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Limb Loss Information Centre Newsletter

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1. Are you wearing one of those cool legs?’ NY Times Article

2. Looking for sitting volleyball players to take to Holland. Are you interested?

3. Roehampton University Research into amputees and exercise. Please Help.

4. Lingfield Park Bike Ride

5. Who is Swazie Turner? Have a look at what he’s achieved.

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The public image of people with disabilities has often hinged on the heroic or the tragic. Contemporary TV programs and movies are changing those perceptions

By Mireya Navarro


Sunday, May 13, 2007, Page 17

When Josh Blue won NBC's Last Comic Standing last season, he did so with riffs like this: "My right arm does a lot of crazy stuff. Like the other day, I thought someone had stolen my wallet."

It's funny only if you know that Blue has cerebral palsy. The public image of people with disabilities has often hinged on the heroic or the tragic. But Blue, 28, represents the broader portrait of disability now infusing television and film. This new, sometimes confrontational stance reflects the higher expectations among many members of the disabled population that they be treated as people who happen to have a disability, rather than as people defined by disability.

"What we're seeing is less `overcoming' and more `just being,'" said Lawrence Carter-Long, the director of advocacy for the Disabilities Network of New York City, which last year started a film series, "disTHIS: Disability Through a Whole New Lens," celebrating unconventional portrayals of the disabled.

"More people are saying, `This is who I am. If you have a problem with it, that's your problem,"' he said. Because the entertainment media often function as a bellwether of changing attitudes, the drive to expand beyond the stereotypes is particularly visible on television. The heart-wrenching movie of the week and fundraising telethons striving for cures have given way to amputees rock climbing on reality shows like The Amazing Race and doing the jive on Dancing With the Stars. Sitcoms and crime shows have jumped onto the bandwagon, too: an actor who is a paraplegic, for instance, depicts a member of the casino surveillance team on Las Vegas.

"It used to be that if you were disabled and on television, they’d play soft piano music behind you," said Robert David Hall, a double amputee who plays a coroner on CSI. "The thing I love about CSI is that I'm just Dr. Robbins."

In film, too, tragic stories starring able-bodied actors, like Million Dollar Baby, are being countered by depictions featuring the disabled themselves, from the wheelchair rugby jocks of the 2005 documentary Murderball to the 2005 Special Olympics romp, The Ringer, by Peter and Bobby Farrelly.

Hollywood's embrace of a franker depiction of disabilities is mirrored in everyday life in trends such as the jettisoning, by both child and adult amputees, of cosmetic covers for prosthetic legs. Instead, prosthetics experts say, many patients wear their legs openly, often customizing them with designs that are flaunted like tattoos.

"Some people say, `That's really cool' and some people don’t act very nice," said Kylee Haddad, 40, a mother of two from Walkersville, Maryland, who decorates her prosthetic leg with palm trees, fish and the American flag. Haddad, whose right leg was amputated below the knee in 2003 after a car accident, said she has no problem wearing shorts when she goes shopping. Neither does she shy from removing the prosthesis in order to swim at the neighborhood pool.

She said people gawk and some have even tapped her on the shoulder to ask her to put her leg back on. She said she's been told, "It is upsetting my child." But she refuses to hide.

"You either accept me as I am," she said, "or you don't have to look at it.”

Jillian Weise, 25, a teacher and doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati, released a poetry book this year to undermine what she called "the stereotype of the disabled as asexual" and "to try to get away from the idea of the disabled as freak."

She titled it The Amputee's Guide to Sex and filled it with deeply personal verses. "You trace the scar along my spine, and I imagine what it must feel like," reads one poem.

Weise, who was born with a rare disease that led to the amputation of one leg below the knee when she was 11, said that in the US "there's a history of don’t look, don't stare, just ignore the disability."

"I'm hoping that there's a middle ground, that this is just another kind of difference," she said.


The hunger to be regarded like anyone else means even negative portrayals can be welcome. When Simon Cowell of American Idol teased a Special Olympics athlete with a mental disability about his weight during this year’s televised auditions, he was widely criticized for having crossed a line. Special Olympics International fired off an open letter. It thanked the show for ribbing the contestant, as it does nearly everyone.

"Whether on the stage of American Idol or on the field of competition for Special Olympics, people with intellectual disabilities don't want to be pitied," the group's statement read.

The drive for more participation is not new, but it is finding strength in numbers. The government census and population surveys have expanded the definition of disability over time to reflect more conditions and impairments, including mental disabilities. The most recent population survey, in 2002, showed the disabled population to be the country’s largest minority: 51 million, or 18 percent of all Americans. Most — 32 million — suffer from a disability classified as severe. Although this huge and complex group includes both the man with a US$30,000 computer-controlled prosthesis and the brain-injured woman who is immobile, stereotyping and stigmatization are still a problem, particularly for the mentally disabled.

And while public perceptions about the capabilities of the mentally disabled have improved, said Stephen Corbin, a senior vice president of Special Olympics International, they are still "mixed and inadequate."

Nevertheless, the gradual gains in access to education and independent living have allowed many disabled people to take their place in society's mix. Surveys show that people with disabilities are voting and going to restaurants, for example, at rates comparable with the non-disabled. With increased access has come visibility.

The public image of the disabled is increasingly "informed by actual experience of disability rather than an imagined understanding of it," said David Mitchell, an associate professor of disability studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Mitchell, who is also a filmmaker, uses a wheelchair because of a neuromuscular condition. His 1995 documentary, Vital Signs: Crip Culture Talks Back, focuses on the concept of a cultural identity.

But, he cautioned: "We shouldn't go too congratulatory yet. Our progress is largely a measure of the fact that we were so regressive for so long."

The arts have become one of the most visible vehicles for participation. In the last few years particularly, said Kari Pope, the coordinator at the National Arts and Disability Center at UCLA, there has been more exposure of disabled artists "getting out there" through film festivals, dance companies, theater and the visual arts.

In Hollywood, disabled members of the Screen Actors Guild and other entertainment groups are agitating for plots that include more disabled characters and for the hiring of more disabled actors to play both disabled and nondisabled roles. Though jobs are still scarce, the quality of roles and the diversity of characters have improved. Some disabled actors noted that they are no longer relegated to maudlin or villainous roles.

It is a sign of the times that Marlee Matlin, a deaf actress, who won an Oscar for the 1986 film Children of a Lesser God, has been playing roles as varied as a political pollster on The West Wing and the love interest on My Name Is Earl.


Meanwhile, the Farrelly brothers are at work on a pilot for a comedy for Fox with Danny Murphy, an actor who is a quadriplegic, in a supporting role. And NBC may produce the first comedy starring disabled actors to air on network television. The pilot for this show, I’m With Stupid, is based on a BBC series of the same name, which revolves around an apartment building designed for the disabled whose tenants include a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy who speaks via a voice box, and a double amputee with high-tech leg prosthetics.

"All the actors feel this is not a television show, it's a movement," said Wil Calhoun, the executive producer. "People will begin to look at things in a different way." Calhoun, who was an executive producer of Friends, said the comedy is an attempt to depart from the predictable, but the material is considered risky because of concerns that viewers may find it sad or in bad taste. On the other hand, Americans already have been exposed to fuller portraits of disabled people, especially through reality shows.

"The representations on reality television tend to be much higher-stakes than the fictional narratives because that's how real people behave," said Kathleen LeBesco, the chairwoman of communication arts at Marymount Manhattan College.

She said there's debate about whether some representations are "exploitative or affirmative," but said the depictions parallel the trajectory that gays and racial minorities also tread as they gained more visibility.

Sarah Reinertsen, 31, an athlete who runs with a prosthetic leg, is a member of the hard-charging vanguard. She was a contestant on CBS's Amazing Race last year (her team came in seventh of 12) and has no qualms about competing against the able-bodied.

"Believe me, I get a thrill when I do pass two-legged people," she said.

But she said she never leaves the house without sunglasses. "People always stare," she said. "It's part of human nature and it's tough to be this animal in the zoo." But Reinertsen said people have stopped looking at disability as "total tragedy." "People have changed a lot," she said. "They ask, `Are you wearing one of those cool legs?"'

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We have been asked to forward this email to all our subscrtibers, offering you the opportunity to take part in some research on physical exercise after amputation. You do not have to take part in this research or respond to this email, but The Douglas Bader Foundation does encourage participation in such research projects, as they can lead to improvements in amputee care and understanding. If you would like to add your voice, then please read the email below and click on the most appropriate link for you to complete the questionnaire online. Please do not send responses or queries back to me...I will be unable to deal with your enquiry, but there is an email address provided below for direct contact with the administrators of this research project.

Researchers at the Centre for Scientific and Cultural Research in Sport at Roehampton University are investigating the factors that influence exercise participation in lower limb amputees. We have devised a questionnaire relating to your amputation, mobility, exercise participation and factors influencing your participation in exercise, and would really appreciate it if you could take the time to fill this out. It will take approximately 10-15 minutes to complete and can be accessed by following one of the links below.

There is a Consent Form at the start of the questionnaire. Please print your name in the appropriate slot. The data will be used anonymously and all links between contact information and the questionnaire will be removed prior to analysis. Data will be stored on secure computers, which are password protected. Any information containing the names, contact information and personal details of any volunteers will be stored in a lockable filing cabinet and destroyed at the end of the project. The research findings will be published in trade magazines, in peer-reviewed journals and will be presented at relevant conferences.

Accessing the Questionnaire

There are 4 links below, each relating to a different questionnaire. Please follow the one that is most appropriate to your exercise participation. Once you have filled it in, save it to your computer and send it as an attachment to amputeesurvey@roehampton.ac.uk


If you are a lower limb amputee who participated in regular/organised exercise before amputation and you continue to exercise now, or if you are a congenital amputee who has always exercised, please follow this link http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/email/exercisealways.doc <http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/email/exercisealways.doc>

If you are a lower limb amputee who participated in regular/organised exercise before amputation but no longer participates in exercise please follow this link http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/email/didbeforenotnow.doc <http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/email/didbeforenotnow.doc>

If you are a lower limb amputee who did not participate in regular/organised exercise before amputation and now exercises please follow this link http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/email/notbeforebutdoesnow.doc <http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/email/notbeforebutdoesnow.doc>

If you are a lower limb amputee who has never participated in regular/organised exercise before or after amputation, or if you are a congenital amputee who has never exercised please follow this link http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/email/neverexercise.doc <http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/email/neverexercise.doc>

Please send your replies to:


A one-day symposium specifically focussing on the results of this research and at sharing experiences will be held on 18th July at Roehampton University, Whitelands College, Holybourne Avenue, London. This will consist of a presentation of findings in the morning and a workshop on how to share best practice in the afternoon. Both amputees and health professionals are invited to attend. Attendance will cost £35. Places are limited, so please book by June 25. To book a place, or if you require further information regarding the symposium please contact: Mark Cooney: m.cooney@roehampton.ac.uk 020 83923743

Thank you for your participation,


Siobhan Strike, Research Coordinator

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Robbie Barrett, paralympic athlete is building a sitting volleyball team in the UK. The current development team, after performing at the Hamburg tournament has been

Invited to play and train over a weekend in Holland

With the Dutch National team. This is a new team at the development stages and they are looking for healthy people to join them, as they are a few players short. If you are thinking about taking up a sport or are currently involved in sport and would like to come along and play in Holland over the weekend of the 1-3rd of June, then please contact Robbie on the telephone number below.

All sexes and all ages’ welcome. Teams playing in

Europe are quite mixed in terms of both sexes i.e. men and women and disability, i.e. able bodied and disabled.

Call Robbie and he will give you all the details you need.




07984 426411

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Looking for amputees, healthcare professionals, friends and family to join us on Sunday 3rd June for the Lingfield Park Bike Ride and barbecue. This is a great family day out and also helps to raise invaluable funds towards the work of the Douglas Bader Foundation. Why not complete the attached registration form. If you can’t join us please help us by printing off and placing the registration form and flyer on the notice board at your Limb Centre, officer or Local Gym.

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His fund raising ‘missions’ as a ‘Wheelchair Pilot’

Since the traumatic loss of both his police career and his right leg due to an act of violence in the line of duty, which has left him confined to a wheelchair, Swasie then suffered the inconsolable loss of his beloved wife and childhood sweetheart Marjorie to the scourge of Cancer.

Totally devastated by the death of his beloved wife and lifelong sweetheart, Swasie then decided to raise money to fight this indiscriminate killer amongst us. He became a relentless, dedicated and totally obsessive crusader for this cause. Right from the start, against medical advice, he performed unbelievable feats of strength and stamina with his caster’d, standard issue NHS Lomax wheelchair <http://www.lomaxmobility.com/Guest.htm> .

www.swasieturner.org <http://www.swasieturner.org/>

Kiera Roche

Projects Director, The Douglas Bader Foundation



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