One-handed Boxer Sues TSA for Employment Discrimination

Michael Constantino. Pic courtesy of the NY Daily News.

Queens, New York native Michael Constantino didn’t let his lack of a right hand prevent him from a successful amateur boxing career that included an appearance in the Golden Gloves. Now he’s taking on maybe his most formidable opponent yet, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Constantino, 32, applied for a job with the TSA, passed an online exam, and cleared the background check. During his interview, he says his disability was never brought up. However, after a routine medical exam, he received an email notifying him that he had a “medical disqualification” that prevented him from properly doing the job of a security screener.

The email stated that Constantino was incapable of performing patdowns, opening zippers and snaps, recording information in a log, or opening small containers like pillboxes. Constantino, who has been one-handed since birth, claims that the TSA’s claims are absurd. “Anyone that knows me knows it’s ridiculous for them to say I can’t open luggage,” he told the New York Daily News. He claims that the TSA did not offer him the opportunity to demonstrate that he could perform the tasks that they deemed beyond his capacity. They simply assumed that a person with one hand was not suited to serve as a security screener.

Constantino is now bringing suit against the TSA. He sees this as more than a fight for his own employment. “I’m going to keep going so this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “It’s wrong what they did, and they should learn from their mistakes.”

Posted in Blog |

Boccia Nationals Get Rolling in Elmhurst, IL

Boccia athletes at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.

The 2011 BlazeSports Boccia Nationals kick off today at York Community High School in Elmhurst, Illinois. Athletes from all over the country will gather to compete for the national title in four individual divisions (BC1, BC2, BC3, and BC4) as well as BC3 and BC4 pairs divisions. In its capacity as the official governing body of USA Boccia, BlazeSports is excited to host this gathering of America’s top boccia talent for four days of spirited competition.

If you’re interested in learning more about boccia, check out the sport’s page on the BlazeSports website where we provide a primer on boccia’s rules, history, and more. And for some online fun, click over to Channel 4’s boccia video game.

Best of luck to all the competitors!

Posted in Blog, Boccia |

Happy 21st Birthday, ADA!

President George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act into law on July 26, 1990. Pic courtesy of the Pocono Record.

Twenty-one years ago today, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by the first President Bush. Few pieces of legislation can claim the kind of direct impact on millions of Americans that ADA has had in its two-plus decades on the books. Before 1990, Americans with disabilities lacked the legal protections from discrimination that were guaranteed to many minority groups by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The ADA made huge strides toward rectifying the inequities preventing those with disabilities from living full, happy lives. In addition to explicitly banning discrimination against millions of Americans, the Act also mandated many of the accommodations we now take for granted. Curb cuts on sidewalks, ramps at public and commercial buildings, and closed caption television were all included in this landmark law.

Fortified by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, the ADA has matured into a fixture of American law and culture. There is still work to be done–work that BlazeSports is dedicated to continuing–but is worth recognizing this turning point in the campaign for disability rights.

Happy birthday, ADA! If you were a person, we’d throw you a party.

Posted in Blog |

Russian Chair User Gets Fed Up After Waiting Six Years for Elevator, Builds One Himself

Dmitry Bibikow using his homemade elevator, pic courtesy of the Daily Mail.

The week before last we told you about accessibility issues on the St. Petersburg, Russia metro. It turns out this is not the only problem facing our Russian friends with disabilities on a daily basis. Dmitry Bibikow of Voronezh had been assured before he purchased his council flat that an elevator would be installed to make his fifth-floor apartment accessible. After six years of waiting–during which he required the help of friends or family to get in and out of his apartment–Bibikow decided to take matters into his own hands. He tells the Daily Mail:

‘Living on the fifth floor without a lift was a nightmare because I couldn’t get in or out of the block without someone’s help.

‘It was like being in a prison – so I decided to sort it out myself.’

With a little the help from his friends, the former sky diver and mountaineer built his own personal lift to haul him up the side of the building.

When not being used, the winch stays up on the fifth floor. It can be lowered by hand or electronically from ground level.

Now Mr Bibikow,married and a father of one, says he can get in and out within minutes and can even beat his neighbours to the fifth floor.

Bibikow’s mountaineering history put him in a unique position to construct and use his ingenuous contraption. However, Russians with disabilities should not have to resort to this level of creativity and resourcefulness to simply enter and leave their homes. BlazeSports looks forward to our continued work in Russia, and can’t wait to help increase the cultural visibility of these sorts of issues.

Posted in Blog |

United Spinal Association Wins Elevator in NYC

Pic courtesy of Flickr.

Just last week, we posted about the effective banning of people in wheelchairs from the St. Petersburg, Russia metro trains. Today, however, we have received the good news that the United Spinal Association (USA) has succeeded in its litigation against New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to force the installation of an elevator at Dyckman Street subway station. The American with Disabilities Act requires that when stations are renovated, a portion of the funds must be spent to ensure accessibility. This class action suit, in which USA was represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), prompted the MTA and the City of New York to comply.

People with disabilities will now be able to access the southbound 1-train at the Dyckman Street stop, located in the Inwood neighborhood (and about 70 blocks up Broadway from your humble blogger). This is particularly important as 25.1% of the resident’s in the station’s zip code self-identify as having a disability, 5.8 percentage points higher than the national average. While the MTA still has a ways to go before it is fully accessible to persons with disabilities, we applaud both its decision to comply with the ADA and the efforts of USA and DRA to ensure this outcome (so many acronyms!). New York City is one of the communities that BlazeSports is serving in cooperation with the US Department of Health and Human Services, so we find this news especially welcome.

Posted in Blog |

Scientists Developing Technology to Help Children with Disabilities Draw

Pic courtesy of Dana’s Kids.

Many of us have happy childhood memories of doodling pictures and having our mothers display them proudly on the refrigerator. A team of scientists at the University of London are currently working with the non-profit SpecialEffect to develop a technology that will extend the joy of the creation to children with severe physical and mental disabilities. Psychology professor Dr. Tim Holmes tells Science Daily:

The ability to draw or build is something many of us take for granted, and it’s an important facilitator of cognitive development. However, even with the computer software to manipulate virtual equivalents of building bricks and crayons, many of these programs remain inaccessible to the physically and mentally disabled. Recent developments in assistive technologies have used eye-movements as an alternative to standard computer interfaces such as the mouse, keyboard and joystick. But our technology goes one step further, by recognising the meaning, or intent, associated with those eye-movements, enabling the software to work with the user, presenting design variants which are increasingly optimal over successive presentations. This technology will allow them to do something they currently can’t do.

The new program looks truly amazing. By following your eyes, it “reads your mind” so to speak, creating a design based on the preferences implied by your eye movements. Basically, it sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel. Starting tomorrow and extending through the summer, the research team will be inviting visitors to London’s Science Museum to try out the technology. To any readers living in or visiting the UK, check it out and tell us how it is!

Posted in Blog |

St. Petersburg Bans Wheelchairs on Metro Trains

In the United States, we tend to take a certain level of accessibility for granted. Things are not perfect, but thanks to legislation like the ADA, Americans with disabilities can get around with relative ease. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in all parts of the world. In St. Petersburg, Russia, authorities have begun enforcing a ban that effectively prevents people in wheelchairs from using the metro trains. All but nine of the city’s 64 metro stations require riders to descend underground on an escalator, and an escalator accident involving a chair-user prompted the drastic move of prohibiting wheelchairs from the 55 stations that make use of the moving staircases.

Cities have long served as a haven for Russians with disabilities. Traveling in the provinces in practically impossible in wheelchair, so urban areas have become beacon of opportunity and self-sufficiency within the disability community. This move St. Petersburg authorities threatens all that. The metro had been one of the only means for people in wheelchairs to move about the city (albeit somewhat precariously, as the aforementioned accident demonstrates). Without it, people like Alexei Kuzmin are effectively stranded. “They are humiliating us,” he told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “It’s discrimination. It is as if the metro is only for the fit.”

The issue has entered the public consciousness after a Moscow newspaper published a letter from a chair-using student who was turned away at the turnstiles. The Public Chamber, a state advisory board, reacted by calling the ban a violation of federal law and Aleksei Kozyrev, St. Petersburg’s rights ombudsman, has pledged action.

Accessibility appears to be a countrywide problem. While Moscow offers a special taxi service for its citizens with disabilities, trips must be scheduled two weeks in advance. Hopefully the attention spurred by these problems will prompt more equitable legislation in Russia, a country where people with disabilities are still referred to as “invalids.” BlazeSports is currently entering into a partnership with USAID that will bring us to Russia. It is inequities like this that prove our presence is needed, and we look forward to working to help improve the lives of Russians with disabilities.

Posted in Blog |