Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

Chris Gorham becomes a new voice in disability advocacy

Chris Gorham NoH8

Chris Gorham for the NoH8 campaign by photographer Adam Bouska. Image via the Christopher Gorham Facebook Fan Page.

If Chris Gorham (actor), wasn’t an advocate for disabilities before, he certainly has become one. As his popularity, and the popularity of his character, Auggie, in the USA Network hit new series “Covert Affairs” continues to grow, Gorham has taken the opportunity to learn about and actively advocate for disabilities utilizing his star power and charisma to further the cause.

While his character Auggie — a CIA agent now desked after being blinded during a tour in Iraq — and the technology that Auggie uses on the show has spurned on many a discussion on internet blogs and other various media interviews , Gorham himself has taken the time to also support other causes, such as donating prizes on twitchange to help raise money to build a school for disabled children in Haiti, and his attendance at this years Vision Awards. You can see pictures of Gorham at the Vision Awards on the Christopher Gorham Facebook Fan Page.

From Segway to Bionic Arm, Dean Kamen is on the cutting edge of prosthesis technology

DEKA Luke Arm

The Luke Arm. Image via DEKA Research and Development Corporation.

Heralded as the most advanced and lifelike prosthetics, Dean Kamen (creator of the Segway) has promised us a real life bionic man/woman in this lifetime. The “Luke Arm”, affectionately dubbed after Luke Skywalker, grew out of DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, which was created in 2005 to fund the development of prosthetic limbs for returning war-wounded soldiers.

The initiative led to the research, design, and creation of two prosthetic arms. One was for a four year, $30.4 million contract to be complete in 2009 and led by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Labratory in Laurel, Md. The program sought to create a fully functioning, neurally controlled arm using technology that is still experimental. The other contract was awarded to DEKA Research and Development Corp., Kamen’s New Hampshire-based medical products company (best known for the Segway). DEKA’s contract was for only a 2-year initiative, costing $18.1 million, and was an effort to give amputees an advanced prosthesis that could be available immediately.

The video below is a short presentation of the Luke Arm in action with Dean Kamen and one of DEKA’s volunteer amputees.

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Luke Arm by Inventor Deam Kamen, posted with vodpod

In 2008 DARPA gave the project a green light and the Luke Arm went into clinical trials. The agility of the Luke Arm, which is what makes this prosthesis such a remarkable and revolutionary creation, lends its credit to an enormous amount of circuitry inside the arm, which allows for 18 degrees of freedom. As opposed to other advanced prosthetic arms which only allowed for 3 degrees (should, elbow, and wrist) of freedom. Furthermore, the sheer magnitude of circuitry required to operate such dexterity forced its creators so create rigid-to-flex circuit boards that folded into origami-like shapes in order to fit inside the tiny spaces within the bionic arm.

The Luke also had to be modular in order to accommodate any level of amputation. Much like a vaccuum cleaner with its array of various attachments, the hand contains separate electronics, as does the forearm. Even the elbow is powered and receives is power from the electronics contained withing the upper arm. The shoulder is also powered and has been able to accomplish a level of reaching up that has never been possible in other prosthetics.

The wearer of the Luke Arm controlls its use through controllers in their shoes. For example, pushing a button with the left big toe will cause the arm to reach out, while pushing a button with the right toe will cause the arm to move back in. A small, vibrating motor, called a tactor, placed against the wearers skin provides the necessary feedback and changes its rate of vibration changes the grip strength that is exerted.

With continued funding from DARPA, Kamen’s group started clinical take-home trials in 2009. Hopes are that DEKA will be able to submit Luke Arm to the FDA for approval to sell the prosthetic in the near future.

Adee, Sarah. “Dean Kamen’s Luke Arm Prosthesis Readies for Clinical Trials.” IEEE Spectrum. IEEE Spectrum, Feb. 2008. Web. 28 Sept. 2010.

Double-amputee returns to the frontlines

Afghanistan Amputee Soldier Dan Luckett

In this Sept. 14, 2010 photo, U.S. Capt. Dan Luckett, 27, of Norcross, Ga., takes a seat at Combat Outpost Ashoqeh in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. Luckett lost his left leg and part of his right foot in a bomb blast in Iraq in 2008. The Pentagon says 41 American amputee veterans are now serving in combat zones worldwide. Photo by Todd Pitman. Credit: Associated Press.

Technological advances have not only changed the way amputees can continue leading active lifestyles, it has also changed the sphere in which disability is regarded in the armed services. According to the Pentagon, to date, some 41 American amputee veterans now serve in combat zones worldwide.

The technological advances seen in artificial limbs has been a crucial factor in the return of soldiers, like Dan Luckett, to their careers in the armed forces. Luckett recently made headline news as a double amputee returning to the frontline using his new prosthetics: a removable carbon fiber plate that runs under the foot and fills the space where toes should be with hardened foam on his right foot, and a prosthetic leg on his left. You can read more on Luckett’s extensive injuries here.

While Luckett’s injuries were relatively clean cut, as he was spared any injury from shrapnel, rather having his leg and foot melted off by molten copper from an explosively formed penetrator (one supposes this is a message of being grateful for small miracles), doctors still urged Luckett to take his therapy on the new prosthetic leg slowly. By the second day of physical therapy with the prosthetic, Luckett walked out of the hospital on the prosthetic and a pair of crutches — more a battle of will between he and doctors, not a testament of miraculous healing. But by February 2009, nearly a year after he stubbornly walked out of the hospital with his new leg and foot, he had progressed so far that he could run a mile in eight minutes.

Luckett joined his unit at Fort Cambell and several months later had passed a physical fitness test in which he attained the Expert Infantryman’s Badge. The test required running 12 miles in under three hours with a 35-pound backpack. Luckett recognized the test as being crucial and, as he describes in an interview for this article, that if he could earn this badge that nothing could be said that he wasn’t capable of doing.

The Army agreed, and promoted him to captain.

In May of this year, Luckett deployed to Afghanistan. While his fellow troops treat him no differently from any other soldier in the field with him, Luckett has earned a nickname while over there..though the nickname was given to him by a shocked group of Afghan soldiers. Upon taking a knee while on patrol, his pants leg rode up, revealing a part of his prosthetic limb to a group of nearby Afghan soldiers. One gave him the nickname the “One-legged Warrior of Ashoqeh.” Quite poetic — wonder what nickname they would have given him had they seen his foamy right foot!

Luckett keeps several prosthetic legs in his bunk, each designed for different tasks, each with a carbon fiber socket that attaches to his thigh. One is fitted with a tennis shoe for running while the other is fitted with a boot. Another, made from rust-proof aluminum, has a waterproof Croc for showering. But by far the most important prosthetic leg in his arsenal has a high-tech axle that allows him to move smoothly over uneven terrain while on patrols. Best part, his squad leader painted its toenails purple.

You can read more on Luckett, the even leading up to his injuries and the extent of the injuries themselves, as well as what his life is like with the new prosthesis on the frontlines in this article from the associated press.

Pitman, Todd. “Wounded in Iraq, Double-amputee Returns to War.” Yahoo!News. Associated Press, 25 Sept. 2010. Web. 28 Sept. 2010.

Archery as therapy for special-needs

Dothan archery

Credit: Danny Tindell / Ludie Walker gets help with her archery skills from Jamie Johnson at Eastgate Park in Dothan Tuesday afternoon.

Dothan’s Leisure Services department recently offered special-needs residents a chance to live out their Robin Hood fantasies as the Eastgate Park archery taught 10 special-needs residents how to properly use bows and arrows at its range.

The nightly classes began earlier this month and lasted about 90 minutes, allowing the participants to learn the basics and get in some quality shooting time.

The classes were a part of the city’s theraputic recreation programs. “We want to offer archery to everyone, people of all abilities, not just perfect abilities,” said Roy Kitts, athletic coordinator for Leisure Services. “We have a partner helping them that is able-bodied and assisting with the class. Some of them shot really well (Monday and Tuesday), and this is an opportunity to tell people what they can do instead of what they can’t do. It’s about having the opportunity to be included and do things everybody else is able to do.” [Source]

In an interview with the Dothan Eagle, Kitt explained that archery was a natural choice when considering ways to include special-needs residence because of the sport’s individualistic nature. “It teaches mental concentration, steadiness of hand, you have to use vision and other things. You’re able to do this even if you’re not a great athlete,” he said.

Leaders of the project hope that the program developes even further, not only as an annual event but perhaps as a permanent one also offering more advanced levels for the future aficionado.

Phillips, Greg. “Special-needs Residents Band Together for Archery Class.” Dothan Eagle 21 Sept. 2010, Local sec. Print.

Laser Walking Stick for the blind is perhaps one science fair away from existence

Covert Affairs

Scene from Covert Affairs featuring Auggie (played by Christopher Gorham) using a laserpoint walking stick. Image via, ph. by Steve Wilkie/USA Network

Last week’s post on the Braille Sense Plus QWERTY Notetaker was inspired by its use on the new USA Network series “Covert Affairs”. In the show, the technology used by Auggie, a CIA agent blinded during his tour in Iraq. But this certainly isn’t the only cool bit of technology that Auggie (played by Christpher Gorham) has used on the show, and writers and producers of the show promise it won’t be the last.

Another assistive device that Auggie uses is a laser pointer walking stick. This nifty piece of gadgetry is a laser ranging system (like radar but using lasers). Lasering out in a grid pattern, the laser detects objects, obstacles, stairs, curbs, etc., and relays the information to the user with audible tones and tactile information, such a vibrations. The laser ranging system works by sending out a pulse of beams that time how long it takes the pulses to reflect back [Source].

Sounds like quite an amazing little bit of technology doesn’t it? Well, it is…or, at least it would be if it existed. As Christopher Gorham reveals in in this interview with Media Blvd Magazine. That is to say, Auggie’s cool laser walking cane doesn’t exist, but the technology is there.

Laser Cane

The Laser Cane, available at

For instance, the Laser Cane (shown left) is one of the first types of walking canes to begin utilizing laser technology. Designed specifically to adress the walking needs of individuals with various neurological conditions, such as: Parkinson’s, ALS, Stroke, PSP, Multiple Sclerosis, Brain Injuries, Balance Disorders, and MSA, the Laser Cane utilizes laser technology to provide a target to step over, helping to overcome freezing episodes. What this means is, the beam creates a visual “obstacle” which forces the individual to life their foor up and over the beam, reducing the individuals tendency to drag, shuffle, or otherwise teeter on their feet.

But this Laser Cane doesn’t provide any assistance for the blind and certainly isn’t anything like the device that Auggie uses, right. So where’s that good stuff? Its existence is perhaps in the very near future with the laser walking cane developed by three Palestinian teenagers from the rufugee city Nablus. Their incredible invention can be seen in the news story below:

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A “life-changing” invention from the West Bank, posted with vodpod

America’s Got Talent Top 10: Christina & Ali

We watched Christina and Ali grow with each performance as they competed on the Summer’s hit show America’s Got Talent. The girls made it into the top 10, their Semi-finals performance beating out that of Connor Doran’s indoor kite-flying performance. Below is their performance in America’s Got Talent Top 10, singing “I Love You, I Do”:

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Christina & Ali, posted with vodpod

This was Christina and Ali’s final performance; they did not move on to America’s Got Talent Top 4. But we wish Christina and Ali all the best as they continue forward in their lives and continue their advocacy and awareness for cystic fibrosis.

MasterChef America

Masterchef America

Masterchef America via Fox Broadcasting

Famed chef Gordon Ramsey took MasterChef, a wildly popular show on the BBC in the UK, as well as Australia and New Zealand, to America, capping off the last of Fox Broadcasting’s summer line up. If you didn’t keep up with the show as it was airing, no worries — full episodes of the show can be watched at with limited commercial interruption and finished in only a short 8 episodes.

Having its first run in America , the contestants were as diverse as the food they cooked. This years competition featured Jennifer, a homemaker with two special needs children, and Darrell who was born with Ectrodactyly, sometimes referred to as “Lobster-claw Syndrome.”

Both contestants only made is as far as the preliminary tryouts, but you can see them in action in the episodes Auditions Part 1 & 2 at

Braille Screen by Danny Greenfield

Braille Screen by Danny Greenfield

Braille Screen, 3 screens of 1 inch Baltic Birch Plywood, lacquered and finished, by Dannye Greenfield. Featured at

Design for disabilities doesn’t just have to be all about function or for the disabled, as these room dividers prove.

As its designer, Danny Greenfield, explains:

“Based in the Braille system for binary coding, they function as a double entendre between the original, conceptual logic driving the piece and its architectural double. Spelling out “If these walls could see”, the matrix of dots which characterizes the nature of the screens are entirely subtracted from the width of the plank, so that the effect is no longer a haptic sensation but a remarkably visual one.

This perceptual game of seeing through the “blind man’s script” is an exercise in subtle exposure of space beyond (or space within), and act as a commentary between the notion of spectatorship and voyerism. A sophisticated addition to any contemporary interior, these screens fold up to alleviate crowded urban living.”

See more and detailed images of the Braille Screen by designer Danny Greenfield here at

Covert Affairs’ Christopher Gorham PSA for 20th Anniversay of ADA

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1st collector for Covert Affairs’ Christopher Gorham PSA for 20th…
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Covert Affairs show a blind eye in USA Network’s characters to watch

Braille Sense Plus QWERTY

Braille Sense Plus QWERTY Notetaker and MP3 PLayer

USA Network’s newest Fall drama, Covert Affairs, features yet another of the networks trademark interesting “characters,” though it’s his technology we’re coveting.

A former CIA agent special operative, Auggie (played by Christopher Gorham) was blinded during a mission. He is now heading up the tech ops department within the DPD. Now, the system we’re featuring here [above] isn’t as sexy as the one that Auggie uses (after all, the CIA doesn’t share information so why would they share the sexy), but it is the same type of technology. The Braille Sense Plus QWERTY Notetaker and MP3 Player is the first notetaker with a computer style keyboard that can perform notetaking, word processing, email, web browsing, MP3 player, and digital audio recorder all in one powerful device. The device gives the blind and visually impaired the flexibility to type on a standard keyboard and also have a Braille display in a compact, portable notetaker. To see this bad boy in action, watch this PSA from Chris Gorham celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):

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Covert Affairs’ Christopher Gorham PSA for 20th…, posted with vodpod

In case you’re interested in the Braille Sense Plus QWERTY Notetaker and MP3 Player, the device features an easy user interface with a menu structure similar to Microsoft Windows, built-in Bluetooth plus wired/wireless internet, various software programs, including File manager, word processor, schedule manager, address manager, e-mail, MSN messenger, FM radio, Daisy player, media player, scientific calculator, alarm clock, and more. There is also VGA interface so that you may have a converstaion with a large group using the VGA port with an external monitor or projector. More specifics on the Braille Sense Plus QWERTY can be found here.

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