For People Living with Disabilities, New Products Prove Both Practical and Stylish

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When buying a pair of shoes, a pen, or a new car—the expectation is for the product to do the job. But you also want it to look good: stylish, current, cool. Why wouldn’t the same be true of products—wheelchairs, hearing aids, and more—designed to aid those with disabilities?

This is one of the major questions explored in the new exhibition “Access+Ability,” on view at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum through September 3 of this year. The show, which features more than 70 works, from an aerodynamic racing wheelchair to a vibration-activated shirt that allows the deaf to experience sounds, covers the wide range of innovations occurring in accessible design. It reflects how designers creating products for those with disabilities are making them not just increasingly functional and practical, but stylish.

“Why not be able to change the color of your prosthetic leg to match your style, your taste, your outfit?” asks Cara McCarty, director of curatorial at Cooper Hewitt, who co-curated the exhibition with Rochelle Steiner, curator and professor of Critical Studies at the University of Southern California. “You can dress it up, dress it down.”

McCarty is referring to a set of prosthetic leg covers designed and manufactured by McCauley Wanner and Ryan Palibroda for ALLELES Design Studio, which come in a number of patterns and colors, allowing the user the kind of choice they would get if shopping for any other item of apparel.

“Just like people add tattoos to their limbs, life-enhancing products can be yours, you can add your identity to it,” says McCarty.

A similar development can be seen in the jeweled hearing aids designed by artist Elana Langer. On first glance, they appear as eye-catching earrings before a closer looks reveals the wearer actually inserts a portion of it into the ear.

Many of the works look like something you’d be as likely to come across at Macy’s as at a medical supplier. The show includes a pair of Nike-designed shoes, inspired by a boy with cerebral palsy who wrote to the sneaker manufacturer when he was 13 saying he wanted to be able to put on his shoes by himself. The result features a wraparound zipper system at the back of the heel that has no need for laces, making it far easier for someone with a movement disorder to use. But they also look really cool.

“Anybody could wear those shoes,” says McCarty. The bottom line, she adds, is “giving people choice.”

Continue onto the Smithsonian to read the complete article.

Rice Krispies Treats Just Took A Real Step Toward Inclusivity

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Kids with visual impairments can get loving messages with their snacks through Braille stickers and audio boxes.

Kellogg’s is increasing accessibility to the full joys of Rice Krispies Treats for children with visual impairments.

Last year, the packaged food giant rolled out writable wrappers on individual Rice Krispies Treats so that parents and others could pen encouraging messages for kids to read at school. But those notes wouldn’t reach some 62,000 American schoolchildren who are blind or low-vision, as the company said on its website.

So Rice Krispies announced Tuesday that it has partnered with the National Federation of the Blind to create “Love Notes” in the form of Braille stickers and recordable audio boxes, allowing kids with visual impairments to get a verbal boost with their snacks too.

The Braille stickers come in sheets of eight with preprinted uplifting phrases such as “You’ve Got This” and “Love You Lots.” They’re shaped like a heart, which matches the spot for writing notes on the Rice Krispies wrapper.

Because some children don’t read Braille or respond better to the spoken word, Kellogg’s is also offering a recordable audio box in which to tuck one Rice Krispies Treat. When the box is opened, it plays a 10-second message recorded by mom or dad.

According to Kellogg’s, the audio message can be re-recorded more than 1,000 times. That amounts to several school years’ worth of support ― assuming kids bring the boxes home each day.

The stickers and the audio boxes can be ordered through the Rice Krispies Treats website at no cost while supplies last.

The Love Notes also honor Will Keith Kellogg, the founder of the Kellogg Company, who lost his sight for the last decade of his life, according to Jessica Waller, vice president of sales and co-chair of the Kapable Business/Employee Resource Group at Kellogg’s.

“Inclusion is in our DNA, and is now shared through Rice Krispies Treats’ ‘Love Notes,’” Waller said in Tuesday’s press release. “Everyone is important, and we want each child to be able to feel loved, supported and acknowledged.”

Continue onto the Huffington Post to read the complete article.

Doctors With Disabilities Push For Culture Change In Medicine

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Lisa Iezzoni was in medical school at Harvard in the early 1980s when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She started experiencing some of the symptoms, including fatigue, but she wasn’t letting that get in the way of her goal. Then came the moment she scrubbed in on a surgery and the surgeon told her what he thought of her chances in the field.

“He opined that I had no right to go into medicine because I lacked the most important quality in medicine,” Iezzoni recalls “And that was 24/7 availability.”

Iezzoni didn’t end up becoming a doctor. This was before the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, and she says she just didn’t have the support.

In the decades since, court rulings and amendments have clarified rights and protections. But culture change has been slow to take hold in the profession.

Doctors are often portrayed as pinnacles of health, superhumans responding to emergencies around the clock, performing miracles of all kinds. They’re seen as the fixers, not the ones ever in need of accommodations or care.

“This profession historically has viewed themselves as able-bodied in the extreme,” Iezzoni says.

Now, a growing movement of current and aspiring doctors with disabilities is starting to challenge that narrative, saying it is a disservice both to the medical profession and to patients.

It’s important to acknowledge and accommodate medical professionals with disabilities, says Lisa Meeks, a psychologist and researcher at Michigan Medicine specializing in disabilities in medicine and medical education. “It deserves attention and its own problem-solving,” she says.

Meeks co-founded the Coalition for Disability Access in Health Science and Medical Education, a group focused on improving access to medical education for students with disabilities.

She also co-authored a report released this year on disabilities and medicine, which found that many doctors still conceal their disabilities out of fear of stigma or bias.

Earlier this year, Meeks had a thought: If doctors with disabilities saw more people like themselves, would they talk more openly about the challenges and opportunities? She started a social media campaign with the hashtag #DocsWithDisabilities.

The goal was to find 20 doctors willing to share their stories online. She has been flooded with interest from doctors with disabilities.

“There’s no end in sight,” Meeks says.

And now #NursesWithDisabilities have joined in, too.

“I felt this was a really unique opportunity to introduce all of these docs with disabilities to the medical field,” she says. “To let people know there are not unique one or two physicians with disabilities, but that there are a number of physicians with disabilities throughout the United States.”

Continue onto NPR to read the complete article.

9 things you need to know about how to behave around assistance dogs

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By Soraya Ferdman

Recently, I noticed a person about to cross the street — right into the path of an oncoming car. Before I could lunge forward to pull her back, her guide dog yanked its owner to safety. I felt the strong urge to pet the dog, which in addition to being a very good dog was also an Australian Shepherd, the same breed as my own. 

Then I noticed the words “DO NOT PET” across the dog’s harness.

The term “assistance dog” includes guide dogs, who help the blind; hearing dogs, who help the Deaf; and service dogs, who help people with a broader range of disabilities including but not limited to autism, epilepsy, life-threatening allergies, diabetes, mobility issues, neuromuscular diseases, and psychological trauma.

Thousands of people rely on these animals for independence. Assistance dogs perform services such as opening and closing doors, helping people into an upright position, and detecting allergens, low and high blood sugar levels, and more. But for those used to thinking of dogs purely as pets, it can be hard to know the proper etiquette.

Here’s what you need to know about how to behave when you spot a pooch with a harness:

1. Minimize distractions

Most assistance dogs are trained to pay little attention to people other than their handler. That doesn’t mean handlers aren’t bothered by people’s tendencies to pet, make cutesy noises, or otherwise distract their dogs.

“I’ve had people making noises, desperate to get my dog’s attention, while I’m crossing the street,” Laurel Hilbert, who lives in San Francisco and is blind, explained in an interview with Mashable. “My dog is very well-behaved, but he’s still just a dog. Those kinds of noises distract him.”

Petting an assistance dog may seem like a harmless transgression, but it can lead to the handler falling or otherwise injuring themselves.

Such was the case with Hayley Ashmore. Flynn, her seizure-alert dog, was being pet by a stranger when Hayley fell to the ground and injured her forehead and cheek. In an Instagram post reflecting on the events, Ashmore wrote, “My dog is my lifeline. I don’t say that to be cute… If he gets distracted this happens. If he gets distracted I can die.”

2. Talk to the handler

Remember: The handler and assistance dog are a team. If you feel you need to approach the dog for any reason, asking the handler for permission first is the best way to be aware of what the duo feels comfortable with, and to behave accordingly.

3. Keep your own dog at distance

Though dogs are social creatures, assistance dogs aren’t supposed to engage with other dogs while on duty. Pet owners can help handlers keep assistance dogs focused by holding their companion dogs a safe distance away.

4. No treats

According to Canine Companions for Independence, “Food is the ultimate distraction to the working dog and can jeopardize the working assistance dog team.”

Think of it like this: Beyond breaking their focus, some service dogs have special diets, and certain foods may trigger allergies. If an assistance dog is given something that triggers even a subtle allergic reaction, they’re not paying 100 percent attention to their handler. Less than 100 percent attention = bad news.

5. Therapy and emotional support dogs are not assistance dogs

While therapy and emotional support dogs are there to provide comfort, they do not receive the same training and are not granted legal access to the same degree as assistance dogs.

What distinguishes an assistance dog from what expert Chris Diefenthaler calls companion dogs, or regular pets, is the length and rigor of training. Before acquiring official status, assistance dogs undergo up to two years of training. Diefenthaler, an administrator at Assistance Dogs International, repeatedly emphasized this distinction to Mashable, explaining, “Assistance dogs have received extensive training and are uniquely equipped to help their handlers in ways neither therapy nor emotional support animals are trained to do.”

Continue onto Mashable to read the complete article.

Starbucks to Open First U.S. Signing Store

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Starbucks will open its first Signing Store in the U.S. in Washington, D.C. this October, building upon ongoing efforts to connect with the diverse communities it serves. A team of Deaf Starbucks partners (employees) and allies led the effort to launch this unique store model in the U.S., which will be located at 6th & H Street near Gallaudet University, a bustling hub that is Deaf-friendly. The store will create a distinctive retail experience for all customers, while offering a unique store format that promotes accessibility and offers employment and career advancement opportunities for Deaf and hard of hearing people.

“The National Association of the Deaf applauds Starbucks for opening a Signing Store that employs Deaf and hard of hearing people,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf. “Starbucks has taken an innovative approach to incorporating Deaf Culture that will increase employment opportunities as well as accessibility for Deaf and hard of hearing people, while at the same time educating and enlightening society.”

Creating Opportunities with the Deaf Community

Starbucks will hire 20-25 Deaf, hard of hearing and hearing partners from across the country to work at the Signing Store with a requirement that all be proficient in American Sign Language (ASL). This team of partners with a shared language of ASL and diverse experiences with the Deaf and hard of hearing community will help to attract and develop talent, as well as raise awareness and understanding of the Deaf experience in the workforce, including career opportunities at Starbucks and beyond.

“This is a historic moment in Starbucks ongoing journey to connect with the Deaf and hard of hearing community, hire and engage Deaf and hard of hearing partners, and continue to find ways to be more inclusive, accessible and welcoming to all,” said Rossann Williams, Starbucks executive vice president of U.S. Retail. “This store is truly from partners, for partners, and we couldn’t have gotten here without the team of Deaf partners and allies from our Accessibility office and the Access Alliance partner network who came together to bring this vision to life. I look forward to the team welcoming the community to this store in October.”

Designing the First U.S. Signing Store

The idea to open a Signing Store in the U.S. was inspired by a similar Starbucks Signing Store which opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016 with nine Deaf partners. Starbucks partners in the U.S. voiced the opportunity to create a similar third-place experience for the Deaf and hard of hearing community in the U.S., and traveled to Malaysia last July for the first-year anniversary to understand design modifications and gain knowledge to create the best possible store experience for Deaf and hard of hearing customers in the U.S. An internal team made up of Starbucks Deaf Leadership, Accessibility office and Access Alliance is playing a critical role to support this historic store opening.

Continue onto Starbucks’ Newsroom to read the complete article.

 

Asos praised for disabled-friendly clothes

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Asos has been praised for selling clothes designed with people who have disabilities in mind.

The online retailer has released a tie-dye waterproof jumpsuit for festival season, which has been adapted to be wheelchair friendly.

It was designed in collaboration with GB Paralympic hopeful Chloe Ball-Hopkins, who also modelled it for the site.

Chloe says she wants to make “fashion that is accessible to everybody”.

The collaboration came about through a single email sent to Asos by Chloe, who’s also a BBC Bristol sports reporter as well as an athlete.

She’s currently training for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics after an injury stopped her competing in archery in Rio two years ago.

“To see the final product I can’t believe that we actually worked in conjunction so much. I thought maybe they’d take it and run with it,” Chloe says.

“You get the same version whether it’s you or I buying it – that’s the point. It is exactly the same for me as it is for you.”

People have reacted excitedly to the release and to seeing Chloe model it in her wheelchair.

Gurls Talk, an online community founded by model Adwoa Aboah, praised it for challenging “the stigma around disabilities”.

Chloe had the idea for the jumpsuit after getting soaked at Splendour Festival last year left her looking, as she told her boyfriend, “like you’ve taken your gran out of the care home for a day”.

It features a zip around the waist so that despite being an all-in-one it’s easy to get in and out of, and also means people can choose to wear just the top or the bottoms.

Chloe says the ankles are cuffed, “so not only is that good for people with different heights, it also means it’s easy to put wellies on.”

Continue onto BBC to read the complete article.

‘Black, queer, disabled and brilliant’: Activist hopes to make history in space

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Eddie Ndopu wasn’t expected to live past 5 years old. Now, the 27-year-old South African hopes to be the first person with a disability to travel to space.

Eddie Ndopu describes himself as “black, queer, disabled and brilliant.”

“I embody all of the identities that position me at a disadvantage in society,” he told NBC News. “But I am turning that on its head.”

By the end of the year, the 27-year-old South African hopes to become the first person with a disability to go to space.

When Ndopu was 2 years old, he was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), an incurable condition that causes progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. His prognosis was devastating: His family was initially told he would not live beyond the age of 5.

But a tenacious Ndopu said it wasn’t long before he was able to “outstrip and outlive all expectations,” both academically and medically. He attributes this in part due to his mother, whom he said never gave up on him or stopped fighting for him.

Ndopu said when he was 7 years old and living in Namibia (he moved to neighboring South Africa when he was 10), his mom came home to find him sitting in front of the television staring despondently at a blank screen. “She held my head in her hands and begged me to tell her what was wrong,” Ndopu recalled.“Finally, I told her all I wanted was to go to school.”

Despite inclusive education laws, growing up disabled in southern Africa meant a mainstream education was never guaranteed. In fact, a 2017 United Nations report revealed that even today, 90 percent of disabled children in developing countries never see the inside of a classroom.

But Ndopu said his mom is a “fearless warrior” who knocked on “every door” until finally he was accepted to a small elementary school on the outskirts of his hometown.

Ndopu has so far outlived his prognosis by more than two decades, and last year he became the first African with a disability to graduate from Britain’s prestigious University of Oxford. The disability-rights activist, who admits he has a weakness for lipstick and fashion, said he is “a living manifestation of possibility.”

Now Ndopu, whose disease has left him unable to walk, has set himself a new “audacious” goal: to become the first person with a disability to go to space.

Backed by the United Nations, he hopes to deliver “the speech of [his] life,” championing disability rights from a space shuttle to the UN’s New York headquarters this December.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, a South African lawmaker and the executive director of UN Women, told NBC News if Ndopu attains his goal, it would be “a powerful symbol to demonstrate that people with disabilities can break barriers.”

“By reaching space,” she added, “it clearly demonstrates that determined disabled people, in an enabling environment, can excel like anyone else.”

Continue onto NBC News to read the complete article.

What Can You Do?

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Every day, people with disabilities can and do make important contributions to America’s businesses. They have the drive to succeed in employment, and the skills and talent they need to deliver value and results for their employers.

These are messages that bear repeating far and wide. And that’s what the Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) is all about.

The CDE’s multi-faceted campaign called “What Can YOU Do?” features a series of public service announcements (PSAs) and coordinating media products, all designed to promote positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities. Our products and positive messages are encouraging businesses and others to recognize the value that individuals with disabilities bring to the workplace, and the benefits that come with full inclusion.

For more information please visit: whatcanyoudocampaign.org

Alice Sheppard Proves It’s Time To Redefine Virtuosity

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It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.

Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson’s bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.

And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you’re missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.

“Often for non-disabled audience members,” she says, “the work isn’t real until they see the chair.” Curious requests to know why Sheppard uses a wheelchair are telling of how disability typically traffics in the public imagination. “The movement and the art somehow challenge what they think is possible,” she says.

Excellence in dance is often de ned at the exclusion of disability. The idea of virtuosic performance involves dancers with precise technical control over each body part. The best dance, it’s often assumed, is performed by artists who are intensely able-bodied.

But Sheppard’s work models a truth that is rarely understood among dance audiences: Disability does not signify incompleteness. In fact, it offers novel pathways to several movement styles, each of them whole and generative of unique choreographic forms.

Disability Is A Creative Force

Alice Sheppard initially became a dancer to make good on a dare. It was 2004 and she was a professor in medieval studies at Penn State. During a conference on dis- ability studies, she attended a performance by Homer Avila, a renowned dancer and choreographer who had lost one of his legs to cancer. Sheppard got to talking with him in a bar after his performance. He dared her to take a dance class. About a year after Avila died, she did—and shortly after resigned from academia.

What hooked Sheppard was a question that has motivated her work ever since: How can we move beyond questions of ability to culture and aesthetics? In popular culture, disability often stands in for a vague and generalized adversity. Sheppard wanted to find a radically different process.

“Disability,” Sheppard writes in her “Intersectional Disability Arts Manifesto,” “is more than the deficit of diagnosis. It is an aesthetic, a series of intersecting cultures and a creative force.”

After leaving academia, Sheppard began exploring the techniques of dancing in a wheelchair and learning how disability can generate its own movement. She trained, performed and toured with several physically integrated dance companies, including AXIS Dance Company, Infinity Dance Theater, Full Radius Dance and Marc Brew Dance Company.

Eventually, she launched the New York–based Kinetic Light, which has been invited to residencies at places like the prestigious Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography and Gibney, and to perform at Jacob’s Pillow’s Inside/Out. She chose to form Kinetic Light as a production company rather than a dance company in an attempt to bring the work “outside of the arts bubble,” as she puts it on her website.

The Pursuit Of Wheel Joy

Intersectionality—a term that has become increasingly conspicuous in the dance world—is what activates Sheppard’s work from content to process. As a queer disabled woman of color, she makes dance that explores the multiple identities she inhabits. DESCENT, for instance, imagines a queer and interracial love affair between the mythical figures Andromeda and Venus, performed through the disabled bodies of Sheppard and Lawson.

In their wheelchairs, the dancers pursue what Sheppard often calls “wheel joy.” The pleasures of wheeled movement are palpable when the chairs produce beautifully tight and precise turns, often using inclined planes to harness momentum.

During one sequence, Sheppard lies downstage on her back. Lawson tips forward and launches over Sheppard as her wheels lift behind, her stomach resting on Sheppard’s shins. The dancers spread their arms and hold each other’s stare with intimate tension. Lawson’s wheels spin silently, each spoke catching the cool hues of the lights.

The movements do not represent the triumph over disability. They do not shore up myths about independence. And, even when Sheppard and Lawson dance without their wheelchairs, they do not scorn the wheelchair.

The intersectionality that drives Sheppard’s work also leads her to collaborate with other artists. To design the ramp for DESCENT, Sheppard tapped Sara Hendren, an artist and design researcher for the Accessible Icon Project, which seeks to dislodge the staid blue-and- white wheelchair symbol as the central iconography of disability. And Sheppard turned to Michael Maag, also a wheelchair user, to design the production’s intricate projection system.

Just as she dispenses with the notion that one’s identity can be simplified to just one thing, Sheppard dispenses with the idea that disability artistry must be produced by a sole pioneer. She stresses the interdisciplinary nature of disability art, and recognizes the lineage, influence and conversation amongst artists of the past and the present.

Continue onto DANCE Magazine to read the complete article.

Huey Lewis Opens Up About Sudden Hearing Loss: ‘I Haven’t Come to Grips with the Fact That I May Never Sing Again’

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huey lewis holding microphone on stage

In mid-April, Huey Lewis shocked fans when he canceled all upcoming tour dates, citing a battle with Meniere’s disease that robbed him of his hearing. While he hopes the health problems are treatable, the “Power of Love” rocker says he’s facing the possibility that he may never return to live performance.

It’s a reality that Lewis, 67, admits he’s finding hard to accept. “I haven’t come to grips with the fact that I may never sing again,” the Huey Lewis and the News frontman said in an interview with the Today show on Monday. “I’m still hoping I’m gonna get better. They say a positive attitude is important.”

Meniere’s disease is an inner ear disorder that produces feelings of vertigo, as well as tinnitus (or ringing) and hearing loss. Lewis says he first noticed the symptoms in March during a performance in Dallas. “As I walked to the stage, it sounded like there was a jet engine going on,” he continued. “I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t find pitch. Distorted. Nightmare. It’s cacophony.”

In a tragic twist, the lifelong rocker says his hearing loss is most severe when it comes to music. “Even though I can hear you, we can talk, I can talk on the phone — I can’t sing,” he told Today‘s Jenna Bush Hager. “I can’t hear music. I can do everything but what I love to do the most, which is a drag.”

While there’s no known cure for the disease, Lewis says that his hearing may improve with a new dietary regimen. “No caffeine, lower salt, and keep your fingers crossed. It can get better. It just hasn’t yet.”

On April 13, Lewis posted a message to social media announcing the cancellation of all upcoming tour dates because his condition made it “impossible” to continue singing for the time being.

Continue onto PEOPLE to read the complete article.

Special Olympics USA to host its first-ever video game tournament

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wide shot of gaming arena filled with gamers and people

Esports is coming to the Special Olympics. The organization announced Tuesdaythat its first ever video game tournament will take place on July 2 as part of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.

Special Olympics is partnering with Microsoft’s Xbox division for the tournament, in which teams will compete in rounds of Forza Motorsport 7.

Competitors have been chosen from qualifier events that took place at Microsoft stores last month, creating eight “Unified” teams that will consist of one athlete with and one athlete without an intellectual disability.

“Many of our athletes are avid gamers and research indicates playing video games can potentially boost cognitive and motor skills of people with intellectual disabilities,” said Beth Knox in the announcement, who is the president and CEO of this year’s games.

Continue onto CNet to read the complete article.