Easterseals Disability Film Challenge to Provide An Opportunity for Filmmakers To Change the Way the World Defines And Views Disability

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Weekend-long filmmaking contest provides a significant platform for new voices in the entertainment industry;  “Speechless” producer Scott Silveri Among Mentors

Easterseals, the nation’s largest disability services organization, has joined forces with the Disability Film Challenge to provide filmmakers, actors, and other creators–with and without disabilities–the opportunity to create short films that tell diverse and underrepresented stories while receiving opportunities to network with Hollywood professionals. The weekend-long contest takes place April 21-23, 2017 and registration is now open.

Through the newly renamed Easterseals Disability Film Challenge (www.disabilityfilmchallenge.com), sponsored by Dell and SAG-AFTRA, aspiring storytellers register to creatively write, produce and complete a short film over a weekend span of 55 hours. Challenge winners receive invaluable access to entertainment professionals, opening the door to a traditionally hard-to-crack industry. Additionally, the winner of Best Film will receive a Dell mobile workstation, and the winner of best filmmaker and best actor will receive Dell 2-in-1 computers.

“We are thrilled to be collaborating with challenge founder Nic Novicki on this year’s Easterseals Disability Film Challenge” said Mark Whitley, CEO, Easterseals Southern California. “Nic has built the Challenge to be a premier annual event showcasing the power of diversity. At Easterseals we work to change the way the world defines and views disability, and through this partnership, we hope to continue Nic’s vision of encouraging and highlighting the tremendous talent and stories that exist within our community.”

“People with disabilities are vastly underrepresented in the entertainment industry, both in front of and behind the camera,” said Nic Novicki, founder, Disability Film Challenge. “While more than 18% of Americans have disabilities, only 2.4% of all speaking characters were depicted with a disability in the top 100 films of 2015 — this challenge seeks to change those statistics,” said Novicki.

Regular registration submissions ($45) will run until Sunday, April 9, and late registration submissions ($60) will take place from Wednesday, April 10 until Wednesday, April 19. Full registration instructions are available online at www.disabilityfilmchallenge.com.

Contest entrants will then have the opportunity to promote their films for a week at the end of April before the finalists and winners are announced.

Filmmakers will also have access to mentors well-versed in the industry and provide feedback where requested. This year’s mentors will include veteran writer/producer Scott Silveri (Speechless, Friends, Joey, Grinder); and famed casting director Pam Dixon (City Slickers, The Green Lantern). Previous mentors have included director/screenwriter/producer and novelist Peter Farrelly (There’s Something about Mary, Dumb & Dumber), writer/producer Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and casting director Pam Dixon, among others. Additional mentors for the 2017 challenge to be announced in the coming weeks.

Since the challenge launched, aspiring filmmakers from around the world have created more than 150 films which have been viewed online and at festivals including the HollyShorts Film Festival. Winners have included Dickie Hearts, a winner of the best filmmaker award in 2015 who went on to win an HBO Project Greenlight digital series competition, Jenna Kanell, the winner of the best film award in 2015 who went on to give a TED talk about her experience and David Harrell, the winner of the best film award in 2016, who won Best Actor at the Focus on Ability Festival.

About Easterseals:

Easterseals provides services that empower individuals with disabilities and special needs at all stages of life. Autism services, independent living services, social skills support, early childhood education services, and employment services for civilians and military veterans are all designed to help people live independent and productive lives so they can live, learn, work and play in their communities. Learn more at www.easterseals.com/southerncal.

About Nic Novicki and the Disability Film Challenge:

Actor, comedian and producer Nic Novicki launched the Disability Film Challenge in 2013 in response to seeing disabilities underrepresented both in front of and behind the camera. As someone with a disability, Nic created the challenge to give aspiring filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their work and provide them with meaningful exposure. This year, Nic and Easterseals Southern California joined forces to expand the challenge, now known as the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. As the leading nonprofit supporting people living with disabilities, Easterseals brings additional attention to the challenge, using its numerous communications channels to encourage people with disabilities to participate.

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‘Power Rangers’ Features An Autistic Ranger: Why That’s More Important Than You Realize

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As early reviews for Lionsgate’s new Power Rangers film appear on news and entertainment sites, fans of the franchise are also learning new details about the film. We now know that one of the Rangers will be the first gay superhero featured in a blockbuster film. And there’s more: reviews also revealed that the story of another Ranger has a unique aspect. Billy, the Blue Ranger, is on the Autism Spectrum.

The Blue Ranger, played by R.J. Cyler, is part of a cast that represents viewers from a more broad spectrum of life than most big-budget films, with Asian, African-American, and Latina leads.

In the original TV show, the Blue Ranger was not written as autistic. The revelation that Lionsgate’s screen adaptation has added that depth to his character demonstrates the film is headed for a more grounded approach than the show, and is not taking its influence on young adults lightly.

Cyler, speaking with Screen Rant, explains why he was dedicated to bringing truth to Billy and his experience with autism in the film:

I actually sat down and shut my mouth and actually just listened and accepted every bit of information with no judgement… I knew that it was my job to show that people that are on the spectrum are just regular people, literally, just how we talk, how me and Becky [Becky G, Yellow Ranger] talk, they feel the same way, they have the same emotions, they wanna be loved, that want people to love, they want relationships they want, you know, connections, and it’s just like I was really excited to be able to play that ’cause I know it means so much to so many people, ’cause all of us are affected by it.

This, unexpectedly, comes about just as Sesame Street also introduces a new character with autism.

In 2016 Autism Speaks reported that 1 in every 68 children are on the Autism Spectrum in the United States. With that figure in mind, you can see how rarely entertainment reflects those on the spectrum, and how many people have no one to relate to on TV or in film.

Continue onto MoviePilot to read the complete article.

Julia, A Muppet With Autism, Joins The Cast Of ‘Sesame Street’

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For the first time in a decade, the classic children’s television show Sesame Street will introduce a new Muppet on the air.

Her name is Julia. She’s a shy and winsome 4-year-old, with striking red hair and green eyes. Julia likes to paint and pick flowers. When Julia speaks, she often echoes what she’s just heard her friends Abby and Elmo say. Julia has autism.

“There’s so many people that have given her what she is. I’m just hoping to bring her the heart,” says Stacy Gordon, the veteran puppeteer selected to play the part.

Presenting Julia to the gang requires a bit more explanation of her differences and hidden talents for the other Muppets — and their young viewers. As Abby Cadabby (the 3-year-old fairy played by Leslie Carrara-Rudolph) explained during NPR’s recent visit to the set in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., it can be hard to get Julia’s attention. Big Bird had to repeat himself to get her to listen, for example. And she sees things where others don’t.

“That’s just Julia being Julia,” Abby said.

The role of Julia has a personal dimension for Gordon: She says she used do therapeutic work for people with autism. And Gordon says her son is on the autism spectrum, too. She believes the show will be a great resource — for students with the disorder and for their playmates.

“Basically, in terms of vulnerable families, we’re looking at families who may have particular stressors in their lives that are impacting their young children,” Betancourt says, “whether it’s economic or social emotional stresses or differences that they’re handling at the time.”

Parents of children with autism told officials at Sesame how important the show was for their kids. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in 68 American children have autism.

Julia started last year as a character in Sesame’s books and digital offerings. Sesame decided on a two-fold mission for the related campaign “See Amazing in All Children,” to give children with autism and their families someone to identify with — and those that don’t a window into their world. The materials appear on a dedicated site.

“Man, I really wish that kids in my son’s class had grown up with a Sesame Street that had modeling [of] the behavior of inclusion of characters with autism,” Gordon said.

Continue onto NPR to read more about Julia and her time on Sesame Street.

 

Athlete activist Mia Ives-Rublee spreading ‘disability pride’

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With her tiny frame perched atop her wheelchair and her service dog at her side, Mia Ives-Rublee deftly maneuvers through a restaurant brimming with a busy lunch crowd. She is adept at making space for herself in a world that hasn’t always been welcoming.

She proved that point on a national scale last weekend, leading the Disability Caucus of the Women’s March on Washington.

Ives-Rublee was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, commonly known as brittle bone disease. It’s a genetic mutation that leaves bones extremely fragile, prone to breaks and fractures.

She recalls how growing up in Greensboro, surrounded by adults worried about her health, there wasn’t much room in her life for childhood dreams and ambitions.

“When you grow up with a disability, a lot of times you’re told by a lot of adults and professionals about what you can’t do,” she said. “That made it very hard for me to figure out what I wanted to do.”

A trip to the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta helped change that.

“I saw people, everyday people, just getting along with their lives, maneuvering the city and interacting with each other,” Ives-Rublee said. “That really opened my eyes, and my family’s eyes, to this whole group of people that have a community, and have a sense of self and identity, even a sense of disability pride.”

That experience broadened her horizons. She was inspired to pursue adaptive athletics, and as she grew physically stronger, she gained more confidence and greater independence.

She went on to compete internationally in wheelchair track and field, fencing and cross-fit events, all while pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in sociology and social work.

Now at 32, she works as a research assistant at UNC, enjoying a level of independence and self-determination her parents and doctors never thought possible.

She still trains regularly and also works as a coach, teaching others about adaptive athletics. It was through this process of reaching out to people living with disabilities that she found her focus shifting from personal achievement to political activism.

“For a long time I wanted to disassociate and show people I wasn’t disabled,” Ives-Rublee said. “As I grew more independent and more self-aware, I started to get more involved in the disability community. It’s been a slow transition. Becoming more connected with disability rights advocates changed my outlook and what I’m passionate about.”

She shied away from advocacy in the past for fear of being pigeon-holed. Now she wants to take a more active role in developing public policy that guarantees equal rights for disabled people.

“I’ve come to the realization that other people aren’t going to fight for us,” she said.

Increasingly, Ives-Rublee sees the need to bring disability issues to greater prominence in the progressive movement. When she heard about the Women’s March on Washington, she reached out to the organizers to make sure the march would be accessible and inclusive.

“For a long time, people with disabilities have had a hard time accessing these mainstream marches,” she said. “My thought process was, if we can create a caucus, a group of individuals who are vocal, who are active, to then talk to national (organizers) about our concerns and our issues, then maybe we can get somewhere.”

Continue onto The News & Observer to read the complete article.

‘Speechless’ Just Schooled Everyone On Disability ‘Inspiration Porn’

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ABC’s “Speechless,” a sitcom about a family with a son who has a disability, tackled why it’s often offensive to call people with disabilities “inspirational.” And it’s done so, so well.

“Inspiration porn” is a term used to describe a common tendency in which able-bodied people condescend to those with disabilities by suggesting they are brave or special just for living. Ray DiMeo, a character in “Speechless” who is the younger brother of a teen with cerebral palsy, explained it perfectly in Wednesday night’s episode:

“It’s a portrayal of people with disabilities as one-dimensional saints who only exist to warm the hearts and open the minds of able-bodied people,” he said.

Continue onto the Huffington Post to read the complete article.

Disability Activists In Hollywood On Meryl Streep’s Speech

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Marlee Matlin, Danny Woodburn, and Maysoon Zayid reveal their reactions to the Hollywood icon’s speech to BuzzFeed News.

As she accepted her Cecil B. DeMille award on Jan. 8 at the Golden Globes, acclaimed actor Meryl Streep sharply criticized President-elect Donald Trump for ridiculing a journalist’s disability. “The person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter — someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back,” she said. “It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head.” Streep was referencing a moment in November 2015 when Trump mocked Serge F. Kovaleski, a New York Times reporter with arthrogryposis.

Streep denounced Trump’s incivility toward Kovaleski: “Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

In response to Streep’s speech, Oscar-winning actor Marlee Matlin tweeted, “SPEAK THE TRUTH!”

Comedian, writer, and disability rights advocate Maysoon Zayid responded similarly to Streep’s speech. “She won’t get the Cecil B. DeMille Award again — it’s once in a lifetime, and she chose to use that platform to condemn something that was so painful to so many of us,” she told BuzzFeed News on the phone.

The speech, however, was a reminder that Hollywood itself has a long way to go in destigmatizing disability. “Last night, the only mention of disability was Meryl Streep reminding the world that Donald Trump mocked us and became president,” Zayid said.

According to the US Census Bureau, people with disabilities make up nearly 20% of the population, and yet — as Zayid said — they were not represented at the Golden Globes. A recent study by the Ruderman Family Foundation confirmed that those with disabilities are grossly underrepresented in television — and when they do appear, they are almost always played by actors who do not have a disability themselves.

Danny Woodburn, an actor who is on the Screen Actors Guild’s Performers With Disabilities Committee, wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News: “To progress as a people, we need to embrace those who have been excluded.”

Matlin, speaking with BuzzFeed News via a Twitter direct message, said that Hollywood needs to “make disability and actors with disabilities part of the diversity conversation, which includes hiring actual people with disabilities to play disabled roles.”

As Woodburn put it, “My industry, [which] has always been the standard-bearer for addressing injustice … needs to continue on the path that has really only just begun for the disabled.”

Continue onto Buzzfeed to read the complete story.

Meryl Streep Calls Out Donald Trump for Mocking Disabled Reporter in Riveting Golden Globes Speech

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Jimmy Fallon was never going to do it. So at the 2017 Golden Globes, it was up to Meryl Streep.

Accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award from Doubt co-star Viola Davis, Streep did not hesitate to make her thoughts about Donald Trump, who will be inaugurated as president in less than two weeks, crystal clear.

She began by asking the crowd to forgive her, because she had lost her voice. “And I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year,” Streep added. Picking up where Hugh Laurie left off in his acceptance speech by saying that she and her fellow artists in the room “belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now,” exemplified by the group that hands out the Golden Globes: the Hollywood Foreign Press.

“Think about it,” Streep continued. “Hollywood, foreigners, and the press. But who are we? And, you know, what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places.” She listed off the far-flung places that various performers in the audience come from, including Natalie Portman from Israel and Dev Patel, “born in Kenya, raised in London” who “is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania.”

“Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners,” she said. “And if you kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.”

Of all the “performances” this year, there was one that “stunned” her, that “sank its hooks” into her heart. “Not because it was good—there was nothing good about it,” Streep said. “But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.”

Continue onto the Daily Beast to read the complete article.

‘Life, Animated’ to have television premiere

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Roger Ross Williams’ feature-length documentary “Life, Animated” will have its television premiere at 8 p.m. Saturday on the A&E Network.

“We are thrilled,” Williams announced on the film’s Facebook page. “What a wonderful way to start 2017!”

The documentary about a boy with autism who finds a way to communicate through Disney characters has been short-listed for this year’s Academy Award nominations. Williams won an Oscar for his 2010 short documentary, “Music By Prudence.”

Williams premiered the documentary at the Sundance Film Festival where he won the directing award for a documentary. Williams also had his first full-length documentary, “God Loves Uganda,” shortlisted for a 2013 Oscar, but it didn’t make the final five nominations.

The film is one of 15 chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 145 submitted in the documentary feature category to advance in voting for the 89th Academy Awards. The Academy’s Documentary Branch members will select the five nominees from among the 15 titles. Nominations will be announced Jan. 24.

Williams was inspired to shoot his new film after reading “Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind about his son. The book tells the story of Owen, who stopped speaking at age 3 and was diagnosed with autism. Owen eventually reconnected with the world though his love of Disney animated films. The film, which combines live footage and animation, opened in July after making the rounds of film festivals where it racked up 11 awards and 12 nominations.

Continue onto the Richmond Times to read the complete article.

Carrie Fisher normalized mental illness. These 13 tweets show why that matters.

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Actress, jokester, and animal-loving icon Carrie Fisher died on Dec. 27, 2016. As evidenced by the response that followed, her impact dismantling stigma surrounding mental illness will live on for generations to come.

The “Star Wars” legend, who died at age 60 less than one week after suffering a heart attack, was more than an actor. She fought for animal welfare. She railed against sexism, body-shaming, and ageism in Hollywood. And she often spoke candidly about living with addiction and bipolar disorder.

To many fans, Fisher’s openness about living with mental illness made a big difference.

Helping to stomp out the stigma against mental illness quickly became one way that fans honored Fisher’s legacy.

People began opening up about their own experiences living with mental illness using the #InHonorOfCarrie hashtag on Twitter.

As their responses show, Fisher’s commitment to live freely helped normalize mental illness. And it helped countless others do the same.

Continue onto Upworthy to read the complete article.

Meet the man who’s redefining ‘disabled’ in Colombia

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As a young man with cerebral palsy, Jeison Aristizábal has fought his entire life to overcome the obstacles in his way.

“When I was a young boy, a doctor told my mom that I would amount to nothing,” said Aristizábal, who grew up in one of the poorest areas in Cali, Colombia.

His family provided the support he needed to live an independent life. But early on he realized there were thousands of children with physical and cognitive disabilities in his community who weren’t as lucky.

“Many families … are misinformed. They think that it’s God’s punishment,” said Aristizábal, 33. “There are children who spend years in bed … because their families don’t know how to care for them.”

For the last 15 years, Aristizábal has been working to change perceptions and give young people with disabilities a brighter future.

His nonprofit, ASODISVALLE (an acronym that translates to Association of Disabled People of the Valley), offers a range of services that have helped transform the lives of more than 1,000 young people and their families — all for free.

CNN: What struggles did you experience growing up?

Jeison Aristizábal: I had a difficult childhood that was full of doctor’s appointments and surgeries. I had to witness my parents rummaging for money so they could take me to the doctor. On some occasions, my parents didn’t have enough money to pay for surgery, so we had to wait.

When I was in a wheelchair, I would watch other kids running, playing and riding bicycles. I think that was one of my biggest motivations — I had to be able to be like them.

My mom started fighting against that initial diagnosis. She took me to physical therapy and to get many different kinds of treatments. I went to a regular school, and I kept pushing myself. I became class president, and I started proving to my friends, and myself, that I have many talents.

CNN: What inspired you to help other children with disabilities?

Aristizábal: I met a child in a very poor house, a boy who grew up on a bed for eight years, and I think that boy really touched my heart because he reminded me of when I was in that same situation. I started collecting and donating wheelchairs so that boy and many other children could at least move.

My next goal was to provide physical therapy. I asked my parents if we could work from their garage. I got a ball, a mat, and I found a girl who was finishing up her last year of physical therapy training. We started off with 20 kids, but children kept coming and coming. Eventually, we literally took over my parents’ house. Now we have our own center.

Read the complete interview on CNN.

This cool new sneaker solves a really important problem for people with disabilities

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Nearly three years after Matthew Walzer, who has cerebral palsy, wrote a viral letter asking Nike for more accessible footwear, the company has announced a new sneaker with people with disabilities in mind.

The Lebron Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease basketball sneaker employs Nike’s new Flyeasetechnology; instead of laces, which prove extremely difficult for people with movement disorders, stroke victims and amputees, the sneaker has a zipper that extends around the back of the shoe, allowing its wearer to “peel” it open with one hand and slide his foot in easily.

Designed by Nike’s senior director of athlete innovation, Tobie Hatfield, the footwear system aims to “help athletes of all abilities and ages perform better.” Hatfield worked with Walzer to develop the cutting-edge sneakers.

“It feels great to have this shoe made for everyone and to be the catalyst for such a great project,” Walzer, 19, told Mashable. “Writing my letter three years ago, I honestly wasn’t expecting much at all, maybe a polite letter from customer service …

I couldn’t be more proud that people will be able to have this long, overdue independence.

I couldn’t be more proud that people will be able to have this long, overdue independence.”

While Flyease has actually been seven years in the making, prompted by Nike CEO Mark Parker’s desire to help the company’s first employee, Jeff Johnson, after he had a stroke, it was Walzer’s 2012 letter that inspired Hatfield to move forward with the idea.

Walzer wrote that he was born two months premature, with underdeveloped lungs, and after being diagnosed with cerebral palsy, doctors said he’d never be able to walk. But with the aid of crutches and Nike basketball sneakers, which provided enough ankle support, he could.

Continue reading the full story here.

DIVERSEability | A Diversity & Inclusion Disability Magazine