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April 18th, 2013
12:30 PM ET

Opinion: Amputees never say 'I can't'

Editor's note: Jothy Rosenberg is the author of the memoir "Who Says I Can't?" He is a serial entrepreneur in the high-tech industry, has written three technical books, is an extreme athlete in skiing, biking and open water swimming and is about to do his 20th Alcatraz swim across San Francisco Bay. Watch his "Who Says I Can't?" series on YouTube, and follow him on Twitter

By Jothy Rosenberg, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Waking up to realize you suddenly have no leg or legs is as horrible an experience as one can have, and one that will, sadly, be faced by a number of people injured in the bombing of the Boston Marathon. It happened to me when I was 16 after a bone cancer diagnosis and amputation (the cancer later spread to my lung and caused a lung to be removed as well). As I looked down in the recovery room to where my right leg used to be, all I saw was a short stump.

This is frightening for sure, and only one of the things you're dealing with after an amputation. Luckily perhaps, your entire being is consumed just with healing; the bigger issues come later. First thing to deal with is massive physical pain from the surgery, and it will be worse because of the shrapnel packed bombs. The explosive force traumatizes the tissues and the fragments injected into the body cause collateral damage. Modern medicine does well with pain management, so this phase will, luckily, pass quickly.

For the new amputee, challenges come fast and furious, but so does the natural "fight" that is in all humans. My very first challenge was trying to stand on one leg. The body and the mind do not adjust immediately to major changes like the loss of a 25 pound leg, so balance while standing up is elusive. But it will come and that is a first little victory. It's the first of many little accomplishments that begin to build up one's zeroed-out self-confidence. Our bodies heal and adapt well–the mind is a bigger challenge.

FULL STORY
End of an era
February 12th, 2013
12:00 PM ET

Unbeaten in 10 years, wheelchair tennis ace Esther Vergeer retires

(CNN) - After 10 years unbeaten, and an incredible 470 successive victories, Esther Vergeer is hanging up her racket.

The 31-year-old has dominated wheelchair tennis for more than a decade, winning seven Paralympic gold medals, 13 world titles and all 21 of the grand slam singles events she entered, plus 23 in doubles.

"A special day: officially stopping tennis," Vergeer wrote on her Twitter page Tuesday.

She won 169 singles titles overall - 120 of them consecutively - plus 159 in doubles, and helped the Netherlands win the World Team Cup 12 times.

"I am impressed I got this far. I sometimes still cannot believe that in all these years I did not have a breakdown. But for now it's enough," Vergeer told reporters.

She was hailed as an inspirational figure by the head of the International Tennis Federation, Francesco Ricci Bitti.

"Esther Vergeer is a tremendous ambassador not only for tennis but also for disability sports," Ricci Bitti said.

FULL STORY
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Filed under: Disabilities • Sports • Who we are • Women
February 1st, 2013
05:43 PM ET

Americans with Disabilities Act opens pools to disabled swimmers

By Mike M. Ahlers and Tory Dunnan

Washington (CNN) - Some 23 years after Congress used federal muscle to open jobs, public transportation and public accommodations to disabled Americans, another venue is coming under the federal mandate - swimming pools.

Beginning this week, most public swimming pools, wading pools and spas must be accessible to disabled people to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Facilities that don't meet the standard may face civil penalties of $55,000.

The move has been in the works for several years. The Justice Department published standards for accessibility in 2010 and announced a March 2012 deadline for compliance. But confusion over the standards became so contentious that pool operators threatened coast-to-coast pool closures last spring, a scare dubbed "Poolmagedden."

In response to the uproar, the Department of Justice moved the deadline to Jan. 31, sought to clarify the rule and grandfathered in some equipment that was purchased by pool operators during the debacle. The Justice Department also reiterated that pool operators need to provide access to existing pools only if it is "readily achievable," meaning it does not involve significant difficulty or expense.

Advocates for the disabled say there is "no excuse" for public pools not to be accessible.

"They've had plenty of time" to find a suitable way to accommodate disabled swimmers, said Patrick Wojahn, a public policy analyst with the National Disability Rights Network. "It's time to make this happen so that people with disabilities don't have to go through another summer without being able to go swimming with their families."

The new rule applies to all public swimming pools, hotels, motels, health clubs, recreation centers, public country clubs and businesses. It also applies to community pools associated with private residential communities if the pool is made available to the public for rental or use.

FULL STORY
U.S. Department of Education: Schools must provide sports for students with disabilities
New guidance from the U.S. education department says schools must provide sports for students with disabilities.
January 25th, 2013
02:00 PM ET

U.S. Department of Education: Schools must provide sports for students with disabilities

By Brad Lendon, CNN

(CNN) – Schools must give students with disabilities equal opportunities to participate in extracurricular athletics, including varsity sports, the U.S. Department of Education said Friday. And if existing sports don't meet the needs of those students, schools must create additional athletic programs.

Some advocates compared the move to Title IX, the 1972 amendment that mandated gender equity in education and sports programs at schools receiving federal funds. The department’s Office for Civil Rights pointed to a 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office that said disabled students were not getting equal opportunities to participate in sports, a right they were granted under the Rehabilitation Act, passed in 1973.

Denying disabled students’ participation meant that they “may not have equitable access to the health and social benefits” of playing sports, the education department said in a statement Friday.

“Sports can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion and courage, and this guidance will help schools ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to benefit from the life lessons they can learn on the playing field or on the court,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in the statement accompanying the guidelines.

Examples of the kinds of accommodations the department is seeking included offering a visual cue, along with a starter pistol, to allow deaf students to participate in track races or allowing a one-hand touch to end swimming races, rather than a two-hand touch, which would allow students with only one arm to participate.

FULL STORY
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Filed under: Disabilities • Education • How we live • Where we live
January 18th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Miss Montana: Autism doesn't define me

Editor's note: Alexis Wineman was diagnosed with pervasive development disorder, a form of autism, at age 11. Last week, Wineman, who won the Miss Montana competition last year, appeared as one of 54 beauty queens in the Miss America pageant. She reached the top 15, winning the America's Choice Award for getting the most online votes from the viewers.

By Alexis Wineman, Special to CNN

(CNN) - I knew there had to be a reason my family and I went through tough days together. I didn't understand why then, but the past couple of weeks have put so much into perspective.

The lonely days of pacing around my kitchen seemed like some of the longest days of my life. If anyone had told me then that I would be wearing a crown, an evening gown, heels and a swimsuit in front of a live audience with bright lights and television cameras hovering around, I'd have been the first one to dismiss it.

I realize now that even my toughest days pale in comparison to the toughest days of others living with an autism spectrum disorder. I've been given this opportunity to use my voice for those who don't have one or have yet to find theirs.

My path may not be one that another person would choose, but I challenged myself to enter the Miss America competition because it seemed like the peak to my own personal Everest. It also seemed kind of ironic: a girl who was told she was different and considered an outcast by many, in the nation's biggest beauty pageant.

I knew I would face challenges and even some skepticism, but I never expected the outpouring of support that continues to come in.

Winning the America's Choice title during the competition was the highest honor for me. The fact that so many people, to whom I am a total stranger, took the time to elect me as their contestant of choice is something I am still trying to comprehend.

Read Wineman's full column

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Deaf woman's eBay complaint highlights dispute over Web access for disabled
Melissa Earll, of Nevada, Missouri, says she can't use eBay's seller-verification system because she is deaf.
January 10th, 2013
05:10 PM ET

Deaf woman's eBay complaint highlights dispute over Web access for disabled

By Doug Gross, CNN

(CNN) - Melissa Earll owns stacks of classic comic books, baseball cards that include a young Hank Aaron and Whitey Ford and other collectibles she wants to sell.

But she can't do so on eBay, she says. According to Earll, the popular auction site can't confirm her as a seller because she's deaf.

"eBay keeps me from taking advantage of opportunities that other people have and it's because I couldn't hear," Earll, of Nevada, Missouri, told CNN affiliate WDAF-TV. "Somebody has to have the courage to stand up and say 'this is not right.'"

At issue, according to Earll, is the way the auction site verifies sellers. eBay says it offered Earll alternative ways of verifying her identity. But the dispute casts a light on a bigger question that some experts say may need to go all the way to the Supreme Court: Just how responsive must the Internet be to the Americans With Disabilities Act?

FULL STORY
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Filed under: Disabilities • Discrimination • How we live • Who we are
January 3rd, 2013
08:01 PM ET

Meet the 113th Congress: More diverse than ever

By Jim Acosta, CNN National Political Correspondent

Washington (CNN) - The newly sworn-in 113th Congress is the most diverse group of representatives in history, reflecting changing demographics and changing public attitudes.

The New America: What the election teaches us about ourselves

98 women, 43 African-Americans, 31 Latinos, 12 Asian-American and Pacific Islanders, and seven gay and bisexual members are now new members of the House and Senate. Plus, there is the first Buddhist member in the Senate and Hindu member in the House of Representatives.

“It means that we reflect America more,” said newly elected Rep. Tammy Duckwork, an Illinois Democrat. “And it is good to see Congress starting to look more like the rest of America.” FULL POST

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Opinion: Don't label people with Down syndrome
Perceptions about Down syndrome have changed in recent years, says David M. Perry, who has a son with this disability.
November 16th, 2012
11:30 AM ET

Opinion: Don't label people with Down syndrome

By David M. Perry, Special to CNN

Editor's note: David M. Perry is an associate professor of history at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. His son, Nicholas Quillen Perry, has Down syndrome.

(CNN) - "It breaks my heart to think how many people would not have chosen to keep that precious angel." - Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, speaking about abortion and Down syndrome at the 2012 National Convention.

"I highly approve of (Mitt) Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard." - Ann Coulter, tweeting about the third presidential debate.

"No one would call someone with Down syndrome 'retard.' I call you a 'retard.' " – Coulter on Alan Colmes' Fox News Radio show.

Let's pretend that Ann Coulter is telling the truth in that last comment. Yes, she called President Barack Obama a retard, but at least she claimed she'd never insult someone with Down syndrome. Even if she's lying, we have come a long way. Children with Down syndrome still get bullied or even abused, and adults with any disability face an uncertain future, particularly in an era of austerity, but today few would call someone with Down syndrome a retard to his or her face.

For this, as the father of a boy with Down syndrome, I am grateful.

In fact, over the last 50 years or so, the lives of people with Down syndrome and other disabilities have improved in many remarkable ways. Most parents are now raising their children with Down syndrome in their homes rather than sending them to live in institutions. Government programs, especially through early intervention and special education, employ teachers and therapists who have helped these children learn beyond our wildest dreams.

Read David M. Perry's full column
November 13th, 2012
09:00 AM ET

Teen with cerebral palsy crowned homecoming king

(CNN) - A senior with a big smile is wearing an even bigger smile after this weekend’s Homecoming at St. Lucie West Centennial High School in Port St.Lucie, Florida.

Hakam Daley has not had it easy.  He has cerebral palsy and has been in and out of foster homes most of his life.  But he has many friends at school who nominated him for homecoming king.

“When I heard the message, I had no words to describe,” Daley said.  “I was so happy.”

Kayla Donohue, a cheerleader and friend of Daley’s, secretly got the other seniors to nominate him for the court.  Donohue said it was important to give Daley this “special experience that he’d remember the rest of his life.”

As they called his name, Daley did something he had never done before: With the help of caregivers, he walked in public.

When they announced that he was chosen king, Daley’s smile beamed brighter than ever.

Surrounded by teary-eyed students and flashing cameras, the kid with the big smile became the most popular guy in school. (Video Courtesy of WPBF)

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Ann Coulter's backward use of the 'r-word'
Last month Ann Coulter said in a tweet last month that she didn't realize "how crucial the retarded vote is in this election."
October 23rd, 2012
05:07 PM ET

Ann Coulter's backward use of the 'r-word'

By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN

(CNN) - Parents of children with special needs are demanding an apology from conservative political pundit Ann Coulter for tweeting after Tuesday's foreign policy debate that she approved of "Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard," in an apparent response to critiques of Mitt Romney's performance.

It wasn't the first time Coulter used the "the r-word" during this election season, and it's not the first time blogger Ellen Seidman has called her out on it.

"At this point, I'm thinking the woman must surely be aware that the word is offensive, and she chooses not to care. That's pretty vile and heartless," said Seidman, the mother of a special needs child who shares her world on the blog "Love that Max."

"You want to slam the president, go ahead. But you can't think of any other word to use? Come on."

Ending the r-word: Ban it or understand it?

The word "retard" demeans Max and millions more with intellectual disabilities, Seidman tweeted at Coulter. Still, the comment was favorited 1,215 times and earned 2,993 retweets as of this writing, presumably by a number of people who didn't find it offensive.

Read the full story

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