Thursday, March 15, 2018

Stephen Hawking, 1942-2018

As you may have seen in the news this week, Stephen Hawking, arguably the most famous and admired theoretical physicist in the world, died Tuesday.

Professionally, he is known as a physicist comparable to Albert Einstein. He held the same Mathematics chair at the University of Cambridge as Sir Isaac Newton. He was known especially for ground breaking theories about black holes and the nature of time and space. And in 1988 he published a best-selling book about these subjects, A Brief History of Time. These achievements alone would have warranted coverage of Hawking’s death on the evening news and the top of our internet news feeds.

The reason we in the disability community have taken such note of Stephen Hawking’s passing is that he was also one of the most famous disabled people in the world. Hawking was diagnosed with ALS, (known as motor neuron disease in the United Kingdom), when he was still an undergraduate. He was told he had just a few years to live, but he lived to the age of 76. For much of his life and professional career, he was almost completely paralyzed, and used an electric wheelchair and speech synthesizer he controlled with tiny head movements. For decades, his wheelchair and synthesizer voice became iconic, both in his professional field and in popular culture. (See the clips below of some of Prof. Hawking’s appearances on TV shows).

Already there is some discussion about how Prof. Hawking’s death and life is being covered. Is there too much emphasis on his disability, or not enough? Was his disability a tragic impediment he overcame, or an important part of the man he became? Was he a disability advocate, or just a renowned physicist who just happened to have a disability?

Fortunately, since tackling deep questions was Prof. Hawking’s speciality, he would probably be happy to see us wrestle with what his life meant to all of us.

Here are some articles with more information and perspective on Stephen Hawking and the impact of his life:

Ian Sample, The Guardian - March 14, 2018

BBC - March 14, 2018

Do You Actually Know Why Stephen Hawking Was Famous?
Tanya Basu, Daily Beast - March 14, 2018

James Gallagher, BBC - March 14, 2018

Alex Barasch, Slate - March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking, United Nations Human Development Report - 2018

Alia E. Dastagir, USA Today - March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking, Wheelchairs, Death, and Freedom
Karen Hitzelberger, Claiming Crip - March 15, 2018

Saturday, March 10, 2018

By The Numbers: NCCI Services 2016 / 2017

The main goal of providing services at NCCI is to assist individuals with disabilities, and others dealing with disability issues. Each person we work with has an individual story, and each person who achieves or maintains their independence is a win, for them and for all of us.

Once in awhile though, it's useful to take a step back and look at what all of our services throughout the year look like. Exactly who are we serving? Which of our services are the most in demand? What kind of impact are we having in the North Country community?

Have a look ...

Note: These figures represent the number of people who received services at least once during the past full October-September year. Most of these people received services multiple times, though each is counted here only once.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Winter Paralympics

The 12th Winter Paralympic Games will take place in PeyongChang, South Korea, March 9-18, 2018. The games will start with Opening Ceremonies on Friday the 9th, and continue over the next 9 days. 550 disabled athletes from 49 countries will compete in six events:

Alpine skiing
Cross-country skiing
Ice sledge hockey
Wheelchair curling

Paralympic Games are the pinnacle of competitive sports for people with disabilities. They run concurrently with both the Winter and Summer Olympic Games every four years, usually about two weeks after and at the same location and using the same facilities.

PeyongChang 2018 Paralympic Games logoSimilar to the Olympics themselves, the Paralympics are exciting, inspiring, informative ... and occasionally controversial. One of the aims of the Paralympics is to show the world what people with various disabilities can do in competitive athletics, with the right adaptations and determination. Each Paralympics fosters high hopes for further transforming attitudes towards people with disabilities in general throughout the world.

At the same time, while the disability community typically enjoys and celebrates the Paralympics as a showcase for disability sports and disabled athletes, there is an undercurrent of concern about exactly what messages about disability are received by the viewing public. Some are concerned that showcasing Paralympians as examples of disability achievement sends a distorted message, that disabled people can literally do anything if given the chance. While this is in a sense true, most disabled people have complex needs and face barriers in society that make simple independent living a genuine challenge.

Also, in recent years there has been some debate within disability sports about how disabled athletes are qualified and categorized based on their precise impairments. Some excellent athletes are always left out because of minute deviations in their actual disabilities, and efforts to match people evenly and fairly can be messy.

On the positive side, broadcasters have steadily increased the number of hours of Paralympic coverage in recent years. NBC will air over 250 hours of the 2018 Winter Paralympics, which is double the coverage of the last Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia. And again, similar to all the Olympics themselves, the Paralympics tends to transcend it’s controversies, reservations, and social critiques ... no matter how valid ... as the sheer spectacle and fun takes over.

Here are some links to help you enjoy the 2018 Winter Paralympics:

2018 Paralympics - Wikipedia