Ryan Niemiller From ‘America’s Got Talent’ Is Spreading Disability Awareness With His Comedy

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Ryan Niemiller standing on stage in front of audience at America's Got Talent

Instead of allowing his disability to inhibit him, Ryan Niemiller from America’s Got Talent capitalized on it. The comedian — who, according to his website, was born with a disability in both arms — calls himself the “Cripple Threat of Comedy” and uses his stand-up to share his unique perspective in hilarious ways.

He tours the country year-round “covering topics such as dating, trying to find employment, and attempting to find acceptance in a world not designed for him,” his website reads. He’s spreading crucial awareness for people with disabilities — but he’s also making a lot of people laugh.

Much of Niemiller’s material recounts actual experiences he’s had while navigating life with his disability — and how others tend to react to it. The bits are funny, but they also bring awareness to how people with disabilities should and shouldn’t be treated.

In a comedy world that has long been dominated by non-disabled people, Niemiller is providing much-needed representation and perspective.

His YouTube channel, although thin in inventory, features a few of his acts ranging from 2014 to 2018, and upon clicking play on any of them, his tone and purpose are clear. In his most recent upload, a set from December, he tells the story of the time a new job required him to document his fingerprints as part of a background check.

Due to his disability, Niemiller doesn’t have all five fingers on either hand, which, he said, sent the fingerprint specialist at the police station into a panic. “I should’ve called ahead,” he told the crowd. He went on to explain how he followed a woman to the backroom to take his prints, and upon taking one of his fingers, she asked, “So, which one is that?” Fingerprint cards are usually separated by index, middle, ring, pinky and thumb boxes. “I don’t know,” he told the woman. “I was hoping you could tell me.”

Niemiller said the woman then enlisted a more experienced employee who completed the job, and he left the station with a picture of his print card. “It looks like the saddest bingo card there ever was,” he joked. Everyone laughed.

Continue on to Bustle.com to read the complete article.

How Interior Design Can Be A Tool In Managing Life With Autism

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Jess Faerman at home in her apartment with her dog

Justin Moehn’s vast amiibo collection, comfortable gaming chairs and a large screen set up in a very specific way in his Richmond bedroom are evidence of his highly focused affection for video games. Jess Faerman’s small apartment in Houston has a single chair she’s willing to sit on and a circular path for her compulsive need for pacing.

For Hannah Warren, who lives in Southeast Houston, a velvety soft covering on an air mattress and drops of lavender oil are her keys to a good night’s sleep, for now, anyway.

All three have autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, a developmental disability whose cause is still a mystery to researchers. As they, educators and parents all look for ways to cope in the classroom and at home, one thing they know for certain is that the right interior design can help children and adults manage the anxiety and behaviors that typically accompany autism, improving life for them and other members of their families.

Important elements include color, texture, lighting and the durability of furnishings, say parents and experts.

Don Lawrence, who works in health care facility planning at CannonDesign, comes to the topic with two points of view: one as a trained design planner and the other as a father of a 29-year-old son who has autism.

“Research has taken off in the last five years,” Lawrence said of both searching for information about cause, treatment and daily coping skills.

Lawrence, who lives in Sugar Land, had a background in health care when he returned to the University of Texas to study architecture years ago. Now he works exclusively in health care design planning, and recently finished work on an autism clinic at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California.

“We did research on current thinking about interventions, primarily looking for ways to create a calming and relaxing environment. There’s a lot of research on color and sound and transitions from space to space,” Lawrence said, noting that design elements that work in a clinical setting work in homes and schools, too.

Color and light — both natural and artificial — are two important elements of home design, and they’re big factors in homes that have a child or adult with autism.

Lawrence explained that the slight flicker of a fluorescent light bulb, which are still used extensively in offices, stores and schools, can seem to a person with autism as the rest of us might see a strobe light. Imagine all of the homes built in the 1980s and 1990s with light boxes for fluorescent tubes over their kitchen islands — every one of them is a problem if someone in the household has autism.

Lawrence and special education consultant Robin Rettie of Lighthouse Learning & Resource both said that soothing colors are essential. In a bedroom, pale greens and blues with gray undertones are often talked about as calming colors — the same holds true for people with autism. Muted shades of lavender or purple also help calm people with ASD. Bright colors such as red, orange or yellow — colors you see often see in classrooms and toys for young children — appear so harsh that they can cause outbursts.

Nearly everyone with autism avoids bright lights. In Moehn’s bedroom — where he spends a good deal of his time — he has just a single bulb in the three-light ceiling-mounted light fixture and usually keeps the plantation shutters on his only window closed.

Rettie and Lawrence both said dimmable lights and bulbs with a warmer glow are best, so they can be adjusted.

Texture is a huge factor — people with autism generally prefer soft, silky fabrics over anything rough or scratchy — so bedding and upholstery have to be chosen carefully. You don’t have to use them everywhere in your home, just in the bedroom of the person with autism — it’s advisable they have their own room — and in a place they like to sit when they’re with others.

Moehn, 37, who lives with his parents, treats his room as his own retreat, with satin sheets on his bed to help him sleep. Faerman, 33, who has her own apartment, puts a soft blanket on the only chair she will sit on in her apartment. The softness of the plush toys on her bed helps soothe her.

Janice Warren has struggled to help her daughter, 12-year-old Hannah, whose challenges change as she ages. She slept on a twin bed but wore it out — jumping on furniture can be an issue, so it needs to be more durable. While she looked for a new bed, she let Hannah sleep on an air mattress that had a soft, velvety cover. Her daughter was getting the best sleep she’d ever had, so she halted the new-bed search.

Warren has also incorporated aromatherapy, using plant-based lavender oil that helps calm her daughter, who is mainstreamed in school but not highly functional and has poor verbal skills. She adds the oil to shampoo and lotion and occasionally puts a couple of drops on her pillow and in dresser drawers, which, by the way, have labels for individual items that go in them.

Structure is vital for people with autism, so organizing systems help them cope. Knowing which shelf in a pantry, drawer in a refrigerator or container in a closet has their things fosters independence via daily living skills and is comforting. When things are out of place, though, it can be overwhelming, and the person may shut down or act out.

PHOTO: Jess Faerman / Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Continue on to The Houston Chronicle to read the complete article.

‘Beautiful moment’: Mom moved to tears seeing 2-year-old in awe of inclusive Target advertisement

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Young child sitting in wheelchair in Target stops to see advertisement of a young boy in a wheelchair

PEORIA, AZ — An Arizona mother was moved to tears when an advertisement at Target caused her son to stop in his tracks and stare in awe at the sign.

“It was just a beautiful moment to see. Him admiring somebody like him because he doesn’t get to see that often,” Demi Garza-Pena said to KNXV in Arizona.

Garza-Pena’s son, Ollie, is almost two years old.

He uses a wheelchair to get around because he was born with a rare condition called caudal regression syndrome, which affects his lower spine and organs.

While the pair were shopping in Target, Ollie noticed something inspiring on a sign hanging above a rack of clothes.

The sign showed a young boy in a wheelchair.

Seeing her son’s response to the advertisement showed Garza-Pena how important representation can be, especially for children. She hopes other stores will follow Target’s lead.

“Everywhere…everybody, everywhere, all the time. That would make a huge difference,” Garza-Pena said about where she’d like to see more inclusive advertisements.

Target launched the more inclusive ads in 2017, mainly in apparel, and refreshes them regularly. The next batch will come later this month.

Continue on to ABC News to read the complete article.

‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’ Star Zack Gottsagen Takes Stage as First Oscar Presenter With Down Syndrome

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Shia LaBeouf and Zack Gottsagen speak onstage during the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 09, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Shia LaBeouf joined the actor to present the best live-action short prize at the 2020 Academy Awards on Sunday.

The Peanut Butter Falcon star Zack Gottsagen made history as the Academy Awards’ first presenter with Down syndrome at the 2020 Oscars on Sunday.

The actor, who received a standing ovation upon hitting the Dolby Theater stage, announced the nominees and winner of the live-action short film category alongside co-star Shia LaBeouf. The actor waved to the Dolby Theater audience before introducing the nominees.

Gottsagen then made the “Oscar goes to” announcement before LaBeouf announced the winner, presenting it to The Neighbor’s Window, which LaBeouf misread as “The Neighbor’s Widow.”

In The Peanut Butter Falcon, which stars LaBeouf, Bruce Dern and Dakota Johnson, a nursing home escapee, played by Gottsagen, chases his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.

Sunday night was Gottsagen’s first time attending the star-studded ceremony. Though the actor didn’t receive any awards at the annual show, the Ruderman Family Foundation lauded the evening’s landmark event.

In 1993, the Academy awarded the documentary short subject prize to Educating Peter, a film that follows third-grade student Peter Gwazdauskas, who lives with Down syndrome.

Continue on to The Hollywood Reporter to read the complete article.

The 2020 M-Enabling Summit is coming to Washington, D.C.

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M-Enabling Summit 2020 flyer announcing the dates and location

Please join us at the M-Enabling Summit, the leading conference and showcase promoting accessible technology and environments for seniors and users of all abilities, which will be held June 22-24, 2020 at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel, in Washington, D.C. It is the annual meeting place for all who create and contribute to accessible ICT products, services and consumer technologies.

With its 2020 theme of “Digital Inclusion Strategies: A Catalyst for Action,” the M-Enabling Summit will highlight how organizations can successfully leverage innovative enabling technologies to make their digital workplaces, learning environments and product and services accessible to users of all abilities. It also offers an ideal platform to network with accessibility professionals, organizations, and decision makers seeking to address compliance challenges and market development opportunities.

This year’s thought-provoking agenda is set to be led by over 150 experts and industry leaders exploring how to further drive digital inclusion forward across all sectors of activity. A powerful differentiator in gaining a competitive advantage and establishing a positive culture, digital inclusion is embraced by leading organizations across all sectors of activity.

The M-Enabling Summit is proud to be welcoming Vint Cerf, Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist, to deliver the opening keynote address at the 9th annual M-Enabling Summit.

REGISTRATION:

The M-Enabling Summit offers a discounted early bird registration rate through April 30th. Register today and save: https://m-enabling.com/conference-registration/

Paralyzed Veterans of America to host Wheelchair Rugby Tournament for wounded heroes and adaptive athletes

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PVA logo includes man in wheelchair saluting

Paralyzed Veterans of America will host 12 wheelchair rugby teams from across the country to compete in its 3rd Annual Code of Honor Quad Rugby Invitational.

The tournament brings together national league wheelchair rugby teams made up of disabled military veterans and civilian adaptive athletes, to compete in a 3-day round-robin style tournament. A wheelchair rugby skills clinic will be held prior to the start of the tournament to introduce novice players to the sport.

The clinic is free and individuals with disabilities as well as rehab health professionals who are interested in learning more about the sport are invited to attend.

The Quad Rugby Invitational is one of many year-round adaptive sports opportunities Paralyzed Veterans of America provides for disabled veterans and other individuals with disabilities.

WHEN: Friday, February 7, 2020
Wheelchair Rugby Skills Clinic 10:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.
Opening Ceremony 11:45 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Competition begins 12:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 8, 2020
Competition 8:45 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.

Sunday, February 9, 2020
Competition 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Championship Game 10:30 a.m.
Closing Ceremony and Awards 11:45 a.m. (approx.)

WHERE: The St. James
6805 Industrial Road
Springfield, VA 22151

The St. James is a 450,000 square foot sports, wellness and active entertainment destination in the Washington, DC metro area. Paralyzed Veterans of America hosted its 2019 Code of Honor tournament at The St. James, making it the first adaptive sports event to be held at the facility.

WHO: Paralyzed Veterans of America (host)

Eleven Division II teams from the U.S. Quad Rugby Association (USQRA) and PVA’s at-large team comprised of military veterans:

Northern Virginia Mutiny
Maryland Mayhem
MedStar DC NRH Punishers
PVA at-large team
Brooks Bandits
Philadelphia Magee Eagles
NEP Wildcats
New York Warriors
Oscar Mike Militia
Raleigh Sidewinders
Richmond Sportable Possums
Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch

For more information or to view the full tournament schedule, please visit pva.org/codeofhonor.

About Paralyzed Veterans of America
Paralyzed Veterans of America is the only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated solely for the benefit and representation of veterans with spinal cord injury or disease. For more than 70 years, the organization has ensured that veterans receive the benefits earned through service to our nation; monitored their care in VA spinal cord injury units; and funded research and education in the search for a cure and improved care for individuals with paralysis.

As a life-long partner and advocate for veterans and all people with disabilities, Paralyzed Veterans of America also develops training and career services, works to ensure accessibility in public buildings and spaces and provides health and rehabilitation opportunities through sports and recreation. With more than 70 offices and 33 chapters, Paralyzed Veterans of America serves veterans, their families and their caregivers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Learn more at pva.org.

About The St. James
The St. James is the premier sports, wellness and entertainment destination in the country. Our mission is to maximize human potential by designing, developing and operating sports, wellness, entertainment and hospitality programs, services and experiences that engage, inspire and empower people to pursue their passions and be their best at play, at work and in life. The St. James aims to serve as the center of the universe in every community where it is located by delivering the most comprehensive combination of best-in-class sports and wellness venues, developmental and elite coaching, training and competition, five-star lifestyle experiences and family centered active fun all in an environment that engages, inspires and delights everyone that comes through our doors. The St. James, which opened its first location just outside of Washington, DC in the fall of 2018, plans to open its second complex in the Chicago suburb of Lincolnshire in the fall of 2021. For more information, please visit thestjames.com.

Gears 5 sets a higher bar for accessibility with features that mean more people can play the game

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Two guys and two girls play on the game console. One of the guys is disabled in a wheelchair.

Video games have saved Cherry Thompson’s life many times, from ‘80s game Rainbow Islands providing escape from a difficult childhood to Pokémon Red giving solace when Thompson was a homeless teenager. Games were about community, therapy, adventure and passion.

But more than six years ago, Thompson had a stroke at age 31 that led to vestibular and cognitive disabilities and a diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that weakens joints, skin, blood vessels and muscles. Thompson, who uses they/them/their pronouns, wanted to play games to cope with pain and surgeries, but found many games impossible to play without suffering severe migraines, motion sickness, hand pain and other barriers.

“I really, really struggled,” says Thompson, who’s also autistic with co-occuring dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which affect how they process information and play games. “But as I slowly came to terms with my disabilities, it was revolutionary, because I realized the problem was with the games, and not with me.”

Now a well-known game accessibility specialist and developer in Vancouver, Canada, Thompson recently got a chance to try out Gears 5 — a game with a long list of accessibility features that mean more people can play it. With a stronger focus on inclusivity than ever before, The Coalition studio developed the third-person shooter and latest installment in the Gears of War series, released in September by Xbox Game Studios. The game has since been widely lauded for its thoughtful accessibility.

Unlike with Gears of War 4, Thompson can actually play Gears 5, thanks to a new option to turn off “camera shake,” or quick camera movements that trigger their vertigo, nausea and headaches. They can customize an on-screen display of information to minimize distractions and sensory overload while playing. And even though their hearing is fine, improved subtitles in an adjustable text size helps them process information.

“I’m excited to play the game more,” Thompson says, still holding the controller on a recent Friday after killing a few monsters. “The accessibility really shows a commitment from the game developers that they care about their audience and they understand their players include different types of people with different types of experiences.”

The Coalition, also based in Vancouver, had wanted to make Gears 5 as approachable and accessible as possible while still appealing to its experienced fanbase.

“We have a very hardcore franchise with a lot of fans with Gears tattoos,” says Coalition studio head Rod Fergusson. “How do you grow a franchise like that and welcome new players? How do you remove barriers and help them enjoy the experience? One of the ways was through inclusive design and the principle of ‘solve for one and expand to many.’”

Early in development, the studio hosted a two-day inclusive design sprint in 2017, bringing in Thompson and other people with disabilities who discussed their challenges, work-arounds and passions in gaming. It was at the sprint where many Gears 5 accessibility ideas first took root, including the message that the series’ subtitles needed improvement to better serve gamers who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“There were a lot of light bulbs that went off in our team,” says Otto Ottosson, lead multiplayer producer and accessibility lead for Gears 5. He was the one who brought team members to a Microsoft gaming and accessibility boot camp, where they worked with the Gaming for Everyone team and met more gamers with disabilities.

“The players were explaining why they love games, and it was all the same reasons why I love games, except they were limited from playing,” Ottosson says. “That really affected me. I remember coming away thinking, ‘This is not good enough. We need to do better.’ It was definitely the launching point for us to understand and be inspired to make accessibility something we took seriously.”

In the past, game developers sometimes saw accessibility features as serving only a niche audience, says Fergusson. Good subtitles, for example, take more work, time and resources, but also appeal to many people beyond those with hearing disabilities. They include parents who want to play on silent while their baby sleeps nearby, or players who game in a public space like an airport.

Continue on to Microsoft News to read the complete article.

U.S. Access Board launches study to assess feasibility of equipping aircraft with wheelchair restraint systems

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rear view of a man in wheelchair at the airport with focus on hand

Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) is pleased with the launch of the U.S. Access Board’s study to assess the feasibility of equipping aircraft with restraint systems so that passengers who use wheelchairs can remain in them while in-flight. The Board announced in October 2019 that it would conduct a study.

The U.S. Access Board is carrying out this study through the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board (TRB). TRB organized a team of experts to serve on the Committee on the Feasibility of Wheelchair Restraint Systems in Passenger Aircraft for the study’s evaluation. PVA members Peter W. Axelson and Dr. Rory A. Cooper were both appointed to serve on the Committee.

“We appreciate that the U.S. Access Board is conducting this study, which was required under the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018,” said Carl Blake, Paralyzed Veterans of America’s executive director. “During air travel, catastrophically disabled veterans and others with mobility impairments have to transfer from their wheelchairs which causes serious risk of injuries and limits their freedom.

Passengers with disabilities also frequently have their wheelchairs damaged or mishandled while being stowed in the aircraft cargo hold. We look forward to the results of the U.S. Access Board’s study, which has the potential to be life-changing for airline passengers who use wheelchairs. We thank PVA members Peter W. Axelson and Dr. Rory A. Cooper, who are both experts in their fields, for serving on the Committee.”

Visit pva.org/travel to learn more about PVA’s work on accessible air travel.

About Paralyzed Veterans of America

Paralyzed Veterans of America is the only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated solely for the benefit and representation of veterans with spinal cord injury or disease. For more than 70 years, the organization has ensured that veterans receive the benefits earned through service to our nation; monitored their care in VA spinal cord injury units; and funded research and education in the search for a cure and improved care for individuals with paralysis.

As a life-long partner and advocate for veterans and all people with disabilities, Paralyzed Veterans of America also develops training and career services, works to ensure accessibility in public buildings and spaces and provides health and rehabilitation opportunities through sports and recreation. With more than 70 offices and 33 chapters, Paralyzed Veterans of America serves veterans, their families and their caregivers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Learn more at pva.org.

Peter Dinklage Thanks ‘Game of Thrones’ Co-Stars for SAG Award Win

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Peter Dinklage accepts SAG Award

The actor also thanked his wife and the people of Northern Ireland during his acceptance speech for best male actor in a drama series.

Peter Dinklage took home the award for outstanding performance by a male actor in a drama series at the 2020 SAG Awards on Sunday.

The Game of Thrones star prevailed over fellow nominees Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us), Steve Carell (The Morning Show), Billy Crudup (The Morning Show) and David Harbour (Stranger Things).

Dinklage began his speech by joking that his nude statuette looked like it appeared on the HBO series. The win follows the final season of the acclaimed series.

“I would like to thank the people of Northern Ireland,” he said, “who put up with us for nine years.”

Dinklage then praised the show’s cast and crew. “I would also like to thank everyone at table nine and ten and beyond cause we put up with each other for nine years,” he said.

The actor concluded his speech by thanking his wife. “Finally and most importantly, I would like to thank my wife, who put up with me for more than nine years, but lived in a place far away from home, but made it home cause we were together,” said Dinklage.

Continue on to the Hollywood Reporter to read the complete article

Woman With Cerebral Palsy Pens Script For Disney

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Erin Feeney is smiling and giving a hand signal that all is good while seated in here chair at home

Erin Feeney, 28, wants to have a career in fairy tales. And so far, she has already paved a path to one of the known entities of fairy tales — Disney. Feeney just saw her first script for the Disney animated show, “Doc McStuffins” come to fruition in a cartoon entitled Ultimate Safari “Tail Spin.” The animated short premiered Monday on the Disney Channel and Disney Junior. (For those not familiar, “Doc McStuffins” is an animated children’s series about a girl who fixes toys with the aid of her toy friends.)

Feeney’s two-minute interstitial shows Doc and her toy team helping a whirly bird named Topsy get back to her flock and perform the “Sunrise Spin.” The spot is also available in the DisneyNOW app and on the Disney Junior YouTube page.

“I can hardly believe it,” said Feeney who expressed her enthusiasm via her communication board attached to her wheelchair. Feeney was born with cerebral palsy and is unable to speak. She communicates by pointing to words and letters on her board. Her father, Kevin, is her translator and is quick to spell out her messages by watching where she points.

He remembers Erin’s path to writing for the small screen started a few years ago after her short stories turned into a short film with actors who were people with disabilities, he said. That film grew into a feature that played in the Naperville Independent Film Festival in 2016 where some people who worked with Disney on Ice noticed. Shea Fontana, the writer of the Disney on Ice script, also wrote for “Doc McStuffins.” Erin attended that ice show and met Fontana, who subsequently invited Erin to submit some script ideas for “Doc McStuffins.” Erin submitted 10 ideas and two made the cut. One of them is “Tail Spin,” which took a few hours to write initially, Erin said. Some back and forth with producers and about five edits, and the script was complete in two or three weeks, her father added.

“Since it’s animation, it takes a long time to do all that stuff,” Kevin Feeney said.

After the process, Disney invited the Feeneys to Los Angeles for four days in August 2017 where they met some of the voice artists in a recording session. The Feeneys also made a visit to Disneyland.

“They were really nice and when we were eating lunch, Henry Winkler (aka the Fonz) was recording in the building for another cartoon show, so we got to meet him — a real nice guy,” Feeney said.

After that, it was just a waiting game for the cartoon to be produced. And this week, the family was up extra early to see the premiere live.

“Erin has always had talent — a huge imagination,” Kevin Feeney said. “She loves the Disney stories, Grimms’ Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Andersen, those types of things. We’re reading the biography of Andersen, and she’s listening to the audio book of the life of Helen Keller.”

“I was a lonely kid, so I started watching the Disney movies and fell in love with the princesses,” she said. Her favorites (Snow White, Thumbelina and Cinderella). But she laughs saying “Elsa and Anna are cool.” (Get it? Because they’re both princesses from “Frozen.”)

“Erin’s dream has been to write fairy tales for kids all her life and in particular Disney stories, so we’re hoping that one of these days, she can make a career of that. But Erin wants to finish college first. And then go from there,” her dad said.

Continue on to The Chicago Tribune to read the complete article.

PHOTO CREDIT: Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune

Clothing Size Guide In Works For Those With Down Syndrome

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young man with Down Syndrome looks on as two women review clothing laid out on a table

It’s often difficult for people with Down syndrome to find clothes that fit, but now researchers are working on a solution: the country’s first size guide for this population.

When Jayden Niblett wakes up each morning, his mind races to remember what he is doing that day, and what he can wear to impress his friends.

The last often leads to annoyance. Jayden, 11, who has Down syndrome, struggles to find clothes that fit his unique body type and are accommodating of his motor deficits, an issue that people with physical disabilities face every day in a world where fashion is built on single-size body standards.

“It’s really frustrating for him,” said Janet Littleton, Jayden’s grandmother. “It absolutely affects his mood and how his whole day is going to go.”

People with Down syndrome have shorter limbs, rounder bodies and common sensitivities to tags and fabrics, which make it difficult to find everyday clothes, like jeans, that fit them and feel good. Jayden would often wear women’s capri pants because they fit his waist and shorter legs. But as he has grown into a more muscular body, capris are no longer working.

Now, though, Jayden and his grandmother are working on a solution: They’re participating in a research study at the University of Delaware’s Innovation, Health and Design Lab to generate the country’s first size guide for people with Down syndrome. The lab’s mission is to provide a whole community with access to outfits that help them function with more independence and confidence.

At the end of the study, Jayden and the nearly 1,000 other participating children with Down syndrome will receive a free custom-made pair of jeans that accommodate their size and limited motor functions.

The lab, which opened in September 2018, is powered by the vision and leadership of Martha Hall, a fashion designer turned biomechanical engineer. Hall, who was born in Newark, Del., earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Delaware and then a Ph.D. in biomechanics from the school in 2018. She started her career designing cocktail dresses, but once she saw the work that University of Delaware professor Cole Galloway was doing for children with motor deficits, she dedicated her work to improving minority populations’ quality of life through functional clothing.

“People think of fashion as a sort of fluffy science,” said Hall. “But I’ve always encouraged people to consider fashion as being all about self-advocacy and self-expression.”

The lab started with two students working on four projects, and now has 34 students — and a wait list — with 22 projects, which address everything from inclusive apparel and athletic wear to medical devices that can increase the survival chances of premature babies. Its work centers around improving quality of life through clothing, and has been so successful that by fall, Hall plans to launch health design as a major at the university, the first program of its kind in the country.

Some brands have tried to make accessible, sensory sensitive clothing lines, but they’re not using accurate size guides, said Hall.

“There’s not a lot of evidence for the design decisions that (some brands) are making,” said Hall. “It’s great that there are designers interested in serving the population, but you have to talk to the community and understand what the actual issue is … in order to design something that actually suits them.”

That’s where Hall’s student researchers come in. With the Down syndrome size guide and jean project, Kiersten McCormack interviews caregivers to learn their child’s specific needs. Senior Elizabeth deBruin built an “obstacle course” for kids to pick out fabrics, designs and colors for their jeans. Sydney Solem, a senior majoring in medical diagnostics, manages the body scanner. Together, the group focuses on fashion, function, fit, fasteners and fabric.

To generate the size chart, the lab uses a three-dimensional scanner that scans participants’ bodies and creates a 3D colored avatar with exact measurements of their size and shape. Once all participants are scanned, the company that created the machine, Human Solutions, will take the measurements, create a size guide, and sell the guide to companies, which will be able to design clothing based on accurate measurements for this population of people.

While learning to dress themselves independently is a key rite of passage for children, for those with disabilities who need assistance, it can become one more thing that makes them feel different from their peers.

Continue on to DisabilityScoop to read the complete article.