About me


In 1976 while researching a book on international food policy, I interviewed Secretary of agriculture Earl Butz. I was 28 years old and had just had surgery to remove a lump under my right arm. My physician had left a message on my telephone answering machine.

Before leaving my Capitol Hill apartment, I checked the messages and there were several–increasingly frantic–from Dr. Amiel Segal. Not wanting to be late for my appointment, I called from USDA’s South Building where I was instantly put through to my physician who insisted I immediately come into his office. I asked why. Dr. Segal said he could not tell me over the phone. “What’s so important that you can’t see me right now?” I said, “I have an interview with the Secretary of Agriculture in ten minutes; he’s more important than you.” That is how I found out I had cancer.

The interview progressed smoothly in an altered like state. Afterward, following surgery, friends and relatives rushed to my hospital bed convinced I would die shortly. I have come to regard agriculture policy in much the same fashion as the widow of the Winchester rifle fortune regarded continual work on her San Jose Winchester Mystery House.

As long as the work continued without cease–her fortune-teller predicted–she would never die. I have maintained a more liberal approach than the fortune-teller insisted upon–fathering two daughters, greeting the approach of a granddaughter, publishing books on other subjects–including housing policy and surviving cancer. Throughout it all, I maintain the superstitious belief that as long as I continue to research and write about the politics of agriculture I will live forever.

Currently, I am at work on a blueprint for economic policies that will insure that no one in the world dies of starvation. As I write, 20 million people are in danger of doing so; every ten minutes, a child in Yemen dies needlessly for want of food. http://www.joelsolkoff.com/book-store/books/the-politics-of-food/

One consequence of the treatment for cancer that saved my life was that radiation permanently damaged my spine. For over twenty years, I have been a paraplegic–not in a wheel chair but in a battery-powered mobility device which takes me so rapidly to my destination that friends and strangers on the street comment on the speed which takes me from hither to yon. A frequent comment is, “If you don’t slow down, they will take your license away.”

Unfortunately, my “license” is valid only in a limited zero-tolerance world. For equality–equality in jobs, housing, wooing women–I experience discrimination comparable to that of African-Americans in Selma, Alabama in 1963. The segregation I experience is one that destroys talent and imprisons within a society unaware (as James Baldwin described it so well) that limits not only the oppressed but the oppressor. Hence, I not only passionate about feeding the hungry, I am also passionate about disability rights. [Catch me if you can.] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlC6iVJ7M1g&t=5s

Interests: Author of The Politics of Food and Learning to Live Again: My Triumph Over Cancer http://www.joelsolkoff.com/book-store/books/learning-to-live-again-my-triumph-over-cancer/ http://www.joelsolkoff.com/book-store/books/the-politics-of-food/



My name is Joel Solkoff. I am basically an optimistic guy. I am a paraplegic.

Webster’s Tenth College edition defines paraplegia as: “paralysis of the lower half of the body with involvement of both legs.”

I get around on a POV scooter. Indeed I have restored the original front wheel drive scooter that got me into mobility equipment when I so badly needed it.


This was my first scooter; only mine had a basket.

Al Thieme who invented the POV scooter and whose company Amigo Mobility makes the best scooters in the universe and I have become friends.

I am trying to get his company to think about 3-D in design construction more than it does (but 3-D is present at the Michigan plant as this screen shot of a 3-D Amigo demonstrates ).

My basic mission is: Integrate design of elderly and disability housing with 3-D modeling. Sonali Kumar, Penn State Graduate Assistant in the Architectural Engineering (AE) Department, used me as the virtual reality model shown above.

Indeed, I work in the Immersive Construction (ICon) lab. Here is a photograph of the real me in Dr. John Messner’s ICon lab with the 3-D model on the right. On the left, Dr. Robert Walters demonstrates over a Skype screen how, from the seat of a real scooter in McKeesport, he uses an iPad-like device to turn lights on and off and to use WI/FI to communicate.

In December, I was the first visitor to spend the night at the Blueroof Technologies’ experimental cottage based on the 3-D model (using a Unity gaming engine).

It was a very strange experience. I kept expecting me as an avatar to come scooting down the hallway forcing me out of the way. Reality will do that to you. Professor Richard Behr, Director of Smart Spaces for Independent Living, asked what kind of wine I was drinking.

I was drinking the special Kool Aide prepared by Robert Walters and John Bertoty who founded Blueroof ten years ago in high crime McKeesport. The following photograph shows  Spring Street next door to the Blooroof cottage:

Thankfully, Blueroof elderly and disabled residents are secure in their homes because of sophisticated and relatively inexpensive security devices. Low income elderly and disabled people in Pennsylvania often have no choice but to live in areas wealthier individuals would avoid.

If you are a foundation, consider keeping Blueroof going for decades to come as the Baby Boomers, people like me who have not saved for retirement, become desperate for housing in which they can grow old. If you are a real person, send your spare change to Blueroof at www.bluerooftechnologies.com.


Hear Voice of America’s Adam Phillips interviewing me. He is the one who first called me a disability rights advocate, a designation I like so much that I use it.






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High-tech housing for the poor, disabled and elderly

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