Peter Dinklage Thanks ‘Game of Thrones’ Co-Stars for SAG Award Win

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Peter Dinklage accepts SAG Award

The actor also thanked his wife and the people of Northern Ireland during his acceptance speech for best male actor in a drama series.

Peter Dinklage took home the award for outstanding performance by a male actor in a drama series at the 2020 SAG Awards on Sunday.

The Game of Thrones star prevailed over fellow nominees Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us), Steve Carell (The Morning Show), Billy Crudup (The Morning Show) and David Harbour (Stranger Things).

Dinklage began his speech by joking that his nude statuette looked like it appeared on the HBO series. The win follows the final season of the acclaimed series.

“I would like to thank the people of Northern Ireland,” he said, “who put up with us for nine years.”

Dinklage then praised the show’s cast and crew. “I would also like to thank everyone at table nine and ten and beyond cause we put up with each other for nine years,” he said.

The actor concluded his speech by thanking his wife. “Finally and most importantly, I would like to thank my wife, who put up with me for more than nine years, but lived in a place far away from home, but made it home cause we were together,” said Dinklage.

Continue on to the Hollywood Reporter to read the complete article

Disability: IN North Carolina’s ADA 30th Anniversary Drive-In Theatre Night on July 23, 2020!

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ADA-30 Years logo

2020 marks the 30th Anniversary of the passage of the landmark civil rights legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which was signed into law on July 26, 1990.

Due to social distancing guidelines many celebrations have been cancelled or scaled back to virtual online events. Disability: IN North Carolina decided to get creative to mark this momentous occasion in an engaging manner.

Drawing from the past, we invite our supporters, members, and stakeholders to experience a “Drive-In Theatre” and join us for an unforgettable ADA 30th Anniversary celebration. Disability:IN North Carolina is hosting a screening of the award-winning documentary film, “Lives Worth Living” (directed by Eric Neudel and produced by Alison Gilkey) on July 23, 2020 from 6:00 pm to 10:15 pm at the LeGrand Center in Shelby, NC.

We are grateful to Wells Fargo and the Diverse Abilities Team Member Network, their Employee Resource Group (ERG) for being the corporate sponsors of this ADA celebration. The celebration will also feature guest speakers, musicians with disabilities, and food trucks! Participants will be able to enjoy an evening under the stars and celebrate the ADA from their cars or favorite lawn chair, in support of social distancing guidelines.

Advance registration is required but due to a generous donation, registration in now FREE.

Register today and plan to join us on July 23, 2020 for an evening of shared celebration, uplifting messages and old-fashioned fun! (This is a family friendly alcohol-free event.)

Event Location:
LeGrand Center | 1800 E. Marion Street, Shelby, NC, 28152
Event Date and Times: July 23, 2020 from 6:00pm to 10:00pm

Register here!

From Inclusion to COVID, Meet the These Hollywood Stars Doing the Most for the LGBTQ+ Community

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Wilson Cruz with a group of Star Trek fans

From allies to active members of the LGBTQ+ community, meet some celebrities who have currently been working to further the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people.

Cathy Rena

Longtime LGBTQ+ PR icon Cathy Rena has always found herself on the forefront of the United States’ LGBTQ+ history.  From Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out story to Michael Shephard’s beating in the 1980s to the creation of Pride events, Rena has worked with journalists and LGBTQ organizations for decades to properly portray and advocate for the community in its most difficult times.

Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Rena is working diligently to advocate for the community’s needs and specific struggles during this time. Not only is she an integral member in creating the first-ever virtual global pride, but she also has been working to make the public aware of the inequality of resources that has been given to the LGBTQ+ community.

Omar Shariff Jr.

Omar Shariff Jr., actor and grandson of Omar Shariff, has been one of the most vocal voices for LGBTQ+ people in a time of uncertainty. Already being an active member in the community, formerly serving as a GLAAD spokesperson and an ambassador for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, Shariff has taken his activism to paper in an article that informs the public of how COVID-19 has directly affected the LGBTQ+ community through healthcare discrimination, the need to isolate with unsupportive family members, and the inability to donate blood, to name a few.

Shariff hopes speaking out about these issues will result in a more unified community and a decrease in homophobia by the time the pandemic has ended.

Wilson Cruz

Actor Wilson Cruz, pictured with fans, from the hit TV show My So-Called Life, is moving from in front of the camera to behind it, serving as one of the producers of the new docu-series, Visible: Out on Television. The Apple TV Plus series is set to show how the LGBTQ+ community has been represented in media and how it was used as a platform for activism in the 1970s.

Being one of the first actors to be openly gay in the entertainment world, Cruz hopes to use his influence to encourage others in the community to feel comfortable and proud of who they are.

Natalie Wood

Starring actress of Miracle on 34th Street and West Side Story Natalie Wood was best known for her successful acting career before her tragic death in 1981. Despite her passing nearly 40 years ago, Wood’s support for LGBTQ+ people has become a popular topic in the last few weeks due to her newest documentary, Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind. Actress Natasha Gregson Wagner, Natalie Wood’s eldest daughter, narrated and produced the HBO released documentary that closely accounts for Woods’ life outside of the public eye.

Being no stranger to standing up for herself as a woman in Hollywood, Woods was also quite accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, despite society’s view of LGBTQ+ people during the time. Wagner recalls being practically raised by gay men as her mother was friends with many men who identified as gay. Two men in particular, Matt Crowley, a playwright, and Howard Jeffrey, a producer and choreographer, were some of Woods’ closest friends who identified as gay. The two men, though not romantically involved with each other, lived in Woods’ guest home and were made Wagner’s godfathers.

“She would have been in the forefront,” Wagner says of her mother, “She would be waving the rainbow flag with the best of them.”

The Cast of “Queer as Folk”

The 2000’s British TV show, Queer as Folk came back together earlier this month to raise money for CenterLink, the parent company of over 200 LGBTQ centers. Money raised for the organization came from both donations and an auction of some of the show’s memorabilia. The event streamed live on YouTube on May 1 and is still available in its four-hour entirety for viewers to watch. The event was hosted by Scott Lowell but also included other cast members, such as Gale Harold, Randy Harrison, Sharon Gless, Michelle Clunie, Robert Gant, Peter Paige, and many more.

To date, the Queer as Folk cast is still hosting donations to be given to CenterLink. Should you want to donate, the link is provided here.

CEOs That You Never Knew Had a Disability

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Steve Jobs standing on stage talking into a microphone at a conference

By Monica Luhar and Sara Salam

CEOs with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, ADHD, or dyslexia have an impact on society through their innovative, creative, and out-of-the-box thinking. They have also led the way for promoting diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, while not letting their disabilities be the sole trait that defines their ability to lead.

Several well-known CEOs have also turned or viewed their disabilities as strengths or opportunities that help challenge society’s attitudes and misconceptions of the disability community.

Below is a list we compiled of CEOs that have shared some of their struggles, achievements, and advice throughout their leadership career:

Sir Richard Branson – Founder of Virgin Group

Sir Richard Branson is the founder of Virgin Group, a family owned growth capital investor. The corporation now controls more than 400 companies globally. Boasting more than 53 million companies worldwide, Virgin Group earns over £16.6B in annual revenue, according to its website. The company employs 69,000 people in 25 countries.

Branson established the Virgin Group in 1970 by launching a mail-order record business that developed into Virgin Records. Virgin Records was the first Virgin company to reach a billion-dollar valuation in 1992.

Branson attributes much of his success to his dyslexia and learning disabilities. According to an interview with the Washington Post, delegation played a large role in his approach to running his business. His motivations are rooted in wanting to do good in the world.

“Since starting youth culture magazine Student at age 16, I have tried to find entrepreneurial ways to drive positive change in the world,” Branson shared on his LinkedIn profile. “In 2004, we established Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group, which unites people and entrepreneurial ideas to create opportunities for a better world.”

Source: virgin.com

J.K. Rowling – Best-Selling & Award-Winning Author

Best known for her Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling (born Joanne Rowling) always knew she wanted to be an author. At age eleven, she wrote her first novel—about seven cursed diamonds and the people who owned them. Rowling came up with the idea for Harry Potter in 1990 while sitting on a delayed train from Manchester to London King’s Cross. Over the next five years, she began to construct a framework for each of the seven books of the series. She moved to northern Portugal to teach English as a foreign language, married, and had a child. When the marriage ended in 1993, she returned to the UK to live in Edinburgh, with her daughter and the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. After several rejection by literary agents, she received one yes. The book was first published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in June 1997.

Rowling has shared the role depression played in her success; at one point she contemplated suicide and suffered chronic depression. In a Harvard University commencement speech, she stated, “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Source: jkrowling.com

Paul Orfalea – Founder of Kinko’s aka FedEx Office

Businessman Paul Orfalea founded what is now known as FedEx Office (originally called Kinko’s). He built Kinko’s from a single shop in Santa Barbara to a national chain with more than 1,000 locations and 25,000 employees. FedEx bought Kinko’s in 2004. It has been reported that Orfalea never carried a pen, often allowing others to handle correspondence for him because he didn’t like to read or write. He has dyslexia and ADHD, which he credits as the blessings that allowed him to see the world differently from his peers. “Lacking the ability to learn by reading, I embraced every chance to participate in life. I started businesses, like my vegetable stand. I skipped school to watch my father’s stockbroker at work. I learned early that I would only get through school with a lot of help from a lot of people. I learned to appreciate people’s strengths and forgive their weaknesses, as I hoped they would forgive mine.”

Sources: https://cagspeakers.com/paul-orfalea/

https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/money_co/2008/06/post-2.html

Tommy Hilfiger – Fashion Designer, CEO/Entrepreneur, Tommy Hilfiger Corporation

American fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger built an extraordinary and widely distributed fashion line from the ground up. The company made strides in the disability community by recently unveiling a clothing line geared toward people with disabilities. From a very young age, Hilfiger was equipped with an entrepreneurial spirit and an iconic eye for fashion. He wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until much later on in life, although he shared that he often felt embarrassed to reach out to people for help.

He quit school at age 18 and went on to work in the retail industry in New York City, where he began altering clothes for resale. He and his friends from high school started selling jeans and opened a store called the People’s Place, which became an instant hit. Eventually, the People’s Place went bankrupt when Hilfiger was 25. But, he picked himself back up and continued to focus on his designs before launching what would be known as the iconic Tommy Hilfiger.

Hilfiger recently partnered with the Child Mind Institute in a PSA titled, “What I Would Tell #MyYounger Self.” In the campaign video, he said, “As a child, I was dyslexic. I didn’t realize it until later on in life. I faced many challenges along the way. If you are facing challenges, the best thing you could possibly do is reach out to an adult because adults can help you somehow. I didn’t realize it at the time; I was embarrassed to talk to my teachers and family about it. But if something is bothering you, if you think you have a challenge, reach out to an adult and allow them to help you.”

Although Hilfiger struggled to read and write, he tapped into his creative strengths in other ways and diverted his attention to the world of fashion with a highly successful brand with estimated sales of $6.7 billion.

Barbara Corcoran – Founder of the Corcoran Group and Shark on ABC’s “Shark Tank”

As a child, Barbara Corcoran often felt isolated and lonely due to her dyslexia. She struggled to read in the third grade and often found herself daydreaming about creative business ideas that were not related to the school curriculum. She struggled in high school and college, received straight Ds, and also experienced a ton of setbacks. She job hopped a total of 20 jobs, but never gave up on her quest to find her true passion and a career that she was passionate about.

One of the most life-changing moments of her career was when she decided to borrow $1,000 from her boyfriend, quit her job, and follow her dream of starting up The Corcoran Group, a small real estate company in New York City. Today, it’s known as the largest in the brokerage business.

Over the years, Corcoran—an American business woman, investor, author, and TV personality—has invested in over 80 businesses and is a highly recognized motivational and inspirational speaker. She is also the author of the bestselling book, Shark Tales: How I turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business.

Today, Corcoran does not view her dyslexia as an impediment. She has learned to use her dyslexia as an opportunity to push her creative entrepreneurial spirit even further, and to help others on that journey as well.

Steve Jobs – Co-Founder & Former CEO of Apple

You can thank Apple founder Steve Jobs for some of the world’s most innovative tech products that make today’s communication and connectivity a breeze.

Although Jobs grew up with dyslexia, he never claimed or publicly shared his disability. He struggled in school and dropped out after one semester at Reed College. But instead of giving up, he decided to think outside of the box in 1976 by conceptualizing the iconic Apple Computer in what was his parents’ garage.

According to Business Insider, 10-15 percent of the U.S. population are dyslexic, but only a few individuals acknowledge and receive treatment for it. Jobs’ disability served as a creative gift that allowed him to take risks and chances with his concepts for Apple.

In his commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, Jobs discussed the power of trusting in your abilities and believing that the hard work, setbacks, and struggles that you experience today will eventually connect the dots and help you reach your full potential down the road:

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards,” Jobs said. “So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Monica Luhar is a creative copywriter, content writer, and former journalist. Her bylines have appeared in NBC News, KCET, KPCC, VICE, India-West, HelloGiggles, Yahoo!, and other hyperlocal, weekly, and national news outlets. She has covered topics ranging from diverse representation in the media, entrepreneurship, disability rights, mental health, and has reported extensively on the Asian American and Pacific Islander, LGBTQ and Latino communities. You can follow her on Twitter at @monicaluhar or view her writing at monicaluhar.com.

Steve Jobs Photo: Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs delivers the keynote speech to kick off the 2008 Macworld at the Moscone Center January 15, 2008 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

Changing the Landscape in Casting People with Disabilities

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Zack Gottsagen receiving an academy award for his movie, Peanut Butter Falcon

By Sara Salam

The entertainment industry has made strides in prioritizing diversity. During the 2020 Academy Awards, actor Zack Gottsagen, who stars in The Peanut Butter Falcon, became the first actor who has Down syndrome to present an award during the show. But there is still work that needs to be done.

Twenty-percent of the world’s population has some type of visible or invisible disability, making this community the largest minority in the world. Yet people with disabilities are systematically excluded from opportunities for social and economic mobility.

In an open letter to Hollywood studio, production, and network executives, the Ruderman Family Foundation invokes a call to action for more inclusive audition and casting practices.

Actors including Orlando Jones, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Jason Alexander, Glenn Close, Danny DeVito and Mark Ruffalo have signed the letter. Also supporting the letter are several disabled actors and disability advocates, including Marlee Matlin, R.J. Mittle, and Ali Stoker, as well as creatives like Glen Mazsara and The Farrelley brothers.

While many beloved characters have a disability, opportunities for actors with disabilities are virtually non-existent. In fact, research shows that 95 percent of top show characters with disabilities on TV are played by actors without disabilities. Yet it is still the norm for able-bodied actors to play characters with disabilities.

Scripted broadcast programming added nine more series regular characters with disabilities for the 2019-2020 season in comparison to last year, a new report by GLAAD found. This means that the percentage of characters with disabilities has risen a full percentage point to 3.1 percent. While this is a record high, the report cautions the data, “still falls far short of reflecting reality,” as more than twenty percent of people in the U.S. have a disability.

Of the 879 series regulars on broadcast programming, GLAAD found that 3.1 percent (27 characters) have disabilities, in comparison to 2.1 percent (18 characters) last year. There are nine characters across all three platforms tracked (broadcast, cable, streaming) with HIV and AIDS, an increase from the seven characters counted last year and a substantial increase from the two counted two years ago.

One such program is Freeform’s new comedy series, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, which aired in January of this year. A neurodiverse actress and activist, Kayla Cromer, stars as Matilda, a high school senior who is driven to succeed and is on the autism spectrum.

Cromer was first diagnosed with ADD, dyslexia and dyscalculia when she was seven years old. Her diagnosis of Asperger’s came later, which is common, as women and girls are less likely to be diagnosed as being on the spectrum than men and boys. As none of her disabilities are visible, Cromer revealed she is neurodiverse publicly just last year.

“Even though I had learned to advocate for myself in life, I was scared to shine light on it professionally,” she said. “Having the support of my Everything’s Gonna Be Okay team helped me to embrace my disclosure. I feared being labeled and typecast. I want to explore and expand my craft into different genres, to play neurotypical characters too. My biggest dream is to train and join Marvel Cinematic Universe! I am determined to break stereotypes!”

With greater accessibility and opportunity, talented and high-profile actors with disabilities will emerge. Infusing the industry with this largely untapped source of talent promises to boost box office and network revenues while opening the market to an even broader audience, as evidenced by all previous diversity-oriented initiatives in entertainment.

Hollywood recognizes that it can’t ignore diversity, but still ignores that disability is part of that diversity.

Source: respectability.org

Photo Credit: Getty Images

‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’ Star Zack Gottsagen Takes Stage as First Oscar Presenter With Down Syndrome

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Shia LaBeouf and Zack Gottsagen speak onstage during the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 09, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Shia LaBeouf joined the actor to present the best live-action short prize at the 2020 Academy Awards on Sunday.

The Peanut Butter Falcon star Zack Gottsagen made history as the Academy Awards’ first presenter with Down syndrome at the 2020 Oscars on Sunday.

The actor, who received a standing ovation upon hitting the Dolby Theater stage, announced the nominees and winner of the live-action short film category alongside co-star Shia LaBeouf. The actor waved to the Dolby Theater audience before introducing the nominees.

Gottsagen then made the “Oscar goes to” announcement before LaBeouf announced the winner, presenting it to The Neighbor’s Window, which LaBeouf misread as “The Neighbor’s Widow.”

In The Peanut Butter Falcon, which stars LaBeouf, Bruce Dern and Dakota Johnson, a nursing home escapee, played by Gottsagen, chases his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.

Sunday night was Gottsagen’s first time attending the star-studded ceremony. Though the actor didn’t receive any awards at the annual show, the Ruderman Family Foundation lauded the evening’s landmark event.

In 1993, the Academy awarded the documentary short subject prize to Educating Peter, a film that follows third-grade student Peter Gwazdauskas, who lives with Down syndrome.

Continue on to The Hollywood Reporter to read the complete article.

Woman With Cerebral Palsy Pens Script For Disney

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Erin Feeney is smiling and giving a hand signal that all is good while seated in here chair at home

Erin Feeney, 28, wants to have a career in fairy tales. And so far, she has already paved a path to one of the known entities of fairy tales — Disney. Feeney just saw her first script for the Disney animated show, “Doc McStuffins” come to fruition in a cartoon entitled Ultimate Safari “Tail Spin.” The animated short premiered Monday on the Disney Channel and Disney Junior. (For those not familiar, “Doc McStuffins” is an animated children’s series about a girl who fixes toys with the aid of her toy friends.)

Feeney’s two-minute interstitial shows Doc and her toy team helping a whirly bird named Topsy get back to her flock and perform the “Sunrise Spin.” The spot is also available in the DisneyNOW app and on the Disney Junior YouTube page.

“I can hardly believe it,” said Feeney who expressed her enthusiasm via her communication board attached to her wheelchair. Feeney was born with cerebral palsy and is unable to speak. She communicates by pointing to words and letters on her board. Her father, Kevin, is her translator and is quick to spell out her messages by watching where she points.

He remembers Erin’s path to writing for the small screen started a few years ago after her short stories turned into a short film with actors who were people with disabilities, he said. That film grew into a feature that played in the Naperville Independent Film Festival in 2016 where some people who worked with Disney on Ice noticed. Shea Fontana, the writer of the Disney on Ice script, also wrote for “Doc McStuffins.” Erin attended that ice show and met Fontana, who subsequently invited Erin to submit some script ideas for “Doc McStuffins.” Erin submitted 10 ideas and two made the cut. One of them is “Tail Spin,” which took a few hours to write initially, Erin said. Some back and forth with producers and about five edits, and the script was complete in two or three weeks, her father added.

“Since it’s animation, it takes a long time to do all that stuff,” Kevin Feeney said.

After the process, Disney invited the Feeneys to Los Angeles for four days in August 2017 where they met some of the voice artists in a recording session. The Feeneys also made a visit to Disneyland.

“They were really nice and when we were eating lunch, Henry Winkler (aka the Fonz) was recording in the building for another cartoon show, so we got to meet him — a real nice guy,” Feeney said.

After that, it was just a waiting game for the cartoon to be produced. And this week, the family was up extra early to see the premiere live.

“Erin has always had talent — a huge imagination,” Kevin Feeney said. “She loves the Disney stories, Grimms’ Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Andersen, those types of things. We’re reading the biography of Andersen, and she’s listening to the audio book of the life of Helen Keller.”

“I was a lonely kid, so I started watching the Disney movies and fell in love with the princesses,” she said. Her favorites (Snow White, Thumbelina and Cinderella). But she laughs saying “Elsa and Anna are cool.” (Get it? Because they’re both princesses from “Frozen.”)

“Erin’s dream has been to write fairy tales for kids all her life and in particular Disney stories, so we’re hoping that one of these days, she can make a career of that. But Erin wants to finish college first. And then go from there,” her dad said.

Continue on to The Chicago Tribune to read the complete article.

PHOTO CREDIT: Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune

T-Boz Talks TLC’s Legacy, Touring with Chilli and Beating the Odds

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TLC’s Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins is pictured sitting on a red chair with a colorful blue and red themed outfit

The superstar spills the deets on her health, her 30-year career in the music industry and her brand-new business endeavor.

TLC’s Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins’ life is one filled with overcoming insurmountable odds and finding blessings in unexpected places.

Watkins was diagnosed with sickle cell disease at the age of 7 and spent much of her childhood in and out of hospitals due to episodes with the potentially fatal condition. She was told she wouldn’t make it past early adulthood.

Her family’s move from Des Moines, Iowa, to Atlanta when Watkins was 9, and a chance meeting former singer and music executive Perri “Pebbles” Reid and her then-husband L.A. Reid would launch T-Boz, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas into the stratosphere as the biggest-selling American girl group in music history; in addition, they earned four Grammy Awards and have sold 65 millions albums worldwide to date.

For all its success, TLC has endured a roller coaster of ups and downs over the past 30 years, the biggest blow being the loss of group member Left Eye in a 2002 car cash, which took away one-third of the lightning in a bottle that made them superstars.

Resolute in their will to go on, T-Boz and Chilli have continued to record music and tour, most recently co-headlining a tour with Nelly and Flo Rida that continues through this summer.

These days, T-Boz, author of the 2017 memoir A Sick Life, is reveling in the most recent chapter of her life as mom to daughter Chase and son Chance and co-creator of her newly launched line of CBD-infused healthy and beauty products, aptly called TLCBD.

Continue on to Ebony to read the interview with T-Boz.

12th Annual Boating & Beach Bash For People With Disabilities Welcomes Back Two National Singing Acts – X-Factor’s Rion Paige And Agt’s Kechi Okwuchi

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boating and beach bash logo

The 12th Annual Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities – the nation’s largest, free, one-day event for people with disabilities, both seen and unseen– will again welcome national entertainment to its stages for its audience of more than 5,000. Presented by the American Disabilities Foundation, the event has become an inclusive Spring Break event, drawing families from across the country.

Returning for 2020, Rion Paige, an 18-year-old finalist on the X Factor, will perform as one of the Bash’s two headliners. A Jacksonville, FL native, who now lives in Nashville, TN, Paige was born with a rare condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, which caused permanent damage to her arms, resulting in her hands being in a fixed, bent position. A country-and-western musician with a huge singing voice, Rion finished in fifth place on Season 3 of the X Factor, where she was mentored by Demi Lovato.

Coming back for her third year will be singer Kechi Okwuchi, a Nigerian-American singer and motivational speaker. She was one of the two survivors in the Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145 crash on Dec. 10, 2005, and suffered severe third-degree burns all over her body. To date, she has endured more than 100 surgeries. A finalist on the 12th season of America’s Got Talent in 2017, Okwuchi headlined the Boating & Beach Bash in 2018 and 2019 and was a tremendous crowd-pleaser.

“We couldn’t be happier to have two young stars who demonstrate through their amazing talent that people with disabilities have so much to contribute to our enjoyment,” said Executive Director Jay Van Vechten. “Each year, the Bash grows in so many ways – with our entertainment, support, visitors, features and sheer fun factor. We are bringing back the elements people love and adding to it with the star power of Ms. Paige and Ms. Okwuchi.”

The 12th Annual Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities will be held from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Sunday, March 1, 2020, at Spanish River Park, 3001 North Ocean Blvd. (A1A), Boca Raton, FL 33431.

Designed as a Spring Break vacation for all people with disabilities, their family members and supportive caregivers, the Bash has welcomed guests from as far away as California and Rome, Italy. It is the only event of its kind, offering complimentary, scheduled boat rides, special access to the beach and ocean with Mobi Mats, a Kids Fun Zone, therapy workshops led by trained specialists, wheelchair yoga, music, costumed dance parties, therapy ponies and dogs, a BBQ lunch, and more. Everything is free and geared toward the guests’ special needs.

ABOUT THE BOATING & BEACH BASH FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES:

The Bash was started in 2009 as an event hosted by the City of Boca Raton Advisory Board for People with Disabilities.  The City relinquished the Bash in 2011 to the management of Executive Director Jay Van Vechten and his wife, Lowell. Since then, through community support and donations, the couple and the Bash’s planning committee have pushed the event’s growth beyond wildest expectations. Welcoming more than 5,000 guests in 2018, the Bash has become the largest, free, wholly disability-friendly event in the country with a full schedule of entertainment, recreation, boat rides, beach access, vendors, exhibitions, workshops and food in the nation . It has also become a Spring Break destination event in South Florida, drawing families from as far away as California and New York. Learn more at boatingbeachbash.com

Ali Stroker: Staging an Encore

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By Brady Rhoades

Don’t be surprised if one day you see Tony Award-winning actress and singer Alyson “Ali” Stroker on the Big Screen, and don’t think twice if you’re smiling.

“I want to create content that makes people feel good,” Stroker, who won a historic Tony for portraying Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, told DIVERSEability Magazine. “There’s a lot of stress and anxiety in the world and we as artists have the ability to change that.”

Stroker is the first actress in a wheelchair to win a Tony. It happened on June 9 of this year. Hearts fluttered, heartbeats quickened, tears flowed and…

“It’s been unbelievable,” said the 32-year-old native of New Jersey. “For the disabled community it’s really cool to see yourself represented in this arena.”

Stroker, paralyzed from the chest down in a car accident when she was 2, is a role model for the disabled. While she avoids sermonizing, she doesn’t hesitate to talk about the virtues of work, perseverance and independence.

“Putting your destiny in someone else’s hands is never going to make you feel powerful,” she said. “I’m more inclined to tell disabled people to create communities of people you trust, and then create your own work. It’s better to do that than to talk.”

And for all young artists, she has a question.

“What do you want to create?”

That’s a core challenge for Stroker. It’s at the heart of being an artist.

It’s what she asked herself as a child (“I sang all day, every day”) and what she asks herself as an adult, and as a star.

Willie Geist, Craig Melvin, Savannah Guthrie and Ali Stroker on the Today Show.
Willie Geist, Craig Melvin, Savannah Guthrie and Ali Stroker on the Today Show. 2019 NATHAN CONGLETON/NBC
TOC: PHOTO BY WALTER MCBRIDE/WIREIMAGE/GETTY IMAGES
But it should be stressed that Stroker earned the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for just one reason: she’s really, really good.

“It didn’t feel like, ‘Oh, you did something to overcome being in a chair,’” she said. “It was actually, ‘We’re recognizing you for being at the highest level of your field.’ That’s what I’ve always wanted.”

Stroker was born with a passion for the stage, but it took hold—with the strength of a farmer—when she was 7, in a backyard production of Annie.

“When I got on stage, it was the first time that I felt powerful,” Stroker said. “I was used to people staring at me, but they were staring at me because I was in a wheelchair. And when I was on stage, they were staring at me because I was the star… I particularly feel that I can’t hide on stage and that’s a gift.”

It’s fitting that, 25 years later, she’s wowing crowds on Broadway as Ado Annie, who is so unwilling be anything but herself that her catch-line is, “How can I be what I ain’t?”

“She doesn’t ever apologize for who she is,” Stroker said. “She doesn’t have any shame about who she is. Her wants, her desires, are so clear.”

Ali Stroker winner Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for Rogers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! at The 73rd Annual Tony Awards, broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall in New York, Sunday, June 9 on the CBS Television Network. JOHN P. FILO/CBS ©2019 CBS BROADCASTING INC.
Ali Stroker winner Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at The 73rd Annual Tony Awards. JOHN P. FILO/CBS ©2019 CBS BROADCASTING INC.

Alyson Mackenzie Stroker was born in Ridgewood, New Jersey. She studied at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and earned a bachelor of fine arts. She was the first actress in a wheelchair to earn a degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

After graduation, she auditioned for The Glee Project at a casting call in New York City. Stroker is a Mezzo-Soprano but because she is paralyzed, she cannot engage her diaphragm, so she created her own singing techniques “to develop resonance so my voice would carry.”

Stroker guest-starred on Season 4 of Glee, then her agent sent her to audition for a Deaf West Theatre production of Spring Awakening.

In 2015, Stroker won the role of Anna. When Spring Awakening opened on Broadway, Stroker became the first actress in a wheelchair to appear on a Broadway stage.

The show was a smash. So was Stroker.

She has had several stage, TV and film parts, and she will have many more, but to date she is best known for Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

But there’s more to her than her craft. Did you know she’s a strong swimmer, and is learning to surf? Did you know she’s co-chair of Women Who Care, which supports United Cerebral Palsy of New York City? And she’s a founding member of Be More Heroic, an anti-bullying campaign which tours the country connecting with thousands of students each year. She’s also gone to South Africa with ARTS InsideOut, where she has held theater classes and workshops for women and children affected by HIV and AIDS.

She credits a strong support system for her success. That support system includes her parents and boyfriend. “I’m so glad to have a partner who gets it,” she said. “He encourages me when I’m scared to go after the things I want.”

When Stroker won her Tony Award at Radio City Music Hall, she did not emerge from the crowd. She was backstage. Like many old buildings, the Music Hall, which opened in 1932, was not wheelchair accessible from the audience.

Stroker said the Music Hall did the best it could, but was limited by

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Ali Stroker from the cast of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" performs on April 2, 2019 ANDREW LIPOVSKY/NBC Ali: Ali Stroker on Wednesday, June 12, 2019 NATHAN CONGLETON/NBC
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Ali Stroker from the cast of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” ANDREW LIPOVSKY/NBC
Ali: Ali Stroker on Wednesday, June 12, 2019 NATHAN CONGLETON/NBC

its infrastructure.

It’s not a problem unique to the Music Hall, but it is emblematic.

For the disabled community, access is a profound word.

Access to stages. To roles. To higher education. To jobs. To Stroker and thousands upon thousands of others, access is opportunity.

“As a society, we have to work on improving access,” Stroker said. “I’ve found that theaters being built now are doing that.”

William Shakespeare famously said that all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.

If that’s true, then Stroker is a player in the limelight, staging her encore. As she stated in a recent interview with The New York Times, “I know in many ways that this is what I was born to do…it’s so clear I was meant to be in this seat.”

Casting Call! Emmy Award-winning Production Company (producers of A&E’s Born This Way) is casting for a new documentary series that would follow the lives and journeys of three entrepreneurs with disabilities

LinkedIn
Flyer announcing the casting call for entrepreneurs with disabilities

Emmy Award-winning Bunim/Murray Productions (producers of A&E’s Born This Way, HBO’s Autism The Musical, and MTV’s The Real World) is casting for a new documentary series that would follow the lives and journeys of three entrepreneurs with disabilities (including physical, cognitive, sensory, or mental health disabilities) to showcase their abilities as business owners.

This show will not be going to pilot (an initial sample episode), rather we are jumping straight to a multiple episode series. Bunim-Murray Productions will film the selected entrepreneurs in their hometown and at their business.

At the moment, we are simply looking to be connected to great individuals to learn more about them and their businesses. In the next few weeks, we are hoping to connect with and talk to charismatic, creative, interesting, funny, and driven entrepreneurs with disabilities for this new television program.

TO APPLY PLEASE VISIT BMPCASTING.COM/B4B

TO NOMINATE SOMEONE YOU KNOW VISIT, BMPCASTING.COM/B4B

FOR MORE INFO ABOUT BUNIM-MURRAY, VISIT BUNIM-MURRAY.COM

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