physical disability

The Physics (and Economics, and Politics) of Wheelchairs on Planes

Flying can be stressful, painful, or simply impossible for wheelchair users. Critics say it doesn’t have to be that way.

 Michael Schulson, Undark

WHEN SHANE BURCAW flies on an airplane, he brings along a customized gel cushion, a car seat, and about 10 pieces of memory foam. The whole arsenal costs around $1,000, but for Burcaw it’s a necessity.

The 27-year-old author and speaker — who, alongside his fiancée, Hannah Aylward, is one half of the YouTube duo Squirmy and Grubs — has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder that affects motor neurons and causes muscle wasting and weakness. The disorder contorted his limbs and he has used a wheelchair for mobility since he was 2 years old. Today, he uses a motorized wheelchair custom-fitted to his diminutive, 65-lb. frame, but to board an airplane, he’s required to give it up. Instead, Aylward must carry Burcaw onto the plane, and from there, transfer him into a child’s car seat, which provides limited support and does not fit his body (thus, the foam).

“When you hear about the injuries and the discomfort and the embarrassment that wheelchair users have faced when flying,” Burcaw said, “it becomes pretty obvious that they’re not being treated in a very humane way with these rules.”

Indeed, regulations prohibit passengers from sitting in their own wheelchairs on planes, and, as a result, 29 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which dramatically increased American wheelchair users’ access to buses, trains, and other essential 21st century infrastructure, airplanes remain stubbornly inaccessible. For many wheelchair users, the experience of flying is stressful, painful, and sometimes humiliating. For some, it is simply impossible.

Emily Ladau, a disability rights activist, writer, and public speaker, does deep-breathing exercises to manage her anxiety as airport staff take her wheelchair away. She likens the experience to watching someone walk off with her legs. Things aren’t much better onboard. “Airplane seats are designed for the quote-unquote average person,” Ladau said. “I’m nowhere near the quote-unquote average person.” At 4’6”, she does not fit the seat easily. Her legs dangle. She cannot align her posture. “It’s very uncomfortable,” she said.

“You’re basically giving disabled people yet another reason to feel like society wants us shut into our homes and doesn’t want us going anywhere.”

Read the full article here: https://undark.org/2019/12/03/making-flying-safe-accessible/?fbclid=IwAR12anC3a_5uwrH1MBh9q4wRUi6txearETo1yedwgZBm4LGfTmO079kf9vA

 

My Fight With a Sidewalk Robot

A life-threatening encounter with AI technology convinced me that the needs of people with disabilities need to be engineered into our autonomous future.

A mid-sized robot on a sidewalk
A Starship Technologies commercial delivery robot navigates a sidewalk. Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters
PERSPECTIVE

By EMILY ACKERMAN

One afternoon last month, as I was crossing a busy four-lane street that runs through the University of Pittsburgh campus, I looked up to see a robot blocking my path.

This wasn’t unexpected. Over the summer, several four-wheeled, knee-high robots had been roaming campus, unmarked and usually with a human handler several feet behind. Recently they’d multiplied, and now they were flying solo. They belonged to Starship Technologies, I learned, an autonomous delivery service rolling out on college campuses across America.

As a chemical engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh who uses a power wheelchair, I figured it wouldn’t be long before I met one of these bots in a frustrating face-off on a narrow sidewalk. What I didn’t realize was how dangerous, and dehumanizing, that scenario might be.

The robot was sitting motionless on the curb cut on the other side of Forbes Avenue. It wasn’t crossing with the rest of the pedestrians, and when I reached the curb, it didn’t move as the walk signal was ending. I found myself sitting in the street as the traffic light turned green, blocked by a non-sentient being incapable of understanding the consequences of its actions.

I managed to squeeze myself up on the sidewalk in a panic, climbing the curb outside the curb cut in fear of staying in the street any longer—a move that causes a painful jolt and could leave me stuck halfway up if I’m not careful.

Then I did what a lot of upset people do: I sent off a thread of angry tweets about the experience.

Read the full article here: https://www.citylab.com/perspective/2019/11/autonomous-technology-ai-robot-delivery-disability-rights/602209/

New law requires airlines to disclose how many wheelchairs they break

wheelchair at airport

Beginning in January 2019, airline passengers can search the U.S. Department of Transportation website to determine an airlines’ track record of handling wheelchairs and other mobility devices. A new law sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., requires air carriers to be more transparent, obliging them to provide monthly reports that are publicly accessible and which detail the number of wheelchairs, checked bags, and motorized scooters lost, broke, or mishandled during flights.

The law was actually passed two years ago, but the Department of Transportation delayed its implementation until Duckworth–a veteran and wheelchair user herself–urged U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao to force airlines to make the data — which they already collect each month — available to the public.

Click here to access the article on the Chicago Tribune’s website.

More Americans Have Disabilities, Survey Finds

One in four Americans is disabled, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey released Thursday “At some point in their lives, most people will either have a disability or know someone who has a one,” Coleen Boyle, director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in a written statement. Read Binghui Huang’s story here.

A Japanese man in a wheelchair in the Asakusa area of Tokyo, Japan. ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, CM - OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD ** (Rich Legg / Getty Images)
A Japanese man in a wheelchair in the Asakusa area of Tokyo, Japan. ** OUTS – ELSENT, FPG, CM – OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD ** (Rich Legg / Getty Images)

Op-ed piece addresses New York Post cover story

A New York Post cover story advances the harmful notion that if someone can walk, they must not have a disability writes Peter Catapano in his op-ed piece “A Front-Page Insult to People With Disabilities”.
Mr. Catapano is the editor of the opinion series Disability at the New York Times.

Image of New York Post cover story "Walk of Shame."
Image of New York Post cover story “Walk of Shame”, by Jeenah Moon for The New York Times”

For Filipinos with disabilities, climate change and natural disasters are a dangerous mix

For almost three decades, Bacita De La Rosa has been unable to walk due to a spinal cord injury she suffered after she was struck by a vehicle. She has since been dependent upon her family for help with many basic needs and cannot leave her home without assistance — all of which has proven to be very difficult when the inevitable tropical storm comes. Credit: Jason Strother/PRI

PRI’s Jason Strother examines how Typhoon Haiyan impacted the disability community in the Philippine city of Tacloban
Read his story on climate change, natural disaster and disability here

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.

Medical schools heighten focus on undergraduate accessibility

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) published a report today outlining common barriers to medical education faced by med school students with disabilities. The research on this topic was prompted by the AAMC‘s desire to promote diversity among its student, faculty and professional membership, and facilitate the standardization of accommodations. The report suggests that, although more medical school students are self-identifying as having disabilities, a culture of competition still promotes stigma around disability. Philadelphia public radio’s (WHYY) Elana Gordon wrote a short article summarizing the AAMC report and the responses it prompted from disability rights advocates.

Winter Paralympic Games airing on NBC channels and apps March 9-18

The competition in PyeongChang isn’t over! NBC will air the Winter Paralympic Games on NBCSN, Olympic Channel, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app from March 9-18. Coverage begins with the opening ceremony tonight at 6 a.m. ET on NBCSN. If you’d like an early preview check out Ben Shpigel’s report and Chang W. Lee’s glossy photos for the New York Times.

Click here to see the schedule of events and broadcast times on NBCSN.

Team USA in the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang.
Team USA in the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Paralympics in PyeongChang.

NYT op-ed provides wise advice from a young author

Melissa Shang is only in 8th grade but she’s already written a highly-rated novel and led an online petition that went viral. The young, talented writer and wheelchair user recently wrote an opinion essay for the New York Times that defends her preference for a positive perspective while writing about characters with disabilities. Check out her essay ‘Stories About Disability Don’t Have to Be Sad’ by clicking here.