Monday, May 30, 2016

Letters to Future Counselors V

A photo of a line of people facing away from the camera, their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders.  They are sitting on a flat, man-made rock formation.  They stare out at a deep blue lake and, beyond that, the lightly snow-covered Mt. Hood.  There is a yellow canoe on the right side of the lake, standing out starkly against the blue water, and some other canoes are farther back.  On the right of the photo, a few beached canoes can be seen resting on the shore.  Thick, dark green trees surround the lake, and a few wispy white and gray clouds are in the light blue sky.
Photo Courtesy of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp

As we come to the end of Spring term, many students will be looking ahead toward summer term and their session at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp.  To help put to rest any last-minute jitters, we have some more advice from former counselors, written as part of the “Letters to Future Counselors” assignment they receive at camp.  You can read more letters like this by browsing our Letters to Future Counselors tag.

Have a wonderful summer, and good luck at camp!

(Please note that letters may be lightly edited, and names are removed for privacy reasons.)

First letter:

Expect to get a life experience that you will never forget.  Don’t dream about having the same living situation as your home, but the experience of a traveler that you will miss many things yet, have unforgettable and rewarding experience I would guarantee you will never regret!


And second letter:

I was excited and nervous the first day of camp.  Meeting my camper made me want to puke, I prayed he’d like me and that it would be an experience I’d never forget—and it was.  Campers come in various flavors, and they are just like us: moody, funny, sad, happy, and tired.  But, no matter what flavor they are, each of them has something that sparkles brighter than any trait I possess.  A person with a disability has experienced life in a completely different way than I have—I have learned more from my campers than I could have imagined.  Here are some practical tips:  Bring a battery powered alarm clock; bug repellant and sunscreen will make your post-camp life easier; get to know your fellow counselors.  I wish this note could be more informative, but I feel like no amount of training or supplies could prepare me for this amazing experience.


We hope you enjoyed these letters, and from all of us here at the MHKC capstone, have a very happy summer!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Paralyzed artist makes paintings using mouth to control brushes

Henry Fraser is an artist.  He sketches and paints with pencils and brushes, and sometimes uses photo references to create his pictures.  His process, however, is anything but ordinary.  Fraser is paralyzed, and all of his creations are made using the only part of his body he can still move: his mouth.
Around seven years ago, Fraser was vacationing in Portugal away from his home in the UK, when he dove into what he thought was a deep section of the sea.  In reality, it was a sand bank.  The impact crushed his spinal cord and displaced several of his neck vertebrae, leaving him permanently paralyzed from the shoulders down.

His life has not been easy since then, with surgeries and sicknesses becoming frequent occurrences.  About a year ago, the former rugby player was getting bored after being stuck in bed with an illness, and it was then that he discovered an app on his iPad that allowed him to draw when he held a stylus in his mouth and touched it to the screen.  He loved the app, and soon moved on to non-digital drawing, attaching brushes and pencils to a mouth stick to create his works.
Since then, he has been painting anything from animals to actors to sports champions whom he admires.  His work has attracted the attention of the public, and he counts celebrities like soccer player David Beckham among his admirers.  A pencil drawing he did of golfer Rory McIlroy for a charity golf day caught the attention of McIlroy himself, who ended up contacting Fraser and donating his own items to the charity golf day.
Several news outlets have noted the remarkably positive outlook Fraser has maintained about his life in spite of his hardships.  He has said that without the illness he had when he discovered the iPad app, he never would have rediscovered his love for drawing and painting.  And on Twitter he’s reflected that he would probably have a boring life now if not for his accident, concluding that adversity has given him a gift.

You can learn more about Henry Fraser on his website and Twitter feed, as well as from CNN, Newsweek, and The Telegraph.

Monday, May 16, 2016

MHKC camper Eli Kerr featured on KGW

Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp camper Eli Kerr has been featured on local news station KGW!  The story details the teenager’s unique “promposal” to his friend Megan Schiedler.

Kerr and Schiedler met when they were just three months old, in a play group for children who have Down syndrome.  The two have been friends ever since, and they both go to Lake Oswego High School, where they have attended dances before.  But as a senior, this year would be Kerr’s last prom.

Kerr made a sign to ask Schiedler to prom, one that read “Megan, Be My Girl at Prom?”  Kerr is in choir, and a fellow singer explained that he loves the song “My Girl.”  So he asked the rest of the choir for some help with his request.

On the day of the proposal, Schiedler was brought out of her art class to find Kerr waiting for her in a suit, a line of choir singers behind him, all singing “My Girl.”

The choir made one small change to the words of the song: in later versions of the chorus, where the original song says “talking ‘bout my girl,” the Lake Oswego High School choir sang “talking ‘bout Megan.”

When the song was finished, Kerr asked Schiedler he could take her to prom, and she said “yes.”  Multiple times, onlookers report.

It was a promposal that Kerr had put a lot of time and effort into to make possible; he worked for hours with his speech therapist to be able to properly annunciate all the lyrics to “My Girl.”

The scene was meaningful not only to Kerr and Schiedler and friends.  Schiedler’s mother said that years ago, as she held her newborn baby Megan, one of her thoughts was about whether her daughter would ever go to prom.  Now, she says that not only has Megan been asked, she has been asked in a very special way.

You can read the story, and watch the full video of the promposal, on KGW here.

Monday, May 9, 2016

UK Store Implements “Quiet Hour” for shoppers with special needs

A superstore in Manchester, England has implemented a new system in the hopes of making shopping an easier experience for those with special needs.

The store, called Asda, opens one hour earlier than normal every Saturday and turns off store music, television displays, escalators, and the store’s announcement system for a “Quiet Hour.”  It’s an initiative which, store manager Simon Lea hopes, will help customers (particularly those who have autism) who experience distraction or overstimulation from the loud bustle that normally occurs in markets.

WATCH:  Asda manager Simon Lea on the quiet hour

Lea got the idea for the initiative after seeing a young boy who had autism struggle with the store’s busy environment.  Lea struggles from anxiety himself, and he’s said that for years he hated going to busy stores.  Even so, he said that six months ago he would have told shoppers to control their children.  Now, after speaking to people who have autism or other different abilities, he has instead been thinking about how to make his store a better place to shop.

And he’s not the only one to see the value of this idea.  The first quiet hour was only last week, on May 7th, but already eight other stores in Manchester have pledged to follow Asda’s example.

Asda has also been seeing positive responses to the quiet hour on Facebook, as well as from UK charity The National Autistic Society.  Mark Lever, CEO of the society, said that NAS surveyed more than 7,000 people who have autism and their families last year, and one of the most popular choices for things to become more accessible were shops.  Lever says that NAS hopes other supermarkets are inspired to follow the example that has been set by Asda.

You can learn more about Asda’s quiet hour from, Manchester Evening News, The Telegraph, the BBC, and The Guardian.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Caroline's Cart: Striving to make shopping more accessible for families with special needs

Alabama mother Drew Ann Long’s daughter Caroline has Rett Syndrome, a condition that can impair movement and that has made Caroline unable to walk.  For the first few years of Caroline’s life, Long would put her daughter in the seat of shopping carts during store trips, but she knew that it wouldn’t be long before Caroline outgrew the seat.  That’s when she came up with the idea for Caroline’s Cart.

Caroline’s Cart is designed to hold individuals with special needs who have gotten too big to sit in the child seat of a standard shopping cart.  As is shown in the video below, it functions similarly to a standard cart but has a larger and sturdier seat facing the caregiver pushing the cart.  The seat can hold up to 250 pounds.

Drew Ann Long saw the need for a cart like this when Caroline started having to use a wheelchair for shopping trips.  Long remembers a particularly hard shopping trip when she had to manage then-7-year-old Caroline, as well as her other, 9-year-old daughter, and her 2-year-old son.  She has called that trip a kind of “aha” moment for her, as she realized that there had to be a shopping cart for individuals who have special needs, and that if she needed it, other people did as well.

Now, national chain stores are seeing that need as well.  Target says the majority of its stores have at least one Caroline’s Cart as of March of this year, after one of their own employees who has a child with special needs suggested the cart.  The cart is becoming more widely available at other stores too, including Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Kroger, Publix, and Price Chopper.

Long says that she has kept Caroline updated and involved throughout the journey of making the cart, and that Caroline is aware of how much she has helped other people who have special needs.  Caroline has seen pictures, and heard emails that her mom has read to her.  Long says that while she isn’t sure how much Caroline understands, she does know that the first time they used the cart at their home Target was very special for Caroline.

You can learn more about Caroline’s Cart on its website, as well as from Today Parents, ABC, and Target’s statement about providing the carts.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Brain implant helps quadriplegic man move again

For most of us, movement is easy.  We think about an action, and our limbs instantly follow our brain’s command.  But for people like 24-year-old Ian Burkhart of Dublin, Ohio, something (often a spinal injury) has interrupted that line of communication.  That’s why Burkhart and others who have quadriplegia experience loss of motor functions: the connection between brain and limbs has been broken.

But researchers are now working on a way to bypass the need for that connection entirely, and Burkhart has been helping.  Two years ago a chip was implanted in Burkhart’s brain, and it is capable of reading the activity of several hundred neurons inside his motor cortex—the part of his brain that controls hand movement.  An external computer then interprets that activity, and in turn sends signals to a sleeve of 130 electrodes that Burkhart wore around his right arm, enabling different muscles in his arm to contract or be stimulated at his command.

It was not an instant or easy process.  The computer that interprets brain activity had to be taught to essentially interpret a kind of human thought, a complicated process that took many hours.  Burkhart had three sessions each week for 15 months of learning how to use the sleeve and how to think in a way that the computer could understand, sessions which he described as initially mentally exhausting, fatiguing, and like seven-hour exams.  To make his hand and arm move again, he noted that he had to break down each part of the motion and think about it in a more concentrated way, a process he says he took for granted before the accident that left him unable to move his arms and legs.

Still, even with all the work, Burkhart still enjoyed having some of his motor function back.  He’s been able to pour from a glass, move objects, and swipe a credit card.  A woman in 2012 was able to move a robotic arm using her thoughts, but this is the first example of so-called “limb reanimation” in a quadriplegic patient.  Burkhart believes it is more natural and intuitive, since he can see his own hand responding to his thoughts.

Doctors admit that it will be at least a decade before technology like this will be available outside of a lab.  There are several hurdles to overcome, including the need for a chip that can listen to more neurons, as well as a more portable computer to interpret the signals.  As for right now, funding for the project is set to run out later this year, forcing Burkhart to relinquish his newly gained abilities.  It will be difficult for him, he said, as he enjoyed it so much.  But he is hopeful that with enough people working on the project, he will someday be able to use it outside, which, he says, could really improve his quality of life.

You can learn more about Ian Burkhart and this limb reanimation technology from the original study in the journal Nature, as well as from The New York Times,  the Los Angeles Times, and the BBC.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Kiwanis Memories: An interview with former capstone student and current CLAS adviser Laura Marsh

A photo of a large crowd gathered outside Fanning Hall at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp.  The building itself is in the background; it is brown, with a large sloping green roof.  A sign above the entrance reads “FANNING HALL.”  The crowd is gathered into clumps of various sizes in front of the building, and appears to be made up of people of varied ages and attires.
Photo courtesy of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp

Welcome to Week 4!  Those of you in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) may already know Laura Marsh, a pre-health adviser.  We recently sat down with Ms. Marsh to talk about her own experience as a student enrolled in the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone, and to see what advice she has for future counselors.

Please note that camper names have been changed.

Why did you decide to take the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone?
    Yes, that’s a good question.  I was working at Portland State full time, so I was actually attending here part time.  I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, but I was lucky enough to be working in an office of advisors who were able to talk to me about different options.  And as soon as I heard about Kiwanis Camp, I knew that this was the right capstone for me.
    I think in part because, when I first started college in California I was at a community college, and they had a program called Transition to Independent Living, which allowed students with different needs to be integrated into the campus community.  It was a relatively small program, but I had a work study with the program, so it was my job to do Friday night fun stuff.  It was a really great opportunity for me to be able to work with that population, and they were my peers, and it was exciting.  So when I heard about camp I knew that I didn’t have a bunch of experience, but that I had some, and I knew I enjoyed it. 
    And I also love the outdoors, and growing up here in Oregon, you know, we camped a lot, and so I knew I would be okay with the outdoor part of camp as well.  The fact that it was a camp, and it was over the summer, and it would be done in two weeks…all of those things were very appealing to me.  I was able to take off vacation time and worked it that way with my job, which was very nice.  Of course I had supportive people, so that was also wonderful.  And then I signed up, and the rest is history.

How did you feel in the weeks leading up to the capstone?  Were you excited, nervous…?
    I remember being very nervous.  We had a great orientation that happened in spring, and I don’t remember how long it was, but it was a nice chunk of time where they kind of allowed the soon-to-be-counselors to get a sense of what camp was going to be like.  I remember they had a couple of parents [of the campers] come in, and share their experiences about what camp meant to their kids.  So I think that helped to settle my nerves a little bit, or at least give me a good idea of what it was going to be like and the structure of it.
    Obviously it was a very structured and supportive environment, but leading up to the days of starting camp?  That’s when the nerves really hit, and I had just a mix of emotions from excitement to just pure nervousness to “oh my gosh, do I really want to do this?”  So yeah, it was definitely kind of a roller coaster of emotions.

A photo of a lake.  In the foreground on land, two people are carrying a third individual and appear to be preparing to place them in a canoe as two other people watch and prepare to help.  Mt. Hood looms large in the background, with the thick forest that surrounds the lake climbing partway up the mountain before giving way to a light covering of snow.  Some wispy clouds are in the sky.
Photo courtesy of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp
Can you tell us a little about what the interactions were like between yourself and the campers?

    Once we got there, they have a time for just the counselors to get to know each other.  And that to me was such a critical piece, because we all were very nervous, and we really were feeling a lot of the same emotions.  So I think that put us all at ease, and it allowed us to really get to know our group members that we were going to be with for the two weeks.  So that was really exciting.
    Leading up to it, where I think I got a little nervous was just—the first week we were going to have boys, and [I was] a little concerned about some of the personal care and if I was going to be comfortable doing that.  And I was able to express that with my assistant counselor supervisor and counselor supervisor, and then what we decided was that week I would get a camper that was maybe a little bit more independent, and that way I could ease into that.  And it worked out beautifully. 
    So the very first week we had a group of boys (well, they were young adults), and my camper was Joe.  And he was amazing.  And he actually was more of an expert than I would ever claim to be about Kiwanis Camp, and many other things.  He was also into martial arts, which was amazing.  So Joe actually knew, because he had been going for such a long time to camp, he knew more about camp than I ever did.  So he was truly more of my partner than I felt like I was his counselor.  It was really cool.  And he was just a really great way for me to ease into things a little bit, and then I was able to, throughout the week, help my group members as needed.  You know, if they needed breaks or help with anything.  Joe was so, so independent and fabulous that it allowed me to do that on my own schedule and my own comfort level, which was nice. 

Do you have any favorite memories from your time in the capstone that you’d like to share with us?
    Yes, I do.  So, second week I had a little bit more of a challenging camper in a good way.  They were like, “Well Laura, you did great the first week, now we’re gonna put you to the test,” so I actually had probably one of the more challenging campers I think for the whole session.  She was amazing, and she was nonverbal so it was a little bit challenging in that way, and I learned a lot during that time about patience and really putting somebody else’s needs before my own.  At that time I wasn’t a parent, and hadn’t really ever had to do that before, so that was a great experience.
    Favorite memories?  You know, I think one of my favorite memories was with Joe.  So Joe was determined to climb the wall.  I don’t know what they call it, just the rock climbing wall.  But it was relatively new at camp I think at the time, and so campers had to get invited to it.  And so all week I was trying to drop his name and do what we needed so that Joe could get his invitation to the wall.  He was not making it a secret at all; everybody knew he wanted to tackle that wall.
    So he got the invitation and we went to go do the wall, and I just was so excited and so happy for him because it was something he wanted to do so bad.  And it was an interesting time.  Joe tackled the wall, he made it partially up the wall before he decided he was done, so he came back down and he turned to me and he was like, “your turn!”  And I was like “Wait.  Whoa!  This was your thing, Joe!”  Like, I’m cheering you on.  And so the tables were a little bit turned because I was there cheering him on and trying to get him to go a little higher, and then all of a sudden I found myself climbing this wall, which I had no intention…had not prepared, was NOT excited about.  But I did it!  And I didn’t make it to the top, but Joe was there coaching me.
    Like I said, in many ways he was like my buddy more than I was—you know.  I think that was something that I didn’t really realize going in: how beneficial it was going to be for me personally.  I thought I was going to be there to help them have a good time, which we did, but at the same time I was able to learn to challenge myself in ways.  It was a fun time. 

And finally, what advice do you have for future counselors?
    As an adviser I do get to talk a lot about camp.  I try to promote it a little bit in a way because I think it's such a wonderful experience, and like I said before, I think in ways that we don’t always know it’s going to be.  Like, really what it’s like to put somebody else’s needs before our own, and then also to just be in a truly authentic situation where nerves end up going away, and you break your barriers down of being nervous and unsure of yourself.  For me it was a real confidence builder.
    So advice going in, I think I would tell students “it sounds like its going to be really easy—two weeks!—but it’s really not.”  And not in a bad way.  But the purpose of your being there is to make sure that that camper’s experience is the best that it could possibly be.  And that’s that whole putting somebody else’s needs above your own and before yourself.  So I think going into it that way, but also advice…Knowing that you have a lot of support.  Kiwanis Camp is extremely well-structured, there’s a ton of support there, and things are very well scheduled, and they run really smoothly.  And there’s always going to be bumps in the road, but there’s always a lot of support.  So, I think going into it with an open mind, and just willing to have fun and be silly and sing camp songs and enjoy the beautiful camp.  I mean, the camp is amazing, and so to go out on a canoe which I had never done before, and have this amazing view of Mt. Hood and those types of memories…I will never forget.
    So advice: just be open to new experiences.  The nerves will be there—I always tell students you’ll get nervous—but power through it, because it will be well worth it in the end.

A photo of some campers and counselors, standing in a loose line facing the camera.  They appear to be dancing or cheering.  Though they stand on flat dirt, large trees are only a few feet behind them.
Photo Courtesy of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp

Special thanks to Laura Marsh for providing us with this interview.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Local high school basketball team breaks down barriers

Unified Sports, a Special Olympics program, aims to promote the social inclusion of people with intellectual different abilities through the creation of inclusive sports teams.  Now, the program is making a local impact with a Unified basketball team at Washougal High School.

The team is made up of both general education and special education students, and they practice together three days a week.  During the season they have games every Saturday, and they compete in division one, which is considered to be a competitive category.  Participants have been vocal in their support for the program—sophomore general education student Jessie Larson says that she is a better person because of the experience, and special education student Michael Neketuk says he loves the school’s support.

A few of the participants already had some experience with the Unified program: they volunteered in the Unified soccer program last spring.  Larson is one such student, as is senior Brennan Guiles.  It was Guiles love for soccer that brought him to the program, but he soon found he liked the special education participants too, and he says he loves seeing how happy they are about life.

KGW covers the Unified Sports team at Washougal High School.

Coach Dani Allen notes some of the benefits for the special education students: they have to remember to bring their shoes and practice clothes to school, and have their uniforms washed for games.  Being on a team is a big self-esteem booster, Allen continues, saying that the team as a whole has great camaraderie and that individuals are able to build friendships in a way that’s not possible to do in the classroom.

Volunteer coaches advise the team.  Funding comes partly from the WHS special education program, and partly from a $2,000 grant from the Special Olympics for uniforms and equipment.  The games in Unified tournaments are free to attend.

You can learn more about the Washougal High School Unified Sports team from the Camas Post Record, The Columbian, and from KGW.  Learn more about the Unified Sports program and find coaching resources on the Special Olympics website here.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Camp photos and another counselor letter

Happy Week 2 of Spring Term, everyone!  The first session of the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone is now FULL, but applications for the remaining sessions are still being accepted.  If you’re still considering taking the capstone this summer, now is the time to apply.

Whether you’re still considering applying, are already enrolled, or are reading this because you’re an alumni or have other interests in MHKC, we hope you enjoy these photos that provide a glimpse into the magic that is the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone.

Following the photos is a short letter written by a former counselor, which was part of the “Letters to Future Counselors” assignment that students receive at the end of the capstone.  This letter gives further insight into the experiences that counselors and campers alike enjoy every year at camp, and you can read more like it here.  Enjoy!

A photo of a medium-sized crowd in front of Fanning Hall at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp.  The building is brown, with a large, sloping green roof.  Nearly every person in the image has their hands raised towards the upper left corner of the photo, as if they have been captured mid-dance.
A photo of two people at the stables; the side of a horse can be seen in the background on the left, and the torsos of two other people are also visible in the background.  Both people in the foreground are wearing name tags made from the cross section of a small round piece of wood.  The left individual’s tag reads “Katie,” and the right individual’s reads “Doni.”  Katie is wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt, a blue helmet, and glasses, and her right arm is outstretched towards the sky while her left is draped over Doni’s shoulder.  Doni is wearing a green tank top, and is leaning over to be closer to Katie’s height.
A photo of campers and counselors in the pool.  Some are playing with floats.  Most are slightly blurred in the background, but in the foreground is an individual resting on a blue float and wearing a red baseball cap pulled low over their eyes.
A photo of three adolescent individuals standing outside in front of some windows and smiling at the camera.  In front of them, some towels and pieces of clothing are hung over a rail.  The tallest person is on the left, is wearing a dark t-shirt with blue printing on the front, and has their right hand raised in a “thumbs up” sign.  The person in the middle is the second-tallest, and is wearing an NFL jersey.  The person on the left is the shortest, and is wearing a red long-sleeved shirt.
A photo of campers and counselors canoeing on a lake, with a lightly snow-covered Mt. Hood rising up behind them on the left.  There are three canoes: a green one on the left, a red one in the center, and dark, possibly blue one on the right.  The canoe-ers are waving at the camera, and one is holding a canoe paddle aloft.  Behind them is a line of thick green forest before the mountain rises into a cloudless blue sky.
All photos courtesy of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp.

Dear New Counselor,

        I hope that you are as excited as I was on day one.  Your fears will settle and your positive attitude will carry you far.  Utilize every opportunity you have to get to know your group of counselors, they are more valuable than gold coffee up here.  Personal care is not as gross or intimidating as you may think.  It just is, so do what needs to be done, wash your hands, and keep moving along.
        Bring snacks next week and share with your group during meetings.  Chocolate is very necessary.
        Feel safe enough to cry and know that you can ask for help.  Understand that your idea of the ideal camp experience may not fit into your camper’s life.  Consider their needs, do your best, and rest when you are given the time.
        This will be hard.  This will be incredible.  Magic happens in the pool and happy tears bloom.  Never give up, and remember to live.
        I believe in you.  Good luck!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Welsh woman receives "bionic eye"

A photo of a human eye looking into the camera.  The iris is mostly blue, with some light brown surrounding the pupil.  There appears to be some light mascara on the eyelashes.
 Photo courtesy Laitr Keiows/Wikimedia Commons

A woman from Wales recently regained some of her sight after a rare disorder caused near-complete loss of vision.  Now she is learning to see again—and it’s all thanks to a real-life bionic eye.

Rhian Lewis was given the implant last June, in an operation that took place at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, UK.  The implant takes the form of a tiny, 3x3mm chip that contains about 1,500 light sensors that send electrical signals to her nerve cells (see a picture of it here).  The chip is powered by a metal coil connected to a small computer that is placed underneath the skin behind the ear, and from the outside, the whole thing looks similar to a hearing aid.

The resolution isn’t very good yet—it’s less than 1% of a single megapixel—but it’s enough to make a big difference for Lewis, who has been virtually blind in her right eye for 16 years.  The 49-year-old from Cardiff, Wales recently went in for follow-up testing of the device at John Radcliffe Hospital, where she received the implant as part of an ongoing trial.  One of the tests involved looking at a cardboard clock the researchers had set up to see if she could see where the hands were pointing.  When Lewis correctly identified the time depicted, she said it felt like Christmas day.

Lewis has retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that destroys light sensitive cells in the retina.  She’s never had vision in dim lighting at all, and about 16 years ago she lost all vision in her right eye and most vision in her left.  She says it’s been about eight years since she’s know what her children look like.  And the condition affects simple things too, she continues, like going clothes shopping and not being able to tell what she looks like.  Now she says she gets excited every time she’s able to do something like find a spoon or fork sitting on the table.

It wasn’t an instant change.  It takes a few weeks for the human brain to learn how to interpret the signals from the type of implant she received, and at first the only things perceived by the patient are bright flashes.  Lewis is able to adjust the device’s contrast and sensitivity using dials on a hand-held power supply, though, and she is continuing to practice interpreting the signals it sends to her.  The images may not be very clear yet, but for Lewis, the experience of seeing them at all is exhilarating.

The team behind the implant hopes the technology can one day be used by people with other types of visual impairment, such as age-related macular degeneration.

You can learn more about Rhian Lewis and her "bionic eye" from The Guardian, as well as from the BBC.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Why Choose Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp?

Welcome to Week 10 of winter term, everyone!  By now, those of you who are juniors or seniors may be thinking about your senior capstone.  Those of you in the Department of Special Education may be looking for a practicum.  So why choose Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp?

Here at MHKC we could write for pages about the benefits of camp, but we think the counselors and staff in the video below, titled "Why Choose MHKC," say it best. 

(For the perspectives of more counselors who have already completed the capstone, feel free to browse our "Letters to Future Counselors" tag.)

Download an application here (PDF), and join us this summer at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp. 

Without further ado, please enjoy the video.  For deaf or hard of hearing readers, or those who prefer text, a transcript of the spoken words in the video is provided below.


Rory Shipman, Capstone Student:  Camp has been awesome.  It's been really…I don't know, it's just a very very happy place for me.

Emily Derr, Capstone Student:  I think coming to camp is a safe haven, and signing up for this and going through all the experiences we learn that it's a safe haven for the campers, but I think a big thing too is it's a safe haven for the counselors.

Cheyne Corrado, Capstone Student:  Seeing the smile on one of our camper's faces today, you just know that they're having the time of their life.  And it's, like, literally brings tears to my eyes because it's just they don't get to do this often.  And it's like, it's why we're all up here.

Haakon Weinstein, Capstone Student:  It's—it's scary, and it's fun, and it's exciting, and it's exhausting.  It's like, all encompassing.

Kasey Larsen, SPED Masters Student:  You get to see people kind of grow.  Their characters get expanded.  Their—little parts of them start to come out.

Dave Bahr, Counselor Supervisor - MHKC Staff:  It allows me to see what I wish the rest of the world would be like as far as inclusion and acceptance and tolerance and, uh, promotion for everybody.

Narrator:  Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp is a camp for children and adults with disabilities.  Each summer, over 200 PSU students complete their capstone project or elective course by working as camp counselors, supporting their campers as they enjoy many outdoor recreational activities and build lasting friendships.

Shipman:  I think within my first 24 hours of being here, I was just walking around, I hadn't even met my first camper yet, I didn't even know who I was going to be hanging out with for the first week, and it just kind of dawned on me that this place is really special and it just…it needs to continue, forever.  Like, Mt.—this, this place just needs to be here for a very long time.

Derr:  I think the highlights of the past week-and-a-half is just working with all these different adults with different abilities, and kind of learning from them.  This week I have learned from them what kindness truly means, what love truly means, what friendship truly is.  Coming in, we kind of all help each other out, and my group, E, with Dave, we kind of just formed this one big group bond as a family.

Shipman:  There is a huge amount of support here.  Everybody here is here to help you, your CS's, your ACS's, the directors…everybody here wants to see you succeed.

Weinstein:  We get to take people canoeing or zip lining or swimming.  It's like, it's stuff that you'd want to do at camp but you're helping facilitate this for someone that may not otherwise have an opportunity to do it on their own.

Derr:  Adventure course, they team up, they're super high-energy, they kind of get them involved a little bit more.  I think there they face their fears, and I think it's a time for us as counselors to kind of motivate them and push them, and that's where the group bond kind of comes in, to try and encourage them to do something that they would never do at camp and only get to do at camp.

Narrator:  Campers aren't the only ones pushing their boundaries.  Counselors learn new skills while bending old perceptions.  Laughter, encouragement, and team-building lead to unexpected growth, and getting silly is also a hallmark of Camp Kiwanis.

Larsen:  You've got to be willing to just be silly, look ridiculous, you don't know how to dance just shake it, shimmer it, just do anything that you need to do.

Shipman:  You can be silly, and nobody, like, is going to think you're weird.  Um, like, I wore a tutu to one of the dances, and that was funny, and everybody liked it, and I don't dance, like I'm just not a person that dances, but I danced every single day at camp.  [Laughs.]

Weinstein:  The camp songs are really fun, uh, although they're probably going to be stuck in my head for a couple weeks after I'm out of here.

Campers and counselors, singing: Some sticky sticky waffles.

Song leader, singing: A mozzarella pizza.

Campers and counselors, singing: A mozzarella pizza.

Derr:  Coming in I didn't realize how much that I was going to learn from this experience.

Larsen:  This has really helped build some skills that I need heading into my career.  You—you want to know who you are when you come out of this; it's the person you want to be.  You can, you're, within this society of camp, you wanna be somebody who contributes to here.  And then when you step out of camp, you wanna be someone who's contributing to society.  And this is a great way to know who you're going to be as that person outside the bigger picture, outside this camp.

Weinstein:  It's been really fun learning how to, um, interact and be, um, encouraging, motivating.  You learn a handful of skills when you get up here in the training, and then to see them in action, and then you feel like you had a part in a camper's great experience while they're, you know, pushing themselves beyond their, uh, perceived limits.  It's really fun.

Corrado:  Dealing with certain campers that, um, are maybe nonverbal, or just have different ways of expressing communication and emotions, and then seeing them express, like, happiness and joy in an activity that maybe you would think that they wouldn't be able to do, is like the most rewarding piece of it.

Larsen:  Being able to communicate…how does that, how does that camper communicate, and how can I communicate with them, whether that be picture schedules, whether that be prompting, whether that be just, um, just modeling for the, for the camper, and so it's really just…each camper's different.  They all have their own personality, they all have different ways in which they learn and experience things, and so you really just have to mold yourself to each person.

Bahr:  Camp is an opportunity for everybody—campers and counselors and staff—to grow, and I think we are all kind of in this journey of, of growing together, and this is an experience for that, uh, to happen.  Camp is really just a vehicle for that self exploration and that self discovery, uh, which is really neat, um, to see and be a part of, and I think it's a really valuable experience for everybody to leave with.

Shipman:  I think that Mt. Hood is just going to, like, always have a special place in my heart.

Corrado:  Once I got here, it was the best decision ever.

Weinstein:  I think one of the biggest things that I've learned here is, like, to not judge.

Corrado:  The nerves are okay, and once you get here, you will be in awesome hands.

Shipman: Just don't be afraid to ask for help, don't be afraid to ask questions.

Bahr:  My biggest piece of advice is probably just to come with an open mind and a willingness to do whatever it takes to push yourself.  Um, you're going to find that your capabilities go beyond what you thought your limits were.  And you, what you put into it is definitely what you get out of it.  And it's, um, so, um, it's going to be some hard work but it's going to be very well worth it and very rewarding in the end.

Weinstein:  I would suggest this capstone to anybody that's interested in having, whether this be there intention or not, a life changing experience.  I don't care if you're a Business student, or a Psych student, or Anthropology, or Nursing—Nursing would be really helpful—um, or Accounting, whatever, like, this, this experience will change your life, and it'll make you feel good, then it'll give you a new perspective.  So, highly recommend it to anybody.

Counselors and Campers: Go Group E!  Woo!

Monday, February 29, 2016

More Letters to Future Counselors

Today we are continuing our series of posts in which we share Letters to Future Counselors written by former counselors during their time in the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone.  You can read our past posts in this series here and here.  We hope you enjoy these letters, and if you'd like to come be a part of this experience, applications to become a counselor this summer are open now!  Find them on PSU's website here.

And now, we present our first letter (please note that letters may be lightly edited for clarity, and names are redacted for privacy reasons.):

Chill out.  Everybody talks about how exhausting and hard it's going to be.  It's gonna be really time-consuming and it will definitely take a lot of energy but it's only two weeks and it's so positive that I don't see how someone can burn out.  You're here because you want to learn, so learn!  Learning means you'll make mistakes, so make mistakes.  Just don't let this idea of "omg it's going to be sooo hard" get you down before it even starts.  It's not like you're working in the E.R., you're helping take care of people so they can enjoy camp for a week.  Let yourself enjoy it like they do.  Do the dances, sing the songs, wear silly costumes, whatever.  This is the only place where you won't be judged for silliness or personality quirks.  As long as you're doing your job and treating everyone with compassion and kindness, go nuts!  You're gonna do amazing out there!


And now, our second letter:

My experience here has been like a roller coaster.  Every night my group discussed our highs and lows for the day, and it was amazing to me how I could think of a low in the moment during an activity and by the time of the meeting, completely forget about it because of all of my highs.  Each activity is the best activity ever until the next one comes along to trump it.  The amount of care that goes into this camp, the love and support felt by the campers and counselors, and the progress witnessed here should not be taken for granted.  Kiwanis Camp is a pretty remarkable place full of special people who not only work here, but vacation here too.  I'm so happy I was fortunate enough to have been a part of it, and I will reflect on my experiences socially and professionally in the years to come.


We hope you enjoyed these letters.  Once again, if you'd like to join us this summer, apply to be a counselor here.  We hope to see you at camp!

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Handisco smart cane: The "white cane" gets an update

For decades, people who are blind or have visual impairments have used the "white cane" to help them navigate the world.  A long and lightweight tool, it is swept back in forth in front of an individual's feet to help them detect any obstacles on the path ahead.  Now, a group of graduate engineering students are hoping to increase the cane's capabilities with some high-tech modifications.

The students have created a box that fits on a traditional white cane, but instead of using the customary tactile method of locating obstacles, the box uses infrared and ultrasonic wave sensors to detect objects.  If a user is near an obstacle, the device will vibrate the cane to let them know.  It's the same kind of principal used in cars to alert a driver that something is near the back bumper.  With this technology, users can gain awareness of a wider area of space around them than simply sweeping the cane back and forth would provide.

And the capabilities of the cane attachment don't stop there.  It also has GPS integration, and can convey verbal information like directions to a user via a bluetooth headset.  In the future, it may be able to provide even more in-depth guidance as well.  Though the practice is not widespread yet, certain cities have started to implement types of "tagging systems," which make real-time data from a city available in an open system.  The cane attachment can collect that data and relay it to the user, including details such as whether a nearby traffic light is red or green, and what a cross-walk signal reads.  Shops can install their own customized tagging systems (or "beacons") too, broadcasting information such as what the shop sells, what its hours are, and where the entrance is located.  The students are testing their cane attachment using data from the city of Nancy, France.

The idea for the updated white cane came to students at the University of Lorraine in Nancy, France, after they were informed of a challenge called Le Défi Cisco.  The challenge asked students to apply technology to social and environmental issues—and offered a €70,000 prize for the winners.  A student named Lucie d’Alguerre thought that her uncle, who is blind, could be helped by a device that gave the traditional white cane more capabilities.  Lucie began building partner relationships with the city of Nancy and with an association for the blind called Valentin Haüy, and a professor helped her team up with four other students who helped make the idea into a reality.  Jonathan Donnard managed the team's communications with Cisco (the challenge's sponsor), Nicolas Frizzarin handled the business plan and financial issues, and Florian Esteves and Mathieu Chevalier became the technology's developers.

These students made up a team they called Handisco, and they were one of only six teams out of thirty to advance to the challenge's final round of judging.  In the final round, they won the top honor.

With the prize money they officially founded the Handisco company, and began pitching it to investors.  In June 2014, they received a National Prize for Innovation called the Pepite Award from the French Ministry of Education, and met with French president François Hollande.

Handisco is still working with the city of Nancy to pursue more funding, and they're working with blind people to get feedback and improve the device.  They are also exploring possibilities like connecting vibrating shoes to the cane in order to help provide additional feedback to users.

You can learn more about Handisco and their updated white cane on Handisco's website, from PBS, from the Huffington Post, and from Cisco.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Shakespeare in Sign Language

The play is a classic: William Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost.  But the way that UK-based company Deafinitely Theatre performed it in 2012 was an innovation.  This is the first full-length Shakespeare play to be translated and performed entirely in British Sign Language, or BSL.

And it wasn't performed on a small stage, either.  This BSL adaptation was performed at the famous Globe Theatre in London, as part of a program called Globe to Globe [PDF] in which thirty-seven plays were performed at the theater in thirty-seven different languages.

The play was performed by an all-deaf cast—a first for the Globe Theatre, according to director Paula Garfield.  The majority of the audience at the Globe performance were deaf as well.  Although music was played on stage throughout the show, the play was otherwise completely silent, with not a word spoken by any of the actors.

Translating the play from Shakespearian English to modern British was not an easy task.  The play is a comedy, a genre often especially hard to translate into other languages, and Love's Labour's Lost contains complex wordplay, Latin, and puns.  Deafinitely Theatre opted to translate the script first into modern English and then into BSL, preserving the meaning of the scenes rather than getting bogged down in attempting an exact translation.  Director Paula Garfield notes that it was particularly challenging for her, as she was not an expert on Shakespeare, but assistant director Andrew Muir and creative interpreter Kate Furby helped with translation.

An image of the English alphabet, with line drawings of hands above each letter.  The hands show the motions needed to form the British Sign Language alphabet.  Mostly black-and-white, the vowels are bright blue in both languages.
The British Sign Language alphabet. 
Image courtesy Cowplopmorris at en.wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons.

Furby says that the team had to explain the metaphors in the play as well, and uses the word "bound" as an example.  This word can have two meanings, she says, one literal and one metaphorical with more psychological connotations.  For cases like this, the team had to create a sign to show both meanings.

Director Paula Garfield estimates that just the process of going over the script took three to four months.  The next part was teaching the actors how to perform all of these translated signs, and a period of intensive rehearsals followed.  The production would be performed twice during the program at the Globe.

Although no recordings of Deafinitely Theatre's performances at the Globe were allowed, the interpretation received positive reviews.  Some glimpses of rehearsals can be seen in this video on the making of the production, from BSL Zone.

Actor Stephen Collins, who played the role of Ferdinand in the play, believes that their performance had a major impact in the field of deaf theater because it was at the renowned Globe Theatre.  Creative interpreter Kate Furby hopes that, in the future, more deaf people will be able to enjoy performances of Shakespeare's work.  Shakespeare is an important part of Britain's heritage, she says, and deaf people should be able to access it. 

You can learn more about Deafinitely Theatre on their website, in The Independent, in The Guardian, in Disability Arts Online, and from BSL Zone.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Letters to Future Counselors

One of the assignments counselors receive in the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone is to write a letter to future counselors with advice and insights about the camp experience.  Last summer, we shared a few of these letters in a blog post (you can read that post here).  Today, we are sharing three more inspiring letters to help anyone considering the capstone get a better feel for life at camp.  (Letters may be lightly edited for clarity, and names are redacted for privacy reasons.)  Applications to become a counselor are now available!  Find them on Portland State University's Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone website.

Enjoy, and we hope to see you at camp!


Not an experience to miss.  Don't overthink the decision to do it.  Yes, the days are long and hard, but the friendship, bonds, and teamwork are so worth it.  The bond with your camper is beyond wonderful.  You gain a trust and rapport like no other.


It's normal to be nervous (even terrified!)  Once that first camper arrives though, there is a surge of energy and excitement that is inexplicable.  It is going to be challenging for sure but easily one of the most rewarding two weeks of my life.  These campers are incredible and if you open up your eyes and your mind they will teach you some incredible things you will never forget.


Don't be afraid.  This may seem foreign & strange to be working with different people with altered abilities, who may or may not be able to verbally communicate with you, but by the end of the 2 weeks, this work will be second nature for you.

You will come to enjoy your time spent with the campers & fear losing them at the end of the camp far more than you feared meeting them in the first place.

If you are afraid, don't let that fear keep you from coming to Kiwanis Camp.  The experience is irreplaceable & you will be a changed person by the end of it.

There will be hard, frustrating & sad times at camp, but these are the experiences that will enable you to grow.  Plus, there are more than enough happy, empowering & inspiring moments that will change your perspective on people with disabilities & on life in general.

You will start seeing people not for what they cannot do…but what they can.



We hope you enjoyed these Letters to Future Counselors.  If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us in the comments here or on Facebook.  You can apply to be a counselor here on PSU's Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone website.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Conversations with Counselors

A photo of people canoeing on a lake.  In the forefront of the picture is the water, and it is a deep, rich blue.  Farther back there is a line of thick green woods, and beyond that Mt. Hood rises into a nearly cloudless blue sky.  A few small, fluffy white clouds hang low in the sky.
Photo Credit: Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp

Last summer, we went on site to ask some counselors why they had chosen to take the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone.  We got a lot of different answers!  Students with diverse majors and interests choose the MHKC Capstone, and a wide variety of personalities thrive here.

Catarina was the first counselor we spoke with.  She heard about the capstone through word of mouth.  "A lot of people were saying that it's the best thing, and it's the most, like, beautiful experience you could get, and it's really life-changing," she tells us.  "And so far it's been very life-changing for me."

Chad, another counselor, also heard about the capstone through word of mouth, though in this case it was from a little closer to home.  "My older brother took the capstone ten years ago, and he recommended it," Chad tells us.  "We both are not involved with special education or education in general.  He's computer systems security, and I'm going into the medical field, but we both felt that it was the best use of our time to give back to the community."

People in the MHKC Capstone come from a variety of backgrounds, from those with no prior experience dealing with people who have different abilities to those who have helped care for friends or family members for years.  Some want to make special education their lifelong vocation; others, like Chad, just want to spend a part of their summer giving back to the community.

And the course can be used for more than just PSU's senior capstone graduation requirement.  Grace, a Child and Family Studies major, is using it as a practicum for her major.  "I was really interested in this because I hadn't had much experience with different abilities," she tells us.  "I was nervous about coming, but it's been a really, really great experience, and I've learned a lot."

When asked if they were glad they'd made the decision to come to camp, these counselors gave us responses that were universally positive.

"I'm very glad I came," Catarina says.  "I'm just overjoyed."

"Yes, definitely I'm very glad.  And it's flown by!"  Grace says, smiling.  "It's been, like, a long two weeks, but it's gone by really quick.  I can't believe it's almost over."

Learn more about the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone on Portland State University's website here, and feel free to ask us any questions in the comments here or on Facebook.

Special thanks to counselors Catarina, Chad, and Grace, and to faculty member Carolyn Bradley, who gave us a tour of the camp last summer.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Eight-year-old triathlete with cerebral palsy wins prestigious Rollason award

Bailey Matthews lives in the town of Doncaster in South Yorkshire, England.  It was in North Yorkshire that he successfully completed a children's triathlon event last July, swimming for 100 meters, riding a bicycle for 4 kilometers, and running for 1.3 kilometers.  It would be an impressive achievement for any eight-year-old, but it's especially extraordinary for Bailey, who has cerebral palsy.

Video of the end of the triathlon shows Bailey discarding his walking frame, choosing instead to run the last few feet to the finish line on his own.  He falls down twice, but picks himself up and continues undaunted.  Spectators cheer him on all the way.

Footage of the event went viral, attracting more than 30 million views.  It caught the attention of the British Broadcasting Corporation, which presented Bailey with its Helen Rollason award last December.  Named after pioneering female sports journalist Helen Rollason, the award is given by the BBC to recognize "outstanding achievement in the face of adversity."  Past winners include competitors in the Invictus Games, as well as sitting volleyball player Martine Wright.

Bailey Matthews was presented with the award by two time Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Adlington and singer Niall Horan of the band One Direction.  Watch the ceremony and Bailey's acceptance speech below:

As for what Bailey has planned for the future, he told the arena that he wants to compete in five more triathlons next.

You can read more about Bailey Matthews, from the BBC, in The Guardian, and in The Yorkshire Post.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Engineering students design 3D-printed prosthetic arm for 6-year-old

Young kindergartner Alex Pring was born without most of his right arm.  He tries to do the same activities that children with all of their limbs do, though he's said that it's getting harder as he grows up. 

But recently his mother, Alyson Pring, found mechanical engineering doctoral student Albert Manero.  Manero is part of an online volunteer network called e-NABLE, which designs and creates prosthetics for people who do not have hands.  Part of the reason Manero joined was because he had a friend when he was younger who had missing fingers.

When Manero heard about Alex's need for a prosthetic, he got together a team (most of whom were fellow students at the University of Central Florida) to do something about it.  In their free time, the team (see a full list of members here) designed and built an arm for Alex.  And they did it using a 3D printer.

The team tested different ideas for seven weeks.  It was their first design for someone who did not already have a functioning elbow, which made their work especially challenging.  Additionally, children's prosthetics are harder to make in general, said Manero, because they are so much smaller than adult versions.  What the team ultimately came up with was a highly complex apparatus containing a muscle sensor, which allows Alex to open and close his new hand by flexing his bicep.  See it in action here:

Because the arm was made with widely available components, other people who own a 3D printer can potentially print and assemble their own prosthetics at home.  The engineers intend to make the design and building instructions for this new prosthetic available on the Internet for free, after a few of the kinks are worked out. Plans for many other hand prosthetics that e-NABLE has designed are already available here on e-NABLE's website.

With the help of some donated supplies, Manero's team managed to manufacture the arm for less than $350.  The potential for a low price tag could be of particular interest to low-income families, since most insurance companies will not pay for children's prosthetics due to how often they need to be replaced as a child grows.

Manero says he believes 3D printing is revolutionizing the world in many ways, and it doesn't have to stop at making only young people's lives better.  He says there's no reason why this approach to creating prosthetics couldn't work with adults as well.

As for Alex, the first thing he did with his new arm was hug his mother.

You can read more about Alex Pring and the making of his 3D arm from the University of Central Florida, the Orlando Sentinel, and the Huffington Post.

Monday, January 11, 2016

14-year-old basketball team manager on the autism spectrum sinks shot

William Lipka is the 14-year-old manager of the basketball team at Elm Place Middle School in Highland Park, Illinois.  Like his twin brother Eamon, he is on the autism spectrum.  But after a little help from his coaches and teammates a few weeks ago, he scored some memorable points in a basketball game—one that he'd only been informed he would play in a few hours previously.

Some years before, assistant basketball coach Trevor Kahn and fellow coach John Whitehead had both discussed getting Lipka involved in a school activity.  Lipka already loved basketball, so they made him the manager for the seventh and eighth grade teams.

As manager, his duties include filling basketballs with air and cleaning up the court, but he also acts almost like another coach himself.  Kahn notes that Lipka will help repeat the coach's advice to the team during practice, and he takes his role very seriously.  But he never got to actually play in a game himself.  At least, not until last December.

That's when the two coaches made the short-notice decision to put Lipka in a game, and it was in this game that Lipka made his momentous goal.  It didn't happen immediately; about seven previous chances to get a shot didn't go quite as well.  But then Lipka hit a 10 foot baseline jumper.  The crowd went wild, erupting into cheers.  Watch Lipka make the shot and see the reaction below:

He had some help from his teammates, too; they willingly gave up scoring opportunities and playing time to give Lipka an experience they knew he might never get the chance to have again.  Coach John Whitehead commended his players for showing class, sportsmanship, and camaraderie, and said that they made him proud to be a coach.

As for Lipka, when asked what it feels like when he's holding the ball, he had one simple response: he says it feels like they're going to win.

You can learn more about William Lipka from ABC 7, from, and from USA Today.