Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), the only quadriplegic to serve in Congress, co-sponsored the bipartisan Fairness in Medicare Bidding Act introduced by Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Jason Altmire (D-PA).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Helen Keller, Blair/Clearfield County Association for the Blind, and Disability Rights Attorney Peter Pinnola Answers Questions

From Where I Sit
Disabilities Info Expanded at

[The following is my April, 2010 column for Voices of Central Pennsylvania.]

I learned something 15 years ago when I became unable to walk. Yes, there was the grief over losing a power I had once cherished I loved to walk. At Columbia, I walked routinely from the 116th Street campus to the Village. In San Francisco, I routinely walked from the top of Telegraph to the Potrero Hill At Cheltenham High School in Wyncote PA, I won a varsity letter in cross country—where the standard event was a two-and-one-half mile run.

When I look back excessively, I am at risk of truly living in the past. Especially noteworthy,I learned that thanks to battery-powered mobility devices, known as scooters and power chairs, that I can and have been living a productive and enjoyable life.

How I learned this lesson and how I had the good sense to apply it is a subject for a different Voices medium; namely, our Web page. This column is limited to 800 words and I have much more to say. Bill Eichman, Voice’s crafty webmaster, has come up with a solution—From Where I Sit now has online editions. Turn your browsers to to view the following Voice’s websites for such new On-Line From Where I Sit blogs:

In 1904 Helen Keller Became the First Person Who is Blind and Deaf to Graduate from a U.S. College

Blog 1: Appreciation of Helen Keller. Helen Keller is the hero of the self-help for individuals with physical disabilities movement to which I belong. In 1903 Keller wrote about her experiences taking college examinations, “Just then the proctor informs you that the time is up. With a feeling of intense disgust you kick the mass of rubbish into a corner and go home, your head full of revolutionary schemes to abolish the divine right of professors to ask questions without the consent of the questioned.”

Keller was both blind and unable to hear. She wrote these words in her autobiography The Story of My Life on a typewriter. She could not see what she wrote. She had the option of using a Braille device, a process Keller thought too slow and only used the device for making notes. The story of Keller’s writing her story has been extensively published. Keller’s words themselves are so astoundingly beautiful.

Consider: “Even in the days before my Teacher came, I used to feel along the square stiff hedges, and guided by the sense of smell would find the first violets and lilies.” The described intensity of Keller’s need and drive to express herself must be experienced directly.

Readers are encouraged to download The Story of My Life at the American Foundation for the Blind, : and especially to comment on my view that Helen Keller is the George Washington of the Disability Rights Movement.

Blog 2. Association for the Blind in Blair and Clearfield counties (also including Centre County). I have just been hired as Employment Specialist for the Altoona-based Association for the Blind. Assistive technology for the blind is too astounding to discuss succinctly. In the blog, I plan, among other issues, to describe in detail the technology as well as demographics for the blind in each of the counties we serve.

My director Joseph Fagnani will have me focus most of my attention on two tasks.
1. Helping to find jobs for low-vision clients;
2. Writing funding proposals to get supplies;
thus making it easier to obtain contracts and  eventually expanding the scope of our services.

I am commuting from State College to Altoona one day and telecommuting the rest of the week. In this blog, I will describe the contrast (as I see it) between State College and Altoona. What a contrast.

Blog 3. Legal Advice on Social Security Disability. My attorney and friend Peter Pinnola, whose office is in suburban Philadelphia, answers questions online about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Peter is a member of the National Organization of Social Security Claims Representatives. My experience with lawyers not a member of this association is bad. They gave me incorrect information.

A major theme of my column is the notion of having a permanent disability and still being able to work. Peter’s advice will also provide details on issues and dangers in getting off SSDI and getting off it properly without risking the option of returning to SSDI if necessary.

Finally, I recognize that my columns put me in danger of coming across as someone who does not see the value of emotional counseling—psychiatrists, psychologists, MSWs, and therapists of various incarnations. To the contrary, I love all of them (Freudian,Jungian, Adlerian, existential, and feminist therapies). Therapy is often critical in helping people with disabilities find the tools (including emotional tools) to lead meaningful lives. Therapy, however, can never be a substitute for the right physical tools. My mantra is “durable medical equipment, durable medical equipment.”

—Joel Solkoff, author of The Politics of Food. Contact him at See more at Joel’s blog: .

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