December 2010

New Year’s Eve Guide for Wheelchair Users

Many people don’t realize in the midst of all the party planning and celebrations, there are many limitations for wheelchair users to overcome on holiday’s such as New Year’s Eve. Sadly there are few venues, bars, clubs, and hot spots that are wheelchair accessible, leaving options for wheelchair users confined to a handful of places. While the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has done a lot to promote awareness of and accessibility for people with disabilities, there are still considerable frustrations for those traveling by wheelchair during the holidays.

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 addressed the issue of accessibility to workplaces, transportation, government and public buildings, stores, theaters, hotels and restaurants, requiring that buildings be modified as much as possible to accommodate people with disabilities. Requirements for new buildings are explicit and extensive. If a new building is open to the public, it must be open to the entire public, providing accessible entry and use of all facilities and services. Where most problems arise for wheelchair-using patrons, is in buildings constructed before 1990. The ADA requires what has come to be described as “reasonable accommodation.” What may seem reasonable may or may not be realistic, and, try as they may; some building owners are unable to provide full accessibility.

Many accessibility problems are a function of geography and economics. Accommodating any large number of people can mean stairs both outside and in. To this day, buildings reflect early construction problems. Given the issue of “reasonable accommodation,” asking very direct questions will ensure a pleasant experience in independent restaurants. Staff may be ignorant of how “reasonable” translates for someone using a wheelchair, and “uh, sure” is not an adequate answer to questions about accommodations.

  • Do you have steps outside, inside?
  • Is there a path of travel accessible by wheelchair from the street to the event location which will enable people in wheelchairs to reach the building in which the event is located?
  • Are sidewalks even and in good repair and are they clear of ice, snow, or other debris?
  • Is there a ramp?
  • Are the bar and the dining area on the same level
  • Is there room between tables for a wheelchair?
  • How often do people in wheelchairs dine in your restaurant?
  • Are there steps to get in the building or elsewhere that must be used? (fire exits)
  • Do you have wide doorways?
  • Are there accessible bathrooms?
  • If parking is provided as part of your event, are “handicapped parking” spaces provided as well?
  • If food is served at the event, is the food service accessible to a person in a wheelchair or with another type if mobility impairment?
  • If the serving is buffet, can a wheelchair user negotiate the spaces around and between the tables?

If you are staying at a hotel, be sure they are accessible too.

  • Is the bed the correct height for me to transfer?
  • Does it have a roll-in shower?
  • When I make a reservation, will I be guaranteed an accessible room is reserved for me?
  • Confirm your reservation a few days before leaving for the event.

A direct question is the best way to determine whether a restaurant stays on your list. Where is the bathroom? Is there room to get to it in a wheelchair? Direct questions will prevent it from becoming an exercise in futility or humiliation.

Stem Cells Allow Quadriplegic Donkey to Walk Again

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Eli the donkey is another noted case where animals have had success using adult stem cells to rehabilitate their mobility. The donkey became a quadriplegic due to an attack from a stable mate, leaving his spinal cord severely damaged. Two weeks after Eli’s injury he could not lift his head and developed pneumonia, resulting in near death.

Many believe his case worsened due to receiving a poor prognosis by Dr. Mike Kistler, who believed Eli would not survive. Dr. Mike Kistler has had years of training and experience in human spinal trauma whom stated, “In a human, a comparable injury would have been sustained by diving into shallow water, and the majority of those injuries would have a poor prognosis, with paralysis.”

A pioneer in the veterinary use of adult stem cells, Dr. Doug Herthel, D.V.M., began to treat Eli with adult mesenchymal stem cells. Because of Eli’s condition being so harsh, Dr. Doug Herthel believed he did not have time to gather and process Eli’s own bone marrow adult stem cells. The time limitation pushed Herthel to use adult stem cells from a thoroughbred racehorse.

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Herthel said, “Mesenchymal stem cells can selectively target injured tissue and promote functional recovery. They can be attracted to damaged tissue by chemical signals released from damaged cells.” Within 48 hours, Eli was given more stem cell treatments, and Herthel saw improvements in the donkey. Two months after his accident, attendants found Eli standing in his stall.

“We couldn’t figure out how he got up. So we went back and looked at the [intensive care unit] video, and we saw him get up on his own. It wasn’t pretty, but he got up, and that’s what counts. After that third treatment, he just got better and better, and his muscle mass came back.”

Solar Powered Wheelchair Sets New World Guinness Record

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At the age of 4, Haidar Taleb was diagnosed with polio and has been in a wheelchair since. He is 47 years old now and has developed a solar powered wheelchair in the United Arab Emirates.  He ventured off on a 200 mile journey to prove the chair’s capabilities are reliable.

Masdar, the UAE’s leading renewable energy company, funded Taleb’s design for the solar powered chair, taking advantage of the vast amount of sunlight in his home country. Masdar is famous for its ambitious renewable energy/city, Masdar City, and aims to become the world’s first zero carbon metropolis.

The chair is powered by four 20-watt batteries, and it’s top speed is 12 mph. The 200 mile voyage across the desert is Taleb’s way of demonstrating and showcasing the wheelchairs abilities. “With this journey I hope to raise awareness of disability and sustainability as well as what we can achieve as individuals if we have the courage and determination to try,”  Taleb said.

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He is expecting to cross all seven emirates, where he will stop at schools and universities to inspire people and spread awareness. “I want to send out a message to disabled people that there are no obstructions. Whatever you think about, you can do. Give disabled people a chance, and they can perform miracles.”

His journey was expected to be completed on December 2nd, breaking the record for longest distance traveled in a solar-powered wheelchair – a record which he set himself just two weeks prior. He earned his place in the Guinness Book of World Records by making a journey of 80 miles in his chair in a 14 hour trip from Abu Dhabi to Sharjah.

Bamboo Wheelchair Eases Airport Security

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Japan Airlines has developed a bamboo wheelchair for use at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport in an effort to speed up security checks. This development allows passengers to pass through metal detectors at security gates in the airport more smoothly. Without causing the metal detectors to go off, traveling might become a little easier in the near future for people with disabilities.

The frame of wheelchair is made entirely from bamboo with rubber tires and carbon wheels. Completely handmade, each wheelchair costs some ¥600,000($7,167). The project is partially financed by donations from celebrities, including baseball commentator Norihiro Akahoshi, a former Hanshin Tigers outfielder who suffered serious damage to his spinal cord while he was a player.

Bamboo wheelchair unveiled at Haneda airport

The Airline and a workshop in Oita Prefecture, which is known for bamboo production, worked on developing the chair together. The wheelchair has no materials made of metal and is 90 percent bamboo, including the brake gear. The parts which aren’t made of bamboo are the shock absorbers,  tires, wheels, and axles which are made of reinforced plastic. The chair has been proven to be quite comfortable and has passed endurance tests. The development of the chair has taken four years, and each chair is hand-crafted.

Japan Airlines said the wheelchairs will be available at Oita airport on Kyushu Island and Haneda in Tokyo early February next year. The question is, when will they be available in the United States?

iPad Makes a Difference in Disabled Boy’s Life

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Owen Cain depends on a respirator and struggles to move due to a debilitating motor-neuron disease that he has had since he was an infant. His parents have tried multiple computerized communications to enhance his life apart from his disability, and so far the iPad seems to be the only thing that has made a difference for Owen.

At about eight weeks old, Owen’s mom noticed his right arm was drooping. This observation lead to the devastating diagnosis that Owen had developed spinal muscular atrophy type 1. His parents were then told he would be paralyzed for life, predicting he would not live past the age of two.

He is now seven and cannot produce enough strength to use a computer mouse, but in June when a nurse propped an iPad near Owen, he aimed his finger at an icon on the screen and barely touched it – opening the application. Since the iPad was released in April, it has been a very therapeutic tool for people with disabilities. Studies are being done to test its effectiveness. Specifically designed products for people with disabilities are generally more expensive and less reliable than the iPad itself.

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Owen’s grandmother gave  him a $600 iPad, and now his parents have invested in over $200 in applications for him. Though he is not able to speak, his parents have taught him how to read, write and do math. One app, Proloquo2Go, gives Owen the ability to touch an icon which than speaks, “I need to go to the bathroom.” Owen was also able to read a book on his own for the first time, using the tiniest movements to change the pages. These are just a few ways this electronic device has affected his life in a positive way.

Since he received his iPad, Owen has been attempting to read more books and playing around with games such as Air Guitar. One day he typed out on his keypad, “I want to be Han Solo for Halloween.”

“We have spent all this time keeping him alive, and now we owe him more than that. I see his ability to communicate and to learn as a big part of the challenge, not all of it, but a big part of it. And so, that’s my responsibility.” said his mother, Ellen Goldstein, vice president of Times Square Alliance Business Association.

Owen’s father, Hamilton Can , a book editor says, ” He loves Star Wars, he’s a normal child trapped in a not normal body.”

Lil Wayne Gives the Gift of Mobility

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While Lil Wayne was finishing his eight months in prison, many fans wrote him tons of encouraging messages. One particular fan, Ronda Austin, sent letters so heart felt that Lil Wayne ended up buying her mother a much-needed wheelchair.

Ronda said, “The first time I wrote Lil Wayne I just let him know that I support him, and I’m gonna keep writing him until he comes out. Just giving him a lot of encouragement [and] let  him know that God is with him and tell him to keep his head up and stay encouraged. I would send him bible verses all the time, just a lot of words of encouragement. I talked a lot about my family, about myself, especially about my mom and my dad, which I love very much ’cause I always talk about my parents. I guess one of my letters must have touched him and he just gave me a call.”  She said randomly in her conversation with Wayne, he bluntly came out and asked, “Did you and your dad get your mom a wheelchair yet?” She replied, “No, we’re still working on getting a chair.” He replied with, “alright, don’t worry about it…I’m gonna take care of it.”

Core Care Technologies arrived at the Austin’s front door in New Jersey to deliver Evelyn Austin’s new Quantum 6000 wheelchair. Evelyn had been stuck in her house for almost two years upon receiving her chair. Her family watched happily as she tested her new gift in the street. Evelyn didn’t know of Wayne before his gesture of kindness, but she states she wouldn’t forget his good deed.

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Ron Manno of Core Care Technologies said, “I don’t know much about Lil Wayne but I’ll tell you that what he’s done, I think it’s a gift. It’s very rare that you can find an opportunity to do what he’s done.”

Evelyn said, “I felt good, I felt really great. I didn’t know Wayne before now, but I do know him now and I thank him. I really thank him to be so great and give me a chair. He didn’t even know me and he got me a chair. I pray and ask God to bless him.”

“My mom hasn’t been out the house in the street in years. I just see such a difference in her. She has like, this get-up-and-go about her now. She can get in her chair, she’s more mobile and that means so much to us ’cause me and my dad, we’re doing a lot of things around the house and making my mom comfortable, but when she’s up and about, it’s just a good thing to see,” Ronda said.

Robotic Arms Enhance Brain-Controlled Devices for the Disabled

rhesus-monkey2In a new study, scientists discovered that the use of robotic sleeves added crucial sensory input that had been missing when learning to use brain-machine interfaces. The important key is that the paralysis patients must have retained some residual sensory information from the limbs despite the loss of motor function. This is common among patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS; also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), locked-in syndrome, or incomplete spinal cord injury.

A lot of patients that are motor-disabled might have partial sensory feedback,” said University of Chicago professor of Neuroscience, Nicholas Hatsopoulos. “That got us thinking that maybe we could use this natural form of feedback with wearable robots to provide that kind of feedback.”

Because most current brain-machine interfaces rely solely upon visual feedback, which is slow to learn and control, the researchers decided to base their study around proprioception — the sensation of a body part’s position and motion.

Organisms use multiple senses, including sight and touch, as feedback to adjust motor behavior. The ability to feel movements of the limbs and body is critical for normal motor control. Loss of this sense results in movements that are slow, poorly coordinated, and require great concentration.”

For their experiment, the researchers used adult rhesus monkeys and taught them to control a cursor without using only their thoughts via a device that translated activity in the brain’s primary motor cortex into cursor motion. Next, they slipped a sleeve-like robotic exoskeleton onto the monkey’s arm and had the monkeys move the cursor again through thought.

A wearable robot arm was used to move the monkey’s arm to follow the cursor so that they ‘felt’ the position and motion of the cursor with their arm,” said Hatsopoulos. “We measured the time it took the monkey to reach a target with the cursor … [and] the straightness of the path taken by the cursor.”

monkey-robot-arm

The results of the experiment showed that using the robotic arm provided the monkeys with a 40 percent faster cursor movement and the cursor path was 40 percent straighter.

This could be quite significant for daily activities being performed by a paralyzed patient that was equipped with such a system.”

Although the study is still in its early stages and has not yet been granted permission to be tested on human subjects, Hatsopoulos believes that the team’s findings may pave the way for the next generation of brain-controlled devices that include multiple forms of natural or artificially produced sensory feedback to benefit paralyzed patients.

“I believe brain-machine interfaces for motor control will become commercially available in the next five years,” Hatsopoulos said.

The findings have been published in The Journal of Neuroscience under the article, “Incorporating Feedback from Multiple Sensory Modalities Enhances Brain-Machine Interface Control.

Jetstar Airlines Faces Multiple Disability Discrimination Complaints

Jetstar Airlines made five-year-old Kellin Hyde, a child relying on a mechanical heart and recovering from a traumatic transplant, be carried through Melbourne Airport after refusing his family the use of a wheelchair. The airline also forced his mother, Andrea Hyde, to use the child’s Christmas money to fly his medication and toys home because their bags were over the weight limit even though the plane was not full. This all occurred after Andrea had told the airline about her son’s condition. His mother said, “Kellin was getting tired, and he was struggling because there was so many people around, so we asked if we could have help with a wheelchair to get to the airplane, and they said, ‘No, we don’t have wheelchairs.”

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After Kellin’s heart had failed in the past, he was put on a mechanical heart for over 5 months. He was revived and saved multiple times by Royal Children’s Hospital before receiving a traumatic transplant. After Kellin endured his surgery, his parents decided to celebrate on Thursday night, taking a trip to their Gold Coast home.

Upon arriving to the airport, all their joy was quickly stripped away after they were told their bags were too heavy to be brought along. Their luggage was simply full of medication and toys donated by children’s charities to assist Kellin through his difficulties. The family was forced to pay extra money before they could fly. Ms Hyde said, “I just started crying. It is $200 we just don’t have. He had a mask on his face, and I explained to them he had a transplant, that he had been on a mechanical heart for 151 days and that he was going home for the first time in nine months, and they didn’t care.”

Jetstar officials called Ms Hyde to apologize and refund part of her money. A Jetstar manager said they should have paid for their baggage in advance, however the Hyde family didn’t know they were able to go home until the night before. A Jetstar spokeswoman also said, “We sincerely regret that in this instance we were not advised a wheelchair was required, and so one was not available.”

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Last year, Sheila King, a woman with disabilities, was banned from a flight from Adelaide to Brisbane. Jetstar refused her access to the airplane after she had already booked her flight over the internet. Jetstar contacted her the next day only to tell her she would not be able to fly because the flight had two passengers in wheelchairs booked on the flight already, and they could not accommodate her. Ms King claims it to be discriminating against her, “treating her less favorably than a passenger who did not have a mobility disability that required use of a wheelchair.”

She has stated, “she is more than capable of looking after herself when she travels .” She has been in a wheelchair since 2008 after suffering three crushed vertebrae and three broken ribs in a car crash. Michael Moore, her lawyer,  has convinced them to have one last attempt to settle before going to a Federal Court hearing. Michael Moore says, “It seems to me to be the sort of case that level and sensible heads might be capable of resolving.”

“As an informed citizen, if I can bifurcate myself for a moment and speak as a concerned citizen rather than a judge, there have been in the press recently two or three cases concerning (similar claims about) flight services for people with disabilities.” (that were settled out of court)

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Jude Lee, wheelchair using lawyer sues Jetstar for Discrimination. Lee says the airline made him feel like “troublesome baggage” on more than one occasion. He also stated that Jetstar failed to accommodate his needs and treated him of lesser importance than the other travelers because of his disability. Jetstar had told him he could not fly because their records did not show he was a “wheelchair passenger.” Mr Lee was lifted by one of the airlines staff on to the plane because the airline did not have an aisle wheelchair.

The airline said it agreed with Mr Lee’s allegations, but did not agree it was in breach of the Anti-Discrimination Act. Simon Westaway, Jetstar’s head of Corporate Relations, said the airline carries more than 500 customers who use wheelchairs every week. Lee travels on a regular basis for his occupation and also personal reasons. Lee stated, “I find myself embarrassed, harassed and having to constantly plead my case with improperly trained Jetstar staff just for the right to be treated equally and to simply board its planes almost every time I travel with Jetstar.”

“Given the nature of its operations, Jetstar does not have the systems, staff of facilities to provide the same level of special assistance to it’s passengers as provided by full coast carriers,” Jetstars reply to Lee’s allegations.

Wheelchair Etiquette

Wheelchair etiquette -- some tips on how to politely engage someone in a wheelchair.

Man in Wheelchair Saves Sister in Winter Snowstorm

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73-year old Howard Patridge and his 61-year old sister got trapped for two nights in Oregon’s first snowstorm of the year. The siblings went on a drive to view the fall foliage on the U.S. Forest Service, and they never returned home.  That evening they were reported missing. This year and the past month, travel has been severely affected with snow and ice in the United States.

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They were stuck in the winter storm for two days, surviving off of snow which they melted into water along with snacks they had purchased before they began their journey. After two days of waiting and seeing no help, the elderly man decided to face the harsh weather and seek help. Howard Patridge ventured off in his wheelchair hoping to find someone to help them to safety. In his effort to survive and save his sister, he rode three miles in the snow before coming across help. He finally found several hunters who were able to help Howard and his sister free their car. The two siblings were able to drive back home safely to their home in Oregon.

Howard is now considering putting snow tires on his wheelchair.