Monday, June 29, 2015

A video and a new address

Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp recently shared this video from last year on their Facebook, which got us here at the Capstone office thinking that it's a great time to share it again as well.  Some of you who are enrolled this year may have already seen it, but we hope you will again enjoy and be inspired by the uplifting spirits of the counselors, staff, and campers in the video.

Before we get to our feature presentation, however, we would like to attend to a housekeeping matter.  PSU's Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone office has moved—we are NOT located across from Smith (SMSU) anymore.  Our new address is as follows:

Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp
Portland State University
School of Education
1900 SW 4th Ave  Suite 290-2

One way to reach the office is to enter from the entrance on Harrison Street, and then to take the elevator or stairs up to the second floor and navigate to Suite 290-2.  Here's a link to a Google Street View of the Harrison Street entrance.

And now, back to our video.  We hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Welcome to Camp!!!

Happy Wednesday, everyone!  For many of you enrolled in 2015's Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone, this is your first week at camp.  Others will be starting in two weeks for the second session, and still more will be coming for the third and fourth sessions (beginning July 18th and August 1st, respectively).  To celebrate the start of this summer at camp, we'd like to share some Letters to Future Counselors written by previous counselors.  For those of you who are already enrolled, these letters are available to read in their original hand-written formats on the capstone website.  For those of you who are not yet enrolled (or who are reading this some years in the future), we hope this will give you more of an idea of the wonderful things that can happen every year at camp.  Enjoy!

These letters were written by counselors at the end of their camp session, on forms titled Advice to Future Counselors that had the following instructions: "Think back to your first day and what was going through your head.  Then think about your experience at camp.  What advice/insights would you give to a new counselor?  (This will be given to a counselor next year.)"

And so, without further ado, here is our first letter (with names redacted for privacy reasons):

    When I was in your position I was utterly terrified.  It was my first time working with people with disabilities.  I was anxious about personal care, communication, and most importantly that I might not connect with my camper.  Now I see things in a totally different light.  Both my camper
[sic] were very different from each other.  I learned to communicate with both and created deep connections with them.  Kiwanis camp truly is a magical place.  My CS, ACS, and fellow councelors [sic] felt like family by the first Monday.  With so many unique people with different abilities the camp creates a place accepting of everyone.  It will seem like a dream world after a while; two weeks free from the sprawl of the city.  I never thought I could care for someone as deeply as I cared for my camper.  And I never thought I could trust people as quickly as I trusted my fellow councelors [sic].  Kiwanis Camp is a place that allows a reconnection to humanity.  We are immersed in the forest, surrounded by animals and mother nature, and the result is embracing every individual member of the camp for what they are: a person.  Even though you may be extremely nervous now, embrace the next two weeks.  Because there is a possibility when that second friday comes you might not want to leave at all.

And now, our second letter:

Bring candy!  Whatever you think you know about working with persons with disabilities, you're about to learn a lot more.  I came in with some experience, but found myself challenged the same as those around me with no experience.  Also, learn to trust your group.  I promise you that by the end of your two weeks you will see all of them totally different then [sic] the day you meet them.  This will change you in the best ways possible.  These campers are a total joy to be around and this place is truly magical.  It's hard work but it's some of the most fun I've ever had.

We hope you enjoyed these letters, and let us know in the comments if you'd like to see more.  And if you've had experiences at Camp that you'd like to share, please tell us about them!  In the comments here, or on Facebook.

Happy summer, everyone!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Teen carries brother with cerebral palsy for fifty-seven miles to raise awareness

Hunter Gandee, a 15-year-old high school freshman from Michigan, completed a fifty-seven mile walk on Sunday with his little brother riding on his back.  8-year-old Braden Gandee has cerebral palsy, a disease that has made him unable to walk without assistance, and Hunter carried him the whole way as part of a mission to raise awareness about the condition.  The event, dubbed the "Cerebral Palsy Swagger," began at Braden's school in Lambertville, Michigan, and ended at the University of Michigan Pediatric Rehabilitation Center in Ann Arbor.

It's not the first time Hunter Gandee has carried his brother on a long trek.  A year ago, the then-14-year-old carried Braden on a forty-mile walk, this one from the Gandees's hometown of Temperance, Michigan to Ann Arbor.  That hike lasted two days.  While the family states that this second trip is not a fundraiser, Gandee did set up a GoFundMe campaign after people last year expressed a desire to donate.  The proceeds will go toward the construction of an accessible playground at Braden's school.

During the fifty-seven mile hike, the elder Gandee alternated between the use of three different harnesses to help him bear the weight of his sixty-pound brother.  Rest stops were set up every three miles, and physical therapists would attend to both Gandees and help stretch out their muscles.  Hunter also carries Braden in everyday life, in places where he believes it is more convenient than Braden's walker, but not usually in walks of such magnitude.

Friends and family accompanied the brothers on their long journey.  On the second day, Hunter says he collapsed from exhaustion, but his friends picked him up and he was able to continue on to the third day.  Police and fire departments also escorted the teen, and spectators lined his route to yell out encouragement.  At last, on June 7th, 2015, the two Gandees crossed the finish line and broke the ceremonial tape.

Hunter gives credit for the idea of the Cerebral Palsy Swagger to his mother, noting that she had a dream in March 2014 about him carrying Braden to raise awareness, and that three months later that's exactly what he did.  Though both the 2014 and the 2015 walks were exhausting, Hunter says that he believes it is up to his generation to bring about change and to make the world a more accessible place.

You can read more about Hunter and Braden Gandee on ABC News, CNN, Fox News and affiliate Fox8, and on the Cerebral Palsy Swagger Facebook and Instagram.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Oregon Special Needs student voted prom queen at Southridge High School

Katie Shipley, a senior special needs student at Southridge High School, received the most votes ever in the school's history to be elected prom queen on May 16th.  Born with Trisomy 1 Mosaicism, a rare chromosome disorder, Shipley also has a form of dementia and was not expected to live to see her eighteenth birthday.  Now, the eighteen-year-old will be graduating this year from Southridge's special education program, as the Queen of her senior prom.

It all started, as the video below details, when Shipley expressed a desire to be part of the prom court.  Her friends, including her peer tutors at the school, worked without her knowledge to get her a nomination.  Their efforts were a success, and they filmed Shipley's reaction when they first told her that she was going to be a prom princess:

In the days that followed, Shipley's friends continued to work on her campaign to become queen.  Friend Courtney Travis tweeted a picture of Shipley and her date Michael Parks, explaining their plan to make Shipley's dreams a reality.  Fellow students Taylor Chapman and Tori Harman also helped spread awareness, and Travis noted that the idea was becoming very popular throughout the community.

On May 16th, Shipley donned a purple and gold gown and headed out to the prom at the World Trade Center.  With makeup applied by her friends, when the time came she lined up on stage with the rest of the prom court and waited for the results to be announced.  As she stood there, the crowd began to yell.

"Katie!  Katie!  Katie!"

The shouts rose up, and they kept on until the announcer named Katie Shipley as Southridge High School's 2015 Prom Queen.

2015 Prom Court with King Mikee and Queen Katie.
Posted by Southridge High School on Saturday, May 16, 2015

Later, Shipley's grandmother Joan Fraley would say that she was happy about the nomination, but concerned about how her granddaughter would feel if she weren't elected queen.  She needn't have worried.  Shipley received over 200 votes, the most votes for prom queen in Southridge High School's history.

You can read more about Katie Shipley's story on local sites and, and also on national sites like USA Today, MTV, NBC, and Buzzfeed.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Spotlight: Rodney Bell, paraplegic dancer

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Rodney Bell, shown above with partner SonsherĂ©e Giles, is paralyzed from the waist down.  But he is also an award-winning dancer, performing on such shows as So You Think You Can Dance and helping bring awareness to "physically integrated dance," a format where both able-bodied dancers and those with differing abilities perform together.

Bell was paralyzed when he was twenty years old, after a motorcycle accident in 1990.  Originally from Te Kuiti, New Zealand, he is of Maori descent and represented New Zealand on its Paralympic basketball team from 1999 to 2006.  He also danced with and choreographed works for Touch Compass Dance Company, New Zealand’s first mixed-ability dance company.  Later he joined California-based AXIS Dance Company, a contemporary company that had seven regular dancers in 2009, four of whom used wheelchairs and one of whom had prosthetic feet.

Bell met choreographer Alex Ketley in 2007 at an AXIS choreographic residency at Florida State University.  Ketley composed a routine for Bell and partner SonsherĂ©e Giles, titled To Color Me Different, which Bell performed using his eighteen pound titanium wheelchair.  It was Ketley's first work for a dancer with different abilities.  In 2009, Bell and Giles won a celebrated Isadora Duncan Dance Award (or "Izzie") for best Ensemble Performance for their work in the piece.

Bell has said that he dances for all the communities he represents: disability culture, yes, but also dance culture and Maori culture as well.  Though he performs with a wheelchair, he will sometimes leave it during a dance, using his upper-body strength to move himself across the floor or lifting the chair up as part of a pose.  Not solely a performer, he has also taught mixed ability dance to both able-bodied dancers and those with differing abilities.  With AXIS dance company, he is featured in David Levitt Waxman's short documentary The Art of Movement, which can be viewed in its entirety (with captions!) on Youtube.

You can learn more about Rodney Bell and physically integrated dance in these articles from the Los Angeles Times, SF Weekly, SF Gate, Golden Gate Xpress,, New Mobility, and the National Endowment for the Arts.  For more videos, check out AXIS's Youtube channel.

Do you have an idea for a story for the blog?  Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook and Twitter!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ferrotouch: An innovation in technology for the blind

Before electrical engineer Katie Cagen worked at Microsoft, she was a finalist in the national Collegiate Inventors Competition.  Her invention, which she termed "Ferrotouch," uses electromagnets and ferrofluid to create bumps on an elastic-covered surface—bumps which can be formed into the shape of braille letters.

The idea is to create a more versatile (and hopefully less expensive) version of a "refreshable braille" machine.  Refreshable braille machines are devices that interface with computers, providing a braille version of text for users who cannot see the computer's display.  Traditionally, such machines work by using movable pins that pop up to form the standard patterns used in the braille alphabet.

A traditional refreshable braille machine
A traditional refreshable braille machine.  Photo courtesy Ixitixel on Wikimedia Commons.

With Cagen's Ferrotouch, however, the bumps are formed by magnets placed under a layer of magnetic ferrofluid.  The magnets then interact with the fluid, "pushing" it up in places and forming bumps that can be manipulated in various ways.  Because of the mutability of the fluid, Ferrotouch has the capability of displaying far more than braille; charts, diagrams, pictures, and countless other visuals could be represented in a tactile way as well. 

Cagen, a Harvard alumna who graduated in 2014, came up with the concept for Ferrotouch when she was visiting colleges.  Her host during an overnight stay at Harvard was Sally Kiebdaj, a blind student who later became her close friend.  During their time studying together, Cagen noted how much Kiebdaj used technology for school work, but also how she could not access certain materials such as visual data or PDFs.  Cagen's original intent was to make content such as this accessible, though she would also like to make her device capable of acting as a braille reader as well.

The invention is still in relatively early stages, and one possible problem to be solved is that the dots may not be defined enough for effective braille.  Cagen hopes to receive enough funding to pursue this issue, noting that while her original goal was to provide a way to display visual information that could not be transmitted through braille, having braille capabilities would certainly be a bonus for the device.

Whatever the outcome, Cagen hopes to show Harvard's students and faculty that assistive technology is a good field in which to work.  Even though funding is scarce due to technology companies that see only a small market, there are still valuable opportunities to enhance technological experiences for the blind and other people with differing abilities.

You can learn more about Katie Cagen and Ferrotouch here and here, or visit her Youtube channel to see more Ferrotouch testing videos.

We'd also like to ask our readers: do you or someone you know have experience with assistive technology?  What has your experience been like?  Whether negative or positive, tell us about it in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter!

Monday, May 11, 2015

New software program being developed to make the web more accessible

Australia-based father and engineer Kenneth Springer has been developing Hueyify, a piece of software to help make the internet a more accessible place for people with disabilities, for the past several years.  Springer, his daughter Elleleen, and his son Huey all have Craniometaphyseal Dysplasia, a disease that causes wide-ranging side effects and that led to Huey becoming blind in one eye and legally blind in the other.  When Huey started using the internet, he found it difficult to navigate all of the densely packed, compressed information that the World Wide Web presents.  After his father searched unsuccessfully for tools to help him, the two came up with the idea for Hueyify.

Hueyify is designed to allow custom reorganization of a web page, enabling users to change layout, colors, and styles in order to suit their individual needs.  Hueyify can also be used to annotate specific parts of a website's content, or to delete parts that are irrelevant or distracting.  Designed to work with internet browsers that a user already has installed on their computer, the program highlights customizability for those who have different abilities than the sighted people for whom most websites are designed.

Many sighted people, Springer notes, learn to scan web pages and quickly identify which information is useful and which is not.  For people with impaired vision and those who have autism, however, it's not always as easy to skim through and classify all those details.  With the internet becoming a bigger and bigger part of our daily lives, Springer couldn't shake the idea of making it more accessible to people like his son.  And so the project was born, with the goal of improving the lives of anyone who finds it challenging to navigate the internet.

Hueyify is not yet available to the public, but Springer is working to make it so.  And when the project does become available, their website states that they wish it to be free of charge for anyone who is blind, legally blind, or has autism.

You can read more about Hueyify on their website at, or in articles about the project here and here.