November 2010

Learn About Dancing in Your Wheelchair – American Dance Wheels


American Dance Wheels is an organization specifically designed to teach individuals with disabilities not only how to dance, but dance gracefully. Physical therapists as well as professional dance teachers work with you to help develop your technique.  The  program joins people who are standing and in a chair, enabling them to work together as partners. The program is one of a kind and the only written, structured, trademarked curriculum of wheelchair dancing in the world.


Dance is used as therapy helping improve strength, balance, increase stamina, coordination, posture, head control, self confidence, and so much more. Dancing can also promote communication as well as understanding between people with and without disabilities, bringing the community together. Friends and family are also invited to be  involved in your dancing activities.

The focus of ADF is social dancing, however you can progress to competitions if you choose to. All it takes is being able to move your wheelchair and take direction from your instructor. Individuals who use either power or manual chairs are encouraged to participate.  Dancing gives people with disabilities more options than just sports.


ADF helps dissolve the barriers between people with disabilities and the able-bodied, working together as dance partners. Available dance programs include American Style Ballroom, Latin wheelchair dancing, Social dance classes, and private dance classes for weddings! Dancing also gives you the opportunity to perform at schools, organizations, facilities, or be involved in competitions.


There are many high hopes for high schools,  recreational centers, and therapists to use as another healing process. This activity crosses the boundaries of age, gender, physical ability, and includes individuals with varying levels of disabilities. Wheelchair dancing is already very popular in Europe and Asia, and it is gaining more notice in the US. Wheelchair dance sport have recently been recognized as an international paralympic sport by the International Paralympic Committee and is being considered for the Paralympic Games in the United States.

You can visit their website at and watch the video below.

Dolphin ‘Winter’ Receives Prosthetic Tail


Researchers designed a prosthetic tail for a baby bottle-nosed dolphin named “Winter.” Winter was found tangled in a crab trap near Cape Canaveral, Florida. The buoy line wrapped around her tail as she tried to escape, causing her blood circulation to cut off in her tail.  Over the next few weeks this caused her tail to fall off piece by piece, leaving Winter with a rounded stump.  With the help of 150 volunteers as well as veterinarians, Winter was nursed back to health. The process took around the clock nursing, and lasted about four months until she was healthy again.


She learned how to swim again, using  side to side motions the same as a shark. She used her flippers as she would normally, which she uses for steering, braking, and to get going. Winter is the only known dolphin to survive the loss of her tail, besides one other dolphin, who lost a piece of her tail.

Dolphins can produce up to 300-400 pounds of force with their tails. Human Olympic swimmers peak around 60-70 pounds of force. Their tails are one of the strongest swimming mechanism in nature. Therefore, inventing a mechanism suitable for Winter became a bigger task than expected.


Kevin Carroll, a prosthetic specialist known to handle the most difficult human amputation cases, dedicated his time to help Winter. Winter’s prosthesis would be the first for a dolphin who lost its tail. The new tail took Kevin Carroll about one and a half years to complete, until he was confident in the outcome. Winter was fitted with a 30 inch silicone, plastic tail, enabling her to swim normally.  Carroll than invented a gel-like sleeve to cling to Winter’s tail, which caused no irritation to Winter’s sensitive skin.


Winter has helped contribute to improving painful prosthesis for humans. Air Force Senior Airman Brian Kolfage lost both of his legs and right hand during an attack in Iraq. Carroll, found the same gel-like sleeve he developed helped soothe Brian Kolfage’s prosthesis greatly. The sleeve can be compared to the same sort of  suction achieved by surgical gloves.

Winter’s story has also made specialists rethink materials to make prosthetics more reliable in saltwater. Winter will remain at Clearwater Marine Aquarium permanently, where she is loved and cared for.  Winter’s rare case  has helped Kolfage, researchers, and a lot of others in her journey to recovery.

Airport Security Pat-Down Procedures Affect the Disabled Community


In response to the growing airline security concerns, the Transportation Security Agency or TSA, has amped up it’s security screening procedures.  While many find these new procedures offensive, invasive, or even a violation of their civil liberties, it’s members of the disabled community such as those in wheelchairs or wearing prosthetic who will be among those affected the most.

The primary methods used by TSA officers are millimeter wave and backscatter machines.  These low radiation AIT devices (Advanced Imaging Technology) safely and harmlessly allow TSA officers to screen passengers before they board flights.  While there are some that will argue whether or not being subjected to the radiation of this nature is safe or not, there are several third party scientific and health organizations (the FDA and Johns Hopkins University amongst them) who will vouch for irrelevancy of the minuscule amount of radiation the AIT devices actually expose you to.  However, these imaging devices capture an etched out image of the entire human body, genitals and all.  While the TSA claims that none of these images can or will be stored, there have already been claims of TSA personnel comparing penis sizes of passengers.

Image Courtesy of Fox News

Also,  in light of recent credible information that terrorists may plan to use prosthetics and medical devices to conceal explosives, the TSA has begun even more intensive search procedures.  Among these new search procedures are highly controversial and potentially offensive thorough pat-downs.

What does this mean for individuals with disabilities?  By default, anyone who is unable to be properly screened via AIT methods must be undergo alternate screening by means of a pat-down.

Those who are ineligible for the AIT include individuals who :

  1. cannot stand with their arms raised at shoulder level for the 5-7 second duration of the scan
  2. cannot walk without the aid of a cane, crutch, walker, etc
  3. use service animals
  4. carry or use oxygen
  5. persons accompanying the individuals described above.

Since the November 1st implementation of these new procedures, there has already been an outcry of complaints amongst flight attendants.  Amidst these valid complaints are stories of individuals who have obviously been violated or at the very least treated with a lack of dignity.  Thomas Sawyer, a 61 year old bladder cancer survivor, was humiliated following a private pat down that left his urostomy bag leaking urine onto him.

While the White House openly admits the implementation of the new security measures have not gone perfectly, it remains to be seen whether or not they will be relaxed as time goes by or done away altogether by a disgruntled American populace.  Tomorrow, Wednesday November 24, 2010 the public plans to fight back with a proposed “Opt-Out Day”.  Organizers of the Opt Out Day encourage passengers to decline going through the AIT machines and therefore willingly submit themselves to the TSA’s pat down.  For more information, please visit the Opt Out day official site.

Recently Paralyzed Bride-to-Be Says Positivity Is Everything


While celebrating her bachelorette party, a 24-year-old program coordinator for a Virginia non-profit senior citizens center and excited bride-to-be, Rachelle Friedman, suffered a freak accident that put her in a wheelchair, when one of her best friends playfully pushed her into the pool — the same “horseplay” they had done to each other many times before then.

This time Rachelle was pushed into just a few feet of water and her head hit the bottom, causing a C6 spinal cord injury and immediate paralysis from the neck down. What could have become a horrible cautionary tale, however, has turned into a wonderfully heartwarming story about love, friendship and the power of positivity.

The accident happened just one month before her wedding to 28-year-old middle school science teacher, Chris Chapman. Although the wedding has had to be postponed indefinitely for medical and insurance reasons, both Rachelle and Chris are still completely committed to one another and plan to make the wedding happen as soon as they can.

In the meantime, Rachelle has been putting the last six months to very good use. Determined to recover as fully as possible from this injury, she has been driven by her sunny disposition and positive outlook to see herself through this tough time. She admits to having had bad days, but she never let them hold her back for long. So far, she has managed to regain the use of her arms and is also now able to type with one of her thumbs.

Rachelle also does not blame her best friend for any part of this accident and intends to have her right there with her when the wedding does finally take place.

Rachelle’s progress has been nothing short of remarkable and she is especially thankful to have such wonderful friends and family, who have been with her at every point along her recovery, especially her fiance, Chris. “I knew he’d be there for me,” she said. “I would be there for him. If the roles had been reversed, I would have been there.”

“We’re definitely built to last,” her fiance told CNN. “She was and is my best friend. I cannot wait to marry her.”

Iphone Apps for People with Disabilities

The iPhone has many apps (applications) for people with disabilities. With so many applications available, sometimes it can be difficult to wade through the possibilities to find something truly helpful. We’ve put together a list of the best iPhone applications for people who are disabled including some health applications for general use.

I. Proloquo2Go A downloadable application that is a full featured communication solution for those who have difficulty speaking. It has a default vocabulary of over 7000 items, and uses up to date icons and symbols. Traditional communication devices cost thousands of dollars. Users are finding that this iPhone app is fantastic. There is a debate going on between users about the fact that Medicaid and Medicare will not cover the Proloque2Go, but will cover the larger and costlier devices. Many believe that the guidelines need to be rewritten to include new technology.

2. ISpectrum Color Blind Assistant by Wishbone Apps – An application for the colorblind, ISpectrum names any color. It has over 500 colors in its library. iSpectrum uses your camera to zoom on the items you need.

3. Sign Smith ASL by Vcom3D – In three different versions, Lite (includes 20 signs and is great for beginners), Essential (100 signs) and Ultimate which includes 1,200 signs. They are all in 3D, and are easy to understand so that you or a loved one or friend can learn sign language.

4 Sign 4 Me – American Sign Language beginners can start learning right away on their iPhones. A 3D animated character demonstrates the signs, with 11,500 words in the dictionary. All you have to do is type the word, sentence, or phrase to see it signed.

5. Learn Braille by Paul Ziegler – This application helps anyone with regular sight learn and master Braille. The program helps you learn Braille with standard letters and symbols as well as Braille in Japanese, Hebrew, Korean and Chinese.

6. VoiceOver screen reader is now a standard feature on iPhone 3GS. It’s the world’s first gesture-based screen reader. To hear a description of something, you touch the screen and can then use a multitude of gestures like a drag, flick or double tap to control the Voice Over.

7. TecEar Music Link T-coil inductive ear loop. Not an iPhone app, but certainly something that can be used with the iPhone to make using all of the applications easier. This ear loop creates clear audio without adding any noises or feedback.

8. SoundAMP allows you to instantly improve your hearing. SoundAMP is an assistive software application that turns the iPhone into an interactive hearing device. Using the microphone or a headset with a microphone, it amplifies nearby sound so it is easier to hear.

Health Apps for the iPhone

While there are many assistive technology type iPhone applications for people with disabilities, the iPhone is also unique in that you can use it to manage your overall or general health. There are applications to track your sleeping schedule, organize your diabetes medications and glucose levels, help with fertility if you are trying to get pregnant, and record your current medications, doctors names, and emergency contacts in case you are unable to speak for yourself. These iPhone applications can be a great addition to your every day health routine.

1. Glucose Buddy – Diabetes Helper by OneAppOneCause – This application is a smart, easy and effective way to track your blood glucose, food, exercise and medicine. A convenient way to record all of your healthy steps in one place, and help manage your medical care.

2. Pillboxer by Nixwire – Track all your medications, vitamins and supplements in one place. This helpful application includes a full database of 11,000 FDA approved medications, visual pill box icons that let you track the medications taken during the week, a web reference to look up detailed information about your medication, notification if you’ve missed any scheduled times and much more.
The benefits of this type of technology go much further than convenience for an iPhone app to remind you to take your medication. Having assistive technology encourages people to accomplish these things on their own, which increases motivation and self-esteem.
While there are already many iPhone applications to make life easier for people with disabilities, new software is always being developed. The hope is that in the future, both insurance companies and the government will realize the amazing potential of this new technology, and leverage it to help those with disabilities lead even more active lives.

Wheelchair Accessibility Laws and How It All Began

Wheelchair Accessibility Laws

The first real laws in the United States protecting citizens with disabilities against discrimination was part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal. In 1990, President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act and was later amended with changes that went into effect January 1, 2009. Previous to these laws, Americans with disabilities had absolutely no laws giving them rights to accessible parking and entrances.

The ADA is a wide ranging civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. The ADA defines a disability as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity”. Though disability is determined by individual cases, the ADA excludes certain impairments as disabilities such as ongoing substance abuse and vision deficiencies that can be corrected by eyeglasses or contacts. In 2008, the ADA Amendments Act was signed to give broader protections to disabled workers as well as make court rulings congress deemed too restrictive retroactive. The Amendments Act also gives greater definition by way of a list of major life activities as stated in the original definition of disabled in the ADA.

The ADA specifically details not only what is considered discrimination in aspects of a disabled persons life such as employment, gaining government financial assistance, but also regulates accessible assistants in public places such as the width of handicap parking spaces and how close accessible parking spaces need to be to the entrance to a building. The act also determines the number of accessible parking spaces there needs to be in ratio of regular spaces.

The ADA calls for wheelchair ramps on street corners, and accessible entrances to a building like powered doors and elevators in buildings with more than one floor. Public buildings are also mandated to have accessible restrooms with stalls wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and transfer bars bolted to the walls.

The ADA protects workers with disabilities prohibiting business’ to limit or classify a job applicant or employee in an adverse way or denying employment opportunities to people who truly qualify or not making reasonable accommodations to known mental and physical limitations.

The ADA calls for a standardized symbol identifying accessible seating on public transportation, restaurants, accessible restrooms, and accessible parking. All public entities must provide physical access as decried in the ADA standards for accessible design. The ADA also specifies restrictions on handicap accessibility for vehicles like wheelchair vans.

Previous to these laws, disabled people consistently fell victim to being defined by restrictions their disabilities caused. Something as simple as getting from their vehicles to a grocery store or crossing a street were major challenges. Now, with accessible transportation regulations and mandated accommodations in the workplace allowing for an equal shot at getting gainful employment, people with disabilities while still facing many challenges in society and daily life, are on a more level playing field than ever.

Exciting News in Spinal Cord Injury Research

A wealth of new research and findings in the field of spinal cord injuries has occurred in November 2010. Here is an overview:

rhesus-monkey Extensive Natural Recovery After Spinal Cord Injury Uncovered in Primate Study

A study led by researchers in the Department of Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine shows unexpected and extensive natural recovery after spinal cord injury in primates, but not in all cases. The major difference seems to lie in the degree of injury: severe spinal cord injury versus milder injuries. The milder the injury, the better the adult rhesus monkeys were able to extensively and spontaneously re-grow connections in the spinal cord and thus more fully recover function. The question lies with what the physiological difference is in the body’s ability to heal the spinal cord based on degree of injury, and the findings may one day lead to the development of new treatments for patients with spinal cord injuries.  (Read more)

neural-crest-cell Origin of Cells Associated With Nerve Repair Discovered

Scientists have discovered the origin of a unique type of cell known for its ability to support regeneration in the central nervous system. Olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) protect the nerve fibers in the olfactory nerve, transmitting olfactory (smell) information to the brain from receptor cells sitting in the nasal lining; they can also promote nerve repair when transplanted into the damaged spinal cord. The main problem with using OECs has been that they occur in such small quantities in the nasal lining and retrieving them can cause damage. Now researchers have discovered that OECs are actually derived from a group of embryonic stem cells called “neural crest cells.” Neural crest stem cells persist in adult skin and hair follicles, and other researchers have already shown that it is possible to isolate these stem cells and grow them in the lab. Their findings raise the possibility of obtaining a more reliable source of these cells for use in cell transplantation therapy for spinal cord injuries.  (Read more)

spleen Spleen Might Be Source of Damaging Cells at Spinal Cord Injury Site

The spleen helps the body to fight infections and might also be a source of the cells that end up doing more harm than good at the site of a spinal cord injury. After a spinal cord injury, when the spinal cord’s own cells and other cells join to protect the wound, some cells end up promoting inflammation, which can exacerbate the effects of the injury. Most research in this area has explored the bone marrow as a source of these pro-inflammatory cells, called macrophages, but some previous studies have suggested that the spleen is another source. Considering the spleen’s role in the after-effects of spinal cord injury could change the way researchers pursue potential treatments for severe spinal cord injuries.   (Read more)

macrophage Study Seeks New Way to Enhance Neuron Repair in Spinal Cord Injury

If researchers could determine how to send signals to cells responding to a spinal cord injury, they might be able to stop one type of cell from doing additional damage at the injury site and instead, coax it into helping nerve cells grow. Now scientists are trying to determine how to simultaneously stop damage and promote neuron growth with a single, targeted signal. After a spinal cord injury, macrophages (a type of white blood cell) travel to the injury site from at least three known locations in the body as part of an intense inflammatory response, which can exacerbate effects of the original injury. Now some researchers believe that these same cells might also offer hope for restoration of function in people with injured spinal cords.  (Read more)

kids-spinal-cord-injury Some Kids With Spinal Cord Injury May Be Overlooked for Walking Rehabilitation

The traditional way to predict whether children can regain movement after spinal cord injuries may exclude a small subset of patients who could benefit from therapy, according to two studies presented by University of Florida researchers at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego. Currently, no rehabilitation approach exists to restore walking in children or adults with the most severe of spinal cord injuries. In this current study of injured children who had been overlooked and later given the opportunity to receive rehabilitation and who went on to show signs of improvement, results suggest locomotor training and walking recovery may be linked to the development of other rhythmic lower extremity tasks that promote development.  (Read more)


Titan Spine Receives Regulatory Clearance to Launch Endoskeleton® TO

Titan Spine, a developer of interbody fusion implants, announced today that it has received FDA clearance to commercially release its Endoskeleton® TO system, which consists of a line of interbody devices placed through a Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (PLIF) approach and incorporates a unique roughened Titanium surface that participates in the bone fusion process. The company plans to commercially release the product beginning in December 2010.  (Read more)

matt-cole Covington Iraq Vet Becomes First to Receive Stem Cell Treatment for Spinal Cord Injury

TCA Cellular Therapy got FDA approval in March to be the first researchers to take the healing stem cells out of an adult with a spinal cord injury, multiply them in a lab to 50 million, store them in special tanks, and then later infuse them back into the patient’s own spinal fluid in hopes that they will travel to the injured part of the spine and repair it. The researchers chose as their first subject a young marine, who has been living with a shrapnel-related spinal cord injury since May 2005. In the two months since the spinal infusion, he has begun to feel tingling and other deep muscle sensations.

Wheelchair Soccer is a Growing Sport


If you’re looking for pity, you won’t find it with the wheelchair athletes on the indoor soccer field.  Wheelchair soccer is a full contact sport, and as many of the athletes note, it’s much more than a game.  Upon entering the field you have independence, confidence, and camaraderie that turns teammates into family members.  Everyone has their own story and reason to dwell on the negative more than the positive, but there is no time for that when you are focused on living and playing hard.

This past weekend, the 2010 National Indoor Wheelchair Soccer “Blue Northern” Championship occurred in Houston, Texas.  They were there to play hard while promoting the sport of wheelchair soccer which is a hybrid of soccer and basketball, and resembles water polo without the water.

Wheelchair soccer pits two six-man co-ed teams against each other over two 25-minute halves. The goal is the same as in soccer, except players throw the ball into a goal similar in size to a lacrosse goal.

The Houston Toros and the Houston Challengers were the representatives at this year’s tournament.

“We support each other; this sport is hard. You have to train and be fit to compete,” said Ricardo Cedillo Castaneda of the Houston Toros.

The players in the two different skill divisions were bumping against each other with their wheelchairs and laying out for loose balls while picking up fouls. In one case, a player was ejected, showing that these men and women are just as competitive as professional athletes, which is the way these athletes would like to be perceived.


William Lardi, chairman of the USA-IWS, and Dave Stephenson, co-director of the Greater Houston Athletic Association for the Physically Disabled, organized the event, which was both competitive and well organized.

“We sponsor local, regional and national tournaments and occasionally hold clinics to provide exposure of our sport to the disabled population,” Lardi said.  “We currently have several teams in the Houston area, the Northeast, Southern California and other locations across the US.”

“This is a sport that, when the athletes come and play it, they don’t want to leave it. They don’t want it to die. There is so much dedication between the coaches and athletes that this sport keeps living.”

Stephenson insists nobody should be sitting at home wishing they could do this or that when there are organizations like the IWS.

“We don’t turn anybody away. The goal is to compete. The goal is to grow the sport.”

This particular group focuses on wheelchair soccer with manual wheelchairs, but there are also powerchair soccer groups as well.

If you live in the Houston, Texas area – visit AMS Wheelchair Vans of Houston at

NYC Taxi of Tomorrow Finalists Not So Wheelchair Accessible as Promised


New York has been holding a competition for a “Taxi of Tomorrow” that was put in place 3 years ago and focuses on building a taxicab that would eventually take over the entire New York taxi fleet.  The vehicle would include features that are fuel efficient, offer more passenger space, provide accessibility to persons with mobility impairments, and be “iconic to New York City.” Recently, three finalists were announced, and some members of the disability community are outraged that only one of the three vehicles is a wheelchair accessible taxi.

The finalists announced Monday are Ford Motor Co., Nissan North America Inc. and Karsan USA. Karsan is a Turkish company that makes cars for such brands as Fiat and Hyundai.  The three finalists were chosen from seven submissions.


taxioftomorrow_karsan2#1 – The Karsan is the only wheelchair accessible vehicle out of the three finalists.

#2 – The Ford Transit Connect – can be converted after market, but does not come wheelchair accessible as is.


#3 – Nissan’s entry is based on Nissan’s NV200 model. Unlike the other two models, there are plans in the works to make it fully electric.

Currently only 240 out of more than 13,000 city taxis can accommodate a passenger using a wheelchair.

“We are disappointed that two of the vehicles are not being purpose built meaning we’ll still be dealing with vehicles that were not designed or manufactured for inclusive, wheelchair accessible travel,” said Edith M. Prentiss, co-chair of the Taxis for All Campaign.  “We have a unique opportunity to have a fully accessible taxi fleet and it would be a shame to see that opportunity go by the wayside.”

The Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) says that they have already gone above and beyond what is required of them for accessibility standards.

“Taxicabs are not required by the ADA to be wheelchair accessible,” said TLC Chairman David S. Yassky.  “Nonetheless it is the policy of the administration to be sure that we want this industry to be fully accessible.  Whether that means every single vehicle, whether that means a significant number of vehicles and a dispatch system that makes them accessible, whatever the specifics are the commitment of the administration is that this industry must be accessible even beyond what the ADA requires.”

State Assemblyman Micah Z. Kellner has introduced legislation that would mandate full taxi accessibility by 2013.  The legislator said that he is deeply concerned that this program may result in the status quo of inaccessibility.

“The Taxi of Tomorrow is a historic opportunity for the Mayor and the TLC to make New York the world capital of accessibility by mandating a 100% wheelchair-accessible taxi fleet,” said Kellner.  “The Mayor has stated repeatedly that he wants the Taxi of Tomorrow to be iconic—and I agree.  It should be an icon of inclusiveness – a city that welcomes all people should have a taxi that everyone can get into.   If the Mayor can’t choose an accessible vehicle, he needs to go back to the drawing board.”

Yassky said that regardless of what vehicle is chosen, the new project won’t adversely impact accessibility.

“We are required by state law to have at least 240 accessible cabs on the streets, and the Taxi of Tomorrow won’t change that,” he told a small group of reporters at City Hall.  Yassky said it didn’t really matter whether they picked the Karsan vehicle that is accessible or not, regardless there will be accessible cabs either through after market modifications.”

The project was started by former TLC Chairman Matthew W. Daus who promised a fully accessible, fuel efficient taxi, prompting many who partook in the early negotiations say today that they felt betrayed by the lack of accessibility, an early promise by the Commission.

The three finalists have been asked to submit their best and final offering within the next month.  A winning design will be announced early next year; the chosen automaker will have the right to exclusively provide the standard taxicab for 10 years.

Officials expect the new vehicle to be on the road by the fall of 2014.

To visit the NYC Taxi of Tomorrow website and voice your opinion, visit