March 2011

Highway Trooper Starts Junior Troopers Program for Sick Kids


North Carolina Highway Patrolman Brian Lane understands what it’s like to be a child in the hospital, and he decided to give sick kids in UNC Hospitals a little joy. With the help of some friends and the blessing of the NC Highway Patrol, Lane put together the Junior Troopers program, which lets kids in hospitals ride in a special wheelchair with a siren and hand out tickets to doctors and nurses.

In the program, Lane brings a wheelchair fitted with a blue siren and the NC Highway Patrol logo on the wheels. Lane even got local businesses to donate baseball caps, pens, and ticket pads with the Junior Troopers logo on them. Sick kids get a ride on the special wheelchair and enjoy giving out tickets to doctors and nurses for things like walking while texting on their phones. Penalties for these violations usually involve ice cream for the little troopers.

Lane understands how sick kids feel because he was once one of them. At 15 years old, Lane was hospitalized for a rare illness called pectus excavatum or Sunken Chest Syndrome, where the bones of the chest grow inward and compress internal organs. When Lane was in the hospital undergoing reconstructive surgeries, he was visited by a local university basketball star. This experience inspired him to create the Junior Troopers program.

“I thought it was cool that a celebrity student athlete would take the time to come see me. And he brought me a ball signed by the entire team. I still have that ball,” Lane told Johnny Whitfield of the Eastern Wake News.

The Junior Troopers program was a success in the first few hospitals Lane visited, and the dedicated trooper has plans to visit sick kids in hospitals around North Carolina to help spread joy. Lane says the program wasn’t started as positive publicity for the NC Highway Patrol, which has suffered some publicity setbacks when officers were caught in recent scandals, but he’s happy that he can help kids become more comfortable around law enforcement.

“A police officer is someone kids can be afraid of, so it’s good to see them do something like this,” said Rachel Brewer, mom of one of the sick kids Lane visited in the hospital.


Disabled Veterans Associated Programs for Handicap Van Funding

saluting soldier wrapped in flag

If you are a Disabled Veteran who has been injured either during service or has a non-service related injury and you are trying to receive funding for adaptive equipment such as a handicap van or to convert an existing vehicle into a wheelchair accessible van, here are some resources that may be able to assist you in your process of finding grants or basic funding for adaptive equipment.

Driver Rehabilitation (Driver Rehab)
Driver Rehabilitation is a program that can help Disabled Veterans learn to drive again. The ADED recommends an evaluation for adapted driving. If you undergo driving rehabilitation, you can be eligible to get a prescription for wheelchair van conversions and adaptive vehicle modifications that best fit your needs.  Veterans can then take this vehicle prescription and more easily apply for a grant through other sources, or it can be used with the wheelchair van company to know which hand controls or mobility equipment is needed.  Through the driver rehabilitation program, a disabled veteran’s vehicle can also be fitted with a variety of adaptive equipment from strategically placed mirrors, to digital steering devices for amputees.

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR&E, Chapter 31, Voc-Rehab)
Vocational Rehabilitation for Disabled Veterans and Employment (VR&E) Program, sometimes referred to as Chapter 31 or Voc-Rehab, helps disabled veterans with service-connected disabilities and employment handicaps prepare for, find, and keep suitable jobs. If you are needing adaptive equipment to re-enter the work force they may be able to help you with vehicle funding. For veterans with service-connected disabilities so severe that they cannot immediately consider work, Vocational Rehab (VR&E) offers services to improve Disabled Veteran’s ability to live as independently as possible.

Paralyzed Veterans of America – Veterans Benefits Department
Veterans with a spinal cord injury, as well as other veterans needing assistance with understanding their VA benefits, entitlements, medical care and other benefits, often rely on Paralyzed Veterans of America’s (PVA) Veterans Benefits Department (VBD). The VBD staff can assist you with program understanding and advocacy towards getting funding for adaptive equipment.

Brain Computer Interface Can Help Those with Disabilities


These days, there is a wealth of technology that helps individuals with disabilities control wheelchairs as well as interfaces that let them interact with their environment.  There are also interfaces for wheelchairs and other devices that are controlled by brain activity that might soon be able to read and learn a user’s brain activity and work with less input from the user. These brain computer interfaces can help users control wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs.

Typically, a brain computer interface is controlled by three different commands: right, left and a null command or no command that indicates stop or stasis. This no-command is very hard to maintain because it takes intense concentration. This can make these brain computer interfaces hard to use for many persons with physical disabilities that severely limit their movement.

A professor at the Center for Neuroprosthetics, Jose del R Millan, and his research team have been working on a new type of interface that analyzes the user’s brain activity and learns when the subject is relaxed and when the subject is sending a no-command. This new type of brain computer interface, called Shared Control, makes the no-command much more sensitive and requires much less concentration to give.

Milan’s research into how to make Shared Control a reality shows how users of these brain computer interfaces can more easily maneuver around objects and do more precise tasks with their electric wheelchairs, computer interfaces or prosthetic limbs. The new learning brain computer interface can also recognize the user’s patterns of movement and preferences in the interface to make use even easier for those with severe physical disabilities who need these sorts of interfaces to interact with the world.

Professor Millan and his research assistant Michele Tavella revealed their new Shared Control approach to brain computer interfaces at the 2011 American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington, DC.


New iPhone App ‘Wheelmap’ Shows Wheelchair Access Around the World


When wheelchair user Raul Krauthausen wanted to have a little more choice in his life, he decided to develop an iPhone app to help him get around better. Tired of relying on services for the disabled in his native Germany, Krauthausen developed Wheelmap, a new iPhone app that shows wheelchair access around the world. With Wheelmap, a person who uses a wheelchair won’t be stopped by accessibility issues because the app will tell them if they can get into the building and move around freely.

Wheelmap creator, Raul Krauthausen, wanted to give wheelchair users more autonomy when he developed the app. “I want to remain flexible and not be dependent on when a driving service has time to pick me up,” Krauthausen told Mary Lane of the Associated Press.

The app tags different locations on an open-source map with red, yellow or green to indicate the level of wheelchair access each location provides. Locations tagged red have no wheelchair access; yellow locations have partial wheelchair access, and green locations are totally accessible to individuals who use wheelchairs. Locations without a wheelchair access rating are gray. The easy to use application also allows users to search for locations much like other map applications for the iPhone.

The Wheelmap iPhone app is also linked to the Wheelmap website, where users from around the world can contribute to developing the app by rating locations for wheelchair accessibility. According to an AP news article, the website “has 300 new user-ratings daily for a total of info on 30,000 locations.” This interactive feature allows the app to grow and be more functional to individuals who use wheelchairs.  The app is being used worldwide, and it’s quickly gaining recognition in the United States.

Tagging new places on Wheelmap can also encourage those who use wheelchairs to explore their cities and connect with others. A beta tester of the app and wheelchair user Ingo Stoecker also thinks that Wheelmap might help individuals with physical disabilities explore their environments. “Most or many wheelchair users are rather introverted—they’d rather not go out,” said Stoecker. “I think if they knew of such an app, they would maybe get out more.”

Visit the English version of the app at


Quadriplegic Artist Paints From Wheelchair Using Adaptive Glasses


Kevin White, a quadriplegic artist in the Cleveland, Ohio area who uses an electric wheelchair, creates works of art using a special attachment to his glasses. The technology allows White to work on the computer simply by moving his head. The sensor on his glasses tracks his head movements and allows him to select colors and draw lines.

Using this technique, White has created many works of art that are shown all around the Cleveland, Ohio area, including the local Ashtabula Art Center. The director of the center, Meeghan Humphrey, spoke to local ABC news affiliate WEWS5 about White’s artwork. “My first consideration is: Is the artwork we put on the walls going to be interesting for people?” said Humphrey.  “And the answer is yes when you look at Kevin’s work.”

According to White, creating artwork gives him a deep satisfaction, and he is glad to see his work up in the art center. “My work brings me satisfaction, joy, peace and motivation to keep doing what I’m doing,” said Kevin White.

White, 48, became quadriplegic after a car crash in 1984 when he suffered a severe spinal cord injury and lost the use of his arms and legs. White was an art student at Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Community College when he got in the crash, and his passion for art has never left him.

Now White lives in the Broadfield Care Center in Madison, Ohio, surrounded by his artwork. White has two close friends and a caretaker who he calls his “hands and feet,” who help him move around in the world. His caretakers say that he inspires them with his dedication and passion for art. When asked about his life and work by ABC news, White said, “I don’t think about me being in the wheelchair. If don’t think about what if; I just think about the good things; the positive things.”

Paralyzed Marine Snow Skis Despite Spinal Cord Injury


U.S. Marine corporal Joe Lowe of Boise, Idaho was paralyzed from the chest down by a bomb while on tour in Iraq, but that didn’t stop him from participating in a wide range of sports. After his spinal cord injury, Lowe now competes with other athletes with physical disabilities in events like hand cycling and swimming, as well as enjoying the ski slopes all over the world. Less than a year after being paralyzed, Lowe was trained to ski by an organization called Sun Valley Adaptive Sports that helps individuals with disabilities learn to play various sports.

Lowe talked to the Spokesman-Review about his spinal cord injury and learning how to ski. “It opened my eyes to the adaptive sport world and what I was capable of pushing myself to do,” he said. “I was really an active person before I was injured. Learning to ski felt so good, it gave me the confidence to be active again.” Lowe now competes in various athletic games for those with disabilities, including the Warrior Games, and has competed in hand-cycling, swimming and skiing events.

Lowe thinks giving back is important, and so he does his part to raise awareness about how individuals with disabilities such as paralysis or quadriplegia can live full active lives like his. Lowe speaks at high schools, at Marine Corps events and veterans groups. He also volunteers at summer camps for youth with physical disabilities and works with Sun Valley Adaptive Sports to help others with spinal cord injuries discover the joys of sports and physical activity.

“I take every opportunity to share my story,” he said. “Life is about overcoming adversity and the challenge of picking yourself up after things get tough. If I’m able to reach two kids for the rest of my life it’ll be worth it to me.”


Children’s Book Teaches Kids About Disability


In certain ways, Sophie McDow’s grandmother isn’t like other grandmothers. Sophie’s grandmother, Becky Guinn, uses a wheelchair and prosthetic hooks on her arms after a medical accident which resulted in amputation of part of her arms, her hands and feet. In other ways, like playing with Sophie, drawing and reading with her and loving her unconditionally, Sophie’s grandmother Becky is just like other grandmothers. Together, Sophie and Becky decided to share their story with other kids to help them understand that amputees and other people who use wheelchairs are just like everybody else.

When she was only seven years old, Sophie wrote a book to help other kids understand about her grandmother’s disability. The book, called “Bebe and Me” after Sophie’s nickname for her grandmother, talks about disability through a child’s perspective. Sophie wrote the book to explain to other children about how her grandmother lives with her disability and to show them that her grandmother is just like others.

In the book, Sophie says, “Bebe hasn’t changed a lot since getting new arms and legs, but sometimes it is hard for people to understand why she looks a little different. There are lots of people with stories like Bebe’s, but if you just look at their outside, you’ll miss all the fun!”


Becky and Sophie make regular appearances at schools and public libraries to raise awareness about amputees and individuals with disabilities among children. Sophie enjoys telling her story and Becky, an art educator, loves showing children that she can do many things with her prostheses, including painting. The book has gotten very popular, resulting in a website and Facebook page. “Bebe and Me” is also available on Amazon.

After her amputations, Guinn said that her first priority was to be able to paint again. Becky Guinn is a lifelong artist and state-wide recognized art teacher who won the Alabama Art Educator of the Year award in 2009, despite being retired. Guinn still teaches art, paints, makes appearances with Sophie, and works with the non-profit “Hooked on Arts” which works with the Alabama Art Education Association.



Study Shows Electrical Stimulation Therapy Can Help Spinal Cord Injuries


Toronto researchers have developed a new kind of therapy for patients with partial spinal cord injuries that uses small bursts of electricity. These bursts of electricity “awaken” paralyzed muscles with low intensity electrical impulses so that the muscles can perform small movements with the electricity. Eventually, researchers believe, the muscles will learn these movements and be able to function without the electrical impulses.

In the journal Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, Toronto researchers report that this new electrical stimulation therapy helps patients with spinal cord injuries recover function in paralyzed muscles. The electrical stimulation therapy can improve muscle function, allowing patients to better move around, grasp objects and hold objects. This therapy may be able to improve the quality of life for spinal cord injury patients and foster independence in the long run if functions can be improved.

Unlike other electrical therapies for paralyzed muscles, this new electrical stimulation therapy features a small electric stimulator that, once connected to paralyzed muscles, will allow patients to perform rehabilitation therapy at home and control their progress.

The study of the new electrical stimulation therapy was conducted by Dr. Popovic in Toronto, and it used 21 spinal cord injury patients. Every patient in the group received traditional rehabilitation therapy, and a smaller group received the electrical therapy. The group that received the electrical therapy showed up to three times greater improvement in grasping ability than the others in the study. Follow up studies showed that this improvement remained, even after the study.

Dr. Popovic and his team of researchers are still developing their new electrical stimulator, and hope that one day their therapy can become an integral part of rehabilitation for patients with spinal cord injuries. Studies are ongoing, but the doctors involved in the study are still seeking financial support to continue developing the prototype electrical stimulator.


Medicare is Overpaying for Medical Supplies


On the open market, wheelchairs can cost as little as $120, but Medicare can pay up to ten times that much for a similar wheelchair for patients that need them. The Director of Chronic Care Policy Group at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Laurence Wilson, said he thinks Medicare is “overpaying substantially for wheelchairs” and other medical equipment, according to WRAL News.

The main reason why Medicare may be overpaying for medical equipment such as wheelchairs and CPAP machines (a machine that blows air at a pressure high enough to keep your airway open during sleep), is that the government agency buys such equipment on a rent to own basis, rather than competitive pricing with manufacturers. Medicare pays monthly payments to the manufacturer on behalf of the patient to pay off the wheelchair, and these payments can add up. The system can work for patients and Medicare if a patient only needs a wheelchair for one or two months, but to buy one long-term costs Medicare too much money.

This rent-to-own process of buying medical equipment was set up by Congress, but Wilson says that changes have to be made to the system. According to WRAL News, “Medicare has a rent-to-own policy for most durable medical supplies, such as hospital beds, CPAP machines for sleep apnea and power wheelchairs.” Medicare payments for these types of medical equipment have been steadily on the rise.

Many Medicare patients like Jeanne Gunter of Raleigh, North Carolina just want to get wheelchairs for their loved ones, but are forced into high Medicare payments because of this system. Gunter, who wanted to buy a wheelchair for her 95 year old father, stopped the Medicare payments because it just wasn’t right to overpay so much.

According to the WRAL News Report, Medicare has started some competitive bidding practices with medical equipment suppliers in order to bring down prices for some of the more expensive equipment like power wheelchairs. However, many other types of equipment like manual wheelchairs have not been included in the changes.