This New Apartment Building Will House People With and Without Autism

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A new kind of apartment building is currently in the works in Heidelberg, Pennsylvania.

The Autism Housing Development Corporation of Pittsburgh and Diamond & Associates, an affordable housing development agency in Philadelphia, are building an apartment complex that will house people with and without autism in the same building, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The Dave Wright Apartments, which may be the first residency of its kind, will include 42 one- or two-bedroom units. Around half will be allocated for adults with higher-functioning autism who can live largely independently and are able to work. The other half will be filled with people who are not on the autism spectrum. In addition, the building will include six units designed for people with physical disabilities.

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A 3D rendering of the apartment building, courtesy of Elliot Frank

“It’s great that there are already different wonderful living opportunities for people with autism, but [those options are] still isolating them,” Elliot Frank, President of the Autism Housing Development Corporation of Pittsburgh (AHDCP), told The Mighty. “We’re going to integrate people within the building.” Frank has a personal stake in the project as well — he and Roy Diamond of Diamond & Associates both have sons with autism.

Frank says the inspiration for the project came about three or four years ago when he spoke with Randy Lewis, the former Senior Vice President for Supply Chain & Logistics at Walgreens, who’s worked extensively to provide job opportunities for people with disabilities.

“I wondered where those adults with disabilities who are able hold down those jobs live,” Frank told The Mighty. “When I talked with [Lewis], he told me they didn’t look into that. So that’s when the idea came to me.”

Physically, the building looks like any other apartment building — other than the units for people with physical disabilities, there’s nothing about the development that sets it apart from typical residence buildings. It also does not include 24-hour support staff. However, the AHDCP is taking a number of steps to ensure the apartments’ residents with autism are well integrated. The corporation is partnering with NHS Human Services in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania, to help provide job counseling services for residents with autism. AHDCP also plans to partner with Goodwill Industries and Giant Eagle, a large supermarket chain, to help residents find jobs. Though support staff will not be on site at all times, they will be available during select hours. The development will host movie nights and other social events so residents with autism can interact with others and form a community.

Developers plan to break ground on the building in late July 2015 and open doors to residents by September 2016. Frank says he’s already heard feedback from many people who hope to apply to live in the apartments, particularly from parents who would like their adult sons and daughters to live there.

“The hope is that others will want to do the same thing we’re doing,” Frank told The Mighty. “It’s an experiment, but we think it’s doing to do really well.”

Information about applying to live at the Dave Wright Apartment is not yet available, but to learn more about the project, visit the AHDCP website.

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This Was Arguably the Best Part of the Home Run Derby

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If you tuned in to the 2015 Home Run Derby Monday night, at least one moment was guaranteed to give you the chills.

Marlana VanHoose, who is blind and lives with cerebral palsy, delivered a breathtaking rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” before the game.

Marlana, who is 20 and lives in Denver, Kentucky, was born with cytomegalovirus, a virus that can lead to retina inflammation. She was blind by the time she was just weeks old and wasn’t expected to live more than a year, according to her website. Marlana was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy at age 2, 

Marlana has sung at events all over the country. Many of her performances, like the ones at the University of Kentucky basketball game in 2012 and Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals, garnered national attention. Now, she can add this latest performance at the Cincinnati Reds stadium to the list.

Watch Marlana’s performance in the video below.

To learn more about Marlana, visit her website.

h/t The Blaze

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When Down Syndrome Became the Least of Our Concerns

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It was a very exciting ultrasound. We were hoping to find out the sex of our baby. My husband and I knew this doctor from our previous pregnancies. He looked at the images very carefully and quietly. The more he looked, the more we worried.

We couldn’t stand the scary silence anymore. We both knew there was something wrong with our baby. He turned to us and said she had a cystic hygroma, a growth that could indicate a chromosome problem. Without thinking,  I had only one question: “Down syndrome is the least of our concerns. All I want to know is if she going to survive?” And with a very kind voice filled with empathy, our doctor touched my hand and told me, “I can’t tell you yes or no. All I can say is to enjoy the time you have together the same way you enjoyed with Nicolas.”

My world collapsed right there. Was there a possibility of her being taken away from us? Why would life take away another one of my children? A new journey began, a journey of trying to make sense of what was going on.

The following months were tough. I hit bottom. Some people saw me as being strong, even though I didn’t feel that way. And I couldn’t deal with the others who felt sorry for me.

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Somewhere along the way, I got myself back together and managed to smile again. I told my husband, “I’ll leave the tears for when that time comes, if it ever comes. With Nicolas everything was perfect, and he didn’t stay.” The next ultrasounds weren’t easy. The growth just got bigger, but we had faith and resignation.

After six months, we went for another ultrasound. As soon as the doctor started the exam, he called attention to her profile. I couldn’t believe my eyes — our daughter had a profile. The growth was simply gone, she was going to make it.

We found peace again. Our baby was going to be born, and that’s all we cared about. We knew what it was like not to have a child. We knew what it was like not being able to change a situation that broke our family’s heart, including our daughter, who was 4 years old at the time. All we hoped for was a person who could be happy.

Three months later we received a gift of life: Zoe, which means “life” in Greek.

Three years later — after a few diagnoses and a heart surgery — Zoe’s full of life and making our lives more enjoyable each day. She taught us small problems should always be treated as such. She taught us we can always do more than others might believe we can. She taught us love goes beyond unconditional, and she taught us to enjoy the simple things in life and to make the best of it.

Things might not have gone the way we planned, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you are able to look at things from another angle. We learned from our son, Nicolas, who taught us the most important thing in life is life itself.

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The Mighty is asking the following: Tell a story about a time someone helped you and/or your child when you needed it most. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The Question About Sex and Her Disability That She Couldn’t Laugh Off

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This is powerful.

At the preliminaries of the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Slam in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Kelsey Warren recited her poem titled “My Body.” In it, Warren, who uses a wheelchair, addresses a taboo subject — sex and disability.

Warren says that for some reason people often feel entitled to ask her personal questions about her disability — questions that Warren typically laughs off or answers sarcastically. But there was one question she couldn’t just laugh off or ignore.

“Do you let your partner have a side relationship so they can have normal sex every once in a while?” 

Honey, if they’re with me then they’re not looking for normal — and I don’t mean because I’m crippled,” is Warren’s biting response in the video below. “Because sex with me can mean any fetish, any request you’ve always been afraid to make, any position you can think of… Crippled copulation may be slightly more complicated, but it is always climactic. Not once has someone that I’ve had sex with say that my sex was less than.”

Warren’s poem offers important insight into an all too common problem in our society — a refusal to acknowledge the fact that people with disabilities can engage in and enjoy sex. As Warren reiterates, sex isn’t just for the able-bodied and traditionally attractive.

“This body wasn’t made to meet your definition of desirable,” Warren says. “My body will not be denied it’s worth.”

h/t Mic

Related: This Sex Party Is About So Much More Than Sex

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The Questions Asked About My Daughter Because My Son Has Down Syndrome

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Soon after our daughter was born, I had several encounters with medical staffers who asked me whether she is “OK” or “normal,” since her brother has Down syndrome. Here’s what I want you to know: Normal doesn’t exist. The word itself is like scraping fingernails down a chalkboard to me.

The fact that our daughter has 46 chromosomes and her brother has 47 doesn’t define her as “normal.” While my son’s extra chromosome means he has been given a diagnosis of Down syndrome, it doesn’t define him as “abnormal.” That extra chromosome means he has an intellectual disability and some medical issues. He has challenges that differ from his sister, but he is “OK,” too.

Similar questions reared their curious heads during my pregnancy with our daughter. Questions like, “Do you know if this baby has any dramas?” and “Have you had the test to make sure this one doesn’t have Down syndrome, too?” Now let’s be clear, I welcome questions with an open mind and heart, and I see it as an opportunity to educate, but these questions hurt — deeply.

It was like having a “normal” baby after having one with Down syndrome was a consolation prize. A “perfect baby” after an “imperfect baby.”  The truth is, we welcomed each of our babies into the world with unconditional love and acceptance. The most important part was that they arrived safely and into our arms. The rest could be navigated later.

I understand people’s sentiment and reasoning for having asked me these questions. In their eyes, they saw us having a child with a disability as a sadness, a struggle and a burden. I want you to know our son is not a burden nor has he brought sadness.

The struggle part? Sure, we struggle with our son’s medical issues that are associated with Down syndrome. He gets sick a lot and misses preschool, which he loves, due to a weaker immune system. We struggled with his open-heart surgery at 4 weeks old, and we struggle with his mobility issues and nonverbal communication.

But we also struggle with our typically developing daughter. Let’s be real: Parenting is a struggle. We’re all winging it! We just have different challenges with each little person.

Here’s the thing, folks: Each and everyone of us has different abilities, strengths and unique quirks. It’s what makes us interesting, different and beautiful. Some of us need more help in this life and that’s OK.

So in hindsight, how would I now respond to those medical staffers who asked if my daughter OK? Yes, she’s OK, but not because she has one less chromosome than her brother. It’s because she is blooming as part of a special needs family. She is loved and is encouraged to be herself and to value kindness and empathy. She’s happy that her brother is exactly who he is. She helps put his hip brace on or reminds him not to pull out his hearing aids. So long as her brother is included in the game she is playing, she is OK.

She’s OK and her brother having Down syndrome is OK, too.

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Follow this journey on About Ash.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share with us the moment you stood up for yourself or your child in regards to disability or disease, or a moment you wish you had? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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This Wildlife Photographer With Down Syndrome Has a Book Coming Out

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Oliver Hellowell loves to photograph the world around him.

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Courtesy of Wendy O’Carroll

The 19-year-old photographer, who has Down syndrome, captures all kinds of wildlife on camera near his home in Somerset, England. Several months back, his photos received a lot of media attention after BBC News made a video about him. Now, Hellowell is fundraising to produce a book of his work.

Hellowell’s photography will be showcased in a 128-page hardcover coffee table book, according to his IndieGoGo campaign page. A percentage of sales will go to benefit Ups and Downs, an organization that provides support and information to families of children with Down syndrome.

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Courtesy of Wendy O’Carroll.

In the first 11 days of his fundraising campaign, Hellowell has recieved more than 8,600 British pounds of his 10,000-pound goal.

His mother, Wendy O’Carroll, told The Mighty her son loves to hear how many orders there are each day for his book. She’s proud to be promoting her son’s work while simultaneously spreading Down syndrome awareness.

“The key message with this campaign, and with everything to do with Oliver so far, is to believe in your child and to believe in yourself,” O’Carroll told The Mighty. “Aim for those stars, fight for those dreams — and when they tell you you’ll never do it, don’t believe them.”

Check out some of Oliver Hellowell’s photography below: 

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Courtesy of Wendy O’Carroll.
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Courtesy of Wendy O’Carroll
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Courtesy of Wendy O’Carroll
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Courtesy of Wendy O’Carroll
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Courtesy of Wendy O’Carroll
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Courtesy of Wendy O’Carroll
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Courtesy of Wendy O’Carroll
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Courtesy of Wendy O’Carroll
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Courtesy of Wendy O’Carroll

To donate to Hellowell’s book, go here. Follow him on Facebook to see more of his work. 

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