Disability News Weekly Roundup – Monday, July 7 – Friday, July 11

Supreme Court rules on disability caregivers (Disability Scoop)
The Supreme Court ruled last week that personal home care employees cannot be forced to pay dues to a union. According to the ruling, these employees, some of whom care for their children with disabilities at home, have a constitutional right not to support a union they oppose. The decision is a victory for the National Right to Work Foundation, which took up the cause of several mothers who objected to paying union fees.

Voters with special needs allegedly disenfranchised (Disability Scoop)
In a complaint filed with the US Department of Justice, advocates with the Disability and Abuse Project said that California judges are routinely restricting the voting rights of people with disabilities who are under limited conservatorships, also known as guardianships. The complaint alleges that judges are using literacy tests to determine if individuals should be allowed to vote in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. An audit by the Disability and Abuse Project of 61 recent cases in Los Angeles found that 90 percent of the estimated 10,000 people in the area with conservators may be disqualified from voting.

Probing brain’s depth, trying to aid memory (The New York Times)
The Department of Defense has announced a 40 million dollar investment in a branch of neuroscience known as direct brain recording. Two centers, at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Los Angeles, won contracts to develop brain implants for memory deficits. Their aim is to develop new treatments of traumatic brain injury, the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose most devastating symptom is the blunting of memory and reasoning. Scientists have found in preliminary studies that they can sharpen some kinds of memory by directly recording, and stimulating, circuits deep in the brain.

A speech synthesizer direct to the brain (MIT Technology Review)
Could a person who is paralyzed and unable to speak use a brain implant to carry on a conversation? That is the goal of an expanding research effort at US universities, which over the last five years has proved that recording devices placed under the skull can capture brain activity associated with speaking. While results are preliminary, one researcher says he is working toward building a wireless brain-machine interface that could translate brain signals directly into audible speech using a voice synthesizer.

Retired NFL players may be at greater risk for hearing loss and tinnitus (Hearing Review)
Many NFL players suffer one or more concussions during their careers. Such blunt head trauma has been associated with hearing loss and tinnitus, a chronic ringing in the ears. According to the program director of Cranial Base Surgery at Loyola University Medical Center in Illinois, there are two possible mechanisms by which blunt head trauma could damage hearing or cause tinnitus: by damaging the nerves that connect the brain to the inner ear, or by damaging the cochlea, the auditory portion of the inner ear, from a shock wave created by the blow to the head.

Paraplegic porcupine gets wheelchair made from plastic plumbing pipes (Fox News)
A paraplegic porcupine at the Piracicaba Municipal Zoo in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is moving around thanks to a DIY wheelchair. The porcupine, who may have suffered a spinal cord injury after falling from a roof, was about to be euthanized when an intern for the zoo came up with the intervention. Costing less than five dollars to make, the wheelchair consists of plastic plumbing pipes, a sling to take weight off the porcupine’s lower body, and wheels in place of hind legs. The article includes a video of the porcupine using the wheelchair.

iPads may help boost speaking skills in kids with autism: study (MedicalXpress.com/HealthDay News)
Adding access to a computer tablet to traditional therapy may help children on the autism spectrum talk and interact more, according to a new study conducted by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles. The study compared language and social communication treatment, with and without access to an iPad computer tablet, in 61 young children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and found that the device helped boost the effect of the treatment.

MIT finger device reads to the blind in real time (The Associated Press)
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing a reading device to be worn on the index finger of people whose vision is impaired. Produced by a 3-D printer, the FingerReader fits like a ring and is equipped with a small camera that scans text. A synthesized voice reads words aloud, quickly translating needed materials for daily living from restaurant menus to books. Special software tracks the finger movement, identifies words, and processes the information. The device also has vibration motors that alert readers when they stray from the script.

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