Monday, November 30, 2015

Oops! Trump’s done it again

Blog Special Edition: Today's guest blog is authored by John Kemp, President and CEO of the Viscardi Center, located in Albertson, New York.  I invited John to share his open letter here, at View From the Chair, to Mr. Donald Trump, regarding comments directed at a reporter covering a political campaign event hosted by the presidential candidate. The reporter, Serge Kovaleski, is disabled. 

I currently serve as a board member of Abilities, Inc., at the Viscardi Center, which is part of the Center's network of non-profit organizations that educates, employs and empowers children and adults with disabilities.

Jim Sinocchi    

John D. Kemp

Oops! He’s done it again. In about as innocent a fashion as a young woman’s romantic actions seemed in this pop song, climbing the music charts at about the same time Donald Trump was first being covered by New York Times reporter, Serge Kovaleski, Trump mocked the journalist’s disability. You see, Trump’s words and actions are almost always not innocent. They’re calculated, purposeful and pure propaganda. In this case, his “impersonation” at a rally in South Carolina was disgusting, ignorant and unpresidential.

He wasn’t simply playing with a heart, in itself generally frowned upon, he was playing with the lives of people with disabilities. He was playing into, and further advancing, stereotypes and misconceptions about people with disabilities and their ability to be active, productive contributors to our country – working professionals, homeowners, leaders, role models, fathers, mothers and meaningful participants in the fabric of our American lives.

Belittling a respected journalist with a disability, athrogryposis, by trying to imitate the physical manifestations of his condition, is an act of bullying and dehumanization to achieve perceived superiority. While Trump tries to allege he didn't know Mr. Kovaleski's or his condition, Trump committed yet a second disgraceful act. His lying and mockery have offended me as another person with a disability, Mr. Kovaleski, and millions of people with disabilities and their families and friends.

Contrary to Trump’s belief, the children and adults with disabilities whom we serve at The Viscardi Center and School are empowered and have an incredible sense of self-pride in being girls and boys and men and women with disabilities. They have the same aspirations as their peers and deserve the same fairness, equality and independence. They want political leaders who have character and respect them as individuals. 

Trump’s narrow thinking single-handedly has helped to perpetuate the notion that people with disabilities are less capable of meaningful work, that there's some negative connection between having a disability and one's ability to make societal contributions to our nation. This is certainly not what Viscardi exemplifies and not what we, as individuals with disabilities, will tolerate from any candidate, employer or fellow American.

Perhaps Mr. Trump should get to know and better understand the people he seeks to serve… the future voters and leaders of this country - many of whom have a disability.  While my first response to his "performance" was anger, my more studied response is to conclude Mr. Trump is unquestionably unqualified to be President of the United States. No President of mine should ever be elected while demonstrating such ignorance, disrespect, arrogance and superiority toward a fellow citizen.

I hope others will join me when it comes time to exercise their right to vote next fall, no matter who the candidate, no matter what the public office to be held. Because if we don’t elect leaders who believe in an inclusive society and have the vision and passion to foster a country where everyone is valued and can succeed, the oops will be on us.

John D. Kemp

President & CEO, The Viscardi Center


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Apple Watch "Bytes" into Accessibility

My wife bought the Apple Watch for me on my 60th birthday. The fact that I have a high-tech device, literally at my "paralyzed fingertips" to do basic social media activities is a 21st century breakthrough for me!

More than that, the Apple Watch provides me with a sense of security and independence I never had until now - - in more than 34 years of paralysis - - 35 next month.

With the watch on my wrist I no longer have to wear a "lanyard," affixed to my iPhone 6 , and around my neck. I don't worry about the dangling phone getting caught on the edge of my dining room table or falling into my soup dish anymore.

When the phone rings I can use my paralyzed finger to answer it and speak normally. I can send messages, call my family, friends and other business and medical professionals listed in my iPhone.
Apple Watch on my paralyzed closed hand.

I can send or answer a message with the touch of my finger or answer with several preset messages using the very accurate "Siri" or voice technology. I am still not as fast as an "ablebodied" person, but I feel like a "Super Hero" with the Apple Watch. My personal productivity with my new watch has improved 100 percent.

Guess what? I can pay bills without fumbling for my wallet ..... or not fumbling at all!
Image: Apple Pay
One of the biggest improvements for me is the ability to use the Apple Watch to pay bills almost unassisted. No longer do I have to fuss or ask someone to remove money or credit cards from my wallet. This was always uncomfortable, both for the person helping me, and me sitting in the wheelchair!  Now I can just hold the watch up to a scanner and Viola!, the bill gets paid via virtual technology.

Apple Image: Watch at pay scanner.

Because technologically progressive countries are moving away from old fashioned "money" to credit cards or virtual payment methods, I look forward to buying everything from hotdogs to hamburgers - -  even taxi cab fares - -  using my Apple Watch.

Practice, practice, practice

I've had the Apple Watch for two months now, and I am getting better at using it and finding features I like to use. I play downloaded music from the watch, check for appointments, search my calendar, or place the watch in silent mode when I'm in a meeting.

The watch also has a menu of accessibility options to help a person better customize the watch for his or her needs - - even a built in screen reader. These include: VoiceOver, Zoom, Extra Large watch face, Font Adjustments, Grayscale, Reduce Motion, Reduce Transparency, and On/Off Labels.

I do wish the Apple Watch had enough memory to eliminate the phone completely - - so I no longer have to carry a phone. I also wish I could use the "face time" feature on the watch. I am sure, however, that in a couple of years, my wishes will, somehow, be possible.

Technology: the "equalizer" for the disabled community

I have always been a big fan of technology. In my work and when asked to make presentations while working for IBM, I always told the audience that "technology is the great equalizer for the disabled."

The example I used was a simple one. When speaking on the phone with a business colleague or client, anywhere in the world, the discussion was on a "level playing field" - -  "intellect-to-intellect."

The non-disabled person at the other end of the line didn't know I was disabled. During our discussion, they not only sought out my opinion, but many times valued it.

There were no fears, or uncomfortable questions about my disability - - they couldn't see me. It's only when they met me in person that they would wonder how I did what I did or reconsidered why they were taking advice or direction from a person who is disabled.

If you can see it in your mind, you can make it happen

Image from web.
As a young teenager, I was an avid reader of comic books as well as a collector. I read stories about DareDevil, a blind super hero, Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, and the X-Men, all Marvel Comics characters.  It's interesting to note just how many super heros would be considered disabled under today's Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definitions.

I even read the comic strips, including police detective "Dick Tracy", who had a three-way  TV wrist watch to call his colleagues at the police department. The strip, created by Chester Gould, made its debut on October 4, 1931 in the Detroit Mirror newspaper. I read the strip as a kid in the Daily News, a paper published in New York City.
Web:The Comic cop was visionary.

Now, 30 years later, that wrist watch is real - - it's Apple Watch. 
I know other writers have made that comparison already, but that's a natural connection to make because many in my generation recall that futuristic wrist watch going back eight decades.

I'm sure that more technology is on the horizon. I envision a day when microchips will be routinely implanted in our hands or brains to help us communicate via our nervous system or brain.

Some bio-genetic work has already been done for spinal cord injury patients who have had implants placed in their bodies to help them walk (see T.E.D. Talks). Other work uses implants in the brain to move paralyzed limbs, and even allow a paralyzed person with a spinal cord injury to make brain to brain web connections!

I enthusiastically recommend the Apple Watch or similar technologies to the disabled community. The watch can be purchased for about $300. I know this is a lot of money, but if you can afford it I think it would be worth the investment as a disabled individual.

I know it may be wishful thinking, but perhaps Apple would consider making the watch more affordable for disabled individuals who have motor function issues or other disabilities. Some automakers offer incentives for accessible vans and cars, including Toyota, Ford, GM, Honda and some others.

This new technology goes a long way toward helping the disabled participate more fully in society. The disabled need to further embrace technology and use it as the great equalizer in all facets of their everyday lives.


Monday, November 2, 2015

You never know what a kid will say or do next

Déjà Vu: This column was originally published in the Journal-News, a newspaper distributed in Rockland County, New York, August 12, 1991.

I'm re-publishing this column as part of my online blog. I still believe the message is appropriate today and is an example of the activities many of us with disabilities can enjoy in the United States, and perhaps around the world. Photos may be added to this posting from my collection or the web, as noted.

Some of the organizations and programs mentioned here may have changed or no longer exist in New York State as of this writing.  I hope you find this column helpful and informative.

It's been fun watching the kids grow up. As a first-time father, the last two years have been especially enjoyable because I've watched my son, James RIchard (J.R.), grow out of infancy since he was born in September 1989.

Yes, I know, we're approaching the "terrible twos." And yes, I'm not prepared for it. Nonetheless, kids do grow fast, and you never know what they're going to say or do next.

J.R. is talking now. On a recent trip to McDonald's, my wife pulled up to the drive-thru window and asked J.R. what he wanted for lunch. He looked at his mom rather thoughtfully, and then slowly he said French fries… Coke… Cheeseburger." 

My wife looked at him proudly but quizzically because he was still thinking. "Anything else?," she asked.

"Toothbrush," responded J.R., with a big grin on his face. My wife just burst out laughing. You never know what a child will say next.
Nice to have a "big" sister

My daughter, Danielle, is now eight. She too has grown up fast. She's become another mother to J.R., always after him to do things right and protecting him whenever she believes he may hurt himself.

Danielle has also learned to use her bedroom as a sanctuary. We had to put a lock on her bedroom door because J.R. would try to get his hands on everything that wasn't bolted down. Barbie dolls experience terrible fates, once in the hands of my son.

One of the nice things about having two kids is that they can share toys. We're fortunate to have Danielle because not only is she pretty good about sharing, she also likes to play with cars and trucks. So when J.R. got older, we didn't have to buy a great deal of "boys" toys because Danielle had an automobile fleet of her own. Now we have two children that alternate from playing with Barbie Dolls to Tonka trucks.

We recently took the kids to Sesame Place, a children's amusement park in Langhorn, Pennsylvania. One of the things that struck my wife and I when we arrived at the park was its cleanliness.

We immediately noticed children walking barefoot, not worried about broken glass or other debris. Park attendants appeared in minutes to sweep up scraps of paper or anything else that fell from the hands of of visitors, children or adults.
Big Bird, web photo

As a parent of two young children, I now pay more attention to things like cleanliness, safety and nutrition. We liked Sesame Place because most of the people were civil, the park was clean and the water rides and other entertainment appeared to be safe and wholesome. "Big Bird" must be proud.

Ernie, web photo
J.R. loved playing in Ernie's Waterworks, a maze of colorful pipes and fountains that release brief showers and splashes, surprising young toddlers and their parents.


While J.R. kept his Mom busy, I followed Danielle as she rode on an inner tube around Big Bird's Rambling River, a 1,000-foot gentle water ride. Danielle laughed as I followed her in my wheelchair, almost running into people who were also watching their kids float around the winding pool.

Not all fun and games
There have been serious times with the kids as well. While in the backyard recently, trying to help J.R. move his toy car off the grass and onto the patio, my wheelchair tipped over backwards and I fell.

My wife was in the house, so she couldn't see that I had fallen. I called to J.R. and asked him to get Mommy. He looked at me, and then ran into the house crying, "Mommy, daddy fall, daddy fall."

My wife came out and eventually got me up with the help of our neighbor. I wasn't hurt, just a bit shaken.

I looked at J.R. proudly, because although not yet two, he had helped me. He knew I was in trouble and expressed that information to his mother correctly. 

Since that fall, J.R. has taken guests to the spot where I tipped over and explains, "My daddy fall here." He also asks me on occasion, if I'm all right. I know the memory of that incident still troubles him.

Yes, the kids are growing up. And, I've learned that I'm growing up too.                                   

Postscript: Danielle is now an attorney, married and a proud mother of two beautiful girls. J.R., also known as James, lives and works in Washington, D.C.