Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Man In Wheelchair Holds Three Hostage

Who says people in wheelchairs are not troublemakers? The following is taken from a newspaper article about an incident in Virginia:

"An armed man in a wheelchair held three people hostage at a post office in the US state of Virginia yesterday, forcing officials to cordon off three blocks of the small town which was filled with holiday shoppers.

There were no reports of injuries, however shots were fired during the eight-hour long stand-off in which the man, believed to be carrying explosives, made no demands other than to ask for a pizza.

A SWAT team and bomb technician were sent into the post office, in the rural mountain town of Wytheville, and police at the scene said that the man had five pounds of a common plastic explosive strapped to his chest.

Susan Holman, the manager of a store across the street, said officers had told employees to leave the building because there was a man with explosives in the post office

“The officer told us the man had enough explosives to take out the whole block,” Ms Holman told a local newspaper.

After several hours authorities ordered the suspect to let the hostages go and come out with his hands up. Soon afterwards, four people left the building, including a man in a wheelchair who surrendered to a police robot.

Police later said Warren Taylor of Tennessee is being questioned and authorities do not yet have a motive. It was believed the hostages who were kept inside the building were employees and customers of the post office.

Carlton Austin said his daughter, postal worker Margie Austin, was among the hostages. She managed to call a family friend and said she was fine. Her father said family members were still waiting to hear more. “That is all we can do,” Mr Austin said. Postal worker Walt Korndoerfer said he was in the building when he heard shots and a co-worker ran past. He called police and then ran to safety.

His wife, Christine Korndoerfer, said he had called to let her know he had safely escaped the building. “My husband is not one to get upset,” Mrs Korndoerfer said. “When he called, I do not think I have ever heard him so upset.”

Wytheville town manager Wayne Sutherland, speaking from his office four blocks from the scene, said dozens of officers had circled the freestanding, brick post office.
“It is completely surrounded by police in every direction,” Mr Sutherland said.

Pete Rendina, a spokesman for the US Postal Inspection Service, said the man was in a wheelchair and missing part of his leg, but he had no other information.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Adaptive Skiing 101: Types & Gear

With the increase in adaptive ski programs throughout the country and the advances in adaptive equipment, adaptive skiing is fast becoming one of the most popular sports. Who can blame people for wanting to try it? The blue skies, the views from the top, and the feel of your edges slicing through the fresh snow: that’s hard to beat.
Adaptive skiing provides people with disabilities the opportunity to ski using specialty equipment (sit-skis, outriggers, etc.) Skiing is one of the few truly inclusive sports. Many of the same skiing concepts carry over to the sit ski. Also, it is an individual sport, so you don’t need other wheelchair users to participate. It is a great activity to do with family and friends. So, whether you were previously a stand-up skier or have never tried the sport before, adaptive skiing has a lot to offer.
Before you get started, there are a few things you should consider before hitting the slopes. You want to first understand the types of skis and which one is best suited for you. Then, you will learn the gear to keep you warm and looking good (of course).
Types of Ski Adaptations
Mono-ski: The skier sits in a molded bucket-style seat that is mounted to a frame attached to a single ski. A shock absorber between the bucket and the ski cushions your ride. Since good upper-body strength and balance are needed, good candidates for the mono ski are typically lower extremity double amputee, spina bifida, spinal cord injury levels T6 and below (although exceptions occur).
Bi-ski: The skier sits in a rigid shell that is attached on top of two wide specialty skis. The two skis allow for a wider base ensuring more stability for the skier. The bi ski does not have a suspension system. Good candidates for the bi ski include beginner skiers, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and higher-level spinal cord injury.
Dual-ski: The dual ski is a system designed to bridge the gap between the mono ski and bi ski. It sits like the mono ski, but it is attached to two skis. Those who have advanced past the bi ski but are not yet ready for the mono ski are most appropriate for the dual ski.
3-Track: These skiers require one regular ski and two hand-held outriggers, hence the three points of contact to the snow. Good candidates would be amputees, post polio, hemiplegic, those who ambulate with or without assistive device, do not have full use of one leg, but have one strong non-impaired leg.
4-Track: Skiers use two skis and two hand-held outriggers or an attached walker. A skin bra can be used to help ensure the ski tips do not cross. It is simply a tube that slips across the ski tips. Individuals with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, or anyone who uses crutches or a cane would benefit from trying the 4-track system.
Outriggers: These are forearm crutches with a smaller ski tip on one end and a jagged blade on the other. Outriggers help with stability and turning. Hand-held outriggers are most common, but sometimes fixed outriggers can be attached to the bi ski.
Blind Skiing: The instructor uses various auditory cues and aides from behind or in front of the skier. The skier uses regular size skis and poles, but will not hit the slopes until he/she is comfortable with all maneuvering skills and cues.
Other adaptations: A tether strap is used as a training and safety device by instructors to tether to the skier. Grasping cuffs allow those with limited grip the ability to grip the outriggers using a Velcro strap. Chest straps/shoulder harnesses are available for individuals who need extra assistance for trunk stability.
The Dress Code
Staying warm and dry is the most important lesson to learn. With all the new outdoor gear there is out there, it will be easy to stay comfortable and look suave. When dressing for the mountain, there are three basic layers to follow.
Your first layer is your base layer. This should be moisture-wicking to keep your skin dry since it is the first layer that touches your skin. Stay away from blue jeans and anything cotton. The next layer can be of various thicknesses and you can have as many layers as your want. The fabric should be weather depending. Your outer layer should be waterproof. Think of this layer as the barrier between you and the outside elements (rain, sleet, or snow). It’s not a fun day on the mountain when you’re wet.

Other essentials include a hard shell helmet to protect your noggin, goggles are needed to protect your eyes and maximize visibility, and water resistant or waterproof gloves to keep those fingers warm.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Nuance Releases Dragon iPhone Apps

Nuance, the creators of the Dragon Naturally Speaking program, have released two apps for the iPhone. For those who are not familiar with Dragon, it is a speech to text program that is used by many disabled users who have difficulty typing... or doctors and professionals who require dictation... or, if you have seen the commercials, people who simply cannot be hassled with the idea of using a keyboard to type. The apps, which are currently free, are split into two parts. Dragon Dictation is pretty much exactly what the name implies: it is for dictation so that the text that is spoken can be cut and pasted into an email, text message, or any other application where you will need to paste a lot of text. The other program, Dragon Search, allows you to simply say what you wish to search and it will search for any pertinent results from your default search engine, Youtube, Twitter, iTunes, and Wikipedia. How easy is it to use? If you use Dragon Speak on your computer, then you already know how to use these apps: they use all the same commands. Nice :)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Is A Segway An Assistive Device??

The main intention of Segway has been to revolutionize the way people move about. The idea was to provide a means of short range transportation for an individual for errands that did not require a car. One use for the device is something that is generally overlooked by many people: use of the Segway as an assistive device. People with mobility issues who can still stand but need assistance in walking long distances can use a Segway quite effectively in many situations. Currently the Americans with Disabilities Act does not classify the Segway as an assistive device; so public places do have the right to prohibit them. One popular place that is well-known that does not allow Segways is Disney, who have banned the device at all of their theme parks. While it is not considered an assistive device under the ADA, the Department of Transportation does consider it an assistive device, so under the recently revised Air Carrier Access Act, airlines must treat Segways just like wheelchairs when operated by a passengers with disabilities. Rail travel (such as Amtrak) will accommodate Segways; however, it will have to be checked in as luggage. Cruise ships will accept Segways provided that it is arranged with the special needs department so that they can ensure that it will be able to navigate the doorways and cabins of the ship. If you happen to have a Segway and would like to travel with it, it is best to ask Segway owners for advice. Check out their message board here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Latest Video of Aaron Fotheringham: Just When Sitting Was Safe

Here is the latest and greatest clip for the Hardcore Sitter Master, Aaron Fotheringham, and his escapades around the skatepark. The video was edited by Aaron himself and shows him attempting some crazy tricks, some of which were not entirely successful. It also shows his exploits driving around in his modified truck, although modified in not just the adapted way. It seems that his wheelchair is not the only four-wheeled toy that he likes to play with. Watch the clip and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully In Avatar

If you are interested in seeing any movies that are out, check out the movie Avatar. Actor Sam Worthington plays Jake Sully, a former Marine that was paralyzed in combat, forcing him to use a wheelchair. To regain a sense or normalcy, he travels to Pandora to participate in a program where his mind will control an alien body, called an Avatar (hence the title of the movie). As an alien, Jake has full function of his body. He even manages to fall in love with one of the aliens on Pandora. While it is a little weird that paralysis is still an issue during the time period of this movie (well into the 22nd century), it is nice to see that relationships can be formed not by appearance but by personality. That aspect alone is something that is difficult to come by today. Check out the trailer here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Wheelchair + Tank Treads = Tankchair

This creation is quite possibly one of the most intimidating wheelchairs in existence at the moment. Brad Soden, the inventor of this wonderful contraption, built this chair for his wife when a car accident left her paralyzed. A failed attempt to get close to a herd of elk during a camping trip was the motivation for Brad to build something that would remove as many barriers as possible. The result of this effort was a chair that can tackle snow, gravel, sand, shallow streams, logs, and even stairs less than 45 degrees. With 4 batteries and a powerful 1hp electric motor, there are very few obstacles that can stop this beast of a whcclchair. Want one? Check out their site.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wheelchair-Fu Classes At The Neuro Core Physiotherapy & Pilates Centre

Several months ago, there was a post on wheelchair self-defense (aka Wheelchair-fu). The clip in this post is of a wheelchair self-defense class that is being held at the Neuro Core Physiotherapy & Pilates Centre in Toronto. Developed by Grant Murray and Rich VanderWal, they have taught a number of wheelchair users how to block, punch, grasp, and joint-lock. While the goal for this class may be to learn how to defend against an attacker, the other main goals for the wheelchair user is to learn how to be comfortable with one's wheelchair-bound body, to get comfortable in the chair and to build up one's sense of confidence. While defensive moves are taught, strengthening, balance, and appropriate wheelchair positioning are also taught in this class. The idea that Murray and VanderWal would like to convey to their students is that a wheelchair can be seen as a weapon and not a hinderance.

Unable to make it to this class? One thing to remember is that when attacked, the attacker will be forced to lean over to grab you, instantly throwing the attacker off-balance. Using this idea to your advantage, you can escape from the attacker or even be able to scare them off. Check out the article of this class at this link.

Monday, November 30, 2009

DORA Robotic Arm

Students at the University of Massachusetts have developed a low-cost robotic arm that is capable of opening doors for wheelchair users. The special grippers on the robot arm that they have created can calculate the amount of force needed to open and unlatch the door. How well does this arm work? They have tested it on 14 different types of door handles with a success rate of 85 percent with pushing the door and 65 percent with pulling the door, which is amazing considering that this arm uses a single motor and no elaborate cameras or sensors. With a build cost of $2000, this is an impressive achievement compared to more expensive robotic arms that are currently available. Let us hope that these students can develop and refine this arm for consumer use.

For more information, check out this link.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why Lithium Ion Batteries Are Not Used On Powerchairs... Yet

What do most laptops, cellphones, and some electric cars have in common? They all use lithium ion batteries. They are the latest and greatest in battery technology and can store twice as much energy for 33% less weight and last much longer than the conventional lead-acid batteries used in many powerchairs. So why aren't they used in chairs right now, you ask?

The big issues with lithium ion batteries are the testing, compatibility, and the costs. Testing these batteries for wheelchairs is ongoing since medical devices, such as wheelchairs, are subjected to much higher standards than in other applications. Reliability and safety (remember when millions of laptop batteries had to be recalled back a few years ago?) are crucial so testing to ensure that these batteries will not catch fire is important.

Compatibility is also an issue with most current wheelchair electronics since they have not been designed to handle the voltage and charging characteristics of lithium ion batteries. If lithium ion batteries are simply placed in most existing power wheelchairs, issues arise, from as simple as an inaccurate battery gauge reading, to as disconcerting as overheated connections. Therefore, power wheelchair electronics aren't yet designed to accept them predictably, and simply plugging in a set of lithium ion batteries into an existing power wheelchair proves problematic. Therefore, power wheelchair electronics need to be enhanced for compatibility with lithium-derived battery technology.

The final issue is cost. A set of lithium batteries that are similar in size to standard lead-acid batteries cost about $3500. When the lead-acid sets costs about $400, consumers and insurance companies are going to go for the cheaper option, despite the advantages that lithium ion can offer. Consumers struggle to fund basic mobility products – and often have to fight insurers for it – so $3,500 for batteries is simply out of consideration for most.

At least developing and refining battery technology is one of the biggest global technology trends, where environmental concerns are pushing towards better, safer, and cheaper batteries for all sorts of applications, including wheelchairs. In time, we will have new batteries in wheelchairs that will not only be safer and environmentally friendly, but allow us greater freedom and range to get us around. It is only a matter of time.

Monday, November 23, 2009

iPhone Users: Your Wheelchair App is Coming

Dynamic Controls is readying an iPhone/iPod Touch app that will cater to wheelchair users. Need to know how fast you are going? Need a compass to know the direction you are heading? Need to troubleshoot a diagnostic issue with your chair? This app has it. It will even tell you the battery level of the chair, if you need it. The developers are also working to have it connect to a chair's ECU so you can control your appliances or even check the IR or Wi-Fi status of the appliances you are controlling. Control of your wheelchair could even be possible through this app. Cool, huh?

This is set to be released for iPhone 3G, 3GS, and iPod Touch v2.0 and 3.0 by April 2010.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 is the only independent and completely free power wheelchair provider matching engine. Their goal is to match each visitor to the site with the best power wheelchair for their specific needs. The service is entirely free and thousands of satisfied customers can attest to the speed, diligence and knowledge of the mobility team. They only work with trusted providers to ensure that if the client qualifies he will receive a no or low cost power wheelchair delivered to their door!

Their service starts with the client. The focus is on providing the best experience for the client as they start the process of getting a mobility device. Most of the people who come to the site are individuals who have never had a wheelchair before and have only recently realized they need one either due to an injury, age or health issues. This can be a difficult time and WheelchairForMe want this process to be as smooth as possible for them. WheelchairForMe primary function is to match an individual who comes to to a trusted wheelchair provider that can match their unique needs. They have a database of trusted wheelchair provider partners who they have worked with and know are high quality companies with a strong customer service and performance record. WheelchairForMe looks at each visitor’s needs and match them with one of these partners who service their area.

During the process of matching the client with one of WheelchairForMe’s trusted partners, WheelchairForMe also strives to make them an informed consumer. They want to make sure visitors to the WheelchairForMe’s site understand their rights under federal, state or private insurance. They also want to make sure they understand they are not getting a “free” wheelchair. In the optimal case, one of the matched providers will get a client a power wheelchair that is completely paid for by their insurance. This means the client has no out of pocket expenses, but someone is still paying for the power wheelchair – the insurance company, or technically the taxpayers through a government program. WheelchairForMe’s goal is for all of their clients to get this optimal situation, but the truth of the matter is not everyone has the right insurance to achieve this. WheelchairForMe makes sure their clients understand this and understand that in some cases they may need to pay for a portion of their wheelchair.

On top of understanding the wheelchair acquisition process, WheelchairForMe has a number of resources on our site ranging from their user forum, their blog, articles on mobility topics, wheelchair reviews and a FAQ section that are all frequently updated and added to. Many of WheelchairForMe’s clients continue to come back and visit us for the information on their site long after they have received their wheelchair.

WheelchairForMe’s service and the information on their site is completely free. There is no charge from to visitors and individuals who use their matching technology to find the right wheelchair provider for them. WheelchairForMe continually works to improve their services and their information resources to better serve their clients. Check out their site

Monday, November 16, 2009

Latest Episode of Fox's Glee Focuses On Artie

This is the latest episode of Fox's newer shows, Glee. This is a show that tends to celebrate diversity and the underdog, such as in the case for this episode. Artie is one of the members of the Glee club who happens to be a wheelchair user. I do not wish to go into the details of the episode since I do not want to spoil it for anyone, but let me just say that it is worth it to watch and see what happens. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Wheelchair Backflip: Explained

I happen to catch myself watching the clip of Aaron Fotheringham's backflip every once in awhile and, every single time, I keep asking myself how he managed to do it. Apparently, I am not the only one to ask. asked Aaron the same question and he was more than happy to explain.

He started out by practicing using foam cushions to land on. After several (more like 50-60) attempts with cushions, Aaron then tried it on rezi, a hard plastic surface with a cushioned backing. After getting comfortable performing the trick on rezi, the only thing left to do was to try it on concrete. And the rest is history. The key to the backflip is to buildup and maintain the right speed to do it without causing you to over-rotate.

What is the next trick up Aaron's sleeve? Can we say 1080 spin? Double backflip?

Check out the site for the full article.

Monday, November 9, 2009

VPG's MV-1 Ready For Taxi Duty In 2010

Take a good look at this car here because you will likely be seeing them all over the place next year. Vehicle Production Group (VPG) is readying production of their new vehicle, the MV-1 for 2010. Originally conceived as a low-cost and wheelchair accessible replacement for taxis, VPG is expanding its role as a transporter for any commercial company. It has been designed from inception to be accessible, with a 36" wide ramp and a height of 56"with an in-floor ramp that can be adjusted to two different lengths to ease entry and exit for the wheelchair user. The vehicle can transport up to 6 people, with 2 of them being wheelchair users, and more than double the cargo space of a typical taxi. Lock down of the wheelchairs is done with standard tie-downs and can be positioned to the driver's preferences to secure nearly every existing wheelchair or scooter. Drivers will like the fact that it is designed to be easily maintained and driven and even has the option to run on Compressed Natural Gas, making this car one of the first "green" wheelchair-accessible vehicles. For more information, check out VPG's site here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Prosthetics Are Not Just For People...

While nearly all of the posts on this blog have been for people, animals are not immune to the issues that people also face. This is an inspirational story of Winter the Dolphin, a 3-month-old bottlenose dolphin found off the Florida coast with her tail caught in a crab trap. She was taken to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where she received around-the-clock care. Handlers moved her through the water because she was too weak to swim on her own.

The net had badly damaged her tail, and as the days went by, pieces of it began falling off. In spite of the staff’s best efforts, her tail had to be amputated. But this was one dolphin who wasn’t going to give up. Winter learned to swim in a side-to-side motion like an alligator or shark. She could breathe and eat and move herself around. But her keepers were worried that the movements she had to make would eventually damage her spine. Enter prosthetic specialist Kevin Carroll of Hanger Orthopedic Group, Inc.

Carroll, who travels the world tackling the most difficult human cases, had called the aquarium to offer his services. A cast was made of Winter’s residual limb, and Carroll created a latex tail prosthesis for the dolphin. And even though she had only spent three months swimming with a tail as a baby, Winter was able to relearn the normal motions of her species and fully recover.

That was four years ago. Today, the dolphin wears a less cumbersome, updated version of her artificial flukes. Hundreds of amputees have visited her in Florida, where she resides at the aquarium, and the innovations that allowed her to regain natural movement in the water have been used to improve human prosthetics.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mobile Office Work Station With High Seating Position

Check out this mobile work station meant for those who never want to leave their desk... or for those who have a hard time using standard height chairs. It is completely mobile and appears to be fairly lightweight making it easy to move about. There is also a version with two seats so you and a friend can move about together. To see more images and to order one of these work stations, check out this site.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

UPDATE: Chris Waddell Takes On Mt Kilimanjaro

When Chris Waddell began his ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro he expected to become the first paraplegic to climb the 19,340-foot mountain unassisted. He planned to summit on his 41st birthday and to gather footage to create a documentary film of his adventure to help break down the barriers between able-bodied and people with disabilities and show what is possible. While he missed summitting on his birthday, and required assistance for a very short stretch of the upper mountain, he came to a new realization about the barriers he had created in his own life.

“I climbed the vast majority under my own power but I realize now that to even remotely think of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro unassisted is ridiculous,” Chris said from his home in Park City, Utah.

Chris began his ascent of the tallest freestanding mountain in the world on September 24, accompanied by his team of climbers, porters, and a camera crew. Tajiri, a former porter who had lost his leg in a rockslide while climbing in Mt. Kilimanjaro 2006, was once again climbing the mountain with the new prosthesis Chris’s One Revolution Foundation had given him.

The first few days went as planned as Chris cycled up to 10 hours a day with his custom-made, 36-gear hand cycle known as “Bomba.” On day five, he reached 18,000 feet and despite not summitting that day as planned, he considers it his greatest day on the mountain.

“I pedaled all day long, climbed 2,000 vertical feet, and didn’t fatigue,” he says. “It amazed me.”

To make it up the scree field below Gillman’s Point—a spot on the rim of the mountain’s volcanic crater at 18,638 feet that for some is accepted as a successful climb—Chris used a winch that allowed him to climb a fixed rope. To stay motivated, he counted pedal strokes, and when he tired of that, he focused on individual rocks that were 10 to 12 feet away. It took hours to climb the approximately 200-foot rope.

“Sometimes I wondered if I could make it 20 feet,” he said. “I was going so ridiculously slow and thought that this must be what it is like to drown within reach of shore.”

At that point Chris encountered an unexpected obstacle to summitting solely under his own power—a boulder field that turned out to be insurmountable without assistance. Chris finally had to admit that despite two years of preparation he couldn’t climb the entire mountain unassisted with his current system.

“I felt conflicted,” says Chris, who had kept a single-minded focus to climb the entire 29.2-mile trail under his own power. “I had done so much work and yet I faced something completely impassable. It was a difficult decision.”

In deciding to ask for help, Chris began to learn what the mountain had to teach him.

“It’s challenging for me to ask for help, partly in reaction to the injury and partly due to the disability,” says Chris, who broke his back in a ski accident when he was 20 years old and became the most decorated male skier in Paralympic history. “You don’t want to seem needy.”

On September 30, after pedaling over approximately 500,000 revolutions, Chris shifted out of first gear for the first time in three days and pedaled easily the few hundred yards to the summit. Tajiri summited for the second time in two days, becoming the first Tanzanian leg amputee to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.

“Tajiri seemed a lot more confident than I’d seen him before,” Chris says. “Seeing him become whole again was amazing.”

Chris now has a new perspective on climbing mountains, both literally and figuratively.

“Part of the reason you climb a mountain is to learn something you wouldn’t have learned otherwise,” he says. “Now I realize that focusing on being independent is another way of drawing a wedge between you and the people around you. The glory of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was really a collective team effort.”

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Honda's Stride Assist System

Honda continues its foray into walking assist systems with the "Stride Assist System" that debuted recently at the Tokyo Motor Show. It is not quite clear what this device's intent is for: it could be used for the elderly or for those with difficulty walking long distances. Anyways, here is the press release issued by Honda:

"When walking is a struggle, you need a leg up. And that's literally what Honda's prototype Stride Management Assist device is designed to provide. A motor helps lift each leg at the thigh as it moves forward and backward. This helps lengthen the user's stride, making it easier to cover longer distances at a greater speed.

A lightweight, simple design with a belt worn around the hips and thighs was created to reduce the wearer's load and to fit different body shapes. More than 130 patents have been applied for pertaining to the walking assist devices, which are currently being tested in real-world conditions to evaluate their effectiveness. As a company that values mobility, Honda began research into a walking device in 1999. The cumulative study of human walking, along with research and development of technologies conducted for Honda's advanced humanoid robot, ASIMO, made these developments possible."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Joe Swanson: Animated Hero

Family Guy’s Lieutenant Joseph “Joe” Swanson is over-zealous, fearless, full of bravado, short tempered, and operates by the book. He is also a capable police officer who does not get around via a patrol car. Instead, a wheelchair is his main mode of transportation.

Joe is wildly enthusiastic and has developed massive upper-body strength. He does everything his co-characters do (and more), including water skiing, sledding, roller skating, choreographing local musicals, driving, and—in one episode—climbing a street lamp. Joe’s catch phrases include the Steven Seagal-esque “Let's do it!, Get Some!” and “Bring it on!” He loves macho action and martial arts films.

These are just a few of the reasons why America loves Joe. His popularity is due in part to the fact that Joe is a welcome departure from the all-too-common portrayal of disabled people on television as bitter, helpless, and fighting to overcome huge obstacles inherent in their disabilities. Family Guy not only moves well beyond this stereotype but actually goes on to have fun with Joe’s disability.

Joe is a breakthrough. His plotlines are hilarious, and his character portrays disabled people as being far from perfect. Even the manner in which he became paralyzed is not exempt from humor: On Christmas Eve in 1989, as Joe investigates a robbery at an orphanage, he ends up battling a Grinch on the orphanage rooftop. During the fisticuffs, he slides on a roller skate, falls off the roof, and injures his spine.

Joe is never left out of the show’s twisted and politically incorrect brand of humor. Instead, his treatment is equal to that of other characters—he is included in the ribbing, just the way the others are made fun of. In fact, when Joe corrects another character who mistakes his physical disability for mental incapacity, the character accuses Joe of “just splitting hairs.”

In another episode, while marooned on a desert island for months, another Family Guy character eats Joe’s legs, claiming that Joe doesn’t need them anyway. When the men are rescued, Joe gets leg transplants, but still can’t walk because the donor was also handicapped.

It is no wonder that Joe has become one of television’s most beloved disabled characters, animated or otherwise. And until more disabled people hit the airwaves, there’s every indication that Joe’s popularity will continue to skyrocket. In his case, animated fiction is far better than media-driven “fact.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

Another Wheelchair Power Assist: NEXT Mobility Tailwind

NEXT Mobility has a power-assisted manual chair that provides resistance free assistance for the user. The Tailwind Power Package, which is fitted to their RTm lightweight manual chair, consists of a controller, lightweight battery, motors, and quick-release wheels with touch sensitive hand rims. The controller senses inputs from the hand rims about 200 times per second and will provide power assistance when it senses that the user will have difficulty, such as when the user is going uphill or traversing rough terrain. It will even assist in keeping the chair tracking correctly if it senses that one wheel is slipping and could cause the chair to travel off the intended direction. The battery provides up to 9 miles of sustained assistance and can be charged in less than 4 hours. This should provide another viable option for those needing a powered assisted manual chair. Check out the clip to see it in action.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Real-life Iron Man Suit: HAL

A Japanese company called Cyberdyne has created a exoskeletal suit that enhances the strength of the user. The Hybrid Assistive Limb, or HAL for short, Uses sensors attached to the skin to allow effortless movement with your muscles and it has the capability of increasing your strength up to 10 times. It also has a continuous operating time of about 2 hours and 40 minutes. HAL is expected to be applied in various fields such as rehabilitation support and physical training support in medical field, ADL support for disabled people, heavy labour support at factories, and rescue support at disaster sites, as well as in the entertainment field. I just find it amazing that a company like Cyberdyne exists: let us hope that they do not start to create machines that want to take over the world like the Cyberdyne in the Terminator series. Check out the info on HAL on their site.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Not Just For Cellphones: Prosthetics Get Bluetooth

If you were asked what a pair of prosthetic legs has in common with a cellphone, you would probably say “nothing.” And you would have been right—until recently.

Prosthetic legs have been made from every material from wood to plastic to metal. With each generation prosthetics experts try to make the limbs look and behave more naturally. At the same time the devices have become more complex. Now an Iceland-based orthopedics and prosthetics company, Ossur, has significantly raised the bar. Two factors make the company’s new prosthetic different from any of their predecessors. Their power knee uses artificial intelligence to sense and make adaptations for pressure and angle changes as the amputee moves. In itself computerization isn’t a giant leap away from where other prosthetics were headed. But add this to the Bluetooth device on the ankle, and now we’re dancing a new step. This Bluetooth device coordinates the movements of one leg with the movements of the other.

The technology was originally designed to be used on single leg amputees. In its originally conceived configuration, the 10-pound prosthetic would mimic the movements of a flesh-and-blood leg. In the case of a double amputee, the Bluetooth devices need to “sync up” with each other. In either case, the first step or two the user takes is usually pretty sloppy.

Users of older forms of prosthetic tire easily. It takes a great deal of effort, and a good bit of contraction from potentially damaged thigh muscles, to move a hunk of wood or a shaft of metal. But motors built into these new Bluetooth devices do much of the work. As a result, users can do more than ever before without expending nearly as much energy. There are, of course, challenges that need to be addressed with any new technology and these new prosthetics are no different. Cost is chief among the hurdles. Up until now, a top-of-the-line set of prosthetic legs ran about $20,000. The Ossur device comes with a price tag hovering around $120,000. That’s outside the price range affordable by the typical user. Furthermore, it’s been difficult to adjust the strength of the motors that help to propel the leg.

While these motors do save the user much-needed energy, on several occasions they have produced undesirable effects. Current users have reported such things as excessively strong knee jerks when trying to stand. And, because of the built-in power supply, this new device has to be charged overnight. That means going out for a long night on the town may mean either taking off the device at some point in time or leaving it at home altogether.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Suzuki MIO Concept To Debut At Tokyo Auto Show

Suzuki is unveiling a revised version of the MIO, a fuel cell scooter concept that they began developing a year ago and seen in a previous post. Like the earlier version, this scooter uses methanol, which is stored in easily replaceable cartridges, instead of batteries as its means of energy storage. The idea is that the cartridges are easy enough to replace that it could provide the user with a virtually unlimited range. Here is the press release issued by Suzuki:

"Suzuki's MIO electric wheelchair is powered by a direct-methanol fuel cell rather than by a conventional lead-acid battery. The methanol solution is held in a cartridge-type bottle that's easy to replace with a full spare one, so the user gains extra freedom and doesn't need to worry about running out of fuel on the road. Suzuki began joint trials of the MIO with the Shizuoka prefectural government in November 2008 with a view to enhancing its reliability ready for commercialization."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Duane Stevenson: MMA Warrior & Coach

The following clip is a trailer for a documentary of Duane Stevenson, an MMA coach who happens to be crutch-bound due to tumors in his spine. With an abusive childhood adding to the complications of dealing with a disability, Duane uses Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as an outlet to vent his aggression. This eventually turned into the means in which he harnesses his fighting spirit and earns the admiration and respect of others that have come into his life. His determination and fighting spirit serve as an inspiration to all who have had the privilege of meeting and working with him. As you can see in the trailer, Duane treats everybody, disabled or not, the same way he likes to be treated. He teaches his students more than fighting: he teaches them how to overcome any obstacles that are in their way. Watch the trailer and get a preview of the life of this extraordinary individual.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

RediAuto Sport System: For Those Who Want To Drive Stick

One of the major limitations of hand controls these days is the lack of the availability to adapt controls for vehicles equipped with manual transmissions. While most people are satisfied with driving a car with an automatic, those who have the desire to drive a sports car (such as a Ferrari) were simply out of luck. At least they were out of luck until RediAuto Sport began distributing a series of customized controls that allow users with limited or no leg function the ability to operate any vehicle, even manual transmission equipped vehicles. The system consists of an accelerator ring that is fitted inside the rim of the conventional steering wheel with another lever to control the brake. The shifter operates normally with the clutch controlled automatically through electronic systems. For those that question the effectiveness of this setup, this exact configuration was developed for Alex Zanardi, a former Indy car driver who tragically lost his legs in an accident. A few years after his accident and coupled with this system, he has returned to racing Touring cars in Europe where he has become quite successful. For more information on this hand control system, check out this site.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Chris Waddell Takes On Mt. Kilimanjaro

Chris Waddell, the most dedicated paralympic male skier in history, is attempting another feat that no one has attempted before: he is working to become the first paraplegic to reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro under his own power. What many people do not realize about one of the tallest mountains in the world (at 19,000 feet) is that it is a walkable mountain, so it is possible for one using a wheelchair to successfully reach the summit with a wheelchair. He had previously done a scouting trip of the mountain in 2008, where he made it to 16,500 feet and realized that he was facing the most difficult thing he has ever done. Besides the obvious danger of fatigue, he will be encountering five different climate zones—savannah, mountain rain forest, heather, alpine desert, and glacial plateau—not to mention decreasing oxygen levels (just 48 percent at the peak), and travel a rough, soft sand and rock, rutted trail that necessitated a redesign of his hand cycle. With a grant from the Easton Foundation, a team built a new one-of-a-kind bike known as the Bomba, incorporating the changes Waddell found necessary: a narrower, shorter wheel base, traditional bike gearing, and significantly lighter weight—48 pounds rather than 83. The new design provides better traction and enables Waddell to maneuver over foot-tall obstacles and climb in and out of the deep trenches built into the trail every few yards to prevent erosion from rain. The changes also enable Waddell to go twice as fast, 1 mph to 2 mph, which will significantly cut his time. Why is he doing this? Waddell has dedicated his life to defying the conventional wisdom of what a paraplegic can and cannot do. Through his work with the Paralympics, Waddell has proven that being a "para" does not mean living a disabled life. Waddell's athletic abilities garnered international attention and have helped to change the way disabled individuals are viewed. His decision to summit Kilimanjaro is intended to "shine the light back on the disabled — to show that if you take the time to look, you might be surprised." Waddell hopes that his incredible climb will provide a counterpoint to people's preconceived notions. "I hope my climb will make us see some of the 21+ million disabled people in the world in a whole new way," says Waddell.