Disability News Weekly Roundup – Monday, April 13 to Friday, April 17

Netflix makes a blind superhero accessible to blind audiences (The Washington Post)
For its new series “Daredevil,” featuring a hero who acquires superpowers in an accident that blinds him, Netflix was so busy focusing on the superhero’s powers that it initially forgot to add audio description tracks. Disability rights advocates, who for years have been pressing Netflix to be more accessible to all viewers with disabilities, were quick to seize on this omission. Now the director of content operations has announced that, beginning with “Daredevil,” Netflix will be adding audio description to select titles, including “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and “Marco Polo.”

Focusing the brain on better vision (The New York Times)
As adults age, vision deteriorates. One common type of decline is contrast sensitivity, the ability to distinguish gradations of light to dark, making it possible to discern where one object ends and another begins. But new research suggests that contrast sensitivity can be improved with brain-training exercises. A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Riverside, and Brown University showed that after just five sessions of behavioral exercises, the vision of 16 people in their 60s and 70s significantly improved.

Mental health therapy through social networking could soon be a reality (Time)
An experimental social networking platform intent on helping users calm anxiety and reverse symptoms of depression has received positive feedback. Panoply is a peer-to-peer platform jointly administered by MIT and Northwestern University that encourages users to “think more flexibly and objectively about the stressful events and thoughts that upset them,” according to a paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. In the study, which involved 166 people over a three-week period, researchers found that the network produced “significant benefits, particularly for depressed individuals.”

For special-needs students, custom furniture out of schoolhouse scraps (The New York Times)
Whenever this roaming physical therapist for the New York City Education department visits a school, he makes sure to pay a visit to the basement. He gives his phone number to a custodian and asks that no broken furniture be thrown away until he is called. This protocol keeps him in the supplies he uses to build custom physical therapy equipment. He turned a discarded bookcase into a small set of steps, used to help a little girl get on and off the school bus by herself. He used left-over rope to create a walking aid for a little boy. And he has made several kinds of specialty chairs.

Wristband that measures rest, activity schedule may help predict response to antidepressants (Science Daily)
A wristband that records motion throughout a 24-hour cycle may be an inexpensive, safe way to determine which patients with major depressive disorder will respond best to commonly prescribed drugs. Patients and their physicians may go through many months, doses, and different antidepressants trying to get results. A study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research indicates that the simple wristband my help by identifying those commonly referred to as “night owls,” who appear to be the best responders to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. On the other hand, “larks,” or early risers, are more likely to respond to bupropion, or Wellbutrin, which provide a slight stimulation that may help them readjust their lowest activity times.

A swim team for teens with autism (Video) (The New York Times)
A new documentary called “Swim Team” chronicles the Jersey Hammerheads, a swim team for children with autism. The film follows Coach Mike and his team as they train for the Special Olympics and the national USA Special Olympics games. This video excerpt features the coaches and athletes whose lives have been transformed by joining the swim team.

Paralyzed again (MIT Technology Review)
Fifteen years after sustaining a spinal cord injury that resulted in paraplegia and severely limited use of his upper limbs, John Mumford received a technological wonder that reactivated his left hand, known as the Freehand System. Mumford was so enthusiastic over the Freehand that he went to work for the manufacturer, NeuroControl, demonstrating the system at assistive-technology trade shows. Twenty years later, NeuroControl got out of the Freehand business, focusing instead on a bigger potential market. Without the prospect of tech support from NeuroControl, the electrical equipment implanted I Mumford’s body went dormant. He lost the independence that had come from having gained extensive use of one hand.

Electronic vest lets Deaf people hear with their torsos (Medgadget)
Neuroplasticity allows our brains to process new kinds of information that we normally cannot. Blind people who use echolocation to navigate are a perfect example. Researchers at Rice University are hoping that the same can work for Deaf people by substituting the tactile sense instead of hearing. The researchers created an electronic wearable VEST (Versatile Extra-Sensory Transducer) that has an array of 24 vibration motors throughout its surface. Microphones on the vest pick up the sound around the person, which is then processed and translated into vibrations. At first the scientists are focusing on human speech, hoping that it can be “heard” through vibrations on the torso. Their algorithms filter incoming audio so that only speech is translated into vibrations. The article includes a video demonstrating the VEST.

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