November 2009

Jobs Difficult to Find for Disabled People

Unemployment Rate by County, December 2008

Unemployment rates are said to be around 10% in the United States right now, but among certain groups the rates are higher, including people with disabilities.

An economist for the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire thinks that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities hovers around 17.5%. This doesn’t even include those who have completely given up looking for a job, because they are not counted in these figures. Surveys in the past have shown that most people with disabilities definitely want to work, but after looking for long periods of time and finding nothing, they give up.

There are many hurdles, including the fact that many employers believe that these workers are not qualified, or that the accommodations needed to get them ready for work would be too expensive (not so – accommodations are free or usually no more than $500)

Some people are preparing for an early retirement, thinking about selling their houses, and moving somewhere with a low cost of living. They are also really worried about health insurance, which without an employers help can be an insurmountable cost for someone with ongoing health concerns.

If you are disabled, have you had trouble finding a job recently?

Athletes with Intellectual Disabilities Back in Paralympics!

Paralympics Logo London 2012

Athletes with intellectual disabilities are allowed back to compete in the paralympics in London 2012! The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) voted recently to reinstate the athlete’s status after the Spanish basketball team in the 2000 games was found to be cheating and not have disabled team members.
Two organizations, the International Sports Federation for Persons with an Intellectual Disability (Inas-Fid) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) have been working together to come up with the criteria to reintroduce athletes.
Instead of taking the team’s word for it in London, the committee will be giving tests called “sports intelligence tests” to classify the athletes. These tests include reviewing the athlete’s medical records, then giving them a sports specific test so they can move on in the process.

President of the Inas-Fid, Bob Price, said “I am delighted with the outcome of the vote. Even though they themselves did nothing wrong, intellectual disability athletes have been excluded from the Paralympic Games and other IPC-sanctioned competitions.
This resolution brings this unfortunate episode to an end and reintroduces intellectual disability athletes to their proper place within the Paralympic family.”

Multiple Sclerosis More Aggressive in Children, but More Disabling in Adults


Researchers at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences have reported that MRI’s of patients who were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in childhood show that pediatric MS is more aggressive and causes more brain lesions than those diagnosed with MS in adulthood. However, data has shown that patients with pediatric onset MS develop disabilities at a slower pace than patients with adult onset MS.

Bianca Weinstock-Guttman, MD, associate professor of neurology, stated that “Patients with pediatric-onset MS have three times as many relapses annually than patients with adult-onset disease, which suggests there is greater disease activity in this population.” Guttman also stated that “the average time to reach the secondary progressive phase of the disease is longer in patients who develop MS in childhood than in adult onset MS.”

Data in this study supports the need for early diagnosis, as well as for therapeutic intervention in pediatric MS patients.

Partial funding for this research was from grants donated by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Children’s Guild foundation of Buffalo.

Free Adaptive Technology Software for the Disabled

Adaptive technology software is useful for helping the disabled better and more efficiently use the computer when browsing the internet or working. There are many free adaptive technology software solutions for computers as well as extensions for browsers such as Firefox, Opera, and Internet Explorer. See which free accessible program suits your lifestyle.

Camera Mouse
A free program that was designed to help people with disabilities use the computer. Camera Mouse is a program that allows you to control the pointer on a windows computer just by moving your head. Camera mouse is best used with applications that do not need extreme accuracy.

Braille Virtual
Free online program that teaches braille to those who can see. Good program for parents, teachers and children. One of the difficulties of visually those with visual impairments is that the people around them do not know braille. English version is currently down, but you can use your browsers built in translation until they fix it.

Natural Reader
Can take any text from programs like MS Word, PDF files, and emails and turn it into audio files that sound natural rather than robotic. It can then convert the files to WAV format or Mp3 format to be burned on a CD or iPod.

The Dasher program is text entry software that allows people to enter text when use of a full size keyboard is not possible. The user uses a pointing device to point where they want to go and then the software automatically zooms in. You choose what letters to write by where you are zooming in. This is great for people with special needs.

On screen or virtual keyboard that is designed for those who have difficulty typing on a regular keyboard. This software allows the user to send keystrokes to virtually any Windows application that they can run within a window. Users can also download a speech application add-on that will make Click-N-Type read the keystrokes aloud.

Dwell Click
Software that allows users with limited mobility to perform left-click, right click and double clicks, and even drag things around the screen simply by dwelling their mouse in an area of the screen for a predetermined period of time. Ideal for those who can operate the mouse pointer, but not the buttons.

Browse Aloud
Program reads sites aloud, highlighting the word and sentence as it reads. It will keep reading until you tell it to stop. It can change the voice it uses, as well as the speed, and how words are pronounced.

Free Adaptive Technology Software Extensions for Firefox and Opera Web Browser:

There are many free extensions for the Firefox web browser to add accessibility features to web browsing. Some of these include:

No Squint add-on:
This extension allows users to manipulate text size

Allows the user to attach a sound to specific events

Adds the ability to assign mouse gestures to actions.

The Firefox Accessibility extension from the University of Illinois
Adds 55 different accessibility features into one extension with a drop down menu:

There are also collections of extensions that specific users have put together that group extensions into related folders. These are very helpful if you are looking for different Firefox add-ons for someone with a specific issue, like low vision.

For more information and resources on Firefox accessibility, there is the Firefox Accessibility Project at

There are also add-ons available for other browsers like Internet Explorer and Safari. Many users also consider the browser Opera to be the most advanced as far as accessibility, with many of the features other browsers accomplish via add-ons or extensions being built in.

Free accessibility software is fantastic for people who are just starting out with these types of programs and for users who are experienced with accessibility and using a computer. While some more expensive software could have more features and be more specialized, many free adaptive technology programs allow the user to figure out what he or she needs before spending (or wasting!) a lot of money. Many users also find that some free programs, developed by someone with a passion for the particular software or issue, tend to be better than programs that cost hundreds of dollars!

Insurance Company Denied Twelve Year Old’s Prosthetic Arm

prosthetic arm

Michigan is one of 33 states that allow insurance companies to set annual and lifetime caps on prosthetic devices. So when 12 year old Benjamin French, who was born with his right arm missing below the elbow, once again grew out of his prosthesis, his insurance company denied coverage because he had already spent his lifetime maximum benefit. Benjamin’s new replacement would be his seventh in 12 years, and his new replacement will cost almost $30,000. His doctor says that he will soon grow out of that one too. If Benjamin lived in Colorado or Maryland he would be able to receive a new arm with the same insurance company because the law does not allow a cap on prosthetics.

The Amputee Coalition of America has reported on this issue in the past, with amputees reporting a wide variation in insurance coverage, with some companies paying no more than $1,000 per year for prosthetics, and others only allowing one prosthetic per lifetime!

“It seems really unfair,” said Benjamin’s mother, Kristen French. “The insurance company can do this in one state, but not in another? It’s ridiculous.”

Have you ever been denied care that you might be able to receive in another state? How did you fight it?


Exit Wounds: A Survival Guide to Pain Management for Veterans


Derek McGinnis was wounded in Fallujah, Iraq, on November 9, 2004. In a new book he chronicles his experiences, a story of traumatic brain injury, loss of his left leg above the knee, and how he learned to run again with a prosthesis. He also gives advice to veterans who are facing life with chronic pain. McGinnis says “it is OK to have mental pain, it is OK to have chronic pain, there are methods to have a productive life.” His 200 page book also covers treatment options, exercise, and emotional wounds of war.

After years spent in rehabilitation at naval and veterans hospitals, McGinnis now has his mobility back. He runs again with a flexible prosthetic that he wears for races while competing with Semper Fi, a team that raises money for wounded soldiers and their families. “I’ve been blessed with a lot of resources and services that have helped me recover” he said “I want to do whatever I can to help others.”

Along with studying for his masters degree in social work, McGinnis works for the American Pain Foundation as an amputee outreach advocate.

More at the Miami Herald:Wounded Vet Shares Strength

Wheelchair Rugby Gives Paralyzed Athlete Hope

wheelchair rugbyAn athlete plays quad wheelchair rugby for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in 2007

Even after a trampoline accident on the last day of high school paralyzed Talbot Kennedy from the chest down, he is still an athlete.
Talbot considers his rugby team his second family. Several nights a week he can be seen scrimmaging on an indoor basketball court at the Shepherd Center (a rehab hospital) in Atlanta. The Smash Rugby team is part of the United States Quad Rugby Association, and November through April plays in tournaments across the United States.

When first injured Talbot worried about being able to live alone and do the things he did before his accident, but when he joined the rugby team he found that some of his teammates not only lived alone, but some even had families and children. He has gained confidence and learned to live again, just in a different way.

Off the court, Kennedy lives alone, attends college and is working toward a degree in physical education, something he says would not have been possible without wheelchair rugby.

More at CNN.

Study Shows Increase in Disabilities for Baby Boomers Age 60 to 69

baby boomers walking

In a UCLA study funded by the National Institute on Aging, researchers found that the age group from 60 to 69 showed an increase in several disabilities over time in contrast to those between 70 and 79 and those 80 and over who saw no significant increases and in some cases actually showed fewer disabilities. Researches believe that this trend may in part be due to a change in racial and ethnic makeup of the group.

Teresa Seeman, UCLA professor of medicine and epidemiology and the study’s principle investigator, is quoted as saying: “if this trend continues unchecked, it will put increasing pressure on our society to take care of these disabled individuals. This would put more of a burden on the health care system to address the higher levels of these problems.”

The study is scheduled to be published in the January 2010 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Robotic Wheelchair Uses Lasers to Navigate Without Human Guidance

laser maps for robotic wheelchair

laser maps for robotic wheelchair

John Spletzer, associate professor of computer science and engineering at Lehigh University, believes that technology has the ability to “serve as a person’s feet, hands, and eyes” thereby enabling the disabled to interact with his/her environment.

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Professor Spletzer with a five year Career Award to develop a robotic wheelchair that will use high fidelity lasers and detailed maps to navigate through a crowded city without remote or human guidance. This project is actually a by product of two older projects. Spletzer and his students, working with University of Pennsylvania and Lockheed Martin, converted a Toyota Prius to a robot two years ago. “Little Ben” was equipped with laser and camera sensors. Of the 89 driverless vehicles Ben was one out of 6 who completed the 57 mile course in the 2007 DARPA Grand Challenge for robotic vehicles. And in a collaborative effort, engineers from Freedom Sciences LLC and Spletzer have invented the ATRS or Automated Transport and Retrieval System which enables wheelchair users to get into and out of their vehicles, stow and retrieve chairs and drive while sitting in traditional auto seats that meet all safety regulations.

Spletzer was quoted as saying “Our goal now is to extend the autonomy of the wheelchair so it can navigate completely in an urban setting and take you wherever you need to go. At the same time we want to download Little Bens’s hardware, convert it to software, which is much less expensive and upload it to the robotic wheelchair. This will give the chair the maps and images it needs to be able to interact with its environment”