Sunday, November 22, 2015

Breaking Bad’s RJ Mitte to join British Channel 4 lineup for Rio Paralympics

From The Guardian in the UK:

Breaking Bad actor RJ Mitte, who played Walter White’s disabled son Walt Jr, will join Channel 4’s hosting team for the Paralympics in Rio as part of the channel’s 2016 programme lineup. 
Mitte, who has cerebral palsy, will be leading reports and features on the Paralympics, as well as taking part in the channel’s The Last Leg comedy programme. 
He said: “I’m so excited and honoured to be working with Channel 4 for the upcoming 2016 Paralympic Games. Sports connects us through the art of competition and I look forward to meeting all the athletes and learning about how they achieved their goals of pursuing their passion on such an elite level.”
Channel 4’s head of TV events and sport Ed Havard says: “RJ is a huge star worldwide after being part of the one of the biggest TV shows of all time and we are delighted that he will be such a huge part of our Rio coverage. 
Channel 4’s head of TV events and sport Ed Havard says: “RJ is a huge star worldwide after being part of the one of the biggest TV shows of all time and we are delighted that he will be such a huge part of our Rio coverage. 
“His passion for sport and his groundbreaking role in transforming attitudes to disability make him the perfect addition to C4’s own world-class team of talent being led by Clare Balding.” 
Channel 4’s coverage of the 2012 Paralympics in London beat the BBC’s Olympics coverage to a Bafta award for best TV sport coverage of a live event. The same production company behind the channel’s coverage of the London Games, Sunset+Vine, will work on next year’s games.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A&E Network to premiere new original docu-series ‘Born This Way,’ which focuses on adults with Down syndrome

From the A&E Networks. Pictured are Rachel, Sean, Cristina and Steven, who star in the new A&E Docu-Series “Born This Way.”

NEW YORK, NY – November 11, 2015 – A&E Network will premiere the new original docu-series “Born This Way,” following a group of seven young adults born with Down syndrome along with their family and friends in Southern California. The six-episode, hour-long series from Bunim-Murray Productions premieres Tuesday, December 8 at 10 PM ET/PT.
Cameras follow the young men and women of “Born This Way,” as they pursue their passions and lifelong dreams, explore friendships, romantic relationships and work, all while defying society’s expectations. In their willingness and courage to openly share their lives, through a lens that is not often shown on television, we learn they have high hopes just like anyone else. The series also gives voice to the parents, allowing them to talk about the joy their son or daughter brings to their family, and the challenges they face in helping them live as independently as possible.  
“We are proud to be airing this important and extraordinary series and hope it will inspire meaningful conversations about people with differences,” said Elaine Frontain Bryant, EVP & Head of Programming A&E Network.  “‘Born This Way’ is a show with honesty, humor and heart that celebrates and embraces diversity.” 
“There is a freshness and honesty in the way these young adults lead their lives; something we could all learn from them. We are enormously thankful to them and their families for participating in this project,” said Jonathan Murray, Executive Producer. 
“I'm so incredibly proud to see ‘Born This Way’ highlight the outgoing personalities and amazing abilities of Best Buddies participants like Rachel Osterbach and Sean Mcelwee," said Anthony K. Shriver, Founder and Chairman, Best Buddies International. "It is my hope that this show will demonstrate to society that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are just like everyone else and should be fully included in our communities, our workplaces and our lives." 
A&E has partnered with celebrated global non-profit organization Best Buddies International and committed to an on-air PSA featuring Anthony K. Shriver and Best Buddies program participants in support of promoting opportunities and increasing awareness for people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The cast of “Born This Way” includes:
  • Rachel – Working in the mailroom for an insurance company, she will be the maid of honor at her brother’s upcoming wedding.  Rachel would love to get married herself, but first she has to find the right guy.
  • Sean – An excellent golfer and avid sportsman, Sean is a self-professed ladies’ man, who is not shy about introducing himself to every eligible woman he meets. 
  • John – From a very young age, John made it clear to his parents that he craved the spotlight.  A born entertainer, John is committed to his music and is pursuing a career in rap.
  • Steven – Working as a dishwasher at Angel Stadium in Anaheim and in customer service at a local grocery store, Steven is a huge movie buff and knows the title and year of each Oscar winning film.
  • Cristina – This loving and compassionate young adult works in a middle school. In her free time she loves talking on the phone with Angel, her boyfriend of 4 years and the man she plans to marry.
  • Megan – A budding entrepreneur, Megan has created a line of clothing she sells under the brand “Megology.”  She is pursuing her dream of becoming a film producer and is a proud advocate committed to spreading the word that society should not limit adults with disabilities.
  • Elena – With a flair for the dramatic, this young woman embraces life.  Elena loves to cook, dance and write poetry and takes a great pride in her independence.
According to the U.S. Census, one-in-five Americans have 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. While there are many studies that show that people with disabilities, including those with Down syndrome, can work successfully and live relatively independently. 
"Born This Way” is produced by Bunim-Murray Productions (“I Am Cait,” “The Real World”). Executive producers for Bunim-Murray are Jon Murray, Gil Goldschein, Laura Korkoian and Barry Hennessey.  Executive producers for A&E Network are Drew Tappon and Elaine Frontain Bryant. 
About A&E Network Now reaching more than 96 million homes, A&E is the home to quality original content that inspires and challenges audiences to BE ORIGINAL.  A&E offers a diverse mix of uniquely immersive entertainment ranging from the network’s original scripted series, including “Bates Motel” and “Damien” to signature non-fiction franchises, including “Duck Dynasty,” “Wahlburgers” and “Storage Wars.”  The A&E website is located at  Follow us on Twitter at and Facebook at  For more press information and photography please visit us at 
About Bunim/Murray ProductionsBunim/Murray Productions is the leading producer of innovative entertainment content.  The Emmy Award-winning company is widely credited with creating the reality television genre with its hit series The Real World (30 seasons on MTV).  BMP continued to innovate with the first reality game show, Road Rules (MTV), in 1995; the first reality sitcom, The Simple Life (E!), in 2003; and the first reality soap opera, Starting Over (NBC), in 2003.  Bunim-Murray’s current programming also includes I Am Cait, Keeping up with the Kardashians, Dash Dolls, and Total Divas (E!), Real World and The Challenge (MTV), Project Runway and Project Runway All Stars (Lifetime), Fix My Mom and Bad Girls Club (Oxygen), and Valerie’s Home Cooking (Food Network).  Bunim/Murray Productions has also produced films, including Valentine Road (HBO), Pedro(MTV) and the Emmy Award-winning Autism: The Musical (HBO). Bunim/Murray Productions has launched additional entities including BMP Films, BMP Digital and BMP Latin. Based in Van Nuys, CA, Bunim/Murray Productions was founded in 1987 by Jonathan Murray and the late Mary-Ellis Bunim, who were inducted into the Television Academy of Arts & Science’s Hall of Fame in 2012. The company joined Banijay Group in 2010.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

University of Michigan Press endorses accessible book publishing guidelines

From Inside Higher Ed:

A key first endorsement from the University of Michigan Press has a group of disability studies scholars hopeful that their guidelines for publishing accessible digital books is slowly gaining momentum. 
Catherine Kudlick, Margaret Price, Jay Dolmage, Melissa Helquist and Lennard J. Davis this summer released guidelines that promote universal design in publishing, encouraging publishers to produce digital books that anyone, regardless of disability, can read. 
Nearly five months later, the campaign to raise support for the guidelines is still in its “baby phase,” said Price, an associate professor of English at Spelman College. A handful of scholarly associations have endorsed the guidelines, including disability studies organizations in the U.S. and Canada. 
Those endorsements did not come as a surprise, Price said. The Society for Disability Studies -- one of the endorsing organizations -- has created a permanent home for the guidelines on its website, for example. Winning over the publishing world continues to be the greater challenge, as many publishers would have to change their business practices. 
Practically speaking, the guidelines suggest publishers make changes such as adopting the open EPUB 3.0 standard for ebooks, using screen-reader software to check if the content is accessible and waiving digital rights management (DRM) restrictions, among other recommendations. 
Some of those recommendations are easy fixes, but the idea of DRM-free ebooks, in particular, has many publishers concerned that their titles could be pirated. Publishers, like software companies and digital media stores, can use DRM to make it more difficult for users to create copies of purchases, among other restrictions. 
The team behind the guidelines is not launching a large-scale effort to persuade publishers to endorse them. Price, for example, said she has only contacted two publishers -- the University of Michigan Press and Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group -- because of their activity in the field of disability studies. Still, she said, the process has already been more frustrating than anticipated. 
An inquiry to Routledge back in August, for example, set off a seven-week email chain about ebook pricing, contracts with retailers and the steps print-disabled readers have to take in order to buy an accessible copy of a book. 
Davis, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago whose Disability Studies Reader is published by Routledge, described the conversation with the publisher as a “process.” He noted a positive “slow progression” from working with Routledge on producing a fully accessible book. 
“I can’t say the whole world has changed, but there’s been some movement,” Davis said. “The phase that we’re in now … is ‘Have you talked to your publisher?’” 
Davis, Price and their colleagues received even better news from the University of Michigan Press, which recently delivered a full-throated endorsement of the guidelines. 
“When the University of Michigan Press invests so much effort in ensuring the quality of every other aspect of our publishing, it is logical that we should ensure our ebooks are accessible to all readers,” its director, Charles Watkinson, said in a statement. “Committing to accessibility is not only the right thing to do (strongly aligned with our parent university's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and meeting the desires of our distinguished authors in disability studies). It also makes good design and business sense.” 
The moment is of particular significance to the team, Price said, as “no academic press before now has stepped up to say, in straightforward language, ‘Yes, we are going to do this.’” 
Kudlick, professor of history at San Francisco State University, said Michigan's endorsement is a welcome relief from conversations with other publishers. "There isn't malice from publishers but more they lack a sense of urgency and I'm guessing they don't have clear guidelines about who is supposed to do what," Kudlick said in an email. "Too many of my interchanges have been being handed off from one well-meaning, clueless person to another. No one instance is bad but they accumulate, which is exhausting and demoralizing." 
Michigan decided to endorse the guidelines after Stephen Kuusisto, a prominent activist, poet and professor of disability studies at Syracuse University, in July blogged about the problems he ran into when trying to read the university press's ebooks. 
“I find it ironic that a press which publishes books on disability and culture has so little expertise in making its scholarly publications easy to read for blind researchers,” Kuusisto wrote. “But they are not alone. Try reading online journals or downloading articles from major academic websites. You will find it's a jungle out there.” 
In an interview, Watkinson said Kuusisto was right to “out” the university press, which in response is changing how it works. The changes extend throughout the production process, he said, including updating the author guidelines, ensuring all illustrations come with text descriptions and offering DRM-free copies. 
“It’s just been an aspect of publishing that has slipped through the cracks,” Watkinson said about accessibility. “There are a lot of added responsibilities in terms of ebook publishing, and it’s still a world that’s shaking itself out.” 
All new ebooks published by the university press now follow the new guidelines, and the publisher is also “working backwards” to ensure previously published books get the same treatment when they are made available as ebooks, Watkinson said. About one-tenth of its publications are in disability studies, but Watkinson said the university press is seeing a growing interest in the field. 
Watkinson said he is somewhat concerned about offering ebooks without DRM restrictions, but added that having an “access bias” will probably outweigh the risks. “It’s just the right thing to do, but it’s also a pragmatic business decision,” he said.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Research study says disabled people face clear job bias

NEW YORK — Employers appear to discriminate against well­ qualified job candidates who have a disability, researchers at Rutgers and Syracuse universities have concluded.  
The researchers, who sent résumés and cover letters on behalf of fictitious candidates for thousands of accounting jobs, found that employers expressed interest in candidates who disclosed a disability about 26 percent less frequently than in candidates who did not.  
“I don’t think we were astounded by the fact that there were fewer expressions of interest” for people with disabilities, said Lisa Schur, a Rutgers political scientist who was part of the research team. “But I don’t think we were expecting it to be as large.”  
The sole variation among the otherwise identically qualified candidates appeared in the cover letters, which revealed a disability for some but not for others. The study, although it deals only with the accounting profession, may help explain why just 34 percent of working ­age people with disabilities were employed as of 2013, versus 74 percent of those without disabilities. 
Previous studies attempting to explain why disabled people are employed at lower rates generally suffered from their inability to control for subtle differences in qualifications that may have made disabled job candidates less attractive to employers, or for the possibility that disabled people were simply less interested in employment.  
Other studies, based on surveys or laboratory experiments that asked people how likely they would be to hire a hypothetical disabled candidate, suffered from the possibility that some respondents were simply telling researchers what they thought was socially acceptable.  
Volunteers in such studies may have also differed in key ways from the human resources personnel who act as gatekeepers for job candidates, according to Meera Adya, another coauthor, who is a social psychologist at Syracuse University.  
The fictitious cover letter approach, which other scholars have used to document discrimination on the basis of race and gender, largely solved these problems.  
“These kinds of experiments are very important in research on discrimination, and to the best of my knowledge this is the first serious attempt to do this kind of experiment on disability discrimination in the United States,” said David Neumark, a labor economist at the University of California Irvine who studies discrimination. “The study is well done.” 
The researchers constructed two separate résumés: one for a highly qualified candidate with six years of experience, and one for a novice candidate about one year out of college. For each résumé, they created three different cover letters: one for a candidate with no disability, one for a candidate who disclosed a spinal cord injury, and one for a candidate who disclosed having Asperger’s syndrome, a disorder that can make social interaction difficult.  
Earlier studies had suggested that better qualifications might help disabled candidates overcome employment discrimination, but the researchers found the opposite.  
Employers were about 34 percent less likely to show interest in an experienced disabled candidate, but only about 15 percent less likely to express interest in a disabled candidate just starting out his or her career. (The latter result was not statistically significant.)  
“We created people who were truly experts in that profession,” said Mason Ameri, a PhD candidate with the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers, who was another one of the researchers. “We thought the employer would want to at least speak to this person, shoot an e­mail, send a phone call, see if I could put a face to a name.”  
For the gap between disabled and nondisabled to be larger among experienced candidates than among novice candidates, he said, came as a surprise.  
Ameri and his colleagues speculated that the steeper drop­off in interest for experienced disabled candidates arose because more experienced workers represent a larger investment for employers, who must typically pay such workers higher salaries and who may anticipate the employment relationship lasting longer.  
Experienced workers are also more likely to interact with clients on a regular basis. Regardless of whether these concerns are legitimate, Schur said, “employers see these people as riskier.”  
The researchers found that the decline in interest in disabled workers was roughly the same whether the disability was a spinal cord injury or Asperger’s. If it were the result of a specific concern — for example, that candidates with Asperger’s would have a hard time interacting with clients, or that employers would have to build ramps for workers in wheelchairs — rather than a general bias against people with disabilities, it is unlikely that people with such distinct disabilities would have experienced a drop­off in interest of about the same magnitude.  
The study showed that the Americans With Disabilities Act, the 1990 federal law banning discrimination against those with disabilities, appeared to reduce bias. The lack of interest in disabled workers — and especially in the rate at which they were called back for an interview — was most pronounced in workplaces with fewer than 15 employees, the study found. Businesses that small are not covered by the federal law.  
At publicly traded companies, which may be more concerned about their reputations and more sensitive to charges of discrimination, evidence of discrimination on the basis of disability seemed largely to disappear.  
The same was true at firms that receive federal contracts, which are required by the government to make a special effort to hire disabled workers. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Meet Julia: Sesame Street’s first autistic character

From Take Part:

Sesame Street's producers are hoping fans who came to know and love Elmo's high-pitched giggles and overall goofiness will also love his newest buddy, a girl with autism—and that their friendship will foster acceptance of real kids with the disorder.   
Meet Julia. With her bright-orange hair and wide green eyes, Julia fits right in with the rest of the Muppets living in the fictional New York City borough. She has autism, but that doesn’t stop her from playing and having friends.
Julia is part of the new initiative "Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children," launched on Wednesday. Its website offers tips for children learning to play together, advice for parents of children with autism, and tips on how to talk and ask questions about autism. All of the content, including a catchy new tune called “The Amazing Song” and a digital storybook about Elmo and Julia’s first adventure, is free through the website.
Instead of focusing on the differences between Elmo and Julia, the book highlights all that they have in common. Julia may have trouble making eye contact, dislike loud noises, and flap her arms when she’s excited, but she likes playing with blocks and on the swings just like Elmo. All the characteristics presented in Julia are common for a child on the autism spectrum, and in Julia’s case, she’s able to happily play with Elmo. 
However, many kids with autism don’t have understanding friends like Elmo. Approximately one in every 68 children born in the United States is on the autism spectrum, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children with autism are five times more likely to experience bullying than their peers, according to Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind the series. Roughly 12 percent of children with autism had never been invited to a birthday party, 6 percent were regularly picked last for teams, and 3 percent ate lunch alone every day, according to the National Autism Association.
The executives at Sesame Workshop are hoping Julia and Elmo’s relationship can put a dent in bullying from an early age.
"When we explain from a child's point of view that there are certain behaviors, such as slapping their hands or making noises, to express excitement or unhappiness, it helps younger children to understand how to interact with their autistic peers,” Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop’s senior vice president of U.S. social impact, told People. “It makes children more comfortable and therefore more inclusive."
Sesame Street has long been considered a gold standard in children’s television, teaching kids their ABCs and 1, 2, 3s on a daily basis.
Watching the public access education show can help children succeed in school, according to a study released this summer by Wellesley College and the University of Maryland. With the addition of Julia, the executives over at Sesame Workshop are hoping to foster academic and emotional intelligence in their rapt audience.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Broadway awakens to the Deaf community

There’s nothing on Broadway like Deaf West Theater’s Spring Awakening. The production is accessible to both the hearing and Deaf communities and it plays out so beautiful that you start to wonder why it has taken so long for a production with that translation to reach the big stage. Director Michael Aren and the rest of the creative team ensured that every moment in the musical was bilingual. Not every person on stage speaks and not all sign, but with a few theatrical devices well used the entire audience was on the same page.

The story in Spring Awakening takes place in Berlin 1891 while the score and costumes of the on-stage musical ensemble are inspired by rock and punk. Two characters were paired with musicians from the band who play their voice. Wendla, played by Sandra Mae Frank, was paired with guitarist Katie Boeck and Moritz, played by Daniel N. Durant, was paired with Alex Boniello. Each couple had a touching symbiosis that highlighted the character’s loneliness and isolation. They were completely attuned and synched in body and voice, so by the end of the show I almost forgot that Wendla never spoke out loud. Even better, because the people who played the voices were also in the band this brought the music to life in a different, visceral way than you’ll usually feel during musical theater.  
The rest of the cast signed or spoke to and for each other. Cleverly placed projections by Lucy Mackinnon filled in the rest of the interpretations. While the intersection of the hearing and the Deaf wasn’t the crux of the story, which investigates the fates of 13-year-olds whose discovery of sexuality leads to their downfall, the interplay heightened the circumstances. These kids, wronged by what lead Melchior, played by Austin P. McKenzie, called the “parentocracy” were clinging on onto each other as the unforgiving world decided their fates for them.

There is ample space for productions accessible to the Deaf community to be successful on Broadway. It only takes a bit of imagination to get them there. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Why don’t tech companies care more about customers with disabilities?

From Slate:

It had started as just another call to tech support. Sina Bahram, a Ph.D. student in computer science at North Carolina State University, had been trying to convince the Lenovo customer service representative to send out an on-site repair person to fix the broken audio on his laptop, but the representative was arguing that the company was no longer doing on-site repairs.* Instead, he asked Bahram to go through a troubleshooting procedure, beginning with a visual inspection of the audio port. That presented a problem. 
“I can’t see it. I’m blind,” Bahram said plainly, which was why getting the audio fixed on his computer was such a priority: It was his connection to the world of written information. 
“Oh, you’re blind?” Bahram says the representative replied with skepticism. “How long have you been blind?” 
Finding himself in the position of having to justify his disability to a person who was intent on questioning its reality, Bahram asked—in terms he admits were rather pointed—that the call be escalated to a manager. 
After a lot of phone calls and engagement on Twitter, Lenovo eventually apologized and sent a technician to repair Bahram’s laptop, resolving his personal issue to a moderate level of satisfaction. When I reached out to the person who helped resolve Bahram’s case at Lenovo, I received a response by email: “We believe there was a misunderstanding and sincerely regret the incident. We will take all steps possible to ensure the customer receives proper experience and everything to which he is entitled. Lenovo is sensitive to the needs of its customers worldwide and strives to provide a high level of effective support.” 
But accessible technology is more than just a personal issue for Bahram; it’s his profession. As president of Prime Access Consulting, he helps companies and institutions align their websites and products with principles of inclusive and universal design. He was struck by the contrast: Here he was helping other companies become more accessible, and yet the company that made his computer did not appear to be taking those lessons to heart when training its staff. “Tech companies are becoming more accessible in their product lines, but their social structure is stuck in 1983.” His unpleasant personal experience got Bahram thinking about the lack of a systemic approach to accessibility among technology companies. Some have fully integrated principles of accessible design into their development process, while others still see accessibility as an add on, or even a burden. 
Take Apple, for instance. It may not be perfect on accessibility issues, but the company has built a text-to-voice screen-reader into just about all of its products. It’s the only mobile device Bahram will use, “and that’s hard for me to say, because I am not really an Apple guy.” When it comes to Amazon’s Kindle line, meanwhile, only the Kindle Fire Tablet and Kindle Keyboard 3G include a built-in screen-reader, and Amazon has repeatedly petitioned the federal government for a waiver on the regulations that require it to make its other Kindle devices accessible. 
The larger issue here is that some “tech players are slow to recognize the incredible impact accessibility has on their customer base,” Bahram says. When you make a product that’s fully accessible to the blind, you are also making a product accessible to the elderly, to people with temporary vision problems, and even to those who might learn better when they listen to a text read aloud than when reading it themselves. This is the idea of universal design: that accessible design is just better design. 
But universal design and accessibility are hardly new ideas. That’s the frustrating thing for people like Sandy Plotin, managing director of the Center for Disability at California State University–Northridge. The center has hosted the annualInternational Technology and Persons With Disabilities Conference, which brings people with disabilities, academics, and industry together. The principle that accommodations should be made to give people with disabilities equal access to opportunities has been enshrined in law since 1990. “The [Americans With Disabilities Act] is 25 years old, and we still don’t have universal design and total accessibility,” she says. “Every year they are trying to make things laws and it still is not working.” 
The regulations that require Amazon make its Kindles accessible (the Federal Communications Commission’s 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010) also require that cable box manufacturers make the devices accessible to the blind and visually impaired by this year, says Plotin’s colleague Sean Goggin, technologies manager at the Center for Disability. But “to my knowledge the only one really out there that is championing that is Comcast.” Given Comcast’s less than sterling reputation in the art of customer service, this is saying something about the rest of the field. 
So what gives? Goggin thinks at least part of the disconnect is that companies who primarily focus on selling to other enterprises may not think accessibility is something they need to pay that much attention. Plotin thinks some companies are content to focus on the perceived 95 percent of their customers without disabilities, so “why worry about the other 5 percent until they have to?” 
Here’s a reason: People with disabilities actually make up about 15 percent of world’s population, according to estimates by the World Health Organization, or about 1 billion people. That’s a potential user base that Bahram says rivals the largest spoken-language groups. “Nowadays if you were a company like that, you would just never even consider hard-coding everything in English. You would write everything as localizable strings, because you know that the first thing you are going to do is go sell into 100 other countries.” This is just leaving money on the table. The world’s roughly 3 million Lithuanian speakers get language support—as they should—yet accessibility features for the more than 7 million visually impaired people in the U.S. alone are often tacked on as an afterthought compared with internationalization. Microsoft, though generally good at making software accessible, still shipped its new MS Edge Web browser without it being fully accessible, Bahram says, “so screen readers are having a hard time accessing it. It wasn’t released with accessibility baked in.” 
That approach, tacking accessible features on retroactively inevitably fails sooner or later, according to Clara Van Gerven, manager of accessibility programs for the National Federation of the Blind. The designated accessibility person moves on, or “it’s a static fix where the next time somebody changes something, it breaks accessibility.” 
So what does work? The National Federation of the Blind (and its Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access) bases its outreach around something that Van Gerven calls “enculturating accessibility.” That means helping companies understand how integrating universal design principles into their company culture produces better results—more accessible products, reaching more customers in more effective ways. But it has to be more than just a change to a product line, Van Gerven says, the sort of shift that alters the way everything runs from the company policies to quality insurance. 
Not to heap too much praise on Apple, but it seems to understand that accessible technical support is part and parcel of the accessible design of their products. When Chris Danielsen, the director of publications at the National Federation of the Blind, accidentally locked the file vault on his Mac and disabled voice-over control on the computer, an Apple tech support representative was able to guide him through a login process using tonal prompts. “It was a combination of the device having audible cues that I could use and the tech support rep knowing that it had audible cues that I could use.” 
Despite the depth and persistence of the problems with accessibility in the technology sector, Van Gerven says there has been a lot of improvement, even in just the past year. Increased interest from Web developers has led the National Institute of the Blind to schedule a Web Accessibility Training Day at its Jernigan Institute in Baltimore on Nov. 4, for instance. 
Meanwhile, an informal alliance of universities and industry called Teaching Accessibility is working to make training in accessibility requirements and accessibility technology a part of the college curriculum for technology students, perhaps even part of the major requirements for certain programs, according to Larry Goldberg, director of accessible media at Yahoo. At the same time, he says, industry will increase demand for those skills, with Yahoo and a dozen other companies involved in Teaching Accessibility planning to change the language in their job descriptions to prefer or require experience with accessible design by the end of the year. Goldberg says it could be “the beginning of what could be a generational change, except we hope it has an effect earlier than a generation, like next year.” 
Bahram, the accessibility consultant, is hopeful but cautious when it comes to the Teaching Accessibility initiative: After decades of the industry dragging its feet when it comes to accessibility, it’s actionable results that matter. But Goldberg thinks we’re near a tipping point where there’s broader understanding that “this isn’t a special thing for a special population, it’s not a check box, it’s just business.” 
When I followed up with Lenovo to make sure it did not want to make any larger statement about its commitment to accessibility in its products and services, I got a short and simple email in reply which read, “this matter did not involve product design.” 
That’s exactly the problem.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Call for proposals out for Society for Disability Studies 2016 conference in Phoenix

SDS Phoenix 2016 – Call for Proposals
Disability in the Public Sphere

29th Annual Meeting: June 8-11, 2016
Phoenix, Arizona
Hyatt Regency Phoenix

The program committee of the 29th annual meeting of the Society for Disability Studies invites you to consider the multiple and significant possibilities at the intersections of disability, media, education, and public policy.


As Arizona’s fraught political history reminds us, the public sphere can be a vibrant space filled not only with contestation and conflicting ideas and agendas, but also with camaraderie and interdependence. Please join us in Phoenix and make your voice heard.

Disability in most societies has left the shadows to become a visible part of the larger culture. Through news and entertainment media, through changing public policies, through attention in teaching at all levels, focus on disability is becoming more vibrant. These public areas help shape meanings and representations of disability, and disability in turn shapes the public sphere.

Many international disability organizations now acknowledge the influence of mass media and other societal representations on what a society believes about disability. The UN’s International Labour Organization in Geneva, Switzerland reports: “How people with disabilities are portrayed and the frequency with which they appear in the media has enormous impact on how they are regarded in society. Portraying people with disabilities with dignity and respect in the media can help promote more inclusive and tolerant societies and stimulate a climate of non-discrimination and equal opportunity.”

Disability presents in the public sphere in many ways that intersect with Disability Studies research. What is being (or not being) taught about disability at all grade levels and in higher education?  How are disability rights reflected (or not reflected) in public policies? What are the varied mediated representations of disability in a society? How do those mediated representations affect the lived experiences of people with disabilities? How are people with disabilities able to (or not able to) access public activities and forums of various kinds?

Communities, activists, artists, advocates and allies - local, national, international – are encouraged to participate in the SDS conference. We strongly encourage full panel submissions, including 3-4 presenters with a designated moderator/discussant. Individual paper submissions are welcomed as well.  

We welcome proposals in all areas of disability studies, but especially those submissions premised on this year's theme.

The deadline for proposals is December 1, 2015.

Multiple Submissions
Participants MAY NOT appear in more than ONE major role (peer-reviewed presentation), excluding evening performances, non-presenting organizer, non-presenting moderator, New Book/Work Reception. Conference participants submitting more than one proposal must rank-order their preferences for participation. The program committee will prioritize spreading program slots across the membership before offering multiple slots to any one participant.

If you intend to participate in multiple events, please complete the submission process for each event.

This years program committee is continuing the idea of specific “strands” that relate to the larger more general theme of the SDS conference. Each strand may have 3 or 4 related events (e.g. panels, workshops), organized to occur throughout the conference in a way that will eliminate any overlap of sessions.

Our planned strands this year are as follows; each is accompanied by possible prompts related to this year’s theme:

Communities and Cultures
With an emphasis on disability and native peoples, First Nations, aboriginal peoples, and American Indians, these papers and sessions explore challenges and possibilities that shape collaboration, culture, and community. How are relations negotiated within intersecting identities, cultures, and disabilities? What are the terms of community self-definition? How do identities, intersectional locations, and/or community definitions become codified in policy and law? 

Critical Design, Media, & Technology Studies
Papers and sessions that explore object studies, architecture, sustainability, design in professional contexts, military tech, material culture, robotics, etc. How do we think about personhood, life, humanness, and the ways that mobility devices, prosthetics, and wheelchairs can be experienced as integral to living bodies? In what ways does media influence our interactions with and understandings of various technologies? How do gender, race, class, sexuality, and living location affect access to and experiences with disability technologies?

Power, privilege and state policies
SDS recognizes Arizona’s troubled relationship with immigrants and other minoritized communities. This strand seeks to encourage constructive dialogue that engages with intersecting state oppressions at all levels that affect people with disabilities and all of their allies in the fight for civil and human rights. How do various disability organizations (including SDS) carry out, contest, complicate, and contextualize power and privilege?

Professional development
Papers and sessions that explore professional matters such as locating funding, pursuing academic and non-academic jobs, managing non-tenured careers, networking, surviving the tenure track, etc. How does the changing and developing “institutionality” of disability studies impact professional development and the way they get represented in the public sphere?

Translational research in health sciences and disability studies
Translational research refers to research that translates between disciplines, and from basic research to applied research and to practice, the goals of this strand are: (1) to demonstrate how disability studies theory contributes to the conception of health sciences research and practice; (2) to provide best practice examples of disability studies translational research and practice; and (3) to mentor a new generation of federally funded disability studies researchers and practitioners. We particularly welcome submissions from clinicians/clinical researchers close to disability (whether disabled or not) who are interested in cutting edge disability studies perspectives.

Disability History (Sponsored by the Disability History Association (DHA))
Historical presentations from a variety of research perspectives that explore the history of disability and disabled people in the public sphere.

If you would like your proposal to be considered as part of one of these thematic strands, please note the strand in your submission information.

Other strands may emerge from member proposals as we receive them. 


Important Note on Virtual Presentations: 
These will NOT be available for the Phoenix 2016 conference.  The accessibility and infrastructure is not available to us given the location as well as the predicted size and scope of this year’s conference.

Important Note on Multiple Submissions
Participants MAY NOT appear in more than ONE major role (peer-reviewed presentation), excluding evening performances, non-presenting organizer, non-presenting moderator, New Book/Work Reception. Conference participants submitting more than one proposal must rank-order their preferences for participation. The program committee will prioritize spreading program slots across the membership before offering multiple slots to any one participant.

If you intend to participate in multiple events, please complete the submission process for each event.

All submissions are peer-reviewed, unless otherwise indicated below. All session formats are 90 minutes in length, including all introductions, presentations, discussion, and closure. Proposals may be submitted for presentations in any of the following formats:

·         Complete Panels:

·         Groups of 3-4 presenters (each with 15-20 minutes) and a designated organizer / contact person and moderator (need not be the same person), plus an optional discussant, are encouraged to submit proposals around a central topic, theme, or approach. Panel proposals require BOTH a 300-word proposal describing the panel AND a 300-word abstract for each paper/presentation. List all paper/presentation co-authors, identify the presenting author(s), and provide credentials for the discussant, if one is planned.

·         Individual Presentation:
Individual presentations will be placed alongside two or three other panelists with a similar topic and a moderator chosen by the Program Committee. In general, we assume 15-20-minute presentations (if you are requesting more time, please specify and explain why). Presenters are required to submit 300-word abstracts for individual papers/presentations. List all co-authors, if any, and designate the presenting author(s).

·         Discussion:
A topical discussion with a designated organizer / contact person and moderator (need not be the same person), but with only short (5-7 min.) presentations to start discussion, if any. Submit a 500-word proposal, including a description of how the time will be used, complete contact information for the designated organizer and each participant in the discussion, and a description of their roles.

·         Workshop:
Engaged application of a specific program or exercise involving a minimum of 4 planners / presenters. Proposals should include a 500-word proposal that addresses methodology and anticipated learning outcomes. Proposals must describe the format of the workshop. How will you use the time? Please describe the credentials and role of each workshop participant, designate a contact person/moderator, and provide complete contact information for each planner / presenter.

·         Poster:
Individuals or small teams will be provided a common space and time with an easel (and/or table if requested) to present a display of a research, training, service, or advocacy project, or other work. Presenters should be in attendance at the poster session. Submissions for the poster session require a 300-word abstract, complete contact information for anyone involved in the project who will attend SDS, and a designated lead contact person. Each year, SDS proudly awards the Tanis Doe Award for the best poster.

·         Performance or Art Event/Exhibit:
We encourage submissions of a creative/artistic event in any media by individuals and/or groups. All proposals should clearly list at least one person who will register for and attend the conference as the event presenter/host. Submissions must include a 500-word proposal, and sample of the proposed work (up to 2,500 words of text, ten images of artistic work, demo CD, YouTube or other Internet link, DVD, or other appropriate format). Send via email at SDSCONF2016@GMAIL.COM or postal mail to the SDS Executive Office at: Society for Disability Studies/ 538 Park Hall – History Dept / University at Buffalo / Buffalo, NY 14260-4130 / USA. Submissions must reach the SDS Executive Office by the submission deadline. Please describe the background and role of each artist/participant and designate a contact person / moderator.

Performers should be aware that SDS does not have the ability to provide theatrical and or stage settings. While every effort will be made to provide appropriate performance spaces, proposing performers are advised that special lighting, audiovisual equipment, and staging requests cannot be accommodated.

·         Films (non peer-reviewed):
Ideally, film submissions do not exceed 60 minutes in length in order to allow for commentary and discussion. All film entries accepted for presentation at the 2016 Conference must be provided to the SDS Executive Office on DVD not less than 30 days prior to the start of the Conference in open-captioned format, and the films sponsor should be prepared to provide audio description as needed. As SDS cannot pay distribution rights for film screenings, the films sponsor is fully responsible for securing any necessary permissions from trade and copyright holders for public screening. Sponsors of accepted films must register for and attend the conference, host the screening, bring documentation of rights clearance to the Conference and make it available during the film screening. SDS may request the right to schedule more than one screening at the conference. SDS program committee may request more samples and cannot return materials that are submitted for consideration. Films and film clips may also be submitted as part of format categories A-F as described above and are subject to the same accessibility requirements as full-length film proposals.

·         Student and Other Interest Groups/Caucus/Other Meetings (non peer-reviewed):
Various ad hoc and organized SDS or other non-profit groups may wish to have business, organizational, or informational meetings or some other kind of non-peer-reviewed event or exhibit space at the meetings. Anyone hoping to host any such event should request space by December 1, 2015 by using the proposal submission form. After December 1, space will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. No meetings can be planned through SDS after the early-bird deadline of May 1, 2016. All presenters at such events must register for the conference. Requests from groups not affiliated with SDS may be assessed a share of cost for space and access arrangements. Please provide the name of group, a description of the group and/or meeting purpose and format (in 300 words), and contact information for at least one organizer and a designated moderator. SDS will provide ASL/CART as needed. Organizers should contact SDS to request catering or any other special arrangements.  Most of these meetings will take place in designated time blocks; be aware then that a proposed SIG or Caucus or Meeting will be scheduled against many others.

All participants must register and pay for the conference through the SDS website ( or the Executive Office by the early bird deadline: May 1, 2016, or they will be removed from the program. Early bird registration will begin Monday, March 7, 2016.

Participants will be notified of the status of their proposal and their paneling/place by Feb. 19, 2016.

Any cancellations and requests for refunds after May 1, 2016 (the early bird deadline) may incur a cancellation fee. Any participant unable to attend must notify SDS in a timely fashion.

Please note: low income/student/international member presenters are eligible for modest financial aid for meeting costs. Applications for financial assistance will be available via the SDS listserv in the coming months.

New Books/Materials:
Any participant with a book or other materials (e.g., DVD, CD) finished within the last three years (2013, 2014, 2015) is welcome to participate in the New Book/Work Reception. At least one person must register and be in attendance to host the reception display. You will be provided a table for display and the opportunity to interact with conference participants. The fee for representation in the New Book/Work Reception is $45.00. You will have the opportunity to register as an author attending the New Book Reception when you register for the conference.
Please indicate on the submission form whether you are willing to serve as moderator for a session.

In keeping with the philosophy of SDS, we ask that presenters attend carefully to the accessibility of their presentations. As a prospective presenter, you agree to follow the SDS Guidelines for accessible presentations found here:

AUDIO / VISUAL INFORMATION: Presentation rooms* for the SDS 2016 Conference will be equipped with:
2 (two) microphones for use by presenters;
1 (one) LCD projector, screen, power source, and cables;
Head table suitable to comfortably accommodate 4 (four) people;
Both table top and podium presentation spaces; and
Non-dedicated, WIFI Internet access (i.e. not functional for audio/video download reliably) Do NOT depend on WIFI access.  Have a back-up.
SDS does not provide computers, overhead projectors, or other audio/visual equipment as a matter of course. Presenters are responsible for ensuring that presentation structure and planning works well within these audio/visual parameters.

*This information may not be applicable to film showings and some other events.

By submitting to SDS 2016 in Phoenix, you give SDS permission to publish your abstracts, photograph you, publish such photographs on the SDS web site or other publications, audio or video record your presentation, transcribe the presentation for access needs, and transmit or post and archive such recordings and transcriptions via live-streaming, podcast form, or any other electronic means. If submitting on behalf of multiple presenters and authors, you certify that each presenter and author has granted his/her permission to Society for Disability Studies for purposes described in this paragraph. By giving this permission, you understand that you retain full rights to your work but give SDS the right to use your presentation in the context of the 2016 conference, including (but not limited to) charging attendees and others for access to derivative audio or video products, recordings or podcasts.

For further information contact the Program Committee at SDSCONF2016@GMAIL.COM

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Eastern College Athletic Conference first to offer NCAA sports for adaptive athletes

Anxious parents of high school athletes keep calling the Connecticut headquarters of the Eastern College Athletic Conference. They want to know: Will my daughter be able to play for a league title in wheelchair basketball? Will my son be able to compete in sled hockey as a varsity athlete? What about sitting volleyball, wheelchair rugby, and goalball? 
The ECAC’s answer: Yes, yes, yes. 
This fall, the ECAC becomes the first collegiate athletic conference to offer NCAA-sanctioned events and varsity-level competition in adaptive sports. During the current school year, the ECAC expects athletes with disabilities to vie for championships in swimming, track and field, and wheelchair basketball. In the near future, the conference plans to add championships in sled hockey, goalball (a team sport for the visually impaired, using a ball with bells in it), sitting volleyball, rowing, and tennis. 
Five years from now, ECAC leaders hope, roughly 1,000 athletes with disabilities will be competing in several sports. 
“For athletes, it means the opportunity to play for their school,” said Joe Walsh, president of Adaptive Sports New England, a Massachusetts nonprofit organization that aims to increase sports participation for children and young adults with visual or mobility impairments. 
“They identify themselves as athletes. That’s part of who they are.
“Now, they get to make that part of their college experience, instead of it being separate from their college experience. They can be part of a varsity sports program, and that’s the same message high school athletes who don’t have disabilities get about their future.” 
Previously, if wheelchair basketball players wanted to play in college, they were limited to schools that offered essentially club programs, such as the universities of Illinois, Alabama, and Wisconsin-Whitewater.
“What it means is our student-athletes are valued and recognized on the same level as their able-bodied peers on campus as varsity athletes, and that’s never happened before in wheelchair basketball,” said Stephanie Wheeler, head coach of USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball and of women’s wheelchair basketball at Illinois. 
Participants in other adaptive sports faced similarly limited options. Generally, they could play at the club level at a handful of schools, attend a college that serves as a Paralympic training site, or earn a spot on a team with all able-bodied athletes. 
Since adaptive sports teams typically fall outside athletic department oversight and often involve a mix of college students and community members, it’s difficult to pin down exactly what opportunities exist and where. 
“They see how they are not equal to the other athletes on our campus,” said Wheeler. “They notice it in facilities, in access to the complete educational and athletic experience that other students are receiving on our campus. 
“They see that they’re not experiencing college in the same way that those student-athletes are. 
“On that level, it’s exciting for them. It’s a huge first step.” 
A model and a vision

The ECAC model will place an emphasis on inclusion. And that will be achieved in different ways for different sports. 
For swimming and track and field, adaptive athletes will join existing teams. In wheelchair basketball, roster spots will be open to wheelchair-dependent athletes as well as able-bodied players who compete in wheelchairs. The same mix of participants will be eligible for other adaptive team sports such as sled hockey, sitting volleyball, and goalball. 
To explain how that mix will work, adaptive sports advocate Ted Fay references a Guinness beer commercial that features a pickup wheelchair basketball game. Of the six players shown, only one uses a wheelchair off the court. To preserve opportunities for wheelchair-dependent athletes, the ECAC is proposing that league rules allow up to two able-bodied athletes per team on the court at one time. 
“The ‘normal’ basketball that society knows is stand and play, run and play, jump and play,” said Fay, a sport management professor at SUNY-Cortland and ECAC senior adviser on Inclusive Sport. “We’re saying there’s another basketball discipline, wheelchair basketball, where you sit and play. 
“You need to be well-trained for wheelchair basketball. You need to learn how to manipulate a chair, and shoot and dribble from a sitting position. 
“The idea is we reach out to the whole campus population and say, ‘If you want to sit and play with your brother, your sister or your friend, you can. But you’ve got to learn how.’ ” 
Another aspect of the ECAC’s vision is that adaptive competitions will count in team scoring. So swimmers, track and field competitors, and other athletes with disabilities will participate in events that can add to their school’s point totals at major meets. 
The ECAC is adding adaptive sports because, as conference president/CEO Kevin McGinniss said, “We are structured in such a way that we can make an impact right out of the gate that other conferences would have difficulty in doing.” 
The ECAC is the nation’s largest athletic conference, consisting of 300-plus member schools spread across 16 states and multiple divisions, including more than 90 in New England and more than 45 in Massachusetts. Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, Northeastern, MIT, Merrimack, and Tufts are among the schools that compete in the ECAC. 
They take advantage of a league structure in which member schools can selectively enter teams in the conference’s competitions. For example, a member school can participate in the ECAC in wheelchair basketball and Division 3 women’s ice hockey, but place other teams in other leagues and other divisions. 
Advocates such as Fay hope that kind of flexibility will encourage schools to add adaptive sports. 
Finding the athletes 
The ECAC decided to start with swimming, track and field, and wheelchair basketball partly because those sports don’t require a lot of additional resources. With swimming and track and field, it will be likely a matter of simply adding a few athletes to existing teams.
The adaptive events proposed for track and field include shot put, discus, long jump, and the 100-, 400-, 800-, and 1,500-meter races. In swimming, the proposed events are the 50- and 100-yard freestyles, the 100-yard backstroke, and the 200-yard individual medley. 
Eight ECAC schools already play men’s wheelchair basketball and four play women’s wheelchair basketball at a club level. So the wheelchair basketball competition will start with officially designating those teams as varsity programs and forming an ECAC league. 
The ECAC and its advisers are still calculating costs. They will vary from school to school, depending on what the institution already has in place and what it plans to offer. According to Fay, the biggest new expenses will likely be accessible transportation and adaptive equipment. 
Anticipating concerns, McGinniss emphasized that the conference would “need to make certain that money used for student-athletes with disabilities is in addition to what we have right now for other sports — not taking away money or resources.” 
At the moment, however, the biggest challenge for both ECAC leaders and adaptive sports advocates isn’t financial. It’s finding athletes. Most adaptive sports don’t have systems in place for identifying athletes, making it difficult for schools to determine whether they have potential varsity candidates already on campus. Additionally, schools need to figure out the best ways to recruit potential adaptive athletes locally, nationally, and internationally. 
Gary Caldwell, director of rowing for Tufts and commissioner of the Intercollegiate Rowing Association, believes a partnership with Brighton-based Community Rowing could help identify local talent in his sport. (Community Rowing is known for its well-established Para Rowing program.) And Caldwell is considering other ways of finding athletes such as talking with makers of prostheses. 
Still, it will take years to establish NCAA-sanctioned adaptive sports and the pipelines of talent to feed them. 
“In our little corner of the college world, in rowing, we’re willing to throw stuff up on the wall and see what sticks,” said Caldwell. 
“I don’t think any of us knows yet how any of this can grow. To a certain extent, it’s like the Field of Dreams. If you build it, if you start it, they will come.”