Disability News Weekly Roundup – Monday, June 23 – Friday, June 27

Human Interest:
Worshippers with disabilities search for acceptance (Disability Scoop)
Fifty million Americans have some form of disability, yet those numbers are not reflected in the church pews, as accommodations for people with physical and mental disabilities in houses of worship are limited. However, acceptance has grown during the past 15 years as both welcoming congregations and people with special needs find each other through the Internet. A pastor at a church in Longwood, Fla. has made inclusion a priority. The result is evident every Sunday, when people of all ages are walking and rolling and strolling in.

Education:
A special-needs challenge in pre-K expansion (Capital New York)
As the deBlasio administration in New York City rolls out its ambitious expansion of pre-kindergarten, it will be hard-pressed to accommodate an estimated 5,000 children with special needs, according to special-education advocates. The Department of Education must find space for these children, coordinate special services through approved agencies, arrange for travel, and communicate with parents, pre-K directors, and teachers about each child’s individual needs. In addition, hundreds of pre-K programs in public schools and almost one thousand in community-based centers must be brought up to building and health codes.

Policy:
Family’s complaint prompts insurer to drop ‘r-word’ (Disability Scoop)
Major health insurer Cigna has agreed to stop using the term “mental retardation” after parents complained when the phrase was used to describe their child’s condition in a letter from the company. The correspondence was related to their 10-month-old daughter, who has Down syndrome. The parents responded to the letter by asking that the insurance provider use “intellectual disability” instead. Cigna reportedly has committed to modify the terminology it uses companywide while cautioning that the company will need some time to take legal and regulatory steps to use its updated documents.

Research:
The thought experiment (MIT Technology Review)
A 54-year-old woman diagnosed with a rare disease called spinocerebellar degeneration has been paralyzed for 14 years. Two and a half years ago, doctors inserted two ports into the woman’s skull. These allow researchers to attach cables that connect with two thumbtack-size implants, called the Utah Electrode Array, in her brain’s motor cortex. Two or three times a week, the woman joins a team of scientists at the University of Pittsburgh and is plugged into a robotic arm that she controls with her mind. She uses it to move blocks, stack cones, and pose for silly pictures, doing things like pretending to knock out a researcher or two. She calls the arm Hector.

Do people with autism struggle with driving? (Science Daily)
In the first pilot study asking adults on the autism spectrum about their experiences with driving, researchers at Drexel University found significant differences in self-reported driving behaviors and perceptions of driving ability in comparison to non-autistic adults. Study participants reported earning their driver’s licenses at a later age, driving less frequently, and putting more restrictions on their own driving behaviors, on average compared to non-autistic adults. Respondents also reported more traffic violations. As the population of adults with autism continues growing rapidly, the survey provides a first step toward identifying whether this population has unmet needs for educational supports to empower safe driving.

Technology:
Researchers find portable, low-cost optical imaging tool useful in concussion evaluation (Science Daily)
Two separate projects spearheaded by University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences represent important steps toward demonstrating and substantiating the utility of a portable optical brain imaging tool in concussion evaluation. The findings from the optical-imaging research project, employing functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), provided preliminary support for the tool as a low-cost, portable device for imaging sports and military concussions. The fNIRS study used ImPACT®, a computerized neurocognitive test battery to assess mild traumatic brain injury. In a separate study, considered the largest statistical review of published computerized concussion testing to date, ImPACT® was found to detect the largest effects for individuals who had been concussed, across all outcomes.

Vibrating electronic glove teaches people to read/write in Braille with little to no effort (Medgadget)
Researchers at Georgia Tech have developed a glove that can help learn Braille intuitively. The electronic glove has vibrating motors placed on top of each knuckle and was originally used to teach people to play the piano. The knuckles can be made to vibrate in different patterns that correspond to phrases written in Braille. In studies, some participants wore the glove while focusing on learning Braille, while others played unrelated video games during the same Braille learning sequences. Even those that did not consciously focus on Braille were able to repeat writing phrases taught by the glove. Participants were also able to read Braille with greater ease following the interventions.

ReWalk exoskeleton gets FDA approval for home use (gizmag)
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the ReWalk motorized exoskeleton for personal use in the US. ReWalk consists of a wearable brace support worn outside clothing, a computer-based control system, and motion sensors to enable users with paraplegia to sit, stand, walk, and even climb stairs with motorized assistance. Unlike the ReWalk Rehabilitation system used in clinical rehabilitation, the ReWalk Personal System is customized to suit a specific user and designed for daily use in a range of environments, including outdoors. Potential customers will need to become certified in using the ReWalk system by completing a training program.

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