Singer with disability shines in Ali Stroker’s new kids book

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Cover image of the childrens book of an Ali illustration

By the Sentinel-Tribune

Broadway star Ali Stroker says she always felt like her “most powerful self” when onstage, and now as the co-author of a new book for kids, she’s trying to empower others.

Broadway star Ali Stroker says she always felt like her “most powerful self” when onstage, and now as the co-author of a new book for kids, she’s trying to empower others.

Stroker teamed up with her friend and middle grade author Stacy Davidowitz and set out to create a familiar character: a young girl in a wheelchair named Nat who wants to perform in a local musical.

“The Chance to Fly” — published this week — was a way for the actor to share her own experiences as a person with a disability and big dreams. Stroker, who has used a wheelchair since a car accident paralyzed her when she was 2, says she wanted to help kids with disabilities recognize themselves in the book. Even before winning a Tony in 2019 for her role in the Broadway revival of “Oklahoma,” Stroker served as an example of a person who doesn’t let limitations prevent her from achieving her goals. She made history as the first actor in a wheelchair to win the award and dedicated it to all kids with disabilities waiting to be represented in theater.

Stroker said she was driven to write “The Chance to Fly” because she didn’t have any stories like it to read when she was in middle school. In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Stroker talked about the challenges of writing a story similar to her own, representing people with disabilities, and naming her wheelchair.

AP: Nat loves musicals and performing. How did performing make you feel at her age?

Stroker: On stage, I felt like I was my most powerful self because people were looking at me and staring at me. But it wasn’t just because of my wheelchair and it was a safe place to be different kinds of people. For a long time, I felt like I had to be, you know, like happy and OK and inspirational for other people. And when I was on stage and I was playing a character who was going through something, I got to express all those other things that were living inside of me. Writing this book as well and going back to those really vulnerable, scary, first time moments was so healing. And I think teenage Ali was just really brave and really tough. And I feel so proud of where I am now.

AP: Nat sometimes feels embarrassed about her wheelchair. Was it hard to write about that?

Stroker: It was a challenge for me to go back to those moments. One of the ways I describe it is just like you feel like you’re like so hot and you feel like people are looking at you for the thing that you are most self-conscious of, and maybe the thing that you have the most shame about. And it’s just overwhelming. But I wanted to write it because whether you have a disability or you’re in a wheelchair or not, you have those self-conscious and really difficult moments in your life, especially as a teenager, when you just want to be like everybody else, but you’re not like everybody else. And the reason it needed to exist in this book is because I want young people to know that they’re not alone in feeling like that.

AP: The adult directors of the show cast Nat but tell her she doesn’t have to dance, which upsets her because doesn’t want special treatment. Why was that important to include?

Stroker: What’s so beautiful about living with a disability is that your creativity to solve problems is so accessible. It’s so heightened because this is a part of your everyday life. Nat is really disappointed, but then she goes away and she shares with her friends, her peers what’s going on, and then they offer to help her and they are going to not wait for the adults to solve the problem, but they are going to come up with the answer. That’s an ideal situation when you can ask your home team, the people that you trust the most for help, and then you can come up with a creative solution.

Click here to read the full article on the Sentinel-Tribune.

IOScholarships Provides Free Access to STEM Scholarships

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female grad student wearing her graduate robe and holding cap in her hand

IOScholarships (IOS), the first of its kind scholarship and financial education platform for minority STEM students recently announced the launch of its search engine website. The technology has been designed with a streamlined user-friendly interface that offers great functionality to help high school, undergraduate and graduate students find STEM scholarships.

IOScholarships proprietary matching algorithm can match students with life-changing scholarships where their diverse background is valued.

Continual increases in tuition and fees have pushed the cost of college education beyond the means of most minority and underrepresented students. Even though STEM occupations have outpaced all other job growth, African Americans represent only 9% of STEM workers, while Hispanics comprise only 7% of all STEM workers.

“IOScholarships was inspired by my own experience as I was very fortunate to access scholarships to attend prestigious universities and realized that more could be done to support minority students especially now as STEM education becomes more and more important to workforce opportunities,” said María Fernanda Trochimezuk, Founder of IOScholarships. “Students should think about finding scholarships like it’s a part time job.”

The majority of the scholarships featured on the IOScholarships website come directly from corporations and organizations, rather than solely from competitive national pools – thereby maximizing the number of opportunities students have to earn funding for their education. Each month IOScholarships adds hundreds of new curated scholarships to its database and also posts “The Scholarship of the Week” on its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram social media accounts (@IOScholarships), making it easy to find new scholarship opportunities.

IOSSCholarships promo poster with diverse students in the background

In addition to providing scholarships, the new IOScholarships website introduces a free scholarship organizer, news articles designed to provide guidance on how to apply for scholarships, and money saving tips. The platform also offers a Career Aptitude Quiz designed to help students identify the degrees and professions that best fit their skills.

For more information about IOScholarships visit www.ioscholarships.com or for weekly STEM scholarships email maria.fernanda@ioscholarships.com.

Netflix’s Coming-of-Age Tale ‘Audible’ Follows Deaf High School Football Team

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Three high school students from the netflix film coming-of-age

By Leo Barraclough, Variety

Netflix’s coming-of-age documentary “Audible,” which world premiered this week at Hot Docs Film Festival, follows Maryland School for the Deaf high school athlete Amaree McKenstry and his close friends during their senior year.

Director Matt Ogens speaks to Variety about the film, whose exec producers include actor Peter Berg, the Emmy nominated creator of “Friday Night Lights,” and deaf actor and model Nyle DiMarco, winner of “America’s Next Top Model” and “Dancing With the Stars,” and a deaf community activist.

Ogens, whose credits include Emmy winner “From Harlem With Love” and Emmy nominated “Why We Fight,” grew up about 30 miles from Maryland School for the Deaf, and his best friend since the age of eight is deaf, so he knew of the deaf community through his friend and knew of the school.

In addition to documentaries, Ogens directs branded content and commercials, and about 10 years ago directed a campaign about high school football teams around the country, and the Maryland School for the Deaf was one of them. He stayed in touch with the school because he “felt like there was a bigger story to tell,” and shot the doc last year, which was “the perfect year, because of the characters we landed with and the dynamic in the film,” he says.

Ogens decided to focus on the school’s football team and McKenstry, one of its star players, in particular. “I was trying to capture the teenagers’ point of view, rather than doing something observational from my point of view. I wanted to create an immersive audio-visual experience of what it sounds and looks like to be a teenager, and all those high school touchstones – your senior year, the homecoming dance, and sports. And so that semester of high school and that football season gives it a nice narrative arc to ground yourself in, but also, at least in this case, and I think in many cases in sports documentaries, sports can be a great metaphor for life, and more so with these kids – resilience and proving yourself, and the ups and downs of life off the field mirrored the season in a way as well.”

As one would do for a narrative film, Ogens was looking to “cast” his lead “character,” and McKenstry stood out. “It’s tough because every kid at that school has a great story. It’s about Amaree and his relationships, but also, in some ways, I hope he’s an avatar for the other kids there and represents them in some way. He had some conflicts. I thought it was interesting that he was not born deaf. He had meningitis around two to three years old. At the same age, his father left the family.”

In the film, we see his father attempting to rebuild their relationship. Other elements in Amaree’s story include the death of a close friend, Teddy, and his relationships with cheerleaders Jalen Whitehurst and Lera Walkup.

“You’re seeing the team, but through the eyes of Amaree, and even the other characters like Coach Ryan or Lera, his on again, off again, girlfriend and cheerleader, or Jalen, his friend and cheerleader. This made it singularly focused, which is nice and tight,” Ogens says. “I also think this could be a springboard for something larger.”

Click here to read the full article on Variety.

DEAF AWARENESS WEEK: 3 OF THE BEST FILMS AND DOCUMENTARIES IF YOU’RE KEEN TO LEARN MORE

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Riz Ahmed wearing head phones and looking away from the camera from the film Sound of metal

By Prudence Wade, Independent

It’s Deaf Awareness Week: an opportunity to “promote the positive aspects of deafness, promote social inclusion and raise awareness” around the organizations that support the community.

The tides are changing for deaf representation in Hollywood: Sound Of Metal has been one of the breakout movies of the year, and the upcoming Eternals film features Lauren Ridloff as the first deaf superhero in the Marvel Universe.

In the meantime, you can celebrate Deaf Awareness Week by watching these films and documentaries…

1. Sound Of Metal
There’s a reason Sound Of Metal has garnered so much awards season buzz: it’s a touching, sad, yet uplifting portrayal of a heavy metal drummer – played by Riz Ahmed – who suddenly loses his hearing. As an addict, this loss could send him into a tailspin, so he checks into a shelter supporting deaf recovering addicts. There, he starts to live with his deafness – learning sign language and getting to know deaf children.

It deals with some big issues – such as the arguments for and against cochlear implants (some think deafness doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’) – and the performance of Paul Raci (who is a hearing child of deaf parents) as the shelter’s leader is particularly moving.

Watch on Amazon.

2. Deaf U

Deaf actor and model Nyle DiMarco produced Netflix’s Deaf U, a reality TV show following deaf students at university in Washington DC The show, released in 2020, was groundbreaking for onscreen deaf representation, and even had a 50% deaf crew behind the scenes.

It feels like a classic teen reality TV show, with the characters navigating relationships, sex and dating – but all are either deaf or hard of hearing. DiMarco’s aim was to show the deaf experience is varied, and told Vanity Fair: “There is no one right way to be deaf.” Deaf U was criticised for not fully representing deaf people of colour – to which DiMarco replied: “This show is unprecedented. It’s already an amazing deep dive on the community, but of course we can always do better. We must always strive for better every time we come to the table to create.”

Watch on Netflix.

Click here to read the full article on the Independent.

Cleanlogic bath & body care with inclusivity in mind

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ClenaLogic body and bath products scattered around shower stall

Cleanlogic, the fastest-growing global bath and body care accessories manufacturer, announces a relaunch with new branding and product offerings to provide an enhanced, all-encompassing consumer experience.

Cleanlogic, which saw 180 percent growth in 2020 alone, was built upon delivering innovative, sustainable, inclusive and socially responsible product experiences to consumers-such as featuring Braille across all packaging. These core values drive the brand’s mission- Nice and Clean.

The relaunch incorporates a fresh, bold and modern look featuring a new logo and trend-forward fabric colors. Coinciding with the new packaging, the brand is introducing all-new sensitive skin products and enhanced facial exfoliation products as well as four distinctly enhanced product collections- Bath & Body, Sport, Detoxify and Sustainable – each identified by its own unique color and product enhancements such as charcoal-infused and certified organic cotton material.

Cleanlogic products continue to deliver superior quality and innovation including:
● Stretch Fiber TechnologyTM​, a patent-pending blend of materials that ensures a flexible full body exfoliating experience
● Antimicrobial Protection, which slows the spread of microorganisms such as bacteria and mold
● Dual-Texture Exfoliators, designed with a textured side for deeper exfoliation and a microfiber side to smooth skin

Beyond feeling physically good after using Cleanlogic’s products, consumers can also feel good about investing in a brand that truly takes conscious beauty to heart. “Our mission is to be really good people who make a really good product that gets you really clean,” said Isaac Shapiro, President and Co-CEO of Cleanlogic. “We believe feeling nice and clean is a basic human right and we want our products to reflect this ‘Nice and Clean’ position.”

Inspired by co-founder Isaac Shapiro’s mother, who lost her eyesight as a child, Cleanlogic is a pioneering beauty company in the U.S. and one of the first to feature functional braille on all product packaging as a way to support over 25 million people in the U.S. who are blind or have low vision. Additionally, a portion of all sales are donated to visually impaired organizations including American Foundation For the Blind.
CleanLogic wash glove with soap on it and hand inside flashing a peace sign
As another testament to the brand’s commitment to “be nice and clean,” Cleanlogic is proud to house its own company-owned, Control Union-certified factory for all production that ensures fair trade and fair pay and hiring initiatives. The brand will expand its production footprint to the U.S. by introducing a Philadelphia-based factory later this year, in addition to the original factory in China.

Historically, the biggest barrier to people using body exfoliators was worry about harming the skin. Cleanlogic’s 2021 relaunch sets out to educate the general public about the benefits of exfoliation, including softer, healthier and cleaner skin, all while amplifying the Nice and Clean mission.

The fusion of beauty and wellness is driving the skincare industry and as a result of the pandemic, people are focusing on their skincare routine more than ever before. Cleanlogic leads this movement with products that make your skin feel renewed, refreshed and ready for anything. The entire product portfolio is suitable for all skin types and is offered at an accessible price point starting at $5.00.

Beginning today, consumers can purchase the new Cleanlogic products at www.cleanlogic.com and Amazon.

About Cleanlogic:
Founded in 2001 by Isaac Shapiro and Mike Ghesser, Cleanlogic produces and sells sustainably made bath and body care products to its worldwide customer base. The company is the fastest growing global brand in the bath and body accessory industry and the top brand in that category in the U.S grocery channel. For more information, visit www.cleanlogic.com.

Feeling the Music and Fueling Inclusivity – A Moment with Mandy Harvey

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Mandy Harvey onstage sideview signing in to microphone bright pink show lights in background

If you watch Mandy Harvey perform, one of the first things you notice about the “America’s Got Talent” finalist is her amazing voice. What you might miss is that she’s not wearing any shoes.

“[It’s] so you can feel things better when you’re standing on the stage,” Harvey told NPR news. “You can feel the drums, and you can feel the bass. So, being able to feel the music through the floor, it makes me feel like I’m a part of the band and not just the only person in the room who doesn’t really understand what’s going on.”

This award-winning singer, songwriter and motivational speaker lost her residual hearing at the age of nineteen while a freshman vocal major at Colorado State University. She pursued multiple career options, but returned to music, her true passion. She quickly became an in-demand performer and has released four albums as well as a book about her incredible journey.

DiverseABILITY Magazine had the pleasure of speaking with Harvey about her personal journey, her songwriting career and the impact she’s had on disability inclusivity – both within and without the music industry.

DiverseABILITY: You partnered with Voya Financial and Disability:IN to create and headline a concert that featured multiple artists (musicians, and even a painter, with disabilities) in October 2020 for National Disability Employee Awareness Month, encouraging and highlighting the push to hire people with disabilities and special needs in order to create more inclusivity in the workplace. Why was this event so important to you and what were your considerations as you planned and orchestrated this event? Do you think it had the measurable impact you were hoping to achieve?

Harvey: First and foremost, I wanted to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which is incredibly important because it is painfully obvious that a lot of businesses are not inclusive. They’re missing out on having a lot of really talented and amazing workers be a part of their company and team. And so, it was important to me to be able to encourage businesses to hire diversely.

There are a lot of businesses that are already striving, but [there were also] a lot of other businesses that made big commitments to hiring inclusively with the event. So that’s a measurable impact; even if that means one company hired one person – that’s a measurable impact in my life. We had a lot of CEOs make good commitments to change for inclusion, which is amazing.

The other part that was important to me is that I wanted to have a concert that was totally inclusive. With everything going virtual, there’s all these pop-up concerts but most of them are not inclusive or they’re featuring people who are not necessarily living inside of that community. And so, I wanted to allow different people to have the opportunity to showcase their art and to further the understanding that it doesn’t matter if you have an ability or disability, that you are an active contributor to the world, and you have the ability to make a difference.

Mandy Harvey book cover
Photo Credit: Amazon.com

DiverseABILITY: When you imagine inclusive spaces, especially in the music industry, what do they look and sound like? How are they different from what is most often seen and experienced by our society now?

Harvey: For the music industry, having an inclusive environment is so rare that it’s difficult to know what that would look like. I have personally been invited to several concerts where the building ended up providing an interpreter, but the interpreters didn’t have any access to the feed, so they couldn’t understand what the singer was singing. They were not given any materials, so they ended up just standing there and staring at me for the entire concert.

To be able to have different forms of communication throughout a concert, or in the music industry in general, is difficult because it’s one more thing for a company to have to think about — but at the same time, when you don’t think about it, you’re excluding a large pool of people who could be attending your shows and who want to.

Having lyrics available, having an interpreter who actually knows the songs ahead of time and is prepared to be there, even for big corporate events, having some type of audio description or captioning would [all] be amazing and beneficial. And not just for the people who are needing it — how many times has there been a concert or a corporate event where you didn’t understand what they were saying because too many people were talking at the same time? If you could actually see the captions in front of you, you would be more of a participant than you were before.

DiverseABILITY: The song that introduced and catapulted you into the spotlight was your self-written “Try.” It deals a lot with the issue of self-advocacy, which is the very difficult but necessary first step towards achieving anything in life. If you could expand on that song today and its message, now that you’ve traveled and spoken to so many fans who love it and have shared their stories with you, what would you add or change? What would you tell the young woman who wrote that song those years ago?

Harvey: I think that having that first step is so incredibly important, to be brave enough to even contemplate getting up off the floor. However, I’ve written other follow-up songs to “Try” that continue forward with the next stages of what I did — including the song “This Time.” The central idea of that is, “Yes, I’m trying. I keep failing, but I’m going to continue to try. However, because I’m not doing it alone, I know that I’ll be successful.” So, that song is a lot more about gathering a team around you of people who can encourage you when you fail or fall apart, and who can push you past your comfort zone to achieving something beyond maybe what you’re capable of even dreaming in that moment.

I don’t think there was anything that I could have said to that young woman that would have really hit home at the time. I needed to live my experiences, and I would have ignored anything that you said in the midst of that pain anyway. I was told everything, but I needed to find my own path.

DiverseABILITY: There’s a great song by another beautiful artist called “I Was Here” that boldly declares, “When I leave this world, I’ll leave no regrets/ Leave something to remember, so they won’t forget.” What do you want your something to be? When it’s all said (or signed) and done, what does your legacy look like?

Harvey: If I could work towards anything, it would be to continuously be a gracious and compassionate person in everyday life. Yes, I would like to have a ripple effect for change, positivity and inclusion, and to be able to be there for people on a grand-scale, but just being a person who can sit next to somebody and not say a word while they cry has an impact that is a legacy in itself.

“Try” is about understanding that you’re broken and wanting to be different. My new single coming out in March, “Masterpiece,” is saying that I am embracing the parts of me that are broken, and realizing that they’ve made me who I am.

The point of “Masterpiece” is to say that even though you might not know where you’re going in that moment, when you shoot forward in time and you look back on it, you’ll realize how much you’ve learned and how much you’ve grown. And that’s a part of such a big story that I feel people should know about.

I don’t ever want to change that girl who wrote “Try,” and diminish the struggle that she went through because that has changed and impacted who I am and how compassionate I am towards others, so much so that I would never want to take back any part of my past journey. I hope that people can truly embrace their journeys however difficult they may be, and realize that it’s making you stronger.

Mandy Harvey continues to perform around the United States and has been featured on CNN, NBC Nightly News, Canada AM, The Steve Harvey Show and in the Los Angeles Times. In addition to performing and speaking, Mandy has become an ambassador for No Barriers USA with a mission to encourage, inspire and assist others to break through their personal barriers. She published her first book on her life story, Sensing the Rhythm: Finding My Voice in a World Without Sound, in 2017.

TSA To Improve Screening For Travelers With Disabilities

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A TSA worker wears a mask while helping travelers get through a security checkpoint at Miami International Airport.

By Shaun Heasley, Disability Scoop

The Transportation Security Administration is set to start implementing new staff training and screening procedures to better serve individuals with disabilities as they make their way through airports across the country.

Beginning as soon as May, the TSA says that it will educate its officers to look for designations on driver’s licenses and other state identification cards denoting that a person has a disability that may pose a communication barrier.

Several states have updated their laws recently to allow people with disabilities to add what’s known as a “communication impediment designation” in order to alert law enforcement officers of potential issues. U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., and 11 other lawmakers reached out to the TSA late last year to ask the agency to train its officers on the new driver’s license notations.

“We are updating applicable trainings to ensure that all (Transportation Security Officers) are aware of communication impediment designations and expect to deliver the updated training to the TSOs as early as May 2021,” wrote the TSA’s Darby LaJoye in a response to Kildee.

LaJoye said the TSA is also “discussing the possibility” of integrating communication impediment designations into its credential authentication technology which allows agents to retrieve pertinent information about a traveler by scanning their identification card.

Click here to read the full article on Disability Scoop.

Hearing Loss & Access to Captioned Telephone Service

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man wearing glasses and holding cell phone up to face

Did you know that approximately 48 million Americans experience some degree of hearing loss? Communication is central to all aspects of daily living—including health care, socialization, education, and employment—but without the right assistive tools and technology to facilitate that communication, people with hearing loss often encounter significant barriers. Accessible communication technology is integral to removing these barriers and ensuring the best possible quality of life.

Under Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Americans who experience a hearing and/or speech disability have a right to access telecommunications services that is “functionally equivalent” to those relied upon by consumers without such disabilities. One such available service is Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS), or captioned telephone service, which is provided for at no cost to users through a program administered by the Federal Communications Commission.

When a person with hearing loss picks up a captioned telephone (or uses a mobile app offered by an official captioned telephone service provider) to make a call, the call is automatically routed through a call center. Once the call is received in the call center, everything the other party says is accurately captioned either through a combination of advanced automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology and a skilled transcriber, or by ASR technology only. The captions are then sent back to the captioned telephone service user’s phone or app in real-time. It’s a vital service that enables people with hearing loss to easily engage in conversations.

Robert Eugene Richardson, a Vietnam veteran and retired attorney who experiences significant hearing loss, has benefited immensely from access to captioned telephone service. “It was a game changer for me,” he shares. “I used it when I worked at legal jobs outside the courtroom. I use it to communicate with my children, and I use it to communicate with my friends and my doctors and other healthcare providers. I use it to stay engaged in my community. I may be retired from work, but not from life. I am still involved, and the ability to connect with people using the phone is critical to this.”

The Clear2Connect Coalition is dedicated to empowering all people with hearing loss to access the communication tools they need to thrive, just as Mr. Richardson does. Comprised of a range of disability, military, and veteran-serving organizations, our goal is to advocate for protecting the quality and accuracy of captioned telephone services so that anyone who needs them can benefit. We know how important it is for people with hearing loss to be able to connect with the people in the families, networks, and communities. Telephone captioning helps makes this connection happen.

VIEW THE VA ACCESSIBLE PDF HERE.

For more information on how to access free captioned telephone service, to learn about Clear2Connect Coalition’s advocacy efforts, and to sign up for their updates, visit the Clear2Connect Coalition website or email them at: info@clear2connect.org.

Employee Self-Advocacy: How To Talk To Your Employer About Your Disability

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Three business people standing in their suits speaking with one another in an office library

By Paula Morgan, Forbes

Not everyone feels comfortable sharing their personal lives with their employers, particularly when it comes to health issues and disability. Legally, you are in no way obligated to disclose your disability to your employer, or even to a potential employer during an interview. It is also illegal for employers to ask about it outright, but once you bring it up, the topic is fair game.

Sometimes, however, it’s necessary to mention your disability to your employer, particularly when you are requesting a reasonable accommodation to help you perform your job better. While it may be a scary conversation, talking about your disability with your employer is an important opportunity to be an advocate for yourself, which is something that all employees should learn how to do.

Self-advocacy is as simple as taking the initiative and having the confidence to talk with your employer about your needs in the workplace. For some, this conversation may center on a deserved raise or promotion, but at its core, advocating for yourself is about communicating what you need to do your best work. Even if you are working with a case manager to find a job that embraces individuals with disabilities, you cannot and should not depend on other people to advocate for you.

We’ve seen the powerful impact self-advocacy has had on our customers here at Allsup Employment Services. One success story that stands out came from an individual who had returned to work at the Post Office after being out of work for a year due to her disability. She struggled to do the heavy lifting required for the job and was about to quit, when she received a letter from her union about the possibility of switching to light duty.

After speaking with one of our case managers about what that would look like and getting a letter from her doctor, she met with HR and the union, who helped her to outline the duties she could do to fulfill the light duty assignment. She has been back at work and thriving for months, all because she made the decision to speak up.

Advocating for yourself begins by having a conversation with HR or your employer, and the best way to start is by framing it in a way that makes your priorities clear: taking care of your health and doing your job well. Use this time to be transparent with your employer. Talk about the challenges that you’re facing and lay out specifically what you believe you need to overcome those obstacles and function at your highest level in the workplace.

Make sure to keep the conversation positive and highlight the correlation between the accommodation you are requesting and the impact it will have on your performance. One of our case managers was helping an individual who was working really hard to manage a job she couldn’t physically do, and her supervisor recognized that, as well as the fact that it wasn’t a good fit. But because of her hard work and dedication, her employer offered her the opportunity to transition into a position that aligns better with her abilities.

Another piece of the puzzle that stops employees from requesting accommodations is the confusion over whom to ask. It’s different for everyone, and it may be more than one person. For some, it could be HR or a manager, but it’s always best to start out having these conversations with your immediate supervisor. Someone with whom you work on a daily basis is in the best position to recognize the great work you’re doing and the workplace obstacles that might be hindering your performance.

Employers will often need to strategize with HR to determine employee eligibility for an accommodation and how to provide it, but in most cases, the biggest obstacle is that the employee doesn’t come forward out of fear. Often the solution could be as simple as a flexible schedule, for individuals who have frequent medical appointments, or an inexpensive piece of equipment to make a desk accessible for use of a wheelchair.

Click here to read the full article on Forbes.

Oscars 2021 – Disabled actors, characters take center stage at this year’s Academy Awards

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Crip Camp team pictured on the red carpet of the academy awards

2021 will go down in history books for the record number of Oscar nominations for disabled actors and characters in the Academy Awards. Disabled actors and disabled characters won nominations in prominent categories, all signs of inclusive storytelling becoming a more authentic part of Hollywood.

With three team members on wheelchairs, one accompanied by a service dog, the much talked about Crip Camp made a strong statement for disability inclusion on the Oscars Red Carpet in the 2021 Academy Awards. The documentary tells the story of Camp Jened, a summer retreat in the Catskills where many young people with disabilities experienced the joys of community from 1951 to 1977.

“We’re on the red carpet! #Oscars,” Crip Camp’s official Twitter account said proudly. “Sending hope & gratitude to my friends on the #CripCamp team today!,” tweeted “Crip Camp” writer David Radcliff, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. “No matter what #Oscars bring, I hope this is a tipping point after which seeing disabled people at awards doesn’t seem so revolutionary. Thank you for all the work you’ve done & the doors you have helped to open.”

And Crip Camp has indeed opened doors. It may have lost out in the Best Documentary Oscar category but the nomination clearly led to a major push for disability inclusion in the awards ceremony. For the first time an accessible stage was created and there was captioning for the broadcast as well.

Spotlight on movies on disability
The greater emphasis on disability inclusion was evident all around. A Google commercial during the 2021 Oscars generated nearly as much attention as the nominees. This was a Google ad featuring a pair of grandparents who are deaf using various pieces of technology to communicate amid the pandemic.

“Thank you so much @Google for featuring this story during the @Oscars2021Live_ about a CODA (Child of Deaf Adult),” was one of the tweets. “I absolutely loved the inclusion of the grandson signing “more” when he was eating. Sign language at its finest! #Google #Oscars2021 #inclusion.”

How #ActuallyAutistic helped me come out as neurodiverse

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National Autism Awareness Month. illustration with text

By Amanda Morin

As we headed into what has been traditionally known as Autism Awareness Month, it’s the first year I don’t feel a pit of dread in my stomach. In part, that’s because of the National Autism Society of America’s push to make April “Autism Acceptance Month.”

I have three children, two of whom are loudly and proudly #ActuallyAutistic, and for many years I’ve wondered what it is we want people to be aware of when it comes to autism? Is it that autistic people like my sons exist? Is it that autism exists? That’s not in question. What is in question is whether other people accept them for the neurodiverse people they are.

But that’s only part of the reason I don’t feel as much dread this year. It’s also because neurodiversity is opening its aperture to include people like me, who aren’t autistic, but share some of the same ways of thinking and learning differently.

The way my extreme difficulty with sensory processing, social anxiety, and thinking differently presents has led to a diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). But I think it’s possible that under other circumstances, evaluated by a different clinician, in a different time, I, too, would have been diagnosed as having autism.

The specific diagnosis doesn’t matter to me; what matters is being able to say I’m neurodiverse. To stand loud and proud next to my sons to make sure we live in a world that sees neurodiversity through an asset-based lens, not a deficit-based one. A world that recognizes learning and thinking differently is a variation of human experience, and one that recognizes autism is only one of the diagnoses people who identify as neurodiverse carry.

It’s been encouraging to see conversations about neurodiversity starting to include ADHD in addition to autism. They often occur together, but the omission of these types of differences in the realm of neurodiversity has left people like my younger son, who is autistic and has ADHD, subject to people understanding only part of who he is.

That matters not just for him, but also for the one in five people in the U.S. like me, who learn and think differently because they have variations in how the brain processes information. Those variations can affect attention, sensory processing, reading, writing, math, and other skills. On its own, processing information differently may not be a concern, but because of the way our schools, workplaces, and communities are set up, they impact people’s ability to thrive in some aspect of their lives.

These disabilities are invisible in many ways, and the result is that disabled people like me have often been overlooked. There’s still a deep misunderstanding of differences other than autism and ADHD and how they affect people. In fact, according to research done by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, fifty percent of people believe that learning disabilities don’t exist. Forty-eight percent of parents believe incorrectly that kids outgrow them, and thirty-three percent of classroom teachers and educators believe these challenges are just laziness.

Over the past year, it’s been encouraging to see movements for racial, social, and economic justice accelerate to improve the lives of people who have not had equal rights or opportunities for so long. It’s thrilling that the White House named a disability policy director to sit on its Domestic Policy Council, elevating disability to the same policy level as other things that impact everyday life.

Yet for all this progress, as someone who works to promote inclusion, it’s important to me that learning and thinking differences aren’t overlooked in other spaces: corporate diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, progressive education initiatives, and our society at large. Moving from awareness to acceptance is a great start. At the same time, there’s also room to start moving toward action.

So, how do we include other types of neurodiversity in acceptance months and employer-recruitment initiatives without devaluing the tremendous strides the #ActuallyAutistic community has made not only toward acceptance, but also toward celebrating difference?

Personally, I think the answer lies in the question, the same way what has been learned from the fight for racial equality and desegregation informed the disability rights movements in a way that lets us say that disability rights are civil rights, too. It’s because of the work that has come before us that we can begin to make room for other differences in the broader conversation about neurodiversity.

This Autism Acceptance Month, I want to thank the loudly proud autistic community for paving the way for people like me to come out as neurodiverse. I’m ready to celebrate the ways in which we think differently and join forces in pushing forward the assumption that my family and I should be accepted as the neurodiverse people we are.

About Amanda Morin
Associate Director, Thought Leadership & Expertise
Understood

Amanda Morin is an author, parent advocate, and mom to kids who learn differently. She worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. In her thought leadership role at Understood, she leads efforts to build internal knowledge about learning and thinking differences, works toward establishing Understood as an authority in the field, and ensures that the organization’s work is evidence-based and reflects unique expertise and innovative perspectives.

Amanda has been working in print and digital media as a writer and editor for over 15 years, empowering parents and educators to affirm the pivotal roles they play in children’s education. She played an integral role in launching Understood.org in 2014. Some of Amanda’s other clients over the years have included Education.com, Parenting Special Needs Magazine, VeryWell (formerly known as About.com), and Popsugar Moms.

During her years as an early childhood educator, she taught kindergarten and worked with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with disabilities. She provided education and training to parents of children with disabilities and led multidisciplinary teams in developing and implementing Individual Family Service Plans.

Morin received a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Maine and special education advocacy training from the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates. She holds a certificate in Universal Design for Learning from the UDL Implementation and Research Network.

She is the author of five books: The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education, The Everything Kids’ Learning Activities Book, On-the-Go Fun for Kids: More Than 250 Activities to Keep Little Ones Busy and Happy — Anytime, Anywhere!, What Is Empathy? A Bullying Storybook for Kids, and Adulting Made Easy: Things Someone Should Have Told You About Getting Your Grown-Up Act Together.

Morin is a member of Matan’s Professional Advisory Board. She and her family reside in coastal Maine.

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Upcoming Events

  1. 2021 ERG & Council Conference
    September 15, 2021 - September 17, 2021

Upcoming Events

  1. 2021 ERG & Council Conference
    September 15, 2021 - September 17, 2021