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Civil defense workers wear gas masks near damaged ground in a village near t...
Activists say the Syrian regime continues to attack its people with chlorine gas — with little reaction from an international community once focused on preventing Syria's use of chemical weapons.

Syrian medical student Hazem Halabi has become an expert on chlorine as a weapon of war. He made his first investigation in April 2014, after an alleged attack on the village of Kafr Zeta in northern Syria.

Villagers reported waking up before dawn to the buzz of helicopters and an overpowering smell of bleach. A video recorded at a local clinic shows doctors struggling to treat panicked victims struggling for breath.

Halabi — who is part of a team of doctors with the Syrian American Medical Society, a U.S.-based charity that runs more than 90 medical facilities on Syria's frontlines — arrived a few days later. Then he risked his life to carry evidence from the attack out of Syria.

"When I was in Kafr Zeta, the helicopters flew over, I thought maybe it will target us," he says, "I brought out blood samples, urine samples and some soil from the location of the attacks and the remains of one of the canisters."

He carried the samples to southern Turkey and tripled-wrapped his findings. He feared he would set off alarms at the airport, so he rented a car and drove for 12 hours to Ankara, the Turkish capital.

He delivered those first samples more than a year ago to the American and British embassies, hoping to spur international action.

"Ten samples each," he says.

Growing Number Of Attacks

In March of this year, members of the U.N. Security Council were reduced to tears over a video of an apparent chlorine gas attack in Syria. The footage showed desperate doctors trying to revive three young children as they choked to death in the Syrian village of Sarmeen.

The Security Council quickly condemned the use of chlorine as a weapon and warned of repercussions. But activists say they have documented 18 cases of chlorine gas attacks in the rebel-held north since then.

They have tried to generate international pressure to stop the attacks, which they say are carried out by government aircraft, two years after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to destroy his chemical arsenal and signed onto the Chemical Weapons Convention.

'More And More Chemical Weapons Against Civilians'

Zaher al Saket, a Syrian brigadier general and a defector, says he's investigated more than 90 chlorine attacks – six new ones in the past few months alone. He was an officer in the Syrian army's chemical division but quit in 2013 when he was ordered to use chemical weapons against rebels.

"I realized that this regime is only going to use more and more chemical weapons against civilians," he says, "and that's when I made my decision to defect."

The Syrian regime denies using chlorine as a weapon, blaming terrorists for the attacks. But the evidence otherwise has steadily mounted since the U.S. and Russia worked together to pass a U.N. resolution to dismantle Syria's chemical arsenal, and Syria agreed in 2013 to destroy stockpiles.

Chlorine was excluded because it has industrial uses, including purifying water.

"There is no doubt that the Syrians are using industrial chemicals, chlorine in particular, in barrel bombs," says Rex Brynen, a Middle East specialist at McGill University. "I think that the open-source evidence is overwhelming."

'People Are Afraid'

The Syrian-American doctors' network has compiled a detailed dossier on dozens of chlorine attacks since 2013 that it attributes to the Assad regime. Accounts by eyewitnesses say chlorine is dropped from helicopters.

The regime is the only combatant that has an air force. And the targeted villages in northern Syria are pro-rebel.

Mohammed Tennari — a doctor who has testified at the U.N. Security Council and on Capitol Hill — tells me when we meet at the doctors' network office in Gaziantep, Turkey, that the smell of a chlorine attack is unmistakable. "The chemical gas spreads for a few kilometers — not like barrel bombs that hit one house," he says. "People are afraid about the life of their children and their [own] life."

Eleven Syrians have died since March, Tennari says, from inhaling chlorine. And more than 600 have had to be treated in clinics overwhelmed by the patient load.

"I think that I can say with some confidence, Western governments are absolutely convinced that the Syrians are doing this," Brynen says. But Russia, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, has dismissed the available documentation as "propaganda."

Human right groups have long complained that the architects of the 2013 deal to dismantle Syria's chemical arsenal, the U.S. and Russia, have done nothing to stop chlorine attacks.

Now, the U.S. and Russia are consulting again. A proposed U.N. resolution would mandate an investigation to assign blame for using chlorine as a weapon and sanction the culprits. The Organization for the Proliferation of Chemical Weapons, which implements the Chemical Weapons Convention, can determine if chlorine was used as a weapon. But it has no mandate to assign blame. The challenge now is to figure out who can.

It remains unclear whether the resolution will come to a vote.

Meanwhile, Hazem Halabi, the medical student, wonders if anything will change. "I don't have the same belief [as in the past] that something will happen," he says.

But, he says, "I still do it. You have all these documents for history so we can tell our children that this happened in Syria and nobody reacts."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Fashion Institute of Technology students Erika Morales (left) and Nas Rivera...
Almost 60 million Americans have a permanent disability, but the fashion industry hasn't tapped into that market. Activists and designers are trying to change that, a signature and a stitch at a time.

Think of all the accessibility amenities you've gotten used to seeing since July 26, 1990, the day the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law: Wheelchair ramps leading into government buildings; Support rails in restroom stalls; ATM keypads and elevator buttons in Braille.

Despite these improvements, people with disabilities still struggle in many areas, including one you might not think much about: clothing.

Cute Canes, Like Eyeglass Frames

Liz Jackson spends a lot of time thinking about the intersection of fashion and disability. She's a trim, tomboyish 33-year-old with a Jimmy Neutron pompadour, and she limps — sometimes a lot.

Back in 2012, she fell out of bed and ended up in the hospital, emerging three days later with a cane, prescription eyeglasses and a diagnosis of idiopathic neuropathy, an autoimmune condition that weakens the nerves in her arms and legs.

"One of the sensations I have is that run-down feeling [you get] before you get sick," Jackson says. "I have that all the time because my body is continuously fighting something."

The diagnosis changed her life in a couple of ways: She had to resign from her job with The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and she also found a cause to fight for. One day she was at J.Crew, her favorite store, leaning on her cane — it's shellacked in royal purple — and admiring the candy-colored T-shirts on display.

"I saw that they had eyeglass frames, and it struck me as so odd. You purchase eyeglass frames at a mainstream retailer; you take them to your optometrist to get them filled, and then you can wear them," Jackson says.

"Whereas with a cane, you don't have to take it to a doctor, yet that's not the thing that they're carrying," she says.

"And so I decided I wanted them to carry my cane. I thought it would be a good fit."

Jackson calls herself, and her blog, The Girl with the Purple Cane, and on the blog, she campaigns for mainstream retailers to be more inclusive. She lobbied J.Crew to carry colorful canes like hers — though recently, J.Crew told NPR it was declining, saying it needs to concentrate on its core business.

Jackson continues her quest, arguing that treating canes as fashionable items will cut down on the stigma against visible disabilities.

And the petition has made her ask questions about the fundamental use of clothes.

"What is the purpose of the garments that we wear?" she asks. "Why do certain things operate purposefully, whereas other things are simply sort of for appearance?"

Modified For Mobility

While Jackson continues to lobby for the fashion world to pay attention to existing assistive devices, some design students are working on making new clothes for bodies with special needs. Parsons School of Design graduate Lucy Jones is among them; for her senior thesis, she created Seated Design, a collection of clothes for wheelchair users.

Jones was inspired by her cousin Jake, who's partially paralyzed.

"I asked him what would it mean to him if I could design a pair of trousers that he could do up with one hand, and he told me it would be the next step up from not having a disability," Jones says. "I think it was that moment I really realized what fashion was and what it can be."

Jones tried out prototypes and fabrics with a fit model in a wheelchair because, as she discovered, "A seated body has different measurements to a standing body, due to waist measurements and the fact that our buttocks expand when we sit down.

"Our kneecap bends in a different place, so there are a lot of alterations that need to be implemented into the design process," she says.

Parsons isn't the only school tackling such a project. At the Fashion Institute of Technology, a group of students in FIT's technical design program also worked on designing clothing for people with disabilities.

The project was thorough. FIT professor Luz Pascal, who oversaw the students, says the garments "have to be designed, they have to be developed, they have to be measured ... [The students had to] go and make fittings with the different models. They have to document everything; they look at the best fabrics that are suitable for this.

"So these are ready for production," Pascal says. "They have done the entire engineering side."

The FIT students also discussed comfort with their models: a group of patients from the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System. Among them was 58-year-old Air Force veteran Anna Smith, who suffered a spinal injury at work and now wears a back brace and uses a walker and a cane. And she definitely wants to look stylish.

"I love clothing," Smith says. "I love unique clothing. I don't like the kind that makes you look dated like a person could say, 'Oh, that's 2001 instead of 2002.' One that shows your unique style that also compliments your figure."

But the first design a student showed her? No way, Smith says.

"When she came in, her vision was some kind of Batman cape, and I'm looking at her like, 'You gotta be kidding me. A poncho? No, I don't think so.' "

Think 'Matrix,' Not Medicare

Erika Morales was that student designer. She created a long cape to keep the wearer's legs warm, but Smith told her the cape wouldn't work, in part, because all the extra fabric would make it difficult for tasks like using the bathroom. With that feedback, Morales tweaked the jacket, making it more polished and practical. Smith was pleased with the result: A sharp, almost Japanese-looking jacket in navy blue, covered with fine black mesh, with a hood that can tuck into the collar.

"We went from poncho to a rise in the front, lower in the back, a little more A-lined," Smith says. "It has a hood, it's coated with Teflon and it's waterproof."

Nas Rivera also worked on the FIT project, collaborating with an amputee to make a blouse with adjustable sleeves.

"If you were an amputee at the shoulder, you could just completely cap it off [and go sleeveless]," says Rivera. "If you were an amputee at the elbow, you could wear short sleeves." For someone who wears an arm prosthetic made of rubber, the blouse's long sleeves are lined on the inside, giving easy in-and-out access.

Some of the other improvements that the FIT students came up with include extra fabric and elastic at the elbows, shoulders and waistline for greater mobility; magnetic buttons and Velcro fasteners, which are easier to use than standard closures; and pockets at the knees, which wheelchair-bound people can reach more easily.

If this all sounds more like The Matrix than Medicare, that's good for both the clients and the creators — and, in the future, maybe a larger market.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 60 million Americans have a permanent disability. And millions of those people — like Liz Jackson, with her purple cane, and Air Force veteran Anna Smith, with her love of clothes — want to look good.

After trying on the new FIT designs as a model, Smith wants to become an advocate for accessible clothing.

"I feel blessed to be a part of something," she says. "I know it's divine design. Evidently even the accident and all that I have gone through, it's for a greater purpose," she says. "It's like being a drop in the water — that without all the drops there wouldn't be any ocean."

Meanwhile, Lucy Jones says she'll continue to work on her Seated Collection, and FIT grad Erika Morales wants to keep creating clothes for people with disabilities.

Someday, maybe the garments will go from being production-ready to being on shelves.

"We have all the technology to be able to modify clothing. It's just not a market that's been tapped into yet," Morales says. "If we're students and we can do it, why can't these big companies get ahold of the same concept and do it, too?"

And the new clothes look so sharp, all bodies might want them.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

A new study looks at the lyrics of the 93 bestselling music artists in recording history. Turns out rappers tend to have a wider vocabulary than others. Famous wordsmith Bob Dylan came in fifth.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.