The 'Canoemobile' Makes National Parks More Accessible to People With Disabilities

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If you’re a person with or without a disability and you’d love to experience the thrill of the open water, the Canoemobile may be for you.

In celebration of the National Park Service centennial, the Canoemobile, operated by Wilderness Inquiry, will connect people with disabilities to the outdoors by getting them into canoes and out onto America’s great rivers and lakes. The Canoemobile, a fleet of 24-foot Voyager canoes, will be stopping across the country from April through October. The tour will stop at places such as Big Thicket National Preserve in Kountze, Texas; Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Chesterton, Indiana; Golden Gate National Recreation Area near San Francisco, Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Hagerstown, Maryland, and more.

A person with a disability gets into a canoe

People of all abilities are welcome on Wilderness Inquiry’s fully integrated trips. They provide adapted seat pads, paddling equipment and other accommodations for people with physical disabilities. They can accommodate people who are blind or have low vision, and people with deafness or hearing loss. They also offer experiences geared towards people with intellectual disabilities to facilitate development of outdoor skills.

The Canoemobile tour is sponsored by travel and outdoor lifestyle apparel brand Toad&Co, whose sponsorship will send 1,000 adults with disabilities to 10 national parks in 2016. The grant serves as a launch pad to create access and inspire a connection to the outdoors. All adults with disabilities who participate in the Toad&Co sponsored Canoemobile tour stops will be encouraged to apply for a free National Park Service lifetime access pass granting admission to more than 2,000 recreational sites across the country.

“The centennial celebration is about introducing America’s incredible national parks to everyone, and we couldn’t be more proud to partner with Toad&Co and Wilderness Inquiry to inspire people with disabilities to find their park,” Susan Newton, senior vice president of grants and programs at the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, said in a press release. “Our National Park System has something for everyone, and we are excited to help people discover accessible experiences that speak to their personal interests and passions.”

For more information or to sign up for an event near you, visit the Canoemobile website.
Canoemobile

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a travel moment related to disability and/or disease that made you laugh, cry, roll your eyes or was otherwise unforgettable? 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Disability Advocacy Group Runs Ad Slamming Hollywood for Using the R-Word

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An ad running in The Hollywood Reporter is targeting the film and television industry for using language that mocks people with disabilities.

Family Member, the group behind the ad, is a nonprofit organization that hopes to eradicate hateful speech about people with disabilities in news, entertainment and social media, according to its website. The ad first appeared in THR on March 31, and it will run for the next five weeks.

Family Member founder, Hannah Jacobs, told The Mighty that Donald Trump’s recent interaction with New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who has a disability, was what provided the perfect push for the campaign. “We couldn’t ignore the uproar over his mocking of the reporter, yet question why there is very little mention in the press when people with disabilities are marginalized in film, social media and in entertainment,” Jacobs said.

“We targeted Hollywood specifically because that’s where most of the content that both mocks and marginalizes people with disabilities is created,” Jacobs told The Mighty. “We are calling on the Hollywood community of Standards & Practices departments, screen writers, producers, directors, actors and comedians to consider who they hurt when their content contains material that mocks and marginalizes children and adults living with special needs and disabilities. Mocking disability is not funny and shouldn’t be tolerated.”

An ad created by Family Member, a nonprofit organization that hopes to eradicate hateful speech about people with disabilities, which is currently running in The Hollywood Reporter.
Image courtesy of Family Member

Jacobs told The Mighty that movies like “Tropic Thunder” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” made a mockery of people with disabilities.

“If Ben Stiller had a child with a disability, the character of Simple Jack in ‘Tropic Thunder’ wouldn’t have been created,” Family Member wrote on its website. “If Justin Theroux had a child with an intellectual disability, you can bet that the phrase ‘never go full retard’ would not exist today.”

“We believe the ad says it all,” the organization added. “If you were offended by Donald Trump’s mocking a reporter with a disability, then you must take a stand the next time you see the same thing on film, in social media or in a comedy club, because mocking disability just isn’t an option anymore.”

h/t Disability Scoop

Take the pledge! Sign up to support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote acceptance and inclusion.

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Our Conversation With Bill Clinton on Employment and Rights for People With Disabilities

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Dear President Bill Clinton,

No Boundaries is a workforce training program that works with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to train for work and train for life through online and on-land experiential learning.  We had the privilege to come and see you speak at Beth Emet in Evanston, as our office is just one block down the road.

My job is to be the business and community engagement coordinator for JJsList.com, and one of those duties is to connect businesses and community leaders with people with disabilities.

That day we met you, we found a good community leader to meet!

We had the chance to listen to you make your best pitch for Hillary Clinton for president.  We used that opportunity to talk to our learners about civic leadership and how important it is to listen to all the candidates so that we can make informed decisions. This is an important skill, not just in politics, but in work and life as well. We all listened and enjoyed the rapport you built with the crowd — which reminded us of why you were elected for president twice. Many of us grew up hearing or seeing your name, but this was a chance to put a face to the name.

After you spoke, we had the opportunity to meet with you for a few brief minutes. That’s when the conversation got very interesting. We introduced you to our group of Disability Awareness Players and explained what our work is about. We got a chance to tell you that we work diligently to bridge the gap between businesses and our consumers with disabilities with the goal of gaining employment and independence. Unfortunately, all over the world, programs like ours are losing funding at a time when unemployment for individuals with disabilities hovers around 80 percent.

With 57 million individuals with disabilities in the United States, that roughly translates to nearly 46 million people who are either unable to find employment in a vocational environment that is increasingly competitive or have simply fallen out of the workforce. You mentioned that in your time as president, you enacted some of the most sweeping legislative measures to ensure that people with disabilities are included, but that the economic environment of the late 2000’s had taken a bite out of those efforts. We’ve felt that bite.

It is our experience that one of the most effective factors for inspiring people to get back into the workforce or to transition from the school systems into the workforce are individualized mentorship and job-coaching programs that go to bat for individuals. Businesses say they want to hire people with disabilities, but they often aren’t fully informed on the communication strategies that precede a successful connection.

We know that the pathway to employment is not a one-way street, and a skilled and motivated workforce is as important as an earnestly inclusive employer.  We believe that is a product of disability awareness.

With that in mind, we had the chance to let you know that we’d love to hear and see more about the issues and rights of individuals with disabilities in public discourse.  Five days later, Hillary included the need to defend the rights of people with disabilities in her nationally-televised speech after the Illinois primary. That was a great step!

We told you we would continue to persevere and you told us, “Yes! Keep on fighting and know that we will continue fighting for you as well!”

We’ll hold you and your associates on both sides of the aisle to that!

Bill Clinton meets with the Disability Awareness Players

To learn more, visit the Disability Awareness Players website.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a powerful moment you or a loved one has had with a public figure. Or, write a letter to a public figure who you feel has helped you or a loved one through his or her work. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Why I Started the 'Unstoppable' Social Media Campaign for People with Developmental Disabilities

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I began volunteering through a local developmental disabilities agency when I was 12. I served as a friend and mentor in a program called Circle of Friends at my school. For six years I would spend my summers assisting with an Educational and Recreation program. Through these experiences, I got to know and build friendships with dozens of students growing up with developmental disabilities. One thing I found through both experiences is that others in our schools and our community knew little about people living with developmental disabilities. People were always shocked when I would tell stories about my friends and all they were doing.

Labels are for soup, not kids.

I was told once that to make a difference I had to find something that makes me angry. I didn’t quite understand that until a guy in high school told me that “God never wanted kids with special needs. That’s just not how people should be.” That statement hit me in a way nothing else had before. It was at that moment a spark ignited in my heart. The anger I felt quickly turned into a passion, a mission to show the world people are not defined by their disabilities, nor are they a tragedy. They are individuals just like you and me who deserve the quality of life we expect. It is time the world sees everything they can do.

This has inspired me to share a message about the talents, passion and pizazz that make those I care about “Unstoppable” in all they do.

For Developmental Disability Awareness Month this March, I kicked off a social media campaign to help share stories about those we care about who may be living with a disability, but they’re not letting it hold them back from their dreams. This campaign will continue, as it is a message that needs to be heard.

I have been sharing pictures, stories and videos posted on my Facebook and Twitter pages and encouraging others to share mine and their own with the hashtags #IAmUnstoppable and #BeUnstoppable.

I already have a few supporters in surrounding states, and we hope to take the idea coast to coast. It is time to highlight those who are important to us and change society’s perspective. It is time to remove the definitions, destroy the stereotypes and be unstoppable.

Learn more about Krystian’s campaign on her website, Be Unstoppable.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a conversation you’ve had that changed the way you think about disability, disease or mental illness. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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A Disabled Diva's Thoughts on Beauty and Self-Acceptance

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Disability” and “beauty” do not conventionally go together, or so we might think. But if you Google those words, you will receive about 43,000,000 results. If I can find this many results for beautiful disabled women and men in under 32 seconds, it means it’s out there and it’s everywhere.

Empowerment of our community comes from within first. I understand this may not be an easy task for anyone to undertake, whether you have a disability or not, but acknowledging the beauty of your struggle and yourself is the first step in the right direction. We bring a different perspective on how to live life; that in itself is so beautiful. You are beautiful, and I don’t say that from a place of sympathy; I say it from a place of honesty. Believe it. It’s not because everyone is “beautiful in their own way;” you just are. Keep telling yourself how beautiful you are.

Sometimes I feel that people say “You are beautiful,” while secretly thinking “I want to make this disabled person feel good, because she’s ugly and broken,” or “You’re an inspiration,” that you decided you call yourself “beautiful,” instead of what you really are. We have to change that perception. We must own our beauty and truly know it’s real. I am expressing myself as a human being who thinks my disability is defining in a beautiful way. I will not let society’s perceptions of what is considered “beautiful” dictate my life. There’s no need to call me an “inspiration.” I’m just someone who has found the confidence in life that I feel society tried, so desperately, to take away and deem me ugly and undesirable.

I haven’t always felt so good about what my body had to offer: a curved back, dragging feet, overweight, and a walker that bumps into everything and everyone. I felt ugly often. I also came from a home with an abusive parent who used the phrase “worthless cripple,” on a daily basis. He thought my disability and I were a burden, and I felt it every single day.

When prom, homecoming and every other embarrassing event occurred, I was never getting my door knocked down to be asked. In college, I tried severe diets in an attempt to find boyfriends, and struggled with social anxiety. I realized after having a fling with a boy who didn’t even want to admit to being my boyfriend, that things in my life needed to change.

author standing at the capitol
People didn’t need to change; I did. I needed to toss out the negativity in my life and focus on what I really wanted, acceptance. If I embraced my differences, other people would too, and if they didn’t, then “bye-bye.” I don’t need that negative s*** in my life!

I always love seeing the look on people’s faces when I refer to myself as a “Disabled Diva,” or “hottest disabled gal in Iowa,” because they don’t expect it. “Normal” people struggle with self-love issues too, so when someone who is so blatantly “broken” has owned her attractiveness and said, “Oh, yes, I am beautiful,” it can be nothing short of shocking.

I say: own it, work it out, #Disabilitiesarebeautiful #Confidence #Believeit

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a love letter to another person with your disability, disease or mental illness. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When I Question the Kind of World My Disabled Son Will Grow Up In

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The doctor’s parting words were a gentle but bittersweet reminder to us: “Kids surprise us all the time.” We sat and cried in that room long after the doctor left, and it was not lost on me that the staff never once rushed us. By the time we walked out, the office was closed and the only person who remained was the secretary. We had just learned one of our biggest fears, which we thought we had ruled out three months prior, was most likely part of my son’s condition.

We only gave our parents the full update. We had decided to give ourselves time to digest it all before updating everyone else. And as time went on, I didn’t yet notice that I was avoiding sharing certain videos or pictures that seemed to highlight some of his deficits.

We had hope in that there has been so much awareness about special needs, about how inflammatory the R-word is, plus we’ve seen displays of understanding and compassion toward children like our son, their parents and the adults those children are growing up to be.

So I’ve done a lot of reading up on special needs, intellectual disability and the like. And then I read an article about a school that sent home on a school bus a 7-year-old boy with special needs in a diaper… without pants, after soiling himself. The poor boy had to spend the entire ride being made fun of for being in a diaper. Let’s click pause and actually absorb what was likely happening to him that afternoon: He was not given any loaner pants, or pants from an extra set of clothing (both of which schools should have; all of the schools we’ve dealt with have had both). This was in Washington state in February.

I’m left thinking, “This could not have occurred recently.” Except that it was recent. It was February 16.

Cue hours of me in a perpetual state of “Is this the world our son is facing?” I ache for that boy who so easily could be our son in five, six, seven years. It is so incredibly hard to reconcile that I cannot give him a better world to live in, one filled with the same compassion, acceptance, patience and understanding that he has taught us so much about.

In general, I try to educate myself and read up on this whole world I’ve been introduced to. And after seeing what happened in Washington, I decided to look into the perspectives of other people with disabilities. I Googled “disabled” to see what would pop up. Among those search results was one leading to the thesaurus. According to the English language, my son is and will be: “confined,” “decrepit,” “helpless,” “incapable,” “powerless,” “run-down,” “side-lined,” “wounded,” “weakened” and “wrecked.”

If you’ve read the other article I wrote for The Mighty, you might have noticed my biggest fear for my son is “side-lined.”

But let’s talk about the antonyms, shall we? The only entries include “able,” “healthy,” “strong” and “firm.”

Here’s the thing. Despite the English language, this is what I know about my disabled infant son. He’s taught us patience and compassion, understanding and gratitude. My son has risen above so much more than most people do in their entire lifetimes. Matthew is not even 5 months old, but I can tell you that reading these things gave me the motivation to prove how capable and strong he really is. Because you know what? For all intents and purposes, he should not have survived but for a few days. Every morning, we wake up to a day he was not predicted to have. He’s certainly stronger than I am, and quite the opposite of “decrepit,” “weak” and “incapable.” I am ashamed to see that this is how “disabled” is defined.

In my moment of reflection, a simple statement from a good friend a couple days ago clicked: “I don’t think you should hide how ‘bad’ you think the situation is. I think you should share more.” And then I realized that by not sharing more… we’ve become part of the problem. And it hurts my heart to think I would hide any part of who my children are.

So, let me help you get to know Matthew a little bit better:

We worry about whether his developmental delays will persist through adulthood.

But you know what else?

Because he is unable to hold his head, we get to hold him close to ours all the time.

Because he doesn’t smile, we are able to spot from across the room when he tries with all his might.

Because he doesn’t engage his environment or interact with us, we cherished when he played with my husband for the first time.

Because his feet were deformed, his siblings watched each casting, wrapping, bracing and surgery and learned that despite how badly we don’t want to sometimes, we do things that are uncomfortable and disliked when it is what’s best for us.

Because he so frequently displays such a vacant stare, we celebrate and cherish every time the little boy inside peeks out.

And most importantly, because he has his feeding tube, we received a second chance to watch him live, grow and love.

baby matthew asleep

That’s our sweet baby Matthew. He is who he is, and we are doing everything we can to help him be the best Matthew he can be. As I look at that list describing him, it is clear how far we have yet to go for people with disabilities, a population that now includes our sweet baby boy. The thesaurus describes a person who isn’t him — if that person even exists — so now we are going to prove it wrong.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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