Friday, September 30, 2016

Meet the Guatemalan designer with Down syndrome who is shattering stereotypes in the fashion world

From Inquistr

Earlier this year, Guatemala was represented at London Fashion Week 2016 by a young designer with Down syndrome named Isabella Springmuhl. 

In Guatemala, Springmuhl faced frequent barriers that prevented her from realizing her dream of entering fashion. After finishing high school, she was rejected from higher education fashion programs because of her Down syndrome. 
Though it was a blow to Isabella at the time, she was able to work at her own pace and create an impressive portfolio without schooling. No doubt a surprise to the design academies that rejected her, she’s now set to conquer the world’s great fashion capitals — London, Rome, Paris, and New York. 
Isabel’s mother was aware of her daughter’s gift for fashion from a young age, and it wasn’t a surprise either. Her grandmother runs a well-known fashion label in Guatemala called Xjabelle. Through that connection, Springmuhl was able to create her own line of clothing for people with Down syndrome, a field severely lacking in options due to the odd sizing required for people with the condition.
Aside from the way Down syndrome has shaped her work, Isabella is also inspired by the styles of her native Guatemala, she told Look. 
Far away from London Fashion Week, the Down syndrome designer’s home country is currently undergoing a political upheaval. Assisted by the United States, Guatemala is going after the organized crime that mandates it. A recent editorial in the New York Times argued that these efforts faced unique challenges, including endemic government corruption, but that continued commitment to eradicating the violence could have positive repercussions across the Americas — even if they do face a steep uphill battle. 
“Much of their initial success was built on the element of surprise. No one expected such a forceful assault on corruption. But organized crime won’t make the same mistake twice. Its leaders have publicly threatened the lives and reputations of the attorney general, the presiding judge in the corruption trials, the United Nations commissioner in charge and his chief political officer, aiming to strip them of the will and credibility to do their jobs.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Watch the Rio 2016 Paralympics live or on NBC in the USA starting September 7

Around 680 hours of coverage from 13 sports will be live streamed on 15 HD channels on the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) website during the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
The IPC selected Dailymotion to provide the streaming services. Dailymotion is the world’s second largest video sharing website with three billion video views per month. It also has an extensive network of media publishers, such as news sites, which use the Dailymotion player on their websites.
Craig Spence, the IPC’s Director of Media and Communications, said: “We’re really excited that during Rio 2016 we will be live streaming 72 hours of sport each day across 15 channels. It will mean that fans from around the world can either watch the Games on TV or on We’re really excited to be working with Dailymotion for the first time, to use their publisher network and bring the Paralympic Games to new audiences.
“Strategically Dailymotion is a really good choice for the IPC. Half of their user base is located in Asia – the location of the next three Paralympic Games.
“Although the IPC has strong broadcast partners in Korea, Japan and China, we hope that using Dailymotion’s publisher network during Rio 2016 will help the IPC to build on that for the Games to come”.
The live stream, which will have English commentary, will be available in around 240 territories on and in around 190 territories on A full list of rightsholding broadcasters can be found here: This page will be updated with links to broadcaster streams.
As well as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, athletics, track cyclingfootball 5-a-sidefootball 7-a-sidejudopowerliftingsitting volleyballswimmingtable tenniswheelchair basketball,wheelchair fencingwheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis will be live streamed. All other sports will feature in the daily highlights which will be streamed at 16:00 and 23:00 BRT each day, as well as two news shows, shown at 03:00 and 10:00 each day.
The IPC will also upload athlete interviews and other original content to the Dailymotion channel.
The Dailymotion player is 100 per cent responsive and HTML5 compliant, the V5 is built for maximum performance on any device. It also has greater accessibility features, such as screen reader, voice over and subtitles.
"It’s our particular goal to distribute content that captivates and engages our existing community of over 400M global visitors,” said Maxime Saada, CEO of Dailymotion “Our global audience will enjoy the Rio 2016 Paralympics and the Dailymotion player, and our accessibility features will satisfy the public who will discover Dailymotion through this great event." 
The IPC’s video and live stream coverage during the Games can be broken down to the following: • Live coverage of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies • Up to 72 hours of live sport each day available via 15 HD channels with English commentary • Almost 700 hours of video on demand • Two daily highlights shows broadcast in both English • One daily news show • Athlete interviews and behind-the scenes content

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

'Born This Way' featuring adults with Down syndrome nominated for 3 Emmy awards

Washington, July 14 – A&E Network’s critically acclaimed and award-winning original docuseries Born This Way’s honors keep adding up – showing that disability is a winning theme. 
Born This Way was nominated for an Emmy this morning for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program. In addition, two episodes were nominated for Outstanding Picture Editing for an Unstructured Reality Program. 
Produced by Bunim/Murray Productions, the series follows a group of seven young adults with Down syndrome along with their family and friends in Southern California. During its first season, Born This Way grew across all demographics each episode, with adults 25-54 up 84 percent, adults 18-49 up 64 percent and total viewership up 67 percent by the end of the season. Recently, the series was chosen as one of six honorees for the 2016 Television Academy Honors, an award that recognizes television programming that inspires, informs and motivates. 
RespectAbility has been honored to have been consulted during the creation and production of Born This Way and congratulates the entire team for its hard work in achieving this nomination. 
“As detailed in the just-released Ruderman White Paper on Disability in Television, disability often is absent from mainstream film and television – both the depiction of and, even when a character has a disability, the actor often does not,” RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said. “But programs like Born This Way that feature people with disabilities, or that tackle disability issues, in a positive light can be successful both critically and financially. Audiences want to see strong, capable role models with disabilities. By focusing on showing these young individuals’ everyday life choices regarding employment, living independently and dating, Born this Way breaks down stigmas surrounding disability.” 
According to the U.S. Census, one-in-five Americans has a disability. Currently 70 percent of working-age people with disabilities are not working – even though most of them want jobs and independence. The numbers are even worse for people with Down syndrome. There are many studies that show that people with disabilities, including those with Down syndrome, can work successfully and live relatively independently. The individuals on Born this Way prove that as several are productive employees and one starts her own company. 
“By honoring and embracing diversity on television, Born his Way is uniquely redefining the art of honest storytelling and altering the way society views individuals with differences,”Elaine Fontain Bryant, EVP and Head of Programming for A&E said. 
The show returned for its second season featuring 10 brand-new episodes on Tuesday, July 26 at 10 PM ET/PT. The first season was launched during an event on Capitol Hill hosted by RespectAbility featuring Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). 
This season, the young adults and their families continue to live with a fresh and honest perspective as the series dives deeper into their personal independence and relationships, including new friends within the community who also will be featured on the show.

Comedienne Maysoon Zayid adapting life story into series

Screenwriter Lindsey Beer is working with Zayid to turn her story into an anthology series.
Maysoon Zayid is a Palestinian-American comedienne and actress whose 2014 TED talk about her career and life living with cerebral palsy became the most watched of the year. She uses her wit and humor to tackle issues of discrimination by empowering and entertaining people — and now she's taking her story to the small screen.
Zayid is teaming with writer Lindsey Beer (Transformers 5, Barbie) to write an anthology series based loosely on her own life. Zayid has previously turned her story into a screenplay called If I Can Can, but is reworking it with Beer to create a series where each episode is themed around certain headlines like "If I Can Can: Dance" and "If I Can Can: Drive." Zayid also will star in the project (which is in the vein of Master of None), and it is currently being shopped around town.
Zayid, who was born and raised in New Jersey, has been working in entertainment for 16 years, including films like Don’t Mess With the Zohan, comedy festivals and as a correspondent onCountdown With Keith Olbermann. She is repped by WME.
Beer's most recent studio feature work includes The Transformers and G.I. Joe writers' rooms, along with a reimagining of the Little Princess spec with Platinum Dunes set up at Paramount. She is currently writing Barbie for Parkes/McDonald and Sony and Kingkiller Chronicles for Lionsgate. Other features that are set up around town include teen comedy Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, being financed by Black Label Media, and R-rated comedy How to Nail an Alien that's set up with Atlas Entertainment. Beer is repped by WME.
Watch Zayid's TED talk here. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Amputee actor Kurt Yaeger breaks boundaries with major roles on four TV series

In 2006, Kurt Yaeger was in a serious motorcycle accident that severely injured his left leg, and he was faced with the decision of whether or not to amputate it.  

"The doctors said they were going to try to save more of my leg. I asked them how much usage I was going to have out of it, and they said 5 percent," Yeager, 39, tells PEOPLE. "Then they explained to me that an amputation might give 15 percent usage, and I said, 'Well cut it off.' "  

"Making the decision was just a matter of fact," he continues. "It doesn't mean it was easy, but it was a factual piece of information, not emotion."  

Yaeger says the emotional aspect of amputating his left leg was much more difficult to overcome than the physical one. 

"There were two stages of acceptance," he says. "One was physical, and that was easy. The second piece of it was the emotional – dealing with the long-term ramifications, and feeling like I was going to be Frankenstein."  

After overcoming the emotional hurdles, Yaeger was more determined than ever to pursue a career in acting.  

"I grew up doing plays and shooting videos with friends, but I never took it as a serious career," he says. "My motorcycle accident forced me into a position of deciding what I really wanted to do with my life. I said, 'Life's short, let's do it all the way.' "  

At first, Yaeger was worried that his disability might put him at a disadvantage.  

"It dawned on me that it would be harder to get work, but I really think that it was more of a life question versus how viable it actually was to work in Hollywood," he says. 

Yaeger mastered being able to walk without a limp, and wore pants to auditions. 

"Most people find out that I'm missing a leg only after the fact," he says. "I spent a lot of time learning how to walk without a limp so that their first impression of me was not going to be a negative one, unfortunately. For a lot of actors with disabilities it's unfair."  

Yaeger's determination paid off. He landed a role on Sons of Anarchy, and his new Cinemax show Quarry will debut in September. He also recently booked a major recurring role on NCIS, as well as roles on Pure Genius and Shooter 

"The exposure is fascinating," he says. "I get to spend a lot of time talking to different people on social media, who reach out to me and tell me how my story has helped them. I would have never guessed that being in the public eye would have put me in the position of being inspirational. I'm just doing what I do!"  

Yaeger says people reach out to him regularly for help and advice.  

"I always tell people to go out and fail on a regular basis, because that's the path to success."

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Scott Silveri's 'Speechless' is more than 'the disability TV show'

Television’s track record for telling stories involving individuals with special needs is spotty, and particularly tricky when it comes to comedy. That’s something that “Speechless” executive producer Scott Silveri sounded well aware of during a Thursday morning panel at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour in Beverly Hills. 
Centered on a family navigating the issues that can arise while raising a nonverbal special-needs child (portrayed by actor Micah Fowler, who has cerebral palsy), “Speechless” is a story Silveri said he had long wanted to tell after being raised with a brother with special needs. But, the former “Friends” producer was wary of how to tell it. 
“Part of the reason why it was a scary endeavor is it does announce itself in such a way,” said Silveri. “You just hear the logline of a show with a kid with a disability, it suggests that ‘After School Special’-ness. That’s why we were really vigilant about doing everything we could to subvert that as early as possible. 
“It’s not like ‘the disability show.’ We’re telling family stories here,” he continued. “At its core it’s a show about being different and not apologizing for being different and embracing who you are.” 
In the series, Minnie Driver plays a mother who must be a strong, and even strident, advocate for her son, including confronting a public school about a wheelchair access exit that doubles as a trash ramp.
Though Driver has experience playing American, she uses her native London accent for “Speechless.” “We tried it both ways,” she said. “The real truth is you can get away with a lot more when you speak in a British accent. You can say very rude things and make them sound charming.”
Fowler, who made his television debut at age 9 on “Blue’s Clues” and on the big screen in the 2013 film “Labor Day,” was asked about his favorite comedies coming into this role. Speaking deliberately and with comic flair, he answered, “My favorite comedy is this one.” 
Fowler’s character, J.J., is nonverbal on the show, and an aide portrayed by “Reno 911” actor Cedric Yarbrough acts as his voice. He too was aware of a need to transcend cliches in his role. 
“I really wanted to stay away from someone who could be the savior coming to this family,” Yarbrough explained, noting a desire to avoid the hackneyed “Magical Negro” concept like “the ‘Bagger Vance’ character who, you know, knows all. I wanted to make sure that this guy doesn’t know much of anything. He’s going to make mistakes.” 
In answering a question about the makeup of the “Speechless” writers’ room, Silveri noted his hopes to also avoid the usual TV tropes that can surround special needs individuals. “We have a lot of people on staff who have experience in this world, whether it’s having siblings or special needs children,” he said. “We don’t want [the show] to be all about that, but when it is we want to get it right and we feel a real responsibility. 
“It’s not an issue show,” he explained. “But because there are so few representations of disability on television you can’t help but feel a responsibility of doing it in an informed and intelligent way.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ruderman Family Foundation study shows lack of opportunity for disabled actors

From The Los Angeles Times. Pictured are Sam Claflin, a nondisabled actor playing disabled, and Emilia Clarke in 2016's "Me Before You." 

When Hollywood discusses diversity, one community is often left out of the conversation: people with disabilities. Even in its most recent iterations, prompted by #OscarsSoWhite, differently abled people in the industry seem unable to find a seat at the table. 
A recent study by the Ruderman Family Foundation revealed that, despite those with disabilities representing nearly 20% of the country’s population, about 95% of characters with disabilities on television are played by able-bodied actors. 
“The protest and ensuing media frenzy ignited by the ‘Oscars So White’ campaign has shaped an ideology around diversity in entertainment,” actor Danny Woodburn, a coauthor of the report, said in a statement. “This off-balanced idea of diversity has led to policy and even proposed legislation that has excluded people with disabilities. The Ruderman White Paper on Employment of Actors With Disabilities in Television is our attempt to bring perspective to inclusion, to reinforce access and an understanding of authenticity as an expression of what true diversity means and to finally let the least represented group in this medium be heard." 
Woodburn (“Jingle All the Way,” “Seinfeld” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”), who as a little person counts himself as a person with a disability, cowrote the report with Kristina Kopić, an advocacy specialist with the Ruderman Foundation, an internationally recognized organization that advocates for the inclusion of people with disabilities. 
Surveying hundreds of actors with visible and non-visible disabilities, they found that a plurality of actors with disabilities worked less than once a year and were repeatedly  subjected to negative stigma and preconceived biases by casting agents and producers. The report also examined how often actors with disabilities appeared on the top 10 television shows of the 2015-16 season. The study looked at 31 shows, including streaming platforms, and found that only four actors with disabilities were cast, or less than 2% of all actors on screen. 
Additionally, the study cites GLAAD’s “Where Are We on TV” report that noted that characters with disabilities on broadcast programming dropped from 1.4% in 2014-15 to 0.9% the following season. When taking into account that 95% of these few  roles are filled by able-bodied actors, the true extent of the misrepresentation is evident, the report stated.  
“Because of the widespread stigma in Hollywood against hiring actors with disabilities, we very rarely see people with real disabilities on screen,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “This blatant discrimination against people with disabilities not only is fundamentally unfair ... it also reinforces stigmas against people with disabilities. By systematically casting able-bodied actors portraying characters with disabilities, Hollywood is hurting the inclusion of people with disabilities in our country.” 
Ruderman and Woodburn cowrote a July 11 op-ed for The Times titled, “Why Are We OK With Disability Drag in Hollywood?,” in which they outlined how the industry could  rectify this situation. 
“We don’t believe that every single character with a disability needs to be played by an actor with a disability,” they wrote. “But if we’re going to employ Computer Graphics and makeup to create the illusion of disability, then we should also be willing to do the reverse.”  
They added: “Inequality of self-representation matters on a real, human level. We are not talking about some obscure pursuit; we’re talking about America’s No. 1 leisure activity. Studies and polls have shown repeatedly that positive exposure to gay TV characters sways audiences toward greater acceptance and even toward greater support for same-sex marriage. Exposure to people with disabilities would have an equally beneficial effect.” 
The Ruderman Foundation intends to bring the major studio heads together this fall in Los Angeles to discuss the report’s findings and possible corrective measures. 
See the full report here

Saturday, July 9, 2016

How two best friends with Down syndrome from Rhode Island made the kickass zombie movie of their dreams

A line of hundreds stretched around the block outside the Columbus Theatre in Providence Thursday night, as fans eagerly awaited the worldwide premiere of Spring Break Zombie Massacre and the arrival of its two stars. A police car cruised by, siren blaring, followed by a tricked-out white SUV blaring music and covered in fake blood and zombie corpses. The crowd around the red carpet parted as Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt, better known as Sam and Mattie, stepped out of the truck to wild cheers. 
“Superstars!” someone in the crowd yelled, as the duo posed for pictures. “Paparazzi!” 
Five years in the making, Sam and Mattie’s dream was now a reality.
Sam, 20 and Mattie, 21, have been best friends since meeting at the Special Olympics in elementary school. As Sam’s older brother Jesse Suchmann tells it, where one goes, the other isn’t far behind. 
Back in 2011, when Jesse was visiting his Rhode Island family home on a weekend away from his current residence in New York City, Sam told him he had an idea for a movie about zombies. And he was going to be the star. While Jesse said he encouraged Sam right away, he hadn’t counted on Sam being so persistent. Each time Jesse came home, Sam asked him about filming scenes for the movie. Eventually, the two of them sat down with some construction paper and worked on storyboards. Soon, they had a full-fledged movie about two bionically-enhanced heroes named Sam and Mattie who fight zombies, demons, and zombie-demons, all while juggling beautiful girlfriends and finding time to skateboard, stop bullies, and party. 
“Sam had a vision,” Jesse said. “And there was no way we could make the movie his way if we shot it on phones in our backyard.” 
In October 2014, Jesse started a Kickstarter campaign, filming a goofy video of Sam and Mattie introducing themselves and sharing their vision. After Kickstarter featured the campaign on their site on Halloween and a few media outlets took notice, the project took off, raising almost $70,000 in a little over a month. 
Before launching the Kickstarter campaign, Jesse had begun to solidify a team of friends to help make the movie a reality, including the film’s director, his high school friend Bobby Carnevale. 
“Jesse and I were both bogged down by the corporate world, and wanted to pursue a passion project that meant something,” Carnevale said. “I’ve worked in film for years, but the energy Sam and Mattie had, it was something I’d never dealt with before. Anytime we had doubts, they showed up and went in full force.” 
Jesse and Bobby, along with editor Tim Forster and producer Suzy Beck, were the core four supporting Sam and Mattie’s movie. According to Carnevale, they each had to call in dozens of personal favors and reach out to lots of different people to make the film happen. 
Among the bigger gets were a set of cameras donated by Panavision and assistance from the special effects company Silver Screen, which has worked on shows like The Walking Dead. Though there are still a few special effects that are a bit more DIY (or “Michel Gondry-esque,” as Carnevale calls them), the zombies, demons, and zombie-demons that populate the movie wouldn’t be out of place in a major Hollywood picture. 
Special effects and fancy cameras aside, though, the film — and the filmmaking process — wouldn’t exist without Sam and Mattie. They are in every scene and were involved in every step of the process, including casting. 
“Lots of times, people might say, ‘Oh, wow, these professional people helped these kids with Down syndrome who had a dream!’” Jesse said. “It’s not like that. Sam and Mattie are in charge. They’re the ones leading the vision and writing the script, hanging on set — they’re way more than a couple kids with an idea.” 
If you know a bit about Sam and Mattie, you can see how much of themselves they put into Spring Break Zombie Massacre. On days when their energy wasn’t quite as high, Sam said, they “drank a lot of root beer and kept going.” In the film, the traditional spring break scenes are filled with chugging, shots, and funnels of soda. In real life, the team scrambled to finish filming before Mattie entered his college transition program, ultimately wrapping with two days to spare. In the movie, the duo goes from being the kings of their high school to big men on a college campus. 
Perhaps most tellingly, Mattie hopes to one day become a famous DJ (with Sam as his manager), and counts Rhode Island native Pauly D as one of his heroes. In every Kickstarter update and media appearance they made, Sam and Mattie mentioned that they wanted Pauly D to be in their movie. And in a climactic battle scene, theJersey Shore star and DJ makes a cameo. 
“Pauly D was awesome,” Sam said. “He’s a real inspiration to Mattie. He was a really nice guy with a great attitude and heart.” 
“They know that fighting for what they want and believing in their vision will make things work,” Jesse said. “It’s been a real lesson for me. They have a vision, and they follow it. They dream huge — bigger than big.” 
Thursday night’s world premiere isn’t the end of the road for Sam and Mattie, however. Throughout the entire process, the core four have been shooting a documentary showing every step of how Sam and Mattie’s movie came to be. A film crew was still shooting as the boys walked the red carpet outside the Columbus. Though Carnevale once said he envisioned Thursday’s premiere as the perfect end to the documentary, Jesse says that Spring Break Zombie Massacre has been accepted to multiple film festivals, and they hope to hold screenings of the movie in other cities (including Boston), so they’re going to keep going. 
“We’ll bring the cameras to all the festivals, whether it’s Austin, Mexico City, [or] Telluride,” Jesse said. “We’d be foolish to stop filming before the journey is over.” 
As Spring Break Zombie Massacre concluded Thursday night, the crowd stood and cheered in unison, only sitting once Sam and Mattie took the stage for a Q&A. When asked if the film was everything they imagined, Mattie was blunt. 
“Oh yeah,” he said. “Oh yeah. We looked awesome.”
When asked what lessons they wanted to share from their experience, Sam’s message was simple. 
“Follow your dreams,” he said. “Don’t give up.” 
“We made this for people with Down syndrome,” he added. “Because we’re people, too.”

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Jockey celebrates individuality by casting double-amputee Chris Van Etten for new campaign


Chris Van Etten might not be the model you're used to seeing on billboards or in the pages ofGQ. Sure, he's got the chiseled abs and biceps, but unlike your prototypical cover boy, Van Etten wears prosthetics in place of his legs, both of which he lost during an explosion while fighting in Afghanistan in 2012.  
To try and stop himself from experiencing post traumatic stress disorder, the 25-year-old began working out which eventually landed him in front of the camera. "I wanted to find a way to show the image of strength," he explained to People magazine. 
And his new underwear campaign for Jockey, Show 'Em What's Underneath, is doing just that.  
Van Etten, who also spends his time riding his motorcycle, playing wheelchair lacrosse and mono-skiing, was one of three "everyday heroes" that Jockey chose for this campaign to "celebrate the spirit of individual" and to "encourage all people to be comfortable with themselves."  
"The one thing I want everyone to know is that you don't have to be famous or extremely gifted to change the world," he told Today. "I was an ordinary person and through determination I was able to make the best of it. It's amazing what people are capable of." 
These ads come at a time when the fashion industry is inching toward greater diversity — at least when it comes to race, gender and body types of size.  
Spring fashion campaigns, for instance, were the most racially diverse on record as 21.8% of models cast were of color. And last year's New York Fashion Week: Men's also included men of an assortment of different skin tones. As of late, major magazines from Sports Illustrated to Maxim have featured plus-size women, while various models have launched campaigns and clothing brands working toward great inclusivity for women of size. In addition to this, transgender women, like Caitlyn Jenner and Hari Nef, have landed major publication's covers.  
Those with amputations or disabilities, on the other hand, aren't as visible in the industry.  
But, there are definitely a few models looking to change this. Rebekah Marine, who was born without a right forearm, is a model who has previously made headlines for walking in NYFW for FTL Moda and posing for People magazine with fellow amputee and veteran Brian Taylor Urruela. "I think it's so cool to be at the front of the line of this change, and being able to open the door and inspire others to open their minds to different models," she told Time back in September. 
And they're not the only ones. Gianna Schiavone walked alongside Marine during February's NYFW show. Another model, Lauren Wasser, who had her lower leg amputated after contracting toxic shock syndrome, also walked in February, but for clothing brand Chromat.  
By increasing visibility and making their voices heard loud and clear, these models with amputations are showing others, especially young people, what is possible despite any and all differences. As Van Etten said to Today: "I can make something good out of the situation I've been put in. It's humbling and empowering all at the same time."

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Microsoft is adding a wheelchair option for its Xbox avatars

From The Verge:

Microsoft is adding wheelchair options for its Xbox avatars, as well as what look like some visual tweaks.  
Phil Spencer, the company's Xbox head, confirmed that the wheelchair additions were not "far off," after responding to a question on the subject on Twitter.  
The company's Mike Ybarra then tweeted a "sneak peek" of the update showing two avatars using distinctly Xbox-themed wheelchairs. 
The facial features of the two avatars also appear to be more detailed than those of previous models, suggesting that there are other visual updates on the way.  
Microsoft first introduced its avatars on the Xbox 360 in 2008, steadily adding more customization options, including branded content from games and companies.  
It's not clear when the next update for the avatars will be available, but the Xbox itself will be getting its next big update with the release of a new slim version in August.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tangled, Toronto’s first accessible art gallery for disabled artists, is bringing the outsiders in

From The National Post in Canada:

Outsider art – a term coined in 1972 by British art historian Roger Cardinal –was often displayed in the 1970s without the artist’s name, who was rarely even invited to openings of exhibitions that featured their work. In fact, disabled artists and their perspectives often weren’t considered integral based on the assumption that they produced artwork “in spite” of their disability, were void of intention and unable to develop their craft to begin with. They were more spectacle than work of art. 
But even in the 19th century, artists like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – whose genetic disorder pushed him to take refuge in art when he couldn’t participate in physical activities – were able to make a name for themselves. And of course, Claude Monet, the renowned French Impressionist painter, had impaired vision later in his career due to double cataracts, leaving him only able to see and paint in a range of blues, which became his predominant palette. He lived in perpetual fear that his career was over because of his disability. 
“These legacies of outsider art still haunt us,” says Eliza Chandler, artistic director of Tangled Art Gallery, the first art gallery for disabled artists in Toronto, that is also entirely accessible. “We work hard to dispel the assumption that disability artists aren’t professional while also bringing attention to the systemic and attitudinal barriers (facing them).” 
Tangled is featuring works that don’t shy away from the differences they represent, whether that means hanging it at a lower level, captioned video and audio or the use of 3D printers to produce tactile versions of every piece. 
The hope, Chandler says, “is to establish a new standard of artistic excellence to which all galleries will have to comply.” It’s a noble goal that began 15 years ago when Tangled first started operating as a non-profit arts organization dedicated to cultivating disability arts by supporting the professional development of artists who identify with a disability. 
With their first brick-and-mortar gallery at 401 Richmond West, Toronto’s premiere establishment for the independent arts and one of the only accessible art buildings in the city, Tangled is hoping to open itself up to a wider audience. 
“This gallery gives a permanent home to disability arts in Toronto and having this home in a building as culturally significant as 401 Richmond signals that disability arts is a main contender in the Canadian arts ecology,” says Chandler. 
With an emphasis on art that places a positive light on difference, it makes sense that Tangled would launch the gallery space with “Constructed Identities,” an exhibit by gay, feminist Canadian artist and writer Persimmon Blackbridge, who has been practicing disability art for 44 years. 
With a self-proclaimed “in-your-face insistence on pride in our identities,” but also a “quiet beauty” in her work, she is indelibly Canadian, and yet, also someone who has explicitly experienced the isolation of being a disabled artist in a largely inaccessible world. 
“There are many ways that people are closed out of art – stairs to galleries or works hung at heights that tell people who use wheelchairs that the work is not for them; written text that closes out people who can’t read, audio elements that aren’t translated for deaf folks, or visual elements that aren’t translated for people with visual impairments,” Blackbridge says. “As a person with a learning disability, a psychiatric diagnosis and more recently, kidney disease, my art has referenced disability since the late ‘70s, and so it has been important to me to make my work as accessible as I can.” 
In fact, galleries like Tangled have challenged Blackbridge to make her work even more accessible and take into account exclusions that she wouldn’t have noticed in her work otherwise. 
Featuring 28 figures of mixed media wood construction, and poignantly touching on themes of disability, diversity and sexuality, the title refers to “both the way the figures are built and to the ways that identities are inscribed on our bodies.” 
“When an artist makes a figure, they are confronted with all the identities that society reads onto our physical selves: gender, race, size, ability and disability,” says Blackbridge. “You can grapple with how to represent our complex and diverse selves or you can pretend that some default normal body represents us in all our wild human difference.” 
In other words, it’s work that is relatable to everyone — if they’re open to it.
“Some pieces are in honour of friends who have died, others combine materials that have personal meaning for me, like the oxygen tube my mother used when she was dying of cancer,” says Blackbridge. “But these stories aren’t explicit in the work. Instead, they allow for the audience to read their own stories into the pieces, which is a different kind of strength.” 
Although she cites Tangled, Vancouver’s Kickstart and Gallery Gachet as groups helping to make change, Blackbridge still finds progress towards greater accessibility moving at a slow pace, particularly considering technology’s rate of growth. “Discrimination, lack of access and just an all-round lack of understanding is still rampant, and change is happening very slowly,” she says. “There’s a long way to go. But opening the world to the particular creativity that people with disabilities have always had to incorporate, into both our art and our day-to-day lives, would bring huge benefits of strength, delight and new ways of thinking to Canadian society.” 
“Artists feel freer to claim their various overlapping, intersecting identities instead of hiding them and feeling like they need to identify just as an artist and not as a disabled artist or a trans artist, what have you, in order to be taken seriously,” Blackbridge says. “The freedom that younger artists are demanding is an inspiration to me.” 
And it’s that generation that is helping to continue the wave of change Blackbridge hopes to develop. With the singular objective of embracing difference and diversity in its art and artists, Tangled is bringing the outsiders in, abolishing the label and creating a new, inclusive home.  
Blackbridge’s exhibition concludes on July 4, after which Tangled will feature “Points of Origin,” large-scale textile work by mel g. campbell (July-September), followed by an exhibit of the painting installation “Mad Room,” by Tangled’s current artist-in-resident, Gloria Swain (October-December).