USBLN Rising Leadership & Disability Equality Index Registration is Now Open!

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The Rising Leaders Mentoring Program is a six-month career mentoring opportunity to at least 100 college students and recent graduates with disabilities through linkages to business professionals from USBLN partner companies.

The Rising Leaders Mentoring Program brings together employers and college students and recent graduates with disabilities, including veterans, in a mutually beneficial way. Mentees meet and interact with business professionals in their field of study or area of interest and whom they would not otherwise have access to.

Applications for 2018 Rising Leader Mentees and the 2018 Rising Leadership Academy are now open! If you are a college student or recent graduate with a disability that has questions about transitioning into employment in the business sector, we highly encourage you to apply for the Rising Leaders Mentoring Program. Our mentoring program is designed to support students and recent graduates as you navigate what is means to be successful and even unique questions that relate to being a person with a disability in the workforce. The RLMP also gives students and recent graduates a network of business partners to connect with! The USBLN especially encourages STEM majors, veterans, students of color, and LGBTQ+ students to apply.

Click here to view benefits and opportunities!

Click here to learn more about the initiative and to apply to this unique program!


The Disability Equality Index (DEI) is a unique, joint initiative of USBLN (US Business Leadership Network) and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). It serves as the nation’s most trusted annual benchmarking tool allowing America’s leading corporations to self-report their disability policies and practices.

The DEI is an aspirational, educational, recognition tool that is intended to help companies identify opportunities for continued improvement and help build a company’s reputation as an employer of choice.

Companies that take the DEI self–report on a wide variety of criteria within four categories: Culture & Leadership, Enterprise–Wide Access, Employment Practices, and Community Engagement & Support Services.

The registration for the 2018 DEI is now open– click here to apply.

Click here to view the DEI brochure

Jeanine Cook is the 2020 Winner of the Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award

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Jeanine Cook with her horse

Jeanine Cook, a principal member of technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the Scalable Architectures department at the Computer Science Research Institute, has received the 2020 Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award for Scientific Scholarship, Civic Science and Diversifying Computing.

The award was presented for her many achievements in computer science research in the areas of high-performance computing, performance characterization and modeling, hardware accelerator technologies, edge-computing, large-scale system monitoring and data analytics; her work in diversifying computer science for the disabled; and her teaching and mentorship of students while an associate professor at New Mexico State University. The award was presented by Richard Tapia at the 2020 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference.

Raised by her parents in Colorado, Cook’s father, a physics PhD., inspired his daughters in their love of computers from an early age. Her mother was a home maker whose own mother came from New Mexico while it was still part of Mexico. Jeanine chose to pursue a BS in Electrical Engineering at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. It was in her second semester at college that her life changed.

Driving home one night she fell asleep at the wheel and drove off an embankment. She broke her back and severely damaged her spinal cord. She soon realized that she had decisions to make on how to live her life. She made a critical decision to choose life, joy and positivity. She was lucky to have many friends who came to see her in the hospital and rehab facility to not only support her but to learn how to enable her to continue on her chosen path. Friends learned how to assist with her self-care, assemble and disassemble her wheelchairs so they could be transported and encouraged her constantly. The incredible outpouring of support and her very close family enabled her to continue her education.

“My friends changed my life. They stood by me and supported me when they really didn’t have to. Because they loved me and encouraged me, I was able to be happy and positive about my future,” said Cook.

Jeanine received her BS and continued with her master’s degree at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She decided to pursue a PhD program. While many of the East Coast Universities had very attractive programs, she realized that many of their campuses were not wheelchair accessible. She attended New Mexico State University and received her PhD in Electrical Engineering. She then joined the university as an associate professor. During her eleven-year tenure, she graduated eight PhD students and twelve Masters theses students. She was extremely successful in securing research funding, and in 2009 received the Presidential Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President George Bush and the Frank Bromilow Excellence In Research Award from the College of Engineering, New Mexico State University.

While teaching she also became involved in a wide array of diversity and inclusion programs focused on people with disabilities. One of her early lessons came from attending a diversity workshop in a hotel in Florida.

The hotel itself was not accessible which she discovered her first morning there. She ended up falling and had to be moved to a hotel down the road. This renewed her resolve to become even more involved to make sure that accessibility was part of diversity and inclusion in computing. She participated in the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) as an external subcommittee member and was active in the Development of the CISE Strategic Plan for Broadening Participation. She was a leader in BPC programs focused on getting people with disabilities introduced to computer science at an early age. She developed and delivered workshops all over Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado—anywhere there were populations of disabled people. These workshops provided information on how to fund college, navigate campuses and pursue their academic careers. She has also been involved in capacity building work with AccessComputing and delivered talks at CAHSI (Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions). Additionally, Cook is a member of the Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in Informational Technology (CMD-IT) board.

After teaching for 11 years, Cook reached a turning point. She was feeling burnt out from the load of both teaching, raising money for projects and the research. A colleague from Sandia National Laboratory called to ask her to take on an additional project. She simply proposed, “Why don’t you just hire me?” Joining Sandia National Laboratory was a better solution for her physically and allowed her to enjoy her passion for horses and riding.

“My accident gave me a greater appreciation for life at an early age. I learned a lot about myself and other people,” Cook said. “Life is a daily struggle and nothing is easy except rolling downhill. The people in my life that embraced me, stood by and encouraged me when they didn’t have to gave me the ability to make the decision to not let the accident ruin my life or stop me from enjoying life.”

How the Child Care for Working Families Act Benefits Children With Disabilities and Their Families

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A child in a wheelchair at the park with his mother

By MK Falgout and Katie Hamm 

More than 1.1 million children under age 6 in the United States receive services for a disability,1 while 2.5 percent of parents of young children have a disability that affects their workforce participation.2

All families, including those with disabilities, benefit from access to affordable child care that will support their children’s development in inclusive and enriching environments. These programs also provide parents with the support they need to thrive. But the dearth3 of inclusive, affordable child care options causes job disruptions for parents of disabled children at twice the rate of those whose children do not have disabilities.4 This fact sheet highlights how the Child Care for Working Families Act provides a comprehensive solution to meet the child care needs of all families.

Families of children with disabilities and the current child care system

The current child care system requires additional public resources to reach all the families who need high-quality services. This lack of public investment results in a mostly private-pay system that marginalizes historically underserved communities.

  • Although 1 in 8 children ages 3 to 5 who is enrolled in an early childhood program has a disability or significant social or emotional challenges,5 nearly 1 in 3 parents of disabled children report that finding available slots is a primary difficulty in accessing child care, compared with 1 in 4 families with nondisabled children. 6
  • Nearly one-third of children with disabilities live in poverty,7 making most licensed child care options nearly impossible to afford.8
  • Children of color are underrepresented in early intervention9 programs through infancy and toddlerhood for reasons pertaining to disproportionate lack of access to quality health care.10
  • New data suggest that in all but six states, no more than 2 percent of children who receive a child care subsidy have a disability.11*
  • Children ages 3 to 5 who have disabilities are 14.5 times more likely to face suspension or expulsion than children without disabilities,12 due in part to the fact that only 1 in 5 early childhood educators and providers report “receiving training on children’s social and emotional development.”13
  • Child care workers, primarily women and disproportionately women of color, earn on average less than $12 an hour,14 and only 1 in 5 early childhood educators receives training on children’s social and emotional development.15 Both of these realities contribute to the inadequate support for providers caring for children with disabilities, given that nearly 10 percent of the early childhood workforce works mostly with children who have disabilities.16

The Child Care for Working Families Act benefits children with disabilities

The Child Care for Working Families Act (CCWFA) creates a new standard for inclusive and accessible child care by investing in communities historically underserved by an underfunded child care system dependent on parental fees to cover the high cost of care.17 Just as importantly, the CCWFA ensures that providers are appropriately compensated for providing quality child care. More specifically, the bill has the following benefits:

  • The CCWFA prioritizes policies and funding that serve disabled children in high-quality, inclusive early learning environments by:
    • Affirming the importance of child care in supporting children with disabilities by setting benchmarks that ensure the system provides care for children with disabilities alongside children without disabilities.
    • Investing in expanding the supply of high-quality, inclusive child care for children with disabilities and infants and toddlers with disabilities.
    • Requiring states to consider the additional cost of providing high-quality and inclusive care to children with disabilities when developing child care provider payment rates, as well as requiring that parents of disabled children are consulted in the process of developing these rates.
    • Requiring states to provide training opportunities for child care providers so that they can learn how to care for children with disabilities and conduct developmental screenings.
    • Prohibiting the use of suspensions, expulsions, and adverse behavioral interventions in all child care settings receiving public funds.
    • Establishing a new funding stream to provide early intervention services in child care settings.
    • Allowing states to prioritize funds to construct or renovate child care, including for providers who are caring for children with disabilities.

Continue on to AmericanProgress.com to read the complete article and to view original sources.

Eligible Voters With Disabilities Increase By Nearly 20%

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People voting at polling booths

As the November election draws near, new research finds that the number of voters with disabilities across the nation has grown exponentially and could make the difference in how races are decided.

There are an estimated 38.3 million eligible voters with disabilities in the U.S., according to a report out this month from the Rutgers University Program for Disability Research. That represents an 19.8% increase since 2008 and outpaces a 12% rise in voters without disabilities during the same period.

Moreover, the researchers noted that when people with disabilities and the family members they live with are factored, disability issues are significant to 28.9% of the electorate.

“The sheer size of the disability electorate makes it clear that people with disabilities and their family members have the potential to swing elections,” said Lisa Schur, a professor in the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers and an author of the report. “While their partisan split is similar to that of other citizens, people with disabilities put a higher priority on health care and employment issues, so how candidates deal with those could be decisive.”

The report is based on an analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014-2018 American Community Survey and Census population projections for 2020-2021.

The new figures suggest that there are more potential voters with disabilities than there are Black or Hispanic voters in this country.

Researchers behind the report cited a surge in turnout among people with disabilities in 2018 and said turnout could be especially strong this year given the expansion of mail-in voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Continue on to DisabilityScoop to read the full article. 

Voting could be more difficult for people with disabilities in upcoming presidential election

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Americans queuing at a polling place

Voting is one of our most important civil rights, but it isn’t always accessible for paralyzed veterans and other people with disabilities.

Paralyzed Veterans of America has launched the “Access Your Vote” campaign to help voters plan ahead to avoid problems during a challenging year.

A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office about voters with disabilities, released on Nov. 2, 2017, found fewer than half of polling locations were accessible during the 2016 presidential election. This year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, things could become even more difficult for voters with disabilities, due to added cleaning and distancing protocols, longer waits, fewer polling locations and the risk of exposure to the virus.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires state and local governments to ensure people with disabilities have full and equal access to all government-provided services, programs and activities, including the opportunity to vote. However, PVA members have reported barriers to voting in previous elections such as inaccessible sidewalks, insufficient accessible parking and long lines.

“Voting is an important civil right that our veterans have fought to protect. It should be accessible and safe for everyone, including those with disabilities, and PVA is making sure that happens. It’s especially important to help voters make a voting plan in a year that’s complicated by a pandemic,” says David Zurfluh, U.S. Air Force veteran and Paralyzed Veterans of America national president.

PVA represents veterans with spinal cord injury and disease, such as MS and ALS, and is urging all Americans, especially those with disabilities, to make an individual voting plan now by visiting PVA.org/vote for state-specific information, early voting guidelines and a checklist for creating an individual plan.

“People with disabilities absolutely need access to their polls. This is a community of over 60 million Americans, and the only way to ensure our needs are met is to make sure we can cast our votes with reasonable accommodations safely and securely in all 50 states,” says David Zurfluh.

For in-person voting, PVA recommends visiting your polling place ahead of time, so there’s time to report potential problems to local officials.

About Paralyzed Veterans of America
Paralyzed Veterans of America is the only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated solely for the benefit and representation of veterans with spinal cord injury or disease. For more than 70 years, the organization has ensured that veterans receive the benefits earned through service to our nation; monitored their care in VA spinal cord injury units; and funded research and education in the search for a cure and improved care for individuals with paralysis.

As a life-long partner and advocate for veterans and all people with disabilities, Paralyzed Veterans of America also develops training and career services, works to ensure accessibility in public buildings and spaces, and provides health and rehabilitation opportunities through sports and recreation. With more than 70 offices and 33 chapters, Paralyzed Veterans of America serves veterans, their families and their caregivers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Learn more at pva.org.

Award-Winning Code Jumper Helps Kids Learn Coding

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yound disabled boy playing with building blocks on coffee table

The Consumer Technology Association has awarded American Printing House (APH) with a highly coveted Best of Innovation award in the Accessibility category for its Code Jumper, an inclusive product that allows children who are blind or visually impaired to learn computer coding alongside their sighted peers.

Originally designed by Microsoft and developed by APH, Code Jumper is an incredible innovation that teaches children ages 7-11, regardless of their level of vision, computer coding skills.

Children not only learn basic programming concepts, such as sequencing, iteration, selection, and variables, but also learn skills like computational thinking and debugging, which can serve them in all areas of life.

“Every child should have equal access to the important jobs being created in the technology field.

Code Jumper gives them that access and opens a path to a meaningful career,” explains APH CEO Craig Meador. “We hope to inspire other companies to design products that are inclusive and ensure the future belongs to everyone.”

Best Friends Given 2% Survival Rate at Birth Beat the Odds, Graduate Together

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Best friends Odin Frost and Jordon Granberry in wheelchairs next to each other on graduation day

Two best friends given a 2% survival rate at birth beat the odds and graduated from their school in Tyler, Texas, last Thursday.

Odin Frost is non-verbal autistic, and his best friend, Jordon Granberry, had brain damage due to complications at birth that led to a lack of oxygen in the brain, Odin’s dad, Tim Frost, said.

Frost shared a post of the two best friends that went viral on Reddit, showing Odin and Jordon on the first day of school and on graduation day.

The father recalled Odin and Jordon playfully bonding from that very first day of their special needs school, which started at age 3.

“Jordon had just bit Odin, and Odin retaliated by pinching him back,” Frost said to NBC 5 via Instagram direct message. “I think that was their way of showing each other what they were capable of, and in a funny way, a bonding moment.”

Frost explained that the two were told they would never walk and live in a vegetative state if they made it past 7 years old.

But Odin was the first to walk, and he would push Jordon’s wheelchair as the two defied the odds and developed a special relationship that endured through 18 years of school.

“Most kids Odin’s age, as well as adults, have not been kind to him,” Frost said. “They look on, stare or even are scared of them … [However], with each other, there never was any thought in the world that there was something different or wrong with them, as it should be.”

And on June 16, Odin and Jordon both graduated in what Frost called a “surreal” moment, holding his son’s hand across the stage and trying to hold back tears.

“We almost didn’t go,” Frost said. “We wanted to keep him safe, same with Jordon’s parents. But something in us said, ‘We can’t let Odin miss out on graduation.’ I never graduated high school or even went to high school, so I didn’t want him to be robbed of this privilege.”

And now Odin and Jordon are officially high school graduates and also internet famous.

Continue on to NBC News to read the complete article.

30 Years After ADA: Where are We Now?

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Logo Reading ADA 30 Americans with Disabilities Act. Celebrate the ADA! July 26, 2020

By Shelby Bril

I sustained an incomplete spinal cord injury in 2010, resulting in impaired mobility and the need to use a walker. The idea of navigating life in a new body seemed daunting but I knew it wasn’t impossible. With the right equipment and accessibility of public spaces, I knew I’d be able to continue to work full time, bring my child to the park, pick her up from school, go to the store, and attend events without the worry of being left out due to inaccessibility or discrimination. It never crossed my mind that my rights as a U.S. citizen could be in jeopardy.

Before the ADA

If I would’ve been injured in a different time—a time before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—my life would have been much different. My freedom, ability to earn a living, raise my child and just live everyday life would have been severely hindered.

Before the ADA, discrimination against people with disabilities was totally legal. Employers could pay people with disabilities less than their non-disabled counterparts, or refuse to hire them all together just because they’re disabled. Wheelchair users couldn’t ride the buses or trains, because they weren’t wheelchair accessible. Restaurants and grocery stores could refuse service to people with disabilities. Even government entities denied rights that we now take for granted, like voting or getting a driver’s license.

Championed by Ted Kennedy, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law on July 26, 1990. Senator Kennedy fought passionately for the bill, having seen first-hand the challenges faced by his sister who was born with an intellectual disability, and his son who became an amputee after losing a leg to bone cancer.

The ADA prevents discrimination against people with disabilities, with regulations that cover employment, government services, education, public accommodations, telecommunications, and transportation.

Thanks to the ADA, we’ve created a public environment that works for all U.S. citizens, not just the able-bodied. Disability can happen anytime and to anyone, due to accident, chronic disease, illness or just aging. With this in mind, the ADA is a protective measure for non-disabled citizens and an inclusive one for those with disabilities.

Now, thirty years later, we’ve become accustomed to the way of life inspired by the Americans with Disabilities Act. We have better access to education, healthcare, and other services than we did before the ADA was passed. Elevators, curb cut-outs and braille on ATM’s are simply part of the landscape. In fact, we’re surprised if any of those things are missing. So, what more needs to be done at this point?

Better Enforcement of ADA Rules

ADA accessibility is not included in standard building inspections. Right now, accessibility rules are only enforced when a person with a disability has experienced a barrier to access in a public space or building and is willing to sue those who don’t comply. Even if a lawsuit is filed, it’s easy for businesses to claim that the necessary updates to meet ADA standards are too costly or difficult. Currently, the ADA does not impose undue hardships on businesses, which means many are able to treat equality for people with disabilities as an option rather than a requirement. There is no excuse, 30 years after the passing of the ADA, for businesses to be inaccessible. If any other minority group was excluded from a building, the public outcry would be huge. People with disabilities deserve the same respect and consideration as everyone else.

When it comes to ADA standards, the focus needs to shift away from doing the bare minimum to avoid a lawsuit, and instead concentrate on Universal Design. Buildings, public spaces, and products should be accessible to all people, regardless of ability or disability. Universal Design celebrates the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act, in that it aims to increase productivity and enjoyment for everyone in our society.

Employment Opportunities

The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by employers, and yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8 percent of people with disabilities were unemployed in 2018, compared to only 3.7 percent of people without a disability.

A college degree improves the chance of finding a job, with 28.5 percent of disabled college graduates finding employment, compared to 15.6 percent of disabled job seekers who only have a high school diploma.

The good news is that with each passing year comes a new batch of people with disabilities who have college degrees, thanks to better access to education.

The disabled community is clearly still experiencing discrimination in the job market, likely due to stigma and ignorance on the part of the employers as a whole and individuals who do the hiring. Employers need to increase efforts to recruit qualified people with disabilities, provide training to management and necessary accommodations to disabled workers.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was a huge step forward for our society. It created positive change in the lives of generations of people with disabilities, their families, friends, and colleagues. For thirty years, the ADA has served as a foundation for people with disabilities to fight for their rights and avoid discrimination.

Although there is still work to be done, there is no doubt that the ADA has shown that it’s ok to celebrate our differences and build an infrastructure that suits us all.

Shelby Smallwood is a writer and blogger on a journey to learn how to be disabled in an able-bodied world. After sustaining an incomplete spinal cord injury in 2010, Shelby gained first-hand experience with the difficulties and indirect discrimination faced by people living with disabilities. In an effort to raise awareness and affect positive change Shelby writes about disability, social psychology, culture, etiquette, parenting and humor on her blog, thatzhowiroll.com.

A Paralyzing Injury Brings New Perspective

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Oluwaferanmi Okanlami, M.D., M.S.

By Lauren Love

Oluwaferanmi Okanlami, M.D., M.S., distinctly understands both sides of a catastrophic medical event. That’s because he has been both a patient and a doctor in that scenario.

In 2013, Okanlami was on his way to becoming an orthopaedic surgeon. The University of Michigan Medical School graduate was in his third year of residency at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut.

But his dreams were almost derailed after sustaining a spinal cord injury at a Fourth of July pool party with friends and fellow residents.

“I jumped into the pool,” he says. “I didn’t do a backflip or anything like that. There was no diving board, but I hit either the ground or the side of the pool or someone’s leg. I can’t be completely sure, but immediately I was unable to move anything from my chest down.”

Okanlami’s medical instincts kicked in. “In my mind, I was thinking of next steps: Stabilize my spine, get me onto the stretcher and get me to the hospital,” he says. He also credits his colleagues for the expert care he was given from the beginning—quickly springing to action, getting him from the pool to the emergency department and onto the operating room table in record time.

Faith and Progress

Okanlami’s journey after the accident seems like something out of a Hollywood movie. Despite breaking his neck and becoming paralyzed from the neck down, he never doubted he’d be able to live a productive and independent life, still planning to leave his mark on the world.

“I have an interesting intersection of science and faith, such that even if doctors had said I would never walk again, I wasn’t going to let that limit what I hoped for my recovery,” Okanlami says. “I know there is so much we don’t know about spinal cord injury, and I know the Lord can work miracles.”

On Sept. 8, 2013, just two months after the accident, Okanlami moved his leg again.

“It was one of the most amazing days of my life,” he says. “It wasn’t a small flicker of a little muscle. I extended my leg at the knee. It was pretty sweet.”

A Renewed Energy

The accident didn’t end Okanlami’s professional pursuit, but it did send him down a different path. After months of inpatient rehabilitation, he moved home to South Bend, Indiana, to live with his parents—both doctors themselves—to continue extensive outpatient rehabilitation.

While learning to walk again, Okanlami found time for many other achievements.

He earned a master’s degree in engineering, science and technology entrepreneurship from the ESTEEM Program at the University of Notre Dame. He was appointed by the mayor of South Bend to sit on the county’s board of health. He became the coach of the River City Rollers, a wheelchair basketball team.

And as if all of that weren’t enough, he also went back to being a doctor.

“During my rehabilitation period, I was blessed with the opportunity to return to work as a physician in the family medicine residency program at Memorial Hospital in South Bend,” says Okanlami. “I was able to take care of patients from cradle to grave—delivering babies, taking care of patients in nursing homes and everything in between.”

His journey came full circle in early 2018 when he joined the Family Medicine and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation faculty at Michigan Medicine.

Shifting Attitudes and Awareness

Dedicated to the belief that disability does not mean inability, Okanlami is more than just a doctor. He’s also an advocate and mentor for physicians and patients with similar backgrounds.

More than 20 percent of Americans live with a disability, after all, but as few as 2.7 percent of them are practicing physicians. One reason for the gap: Technical standards used for admission at many medical schools require physical aptitude, which can inadvertently exclude applicants with disabilities.

Okanlami found a perfect match at UM Family Medicine. A new social media campaign, #DocsWithDisabilities, based out of the Family Medicine department, is working to raise awareness about doctors with disabilities. Okanlami and his colleagues share a passion for and a focus on disability inclusion in medicine that is fueling their research agenda. Doctors Philip Zazove, Michael McKee, Lisa Meeks and others are researching mechanisms for improving access to medicine for physician, learner and patient populations.

“Increasing physician diversity has a positive impact on patient care and access for other marginalized groups,” says Meeks, a leading researcher in disabilities in medical education and a clinician scholar at U-M’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

Okanlami’s vision led to a joint appointment in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation as well as a role in The Office for Health Equity and Inclusion—partnerships he hopes to further his desire to “disabuse disability” and create a health system that is inclusive and accessible to all.

Standing Strong

While he can’t run yet, Okanlami can walk using assistive devices, some of which he has worked with a rehabilitation engineer to design and create. He also has a standing frame wheelchair that has been more versatile than he could have imagined. Despite his love for gadgets, he still tries to make time for regular exercise to stay physically fit for now, but with a goal of leaving the assistive devices behind one day.

Source: Michigan Medicine
Photo Credit: Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan

Tank Crewmen Saved by One Soldier’s Cell Phone

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Disabled veteran sitting on a hospital bed with a prosthetic leg

By Elaine Sanchez

A year after his accident and the loss of his leg, Spc. Ezra Maes is still amazed at the circumstances that led to his survival. If you ask, he’ll credit his survival to a uniform belt, smartphone and “shockingly good” cell service.

What the 21-year-old soldier fails to mention is the sheer force of will it took for him to stay alive.

“If I didn’t help myself, my crew, no one was going to,” said Maes, now assigned to the Brooke Army Medical Center Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas. “I knew I had to do everything I could to survive.”

A year earlier, the Army had deployed Maes, an armor crewman stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, to Poland in support of a joint training mission called Atlantic Resolve. He served as the loader for the main cannon of an M1A2 Abrams tank, a massive 65-ton tank known for its heavy armor and lethal firepower.

Exhausted on the second day of a weeklong rotation in Slovakia, he and two other crew members fell asleep in the tank that evening. He was jolted awake a few hours later by the sudden movement of the tank heading downhill.

“I called out to the driver, ‘Step on the brakes!'” Maes said. “But he shouted back that it wasn’t him.”

The parking brake had failed. The crew quickly initiated emergency braking procedures, but the operational systems were unresponsive due to a hydraulic leak.

The tank was now careening down the hill at nearly 90 mph. “We realized there was nothing else we could do and just held on,” Maes said.

After a few sharp bumps, they crashed into an embankment at full speed. Maes was thrown across the tank, his leg caught in the turret gear. He then felt the full force of the tank turret sliding onto his leg. His initial thought was his leg was broken. His next thought was he needed to get free so he could assist Sgt. Aechere Crump, the gunner, who was bleeding out from a cut on her thigh. The driver, Pfc. Victor Alamo, was pinned up front with a broken back.

“I pushed and pulled at my leg as hard as I could to get loose and felt a sharp tear,” Maes said. “I thought I had dislodged my leg, but when I moved away, my leg was completely gone.”

Freed from the pressure of the turret, the blood poured out of his wound at an alarming rate, but with other lives on the line, Maes pushed his panic and any thought of pain aside. He pulled himself up and into the back of the tank to grab a tourniquet from the medical kit. Halfway there, he began to feel lightheaded from the blood loss.

“I knew I was going into shock,” he said. “All I could think about was no one knows we’re down here. Either I step up or we all die.”

Maes began shock procedures on himself — stay calm, keep heart rate down, elevate lower body — and cinched his belt into a makeshift tourniquet to slow down the heavy bleeding. He called out to Crump, who had staunched her bleeding with a belt tourniquet, to radio for help.

Maes’ heart sank when Crump said the radio wasn’t working.

But then he heard an incredible sound: his cell phone was ringing.

Maes’ phone was the only one that wasn’t broken and the only one with working cell phone service. With one leg cut and the other broken, Crump crawled to reach Maes’ phone and threw it down to him. He unlocked the phone and sent his friend a text. Help was on the way.

His last memory of that location was his sergeant major running up the hill carrying his leg on his shoulder. “I wanted to keep it, see if it could be reattached, but it was pulverized,” Maes recalled.

Maes, who had also broken his ankle, pelvis in three places, and shoulder, was rushed to a local hospital, his first helicopter ride, before being flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany and then on to BAMC. Between an infection he picked up overseas and nearly daily surgeries to fight it, he spent four months in intensive care.

“I feel super lucky,” he said. “My crew all does. So many things could have gone wrong. Besides my leg, we all walked away pretty much unscathed.”

A year later, Maes is immersed in physical and occupational therapy at the Center for the Intrepid, BAMC’s outpatient rehabilitation center. Maes works out intensely with Candace Pellock, a physical therapy assistant. Against the backdrop of the hospital, he moves across the gravel on crutches with an ever-present smile despite the Texas heat and strain of balancing on uneven ground.

It’s all in preparation to receive his long-term prosthetic leg through a cutting-edge procedure called osseointegration. For this procedure, not unlike a dental implant, BAMC surgeons will implant a titanium rod in the bone of Maes’ residual limb, rather than a traditional socket, to attach the prosthesis.

While he was having a tough time emotionally before the accident, Maes now sees each day as a gift. It’s a second chance he’d like to share with others who may be having a tough time post-injury or trauma.

“When something like this happens, it’s easy to give up because your life won’t be the same, and you’re not wrong,” he said. “Life will take a 180, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Don’t let it hinder you from moving forward.”

At 21, Maes has a new attitude and a new lease on life. With combat arms in the rearview mirror and inspired by the CFI’s care, he plans to become a prosthetist and help others regain their mobility.

But what he doesn’t plan to do is switch his phone service.

As he puts it, “My cell phone saved my life.”

Source: defense.gov

College is Hard, But it’s Doable Too

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Moving out of College Freshman Year

Going to college can be a challenge for everyone. It’s especially hard for someone with a physical disability to find a college that checks off not only academics, affordability and location from their list, but accommodations for their disability as well.

By Lacey Pfalz

My experience as someone with osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bones, has been an interesting one. In high school, I had no idea of where I wanted to go, let alone what I wanted to study in college. My mother was insistent that we start looking for accessible colleges sooner rather than later. I started researching colleges sophomore year, and then we started going on tours. My mom knew the right questions to ask and I tested my wheelchair out on each campus.

We made a list of some of the things we deemed necessary for me to be able to go to college. It had to have a good disabilities coordinator, someone willing to go above and beyond to make college possible for me. Since I’m frequently in and out of a wheelchair, accessible housing and campus in general were musts. It had to be somewhat close to home in case of an emergency and it also had to have a good program for my field of interest.

I found everything I wanted at Wisconsin Lutheran College. It’s small enough so that I can easily walk around campus and get around enough during those periods when I’m in a wheelchair. It has enough elevators and alternate routes to places so I can go anywhere I need to in a wheelchair. It’s got a great Christian atmosphere—very nurturing and loving for all types of people. When I get tired wheeling myself, there’s always someone ready to help me get to class. It’s also right across the street from the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, which just so happens to be where my specialists are. WLC also has a great history and English program, both of which are my majors.

My main takeaway from the college decision process is to know your strengths, but also know your weaknesses. Don’t feel left out just because you use a wheelchair or a walker, or because you need extra time to take tests. College is hard, but it’s doable too. The rewards you receive while at a physical college are too great to pass up. I’ve made incredible friends, most of whom are nursing majors, funny enough. I’m an officer on two different campus organizations and I work as a Spanish tutor—all opportunities I would’ve missed had I not attended WLC.

Lacey pictured on the floor playing with her dog
Lacey and her dog Leo

A real college experience awaits you! Just make sure you take your time and research all of your options first. Meet with a disability coordinator early on in the process—they are there to help you succeed. And if you don’t feel comfortable with a college for whatever reason, don’t go. Keep looking. I promise you, if it is meant to be, the right college will find you and it may be where you weren’t looking. I did not think I wanted to come to WLC, but as soon as I toured it, I knew.

I’ve been lucky to have only one fracture during these last three years at WLC; one that put me in a wheelchair for three weeks during the February of my freshman year. I’m not going to lie to you—that really sucked. It was hard being so independent at first—it was like I could forget about my disease and pretend that I was just a normal young woman having the time of her life—and then had to take a few steps backward again. But I did all right. I had friends help push me through the winter weather to most of my classes, and when I couldn’t find friends, WLC’s amazing disabilities coordinator pushed me to class herself!

I’ve had a very rare opportunity to attend an incredible college, study what I love and grow as an optimistic young woman with a physical disability—all in an environment that is accessible for me. I think everyone deserves that opportunity.

Here are my tips for finding disability-accessible colleges:

  1. Start your search early in high school. This will give you time to think about what is necessary for you to attend a college.
  2. Visit colleges near you. Some people with physical disabilities need to be close to specific hospitals or areas close to where their family lives. Use colleges in your area for your first choices.
  3. Besides researching things like financial aid and academic programs, also research their campus. Is every building ADA accessible? What about the size of the campus? Meet with the college’s disabilities coordinator to talk over living situations and ask questions.
  4. Get in touch with other people with physical disabilities who may have gone to the colleges you’re thinking about. What do they say about accessibility, both on-campus and off-campus?
  5. Finally, go with your gut decision. If you fall in love with a college that has almost everything on your list, and the disabilities coordinator is willing to work with you so you can have a successful experience, then definitely go for it. However, if you don’t feel sure, it’s OK to take a step back and look at other possible alternatives.

Finally, don’t forget to be your own advocate. That’s what college is meant to do—to help you find your own voice. Use it wisely and don’t be afraid to speak out.

Air Force Civilian Service

Air Force Civilian Service

Verizon

Verizon

Robert Half