April 2010

Wheelchair User Fights for County Building Accessibility and Wins


When David L. Kleinfelter went to his county courthouse in Lancaster, Pennsylvania back in 2004 to deal with some problem tenants in apartments he owned, he found that he was unable to get around easily in his wheelchair. Doorways were too narrow, bathrooms didn’t have amenities he could use, and elevators were difficult to operate.

Kleinfelter, 65, has been confined to a wheelchair since 1966 due to complications he suffered due to injuries while serving as a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.

After complaining to public officials and not getting a response, Kleinfelter filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice for failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Finally, several years later, the county commissioners voted to accept a settlement with the justice department that outlines a series of corrective measures the county must implement and a timetable for their completion.

Amy Macinati, the county’s special counsel, notes that the Department of Justice inspected all 20 district courts in Lancaster County in response to Kleinfelter’s complaint. As a result, the justice department and the county entered into settlement negotiations “to avoid litigation,” Macinanti said.

The first order of the settlement agreement is for the county to pay Kleinfelter $1,000.

Two of the county’s district courts were built within the past year and are fully ADA accessible. The other 18 are not. Beginning next year, when a proceeding has to be moved to accommodate a disabled person, the county will compensate that person for “reasonable additional” travel expenses, according to the settlement documents.

Within the next three years, the following improvements must be made:

• Reducing the pressure required to open several doors.
• Decreasing the slope of ramps in various court areas.
• Moving toilets and other bathroom amenities so they are easier to reach for people in wheelchairs.
• Installing handrails in several locations.
• “Assistive listening systems” must be provided for the deaf or hard-of-hearing at the courthouse and for use in the district courts so they can follow court proceedings.
• Within the next six months, the county must hire or appoint an ADA coordinator, whose job will be to make sure the county completes all the requirements of the settlement and to investigate complaints of ADA violations.

“Obviously, we never intended to fight or oppose this,” said Scott Martin, chairman of the county commissioners. “Our mentality all along has been to work with the Department of Justice to come to a resolution.”

Kleinfelter was disappointed that it took so long to resolve the issue.

“That’s too long to mess around with a disabled person’s rights,” he said. “The people at the courthouse just don’t care.”

Due to Kleinfelter’s perseverance, 18 more buildings are becoming ADA compliant to accommodate more wheelchair users and others with disabilities. Despite the length of time it took to make the change that is necessary, David L. Kleinfelter made a difference.

New Voice Command Robotic Wheelchair in Development

A wheelchair that talks and listens to roll on cue

A new wheelchair that can be controlled by voice commands is being developed as a prototype by an MIT Team. They are working with residents at a care home in Boston, Massachusetts. The voice controlled wheelchair has been in development since 2005 and is able to learn routes while avoiding obstacles. The prototype currently costs around $10,000, but this price would go down as more are produced.

David Hatch, a 69 year old retired engineer with degenerative MS, is helping to develop the prototype. He dreads the day that he will not be able to use his manual wheelchair, and he hopes that this new intelligent wheelchair will be able to assist him in everyday life and restore some of the independence that multiple sclerosis is taking away.

He said, “I like the idea of telling my chair where to go. This MIT project is right up my alley.”

This wheelchair will be able to aid people with limited physical ability and control. This helps people with mobility limitations that would ordinarily not be able to use a joystick on a standard powered wheelchair. This will increase independence. A low power laser range scanner has been added to detect obstacles and provide position tracking for autonomous control, a microphone to listen to the wheelchair user, and speakers to respond using speech. A computer can also be added for sensor processing and intelligent decision making. When the wheelchair does not need to provide autonomous automation and control, a small PDA tablet can be added to existing wheelchairs to give information to the user such as wi fi connectivity to detect the placement of the wheelchair in the building or daily activities among peers.

The wheelchair compares the laser data to a map and is able to detect objects that are not on the map. It learns new environments and take instructions to learn names of the rooms on the map. Also in development are spoken directions to a specific placement on the map using commands such as “go down the hallway past the fridge to the last door on the right.”

Later additions are planned such as the wheelchairs being able to find each other and using the tablet instead of speech for users with speaking problems, however it is not known when or if this wheelchair will go public.

To learn more about the new voice command wheelchair, watch the video below:

Stephen Hawking Claims Aliens Exist and Not to Contact Them

Wheelchair Bound Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking Warns Against Alien Contact

Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking warns about alien contact in a new Discovery Channel documentary entitled Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking claiming they do exist and to stay away from them. “In my mathematical brain to make the numbers alone thinking about aliens completely rational,” said the 68-year-old Cambridge professor in the documentary series Into The Universe with Stephen Hawking on the Discovery Channel. “The real challenge is to find out what aliens really are. The universe had counted one hundred billion galaxies with hundreds of millions of stars, says Hawking before the audience. In such a space, it is unlikely that the Earth is the only planet where there is life.”

The wheelchair-bound Hawking speaks in a new Discovery Channel special, and shares his theories about the nomadic life of extraterrestrial life, much of which is small – as small as microbes – but some of which may be looking to conquer and colonize other parts of the universe. If they are out traveling right now, then he assumes that they would be seeking resources rather than exploration.

Should we reach out to the aliens? “Think again,” notes Hawking. “A contact to such a species is a little too risky, said astrophysicist. “If aliens ever visit us, the output, I think, be just like the landing of Christopher Columbus in America, what the natives did not go out very well.”

Hawking insists alien species could prove to be a danger to humankind in their search for resources. A highly intelligent life capable of inter-stellar space travel won’t necessarily be peace-loving, or they could see us as an opportunity for exploitation.

“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,” says Hawking. “I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.”

Hawking’s warning contrasts with the excitement some are showing about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Last week, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) said it was releasing its data to astronomers and researchers all over the world, wanting more people to join the search for aliens.

Hawking, who suffers from ALS and muscular weakness in the wheelchair, is among the world’s most famous cosmologists. A wide audience he was known in 1988 with his book A Brief History Of Time.

Wheelchair Dancing

Over the last 20 years, wheelchair dancing has spread across the globe and played on both a recreational and competitive level.

Murderball – Wheelchair Rugby for Quadriplegics

In 1976, five Canadian wheelchair athletes created a sport specifically designed for quadriplegics. At the time, wheelchair basketball was the most common sport for athletes with disabilities. Because of the upper body strength and control needed to dribble and shoot the ball, quadriplegics were often forced into supportive positions. The athletes took elements of wheelchair basketball, ice hockey, handball, and rugby and created a high contact sport that allowed quadriplegics to play in both offensive and defensive positions. This new sport was called murderball due to its aggressive, full contact nature. Quadriplegics can play murderball regardless of a wide range of functional ability levels.

In the late 1980s the name was changed from murderball to wheelchair rugby even though the sport has little in common with regular rugby other than the name. The sport is practiced in 20 countries. The first international wheelchair rugby competition was played in 1989 between the United States, Great Britain, and Canada. In 1990, wheelchair rugby was played at the World Wheelchair Games as an exhibition event, and as a fully recognized sport in 1993. It became an official sport in the 2000 Paralympics Summer Games.

Wheelchair Rugby Requirements and Rules

Athletes must have disabilities that include loss of function in at least three limbs to qualify for wheelchair rugby. Players are medically considered as quadriplegics though functionally they are paraplegics.

A wheelchair rugby court is an indoor court with a hardwood floor the size of a regulation basketball court. A line is across the center of the court to identify front and back courts for teams respectively. A circle in the middle of the court is in place for tip offs to begin quarters and when the team gains possession of the ball. At either end of the court, there is a box about 8 meters wide and 2 meters in front of the goal line. This box is referred to as the key.

Wheelchair rugby is played by 2 teams of 12 players. Four players from each team are on the court at any given time. Teams are made up of both male and female athletes. Players score by carrying the ball across the goal line at either end of the court. No more than 3 players on a team are allowed to be inside the key at one time to defend the goal line. Offensive players are not allowed in the key more than 10 seconds. The player with possession of the ball must bounce or pass the ball in 10 seconds. Teams have 12 seconds to advance the ball from their back court to the front court and a total of 40 seconds to score or concede possession of the ball. Physical contact is an integral part of the sport but only contact between wheelchairs. Actual body contact between players is against the rules and the player is fouled. Each wheelchair rugby game consists of four 8 minute quarters with 3 minute overtime periods in the event of a tie.

Murderball “Wheelchair Rugby” on the Court and the Screen

Wheelchair rugby continues to gain popularity among athletes with disabilities and sports fans everywhere. One of the most critically-acclaimed documentaries of 2005 is about paraplegics that play wheelchair rugby called Murderball. The film centers on the rivalry between the United States and Canada leading up to the 2004 Paralympic Games. It is available for purchase or rent, and gives excellent insight into this fascinating sport.