A groundbreaking video game character with a mysterious limp

I’ve been playing all sorts of games for a long time – including video games. I still remember playing Duck Hunt and Mario on the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) when I was little. A lot of the exercises that 8-year-old me did with my speech therapist involved board games. Games still help me decompress after a long day. They let me in on worlds that have never existed and provide me with short escapes from my real life. It’s fun to become someone new every once in a while, and I especially like it when I get to turn into someone much more magical.

I’d been hearing a lot about a non-playable character (NPC, a character you can’t control) named Taimi on Guild Wars 2 (a very popular massive multiplayer online, or MMO, game) and have been eager to check her out. Guild Wars 2 ended a chapter in their Living Story update recently, and that’s how I finally got to see Taimi. It was love at first sight.

Taimi is a pintsize ball of fire with a witty dialogue. How could I not adore her? I was admiring her character model (animation degree here) and enjoying the character dialogue between my character and the others when Taimi moved across the room—and limped.

What was this?

I checked her for any debuffs (when a character is poisoned, wounded or bleeding, they get a “debuff” that either takes away health or makes it more difficult to use their skills), but I couldn’t find any. The other character in the room also had a limp, too, but a wounded debuff explained that.

Why no debuff for Taimi?

So I had to look up this intriguing new character. According to the official wiki, Taimi is 13 years old and a genius among her peers. She is a brilliant engineer determined to defeat the evil baddies. She also has an incurable degenerative disease that makes walking long distances difficult.

Wait. Did I read that right? A video game character…that isn’t “perfect”? People with disabilities are a population that is usually completely overlooked by the gaming community. I’ve been gaming for a long time, but I’ve never seen such a thing before. If you ask me, this is a huge step in the disability community. Guild Wars 2 made a NPC with a disability. This means everyone who plays the game will see this character and realize that while some people may have a disability like Taimi, they can still one-shot you and be amazing.

By the way, “one shot” means that a player or NPC can kill something with only one click of a skill. It takes a lot to do that, and it’s usually a sign that the player or NPC is super-strong. I feel touched by this character, and so did many other people on the Guild Wars 2 forums. One woman who left a comment on the Guild Wars 2 forum has multiple sclerosis. She said that it was wonderful to finally see a character she could identify with, and she wanted to send the company cookies as thanks.

I think the way Guild Wars 2 portrays Taimi’s non-playable character is fantastic. She is not pitiable or weak, they made her strong, determined and crafty enough to build a customized golem to ride on and fight with. This game has been breaking a lot of rules when it comes to MMO’s, and after the introduction of such a neat NPC, I look forward to seeing what else they might do in the years to come.

Now if only I could get a golem like that in real life…

Other Media Reviews Recently Posted on Our Blog:

 

15 questions kids ask about blindness

Daniel Street School in Lindenhurst and Beth's Seeing Eye dog Whitney; Photo by Erica Bohrer That’s us at Daniel Street School in Lindenhurst; clearly, my Seeing Eye dog Whitney is ready for her close-up. I wrote a post earlier this month about how the visits my Seeing Eye dog Whitney and I make to classrooms across the country show me that young readers love learning directly from people who have disabilities. The first, second and third graders we visited on Long Island a couple weeks ago were no exception.

My children’s book Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound is written from my previous Seeing Eye dog Hanni’s point of view. The presentations gave me an opportunity to introduce them to my new Seeing Eye dog and explain that Hanni is 14 years old now and retired.

Whitney is still young, and she started every presentation we did on Long Island this week with a whine and a moan. She wasn’t scared of the kids. She wanted to play with them! And who could blame her? The kids were cute, cute, cute. Somehow Whitney managed to settle in and lie down by the time we got to the Q & A part of our presentations, and here, for your enjoyment, are some of the questions the kids asked:

  • What happens when you have to go down stairs?
  • Which is your favorite dog?
  • How do you eat ice cream?
  • How can you write books if you can’t see?
  • How do you plant?
  • How can you use the remote to watch TV if you can’t see?
  • But what if the ice cream is in a cone?
  • Can your dog have babies? Why not?
  • How do you know which dog is your favorite if you can’t see them?
  • How can you drive?
  • How come you have to change dogs so much?
  • How do you know what your hair color is?
  • Can a Seeing Eye dog work with more than one persons?
  • How do you know where your dog is if you can’t see her?

Whew! Whitney and I spent three entire school days with students on Long Island, and trust me, we both slept well each night we were there.The good folks of Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic School gave us flowers.The good folks of Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic School gave us flowers. One of the schools we visited was Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic School (SSCM). Penny Wong-Matzelle, who has two daughters at that school, wrote an article for the Deer Park-North Babylon NY Patch describing how curious the students were during our visit.

The enthusiastic students of SSCM each had questions burning in their minds and the only thing Mrs. Finke may have missed out on was not being able to enjoy seeing the number of hands that flew into the air when she announced it was time for some Q & A.

The article went on to say that the “most poignant question came a short way into the Q & A session from a small girl in her neatly pressed SSCM uniform.”

The question from the girl in the neatly-pressed uniform proved the point I was making about kids appreciating the opportunity to hear—and learn—directly from people who live with disabilities. Her question: “What does it feel like to be blind?”

If you’re also curious about that last question, here’s a previous post of mine that talks about just that: “What’s it like to go blind?”

 

March 24: Let the increased hiring of veterans and people with disabilities begin!

Today is March 24th. Not a big deal, right? Just an ordinary day in March.

But if the goals of two new federal rules taking effect today are fully realized, maybe… just maybe, March 24th will be remembered and celebrated annually like July 26th is remembered as the anniversary of the historic Americans with Disabilities Act, and November 11th is celebrated as being Veterans Day.

You might recall a post I wrote here last fall about the U.S. Department of Labor updating some rules. Previously, Federal contractors and subcontractors had to develop and document outreach and recruitment strategies to help them meet long-standing affirmative action requirements to recruit, hire, promote, and retain qualified veterans and individuals with disabilities. Now — as a result of the updated rules — contractors will also have to track the effectiveness of their strategies against a national hiring goal for people with disabilities (7%) and a hiring benchmark for veterans (currently 8% nationally).

The Department of Labor is saying an additional 594,580 individuals with disabilities and an additional 205,500 protected veterans would be hired if all covered contractors met the new goals within the final rules. That’s why many are describing the rules as potential “game-changers” in positively impacting the employment rates of people with disabilities and veterans.

Easter Seals wants federal contractors and subcontractors to succeed in meeting this goal. That’s why more than 50 Easter Seals affiliates across the country provide employment service to help veterans and people with disabilities enter or return to the workforce. Easter Seals regularly works with businesses in helping them find and retain employees.

Meeting these goals is a win-win for everyone, so let the hiring begin. And, by the way, Happy March 24th. See, it already has a nice ring to it!

Related Resources on Easterseals.com:

If you’re a veteran looking for a job or assistance reintegrating into civilian life, see what the Easter Seals Dixon Center can do for you.

 

Evacuate! Prepare for the call now

safety first program logoToday, finally, is the first full day of spring, and the winter storms most of us endured this year are over. At least I hope so! Watching the news this winter showed me what an ice storm can do to a community, cutting off communication, blocking roads and snapping power lines. It is more than inconvenient.

We are so dependent on electronic devices to manage everything from the heat in our home to communicating with family, medical personnel and friends. And whether it is the weather or a local disaster (we saw how a train derailment can also force families from their homes), you just can’t predict when people with disabilities may need to evacuate to be safe in a crisis.

That’s why Easter Seals developed s.a.f.e.t.y. first, a national public education campaign that includes a set of key questions and resources so that people with disabilities are included in planning for safety and evacuations. Check out s.a.f.e.t.y. first. It’s full of information I hope you’ll never need, but you’ll feel better knowing just in case. Be safe! Be prepared.

 

Spend time at the “brain gym”—any brain can be strengthened

Dr. Michael Merzenich headshotI am extremely pleased to introduce Dr. Michael Merzenich as a guest blogger today. Dr. Merzenich is one of the preeminent brain scientists in the world, and Easter Seals is working with him to develop new programs that improve brain health.

Brain health matters

by Dr. Michael Merzenich

America is aging, average life spans are lengthening, and the number of individuals with age-related neurodegenerative illnesses requiring continuous patient care is rapidly growing. More than half of us now spend the last months or years of our life under someone else’s continuous care. While life spans are expected to pass the century mark in the middle of the 21st Century, there has been little change over the past 50 years in the ages of onset of Alzheimers disease, Parkinson’s disease, or other age-related illnesses. On our current course, the human and financial costs of age-related decline and the progression to senile dementia and frailty will be societally unbearable.

One of our greatest contemporary challenges is to elucidate and deploy more effective prevention and treatment strategies for changing the course of aging to more reliably assure that brain spans more closely match our growing life spans.

Of course neurological problems can befall any one of us long before most of us have to worry about the risks of potentially catastrophic problems nearer the end of life. The majority of citizens have acquired neurological limitations or a psychiatric illness that has required medical treatment by the time we reached retirement age. Brain health issues ultimately apply for almost all of us.

Why hasn’t modern medicine been more concerned, then, with issues of brain health? Brain illustration One impediment to the development of brain-related medicine has our previously limited understanding of the ways that brain function actually relates to health. Now, because of a revolution in clinical neuroscience, this picture has radically changed. We now have a deep understanding of neurological processes that mark the healthy brain. We now understand how those processes are distorted in ways that account for the behavioral limitations expressed in most neurological and psychiatric maladies. Perhaps most importantly, we also now understand that the brain is continuously plastic. Any brain can be strengthened—and if necessary, significantly if not completely recovered—by specific forms of intensive self-directed brain remodeling.

I’ll bet that you have long understood that the condition of your physical body is very much a function of how you exercise it—of how you use it in your everyday life. We now know that your brain needs exercise every bit as much as your body does. Just like your body, there is lots of different neurological machinery that is just begging for some level of regular exercise. Such exercise is a key aspect of the neurological resilience so crucial for sustaining high functionality nearer to the end of your natural physical life. And any true recovery from psychiatric illness or neurological weakness can only come from that neurological remodeling.

In studies conducted in part with the support of Easter Seals, scientists working with me at the Brain Plasticity Institute at Posit Science have been working hard to create training tools that can help any older individual improve their brain health, and increase their resilience to minimize the probability of serious later-life problems. Just as importantly, these same training tools will help you improve your attention, memory, understanding, thinking, and problem solving abilities on the path to your having a richer, more effective and happier adult life, whatever your age. Easter Seals has been a world leader in delivering these powerful new forms of help to people in need. If you think YOU should spend a little time at the “brain gym” (…and if you’re uncertain, you probably should!), then check out the special program that we’ve developed for members of the Easter Seals family.

Related Content on EasterSeals.com:

 

3 easy-to-adapt musical instruments that aid kids’ development

Today I’m pleased to introduce guest blogger Ryan Judd, a board certified music therapist specializing in helping children with special needs.

Adapting Musical Instruments for Kids from the The Rhythm Tree

by Ryan Judd, MA, MT-BC

We all know that kids love music, but many of us just don’t know how to engage children in musical activities and have them play along with instruments. This can be especially challenging for children who are still developing their motor skills. Today I’m going to share three instruments that are easy to adapt for little hands, and in a future blog post I’ll teach you some fun, easy-to-learn interactive songs you can play with them.

  • Tambourine. Tambourines come in all sorts of sizes and shapes. My favorite style of tambourine is about 4 inches across and doesn’t have a head (that’s the skin stretched over one side). I prefer using a tambourine without a head because that means it can be slipped over a child’s hand like a bracelet. You can also slip a thick rubber band over this tambourine—I prefer those wide, colorful rubber bands used with produce in the grocery store. With this simple adaptation, you can slip a child’s hand between the rubber band and the tambourine, allowing the child to play the instrument without having to continuously grasp it. Bonus: with the rubber band on you can even slip the tambourine on top of a child’s foot and sing a fun song about kicking or stomping.
  • Maracas. I like maracas that are about 4 inches long. If your child has a tough time hanging on to these instruments, take two pieces of electrical or duct tape and one of those thick rubber bands I mentioned above. Cut the rubber band in half, tape one end to the base of the handle and the other end to the base of the round part that contains the beads. You just made yourself an easy handle that you can slip a child’s hand through.
  • Rhythm sticks. The rhythm sticks I like are about 8 inches long. These kid-friendly sizes are perfect for little hands. If you think a rubber-band handle might help, too, use the same method I suggested for the maracas, except tape the rubber band to the top and bottom of each rhythm stick.

For more help, watch this video of me adapting musical instruments myself:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIjpqyQn0C8&feature=youtu.be

Also consider signing up for my free newsletter. I’ll be publishing another post here soon (in early April) with suggestions of how to use these adapted musical instruments with songs. There is so much you can do with some simple songs and simple instruments—stay tuned!

If you’re curious about your child’s development and if they’re hitting their milestones on schedule, take our free, simple Ages & Stages Questionnaire®.

 

The power of service

I am pleased to introduce Michelle Taylor Pratt as a guest blogger today.

Paying it forward—the power of service

by Michele Taylor Pratt, Esq.

My parents and grandparents have always used the old adage, “it is better to give than to receive.” I saw this adage in action as a child. Many of the people who crossed my path were dedicated to volunteering their time, talent and service to a young and impressionable group of kids.

My music teacher was one of these people. So was my choir instructor, my dance teacher, and my Sunday school teacher. Each of them influenced me in their own unique way. Many of these wonderful people are no longer here, but the gift they shared with me is invaluable. From the seeds they planted, the power of service has taken root in my adulthood.

I give of my service by volunteering with a Chicago local youth group, and when I wanted to expand my reach beyond “my own backyard” I was elected chairperson of the Easter Seals National Associate Board (NAB), and I am honored to be a part of an organization like Easter Seals that has helped people for nearly 100 years.

Easter Seals offers a variety of services to people with autism and other disabilities and lends support to our military service members and veterans, too. Over the past year, I have met some amazing, inspiring, brave and resilient recipients of these services and supports. They and their families have shared stories with me how Easter Seals has provided not only life-changing services, but Easter Seals gave them hope.

The staff at Easter Seals Headquarters and Easter Seals affiliates are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of so many people every day. I cannot repay all of the wonderful people who have entered my life, but I can “pay it forward” by volunteering my time to an organization that contributes so much to our diverse communities.

It does not take a lot of time to make an impact, so please consider donating your time to Easter Seals this year. Donating your time to someone at Easter Seals and seeing the fruits of your labor? Priceless!

Related Resources on Easterseals.com:

 

How come the character with the disability never tells the story?

I escaped from the snow and ice of Chicago late last month to attend the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Seattle. AWP is a huge conference – over 700 exhibitors, and sessions covering everything from “Lives Not Our Own: The Ethics and Practice of Assuming the Voices of Others” to “Four Ways Blogging Benefits a Writer.” The thing that really caught my attention were the tons of sessions about diverse writers and characters, sessions on things like “Weaving Stories from Strands of Truth: Native Writers on Nonfiction” and “Literary Politics: White Guys and Everyone Else.” All those sessions about race, gender and sexual orientation, but not a single one about writers who have disabilities, or concerning books with characters who have disabilities. Hmm.

Not much time to ponder how I feel about all that, though. I had to get ready for my trip to Long Island. That’s where I am now, spending three days visiting elementary schools with my Seeing Eye dog.That's my Seeing Eye dog and me and first-graders during a previous visit to Daniel Street School on Long Island. That’s my Seeing Eye dog and me and first-graders on a previous visit to Long Island. My children’s book Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound is about life with a Seeing Eye dog, and it got some attention after winning a Henry Bergh children’s book award from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). I don’t think that’s the reason faraway teachers ask me to come visit their classrooms with my Seeing Eye dog, though.

The truth is, I don’t have much competition. There just aren’t a whole lot of children’s books focusing on characters who have disabilities. Educators from Brigham Young University (BYU) published a study in the journal Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities that found the representation of characters with disabilities is not proportionate to the current U.S. population of students with disabilities. From a BYU press release:

Along with an inaccurate representation of students with disabilities, the study also found a concerning theme of elimination of the characters with disabilities through death, being sent away or a discovery of a miraculous cure. In most cases, the character with the disability did not tell the story, and was often used in supporting roles that facilitated the emotional growth of other characters.

That last bit had me rethinking one of my favorite books reviewed here on the Easter Seals blog. Cynthia Lord’s “Rules” is an award-winning fictional children’s book that looks at autism, but sure enough, it’s written from the perspective of the older sister, not the boy with autism. The character with the disability is the supporting character, used to boost the emotional growth of his sister.

Let’s hope this study serves as a wake-up call to children’s book authors and publishers. I suppose I shouldn’t be asking for competition, but I look forward to more children’s books that focus on characters with disabilities. My visits to classrooms across the country show me that young readers love learning directly from people with disabilities about who we are and what we can do.

 

Ben’s early intervention story: Behind the scenes

I’ll never forget my first video shoot with Easter Seals. I had just finished interning for nine months and was four months into my first full-time job. I was beyond excited to tag along to Milwaukee and meet Kyle Mayer, Easter Seals’ 2011 child representative. We saw him run around at recess with his classmates at school, play board games with his siblings during P.L.A.Y therapy at home and just be a typical, sweet 7-year-old. That’s a long way from how his mom described him  a couple years earlier—as a kid who wouldn’t interact with anyone. After spending the day with Kyle and his family, I first understood the “mission moments” my colleagues talked about.

Fast forward four years. My coworker, the video crew and I were back on the road in Milwaukee shooting B-roll and interviews for the April issue of Parents magazine. This time, I met Ben Jimenez (pictured), a spunky, smart 4-year-old who lives with autism. Behind the scenes, we followed Ben at school, met his equally spunky preschool friends, cheered him on during P.L.A.Y. therapy and listened to his parents, teachers and therapists tell us about early intervention and how it’s made all the difference for him.

Help with skills, like walking, jumping and communicating will benefit kids for the rest of their lives. And, the earlier the better, our interviewees said. That’s why Easter Seals created the Make the First Five Count® campaign to advocate for these early services that literally change families’ lives.

I am so excited to bring you the Jimenez family’s story so you, too, can share in a “mission moment.” Today, I’m just as amazed at the work Easter Seals does for families like Ben’s as when I started four years ago! I am continually grateful for opportunities to witness this work firsthand. I hope you check out the other therapist and parent interviews on Easterseals.com/earlyintervention and inspire others to Make the First Five Count®.

Related Resources:

Take the Ages & Stages Questionnaire® or share it with a friend

 

President Obama’s budget proposal: What it means for people with disabilities

In late January, we published a blog post about the President’s State of the Union address and the principles of opportunity, action and optimism that were the focus of that speech. On Tuesday, the President took the next step in laying out his vision for fulfilling those principles with the release of his budget.

Presidential budgets are not laws. Congress makes the real decisions about funding priorities, but they use what the President puts forth as a starting point.

Every year, we in Washington pore through the reams of recommendations that come out and identify those things that are of most importance to people with disabilities. Easter Seals partners with government and with the private sector to deliver exceptional services to more than 1.8 million individuals so that children and adults with disabilities and other special needs can live with equality, dignity and independence. This gives us unique insight into what initiatives will be most effective.

This budget calls for increased funding in areas we know are most important for people with disabilities. These include early childhood education, job training, veterans services, housing and transportation. We applaud this attention to people with disabilities. Are there things in the budget we would change? Of course there are, but we think this is an important first step.

You can add your voice to this debate. Tell Congress about YOUR priorities. You can use this nifty template to get started.