Let’s Get Real About Autism

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By Jessica Berthold

As the mother of a young son with autism, I am livid at the notion that money and time would be spent on investigating long-debunked claims that vaccines cause autism, as would happen if President-elect Trump creates a new commission on vaccine safetyheaded by a prominent vaccine skeptic. The vaccines-cause-autism fallacy has long been put to rest, and that investment of time and resources would be better spent within the autism community and on pressing public health issues. And as the communications manager of a public health organization, I can confirm that reigniting this issue sends exactly the wrong message.

The “research” purporting to find a link between autism and vaccines has been thoroughly discredited and disproven by countless studies that failed to replicate the results of Andrew Wakefield’s original, falsified “study.” What’s more, that original study was retracted by The Lancet, the medical journal that published it, due to serious scientific flaws and ethical violations, and Mr. Wakefield lost his medical license.

Unfortunately, the damage has already been done, as the tentacles of this study’s false findings continue to alarm parents whose natural instinct is to protect their children. I know many parents who suspect there is no danger from vaccines but still choose to forgo them – why take the risk? Only in an era when vaccines have been so successful in saving lives and preventing illnesses like mumps, measles and polio could the idea of “risk” be so tragically misplaced. More cruelly, the lie about a vaccine-autism link has sown doubt and guilt into the minds of many parents of children with autism, who fret about the cause of their child’s condition and whether there is something they could have done to prevent it. The fact is, we still don’t know for sure what causes autism, but the best research suggests a complicated interaction between genetics and the environment. If we want to tackle autism, let’s focus on pursuing scientifically valid leads – instead of reanimating debates over proven dead ends, like a link between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism.

Better yet, let’s take a preventive approach that not only acknowledges the many people already living with autism in this country, but provides resources that enable people with autism to thrive in their families and communities. The need is great, for all with autism but particularly those in lower-income communities: for better diagnosis and screening, for early intervention and ongoing treatment, for better insurance/Medicaid coverage, for school supports, for respite care for caregivers, for housing and employment options once autistic people age out of the school system, and for embracing autistic people as full members of our society. I know firsthand that fighting for your child to get adequate treatment and appropriate education is a full-time job. I know – from speaking with many parents in my community – that it becomes much harder once your autistic child is out of secondary school and in the real world, where the employment rate for autistic people is abysmal and the quirks seen as “cute” in a young child are viewed in an adult as off-putting or even dangerous. And I know that I’m a privileged, well-educated woman with a decent salary – how much more overwhelming this fight for your child must be when you face additional discrimination or lack the resources to fully mobilize the limited systems and supports that currently exist? Instead of throwing money and time at a conspiracy theory that’s long been stripped of credibility, let’s devote our resources to equity for all with autism.

Continue onto U.S. News & World Report to read the complete article.

Stepping into the Limelight

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Verizon's collage of disability images

By Kat Castagnoli, Editor, DIVERSEability Magazine

Seeing people with disabilities on a TV series, the big screen or even in commercials hasn’t always been the norm. Actor portrayals have been more typical than an actual person with a disability playing a role. But no more. DIVERSEability Magazine is giving a standing ovation for those with a disability who are proudly stepping into the limelight so that more youngsters can point to a television or movie screen and say, ‘hey, they’re like me!’

Like Ali Stroker, our cover story, the very first actress who uses a wheelchair to win a Tony Award. The 32-year-old, who won for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, says it’s “really cool” to see herself represented. “It didn’t feel like, ‘Oh, you did something to overcome being in a chair,’” Stroker said. “It was actually, ‘We’re recognizing you for being at the highest level of your field.’ That’s what I’ve always wanted.”

And what about America’s Got Talent’s latest winner Kodi Lee? The singing phenom—who is both blind and autistic—stole the hearts and minds of millions who were cheering him on through Season 14, including AGT judge and actress Gabrielle Union, who declares, “Kodi has literally changed the world.”

We here at DIVERSEability can think of nothing better. Because when people with disabilities are represented, it changes the way we think about disability and inclusion in all walks of life and business. The 2,000 attendees at Disability:IN this past July can definitely testify to that. Read the jam-packed Wrap-Up on page 16, and you’ll see “life-changing” as an overriding theme.

In addition to our Best of the Best list of disability-friendly companies, we’re seeing even more jobs for people with a disability (page 46). Also, take a look at ways to create better experiences for all your employees (page 40) as well as how to make your business even more successful (page 66).

Finally, we are thrilled to see companies like Verizon shattering stereotypes by launching their new Disability Collection of images (pictured above). The company says the new image library aims to shed light on how the world views the disability community.

We challenge all companies to step into the spotlight and follow suit to create a more inclusive, visible and well represented workforce. Can you imagine a world where we can all say, ‘hey, they’re just like me!?’ We can.

Double amputee, 9, to walk New York Fashion Week runway: ‘Disability doesn’t stop you’

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Daisy May walking with prosthetic legs into makeup room before an event

A young girl in the U.K. isn’t letting her disability stop her from achieving her dreams. Daisy-May Demetre, 9, will reportedly become the first child double amputee to strut her stuff on the runway at New York Fashion Week in September, SWNS reported.

Daisy-May, of Birmingham, was born with fibular hemimelia, a birth defect where part or all of the fibula bone is missing. The condition is rare, occurring in 1 in 50,000 births, according to the Generic and Rare Disease Information Center. 

When she was 18 months old, Daisy-May’s parents Alex and Claire Demetre chose to have both of the young girl’s legs amputated — the right above the knee and the left below the knee — in the hopes of giving her a better quality of life with prosthetics.

“We had the choice for her to live like that or to go for the operation,” Alex, Daisy-May’s father, said. “We didn’t know at the time that Daisy-May would be as good as she is now.”

Indeed: Daisy-May is living proof determination can defy all odds. She is a gymnast as well as a model for Boden, the country’s largest clothing catalog, according to SWNS. She’s also modeled for Nike and the British retailer Matalan, among others.

But come Sept. 8, Daisy-May will take her modeling career to new heights when she walks the runway at New York Fashion Week. Daisy-May will walk for the French-inspired children’s fashion line Lulu et Gigi Couture. She was approached about the opportunity after the line’s founder and head designer, Eni Hegedus-Buiron, spotted her modeling in London.

“I was asked if I was OK with having an amputee walk in my show. To be honest I was surprised by the question. For me, a child is a child and thus is beautiful and perfect,” Hegedus-Buiron told the outlet. “So of course I said yes.”

Alex told SWNS he is proud that his daughter will make history, but noted he and his wife hope to see more child amputees featured on the runway.

“Disability doesn’t stop you —  it definitely doesn’t stop Daisy,” Alex said, adding his daughter “belongs on the catwalk.”

Continue on to Fox News to read the complete article.

Target Unveils Adaptive Halloween Costumes For Kids With Disabilities

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child dressed in pirate costume sitting in decoratedwheelchair

Target’s newest Halloween offerings include adaptive costumes for kids with disabilities ― a sign that major retailers may finally be stepping up to make the commercial costume industry more inclusive.

The big-box giant is selling four disability-friendly costumes and two themed wheelchair covers through its Hyde and Eek! Boutique. Two of the options ― a princess dress and pirate ensemble ― are aimed at kids who use wheelchairs.

According to the online store descriptions, they were “thoughtfully designed with openings in the back that lend ease of dressing.” The costumes coordinate with decorative pirate ship and princess carriage wheelchair covers, which retail for $45 each. The princess dress and crown set costs $20 and the pirate get-up is $25.

The new line also includes sensory-friendly unicorn and shark costumes to accommodate kids with sensitivities. Per the website descriptions, both feature “an allover plush construction for a soft and cozy feel,” “flat seams with no tags,” “a hidden opening in the front pocket for convenient abdominal access” and the option to remove attachments like hoods. Each retails for $30.

Over the years, lots of children and adults with disabilities have gotten creative around Halloween time, with many putting together homemade costumes that incorporate wheelchairs and other assistive devices. There have also been adaptive costume options from small-scale vendors on sites like Etsy.

Target’s latest product line appears to be the first such costume offering from a major retailer.

Continue on to the Huffington Post to read the complete article.

‘Born This Way’ To End With Digital Wrap-Up Series & Finale Special On A&E

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Born this Way cast gathered on stage

A&E’s Emmy-winning docuseries Born This Way is coming to an end, with a fifth and final season.

The network said recently that the series will wrap with a six-part shortform digital series to begin premiering later this year on AEtv.com, and a one-hour linear series finale holiday special, to air in December on A&E.

Born This Way concluded its fourth season in May 2018. The digital series will pick up following last season’s wedding of cast members Cristina and Angel, and will continue the story of Elena, John, Megan, Rachel, Sean, Steven, Cristina and Angel.

In the hourlong series finale special, the cast will reflect on their personal growth across the four seasons of the show and discuss Born This Way’s impact on the way society views people with disabilities, according to A&E. “From finding jobs to navigating relationships and break ups to exerting their own independence, the cast will rejoice in the journey they have been on together and thank fans for all of their support along the way,” A&E said.

It’s not often that you get to make television like Born This Way which has had such a positive impact on the world. The show unquestionably changed how society views people with Down syndrome and how people with Down syndrome see themselves,” said Executive Producer Jonathan Murray. “It has shown that no one should have to live with artificial limits placed upon them and all of us, no matter what challenges we face, want the same things – independence, a chance for meaningful employment and a chance to contribute to our families and communities.”

“Being a part of the amazing and inspiring journey of our cast over the past four seasons has been an honor for myself and everyone at A&E,” said Elaine Frontain Bryant, EVP and Head of Programming, A&E Network. “We have all learned so much from their openness, resilience and spirit, and we will be forever grateful to them for welcoming us and viewers into their lives.”

Continue on to Deadline to read the complete article.

First US National Park to Offer Heavy-Duty Wheelchairs for Disabled Visitors to Enjoy the Scenery

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Woman Using Track Wheelchair at Sleeping Bear Dunes

This national park in Michigan has just become the first to implement heavy-duty wheelchairs as a means of allowing disabled visitors to enjoy their trails.

The “track chair” is a wheelchair that has been equipped with treads to navigate the steep hills and sandy trails of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The track chair program, which was launched in May, was created by Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes—an organization that specializes in making the park more accessible to visitors.

“Here at Sleeping Bear Dunes, about half the park is designated wilderness so in those areas we can’t do a lot of maintenance or changes [to increase accessibility,]” group board chairman Kerry Kelly told CNN. “So the better option is to have a vehicle that can take the person into these areas so they can experience the trail as it is without having to make major modifications.”

The track chair can currently only be rented out for use on the 1.5-mile long Bay View Trail; however, the organization says that the track chair has already been utilized by dozens of visitors.

The track chair is free for visitors to use so long as they reserve it several days in advance.

Continue on to the Good News Network to read the complete article.

The Pretty One: With a New Memoir, Writer-Activist Keah Brown Is Redefining Disability on Her Own

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Keah Brown book cover The Pretty One shows Keah smiling with an outdoor background

How do you say the word “disability”? Does it feel shameful or derogatory, or does it roll off of your tongue, matter-of-factly? Writer and disability activist Keah Brown wishes we were all less precious when talking about disability, because while it may be a fact of her life, it’s far from the whole of it, as she reveals in her new, but already acclaimed book of autobiographical essays, The Pretty One, which has garnered praise from luminaries like Deepak Chopra and Roxane Gay, who wrote:

“What does it mean to live at the intersections of blackness, womanhood, and disability? In her admirable debut, The Pretty One, Keah Brown answers this question with heart, charm, and humor. Across twelve finely-crafted essays, Brown explores the matter of representation in popular culture, the vulnerability of facing self-loathing and learning to love herself, the challenge of repairing fractured relationships with family, the yearning for romantic love. Through her words we see that Brown is not just the pretty one; she is the magnificently human one.”

For those of us whose knowledge of cerebral palsy extends about as far as remembering “Cousin Geri” on Facts of Life, it’s worth noting that the title of Keah Brown’s debut book is a story, in and of itself. Aside from being born with cerebral palsy, she was also born a twin, just ahead of able-bodied sister Leah—who was often dubbed (you guessed it) “the pretty one” by classmates and potential suitors.

Keah’s reclaiming of the phrase came after reckoning with years of physical and emotional pain, insecurities, jealousy, reconciliation and ultimately, accepting her ridiculously talented, #DisabledAndCute existence, the hashtag that garnered the writer her first book deal (and earned her a spot on 2018’s The Root 100). Speaking with The Glow Up, Brown explains how she found her pretty—and why she neither desires nor will accept anyone’s pity.

The Glow Up: You have cerebral palsy, which you describe as a disability both visible and invisible. You also talk about having a part of your body “working for and against you at the same time.” For those of us unfamiliar, can you explain how that manifests for you?

Keah Brown: Well, CP [cerebral palsy] is different for everyone who has it. For me, I have a mild form of hemiplegia that impacts the right side of my body. This means my reaction times are slower, I have delayed motor function and the right side of my brain sends its signals to the right side of my body at a slower time as well. I also walk with a limp and tire quicker than your average non-disabled person. My body is working twice as hard to function. So, it’s working for me to live, which I love, but because of my disability, it’s also twice as much work so on the bad days it feels like it’s working against me.

Continue on to The Root to read the complete article.

Meet The Kenyan Engineer Who Created Gloves That Turn Sign Language Into Audible Speech

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Kenyan engineer is seated at work station holding up the sign language glove wtih his right hand

Twenty-five-year-old Kenyan engineer and innovator, Roy Allela, has created a set of gloves that will ultimately allow better communication between those who are deaf and those who are hearing yet may not necessarily know sign language. The Sign-IO gloves in essence translate signed hand movements into audible speech.

Allela’s gloves feature sensors located on each finger that detect the positioning of each finger, including how much each finger will bend into a given position. The glove connects via Bluetooth to an Android phone which then will leverage use the text-to-speech function to provide translated speech to the hand gestures of a person signing.

The inspiration behind the Sign-IO gloves comes from the personal experience of having a young niece who is deaf. He nor his family knows sign language and often struggled to adequately and consistently communicate with her.

“My niece wears the gloves, pairs them with her phone or mine, then starts signing. I’m able to understand what she’s saying,” Allela shared in an interview with The Guardian.

Allela’s vision for the gloves is to have them placed in schools for special needs children throughout his home country of Kenya and then expand from there to positively impact the experiences of as many deaf or hearing-impaired children as possible. His gloves are amongst a number of cutting-edge projects that are contributing to the growing market of assistive technology devices that seek to provide aid to those with specific impairments and limitations.

Continue on to Because of Them We Can to read the complete article.

Wheelchair users may soon have more chances to hail Lyft, Uber rides

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BER driver assisting man in a wheelchair

As Lyft and Uber became part of the nation’s transportation systems, people who use non-folding wheelchairs felt left on the sidelines because the cars couldn’t accommodate them. That’s slowly starting to change. The two San Francisco companies on July 1 began collecting 10 cents on every ride in California to go to an accessibility fund established by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The agency has not yet said how and where that money will be allocated, but its purpose is to make sure that the apps offer sufficient vehicles with “ramps, lifts and adequate space to accommodate users who cannot leave their wheelchairs during a trip.” The fund grew out of a state bill passed last year, SB1376, requiring the companies to provide accessible services.

Meanwhile, Lyft, which so far has referred wheelchair users to call paratransit, taxi companies or other third parties, is starting a pilot on Tuesday in San Francisco and Los Angeles to offer five wheelchair-accessible vehicles in each market. Although the number seems modest, each will operate for 14 hours straight (with different drivers), a time frame spanning the most popular ride-request periods, according to Lyft.

The cars, modified 2019 Toyota Sienna minivans, will be driven by trained employees of paratransit provider First Transit. Lyft riders will be able to summon them via the app and will pay the same prices as for similar Lyft rides.

Lyft offers bonuses to independent-contractor drivers who happen to have wheelchair-accessible vehicles, though the company was unable to say how many people have them.

Continue on to SFC.com to read the complete article.

Fearless Amputee Mama Cax Encourages Others to Face Anything

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Mama Cax is seen standing with crutches after having her right leg amputated

By Hiliary Innerbichler

Mama Cax, born Cacsmy Brutus, was given only three weeks to live when she was diagnosed with bone (osteosarcoma) and lung cancer at 14 years old.

Now in her late 20s—and after having her right leg amputated due to an unsuccessful hip replacement following chemotherapy—the Haitian-American is an advocate who utilizes social media as a platform to talk about body positivity and to dismantle the image of what people with disabilities should look like.

“When I first started blogging, a lot of women amputees were messaging me about how they’d never seen an amputee on social media or anywhere showing their prosthetics,” she said in an interview with Teen Vogue. “I think it’s so important to show people who have physical disabilities because there are people out there who buy products and never see themselves represented in any way, shape, or form.”

In 2016, the blogger, advocate, motivational speaker and model was invited to the White House to walk in the first ever White House Fashion Show to celebrate inclusive design, assistive technology, and prosthetics.

Soon after, Cax was made one of the faces of Tommy Hilfiger’s adaptive line, and since then has made her debut walking the runway at New York Fashion week in designer Becca McCharen-Tran’s Spring 2019 show.

Mama Cax has now partnered with Olay in their new campaign #FaceAnything to encourage women to live fearlessly and to have the confidence to be unapologetically bold and true to themselves, according to health.com.

Source: Vogue.com, boredpanda.com, mamacax.com, health.com

ESPN to Present the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance to High School Football Coach Rob Mendez at The 2019 ESPYS

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Rob Mendez poses with group of high school football team

High school football coach Rob Mendez will be honored with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at The 2019 ESPYS.

ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro shared the news with Mendez on this video. The award is given to a deserving member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination. Mendez was born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder that caused him to be born without arms or legs.

“I am incredibly honored, excited and humbled to receive this honor,” says Coach Mendez. “I still remember one of my favorite all-time ESPN anchors Stuart Scott delivering his Jimmy V Award acceptance speech. Thank you to ESPN and all of my family, friends and of course players for believing in me! Who Says I Can’t!”

Though Mendez himself was not able to play football, he did develop a passion for it at an early age and has channeled his passion for the sport into a standout coaching career. He taught himself the fundamentals of the sport using the Madden video games, became manager of the football team as a freshman in high school, and eventually quarterback coach in his senior year. After graduating, he spent 12 years as an assistant coach for various programs, where he was regularly overlooked for the head coaching position he knew he was ready for.

Finally, in 2018, he was hired as a head coach for the junior varsity football team at Prospect High School in Saratoga, CA. In his first season, he led his team to an incredible 8-2 record and narrowly lost the league championship game 3-0. His football acumen, positive outlook, and genuine love for his team have made him a revered coach, and those around him are endlessly inspired by the adversity he overcomes in his day-to-day life. Mendez will be presented with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at The 2019 ESPYS presented by Capital One, hosted by Tracy Morgan, live on ABC at 8 p.m. ET on July 10.

“Rob’s entire life embodies the word perseverance,” says Pitaro. “From the time he was born, Rob has had to overcome all the assumptions others had about what he couldn’t do. Yet his confidence and fierce dedication to following his dream of coaching have inspired so many people – both on and off the field. He has made such a positive impact on his players, other coaches, parents and many across the community – and we are incredibly proud to be presenting Rob with this award at The ESPYS.”

In 2007, Women’s College basketball coach Kay Yow became the very first recipient of the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance. Past recipients include Eric LeGrand, Anthony Robles, George Karl, Dick and Rick Hoyt, Stuart Scott, Devon and Leah Still, Craig Sager, Jarrius Robertson and Jim Kelly.

The ESPYS helps to raise awareness and funds for the V Foundation for Cancer Research, the charity founded by ESPN and the late basketball coach Jim Valvano at the first ESPYS back in 1993. ESPN has helped raise close to $97 million for the V Foundation over the past 26 years. Tickets are available for public purchase at AXS.com. The ESPYS are executive produced by Maura Mandt and co-produced by Maggievision Productions.

About The ESPYS

The ESPYS gather top celebrities from sports and entertainment to commemorate the past year in sports by recognizing major sports achievements, reliving unforgettable moments and saluting the leading performers and performances. The 2019 ESPYS will recognize achievements in categories such as “Best MLB Player,” “Best Team,” “Best Female Athlete” and “Best Upset.” Inspiring human stories are showcased through three pillar awards – the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance and the Pat Tillman Award for Service. The ESPYS support ESPN’s ongoing commitment to the V Foundation for Cancer Research, launched by ESPN with the late Jim Valvano in 1993.