The ADA Turns 30!

Americans with Disabilities Act

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, the landmark civil rights legislation banned discrimination against millions of Americans with disabilities and improved access to schools, workplaces, transportation and public accommodations.

The law had broad implications, not only for the disabled but also for many other American citizens. According to the New York Times: “Anyone who has pushed a stroller or pulled a suitcase has benefited from the ramps required by the A.D.A. for wheelchair users. Anyone who has watched a video on a noisy subway car has benefited from closed captioning intended for those who cannot hear. And anyone who has had a complicated pregnancy would have been covered under the A.D.A.”

Despite the ADA’s far-reaching effects — some even refer to the ADA as the Emancipation Proclamation for the Disabled — Americans with disabilities still experience astronomical levels of unemployment; inaccessible affordable housing; and disproportionately high levels of poverty and incarceration.

Want to learn more? Here are some picks for great reading, listening and ADA anniversary activities.

New Books

“Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist” (Beacon Press)

If you saw our recent post about the documentary film “Crip Camp” you might remember reading about Judy Heumann, a disability activist who got her start at Camp Jened, a summer camp for disabled youth that operated from the 1950s to the 1970s. Published just in time for the 30th anniversary of the ADA, Heumann’s memoir is a great testament to the disability rights movement, how far it has come, and how far we still have to go.

“What Can a Body Do” (Penguin Random House, 2020)

This book by artist, design researcher and professor Sara Hedren, which will be out on August 18, explores design (from furniture to tools to homes to streets) for disability and the ways in which it can benefit everyone.

“Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-first Century” (Vintage, 2020)

Hot off the press, this anthology of essays by a diverse group of disabled individuals and edited by disabled activist Alice Wong is “required reading” according to Ms. Magazine.

Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law” (Twelve, 2019)

Haben Germa’s memoir is more than the story of her remarkable experience at Harvard.  It’s also an exploration of Germa’s childhood as the offspring of refugees; her extensive travels; adventures and lifelong desire to help others.

Newspaper Journalism

“The ADA at 30: Beyond the Law’s Promise” (New York Times, July 20, 2020)

This series of articles about the ADA and how it has and has not impacted the experience of living with disability includes articles by well-known writers and disability activists on topics such as invisible disabilities such as autism and mental illness; disabilities and the entertainment industry and more.

Podcasts and Radio

“On the Media”

On the July 24 episode of the WNYC radio program “On the Media,” the second and third segments of the show featured guests Sara Hedren who talks about disability design in the age of COVID-19 and Judy Heumann, who discusses the 30th anniversary of the ADA, “Crip Camp” and more.

Morning Edition Call-out

On the 30th anniversary of the ADA, NPR’s Morning Edition is asking listeners to share stories about how the law has affected their lives. Your story could be read on the air, or be published online.

Websites

#ADA30

Check out the ADA National Network’s #ADA30 campaign webpage. The page includes a toolkit with a variety of online resources for celebrating and promoting the 30th anniversary of the ADA.

What Can You Do Campaign

The Campaign for Disability Employment’s What Can You Do Campaign offers Ideas about how to get involved in the disability rights movement and suggestions for marking the anniversary.

National Council on Disability

NCD is hosting a six-month campaign called “#30onADA30”. The campaign encourages people to share their love for the ADA in texts of 30 words or less or audio or video messages of 30 seconds or less.

The Law

Despite its importance to the lives of people with disabilities, many people aren’t sure what the ADA actually entails. Unless you’re an attorney, reading the law in full could be extremely time-consuming and boring. Still it’s important to know what the ADA says. Otherwise, how will you know if it’s being enforced? The U.S. Department of Labor’s Americans with Disabilities webpage has a ton of information and resources about the law presented in a digestible format. Give it a read!

Happy 30th Anniversary!

Senator Tammy Duckworth: An Advocate for Disability and Veteran’s Rights

Amy Duckworth

No matter what your political persuasion, it’s hard not to be impressed by Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

Born in 1968 to a Thai mother of Chinese heritage and an American father, Duckworth has the distinction of being the first disabled veteran to be elected to the United States House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

She is also the second Asian-American woman senator in the U.S. Congress; the first senator to give birth while in office; and is currently on the shortlist to become former Vice President and presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Joseph Biden’s running mate.

Duckworth, whose late father was a veteran of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marines, spent most of  her childhood overseas, but her family later settled in Hawaii. As the Purple Heart recipient told Betsy Bailey of “Wheel Life” in 2017,  it was her pride in being American that led her to join the Reserve Forces in 1990.

“I fell in love with the military, especially the discipline it required and the fact that it was a true meritocracy. I felt such an overwhelming sense of patriotism — that I was putting on my nation’s uniform and swearing to defend her with my life.”

Duckworth planned to spend her career in the military, but her plans changed on Nov. 12, 2004 while she was deployed in Iraq as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot. On that day, Duckworth’s helicopter was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade and Duckworth, who nearly died, lost both legs and badly damaged one arm.

After spending 13 months recovering from a double amputation, Duckworth became Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and in 2009 she was appointed Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs by President Barak Obama. Three years later, Duckworth left that post to join the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2016, she was elected to the U.S. Senate.

 Early in her political career, Duckworth made a point of calling attention to veterans and disabilities issues. For example, wrote Ian Roder for New Mobility magazine in 2016: “Educating her fellow legislators about accessibility is important to Duckworth. Even though she can walk with the aid of her prostheses and a cane, she started a policy of turning down invitations to wheelchair-inaccessible events. ‘I want the organizers and hosts to think about what they can do to improve accessibility,’ she explains. ‘Many of these fixes are so simple — we just need to get people thinking about the disability community the way they think about any other group of people. It’s not just about improving access and transportation, it’s also about changing people’s perception,’” Duckworth said.

Throughout her time in Congress, Duckworth has championed the rights of veterans and individuals with disabilities and her efforts have been widely recognized by veterans and disability groups. In 2015, Duckworth received the Disability Rights Champion Award from the United Spinal Association. As reported by Roder, in her acceptance speech, Duckworth told the audience: “My message to the disability community is to continue making your voices heard. Never take the progress we’ve made for granted. It’s so important for everyone to get involved, to reach out to their members of Congress and let them know your priorities and how laws such as the ADA have improved your lives.”

In September 2019, Duckworth received the Gordon Mansfield Congressional Leadership Award from the Paralyzed Veterans of America for “her tireless advocacy for the civil rights of Veterans and all individuals with disabilities.”

Two years later, Duckworth was honored with the American Association of People with Disabilities’ ADA Legacy Award for her work on behalf of Americans with disabilities. In her acceptance speech, Duckworth told attendees to the AAPD’s leadership award gala:  “I want to congratulate AAPD for 25 incredible years of working on the issues that matter most – from education to healthcare, voting to housing, you’ve refused to let Americans with disabilities be pushed to the margins,” Duckworth said. “While we’ve come a long way since the ink dried on the ADA 30 years ago, everyone here knows how far we still have to go over the next 30 to make this country actually truly accessible.”

After COVID-19 shut down much of the country in March 2020, Duckworth and Senator Maggie Hassan prevailed on the Department of Labor to provide increased support for workers with disabilities endangered by the virus.

“In a letter to DOL Secretary Eugene Scalia cosigned by 11 of their Senate colleagues, the senators made clear that people with disabilities have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to access reasonable accommodations that can help protect their health and the right tools to work remotely if needed,” reported a press release on duckworth.senate.gov.

If elected to the vice presidency, there’s no telling what changes Duckworth will help bring to the 20 percent of Americans who live with a disability. Regardless, while Duckworth remains in elected office, we feel confident that she will continue to fight for the rights of individuals with disabilities.

3D Printing: A Powerful Tool for the Disabilities Community

3D Printing

Innovations in 3D printing are improving life for many people with disabilities.

But just what is 3D printing? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as such: “The action or process of making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession.”

Inexpensive, efficient and environmentally responsible, 3D printing is popular with large corporations as well as “makers” (hobbyists) who create all sorts of objects on their home printers. In fact, many of the most innovative 3D printed inventions are being hatched by home 3D-printing enthusiasts.

Seventeen-year-old Sam Suchin of Baltimore, Maryland, first learned about 3D printing when he was just 12 or 13. “I was fascinated by the fact you could have a mini-factory in your room,” says Sam. “It was like sci-fi or ‘Star Wars!’”

Sam saved up his money and purchased a basic 3D printer but was disappointed with its capabilities. When he saw an ad for the Envision the Future Design Challenge, which awarded the winning entry a high-quality 3D printer, Sam decided to enter. His entry, a Braille map of the United States for the visually impaired, won the Under-18 category of the contest.

With his new printer, Sam initiated a new project — printing prosthetic arms with Enabling the Future, a contest sponsor. “I was paired with a 9-year-old girl,” he recalls. “I got photos and measurements and was able to make an arm that fit her. It was incredible! I just wanted to keep doing it!”

Sam founded Hope3D, an online platform that crowdsources makers around the world who contribute 3D printed parts for various projects. His biggest so far? Building a 3D-printed artificial coral reef that is currently submerged in a marine reserve in Belize. Sam is always looking for ideas for new crowdsourced products that will help others. Ideas can be submitted at www.Hope3D.org.

Makers Making Change is another online platform that connects makers to people with accessibility challenges. Founded in 2012, by the Canadian nonprofit the Neil Squire Society, Makers Making Change is “committed to creating an international community of makers who support people with disabilities within their communities by creating accessibility solutions.” Products range from an assistive paint tube opener to a shoulder rest for a mobile phone, to a dice spinner and a fork and spoon support.

Those looking for product designs can find them in the nonprofit’s extensive library, where they are free to download designs for home use. Website visitors are encouraged to make suggestions for new products.

Corporations such as Ikea are also getting on the 3D-printing bandwagon. In 2019, Ikea Israel partnered with nonprofits Milbat and Access Israel to develop ThisAbles, 3D-printed accessories to adapt Ikea furniture and housewares. According to Dami Lee writing for The Verge, “There are 13 designs available. They slip over Ikea furniture and accessories to turn a small button into a giant one or to lift a couch a couple of inches from the ground to help make getting up a little easier. Installation methods for all of the 3D modifications are demonstrated on Ikea Israel’s YouTube page, showing how a small tweak can make a huge difference for people with disabilities.” Ikea has made many of its designs downloadable for home printing and product ideas are welcome!

It’s #DDawareness2020! Help Spread the Word!

DDAwareness.2020

March is Developmental Disabilities Month — the time of year when individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, friends and advocates double their efforts to raise awareness about the whopping 17 percent of Americans ages 3-17 who live with developmental disabilities.

What are developmental disabilities? According to the Centers for Disease Control, “developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. These conditions begin during the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.”

The label “developmental disabilities” covers a wide range of conditions from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders to cerebral palsy; muscular dystrophy and fragile X syndrome to speech and language disorders; intellectual disabilities; Tourette’s syndrome and visual impairment.

Despite medical advances, in recent years, developmental disabilities have become more pervasive. Though there’s no consensus on why this is the case, many believe the increase may be the result of better diagnostic tools. That’s a good thing, says Zero To Three, an organization dedicated to giving all children a strong start in life.

“Developmental delays can be addressed best when they are discovered early,” says Zero To Three’s website. No matter where in the United States you live, the federally administrated Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities must “provide services and supports to children birth through 2 years old at risk for developmental delays or disabilities. These services can include speech–language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, assistive technology, and more.”

Research shows that when early intervention is provided to young children with developmental disabilities, they really make strides. In fact, says Zero To Three, “One in 3 infants and toddlers who received early intervention services did not later present with a disability or require special education in preschool.”

During Developmental Disabilities Month, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) has partnered with the Association for University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) and the National Disabilities Rights Network (NDRN)  to create the 2020 Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month Resource Guide and social media campaign. The guide is full of content about developmental disabilities that can be shared with the public using the hashtag #DDawareness2020. For the second year, NACDD has selected two logos based on artwork by Eileen Schofield and Jamila Rahimi, that can be used along with your postings. To download them, visit the DDAM webpage.

According to the NACDD’s website, materials for distribution during Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month are still being collected. If you have resources including “videos, toolkits, news articles, photos, personal stories, promising practices, etc.” that you believe would be of interest to the disabilities community, please submit them to Bob McWilliams at  bmcwilliams@nacdd.org.

News from Toyland!

Joss, American Girl Doll with Hearing Impairment

Between two and three out of 1,000 children born in the United States have hearing loss according to the National Institutes of Health. Now, those children have an American Girl doll with whom they can identify.

Last month American Girl, a subsidiary of Mattel, announced that its 2020 Girl [doll] of the Year, a character named Joss Kendrick, has congenital hearing loss. “Joss — a fierce athlete born with hearing loss and a passion for surfing and competitive cheer — joins American Girl’s lineup of inspirational characters who impart meaningful life lessons to help girls learn and grow with confidence,” said Mattel in a press release.

Joss, who comes with a removable hearing aid, is being marketed with the help of pro-surfer Carolyn Marks. To commemorate the release of the new doll, Mattel partnered with Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), making a $25,000 donation to support the organization’s education and awareness programs as well as its 2020 Walk4Hearing. Throughout 2020, the company will collect donations for HLAA in its stores and online.

American Girl already sells accessories for dolls such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, diabetes care kits and crutches, but this is the first time a doll’s back story (which is told in a two-book series) includes a disability.

Mattel, which introduced two new Barbie dolls last year — one that uses a wheelchair and one who has a prosthetic leg — isn’t the only toy company that now sells products that reflect the experiences of the 6.2 percent of children, ages 5-15 in the U.S. who have disabilities. Playmobil has been selling figures with wheelchairs and service dogs since 2015 and Lego introduced a wheelchair-using figure in 2016. Irish doll-maker Lottie Dolls recently began selling Mia the Wildlife Photographer, a doll with cochlear implants! In addition, Lottie Dolls sells many dolls who wear eye-glasses and recently created a doll who represents a boy with autism and ADHD.

One reason for this revolution in toy-making is the 2015 #ToyLikeMe campaign. The brainchild of Rebecca Atkinson, a British writer and journalist with a hearing impairment, #ToyLikeMe lobbies the toy industry to create toys that represent people with disabilities.

“As someone who had grown up wearing hearing aids, I remembered firsthand how it felt to be a child who never saw themselves represented by the mainstream and what that can do to a child’s self-esteem,” said Atkinson on the nonprofit’s website. And while children with disabilities enjoy playing with dolls and figures who look like them, all children can benefit from inclusive toys. As Atkinson points out, “To exclude in the toy box teaches All children it’s OK to exclude in real life. I wanted to change this for generations to come by getting global brands like Lego, Mattel and Playmobil to include positive representations of disability in their products.”

These days, #ToyLikeMe has grown into a full-fledged nonprofit organization offering industry consultancy, education, pop-up exhibitions and workshops. You can learn more at Toyslikeme.org.

 

The Joffrey Ballet Company Presents Inclusive “Nutcracker”

Two ballerinas with disabilities

It’s “Nutcracker season” — the time of the year when ballet companies around the world entertain audiences with performances of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s classic Christmas ballet, “The Nutcracker.”

First performed in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1892, “The Nutcracker” didn’t become a holiday custom in the United States until the mid-20th century. The two-act ballet tells the story of a young girl and her favorite Christmas gift — a nutcracker who comes to life on Christmas Eve.

This season, the elite, Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet’s “Nutcracker” will include roles for Emma Lookatch and Larke Johnson, two young dancers with cerebral palsy, from the Joffrey’s adaptive dance program. The program serves students with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, down syndrome and other disabilities.

The inclusion of a dancer with a disability isn’t really new to the Joffrey’s “Nutcracker.” The company’s former artistic director Gerald Arpino first created a role for a dancer with a disability in 1997 after 8-year-old Stephen Hiatt-Leonard, who has cerebral palsy, auditioned for the ballet’s children’s cast.

Emma and Larke aren’t really new to “The Nutcracker” either. Both danced in the Joffrey’s “Nutcracker” production in 2015 — the last year that the Joffrey performed company founder Robert Joffrey’s version of “The Nutcracker.”

In 2016, the Joffrey’s “Nutcracker” was re-envisioned by Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Wheeldon’s version is set at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair), twenty years after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Wheeldon’s “Nutcracker” also portrays a family and community markedly different than the ones in the traditional “Nutcracker.”

As described by WTTW’s Hedy Weiss: “… rather than focusing on the Christmas celebrations of the usual well-to-do family historically at the ballet’s center (whether set in Europe or, as in the long-lived version by Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, in an upscale Victorian-era New York household), it focused on the community of cash-strapped immigrant artisans and laborers who lived and worked in the shadow of the fair.”

Emma and Larke will share the role of “Worker Girl,” a character who appears in Act 1 during the ballet’s iconic Christmas Eve party scene. The teens will dance in a late nineteenth century-era wheelchair.

Suzanne Lopez, who danced in Robert Joffrey’s version of “The Nutcracker” for 20 years, is now in charge of “The Nutcracker’s” children’s cast. Speaking with the Chicago Tribune recently, Lopez said Wheeldon “absolutely loved the idea [of bringing in dancers from the adaptive dance program] and thought it was a lovely way to honor the legacy of Joffrey and Arpino. … Also,” added Lopez, “this particular version of ‘The Nutcracker’ is so much about community. What better representation than that, that people come to the theater and look up on stage and everybody feels represented?”

Eight Ways to Thank Wounded Warriors on Veterans Day

Veteran in Wheelchair in front of an American Flag

On Veterans Day, Enabling Devices salutes our veterans, especially those who have service-connected disabilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.7 million veterans, or 25 percent of all veterans, had a service-connected disability.

Interested in honoring our disabled veterans this Veteran’s Day? Consider volunteering or making a donation to an organization that supports them. Here are some of the most reputable:

Wounded Warrior Project
Founded in 2003, WWP provides a range of services to veterans who sustained physical or mental injuries, or illnesses during military service that was performed on or after Sept. 11, 2001. WWP also offers support services to family and caregivers of wounded veterans including benefits and career counseling; mental health services such as PTSD treatment and stress reduction; and physical fitness training programs.

Disabled American Veterans
DAV’s stated mission is “empowering veterans to lead high-quality lives with respect and dignity”. Their efforts include “fighting for the interests of America’s injured heroes on Capitol Hill; and educating the public about the great sacrifices and needs of veterans transitioning back to civilian life.” The organization provides veterans with over 600,000 rides to medical appointments and helps veterans complete more than 200,000 benefit claims. DAV’s services are free to veterans of every war and their families. There are 1,300 chapters all over the United States.

Puppies Behind Bars
This multifaceted nonprofit organization trains inmates to raise service dogs for wounded veterans, and bomb-detecting dogs for use in law enforcement. The dogs are specially trained to work with veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. Since the program started in 2008, 66 dogs have been paired with wounded veterans in 26 states.

Homes for Our Troops
Approximately 11 percent of the homeless in the U.S. are veterans. Homes for Our Troops, founded in 2004, builds and donates accessible houses for severely injured veterans of post 9/11 wars. The organization also adapts existing homes so that injured veterans can continue to live in them.

Fisher House, Inc.
With an A+ rating from CharityWatch, you can feel secure that your donation is going to good use when you support Fisher House, Inc. Fisher House provides nearby temporary housing for families of veterans who are hospitalized for an injury or illness. To date, Fisher House has built 84 locations on military installations and on VA campuses. The program also gives scholarships for veterans, their children and spouses and raises money for the travel needs of families of hospitalized veterans.

Semper Fi Fund
Another A+ rated charity, Semper Fi is committed to providing the resources severely injured veterans require to recover and transition back into civilian life. The organization offers three distinct programs — the service member and family support program which provides direct financial assistance and programs for veterans and their loved ones; the transition program that provides education and career assistance to help veterans to live productive lives despite their injuries; and the integrative health program which offers a variety of physical and mental health programs and therapeutic activities.

Hope for the Warriors
Hope for the Warriors offers a spectrum of services to wounded veterans and their families including physical and mental health and wellness programs; transition services; and sports and recreation activities. The Hope for Warriors Wish program fulfills wishes for wounded warriors who need financial assistance to fulfill their dreams.

Gary Sinese Foundation
Supporting veterans had always been important to actor Gary Sinese. But after 9/11, he stepped up his volunteer and fundraising efforts on behalf of the men and women who defend our country. In 2011, he founded the Gary Sinese Foundation which offers programs such as R.I.S.E. (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment), a program that builds adapted homes and modifies homes and cars for severely injured veterans. The Foundation’s Relief and Resiliency programs provide recreational activities to the children of fallen heroes, as well as mental health and financial assistance to veterans and their families. In addition, the Foundation’s Community and Education branch helps to raise awareness about the issues facing military families, and provides meals and arts and entertainment experiences to active military and veteran communities. The Gary Sinese Foundation also serves the needs of first responders.

 

It’s Spina Bifida Awareness Month!

Spina Bifida Awareness Sign

National Spina Bifida Month is observed every year during October. According to the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, spina bifida “is the most common neural tube defect in the United States—affecting 1,500 to 2,000 of the more than 4 million babies born in the country each year.” To commemorate National Spina Bifida Month, we’ve compiled the following summary of information about this disorder. We at Enabling Devices hope that raising awareness about spina bifida will create a more accessible and supportive society for those who live with it.

Spina bifida (literally defined as cleft spine) is a condition that typically occurs in the first month of pregnancy when the fetus is just beginning to develop in the mother’s womb. In spina bifida, the fetus’s neural tube doesn’t close as it should. Though we don’t know exactly what causes spina bifida, most scientists believe it is due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Prenatal testing often reveals the presence of spina bifida and babies with the disorder usually undergo surgery to close the spine and minimize complications very soon after birth.

Depending on where the opening of the fetus’s spine is located and how big the opening is, the effects of spina bifida can range from mild to severe. NINDS identifies four types of spina bifida.

Occulta
The mildest form of spina bifida, occulta (hidden) spina bifida results in the malformation of one or more vertebrae. The malformation is covered by a layer of skin and the neural elements are not exposed. Affecting 10-20 percent of the general population, this type of spina bifida almost never causes symptoms or disability. In fact, individuals with occulta spina bifida many not know that they have it.

Closed neural tube defects
In this type of spina bifida, various spinal defects may exist but the neural elements are covered. Though some people with closed neural tube defects don’t experience significant problems, in others, it can cause partial paralysis, bladder and bowel dysfunction.

Meningocele
As defined by NINDS, in meningocele spina bifida, “spinal fluid and meninges protrude through an abnormal vertebral opening; the malformation contains no neural elements and may or may not be covered by a layer of skin,” In this type of spina bifida, symptoms range from mild or non-existent to complete paralysis.

Myelomeningocele
The most disabling form of spina bifida. myelomeningocele spina bifida “happens when parts of the spinal cord and nerves come through the open part of the spine,” according to the Spina Bifida Association. This causes damage to the nerves and partial or full paralysis below the location of the spinal opening. Myelomeningocele spina bifida may also cause a neurological condition known as Chiari II malformation. Chiari II causes compression of the spine and can lead to feeding, swallowing and breathing problems as well as hydrocephalus or spinal fluid accumulation on the brain. This can result in learning disabilities.

There is no cure for spina bifida but children with the disorder are typically of average intelligence and can lead robust and productive lives. Organizations like the Spina Bifida Association “are committed to helping people live longer healthier lives through research, advocacy, education and support.” Each October, the Spina Bifida Association sponsors Walk-n-Roll events across the country to raise money and awareness about the disorder. To locate in a Walk-n-Roll event in your area, visit SBA’s events page. Other ways to support people with spina bifida include participating in SBA’s online advocacy efforts or planning a community awareness day. You can also share your spina bifida story at hashtag #MySBStory.

For more ways to get involved, visit spinabifidaassociation.org.

 

Game of Thrones: How the Iconic Series Dealt with Disability

Game of Thrones

Warning: This blogpost contains spoilers about the season finale of “Game of Thrones.”

The season finale of “Game of Thrones” has come and gone and regardless of your opinions about how the series ended, it’s left disabilities advocates with a great deal to ponder.

The eighth and final season of HBO’s most popular and influential series to date, ended with Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), who lost the ability to walk in the first episode of the series, becoming king of the fictional world of Westeros. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), a little person, nominates Bran for the role of king and in turn, Bran names Tyrion Hand of the King (the king’s right hand man.) For a variety of reasons including Bran’s minimal role in Season 8, many viewers saw Bran’s ascension to the throne as an improbable conclusion to the series. It’s one reason why the season finale has drawn mixed reviews, including from disabilities advocates.

During the show’s long run, “Game of Thrones” was celebrated by many in the disabilities community for its nuanced portrayals of people with disabilities.  In addition to Bran and Tyrion, the cast of characters included Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who loses one of his hands in season 3, Hodor (Kristian Nairn) who has an intellectual disability, Aemon Targaryen, who is visually impaired and several characters with a (fictional) disfiguring skin disease called greyscale.

As Meredith Moore writes in Medium, “[George R. R. Martin] has given roles of power and roles of honor to characters with disabilities while also not glorifying them for the sole reason of them having a disability… The characters of GOT that have disabilities are deep and complicated, writes Moore. “They each have their own flaws and motivations and are often conflicted… Having this level of complexity in characters with disabilities is refreshing and allows the viewer to see the characters as more than objects of inspirations, but rather as people with flaws and complexities.”

Graham Sisson a disabilities advocate with paralysis and the executive director of the Alabama Governor’s Office on Disability told Bham Now that Bran’s ascension to the throne in the final episode of GOT is good news for the disabilities community. Says Sisson: “The choice of Bran, who is paralyzed and uses a wheelchair, sends a positive and powerful message about people with disabilities, and besides that he is one of the good guys.”

Karen Willison, disability editor of The Mighty agrees.Ultimately, I found the show’s ending to be moving and satisfying — particularly because characters with disabilities took center stage,” she writes.

 Yet, in a Medium article written after the season finale, Marion Quirici shares a different perspective. Though Quirici notes that “There is no such thing as a perfect disability representation,” she says that “prior to the final season, [depictions of characters with disabilities in] GOT were thought-provoking in productive and often empowering ways.”

Yet in the end, writes Quirici, by making Bran King of Westeros GOT “reduces Bran’s narrative to the terms of every disability story ever. In short, Tyrion turns Bran into inspiration porn… Bran has become, in the end, an example of the “supercrip” stereotype. He gains special abilities to compensate for his disability, and as a result of his superhuman abilities he is no longer really a person.” Furthermore, King Bran’s title “Bran the Broken” is problematic. As Samantha Chavarria points out, “There is a stigma that people with disabilities—especially those who become disabled after being born abled—are stuck with. We are considered broken, wrong, or less than what we “should” be. This is where lots of ableist thinking and language comes from.

What did you think of GOT’s depiction of disability and the fact that Bran was made king in the last episode?  Enabling Devices wants to know. Share your thoughts on our Facebook and Twitter platforms.

 

Come On Barbie, Let’s Go Party!

New Barbie Doll in Wheelchair

In 1997, Mattel Toys made news when they released “Share-a-Smile Becky, a Barbie doll who came with a wheelchair. At first, disabilities advocates praised the company for its inclusive stance. But soon after she was released, they discovered that Becky, who was marketed as a friend of Barbie’s, had some issues. For one thing, her wheelchair didn’t fit through the door of the Barbie Dream House.

Confronted with the problem, Mattel chose not to change the dimensions of the Barbie Dream House. Instead, the company changed Becky. They tried remarketing her as “Becky, I’m the School Photographer,” “Sign Language ‘I love you’ Becky” and “Paralympic Becky.” Eventually, Mattel gave up on having a Barbie doll with a wheelchair and stopped selling Becky altogether.

As Karin Hitselberger, a blogger with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair told PRI (Public Radio International) in 2017:  “A lot of the talk about why Becky doesn’t exist anymore in any iteration is that it was too complicated to redesign Barbie world to fit Becky.” Hitselberger said Mattel’s way of handling Becky’s accessibility challenges “speaks volumes to the way we think about disability.

“A lot of the ways we think about disabilities, we talk about ‘fixing disability,’ instead of focusing on ‘fixing society,’” she said.

But more than 20 years later, Mattel has gone back to the drawing board.

Last week, the company announced they will introduce two new Barbie dolls. Part of a more inclusive Barbie line called Fashionistas, which also includes racially diverse dolls, and dolls with different body types, Mattel will now offer a Barbie that uses a wheelchair and a Barbie that comes with a removable prosthetic leg.

In a statement, Mattel said: “As a brand, we can elevate the conversation around physical disabilities by including them into our fashion doll line to further showcase a multidimensional view of beauty and fashion.”

Though it’s not yet known whether the new Barbie’s wheelchair will fit into the Barbie Dream House, this time around, Mattel has taken steps to design a wheelchair and a removable prosthetic that are realistic-looking representations. It appears they have also taken the issue of accessibility into account, since the new Barbies will be sold with wheelchair ramps that are Dream House-compatible.

We regret that it took 20 years, but we’re very pleased that Mattel is trying again! The new Barbies are expected to be available during the summer or fall of 2019.