Friday, July 25, 2014

Department of Justice Proposes Movie Theater Accessibility

Movie theaters might be getting an accessibility facelift in the near future!

According to officials at the U.S. Department of Justice, new rules regarding captioning and audio description in theaters have been proposed in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many theaters currently have captioning and audio description devices already available for those who request them, but the new rules would set a national standard for accessibility.

At the moment, the proposal would apply to digital screens (these movies are produced with captioning and narration features), requiring theaters to provide a certain number of accessibility devices. However, officials are considering whether or not to apply these rules to analog screens as well.

Assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department, Jocelyn Samuels, says that even as the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act approaches, many people within the disability community to not have full access to all aspects of American life.

“Although some movie theaters are making strides towards meeting their ADA obligations, there is a good deal of inconsistency among theaters across the United States.” Samuels says. “This proposed rules is intended to ensure that, regardless of where a person with a hearing or vision disability lives, that person will be able to attend movies with their friends and family and fully enjoy this important social and cultural activity.”

There are exceptions to the new proposal, like for drive-in theaters that would require considerable alteration for compliance.

Officials say the proposal will soon be published in the Federal Register, at which time there will be a 60-day public comment period.

What do you think? Have you ever been to a theater that didn't offer accessibility devices? (The first time I learned about accessibility devices was a couple years ago here at the Portland Art Museum during Kinofest Northwest, a German film festival. Before that time, I never knew!)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Same but Different

I swear it happens every year. Right around midsummer, I find myself wrapped up in beautiful little short films. I try to resist putting too many videos on this blog, but I do love the visual element they add, and some of them are too well done not to share. 

So, because I can't help myself, below is the link to a video that is part of the Emmy and BAFTA nominated series, "Same but Different", directed by David Barnes and Louise Lynch and broadcast on BBC2.

Because of rights issues, the video won't play directly on this blog, but give the box a click, and it'll send you over to Vimeo without a hitch.

This particular portrait is of Theo, a ten year-old boy who is visually impaired. His disarming honesty and matter-of-fact attitude are both poignant and light, and the treatment of disability in this video is pretty neat. It seems that in portrait documentaries like this, documentarians tend to push the focus away from the disability and on to the person instead, which is generally nice. But this film seems to do it the other way around. Theo talks about his life as it relates to his visual impairment, but through that exposition, his personality dominates the film in a wonderful way. 

Take a look! And sorry about the tricky link issue. :)

Same but different - Theo's Story from David Barnes on Vimeo.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Exploring the Variant Body

Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, the Canon of Proportions, shows the ideal symmetrical balance of the human body. Art students know this. However, of course, a strict rehashing of canonically proportioned human bodies would leave the art world a boring, nonrepresentational place.

Riva Lehrer, artist and anatomy professor, brings together—wait for it—art and anatomy to explore diversity in human forms, the “variant body”.

In medical museums, subjects of abnormal anatomical study are found in jars, preserved in formaldehyde, and labeled with only a diagnosis. They are useful, and Riva Lehrer, anatomy professor, knows this. But Riva Lehrer, artist, also wants to connect the actual humans with their disabilities and diagnoses. She wants to bring out the narratives that are stripped away from bodies on display.

“I'm not interested in shutting down these museum displays,” she says. “I'm interested in pulling people into as deep an understanding of body variance as possible.”

Part of Lehrer's interest stems from her own experience. During a visit to the Mütter Museum, walking through rows of anatomical specimens, she found herself facing a shelf full of spina bifida examples—a shelf full of her own body.

“I realized I was looking at the slipstream of my own alternate history,” says Lehrer, also noting that had she been born earlier or elsewhere, she, too, could have ended up as a teaching tool.

It's easy to look at a body part in a jar as a specimen of study, but Lehrer stresses the importance of keeping biography with the body, which is something she thinks having art in medical museums would do.

“It matters to doctors deciding what to do. It matters when a genetics counselor talks to prospective parents. It matters when a politician makes a law. Above all, it matters to that disabled person, standing in from of a glass case full of jars.”

Check out Lehrer's website for more pictures and information about her various projects. They're rad!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Conflict of Inspiration

This week's post strays somewhat from the tone of our usual posts, but it is something that I personally find very important and relevant, especially given the kinds of things I do with the social media aspect of the Portland State University Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone.

So, just a little disclaimer, this post is representative of my point of view, not necessarily the points of view of all people associated with MHKC or the MHKC capstone.

I was looking on the Humans of New York Facebook page earlier this week, and at the top was a photo of a man without an arm, carrying his garbage. “No struggles,” he said. Something about the implication of the image and the chosen quote were off-putting to me (though I couldn't say why), and as I glanced to the left of the screen, I saw I wasn't the only one to feel this way.

I read on, followed the link to the video (conveniently embedded below!), and thought, “Yes! That's it!”

(Apologies for the poor photo quality. Click the embedded links above for original sources.)

I consider it part of my job to find neutral-positive things to post in order that people will see them, think, “I agree with that,” or, at the least, “I don't disagree with that,” and then 'like', share, or comment, which helps spread the MHKC name and the PSU capstone. I want to educate people about social stigma and promote disability and ability awareness and perpetuate the idea that variation is the norm. However, the social media world is fast-paced: eye-catching images with a few words that sit well in the minds and hearts of an audience; maybe five seconds of interaction between that audience and a given image; then the click (or not) that results in promotion (or not) of the image.

How does one educate, open eyes and minds, in five-second images?

It is a tricky line that divides and connects education and promotion. After all, so much of learning comes from sharing ideas between people. But the necessity of such rapid exchanges—the decision to click or not click—seems to set up an “inspiration trap”. People like (and 'like') inspirational quotes, images, and videos; they make people feel good. Luckily, they tend to have some educational benefit, too. These words and visuals are easily digestible nuggets of wisdom that often provide just the right amount of perspective. It seems like a good balance.

Except sometimes it isn't, and those are the times when I get confused and conflicted about my job and what exactly it is I should be doing. Although I do not have a disability of any sort, I do subscribe to the social model of disability (the belief that society is more disabling than diagnoses), and because of that, I find myself embittered in spite of the apparent progress made toward dis/ability awareness and acceptance.

In the social media world, inspiration is good. In the very specific social media world of dis/ability awareness, I'm skeptical of the pairing of inspiration and disability as a means of education.

Objectifying people with disabilities as automatic sources of inspiration simply because they exist with disabilities is not promoting an equal world. I am happy to say that things like the Ugly Law are no longer the norm, but have we overshot a little? When will we get past shunning and glorifying? Past seeing types of people and past the justification and perpetuation of typifying? It has long been time to see people—just people—varied, and rightfully.

What do you think? Help start a dialogue and get the ideas stirring!