Sunrise Medical Introduces a Breakthrough In-Comfort New Jay® J3® Wheelchair Back

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New evaporative cooling and heating technology gives the user the ability to adjust to their personal climate with the benefits of superior clinical seating.

Today, Sunrise Medical is redefining wheelchair back technology with the introduction of the new JAY J3 HV wheelchair back. This is a wheelchair back which can adjust to an individual’s microclimate. Designed with feedback from customers and leveraging proven climate adjustment technology from the automotive industry, this new product gives the user superior clinical seating and exceptional comfort. With the flip of a switch the user can warm up or cool down for a better experience in all settings.

Internal thermal technology which includes evaporative cooling to dissipate moisture and pull it away from the body as well as thermal regulation to adjust to heat or cold is designed into several sizes of the industry leading JAY J3 wheelchair back. This new product is an easy system to use with a simple on/off switch to control the heat or
cool setting. It also comes with a rechargeable battery that provides a minimum of 8 hours of continued use. Indicator lights provide an easy way to tell if the heat (red) or cool (blue) setting is on. For added protection, there is an automatic shut off feature to ensure the safety of the client.

“In the present day funding driven environment we wanted to provide something that would help improve someone’s life not just meet a code, the new J3 HV backrest truly will improve the way you live and help you feel more comfortable doing it” said Jeff Rogers, Sr. Product Manager, Sunrise Medical.

JAY J3 wheelchair backs are designed with contoured back shells, soft foam and adjustable components for stability and fatigue reduction. A microclimatic cover features a wicking material and a layer of 3DX space fabric to promote airflow and dissipate heat and moisture, keeping the user clean and dry. The Lycra top surface provides a smooth, soft sitting surface that resists snagging and catching on clothing. The HV technology is seamlessly incorporated into this proven wheelchair back.

The new JAY J3 HV wheelchair back will set the standard in comfort for users. For images, and additional information on the JAY J3 HV back, please visit www.sunrisemedical.com.

About Sunrise Medical: A world leader in the development, design, manufacture and distribution of manual wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, motorized scooters and both standard and customized seating and positioning systems, Sunrise Medical manufactures products in their own facilities in the United States, Mexico, Germany, United Kingdom, Spain, China, Holland, Poland, Norway and Canada. Sunrise Medical’s key products, marketed under the Quickie, Sopur, Zippie, Breezy, Sterling, Jay, Whitmyer and Switch It proprietary brands, are sold through a network of homecare medical product dealers or distributors in more than 130 countries. The company is headquartered in Malsch, Germany, with North American headquarters in Fresno, Calif., and employs more than 2,000 associates worldwide.

11 Simple, Proven Ways to Optimize Your Mental Health

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Only you truly know the unique triumphs and travails of living in your own head. If you experience ongoing depression, anxiety or other symptoms, “Seeking professional help as early as possible, rather than waiting, can be critical,” says Dr. Robert Klitzman, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University in New York City. However, you needn’t be diagnosed with a mental health condition to benefit from taking steps to improve your psychological well-being. Here are some ways you can get a mental edge. The payoff could include everything from a happier, healthier, longer life to better relationships.

Get moving.

You might not want to sit down for this. “Physical exercise is very important in preventing or reducing mental health problems,” Klitzman says, which include depression. “When we exercise, our body releases endorphins – natural opiates that improve our mood and make us feel good. Exercise can also help cognitive functioning – how well we think.”

Watch your weight.

Being sedentary, by contrast, can prove a double whammy, since we don’t get the mental jolt from exercise – and we’re more likely to pack on pounds. Putting on extra weight, research shows, can weigh down our mental health, too. Obesity and diabetes increase the risk for depression, says psychiatrist Dr. Mahendra Bhati, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Be careful what you consume.

Your diet – whether predominantly plant-based with healthy greens, nuts and other lean proteins (good), or laden with saturated fat, processed foods and sugars (not so good) – can impact mood and anxiety levels. So, too, can other things we put in our body to get by in the moment, from tobacco and alcohol to recreational drugs. Better to avoid the feel-good momentary fixes, Klitzman says, and spare yourself the crash later.

Stay in the moment.

We all sometimes seek to avoid uncomfortable situations, either by physically removing ourselves or checking out mentally. “That’s normal … it’s just that when you do that very chronically and habitually, it could develop into significant problems with anxiety and depression,” says psychologist Brandon Gaudiano, an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Experts recommend practicing mindfulness instead to help deal with difficult circumstances and emotions. “It’s paying attention to the present moment and what your experience is,” says Gaudiano, noting that approaches vary. “Bringing awareness, acceptance, self-compassion, curiosity and just noticing non-judgmentally those internal experiences as they’re arising.”

Continue onto U.S. New & World Report for the complete article.

Pegi Young, 66, Musician Who Started a School for Disabled, Dies

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Pegi Young, a late-blossoming folk-rock musician who was a founder of a school for children with severe physical and speech impairments, like her son from her marriage to the singer-songwriter Neil Young, a performer at its many star-studded benefit concerts, died on Tuesday in Mountain View, Calif. She was 66.

Her brother Paul Morton said the cause was cancer.

By the early 1980s, Ms. Young had grown frustrated with the special education programs available for her son, Ben, who was born with cerebral palsy in 1978. She began thinking about starting a school to better address his needs and those of other children who had largely lost the ability to speak.

That inspiration led in 1987 to the Bridge School, an innovative institution in Hillsborough, Calif., that has since achieved global reach. Ms. Young founded it with the speech and language pathologist Marilyn Buzolich and Jim Forderer, who had adopted many special-needs children.

At the school, about 17 miles south of San Francisco, children from ages 3 to 12 use augmentative and alternative communication techniques, including speech generators and manual communication boards, to help them articulate their thoughts and prepare to complete their educations in their local school districts.

Vicki R. Casella, the executive director, said in a telephone interview that Ms. Young had a “determination to ensure that children like Ben have the opportunity to become active participants in their communities.”

Dr. Buzolich added that Ms. Young’s experience as the parent of a child with special needs had been critical to the school.

“Professionals often diss parental input, but the parent sees the whole child,” Dr. Buzolich said by telephone. “You can imagine the parents at the Bridge School saying to themselves, ‘She understands me, she knows what it’s like, she’s been there.’ ”

The school runs an international teacher training program; implements its curriculum in developing countries; organizes conferences; and conducts research to measure the effectiveness of its educational strategies.

“I take a tremendous amount of satisfaction with the knowledge that we’re changing lives for the better,” Ms. Young said in 2017 in an interview with AXS, a ticketing website. “It’s truly having a global impact.”

Continue onto the New York Times to read the complete article.

STEM Professor Receives Award to Study Technologies for Disability Community

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Ashley Shew standing on porch with arm around pillar smiling

By Leslie King

The trichotillomania bracelet looks unassuming, just like any other smart technology worn around the wrist. But rather than counting steps or heartbeats, it serves another purpose.

The wristlet vibrates an alarm when it tracks the user subconsciously beginning to pull out strands of hair. For those with trichotillomania, instead of following the compulsion to yank out their hair, the wireless device helps them notice the gestures and change their behavior.

This tool, along with other technologies for the disability community, intrigues Ashley Shew, an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Science, Technology, and Society. In July 2018, she received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award that will allow her to investigate the personal accounts of people with disabilities, as well as their opinions of the technologies designed for them.

The prestigious honor, given to junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research and education, is better known as the CAREER award.

“I’m interested in the storylines that disabled people tell about their bodies and how their relationships with technology differ from popular and dominant narratives we have in our society,” said Shew, who herself identifies as disabled.

Her research focuses on discrepancies between how scientists and engineers understand and explain their work related to disability and the actual needs and wants of people with disabilities. Shew said there is a disconnect between media-based depictions and reality within the realm of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and technology design.

“This means people aren’t always designing with real users in mind, but with ideas about what users want based on the entertainment media,” she said. “This is problematic because nondisabled people create and depict disabled people. There is little authentic disability representation in the media, so all these media-driven narratives about technology get fed into engineering.”

Shew cites several misleading media-supported tropes. Negative stereotypes encourage the public to view disabled people with pity, as sinners or fakers, or as resource burdens. And while the trichotillomania bracelet is small and unobtrusive, many technologies, such as wheelchairs or exoskeletons, are not. Some people who could benefit from viable supportive devices might shy away from them to avoid public skepticism or castigation.

And the reverse depictions are just as misrepresentative.

“There are also tropes about inspiration and courage,” Shew said. “The one people lean on, which I’ll be assessing through this grant, involves a focus on inspiration and courage, along the lines of, ‘You’re such an inspiration because you’re disabled in public.’ If you’re not inspiring, you’re courageous to overcome what you’re overcoming. If we believe you’re truly disabled, then if you’re out having a regular life, you’re considered heroic in ways that don’t map onto real life at all.”

Designers often create technologies with this trope in mind. An example of this is a surge of 3D-printed hands for young amputees. Marketed with terms such as “superhero” hands or arms, the branding presents these children as different from people without disabilities. Shew describes this phenomenon as techno-ableism, when technology makers try to empower others with helpful tools but use rhetoric that has the opposite effect. As part of her CAREER award, Shew will publish a book about this phenomenon.

Shew will also seek to counter unrealistic portrayals of people with disabilities by educating creators of disability technologies. Her research will incorporate interviews, memoirs, and the compilation of existing materials into classroom public outreach, an open-access website, and a textbook to complement existing STEM educational resources.

Shew is collaborating with Alexander Leonessa and Raffaella De Vita, associate professors in the College of Engineering, who have also received CAREER awards. In 2019, she will work with them through Virginia Tech’s STEMABILTY, a summer camp for students with disabilities.

A Virginia Tech faculty member since 2011, Shew received a Certificate of Teaching Excellence in 2017 and a Diversity Award in 2016, both from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Also in 2016, she received the Sally Bohland Award for Excellence in Access and Inclusion from the Virginia Tech office of Services for Students with Disabilities.

Shew co-edited Spaces for the Future: A Companion to Philosophy of Technology with Joseph Pitt, a Virginia Tech professor of philosophy. She is also the author of Animal Constructions and Technological Knowledge, published by Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield.

Shew is the fourth faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences to receive the prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award in the past several years.

Source: vtnews.vt.edu

 

Mobile Accommodation Solution for Workplace Accomodation

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 20.4 percent of people with disabilities were employed in March 2017, as opposed to 68.7 percent of people without disabilities. Therefore, creating better support for job applicants and employees is critical to creating a diverse pool of talent in the workplace, optimizing the productivity of every worker, and increasing job satisfaction.

The Mobile Accommodation Solution (MAS) app – the iOS version of which is now available in the app store – is a first-of-its kind tool that helps employers and others manage workplace accommodation requests throughout the employment lifecycle. Using the app, employers can track the status of requests; access fillable forms; and store, print and export records that can be imported into enterprise information systems. The app was developed by West Virginia University’s Center for Disability Inclusion in partnership with the Job Accommodation Network and IBM; funding came from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research.

From One Goal to the Next

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Parker Thornton about to Go Over the Edge

A crowded room quiets as Parker Thornton approaches the podium. He has been tasked with motivating Special Olympics Athlete Health Messengers to commit to being fit every day by working out more, eating healthy, and cutting down on soda.

He starts his speech by proclaiming the three words he says to himself in the mirror every day, “I’m happy, I’m healthy, and I feel fantastic!” Parker let those familiar words calm his nerves at speaking in front of the large crowd. After the speech has concluded, the audience erupts into applause, motivated and encouraged to take on the challenge of living a healthy life.

Parker’s life didn’t start at peak health. As a newborn, he contracted viral meningitis and was hospitalized at Boston’s Children’s Hospital for five weeks, much of it on life support. He survived his first challenge, but the result of the viral meningitis left Parker with significant learning disabilities, which resulted in an anxiety disorder and depression.

When Parker was eight years old, he was introduced to Special Olympics New Hampshire when local families came together to start a ski team for children with intellectual disabilities. That introduction has led to more than 28 years of involvement with Special Olympics. Parker has won numerous gold medals in sports ranging from basketball, golf, skiing, and pentathlons. “I realized that Special Olympics was more than just sports; it taught me how to be a better man, a proficient communicator, and how to be a mentor to other athletes who have their own challenges. Special Olympics tells you how to speak up, get healthy to be a better athlete, and blossom gifts in yourself and others,” Parker said.

Parker recently had an opportunity to make his own life healthier. “I wasn’t happy with my body, and Parker Thornton smiling to the cameraI was depressed,” Parker said. He signed up for a sprint triathlon, which motivated him to train for seven months. Parker lost 20 pounds and was able to go off prescribed medication. Seeing a positive change in his body and completing the triathlon showed Parker that even if it takes hard work, he can accomplish whatever he sets his mind to.

Parker has set his mind to tackling new challenges in the last few years. He speaks frequently on topics related to disabilities, Special Olympics, and the health disparities of people with disabilities. “Inclusive health is such a big issue. No one understands the health differences between people with and without intellectual disabilities. I want to motivate and get people thinking about how they can make changes to better the lives of people with intellectual disabilities,” he said.

Parker is now a consultant for Special Olympics International. He lead an Athlete Health Messenger training for a new cohort of athlete leaders who are tasked with taking the charge for equal access to health for people with disabilities. He co-edits a monthly health newsletter that goes out to thousands of recipients and is continuously tasked with being called upon to give motivational speeches. Speaking fills Parker with a sense of purpose. He wants to motivate others to see people with intellectual disabilities as part of human diversity and should be celebrated as such.

Parker is planning on accomplishing his next goal in 2019: attending professional stunt school in California. “It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to get trained to do professional stunts like you see in the movies,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what’s next.”

Cox and Comcast Focusing on Accessibility

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The Cox Communications new Contour voice remote, powered by Comcast’s X1 platform, empowers customers who have limited mobility or dexterity or a visual disability. With the push of a button, you can search, surf and record your favorite programs, all with the sound of your voice.

Plus, the new Contour features Voice Guidance, a “talking guide” developed by Comcast, that speaks what’s on the screen, including program descriptions and navigation options. Now individuals with accessibility needs can easily explore thousands of TV shows and movies.

This proactive step is not limited to their product offering. Cox is also hiring individuals with disabilities to test their products.

Mona Lisa Faris, president and publisher of DIVERSEability Magazine spoke with representatives from Cox and Comcast to discuss how their collaboration is helping both companies become more proactive.

Ilene Albert, Executive Director, Value Added Services and Diversity Products at Cox, began with some history behind this new focus at Cox.

“Last December we launched a center of excellence for accessibility, to focus on developing products, support and services for our customers who have disabilities and accessibility needs. We are very excited about this; we work with all of our peers across the product organization to make sure we are looking at the broad picture of accessibility,” Albert explained. “We partner well with Comcast, who has been the leader in helping develop products for the accessibility community.

Jennifer Cobb is Director of Diversity Products at Cox. She told us, “Last year, we worked to set up the business processes so that, going forward, we were included in all new product development. One of the things we are working toward is integrating more research with persons with disabilities into our overall processes.”

Thomas Wlodkowski is the Vice President of Accessibility at Comcast. He was brought in to start up an accessibility office and, because he is visually impaired, he provides a unique perspective for Comcast, helping the company open products and services to the widest possible audience.

“I’ve been in the accessibility field before it was really considered a field—since the early 1990s,” Wlodkowski reports. At Comcast, our program is founded on three pillars: customer experience, product capabilities and infrastructure. My team is in the product group, and we launched voice guidance, which enables people who are visually impaired to navigate onscreen menus. We have an accessibility lab in our Philadelphia corporate headquarters that we use to drive employee awareness, and we also bring external community members in to help with user testing. It’s a big piece of our effort.”

Wlodkowski went on to say, “There is a saying in the disability civil rights community: Nothing about us without us. We really need to bring people with disabilities into the development process to find out where the barriers are.”

“At Comcast, we are building a lot of the accessibility solutions that, essentially, Cox would have had to build on their own. They get accessibility as part of the relationship. Then the two accessibility teams can partner to share best practices.”

“X1 has been a great product for us,” Wlodkowski said. “It’s based in the cloud, so we don’t have to install additional software or hardware in the box. We can roll new features in—and as we do that, Cox can also pick them up as well.”

New features were recently added just as Tom said, as Cox released a statement earlier this month announcing that YouTube is now available for Cox customers via their Contour app.

As Tom Wlodkowski pointed out, “By building accessible products, it builds a better product overall for everyone.” Accessibility is a fairly new frontier, as more and more companies realize that dedicating teams to ensure accessibility not only improves the products offered to those with disabilities but it provides a better experience for all customers.

Cox’s licensed version of Comcast’s X1 platform, Contour, is now its flagship video product.. And fans of The Voice who have Comcast or Cox as their cable provider will be happy to know they can now use their remote to cast their votes on the popular live show. The Contour/X1 technology is truly changing the television viewing experience, offering something for everybody to love!

Starbucks opens first U.S. sign language store

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The storefronts along Washington’s bustling H Street Northeast are lit up with familiar names and logos: Petco. Whole Foods. CVS.

There is also a Starbucks. Or, more specifically, S-T-A-R-B-U-C-K-S spelled out in the hand symbols of American Sign Language.

That fingerspelling is one way to spot the coffee giant’s first U.S. signing store, where 24 deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing employees run the shop using ASL. The store debuts on Tuesday after being converted from a standard Starbucks location to make the design and technology more accessible. It’s a step, employees and advocates say, toward boosting employment opportunities for the deaf community while also immersing hearing individuals in deaf spaces. And it’s a show of support from one of the world’s largest corporate brands.

“My identity is accepted here,” said Crystal Harris, a barista at the signing store. “Deafness has many faces.”

The store is just blocks from Gallaudet University, a 150-year-old institution and the world’s only university designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. The shop mirrors Starbucks’s first signing store, which opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2016. Customers from the outside can spot “Starbucks” written out in fingerspelling beneath the main logo and on large table umbrellas. And on the inside, what may appear like any other Starbucks cafe has been specifically laid out and decorated to celebrate deaf culture.

One entire wall, for example, is covered by a multicolored mural commissioned by a deaf artist and Gallaudet faculty member. In fingerspelling, the mural depicts a lowercase “d,” representing deafness, an uppercase “D,” representing deaf identity, an eye to represent visual connections, a hand holding a coffee cup, and other symbols showing merging of deaf and hearing cultures.

Customers can communicate in ASL or write their orders on a tech pad. Rather than wait to hear their names called at the end of the bar, customers look up to a screen showing when their drinks are ready. The store was also remodeled to maximize light and open lines of sight — high top tables or tall stacks of cups, for example, limit visibility for people signing to each other. Non-signing customers are also encouraged to use visual cues. Rather than sign that the store didn’t carry chamomile tea, for example, one employee waved his hand across his neck — signaling “no” — and then pointed to a printed menu with other options.

Camille Hymes, Starbucks’s regional vice president for the Mid-Atlantic, said the company chose D.C. for its proximity to Gallaudet and because of the city’s ties to activism for the deaf community. Using the store as a profitable business model, Hymes said, Starbucks can be an example to other companies of “using our scale for good.”

Continue onto the Washington Post to read the complete article.

On Oahu, people with physical or cognitive disabilities become surfers with an assist from this group

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Accesssurf

Surfing enthusiasts know that Oahu’s waters offer waves for every ability level. Winter vacationers who are veteran surfers flock to the legendary North Shore; beginners hoping to catch their first wave stick to calmer waters in the south.

The disability community claims White Plains Beach, a serene park on leeward Oahu that has become ground zero for adaptive surfing.

At the heart of this surfing clan is AccessSurf, a small nonprofit that’s pioneering barrier-free ocean experiences for people with physical and cognitive disabilities.

“This is a program where everyone is accepted, everyone is included and everyone is very integrated,’’ said Cara Short, the executive director.

Vacationers can easily join the action, but be aware that spending one afternoon riding waves with these folks might get you hooked.

“They have become my ohana [family] from the moment I first met them, and they welcome me back every year with open arms,” Jeremy Levy of Parker, Colo., said in an email.

Levy, who is blind, said he couldn’t find anyone to teach him to surf until he connected with AccessSurf. Now his family schedules annual vacations around the organization’s Day on the Beach, a monthly event open to all. It’s usually the first Saturday of the month; check the organization’s event calendar as part of your trip planning.

If you go, you’ll be greeted with aloha spirit by a team of staff and volunteers — about 200 of them — whose passion and expertise have earned the program international acclaim. Serious competitors also travel to Oahu from all over the world to practice with this group.

Spike Kane, who has paralysis from the armpits down, regularly travels from Vista, Calif., to work out with AccessSurf.

“I already knew the mechanics of adaptive surfing, but I was only doing prone at the time,” he said, describing how he used to surf with a lot of assistance. “I didn’t know there was another way to adapt my board.”

Working with Short, he settled on a board modified with a chest riser to keep his head up and out of the water. With this adaptation, he was able to paddle out and push himself and his board up on a wave.

“I thought, ‘This is something I can do without a big load of people in the water panicking over me,’ ” he said. “From that moment on, I was, like, ‘This is the real deal. This is going to change my life.’ ”

Continue on to latimes.com to read the complete article

The Buying Power of People with Disabilities

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Women Shopping together

The needs of adults with disabilities are frequently overlooked in the marketplace and when businesses are designing and promoting products and services. But a new report from the American Institutes for Research (AIR)—A Hidden Market: The Purchasing Power of People With Disabilities—finds that inclusive hiring practices and involving people with disabilities in product development and advertisement can help businesses access markets worth billions of dollars. AIR researchers Michelle Yin, Dahlia Shaewitz, Cynthia Overton, and Deeza-Mae Smith wrote the report and used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

While some industries—such as technology and fashion—have begun marketing to and developing products for people with disabilities, the potential of these consumers has not been fully realized.

“Our study finds that working-age adults with disabilities are a large and relatively untapped market for businesses in the U.S.,” Yin said. “We hope that this report is a starting point to help businesses better understand and serve this group of consumers with unique needs.”

There are about 64 million people with at least one disability in the United States, and approximately 35 percent of this population is of working age (ages 16–65) and earns income through employment or supplemental support and benefits. While working-age people with disabilities have, on average, a lower annual income than people without disabilities, the report finds they still have significant spending power:

  • The total disposable income for U.S. adults with disabilities is about $490 billion, which is comparable to other significant market segments, such as African Americans ($501 billion) and Hispanics ($582 billion). (Disposable income is what is left after taxes are paid.); and
  • Discretionary income for working-age people with disabilities is about $21 billion, which is greater than that of the African-American ($3 billion) and Hispanic ($16 billion) market segments, combined. (Discretionary income is the money remaining after deducting taxes, other mandatory charges, and spending on necessities, such as food and housing.)

“Even with a lower overall income, adults with disabilities, as a group, have a lot of spending power,” Shaewitz said. “However, understanding and serving these consumers may require business and industry to make changes to some of their practices.”

Hiring and retaining people with disabilities and involving them in the development and production of products and services will be an important strategy for accessing this market. Several companies, including Starbucks, Northrop Grumman, AT&T, and Ernst & Young, have increased their inclusive hiring practices, recognizing that hiring people with disabilities can improve the bottom line and increase customer loyalty.

The report also suggests including adults with disabilities in advertising and marketing efforts and training employees on working with and meeting the needs of those with disabilities.

Several U.S. companies are already demonstrating how being inclusive not only benefits people with disabilities but also helps the bottom line. For example, the report highlights clothing company Tommy Hilfiger, which developed an accessible clothing line that has design elements that are friendly to those with disabilities, including magnetic closures and adjustable sleeves and pant legs. In response to a request from a customer with cerebral palsy, Nike developed technology for its shoes that offers a wraparound zipper and adjustable top. And online retailer Zappos launched a dedicated website that sells shoes and clothing that are easily used by people with physical disabilities, and sensory-friendly clothing for people on the autism spectrum and those who live with nerve pain and tenderness.

About the American Institutes for Research
AIR is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity.

Source: air.org

6 things Deaf activist Nyle DiMarco wants you to know about sign language

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Nyle DiMarco signing on stage

You may know Nyle DiMarco from America’s Next Top Model, where he was crowned the victor of the show’s 22nd season, in 2015. You may have seen DiMarco demonstrate perfect rhythm on Dancing With the Stars, where he went home with yet another grand prize. DiMarco, in short, is a winner.

But DiMarco, who is deaf, believes he owes his good fortune in life to a childhood experience: learning language — both spoken and signed — at an early age. Language acquisition, he says, helped him understand and engage with the world, which led to life-changing educational opportunities.

Now DiMarco is using his fame to try to help millions of deaf children around the world also gain access to language through his eponymous foundation. As part of that work, he appeared at the 2018 Social Good Summit in New York City to recognize International Day of Sign Languages and will appear at International Week of the Deaf, annual events that highlight the importance of access to sign language as part of achieving full human rights for deaf people.

Here are six things DiMarco wants you to understand about sign language and the importance of language acquisition for Deaf people:

1. You are a fierce advocate for early language acquisition among Deaf children. How did learning sign language at an early age change your life?

I was born into a large, multigenerational Deaf family — my great grandparents, grandparents, parents, and my two brothers are all Deaf. I am the fourth generation and have been exposed to American Sign Language and English since birth.

Knowing sign language saved my life. I was never alone. My entire family used sign language, so I never missed dinner table conversations. Growing up, I attended Deaf schools including Gallaudet University, the only Deaf university in the world. You could say it was a utopia for me.

With sign language, I was able to embrace my own identity as Deaf. I did not let being Deaf define me. Instead, I defined it.

2. Why is it often difficult for Deaf children to access sign language education?

Audism. Audism is a set of beliefs that include: hearing people are superior to Deaf people; Deaf people should be pitied for having futile and miserable lives; Deaf people should become like hearing people as much as possible; and that sign languages should be shunned. The stigma that notion has created positions sign language as a “lesser option” and pushes people consciously, or unconsciously, to prioritize hearing and speech therapies over sign language education. Materials and information become less available to the less popular option, and when you’re a new parent to a Deaf baby or child you look to the most available materials.

That is something my foundation, The Nyle DiMarco Foundation, is looking to change.

3. What myths about sign language and language acquisition are most harmful to the human rights of Deaf people?

In this bizarre world we live in, there are doctors, early interventionists, and audiologists that tell hearing parents not to expose their Deaf child to sign language because it will hinder their ability to learn English. That is a myth. A foundation in sign language helps your Deaf child learn how to read and write.

People believe that sign language is not a language. That is false. Sign language is a full language with its own grammar, syntax, and structure.

4. If you could immediately change anything about the representation of Deaf people and sign language in popular culture, what would it be?

Representation behind and in front of the camera. Empowering Deaf people as actors, writers, directors, producers, etc. There is no true representation if we’re not part of the stories being told — nothing about us without us. Sign language is being exploited and that only adds irreparable errors.

5. What does the International Week of the Deaf principle “nothing about us without us” mean to you?

It means that society needs to empower Deaf people as decision makers. This is true for every minority group. In order to improve our society as a whole, every marginalized group needs to be included in the conversation whether it’s political, social, or within the entertainment industry. I know that is easier said than done, but I feel like people are taking charge of their cultural and personal narratives more and more and it’s inspiring to see that.

Continue on to Mashable to read the complete article