Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Visionary Inclusion Campaign

In April, the Perkins School for the Blind launched a brand new social media and public relations campaign to promote the inclusion of those who are blind and have low vision. The campaign, Blind New World follows a nation-wide survey conducted by the school that “revealed the four barriers to blind inclusion: discomfort, pity, fear and stigma.” The study also found that 80 percent of respondents feel sorry for those who are blind, 74 percent believe they could not be happy if they lost their sight and more than half don’t feel comfortable when in the presence of someone who is blind.

Ironically, campaign advocates insist that thanks to educational opportunities and technological advances, “there has never been a better time to be blind.” According to Blind New World, “The biggest obstacle isn’t blindness. It’s a world that can’t see beyond it.”

Inspired by Corinne Grousbeck, chair of the Perkins School’s board and the mother of a student at the school, the campaign aims to “break the barriers to inclusion and connection, and to prepare the world to embrace today’s highly capable blind population.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Drum Therapy: The Many Benefits of Drumming

Music is widely recognized for its universal healing properties. Arguably, its benefits are even more profound for those who face cognitive, physical, behavioral and psychological challenges. Jordan Goodman, a musician, mental health counselor and founder of Beatwell, a company that brings therapeutic drumming to children and adults with and without disabilities, has seen music’s magic in action over and over again. 

A musician from childhood, Goodman developed an interest in psychology while attending college. He went on to earn a master’s degree in clinical psychology while continuing to play and teach music. In his work with drum students, Goodman couldn’t help but notice that they all appeared less anxious and more confident when they drummed. He began to suspect that drumming had significant healing and therapeutic properties.

Curious about his observation, Goodman decided to focus his graduate studies on the physiological and psychological effects of drumming. His discovery of the work of neurologist Barry Bittman confirmed his instincts. Bittman’s 2001 study showed that drumming increases the number of T-cells in the blood, helping the body to fight off viruses, while a 2005 study the neurologist co-authored found that “recreational music making, particularly, drumming, can reverse 19 genetic responses to stress.” Other research by Bittman showed that drumming improves mood, reduces burnout rates, enhances creativity and builds community.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Yoga For All

There’s no denying that the Eastern practice of yoga has taken the West by storm. Depending upon where you live, you might find a yoga studio on every other corner. Many studios now offer yoga classes for children and adults with a variety of special needs. We’ve compiled some information about yoga, its many benefits, as well as some resources so that you and your child can access the practice.

What is yoga?
      While there are many types of yoga, Hatha yoga is most widely practiced in the U.S. According to the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPD) Hatha Yoga “emphasizes body-mind wellness through postures or asanas which tone and strengthen our muscles and increase our flexibility.” And good news—regardless of the degree of physical, developmental and/or cognitive disability, almost everyone can benefit from the 5,000-year-old practice.

Just ask Matthew Sanford. Sanford, an author, yoga instructor, inspirational speaker and founder of the nonprofit, Mind/Body Solutions, was paralyzed from the chest down after an automobile accident at age 13. He discovered yoga 12 years later and the practice was life changing for him. Nowadays, Sanford helps people with and without disabilities to experience the transformative effects of yoga.

What are the benefits of yoga for those with physical disabilities?
      Many! According to Sanford, yoga practitioners can expect to enjoy “increased strength, balance, mental and physical flexibility, improvements in the quality of their breathing, a sense of lightness and freedom within their bodies, an increased ability to manage stress, a deepened sense of wholeness and connection with others and the discovery of a subtle level of mind-body sensation that is not impeded by disability.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Big Shoes to Fill

It’s been six months since Enabling Devices CEO, Seth Kanor stepped in to take the reins from his late father, Steven E. Kanor, Ph.D., the company’s founder and president. Speaking from the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, N.Y., Kanor took time out from his busy schedule to share some thoughts about his dad, the people who make Enabling Devices run, what he’s learned so far, his aspirations for the company and the people it serves.

What has your new role taught you about your father?
The longer I’ve been at Enabling Devices, the more convinced I am that my father should be nominated for sainthood. I get calls all the time from people who say, “Your dad changed my life.” He was always asking: “How do we get to the people who need our services?”  “How do we improve people’s lives and meet them where they are?” “How do we make it easier for them to get out into the world and help them to find joy?” Everything we do is geared toward answering those questions.

What have you learned about the business?
The people who work here probably have a body of knowledge that couldn’t be replicated in a Ph.D. program. They have been hands-on with our products, customers and business for so long.

Like many people, I always thought that I needed to do something original— something different than what my father did. Now, I see that I am supposed to continue his mission and use my abilities to bring out the talents in others. My role is basically, to facilitate everything so that the people here, who are so knowledgeable and talented, can do what they do so well.

Additionally, I’ve discovered that there is a huge group of people in this country who work one-on-one with children with severe disabilities. This is pretty much the hardest work one can do and they don’t make a great deal of money. It’s a real calling, and I feel so grateful for them.

What is your favorite part of your new role?
It is such a privilege to know that we are making a difference in the lives of the people who use our products. Sometimes people call us looking for a solution to their loved one’s problem and we are their last chance. Being able to help in those instances is so special. When my father was running the business, if a customer called with a problem, he’d invite them into the office.  He’d say, “Come in now, we’ll fix it.” The first time someone called me with a special request, the person apologized.  I said, “Please don’t apologize. I’ve been waiting for this call. It’s an honor to take your call.” 

The people I am meeting in my new role are changing my life and my understanding of what matters. Are we going to live in a society that is exclusive or inclusive? In my view, we need to work toward a world that is more inclusive. There’s no question that our customers are giving me more than I am giving them.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

“Me Before You” - What’s Your Opinion?

The release of “Me Before You” has been met with a firestorm of criticism from the disabilities community. Based on on the bestselling novel by Jojo Moyes, the film tells the story of Will Traynor, a wealthy, handsome businessman paralyzed after a motorbike accident and Louisa Clark, a pretty yet provincial young woman, hired as his caregiver. Will, played by Sam Clafin of “The Hunger Games” fame and Louisa, played by Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones,” eventually fall in love. Unfortunately, that’s not where the story ends.

Why are people with disabilities and their allies up in arms? There are several reasons:

1. The role of Will Traynor is played by an actor without a physical disability
Given the paucity of roles for actors with disabilities, many in the disabilities community are incensed by the fact that someone with quadriplegia was not cast in the high profile role.

The casting of non-disabled actors in disabled roles is pervasive across the industry, despite the fact that there are numerous talented disabled actors languishing without work,” writes S.E. Smith for Care2.Seeing non-disabled people represent the disability experience is offensive, especially when the experience being depicted is itself so offensive.”

2. The film’s depiction of life with disability is extremely negative
Since so few films and television programs have characters with disabilities, viewers who don’t have disabilities or who don’t know people with disabilities only learn about their experiences from examples in films such as “Me Before You.” The result? People view the lives of people with disabilities as being tragic, miserable and pitiful.   

“Me Before You” capitalizes on existing widely held negative ideas about disability and exploits them as fodder for entertainment,” writes Emily Ladau, in a piece for Salon. “Prior to becoming disabled, Will was successful and happy, but Moyes implies that anything good in life will come to an end when disability becomes a reality.”

3. The film feels emotionally manipulative
Some disabilities advocates have pointed out that the film is “calculated to play upon the emotions of the viewer by evoking disability.” And it seems to work.
“It's become almost a running joke that if you want to win an Oscar, play a disabled character,” writes Kathleen Hawkins of the BBC. Think: Daniel Day Lewis for his performance in “My Left Foot,” Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man,” and Eddie Redmayne for “The Theory of Everything.”

 4. (Spoiler Alert) The film’s ending implies that having a disability is a fate worse than death.
In the end, despite his love for Louisa and everything else he has to live for, Will Traynor chooses to end his life. His reasons? He doesn’t want to live if he can’t do the things he did before his accident, he doesn’t want to be a burden to Louisa and his family and he doesn’t want her to end up resenting or pitying him in the future.

Members of Not Dead Yet UK, a group that’s part of a global alliance of people with disabilities who oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide picketed the film’s premiere and posted this statement on its website: “ Not Dead Yet UK is deeply concerned to see yet another film which casts non-disabled people as disabled people and shows the lives of disabled people as not worth living.”

Have you seen or read “Me Before You?” We’d love to hear what you think. Talk to us here or on Facebook or Twitter.