Friday, August 31, 2012

British terror attack survivor becomes Paralympian

All eyes were on No. 7 when Britain played Ukraine on Friday in its first match of the Paralympic Games sitting volleyball tournament.

That the number for Martine Wright (pictured), a former marketing manager who was traveling on London's subway on July 7, 2005, when four suicide bombers inspired by Osama bin Laden detonated explosives and killed 52 commuters. She lost both legs in the explosion.

But as Wright will tell you, that wasn't the end of the story.

"I will always say I was one of the lucky ones that day," she told The Associated Press earlier this year. "I survived. I don't know how I survived. I've been living my life ever since."

She had stayed out late the night before, celebrating the decision to award the Summer Olympics to London. Having overslept, she didn't reach the car she normally rode. Instead, she just jumped on the train as the doors closed.

She later told an inquest into the terror attacks that she recalled a flash of light and a sensation of being thrown from side to side. She looked up, and saw one of the new sneakers she had just bought. It was bloody, blown off her foot and skewered on a piece of metal. An off-duty policewoman found her, wrapped her leg in a tourniquet, held her hand, moistened her lips with water. She had lost three-fourths of her blood.

Her body swelled to twice its normal size because of her injuries. Her brother and sister saw her in the hospital and told the police it wasn't her.

Wright will tell you that she had help to get through the seven years since 7/7. It's about Martine's team - what she refers to as "Team Me" - her support group of family and friends. It started in the hospital, with her mother, holding her daughter's face in her hands, telling her she could have died or suffered brain damage. But that didn't happen. Martine was still Martine.

Wright saw the impact of the bombs on so many others. Families grieved. The city reeled in shock. She ultimately had to decide: What would it be, Martine?

The answer began with small steps on prosthetic legs. She fell down. But she got back up, again and again.
''When you go through something traumatic in your life ... you sometimes lose who you are," she said.
"You're thrown in this completely new world. When it happened to me, it didn't sort of happen overnight, suddenly, an epiphany - Right. I can live my life now. It's a very gradual process."

She learned to fly, took up skiing. She got married, had a gorgeous little boy. But she needed more.
Always athletic, she missed the competitiveness she once experienced at work - that passion for success, the thrill of winning. She became attracted to sitting volleyball because you don't use a wheelchair.

Like volleyball, it has six players to a side and three touches allowed, but the net is lower and players mostly sit on the floor. When Wright is on the court, she isn't thinking about disability.

Plus, at the gym, Wright found camaraderie. Her teammates, too, have their stories - like Samantha Bowen, a veteran who was injured while serving in Iraq. These teammates of yours, they understand.

"It's such a negative thing that happened in my life," Wright said. "But I've gained something so positive. It's a miracle in itself."

No one expects the British team to medal since they are relatively inexperienced.

On Friday, Britain lost 25-9, 25-20, 25-14 to Ukraine, the European champion, with Wright frequently rotating on and off the court before her watching family.

Read more here:

DC attorney with autism invents 'sensory shield' for Metro rides

From NBC Washington:

Overcrowded Metro trains are pretty typical during rush hour, but for one local woman a packed train poses more of a threat.

Lisa Daly (pictured) is autistic and has a sensory processing disorder, making her highly sensitive to touch, texture, light and sound.

After too many uncomfortable rides from Rockville into D.C. on the way to her job as a congressional lawyer, Daly came up with a solution. She created her own sensory shield.

"It's allowing her to function in society in a way that she is able to carry on her day-to-day activities [and], her job," said Dr. Susan Rich. "[T]his provides her an ability to carry on with her life."

The L-shaped device keeps a seatmate from accidentally touching her or bumping into her. She sits on one section to stabilize the device, with the other "arm" of it coming between her and the person in the seat neat to her.

"I can sit on it, so I don't have to touch the Metro seat, and then there's the partition that goes between me and the next passenger," Daly said.

Other riders weren't phased by Daly's use of the sensory shield. In fact, some people wanted one of their own. "I don't want anybody to touch me," another passenger said, laughing.

Daly says the shield is just a prototype but that if she makes more, they will be more user-friendly. This type of shield wouldn't work for those left standing on the train.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Models for Diversity is putting a billboard image of an amputee model across lanes of traffic at the Holborn Eye, in central London

From London24:

Images of Paralympic athletes are plastered on London billboards ahead of the Games, but images of disabled models remain largely absent.

But now one group wants to change that.

Models for Diversity is putting a billboard image of an amputee model across lanes of traffic at the Holborn Eye, in central London.

Founder Angel Sinclair wants to highlight discrimination in the modelling industry against men and women who are way outside the generic model-type.

“This might be the only time people see a disabled model this year and I’m proud to be able to demonstrate disability is no barrier to beauty.”

“The Paralympics challenges previous notions of who can be an athlete. It is the ideal setting to get people thinking about who can be a model.

“How often do we see a model in a magazine, in an advert or on the catwalk with a disability?

“It’s unfair on those models and doesn’t represent society; our street surveys showed 68% of people believed there should be more models with a disability in the fashion and beauty industry.”

At the heart of the poster is Debbie van der Putten. She featured in BBC Britain’s Missing Top Model.
The billboard shall be display at the Holborn Eye for five days from August 29.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

USA finally engages with Paralympic Games thanks to media interest

From The Guardian in the UK. (I am quoted in the article, fyi.)

It was just as well Josh Blue had a sense of humour because every time he returned to the US after touring abroad with the US Paralympic football team he would be greeted with blank stares. The parawhat?

The excitement of playing before cheering crowds in Europe and South America would dissolve in the indifference and ignorance of his home country. The striker and his disabled teammates would play domestic games in near-empty stadiums. "It'd be just our relatives." Even after competing in the 2004 Games in Athens, Blue, who has cerebral palsy, returned home to silence and shrugs. "Unfortunately it just doesn't get any play here."

A stand-up comedian, it was not until he won NBC's reality show, Last Comic Standing, in 2006 that the American public woke up to his talent, off the field at least.

Blue has a self-deprecating humour focused on living with disability which enchanted viewers and critics. A "palsy punch" was effective in a fight, he said, because "first of all, they don't know where the punch is coming from, and second of all, neither do I". There was little funny, however, about US ignorance of the Paralympics, a vacuum which left American competitors envious of the support disabled athletes enjoyed in other countries. "You'd hear about all these projects and think, wow, why aren't we doing that?" said Christine Tinberg, founder of Bicycling Blind Los Angeles, a group which matches blind people with sighted riders on tandems.

London's Games, however, may signal a turning of the tide. Companies like Visa and General Electric are featuring slick commercials with disabled athletes to endorse a range of products. Some disabled athletes are finding additional audiences through social media.

Disabled military veterans-turned Paralympians are tapping patriotic sentiment. NBC recently announced it would scale up coverage, previously virtually non-existent, to four hour-long programmes on NBC Sports plus a daily highlights package via the US Paralympics YouTube channel.That pales in comparison with Channel 4's Paralympic fest of an estimated 400 hours, or even the BBC's patchy coverage in 2008 when it showed daily highlights and live coverage at the weekend.

Nevertheless Sir Philip Craven, the International Paralympic Committee president, celebrated NBC's announcement. "It's tremendous news that the London 2012 Paralympic Games will get more airtime in the US then ever before and thoroughly deserved."

But why has the US been so resistant until now? And to what extent is it embracing the London Games?

Beth Haller, a professor of mass communication at Towson university who has written about disability issues, said apathy was largely the result of media neglect. Television networks shunned past Games, she said, leaving viewers unaware there even was a competition for disabled athletes after the regular Olympics. "Much of it boils down to the economic structure of our media. It concentrates on what will make money, and it thinks the Paralympics won't do that."

A student who analysed the 2002 Salt Lake City winter Paralympics discovered US journalists scrambling for the airport once the regular Games ended while many foreign journalists stayed on for the Paralympics.

Another reason for apathy, said Haller, was that US medal success in the Olympic Games sated national pride, unlike some smaller countries which viewed the Paralympics as an opportunity for consolation medals. Even so, the US amassed 99 medals in Beijing, coming third overall.

US awareness has been negligible even among the disabled. Growing up in Minnesota, Blue, a talented footballer from an early age, did not hear about the Paralympics until the age of 22 when a sports-loving disabled friend said: "You know there's a team for you, right?"

Soon after Blue was scoring goals for the Paralympic squad, but it rankled that he could have been doing so years earlier. "Elsewhere, especially Europe, there's much greater awareness and respect." A glimpse of disabled elite athletes in action, he said, was usually enough to hook fans. "Have you seen a wheelchair basketball game? They kill each other out there."

Tinberg, who recruits braille students for her bicycling group, said many initially gasped at the idea of becoming athletes. "They've never heard of it. They're like, cycling blind, really? How does it work?"

After awareness, the biggest problem was lack of resources. "Most blind people are unemployed and bikes are expensive."

Disabled war veterans have given the media a new reason to cover the world's second biggest sporting event – an event founded in 1948 to help rehabilitate injured British veterans. Of the US delegation 20 are veterans, of which six were injured in combat.

"The veterans are having a huge impact. It pulls people's hearts. And the government is putting a lot of money into sports facilities for them," said Tinberg. Last week she was seeking a sighted rider to team up with a recently blinded 21-year-old female soldier.

Push Girls, a reality television show following the lives of four glamorous LA women in wheelchairs, has helped nudge disability issues towards the cultural mainstream.

"Things are changing. I see a lot more awareness," said Kenneth Riptoe, executive director of One with Water, a swimming club associated with the Paralympic movement.Most agree. The US Olympic Committee said NBC's expanded coverage meant Americans would see more of the Games than ever before.

In a statement NBC, which did not respond to interview requests for this article, said it would conclude coverage with a 90-minute special show on September 16, a week after the Games end.

That did little to appease critics who said it was all still too little. "Hey, NBC found a whole 90 minutes for the Paralympics! In the middle of the afternoon! A week after it's over! Woo hoo!" wrote one blogger.

Blue, who is no longer on the US Paralympic squad, said he will follow his beloved football team from afar. Their first game is against Ukraine, a powerhouse ranked third in the world. "But they're getting old. We think we can take them."

Monday, August 27, 2012

Artist Sue Austin puts underwater wheelchair to test ahead of Paralympics

From BBC News. Watch the video here:

Artist Sue Austin is preparing to show off a prototype self-propelled underwater wheelchair to the public.

Ms Austin, who has been a wheelchair user since 1996, developed the chair with help from dive experts and academics.

The model is powered by two dive propulsion vehicles and steered with a bespoke fin and foot-operated acrylic strip.

She is staging a performance with it in a swimming pool in Weymouth this week.

"Creating the Spectacle" forms part of the Cultural Olympiad celebrations.

Ms Austin, from north Devon, says she first had the idea after learning to scuba dive in 2005.

"When we started talking to people about it, engineers were saying it wouldn't work, the wheelchair would go into a spin, it was not designed to go through water - but I was sure it would," she told the BBC.

It was built with funding from the Arts Council's Impact Scheme.

Finding a suitable dive propulsion vehicle to propel the chair was initially difficult because most propeller models were designed to be hand-held and Ms Austin lacked the strength to hold on to them.

Eventually she trialled a model that was designed for divers with disabilities - and then added two to the wheelchair.

Ms Austin bought an NHS wheelchair for the project and spent months with her team perfecting its buoyancy. She initially designed flotation aids, but in the end found that simple swimming floats worked better.

"If you just put a thruster under the chair all the thrust is below the centre of gravity so you rotate," she said. "It was certainly more more acrobatic than I anticipated."

She modified the heel plates so that they formed fins at the backs of her heels and re-drilled the rubber straps to attach her legs to the acrylic "wings" she needed to steer the vehicle.

The addition of the second thruster and fin meant that the wings were no longer practical but she kept them for aesthetic reasons.

The wheelchair also required a more robust seat to handle the pressure placed upon it during a performance.

"I would love to create a version with hand controls - but I need my arms to be free for the performance," said Ms Austin.

The wheelchair, which had patents pending and was as yet unnamed, was already in demand, she said.
  "We've had PADI [Professional Association of Diving Instructors] course directors and very experienced divers saying they would pay to hire it," she said.

"The Oceanography department at the University of Plymouth, where I did a BA [bachelor of arts degree] in performing art, said it would make their courses accessible to students with disabilities."

There is one problem with the wheelchair however - the frame is beginning to rust. Ms Austin says that ideally the next model should be made of titanium.

"Push Girl" Angela Rockwood lands major modeling campaign with Nordstrom

From People Magazine Stylewatch:

You often hear that tenacity and perseverance are musts for any model who wants to succeed in the industry. Well, Angela Rockwood has those in spades.

After breaking into the business, she was in a horrific car accident that left her in a wheelchair. But instead of giving up, Rockwood decided that her injuries (which stripped her of the use of her legs and left her with extremely limited use of her arms) shouldn’t stop her from doing what she loves. And 11 years after that life-changing accident, she has achieved something she dreamed about, but never thought would really happen: Rockwood is modeling again, in a national campaign for Nordstrom.

Rockwood is one of the stars of Push Girls, a Sundance Channel series about the lives of four women bound to wheelchairs — and her story of breaking back into the business has been one of the most inspiring of the season.

“After my accident, the thought of modeling didn’t even cross my mind,” the 37-year-old, who identifies as quadriplegic, tells PEOPLE. “But what did occur to me was that I had been transported to the realm of the paralyzed for a reason. I realized I had a huge choice to make: to go down the positive path, be an example for others in similar positions and be a voice.”

To have her voice heard, Rockwood wanted to do something she knew how to do: model. “There weren’t many models in chairs to make a statement like, ‘Hey we are the consumers too!’ and ‘Who doesn’t want to look sexy or fashionable sitting in a wheelchair?’” she explains.

Apparently, she wasn’t the only one who felt that way; Nordstrom had been looking for models with disabilities to be featured in an upcoming campaign. So Rockwood submitted her photos to a casting agency. “The rest was history,” she adds, happily.

Though she’s working under different circumstances than she did prior to the accident, nothing else has changed much, in her opinion. “When I was on set for Nordstrom, I felt like I was at ‘home’ again,” Rockwood says. “It was like throwing a fighter back in the ring to win their belt after a major setback from a recovering injury.”

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Reporting Live ... with autism ... from Worrall Elementary School in Pennsylvania

From The PBS Newshour:

BROOMALL, Pa. | No getting around it -- the news has an agenda in this suburb of Philadelphia. The stories are fun. The reporters are short. And most of the production team has Asperger's syndrome.
This is Action 7 News -- a product of the Asperger's support program at Worrall Elementary School. Teachers here say that producing a newscast is one of the best ways for these students to learn how to speak clearly, work together, build confidence ... and become school celebrities at the same time.
The newscast is about to begin, so click play on the video above for the full report.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: It was straight to the top for Donato Tocci. At 11 years old, he's already a television news anchor. And he's about to go live.

TELEVISION VOICE: From the global resources of Worrall Elementary School, this is Action 7 News 2012 ....

DONATO TOCCI, Anchor (pictured): Hello, Im Donato Tocci, reporting live from Action 7 News, today ...

BETTY ANN BOWSER: News has an agenda at Worrall Elementary School in Broomal, Pa. The reporters aren't simply young and driven, they also have Asperger's syndrome.

Children with this form of autism often have trouble with social cues like facial expressions and gestures ... and working well with others.

MICHAEL RIZZO: I said Mona Lisa!

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And that's the very reason Asperger's specialist Randi Rentz and speech pathologist Kristen Dercole developed this newscast. They wanted their students to see the world from another angle.

RANDI RENTZ, Asperger's specialist: A lot my kids are very black and white so to speak where they dont understand the middle area the grey area and you know they may know happy, they may know sad but they dont know the difference in between.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And television journalists -- even miniature ones -- need to watch themselves from time to time to think critically about how they present themselves ... especially how they sound.

KRISTEN DERCOLE, speech and language pathologist: I think that reporters in general are really good role models for students as far as good speaking skills. We always talk about how to be on a newscast, you have to over-enunciate.

TUSHAR NARAYAN: His owner, Mike Schelin, even takes him on cross-country races.

DERCOLE: You have to slow down your rate of speech.

AARON THOMAS: ... largest mass transit system in the world.

DERCOLE: You have to really work on your pitch.

HANNAH COATES: ... largest chocolate bar ever made.

DERCOLE: You want to emphasize key words.

DONATO: In Sports News, Jeter hits 3,000!

DERCOLE: So theres a lot of different parts of speech that you can work on while you work on the newscast.

AUGIE PANTELLAS: "The homer was Derek's 3,000th baseball hit..."

BETTY ANN BOWSER: That's Augie Pantellas, reporting the latest in sports. When his mother Michelle learned he had Asperger's and would need treatment, this isn't exactly what she envisioned.

MICHELLE PANTELLAS, parent: So I was a little angry when I first, you know, met everyone here and a little frustrated. I was scared for my son, but I think that being in the program for six years has changed the course of his life. I mean, the skills that he's learned ... coping skills, strategies, just how to react to people and how to read people.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: It's a good perk. But the journalists themselves can think of a better one. When the half-hour broadcast is complete each year, the whole school gathers to watch.

MICHAEL: Well I guess my favorite part about Action 7 is getting to do all of the other skits and letting your friends envy you.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Even Donato, the anchor, feels it.

DONATO: I've never been this famous before.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: For children with Asperger's -- kids who often stand out from the rest of the crowd -- that feeling can be, well, monumental.

RENTZ: One year I was over at the middle school. And there was a huge, huge difference with the kids who had been through the program socially not just with their confidence but with their social skills overall as a whole.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: At the moment, Action 7 is the only program of its kind in the nation ... at least as far as Randi Rentz knows. But she also believes that shining this kind of spotlight on kids with Asperger's could be a good approach for any school.

For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Betty Ann ... No, wait ... let's let one of them do it.

AARON: Reporting live from the red streets of Spain, I'm Aaron Thomas for Action 7 News.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Meet Pirelli, disabled spokesdog for service dog non-profit, Canine Assistants.

From Headline News:

The relationship between a human and their service dog is an irreplaceable bond, forged with trust and free of judgment. It is a relationship as unique as the dogs who serve and the humans who love them. It is more unique, still, when it is the dog who has the disability.

Meet Pirelli, a young dog that is being trained to provide a very special service. Pirelli is part of Canine Assistants, a non-profit organization that trains service dogs and matches them with adults and children who would benefit from the dogs' company. Unlike most of the dogs in the program, Pirelli will probably never open doors, flip light switches or lead someone around a mall, but he will be delivering an important message: Disabled doesn't mean different. And Pirelli should know. He has been dealing with a disability all his life.

Pirelli was born to be a great dog. At Canine Assistants, dogs are bred into the program. Kent Brunner, the veterinarian at Canine Assistants, says is a nearly necessary part of their service. 

"We have found that what we ask of those dogs is so difficult for the average dog, you really need a dog that’s temperamentally suited to do this," he says. "The day-to-day activity, for dogs who are not socialized as puppies, is very stressful. We just found that it was a little unfair to ask dogs who have been taken from elsewhere to undertake all of that."

Except, when Pirelli was born, he was missing part of his back left foot. Members of the foundation struggled with what to do about Pirelli's ailment. Amputation was an option, but instead they decided to see how strong the little pup could be. "In some ways it comes back to, above all, do no harm. Do the least aggressive thing," Kent says. 

A little silicone bootie was designed for Pirelli's foot, and as time went by, he grew stronger, more acclimated to his unusual hardware. He also grew fast, as puppies tend to do, so the prosthetic had to be replaced. Most recently, with the aid of a sold-out Groupon, the foundation was able to raise enough money to recast Pirelli's leg yet another time, but he will probably need more refittings. After all, at only 8 months old, Pirelli is still a growing boy.

Because of his prosthetic, Pirelli won't take on the normal tasks of a service dog, but Jennifer Arnold, the founder of Canine Assistants, says Pirelli belongs in the spotlight, anyway. Pirelli will visit schools as a spokesdog for those with disabilities, teaching children that what matters has nothing to do with a wheelchair, or a prosthesis, or a paw that never grew.

Though he is still young, Jennifer says Pirelli is a prime candidate for such a strong message. "We talk about how brilliant our dogs are and how they really don’t judge based on what your body can do, but what kind of person you are," she says of her organization's events. "Pirelli is just an exquisite example that life isn’t about how you get from place to place, or what you see or hear. It’s so much more than that. His spirit is unbelievable, he’s got that very special blessing. Imagine what he will be able to do for kids who wont be teased because he will teach kids the right way to think."

Pirelli's story hits very close to home for Jennifer. When she was 16, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She had to use a wheelchair for two years, and during that time, she feared she would never walk again. Through her father, she learned of an organization in California that was training service dogs. Jennifer was lucky. Eventually, she was able to walk on her own, but the idea of service dogs stuck in her mind. Together with her father, she started Canine Assistants in 1992. After 20 years of breeding, training and caring for service dogs, Jennifer says she can't underestimate the impact a dog can have on the life of someone with special needs.

"They are partners in the truest sense of the word," says Jennifer. "The dog is able to do so much physically that the person may not be able to do, and the person is able to provide a loving home and a human relationship. But the biggest things that dogs do for their people, they don't look at the container. To the dog, their person is perfect, the way they are. They just overlook disabilities, like it's nothing."

That's what Canine Assistants hopes Pirelli's work will stand for: A precious relationship, free of judgment, or prejudice, or hate. Humans can learn a lot from dogs in that way. It's a job little Pirelli was, quite literally, born to do.

British man who fought for assisted suicide is dead

From The NY Times:

LONDON — A 58-year-old British man suffering from so-called locked-in syndrome died Wednesday, six days after a panel of High Court judges rejected his request for help in ending his life. His death is certain to galvanize the already contentious debate about assisted suicide in Britain.

The man, Tony Nicklinson, (pictured) a former rugby player and sky diver who suffered a stroke in 2005, died at his home in Melksham, 80 miles west of London, at 10 a.m., according to a statement issued by the law firm that represented him. 

Mr. Nicklinson’s family used his Twitter account to say that he died of natural causes. At a news conference, Saimo Chahai, the family lawyer, said Mr. Nicklinson had been refusing food since the court ruling and had declined rapidly over the weekend after contracting pneumonia. “The fight seemed to go out of him,” she said. 

After having a stroke while on a business trip to Athens, Mr. Nicklinson, a civil engineer, developed locked-in syndrome, an incurable condition in which a patient loses all motor functions but remains awake and aware, with all cognitive abilities. He had spent the last seven years paralyzed from the neck down and unable to speak, feed himself or even clean his own teeth, communicating through a system that allowed him to write messages on a computer screen by blinking his eyes. 

He had argued in court that he would be physically unable to administer a lethal drug to himself, and that his only path to release from his “living nightmare” would be permission from the court to have somebody else — in his suggestion, a doctor — administer the necessary dose without fear of prosecution. 

Under British law, anybody, including a doctor, who knowingly helps a terminally ill person to die faces possible criminal prosecution and a lengthy jail term if convicted. 

In an essay he wrote before the court case, Mr. Nicklinson said, “It cannot be acceptable in 21st-century Britain that I am denied the right to take my own life just because I am physically handicapped.” He added, “It is astonishing that in 1969 we could put a man on the moon, yet in 2012 we still cannot devise adequate rules for government-assisted dying.” 

In its ruling last Thursday, a three-judge panel of the High Court said that Mr. Nicklinson’s case was “deeply moving.” But, writing for the panel, Lord Justice Sir Roger Toulson said a decision in Mr. Nicklinson’s favor would constitute “a major change in the law.” 

“It is not for the court to decide whether the law about assisted dying should be changed and, if so, what safeguards should be put in place,” the ruling said. 

The government of Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as the British Medical Association, representing 140,000 doctors and medical students, applauded the ruling. 

In their Twitter message, Mr. Nicklinson’s wife and two adult daughters said: “You may already know, my Dad died peacefully this morning from natural causes. He was 58. Before he died, he asked us to tweet, ‘Goodbye world the time has come, I had some fun.’ ” 

Mr. Nicklinson’s anguished appeals to be allowed to seek assistance in ending his life culminated with a heart-wrenching scene, captured in a video posted on the BBC Web site, after the court decision last week. 

It showed him sitting at home in a striped sports shirt, sobbing heavily and groaning as he listened to a television report of the court ruling. His wife, Jane, standing at his shoulder, can be seen leaning over to wipe his mouth. 

In Europe, only Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands allow euthanasia. Switzerland allows assisted suicide and is the only country that helps foreigners die, at a clinic near Zurich. 

The British law against assisted suicide was mitigated in 2010 with a statement by the Crown Prosecution Service, responsible for criminal cases, that set out the detailed circumstances that would be taken into account in reaching a decision on whether to press charges. 

Keir Starmer, director of the prosecution service, said at the time that it was for Parliament, not prosecutors, to change the law that made assisted suicide a crime. But strongly held views on the issue, which cross party lines in the House of Commons and involve uncompromising opposition from right-to-life groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, have kept governments from tackling the issue for decades.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Michael J. Fox's new NBC sitcom about dad with Parkinson's

From The AP:

NBC has made it official: Michael J. Fox (pictured) is coming back to series TV with a new comedy series, based loosely on his personal life.

NBC announced Monday it has a 22-episode commitment for the series set to premiere in fall 2013.

The single-camera comedy, thus far untitled, will feature Fox as a husband and father of three from New York City who is dealing with family, career and challenges that include Parkinson's, the network said. No further casting was announced.

The executive producers and co-creators are Will Gluck (Easy A, Friends with Benefits) and Sam Laybourne (Cougar Town, Arrested Development), with Gluck producing through his Sony Television-based Olive Bridge Entertainment. He also will direct the pilot.

Reports of Fox's plans to return emerged last week.

Canadian-born Fox won stardom for his work as Alex Keaton on the hit comedy Family Ties, which began its seven-season run on NBC in 1982.

"To bring Michael J. Fox back to NBC is a supreme honor," said Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, "and we are thrilled that one of the great comedic television stars is coming home again."
He called Fox "utterly relatable, optimistic and in a class by himself."

"I'm extremely pleased to be back at NBC with a great creative team and a great show," Fox said.
The 51-year-old actor was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1991. In 2000, he left his ABC comedy Spin City after four seasons, saying he intended to focus on helping find a cure for the disease.

He founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which is dedicated to finding a cure for sufferers of Parkinson's disease while promoting the development of improved therapies and raising public awareness of the disease.

Since then, he limited his acting appearances to guest shots on series including Rescue Me, Boston Legal, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Good Wife. But in May, he told ABC News that a new drug regimen has helped him control the tics that are a result of the disease and could allow him to take on more acting roles.

His feature films include the Back to the Future trilogy, Teen Wolf, Bright Lights, Big City and Casualties of War. He has won five Emmy awards.

Web TV needs to have captions starting next month, the FCC rules


TV networks and web video sites will have to start providing closed captions for any TV content available online by the end of September, the FCC ruled a few days ago (PDF of the ruling). The ruling reaffirmed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, which was signed into law by President Obama in October of 2010, as well as an FCC ruling from earlier this year. However, the industry got a bit of a break, with the FCC ruling that they won’t have to provide customizable captions until early 2014.

Captions for web video have been a bit of a hot button issue for some time: Disability advocates have been arguing that web video providers aren’t doing enough to make their clips accessible to disabled viewers, and have actually sued both CNN and Netflix over missing captions.

They also successfully pushed for the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which largely focuses on the way traditional TV networks and their online distribution partners present their fare on the internet. The law itself didn’t actually contain any firm deadlines for TV networks to adopt online captioning, but instead authorized the FCC to do so. The Commission set a September 30 deadline earlier this year, but the Digital Media Association, whose members include Amazon, Apple and YouTube, argued that the industry needed more time.

The FCC didn’t agree, and is sticking with the September 30 deadline – with one big exception: Distributors of TV content will have to render closed captions, but they won’t have to provide the raw captioning data to the web video player to allow for further customization. What does that mean? The original FCC rule included a mandate that would have allowed consumers to change the font size and color of captions to improve readability. These requirements now have been postponed for another 16 months. Starting September 30, deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers will have a right to access to basic captions, without these kinds of bells and whistles.

Of course, many sites already offer closed captioning for at least a part of their web video inventory, and that likely won’t change at the end of next month. The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act only covers programming that’s also shown on TV, and exempts any online-only programming. Even TV news clips that have been edited for the web don’t fall under the requirement – but that likely won’t stop disability advocates from going after providers of these kinds of video.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Twitter API changes will affect blind people, who use special third party Twitter apps; closed APIs will cut them off

From Mashable:

Shortly after Twitter announced a stricter set of rules for its application programming interface (API), developers and engineers turned to platform to use the #OccupyTwitter hashtag in protest.

“Twitter’s API has more rules than North Korea,” said Aaron Levie, CEO of Box.

Nova Spivack, CEO of, started a petition to urge Twitter to keep its developer API ecosystem open. He said, “Twitter, what kind of bird are you becoming? Are you still that cute little bird that everyone loved, or are you becoming a scary bird of prey?”

“Blind people use special third party Twitter apps,” Spivack added on Twitter. “If Twitter closes its APIs they will be cut off.”

While Spivack’s fears might be overblown, it’s clear that Twitter seeks to limit the number of third-party app users by barring apps from supporting more than 100,000 users. If they already over the limit, they will not be allowed to grow beyond 200% of their user base without Twitter’s permission.

Aside from limiting user growth, Twitter will be imposing more stringent authentication rules. It will also compel developers to take a different direction in creating apps by “encouraging” them to focus on engagement and analytics. After the updated API is launched, developers will have a six-month deadline to to migrate to the new version.

Tom Scott, creator of Klouchebag, predicted that the changes would cause his site’s death in six months. “They’re steadily squeezing out third-party clients like Tweetbot, Echofon and Dabr, and they’re removing unauthenticated API calls,” Scott said in a blog entry. “The latter means that every Twitter app, no matter how minor, will require a ‘Sign in with Twitter’ button. For me, the immediate effect of this is that my Klout parody Klouchebag, along with a few other things I’ve designed, will die.”

What do you think of using Twitter as a way to protest against Twitter’s new API? Should developers just accept the new rules without complaint? Let us know in the comments.

New film: 'OF TWO MINDS' documentary explores lives, struggles, successes Americans living with bipolar disorder

From the film website:

Take your best day... and your darkest moment... and multiply by a million.

OF TWO MINDS is an award-winning feature documentary from the creative team behind WORDPLAY, IOUSA, SUPERHEROES and THESE AMAZING SHADOWS that explores the extraordinary lives, struggles and successes of a few of the over five million Americans living with bipolar disorder. OF TWO MINDS puts an authentic human face on bipolar disorder, providing an intimate, painful and painfully funny look at those who live in its shadows... our parents and children, our friends and lovers... and ourselves.

Selected for the International Documentary Association's 16th Annual DocuWeeks Theatrical Documentary Showcase, OF TWO MINDS is playing August 17-23 at the IFC Center in New York City and August 24-30 at the Laemmle Noho 7 in Los Angeles.

Running from August 3-23 at Laemmle Noho 7 in Los Angeles and the IFC Center in New York City, DocuWeeks presents seventeen feature films and two programs for shorts, from all over the world, in theatrical runs - giving movie-lovers a chance to catch some of the best documentary films of the year. 
For schedule and tickets go to
OF TWO MINDS official website and trailer:

U.S. Paralympics finally get TV coverage on American soil

From The Denver Post:

The Paralympic gods do exist.

Last month, the International Paralympic Committee gave a gift to the U.S. when it announced its detailed plans to provide online coverage of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

That seemed the only outlet for Americans to watch the Paralympics for the first time in decades — no, history.

Then Tuesday, the United States Olympic Committee announced it will provide its own broadcast and online coverage of the Games, focusing on the U.S. Paralympic Team.

No more outsourcing from the IPC. This coverage will be made in the USA.

America saw its first glimpse of a Paralympic athlete compete on TV when South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee, ran the 400 meters.

But that was nothing new for viewers overseas, as the Paralympics had been long broadcasted on European TVs.

The new partnership struck between the U.S. Paralympics and NBC has been a long time coming. Those in the U.S. familiar with the Paralympics had questioned when or even if the Games would ever reach American broadcasting networks.

On Tuesday, those questions have been answered. And though much of America hasn’t heard of the Paralympics — mostly because it never had the opportunity to watch it on TV, as most sports are consumed — it has now.

The London Paralympics will be held from Aug. 29 to Sept. 9.

Here are what viewers can expect from U.S. coverage:

  • NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) airing one-hour highlight shows Sept. 4, 5, 6, 11 at 7 p.m. EDT
  • After the Games on Sept. 16, NBC will broadcast a 90-minute special from 2-3:30 p.m. EDT
  • All NBC and NBCSN Paralympic highlight shows and specials will re-air on Universal Sports Network and Universal
  • 10 daily video highlights packages via U.S. Paralympics YouTube channel throughout the Games
  • Videos will chronicle the competitions, athlete stories and also include the Opening and Closing Ceremonies

In Great Britain, Channel 4 invests £600,000 to train reporters with disabilities to cover London Paralympics

From The Guardian in the UK:

Channel 4 has invested £600,000 in training a fresh band of TV presenters and reporters with disabilities and Paralympic sporting experience to work alongside experienced anchors such as Clare Balding and Jonathan Edwards, when live coverage of the Games begins next week.

It is also unveiling a system of screen graphics, invented by Giles Long (pictured), one of the UK's most successful Paralympic swimmers, based on human figures to depict conditions such as dwarfism, amputations and brain damage. These will help viewers to understand, at a glance, why athletes who often appear so different compete against one other.

Called the Lexi Decoder system, it works on a traffic light principle. Diagrammatic figures showing missing limbs are coloured green, yellow, orange or red, depending on the level of disability – green for no impairment, red for severe.

Channel 4, which paid around £5m for the television rights to the London Paralympics, said research showed that many people were confused by the system of classification. It hopes that improved understanding will boost audiences for the lavish nine-day coverage, running from a breakfast show to late at night.

Giles Long, 36, from Wood Green, north London, who won 20 major medals as a butterfly swimmer, including a gold in Atlanta in 1996, invented the Lexi system and took it to Channel 4 – using a ballpoint pen and notepad to explain his idea – after it won the rights in January 2010 over the BBC.

Long said: "There is a gap in understanding. I realised in Beijing people thought the result of one swimming race was unfair because the Chinese athlete had no legs. The way to think about classifications is the weight bands in, say, boxing. You never see a flyweight and heavyweight boxing each other. Grouped together, Paralympic athletes face a common challenge."

The graphics work, he said, because "it's about boiling down what people sitting on the sofa need to know in an instant, at the point of the race.

"You see diagrammatic figures everywhere – tube, bus, road signs, we are using everyday language but applying it an accessible way. I know the people competing in the Games won't find them shocking at all. If you want to compete, you have to go through an assessment. It's integral to sport."

The Lexi Decoder will be used only as a 20-second shot of information, and will not be attached individually to athletes. It covers just eight sports: swimming, athletics, cycling, table tennis, wheelchair rugby, basketball and volleyball. The classification numbers for races will also use the traffic light system. The coding attached to each race will also be colour coded.

Long, who owns the rights to the Lexi Decoder, will also be reporting from the poolside for Channel 4 and has been trained over the past 18 months with attachments at the BBC and Sky. Channel 4 sifted through 350 online applications to find disabled reporters or presenters to train. The finalists were taken to week-long "boot camps" at the National Film and Television School and seven novices, such as Rachel Latham, were given contracts, at around £20,000 a year, to prepare, plus fees for working on events, such as the late night Road to the London Paralympics Extra and BT World Cup Rugby.

Latham, 23, applied after she had to retire from Paralympic swimming at 20 because of an injury sustained in Beijing. She joined the C4 scheme after finishing a degree in Sheffield in 2011. Her training included shadowing Adrian Chiles at ITV.

Latham said her experience and disability – her left arm and shoulder were injured at birth – make a difference. "Athletes are comfortable with me. It is natural to talk about classification, I can explain it with ease. There can be a problem with having too much information, but that's where the training came in," said Latham.

Alison Walsh, C4's disability manager, said it had achieved its target of a 50:50 split between disabled and able-bodied on-screen presenters, but said C4 had learned lessons after its coverage of World Athletics last autumn was criticised because of some inexperienced contributors.

Georgie Bingham, an experienced sports presenter who will anchor C4's daily afternoon show, has been paired with former marine Arthur Williams, who is paralysed below the waist. Bingham said: "It makes huge sense to me. It's a brilliant thing. He will be bringing in his wheelchair to explain how it works in the wheelchair races. It is not without a bit of risk, but Arthur is young, enormously bright."

For BBC2's Beijing Paralympic coverage, 56% of viewers were aged over 55, with a bias towards women. The opening ceremony peaked at 2.9 million viewers, with the closing one attracting 990,000. The average audience for the 7pm-8pm The Games Tonight programme was 1.7 million, and 20 million people watched at least five minutes. C4's coverage is on a completely different scale: the biggest ever live event in its history.
Walsh is confident that her team of new reporters will work well.

"They have trained as hard as the athletes. If they succeed, they deserve gold medals."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Disabled, elderly voters face new hurdles at polls

From News21:

Sami McGinnis remembers walking into a polling place and casting her vote for the first time.
“It was a wonderful feeling to have that freedom,” she said.

McGinnis, 67, whose vision is impaired, gave up that freedom eight years ago after her husband died. That’s when she first voted by absentee ballot. Having no family near her Mesa, Ariz., residence, she found it difficult arranging transportation — especially on Election Day.

She wishes it were possible for her to physically vote inside a polling place because she questions whether her absentee ballot is counted.

“It’s better than nothing,” she said, “but live my experience and tell me it’s better than nothing. It’s not the same.”

One in nine voting-age Americans is disabled, according to Census data. Of the 17 percent of voting-age Americans who are 65 years or older, at least 36 percent are disabled.

At a time when 37 states have considered photo ID legislation, some disabled and elderly Americans may face difficulty voting this November because they often don’t have a valid driver’s license. The result is that voter turnout among these groups likely will decrease, according to Rutgers University research.

“Voting is a big deal. It’s a big highlight of their years,” said Daniel Kohrman, a senior attorney for AARP in Washington, D.C.

“It’s really unfortunate, and indeed tragic, that this emphasis on restricting participation is presented in so many states,” Kohrman added.

Eighteen percent of Americans over 65 do not have a photo ID, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, a public policy group that opposed many of the voting rule changes nationally. The Census estimates at least 7 million seniors don’t have driver’s licenses.

Many people with disabilities also don’t have a driver’s license. Beyond physical disabilities, persons can have learning disabilities — dyslexia for example — or poor hand-eye coordination.

“They’ve stopped driving because of vision or reflex issues. They, for reasons of various disability issues, have moved in with family who drive them around, or they’ve moved into an assisted living center,” said Jim Dickson, leader of the Disability Vote Project. The nonpartisan project of the Washington, D.C.-based American Association of People with Disabilities, encourages political participation by those with disabilities.

AARP has opposed voter ID legislation in Missouri, Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota because the organization says “states should not impose unreasonable identification requirements that discourage or prevent citizens from voting.”

Voter ID requirements aren’t the only problem disabled and elderly people may face at the polls. People in these groups often have trouble accessing traditional polling places.

All polls are supposed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Among other things, the sweeping law says that people with disabilities shall not face discrimination at the polls. But, just under one-third of polling places are 100 percent barrier free, according to a 2009 Government Accountability Office study of the 2008 election.

Many states skirt the accessibility to polls by allowing absentee voting, mail voting or voting from curbsides, where a poll worker comes to a disabled person’s car with a ballot.

All states allow absentee and mail voting, but not all — Tennessee, for example — allow curbside voting.
“People with disabilities should have the same options as everyone else has. Voting in a polling places is an important and symbolic ritual,” said Lisa Schur, a Rutgers University associate professor who researches disabilities issues in employment and the ADA impact on public policy.

Leaving the disabled with only alternative voting methods “sends a clear message that people with disabilities are not fully welcome in the political sphere,” she said.

The convenience of absentee voting is appealing to Karin Kellas of Glendale, Ariz. (pictured) She suffered a spinal cord injury as a result of a rollover car accident in 1966. In the ’90s, her legs were amputated above the knee.

“I’ve heard a lot of (disabled) people feel their voice doesn’t count,” she said. “We need to make our opinions known and vote because that’s how we make any kind of change.”

Kellas votes absentee so she can skip the lines and volunteer to work the polls. If she wanted to vote in a traditional polling place, she’d find a way to get there as she did in the past.

She wants voting to be “as easy and accessible for able-bodied people as it is for disabled people.”
“I’m the exception to the rule because I don’t take no for an answer,” Kellas said. “There has to be a way I can vote.”

Inaccessible polling places can have “psychological consequences that say, ‘I don’t really want you here,’” Schur said.

“I see absentee voting and voting by mail as a convenience and it can help a lot of people with disabilities,” she said, “but I don’t see it as a substitute as making polling places accessible.”

Voter turnout among disabled people is a clear reflection of that, according to a Rutgers University study from the 2008 election.

The study showed turnout among voters who have disabilities was about 7 percentage points lower than those without disabilities.

And that’s not because disabled people are less interested in voting, said Douglas Kruse, a Rutgers University professor and director of the doctoral program in industrial relations and human resources. He and Schur co-authored the study.

Kruse, who uses a wheelchair, has a doctorate in economics from Harvard University. His research has found that disabled persons are less likely to be recruited to vote or participate in political activities.

“You’re not expected to participate,” he said, adding that such an attitude “probably reflects a lot of the polling place difficulties and the message that is sent by a polling place.”

It’s important for persons with disabilities to vote because political and social issues deeply affect them, McGinnis said.

“We take the time to get to know the issues because we live them,” she said.

NY disability activist says there's dangerous amount of space between trains and platforms

 From Brooklyn Daily in NY:

Midwood straphanger Michele Kaplan (pictured) often gets stuck on the train, but unlike many commuters, it’s not delays or track work that slow her down — it’s the space between the subway car and the platform.

Kaplan, who uses a wheelchair, says too-steep gaps at certain stations purported to be “accessible” to disabled passengers are actually impassible, leaving her trapped part-way over the tracks if she isn’t careful.

“It is an incredibly scary experience, and I am pretty fearless in my chair,” said Kaplan, who documents her struggles commuting at her blog

Kaplan is one of 60,000 handicapped straphangers who she claims are constantly inconvenienced by the inconsistent spacing between trains and platforms — and advocates for disabled commuters say the problems abound at supposedly wheelchair-friendly stations including Borough Hall, Atlantic Avenue–Barclays Center, DeKalb Avenue, and the Kings Highway B and Q stop, among others.

The Americans With Disabilities Act stipulates that the difference in height between a train and the platform cannot be more than 5/8 of an inch — but the difference can be as much as three inches at the Borough Hall station, according to disabled rights attorney and Metropolitan Transportation Authority critic Martin Coleman.

“It’s breaking the law,” Coleman says. “This is a situation they know about, and they will not take steps to address it.”

On the Long Island Rail Road — where a teenager died after falling into the gap — MTA workers help disabled passengers board trains and even lay out sturdy ramps at problematic stations.
But not the case in the subway system.

MTA spokeswoman Deidre Parker says “there should be no need for assistance” at “accessible” stations, so long as disabled passengers enter and exit the train in a designated zone marked by signs.

Conductors can assist riders if they need it — but only at 19 “accessible” stations out of the 157 stops in the borough.

“It is important to note that not every station can be modified to permit [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant gap tolerances at every train door,” Parker said.

But that’s no consolation for Kaplan, who after taking one fall too many, started a petition imploring the MTA to mend the gaps.

“This is an issue of safety,” the petition notes. “If the MTA lists a station as ‘Wheelchair Accessible’ then it needs to be wheelchair accessible, but it’s not consistently so.”

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Abby and Brittany Hensel, conjoined 22-year-old twins, get their own reality TV series on TLC

From The NY Daily News:

Abby and Brittany Hensel — the 22-year-old conjoined twins of Oprah Winfrey fame — are back in the spotlight with their own reality TV show.

TLC’s “Abby and Brittany” follows the sisters as they graduate from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn. and embark on the job hunt.

“Everywhere they go, they get the stares,” says a friend of the twins in a preview for the show. “I don’t know how they do that every day.”

The sisters — who share a body but have two heads — first fascinated the nation when they were featured on the cover of Life magazine in 1996 - just 6 years old at the time. The same year, they appeared twice on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

The Hensel twins have also been featured in documentaries on The Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, and in Time magazine.

In a preview for the reality the show, Abby and Brittany appear in graduation caps and gowns, sunbathing, riding a bike and even driving a car — living life like any other recent grad.

“We throw it out there, and we let it go,” Abby says of the twins’ unique situation.

The sisters are dicephalic parapagus twins, sharing several organs but each with their own distinct personalities — and their own driver’s license.

Brittany controls the right side of the body, while Abby steers the left (and it’s her foot on the accelerator).
“Abby and Brittany” will also follow the twins as they travel through Europe.

The show premieres Aug. 28 on TLC.

As the need for service dogs for veterans with PTSD grows, so do the obstacles

From Mother Nature Network. Pictured is Army veteran Brad Schwarz with his service dog, Panzer.

It’s International Assistance Dog Week, a time to recognize the dogs that help humans with their disabilities and limitations — but not all service dogs are guide dogs or canines trained to assist with physical disabilities.
Many dogs provide support to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, but although more veterans are being diagnosed with the anxiety disorder, a new Army policy has made it more difficult for soldiers to obtain service dogs.
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that service dogs help veterans cope with PTSD, but research lags and even some service-dog experts remain skeptical.
There have been no double-blind, randomized controlled trials on the benefits of service dog and PTSD patients, and there are no widely accepted standards for training dogs to alleviate PTSD symptoms.
Researchers at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Fla., are conducting the first study that looks at benefits of pairing veterans with PTSD with specially trained dogs. Congress recommended the three-year study, permitting the Department of Veterans Affairs to match as many as 200 veterans with dogs, but only 17 participants are currently enrolled.
Three service dog organizations partnered with the hospital to conduct the study, but Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs (GAMSD) is the only association still involved in the research. The organization trains PTSD service dogs to perform such tasks as awakening clients from nightmares and reminding them to take medication.
Carol Borden, GAMSD’s executive director, says she’s seen dramatic improvements in veterans’ lives after they’ve been matched with dogs.
"The results are very immediate. They’re very quick. It’s not a cure, but they are able to manage their challenges much better than they have in years,” Borden told NBC News.
Demand for PTSD service dogs is high, according to Borden, who says that most recipients spend four years on her organization’s waiting list.
It’s estimated that 13 to 20 percent of the more than 2.6 million Americans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001 have or could develop PTSD.
But unlike service dogs for people with more obvious physical disabilities, there’s a gray area regarding who can have a dog accompany them into certain places. The American Disabilities Act requires businesses to allow people with disabilities to enter with service animals, but PTSD-trained dogs are often considered therapy dogs under the ADA. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
Service dogs assist disabled people with specific tasks like opening doors and pulling wheelchairs. Therapy dogs, on the other hand, provide comfort, motivation and emotional support. With proper documentation they can often be taken onto planes and other spaces where animals aren’t usually allowed.
Although PTSD service dogs are trained to respond to certain cues, such as nudging an owner into a petting session if he exhibits panic attack symptoms, some people are skeptical about the idea that a dog can assist with a so-called invisible disability.
However, there’s evidence that interacting with animals produces biochemical changes in some people’s brains.
Research shows that when people focus on petting a dog, it can increase oxytocin, a chemical that quiets the brain’s fear response. Caring for a pet also helps people become more secure and self-sufficient, according to Hal Herzog, a psychology professor at Western Carolina University.
Training service dogs can also be a form of therapy, according to Rick Yount, founder of Warrior Canine Connection, an organization that has PTSD patients train service dogs. After completing a 2008 training program at a veteran’s hospital, many participants reported lower stress levels, decreased depression, better impulse control and improved sleep.
Yount says that it might be most effective for veterans with PTSD to train a service dog before receiving one themselves.
"They have to convince the dog the world is a safe place, rather than letting the dog prove to them that the world is a safe place,” he told MSNBC.

In Australia, Paralympians asked to swim during TV ad breaks at televised Olympic trials

From Australia: by ABC's Stella Young. Stella Young is the editor of ABC's Ramp Up. She tweets @stellajyoung.

In March this year swimming enthusiasts sat glued to their televisions, waiting with baited breath to see the likes of James Magnussen, Libby Tricket and Ian Thorpe take to the pool and secure their place in the team for London 2012.

The trials were organised by Swimming Australia which is, according to its website, "the national sporting organisation which is responsible for the promotion and development of swimming in Australia at all levels." The organisation draws government funding and other significant sponsorship to represent swimmers both with and without disabilities.

Yet you could be forgiven for thinking that the televised trials back in March were purely for non-disabled athletes seeking to make the Olympic team. This was not the case.

Swimmers such as Matthew Cowdrey (pictured), Rick Pendleton, Katrina Porter and Matthew Levy, all of whom have won Paralympic medals in Athens, Beijing or both, were also in the pool during the course of the trials, but you wouldn't have seen them swim.

You see, they were asked to swim during the ad breaks.

This didn't go unnoticed by all. Many supporters emailed the organisation, claiming that they were discriminating against athletes with disabilities by failing to promote and support them as prominently as the non-disabled swimmers.

A group made up of athletes' family and friends of called Parents, Pals and Partners Of Our Swimmers (POOS, for short) made their dissatisfaction known. They were met with a letter from Swimming Australia's lawyers, threatening legal action and refusing to discuss the matter in the lead up to the games.

While I'd have loved them to come up with a slightly less ludicrous name, the POOS view that Swimming Australia is disregarding disabled swimmers certainly has weight.

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes agrees. "I think it is pretty disappointing that Swimming Australia would view the efforts of swimmers with disability as so much less important than athletes without disability. I bet our paralympians will bring back more gold."

David Gandolpho, speaking as a representative of POOS on 7.30 this week, said of Swimming Australia: "They are the administration of swimming. That's all swimming, that's the able-bodied swimming, the disabled swimming. There shouldn't be any distinction between who they're looking after or whose interests they're taking care of or promoting."

Who should they have been promoting? Well, Matt Cowdrey for one. Despite the fact that most Australian's have never heard of Cowdrey, he's one of our greatest athletes in the pool.

To compare him to the likes of James "The Missile" Magnussen would be unfair. After all, Magnessen's accomplishments, while of course significant and admirable, pale in comparison to those of Cowdrey. With just three years on his Swimming Australia colleague, Cowdrey is about to compete in his third Paralympic Games.

Having broken his first world record at 13, Cowdrey is well on the way to becoming Australia's most successful Paralympian. In fact, if he can eclipse Tim Sullivan's 10 gold medals in London, he will. He already has eight under his belt, along with four silver and two bronze.

Why then is Swimming Australia not giving him every bit as much support as the Magnussen's of the sport? Probably for the same reasons they asked him to swim during the ads; because they assume we just aren't that interested.

Squeezing in the disabled athletes as though they're little more than half-time entertainment is telling, not just of the way the organisation views a proportion of those it represents, but how we have traditionally valued disability sport.

The Paralympics have for too long been considered the poor cousin of the Olympics. It's always run after the main games, and rarely gets anything like the media coverage. The London 2012 Paralympic Games is, in fact, the first to not give away the majority of event tickets.

The majority of tickets bought for the Beijing Paralympics were purchased by the government and given away to community organisations. Of the 2.2 million tickets sold, 1.82 million were government purchases given away for free. London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has made a deliberate decision to take a different path, a move welcomed by many Paralympians who believe the giving away of tickets devalues disability sport.

With three weeks to go until the Paralympics opens, 1.4 million tickets have been snapped up, proving that sports-fans are not as discriminating as some might think, and that LOCOG's move not to give them away for free was the right one. People will not only watch disability sport on television, they'll pay for it.
Swimming Australia needs to get with the times.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

In UK, prime-time BBC1 series Silent Witness adds its first character to be played by a wheelchair user

From The Mirror in the UK:

The six million viewers of the UK show "Silent Witness" will be seeing two new cast members in the 16th series which will be screened early next year.

Rising theatre star David Caves joins as forensic scientist and part-time cage fighter Jack Hodgson.

Writer Tim Prager said: “I felt the show could use a shot of testosterone – he is intuitive rather than academic. His volatility adds something different to the other characters, who are more cerebral.

“He is impulsive, full of feeling, emotionally volatile, warm and clever. Jack is like Nikki’s naughty younger brother.”

David said he was “surprised and delighted” to land the role.

He added: “It is a big change for me having just done theatre up to this point, but it’s very exciting to play a new part.”

And in a first for a prime-time BBC1 series, his lab assistant Clarissa Mullery will be played by a wheelchair user, Liz Carr (pictured).

Comedian Liz, who presents on the BBC’s Ouch! podcast, said: “I’m loving playing a character who’s witty, smart and sarcastic.

“It makes me giggle that I’m a forensics expert.

“At school I couldn’t study chemistry and physics because the labs weren’t wheelchair accessible. Ah, the irony.”