Monday, March 31, 2008

You do what you have to do...

Ahhh, the accessible London Underground

Blind Model

Well, I've covered a blind acupuncturist, now it's time for a blind model. This English news cast covers a young lady who's currently attending school in Bolivia to become a model.

Return on Disability

Interesting new tool for "organizations to measure their performance and return on investment in serving the market of people with disabilities."

It appears that disability as a consumer group might be getting some interest. This statement notes that disability is a potential market of 1.1 million people and "minimum aggregate annual income of $1 trillion in the U.S. alone."

Not that any multinational CEOs or CFOs are reading my blog, but I'm glad to see the disability population getting some consideration as a large potential market. Now, if we can get the same consideration (and cohesion) as a political force....

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

David Patterson, NY's Governor a "disability case"

Interesting article from Poynter Online (Everything you need to be a better journalist) talking about how most media has covered David Patterson's rise to NY Governor as a initially a racial issue, and later as the state's first blind governor.
Governor Patterson had some frank words about race and disabilty for the NY Times in 2006 "'Every single white political consultant that I ever worked with likes to promote my disabilities. And I suspect it's to mitigate race -- to give me, in their eyes, an honorary white status." and reportedly "disparaged efforts to make him a 'disability case'.

I like his frankness and honesty about the coverage he's received. Its good to see the issue put out on the table. Its excellent to see someone with a disabilty in such a high profile position, but Poynter summed it up as such;

"Let's take heed of his words, and avoid labeling him either black or disabled. Just governor will do. "

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Free AT for print disabled from and Don Jonston partnership

" and Don Johnston have announced a partnership to provide qualified print disabled students with a free text reader to access electronic books from the library." <link to article><Press release>

Physical education and disability

Interesting study of physical education text books and their depiction of disability in sports and physical education. I can't say that I was surprised by the results that the textbooks "overwhelmingly reinforced the hegemonic notion that sport is a realm for the non-disabled."
<Link> to the full article.

"My Stroke of Insight" -Jill Bolte Taylor

Firstly, TED stands for Technology Engineering and Design, and "brings together the worlds most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).

Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist. I had read about her speaking at TED about her personal experience of having a stroke and watching "her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding--she studied and remembered every moment."
I am so excited that they have posted it to the TED site, so enjoy her fascinating talk.

On this page there was a related video, "My history of Electroshock Therapy" which is the story of a surgeon who has a very intimate experience of electroshock therapy, aka Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT).
Visit TED to view their collection of amazing and fascinating people.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Times of London "Choosing a Deaf Baby is Criminal"

The chief executive of the Royal National Institute for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People (RNID) has indicated that "DEAF parents should be allowed to screen their embryos so they can pick a deaf child over one that has all its senses intact."
There is currently a bill that would effectively make it illegal for individuals to choose a disabled embryo over a "healthy" embryo. This would apply to individuals who had undergone IVF and make it illegal for parents undergoing embryo screening to choose an embryo with an abnormality if healthy embryos exist.
The argument that disability charities are making is that the legislation is discriminatory "because it gives parents the right to create “designer babies” free from genetic conditions while banning couples from deliberately creating a baby with a disability. "
This raises some intersting questions about the nature of disability and the social model of disability discussed in an earlier post of mine. It is even more pronounced in the Deaf community where not having hearing is not considered a disability. By the social model, in the Deaf community, it wouldn't be a handicap.

A follow up commnetary is very direct in saying that that choosing an embryo that is deaf over a healthy one would be child abuse.

"The law forbids parents with a political or cultural agenda from screening the embryos and then perversely ensuring that their child cannot hear. I am afraid that making such a choice is child abuse."

Disability Nation's take on this issue, with a link to a BBC interview (via Ouch)with Tomato Lichy, who's opposing the bill.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Horseradish fire alarm and an Etch-A-Sketch

Here's to thinking "outside the box"- Japanese researchers are testing a smoke alarm that alerts people using the smell of horseradish. Reportedly, those with hearing impairments were "partiularly quick to wake up."

Though it said that all subjects (14) woke within 2 minutes, I don't want to wait that long if there's a fire in my house.

On another note, engineers have rigged up an Etch A Sketch to work with a computer mouse. Sounds fairly complex, but follow the links in the article if you think you'd like to give this project a crack. <LINK>

Monday, March 10, 2008

"Disability is Natural" discussion

I came across a blog from Biodeverse Resistance where the author (listed as Shiva) notes seeing shirts saying that "Disability is Natural". The article discusses the social model of disability, drawing a distinction between impairment and disability.

"Under the social model, a clear distinction is made between impairment and disability, which the medical system and the individualised models it promotes conflate into one thing. Impairment is a physical or mental difference which prevents a person from being able to carry out daily activities considered "normal" for humans to be able to do - eg. standing/walking, seeing, hearing, feeding oneself, reading and writing, understanding verbal and non-verbal forms of communication as used by most people, etc. Disability is the lack of equality in society caused, not by impairments themselves, but by the failure or refusal of society to accommodate people with impairments - eg. by not making buildings accessible to wheelchair users, not providing information in formats accessible to people with visual or hearing impairments or learning disabilities like dyslexia..."

It also goes onto discuss People first Language. She makes an interesting distinction about different impairments and how she would refer to them,

"With regard to individual impairments, i usually would say "person X has CP/muscular dystrophy/Down's/Asperger's/whatever"... but that's mainly because those terms don't really have adjectival forms, and where the adjectival form is commoner - eg "blind", "autistic", "dyslexic" etc - i would use it, because an alternative form such as "person Y has autism" just seems to be... not "natural" English syntax."

I would agree that some forms of person first language is clumpy, but so is using proper grammar at times. The main argument I would make for person first language, is that it defines the individual as an individual rather than an impairment or disability.
When I was working in a hospital, I asked one of the nursing staff for a DSM to which they responded and explained to me that nurses don't use the DSM, and went on to explain the medical model versus the nursing model. The medical model treats an illness (schizophrenia for example) and gives medication, where as the nurse treats an individual with symptoms (in this case, paranoia, etc.) so their job is to make the person feel safe etc.
This is very much like person first language, it is an example about how your perception and response changes as a result of language.

Person first language is not just being politically correct. It is correct.

Important Links from this article
Biodiverse Resistance
Disability is Natural Homepage
People First Language Article pdf. (from Disability is Natural)
People First organization

Sunday, March 9, 2008

More on accessible gaming

It appears that I'm not the only person who had thought about the possible assistive technology possibilities of the headset from Emotiv that allows users to manipulate items on the screen using their minds (Febuary 24).
Peter Abrahams speculates on the AT uses of this same headset in a recent article for He is optimistic that the technology will be released for this use as Emotive is an IBM affiliate. I hope that he's right, it could prove a valuable alternative for those with a variety of disabilites.

Until the headset is released, switches are one major way that a significantly impaired individual may utilize a computer. Basically, any voluntary movement can be used to create a switch which would allow a user to use a computer, these include breathing (puffing), or moving a foot, or finger.

Kotaku has a recent article about the release of a new website who's goal is to make gaming more accessible to everyone, Assistive Gaming. In this article, they talk about the challenges of using assistive technology to participate in computer games.

If you have ever doubted how effective assistive technology can be, view the video either below or in the Kotaku article. It is called "One Thumb to Rule Them All" and is about Mike Phillips a young man who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). It shows him using a switch with his thumb in barely perceptable movements to play an action video game called World of Warcraft or WOW to its users. It's an amazing video and demonstration of the efficacy of assistive technology.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Dr.'s Dilemma

Here's a brief, but important article from a Dr. regarding a request to sign a disability placard for a patient who has some medical needs, but are not significant enough to warrant a disability parking pass.

I found that the dilemma that the Dr. faces very similar to the decisions a VR counselor has to make every day. As a VR counselor the questions that the doctor asks are those that we each ask ourselves.

Dr.Wilkes observes

"This woman convinced herself that society owed her a recognition of her perceived disability. My duty to the patient is to a degree constrained by my own values toward honesty and justice. I also have a social duty to protect valuable resources, and this can sometimes create a conflict with doing what is in any one patient's best interest."

I don't understand how, in this instance, his duty to "protect valuable resources" was in conflict with the patient's best interest.
I would argue that his denial to sign this was both being fiscally responsible, as well as in the patient's best interest. It not only encourages her to get the exercise he states she needs, but more importantly does not collude with her perception of her disability.
As a VR counselor it is important to keep both of these in mind, even if it means (as it did for Dr. Wilkes) that we need to accept some scolding for doing the right thing.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Speech recognition

Bill Gates (of Microsoft fame) has recently declared that he predicts in the next five years people will be using voice activation software to navigate computers. In 1997 he predicted that in 10 years

"I believe that we'll not only be using the keyboard and the mouse to interact, but during that time we will have perfected speech recognition and speech output well enough that those will become a standard part of the interface. " <link>
Another writer appears to scoff at his prediction, as it's now 2008. However, I wonder whether he's familiar with the new Vista operating system that has incorporated the voice activation (and speech to text) into its operating system. I have been amazed at how little attention this feature has received. One magazine actually ran an article on speech to text software immediately following an artice about Vista and never mentioned this feature.

What other problems I might have with the Vista system, the speech recognition and it's inclusion in the standard operating system are great moves towards more universal design.
I have tried the speech to text feature of the new system, and was amazed at how quickly I was able to train it to recognize my voice and complete some basic typing commands. Navigating various windows or trying to play cards using only my voice was a bit trickier, though this could have had as much to do with the user as the software.

For more information on Vista and the accessibility features built into it and a demo of the speech recognition software, visit Microsoft's site.