“Extraordinary Attorney Woo” Sparks Controversy in South Korea and Beyond

Blog: Woo

A new Netflix show from South Korea has autism activists talking. When it debuted last summer, “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” quickly became the most popular non-English TV show on Netflix. A courtroom drama about a brilliant young attorney with Autism Spectrum Disorder portrayed by Korean actress Park Eun-bin, the show is drawing accolades, anger and ambivalence.

What to make of this? Let’s take a look.

In the United States, depictions of disabled characters in film and television are still uncommon. Yet, thanks to organizations such as RespectAbility, there is progress. According to a recent New York Times article, “Significant depictions of disability on film and television shows have nearly tripled over the past decade compared with the previous 10 years.” Disability awareness in South Korea is also increasing, though at a much slower pace than in the U.S.

South Koreans “typically associate autism and disabilities with shame,” Ms. Son Da-eun, the director of Autism Partnership Korea recently told The New York Times. “Several parents whose children attend [our] center conceal the diagnosis from friends and relatives, and some blame themselves for it.”

Son and other autism activists are pleased by the exposure to autism that Attorney Woo is providing for Korean viewers. Yet, they worry that the show’s portrayal of the disorder is unrealistic.

“In South Korea, some families of autistic people have described the show as ‘pure fantasy,’” says News 24. That’s because only 10% of people with autism have savant syndrome like Attorney Woo, whose character has an IQ of 164; a photographic memory; and the ability to solve legal cases that none of her colleagues can. Additionally, these families insist that someone with autism would never receive the educational or vocational opportunities that Woo receives in South Korea.

When actress Park Eun-bin was cast as Attorney Woo, she was concerned about offending the autism community. With only two weeks to prepare, Park said she read a lot about autism and its symptoms. Meanwhile, the show’s screenwriter Moon Ji-won spent a year working with a Korean special educator to help ensure that Attorney Woo’s behavior would accurately depict traits of autism.

Attorney Woo displays many of the characteristics often associated with autism – echolalia (repeating other people’s words); sensitivity to noise and touch; rigidity; poor eye contact; and awkward gait. She speaks in a monotone and has an obsessive interest in whales. Some viewers with autism identify with the portrayal. Some insist that Park’s depiction is inaccurate since not all people with autism experience all those symptoms. Others are unhappy that the role of Attorney Woo is being played by an actor who does not have autism.

Writing for Polygon.com, Geoffrey Bunting recommends “inviting disabled people into the production (which would also do something to combat the staggeringly low employment rates of autistic and disabled people in Korea) and to hire disabled actors to lend their experiences to their own characters.”

Despite its problems, most viewers agree that the show is worthy of a watch.

“We can’t expect a television show to really portray what it is like for autistic people and their families,” said drama and pop culture critic Gong Hee-jung in an article for Korea JoongAng Daily, “but a show like ‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo’ will help steer general understanding of autism towards improvement. It will be an opportunity for us as a society to reflect on the prejudices that we unknowingly had.”

Extraordinary Attorney Woo Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.

It’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month!

Blog: National Disability Employment Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a time to recognize the contributions that disabled Americans make to the United States’ labor force. It is also a time to take stock of the current employment outlook for those with disabilities and to re-dedicate ourselves to increasing inclusion and opportunities for disabled workers.

“A strong workforce is the sum of many parts, and disability has always been a key part of the equation,” said Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy Taryn M. Williams in a press release. “People with disabilities make up a wonderfully multifaceted group. By recognizing the full complexion of our community, we can ensure our efforts to achieve disability inclusion are, in fact, truly inclusive.”

This year’s NDEAM theme is “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation.” But how equitable is the American workforce and what is the current status of disabled workers in our country? The answer is complicated.

The Good News

On the bright side, disability employment reached historically high levels in 2022. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobs Report released Oct. 7, 2022 reported the employment-to-population ratio (the percent of the population that is employed) for people with disabilities (ages 16-64) was nearly 35% in September 2022.

One major reason for the increase in employment of disabled individuals this year was due to changes that arose from the pandemic. Though many disabled workers lost jobs at the beginning of the pandemic, as it continued, changes in the employment landscape such as the increase in remote work opportunities made it possible for many disabled individuals to become gainfully employed. Likewise, workforce shortages encouraged employers to take a chance on hiring individuals with disabilities. As more people return to work and especially to office jobs, it is unclear whether such increases will hold.

In other good news, “federal officials are sending $177 million to states in a major push to shift people with disabilities away from subminimum wage work in favor of competitive integrated employment,” reported Sean Heasley for Disability Scoop on Oct. 3. The Subminimum Wage to Competitive Integrated Employment demonstration project will provide funding to 14 state vocational rehabilitation agencies and will be distributed over five years.

This encouraging trend follows the enactment of another rule meant to prohibit the practice of paying people with disabilities less than their non-disabled colleagues. In July, AbilityOne, a federal program that finds employment for disabled individuals through government contracts, ruled that its employees must be paid at least minimum wage. Prior to the ruling, employers were permitted (with certification from the U.S. DOL) to pay disabled employees less than minimum wage.

According to Disability Scoop, “about 40,000 individuals who are blind or who have significant disabilities are employed through AbilityOne at over 1,000 locations nationwide. The program directs federal contracts to a network of some 450 nonprofit agencies, which provided nearly $4 billion in products and services to the government in fiscal year 2021 alone.”

Hopefully, other employers will soon follow suit.

The Not-So-Good News

The high employment-to-population rate for people with disabilities is a bit deceptive though. According to the BLS, the unemployment rate among persons with a disability is more than twice that of persons without a disability—7.3 percent vs. 3.1 percent, respectively—in September 2022. The unemployment rate measures the share of workers in the labor force who do not currently have a job but are actively looking for work. That means that individuals with disabilities who are able and willing to work are not finding jobs to the same extent as individuals without disabilities.

And there are other reasons that the increase in disability employment isn’t as good as it could be. For one, disabled individuals who are employed are more likely to have only part-time employment than their non-disabled counterparts (29 percent vs. 16 percent). Others are under-employed, which means that they are employed in jobs that are not consistent with their skill level. Still others face barriers to higher education, which hinders access to jobs with growth potential.

Complicating matters further is the fact that individuals with different types of disabilities face different challenges when it comes to employment opportunities. For example, Breeze, a disability insurance vendor, reports that employment rates (employment-to-population ratio) of working age adults vary by disability:

  • Learning disabilities: 46 percent
  • Hearing disabilities: 52 percent
  • Vision disability: 44 percent of people
  • Cognitive disability: 26 percent
  • Intellectual and developmental disabilities: 14.7 percent

Although there is still work to do before people with disabilities find equity in the workforce, there is reason to celebrate this NDEAM. Employers are gaining awareness about the need for equity and responding by hiring more people with disabilities. To learn more about ways to commemorate NDEAM, visit dol.gov/agencies/odep/initiatives/ndeam.

Pottery Barn Champions Inclusion and Accessibility

Blog: Pottery Barn

When Marta Benson, president of Pottery Barn, discovered that the bathrooms in Pottery Barn Stores weren’t outfitted with Pottery Barn-made bathroom consoles she asked a store designer about the design choice. He explained that the stores couldn’t use Pottery Barn consoles because none of them were ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. In other words, they didn’t have wheelchair accessible sinks. Benson was shocked and dismayed by the designer’s response.

“From that moment, I just started tuning into what it means to be inclusive and accessible to all abilities,” Benson told Elizabeth Segran of Fast Company.

Benson asked Pottery Barn designers to add accessibility features to many of the company’s most popular furniture and accessories. To ensure that adaptations were done right, she had Pottery Barn designers consult with disabled individuals from the Disability Education and Advocacy Network, and designers with expertise in designing for accessibility.

The result? Pottery Barn’s new Accessible Home collection, which premiered July 22 online and in select stores.

According to a press release, the collection includes furnishings for every room in the home. For instance, the “Irving recliner [chair] features powered remotes with easy-to-read buttons, multiple reclining positions, side pockets for easy-to-reach storage, and lifting to assist with sitting and standing; and the wheelchair accessible Pacific Desk comes in modular and open shelving styles so that users don’t need to use pulls to open drawers. … The Clarence Vanity, Pivot Mirror, and Linden Grab Bars that have been reimagined to make the bathroom safer and easier to navigate.”

The collection also features adjustable desks and beds; non-slip rugs, non-breakable dining products and lighting accessories specifically designed for disability.

Though home furniture for disabled consumers exists, it tends to be functional but not aesthetically pleasing. The Accessible Home collection aims to combine form and function so that everyone can enjoy living in an accessible and beautiful space.

“We don’t want customers to feel like they live in a hospital,” Benson told Segran. “We wanted to adapt our vernacular, our beautiful reclaimed-wood finishes, to these products. You shouldn’t have to compromise design to have this functionality.”

Despite their accessible design features, items in the Accessible Home collection will be sold at similar price points as Pottery Barn’s original versions. That said, Pottery Barn’s home furnishings are relatively expensive and prices could be prohibitive for many disabled and elderly individuals.

Even so, writes Segran, “Pottery Barn’s collection could send a signal to the market that there’s money to be made in serving the needs of disabled consumers and creating products that will allow homes to be more inclusive of people with disabilities. Ultimately, a line like this could nudge mass-market retailers like Target, Amazon, or Walmart to create stylish, accessible home goods.”

Eight Ways to Celebrate Disability Pride Month

Blog: Disability Pride Month

Friday, July 1 marked the beginning of Disability Pride Month.

The designation was first established by former New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio in 2015 in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by ensuring rights in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunication was signed into law on July 26, 1990 by former President George H.W. Bush.

The ADA had life-changing ramifications for individuals with disabilities, but more change is needed.

During Disability Pride Month, activists suggest disability allies learn about ways they can support the disability community. Here are some of their suggestions:

1. Walk in a Disability Pride Parade
In 1990, the first Disability Pride Parade was held in Boston. Today, Disability Pride parades take place in communities all across the nation. Support your disabled friends and family members by joining them for parade activities. The Disability Pride Parade Association in Chicago is holding its annual parade on July 23rd. (The New York City parade, originally scheduled for July 10th has been postponed until the fall due to COVID.)

2. Educate yourself about ableism
According to AccessLiving.org, ableism is defined as: “The discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. At its heart, ableism is rooted in the assumption that disabled people require ‘fixing’ and defines people by their disability.” Sometimes even those who mean well have ablest attitudes. To learn more about ableism, visit Access Living.

3. Stand up for inclusion
If you are a member of a religious, civic, arts or business organization, make sure that their services, meetings, performances and conferences are inclusive. This means that event spaces should be wheelchair accessible; sign language interpreters are present; assistive listening devices are provided; and disability accommodations are clearly explained on websites and in all marketing materials.

4. Read books by disabled authors and journalists
The best way to learn about issues of concern to people with disabilities is to read about their experiences. Check out this list of books by thecatchpoles.net.

5. Be aware of your language
Avoid offensive language about disabled people. Phrases such as “wheelchair bound,” or “suffering from” frame disability in a negative and frightening light. Similarly, descriptors such as “crazy,” “dumb,” “lame,” or “idiot” are all insulting and disrespectful.

For some time, there has been disagreement about whether it is preferable to use “people-first language” i.e. “people with disabilities” or disability-first language i.e. “disabled people.” The ADA National Network has a guide to disability language but when in doubt, ask individuals what they prefer.

6. Follow disability blogs and publications
In addition to Enabling Devices’ blog, keep up with blogs and publications such as Disability Scoop, Assistive Technology, Disabled World, MobilityWorks and New Mobility Magazine.

7. Hire individuals with disabilities
As Enabling Devices has reported, hiring disabled workers isn’t just a moral imperative. It’s also good business. Disability Pride Month is a great time to “raise awareness, educate your employees about the disabled community, and create an inclusive environment for employees with disabilities,” says Emtrain.com. For additional workplace inclusion suggestions, click here.

8. Take Disability San Antonio’s Disability Friendly pledge
Among other things, pledge signers promise to be accepting of difference; aware of the existence of invisible disabilities; and to become knowledgeable about disability issues. Visit disabilitysa.org/take-the-pledge.

6 Films Portraying Characters with Disabilities to Watch This Holiday Season

Blog.Movies

The holiday season provides rare opportunities for lazy afternoons and evenings at home with family and friends. Watching movies together—holiday themed or otherwise—is a favorite pastime for many. But until recently, finding films inclusive of characters with disabilities was nearly impossible. Fortunately, that’s slowly changing.

Here’s a brief list of films including characters who represent the 20% of Americans who live with disabilities. Happy viewing and happy holidays!

1. “Luca”
Set in an idyllic Italian fishing village, this animated film from Pixar does a wonderful job of exploring themes of otherness and disability.  Luca, the film’s young protagonist, has a secret identity: He’s a sea monster! When he meets Alberto, also a sea monster, the two youngsters leave the water to discover the human world and befriend a little girl named Giulia. Giulia’s father, Massimo, has one arm. According to the New York Times, the film “takes the rare step of portraying a character with a limb difference—without making it a defining characteristic.”

“Luca” is bound to be a crowd-pleaser for family members and friends of all ages.

2. “Rising Phoenix”
If you had the opportunity to see any of the Paralympic games several months back, you were no doubt amazed by the athletes and spellbound by the festivities. “Rising Phoenix” takes viewers behind the scenes at the Paralympics, sharing the fascinating history of the games and introducing you to nine of the games’ Paralympic athletes.

The documentary’s soundtrack is also remarkable. According to Variety, “most of it was created, post-pandemic shutdown, in [composer Daniel] Pemberton’s studio, augmented by three musicians with disabilities, all performing in their home studios and sending in their parts for mixing into the final score.” The film’s concluding song was performed by three disabled American rappers—George Doman aka George TraGiC, Toni Hickman and Keith Jones. You can watch rising Phoenix on Netflix.

3. The Fundamentals of Caring”
Paul Rudd, PEOPLE’S sexiest man alive, stars in this 2016 Netflix film about the relationship between a caregiver (Rudd) and his charge (Craig Roberts), a teenager with muscular dystrophy. It’s worth noting that the film, which also stars Selena Gomez, was criticized for casting Roberts, a nondisabled person, in the role of the teen. Nevertheless, it was a favorite at the Sundance Film Festival, so you may want to check it out anyway.

4. “Sound of Metal”
Award-winning actor Riz Ahmed stars as professional drummer who is losing his hearing in this 2019 film. Though Ahmed is not disabled, he spent a great deal of time preparing for the role in learning about deafness and deaf culture. The film also deals with themes related to addiction. “Sound of Metal” was nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Ahmed) and Best Supporting Actor (Raci) at the 93rd Academy Awards where it won for Best Sound and Best Film Editing.

5. “The Best Years of Our Lives”
Released in 1946, just one year after World War II ended, this epic drama, tells the story of veteran Homer Parish, who returns home from the war after losing both of his hands in combat. Played by Harold Russell, an actor who himself lost his hands during explosive training in WWII, Parish struggles to integrate back into his family and community.

Groundbreaking on so many levels, “The Best Years of Our Lives” is one of the first Hollywood movies to depict the pain and sacrifice of war and the arduous process of returning to civilian life after witnessing and experiencing unfathomable tragedy.

6. “Keep the Change”
Refreshingly, both stars of “Keep the Change,” a 2018 love story about two young adults with autism, really have autism spectrum disorder. David (Brandon Polansky) and Sarah (Samantha Elisofon) meet at the JCC in Manhattan where both are part of a social club for people with autism. Heartwarming and delightfully entertaining, “Keep the Change” received a 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film also won Best U.S. Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival, where Elisofen also received a Best Actress nomination.

Celebrate Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month with These Activities

DD Awareness Month

Developmental disabilities can affect movement, learning, language and behavior. Autism spectrum disorder; ADHD; hearing loss; intellectual disability; learning disability; and vision loss are all examples of this set of disabilities which affect approximately 17 percent of children in the United States between the ages of 3 and 17.

Every March, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities and its partners creates a social media campaign to promote the inclusion of individuals with developmental disabilities.

According to NACDD, “the campaign seeks to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life, as well as awareness of the barriers that people with disabilities still sometimes face in connecting to the communities in which they live.”

This year’s campaign is branded with a logo created by Eileen Schofield, an artist from Art Enables, a studio in Washington D.C. Individuals and groups participating in Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month can download the logo for use in their local campaigns here. Make sure to use the hashtag #DDawareness2021 on any NACDD materials that are distributed.

NACDD is also creating a resource guide with information of interest to people with disabilities and their families. Stakeholders are encouraged to submit materials that they think should be included in the guide. “NACDD’s website lists the following examples of the materials they are seeking: videos, toolkits, news articles, photos, personal stories and promising practices. They can be submitted to Rafael Rolon-Muniz at rrolon-muniz@nacdd.org.

For the second year in a row, NACDD will showcase artwork created by individuals with disability as part of its campaign’s marketing assets.

Here are some additional ways to observe Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month:

1. Join New York State’s Office for People with Disabilities’ virtual Dance for Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month by making a video showing you or you and your friends and family dancing and send it to communications.office@opwdd.ny.gov. They’ll post it on their social media channels. Additionally, share your video on your own social media accounts using the hashtags #DanceforDDAM #DDAM2021 and #NYSOPWDD.

2. Wear a Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month ribbon. The blue and yellow ribbons can be purchased here. When people ask you what the ribbon means, be ready to provide valuable information about developmental disabilities and the need for inclusion throughout our society.

3. Donate money to an organization that provides services for individuals with developmental disabilities. Some examples: The Arc; Easter Seals; United Cerebral Palsy; Friendship Circle International.

4. Host a Spread the Word Inclusion Pledge Day event at your school or workplace by encouraging community members to pledge their support for inclusion. You can take the pledge by visiting spreadtheword.global/pledge.

5. Spread the Word also recommends starting a Best Buddies or Special Olympics club at your school.

6. Watch a webinar about developmental disabilities such as “Disability Advocates and Allies: Creating Inclusive Communities and Lasting Change with Xian Horn.” Register here.

7. Share stories about the accomplishments of people with developmental disabilities on your social media accounts.

8. Share photos and videos of people with developmental disabilities sharing their stories.

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 30 th 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?”