25 June 2008

Warning: Your Head May Explode From Cuteness

From The Daily Mail comes a story (with pictures!) of Hope, a very tiny and adorable dog born without her front legs. An orthotist made a mold of her torso and fitted it with two prosthetic wheeled limbs. When she grows, she will need a new prosthesis made. The story has some great photos of Hope, her custom prosthetic, and the molding process. As I said, you have been warned that your head may explode from adorable puppy pics. Quoth the reporter, "This tiny puppy may have been born without front legs but there's no way that is holding her back."

Image: Small fluffy white puppy missing her front limbs. She has a brace on the front part of her torso which is attached to two bent plastic limbs with wheels on the ends.

23 June 2008

Punk Band With Members With Developmental Disabilities: Heavy Load

Definitely click here to check out 'Heavy Load,' a punk band from the UK. From boingboing.net, we learn that the band's mission is "to demonstrate that disability rocks"! They also have a campaign (in the UK) called Stay Up Late, to help people with developmental disabilities advocate for themselves to be able to stay out late enough to go to a show. Most punk/rock/pop shows last until 11 or 12, but many adults with cognitive impairments aren't permitted or aren't able to stay out so late. Also check 'em out in the NY Times!

Check IFC for a rerun of their documentary, which aired on June 23rd. It's on my DVR and I am hoping to watch it soon!

Image: The punk band Heavy Load playing in a tent. Shown are two guys jamming on guitars and a drummer with Down Syndrome rocking out at a black drum set.

19 June 2008

More Paralympians in the News: swimmer Kendall Bailey

A great story appeared in the NY Times this week about a swimmer with multiple disabilities and his journey to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

Kendall Bailey qualified for the Paralympics in the 100 meter breaststroke. As an athlete with cerebral palsy, he qualified within a classification of athletes with similar disabilities. He also has Klinefelter's Syndrome, autism, and mental retardation. Overall I thought the tone of the story was great. It's not just the story of him swimming, it's also the story of how the US Paralympic Committee tried to disqualify him because of his multiple other disabilities, not once but twice!

In a nutshell, the Paralympics has many categories of ability levels and different disabilities. I believe that an athlete must qualify within their own classification or a more-able classification. The Paralympics used to have a classification for athletes with intellectual disabilities, but after the 2000 Spanish basketball team was discovered to consist mostly of non-disabled athletes, that classification was eliminated.

Back to Bailey's story. Initially, another country protested and had Bailey reclassified as "only intellectually disabled" and therefore ineligible for the Paralympics. He is a talented athlete but he isn't yet able to advocate for himself on this level. His mother appealed that decision and had him reclassified as a physically disabled athlete. All was well, and Bailey qualified for the Summer Games.

Several weeks later, Bailey's mother found out that the US Paralympics committee had made a formal protest to the International Paralympic Committee, stating that Bailey had an intellectual disability, and "the intellectual disability classification for swimming (S14) is not presently recognized by the IPC; nor is an intellectually disabled swimmer eligible to compete under the IPC Swimming Functional Classification System." The complaint stated he had been incorrectly classified and he should be disqualified from the Paralympics. The claim was ridiculous, but Bailey's mother had to spend $25,000 in legal fees to get it resolved! Said his mother about the issues he has faced,
Just because he has other issues, he’s been looked at in a whole different way that hasn’t been fair,” she said. “He’s been singled out and isolated because of his autism, because of his intellectual disability. If Kendall wasn’t autistic, would any of this have happened? Absolutely not.
The story really highlights the need for self-advocacy and advocacy of parents and friends. Without someone to fight for his rights, Bailey wouldn't be going to Beijing this summer. The article also took a balanced look at how Kendall struggled growing up and playing every sport he tried until he learned to swim and found his niche. Best of luck on Team USA, Kendall!

Image: A young man in a swimming pool leans against the side and squints into the sun. He wears a swim cap and goggles, and is surrounded by sports drinks and swim training equipment.

17 June 2008

Actors and Characters With Disabilities: RJ Mitte as Walter Junior on 'Breaking Bad"

The LA Times says that "although nearly 20% of Americans from the ages of 5 to 64 have some kind of disability, less than 2% of the characters on TV display one, and only one-half of 1% actually have speaking parts."

This year a new show on AMC debuted a great kid actor with a disability in a great role. The show is Breaking Bad starring Brian Cranston (who you may recognize as the dad from Malcolm in the Middle) as Walter White, a meek, middle-aged high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with terminal cancer. In desperation, Walter turns to creating and selling illegal drugs to get money for his treatment and to support his wife and son after his death. Cranston's portrayal is nothing short of incredible and I hope he gets an Emmy for his work on the show. Season One was fantastic, and I anxiously await Season Two in 2009. I would highly recommend this show to anyone (but it is DEFINITELY not for kids. Ok for teens though, with a strong anti-drug message).

Walter's son, Walter Junior, is a high school student with cerebral palsy. He walks with crutches and has somewhat slurred speech. Other than that, he is a typical kid, dealing with his disability and struggling to deal with his father's diagnosis of cancer. It is a strange world we live in when I can praise a show merely for having a disabled character who is realistic, not played for pity or tragedy, and portrayed by an actor with a disability, but there you go. Breaking Bad is a perfect example of how to have an interesting, well-rounded character with a disability.

The actor, R.J. Mitte, does a fantastic acting job in my opinion. He is believable and he has great comic timing. His character is sarcastic, in some ways immature, and in other ways wise beyond his years. Besides that, he has all-American boy good looks. I'd say he is a cutie-pie but if one were fifteen it would be fair to call him hunky. I'm hoping that we will see him in more roles after this one.

Watching the first episode, there was some debate in the Impossible Universe Household as to whether he had a disability or not. The matter was settled a few weeks later when I ran into him at a drugstore around the corner from my house (actor-spotting: a perk of living in LA, I guess). I wanted to tell him that he was great on the show, but I decided not to bug him because he's just a kid (14 or 15 I think). He was ahead of me in line patiently trying to buy a toy for his tiny outspoken sister, who was bouncing all around him making various demands. He did have CP, but a more mild form of it that his character Walter Junior-no crutches and somewhat clearer speech. So he does have a disability, but he is also 'acting' his disability. Unlike many tv actors, he was very handsome in person.

R.J. Mitte in USA Today
R.J. Mitte in LA Times
R.J. Mitte on the Breaking Bad website

I'll leave you with a quote from the LA Times article about him:
The people that are the guardians of storytelling in America claim to be the most creative people that there are. Yet, if you remember in elementary school and kindergarten, most kids had the eight Crayola box. That’s what most of the people in Hollywood are using. Eight crayons. They have the nice, handsome white guy, the beautiful white girl, sidekicks, a couple of others. I’m saying if you are really going to tell the story, you need the 64 Crayola box.

Image: R.J. Mitte as Walter White Junior. A handsome white teenager with shaggy brown hair looking away from the camera.

13 June 2008

Where do the presidential candidates stand on disability issues?

I created this quick guide so that the disability community (including people with disabilities, parents, friends, and allies) can see what the candidates intend to do as relates to people with disabilities. While health care is a hot-button issue in this campaign, services for people with disabilities isn't. I started researching it because I was curious and I figured others would be interested as well.

First up are some resources for learning about the two 2008 presidential candidates and about people with disabilities and voting. Next up is some information about where the candidates stand on issues specifically relevant to the disability community: Health Care, Medicare, Medicaid, People With Disabilities, Injured and Disabled Veterans, and Autism. I have links back to the original sources where possible. Almost all this info comes from the candidates' own websites. Please let me know if this was helpful, what other issues I should add, or if you know any other relevant information or links that should be here by leaving a comment. Please share this with anyone in your life who you think may benefit from this guide. This post may be sent to others by clicking the little envelope at the bottom of the screen. Enjoy!

The AAPD Presidential Election Action Center
AAPD Info About Accessible Voting
Dontblockmyvote.org, a UCP site about Accessible Voting
The ADA Checklist for Polling Places
Info About People With Developmental Disabilities and the Right To Vote
Info on Voting for People with Cognitive and Visual Disabilities

NY Times Election Guide to Candidates
Barack Obama on the issues
John McCain on the issues


Health Care:

McCain: Too much to include. Check it out here. Note that his website states: "As President, John McCain Would Work With Governors To Find The Solutions Necessary To Ensure Those With Pre-Existing Conditions Are Able To Easily Access Care. "

Obama: Too much to include. Check it out here. Note that his website states: "
Guaranteed eligibility. No American will be turned away from any insurance plan because of illness or pre-existing conditions."


McCain: Reforming The Payment System To Cut Costs. We must reform the payment systems in Medicaid and Medicare to compensate providers for diagnosis, prevention and care coordination. Medicaid and Medicare should not pay for preventable medical errors or mismanagement. (from here)


  • "Obama will require that providers that participate in the new public plan, Medicare or the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) utilize proven disease management programs. This will improve quality of care, give doctors better information and lower costs.
  • Reforming The Payment System To Cut Costs. We must reform the payment systems in Medicaid and Medicare to compensate providers for diagnosis, prevention and care coordination. Medicaid and Medicare should not pay for preventable medical errors or mismanagement.
  • Finally, Obama will work to increase the use of generic drugs in Medicare, Medicaid, and FEHBP and prohibit big name drug companies from keeping generics out of markets.
  • Barack Obama is also committed to ensuring that disabled Americans receive Medicaid and Medicare benefits in a low-cost, effective and timely manner. Recognizing that many individuals with disabilities rely on Medicare, Obama worked with Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) to urge the department of health and human services to provide clear and reliable information on the Medicare prescription drug benefit and to ensure that the Medicare recipients were protected from fraudulent claims by marketers and drug plan agents." (from here)


McCain: Reforming The Payment System To Cut Costs. We must reform the payment systems in Medicaid and Medicare to compensate providers for diagnosis, prevention and care coordination. Medicaid and Medicare should not pay for preventable medical errors or mismanagement. (from here)

  • "Expansion Of Medicaid and SCHIP: Obama will expand eligibility for the Medicaid and SCHIP programs and ensure that these programs continue to serve their critical safety net function.
  • Obama will work to increase the use of generic drugs in Medicare, Medicaid, and FEHBP and prohibit big name drug companies from keeping generics out of markets.
  • Barack Obama is also committed to ensuring that disabled Americans receive Medicaid and Medicare benefits in a low-cost, effective and timely manner." (from here)


McCain: John McCain's home page does not include a section about disabilities. See his section on Veterans below.

Obama: Obama has a nine page document on his "Plan To Empower Americans With Disabilities." Here is the synopsis: "First, provide Americans with disabilities with the educational opportunities they need to succeed. Second, end discrimination and promote equal opportunity. Third, increase the employment rate of workers with disabilities. And fourth, support independent, community-based living for Americans with disabilities." (see links to read the whole plan)

Injured and Disabled Veterans:

McCain: "John McCain has been a leading advocate in the Senate for disabled veterans throughout his entire career. He fought for nearly fifteen years, introducing numerous bills, to ensure that veterans with service-connected disabilities can receive the retirement benefits that they have earned, as well as the disability compensation benefits that they are entitled to. He has also worked to ensure that veterans can have their disability claims processed in a timely manner, working with the VA to rectify its huge backlog of claims and providing additional resources for that purpose."

Obama: "Strengthen VA Specialty Care: Advances in technology have meant that the survival rate for U.S. servicemembers is higher now than in any previous conflict. There will be a long-term need for strengthened specialty care within the VA, including additional polytrauma centers as well as centers of excellence for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), PTSD, vision impairment, prosthetics, spinal cord injury, aging, women’s health and other specialized rehabilitative care. In the Senate, Barack Obama has supported the expansion of PTSD and TB centers of excellence and cosponsored an innovative bipartisan measure to encourage students specializing in vision care and rehabilitation to work in the VA. As president, he will expand the number of these centers of excellence and invest in specialty care." (from here)


McCain: "As President, John McCain will work to advance federal research into autism, promote early screening, and identify better treatment options, while providing support for children with autism so that they may reach their full potential."

Obama: "Barack Obama believes that we can do more to help autistic Americans and their families understand and live with autism. He has been a strong supporter of more than $1 billion in federal funding for autism research on the root causes and treatments, and he believes that we should increase funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to truly ensure that no child is left behind."

Image: A woman in a wheelchair wearing a green sweater is starting to open a double door. The left door has a sign that reads "Polling Place Vote Here" and the right door has a big blue-wheelchair-guy sign.

11 June 2008

Sarah's Peak-to-Peak Pedal Training Update

I am three weeks into my training for my upcoming 335 mile bike ride to raise money for the US Adaptive Recreation Center, the Peak-To-Peak Pedal. It's going pretty well. I've been hitting the bike at the gym and also the weight room. I haven't lost any weight yet, but I'm hoping it's because I am adding muscle. You know how people always say that exercise gives you loads of energy, but then you just ignore them because you're too tired to get off the couch? Yes, well, apparently it's true. I have way more energy since I started working out last month! It's amazing. Energy to clean the house, cook, write, and make stuff. I'm picking up my road bike tomorrow and after I get it worked on, I should be ready to hit the road next week.

I'm also 13% of the way to my fundraising goal. Yay! If you would like to help me support USARC, please click here! Again, if you live in the LA area, I will bake you delicious treats if you make a donation to USARC. I cannot overemphasize the deliciousness here!

The other aspect of the ride is definitely psychological! Can I get into shape to finish it? Will it be so hard that I will cry? This weekend I went to see the AIDS/Lifecycle (a charity bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles) ride into LA. 2500 cyclists ride over 500 miles to raise over 12 million dollars! HIV-positive riders are also prominent in the ride. The closing ceremonies with all the riders that I watched really inspired me. My friend Cyclist J completed the ride so we came to cheer him. Everyone there did so much hard work which was well worth it. Hopefully I can do the same in my ride!

Inspiring-lyrics-heard-on-the-Ipod-at-the-gym Of The Week:

how come I can pick my friends
but not my enemies
what is it about me that offends
what is it about me
'cause you know I'm only five foot two
and I'm giggly wiggly
tell me again, what did I do
why are you scared of me
I fight with love
and I laugh with rage
you've gotta live light enough
to see the humour
and long enough to see some change

I think shy is boring
I think depressed is too
I think pretty is nice
but I'd rather see something new
all these plastic people
got their plastic surgery
but we got a big big beautiful
we got it for free
who you gonna be
if you can't be yourself
you can't get it from t.v.
you can't force it on
anybody else
-"Pick yer nose" by Ani Difranco

06 June 2008

Resources for Including People With Developmental Disabilities in Religion: Adam's Pew Project

I wanted to share a site with lots of links to resources for including people with developmental disabilities in religion. Earlier I wrote about Adam Race, an autistic boy whose church obtained a restraining order to prevent him from attending Mass due to his autism-related behavior. Adam's family has created a website called Project Adam's Pew. The website includes this page of great resources. Many of the links are specific to Catholicism, but there are others for Christianity, Judaism, and general spirituality as well.
Publish Post

People With Disabilities In the Google Graphic Today!

Wow! Today Google's Homepage is celebrating the birth of Diego Velasquez with a special Google logo containing his painting "Las Meninas" (The Ladies-in-Waiting). It'll only be there for a day, so I have posted a copy above. Velasquez is one of my favorite painters, so pardon me while I geek out. Here's the painting, so you can see it a little closer:

There are all sorts of awesome things about this painting which I suggest you read about. I've seen it in real life at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain. It's basically a painting of five-year-old La Infanta Margarita, daughter of King Philip IV of Spain (being a princess isn't all it's cracked up to be: forced to marry a man who was both her maternal uncle and paternal cousin, Margarita had six children and died at the tender age of twenty-one).

Anyway, to the far right of the painting you will see two enanos (dwarfs), the German Maria Barbola (who is an achondroplasia dwarf) and the Italian Nicolas Pertusato. At that time in history, dwarfs were frequently forced to be a part of the royal court, serving as a jester or other entertainment due to their appearance. In this article I found the following quote:
...modern conceptions of dignity of merit are understood in terms of a struggle to excel in particular activities, and thus to overcome the risk of failure. More radically, Velázquez' portraits of dwarfs and the mentally disabled are argued to be expressive of dignity, not by finding a positive representation of the sitter's dignity, or to find scales of activities by which they can be positively assessed, but rather by grounding their dignity, negatively, in a protest against indignity and humiliation.

Through his art, Velasquez was lobbying for disability rights centuries before the movement really took off. According to this interesting PBS piece about dwarfs in art, Velasquez was the first to paint subjects with disabilities with the same warmth and humanity used for his royal subjects-other painters created disabled subjects "with a cold detachment that reflected the 16th and 17th century attitude toward the handicapped."

Velasquez painted more than ten dwarfs during his career, as well as subjects with developmental disabilities. To me, the beauty in his paintings really lies within the eyes. I'll share two more beautiful portraits with you:

Don Sebastian de Morra (an achondroplasia dwarf)

Francisco Lezcano (a young boy with dwarfism and a developmental disability)

I will leave you with a link to the beautiful paintings and photography of Tim Lowly. One of Mr. Lowly's main subjects is his daughter Temma, a young woman with a severe anoxic brain injury. His work is very powerful and his images will stay with you.

Dave has declared today Harry and Kevin Day! Go find out why. Now celebrate!

04 June 2008

Beijing Offends Everyone With Guide for Olympics Staff

I just noticed this story about China's extremely backwards attitudes towards people with disabilities. A guide went out to one hundred thousand Olympic Volunteers for this year's Summer Games. In the section titled, "Skills for helping the disabled," China's Olympic Committee brings us such gems as:

Some physically disabled are isolated, unsocial, and introspective. They can be stubborn and controlling; they may be sensitive and struggle with trust issues. Sometimes they are overly protective of themselves, especially if called “crippled” or “paralysed...

When you make eye contact, do not fuss or show unusual curiosity. Never stare at their disfigurement. A patronising or condescending attitude will be easily sensed, even for a brain-damaged patient.

Often the optically disabled are introverted. They seldom show strong emotions.

This is really offensive. I want to hope that this is just a bad translation, but I don't think that's it. The Times UK article points out that, even though there are eighty million people in China who have disabilities, discrimination against them is firmly embedded in modern Chinese culture. "The Communist Party’s desire for a healthy nation, characterised by the one-child policy, fostered deep prejudices that extended to forced sterilisations, bans on marriages between disabled people and abortions of abnormal foetuses."

After complaints from loads of disability rights groups, the manual is being revised to be less horrible. Let's hope the Paralympic Athletes get the warm welcome they deserve in Beijing, instead of being greeted by these type of archaic and offensive attitudes.

In brighter news, Paralympian Cheri Blauwet was recently featured in a Visa commercial on NBC prime time. I will try to hunt it down on YouTube to post it up here. Visa will also feature other Paralympians in their commercials as we approach the summer games.

Also, this guy who has cerebral palsy is walking 830 miles across Michigan to raise money for United Cerebral Palsy. On stilts. I wonder if the three-foot stilts make it easier to cover ground on his trek. I'm guessing not. And his pants bill must be through the roof!

Image: Shaho Qadir finishes the Great North Run half-marathon in style. A man in athletic attire and a bike helmet walks on his hands on a road. He is missing both legs just below the knee. Behind him in the distance, a man is finishing in a racing wheelchair.

02 June 2008

Abilities Expo Anaheim 2008

This Sunday, someone invited me to the Abilities Expo in Anaheim. There was lots of interesting stuff. I also went to a presentation by Craig Kennedy, of Access Anything. I took a couple of pictures.

The absolute coolest technology I saw while I was there belonged to a little girl, about ten years old, in a wheelchair. She was a double amputee and she had on two racing blade prosthetic legs for running (like Oscar Pistorius). (I think she was in a wheelchair because, while the blades are perfect for sprinting, I believe they are very difficult to walk in.) Style-wise, she had him beaten by miles though, because the sockets of her prosthetics were Hello Kitty-themed. Yes, that's right, Hello Kitty prosthetic legs for racing. I didn't take a picture because I didn't want to bother her, but rest assured that she was awesome. Her competitors on the track probably fall over in the starting blocks, hit by the forceful waves of little-girl-coolness coming off of her. I wonder if she will be eligible to qualify for the 2016 Olympics...Pistorius is breaking ground for kids like her this year.
My favorite pics:

For those of you who are concerned that your wheelchair doesn't match your chopper, I present this beauty, in black with neon green flames.

And for those of you concerned that your motorcycle and sidecar don't match your wheelchair and your electric guitar, "Colours Wheelchair" has got you covered.

This kid is trying to think of a way to ask his mom to buy him his very own iBot Wheelchair. Must...have...awesome...chair...please...mom...buy me one!

Craig Kennedy had lots of interesting things to say about adaptive recreation. First, he said that you can't do adaptive sports without "PVC pipe and duct tape." Totally true. Adaptive sports equipment is sometimes expensive, hand-engineered, and built by hand to high specifications. Even so, adapting that equipment to the particular size and shape of a person can still be a challenge--duct tape is the quickest way to jury-rig a solution for an individual. One quick example: a bi-skier with lots of arm strength but poor hand grip strength could have their hands in their mittens duct-taped onto their outriggers in a gripping position, so they don't have to struggle with a grip that they can't maintain by themselves.

Mr. Kennedy talked about some interesting things I hadn't heard of before, like adaptive wakeboarding and this wheelchair-accessible tent. The crowd at his talk was small, but I could feel that they were getting really enthusiastic about adaptive sports as he talked. When the talk ended, I had to sneak over to a young man sitting across from me named John to tell him about USARC's skiing program and summer program. He had never heard of it and he looked excited, so maybe I'll see him on the slopes next year! I'll leave you with my favorite quote from his talk:

Every sport out there has been adapted for people with disabilities. The last thing we will adapt will be people's attitudes-about what we can do, what we are capable of doing.

Images: 1. A snazzy chopper motorcycle with a manual wheelchair hooked onto the back of it. 2. A black motorcycle with orange flames has a sidecar containing a manual wheelchair with a leopard print seat. On the ground beside it is a matching electric guitar. 3. A little boy in a baseball cap is standing and staring up in awe at a man in an iBot, a wheelchair that raises up on two wheels. The man is leaning down and chatting to the boy's mother. A banner in the background reads: 'Go where you want to go...Do what you want to do.'