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.

Baltimore Orioles Become First Pro Sports Team to Wear Braille Jerseys

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The Baltimore Orioles want everyone to be able to root, root, root for the home team.

On Tuesday, as they faced off against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Orioles became the first professional sports team to wear jerseys with braille lettering at a game, according to Sports Illustrated.

The fashion statement honored the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), which relocated its headquarters to Baltimore 40 years ago, SI reported.

The team’s efforts at inclusion did not stop with the special apparel. Carlos Ibay, a blind concert pianist, performed the national anthem, and Mark Riccobono, the NFB president, threw out the first pitch, The Washington Postreported. The Maryland team passed out cards with the braille alphabet to attendees.

The team hosted 95-year-old Merle Caples, a blind World War II veteran, on the field, according to its Twitter account. She told The Baltimore Sun that she gets her baseball fix by listening to the radio announcers.

“They are my eyes; they paint a picture for me,” Caples said. “It’s like I’m sitting behind home plate.”

Continue onto PEOPLE to read the complete article.

Jillian Mercado hasn’t let a wheelchair stop her from becoming a top model who reps Target and Beyonce

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In the world of professional modeling, Jillian Mercado is certain to stand out — the native New Yorker is one of the rare models in the U.S. with a physical disability.

In her early teens, Mercado, now 31, was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. She gets around using a motorized wheelchair and wakes at least an hour before most people. Broken subway elevators ( or sometimes no elevators at all), cabs that sometimes choose not to pick her up and cavernous, hidden hallways deep inside buildings are just a few of her daily challenges.

Her infectious laughter and boundless patience could make it easy to overlook the struggles Mercado faces — though that would be a mistake. But she’s developed a reputation for getting where she wants to go (literally and otherwise), whatever it takes. “I come up with things if I can’t do them,” she tells CNBC Make It. “I put on my Bob the Builder hat.”

Raised in New York by a seamstress mom and a shoe salesman dad, Mercado developed an early affinity for fashion. She’d sport her mom’s collections as early as age six, paying close attention to fabrics and shoes. But she never imagined she’d become a model. None of the magazines she read growing up featured anyone with a disability.

“It’s not like I never wanted to be a model,” she says. “But when you don’t know something, how are you supposed to want to be that person?”

Mercado studied at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, planning on a career as a fashion editor. In 2009, she landed a coveted internship as an editorial beauty intern at Allure. She says she hoped to create greater inclusivity for people with disabilities in fashion. She started blogging. But change came infuriatingly slow.

In 2013, Diesel posted a worldwide open casting call on Tumblr in search of social media influencers of all ages and sizes to model for the brand’s spring 2014 campaign. Encouraged by friends — but with no intention of becoming a professional model — Mercado answered a few questions online and submitted photos. She recalls answering a question about why she wanted to participate in the campaign by writing, “‘Cause I wanna change the world.”

She was one of 23 people from around the world chosen. “I just saw a whole different world and a whole different opportunity to voice the opinions that I’ve been suppressing for a really long time,” she says.

After Diesel, various modeling gigs came her way, and by the summer of 2015, she caught the attention of IMG Models. “I remember the first day I met Ivan Bart, president of IMG, I had bright pink hair,” Mercado says. IMG signed her, and Mercado joined an agency that represents Gisele Bundchen, Heidi Klum, Bella Hadid, Kate Moss and Elon Musk’s mother, Maye Musk.

Continue onto CNBC News 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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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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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.

Getty is trying to bring disability inclusion to stock photos

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Nearly one in five people have a disability, but just 2% of publicly available imagery depicts their lives. The photo company, alongside Oath and the National Disability Leadership Alliance, is working to change that.

In the stock photo world, images of people with disabilities tend to cluster at two poles. “They’re either depicted as superhuman or super pathetic,” says Rebecca Swift, Getty Images’ director of visual insights. “There doesn’t seem to be that broad range that you get with able-bodied people.”

Getty has seen searched for disability-related images spike in the past year–“wheelchair access” searches were up 371% from 2016 to 2017, and autism-related searches climbed 434%–and the issue of representation became impossible to ignore.

That also became clear to Oath, the parent company of Yahoo and Tumblr, as they were working to set up a website highlighting their work around accessibility in tech and having difficulty finding representative images. So the company, with consult from the National Disability Leadership Alliance, tapped Getty to help change the current representation paradigm from the inside out. Launched May 17, The Disability Collection, a new subcategory of Getty images, will feature people with disabilities in everyday settings.

What you notice first are people’s faces. In contrast to those common images that focus on a person’s hands gripping a wheelchair, or frame a blind person before a window to show what they can’t see–or depict the blur of a prosthetic leg as it strikes a track–the images in the new Getty collection focus on human interaction and people’s facial expressions.

Of course, there are challenges to capturing a range of disabilities. Visual media gravitates toward visual cues, but not all disabilities are necessarily visible. “That’s why the wheelchair tends to be the icon of disability,” Swift says. “This project for us as a business is about getting it all down and saying: Don’t just focus on wheelchairs. Think about the entire range, and think about how people with disabilities want to be depicted.”

For Getty, that meant building out a set of guidelines for photographers in their network to follow. They emphasize focusing on mundane moments from everyday–texting, taking selfies, grocery shopping. A lot of the guidelines come from focus groups with disability organizations that Oath hosted and shared with Getty. “We’ve taken input from a host of advocacy groups about how people in their communities want to be depicted,” Swift says.

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article.

How Xbox Adaptive Controller Will Make Gaming More Accessible

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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.”

Continue onto The Hollywood Reporter to read the complete article.

One-Handed Player Shaquem Griffin Makes NFL History With Seahawks Draft

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Shaquem Griffin just made history.

The University of Central Florida linebacker became the first one-handed player to be drafted into the NFL after being picked by the Seattle Seahawks on the third day of the 2018 NFL Draft at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday.

Griffin — whose twin brother Shaquill also played for UCF and is now a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks — was born with a congenital birth defect that affected his ability to use his left hand and had the extremity amputated when he was a child because of extreme pain.

Following his pick, which took place in the fifth round, the 22-year-old from St. Petersburg, Florida, told ESPN that he was speechless from the news.

“I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “I didn’t know what to say. I was trying to get the words out, but I couldn’t talk.”

Griffin had previously told multiple outlets that he expected to be picked up by a team during this year’s draft. But despite making history, the athlete told Today he would rather others not concentrate on his disability.

“One day I’m going to be called ‘Shaquem Griffin the football player’ and not ‘Shaquem Griffin the one-hand wonder,’” he told the outlet. “I don’t need that name. Just call me Shaquem Griffin the football player. I’m good with that.”

Continue onto PEOPLE to read the complete article.

The 2018 Winter Paralympics Kick Off Today in PyeongChang

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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

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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.

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

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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.