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.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Who Really Benefits from Philanthropic Parking?

As you navigate the streets of downtown Portland, do you ever take a peek inside the windshields of the cars that fill our city's scant parking spaces? I don't make a habit of it, but Joseph Rose, writer for the Oregonian, decided to look into some suspicions he had about the striking abundance of blue handicap cards hanging from the rearview mirrors of parked cars.

Here's the deal: In Portland, people with disabilities get free, full-day parking as long as they have that blue card in their window. This reflects Portland's friendly, welcoming vibe and seems like a pretty reasonable gesture at first glance. However, when one takes into consideration the apparent ease with which these cards are obtained (Rose suspects doctors want to keep their clients, and so give them what they want), problems emerge. As Rose and parking enforcer, Mary Kisel, traversed downtown Portland, Rose noticed that there were entire blocks of cars parked and displaying hanging blue cards. It's a sensitive topic to discuss, but Rose certainly isn't the only one who has some doubts about the high volume of Portlanders with disabilities. City Commissioner, Steve Novick, agrees that evidence points to people playing the system to get out of paying for parking and moving their cars every two hours:

“The idea that more than half of the people with business in the core area of downtown Portland have disabilities that preclude them from using parking meters or other forms of transportation frankly strains credulity.”

This is coming from a man who not only has an interest in the well being of his city, but is also a member of the disabled community. Novack, who was born without a left hand or fibula bones in his legs, sent a letter last week to Portland's Disabled Parking Task Force in the hopes of fixing the issue of people essentially getting doctors' notes to get out of paying for parking.

Of course, I don't mean to suggest that all people who have blue cards in their windshields are faking disability. It's a similar situation to the increasing talk about people unnecessarily filing disability claims: some people take advantage of a loosely defined system and end up hurting those who actually need the assistance. Now these acts of personal gain are hurting the city as well as its disabled community. Portland loses an estimated $2.4 million to disability parking abuse. People aren't paying the meters, and because of full-day parking privileges, car turnover decreases, and Portland loses money.

So what do we do? Do we set a single parking standard for all people? Make a specific set of guidelines for doctors to follow when determining who gets a blue parking card? Maybe put a completely different body (like the Disabled Parking Task Force) in charge of making those determinations? Or should we just leave things as they are? What is more fair for the disabled community? For the city?

I know that's a lot of questions, but I think it's a subject worth thinking about. Give me your pros and cons, and tell me where you stand on this issue.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Run AND walk, it's...The Mindwalker!!

My very first Kiwanis blog post was about the amazing technological advances in prosthetics and how science is getting closer to making them less like assisting props and more like actual body parts that can be controlled neurologically. I find those kinds of advancements fascinating and am almost always amazed by them (like the bionic eye! How fantastic is that?). I'm a little late in finding out about today's topic, but my tardiness doesn't make it any less cool. Right?

It sounds like the title of a B-horror movie from days past, but unlike William Castle's paralysis-causing villain,“The Tingler”, a new device called the Mindwalker is using new technology to help people with paralysis get mobile.

The Mindwalker project, funded by the European Commission, is working to create the world's first mind-controlled exoskeleton. The idea is to bypass the damaged spinal cord and instead send brain signals to a robotic frame that supports a person's body weight and animates when instructed by the wearer.

It's a two-part device: the arguably more simple robot itself and the complex aspect of controlling the exoskeleton with the mind. This mind-reading technology is called Brain/Neural Computer Interface, or BNCI, and can turn EMG (electromyography) signals from the patient's shoulder or EEG (electroencephalography) signals from the brain into electronic commands. The user wears a “dry technology” EEG cap that gets rid of the need for invasive electrodes or awkward wet caps, and commands are sent from the brain to the exoskeleton attached to the user's legs.

As time has progressed, more modes of operation have been developed. For example, the best way involves wearing specialized glasses that have flashing diodes on the lenses. The diodes process light, and the EEG cap measures whether the user is concentrating more on the left side, which makes the exoskeleton walk, or the right side, which makes it stop. However, if the user is not paralyzed from the waist up, he or she can use a pressure sensor in the lower back to move the Mindwalker by leaning to one side or the other.

This is a lot of technological development, especially considering the project has only been underway for three years. The project has plans to continue for another five years. Developers are hoping to make the device less bulky, but who knows what else could happen in that time?

Isn't this stuff awesome? What do you think about the Mindwalker? Do you think it could be available to a widespread market in the future?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Mystery Notes Point Finger at Portland's Disabled

The growing number of people claiming disability has been in the news A LOT recently, and I've really been avoiding writing about it partly because it's a touchy subject and partly because I'm a little burned out reading about it. However, I just read about this little incident in Portland, and I feel it is worth bringing up, if only for its locality and its eerie creep factor.

Here's the deal: An anonymous person who apparently goes by the name “Artemis of the wildland” is posting charged notes threatening to post the names of individuals in various Portland neighborhoods, like Laurelhurst, Irvington, and Southeast Belmont, who vote and claim disability.

Now, I get irritated every time I see people bragging on Twitter about how easy it is to get “free money” by playing the system and filing for disability, so I can understand the frustration this Artemis may be feeling about people being able “to vote themselves money”*, but isn't this mystery posting a weird invasion of privacy? I don't see why people need to know which of their neighbors are getting help from the government or what would come from knowing that information, except maybe tension or embarrassment. Further, I am led to wonder if this person believes that all people with disabilities should not be allowed to vote for fear that they would use their votes to get unwarranted government assistance. The issue of voting appears to be Artemis's biggest qualm, though it could be that that simply stands out most to my eye.

Perhaps the note poster knows something the rest of us don't, like exactly why certain individuals are making disability claims and which of those individuals are truly in need. Maybe the poster went door to door and asked people if they are on disability and if they have a legitimate reason for being so. It could be that this person is exposing frauds, and I'm completely off base for thinking this whole situation is bizarre. Either way, whose right is it to go around tacking names to doors?

There are people out there who are actually unable to work and need financial assistance; not everyone is playing the system, and it's a shame that so many people do that others may be led to discredit everyone who claims disability, even those who actually are disabled. Many people with disabilities are already regarded differently and put into an oft unpleasant spotlight. Writing their names on a paper isn't doing anyone any favors.

Is it? What do you think? Is this is strange and creepish as it seems to me? Does anybody else think that Artemis of the wildland is an unusual and somewhat silly pseudonym given the context of the situation? Do share your opinions!

*If anyone is curious, the quote cited in the original note is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, but there is quite a bit of debate whether he actually said this or not.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Dads of Disability

Awhile back, I shared an article on Twitter from The Good Men Project, a collection of anthologies and articles that look at the role of the 21st century man, called “Disability is About the 'Other' Until It Isn't”. I recommend giving it a look if you haven't already. But finish reading this first, because that article prompted me to write this, and I will bring it all together. :)

Dads of Disability is an awesome book project that, according to project creator, Gary Dietz, addresses the scarcity of stories by and about fathers of children with disabilities. Dietz's goal is to offer support to fathers of children with disabilities by compiling and sharing different experiences in a single book entitled Dads of Disability: Stories For, By, and About Fathers of Children That Experience Disability (and the Women Who Love Them). It says it's for dads, but Dietz makes it clear that the project is definitely not a “no girls allowed” sort of deal. It's an inclusive endeavor for men and women of all races, ages, and abilities.

With that said, here's the super cool (in my eyes) part: Dietz is asking for people to submit stories to be included in the book. The stories can be on a variety of topics, but the idea is to keep the focus on a specific temporal, physical, or emotional event in a father's life. So, it's not really a book about understanding disability specifically; it's more of a coping tool, a form of sharing and connecting to other people who may or may not be in similar situations. Poems and drawings may also be submitted, which are another awesome option for those who are so inclined. OR! If you want to donate to the project, you can check out that Kickstarter page and, depending on your donation, get some nice rewards.

Now you may go read that first article! It's written by Dietz, and it poses a very thought provoking scenario that I feel is worth probing you all to read. If his book project doesn't grab your interest yet, reading his article may do a nice job of changing that.

Are any of you interested in submitting an essay? Or maybe a poem or drawing? I think it sounds like a great opportunity to share experiences and strengthen a community.