Friday, May 31, 2013

Reelabilites: Bringing Disability to the Big Screen

For as often as I feel like I post about film, it looks like I've only done one (conflicted and convoluted) film-related post on this blog. Perhaps I'm learning the art of self-restraint. Being that said, I have recently learned of Reelabilites, the largest film festival in the United States dedicated to showcasing films by or about people with disabilities. So today, lovely readers, I share with you a post about film.

First, I feel it is necessary, either for your information or my self-indulgence, to explain why film is so important, especially when it comes to informing people or changing their perspectives. Film has the ability to affect a vast audience; one person's ideas can be shared with people worldwide. That's a lot of power. And although movies,especially documentaries, may be limited in what they can share because of time constraint, this condensed expression of information is actually pretty helpful for a couple of reasons. First of all, more people have time to watch a movie than, say, read a book on the same topic. Films are also more accessible across various levels of comprehension, and even informative movies tend to be entertaining. Finally, there is the visual aspect that cannot be lost in translation from country to country the way that words, either spoken or written, can.

With that in mind, it's easy to see how films by and about people with disabilities could play a huge role in awareness and acceptance, and why film festivals like Reelabilities are important in recognizing and sharing those movies.

Reelabilities, initiated in New York in 2007, showcases international and US films that highlight a variety of disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy, blindness, Down Syndrome, and mental health. The festival now tours in multiple cities and strives to make each screening as fully accessible as possible with captions, sign language interpretation, CART (Computer Assisted Realtime Translation), Braille, and audio descriptions.

This year's films are numerous and vary from city to city. Some of the screenings have passed, and others are far into the future, but the links to a few of the cities' film list are below for those who want to look into seeing some of these movies. I will mention, though, that “Mary and Max”, the claymated film about a pen-pal correspondence between an eight year-old girl and a 44 year old man with Aspergers, is one of the films featured at the festival, and it happens to be streaming on Netflix right now. “Praying with Lior”, “Ben X”, “Wretches and Jabberers”, and “Ocean Heaven” (AKA "Ocean Paradise") are all streaming right now as well. You might want to take a look at those or some of the other films in the links below (I'm only posting a few links in an attempt to avoid excessive overlap of movie titles):

I think it would be awesome if we could get this festival to come to Portland. Any thoughts on that? What about on these films or films in general? 

Share and discuss!

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Symbolic Makeover: Changing the Way We View Disability

The International Symbol of Accessibility, also known, perhaps crassly but accurately, as the wheelchair symbol, has been around for 45 years. In the past few months, I have stumbled upon multiple articles proposing an update to the familiar symbol, claiming that the symbol depicts a dated view of people with disabilities.

Artist Sara Hendren with her new symbol over the original design.
The original symbol, designed in 1968 by Danish student, Susan Koefoed, was intended to be an international way to identify facilities accessible to those with disabilities. Koefoed's design is similar to the one commonly seen today, except it lacked the circular head at the top of the chair. (It's important to note that her design was not intended to be a headless person in a wheelchair, but rather the chair itself with no person anywhere in the design. However, the change was suggested by International Committee on Technical Aids chair, Karl Montan, who thought that without a “head” at the top, the equal thickness of the lines could be mistaken for lettered monogram.) One of the primary criticisms of the design is that it does not accurately represent the disabled community.

In 2011, Cambridge artist and mother of three, Sara Hendren, decided to take matters into her own hands and design a more representative symbol. She began taking an interest in accessibility after giving birth to a son with Down Syndrome, and has since endeavored in a street art-based method of spreading awareness, creating transparent stickers of her design and putting them over the original symbols. While her design does not take into account the wide variety of disabilities that require denotation of accessible facilities, it does give more movement to the symbol, showing that the person and the wheelchair are two independent entities.

Hendren's success was furthered by help from friends who put her stickers up on signs around Boston and by Brian Glenney and Cyndi McMahon of Gordon College. McMahon, Gordon's director of marketing communications, contacted possible partners and got Fred Doulton, social affairs officer at the U.N. Secretariat for the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to jump on board and take with him Victor Calise, commissioner of the New York Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities. So even though getting the new symbol widely adopted is a challenge, Calise, who was paralyzed from the chest down when he was 22, hopes to have the old wheelchair symbols throughout New York replaced by the new, forward-thinking ones.

What do you guys think of the new design? How would you make your own? I'm thinking it would be awesome to see some pictures of your design ideas on the Kiwanis Capstone Facebook page. Show us what you've got!

Friday, May 17, 2013

ILL-Abilities: Breaking the Conventions of Dance

“No Excuses, No Limits”. That is the motto of international b-boy crew, ILL-Abilities, a group comprised of five dancers who have different physical disabilities. As can be seen from the videos below, this crew does not let physical limitation inhibit their expression or dancing capabilities.

At first, the name ILL-Abilities might sound derogatory, but don't let their moniker deceive you; according to their Facebook page, “the concept of an ILL-Ability is to take the (Dis) [slang for “disrespect”]* out of disability and replace it with 'ILL'. In today's slang, bad means good and ILL means: unique, amazing, and incredible. So in other words Unique, Amazing, and Incredible Abilities.”

I would say that unique, amazing, and incredible are pretty accurate descriptions. B-boying, or breaking, is an extremely physical style of street dance often, but not exclusively, danced to hip hop music. In spite of its strenuous physical nature, it turns out breaking is not exclusive to able-bodiedness, either.

ILL-Abilities is comprised of founder Luca “Lazylegs” Patuelli (Candada), Jacob “Kujo” Lyons (U.S), Redouan “Redo” Ait Chitt (Netherlands), Sergio “Checho” Miranda (Chile), and Tommy “Guns” Ly (U.S). Each member has a different ILL-Ability, from hearing loss to amputation to muscle and bone growth disorders, that simultaneously forces and allows him to take b-boying in a new, specialized direction.

The crew gets together to do motivational entertainment shows and performances, and during the first week of May, they were at the Breakin' Convention in London, and international festival of hip hop dance theater. There, the group help a breaking workshop for people of all abilities, showing them how to adapt their bodies to the moves. Watch a bit of that in the video below (from about 1:10-2:17).

Street dance is a fascinating and beautiful form of expression and one of my favorite forms of visual art, so I find it extremely inspiring that there is a group pushing the boundaries of this art form and of dance in general, and that they are spreading motivation, awareness, and acceptance worldwide. And, of course, it's fun to watch!

I know that first video is somewhat long, but I strongly encourage you to watch it (and others) and share your thoughts. What do you think of ILL-Abilities as a crew and/or a concept?

*bracketed note is my own, not ILL-Abilities'

Friday, May 10, 2013

Reading About Me: Southern Oregon's Visual Learning Program

Many students going in as counselors at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp may already have or may develop an interest in pursuing special education as a career, so I thought it worthwhile to share some information about a program based in southern Oregon called Reading About Me.

Reading About Me is a program designed by the Down Syndrome Association of Southern Oregon to use alternative teaching methods to help individuals with Down syndrome learn how to read. Because the program focuses on visual learning and maintaining the interest of visual learners, it is also suited for helping people on the autism spectrum learn to read. The program started when DSASO caught wind of University of Washington instructor and researcher Patricia Oelwein's book Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Teachers. In 1997, DSASO invited Oelwein to visit southern Oregon and give a two-day workshop on her teaching methods. Many who attended the workshop found Oelwein's visual-based techniques effective in both school settings and at home, but six years later, in 2003, DSASO was still unsatisfied by the high rate of children with Down syndrome coming out of school with little or no reading skills. They invited Oelwein back to southern Oregon and collaborated with her to create Reading About Me.

DSASO and reading program instructor, Joyce Rogers, began a weekly one-to-one reading class to children and adults with Down syndrome, working positively with over 30 individuals of ranging ages for two and a half years until, in 2007, DSASO decided it would be more effective to develop a reading program kit that would allow anyone, like a parent or a teacher, for example, to take the program and use it themselves in either the classroom or at home.

Kabot-Sturos assisting one of her mentees at Barnes and Nobel

In 2010, DSASO is launched a pilot research program with Southern Oregon University and Ashland School District teachers, and they are currently working on training and gaining support from educators interested in integrating the program within both the Southern Oregon Educational Service District and individual school district's special education programs.

Current Portland State University student, Marina Kabot-Sturos, worked with the Reading About Me for her senior project at Eagle Point High School in southern Oregon. She mentored individuals with Down syndrome ranging in age from seven years to 63 years old. Every Tuesday, the group would go to Barnes and Nobel and use the Nooks to read interactively. Kabot-Sturos particularly remembers helping one of her hug-loving mentees read Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. In this situation, the Nooks came in handy. For example, if one tapped a picture on the screen, like a tree, the Nook would say “tree”.

“Honestly, I wish I had learned to read this way. It was much more interactive and way more fun,” Kabot-Sturos says.

She goes on to say that volunteering with Reading About Me was extremely worthwhile, and she plans on working with the program again over the summer.

“The people I worked with were so sweet, and I learned a lot in terms of communication, problem solving, and teaching.”

It sounds like an interesting program to me! Has anybody worked with this program, either using it yourself or helping someone else use it? Click here for more information about DSASO and the Read About Meprogram.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Umbly Yours

Last night I got to read and listen to a couple of poems written by Art Honeyman, former Portland State professor and, before that, student. Honeyman, a prolific writer with a sharp sense of humor, often drew upon his experience with cerebral palsy for inspiration. I want to post the first poem from his book “Umbly Yours: Random Poems & Cover Design”. His clever manipulation of language and unique—and positive—perspective, I believe, are well worth sharing with all of you. So, without further delay:

my way through existence
but I have not bit the dust
and I am umbly grateful
umbilical cord acting up I was born
into palsied chaos and have danced
to a different step ever since
and though I shake and slobber
and stutter my way through life
occasionally missing the right turn
my skull on even harder objects
and sometimes narrowly escape
injury caused by collision of me
and another faster traveling body
like a train or other motor vehicle
again reminding me of my ultimate
vulnerability in the game of life
strengthening my determination
to keep on going until the last play
even if I cannot easily pronounce
the h letter and call myself oneyman
or tell bible thumpers to go to ell
for my crippled drooling mouth
are for me interesting and umbling.

In this poem, Honeyman cleverly plays on his struggle to pronounce the “h” sound to create “umble”, which not only serves as a play on words and an assonantic device (for example, the sound relation between “umble” and “umbilical”), but also as a way of living. Honeyman transforms “humble” into “umble”, and eventually “umbling”, which is how he moves through his life. In turn, his “umbling” is what makes him humble. Honeyman's intricate wordsmithing not only displays the wonderful power of language as a mode of expression, but also shows, conversely, how his struggle to communicate verbally reflects the overall complexity of umbling: he bumbles, grumbles, mumbles, stumbles his way through existence in the same way he bumbles, mumbles, and stumbles his way through a sentence.

Okay, I'm finished with my English major geek-out moment. (Whew!) But seriously, I think this poem is very telling of the nature of living with a disability. Tell me if I'm wrong. I don't personally know what it's like to have a disability, but I can say that I feel this poem gives members of the able-bodied community insight into what it might be like to have a physical disability that many people don't understand. Plus, if it weren't obvious already, I believe this is a fantastically crafted poem written by someone who, perhaps ironically, has strong control of the English language.

What do you guys think of this poem? Did any of you know Art personally? I know MHCK's Ann Fullerton mentioned knowing him...Anyone else? I'd love to hear your stories since I never got the opportunity to meet him.

Also, if you weren't able to attend Susan Schweik's talk about the Ugly Laws, you can access a transcript of it here.