Disabled Girl Uses Fashion to Move Forward

Posted by on Aug 21, 2014 in Disability News, Fashion & Style | 0 comments

EHUNTEmily Hunt became a household name in Indiana in August of 1996, but not in a good way.

On a trip to an amusement park with her grandparents and cousins, Hunt was the victim of accident involving one of the park’s amusement rides and suffered a broken neck that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Unfortunately, her grandmother was killed instantly.

Though the family would win a settlement with the state of Indiana for $1.5 million to help pay for medical bills, Hunt was left traumatized by the event. Having to adjust to life in a wheelchair was not easy even with the loving support of her family.

It wasn’t until high school that Hunt would find an interest that stoked her passion: fashion.

“I’ve always loved clothes,” Hunt told the Indianapolis Star, “And I’m super girly, I love pinks and purples”.

While the thought of being a runway model crossed Hunt’s mind, it is the business of fashion that really peaked her interest, and though confined to a wheelchair, she soon learned that drive and determination can often overcome just about any obstacle.

This summer Hunt is doing an internship with a boutique clothing shop called Boomerang. The boutique is owned and operated by Felicia Kiesel who opened the store last year and received over 40 applications for the internship.

Originally Kiesel chose another student but when that didn’t pan out she took another look at Hunt’s resume and made the call.

“She was very knowledgeable about the industry, about fashion, about trends,” Kiesel told the Indianapolis Star, “She just had a lot of drive”.

Hunt has been a great fit at Boomerang and now assists Kiesel with answering customer questions about merchandise and helping shop for new items online. Her goal is to finish college, get her degree and work towards one day owning her own boutique.

While Hunt admits the business is not easy, she doesn’t view her disability as putting any limitations on what she can achieve.

“It is part of my life (being in a wheelchair), but it doesn’t define me”. Hunt said.

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Grant Money Could Improve Wheelchair Mobility

Posted by on Aug 13, 2014 in Disability News | 0 comments

HDS_1IntelliWheels, a medical equipment company in Champaign, IL, just received a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The money is a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research Grant that the company plans to use in developing products that would give wheelchair users the option to shift into high and low gears, giving them the ability to independently maneuver themselves over hills, uneven surfaces and longer distances.

The company was founded in 2010 and already has one product on the market – the X2, a set of single-gear wheels that wheelchair users can buy. IntelliWheels co-founder Marissa Siero told the News-Gazette, “Those wheels make it twice as easy for them to push themselves forward and backward”.

The new product in the works builds on that foundation and will hopefully give manual wheelchairs a lightweight and dynamic functionality.

“If someone is struggling to push themselves, this allows them more independence, going uphill, over carpet and over thresholds in a house,” Siero said.

Working with IntelliWheels will be researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin as well as staff from TiLite, an ultra-light wheelchair manufacturer in Pasco, WA.

In addition to finding out if gear shifting works, researchers are also interested in studying how the movement affects joint pain. A team at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the Rehabilitation Innovation Motion Analysis Lab plans to recruit 15 veterans with spinal cord injuries to see if geared wheels do make manual wheelchairs easier for a user to push.

IntelliWheels co-founder and President Scott Daigle told the News-Gazette, “We’re proud, happy and excited to take the next step with the company. What this grant allows us to do is get out and develop the best devices available for those who use wheelchairs.”

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LPA | A New Experience

Posted by on Aug 8, 2014 in Disability News | 0 comments

LPA - Young Woman Handbag Jewel SwirlHDS MEDALLION® Co-Owner, Carol Rady and her sister and designer, Sharon Richardson recently exhibited their designer bags at the LPA National Conference in San Diego. Little People of America (LPA) is a nonprofit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature[1] and their families. LPA is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with dwarfism throughout their lives while celebrating with great pride Little People’s contribution to social diversity. LPA strives to bring solutions and global awareness to the prominent issues affecting individuals of short stature and their families.

Here are some of Carol’s observations and insights from the conference.

My first impression was being astonished at the diversity of dwarfism.  This conference was held at the Manchester Hyatt of San Diego and there were hundreds of individuals and families attending.  Seeing the range of physical manifestations of dwarfism congregated certainly brings home the extent of these conditions.

Second observation was how much fun the attendees had with nightly dances, a fashion show, a talent show, medical workshops, trips to the San Diego Zoo and other sites, adoption and parenting workshops, raffles, and of course, the expo where we were exhibiting our bags.  We also had to laugh at young men getting on the elevator with their backpacks loaded with beer, families coming from the pool, everyone watching the world cup games in the lounges, etc. Everyone was friendly and helpful.

We were fortunate to work with a number of women relative to our bags.  Of the little people who were on a mobility device, the vast majority use a scooter. That was great for us in that all of our bags work on scooters.  But the surprise for us was also the number of women who were not on devices, but loved the bags.  Our bags, especially the Demi-Premiers were perfect as cross-body or shoulder bags.  So our potential audience was broader.

We also learned a lot about language. “When referring to people of short stature, Little People of America will use the terms ‘dwarf,’ ‘little person,’ ‘person with dwarfism,’ or ‘person of short stature,’” reads the LPA statement. “In addition to promoting positive language around people of short stature, Little People of America will … spread awareness to prevent use of the word ‘midget,’ considered offensive by Little People of America.”

2014-07-08 14.52.37You cannot help but become aware of the physical challenges facing many little people especially the ability to reach a sink, soap, paper towels, etc.  These situations reminded me of the struggles of disabled people in accessibility, functionality, etc. (see Auti blogs).  On at least one occasion we personally had to lift women up to the counter so they could reach the women’s room sinks.  Plus we watched the joy of kids with dwarfism so excited to try special bicycles proportioned to their sizes, and of families checking out the furniture designed for people of short stature.  So we gained a direct appreciation for their day-to-day obstacles.  As a counter to that, we had great fun meeting and interacting with so many terrific women and girls.

One in particular was a surprise.  We met Cuquis at the 2013 Houston Abilities Expo and her Mom bought 2 bags for her to put on her scooter for her Freshman year at Duke.  Her picture is on our facebook banner and one of our handouts.  She and her mother were attending the LPA National Conference for the first time and came to see us.  She had had surgery last summer on her legs and could walk more, reserving her scooter for longer distances.  We were so excited to see her, we had our picture taken.

All in all, it was a great learning experience, rewarding in the people we met, and naturally selling some of our bags was good. To read more about the LPA, check out their site, http://www.lpaonline.org/.

[1] The standard definition of dwarfism includes anyone 4-foot-10 or smaller whose stature is attributed to one of at least 200 medical conditions that cause dwarfism. Some of the conditions are genetically based, while others are not.


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Washington Company Involved in Wheelchair Scam

Posted by on Aug 1, 2014 in Disability News | 0 comments

wheelchair-moneyEveryday scams are uncovered by investigators that shed light on the lengths some will go to in order to make a buck. Many times these scams take advantage of unsuspecting consumers who simply lack the common sense to know they are being swindled. However, when the victims of the scam are Medicaid recipients in need of new wheelchairs, it’s hard to take such a callous stance as ‘let the buyer beware’.

From 2006-2012 Michael Mann, owner of a company called Wheelchair Plus Inc. of Thurston County in the state of Washington, bilked the state Medicaid system out of more than $600,000. Mann’s scam was to buy wheelchairs online (often through Craigslist and nursing homes), give the wheelchairs a fresh coat of paint, put a new label and serial number on the wheelchair and then re-sell the wheelchairs to Medicaid customers claiming the refurbished wheelchairs were new. He chairs were in poor shape when Mann purchased them, some rundown and barely operational.

Not only were the wheelchairs not new, none had been repaired in any way with the only work being done was nothing more than a cosmetic touch up with new paint. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is charging Mann and Wheelchair Plus Inc. with first-degree theft and falsifying Medicaid statements.

After selling the wheelchairs, Mann would submit false claims to Medicaid saying he provided the customers with a brand new item. The real indignity of the crime is that State Medicaid recipients are often low-income. Mann’s arraignment is scheduled for August 12th in Thurston County Superior Court.

Anytime a scam is uncovered it is unsettling to know that such acts are a part of daily life. But when the victims are poor, disabled or children it makes it harder to believe that someone would stoop to such a low level for nothing more than money. It is unsure what kind of sentence Mann would face if found guilty but we’re hoping community service, especially for the disabled, should be included.

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Indy Inmates Refurbishing Wheelchairs

Posted by on Jul 25, 2014 in Wheelchairs | 0 comments

wheelchairsIt’s a time-honored tradition to have inmates in prisons do menial tasks while incarcerated. From making license plates and paving roads to cleaning debris from highways, inmates are often put to work doing jobs most people won’t.

And while some of the tasks do have a benefit to society, rarely does the work give the prisoners any self-satisfaction.

However, at the Pendleton Correctional Facility in Indiana, inmates are involved in a program that refurbishes wheelchairs that are then shipped out to distribution sites where those in need can receive one at no charge.

The program, known as “Wheels for the World”, was started in 1994 by the Joni and Friends Ministry and offers the wheelchairs for free along with a copy of the bible. The Joni & Friends International Disability Center serves as the administrative center for ministries which provide outreach to thousands of families affected by disability around the globe.

The ministry obviously cuts down on costs by using inmates instead of for-profit repair centers to refurbish old and damaged wheelchairs. Inmates at the Pendleton Correctional Facility restore the wheelchairs for recipients around the world.

“This operation is about changing lives for the better,” Superintendent Wendy Knight TV-6 in Indianapolis, “With the 442 wheelchairs refurbished so far, it has done just that”.

Conditions at some of the distribution sites are beyond rough. Organizers say some are so impoverished that those in need of wheelchairs literally crawl to the distribution sites to receive their wheelchairs.

While the focus is mostly on the ministry for putting the program together and the fortunate people with disabilities who are able to finally have use of a wheelchair, the inmates can’t be forgotten for the role they play. None are forced to do the manual labor and many could simply idle their days away smoking in the prison yard. But a select few have decided to use their time to help those in need and with their help the program has become a success.

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Florida County Seeks More Beach-Accessible Wheelchairs

Posted by on Jul 18, 2014 in Disability News | 0 comments

Wheel-Chair-BeachWhen you live in Florida, the beach is a big part of the culture. Even people with disabilities who require special wheelchairs to access the beach take part in the laid-back lifestyle of sun and sand.

However, in Volusia County, a sprawling area with nearly 500,000 residents in east-central Florida, the number of beach-accessible wheelchairs has diminished in recent years and advocacy groups are struggling to get more.

At one time the county had dozens of beach wheelchairs but now it has only two which means many wheelchair-bound kids and adults are limited in how far they can go when it comes to their day at the beach. The man who made the beach-accessible wheelchairs for the county was Beach Safety Captain, Jay McDonough who unfortunately suffered a fatal heart attack in 2011.

Since his passing, the county has fallen behind in ordering more wheelchairs and the many it had have since broken down. The beach-accessible wheelchairs feature larger balloon tires that enable the chair to move easily over soft sand, something a standard wheelchair can’t do. While the beaches in Volusia County have plenty of wheelchair-accessible ramps, the sand is proving to be the main problem.

“We found that the soft sand, given the wind, blows right up on the ramp,” Michael Porter, Vice President of the Handicapped Adults of Volusia County told News-13. “So halfway down the ramp, you’re in a foot of sand and you haven’t gotten to the bottom of the ramp yet”.

Porter has gone before the Volusia County Council asking for increased access to the beach for people with disabilities, as well as asking for more beach wheel chairs.

Parents of disabled children have looked into purchasing beach-accessible wheelchairs but the average cost for these special chairs is $1,600. For most the cost is way too high for a wheelchair that will only be used occasionally.

Hopefully the county will work out this issue so everyone can enjoy the beach!

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New Brooklyn Park Caters to Disabled Children

Posted by on Jul 10, 2014 in Disability News | 0 comments

Borough ParkThey say everyone has a place in New York, and now with a new park opening behind PS 192 on 18th Avenue and 48th Street in Brooklyn, children with disabilities will have just as much fun as able-bodied kids. Two lawmakers, Councilman David Greenfield and state Sen. Simcha Felder were instrumental in the construction of the new park that includes amenities for children in wheelchairs such as ramps, ground level play features, accessible swings, wheelchair-accessible tables and wheelchair-accessible drinking fountains.

Greenfield told the Brooklyn Eagle, “I’m so proud that have literally turned a wasteland into a beautiful new park in our community. We all need open space to enjoy some fresh air, exercise and play with our kids and grandkids.”

Under an initiative that began under the Bloomberg Administration, communities are actively seeking how to convert unused schoolyards into public parks. Both Greenfield and Felder gave generously to the new Borough Park and were adamant that the construction include wheelchair-accessible features.

The park now boasts a large running track, tennis court, basketball hoops, two new turf fields, a tot lot, an area for 5 to 12 year-olds, maps and games painted on the asphalt as well as more than 25 newly planted trees and numerous benches.

The Brooklyn Eagle quoted Felder as saying, “For many years the standard joke was that Borough Park didn’t have any parks. The opening of this park has long been eagerly awaited by the entire community”.

And when he says entire community, he means it. The wheelchair-accessible features are being hailed by the disabled community as a major step forward in including their needs when planning and designing civic projects. Students at PS 192 will use the park during school hours, and the public will have access to it after school and on weekends and holidays.

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