February 2011

Boy in Wheelchair Delayed Service at Cheddar’s Restaurant


On Mother’s Day in 2010, a family (who wishes to remain anonymous) was waiting to be seated at popular Cheddar’s restaurant in Waco, Texas, but they were not seated for several hours. The reason? Their four year old son was in a wheelchair.

After waiting patiently and watching several other parties that arrived after them get seated at open tables ahead of them, the wife asked why they had not been seated yet. The family was told by a man who described himself as the general manager that Cheddar’s Restaurant has a policy to seat “able-bodied patrons before wheelchair-bound patrons.”

After the incident, the chairman and CEO of Cheddar’s restaurant chain, Kelly C. Baltes, issued a public apology to the family. “We want to apologize directly to the family involved and for any and all actions at the restaurant that were not consistent with our values, policies and practices. Our apology is sincere and comes from our heart” said Baltes.

According to KWTX News reporter Eli Ross, the man identified as the manager was also fired over the incident at a later date. In February 2011, the family and the restaurant chain reached a settlement agreement in the courts of Falls County, Texas. Details of the settlement have not been released, and the family of the four year old boy has declined to comment to news sources about the incident.

For a video clip on the news story from KWTX news, please visit:


Still a Surgeon Despite His Health, Partial Paralysis, and Wheelchair


Doctor Sharad Kuman Dicksheet is 80 years old, fighting for his life with cancer, has had triple bypass surgery, and uses a wheelchair after an accident paralyzed his right side. You would expect Dr. Dicksheet to be confined to a hospital bed, but this dedicated surgeon still has a thriving plastic surgery practice both in New York and abroad. While facing a host of physical illnesses and disabilities, the doctor still divides his time among New York and India to give Indian children with facial deformities plastic surgery free of cost to them.


Nominated for the Nobel Prize five times, Dr. Dicksheet considers fixing facial deformities to be his life’s work and won’t let his disabilities get in the way. “My troubles are nothing when compared to the problems of children who come in for surgeries and the stigma they face in life because of their disfigurement. My sole aim in life is to give them a better life,” said Dr. Dicksheet in an interview with the Times of India.

Even though he may consider “his troubles” no hindrance to his important medical work, Dr. Dicksheet’s physical limitations are severe. In 1978, he suffered an accident which paralyzed his right side and left him in a wheelchair. He then suffered a heart attack which required triple bypass surgery, and though he has recovered, his age presents other problems. However, Dr. Dicksheet has no intention of giving up his practice.


Despite these physical limitations, the good doctor has been providing his services to poor children in India for 42 years, performing over two million surgeries. He travels through poorer parts of India performing between 100 and 150 surgeries per day.

Dr. Dicksheet provides many different kinds of facial surgeries including cleft palate and lip surgery, birthmark removal, ptosis or drooping eye surgery, and facial scar removal surgery.


Delta Airlines Fined Record Amount for Mistreatment of Travelers with Disabilities


Delta Airlines was fined a record $2 million by the US Department of Transportation for not following federal rules regarding accommodating air travelers with disabilities, including lack of accommodations for boarding and exiting airplanes as well as not responding to complaints in an appropriate time frame. A portion of the fines will be paid directly to the Dept. of Transportation for violating federal statues, while the rest are to be used by Delta to raise awareness within the company and improve their services for disabled passengers.

In a press release from the Department of Transportation, the U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood  said, “Ensuring that passengers with disabilities receive fair treatment when they fly is a priority for the Department of Transportation. We take our aviation disability rules seriously and will continue to enforce them vigorously.” The US DOT proved that by hitting Delta with the highest fines on record for non-safety-related violations.

The fines were levied against Delta airlines for several violations of the federal rules regarding air passengers with disabilities. Delta allegedly did not provide adequate accessibility and assistance for air passengers with disabilities getting on and off airplanes. The airline also did not respond to passenger complaints in a timely manner. The record DOT fines were levied based on complaints that were filed in 2007 and 2008.

According to the Associated Press, Delta responded by saying that the airline “will install more elevators, and allow customers to specify what type of wheelchair help they need when they buy a ticket on the airline’s website. It will also install additional jet ways — instead of stairs — for boarding regional flights.” The airline also admitted no wrongdoing, but states they have been making investments since the 2008 complaints to accommodate travelers with disabilities. Delta has plans to improve training to employees about accommodating airline passengers with disabilities and better handling of complaints.

Mother of 2 Crowned Ms. America after 11 Years in Wheelchair

Ms. Americal 2011

After facing many obstacles in her life, including a hit and run accident in 1996 that left her in a wheelchair for 11 years, 36 year old California mom Tracy Broughton won the 2011 Ms. America title. Broughton will go on a twelve month tour with her crown making personal appearances and promoting awareness for disability rights.

As a busy single mother of twins, Broughton still makes time for her modeling career, heading a legal aid business, and donates her time to charity. Ms. Broughton plans to use her title to bring awareness to disability rights and be a role model for all those who use wheelchairs every day. Disability rights has been an issue close to Ms. Broughton’s heart since she was paralyzed in an accident from which she is still recovering.

Winner of the Miss Black California pageant in 2003 while still confined to a wheelchair, Tracy Broughton hopes to use her new Ms. America crown to target disability rights.

Winner of the Miss Black California pageant in 2003 while still confined to a wheelchair, Tracy Broughton hopes to use her new Ms. America crown to target disability rights.

Broughton’s win of the Ms. America 2011 title shows everyone who uses a wheelchair that you can achieve anything you set your mind to with perseverance and faith. Even with her physical obstacles and incredibly busy life, she was able to achieve her dreams. Ms. Broughton used a crutch to cross the stage and accept her crown, as she is still recovering from her severe 1996 injury. ‘I was able to overcome my disability through a combination of experimental therapy, faith and perseverance,’ said Broughton in an interview with the Orange County Register.

The Ms. America pageant is a big sister pageant to the famous Miss America Pageant, and contestants have fewer age and marital status restrictions than the contestants in the Miss America Pageant, though they compete in similar categories like Evening Gown and On-Stage Interview. The mission statement of the Ms. America Pageant is to “empower women across the nation and around the world,” and Ms. Broughton can certainly do that now that she has won the crown.


DARPA’s Mind-Controlled Prosthetic Arm To Be on the Market Soon?

LA NA.Prosthesis.03.jpg

As much as science develops high tech innovations and adaptive solutions for people with disabilities, there is the slow going process of approvals which lands many innovations off the market for several years before even being approved for clinical trials. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just recently announced its “Innovation Pathway” program to expedite approvals for medical breakthrough technologies. The first device that will be going to clinical trials soon is the DARPA prosthetic robotic arm.  This means the prosthetic arm could possibly be made available to people with disabilities in as little as four or five years.

Within the next six months the military plans to begin implantation on five patients with a microchip on the surface of their brains to study a prosthetic robotic arm controlled by the user’s thoughts via the chip. This chip can decode signals to neurons that control the life-like limb, hands, and fingers to seem almost natural looking.

The development has lasted over five years and has already cost over 100 million dollars.  This innovative arm can also rotate, twist and bend in 27 different ways. If this trial is successful and the system is made available, it could dramatically improve the lives of many who have lost the use of their limbs.

Other devices developed by the military and adapted for those living with paralysis include a robotics system called Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) which was designed to help soldiers safely carry heavy packs across difficult terrain and long distances.

Health Care Fraud’s Most Wanted Fugitives


Health care fraud like Medicare and Medicaid scams may be a little known crime, but health care fraud has already cost taxpayers over $60 billion every year. The federal government has been fighting health care fraud for many years, but now they have a new weapon in their arsenal: Health Care Fraud Most Wanted List.

This list has its own website at https://www.oig.hhs.gov. At this site, the public can see the names, crimes and mug shots of individuals wanted for health care fraud. The public is encouraged to contact the Office of the Inspector General of the US Department of Health and Human Services via the website if they have a tip about anyone on the most wanted health care fraud fugitive list. The website also provides information about common types of Medicare and Medicaid abuse, waste and fraud.

The government’s Health Care Fraud Most Wanted List includes over 170 fugitives from justice who were allegedly involved in defrauding health care systems of billions of dollars. The first ten individuals on the list have allegedly defrauded the government of over $120 million alone. These individuals have been charged with everything from submitting false Medicare claims to fraudulent Internet marketing of bogus medical services. Two of the ten most wanted have been captured.


“The Benitez Brothers,” three brothers located in Miami who are on the ten most wanted list, are charged with making around $100 million off fraudulent Medicare claims for treatments and medications that were never administered to HIV patients. Another health care fraud fugitive, Susan Bendigo, ran a home health care service that used unlicensed nurses. Leonard Nwafor submitted fraudulent Medicare claims for motorized wheelchairs for patients who didn’t need them and claims for doctor’s visits that never happened. Another health care fraud fugitive, Eduardo Moreno, defrauded the Medicare program for hundreds of thousands for unnecessary medical equipment and services as well.


Man Stranded in Wheelchair During Severe Weather, 911 Unhelpful

Richard Gaylord with his service dog

When Richard Gaylord, a retired physics professor, was stranded in downtown Chicago in 15 degree weather with a broken motorized wheelchair, Chicago emergency services told him that they couldn’t help him. After being rudely dismissed by the 911 operator, Gaylord was forced to wait in severe winter weather for over an hour. Unfortunately, this situation should have never happened in the first place.

Richard Gaylord in his wheelchair

That morning after a grocery store trip with his assistance dog, Gaylord’s motorized wheelchair lost a wheel outside the Equitable Building in downtown Chicago. He couldn’t leave his wheelchair in order to have it repaired and didn’t have any way of repairing the broken wheel himself. Several pedestrians tried to help him reattach the wheel without success. Gaylord did what anyone would do when they can’t find help: he called 911, but the 911 operator told him that they couldn’t help him.

Gaylord even offered to pay for emergency services out of pocket, but the 911 operator still wouldn’t send help. According to Gaylord, the operator kept saying that “we don’t handle” his situation. When he asked if the operator could refer him to a wheelchair accessible taxi service or transportation for disabled persons, the 911 operator told him that they didn’t have any referral information.

Chicago 911 Call Center

A spokesman for the office of emergency management that run the 911 center mentioned that a police officer was dispatched to “assist a citizen,” but it took him 45 minutes to locate Gaylord on the plaza.  By that time, Gaylord had contacted a friend with a van to come and get him.  His wheelchair has since been repaired, and Gaylord now keeps phone numbers for wheelchair accessible taxis on hand in case something like this happens again.

A spokesman for Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management, which runs the 911 call center, did agree that “the call could have been handled more expeditiously” in an interview with Fox Chicago. The Office of Emergency Management is now developing a training program for 911 officers in treatment of callers with wheelchairs.


Quadriplegic Marine Using Hand Cycle to Cross the US


US Marine Aaron Roux, who uses a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury that left him with paraplegia, continues on his journey across the United States on a hand cycle. Roux and his team, “Trans America Quad,” are completing the 62 day hand-cycling trip across America in order inspire others with physical limitations, raise awareness about quadriplegia and raise money for summer camps for children with physical disabilities.

Roux is part of a team of several hand-cyclists to complete the journey. Medical complications forced another quadriplegic cyclist to withdraw, but Roux remained dedicated to completing the ride. In preparation for the event, Roux and the team have hand-cycled over 6,000 miles.

Team Trans America Quad began their hand-cycling journey on January 15 in San Diego, California and will complete their amazing journey around two and a half months later in Saint Augustine, Florida. Team members will cycle about fifty miles per day during the over sixty day trip. The cycles used by the team are specially developed to allow those with physical disabilities to cycle using their hands and arms.


With the cross-country trip, Team TAQ and Roux want to raise awareness about the possibilities for physical activities for those with physical disabilities such as quadriplegia, as well as raise awareness about spinal cord injuries and the different levels of quadriplegia. One of the event organizers and scheduled hand-cyclist Rick Mason stated, “There is a common misconception about what a quadriplegic is, the varying degrees and what is possible. A ride like TAQ provides a dramatic example of what is possible even after a surviving a life altering physical disability.”

Roux and Team TAQ are planning to raise $30,000 with the trip that will provide assistance to a non-profit organization that runs summer camps for children with physical disabilities. The money raised by Team TAQ will provide funding for adaptive equipment needed by the camps, as well as financial assistance for children to attend the camps.


FDA Plans to Speed Up Approvals for Medical Technology


According to the FDA’s website, a priority review program for new, breakthrough medical devices is part of a broader effort underway in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), designed to encourage  new technologies among medical device manufacturers. The newly proposed “Innovation Pathway” states that products have to be “pioneering technologies with the potential of revolutionizing patient care or health care delivery”. Those products that get selected would receive an Innovation Pathway memorandum from CDRH containing a time line for device development, and the product would then be assigned a case manager.


The FDA has accepted its first submission from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) which is a brain-controlled, upper-extremity prosthetic designed to restore near natural arm functionality with the hand and fingers. This arm can be used for patients who have suffered from spinal cord injury, stroke, or amputation. The arm uses a microchip implanted on the surface of the brain and decodes signals to control it. DARPA and the FDA have signed a Memorandum of addressing both the development and review of this project.


Why has CDRH launched the Medical Device Innovation Initiative? According to their website, facilitating innovation is a top priority for CDRH and they recognize that transformative, innovative devices can present new scientific and regulatory challenges.  The Innovation Initiative supports the development of innovative products by addressing some of the barriers that can impede a product’s timely progress to market. The Medical Device Innovation Initiative is part of CDRH’s 2011 Strategic Priorities.  CDRH will hold a public meeting on March 15, 2011, and will continue to solicit feedback on the Innovation Initiative through a public docket until May 31, 2011.