Meet the first openly autistic woman elected to political office

LinkedIn
Sarah Hernandez sitting at her desk smiling wearing a flowery green and yellow dress

By Kathleen Wroblewski, Director of Communications, Bay Path University

It’s difficult for many people to approach a stranger’s house and knock on their door. It’s quite another matter if you are knocking on doors and running for public office.

Within minutes, you need to introduce yourself and connect with the person on the other side of the threshold. We call it being face to face—a fundamental form of human communication.

When Assistant Professor Sarah Hernandez, ’14 G’15, of the occupational therapy department decided to run for the school board in her local town, the process of canvassing in the community and meeting strangers was absolutely terrifying. “At first, I had to watch how people did it. And, slowly, I learned to pick up certain cues and how to handle myself in different situations. People were very patient with me. It was a big step when I knocked on that first door.”

Sarah’s success is all the more remarkable because she is neurodiverse: she is on the autism spectrum. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a development condition defined by social and communication difficulties and repetitive, inflexible patterns of behavior.

When you first meet Sarah, a mother of three with a friendly and welcoming smile, she appears to be the opposite of society’s profile of being autistic. But appearances can be deceiving. Sarah, along with many other young girls and women, has mastered what is known as “social camouflaging,” or hiding in plain sight. In many ways, this coping technique has led to women of all ages to be misdiagnosed, or in some cases, not diagnosed with autism at all. And that gets to the heart of Sarah’s story:

“I was diagnosed in my thirties, and that is not unusual for women. I knew that I was different somehow, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. There were times that I just had to shut down and not communicate. I was lucky to learn it was a form of autism because most women fly under the radar and never find out. They live in a world of inner turmoil. It’s only recently that researchers are looking at the gender differences in autism. In fact, the criteria for diagnosing ASD are based on data gathered from the studies of boys.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disorder is 4.5 times more common in boys than girls. As awareness of autism grows, new protocols are being developed that indicate the gap may not be as wide as once thought. In the meantime, there are discernable shifts in society’s perceptions of autism.

Expanding the Definition of a Diverse Workplace

Sarah, like many others on the spectrum, has learned to live with her autism. She is a role model for her occupational therapy students, sharing her experiences to make them more sensitive to the differences and contributions of the members of her “tribe.”

“I let my students know right up front that I am autistic. And I share my knowledge of the strengths of autism—our ability to think in patterns, to visualize, and to be problem solvers,” she says.

In fact, this skill set is prompting companies and organizations to expand their definitions of a diverse workplace. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage, by Robert Austin and Gary Pisano, reports that the neurodiverse population remains a largely untapped talent pool. With a vast number of IT and IT-related positions going unfilled, HR departments are re-examining their recruitment practices and working environments to accommodate neurodiverse employees. In companies with active neurodiverse hiring programs, such as Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Ford, and others, they have already realized productivity gains and a high number of innovations. They have found that diversity does deliver.

Standing Shoulder to Shoulder

“I know I am incredibly lucky to be working at Bay Path,” states Sarah. “I am doing what I love, and I can be honest about who I am.”

Sarah’s generosity of spirit does not stop at Bay Path. She and her husband have one biological child, have adopted two children, and are therapeutic foster parents. When one of Sarah’s children experienced difficulties in school because she is darker in complexion, she knew she had to step forward to give voice to her daughter and others. She decided to run for the school board.

“I can hide my disability, but my daughter can’t turn her skin color off. I decided that I needed to stand shoulder to shoulder with others on the spectrum, as well as represent all those who need a spokesperson.”

So, Sarah left her comfort zone and began knocking on doors, participating in debates, and attending meetings. She never hid her autism. And she won.

But her victory wasn’t just for the schoolchildren in her town. Through social media, her election gained broad attention. NBC Hartford did a profile on her, and at a national conference on autism, she shared the stage with former Senator Tom Harkin, who introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into the Senate.

For Sarah, the attention was sometimes hard to believe: “As a person on the spectrum, I believe we live in a world that wasn’t made for us. But we have to keep participating, and we have to work to represent ourselves. I like to say, ‘We have to put our pants on in the morning.’ We just need to show up.”

Sarah certainly has.

Source: baypath.edu

Netflix Series About Teen On The Spectrum Poised For New Season

LinkedIn
Atypical stars stting in a car having a talk

A television show centering on the coming-of-age experiences of a teenager with autism is set to return. Netflix says that it will debut a third season of “Atypical” next month.

The series stars Keir Gilchrist as Sam, a 19-year-old on the spectrum who’s seeking love and independence.

“In season three, Sam starts his first year of college and is faced with the challenge of figuring out what success means for him, while adjusting to the changes that come with growing up,” Netflix said.

Gilchrist does not have autism in real life. But, the show did feature five characters played by actors with the developmental disorder during the last season.

In addition, Netflix previously said it has consulted with experts including a special education professor and a self-advocate to ensure that the half-hour show offers a realistic portrayal of life on the spectrum.

Continue on to Disability Scoop to read the complete article.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2019

LinkedIn
The Right Talent, Right Now official poster for NDEAM with their website and pictures of people with disabilities at work

Reflecting a commitment to a robust and competitive American labor force, the 2019 National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) theme is “The Right Talent, Right Now.”

The 2019 NDEAM theme emphasizes the essential role people with disabilities play in America’s economic success, especially in an era when historically low unemployment and global competition are creating a high demand for skilled talent.

Observed each October, NDEAM celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates about the value of a workforce inclusive of their skills and talents.

NDEAM dates back to 1945, when Congress declared the first week in October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” Learn more about the origins and evolution of NDEAM and other important events in disability employment history in their timeline.

What can YOU do to celebrate NDEAM? There are lots of ways! To get started, see the 31 Days of NDEAM slideshow :

The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) offers a range of resources to help organizations plan NDEAM observances, including not only the official poster in English and Spanish, but also sample articles, a press release, proclamation and social media content.

For information, visit the Department of Labor here.

Superfest Disability Film Festival 2019

LinkedIn
Man with prosthetic hand holds up sign for Superfest Disability Film Festival

With over 160 film submissions, only fifteen films were selected by our panel of judges, all of whom are prominent members of the disability community. Among the films you will enjoy this weekend there are short and full-length features including documentaries, comedies and daring dramas. In fact there are even five thought-provoking animated shorts to be screened. The films are global, from Iran, Germany, Australia, India as well as from right here in the Bay Area.

But Superfest is more than a film festival, it’s an annual community gathering and celebration. Thank you for joining us to experience the power of film, people telling their own story with creativity, beauty and emotion. Film is one of the most nuanced ways that important subjects can be brought to the forefront.

This is the 33rd festival celebrating under-told stories of people with disabilities. For the past seven years San Francisco State’s Longmore Institute on Disability and LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired have partnered to jointly coordinate and expand Superfest. In these years Superfest has expanded, not only growing the two day festival each fall, but bringing Superfest’s films and philosophy to locations across the Bay Area, country and globe.

Superfest Disability Film Festival

-Saturday, October 12 – Freight & Salvage (2020 Addison St. in Berkeley) at noon
-Sunday October 13 – Contemporary Jewish Museum (736 Mission St. in San Francisco) screenings at 11 am and 2 pm

SUPERFEST PRODUCERS
THE PAUL K. LONGMORE INSTITUTE ON DISABILITY at San Francisco State University envisions a society where everyone believes the world is better because of disabled people. We study and showcase disabled people’s experiences to revolutionize social views. Through public education, scholarship, and cultural events, the Longmore Institute shares disability history and theory, promotes critical thinking, and builds a broader community. Learn more: longmoreinstitute.sfsu.edu

LIGHTHOUSE FOR THE BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED provides deep learning, skills training, advocacy and community for blind individuals in California and around the world. Founded in 1902 in San Francisco, the LightHouse is one of the largest and most comprehensive blindness organizations in North America, with programs for blind and low vision people of all ages. LightHouse is a proud champion of Superfest. Through Superfest LightHouse continues the traditions of the rich history of Bay Area disability groups in promoting the rights and interests of disabled people.

Blind engineer builds a SMART cane that has Google Maps, Bluetooth, and a sensory device

LinkedIn
Blind engineer poses with his smart cane and a group of people smiling and pointing to him

In today’s age of advanced technology, a lot of devices, gadgets, and programs are built to make our lives easier and more convenient.

While the more recent innovations were designed for entertainment, some companies are taking technology to the next level by incorporating a high level of help and hopefully, to make a difference to the lives of people who need it the most.

Unfortunately I cannot name a single city as a perfectly disabled-friendly city that is why we are trying to provide this independency for visually impaired people” shared Ceylan on CNN.

The WeWALK smart cane was born from a visually impaired engineer named Kursat Ceylan. He is also the CEO and co-founder of a non-profit called the Young Guru Academy (YGA), the one responsible for making WeWALK come to life. As someone who faces the daily challenges of being blind, Kursat Ceylan knew the limitations of the current technology that people like him have to make do of. Knowing this, he created the WeWALK in hopes of changing the lives of the blind.

This innovative cane includes a built-in speakers, voice assistance, Google Maps, a Bluetooth system that makes syncing to other devices possible, and high-end sensors that alerts the user through vibrations when above chest level obstacles are within proximity—something a regular cane cannot provide.

In these days we are talking about flying cars, but these people have been using just a plain stick,” he explained to CNN. “As a blind person, when I am at the Metro station I don’t know which is my exit… I don’t know which bus is approaching… which stores are around me. That kind of information can be provided with the WeWalk.”

Continue on to Positive Outlooks to read the complete article.

Teacher Carries Student With Spina Bifida On His Back So She Won’t Miss Out on Class Field Trip

LinkedIn
Teacher carries disabled student in a specialty made backpack

A Kentucky teacher is being hailed for going above and beyond the call of duty to bring a disabled student along on their field trip.

Ryan Neighbor’s fourth grade class at Tully Elementary School had been preparing to go on a field trip to Falls of the Ohio State Park last week—and she was heartbroken over the prospect of missing out on the fun.

Since the 10-year-old youngster was born with spina bifida, she has relied on a wheelchair her entire life. This is not the first time that Ryan’s disability has prevented her from attending field trips in the past, so her mother Shelly King began “preparing for an ‘alternate field trip day.’”

Thankfully, she didn’t have to. Upon hearing about Ryan’s plight, elementary school teacher Jim Freeman contacted the family “out of the blue” and offered to carry Ryan around on his back for the entire field trip.

True to his word, Freeman used a specialized backpack to carry the 55-pound youngster on his back across the park terrain—and Ryan was thrilled.

Since her mother shared photos of Freeman and Ryan on the field trip, they have been shared thousands of times.

Continue on to the Good News Network to read the complete article.

North Carolina Deputy Lauded For Buying Disabled Woman’s Gas

LinkedIn
Officer pumping gas into a car

A North Carolina sheriff’s deputy is receiving praise on social media for buying a tank of gasoline for a disabled woman who didn’t have enough money to fill up her car.

The Winston-Salem Journal reports Forsyth County sheriff’s deputy Chris Owen said he was checking on security at a Sheetz convenience store in Winston-Salem around 3 a.m. Sunday when a woman asked him to pump her gas.

Owen, a seven-year veteran of the department, said the woman gave him $8. But he figured that wasn’t enough to get her where she needed to go, so he put the nearly $39 purchase on his credit card and gave the woman her money back.

By Tuesday afternoon, Owen’s story had more than 8,000 reactions and 1,200 shares on Facebook.

Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, journalnow.com

Marilee Talkington stars alongside Jason Momoa in Apple TV+’s upcoming futuristic, post-apocalyptic drama “See”

LinkedIn
Apple TV Movie poster with images of Marilee Talkington and Jason Momoa with the word "SEE" printed on it

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.

WATCH THE TRAILER!

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).

Photo Credit: David Noles

Kodi Lee, Singing Phenom Who Is Blind and Has Autism, 22, Wins America’s Got Talent Season 14

LinkedIn
Kodi Lee performs on America's Got Talent

Kodi Lee is the winner of America’s Got Talent!

After weeks of competition, Lee has been crowned the champion of season 14. On Wednesday’s episode, the star bested fellow finalists opera singer Emanne Beasha, violinist Tyler Butler-Figueroa, dance troupe Light Balance Kids, singer Benicio Bryant and Ndlovu Youth Choir.

Quartet Voices of Service (fifth place), dance troupe V. Unbeatable (fourth place), comedian Ryan Niemiller (third place), and the Detroit Youth Choir (second place) made it into the top 5.

In addition to the honor of being the winner, Lee takes home $1 million and headlining shows from Nov. 7-10 at Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

Lee immediately captivated the audience and judges with his viral audition during which he blew everyone away with his rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You.” Gabrielle Union was so impressed that she gifted the 22-year-old singer with her Golden Buzzer.

Along with his unforgettable vocal talents, Lee’s life story has made him a fan favorite. The Lake Elsinore, California, native was born with optic nerve hypoplasia and diagnosed with autism at age 4. His mother Tina accompanied him on stage for the entire competition.

“He’s making people believe in something they didn’t even know is attainable. He’s magic,” Union previously told PEOPLE of Lee.

Continue on to People to read the complete article.

Comcast Partners With The American Association Of People With Disabilities To Help Close The Digital Divide

LinkedIn
woman suing computer with internet access smiling

At the Newseum recently, Comcast announced a series of initiatives designed to help address the digital divide for low-income Americans with disabilities through the Internet Essentials program, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive Internet adoption program for low-income households. 

The largest of these was a grant from the Company to the American Association for People with Disabilities (AAPD).  The Comcast grant will help fund the creation and delivery of digital literacy training programs specifically designed to address the needs of low-income people in the disability community.  Once developed, the programs will be delivered at 10 AAPD affiliates across the country, as well as shared online for anyone to access.

According to Pew Research Center, 23 percent of people with disabilities say they never go online and 57 percent say they do not have a home broadband subscription.

The grant follows last month’s announcement that, since 2011, the Internet Essentials program has connected more than eight million low-income Americans to the Internet at home, including nearly 210,000 in the greater Washington, D.C. metro area, 90 percent of whom were not connected to the Internet at home until they signed up through Internet Essentials.  In addition, the company made the most significant eligibility change in the program’s history, expanding eligibility to all low-income households residing in the Comcast service area, including all low-income seniors, adults, and people with disabilities.

“The Internet is an incredible resource so long as you have the skills and the tools to use it,” said David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast Corporation.  “By partnering with AAPD and working with the disability community, we want to address and break down the barriers to broadband adoption that are unique to this population.  The first step is to address digital literacy issues and facilitate digital skills development.  So, we’re going to create relevant training programs and then fund their delivery at locations across the country.”

“Having an Internet connection at home is absolutely vital for low-income people living with disabilities,” said Maria Town, President and CEO of the American Association for People with Disabilities.  “I commend Comcast for extending its Internet Essentials program to people with disabilities because it will help us advance our mission to provide equal access, integration, and full inclusion for Americans with disabilities.”

In addition, Comcast held events across the Washington, DC area to raise awareness of the digital divide with special guests Paralympic Gold Medalist and Purple Heart Recipient Rico Roman, and Olympic Gold Medalists from the U.S. Women’s Hockey Team Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando.

As part of the day’s events, the Company held a digital literacy assembly at Walker Jones Elementary, where Cohen surprised 50 sixth graders with free laptops and six months of complimentary Internet Essentials service.  The company also hosted a digital inclusion event at the Hattie Holmes Senior Wellness Center where 100 seniors were given free laptops to help them stay connected to family and friends in the 21st century way of life.  Lastly, Comcast held a Youth Hockey Clinic with Roman, Lamoureux-Davidson, and Lamoureux-Morando, where the Company surprised 25 students from Cornerstone Schools in Ward 7 with free laptops to help further their education.  In partnership with Dell Technologies, the companies provided new equipment to Friends of Fort Dupont Ice Arena for its computer lab.

Internet Essentials has an integrated, wrap-around design that addresses each of the three major barriers to broadband adoption that research has identified.  These include: a lack of digital literacy skills, lack of awareness of the relevance of the Internet to everyday life needs, and fear of the Internet; the lack of a computer; and cost of internet service.  The program is structured as a partnership between Comcast and tens of thousands of school districts, libraries, elected officials, and nonprofit community partners.

Source: Comcast

20-Yr-Old With Autism Conquers “American Ninja Warrior” With Unmatched Enthusiasm

LinkedIn
Brian Burke swing across obstacle course on Ninja Warrior stage

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.