While endorsement deals are one in a million for most professional athletes, very few Olympians swap sport for the sartorial.
There is, of course, the exceptions and two-time defending World Champion Chelsea Werner might be as good as it gets.
Chelsea was born with Down Syndrome, unable to walk until she was almost two years old and told she would always have low muscle tone, yet persevered to perform at a physical peak beyond many experts’ wildest expectations.
Surprisingly, the Special Olympian set her sights on an entirely new and unexpected challenge after her fourth US National Championships win – the hypercritical world of fashion modelling.
“I’ve been at the top the Gymnastics World for probably ten years now,” Chelsea said. “I still enjoy it but it’s not my entire life. I got some great modelling opportunities through my gymnastics and discovered I really loved it!”
At a time where inclusivity is starting to trump the unattainable body ideals that litter mass media, the career change really means something.
Models with disabilities are just as aspirational as those with fashion’s predication of unusually long legs – arguably, even more so– and giving the simple act of giving them space challenges the industry’s ‘acceptable’ discrimination.
While Chelsea doesn’t recognise the lack of diversity, her mother Lisa said: “It is slowly becoming more diverse but what they typically consider diversity is usually racial or plus size models.
“When it come to models with disabilities it’s pretty rare. A large segment of today’s population has some form of disability – they want and deserve to be represented!”
In response, Chelsea said: “I think it’s hard for all models. I’ve had a lot of challenges in my life and I never give up. I have a lot of people rooting for me and a good team behind me.
“I’m a very positive person and don’t see things as limitations. I’m pretty stubborn and work very hard. The way my parents raised me really made me feel good about myself.”
In a world where most struggle for a slice of success, her work ethic and attitude that has already started to pay off. Since 2016, Chelsea has been on the cover of Teen Vogue, walked in New York Fashion Week and travelled around the world for big-brand campaigns.
“I have always loved being in front of the camera – that’s where I got the nickname ‘Showtime’,” she laughs. “Whenever there is a camera or an audience I am at my best. I also love the travel. My first modelling job was for H&M and I filmed it in Havana, Cuba!”
Modelling’s traditionally rigid set of ideals (super-thin, able-bodied, white, tall) is one thing, but the lack of disabled visibility across all media is another.
Without representation, it is easy to see how disabled people might assume they aren’t worth representation. That they don’t make the cut. And it the hope-gifted context of the thousands of likes and comments Chelsea receives on her active social accounts.
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What do you see when you look at Carol Burnett? How about Rosie O’Donnell or Margaret Cho? As for Maysoon Zayid, an actress who’s butted up against thousands of closed doors, she saw beauty. The beauty of opportunity.
“I realized that comedy was my way into Hollywood,” said Zayid, a stand-up comedian set to debut her new television series, Can Can. “I lucked out because I’m funny.”
Zayid galloped after her acting dream once she earned her degree in theater from Arizona State University … but it was a rocky start.
“I realized very quickly that casting directors were not taking me seriously because of my disability, cerebral palsy,” said Mansoon, in an interview with DIVERSEability Magazine. “I also became acutely aware of the fact that I didn’t see people who looked like me, a multiple minority, on TV.”
Born and raised in Cliffside, New Jersey, Zayid is of Palestinian descent.
As an advocate for equal rights for people with disabilities, she’s a shot in the arm to others who continue to face closed doors.
“People who have CP or other disabilities have often thanked me for being shameless about my shaking,” Zayid said. “Parents of kids with disabilities who are not disabled themselves tend to be inspired by how influential my father was in my life. They say it gives them hope that if they, too, are a good parent their child will thrive. People who feared disability seem relieved to be able to laugh about it while learning to be more inclusive. Some people just laugh because it’s funny. They are not learning, they are not inspired, and that is totally fine by me.”
ABC agreed to pick up Can Can last year—Zayid is still waiting for the word on when it will air.
“I am creator writer, star and producer on Can Can,” she said. “I definitely don’t want to direct myself. It is a comedy series that revolves around a woman who happens to have CP balancing work, family and relationships. That’s all I can tell you for now. Stay tuned!”
You might learn a lot by watching Can Can, or you might learn nothing at all but simply laugh out loud. Either way, Zayid will be pleased.
“I’m here to make people laugh, not to preach. If they learn to be better people in the process, that’s great, too,” the 45-year-old comedian said.
Zayid started her acting career spending two years on the popular soap opera As the World Turns, and she has also made guest appearances on Law & Order, NBC Nightly News and ABC’s 20/20.
During her early acting experiences, she found both her disability and her ethnicity repeatedly limiting her advancement. Zayid then turned to stand-up and began appearing at New York’s top clubs, including Carolines on Broadway, Gotham Comedy Club, and Stand Up NY, where she tackled some serious topics, such as terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
She co-founded the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival in 2003 with comedian Dean Obeidallah. Held annually in New York City, the festival showcases Arab-American comics, actors, playwrights and filmmakers.
In late 2006, Zayid debuted her one-woman show, Little American Whore, at Los Angeles’ Comedy Central Stage; it was produced and directed by Kathy Najimy. In 2008, the show’s screenplay was chosen for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. Production began with Maysoon as the lead in the fall of 2009.
Zayid usually tours by herself or as a special guest on the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. She also co-hosts the radio show Fann Majnoon (Arabic for “crazy art”) with Obeidallah.
Zayid can be seen in the 2013 documentary, The Muslims Are Coming!, which follows a group of Muslim-American stand-up comedians touring the United States in an effort to counter Islamophobia. The documentary also features various celebrities such as Jon Stewart, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo and Rachel Maddow.
Cerebral palsy is extremely difficult, even torturous, so how does one make it funny?
Here’s Zayid in one of her stand-up routines, talking about getting passed over for the part of—can you guess?—a person with cerebral palsy.
“I went racing to the head of the theater department, crying hysterically like someone shot my cat, to ask her why, and she said it was because they didn’t think I could do the stunts,” Zayid said, with a quizzical, comical look. “I said, ‘Excuse me, if I can’t do the stunts than neither can the character!’”
Welcome to Zayid’s world, where one’s misfortune can be funny. It’s okay.
Audiences probably feel for her—“It’s exhausting,” she says of the constant shaking. But soon enough, they’re laughing from the gut up as they become more familiar—and following Maysoon’s lead, more comfortable—with her condition.
That’s key. Her shows have a family feel. Out of decency, respect and, yes, fear, folks do not laugh about a disability until they’re given permission to by an insider.
Here’s how Zayid-the-insider introduced herself at one show in San Francisco: “I don’t want anyone in this room to feel bad for me,” she said, scanning the crowd with her trademark goofy gaze. “Because at some point in your life, you’ve dreamt of being disabled. Come on a journey with me: It’s Christmas Eve. You’re at the mall. You’re driving around in circles looking for parking, and what do you see? Sixteen empty handicapped spaces. And you’re like, ‘God, can’t I just be a little disabled?’”
Of people with disabilities, Zayid says, “We are not happy snowflake angel babies. We grow up, have relationships, experience a range of emotions, and deal with things like chronic pain. Not everybody in the disability community wants to be ‘cured.’ We can have multiple disabilities and also be multiple minorities. Disability intersects with every community.”
She points out that about 20 percent of Americans have a disability. “Disability doesn’t discriminate—you can become part of this group at any time,” she said. “We are 20 percent of the population, and disability rights are human rights.”
So, if you haven’t already, put Can Can on your radar as a must-see show. It’s possible you might learn a little something, but one thing is sure—you’ll definitely laugh.
The 11th Annual ReelAbilities Film Festival: New York of the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan is proud to take the audience beyond its outstanding selection of films with an array of special events and speakers that enhance the weeklong festival.
Highlights will include a disability comedy night at Gotham Comedy Club, led by “Seinfeld” actor Danny Woodburn and many esteemed comedians, and a fashion and design event at Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. The festival will also feature industry-related panels such as Writing Disability with Nancy Silberkleit, CEO of Archie Comics, Alexandra Cassel, a writer for the children’s television program “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” and award-winning director Jason DaSilva. Additionally, the festival will open its doors for free daytime screenings for schools and educators. All schools are welcome to take advantage of this special initiative; contact email@example.com for more details. To learn more about screenings and special events or to purchase tickets, visit reelabilities.org/newyork or call 646.505.5708 or TTY 877.505.6708.
Other standout events include the annual Friday night Shabbat dinner, where ReelAbilities will spotlight activism and honor Lawrence Carter-Long, a founding visionary of the festival and curator/co-host of “The Projected Image: A History of Disability on Film” on Turner Classic Movies, and quality conversations with an incredible slate of filmmakers, experts, actors, and other talent, including Chris Cooper (actor “Intelligent Lives”), Dr. Harold Kaplowitz, The Child Mind Institute, and Kevin Hines (subject and writer, “Suicide: The Ripple Effect”). A full list of speakers and special guests can be found at reelabilities.org/newyork/guests.
ReelAbilities, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office for Media and Entertainment and the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, is pleased to announce “Authentically Me” by Rachel Handler and Crystal Arnette as the winner of the “What’s Your ReelAbility?” 27-second film competition for films relating to life with disabilities. Handler, an actress and an amputee, shares the authentic parts of her life that make her who she is. The film will screen on Taxi TV and at the festival throughout the week as part of the prize.
“We are thrilled to partner with the ReelAbilities New York Film Festival and the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities on ‘What’s Your ReelAbility?’” said Anne del Castillo, acting commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. “This festival offers the most diverse showcase of films made for, by, and about people with disabilities, and our office is committed to increasing diversity and inclusion in the media and entertainment industry.”
“Every one of our films is captioned and audio described, and all of our conversations are made accessible,” said Isaac Zablocki, director and co-founder of ReelAbilities. “We are setting a new standard of inclusion for people of all abilities and challenge other festivals to do the same.”
The full lineup of the 11th Annual ReelAbilities Film Festival: New York at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan is below. Tickets now on sale at ny.reelabilities.org or 646.505.5708.
Take your search game to the next level with these tools that’ll save you time and help you get more done.
When you think about Google services, apps such as Gmail, Docs, and Photos may be the first things that come to mind. I’d be willing to wager, though, that the Google service you use more than any other is one you rarely think about—because it’s woven so tightly into your life that it doesn’t even feel like a service anymore. It just feels like a utility, something that’s always there—like a faucet for metaphorical water.
I’m talking, of course, about Google Search, the gateway to an endless-seeming array of answers and information. But these days, Google Search can do a whole lot more than just look up simple queries. In fact, if you know all of its hidden powers, Search can be a Swiss Army knife that’s always within reach, even when you aren’t actively thinking about its presence.
Browse through these 40 advanced functions—and get ready to see Search in a whole new light.
1. Need an impartial judge to help make a decision? Try typing “random number generator” into Google. That’ll bring up a tool that lets you specify a minimum and maximum number—for however many choices you have, or even representing a specific set of values within a spreadsheet—and then have the Google genie randomly pick a number within that range.
For a more visual (although also more limited) version of the same concept, type “spinner” into Google and then switch the toggle at the top to “Number.” You can then create a wheel with anywhere from two to 20 numbers and click it to spin and land on a random digit. The Google Search number spinner will land on a random digit, with anywhere from two to 20 options in place.
2. For even simpler decisions, let Google flip a coin or roll a die for you by typing either command into the search box. (Bonus tip: You can also ask Google to spin a dreidel.)
3. Make Google serve as your personal time-keeper by typing “timer” or “stopwatch” into a search box. You can also launch right into a specific timer by typing “20 minute timer” (or whatever amount of time you desire).
4. You probably know that Google can act as a basic calculator, performing addition, subtraction, and so on—but did you know it can also do all sorts of advanced mathematics? For instance, you can have Google graph complicated equations like “cos(3x)+sin(x), cos(7x)+sin(x)” by entering them directly into the search box. And you can fire up a geometry calculator by searching for a specific query—”area of a circle,” “formula for a triangle perimeter,” or “volume of a cylinder”—and then entering in the values you know.
5. Google has separate standalone calculators that can figure out tips and monthly mortgage payments, too. Search for “tip calculator” or “mortgage calculator” to give either a whirl.
6. The next time you need to convert between units, try asking Google to do the heavy lifting for you. In addition to handling currency and practically any measurement system, Google can convert megabytes to gigabytes, Fahrenheit to Celsius, and days into minutes or even seconds. You can explore all the possibilities by typing “unit converter” into the search box and then looking through the dropdown menus that appear—or you can perform most conversions directly by searching for the exact changeover you want (e.g. “14.7 lbs to oz”).
7. Who among us hasn’t come across a sprawling number and stared at it blankly while trying to figure out how to say it aloud? Search for any number followed by “=english”—”53493439531=english,” for example—and Google will spell out your number for you in plain-English words.
8. Designers, take note: Searching for “color picker” will pull up a simple tool that lets you select a color and find its hex code, RGB value, CMYK value, and more—and easily convert from one color code type to another.The color picker tool is an easy way to find color codes and convert among different code types.
9. You can also see an identifying swatch for a specific color code by typing it into Google in almost any form: “#fcef00,” “rgb(252, 239, 0),” “pantone 444 u,” and so on.
10. Get up-to-date info on any flight, anytime, by typing the airline name or code and flight number directly into Google.
11. Find your current IP address in a snap by typing “IP address” into any Google prompt.
12. Google can measure your internet speed and give you speedy results, regardless of whether you’re on Wi-Fi or mobile data. Just type “speed test” into a search box and then click the “Run Speed Test” button to get started.
13. From your phone, type “bubble level” into Google to load an on-demand level tool and make sure the picture you’re hanging is perfectly straight. Keep the toolbox in the closet and pull up a bubble level right from Google Search on your phone.
14. Trying to stay on beat? Google “metronome,” and the search site will give you a fully functional metronome with a slider to start any beat-per-minute setting you need.
15. Search or browse through hundreds of old print newspapers at Google’s hidden newspaper archive site. The selection is pretty hit-and-miss, but you just might find what you’re after.
16. Hardly anyone knows it, but Google has a system that allows you to save results from your searches and then organize them into collections. From a browser, it works with images, jobs, and places; after searching for any of those types of items, you’ll see small bookmark icons alongside your results that can be clicked to save the associated entities. If you have an Android phone, you can also save web pages by pulling them up within the Google app and then looking for the bookmark icon in the upper-right corner of the screen. Either way, you can find and sort your saved stuff by going to google.com/collections or looking for the “Collections” option in the Google app on Android (tucked away within the “More” menu).
17. Find your next job on Google by searching for “jobs near me” or something specific like “programming jobs.” You can then narrow down the search as needed, find direct links to apply to positions, and even turn on email alerts for worthwhile queries. Google’s job search function pulls in postings from all over the web and presents them in a centralized, easy-to-follow manner.
18. Thinking about going back to school—or maybe enrolling in college for the first time? Google can give you oodles of useful info about any four-year college in the United States. All you have to do is search for the school’s name, and you’ll get an interactive box with facts about its average cost (before and after financial aid for any income level) along with its acceptance rate, typical test scores, rankings, and notable alumni.
19. Get the perfect recipe for any meal by searching for the name of a dish from your mobile device. Google will give you a scrolling list of choices and will even provide one-tap commands for sending any set of instructions to a Google Assistant Smart Display connected to your account. (Bonus tip: You can search for drink recipes in the same way—again, though, only on a mobile device for some reason.)
20. Speaking of eating, you can Google any individual ingredient to find detailed nutritional information about the food. You can also search for specific nutritional queries—things like: “How many calories are in avocados,” “How much fat is in an egg yolk,” or “How much protein is in chickpeas.”
Netflix has renewed Atypical, the critically acclaimed original series created, written and executive produced by Robia Rashid (How I Met Your Mother, Will & Grace) for a third season.
Atypical season 3 will feature 10 half-hour episodes.
In season two of the series, which launched in September 2018, Elsa and Doug faced the aftermath of their marriage crisis and Casey tried to adjust to her new school, while Sam prepared for life after graduation.
Academy Award winning producer Seth Gordon and Mary Rohlich, who have both worked on hit series and films including Baywatch, The Goldbergs and Horrible Bosses also executive produce alongside Rashid. Jennifer Jason Leigh, who stars as Elsa, also serves as a producer. Michelle Dean, who received her PhD from UCLA and worked at the UCLA Center for Autism and Research and Treatment before joining the faculty of CSU Channel Island, was also brought into the production to help guide an accurate depiction of autism spectrum disorder. The series is produced by Sony Pictures Television for Netflix.
The cast returning for season three has not yet been confirmed. Atypical season two starred Keir Gilchrist (United States of Tara), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Michael Rapaport (Justified), Brigette Lundy-Paine (Margot vs. Lily), Amy Okuda (How to Get Away with Murder), Raul Castillo (Looking, Seven Seconds), Nik Dodani (Alex Strangelove), Graham Rogers (Ray Donovan, The Kominsky Method), Fivel Stewart (Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft), Jenna Boyd (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) and Casey Wilson (Happy Endings, Gone Girl).
Atypical is a coming of age story that follows Sam (played by Keir Gilchrist), an 18-year-old on the autistic spectrum as he searches for love and independence. While Sam is on his funny and emotional journey of self-discovery, the rest of his family must grapple with change in their own lives as they all struggle with the central theme: what does it really mean to be normal?
Hailey Dawson likes to be photographed with her 3D-printed hand front and center. Sometimes she curls it into a fist and flexes her biceps. Other times she keeps it flat as a pancake, elbow bent into a classic dab.
However she holds it, the point is that it’s there and she wants you to look at it.
She’s gotten baseball fans around the country to pay attention to it, too, by throwing the first pitch at every MLB stadium to raise awareness of the need for affordable prosthetics. After she pitched at Angel Stadium in Anaheim on Sept. 16, the 30th and last stadium on her list, she completed what her family is calling her Journey to 30.
When Hailey was born, her right hand came out different than the left. The right had a pinky and a thumb, but the three fingers in the middle were missing — her “nubbins” as her family calls them. Poland syndrome, the genetic condition she was born with, inhibits the development of a chest muscle. This makes the affected side of the body smaller and in some cases, causes abnormalities in an individual’s fingers.
After her tour of baseball stadiums, which started in 2015, Hailey is looking towards the future. The 8-year-old says she’s ready for some vacation.
Her mom bursted her bubble on those vacation plans, though, during a phone call with Mashable in August.
“You still have school,” Yong Dawson, Hailey’s mom said. The third-grader grunted audibly in response.
Journey to 30
Hailey’s journey began when she threw the first pitch at a Baltimore Orioles baseball game. After tossing the ball to her favorite player, Manny Machado, the two celebrated with a fist bump. The experience made her so happy, her mom wrote to a second team to see if she could do it all over again, this time with the Washington Nationals. It took a little while for it to be arranged, but she eventually got an in for Game 4 of the 2017 World Series Game.
Continue onto Mashable to read the complete article.
Justin Gallegos, a runner at University of Oregon, has made history by becoming the first professional athlete with cerebral palsy to sign with Nike. Gallegos, a junior with the school’s running club, made the announcement in an emotional video on his Instagram page.
Gallegos was finishing a race on Saturday when he was met by a camera crew, a bunch of his teammates and Nike’s Insights director, John Douglass, who told him of the deal. In the video posted to his social media account, Gallegos collapses out of pure joy as his peers applaud him.
“I was once a kid in leg braces who could barely put on foot in front of the other!” he wrote on Instagram. “Now I have signed a three year contract with Nike Running!”
A spokesperson with Nike confirmed to CBS News the signing of Gallegos. It was even more special because it landed on Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day. The condition is a neurological disorder that affects movement, motor skills and muscle tone.
Gallegos used a walker as a toddler and pre-schooler, and did physical therapy in order to improve his gait, according to Running Magazine. He began competing in long-distance running in high school and caught the attention of Nike, then helped the company develop a shoe designed for runners with disabilities.
Gallegos, who is aiming to run a half-marathon under two hours, calls this one of the most emotional moments in his seven years of running.
“Growing up with a disability, the thought of becoming a professional athlete is, as I have said before, like the thought of climbing Mt. Everest!”
“Thank you everyone for helping show the world that there is No Such Thing As A Disability!” he said.
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 Sunthat 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.
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.
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.
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.
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