Friday, December 28, 2012

[dis]Ability: An Introspective Look at Ability Awareness

Since taking on this job as social media manager for the Portland State University Kiwanis Camp senior capstone project, I have come to see my ignorance, an ignorance I was aware of but never really motivated to eradicate. Sure, I was “aware” of people with disabilities and thought I could sympathize, but beyond helping out with the occasional fundraiser, my life was never affected by theirs, so I didn't bother to learn. I find it strange now, and, of course, shameful that I settled for false sympathy when I've always believed that the key to happiness is self awareness, and the key to self awareness is learning as much about the world as possible. I have to know about others if I am to know myself. Yet in spite of this belief, I had never thought to learn about the disabled community. I thought I already knew enough, knew what I needed to know for my own purposes.

It's not a great feeling realizing that you've essentially ignored a large portion of the population until something—a job, in my case—forced you to educate yourself. But it is also a relief to know that there is still time to learn, time to become one less person living in ignorance.

That being said, I have also recently come to know that while I have been working to increase and promote disability awareness in myself and others, I had no idea that there was such a thing as ability awareness. To be honest, when I first heard the term, I thought it was a strange euphemism for disability awareness, something “nicer” in a world afraid of political incorrectness. However, it is no euphemism. It is exactly as it sounds: being aware of people's capabilities.

Back when I interviewed Jimmy Lorang, he mentioned that some of the campers love to joke around, and one of the jokes they like to play is not telling counselors that they are quite able to, for example, tie their shoes or get in and out of a wheelchair without assistance, and some of the counselors don't think to ask those campers what they do and don't need help with. When they find out, they might ask, “Why didn't you tell me you didn't need my help?” and get a giggled response, “Well, you never asked.” While many of us are focused on what a person cannot do, we forget to see what they can. We are not ability aware.

Diana Pastora Carson, ability awareness educator, describes ability awareness as a journey toward understanding, accepting, appreciating, and embracing disability within society. “[W]e are in no way 'looking beyond the disability.' We look at it directly, individually, with respect. Not with discomfort. Not with shame. Not with pity. We acknowledge it. But it is not our focus. Our focus is the person.”

And then Carlson seemed to write directly at me:
“In order to understand the disability experience, we must focus on ourselves. We often play a big role in the disability experience. Our attitudes and assumptions, actions or lack of actions can disable a person as much or more than their disability. Most of the time, we are completely unaware of our impact in the lives of others.”
Ability awareness is not only accepting, understanding, and embracing disability, but also accepting, understanding, and embracing ability. It means knowing what we are all capable of. Often we think that it is enough to know what a person cannot do so that we can assist. But a person is not defined by what he or she cannot do. A person is defined by what he or she does and can do.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Degrees for the Disabled

Winter break is half over, and I have to admit, I am ready to go back to school. I miss going to class and being busy. I'm one of those people who can't stay at home all the time without getting restless. I'm thankful that I'm able to separate school from home, but for some people, online school is a good alternative to traditional school, especially if it is difficult to leave home. I would recommend Portland State to anyone (I have fallen in love with it so quickly!), but people with disabilities may find it more convenient, and perhaps necessary, to take classes in their own residence.

Certain things must be considered when deciding to go to online school. Not all classes and formats work for all people, especially when it comes to finding courses that meet certain needs. While being able to learn from home is a major advantage, not all online classes are user-friendly for students with disabilities. For example, an instructor may promote a live class format with scrolling text that students have no control over. Visually impaired students who use screen readers or refreshable Braille displays may have trouble with this. Videos without captions can be problematic for students with hearing loss. Assignments that require students to view Web pages with flashing ads and lights can trigger seizures in people who suffer from photosensitivity or other disorders, and live chat classrooms, discussion threads, and white boards can make it hard for students who use adaptive devices. Many of these obstacles can be dodged by getting in touch with your professor and discussing accommodations. And it will totally be worth the effort! Why? Because education is awesome and fulfilling and everything that is good in the world. Also, once you've got that degree nicely framed on your wall, there are some pretty lucrative careers to be had. Check this out:

1. Computer Careers: A-Tech Review claims that information systems provides the best career opportunities for people with physical disabilities--jobs that can be done with little accommodation and they pay well too. The National Association of Colleges and Employers found in 2007 that starting salary offers for computer programmers averaged $49,928 per year.

2. Legal Careers: Law is another field wide open to the disabled, and you can customize your career to suit your interests. Whether you prefer working behind the scenes or in a courtroom, from your home or in an office, there are interesting career choices available and online programs to go with each. Salaries range from about $37,000 for junior secretaries to $75,000 for senior paralegals to six figure earnings for lawyers. Not bad, right?

PSU is beautiful but not always accessible.

3. Design Careers: Have a creative side? Online degree and career training opportunities abound--degrees range from photography to graphic, interior, and clothing design. Actress Dawn Wells (AKA Mary Anne from Gilligan's Island) designed a line of attractive clothing using Velcro for easy fastening after caring for a disabled relative.

4. Nursing Careers: Nursing careers actually provide good opportunities for those with physical challenges. And your own experience may make you a better nurse than less-empathetic co-workers. Many with hearing and other disabilities manage successful nursing careers. Organizations like the Association of Medical Professionals with hearing losses (AMPHL) provide guidance and support for their members. Registered nurses begin their careers with associate's or bachelor's degrees or nursing diplomas. Those with a BSN command an average starting salary of nearly $50,000 per year.

5. Management: If you acquired a disability later in life, you probably had a career when it happened--maybe a career that you really loved. If you can't perform that job any more, why not run the whole show? A bachelor's degree in management can help you stay in your chosen field and even move up the career ladder. And your hard-won expertise won't be wasted. Managers' salaries depend largely on their chosen industry but you can usually expect a nice pay increase when you earn a management degree.

So go for it! Earning a degree and furthering you education is well worth the effort. I'm looking forward to the sense of accomplishment I'll feel when I have a college diploma in hand. Everybody should have the opportunity to have that feeling, right?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hear, Hear! A Call for Music

I got my information from a TED Talk by Charles Limb and from an MIT Technology Review article by Michael Chorost.

Science and technology have made amazing progress in terms of aiding the hearing impaired. In the 16- and 1700s, the best science had to offer were hearing trumpets that funneled sound to the ear from a larger opening at the opposite end of the device. Later on, in the 1800s, attempts were made to make hearing aids more subtle, though perhaps a bit ridiculous, like ear-shaped devices with small funnels that one would wear like earmuffs. Todays cochlear implants are a vast improvement over, say, walking around with two sets of ears. Unlike hearing aids, which amplify sounds, cochlear implants directly stimulate the auditory nerve which sends sound signals to the brain, bypassing any damaged portions of the ear. Their primary function is to help people hear spoken language. This, of course, is great and tremendously useful, but CIs still have many challenges to face. One of these challenges is allowing its users to hear music.

Today's cochlear technology relies on the semantic-specific nature of spoken language. What matters is that a message is communicated correctly, not that the message sounds nice when spoken. In more visual terms, the letter “t” can be written many different ways depending on a person's handwriting or a font used on the computer. The visual aspect of the “t” is unimportant. All that is needed is the recognition that it is the letter “t” and not any other symbol. This is the way spoken language works, and so that is what cochlear technology uses to aid in hearing and communication. Music, however, works almost oppositely. What is music if not something that sounds nice?

This graph shows the difference between the sound levels and frequencies needed to hear spoken language and those needed to hear music.
CIs only transmit what is needed to hear language.

One of the main problems with CIs allowing people to hear music is a matter of pitch perception. Most people with standard hearing can differentiate between pitches that are 1.1 semitones, the smallest pitch interval in Western music, apart. CI patients' pitch perception can be off as much as two octaves. This is a considerable difference. Another problem arises with the inability of most cochlear implant users to discern between various instruments. With a device that focuses on the fundamentals of communication rather than sound quality, things like warmth and timbre are not transmitted.

Researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Iowa are working on breaking down the components of music to help CI users hear it. Their computerized test called the Clinical Assessment of Music Perception (CAMP) divides the very complicated unit known as music into three parts: pitch, timbre, and melody. The perceptibility of each component can be tested by CI patients, and these tests have shown the presence of the ability to perceive pitch. The tests can also show progress over time, perhaps with advances in technology. For example, if test scores improve, there is a good possibility that music perception is actually increasing amongst CI patients.

Beethoven managed to compose beautiful music in spite of his profound deafness. If he accomplished so much with a simple hearing trumpet, imagine what can be done with today's ever-evolving technology. Both music and human beings are extremely complex, but beautiful in their complexity, so to get them to work together in (are you ready for it?) harmony will be an amazing accomplishment. The universal ability to hear music may be a long way off, or that technology might be available within the next few years. Who knows? Either way, I'm excited. Music is just one of those things that can't be explained. It has to be experienced firsthand, and everyone should have to opportunity to feel it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Why Art is Awesome

This summer, Kiwanis Camp counselors read Double Take by Kevin Michael Connolly before beginning their sessions at camp. I recently finished reading it, and it got me thinking about art and the important role it can have in people's lives. In his book, Connolly, who was born without legs, illustrates the reactions his condition elicits in others and the way he decided to react to them in turn. Throughout his entire life, Connolly has been subjected to the assuming stares of strangers all around the world and discovered art as a way of dealing with those unwanted reactions. For him, photography became not only a means of artistic expression but also a sort of self-indulgent therapy.

I love art in its various forms partly because, aside from the aesthetic appeal, art allows one to say what sometimes just can't be put into words. Art is powerful and personal, and it has a way of communicating that is beyond verbal expression. Connolly could have told people, “No matter where I am in the world, people everywhere look at me the same way,” but those words don't have the same weight as his photos, which express the same thing.

Some people seem to come alive when they are able to express themselves through art. I posted a couple of pictures of art done by artists with disabilities on the MHKC Facebook page because I thought the motives behind various people's art was interesting. For example, Neil Marcus, a performing and visual artist with cerebral palsy, uses his various art forms to express movement in a way his body won't allow him. Jessy Park, another artist I posted about, was diagnosed with autism. She was nonverbal, but she was able to express herself through her vibrant architectural paintings. Others, like Peter Longstaff, a foot painter, show through art their ability to overcome physical obstacles to create something beautiful and meaningful.

At Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp, a portion of camp time is dedicated to art projects, including tie dyeing t-shirts, putting on performances, and making wish boats—handmade boats with campers' wishes written on them that are ceremoniously sent across the pond at the end of camp. Campers also work on putting together camper journals, in which they can use both words and pictures to communicate their camp experience with their families. These art projects are very individualized and are the least structured activities at MHKC, giving campers (and counselors) the necessary freedom to express themselves.

Drawing from a camper journal

The arts also serve as excellent and fun teaching tools. For example, visual arts like painting and drawing reinforce motor skills. Written arts such as poetry give people a chance to share their feelings without restriction while improving writing and vocabulary skills. Performing arts also improve motor skills and can provide a social setting where people can interact with one another, build problem solving skills, and learn about working together as a team. The arts allow people of all abilities to create something of their own and take pride in both the process and the product of creation. They can also serve as a way to rid oneself of negative emotions or express positive ones. Plus, art is something people of all backgrounds and experiences can relate to and share with one another. Art connects us.

What are your experiences with art, either in creating it or experiencing it secondhand? Do you use some form of art as a means of expression or communication? Share your art with us! Post a photo of your art or share a poem or whatever else you can think of on our Facebook page.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Animal Therapy: Yea or 'Neigh'?

There seems to be an undeniable relationship between humans and animals, especially when it comes to innate, mutual trust. Animal therapy, especially equine therapy, used to be regarded as a “hokey” or “crackpot” alternative method of therapy used almost exclusively by the wealthy elite. However, the positive effects of animal therapy or even the mere presence of animals is hard to ignore.

My dog, Koby, can be difficult to get along with. She's adorable, but she is unpredictable and can be aggressive when strangers approach her. That's why my stepmom was nervous when her friend, Nanette, came over with her daughter, Taelor. Taelor had Prader-Willi syndrome, and my stepmom didn't want Koby to scare or possibly harm her, so when Tae and Nanette arrived, she grabbed Koby and started to lead her outside.

“You don't have to do that,” Nanette said. The idea of having Koby in the room made my stepmom anxious, but Nanette insisted. “Don't put her outside. Trust me.”

So Koby stayed in. What happened next was astounding. Koby walked up to Tae and sniffed her curiously as dogs will do. Tae fearlessly reached out and pet Koby with a calm gentleness that suggested the two had been longtime friends. Koby didn't growl, tense up, or raise her hair like she normally does upon meeting new people. Somehow there was an automatic exchange of trust between Tae and Koby, an understanding that each needed to be gentle with the other.

I couldn't tell you how these two were able to communicate so naturally with one another, but it seems that this subconscious connection between people and animals and the mutual benefits of these companionships are particularly strong within the disabled community.

Horses are often used to help people with physical disabilities like cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy improve their posture, balance, and mobility. However, the healing powers of horses, like those of other animals, go beyond the physical. Animals can be great supporters because they are naturally nonjudgemental. They don't care whether or not you can hit a baseball the farthest or paint a picture that looks like a photograph. Animals are extremely accepting creatures. As long as you are loving to them, they will love you back no matter what.

Animals are also great teachers. They can teach us how to be gentle, kind, and respectful, and how to care for living things. Animals also teach us that we are needed and that we are important. They are always happy to see us, and they let us know that even on those days when we feel completely worthless, we aren't. They teach us that we matter and that we are wanted and loved.

One of my favorite parts about being around animals is that they have this strange ability to take away any anxiety, stress, or fear I may have been feeling. Sometimes, as was the case with Tae and Koby, the animal's anxieties can be alleviated, too. (Tae did a much better job at calming Koby down than I ever could.) Studies have shown how effectively animals can make people relax. They have a sort of magical effect on people that can be very beneficial when trying to adjust to unfamiliar surroundings or situations. Animals make us brave, and they love us for it!

Whether the scientific community says there is enough evidence to support the effectiveness of animal therapy or not, I say (in all of my scientific knowledge) yea to animals and yea to people. What I have seen has been enough to make me believe in the healing nature of the human-animal relationship. And besides, who could deny an opportunity to play with soft, fluffy animals?

Click here to learn about Taelor's story.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Doorbuster Discrimination: The Inaccessibility of Black Friday

I hope everyone is recovering well from the holiday and post-Thanksgiving shopping! This post is going to be a little less formal than usual (so if you prefer it this way, leave a comment saying so), filled mostly with musings brought about by the small controversy regarding “creeping” Black Friday and the general chaos that comes with holiday shopping.

Since 2008, when a Walmart employee was trampled to death by the store's patrons, much attention has been given to the violence and barbarism that occurs on the day after Thanksgiving (and now, to the frustration of many, Thanksgiving day itself). It's an interesting—if not a bit humorous—phenomenon: People are risking their lives for 30% off entertainment systems. All of this absurdity got me wondering about the inevitable discrimination that occurs during this consumerist frenzy. I began to wonder about the accessibility of Black Friday sales to the disabled community.

Supposed once-a-year deals have the power to turn respectable people into charging savages with no apparent regard for human life. Employees and shoppers alike suffer injuries and can die in the midst of the frenzy, largely due to panic-ridden impatience. So what does this mean for the man with cerebral palsy who has to navigate an ocean of manic flesh and shopping cart riot shields so that he gets his fair shot at a cheap television? What happens to the girl who takes a bit longer to count her money at the register? What about the physically challenged who have to park at the back of the parking lot because the handicapped spaces are illegally filled? Will they get overtaken by the mobs and be subjected to verbal and physical abuse because people simply cannot wait to empty their pockets?

I did some internet searching and came across an article that had been posted earlier today about a man who felt he had been discriminated against by Walmart. The man, Stephen Constable, usually walks with a cane or walker and uses a motorized shopping cart when at Walmart. When Constable and his wife went to the store, not for Black Friday deals, but for some groceries, they found that the motorized carts were not available to use. When Constable asked an assistant manager about the shopping cart situation, he was told that Walmart did not want handicapped people in the store that night because they may get hurt.

KSLA News 12 Shreveport, Louisiana News Weather

I kept looking, curious to see whether similar situations had arisen. I came across a thread on a Best Buy forum. Someone asked whether or not Best Buy had any accommodations for the disabled, as the exact deal he was looking for was not available online. The eventual (and final) post to the thread was from Best Buy, somewhat skirting the issue of disability discrimination but ultimately answering the asker's question regarding the television he wanted. The most interesting thing about the thread, however, was not the apparent lack of accommodation, but the annoyance and hostility the question aroused in a certain other poster. I highly suggest giving the thread a look:

Many people have been expressing concerns about how increasingly early doorbuster sales are ruining the integrity of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner spent in the company of friends and family rather than frenzied shoppers. I have also noticed a lot of people bypassing Black Friday sales entirely, the misery of the chaos outweighing the potential good deals. It's easy to do for those who have experienced Black Friday and all of its absurdity, but perhaps some consideration ought to be given to those who don't have the opportunity to partake in those sales at all. Shouldn't we all have the same opportunity to face the madness and witness the insanity?

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Ugly Law

Did you know that it used to be against the law to be “ugly”?

Up until the 1970s, there was a law in Portland and many other cities that allowed for the arrest of anyone who was so “maimed, mutilated, or diseased” that his or her appearance disturbed the general public. It was an aesthetic law designed to keep cities gilded, much like homeowner associations are designed to uphold a certain visual standard in a given neighborhood. In 1972, two Portland State University students were arrested at the Hotcake House on Powell Boulevard under this law. Their story is documented in a movie called Music Within.

Richard Pimentel, a Portland native, grew up in an emotionally abusive home where he suffered neglect from his mentally ill mother. After his father died, Pimentel was handed off to his grandmother. He didn't speak until he was six years old and was thus declared “retarded” by a school guidance counselor. However, when he did start speaking, he knew he had found his passion, his “music within,” as Oliver Wendell Holmes described it. In spite of living in the dressing rooms of a strip club his dad had worked for (not as a dancer, for those who were wondering), Pimentel won two high school speech competitions. He was subsequently offered a scholarship to PSU by Dr. Ben Padrow, founder of the College Bowl. But when Pimentel went to see Padrow, he was told that he needed to live life and earn a point of view. Pimentel could definitely speak—he was gifted—but he had nothing to say. So instead of going to college, Pimentel went to Vietnam.

A mortar explosion sent Pimentel home early, but his hearing stayed in Vietnam. In an instant, he went from a disgruntled young man trying to find a point of view to a disabled veteran with little more than a shrill ringing in his ears. He had tinnitus and was almost completely deaf. He was still determined to be a professional speaker, so he enrolled in a vocational rehabilitation program for returning soldiers. However, the Veterans Administration told him the could not justify paying for his college because he was deaf and therefore wouldn't be able to make anything of himself. Pimentel went back to Dr. Padrow, who helped convince the VA to give Pimentel a full scholarship, including room and board.

This was a necessary development in Pimentel's life because had he not gone to PSU, he would not have met Art Honeyman, the man who would change his life and, consequently, the lives of countless others. One day, Pimentel saw Honeyman, who had cerebral palsy, struggling to open a can of Coca-Cola. He went over to help Honeyman and told him not to bother trying to talk to him because he was deaf. Honeyman grabbed Pimentel and threw out a witty comeback nonetheless. To Pimentel's surprise, he could hear Honeyman. His voice was within his hearing range. Honeyman was the only person Pimentel could hear, and Pimentel was the only person who could understand Honeyman. Naturally, a strong friendship developed.

One night, the duo went out to get pancakes in celebration of Honeyman's birthday and were not well received by the new waitress:
"This waitress had never seen Art or anyone like him; she just stared," Pimentel recalls. "Finally, she said, 'I can't believe that something like you would come someplace where people are trying to eat. I won't serve you because I don't even know if you're a human being.'
"And she ended by saying, 'I thought people like you were supposed to die at birth.'
"I was stunned; I didn't know what to say. And Art turned to me and said, 'Why is the waitress talking about you this way? I don't think you look any worse than you usually do.'"*
The police were called and Pimentel and Honeyman were put in jail under the Ugly Law. This was the moment that changed Pimentel's passion from speech to sociology. He went on to craft the Americans with Disabilities Act and trained companies around the country in hiring and working with the disabled community. Honeyman became a professor at PSU. He and Pimentel remained friends until Honeyman's death in 2008.

The Ugly Laws that existed in many cities are no longer in place thanks in large part to these Portland heroes, and their contribution to widespread acceptance of people with disabilities has had profound effects on innumerable people. I highly recommend watching Music Within, which is currently streaming on Netflix.

*This quote was taken from a 2008 article published by Portland State Magazine.

Friday, November 9, 2012

An Interview with Jimmy Lorang, Former Camp Counselor

Earlier this week, I got to meet up with former Kiwanis Camp counselor, Jimmy Lorang, to talk about his experience with Kiwanis this past summer.

As I was walking from my English class to Seattle's Best Coffee, where I was to meet Jimmy for the first time, I was suddenly overcome with an embarrassed anxiety: I did not know anything about Jimmy, including what he looked like, and I assumed he knew as little about me. How was I going to know which guy was the one I was supposed to talk to? But I didn't need to worry; Jimmy was sitting at the bar-style counter along the window wearing a blue sweatshirt with the words “Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp” printed across the chest. “I almost wore the gray one with the tree on it,” he smiled, clearly showing his Kiwanis pride.

Jimmy is currently a senior at Portland State, where he is studying psychology. When it came time for him to choose a senior capstone project, he chose to be a counselor at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp after browsing through a list of capstones because it had been recommended to him by a few people and because the idea of a hands-on program appealed to him. “Writing grants isn't really my thing,” he says, “and Kiwanis seemed more rewarding. You get to make an impact on people's lives.” Not to mention, of course, that the two-week duration added to the appeal.

However, the brevity of MHKC became irrelevant to Jimmy, who had the opportunity to go back for two more sessions after he had finished his original session as camp counselor. Despite all of the fun to be had at Kiwanis, being a counselor comes with many challenges and responsibilities, and occasionally people are sent home because the challenge is too great. Watching people leave early is unfortunate, but it worked out twice in Jimmy's favor; He got invited back to sub in for a couple of counselors. “I got to experience Kiwanis more than any other counselor. It was great. I felt like an honorary counselor or something.”

That isn't to say that Jimmy did not have his fair share of fears and challenges to overcome. Going into the program, one of Jimmy's main concerns involved personal care. He was worried he might overstep his boundaries or make a camper uncomfortable, fears which were augmented by difficulties in communication between counselor and camper. However, Jimmy quickly learned to move past these obstacles so that everyone could enjoy the camp to the fullest extent. “This is an opportunity for everyone—campers and counselors alike—to have fun and be themselves without any judgment,” he says.

Throughout our conversation, Jimmy often repeated that MHKC truly is fun for everyone involved. Just as often, though, he stressed the seriousness and the responsibility of being a counselor, noting that the most important quality a counselor should have is patience. He says that it's also necessary to be flexible and innovative, but if you don't have patience and you aren't willing to step up to help people have a good time, then perhaps Kiwanis isn't the program for you. “It's not a cakewalk,” Jimmy smiles. He affirms, however, that feeling of accomplishment at the end of camp is extremely rewarding. Going into Kiwanis, Jimmy admitted, he wasn't sure if he would be a successful counselor. He wanted to be, of course, and was very interested in learning from a psychological perspective. He soon learned, though, that the best way to experience Kiwanis Camp was to forget all the labels, diagnoses, and papers and just get to know the campers for the people they are. Once he did that, he was able to create stronger bonds with his campers, Eric, Tori, Sully, and Michael, with whom Jimmy says he had a great time.

The sky was growing dark, and I, wearing a dress, was getting chilly, so Jimmy and I drew our conversation to a close. When asked if he had anything else to tell people who are thinking about being counselors, he thought for a moment and concluded, “Kiwanis had a profound impact on me. It changed my focus from psychology to special education. The personal growth I experienced...that was huge for me, and the connection with others was phenomenal. I felt a great sense of accomplishment.”

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mind Control: The Future of Prosthetics

I got my information from an article I read in a special issue of Discovery Magazine.  Click the link below to read the original article.

Imagine prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by the mind. Hugh Herr, sometimes referred to as a real-life bionic man, is busy creating exactly that.

In January, 1982, Herr and a friend went hiking on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. As they neared the summit, the weather turned foul, and with dangerous gusts and limited visibility, the two got lost. They were nearly dead when they were found three days later. Both had severe frostbite and would need amputations. Herr had both of his legs removed just below the knees, which was devastating for the 17-year-old who was a gifted rock climber. But rather than succumb to depression, Herr decided that he would make the best of his situation. Beginning by taking his bulky, plaster prosthetics and messing around with their design so that he could feel as natural walking as he did climbing, Herr found passion in creating better prosthetic technology.

Herr started by gluing climbing rubber to the bottoms of his new legs rather than wearing climbing shoes. Then he reshaped the feet themselves, reducing their size to give him an advantage when standing on small footholds and rocks. He made limbs that were height adjustable, which made it easier to reach handholds on rock faces, and he made his legs extremely lightweight. But that was just the beginning. Today he runs around Walden Pond on motorized bionic limbs of his own design that adjust 500 times per second.

Hugh Herr, Bionic Man -- PART 1 from THE NEXT LIST on Vimeo.

His invention, the PowerFoot BiOM, is the world's first robotic ankle-foot prosthesis, and in 2011, it was released to the public. It is a considerable improvement over previous prosthetic limbs, allowing users to push off the ground with seven times the power of other prosthetic models while using less energy, and it has the ability to react to changes in pace and terrain. Herr's creation has had an incredible impact, but he is not willing to stop there. His goal is to link bionic limbs directly to the human nervous system, allowing users to control their artificial limbs through thought.

Unlike other scientists and engineers who are working on similar projects to connect man with machine, Herr and two others, Todd Kuiken and Richard Weir, are experimenting with nerve and muscle impulses rather than going directly into the brain with mini electrodes. That is, nerves that once sent signals to the feet are still there, they just don't have a place to send those signals. Herr hopes that his prosthetics will change that. He also hopes that as technology changes, so will attitudes. In the same way that people who wear glasses are no longer considered handicapped, so it will be for people with prosthetic limbs. “As the human machine interaction becomes more sophisticated,” Herr says, “we will see fewer and fewer disabilities. One day I will truly no longer be disabled and may be augmented in some ways.”

What do you think? Can Herr's mind-powered limbs become reality? If so, do you think they can be produced so that the general public can afford them? What do you think about improving attitudes by improving technology? Share your thoughts! This is exciting stuff!

Click to read the original article from Discovery Magazine.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Jeff Stephenson, Kiwanis Camper, Goes for the Gold

Jeff Stephenson has been to MHKC three times, once last year (2011) and twice this year (2012).  He heard about the camp through his broker at Community Pathways. He prefers the Trip and Travel group where they go on day trips away from camp, but he loves every aspect of camp.

Camp is different  from everyday life in many ways. Jeff says camp is a lot more “fun than home. You don’t do white water rafting on the Deschutes or go fishing at Trillium when you’re at home," he says. To someone thinking about coming to camp, Jeff’s advice is, “If they’ve never been before they should come and see what it’s like. I like the fellowship of all the campers and counselors.”

Jeff, who has no trouble making friends, left behind a whole city of friends when he moved from Dearborn, MI to Oregon three years ago. There he had been active in Special Olympics since the age of 19, participating in bowling, basketball, volleyball, swimming, soccer and bocce ball. But his recent fame comes from his participation in Special Olympics skiing. He competed in the international skiing competition in downhill skiing in Squaw Valley in 1989 and is currently an alternate for 2013's cross country event at the international Special Olympics to be held in Seoul, South Korea.

Jeff learned to ski and trained at Boyne Mountain Resort in Michigan. He states that he was the representative of the city of Dearborn. “The mayor told me I was the ambassador,” he states. “We’re good friends. The city council in Dearborn created a citizens award for athletes. I was the first recipient. The mayor presented it to me. I was also the mascot for the fire department, Sparky the Dog, for many years. The city gave me a going-away party.”

It’s easy to see that Jeff is an outgoing guy who makes friends easily. He has already made many friends among the staff, counselors and campers at MHKC. Jeff loves to show people MHKC and has volunteered to show them around on a tour if they want to see what camp is like. 

“I love seeing Jeff’s smiley face at camp. He always makes my day,” says counselor supervisor Trish Soler. Assistant director Kayci Murray adds, "“Jeff shows us that anything is possible.” 

When not at camp, Jeff lives with his mother in NE Portland and volunteers at Free Geek doing computer evaluations which he says “is fun."  He also has enjoyed watching the Olympics on TV and likes to go fishing at the Oregon Coast and in Alaska. Special Olympics remains one of his favorite activities. “It’s fun, people cheer, they tell me congratulations.”

And of course attending MHKC. “You should make sure to put down that the staff loves me here at camp,” he concludes.

Make sure to watch Jeff compete next year at the Special Olympics in Peyongchang, South Korea! Put it on your calendar. January 26th-February 6th, 2013.

2/09/12 - UPDATE:

Jeff did not end up going to Korea, but he did end up as an alternate for the team. Always in good spirits, Jeff says he was okay with not going because the flight would have been really long. Agreed, Jeff! We at Kiwanis are amazingly proud of you.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ann Fullerton and Kiwanis Capstone win Civic Engagement Award

Hard work isn’t always recognized, but when it is, how sweet it can be!  If you’ve worked up at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp or known somebody who has you might be aware of how hard it is to explain to someone how much amount of effort and care everyone puts in up there. It always seems to be one of those conversations that begins with you saying "It's crazy up there!" and ends with you saying, "No, really, it's crazy up there!" We go to camp for reasons other than recognition; we don't expect it, and we don't always get it.

That changed this past May when Ann Fullerton was recognized with an award for excellence in Community-Based Teaching and Learning at PSU’s annual Civic Engagement Award Ceremony. This award ceremony was built “to showcase and celebrate the civic engagement efforts of PSU faculty and community-based partners," and to "recognize exemplary civic engagement efforts.”

The Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp and Ann Fullerton couldn’t be more deserving. The partnership she has created with Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp is nothing short of magical. For the last twenty years, Ann has been an integral part of not only establishing the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone but in maintaining it as a legitimate option for students of all majors. It hasn't been easy; push back has come from people wondering if Kiwanis is academic enough or whether the experience offers a well-rounded University Studies curriculum. Against all of this, Ann has been the perfect ambassador for the camp, always willing to listen to new ideas but never willing to think of camp as anything less than an educational and valuable experience. 

Ann has truly let “knowledge serve the city” and the city serve knowledge to our PSU community in the dazzling and reciprocal relationships we see every summer. Congratulations Ann, PSU students and the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Melvin Bush: Memories of Melvin (pt. 2)

Earlier this week we shared one very poignant memory of Melvin Bush. That was only one of many responses we had when we sent out a message asking people to share their Melvin stories. Tonight I'd like to present some more of the responses. It will give you an idea, hopefully, of the range of people Melvin affected and how deeply he affected them.

Through Melvin, we met the wonderful Julie Burk, and her therapy dogs.  Melvin was extremely fond of Zadok, Julie's Akita, who came to campus twice a year (on Melvin's birthday in November and in the spring) to do Melvin's rounds with him. Zadok incidentaly was the 2009 Eukanuba Therapy Dog of the Year, having traveled to Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois to comfort students after shootings on their campuses. 
Rain didn't keep Melvin from doing his job most days. He refused to wear a hat either, saying it would interfere with his ability to see. He always had a smile and rarely complained about anything. 
Of course, we all know that Melvin had a great love for Mariah Carey also. He was none too happy when she married Nick Cannon. He'd shake his fist and say, "she's mine!" 
Melvin was an absolute joy to know. He embodied this campus, and it's difficult to imagine him never buzzing through here again. 
~ Julie Thomspon

One memory was the day I said to Melvin, "Hey Melvin, did you hear Fairview burned down?" He shouted "Good, good, good!" and shook his fist in the air. He was so happy to hear that. I hope the bad memories went away with the fire. 
~ Lynda Pullen

Melvin was always joking around with the folks in our office at PSU when he came by on his daily coffee rounds, but had such a great memory (much better than mine for sure) and noticed the details. He would check our office calendar to see when we were scheduled to be out and to make sure his birthday was calendared. And it always was.
One day, not long ago, he was bringing his daily round of coffee and goodies around and noticed that a copy of the 2010 United Cerebral Palsy annual report (with his picture on the cover) was no longer on our bulletin board. We had moved it to rearrange the board when we put up a new calendar and had not put the report back up. He noticed right away and wanted to make sure it went back up, which it did, immediately! And it’s still there with Melvin’s smiling face greeting us each day as we arrive to work. We will miss you Melvin.
~ Penny Jasso

I consider Melvin Bush one of the best teachers in my life, about life. 
I first met Melvin when he was living at Fairview Hospital and Training Center in 1968 when I was thirteen and he was about nineteen. At that time 3000 people were ‘living’ at Fairview, one of many such institutions in the United States. Melvin spent his days in a room with forty or more other persons and then spent his nights in a dorm of forty beds. A life of no privacy; few possessions; nothing much to do. 
Melvin and his friends in that building were bright, funny, young teens like myself and my first thought as we became friends was “How come they don’t have to go to school like I do?” This was six years before the “Right to Education Act (PL 94-142)” was passed and thus Melvin was denied a public education. Life in an institution prevented Melvin and countless others of his generation any possibility of becoming who they could be or wanted to be in life. At age sixty he continued to express a desire to learn to read.
As I spent time with Melvin and others at Fairview I wanted so much to do some small thing for my new friends. I decided I would find a say to make or buy a Christmas present for each person on the ward. But as I shared my desire to do this with my friend Charlie, Melvin and others they said “….Ann, why don’t you find a way for us to make each other a Christmas gift instead...?” In that moment I learned life lesson # 1: When a person has nothing, what becomes most important in life? The dignity and opportunity to give to those you care about. 
And so the 13-year-old mind went to work and came up with the bad idea of decoupage: magazine pictures cut out and adhered to wood plaques with shellac. Can you picture thirty people with cerebral palsy attempting to adhere paper to a board and not their wheelchairs, their hair, and each other? I was nearly banned from the ward by the staff after that, but we did manage to make gifts for everyone. 
In time I moved on, moved back east but eventually found my way back to Portland and PSU’s Special Education Dept. Thirty seven years later, Melvin rolls into our department with a coffee cart built upon his electric wheelchair. I look at him and know I have met him before. I pull him aside and ask “Did you ever live in Salem?” He nods enthusiastically. “Did you ever live in a place called Fairview?” Now Melvin is really excited; here is someone who knows of his past, knows what he has been through to get to where he is today. 
Melvin was a born entrepreneur and salesman; with a knowing look and winning smile, he could sell coffee all over campus and beyond one customer at a time. He didn’t need to talk, he just needed to connect with his customers. He got up early every morning, rode the max line into the city, and went to work happy and proud to be of use and to serve his customers and widening circle of friends on his route. 
Melvin did not let anything get in his way of living life as fully as possible and doing what he knew he could do well. His positive indomitable spirit will always inspire me, leave no room for personal ‘pity parties’, and make me grateful for the opportunities I have been given in life. 
I miss my teacher, but I keep him close. 
~ Ann Fullerton 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Melvin Bush: Memories of Melvin (pt. 1)

Readers may be aware that Melvin Bush, a well known personality around campus, passed away recently. Last week I sent out a message to the offices at PSU asking for people to share their memories of Melvin. The response was so enthusiastic that I've decided to break them up into two blog posts, both of which will come this week. It's a wonderful testament to the power that Melvin had to positively affect the people around him.

Today I want to share our longest response, which comes from Tasa in the education department, who was present the very first time Melvin rolled through the door. Her memories of Melvin go beyond just remembering him as a man and friend, but also touch on the strength he represented in his ever day dealings with his condition. He always approached life with dignity and acceptance, and never believed that his condition could hold him back from being who he wanted to be:

Melvin was an important part of my office life for years—whenever I’d hear the automatic door opener click into action in the morning, I’d look up expecting to see him and to hear his voice.  When we got word of his death, I downloaded his picture and posted it on the door so that I could still see his smiling face when I heard that “click."  His picture still graces our door, and having it there means a lot to me and to many of the folks here in the School of Education.
Melvin and I had a real friendship and, like any friendship, there were days when we drove each other crazy! He always knew what he wanted, but I couldn’t always understand his requests; we would go round and round as I made one wrong guess after another, until, finally, the right word would appear in my mind, and we would both be so relieved to finally move on with our conversation. I always marveled at his patience with me and the world in general. I only remember a few times that I ever saw him angry – he had his money stolen off his coffee cart a couple of times, and he was justifiably furious over that, shaking his fist and wishing he could catch the thief and teach him a lesson. Then there was the day he came into my office very upset, a little angry and a lot hurt, because some, ah … person… in the park block had followed him around taunting him for being a retard!  He needed to hear that he was anything but (which he certainly was), to hear that we all respected him (which we did), and that he was both intelligent and valuable (absolutely!) 
To me, this incident was even more of a violation than the robberies. I helped him report this to Campus Security.  How anyone could treat Melvin like that was beyond me – he was so capable and worked around his physical limitations so casually.  He was here, doing his coffee route, day-in and day-out, bare headed in the worst of weather—did I mention he was very stubborn about wearing hats? Melvin knew what he liked and didn't! Customer service was very important to him, and I’m sure he was a great asset to Seattle’s Best. I know he was always ready to do an extra run for those of us who needed a latté or any other special order.   When we didn’t see him for a day or two, one of us would call over to check—and when we first heard that he might not make it back, we shared our grief not only with his family, but with the people at the coffee shop. 
There were many aspects of Melvin to see; not the least was his fondness for the young women on campus—he always had favorites in the office and, as his elder, I was allowed to tease him about this!  But there was one of our graduate students who meant far more to him, and when she went through a devastating and extended illness, finally dying, I stayed in touch with her family for Melvin. When her family contacted us about her death, I contacted Wilma, so that Melvin could be told in a less public area. When he came in the next day, we sat in the lobby as he cried. I tried to be some comfort, and I think I was able to help because I had understood how very much he’d loved her. I was so thankful that he was able to go to her funeral and say good bye, and so appreciated Wilma’s assistance in making that possible! I mention this because he assured me that he knew she was in better place, and no longer in pain.  Remembering this made accepting his death easier.  Wherever you are, Melvin, I hope it’s a much better place with your friends who have gone before and one where you are free of pain and limitations.
I miss you, my friend!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Common Experience: things students often say when they come back from camp

Session I and Session II counselors have finished their reflection papers by now and turned them in. Session III is doing theirs this coming week and for Session IV the due date is a yet distant horizon that they are probably enjoying not thinking about.

Not all of the papers have been read yet, but there are certain things we bet we'll see in a lot of them. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be sharing some quotes from papers of years past and some examples of the most common experiences students share when they come back from camp. Did you have a similar experience?

I survived night duty

Everyone has to do it at least once at camp. Everyone takes a turn at being on night duty. For some people, the night goes smoothly and without incident. For others, it is an epic eight hour period spent putting campers back to bed, helping calm down campers who are homesick, and dealing with the occasional angry camper who doesn't like to sleep. On these nights, you catch whatever sleep you can whenever you can. I myself spent one night half-indoors and half-outdoors, literally. No, I mean half my body was inside and half was outside. The idea was that the campers who kept trying to escape into the woods for night time hijinks would step on my head and wake me up. Yeah, kids week has its ups and downs.

One of the great things about night duty though is the student response to it. We have heard great things back from students who had a harrowing night duty experience but found it to inspire them to a greater level of understanding of their camper and how difficult it can be for some people just to make through each night. Below is a story from last year that captures both the difficulty of camp and the incredible pay off.
The air was freezing on the porch at 10:34pm with a large deck light which inevitably attracted swarms of creepy crawly insects. This further aided in my fear of how the night would destroy me. "I want woodpecker! I WANT that one! JULIA WANTS WOODPECKER!" This was already my second week as a counselor at Camp Kiwanis, but all the confidence I had built up since day one was now plummeting rapidly. The behavior specialist handed me a Natural Geography coloring book, the camper's prescribed lip balm, and a black walkie-talkie. She whispered, "Ok... so as you can tell, Julia isn't adjusting well to sleeping on the porch." And then in a slightly louder voice, "we need you to go to sleep, Julia. You can have the coloring book in the morning if you are good tonight. Do you understand, Julia?" Screaming billowed from inside the yellow and green tent, which violently quivered from some rather aggressive kicks...
... I thought that Julia didn't belong at camp. I thought that her obsessions, violent tantrums, and inabilities to bond with others were too much to overcome. It was my fear that made me preemptively deem her as somehow an unfit person for camp, but I was completely missing the point. Fear holds all of us back. Fear is the only thing that causes us to avoid others, to avert eyesight when we see someone begging for change, to clutch our bags when someone of another race approaches, to turn down applicants-for-hire because they use a wheelchair to roll up to the counter...
It wasn't an easy night; it wasn't a comfortable or even a successful night for my record as a counselor. But the most important thing is that I learned all obstacles are climbable with the right amount of determination and a certain degree of faith. They didn't give up on Julia, and she went on to have the best possible experience at camp that she could have... the worst part of the night, and the thing I regret the most, is how my own fear kept me from accepting Julia's participation at camp... by the end of the week I found out how funny she could be, I saw her smile, and learned more about her as a person. My fear kept me from connecting with her, but compassion and understanding allowed me to get to know a beautiful person worth knowing.

I can't seem to tell others about it

One thing I think most people feel when they get back from camp is that they've left something behind. I felt this way and it took me a long time to put a finger on what it was. In the end, I realized that it was the camaraderie of the group. The people in my group had become like family to me. We relied on each other; we knew each other's strengths and weaknesses and didn't judge any of them. We had laughed together, a few of us had cried together, we had all been through a very difficult experience together and survived, we had all reaped the rewards of sticking out the program.

I haven't seen any of those people since, except in the briefest of passings. Camp is a special place, and special rules apply. When we got back to Portland, we went our separate ways and continued on with our lives. Some of my group members aren't even in the country any more and there's a chance we'll never see each other again. But we'll always have shared a special moment that no one else can understand in quite the same way. One counselor expresses this in the quote below.

At the beginning of our two weeks at camp we were told to look around at all the other counselors, because there were the people who would become our support, our friends, these were the only other people who would understand what would go on during our two weeks... We started out as strangers, and we left a family. I cannot imagine living out the rest of my life without those beautiful people around me. I was talking to my father about my fellow counselors in my group and he looked at me and said that I sounded as though I had been to war, that was how I explained the connection I felt to my new friends. It made me stop and think. MHKC is nothing like going to war, but we leave our worlds behind and enter into a situation so different than anything we have ever experience. We are put together with this group of people who live through it with us and we help each other. We lifted each other's spirits when we became discouraged, we laughed together, we cried together, we became protective of each other and defended each other. The love I have for my fellow counselors continues to astound me... It was true what we were told: we are the only ones who understand what happened on the mountain those two weeks. My friends at home listen and try to imagine but they have no idea what it was really like.

If you have your own story to share or want to say, "yeah, I totally understand what those counselors are saying!" then please comment here or on our facebook page. We look forward to sharing more stories with you soon.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

In Memoriam: Melvin Bush, Entrepreneur, Coffee-on-the-go

Some of you may recognize this man:

Those are the smiling features of Melvin Bush, a traveling barista who sold coffee and goodies from his wheelchair in offices around campus. Sadly, Melvin passed away this week, leaving the Kiwanis office a little dimmer around noon, each day, when he used to come through to say "hi" to us. 

t was a sad day for everyone who knew Melvin, because you could not know Melvin without loving him. Even if all you ever did was buy a cup of coffee or a lemon danish from him, Melvin was impossible to forget.

Born in 1948, Melvin spent most of the first thirty years of his life at the Fairview Training Center (which an upcoming blog post will feature) in Salem, OR. At the time, it was known as "The Center for the Feeble-Minded" and was later closed along with most facilities of that sort when the inhumane living conditions were revealed. Melvin never liked it there. After several escape attempts, he finally convinced government officials to release him and he moved into his own apartment. This was a grand success for Melvin.

But he wasn't finished yet.

Determined to show that he could do anything despite his condition of cerebral palsy, Melvin set out to find a regular job and, when he couldn't find employment opportunities, created a job for himself. With the help of David Kern, a job developer, Melvin Bush ended up as the first Seattle's Best mobile coffee barista.

Most of the time, Melvin could be found around PSU campus, traveling from building to building offering coffee and conversation. Like I said, he used to make a special stop by the Kiwanis office. We'll miss him greatly.

A great cover of Melvin's life story and rise to success can be found in a 2003 feature in The Oregonian, written shortly after he started working at Seattle's Best. There is also a photoboard dedicated to his memory up at Seattle's Best.

If you have any memories of Melvin that you'd like to share, even just a time you bought coffee from him, please feel free to include them in the comments section. We'd love to hear them.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Kiwanis feature: Sammi and Danny

Those of you in Session II may have met Sammi and Danny last week, our Kiwanis sweethearts. Sammi and Dan met at camp and fell in love, getting married a couple years later. Dan summed up the meeting at his interview:
It was love at first sight. My counselor was watching me and kept noticing I was looking at her every time we were all together to eat lunch or dinner or breakfast. Finally she said she was going to take me over and introduce me. I had butterflies in my stomache! I was scared!
Sammi was more succinct:
He was my dream guy. 

Camp used to be a real mixture of joy and sadness for Sammi and Dan. It meant they got to see each other but it also meant a hard goodbye at the end, made harder, Dan said, by the final song: "How Could Anyone Ever Tell You...?" In 2004, that changed forever, when Dan asked Sammi to marry him. The two now live together in their own place and attend camp every year for the same week in which they first met.

Camp Kiwanis: A Love Story from Jonathan Stark on Vimeo.

Last year the camp celebrated Dan and Sam's anniversary. The occasion was marked by a romantic dinner for two and a special dance that played their special song: "God Bless the Broken Road." I'm sure whoever was at camp this year got to see their continuing love for one another. This is one Camp Kiwanis story that we get to relive every year!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

KOIN News Features Kiwanis!

"It's changing lives," says KOIN Local News, introducing viewers to Mt. Hood Kiwanis camp and camper Kendal in particular. Who apparently talked about "girl stuff and kissing" with the other campers. I knew those boys got up to mischief during break time...

Session I folks may remember KOIN being up there filming! They were very impressed! Great job from Session I folks and a huge round of applause for Session II counselors finishing up their first week. Session Oners can tell you guys all about what that's like!