The cast of "The Fortunate Mr. Spencer" on set.

Adults With Learning Difficulties Crowdfund to Make Murder Mystery Movie

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In Aylesbury, U.K., a group of adults with learning difficulties are filming a short murder mystery flick — and they’re turning to Kickstarter to fund it.

“Adults with learning difficulties and special needs are one of the least supported groups in the U.K.,” the film’s campaign page reads. “Once people pass the age of 18 the provision and funding fades out.”

That’s where London-based theater and film company Creating Freedom came in.

Partnering with a local support group, “I Have A Voice Too,” Creating Freedom writer-directors Siggi Holm and Maya Lindh of Simple Life Productions recruited a handful of adult actors with a variety of learning disabilities to be cast in the 25-minute “The Fortunate Mr. Spencer.” The film’s Kickstarter teases the film, featuring “an English Country House… perfect manners and starched shirts… the tinkle of glass and creaking of doors… tension, passion, mistrust and suspicious glances.”

Production of the film, which started in 2014, ground to a halt twice after funding fell through. So far, they’ve raised about 70 percent of the $4,213 they need to roll tapes for three more days of work on location. Kickstarter has tabbed the film a “Project We Love.”

Writer-director Holm said he’s observed a measurable difference in his cast.

“It has been amazing to follow the actors from when we first started doing our drama classes to where they are now and see how much they have grown as actors, having gained so much more confidence,” Holm told The Mighty in an email.

If the film is fully funded on Kickstarter, Holm said he hopes to screen it at a local theater and at various film festivals worldwide.

The Kickstarter campaign for “The Fortunate Mr. Spencer” is open for donations until Monday, June 6. The project also has a Facebook page.

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I'm the Student Holding a Hunger Strike on Princeton's Campus for Disability Rights

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When I was 9 years old, I struggled to read Dr. Seuss books. I knew I had severe attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities, but I had big goals. I wanted to go to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. Like me, President Wilson had difficulties with reading and writing his entire life, but he accomplished so much.

Two decades later, my reading level isn’t much better, but I did get accepted to the Ph.D. program at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, after having attended McGill University and Yale University.

But not too long after I got to Princeton, I became nervous. Scared, actually. Because I saw the patterns around me. I heard what professors and staff had to say. As a student with an invisible disability, I felt I wouldn’t fit in unless I blended in. But when I tried to blend in, I lost hold of why I was accepted into Princeton in the first place, what made me unique: the way I think.

Throughout my time there, I was told that just because I was admitted to Princeton, that did not mean I would be accepted. To be welcomed, to fit the Princeton mold, I felt I would have to hide and downplay my disabilities as much as possible. I had to fake it until I made it, and I thought I could, but I was wrong.

You see, Princeton has a problem: It treats visible and invisible disabilities differently. Disabilities like mine aren’t part of its culture.

Princeton was happy about the parts of my disability that benefited them — my creativity, my ability to make connections and see the things that were hiding in plain sight of my neurotypical colleagues and peers — but administrators didn’t want to deal with the tougher side of my disabilities. For example, I needed a low-distraction learning and testing environment not only because I have ADHD, but also because I rely on computerized auxiliary aids that have auditory components like a smart pen for note-taking, Dragon Dictate and text-to-speech software.

When I tried to speak up about disability harassment and discrimination (some of which was unintentional but none-the-less problematic), I thought I would be protected. After all, I just wanted the issues to be addressed, and I wasn’t looking for trouble.

During my last semester, administrators systematically removed previously approved accommodations; consequentially, I was held to a higher standard than my non-disabled peers. I was terminated because I didn’t meet Princeton’s “academic standards” for a comprehensive exam by less than 4 percentage points (I earned a B rather than a B+).

Rather than being accommodated, I was punished. For something I couldn’t help. For things that weren’t critical to my program of study. For the very things I’d disclosed when I applied to Princeton.

Princeton was wrong. And it’s OK to be wrong. But it’s not OK to ignore complaints, to violate my right to confidentiality or to create blatantly discriminatory policies — all of which happened to me in my last semester at Princeton. Perhaps the cycle of discrimination and retaliation could have been prevented had I listened to my gut earlier and more often. I didn’t sufficiently share what was happening with my professors (and others at Princeton who may have been willing and able to help). I didn’t know who to trust, I was scared of further retaliation, and I couldn’t emotionally handle, let alone communicate, the depth or breadth of the pain, humiliation, vulnerability and anxiety I was experiencing.

Based on my experience with people from other schools, my experience at Princeton is, sadly, all too common at colleges and universities across the country.

Right now, Princeton doesn’t have enough incentive to change; they will do what they need to do to look good. And that’s not unique to Princeton. Recent actions at other universities have shown that people in power turn a blind eye to discrimination of marginalized students groups because they’re comfortable with the status quo, and by extension, the biases in their campus climates. Many college administrators are not living their values. In response, students are protesting, occupying presidents’ offices, etc. on campuses across the country. But I fear my current efforts will have limited impact without the assistance of the disability community, their families and friends. Please join me on Facebook and Twitter in pressuring Princeton to identify, discuss and remove the barriers that led Eve Woodman, Princeton’s longtime head of the office of disability services, to warn me throughout my tenure at Princeton that invisible disabilities like mine are “not part of the zeitgeist of Princeton.”

I went to Princeton because I want to change the world for the better. And even though I didn’t want this to happen, my current situation and my academic affiliation gives me a chance to have a meaningful impact.

That’s why I’m holding a hunger strike on Princeton’s campus — to underscore the need for change.

The past few years have been terrible for me, but if there’s a silver lining, it’s that I have become more aware of the individuals and groups who have been hurt and oppressed by my own inauthenticity and hubris. For too long I have been ashamed and inauthentic with myself and others about the connection between my anxiety, ADHD and print disability and my Princeton experience.

I can no longer be silent and forgo the opportunity I have been given to help catalyze serious change. I am hoping you will join me in ending the academic stigma around “thinking” differently and “mental” disorders and ask Princeton to reflect deeply on how its policies, procedures and institutional structure and culture is compromising the rights of people with disabilities.

There’s nothing wrong with the way I think. In fact, the reason I was dismissed is the same reason I was admitted: I think differently. And that’s a good thing.

Update 5/29: Princeton University provided the following response to The Mighty’s request for comment:

Out of respect for her privacy and the confidentiality of the processes we follow, we are not willing to discuss her case.  The University has always been sympathetic and attentive to Ms. Barr’s concerns.  We believe this matter has been handled fairly and consistently with the established University processes for providing all reasonable accommodations for disabilities, and for addressing complaints.

The Office of Disability Services (ODS) has a careful and holistic process through which their staff work individually with each student to provide necessary academic accommodations. The overwhelming majority of accommodation requests are approved by ODS. The Office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity & Diversity has a well-publicized grievance process that gives thorough consideration to any complaints about discrimination of any kind.

Please also refer to the Graduate School site, which clearly outlines the criteria for candidates to continue toward completion of the degree and reasons for the termination of enrollment.

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. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To My Daughter With Learning Differences, Whom I Once Tried to Change

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Thank you for being my child. I need you. Thank you for being you.

Although I never thought I’d say this, I’m grateful for what we’ve learned from the challenges surrounding your ADHD, dyslexia and sensory issues. While I know for you, this has made school difficult and life challenging, I want to go on record and say you have made me a better person.

I spent years wishing you were different. I didn’t want you to have to suffer. I have to admit it, and we’ve talked about it before… it’s not easy to parent a child who is struggling. You become a mom who is struggling. You envy the kids who are “thriving.” You start to resent the other moms. You close down and protect and build walls. I did all of that.

But you know what else I did? I fought for you. I fought with you. We stood together and reckoned with the future. Sometimes our fists were up, and sometimes our hearts were open, but we were in it. We were strong and courageous. Together.

I told you that you could do anything, and you listened. You did it. High school graduation is upon us, and you are headed to college.

daughter reading as a child

I think back to kindergarten and the teacher telling me you didn’t quite understand the letters. In second grade when you were formally diagnosed with a learning disability, they kept saying, “She understands, she’s so smart, she just can’t decode the letters,” or “She knows the material, she just can’t get it on paper.”

While often we were focusing on the decoding and the “treatment,” we tucked away the truth — “She’s so smart, she understands” — and we believed. I hope and pray that’s what you heard.

We had years of doctor appointments and therapy and meetings at school and tutoring and scary trips to the neurologist and so many questions. We fought for extra time on tests and notes written out. The paperwork alone takes up a whole room.

We were blessed with a school district that had resources and teachers who understood. Except for a few losers. Remember the one time we were so happy you got a D- we jumped up and down and cheered? Remember how I called your one teacher an “a**hole who doesn’t understand”? Well, I stand by that. Some people don’t get it. But because of you, I do get it. I am so grateful to be firmly planted on the side of understanding and compassion.

You can always be assured we’ve got your back.

Oh, how I worried about you. I sought to understand you. I didn’t understand you. I cried and felt sorry for myself. My sense of entitlement was called into question. I was complaining to Dad, and he said, “It’s not about you.” That changed the way I parent and live.

In an effort to get you what you needed, I called in the experts and read the books and prayed in a way that required surrender and trust. You gave me courage, and you taught me to ask for help.

You are heading off to college next fall, and while I know I’m not always a perfect mother, I can honestly say you are the perfect child for me.

I read a quote the other day that said, “Why do you keep trying to change the people God sent to change you?” This hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m sorry for trying to change you.

I think at times I might have justified my desire for you to change by explaining that it would just be easier for you if you were “like everybody else.”

I take it back.

Can I take it back?

You are a gift. You have changed me for good.

This is only the beginning. Now you get to go out and bless the world. I will be cheering you on forever. I’m thankful I have been close enough to see you… a unique, beautiful creation… becoming.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is the best advice your mom gave you while growing up with a disease, disability 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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Disability Advocates Blast Online Dating Site for Posing an 'Offensive' Question

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Advocates in the disability community are blasting online dating site OkCupid for posing a question in its screening process some are calling “inappropriate, offensive and discriminatory” — “Would the world be a better place if people with low IQs were not allowed to reproduce?”

Mencap, a UK charity that works with people with learning disabilities, has started a campaign calling on OkCupid to apologize and remove the question. A question like this, they say, contributes to the public’s current perception that people with learning disabilities can’t lead lives like everyone else.

Ciara Lawrence, a spokesperson and campaigner for Mencap, started the petition asking OkCupid to remove the question from its site. The petition has almost 1,000 signatures since it was posted Thursday morning.

“As someone with a learning disability who is married and thinking about maybe having children in the future, I find this question inappropriate, offensive and discriminatory. It should not matter who you are when you have children, just that you will love them and do everything you can to raise them in the right way,” Lawrence said in a press release put out by Mencap. “I know how important it is for people with a learning disability to have positive role models in their life, and be encouraged to fulfill our dreams.”

Ciara Lawrence holds up a sign saying "NOT OK Cupid."
Ciara Lawrence, creator of the OkCupid petition.

Amy Clarke, also a Mencap spokesperson living with a learning disability, said in the press release, “By asking the question, they are making it seem like it is OK to say yes, which it is not. If they had asked the same question about people of different races or sexuality, there would be outrage, and it should be the same for people with a learning disability.”

When asked to comment, an OkCupid spokesperson told The Mighty, “Our question system is designed to help potential matches understand the interests and values of other users. Questions range from mundane to provocative, and they specifically allow you to determine your potential compatibility with someone else and to avoid people whose viewpoints you strongly disagree with.” 

What do you think about OkCupid’s question? Tell us in the comments below:

h/t The Sun

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Dear Student With a Learning Disability: Your Future Is Brighter Than You Know

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When I was a kid I swore I’d never work as a teacher because I didn’t like school all that much. The social aspect I handled just fine, but I found the work to be too much at times. Especially math. I’ve struggled with math my entire life. Which is funny when you consider my dad worked as an actuary, and my siblings were both academically advanced. I like to say that by the time I came along, all the numbers and logic genes had been taken. Plus I had a learning disability that went undiagnosed for many years.

Learning anything new was a challenge for me, and I felt like I lacked something my fellow peers had – the ability to know and understand the right answer. I also struggled with keeping myself organized and was constantly losing papers I needed to turn in. I remember one time in third grade we had an assignment to work on a small hand sewing project. This was a long-term project that we’d work on every day during story time. One day I discovered I had lost the materials (they must have landed in the same vortex as my lost homework and retainer) and panicked. Thinking that I wouldn’t be noticed, I pantomimed working on this sewing project, my hands under my desk, my head down. Of course I was caught. My memory becomes a bit fuzzy as to what happened next, but I still remember being embarrassed. My grades suffered due to my lack of organization and inability to recall facts. It wasn’t for a lack of trying though. I remember studying hard but still coming up short.

As I grew older, my struggles continued. Mostly in math, but soon I added biology to the list. For biology I obtained the book the summer before class started and began reading. That’s the thing about struggling… eventually you figure out how to make things nominally better. And you follow through. Upon high school graduation, my grades were a tiny bit better. But the struggle remained.

I moved away to college, a place known for its intense academic environment. And wouldn’t you know, the darnedest thing happened. I was passing all my classes. At the end of my second year of college I had accomplished something I had never done in all my years of school… I made the honor roll (in college they call it the dean’s list, which sounds even cooler). By the time I graduated college I had two dean’s list appearances under my belt.

So how did I suddenly accomplish academic success after years of struggling? Ah, young Padawan, your answer is in your question. If it weren’t for my struggle I wouldn’t have learned coping strategies that would help me be successful in college. Being able to tape record lectures and playing them back
later – a strategy I picked up in high school – was one of my many lifelines. Acknowledging my learning disability without shame was crucial to my later success. Oh, and that thing about not wanting to teach because of school struggles? I’ve worked in tutoring and child care for the last decade. See, I have a useful tool for the classroom. Empathy for kids who are struggling. Kids who sit in classrooms every day and feel “stupid.” Just like I did all those years ago.

So, dear student, if you are struggling with a learning disability and have dreams of college, fear not. You are learning now the tools you’ll need later for college success. And that will put you ahead of the class.

I hope this encouraged you. Please share with anyone you know who is struggling in school.

Follow this journey on Be Anxious About Nothing.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to your teenaged self when you were struggling to accept your differences. 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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Actors With Disabilities Take Center Stage at the Globe Theatre

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Learning difficulties won’t stop them acting Shakespeare“Unless you’re given a fair chance then they will not know what you, the individual, can do.” Meet the actors with Down’s Syndrome and other learning difficulties challenging expectations by performing Shakespeare.

Posted by Channel 4 News on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

 

The Blue Apple Theatre group is an organization based in Winchester, England that presents high quality theater, dance and film by performers with learning disabilities.

On Monday the group performed a Shakespeare play at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe Theatre in London, and they allowed Channel 4 News cameras to tag along before they took the stage. The actors gave viewers a sneak peak at some of their performances, and they also chatted about how acting has improved their lives.

“I think people out there in the world need to see that people are capable of doing Shakespeare, even with a learning disability like we’ve got,” actor Laurie Morris said in the video.

Fellow actor Tommy Jessop also discussed his take on the disability benefit cuts that have recently made the news in the U.K., noting that it’s not helping people with disabilities find jobs.

“Unless you’re given a fair chance, then they will not know what you, the individual, can do,” actor James Bensfield added.

Watch the video above for behind-the-scenes footage.


Have you seen the first film with a national release to star a person with Down syndrome? Check out the film “Where Hope Grows” today!

Available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.

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