On Wednesday night, Microsoft unveiled its new Xbox Adaptive Controller for the Xbox One console, aimed at making gaming more accessible for those with disabilities and mobility limitations as part of their Gaming for Everyone initiative.
The device allows for individual customization through a series of peripheral attachments that allow gamers to cater the controls to their own specific comfort.
For many, the current Xbox controller design (and those of other consoles’ controllers like Nintendo’s Switch and Sony’s Playstation 4) presents a challenge to use as it was not designed for individuals with mobility impairments. The Adaptive Controller is a foot-long rectangular unit with a d-pad, menu and home buttons, the Xbox home icon button and two additional large black buttons that can be mapped to any function.
On its back are a series of jacks for input devices and various peripheral accessories, each of which can be mapped to a specific button, trigger or function on the Xbox controller.
“Everyone knew this was a product that Microsoft should make,” Bryce Johnson, inclusive lead for product research and accessibility for Xbox, told Heat Vision.
The original inspiration for the Adaptive Controller came during 2015’s Microsoft One-Week Hackathon, an event where employees develop new ideas and tackle issues with their products. Through a partnership with Warfighter Engaged, an all‐volunteer non-profit that modifies gaming controllers for severely wounded veterans through personally adapted devices, a prototype was put together that would eventually become the Adaptive Controller.
“We had been doing our own stuff for a couple of years before that, making custom adaptive items for combat veterans, and it was kind of a challenge for even the most basic changes, requiring basically taking a controller apart,” Warfighter Engaged founder Ken Jones said. “Microsoft was thinking along the same lines. It was really just perfect timing.”
As development on the project went on, Microsoft began working with other foundations aimed at making gaming more accessible such as AbleGamers, SpecialEffect, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and Craig Hospital, a Denver-area rehabilitation center for spinal cord and brain injuries.
While third-party manufacturers have created more accessible peripheral controllers in the past, Microsoft is the first of the major gaming publishers to make a first-party offering.
“I think we’re always open to exploring new things,” Johnson said of Microsoft developing their own peripherals for the Adaptive Controller. “Right now, I think the challenge is that there is a super large ecosystem of devices that we intentionally supported as part of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and we want people to go out and find that vast array of toggles, buttons, etc. and have those work with that device.”
Voice computing is the future of tech— devices like smart-home systems and internet-enabled speakers are leading a shift away from screens and towards speech. But for people with unique speech patterns, these devices can be inaccessible when speech-recognition technology fails to understand what users are saying.
Google is aiming to change that with a new initiative dubbed “Project Understood.” The company is partnering with the Canadian Down Syndrome Society to solicit hundreds of voice recordings from people with Down syndrome in order to train its voice recognition AI to better understand them.
“Out of the box, Google’s speech recognizer would not recognize every third word for a person with Down syndrome, and that makes the technology not very usable,” Google engineer Jimmy Tobin said in a video introducing the project.
Voice assistants — which offer AI-driven scheduling, reminders, and lifestyle tools — have the potential to let people with Down syndrome live more independently, according to Matt MacNeil, who has Down syndrome and is working with Google on the project.
“When I started doing the project, the first thing that came to my mind is really helping more people be independent,” MacNeil said in the announcement video.
The 12th Annual Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities – the nation’s largest, free, one-day event for people with disabilities, both seen and unseen– will again welcome national entertainment to its stages for its audience of more than 5,000. Presented by the American Disabilities Foundation, the event has become an inclusive Spring Break event, drawing families from across the country.
Returning for 2020, Rion Paige, an 18-year-old finalist on the X Factor, will perform as one of the Bash’s two headliners. A Jacksonville, FL native, who now lives in Nashville, TN, Paige was born with a rare condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, which caused permanent damage to her arms, resulting in her hands being in a fixed, bent position. A country-and-western musician with a huge singing voice, Rion finished in fifth place on Season 3 of the X Factor, where she was mentored by Demi Lovato.
Coming back for her third year will be singer Kechi Okwuchi, a Nigerian-American singer and motivational speaker. She was one of the two survivors in the Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145 crash on Dec. 10, 2005, and suffered severe third-degree burns all over her body. To date, she has endured more than 100 surgeries. A finalist on the 12th season of America’s Got Talent in 2017, Okwuchi headlined the Boating & Beach Bash in 2018 and 2019 and was a tremendous crowd-pleaser.
“We couldn’t be happier to have two young stars who demonstrate through their amazing talent that people with disabilities have so much to contribute to our enjoyment,” said Executive Director Jay Van Vechten. “Each year, the Bash grows in so many ways – with our entertainment, support, visitors, features and sheer fun factor. We are bringing back the elements people love and adding to it with the star power of Ms. Paige and Ms. Okwuchi.”
The 12th Annual Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities will be held from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Sunday, March 1, 2020, at Spanish River Park, 3001 North Ocean Blvd. (A1A), Boca Raton, FL 33431.
Designed as a Spring Break vacation for all people with disabilities, their family members and supportive caregivers, the Bash has welcomed guests from as far away as California and Rome, Italy. It is the only event of its kind, offering complimentary, scheduled boat rides, special access to the beach and ocean with Mobi Mats, a Kids Fun Zone, therapy workshops led by trained specialists, wheelchair yoga, music, costumed dance parties, therapy ponies and dogs, a BBQ lunch, and more. Everything is free and geared toward the guests’ special needs.
ABOUT THE BOATING & BEACH BASH FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES:
The Bash was started in 2009 as an event hosted by the City of Boca Raton Advisory Board for People with Disabilities. The City relinquished the Bash in 2011 to the management of Executive Director Jay Van Vechten and his wife, Lowell. Since then, through community support and donations, the couple and the Bash’s planning committee have pushed the event’s growth beyond wildest expectations. Welcoming more than 5,000 guests in 2018, the Bash has become the largest, free, wholly disability-friendly event in the country with a full schedule of entertainment, recreation, boat rides, beach access, vendors, exhibitions, workshops and food in the nation . It has also become a Spring Break destination event in South Florida, drawing families from as far away as California and New York. Learn more at boatingbeachbash.com
Don’t be surprised if one day you see Tony Award-winning actress and singer Alyson “Ali” Stroker on the Big Screen, and don’t think twice if you’re smiling.
“I want to create content that makes people feel good,” Stroker, who won a historic Tony for portraying Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, told DIVERSEability Magazine. “There’s a lot of stress and anxiety in the world and we as artists have the ability to change that.”
Stroker is the first actress in a wheelchair to win a Tony. It happened on June 9 of this year. Hearts fluttered, heartbeats quickened, tears flowed and…
“It’s been unbelievable,” said the 32-year-old native of New Jersey. “For the disabled community it’s really cool to see yourself represented in this arena.”
Stroker, paralyzed from the chest down in a car accident when she was 2, is a role model for the disabled. While she avoids sermonizing, she doesn’t hesitate to talk about the virtues of work, perseverance and independence.
“Putting your destiny in someone else’s hands is never going to make you feel powerful,” she said. “I’m more inclined to tell disabled people to create communities of people you trust, and then create your own work. It’s better to do that than to talk.”
And for all young artists, she has a question.
“What do you want to create?”
That’s a core challenge for Stroker. It’s at the heart of being an artist.
It’s what she asked herself as a child (“I sang all day, every day”) and what she asks herself as an adult, and as a star.
But it should be stressed that Stroker earned the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for just one reason: she’s really, really good.
“It didn’t feel like, ‘Oh, you did something to overcome being in a chair,’” she said. “It was actually, ‘We’re recognizing you for being at the highest level of your field.’ That’s what I’ve always wanted.”
Stroker was born with a passion for the stage, but it took hold—with the strength of a farmer—when she was 7, in a backyard production of Annie.
“When I got on stage, it was the first time that I felt powerful,” Stroker said. “I was used to people staring at me, but they were staring at me because I was in a wheelchair. And when I was on stage, they were staring at me because I was the star… I particularly feel that I can’t hide on stage and that’s a gift.”
It’s fitting that, 25 years later, she’s wowing crowds on Broadway as Ado Annie, who is so unwilling be anything but herself that her catch-line is, “How can I be what I ain’t?”
“She doesn’t ever apologize for who she is,” Stroker said. “She doesn’t have any shame about who she is. Her wants, her desires, are so clear.”
Alyson Mackenzie Stroker was born in Ridgewood, New Jersey. She studied at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and earned a bachelor of fine arts. She was the first actress in a wheelchair to earn a degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
After graduation, she auditioned for The Glee Project at a casting call in New York City. Stroker is a Mezzo-Soprano but because she is paralyzed, she cannot engage her diaphragm, so she created her own singing techniques “to develop resonance so my voice would carry.”
Stroker guest-starred on Season 4 of Glee, then her agent sent her to audition for a Deaf West Theatre production of Spring Awakening.
In 2015, Stroker won the role of Anna. When Spring Awakening opened on Broadway, Stroker became the first actress in a wheelchair to appear on a Broadway stage.
The show was a smash. So was Stroker.
She has had several stage, TV and film parts, and she will have many more, but to date she is best known for Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
But there’s more to her than her craft. Did you know she’s a strong swimmer, and is learning to surf? Did you know she’s co-chair of Women Who Care, which supports United Cerebral Palsy of New York City? And she’s a founding member of Be More Heroic, an anti-bullying campaign which tours the country connecting with thousands of students each year. She’s also gone to South Africa with ARTS InsideOut, where she has held theater classes and workshops for women and children affected by HIV and AIDS.
She credits a strong support system for her success. That support system includes her parents and boyfriend. “I’m so glad to have a partner who gets it,” she said. “He encourages me when I’m scared to go after the things I want.”
When Stroker won her Tony Award at Radio City Music Hall, she did not emerge from the crowd. She was backstage. Like many old buildings, the Music Hall, which opened in 1932, was not wheelchair accessible from the audience.
Stroker said the Music Hall did the best it could, but was limited by
It’s not a problem unique to the Music Hall, but it is emblematic.
For the disabled community, access is a profound word.
Access to stages. To roles. To higher education. To jobs. To Stroker and thousands upon thousands of others, access is opportunity.
“As a society, we have to work on improving access,” Stroker said. “I’ve found that theaters being built now are doing that.”
William Shakespeare famously said that all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.
If that’s true, then Stroker is a player in the limelight, staging her encore. As she stated in a recent interview with The New York Times, “I know in many ways that this is what I was born to do…it’s so clear I was meant to be in this seat.”
Emmy Award-winning Bunim/Murray Productions (producers of A&E’s Born This Way, HBO’s Autism The Musical, and MTV’s The Real World) is casting for a new documentary series that would follow the lives and journeys of three entrepreneurs with disabilities (including physical, cognitive, sensory, or mental health disabilities) to showcase their abilities as business owners.
This show will not be going to pilot (an initial sample episode), rather we are jumping straight to a multiple episode series. Bunim-Murray Productions will film the selected entrepreneurs in their hometown and at their business.
At the moment, we are simply looking to be connected to great individuals to learn more about them and their businesses. In the next few weeks, we are hoping to connect with and talk to charismatic, creative, interesting, funny, and driven entrepreneurs with disabilities for this new television program.
A lifelong advocate and a voice for other actors that are also visually impaired, Marilee Talkington will be lighting up television sets alongside Jason Momoa (“Game of Thrones,” AQUAMAN) in Apple TV+’s upcoming futuristic, post-apocalyptic drama “See,” premiering Friday, November 1st.
Legally blind herself, Marilee will be playing more than just a role in a show, but a pivotal role in the fight for authentic casting and representation.
From the producers of the PLANET OF THE APES Trilogy, written by Steven Knight (“Peaky Blinders”) and directed by Francis Lawrence (THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE and MOCKINGJAY PARTS 1 & 2), “See,” tells the story of a future where a virus has wiped out most of mankind, leaving the survivors blinded. Marilee stars as “Souter Bax,” an emotionally complicated character, authentically representing the blind community. In addition to Jason Momoa, the show also stars Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actress, Alfre Woodard (12 YEARS A SLAVE, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR) and Archie Madekwe (MIDSOMMAR).
Marilee also spends her time as a consultant for TV shows, films, theater, university, and conservatories for authentic casting and representation on stage and screen. She has even created an acting program for authentically blind/low vision actors and is heavily involved in SAG-AFTRA Performers with Disabilities Committee, as well as 50/50 by 2020. Marilee even went viral in 2017, being featured for HuffPost and the Observer, when at a panel for the World Science Festival, a female panelist kept getting cut off by the male moderator, Marilee jumped in from the crowd asking him to “Let her speak, please!” Passionate about her activism, she is fighting for those around her and coming after her.
Born with cone-rod dystrophy, a retinal disease she had inherited from her mother, Marilee had no central vision, and learned how to not just survive, but thrive. Heavily involved in basketball throughout high school, even earning herself a spot on the CA All-Star team, Marilee could not play in college as her sight continued to deteriorate. While studying Psychology, she took an acting class on a whim and fell in love immediately. Moving from Los Angeles to San Francisco, she worked hard, honing her craft before attending the American Conservatory Theater, graduating with honors as one of just a handful of legally blind actors in the country with an MFA in Acting.
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Following school, Marilee took to writing and directing groundbreaking plays, including “Sticky Time,” a show that took place around the audience, rather than the usual format, and “Truce,” (shown in San Francisco, New York and the BBC), in which Marilee played 22 different characters. ”Truce’s” cutting edge aspect was its set design as it paralleled her own vision loss so that audience members could viscerally experience what it might be like for her. In all her productions, Marilee aims to break apart the normative theatrical viewing experience and create highly visceral and experimental story-telling moments. She innovates new aesthetics to integrate her specific physical experience of the world into each show.
Since then, she has starred in NBC’s “New Amsterdam,” CBS’ “NCIS,” and countless theater productions, both Off-Broadway and Regional. In the past 25 years, she has originated over 60 characters including lead roles in world premieres by Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) and Lauren Gunderson (most produced playwright in the US, 2017).
Peter Dinklage made Emmy Awards history on Sunday, winning Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for a record-breaking fourth time. He previously took home the same award in 2011, 2015 and 2018.
Dinklage bested two of his fellow Game of Thrones actors — Alfie Allen and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau — for this year’s win, as well as Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul), Giancarlo Esposito (Better Call Saul), Michael Kelly (House of Cards) and Chris Sullivan (This Is Us).
Prior to his fourth win on Sunday, Dinklage shared the three-win record with Art Carney, Don Knotts and Aaron Paul.
Game of Thrones was nominated for a total of 14 Primetime Emmy Awards this year, including the three mentioned above. Other nominees included Kit Harington (Jon Snow) for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series; Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series; and Gwendoline Christie (Ser Brienne of Tarth), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) and Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.
The show also received three nominations in the category of Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, as well as a single nod for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, and the biggie — Outstanding Drama Series.
Continue on to TVLine to read the complete article.
Like many individuals on the autism spectrum, Brian Burk can find it hard to connect with others. The Pasadena, California native is undeniably intelligent, but he struggled to find his way socially and often chose staying at home and studying over spending time with other people his age. But once he discovered the show “American Ninja Warrior,” that started to change.
On “American Ninja Warrior,” all kinds of people compete on various obstacle courses in an effort to reach Mount Midoriyama. Contestants are often larger-than-life personalities who push their bodies as far as they can go. And the moment Brian saw his first episode, he knew he had what it takes to become one of them.
Brian began exercising three times a week to increase his strength and stamina. The very act of leaving his house and interacting with others at the gym helped him break out of his shell. He became more social with each passing day. By the time he competed in the Los Angeles City Qualifiers in 2019, he was more than ready to show the world what he could do!
The now 20-year-old is pursuing a college degree in aerospace engineering and immediately inspired the ANW crowd with his powerful journey to becoming a ninja warrior. They can be seen cheering loudly as he approaches the jaw-dropping obstacle course.
In the video, we see Brian’s parents, Thomas and Pamela Burk, jumping up and down on the sidelines as their son repeatedly lands his moves. He flings his body through the air and ignores the weariness in his arms as he muscles his way up the intimidating Mount Midoriyama to successfully complete the course.
“This means everything to me! I’m so thankful!” Brian tells the show’s hosts. Then he celebrates by doing a full split on top of the mountain… because why not? If you’ve got it (and Brian certainly does), flaunt it!
Continue on to InspireMore to read the complete article.
Teenager Lily Jordan was supposed to be rocking out at a Jonas Brothers concert this past weekend, but instead she had to undergo chemotherapy treatment. So, the famous family stopped by her hospital room to pay her a very special surprise visit before the show.
Late last week 16-year-old Jordan posted a screenshot of an Instagram story, letting her followers know that she couldn’t make the Jonas Brothers’ Hershey, Pennsylvania, concert on Saturday due to chemotherapy.
“I was supposed to be at your Hershey concert tomorrow but instead I’m across the street doing chemo,” Lily wrote on Instagram. “If y’all wanted to pop in I’ll give you my room number.
The hashtag she used, #LilySeesTheJonasBrothersChallenge2019, went viral — even Pennsylvania Representative Scott Perry shared her post.
“Our good friend Lily is fighting for her life in Hershey tonight and so badly wanted to see the Jonas Brothers tomorrow night at Hersheypark, but can’t because of her urgent treatment,” he wrote on Facebook Friday. “If there is anyway for them to visit her, we are lifting up her hopes and our prayers for help.”
The Jonas Brothers saw the posts and couldn’t help but stop in to visit Jordan at Penn State Children’s Hospital before their concert.
The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center posted a sweet video of the famous trio walking into the teen’s room. “We saw your messages, we had to come over,” said Joe, to the smiling Jordan. “It went everywhere, my entire feed was filled,” added Kevin.
Even Nick’s wife, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, tagged along for the visit and met Jordan. After chatting for a bit, Nick asked Jordan if she had a favorite song they could dedicate to her during their concert that night. While Jordan was a bit flustered, she said their 2007 hit “S.O.S” was her pick — to which Kevin answered, “Done.”
The brothers also signed autographs and snapped pictures with the teen.
Continue on to CBS News to read the complete article.
A&E’s Emmy-winning docuseries Born This Way is coming to an end, with a fifth and final season.
The network said recently that the series will wrap with a six-part shortform digital series to begin premiering later this year on AEtv.com, and a one-hour linear series finale holiday special, to air in December on A&E.
Born This Way concluded its fourth season in May 2018. The digital series will pick up following last season’s wedding of cast members Cristina and Angel, and will continue the story of Elena, John, Megan, Rachel, Sean, Steven, Cristina and Angel.
In the hourlong series finale special, the cast will reflect on their personal growth across the four seasons of the show and discuss Born This Way’s impact on the way society views people with disabilities, according to A&E. “From finding jobs to navigating relationships and break ups to exerting their own independence, the cast will rejoice in the journey they have been on together and thank fans for all of their support along the way,” A&E said.
It’s not often that you get to make television like Born This Way which has had such a positive impact on the world. The show unquestionably changed how society views people with Down syndrome and how people with Down syndrome see themselves,” said Executive Producer Jonathan Murray. “It has shown that no one should have to live with artificial limits placed upon them and all of us, no matter what challenges we face, want the same things – independence, a chance for meaningful employment and a chance to contribute to our families and communities.”
“Being a part of the amazing and inspiring journey of our cast over the past four seasons has been an honor for myself and everyone at A&E,” said Elaine Frontain Bryant, EVP and Head of Programming, A&E Network. “We have all learned so much from their openness, resilience and spirit, and we will be forever grateful to them for welcoming us and viewers into their lives.”
Continue on to Deadline to read the complete article.
Twenty-five-year-old Kenyan engineer and innovator, Roy Allela, has created a set of gloves that will ultimately allow better communication between those who are deaf and those who are hearing yet may not necessarily know sign language. The Sign-IO gloves in essence translate signed hand movements into audible speech.
Allela’s gloves feature sensors located on each finger that detect the positioning of each finger, including how much each finger will bend into a given position. The glove connects via Bluetooth to an Android phone which then will leverage use the text-to-speech function to provide translated speech to the hand gestures of a person signing.
The inspiration behind the Sign-IO gloves comes from the personal experience of having a young niece who is deaf. He nor his family knows sign language and often struggled to adequately and consistently communicate with her.
“My niece wears the gloves, pairs them with her phone or mine, then starts signing. I’m able to understand what she’s saying,” Allela shared in an interview with The Guardian.
Allela’s vision for the gloves is to have them placed in schools for special needs children throughout his home country of Kenya and then expand from there to positively impact the experiences of as many deaf or hearing-impaired children as possible. His gloves are amongst a number of cutting-edge projects that are contributing to the growing market of assistive technology devices that seek to provide aid to those with specific impairments and limitations.