June 2011

Tongue Piercing to Improve Mobility

Tongue Piercing to Improve Wheelchair Mobility

Many Americans live with some form of paralysis. Some have had severe spinal cord injuries, causing paraplegia or quadriplegia, while others’ paralysis is caused by stroke, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, or cerebral palsy. People who live with these conditions are quite often restricted to a wheelchair for mobility, due to the loss of the use of their legs. Those who are in a wheel chair don’t have many options available to them in order for them to move independently, especially someone who is paralyzed from the neck down and has lost the use of their arms in addition to their legs. There is the “sip and puff” technology, in which the chair is steered by breathing through a straw. Although this method works, it is not very comfortable; it is bulky and can often block the user’s face.

Researchers have now come up with a method they feel may be more comfortable by using a magnetic stud on a tongue ring and a headset with sensors that can pick up the signals from the tongue ring. This, of course, means that those individuals using this device would need to have their tongues pierced. The new tongue drive system was developed by Dr. Maysam Ghovanloo, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Mouth with Tongue Piercing

To test out the equipment, 200 out of 20,000 applicants were selected. Martin Mireles, who has been paralyzed from a spinal injury for almost 20 years now, was recently fitted with the magnetic stud that allows him to steer his wheelchair. He was easily able to guide the wheelchair through an obstacle course lined with trash can, keeping his mouth closed and only needing to shift his tongue to travel in the correct direction.

Researchers chose to utilize the tongue in order to take advantage of some of the functions a severely disabled person still had. The tongue is a very strong muscle; it does not tire easily and is normally unaffected by spinal cord injuries, because it is directly connected to the brain through a cranial nerve. The magnet was first glued to the tongue, but often fell off after just a few hours. Dr. Anne Laumann, an associate professor of dermatology, suggested piercing.

“I think it’s great that something taboo can be used for therapeutic reasons,” Dr. Laumann said.


Video Game Controllers for Quadriplegics

Quadriplegics Video Games

Ruben Rios is a quadriplegic who sits motionless in his wheelchair with no use of his body below his neck, and yet Rios is able to play video games such as “Madden NFL 11” thanks to a game controller that gives quadriplegics the ability to play video games usually requiring two hands. The special controller that Rios uses is entirely controlled by his head and mouth, combining lip controls, puff and sip tubes, and a head operated joystick. To throw a touchdown, he flicks his tongue; to break away from a tackle, he puffs into a tube. This liberating device was the hand-made invention of Montana engineer Ken Yankelevitz, but now that he has retired from engineering, some disabled gamers fear there will be no one to take his place.

With Yankelevitz’s controller, Rios and other quadriplegic gamers have a dozen different actions that they can work with their mouth. It can be difficult to learn the complicated system, but for someone who suffers paralysis of the arms and legs and largely depends on others, gaming with the mouth controller is something they can do entirely independently.

After my injury there really wasn’t anything that I could do that I was actually in control of,” said Rios, who became a quadriplegic in 1988 from a gunshot wound. “I can’t emphasize enough how important this (is) to people with high spinal cord injuries.”

Quadriplegics Video Games

Yankelevitz began working on mouth operated video game controllers for the Atari console back in 1981. It was a simple design: users only had to push a few buttons and move a joystick through their controllers. As time went on he has been able to adapt to more complex consoles, such as the Xbox and PlayStation. He has no relationship with any of the companies, noting that they aren’t interested because there isn’t a sufficient market.

In his 30 years of designing them, Yankelevitz has sold just over 800 devices. He meticulously puts each controller together by hand and sells them for only just over $200, which includes a 1-year warranty for repairs. It would be too expensive to the gamers to have these controllers constructed by a factory and sold at over $1000 each. As a result, larger companies and gaming manufacturers have shown no interest in the production of controllers for the disabled, because there is no way to profit.

Quadriplegics Video Games

Quadriplegics are a portion of a growing community of gamers with disabilities. “If Ken (Yankelevitz) stops making these controllers, we’re going to be pretty much left out to dry,” Rios admitted.

Without someone to continue making these controllers, quadriplegics may no longer be able to participate in gaming activities. “As long as I’m making a controller that will work, then they are motivated,” said Yankelevitz.



Could Angioplasty in Compressed Neck Veins Ease MS Symptoms?


New studies on multiple sclerosis (MS) have found an underlying condition that could trigger the disease. This condition, called chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI), is basically a blockage of used blood in veins that lead from the brain. A blockage in these veins can create insufficient blood flow from the brain, possibly triggering diseases like multiple sclerosis and contributing to symptoms like pain, weakness, and chronic fatigue.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Stent Xray to treat CCSVI

There are some success stories of MS patients who have benefited from treatments of CCSVI, including Sharon Richardson, who was one of the first US patients to be treated by Dr. Paolo Zamboni, an Italian doctor specializing in CCSVI.

According to ABC News, Richardson underwent an angioplasty to widen her jugular vein and experienced immediate improvement in MS symptoms. Although not all doctors are convinced, Richardson believes that Zamboni’s treatment for CCSVI, which he calls “liberation therapy,” has helped her tremendously. Even though the procedure is generally not covered by most medical insurance, many MS patients are signing up.

Zamboni's CCSVI angioplasty treatment for MS

A debate has now arisen within doctors who study MS about whether CCSVI can cause or worsen diseases like multiple sclerosis. Trevis Gleason of the Multiple Sclerosis Blog at Everyday Health attended a recent symposium put on by doctors from the U.S. and Canada debating the connection between vascular diseases like CCSVI and MS. The symposium was designed to put together targeted research studies on the connection. The studies will determine the rates of CCSVI in MS patients and how CCSVI interacts with the progression of the different types of MS.

A new website called the Venous Multiple Sclerosis Hypothesis site has been created to collect all the medical research and media coverage of the connection between CCSVI and MS. The Multiple Sclerosis Society has also spoken with Dr. Zamboni about his revolutionary new vascular treatment, though they agree with other medical sources that say that more research needs to be performed before the treatment is recommended to patients.



Computer Games Improve Recovery from Strokes

Stroke Therapy Gaming

Many patients recovering from strokes need help improving hand and arm movement, and it has been shown that virtual video games like Wii may help patients as part of an overall rehabilitation program that utilizes technology. Now according to another study, a new generation of computer games may also help stroke patients recover mobility as well.

Between 80-90% of stroke patients still have problems with hand and arm movement six months after their stroke. While many rehabilitation centers do have robot-aided movement recovery technologies, only recently have these been paired with computer simulations. This new combined rehabilitation method for stroke victims was recently tested by New Jersey doctors, who developed and tested computer simulations on stroke patients and published their results in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, a BioMed Central open access journal.

What makes this study different from other rehabilitation studies is that, while many stroke rehabilitation programs focus on regaining arm movement and hand movement with separate therapies, the new technology-aided methods introduced by this study treat hand and arm movement as one therapy using computer games. Researchers had stroke victims use two games called Hummingbird Hunt and Virtual Piano to help patients recover fine motor skills like finger motion and precision in hand grip, while other games like Hammer Task and Plasma Pong were used to help improve hand and arm coordination.

Stroke Therapy Games

Study patients used the computer games for between two and three hours each day for up to eight days. After the trial period, patients showed higher coordination of their affected hands and arms. Improvements were seen in reaching, smoothness of movement, finger control and improve times on test tasks. The control group with normal hand and arm function showed no improvement, as did the uninjured arm of stroke patients.

One of the doctors involved in the study, Dr. Alma Merians, states that, “Patients who played these games showed an average improvement in their standard clinical scores of 20-22% over the eight days. These results show that computer games could be an important tool in the recovery of paralyzed limbs after stroke.”


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Quadriplegic Not Hired Due to Lack of Fingerprints

Ryan Grimes - Fingerprint Fiasco

Ryan Grimes has been in a wheelchair since becoming quadriplegic at the age of 18, when he broke his neck. While living in Indiana, Grimes applied for a job at Citibank in Tampa, Florida, which was advertised on the internet by a staffing agency. The staffing agency went over his resume and felt he was a good fit for the position. He was asked to take a few tests, and he did well overall. In order to be considered for the position, Grimes was told he would have to relocate to Tampa, which he did.

“Good paying jobs are hard to come by,” explained Grimes.

He was invited for a personal interview, and then offered the position. When he attended the orientation, he was told he would have to have a fingerprint background check. Grimes advised his new employer prior to being fingerprinted that due to a neck injury 12 years earlier and resulting quadriplegia, his finger prints had faded away to smooth skin. He says the folks at Citibank told him to just get it done and they would deal with it from there.

Ryan Grimes - Finger Print Fiasco

Grimes passed the online tests, drug test, and a personal interview, was given a start date, and was even informed that accommodations would be made for his wheel chair. Before he could begin work, however, he was rejected for the job, because his fingerprints could not be read, despite having informed the company of his condition at orientation. That’s when Grimes decided it was time to contact a local investigative news reporter, who in turn contacted Citibank officials.

Citibank later issued this statement: “Citi complies with the letter and spirit of the American Disabilities Act and we expect our vendors and agents to as well. Any communication to Mr. Grimes that his offer was being withdrawn based on his inability to provide fingerprints was made in error. We corrected this error as soon as we became aware of it and his offer with the staffing agency has been reinstated.”

Thanks to the help of an investigative reporter and his own tenacious spirit, Ryan Grimes has been successfully able to return to work.

Source: https://www.wtsp.com/news/topstories/article/195063/250/Fingerprint-fiasco-costs-quadriplegic-a-job

Charity Group Supplies All-Terrain Wheelchairs to Haiti

Haiti All Terrain Wheelchair

Several charity groups in the U.S. and Haiti have partnered with a wheelchair manufacturer to provide wheelchairs to Haitians affected by earthquakes. The charity group called The Red Thread Promise (TRTP) that helps provide medical care for orphans around the globe is spearheading efforts to provide state-of-the-art, all-terrain wheelchairs to amputees in Haiti.

Many people in Haiti were injured in the earthquakes of January 2010, and all terrain wheelchairs can improve mobility and quality of life for amputees and individuals with spinal injuries. Wheelchairs used in hospital or urban settings may provide mobility for some individuals, but those who live in rural environments need special chairs called all-terrain wheelchairs or ATWs.

The all-terrain wheelchair was developed by Mobility International, an Arkansas company that specializes in mobility equipment such as specialty wheelchairs and scooters. The all-terrain wheel chairs are specially designed for maneuvering around common hazards in rural areas such as dirt, pot holes, tree limbs, and rocks. All-terrain wheelchairs are often sold as sport wheelchairs in the U.S. for individuals to go hiking and enjoy the outdoors, but these chairs can be a lifesaver for individuals in countries like Haiti.

The chairs have a slightly wider wheel base, extended front wheels, shocks, and cushioning, as well as thick, mountain bike tires. These rugged wheelchairs are ideally suited for the conditions in Haiti, where amputees and wheelchair users may have to traverse rough terrain in rural environments. As well as the all-terrain wheelchairs, the company is also providing a maintenance kit to keep the wheelchairs in working order.

The Red Thread Promise is an American charity group dedicated to helping orphans around the world. They have a longstanding relationship with many Haitian groups, including Mountain Top Ministries (MTM), a Christian group in Port au Prince, Haiti that provides medical care and education to the impoverished. Mountain Top Ministries will take receipt of the all-terrain wheelchairs and make sure they get to those in need.

Individuals as well as large corporations can contribute to The Red Thread Promise, like the Canadian office of Halliburton, which contributed 50 ATWs to the Haiti cause. In addition to TRTP, Mobility International has paired with many different charity organizations in order to provide wheelchairs and maintenance kits to those in Haiti who need them. If you’re interested in donating, please visit the links below to get more information on how to help.

The Red Thread Promise – https://www.redthreadpromise.org
Mobility International – https://www.mobilityintl.com


Chronic Exposure to Pesticides Linked to Parkinson’s Disease


In April 2009, a link between Parkinson’s disease and two chemicals commonly sprayed on crops to fight pests was discovered by researchers at UCLA. The study examined people who lived near farm fields that have been sprayed with pesticide, but not the people working near it or with it, and results showed that the risk for Parkinson’s disease (PD) increased by 75% for those who were tested.

Now a second study was done in California’s Central Valley, where they detected three different pesticides: fungicide maneb (manganese ethylene-bis-dithiocarbamate), herbicide paraquat, and pesticide ziram. All three chemicals are toxic to both human beings and animals. This time, researchers studied those people who worked near the fields, but not in them. They found that exposure to the combination of the three chemicals maneb, paraquat, and ziram increased the risk of PD by 80%.

From the year 1998 through 2007, 703 people were used for both studies, 362 with PD and 341 without PD, and historical occupational and residential addresses were collected from all participants. Senior author and a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA School of Public Health, Dr. Beate Ritz said, “Our estimates of risk for ambient exposure in the workplaces were actually greater than for exposure at residences, and, of course, people who both live and work near these fields experience the greatest PD risk. These workplace results give us independent confirmation of our earlier work that focused only on residences, and of the damage these chemicals are doing.”

pesticide spraying sign

It has also been noted in this study that exposure to the combination of the three chemicals brings a greater risk than that of the individual chemicals alone. These three pesticides affect different mechanisms which lead to cell death, which then leads to the development of PD.

When combined, they act together, increasing the risk of developing the disorder, and those exposed to all three experienced the greatest risk increase. The present study demonstrates how exposure to the pesticides is associated with a significant increase in the risk for getting PD, in particular ziram, which has also been shown to produce many of the same symptoms of PD when given to rodents.

Our results suggest that pesticides affecting different cellular mechanisms that contribute to dopaminergic neuron death may act together to increase the risk of PD considerably,” add Dr. Ritz.


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Museum of disABILITY History Provides Education, Reflection


A new museum opened in Buffalo, New York that explores the way society has viewed disability throughout history. The Museum of disABILITY History has permanent educational exhibits about disabilities in the media, society, medicine, advocacy, education and exhibits specific to New York history. They also offer awareness-raising activities such as movie nights and panel discussions, as well as creating traveling exhibits for other museums.

The museum, created by the advocacy group People Inc., is the very first brick and mortar museum of its kind, with exhibits covering a wide range of topics. Not only does the museum explore the evolution of the language surrounding disabilities from pre-literate society to modern day words, but they also explain the history of institutions dedicated to helping those with intellectual and physical disabilities. The exhibits don’t shy away from the darker parts of disability history and raises questions about “community responsibility for care of the disabled,” according to Jack Foran, reporter for the ArtVoice.


Not only does the museum educate the public about the history of how societies have labeled and handled individuals with disabilities, but they also are a center for advocacy for disability rights. According to their website, “The Museum of disABILITY History is dedicated to advancing the understanding, acceptance and independence of people with disabilities. The museum’s exhibits, collections, archives and educational programs create awareness and a platform for dialogue and discovery.

The Accessibility and Technology Geek Blog recommends the Museum of disABILITY History’s website, calling it “a virtual museum” in its own right, that features details on all the exhibits and resources for educators. The website also offers a resource page for individuals with disabilities that features links to legal assistance, details on the ADA and other government programs, as well as reviews of disability studies.

The Museum of disABILITY History is a great step for individuals with disabilities around the world. It is very important that individuals with disabilities not only have a place to learn about their own history, but also to gather information about services and assistive technology that can help them in their daily lives.


Pregnancy Challenges for Moms with Physical Disabilities

Dianna Fiore Radoslovich

For women with physical disabilities like multiple sclerosis, pregnancy can present certain challenges. A recent report in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology studied these unique challenges to expectant mothers with physical disabilities like MS, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, arthritis and other conditions. For women with disabilities, there can be complications in pregnancy like lower birth weights due to preterm labor. Often, women with physical disabilities deliver by cesarean section, which presents its own complications. Women with disabilities might also suffer complications during and after pregnancy such as urinary tract infections, stress, postpartum depression, decreased mobility or flare-ups of their conditions.

Dianna Fiore Radoslovich, a mother with MS, was interviewed by the Associated Press about her experience of pregnancy. “Every pregnancy’s different, and MS is different every day for everybody,” she told the reporter. Radoslovich wanted to share her experience with other women, stating “I feel like, if you can do it, so can I.”

Women with physical disabilities can learn more about issues with pregnancy in the eBook “The Disabled Woman’s Guide to Pregnancy and Birth” by Judith Rogers, which states that it’s important for pregnant women with disabilities understand the difference between pregnancy-related problems and disability-related problems so they can speak with their doctors.

The Disabled Womans Guide to Pregnancy and Birth

In a meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Dr. Caroline Signore, who wrote the report on pregnancy and disability, described pregnant women with physical disabilities as an “invisible population” and urged doctors to create a comprehensive study of this population in order better understand the interplay of disability and pregnancy. The Baylor College of Medicine agrees that some doctors’ lack of knowledge may lead to negative expectations.

Often, problems for pregnant women with disabilities begin on their first doctor visit. Signore, who uses a wheelchair after a spinal cord injury, also said that accessibility in doctor’s offices is a challenge for pregnant women with disabilities. Signore urged doctors to improve accessibility to offices as well as installing equipment like lowered exam tables and scales for weighing patients in wheelchairs.


Power Chair vs Mobility Scooter

Scooter vs. Power Chair

Since mobility scooters and power chairs serve the same basic function, choosing one over the other can be a difficult choice. However, when you consider factors like budget, insurance coverage, personal disability level, the environment in which the device will be used, and amount of daily use, the power chair and mobility scooter become very different.

The Mobility Scooter Advantages

The mobility scooter comes in a variety of designs without looking like a wheelchair. Many mobility scooters can be folded down or disassembled into lightweight pieces for easy transport. Mobility scooters often come with more than one battery and have off-board chargers making it considerably more lightweight than power chairs. They’re very economical for your budget with most mobility scooters costing thousands less than power chairs, starting at under $1,000. They have a higher ground clearance than power chairs and can maneuver steeper inclines.

Mobility scooters can drive easily into rear entry wheelchair vans like those available at AMS Vans, which have extended ramps and ample cargo space. AMS Vans even has a rear entry model that allows the user to drive the mobility scooter right to the passenger area via a channel cut into the floor. Mobility scooters also have a swivel seat that locks at a 90 degree angle, allowing the user to easily sit without obstructions to maneuver around.

The Mobility Scooter Disadvantages

Mobility scooters aren’t for everyone however. The design of the steering mechanism is similar to handlebars on a bike. Because of this, the user must have the upper body strength and control to sit upright independently, with both hands on the tiller to operate the directional and speed controls. The mobility scooter is optimal for users that can stand and walk short distances with the aide of a cane or walker.

Those with whole body conditions like heart and lung diseases, obesity, or a general lack of stamina are the best candidates. Due to a larger frame and wide turning radius, mobility scooters are difficult to navigate inside a home and do better in open spaces like outdoors, malls, and grocery stores. Finally, despite a person’s need for a mobility scooter, insurance companies do not cover most mobility scooters.

The Power Chair Advantages

Power chairs are fully customizable including seats that raise and lower or directional controls that can be a joystick, chin levers, a tongue piercing or even a straw that fits in the user’s mouth. Power chairs have an open front-load design for easy transfer. Much smaller than mobility scooters, power chairs have an extremely tight turning radius and work well outdoors and in the home. Most power chairs have on-board battery chargers making it simple to plug into any wall outlet to recharge.

Power chairs are designed for the user that needs constant mobility assistance, so they usually have features like adjustable foot rests to fit the user’s body, to be comfortable all day. As long as the power chair is deemed necessary by a physician, most insurance companies will cover at least a percentage of the cost. Since the design is based on that of a wheelchair, power chairs fit most accessible ramps, lifts, and other assistance.

Power chairs fit well into accessible vans. Companies like AMS Vans offer a side entry wheelchair van with removable driver’s seat that allows the user to drive the power chair into a wheelchair dock and drive the van,  right from his/her power chair, using a lever.

The Power Chair Disadvantages

Even the cheapest power chairs cost thousands of dollars. While its possible to have some or all of the cost offset by insurance, the guidelines are many and strict. Power chairs are meant to be left assembled. They are extremely heavy so an accessible van is vital for transport. Power chairs often have a very low ground clearance so maneuvering over rough terrain can be challenging. Most power chairs are meant to carry the user only and don’t have baskets in front or below the seat like mobility scooters. Power chairs have smaller motors and can usually only drive up an 8 degree incline at most.

While on the surface, they seem very similar, mobility scooters and power chairs serve two very different groups of people needing mobility assistance. Before choosing a power chair or mobility scooter, talk with your doctor, friends, and family to get the big picture of your mobility assistance needs and make an informed decision.