Tag Archives: Central Pennsylvania

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 Voicesweb.org

[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 http://voicesweb.org/joelsolkoff 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, :http://www.afb.org/mylife/book.asp?ch=HK-title 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 [email protected] See more at Joel’s blog: .

Exclusive Interview with Rep. GT Thompson on his Rehabilitation Background

The following link to Voices of Central Pennsylvania contains the entire interview between Rep. Glenn (“GT”) Thompson of the Fifth U.S. Congressional District. The Congressman was interviewed by Joel Solkoff, disability- and elderly-issues columnist for Voices. The interview took place on February 6, 2010. The Congressman called the columnist who is in State College from Tuscon where he was snowed in by two feet of snow in the Washington DC area and could not get to the Capitol. Voting schedules were adjusted due to the snow.. In this unedited hour and 10 minute interview, the Congressman describes his lengthy carerr in rehabilitation and health care. Please be patient, it takes time for the window to open and for the Congressman’s voice to say….

http://voicesweb.org/node/3810

MY CHOICE TO HEAD MEDICARE a.k.a. Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

[The following is my March, 2010 column for Voices of Central Pennsylvania see http://voicesweb.org/archive/10mar/10mar-community-lifestyles.pdf (end of pdf.) or visit a newstand in Centre County.]

Strangers, snow and rehabilitation

From where I sit

Thanks to a failure to act in January, the Obama administration has made a serious
mistake in allowing competitive bidding for durable medical equipment such as oxygen
canisters, wheelchairs, power chairs and other devices.


I believe that if President Obama had a Medicare adviser of stature to explain the
consequences, Obama would not have made this mistake that will continue to hurt
people with disabilities—including me.


As a result of this competitive bidding process, T&B Medical and Dick’s Homecare—the only two companies providing power chairs, scooters and other equipment in State College—are in danger of losing to outside competitors, including
competitors outside the state. What they are at greatest risk of losing are contracts to provide Medicare recipients such as myself with equipment and maintenance reimbursements.


Maintenance is the issue I worry about most. Some legislators have put together a plan, supported by a sizeable non-partisan group in the House, that would end the bidding process.

One of the authors of the legislation is Rep. Glenn (“GT”) Thompson, who represents Pennsylvania’s Fifth Congressional district, of which Centre County (his home)
is one of 18 counties in a huge, 11,000 square mile district.


I asked Tina Kreisher, Thompson’s press secretary, for a 20-minute exclusive telephone interview because I thought we could cover the details on Thompson’s health care background so readers can see the link between what our congressman knows and
the unsolved problems he is equipped to solve.


Thompson and I spoke by telephone for over an hour on Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 6 p.m. I did not realize the degree of detail we would get involved in, especially since Thompson is himself the father of a disabled Iraqi war veteran. Thompson does not make a practice of talking in public about 22-year-old Logan, who was wounded when shrapnel and explosives caught him by surprise.


Thompson called me from Tucson, Ariz. where he was attending Logan’s graduation from Army intelligence training, an experience that filled him with the special gratitude we in the disability community feel when someone we love makes progress toward
independence. The two feet of snow in Washington had left him stranded in Tucson and he observed, “There are worse places to be stranded.”


Thompson’s advancement in health care followed two tracks. Academically, he received a bachelor’ degree from Penn State in Therapeutic Rehabilitation, a master’s degree from Temple for Health Science Recreation and a certification from M a r y w o o d
University in Nursing Home Administration.


M e a n w h i l e , Th o m p s o n ’s career involved working in central Pennsylvania a a residential services aid, a recreation therapist and a rehabilitation services manger at Susquehanna Halth Services in Williamsport.


Thompson was at one time an orderly at Centre Crest Nursing Home, and for three years cleaned out bed pans, changed patients out of soiled clothes and changed bedding. He worked with his wife Penny, who did similar work as a nursing assistant.
At the same time, Thompson’s mother was a patient at Centre Crest’s Alzheimer’s facility.


Glenn Thompson [everyone calls him (“GT“)] developed a reputation for good work and excellent managerial abilities, including people skills. When GT visited State
College on Labor Day weekend, his charm was evident. He talked about health care in the social hall and bingo parlor (across the hallway from where I am keyboarding this
column) of Addison Court, which is an apartment house for senior citizens and those with disabilities. The Congressman arrived for the 8 a.m event just as the Webster’s coffee and goodies arrived. (It helps turnout for these events when food is present and Elaine Madder-Wilgus has been most obliging in providing the coffee
Thompson was so grateful to drink.) The 10 additional members of the audience were mostly men and women in their 70s, 80s and 90s.


GT charmed everybody—83-year-old Lilian Huffman, put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I like that fellow” and Lilian is very influential at Addison Court. Win Lilian Huffman and you have won votes at Addison Court. Lilian is a registered
Republican who voted for Obama.


In my interview with Thompson, I asked about each portion of his 31-year career, which ended when he was supervising 25 rehabilitation specialists and coming up
with strategies for improving ongoing rehabilitation.


For me, sitting in a power chair right now, Thompson is the guy to know. I am at a point where I can now go back to rehabilitation to Dr. Colin McCaul, a brilliant rehabilitation physician at Healthcare South, because I recently passed a cardiac stress test. Since I cannot walk, cannot stand without holding on to something and can dislocate my shoulder if I throw my right arm straight in the air, I need a specialist to adapt special exercising tools so I can get the cardiovascular exercise I need. In my considerable experience with physical rehabilitation in three states, the people who do
the hands-on work, the people who touch my body to show me how to do special exercises, when touching is appropriate (a pat on the back is always useful)—these people are uniformly kind and helpful.


I am impressed by the kind of work Glenn Thompson did and taught other rehabilitationspecialists how to do. Based on his experience, his testimonials, his conversation and his education, I feel sufficiently trusting to put my exercise program in his hands if he has time.


Obama, the president I helped elect, is doing some truly bad things to Medicare that will have severely negative effects on the disabled. They have potentially disastrous affects on me. I use my power chair frequently; I require battery replacements every six months. What if the competitive bidding process the Obama administration
is implementing results in requiring me to get batteries from an out-of-area supplier and I have to wait too long?


Right now, Travis would be right over with the batteries. With competitive bidding, I have to depend on some anonymous supplier. During that wait, if my batteries won’t take a charge and I soil my bed repeatedly, I might have to move to Centre Crest, which would severely limit my opportunities.


The failure of the Obama administration to reach across the aisle, as it promised to do, is shocking when Glenn Thompson’s special knowledge is going to waste. At the time of my interview with Rep. Thompson on Feb. 6, the President had yet to announce
an Administrator for Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare is the largest health insurance company in the United States. Medicare needs an administrator who can be confirmed by the Senate. Thompson would be confirmed by the Senate.

Or, President Obama, please find him a better job. Or wake up the Republican House Leadership and have him put on the Ways and Means Committee where he will have oversight over Medicare. Given the overwhelming Republican composition of the Fifth Congressional District, Thompson will eventually gain the seniority he needs.

I don’t want to wait. I want Thompson‘s special skills available to me now because I believe he can assure me a more secure future.


—Joel Solkoff, author of The Politics of Food ,can be reached at his Voices of Central Pennsylvania blog http://voicesweb.org/blog/1242

Strangers and Snow

From where I sit stuck in the February snow on the Allen Street hill facing home after breakfast at Webster’s Café and Bookstore, the words come to mind like a mantra that has governed the last 15 years of my life as a man who cannot walk, “…I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

The words were originally made famous by Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ emotionally charged “Streetcar Named Desire.” The words evoked a spirit of hopeless dependence.

For me they convey very much the opposite. For me (a paraplegic with a bad right arm) the kindness of strangers is a remarkable blessing. In the past 15 years since I became unable to walk, I am no longer surprised by incidents, such as today’s:

A woman driving north on Allen Street:

• She quickly parks.

• Gets out of her car.

• Pushes my power chair out of the snow.

Unasked people open doors for me and will offer to perform helpful tasks which they do, such as going to the grocery store for one needed item (only to be presented with a week’s groceries paid for by my benefactor).

This Kindness is especially intense in Central Pennsylvania because of the strength of family-ties, clearly observable in local nursing home reception areas. This kindness has been extended to me throughout the United States. My 1993 Buick with its wheelchair lift has taken me to California and back twice. Strangers who helped me along the way. I realize that some individuals have experienced bad behavior as a consequence of being disabled. For me strangers are my guardian angels.

As I see it, one of the unwritten rules of the kindness I have experienced is to try not being in the position of having to ask for help again. For example, if the batteries in my power chair are low [which they are, hey, Travis] I can call Travis at T&B Medical and before the batteries are totally exhausted they have been replaced by new ones. Without replacement, there is considerable danger involved in leaving me without power.

Interview with The Duke Taught Me a Lesson from Voices of Central Pennsylvania, December 2009-January 2010


From Where I Sit

John Wayne once granted me a telephone
interview on his experiences with cancer.
For those readers too young to remember [a
concept that defies imagination], John
Wayne (nicknamed The Duke) was an
Academy-Award winning actor who
appeared in 142 movies. His cowboy and
other macho roles served as an icon for my
generation on how a real man is supposed to
behave.

This is a column about fear. Miriam-
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines
fear as, “an unpleasant often strong emotion
caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.”
Fear “implies…loss of courage.” I am
familiar with the fear that comes from:

Having an oncologist look up from my
pathology file and say, “There is no doubt
about it. You have cancer.”

Sitting for hours in radiation waiting
rooms as my fellow patients look at each
other and wonde who will live and who will
die.

Experiencing the side effects of radiation
slowly burning my spine and resulting in
the odd experience of standing at a jogging
track ready to run (forcing myself to run)
and being unable to do so.

Being unable to walk across a room without
falling—I once fell in front of a
prospective employer three times during a
job interview.

I cannot go from my bed to the bathroom
without transferring to a power chair. I
know about courage and my lack of it,
about appropriate and inappropriate anger
and the need to put my past behind me and
be human—not a cripple; human. Here in
my apartment in State College, I recognize
my New Year’s resolution must be to
behave (to excuse the sexist expression)
like a Man.

Twenty-one years ago I was an arrogant
journalist writing an article for The New
York Times on the emotional effects of surviving
cancer. At the time, society was still
pondering such questions as whether it was
a good idea to tell patients that they had
cancer. Doctors thought it prudent not to
disclose likely side-effects. The newspapers,
examining the statistics on cancer
mortality, featured headlines on the failure
of the War on Cancer. By doing so, the
media had masked the remarkable progress
being made especially among children and
young adults. At a time when my mother
refused superstitiously to say the word cancer
out loud, spelling it letter by letter, parents
of cancer survivors had trouble conveying
the reality that when a child has cancer
it need not be a sentence of death.

I was not sufficiently savvy to realize that
the vagaries of life were mirrored in the
familiar vagaries of journalism. As I later
learned, the chief editor of the Times’
Magazine made it a practice to reject the
first draft of every free-lancer. Wendy
Moonan, my immediate editor, wanted my
revision to include an interview with John
Wayne. Wayne had lung cancer and since
1964, despite the objections of his business
managers, he served as a spokesman for the
American Cancer Society. His commercials, which
featured a pitch for early detection,
were model John Wayne sounding
essentially like someone who
would shoot you without pause if you did
not immediately send a check, which many
viewers did. Wendy warned, “You cannot
tell him where you got this telephone number.”

I dialed. John Wayne [JOHN WAYNE!]
answers the phone and says, “Unless you
tell me where you got my phone number, I
am going to hang up on you.” I turned in my
editor without a moment’s thought.

Two weeks after the doctors removed
Wayne’s lung, he was back at work making
a movie. “I jumped into a river with handcuffs
on in January…and that was tough. It
kept me from developing a protection
which I thought I needed but which I didn’t
need.” I replied that my experiences with
cancer left me with unresolved feelings that
were getting in the way of living my life. He
dismissed the idea that I should, as he put it,
feel sorry for myself. John Wayne said,
“The thing to do is just try your damndest
without telling anyone else about it.”

For its own reasons, The Times published
my first draft which did not include the
Wayne interview (making this a Voices
exclusive). Less than a week later, I was on
Good Morning America feeling sorry for
myself for a brief moment of public
acclaim. Less than a year later, Wayne died
of stomach cancer. Today, I still remember
his advice with reverence, despite the fact
that I detested Wayne’s politics. In
February, I plan to discuss:

1. The wisdom of John Wayne

2. How to implement that wisdom here in
Centre Country to help reduce fear among
our disabled and aged population.

(Our community’s considerable private
and academic emotional counselors are
invited.)

Joel Solkoff, author of The Politics of
Food
.

Why I came to State College: For the money from Voices of Central Pennsylvania, November, 2009

From Where I Sit:

I came to State College for the money.

In March 2002, I was sitting in the Office of Professor Elias Mpofu, program head for Penn State’s Rehabilitation Counseling Program, a program I was just invited to join.

Professor Mpofu asked, “Why did you decide to come to Penn State?”

“For the money,” I said. “No one would give me more money than Penn State.”

Professor Mpofu gave me a look of deep understanding. We spent the rest of the visit discussing Professor Mpofu’s specialty; primitive African beliefs on illness and disability. Professor Mpofu published a well-received paper about a Tanganyika ritual where the magic powers help a disabled person use secret forces to be liberated from the disability. (Yes, I did ask Professor Mpofu to perform the ritual on me and he is taking a long time getting back to me.)
By accepting Professor Mpofus’ academic offer I was agreeing to a career path ending in my becoming an Occupational Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) Counselor for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. My job as an OVR counselor would be to help people with disabilities get jobs. Walking was part of the job description for the job Penn State was training me. I do not walk.

Therefore, no matter how well trained I am there’s no way I can become an OVR counselor without being able to walk to people’s homes where the home is not
From Where I Sit accessible. Being able to walk is job critical. With a single stroke of the pen, I had signed up for a grant from the government to make me the moral equivalent of able-bodied when the government had determined just two years earlier (at great governmental expense) that I am permanently disabled.

The attraction for me of being an OVR counselor is best described in the recollections of Abraham Nemeth, a scientist who is blind and who has become a mentor to the still-trendy summer camps specializing in teaching science to low-vision students. Nemeth’s biographer Carol Castellano writes, “Dr. Nemeth says that he was discouraged from making mathematics his undergraduate major by vocational counselors because of his blindness and the lack of Braille materials. He acquiesced and switched to psychology instead. But take a look at the courses he chose for his electives at college—analytical geometry and differential and integral calculus….”

I wanted to be a successful vocational rehabilitation counselor. I believe I have a special calling based on my disability experiences to transform my experiences with assistive technology to make it easier for people with disabilities to use new technical equipment to get higher paying jobs leading to a career.

Now, I am on medical leave from the Rehabilitation Counseling Program. My health has not been good, but not as bad as it sounds. Last year, I was in the hospital three times, once for diabetes that nearly killed me; second for treating difficult pneumonia, and the third time to evaluate a badly damaged right shoulder that requires a shoulder replacement operation where the technology has not kept up with shoulders. The medical field has made great progress with knees and hips, but not with replacing an entire shoulder. The result, no shoulder surgery for at least 25 years and periods of pain.

In my last column, I promised to provide you with my personal financial information. Last year (2008), I earned a total income of $21,256.80. All my income came through my monthly Social Security check. Out of a monthly check of $1,688.00, Medicare, my only health insurance (helpful during the period when I was in the hospital last month) deducts $210 off the top. Rent and electricity costs $830 and $145 for phone and high speed computer (I have daughters in two different states).

I have hopes of economic redemption through…

I want out of poverty. And I want a job that will earn me a way out of poverty. [Insert Sylvester Stallone Rocky Theme Song here.]

—Joel Solkoff, author of The Politics of Food.

New column speaks to disabled, elderly issues–from Voices of Central Pennsylvania

July 2017. State College/University Park, PA. Years later, this reflection on the Sandusky scandal still rings true:
++++

“As a former graduate student at Penn State with a disability and as one who is part of the elderly community, the focus by powerful officials on football-above-all has also been used to cover up exploitation of disabled and elderly students and students who are veterans (especially disabled-veterans) and to discourage recruitment of such individuals to become students. Also, this exploitation has extended to the community economically dependent on Penn State.”

 ++++
Note: I am in the process of critiquing the report issued by former FBI Director Louis Freeh issued in July of 2012. The report, which was commissioned by the Board of Trustees at Penn State, concerned what is popularly referred to as the Sandusky sex scandal. Freeh, in issuing the report, pointed out the danger of the "football culture" at Penn State which gave license to officials in power to ignore predatory sexual practices on children. 
As a former graduate student at Penn State with a disability and as one who is part of the elderly community,the focus by powerful officials on football-above-all has also been used to cover up exploitation of disabled and elderly students and students who are veterans (especially disabled-veterans) and to discourage recruitment of such individuals to become students. Also, this exploitation has extended to the community economically dependent on Penn State. As partial background regarding this contention, I am here republishing the monthly column I wrote for Voices of  Central Pennsylvania, then edited by the gifted Suzan Erem. The column appeared from October of 2009 until February of 2011. What follows is the first column.

From Where I Sit

In high school I was a junior befriended by a sensual senior who shared her physical love with others, but talked philosophy to me. I would have preferred it the other way around, but I had no choice. If I wanted to benefit from the privilege of being in her presence (and I did), then I had to sublimate my lust by talking about existentialism—
Sallie’s philosophical passion.

Existentialism is not as chic today as it was when I was 15 or 16. Jean Paul Sartre had not yet refused the Nobel Prize in Literature, nor had he turned his back on literature—deciding finally to complete Being and Nothingness and other non-fiction. The central philosophical question that haunted us adolescents—Why am I here?—remains through our old age.

For me the question takes on an added dimension. At 28 I was diagnosed as having a relatively rare form of cancer that a generation earlier killed virtually everyone who had it. For much of my early adulthood, an astonishingly large number of physicians believed the disease was universally fatal. Oxford University Press published an impassioned plea to physicians to reconsider their notions of doom. Today, the disease is nearly universally curable. For a while, the people who began the cure with radiation machines underestimated its power and a large number of radiologists died while curing others. My radiologist at George Washington University Hospital in Washington D.C. died before I reached the five-year disease free mark. Seymour Kaplan, the Stanford University radiologist who published the Oxford medical text, suffered a similar fate.

I lost the ability to run, walk, or stand without assistance, but the disease and its consequences did not prevent me from fathering two beautiful daughters. Why am I here? has become a consistent theme in my life. Consistent themes make it possible for people to become columnists for newspapers and for publications such as
Voices of Central Pennsylvania. So, what you are reading is the first in a series of monthly columns on the subject of having physical disabilities and being elderly here in Centre County.

I will not pretend that physical disabilities and old age are inherently fascinating subjects. However, one of the advantages of being a columnist is that I do not have to come to the point too quickly—as long as I get there. So for my readers, beginning
October, 2009 I plan to use my wiles to make me part of your life. I plan to start here at Addison Court, the 89-apartment complex in downtown State College, where at 3 a.m. nearly every day drunken students out of control (half a block from the police station) walk east in groups of 20 shrieking men and women who pause to urinate and vomit in our parking lot.

I plan to find out why the police do not interfere with drunken activity and how it makes Addison Court residents feel.

I can’t wait for you to meet my neighbors. A few weeks ago, Lillian (83), Audrey (80), Hilda (90), and I had a lively Corner Room breakfast talking about what it is like when most of one’s friends are dead or too-far-gone to remember the same old stories.

Addison Court residents, with the exception of those with physical and emotional disabilities, are 55 or older, live in rent-subsidized apartments, have little money, not enough to do, and most vote out of a sense of patriotic obligation.

From Addison Court, half a block north on Allen, is Webster’s Bookstore Café. Webster’s proprietor Elaine Meder-Wilgus surrounds herself with serious reformers who are not afraid to have fun. This column will discuss reform and fun from my distinct perspective. I am 62. I am a paraplegic. I have rotten teeth—17 cavities.

I have strong ideas about the importance of uniting with others such as myself because as Al Smith once said, “The only cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.”

In the November column, I will tell you why I came to State College, how much money I earn, and how I plan to survive financial disaster.  [October 2009]

Joel Solkoff is the author of The Politics of Food.