Entries in Disabilities (5)


Film Highlights Hepatitis Research on Kids with Disabilities

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Willowbrook, a film that highlights hepatitis research on disabled children during the 1960s, is being screened  in New York this weekend as part of ReelAbilities, a festival that features disabilities in film.

“It was unanimously accepted by our board,” said ReelAbilities director Isaac Zablocki.  “When we saw it, there was no question we wanted to keep it.”

Although it is a work of fiction, the film is based on Willowbrook State School, which was an institution in Staten Island, N.Y., for children with intellectual disabilities until the late 1980s.  During the 1950s and 1960s, some children there were purposefully exposed to hepatitis for research.

The film follows a new doctor, Bill Huntsman, as he learns what the research patients endure for inpatient care and must decide whether he wants to participate.  Huntsman’s superior, known only as Dr. Horowitz, explains that parents willingly give consent for hepatitis research on their children because they think they have no other choice.  The non-research ward stopped taking new patients, but the research ward will take children in if they undergo a hepatitis injection.

Although neither director Ross Cohen nor screenwriter Andrew Rothschild had personal connections to Willowbrook, they stumbled upon it and were intrigued, Cohen said.

“The main ethical issue, apart from the fact that doctors are supposed to do no harm, is that the decision was not done freely,” said Cohen, 29.  “It’s based on the fact that the school was full, and they weren’t taking any more people by the end of ’63.”

All of the children in the film, with the exception of the lead actor, actually had disabilities.  They live in California with Ann Belles, who has adopted and parented 59 boys with disabilities since 1989.  She also runs non-profit and a supported living program for adults with disabilities.

“They were really cool about taking part in it,” Cohen said.  “It was fun for them, I think.”

Although all of the actors spent time with Belles’ children, no one spent more time with them than Zachary Winard, the actor who played Brian Sussman, a teen whose intellectual disabilities rendered him unable to speak.  In the film, Sussman is a boy whose mother debates whether to sign the consent forms for hepatitis research.

“People look for that authenticity,” Zablocki said, adding that it usually takes a director with a disability or an actor with a disability to get the right feel in a movie.

He said thousands of people attend ReelAbilities, but only about half of them have a disability or are connected to someone who does.

“It’s both to raise awareness and to bridge gaps,” Zablocki said.  “We look to reach beyond disabilities and reach the mainstream community.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


After Son's Death, Family Adopts Two Disabled Children YORK) -- Last Christmas, newly adopted Angela Owens sat motionless in her toddler-sized wheelchair, unable to interact with her new family because of her disabilities, which include cerebral palsy and a genetic disorder called 1p36 deletion, which renders her unable to speak.

But a few days ago, the 3-year-old accidentally knocked over the family Christmas tree as she tested her little legs on a walker.  As her mother tried to grab the tree, she saw that Angela was laughing.

"Those things are just miracles for us because last year, she had no mobility whatsoever," said Karen Owens, who brought Angela home to stay on Dec. 10, 2011.  "This year, she's going to steal the show."

Now, Angela can use her hands to communicate with an iPad and she's learning some basic sign language.  She even vocalizes a little bit.

Karen and her husband, Adam, have adopted two children with disabilities since their son Gavin died of mitochondrial disease at age 3 in 2009.  They didn't want the skills they'd honed taking care of him to go to waste, so they requested to adopt children from the foster care system who had special needs, Karen said.

The Owens brought home the newest addition to their family over the summer, a little boy named Jayden.  He has injuries from shaken baby syndrome, and came to the Owens with "broken bones from head to toe."  He, too, was introverted back then, but now he's "spunky" like his sister, Karen said.

"He's finally starting to understand what it means to have a mommy," Karen said.  "Adam and I feel like we were destined to do this, and Maddy, too."

Maddy is the Owens' firstborn, who is now 7 years old.  She's embraced her new siblings and doesn't see their disabilities, Karen said.

On Thursday, Maddy posed with her brother and sister for Karen's blog,, hanging onto the back of Angela's pink wheelchair and Jayden's green one.

In an older photo on the site, a younger Maddy gives baby Gavin a one-armed hug as he sucks on a pacifier from his throne of medical equipment.

"We always know that someone's missing," Karen said.  "But then stepping back and taking a look at our family, it's just amazing.  God used the darkest situation to create the most beautiful situation.  We hope other people can see the hope."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Disabled Adults More Likely to Be Victims of Violence, Study Finds

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Adults with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence than adults who are not disabled, according to a new study published online in The Lancet.

Mentally ill adults are at four times higher risk for violence, and adults with intellectual impairments are also particularly vulnerable.

A team of researchers from the United Kingdom's Liverpool John Moores University and the World Health Organization analyzed 26 studies on violence against disabled adults, with more than 21,000 participants from around the world.

"About three percent of individuals with non-specific impairments [eg, physical, mental, or emotional, or health problems that restrict activities] will have experienced violence within the past 12 months, rising to almost a quarter of people with mental illnesses," said lead author Mark Bellis of Liverpool John Moores University in a press release.

The violence, he explained, was either physical, sexual or by an intimate partner.

Experts not involved in the research say the study calls attention to the plight of many disabled adults who become targets for a variety of reasons.

"There are a number of reasons why adults with disabilities are more vulnerable to violence," said Dick Sobsey, professor emeritus at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

"Many of them are more vulnerable or may have limited communication abilities, either by impairment or by situations they are in," he said.

Jack Levin, professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University in Boston, added that they may not be able to fight back or report the incidents to authorities.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Surfing Dog, Ricochet, Helps Disabled Surf

Comstock/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) -- There are dogs who play ball, dogs who chase cats and dogs who catch Frisbees. But near San Diego there is Ricochet, a 3-year-old golden retriever who catches waves and captures hearts.

Ricochet helps teach disabled people how to surf by acting as a canine co-pilot.

"She stabilizes the board," said Sabine Becker, who was born with no arms. "Somehow, she does it so we're not off-balance. She is just standing there and just surfs with us."

Surfing isn't even Ricochet's first career. From birth, she was trained to be a service dog, a companion to someone who needed help with everyday tasks. But she is a little mischievous and likes to chase birds -- poor traits for a companion who needs to provide constant attention.

Owner Judy Fridono discovered Ricochet had other ways to help.

"I wanted her to make a difference in one life, and she's touched millions and millions now," Fridono told ABC News.

Ricochet started boogie boarding at 8 weeks old and is now a pro on the surfboard. Fridono swears she adjusts her balance and stance depending on the disability of the person she is surfing with.

Ricochet is just as valuable on land: She has raised more than $100,000 for different charities on her Facebook page and her videos have gone viral, garnering more than 3 million views.

She is also a finalist for the annual "Hero Dog Award" from the American Humane Association, where she is up against a guide dog and even a military dog -- all amazing animals. And while they all might rate a 10, only Ricochet can hang ten.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Couple Fashions Tricycles for Children with Disabilities

Connie and Gordon Hankins have spent 15 years reconstructing bikes for 900 children with disabilities. (Jake Whitman)(NAPERVILLE, Ill.) -- Connie and Gordon Hankins, a retired couple living in Naperville, Ill., are on a mission.

In their basement workshop, they transform tricycles, adding high seat backs with seat belts, custom handlebars and Velcro foot clips so that children with disabilities can ride.

"This is not just a toy," Gordon Hankins said. "It builds strength they need, and then they get that confidence [that] they can do other things."

Connie Hankins is a retired nurse; her husband, a retired telecommunications worker. Together, they now run the Therapy Oriented Tricycle TOT project. Since 1999, they've given away more than 900 free bikes to children nationwide.

Connie Hankins' file cabinet is filled with photos of every one of them. "I never get tired of it," she said of the smiles of children perched behind the handlebars.

Another cabinet is filled with thank you notes. She read some of them out loud.

"Thank you for giving our son Luke mobility," read one. "It brings tears to our eyes to see our daughter ride," read another.

After 50 years of marriage, the Hankinses' teamwork is evident. The pair can build and customize a tricycle in less than 15 minutes.

"We can build a bike without talking to each other," Connie Hankins said.

Each of the custom-built tricycles costs nearly $200, and the Hankinses rely on donations.

"We've exhausted our budget this year. We've extended it already," said Connie Hankins, "but I just can't tell them no."

The Hankinses continue to take requests, but they'll have to wait to fulfill them until donors come through.

The couple has spent thousands of their own dollars delivering the bikes to children across the country and the world. One family had the couple show them how to dismantle and re-assemble the bike before they shipped out to Afghanistan.

Noah Fontenot, 2, was the latest recipient of the couple's generosity. He also has cerebral palsy and requires braces to walk. He is wobbly on his feet, but moves freely strapped into his brand-new red tricycle. His mother, sister and grandmother screamed, "Go, Noah!" as he took his first ride on a Hankins tricycle.

"He sees other kids riding their bikes, and he wants to get in and play along with them," said his mother, Debrena Clay. "This will be real good for him 'cause he'll fit right in."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio