A Maryland Teacher Had Toy Cars Repurposed as Mobility Devices for Her Students With Disabilities

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A Maryland teacher is giving her students a mobility device they will never forget – a car.

B.A. List is a teacher at Rock Creek School in Frederick, MD, which serves local students with severe disabilities. Her students, ages 3 and 4, are nonverbal and have an array of physical and cognitive disabilities.

List and her colleagues constantly adapt toys, instructional materials and communication devices for students. Then they heard about a University of Delaware-sponsored initiative called GoBabyGo!, which modifies battery-operated toy cars for kids with disabilities, and jumped at the chance to participate.

Student in yellow car
With the help of high school students at Frederick County Public Schools’ Career and Technology Center (CTC), the Mobility Project was born. The high school students rigged the toy cars to be operated using a switch instead of the gas pedal or, in some cases, a simple tilt of the head. Other students at the CTC equipped the cars with safety features – such as seat belts and padding – as well as personalized decals for each student.

Each student who receives a car is allowed to keep their car, with the caveat that it be returned to the school once they outgrow it.

Young girl in pink toy car

List said that the high schoolers benefitted just as much as the younger students.

“The high school kids who worked on the cars get to have a chance to interact with students with disabilities,” List said. “They learn that they are just kids and there is nothing to be afraid of!”

Young boy in white toy bus

And for many of List’s students, being able to move around independently was a first.

“It allows them to connect with typical peers socially and … to just be like all the other kids,” List told The Mighty.

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Pope Francis Says Perfect Body 'Obsession' Leads to Discrimination of Disabled People

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On Sunday, in a mass dedicated to disabled people and their caregivers, Pope Francis said society’s “obsession” with perfect bodies has led to the shunning and hiding away of people with disabilities, according to The Associated Press.

“It is thought that sick or disabled persons cannot be happy, since they cannot live the lifestyle held up by the culture of pleasure and entertainment,” Francis said. “In an age when care for one’s body has become an obsession and a big business, anything that is imperfect has to be hidden away, since it threatens the happiness and serenity of the privileged few and endangers the dominant model.”

He went on to say discriminating against people with disabilities is “one of the ugliest things we can do.”

Watch his full statement below:

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A Cross-Country Vacation With Our Son With Complex Disabilities

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family traveling on a hike At home, we’re used to it. We grow blind to the house full of equipment that makes daily life possible. We settle in to the well-oiled routine that makes things, if not easy, well, manageable.

On vacation, all that is stripped away, and we come back down to earth with a bump.

It’s the simple things that become difficult.

How can he sleep safely without his system of supports and his tilting bed? We shove a pile of pillows under the mattress, more pillows around him, then check numerous times a night that he hasn’t slid underneath them and suffocated.

How can he sit safely and comfortably? At home we have a different special supportive chair for him in every room, and one for the garden. Here, he’s lying on the sofa, his body contorted into strange positions or sitting in his wheelchair from dawn to dusk, the only place he’s really secure.

Bathing is a challenge when we stop in hostels with shared showers in a cold cubicle down the corridor.

Without a schedule it’s so easy to lose track of tube-feeds and medications. Without our usual system of bottles and bowls it’s hard to keep a supply of clean syringes and cooled boiled water.

I spend nights sitting up in cold rooms checking his temperature and
piling on blankets – if he gets cold he can stay cold for days.

Yet we start to adapt. We find that a snuggly dressing gown can make a lot of things more comfortable, that his three-wheeled chair copes better than our car in the snow. Propped up on the sofa with cushions he watches his sister cavort around the living room in her Elsa dress and beams at the sun coming in through the picture windows. We manage a special family meal before the restaurant gets busy.

We venture on a boat trip, and he enjoys the feel of the sea wind on his cheeks. We discover our eldest has a talent for photography (or at least
enjoys taking Mummy’s camera and dangling it perilously near an icy
puddle).

We meet people who will move mountains (OK, furniture) to help us get Benjy into their quirky pub-on-a-barge. We eat scones for breakfast, tapas for lunch, fish and chips from the chippy for tea. We make do with more cuddles and less therapy, more talking and less TV.

We get home, exhausted, relieved not to have run out of milk or medications, incredulous that we avoided a trip to A&E, exhilarated to have made the trek across the country and back, to have been out in shorts and out in blizzards, thankful to be back to our home comforts, more aware of how lucky we are to live in a country that provides Benjamin with all that he needs to make home comfortable… and planning to go camping next!

So if you get the opportunity to go on vacation with your disabled loved one, I say, go for it! It might be hard work, it might be nerve-wracking, it might take you out of your comfort zone. But it might also teach you things you didn’t know, about your loved one, about the world around us, about yourself. You might not come back rested, but you’ll come back refreshed.

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

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New TV Ad Targets Trump's Treatment of Disability

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A new political ad airing on TV in battleground states is taking aim at presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s treatment of people with disabilities.

The 60-second spot is being aired by Priorities USA Action, a political action committee that endorses Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, and features Chris and Lauren Glaros, a couple whose daughter Grace was born with spina bifida.

In the ad titled “Grace,” the Glaroses are shown discussing life with their daughter before the video cuts to the once-viral clip of Trump mocking New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who has arthogryposis, a condition that impairs his arm movements.

“You ought to see this guy,” Trump is shown saying of Kovaleski, whom he met a dozen times in the 1980s as Kovaleski covered his business career. In the clip, Trump widens his eyes and splays his arms, seemingly mimicking Kovaleski.

In the ad, Chris and Lauren Glaros are seen reacting to the CNN footage interspersed with their comments.

“The children at Grace’s school all know never to mock her,” Lauren Glaros says in the ad. “And so for an adult to mock someone with a disability is shocking.”

“When I saw Donald Trump mock somebody with a disability, it showed me his soul,” Chris Glaros added. “It showed me his heart. And I didn’t like what I saw.”

Priorities USA Action, which previously aired two spots attacking Trump’s stance on women, will run the Glaros ad in states such as Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Nevada, Iowa and New Hampshire, according to The Los Angeles Times.

“Voters’ knowledge of Trump is a mile wide and an inch deep. As a result, the most devastating attacks against Trump are with the very words that come out of his mouth,” Justin Barasky, communications director of Priorities USA Action, told The Mighty. “We’re still early in our paid media campaign that will ultimately reach millions of voters on a great number of issues that highlight his divisive, dangerous record.”

What’s your take? Let us know in the comments below.

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How We Can Truly Fight Disability Bias in Entertainment

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Editor’s note: On June 7, 2016, Gary Owen agreed to remove the segment in his Showtime special in which he depicts people with intellectual disabilities. Effective immediately, the special will still be available On Demand but will not include this portion. More details here.

During the summer of 2006, Oakland, California was plagued by a rash of murders. I was home from college that year and got invited to participate in a “stop the violence” campaign. The campaign was headed by an organization called the Ella Baker Center that believes all people have a right to justice and respect. The lead organizer was excited because she got a rap star named Mr. Fab to lend his support. Fab was getting a lot of airplay at the time with a song about Vann’s brand shoes. Personally, I thought the song sounded like someone rapping a book report on the subject, but he wanted to assist the campaign and who was I to judge.

A few weeks after the campaign started, I heard more of Mr. Fab’s rapping. The artist seemed to use the phrase “yellow bus” in every song he rapped. He even had a local radio show called “The Yellow Bus Hour.” Mr. Fab wasn’t talking about the yellow buses kids in the country or on sports teams ride. No, he was talking about the short bus that is typically used by special-ed students. “You know that I’m a ‘retard,’ see the yellow bus,” Mr. Fab raps in one of his songs.

By the time I had a full grasp of Mr. Fab’s lyrics I had lost track of my comrades, otherwise I would ask them if they were concerned about the subjects the artist was rapping about. However, later that summer I noticed the possible influence of Mr. Fab’s rhymes on the community. I was packing up my things after a disability rights presentation at a youth program when a student said “My friends and I are just like you, we love to go dumb.” My heart sank, having spent the last hour talking to students about offensive words like “retarded.” I wondered if I needed to bring a thesaurus to my presentations and start going over all the terms that were similarly offensive.

I had a hard time understanding the willingness of advocates to not question someone who raps about yellow buses, but I had seen it happen before. A few years ago, a hip-hop group called the Black Eyed Peas released a song called “Let’s Get Retarded.” Since the band had been labeled in the media as conscious hip-hop, they got a free pass by the press for penning a song with offensive lyrics about intellectual disability.

The Peas themselves didn’t feel completely comfortable with their lyrics, since the version that gets played on the radio is called “Let’s Get it Started.” When I heard the version with the R-word I thought it was a parody. By only putting the version with the R-word on the album, could the Peas be thinking that the people who invest in the CDs don’t have qualms about their word choice because they are diehard fans?

I believe disability is thought of as a “safe” topic to lampoon on a hip-hop track. The backlash from using disability stereotypes isn’t as severe as it would be if racist or homophobic language was used. For instance, if the group released a song called “Let’s Put on Blackface,” I bet there would be some explaining to do.

This double standard of what cultural images are OK to showcase also happens in the world of film. Hollywood seems to reward actors like Sean Penn and Dustin Hoffman for taking on “challenging” roles when they portray people with disabilities, but playing someone of a different gender or race sometimes results in accusations of cultural appropriation. I have heard directors say that they feel they have to cast able-bodied actors as disabled characters so distributors will feel comfortable marketing their films. Yet it’s hard to believe that statement, because one sees relatively unknown actors playing people such as Nelson Mandela. These films still get distributed, not to everywhere in Middle America, but to many large cities. Every famous actor had a breakout role. It’s wrong to assume that audiences are not interested in seeing unknown actors.

It would be interesting if films starring non-disabled actors who portrayed people with disabilities had to face competition from movies that gave a more authentic version of the story. We could call them “crip versions” and release them in movie theaters or on YouTube. Maybe having versions of a so-called “Oscar worthy” film produced by and starring people with disabilities would get Hollywood to reflect on their bias against casting people with disabilities.

Another issue I see when it comes to film and other artistic mediums is the way people with disabilities are shown as “the other.” I often hear directors or painters say, “I’m trying to capture how so-and-so experiences the world.” While I agree that people have different perceptions, artists have a tendency to show people with disabilities as being burdened by isolation all the time. This is particularly true of people with autism or mental illness. Some artists are oblivious to the fact that people with disabilities can have friends and large support networks.

Simply boycotting artists, actors and singers who exploit people with disabilities does nothing to further dialogue. As I am writing this, a petition is circulating to get the TV network Showtime to remove a special by comedian Gary Owen. On the show Owen, uses the word “retarded” and questions whether people with disabilities have sex. Although I get the intent behind the petition, I believe a better way to deal with the issue would be to have a conversation with Owen. I would be curious about his past experience with people with disabilities. Did he interact with them at school or at the arcade growing up? In his act, he says he has a cousin with a disability. I wonder if Gary’s cousin thought his routine was funny, and therefore the comedian decided he had the OK to take the material out to the public.

There is a lot to learn from Owen, but if we ban his art we won’t get to have the conversation. Instead we may create another First Amendment martyr who will prosper at comedy clubs, billed as “the man who took on the Special Olympics.” Another unintended consequence of censorship is that TV execs might take things to the extreme and decide it’s too much of a bother to incorporate characters with disabilities into their product. While this idea seems far-fetched, it could already be happening. Writers and producers who are scared of offending us might already have decided to avoid the topic in their work. Threats of boycotts and censorship might lead to fewer roles for people with disabilities, not more.

Instead of asking for censorship to prevent stereotypes in the media, we could use these incidents to get artists with disabilities more exposure. Imagine if Showtime put together a special where comedians with disabilities confront stand-up comics who mock people with impairments. That would be ratings gold. This pattern could work similarly for musicians. Let’s say some artist made a track using the “R-word.” Instead of boycotting that artist, we could pressure them into giving musicians with disabilities exposure. Getting people to recognize the talents of people with disabilities may have more of a positive effect than any boycott could.

Some advocates want censorship of Owen, because they think people will be influenced by his stand-up routine. However, simply putting a routine on television will not start a new fad where making fun of disabled people is cool. I believe that by calling for more constructive criticism rather than censorship, people with disabilities will gain more. When Mr. Fab was ready to support the “stop the violence” campaign in Oakland, somebody could have asked him why he raps about yellow buses. When the Black Eyed Peas recorded the song “Let’s Get Retarded,” couldn’t someone have asked if there was a less offensive word to put in the song? Someone could also ask the director of “The Theory of Everything” why he felt it was necessary to include a scene where Stephen Hawking is dreaming about walking again at the end of the movie. These questions should not cause embarrassment, but rather lead to reflection.

In progressive circles, one questions race or questions gender. I would love to see activists add the phrase “question ability” and start addressing those stereotypes. If we could get more folks from Hollywood execs to kindergarten teachers to begin to think about their own judgments about people with disabilities, we might see shifts in understanding and acceptance.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a scene or line from a movie, show, or song that’s stuck with you through your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Why We Need Better Public Restrooms for People With Disabilities

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I’m not a fan of public restrooms, but I’ll use them. When you need to go, you need to go!

I’m the type of person who uses tissue to flush and unlock the door. The type of person who makes sure my bag hangs on the back of the door and doesn’t touch the floor (yuck). I’m a lover of automatic sinks and flushes (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write), and I like to use my side or foot to open the door to make my swift exit.

Now that I have a child with disabilities, public restrooms are my arch-nemesis because the powers that be and building standards decided a room with some handrails was sufficient enough to tick a box that said “disabled.”

I remember when it dawned on me that my son had become too big for baby-changing tables. I realized there was no other option but the restroom floor or leaving and rushing home. How had no one thought of this? Does no one care?

Forget about the mother who has to lay her son on a filthy floor.

Don’t worry about a carer’s back while he tries to lift his loved one out of a wheelchair.

Forget about the parent with a wheelchair and specialist equipment trying to maneuver in a tight space.

Out-of-sight, out-of-mind, right?

Restrooms for people with disabilities need a bench, a hoist and more room for wheelchairs, equipment and a parent/carer to assist. Yet this seems to be a big ask.

Ignorance is bliss for many, but it really isn’t for us. We shouldn’t have to put photos on social media of children lying on restroom floors to highlight the need for these facilities. It’s common sense. Why doesn’t everyone see this? My beautiful boy deserves more than a restroom floor and all of those germs.

Thankfully, organizations such as Changing Places and Space to Change are raising awareness and building facilities for people with disabilities. Both organizations have created amazing facilities designed to make going to the restroom much easier for the disabled community. We’re all fighting for the same cause — to be able to take our family members out without having to worry about them lying on a restroom floor or rushing home because there are no appropriate restrooms.

Unfortunately, there are only 840 Changing Places facilities in the UK. This just isn’t enough.

So I ask you to please help by raising awareness for Changing Places and Space to Change by visiting the MyChangingPlace website or reading this petition on Change.org. It would make such a big difference to so many people. We all need to fight for this. I don’t want our loved ones to face this challenge any longer.

If you’re in a position to do something about this, then please take action! And if you’re in my shoes, visit the Changing Places and Space for Changes websites. Talk to fellow campaigners. Send information to local places of interest. Tell them why we need this. Raise awareness.

One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.

Follow this journey on Brody, Me & GDD.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? If you’d like to participate, please check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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