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.”

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Effects of trauma could constitute disability, judge rules in California's Compton Unified case

From The Los Angeles Times In the picture, Compton Unified student Kimberly Cervantes, center, photographed in May 2015, is part of a lawsuit seeking disability protections for students suffering from the effects of trauma. Behind her are attorney Annie Hudson-Price, left, and attorney Kathryn Eidmann.

Students who have experienced trauma could be eligible for some of the same protections as students with disabilities based on the effects of that trauma, according to a ruling by a federal judge September 29. 
But the degrees, types and effects of trauma that would trigger such protections have yet to be determined. 
The procedural rulings from Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald came in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of five students and three teachers in the Compton Unified School District that aimed to establish “complex trauma” as a type of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. 
Representing the plaintiffs, Los Angeles-based pro bono firm Public Counsel presented the judge with research showing that exposure to trauma can hurt a student’s ability to learn, much in the same way as other impairments. 
Public Counsel wanted the suit to be a class-action case on behalf of students whose learning opportunities suffered in response to trauma, the ruling said. The suit described the case of a boy who was separated from his siblings as he was shuffled through a series of foster homes and ultimately “spent two months of homelessness sleeping on the roof of his high school cafeteria.” 
Fitzgerald rejected the plaintiffs’ request, saying that they did not satisfactorily prove that there were enough class members for such a suit. Kathryn Eidmann of Public Counsel said the group plans to file a new motion for class certification, and remains “open to working collaboratively with the district to get immediate relief.” 
Public Counsel had sought a preliminary injunction asking the judge to require Compton to immediately require school staff to undergo training on the effects of trauma on learning. Previously, attorney David Huff has said the district already trains teachers in “trauma-sensitive practices.”
Fitzgerald rejected the plaintiffs' injunction request Tuesday, stating that such an action would “encroach” on Compton’s ability to set its own direction with regard to staff training, and that the evidence in the case “does not clearly support a claim of trauma-induced disability that would satisfy a reasonable expert in the field.”   
Huff, an attorney at Orbach Huff Suarez & Henderson, confirmed in an interview that the district is conducting trauma training on Oct. 13, similar to the trainings it has already held. 
Public Counsel attorney Mark Rosenbaum interpreted the injunction loss as a temporary setback — he said he is confident he will be able to satisfy the court’s burden of proof that there was sufficient trauma among the students he represents. 
Rosenbaum, though, claims that Fitzgerald’s other ruling was a victory: Fitzgerald rejected Compton’s motion to dismiss the suit, stating that “The Court simply acknowledges the allegations that exposure to traumatic events might cause physical or mental impairments that could be cognizable as disabilities.” 
Fitzgerald wrote that the suit survives on the grounds that trauma could be a disability, but “complex trauma" as defined by the original suit as “exposure to two or more traumatic events” is not endorsed by the court.
That ruling, Rosenbaum said, is precedent setting, because the court recognized that complex trauma "is a disability … under the law.”Fitzgerald wrote that “Plaintiffs have adequately alleged, at least, that complex trauma can result in neurobiological effects constituting a physical impairment for purposes” of disability law. 
But Rosenbaum acknowledged that he needs to better define what constitutes such impairment. 
Huff says Compton interprets the ruling differently. "The court says it is not making a final decision as to how it will be resolved and does not make a decision as to how any student actually suffers trauma," he said. "Just because a child growing up in Compton has suffered an adverse childhood experience ... does not mean he or she is disabled under federal law. There has to be more of a nexus there." Huff said the district plans to continue fighting the suit. 
Eidmann says Public Counsel agrees that the exposure to two or more traumatic events is an insufficient bar for receiving some disability protections. "Young people may respond to traumatic experiences in many ways and not experience impairment in functioning as a result," she said in an email. "Exposure to trauma can create neurobiological effects in the brains and bodies of young people, and these effects meet the definition of disability under the ADA. In other words, it is the physiological effects that many people experience after enduring trauma, and not the adverse experiences themselves, that constitutes the disability."
Denise Marshall, executive director of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, a national disability group, thinks the procedural ruling represents a step forward for her constituency. 
“We are thrilled that the court has recognized the need for schools to mitigate barriers to learning caused by trauma,” Marshall said. “Trauma inflicted on a child is debilitating. School professionals must be sensitive to the needs of students both to avoid re-traumatization and create supportive school climates.” 
As Marshall noted, the rulings come as the issue of trauma training is already on her mind this week. On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he wanted to "put a new emphasis on schools rather than jails" by cutting in half the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent crimes, saving $15 billion a year, and increasing teachers' salaries with the money. To make that happen, COPAA called for increasing behavioral interventions and trauma-sensitivity trainings.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

California wildfires left disabled people in peril

Marian Bunting, 72, has Parkinson's disease and a caretaker. She had not smelled smoke, nor had she received official warning about the Valley fire, when a neighbor came pounding on the door of her Lake County home and told her she needed to leave. 
Though she moves slowly with a walker, Bunting managed to load her cat into the pickup she rarely drives, and wound up living in the parking lot of a Red Cross shelter. 
"I have a person who takes care of me," she said. "But he wasn't around when it was time to go." 
Others had no way out. As the fire progressed, loved ones deluged the sheriff's dispatch with calls, reporting those who were bedridden, without cars, standing in the roadway with pets — nearly all of them alone. 
"Elderly female alone with Alzheimer's, will not know to leave," read one dispatch entry logged just before midnight on Sept. 12, 11 hours after the Valley fire began its manic progression. 
Most disaster response systems are designed for people who can: walk, run, see, drive, read, hear, speak and quickly understand and respond to instructions and alerts. 
Communication, evacuation and sheltering are key areas in which the disabled elderly, and others with what are known in government and advocacy circles as "access and functional needs," require special attention. 
The still-evolving area of disaster preparedness took hold after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — when nearly three-fourths of those who died in the New Orleans disaster were older than 60 — and captured the attention of California officials two years later after two San Diego County wildfires. It is now viewed with urgency as the state increasingly goes gray, particularly in rural counties. 
Of 4.8 million Californians who identify as disabled, about 30% are 65 or older. In Calaveras County, where the Butte fire began to rage Sept. 9, 20% of residents are seniors, the highest proportion in the state, according to census data. Lake County is not far behind with 18%, compared with 11% for the state as a whole. 
And as ashes smolder, those fires, which collectively burned more than 2,300 homes, are providing lessons on what worked and what didn't. 
"If you don't shine a light on this issue, it just gets overlooked," said L. Vance Taylor, chief of the Office of Access and Functional Needs at the Governor's Office of Emergency Services. "This state is just a tinderbox. We know that if this doesn't get addressed it's going to be that much worse tomorrow." 
The office was created in 2008 after widespread complaints by the elderly and disabled over the two San Diego County fires. 
Two years ago, Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova) pressed legislation requiring that those populations be integrated into every aspect of California's update to its state emergency plan. Due out two months ago, the update was delayed, Taylor said, "because we've kind of gone from disaster to diaster." 
His office in the meantime has urged local governments through its website to better educate vulnerable residents such as Bunting, alert them when it's time to go, help get them out and meet their needs while they're homeless. 
In Lake County, the fire moved so fast that alerts and evacuation systems broke down, giving county officials no time to deploy accessible vans to ferry out those in need, as they did during two previous fires this summer. 
There were deaths: a 72-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis trapped in her home, and three men over the age of 65, two of whom miscalculated the fire and decided to stay put. 
Butte fire moved more slowly, though both people who died were seniors: a one-legged 65-year-old man who remained to protect his property, and an 82-year-old man who a friend said had become depressed and increasingly immobile. 
Almost immediately, the five-county region's Area Agency on Aging sprang into action. 
Primed by experience with Mariposa County's Rim fire in 2013, staff members reached the providers who deliver home meals, offer community dining to seniors or provide transportation and alerted their own care managers, who got on the phones before they went dead and coaxed clients to leave immediately, said Doreen Schmidt, the agency's disaster coordinator. 
"People were thinking that maybe we were overreacting," Schmidt said. "But we had been through it. We understood that people who are medically fragile, people who have dementia, it's harder to get them out. … We thought, 'We're going to do this, even if it doesn't spread.'" 
Common Ground Senior Services, the area's Meals on Wheels provider, was summoned by emergency officials to aid evacuations with their wheelchair-accessible van, while the local paratransit company deployed a bus. With adult protective services workers alongside them, they evacuated two mobile home parks and a senior apartment complex, Schmidt said. 
Then they launched a frantic search for lodging for those too fragile to stay at Red Cross shelters, for batteries to keep oxygen tanks working and more. 
Disability rights advocates had been pressing for better disaster planning for years when the 2007 wildfire season in California provided more impetus. 
A report by the Pomona-based Center for Disability Issues and the Health Professions noted that the deaf community had not received emergency notifications, those with mobility issues could not be evacuated with their power wheelchairs, and shelters had trouble accommodating those with medical conditions. 
"Most disaster response systems are designed for people who can: walk, run, see, drive, read, hear, speak and quickly understand and respond to instructions and alerts," the report noted. 
Plenty has changed. Among the programs launched soon after the report was FAST, or functional assessment service teams. The state Department of Social Services, which oversees the program, dispatched four teams of government workers and volunteers to the Valley fire, where they observed conditions, met residents and figured out what was missing. 
For example, there are only five portable accessible showers in the state under contract to the Emergency Services office, and a number of them had to be commandeered from a music event in Southern California and trucked north. 
Winnie Pugh, 85, had reluctantly left her Middletown home, abandoning her power wheelchair and a new electric scooter. Everything burned. 
Thanks to a FAST team working with Red Cross and emergency officials, she received a donated power chair — two days after she was assessed but six days after arriving at the shelter. 
The state contracts with Sacramento-based Ability Tools for assistive devices, and the organization found two wheelchairs, one for Pugh, in Concord, said Teresa Favuzzi, executive director of the Sacramento-based California Foundation for Independent Living Centers who was on scene for FAST. Two more chairs were scrounged from separate organizations in Berkeley. 
Favuzzi was struck by how many people in the disaster zone had been unprepared to make their way to safety. She said these fires offer a teaching moment, much as the 2007 blazes did. 
"We're not there yet," she said. "We should not let folks perish like this without responding in some way to improve the chances of people like them in the future."  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

'Switched at Birth' creator Lizzy Weiss on that big baby with Down syndrome decision

Earlier this year, the hit ABC Family drama Switched at Birth made headlines with its bold, unapologetic portrayal of campus assault. When one of the main characters was the victim of a sexual assault by someone she loved and trusted, Switched at Birth made waves by telling that story in a fresh, smart way, giving its characters realistic reactions and educated arguments that straddled both sides of the debate.
With the second half of season four off to an eventful start, Switched at Birth is yet again capturing audiences with a one-of-a-kind story that centers around a surprise pregnancy for Toby (Lucas Grabeel, pictured) and Lily (Rachel Shenton). But it’s not just any pregnancy. When Lily finds out the baby has Down syndrome, it opens the door to a whole slew of delicate conversations surrounding special needs, diversity, and abortion.
I spoke with Switched at Birth creator Lizzy Weiss about why she felt she needed to tell this groundbreaking story, and what she hopes it accomplishes by starting—and changing—the conversation about those with differences and disabilities. 
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY COMMUNITY: TV pregnancies can be so iffy—the term “jump the shark” comes to mind. What made you decide to introduce a baby now? 
LIZZY WEISS: It was this storyline. It was really a desire to get into this. And I think that is important say; it really is a story. Meaning, I don’t have an agenda except, number one, my job is to be a good storyteller. And number two, hopefully while we’re doing that, to illuminate really interesting conversations to get people talking. I’m not here to push my personal agenda on anyone. I want to be fair to both sides, because I think that makes for good TV, and it keeps all of the characters smart and it’s fair to both sides. 
Once we decided to have Lily be pregnant with a Down syndrome baby, I knew that she would keep it, and it wasn’t because of the network and it wasn’t because they pushed anything or said they couldn’t do anything. It was really because in that story, that was the right choice for a family that has a deaf kid and for a show that is, to some extent, about difference and disability. Once it became a story about Lily, I just knew, of course she would have the baby, because of the kind of family she is in. And that is, for this show and this moment and this family, the right decision. 
It could have been just a regular pregnancy, and it still would have packed a punch. How did you decide go the Down syndrome direction? 
Because this is a show about people who are different, and this is an iteration of that. I just think there are ties there, and I was really interested to get into what Daphne’s perspective (as a deaf person) would be on that. Not from religion, not from science, even though those are all part of who she is too. 
We have really dived into all that territory about what it means to be deaf and treated differently, and I thought it was a better way of tackling one of the biggest themes on our show, which is difference.  
In some ways, it’s a more extreme form of difference, so it’s getting into territory that you don’t see discussed that often. I do like to do that when I can, when it comes up organically and when it makes for a good story. The story about Down syndrome does really does speak to the themes of the show. 
Sometimes I feel like Switched at Birth is your answer to the underrepresentation of those often ostracized or marginalized groups of people. Do you feel a certain kinship to telling stories of diversity and difference? Do you feel like you sort of owe that to your audience?
Once I made Daphne deaf, and I got interested in deaf culture, I realized it’s a culture, it’s a way of talking, it’s a way of being; these [are] little niche communities that I find fascinating. Once I became fluent in the [deaf] culture and understanding, it kind of evolved from there. I became more interested and educated about it. I was on a disability panel at Sundance this year, and I was on there with a bunch of other people, like RJ Mitte (Breaking Bad‘s Walt Jr.), and [Paralympic athlete] Amy Purdy, who is an amazing snowboarder, and actor JR Martinez (All My Children). Just by hearing them talk, I learned even more about disability and their lives and the importance of showing the world as it is. And I became even more of an advocate, and it just kind of keeps evolving. 
Switched at Birth has always opted for real talk on important issues as opposed to glossing over them, and has made a clear name for itself as a show that tries to highlight, and maybe even change the conversation around, topics like rape, deaf culture, domestic violence, addiction, etc. What kinds of conversations do you hope a story like this starts? 
Though Toby and Lily end up making the choice they made, I was very careful and thought it was really important that Lily say, “I firmly believe that every woman has the right to choose what happens to her body and that children should only brought into this world when they are wanted and able to be cared for.” And I just wanted to make sure that was onscreen to counter, so I wouldn’t be accused of putting forth an agenda. But that being said, everyone has their say. I do think it’s just a slightly revolutionary way to look at the world to see it as not worse, just different, as Daphne said [in last week’s episode] as she’s trying to explain to Mingo. I don’t think [Mingo] is a dunce; he’s just a regular person who assumes deaf is worse, and thus Down syndrome is worse. And it’s a shift in perspective that I think you have to be taught, which is—if you don’t live it yourself—it’s actually not worse, it really is just different. They may have lives better than you in a way you can’t understand unless you really are inside it. That is a shocking thing to understand for most people: that being deaf or having Down syndrome is not necessarily worse, it’s just different. That’s the takeaway that I think is shocking for people. 
I found it very interesting to see that Bay (Vanessa Marano) and Regina (Constance Marie) both have a pro-choice stance, and Kathryn and Daphne share a pro-life opinion. That revelation highlights a lot of themes on the show: nature vs. nurture, cultural and socioeconomical identity vs. DNA, etc. Was that an obvious choice for those characters? 
No. Great question! They argued with me about it. My answer to that is, people surprise you. I think Daphne could have gone either way. She is a scientist, she’s not religious. Look at John (DW Moffett)! He surprised you, right? He doesn’t say “abort,” but he doesn’t seem that clear on what to do. He’s not as clear behind closed doors as you might imagine, which I did on purpose. 
And I think for Kathryn (Lea Thompson) and Daphne, I could have gone either way. For Kathryn, I ended up doing that, because of the nature vs. nurture thing, and because I really wanted the girls on opposite sides. But I think for Kathryn, you could have believed either way, and either way that we chose for her would have completely worked with her character. But Katie [Leclerc] argued with me and said she was surprised, but we talked about it and she got there. 
You know the Bechdel test? I just loved the idea of our two protagonist girls arguing onscreen about something really important and having a debate about it that had nothing to do with boys and nothing to do with clothes or anything that is in that Bechdel test. I just really wanted them to be on opposite sides, to hear smart answers on both sides. 
At the end of the episode, Regina tells Bay that she’d better get on board really quickly with Toby and Lily’s decision to keep the baby. Are we going to see everyone be on board moving forward, or will there be more moments of discord over this decision in the family? 
There’s still more processing to be done with the reality of carrying a Down syndrome kid. There were some leaked photos of a baby shower, and at the baby shower, something comes up. You can imagine that having a shower for a Down syndrome baby might be a little different for some people, whether it should be or not. So we bring that up in the shower. 
What else can we expect from the rest of season four? 
We are still dealing with the fallout from the campus assault, so Max Adler will be coming back at some point as Tank. And we have a special episode coming up where the kids go on a trip together. It’s our first episode where it’s kids only, no parents, and it’s for spring break. 
Is there anything else you wanted to share with your audience about this special storyline? 
I can tell you one last thing that is pretty adorable—one pretty special thing I am very proud of. The day we shot the socks scene, I rushed to set that day to make sure that scene went exactly the way that I wanted. And what I saw totally made me tear up. All of the crew was wearing mismatched socks that day. I am not kidding! I was so stunned. There were mismatched socks everywhere to support the story. It was so touching. I was like, This is such a special show. I couldn’t believe it. That’s our crew for you. 
Switched at Birth airs Mondays at 8/7C on ABC Family.