Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Microsoft, American Council of the Blind partner to advance accessibility

Press release from ACB and Microsoft:

REDMOND, Wash. and ARLINGTON, Va. – Dec. 17, 2015 – Microsoft Corp. and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) announced they will partner on efforts to advance the accessibility of information technologies. Through the partnership, the ACB and Microsoft will work together to enable planned updates to various Microsoft products to better meet the needs of persons with visual impairments. 
“To deliver great solutions for people with disabilities, accessibility must be central to our culture and an integral part of how we design and build Microsoft products,” said Rob Sinclair, chief accessibility officer at Microsoft. “By working with the ACB, we will gain valuable user insights about our experiences. This will help us deliver more powerful assistive technology as well as more inclusive and empowering experiences to help every person on the planet achieve more.” 
The partnership will provide a more consistent flow of information and dialogue between Microsoft and the ACB. It better enables Microsoft to deliver on its mission of empowering every person on the planet to do more, and responds to customer requests. The response from all those involved about the renewed partnership and future work has been incredibly positive. 
“Having access to information through accessible technology is critical for our members as they pursue education, employment and perform everyday tasks,” said Eric Bridges, Executive Director of the ACB. “We are pleased to build on the previous engagements we’ve had with Microsoft, and we look forward to working more closely with the teams to review and test new features and upgrades. We encourage interested parties to follow the progress of these efforts at”  
About Microsoft Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) is the leading platform and productivity company for the mobile-first, cloud-first world, and its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

About the American Council of the BlindThe American Council of the Blind is the largest consumer-based organization of blind and visually impaired individuals advocating for the rights of all blind people. Comprised of more than 70 affiliates across the United States, the organization is dedicated to making it possible for blind and visually impaired people to participate fully in all aspects of society.  
For more information, visit is external)(link is external); write to American Council of the Blind, 2200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 650, Arlington, VA 22201; phone (202) 467-5081; or visit us on Twitter @acbnational, or Facebook is external)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

2015: The Year Mental Illness Finally Got Some Respect on TV

Mental health on TV has been enjoying a quiet transformation in recent years, and in 2015, the change grew louder. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is using a musical format to highlight the complexities of anxiety and depression.You’re the Worst’s Gretchen Cutler got one of the more interesting and accurate representations of depression on TV. BoJack Horseman’s bright, silly universe belies its title character’s depression and substance abuse. Where depictions on TV were once almost exclusively demeaning and dismissive, many now feel nuanced and compassionate.
A lack of funding for research into how shows shade their characters with mental illness, and how those characters impact viewers, means there’s not much hard proof that mental illness in general is less stigmatized. But many mental-health advocates agree they’ve seen a gradual change, even if, as one researcher put it, they’re still waiting for their own so-called “Will & Grace moment”: a show with the longevity, popularity, range of characters, and critical acclaim to set the tone for portraying a marginalized community in a positive light.
“I really believe that the depictions have been much less pejorative than they have in the past,” says Barb Lurie, who works as a TV script consultant on mental-health-related plotlines of shows including ER, Cold Case, and Desperate Housewives.
Our heartbeats slow down when we watch story lines that address mental illness, signaling that we’re paying particularly close attention, according to ongoing Indiana University research.
While in the past, this lock on our attention would primarily reinforce stigma by dehumanizing struggling characters — which can discourage people from getting help — empathetic stories were all over television this year. To see how we arrived at some of the more nuanced story lines of 2015, we took a look back.
The closest advocates and researchers can get to pinpointing a definitive turning point is crediting a film: In 2001, Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mindportrayed John Nash (Russell Crowe) as a talented mathematician who just happened to have paranoid schizophrenia. But both before and after the Oscar winner’s release, a number of TV shows also played key roles in the shift.
The Sopranos was an early entry, showing its hardened protagonist, Tony (James Gandolfini), working with a therapist to manage his panic attacks and depression from the pilot onward. Lurie points to Law & Order: SVUas another show that challenged stereotypes early on. In November 2000, a season-two episode followed a nonviolent man with schizophrenia accused of raping and murdering his friend. Later on, it’s revealed that the detective’s assumptions about mentally ill people as a danger to society are wrong — mentally ill people aren’t more likely to be violent than the general population — and the initial suspect actually helps authorities track down the real perpetrator.
This didn’t indicate a sea change in representation, however. As compassionate examples started cropping up, advocates continued to make sure the more stereotypical depictions didn’t go unchecked. In 2000, Peter Berg, who would go on to adapt Friday Night Lights for film and TV, aired Wonderland. Set in a fictional Manhattan psychiatric hospital, the show focused on patients with the most severe cases. A schizophrenic man kills several people in Times Square, and later himself, after getting treatment. A coalition of nine advocacy groups, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, protested ABC. The network pulled the show after just two episodes.
Two years later, Monk premiered on USA Network, featuring a crime-fighting protagonist with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Bernice Pescosolido, one of the Indiana researchers studying how viewers react to mental-health plotlines, considered the show progress from those suggesting psychiatric patients are violent criminals. But there’s a caveat: Implying that people with mental illnesses are superhuman, as Monk did, can be just as damaging as implying they’re subhuman.
“Unfortunately, it was sort of the image of the special gift, this notion that people with mental illness are endowed with special talents,” Pescosolido says. “That is not a good image to portray either, because then the normal person who has mental-health problems says, ‘I’m not a genius, so how can I recover?’” Glorifying people with OCD — or schizophrenia or autism or substance abuse — can unintentionally teach viewers that only the mental-health community’s most gifted are worthy of love and treatment.
The mental-health community’s increased focus on combatting stereotypes dovetails nicely with a TV-industry trend of the last 15 years toward writing more intricate, nuanced stories in general, suggests Dr. Paul Puri, a UCLA-affiliated psychiatrist and TV buff who also serves as a consultant on scripts for Hollywood, Health & Society, an organization that helps writers make sure they have their science and health facts straight. Not only are more TV shows incorporating mental-health-related plotlines, but when they do, they’re longer arcs that are often tied to central characters rather than throwaway supporting roles.
When reading scripts, consultants like him make recommendations for ensuring authenticity, but they don’t expect 100 percent accuracy in an industry where drama consistently entertains. Perhaps a more telling way of evaluating a show’s portrayal of mental health or addiction is by considering if it’s well integrated into the rest of the story rather than becoming the show’s sole one-dimensional focus.
Experts walk a tight line in raising awareness and correcting inaccuracies without insisting Hollywood forfeit creative control over projects. But, arguably, it’s the people with firsthand experience who are doing the most to change the TV landscape. Patrick Krill, an addiction treatment center lawyer and recovering alcoholic, is consulting on the first season ofRecovery Road, an upcoming ABC Family series. “Is this authentic, accurate, believable?” Krill asks himself when evaluating story lines. “Things that I would typically take issue with are an overreliance on clichés and stereotypes and portrayals that would tend to reinforce or corroborate a stigma.”
Soliciting honest feedback from a recovering alcoholic on a show about addiction can go a long way toward lessening stigma onscreen. Interacting directly with people who have mental-health problems is the strongest indicator of whether you’ll stigmatize others, says Pescosolido, as it helps writers attach real faces to a disorder they haven’t experienced.
It also explains that some of the most compelling mental-illness story lines in 2015 — which advocates aren’t necessarily caught up on yet — are a product of people writing what they know and asking questions about what they don’t. Empire’s Trai Byers, whose character Andre Lyon has bipolar disorder, told Vulture he consulted with someone who has firsthand experience: his own uncle. “He’s open to talking to me about some of the things that he experiences,” Byers says. “He’s happy that we’re using this platform to showcase the fact that there are people who suffer with the disorder, and it’s something that we as Americans sweep under the rug. Just to be seen and heard is a great thing.”
On FX’s You’re the Worst, two of the four main characters have diagnosed mental illnesses. Gretchen (Aya Cash) fills in her boyfriend, Jimmy (Chris Geere), on her ongoing struggle with clinical depression in the middle of season two; while Jimmy’s roommate, Edgar (Desmin Borges), an Iraq War veteran, has been open about his PTSD since the 2014 pilot. Incorporating depression and PTSD so heavily into a comedy are risks creator Stephen Falk says he knew he was taking. Some of his writers spoke to personal experiences with depression, and for both plotlines, Falk brought in people who could share their backgrounds with his team as a means of ensuring Gretchen and Edgar’s stories would be funny, but also true to life.
“I do feel a certain amount of responsibility, but not to the degree that it paralyzes me,” Falk says. “There’s no way we’d be able to please everyone, and there’d be no way we’d be able to draw any of these illnesses in such a way that everyone who has any opinion on it or everyone who’s close to it is feeling like we’re doing what they’d want us to do.” 
Rachel Bloom, who co-created and stars in the CW’s critically beloved and cheekily titled Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, informally talked to a couple of professionals — one of whom was her own psychiatrist — about the anxiety and depression that led her character, Rebecca Bunch, to uproot her life over an old love interest. When writing the specifics of, say, which prescription pills Rebecca takes and how she reacts to them, Bloom also goes off of the personal experiences of her writers and her own history of anxiety, depression, and obsessive thoughts. Bloom says she went from feeling shame as a kid over what bothered her to mining it for humor on TV. “The more I talk about it, the less secret and shameful this is,” she explains, “and the more people I realize have stuff like this that don’t want to share it.”
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which delights in the juxtaposition of kitschy, laugh-out-loud musical numbers and the true weight of Rebecca’s loneliness, is proof ambitious, sensitive commentary on mental illness doesn’t have to take itself so seriously. Another is Netflix’s animated comedy BoJack Horseman, which is one of the most nuanced, honest depictions of depression on TV. The series didn't explicitly set out to offer any such revelations about humanity. After all, its protagonist is an anthropomorphized horse.
“I wasn’t trying to make any statements,” BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg says. “I just wanted to tell what I felt was an honest story in a very dark place and try to treat that with dignity — there’s not too much dignity in the show — to take that seriously and not just use it as a prop, necessarily, but as a large hurdle.”
BoJack doesn’t immediately scream “depression,” and that’s the point. Its bright colors and goofy sight-gags take the edge off even its darkest moments. What Bob-Waksberg and others are making isn’t good TV about pain and sadness: It’s just good TV. “We use how bright and cheerful the show is to go to dark places,” Bob-Waksberg says. “It feels more acceptable because it’s just a fun, silly cartoon — we can go to some of these real issues, and it doesn’t feel as heavy as it would in a live-action show.”
The landscape is still far from perfect. Advocates are still protesting work they find stigmatizing, and whether a show treats mental health with enough sensitivity is not always clear-cut. Summer’s breakout hit Mr. Robot starred Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson, a brilliant hacker whom we see grapple with hallucinations, loneliness, and a morphine addiction. Elliot sees a therapist throughout the first season, presumably for adissociative disorder, but if the writers have an official diagnosis for him based on his symptoms, they haven’t shared it with viewers. Mr. Robot’s aggressive, provocative focus on mental illness sets it apart from other shows, but because Elliot’s symptoms so far don’t seem grounded in fact, it comes across as more of a plot device, Puri says. A more effective way of dismantling myths would be to make his diagnosis more clear and his symptoms more in line with an actual disorder.
But what’s more useful than trying to narrowly classify shows like Mr. Robot as good or bad for reducing stigma is using the gray area as a means of continuing discussion. There’s been more debate over what, if any, role the entertainment industry is obligated to play in correcting widespread mental-health stereotypes over the last decade or so than in the 30 years before it, ventures Otto Wahl, a University of Hartford psychology professor who has researched mental-health stigmas for nearly five decades.
Glenn Close, a three-time Emmy winner, speaks openly about how her sister's and nephew’s experiences with bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder, respectively, have changed how she sees her role as an actress. She’s turned down parts in projects she feels portray mentally ill people inaccurately, she said recently at the gala for Bring Change 2 Mind, the nonprofit she founded in 2010 to tackle stigma.
“I think it’s easy and small-minded for people in positions of power to further these stereotypes,” Close says, referring in particular to the misguided notion that mentally ill people are more violent than the general population. “So, yes, I believe my industry has a responsibility to write roles with compassion and sensitivity surrounding mental illness.” 
Shows like Mr. Robot raise questions about whether writers, as Close suggests, should feel the need to actively correct widespread misconceptions when they turn to mental-health plotlines, or if it’s okay to use unspecified conditions purely as a means of adding texture to a story. There’s a certain friction that still exists — and will probably always exist — between entertainment and education, even as the overlap in storytelling that satisfies both objectives seems to be growing. But consultants like Puri are optimistic. “As long as there’s a gluttony of TV and we’re trying to really get at good characters and deep characters,” he says, “this will continue to evolve.”

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Feds: Most NY City elementary schools violate Americans with Disabilities Act

From The AP:

A federal investigation has found that 83 percent of New York City's public elementary schools are not fully accessible to children with disabilities, and the nation's largest public school system is in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. 
In a letter addressed to the city Department of Education's top lawyer, the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara on Monday said the two-year investigation also showed that six school districts, serving over 50,000 elementary students, did not have a school that was fully accessible. The entire system serves about 1.1 million students. 
"Nowhere is it more important to tear down the barriers to equal access than with respect to the education of our children," Bharara's office said. "But today, in New York City, 25 years after passage of the A.D.A., children with physical disabilities still do not have equal access to this most fundamental of rights." 
The letter describes the effect the violations had on one family that had gone to "extreme measures" to keep a daughter enrolled in a local school instead of making the lengthy commute to the closest "accessible school." 
"A parent of this elementary school child was forced to travel to the school multiple times a day, every school day, in order to carry her child up and down stairs to her classroom, to the cafeteria, and to other areas of the school in which classes and programs were held," the letter said. 
The letter gives the city 30 days to respond, including an "outline and timeline of corrective actions." 
Department spokesman Harry Hartfield told The New York Times ( the agency was reviewing the letter and remained "committed to increasing the accessibility" of school buildings. He said the department was cooperating with the investigation, adding that it has set aside $100 million for accessibility projects. 
"Our goal is to ensure that all our students have access to a high-quality education, and a student's disability should never get in the way of their access to a great school," Hartfield said.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Deaf model Nyle DiMarco wins America's Next Top Model

History had already been made when Nyle DiMarco was selected as ANTM's first Deaf contestant. Now the 26-year-old has done it again by becoming the modeling competition's first Deaf winner – and its final Top Model ever. 
 DiMarco tells PEOPLE: "Being a Deaf person on a television show alone is pretty groundbreaking, so it felt incredible just to be on the show – but to win it was amazing!"   
With his piercing blue eyes and sculpted abs, DiMarco performed consistently well throughout the photo shoots, which had him posing with live animals, as a doll and in the dark.   
"My proudest moment would be the picture of me with the husky," he says. "It was basically the first time I was clothed for a shoot, and I won the best photo. That photo proved that there is more to me than just my body – there's my ability to blend into clothes, my modeling skills and my ad-worthiness."  
An outdoor photo shoot in pitch-black darkness proved to be extra difficult for DiMarco.   
"I'm Deaf, but shooting in the dark also made me blind!" he says. "I've never been so frustrated in my life because I knew that I could do it."   
While DiMarco usually excelled in front of the camera, he found the times when he was not modeling to be the most challenging.   
"The competition, and especially living with the models in the house, was undoubtedly a lot of fun, but it was also pretty tough," he says. "The inability to use my language, American Sign Language, and the lack of communication, information access and the general connection to the world was difficult."  
"It truly did take a toll on me mentally," he continues. "I even cringe now when I watch myself on ANTM being all alone."  
 Despite the isolation he often had to deal with, DiMarco wanted to remain on the show to represent Deaf people in a positive light.   
"I wanted to take advantage of the platform, not only to prove that I'm the best but also to educate and prove to the world what Deaf people are capable of," he says. "So I kept a smile on my face and had positive thoughts."   
That positivity led him all the way to the final runway show to face off against the top girl model, Mamé Adjei.   
"I remember at the beginning of ANTM, I immediately identified Mamé as my biggest competition," he says. "It's funny how my first instinct was right after all."  
DiMarco hopes his success on the show can be an inspiration to other people in the Deaf community.  
"I hope that my win inspires the Deaf community to start pursuing their desired careers," he says. "There are so many talented Deaf people that the world needs and can benefit from."   
DiMarco – who was named one of PEOPLE's Sexiest Men on Instagram – plans to continue to pursue modeling and act in commercials and movies.   
"I want to continue to show my skills in the modeling world and entertainment industry," he says.

Friday, December 4, 2015

American Sign Language typeface added to RIT's Vignelli Center for Design Studies collections

From RIT:

Peter A. Blacksberg’s passion for a project involving American Sign Language culminated this year using digital font creation and management tools, 42 years after he began it using traditional pen and ink design techniques. 
The 1975 alumnus from the School of Photography has created a modern typeface for American Sign Language, officially named “ASL Manutype Black.” ™ 
“As a photography student in 1972, I became fascinated by the visual aspects of fingerspelling and the challenge of representing hand shapes as graphical forms,” said Blacksberg. “I proposed an independent study project and developed a complete typeface along the lines of the international signage that I had seen in Europe. I spent hours reducing visual complexity while retaining and enhancing elements which made each letter shape identifiable.” 
The 1973 version of the typeface and poster was created using pen and ink, high contrast film and silkscreen. Copies were made and posters were sold at the RIT and Gallaudet University bookstores. 
In 2000, Blacksberg took another step toward refining the typeface by recreating each letter as vector computer graphics using Adobe Illustrator. “This allowed for greater precision and refinement,” he said. He completed the final version recently using Glyphs font management software. 
“Now, 42 years after I began, it’s possible to type fluidly with the typeface,” said Blacksberg, who also attended an NTID summer interpreter program in 1973. The typeface can be used for signage, art or other suitable applications. 
Blacksberg’s ASL typeface is now being sold at Shop One² and has been added to the Vignelli Center for Design Studies collections, which along with the Vignelli papers is home to 15 additional collections of contemporary designers, photographers and videographers.
R. Roger Remington, the Massimo and Lella Vignelli Distinguished Professor of Design, recently met with Blacksberg to view the typeface and give some final pointers. 
“It’s a challenge to develop a system of symbols in a related family,” said Remington. “This demonstration alphabet is graphically powerful. Peter has done a terrific job.” 
“Perfecting this has been a long satisfying process,” said Blacksberg. “Some projects are worth starting. Others worth finishing; it may take years. Then again, getting something precisely right is worth the time.”

Thursday, December 3, 2015

National Center on Disability and Journalism releases new, comprehensive style guide

From NCDJ at Arizona State University:

The National Center on Disability and Journalism at Arizona State University has released a one-of-a-kind style guide for journalists and professionals who report or write about people living with disabilities. 
The guide offers information and advice on nearly 70 commonly used words or terms, from “able-bodied” to “confined to a wheelchair.” It is being released to coincide with the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3. The day of observance aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. 
Headquartered at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the NCDJ is a national organization that provides support and guidance to journalists and communicators as they cover people with disabilities. 
The new style guide greatly expands on one developed by the NCDJ in 2010, said Kristin Gilger, the center’s director and associate dean of the Cronkite School. 
“The language of disability keeps changing and there are so many different opinions about what words and phrases should be used that there’s a real need for an authoritative, neutral source of guidance and information,” she said. 
Gilger said disability can be a difficult topic to cover for journalists, many of whom are unfamiliar with current debates over language choices and what might be considered offensive. For example, many in the disability community object to the use of disabled as an adjective. They prefer “a person with a disability” as opposed to “a disabled person.” 
“That distinction may seem subtle until you understand that people naturally want to be people first,” Gilger said. “Being disabled is only part of their identity.” 
The style guide strives to balance the need for sensitivity and accuracy against the journalistic mandate for language that is clear and easily understood by a general audience, Gilger said. 
In addition to offering recommendations on language choices, the guide provides a brief background on each word or term and touches on instances in which disability organizations disagree on usage. It also notes whether or not the word or term is addressed in The Associated Press Stylebook, widely used by journalists around the world as a guide to writing. Two-thirds of the entries in the NCDJ guide are not covered in the AP Stylebook. 
Along with the guide, the NCDJ also has created a companion piece, “Terms to Avoid When Writing About Disability.” The article offers advice to communicators on why they should avoid using terms such as “epileptic fit” or “senile” and directs them to more neutral language. 
Tim McGuire, Cronkite’s Frank Russell Chair for the Business of Journalism who is the author of a memoir on living with a physical disability and raising a child with Down syndrome, said he thinks the guide is incredibly valuable for journalists and writers. 
“Nobody else can provide this same kind of comprehensiveness on disability language,” said McGuire, who is the former longtime editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and serves as an NCDJ advisory board member. 
The NCDJ was founded in 1998 in San Francisco as the Disability Media Project to raise awareness of how the news media cover people with disabilities. The organization was renamed in 2000 and moved to the Cronkite School in 2009. 
NCDJ’s disability style guide is available on the organization’s website or as a printable PDF at

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Comcast to include video description with NBC’s production of 'The Wiz Live!'

from Comcast:

Comcast will include a national video description pilot program with NBC’s broadcast of the hit Broadway musical The Wiz Live! on December 3, making it the first live entertainment program in U.S. history to be accessible to people who have a visual disability. Video description is a narration track that is included between the natural pauses in dialogue that describes the visual elements of a show or movie like facial expressions, settings, costumes and stage direction. 
"Comcast’s commitment to include video description with the performance of The Wiz Live!is ground-breaking," said Kim Charlson, President of The American Council of the Blind (ACB). "The path to accessibility is a journey of inclusion of all audiences. Just like the yellow brick road is the path to the heartfelt wishes of Dorothy and her friends, the blindness community is very happy to travel on this new path with Comcast and NBC." 
The described broadcast of The Wiz Live! is a national pilot program that is available across the country, wherever SAP (Secondary Audio Program) audio feeds are available. To deliver the service, Comcast and NBC are partnering with Descriptive Video Works, an industry leader in the delivery of quality described video and audio description for people with a visual disability. The company has provided more than 1,000 hours of Live Description, including the Olympics, Paralympics, and the Royal Wedding.  
In addition to providing accessible content likeThe Wiz Live!, Comcast also has developed technologies that help people with disabilities enjoy entertainment independently. For example, customers who have the company’s X1 platform now have access to a talking guide, a voice-enabled TV menu and interface, and a voice controlled TV remote control, a device that simplifies the search process.
"The combination of accessible content and technology is powerful," said Tom Wlodkowski, Comcast’s Vice President of Accessibility. "We’re working hard every day to make a positive impact in the lives of millions of customers by making our products and services more accessible and opening new doors to independence for people with disabilities. The broadcast of The Wiz Live! represents a real milestone in how people with visual impairments experience television."  
"Earlier this year, I attended a theater production of The Wiz and without description, found it very difficult to follow the characters and action of the play," said Carl Augusto, CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind. "This nationally described television broadcast will not only be a godsend to people with vision loss, but also to those who describe action to people with vision loss, and the general public, who will learn about the importance of audio description." 
The Wiz Live! is adapted from "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum, with a book by William F. Brown, and music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls. The production opened on Broadway in 1975 at the Majestic Theatre and won seven Tonys, including best musical.  
The Wiz Live! stars Queen Latifah (The Wiz), Mary J. Blige (Evillene), Shanice Williams (Dorothy), David Alan Grier (Cowardly Lion), NE-YO (Tin Man), Elijah Kelley (Scarecrow), Amber Riley (Addaperle), Stephanie Mills (Auntie Em), Uzo Aduba (Glinda) and Common (The Gatekeeper).  
Craig Zadan and Neil Meron ("The Sound of Music Live!," "Peter Pan Live!," Oscar-winning "Chicago") will executive produce. Kenny Leon (Tony winner, "A Raisin in the Sun") is stage director and Matthew Diamond is TV director, with Harvey Fierstein (three-time Tony winner, "Torch Song Trilogy," "Hairspray" and "La Cage aux Folles") providing new written material.   
Esteemed choreographer Fatima Robinson ("Dreamgirls," "Ali") is also on board, along with music producer Harvey Mason Jr. ("Dreamgirls, "Pitch Perfect 2") and Stephen Oremus ("The Book of Mormon," "Kinky Boots") as music director, orchestrator and co-producer of the music.  
"The Wiz Live!" is produced by Universal Television in association with Cirque Du Soleil Theatrical.  
The Wiz Live! premieres Thursday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. ET.  December 3 is also theInternational Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

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

From The Guardian in the UK:

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

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

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

NEW YORK, NY – November 11, 2015 – A&E Network will premiere the new original docu-series “Born This Way,” following a group of seven young adults born with Down syndrome along with their family and friends in Southern California. The six-episode, hour-long series from Bunim-Murray Productions premieres Tuesday, December 8 at 10 PM ET/PT.
Cameras follow the young men and women of “Born This Way,” as they pursue their passions and lifelong dreams, explore friendships, romantic relationships and work, all while defying society’s expectations. In their willingness and courage to openly share their lives, through a lens that is not often shown on television, we learn they have high hopes just like anyone else. The series also gives voice to the parents, allowing them to talk about the joy their son or daughter brings to their family, and the challenges they face in helping them live as independently as possible.  
“We are proud to be airing this important and extraordinary series and hope it will inspire meaningful conversations about people with differences,” said Elaine Frontain Bryant, EVP & Head of Programming A&E Network.  “‘Born This Way’ is a show with honesty, humor and heart that celebrates and embraces diversity.” 
“There is a freshness and honesty in the way these young adults lead their lives; something we could all learn from them. We are enormously thankful to them and their families for participating in this project,” said Jonathan Murray, Executive Producer. 
“I'm so incredibly proud to see ‘Born This Way’ highlight the outgoing personalities and amazing abilities of Best Buddies participants like Rachel Osterbach and Sean Mcelwee," said Anthony K. Shriver, Founder and Chairman, Best Buddies International. "It is my hope that this show will demonstrate to society that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are just like everyone else and should be fully included in our communities, our workplaces and our lives." 
A&E has partnered with celebrated global non-profit organization Best Buddies International and committed to an on-air PSA featuring Anthony K. Shriver and Best Buddies program participants in support of promoting opportunities and increasing awareness for people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The cast of “Born This Way” includes:
  • Rachel – Working in the mailroom for an insurance company, she will be the maid of honor at her brother’s upcoming wedding.  Rachel would love to get married herself, but first she has to find the right guy.
  • Sean – An excellent golfer and avid sportsman, Sean is a self-professed ladies’ man, who is not shy about introducing himself to every eligible woman he meets. 
  • John – From a very young age, John made it clear to his parents that he craved the spotlight.  A born entertainer, John is committed to his music and is pursuing a career in rap.
  • Steven – Working as a dishwasher at Angel Stadium in Anaheim and in customer service at a local grocery store, Steven is a huge movie buff and knows the title and year of each Oscar winning film.
  • Cristina – This loving and compassionate young adult works in a middle school. In her free time she loves talking on the phone with Angel, her boyfriend of 4 years and the man she plans to marry.
  • Megan – A budding entrepreneur, Megan has created a line of clothing she sells under the brand “Megology.”  She is pursuing her dream of becoming a film producer and is a proud advocate committed to spreading the word that society should not limit adults with disabilities.
  • Elena – With a flair for the dramatic, this young woman embraces life.  Elena loves to cook, dance and write poetry and takes a great pride in her independence.
According to the U.S. Census, one-in-five Americans have a disability. Currently 70 percent of working-age people with disabilities are not working – even though most of them want jobs and independence. The numbers are even worse for people with Down syndrome. While there are many studies that show that people with disabilities, including those with Down syndrome, can work successfully and live relatively independently. 
"Born This Way” is produced by Bunim-Murray Productions (“I Am Cait,” “The Real World”). Executive producers for Bunim-Murray are Jon Murray, Gil Goldschein, Laura Korkoian and Barry Hennessey.  Executive producers for A&E Network are Drew Tappon and Elaine Frontain Bryant. 
About A&E Network Now reaching more than 96 million homes, A&E is the home to quality original content that inspires and challenges audiences to BE ORIGINAL.  A&E offers a diverse mix of uniquely immersive entertainment ranging from the network’s original scripted series, including “Bates Motel” and “Damien” to signature non-fiction franchises, including “Duck Dynasty,” “Wahlburgers” and “Storage Wars.”  The A&E website is located at  Follow us on Twitter at and Facebook at  For more press information and photography please visit us at 
About Bunim/Murray ProductionsBunim/Murray Productions is the leading producer of innovative entertainment content.  The Emmy Award-winning company is widely credited with creating the reality television genre with its hit series The Real World (30 seasons on MTV).  BMP continued to innovate with the first reality game show, Road Rules (MTV), in 1995; the first reality sitcom, The Simple Life (E!), in 2003; and the first reality soap opera, Starting Over (NBC), in 2003.  Bunim-Murray’s current programming also includes I Am Cait, Keeping up with the Kardashians, Dash Dolls, and Total Divas (E!), Real World and The Challenge (MTV), Project Runway and Project Runway All Stars (Lifetime), Fix My Mom and Bad Girls Club (Oxygen), and Valerie’s Home Cooking (Food Network).  Bunim/Murray Productions has also produced films, including Valentine Road (HBO), Pedro(MTV) and the Emmy Award-winning Autism: The Musical (HBO). Bunim/Murray Productions has launched additional entities including BMP Films, BMP Digital and BMP Latin. Based in Van Nuys, CA, Bunim/Murray Productions was founded in 1987 by Jonathan Murray and the late Mary-Ellis Bunim, who were inducted into the Television Academy of Arts & Science’s Hall of Fame in 2012. The company joined Banijay Group in 2010.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

University of Michigan Press endorses accessible book publishing guidelines

From Inside Higher Ed:

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