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Photo: DiverseAbility.
After leaving academia, Alice Sheppard “began exploring the techniques of dancing in a wheelchair and learning how disability can generate its own movement.” 

An unusual and dramatic entertainment took place in Chicago in May. It was the brainchild of Alice Sheppard, a fearless risk taker in a surprising sequence of careers. Today she is a choreographer, but as recently as 2004, she had never considered that dance could be compatible with her disability. According to DiverseAbility magazine, “she was a professor in medieval studies at Penn State.” Then a dancer with one leg dared her to try a dance class.

Lauren Warnecke says of Sheppard at the Chicago Tribune, “Alice Sheppard does not shy away from a challenge. In devising her latest dance, ‘Wired,’ she and her Bay Area disability arts company Kinetic Light had to first write the rule books for wheelchair aerial dance.

“Kinetic Light’s mission is to create art that centers disability. Sheppard and the rest of the company are disabled artists who make work for disabled performers. Key to that vision are questions and advocacy around access — who ‘gets’ to dance and who ‘gets’ to watch or experience art? Since the company’s founding in 2016, Sheppard’s work consistently explores the intersections of disability, race and gender. ‘Wired,’ premiering May 5-8 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, is no exception, though it’s the first of Kinetic Light’s growing catalog to incorporate aerial dance.

“Actually, the first step for Sheppard was to read everything she could find about barbed wire. Sheppard, a dancer, choreographer and scholar with a doctorate in medieval studies from Cornell University, devoured the literature on this sharp-edged, steel wire’s fraught history.

“The initial spark for ‘Wired’ came from a visit to the Whitney Museum, where Sheppard viewed Melvin Edwards’ 1969 barbed wire sculpture, ‘Pyramid Up and Down Pyramid.’ …

“It led her down a barbed wire rabbit hole. Sheppard’s source material lends multiple metaphors to what has become her latest multimedia dance piece. Indeed, few pieces of steel are saddled with so much context. Barbed wire is primarily a strict form of forced separation, used in trench warfare and applied in the United States as a means of keeping incarcerated people in, for example, or livestock in and intruders out as ranchers in the American West increasingly claimed land as their personal property.

“Throughout the piece, the dancers wrestle with this unwieldy, unforgiving object, their bodies enclosed by a tangle of wires and barbs. As she continued to explore, Sheppard knew ‘Wired’ had to be an aerial dance. …

“Having never studied aerial dance before, Sheppard and Kinetic Light company members Laurel Lawson and Jerron Herman started from scratch. With support from some 30 artists and engineers with backgrounds in rigging, automation and flight, Sheppard, Lawson and Herman took to the air. …

“ ‘We are not the first disabled artists to fly, by any means,’ she said. ‘There is, of course, in circus arts, a deep and rooted history of disability and flight. That’s not random or new. And there’s a history of disabled dancers also doing aerial work in the UK, New Zealand and the U.S. Part of that history and legacy is to recognize that flight isn’t random. It is perfectly within the tradition and the culture for disabled dancers. What is new here is the construction of the show. It’s not a circus.’

“The process for ‘Wired’ started at Chicago Flyhouse in late 2019. Before the dance and other artistic elements could even begin to take shape, Kinetic Light was faced with huge technical considerations.

“ ‘Before we could even get to “here’s a pretty dance, here’s the choreography,” ‘ she said, ‘we had to get to, “how does this thing fly?” ‘ …

“Lawson, who is also an engineer, assisted in developing the chairs and harnesses needed for her and Sheppard safely ascend into the air. Company member and dancer Herman completes the cast of three and has yet another setup. Herman, who has cerebral palsy, dances sections of ‘Wired’ with a girdle-type harness used to suspend him above the stage. …

“Sheppard reiterated that she and Lawson are not the first disabled artists to fly ,,, but they are the first disabled dancers in the U.S. to explore a thorough compendium of techniques, which includes low flying on hard lines and bungees, as well as flight patterns suspended from joystick-operated, motorized cables. The pandemic enabled Kinetic Light to make connections with then-unemployed entertainment workers with expertise in automation who would not otherwise have been available.

“In a way, ‘Wired’ serves as a primer on wheelchair flight.

“ ‘Understand, this is not actually documented,’ Sheppard said. ‘There are no books. There are no teachers … All of these questions that are easily available to non-disabled aerial artists because there’s a history and tradition here — we just had to figure that out bit-by-bit.’ ”

More at the Chicago Tribune, here.

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Photo: Walt Disney Productions via Wikipedia.
Having trouble finding workers? There are underused categories of potential employees who would love a job and will repay you with enthusiasm and dedication.

No one ever considers the Seven Dwarfs as having a disability or not being able to work. But they are in a category of potential employees that is sometimes overlooked today.

As Katie Johnston points out in this article from the Boston Globe, rather than complain about a labor shortage, companies could be more open-minded. In Massachusetts, the state is making that easier.

“Faced with too many job openings and not enough people to fill them,” writes Johnston, “employers are considering candidates they might not have even looked at in the past, a change that could have lasting implications for the labor market.

“Companies are reaching out to applicants with criminal records and disabilities. They’re dropping drug testing and welcoming those struggling with homelessness. In some cases, college degrees and related job experience are no longer required. …

“Tight labor markets often lead to the temporary loosening of hiring practices, but this time around there’s potential to bring more people into the workforce permanently, economists and employment specialists say. A cascade of baby boomers retiring early and workers abandoning low-wage professions has created a massive need at a time when companies are actively seeking to diversify their ranks. Armed with this mission, along with improved technologies and new-found remote work capabilities, employers are lowering barriers that have long left people on the sidelines.

“Kareem Berry, 33, had struggled to find a steady job for years before he was hired by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the fall. Berry, who was born and raised in Dorchester, served 32 months in prison for selling drugs. After he got out in 2018, he took a job-readiness course at Strive Boston and bounced around at temporary and seasonal jobs. Often, however, when prospective employers found out about his record, he said, ‘a lot of people didn’t give me a call back.’

“Then Strive connected him with an apprenticeship program at the Brigham aimed at chronically unemployed Bostonians.

Berry started working in materials management, stocking supply rooms with syringes, gloves, and gowns, and is now a full-time employee making well above minimum wage with health insurance and a 401(k) match.

“The program started three years ago, but as the hospital seeks to provide more opportunities — and with nearly 10 percent of its jobs unfilled, double the amount before the pandemic — more workers are being brought in this way, said program founder Bernard Jones. Previously, the hospital had a practice of not hiring people with certain offenses on their records, Jones said, even though no official policy prevented it. Now, all applicants with a nonviolent background are considered.

“ ‘These are people who have gone through challenges and come out the other side,’ said Jones, who hopes to expand the program throughout the Mass General Brigham system. …

“Nationwide, there are more than 27 million ‘hidden workers’ who are unemployed or underemployed because they are routinely screened out during the hiring process, according to a 2021 Harvard Business School study. These are people with mental health or developmental challenges, physical disabilities, or prison records. They are immigrants, caregivers, veterans. They might come from disadvantaged backgrounds or lack a college degree.

” ‘Three-quarters of US employers in the study used some type of automated hiring system that rejects candidates whose resumes raise red flags, leaving “no room for any narrative,” ‘ said study coauthor Joseph Fuller, a Harvard management professor.

“But if employers took a more thoughtful approach to hiring, they’d likely be happy with the results, he said. …

“At a time when corporate awareness of racial inequities is at an all-time high, inviting in more people, especially those involved in the criminal justice system, which disproportionately affects people of color, would go a long way toward diversifying the workforce, Fuller said. …

“In Massachusetts, $1.4 million in grants is being offered to organizations helping formerly incarcerated residents and young people with disabilities find jobs. The US Labor Department recently launched an initiative to dismantle hiring roadblocks based on race, age, gender, sexual orientation, and ability. Congress is also considering legislation that would decriminalize marijuana use and expunge records for marijuana offenses. …

“The Bank Policy Institute, an advocacy group representing the country’s biggest banks, is pushing to loosen federal restrictions on people with criminal records working in banks. The Second Chance Business Coalition, made up of major companies including Walmart and AT&T, promotes expanding opportunities for people with criminal backgrounds.

“Kelly Services, a national staffing agency that works with 165 employers in New England, launched the Equity@Work initiative in the fall to improve access for job seekers, including those on the autism spectrum or without college degrees. In the runup to launching the program, Kelly placed 645 job seekers with criminal records at a Toyota plant in Kentucky and said the effort reduced monthly turnover to an all-time low and increased the diversity rate by 8 percent. …

“The Hampden County Sheriff’s Department in Ludlow, which has a long-running vocational program for inmates, said the number of employers reaching out for staffing assistance has tripled compared to before the pandemic.”

More at the Globe, here. Another option, of course, is for employers to raise pay. But using this period to integrate lots of new and worthy workers is also a good idea.

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Photo: Hong Seo-yoon 
Hong Seo-yoon is a South Korean advocate for accessible tourism. In her book Europe: There’s No Reason Not to Go, she even has a section on paragliding.

International tourism may be in a Covid-19 slump, but there are lots of people aching to get back to it. At Public Radio International (PRI), Jason Strother reports on a South Korean world traveler who uses a wheelchair and has shown through her life and writing that sometimes it takes only small changes to enable everyone to travel.

“Hong Seo-yoon maneuvers through shifting clusters of picture-snapping tourists outside of Deoksugung, a palace in downtown Seoul. Before passing through the former royal residence’s wooden gate, she adjusts her motorized wheelchair’s speed ahead of a gradual incline in the stone walkway that leads into a tree-lined courtyard.

“The 32-year-old explains that even small modifications, such as replacing a step with a ramp, give people like her access to places that otherwise would have been difficult if not impossible to enter independently.

“Hong says that many people are often unaware that when it comes to tourism, sightseeing or even extreme sports, many people with disabilities, whether they are blind, deaf or use a wheelchair, ‘all want the same things.’

‘They want to travel, they want to visit places, I don’t think there’s a difference,’ Hong said. ‘Having a disability is not something special or weird.’

“Hong is the founder of Tourism for All Korea, a nonprofit that advocates for greater inclusion in the country’s tourism industry for people with disabilities and makes policy recommendations for improvements in this sector. She’s also the author of Europe, There’s No Reason Not to Go — the first travelogue written by a wheelchair user from her country.

“Her work has informed Seoul’s efforts to make its streets, transit and tourism locations more inclusive for citizens and visitors with disabilities. … A generation ago, a person with a physical or intellectual difference might have been ‘a  shame to their family,’ she said, theorizing this attitude was a consequence of South Korea’s postwar trauma that placed economic growth and competition paramount to other concerns.

“The Korean War in the early 1950s left the South in ruin and poverty. In 2007, South Korea passed the Disability Anti-Discrimination Act, but Hong believes some people still hold onto old biases. …

“Her own experience facing physical and social obstacles underlie her advocacy. When Hong was 10 years old, she suffered a spinal cord injury during a swimming pool accident that paralyzed her from the waist down. At that time, ‘Korea wasn’t accessible at all’ for wheelchair users, she said.

“She recalls her brother pushing her alongside cars in the street since there were no sidewalk curb cuts in her provincial hometown. Hong says she also faced discrimination when her parents were told to send her to a distant institution for people with disabilities because there wasn’t an elevator in the local, four-story grade school.

“Her family instead moved to the Philippines, where a nurturing teacher told Hong that ‘being disabled was not abnormal,’ she said.

“When she returned to South Korea to attend the university, Hong had learned to stand up for herself. She got a taste for activism when her school’s administration refused to relocate a class to the ground floor. Hong fought back and won. …

“Her book idea was rejected by two publishers that told her ‘no one would read about disability stories,’ she said. ‘It really hurt me.’

“After promising to buy any unsold copies, Hong convinced the company Saenggak Bi Haeng in 2016 to take a chance with her book. But, she did not have to live up to her end of the deal — all 3,000 copies sold out, and now, the title is in a second-print run. …

“She believes travel and tourism are ways people with disabilities and the nondisabled can connect with each other and help nondisabled people overcome their biases.

“ ‘Suddenly, they meet a disabled person in their life and they change,’ she said. ‘They change their mind about what [are] disabled people and how to live with disabled people.’ ”

More here.

 

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Photo: Russell Haydn
Kitty Lunn, New Orleans ballerina who refused to let paralysis stop her.

Lately, I’ve seen a number of articles about incorporating more artists with disabilities into the theater and dance worlds. Ballerina Kitty Lunn didn’t set out to be an advocate in that movement, but after a paralyzing accident, she took charge of her future in way that helps others.

As reporter Erika Ferrando says at 4WWL television in New Orleans, “A ballerina embodies grace, control, and beauty. It takes years of practice and few are ever able to dance as a profession. For dancers, that’s the dream.

“What if that dream was achieved, then stolen? What if it no longer seemed possible for a dancer to dance? That’s what happened to Kitty Lunn and it’s been her mission ever since to overcome.

‘Life is a choice. We can either live while we’re alive or wait to die,’ said Lunn, who is now almost 70-year-old.

“Life is full of choices. Lunn always chose to dance even when it seemed she had no choice but to give up her dream. …

“Lunn trained in her hometown of New Orleans until she was 15, when her work here led to a scholarship with the Washington Ballet. She was living her dream. …

“She was 36-years-old, preparing for her first Broadway show when it all changed. …

“Lunn slipped on ice and fell down a flight of stairs, breaking her neck and back. The accident put her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

” ‘I was very depressed because I had been a dancer since I was 8-years-old. I had to find a way,’ Lunn said.

“She had just started dating the man she would marry, Andrew. …

” ‘Andrew said, spoken like a true non dancer, said if you want to dance, who is stopping you? I was stopping me, fear was stopping me,’ Lunn said. …

 Photo: Dan Demetriad

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” ‘I went back to class I put my money on the table. They had to let me in, I had the ADA behind me,’ she said. …

“Surrounded by world class ballet dancers, she was forced to break down barriers.

” ‘They said ‘well you can come in, but you’re on probation. If anyone complains, you’ll have to leave. Many people have complained and I didn’t leave,’ Lunn said.

“In 1995, Lunn founded Infinity Dance Theater in New York. It’s a non-traditional dance company featuring dancers with and without disabilities. The company performs all over the world. …

“Kitty Lunn visited New Orleans this month to help launch a program that keeps veterans moving. The New Orleans VA partnered with the New Orleans Ballet Association for ‘Freedom of Movement’ classes. The program is for veterans, wheelchair-users or not, teaching them to keep moving and dancing.

” ‘It helps me move joints that are a little difficult to move,’ veteran Tina Boquet said. ‘Although I may not be able to do things like I did before my accident, I am still able to move.’

“Now Lunn travels the world teaching others to move, despite anything trying to hold them back.

” ‘I learned that the dancer inside me doesn’t care about this wheelchair. She just wanted to find a way to keep dancing,’ she said. “I think I’m living the life I was born to live. That was an accident, this is a choice.’ ”

More at 4WWL, here, and at Infinity Dance Theater, here.

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Photo: Universo Santi
This haute cuisine restaurant in Spain makes a point of hiring workers with disabilities.

I have posted a few stories about successful operations that hire workers with disabilities, but this is the first I remember seeing about a high-class restaurant set up for the purpose of creating jobs that don’t differ from jobs in establishments that don’t use workers with disabilities.

Stephen Burgen writes at the Guardian, “The first thing that strikes you is the calm, the light, the modern art on the walls – and then of course the food. It’s only later that you realise there is something different, and a little special, about Universo Santi, a restaurant in the southern Spanish city of Jerez.

“ ‘People don’t come here because the staff are disabled but because it’s the best restaurant in the area. Whatever reason they came for, the talking is about the food,’ says Antonio Vila.

“Vila is the president of the Fundación Universo Accesible, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to helping people with disabilities join the mainstream workforce. He has also been the driving force behind Universo Santi, the haute cuisine restaurant whose 20 employees all have some form of disability.

“ ‘I always wanted to show what people with disabilities, given the right training, were capable of,’ says Vila, who is a senior manager at DKV insurance. ‘They were not represented in the world of haute cuisine. Universo Santi has broken through that barrier.’

“The 20 staff, whose ages range from 22 to 62, were recruited from an original list of 1,500. To qualify, applicants had to be unemployed and have more than 35% disability.

“ ‘I feel really lucky to be part of this,’ says Gloria Bazán, head of human resources, who has cerebral palsy. ‘It’s difficult to work when society just sees you as someone with a handicap. This has given me the opportunity to be independent and to participate like any other human being.’

“Alejandro Giménez, 23, has Down’s syndrome and is a commis chef. ‘It’s given me the chance to become independent doing something I’ve loved since I was a kid,’ says Giménez, who lived with his mother until he was recruited.

“ ‘Working here has transformed my life. So many things I used to ask my mother to do, I do myself. I didn’t even know how to take a train by myself because I’d just miss my stop.’ …

“Universo Santi may soon have a star in the Michelin firmament as the Michelin Guide people have already sampled the menu which, at €60 (£53), is less than half the price of a typical menú de degustación.

“ ‘Of course they didn’t introduce themselves but we knew who they were,’ says Almudena Merlo, the maître d’. …

“The Jerez restaurant takes its name from Santi Santamaria, chef at the Michelin three-star Can Fabes in Catalonia until his sudden death in 2011. Can Fabes closed shortly afterwards but his family wanted to carry on his name and culinary tradition and were keen to support the Jerez project. …

“The family’s enthusiasm attracted the attention of Spain’s top chefs, among them Martín Berasategui, [Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca, twice voted the best restaurant in the world] and Ángel León, all of whom have contributed recipes and their time as guest chefs at the restaurant.”

More at the Guardian, here. The article also mentions other European enterprises that employ people with disabilities.

Photo: Universo Santi
Says Alejandro Giménez, a junior chef with Down Syndrome who works at Universo Santi in Jerez, “Working here has transformed my life.”

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Photo: Social Candy
Milwaukee Ballet dancer and teacher, Janel Meindersee, tries out a wheelchair herself as she teaches her students. Parents watch with pride.

Heartbreaking as it is to see anyone make fun of a person with a disability, which does happen in these harsh times, it’s important to remember the advice that the mother of Mister Rogers gave him long ago: “Look for the helpers. There are always helpers.”

In Milwaukee, some unusual helpers are found in a dance company.

Amy Schwabe writes at Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel, “Nine-year-old Namine Eiche may be in a wheelchair, but that doesn’t stop her from being a ballet dancer. That’s thanks to Tour de Force, a partnership between Milwaukee Ballet and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin that’s been providing ballet classes to children with disabilities since 2014.

“Just last year, the opportunity was opened up to children in wheelchairs through the ‘Glissade’ class, very appropriately named since ‘glissade’ is the French word for ‘glide.’

“Janel Meindersee, a Milwaukee Ballet dancer who teaches Glissade, explained how the children are able to dance.

” ‘We teach a lot of the same things as a normal ballet class — how to spot your head when you move, the quality of arm movements, how to count music and how to stay in line when dancing together,’ Meindersee said. …

“Meindersee said that seeing kids in wheelchairs in other Tour de Force classes was the impetus for Glissade.

” ‘There was a girl in a wheelchair coming to one of our other Tour de Force classes,’ Meindersee said. ‘She was able to get out of her wheelchair sometimes, but she was most comfortable in her chair. We thought there had to be other kids who can’t even get out of their chairs at all. …

“After having taught two sessions of Glissade, Meindersee is ‘blown away’ by the skill, talent and strength of her students — especially when she gets in a wheelchair herself to try out the dance moves. She laughs with her students, pointing out that she’s not as skilled in wheelchair maneuvers as her students are.”

More at the Journal Sentinel, here. Just imagine the joy and self-confidence of these young dancers take home with them after a class. Perhaps some will join one of the professional wheelchair ballets someday. Or start their own company.

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Art: Tomihiro Hoshino

For more than 30 years, a woman from Hokkaido, Japan, who stayed at our house while studying the local PTA has been sending me magnificent calendars.

The calendars are from a talented artist and former athlete whose paralysis led him to master holding a brush in his mouth. His name is Tomihiro Hoshino.

An article at AccessibleJapan reports, “Tomihiro Hoshino was an experienced 24-year-old gymnastics teacher with a real passion for the sport. An active mountain climber and gymnastics instructor, his life changed completely as he was demonstrating a double somersault technique to a group of junior high school students. Hoshino unfortunately injured his neck during the maneuver and since that day he has been completely paralyzed from the neck down.

“The accident was a serious blow to this extremely active person who was forced to lay motionless for nine years in a Gunma orthopedic Hospital where he was kept under heavy surveillance for respiratory problems and complications as a result of the injury. He and his family never gave up hope that his physical condition would stabilize and improve. Although it took nine years, and he came close to death many times, there was always hope for the future.

“Many say that this hope came two years after his accident. In 1972 one of the patients that had stayed in the same room as Tomihiro Hoshino was being transferred into a different hospital. He asked that the staff, as well as all of the people that stayed with him, to sign a card as a memento of his time in the hospital. Tomihiro couldn’t come up with a solution as to how he would be able to sign his name for the man but with the help of his mother he was able to hold a pen in his mouth and eventually sign Tomo. This would be the beginning of how Tomihiro would begin his career in writing and painting.

“The second event that produced real inspiration for Tomihiro Hoshino was a time that a friend brought him flowers and left them in the window. …

“He was moved to start expressing what they meant to him. He began to gradually draw flowers and eventually became an adept painter with his mouth. …

“Tomihiro Hoshino has successfully produced hundreds of pieces of artwork, many of his essays and poems have been published and his work is displayed in permanent exhibitions at the Tomihiro Hoshino Museum. …

“If you are interested in Tomihiro Hoshino’s works, you can purchase them on Amazon or visit his art gallery in Gunma, Japan.”

More at AccessibleJapan, here. Read about his museum here. Those who read Japanese may click here.

I feel lucky to have had this decades-long friendship with a woman in Hokkaido. Although we haven’t seen each other since the 1980s, her daughter, Mika, came to visit while living in New York. Mika helped decorate our Christmas tree that year. Nowadays, I never do the tree without thinking of her.

Image: Tomihiro Art Museum

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An ESPN sports producer set out to do a piece on two high school wrestlers with disabilities. Today they think of her as family. Karen Given reports the story at WBUR radio’s Only a Game.

“Dartanyon Crockett … is legally blind. ‘Being a black kid in the inner city with physical limitations, or what people call a disability, you’re already written off,’ Dartanyon says. ‘No one expects much from you. You’re basically useless. And I wasn’t in a position where I could fix that.’ …

“So he pretended he could see. He joined his high school wrestling team and didn’t even tell the coaches. … Dartanyon didn’t want the coaches to treat him any differently, so they didn’t. Then one day during senior year, Leroy Sutton joined the wrestling team at Lincoln-West High School in Cleveland. Dartanyon was one of the team captains, and he wasn’t the least bit worried that his team’s new recruit was missing something. Well, two somethings.

” ‘We were talking in the cafeteria, and I asked him what happened to his legs,’ Dartanyon says. ‘And he told me that, “Yeah, I was run over by a train.” And I laughed, one of those deep belly laughs. He had always heard the, “Oh, my god. Oh, I’m so sorry. Oh, how did that happen? Oh.” Just to see someone not feeling sorry for him, just kinda sparked a bond almost instantly.’ …

“Soon, Dartanyon was carrying Leroy on and off buses, up and down stairs and into the bleachers. …

” ‘I didn’t know he was blind,’ Leroy says. ‘I found out in class. I noticed he was, like, really close to the book we were reading. So I was like, all right, he has problems seeing. So I turned to a couple of the other students around me and I was, like, “Hey, man, let’s do this like a project style and read out loud.” ‘

“And that’s probably how things would have stayed, Dartanyon and Leroy helping each other out — both thinking it was no big deal — if not for an ESPN feature producer named Lisa Fenn.”

Fenn goes to interview them and is greeted by a coach who said that “he’d been praying really hard for Dartanyon and for Leroy because he felt, once they graduate, the world had nothing for kids like them.”

Turns out the world had quite a bit for them. But it took years. Read the whole story at “Only a Game,” here, because look:

Four years after they first met, Leroy “wrote Lisa a letter for Mother’s Day. … That letter is printed in Lisa’s new book, Carry On, A Story of Resilience, Redemption, and an Unlikely Family. …

When I first met you those were dark days,
In that time I was stuck in my dark way,
There was no light, so you set the world ablaze,
And you snapped me out of that phase,
Then you went further,
Showing me you cared,
Answering my calls now I know that you’ll be there,
Then you ask questions, so slowly I shared,
This world you showed me is simply more fair,
You pull me out of a world where it was not clear,
Glad you did, there was no more air,
But now these days I’m full of smile, and full of play,
Hope you feel loved today,
So I’d like to take this moment to say,
Thank you Mom.
I love you.

Photo: Brownie Harris
Leroy Sutton (left), Dartanyon Crockett (center) and Lisa Fenn, the ESPN producer who came to Cleveland to tell their story.

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Today there are increasing numbers of opportunities for people with disabilities to enjoy the benefits of activities that others take for granted.

Eva Clifford writes at Women & Girls Hub about one intriguing example: ballet for the blind.

“In a third-floor dance studio, Lorena Nieva begins teaching her ballet class. Every weekend Nieva, the international coordinator of Psicoballet, travels 80 miles (130km) from her home in Puebla to give lessons to a group of girls from Casa Rosa de la Torre, a home for blind children run by nuns. Aged between nine and 22, all of the girls in Nieva’s class are completely blind or partially sighted.

“As the music plays, Nieva guides the girls, steering their movements with the sound of her voice and a gentle push with her hand. While the first half of the lesson is spent rehearsing a dance routine, the second half is devoted to improvisation. Breaking from the rigidity and strictness of conventional ballet training, Nieva brings in objects to inspire movement and games, such as fabric sheets, elastic ribbons and chairs.

“ ‘Dance cannot be reduced to a single sense,’ says Nieva. ‘It has to come from the whole body – from its limitations, too.’

“Founded on the belief that dance is ingrained in our biological roots, Psicoballet was created in 1973 by Cuban psychologist Georgina Fariñas Garcia … Teachers and advocates say Psicoballet, like most forms of dance, improves balance, posture and mobility, while also boosting self-esteem and reducing anxiety and depression. …

“ ‘I really enjoy discovering new ways of teaching, as it forces me to get out of my comfort zone,’ says Nieva, who has instructed people of all ages and various disabilities, but says teaching the blind girls has so far been the most rewarding. ‘I am keen to see that the girls have fun in the lessons, and that what is learned does not just stay in class, but it also enriches their everyday lives.’

“For many of the girls, that’s exactly what Nieva’s teaching does. ‘It has helped me a lot,’ says Itary, 15. ‘I feel I have improved my way of coexisting. Before, I was very aggressive, I walked a little weirdly and crashed up against everything, and this is not the way to be. Everything has to be done in a smooth way. To dance is to express with my movements what is within me.’ ” More here.

I found the article at the Huffington Post, which had reposted it.

Photo: Eva Clifford
Four girls who suffer from blindness wait to be called out for their first dance in Chiapas southern Mexico.

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I wouldn’t call them role models, but they have done things in their older years that have given me food for thought.

This week, we heard that Diane Rehm, who has hosted a popular talk show for 37 years despite a speaking disability, will be retiring after the presidential election. She is currently 79.

Jimmy Carter’s mother (remember Miss Lillian?) joined the Peace Corps around the time he became president. She went to India.

My mother ran for Congress in her early 70s.

My friend Dorothy kept going to her editing job in her late 70s. In her late 80s,  she was asked by her former boss to edit a book. (This time she declined politely, reminding him he now knew how to identify a dangling participle.)

Just putting it out there.

Photo: National Endowment for the Humanities
Diane Rehm, popular talk show host for 37 years, plans to retire after the election.

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John recently reminded me about an organization started in Boston to help people with disabilities or experiencing homelessness to create and sell their art.

The Miami Herald is one of many outlets that have picked up the story.

Brittany Chandani writes, “When Harvard graduate Liz Powers received a grant for social work, she decided to help homeless or disabled artists by sharing their artwork with the Boston community.

“When Powers realized there wasn’t a professional marketplace to sell their works, she organized an annual art show. Customers, however, wanted more than a yearly show, leading Powers and her brother, Spencer, to develop ArtLifting.com, an online marketplace devoted to selling artworks created by homeless or disabled artists. ArtLifting, a project incubated at the Harvard Innovation Lab, selects artists from nonprofits and homeless shelters across the country; it curates their art to highlight the top pieces from each artist. …

“Upon finding an Instagram tag #ArtTherapy, Spencer contacted David McCauley of Rise Up Gallery in Wynwood [FL], who simultaneously contacted Spencer upon seeing his Instagram page for ArtLifting. The serendipitous moment made the perfect partnership. …

“McCauley, an artist who broke his C6 vertebrae in a diving accident, moved from New Jersey to Miami to establish Rise Up Gallery, a branch of the nonprofit foundation he created in New Jersey after his accident. The pop-up gallery exhibits quarterly at various locations. McCauley also conducts free art therapy workshops at Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital. …

“ArtLifting now features three Florida artists on its website: David McCauley, Laurie Kammer and Elizabeth D’Angelo. ”

More about the artists here. See art that is for purchase at ArtLifting, here.

Photo: Marsha Halper/Miami Herald Staff
David McCauley, a mixed-media artist and the founder of Rise Up Gallery, smooths the edge of one of his new artworks at ArtCenter / South Florida in Miami Beach. Rise Up Gallery is a nonprofit organization that provides free art therapy workshops.

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A NY Times article I saved from November 24, 2009, remains as inspirational as when I first read it.

In “Learning His Body, Learning to Dance,” Neil Genzlinger writes that “Gregg Mozgala, a 31-year-old actor with cerebral palsy, had 12 years of physical therapy while he was growing up. But in the last eight months, a determined choreographer with an unconventional résumé has done what all those therapists could not: She has dramatically changed the way Mr. Mozgala walks.

“In the process, she has changed his view of himself and of his possibilities.
Mr. Mozgala and the choreographer, Tamar Rogoff, have been working since last winter on a dance piece called ‘Diagnosis of a Faun.’ It is to have its premiere on Dec. 3 at La MaMa Annex in the East Village, but the more important work of art may be what Ms. Rogoff has done to transform Mr. Mozgala’s body.

“ ‘ I have felt things that I felt were completely closed off to me for the last 30 years,’ he said. ‘The amount of sensation that comes through the work has been totally unexpected and is really quite wonderful.’ ”

Choreographer Rogoff saw Mozgala perform the role of Romeo in a production by Theater Breaking through Barriers in March 2008 and knew she wanted to create a dance piece for him.

“Originally, [Ms. Rogoff] envisioned a simple study, maybe 10 minutes long. Mr. Mozgala’s expectations when he agreed to the project were equally narrow: he said that he thought that she would either merely create a dance that made use of the physical abilities he already had or, after seeing his limitations, tell him, ‘Thanks but no thanks.’ ”

It turned out that their expectations were way too narrow. Read more.

Photograph by Andrea Mohin at The New York Times shows Gregg Mozgala rehearsing with Emily Pope-Blackman.

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