Friday, December 27, 2013

"They Said Yes!": A College Acceptance

Do you have post-holiday blues? Or maybe you're in good spirits and would like to stay that way? Luckily Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp at Portland State has just the pick-me-up/keep-me-going for you!

Rion when he hears the good news.
Rion Holcombe wasn't home when the envelope from ClemsonLIFE at Clemson University arrived, but his parents, Danny and Susan Holcombe, were. They knew that Rion, who has Down Syndrome, had been accepted to Clemson and were ready with camera when Rion eventually received the good news himself.

“I got accepted? They said yes?” Rion asks in tones of excited disbelief.

“They said yes!” Danny says. “What do you say?”

“Yes! This is crazy!”

Rion's parents say they are very excited for their son, but as parents, they are “not real excited about him leaving home.” However, they are extremely happy and thankful that their son actually has the opportunity to go to school, noting that at the time he was born, this would not have been possible.

ClemsonLIFE is a two year program at Clemson University in South Carolina that is specially designed for students with intellectual disabilities. It gives students the opportunity to live independently on campus while incorporating functional academics, employment skills and opportunities, social and leisure skills, counseling, and self-advocacy.

Rion couldn't be more excited to be part of the program.

“He's not looking back at all,” Danny says. “We asked him if he'd miss us, and his response was, 'Maybe eventually!'”

Friday, December 20, 2013

BlindSide: A Video Game Without Video

I am not a gamer by any means, and I'm not really up to date on the new consoles and technologies and what have you; Nintendo 64 is about all I can handle. However, my attention has just been caught by an awesome sounding (in more ways than one) thriller-horror game called Blindside.

BlindSide is an audio-only survival horror video game that doesn't actually feature any video. While many video games have accessibility options built into their programming, especially games for phones and tablets, BlindSide was designed specifically for the visually impaired.

In the game, Case, an assistant professor, and his girlfriend, Dawn, wake up inexplicably sightless. They aren't the only ones, either. Everyone in the city has become blind and must survive the menacing-sounding monsters that now roam around. Players must navigate Case by using audio cues from both Case and the environment. For example, since Case is new to being blind, he bumps into things around him and gives verbal hints about what he feels: “The door is to my left.” 

Environmental cues might be the sound of traffic as one approaches a window and the speaker in which those sounds are heard depending on the direction one turns. If one faces the window directly, sounds are heard in both ears, but if one turns to the right, the sound is isolated to the left speaker. Also, if using mobile devices, players can actually move themselves in order to move Case, rather than being confined to arrow keys on a computer. This element of mobility seems to help players, particularly sighted ones, get a clearer mental image of the environment.

Start screen for BlindSide's mobile app.

BlindSide was designed after Aaron Rasmussen, half of BlindSide's development team, was temporarily blinded after a red phosphorous and potassium chlorate explosion. After the emergency room drugs wore off, Rasmussen woke up to blackness. His corneas eventually grew back, but Rasmussen doesn't take advantage of his sight anymore: “The whole experience made me value my sight more, in a way that makes me treat it with more care.”

Rasmussen got together with a former colleague from Boston University, Michael T. Astolfi, and after raising over fourteen thousand dollars on Kickstarter in December, 2011, the two worked from their homes in Los Angeles (Rasmussen) and New York (Astolfi) for the next twelve months. They modeled real-world locations in 3-D and reproduced over a thousand sounds that would be heard in those environments, adjusting them to walk the line between authenticity and playability.

BlindSide won an innovation award at the Games for Change Festival in June and has been downloaded thousands of times on iOS and PC since its release last year. Rasmussen and Astolfi have no plans of making a sequel to the game, but they have helped the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute make an assistive app using the game's technology, and they hope that other gamers and independent game designers will continue designing accessible games that don't feel limited.

BlindSide is available at the iTunes App Store for $2.99 or on the BlindSide website for $3.99.

I'm extremely tempted to try it out; rumor has it BlindSide is pretty scary. Sounds good to me! What do you think?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Five-year-old CODA Spreads Holiday Cheer

Winter break has officially arrived for Portland State students! Here to help you get in the holiday spirit is Claire Koch, a five year old CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) from Toledo, Florida, who signed her entire holiday performance for her parents, who are both deaf.

Claire's parents posted the video of her performance after learning about the recent claims that the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial was a fake. Her mother, Lori, said, “It became obvious that he was making things up. He was repeating the same hand movements so it was obvious he was a fake.”

Claire's father agreed. “It was just totally deflating for deaf people, like saying deaf people are not important. [Mandela] is a famous man who did so much for many people.”

Lori Koch's immediate reaction to the Mandela interpreter controversy was to send a tweet with mixed tones of pride for her daughter and dismay at the disrespectful signer:

“Even my 5 yr old daughter signed better for her deaf parents in an xmas play.”

Video commenters have noted Claire's impressive grasp on ASL, sense of rhythm, and enthusiasm. Her future as a top signer looks promising.

What do you think about all of this? Any thoughts on the Mandela interpreter? It seems that Claire Koch might be a tiny restoration of hope that the deaf community (and the hearing community) needs after the disappointing situation at Mandela's memorial.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Because Who Is Perfect?

Another happy Friday to everybody! If you are in Portland, you might be too distracted by the snowy surprise nature left us this morning to read this, but I, as always, hope you find today's post worth your while.

Some of you may have seen the Dove Real Beauty blind portrait video that was passing its way through the internet not too long ago. In it, female participants were asked to do two things: describe their faces to a professional sketch artist, and get to know a stranger who was participating in the experiment as well. The strangers were also asked to describe the women's faces to the sketch artist, and the drawings were compared, revealing not only the women's insecurities about their physical appearances, but also their actual impressions on people.

Swiss organization for people with disabilities, Pro Infirmis, recently conducted a project with a similar feel to it. The project, entitled “Because Who Is Perfect? Get Closer”, involved creating a series of clothing mannequins of actual people with disabilities. Their goal was to raise awareness that nobody has a perfect, mannequin-esque body. Participants included notable members of the disabled community, like Miss Handicap winner Jasmine Rechsteiner and actor Erwin Aljukic, who had never seen their figures replicated before.

The most striking part of this project, though, was not the mannequins themselves, but what Pro Infirmis did with them. In honor of the UN's International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which was December 3rd, these unique mannequins were clothed and put in the window displays of stores along downtown Zurich's main street.

In the video that documents this project, some participants express their curiosities and doubt about the public's reaction to their mannequin selves. “I am keen to know whether people will see the disability,” one says, while another comments, “People passing by [the windows] will be really irritated.”

Passersby definitely took notice. Whether their reactions were mostly positive or negative is difficult to say, but it seems that Pro Infimis did what they set out to accomplish: bring attention to the disabled community, especially in the context of fashion.

Take a look at the video (my ultimate favorite part is at 2:34) and share your thoughts! What do you think about Pro Infirmis's project?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Abused "Warrior" Puppy and Boy with Autism Make Perfect Team

For the past few days, I've been debating whether or not to write about Black Friday, but then I thought, we already have a Black Friday post, and I'm actually pretty tired of the whole post-Thanksgiving shenanigans. Instead I bring to you an absolutely heartwarming story to make you feel happy to be a reasonable human instead of a bumbling bargain beast. Be it known I rarely call things “absolutely heartwarming” and actually mean it. This time, I mean it. I only hope I can relay to you the fuzzies this story gave to me.

This is Jonny Hickey before he met Xena:

And this is Xena before she met Jonny:

Jonny is an eight year old Georgia boy who has autism. Although Jonny can speak and read proficiently, he spent most of his life quiet and isolated, choosing solitary activities like playing with marbles over often painful social interactions.

Xena was a severely neglected puppy who was brought into DeKalb County Animal Services shelter in Georgia after collapsing from weakness in somebody's yard. She weighed four pounds and seemed unlikely to survive the night. However, with vet visits, nutritional supplements, and fluids, she pulled through and was named Xena the Warrior Puppy. A Facebook page was made in her honor, which is how Linda Hickey, Jonny's mom, found the dog that would change her son's life.

When Xena was strong enough, she made an appearance at a Friends of DeKalb Animals fundraising event, and Linda took her family to meet the puppy she had already fallen in love with on the internet.

“We were literally there for four minutes,” Hickey tells, “and Xena ran right up to Jonny and my husband.”

They adopted Xena soon after.

During their first trial day with the new puppy, Linda brought Xena with her to pick Jonny up from school. She instantly smothered him with kisses and unconditional affection and took her place sitting on Jonny's lap. “That's where she's been ever since.”

This is Jonny and Xena now that they've found each other.

Since Jonny met Xena, he has been his happiest. He is talkative, playful, and engaged, and he loves to sing and tell his family about the things he did in school on a given day. With Xena's help, Jonny's personal space issues have improved; Xena can usually be found leaning, sitting, or lying on Jonny. Even though they weigh nearly the same, Jonny seems to really appreciate the contact.

Since Xena met Jonny, she has gained her health and a needed friend who reciprocates her unconditional love. She was also recently named ASPCA Dog of the Year.

They are, as Jonny says, the perfect team.

Life-changing friendships...definitely something to be thankful for.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

Threading Straws Together

Hey everybody! A friend of mine shared this awesome video with me, and I thought it was definitely worth sharing with all of you. It is a little long, so I'm going to keep the text short in an attempt to encourage you to watch through the end.

Janine Shepherd had hopes of becoming an Olympian. She had always thought of her body as a machine; her athleticism defined her. But, of course, her life took an unexpected turn when, out on a bike ride, she was hit by a truck. Her machine was broken and would never be the same.

Watch this wonderful TED Talk to see what Janine did with her life. It's pretty amazing.

You are not your body!

Have a fantastic weekend, everyone! Don't forget to push yourself out of your comfort zone every once in a while. :)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Flo Fox: NY Photographer Worth Seeing

Here's to rad photographer (with a name to fit her sass), Flo Fox, who captures thought-provoking, often humorous images of New York street life in spite of a significant visual impairment, multiple sclerosis, and lung cancer.

If you were in New York recently and saw a purple-haired woman riding around the streets in a motorized wheelchair, camera around her neck, care assistant by her side, chances are you came across Flo Fox. Maybe she stopped in the middle of the street and urged her aide to grab the camera before the opportunity disappeared, describing the shot she wanted as her aide pointed the lens and snapped the photo. Perhaps she was even on a street corner, mixing cement so she could repair New York's broken sidewalks herself, since the city would not. That's her personality—big, audacious, and quirky, just like the city that seems to supply her with unending inspiration.

Fox has always been a little eccentric; she was orphaned as a teenager and ended up hanging out at Studio 54 in the same social crowds as Andy Warhol and photographers Andre Kertesz and Lisette Model. Fox claims she was raised by what would become the main focus of her photography: “I got my education on the streets. That's why I can take naughty photos.”

Fox was born blind in one eye and is now almost completely blind in the other. This early blindness is partly what drew her to photography. Fox says that being born blind in one eye was perfect for photography. She never had to close an eye to take a photo, and she never had to change three dimensions to a flat plane. It made sense, so when she was 26, she used her first paycheck to buy a camera.

Fox still takes photos and exhibits them—she even has permanent collections in both the Smithsonian and the Brooklyn Museum—but now she takes her photographs in a different way. Since her triplegia, caused by MS, makes it impossible for her to hold a camera, Fox instructs her aides to take the photos for her. She says that maybe one in ten turn out exactly as she'd hoped, and others just need cropping here or there. She is happy that she's been able to take so many photos.

“You have to take a look at what you can do with your life to keep your interests going.”

Take a look at this nice mini-documentary and let me know what you think!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Disability, Adoption, and the Road Less Traveled

Did you know November is Adoption Awareness Month? I didn't, but apparently Huffington Post and Jeremy Green, father of nine-going-on-ten, did, and they got together via HuffPost Live to talk about Green's unusual adoption story.

Green is the biological father of three children, but he and his wife, Christianne, weren't ready to stop adding to their family when, after losing two infants, they were told they were not able to have any more children biologically. They decided to look into adoption. The couple's initial instinct was to go for “healthy infant”, but as they looked at the list of children waiting to be adopted, they found that many of them had special needs. This meant that these children immediately didn't match up with anyone who hadn't checked off the box that said yes, they would adopt a child with a specific special need.

When Green looked at his first adopted child's profile, he was overwhelmed and nervous. Elli was blind.

“I said, 'You know, blind—that's a pretty significant special need. We don't know anything about that,'” Green says. “But then I came to realize that nobody knows anything about raising a special needs child, and special needs kids are born to families all the time. And you just deal with it and you figure it out."

After the Greens adopted Elli, a child's disability was never an issue when it came to the adoption process. They saw that these children were just people.

The Greens have adopted six children with various disabilities, and it seems to have worked out wonderfully for the whole family. Often, the children work together to help accommodate one another's needs. For example, their daughters Lexi and Sophie were adopted at the same time in December 2010, and they are a great team. Lexi is blind, and Sophi was born without arms, so the two will pair up, Lexi grabbing Sophi's empty shirtsleeve and Sophie leading Lexi around the house. They do everything together.

Now the Greens are getting ready to add a tenth child to their family. They announced their intentions in the spring of 2012, and their community backed them up big time. They pulled together and raised $200,000 to go toward the construction of a larger home that would better accommodate the sizable family. The boys of the family watched the construction process from beginning to end, but the five girls didn't get to see it until their princess tower was framed inside. They all moved in about two months ago and say it has made an amazing difference for them and that they are incredibly thankful for all the support they've been given.

“The best thing about the house is probably how it came together,” Green says. “It is a house built on love.”

I hope this story made your gloomy day (if you're in the Portland area, at any rate) a little brighter. I think it's always nice to be reminded that people are capable of looking past what seems to be an immediate or impossible obstacle and making it work out for everyone involved.

Want to read more about the Green family and how they took, as they quote, the road less traveled? Check out their blog: (Seriously, it's a really cute blog.)

Have a nice holiday weekend, everyone, and be good to each other!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Superhero Profile: Stephanne Beauchamp, MHKC Staff Member

Last year around this time, I posted an interview with Kiwanis Camp counselor, Jimmy Lorang. This November, I've got a little profile of SUPERHERO Kiwanis staff member Stephanne Beauchamp, who has been part of the MHKC League of Goodness and Fun for the past three years.


Basic Information
Alias(es) Stephanne Beauchamp
First appearance 2010
Alignment Good

Gender Female
Race Human
Eye color Brown
Hair color Dark Brown/Black

Occupation Senior HR generalist/consultant
Camp Occupation Counselor supervisor
Camp Base Trillium Lake

School Portland State University
Studies BS in Communication
Capstone MHKC counselor


As a senior in college at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, Stephanne Beauchamp decided to complete her capstone project by serving as a counselor at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp, a fun and well-spirited camp for people of all abilities. It wasn't long before she realized this camp had an astounding force of good unseen to the average eye. During those two weeks at camp, Stephanne vowed to commit herself to a life of love, empathy, and goodness, and has since gone back to camp as a staff member. She calls MHKC her “chicken soup for the soul”.

Stephanne (right) with a fellow superhero!
Favorite Adventure
During her first summer at camp, Stephanne met Kiwanis camper, Jason. Jason was nonverbal, but he was excellent at using combinations of signs, gestures, and charades to communicate. By their second day together, Stephanne and Jason had fallen effortlessly into their own way of communicating. On the third day, though, Stephanne ran into a snag. Jason had been trying to tell her something while they were practicing the group skit for the Thursday night family barbeque, but she could not figure it out. Jason gestured toward the side of his neck, and all Stephanne could think of was Dracula or being bitten. This went on for five days, and Jason never lost his patience or got frustrated that Stephanne wasn't understanding. Finally, on the afternoon of the performance, another camper walked by and said nonchalantly, “He is referring to the Twilight movie!” Stephanne knew then that not only was camp was a place for campers to be themselves, but it was also a place she could learn from them.

Powers & Abilities

Motherly Empathy
Stephanne has two small children of her own who, while also acting as supreme sidekicks, help her understand the love, strength, commitment, and dedication it must take to be the parent of a child with a disability. She hopes she does a good job as a parent so that her children can successfully “leave the nest and fly on their own” and can only imagine the superhero status of parents who take on a lifetime of care and support for their children.
Open Heart and Mind
Going into camp with an open heart ensures that it will be completely filled with contentment by the end. Along with taking in the full impact of the MHKC experience, going to camp open and ready to have a change in perspective is Stephanne's biggest piece of advice for new counselors.
Continued Commitment to Good
Stephanne hopes that Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp will continue to provide a sanctuary for campers to meet one another and enjoy themselves. Of course, she also hopes that the camp will get more funding so that it can continue to expand and reach out to as many families and people with disabilities as possible so those people can continue to teach others about what it means to live.
Ability to Connect Worlds
As an Human Resources consultant for small to medium-sized businesses, Stephanne has the opportunity to advocate, teach, and encourage local businesses to employ people with disabilities. She loves that she is able to bridge two worlds in a non-traditional way.
Super Canoeing Powers
This is just conjecture. :)

Here's a special thanks to Superhero Stephanne for making this post possible.
Do you or anyone you know want to become a Kiwanis Camp hero? Click here for more information about becoming a camp counselor!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Halloween. Need I Say More?

Technically, it's been fall for a good chunk of time, but it really doesn't feel like fall to me until a few very significant and absolutely necessary events occur:

1. Trader Joe's stocks their shelves with pumpkin goods and apple cider.
2. Bits of dry, colored leaves start appearing in my hair brush.
3. I begin dreaming up my Halloween costume, even if I have no Halloween plans.

For me, making costumes is the best part of Halloween. There's something satisfying about that frantic, last minute, run-out-of-the-house-while-gluing-sequins-to-your-top feeling. Maybe that's just me. Regardless, homemade costumes are the best! They're fun to make (and less stressful if you start early...), you can show people your creativity, and they're completely original and customizable.

You may have seen some pictures floating around the internet that show that wheelchairs can be the best accessory for Halloween costumes. These are some of my favorites:

Dr. Who

Superman flying over the city

A very elaborate Wall-E

For the sharp dresser

Great group costume idea

PeeWee Herman and the Puppet Chair

My personal favorite: Dr. Scott from Rocky Horror Picture Show!
This one is great if you're pressed for time or resources.

Making a costume like these can be time consuming, so it's important to keep a few things in mind so you don't end up spending hours creating an elaborate costume that is ultimately nonfunctional.

First, like any costume, make sure it's safe. A parade float-style costume looks nice and is fun until paper bits or string get all caught up in wheels. Blood may give a costume a nice touch, but let's make sure it's fake blood.

Equally important is making sure the costume fits through a standard door. Some costumes will add bulk to a chair, so keep in mind the old saying: Measure twice, cut once. There is little more disappointing on Halloween than making something lovely only to have to deconstruct it. (On that note, a tip from my personal experience: When making a mask that covers your nose, make sure you leave room inside for your own nose before you take the time shape, dry, and paint the mask.) So plan ahead! It will save you a lot of frustration and grief.

This last one will be more important for some than others. Don't skimp out on glue, tape, thread, velcro, or whatever sort of fastener you use, and take some with you when you go about your festivities. My Halloween wouldn't be complete without a pocket full of safety pins and a bottle of fabric glue tucked discreetly away. Of course, some of you are likely better at planning and using your costuming time wisely, but homemade costumes do have their oopses (especially when paper and unpredictable autumn elements are involved). Extra backup never hurts!

I just have to throw this out there as a little post-thought. If you're thinking about dressing up a service animal, make sure you give your friend time to get accustomed to his costume so he isn't distracted by a silly hat when he should be focused on his job.

I hope this has inspired you to make some awesome costumes this week, or at least gotten you excited about Halloween or fall. Want some more detailed costume guidance? The Bridge School has instructions.

What are your costume ideas? I haven't seen or read the series, but I think it would be rad to see a Game of Thrones costume. I'm imagining a wheeled version of the Iron Throne. Yes? No?

We'd love to see your Halloween photos on our Facebook page! Also, remember to have fun and be safe.  :)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Please, Touch the Art!

In the past, I've posted some amazing art by people with disabilities on our Facebook page, because I love art and think it is worth sharing. But how does one show art to those who can't see it? Art has been breaking its reputation as a strictly visual medium for over two decades, and now an event in the UK is continuing in the effort to redefine art.

At the Touch Art Fair in London, you won't find any signs warning you to keep your hands off. The sentiments are quite the opposite. Touch Art Fair is the world's first event to celebrate tactile and haptic arts. Basically, it's art that is made to be touched.

Often, people with visual impairments do not experience art in the same way people without those impairments do. For example, a man who does not see will not have the same grasp on the “Mona Lisa's smile” situation. That is, he will not have that understanding until he can feel the beautiful tactile image of the Mona Lisa created by artist Scratchadelia. One man teared up at his new appreciation for the smile dilemma after touching the innovative rendition of da Vinci's famous painting.

The exhibit features a variety of media, including (but not limited to!) soft and hard sculpture, metalwork, paper manipulation, and more of those Scratchadelia tactile paintings. While these artworks are particularly accessible to the visually impaired, they are to be enjoyed by everyone. One of Touch Art Fair's goals is to challenge people of all kinds to change the way they experience art, which is a pretty intriguing and admirable goal. I couldn't count all the times I wanted to touch the art displays but wasn't able to for fear of ruining the art and getting kicked out of the museum or gallery indefinitely. (I was most recently met with this dilemma two weeks ago at the Portland Art Museum. Did anyone else see those giant vinyl+zipper soft sculptures?) So to me, this sounds rather appealing. And, to make it even better and more accessible to people, Touch Art Fair is free.

Who votes “yes” for a Touch Art Fair in the US? Have you ever gotten to experience art like this? Share your thoughts!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Andrew Solomon Talks Love

We're in the midst of fall which means that I, [un]fortunately, am spending a gradually increasing amount of time neglecting homework in favor of TED Talks. They are an inescapable autumnal trap, but at least they are thought-provoking and generally pretty healthy as far as bad habits go. Naturally, I found another video I think is worth sharing, especially in light of Disability Awareness Month.

To be aware is not enough, and while increasing awareness is a great goal and challenging endeavor, acceptance is really what we need. The video below does not deal strictly with disability, but it does grapple with the idea of acceptance and love, and speaker Andrew Solomon may wrinkle some foreheads when he brings up a certain dichotomy between increased acceptance and improvements in medicine and technology. I must warn about the video's length; it's about 23 minutes, but if you watch in on, a transcript is available, which could save you some time.

Please, please, please share your thoughts on this one! I was reading through some of the comments on TED, and people had some good points, stories, and alternative perspectives. I want to know yours!

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Perfect Paradigm Shift

Imagine this: You're a perfectionist. Not the kind who has to have all the photos straight on the wall, but the kind who has to have every aspect of life planned and executed with precision. You've been in great shape since childhood—a standout athlete. You finished at the top of your class in both high school and college. First you got accepted into law school and then pilot training for the Air Force, and you'll later become an FBI agent. You married the girl knew you would marry since middle school, and she loves you. You have a healthy baby girl. Now you're expecting again, and the doctors tell you your new addition has Down Syndrome. Your perfect image of your perfect life is shattered. What do you do?

This was question faced by Heath White, competitive runner and chronic overachiever. After learning that his second daughter, Paisley, had Down Syndrome, he was crushed. A daughter with a disability was unexpected and unwanted. Heath's wife, Jennifer, says after they found out about Paisley, Heath became distant, and she was terrified that he would run away.

Heath admits to doing everything he could to get Jennifer to get an abortion, but she had already made her decision.

“I contemplated it for maybe and hour. He did it for months.”

Heath was worried that the imperfections in his daughter would reflect on him, show the world that he was an imperfect man. But he could not sway Jennifer.

“I remember the day she was born,” Heath says, “and I remember my mom saying, 'Oh, she doesn't really look like she has Down Syndrome,' and I told her she was lying.” After Paisley was born, Heath stopped running competitively and struggled to accept his daughter and himself.

But one day, he had an epiphany. He was playing with Paisley, tickling her and messing around, and she laughed and interacted with him just like any other child. That moment changed him forever. This was his daughter, and he wanted to grow with her and show her to the world.

Heath started running again, but now he pushed Paisley in front of him. He wanted to show people his pride and love for his daughter, because if doing that can keep just one person from making the mistake he almost made, it would make his next endeavor worth the heartache.

This endeavor involves revealing to Paisley how he felt before she was born. He knows that he could keep his feelings secret from his daughter and never tell her about his emotional conflict with her condition, but he hopes that by telling her the truth, it will help her through struggles she will face later in life. That why when Paisley was 18 months old, Heath began writing the letter he will one day give to her. “I want her to know that she was everything to me.”

When Paisley was five years old, she and Heath completed their last race together. It was a bittersweet moment, sad because it would be the last time Heath pushed his daughter ahead of him, but significant because it would mark their 321st mile together. It's an important number to the family since Down Syndrome is a third copy of the 21st chromosome. But why stop there?

“Paisley doesn't need me to push her,” Heath says. Jennifer reaffirms that Heath thought, “I don't want to take care of a person for the rest of my life,” but now he thinks, “I may not get to take care of her for the rest of her life.”

It's amazing how one person, one experience, can change your entire perspective. What do you think? Did you watch the video? (The video is much more touching than typed words!) Share your thoughts, please!

Friday, September 27, 2013

GoBabyGo: It's Like 'Top Gear' for Children with Limited Mobility

People seem to talk all the time about how much learning happens within a very small window of time during childhood. Children's curiosity and ability to explore their surroundings is extremely important in making cognitive process and developing social skills. But what, then, happens to those children who have mobile limitations and are unable to crawl or walk around the unfamiliar parts of their environments?

Dr. Cole Galloway, professor of physical therapy and University of Delaware, was been working to get around this predicament. Galloway saw that motorized chairs that would give some independence to users aren't usually available to kids until they are older, so he decided to develop his own chairs in a project called GoBabyGo. He quickly found that his high-tech robotics were too expensive and could not easily be produced in a volume that met demand, but eventually decided to try fixing up a product that was already on the market: battery powered toy cars.

Galloway and his tiny client in a converted Tow Mater toy.
Galloway took the Barbie Jeeps and Lightning McQueens and gave them a little race car tune up. The augmented toys have padded safety cages, seat belt harnesses, and custom driver controls to suit the users' needs. His cars are tested by his clients on both and indoor and outdoor tracks, and he even has traveling seminars to teach families how to convert their own motorized toys to make them more accessible.

It doesn't end here with Galloway. The success of GoBabyGo prompted him to design the prototype for UDare2B, aka Big Blue, a toy car with a specific purpose and a lot of tech. Big Blue's egg shape makes it look sleek, fierce, and futuristic, but it also acts as a support and a protective roll cage of sorts. It has an adaptive steering system that lets the controls be adjusted to the physical abilities of the driver. Additionally, the tight turning radius, compact size, and light weight make it highly maneuverable and suitable for indoor and outdoor use. Computerized monitoring in the cars log data to help researchers learn how they are being used by children.
UDare2Be / Big Blue

It seems like a pretty big undertaking, but the project could produce a working model of Big Blue in about a year if all goes well, and there is already commercial interest from adult mobility scooter companies. This would mean having clinically effective and real-world ready vehicles for young children, which is awesome.

What do you think of the design? How about Dr. Galloway's endeavor as a whole? Share your thoughts!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Whirlwind RoughRider: A Hardcore Set of Humanitarian Wheels

A remake of the 1960s television series, “Ironside”, a detective show whose protagonist is a wheelchair-bound paraplegic, will air on October 2nd. Of course, it doesn't come without a bit of controversy. Detective Ironside will be played by Blair Underwood rather than by a paraplegic actor. I could go into the various viewpoints on this subject and perhaps will at some other point, but today I would rather share some information about the rad company that made Underwood/Ironside's wheelchair.

Whirlwind Wheelchair International has been creating wheelchairs specially designed to accommodate users in developing countries for over 30 years. I don't know if I can properly explain how awesome these things are. Not only does Whirlwind help improve the lives of the disabled, it also promotes sustainable local economic growth by creating chairs that can be fixed by locals using materials that are easily obtained in a given area. The wheels are made from bicycle tires, which makes them affordable, easy to replace, and practical for travel on multiple road surfaces. Also, the bearings are the same used in Honda motorcycles, which are very common modes of transportation throughout the developing world.

The chairs are inexpensive and durable, and they are suited for the user's individual needs. For example, muddy or broken sidewalks with no curb ramps make standard hospital wheelchairs prone to tipping, but Whirlwind's RoughRider design has an extra long wheelbase for increased stability. Users can even climb down sidewalk curbs without fear of tumult.

Because of their easy maneuverability and functionality, Whirlwind's chairs allow users to be more active players in their communities and therefore increase their quality of life. One user even said, “In this chair, no one mistakes me for a beggar,” and an employee at a wheelchair shop was able to continue tending chickens in his backyard thanks to his dirt-friendly RoughRider.

And there's more! Whirlwind's chairs are adjustable to user's backs and have special pressure sore relief cushions. Both of these features make the chairs more comfortable and better suited for individual users, as adjusting the back to fit the contours of the user's spine helps prevent further injury and pain.

Also, these things are aesthetically pleasing. They look strong and mobile rather than stiff or clunky, which only adds to the appeal of these high-functioning wheelchairs. And, although they were originally designed for the developing world, RoughRiders are now available in the United States. I think they sound great for an Oregonian: outdoorsy, adventurous, and sustainable!

What do you think about Whirlwind's wheelchairs? Their philosophy? Or maybe you'd like to start a dialogue about Ironside? That would be great, too. :)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Gallaudet's Architecture Satisfies the Senses

I've heard it said before that our senses can actually limit us more than they help us. For example, the Who's famous rock opera, Tommy, expresses that life without sight, sound, or speech leads to enlightenment, and in one of my favorite childhood books, A Wrinkle in Time, a sightless character from another galaxy is vexed by the reliance of humans on their senses, claiming that they seem so constricting. Recently, architect David Lewis proposed that our senses have lowered our expectations for the quality of space in which we live and work.

Lewis is the lead architect at New York City-based LTL Architects and is at the front of Gallaudet University's newest residence hall. Gallaudet is home to almost 2,000 students who are deaf or hearing impaired, so it was important that the new hall follow the design principles of DeafSpace, an initiative created in 2005 by architect Hansel Bauman to develop architectural guidelines that improved interactions amongst the deaf community. DeafSpace's design elements address space and proximity, sensory reach, mobility and proximity, light and color, and acoustics, all of which can be issues for the deaf.

You wouldn't notice right off that the residence hall was designed specifically for deaf students. The first thing you might notice is how open and well-lit it is, or you might see that your skin has a healthy glow to it rather than the somewhat greenish tinge it takes on in white rooms with florescent lighting. Then you might say, “Wow” and notice that in spite of the open space, your utterance did not fly across the room in echo. Wouldn't it be nice if this were the case every time you walked in a building?

These appealing examples are the results of very intentional design choices to make Gallaudet's new dorm more accessible for its residents. Here are some of the key features of the building:

  • The community room on the ground floor has sloped ceiling that aligns perfectly with the inclines ground outside, and the wall is essentially a giant window. This way, people inside and outside the building can communicate with one another via sign language.

  • Similarly, the centrally located stairwell is transparent as well. Rather than a separated cement staircase (like, for example, the one in Neuberger Hall), this one is open, well-lit, and in the middle of the room, allowing for easier communication.

  • The 12-foot-wide hallways are twice as wide as standard halls.

  • The hall's kitchen has all appliances concentrated to an island in the middle so that students don't have to have their backs to one another.

  • The interior colors (red, yellow, green, and steel blue) were chosen to enhance natural skin tones in order to make facial expressions easier to read.

  • The ceiling is paneled, and an acoustic blanket sits under the concrete floor to enhance and tighten acoustics. This reduces the reverberations that can mess with hearing aids and, consequently, keeps voices from carrying across a room.

  • Unfortunately there were not enough funds for a huge skylight, but hey, maybe someday!

So here's what I'm thinking: Why aren't all new buildings following the DeafSpace guidelines? I think it sounds pretty good! It seems our senses let us build these obstacles—like dark, narrow halls and stairwells—simply because we can get around them without too much struggle or complaint. But why not make our space more beautiful, intuitive, and accessible for all people? 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Finding a Better Bottom Line

At the end of last week's post, I mentioned the new plan to increase the number of people with disabilities employed by companies that do business with the federal government. While this plan has a solid philanthropic base, companies like Walgreens are hiring more people with disabilities not out of moral obligation, but because it's economically sound.

Right now, companies are typically asked to employ people with disabilities out of kindness or civic responsibility. Even the aforementioned federal plan is more focused on philanthropy than smart business planning. Governor Jack Markell of Delaware thinks this mindset will soon change, and he hopes to galvanize that change with his blueprint, “A Better Bottom Line: Employing Individuals with Disabilities”.

Governor Markell talked with CEO of Walgreens, Greg Wasson, about his high percentage of employees with disabilities. Approximately 50 percent of employees at Walgreens distribution centers in Connecticut and South Carolina have some sort of mental or physical disability, and Wasson says it's no accident. Those centers perform as well as, if not better than, any other Walgreens facility. Markell also talked to Neill Christopher, vice president of Maryland company Acadia Windows and Doors. Christopher says that although he was at first reluctant to hire his first employee with a disability for fear that window manufacturing would pose too great a danger, he is now happy to report that six out of 60 employees have disabilities, and the company is operating more safely than ever. He also points out that, along with increased safety, his new employees make the company kinder.

Further, Computer Aid, Inc., an IT company, recently pledged to make people with autism three percent of their consultant base, and global software company, SAP, has also recognized that because of their focus and attention to detail, people with autism often excel at software testing.

After talking with company heads and seeing firsthand the gratitude and happiness of employed members of the disabled community, Markell teamed up with Governor Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, who happens to be a CODA (child of deaf adults), to devise a blueprint that gives governors the necessary tools to increase employment within the disabled community. Markell says the real focus of the blueprint is on the ability and not the disability. (Three cheers for that!) He foresees the Department of Labor partnering with companies who are looking for employees with certain skills, disabled or not. It's what they are able to do that matters.

The blueprint also includes plans for better preparing youths with disabilities, hopefully encouraging employment and more independence through education and access to career opportunities and exploration.

Markell says the plan is a win-win. Employers will have qualified, specialized employees, and those employees will gain a certain sense of pride and fulfillment. Additionally, Markell notes that taxpayers also win as fewer people rely on benefits and join the workforce themselves.

I think the best part about this is that it seems so direct: the plan looks straight past disability and squarely at ability. That sounds like simple logic to me.

What do you think about this blueprint? Do you think it will catch on?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Labor Day is More Than a Chance to Barbecue!

Labor Day is this Monday, which means two things: summer's end is drawing near (I, for one, am eager to get back to Portland State), and it's time to consider what Labor Day actually means, especially given all the tension regarding people finding ways to excuse themselves from the workforce. Here's to you, Labor Day!

I couldn't say how many times I've heard that hackneyed joke about having Labor Day off work and school. You know, Why is it called Labor Day if we don't have to work ha ha ha? It seems that people tend to associate Labor Day with pretty much anything but labor, and I think that in all the thoughts of a final summer vacation, shopping deals, a farewell to white (if you're into that tradition), impending fall, and back-to-school, people don't stop to think about what's behind Labor Day, what it's all about.

It is not this.
In basic terms, if you work, Labor Day is in celebration of YOU. Whoop! The holiday began in 1882, proposed by either Matthew Maguire of the Central Labor Union or Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor. Homonym names can be tricky. It became nationally recognized in 1894, six days after the end of the Pullman Strike, during which a number of workers died at the hands of the US military. It was a way for the government to not only recognize America's workforce, but also to help smooth over some of the Pullman Strike unease.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, in 1887, Oregon became the first state to make Labor Day an official holiday. Oregon appreciates your contribution to the economy.

I think it's great that we regard those people who work and keep American capitalism afloat. Without them, our economy would stagnate, and they deserve some applause and, perhaps, a nationally recognized vacation. I just wish that people would see that there is honor and respect in working to sustain themselves and their country if they are able. Many people out there would love the opportunity to work, be self-sufficient, and contribute to the economy but can't because various circumstances don't allow it. There is integrity in doing what you are able and shame in sneaking around your duties as a citizen in a capitalist country. Without workers in the workforce, things simply can't function properly. Cheers to those who keep the gears moving!

"Labor is Life"
On a related note, the Obama administration is continuing with a plan to get companies that do business with the federal government to increase the number of employees with disabilities they hire. Last Tuesday, it was ruled that people with disabilities will comprise at least seven percent of employees within each job group at most federal contractors. If successful, that's an estimated 585,000 jobs for people with disabilities within the first year.

Seven percent is a goal, not a quota, but feds hope that having something measurable as opposed to a “good faith” policy will lead to a decrease in the unemployment rate within the disabled community. Contractors who don't reach the goal will need to reevaluate their practices and provide proof of their efforts or risk losing their federal contracts.

It sounds like a step in the right direction! How do you feel about the ruling? About Labor Day and its meaning to you? Contribute to MY work and share thoughts, links, questions, whatever! :)

Also, check out some of these PDX events this weekend if you're in a celebrating mood.