Disability News Weekly Roundup – Monday, June 9 – Friday, June 13

Human Interest:
Comic book adds character with disability (Disability Scoop)
In an effort to better reflect modern life, comic book Archie is introducing a first-ever character with a disability. The new character, named Harper, is described as a “fashionista” with a “dynamic personality.” Despite being depicted in a wheelchair, she does not let her disability define her, according to the series’ creators. Rather, she is, first and foremost, a funny, fashionable, and witty teenager.

Policy:
Congress to ‘combat’ autism no more (Disability Scoop)
Congress is to reauthorize a major autism bill before it expires later this year, but the measure will move forward under a new name: the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act, or Autism CARES. The new name emerged in a recent US Senate proposal to renew the law previously known as the Combating Autism Act. A committee in the US House of Representatives followed suit by attaching the new title to its version of the bill. The change comes as a response to self-advocates, who have argued that including the term “combating” in the name sent the wrong message.

Military families make push for increased ABA coverage (Disability Scoop)
Military families whose children have autism are pressing for Congress to require expanded insurance coverage for applied behavior analysis, or ABA, an effective but expensive therapy program. Under current coverage by Tricare, the military insurance provider, ABA therapy pays for about 12 hours per week, half of the hours recommended. A member of a congressional caucus on autism included a provision in the defense authorization bill that increases coverage for ABA for autism. The bill passed the House last month and lawmakers have expressed hope that the provision will make it into the final version of the Senate bill as well.

Car-for-hire companies sued over lack of wheelchair accessibility (Business Insurance)
According to a lawsuit filed in Federal court, car-for-hire companies Uber Technologies and Lyft discriminate against riders with disabilities by not providing wheelchair-accessible vehicles. According to the lawsuit, the companies are obligated under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide people with mobility impairments equal access to their vehicle-for-hire services. Additionally, the lawsuit claims that the companies provide no training or guidance to drivers regarding their obligations under ADA regulations to accommodate consumers with disabilities.

Research:
Smokers and passive smokers more likely to suffer hearing loss, study shows (The Hearing Review)
According to a new study including about 165,000 adults aged 40 to 69 years, current smokers have 15 percent higher odds of getting hearing loss than non-smokers. Results from the study, conducted at the University of Manchester, UK, showed that passive smoking increased the likelihood of hearing loss as well. Ex-smokers had a slightly reduced risk of going deaf, which may be a result of adopting a healthier overall lifestyle after quitting. As many of the smokers also had heart disease, it was not clear whether toxins in tobacco smoke affect hearing directly, whether smoking-related cardiovascular disease causes microvascular changes that affect hearing, or both.

Technology:
To aid the blind, an assist from cameras (The New York Times)
Computer scientists and engineers in Israel are developing devices that employ tiny cameras to give blind people an experience analogous to sight. At Bar-Ilan University, scientists have designed a system composed of a camera mounted on a pair of glasses and a contact lens embedded with an electrode that produces an image of what is before the camera directly onto the cornea, producing a tactile effect similar to Braille on the fingertips. A video demonstrating the system is included. A separate technique, developed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and known as EyeMusic, spares the cornea, instead recruiting the ears as a substitute sense. The images are translated into sound in an iPhone app.

Moto Knee performance prosthetic leg packs a Fox shock (gizmag)
The Moto Knee is a prosthesis designed for activities such as skiing, horseback riding, cycling, and motocross. Designed by a motocross and snocross racer, it incorporates a Fox DHX Air mountain bike shock absorber to withstand impacts. The resistance ratio of the prosthetic’s linkage system can be adjusted through its full range of motion, while the compression, rebound, and damping of the Fox shock can also be set to the demands of the user and activity. The linkage and shock also work together to limit the impact transmitted into the residual limb, and to keep the user’s body mechanics laterally balanced. A short video demonstrating the Moto Knee is included.

Vibrating clothes could help blind people navigate (Fox News)
Tactile Navigation Tools is developing a hands-free wearable device, called Eyeronman, that uses sensors to detect obstacles and alerts the wearer to them with vibrations. Eyeronman consists of a vest outfitted with sensors and emitters for lidar, a laser-based system used in driverless cars; ultrasound employed by bats for echolocation; and infrared radiation used by pit vipers to detect the body heat of their prey. The system converts input from these sensors into vibrations in a T-shirt made from electro-active polymers. According to its developers, the system is designed to provide 360-degree obstacle detection.

New speech-therapy tools make practicing at home easier (The Wall Street Journal)
Until recently, therapy for children with speech disorders has been conducted in a speech therapist’s office. Now, some companies have brought innovations for home use to this field in hopes of accelerating success for children and relieving school systems of some of the burden. Articulate Technologies sells Speech Buddies, a set of handheld tools resembling Popsicle sticks that children can use to determine where the tongue needs to be to produce hard consonants. The SmartPalate System from CompleteSpeech uses biofeedback to guide students to proper tongue placement and can be leased for home use. The iPad, meanwhile, is quickly replacing flashcards as a speech-therapy tool.

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