Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Spotlight: Rodney Bell, paraplegic dancer

A photo of Rodney Bell with partner Sonsherée Giles.  Bell is in his wheelchair lying sideways on the ground, so that the flat plane of the chair’s wheels are parallel to the ground.  Giles is perched with her stomach on the wheel facing upwards, her arms and legs outstretched.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ferrotouch: An innovation in technology for the blind

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

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

A photo of a traditional refreshable braille machine.  The machine is black, and has has a row of holes placed in 2x4 groupings through which white plastic nubs can rise in different patterns to form different braille letters.
A traditional refreshable braille machine.  Photo courtesy Ixitixel on Wikimedia Commons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 11, 2015

New software program being developed to make the web more accessible

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 10, 2015

New Videos

Happy Mother's Day, everyone!  This Sunday, we have two new camp videos to share with you.  The first is about the amazing Leann Horrocks, who has been a part of the MHKC staff for twenty-one years.  The second follows campers Gary and Corey around for some of their favorite camp activities.  Enjoy, and let us know what you think in the comments and on Facebook and Twitter!

Leann has been a part of the MHKC staff for 21 years. She perfectly captures one of the many things that makes MHKC so magical. "Campers look at you for your heart. I think that's what we're missing in society."
Posted by Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp on Thursday, April 30, 2015

Meet MHKC Campers, Corey and Gary.
Posted by Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp on Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Come see us at PSU's Capstone Fair on May 7th!

The Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone will be at the PSU Senior Capstone Fair this Thursday, May 7th.  The fair will start at 11:00am and go until 1:00pm, and it will be located in SMSU (Smith Memorial Student Union) rooms 327, 328 and 329.

All students are welcome, including first- and second-years.  Our Program Director Monica Corbo, Practicum Coordinator Ann Fullerton, and Graduate Assistant Molly Moran will be on hand to answer your questions, so come by and say hello!

Read more about the Capstone Fair here on PSU's website.

Monday, May 4, 2015

An Introduction

Greetings, everyone!  I am the new Social Media Manager for the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone, taking over for the lovely Shelley, who is graduating this term.  I'm excited to get to know you all and be a part of this amazing community.

A little about me: I'm a junior here at PSU, majoring in English, Social Science, and Liberal Studies, and minoring in Writing.  I haven't been to Kiwanis Camp yet, but I am hoping to schedule a trip this summer so I can go out and meet all of you.  I've already seen the pictures and videos on this blog and in the Kiwanis Office (located in the Graduate School of Education room 204), and I've been able to meet two future Capstone attendees during the filming of a new before-and-after video we're putting together about the camp experience.  Look for that video in a few months.

Here at the Kiwanis Camp capstone, we're always looking to improve our social media presence, and especially with this recent change of staff we are very interested in hearing community feedback.  So, to our past attendees, future attendees, and especially prospective attendees:  What kind of content would you like to see from us?  Up to now, we've been focusing on stories that affect the disability community and doing write-ups of those stories here on the blog.  We still want to do that, but we're thinking about posting both short and long pieces, as well multimedia like videos and podcasts to keep things interesting.  Additionally, we'd like to shift the focus more toward camp life and what exactly goes on during the two weeks that counselors spend on site. 

We'd also like to know which social media platforms you'd most like us to be on.  Right now in addition to this blog, we have a Facebook and a Twitter.  The blog will likely always be on this platform (to function as an easy place for students to find stories for projects), but we could also host it on Instagram and/or Tumblr or other places if you would find that useful.  Let us know where you'd like to see us!  Share your ideas in the comments to this post or on Facebook or Twitter

Thank you for reading this, and as we say in my hometown,

Don't Forget to be Awesome.