Dancing with New Legs

Our daughter is engaged to a very fine young man.  This means that finally my husband and I are going to take dance lessons, to prepare for the wedding.  This is a radical departure for both of us. Neither of us grew up dancing.  I am the daughter of a fundamentalist minister, and  dancing was forbidden. My husband was the victim of the rock concert generation, where you just bobbed your head, instead of doing anything that required choreography. (There may be some hearing damage, too).

My daughter always has teased me about my lack of rhythm. I have white woman’s disease. (Think  Julie Louis-Dreyfus in that Seinfeld skit where everyone groans and covers their eyes  when she dances. ) But our daughter grew up taking ballet and dance lessons.  It is a joy to watch her dance on stage or at a wedding.  (Now walking down the sidewalk, she trips all over herself). Anyway,  I am terrified about flopping on the floor, in front of our favorite family and friends on one of the happiest days of our lives.

But Amy Purdy gives me courage. She is the woman who lost both of her legs, yet managed to score a bronze medal at Sochi last winter and preformed on “Dancing With the Stars.” In 1999, Amy was stricken with bacterial meningitis.  She almost died and fell into a coma. Amazingly she recovered, but the infection had cut off circulation to her legs. Doctors amputated both legs below her knees.

She learned how to walk again on prosthetic legs. In 2012 when snowboarding was declared an Olympic sport, Amy started training. Then she went to Sochi and got a bronze medal and decided to appear on the strenuous Dancing with the Stars. These are amazing feats for any able bodied person.

Amy and her boyfriend give back too. They run Adaptive Actions Sports a charity that helps wounded soldiers and children with disabilities snowboard and skateboard.

“We show people that there’s not just life on the other side, but a full life—maybe fuller than you ever would have had if this had never happened to you,” Amy said.

I adore that spirit.  Our son, who has cerebral palsy, has taught us much about this resilient approach to life. He too wants to take  lessons, so that he can dance with his sister at her wedding.

Courage and Resiliance

Last spring, I witnessed a young bike rider fly through the air, and land near my car. I was terrified for her. But Laura Quade is a woman of courage and resilience.

Today, she is learning how to use a walker and even do handstands in the pool. She is  starting to use crutches.  She is now able to take physical therapy

 

But there is still much work to be done. Her double vision has stayed, which may require  surgery to correct it. Her bone growth has been slow, which may mean  a bone graft.

 I have been summoned to testify in court soon about the man who drove his car into her bike, sending her sailing about 30 feet, before crashing on the pavement.

Despite the random craziness of this crash, Laura continues to exhibit a positive outlook, giving she and others a brighter outlook.

Take a Break

I hope that you are  celebrating the sunny days and balmy breezes of summer.  This month we are taking a break from blogging and plan to make a few changes to this website.

But please keep sending me those stories that embrace the joy and power of people with disabilities, while we are under construction. There is power and healing in story telling.

We plan to be up to speed with www.everyonesincluded.com next month.

Enjoy Summer!

Golf for Autism

Nobody knows what causes autism. But the numbers  are skyrocketing. Now, one in 46 boys is  diagnosed on the Autism spectrum.   While every child  is as unique as a snowflake, it is becoming clear that golf is helping many children and their families.

Children who have been  socially isolated, are learning how to participate in this complex game with their families and new friends. There are dozens of stories  about how golf has given meaning and focus to individuals with the diagnosis.  Sports Broadcaster Jimmy Roberts documents the stories of golf boosting the quality of life for children and adults who once felt lost.

In Arizona, there is an association dedicated to supporting families.  The website for Golf for Autistic Children in America is http://www.gfaca.org/.

No one seems to be able to explain why a game that is so frustrating and difficult can soothe and elevate the lives of young people with great difficulties. Perhaps there are a few clues in how golf is being used to help senior citizens with Alzheimers.  In Belmont California, Alzheimers paitents who are non-verbal, immobile and belligerent ,  start swinging like teenagers, adding up their scores and making coherent conversation.

There is something about the golf swing that sticks within the inner workings of the brain.

“Golf is all about memory, and not just the motion of the swing, but your score and the club you hit and from how many yards you were from the hole,” said Bert Hayslip Jr., a psychology professor at the University of North Texas who has studied Alzheimer’s sufferers. “There is something about that game that imprints itself on people’s minds.” 

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB12391459858789881

Inclusion Israeli Style

It is tough for Americans to understand the social power of the Israeli Army. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion created the Israeli Defense Force not only for defending, but as a way to integrate Israeli society.

Until recently, young people with disabilities have been excluded from being integrated into this rite of passage. Now, an innovative program called

“Great in Uniform” is opening the doors to young adults with disabilities.  The results are powerful and positive, especially for the able-bodied soldiers.

This video is a must-see for anyone who cares about the soaring power of the human spirit.

Road to Recovery Update

I have been haunted by the vision of a young woman on her bike, flying through the air towards my car on May 6.  After calling 911, the minister from the nearby church and I stood helpless as we watched paramedics rush her to Grady Hospital.

“All we can do now is pray,” the minister said.  So we did.

I am happy to report that this 26-year-old biker is  back home, and did not suffer any spinal nor neurological injuries.  However, she did break many bones and  has had multiple surgeries.  Laura Quade  is still recovering and  is set for physical therapy sessions.

You can keep track of Laura’s progress on www.caringbridge.org.  Just enter “Laura Quade.” Laura is a well loved member of the Decatur, GA community, and a very experienced bike rider.

Laura  was safely waiting to make a left, when a senior citizen slammed into her bike, sending her sailing through the air. He was charged with a minor traffic violation.

Beyond Limits

“Our only limitation is our belief that it is so.”  Moshe Feldenkrais, PhD

Phillip and I participated in an  activity that probably most mothers and adult sons would never do.  We attended the Anat Baniel Method for Children with Special Needs workshop.  We stood behind chairs, slowly bending our knees,  learning how small slow movements can  awaken the brain.

Anat Baniel has an international reputation for her work with children with special needs. She runs the Anat Baniel Method facility in Marin County, California and is the author of “Kids Beyond Limits” and “Movement for Life.”

Twenty-three years ago, Phillip began working with Anat on his first birthday and  could barely lift his head.  When Phillip was initially diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, we bombarded him with traditional physical therapy.  He turned red and screamed violently through all his therapy sessions.  He was stuck  and light years behind hitting any of those “development milestones.”

 Anat gently uses her hands to spark learning in the brain and body

Anat gently uses her hands to spark learning in the brain and body

But when Phillip experienced his first “lesson” in movement with Anat, he became engaged, curious, and began to learn how to move his spastic, yet listless body. Anat’s work evolved out of the Feldenkrais method. Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais was an Israeli scientist who  developed the method based on the principles of physics, neurology, and physiology and the conditions under which the nervous system learns best.

Because I witnessed  great and small gains in Phillip’s ability to move,    I travelled with Phillip to see Anat several times a year. We would follow up with practitioners who were Anat Baniel Method trained in Chicago, New York and then Atlanta.

When Phillip developed Type I diabetes at age 15, it became too difficult to travel. Phillip continued working with practitioners locally. But Anat was present at all of his milestones…learning how to roll, how to sit up, how to pull himself to stand,   take a few steps and even how to talk.  When he was almost four, his first word was “light” on her table, as he gazed up at the ceiling above.  I was unsure if he would ever be able to talk, but when he said “light,” it was an amazing moment. I was filled with gratitude and immense joy.

Unlike other therapists and doctors, Anat and her practitioners support the child with special needs to help the brain discover its own solutions:

“Over time I have realized that we discover the genius of any child not in the seeming perfection or gracefulness of her specific achievement…such as climbing stairs effortlessly…but in the ability to use imagination  and  divergent thinking to find unique ways of accomplishing a task in response to tough challenges.” (p. 193  Kids Beyond Limits: Breakthrough results for children with autism, Asperger’s, brain damage, ADHD and undiagnosed developmental delays.)

Because Phillip had not seen Anat in several years, he greatly anticipated attending the Atlanta workshop.  Quite eloquently,  Phillip told the crowd of 100 participants how Anat had helped teach him how to move, and what her work has meant to him over the years.  I described how immobile and non-verbal he was before beginning his  work with the Anat Baniel method.

After the workshop, a mother with a three year old in a stroller came running up to me. She said how impressed she was with Phillip’s talk and his ability to participate in the workshop.  But she had a hard time believing that when Phillip was young he was immobile,  similar to her daughter.

“Is it really true that Phillip couldn’t lift his head until he began doing this work,” the mother asked? “He couldn’t move his body, and lay in a stroller like my daughter?”

“Yes, “ I said.  When he was a toddler, we referred to Phillip as a Buddha baby, because we would prop him up with pillows, and he would sit like a statue. Without the pillows, he would topple over.

Today’s workshop was a reminder of how far Phillip has come, and how the work has given him so many different options for movement, and for his life. Phillip still struggles with walking and using his fine motor skills.  But every time he does this kind of work, he said there is a benefit.

“The workshop really helped me with my balance today, ” Phillip said.

That’s enormous.

To learn more about the Anat Baniel method,  visit www.anatbanielmethod.com.

A Shining Example

Jonah Selber is glaring proof of how finding and keeping a job can transform a  life.  Jonah has been working for 17 years in the information systems department at  a hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He is a dependable hardworking young man who is much more than just his diagnosis of being  born with a developmental disability. Jonah bucks the statistics.  Seventy per cent of all people with disabilities are unemployed.

With supportive coaching programs, employers are reporting success in finding and keeping more employees like Jonah. Walgreens, AMC  Theatres, Office Max and Publix grocery stores are just a few of the corporations who are discovering the value of employing more people with disabilities.

In Atlanta,  there are strong efforts to  boost the  hiring of workers who may need more support. Recently,  All About Developmental Disabilities   received a $2.5 million gift from the Sarah K. Kennedy Endowment Fund. This gift will be  tremendously meaningful for  people with developmental disabilities, who have little or no financial means. This gift will help the workers like Jonah, live more independently within their communities. The State of Georgia is also starting a model program for graduating seniors to get job training and on site coaching. This kind of program will help more graduates with developmental disabilities find and keep jobs.

With a little bit of effort and creative thinking, the marketplace can soon be filled with more success stories like Jonah Selber.  To find out more about Jonah  and jobs for people with disabilities contact www.RespectAbilityUSA.org.  andwww.aadd.org.

The Road to Recovery

I saw something terrifying this week.  I wasn’t sure if I should write about it here, because my blog is dedicated to supporting the uplifting stories in life.  But often there is darkness before light.

On a warm spring Tuesday evening, I was driving into downtown Decatur, GA. It is a smaller town, next door to Atlanta. Decatur is home to the CDC and Emory University.  Decatur prides itself on being a “bike friendly community.” In fact, I noticed such a sign on West Ponce de Leon, but also observed that cars were parked in the bike lanes.

Minutes later, I heard a crash, slowed my car and unbelievably saw a young woman being hurled 30 feet threw the air toward my car, her bike falling midway.  When her head hit the road, her helmet snapped off. I and other motorists immediately called 911, while her twisted bleeding body lay on the pavement.  The paramedics arrived about five minutes after we called 911. Police said she was struck from behind by an 87-year-old driver in a Cadillac.   The elderly motorist has been cited with driving too close.

Miraculously, the 26-year-old woman   is alive and stable.  Witnessing this episode reinforces the fragility of life, and how quickly one’s life can change.  Much therapy and hard work will be her road to recovery. Her father predicts she will make a full recovery.

More people are biking to work and school. There’s a 60 per cent increase this year in urban bike commuters. The good news is that science and technology are developing innovations that could lead to fewer head injuries and head trauma.  In Sweden, two industrial design graduate students have invented an inflatable helmet known as the “invisible helmet.  It mimics the airbags in our cars.

Perhaps everyone will be wearing the invisible helmets, as we all have airbags in ours.  Regardless, urban biking needs to be safer.  Biking should be the clean transportation of the future, especially in mild climates like  metro Atlanta.

More cities need to follow Amsterdam’s model, where bikers and motorists respect each other’s vehicles. Biking is  clean, efficient and terrific exercise. Rarely do you see an overweight biker. Of course, the best plan of all is creating separate bike paths.  The bike routes are cheaper to build than rail systems or roads and expressways. I am certain our hot cities could be cooled a few degrees in the summer if more people biked, instead of using their heat producing cars. 

We need to work harder to be able to exercise  using clean, cheap , healthy transportation, without risking horrible head trauma.  It can be done.

Disability Studies

Disability studies is becoming a hot topic on college campuses. The surge of interest is timely because now federal contractors have to comply with new guidelines for hiring workers with disabilities.  The government has set a goal for  these workers to make up at least 7% of employees in every job group.

Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations cannot keep up with the demand. Since the program began in 2009, Cornell now offers eight courses that draw more than 300 students.  This spring’s roster included classes on disability and employment policies and “intersections of disability identity in the law, workplace and society.” Most of the students have a family member with some type of disability.

The Cornell  program also addresses the strategic advantages of employing people with disabilities, such as helping firms appeal to new audiences and markets.

Students write final papers helping corporations figure out how to evaluate the benefits of inclusion  and how employers can prepare for the challenges of veterans with disabilities returning to the workplace.

Unique Skills

Software companies are opening doors to workers diagnosed with autism. Their unique skills allow them to shine in the workplace. They often excel at writing manuals to give clients precise instructions on how to install software. Workers with autism may excel at going step by step, with out missing important details.

“The business procurement process, such as getting invoices or managing the supply chain , is another area in which an individual with autism might shine.” WSJ March 28, 2014.

It is critical that business figures out how to maximize the skills of people who think in a different way.  First, one in 68 children are now diagnosed as falling somewhere on the autism spectrum.   If supported correctly, they could be a wellspring of innovation,  filling an important gap in the labor pool.

Business is worried about the labor pool. By the year 2020,   most baby boomers will have retired.  There is a shortage of workers looming, and employers need to figure out how to hire workers who see the world in a different way.

The German software giant SAP has been actively recruiting people with autism for jobs because of their unique set of skills. The program has been a success in Germany, India and Ireland. It is launching a similar program in North America.  This doesn’t come a minute too soon, because 85 per cent of adults diagnosed with autism are jobless.  Supportive employment programs can be the key to help not only people with autism, but all people with disabilities find and keep jobs.

You Were My Hands and Feet

“You were my hands and feet when I couldn’t use mine:” Collin Smith

  Ernest Greene (left) accompanied Collin Smith to college. When Collin graduated, the school awarded Ernest an honorary degree.

Ernest Greene (left) accompanied Collin Smith to college. When Collin graduated, the school awarded Ernest an honorary degree.

When Collin Smith was a high school sophomore, a car wreck left him a paraplegic.  But Collin worked hard and was accepted to High Point University  in North Carolina. Unsure how he would navigate life on campus, an angel in his church  offered to attend college with Collin. Ernest Greene was 50 years his senior and did everything for Collin from taking him to class to helping him  shave.

Their story was told on NPR’s story corps and will give your heart hope and faith in humanity. Read more here.

More Jobs Needed

Advocates for people with disabilities worked hard this winter. In addition to helping rescue families stranded by the cold, ice and snow, there was much work done at the Georgia State Capitol.

Advocacy organizations did convince the General Assembly to approve $390,000 for a supportive employment program for graduating high school seniors. This part of the state budget is sitting on the Governor’s desk, waiting for his signature. This important jobs program is just a drop in the bucket, but is  a start.  Workers with developmental disabilities are the last to group to find a job,  and have the greatest chance of living in poverty.

This boost in Georgia to fund an innovative jobs program will be good for the state and the country. The labor pool is shrinking in the U.S., with employers facing a shortage of 20 million workers by 2020 as baby boomers retire.  Top Corporations are taking extra efforts, because building a disability candidate can be difficult.

Corporations such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc., KPMG, Liz Claiborne and Procter and Gamble have placed 75 students with disabilities in internships. KPMG, Eastman Kodak, IBM and Pepsi all landed on DiversityInc’s Top 10 Companies for People with Disabilities list.

Booz Allen’s efforts to do something different began at the top. CEO Chairman Dr. Ralph Shrader has a son with a disability.

“Finding a job—and gaining the significant benefits that come with employment is difficult, but when the right opportunity comes together, the rewards for the employee and the company are extraordinary,” Dr. Shrader says.

Now Governor Deal, please make sure this $390,000 stays in the budget.

 

Neverstop

Putin’s recent Blitzkrieg in Crimea almost overshadowed the importance and message of the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi.  But the competition revealed unlimited possibilities.   One short video helps celebrate and glorify the tremendous power and strength of these athletes.

The video is narrated by Russian native Natalia Vadianova,  one of the most sought after international supermodels.  She agreed to narrate it, because her sister has cerebral palsy.

Natalia Vodianova: #Neverstop on Nowness.com

Ms. Vadianova said that during her childhood in Russia,  she and her family experienced a terrible stigma because of her sister’s disability.

“The real problem lies in the misguided perceptions and attitudes of society towards people with special needs, ” she said. “What I learned from some of my friends, Paralympians, is that even the biggest challenge can be an opportunity, and it is our choice to make the most.”

Important words and lessons for these challenging  times.

Unsung Snow Heroes

We’ve had a taste of spring in Atlanta this week.  Blue skies, daffodils blooming and high’s in the low seventies. It’s the perfect time to reflect on the stories that are emerging from our two winter blasts…unusual for Hotlanta.

My favorite stories come from All About Developmental Disabilities, AADD.  It is a group that serves many families who live below the poverty line. These families would be on the streets or homeless, if it weren’t for AADD.

During the first two inch snow fall, Atlanta was stuck in gridlock for 24 hours, longer in some places.  As it began to snow, AADD workers began to check on families spread throughout the metro area, and discovered several families were home without food.  So the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 28 AADD workers went grocery shopping and delivered food and medicine to families who deal with developmental disabilities. These AADD heroes, serving families who need extra help, then got stuck in their cars for as long as 26 hours. They stayed in their cars all night on the highways, until state officials could release the gridlock.

During the second ice storm, the city and state were better prepared. And so was AADD. Workers went to the homes and delivered food, blankets and clothes before the storm hit.  Many of AADD’s families don’t have good winter jackets. So AADD worked with United Way to collect and redistribute  jackets to about 50 families.  One discovery was brutal.  One home had a broken furnace and six children living there. The AADD office small heaters were collected and delivered to the family, until a furnace repairman could be called.

These are dedicated workers who know that many of their families deal with immense physical, medical and intellectual challenges.  It could have been a disaster if not for the sacrifices of these unsung heroes.

Real Jobs: Followup

Now is a critical time for the State of Georgia to make a difference. It is crucial for lawmakers to keep important funds in its budget for people with developmental disabilities. Currently, Georgia ranks 49th in the nation in how it supports people with disabilities.

A coalition of advocacy groups have asked the General Assembly to help 2014 high graduates find and keep jobs.  The House added $250,000 for the supportive employment program. The Senate boosted it to $500,000.

Many Georgia employers have enjoyed the benefits of the hard-working employees who outperform their non-disabled peers. Publix, Walgreens, Home Depot, The Georgia Aquarium, P.F. Chang’s, Kroger and Hamilton Health Care in Dalton tell of these workers’ strengths. The employees with developmental disabilities exhibit lower turnover, lower absenteeism rates, strong job loyalty, increased morale and enhanced image as a resulting of hiring a different type of worker. There is untapped potential here.

Even though the national unemployment rate hovers at seven per cent, it is 80 per cent for people with developmental disabilities. This funding can help combat that dismal statistic.

“We need this funding to provide necessary job development and job coaching so that people with developmental disabilities can experience what many of us take for granted: the satisfaction and economic security that only a job can provide,” said Kathy Keeley, executive director of All About Development Disabilities.

Soon the budget will go to Governor Nathan Deal’s desk.

You can read more about Ms. Keeley’s comments: http://www.myajc.com/news/news/opinion/employ-the-disabled/nd4xq/

Cool Cars

For the first time in my life, I feel like a “Cool Girl.”  I am 59 years old driving a “Wheego” electric car that serenely sails down city streets.  There is no noise. I don my aviators and feel actual joy in knowing that my carbon footprint is greatly diminished. (I have always been a bit of a geek, with bad eyes and poor physical coordination). So when I drive this efficient car, easily zooming into any narrow parking spot, I get stares. I get smiles and just feel plain old “cool.”

The other thing that makes me excited is that I feel as if I am driving the future. I know the electric autos can easily be morphed into “driverless cars.”  This will be a big boost for people with disabilities, people who cannot see well, people who are aging…and then of course there are those with altered senses.  There won’t be any excuse for drunk driving, with driverless cars.

More than half of all 18-24 year olds admit to texting while driving.  (I have observed my husband, who is hardly a teenager, have one hand on the wheel and a thumb on his I-phone.) Eighty per cent of young adults consistently drive while talking on the phone.  Hands free driving will feel comfortable to them, since they are doing it already.

The technological advances are astonishing.  Volvo already has a fleet of driverless cars and trucks on the highways. Watch video here. 

By the year 2017, the City of Gothenburg in Sweden will have 100 cars driving themselves, in an effort to eliminate accidents.  In the United States, there are 32,000 fatalities and more than a million crashes.

In Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates, driverless electric cars are the only vehicles on the rode. Read more here.  

Google already has a huge stake in the future of driving.  Google wants to develop electric cars that are better than drivers. The Google test car has now driven more than a half a million miles without crashing. That’s twice as far as the average American drives before having an accident. Read more here. 

Our 24-year-old son, who is unable to drive, has a deep attachment to the all-electric Wheego.  Phillip calls it his car, and can’t wait for the day that he can punch in where he’s going, and then get there on his own, without being reliant on highly undependable public transportation or someone to drive him.  Then it will be his “cool wheels.”

The Power of Siblings

We able bodied people often ignorantly fail to recognize the strength and power of people with disabilities.  This blog is dedicated to changing that misconception.

The story of Gold Medalist Alex Bilodeau and his brother is a tremendous example of how living with a sibling with a disability results in triumph.  Warning, this video may tug at your heart.

I wrote about the enormous gifts that siblings with differences bring to a family in “What’s Important.” My hope is that someday, all families will celebrate these differences rather than grieve about the challenges.   Raising a child with special needs may seem daunting at first, but if there is support, it is the most meaningful adventure of a lifetime.