Friday, March 28, 2014

Upsee Harness Helps Children with Disabilities Walk

Do you remember standing on your parents' feet as a child and dancing across the floor with them, following their movements as they pushed your legs with their own? Debby Elnatan, mother of formerly wheelchair-bound son, has invented a special walking harness based on the same principle of simultaneous movement that will soon be available to the public to help special needs children get around.

The idea for the Firefly Upsee Harness came out of Elnatan's “pain and desperation” upon hearing that her son, Rotem, who has cerebral palsy, was completely unconscious of his legs. With the harness, Rotem was able to stand upright for the first time.

The top of the harness cinches around the parent's waist, and specially designed sandals are worn by both parent and child. Since the sandals keep the child's feet aligned with the parent's, both can move together simultaneously while keeping everyone's hands free. Stacy Warden, a Colorado woman who had the opportunity to try out the harness with her son, Noah, hopes that using this device will eventually help her son walk on his own.

The five-year-old Noah has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, but with the Upsee, he is able to do many movements he previously could not. Better yet, he has fun with it and doesn't look at walking as work. Not only can he now bear weight on his legs and mimic natural walking motions, Noah was also able to hug his younger brother for the first time. With Noah in a wheelchair, three-year-old Luke could not hug his brother. The Upsee made possible this long overdue physical connection. Pretty spectacular, right?

The Firefly Upsee goes on sale worldwide on April 7, 2014. It fits children from three to wight years old and will cost about $540 plus shipping. Already overwhelmed by interest in the Upsee, the company will hold a webinar and online demonstrations April 1 – April 3.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Derek Paravicini: In the Key of Genius

Happy spring, everybody! Yes, it's officially here, and finals week is over, too! Here's an awesome video to help you decompress and prepare yourself for the weekend and spring break. Enjoy. :)

Friday, March 14, 2014

MHKC: All of a Sudden, You Get It

Daniel Angle is like a lot of seventeen year-old boys: he likes basketball, has just picked up snowboarding, loves practical jokes, and wants to fit in with his peers. Daniel is also, as of last year, a camper at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp.

His mother, Judy England, says Daniel was initially hesitant about going camp. He had been away from home before, but never for such a long time and with people he didn't know.

“That's usually his style. He's the kind of kid who decides to stand and watch for a while before he jumps in,” Judy explains. “It's like dipping your toe in before you jump in, but once he watches, he's pretty good.”

Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp turned out to be a wonderful experience for Daniel in terms of growing his sense of self and his self esteem. Not only did he enjoy the feeling of independence from his family, but he also came home with a great sense of what he could do. He went swimming, played basketball and volleyball, and he even tried zip lining.

“I imagine he said 'No' several times before he went and did it but walked away going 'Woohoo!' It was really awesome.”

Equally important to Daniel's experience was the interactions he had with the counselors at MHKC. Like most, Daniel loves being around people who show they care about him, and that's what he got from his counselors. They were funny, which is exactly the kind of person Daniel likes to be around. He is a practical joker, a fun-loving high schooler who dances to his own tune, so interacting with his counselors in a playful, goofy way helped ensure that he would come back to camp this summer.

"Are you ready for the summer of your life?!"
Answer: YES.

“He likes older kids, so he just loves the counselors,” says Judy. “He could sense that they were really there for him, and he likes that. He's a goofball. He likes to play tricks and he likes to sneak up on people, and everyone played with him. Everyone fell for it, you know. He was having fun.”

Interacting with his counselors was probably the easiest part for Daniel. At school, he gets assistance from resource centers and a life skills counselor, but he is in regular ed classes. Sometimes being with kids who have more serious issues can be challenging for him because he wants to be the opposite. He wants be just like everybody else who, in his mind, is 'normal'. He wants to be like the people in his classes.

“In the big world where people move as at a high rate of speed, Daniel can get along and fit in, but he's not like everybody else,” says Judy. “You know, the world keeps moving and he has to navigate at that high rate of speed. But at camp, it's like, 'We're all good.'”

This, according to Judy, is one of the beauties of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp.

“There is just a wide range of kids and needs and all that kind of stuff, and Daniel feels as normal as normal can be. And that's pretty impressive for a group of people to have created an environment like that.”

Judy says that her and Daniel's first experience with MHKC was pure pleasure. Not only did Daniel have fun and gain a stronger sense of independence and self-esteem, he also got to interact with different types of people and learn from those interactions. The same can be said for counselors at MHKC.

“If you want to have fun, this is a great place to be,” Judy tells future counselors. “Open your heart and go have some fun. It's a cool group of people.”


Judy's concluding remarks were, I found, particularly poignant, because I've heard something very similar from former counselors said about their campers:

“To know that these people are doing something that they love and giving back and being there for kids just makes my heart burst. It's like, until you know, you don't know, and then all of a sudden you get it, that this is an incredible group of people who really put their hearts out, and as a parent, you couldn't ask for more when you have a kids with differences.”

Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp is just one of those things you have to experience in order to understand the impact it makes one everyone involved, from staff to camper to counselor to parent. You don't know, and then all of a sudden you get it.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Pop-Culture and the "R-Word"

Here's a bit of good new for you all: Spring will be here in less than two weeks! The date technically is not indicative of sunshine and warmer air, but we can hope, right? Maybe?

It has been a while since I've shared any of my personal musings on this blog, but today I've got some thoughts that will hopefully prompt some interest on your behalf. Some of you may be aware of the promotion by Spread the Word to End the Word to end the use of the word “retard(ed)”. March 5th was their declared day of awareness, and there was a huge push for people to pledge to stop saying the r-word. If you didn't know about it, that's okay; I don't think a lot of people outside a certain community did. I found, though, after scrolling through various media sites, that interest in this issue seems to be spreading out from a specific group of people—those involved in some way with the disabled community—to a wider audience.

I will admit that I have my aversions to Huffington Post's in-process transition from journalistic-focused reporting to pop-culture, often pulpy, articles. (For example, a piece entitled “Fort Knox Installs First Female Commander” sits right next to one entitled, simply, “CAFFEINATED. BACON. WAFFLE.” These are the changes in media that haunt and terrify me.) However, this somewhat awkward intersect offers an interesting and useful look at what issues our society deems worthy of attention.

In my Huffington perusal, I found post after post about disability, particularly about inclusion and ending the use of the r-word. This struck me as a good thing for a few reasons:
1. I usually have to do a specific search to find articles related to disability, and here were a bunch, readily available without having to dig. They aren't hidden in the back corners of a website.
2. This community is getting attention in both journalistic and popular culture contexts.
3. The quantity, variety, and visibility of these articles indicates a demand for information on these topics. That is, people find these issues important, are interested in them, and want more.

John "Frank" Stephens
It's not just that stories like John Stephens's letter to Ann Coulter are being written, it's that people find those stories and their content pressing and significant in the context of today's social system. That disability and ability awareness articles are showing up in what appears to be a higher concentration on websites like Huffington Post is noteworthy, because it says (to me, at any rate) that disability issues spark the widespread, pop-culture interest that, say, a caffeinated bacon waffle does, while also maintaining a deserved element of seriousness. 

Issues that once seemed isolated to a certain group are now becoming accessible to more people, and that is great. Because of this shift, I think the disability rights movement has the potential to become a hot issue, especially among young people, much like gay rights and the push for marriage equality has gained widespread attention and support through various online platforms. I hope, too, that it won't be long before we see people's pledges to end the use of the r-word popping up in our Facebook and Twitter feeds in mass support.

What do you think? Have you noticed a change in the attention disability issues get in the media? Are you going to take the pledge