Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Disabled people in India continue fight for equal rights

From Frontline, India's National Magazine, Jan. 3-16 issue. In the picture, disabled people at the candlelit vigil organised at India Gate on December 3, under the banner of the Disabled Rights Group, in memory of the people who died in the Mumbai terror attacks.

The disability movement is still struggling to end the discrimination disabled people face at various levels.

It was December 3, 2008, yet another World Disability Day. Around 5,000 disabled people gathered at India Gate in New Delhi and lit candles and raised their hands together for the spirit of unity. There was not a sigh on their lips, nor was there any optimistic grin on their faces. It seemed as if the flicker of the flames conveyed their
emotions. The stepmotherly response to the demands of the disabled over the years and the lack of political will to get them better access to mainstream life had only strengthened their resolve.

A night-long vigil had been planned by the Disabled Rights Group (DRG) but was changed to a solidarity vigil after the terror attacks in Mumbai. The message was clear: no charity, only rights. The vigil was part of an ongoing struggle across the country.

The DRG is a conglomeration of all non-governmental organisations working for the rights of the disabled population in the country. It has three major demands. First, all Ministries should have a disability plan. Second, 3 per cent of each Ministry’s budget should be spent on its plans for the disabled. Third, the Disability Division, which is at present under the Ministry of Social Justice, should be upgraded, preferably as a separate ministry.

Javed Abidi, convener of the DRG, told Frontline: “We have been pursuing our demands for more than a decade. Ironically, the government has agreed to most of our demands, but they still remain on paper. The Disability Act [The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995] and recommendations in the Eleventh Plan that were passed more than a year ago are positive, but no steps have been taken to implement them.”

Clause 6.187 of the Eleventh Plan states that within six months of the Plan’s approval, every Ministry should have a plan for the empowerment of disabled people. It also says that 3 per cent of the budget of every Ministry should be allocated for people with disabilities and that monitoring mechanisms should be set up at various levels to check the progress in this regard. Along with these provisions, Clause 6.188 states: “The ‘Disability Division’ of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment shall be strengthened with the status of separate ‘Department’, so that they can effectively liaise with all the concerned Ministries/Departments and ensure that they fulfil their responsibilities towards disabled persons, including financial support enjoined on them.”

The Disability Act, too, has many progressive initiatives. For example, it makes provision for the appointment of a Disability Commissioner who would autonomously deal with issues related to disabled people.

India was the seventh country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on October 1, 2007, but activists think that the government has been extending only token support.

For instance, the U.N. convention talks of sign language as an official language that needs to be developed and recognised. The Indian Disability Act does not take this into account. Most websites in India are still not disabled-friendly even though the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has come out with guidelines on the subject. While Indian software companies design disabled-friendly websites for other countries, they do not do so for India. Most buildings and public transport are still not accessible to the disabled people despite government regulations.

“The problem is lack of awareness. Violation of the W3C guidelines has resulted in severe penalties in other countries. We do not want people to be punished, but at least we want Indian officials to be reactive to our cause, if not proactive. Think of it, there was no Disability Commissioner for three years after the Indian Disability Act was passed, and since the appointment was made, the officials have been noted more for their compliance with the government than for their concern for the needs of disabled people,” Abidi said.

The disability movement in India has been gathering massive support for the last two decades, and its campaign has been, more than anything, about self-respect and the demand for disabled people to be treated as equal citizens, without charitable tokenisms. The fight is for greater access as the movement’s history indicates.

The rights of disabled people were first recognised by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who announced 3 per cent reservation for them in 1977. But the announcement was humiliating as the reservation was announced only in C and D category jobs. This provision remained unchallenged for the next two decades.

When Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister, he recognised disability as a core issue. He appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Justice Baharul Islam. The committee gave its report in 1988. The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act was finally passed by Parliament in December 1995 during the tenure of the Congress government led by P.V. Narasimha Rao. It was notified on February 7, 1996. This time reservation was extended to A and B category jobs and was also increased to 5 per cent.

After a massive public campaign, the Government of India finally included disability as a category in Census 2001. According to Census 2001, over 21 million people in India suffer from one or other kind of disability. This is equivalent to 2.1 per cent of the population. There is, however, the U.N. Manual for the Development of Statistical Information for Disability Programmes and Policies 1996 estimate, which pegs the population of disabled in India beyond 6 per cent and also predicts that its percentage could be a double-digit figure. The only attempt to study the disabled population in India made before this was in 1991, when a National Sample Survey was conducted. It pegged the population of disabled people at 1.9 per cent.

The campaign also resulted in valuable inductions in the Eleventh Plan as has been stated earlier.

The campaign took note of the low population of disabled people employed in both public and private sectors. A survey carried out in 1999 by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled People found that despite the 5 per cent reservation, the percentage of the disabled in the workforce ranged from 0.01 per cent to 0.99 per cent. Multinational companies showed the abysmal figure of 0.05 per cent. The public sector fared little better, with disabled people constituting only 0.54 per cent of its workforce.

Clause 41 of Chapter 6 (entitled “Employment”) of the Disability Act states that incentives should be given “to employers both in the public and private sectors to ensure that at least 5 per cent of their workforce is composed of persons with disabilities”. But the government has not yet proposed any such incentive plans. To top it all, nothing can be done if the legislation is violated as the Act has no penalty clause.

The disability movement stands at a crucial juncture at present. Its activists believe that lobbying for greater access at various levels should continue but more importance should be given to fighting for policy interventions. The reason why this decision came so late, as Abidi puts it, was their naivety.

Discrimination against the disabled in government agencies and in the private sector was appalling when they started the movement. Initially, Abidi and his team lobbied the private sector to give them representation but complaints started coming in that there were hardly any skilled workers to fill the statutory quota. This led to the realisation that intervening at the policy level was necessary so that education was made accessible to those with disabilities. With this orientation, the movement also started looking into the rural hinterland, where disabled people are more severely hit than elsewhere because of the lack of even the minimum of facilities.

“Even today, if you look at the buildings of the colleges in any of the central universities, they are inaccessible to a paraplegic. What is the use of reservation if the universities are not physically accessible?” Abidi asked.

He said that neither education nor employment was possible without access and none of the three was possible without proper implementation of the legislation.

“What we want is a paradigmatic shift in the way problems of disabled people are seen. Equal citizenship is what every civilised society stands for, then why not us?” he added.

December 26-28 news roundup

Dec. 26-28 story headlines and their date. In the picture, Jordan Schwab, left, and Alex Bussey, center. practice their dance moves Saturday morning, as they rehearse for a play at My Place to Be in Newark, Ohio. The picture is from "Autistic kids find focus, friendship."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Advocates worry about inaccessible presidential inauguration

From the D.C. Examiner Dec. 30. The picture shows the crowds at the 2005 inauguration.

Those with physical disabilities will find Barack Obama’s inauguration all but inaccessible, and organizers are concerned that people with disabilities may be forced to stay home.

According to a release from the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies — the group responsible for the details of Obama’s swearing-in — parking restrictions near the Capitol include cars with disability plates or tags. Drop-off points for the disabled will be located several blocks away, and “traffic conditions and restrictions may make reaching these drop-off locations extremely difficult,” the release said.

Even for those who finally arrive, designated areas for people with disabilities in the coveted ticketed section of the festivities are “limited in size and available on a first-come, first-served basis.”

“This is like a big, bold sign that says if you’re a person with a disability, this is not your event,” said Richard Simms, executive director of D.C. Center for Independent Living, a nonprofit that promotes independent lifestyles for disabled residents.

“Everyone is happy and gleeful and it’s a time for hope and change,” Simms added, explaining that he anticipates an Obama administration friendly to his cause. “But in the process of that hope and change, you cannot exclude.”

Carole Florman, spokeswoman for the congressional committee, said her office is “very concerned” about the issue and is planning to be as accessible as possible, but circumstances outside of their control have created unique challenges.

“We can’t do anything about traffic, we can’t bring people closer for drop-off than the security perimeter will allow, we can’t do anything about the fact that the city is closing bridges,” Florman said. “This is of great concern to us.”

What Florman hopes for, she said, is for people — especially those with special needs, such as the disabled, the elderly and those with small children — to take seriously the potential for enormous crowds and dreadful weather, and plan accordingly.

“Some people may be better off trying to watch it on TV,” Florman said.

The group responsible for planning everything but the swearing-in, called the Presidential Inaugural Committee, has a blind staff member working on accessibility issues for events from community service opportunities on Martin Luther King Day to the official inaugural balls, said Andrew Imparato, president and chief executive officer of American Association of People with Disabilities.

“We’d hope the congressional committee could figure out a way to accommodate everybody,” Imparato said. “Our experience is that when accessibility is taken seriously, it makes for a smoother event all around.”

December 23-25 news roundup

Stories in the news media from Dec. 23-25. In the picture, Shalonda Frederick, who has MS, navigates up the stairs at her apartment in Glen Burnie, Md. The picture is from "Too sick to work? Need health care? Take a number."

December 20-22 news roundup

From Dec. 20-22 with headlines and publication name. In the picture, Bon Air Elementary special education teacher Courtney Barbiaux (standing) and first-grade teacher Jennifer Hartung work together to teach a language arts lesson in the Lower Burrell school. The picture is from the story, Schools aim for inclusion with special-needs students in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Monday, December 29, 2008

College scholarships available to those students whose parents have disabilities

From Through the Looking Glass:

Through the Looking Glass and its (National Center for Parents with Disabilities and their Families) are pleased to announce new scholarships specifically for high school seniors and college students who have parents with disabilities. Please note that these are new awards and have different application procedures than in the past. There are two separate scholarship awards, and each has separate eligibility requirements:

  • High School Seniors - To be eligible, a student must be a high school graduate (or graduating senior) by Summer 2009, planning to attend college in Fall 2009 and have at least one parent with a disability. Five separate $1000 awards will be given out in Fall 2009. Individuals may submit only one application per award period.

  • College Students - To be eligible, a student must be currently enrolled in a college or university, be 21 years of age or younger as of March 16, 2009, and
    have at least one parent with a disability. Five separate $1000 awards will be given out in Fall 2009. Individuals may submit only one application per award

Selection criteria for all scholarships include academic performance, community activities and service, letters of recommendation and an essay describing the experience of growing up with a parent with a disability.

These Scholarships are also part of a research study on young adult children of parents with disabilities. As explained in the Consent Form in the Application, you may be willing to participate in an optional survey about young adult children of parents with disabilities. The additional information you submit on this survey will not affect your scholarship chances and will not be disclosed to anyone outside the project researchers; all identifying information will be removed. If you consent to participate in this optional survey, we will email you the survey after we have received your completed application.

All application materials must be completed and postmarked by Monday March 16, 2009.

Peter Singer writes Harriet McBryde Johnson remembrance in NY Times

Considering how some of Peter Singer's beliefs about disability were the exact opposite of Harriet's, it's surprising that the NY Times would select him to write the remembrance in The NY Times magazine's annual issue about those who have died during the year. Many in the disability rights community are upset by the choice.

I met Harriet McBryde Johnson in the spring of 2001, when I was giving a lecture at the College of Charleston. Her brand of Southern etiquette prescribed that if you’re not prepared to shoot on sight, you have to be prepared to shake hands, so when I held out mine, she reached up from her powered wheelchair and took it with the three working fingers on her right hand. She added that she was attending my lecture as a supporter of Not Dead Yet, the disability rights organization that a year and a half earlier blockaded Princeton University’s Nassau Hall in protest against my appointment as a professor of bioethics. I told her I looked forward to an interesting exchange.

My lecture, “Rethinking Life and Death,” was a defense of the position that had aroused such vehement opposition. I pointed out that physicians routinely withdraw life support from severely disabled newborns, and I argued that this is not very different from allowing parents to decide, in consultation with their doctors, to end the life of a baby when the child has disabilities so serious that the family believes this will be best for the child or for the family as a whole.

When I finished, Johnson, who was born with a muscle-wasting disease, spoke up. I was saying, she pointed out, that her parents should have been permitted to kill her shortly after her birth. But she was now a lawyer, enjoying her life as much as anyone. It is a mistake, she said, to believe that having a disability makes life less worth living.

Our exchange of views continued for a few minutes in the lecture theater, and by e-mail afterward. Years later, when I read her autobiographical book, “Too Late to Die Young,” I wasn’t surprised to see “arguing hard” listed among the pleasures of her life.

The following year, I invited her to Princeton to speak to a large undergraduate class I was teaching. She accepted but on condition that in public we avoid the informality of using first names that I had, in my Australian way, adopted over e-mail. She was also unwilling to accept the inequality implied in “Professor Singer” and “Ms. Johnson.” I agreed that she could address me as Mr. Singer.

She described the visit to Princeton in “Unspeakable Conversations,” her memorable cover article for this magazine in 2003. She wrote beautifully, her powers of recollection were remarkable (she wasn’t taking notes at the time) and she was more generous to me than I had a right to expect from someone whose very existence I had questioned. She even wrote that she found me good company, as indeed I found her.

After she spoke, I arranged for her to have dinner with a group of undergraduates who met regularly to discuss ethical questions. I sat on her right, and she occasionally asked me to move things to where she could reach them. At one point her right elbow slipped out from under her, and as she was not able to move it back, she asked me to grasp her wrist and pull it forward. I did so, and she could then again reach her food with her fork. I thought nothing of the incident, but when she told some of her friends in the disability movement about it, they were appalled that she had called on me to help her. I’m pleased that she had no difficulty with it. It suggests that she saw me not simply as “the enemy” but as a person with whom it was possible to have some
forms of human interaction.

My students talked about Johnson’s visit for a long time, and our conversations stayed with me, too. Her life was evidently a good one, and not just for herself, because her legal work and political activism on behalf of the disabled was valuable to others as well. I know that surveys have found that people living with disabilities show a level of satisfaction with their lives that is not very different from that of people who are not disabled. Have people with long-term disabilities adjusted their expectations downward, so that they are satisfied with less? Or do even severe disabilities really make no difference to our happiness, once we get used to them?

Over the next six years we e-mailed sporadically. If I wrote or spoke on disability issues, she would send me her criticisms, and that would lead to a flurry of e-mail messages that at least clarified the points on which we disagreed. I tried to persuade
Johnson that her attribution of rights to humans with severe intellectual disabilities had implications for how we should think about animals too, since they could enjoy their lives as much as, or more than, the people whose right to life she was defending. She didn’t object to the argument but felt she had enough issues to handle without getting into a new area altogether. We found it easier to agree on religion, for neither of us had any, and on our dislike for the direction the country was taking under the presidency of George W. Bush.

According to her sister, Beth, what most concerned Harriet about dying was “the crap people would say about her.” And sure enough, among the tributes to her were several comments about how she can now run and skip through the meadows of heaven. Doubly insulting, first because Johnson did not believe in a life after death, and second, why assume that heavenly bliss requires you to be able to run and skip?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays from Media dis&dat

Season's Greetings and Happy New Year!

Due to technical difficulties (the computer I am using won't let me cut and paste), I won't be posting any entries until sometime next week. But I will do a roundup of links to stories when I begin posting again, so you won't have missed anything.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Another podcast for the list

Thanks to Craig Evans, who let me know about the podcasts he does at his Web site about autism, the Autism Hangout. He is in the process of interviewing 100+ "thought leaders" on their "key learnings about autism."

You can visit it at

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The world of disability podcasts

This is a roundup of some of the audio and video podcasts that exist on the Internet. They were found through a search on iTunes and Google. Please let me know if you know of others. All the descriptions are from each podcast's Web site.

  • The Disability Law Lowdown Podcast, Brought to you by nationally recognized leaders in the field of disability law, the Disability Law Lowdown Podcast delivers the latest in disability rights information every other week. You can subscribe for free and have shows automatically delivered, or you can listen to the show and read the transcripts from this site.

  • interviews educators, psychologists, and parents who work with youngsters plagued by Autistic Spectrum Disorder. The interviews are conducted by Michael Boll, a certified teacher and father of an autistic boy.

  • Assistive Media works to heighten the educational, cultural, and quality-of-living standards for people with disabilities by providing free, copyright-approved, high-caliber audio literary works to the world-wide disability community. The Internet enables Assistive Media to distribute audio effectively, inexpensively, and efficiently.

  • Presented by Seonaid Dunne, Outside the Box shines a spotlight on issues of broad concern to disabled people in Ireland, their families and representative organisations. The show confronts issues head on and is not afraid to challenge commonly held assumptions about disabled people and the disability sector. With an estimated 300,000 people in Ireland touched by some sort of physical, sensory or intellectual disability, the relevance of Outside the Box stretches far beyond the disabled community to industry, policymakers and the general public.

  • Disability411 (logo is pictured) provides audio workshops, interviews and information on disability-related topics for those who work with individuals with disabilities, including college disability counselors, rehabilitation counselors, K-12 special education teachers, employers, or anyone who works in the disability field. Information is also of interest for individuals with disabilities and their families. Hosted by Beth Case, a disability counselor with more than 12 years of experience in post-secondary disability services.

  • Disability News Radio wants to be a voice that will build and maintain a leadership position in the media for people with disabilities as we promote awareness, educate and inspire. To build bridges between people with disabilities and people without, as well as entertain and break down the mental and physical barriers and to realize the unique gifts and talents each human being has.

  • DisabilityNation has a new episode featuring the latest news from around the disability community, an encore of an interview focusing on the Adaptive Sports Association, an update on future episodes of the show and some new features that are now part of the DisabilityNation phone portal.

  • "The Assistive Technology Show,” part of the Assistive Technology Services of Maine, is a weekly round table-style forum to discuss all things assistive technology, or technology related. Whether you have a question, want to talk about technology you’re finding useful, or just want to learn something new, the Assistive Technology Show is for you. The program is very informal with users generally helping one another. Guest speakers join the program to present new products and services; however, there is ample time during each show for questions and discussions. If you’re unable to take part in the show, or would just like to hear it later, feel free to check out our archives, or feel free to subscribe to our podcast.

  • Ouch! is a Web site from the BBC that reflects the lives and experiences of disabled people. It has articles, blogs, a very busy message board and an award-winning downloadable radio show - The Ouch Podcast). It's aimed at those with a stakehold in disability: family, friends, professionals and, rather importantly, disabled people themselves - without whom all this would be a bit meaningless.

  • Exploring the Frontiers of Assistive Technology from AssistiveWare in Amsterdam, Netherlands in a video podcast showing how people use assistive technology to communicate, express their creativity, play games and make so much more out of life. These videos show that there is no reason why people with physical, vision, speech or language impairments cannot use the same creative and educational software as every other Mac OS X user. There are a few episodes per year, each starring a different person.

  • "The Yvonne Pierre Show" on HYH Radio is a free podcast that covers topics that uplift, inspire, and inform women, parents, and the disabled community. Zyonair's Media Corp. is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to creating, published, and producing media outlets that promote empowerment to women from all walks of life and promoting awareness for the special needs community.

One-time video or audio shows on disability topics:

  • "Legitimizing The Unthinkable: A Disability Rights Perspective On Nazi Medicine With Harriet McBryde Johnson" from the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Nazi science and medicine focused on eliminating both physical and mental impairments, real and perceived, as part of the path to "racial purity." Eugenics-based sterilization policies in Germany and throughout the world as well as the Nazis' so-called "euthanasia" program were often justified by physicians and scientists as relieving individual suffering while contributing to the "greater good." Renowned author, advocate, and attorney Harriet McBryde Johnson brought a disability rights perspective to bear on issues raised by the Museum's Deadly Medicine exhibition.

  • "A.B.L.E. Tech: Achieving Better Life Experiences for People With Injury, Disability, and Aging Challenges Through 21st Century Technologies" from June 6, 2007 at MIT. Within a decade, the number of Americans requiring continual managed care for chronic conditions could reach 100 million. Explore the entrepreneurial opportunities that technology, engineering, and life sciences can have on the quality of every day life for the aging and disabled. "A.B.L.E. Tech" spotlights: The vast entrepreneurial opportunities that technology, engineering, and life sciences can have on the quality of every day life for the aging and disabled; Cutting-edge advances being developed today; How to prevent a looming crisis by focusing on managed vs. acute medical care. The featured panel is moderated by NBC News correspondent and MIT Media Lab Distinguished Fellow, John Hockenberry, and features MIT Media Lab Professor Hugh Herr, and noted inventor, entrepreneur and president of DEKA Research, Dean Kamen.

  • "PA Inside Out: Disability Rights" on WPSU Radio. Michael Berube, co-director of the Disabilities Program at Penn State, discusses the law, meaning and accommodation of disability, as well as his experiences and insights as the parent of a child with Down Syndrome.

  • "The Hand That Feeds: Charity Telethons & Disability Activism," a public lecture by Paul K. Longmore, Professor Of History and Director of The Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University, November 11, 2005 at Ryerson University's RBC Foundation Institute for Disability Studies Research and Education in Canada.

Household appliances becoming more accessible for aging baby boomers, people with disabilities

From The Grand Rapids Press in Michigan:

For baby boomers ready to blast into retirement, 59-year-old Jenny Shangraw (pictured) has sage advice: buy appliances wisely and think ahead.

Far ahead.

Shangraw, whose stamina is impaired by post-polio syndrome, considers herself a harbinger for boomers who want to "age in place" -- the idea of staying at home longer by wise selection of accommodating home products and design.

And more of those accommodations are coming available, as manufacturers develop drawer-based kitchen appliances, simplified controls and smarter formats.

"I'm the canary in the mine," Shangraw said.

Six years ago, the statistician for The Right Place economic development group built a universal-design home near Rockford. Beyond wider hallways and doors and a no-sill entry, the Shangraw home is equipped with appliances chosen to work well as she and her husband age.

Shangraw is at the leading edge of the baby boom generation, those born between 1946 and 1964. The population bulge of 76 million has surged through the economic landscape since birth. All that buying power -- a big chunk of the $25 billion U.S. appliance market -- is prompting manufacturers to pay closer attention to focus groups of old-timers.

But as those appliance and home products makers fine-tune features, they serve more than just baby boomers.

Within 10 years, many younger families will have live-in senior citizens. And designs to help the aging customer also can foster independence for children, said Margaret Biggs, a universal design consultant with Disability Advocates of Kent County.

One example: microwave ovens.

They should be at counter height or lower, Biggs said.

"The ones above the stove or oven are extremely dangerous for the elderly and children, because most of the time, something that's very hot is above their heads," Biggs said. Some new designs put the microwave in a pull-out drawer below the counter.

"It's great for children coming home from school, who want to zap a snack in the microwave," Biggs said.

At Williams Kitchen and Bath, 3850 29th St. SE, Kentwood, appliance specialist Esther Ritsema, 60, sees growing interest in user-friendly appliances.

Press Photo/Lance Wynn Jenny Shangraw, 59, unloads her front-loading washer while sitting in a chair.

"The drawer thing is a big deal for a lot of people," she said.

Beyond drawer microwaves, the convenience of a drawer refrigerator or drawer dishwasher has appeal.

"The dishwasher drawer is really great," Biggs said, "because you can install the drawer higher or lower."

Many of the accessible appliances are on display in Williams' Kentwood showroom.

In other easy access options, overhead cabinets could have pull-down shelves, while base cabinets' shelves could be pulled up. Cabinets with pocket doors can accommodate a cook in a wheelchair.

"This is a whole new market," Shangraw said.

From laundry room to kitchen to bathroom, thoughtful design targets safety and ease of use for aging boomers.

Whirlpool was one of the first appliance makers to put a washer and dryer on a pedestal, requiring less bending for aching backs. The innovation was spawned after customers with arthritis, deafness or blindness tested washing machines for the company.

A new laundry room twist by General Electric is a three-sump "smart dispenser" in the optional pedestal base for its Profile front loaders. The tanks hold up to six months of detergent, softener and other products in the drawer under the washer, simplifying the wash process.

Front-loaders are easier for the whole family, Biggs said. "A 5-year-old son can get the laundry out of the dryer and help his mom fold clothes," she said.

Focus groups of all ages want products that are lighter and easier to use, said Beth Jester, of Walker-based Bissell Homecare Inc.

"It comes up again and again," Jester said.

One of the latest versions of Bissell carpet cleaners, the PROdry, is the lightest-weight design the company has ever made.

In the kitchen, cooktops and ovens are hot for change.

Oven knobs need to be on the front of the unit, so cooks don't reach over hot pots to change the setting.

Older cooks also would be better off with induction cooktops, Biggs said. The smooth-top system uses magnetism to generate heat, and the burner cools quickly after a pot is removed.

By comparison, the open flame of a gas stove is a fire hazard.

And with technology, cooktop manufacturers are taking on one of the greatest hazards for aging cooks -- the forgotten pot that flares into a kitchen fire.

"That happened to my grandmother, and my folks," Shangraw said.

So some new cooktops have thermal sensors to cut the power when a burner dangerously overheats.

Other innovations aim for simplicity.

"There's fewer knobs to turn, and more push buttons," said Curt Geers, sales manager at Gerrit's Appliance Inc., 2410 28th St. SW, Wyoming. "Some people with very bad arthritis do have a hard time turning a knob."

Most baby boomers already have experience with old age -- their own parents.

"People are thinking about it because they see their parents put away in old-people's homes," said Ann Finkler, a contractor and real estate agent in the Grand Rapids region.

Now, when boomers plan new homes or remodeling, they have strong ideas about what needs to happen if they want to stay home longer.

"The biggest things they are asking for is zero-clearance showers and grab bars in places they wouldn't have, otherwise," Finkler said.

Showers without sills and ground floors without steps are both beneficial for wheelchair or walker users.

With pull-out drawers for appliances, open cabinetry, a level floor and a wheelchair-friendly layout, a house can be a home for years longer.

For baby boomers accustomed to running things, aging in place is just one more action item on the life list.

And a bevy of manufacturers are already on the case.

Deaf artist fights sign language prejudice through his work

From Yomiuri Shimbun in Japan:

SAPPORO, Japan -- Deaf painter Hideto Noritomi, 39, (pictured) recently published a book titled "Shuwa de Ikitai" (I Want to Live with Sign Language) featuring 25 of his pictures.

In the book, Noritomi, of Obihiro, Hokkaido, tells part of the sad history of sign language while conveying also the joy of communicating in sign language, drawing on his own experiences.

When this reporter was interviewing Noritomi, his 5-year-old son Kazuchi returned from the kindergarten department of a school for the deaf and ran up to him. Kazuchi began to explain to his father about some cards he had received from his friends and some animation DVDs, using his small hands to communicate in sign language.

"Can this person hear?" Kazuchi asked his father in sign language, pointing to this reporter.

"Comparing him to how I was at 5, my son expresses what he wants to say and his feelings very well," Noritomi said with a smile. "I'm so happy about this, I keep talking to him all the time."

Noritomi, who was born deaf, also attended a school for the deaf. But when he attended school, it was prohibited to use sign language. Instead his deaf education focused on an oral approach at the school. Students were required to understand teachers by reading their lips and to pronounce sounds themselves.

If students used sign language, teachers would scold them by striking their hands or arms. Noritomi often cried out in frustration and hardship as he could not adequately convey what he wanted to say or read the lips of other people accurately.

Noritomi studied design and got a job at a company. He then went to Paris to study oil painting. When he was 29, he married Kazuko, now 35, who is also deaf, and began to make a living as a landscape painter.

Kazuchi was born in 2003. Noritomi decided to write a book about the history of sign language and deaf culture, in the hope that his son and others would not have to experience the same pain of being deprived of sign language that Noritomi and Kazuko had.

Japan's first school for the deaf was established in 1878 and deaf education using sign language started. However, the idea of using an oral approach to aid interaction with people who can hear later spread internationally.

In Japan, the use of sign language at schools for the deaf was banned in 1933. Noritomi's book gives a historical account of these developments with forthright language drawing on his own experiences.

"Many schools for the deaf are reluctant to educate deaf people using sign language even today," Noritomi said. "However, sign language is an important first language for deaf children that enables them to express themselves. I'd like many people to understand that."

To illustrate his book, Noritomi used oil paintings from his "Deaf Art" series, whose theme is sign language. Abstract motifs such as a bird with wings shaped like hands are beautifully depicted using blue and white as principal colors.

"I hope this book will build bridges between people who can hear and people who can't," he said.

Florida school program tries to boost self-esteem of students with disabilities

From the intro to a longer feature in The Beacon in Deland, Fla. In the picture, teacher Lisa Rodler teaches Cody Flowers to add and subtract money.

How many times have you heard one child say to another, “You retard!” How about, “He’s a cripple. He can’t play!”

Do you avoid or feel sorry for people in wheelchairs? Each day on school campuses across the state and nation, thousands of children are put down, laughed at and criticized because they have some kind of physical, mental, or emotional disability.

The Florida Legislature is trying to change the negative image, perception and treatment of people with disabilities. Toward that goal, the Legislature established the first half of October as Disability History and Awareness Weeks.

At Deltona High School and other schools in the Volusia County system, however, teachers and administrators work throughout the year to improve the image of children with disabilities. One way is by providing instruction for students with moderate and severe disabilities through the Multi-VE program.

VE stands for varying exceptionalities. Multi-VE students' disabilities and challenges include hearing or language impairments, mental handicaps, emotional and behavioral disorders, multiple physical handicaps and disorders all across the autism spectrum.

Located in Building Z on the 92-acre campus, Deltona High School’s Multi-VE program serves more than 50 students, ages 14 through 21. They attend classes to learn to function independently and to acquire skills to help them gain employment after graduation.

Baylor College of Medicine develops powerful, controversial prenatal DNA test

From the Houston Chronicle:

Baylor College of Medicine is at the forefront of new DNA testing that screens fetuses for hundreds of genetic abnormalities — testing touted for diagnosing previously undetectable disorders but sparking debate because it's sure to result in more abortions.

A Baylor laboratory is offering and promoting the cutting-edge service, also the subject of a large government-funded study. The service exposes fetal cells taken from a pregnant woman's uterus for standard chromosomal testing to more sophisticated analysis.

"This is the beginning of a sea change in prenatal diagnosis," said Dr. Arthur Beaudet, who chairs molecular and human genetics at Baylor and leads the effort. "I think it will replace current prenatal screening within five years, becoming the new test of choice for couples who want maximum information about their developing fetus."

The ethical debate about the testing ranges from whether its accuracy is well-enough established to provide results to anxious parents; to whether it should be regulated by government; to whether such screening reflects a trend toward eugenics, in which society eliminates the defective.

Advocates say the test uncovers tragic conditions, allowing couples to terminate the pregnancy and spare themselves the emotionally and financially exhausting ordeal of caring for a severely disabled child. They say it can ease fears if the testing comes back negative or help parents prepare for a handicapped child if it's positive.

The testing identifies more than 200 genetic syndromes, many quite rare, most involving some form of mental retardation. Many of the conditions are evident at birth, but others do not show up until sometime during the first two years of life.

The screening, also available commercially at Emory University and a private lab in Spokane, Wash., does not target conditions for which there is any treatment in utero or a curative treatment after birth.

As such, it echoes fetal screening for Down Syndrome, the subject of recent controversy after the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' 2007 call for the test to be offered to all pregnant women, not just those 35 or older. Eighty to 95 percent of women who receive a Down Syndrome diagnosis after such screening abort, according to studies cited by the National Down Syndrome Society.

"There are troublesome implications to those statistics and the new testing," says Dr. Mary Mahowald, a University of Chicago ethicist. "They suggest an attitude that deems the lives of people with disabilities not worth living. They're also troublesome because the fewer people with disabilities there are, the more likely they are to be victims of discrimination."

Among those who agree with Mahowald is Bob Kafka, Texas organizer of Not Dead Yet, a disability rights group. He urges Baylor to consult with disability rights activists in Houston to better understand that "this is a civil rights issue for us."

But Baylor's Beaudet argues that the institution is just responding to parents who've said they wish they'd known ahead of time that such a burden was in their future. Children with some of the conditions detected by the screening never walk, talk or eat on their own, he says, and their care can be lifelong.

Baylor has offered the test since late 2005, technology that arose out of its work as a leading research institute on the mammoth federal project mapping the human genome as well as clinical efforts to improve the quality of prenatal diagnosis.

So far, demand for the test has been fairly minimal, says Beaudet, who estimates his lab performs two to four analyses per week. In all, it has conducted about 500 tests.

The charge for the test is $1,600, of which, Beaudet says, insurance usually pays a portion. He says he expects insurance eventually will cover the total amount, as it does now for amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, the current standard types of genetic testing for which fetal cells are obtained.

The new test uses a computer chip to analyze those cells for defective bits of the patient's genetic material. Too much or too little of such material can lead to conditions not detected by standard genetic analysis.

"As long as the information is reliable, a pregnant woman has a right to know as much as possible about the kind of parenting she'd face," says William Winslade, a bioethicist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. "She may feel that she isn't up to the challenge of caring for a handicapped child or that she doesn't want to increase suffering in the world."

To many observers, the reliability of the information is the fundamental question. They question whether genetics has progressed to the point where much of the data retrieved from the testing can be relied on to be meaningful. They say certain diagnostic information may cause prospective parents undue worry, occasionally resulting in decisions to abort a fetus that might have turned out to be a healthy child.

For that reason, many critics argue that before offering the test commercially, it would be best to complete the ongoing multi-institutional study, now evaluating the technology in 4,000 pregnancies. Emory and Columbia universities as well as Baylor are participating.

But Beaudet downplays the concern. He says the diagnoses are clear-cut in the vast majority of cases. Testing results are ambiguous — say, a 50-50 chance the baby would have a particular disorder — just 1 percent of the time, he says.

Such results turned up three times in 300 cases on which Baylor reported in the Nov. 14 issue of Prenatal Diagnosis. The screening found clear-cut abnormalities in 15 of the cases. Five of the couples receiving such news opted to terminate the pregnancy. None of the couples receiving the "uncertain" diagnosis did.

Beaudet notes that prior to testing, parents are told that the screening may return ambiguous information. They, like all parents using the service, are provided genetic counseling.

"But what kind of counseling?" asks University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Art Caplan. "I think people undergoing this testing need to hear from people who've raised kids with these kinds of issues, or the disabled themselves."

Some critics fear that although institutions like Baylor provide counseling, many private, non-academic labs likely to offer the testing in the future won't. They say the testing cries out for U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation.

In December 2005, an editorial in the journal Nature called for increased regulation of the testing, saying Baylor's service creates additional urgency. If misdiagnoses occur, the editorial said, "children may be born with unexpected disease or fetuses may be terminated on the basis of false information. Let's hope that such episodes don't have to be documented before the FDA acts."

Beaudet says lab officials met with the FDA in 2006, but nothing came of it, even though the officials said they planned to use the agency's regulatory authority in some way. Beaudet says Baylor told the FDA the lab would do whatever the agency asks.

Chicago bioethicist Mahowald's fear, regardless of whether the FDA gets involved, is that the testing will mostly be utilized by affluent people, having disabled people primarily a phenomenon of the poor.

In any event, in the minds of many ethicists, the testing suggests the arrival of a new eugenics, not state-run but voluntary. They debate whether it's a "good or bad eugenics," noting that before Adolf Hitler gave it a bad name, eugenics was science's hope for a better future, the answer to economic inequities and social ills.

Beaudet acknowledges the testing does reflect "a kind of eugenics." He says it detects conditions that are as or more severe than Down Syndrome, whose impairment of mental function ranges in severity but is usually classified as mild to moderate. Beaudet also notes the conditions found often involve numerous abnormalities.

"Baylor's testing is one of the world's most cutting-edge clinical research programs in an exciting and rapidly changing area of medicine," says Dr. Bruce Patsner, a research professor at the University of Houston's Health Law and Policy Institute and a former FDA official. "The question is, is it ready for prime time?"

Saturday, December 20, 2008

New census data shows more than 54 million Americans have a disability

From Reuters. You can see all the Census Bureau tables here. The picture is a map of disability status nationwide in 2000 from the Rural Assistance Center.

WASHINGTON - More than 54 million U.S. residents, or about 19 percent of the population, have some sort of disability, the U.S. Census Bureau reported.

The numbers, based on 2005 data, are up slightly from the 2002 survey when 51.2 million people or 18 percent reported a disability, the census found Thursday.

About 46 percent of adults aged 21 to 64 with a disability were employed, compared with 84 percent of adults without disabilities, the survey found.

It also found that:

  • 7.8 percent of people aged 15 and older had difficulty hearing a normal conversation, including 1 million completely deaf people.

  • 3.3 million people, or 1 percent of those aged 15 and older, used a wheelchair or a similar device.

  • Nearly 7.8 million people aged 15 and older had difficulty seeing words or letters, including 1.8 million who were completely blind.

  • More than 16 million people had difficulty with cognitive, mental or emotional functioning.

  • People with a severe disability earned $1,458 a month on average compared to $2,539 for those with no disability.

  • 4.7 million children aged 6 to 14, or 13 percent, had a disability, mostly a problem doing regular schoolwork.

Rhythmic arts program taps into drumming skills

From St. Petersburg Times in Florida:

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Teacher Karen Malloch placed a hand on the excited student's shoulder. Lee Jordan, a 42-year-old Dunedin resident who has Down's syndrome, (pictured) wanted to run toward the sound of tambourines, maracas and drums echoing down the hall, but he hadn't finished his school work. He smiled at Malloch and in a deep baritone voice shouted, "Drum!"

It was the first word he had ever spoken.

"I didn't expect that," said Malloch, 49. "My assistant and I stood there with tears in our eyes. …"Drumming has become an inspiration to him. We've all discovered he has a fantastic sense of rhythm."

That sense of rhythm has been drawn out of Jordan thanks to a program that started 18 months ago at the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Citizens at the Long Center.

The Rhythmic Arts Project, known as TRAP, was introduced to UPARC administrators by Polly and John Stannard, owners of Hammerax, a Clearwater company that hand-hammers bronze into hybrid cymbals that create nontraditional sounds.

While attending a California music convention in 2006, the couple saw drummer Eddie Tuduri, who had toured and recorded with the Beach Boys and Rick Nelson among others, demonstrate the fun and functional qualities of TRAP.

"John was smitten with the program," Polly Stannard said. "We were at the right booth at the right moment."

Tuduri, 60, understands serendipity. He founded TRAP in 1997 after breaking his neck in a body-surfing accident at Carpinteria Beach, Calif. He was initially paralyzed from the neck down.

"Being a professional drummer all my life, I didn't know what else to do," Tuduri said by phone from his home in Carpinteria, Calif. "I had no idea to what extent I'd come back."

When he could move his right arm a little, Tuduri requested drumsticks and a practice pad. He visualized the TRAP concept in the hospital as he struggled through rehabilitation.

He found solace as he tapped on his pad, bedrails, even his dishes. Other patients clapped, tapped and drummed with him. Soon Tuduri had a rhythm session that doubled as physical therapy.

Today, Tuduri walks with a cane and has some residual paralysis. But he doesn't allow anything to keep him down.

"I thank God for my broken neck now," Tuduri said. "TRAP has been a gift every day of my life."

The program also has been a help to thousands of others. TRAP is taught all over the United States and in six other countries. Shortly after discovering the program, the Stannards brought Tuduri to Clearwater to teach a TRAP training class at UPARC. It's been going strong since.

"The Stannards, UPARC staff and students have taken the program to new heights," said Tuduri. "I can meet with agency people, but if the staff changes, a program can go by the wayside. It takes people like John and Polly to champion a cause."

Polly Stannard volunteers and teaches four 40-minute classes each Wednesday to about 40 adults through the Long Center UPARC adult day-training center.

The drumming session is healing and helpful for people with conditions ranging from Aspergers and Down's syndrome to Alzheimer's and cerebral palsy.

Fledgling musicians thump on drums, tap bongos, and shake maracas and tambourines and often conquer physical and social challenges.

"I've watched people blossom," said UPARC volunteer coordinator Deborah Simeone. "They come out of their shells. It's a phenomenon to see."

In August, the UPARC Tarpon Center began a TRAP program for 60 students with a grant from the Young Lawyer's Division of the Clearwater Bar Association.

Polly Stannard encourages people to find their passion and volunteer in such programs, especially in these difficult economic times.

"The return far exceeds what we give," she said. "TRAP gives people choices. UPARC constantly strives to foster independent thought, and gives its consumers parameters to learn. TRAP is part of that, and Lee's one of our biggest success stories."

Assistive technology conference illustrates how technology can revolutionize disabled people's lives

From Voice of America:

The personal computer has transformed the way people communicate and get things done, but the technology has been nothing less than a revolution for people with disabilities.

Training experts crowded around computers at a recent conference in Boulder, Colorado, as 50 featured speakers took turns explaining how high-tech machines can be even more useful when the person using them is deaf, blind or
physically disabled.

Dean Colby, an organizer of the assistive technology conference, knows the value of these technologies firsthand.

"As a person who's in a wheelchair, such as myself, it's important to have these kinds of conferences and get-togethers so people who are providing people like me with the kinds of technologies they need to succeed in the workplace or go to school or whatever, these kind of people can hook up. 'Cause the technologies are always evolving," he says.

Colby became paralyzed from the chest down after a car crash in 1993 damaged his spinal cord at C-5, which is the fifth neck vertebra. He now holds a doctorate in communications and says computers helped him get it.

"If I had been injured in, let's say 1972, as a C-5 quadriplegic, I think the difference between now and then is just enormous," Colby says. "In particular, just communication and then being able to go to school. You need a computer, really, not an Underwood typewriter. The computing technologies have made it so much easier for persons like me to be integrated into society, really."

Voice-recognition software allows Colby to speak commands to his computer instead of typing them. Similar programs help people who are deaf by transforming spoken words into closed-captioned text. The biggest recent advances address the needs of those who can't see computer screens.

Anne Taylor may be blind, but she is a wizard on computers.

"I'm director of access technology at the National Federation of the Blind, and I have to know everything there is to know about screen-access technology," she says.

At this assistive technology conference, she's using a state-of-the-art screen-reading program that transforms computer instructions and information into audio (pictured). The newest technologies include ways to convert on-screen engineering diagrams into raised-relief pages, so that vision-impaired engineering students can trace the printed diagrams with their fingers like Braille.

"It's a combination of braille and these tactiles, and that gives her access to the content of the class," says Howard Kramer, coordinator of the conference.

Kramer says providing these special tools can cost time and money, but it's the right thing to do. What's more, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act
require employers and educational institutions to make reasonable efforts to give people with disabilities the tools they need.

Conference coordinator Howard Kramer says assistive technologies can be expensive, but often the price drops as the tools become more widely used.

"Even if people didn't want to do it because it's expensive, it's still required by law," Kramer says.

All this technology is expensive, but Kramer notes that the more widely it's used, the more the price comes down. He points to the voice-activated software that allows someone who is paralyzed to use a computer without having to type.

"I can remember when it first came out. It was about 20 years ago. I believe the cost was $20,000, and now a program like Naturally Speaking, you can buy the mid-level product for about $180," he says.

There have been similar price reductions for screen-reading software, as well as tremendous advances in the technologies behind them.

Take the program Federation of the Blind spokeswoman Anne Taylor is testing at the conference. It's called JAWS Tandem. It lets two people in different locations listen to the same computerized voice reading the text and instructions on an Internet site. She says this will help more experienced users train other people.

"This is a key thing here. We don't have enough trainers, access-technology trainers," she says. "So you see a lot of blind people who are familiar with screen-access technology spend time helping each other out. JAWS Tandem is going to facilitate that tremendously."

While the newest technologies are often the most expensive, Eric Damery, with JAWS Tandem, says some of their products are available in developing nations at a lower cost. But he cautions that the software is worthless unless users have personal computers and people who can train them to use the machines.

"If they had all the screen readers in the world, it wouldn't help them if they didn't have the computers, if they didn't have connections to the Internet, if they didn't have the instruction," Damery says. "So you've got to get people there who can support them and help them do it. There's nothing worse than giving people half a tool so they still can't do it."

By partnering with groups that supply personal computers and trainers and by learning from each other, the experts at the assistive technology conference hope to get their special tools to more of the people who need them.

Some families want facility for developmentally disabled people in Baltimore to stay open

From WJZ-TV in Baltimore:

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Rosewood, a facility for Maryland's developmentally disabled, is set to close next June, but family members who have clients at Rosewood are asking the state for help.

After a murder in a privately run group home in Washington, D.C., families with loved ones at Maryland's Rosewood Center are speaking out.

Many think Rosewood is a great place and they hope it will be saved.

In January, Governor Martin O'Malley announced Rosewood can not be saved.

The state and federally run facility for adults with mental retardation will close Jun. 30, 2009.

"They're showing us vacant lots and dilapidated homes, that's where our children are going to be, we have no idea who is going to be staffed," said Harry Yost, family member.

Of the 166 people who lived at the facility, 20 still need commitment from a community provider so they can move.

"Even in the best of circumstances, even if you have a Rosewood resident who is brought into a completely different environment, it is going to be very challenging," said Sue Esty, AFSCME MD.

Family members are asking the state to help come up with a solution.

"When we consider the options, a lot came down to economics, we are in hard times. The cost of running a state operated group home is greater than that of other homes," said Michael Chapman, spokesperson for Md. Health & Mental Hygiene.

"The irony here is that there are 300 employees that work at Rosewood that have all these skills, why throw them away? But allow these employees to do what gives them their life satisfaction of working with these clients," said Esty.

Parents have the option of sending residents to one three remaining state run facilities.

"You have Holly Center and Potomac center, but let's face it. Once rosewood closes, they are going to be gone too," said Yost.

State officials with the department of health and hygiene say they do not foresee that happening. They say they have provided the families with a number of options.

The three other facilities are in Cumberland, Hagerstown and Salisbury.

Popular TV actor in Singapore reveals he has muscular dystrophy

From Channel NewsAsia:

Popular Singapore television actor Chew Chor Meng (pictured) has muscular dystrophy. The actor with MediaCorp, Channel NewsAsia's parent company, disclosed this at a Christmas event in church on Dec. 12.

Chew said when he first learnt about his illness, he tried to hide it from his wife and two young daughters - aged two and six - for fear of worrying them. Muscular dystrophy is a genetic disease. While not life-threatening, it is incurable and causes progressive muscle weakness.

"It's unfortunate I have this illness. I can still go on with my daily life, but I may age faster than a normal person. In the next seven, 10, 15 years, it may be harder for me to move around," he said.

Chew began his acting career with MediaCorp nearly 20 years ago after he won the bi-annual nationwide talent contest 'Star Search'. Since then, he has starred in numerous Mandarin dramas and crossed over to star in local English sitcom 'Mr Kiasu'.

In 2000, he was voted Best Actor in the Star Awards for his role in 'Hainan Kopi Tales'. Chew is also a well-known face in Malaysia and has gone on to host major events locally and abroad.

Caretaker stole thousands from man with CP

From 10 TV News in Ohio:

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Police said that a missing roll of quarters helped a disabled patient discover that his caretaker had stolen thousands of dollars from him, 10TV's Maureen Kocot reported.

According to police, Darren Wray was hired to take care of a man who suffered from cerebral palsy. Wray and his patient were together every day.

"There were nights that (Wray) would stay nights at his house," said Columbus police Det. Wyatt Wilson. "While he slept (Wray) would play video games, be on his computer and so forth."

At one point, the patient noticed a missing roll of quarters and contacted the company that employed Wray. Police then uncovered several crimes that he had allegedly committed, Kocot reported.

Police said that on Dec. 2, Wray attempted to purchase a car from a Columbus car dealership. When Wray did not qualify for car financing, police said he forged the patient's signature on paperwork.

"He had told the dealership that it was his grandfather and he was unable to come in because he had Parkinson's disease," Wilson said.

In addition to forging the patient's signature, court documents allege that Wray altered a copy of the victim's driver's license. It is also alleged that Wray made a down payment of $6,000 using a credit card in the patient's name, Kocot reported.

Detectives credited the auto dealer for spotting the fraud the next day.

"They recognized some of the documents didn't look right and they called him to bring the car back," Wilson said.

Wray, who faces felony charges of forgery and misuse of credit card, is scheduled to appear in court later this month.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Documentary from NAMI-NJ focuses on multicultural experiences of mental illness

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of N.J. has created a documentary called "Documenting Our Presence: Multicultural Experiences of Mental Illness." A DVD of the documentary is available for interested mental health organizations across the nation. If you would like to order a copy of the DVD, you can download an Invoice, and send it to NAMI-NJ.

You can view a trailer of the documentary on the NAMI-NJ Web site.

Here's what NAMI-NJ says about the documentary:

"Documenting Our Presence: Multicultural Experiences of Mental Illness" is a compassionate, hopeful look at the experiences of people of diverse backgrounds, affected by serious mental illness.

The documentary traces their lives through a cultural lens, focusing on the onset of mental illness, the process of coping and acceptance, and finally, their journey to recovery.

All these stories, diverse as their backgrounds, are linked together in segments that flow naturally through the video and bookmark the various stages along the journey towards wellness and recovery.

NAMI NJ is grateful to all participants of this documentary for sharing their stories and helping to promote a better understanding of the experience of mental illness and the journey of recovery.

This documentary was produced as a NAMI NJ Multicultural Outreach Initiative with the support of NAMI - National Alliance of Mental Illness and NJ Division of Mental Health Services.

The mission of NAMI NJ Multicultural Programs is to improve the lives of people from all cultures who are affected by mental illness through support, education and advocacy.

Omusha Communications is the producer of this documentary. To learn more about Omusha, visit their website at or call

Meet Bill the band

The Boston Globe had a story recently about director Michael Neel and producer Greg Ansin shooting their film ''Drive-In Horrorshow" in Medford, Mass. They were shooting at the apartment of John Gage, who serves as soundman on the movie.

Gage mentioned his band, Bill, which performs on the soundtrack. It is named for Gage's brother, Bill, the lead singer, who has Down syndrome (pictured).

You can hear Bill's music on the band's MySpace page.

Here's what their page says about the origins of the band:

BILL are a rock band, started in 1987 in New England and fronted by Bill Gage, a singer with ds (down syndrome). The group was named after one of the few words Bill can write, making it simple for him to create the logo. Bill Gage sings surreal, ever-changing lyrics in a wide variety of styles... bluesy yowls, soulful moans, punky shouts, romantic crooning, throat-singing and more. These different approaches reflect Bill's reactions to the diverse sounds his bandmates provide him: spacey art-rock, thundering heavy-metal, acoustic folk ballads, stuttering industrial riffs, etc.

BILL's approach to songwriting is always in flux. The first album BEATLES CHINESE was shaped by a series of challenges the band gave Bill: first to name the songs he wanted to do, and then to sing them, as the band figured out what to play behind him and each song was quickly recorded. The backing tracks for BILL's second record BAT MAN were recorded in advance. Bill listened to the tracks, sang over them, and then named the songs (and the record).

Deaf Life to name John Yeh Deaf Person of the Year for 2008

From the intro to a long feature on John Yeh in The Gazette in Maryland:

John Yeh came to the U.S. as a deaf teenager; today, he heads a multimillion-dollar tech firm.

"The quality of life for deaf people depends greatly on the quality of communication," says John T.C. Yeh, president and CEO of Viable Inc. of Rockville, which develops technologies for the hearing-impaired community.

Starting a business in itself is a daunting enough task, with hurdles such as acquiring funds, paying taxes, meeting payroll, finding clients and learning the ropes. In fact, at least one-third of new small businesses fail in their first two years and more than half in their first four years, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Add to that being deaf, emigrating from another nation and having to learn English, and you will begin to understand what John T.C. Yeh has overcome in leading the impressive growth of several Rockville businesses.

Yeh said he felt he had little choice but to take the entrepreneurial route, after being turned down for numerous jobs in the 1970s, despite earning a master's in computer sciences from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a bachelor's in mathematics from Gallaudet University.

He was often told that his lack of English skills was the key factor blocking suitable employment, but Yeh also thought being deaf played a role. He finally found a job as a computer programmer back at Gallaudet, the Washington university that specializes in education for deaf people, but yearned for something more.

"Many companies then couldn't deal with someone with a disability in the workplace," said Yeh, 61, speaking through sign language and an interpreter
in his Rockville office that contains a wall full of awards from President Reagan, the SBA and others. "A lot of people with a disability have potential and can contribute. Many businesses didn't understand that [decades ago], but more have become open-minded."

Besides growing businesses, Yeh has been instrumental in starting and furthering organizations that advocate for the deaf community, such as the National Asian Deaf Congress and National Deaf Business Institute.

He was a trustee at Gallaudet for more than a decade and is chairman of its Board of Associates, which builds relationships with business and philanthropic leaders. Deaf Life, a monthly national magazine founded in 1987, plans to honor Yeh as Deaf Person of the Year next month.

The Gazette this year named Yeh one of the "25 CEOs You Need to Know," and his present company, Viable Inc., was named one of the Exceptional 53 businesses and nonprofits by The Gazette of Politics and Business.

Viable is a "shining example of an enterprise that demonstrates every day that a disability is only a disability in the eyes of those that cannot see clearly," James R. Macfadden, a Gallaudet trustee who is deaf and has known Yeh for about three decades, wrote in an e-mail. "Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Everyone needs to find a way to overcome deficiencies. The deaf do so better than many others."

In 1986, Macfadden founded Macfadden & Associates, a Silver Spring information technology contractor that has annual revenues of about $12 million. Last year, he completed the transition to making it an employee-owned company and has essentially retired.

Macfadden, chairman of Gallaudet's Presidential Search Advisory Committee and formerly president of the National Deaf Business Institute, said he did not know of any other for-profit, deaf-owned companies of the magnitude of Viable, "with such a large contingent of deaf and hard-of-hearing employees."