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Upcoming Broadway Play to Spotlight Disability & Caregiving Experiences

Theater-goers can get a glimpse of what life may be like for some individuals within the disability community when an upcoming stage show makes its Broadway premiere in the fall of 2022. “Cost of Living,” a Pulitzer-Prize-winning dramatic play written by Martyna Majok, showcases the complex realities of people impacted by disabilities, as well as caregiving experiences.

The show is told through two parallel plotlines with four central characters. Jess, a financially strained bartender, takes on a hired caregiving role for John, a wealthy graduate student who has cerebral palsy. An unlikely friendship begins to blossom. And, in the midst of a divorce, Ani is injured in an accident, leading to paralysis and amputation. When her home healthcare aid is a no-show, her estranged husband, Eddie, suggests that he shift into caregiver mode.

Cost of Living playbill
source: greggmozgala.com

The Pulitzer committee described the show as “an honest, original work that invites audiences to examine diverse perceptions of privilege and human connection through two pairs of mismatched individuals.”

“Cost of Living” previously ran on Manhattan Theater Club’s off-Broadway stage, and included appropriate disability representation. The upcoming Broadway production, directed by Jo Bonney, will reunite the play’s original cast members, including Gregg Mozgala and Katy Sullivan. Beyond the fictional roles they portray in “Cost of Living,” these seasoned actors are both actual members of the disability community.

Previews begin in early September, with an official opening night set for September 20, 2022. The show is scheduled for an eight-week run at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater in New York City, NY. This show is not recommended for children under the age of 14.

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Roe v. Wade Reversal Could Impact Women with Disabilities the Most

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On Friday, June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision on a Mississippi case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization; thus overturning Roe v. Wade. Roe was the longstanding ruling that, in 1973, established the constitutional right to abortion during the first two trimesters of pregnancy in the United States.

The reversal means that roughly half of the states will either outlaw or severely restrict abortion. With these newfound limitations, researchers estimate that 75,000 American women who want an abortion will give birth instead — in the first year alone. Furthermore, some analysts believe that the implications of Roe’s reversal will be larger among marginalized groups, including members of the disability community.

Whether you’re “pro-choice” or “pro-life,” disability is a bipartisan issue. Still, statistics show that women with disabilities could be at greater risk of unwanted pregnancy because of sexual assault, health disparities and more.

female wheelchair user holding a pregnancy test in one hand, and hand on forehead looking concerned
(Shutterstock)

Women with Disabilities Experiencing Sexual Assault

One in five (20%) women in the U.S. has experienced completed or attempted rape during their lifetime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). Women with a disability are at greater risk of experiencing rape than women without a disability. Statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that an estimated two in five (39%) female victims of rape had a disability at the time of the incident. The statistics, unfortunately, further creep up for some with disabilities.

NSVRC reported that, in 2013, of the rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated against people with disabilities, a staggering 68.1% were against individuals with multiple disability types. Plus, in another study among Deaf women, 69% conveyed experiencing at least one sexual assault during their lifetime. For women with disabilities who had experienced sexual assault, the most common perpetrator was an intimate partner (39.6 percent) or an acquaintance (25.1 percent).

Rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency, per findings by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). It is the cause of many unwanted pregnancies and is closely linked with family and domestic violence. That means, because of statistics alone, women with disabilities, who happen to experience rape in greater numbers, are more likely to have a rape-related pregnancy. Thus, these members of the disability community may be impacted more so by Roe’s reversal compared to non-disabled women.

dictionary page with explanation of abortion
(Shutterstock)

Young Adults with Disabilities Haven’t Been on the Radar

Nearly one in three young women with disabilities on college campuses has experienced sexual assault, according to study findings published by the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency.

The report, Not on the Radar: Sexual Assault of College Students with Disabilities, also found that colleges aren’t prepared to respond to cases of sexual assault against students with disabilities. For example, would a student that is hearing-impaired have access to a confidential translator when reporting a sexual assault?

Maternal Death Rates among Disabled Mothers

Pregnancy is difficult and, surprisingly, the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country. For every 100,000 births, 23.8 people died from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes in 2020, according to the CDC. Because Roe’s reversal may lead to a sharp increase in births, maternal mortality rates may likely rise as well, and at a greater rate among mothers with disabilities.

Pregnant women with disabilities have a much higher risk for severe pregnancy- and birth-related complications and death than other pregnant women, according to research published in 2021 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Compared to women without disabilities, NIH reported that women with disabilities had:

  • more than twice the risk for severe preeclampsia (a potentially life-threatening hypertensive disorder of pregnancy); and a 48% higher risk for mild preeclampsia;
  • 25% higher risk for gestational diabetes;
  • 52% higher risk for placenta previa (placenta covering all or part of the cervix);
  • 16% higher risk for premature rupture of the membranes;
  • 27% higher risk for hemorrhage;
  • 11 times the risk for maternal death;
  • more than six times the risk for thromboembolism (blood clots in the lungs or veins in the legs);
  • four times the risk for cardiovascular events (heart attacks and other disorders of the heart and blood vessels);
  • nearly three times the risk for infection; and/or
  • 33% greater likelihood of receiving the drug oxytocin to stimulate labor; to have delivery with forceps, a vacuum or other devices to extract the fetus; or to have a cesarean delivery.
interabled couple looking upset
(Shutterstock)

Other Health Disabilities Remain for Women with Disabilities

Stereotyping of people with disabilities leads to health disparities (on many levels). According to a study by the NCD, some healthcare providers have admittedly expressed surprise that women with disabilities would be sexually active. As a result, these healthcare providers failed to discuss the use of contraceptives (to prevent unwanted pregnancies) or evaluate the women for STDs. Plus, some women with disabilities reported that they even avoided regular visits to the gynecologist because services tended to be more difficult to obtain.

These findings illustrate that both healthcare providers and lawmakers should be further educated on disability issues to combat health disabilities. In the spring of 2022, the NCD released a framework for policymakers, calling for an all-of-government approach to longstanding medical discrimination against people with disabilities, the largest unrecognized minority group in the country. It aims to serve as a roadmap to fixing systemic barriers within the healthcare system and references many examples of the well-documented health disparities and inequities that demand action for millions of people with disabilities.

Understanding Access

Abortion rights vary greatly among states, which can make healthcare options confusing for women with and without disabilities. Some states continue to offer full access to abortion. Whereas, in some other states, anti-abortion laws do not make exceptions for women that have been raped, including teenagers who are victims of incest. And some states do make exceptions for medical emergencies. Laws surrounding abortion will likely evolve as many state lawmakers look to reenact pre-Roe bans or, on the flip side, update laws to allow access.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, please seek help. Resources are available at nsvrc.org. This website includes information specific to sexual assault within the disability community. For example, you can access guides like: Responding to Survivors with Autism Spectrum Disorders: An Overview for Sexual Assault Advocates and A Guide For Sexual Abuse Survivors With Physical Disabilities Facing Sexual Abuse.

American Airlines Offers Practice Flights for Children with Autism

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Kids typically love airplanes, pilots and all things associated with flying. But for children (and adults) with autism spectrum disorder, traveling by plane can feel extremely overwhelming. Challenges may arise because of changes in routine, crowded spaces, unfamiliar sights and sounds, unpredictability and other elements. Overcoming such challenges can be tricky to navigate for the passenger who has autism, as well as their family members and/or travel companions.

American Airlines says it’s aware of and sensitive to the challenges that children with autism and/or anxiety often experience leading up to and during a flight. That’s why the company established “It’s Cool to Fly American” (ICTFA), an initiative centered on preparing children and their families for air travel through mock travel drills.

child enters plane during It's Cool to Fly American practice session
source: American Airlines

Autism statistics indicate that a fairly large population of potential passengers may benefit from participation in ICTFA. That’s because about 1-in-44 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder, according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. Autism, as defined by the Autism Research Institute, is a developmental disorder with varying symptoms that usually appear within the first three years of life.

In select cities, airlines and airport team members have partnered with local organizations to support the disability community. Children with autism and their families are offered the opportunity to practice nearly every aspect of air travel. For example, families may run through parking, ticketing, waiting at the gate, check-in, boarding, taxiing, returning to the gate and luggage retrieval. The comprehensive exercise lasts about 3.5 hours.

“For many, travel is about quality family time, seeing new places and connecting with loved ones,” Bruce Sickler, a Reservations Representative in Dallas-Fort Worth who founded ICTF, said in a company press release. “At American [Airlines], we are aware that families traveling with children on the autism spectrum have some concerns that make it stressful for all involved. This program has helped make a difference by turning worry into excitement.”

child with fidget toy
(Shutterstock)

ICTFA was on hiatus during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic but the empowering program has since resumed. American Airlines says it’s all made possible thanks to caring volunteers from various departments, including Reservations, Customer Service, Flight, Flight Service and Fleet Service, and Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

“ICTFA hits home personally for me,” said Carmen Calhoun, a Reservations Representative on the Resolution Service Desk in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “I have a 19-year-old niece with autism. I never knew what autism was until she was diagnosed. Back then, there were not many resources for families with kids with autism. That’s why ICTFA is so important. Giving families an opportunity to have that travel experience with guidance and help along the way is a huge deal and volunteering for this event gives me a great sense of joy and accomplishment.”

The initiative is also valuable for the airline and airport team members, especially those who work onboard the aircraft. Because of ICTFA, staff can better understand the difficulties that those traveling with autism or anxiety may face and how to proactively provide the most helpful assistance during the journey.

Since its inception in 2014, ICTFA has hosted over 2,100 families and almost 7,250 participants in over 30 domestic airports; and American Airlines says plans are underway for expansion.

child enters plane during It's Cool to Fly session
source: American Airlines

Sickler says participants are often surprised to learn about available disability-serving resources. This includes a Special Assistance Desk (routed through American Airlines Reservations Agents) and TSA Cares, a dedicated helpline for travelers with disabilities/medical conditions during the security screening process.

“After the event, it is common for parents to feel better prepared for travel. It opens the world to them and they are infinitely grateful to have this opportunity to practice the total travel experience (including a high-speed taxi) before they buy their tickets. They show a huge amount of appreciation toward American Airlines for supporting them and for hosting this program,” Sickler tells AmeriDisability.

Sometimes parents learn that their child is not yet ready for air travel. When that happens, Sickler says, parents ask to participate in a second ICTFA event. He says, “They ask me ‘When is the next event?’ We’d like to try this again to get our child ready to fly. I know they’ll do better with more practice.’” And that is often the case.

boy holding wooden toy airplane
(shutterstock)

Upcoming Sessions 

Here’s the schedule for upcoming ICTFA events:

  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) — Date: 9/10/22 | Time: 10 am – 12 pm
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) — Date: 9/17/22 | Time: 10 am-12 pm
  • John Wayne Santa Ana Airport (SNA) — Date: 10/22/22 | Time: 1 pm -3 pm
  • Montgomery Regional Airport (MGM) — Date: 3/11/23 Time: 10 am – 12 pm

Is the ICTFA program something that your family will explore in preparation for air travel?

Adaptive Climbing Tour Coming to Gyms throughout Southeastern U.S.

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A multi-city adaptive climbing tour is taking the fun factor up to new heights for people with disabilities and their families. That’s right… the opportunity to participate in this all-encompassing family bonding activity may soon be possible at a local gym in your very own town!

This unique traveling experience is spearheaded by Catalyst Sports, a nonprofit working to advance inclusive sporting adventures within the disability community, such as through indoor/outdoor climbing, mountain biking, cycling, kayaking and snow sports. This organization operates numerous chapters throughout the Southeastern U.S., with each exclusively hosting weekly, bi-weekly and/or monthly programs that support and engage participants of all abilities emotionally, mentally and physically.

Following a successful career as an adaptive sports instructor, Eric Gray founded Catalyst Sports in 2012. Gray survived childhood cancer and set a life goal of removing barriers and creating access for fellow people with disabilities.

An amputee rock climbs
(Catalyst Sports)

Where to Climb

In the spring of 2022, Catalyst Sports launched the largest adaptive climbing tour to date in the U.S. Partnering wellness facilities in nine cities eagerly jumped on board to host major adaptive climbing clinics, in an effort to make climbing more diverse, accessible and inclusive. A handful of adaptive climbing clinics have already been held at SportRock Climbing in Greater D.C., LEF Climbing in Lexington, The Crag in Franklin and Riversports in Knoxville.

Here’s a list of upcoming adaptive climbing clinics:

  • July 9, 2022: Rocksport Climbing in Louisville, KY
  • July 16, 2022: High Point Climbing and Fitness in Huntsville, AL
  • July 23, 2022: Stone Summit Atlanta in Atlanta, GA
  • July 30, 2022: Active Climbing in Augusta, GA
  • August 6, 2022: High Point Climbing and Fitness in Birmingham, AL
  • August 20, 2022: The Riveter in Asheville, NC
  • September 3, 2022: Vertical eXcape in Bowling Green, KY
  • September 17, 2022: High Point and Fitness in Chattanooga, TN
  • September 24, 2022: Climb Nashville in Nashville, TN
  • October 8, 2022: Vertical eXcape in Evansville, IN
  • October 13-16, 2022: Adaptive Climbing Festival in Red River Gorge, KY [Details below]

These adaptive climbing events are free of charge and open to anyone with a physical disability, including spinal cord injury, amputation, visual impairment or other disabilities. Catalyst Sports encourages registration through its event page. And potential sponsors interested in hosting additional tours should inquire via email to ericg@catalystsports.org.

Adaptive climbing participates smiles
(Catalyst Sports)

Taking Inclusivity to New Heights

Catalyst Sports is set to host the grand finale of this exciting tour in October 2022. The Adaptive Climbing Festival will be held in Red River Gorge in Kentucky. The organization is seeking both adaptive sport participants as well as event volunteers. Catalyst Sports has confirmed that properly trained volunteers and members of a paraclimbing team will be ready to help adaptive climbers conquer this high-stakes adventure!

Catalyst Sports relies on generous contributions to fund training, certification, scholarships, recruitment and the purchasing of adaptive equipment. To support these efforts, consider a financial donation.

Ready to rock this Adaptive Climbing Tour? Share your event photos with AmeriDisability on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Amputee Runner Remarkably Runs 104 Marathons in 104 Days

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Goals surrounding fitness are pretty common. In fact, every year, the most common New Year’s resolution is to increase exercise. For many well-intentioned goal-setters, that usually means getting to the gym more regularly or training for a community 5K race. But Phoenix, Arizona-resident Jacky Hunt-Broersma isn’t a typical goal-setter. You see, she decided to set a new world record by running the most consecutive marathons.

And she did it! 46-year-old Hunt-Broersma ran a record-breaking 104 marathons in 104 days in early 2022, including the iconic Boston Marathon. A marathon is 26.2 miles… and she did it 104 times in a row. As if that wasn’t already incredible, this ultra-runner just so happens to be a member of the disability community as an amputee.

Hunt-Broersma says her extreme fitness goal was inspired by Alyssa Amos Clark, a non-disabled athlete who started a personal endurance challenge on her treadmill to pass time during the COVID-19 lockdown phase. Clark, of Vermont, ended up completing 95 marathons in 95 days, achieving a then-new Guinness World Record. Hunt-Broersma wondered if she could also push her body that far — and beyond. So, she set out to conquer a lofty 100 marathons in 100 days; only to be edged out by another ultra-runner, Kate Jayden, a British athlete who achieved that record-setting milestone feat merely days prior to Hunt-Broersma’s scheduled completion. That nudged Hunt-Broersma to up her goal to 104 consecutive marathons.

Amputee ultra-runner, Jacky Hunt-Broersma, based in Arizona, sets new record by running 104 marathons in 104 days. | source: @ncrunnerjacky via Instagram
Jacky Hunt-Broersma ran trails, roads and on a treadmill. | source: @ncrunnerjacky via Instagram

Ability Over Disability

A South African native, Hunt-Broersma battled Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that affects the tissue around the bones. In 2001, just three weeks after her cancer diagnosis, doctors decided to amputate her lower left leg to prevent the cancer from spreading. She was 26 years old at the time.

Surprising to many, Hunt-Broersma wasn’t much of a runner before the amputation. “Running is something, even though I wasn’t doing it [before surgery], you kind of take for granted because you could just put a pair of shoes on and go,” she explained in an interview.

Following surgery, however, she was driven to prove something to herself and to others who pigeon-holed her as a person with limitations. Fueled by her stubbornness and determination, Hunt-Broersma jumped full speed ahead into the sport of running by investing in a carbon-fiber prosthetic running blade, which cost a whopping $10,000.

Because standard prosthetics aren’t sufficient for strenuous running, the decision of an amputee to pursue endurance running is much different than someone who buys a pair of sneakers to easily satisfy a New Year’s resolution. Obviously, the costly commitment turned out to be worth every penny and more for Hunt-Broersma. She learned to accept and appreciate her limb-different body, and gained confidence.

Amputee ultra-runner, Jacky Hunt-Broersma, based in Arizona, sets new record by running 104 marathons in 104 days. | source: @ncrunnerjacky via Instagram
Jacky Hunt-Broersma ran the Boston Marathon, which counted as her 92nd marathon in her pursuit of 104. | source: @ncrunnerjacky via Instagram

The Heart of Hard Things

The journey was, of course, very hard. Hunt-Broersma had to quickly figure out what her body needed for performance fuel and recovery, which trails and road routes were ideal, and which running partners were truly helpful and motivating. The pain went beyond basic blisters; the friction on her leg stump was significant. And the challenge wasn’t just physical. Her mental strength was also put to the test. Sometimes she just took one step at a time – literally and figuratively. Naturally, there were both good days and bad days. But Hunt-Broersma set a goal; and, she says, “I hate quitting on anything!” So she kept at it… day after day after day.

There really wasn’t time to slack off either. Every day, Hunt-Broersma had to squeeze in a marathon-length run between dropping off and picking up her two children from school. And she couldn’t just kick her legs up afterward; dinner had to be made and homework had to be checked. Hunt-Broersma attests that the experience undoubtedly served as a meaningful life lesson for her children – that they can achieve anything they set their mind to.

Hunt-Broersma works as a coach and, one could certainly imagine, that her first-hand experience is priceless motivation to others. If you’re doing the math: 26.2 x 104 = 2,724.8 miles in 104 days! She is one of the most accomplished amputee athletes of all time. Actually, scratch that… she’s one of the most accomplished athletes (disabled or non-disabled) – period!

It takes a bit of time for Guinness to certify new world records, and AmeriDisability can’t wait to see this accomplishment officially hit the books. Hunt-Broersma attests that “we are so much more capable than what we think,” and she hopes other members of the disability community follow in her footsteps to challenge themselves without limits.

Amputee ultra-runner, Jacky Hunt-Broersma, based in Arizona, sets new record by running 104 marathons in 104 days. | source: @ncrunnerjacky via Instagram
This image shows Jacky Hunt-Broersma celebrating the completion of her 102nd marathon. | source: @ncrunnerjacky via Instagram

More Than a Personal Goal

As part of her marathon quest, Hunt-Broersma raised nearly $200,000 for Amputee Blade Runners, an organization that helps people with limb differences access quality prosthetics. Thanks to the large fundraising contribution, at least 50 other para-athletes will be outfitted with high-end running blades.

“Here in the [United] States, running blades are really expensive and health insurance doesn’t cover it; they see it as a luxury. So I thought it would be a great way to raise money for charity and it would be a good way to give back,” Hunt-Broersma shared with ESPN.

Oh, and that’s not all this amputee runner has accomplished. In 2020, before her 104 marathon quest, Hunt-Broersma became the first amputee to run 100 miles nonstop on a treadmill. Through the Aravaipa Strong Virtual Race, she ran for 23 hours and 38 minutes straight! She credits her husband, Edwin, with making sure she didn’t fall asleep during the wee hours.

To keep up with Hunt-Broersma’s remarkable running adventures, follow her on Facebook.

Amputee ultra-runner, Jacky Hunt-Broersma, based in Arizona, sets new record by running 104 marathons in 104 days. | source: @ncrunnerjacky via Instagram
source: @ncrunnerjacky via Instagram

Have you also accomplished a remarkable goal? Share with AmeriDisability on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Apple’s New Accessibility Features to Better Serve Users with Disabilities

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This spring 2022, Apple previewed software features that will soon introduce new ways for users with disabilities to navigate, connect and get the most out of Apple products. These important updates will allow the latest technologies to deliver unique and customizable tools for users and also build on Apple’s long-standing commitment to making products that work for people of all abilities.
Here’s what Apple has shared thus far about these upcoming features: Using advancements across hardware, software and machine learning, people who are blind or have low vision can use their iPhone and iPad to navigate the last few feet to their destination with Door Detection; users with physical and motor disabilities who may rely on assistive features, like Voice Control and Switch Control, can fully control Apple Watch from their iPhone with Apple Watch Mirroring; and the Deaf and hard of hearing community can follow Live Captions on iPhone, iPad and Mac.
Apple is also expanding support for its industry-leading screen reader VoiceOver with over 20 new languages and locales. These features will be available later in 2022 with software updates across Apple platforms.
“Apple embeds accessibility into every aspect of our work, and we are committed to designing the best products and services for everyone,” said Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s senior director of Accessibility Policy and Initiatives. “We’re excited to introduce these new features, which combine innovation and creativity from teams across Apple to give users more options to use our products in ways that best suit their needs and lives.”
Apple's new techology
source: Apple

Door Detection for Users Who Are Blind/Low Vision

Apple is introducing Door Detection, a navigation feature for users who are blind or have low vision. Door Detection can help users locate a door upon arriving at a new destination, understand how far they are from it and describe door attributes — including if it is open or closed and, when it’s closed, whether it can be opened by pushing, turning a knob or pulling a handle. Door Detection can also read signs and symbols around the door, like the room number at an office or the presence of an accessible entrance symbol. This feature combines the power of LiDAR, camera and on-device machine learning, and will be available on iPhone and iPad models with the LiDAR Scanner.
Door Detection will be available in a new Detection Mode within Magnifier, Apple’s built-in app supporting users who are blind or have low vision. Door Detection, along with People Detection and Image Descriptions, can each be used alone or simultaneously in Detection Mode, offering users with vision disabilities a go-to place with customizable tools to help navigate and access rich descriptions of their surroundings. In addition to navigation tools within Magnifier, Apple Maps will offer sound and haptics feedback for VoiceOver users to identify the starting point for walking directions.
Advancing Physical and Motor Accessibility for Apple Watch
Apple Watch becomes more accessible than ever for people with physical and motor disabilities with Apple Watch Mirroring, which helps users control Apple Watch remotely from their paired iPhone. With Apple Watch Mirroring, users can control Apple Watch using iPhone’s assistive features like Voice Control and Switch Control, and use inputs including voice commands, sound actions, head tracking or external Made for iPhone switches as alternatives to tapping the Apple Watch display. Apple Watch Mirroring uses hardware and software integration, including advances built on AirPlay, to help ensure users who rely on these mobility features can benefit from unique Apple Watch apps like Blood Oxygen, Heart Rate, Mindfulness and more.
Plus, users can do even more with simple hand gestures to control Apple Watch. With new Quick Actions on Apple Watch, a double-pinch gesture can answer or end a phone call, dismiss a notification, take a photo, play or pause media in the Now Playing app, and start, pause or resume a workout. This builds on the innovative technology used in AssistiveTouch on Apple Watch, which gives users with upper body limb differences the option to control Apple Watch with gestures like a pinch or a clench without having to tap the display.
Apple's new technology
source: Apple

Live Captions Come to iPhone, iPad, and Mac for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Users

For the Deaf and hard of hearing community, Apple is introducing Live Captions on iPhone, iPad and Mac. Users can follow along more easily with any audio content — whether they are on a phone or FaceTime call, using a video conferencing or social media app, streaming media content or having a conversation with someone next to them. Users can also adjust the font size for ease of reading. Live Captions in FaceTime attribute auto-transcribed dialogue to call participants, so group video calls become even more convenient for users with hearing disabilities. When Live Captions are used for calls on Mac, users have the option to type a response and have it spoken aloud in real-time to others who are part of the conversation. And because Live Captions are generated on the device, user information stays private and secure.
VoiceOver Adds New Languages & More
VoiceOver, Apple’s industry-leading screen reader for users who are blind or have low vision, is adding support for more than 20 additional locales and languages. Users can also select from dozens of new voices that are optimized for assistive features across languages. These new languages, locales and voices will also be available for Speak Selection and Speak Screen accessibility features. Additionally, VoiceOver users on Mac can use the new Text Checker tool to discover common formatting issues such as duplicative spaces or misplaced capital letters, which makes proofreading documents or emails even easier.

Additional Features

  • With Buddy Controller, users can ask a care provider or friend to help them play a game; Buddy Controller combines any two-game controllers into one, so multiple controllers can drive the input for a single player.
  • With Siri Pause Time, users with speech disabilities can adjust how long Siri waits before responding to a request.
  • Voice Control Spelling Mode gives users the option to dictate custom spellings using letter-by-letter input.
  • Sound Recognition can be customized to recognize sounds that are specific to a person’s environment, like their home’s unique alarm, doorbell or appliances.
  • The Apple Books app will offer new themes, and introduce customization options such as bolding text and adjusting line, character and word spacing for an even more accessible reading experience.

Which of these upcoming features are you most excited about? Share with AmeriDisability on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram

“Willow” Reboot to Star Original Cast Member with Dwarfism

Attention children of the 1980s… an iconic movie is getting a reboot!

In 1988, movie-goers flocked to theaters to see “Willow,” a dark fantasy adventure directed by Ron Howard, executive produced by George Lucas, and starring Val Kilmer and Warwick Davis. The film, which earned two Academy Award nominations, didn’t exactly break box office records. But, thanks to home viewing options (i.e. remember VHS tapes?!?), the film grew to become a beloved cult classic.

The original flick centers on the heroism of Willow Ufgood, a farmer and aspiring sorcerer of the Nelwyn village. But after discovering an abandoned baby, named Elora Danan, he’s unexpectedly tasked with protecting the youngster, who is destined to bring about the downfall of the evil sorceress.

With just a few prior acting credits to his name (Star Wars, Ewoks and Labyrinth), then 18-year-old Davis landed the lead in “Willow.” Other actors who identify as little people or members of the disability community were also cast, including Tony Cox, Phil Fondacaro, Mark Northover, David Steinberg and Billy Barty, who founded the Little People of America in 1957. In addition to Kilmer, Joanne Whalley and Jean Marsh each filled non-disabled parts.

Unnamed costumed cast member, with Ron Howard, Val Kilmer and Warwick Davis
Unnamed costumed cast member, with Ron Howard, Val Kilmer and Warwick Davis on the set of “Willow” in 1988. | source: imdb

Diversity Became the Reality of Fantasy

Davis, a native of England, was born with spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita, the condition that caused his dwarfism. According to John Hopkins Medicine, spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita is a rare genetic disorder that involves spinal and epiphyseal enlargement (enlargement of the area at the end of the long bones). Classified as a type 2 collagen defect, it affects a structure of connective tissue (collagen) that supports many parts of the body.

There are over 200 different types of dwarfism. Unlike Davis, most people with dwarfism have a condition called achondroplasia, which occurs in about one in every 40,000 births, according to John Hopkins Medicine. In fact, Davis’ wife, Samantha, has achondroplasia; and their two children, Annabelle and Harrison, have spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita. The whole family has been involved in film projects!

Fast-Forward to More Fantasy

Beyond the original production of “Willow,” Davis has enjoyed a lengthy career in the entertainment industry, including gigs in film series such as “Leprechaun” and “Harry Potter,” among many other supporting roles in both television and film.

Now in post-production, “Willow” is rebooting as a television series with Davis reprising his signature character. Eager fans recently got a glimpse at what’s to come in the fantasy sequel thanks to a trailer teaser released by Lucas Films.

The rebooted cast will also star newcomers Ellie Bamber, Erin Kellyman and Tony Revolori, among others. The plot resumes twenty years after the original adventure. Can fans expect to learn what’s become of Elora Danan? We’ll have to watch to see when the premiere drops on November 20, 2022, on Disney+.

Jonathan Kasdan, a writer and executive producer of the “Willow” sequel, did confirm that Kilmer did not travel from the U.S. to Wales to reprise his role of Madmartigan. Perhaps just unfortunate timing, Kasdan eluded that Kilmer’s absence was due to travel limitations associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. This is disappointing as Kilmer recently reprised his role as Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky in “Top Gun: Maverick,” a 2022 sequel to the 1986’s “Top Gun.”

Kilmer also became a member of the disability community when, in 2017, he lost his voice after battling throat cancer and various tracheotomies. Still, 36 years later, Kilmer was able to reunite with co-star Tom Cruise for “Top Gun: Maverick” thanks to artificial intelligence voice work. His daughter shared during a New York Post interview that a company called Sonantic developed the specific AI that mimicked Kilmer’s iconic voice.

“They were able to dub him with his own voice, which is amazing,” Mercedes Kilmer explained in the interview. “It’s such a technical feat, being able to engineer his voice that way, that it’s an extension of the technical feat of the film.”

Kilmer’s condition was written into the “Top Gun” sequel, however. The character of Iceman has a communication disability, yet Kilmer’s AI-generated voice asserts to Cruise’s character, “The Navy needs you, Maverick!”

Ohhh, and AmeriDisability assumes that “Willow” fans similarly need Madmartigan back too! Perhaps a second season of “Willow” will bring Kilmer back to the fantasy adventure.

Disability Representation

In addition to acting, Davis, now 52, has dabbled in writing, directing, producing and other behind-the-scene roles. He also co-founded Little People UK, a charity “dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with dwarfism while celebrating with great pride little people’s contribution to social diversity.”

Additionally, in partnership with his father-in-law, Peter Burroughs, Davis established Willow Personal Management. This talent agency represents people with height differences. The company initially focused on advancing opportunities for entertainers that primarily identify as little people, but has grown to also represent very tall professionals on the other end of the height spectrum.

Will you watch the reboot of “Willow?” Share with AmeriDisability on Facebook and Twitter!

The Scoop on How Eating Ice Cream This June Supports the Disability Community

During the month of June, Cold Stone Creamery stores will again host their annual nationwide fundraising promotion to benefit Best Buddies International, a global nonprofit dedicated to establishing a volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development and inclusive living for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

Picture this: You and your best friend are asked to create a deliciously unique flavor for a national ice cream chain. How cool would that be?! Now if the two of you could manage to pause the bestie giggles for long enough to let your taste buds get to work, what sort of yumminess would you stir together? Well, this is exactly what Drew and Stan, two Best Buddies program participants, got the chance to do when they were charged with developing the “Better Together Creation” for the Best Buddies promotion at Cold Stone Creamery. For their uniquely sweet concoction, Drew and Stan blended mint ice cream with brownies, M&Ms and whipped topping!

I know what you’re thinking — I’m telling you to eat ice cream and you’re questioning if that’s really a healthy suggestion. Okay, that’s a fair thought but… let me explain why eating ice cream this June is a worthwhile consideration.

Here's a way to support persons with disabilities: eat the Better Together Creation at Cold Stone.

Here’s Why You Should Eat More Ice Cream in June:

You’ll Impact an Important Mission

By eating the Better Together Creation, you’ll help Cold Stone Creamery support the Best Buddies mission of ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people living with IDD. And that’s really important work! You see, for more than 30 years, Best Buddies has helped individuals within the IDD community form meaningful friendships with their peers, secure successful jobs, live independently, and improve public speaking, self-advocacy and communications skills.

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art,” said 17th-century writer François de La Rochefoucauld. I believe intelligence applies when it comes to intentionally eating ice cream with purpose.

You’ll Have a Cool Experience — Literally & Figuratively

I really love ice cream and in any form — cone, cup, sundae, on a popsicle stick, whatever. I swear “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream” could be my personal mantra. And I admit, there is something extra sweet about the ice cream shop experience presented at Cold Stone Creamery. In case you haven’t been to Cold Stone yet, let me tell you that their smooth and creamy ice cream is handcrafted fresh daily in each store. But the best part is that you, yes my fellow ice cream fanatics, get to customize your very own creation by, first, selecting a base flavor (such as Cake Batter, Cheesecake, Sweet Cream or whatever your taste buds crave)’ and, second, adding in a variety of goodies (like toffee health bar, graham crackers, peanut butter cups and so much more). Watch it get folded together right in front of your eyes (and watering mouth) on top of a frozen granite stone.

Here's a way to support persons with disabilities: eat the Better Together Creation at Cold Stone.

You’ll Kind Of Make a Healthy Choice

When we think about the health benefits of eating, we automatically consider what we should – or should not – consume in regards to nutritional value. And, so, perhaps ice cream typically falls into that “too much of a good thing can be bad” category thanks to calories, fat, carbs and sugars. That’s why, for most, ice cream is best enjoyed in moderation, and as part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.

However, experts agree that, aside from enjoying the taste and nutrients of the foods we eat, joyfully dining with others aids physical and mental health. Since this ice cream promotion is all about buddies, I’m sure we can all agree that an ice cream rendezvous with a beloved buddy can and will be good for the mind, body and soul! This is, of course, in total contrast to binge-eating out of the container while watching Netflix (still, no judgment if you do that on occasion too). Rather, can’t you just picture the endorphins spiking high as buddy bonding is had with every lick and laugh. The act of indulging in this frozen treat can increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter often referred to as the “feel-good hormone.” Yup, this is your chance to do good and feel good!

Plus, ice cream does boast calcium, potassium and magnesium, and these help to maintain strong teeth, bones and blood pressure levels. A serving of ice cream can pack protein to boost energy levels, and offer up nutrients like vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and phosphorus. And don’t forget that ingredients like vanilla beans and dark chocolate deliver antioxidants.

You’ll Be Rewarded Even More & Reward Others

In addition to the promotional Creation, customers who donate $1 or more will receive double My Cold Stone Club Rewards points on their entire purchase. Customers enter a phone number at checkout in-store or login into their rewards account when ordering online to earn double points.

Cold Stone Creamery has also launched an exclusive Gift Back eGift card campaign. With every limited edition Give Back eGift card purchased online, Cold Stone will donate 10% of the amount to Best Buddies. To purchase your Give Back eGift card and make a difference, click this link to access more info on Cold Stone’s website. The donation percentage is 10 percent, with a maximum annual donation of $100,000.

The Cold Stone Creamery brand operates nearly 1,500 locations globally in approximately 30 countries worldwide. With so many locations, just think about the potential impact that eating ice cream during this limited-time promotion could have! You see… I told you there were good reasons to have a scoop (or two or three) of ice cream this June. Oh, and I agree with Drew and Stan that mint ice cream with brownies, M&Ms and whipped topping tastes awesome. Happy ice cream eating!

Image source: Best Buddies Facebook page

Nancy DeVault is an award-winning writer/editor contributing to local and national publications. Her storytelling spans a wide range of topics, including charity, disability, food, health, lifestyle, parenting, relationships and travel. Married with two kiddos, Nancy describes herself as a lover of the outdoors, fitness, news, traveling and binge-reading magazines while sipping coffee.

Medical Advancement: First-Ever FDA Approved Medication to Treat Alopecia Areata

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On June 13, 2022, medical history was made when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Olumiant™, a medication to treat alopecia areata. This exciting medical breakthrough announcement marks the first FDA-approved treatment for alopecia areata.

“This is the dawn of a new era,” Nicole Friedland, President and CEO of the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, said in an organization press release. “For the first time, alopecia areata patients have the option of an approved treatment that has undergone rigorous testing in clinical trials. We anticipate more treatments to come, bringing additional choices to our community.”

What is Alopecia Areata?

According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, alopecia areata is a common autoimmune disease that affects roughly seven million Americans (including more than 300,000 people with severe levels of the condition). Alopecia areata may cause either total or partial loss of scalp and body hair.

Understandably frustrating to those who live with the condition, scientists have yet to identify what “triggers” the immune system to attack the body’s healthy hair follicles. Additionally, some people with alopecia may experience psychological consequences, including high levels of anxiety and depression.

Symptoms of alopecia areata:

  • Small, round/oval patches of hair loss on the scalp, beard area of the face or other areas of the body with hair
  • Hair loss and regrowth at the same time in different areas of the body
  • Significant hair loss in a short period of time
  • Hair loss that’s mostly on one side of the scalp, rather than both sides
  • “Exclamation point” hairs that are narrow at the base/next to the scalp
  • “Stippling” or “pitting” (rows of tiny dents) on the fingernails

two boxes of Oluminant medication for Alopecia Areata

What is Olumiant?

Olumiant is a new FDA-approved oral tablet. It belongs to a class of medications known as Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors which block the activity of one or more of a specific family of enzymes, interfering with the pathway that leads to inflammation. Olumiant is tended for adult patients with severe alopecia areata. Its availability means people with alopecia areata now have a treatment option for the entire body rather than just a specific location.

“Access to safe and effective treatment options is crucial for the significant number of Americans affected by severe alopecia,” said Kendall Marcus, M.D., director of the Division of Dermatology and Dentistry in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, via a press statement.

The efficacy and safety of Olumiant in alopecia areata was studied in two randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials (Trial AA-1 and Trial AA-2) with patients who had at least 50 percent scalp hair loss (as measured by the Severity of Alopecia Tool) for more than six months. Patients in these trials received either a placebo, two milligrams of Olumiant or four milligrams of Olumiant per day. The primary measurement of efficacy for both trials was the proportion of patients who achieved at least 80 percent scalp hair coverage at week 36.

In Trial AA-1, 22 percent of the 184 patients who received two milligrams of Olumiant and 35 percent of the 281 patients who received four milligrams of Olumiant achieved adequate scalp hair coverage; compared to five percent of the 189 patients who received the placebo. In Trial AA-2, 17 percent of the 156 patients who received two milligrams of Olumiant and 32 percent of the 234 patients who received four milligrams of Olumiant achieved adequate scalp hair coverage; compared to just three percent of the 156 patients who received the placebo.

alopecia stat

Common side effects associated with the use of Olumiant included upper respiratory tract infections, headache, acne, high cholesterol, increase of an enzyme called creatinine phosphokinase, urinary tract infection, liver enzyme elevations, inflammation of hair follicles, fatigue, lower respiratory tract infections, nausea, genital yeast infections, anemia, low number of certain types of white blood cells, abdominal pain, shingles and weight increase.

Olumiant comes with other warnings, so patients should discuss their personalized care with their physician to determine if this new medication is an appropriate treatment option. Olumiant is also approved as a treatment for certain adult patients with active rheumatoid arthritis and, in certain hospitalized adults, the treatment of COVID-19.

Learn More 

The National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF) supports research to find a cure and/or acceptable treatments for alopecia areata, plus supports those with the disease and educates the public about alopecia areata. For more information about alopecia areata, visit the organization’s website: naaf.org.

Here’s Why “Autistic Pride Day” is Something to Celebrate

Autistic Pride Day, a self-advocacy movement, is held annually on June 18th.

Within the disability community and beyond to the community-at-large, April is widely known as Autism Awareness Month. Plus, this timeframe includes World Autism Awareness Day, an internationally-recognized observance held annually on April 2. First held in 1972 by the Autism Society, the monthly-long focus has historically promoted the understanding of autism spectrum disorder.

About 1-in-44 children are identified as having autism spectrum disorder, according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. Autism is a complex developmental condition caused by differences in the brain. While abilities vary greatly per person, people with autism may behave, communicate, interact and/or learn in ways that are different than others.

Autistic Pride Day, held annually on June 18, is a lesser-known observance (compared to the April observances). However, its significance is equal to (or perhaps even believed to be greater than) Autism Awareness Month and World Autism Awareness Day. That’s because it is driven by members of the autistic community. Read on to learn why…

image of puzzle pieces of a brain
credit: Brain Injury Association of America

Awareness vs. Acceptance

In 2021, 49 years after Autism Awareness Month originated, the Autism Society, along with leading disability organizations across the country, announced its decision to formally shift reference from “Autism Awareness Month” to “Autism Acceptance Month.” The terminology modification may not seem drastic to some, but there is an important distinction between awareness (i.e. knowledge of autism) and acceptance (i.e. favorably reception of people with autism).

Acceptance better emphasizes the need for inclusion for people of all abilities, with opportunities for education, employment, accessible housing, affordable health care and comprehensive long-term services.

“While we will always work to spread awareness, words matter as we strive for autistic individuals to live fully in all areas of life,” Christopher Banks, President and CEO of the Autism Society of America, said in a press statement announcing the terminology change-up. “As many individuals and families affected by autism know, acceptance is often one of the biggest barriers to finding and developing a strong support system.”

According to the Autism Society, other groups that have also shifted to using the more suitable term of acceptance include the Administration for Community Living, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, Autistic Women and Non-Binary Network, Easter Seals, First Place AZ, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) and The Arc.

boy holding autism heart
credit: Shutterstock

What is Autistic Pride Day?

The terminology shift led by the Autism Society is, of course, overdue progress to celebrate. But, as it turns out, people with autism previously kick-started a similar positive shift within the disability community. In 2005, a group called the Aspies for Freedom established Autistic Pride Day to be held on June 18. This observance aims to heighten awareness about the value of people with autism. The effort is all about reframing the negative perception of needing to cure/treat a medical epidemic and, instead, appreciate the wonderfully unique and purposeful individuals who live with autism spectrum disorder.

When people with autism (or any difference) are confronted with unfortunate myths about their condition, they may naturally tend to feel less valid. But diversity, including neurodiversity, is not a problem; rather, an exceptional distinction to embrace. Yes, autism can create added hurdles; however, discrimination against those with the condition is unnecessary and, frankly, wrong.

Autistic Pride Day is a movement led by people with autism spectrum disorder advocating for themselves, versus organizations that spearhead efforts. According to numerous reports, June 18 was chosen because it was the birthday of the youngest member (at the time) of the Aspies for Freedom group. Somewhat modeled after the grassroots movement of Pride Month, in support of the LGBTQ+ community, the rainbow infinity icon that represents Autistic Pride Day symbolizes “diversity with infinite variations and infinite possibilities.” In fact, some believe that, just like the slow-moving advancement for LGBTQ+ issues, the same level of awareness and acceptance should and will eventually come for people with autism.

People with disabilities are the largest and most diverse minority within the population, representing all abilities, ages, races, ethnicities, religions and socio-economic backgrounds. Disability pride (and autism pride) is an integral part of movement building, and a direct challenge to systemic ableism and stigmatizing definitions of disability. However, a disability is not the only identity one has; of course, one may identify by gender, race, height and many other physical or emotional attributes. All of a person’s identities are important and have value.

Autistic Pride Day is a reminder that people with autism have always been and will continue to be an important, treasured part of our human society. People with autism can and should feel proud of themselves and promote that being different, and/or autistic, is absolutely OK!