‘This Close’ Is by and About Deaf People, but That’s Only the Beginning


The need for more diversity in Hollywood is a popular topic of conversation these days. But at least one group tends to get left out of the discussion.

“There have been some deaf characters on television, but they are usually there so the hearing characters can learn something from them,” Josh Feldman said. “And then they send the deaf characters back into the shadows.”

He said it with his hands. Sitting in a mellow cafe on a dilapidated strip of Melrose Avenue, he and his writing partner, Shoshannah Stern, carved shapes in the air to tell animated stories, volleys of sign language zinging across the table between them and their two interpreters.

It was at this cafe that the pair first conceived a comic web series about two deaf best friends like themselves living in Los Angeles. On a warm winter morning three years later, they returned to discuss the television show that resulted from it: “This Close,” debuting Wednesday, Feb. 14, on SundanceTV’s streaming platform, Sundance Now.

Created, written by and starring Ms. Stern and Mr. Feldman, the show follows the adventures of two deaf pals in Los Angeles. But the characters’ deafness figures as just one sliver of an effervescent dramedy about friendship, romance, sex and ambition, its sweet but gritty tone inspired by series like “Looking,” “Girls” and “Transparent.”

Kate (Ms. Stern) is an exuberant entertainment publicist determined to make her way in the world without any special accommodations; neither her boss (Cheryl Hines) nor her fiancé (Zach Gilford) make much effort to use sign language, expecting Kate to keep up with their conversation. Michael (Mr. Feldman) is a melancholy gay graphic novelist tortured by writer’s block and trying to blot out the pain of a broken relationship with liquor and sex.

The six-episode show is adapted from “Fridays,” Ms. Stern’s and Mr. Feldman’s rom-comish web series that so impressed Sundance the channel decided to make “This Close” the debut offering for its new digital streaming service.

“I thought to myself, have I ever seen a show where the characters are deaf but it doesn’t define them?” said Jan Diedrichsen, Sundance Now’s general manager. “This felt like a fully realized vision of a life where deafness was just one part of it.”

Ms. Stern grew up in the Bay Area dreaming of becoming an actor, even though there were few deaf role models on screen. For her seventh birthday she asked her mother for an agent. (The answer was no.) Later, during her senior year at Gallaudet University, a liberal arts college for the deaf in Washington D.C., she flew to Los Angeles for an audition and decided to stay.

“I thought, I will just convince people that it would be interesting to see me on screen and that it won’t matter that I’m deaf,” she recalled, signing emphatically.

Ms. Stern’s first major role came as an antiterrorism expert in the short-lived 2003 ABC series “Threat Matrix,” and she has since become one of the most visible deaf actresses in Hollywood, appearing in series like “Weeds, “Lie to Me” and “Supernatural.” “I was always the sole deaf person on set,” she said.

She met Mr. Feldman, an aspiring novelist and screenwriter, through mutual friends, and tried to help him get a foothold in Hollywood as a writer’s assistant. But people were generally unwilling to meet with him.

“They would ask, ‘How would we communicate with him?’ and ‘How can he write dialogue if he doesn’t speak?,’” Ms. Stern said. She decided that one way to change ideas about deafness, on screen and off, was for the duo to collaborate on a script.

Mr. Feldman had never tried to write a deaf character, he said, because “I thought no one would want to pay for anything that had deaf people in it.” But Ms. Stern inspired him to try, and the result was “Fridays.” After shooting a pilot for $250 with themselves in the lead roles, the duo put it on Kickstarter, hoping to raise enough cash to produce four episodes for YouTube.

Pledges quickly shot past their $6,000 goal, much of the money donated by people who weren’t deaf, Ms. Stern said. Also intrigued was Super Deluxe, an entertainment company owned by Turner. Super Deluxe produced five polished web episodes and screened them at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, where Mr. Diedrichsen saw in the show’s “singular vision” an ideal original series for Sundance Now.

Ms. Stern and Mr. Feldman revamped the concept to delve into pricklier emotional territory, with the help of the director Andrew Ahn (“Spa Night”).

Much of the material in “This Close” feels universal: Love affairs blossom and shatter, family members create emotional turmoil. But some of the stories naturally hinge on deaf-specific experiences, like a harrowing scene — based on something that actually happened to Ms. Stern’s brother — in which a drunk Michael is yanked off an airplane, utterly confused and unable to communicate with airport police.

At the center of the show is Kate and Michael’s codependent friendship, which sometimes leaves hearing characters feeling left out. “We did a lot of two shots so that you could see both Josh and Shoshannah signing together,” Mr. Ahn said. “It makes it feel like they are in a bubble of their own.”

Making television from the perspective of deaf characters forced everyone involved to rethink the usual ways of doing things. “So much of narrative filmmaking convention is based in a hearing world, but if you have a super tight close-up, you won’t see the hands,” Mr. Ahn said.

Read the complete article on the New York Times.

The 2018 Winter Paralympics Kick Off Today in PyeongChang


Friday’s Google Doodle celebrates the opening of the 2018 Paralympic Games in PyeongChang.

This year’s competition is the biggest winter Paralympics to date, with more athletes and countries participating than ever before. More than 560 athletes will vie for more than 80 medals in six sports: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, Para ice hockey, snowboarding and wheelchair curling.

Three countries will be making their first Winter Paralympics appearance in South Korea. North Korea and Georgia are sending two athletes each, while Tajikistan has entered their first athlete.

The U.S. is sending the largest delegation of 68 athletes, with Canada sending 52. As with the Olympic Games, Russia’s athletes will again be competing as part of a neutral delegation, called the Neutral Paralympic Athletes, after a doping scandal resulted in Russia’s disqualification from both the 2018 Olympics and Paralympics.

The Winter Paralympics have been held since 1976, when the Games debuted in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden.

Google’s colorful Doodle depicts a line-up of athletes racing in all six qualifying sports.

The Paralympics will run from March 9-18 this year.

Continue onto TIME to read the complete article.

2018 Gerber Baby comes from Army National Guard family

married couple holding baby

Georgia Army National Guard Spc. Jason A. Warren, an aircraft powertrain repairer with the Marietta, Georgia-based Company D, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment, and his wife Cortney garnered national media attention on Feb. 9 when their son Lucas was named the 2018 Gerber Spokesbaby.
The Warrens were amazed when they received the news of Lucas’ win.

“Absolute shock,” said Jason. “It was hard to believe he won out of 140,000 entries.”

Lucas, diagnosed with Down Syndrome, is the eighth Gerber baby since the contest began in 2010. Inspired by the original Gerber baby sketch of Ann Turner Cook, families began sharing their baby photos with Gerber. In response, Gerber launched its first official photo search competition in 2010.

“We hope this opportunity sheds light on the special needs community and educates people that with acceptance and support, individuals with special needs have potential to change the world,” said Cortney. “Just like our Lucas.”

The Warrens hope other families with special needs children can look to Lucas as a source of inspiration.

“We hope this will help people kick-start their own lives and give them more confidence,” said Jason. “They might think if Lucas can do this, what can I do in my life?”

The winning photo shows Lucas, sitting in an overstuffed chair, grinning from ear to ear wearing a black and pink polka-dot bow tie.

“He is very outgoing and never meets a stranger,” said Cortney. “He loves to play, loves to laugh and to make other people laugh.”

“He is just the absolute cutest thing ever,” said Staff Sgt. Misty D. Crapps, supply sergeant with Company D,171st Aviation Regiment. “He always smiles at everybody he sees.”

Jason looks forward to continued service in the Georgia Army National Guard. He feels a sense of pride and family being part of the organization.

“I absolutely love the Guard: the ability to help my community and serve my country,” said Jason. “The benefits of service are always great to have, and it allows me to serve my country the way I want to.”

Continue onto the U.S. Army Newsroom to read the complete article.

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


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.

Mattel introduces new colorblind accessible version of ‘Uno’


In the game of Uno, knowing the color of a card is just as important as knowing its number, which means some colorblind players can be at a serious disadvantage. But now Mattel is fixing that — the company just announced a new accessible version of Uno, made with ColorADD cards.

For the new version of the classic card game, Mattel partnered with ColorADD, a global organization for colorblind accessibility and education, to add internationally recognized symbols to Uno cards, aimed to help people with colorblindness identify the colors of the cards.

Here’s a key that explains how the symbols work with the Uno cards and other colors:

In Uno, players take turns laying down cards from their hands, and the card they play must match either the color or the number of the last card played. Colorblindness affects around 350 million people around the world, so adding ColorADD symbols to Uno cards opens the game up to many people who may have had difficulty playing previously.

Accessibility features like the ColorADD symbols is extremely important for companies like Mattel to be aware of, because otherwise large numbers of people could be inadvertently left out of playing classic games like Uno, which first came out 46 years ago.

Continue onto Mashable to read the complete article.

No hand, no problem: Cougars top laner MistyStumpey thrives despite disability


A dramatic, machine-generated fog and a computer screen separated Ian Alexander from the crowd at the DreamHack Denver 2017 American Video Game League Collegiate League of Legends Championship in October.

A camera to Alexander’s left livestreamed the team’s pre-game deliberations while shoutcasters commentated. Draped over the back of Alexander’s chair is a gray-blue bomber jacket, a yellow “CHALLENGER” embroidered in the League of Legends font on its left breast.

What the cameras on his left side didn’t pick up, though, was the most interesting part of Alexander’s journey to that chair.

At 18, Alexander is one of North America’s best League of Legends players. At his peak, “MistyStumpey” (as he’s known in League) was No. 12 on the game’s solo queue ladder. And the top laner did it with just his right hand and a lone digit on his left.

When MistyStumpey rolled his chair back to talk strategy with Columbia’s coach, he grabbed his “stump,” as he calls it, just as it comes into frame of the livestream camera. He often fiddles with the one finger on the end of his left arm, which ends in a partial hand where the elbow would normally be. He can move the finger, but not fully. It’s mostly cartilage, so it doesn’t bend at the joints. He can use it to press keys, but he has to move his wrist to get from one button to another.

Imagine what it’d take to be one of the best players in the U.S. despite that disability, rubbing shoulders with Cloud9 and FlyQuest starters and, yes, Team SoloMid’s Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg on the solo queue ladder this season.

In his promo photo for DreamHack, MistyStumpey flexes with his right arm, looking over his shoulder at the camera. But for some reason, the photo was mirrored so that it appears as if he’s flexing a full left arm, as if he doesn’t have a disability at all.

And on his best days, he plays like it.

“He’s a professional-level player missing four fingers on his keyboard hand,” said Drake Porter, Columbia College’s Esports Senior Strategic Analyst. “If anything, he should not be nearly as successful as he is.”

Continue onto ESPN to read the complete article.

Woman with Down Syndrome is 1st to Compete in Miss USA State Pageant

Miss USA Pageant

Mikayla Holmgren made history on Sunday as the first young woman with Down syndrome to compete in a Miss USA state pageant.

The 22-year-old didn’t need to win the crown in order to be recognized with special awards as she brought home the spirit of Miss USA award and the director’s award.

“It’s really fun,” she said. “As I do more pageants and I’m really proud of myself … this is my dream,” Holmgren told ABC Saint Paul, Minnesota, affiliate KSTP.

The spirit of Miss USA award is determined by the judges based on letters that have been submitted by contestants’ family and friends.

One of Holmgren’s friends from her dance classes wrote a letter that was read aloud during the ceremony, said Denise Wallace, the co-director of the pageant.

“Her friend wrote about how Mikayla lights up a room and has no expectation for people to treat her differently. She’s an incredible spirit,” Wallace told ABC News, saying the letter captured everything that they felt encompasses the Miss USA spirit.

The director’s award recognizes a young woman that is a standout in the pageant.

Read the complete article here

Grad student created an amazing Rubik’s Cube prototype for the blind


A 1974 invention is getting a very inclusive makeover.

Reddit user, Notafakeinterpreter, who is a graduate student from the University of Massachusetts had an interesting assignment for her Intro to Vision Rehab Therapy class. She was assigned to create an adapted recreational game for someone who is blind. In a flash of inspiration, she created a Rubik’s Cube with tactile inputs so people with limited vision could still use it.

She posted the prototype on Reddit and immediately received an outpour of positive comments.

“I really liked about how much traction it got and the fact that I could spread awareness that adapting anything is possible if you think hard enough, and that even the most uncreative person (myself!) can think of something that somebody else could find really helpful,” Notafakeinterpreter, who preferred not to use her real name, told Mashable.

“I’m not a terribly creative person (which is why i’m shocked this became so big), so when I saw the Rubik’s Cube, I was thrilled when I knew immediately what to do with it,” she said. “I had my best friend in mind (she’s not blind, she just loves playing with these things), so I thought I would make it tactile and blindfold her to have her try it out!”

The Rubik’s Cube took her ten minutes to make and cost less than $15. She took an original cube and changed it with items she found in Michael’s. The only challenge was finding different textures, but overall she designed each side to make it easy for everyone to understand.

“I wanted to share something that was cheap and easy to make so people who work with the blind/ have blind friends or family could replicate it if they wanted,” she said.

The 29-year-old student chose the program to work with individuals who are blind or deaf and help them “navigate through the world and live as independently as possible.” She mentioned on Reddit, she wants to “work with the Helen Kellers of the world.”

“I have spent my entire educational and professional career immersed in the DeafBlind community,” she told Mashable. “I would love for the opportunity to give back to a community that has given me so much.”

Continue onto Mashable to read the complete article.

Nadia Hamilton was inspired to launch MagnusCards by her brother with autism


This tech designer’s new app is a video game for individuals with cognitive needs

When 30-year-old app designer Nadia Hamilton was growing up, she noticed that her younger brother Troy, who was and is living with autism, needed support in completing everyday tasks. Brushing teeth and getting dressed were especially difficult.

Troy would go into the bathroom to pick up his toothbrush but would wait for family members to prompt him on the next task.

“OK, step one, you’re going to put the toothpaste on your toothbrush. Step two, then you’re going to do this and that and this and that,” Hamilton said. “If he did not have that support, he was stuck.

“This is something that people with autism and cognitive special needs in general tend to struggle with: knowing or feeling comfortable doing the step-by-step instructions that are involved in a process.”

By the time Troy Hamilton, who is now 28, graduated from high school, there were fewer and fewer opportunities for his continued personal and social development. So Hamilton used her experiences growing up with Troy to launch Magnusmode and create MagnusCards, an app in the form of a video game that focuses on providing step-by-step instructions for completing tasks.

“I got an idea. I think I was around 8 years old. I knew that Troy loved video games, and I knew that he loved using the official strategy guides for each video game. A strategy guide is kind of like a step-by-step instruction to help you get through a stage in a game. So I knew that this guide enabled him to play the games on his own. I started thinking, I’m like, ‘OK, I like to draw. What if I can utilize my creativity to help him to navigate life around the home?’ ”

Brushing teeth, making toast, preparing for school and bedtime are part of MagnusCards’ system. In its preparation stage, Hamilton would use tape to post instructions to the walls of the apartment she shared with Troy. Troy would then go through each activity by looking at the visuals and re-enacting what he saw step by step.

“This afforded him with the confidence and with the safety net of knowing that he was going to get to the end of the activity, and he would not miss any steps, and he could do it on his own,” Hamilton explained. “It was pretty much from the strategy guides from video games, I created the ultimate strategy guide for life.”

Hamilton graduated from the University of Toronto, where she studied history and political science and earned a bachelor’s degree. She started working with individuals with special needs to pay her way through college. Going into their homes as one of her duties gave her insight on how other users could benefit from the app. So while developing MagnusCards, she was able to focus on an all-inclusive product that would benefit others seeking to maintain everyday work or life habits. The gaming program offers full customization so caregivers, parents, teachers and others can use it.

“So if somebody’s used to doing laundry a certain way with their laundry machine with shirts that are a certain color, the pictures and the text can be customized on the card decks so that their experience is unique, and the instruction is relayed in a way that is important and digestible to them,” Hamilton said.

Continue onto The Undefeated to read the complete article.

Sesame Street Muppet Julia Has Autism


Preschool character “does things a little differently when playing with friends”

Since it began in 1969, Sesame Street has always led the way in depicting diverse characters, including several with disabilities. In 1982, Sesame Street introduced a blind monster named Aristotle who could read Braille. In 1993, a human cast member named Tarah used a wheelchair, and, in 2004, animated segments featured a character named Traction Jackson, also in a wheelchair.

Rosita, one of the newer muppets, has a father, Ricardo, who uses a wheelchair, although he has only been featured in the special Talk, Listen, Connect series and not the main Sesame Street television series. Talk, Listen, Connect is a targeted series, created and aired specifically for children who have family members in the military. In an episode entitled “Changes,” Ricardo returns home from combat deployment in a wheelchair.

Some other examples include Jason Kingsley, who has Down syndrome—he appeared in over 50 Sesame Street episodes. And, Linda Bove, who is deaf, appeared on the show from 1971 to 2003.

So Julia joins a long line of Sesame Street characters with disabilities, but she’s the first to have a disability that can’t be easily recognized.  She’s described by the Sesame Workshop as “a preschool girl with autism who does things a little differently when playing with her friends.” A wide-eyed little girl with a big smile, Julia was first introduced in the fall of 2015 in her own digital storybook, We’re Amazing, 1,2,3, by Leslie Kimmelman. She’s a regular on the Sesame Street television show, which airs its first-run shows exclusively on the HBO network. Public television stations across the country still run the show, but episodes air nine months behind the HBO schedule on local public television stations.

To develop Julia’s character, Sesame Street worked with organizations such as Autism Speaks and Autism Self Advocacy to help reduce the stigma associated with autism spectrum disorder. As part of the campaign “See Amazing in All Children,” muppet Abby Cadabby explains in one YouTube video, “Lots of kids have autism and that just means their brains work a little differently.”

Julia is not the first fictional media character with autism. But Michael Robb, Director of Research for Common Sense Media, an organization that rates and reviews media aimed at children, says Sesame Street’s move is “pretty groundbreaking.” He explains, “It can be difficult to start a conversation about children with disabilities. It’s even harder when that difference isn’t visible.”

Robb says the show helps children be more understanding of how Julia is different. “It’s very real, in terms of talking in simple language. It spells out these things in concrete ways that kids can understand. It shows the ways in which she’s just like other kids. It shows how making simple accommodations can help Julia.”

Look for Julia on Sesame Street on both HBO and your local public television station.

Self-Identifying With Your Invisible Disabilities


By Erica Sabino

Demi Lovato has come a long way from her days acting and singing on the Disney screen. Though she made her debut at the young age of 8 on the show Barney and Friends, it wasn’t until 2008 when she nabbed the lead role in the Disney Channel original movie, Camp Rock, that her career skyrocketed. On the same year of the movie’s premier, she signed a recording deal with Hollywood Records that helped her release her first album, Don’t Forget, which went up to No. 2 on the Billboard Top 100.

Her rise to stardom did not come undeserved. With the success of the movie and her music, Lovato’s popularity saw a tremendous increase, paving the way to cementing her place among other big-named stars in young Hollywood.

Even with all her success, her journey wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Having amassed quite a following on her social media profiles like Twitter and Instagram, the Sorry Not Sorry singer has made it a point to be open about the struggles she has faced and is still facing on an everyday basis.

On October 2011, Lovato entered an inpatient treatment center where she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. “Getting a diagnosis was kind of a relief,” Lovato admitted in an interview. “It helped me start to make sense of the harmful things I was doing to cope with what I was experiencing.”

Her admittance to the rehab facility was not only brought about by the state of her mental health, but also because of her struggles with bulimia, substance abuse, and cutting. Lovato learned to accept her issues and worked hard to find ways to overcome them. She worked with professionals to find a treatment plan that would work for her. “Living well with bipolar disorder is possible,” Lovato says, “but it takes patience, it takes work and it is an ongoing process.”

She understands how hard it is to bounce back from setbacks in life and how some people find it difficult to ask for help. But for Lovato, “asking for help is a sign of strength.” She wants those struggling with mental illness to know that there is always someone who can help and that there will always be a silver lining if they first learn to be strong for themselves.

Lovato has gone through a lot, but instead of letting these obstacles hinder her, she used them to build her strength and has found ways to capitalize on her experiences, so she can help people who are going through the same struggles she continues to go through each day.

Making a big effort to support individuals with mental health, Demi Lovato became the spokesperson for the Be Vocal: Speak Up For Mental Health initiative. Led by Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc., this campaign also partnered with five leading advocacy organizations namely, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, The JED Foundation, Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Council for Behavioral Health.

This initiative calls people to speak up for the support of mental health. It urges them to “be vocal” in an effort to spread awareness and erase the stigma usually associated with this topic. As a strong advocate, Lovato wants to be a voice not only for herself, but also for others. “It’s important to speak up about the things you believe in, because your voice will be heard no matter what position you’re in,” Lovato said in an interview with Elvis Duran for iHeartRadio’s Label Defiers podcast. “I just happen to be in a position where more people would hear my voice than they would have 10 to 15 years ago, so I use my voice to do more than just sing.”

The pop singer has taken big steps to making her voice heard and pushing forward with her advocacy. In an interview with Tracy Smith for CBS Sunday Morning in 2016, Lovato revealed that she bought into the CAST Centers, a clinic in L.A. where she had undergone treatment. When asked why she did it, Lovato simply said that “it just feels good.”

With her passion for her cause only growing stronger, Lovato took on another project and co-produced Beyond Silence, a documentary which premiered in early 2017 that chronicles the experiences of three individuals living with mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety and depression. In her interview with Variety, Lovato said that she “hope[s] that this film will show people that there is nothing wrong with having a mental health condition.” It has become another stepping stone for her to inspire people to share their stories and encourage others to do the same. “There’s something about when you speak out and are vocal about your story, it’s very inviting to others who are dealing with the same thing. And if you can make that impact on somebody’s life, it does something for you spiritually that makes you want to tell the story again and again and again.”

Lovato’s reach is not limited to the United States alone. With fans all over the world, she is a global figure who is a living inspiration to many. Talking about mental health on a global scale, Lovato had spoken to Syrian refugee, Muzoon Almellehan, in a video chat about how important education and mental health is especially to people who are living in conflict and suffering. Lovato says “I want to be able to help people have access to mental health care, no matter where they’re from or what they’ve been through… I think it’s very important that someday, we have a curriculum in school where it’s based on mental health.” In their conversation, Lovato also offered Almellehan her help in ensuring that adequate monetary resources are set aside for the promotion of education through humanitarian efforts.

Taking another step forward in her efforts to being heard, Lovato revealed that she would be releasing I Am: Demi Lovato, a documentary about her life and the experiences she had undergone to get where she is now. “This past year has been one of the most transformative years of my life, and I’m looking forward to bringing my fans on this journey of continued growth and self-discovery in both my music and my personal experiences,” the singer said.

Aside from being an advocate for mental health, Lovato is also a big supporter of female empowerment. In collaboration with Fabletics, an activewear brand co-founded by Kate Hudson, the star helped launch the Demi Lovato for Fabletics collection. With designs inspired by her style and strength, the collection remains in line with supporting the brand’s partnership with the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign, which is a movement to raise funds and awareness for the empowerment of women everywhere, especially those in marginalized countries.

Lovato’s accomplishments in her crusade for mental health have not gone unnoticed. Because of her passion, leadership, and campaign to promote and raise awareness on this issue, Lovato was presented with the Artistic Award of Courage on March 2017 at the Open Mind Gala hosted by UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

Demi Lovato has gone through and experienced so much at her age. Today, we all need to recognize that not all disabilities are physical. For the singer, her disability was a brain disorder that was hindering her growth as an individual. Although she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she does not want this to be the only thing that defines her. Using her powerful voice, she wants the world to know that she is more than just what she struggles from. She wants people to look at her and see someone they want to emulate: strong, confident, and courageously honest. Through her experiences, she has crafted herself into an inspiring image of what anyone should strive to become, no matter what’s hidden underneath the surface.

“I think what inspires me is remembering that I deserve to be the best that I can be and also knowing people look at me as a role model,” Lovato tells Entertainment Tonight. “It gives me the fire to continue to be strong and try to show people that there’s so much more to life when you take care of yourself and when you are able to be all that you can be.”