Monday, October 26, 2015


The National Down Syndrome Society is a non-profit organization that advocates for the value, acceptance, and inclusion of people with Down syndrome.  Their website has a lot of information and resources, and we highly recommend checking it out (particularly their "Preferred Language Guide" page).

This week we are featuring one of the videos from the National Down Syndrome Society's YouTube account.  "Dreams" lets people with Down syndrome share their dreams and achievements with the world.  From the video description: "Dreams features people with Down syndrome of all ages talking about their aspirations and accomplishments. This inspirational video celebrates the achievements of the Down syndrome community. (2004)"

We hope you enjoy!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Frozen Light: An Immersive, Interactive Theater Experience

The smell of a forest after rain.  The sound of thunder.  The feel of wind and raindrops.  These are just a few of the features that the audience gets to experience at UK-based theater company Frozen Light's latest show, entitled The Forest.  Frozen Light specializes in creating performances for people with what is known as PMLD, or Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities.

The theater experience can be a memorable and rewarding one, but people with different abilities cannot always experience it in the same way many others do.  In a piece published by The Guardian, co-creators of Frozen Light Amber Onat Gregory and Lucy Garland quote the UK charity Mencap:

"Any event, no matter how awesome, is unlikely to have any relevance to most people with PMLD if it takes place some distance from them."

With that in mind, Frozen Light aims to create shows than can truly involve the audience.  Small performances—shows have a maximum of six attendees with PMLD, plus one caregiver each—mean that the performers can spend time with each individual, creating a truly interactive experience.

The cast is small, too—just three performers, including co-creators Gregory and Garland and fellow actor Al Watts.  While Garland narrates, Gregory and Watts act out the story of Thea and Robin, two characters who embark on life-changing journeys into the forest.  The audience is invited along for the adventure, with the cast bringing in props for them to feel and talking or singing directly to individuals.  Inclusion is a major focus of Frozen Light's productions, yet at the same time, so is making a person not feel badly if they do not want to participate.  The primary objective is simply to create something that meets the needs of people who aren't always able to participate in the world of theatrical storytelling.

Amber Onat Gregory and Lucy Garland studied together at the University of Kent in 2006, and during their time in the Applied Performance Masters program they developed their own kind of multi-sensory theater for a group of teenagers with PMLD.  After graduation the two created their own companies, but later reconnected in 2013 to form Frozen Light.  Their first show, Tunnels, premiered last year, and tour dates (UK only) for their second show The Forest are available here.

You can learn more about The Forest and Frozen Light on their website, in The Guardian, in The Stage, in The Social Issue, and other places as listed on Frozen Light's website.

Monday, October 12, 2015

"We're more alike than different"

Just a quick post today to leave the focus on this video from the National Down Syndrome Congress.  Entitled "More Alike Than Different," it's part of the organization's More Alike Awareness Campaign, which seeks to highlight societal disparities that people with Down syndrome experience and also to dispel myths surrounding Down syndrome.  Check it out here:

Enjoy the video!

Note: a version of the video with Spanish-speaking advocates can be found here.

Monday, October 5, 2015

A visit to Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp, part 2

Our Social Media Manager visited camp this last summer to meet campers and counselors, take photos, and share the experience with you.  Read part 1 here.

After we left the pool and campsite, faculty member Carolyn Bradley continued to show me the camp.  I'm in the presence of an expert; it's Carolyn's 17th year supervising counselors here.  "I love it," she says of her work and the camp.

We start with the sites where outdoor activities take place.  Below is a tree where campers are hoisted up into the air with a harness, their weight carried by a row of campers and counselors down below.  It's a fun activity for the person being lifted and a great team-building exercise for those still on the ground.

A photo taken from the ground of a camper being hoisted into the air.  The camper is about fifteen feet off the ground, suspended by a harness and a cable that is anchored in the surrounding trees above but out of the frame of the photo.  Other campers and counselors can be seen on the ground.
A camper is hoisted into the air during one of the many outdoor activities available at camp.
 We then headed up a hill to visit the horses.  There are four full-sized horses, and the campers get to take turns riding them around a fence-enclosed area.

A photo of the outdoor enclosed area where campers can ride horses.  A white fence surrounds the rectangular area, which has a dirt and sod floor, and thick woods begin almost immediately outside the fence.  The photo is split almost exactly diagonally into a bright and sunny patch in the upper left and a shaded patch in the lower right.  Some horse equipment is hanging on the fence on the side closest to the camera, and a brown horse can be seen in the shady dark part of the image.
The campers get to ride horses around this fence-enclosed area.
There's also a miniature horse named Disco, a newer addition to the equine experience at Kiwanis Camp.  Disco came up to us immediately as we approached, calmly letting me take photos and then munching on weeds as Carolyn showed me around.

A photo of a black miniature horse peeking out of a white fence.  The fence has three horizontal rails that span the space between vertical posts; the horse’s head is sticking through the space between the bottom two horizontal rails.  Some horse equipment is hanging on the fence above and to the right of the horse.
Disco, the small horse above, is for interacting with socially rather than riding.
By then it was time for the fishing activity to start, so we headed back down to the area around Fanning Hall and to the pond.  It's a catch-and-release affair, with no fish permanently harmed.  Carolyn told me of an elusive larger fish that everyone likes to catch, and it became easy to see how a culture and a feeling of community build up here in only two-week sessions.

A photo of campers fishing at a small pond.  The camera is across the pond from the campers, and some plants with small red berries can be seen in the foreground.  The campers are in front of some trees, and behind a low wooden fence that separates them from the reflective but slightly murky water.
A pond where campers and counselors practice catch-and-release fishing.
Our final stop was the art building, a cozy space that was alive with the chatter of campers and counselors as they worked on their arts and crafts.  There were quieter corners of the room as well, and a few of the more shy camper-counselor pairs chose to do their work on some of the smaller tables around the edges.

A photo of the arts and crafts room.  The room looks like the inside of a log cabin, and has rounded beams spanning the room.  Wooden tables are arranged in a U shape, with the open side facing a large stone fireplace.  Campers and counselors can be seen using various art supplies at the tables.  A wooden staircase can be seen in the background.
The arts and crafts room was buzzing with activity when we arrived.

A photo of a corner of the arts and crafts room.  This spot is empty of people, and has an irregularly-shaped table a few feet wide in the center that appears to be made from a laminated cross-section of a large tree trunk.  It is surrounded by black cushioned chairs.  The walls look like the inside of a log cabin, and a wooden staircase appears in the background.
Even in busier environments there are places where campers and counselors can step out of the action for a moment, like this quieter corner in the art building.
The campers can work on personal projects here, but when we arrived they had a group project:  working to complete small boats for a nighttime ceremony that occurs at camp.  Here are some completed boats, with wishes of all kinds written on the sides, such as "I want to meet good new friends next year too!" and "I want to come back soon to camp," and "We wish to come back next, & get into another group, & make new friends but keep the old & feel good next year."

A photo of some of the small arts-and-crafts boats made by campers and counselors.  The boats are about a foot long.  All have small signs glued to popsicle sticks sticking out of them, along with a large sign at the front of the boat.  The sign on the boat at the foreground of this photo is written in red marker on orange paper, and is embellished with purple sequins and metallic pipe cleaners.  The sign reads, “A singing & dancing village family.”
One of the projects that can be created during the art activity is a boat like the one above, which contains wishes (written on small pieces of paper) that the campers and counselors have made.
Our tour was at an end after that, and as we stepped outside I asked Carolyn for some parting thoughts on what she likes best about this capstone.  "You know, there's a lot of publicity and a lot of sharing about how valuable this camp is for campers, and how much they get out of it," she tells me, "But a lot of people don't realize that the counselors get a lot out of it too.  They are learning a lot about themselves, they're growing, and they're becoming people who know more about someone with a disability and are more comfortable around people with a disability.  And that's gonna continue to affect them throughout their life, whether it be with their family or their community or in the workplace.  They're forever changed."

Special thanks to Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp and Carolyn Bradley.