Monday, December 29, 2014

Deaf-Blind Photography? Tactile Photos!

I am very sorry for the severe delay in updating the blog. (Ah, the holidays! Family, travel, cancelled flights…) This is a short little video that I think is super cool and easily digestible. I wouldn't want to shock anyone out of their seasonal lethargy with a huge block of text! (Was that excuse too transparent…?)

Anyway, here is what the filmmakers have to say about Brenden Borrellini, the man featured in the video below:

"Brenden Borrellini was born completely deaf and with limited sight that developed into complete blindness. His disability presented many obstacles for him growing up but with a lot of hard work and help from the Special Education Unit at the Cavendish Road State School in Brisbane, he became the first deaf and blind student to finish his high school education and to attend University. 
In 1989 he was nationally recognised and won the young Australian of the Year award for his academic achievements. But Brenden didn't stop there.
It was after moving from Brisbane to Mackay that Brenden met Steve Mayer-Miller, Artistic Director for Crossroad Arts, a local organisation that develops opportunities for people with a disability to access and participate in the arts. 
Steve says that the whole idea of photography for somebody who is deaf and blind was completely new to him. He had worked with deaf people before and blind people before but the combination of the disabilities was uncharted territory. 
After showing Brenden the buttons on the camera he very quickly took the initiative and started taking pictures. 

Using a device that converts text to braille, the people working with Brenden are able to give him their objective view by explaining the photograph in detail. Brenden then receives the technical feedback using photography language like composition, light, shutter effect and depth. 
Then the subjective interpretations of the photograph the emotions that each person felt so Brendan would get three different points of view. 

The aesthetic of photography was never really the goal. It’s more about the experience of taking a photo rather than the resultant photo itself.
The process is helping break Brenden’s feelings of isolation caused by his disability and connecting him with his community.

A blind photographer... How does that work?
Steve wanted to start giving Brenden feedback on the photos he was taking so he worked on a structure where Brenden would receive objective, technical and subjective feedback about the photographs he was taking.
What is Brendan seeing?
This question led the group to research devices that would enable a two dimensional photograph to become a three dimensional photograph so that Brendan could also be able to interpret the textures in the photograph."

The blind photographer from ABC Open Tropical North on Vimeo.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Getting a Grip on Autism

“We're sinking millions into the search for a 'cure,' even though we now know that autism is not a disease but rather a neurological difference, one that cripples some of us while bringing a few others extraordinary gifts. Most of us live with a mix of exceptionality and disability.”
-J.E. Robison

Alrighty, folks! This week we are doing things a little differently on the MHKC capstone blog, and I hope you'll bear with me through this one, because it's kind of awkward and cumbersome. But! I think it's with good reason.

I've come across an article from the MIT Technology Review, and I believe that paraphrasing would not do it justice. It's a great article about how and why autism research as it currently exists is ineffective. Because of copyright laws, I cannot reprint the article here, but I can give some background information on the article's author, John Elder Robison, and strongly encourage you to click the multiple hyperlinks that will take you to the MIT Technology Review.

Maybe you've heard of John E. Robison. His memoir, Look Me in the Eye, was a bestseller shortly after its release in 2007. Or maybe you've heard his name if you've ever needed some high-quality car repair on the east coast. Or, I don't know. Maybe you're a KISS superfan and know an alarming amount about their special effects guitars, and that's how you know of John Robison. If you haven't heard of him, perhaps you've heard of his brother, Augusten Burroughs, author of Running With Scissors, which discusses their family's “misadventures in therapy.” Maybe you know John Robison as a professor or as an autism activist.

It's very possible that you've not heard of him at all, but John Robison is all of these things: bestselling author, skilled auto mechanic and owner of one of the most successful independent car repair businesses in New England, guitar designer for KISS, professor at William and Mary College, and autism advocate.

When he was young, John found that he had a rare insight into electronics, which would lead him to financial success as he got older. But this success didn't make him happy, because no matter what, John never felt that he fit in. He knew he was different somehow. It wasn't until he decided to work for himself as a mechanic that one of his customer-turned-friends told him about Asperger's Syndrome, which had not been “discovered” as a diagnosis when John was a child struggling in social situations. According to John, knowing why and how he is different has transformed his life.

For more about John Robison and information about his books, workshops, and public speaking, check out his website.

Now! If you haven't clicked any of the hyperlinks yet, here's one more opportunity! “Fixing Autism Research” by John Elder Robison

Friday, December 12, 2014

Dogs Don't Judge: Therapy Dog Improves Reading Skills

I had to share this story. The woman and dog featured in it, Nanette and Cooter Brown, are close family friends of mine from back home! Plus, they're doing some awesome stuff that I think is worth telling you about.

Cooter Brown, a three year-old silver lab, and his owner, Nanette Roenigk, volunteer at Monarch Academy in Texas, which is a school for kids with disabilities. Monarch Academy is part of Morgan's Wonderland, “the world's first ultra-accessible theme park,” and is committed to creating an educational environment that allows its students to reach their full potential and develop skills for life-long employment and active societal participation. They don't believe that expectations should be lowered for their students, but that unseen possibilities should be brought to light.

Cooter Brown and Nanette are helping make some of these possibilities happen by providing a gentle, nonjudgemental listener with whom students can practice their reading and speaking skills.

Cooter Brown is a therapy dog, and every Wednesday he goes to Monarch Academy to listen to students read, one at a time. The kids get to spend about ten minutes with Cooter Brown. During this time, they can relax and feel comfortable that Cooter Brown wants to listen to them and is not being critical.

Laura, a student at Monarch Academy, seems to value Cooter's gentle, nonthreatening nature. “Dogs don't judge me for how I look or anything,” she says. She also knows just the kinds of books to read to Cooter. “He seems to enjoy books about dogs.”

It's not only Cooter Brown's calmness that makes him a comforting reading buddy; he, too, has a disability. Cooter Brown is missing his left eye because of glaucoma, which makes him more approachable to students.

“He is different as well,” says Nanette, “and that's okay, so the kids can see that.”

And students' reading skills are improving. Head of Monarch Academy, Anne Bristol, says that she notices that students are eager to come be with Cooter, and therefore an eagerness to read.

Pretty neat, right?

Helping the disability community has been an important part of Nanette's life since 1990, when she gave birth to her daughter, Taelor, who had Prader-Willi Syndrome. Taelor passed away in 2008, and Taelor's House, a foundation that gives back to many of Taelor's favorite charities and community activities, was created. Click here to read more about Taelor, the foundation, and to see some interesting articles about disability and members of the disabled community.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

"Girl Meets World" by Linnea Goranson, Former Camper

This week, we have a very special "guest post" to share with you!

Linnea Goranson works at Portland State's Graduate School of Education (where the PSU side of the
MHKC capstone is headquartered) and used to be a Kiwanis camper herself. She generously shared some of her essays on her life with Down Syndrome with us at MHKC@PSU, and we are going to share them with you! The following story, told in the third person, is called "Girl Meets World." Enjoy!

Girl Meets World

On October 22, 1980 a baby was entered into the real world by two parents who were a homemaker, forensic psychiatrist including two brothers, Anders and Eric A. Goranson. This ordinary baby wasn’t just like any other baby; this baby was very special because it was a baby girl who happens to be born with a genetic condition called “Downs Syndrome.” This means she was born with an extra chromosome. She got started in an early intervention program that helps with other babies just like her by learning sign language and singing songs to help her speak for the first time in her early life as an infant. When she was an infant, she never knew anything about the world that is surrounding her, as an infant, she was very curious and also didn’t know what the world might look like to her. As she develops of being a toddler, she had a lot of activities like speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy to develop her gross motor skills and her brothers helped by wrestling with her to get her stronger and ready to start sports. She started doing sports at 7 years old like swimming, gymnastics, volleyball, softball, soccer and basketball.    
When she turned 7, she noticed that her world was different from other people and she did not know why! She went on through when she was a pre-teen not knowing what is different about her when she started middle school. When she was a pre-teen she started elementary school, she was in regular classrooms with other students who were different from her. The students felt like she was just like them but noticed some little differences but mostly they accepted her just the way she was not because she had Downs Syndrome. The teachers treated her as a regular student but did not understand what they were in for, but they grew to realize that she wanted to be challenged just like the other students in the classroom. 
After she finished elementary school, she started middle school and then she noticed a lot of changes especially grades, in elementary school they did not give out grades they gave out Pass, No Pass, Satisfactory and Unsatisfactory. In middle school, she felt challenged because they gave out A-F for grades and it was extremely hard for her but she got through by getting B’s, C’s and one D. Then, she got better with grades like some A’s, B’s and less C’s when she moved up 7th grade to 8th grade. Her experience in her academic world was to be a success but it was challenging enough for her to push herself to learn and make her realize that she was different, that was when she recognized that she was born with Downs Syndrome. She felt like she was lost all the time and tries to understand why she was born differently from other people, then she felt depression and a feeling of suicide but she made a miraculous turn around and realizing that she has a family who accepts her the way she is and makes her feel like there is nothing that she can’t do in the world!
She also thought maybe this world of hers would make sense to her but she still did not understand the world when she was in middle school. When she turned into a teenager she realized that her world was starting to make sense to her by noticing that some people do recognize her as a person, not because she had Downs Syndrome, but other people just notice that she had Downs Syndrome and completely ignore her even though she looked different from other people. No wonder her world is so confusing and hard to understand! Being a teenager in her world was even harder to understand but she had a family to help her explain things to her so she can understand why she is different.
When she was a teenager, she started high school and she felt like she understood her world even better but still has her academic world to think about also. The students in high school treated her just like any other student in the classroom and accepted her not because she had Downs Syndrome but being a student who looks different. The teachers knew her because of her brothers that went thru the same high school but some of them did not know her brothers and assumed again that she was like her brothers but they realized that she wasn’t like them at all! What she means about this was some teachers question her capabilities before she came into their classrooms! This made her upset and hard for her to understand why they question her capabilities, she decided to prove them wrong by going into their classrooms and learning and make them understand and educate them about someone who has Downs Syndrome that can motivate herself to be a success in the classroom. That gave her a feeling that being in general education in high school was an incentive to graduate with a standard diploma! No one thought she can get a standard diploma because of being in special education but she proved everyone wrong!