Overcoming Disability

News – Seven Year Old With No Hands Wins National Handwriting Award

Little Annie Clark, just seven years old, has made a remarkable achievement. Born without hands, Annie has refused to let her disability hinder her in any way, and without breaking a sweat, has taken home first prize for none other than handwriting in a national contest.

The contest was put on by the Zaner-Bloser language arts and reading company, which awarded two national winners trophies and a $1,000 prize. This is the first year that awards were offered to disabled students, and Annie’s co-winner is another student from Ohio who is visually impaired. The award was created to honor Nicholas Maxim, a fifth-grade student born without hands or lower arms who entered the competition last year.

In a time when penmanship has been pushed aside by typing skills, Annie’s school still believes that it is very important, and encourages its students to enter the competition each year. Students who enter the contest are initially judged by teachers at the school and then the best example from each grade is sent to the company for the national contest. Annie was chosen as the winner of all of the first grade students, and her entry was sent to Zaner-Bloser without the knowledge that a disabled category existed, but with a letter explaining that Annie had no hands. Upon receiving her entry along with that letter, contest organizers immediately forwarded her writing sample to the people who managed the competition for disabled students.

Annie’s prize was given to her during an assembly held at her school. When the purpose of the assembly was announced and Annie heard her name called over the loud speaker, she was simply stunned as she quickly and quietly walked to the front to accept her prize and a trophy half as big as she was. At the conclusion of the assembly, she left with her fellow students so that she wouldn’t miss her math lesson, but returned shortly afterwards to speak with reporters about her award.

Annie’s ability to write so well stems from her determination for perfection and self sufficiency. Above and beyond common tasks like dressing and feeding herself, Annie rides a bike and swims, and even paints her toenails. She also has no problem typing on a keyboard or using an iPod Touch.

When writing with a pen or pencil, she exhibits incredible dexterity considering that she has no fingers. She pinches her writing instrument of choice between her arms and rocks it back and forth with dutiful concentration and will quickly flip a pencil over and erase any mistakes. As she relayed to reporters, she “learned to go slow.”

Annie is a shining example of what determination can give a person. Not just awards or recognition, but a quality of life that is beyond compare and the knowledge that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

Source: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/neighborhoods-south/first-grader-without-hands-wins-award-for-writing-632011/?p=2

An Unlikely Candidate Reenlists

Marine Cpl. Matthew Bradford has chosen to reenlist in the armed forces for a second time.  However, what’s unique about his situation is that he will be the first blind, double amputee to reenlist in the Marines.

On January 18, 2007, Bradford was part of a team that was clearing roadside bombs when one exploded right underneath him.  The blast took his legs instantly and left him blind and with injuries to his wrist and lower abdomen.  He was very lucky to have survived.

Bradford was sent to the newly dedicated Intrepid Center for rehabilitation and dove right in.  The first series of exercises were designed to strengthen his core muscles, then they graduated to more rigorous routines.  When President Bush was touring the facility, he pointed out Bradford ascending the indoor rock climbing wall saying, “Good man, isn’t he?”

Bradford continues to inspire those around him.  He recently took part in the Marine Corps Marathon on his hand cycle as directions were called out to him.  Last year, he participated in the Bataan Memorial Death March, an exhausting 10 mile hike through the deserts of New Mexico.

Now that Bradford is enlisted again, he hopes to devote his time to other injured service men and women in order to help them recover and bounce back as quickly as possible.  “I’m ready to get back to work,” he said eagerly.

To read the original article, please go to http://www.mysanantonio.com/military/Marine_is_first_blind_double_amputee_to_re-enlist.html?showFullArticle=y

Blind Man to Hike the Appalachian Trail Alone

This popped up when I was researching topics for the magazine and I wanted to bring it to your attention and offer the support of the Matilda Ziegler Magazine.

If you visit the homepage of his site, you’ll be able to read, “My name is Mike Hansen.  On March 1 I will begin to hike the 2174 mile Appalachian Trail solo.  I happen to be blind.”

Mike says he is doing this to make a statement about the “independence and confidence of the visually impaired.”  He is upset that nearly 80% of all visually impaired people are unemployed, a number created by the US Department of Labor.  That number represents employment figures across all fields and positions.  This forces those with a visual impairment to rely on systems like welfare and social security.  Aside from the financial cost, though, he cites the psychological issues that stem from such rampant unemployment.  Depression and isolation, among others, wear terribly on people who are living life with a visual disability.

He says that with technology, he has learned to operate a computer just as well as a sighted person and with the advent of personal GPS, he can navigate the city he lives in very easily.  With future technologies becoming more accessible and less expensive, and as the potential for the blind and visually impaired to operate the same as sighted employees, there is hope that the number of unemployed will drop.  However, it’s the stigma that is placed on the visually impaired that adds another layer of difficulty.

By making the long and, at times, dangerous trek along the Appalachian Trail, Mike is hoping to shatter that stigma and encourage everybody, sighted or not, that the blind community is as independent and strong as anyone else.

Mike will make his trip alone, with only a cane and a GPS to guide him on his way.  When he is able to access the internet at stops along the way, he will update his blog and inform the world of his progress.  He is anticipating that this trip will take him anywhere from six to eight months to complete.

I hope that you’ll join me in encouraging Mike as he sets out on his journey.  To visit his site, go to http://www.hansonatcampaign.com/index.html.  The direct link to his blog is http://blindhiker.wordpress.com/.

Good luck, Mike.  Stay safe out there.

Blind Gamer Completes Complex Game

While video games aren’t brought up here very often, this article was just too good to not write on. 

Recently, Jordan Verner, a blind teenager who is a fan of the Legend of Zelda video game, posted some videos of him completing parts of the game on youtube.  At first it was just for fun, but it did gain the attention of a decent amount of people in the gaming community.  So he decided to start asking for tips on how to beat the game.  Initially, he wasn’t expecting much from the people who had found his videos, nor did he expect that their help would be able to assist him through the game.

However, another gamer that he had met online made it his mission to help Jordan through the complex levels of the game.  By using Skype, an internet-based communication tool that enables people to talk and see each other online, Roy Williams and three other gamers were able to help Jordan out.  The four gamers would play different sections of the complex three-dimensional game, recording every necessary move to navigate through every piece of every level.  Then, they would send it to Jordan in a word document and his computer would read him the detailed instructions, acting as a perfect guide for him to move through the game.

While the average gamer is said to be able to complete the game in about two weeks, it took Jordan and his online gamer companions nearly two years to get him to the end of the game.  All of the instructions given to him totaled roughly one hundred thousand keystrokes.

When he finally reached the end, Jordan was elated.  “It felt great,” he said.  “I felt strong, I felt like the sky’s the limit.  Our school’s motto–and I live by it–is the impossible is only the untried.”

There’s no word on what Jordan’s next gaming conquest will be, but he now has people that are willing to help him and a great attitude to achieve his goal.

To read the original article, please go to http://www.geekologie.com/2010/03/brings_a_tear_to_my_eye_three.php

Interview with Blind Actor, Antoine McCracken

I had the pleasure of speaking with Antoine McCracken, a blind actor and Ziegler Magazine reader, a few days ago.  Antoine first got in touch with me via email asking to post an encouraging message to the blind community in our Special Notices section.  His message was so good, that I asked him if he would be willing to grant me a brief interview and he kindly agreed. 

Antoine lost most of his sight at age 7.  Due to glaucoma, he experienced retinal detachment which left him entirely blind in his left eye, and left him with only very minimal vision in his right eye.  Antoine currently lives in Virginia and works as an actor.  He’s originally from Baltimore and cheers for all of their sports teams.  Being originally from the Baltimore area myself, I can commiserate with him, especially when discussing the Orioles.  But I digress. 

Antoine began his acting career in 2000 when the Maryland Society for Sight received funds from the United Way of Central Maryland.  The United Way was looking for a spokesperson and Antoine was picked to represent them.  He did various photo shoots for them, with some of his pictures making it onto billboards, and newspaper and internet promotional spots for the next year.  In June of 2000, he was asked to do a commercial, as well.  He was also asked to attend a convention in Baltimore and speak to various media outlets as a representative of The United Way.  As his experience grew, his love of talking to people and acting grew as well.

In 2001, Antoine moved to Virginia and started to work as a mentor, which was a great role for him because he truly enjoyed helping people and improving the lives of others, something he says he was put on this Earth to do.  Soon after his move, he was employed by radio station WTJZ, where he received free training to learn how to work the soundboards.  Antoine learned to operate the complex equipment so quickly that the radio station decided to hire him as a DJ.  It also didn’t hurt that he had a decent speaking voice and was an interesting person.  He enjoyed his position as a radio DJ until the station was closed down in 2007. 

After his radio days had ended, Antoine set out to continue pursuing his acting career.  He auditioned for movies as well as commercials and voice-overs.  He is now featured in a music video called “Home”, which can be seen and heard at www.graceandmercyrecords.com.  He also has a youtube page where all of his commercials can be seen and listened to at www.youtube.com/lamontantoine.

What really caught my attention with Antoine was his attitude.  You simply can’t keep him down, no matter what, and he wants to encourage every blind person to be the same.  He wants to see blind people gaining their independence and leading rich lives that they can be proud of.  He said, “You don’t have to stay home and not live your life. You can be whatever you want to be. Your mind isn’t disabled.  Don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t be that!”  Surround yourself with people who will encourage you to do better.  Take your challenges in stride and learn to work around them. Don’t allow them to defeat you.”  He also says to the parents of blind children, “It’s important for parents to let their blind children go out and try things, don’t be afraid to let them explore the world.”  He credits his mother for giving him these values.  She raised him and his siblings and always made sure they were taken care of, despite the challenges that met her.  Now, Antoine looks at life and its multitudinous number of challenges and says he will live it to its full potential, no matter what.

Antoine and I finished our conversation with him saying, “A lot of people think that blind people can only be piano tuners.  I’m not saying that it’s a bad job, and if you want to be a piano tuner, then go be the best piano tuner you can be.  But don’t ever let anyone pigeon hole you just because you’re blind.  You may be blind, but you’ve got a mind, and you’ve got potential.  That’s all you need to be something great.”

I had a great conversation with Antoine and I think that he has a great message to give to the blind community.  He has told me that if anyone would like to get in touch with him to talk, that’d I’m free to give out his email address.  Due to privacy concerns over the internet, I will not post his email address here, but please email me at blind@verizon.net if you’d like his contact information.

Alpine Trust

This past weekend, I decided to brave the elements and head up to Vermont to go skiing with some friends of mine. It was going to be cold, mostly single digits and below during my stay, but the snow was going to be decent and I hadn’t been out yet this year.

As I was going down one of the more difficult trails that the mountain had to offer, I heard voices behind me. As they got closer, it sounded like a ski instructor giving directions to someone in a private lesson. They’d shout, “Left, now right, back left, watch your speed,” and it sounded like the pupil was doing well. Soon after this, I stopped to take a break and rest my legs for a second. As I looked up, a man came over the crest of the hill and whizzed effortlessly past me. It looked like he had been skiing since he was a baby and his form was perfect. He was also wearing a bright yellow vest that said “Blind Skier.” Without any hesitation, he obeyed the commands of his guide and made his way to the bottom quickly and with supreme confidence. I thought to myself as I watched them finish the trail and get back on the lift, “That is some serious trust, right there.”

I’ve had problems seeing while I was skiing before. My goggles would fog up or ice over and I’d be helpless against it. I can tell you without any shadow of a doubt that it would be tough to relay this information to a friend of mine and then ski in front of them at full speed as they directed me past chair lift towers, other skiers, and trees.

I tried to catch up to him by getting down to the lift and riding up as quickly as I could, hoping that he’d still be getting ready at the top. Unfortunately, he had already made his way down and had multiple options from the peak. I didn’t see him for the rest of the day. It would’ve been nice to ask him about how it felt to tip his skies downhill and launch into a cold and dark wind tunnel filled with obstacles, knowing that his body would need to react at a moment’s notice if necessary. Or how he came to find a person who he could literally trust with his life to give him accurate directions and feedback the whole way down.

Mostly, though, I’d just want to say that he was awesome for not letting anything get in the way of doing something that he enjoyed. People like that are truly inspiring.

Ross Hammond, Editor

Quadriplegic Tackles Atlantic

Geoff Holt is no ordinary sailor.  The 42 year old man just completed a trip that few people can lay claim to.  Geoff sailed solo across the Atlantic Ocean from Lanzarote to the British Virgin Islands, arriving on December 10, 2009.  Oh, and Geoff is a quadriplegic.  

Geoff was paralyzed 25 years ago when diving into shallow water and has been relegated to a wheelchair ever since.  In 2007, he became the first quadriplegic to sail around Britain. However, having sailed across the Atlantic prior to his accident, he decided to return, sailing his now-incorrectly named boat “Impossible Dream”.  By using a series of hydraulic winches, Geoff was able to control the boat as any able bodied person would.  Despite the fact that he experienced engine troubles and terribly light winds during portions of his trip, he made it to the Virgin Islands unscathed and with an irremovable smile on his face. 

Mr. Holt now holds the record for being the only quadriplegic to complete this particular journey and his sheer determination and unwavering drive to complete his goal will serve as an inspiration to anyone with or without sea legs. 

 To access the original article, please go to http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/hampshire/8445668.stm

Blind Man Breaks Speed Record

Back in October of 2009, an amazing record was set by Hein Wagner, a blind motivational speaker.  Wagner, a daredevil at heart, has set the world record for the fastest speed ever driven in an automobile by a blind person.  

In 2005, Wagner set the record in a Maserati Grand Sport and was able to sustain a speed of 167 miles per hour during that time.  However, not entirely satisfied, Wagner wanted to go bigger and hit that 200 mile per hour milestone that every extreme driver dreams about. 

With the help of a brand new Mercedes Benz SL65 Black Series, which has a twin turbo V12 engine producing a staggering 661 horsepower, Wagner was able to reach his goal.  Representatives from Guinness World Records were on hand to confirm this momentous occasion.  In order to hold the record, Wagner needed to sustain his speed for no less than one thousand meters.  With his co-driver at his side, Wagner accomplished this multiple times with a sustained speed of 200.4 miles per hour on the tarmac of a South African airport.  At that speed, his car was traveling the equivalent of one football field per second. 

Traveling at those speeds is no easy task for a sighted person.  By not allowing his disability to hinder his goals, Wagner put his foot to the floor and raced into the record books. 

To read the original article, please go to http://www.topspeed.com/cars/car-news/blind-man-sets-a-world-speed-record-at-over-200-mph-in-a-mercedes-sl65-amg-black-series-ar80105.html