Friday, July 26, 2013

A Touching Experience: Visually Impaired Kids Get Personal With Tigers

Last week, the Oregon Zoo hosted a group of visually impaired children and gave them the opportunity to pet two very real, very alive Amur tigers. Fear not! The tigers, Nikki and Mikhail, were under sedation as part of their routine health checkups and were therefore unlikely to react to the children with more than a snore.

These kids, members of the ColumbiaRegional Program, an organization that aims to help Oregon school districts better serve their students with specialized needs, got to experience tigers in a way most people never will. Not being able to see limits a person's conception of the world to touch, sound, smell, and taste, but how does one get an impression of a tiger based solely on sound or smell? (Note: attempting to taste tigers is not recommended.) CRP program administrator, Lisa McConachie, says that there is no substitute for physical contact for the visually impaired.

“A visual impairment is a distance disability,” she says. “You can imagine they can't access anything outside their arms' reach.”

So the chance to touch tigers and understand them more was a unique opportunity for the Oregon children. A few found that their expectations and reality didn't quite line up. One middle schooler said she had thought Nikki, the female tiger, would be soft, but her fur was actually kind of rough. Another girl described Nikki's paws as smelling like sweaty feet, and her tongue was sandpapery, like a house cat's, but in larger scale.

The great thing about this partnership between the Oregon Zoo and CRP is that not only did these young people get an awesome field trip, they also got to meet other kids like themselves. Many parents like the social aspect since “mainstreaming” during the school year sometimes doesn't allow their children to meet others in similar situations.

Other zoos and aquariums are catching on and reaching out to the disabled community, too. (Oregon is the best, though, right?)

Now, not to be a killjoy or anything, but as someone who has volunteered at a wildlife sanctuary, I must, MUST stress the importance of safe practices when dealing with wild animals. This enviably cool learning opportunity took place in a controlled environment with experienced professionals on hand, and even in circumstances where an animal appears to be passive or sedate, involuntary or reflexes movements can occur and cause injury. As awesome as petting a tiger sounds, don't go out and do it yourself! But I'm sure you already knew that. I just had to put in my little safety plug. :)

Anyway...What do you think? Have you ever done anything like this? If given the chance, would you?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Up About Down: Designs for Girls with DS

Did you know that the National Down Syndrome Congress Annual Convention is taking place right now in Denver? The convention, designed for parents, other family members, and caregivers, began this afternoon and will conclude on the 21st. It has a variety of events, like sharing sessions, workshops, and even a film festival. But what I would like to share with all of you is the roundabout way I found out about NDSC Convention.

*Guilty Pleasure Alert!*
I was actually doing some research on a designer from the new season of Project Runway which, to my pleasant surprise, began last night. Justin LeBlanc of North Carolina is the first deaf designer to compete on that show. Pretty awesome, right? My research on LeBlanc led me to an article about new designer, Ashley DeRamus.

At this year's NDSC convention, DeRamus is launching her brand new clothing line for women with Down Syndrome. The idea for her line, Ashley By Design, formed about a year ago when DeRamus and her mother, Connie, found that like DeRamus, many other girls with Down Syndrome often paid as much for alterations as they did for the clothes themselves. DeRamus, whose clothing line's motto is "up about down", decided that girls like her deserve to look and feel good in clothes that were made for their bodies.

Many women have a hard time finding just the right fit, but this challenge is augmented for those with Down Syndrome, who often have smaller torsos and shorter legs. DeRamus thought there obviously was a market for cute clothes that women with Down Syndrome not only would want to wear, but actually could wear without paying a fortune in alterations. It's not just about the clothes, either; DeRamus hopes that by helping girls like her look nice, those girls will have more confidence and higher self-esteem.

At this point, the website for Ashley By Design is up and, along with some of her designs, it features a bio, a note from her mother, and some photos and news where—to bring this all back around—I found a photo of DeRamus with Project Runway's Tim Gunn! (I thought it was a neat coincidence, at any rate.)

Anyway, the point is that I think it's fantastic that someone saw that there was a big hole in the clothing industry, a whole market of ignored consumers, and decided to do something about it. Go give her website a look!

Also, for those interested in the NDSC convention, online recordings will be available from the end of the convention until June 2014.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Limitation to Liberation

In Reno, we aren't necessarily as hip and artsy as Portlanders, so we have a month dedicated to being artistically inclined rather than being so all year around. Anyway, this month my little city is Artown, which means a bunch of free art, music, events, and performances (including a performance tonight by the Note-Ables, an inclusive music group that provides a creative musical outlet for people of all ages and abilites). This also means I've got art on the brain and, therefore, the blog. Summer and art just seem to go together, though, don't they?

I hope you all watch this artsy and introspective TED Talk below, because even if the message doesn't jive with you, the art is super cool. The speaker, Phil Hansen, shares his discovery that limitation ended up being exactly what he needed in order to free himself creatively. Hansen had been an art student, but after being discouraged by permanent nerve damage that left him unable to pursue a certain style of art, Hansen decided to “embrace the shake,” a mantra of sorts that eventually led him to see that embracing his limitation could drive his creativity:

“Limitations may be the most unlikely of places to harness creativity, but perhaps one of the best ways to get ourselves out of ruts, rethink categories, and challenge accepted norms. And instead of telling each other to seize the day, maybe we can remind ourselves every day to seize the limitation.”

The video is ten minutes, so I will leave my introduction short. As always, I highly encourage you to watch it and share your thoughts. It's one thing to embrace limitation, but what do you think about deliberately creating limitations for the sake of, as Hansen puts it, liberation? As someone who struggles with my own artistic creativity blocks, I find it extremely compelling. But I want to know what you all think! Watch the video and leave a comment here or on our Facebook page!

Friday, July 5, 2013

What Makes a Disability?

It's time again for another one of those contemplative and potentially wandering posts stemmed from a day of restless sentiments of nothing to do. I was bored the other day, and I found myself testing the limits of my joint mobility, popping fingers out of their sockets and things like that as I am wont to do, when I decided to do some research on my hypermobility. You know, just another day...

It turns out I likely have a form of something called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which is a disorder that has six main varieties, but almost all types of EDS come from insufficient or faulty amounts of collagen. I fall into the hypermobility (with possible crossover into "classical") category, the most common and least severe type of EDS, marked by crazy loose joints and elastic skin. I have a hard time stretching after a workout and sometimes my joints slide out unexpectedly, but it's otherwise not too big of a deal for me. But what I thought was interesting when doing this research was that many people categorize EDS as a disability. I can understand the less common, more severe types of EDS, like vascular or kyphoscoliosis, characterized by fragile organs and blood vessels and progressive scoliosis, respectively, but I'm curious if people who experience hypermobile or classical EDS (classical involves more skin elasticity and less joint mobility than hypermobile) consider themselves disabled.

My party tricks.

This got me thinking about other conditions that some people call disabilities and others do not. For example, through my daily romp through the Twittersphere and less frequent journeys through other social media outlets, I've noticed that some people call depression a disability. I had never really thought of depression in that way, but it is an interesting take. Other common ones I've seen some debate about are dyslexia, scoliosis, epilepsy, dwarfism, and deafness.

It makes sense that in some instances, like dwarfism or hearing impairment, categorization of disability varies within the community. Both are considered disabilities by the ADA, but there is mixed sentiment within those communities. I think I might have mentioned in a previous post that, because I got involved with sign language and deaf culture before I got involved with the larger disabled community, I hadn't really thought of deafness as a disability. Now I'm not sure what to think of it. I don't necessarily believe it needs to be black and white—this is a disability and this is not—but it's interesting to think about what makes something a disability and what makes something not a disability in our eyes, either as individuals or as larger communites. 

Surely definitions from person to person, but can those definitions change as a person moves from group to group, or as a group becomes part of something larger? For example, I don't think I had an opinion one way or another about hearing impairment as a disability until I got into ASL. Then I hadn't thought of it as a disability, just a way of life. That opinion didn't necessarily change, but it became less definitive as I got involved with Kiwanis, became part of a different group. Could that definition become even more fluid, or perhaps more solid, as I think in terms of the Portland community, the Oregon community, or perhaps how it might change in Reno, or on a national or global scale? Would it even matter?

Bone Breaking
I don't consider my stretchy skin or loose joints a disability by any means (in fact, there is a style of street dance, “Bone Breaking,” that is entirely dependent on such joints), but others might really struggle with the condition. Does the same go for everything? What makes a disability a disability? Do we need these definitions? Am I out of the loop or, perhaps, out of line? I'm extremely curious what you all think about this. Please, please comment!