Registries of Disabled People Debated in Police Reform Talks

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a woman and a girl are sitting on the couch

Some police departments around the country are expanding the use of voluntary registries of disabled people to include those with mental illness.

Victoria Mitchell wishes police would have had the full picture of her son’s struggles with mental illness and reacted differently before an officer shot and killed him last year in Ansonia, Connecticut.

Her son, Michael Gregory, had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attempted suicide several times. He was in crisis when he was shot on Jan. 2, 2020, while charging officers with a knife, after telling them they were going to have to shoot him.

Mitchell, a nurse who cares for people with mental illness, supports some parts of a proposed statewide law enforcement registry of people with disabilities including mental illness. The idea is being studied by the state’s Police Transparency & Accountability Task Force as a way to alert officers about someone’s disability and avoid deadly use of force.

“Maybe had something like that had been available, they would have proceeded differently — knowing that he’s not in his right mind,” she said. “They could have called someone in to de-escalate the situation.”

The Connecticut proposal would be a major expansion of voluntary registry programs already in place at a large number of police departments across the country, which are primarily aimed at helping officers find people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia who go missing and get them back home.

A smaller number of departments have added people with autism and bipolar disorder in efforts to improve their interactions with people with developmental and mental health disabilities, in response to public outcries about shootings by police.

Since 2015, nearly a quarter of the nearly 6,000 fatal shootings by police in the U.S. have involved mentally ill people, according to a Washington Post database of police shootings.

Advocates for disabled people, however, said there are significant problems with the registries including further stigmatizing people with disabilities and privacy concerns.

Read the full article at ABC News.

The Tourette’s community is livid over the ‘TikTok tics’ media frenzy

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The Tourette’s community is livid over the ‘TikTok tics’ media frenzy

By Jessica Lucas, Input

Last month, a Wall Street Journal article titled “Teen Girls Are Developing Tics. Doctors Say TikTok Could Be a Factor” went viral on social media.

The piece reported a rise in young women presenting with symptoms of Tourette syndrome, a widely misunderstood neurological disorder that impacts roughly 0.6 percent of children and causes people to experience tics — involuntary and repetitive movements or sounds.

The Journal cited “a spate of recent medical journal articles,” in which doctors claim many girls with unexplained tics “had been watching videos of TikTok influencers who said they had Tourette syndrome.” The piece, which featured two teenage girls who linked their tics to TikTok, said that pediatric movement-disorder centers across the U.S. had reported “an influx of teen girls with similar tics.”

“PEOPLE automatically think we’re doing things for ATTENTION, or that there’s NO WAY that Tourette syndrome can be REAL.”
The article acknowledged that the “TikTok tics” epidemic was anecdotal and even quoted an academic who cast doubt on TikTok being the root cause of this phenomenon. “There are some kids who watch social media and develop tics and some who don’t have any access to social media and develop tics,” Dr. Joseph McGuire of Johns Hopkins University Tourette’s Center told the paper. “I think there are a lot of contributing factors, including anxiety, depression, and stress.”

But the headline was damaging enough. And it was worsened by subsequent coverage: Buzzfeed, the New York Post, People, and Business Insider ran with the story — all without any input from the Tourette’s community itself, which has been horrified by the press frenzy.

Ben Brown, host of the Tourette’s Podcast, has been deeply perturbed, as have his listeners. “There’s a lot of frustration. Some people are just livid,” says Brown, who is 41 and based in North Carolina. He was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome at the age of five, but lived a “closeted” life with the condition while he worked as a photojournalist. Brown “came out” with Tourette’s when he launched his podcast in 2018.

“Now we have scientists who are saying things we know from experience are just not safe,” Brown says. He and many others living with Tourette syndrome fear the current rhetoric around TikTok tics could further stigmatize Tourette’s, especially for young women.

Britney Wolf is a 31-year-old Tourette’s campaigner from Ohio. “People automatically think we’re doing things for attention, or that there’s no way that Tourette syndrome can be real,” says Wolf, who was diagnosed with Tourette’s at the age of seven. She interviews people with the condition on her YouTube channel in a bid to challenge stereotypes. “There’s already so many of these people trying to tear us down,” she says, “and articles like this give them more fuel to start claiming that all advocates are faking it.”

Jaleesa Jenkins, a 24-year-old Tourette’s YouTuber from California, is most frustrated by the suggestion that Tourette-like symptoms can be “caught” through platforms like TikTok. “The idea is really oversimplified and really stigmatizing,” she says. “It’s just not true. It makes people afraid, suspicious, or scared to be around us.”

It seems that the recent press attention has undone years of campaigning. “People with Tourette syndrome have worked hard for a very long time to feel understood — particularly for people to understand that tics aren’t voluntary or done for attention,” says Dr. Christine Conelea. The clinical practitioner and researcher is an assistant professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Minnesota and has worked with Tourette’s patients for 15 years. “I worry that those who are doing advocacy on social media spaces will be questioned and targeted.”

Wolf finds the situation heartbreaking. “So many people have told me how much they have learned about Tourette’s because of people online,” she says. “It felt like we were finally getting somewhere. Now it feels like we’re being pulled back.”

Click here to read the full article on Input.

Local Teen Clings To Hope Almost A Decade After Epilepsy Diagnosis

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Local Teen Clings To Hope Almost A Decade After Epilepsy Diagnosis

By Derrick Stuckly, Brown Wood News

The month of November is known as a time when we gather around the table with our friends and family to celebrate what we are thankful for. But for more than 3.4 million Americans the month of November means so much more. November is Epilepsy Awareness Month.

According to the National Epilepsy foundation 1 in 10 people will have a seizure and 1 in 26 will develop epilepsy during their lifetime.

Ellie Mclver, a 16 year old junior at Santa Anna High school, is 1 in 26.

For most teenagers their list of worries usually involves what they’re going to wear to winter formal, acne, sports, and narrowing down what college they will apply to. But for teenagers like Santa Anna junior Ellie, her list looks a little different. I had the opportunity to get to know Ellie and her mom Brandi as they both courageously shared with me what Ellie’s life has looked like since she was diagnosed with Epilepsy at the tender age of 8.

Ellie was in class her 3rd grade year when she had her first seizure. Tests performed after that seizure led to an epilepsy diagnosis. The epilepsy diagnosis was hard enough for the family but the news only got worse as they would later be told by doctors that Ellie’s seizures were considered irretractable. Ellie explained to me that this means medicine does not work to control her seizures.

Not even a year after her diagnosis Ellie went in for her first major brain surgery. This was a terrifying time for the entire Mclver family. They weren’t even sure this surgery was going to help but with medicine out of the question, this was their only option to try to stop the seizures.

After surgery Ellie’s family walked around cautiously but eventually a week passed, then a month, and before they knew it Ellie had been seizure free for 4 years.

Time went on and as most families do Ellie’s family gathered around the table for Thanksgiving in 2018 when family members noticed Ellie was “zoned out.” For any other teen this is a pretty normal occurrence but for Ellie this indicated a seizure. After 4 years Ellie was experiencing a focal seizure which meant she was no longer seizure free. Her seizures progressively got worse after this occurance. In September of 2019 Ellie’s family had a hard time pulling her out of a seizure and they had to call an ambulance. Once again Ellie had no choice but to undergo another brain surgery. This time the surgery was unsuccessful, she was still having seizures.

Ellie is 16 now and she knows she is facing more complex brain surgeries in hopes that one day she will be completely seizure free. Ellie is not fearful for what is ahead; she is ready to head into battle to do what she needs to do so she can have more freedom. With that, I asked her if there are things are she’s had to overcome because of epilepsy that other teens her age haven’t had to deal with. She said, “The hardest thing is that I can’t get my drivers license!” She also went on to say, “I miss a lot of school because after a seizure it can take a few hours or even days to recover so I feel like I’m always playing catch up.” I was amazed to learn that even though she is forced to play catch up Ellie’s resilience and urge to be great outweighs the task of that catch up. She told me she is the president of their FFA chapter, she plays clarinet in the high school band, and she takes dual credit classes. She did have to give up playing high school sports because the stress was more than her brain would physically allow her to handle.

Although Ellie has had to give some things up and she has a lot to manage and figure out, she still expressed little concern for herself and more concern for her friends. She shared with me that her friends have never seen her have a seizure and she hopes they never do. She said, “but they do see a lot of side effects from my medication. My medications can be hard to regulate so sometimes I seem “high”, and I have tons of “brain fog.” She said her teachers and friends are great at knowing when she isn’t doing okay, and they do all they can to help support her.

Ellie’s mom Brandi confirmed this by saying, “Ellie has a huge support group and so many people praying for her every day. She gets notes from people in our church, other churches, and several cards a month from a sweet group of ladies that don’t even live in our town.” Brandi went on to say that Ellie calls these things her ‘fan mail” and the encouragement makes a huge difference on this journey.

I asked Brandi what it has been like to watch her daughter battle epilepsy for more than half of her life and I was so inspired by her when she said, ‘Ellie has handled every obstacle in her path with grace and although it has been heart wrenching to watch her go through all that she has, Ellie has never lost faith, so how could I?”

Ellie continued to share her faith and confidence in God when she said “When things get tough, I cling to the verse 2 Timothy 1:7, which reads, “God hasn’t given us the spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind.”

It is without a doubt that even at such a young age with such a tough diagnosis Ellie has power, love, and a sound mind about her. People who don’t know Ellie would never know that she currently takes 3 medications that must be administered on a strict schedule, they don’t know how often her family must make the drive to Fort Worth to be seen and monitored by her neurosurgeon, and they don’t know that sometimes she suffers in pain and in a fog. Her radiant smile would surely tell you otherwise.

Click here to read the full article on Brown Wood News.

The first IRONMAN with Down syndrome turns his winning moment into a growing movement for inclusion

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The first IRONMAN with Down syndrome races forward for inclusion

By Julia M. Chan, CNN

Chris Nikic’s journey to becoming an elite athlete began with a single step. What kept him going was a single recipe for success: get “1 percent better” every day.

“One percent — stick with that goal,” Chris says. “If you stick with that goal, (you) can succeed and be a successful person.”

Last fall, Chris showed the world the power of small but consistent improvement, setting a Guinness World Record as the first athlete with Down syndrome to complete an IRONMAN triathlon: a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bicycle ride, ending with a 26.2-mile marathon. But crossing that finish line was only the beginning.

Now, the 22-year-old Special Olympics Champion Ambassador from the Orlando area is on a mission to promote inclusion and highlight human potential.

Early hurdles

From birth, Chris faced a number of cognitive, physical, and sensory challenges, according to his mother, Trish Nikic. He underwent open-heart surgery at five months old and years of therapy to help with things like eating, speech, and balance.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle he encountered, though, was how other people perceived him.

“People treated me different,” Chris recalls. “They were telling me that I can’t do that or can’t do this.”

When Chris was eight, he and his family found a supportive and welcoming community in Special Olympics Florida. Inspired by his athletic older sister, Chris eagerly took to sports like basketball, golf, and track.

Their true benefits went beyond exercise for the growing boy. Athletics “gave him an opportunity to be socially included with others,” Chris’ father, Nik Nikic says.

Leveling up

As Chris got older, he became more sedentary while recovering from a series of ear surgeries. After Special Olympics Florida launched its triathlon program in 2018, Chris’ parents encouraged him to try it to get in shape and have fun.

“The first time he ever did a sprint with Special Olympics, he came in dead last,” Trish says. “But you know what? Chris was happy.”

Chris soon outgrew his first triathlon coach. Dan Grieb, the captain of a local triathlon club, came on board to help take Chris to the next level. In a year and a half of training, Chris went from the couch to a sprint 14-mile triathlon.

Chris set his sights on a half IRONMAN race scheduled for May 2020. When Covid-19 forced organizers to scrap the official event, Chris and his team held their own race. CNN affiliate Spectrum News 13 followed Chris’ journey, ultimately ending with him qualifying to compete in the full IRONMAN competition in Panama City.

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

Next Big Thing: ‘Eternals’ Star Lauren Ridloff on Becoming Marvel’s First Deaf Superhero

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“I’m hoping that more people are going to be able to dream bigger,” says Lauren Ridloff of playing the first deaf superhero in a Marvel film. COURTESY OF ERIK CARTER

BY ABBEY WHITE, The Hollywood Reporter.

Being a superhero wasn’t part of Lauren Ridloff’s plan. The Eternals star wanted to be a children’s book author before an American Sign Language tutoring gig for the director of Broadway’s Children of a Lesser God led to a starring role in the show’s revival.

Theater, she says, is a “much more natural and inviting medium for deaf actors,” and the production came fully staffed with a toolbox ready to support its deaf and hearing artists. But coming off that critically praised performance in 2018, Ridloff wasn’t sure she wanted to keep acting. TV and movies weren’t a place she had seen herself represented growing up, instilling the idea that it couldn’t be part of her dream.

Yet, after scoring The Walking Dead as her first TV role, Ridloff found herself in demand. Now, she’s set to star in the Chloé Zhao-directed Marvel movie that will take her and deaf representation to marvelous new heights when it releases on Nov. 5.

During her transition from stage to screen, Ridloff says she’s felt like she wanted to prove she’s easy to work with, something that has led to her not always advocating for what she needed as an actor. But being on this massive Marvel production full of A-listers who “know exactly what they want” helped change her outlook.

Ahead of The Eternals’ anticipated release, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Ridloff about her journey from stage to screen, how working on a blockbuster as an emerging actor changed her perception of self-advocacy on set, and why the Eternals cast wasn’t sure what to expect in the final cut.

Your journey to acting was a bit of being in the right place at the right time. Before that Broadway break-out, what were your acting ambitions and how have those changed?

My goal growing up was to write a book. That’s why I studied English and creative writing in college, and that is a big reason I started teaching. I wanted to write children’s books. I felt that the best way to understand how a child thinks in their mind is to be with them all day. So I started teaching because of that. I didn’t dream of acting. I didn’t want to pursue acting. I had some acting experience — your basic high school play, or I was a part of a performance group in college, a dance group. I just didn’t see enough people on the screen like myself. Every once in a while, like maybe Marlee Matlin, I saw on the big screen, and then years went by, and you would see somebody appear on one episode of a TV show or another episode there. Acting on Broadway came so completely as a surprise to me. It wasn’t part of my plan.

And, yes, absolutely, my goals have changed since I’ve gotten into acting. When I was on Broadway, my manager was interested in pursuing and looking for other projects, and I told him to then I didn’t know if I wanted to continue acting. Maybe this was just a one-time thing. I wasn’t even sure if it was my thing. But then, when I saw the theater audience full night after night, and I saw the lines forming at the back door, I realized that my classroom just got a lot bigger. I made a bigger impact here. It seems like I can act, and I enjoy the opportunity to fully immerse myself in a character, which is very connected to reading and writing. When you write, you need to drop into that character and how it represents itself on the page. So I felt like it was a very natural leap into acting because of that.

Click here to read the full article on The Hollywood Reporter.

Disability Advocate Chelsie Hill Has the *Best* Advice for Fending Off Fitness Class Intimidation

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Chelsie Hill seated on a wheel chair in front of a pool with yellow digital background surrounding her

By Zoe Weiner, Well + Good

When Chelsie Hill was in a car accident at age 17, her “whole world was flipped upside down,” she says. A spinal cord injury left her paralyzed from the waist down, but as a lifelong dancer, she refused to let the fact that she was in a wheelchair get in the way of her passion. So two years later, in 2012, she started a wheelchair dance team called “The Rollettes.”

Hill connected with a group of women through social media who, like her, were in wheelchairs and wanted to dance. “I wanted to meet girls like me and find friends… I wanted to just feel a sense of normalcy, and feel like I wasn’t the only person in my community or in the world who got in the car with a drunk driver or became paralyzed,” she says. “When you’re by yourself and you’re alone and you’re trying to figure out life, it can be very lonely—it can feel like you’re the only one. And for me, being around these girls helped me gain a sense of confidence that I never thought I would ever get.”

In the near-decade since the Rollettes conception, the group has performed all over the world, introduced the “Boundless Babes Society” mentorship program to connect women and girls living with a range of disabilities, and grown its platform to increase visibility for people with disabilities. “I have so many little ones who come to Rollettes Experience and they look on TV and they don’t see anybody like themselves,” says Hill. “And so for us, representation and education are the two biggest things that we’re very passionate about in every way.”

Hill’s role as the team choreographer has given her the opportunity to take the dance moves she loved when she was younger and make them accessible to people with differing abilities. “I love going to dance classes and adopting the choreography from an able-bodied choreographer to make it work for me,” she says. “That’s when I get the most creative, because I am forced to do moves that my body naturally wouldn’t know how to do… but I can translate them in a way that looks similar because my body is used to all of the moves from when I was a little girl. That’s kind of the advantage I have as a wheelchair dancer: I know how all these moves are as an [able-bodied person], so I just make them work for what my ability is now.”

Even with decades of experience under her belt, though, Hill is no stranger to the oh-so-relatable experience of entering a dance or workout class and immediately feeling intimidated—something many of us can relate to. “I was always so intimidated to go into any class, especially in Los Angeles with some of the top dancers in the industry, top choreographers and me and my wheelchair rolling in and people looking at me like, ‘What is she doing here? Does she know where she is?'” she says. “So I can totally empathize with that feeling of not feeling like you’re ready.”

Click here to read the full article on Well + Good.

He’s 72, an amputee, and won 6 medals at National Veterans Wheelchair Games

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Patrick Terry is 72, an amputee, and won 6 medals at National Veterans Wheelchair Games

By Jerry Carino, Asbury Park Press

At first, the bad news hit Patrick Terry hard: His right leg would have to be amputated below the knee due to an infection.

“I cried for about half an hour that day, sobbing,” he said.

Then he remembered something a mentor taught him: the Serenity Prayer.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

That was 2009. Terry, a U.S. Navy veteran and longtime Union Beach resident, accepted his condition. Then he sought to make the best of it by participating in adaptive sports. His quest reached an apex last month, when he won six medals — three gold, one silver and two bronze — at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in New York City.

At age 72.

“My family and the people that know me are proud of me and just overwhelmed that I could do this,” he said.

From addiction to adaptive sports
Originally from Yonkers, N.Y., Terry competed in football and track in high school and enlisted in the Navy in 1969, serving aboard the USS Albany. He later served in the U.S. Navy Reserve and worked for New York City’s Department of Transportation, paving and milling roads.

By 2005, he was in need of help for alcohol and drug addiction. A sponsor in a 12-step recovery program introduced him to the Serenity Prayer.

“That freed me to be the person I am,” Terry said. “I now have 16 years clean and sober. I used to blame everybody else for my problems. The problems, they were with me.”

In 2009 he joined the East Orange Thunder, an adaptive sports team comprised of veterans and founded by Ralph Jones, a recreational therapist with the Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System.

“He picked up on all the adaptive sports quickly,” Jones said. “He’s just a natural athlete.”

Click here to read the full article on Asbury Park Press.

Paralympian Sophia Herzog has a mental health coach and psychologist ‘to get me prepared and healthy’

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Sophia Herzog smiling at the camera

By Cindy Augustine, Yahoo! Life

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Sophia Herzog may be a Paralympian bound for Tokyo and determined to win a medal in swimming, but in many ways, she’s a lot like her 20-something peers: focused on her future. The Colorado native, who was born with a form of dwarfism, has been steadily training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, prepping for the Tokyo games — but she knows she can’t swim forever.

When Herzog, 24, isn’t training or obsessing over her dog, Odie, she’s been thinking about what lies ahead after swimming — and choosing to make her education a priority. As a graduate from DeVry University, an official education provider of Team USA, Herzog was able to get her degree on her own terms (mostly virtual), and showed off her ability to juggle her athletic training and career training.

Herzog will be competing in freestyle, breaststroke and butterfly heats as the Paralympic Games get underway on Tuesday. Before taking off for Tokyo, the athlete caught up with Yahoo Life and shared how she stays focused and mentally prepared.

How do you approach taking care of your mental health?

We saw how much pressure athletes are under from the [Tokyo] Olympics, and I think it’s really important. I have a mental health coach and a psychologist that I work with almost weekly to get me prepared and healthy, just like my gym coach and swim coach. It’s nice to shed a light on the pressure — Olympic superhero athletes are just like every other human.

Aside from being in the pool, what else brings you joy?

We adopted a dog last June, and he’s been [helpful] in disconnecting from swimming. Getting outside and watching him be joyous over the littlest things has been a huge help for me. He’s now my child [laughs], Odie. I’m only 24 years old now and this is what I’ve done professionally for 12 years. I haven’t really experienced life outside of swimming and I’m looking forward to finding what brings me joy — besides my dog.

Click here to read the full article Yahoo! Life.

Midlothian boy born with rare condition gets a special escort on his first day of kindergarten

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Midlothian boy born with rare condition gets a special escort on his first day of kindergarten Batman and Captain Marvel greeted 5-year-old Michael Denison outside his house Monday morning. He got a look inside a police squad car and fire engine before taking off for his first day of school.

By Lori Brown and Shannon Murray, Fox LA

MIDLOTHIAN, Texas – Midlothian police officers and firefighters helped make the first day of kindergarten special for a little boy who is facing some challenges this school year.

Batman and Captain Marvel greeted 5-year-old Michael Denison outside his house Monday morning. He got a look inside a police squad car and fire engine before taking off for his first day of school.

Then at Mountain Peak Elementary, classmates and teachers gave him a warm welcome.

Last week, Michael’s mom, Brittany Denison, made a plea on social media for kids to be kind and asked parents to educate their children about people who are different.

Michael was born with a rare condition called Treacher Collins syndrome. All of the bones in the lower half of his face are smaller than they should be just like the boy Auggie in the movie “Wonder.”

“We’ve had multiple instances where people have used the words scary, monster or weird and that’s really uncomfortable,” she said. “When you’re in a room with Michael for two minutes you understand immediately that he is just the same as every other kid.”

Midlothian’s fire chief said as the story spread on social media, his firefighters knew they wanted to do something to help. So they reached out to the family and school to coordinate the special escort.

“My name is Dale, I am the fire chief,” Dale McCaskill told Michael. “We heard you might be a little nervous going to school your first day so we are going to give you a ride on the fire truck.”

Michael’s mom said when she made that plea on social media she had no idea it would lead to so much support in both the community and from people all across the world.

“To see him smile like that, that was once in a lifetime. That was amazing, unforgettable,” she said after dropping him off for his first day. “He’s an extraordinary kid so I wanted him to have an ordinary year. But I can’t imagine this will be an ordinary year for him anymore. The welcoming experience of the kids being outside, the waves and the smiles, that’s what you want for your kid to be welcomed with open arms.”

She hopes that it creates an even bigger conversation for all families and all students about accepting each other despite differences and standing up for one another.

Click here to read the full article on Fox La.

Photo of Braille-etched Railing at Italian Castle Describing Stunning View Goes Viral

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Braille-etched Railing at Italian Castle

By News 18

Often the internet tends to shine a light on something beautiful and fascinating and a recent photo of a railing on a window in a castle in Italy has gone viral. And it has happened for a good enough reason. Sitting atop a hill that overlooks the Italian city of Naples is the Castel Sant’Elmo (St Elmo Castle) which is a popular tourist haunt.

Hundreds walk up to the top of the castle to enjoy the view but there is yet another attraction on display in the castle. A 92-foot-long piece of stainless steel is attached to the wall fence of the castle of one of its large sized windows and it has a poetic description of the view in Braille. The unique railing was installed by artist Paolo Puddu in 2015 and titled ‘Follow the Shape’ and has been a permanent fixture at the castle since 2017, a report on Ozy.com said. The art had won the fifth edition of the ‘A Work For the Castle’ contest.

Visitors are encouraged to feel the installation wherein they run their hands on the rail and those who can read the Braille script can ‘follow the shape’ on the railing to read the verses from Italian author Giuseppe de Lorenzo’s ‘La terra e l’uomo’ or the ‘The Land and the Man’.

Click here to read the full article on News 18.

NYC Ballet hosts disability-friendly workshop for young people

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Contributed participants in Saturday's Workshop for young people with disabilities

By Allison Collins, The Daily Star

New York City Ballet dancers raised the barre for young people with disabilities during a Saturday, July 17 workshop hosted by the company, Saratoga Performing Arts Center at the National Museum of Dance and the Cerebral Palsy Association of New York.

Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky, Pediatric Orthopedist with Bassett Healthcare Network, has been involved with such New York City Ballet workshops since their inception roughly seven years ago, at which time he worked part time downstate. The workshops began, Dutkowsky noted, after a mother of child with cerebral palsy approached the company asking for disability-friendly instruction.

Today, Dutkowsky said, the annual NYCB workshop at SPAC is one of “10 or 12” held “all year long,” though Saturday’s marked the first in-person workshop since the COVID-19 pandemic. The event included roughly 20 young people from 4 through 22 and was led by NYCB corps dancers Meaghan Dutton-O’Hara and Davide Riccardo, who demonstrated warm-ups and choreography inspired by the company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The one-hour workshop was free to participants and included tickets to day-of SPAC performances.

Dutkowsky credited the workshops’ impact with ensuring their continuation.

“I thought, ‘OK, this might go on for a year or two,’ but the ballet has absolutely gone head over heels for this and totally fallen in love,” he said. “The dancers fight over doing these classes. These are professional dancers used to always being judged — on the stage, in rehearsal or in the mirror — and it can be a very self-absorbing life. But these kids don’t judge them; these kids give them a respite where they don’t have to be perfect … and that’s why they crave doing these classes. The love and care they have for these kids is absolutely genuine, and that’s why it works.”

Such rewards, Dutkowsky said, are reciprocal.

“It’s a very inclusive place and a very welcoming place,” he said. “It’s strength and diversity, because you have these dancers with the greatest control of their bodies … and some kids who’ve never taken a single step without assistance, but where some people see divergence, I see glorious convergence. There’s something wonderful when they come together, and each will tell you the other gives more than they receive.

“Art, in this case dance, is uniquely human,” Dutkowsky continued. “It’s part of us, and people with disabilities have the same desires for love and intimacy and they get angry and sad; art helps to bring that out. With this, they’re not just passive observers, they’re active in the art and they’re feeling it in themselves as they try to do things and explore their own bodies.”

Otego resident Ruth Modinger and her 22-year-old daughter Marybeth, whom Modinger described as “multiply disabled,” attended Saturday’s workshop. The opportunity, Modinger said, proved “amazing.”

“We did it because it was an activity that Marybeth could participate in and be normal,” she said. “She could fit in with her peers. She loves to interact and she loves other people, but she isn’t always appropriate with other people. With the children there, everyone was special … and she just fit in, and it was beautiful. Everyone could fit in, doing what they were doing, and there was a mutual understanding that you didn’t know what was going to happen, but it was going to be something special.”

According to a release from the Cerebral Palsy Association of New York, to regulate attendance of this year’s event, parents and guardians were encouraged to participate alongside their children, instead of occupation and physical therapy “buddies.” This modification, Modinger said, only enhanced the experience.

“With Marybeth being nonverbal, she was not able to communicate, but I was able to help her do the movements,” she said. “She could reach toward a toy that she wanted and that was her way of doing the movements; other children got really, really into it and were dancing and doing what the dancers were doing.”

Encouraging such differing levels of participation, Modinger and Dutkowsky said, underscores the program’s mission.

“The two dancers were leading, and one would always model while standing, doing it able-bodied, and another would model from a seated position,” Modinger said. “So, you were always doing what was appropriate for you, and that made it so inclusive. It was just adorable, and the emotions were so real and the kids just truly participated to their ability.”

Click here to read the full article on The Daily Star.

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Alzheimers Awareness Month

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Upcoming Events

  1. Abilities Expo — The Event For the Disability Community
    December 3, 2021 - December 5, 2021
  2. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  3. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  4. CSUN Center on Disabilities 2022 Conference
    March 13, 2022 - March 18, 2022

Upcoming Events

  1. Abilities Expo — The Event For the Disability Community
    December 3, 2021 - December 5, 2021
  2. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  3. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  4. CSUN Center on Disabilities 2022 Conference
    March 13, 2022 - March 18, 2022