Saturday, March 30, 2013

Diane Kruger to play police detective with Asperger's in new FX series 'The Bridge'

From UPI:

NEW YORK -- German-born actress Diane Kruger says she has signed on to star in "The Bridge," a new FX crime drama set on the Mexican-American border.

"It's an American adaptation of a Scandinavian show," Kruger told United Press International in New York this week.

"It's myself and Demian Bichir. [It's about] immigration, drug cartels. My character suffers from Asperger's [syndrome,] so there is a whole aspect to that as well."

The actress said she has been doing a lot of research to prepare for her role as a police detective on the show, which is to premiere this summer.

"That's all I've been doing," she said. "We're very lucky because Autism Speaks just came on board to be a partner of the show and we found this amazing young man who has Asperger's, who is going to help me portray it accurately because it is a really, more-common-than-ever, form of autism. People only identified it as being on the spectrum in 1994, so that's not very long and autism supposedly has risen in the past 10 years over 30 percent."

Kruger -- whose credits include "Troy," "National Treasure" and "Inglourious Basterds" -- said even if "The Bridge" becomes a hit, she expects to continue working on films during breaks.

"It's cable, right? So, it's 12 episodes [a season]. It's like a movie, 4 1/2 months," she said in reference to the short shooting schedule.

Kruger can now be seen in the movie "The Host," a futuristic, alien-invasion tale based on the book by

National Down Syndrome Congress says independent investigation needed in death of Ethan Saylor, Maryland man with Down syndrome who died in custody of sheriff deputies

From the National Down Syndrome Congress:

ATLANTA – The National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) believes that Robert Ethan Saylor’s (pictured) civil rights were violated when he died after being restrained by three off-duty Frederick County, MD, Sheriff’s deputies.  Although the coroner ruled Saylor’s death a homicide, a grand jury declined to indict the deputies.

“We cannot comprehend the series of poor decisions that were made leading to Ethan’s death,” noted David Tolleson, Executive Director of NDSC.  “If you used any other adjective to describe him – such as his race, religion, gender or sexual orientation – the streets would be filled with people seeking justice.  It appears that individuals at the theatre acted as if this was an emergency situation, or that Ethan presented an imminent threat, when in fact more time was both needed and available to assess the situation.”

Tolleson adds, “By all reports, the officers involved are good men who did not intend for Ethan to die.  However, if an otherwise good person with good intentions were to kill someone with their car – perhaps because of neglected maintenance or driving under the influence – they would still be held accountable.”

According to NDSC representatives, the Saylor case is filled with poor decisions and missed opportunities.
  •  The officers should have been trained on how to interact with individuals with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities.
  •  Recognizing that Ethan had Down syndrome, the officers should have showed more patience.
  •  The officers should have worked with Ethan’s support person on strategies to diffuse the situation, rather than handcuffing him. 
  •  Ethan’s mother was on the way to the theatre, called by his support person.  Officers should have waited for her to arrive to help resolve the situation.
  • Other patrons nearby said they were afraid to get involved.  They shouldn’t have been.
Tolleson noted that NDSC believes an independent investigation of what happened is necessary.  “Beyond the need for accountability, we need to know exactly what occurred so that we can work with law enforcement to ensure that it never happens again.”

The NDSC believes that everyone, including people with developmental disabilities, have every right to attend events and activities in their community.  More awareness is needed about Down syndrome to ensure that all people feel welcome, included and safe.  “Ethan’s death is a tragedy and shines a spotlight on the need for awareness about people with Down syndrome in our communities, particularly among first responders.”
Representatives from NDSC, Family Resource, Information and Education Network for Down Syndrome (F.R.I.E.N.D.S.), National Down Syndrome Society, Kennedy Krieger Institute, and the Saylor family met with the Community Relations Service (CRS) of the U.S. Department of Justice yesterday.

At the meeting, NDSC representatives asked for an investigation into the Saylor case.  The group also discussed the need for nationwide Down syndrome training for law enforcement officers.

“It’s a first step,” Tolleson noted, “but we have a long way to go.”

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Baltimore stocks taxicab fleets with first vehicles built for wheelchair users

From The Baltimore Sun:

Baltimore's oldest cab company and the Maryland Transit Administration are updating their fleets for wheelchair-using customers, replacing small buses and minivans with an SUV-like vehicle that provides a smoother, more civilized ride.

The MV-1 is designed specifically to transport disabled passengers and already is in use in cities such as Pittsburgh, Chicago and Dallas. Built in Indiana, it is the only production vehicle that meets Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.

Yellow Cab and sister company 1010 Sedan purchased 10 MV-1s and began using them this week. The MTA already has 10 on the road and 30 being readied for service. Eventually, the MTA hopes to convert the bulk of its mobility fleet — about 84 vehicles — to MV-1s to help serve its 23,000 customers.

Although handicapped-accessible vehicles are rare on the streets, demand for them is expected to rise as the population ages.

"I think they're the wave of the future," said Michael Weidger, the MTA's mobility director.

But today's passengers already like the ride.

"Our clients love them," said Lauren Young of the Maryland Disability Law Center. "The ride is better, they're not crammed into a van and they don't have to share a trip and make multiple stops."

The MV-1 has room for two wheelchairs, two other passengers and luggage. The vehicle sits lower to the ground than a van or bus, making it easier and quicker to load and unload passengers. The model used by Yellow Cab and Sedan 1010 is dispatched digitally and features a credit card reader, said Navin Dass, the company's general manager.

The vehicles cost $40,000 each vs. $8,000 to refurbish and equip a Ford Crown Victoria, long used by handicapped mobility services because of their spaciousness. A new Dodge Grand Caravan converted for wheelchairs costs up to $60,000, accessibility advocates said.

"This is not, by design, a money-maker for us," Dass said. "We have been in Baltimore for 105 years and have a long-standing relationship with the city and its residents. We're the industry leader, so this isn't a leap for us. It's a step in the right direction."

Young said disabled people who do not drive or do not have someone to take them on errands and to appointments often are marooned. The state Public Service Commission, which regulates cabs in Baltimore and Baltimore County, does not require companies to have accessible vehicles.

"If you live in an area without public transportation, what options do you have? You can't just go see friends or make a last-minute doctor's appointment or deal with family issues that crop up. There is no spontaneity," Young said.

The nimble MV-1s are good for the future of handicapped transportation, she said.

Miami-based Vehicle Production Group began MV-1 production in September 2011 at a converted Hummer2 plant in Indiana. The company estimates it can roll out 70,000 vehicles a year.

The first vehicle went to Marc Buoniconti, the son of NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti, who suffered a spinal cord injury during a college football game. The younger Buoniconti is president of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis.

In a review last year, Motor Trend magazine said the vehicle's styling "looks like an SUV-ish riff on the traditional London cab, with a low-step-in (or roll aboard) flat floor and oodles of headroom."

Weidger said MV-1s are more fuel efficient than buses or vans and are easier to maneuver down narrow city streets and alleys. Over the course of a year, he said, the full fleet of 84 MV-1s will save MTA $900,000.
But the agency also will be buying about 36 mini-buses to handle demand from customers who like to travel together to events or appointments.

For many wheelchair users, the MV-1 offers a perk unavailable to them for years.

"They can ride shotgun," said Dass, of the space next to the driver. "For the first time, a customer can ride up front — not the back — and have the experience everyone else has."

University of Chicago disability policy expert: What ‘This American Life’ missed on disability insurance

From The Washington Post:

Over the weekend, “This American Life” and “Planet Money” ran a long reported piece by Chana Joffe-Walt looking at the extraordinary growth of America’s disability insurance system. In Hale County, Ala., one in four residents is on disability, and Joffe-Walt spent time with a young child whose disability check has become the key to his family’s survival. Ezra interviewed Joffe-Walt about her piece here.

But is there more to the story? Is America’s disability insurance system in need of fundamental reforms? I asked Harold Pollack, an expert on disability policy at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration (he’s also a nonresident fellow at The Century Foundation). A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Brad Plumer: One of the big themes of the “This American Life” segment was that as the U.S. economy has slumped and jobs have vanished, disability insurance has essentially become the safety-net program of last resort. More people are now qualifying for disability than ever before — it now costs $260 billion per year. Is this really what the program is designed to do?

Harold Pollack: These tensions go back to the very beginning of this program. It has always been a matter of deep controversy and anxiety about how to draw the boundaries between eligibility and non-eligibility. And the worry among fiscal conservatives has always been that it would become a backstop income guarantee for people who couldn’t find a job.

If you go back to 1985 and look at Jerry Mashaw’s book “Bureaucratic Justice,” even then there’s an interesting account of how the agency has tried to deal with these problems, and how one can fairly and accurately make determinations for hundreds of thousands of applicants. It’s not feasible to stage an OJ-style trial for everyone who applies for disability, but you still want real and defensible standards for who qualifies and who doesn’t.

But the program is also a lot more stringent than that “This American Life” piece would have you believe. The fact is, the vast majority of applicants are denied, and there are qualified diagnoses that are very stringently applied.

BP: One thing we’ve seen is that more and more people have qualified as disabled during the recession. Some of that is simply due to the unavoidable fact that America’s getting older. But some is due to unemployment. If there are strict standards, how can that be?

HP: Disability really does need to be thought about in the context of economic opportunities. If you have a bad back, and the only jobs available are manual labor, that’s a real limitation. You’re unable to work. So it very much matters that we’re in a deep recession, and a lot of the opportunities people faced are limited.
You can’t remove the economic context from the disability conversation. I don’t know about the particular physician they discussed [in Hale Country, where one in four residents qualified for disability], that might not be totally consistent with what the program’s intended to do. But I can certainly see where he’s coming from.

BP: Now there’s another big concern that once workers qualify for disability, they leave the labor force altogether. They never work again. Is that a real worry? Is the disability program really luring away people who could work? 

HP: I don’t think so. One way to see this is to look at the employment rates for people who applied for disability but were then denied. And those are actually quite low, below 50 percent. That suggests we’re not pulling people out of the workforce who would otherwise be there.

It’s also worth remembering that the adult benefits for disability are not that high. If people are leaving the labor market so that they can get $13,000 per year and health care because that’s better than anything that employers can provide, what does that tell you about the state of the economy?

BP: Now when we talk about “disability insurance,” we’re essentially talking about two distinct programs. One involves disability benefits for adult workers who can no longer work. But there’s also the program to help parents with children with disabilities. How is the latter supposed to work?

HP: When a child has a significant set of impairments or disabilities, a parent often needs access to medical care and social services to take care of the child. Sometimes parents have to expend a lot of time and effort, or they need to purchase health services that aren’t covered elsewhere. [Note: Average costs range from $6,000 to $11,000 per year.]

If you have a child with cerebral palsy, and you’re extremely poor, you’ll likely need the help of the SSI disability program in many cases. And there are many, many children across America who need this program and who have significant disabilities.

BP: One thing the “This American Life” segment found is that the number of children on disability has been rising quite a bit since the 1990s. Does that suggest the program has been changing in unintended ways?

HP: What makes this problem complicated is that since 1996, the welfare caseloads have also plummeted. It’s always been the case for parents of disabled children who are poor, there has either been welfare or disability, and parents often used one program or the other. So as welfare became more restricted, there were reasons for people to shift into the SSI disability program.

But the shift hasn’t been nearly as dramatic as “This American Life” made it seem. The overall proportion of poor kids on SSI has been pretty constant in recent years. And even as the poverty rate has gone up, the rise in children on SSI disability has been dwarfed by the much bigger decline of children in the old welfare system. I made a graph to show this:

And there’s another way to see this. The Women’s Employment Study (pdf) followed 500 long-term welfare recipients, and found that, of those, only 37 ended up on SSI. Another 114 applied but were unsuccessful.

BP: So it’s not really true that there are lots of parents out there coaxing their kids onto disability so that they can get government benefits?

HP: There are occasionally anecdotal accounts of parents coaching their kids to misbehave in school so that they can qualify for disability. But that just doesn’t show up in the numbers. The majority of applications for things like ADHD [attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder] are denied.

BP: Nick Kristof of The New York Times wrote a column awhile back where he worried that too many kids were being admitted into the disability program and then being held back in school by their parents so that the checks would keep flowing. And he was particularly alarmed that two-thirds of kids on disability stay on adult disability when they turn 19. Is this a problem?

HP: Yeah, the way he presented this statistic was very misleading. The program is actually quite stringent at the front end. And that means the kids who do qualify are much more likely to have chronic issues that last into adulthood. Many of the kids on childhood SSI have unambiguous conditions that are lifelong. So the fact that most of them qualify for adult disability doesn’t tell you much about the program.

BP: Do you think there are ways to reform the disability program? 

HP: There are a couple of issues here. The disability programs could always be run better, and one shortcoming of the “This American Life” story is that there was little discussion of the nuts and bolts of this. For example, it would be wise to make more investments in the administrative capacity of the Social Security Administration so that they could do more reviews, check up on people with continuing disabilities and see if they’re still eligible.

Ultimately we want to make sure this program is done in way that;s effectively advancing the goals we care about. And to achieve public legitimacy these programs need to remain stable over time.

BP: One of the things Chana Joffe-Walt mentioned in her interview with Ezra is that a huge portion of the cost of disability insurance was health care — about $80 billion of the $260 billion the government spends each year. So could health-care reform change that?

HP: Right, it’s interesting that the words “health reform” never came up in the “This American Life” piece. There was a 56-year-old man who had a heart attack and then went on disability. People like that may end up having real health insurance problems, especially when they have preexisting conditions. One thing I hope will happen is that when the health insurance exchanges [as part of the Affordable Care Act] become operative, that will provide opportunities for many people who are otherwise turning to disability for help.

I do think we need to think about better ways to provide certain health services. A lot of people are forced into disability programs because they have particular health needs, and we should think about whether there’s a way to provide options for those people outside the program.

American attitudes about disability have changed so much over the past generation, which in general has been a triumph of social policy. But it’s been an incomplete triumph. Our awareness of mental health issues as disabilities has been a good thing, for instance, but it’s also made new challenges for public policy.

Related: Ezra Klein interviews Chana Joffe-Walt on her piece on disability.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Raymond Cohen, founder and editor of Abilities, Canada's only disability magazine, passed away on Friday

From Canadian Abilities Foundation:

Raymond Cohen, founder and CEO of the Canadian Abilities Foundation and editor of Abilities magazine, passed away on March 22, 2013. He was 64.

In recent months, Raymond had been struggling bravely through a heavy regimen of treatments for a hidden disability that had affected his health for many years. However, his condition turned for the worse quite suddenly. His family was with him at the end.

Raymond had a profound effect on many, many people during his lifetime, and was a fierce advocate for people with disabilities. The Canadian Abilities Foundation remains committed to carrying on his work, with the publication of Abilities magazine scheduled to resume shortly, after having been interrupted due to his illness.

Donations in Raymond’s honour can be made to the Canadian Abilities Foundation using the “Donate” link above.

Please post your tributes and memories on the Facebook open group page:

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Not much progress in last couple decades getting more people with disabilities into workforce

From The AP. In the picture, Jennifer Lortie works in her Willimantic, Conn., office.

Whether it means opening school track meets to a deaf child or developing a new lunch menu with safe alternatives for students with food allergies, recent Obama administration decisions could significantly affect Americans with disabilities. But there's been little progress in one of the most stubborn challenges: employing the disabled.

According to government labor data, of the 29 million working-age Americans with a disability _ those who are 16 years and older _ 5.2 million are employed. That's 18 percent of the disabled population and is down from 20 percent four years ago. The employment rate for people without a disability was 63 percent in February.

The job numbers for the disabled haven't budged much since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which gave millions of disabled people civil rights protections and guaranteed equal opportunity in employment, public accommodations, transportation, government services and more.

The National Council on Disability's Jeff Rosen said long-standing prejudicial attitudes need to be addressed to boost jobs.

"Employers are still catching on to the fact that the needs of most workers with disabilities aren't special, but employees with disabilities often bring specialized skills to the workplace," Rosen said. "Perhaps no one knows how to adapt, think critically or find solutions better than someone who has to do so daily in order to navigate a world that wasn't built with them in mind."

Rosen, who is deaf, was named in January as chairman of the council, an independent federal agency that advises the president, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policy.

The Obama administration recently has acted to expand the rights of Americans with disabilities in other areas.

The Education Department's civil rights division released new guidelines that direct schools to provide students with disabilities equal access to extracurricular sports teams. If schools can't, they should create similar athletic programs for disabled children, the department said.

Also, the Justice Department said in a settlement with a Massachusetts college, Lesley University, that severe food allergies can be considered a disability under the law. That potentially could lead to new menus and accommodations at schools, restaurants and other places to address the needs of people with food allergies.
One silver lining in the lagging employment for the disabled has been federal hiring.

The latest data from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management shows nearly 15 percent of new federal hires between 2010 and 2011 were people with disabilities _ almost 19,000 people. That's up from the previous year when about 10 percent of new hires were people with disabilities.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2010 aimed at improving the federal ranks of people with disabilities. The goal was to add 100,000 disabled people to federal payrolls in five years; that would be within reach if the 2010-2011 hiring numbers were to stick or improve.

Federal agencies are trying to achieve the numbers through better recruitment, especially at colleges and universities. And last month, OPM issued rules to limit the paperwork that potential hires with disabilities would need to provide. They essentially "self identify" as disabled by qualifying for a special hiring category known as "Schedule A" that allows disabled people to apply for a job through a noncompetitive hiring process, meaning they could be hired without competing with the general public.

The administration also is considering new rules that would leverage the power of federal spending to encourage companies to hire more disabled workers. The Labor Department is weighing a rule that would require companies with federal contracts to set a goal of having at least 7 percent of their workforce be disabled. Federal contractors employ nearly one-quarter of the nation's workforce.

Since the rule was proposed more than a year ago, business groups have complained that it would be too burdensome and lead to conflicts with federal laws that discourage companies from asking job applicants to identify themselves as disabled.

"We have had a long history of supporting the disabled community," said Randel Johnson, vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for labor issues. "But this proposal goes too far, woefully underestimates cost of compliance, and is completely unworkable as structured in the proposal."

Jennifer Lortie, 29, of Griswold, Conn., considers herself one of the lucky employed Americans with a disability.

Lortie was born with cerebral palsy and has limited use of her arms and legs. She graduated college during the recession and it was no easy task finding a job.

She spent more than a year scouring newspapers, job search websites and sending out dozens of resumes. She worried her wheelchair might be a strike against her until she landed a position in 2009 as an assistive technology specialist with the Connecticut Tech Act Project. The federally-funded program aims to increase independence for people with disabilities by educating them on new and best-fit technologies for work, school and community living.

"I think helping people kind of makes me think maybe there's a reason that I am in a wheelchair," Lortie said in an interview. "There has to be some reason to all this, so it gives me a sense of purpose as far as `OK, I'm in a wheelchair but I can help other people' instead of just sitting home feeling sorry for myself."

Lortie spends four hours each day commuting to work and then back to the home she shares with her parents. They drive her to the bus stop and then she takes two buses to get to work _ two hours each morning and two hours at the end of the day to get home. And she doesn't mind a bit. "I like to help people," she said.

Jill Houghton works with companies to expand employment for people with disabilities. Among the big barriers, she said, are concerns about cost. Companies worry about whether they'll have to make special accommodations or additional training and they want to know how much it's going to cost.

"The reality is that businesses have found that when they create inclusive workplaces, where people with disabilities are working side by side with people without disabilities ... the bottom line is that it doesn't increase costs," said Houghton, who heads the US Business Leadership Network, a trade association that represents about 5,000 businesses.

She said she has noticed a significant increase in calls and requests recently to the group from the business community about hiring people with disabilities.

Companies want to be inclusive of people with disabilities, Houghton said. "Businesses are learning that it just makes good business sense."

How FX's 'Legit' became darling of the disability community

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Drugs, prostitution and masturbation are among the topics tackled by FX’s freshman comedy Legit.  Despite those edgy plot points, it was the show’s multiple characters with disabilities that had co-creators Jim Jefferies and Peter O’Fallon worried they might offend viewers.
From series regular Billy (DJ Qualls), a 30-something with muscular dystrophy, to Rodney (Nick Daley), a party hound with an intellectual disability, the world of Legit is full of characters trying to make it no matter their circumstances.

“We were kind of nervous,” Jefferies, the show’s star, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We know we’re not being nasty, but maybe people won’t see it the same way we see it.”

But since premiering in January, it’s the characters with disabilities who have won the show some of its fiercest fans. Dr. Drew Pinsky said on his podcast that Legit  "elevate[s] the disability conversation to a new plane." Viewers, meanwhile, have hailed the comedy for treating its disabled characters as real people -- not as mere plot points.

In the series premiere, Billy fulfills his dream of losing his virginity when his brother Steve (Dan Bakkedahl) and friend Jim (Jefferies) take him to a Las Vegas brothel. That storyline, based on a real-life experience Jefferies had with a friend’s brother, has gained the Australian comic a slew of fans who have the disease.

"I’ve now met on my [stand-up] tour probably more people with muscular dystrophy than anyone would meet in their life,” Jefferies says.

This year, Legit has become the largest source of work for Performing Arts Studio West, a talent management agency which works exclusively with performers with disabilities.

But Jefferies says Legit has ended up casting people with disabilities without necessarily thinking about it. For instance, one episode called for Jefferies to hang out with two comedians, so he brought his friend Brad Williams to play one of them. Williams happens to have dwarfism.

Another episode called for a celebrity to sing the National Anthem at a ballgame, and Verne Troyer (Mini-Me in the Austin Powers series) nabbed the role.
“It’s like we’re going out of our way, but we’re not,” O’Fallon says. “We don’t even think about it.”
And it’s not about being nice or making the audience go “aww."

“People are saying how nice it is, but I want to make the point we’ve never written a disabled part because it’s nice,” says Jefferies. “Only if it works for the story. For us, it has been a load of coincidences.”

The show did receive some criticism from a woman with muscular dystrophy who questioned why Billy’s part went to an actor without the disease. She accused Qualls, who is not disabled, of performing “cripp face" -- a term she said was the equivalent to “black face” for an able-bodied person playing a crippled person.

Jefferies and O'Fallon say they did initially want to cast an actor with muscular dystrophy in the part, but learned that 12-hour days on the set would be too physically demanding for someone with the disease.
The show has also featured guest spots from Diana Elizabeth Jordan, who has cerebral palsy, and Katy Sullivan, who is a double-amputee and played a love interest of Billy’s.

Thirty years ago, a disabled character on TV actually being played by a disabled actor was rare. Members of the industry interviewed for this story recalled having to beg casting directors to audition their disabled clients.
The Facts of Life’s Geri Jewell, a comedian with cerebral palsy, broke ground in 1981 as the first actor with a disability to have a recurring role on a primetime network series. In 1989, Chris Burke made history with ABC’s Life Goes On as the first actor with Down syndrome to have a major role on a network series.

Progress marched on, and eight years later, a THR story reported that "times may be changing" for young performers with disabilities, citing shows like Touched by an Angel and E.R.  giving roles to physically challenged actors, rather than hiring able-bodied actors to portray them.

Gail Williamson, a Down syndrome advocate, says that back then, actors with disabilities were generally cast in sentimental roles meant to tug at viewers’ heartstrings. These “event” (or “very special episodes,” as Williamson describes them) tended toward the inspirational.

Williamson has observed a major shift in recent years with shows like Legit and Glee using such actors in edgier roles. Through work with Down Syndrome in Arts & Media, Williamson has helped get work for Lauren Potter (the cheerleader Becky on Fox’s Glee), Edward Barbanell (the party-animal brother of the boss on Comedy Central’s Workaholics) and Jamie Brewer (FX’s American Horror Story). She’s also placed two actors in Legit and a number of them on a recent episode of Shameless.

"It’s funny how far we have swung since that [time]," she says, remembering the '80s and '90s. "Things are happening."

Daley, who has Prader-Willi Syndrome and plays Rodney on Legit, says Jefferies is like "a brother" to him and has taken him under his wing. He and O’Fallon aren’t afraid to feed him new lines and let him improv on set, opportunities he hasn’t been afforded in previous guest roles on Seventh Heaven and Saving Grace.

"This thing that I’m doing with Legit -- It’s more fun. It’s more exciting and it’s more magical," Daley says.
Daley’s rep, John Paizis of Performing Arts Studio West, says the Legit team sees his clients as people first.

"I am thrilled that people are starting to see 'Hey, these guys can be really funny,'" Paizis says. "While they should never be a butt of a joke, they should definitely be part of the joke."

Legit airs at 10:30 p.m. Thursdays on FX.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Oscar winner Marlee Matlin says "Switched at Birth" is the first show that lets her be herself

From the Sioux City Journal:

LOS ANGELES - Oscar winner Marlee Matlin says "Switched at Birth" is the first show that lets her be herself.

"I can communicate in my own language," the deaf actress says. "I don't have to depend on someone interpreting for me. Bill Hurt said what I said in 'Children of a Lesser God.' Someone else did it for me in 'The West Wing.'"

On the ABC Family series, though, "the subtitles are my voice. That's why I bow down to them...for letting us communicate the way we naturally communicate."

In last week's edition, the entire show was done in American Sign Language -- a first. Matlin, who plays a guidance counselor, took center stage as students at Carlton School for the Deaf mounted a protest over the school's closing. The episode was inspired by a protest at Gallaudet University in 1988.

A role model for many of the show's actors, Matlin says it's gratifying to be part of a series that addresses issues many deaf Americans face.

"I was fine with being the most well-known deaf person in the world, but it's not that way anymore," she says. "I don't necessarily want to be the only one."

More deaf actors on the set speed communication, Matlin says. The downside? She can't keep secrets.
"I used to be able to talk about people. I can't do that anymore," she says with a laugh. "I've said I'm sorry a million times.

"There's no communication barrier, no lag time, no trying to find out, 'How is it going to sound?' when someone interprets for me."

Although she's well-equipped to advise deaf actors, Matlin often holds back. "They've subtly asked me how they might do a scene. But they don't ask me how to act. They're very proud of what they do here on the set and I have no right to tell them how to act."

Instead -- like a doting mom -- she'll often say things like "put your jacket on."

"I don't see myself as a role model," she says through an interpreter. "If I inspire them, then I get inspired back."

When Matlin won the Oscar for her screen debut in "Children of a Lesser God," critics wondered if she'd be able to sustain a career. Since then, she has starred in several series and films, been nominated for Emmys and Golden Globes and competed on "Dancing with the Stars," another first.

"Switched at Birth," though, is a real coup, she says. "In 25 years, I've never seen such a phenomenal reception to having deaf characters on a show. You get to see the culture, the language and I'm very proud to be a part of it."

While hearing directors have asked her to help communicate with some of the younger actors, she often holds back. "We're all different people who are approaching work from different angles," she says. "We just happen to be on the same show. You want to make sure they're receptive to the opinion you want to throw in."

Oddly enough, many don't understand the speed involved in television signing. In reality, it can be quite quick. On television, it has to be slowed because "subtitles can't keep up with the hands. You can't read as fast as you can sign."

Slowing down, Matlin adds, lets viewers appreciate the language's beauty. Interest in "Switched at Birth" has even prompted her to create an app, "Marlee Signs." "It's not only for adults. It's for kids and babies. They can communicate in sign before they can communicate with their voices."

Growing up, Matlin didn't have the advantage of closed-caption shows. "I watched 'Streets of San Francisco,' 'Mannix'...all the action cop shows. 'The Electric Company' had subtitles back then. PBS was good.

"But 'Three's Company' was the first show that had closed-captioning and I was glued to the set. I did tell John Ritter at one point, 'Thank you...your show made it happen.'

"Now, everything is closed-captioned so you guys at the bars or you guys at the gym can also understand what's going on." She pauses. "You're welcome," she says. And  then she smiles.

Maryland colleges struggle to provide adequate mental health services

From The Baltimore Sun:

Within a week of arriving on campus this semester, University of Maryland junior Grace Freund felt the familiar symptoms of a depression creeping up — ones she knew to address quickly, lest they slip from her control.

The 21-year-old psychology major called the counseling center on the College Park campus soon after to set up an appointment. However, she said, her request was rebuffed.

"They said, 'Call back next week. We can't even schedule an intake appointment today,'" said Freund, a graduate of Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City.

Across the state and nation, college students — an age group particularly prone to mental illness — report similar frustration. Campus counseling centers often have insufficient staff and long waiting lists, mental health professionals say. In Maryland, counseling center directors say they are nearly overwhelmed with the ballooning numbers of students requesting services.

Last month, a graduate student at the University of Maryland shot and killed one housemate and wounded another before turning the gun on himself, police say. The family of Dayvon Green told police that he had been treated for a mental illness in the previous year.

Hours after the shooting, Maryland President Wallace D. Loh said the university had increased mental health resources in recent years to address the needs of troubled students.

But students and others at College Park paint a different picture — one of poor access to help and few resources at their fingertips — that appears to be more in line with national trends.

Ninety-two percent of campus counseling centers surveyed last year said the number of students seeking help had increased in recent years, according to the American College Counseling Association. Eighty-eight percent said the increases in demand and in the number of clients with "more serious psychological problems" had "posed staffing problems."

Reasons for increases in demand vary, according to professionals. Awareness of mental health on campuses has grown in recent years. Centers have advertised their services more heavily since campus shootings by troubled students at Virginia Tech and elsewhere.

And more students are also showing up to college already on psychiatric medications.

"In general, there's a little bit of a sea change going on right now in recognizing that overall success in college has a lot to do with a student's mental health and well-being," said Alison Malmon, founder and executive director of Active Minds, a mental health nonprofit that works on college campuses. "But there's not additional money going to mental health on campuses."

At a campus vigil after the shooting at Maryland, Loh followed his comments about increasing resources on campus by saying the shooting presented "lessons to be learned, policy questions to be discussed, changes to be made."

The university has employed part-time, contract counselors in recent years, and had posted a job opening for a new staff psychologist a few weeks before the shooting.

But that position hadn't yet been filled when Loh spoke, and the posting followed years in which full-time staffing at the campus counseling center remained flat.

The number of students seeking help at the counseling center for stress, depression, anxiety or other mental health problems rose from 1,466 during the 2007-2008 school year to 1,986 last year — a 35 percent jump.

During the same period, the number of full-time counselors remained steady at 12.

"One of the things that we're working on is increasing our staffing," said center director Sharon Kirkland-Gordon. "Of course, we have an economy where there were no hires, there were job freezes."

Kirkland-Gordon said students who call or show up at the center with a health emergency can be seen within hours. Others often have to wait up to two weeks for an initial assessment.

The Baltimore Sun asked a spokeswoman for Loh about the apparent contrast between his statement that the university had "significantly increased" its counseling staff and the fact that the full-time staffing had remained flat over several years.

"We continue to assess and meet the needs of our students requiring mental health services," spokeswoman Crystal Brown responded in an e-mail. "We are currently conducting a search to add an additional staff psychologist at the center, which is a direct response to the increased demand we are seeing."
Similar staffing limits challenge campus counseling centers elsewhere in Maryland.

Staffing levels at Towson have remained steady, said Jaime Fenton, director of clinical services at the university's counseling center, with nine psychologists supported by doctoral interns and part-time psychiatrists.

The number of students receiving services has jumped, she said, but not nearly as much as it would if staffing levels weren't limiting the number of appointments that can be scheduled.

"We are doing our best to do more with less to meet the needs of our students," Fenton said.
Smaller campuses are seeing similar jumps in demand.

Donelda Cook, director of the counseling center at Loyola University Maryland, said her center has seen a 30 percent increase in student requests for counseling this fall compared with last.

Insufficient staffing "makes the work more frustrating, clearly," Cook said. She said online counseling software aimed at giving today's plugged-in students more options has been used nearly 2,700 times since November 2011.

There is no waiting list at the Johns Hopkins University, which has increased staffing and recently opened a new counseling center. But it can still take up to two weeks for a student to be seen, director Michael Mond said.

That's in part because students have their own scheduling conflicts. Increasing demand at the Homewood campus is also a factor.

Officials at Morgan State University did not provide the exact number of students seen at the campus counseling center per year, but center director Nina Hopkins said the number has risen in the past five years. Between 350 and 550 students have been seen each of the last five years, out of about 6,000 students enrolled, she said.

Center directors throughout the region say students who need emergency counseling can get it right away, regardless of waiting lists.

But students tend to downplay their symptoms, students and mental health professionals say, and won't always describe their needs as urgent, even if they are.

Students say they wish more attention were paid to the struggles thousands of their peers deal with on a regular basis.

Freund said the status quo is discouraging.

"It seems often the only way you can get help is if you have this very extreme situation," she said. "But mental health issues are so common and everyday, and it's frustrating that it's not treated as such."

The problem, Maryland sophomore Selena Roper said, is that the most common mental health struggles that students have are "insidiously boring" — and so don't attract the attention they deserve.

"It's not like you're sitting in the bathroom crying with dramatic music playing and your friends banging on the door saying, 'We want to help you!'" said Roper, 19, who has battled depression since she was a student at Broadneck High School in Annapolis. "It's more laying in bed watching Netflix all day."

Malmon, of Active Minds, said universities and colleges "like to come in after the fact when there's been a tragic incident and talk about how to prevent that tragic incident, but these are issues that impact many more people."

"If we did more on the early side, we wouldn't have to get to that tragic situation," she said.

Richard Kadison, co-author of the 2005 book "College of the Overwhelmed," said colleges are talking about student mental health — from discussions about their legal ability to remove troublesome students from campus to asking whether investments in mental health services will also improve their bottom lines.

Kadison, a former chief of mental health services at Harvard, said studies show that greater investment in mental health services leads to higher retention and graduation rates.

Much of it still seems like lip service to Maryland junior Madison Higgins, who leads a student-run hot line for students in crisis.

Higgins, who has suffered from an anxiety disorder since she was a child, said the HELP Center has been rejected in the past for funding from the Office of Student Affairs.

The group applied recently for emergency funding from the Student Government Association to pay its phone bills — about $2,400 a year — after its initial budget was slashed. A request for advertising dollars was denied entirely.

After the shootings last month, Maryland's Student Government Association gave the HELP Center $1,500 so the center could increase its advertising.

Center members said they appreciated the money, but added that its timing was typical of how mental health issues are addressed on campus.

"We are putting so much effort into this, and we are asking for phone bill money, and it's so hard to get it," Roper said. "Until someone dies."

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Cutting-edge all-ASL "Switched at Birth" gets TV audience to pay attention

From Brian Stelter in The NY Times:

This week ABC Family did something that no commercial television channel in the United States had ever done: It broadcast an entire episode of a show, “Switched at Birth,” in American Sign Language, with next to no oral dialogue. 

As a result viewers had to do something that, for some of them, was just as unusual: pay undivided attention.
“Every single viewer — deaf or hearing — was forced to put away their phones and iPads and anything else distracting in this A.D.D. world we all live in and focus,” said Lizzy Weiss, the creator of the series. 

Captioning translated the sign language for viewers. “You had to read,” she said. “You couldn’t do anything else. And that made you get into it more. It drew you in.” 

The almost silent episode (there was still a musical score) mostly held its own in the Monday night ratings, much to the satisfaction of advocates for the deaf and hard-of-hearing population in the country. “Who knew a teen show on ABC Family could be so cutting edge?” said Beth Haller, a journalism professor at Towson University in Maryland, who has studied media portrayals of people with disabilities for two decades. She found “Switched at Birth” so significant that she presented an academic paper about it last fall. 

The show is the first mainstream series in the United States to include multiple main characters who are deaf, played by deaf actors, including Marlee Matlin, the Academy Award winner who plays a school counselor on the show, and almost every episode since the premiere in 2011 has incorporated sign language. Previous episodes have tackled issues like cochlear implants, speech therapy and romantic relationships between those who are deaf and those who are not. 

“Even as far back as Episode 2, the producers have been prepping the audience to watch a show with lots of character dialogue in sign language,” Ms. Haller said, since that episode “explored how lip reading doesn’t work well for most deaf people.” 

But no episode had been told solely in sign language until “Uprising,” a story about the possible closing of the school for the deaf that several characters attend. The characters organized a protest, inspired by demonstrations in 1988 to draw attention to the demand for a deaf president to lead Gallaudet University, the country’s only liberal arts university for deaf students. 

Both Ms. Weiss’s writing staff and the programmers at ABC Family were intrigued by the possibility of an all-sign-language episode. The point, Ms. Weiss said, “was about revealing something new to the viewer — what does it feel like to be an outsider? What does it feel like to have to read and focus for an entire episode, like deaf viewers do all the time?” 

That idea isn’t necessarily alien to ABC Family’s young audience. There is a vibrant subculture about signing on the Internet, which has made sign language (and foreign languages) more accessible. On YouTube it’s easy to find people who treat signing as a kind of performance, whether they’re teaching others how to do it or signing the words to hit songs. 

For “Switched at Birth,” production was challenging, since there were dozens of deaf actors on the set, each of whom had an interpreter. “Signing is a visual language, so the actors had to be positioned so that they could see each other at all times,” Ms. Weiss said — no saying “hello” to someone’s back, for instance. Props couldn’t block the characters from using their hands, either. “Just so many little things you might not realize,” she said. 

Katie Leclerc and Vanessa Marano, the actors who play the teenagers who were switched at birth, giving the series its name, explained the premise at the beginning of the episode, both in English and in sign language. 

Deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers commented by the thousands after the show, with many saying in effect: “Yes! That’s what it feels like.” At Gallaudet, there were viewing parties on Monday; the university produced a special 30-second commercial for the occasion and later sent ABC Family 35 pages of Facebook comments they’d received about the episode. 

A spokeswoman for the National Association of the Deaf said the protest episode — which it praised beforehand as “phenomenal and groundbreaking” — had generated so much dialogue “because the situation is very real to us.” The association has been lobbying against budget cuts for schools like the one portrayed on the show. Next week’s episode of “Switched at Birth,” its second-season finale, will reveal whether the characters’ protest worked. 

The all-sign-language show’s overnight Nielsen ratings were down, but only slightly — 1.6 million viewers, compared with the season average of 1.7 million. In the show’s target demographic, women 12 to 34, it drew 748,000 viewers, compared with the season average of 777,000. About a quarter of viewers usually record the show and watch it later, so the final ratings won’t come in for weeks. Ms. Weiss was surprised that ratings didn’t go up, given the online attention the episode received ahead of time. Not that she cared; Monday’s episode wasn’t about ratings. 

“I think TV now is so much about word-of-mouth,” she said, “and I have faith that we did a lot with that episode to get people talking about the show and telling friends to start from the beginning on Netflix.”

Friday, March 8, 2013

'Auti-Sim' game seeks to simulate life with childhood autism

From Mashable. Here's a critique of these kinds of simulations, which are not liked by many people in the autistic community:

In a playground filled with gleeful shouts, you approach a group of children. Suddenly, your vision turns blurry and pixelated. The echoing screams become raucous.

It's the experience of sensory overload, according to a new game called Auti-Sim. The simulation, created by a three-member team at the Vancouver Hacking Health hackathon, aims to raise awareness of the challenges of hypersensitivity disorder and help people understand how it can lead to isolation.

The closer you get to loud and active children, the more overwhelming the situation becomes. As you move toward quieter areas, the strain tapers off. Watch the demo here.

Taylan Kadayifcioglu (who goes by Taylan Kay), one of the game's programmers, says he was inspired by an excerpt from a documentary called Inside Autism. The clip simulates what it's like for a person with autism to take a trip though Walmart.

"It was striking how an ordinary, everyday environment could pose significant challenges," Kay tells Mashable. He continues, "It made me think of the coping strategies and how they may be misunderstood and mislabeled by other people ... it was fascinating that they could impart some understanding and raise empathy with even that much. I thought it was a very clever attempt, and I thought I could take it a step further."

After posting the demo on indie game site Game Jolt, Auti-Sim received generally positive feedback.
"We have had quite a few people with autism thanking us for giving them a means of communicating what they are going through," Kay says. "We have had many people saying that through this experience they have seen themselves reacting in ways that they have seen [children with autism] do in real life."

The game also garnered criticism from those with autism who said the game didn't represent their experience with the condition. Kay explains it was a critique they expected to receive, since they had only 12 hours to develop the demo with help from a special-needs educator who served as "autism advisor." As a result of autism's wide spectrum, it was impossible to create one game that represented all possible experiences.

The team is in the process of expanding the demo to a full game, with ideas to add interactivity and more environments. Professionals in therapy, education and advocacy around autism will also collaborate. The game will serve as a teaching tool for the general public.

"Imagine teachers being able to provide better learning environments for children with autism, or siblings being better able to understand their brothers or sisters and feeling closer to them, or whole communities becoming more inclusive," Kay says. "The positive social impact of such projects can be huge."

Entry on mental illness is added to AP Stylebook

From The AP:

The Associated Press today added an entry on mental illness to the AP Stylebook.

“It is the right time to address how journalists handle questions of mental illness in coverage,” said AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll. “This isn’t only a question of which words one uses to describe a person’s illness. There are important journalistic questions, too.

“When is such information relevant to a story? Who is an authoritative source for a person’s illness, diagnosis and treatment? These are very delicate issues and this Stylebook entry is intended to help journalists work through them thoughtfully, accurately and fairly.”

The entry, which was immediately added to the AP Stylebook Online and will appear in the new print edition and Stylebook Mobile, published in the spring, reads as follows:

"mental illness Do not describe an individual as mentally ill unless it is clearly pertinent to a story and the diagnosis is properly sourced.
When used, identify the source for the diagnosis. Seek firsthand knowledge; ask how the source knows. Don’t rely on hearsay or speculate on a diagnosis. Specify the time frame for the diagnosis and ask about treatment. A person’s condition can change over time, so a diagnosis of mental illness might not apply anymore. Avoid anonymous sources. On-the-record sources can be family members, mental health professionals, medical authorities, law enforcement officials and court records. Be sure they have accurate information to make the diagnosis. Provide examples of symptoms.
Mental illness is a general condition. Specific disorders are types of mental illness and should be used whenever possible: He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to court documents. She was diagnosed with anorexia, according to her parents. He was treated for depression.
Some common mental disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (mental illnesses or disorders are lowercase, except when known by the name of a person, such as Asperger’s syndrome):
- Autism spectrum disorders. These include Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism. Many experts consider autism a developmental disorder, not a mental illness.
- Bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness)
- Depression
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Schizophrenia
Here is a link from the National Institute of Mental Health that can be used as a reference:
Do not use derogatory terms, such as insane, crazy/crazed, nuts or deranged, unless they are part of a quotation that is essential to the story.
Do not assume that mental illness is a factor in a violent crime, and verify statements to that effect. A past history of mental illness is not necessarily a reliable indicator. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, and experts say most people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness.
Avoid unsubstantiated statements by witnesses or first responders attributing violence to mental illness. A first responder often is quoted as saying, without direct knowledge, that a crime was committed by a person with a “history of mental illness.” Such comments should always be attributed to someone who has knowledge of the person’s history and can authoritatively speak to its relevance to the incident.
Avoid descriptions that connote pity, such as afflicted with, suffers from or victim of. Rather, he has obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Double-check specific symptoms and diagnoses. Avoid interpreting behavior common to many people as symptoms of mental illness. Sadness, anger, exuberance and the occasional desire to be alone are normal emotions experienced by people who have mental illness as well as those who don’t.
Wherever possible, rely on people with mental illness to talk about their own diagnoses.
Avoid using mental health terms to describe non-health issues. Don’t say that an awards show, for example, was schizophrenic.
Use the term mental or psychiatric hospital, not asylum.
See Asperger’s syndrome; disabled, handicapped; phobia; post-traumatic stress disorder."

Thursday, March 7, 2013

NY City Taxi and Limousine Commission Chairman David Yassky suggests it may support conversion to accessible taxi fleet

From the NY Daily News:

Mayor Bloomberg's taxi czar indicated March 5 a dramatic change in his stance on making the fleet accessible to the handicapped.

The Bloomberg Administration has opposed a City Council bill that would mandate the city's entire fleet become handicap accessible because it wasn't satisfied with the quality of wheelchair-friendly cabs available.
But Taxi and Limousine Commission Chairman David Yassky suggested it might take another view if another hearing on Councilman Oliver Koppell's bill is held.

 The TLC now believes Nissan can produce a suitably reliable model, Yassky said at a council Transportation Committee hearing Monday.

"That's kind of a game changer in the discussion," Yassky said. "Now, it's an issue of cost verse the benefits."
And cost may not be an insurmountable hurdle, he said.

A Nissan NV200 that is handicapped accessible would cost about $14,000 more than a non-accessible version, Yassky said. That's about $3,000 a year because cabs are retired every four years or so, and state tax credits could offset that, he said.
"The net difference to the medallion owner may turn out to be quite manageable or negligible," he said.
There are 233 accessible yellow cabs in a fleet of more than 13,000.
"That is not enough. Period. End of story," Yassky said.
The Bloomberg Administration plans to sell 2,000 more medallions and mandate they be accessible, but that move has been stalled by a court challenge.

And the TLC established a program where wheelchair users in Manhattan can call for one of the 233 accessible cabs, but their waits have been unacceptably long, on average 25 minutes, Yassky said.

The TLC previously picked the NV200 as the Taxi of Tomorrow but refused calls by advocates and legislators to mandate a 100% accessible fleet.

Oregon House passes ban on 'seclusion cells'

From KATU-TV in Oregon:

SALEM, Ore. – The Oregon House unanimously passed March 6 a bill banning "seclusion cells" and work continues for limits on "seclusion rooms" in schools.

The type of 'seclusion cell' that is included under the Oregon bill is like the one that had been used at a school in Longview, Wash., which KATU News first reported on in November 2012. Those cells are defined as free-standing and not part of the building structure.

Democratic Rep. Sara Gelser of Corvallis visited a school in Portland that has rooms she hopes would be banned under the law.

"I asked to go inside one of these cells, because I had been told that they're very calming. That it can make you feel better.  That it can make you relax," said Gelser on the House floor Wednesday. "I asked to go inside. I asked to have the door shut. I didn't feel calmer. I didn't feel relaxed."

Gelser visited Pioneer School, which specializes in teaching special needs students and has isolation facilities.

The school district has characterized them as rooms, not cells.

"Often times, if we were to use a room like this, the alternative would be physically restraining a student for a prolonged amount of time," said Portland Public Schools spokesman Matt Shelby. "So this allows us to basically put them in an environment where they can basically calm themselves down."

Gelser said the legislation is aimed at banning just seclusion cells including what's at Pioneer School and separate legislation would further limit the use of seclusion rooms.

She said if the bill approved by the House doesn't accomplish that, she'll go to colleagues in the Senate to have the bill modified to make sure it shuts down those seclusion rooms at Pioneer School.

Clemson University professors criticize 'trivializing' disability awareness event

From Inside Higher Ed:

Administrators and faculty members at Clemson University today will live a day in the life of a person with a disability, but some professors say the event -- meant to raise awareness and shape future policy decisions -- reinforces stereotypes and pity toward people with disabilities.

The event, called Walk & Roll in My Shoes, pairs able-bodied administrators and faculty members with students with various disabilities. The administrator spends half a day living with their student partner's disability -- the student offering advice and strategies along the way -- before the pairs meet for a luncheon to discuss their experiences.

But the act of simulating a disability -- and the fact that students participating in the event are referred to as “shadows” because of their background role -- has some faculty members calling for the university to cancel what they see as an offensive masquerade.

“I think that a simulation event of any kind -- whether it’s try on poverty for a day, or try on race for a day, or try on a queer identity for a day -- raises problems,” said Jillian Weise, an assistant professor of English. “It assumes that a nondisabled participant can understand disabilities totally and completely by wearing goggles or by wearing headphones.”

Weise, who walks with a prosthetic leg, said the event negates the personal experiences of living with a disability, instead promoting a superficial understanding of disabilities through a kind of parody. Relegating students with disabilities to the role of “shadows” will also fail to raise awareness, Weise said.

“We need to be more visible, and ‘shadow’ implies a nonperson, a nonentity, and the word ‘shadow’ is related on a literary basis to ghost, to death,” Weise said. “At this moment, we need to see persons with disabilities being successful and in positions of power.”

Weise, along with fellow English professors William Stockton and Catherine Paul, brought their concerns to Clemson's office of student disability services last fall. But despite the professors’ concerns, the event is still scheduled for Thursday -- largely because the response from participating students and administrators has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We haven’t heard any complaints from the participants. We haven’t heard any complaints from students that are involved,” said Arlene Stewart, director of student disability services. She said the goal of the event is to put students with disabilities in contact with influential policy makers on campus.

Dan Hofmann, Clemson’s director of parking and transportation, said participating last year was an “eye-opening event” that has given him a new perspective on how to make the campus more accessible to people with disabilities. During the event, he wore a walking boot and had to navigate campus on a motorized scooter.

“You take for granted what a lot of people go through,” Hofmann said. “Even though things are supposed to be on an equal plane, they’re not.”

While the event is inspiring some administrators to change how they think about people with disabilities, Stockton said the experience portrays the issue in the wrong light.

“Even if policy changes do result from this event, there is also a high risk that the event encourages abled people to pity those with disabilities,” Stockton said. He added that simulating a disability for a single day could trivialize the experience and make administrators act out of pity.

Stewart said the response from students matches that of the administrators. This year, a Clemson alumnus currently living in California -- and a two-time participant in the Walk & Roll event -- attempted to fly back to Clemson to participate, she said.

“The students tell us they are so excited to interact with policy development folks,” Stewart said, adding that her office is open to suggestions on how to improve the event in the future.

Apart from the debate over Walk & Roll in My Shoes, the professors generally praised the student disability services office for the otherwise “fantastic” programming it offers Clemson’s students. Later this week, the university will screen the documentary "See What I'm Saying: The Deaf Entertainers Documentary," which Weise said represents a type of event that could help erode stereotypes about people with disabilities.

The three professors said the university could increase awareness of people with disabilities not only by incorporating them into cultural and sports events, but by expanding disability studies into stand-alone courses and even, Paul suggested, a minor.

“Clemson could really benefit from some of the perspective that has come from that field,” Paul said. “I have the sense that Clemson is at a crossroads with respect to disability, and I believe there are real opportunities right now for good things to happen -- updating and clarification of policies, enhancement of curriculum, conversations across disciplines, and new interactions between students and faculty.”

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Fans of ABC Family's "Switched at Birth" stick with it for all-ASL episode

From Brian Stelter at The New York Times:

On Monday night, ABC Family did something that no commercial television outlet in the United States had ever done: it broadcast an entire episode of a show in sign language, with closed captioning turned on by default.

Advocates for the deaf and hard-of-hearing cheered the move, and they wondered: would viewers tune in specifically for the almost-silent episode of the series, “Switched at Birth,” one of ABC Family’s most popular? Or would viewers turn it off, potentially perturbed by the lack of audio? There was a normal musical score, and a scene at the beginning of the episode with audible dialogue, but the rest of the dialogue was in sign language.

Broadly speaking, neither outcome came true. The show’s overnight Nielsen ratings were down, but only slightly. Most fans of the show stayed with it — 1.6 million, according to the overnight ratings. The series this season has averaged 1.7 million viewers.

In the show’s target demographic, women 12 to 34, 748,000 viewers tuned in, down just a little bit from the season average of 777,000. About a quarter of those viewers usually record the show and watch it later, so the final ratings won’t come in for a while.

“Switched at Birth” features several deaf or hard-of-hearing characters, so every episode incorporates sign language in some way. But Monday’s episode went further.

“The concept of the episode is ‘this is what life is like for a deaf person,’” Lizzy Weiss, the creator, said in an interview.

While the episode was being televised on Monday night, Ms. Weiss quipped on Twitter, “Are commercials always this loud or are our ears readjusted after watching” the all-sign language episode?

Monday, March 4, 2013

MTV's 'World of Jenks' tackles cancer, autism

From U.S. News & World Report:

The only way to understand someone else's life is to live it.

That's the premise behind documentary filmmaker Andrew Jenks's World of Jenks, which returns for a second season tonight at 11 p.m. on MTV. Jenks spent one year living with three young people he calls extraordinary and inspiring—one with autism, another who battled cancer, and one who's using dance to combat violence in his community. The result: a raw, intimate look at daily struggles and victories, and what it means to be a young person today.

"When we were traveling around I'd sometimes feel tired or anxious, or get in a bad mood, and then I'd realize that these three were going through really tough circumstances—and you'd hardly ever hear them complain," Jenks says. "It was very humbling."

World of Jenks introduces viewers to D-Real, a 21-year-old born and raised in Oakland, Calif., one of America's most violent cities. Chad, also 21, is autistic (pictured) and coping with high school graduation, making big life decisions, and his relationship with his first girlfriend. And then there's Kaylin, 24, who's battled an aggressive cancer that threatens to return as she moves across the country and loses her health insurance.
U.S. News talked to Jenks, 26, about what he learned from the young people he followed, and what we can, too.

Your goal is to showcase the lives of inspirational young people. Why?

Part of it is just how I grew up. My dad works for the United Nations and my mom is a nurse practitioner for a healthcare center in the 'hood. During our dinner conversations, my dad would talk about genocide in Africa, and my mom would talk about some poor immigrant who couldn't afford a basic shot that would save her life. And I was sitting there going, 'Oh my God, this is happening?' That played a big role in me being curious about people who have unfortunate struggles.

How is the second season of World of Jenks different from the first?

In season one, I lived in 12 different subcultures—with an animal rescuer, a young woman who was homeless, and a high school football star who was physically abused by his parents when he was younger. It was an amazing experience and I'm proud of it, but at the end of every episode, people wanted to see more—yet we were on to the next subject and world. We realized the format would be much better if we were able to dig deeper and live with three people on and off for an entire year, and really get to understand their lives.

D-Real is using dance to change his community. Tell us about him and why he's inspiring.

We found him on YouTube—he has an amazing video called "Dancing With the Rain," which has 3 or 4 million hits. The backstory is that he was dancing on a street corner that day because, the day before, his brother had been shot and killed. And as an African-American male in that community, oftentimes you're not expected to grieve properly, so it's like you can't cry or confide in anyone. You put the face of whoever died on your shirt with an RIP, and that's it. Now he's doing dance battles around Oakland to promote peace, and he also has a newborn son.

What's Chad like, and what can viewers expect from him this season?

He's just the funniest guy in the world. He has autism, and I followed him during season one, too. I knew he had a big year coming up: He was aging out of his incredible school, which had been his second home for so many years. That was terrifying to him. One challenge for a lot of young people with autism is finding a job that works for them. He's really social and makes people laugh, and one thought was that he should be working on an assembly line. That's a fine job for plenty of people, but it was really sad to think of him doing that. He ended up getting a job at an Italian restaurant, which was perfect because he loves Italian culture.