Bionic Arm Gives Man the Power to Touch

Pic courtesy of the AP.

Seven years ago, Tim Hemmes broke his neck in a motorcycle accident. He was left paralyzed from the shoulders down. However, Hemmes recently managed to do something that he worried might never be possible: he rubbed his girlfriend hand.

An experimental procedure at the University of Pittsburgh successfully linked Hemmes’ brain to a robotic prosthetic. Through a project called BrainGate, tiny electrodes were implanted in his brain and linked to the bionic arm in a manner that bypassed his severed spinal cord. These electrodes are capable of reading the signals sent by Hemme’s neurons to control the movement of the arm, itself produced at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory with a grant provided by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Though this technology is a long way from being viable for general use, it represents a major step forward.

Huffington Post reports:

Hemmes likened moving the DARPA arm to learning to drive a car with a manual transmission. It took practice, but by week four he was moving the arm sideways as well as back and forth.

The fingers still clenched pretty tight, though. So when his girlfriend Katie Schaffer spoke up – “I want to hold your hand,” she said on his last day of testing – Hemmes didn’t dare bend them.

The two met after his accident, so he’d never before reached out to her.

“I was just trying to be gentle. I didn’t want to hurt her, and I finally got there,” Hemmes says. “Definitely the tears were flowing.”

Hemmes’ next goal: hugging his eight-year-old daughter.

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Legally Blind Teen Pitches No Hitter

Doug Wells. Pic courtesy of MSNBC.

Doug Wells was diagnosed with glaucoma when he was a baby. Five separate surgeries each failed to correct his vision, but none of them worked, leaving Doug legally blind. This didn’t stop him from pursuing his goal of pitching for a little league baseball team.

Doug says that when he’s standing on the mound, everything appears blurry, but he can see the catcher’s mitt. And for Doug, that’s enough. This season he pitched a no-hitter. “This kid has never let his disability become a disability,” his coach told the Today Show. “He’s overcome it. He plays, he competes, he plays with passion and pride.”

This achievement is truly amazing, but Doug isn’t done yet. He also enjoys playing basketball and recently took up football. He says that he’d like to pursue a coaching career, and giving his record of accomplishment, we have little doubt he’ll achieve his dream.

Great work, Doug!

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McFadden, Reilly, George, and Bleakney Qualify for 2012 Paralympics

Tatyana McFadden, courtesy of the Waisman Center.

Four American wheelchair racers secured their spots at yesterday’s Chicago Marathon, US Paralympics reports. In the women’s race, Tatyana McFadden (above) nearly set a course record with her blazing 1:45:00 time. This time was good enough to win earn her 1st place. Shirley Reilly came in 4th overall and also punched her ticket for London. Amanda McGory, who won the silver medal in the Beijing marathon, didn’t finish the race because of an equipment failure.

In the men’s competition, Joshua George and Adam Bleakney finished 3rd and 5th, respectively, both clocking in with times strong enough to earn them spots to the 2012 Games.

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IPC Camp Encouraging Disability Sport in Zambia

Flag of Zambia, courtesy of PBase.

In conjunction with the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee (NIF), Lusaka, Zambia is currently playing host to an IPC Regional Development Camp. Forty-six attendees from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia, and Botswana are spending this week working with renowned experts like NIF coach Nils Helland. The event’s organizers seek to encourage the growth of disability sport in Africa by providing technical knowledge to the continent’s fast-growing national Paralympic committees.

Zambian officials have pledged support to this goal. “The government wants access to sports facilities to be user friendly for all,” said Minister of Labour, Sports, Youth and Gender Fackson Shamenda at the camp’s opening ceremonies. “All public infrastructure must be accessible to people with a disability. We need to accommodate everybody. My message to participating countries is that the skills and knowledge from this camp are used to enhance sports for persons with a disability. I’m sure this will change the way disability sport is run in the whole region.”

We wish all of the attendees and organizers the very best. Africa is establishing itself as a major presence in the world of disability sport, and events like this one will only help the region’s athletes continue their amazing progress.

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Brevard College soccer goalie Bree McMahon

Bree McMahon, Brevard College goalie - picture courtesy of

It seems that stories in the media are proliferating about persons with disabilities overcoming societal prejudices and perceived physical limitations on sport performance to crack into the elite sporting domain. Most of us are aware of high profile athletes with disabilities such as Oscar Pistorius and Marla Runyan who compete or have competed against the world’s most elite athletes without disabilities in track. Now comes the story of Brevard College soccer goalie Bree McMahon who plays on a blade following a left leg amputation. Visit to read her story!

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President Obama Proclaims National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is a big month for Americans with disabilities. In addition to being National Spina Bifida Awareness Month, President Barack Obama declared Monday that it will also be National Disability Employment Awareness Month (you can read his full proclamation here).

President Obama recognizes both the actual and the potential contributions of Americans with disabilities to the national economy. This demographic is an important human resource, and to under-utilize them is not just discrimination that hurts those with disabilities, but a senseless decision that damages the country as a whole. The proclamation states:

Utilizing the talents of all Americans is essential for our Nation to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.  During National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we recognize the skills that people with disabilities bring to our workforce, and we rededicate ourselves to improving employment opportunities in both the public and private sectors for those living with disabilities.

More than 20 years after the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, individuals with disabilities, including injured veterans, are making immeasurable contributions to workplaces across our country.  Unfortunately, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities remains too high — nearly double the rate of people without disabilities — and reversing this trend is crucial.

You’re dead on, Mr. President. This is not a problem for one community; it is a problem for all of us.

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October is National Spina Bifida Awareness Month

Happy National Spina Bifida Awareness Month, everyone! Spina bifida affects an estimated 166,000 Americans, and BlazeSports America is pleased to join the Spina Bifida Association in drawing attention to the condition and to those who have it. (Did you know, for instance, that John Cougar Mellencamp has a mild form of the condition?)

For more info about spina bifida, check out SBA’s FAQ here. And while you’re raking leaves and prepping your Halloween costume this month, consider taking some time to educate yourself and your friends about the thousands of productive Americans who live with spina bifida.

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