in the pews. “Even congregations that have a decent level of awareness, many of them have stopped at basic accommodations,” said Mark Crenshaw, of the consulting group Interfaith Disability Connection.

Have you or a loved one had trouble accessing a house of worship? If so, has anyone offered to help make the space more accessible, or has it been difficult?

Disabled worshippers struggle as many churches lack access – From USA Today.

Dragon Age: Origins Wins Accessible Game of the Year Award

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Ablegamers is a website that reviews and rates games based on accessibility. Recently, it gave EA/Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins the most accessible game of the year award. “What makes this title so exceptional is the level of options given to the gamer to choose their level of accessibility. Options are the key component to adding accessibility without harming the overall gameplay of the title.” said Mark Barlet, the Editor in Chief of Ablegamers.

Dragon Age gives the gamer many accessibility options, such as subtitles, the ability to play with one hand, and options for deaf gamers and colorblind gamers. However, the main strength is in the sheer number of options you have regarding the controls. Barlet says “this is crucial, it is all about the options. Not all gamers will use them, but for those that need to use them it is good that they are there.”

Dragon Age offers subtitles, the characters can be manipulated with a mouse or keyboard (including on-screen keyboards), fonts are improved and easily read, even for those with color impairment. Another interesting feature is that you can pause the game during action packed scenes, and while the game is paused, you can input orders for actions to take place after the pause is over.

The gaming industry is beginning to ask the right questions, and becoming more open to the idea of accessible games.

Gaming has for a long time been thought of as beneficial for rehabilitation, physical therapy, exercising the mind, and of course, fun! A recent study at the Indiana University School of Medicine hooked up gaming systems in three teenager patient’s homes and had them play everyday for 30 minutes. At the end of the study, the kids improved significantly in many areas and could use their injured hands much better. This study is a sign that games may be a great way to administer physical therapy for all sorts of health issues.

If you’re interested in other accessible games, check out Aion by NCSoft, and Torchlight by Runis Games. Both received high marks from AbleGamers in their reviews.
Do you play video or PC games? If so, what are your favorites?

Source: Ars Technica
See our previous coverage of Able Gamers
Indiana University Gaming Study

Woman’s Handicapped Van Stolen; Strangers Step In

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Gloria Gallegos, a New Mexico disabled woman, invested thousands of dollars to make her van handicapped accessible. Last week it was stolen while she was grocery shopping, leaving her in desperate need of help. Saturday it was found abandoned. Tires and rims were gone, and the windows were broken out. It is uncertain whether or not insurance will cover the damage. Total strangers in her neighborhood have been reaching out to help Ms Gallegos. A local glass company has offered to replace the windows and detail the van at no cost. A neighborhood restaurant has donated cash. Gallegos is very thankful for the help and hopes that the police discover who is responsible for the theft. She says to whoever is responsible, “I hope they feel bad for what they did,” because “they knew the minute they got in that car, they knew it was for a handicapped person.”

Do you think having a van with conversions puts drivers at more risk to have their vehicles stolen or vandalized? What precautions can one take to make sure that their vans are safe?

Special Education Funds Being Diverted

Special education received a boost of 11.3 billion in funding from the stimulus plan, however some school districts in Florida and Nevada have found a little used loophole in the law to direct the funding elsewhere. A provision in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act allows school districts that are performing well to lower contribution to special education in years when the federal government increases funding for the program. School administrators state that by shifting the money it will allow them to save jobs and valuable programs that will benefit a wider range of students. Supporters of special education believe that special needs students are being shortchanged. President of the Learning Disabilities Association of Florida said that he would have liked to see the funds spark “new and innovative programs” for special education. “This is a slap in the face,” said Candace Cortiella, director of the Advocacy Institute, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that advises students with disabilities. “This historic funding that could have had a huge impact with [special-education] students, and states and districts have instead chosen to minimize the amount of good.”