Governor DeWine, Ohio’s First Lady, and OSU President Johnson visit Assistive Technology of Ohio

We were honored to host Governor Mike DeWine, First Lady Fran DeWine and the president of The Ohio State University, Dr. Kristina Johnson, to our offices at Assistive Technology of Ohio! We were also blessed to be joined by Kevin Miller, Director of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities.

Assistive Technology of Ohio, based in the College of Engineering at The Ohio State University, runs a statewide disability technology lending libary, focusing on the types of technologies that help people with disabilities succeed in employment, compete in the workplace, and live more independent and interconnected lives.

We were able to spend some time with our honored guests on Wednesday, April 28, to show them the types of technologies available to be checked out and tried out by any Ohioan with a disability. The tour included a presentation by Brad Whitmoyer, a small business owner who is non-verbal, and who utilizes a power wheelchair. Brad demonstrated how he uses an Accent 1400 augmentatitve communication device made by Prentke Romich, a Wooster-based company that is a world leader in the area of AAC devices.

“Assistive Technology of Ohio is a hidden jewel at Ohio State,” DeWine said. “What they do can transform people’s lives.”

“Assistive Technology of Ohio is a hidden jewel at Ohio State,” DeWine said. “What they do can transform people’s lives.”

Other technologies which were shown to the governor included portable CCTV devices for people with visual impairments, the Clear Reader+ device, for blind users, which quickly transforms printed text to spoken words. The tour showcased assistive technologies made in Ohio, including HomeSense, made in Akron, which helps prevent kitchen fires by turning off unattended cooking food, as well as the Obi, made by Dayton-based Desin, Inc., which is a robot that puts people with disabilities back in charge of feeding themselves.

Governor Mike DeWine, First Lady Fran DeWine and OSU President Kristina Johnson watch Brad Whitmoyer communicate via a Accent 1400 device from Prentke Romich.

DeWine and Husted Proclaim April 14 “Assistive Technology Awareness Day”

Governor Mike DeWine and Lt. Governor Jon Husted joined states all over the country in proclaiming April 14, 2021 to be Assistive Technology Awareness Day! We thank the Governor for this recognition and for his commitment to assistive technology and remote supports for people with disabilities.

In 2018, Governor John Kasich declared Ohio to be a Technology First state. Since that time, Ohio has been a national leader in the utilization of remote supports in the care of Ohioans with developmental disabilities. As referenced in the Governor’s proclamation, Ohio has seen a 53% increase in authorizations for remote support since 2018, with 84 of the 88 counties participating.

OOD, Ohio’s state-federal vocational rehabilitation program, has also been a champion of the role that assistive technology can play in the lives of Ohioans with disabilities who are seeking employent. AT Ohio has also increased educational programming to Ohio’s aging population, an increasing group of consumers of assistive technology.

Videos messages were also issued by Kevin Miller, Director of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities and by Jeff Davis, Director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities.

We thank Director Miller and Director Davis for helping bring awareness to this important aspect of life for people with disabilities.

Happy Assistive Technology Awareness Day!

Disability Fakers in the Airline Industry

USA Today recently published an article looking at the growing and troubling trend of people who are (or are suspecting to be) faking a disability in order to get preferred status during travel, especially in regard to airlines. From wanting to board first, to making very questionable claims asserting an accompanying pet is a “service animal,” people are apparently gaming the system to make airline travel easier.

Among the most egregious violators are those passengers who board first, in wheelchairs, and then when the flight is over, walk off the plane and down to baggage claim without any need of assistance. Airline personnel derisively refer to these types of passengers as recipients of miracle healing, as if they had been given divine intervention at 25,000 feet. Other instances are of passengers claiming a pet as a service animal in order to (a) have them with them on the flight and (b) avoiding paying the extra fees for travelling with a pet.

Airline crew members have a name for that kind of fake disability on a plane. It’s called a “miracle” flight.

It’s a unique corner of life because being a person with a disability is generally NOT a status people are clamoring to be a part of. People with disabilities have a harder time moving through the world. People with disabilities, as a general rule, have very low employment rates and are more likely to live in a lower socioeconomic status. There are few areas of life where there are substantive privileges associated with being a person with a disability.

One of those areas, of course, is in the area of long-term disability, especially in the case of accident litigation. Insurance companies and employers have long suspected injured parties involved in legal cases to be faking, exaggerating, or malingering their symptoms. Certainly, there are some people who do not meet the definition of permanent disability who are applying for SSDI, SSI and workers’ compensation benefits. I suspect there is no end to unscrupulous people who will try to game the system, as evidenced by the thousands of people currently fraudulently filing for unemployment during the pandemic.

There are areas of life where it is perfectly acceptable to utilize services or areas that are are also accessible to people with disabilities. That is the entire point of the concept of Universal Design in architechture. I attended Miami (Ohio) University in the late 1980s, and it was, for the most part, a highly inaccessible place for people with wheelchairs at that time. King Library – a 3-story building – had an elevator with a big wheelchair placard on it. Just because the elevator is the sole way a wheelchair user could reach the 3rd floor is not a reason for an ambulatory person to skip the elevator. The elevator is for everyone, including people with disabilities.

If you do not have a disability and you enter a public restroom that is empty, you should generally not use the accessible stalls, leaving them open in case a person with a disability’s arrival is imminent. If it is the only unoccupied stall, however, it is perfectly acceptable to use it. There is no constitutional right for a person with a disability to not have to wait for an elevator or an accessible bathroom stall, only that those options are available in the environment.

But to fake a disability to get a preferable seat on a flight, to avoid a pet fee, and to secure a prime parking spot is contemptible. These are rights of people with actual disabilities which were long fought for and their arrival signaled a tremendous step forward in our society. They are things that represent small steps toward equality. They don’t make life easy for people with disabilities, but they do make life a little less difficult. To fake a disability to do the same thing for yourself is very sad indeed.

Mike Glenn: A Special Player, Person and Pioneer in Deaf Basketball in America

When I was growing up in Carbondale, some of my fondest memories were going to college basketball games. The Salukis of Southern Illinois University have quite a tradition, and there were many memorable nights spent at the SIU Arena. One such evening was January 19, 1978, when SIU hosted undefeated and 4th ranked Indiana State, featuring furture NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird. The Salukis took down the Sycamores, that evening, 79-76, one of the greatest upsets in the history of SIU basketball. The following year, the Bird and Indiana State came to town, again undefeated, ranked #1, and this time escaped with a 69-68 win, on their way to their historic season where they finished runner-up in the NCAA Tournament.

But my all-time favorite SIU team was the team from 1976-77. The team featured brothers Corky and Wayne “Rubberband Man” Abrams, Richard Ford, and Gary Wilson. The unquestioned star of the team, however, was a smooth shooting guard by the name of Mike Glenn, known as “The Stinger.” Glenn averaged 21 points per game and the Salukis went 22-7 in a season which featured a win over nationally ranked Mizzou, MVC regular-season and tournament titles, and a berth in the NCAA tournament. There were only 32 teams in the tournament back then, so the first-round victory over Arizona put the Salukis in the Sweet 16 for the very first time. They would go on to lose their next game to #9 Wake Forest out of the ACC, putting an end to one of the great Saluki seasons of all time.

Mike Glenn, Guard, Atlanta Hawks

Mike Glenn went to Coosa High School in Rome, Georgia. If you wonder how a kid from northwest Georgia winds up in Carbondale, it was because in the early 1970s, many colleges in the south would not recruit black athletes. SIU had an assistant coach, Herm Williamson, who had developed contacts in Georgia high schools, and many talented black players had made their way to SIU in those days. Prior to Glenn, Walt Frazier had come up from Atlanta and future NBA player Joe Meriweather had arrived a few years later from Columbus, GA. Once desegration finally took hold and SEC schools started recruting black players, the pipeline dried up and a golden era of Saluki basketball came to an end.

Mike Glenn’s father was a high school basketball coach – but not of just any high school. Charles Glenn was the head basketball coach at the Geogia School for the Deaf in nearby Cave Spring. Young Mike spent his childhood going to practices, learning the game, and learning to be around deaf athletes and deaf culture. After his stellar career at SIU, Mike Glenn was selected in the second round of the NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls and played 10 seasons in the NBA with the Buffalo Braves, the New York Knicks, the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks.

My guess is he was probably the only NBA player fluent in sign language, and Mike Glenn never forgot about the kids back in Cave Spring. Starting in 1979, he established the Mike Glenn Basketball Camp for the Deaf, the first such basketball camp in the country and it still exists to this day. Currently held in Decatur, Georgia, the camp is free to all deaf basketball players and has featured current and former NBA players as well as well as appearences by the Harlem Globetrotters. It helped give momentum to other deaf basketball camps all across the country.

After his playing career, Mike Glenn would go on to be a basketball announcer and color analyst for TNT, ESPN, and the Atlanta Hawks television network. In 2016, he was inducted in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. SIU has always been proud of Mike Glenn, class of 1977, and not just because of his career in the NBA. They are more proud of the person he is, how he always gives back to the deaf community, and how he is a wonderful representive for the university.

Tip of the cap to “The Stinger,” Mike Glenn.

Friday Spotlight: Ronnie Milsap

There is a town just north of Carbondale called DuQuoin, home to something called the DuQuoin State Fair. My whole life growing up I assumed the DuQuoin State Fair had some connection to the Illinois State Fair – perhaps it was the state fair for folks who felt it was too much to drive the four hours to Springfield. It turns out that is exactly what it is, but it has nothing to do with the Illinois State Fair at all. It is a private business that made a habit of being open the week after the Illinois State Fair, and grabbing some of the rides and atrractions in the process, who only had to move a few hours down the road to keep working. It’s a brilliant plan that I only figured out in the past few years.

The salad days for the DuQuoin State Fair were from 1957 to 1980, when it was host to a very prestigious horse race known as The Hambletonian, which is the first leg of the harness racing triple crown. The race has been around since 1926 and for most of its career it was run either in the state of New York or in Lexington, Kentucky. It’s currently run in the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, NJ. But for 23 years, up until I was 14 years old, it was held in good old DuQuoin, Illinois, population 5,761. For a few years in the late 70s, the race was broadcast live on ESPN making it, officially, the biggest sporting event in the history of southern Illinois. Of course, I didn’t realize at the time that in the late 70s, ESPN was also showing tractor pulls and dog jumping competitions — anything, really. But it was still national TV – in DuQuoin!

My criteria for attendance for concerts at the DSF boiled down to one thing: if I had ever heard of them, which was not a given. If I could name a couple of their songs, that was a more-than-sufficient resume for southern Illinois concert goers. One year I scraped together a few dollars to go see Ronnie Milsap, who had been successful enough on the country charts to have some of his records make the top 20 on the pop charts as well. He had easily cleared the bar for my patronage.

I walked into the concert that night not knowing much about him, other than he was blind and had a couple of pop hits. When it was over, it was one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever seen. I sat there mesmerized by his musical talents, by all the different styles of music he could play. By his voice. I heard country music, soul music, 50s doo-wap, big band songs — he could do it all. He even got up once and danced withone of his back up singers – lifts and tosses! I left that night a forever fan of the amazing musical talent of Ronnie Milsap, and it continues to this day.

His story is remarkable, too remarkable to recount fully. Abandoned by his mother, he was raised by his grandparents in the Smoky Mountains. He was a pupil at the North Carolina State School for the Blind in Raleigh since the age of 5, which had an incredible music program. He turned down an opportunity to be the first blind law student ever at Emory University, choosing instead a life on the road, trying to be a rock and roll singer. After ten years of trying, he found himself one night playing a gig and was told that the great Charley Pride was in the house that night. He broke from his normal set and played a couple of Charley’s hits as a tribute. After the show, Charley Pride came backstage and told Ronnie that he had a future in country music. Charley took him around Nashville to meet some folks, and the rest is history. Forty #1 hits later, Ronnie Milsap is one of the legendary country artists of all time. I’m so glad someone in his management team made him play the DuQuoin State Fair.

In his career, Ronnie Milsap was a tireless advocate of blind students learning Braille, rather than just relying on books on tape. He is huge user and advocate of assistive technology for the blind – it has always helped him stay in contact with his fans. He has been an inspiration to blind and visually impaired people all over the world.

This is one of his biggest hits, and one of my favorite songs by him. It was written by Burt Bacharach and was originally a hit for R&B singer Chuck Jackson. Ronnie took it, made it his own, and had a #1 hit with it. What other country artist could take a Burt Bacharach song to the top of the charts? Legend. Today’s Friday spotlight is the wonderful Ronnie Milsap.

Hollywood Committing to Include More Actors with Disabilities

Gradually, over time, we have seen more and more people with disabilities in acting roles on television and in the movies. This week, NBC Universal vowed to continue that trend by committing to audition actors with disabilities for every project, a commitment to “creating content that authentically reflects the world we live in.” NBC is the second such studio to make such a commitment, after CBS made a similar commitment in 2019. I think it is incredibly important for people with disabilities to be portrayed on screen. Just folks working, as actors.

I’ve always been a believer our attitudes toward and comfort with people with disabilities in public life is improved if they are “just there.” Not flattering or overly sentimental portrayals, just presence. My kids grew up on our street with a girl (adult woman now) who has significant developmental disabilities. Maddie is just there — she’s part of life on Bowerman Street; she’s part of life in general. There were two dozen school-age kids on our street and all of them grew up with her and learned – as is so often the case in life – that having people with disabilities around as part of your life is no big deal. They went out into world as better people for it.

This is the best step Hollywood could take, by hiring more actors with disabilities. It needs to be more than just having characters with disabilities, however. The Ruderman Family Foundation recently published a report stating that only 22% of roles portraying people with disabilities were filled by actors who were authentically disabled. My youngest daughter enjoys streaming the show Glee, which is about a high school singing club. One of the characters is a person in a wheelchair who, to my surprise, during a dream sequence one episode, arose and started dancing to Michael Jackson’s Bad. This is how I came to know that the actor was playing someone in a wheelchair, rather than an actor in a wheelchair playing a talented high school student. This was a bit disappointing. Better than nothing, but a bit disappointing all the same.

Of course, unless you are playing yourself, you are always trying to portray someone you are not. It’s called acting. And the skill set required to be on Glee is world class, so it may not be that simple to find actors in wheelchairs who fit the bill (and there is also a character on Glee with Down’s Syndrome who is being played by someone with Down’s, to their credit). I think Hollywood would do well just to consider all characters in movies and think, “Is there a reason this couldn’t be played by someone with a disability?” An actor who uses a wheelchair can’t play Jason Bourne, but there were many meaningful characters in the Bourne movies that weren’t scaling buildings, fighting bad guys, and jumping through windows.

Sometimes, when they want the person with a disability to be that guy, it gets complicated. A few years ago, Ben Affleck made a movie called “The Accountant,” about an adult with autism who is an accounting savant with the combat skills of a Green Beret. He is an off-the-books accountant for various organized crime and underworld figures, who keeps finding himself in positions of having to go on killing rampages in order for justice to prevail. It is truly a bizarre movie, finding about the oddest way imaginable to turn an accountant – and a person with high-functioning autism – into an action hero. It’s not terrible as far as action movies go, but it is troubling to watch a character with autism violently kill. It is what heroes do in these movies, but it is still unsettling. I don’t know that we’re better for it.

In the movie, he receives his synthesized, intelligence audio directives from a female character known as “The Voice,” who (spoiler alert) turns out to also be someone with a more severe form autism (and, true to form, played by someone who does not have autism). Ultimately, I think perhaps the cause of showing the talents of people with autism might have been better served if she – the brains of the outfit – had been the only person with autism in the movie, rather than having the Ben Affleck character running around killing dozens of folks.

Still, Hollywood has made progress. Several years ago, I started a library of historical Hollywood movies focused on disabilities. The history of Hollywood and disabilities is, to understate, hit and miss. There are wonderful movies like The Miracle Worker, about the relationship between Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. If You Could See What I Hear was a wonderful slice-of-life movie about musician Tom Sullivan. And Fear Strikes Out is a compelling look at the world of mental illness through the eyes of major league baseball player Jimmy Piersall.

Others were not so good. Some were awful. None was stranger – or worse – than the movie called Freaks, made in 1932, and starring former vaudeville performer Wallace Ford. The first sentence of the plot synopsis on Wikipedia sets the unfortunate tone for this unfortunate movie: “A conniving trapeze artist named Cleopatra seduces a carnival sideshow midget named Hans after learning of his large inheritance…” One guesses that if you just stopped right there, you’d be doing yourself a favor. And you’d be right.

The main premise of the movie is that a “normal” person couldn’t or wouldn’t fall in love with a person with dwarfism, and wouldn’t look to associate herself with the other carnival characters in the movie – the bearded lady, Siamese twins, various actors missing arms and legs, someone who is half man and half woman, and two female characters with significant developmental disabilities known as “Pinhead Pip” and “Pinhead Zip.” In my opinion it is a truly awful film, and a depressing and dreadful depiction of people with disabilities that is painful to watch, even though the characters with disabilities are, by comparison, clearly the good guys.

There is one brief, but truly memorable, scene in the movie, however. Although it has no impact on the plot – whatsoever – there is a 38-second scene (available on YouTube) where Prince Randian, an actor with no arms or legs, while listening to another character’s soliloquy, is shown going through the complex, multi-step process of lighting his own cigarette. It’s impressive. It’s the most – and perhaps only – impressive thing in this ridiculous film.

Needless to say, Hollywood has come a long way. There are far more realistic and authentic portrayals these days of people with disabilities. There are far more roles being created for and filled by people with disabilities. This is good. I applaud NBC Universal and CBS for these important steps. People with disabilities are part of life. If art imitates life, they should be part of our art, as well. Finding ways to work people with disabilities into realistic roles will make for better movies. And it will be better for all of us.

Ohio Lays Out Plan to Get Covid Vaccine to People with Disabilities

First a note of full disclosure: I have a significant bias toward Mike DeWine, for which I do not apologize. This comes in large measure by the fact that I’ve been happily married to his daughter for 28 years and am the father to six of his grandchildren. This bias didn’t matter too much when he was Lieutenant Governor from 1991-1995, or at all when he was out of politics from 2007-2011. But it matters a lot now that he’s governor, so that should always be taken into consideration on these pages.

On Tuesday, Governor DeWine laid out a plan to soon open the state’s vaccine supply to Ohio’s developmental disability population. I want to thank the governor for including people with disabiltiies in the vaccine rollout. It is critical that people with disabilities be included, as they are often more vulnerable to health problems due to the complex nature of their medical conditions. It should be stated that many Ohioans with disabilities are already being vaccinated, as people who live in congregate settings often meet the definition of a person with a disability. It is commendable that the state Department of Health has taken this next step to include those with developmental and intellectual disabilities as well.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, starting next week, those who qualify for the vaccine must have a developmental or intellectual disability and one of the following disabilities:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Spina bifida
  • Severe congenital heart disease
  • Severe type 1 diabetes requiring hospitalization within the past year
  • Inherited metabolic disorders, including phenylketonuria
  • Severe neurological disorders, including epilepsy, hydrocephaly and microcephaly
  • Severe genetic disorders, including Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Turner syndrome and muscular dystrophy
  • Severe lung disease, including asthma requiring hospitalization within the past year and cystic fibrosis
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Alpha and beta thalassemia
  • Solid organ transplants

If you or a loved one meet this criteria, you should check with your local health department to learn of locations available to you to begin the vaccine process. More information is also available on the state’s coronavirus website, coronavirus.ohio.gov.

Based on reporting one week ago in the Washington Post, Ohio appears to be ahead of the curve when it comes to getting the vaccine to citizens with disabilities. Many states appear to be moving people with disabilities down the list of priorities. In the article in the Post, one gentleman who uses a wheelchair was not eligible because he does not live in a group home. Other states have different rules on whether caregivers (often family members) also qualify. It’s messy. Things can get complicated when you leave matters of disability determination to the states.

But rolling out the vaccine to “people with disabilities” is not as simple as it may seem on the surface. Disability is a complex construct in the human condition. The mere presence of a condition doesn’t necessarily indicate disabilty. For example, one may have a mild case of cerebral palsy and not be significantly impaired by it. Epilepsy may or may not be a disability, depending upon the severity of the condition and the impact it has on your daily life. In fact, the definition of disability in the Americans with Disabilities Act specifically stresses the impact a condition has on your activities of daily living, as opposed to just its mere presence. When attempting to prove total disability under SSI or SSDI, the list of conditions that automatically qualify you for it is very short indeed. In almost every case it comes back to the impact of the condition, not the presence of it.

Other conditions such as congenital blindness or deafness may have no impact on how susceptible these populations would be should they contract Covid19. There are many people with disabilities who would be categorized (if there were such a category) as “otherwise healthy.” If a person has a disability which does not put them at advanced risk to Covid, there is no reason they should be placed ahead of another person in a higher risk category.

I’m sure the state will do as much as possible to get as many at risk people with disabilities immunized. Many different organizations, including Disability Rights Ohio, have been meeting all along and providing input to the state. It’s important work and, as stated, not as simple as it may seem at the outset.

Again, thanks go out to Governor DeWine, to Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, the Ohio Department of Health, and to everyone working to make sure that people with developmental disabilities are valued, cared for, and included in this difficult time.

New Samsung TV models to be more accessible for people with hearing or visual disabilities

Great news for people with disabilities who may wish to start the new year out with a new large-screen television. According to cnet.com, Samsung announced that their new QLED and neo-QLED television models will have advanced features for those with hearing or visual disabilities.

The new features include “Closed Caption and Text,” allowing the user to move the closed captioning text, if necessary, to another part of the screen so as to not block important visual contact. I can attest to this problem, as I have spent many hours making sure the closed captioning of our YouTube videos did not obscure anything a person with a hearing impairment needed to see.

“We don’t want to exclude anyone,” Byungho Kim, of Samsung’s social contribution center in Suwon, said in a video during Samsung’s Wednesday event. “Our technology is for everyone.”

Secondly, the Samsung products have “Sign Language Zoom,” which makes it easier to enlarge the screen housing the sign language interpreter. For those fluent in sign langugage, intrepreting the gestures may not be difficult, but interpreting the words that are quickly being spelled out can be very challenging if the box-within-a-box is not sufficiently large. This features allows the user to increase the size of the box, making it easier to understand the interpreter.

New Samsung models also give the user the opportunity to change or invert the color scheme on the menu, making it easier for people with visual impairments to know their options. This will allow for greater navigation for users.

Lastly, Samsung is also working on ways to allow sign language users to turn on their televisions just by making sign language gestures. Many profoundly deaf individuals are also effectively non-verbal, so the ability to turn your “smart” TV on with your voice is not an option. Using the high definition camera and AI, the TV can no understand basic sign language commands.

Congratulations to Samsung, and thank you for starting the year off right with the new CLED and Neo QLED models.

Remembering a Man I Never Met: Mark Hemphill

You never know what days are going to be pivotal turning points in your life – the days that will plot your course. One of mine occurred on October 6, 1979, when I went to a college football game with my father. I was 12. On that Homecoming Saturday, Southern Illinois beat Illinois State 7-0, a detail I had forgotten until I looked it up. But it was a day I will never forget.

During the game, a player from Illinois State fumbled, and about eight guys dove on the turf for the ball. Seven of them got up. One player, wearing the maroon #30 SIU jersey, stayed down. Face down. My father, normally a talkative physician, joined the rest of McAndrew Stadium in a haunting silence. The announcer said the injured Saluki was Mark Hemphill, a player I’d never heard of before. I didn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t understand why they didn’t just help him to the sideline so they could check out his arm, or his leg, or whatever. But they just hovered around him. After ten or fifteen minutes an ambulance showed up and drove right on to the field, which I was certain was against the rules. Then they took him away on a stretcher and the game resumed. But I just sat there in a fog – wondering what had just occurred.

A week later they ran a feature in the newspaper saying that he had broken his neck and was a partial quadriplegic. He had no feeling from his chest down but could manage gross motor movements of his arms. Barring a miracle – which his family believed would come – he would never walk again. In a split second, Mark Hemphill had gone from star athlete to a person with a disability, right before my eyes. He left a dorm room in Carbondale for a rehabilitation hospital in St. Louis, his hometown.

Former SIU Saluki football player Mark Hemphill
Former SIU Saluki Football Player Mark Hemphill

I followed his case very closely. His care was paid for by catastrophic insurance carried by SIU for just this purpose, and his policy would end (if memory serves) after $1 million or two years, whichever came first. Mark Hemphill blew through $1 million in about 15 months. He was then left to apply for Medicaid, transferring the cost of his care to the taxpayers of Missouri. It also meant that his 24-hour care attendant would only be available to him 8 hours per day. He filed a lot of lawsuits that were unsuccessful, leaving him with a very uncertain future.

On September 13, 1980, SIU held “Mark Hemphill Day” at McAndrew Stadium. They retired his #30 jersey and all the proceeds from that game would go to Mark to help him pay his bills. And even though it was well over 90° that day, 17,150 fans showed up – the largest crowd in SIU football history. He sat in his wheelchair on the track, under the shade of a tree, due to the heat. Fans were free to go talk to him – but I couldn’t work up the nerve. I really wish I had.

Eventually Mark Hemphill settled into his new life as a person with a disability. He moved into his own apartment and took the nearly $35,000 raised from “Mark Hemphill Day” and purchased an accessible van, one where you controlled the ramp and all the electronics with a set of keys. He went back to school, studying computers at a community college. He was an inspirational figure in the disability community in St. Louis. And he was certainly a hero to one young Saluki fan back in Carbondale.

Friday, November 26, 1982 was a very cold day in St. Louis and Mark Hemphill was studying late at the library. It was the day after Thanksgiving and there weren’t many students around. He went home to his apartment, driving his van into a nearly empty parking lot. They’re not sure exactly what happened next, but the best they can figure out was that after the ramp was partially lowered, he dropped his keys.

And for Mark Hemphill, that’s all it took.

The official cause of death was listed as “exposure,” which was just a way to avoid saying he froze to death. In 1982, there were no cell phones. No one was around on the holiday weekend to hear him and his personal attendant wouldn’t be coming until the next morning. Mark Hemphill died because there was no one with him. His passing made the front page of the St. Louis Post -Dispatch and he was mourned throughout the disability community as a champion.

I’ll never forget the way I felt when I read the news. I was devastated and I just didn’t understand how these things could happen. I was only 15 when he died, but I still think about him a lot. I think about him every time a football player doesn’t get up at the end of a play. And to this day, I still get a sick feeling inside every time I drop my keys.

After I graduated from Miami, I went back to SIU and studied rehabilitation counseling, a discipline that helps people with disabilities become employable and employed. I wrote my master’s thesis about Mark Hemphill’s case and dedicated my doctoral dissertation to #30 of the SIU Salukis. Now I work helping people with disabilities get the technology they need to go to school, to get a job, or to just live independently. To be free.

I never met Mark Hemphill, because I wouldn’t go talk to him under that tree. I hope someday I’ll get to tell him how much he meant to me.

Ohio is the birthplace of vocational rehabilitation for Americans with Disabilities

After graduating from Miami University, I went back to my hometown of Carbonale to begin a master’s degree program in rehabilitation counseling at Southern Illinois University. Like rehab counseling students across the country – every year – I began by learning about the foundational laws that brought the field of vocational rehabilitation into being. There are several of these laws but chief among them was the Smith-Fess Act of 1920, the law that established the Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation program. This program was set up to help injured soldiers returning from World War I to learn new skills so they could continue to have productive lives after their military service was done.

Eventually, the Smith-Fess Act of 1920 was replaced by the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which established the nationwide state-federal vocational rehabilitation program that we have today. Through this program, millions of Americans with disabilities have been able to receive training leading toward employment careers. Many professionals in the field today – including those from Ohio – may not realize the vital role Ohio played in establishing this incredibly important system.

Simeon Fess, one of the bill’s champions, was from Ohio. He was a graduate of Ohio Northern University and in 1907 became the president of Antioch College in Yellow Springs. In 1912, Mr. Fess ran for Congress, sucessfully, thus beginning a remarkable legislative career in Washington. He would serve 5 terms in the House of Representatives and then 12 years in the United States Senate. Along the way, he pushed through a bill – the Smith – Fess Act of 1920 – that would change the employment landscape for Americans with disabilities for generations to come. 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of passage of the Smith-Fess Act.

Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities – Ohio’s state-federal VR program – put out a video hosted by our governor, honoring the life and accomplishments of Simeon Fess. It turns out Governor DeWine and Senator Fess have a lot in common: They are both from Yellow Springs, they both graduated from the Ohio Northern College of Law, and they both went on to serve in Congress and the Senate. In 1998, then-Senator DeWine was given the responsibility of reauthorizing the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, the law that began with Simeon Fess’ vision for a better life for Americans with Disabilities. Senator Fess passed away in 1936 and was laid to rest in Glen Forest Cemetary in Yellow Springs – directly across the street from Mike DeWine’s childhood home.

Please enjoy this short video and be proud of the role Ohio has played in making lives better for Americans with disabilities, through the generations.