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NIH Record

NIH Promotes disABILITY Awareness

By Sharon Ricks

Photos by Ernie Branson

Perhaps they were captivated by the chorus of flying fingers or inspired by the keynote address of pediatric neurologist Jan Brunstrom. Whichever the case, employees attending NIH's annual Disability Awareness Day program recently left Natcher Auditorium knowing one thing: "DisAbility Counts."

The program spotlighted key disability issues in the NIH community such as career success strategies, accessibility requirements, employment data, and techniques on hiring and promoting people with disabilities. According to Carlton Coleman, NIH Disability Program manager, approximately 179 permanent NIH employees have severe disabilities.

Dr. Jan Brunstrom

"This year, we wanted to focus on breaking down barriers to opportunities for people with physical challenges," said Kay Johnson, an EEO officer at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders and chair of the planning committee. "Our goal was to expand awareness of physical disability issues in the NIH community and to empower employees and job applicants with physical disabilities to become active and visible participants."

Brunstrom, the keynote speaker, is director of the pediatric neurology cerebral palsy center at St. Louis Children's Hospital. She is assistant professor of neurology and cell biology at Washington University School of Medicine and a neuroscientist funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. She is also a mother, a clinician, a scientist, a motivator and an advocate. Oh, and by the way, she has cerebral palsy.

Brunstrom shared highlights of her research project, "The Molecular Mechanics of Neocortical Development." Her studies involve migration in the developing cortex and the effects of neurotrophins on producing heterotopias and malformations in the brain. This research will be helpful in understanding how brain disorders underlying epilepsy and cerebral palsy (CP) develop.

NINDS director Dr. Gerald Fischbach speaks at event.

Brunstrom gave some insight into the needs of youths living with CP. "We must give them a voice so that they can tell us their goals. We must cultivate their strength so that they have the energy to reach those goals, and we must teach them to develop their own strategies to succeed," she said.

She is working toward a black belt in Kajukenbo and believes physical fitness is essential for independence in people with CP. "Because our muscles are stiff, individuals with CP use at least twice as much energy, compared with able-bodied counterparts, just to move around," she explained. "If you, who are able-bodied, choose to be couch potatoes, you may become out of shape, but you can still get up off the couch and move to get things. But I cannot afford to be a couch potato, and neither can my patients or anyone else with CP." Brunstrom says chronic pain, fractures, scoliosis, and hip dislocation are all side effects of immobility and nonweight bearing in patients with CP, and that's why her center offers swimming, basketball and martial arts to patients.

The Fabulous Flying Fingers from Lucy Barnsley Elementary School perform for the audience.

Following Brunstrom's address, the stage cradled a chorus of more than 70 hearing and deaf children from Lucy Barnsley Elementary School in Rockville. The chorus, called the Fabulous Flying Fingers, sang in both English and American Sign Language.

The program was sponsored by 10 institutes and OEO.

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