Boosting Mobility and Independence from Infant to Adult

Dr. Alison Cernich, Ph.D. Director, National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR)

By Guest Blogger Dr. Alison Cernich, Ph.D. Director, National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR)

Two young buddies, Siddharth Bhavani, 11, and Samuel Tucker, 10, both of Bowie, Md., checked out a robot exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Innovation Festival earlier this year. Playing on the floor with a small skateboard-like device designed to help disabled babies crawl, the boys summed up the value of medical rehabilitation research.

“I think this is good for babies,” said an earnest Samuel. Siddharth agreed: “If a baby can’t move a limb, how can they get around?”

Chief engineer and physical therapist Peter E. Pidcoe, MBA, from Virginia Commonwealth University, had those same thoughts when he designed the BabyBot, an assistive device developed with funding from NICHD’s National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR). The device is composed of a sophisticated web of wires and sensors tucked into a robotic, padded board. When a baby lies belly down on the board, sensors pick up signals, gestures, and any slight movement, offering a gentle robotic nudge of encouragement.

It’s a fairly simple concept with a complex, high-tech design.

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Inclusive Practices Help Kids Grow

Torrie Dunlap, CEO, Kids Included Together

By Guest Blogger Torrie Dunlap, CEO, Kids Included Together

Timothy was a 12-year-old with autism attending his school’s after-care program. Every day at 3:15 p.m., he would make his way to the room, write his name on the sign-in sheet, select a box of crayons and a coloring book from the art area and sit at a table by himself, coloring pictures in silence until his mom came to get him at 5:30 p.m. He rarely made eye contact with anyone and since he appeared to be content, the staff left him alone. The program staff members were proud of their inclusive program and believed that they were honoring Timothy by allowing him to participate in this way. Later, as a team, the staff attended training on inclusive practice delivered by the non-profit where I am the CEO, called Kids Included Together. It was during this training that they learned about meaningful participation and about the benefits that inclusion holds for all children.

Inspired, the after-care program staff made some changes. They realized they had made some assumptions about Timothy based on his autism diagnosis. They learned that the biggest opportunity they had was to help all children enhance their social skills and learn how to engage with each other. They invited Timothy to participate in activities he was interested in and provided him with the necessary supports. Through this, they learned that he wanted to play games with other kids, but often didn’t know the rules and that the other kids didn’t know how to communicate with him to ask him to join in.

One day, Timothy’s mom arrived at the program to pick him up and went to his table, like she had every day for months. This time, Timothy wasn’t there. She felt panicked as she raced over to the sign-in sheet to see if he had arrived that day. As she turned around to ask the program director where her son was, she looked out a sliding glass door to the playground. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Her son was outside playing four-square with three other boys. She immediately began to cry. The program director asked her what had happened. She said, “In 12 years I have never seen my son play ball with other children.”

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Improving Transportation for Those with Disabilities a Focus for Startups

Megan Totka, Chief Editor,

By Guest Blogger Megan Totka, Chief Editor,

If historians give this period a label, they might call it the “Startup Era.” In earlier times, most startup news was relegated to the business pages of your local newspaper or The Wall Street Journal, today a wide variety of startups make it into the front-page headlines.

And some of the most notable startups in recent years have been in the transportation industry: think Uber and Lyft, for two familiar examples.

Articles in the popular press on the exploits of Uber, for example, swing from praise for the company’s innovative business model, to controversial, for its dust-ups with local governing agencies. Legacy taxi companies hate it and it’s banned outright in some countries and cities.

Another area where Uber and Lyft have received some bad press is in their ability to serve the disabled community. There are stories about drivers (who are typically private contractors) refusing to pick up people in wheelchairs and blind passengers with service animals.

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Drive and Tenacity: Meet Keith, 2015 “No Boundaries” Participant

Keith, No Boundaries participant, is photographed in front of an American flag in a wood-paneled office.

By Carolyn VanBrocklin, Communications Specialist,

Not many people can say they have legislation named after them – but Keith does. Keith, who teaches government and history at the Maryland School for the Deaf, has always wanted to follow in the footsteps of other family members by serving his country in the U.S. military. But, under standard military testing, people with hearing impairments aren’t allowed to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. Keith has embarked on a journey to change that.

Three months before September 11, 2001, Keith graduated from high school and visited several U.S. Navy recruiting centers seeking to enlist. Three short words derailed that plan: “bad ear, disqual.” He switched gears, received a Master’s degree in deaf education and taught for two years – until the military came up again when a student, who is also deaf, asked how he could join. Keith, who told his student it wasn’t possible, came to a realization – he had been told “no” all along and there he was continuing that discouragement. So, he decided to do something about it.

Keith’s alma mater, California State University, Northridge, had started an Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). When he asked to take a few classes through the program, he was pleased to receive a positive response – something he had not gotten in all of his prior attempts to join the military. He seized the opportunity and quickly established himself as a dedicated, driven participant who took part even in the early-morning workouts and other activities that weren’t required.

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Economic Independence for Americans with Disabilities Requires Owning and Operating Our Own Businesses

A photo of Clyde Terry, a member of the National Council on Disability (NCD)

By Guest Blogger Clyde Terry, Chairperson, National Council on Disability

Americans with disabilities make up nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population, roughly 1 in 5, according to the United States census. Living in a world that wasn’t always built with disabled people in mind provides ample opportunities to find solutions to everyday problems that non-disabled folks are likely to miss.

As we look back on the month of October and the landmark 70th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month observances, I can’t help but wonder: With all the attention being given to disability and employment, how could we be doing more to help people with disabilities launch and operate our own businesses?

Opportunities and real life examples abound — even while on vacation.

For example, when visiting Florida earlier this year, Parisian Charlotte de Vilmorin — a wheelchair user — was surprised to discover how difficult it was to find reliable transportation that she could use. de Vilmorin eventually found an accessible vehicle, but received a second shock when told how expensive it would be to rent — approximately $1,000 for 10 days.

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