A monkey could do it

For many people living with disabilities, a service animal can vastly improve their quality of life.

Service animals aren’t always dogs. Dogs are an obvious good choice because they are very smart, loving and loyal. But other species like pigs serve! Which brings me to Monkey Helpers.Monkey Helper

Monkey Helpers is a 34 year old non-profit that raises and trains capuchin monkeys to help people with severe physical disabilities. Monkeys are an ideal service animal because, not only are they very smart and trainable, they also have opposable thumbs and nimble little fingers to accomplish a huge variety of tasks. Also, capuchin monkeys have long lifespan of 30-40 years!

How it works:

  • Volunteers welcome a baby capuchin monkey into their home, to help them adjust to a house environment, for a couple years.
  • When they are mature enough, the monkey goes to Monkey College for 3-5 years. Here they learn tasks like fetching a specific item and, “sun” (turning on a light), and is potty trained.
  • Now it’s time for the monkey to be matched with a recipient. Recipients must meet some basic requirements. And then the team carefully considers which pairing will make the best match based on personality and compatibility.
  • The monkey lives with the recipient until he retires. At that point volunteers welcome the monkey into their home to live up their retirement in a relaxing environment.

The interesting thing is that the monkey is free to the recipient but is still owned by Monkey Helpers. Trainers check in with the pairing and facilitate a great new bond.

One of the great values of this program, for recipients, is that they get a companion. Often recipients are looking for a service animal because they are lonely, in addition to needing an extra pair of hands. As one trainer put it in this video:

One of the things that’s very important to a lot of recipients is that  their monkey doesn’t see them as disabled. They don’t recognize the things they are unable to do. Their monkey sees the recipient as protector, as alpha. And that’s really important; its a really important gift the monkeys gives to somebody that has had so much taken away from them.

Here is just one story of how much a monkey gives and how many recipients come to realize that they can’t imagine life without their monkey.

Capuchin monkey helper getting a bathYou can get a “Behind the Scenes” tour the training facility and see the monkeys only a couple days in the year. Or, if you aren’t in the Boston area, you can check out their Meet The Monkey’s webpage. And if you really love what you see, they have a few special fundraising events coming up where you can show your support!

Would you get a Monkey Helper?


What Would Harry Do?

Wednesday, July 31st, was J.K Rowling’s (and Harry Potter’s) birthday. I think it is only fitting to let Ms. Rowling author this week’s Motivational Monday post.

We do not need magic to transform our world - JK Rowling

It is impossible to live without failing at something - JK Rowling

Greatest fear realized, rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life - JK Rowling

It is our choices that show what we truly are - Albus Dumbledore

Tropical Accessibility

There are many things I thought I would never see happen for wheelchair users that I turned out to be wrong about…

  • I never thought skiing would be wheelchair accessible, but it is.
  • I never thought African safaris would be wheelchair accessible, but they are.
  • But what I REALLY never thought would happen: wheelchair accessible eco-tourism. I am once again blissfully wrong!

Brazil has put effort into Accessible Tourism programs. These don’t just let you look at the amazing landscapes from afar, but actually engage in nature!

Different communities are making changes to vastly improve accessibility to nature. Now there are a wide variety of locations and activities disabled travelers can participate in. There are accessible hikes, beaches, and even water sports like rafting! Even the coral pools off Pajuçara Beach have become accessible using specially equipped boats.

Wheelchair accessible dirt ramp on ecotourIt is really neat to see how these groups take initiative and ingeniously make nature accessible while still respecting and conserving nature. For example, this ramp… I’m sure it would not stand up to ADA regulations but it preserves the environment, culture, and integrity of the entire experience. It’s these types of efforts that are so amazing to see (for me! at least!!)

This is such a good example of using resources you have available to make creative solutions. It in no way detracts from the natural beauty, but rather incorporates the beauty of a raw incarnation of human ingenuity. It stays true to the spirit of eco-tourism and offers disabled tourists an authentic experience.

What other opportunities have surprised you for being accessible?

The Big Apple: only thing rolling in NYC

Here’s the deal. Places all over the world are making changes to make it easier for disabled travelers to visit. The London transit system’s accessibility has gotten a lot of praise. Europe is coming together in a universal system for disabled drivers–regardless of their citizenship!  Cities are starting accessible programs like making their beaches wheelchair accessible, like in Italy and Brazil! But here in the US, after just celebrating 23 years of the American Disabilities Act, you can still find news articles like this….

NYC TaxisNew York City has 233 accessible taxis, out of a fleet of 13,000.

There was a bill signed by Gov. Cuomo a year an a half ago to add 2,000 new accessible taxis to this fleet. This victory was short lived as this state law was ultimately deemed unconstitutional by New York court. The reason? Because the city should be able to make these sorts of decisions.

Now the fate of accessible taxis lays in the hands of Mayor Bloomberg, who supported the court’s ruling. Bloomberg predictably chose to revert to the previous strategy: a dispatch program that sends the 233 existing accessible to callers familiar with the program.

What makes this particularly upsetting is that when this measure (Intro #433-A) was first passed at the state level, it was supported by a “veto-proof majority of Council members”. THEN Mayor Bloomberg, represented by a Taxi and Limousine Commissioner spokesperson (David Yassky), opposed the bill. Guess who won.

It is simply outrageous! Regardless of the issue. If Measure 433-A said I couldn’t eat Oreos with milk and this same situation happened, I’d still be furious. (Even if the end result meant that I could continue to consume the cookie in it’s greatest glory: dunked in “liquid gold”.) And that is because the will of the majority was overpowered by the personal agendas of powerful folk.

Despite this outcome, the United Spinal Association deserves much recognition for their contribution to this battle. If there is one thing that can beat powerful folk, it’s persistent folk on the right side of the issue.

I think this disappointing news gives a very good picture of why they call it the city that never sleeps. You stay up half the night waiting for a taxi, and by the time you get home, you have to phone the dispatch immediately if you have any hopes of getting to your appointments on time. No time to sleep on a system like that.

What do you think?

oreo controversies

Let’s face it, Oreo likes to keep it’s fingers in many glasses of milk, so to speak. They’ve somehow entered in just about every controversial issue out there! I’m happy to pull them into one more…

DIY Prosthesis

Christina Stephens is an occupational therapist who lost her foot in a car accident.

Stephens, who specializes in wheelchair biomechanics (helping new wheelchair users learn to operate a chair so they won’t injure themselves) understood her situation very well. She could either try to save her foot with a low chance of success and an even lower chance of restoring function, or she could amputate the foot. She chose to amputate because using a prosthesis would restore more function than her hopes of a surgical repair.

Christina Stephens Lego legShe took to the web to share her experience when she found a shocking lack of information on getting a prosthesis. She filled the gap herself with her weekly videos on YouTube and Facebook.  She even took the challenge to build her own leg out of Legos!!!

The human spirit isn’t as fragile as the human body. It can be sewn back together with the thread of determination.

While this leg is more recreational than functional, you can check out her video if you want to make your own Lego Leg 😉



Travel is fatal to prejudice

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.  ― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

Before writing about the mother who threw her disabled baby off a bridge, I thought I understood what this quote meant.

I thought it meant that by traveling I will have the experiences necessary to better myself. I will meet new types of people, appreciate different culture and the struggles they face. I will see there are many “right” ways; my way isn’t the best one to happen to this world.

Now I know that I’m not the only one who is bettered by the experience. I think that it is a two way street. I see and experience new things, but so do the local people who meet a mysterious outsider like me. Suddenly I’m a representative my entire “people”– whatever others perceive that to be, whether is people from my country, with my coloration, education level, my unusual height, with my condition, share my fashion sense, or who thinks FRIENDS was the best sitcom ever, etc. etc. etc.

It’s not just about race and religion! It’s about letting others experience a different way of life through you! You’re example can not only advocate for different abilities, but can open minds. And just like that you’ve become a vanquisher of prejudice!

I think it would be really fantastic to see more people with disabilities travel, not just for their own personal satisfaction, but for the betterment of the world.

If that mother had met an individual with Down Syndrome, leading a full and fulfilling life, maybe she would have chosen to embrace her daughter’s differences instead of tossing them away. She is just one of the many people in this world who Mr. Twain would say sorely need travel.

So if you are considering traveling but are on the fence, just think of it like this…you’d be doing with world a public service. 😉

Happy Friday!

It’s an odd gift but it’s a gift

I started writing Controversy Humpday so I could share stories that I’d otherwise find very difficult to share, but that are extremely important and worth sharing! Today is particularly difficult; I hope every one feels they can chime in with their opinions in the comments and that these controversial stories can become somewhat cathartic.

Baby with Down Syndrome thrown from bridgeIn 2000,  mother dropped her baby, Kaya, from a bridge  45 meters in the air. After reading this, I was overwhelmed and probably too upset to write a coherent article. I realized I would never be able to find better words than this spectacularly gifted author, in her letter to the fallen baby:

Dear Baby Kaya,

When I read about your fall in the newspaper, my heart hurt. I know that the police are still trying to find out if your mother dropped you or if you were tossed over the guardrail.

But, in many ways it doesn’t matter. The fact is, as soon as people knew you had Down Syndrome, that changed the story. Now there was a reason for you to be thrown away: you are a baby who doesn’t really matter.

There are two things you need to learn. First, you come from a group of people who have a history of being thrown away. We have been thrown out of families into institutions. We have been thrown out of schools into special classes. We have been thrown out of lives of employment into lives of poverty. And people like you and me, doctors don’t really want us to be here in the first place. But we, people with disabilities, are glad you are here and welcome you to the fight.

And I, a woman with Down Syndrome, want to be the first to give you the second bit of news. Yes, you come from people who have a history of being thrown away, but you also come from a group of people who have learned how to survive.

I am a self advocate, that means that I have learned to speak up for myself and speak out against injustice. I take this seriously. There are some things that I learned that I want to pass along to you, things that I wish someone had told me when I was a little girl.

So, from me to you …

Be proud of who you are. Having Down Syndrome is kind of cool. I think we have beautiful eyes. Everyone tells me that we have the greatest smiles, and I think they are right. Being proud will help you in so many ways. It will insure that you ‘land softly’ every time someone treats you badly or calls you a name. You will hear them all, Retard, Reject, Dummy. I’ve heard them and really don’t care what people who use those words think. They may think I’m Retarded, but I know they are prejudiced.

Don’t listen to people who say you can’t do things. All sorts of people told me that I couldn’t learn. Guess what. I went to college, right along with typical students and I passed the same courses that they did. Oh, I had to sit up real late at night and study. I knew it was harder for me to learn, but I did it.

I can read. I can write. I can think. I can speak. There are more things that I can do than things I can’t. Just remember, don’t give up on yourself because someone says you can’t do something. Try it. You may surprise yourself.

I really hope this was all an accident and you will know a mother’s love like I have, but if not, there are lots of places where you an find love and acceptance. Find people who love you for who you are. Spend time with people who like you because of who you are. You will get tired from always having to teach people that you are a real person like everyone else. So find other people you can just have fun with.

I go to People First and other places where there are other people who have disabilities –you wouldn’t believe the fun we have and the things we get up to. In my groups I’ve met other people with disabilities who are married, who have full-time jobs, who own their own homes, who decide their own fates. It’s fun just to be part of the group. It’s a relief from being special.

Discover!! Life is fun and full of surprises. You know, I never kissed a guy until I was twenty!! But I discovered I liked it.

Life is full of great things, like first kisses and chocolate. Every day I sit down and enjoy strong coffee, real strong coffee, with milk and sugar. When I treat myself, I eat seedless grapes, cold and green.

You too, have lots to look forward to. I remember my first crush –on an older man. I remember playing races with my parents. I remember swings and slides and skipping and jumping. I remember playing with a puppy and rubbing his belly. Enjoy it all. Life is full of trials, but it’s also full of excitement, and fun, and green grapes and chocolate.

I read in the paper (that part still surprises people) that you are a ‘miracle baby,’ that maybe God caught you and carried you safely down from that bridge to the earth.

I believe, Kaya, that God gave me an extra chromosome. It’s an odd gift, but it’s a gift. I believe that God does love you. And, I hope you realize, so do I.

Welcome, dear baby, welcome.

Thank you Astra Milberg for finding the words no one else could and for giving baby Kaya the welcome and love she deserves.

Hot stuff: a daring fire escape

It should be no surprise that there is great concern over evacuation plans for people with disabilities.

Have you ever seen an evacuation plan that includes disability-specific details? Even more alarming, everyone has the right to live in an apartment on the third floor, but not everyone gets to have access to the fire escape. If the fire alarm is going off, who will let the deaf know?

Clearly enough is not being done, but not for lack of trying on part of these researchers in Japan…

Introducing, the Wasabi Fire Alarm

Wasabi Fire Alarm for deaf

Inside the smoke detector are spray cans of Wasabi Extract–you know the seemingly benign but deceptively potent horseradish paste served with sushi? Seems like an appropriate way to be alerted to a fire.

13 of 14 deaf sleepers, in a study, woke up within 2 minutes of the alarm going off. Participants helped determine the best concentration of wasabi in the spray to wake up subjects without effecting their eyes. I wonder if they gave participants complimentary ginger.

The Wasabi Fire Alarm has been in on the market since 2009 (recommended for hotels, homes, and hospitals alike!) and won the Ig Nobel Prize in 2011.

Okay, who’s craving sushi now? Seems like the just the way to celebrate their achievement!

Starstruck: Celebrity Pet Edition

Mr. Jon Stewart is the celeb of the day and his celebrity pet is Champ!

Jon Stewart's 3 legged pit bull ChampStewart has rescued 3 pit bulls including Champ, who has only 3 legs. Stewart is a huge dog lover and an advocate for pit bulls. He went so far as to respond to a Sarah Palin comment in 2008 about pit bulls and hockey moms like this:

One is unfairly maligned in spite of evidence that it is no worse than any other dog, and one is an artificial demographic that is no better or worse than any other mom. –Jon Stewart

With the new addition of Champ to his family and his public displays of love and patience towards his disabled dog (who understandably tires easily on walks), Stewart is rectifying yet another “maligned” demographic.

Maybe the handsome duo is out on a walk now! Happy Saturday!