Friday, December 30, 2016

3 Tips for a Depressed Mood

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

Clinical depression affects people in different ways and can cause a wide variety of symptoms. These can range from lasting feelings of sadness, hopelessness, tearfulness, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, physical symptoms such as fatigue, aches and pains, sleeping badly or too much, having no appetite or sex drive, and symptoms of anxiety.1 Symptoms of anxiety can in turn include feeling worried or restless, dizziness, heart palpitations,2 and also, from this author's personal experience, panic attacks, feeling constantly overwhelmed and disoriented, gastric problems such as acidity and nausea, the inability to think or concentrate, inability to keep the body warm, shaking hands, locked jaw muscles, difficulty speaking, and severe unease and anxiety around people. The severity of depressive symptoms also varies with individuals, and can range from feeling persistently low in spirit or mood, to feeling that life is no longer worth living, with accompanying suicidal thoughts. Depression is a real illness with real symptoms which must be treated. The good thing is that with the right treatment and support, most people can make a full recovery.3

Even if you are taking medication for depression, there are additional everyday things you can do to help alleviate low or depressed mood. While depression can make it very difficult to embrace change, or take part in new actions or thoughts, do your best to try out these 3 tips. They can help!

1) Get Enough Vitamin D

Research now links Vitamin D deficiency to depression, amongst other conditions.4,5 A 2013 Boston University study has found that people with the lowest levels of Vitamin D were 11 times more prone to be depressed than those with normal levels.6,7 Low serum levels of vitamin D have also been found to predict clinically-significant depressive symptoms in otherwise healthy individuals.8,9 Therefore, make sure you get enough Vitamin D by way of direct sunshine on your skin (not through glass) or Vitamin D supplements, and remember that Vitamin D levels in your body can take months to return to normal once depleted.10 People with dark skin may need up to 25 times more exposure time than those with light skins to produce the same amount of Vitamin D, so adjust accordingly.11

2) Walk Lighter & Brighter

A 2014 Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) study found that while the way we feel can affect the way we walk, the way we walk can also influence the way we feel. Past research by Queen's University researcher and CIFAR Senior Fellow Nikolaus Troje had already shown that people with depression move very differently to people without depression. The CIFAR study, however, found that making people walk as if they had depression had the effect of lowering their mood. Subjects asked to adopt 'depressed' walking postures (shoulders slouched, body hunched over, minimal arm movements) experienced worse moods than subjects who were asked to walk more brightly, and they remembered many more negative terms from a list of 'positive' and 'negative' words such as 'pretty', 'anxious', and 'afraid'. According to Troje, mood affects memory, and clinically depressed people recall negative memories more often than positive ones, especially if the memories involved themselves directly. The negatively-tinged memories then lower their mood even more. Troje says, "If you can break that self-perpetuating cycle, you might have a strong therapeutic tool [with which] to work with depressive patients."12

3) Exercise!

A 2014 University College London study found that people who exercised more faced a lower risk of depression. Published in JAMA Psychiatry, the 30-year study of over 11,000 people found a two-way relationship between depression and physical activity -- people who were active were less likely to be depressed, while people who were depressed were less likely to be active. The study found that each additional activity session per week reduced the odds of depression by 6%. UCL Institute of Child Health researcher and lead author of the study Dr Snehal Pinto Pereira says, "Assuming the association is causal, leisure time physical activity has a protective effect against depression. If an adult between their twenties and forties who isn't physically active became active 3 times per week, they would reduce their risk of depression by approximately 16%. ..[T]his effect was seen across the whole population and not just in those at high risk of clinical depression. The more physically active people were, the fewer depressive symptoms they reported."13


1 Clinical Depression, National Health System UK

2 Generalised anxiety disorder in adults, National Health System UK

3 Clinical Depression, National Health System UK

4 Davenport, Liam, Vitamin D levels predict depression, Medscape

5 Hossein-nezhad, A, et al, Influence of Vitamin D status and Vitamin D3 supplementation on genome wide expression of white blood cells: a randomized double-blind clinical trial, US National Centre for Biotechnology Information

6 ibid.

7 10 Vitamin D deficiency symptoms you can identify yourself, University Health News Daily (Depression)

8 Davenport, Liam, Vitamin D levels predict depression, Medscape

9 Kerr, David C.R., et al, Associations between Vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in healthy young adult women, Journal of Psychiatry Research

10 Archer, Dale, Vitamin D deficiency and depression, Psychology Today

11 ibid.

12 Change your walking style, change your mood, Science Daily

13 Leisure time physical activity linked to lower depression risk, University College London News

Image Credits:
Depression: Counselling, Pixabay
Vitamin D: Daria-Yakovleva, Morguefile
Walking: Pexels, Pixabay
Exercise: stevepb, Pixabay

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Humpday Hint: Creating, Even Cooking, Beats “the Blues”

Contributing Author: Alice Krueger

Many of us realize that we feel less stressed or calmer after we have cooked or crafted something. But does creativity really help?

Research1 suggests that doing small creative projects can help people feel more relaxed and happier. The researchers studied 658 people who kept detailed diaries for two weeks. Those who did at least one small creative project each day felt both happier and that they had more personal growth (the psychological term is “flourishing”).

One theory related to this research is that the “feel good” might last into the next day, encouraging the individual to do another creative activity. This means the improved feelings might increase over time.

Another theory is that the concentration required for a creative task like cooking (following a recipe, measuring ingredients, keeping track of cooking time, tasting for the right balance of ingredients, etc.) can be beneficial. Focusing on the task may have benefits similar to meditation2.

So while macramé, embroidery, china painting and baking may not be cures for depression, they probably will lift the spirits of anyone who engages in them.


1 Conner, T. S., DeYoung, C. G. & Silvia, P. J. (2016). Everyday creative activity as a path to flourishing., Journal of Positive Psychology.

2 Qureshi, H. (2013). Can baking improve mental health?, The Guardian.

Image Credits: Morguefile and Pixabay

Monday, December 26, 2016

Appeasing Mid-morning Hunger with Almonds

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

It might seem counter-intuitive, but eating a small snack of almonds mid-morning not only helps you feel less hungry at lunch and at dinner, but you will also eat fewer calories overall. Amazing?

Dr. Roberta Re, a nutritionist, found that when people ate a portion and a half (1.5 ounces, or about 35 whole almonds) of almonds between breakfast and lunch, they felt fuller and more satisfied for longer1.

There’s more good news about eating almonds as a snack. If you chew each nut 40 times, you will feel fuller longer, according to researchers at Purdue University2. When you chew, you break down the cell walls in the nut, releasing more healthy nutrients like vitamin E. Of course if you feel silly chewing so much, you can always use almond nut butter or make an almond-based smoothie and use tech instead of teeth to release the nut’s nutrients.


1 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). (2013). The right snack may aid satiety, weight loss. ScienceDaily.

2 Almond Board of California. (2009). New almond study finds chewing is more than meets the mouth: Thorough chewing may influence feelings of fullness.

Image credit: Pixabay.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Holiday Heart Syndrome

Contributing author: Alice Krueger

In her made-for-TV movie, LeAnn Rimes advises everyone to “Put a little holiday in your heart..” That’s great, unless you end up in the Emergency Room with atrial fibrillation or a heart attack. Then you might be diagnosed with Holiday Heart Syndrome1.

Atrial fibrillation feels like heart palpitations, caused by an extremely rapid abnormal heart rhythm in the atria or upper chambers of the heart. It is often accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath and feeling light-headed, and may lead to stroke or heart failure.

A heart attack occurs when blood vessels in the heart muscle become blocked. The blockage is often a plaque of fatty substances (cholesterol) inside the hollow of the blood vessels. The affected area of muscle is damaged or dies from lack of oxygen, and the pumping action of the heart is impaired or stops altogether.

Heart injuries and heart attacks are most common during the holiday season. December 25 is the date with the highest rate of fatal heart attacks, followed by December 26 and January 12. The increase in deadly cardiac events on these dates might be due to several factors, including delaying treatment for cardiac symptoms “because it’s the holidays,” being sad or depressed, or abnormal amounts of exercise in cold weather (such as shoveling heavy snow).

Research has shown that one of the main causes of Holiday Heart Syndrome is heavy alcohol consumption3. While low alcohol consumption may have a positive effect on your heart’s health4, heavy drinking has devastating effects on the level of fatty acids in the blood and the functioning of the heart’s electrical pacing system5.

Heavy alcohol consumption is defined as more than 14 drinks in a week or more than 4 drinks in one day for men. For women, it’s defined as more than 7 drinks in a week or more than 3 drinks in one day6. One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounce of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits7 (reference 7 has a nice illustration of amounts). This means both steady higher levels of consumption and binge drinking are problematic, behaviors which may be more prevalent during the holiday season.

Other holiday lifestyle factors can result in cardiac problems. Overeating, probably even more common than usual during the holidays, causes the stomach and intestines to stretch out. This activates nerves that usually slow down the heart. However, in people who have atrial fibrillation, stimulation of these nerves may set off the irregular rapid heartbeat.

We also tend to take in excessive amounts of salt in our food. This causes our bodies to retain fluid, which raises blood pressure. If people already have high blood pressure or heart valve or heart failure issues, the increase in blood pressure may stretch out the atria of the heart and initiate atrial fibrillation.

The best way to prevent Holiday Heart Syndrome is to avoid heart injury factors that are within your control. Don’t drink alcohol, eat or consume salt in excess. Avoid stress and excessive physical exertion. And remember that reaching out to someone who is alone during the holidays not only will improve their heart health, it will benefit you as well.

Please have a happy and healthy holiday, everyone.


1 Tonelo, D., Providencia R. & Goncalves, L. (2013). Holiday Heart Syndrome revisited after 34 years. Arquivos Brasileirios de Cardiologia, 101(2), 183-189.

2 Phillips, D.P., Jarvinen, J.R., Abramson, I.S. & Phillips, R.R. (2004). Cardiac mortality is higher around Christmas and New Year’s than at any other time: The holidays as a risk factor for death. Circulation, 110(25), 3781-3788.

3 Ettinger, P.O., Wu, C.F., De La Cruz, C., Jr., Weisse A,B,, Ahmed, S.S. & Regan T.J. (1978). Arrhythmias and the “Holiday Heart”: Alcohol-associated cardiac rhythm disorders. American Heart Journal, 95(5), 555-562.

4 Friedman, L.A. & Kimball, A.W. (1986). Coronary heart disease mortality and alcohol consumption in Framingham. American Journal of Epidemiology, 124(3), 481-489.

5 Laposata, E.A. & Lange, L.G. (1986). Presence of nonoxidative ethanol metabolism in human organs commonly damaged by ethanol abuse. Science, 231(4737), 497-499.

6 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2016). Drinking levels defined.

7 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2016). What is a standard drink?

Image credit: Prawny on Pixabay

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Humpday Hint: What's With Those Cobwebs?

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

In late fall and early winter, we’re more likely to notice cobwebs hanging about in the corners of our living spaces. What are they, how do they get there, and what should we do to get rid of them and prevent more from forming?

A “cob” is an Old English word for “spider,” so a cobweb is a web produced by a spider. Most spiders can create a form of silk in their bodies, which they use to spin traps to catch their insect food. They make some of the silk sticky so that insects blundering into the web are caught just like on fly paper. Unfortunately, when the spider abandons the web or dies, the sticky strands persist, and collect dust, pollen and dander. That’s why the cobwebs we dislike in our homes often look shaggy. That’s not how the spider made them, it’s a reflection of the particulate nature of the air inside our houses.

Spiders can be inside human structures at any time of year, but they seem to come in most frequently in late fall and early winter, as the outdoors weather becomes colder. You probably want to keep them out, and the way to prevent their sharing your home is the same as how to get rid of cobwebs- regular dusting. Nearly invisible webs may be being constructed in the corners without your notice.

There is more danger in dusting away spiderwebs from standing on wobbly chairs than there is from being bitten by the spider, if it is still in residence, which is unlikely in a cobweb. Here are some safe ways to remove cobwebs from the corners of rooms:

  • Use the extension nozzle on your vacuum cleaner.
  • Use a long-handled soft duster and shake it out outdoors frequently.
  • Rubber band a soft cloth over the bristles of a broom and sweep up in the corners.
  • Stick an old sock over the end of a yardstick and swipe the corners.

Remember that spiders and their webs can also hide in drapes and other fabrics. Use the vacuum cleaner attachments to get rid of most of the web, and then use a lint roller to get off the stickiest strands. Launder the curtains if possible to remove any debris.

And since the fuzzy look of cobwebs is due to dust in the air, be sure that you keep your environment as dust-free as possible. Cover furniture in the corners of rooms with an old towel when you dust overhead, and then launder the towel. Vacuum immediately after dusting to remove displaced dust from the floors. Be sure to dust window blinds, underneath and behind large items of furniture, the blades of ceiling fans and around heat/air conditioning vents. These areas collect and spread dust which gets caught in spider webs.

To keep spiders from entering your home, seal cracks carefully. Pay special attention to sealing around door and window frames. Be sure vent openings are covered with insect screens.

Don’t bring spiders into your home when you move outdoor potted plants in for the winter. Carefully inspect foliage before you bring the pots inside.

Spiders do not like certain smells, so you might consider some “aromatherapy” to prevent their return. Spray corners that spiders seem to want to build their webs in with a mixture of vinegar and water. You can also try essential oils such as peppermint, eucalyptus or lemon sprayed or dabbed on cotton balls and left to scent the air.

Editor's Note: If you have pets, use caution with chemicals like essential oils. Check with your veterinarian to ensure you are using substances that are safe for your furry/feathery/scaly friends in your home.

For Additional Reading

Cobwebs and how they form: The Secret Behind the Creation of Cobwebs

More ways to get rid of spiders and their webs: Get Rid of Spider Webs

Why you might not want to get rid of all cobwebs: The Joys of Cobwebs

Image credit: "Lucchetto", George Hodan,

Monday, December 19, 2016

Do You Really Need a Lawyer?

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

Sometimes it’s obvious when you should hire a lawyer. If you have been served with a lawsuit or charged with committing a crime, or if you are going through a divorce, then you definitely need to consult with an attorney. But many other problems can be solved without turning to the legal profession.

If you have a dispute with a company, see if they have a customer service department which can settle your complaint. If you can’t get satisfaction there, check out the consumer protection department of your state’s attorney general. For a list of state attorneys general:

If your problem is with a regulated industry, such as insurance or banking, consult the state agency that regulates them.

To find state regulatory agencies for:

Other alternatives to hiring a lawyer include seeking free advice from community and advocacy groups. If there is a university law school nearby, they may take on your case as a class project. And some media outlets will pursue your cause, although you may not appreciate that level of publicity.

It’s important to remember, however, that lawyers aren’t just useful for criminals or individuals involved in legal situations. They can help you establish a business, adopt a child, plan tax strategies, create your will and arrange your estate. Not only do lawyers assist people currently in trouble, but their advice can help you prevent future troubles.

Image from Morguefile

Friday, December 9, 2016

Are You Thinking About Self-Improvement?

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

Can too much thinking hinder self-improvement? Aren’t we supposed to think about our performance and strive to better ourselves?

Dave Hill, 13 time PGA Tour winner, said, “Golf is like sex. You can’t be thinking about the mechanics of the act while you are performing.”

Why not?

Research on expert performance may help us understand why thinking while performing activities does not help improve our performance of them.

A study conducted by Timothy Wilson and Jonathan Schooler involved two groups of college students who were asked to rank jams. Individuals in the first group were given no further instructions; those in the second group were asked to justify their rankings. The jam rankings of the individuals told to explain their reasoning were less in line with expert rankings, and less in line with each other’s rankings, than were those of the group who just ranked the jams. Having to explain their decisions seems to have caused them to be less consistent, which could mean they were less capable of making wise decisions.

Also there is the research by Sian Beilock (author of Choke), who had golfers say “Stop” at the top of their follow-through swing. This kind of mental effort caused “paralysis by analysis.” Their performance significantly deteriorated.

Yet we also know that concentrating and focusing on details can help prevent nervous choking. Researcher Adam Nicholls asked pro athletes to record in a diary their stresses and coping mechanisms. One common and effective strategy these accomplished professional athletes used for dealing with stress was increasing their attention and effort. This study is less objective than the previous two, but has “ecological validity,” meaning it is more like what the subjects would be doing “for real,” and less like an experimental setup using artificial tasks.

What drives experts toward expertise? Expert development does not occur through anything other than hard work.

The Pareto principle is often generalized to tell us that the last 20% of achievement, working toward expertise, requires 80% of your effort. The ability to recognize one’s flaws when judged against the stricter standards developed by expertise, to continue to see room for improvement, is what allows experts to both become experts and to continue to grow their expertise. But of course, the expert must also have a motivation, a strong desire to continue to improve. The Japanese call this “kaizen.”

In our daily lives, performing our ADLs, good enough performance is just that, good enough. Once we learn how to do these things, their performance becomes automatic. Do you think a lot about how to brush your teeth, wash the dishes, button your shirt or tie your shoes? No, these are activities you can perform nearly automatically.

But when we need to be really good at something, routine performance simply is not adequate. You must always be aware of the quality of each element of your actions.

Philosopher Barbara Gail Montero posits that golf is like sex not because attention detracts from performance, but because both are all-encompassing activities. Perhaps the actions of a pro golfer and an expert lover are stimulated by a desire to each time be “better than ever.” And that can never be done automatically.

Believing that you can achieve expert levels on any activity without a lot of conscious effort is magical thinking. If we truly want to improve ourselves, we need to make a commitment to the work that it will take. “Good enough” ability will require less effort to achieve, but you still must make a personal commitment.

Images from Pixabay


Montero, B. G. (2016). “The Myth of ‘Just Do It’.” in (Ed.) Catapano, P. & Critchley, S. The Stone Reader; Modern philosophy in 133 arguments. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Hump Day Hint: Read the Prescription and the Label

Doctors are notorious for difficult-to-read handwriting. What does that scribble on the prescription pad actually mean? It’s important that you be able to read the prescription and understand what it is for and how to take it properly. Many abbreviations are used in written prescriptions. Here are a few to remember:

  • Tab = tablet
  • Caps = capsule
  • Top = topically
  • Po = by mouth
  • Prn = as needed
  • Hs = at bedtime
  • Ac = before meals
  • Pc = after meals
  • Q4h = every 4 hours
  • Qd = daily
  • Bid = twice a day
  • Tid = 3 times a day
  • Qid = 4 times a day
  • Disp#60 = dispense 60 pills

You should also always ask the prescribing pharmacist what the prescription is for, how to take it, and if there are any warnings. Often you will find warning labels on the pill bottle: Do not operate heavy equipment. Do not drink grapefruit juice. These warnings are added by the pharmacist, and are not part of your doctor’s prescription. Again, it’s important to find out why these warnings are being given. Every pharmacy has a pharmacist on duty who can answer your questions.

Image from MorgueFile

Monday, December 5, 2016

It's Holiday Shopping Season - Be Smart!

This time of year in many parts of the world, what we call "the holidays" are observed: Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and others. Gift giving may be one of the traditions of these holidays.

Spending oneself into a financial hole need not be one of your traditions. Here are four tips on limiting spur-of-the-moment buying that you may find useful now and throughout the year.

  1. Don’t use credit cards unless you have to (e.g., shopping online). Seeing cash go from your wallet to the cashier is a powerful motivator to spend less.
  2. Try “envelope budgeting.” After the month’s fixed expenses are taken care of, take out the remaining available money in cash. Divide it among envelopes labeled with the categories “food,” “entertainment,” “lunches and lattes,” and whatever else is not a fixed expense. Once the money in the envelope is gone, you can’t buy any more in that category until next month.
  3. Put yourself on a weekly allowance. Once you’ve spent it, no more impulse buying until you get your next allowance.
  4. Tally your regrets. Look at your credit card and bank statements for the last few months. Are there things you now regret buying? Write them down and post the list by your computer or on your cell phone, to help you think twice about the next purchase you want to make.

Here is one additional tip for you. To avoid temptation, plan your holiday shopping; don't leave it to the last minute. By controlling your impulsive purchases you can go into the new year free of buyer's remorse!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Shellfish and Seafood Allergies

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

The last time I ate shrimp tempura was 20 years ago. Suddenly, and surprisingly, my lips started to swell, my face to get itchy, and my heart to pound. I had developed a shellfish allergy. I have not dared to try to eat shellfish since that day.

Shellfish include shrimp, lobster, crab, clams, scallops, mussels and squid. Finned fish (such as salmon, cod, tuna and catfish) are grouped with shellfish as seafood. Shrimp are the type of shellfish that most commonly cause an allergic reaction. Not everyone who is allergic to shellfish is also allergic to finned fish, and vice versa.

Shellfish or seafood allergies can be life-threatening. The victim’s body reacts to proteins in the shellfish or seafood and causes a sudden anaphylactic reaction. Minor reactions can be skin rashes and itchiness. More severe reactions can lead to low blood pressure, asthma, or swelling of the throat so severe that breathing is difficult. Severe anaphylactic reactions must be treated in the emergency room.

Many myths exist about shellfish and seafood allergies. Let’s look at some of them.

Myth: Shellfish allergies begin in childhood.
Fact: Allergic reactions can occur at any age, and the initial occurrence can be severe. Unfortunately, people do not generally outgrow allergies to shellfish, and it is not unusual for someone to be allergic to many kinds of shellfish.
Myth: It’s the iodine people are allergic to.
Fact: Although shellfish and seafood contain iodine, that is not what causes allergies. It is specific proteins in the shrimp or codfish, called allergens for the reaction they cause.
Myth: You can’t have a CT (computerized tomography) scan because you’ll be allergic to the contrast dye.
Fact: The content of the contrast dye used in CT scans is not related to the allergens in shellfish. Although some people do have a reaction to contrast dye, it is unrelated to allergies to shellfish or seafood.
Myth: Avoid foods that contain carrageenan.
Fact: Carrageenan is a food additive made from a type of algae or seaweed. It is common in dairy products and other household items. It is not associated with seafood allergies.
Myth: You have to actually eat the seafood to get an allergic reaction.
Fact: The allergens in seafood can be transmitted in steam from cooking fish or shellfish, and can cause an allergic reaction in those who are sensitive. This is why people who are severely allergic to shellfish or seafood must avoid restaurants where it can be smelled.

Image from Pixabay

For information about shellfish allergies:

For information on seafood allergies:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Are You OK Drinking Wine?

Contributing author: Gentle Heron

It turns out that more than one in twenty adults probably isn’t OK drinking wine. A study by German researchers found that 7% of those surveyed reported significant symptoms when drinking wine. The symptoms reported included itching, runny nose and flushed skin, and were more commonly reported from red wine than from white varieties. Some respondents reported diarrhea, stomach cramps, or irregular heartbeat.

The researchers concluded that although these symptoms could be indicative of an allergy, they were more likely to be from an intolerance.

What is the difference between intolerance and allergies? Allergies are an immune system response that occurs when the body reacts as if a harmless substance is harmful. Intolerance is a digestive system response, when the body can’t properly break down food. Although symptoms are somewhat similar, hives and swelling of the tongue are much more common with allergic reactions.

The fact that intolerance is more common to red than to white wines may be due to the presence of proteins in grape skins. White wines are fermented without the skins, and so would have less of that protein. Some people reported not only intolerance to wine, but to all alcoholic beverages. That means for some people, the alcohol in wine is the cause of their discomfort. Very few people reported an intolerance to grapes.

One humorous finding of this study: Those reporting intolerance to wine were no less likely to drink it! This could be because they switched to a type of wine that produced fewer symptoms. Of course, it is also possible that their symptoms were not troubling enough to convince them to stop drinking wine altogether.

Prevalence of Wine Intolerance:

Image from Morguefile

Monday, November 28, 2016

Support Virtual Ability When You Shop at Amazon

If you are one of the many people who use, you can support Virtual Ability every time you shop. Just use to launch Amazon instead of the usual “”, and Amazon will automatically donate 0.5% of your purchase price to Virtual Ability, Inc.® There is no additional cost to you (or to VAI) whatsoever.

Virtual Ability uses the funds generated by this program to help pay for our community services, including our Second Life and InWorldz islands.

Just remember to use this link when you sign into Amazon, and you will be directly helping us!

How does AmazonSmile work?
When first visiting AmazonSmile, customers select a charitable organization from almost one million eligible organizations. For eligible purchases at AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price to the customer’s selected charitable organization.

What is the AmazonSmile Foundation?
The AmazonSmile Foundation is a 501(c)(3) private foundation created by Amazon to administer the AmazonSmile program. All donation amounts generated by the AmazonSmile program are remitted to the AmazonSmile Foundation. In turn, the AmazonSmile Foundation donates those amounts to the charitable organizations selected by our customers. Amazon pays all expenses of the AmazonSmile Foundation; they are not deducted from the donation amounts generated by purchases on AmazonSmile.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

IDRAC Spotlight: Meet L’Arche- Saturday, November 19, 8am SLT

The first IDRAC session for Saturday November 19, beginning at 8am Pacific, is an opportunity to “Meet L’Arche.” Begun in France in 1964, L’Arche is now an international network of intentional mixed residential communities for people with and without intellectual disabilities.

Melanie Saxon, Community Leader / Executive Director of L’Arche Jacksonville (FL) will share some of L’Arche’s history and mission through the use of short videos. The facilities of L’Arche Jacksonville include four homes, a community center and the Rainbow Workshop day program.

Ms. Saxon’s previous roles include Executive Director of the North Central Florida Chapter of the American Red Cross, Development Director of University of Florida Performing Arts, Executive Director of Voices for Kids of Southwest Florida and Executive Director of the North Central Florida AIDS Network.

In addition, Ms. Saxon has raised funds for United Way, the Alzheimer’s Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. She served as Executive Producer of the Florida Film Festival and has coordinated numerous arts in education programs in K-12 schools, along with teaching third grade. Her additional volunteer experience includes serving as a Rotarian, a Stephen Minister, and a Big Sister.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

IDRAC Speaker Spotlight: The L’Arche Story

L'Arche began in 1964 when Catholic theologian Jean Vanier visited French asylums for persons with intellectual disabilities. He was overwhelmed by the sadness of these institutions, and recognized the need of their residents for being part of a community. He bought a small house in Trosly-Breuil (France) and invited two men to move out of an asylum and live with him. That home still exists, and Jean Vanier still lives there.

L'Arche First Home
"The secret of L’Arche is relationship: meeting people, not through the filters of certitudes, ideologies, idealism or judgments, but heart to heart; listening to people with their pain, their joy, their hope, their history, listening to their heart beats."
Jean Vanier, An Ark for the Poor: The Story of L’Arche

L’Arche is a model of intentional inclusive communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers. The concept grew and spread in France and throughout the world. L’Arche Daybreak was opened in Toronto, Canada, in 1969. The first l’Arche to incorporate people of the Hindu faith opened in India in 1970, showing that the concept transcends cultures. L’Arche Erie (Pennsylvania) became the first to open in the US in 1972. Today there are 18 l’Arche communities in the US, and 129 others in 40 countries worldwide.

L'Arche Logo
"L’Arche’s first seeds were planted in the earth of the Roman Catholic Church. Through God’s grace, others seeds were planted in other soils...L’Arche became ecumenical when it welcomed men and women with [disabilities] who belonged to different denominations and different religions."
Jean Vanier, An Ark for the Poor: The Story of L’Arche

The name "l’Arche" means "the Ark" in French. Many faiths - Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and earlier cultures - tell stories of a boat saving people from a world-devastating flood. The symbolism of an Ark for these communities is apt; they are places where people are safe. The friendships formed among l’Arche residents transforms society as they cross social boundaries and affirm the importance of all community members, including those with intellectual disabilities.

Founder Jean Vanier has written 30 books explaining the l’Arche concept and how it has changed his life. His words about the importance of community in all our lives are truly inspirational. He received the 2015 Templeton Prize for his exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.

Jean Vanier, Founder of L'Arche
"The heart gives and receives but above all, it gives."
Jean Vanier, Becoming Human

Virtual Ability member Mook Wheeler has created a number of displays and exhibits on Healthinfo Island about l’Arche, Jean Vanier, and the concept of community for persons with disabilities. Please visit them to stimulate your thinking about information provided during the 2016 International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference, November 18 and 19.



International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference (IDRAC)
Friday November 18, 2016 - 8:00am- 3:00pm
Saturday, November 19, 2016 - 8:00am - 1:30pm
The Sojourner Auditorium, Virtual Ability Island in Second Life®

IDRAC Speaker Spotlight: Chronic Pain Anonymous Panel

Pain is a sensation generated in the nervous system. Two kinds of pain are recognized: acute and chronic. Acute pain is a message to the body that something is wrong, perhaps an injury. It goes away when the cause of the pain is addressed.

Chronic pain is different, and can exist for months without an apparent cause although sometimes it begins from an injury. Chronic pain can be debilitating, affecting all aspects of a person’s life. One study found that in various countries between one in ten and half of all persons deal with chronic pain, and that it is more common in men than in women.

People with chronic pain often use distraction as a self-management technique to deal with their symptoms. Virtual worlds can provide plenty of distraction, so it should not surprise SL users that some of us live with chronic pain.

The peer support group Chronic Pain Anonymous (CPA) offers fellowship with others dealing with chronic pain in a variety of environments, face-to-face and electronically-mediated. CPA came into Second Life in 2016 as an expansion of community venues. On Friday, November 18, at 11am Pacific, a panel of CPA members will share their lives and their experiences with CPA, both outside and inside the virtual world.

The five panelists we will hear from include:

Shyla the Super Gecko (KriJon Resident)
Shlya is a former storm chaser, outdoor adventurer and comedian who, to pay the bills, developed industry-specific solutions and implemented enterprise-wide systems for Fortune 500 companies. Shyla is a published author, editor, blogger and poet. She is also a caregiver.

As Shyla's condition progressed, a combination of spondylolisthesis, osteoarthritis, peripheral neuropathy and Achilles tendonitis, her life changed dramatically. She has limited mobility and lives in constant pain which reaches 'severe' levels on an almost daily basis. She sought support in various groups, including Chronic Pain Anonymous.

Ivy Lane (RL: Lee Ann B)
Ivy Lane was born in Second Life in January of 2007, while her alter ego Lee Ann B was attending the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Ivy was created as part of Lee Ann’s senior project which needed to be a three dimensional environment. So Ivy was born a Project Manager destined to create the Turtle Gallery, the first ever online virtual 3D resume used to showcase her artistic abilities and range. Lee Ann is a successful artist, published writer and a loving mentor.

Chronic pain has been Lee Ann’s constant companion for over 25 years now, so life is a one day at a time adventure in learning how to cope and still function enough to feel like a contributing member of society. She spent five years volunteering for a local no-kill shelter called Attleboro Friends of Cats, Inc. This was a life-changing event that brought her into the world of photography and as the Assistant Director of all things Internet she improved their web presence, photographed all kitties and increased adoptions by 66% within the first year of taking the non-profit organization online.

As her chronic daily pain increased and caused some loss of mobility, Lee Ann sought a solution that might help her accept her new level of pain and disability and found the blessing of Chronic Pain Anonymous to maintain an attitude of acceptance and gratitude.

Teejens is a wife, mom to three grown children and grandmother to seven. Her last place of employment was at a large online store as a Quality Assurance Representative. Some of her hobbies include painting, reading and keeping up with the latest fashions.

She has been diagnosed with Degenerative Disk Disease, Spondylosis, Osteoarthritis, Fibromyalgia and most recently with Peripheral Neuropathy. She is in a constant state of pain and her conditions are growing worse. She is grateful for the opportunity to speak today and for the support groups that are available to assist her in learning how to live her life with chronic pain.

WCD1002 (RL: David S)
David is a quirky, free-thinking, problem solver with a range of interests, from cooking and reading to gaming. In his professional life, David is a Public Accountant and Trustee for a charity.

David has a very rare degenerative muscle condition, post-transplant 13 years. He has a range of background pain and sudden flare ups. He suffers with fatigue and is a wheelchair user. David found CPA through the fellowship and also a member of another Twelve Step Program.

TammyzHere (RL: Tammy W)
Tammy was a poor, single mom while putting herself through university. After graduating, she had some office jobs and ended up in the Chicago building trades. The job had a 100 lb lifting requirement. She was the 7th woman in her union of 1500 men.

She was collecting unemployment in 2008 when the economy fell apart. During that time, she took care of her mom who died of cancer in spring of 2009. Two months later, her dad got diagnosed with cancer and had a very debilitating stroke. She became his full time caregiver.

A combination of things (stress and lack of proper health care) led to Tammy becoming seriously ill with multiple autoimmune disorders. A series of medical treatments made her medical situation much worse. After being laid up for about 3 or 4 years, Tammy found CPA.

Monday, November 14, 2016

IDRAC Speaker Spotlight: Caroline Pavis

“Engaging and Empowering Online Health Communities”

For the past two years, Janssen (Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson) has hosted HealtheVoices, the first-ever conference focused on bringing together online patient health advocates to help them further grow and engage their online patient communities. Nearly 100 leaders of online patient communities, also known as bloggers or patient opinion leaders, attended the conference in 2016. These advocates represent a wide variety of health conditions and diseases.

On Friday, November 18, the 2016 International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference (IDRAC) will begin with a presentation at 8am Pacific by Caroline Pavis, Communications Leader, Janssen Oncology & Immunology. In her presentation, Ms. Pavis will share highlights of the 2015 and 2016 HealtheVoices conferences, and discuss plans to host a third HealtheVoices on April 21-23, 2017, in Chicago.

Caroline Pavis currently serves as Communications Leader for Janssen Biotech, Inc., a division of Johnson & Johnson, where she oversees integrated public relations and communications initiatives for Janssen’s Oncology and Immunology Business Units. Caroline joined Johnson & Johnson in 2011. Prior to joining Janssen Biotech, Caroline served as Director, Global Communications for Johnson & Johnson Diabetes Care where she led internal and external communications on behalf of the global franchise and served as a member of the Animas Management Board.

With nearly 20 years of public relations and corporate communications experience, Caroline joined Johnson & Johnson from GolinHarris, a global public relations consultancy agency, where she was responsible for overseeing strategic marketing programs for several pharmaceutical, medical device and consumer healthcare companies. Caroline lives in Coopersburg, Pa. with her husband and three kids, where she is adjusting to the quiet country life (and endless yard work) after moving from the big city of Chicago.

International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference (IDRAC)
Friday November 18, 2016 - 8:00am- 3:00pm
Saturday, November 19, 2016 - 8:00am - 1:30pm
Soujourner Auditorium, Virtual Ability Island in Second Life®

Saturday, November 12, 2016

IDRAC Speaker Spotlight: Professor Theresa Lorenzo and Siphokazi Sompeta

Creating Inclusive Communities: The Role of Community Disability Practitioners in Africa

Persons with disabilities and their families still experience stigma and a high degree of social exclusion especially in rural communities, which are often poorly resourced and serviced. Disability-inclusive development requires a workforce equipped with skills to work intersectorally and in a transdisciplinary manner in order to that will promote delivery of services in remote and rural areas. The IDRAC session on Friday at 9:30am Pacific will discuss research on these topics.

Professor Theresa Lorenzo is an occupational therapist and PhD Programme Convenor in the Division of Disability Studies, Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Cape Town (South Africa). She has extensive experience in engaged scholarship focused on developing a transdisciplinary community-based workforce to facilitate the implementation and monitoring of disability-inclusive development in Africa, with a focus on youth and women. Her Second Life name is Fish Eagle.

Siphokazi Sompeta (née Gcaza) is also an occupational therapist in the Division of Disability Studies, Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Cape Town. She was the former chair of the Community-based Rehabilitation Africa Network that has advocated for the implementation of inclusive development programmes with a particularly focus on rural communities. Her research has explored chronic poverty of disabled persons in rural areas and the training of community rehabilitation workers. Her second life name is Vulithongo, which means Dream Opener in Isi-Xhosa, her mother tongue.

Together they will present an academic paper that explores the local experiences and practices of community-based disability workers (CDWs) in resource-limited rural communities in Botswana, Malawi and South Africa. It explores CDWs’ activities and strategies to contribute to improving the lives and increasing the levels of social, economic and political inclusion of people with disabilities, their families and communities. They argue that these competencies should be consolidated and strengthened in curricula, training and policy.

Three main themes emerged demonstrating the competencies of CDWs. First, integrated management of health conditions and impairments within a family focus. Second, negotiating for disability-inclusive community development. Third, coordinated and efficient intersectoral management systems.

Be sure to join us for this very informative presentation at the International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference (IDRAC) on Friday, the 18th of November, 9:30 AM Pacific Standard Time.

Friday, November 11, 2016

IDRAC Speaker Spotlight: Dr. Margaret Nosek

“Is your avatar a bulletproof vest?”

Find out the answer to this intriguing question on Saturday, November 19, at 9:30am Pacific. Dr. Margaret Nosek, Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, TX, US) and two co-presenters, Stephanie Silveira and Rachel Markley, will describe their work conducting challenging conversations for women with disabilities in virtual worlds. The Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD) at Baylor has conducted research with women with disabilities on several dicey topics, including sexuality, reproductive health, bladder and bowel management, weight management, and self-esteem. In their presentation, Nosek, Silvera and Markley will talk about feedback women have given them when they discuss some of these topics in Second Life and some of the difficulties and successes they have experienced in trying to make related information available online and in virtual worlds.

In addition to her position at Baylor, Dr. Nosek, PhD, is Senior Scientist at TIRR Memorial Hermann and Adjunct Professor in the College of Nursing at Texas Woman’s University, both in Houston. She researches ways to improve the health of women with physical disabilities, especially by improving reproductive health and access to healthcare services. She has conducted many large studies in Second Life.

Dr. Nosek is a member of the Board of Directors of Virtual Ability, Inc. She is a woman with a severe physical disability, and is a lifelong disability rights activist. She has won many honors both for her academic research and her activism.

Stephanie Silveira is a Graduate Research Assistant at University of Houston Department of Health and Human Performance, Baylor College of Medicine Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD), and TIRR Memorial Hermann. She is a fourth year doctoral student in kinesiology at the University of Houston with an interest in health promotion for individuals with mobility impairments. Her undergraduate degree is in psychology, where many of her current research interests reside, particularly as related to nutrition and physical activity. She was the project manager for CROWD’s GoWoman virtual reality weight loss intervention for women with mobility impairments. She is currently involved on several projects including a weight loss intervention for men and women with spinal cord injuries and a pilot nutrition and body composition measurement study of former and current heroin users receiving a virtual reality intervention. She led a team in reviewing literature on obesity measurement in people with spinal cord injuries, including an examination of the most accessible and valid ways to measure fat mass, height and weight.

Stephanie has conducted cross-sectional psychological research with wheelchair rugby athletes. She hopes to pursue this area further in order to help individuals with mobility impairments improve their quality of life through physical activity and exercise. She is also personally invested in training adaptive Crossfit athletes. She plans to focus her research career on reducing obesity in populations experiencing health disparities using telehealth and virtual reality interventions.

Rachel Markley, MPH, is a 2015 graduate of the University of Texas School of Public Health. Ms. Markley is a research assistant at the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities at TIRR Memorial Hermann and is involved in studies to develop health promotion interventions and expanded women’s health services for women with physical disabilities. She served as part of the research team for the GoWoman Virtual Reality Weight Management Program for Women with Mobility Impairments, and co-facilitated the development of an Internet-Based Empowerment and Self-Esteem Enhancement Intervention for Women with spinal cord injury, a 7-week intervention held in Second Life. Ms. Markley has significant physical limitations due to Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

IDRAC Speaker Spotlight: John Lester

"But you’re not supposed to use it that way!"

John Lester, known in Second Life as Pathfinder Lester, has been working with virtual worlds and online communities since the 1990s, creating online patient support groups at Massachusetts General Hospital for people dealing with neurological disorders, developing online immersive learning environments for students at Harvard, and helping build communities in Second Life that assist people living with disabilities. He worked at Linden Lab for 5 years where he founded Linden Lab's Boston Office and led the development of the education and healthcare markets in Second Life while evangelizing the innovative use of virtual worlds in research, art and immersive learning. John has also worked on multiuser virtual world development using the Unity platform, built bespoke multiuser VR worlds for education using the Oculus Rift, and dabbled with artificial life in augmented reality.

John continues to follow his passion for online communities and virtual worlds through his consulting and contracting work, designing and building immersive learning experiences using platforms such as OpenSimulator and Unity. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Virtual Ability, Inc., a non-profit organization that enables people with a wide range of disabilities by providing a supporting environment for them to enter and thrive in online virtual worlds like Second Life. At his day job, John works as a Product Manager at OpenText where he does R&D in unstructured data analytics and enterprise information management.

John has been working with online communities and virtual worlds since the early 1990’s, beginning with modem-powered BBS systems through early web-based forums and chatrooms and continuing with immersive multiuser 3d virtual worlds. Focusing on education and support, John has experienced a wide range of use cases and insights into how human behavior simultaneously shapes and is shaped by these tools.

John will present at this year’s International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference on Saturday, November 19, at 11am Pacific. The title of his presentation is: ‘“But you’re not supposed to use it that way!” - Exploring how people shape technologies to empower online communities.’ In this presentation, John will tell his story of how a continuing quest for more emotional bandwidth and perceptual immersion was enlightened by communities of people who often used technologies in completely unexpected and breathtakingly beautiful ways.

Photos courtesy Alice Krueger

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

IDRAC 2016 Speaker Spotlight: Shyla

Shyla is a former storm chaser, outdoor adventurer and comedian who, to pay the bills, developed industry specific solutions and implemented enterprise wide systems for Fortune 500 companies. Shyla is a published author, editor, blogger and poet. She is also a caregiver.

In Second Life, Shyla is a Super Gecko and wears a pink cape to note the distinction. She has never met another Gecko in SL, so there is really no way for her to compare her 'gecko-ness' to any other. However, as far as geckos go, she likes to think she is pretty super. She enjoys customizing, building and texturing in Second Life. She creates theme builds on her Nautilus Island parcel to benefit organizations in Second Life assisting People With Disabilities.

On September 11, 2001, Shyla was enjoying a day off, resting on her sofa when the first news reports of the terrorist attack aired. Shortly thereafter, her co-workers were sent home as a nation began to grieve and much of the world with it. She worked as a business partner with several people in the Towers that day, and remembers the anxiety as she and her staff waited for confirmation they were all okay. Sadly, she would come to know not all of them survived.

She did not see herself as disabled at that time, nor did she consider the context of the stories being conveyed about people with disability who were saved on 9/11. But as the 15th anniversary approached this year, Shyla wanted to learn the story of her community as it related to 9/11. What began as a historical curiosity revealed serious issues about how our stories are told by a predominantly able-bodied media and the inclusion and consideration of PWDs (People With Disabilities) in emergency planning even today. The result is "9/11: The PWD Story".

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

IDRAC Displays on Healthinfo Island

Healthinfo Island is directly west of Virtual Ability island. It houses several facilities related to health and wellness, including displays and exhibits on topics about health and wellness. During Virtual Ability conferences, displays and exhibits provide additional information on topics related to the conference theme.

The theme of the 2016 International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference is “We’re Part of the Community.” Conference attendees will have an opportunity to learn from series of posters in addition to hearing from the presenters. Virtual Ability member Mook Wheeler has created several educational displays and exhibits.

“The L’Arche Story” is a collection of 20 posters explaining the history and mission of L’Arche. Begun in France, l’Arche creates intentional communities worldwide where people with intellectual disabilities live and work alongside other people and share in the community responsibilities. You can learn more about L’Arche here:

Twenty posters tell “The History of the Independent Living Movement.” Ed Roberts is considered the father of the independent living movement in the US, but it is now a worldwide effort to support people with disabilities as they participate in all aspects of the communities in which they are located. This display is found here:

“Why is Community Important to People With Disabilities?” is the topic of a third display. The L’Arche communities exemplify community living for people with intellectual disabilities, and the Independent Living Movement was begun to promote inclusion of persons with severe physical disabilities. Why is inclusion of all persons with any type of disability important to the overall health of a community? Find out here:

Mook also created a smaller exhibit on the topic: “The Role of Organizations for People With Disabilities.” Read about Disabled Peoples’ International, the first international cross-disability organization, and find out about the many roles played by disabled peoples’ organizations at all levels, including in Second Life. This display is here:

An exhibit above the lake on Healthinfo Island contains a poster set that addresses the question: “What Do You Call People With Disabilities?” It discusses what is known as People First Language. Find the answer to that question here:

Additional poster sets will be appearing as we move toward the opening of IDRAC 2016 at 8:00am SLT (US Pacific Standard Time) on Friday, November 18. Be watching for them!

Monday, November 7, 2016

IDRAC 2016 Schedule

International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference

"We’re Part of the Community.”

Friday, November 18

8am Caroline Pavis of Johnson and Johnson will talk about their HealthEVoices disability bloggers conference.
9:30am Theresa Lorenzo of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, will talk about her research on ways to make disability-inclusive services available in rural areas of South Africa, Botswana and Malawi.
11am A panel of members of Chronic Pain Anonymous will talk about peer support in various social media venues.
12:30pm Members of the Baylor College of Medicine (TX) Center for Research on Women with Disabilities will talk about their GoWoman weight management project for women with mobility disabilities.
2pm Maggie Sheets with the Disability Policy Consortium of Massachusetts will explain the importance of including people with disability in policy making.

Saturday, November 19

8am l’Arche, an intentional mixed residential community for people with and without intellectual disabilities (presenter still being confirmed).
9:30am Margaret Nosek, professor in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine, will talk about her research projects in Second Life for women with physical disabilities.
11am John Lester, expert in online communities and former Education Liaison with Linden Lab, will talk about early patient support communities in virtual worlds created by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard.
12:30pm A presentation by Virtual Ability community member KriJon about people with disabilities and 9/11.

Friday, November 4, 2016

IDRAC 2016 Speaker Spotlight: Dr. Margaret Nosek

Dr. Margaret Nosek and colleagues present Friday, November 18th, 12:30-1:30pm SLT/US Pacific, at Virtual Ability's International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference. They will discuss “Women with mobility impairments in community weight loss programs: Exploring new venues in virtual worlds.”

Women with mobility impairments have two major barriers to maintaining an appropriate weight. Their lack of mobility means that they are at greater risk of becoming obese, and there are no commercial public weight loss programs designed specifically for women with disabilities. The Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD) at Baylor College of Medicine designed a project to address these barriers.
This presentation will provide information about the prevalence of overweight and obesity among women with disabilities, the difficulties they experience in trying to access community-based weight loss programs, and the pilot study conducted on the GoWoman weight management program for women with mobility impairments in Second Life.

Margaret (Peg) Nosek, PhD, is a Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine and Senior Scientist at TIRR Memorial Hermann (Houston, TX, US). She is the Executive Director of the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD). She holds an additional position as Adjunct Professor in the College of Nursing at Texas Woman’s University, Houston. Her doctorate is in rehabilitation research from the University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Nosek’s main research interest is on improving the health of women with physical disabilities, especially developing interventions disparities in reproductive health and access to healthcare services. She has conducted many large funded studies, several of which have taken place in Second Life. She is the author of numerous publications and the recipient of several prestigious awards, from organizations such as the American College of Physical Medicine and the Rehabilitation Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association.

Dr. Nosek lives with spinal muscular atrophy, a severe congenital physical disability, and is a disability rights activist. She has worked closely with Justin Dart and others in the independent living movement. She has been honored as a “Disability Patriot” by the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.

International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference (IDRAC)
November 18 & 19, 2016
The Sojourner Auditorium, Virtual Ability, Second Life®

IDRAC is an annual professional conference which celebrates progress and the future of the disability rights movement in the United States and across the world. It is free and open to the public, hosted by Virtual Ability in Second Life®. A full schedule of the conference presentations will be released when it is finalised.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

IDRAC 2016 Speaker Spotlight: DPCMA

Maggie Sheets presents Friday, November 18th, 2-3pm SLT/US Pacific, at Virtual Ability's International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference.

Maggie Sheets, Research Assistant and Healthcare Advocate with the Disability Policy Consortium of Massachusetts (DPCMA) will present “The Disability Policy Consortium’s Second Life project” on Friday, November 18, at 2pm in Virtual Ability’s Sojourner Auditorium. Her presentation is part of the 2016 International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference. Her avatar's name is MaggieDPCMA.

This presentation will give a brief background on the history and activities of the Disability Policy Consortium (DPC) along with Maggie’s work with the organization. An introduction will be given regarding the DPC’s plans for a project in Second Life. This project will involve women ages 21-40 who have disabilities in a discussion group to talk about dating, relationships, sex, reproductive health, and any other topics of interest to the group. The goal of this group in Second Life is to give these women a space to discuss these issues freely with each other.

Maggie has worked at the Disability Policy Consortium in Malden (Massachusetts, US) since July of 2014. Most recently, Maggie has conducted research and has written four issue briefs on topics of concern to people with disabilities. These include: access to SNAP benefits, access to affordable housing, domestic abuse faced by people with disabilities, and issues people with disabilities who age-out of the educational system at age 22 confront. She has also been providing technical support to a research team examining the healthcare experiences of One Care (health insurance program) enrollees. She is also creating a resource guide with contacts and information to help people with disabilities who are experiencing violence.

In the past, Maggie managed all logistics for five discussion groups with MassHealth enrollees to learn more about their healthcare experiences. Results from a discussion group involving homeless individuals with disabilities will be submitted for publication in the Disability and Health Journal. She also conducted outreach to college students with disabilities to encourage them to become more involved in disability advocacy.

Prior to working with the Disability Policy Consortium, Maggie worked as a Program Associate with Community Catalyst providing technical assistance to a research team examining conflict of interest issues in medical education. Maggie holds a Master’s Degree in Health Communication from a program from Emerson College in collaboration with Tufts University School of Medicine. Her personal motto is: Everything will be all right in the end and if it is not all right it is not yet the end.

International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference (IDRAC)
November 18 & 19, 2016
The Sojourner Auditorium, Virtual Ability, Second Life®

IDRAC is an annual professional conference which celebrates progress and the future of the disability rights movement in the United States and across the world. It is free and open to the public, hosted by Virtual Ability in Second Life®. A full schedule of the conference presentations will be released when it is finalised.

Monday, October 31, 2016

IDRAC - Save the Dates: November 18-19, 2016

You are invited to the 2016 International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference (IDRAC), sponsored by Virtual Ability®,Inc. This international conference will be held in Second Life®.

The theme for 2016 is "We’re Part of the Community.”

Join colleagues, friends, and community members for a variety of presentations! Presenters from Canada, South Africa, and the U.S. will join us at The Sojourner Auditorium on Virtual Ability Island within Second Life.

Why don’t you join us, too?

Keep your eyes on this blog for more information!

International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference (IDRAC)
Friday November 18, 2016 - 8:00am- 3:00pm
Saturday, November 19, 2016 - 8:00am - 1:30pm
Soujourner Auditorium, Virtual Ability Island in Second Life®

Friday, September 2, 2016

8 Important Eye Care Tips

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

For many of us, vision is our primary way of experiencing the world. Protecting our eyes and eyesight is one of the most important things we can do to help maintain our quality of life. As we get older, we will inevitably experience age-related vision loss, since our eyes age with the rest of our body. However, there are 8 life-style practices which can help keep our eyes as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

  1. Get regular eye exams.
    This is essential. Eye problems such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts and retinopathy tend to progress slowly, which means that vision loss can go unnoticed until the condition is advanced. Many eye conditions can be treated if spotted early enough -- so go for your eye tests! Optometrists recommend an eye test every two years, more often if you're over 40, from a family with a history of eye disease, or from specific ethnic groups. People from African-Caribbean communities are at higher risk of developing glaucoma and diabetes, and those from South Asian communities are at greater risk of developing diabetic retinopathy from diabetes.1
  2. Have regular physical exams to check for diabetes and high blood pressure.
    Both of these conditions can cause eye problems if left untreated, including vision loss from diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and eye strokes.2
  3. Look out for changes in your vision.
    Changes in your vision can indicate trouble, so see your eye doctor immediately if they occur. Signs of potential problems include double vision, hazy vision, difficulty seeing in low light conditions, frequent flashes of light, floaters, red eyes, eye pain or swelling.3
  4. Exercise regularly.
    Research shows that exercise benefits the eyes, by reducing risks for high blood pressure, diabetes, hardening or narrowing of the arteries, and age-related macular degeneration.4, 5
  5. Eat highly-coloured fruits and vegetables.
    A plant-based diet high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds is an eye-healthy diet. Blue, purple and ruby-coloured berries, such as bilberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries etc. have high concentrations of both. Research has found that antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish can lower the risk of developing macular degeneration in people with high genetic risk.6
  6. Don't smoke.
    People who smoke are much more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, uveitis and other eye problems, compared to non-smokers.7, 8
  7. Protect your eyes from UV light.
    Ultraviolet light damages the eyes and can increase the risk of developing cataracts, pinguecula and other eye problems.9 Light reflecting from snow, sand and water can magnify these risks. Wear good-quality sunglasses which block 99 - 100% of UV rays when out in bright light.
  8. Drink moderately.
    Heavy alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of early age-related macular degeneration.10


1 Look after your eyes, National Health Service, UK

2 8 ways to protect your eyesight, Gary Heiting, All About Vision

3 ibid.

4 ibid.

5 Look after your eyes, National Health Service, UK

6 Age-Related Eye Disease Study -- Results, National Eye Institute

7 8 ways to protect your eyesight, Gary Heiting, All About Vision

8 Look after your eyes, National Health Service, UK

9 8 ways to protect your eyesight, Gary Heiting, All About Vision

10 Look after your eyes, National Health Service, UK

Image from Pixabay