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Blind students perform tap routine with professional ballet troupe in Pennsylvania

A group of students from the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia recently treated audiences to a tap dance alongside members of the Pennsylvania Ballet’s youth troupe. The performance was part of the ceremony for Art-Reach’s 2018 Cultural Access Awards which aim to promote participation in the arts amongst people with disabilities. Journalist Monica Marie Zorrilla documented the emotional performance for local outlet ‘BillyPenn.

Dancer says symptoms of OCD recede while he performs onstage

Steven Loch doesn’t know why his obsessive-compulsive disorder subsides while he’s dancing, but he’s grateful for the relief it provides from the “torture” of his symptoms. In a compelling interview with Brendan Kiley of The Seattle Times, Loch gives a candid description of the disturbing thoughts that cause his unpleasant behavior and prompted him to find treatment at psychiatric hospitals.

Kiley’s excellent article also features an explanation by Dr. Sam Zinner, a specialist in neurological development, of OCD’s medical origins.

“The human brain has a cluster of neurons called the basal ganglia. Put together, he explained, they’re the size of a walnut, and take in the deluge of cognitive, motor, memory, emotional and sensory information that floods through our brains when we, say, kick a soccer ball or watch out for poisonous snakes while walking through a swamp. The basal ganglia are supposed to filter out all the extraneous noise so we can focus on the task at hand. “In every picosecond of time,” Zinner said, “the basal ganglia have to decide what is relevant, what not to block out so you can survive.”

But the basal ganglia in brains with OCD — and related conditions, including Tourette syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — are, in his words, “leaky filters.” Those leaks lead to information overload and behavior that, to the casual observer, might seem odd — like compulsively touching a magazine three times before picking it up, or hiding on a bathroom floor in costume during a ballet performance to avoid horrifying, intrusive thoughts.”

Hear Steve Loch describing his OCD symptoms in his own words and watch him dance in this captivating video by Seattle Times’ video editor Corinne Chin.

#EqualPayDay highlights pay gap faced by women with disabilities

April 10 is “Equal Pay Day” and serves to promote discussion about causes of gender pay inequality. Robyn Powell penned an opinion essay for Bustle outlining recent statistics about pay gaps faced by women, women of color and women with disabilities. She writes, “Stereotypes about the capabilities of people with disabilities often lead to discrimination by employers. Employers must reduce these barriers and recognize the potential of people with disabilities.”

Coyotes Sled Hockey

Special report from ASU student Karenna Guzman

Sled hockey is a sport where people with physical disabilities are able to play hockey with the same rules, but different equipment.

Some NHL teams are affiliated with a sled hockey team that adopts their same name and jerseys. The Coyotes are Arizona’s sled hockey team that play at Alltel Ice Den in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“I played pick-up hockey almost every night (in Minnesota) but I did not get to play ice hockey until after I lost my leg,” Mike Schulenberg said, a defensive player on the Coyotes sled hockey team.

Schulenberg lost his leg when he was 25. He had battled for 10 years trying to help his leg recover after getting cancer in it when he was 15.

He played on the Minnesota sled hockey team for seven years before moving to Arizona and joining their team in 2017.

“We used to play against the Arizona team when we were in tournaments when I was in Minnesota so I already knew some of the people, when I moved I contacted them and started skating down here,” Schulenberg said.

Sled hockey is played with two sticks, one in each hand, to hit the puck as well as to help the players push themselves forward in the sleds. The sticks are roughly one third the size of typical hockey sticks, the NHL website states.

The players sit and are strapped into their sleds which have a blade on the bottom to glide across the ice. The game is played with the same rules as hockey, but the equipment is adapted to let people who can’t use their legs play the game, Schulenberg said.

Paul Crane started the team in 2004 and has been a coach as well as a player ever since.

“I help look for funding along with others from different sponsors, that’s what helps run the team so we have ice and have travel,” Crane said.

Since Crane is both a player and a coach he helps to organize the practices and comes up with different drills that can challenge and advance the skills of the team, he said.

In Crane’s 15 years of coaching the team he said that he has seen people join with skill levels from beginner to professional.

He said when teaching people the sport, usually the hardest part is teaching them to find their balance with the sled and learning to maneuver using the sticks.

“Everybody advances differently, you just have to get them in the sled and get them out there, teach them to push and turn and then puck handling and they go on from there,” Crane said.

People of any skill level can join this team whether they have never played before or are a Paralympian. However, only three able-bodied people are allowed on each team, Schulenberg said.

Joe Hamilton is another player on the Coyotes sled hockey team. He said he joined in 2010 when he first heard about the team and had never played sled hockey before.

“I picked it up really quick, it’s kind of like monoskiing, it’s all balance and that is the hardest part,” Hamilton said.

He said he heard about the team through a friend who knew another sled hockey player. Hamilton went to one of the tournament games that same week and said he joined right away.

The Coyotes sled hockey won their first tournament game of 2018 on March 2 against the Los Angeles Kings in Scottsdale.

Schulenberg said despite some rough weekends trying to win games this season, they hope to advance as far as possible in the tournament and hope to take the championship.

The team last won the U.S. championship in 2015.

Easter activities for kids with disabilities

Local CBS station in Dallas/ Fort Worth visited a festive Easter egg hunt designed specifically for kids with disabilities. The video report, posted to YouTube, describes how the eggs make loud beeps so that people with sensory disabilities can find them. The event was organized by local community members and many parents  appreciated how the overall tone of the festivities was tailored to accommodate kids with high anxiety.

Rates of unemployment due to disability finally declining after years of upward trend

Former U.S. Treasury economist Ernie Tedeschi wrote a guest column for the New York Times analyzing recent labor force employment data. Tedeschi sourced his information from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and discovered promising signs that people with disabilities are returning to the labor force. Check out Tedeschi’s full report in NYT and readers’ comments about why the trend is occurring.

Apple backs new disability emojis, including guide dog and prosthetic limbs

For years the popular communication symbols known as emojis have excluded disability symbols from their catalogue. Apple is hoping to change that by supporting a new proposal submitted to Unicode Consortium, the international non-profit that governs global emoji standards. The proposed new emojis include a guide dog with harness, a prosthetic arm and leg, male and female users of powered and manual wheelchairs, a hearing aid and person with a probing cane. In a report for CNN Money reporter Kaya Yurieff summarizes the Apple proposal and its significance.

Dorm residents at Columbia clash with officials over assistance animals

Students at Columbia are seeking help from disability rights lawyers to convince university housing officials that multiple assistance animals are a medically required disability accommodation. Olivia Deloian of the Columbia Chronicle interviewed business major Lindsey Barrett who says her therapist prescribed dog companionship to treat symptoms of adjustment disorder. The problem is, Barrett already has an emotional support cat for her severe anxiety disorder, which means she needs new approval from Columbia to house the second animal. Deloian carefully describes her journalism process in contacting Columbia officials to request their side of the disagreement. With Barrett’s help, Deloian also provides a useful explanation of the distinction between emotional support animals and other service animals.

2018 application period now closed for disability reporting contest

This award is the only journalism contest devoted exclusively to disability coverage.

The Ruderman Foundation Awards for Excellence in Reporting on Disability recognize the best reporting on disability issues and people with disabilities that is being done in the U.S. and abroad.

More than $20,000 in cash awards will be given to first-, second- and third-place winners in large media and small media categories.

There is no entry fee for the competition, which is open to digital, broadcast and print media outlets.

Contest entries are due by midnight on Aug. 6, 2018. Entries must have been published or aired between July 1, 2017, and July 31, 2018. Entries are accepted from outside the U.S., although the work submitted must be in English. Awards are given to individuals or teams.

The 2018 winners will be recognized at a fall 2018 ceremony in Washington, D.C., featuring a keynote speaker on disability coverage as well as a disability reporting workshop for journalists.

To enter, visit 2018 Disability Contest.

The Ruderman contest is administered by the National Center on Disability and Journalism at Arizona State University with support from the Ruderman Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization that advocates for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in society, and from Katherine Schneider, a retired clinical psychologist who lives with a disability.

Awards will be given in a large media category and in a small media category, as described below.

Large Media Market Category

  • Print media: Newspapers with 200,000 circulation or more (largest single day, including digital replica), wire services, magazines and weeklies with a national audience
  • Broadcast media: Network, cable or syndicated television programs with a national audience, radio outlets or radio syndicators with a national or international reach
  • Digital media: Web-only media outlets with regional, multi-state or national audiences.

Small Media Market Category

  • Print media – newspapers of under 200,000 circulation  
  • Broadcast: Local network affiliates or independent television stations serving primarily local markets
  • Digital media: Web-only media outlets that serve primarily local or a single state markets

Winners in the large media market category will receive prizes of $10,000 for first place, $2,500 for second place and $1,000 for third place. Winners in the small media market category will receive a Katherine Schneider Medal as well as cash awards of $5,000 for first place, $1,500 for second place and $500 for third place.

Entries are judged by professional journalists and disability experts. Past judges have included “PBS NewsHour” anchor Judy Woodruff; Tony Coelho, a former six-term U.S. congressman from California and the primary sponsor of the Americans With Disabilities Act; and former Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Leon Dash.

Judges are looking for work that:

  • Explores and illuminates key legal or judicial issues regarding the treatment of people with disabilities;
  • Explores and illuminates government policies and practices regarding disabilities;
  • Explores and illuminates practices of private companies and organizations regarding disabilities;
  • Goes beyond the ordinary in conveying the challenges experienced by people living with disabilities and strategies for meeting these challenges;
  • Offers balanced accounts of key points of controversy in the field and provide useful information to the general public;
  • Special consideration is given to entries that are accessible to those with disabilities. For example, broadcast pieces that are available in transcript form and text stories that are accessible to screen readers. All entries will be published on the NCDJ website in accessible formats.

The contest is administered by the National Center on Disability and Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU. The NCDJ provides resources and materials for journalists who cover disability and has run a national disability journalism awards program in Schneider’s name since 2013.

Past winners have included journalists from The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Center for Investigative Reporting, WAMU public radio in Washington, D.C, ProPublica and the Business World of India. An archive of winning entries can be found at http://ncdj.org/contest/.

For questions, contact Nicole Koester at nicole.koester@asu.edu.

When Addiction, Opioids, and Disability Meet

When Addiction, Opioids, and Disability Meet

By Mary Wilson, AbleWell.org.

Contemplative man with city in background
Image via Unsplash

Living with a disability can have a serious impact on a person’s wellbeing, especially when that disability comes with chronic pain. The challenges of living with daily pain contribute to substance abuse rates that are two to four times higher in the disability community than the general population. While alcohol abuse and illicit drug use contribute to the high rate of substance abuse among people with disabilities, many develop problems related to prescribed narcotic medications.

According to a 2014 report published on Science Daily, more than 40 percent of all Social Security Disability Insurance recipients take opioid pain relievers, and more than 20 percent are chronic users of opioids. These numbers are concerning for a number of reasons. Not only does chronic use of opioids carry a heightened risk of addiction, but researchers are beginning to call into question whether the long-term use of opioids is actually appropriate or effective in the treatment of non-cancer chronic pain.

While some patients have success using long-term opioid therapy to manage pain associated with their disability, others find that as their tolerance to the drugs increases, they require ever-higher doses to reap the same benefit. While tolerance and dependence don’t equate to addiction, they do increase risk. And as the IASP Pain Research Forum points out, higher doses are associated with an increased risk of overdose and death. Even if overdose never enters the picture, death can still result from side effects of opioid use, such as the exacerbation of sleep-disordered breathing leading to cardiovascular death.

Nonetheless, opioids remain as one of the leading treatments for pain, and many people with disabilities rely on opioid pain relievers to keep their daily symptoms manageable. For chronic users, the focus then turns to responsible use to reduce the risk of addiction.

Responsible opioid use begins with doctors: Rather than freely prescribing opioid pain relievers or shunning them outright, doctors must take a balanced approach to these risk-laden drugs. In practical terms, that means not using opioids as a first line of defense against pain, instead directing patients toward alternative remedies like physical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as non-opioid pharmacologic therapies, before turning to opioids. When opioids are the appropriate choice, the goal should be to maintain the lowest-effective dose rather than consistently increasing dosages. Physicians must also apply risk assessment tools, screen for contraindicated medications, and carefully monitor patients’ health status after initiating opioid therapy.

Patients, too, have a role to play in managing the risk of long-term opioid use. People who use opioids to treat disability-related pain must be careful to always follow their doctor’s instructions. Steps should be taken to prevent double-dosing and alcohol and illicit drugs should be abstained from while under opioid therapy. Physicians should be informed of all drugs a patient uses, including over-the-counter medications. Opioids should be locked up when not in use and unused medication discarded to prevent unauthorized access by someone other than the prescription holder. Finally, patients should employ nonpharmacologic self-management strategies, such as a healthy diet, adequate sleep, physical activity, and mental health management to improve their overall wellbeing.

While opioids are central to the discussion of addiction and disability, they aren’t the only substance putting the health of people with disabilities at risk. While self-medication with alcohol and illicit drugs can provide temporary relief from the physical and mental pains of disability, it’s a coping mechanism fraught with risks. Drugs and alcohol can interact dangerously with prescribed medications, contribute to poor overall health, and reduce a person’s ability to follow treatment and self-management regimens. Long-term use also contributes to the development of secondary conditions that worsen quality of life, such as depression, organ damage, gastrointestinal problems, and infectious diseases, among others.

Living with a disability is challenging enough without adding a substance abuse disorder into the mix. While advising people with disabilities to avoid alcohol and illicit drugs is relatively straightforward, addiction prevention is complicated when addictive substances are part of a prescribed treatment program. Adequate assessment, monitoring, and cooperation between doctors and patients is essential for preventing opioid use disorders in people with disabilities.

Mary Wilson is the abilities editor for Ability Wellness. She can be reached through AbleWell,org.