Monday, August 30, 2010

How To Complain About Wheelchair Inaccessible Buildings

Are you having trouble with a wheelchair inaccessible building? Is there a place you need access to and the owner is not making it wheelchair accessible to ADA standards? Not sure what to do next? One possibility is to contact Hank Falstad at Access Technologies Services in Las Vegas Nevada.

Although Hank is in Nevada, he works nationwide. Hank has told me that once you contact him he will contact the owner of the building, anywhere in the country and offer Access's services in bringing the building up to standards. Should the owner not be able, willing or interested in complying, Hank says that he will find you a lawyer and work with the lawyer and judge to compell the owner to do so. All at no cost to the wheelchair user.

Access will get paid by being a consultant to the building owner. Or if necessary Access will get paid by being a consultant to the lawyer. In either case, according to Hank, the owner foots the bill and never the wheelchair user.

Hank tells me he has assisted thousands of wheelchair users in getting building owners to make the necessary changes to bring buildings to ADA standards and has been successful 100% of the time, because they do not go to trial unless they are certain they will win the case. All this is never at a cost to the wheelchair user. Since Hank works nationwide, it does not matter where you or the building are located.

So, if you are having trouble with a building that is not up to ADA standards ask Access Tech if they can help you. Watch Hank in the video below explaining how he can help you require building owners to make any building wheelchair accessible:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wheelchair Discrimination Caught On Video!

Qamar Khaliq of the UK was being discriminated against by a Northern Rail Train Guard. The Nortern Rail train guard refused to put a ramp down so that Mr Khliq, a wheelchair user, could board a train. A quick thinking man, Qamar Khaliq captured the offending guard on video. Mr Khaliq uploaded the video to YouTube:



Qamar Khaliq's video has now spread across the UK news media and has been picked up by all the local newspapers and TV channels. Just do a google search on "Qamar Khaliq" to see a few examples.

Now Northern Rail is on the defensive. According to a report on BBC the security guard has been suspended and Pete Myers, head of service quality for Northern Rail has issued an apology.

I contacted Pete Myers of Northern Rail to find out more. Myers told me that there was an ongoing investigation and the results would be disclosed to Qamar Khaliq. So, I asked Myers about his company's policies.

My Question: The troubling thing here is that three people spoke to Mr Khaliq. None of them seemed interested in helping him get on the train. This indicates to me that the problem was not with the one guard but perhaps with staff training. Can you please let me know the kind of training that staff undergo concerning the UK Disability Discrimination Act of 1995? Can you tell me how familar are your staff concerning this act?

Myers: All of our front line people attended a two day DDA Refresher Course back in 2007/8 and there is an element included within the training for all new starters.

My Question: The two men told Mr Khaliq not to take pictures. The guard was particularly upset by this. Is there some problem with a customer documenting a problem such as this with a video? Is there some kind of company policy against taking videos? If so why?

Myers: We have no specific rules, although the bylaws do forbid it without permission if it is for commercial purposes.

My Question: Will you be able to update me about the outcome of your investigation?

Myers: I am afraid we will not be in a position to disclose the outcome of our investigation to you.

I wonder why Northern Rail is unwilling or unable to make the results of their investigation public? To me it would seem like a more serious investigation if the results as well as the planned follow-up were shared with the general public. Barring a public statement and a serious follow-up, this may very likely happen again.

Are you being discriminated against? Is someone parking where they are not supposed to be parking? Is there a building that has no ramp or other form of access? Do what Qamar Khaliq does. Use a video camera as your weapon! Film the discrimation act, upload it to YouTube. Send a link to your local media and send us a link well. Contact us at this email address: RehaDesign "AT" Gmail.com

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Proval: The Lightest Aluminum Wheelchair?

There are those who are always looking for the lightest, coolest, sweetest wheelchair available. Several companies claim to manufacture the world's lightest wheelchair, but they are often made from carbon fiber or other composite materials. Now there is the Proval Wheelchair. The ultra-light aluminum Proval weighs in at an incredible 3.4 kg (without rear wheels). This means that, depending on the selection of rear wheels, you can have an aluminum wheelchair which weighs under 5kg complete.

What makes the Proval so light weight? The answer is two things. First, while most wheelchairs use round aluminum tubing, the Proval uses a unique flat tubing which is a very light and strong design. Second, the Proval is entirely welded. Welding means no need for heavy screws or brackets.

If welding saves so much weight, why aren't all wheelchairs welded? The reason is that most wheelchairs are built to fit most body sizes and then adjusted to fit all varieties of body shapes and sizes. This one size fits all design, while inexpensive to make means alot more metal is used and alot of additional weight. The Proval is a custom made frame and built to fit only one owner. This means, only the right amount of metal is used in the design and no additional weight. It also means that the wheelchair fits the owner perfectly, like a well tailored suit.

An ultra-light, custom made wheelchair must be very expensive, right? Actually, not as expensive as you might think. Depending on your needs and requirements, the Proval costs about the same as any quality wheelchair.

How can you see a Proval? Proval is manufactured by TNS Rijan in the Netherlands. While the TNS website is currently in Dutch, you will have no problems communicating with TNS in any of several languages including English, German, French, etc.

Would you like to have a cool ultra-light wheelchair and a ultra-cool wheelchair light for the price of a standard wheelchair?

Simply tell TNS that you heard about Proval from the Wheelchair Pride website. If you buy any wheelchair from TNS, then TNS will give you a free wUnderGlow Wheelchair Light. So, you will have both an cool ultra-light wheelchair and a ultra cool wheelchair light for about the price of a regular wheelchair. Alternatively, send us an email at RehaDesign @ Gmail.com and we will put you in contact.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Wheelchair Inaccessible Europe

For twenty years, the ADA (American Disability Act) has been opening doors for people with disabilities in the USA. Since 1990, the USA has slowly become more and more accessible and wheelchair users are gaining access to place which were once closed. To be sure, many parts of the USA have a long way to go. But how does accessibility in the USA compare to that of Europe?

Europe is a mixed bag. Some European countries, such as The UK, Germany and some Scandinavian countries are more accessible. Like the USA, the UK has a "Disability Discrimination Act" which was enacted in 1995. As far as I am aware, the UK is the only European country which has a discrimination act specifically for people with disabilities. As a result, the UK is probably the most accessible country in Europe.

Other countries, typically in the Mediterranean or Eastern Europe have a very long way to go. Examples of countries that are very poorly accessible are Greece and Lithuania. What do they have in common? Both countries are still relatively poor. While making great strides in many aspects of their economies and improving their cities, neither are making many resources available to people with disabilities.

How bad is accessibility in these European countries? Pretty bad. Steps block access to shops, restaurants and hotels. There is a lack of accessible toilets. Cobblestone roads and poorly maintained sidewalks make it extremely difficult for wheelchair users to move. There are few or no disabled parking places. Most multi-level buildings have no elevators or lifts. When ramps exist, they are often ridiculously steep only useful with the help of an assistant.

As a result, even in the capital cities of Athens, Greece or Vilnius, Lithuania you will rarely see a wheelchair user and when you do, it is invariably a manual wheelchair. I have personally never seen a power wheelchair or mobility scooter in either city? Why? If necessary with some help a manual wheelchair can be lifted over obstacles. That is much more difficult in a power wheelchair. A manual wheelchair user can ride in regular vehicles such as taxis and passenger cars. A power wheelchair user usually requires a wheelchair accessible van. We called two major taxi companies in Vilnius to ask if they had wheelchair accessible vans. Both not only said they did not, they seemed quite surprised by the question and offered no alternatives.

This is not only a pity, it is a missed opportunity. Both cities rely heavily on tourism for a significant part of their income. Imagine if these cities invested the necessary resources to making Lithuania Travel and Greece Travel wheelchair accessible and made a PR effort to invite some of the 5 million European wheelchair users and 3 million US wheelchair users to visit their cities.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wheelchair User On India's Got Talent

Vinod Thakur, a disabled student from India wowed the judges and audience with his amazing hip hop moves on the second season of "India's Got Talent":




Vinod certainly does have talent. But will the audiences of India vote him to the top?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wheelchair Ramps That Kill

Some people just don't get the idea about a wheelchair ramp. Ignoring ADA or other local disability regulations, they simply create any incline and call it a wheelchair ramp. Some do not understand that an unsafe wheelchair ramp can be worse than no wheelchair ramp at all.

Unsafe wheelchair ramps can result in painful injuries or much worse. Last month Jeremy Hammitt of Oregan was injured when he was knocked out of his wheelchair when trying to manuever over an improperly built wheelchair ramp while trying to catch a bus. Winnie Young of California was killed as a result of a ramp which had no side protectors and a dangerous drop off. Her family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the ramp construction company and the owners of the restaurant she was trying to visit.

Unsafe ramps can be found everywhere, even if it is not always clear what the purpose is. Some may argue that unsafe ramps were designed not for wheelchairs, but for strollers or cycles such as these dangerous ramps.

But if a flight of stairs or other obstacle exists and a ramp is required for a stroller or a cycle to have access the ramp should be made safe for a wheelchair user as well or a reasonable alternative should be readily available. To do otherwise, allows access to the cyclist or stroller and excludes the wheelchair user. Therefore, any ramp being built for some kind of public access, should be built to specifications allowing access for wheelchair users. Some wheelchair ramp design considerations are discussed in this wheelchair ramp article and in this video:



Bottom line is, if there is an obstacle and a ramp is necessary for access for some, consult with someone experienced building ramps to legal standards which allow access to wheelchair users. To do otherwise risks unfairly excluding wheelchair users or worse, causing serious bodily injury.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Uk's Channel 4 To Feature Wheelchair Users

The UK's Channel 4 is doing something innovative which can only help the disability community and I wonder if people outside of the UK are taking notice? A press release from the TV Channel sums it up:

On August 29th 2010 it is exactly two years to the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. To mark this milestone, Channel 4 will screen a weekend of dedicated programming, promoted with a marketing campaign which aims to challenge public attitudes towards disability sport.

A bit of history: Channel 4 bid for and won the rights to broadcast live coverage of the Paralympics in 2012. It probably was not much of a fight, because there was no live UK broadcast of the 2010 Paralympics at all.

So, what is Channel 4 doing to get prepared for the 2012 Paralympics? In the run-up to the Paralympics Channel 4 is developing various new TV programs focused on people with disabilities. For example, beginning the last weekend of August 2010, the first episode of "That Paralympic Show" will premiere. "That Paralympic Show" is a 10-week magazine programme dedicated to disability sport. It will be hosted by Rick Edwards and Paralympian Ade Adepitan. That Paralympic Show will feature segments such as "Pimp My Chair", featuring a small group of charismatic sporting 12 – 18 year olds who want to take their current wheelchair and turn it into something special. We were contacted by the producers of "That Paralympic Show" for some products to help them pimp wheelchairs and donated some wUnderGlow wheelchair lights and Wheels On Fire Wheelchair Reflectors. So, if you are watching "Pimp My Chair" look for wUnderGlow and Wheels on Fire on some cool pimped out wheelchairs.

On the same weekend, Channel 4 will broadcast "Inside Incredible Athletes". From the press release: "The programme will profile seven athletes, all of whom are hoping to represent ParalympicsGB in 2012, and will feature stunning sporting performance sequences, filmed against a backdrop of iconic locations around London showing Paralympic sport as it has never been seen before."

So, while the Paralympics are generally ignored by most broadcasters around the world, Channel 4 is demonstrating its commitment to the Paralympics two years early!

From the Channel 4 press release:
As the official UK broadcaster, Channel 4 will treat the Paralympic Games as the main event, not a sideshow to the Olympic Games. We will spend the next two years filming Paralympians as you have never seen them before.


In addition, check out all of the disability programming being offered by Channel 4. For example "Crippendales" an Award-winning documentary that follows the efforts of wheelchair user Lee Kemp as he attempts to realise his dream of creating Britain's first troupe of disabled male strippers. Ok, I am not sure I want to watch a program about male strippers, either disabled or able bodied. But since the typical television show featuring people with disabilities are usually the "inspirational" type showing a person with a disability struggling to go on with life post disability, Crippendales promises to be a breath of fresh air.

Considering that there are over 30 million people with disabilities in the USA and people with disabilities are the third largest minority group in the USA, why are the majar US broadcasters almost completely ignoring the disability community? Why is it so rare to even see an actor with a disability on mainstream US TV? Hopefully, broadcasters from around the world will be paying attention to what Channel 4 is doing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The First Factory Built Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle



Such an exciting new concept! A vehicle designed and built by manufacturers to be wheelchair accessible. Not a vehicle which is converted for use by wheelchair users, but rather designed from the start for the 3 million wheelchair users across the USA. I wrote to the Miami, Florida based Vehicle Production Group LLC (VPG) and asked the co-founder and executive VP of Business Development, Marc Klein some questions about the new MV-1 (a clever name which stands for "First Mobility Vehicle") wheelchair accessible vehicle and learned much more. But first, have a look at this introductory video about the MV-1 wheelchair accessible vehicle:




The video above implies that unlike the MV-1 the conversion process that a typical mini-van goes through to become wheelchair accessible may compromise safety, comfort, durability and performance. So I asked Klein how the MV-1 is better than a conversion in those regards.

Klein said, "If you take a shoe that was designed for a particular purpose, like a hiking boot, and compare it to shoe that was not designed for the rigors of hiking, I think you will agree that you have two very different products. If you then dismantle the second shoe and attempt to make it into a hiking boot, in my opinion the second shoe will generally be less safe, comfortable, and durable than the first shoe when used in hiking activity." Klein also pointed to the MV-1's "body-on-frame vehicle architecture". That meant nothing to me, so I asked for more details.

Klein said "The Ford Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car utilize body-on-frame design and both are prevalent across the United States in fleet usage and are know for their durability. A minivan commonly has a "unibody" frame which is generally considered to be less durable than a body-on-frame design." Klein also directed me to a wikipedia article which outlines advatanges and disadvantages of body-on-frame design compared to the more common unibody design.

When I asked about costs and gas milage Klein responded "Estimated MSRP is approximately $40,000 USD. Estimated MPG is approximately 15 MPG. We are still in the engine calibration process, so final numbers are not yet available."

Do not make the mistake that I did to assume that wheelchair accessible means that this vehicle is adapted. This is a vehicle which will give wheelchair easy access and a comfortable ride, but only as passengers. If a wheelchair user wants to drive this vehicle, further modifications will be necessary. Klein confirmed this by saying "VPG will not be installing hand controls in the MV-1. Hand controls can be added after purchase like any other vehicle since the MV-1 utilizes common steering mechanisms that are readily available in the marketplace."

Perhaps someday an innovative manufacturer will design an adapted vehicle that a wheelchair user can drive without after-market modifications. But until that time comes, the MV-1 is an exciting first step.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Where Can I Donate A Used Wheelchair?

Do you have a used wheelchair? Not sure what to do with it? Why not donate your used wheelchair to a charity. Why? Many charities repair used wheelchairs and offer them to people with disabilities who can not afford a new wheelchair. Second, many charities will offer you a receipt for your donation and you may be able to deduct the donation of your used wheelchair from your taxes.

Sometimes it can be challenging to find an organization which will accept a donation of a used wheelchair. So, we have created a directory of charities by state which will accept used wheelchair donations.

If you would like to donate a used wheelchair, contact one of these used wheelchair charities. If you know of a charity which accepts used wheelchairs and is not listed in this directory, write to us at RehaDesign "AT" Gmail.com

Friday, August 6, 2010

Two Weeks, Two Wheelchair Users Killed In Ocala, Florida

Why is wheelchair safety not being taken seriously? Probably because wheelchair users, car drivers and politicans do not perceive wheelchair safety to be an issue. But in the city of Ocala Florida, two wheelchair users were struck and killed by cars in less than two weeks.

On the evening of 29 July, 2010 Bryan Sacks of Summerfield, Florida was trying to cross a busy street in his manual wheelchair and was struck and killed. Only ten days earlier on July 19, 2010 Doyle McClendon of nearby Ocala, Florida was struck and killed in his wheelchair.

More often than not accidents involving cars and wheelchairs happen in the evening when it is dark. Who is to blame? Drivers for not paying attention to wheelchair users? Wheelchair users for not having proper visibility equipment? Politicians for not taking wheelchair safety seriously enough and coming up with some safety requirements for drivers as well as wheelchair users?

If you are a wheelchair user, take wheelchair safety seriously. Understand that in a wheelchair you are lower to the ground than anything else on the road. Drivers do not see you well. Get wheelchair safety equipment. If you are a car driver, slow down when you see a wheelchair user. Wheelchairs can move alot faster than you think.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

London's Wheelchair Accessible Festival Celebrating Deaf and Disabled People

I was contacted recently by an organizer of the Liberty Festival in London and asked to help to get the word out about their annual event which has taken place every year since 2003. I have been contacted for help by businesses and by people with disabilities, but never by a festival. Usually, if I can support the idea, I try to help. So, I asked some questions about the Liberty Festival and the more I learned the more I wanted to help out. Why?

The Liberty Festival celebrates the contribution of Deaf and disabled people to London's culture. That sounds like a good start right there!

There will be lots of cool performances including aerial and circus performers, puppet shows, dancers, cabaret, music, etc, etc. The performers in the main are deaf or disabled, some companies are integrated groups which include disabled people. Sounds like fun!

The Liberty Festival is organized to be accessible and inclusive. There will be many services available for people with disabilities including wheelchair users, such as sign language interpreters, a wheelchair loan service, a charging point for electric wheelchairs, a free dial a ride shuttle bus, etc, etc. Cool!

I could not help to think about the costs of putting on such a well organized and accessible event. So of course I had to ask. Answer: "It is an expensive event to produce, including expenditure on creating very accessible environment in a high profile London environment, and in creating /commissioning new work by deaf and disabled artists. Has been supported by Arts Council England since 2006. Total production and progamme costs in excess of £150'000". (For non-Brits that is approximately euro 180,000 or $240,000 at today's exchange rates). Wow!

Did I mention that the Liberty Festival is FREE to attend?

I am very impressed that there is such an even in London. If I were in London, I would definitely get out to see it and support it. The Liberty Festival will take place on 4 September from 1-5pm at Trafalger Square. A lift will be operating between the upper and lower terraces.

Read more about the Liberty Festival

Monday, August 2, 2010

Wheelchair For People With No Motor Control

People who are severely disabled and have zero motor control often can not move independently. Most wheelchair technology requires some kind of physical movement in order to be able to steer it. For example, if a wheelchair user can only move their heads, an device can be strapped to their heads so which will allow the wheelchair to be steered by head movement. Or if a wheelchair user can only use their mouths, a device can be strapped to the mouth. What about wheelchair users who have no motor control at all? For example, people with locked in syndrome who are essentially "locked-in" to their bodies, completely paralyzed with no ability to communicate or move?

Devices are under development for people with sever disabilities and have no motor control. One is a device which allows wheelchair users to control their wheelchair by "sniffing" and another by eye movement. Most people with locked in syndrome or other types of sever paralysis can move their eyes and can sniff. There are two types of wheelchair technologies under development for these severly disabled people.

Several groups are working on eye controlled wheelchairs. For example, the Eye Com corporation is developing the The Eye-Com EC7T™ eye tracking system which uses frame-mounted microcameras to record eyelid and pupil activity and convert that movement to wheelchair steering.

Here is a video from two final year engineering students (Robotics and Biomedical) from Swinburne University (Melbourne, Australia) using eye controlled technology:



The sniffing technology appears to be equally promising.

Developed by Prof. Noam Sobel, electronics engineers Dr. Anton Plotkin and Aharon Weissbrod and research student Lee Sela in the Weizmann Institute’s Neurobiology Department, the new system identifies changes in air pressure inside the nostrils and translates these into electrical signals. The device was tested on healthy volunteers as well as quadriplegics, and the results showed that the method is easily mastered. Users were able to navigate a wheelchair around a complex path or play a computer game with nearly the speed and accuracy of a mouse or joystick.


Watch this video of the wheelchair controlled by sniff technology.

Ed Roberts, UC Berkeley Alum and Wheelchair Activist Honored

January 23 has been declared "Ed Roberts Day". Who is Ed Roberts and why does he deserve a state day?

Ed Roberts graduated from my University, UC Berkeley. But that was alot easier for me than it was for him. You see, Ed Roberts needed an iron lung as well as a wheelchair and that made getting housing difficult. At the time, institutions could simply refuse to accomodate people with special needs and Ed refused to accept the word "NO".

Ed was finally accomodated in an empty wing of the Berkeley Student Health Center and slowly other students with disabilities followed.

According to the UC Berkeley Media Release:

They called themselves "The Rolling Quads," and Roberts was their leader. They pressured the campus to become more accessible and to fund support services so that they could attend classes while living independently.

"Ed pushed and prodded and argued and convinced people it was wrong" to discriminate against people with disabilities, says Hippolitus. And, he added, Roberts helped disabled people shift their perspective "from being an object of pity and charity — which was forced upon them but they passively accepted — to saying, 'No, that's wrong.' "

Roberts' persistence paid off. The Rolling Quads' advocacy helped launch the Physically Disabled Students Program, the first such student-led campus organization in the country. That program gave rise to Berkeley's Center for Independent Living, which became a national model for disability advocacy
.

Ed Roberts taught in Berkeley's political science department and later went on to lead the Center for Independent Living until he was appointed Roberts director of the Department of Rehabilitation. In he co-founded the World Institute on Disability. Ed died in 1995.

The date of 23 January was selected as Ed Roberts day, because it is his birthday. Ed was born on January 23, 1939 and he died March 14, 1995.

In his 56 years of life, Ed left the world a much better place than he found it.