Monday, July 29, 2013

Spending his days blurring the line between masculine and feminine fashion norms, Henrik Silvius, who has muscular dystrophy, lures thousands of enthusiastic readers to his Where Fashion Is Fashion Is blog

From The Wall Street Journal:

If the fashion industry has an award for heroes, Henrik Silvius should get a nomination.

Muscular dystrophy may confine the 22-year-old Dane to a wheelchair, but that doesn’t stop him from diving into the crowded sea of fashion blogging. Spending his days blurring the line between masculine and feminine fashion norms, Silvius is luring hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic readers to his Where Fashion Is Fashion Is blog.

At first blush, Silvius’ opinion on clothing might seem somewhat eccentric. For instance, he’s been known to combine the flare of leopard prints or fluffy furs with  otherwise banal black men’s suit or a printed t-shirt.  He’s not afraid to sport a pair of thick gold earrings, carry a Prada purse or sport a chunky bright necklace.

“A lot of men are afraid of looking too feminine or not getting the standard of the macho ideal,” Silvius said in an email interview. “Come on, we are living in 2013 and we’re way past the caveman style…in the shallow world of fashion, I’m sure that clothes are the uniform with which we conquer the world.”
Silvius may seem an unlikely candidate to conquer the world given his lot in life. But he’s just one in an admirable cast of people with disabilities to break into fashion. The BBC, for instance, ran a show in 2008 called “Britain’s Top Missing Model” that featured eight disabled women competing to win a fashion shoot in Marie Claire.

As a child, Silvius was not able to hang on tree limbs or kick soccer balls in the yard. Instead, he was observing the world around him.

He’s had a long affair with sketchpads, allowing him to channel those observations into drawings.
The view from his wheelchair caused him to literally see the world from a different perspective than everyone else; he always saw peoples’ clothes and bodies before he saw their faces.

“I don’t know if this is the reason why I started loving fashion,” he said in the interview. But, he is “glad it happened.”

Where Fashion is Fashion Is is a chronicle of carefully selected outfits, landscapes and portraits reflecting his unique palette. Every morning, he puts together hip or chic ensembles reflecting what he finds picturesque that day. The closet includes second-hand sweaters, H&M shirts, vintage shoes, Dior sunglasses, and a collection of Silvius original designs.

He writes text to run alongside his fashion, with words often inspiring readers to follow his lead. His exhortations can be as edgy as saying “boys, grab your balls and wear that Versace bag.” At other times, his writing can give intense insight into a man striving to overcome the hurdles of muscular dystrophy.
“There needs to be a thought and a reason behind every single picture or post,” he said. He usually publishes between two and ten posts a month, and a friend serves as his photographer, snapping portraits of Silvius wearing outfits in a variety of locales, spanning Copenhagen to Paris. 
In order to read some of the posts, non-Danish speakers will need to employ a translation service, like Google Translate.

Silvius has picked up stylist jobs and he’s documented major events like the Copenhagen Fashion Week. His goal is to become a fashion designer and people attracted to Silvius’ designs are likely going to fashion-centric folks who long to avoid the basic.

For instance, when Silvius grew tired of his white Doc Martens shoes, he “spiced them up” by attaching some homemade white, studded leather fringes to them. In a recent interview with Visibility, a blog about disabled fashion designers, he said “New Balance sneakers are the invention of the devil and people wearing them should cut off their feet. I don’t care how comfortable they might be.”

For now, Silvius says he loves his styling job and is still developing his view on creativity. His future focus will likely remain on men’s fashion because “it is a couple of steps behind women’s fashion — we don’t have the same possibilities women have.”

That’s why he’s itching to “design menswear that has that little something ‘extra’ in the next couple of years.”
Eventually, we may see the Silvius brand hit shelves. For now, he’s doing a lot of drawing, learning to work with different textiles and fits and figuring out how to properly transfer his sketches to the sewing board.

New Gallaudet University dorm specially designed to be Deaf-friendly

From Design Taxi:

Gallaudet University, a college for the deaf and hard of hearing, has built a dormitory that caters to the unique needs of their students.

The building was designed in a collaboration between New York-based design firm LTL , Quinn Evans Architects, Sigal Construction and DeafSpace, a campus initiative that developed a set of design guidelines that takes into account the unique architectural needs of the deaf.

The DeafSpace architectural design elements addresses “five major touch points between deaf experiences and the built environment: space and proximity, sensory reach, mobility and proximity, light and color, and finally acoustics.”

For example, stopping to open a door may interrupt conversations, so sliding doors are used instead.

Walls are painted in colors that cut glare, and the building takes advantage of daylight, reducing the eyestrain associated with communicating in sign language.

Amphitheaters are also designed to have perfect sight lines, no matter where you sit, so you’ll always have a clear view of the speaker’s hands.

The buildings also incorporate special acoustic panels and carpets to reduce ambient noise, to better accommodate students with hearing aids.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Graphic artist, 97, becomes pixel painter after becoming legally blind

From the NY Daily News:

He’s legally blind, 97 years old and still spinning out beautiful, unique art work.

How, you ask. Hal Lasko (pictured) uses Windows ’95 and Microsoft Paint to create the stunning art.

The “Pixel Painter,” as he has been anointed — or, better yet, just Grandpa — is the subject of a inspiring viral video making waves online.

He served as a letter man, or typographer, his grandson Ryan Lasko says in the video, working as a “graphic artist back when everything was done by hand.” Ryan Lasko, who co-directed the eight-minute “Pixel Painter” video, said the family bought Grandpa a computer 15 years ago and showed him how to use Microsoft Paint.

“Once I did, he took off with it,” Ryan Lasko said. “It wasn’t until years later that we realized how important this thing was to him.”

A condition called wet macular degeneration diminished Hal Lasko’s eyesight to the point that he’s now legally blind. But, using big fonts on the computer and “patience,” Lasko’s mastered Microsoft Paint and started churning out impressive landscapes and animals in his unique, extremely pixelated style.

“When I lost my eyesight, I thought my painting days were over,” Hal Lasko explained. “The reason I’m using the computer is different because I’m using it because it gives me the benefit of magnifying enough so that my eyesight is good enough that I can still do it.”

And at 97 years old, he has no intention of stopping. The prolific painter is still active and mentally sharp, and once he finishes a painting, he goes to a print shop to make it a physical reality.

Hal Lasko tried more advanced and current painting programs but found he liked the simple Microsoft Paint the best.

“To conceive a painting, it was much easier to keep it simple,” he told NBC News. “I had had years to learn how to do this — so I just decided that this is my way. What I made was beautiful to me."

Those prints are available on his very own website and sell for $98 each in honor of his impending 98th birthday. Because he is a veteran of World War II, 10% of all sales goes to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“You know it’s no longer work; it’s fun,” Grandpa said in the video. “When I worked, I always had to do something to please the client … Now I can do whatever I want!”

Two paintings were featured in an art exhibit at a local senior center in Ohio.

Even his family says the dedicated computer painter has no intention of slowing down. Hal Lasko’s vibrancy is obvious in his every movement and the joy he takes in his painting.

“I’ve never heard him complain about age or … talk about dying at all,” Grandpa’s son, Ron Lasko, said in an emotional interview in the video. “He doesn’t have that in him.”

Did you hear the one about the comedian with no arms or legs?

From WBUR in Boston:

Two years ago, film professor Will Lautzenheiser noticed a persistent cramp in his leg. Within days he was comatose, his organs failing one after the other as vicious strep bacteria swept through his body. He ended up spending five months in a hospital Intensive Care Unit, and the attack of necrotizing fasciitis — flesh-eating bacteria — cost him all his limbs.

Here’s the punchline: Will now performs stand-up comedy. Except that, lacking legs, he calls it “sit-down” comedy.

“The amputations have been, in a way, the grim apotheosis of my sense of humor and sensibility before this,” he said. “My kind of gallows humor is maybe uniquely suited to such an absurd and horrible situation. And humor is a great way to be resilient — if you can’t laugh, you weep.”

Humor is also a way of lightening up a very serious topic — say, disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act, the landmark federal law on the civil rights of disabled people, turned 23 this week, and to mark the anniversary, the New England ADA Center invited Will and three other comedians with disabilities for a public “Laugh and Learn” panel to discuss being disabled and being funny.

An advantage of being an amputee: ‘I’ve stopped biting my nails — cold turkey.’
Humor has historically been a way of dealing with difficult issues, said Oce Harrison, the center’s project director, “and we’re also feeling like we could all really use a laugh right now in Boston, because of the marathon bombings, and every day in the paper there are evildoings.”

I can’t imagine cracking a joke about a marathon victim’s injury — or joshing as an outsider about the other panelists’ disabilities: paraplegia, ADHD, Asperger’s. But this is something different: people with disabilities laughing at the situations they find themselves in, and at the world’s reaction to them, and thus making it OK for others to laugh as well. It’s another way of “being seen,” and educating the public, Harrison said.

(Beginning 2nd from left) Veronica Blackwell, Jack Hanke, Will Lautzenheiser and Joe Genera made up the "Laugh And Learn: Comedians With Disabilities" panel at the Institute for Human Centered Design. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
(Beginning 2nd from left) Veronica Blackwell, Jack Hanke, Will Lautzenheiser and Joe Genera made up the “Laugh And Learn: Comedians With Disabilities” panel at the Institute for Human Centered Design. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

In an interview before the panel, Lautzenheiser ran easily through the amputee jokes that he heard long ago in the schoolyard: What do you call a man with no arms and legs who’s by your door? Matt. Who’s in the ocean? Bob. Who’s on the wall? Art.

He can tell those jokes to relax his audience, but he avoids certain variants that don’t describe his own injury. “I can’t make fun of anyone else who’s lost limbs,” he said. “But I’m entitled to make fun of my own disability. And the situation — it’s a lot more absurd or ridiculous than one might think, and the jokes are, day to day, practically endless.”

In fact, Will’s amputee jokes began in the hospital, when the surgeon told him that his deadened limbs would need to be cut off. He was a bit loopy from medications, he recalls, but his response was “Well, it’s a good thing I learned to play the violin when I did!”

The humor continued through the long hospital ordeal. “The basic nature of the situation isn’t funny at all and wound care isn’t funny; it’s really horrible and painful,” he said. “But if you can try to make that process a little less stressful for everyone, that helps.”

And on it went after Will’s discharge. People would compliment his wheelchair, and he’d respond: “Thanks. Cost me an arm and a leg!”

His quips aim to put people at ease. “Otherwise, they might just see me as an object of pity,” he said. “It’s not common to have a quadrilateral amputee just sort of around, and I really don’t feel that way about myself. I certainly have a disability. There’s a lot I can’t do. But I don’t want to be just thought of as a disabled person. I’m a person who has a disability, or a person who’s in this particular situation, but it hasn’t affected me that badly mentally, and I’m still pretty much the same person I was before.”

A unique Facebook profile photo (Courtesy)
A unique Facebook profile photo (Courtesy)

In the last few months, as Will has begun to bring his humor out into the comedy world, that world hasn’t always been set up to receive him. When he arrived for a gig at a Boston club in June, the stage was not wheelchair-accessible — so he worked that into his act (Which also included a friendly competition with his friend, Steve, over whose 2011 was a worse year: Steve had ended up living out of his car, but losing all your limbs is a tough act to beat.)

The comedy performances help Will, he said — it’s important to “be visible,” and becoming a character on stage allows him to air topics he might not in normal life. His first comic monologue included some of the best and worst things about being an amputee. On the good side:
  • “I don’t have to wash my hands after I pee.”
  • “I can have unique profile pictures on Facebook, that look like I’m eating my arm.”
  • “It’s allowed me to kick a lot of bad habits: I’ve gotten off morphine, methadone, Oxycontin, Oxycodone, special K, and I’ve stopped biting my nails — cold turkey!”
On the bad side: “The worst thing about being an amputee is that you can’t masturbate. I always have to ask someone else to lend a hand. Actually, maybe that’s the best thing about being an amputee…”

People are curious about amputee life, Will said, and “the gruesome reality of it is that I need help — even going to the bathroom. If I didn’t have a bidet toilet, I’d be stuck. It was really absurd before my partner and I got that installed. Thank goodness for the bidet — independence in the bathroom!”

Will is still in intensive rehab, so he cannot return to teaching for now; he formerly taught film production and screenwriting at Boston University and had just started work at Montana State University when the bacteria hit.

He cannot return to making films at this point either, he said, until he can find an interface that would allow him to control a camera.

But comedy, he can do.

Not everyone finds him funny — in particular, Will’s identical twin brother, who is now looking much less identical. “This is all too raw to him,” Will said.

But his parents support his comedy. And he is hoping that his day-to-day comic approach helps model the therapeutic uses of humor for some of his new comrades in rehab: Boston Marathon bombing amputees.

“It’s OK to laugh,” he said. “The situation is ridiculous. I mean, amputation turns out to be — who knew?! — just ridiculously funny.”

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

D.C.’s H Street embedded with Deaf culture

From The Washington Post:

Not all places are ideal to start off a Friday night, so Richard Spiecker’s text message to his friends made the plans clear. The time: 9 p.m. The location: Biergarten Haus on H Street NE.

The “where” was almost a foregone conclusion. Spiecker, a rising senior at Gallaudet University, and the dozen or so friends who’d be joining him were all deaf. And over the past decade, H Street has emerged as the city’s nexus of deaf youth culture.

“It’s all about service,” Spiecker said in sign language as his group entered the German brew pub. The bartender immediately handed out menus and waited for each person to point to their selection. Then, the bartender signed the price.

“They know what to do here,” signed Spiecker, a stocky former midfielder on Gallaudet’s soccer team, his hair recently shaved to a buzz cut.

When businesses began sprouting up on H Street, they catered to a different type of urban pioneer. Their earliest patrons in the mid-2000s were students from nearby Gallaudet, who were tired of slogging to places such as Adams Morgan, where bars had little idea of how to help them.

“They were the influx of college students that H Street needed to succeed,” said Jason Martin, a co-owner of many H Street establishments, including the Rock & Roll Hotel and Sticky Rice. For a time, “it was hard to get people over to H Street because there wasn’t much public transportation and taxicabs used to be scarce.”

The Gallaudet students, he said, really helped.

Now, deaf waiters work at restaurants. People of all ages walk up and down the street using American Sign Language, or ASL. Bartenders know the sign for Jagermeister.

The simple accommodations fostered a sense of belonging for the deaf community on a street that was evolving from chicken-wing shops and shuttered funeral parlors to $12 cocktails and indoor mini-golf.

Like many redeveloping communities, H Street has struggled to balance the desires of older, black residents and its burgeoning young, white population. The deaf culture of the street adds a deaf-hearing element to this familiar tension, though progress is evident.

But for all of the area’s success, some can’t help but wonder what will happen to the deaf-friendly atmosphere as the area becomes even more popular.

“I’m hanging out there less and less,” Spiecker said. “It’s becoming too expensive.”

Still, Spiecker and his friends welcome the changing street that first welcomed them.

They started their evening at Biergarten Haus for several reasons: There was good lighting, so it was easier to sign to one another. The tables were long, so conversations could be carried across the room. The beer was cheap. (And none of them could hear the polka music that played incessantly.)

Hearing customers largely left them alone, though they drew a number of stares — and not necessarily because they were deaf. Mostly athletes and sorority members, they were distractingly attractive.

As Tenja Smith, 21, and her friend conversed in sign language about when — or if — D.C.’s streetcar will ever start running, they caught the attention of a couple of guys on the other side of the bar. The men started walking toward them, noticed the signing and then stopped, concluding their pickup attempts might be futile.
“Damn,” one of the men said to other. “All of a sudden, I wish I knew ASL.”

Gallaudet’s campus is diverse and varied — Spiecker’s friends are far from a representative sample — as more students are arriving to campus without proficiency in ASL. But no one in Spiecker’s group used cochlear implants, which can stimulate nerves to create a sense of sound, nor do they read one another’s lips. Many went to deaf camp together or played against each other in a deaf sports league.

Sometimes, hearing patrons will cozy up to one of the Gallaudet students and ask for a phone number using text messages.

It might yield a date or two, but it “never usually works out,” Spiecker signed. “They don’t speak our language.”

But trips to H Street for the Gallaudet students are not ethnographic forays to learn how hearing lives are lived. They’re about having fun with friends.

“When I came to Gallaudet, I was fascinated by the strong deaf culture here. Some people are very proud to be deaf. We all support each other. We understand each other. We do the twitchy-nose thing,” he added, speaking of a common gesture used to show agreement with another deaf person.

For years, students received the same message: Stay inside the campus bubble. The outside neighborhood was an impoverished, dangerous place that never fully recovered from the 1968 riots.

The adventurous students went to Georgetown or Dupont Circle, but most stayed within the dorms, said Fred Weiner, the university’s community liaison, who was a freshman at Gallaudet in 1979. And that was all right.

“But we have students today who want to go out and be a part of the world,” said Weiner, even if they still communicate among friends. So H Street is a selling point in the competitive world of college recruitment.

The result has been an unmistakable cultural footprint in one of the District’s hippest neighborhoods. A few days before he went to Biergarten Haus, Spiecker and a fellow student were trading tales at a pizza shop. Nur Abdulle told the story of a panhandler who pulled a pen and paper out of his pocket, then scribbled: “Do you have a dollar?”

Even the beggars have adapted. The two were laughing when a staff member at H & Pizza tapped Abdulle on the shoulder. “More water?” she signed.

Every person at H & Pizza is trained to learn basic signs: “thank you,” “hello,” “pepperoni?” Michael Lastoria, the restaurant’s co-owner, said he quickly realized those skills were needed to succeed. His first eight customers were deaf.

Gallaudet staff members also held weekend crash courses for business owners to learn about deaf culture. They instructed the owners about etiquette, from always carrying around a pen and paper to feeling comfortable with tapping deaf people on the shoulder to get their attention.

“But there’s been an interesting shift over the past five or six years,” Weiner signed. “A lot of things happen to include deaf people in the neighborhood, without our help. It’s taken a life of its own.”

The ultimate dream goes beyond restaurateurs being courteous to customers. It is to be able to use the street’s emergence as a way to create a sustainable, deaf-friendly neighborhood in the nation’s capital.
That requires creating more stable roots than a rotating cast of students every four years, Weiner said. Six staff members have bought houses in the area recently, and many students plan to stay in the neighborhood after they graduate.

If a community establishes itself outside the university, perhaps neighbors would learn how to sign to communicate with other neighbors. Or their children could be taught ASL at school.

“There could be so much more,” signed Derrick Behm, 22, a recent Gallaudet graduate. “We have people working at restaurants, but we can own the restaurants. We can invest in the neighborhood. This can get so much deeper for us.”

Even now, there are signs of that cultural exchange. At Biergarten Haus, Spiecker watched as Anthony Palmer, 22, a Gallaudet quarterback, recounted his experience at a barbershop Spiecker had recommended, which happened to be all-black. Both students are white.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Palmer said. “They told me to come over, and it was all good. They gave me a good haircut.”

“It’s the best,” Spiecker replied, twitching his nose. “Now I never want to get my hair cut by anyone but a black barber on H Street.”

“I don’t know if I ever want to leave D.C.,” Palmer added. “This is the deaf community right here. The hearing world, it’s hard.”

Aide to man with Down syndrome who died in Maryland theater warned police he shouldn't be touched, report says

From The Washington Post:

Moments before off-duty Frederick County sheriff’s deputies tried to force a young man with Down syndrome out of a movie theater — a move that eventually led to his death — Robert Ethan Saylor’s 18-year-old aide warned them that he would “freak out” if they touched him.

“Next thing I know, there are I think three or four cops holding Ethan, trying to put him in handcuffs,” the aide told authorities, according to documents from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Department obtained Monday by the Associated Press. “I heard Ethan screaming, saying ‘ouch,’ ‘don’t touch me,’ ‘get off’ and crying. Next thing I hear is nothing.”

The aide’s statement about what happened the day Saylor (pictured) died is among a package of documents released to the Saylor family’s attorney and the Associated Press by the sheriff’s department detailing its criminal investigation. The 98-page incident report and handwritten statements from 22 witnesses provide the most detailed account yet of how Saylor, 26, went from wanting to watch a movie he liked twice to dead from asphyxiation within minutes.

“I don’t understand why it has taken this long to produce,” Joseph Espo, an attorney for the family, said of the report Monday night. “We’re happy that we finally have it.”

Before the documents were released, only the most basic details of what happened that January day were known.

The three deputies — Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy 1st Class James Harris — were working off-duty security jobs at the Westview Promenade shopping center when they were called to the theater.

There, they encountered Saylor, who had just watched “Zero Dark Thirty” with his aide of three months and wanted to watch it again. He loved the movie, the aide told authorities in a written statement: “Ethan even clapped at the end.”

The aide, whose name was redacted from the documents, said Saylor had a history of angry outbursts and had lost his temper earlier that evening. As they stood outside the theater after the movie, he began cursing and punched a storefront window, frightening her, she wrote.

Advised over the phone by his mother and another caregiver to give him a few minutes to calm down, the aide went to get the car, leaving him in front of the theater, she told authorities. By the time she returned, Saylor was in the theater, seated, and a manager was telling her that he couldn’t watch the movie because he hadn’t paid for a ticket.

“I explained, ‘Yes, we are having a little issue, I’ll handle it. We just have to be patient,’ ” the aide wrote in her statement. “Then a sheriff came and said, ‘Another show is starting. I have to go get him out. I explained Ethan is (sic) Down syndrome.”

The aide said she advised the deputy to “wait it out.”

“Then the sheriff went in and started talking to Ethan and Ethan was cursing at him,” the woman wrote, adding that the officer threatened to arrest Saylor. “I then said, ‘Please don’t touch him, he will freak out.’ ”
An autopsy report said that Saylor did not like to be touched and suddenly the deputies had their hands on him. The 294-pound man flailed, cursed and cried for his mother, according to witness accounts.

As the deputies tried to restrain and lead Saylor from the theater, the four fell in a heap on a slightly inclined ramp and, during a struggle, the deputies placed three sets of handcuffs on him. When Saylor suddenly grew quiet and unresponsive, the deputies removed the handcuffs and administered CPR.

The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Baltimore ruled Saylor’s death a homicide as a result of asphyxia. There was unexplained damage to his larynx.

A witness said one of the deputies had a knee on Saylor’s back, but no one reported seeing the deputies touch Saylor’s neck.

When the deputies couldn’t find a pulse, they removed the handcuffs and started chest compressions until Saylor started breathing again, snoring but unconscious, according to the documents. The aide was asked to help.

“I tapped him and said, ‘Wake up, Ethan,’ ” she wrote.

In March, a Frederick County grand jury determined no charges were warranted against the deputies, who have since returned to their full duties. Afterward, none of the evidence presented to the jury was made available to the family or public for months, despite Freedom of Information Act requests. Instead, Daniel Karp, an attorney for the sheriff’s office, said an internal affairs investigation first had to be completed.

For Saylor’s family, that meant not only did they have to mourn a young man who was known for his all-encompassing hugs and his fascination with the police — they were also left with more questions than answers.

“Why is my family still unable to read the statements of those who sat yards away from our Ethan that day?” Saylor’s sister, Emma Saylor, wrote in The Washington Post on June 14. “It has been several months now, and questions remain unanswered. For what reason?”

In the months following Saylor’s death, representatives from the family and advocacy groups met with the U.S. Department of Justice about the case and called on Maryland officials to conduct an independent investigation.

Karp said Monday that the internal affairs investigation has been completed but that he couldn’t comment on any specific findings.

“This matter has been investigated thoroughly,” said Karp, who defends municipalities and public officials in civil lawsuits. “It’s obviously a tragic and unfortunate incident, but the deputies did nothing wrong.”

Espo said it is too early to discuss whether a civil lawsuit will be filed.

“First we’re going to read the report and then decide what, if anything, to do,” he said.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

'Sons of Anarchy' Star, Artist Turn to Kickstarter to Create Physically Disabled Action Hero

From The Wrap:

Graphic novel artist Gerry Kissell and "Sons of Anarchy" actor Kurt Yaeger aren't waiting for a greenlight from Hollywood to create a physically disabled action hero -- they're teaming up to do it themselves through Kickstarter.

Kissell, best known for his work with IDW Publishing ("Code Word: Geronimo," "Iron Sky"), has turned to the crowdfunding website to raise $8,000 to produce and publish "Vindicated, Inc," a graphic novel about a double-amputee Delta Force soldier-turned-vigilante suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Kissell hopes to produce a movie adaptation as soon as next year.

"This is going to be a film. It's gonna happen," Kissell told TheWrap. "Even if we choose not to use Kickstarter, we've got the backers."

Kissell wouldn't unveil any specifics about partners who have already agreed to independently finance what he expects to be a $10 million film. But he said multiple directors are already interested in the project, including "Iron Sky" director Timo Vuorensola.

Yaeger (left) -- a real-life amputee who is lending his likeness to the comic book character and is involved in the creative process -- would star in the film adaptation as the elite soldier, who wages war against Seattle's criminal underworld with a pair of prosthetic limbs.

"I felt that Kurt would bring so much more believability to it, and I did not want to have a person with nothing but green screen on their legs playing the part," said Kissell, a former Army medic. "You're shortchanging the audience, and you're also letting down the disabled audience by having someone who has not experienced what they experienced, as well. And Kurt brings that. And I think he owns the character now."

Yaeger's physical appearance and experience as an amputee aren't his only similarities with the character. The actor also suffers from PTSD, but didn't always know it. He said he was traumatized by the motorcycle accident that cost him his left leg below the knee.

"Being an amputee has allowed me to work with a lot of military veterans and organizations," Yaeger said. "By helping them, I realized I was dealing with a little bit of PTSD from the motorcycle accident, which I didn't realize I fully had. I just thought it was me losing my mind a little bit."

Gerry Kissell
"Vindicated" is carefully crafted by Kissell and his team of writers -- all of whom are military veterans -- to portray a disabled soldier living with PTSD as accurately and honestly as possible.
Readers, and eventually viewers, will see the character go through therapy and military medical board evaluations as he progresses toward recovery.

"I wanted to show people, for the first time, what a character would be like who has it," Kissell said. "I really wanted to address what PTSD is and not treat it like it's something that is dark and foreboding, because it kind of has its funny moments in your life. But then there's a dark side of PTSD, too… we're going to show both sides of it."

Kissell also hopes to show just how his "Vindicated" characters -- including two paraplegic veterans serving as the eyes and ears of the vigilante operation -- would use their military skillset to take on criminals and evade authorities. Dale Dye, the senior military advisor on productions including "Platoon" and "Saving Private Ryan," is serving as the technical consultant on both the graphic novel and the film.

While Kissell compares his complex crime fighter to "a modern version" of Captain America, and cites Batman and The Punisher as inspirations, his biggest influences are not superheroes.

"The reason I created a disabled veteran super hero was because, in this world, the real world, the only real super heroes we have, no one really notices," Kissell wrote on his Kickstarter campaign page. "This was my attempt to shine a light on them."

Autism ads raise ire, pulled off Seattle buses

From The Seattle Times:

Next to the adorable smiling face of a young boy read the words, "Let's wipe out cancer, diabetes and autism in his lifetime."

The last item in that tagline -- "autism" -- is what got these Seattle Children's Hospital ads pulled from King County Metro buses last Friday.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network's Washington state chapter (ASAN-WA) organized an online campaign objecting to the ad's juxtaposition of autism with illnesses such as cancer and diabetes.

"Autism is a disability, but it is not a disease. It is not a life-threatening illness," said Matt Young, co-leader of ASAN-WA. "The idea it's a state to be wiped out has much negative impact on our lives."

ASAN is a leading organization in the neurodiversity movement, which seeks acceptance of autism as a variation in mental function rather than a disorder to be cured.

The ad, and the reaction to it, highlight differences in the autism community between neurodiversity advocates who view autism as another way of being and other groups more focused on finding a cure.

On Friday, Seattle Children's posted an official statement on its Facebook page: "We are sorry for the hurt and anger these ads have caused -- that was never their intent."

In an interview Monday, Katharine Fitzgerald, director of marketing and health promotion at Seattle Children's said: "It's been difficult because we do so much to support children, teens, and families affected by autism here at Seattle Children's, and we're doing amazing research at our research institute." The hospital also has an Autism Center that provides treatment and support for individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

The bus ad was one of three created as part of a $70,000 campaign to raise awareness for Seattle Children's Research Institute. The language of the campaign is meant to reflect the "breadth and depth" of the institute's research arm, according to Fitzgerald. The campaign rolled out on Monday of last week. The ads are expected to be replaced with a new version within the next two weeks.

Last Tuesday evening, a member of ASAN-WA brought the ad to Young's attention, and he contacted the hospital to lodge a complaint. Things only picked up, Young said, when he wrote a blog post calling on others, who like him have autism, to post on Seattle Children's Facebook page.

"Autistic people such as myself do not need a cure, instead, we need people to accept us for what we are and to celebrate our gifts as well as they would celebrate anyone's," wrote Beth Ann Vosskuhler-Waleski on Facebook, echoing the sentiments of several comments on the page.

How to allocate money between finding a potential cure and helping autistic individuals navigate their lives has divided autism advocacy groups. Autism Speaks, one of the biggest national organizations, has been criticized for devoting too much money to research aimed at eventually eliminating autism.

"The funding priorities are drastically out of whack," Young said of ASAN-WA.

The neurodiversity movement itself, which embraces the different abilities of autistic individuals such as savants, has been criticized for being less inclusive of low-functioning individuals who would most benefit from effective treatment.

Arzu Forough, CEO of Washington Autism Alliance & Advocacy, said she wants advocacy organizations to work together.

"We try to be a consensus builder, we try to work with all organizations that work with autism," she said. "We try to build coalitions, and we try to steer away from anything that's divisive."

Actor with Down Syndrome to star in Bollywood film

From The Daily Mail in India:

Mumbai-based Abuli Mamaji suffers from Down's Syndrome, but that isn't stopping him from starring in a forthcoming Bollywood film. 

Abuli will be playing a character close to his real self on screen. 

Director Nikhil Pherwani has cast him as a protagonist suffering from the illness, in his film tentatively titled Ahaan. 

While films based on various illnesses have lately become popular in Bollywood, this is probably the first time that a person suffering from a condition has been cast to play the character on screen. 

"The film is about a new beginning for Ahaan, the character played by Abuli. The message I want to give through the unusual subject is that we should not shun the special adults in our society," Nikhil said. 

The film also casts Adil Hussain of English Vinglish and Life Of Pi fame.
Hussain is cast as Ahaan's uncle Ozzy, who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. 

A female lead will also be confirmed soon. 

Nikhil met Abuli during his many visits to a special workshop centre in Mumbai. Abuli, 34, seemed an outgoing and interactive person and the filmmaker was curious to know about his life.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Germany to build memorial for Nazi 'euthanasia' victims with disabilities

From the BBC in the UK:

Work has begun on a memorial in Germany for the 300,000 people murdered by the Nazis for having mental and physical disabilities or chronic illnesses.

A 30m (100ft) long glass wall is being built in the centre of Berlin, near the former site of the Nazi-era office that organised the "euthanasia" programme.

In 1939, Adolf Hitler told officials that people "considered incurable" should be "granted a mercy killing".
The programme ended officially in 1941, but continued covertly until 1945.

At first, personnel killed people by starvation and lethal injection. They later used gas chambers at killing centres in Germany and Austria.

The programme, also known as Action T4, is considered a precursor to the Holocaust, during which millions of Jews were killed.

On Monday, Germany's State Minister for Culture, Bernd Neumann, said educating people about the Nazis' crimes and honouring their victims remained an obligation for the country.

In recent years, memorials have been constructed in Berlin for Jewish, Roma (Gypsy) and homosexual victims of the Nazis.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Indiana professor finds film that shows FDR in concealed wheelchair

From The AP. Watch the video here.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A professor at an Indiana college says he has found film footage showing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt being pushed in his wheelchair, depicting a secret that was hidden from the public until after his death.

Ray Begovich, a journalism professor at Franklin College south of Indianapolis, said Tuesday he found the eight-second clip ( ) while conducting unrelated research in the National Archives in College Park, Md. The National Archives and the FDR Presidential Museum and Library couldn't say for certain if other such footage exists but both said it is at least rare.

Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921 at age 39 and was unable to walk without leg braces or assistance. During his four terms as president, Roosevelt often used a wheelchair in private, but not for public appearances. News photographers cooperated in concealing Roosevelt's disability, and those who did not found their camera views blocked by Secret Service agents, according to the FDR Presidential Museum and Library's website.

"This raw film clip may be the first motion picture images of the president in his wheelchair, and it was never meant to be shown to the world," Begovich said.

Bob Clark, supervisory archivist at the Roosevelt library in New York, said he wasn't aware of any other similar film.

A spokeswoman for the National Archives concurred.

"With respect to whether or not this is the earliest or only existing footage of FDR in a wheelchair, we cannot state that this is definitively the case, although such footage is certainly rare," Laura Diachenko said in an email.

The film shows Roosevelt visiting the U.S.S. Baltimore at Pearl Harbor in July 1944. Eight seconds of the clip show Roosevelt exiting a doorway on the ship and being escorted down what is apparently a ramp. The wheelchair is not clearly visible because the view of the president is screened by a line of sailors, but Roosevelt's distinctive white hat can be seen gliding past the men at a lower level. Roosevelt, at 6-foot-2, was likely taller than most of the soldiers.

Although Roosevelt's disability was virtually a state secret during his presidency, which spanned the Great Depression and most of World War II, it has become an inspiration to advocates who successfully pushed for a statue of him in his wheelchair to be added to the Roosevelt Memorial in Washington.

"To me, the importance of this clip as historic media imagery is that it reminds all of us that this president fought the Great Depression and World War II from a wheelchair. I think it's a tragedy that we haven't had many candidates for national office who use a wheelchair or guide dog or sign language," Begovich said in a statement.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Moves would improve access to websites for disabled users

From Detroit Free Press:

DETROIT -- Beatrice Luckett (pictured), who is blind, goes online using software that reads the text aloud to pay bills, send e-mails and browse sites for medical remedies. But the 69-year-old woman said many sites are useless to her because they don't work with the software.

"If there is no way of accessing the Internet, then we can't be involved," she said.

Court decisions and new federal regulations expected this year could clear the way for better access by disabled users to the Internet under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ADA civil rights law, which prohibits discrimination based on disability, was enacted in 1990 before the Internet boom. The law, among its many points, requires accommodations be made in public areas for disabled people. In many cases, lawyers say websites should be considered virtual public spaces and operators forced to comply.

"Websites are the new frontier," said Brian G. Muse, a law partner with LeClairRyan in Williamsburg, Va., who specializes in defending ADA lawsuits.

Some companies, such as NetFlix and Target, have already been sued and changed their technology to give greater access. For example, NetFlix, an on-demand video provider with tens of thousands of titles, has agreed to add closed captioning so deaf people can read dialogue.

"Most people don't think about it, and most people are not aware of it," said Kathy Ossian, a Ferndale attorney who specializes in technology matters and recently offered a seminar in metro Detroit on the issue. "But just about everyone has a website, and just about everybody uses the Web."

Ossian and others — including groups that have sued major companies to force greater cyber-accessibility — are urging businesses to get ahead of new rules expected soon from the U.S. Department of Justice. Ossian said companies should consider how their sites can be used, for example, by people who are blind, deaf or who can't use their hands and need strong voice recognition capabilities.

In recent years, with the rise of communications technology, there has been an increasing number of lawsuits related to the Internet and ADA rules, said Marty Orlick, a partner with Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell in San Francisco. He estimates about 16,000 ADA lawsuits have been filed nationally since 2000. Only a handful of those are directly related to websites, but legal questions and cases in this area are likely to increase, he said.

Muse, the Virginia lawyer, said new guidelines expected from the Justice Department as early as this year will likely answer questions and help resolve the few and conflicting court decisions thus far. The new rules likely will broaden how the law applies to commercial sites and could significantly increase the requirements for designing and running websites.

"It's potentially a huge deal," Muse said. "I think the best advice is to start thinking about it now. Don't wait until you find out about it from a lawsuit."

In many cases, websites already have functions that make them accessible, such as captioned photos and basic coding so that a third-party software application can read text aloud for blind people, said John Torres, an attorney and production coordinator at the Web development firm Media Genesis in Troy.

But every additional feature also adds to the bottom line, Torres said. "It can get crazy as this law progresses."

Groups representing people with disabilities say cost should not be an excuse. Online accessibility, they say, is the right thing for companies to do.

"It's absolutely essential," said John Pare, an executive director with the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore. "Otherwise blind people would be blocked from getting the same educational opportunities and employment opportunities as non-blind people."

The federation and other groups have gone to court. The group sued Target in California in 2006, alleging that blind people could not use the Minneapolis-based retailer's website. Target settled two years later after the court held that the online store was a public accommodation. As part of the agreement, the retailer set up a $6 million fund to settle claims.

Pare, who is blind, said accessibility from site to site varies for the 1.3 million legally blind people in the U.S. who operate computers using software applications that can read text and by using keyboard controls, instead of a mouse, to navigate sites.

Last year, the National Association of the Deaf, along with the Western Massachusetts Association of the Deaf and Hearing-Impaired, settled a lawsuit against Netflix in federal district court in Massachusetts.
The case alleged Netflix violated the disabilities act by not closed-captioning streamed video, preventing 48 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people from using the service. To settle the case, Netflix agreed to add the text to all of its content by 2014.

"Not only is it now the law, but it makes good business sense to make websites fully accessible to everyone," the association's director of communications Lizzie Sorkin said via e-mail. "Why would any business make it hard for anyone to buy their products or services?"

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

To make hearing aids affordable, firm turns on Bluetooth

From NPR:

As many as 300 million people around the world need hearing aids. The vast majority of the 7 million people who get them annually are in the U.S. and Europe.

One big reason is cost. On average, a set of hearing aids rings up a tab of about $4,000. Most insurance policies don't cover them.

A company called is trying to do something about the limited reach of hearing aids by creating a high-quality hearing device that costs less than a tenth the normal price.

Stavros Basseas is showing me around his development lab and hearing clinic in a strip mall in suburban Chicago. Basseas began as an electrical engineer in the hearing aid industry, but working with patients directly in this small clinic helped him understand their needs more deeply.

"It was not just an engineering project anymore," he says. "It had a human face." Basseas says when people came to him for help he had a chance to talk to them about the effects of hearing loss, especially the social isolation most people experience.

But when they put on a new hearing device, Basseas says patients react right away. "Sometimes they cry, because it was like talking to their heart, because they know what is happening," he says.

Wayne Jagusch, one of Basseas' patients, knows the feeling. "It's terrible when you're with people and you can't understand what they're saying," he says. "You sit there and smile like an idiot and nod your head, and you don't know whether they're saying something good or bad."

Years ago, Basseas fitted Jagusch with top-quality hearing aids that cost thousands of dollars. He brought them in for adjustment on the day I visited. But Basseas also recently gave Jagusch a prototype of the $300 device the company has developed. Jagusch likes it.

"This is the best I've had so far, and I've gone through a bunch of different devices," Jagusch says. "I like the adjustability of it."

Besides cost, one of the big hurdles to the use of hearing aids is the number of visits required to get the devices adjusted properly. Sound World Solutions addresses that problem by making its device adjustable through a to a smartphone.

The app first gives the user a hearing test using an earpiece that looks like a small Bluetooth phone receiver. Then the app sets the device to compensate for your hearing loss. A user can also tweak the device manually.

Basseas demonstrates.

"So, I have on my ear the device, the CS10, and we are, at the same time, recording whatever I hear in my ear," he says. "And the device is connected with the smartphone, and I'm going to go through the sequence of customizing the device. If I need a little bit more clarity, I can increase the trebles, and so you can actually hear that the trebles are increased. Or if I like to listen to music and I like a little more bass, then I increase the bass."

The device also has presets that can be turned on and off without a smartphone.

Frank Lin, a professor of public health and an ear surgeon at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, says this kind of device provides a good alternative for the millions of adults in the U.S. who have mild to moderate hearing loss.

"You can get it mailed to you, you put it in your ear, you program it yourself with your Android phone, and it's going to be decent," Lin says. "Never as good as the gold standard, of course, but a whole lot better than nothing."

Lin's research shows the hearing loss is not just an irritant — it's a serious public health problem. That's because hearing loss increases the likelihood of declining physical, emotional and mental health.

"The price point they're talking about is something that makes it a much more affordable [device] — and more importantly, their approach toward it makes it a much more accessible device," Lin says. He's planning to use the Sound World Solutions device in his future research.

Lin says another problem with the current market for hearing aids is that the handful of companies that make them have a high-profit, low-volume strategy. That's partly driven by the fact that each company uses its own proprietary technology that costs lots of money to develop. Sound World Solutions has taken another route — it uses mostly inexpensive off-the-shelf Bluetooth technology for its device.