After a grueling three-day competition, Nicole Kelly (pictured) was named Miss Iowa on June 8. The 23-year-old will go on to compete in the Miss America pageant, where she will speak about the importance of overcoming disabilities.
Kelly was born without her left forearm, according to her biography on MissIowa.com.
“As I grew up I learned to counterbalance the initial stares I received from people with an outgoing personality that would not give into ‘no,’” she writes on the Iowa pageant site. “This means that I tried everything. From baseball, to dance, to diving - there is nothing I would not try. I found my passion within a world where I was giving people permission to stare: the stage.”
Kelly studied theater at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She graduated in May 2012.
“If you would have told me a year ago that ‘pageant queen’ was in my future I would have laughed,” she wrote, adding that she is excited to have the opportunity to discuss overcoming disabilities publicly.“Giving voice to a platform is a great honor and I am excited to continue my adventure of speaking out and touching lives.”
Earlier this year, Alexis Wineman, of Montana, made history when she became the first autistic contestants to ever participate in the Miss America pageant in January.
Mallory Hytes Hagan of Brooklyn, NY, won the 2013 competition and is the reigning Miss America.
Saturday, June 29, 2013
Mima Ruzicic-Novkovic, leader of Centre Living Upright in Serbia.
My latest project:
June 2013 - Towson University’s Department of Mass Communication & Communication Studies and its Hussman Center for Adults with Autism have been selected to participate in a U.S. Department of State sponsored Professional Fellows EMPOWER Program, administered by Mobility International USA (MIUSA). This two-way international exchange program aims to expand the capacity of organizations in the U.S. and abroad to promote inclusive communities and advance the rights of persons with disabilities around the world.
Towson University has partnered with two Serbian-based organizations, Centre Living Upright and the Novi Sad Journalism School, to implement a long-term project on the use of traditional and social media platforms as tools to advance the rights of persons with disabilities in Serbia.
In August 2013, Towson University will send Rhonda Greenhaw, Director of the Hussman Center for Adults with Autism at Towson University, to Serbia for a preliminary exchange visit with the partnering organizations to gain an understanding of disability access and inclusion in their communities, as well as to lay the foundation for a collaborative project and effective international relationship.
One representative from each Serbian organization will then be hosted by Towson University October 19-29, 2013, where they will work alongside American counterparts to gain first-hand experience on how issues in their field are addressed in the United States. Part of this exchange will include interactive trainings on ways to create and disseminate effective media messages surrounding disability rights. Emphasis will be placed on the use of social media to advocate for the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in all sectors of society.
Towson University is one of 20 U.S.-based organizations and institutions competitively selected to host approximately 60 disability rights leaders from 40 international organizations in 20 different countries. Projects range from inclusive education, independent living, healthcare and reproductive rights, law and policy, legal aid, recreation and sports, access to public services, and advocacy for youth, women, and minority disability groups. Learn more about the 20 projects and teams here.
At the conclusion of the fall 2013 Professional Fellows EMPOWER Program, all overseas participants and their U.S. hosts will gather in Washington, D.C., for a three day conference at Gallaudet University, Oct. 31- Nov.2. Participant will have the opportunity to network with other leaders in their field, and share plans for long-term projects that will be implemented upon their return home.
For more information and press inquiries, please contact:
Beth Haller, Ph.D., Towson University Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies, (410) 704-2442, email@example.com
Anna Griffin, U.S. Department of State, (202) 632-6452, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alana Rudkin, U.S. Department of State, (202) 632-2988, email@example.com
The Professional Fellows EMPOWER Program is a series of four separate two-way exchanges funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and implemented by U.S. organizations American Councils for International Education, Discovering Deaf Worlds, Global Deaf Connections, and MIUSA. At the conclusion of the EMPOWER Programs in November 2013, an estimated 75 international disability rights leaders from every geographic region will have come to the United States for two-to-four week professional development programming, and approximately 57 American stakeholders will have traveled abroad for reciprocal exchanges.
Towson University’s Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies focuses on the study of the structure, processes, aesthetics, functions, ethics and criticism of mass media and human communication. The department provides students with broad and diverse course work in advertising, journalism and new media, public relations, and communication studies.
The Hussman Center for Adults with Autism brings together Towson students and young adults on the autism spectrum to create a mutually-rewarding learning environment. Social, educational and fitness programs support student learning and adults with autism as they develop the tools needed to lead meaningful lives as engaged members of their communities.
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) supports two-way international exchange programs that increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and countries around the world. Programs range from sports exchanges, youth exchanges, cultural exchanges, and professional exchanges. Approximately 50,000 individuals take part annually in exchange programs managed by ECA.
Mobility International USA is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower people with disabilities around the world to achieve their human rights through international exchange and international development. Since 1981, MIUSA has offered international exchange programs to over 2,000 youth, adults, and professionals with and without disabilities from more than 110 countries.
Posted by BA Haller at 11:14 PM
Monday, June 24, 2013
The Toronto Star:
It’s pretty simple, getting a cup of coffee in a café: You choose, you ask, you drink.Unless you’re an autistic person, like Carly Fleischmann, an 18-year-old Toronto student who is non-verbal.
Her world is filled with all sorts of audio input competing for her attention, along with sights and smells — filtering all this and making her wishes known to even family members can be a herculean task. So getting a cup of coffee is not always so simple.
To give a glimpse into Carly’s everyday world, and to show how something so simple for most of us can be so difficult for someone with autism, Carly’s father, Arthur Fleischmann and his Toronto ad company, John St., produced a video, in collaboration and with direct input from Carly — who communicates with her iPad and other technological devices — called Carly’s Café, and posted it on YouTube as well as the website, www.carlyscafe.com. The latter includes some footage from family home movies and starts with a poignant quote from Carly: “Autism has locked me inside a body I cannot control.”
The two-minute 19-second video just won the Silver Lion award in the cyber, public service category at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, held in France. The annual event showcases and judges creativity in communications with 34,000 entrants this year from around the world submitting to various categories.
Last fall, Carly’s Café was used by the president of Poland to open his presentation at the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
Filmed in one day on a low budget of $7,500 at a downtown coffee shop, it features actors playing a father-type figure, a sister and someone with autism. Carly herself appears in the video. There’s also an interactive aspect.
“Through multiple embedded ‘zones’ people can move their mouse around the screen and feel the visual and auditory distraction that most of us could easily block out but which becomes an engulfing hindrance for people like Carly,” says Arthur Fleischmann.
In Carly’s case, when all this distraction is coupled with a lack of speech, “the frustration skyrockets,” he says.
On her Facebook page, where she has 97,000 followers, and where she posts regularly with her iPad, Carly wrote: “Oh my Gosh! Silver Silver Silver. TAKE THAT Ashton Kutcher!”
The video ties in with a 2012 book, Carly’s Voice, Breaking Through Autism, written by Arthur, with a chapter by Carly. Arthur was quite taken by Carly writing about how someone with autism can struggle with something as simple as having a conversation in a coffee shop.
It’s been a long road of discovery and achievement for Carly, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. At the time, no one realized the great potential locked inside the child who could not speak.
But Carly, who had intensive behavioural and communication therapy throughout her childhood, surprised everyone by typing some words at age 10, to indicate a problem she was having at the time. That incredible breakthrough was just the start. She would go on to communicate eloquently with various technological devices, becoming adept at Facebook, Twitter, appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Larry King Live and others, to communicate about autism.
This fall, Carly is going to the University of Toronto, having enrolled in Victoria College’s Bachelor of Arts program which has a strong literary tradition. She wants to be a journalist. Carly’s mother, Tammy Starr, says U of T has gone out of its way to partner with us “to make this work.”
University will be yet another milestone for Carly who has long surpassed the low expectations doctors had long ago given to her parents — that she would never develop intellectually beyond the mental age of a small child.
Posted by BA Haller at 12:24 PM
Sunday, June 23, 2013
When Killer Mike took the stage last week at the Bonnaroo music festival, he spotted amid the crowd a white woman rapping along to his lyrics, shaking her body and contorting her face to the beat. The Atlanta rapper has his share of white, female fans, but he quickly realized this woman was different: Holly Maniatty wasn’t, in fact, a fan, but a sign language interpreter.
Intrigued by her work, the rapper jumped down from the stage to the raised platform Maniatty shared with a colleague and started dancing with them. Curious just how far he could push his interpreter, he rapped every dirty word he could think of on the spot, picking up the speed of his flow to see if Maniatty could keep pace.
“You know—and everyone in the world knows—that's what you want to see,” Killer Mike told me over the phone. “You know when you're watching church on Sunday morning [on television] and that little lady is in the left corner of the screen signing? And you really wish you could just say something to get her to be like, ‘Woah, there is a sign for “motherfucker” ’?”
Maniatty is a self-described Vermont farm girl who holds degrees in both American Sign Language linguistics and brain science. But she said she’d also logged more than 50 hours of studying Killer Mike’s body of work before the show. She more than kept up.
“I think [it was] a little tête-à-tête between the artist and interpreter,” Maniatty told me. “After, he told the crowd, ‘Yeahhh girl. I ain't never seen nothing like that. I've been all over the world, and all over this city, and all through these streets, I ain't never seen nothing like that.’ ”
Earlier this week, a clip of Maniatty signing at the Wu-Tang Clan's show at Bonnaroo surfaced and quickly went viral. Jimmy Kimmel showed the clip during his monologue. Like Killer Mike, many people had never seen a sign language interpreter translate hip-hop in real time. But Maniatty has been at this for 13 years, using her skills as an interpreter—and careful research of her subjects—to bring music to the deaf.
Growing up in Newport, Vt., just south of the Canadian border, Maniatty's only exposure to hip-hop was through MTV. She’d heard of Snoop Dogg, Puffy, and Biggie, but that was about the limit of her knowledge. She always had a knack for language, and on a whim, applied to the Rochester Institute of Technology's ASL program. Only one of two students who had no prior sign language experience, Maniatty graduated from the program after two years and later got her undergraduate degree from the University of Rochester. In college she was exposed to a wider range of hip-hop, hearing the Beastie Boys and Wu-Tang for the first time. She loved both.
Her break in the music business came when while working at an interpreting company based in Rochester, when all of her colleagues passed on a Marilyn Manson concert. “Nobody was willing to do it,” Maniatty told me over the phone Thursday afternoon, as her Wu-Tang video was going viral. “And it was quite a big sashay into concert interpreting because he's a show. He's a big show.”
The Manson job gave Maniatty a taste for concert work. A few years later, now working for an interpreting service in Portland, Maine, a colleague connected her to Everyone’s Invited, a production company that hires interpreters for festivals and events. According to company director Laura Grunfeld, the practice of including interpreters at concerts is becoming more common, though it is still something you primarily see at the larger festivals like Bonnaroo.
Maniatty soon was working the New Orleans Jazz Fest and Bonnaroo, sharing a stage with acts like Bruce Springsteen (who sang and signed “Dancing in the Dark” with her), U2, and even Bob Saget. She works an average of 60 events annually, paying her own way and usually getting a flat-rate fee.
It wasn't until 2009 when Maniatty worked her first big hip-hop show, interpreting for the Beastie Boys at the 2009 Bonnaroo, in what would prove to be their final show. She remembers telling a deaf fan from the Bronx, “Hi, I'm Holly, I'm from Maine and I'll be your interpreter.”
“He looked at me and said, 'What? You're going to be interpreting the show?' ” she says.
To prepare for the show, Maniatty says she logged more than 100 hours of research on the Beastie Boys, memorizing their lyrics and watching past shows. Her prep work also includes researching dialectal signs to ensure accuracy and authenticity. An Atlanta rapper will use different slang than a Queens one, and ASL speakers from different regions also use different signs, so knowing how a word like guns and brother are signed in a given region is crucial for authenticity.
Signing a rap show requires more than just literal translation. Maniatty has to describe events, interpret context, and tell a story. Often, she is speaking two languages simultaneously, one with her hands and one with her mouth, as she’ll sometimes rap along with the artists as well. When a rapper recently described a run-in with Tupac, Maniatty rapped along while making the sign for hologram, so deaf fans would know the reference was to Tupac’s holographic cameo at Coachella, not some figment of the rapper's imagination.
Maniatty, a first-degree black belt in tae kwon do, also conveys meaning with her body, attempting to give her signs the same impact as the rapper’s spoken words. Before interpreting Eminem, she watched videos of how he holds himself while performing, and tried to capture his motions in her work.
“He has a very specific body cadence,” she said, “and if you're able to mimic that, it almost looks like you are him. Jay-Z's got a big boisterous chest-out way to rap sometimes. So you have to watch the different performers and watch how they move the body because the more genuine you are to their way of presenting themselves as an artist, the more equal of an experience the deaf person is going to have.”
Of course, hip-hop is a highly improvisational art, and no amount of careful research can prepare an ASL interpreter for what might happen at a live show. “There are lots of times people freestyle; you have to go with the moment,” she said. “For some reason my brain is dialed into the hip-hop cadence and is able to process language really quickly.”
The rappers she works for seem to agree. At one point during Wu-Tang's performance of “Bring Da Ruckus,” Method Man came over to Maniatty, mid-signing, and gave her a hug and a fist bump. He had been looking at her every time he said “motherfuckin” during the song and wanted to see if she signed it and how. Maniatty told me she thought to herself, “Of course I'm gonna say it, you're saying it. Your words, not mine.”
This is also Maniatty’s approach to an even more delicate term: the N-word. It's a dilemma for interpreters, especially white ones. But Maniatty says she believes it's her job to best represent the musicians, and she always uses the sign for the term, and, though she tries to avoid it, will occasionally say it with her lips as well. “It's very clear it's the artists' words, not mine,” she reiterated.
Kat Murphy is a 30-year-old Memphis native who is hearing-impaired; she can hear beats but not words. Along with her boyfriend, Melvin, who is “profoundly deaf,” Murphy was at Bonnaroo and attended both the Wu-Tang and Killer Mike shows. She witnessed Maniatty's interactions with both rappers. “It was amazing,” she said. “She didn't skip a beat or allow it to sidetrack her” when Method Man came calling. Unfamiliar with Killer Mike before the show, she left thinking he “was the most deaf-friendly artist and he really incorporated the interpreters into his performance. We are his new fans.”
Until Bonnaroo, it never occurred to Killer Mike that he had deaf fans; he left the show “honored” to have someone like Maniatty interpreting him. “You wonder how they can even keep up,” he says. “That's an art form; that's more than just a technical skill.”
Maniatty's next big show is Phish in Seattle at the end of July. She's done more than 20 shows for them, but, unlike hip-hop shows, where there are usually two interpreters, she usually works these concerts solo. “With Phish,” she said, “there's so much jamming in songs, there's time to rest.”
Posted by BA Haller at 9:14 PM
Friday, June 21, 2013
The NY Daily News:
Who needs two legs when you look this good?
Commanding his shot while standing in just a pair of blue and red briefs, this chiseled and tattooed Afghan War veteran could easily make you forget what’s missing from his photos.
But Alex Minsky, a 24-year-old former Marine who’s now kind of a David Beckham of underwear models, stands with the help of a prosthetic leg rising up to his right knee after losing it to an explosion in 2009.
In just nine months after fame discovered him working out in a Southern California gym, Minsky has made a growing name for himself as not only a fashion model but a devout role model for healthy living.
"I didn't set out to be an underwear model; I just like taking care of myself and working out. It just so happens that I look good in underwear," he honestly says.
Posted by BA Haller at 12:43 PM
Monday, June 17, 2013
CAMBRIDGE, Vermont -- Semi-bedridden by a rare, atypical neuromuscular disease, model/poet Jocelyn Woods is displaying her body in erotic images inspired by mystic visions, proclaiming the New Jerusalem is at hand. Dubbed "Anais Nin meets Teresa of Avila" by psychotherapist/tantric facilitator Fiona Daly, Woods has launched a crowdfunding campaign at http://igg.me/at/WeAreTheCure to raise $7,695 to create a multimedia art series with Atlanta-based photographer/artist Thomas Dodd.
"We are told that neuromuscular disease is a progressive wasting disease that will eventually kill us from respiratory failure," says Woods, "But 'Jerry's kids' are growing up, and the dismal predictions used to gain millions of dollars have proven gloriously false. Rather than prostitute myself for the agenda of medical research fundraisers that promise vague future cures while vastly ignoring the needs of those currently living with NMD, I have inaugurated a campaign to recognize and encourage our ingenious ability to pioneer our own cures; cures that unleash full presence and participation in our miraculous physicality. And the biggest cure of all is authentic expression."
Jocelyn and Thomas began their convergence in 2012, releasing Part I of Ecstasy of a Cripple: the Resurrection of Passion, a series of images geared towards shattering limiting paradigms surrounding disability, sexuality and immortality. "This looks as if it should belong in the Sistine Chapel," says artist Kim Waldrop Evans of "A Dance of Veils", not displayed here due to mainstream media's prohibition against nudity. Part II: WE ARE THE CURE shall reunite the team this summer of 2013, this time to include dramaturgical performances by Woods of her mystic poetry in Dodd's first experimental short films.
Boldly displaying her fully exposed "disabled" body in photos that resemble paintings, Jocelyn emphasizes that "This is not about glorifying 'struggle" and "triumph.' I find these trendy depictions of disability to be sappy invitations for pity that emphasize the marketability of what I call the 'freak factor:' exploiting people's limitations in order to produce a mental aphrodisiac of egoic comparison in the viewer. Many of my NMD peers refer to such portrayals as 'inspiration porn.'" Rather than separating the person from the physical, Jocelyn wants to combine the two.
"It ratchets sex up into the divine realm while anchoring it in a body that baffles expectation," remarks psychotherapist and Tantric facilitator Fiona Daly. "First it challenged my notion around physicality, that some how the perfect body would support the best sexual experience, and then I am astounded to read of ecstatic states, that took many years of Tantric practice for me to touch." Noting that "There is so much stuff out there about sacred sex," Daly feels Woods' project is "Wild and challenging...exquisite and really unique. In this time when sexuality is so tied to an ever narrowing look of a body, Woods explodes that by presenting the perfection of the physical vessel in which she experiences divinity."
Contributors to the campaign on http://igg.me/at/WeAreTheCure will receive limited edition canvas prints, t-shirts and behind-the-scenes footage; for higher level contributions Woods is offering personal consultations and daring improvisational performances, calling her audience her "co-creators in summoning the muse."
"Jocelyn Woods is a mystical erotic visionary," exclaims sacred sex blogger Kama Keshish. "Once you have glimpsed her rapturous art and divine poetry, you will be changed forever!" Woods' poetry is written semi-automatically in non-drug-induced altered states of consciousness. "Rather than pander to this trend of marketing suffering," says the young muse, "I wish to share ecstasy. Rather than separate the person from the physicality, I want to show how the body can be an integral vessel of wholeness. That is the real inspiration. It is not about re-wiring perception, it is about throwing the compass of reference points out the window. Concepts of mortality, solidity and the human condition have no ground in states of rapture."
While her experiences of ecstatic union with the divine have been compared to Saint Teresa of Avila, Jocelyn says that "Unhindered by the heavy chains of belief systems which deny and condemn the body as a corrupt condition of sin allows one to enter a rapture beyond the iconic saintly portrayals eulogized in history. To realize the body and soul are but inseparable components, facilitates the alchemical recipe of resurrected immortal flesh. Resurrection is not the product of conditions, but the removal of belief that imposes the conditions of decay and strife, rendering us re-membered of our natural state. It is a passionate love affair, both intensely ferocious--untamed, even feral--and the silence of a peace that passeth understanding, which characterizes incorruptible matter."
Jocelyn's proposition of immortality may seem preposterously outlandish, a hysterical fancy of offset wits, yet it is this very "mad lucidity" that Jocelyn says facilitates the breakthrough from linear mind to effortless genius. Deeply inspired by the leading mystic of the world, Almine, whom Jocelyn describes as "a teacher whom is not the Other, but speaks as though from within my infinite self in a way that I cannot help but overwhelmingly recognize as the Voice of the Mother," she studies the esoteric science and metaphysics of immortality, and along with her fellow students, is a living example of the miracles thereof.
Yet it is not in anecdotal reports or research alone that Jocelyn bases her firey summoning to her brothers and sisters, but from actual experiences facilitated--ironically enough--by exploration of her neuromuscular disease. In a recent interview with David Bollt, CEO of ModelSociety.com, she says: "Upon convalescence from repeated respiratory infections that can be fatal for people with NMD, I found that the body is most malleable when it is healing. Furthermore, in releasing identification with either the soul or body as disintegrate and tyrannical isolated segments (inaccurate bifurcation causing distortion and externalization), it is remembered as an incorruptible, fluidly renewing field, contrary to the belief that matter is immutable solidity."
"It was the sensation of this fluidity that inspired me to begin using the body as an artistic medium in itself. When I model, I feel the body shape-shifting to express the emotive attitude or state of consciousness. The body is an absolutely limitless, living work of art that embodies the disrobed self-recognition of divine perfection."
David Bollt, founder of ModelSociety.com says, "By fearlessly sharing a loving message of universal human beauty, Jocelyn is helping create a world where differences in our circumstance, and physical form become far less important than the light we bring into the world. She truly embodies her message, speaking and relating to others in such a way that a sense of divinity dwelling at the heart of our shared humanity is almost impossible to ignore."
With the charisma of an orator, Woods' Indiegogo speech summons contributors to challenge the notion of freedom. "No longer do our lives have to be dictated by the trends statistics and prescriptions of a systemized matrix when the power is with the people," Jocelyn proclaims. "The power is with the people. This statement has long been interpreted politically, as people's right to advocate, lobby, protest and fight for their rights. But what true birthright has to be advocated for, fought for in blood and tears, if it is already ours? You cannot liberate somebody who is already free. It is the deflection of focus from a paradigm valuing external dependence and profitable victimhood that convinces us, by our own acquiescence, that we lack what we already have. It is an error of vision to perceive anything as unwhole when the power of authentic expression is our natural and exulted state."
Some may call this a revolution, but Woods claims to behold a revelation, likening her project to an apokolypsis ad infinitum: "It is in the revealing of our authenticity that we find ceaseless passion, wonderment, zest and enthusiasm for a life that becomes a Living Work of Art."
A cure for disease? A New Jerusalem? Big claims for someone who cannot stand or walk and uses partial mechanical ventilation to keep her airways open during rest periods. "I do not call for a demonstration," she explains. "For decades we have resorted to activism, to the blood sweat and tears of protests, marches, sit-ins, rallies and conventions to procure often slow and laborious results that fall millions of light-years short of the need at hand. It is at a point where we must ask ourselves, my brothers and sisters, Do we wish to continue to burn down the walls, or do we wish to rise altogether above them? For all too often, the mechanistics of a programmed society will rebuild the wall again and again with relentless robotic perseverance just moments after you have given half your blood or even your life to burn it down. Movements spawn counter-movements which cause counter rebellions in a chain of ceaseless pillaging. Who would we rather be: the robots mechanistically rebuilding the walls or the eagle with vision who flies above them?For the covert operations that surround us, are but the shadows we cast by our own selves every time we believe in the program of lack."
Woods beckons for a change in perception: "If we choose to be the eagle with vision, who can fly above the thickest and highest walls or barriers ever known to mankind, then sooner or later we shall soar, and in the vision restored by our soaring we will realize that the walls have never truly existed. Americans have long said 'I have a dream,' only to continue in the slumber, that becomes a garish nightmare of hostility that pits brother against brother. A dream will remain unbalanced on one side of the equation until the eagle vision goes hand in hand with it. We must see the change we wish to see in the world, because an obscured sight is what makes us think it's not there. By what we see, we create our world. To see beneath the appearances and behold the pristine core of innocence and empowerment is to sweep back the curtains to the temple of that stands here, here in the core of your being."
Thomas Dodd is an Atlanta-based photographer/artist. Dodd’s digitally manipulated artwork resembles paintings and contains a cohesiveness and attention to texture not usually found in digital art. His images never look assembled or computer-generated and he shuns the “cut and paste“ clichés, preferring instead to assemble his scenery, costumes and models at the time of photography. Dodd’s primary subjects are mythology and their relations to emotions and psychological states. http://www.ThomasDodd.com
Woods' global audience follows her fanpage at http://www.facebook.com/Resurrection of Passion Argentine poet Bruno Cruz ardently calls Jocelyn "One of the few if not only person who can actually touch upon the skies and make us all realize that Heaven and Tartarus lies arm in arm within our selves."
Posted by BA Haller at 9:44 PM
Every day, Jason DaSilva (pictured) experiences firsthand the challenges of traveling around New York City on his motorized scooter. But the Brooklyn-based filmmaker with multiple sclerosis is not sitting back. Instead, DaSilva is leading an initiative called AXS Map to chart big cities with better accessibility information.
For people living with physical disabilities, the project is sort of like a more robust Yelp. Resources like Yelp feature detailed information about restaurants, bars and shopping destinations, but DaSilva found they lacked any information about accessibility. Currently, Yelp only indicates whether a place is wheelchair-accessible with a "yes" or "no" indication.
Using the Google Maps and Google Places APIs, DaSilva helped create the AXS Map platform, which features accessibility information for places to go out to in a city. On the AXS Map desktop or mobile site, click on a place to view accessibility ratings for a local business' entries and bathrooms on a five-star rating system. The concept is based on crowdsourcing by users, so according to DaSilva, the map is not where it needs to be — yet. Like Foursquare, the more users leave ratings and comments about accessibility, the more useful this platform can be.
DaSilva, who was diagnosed with a form of multiple sclerosis in 2006, said the project grew out of his own frustrations with moving around New York. He found that other people with disabilities might have the same problems.
"It was very frustrating, you know, I was finding that the freedoms that I had — just simple things like meeting up with friends and things, it was becoming more and more difficult. So that's why I came up with this idea," DaSilva told Mashable.
This week, volunteers from Acorda Therapeutics worked with Google to scour the streets of New York City for three to four hours a day, adding new accessibility information for AXS Map users. This three-day mapping event ended on Thursday.
"It's exciting just to be out there and watch people map," DaSilva said. "At the end of the day, this project is really about ... opening the eyes of people just to see ... the struggle that we go through."
"As a part of GoogleServe, our annual global celebration of service, our New York Googlers are excited to work with AXS Map to help make New York City more accessible," GoogleServe participant Ashley Gushue said in a statement.
Last year, AXS Map held a similar mapping event in San Francisco. So at the moment, most of the accessibility information is only available for New York and San Francisco. However, since the system is powered by Google, anyone can add information for locations visible on Google.
Posted by BA Haller at 9:34 PM
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Posted by BA Haller at 3:13 PM
The boom in social networking sites such Crazy Blind Date by OkCupid, Skout, Tinder and Facebook's new Graph Search application may be easing the way for disabled teens to meet friends, flirt and find dates.
Danielle Sheypuk, a clinical psychologist who is also Ms. Wheelchair New York 2012, said she wishes the sites--which many teens are accessing through special applications on their mobile phones-- had been around when she was a teen.
"I would have had more self-esteem in terms of dating earlier and I would have been out there earlier and that would have been better," said Sheypuk, who specializes in problems of dating, relationships and sexuality among the disabled in her work. "When you're not dating you feel really left out."
The difficulties with walking and navigating, Sheypuk said, mean disabled teens are less likely to go on dates. "You are not exposed to opportunities to make those connections as other people are." Going online is easy for people who have a difficult time leaving the house.
Sheypuk said she is also using the Internet in her own private therapy practice by meeting clients over Skype to make it easier for teens and adults with disabilities to attend her therapy sessions.
She said the problem of disabled teens not socializing like "normal" teens is a huge public health concern. "It leads to feelings of loneliness, isolation, anxiety, hopelessness and depression in people. A disabled teen girl wants more than good grades; she wants a first kiss like her friends."
Sheypuk believes online dating sites for teens are a great way to "go in and start mixing," in all aspects, including with "normal" teens. She doesn't favor dating sites specifically for disabled people because it would perpetuate the unhealthy attitude of belong to a separate group.
She said she would like to see some of the bigger dating sites like eHarmony and Match.com become more aware of disabled people using the sites. In-person mixers, for instance, are not always handicap accessible.
The presence of home attendants is another barrier for disabled teens seeking a more intimate interaction.
Megan Fry, an ordinary 14-year-old girl on the inside who loves to paint, is in a wheelchair and cannot speak. She has Cerebral Palsy. She uses a computer called a Dynavox Eyemax to communicate, using the retina in her eye and blinking to type and even paint using software called Art Rage, where she has to dip the paint brush just like everyone else. Fry's art is on her website called Justmyeye.com.
She told Women's eNews in an email that when she does go on dates someone will have to be there for her to help with her physical needs.
"It's going to be awkward for me, and especially for my date," she said.
But online, no such third wheel is needed and the social connections made possible on the sites offer a gateway for teens with disabilities to go on in-person dates.
"It really exposes you to all these people in a way that your disability is not a factor," Sheypuk said.
Fry said she uses Starbright World, a safe monitored chatroom for sick/disabled teens along with Facebook and Skype.
"[These sites] allow you to communicate with people you are romantically interested in, work on flirting and become better at flirting," she added, making dating more possible for disabled teens.
She said people with disabilities are interested in romance, dating and sex just like everyone else. "Especially teens," she said. "That's when you hit puberty, that's when all your friends are talking about homecoming, prom, and who has dates. It's such a relative important topic and people with disabilities, including teens, are often completely excluded from it."
For some disabled teens, the emphasis can be more on friendships than flirting.
"Some of my best friends I only know through the tech world," Fry said.
Karen Barker, vice president of the trust, safety and community team at Skout, a geosocial networking app based in San Francisco, also has a special-needs almost teen-aged son. "He cannot do all the same things his buddies do, and it is hard for him to have friends," she said. "This is where he is going to make and build friendships."
Barker said in Skout teen community you can chat with someone immediately, however it is not a chat room. In the "Meet People" screen you are presented a group of pictures of people and you can read about each person on their profile. You can also search people with the same interests.
Once you find someone of interest you can introduce yourself and speak individually. In a chat you have a conversation either in text or, as of recently, you can leave up to a 30 second voice chat.
The sites offer geosocial networking applications for iOS and Android phones, or smartphones, that use Global Positioning System technology to spot nearby social contacts. For safety reasons, most apps do not give the exact location of a person, especially the teen communities.
Thirty-seven percent of American youth ages 12-17 now have a smartphone, the mobile devices used to access geosocial networking apps, up from 23 percent in 2011, according to a Pew Research Center study on teens and technology.
Female teens are especially likely to be cell-mostly Internet users; 34 percent of teen girls ages 14-17 say they mostly go online using their cell phone, compared with 24 percent of male teens ages 14-17. However, young men and women are equally likely to be smartphone owners.
Barker said social networking sites offer teens the chance for social contact at all hours of the day in contrast to physical locations, which may be inaccessible due to safety concerns or transportation hurdles that affect all teens and particularly those with disabilities.
"Social networking sites can offer community engagement opportunities for kids with chronic illness or disability that might otherwise not have the same opportunities to engage easily or safely with their peers," said Barker.
Fry says she does more of her communication online and through text.
Barker estimates that Skout--which is free--attracts between a million and 1.5 million new users every month and a significant portion are teens all over the world who hold deep conversations and build meaningful relationships.
In June of 2012, Skout suspended its teen site after three allegations that contacts that had begun with interactions on the site ended in rapes. In each rape case, the men are accused of posing as teenagers in the teen forum.
Barker said Skout began studying ways to boost the safety of its community members, particularly teens. In July 2012 Skout re-launched and broke the adult and teen community into two separate groups moderated around the clock by staffers.
Barker said teen chats and photos on Skout are now heavily moderated and teens who violate the rules will be quickly banned from the site and their mobile devices will be blocked to prevent them from opening another account.
Hateful words, nude photos and bullying are quickly flagged and the user banned. Block options are also available for teens who feel something is "weird."
Barker says Skout has a trust and safety advisory board of people in FOSI (Family Online Safety Institute), ConnectSafely and Online Safety Journalists to help ensure they run a safe and fun community for teens.
The Skout teen community does not allow anyone under the age of 13 or over the age of 17 to join. When a teen signs up they are first required to provide their age, which Barker said is called age-gating.
Unfortunately no site can be 100 percent certain of anyone's age but some apps do require users to login through Facebook, which helps verify that a person is who they say they are.
Rosette Pambakian, publicist for Tinder, a geosocial networking site based out of California popular among college students, said it has the same age restrictions for its teen community. She said Tinder's teen community represents about 5 percent of users and formed by word of mouth "since Tinder is all about finding people in your age group."
Posted by BA Haller at 3:06 PM
Monday, June 10, 2013
The Mirror in the UK:
Britain's Got Talent joker Jack Carroll (pictured) can laugh all the way to the bank after landing a book deal to tell all about his life.
BGT boss Simon Cowell is also lining up TV and DVD agreements that may make the 14-year-old a millionaire, the Sunday People has revealed.
And cerebral palsy sufferer Jack, who won the nation’s heart with his self-deprecating and politically incorrect jokes, has already got to work.
He said: “I’d like my own TV show and I’ve written a few things, I’m just not sure if it’s good enough.”
A show source said: “Simon’s very excited about Jack. He thinks he is absolutely amazing and going to be massive.
“He doesn’t have anyone like Jack in his stable yet but fell for him straight away and now regards him as part of the Syco family. He’s already got him a deal for a book, which he thinks will sell very well.
“Jack has had a tough time growing up, he was a miracle baby who lost his twin brother at birth and has lived with cerebral palsy ever since. Because of this he was always in and out of hospital but he gets through it and doesn’t seem too fazed.
“He really has suffered but Jack’s jokes have his audiences in hysterics.”
His parents Sue and Matt, both now 49, were told Jack, born 11 weeks prematurely and weighing just 3lb 4oz, was unlikely to survive after a strain of streptococcus killed his twin Tom.
Jack had suffered a bleed on the brain, which left him with cerebral palsy.
His battle against the condition as well as his comedy has won the bespectacled lad a growing army of fans.
He said: “I would love to do stand-up and tour the country but I might be a bit young to do an arena tour.
“I’m just a huge fan of comedy, you just need to look at my DVD collection. I’d like my own TV show. If it was offered I’d look into it. It would be good fun.
“I don’t want to pre-empt or get my hopes up in case nothing comes of it. I’m hoping for the best. I’m just in a state of delirium. It’s all pretty mad but I’m enjoying it. I’m having a good time.”
“People have written to me and told me they have the same disability and they’ve seen me on Britain’s Got Talent. I never set out to be a role model but if people do take comfort or inspiration from me then that’s brilliant.
“I have to be nice to people in the street now which is a weird thing. I’ve been getting a lot of attention with lots of people asking for photos and autographs.”
In November 2010 Jack did a 10-minute slot with stand-up star Jason Manford, 32, on The One Show and is still regularly in contact with him.
He said: “Jason has been a big help and has guided me through the whole thing. He’s been a big influence and a massive help. I run my routine by him, he gives me advice but I do what I want, anyway.
“He didn’t tell me what gags to use on BGT but he did polish up the act a bit. If you have told me a few years ago we’d be mates I wouldn’t have believed you. We’ve chatted about working together on a few things but nothing solid.”
Jack certainly knows what he wants. He said: “If Simon said I needed a makeover I’d tell him no.
“I wouldn’t do anything, well, unless he paid me lots of money to do it,” he added with a cheeky grin.
Although Simon, 53, is a big fan, Jack’s favourite judge is fellow comedian David Walliams, 41. He said: “David’s been giving me lots of advice. I love Come Fly With Me and Little Britain. They inspire me because David and Matt Lucas do exactly what they want to do.”
Should Jack enjoy similar success and make his fortune life will be easier.
Sue said: “Jack was wearing splints at one point and we had to wait four months for an appointment. Jack has had physio or osteopathy every week for 12 years.
“We had to go private at a cost of £55 an hour. We’re lucky and can afford it but not everyone can. It’s like anything, having more money it can make life easier.”
Now Jack is focusing on other things. He said: “I don’t have a girlfriend but who knows whether I’ll get one after the show. Whatever happens, happens. I’m having a great time.”
Posted by BA Haller at 6:57 PM
Braille has been around since its invention in 1824 by Louis Braille, a blind French 15-year-old. M. Braille also invented a musical notation for the blind. But cartoons have remained inaccessible for the blind. Now, design student Philip Meyer hopes to change that with special comics created for the blind.
He calls the project “Life: a semi tactile comic for the blind.” Meyer writes: "After many failed attempts I finally experimented with storytelling through simple shapes and forms. With and without text. I wanted to see how graphically simplified a story can be, without losing meaning. I wanted to use comic techniques, the users imagination and let the medium do the work. My goal was to create a story that is equally explorable for people with and without eyesight."
The project’s story follows the life of three people, represented by dots. A dot is born, grows up and meets another dot. They have a baby dot, who grows up, and eventually leaves the dot home. Finally, one of the dots disappears, and the other slowly fades away.
It’s a simple and universal story, but the methods behind it are complex. Humans Invent explains: "Meyer used the same embossed method as Braille to allow a blind person to feel the symbols. To keep it as simple as possible only circles were used, with each one representing a character in the story. Each circle varies in height and size – for example, the height of the first circle gets lower towards the centre to distinguish it from the others. Each panel’s frame is perforated so blind people are able to distinguish between each scene."
Meyer says this project was an experiment for him and likely represents the end of his comic-creating, but he hopes it will inspire others to explore the possibilities of tactile story telling for the blind.
Posted by BA Haller at 6:50 PM
Sunday, June 9, 2013
One special weekend every year, the small Illinois town of Kewanee (population 12,916) turns into a place of celebration and delight, as the annual Miss You Can Do It pageant spotlights young girls with disabilities from around the country. Abbey Curran, Miss Iowa 2008, started the pageant in 2004 to offer these girls, who like herself have special needs, the opportunity to be celebrated for their inner beauty and spirit.
Directed and produced by Ron Davis (“Pageant”), MISS YOU CAN DO IT tells Curran’s story and follows eight heroic young girls with physical and mental disabilities as they participate in the pageant when it debuts MONDAY, JUNE 24 (9:00-10:15 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.
Other HBO playdates: June 27 (11:30 a.m.) and 30 (8:30 a.m.), and July 2 (1:30 p.m.) and 6 (3:00 p.m.). HBO2 playdates: June 26 (8:00 p.m.) and 28 (5:15 p.m.), and July 9 (11:35 p.m.), 25 (7:40 a.m.) and 27 (8:40 a.m.).
HBO Documentary Films presents another weekly series this summer, debuting provocative new specials every Monday, June 10 to Aug. 12. Other films include: “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer” (June 10); “Love, Marilyn” (June 17); “Gideon’s Army” (July 1); “Gasland Part II” (July 8); “The Crash Reel” (July 15); “The Cheshire Murders” (July 22); “First Comes Love” (July 29); “Casting By” (Aug. 5); and “Americans in Bed” (Aug. 12).
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age two, Abbey Curran never accepted her physical limitations. She admits her disability comes with lifelong challenges, but none that hold her back, playing sports (she “just falls more”) and driving a car with a special steering wheel and brake. Curran’s resilience and determination to pursue her dreams led her to become the first woman with disabilities to compete in the Miss USA Pageant® in 2008.
MISS YOU CAN DO IT highlights the extraordinary work Curran is doing with the pageant she founded. Curran and a team of enthusiastic volunteers give participants a chance to be celebrated for all they are inside, not just defined by what the world sees on the outside. For one special weekend the young girls, along with family and friends, some who have traveled far distances, spend time in an oasis of fun, femininity and celebration.
No one leaves the pageant empty-handed, with each girl receiving a special award. The real winners of the pageant might be the families and friends, who proudly cheer them on from the audience.
Among the girls and families profiled are:
Five-year-old Tierney, who gleefully zips around in a powered wheelchair in excited anticipation of the pageant, while her mom explains that she’s never walked and will progressively lose movement throughout her body. Tierney has spinal muscular atrophy type II, a slow deterioration of all muscles.
Natasha, 14, who was born with cerebral palsy and suffers from seizures, and Kenna, her younger sister, who has intellectual disabilities. Despite these challenges, “they are a happy-go-lucky family,” according to their proud parents.
Precocious six-year-old Ali, who has four best friends, one mischievous and imaginary, and three in their 60s: Judy, Judy and Rock, who enjoy watching Ali’s physical therapy sessions on a horse, which helps with her balance. Ali was born with spina bifida, a hole in the spine that caused paralysis of her lower body.
Teyanna, a smart and creative preteen, whose mother says that after she was born, a nurse suggested they put her in an institution, but they refused and raised her at home. Teyanna has speech difficulty due to cerebral palsy.
Seven-year-old Daleney, whose parents say her biggest frustration is her lack of independence. Still, she never shows it, even if she takes 15 minutes to tie her shoelaces. Daleney is a quadriplegic with a spastic form of cerebral palsy, causing her to have too much muscle tone and making her limbs cross her midline when she walks.
Tiny Meg, who is shy, except when she’s with her brothers. Wanting Meg to have a sister to connect with, her parents adopted Alina, a girl from Ukraine. Both Meg and Alina have Down syndrome.
MISS YOU CAN DO IT celebrates the heroism of their parents and families, who openly describe how the heartbreak of learning that their child was different quickly gave way to loving patience, dedication and a new appreciation for the joys and challenges of raising a child with special needs.
Says Curran, “I hope that my Miss You Can Do It girls leave this pageant knowing that, okay, we might fall down, or someone might stare at us, but I just did something amazing. Something that not very many people get to experience.”
Pageant volunteer Jan Selman adds, “Miss You Can Do It is not about what’s wrong with these girls. It’s about celebrating what’s right with them.”
Ron Davis began his filmmaking career at the New York Film Academy, where his first two short narrative student films, “The Business Traveler” and “The Garden,” earned him a top-ten finalist spot in the 2004 Esquire Magazine Celluloid Style film competition. His first documentary, “Pageant,” garnered ten film festival awards.
Posted by BA Haller at 8:02 PM
Saturday, June 8, 2013
Pictured is Boaz Zilberman, Founder & CEO of Project RAY in Israel, which has developed a smartphone for people with visual impairments.)
By Beth Haller
© Media dis&dat
The M-Enabling Summit in the D.C. area June 6-7 drove home a significant point about people with disabilities and new technology in the modern era: In the digital age, technology should be born accessible.
As Betsy Beaumon, a representative of Bookshare, the digital library for people with print disabilities, said, “No more excuses!”
The two-day M-Enabling Summit was “a joint initiative of the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict) and E.J. Krause & Associates (EJK) to promote mobile accessible and assistive applications and services for senior citizens and persons with disabilities leveraging the latest operating systems, handsets and tablets based technologies.”
The Summit brought together hundreds of participants, exhibitors, and conference presenters from more than 40countries. About 25 exhibitors showed their accessible wares – everything from a joy stick to control a smartphone (from Komodo Open Labs) to a review system for apps (BridgingApps) to SeniorNet, which provides tech resources for older people.
At the Summit, Project RAY, which has developed a smart phone designed for “eye-free” operations for the blindness community, and Odin Mobile, a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) on the T-Mobile network, announced America's first mobile service designed to improve wireless accessibility for people with visual impairments.
“Beginning in July, Odin Mobile will offer comprehensive cell phone service for the visually impaired, including innovative accessible handsets, rate plans for every budget, as well as a unique customer service experience designed to address the needs of its customers,” according to Odin Mobile. “This unique experience will include sending user guides to each of its customers via email in Word and HTML formats and providing customer support that is expert in the accessibility features of its phones.”
The opening plenary of the Summit, “Universal Access for All Ages and All Abilities,” discussed how to achieve universal access to technology and communication for people with disabilities and senior citizens around the world.
Pratik Patel, CEO of EZFire, who spoke on the plenary panel, said, “True innovation is not the technology that will allow us to do all these wonderful things; true innovation is the mindfulness that the object for all technology is humanity or, as I like to think, individual humans. Whether we're discussing apps for cell phones, content on televisions or other devices, access and users go hand in hand. Without the human at the other end, the technology is meaningless. Innovation in mobile requires us to be mindful. Mindfulness toward human beings is the only way we will succeed at creating truly usable and accessible solutions.” (You can read Patel’s full comments here: http://www.ezfire.net/?q=blog%2Fredefining_mobile)
People from around the world are trying to make this access happen, according to a panel called “Assistive Apps and Solutions for Developing Countries and Low Resource Environments.” More than six billion people around the world now use mobile phones, and many of those people are in “low resource environments where high-end handsets, assistive software and accessibility features are still not commonly promoted and used.” In fact, many low-resource countries have more mobile phones than the USA or Canada, explained Steve Jacobs,CEO of IDEAL Group, Inc., and Apps4Android.
Joyojeet Pal, a professor at the University of Michigan, does research about how people with visual impairments in India use technology, especially in the workplace. He said there is a disconnect between students with visual impairments learning to use assistive technology in school and their future employment.
Even though they have lots of training in school, “employers (in India) are unwilling to believe blind people can do a job,” Pal said.
His research also discovered that some people with disabilities in India are beginning to use mobile devices as a replacement for desktop computers. Additional research found that disability organizations want people with disabilities to use social media for advocacy,but the primary use of social media for some people with disabilities is for computer tech support.
Pal made an important point about how negative attitudes toward disability in India affect the society’s willingness to integrate people with disabilities into jobs and society in general.
“People with disabilities have been neglected in developing countries,” said Phosa Mashangoane, General Manager of Consumer Affairs for the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). He was part of a delegation of six from South Africa attending the Summit.
A perspective from Egypt came from Abeer Shakweer, Ph.D., who is the Minister's Advisor for Social Services, Ministry of ICT, who said people with disabilities are marginalized there, with no focus or strategy on providing access to technology.
“(Egyptian) society thinks people with disabilities are unproductive,” she said.
Another problem is the lack of technology information in Arabic.About 55 million people around the world need software and apps in Arabic and it isn’t available, Shakweer said.
One positive initiative is taking place in Cairo,she said, in which college students there are working with people with disabilities to create accessible technology that fits their needs. One part of this project is the creation of a unified Egyptian sign language digital dictionary, which never existed before.
Another panel took on the topic of “E-Book Readers and e-Publishing for Mobile Platforms:Competing for Seniors and Users of All Abilities.”
Anne Taylor,Director of Access Technology at the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore,explained, “digital content is inherently accessible – we just need to make it so.”
Everything needs to be made accessible at the front end, at the content creation level, said Betsy Beaumon, VP& General Manager of the Literacy Program at The Benetech Initiative, which runs Bookshare, “a web-based digital library that gives people with print disabilities the same ease of access to books and periodicals enjoyed by those without disabilities.”
“There are 330 million publishers in the USA because everyone is a publisher” as they post, blog, tweet, etc., she said.
Even if apps and devices are accessible, Beaumon said challenges still exist: How to search for accessible content, how to distribute it, how to get it to low income or international readers, how get Braille content to people who need that and how to maintain quality.
Benetech’s Diagram Center has tips on how to create accessible EPUB 3 files: http://diagramcenter.org/component/content/article/31-standards-and-practices-overview/54-tips-for-creating-accessible-epub-3-files.html
And the Readium Foundation launched Readium.org in early 2013 to develop technology that it hopes will accelerate adoption of EPUB 3 and the Open Web Platform by the global digital publishing industry.
The M-Enabling Summit is an initiative trying to address the needs of people with disabilities and older people globally. Axel Leblois, Executive Director of G3ict, the Summit co-sponsor, explained: “With the increased processing power of mobile devices and expanded network bandwidth many more innovative solutions are now possible. The versatility of handsets, tablets and operating systems, cloud-based applications and global economies of scale of the mobile industry all point towards a growing opportunity for developers to bring life-enhancing solutions for hundreds of millions of seniors and persons with disabilities around the world.”
The next M-Enabling Summit will be hosted by the Australian Communication Consumers Action Network in Sydney in August 2013: http://accan.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=557:save-the-date-m-enabling-australasia-2013&catid=63:access-for-all&Itemid=175
Posted by BA Haller at 6:14 PM
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Salaam Sabina! You're a performer, filmmaker, ASL artist and you also happen to be deaf. How do you do it all, what motivates you?
Art and expression are my life, it's what keeps me breathing everyday. I was born to create and express myself. There's really nothing else better in the world than for me to "create." There's a lot of f***ed up s**t in this world but there's also a lot of beautiful things out there, and I just like to express how I feel, take something out of my soul, and share my works with the world. Sometimes I'm angry and outraged at the cruelty, racism and violations of human rights, so I'm going to speak out. Sometimes I'm just happy and in love, and I want to celebrate the beauty of Mother Earth, the beauty of life, and I want to share my love with others.
I was going to add 'Spoken Word Artist' to the list, would it be incorrect to refer to you as such or others that use Handspeak/ASL to tell a story?
You can say "sign-language spoken word artist" to the list . I think, "ASL artist" isn't an accurate term, it's like calling someone a "French-language artist",. What also works, you can also call me a stage performance artist who uses mime, ASL, and dance.
Thank you. Want to take a moment to debunk any myths that people attribute to the deaf community?
A lot of deaf people can lead normal lives despite being deaf. Believe it or not, there are some deaf people who are glad to be deaf and don't want to be hearing. I know a deaf man who is in a seminary and studying to become a Catholic priest. He is profoundly deaf and cannot speak. I know another deaf person who is a veterinary who takes care of rabbits and helps run an animal clinic. Some deaf people hate being deaf and are not happy being deaf. We are all different and we all have different feelings about being deaf, and we have different experiences. Deaf people are everywhere, deaf people are diverse, and deaf people vary in their talents, careers, and dreams.
Which of your works are you most proud of and has it been well received by others?
I would say that I am most proud of having done "Allah Earth" (a sign language poetry film I shot, directed and performed in Costa Rica). I got so many emails and comments from other people on the Internet. I got an email from a Pakistani Muslim guy who said that the video showed him how beautiful ASL is, and it makes him want to learn sign language so that he can communicate better with his mom, who is deaf and hijabi. That made me so proud and happy. I also got messages from non-Muslims who say that "Allah Earth" shows the beauty of my love and connection with Allah and Mother Earth, done in a tasteful manner.
I am also proud of doing "Poema 15," another sign language poetry film based on a poem by Pablo Neruda, which was written in Spanish. I got many compliments from people in Latin America, from Argentina to Puerto Rico, Bolivia and Brasil, who enjoyed watching my film using both Spanish (oral) and American Sign Language. It was very hard for me because Spanish is not my natural language, it is my third language, so I had to think hard of how to translate Spanish into American Sign Language that would seem smooth and not forced.
Lastly, I am very proud of my book "Urdustan: A Collection of Short Stories" and the positive impact it had on people, especially South Asians, who liked that I showed a variety of South Asians from all different walks of life. It took me so much time to write short stories, and to put it all together. I hope to maybe re-publish it and add a few more stories to the collection.
I ask all interviewees this, what do you say to any naysayers or people who seem bent on tearing you down for whatever reason, how do you cope with it?
honestly, the haters don't matter to me at all. They can keep hating me and keep talking shit, and they don't affect me or my world. I do what I want everyday, I approach life with a smile on my face, with lots of love and positivity in my soul, I've started to feel happy for the first time in my life after all theese years of living with anger and resentment. So, I truly feel sorry for those people who force themselves to stay so unhappy and be full of hate and try to tear down others.
If money weren't an issue, what would you be doing and where?
I really want to go to Bolivia and Peru, and make a bunch of short films-- experimental, artsy, narrative, music, and documentary films, and work with deaf Indigenous artists in both countries. I would also love to go to West Bank and Gaza, and work with deaf Palestinians. I would just like to be able to travel everywhere in the world, perform on the stage, perform with others, whether they are deaf or hearing, South Asian or South American, Muslim or Jewish, African or Asian. I also want to produce others' scripts, turn them into short films or feature films, and be a movie producer.
If I were made to list 3 or 4 one-word descriptions of myself, off the top of my head, I'd say I'm Muslim first, Female, then Black. What about you?
When you turned 30 earlier this year, what were some life lessons you realized and can share with us?
There's just no point in hoping that others would give me opportunities to showcase my talents, so I've thought "f*** this s***," and I went out and bought myself two professional High-Def camcorders even though they were so expensive, but worth it. Now that I can continue to write, direct, produce, and edit my own films and put them in film festivals. No one else is going to give me a chance, so I have to "hire" myself over and over and over again, and then put my works out there for the world to see and enjoy. Also, I've decided to stop feeling so angry at the world. I am tired. Tired of feeling angry everyday, tired of feeling resentment toward others. So I've worked on improving my approach to life. I reached out to people in my life and have worked on improving our relationships. I've stopped responding to drama and passive aggressive bullshit. Now I'm just focused on me, my art, and my happiness. And it's actually starting to work.
If you could tell your 14 year old self one thing, what would it be?
Never, ever give up, never stop believing in yourself, keep doing what you're doing, and f*** what other people think/say about you.
What do you consider the main issues that plague western Muslims these days?
Aside from the fact that the Western governments are bombing our brothers and sisters in many different countries around the world, and aside the fact that the governments don't care about reducing human impact on Mother Earth, I think that Western Muslims have to struggle between Islamophobia and putting forth a better image of ourselves to the media. We are still trying to make our voices heard both in the media and politics. I think that Western Muslims should get more involved with social issues and human rights, and make a stand for our brothers and sisters of different races, religions, orientations, disabilities. We should show that our religion teaches us to have respect and love for all, so we should be at the forefront of the struggle, standing up for human rights, dignity, liberty and freedom for everyone.
What are some Muslim Deaf groups you support or belong to?
none, I do not belong to any Deaf Muslim groups. However, I know of Metro South Asian Deaf Association, a group in Washington DC for Deaf South Asians which include Deaf Hindus, Deaf Muslims, Deaf Sikhs, and anyone who is deaf and brown, from the Indian subcontinent.
Do you like what Muslim Global Deaf Muslims have planned for a Hajj/Umrah trip this year?
I know of them, and I really admire them that they're organizing Deaf Hajj/Umrah for Deaf Muslims to go together. I was on the Hajj one time and it was difficult for me to understand or know what was going on. Maybe someday I would go on a Deaf Hajj or Umrah w/ Global Deaf Muslims. I fully support them!
What are some future projects that your fans should look out for this year?
My new short film "Namaz Ki Udasi" (Prayer of Sorrow) is currently in the works. Insha'allah I hope to release it online by the end of June or early July. Also, I am going to perform an ASL poetry rap and shoot a video later this summer. The rap poem is called "Deaf Brown Gurl." I will also do a short experimental film about climatic change and the harmful effects of modern technology on Mother Earth. I will write a bunch of narrative scripts so maybe I will direct and shoot two comedy films at the end of the year. But I'm just going with the flow and go with whatever project feels right at the time.
Any thing else you want to share with our readers today?
I just want to thank everyone for their love and support! You can check me out here, follow my Twitter, like me on Facebook, watch my short films, and subscribe to my blog!
Posted by BA Haller at 10:00 PM