Honoring the ADA and the History, Art, and Culture of the Disability Community with the Smithsonian Institution and the Kennedy Center

The weekend of July 24 through 26, 2015 brings a nationwide celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26th, 1990, capping decades of legal efforts and activism to end discrimination against people with disabilities. To honor this historic event, leaders in the disability rights community, advocates, community members and politicians will gather on the grounds of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History to mark this historic moment and highlight the ADA’s ongoing legacy in American life.

The Smithsonian Institution’s celebration will start on Friday, July 24, 2015, on the terrace of the National Museum of American History with a large discussion stage where topics such as the passage of the ADA, legal issues, advocacy, employment and the future of disability rights will be explored. Also on hand will be exhibits by federal agency partners and workshops in theater, dance, music and visual arts. Visitors can view a modified Corvette race car. There will be a number of hands-on activities and demonstrations. The museum store will host a trunk show of items from artists with disabilities. The celebration will start winding down on Sunday at noon with the ADA birthday party and a reading of a letter from George H.W. Bush along with a visit from the legendary ADA25 Legacy Bus, which has been traveling the country.

Inside the museum, the celebration will continue with a showcase of objects from the national collections that capture the significance and legacy of the ADA through the stories of four people. There will be a film festival of documentaries from filmmakers with disabilities followed by a discussion and a facilitated conversation on Latinos and the ADA. Additionally, actor and performance artist Mat Fraser will perform his one-person, original piece, “Cabinet of Curiosities: How Disability Was Kept in a Box.” Fraser’s creative take on attitudes about disability is equal parts cabaret, incisive lecture and humorous commentary on museum displays of human difference.

From July 16 through 26, 2015, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 40th anniversary of VSA with 11 days of free programming highlighting the rich history, art and culture of the disability community. VSA, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program of the Kennedy Center, is dedicated to providing opportunities for people with disabilities of all ages across the globe to learn through, participate in and enjoy the arts.

Kennedy Center performing arts programming will include ten Millennium Stage performances by artists with disabilities opening with comedian Josh Blue and ending on July 26th with a performance by Mary Lambert. It will also feature a dance party and film screening for the inaugural year of TiLT, a youth multimedia competition themed on the disability experience.

In addition, seven art exhibitions by visual artists with disabilities will be on display at the Kennedy Center. Highlights include the Focus Forward exhibition, which features work from previous VSA Emerging Young Artists, and an exhibit examining Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s contributions to the passage of the ADA legislation with two portraits from the VSA Permanent Art Collection of Senator Kennedy by well-known artists Andy Warhol and Jamie Wyeth. The other exhibits showcase the work of photographers whose art brought disability pride to the public’s attention, universal design, the VSA Permanent Art Collection and a look at eight individuals whose lives were impacted by VSA.

The ADA is not the end of the fight for equal rights for the disability community but it was a historic step that should be honored and celebrated. Over 75,000 people are expected to join in this celebration and we hope that you will be one of them. For additional information on both celebrations go to http://www.2540celebration.com/ (website will launch June 4, 2015) or email access@si.edu.

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The Arc: Conversation Guide and Pathways to Justice™ Video

This easy-to-use tool can be used to inform criminal justice professionals – law enforcement, victim service providers and attorneys – about the need for effective disability-related training in your state or community!

NCCJD’s new “Pathways to Justice™” video highlights challenges faced by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the criminal justice system. This powerful tool educates criminal justice professionals, including law enforcement, victim advocates, legal professionals and others in the criminal justice system about cracks in the system that can have devastating effects. Only 4 minutes long, it’s a great conversation starter to use with local police departments, victim advocacy agencies, prosecutor’s and public defender’s offices and others to introduce the topic and explain why effective, ongoing training is needed.

From failure to community: College dropouts find new direction in L’Arche

Note: This is the first story in a series titled Where are they now? Life after L’Arche, which features the impact L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C., had on former assistants’ careers, faith, relationships, and lifestyles.

It was Lent, and Michael Carlisle was depressed. His plan to study philosophy and become a professor of Catholic sacred theology had fizzled out three years earlier. He was holding steady with a maintenance job at Cabela’s, an outdoor sports equipment retailer, but he was struggling to care much about life.

It was Lent, and L’Arche Heartland in Overland Park, Kan., was full of life. When Michael arrived at prayer night there was joyful shouting and a lot of laughter. The community had decided to forgo their usual dinner and eat only rice and beans so they could be in solidarity with L’Arche in Argentina, sending the dollars they saved on their meal to support those who had less.

Michael was there at the invitation of Fred Kaffenberger, a friend he’d met through involvement in a Catholic lay group called Communion and Liberation.

Twenty-five years earlier, Fred was in a position similar to Michael’s. His lack of motivation for studying computer science landed him on academic probation, and eventually he dropped out of college completely.

“I realized I couldn’t get the discipline and skills I needed by myself,” Fred said. “I figured if someone else was dependent on me I could do it. I could learn.”

He wrote to three different organizations inquiring about volunteer work. L’Arche was the only one that wrote back. So, knowing nothing of L’Arche’s founder Jean Vanier and with no particular knowledge or interest in disability services, he set off to be part of the community in Washington, D.C.

The year was 1988, and L’Arche’s home on Ontario Road in Adams Morgan was just five years old. In December of that year, Fred became one of the founding members of Euclid House, along with Dottie Bockstiegel, Wendy Moore, Gene Sampson, Glenn Houser, and Barbara Palmer. *

Fred celebrated his 21st birthday in L’Arche, and the trajectory of his life quickly began to change. He read voraciously during his spare time, consuming the works of such authors as Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor. He and his housemates volunteered at the Potter’s House, a coffee shop with a service and social justice bent. They worked, prayed, and played together.

Early in 1989, Fred and other assistants traveled to Quebec for a retreat with Jean Vanier where L’Arche’s founder impressed upon him the underlying spirit of the organization.

“I didn’t have a lot of emotional intelligence,” Fred confessed. “I learned a lot about how to be with other people.” This wasn’t always easy. His housemates Gene and Glenn had spent their childhoods and their adult lives prior to L’Arche in Forest Haven, an institution with a notorious reputation where they’d had to keep their wits sharp and look out for themselves. At times, the housemates’ rougher edges caused conflict. But it was authentic, and it got Fred out of bed each day.

Growing up, Fred’s family was part of the Christian Family Movement, a Catholic network focused on family relationships and living out their faith through action. It was a strong foundation, but reflecting back Fred muses that his faith was perhaps a bit rigid.

In L’Arche, he took a closer took at the Beatitudes, eight blessings recorded as part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He’s quick to admit that many of L’Arche’s lessons took a long time to sink in (or, in the case of chore skills that would make him a better husband, never really stuck); but in L’Arche his faith was softened and deepened.

“The Beatitudes stayed with me because faith is about the love that Christ has for us that makes us free and allows us to grow,” he said. “It isn’t so much about what I do for other people, or the accomplishments that I have, but remembering that gaze on me.

After a year in L’Arche, Fred was ready to take on college again. This time, he focused on English. He completed a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s, and then a certificate in teaching. Lessons from L’Arche stuck with him when he taught at an all-girls Catholic school in the South Bronx after graduate school and in every job he’s had since.

“When someone is doing something to me or is against me, it’s because they have a great wound,” Fred said.

Now, L’Arche is back in his life in a way he never expected.

In the spring of 2014, Fred and his wife, Karen, lost their home on a short sale. Plus, Fred was looking for a better job. To say the least, it was a challenging time for their family.

Fred had visited the fledgling L’Arche Heartland community once soon after leaving D.C., but hadn’t connected since. While looking for work Fred discovered that the community was accepting applications for assistants. He thought Michael might be a good fit.

It turned out Fred was right. Michael moved in to Mercy House, one of Heartland’s five homes, in June 2014. At first, Michael thought it would just be a better job than working retail. He now sees that it’s a whole life—“a really beautiful life”—that he can imagine living for several years or more.

“I’ve learned to really care about life again,” Michael said. “Living here has forced me to live outside of myself and to enjoy life, to see the value in it, in myself, and in the people around me.”

Fred and Karen now live in the L’Arche Heartland neighborhood and are being drawn in to the community through their friendship with Michael. Fred reflects that it’s taken him a long time to see the value of community and the value of people more than accomplishments.

“But you know,” he said, “If it weren’t for failure, a lot of good stuff would never have opened up like it has.”

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PBS: Shedding a limiting label to embrace a new identity as artist

If you attend an art show at Arc of the Arts, a studio in Austin, Texas, you’ll find paintings and drawings, jewelry and flash animation. The studio houses over 60 artists a week, all of whom are adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I think there is this misunderstanding that people with disabilities can’t create art that is just as good as any of the art out there and so I think highlighting that at a lot of the shows is eye-opening,” said Andrew Grimes, lead art instructor at Arc of the Arts.

Each artist that passes weekly through their doors receives comprehensive, individualized instruction.

“We really don’t focus in on the disability too much, it’s more about their interests in the art,” said Ann Alva Wieding, the program manager at the studio. “The lessons are really what you’d find in a college level art course. We’ve just slowed down the pace a little bit and we do some repetition with it.”

The artists sell their pieces, oftentimes learning the marketing skills to help promote the work that they create. Wieding says that having a final product really boosts self-esteem.

“For a lot of people with disabilities, they’ve had a label most of their life. Now, suddenly, they become an artist and they’re not carrying around that label anymore.”

People with developmental disabilities can struggle to find educational opportunities or a professional outlet, but Arc of the Arts believes the “bridge” they’ve created to the community can help fill that void.

“It’s a great way of self-expression, especially for some people who have communication disabilities,” said Wieding. “They may not have a very strong voice with which to share their story, but they have now a medium that they can display what they are really interested in to the world.”

NYT Opinion: Expand Pre-K, Not A.D.H.D.

BERKELEY, Calif. — The writing is on the chalkboard. Over the next few years, America can count on a major expansion of early childhood education. We embrace this trend, but as health policy researchers, we want to raise a major caveat: Unless we’re careful, today’s preschool bandwagon could lead straight to an epidemic of 4- and 5-year-olds wrongfully being told that they have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Introducing millions of 3- to 5-year-olds to classrooms and preacademic demands means that many more distracted kids will undoubtedly catch the attention of their teachers. Sure, many children this age are already in preschool, but making the movement universal and embedding transitional-K programs in public schools is bound to increase the pressure. We’re all for high standards, but danger lurks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics now endorses the idea that the diagnosis of A.D.H.D. can and should begin at age 4, before problems accumulate. In fact, Adderall and other stimulants are approved for treatment of attentional issues in children as young as 3. Continue reading NYT Opinion: Expand Pre-K, Not A.D.H.D.

WashPost: Ethan Saylor’s legacy – Frederick deputies learn how to interact with those with IQs under 70

Ethan Saylor’s name was not on the curriculum.

But it was clear his death was the reason two dozen Frederick County deputies were sitting in a classroom Tuesday, learning how best to interact with people with intellectual disabilities.

A year after the 26-year-old man with Down syndrome died while three off-duty county deputies forced him from a movie theater — an event that remains the subject of a civil lawsuit — the sheriff’s office has adopted a training program that focuses specifically on individuals with IQs of less than 70. Until now, the training the deputies received was limited to their interactions with people with autism and mental illness.

“After the unfortunate incident with Ethan Saylor, we heard the public, and we heard that there was a demand for this type of training,” Frederick County Sheriff Charles A. Jenkins said. Continue reading WashPost: Ethan Saylor’s legacy – Frederick deputies learn how to interact with those with IQs under 70

Jan Wintrol – Washingtonian of the Year: Leading the Way in Autism Education

2014-1-14-wintrol

[from the Washingtonian] Kids come to Ivymount from 11 local jurisdictions—and often have been bullied. The education plans they’re required to follow are based on a variety of emotional and educational needs, and no two are the same. One-on-one attention and data tracking to evaluate programs are of the utmost importance to Wintrol. Some students attend Ivymount for a short time before they’re mainstreamed; others stay till they’re 21. Those 16 and older do community work so they can develop skills that might help them land jobs once they leave.

Students and graduates who can are working—helping with hospitality and security at NIH, tracking down delinquent tax revenue for Montgomery County, labeling ice-cream containers at Moorenko’s warehouse. “They have to live in the community,” Wintrol says. “They can’t stay in the Ivymount bubble forever.”

The school’s programs aren’t kept in the Ivymount bubble, either. Staff does outreach to teachers and families, and in the next few years a program at the historic Stevens School in DC’s Foggy Bottom will train local special-education teachers.

Some people who hear about Ivymount tell Jan Wintrol she’s a saint, but she says, “It’s not magic, just a lot of hard work.”

In the ‘silent prison’ of autism, Ido speaks out

The high school student’s ‘Ido in Autismland’ is part memoir and part protest, a compelling message to educators on how to teach people such as him.

By Thomas Curwen, LA Times, 8:00 AM PST, December 21, 2013

I  t-h-i-n-k …

Ido Kedar sits at the dining room table of his West Hills home. He fidgets in his chair, slouched over an iPad, typing. He hunts down each letter. Seconds pass between the connections.

… A-u-t-i-s-m-l-a-n-d …

He coined the word, his twist on Alice’s Wonderland.

“C’mon,” says his mother, Tracy. “Sit up and just finish it, Ido. Let’s go.”

He touches a few more keys, and then, with a slight robotic twang, the iPad reads the words he cannot speak.

I think Autismland is a surreal place.

For most of his life, Ido has listened to educators and experts explain what’s wrong with him. Now he wants to tell them that they had it all wrong.

Last year, at the age of 16, he published “Ido in Autismland.” The book — part memoir, part protest — has made him a celebrity in the autism world, a young activist eager to defy popular assumptions about a disorder that is often associated with mental deficiency.

He hopes that the world will one day recognize the intelligence that lies behind the walls of his “silent prison,” behind the impulsivity and lack of self-control.

I want people to know that I have an intact mind.

Yet Ido gets nervous easily and likes to retreat to his room or to a cooking program on television. At one point, after answering a few questions, he steps outside to pace beside the family swimming pool.

He plucks a rose and puts its petals into his mouth.

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Governor O’Malley Forms Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Development Disabilities

ANNAPOLIS, MD  – Governor Martin O’Malley today issued an Executive Order to improve training to help law enforcement personnel, paramedics, and other first responders better respond to situations involving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (“IDD”). The Executive Order creates the Maryland Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (the “Commission”). Governor O’Malley also announced that he would name Dr. Timothy P. Shriver, Chairman & CEO of Special Olympics, as Chairman of the Commission.

Governor O’Malley created the Commission in part as a response to the circumstances surrounding the death of Frederick County resident Ethan Saylor, who happened to have Down syndrome. Dr. Shriver, a Maryland resident, has been designated the Chairman of this commission based on his deep experience in working in communities to build understanding, acceptance and inclusion of people with IDD. Continue reading Governor O’Malley Forms Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Development Disabilities