December 2011

The Year Was 1978: Age Rule Dropped for Scouts with Disabilities

Boy Scout Disability Awareness Badge

Persons with disabilities didn’t start fighting for accessibility when the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was enacted. Back in 1978, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was forced to rethink their age requirements after public outrage over denials of Eagle Scout applications from members with disabilities, who were denied because of age. The BSA changed their policy to allow Boy Scouts with disabilities to be enrolled past age 18, Cub Scouts to be enrolled past age 11, and Explorers to remain in their posts past age 21–all without a top limit on age.

At that time, the then new policy enabled 23-year-old Gregory Wittine of Baldwin, New York to become an Eagle Scout. According to Harvey L. Price, the chief scout executive, Wittine’s Eagle Scout badge was immediately sent to local scout officials after the policy change. Wittine, who has cerebral palsy, partly met the requirements for a badge by completing a 10-mile hike on his hands and knees. Yet his application was for a badge was denied.

Wheelchair Boy Scouts with Disabilities

The denial of his application and that of two New Jersey youths with disabilities sparked a public outcry and prompted the BSA national executive committee to hold a special teleconference during which they decided to change the age rules for persons with disabilities.

Wittine’s father, Ferdinand, said his son is “pretty elated”. He added that they received more than 300 letters of support since Gregory’s decade-long fight for the Eagle Scout badge was publicized.

Things like this in life are rare…are tremendous types of accomplishments,” beamed the elder Wittine.

Richard N. Golden, a Manhattan attorney and scoutmaster of the Boy Scout troop to which Wittine belonged, said the decision was “terrific news”.

Wheelchair Boy Scout with Disability

Gregory can be proud of the fact that he has been in the vanguard of establishing the rights of the handicapped and highlighting the special problems that they face,” he said. “I think he has done more, much more, than win the Eagle award for himself.

Revising the age requirements didn’t help the two New Jersey Boy Scouts because their issue involved physical requirements–a part of the BSA policy that remained intact. In their case, the youths–who both had muscular dystrophy–were turned down because they substituted oral examinations for merit badge requirements that involved physical dexterity. Their scoutmaster approved their applications and later protested their denial.

Boy Scout with Disability

The 1.2 million scouts in the BSA in 1978 included 60,000 youths with physical and mental disabilities who were active Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts or Explorer members. The age requirements for scouts with mental disabilities were previously lifted, according to a statement from the national BSA headquarters, which stated, “It was felt that it was reasonable and consistent to change the same membership criteria to the severely handicapped, including the blind, deaf or emotionally disturbed.”

Also, a follow-up archival story from 1984 can be found here:


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ALS Has Become the Deadly Enemy That Veterans Least Expect

ALS in Disabled Veterans Linked to Gulf War Illness

During a four-year period from 2003 to 2007, over 2,100 veterans with ALS were identified with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurodegenerative disease. A 2008 report issued by the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illness found that ALS was the most serious condition affecting Gulf War veterans. Other studies have found that military veterans who served during the last century in general have a 60 percent higher risk than non-veterans of developing ALS and have an earlier onset of the disease. In 2010, the Veterans Administration (VA) created a registry to identify veterans with ALS.

The Department of Defense and the VA began investigating a possible link between military service and ALS after the first Gulf War when they noticed an increase in veterans complaining of muscle weakness in the limbs, headaches, joint pain, slurred speech, difficulty breathing or swallowing, memory loss, and chronic fatigue—all symptoms of ALS. Eventually these symptoms were referred to as “Gulf War Syndrome.” Now they are believed to have been early symptoms of ALS.

ALS in Disabled Veterans Linked to Gulf War Illness

Twenty years ago, Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania resident, Jim Cassidy, was part of an elite Army Special Forces team and went on to serve as an intelligence agent in the Army Reserves. Now life for the 46-year-old veteran is a daily struggle to live with ALS. He uses a wheelchair, eats through a feeding tube and breathes with the assistance of a ventilator. He talks through a special computer program that reads eye movements. Scientists have yet to determine the cause of Cassidy’s ALS, but according to them, his serving in the military put him at a greater risk of developing the disease.

In Cassidy’s state of Pennsylvania alone, 850 people—including 104 veterans—have ALS, according to the Philadelphia chapter of the ALS Association. The Bucks County, Pennsylvania VA office knows of two ALS cases, but director Dan Fraley suspects there are more because ALS is a new service-connected disability. “The VA doesn’t advertise it,” he said.

ALS in Disabled Veterans Linked to Gulf War Illness

Patients who go to the ALS Clinic at Pennsylvania Hospital are asked if they did military service, a question which catches them off guard. “They almost always want to know why, which we can’t answer,” said Sue Schwartz, a social worker at the clinic.

Bob Haines, a World War II veteran, was diagnosed with ALS when he was 75. The 82-year-old was shocked to learn that his ALS could be service-related. “I didn’t believe it,” he said. “I didn’t expect this had anything to do with World War II.”

Jim Pinciotti, Executive Director of the ALS Association’s Philadelphia chapter, praises the VA for doing a good job informing the veterans they serve, but he feels they’re not doing enough to get the word out to the general veteran population. “When I speak to a group and speak about this fact, I see faces in the crowd with all of a sudden the realization and panic,” he said.

ALS in Disabled Veterans Linked to Gulf War Illness

Cassidy never engaged in combat when he served in the Army nor in the Reserves, according to his wife, Lisa. He had no family history of ALS, yet early symptoms appeared when he was 33. Lisa said he began experiencing weakness in his left hand, which they both attributed to a pinched nerve—despite no pain. The couple became concerned when the weakness progressed to muscular atrophy in Cassidy’s left hand and forearm, which made it difficult for him to grasp things. He developed muscle twitching in his upper arm and chest. After an electromyogram came back abnormal, Lisa, a physical therapist, feared her husband had ALS. However, doctors were reluctant to make a diagnosis because his condition progressed very slowly.

“When he first started with the symptoms, we always feared it was ALS. I actually sat my neurologist down and demanded to know why he didn’t think it was ALS,” she said. “In the back of my mind that is what I feared the most. For every neurology appointment we were in fear, ‘This is the time he’s going to say it’s ALS.'” Cassidy was diagnosed five years later at age 38. Lisa said that by then his speech was slurring and both of his arms were weakened to the point where he needed both of his hands to pick up things. Cassidy left his food scientist job in 2003 and Lisa became the family’s sole financial support. They have two sons, 11 and 9.

ALS in Disabled Veterans Linked to Gulf War Illness

His condition continued to deteriorate, requiring him to start using a power wheelchair two years ago and have a feeding tube inserted. Cassidy went on a ventilator earlier this year. Lisa is now his fulltime caregiver. The VA helps pay for her to get extra outside help. She says Jim’s health has improved since he went on ventilator. “As long as he stays free of complications, he can live a pretty long life,” she said.


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New Law Requires Commercial Pools to Be Handicap Accessible

Wheelchair Accessible Pool Lift

The federal government passed a law in April 2011 under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that would require commercial pool owners to make their pools accessible to persons with disabilities. The new regulations apply to newly constructed commercial pools and existing structures, but not residential pools. Owners of existing pools have a year from the April 2011 date to bring their pools into compliance. At an average cost of about $7,000, the new law will cost commercial pool owners thousands of dollars.

Under the new law, large pools with more than 300 linear feet of pool wall must have at least two accessible entryways. The primary entryway must be a pool lift that a person with a disability can independently operate or a sloped entry into the water. The secondary entryway can be a lift, transfer wall or system, sloped entry or pool stairs. The two entryways provided should be different types and situated on different pool walls. Pools with less than 300 linear feet of pool wall only require one accessible entryway that must be either a sloped entry or pool lift.

Many commercial pool owners have yet to comply with the new rule simply because they are not aware of it. In Panama City Beach, Florida alone, an estimated 3,000 commercial pools are currently inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Edgewater Beach Resort, however, is one commercial pool that is way ahead of the new law.

Michelle Lacewell, Edgewater Beach Resort Marketing Director, explained, “We’ve had the chair for 15 years, we knew the importance about being accessible to the pool water while they’re here to enjoy their stay.”

One resident who couldn’t be more pleased with the new law is resident Ed Thomasson. “As far as I’m concerned, anyone that’s handicapped ought to have the ability to get in the water,” he said.

The resort’s early forward-thinking pleases Thomasson, who says it feels good to know that the establishment considers the needs of people like him.

“You have handicapped people all the time,” stated Thomasson. “If they know they can get in the water, they do. It’s amazing how many people use that chair. It’s a wonderful thing.”


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In a Tough Economy, People with Disabilities Embrace Entrepreneurship

Pictured is Ayla Topgul, a seamstress who became disabled through her years of
work in the industry, at her Angora Design Studios (photo via

People without disabilities are having a tough enough time finding a job in today’s job market, so imagine how hard it is to get a job when you have a disability. Currently, the jobless rate among working-age persons with disabilities is nearly 50 percent. In the state of Florida, government agencies and non-profit organizations are facing the problem head-on—by helping persons with disabilities become their own boss. One such agency is the Central Florida Disability Chamber, which helps people with disabilities write business plans and helps them obtain funding to start their own businesses.

“We’re seeing a major influx of people saying, ‘What I really want is to start my own business,’” said chamber president Rogue Gallart. “We work with clients across the board to help them write their business plans and then assist them in finding the funding they need. Essentially, we’re a business incubator.”

To date the chamber has helped write 17 business plans and is working on 20 more. The Central Florida Disability Chamber is the only organization of its kind in the state and one of the few in the country. Their clients have started businesses ranging from construction companies to Internet companies to street-corner food carts.

According to Gallart, family support is essential for a potential entrepreneur to succeed. New businesses typically don’t have the resources to hire outside help, so they must rely on people who are willing to provide free labor or help out with living expenses while a person builds his business. Family support, or lack thereof, can make or break a budding enterprise.

Peter Schoemann, an attorney who started the National Chamber of Commerce for Persons with Disabilities, highly praises Gallart’s efforts, calling his organization “a fantastic place.”

Because of the success of the Chamber, Schoemann’s group gets requests from Texas, New York and Washington, D.C. to duplicate the Central Florida model. He warns, however, that not everyone is cut out for entrepreneurship. “You have to have willpower,” he said. “It’s one thing to have a good idea. It’s another to be willing to put in the effort 24-7 to run your own business.”

Central Florida Disability Chamber

There is also the problem of a strong disincentive for government disability recipients, according to Schoemann. “It blows my mind the way the current system is set up. The moment you earn more than the ridiculously low income allowed, you’re going to risk getting kicked off. Yet that’s long before a new business owner can make enough money to survive,” he said.

Yet on the other side of the equation, many entrepreneur-wannabes with disabilities exhibit a stronger determination to succeed than their able-bodied peers, mainly because they’re used to overcoming barriers. One such individual is 35-year-old quadriplegic Bill Miller. A freak accident at age 20 left him unable to walk, move his arms, sit up or take care of himself. His disabilities, however, only strengthened his determination to succeed. Miller went back to college online and obtained his Bachelor’s degree in business administration with a GPA of 4.0. He is currently working on getting his Master’s in entrepreneurship.

With the aid of a voice-activated computer, Miller has worked as a movie reviewer for a local newspaper. He was also instrumental in the invention and marketing of the IKAN (pronounced “I can”) Bowler, a wheelchair-mounted device that enables quadriplegics to bowl. The device sells for $699. “Right now it’s an extremely tough market, and this is not a low-cost product,” Miller said of the device. “Right before the recession hit, we were just starting to turn a profit.” Miller sees his future in both online and classroom teaching. His ultimate goal, he says, “is to be a contributing member of society. I don’t want to be supported by taxpayers.”

To date, about 95 percent of the businesses launched with the Chamber’s assistance are still operating. One such business is Angora Design Studio in Winter Park, owned by 63-year-old Ayla Topgul. “They are wonderful,” said the expert seamstress and designer. Topgul found herself unemployed after over 40 years in the industry because of constant shoulder, back and foot problems. Her application for disability was denied—an unfortunate common occurrence—and she didn’t bother appealing.

Central Florida Disability Chamber

“What she really wanted was to work,” said her daughter, Aydan Topgul. “She said to me, ‘What am I supposed to do? I can’t just sit around all day.’ And she can’t. She always has to be doing something.” Topgul first reached out to Workforce Central Florida for help. They referred her to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, who then referred her to the Central Florida Disability Chamber.

Their two-person staff analyzed her business idea, helped her write up a business plan, obtained funding for equipment and other startup expenses, and helped her find a storefront. Angora Design opened for business last year. The business still has yet to make a name for itself and is just now breaking even, but Topgul is thrilled nonetheless. “I am happy now. I know I do good work for people,” she said as she pointed out pieces of her handiwork, such as a handmade lace and several custom and intricate wedding gowns. Adds her daughter: “If you show her a picture, she can make it.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs is now promoting self-employment to its disabled veterans. Blue Orb, Inc., the parent company of orbiTouch, was recently awarded a three-year, $100,000 grant by the National Science Foundation. orbiTouch is the manufacturer of a keyless-computer-keyboard that allows individuals lacking fine-motor dexterity in their hands to easily navigate a desktop computer. Partnered with the VA, orbiTouch enlists veterans and other people with disabilities to help them become their own boss. For 42-year-old service-disabled veteran Rodney Cruce of Orlando, their efforts came right on time.

After spending more than 20 years in the Army, Cruce came home in 2009. It wasn’t long before he realized he lacked the networking skills and connections necessary to build his security and crisis-management company, On Point Saliency. His company trains business people who plan to travel and/or operate overseas. Despite the company’s impressive expertise and credentials, Cruce still has trouble getting meetings with corporate decision-makers.

“Part of it is the recession,” said Cruce. “But that [lack of connections] really has been the hardest part. “I don’t want anybody to think I’m asking for a handout — because I’m not — but I just want to be as successful in the civilian sector as I was in the military.”


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Traveling with Special-Needs Children Is Worth the Effort

Travel with Children with Disabilities

Traveling with children is a challenge in itself. Traveling with children with disabilities can be overwhelming, especially for first-timers. Still, children with disabilities need to get out of the house and see the world just as much as any other child. According to Jani Nayar, executive coordinator of the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality, there’s no reason you can’t travel anywhere you want with a child with a disability. You just have to be a really good planner.

You cannot pick up and go like everyone else does. You have to plan your trip very carefully,” she said. Nayar stresses that it’s important for a child regardless of ability to “get out of the house and travel like any other child.”

Peter Mance, 12, knows every street in a new city before he even sets foot in it. He is autistic and can memorize maps.

He’s actually a big help when traveling,” jokes his mom, Kim Mance. Mance is the founder of the Travel Blog Exchange and Galavanting, a community of travel bloggers and writers and a women’s travel blog, respectively. An attempt to surgically remove a spinal tumor left her other son, 10-year-old Stephen, paralyzed below the waist and in a wheelchair.

Mance has to make extra calls ahead of time to make sure there’s an accessible hotel room or subway, but she’s never let that stop her from taking her sons with her on vacations. Her worldwide travels are mostly for business, but Peter as accompanied her on trips since his autism diagnosis at 2½. She told CNN Travel that taking Peter along keeps him from getting “rutted into routine,” touching on the fact that not every autistic child adjusts well his or her routine is disrupted.

By [traveling] consistently over time, he’s developed ways to cope with being outside his routine,” she said. To help, Mance creates games, like hunting to search for his pajamas, which Peter plays on every trip. Though Peter eagerly looks forward to each trip, Mance says not every autistic child will handle being in a new place well.

You’d be surprised how somebody can get really irritable because they think your kid is misbehaving,” she said. She sometimes has Peter wear a T-shirt or button that says, “I’m autistic. Please be patient,”–a friendly reminder to other travelers that he isn’t purposely being a brat.

According to Lisa Goring, Vice President of Family Services at Autism Speaks, every autistic child reacts differently when traveling out of their familiar surrounding. “There are some kids with autism that love to travel and do really well. For others, it can just be more challenging,” she said. She suggests parents prepare a tell a child accustomed to a routine by telling him or her in advance that they will be going to a new place. They could create a book with pictures of the travel destination to show the child so he or she will know what to expect.

Michell Haase, founder of, which offer travel tips for families with special-needs’ members, said families should “start small.”

“It doesn’t have to be the big trip to France,” she said. She suggests that families who are new to traveling with a special-needs child drive to a nearby city and attempt booking a stay at a hotel to get an idea of what accessibility issues might arise. Hotels are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide accessible amenities for everyone, regardless of ability.

Don’t just ask if the room is accessible, because it means so many things to so many people,” she said, adding that it’s okay to ask questions and make specific requests. On previous trips, Haase got hotel managers to replace their shower chairs that lacked supportive backs with ones that can be used by people who have balance problems, like her 18-year-old daughter Kelsey, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. Kelsey is proof that a person can accomplish anything regardless of ability. She’s a wheelchair athlete who’s been all over the US and is a national powerlifting champion.

Even with the most meticulous planning and research, mishaps can still occur. During one trip, Haase and Kelsey were stuck in the rain at a rental car place that didn’t have an accessible shuttle. On another trip in Chicago, they ended up stranded in smoldering heat because a trolley car was too crowded to accommodate Kelsey’s wheelchair.

You just have to learn to roll with it and always expect the unexpected. “I’m always having to be five steps ahead of the game and thinking what we’re going to need,” said Haase. “And then, when it doesn’t work out, it becomes really frustrating.”

According to Mance, the one thing parents struggle to overcome is the intimidation of taking a trip. It eventually becomes second nature, she says, once you learn where to go and how to get from one place to another. “Over the years, I’ve developed this sixth sense about which entrance is more likely to have a ramp or certain places that may be able to accommodate even just space between chairs at restaurants,” she said. Mance has taken Peter and Stephen to several countries, including Japan and Morocco.

Parents should look for attractions in the city or country traveling to that offers programs for children with special needs. New Jersey’s Garden State Discovery Museum, for example, offers Open Arms Family Evenings several times a year. The hands-on museum features simulations of real-life scenarios, such as ordering food at a diner or buying food at a grocery store, and is very beneficial for autistic children that struggle with daily activities. “The more they can practice in a safe environment, the better they are in the real world because it’s not new to them,” said Judy Shapiro, Director of Sales and Marketing.

Parents can also opt for cruises with accessible pools and special programs for children. Nayar stated that many ships offer youth activities that parents and their children participate in together. Travel experts and mothers both say The Magic Kingdom is the best place to travel with a special-needs child.

Disney World is the nirvana,” said Mance. “We usually go to Disney World and almost forget that there’s any issue.”

Disney offers Guest Assistance Cards for people with disabilities that can be used to wait in separate lines for rides, and up to five people can accompany them on the attraction. Mance recently went there with her kids. She said the pass made going through the lines “exponentially faster,” and her son loved the graffiti design on the signs with a wheelchair symbol because it was especially for the kids. “He felt so accepted,” she said.

Disney also allows family with special-needs children to test rides–without having to get back in line–to see how well a special-needs child will react before getting on. Mance makes sure to bring earplugs for Peter to use if the noise gets too loud.

Nayar said that New York City is one of the most accessible cities in the US. It has accessible public transportation and museums, and efforts are underway to make theater productions more accessible. The Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts recently began the Broadway Accessibility Initiative to make Broadway shows more enjoyable for the blind and the deaf. Executive director Sharon Jensen stated that they want to “open up Broadway to an audience who has historically not been reached out to.

National parks are also an option for families that are looking for outdoor activities. Nearly all have accessible activities such as kayaking and accessible hiking trails. Some parks even have accessible cabins that have kitchens with low counters and showers that can accommodate wheelchairs.

Traveling allows kids to see the world in a positive light, but planning a dream vacation isn’t going to be simple,” Haase said. “Especially when they’re disabled, you want them to have a good experience, so it’s a lot of pressure.

By leaving the security of their home and traveling all over the country, Haase feels she and Kelsey are showing how people can create change at attractions, restaurants and hotels to make traveling easier for everyone. “It’s one thing to have a law that says you have to do this,” said Haase. “It’s a whole other thing to see somebody experience the struggle and then want to help them.”


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Common Industrial Solvent TCE Linked to Parkinsons Disease

Neurodegenerative Parkinsons Disease

Researchers from the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale, California have discovered a possible connection between trichloroethylene (TCE) exposure and an increased risk for Parkinson’s disease. Their study entitled “Solvent Exposures and Parkinson Disease Risk in Twins” was recently published in the Annals of Neurology Journal and is the first ever study to suggest a “significant association” between TCE and Parkinson’s.

A research team led by Drs. Caroline Tanner and Samuel Goldman interviewed 99 sets of twins in which one twin had Parkinson’s and the other twin did not. The twins were asked about their lifetime hobbies and occupations using a detailed job task-specific questionnaire. The study found an increased risk for developing Parkinson’s disease that was six times higher in individuals who were regularly exposed to TCE than in persons with lower levels of TCE exposure. The study also found a link between exposure to carbon tetrachloride and perchloroethylene and a significantly increased risk for Parkinson’s disease.

Industrial Solvent Tricholoethylene Linked to Parkinsons

TCE is a colorless liquid–sometimes dyed blue–that is commonly used as a cleaner and degreasing agent. It is found in paints, paint removers, adhesives, carpet cleaners, and dry-cleaning solutions. It was also used as a skin disinfectant, general anesthetic, and coffee decaffeinating agent until the Food and Drug Administration banned its use in 1977. The chemical does not naturally occur in the environment, but it has been found in surface water and underground water surfaces due to its manufacture, use, and disposal.

Our study confirms that common environmental contaminants may increase the risk of developing PD [Parkinson’s disease], which has considerable public-health implications,” Dr. Goldman said. “Our findings, as well as prior case reports, suggest a lag time of up to 40 years between TCE exposure and onset of PD, providing a critical window of opportunity to potentially slow the disease process before clinical symptoms appear.”

Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating neurological disorder characterized by muscle stiffness, limb tremors, speech impairment, and slowed movement. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), nearly a half-million Americans suffer with Parkinson’s disease, with over 50,000 new diagnoses every year.

Tricholoethylene Linked to Parkinsons


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GeckoSystems Demos New ‘Collision Proof’ Power Wheelchair

GeckoSystems Collision-Proof 21st Century Wheelchair

Over two million Americans are wheelchair users, and nearly half of them have problems steering their wheelchairs using the current controls on the market. One company, GeckoSystems International Corporation, is currently testing their new “collision proof” wheelchair prototype.

President and CEO R. Martin Spencer remarked, “We are very pleased to have completed initial tests of our new ‘collision proof’ wheelchair prototype. We now have videos on our website that clearly demonstrate the enhanced safety features of a power wheelchair upgraded with GeckoSystems technology. You will see that the upgrade prevents dangerous collisions with both stationary and moving obstacles regardless of joystick position.”

The company’s market research uncovered a huge demand for collision-proof wheelchairs in the healthcare market. Such chairs would benefit residents in nursing homes and assisted care facilities who start having trouble maneuvering a power wheelchair as their condition deteriorates. The company foresees an improvement in safety for wheelchair users and their caregivers as well as for residents of assisted care facilities.  The average combined weight of a power wheelchair and its user can be as much as 350 pounds. A poorly controlled wheelchair can cause serious trauma and physical damage to its user or others.

Geckosystems Collision-Proof Wheelchair Hardware Diagram

The collision-proof wheelchair prototype utilizes a new advanced automatic self-navigation software called GeckoNav, a user joystick, and GeckoSteer, a new software and computer interface that lies between the joystick and the GeckoNav, and compensates for tremors, spasticity, and other involuntary movements associated with physically debilitating diseases that affect many wheelchair users.

GeckoSystems was able to reduce the projected cost of the upgrade kit thanks to Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect. “The release of the Microsoft Kinect depth camera and its cost advantage over traditional machine vision solutions has helped the company further reduce the projected cost of the upgrade kit. This will make improved safety more affordable for thousands who presently rely on a wheelchair for personal mobility,” said Spencer.

Now that we have a successful prototype of our ‘collision proof’ wheelchair upgrade kit, we will progress to visual design improvement and further cost reduction. We expect that technology-licensing revenues will precede revenues from product manufacturing and sales. We believe that our over 1300 stockholders will receive this news as confirmation of their wisdom in investing in GeckoSystems and be encouraged in their expectation of a satisfying return on their investment,” said Spencer.

Xbox Kinect


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Veteran Praises Wounded Warrior Project

Wounded Warrior Project

The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) assists and supports disabled veterans who return home from duty by providing unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs. What began as a program to help veterans who returned home after serving in Afghanistan and Iraq has grown into a complete rehabilitative effort to help veterans recover and transition back to civilian life. One such service member is U.S. Army veteran Jim Schrock. Schrock served during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and gives much credit to the Wounded Warrior Project for helping him when he returned home from duty.

“The Wounded Warrior Project is one of the greatest things to ever happen for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans,” said Schrock. “They do so much … like activities to get soldiers’ minds off of whatever struggles they may be going through….It’s a national organization that’s supported almost worldwide. It’s a great organization to be involved in because there are so many support systems in place with so many key people all over the United States. They’re only a phone call away if something’s wrong or you need something. They always check on you.”

According to Schrock, the WWP assists veterans’ families with many things, including disability claims and Veterans Benefits Administration (VA) treatment. The organization also provides peer support, career training, adaptive sports programs, and legislative advocacy for veterans injured in Afghanistan and Iraq. The program promptly and efficiently provided Schrock with assistance and is helping him get a service dog.

Wounded Warrior Project march

Schrock recounted how he was injured in Iraq in 2004. He was part of the ground force infantry that provided security for the helicopters while they were being loaded with injured soldiers. “I was in an abandoned warehouse refitting for another convoy and a mortar dropped through the roof (the roof had already been blown off), and it exploded above our heads, and myself and three other guys were blown through a brick wall,” he said. “The guy in front of me took the majority of the shrapnel. If not for him, I probably would have been dead. I was out for about 42 minutes, and I was flown to Balad Airbase and sent back to Germany.”

Schrock returned from duty in July 2004 and received a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and an Iraq Campaign medal, but he also knows firsthand how returning soldiers are sometimes overlooked, and stresses the importance of organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project.

“Regardless of what you see on TV, remember there are sons, daughters, husbands and wives standing on the front line every day,” said Schrock. “You may not be directly affected by what’s going on but somewhere, somehow, some place there’s a person sitting in a trench or on guard duty wondering if anyone back home cares or if they’ll make it home. So it’s important to always keep them in the back of your mind because at any given time they might not be coming home.”


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DC Comics Change Oracle Character Back to Batgirl–Without the Wheelchair

Batgirl #1

A favorite DC Comic wheelchair-user superhero resumed her former–and able-bodied–character, a move that angered both the character’s creators and advocates for people with disabilities. In the relaunch of the new comic line, internet superhero Oracle was returned back to her original Batgirl identity–sans wheelchair. DC felt the Oracle character would serve the publisher better by resuming her former identity, which meant she had “to get out of the wheelchair and start wearing spandex again.”

Not everyone agrees.

[Oracle] is about as ideal a disabled character as you can find,” said Neil Kapit, who writes about disabled issues and comic books on his blog, entitled Handi-Capeable. “I have the suspicion that it was an executive decision to bring Batgirl back, as these characters are meant for franchising first. They likely believe they can sell more T-Shirts, statues, graphic novels, et cetera, with an able-bodied character than with a character in a wheelchair.

Barbara Gordon as Oracle

James B. South, Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Marquette University, who examined the Oracle character for the book, Superheroes and Philosophy, considers the move a step backwards.

We are losing a major example of an adult woman in comics as well as an example of someone who can be a string leader while finding herself physically incapacitated in certain ways,” he told Newsarama. “It does seem to be sending the message that DC thinks readers of comics are more interested in traditional superhero activities and are not able to handle a strong, disabled woman doing things in her own way.”

To appease fans angered by DC’s decision, Oracle’s disability was incorporated into the Batgirl character by having her go through physical therapy and cope with recovering throughout the story. Writer Gail Simone, who developed the Oracle character while she was recovering from a disability, was tapped to work on the new Batgirl title. According DC Co-Publisher DanDiDio, the decision to put Oracle on the shelf did not come easy.

Oracle-Batgirl in Wheelchair

Believe it or not, this was the more difficult choice to make for us, because we saw what the benefits of the Oracle character were, we saw what the challenges of making this change were going to be,” DiDio said. “What we needed to do was to continue to make Barbara Gordon one of the strongest characters possible, in or out of the wheelchair. And we felt that this was a strong direction for us.

In the new comic, Oracle actually returned back to her roots as the character Barbara Gordon, who secretly masqueraded as the crime fighter Batgirl. In 1988, in Batman: The Killing Joke, Batgirl was shot by the Joker and left paralyzed. It was very controversial angle, particularly with female readers, because it victimized a female character to forward the story about male heroes. The controversy led to the creation of the Oracle character.

Batman: The Killing Joke

Comic writer John Ostrander explained how the idea for the new Oracle role, “My late wife, Kimberly Yale, and I were not crazy about how Barbara was treated in The Killing Joke. Since the Batman office had no further plans for her at the time, we got permission to use Barbara in Suicide Squad, [another DC title at the time]. We felt that the gunshot as seen in Killing Joke would leave her paralyzed. We felt such an act should have repercussions. So… we took some of her other talents, as with computers, and created what was essentially an Internet superhero — Oracle.

Dennis O’Neil, a Batman editor for DC at the time, praised Ostrander’s handling of the character. O’Neil felt Ostrander’s approach allowed Gordon to continue fighting crime despite having a disability, which made her a beloved fan favorite. “I think it was a real inspiration on John’s part to come up with Oracle, and she became one of my favorite characters in the whole Bat-stable. She was unlike anything else,” he said.

Batgirl #2

Eventually O’Neil officially made Oracle Batman’s sole information source. “It was logical for her to be there in Batman’s world,” he said. “Batman would need someone like that.”

O’Neil never considered changing Oracle back to Batgirl, even though modern technology in animation could explain it. “Giving her her legs back, in addition to being a kind of deus ex machina, would have subtracted from the uniqueness of Oracle,” he said. “And at the same time, I didn’t see anything to be gained by bringing back that version of Batgirl. Even in the stories I wrote, Batgirl was usually just a pale carbon copy of Batman and didn’t have any of that mythic back-story that gives the whole thing resonance, like Batman’s, which has lasted what… 72 years now.

Professor South said that being a superhero who overcame a disability gave Oracle a strength Batgirl never had. “[Barbara’s evolution] shows her developing her own way of being a superhero,” he said.

Batgirl #3

While she seems to develop her own style of fighting as Batgirl, she’s still basically following in Batman’s footsteps. Once her life is shattered in The Killing Joke, she has to become, in some ways, a more independent woman who uses her own native skills and intelligence to develop a way of fighting crime that complements Batman’s rather than copying his way. In Birds of Prey, we see Barbara Gordon as a team leader and her transformation from a girl into a woman.”

The new Batgirl possesses as much strength and tenacity as her former character. No explanation was given for her “miraculous” recovery, but her disability was not forgotten. The new Batgirl character appears younger. Simone explained why. “We are seeing Barbara at an earlier starting point,” she said. “She’s been removed from the action and danger for a long time. “With this relaunch, she is still very much Barbara, but she can reclaim a part of her history and legacy with modern stories, in her own book and elsewhere.

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DiDio insists the Barbara Gordon character was the strongest for the Batgirl title relaunch, which necessitated changing Oracle back to Batgirl. “When you talk about Batgirl, whether it’s with a casual fan or even to somebody who just knew the Batman character, Barbara Gordon is always the one people default to as ‘who Batgirl is,‘” he said.

O’Neil understands that Batgirl is mostly associated with Barbara Gordon. “You can’t ignore things like that,” he said. “But it comes down to is, are we making this change because we see a brilliant way to reinvent this character? Or is it just that this is the one that we loved in the past? But Barbara Gordon’s perception in the mainstream public as Batgirl would be a very valid consideration.

However, O’Neil admitted that he would miss Oracle. “From a fan standpoint, I’m kind of sorry to see her go.”

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Kapit, a staunch advocate for persons with disabilities, understands DC’s position from a business standpoint, but he strongly disagrees with it. “I can understand, but that doesn’t mean I agree even slightly,” he said.

Oracle creator Ostrander has faith in Simone’s ability to do the new Batgirl character justice. “I’ve been quoted as saying that I think Barbara was a stronger and more effective character, a more important part of the [DC Universe], as Oracle than she ever was as Batgirl,” he said.

Do I still feel that way? Well, of course. Kim and I created Oracle. Times change and characters and people evolve. I changed things when I wrote characters, including changing Barbara to Oracle. Others do the same for this era,” he said. “Gail Simone is a good friend and a wonderful writer and I’m sure her work will be wonderful.

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Also see our related story: DC’s ‘Batgirl’ Reboot Means Disabled ‘Oracle’ Disappears


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Smoking Bans Cause Safety Issues for Hospital Patients

Hospital No Smoking Safety Concerns

In an example of the law of unintended consequences, a recent study found that hospital smoke-free bans may be endangering the well-being of patients. The study, conducted by the Psychosocial Oncology and Cancer Nursing Research Group at St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre, Winnipeg, Canada, recently documented dangerous conditions that resulted when patients defied the smoking ban when hospitalized.

The study found incidences of wheelchair patients being accidentally locked out of the hospital on cold winter nights, patients dragging their IVs outside through the snow, IVs becoming frozen, and electronic equipment malfunctioning because of the cold temperatures.

The researchers’ study was based on interviews of nursing staff, patients and hospital workers at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre and the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton and was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The study concluded that not enough support is provided to smokers to manage withdrawal symptoms while they are hospitalized. As a result, patients are left to their own devices.

Hospital staff said patients would constantly ask to be taken outside. Patients maintained that they didn’t want to go outside alone to smoke because they were afraid they would get sick while outside. Those that did risked getting frostbite. Guards told of patients who were “pushing this IV pole all the way down the sidewalk in the snow” after they were told they couldn’t smoke on hospital grounds. One wheelchair patient was locked outside on a winter night because he couldn’t see the sign saying the doors lock after certain hours. The sign, placed at eye level, was too high for him to see.

Hospital No Smoking Safety Concerns

Another dangerous scenario documented by the researchers was of patients in isolation due to infection smoking outside, then tossing their used cigarette butts on the ground. The discarded butts could potentially spread disease if picked up and smoked by another person desperately wanting a smoke.

Additionally, hospital smoking bans disrupted nursing care when patients took smoke breaks, leaving nurses with no idea when they would return. Some nurses were understanding, others weren’t. Because smoking is considered a habit rather than an addiction, healthcare providers are not always sympathetic and may have a hard time understanding why a patient with a serious medical problem would continue smoking.

“I have zero understanding on the drive to make a person get out of there, have that cigarette when they’re obviously having pain,” said one healthcare worker. Another hospital employee was more sympathetic. “We need to address these people, because it is a stressful time to give up your bad habit.”

The researchers reported that although some patients managed to go cold turkey during their hospital stay, they had to do so with very little to no support.


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