Inclusion as a word paints a broad brushstroke for what a free society hopes to stand for.
The inaugural Inclusion Festival, coming July 28-29 to the Mountain Sky Festival Grounds in Jermyn, Pennsylvania, follows that path as a “sensory-friendly music, arts, yoga, and wellness festival for all abilities.” Expect a truly ground-breaking approach to a music and arts festival that encompasses, promotes and celebrates ALL.
As described by organizers Amy Pinder and Leah Barron, the festival is “the nation’s first outdoor, multi-day annual event that celebrates neurodiversity, promotes understanding and acceptance, provides holistic educational opportunities, and encourages healthy lifestyle choices that extend far beyond the festival grounds.”
Both Pinder, a speech language pathologist, and Barron, a special education teacher, were inspired by their experiences working in the field. They believe that music festivals hold strong potential to strengthen self-awareness, encourage exploration of passions and interests, build relationships, and connect with inner purpose to guide and sustain positive lifestyle choices. And, they also strongly believe that a festival built around the idea of diversity and openness not only benefits those with special needs but creates better understanding among the general population.
Asked about the driving force behind the festival, Pinder, whose work as a therapist primarily revolves around those with autism, says: “We ALL have special gifts and talents and we ALL have a purpose. I believe it is our responsibility as a society to support one another (with love, understanding, respect and compassion) along our path to identify, cultivate, and actualize our purpose so that individually, and collectively, we can experience true happiness and be free from fear and anxiety.”
The Inclusion Festival is being presented by All Inclusive Productions, in partnership with Accessible Festivals, a non-profit organization. All Inclusive Productions is a Benefit Corporation that offers educational and recreational activities for all ages and abilities through inclusive, immersive experiences designed to improve the wellbeing of individuals with special needs and their families.
The festival promises two full days of outstanding live music from a host of diverse bands and notable singer/songwriters. Among the scheduled performers: The Hoppin’ Boxcars, Michael Korins, The Merry Rockers, Reef The Lost Cauze, Camille WHO?, three-time Grammy nominee Brady Rymer, and Max Muscato (founder of “Rock Autism”).
This very first event from Pinder and Barron was five years in the making, starting with a dream and eventually turning to reality last summer. Its culmination takes place in just two months. The goal of having something for everyone in an all-inclusive format is ground-breaking on many levels; and the two have plans to take their show on the road to other parts of the country.
“Leah and I met five years ago at a music festival and quickly discovered we had similar interests,” says Pinder, a native of Buffalo, N.Y. who now calls Central New Jersey home. “We decided last August to do the festival and are excited at the response and participation.”
The festival not only highlights incredible music over its two days, but will have areas for people to take quiet breaks, relax and take in a variety of educational and experiential activities in its Wellness and Empowerment Villages. Inclusion offers:
- Educational Wellness Workshops
- Immersive, Experiential Activities
- Live Music
- Motivational Speakers
- Specialized Food, Craft and Product Vendors
- Community Resource Fair
- Therapeutic Consultations
- Vocational and Volunteer Opportunities
(More details found here.)
The Inclusion Festival is being held on the Mountain Sky Festival Grounds, a popular location for a variety of outdoor summer events. Pinder and Barron are hoping to draw attendees from such nearby metropolitan areas as Scranton, Wilkes Barre, Syracuse, Philadelphia, New York, Rochester and Buffalo.
Hard work aside to put on such an event, Pinder smiles when she admits “this doesn’t seem like a business. It’s a passion!”
Memories of summer camp last a lifetime. Just ask Alabama native Tess Burford who, despite being born as a congenital transhumeral amputee, never allowed that fact to get in the way of her love for the outdoors, physical fitness, and the pure joys of a camp experience in the mountains of North Carolina.
Tess was so passionate about camp that she graduated from being a camper to becoming a counselor. Today, she is an active board member of the very same Adventure Amputee Camp (AAC) she first attended as a 10-year old.
Along with Karen Hall (President and Camp Director) and a host of incredible volunteers, Tess is a true adaptive warrior! She spends countless hours overseeing the marketing and messaging of this amazing nonprofit organization that holds its one-week summer camp sessions in the picturesque mountain region of Bryson City, North Carolina.
Located at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, the camp offers extraordinary adventures to 35 lucky kids who literally pay nothing to attend save for a $25 registration fee. A winter camp takes place at the Wintergreen Ski Resort in Wintergreen, Virginia.
“Nantahala graciously sets aside dates and about 8-10 cabins for the 5 days we are there each summer,” says Tess. “AAC pays for that privilege through the many wonderful donations we receive.”
The camp must be doing something right, since it’s been an ongoing passion project for 20+ years. Originally started in 1995 as the Amputees Coming Together Kids Camp by Missy Wolf-Burke and her husband, Bob Burke, the founders reorganized in 2006 and became AAC.
Activities during the camp are designed to provide kids with amputations the opportunity to stretch their reality and imagination of what is possible to achieve. Activities range from the sedentary and entertaining to the more challenging, both physically and mentally. Kids partake in adaptive basketball, swimming, yoga, rope and zip line, tennis and more. They even get to experience a first-day, white water river rafting adventure.
There are normally 15 counselors at the summer camp, so a ratio of about 2:1 with the 35 campers. The kids range in age from 8-17, with a nice mix so that no one age group feels isolated. The AAC winter camp, a relatively new addition, attracts between 6-8 kids to a location in Wintergreen, Virginia.
“AAC has been a big part of my life ever since I was a kid,” says Tess. “Being able to take risks and step outside my comfort zone as a camper really helped my confidence a lot as I was growing up.”
Tess has fond memories of accomplishments she once thought never possible. They include her conquering the ropes course, a 40-foot high challenge that was made easier by hearing her fellow campers cheering her from below.
Tess credits her parents with an upbringing that felt very normal and gave her the confidence she needed as she became a teenager. She almost never wore a prosthetic for her arm while growing up.
“By high school, my arm was starting to hurt more and since I loved to run, I needed some sort of prosthetic,” says Tess. She sought out the help of Jim Hughes, an Atlanta native and recognized prosthetist who created a passive running arm that did the trick.
“Jim has been a part of my life since first fitting me with a prosthetic when I was 4 months old,” says Tess. “He told me about AAC and really inspired me along the way.”
Tess received a Bachelor of Science degree from Auburn University in Rehabilitation Services and Disability Studies in 2012. She completed her Master’s in Prosthetics and Orthotics at Northwestern University three years later. She then had the opportunity to volunteer at Crimal, a clinic in Queretaro, Mexico, completing prosthetic mission work.
A Certified Prosthetist, Tess is currently living in Atlanta where she is completing her Orthotics residency with Alliance Prosthetics and Orthotics. She credits AAC with giving her the confidence to achieve her dreams.
“Without a doubt this camp changed my life,” says Tess. “I can easily relate to other kids who also know what it’s like living each day with a limb difference.”
Those kids today go through a similar transformation while attending AAC. When they arrive at camp, says Tess, they are shy and reticent about their limb difference. “I’ve witnessed campers accomplishing an obstacle that they never considered tackling before. By the end of camp their self-esteem and confidence are at an all-time high and they’re more willing to take on something else!”
The beauty of AAC is that a few dozen boys and girls with physical challenges get the opportunity to spread their wings and enjoy an exciting, enlightening outdoor camping experience. From food to cabin accommodations, activities and supervision, everything is taken care of at AAC. Kids just need to show up with a smile on their face and determination in their hearts.
As Karen Hall, who first came to AAC as a counselor 10 years ago and now oversees the camp, points out: : “Our goal is always teaching the kids that, hey, you can do everything that you want to do. You can do things you never thought about doing. Just give yourself a chance.”
Shaquem Griffin is the feel-good, break-out story of the 2018 NFL draft because he’s an inspiration to so many for achieving this moment as a football player with one hand. His left hand was amputated when he was 4, but that’s never slowed him down. And now he’s made NFL history!
(Original story posted by USA Today Shaquem Griffin makes history)
ARLINGTON, Texas – It’s not every year when Day 3 of the NFL draft comes with a curtain call.
In fact, it has probably never happened.
Yet it was so fitting on Saturday, when Shaquem Griffin, a fifth-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks, chosen 141st overall, strolled across the stage to applause that thundered with a purpose inside cavernous AT&T Stadium.
“That was the most amazing experience in my entire life,” Griffin said. “It was like winning the Peach Bowl all over again. It was nuts.”
No, this time, the final day of the NFL’s selection process was no snooze fest.
That’s a credit to magic and appeal of Griffin, who came and went as the feel-good story of this draft because he’s an inspiration to so many for achieving this moment as a football player with one hand. His left hand was amputated when he was 4, due to amniotic band syndrome.
Call it a disability at your own risk of looking foolish. Having one hand didn’t stop Griffin from blossoming into a star on a Central Florida team that went undefeated. And it hasn’t stopped him now.
Yet to simply hail the significance of a man getting drafted by an NFL team despite a physical disability would be a huge mistake. A disservice. Griffin is a football player. A damned good football.
Now, like the 255 other players selected in this year’s draft, he has a chance to prove it all over again while reunited with his identical twin brother, Shaquill, a cornerback drafted last year in the third round by the Seahawks.
“We’re expecting you to come in here and bust ass,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told Shaquem during the obligatory phone call that ended the suspense.
That’s the type of directive coaches give to football players, not to inspirational symbols.
Carroll knows that his new linebacker, projected to rush from the edge and provide relentless coverage on special teams, means so much to so many people – especially young people who may happen to carry their own challenges due to physical conditions.
He also knows that he’s in the business of winning football games. Griffin has been hired to help.
After the first two days of the draft, spanning the first three rounds, the biggest disappointment in my view was that Griffin wasn’t chosen among the first 100 picks. Yet that disappointment was probably based on sentiment rather than hardcore football.
Draft analysts, including the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, contend that the area of the draft when Griffin went off the board was pretty much about the spot when he should have gone because at 6-0, 227, he’s what scouts call a “tweener” – lacking the prototype dimensions to fit into the box of any specific position.
No matter. Griffin has only been a “tweener” all his life.
Yet there’s no way this kid sells himself short, which is why he’s captivated the football world – and then some – with his amazing journey.
A day before the draft began, when someone asked when he expected to be drafted, Griffin calmly stated, “First round.”
That wasn’t the expected answer, but it spoke volumes. People have always discounted Griffin, and that hasn’t changed with his entry into pro football. He deals with it, embracing the chance to prove doubters wrong. Again.
Reportedly, at least a couple of teams removed Griffin from their boards as unfit to be drafted because he doesn’t have a left hand. Like never mind that he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds and using a prosthetic, put up 20 reps in the 225-pound bench press at the combine.
Doubting him adds fuel. Think he’s got a chip on his shoulder?
“More like a bag of chips on my shoulder,” he said.
As Shaquill put it, his brother isn’t only playing for himself and his family.
“It’s for everybody in the world,” he said.
Even better that Shaquem embraces that idea. He came here as one of the 22 prospects invited to participate in the made-for-TV show that is the draft. Most of the other invitees were on their way to visit their new teams by Friday, while at least one other prospect who wasn’t picked in the first round, was nowhere to be seen on the premises on Day 2.
Yet Griffin stuck it out, staying in the green room throughout the second day, then staying in his hotel as the draft continued on Saturday.
As fate would have it, Griffin was out of position – in the bathroom of his hotel room – when the big call finally came. His brother Shaquill, noticing the 425 area code on an incoming call, burst into the bathroom and demanded that he take the call.
That’s what twin brothers are for.
That’s what twin brothers are for. And how fitting.
This is Shaquill’s story, too. Shaquill is the brother who was highly recruited out of St. Petersburg (Fla.) High, yet turned down eight scholarship offers to schools that would not offer his brother a scholarship, too. They were a package deal.
“As soon as we walked into Coach (George) O’Leary’s office, he said, ‘I’m not offering one a scholarship without offering one to the other,’ “ Shaquill recalled for USA TODAY Sports. “He knew the message. He said it before I could even get the words out of my mouth.”
And look at them now. They are still a package deal, pegged to be roommates again in Seattle.
Shaquill jumped to the NFL a year ago because it took a while before coaches gained confidence in Shaquem’s abilities. He was redshirted as a freshman. After not playing together for the first time in their lives last season, Shaquill told his brother that there was probably a “1% chance” that they would be reunited with the Seahawks.
Shaquem thought otherwise. He considered his brother as his personal “area scout” for the Seahawks, who undoubtedly realize the brother energy at work. Shaquill said that even as Seahawks general manager John Schneider assured him that they loved Shaquem as a prospect and have much respect for the family, he wouldn’t bank on a reunion.
“The draft can be funny,” Shaquill said.
And the wait can be excruciating. Shaquem joked that the one time he walked away from the phone, the phone rang with the news they were waiting for.
In the end, the timing was just right. And the result was so perfect that it warranted the ultimate curtain call.
I first broke into the entertainment industry as a content development intern for the production company, Island Pictures. That’s where I met my first mentor, Kathie Fong-Yoneda, and learned the importance of having someone genuinely care about your growth. Kathie generously shared her experience and advice, giving me equal opportunity to participate on every level. Her mentorship was my original inspiration to do well and treat people nicely. I reflect back on that time and value the importance of being mentored by a strong female executive.
Starting out, I never dreamed I’d one-day lead the global production for an award-winning visual effects studio while balancing my own adaptive clothing company.
After graduating from film school, I started as a VFX Producer on the TV show “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” When it came to visual effects, I loved the marriage between tech and creative and put in the time, energy and sacrifice to learn everything about it. When Zoic Studios started up in 2002, I was the VFX Producer for the Emmy-winning television series Firefly and Battlestar: Galactica. Through thousands of television and feature film titles, I’ve moved from Head of Production to Executive Producer, and into my current role as Senior Vice President of Global Production. It’s been a long haul, but it’s definitely never dull.
In our industry, visual effects are still male-dominated, with the ratio varying between 60/40 and 70/30. But speaking strictly from the VFX studio point of view, I have seen a gradual, positive increase in those numbers.
It all begins with the application process. Visual effects is a niche tech industry and a lot of women don’t think about it as a career opportunity. Because of that, fewer females apply for digital artist jobs. We have work to do by spreading the word, and getting more women to recognize VFX as a viable career option. At Zoic Studios, we have women working in every technical, creative and management department of the company. We can crew a show from top to bottom with women-only and have done so. It’s something to celebrate and keep talking about, so young girls out there know that you can enter this diverse tech industry and excel in it.
Shifting the Conversation
As part of the conversation, we not only need to recruit more women into the industry, we need to keep them once they’re in it. Visual effects suffers from a heavy expand and contract employment model. Between international tax credits and shrinking budgets, you find companies having to fluctuate every few months in order to stay in business. The challenging aspect of this rollercoaster model is that VFX teams often have to live abroad, chasing work from one country to the next, living away from their families for long periods of time. It’s tough on relationships and putting down roots, which hits men and women equally hard. After a period of time, some women drop out of the industry. It will take influential thought leaders to change the current system over time. But women have a powerful voice at the table and I hope the next generation brings us back together on this issue.
Fueling My Passion With a Side Hustle
I was inspired to launch Adaptive Life Company as a result of my own personal experience.
Growing up, I was a hospital candy-stripe volunteer, able to see firsthand the many physical challenges people face. I interacted with individuals of all ages who had life-altering injuries, as well as degenerative genetic diseases. My takeaway was how uplifting and positive people remained. Being inside the treatment rooms and physical therapy sessions; you see the best side of humanity, love and encouragement. Everything good in the world concentrated inside those walls! But, as you might imagine, leaving those walls behind and entering back into the “real world,” life becomes another story. The feelings of accomplishment and progress can quickly turn into frustration and intimidation. Much of the world is not disability-friendly.
Another eye opener came years later after a family member was born with cerebral palsy, resulting in loss of dexterity and mobility on her left side.
As she faced additional challenges related to her health and physical abilities, our family thought: “what could we do to change the world for her, and everyone else, to make it easier?” She is a young teen now, an age where clothes and fashion are important to her. To normalize her dressing process, we’re designing clothing she can get on by herself using one hand and still look cool, young and trendy. With her input, we’re re-engineering and re-thinking conventional clothing construction. We want to do away with buttons, zippers, lace ties, and buckles, but hide the fact that the clothes have been altered.
I knew from the start that launching my own company was going to be hard and it really is. It’s been months of researching and educating myself on the process. You wonder if consumers will be open to something new, and be supportive of the bigger impact this could have on people’s lives. But aside from all that, the biggest challenge has been to not give up through all the trial and error. Every step in this new industry is unfamiliar territory, every plan has gone out the window at least once, and every mistake has cost extra time and money. But I own my mistakes, am transparent about it, and do not make the same mistake twice. There’s unwavering persistence in the process.
It takes organization and planning ahead so that my jobs at Zoic and ALC don’t cross paths. During the day, I’m dedicated to Zoic Studios, which is a busy and complex tech/creative company. There are always clients, employees and shows that need special attention, so the day is full of travel, budgeting, operational oversight, and meeting with Hollywood’s leading creative television and filmmakers. Adaptive Life Company requires a very different approach and mindset.
Still, both require strong foundation skills and are necessary for juggling both roles. Those include: calendaring progression milestones and due dates, heavy budgeting and negotiations, touch-base meetings with teams to monitor production, and a willingness to pick up the phone and call people instead of sending emails. Both companies are “people” businesses, so communicating via phone calls, Skype and in-person all matter. I get more out of a 10-minute call or meeting than I can with 30 emails. I’m also a good listener and not afraid to ask questions. You’ll always see me with a notebook writing down lists and checking off details.
We talked about ALC and its mission with focus groups, parents, clothing and product designers, as well as fashion and investment leaders. There’s a lot of support from individuals connected to the adaptive community. But I’m also challenged by people who believe it’s not a worthy endeavor or think the market is limited. In truth, the adaptive market is a vastly under-served one.
There are 65 million people in the U.S. who have some form of a disability. Globally, there are one BILLION men, women and kids struggling with a mild to severe physical issue. Everyone knows someone who’s been seriously injured in an accident or while serving in the military. We know children born with a disabling genetic condition, or a loved one challenged by the natural aging process. We can all benefit at some point in our lives from adaptive designs created to make life easier when facing those challenges.
While the idea of making adaptive products for a world that’s existed so long without them may seem like a small endeavor, it’s not. When a physical disability hits home, it’s a huge deal. It’s when you’ll stop and think, “Why aren’t more companies already doing this?”
I believe it’s a better way forward and there’s humanity in the mission. It makes the effort of juggling two careers worth it. Both of which, thankfully, come with compelling challenges and incredible rewards.
Like most 13-year-olds, all Mike Alt wanted to do was “fit in”. Passionate about basketball, he relished the idea of playing alongside his schoolmates, despite the fact that he had a rare genetic birth defect called Amniotic Band Syndrome which left him with just a thumb and pinkie finger on each hand.
Mike and his family had just moved from Santa Clara, California to Reno as he was finishing up seventh grade. About to enter the 8th grade, Mike was determined to be on the school basketball team.
“Middle school was the toughest time for me,” says the now 28-year-old. “It’s that weird age where you’re trying to figure out who you are and what friends you want to hang out with.”
Mike remembers those days of feeling alone, not knowing which direction to take. “I had two choices,” he says. “I could go all in, or cry myself to sleep every night and never come out of my room.” He chose the former.
Mike was always athletic, but the idea of making the school’s basketball team given his “limb difference” was daunting. So, despite some issues with dribbling and shooting, Mike still went to the tryouts.
Wearing khaki shorts and old sneakers because he couldn’t afford new ones, Mike was a long shot. But, his perseverance paid off. He was selected as the 22nd player out of a total of 22 slots. “I got the last jersey! But, seriously, that was one of the biggest turning points of my life.”
Mike was thrilled to have made the team, but knew he could only get better if he put in the hard work. His small fingers made it especially hard to grip the basketball, which is 29.5 inches in circumference Extra long hours in the gym, including two hours every Saturday of straight ball handling (no shooting) eventually paid dividends for Mike.
“When someone tells you that you can’t do something, you have two choices: you can believe them and choose to accept the notion that your abilities are less than adequate because of an excuse. Or, you can deny that person credit for their statement, and prove them wrong.”
After much soul searching and with the love and support of his family, Mike decided to prove people wrong. He’s been doing that for the past 15 years, excelling in sports, education, business, and inspiring countless others along the way. He started a blog to discuss his journey; to where he now feels empowered in talking about his limb difference.
Mike’s passion project is an LLC he started over a year ago, called “Can’t Is Not An Excuse.” Its mission is to “motivate the world no matter what adversity and obstacles people have to overcome.” The business seeks to obliterate the word “can’t” from one’s vocabulary.
Mike attended the University of Nevada-Reno, where he obtained a degree in business management. He gives speeches at schools and conferences. He did one for the Lucky Fin Project in Troy, Michigan and has also reached out through the Helping Hands Foundation, both of which are non-profits.
“My parents always told me ‘you can do anything you set your mind to, as long as you believe in yourself. Between them and my older sister, I have a great support system.”
Find out more about Mike Alt and be inspired by this true Adaptive Warrior! Click here.
Kari Miller is a true adaptive warrior. The retired U.S. Army sergeant, who lost parts of both legs while on duty in 1999, believes that participating and excelling in sport can truly rehabilitate both mind and body. She is a living example of that.
While in recovery, Miller decided that sports were still a big part of her life but she needed to find something she could adapt to. She tried adaptive basketball and didn’t care for it. A friend suggested sitting volleyball – the first time she played a pass came whizzing by her head and she screamed as she ducked. “The coach yelled out ‘there’s no screaming in volleyball’, and I was hooked!”
A former track star and basketball player, Miller had found her calling and discovered she was pretty good at it. Go enough to make the U.S. National Sitting Volleyball team in 2006. And good enough to take the floor as the libero (defensive specialist) for teams that won silver medals at the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games in Beijing and London respectively.
Miller made the team for the 2016 Rio Games, but knew that, at age 39, this would be her last chance to come home with a gold medal. The U.S. had lost to number one China in London and had to play them again in the finals in Brazil. But this time it was the U.S. who emerged victorious and Kari Miller could now call herself a gold medal winner.
“The experience in 2016 was great. Before we went to the games, a lot of people were saying that Rio had a bad reputation. But, it was not like that at all. We were treated like rock stars!”
China had won all three previous Paralympic Sitting Volleyball gold medals dating back to 2004. So, to beat them and take the gold at Rio was the crowning achievement of an amazing career for Miller and her teammates.
A list of Miller’s accomplishments in the sport is impressive to say the least. They certainly do not define her, but they do illustrate one important fact: a great athlete is always a great athlete, regardless of major life events that can change your world overnight:
- 2016: Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro (Gold)
- 2012: London Paralympic Games (Silver)
- 2008: Beijing Paralympic Games (Silver)
World Championship Experience
- 2010: WOVD (World Paravolley) Sitting Volleyball World Championships (Silver)
- 2006: Sitting Volleyball World Championships
Other Career Highlights
- 2016: World ParaVolley Intercontinental Cup (Gold); Exhibition tournament vs. Russia; Dutch Tournament (First)
- 2015: Parapan American Games (Gold)
- 2012: Volleyball Masters (Gold)
- 2011: Parapan American Zonal Championships (Gold)
- 2010: WOVD World Cup (Gold); Parapan American Championship (Gold)
- 2009: Parapan American Zonal Championship (Gold); Eurocup (Gold)
- 2008: WOVD Intercontinental Cup (Bronze)
- 2007: Sitting Volleyball Invitational (Silver)
Miller retired from active participation in the sport last October, and now devotes time to assisting and coaching others. She’s been coaching a team in the San Antonio area where she lives and is also working with a developmental team in Arizona as they prepare for the next Paralympics in 2020.
After getting her bachelor’s degree from Central Oklahoma University, Miller is now working towards obtaining her master’s degree in business. Along with husband Jay Ortiz, Miller would like to start her own business, a combination restaurant/dog park. “I’m an animal lover and have some great ideas for the restaurant and park. We are working on the logistics now.”
Circumstances beyond her control led Miller to becoming a world-class sitting volleyball player. She always tries to live by the words of advice her grandmother gave to her many years ago. “She used to tell me to take it one day at a time,” says Miller. “When I would be having a rough day, she would say that life is like a race; that you should take each hurdle as it comes and then move on. Everything is going to work out in the end. There was never any other option!”
Kari Miller opens up about her 1999 accident and how she deals with adversity. Two great interviews, take a look!
Relive the magic. Watch U.S. Women’s team dethrone China to take home gold in Rio as Kari Miller says goodbye to Paralympics competition.
Christena Gunther and Anna Cosner share a passion for the arts and accessibility for all. Towards that end, they help run the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium (CCAC), a non-profit, all-volunteer outreach organization that’s making a big difference in the lives of art and cultural patrons across the region. Accessibility is becoming more the norm than the exception.
As described by CCAC Founder Gunther, the organization is a group of cultural administrators and people from the disability community interested in improving and innovating physical and programmatic accessibility for people with disabilities in Chicago’s cultural spaces.
Founded in 2012 by Gunther, Evan Hatfield and Lynn Walsh, CCAC provides workshops and training sessions to help staff at museums and theatres in Chicago become more accessible to people with disabilities. It also loans out captioning and audio equipment for use with films and presentations.
Christena Gunther, founder of CCAC
It seems a daunting task for a city the size of Chicago, but CCAC is more than up to it. The organization provides a number of art museums and cultural centers with devices to assist people who may have hearing issues. It has monthly developmental workshops where it talks to and educates personnel in how best to communicate their message of accessibility to all patrons.
“Our mission is to empower Chicago’s cultural spaces to become more accessible to visitors with disabilities,” says Gunther. “We do this by creating ongoing professional development workshops, an equipment loan program, an Access Calendar, and facilitating an active community.”
Gunther grew up with a passion for visiting art museums. Her younger brother was born with Down syndrome, and that experience fueled Gunther’s interest in accessibility at a young age. She later was involved in accessibility for visitors with disabilities at the Metropolitan Museum and Lincoln Center, and was a member of New York’s Museum Access Consortium (MAC) steering committee.
In just a very short time, CCAC has been successful in getting numerous cultural organizations to commit to taking at least one step to become more accessible. “We’re completely volunteer run,” says Gunther, adding that the organization just recently achieved its non-profit status as a 501(c)(3)
“We’re finding from most organizations that they are trying to be more accessible,” says Cosner, who grew up in Southern California and serves as a co-chair of CCAC. “We’re giving them tips and they are taking baby steps and seeing results. “
CCAC has been recognized for its outstanding work. In 2016, the Lifeline Theatre awarded CCAC and its co-chairs the Raymond R. Snyder Commitment to the Arts Award. And in 2015, the prestigious Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts awarded CCAC the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) Emerging Leader award.
“Right now,” says Gunther, “our focus is on sustaining CCAC as we become an official nonprofit and begin fundraising efforts. In the future, we have big ideas of ramping up our equipment loan program, individualized trainings for organizations, and other areas.
Training workshops are a regular part of CCAC outreach
Cosner is proud of the work CCAC has done to date. She notes that Chicago is not the only place in America where accessibility has become a driving force. “There’s also a much larger community of people who work in museums and theaters across the country (and internationally) that is working to make cultural spaces more accessible,” she says.
“The annual LEAD conference is hosted by the Kennedy Center every August – the last one had between 300-400 people. These are cultural administrators who gather to learn from each other and push this work forward.”
To learn more, go to http://chicagoculturalaccess.org/
As David Wise competed for and won a second consecutive Gold Medal in the men’s ski halfpipe at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, his thoughts were not fixated on just the Games. Since winning gold at the Sochi Games in 2014, Wise had experienced his share of stress and misfortune, including that of sister Christy losing a leg in a boating accident in 2015.
A twin to sister Jessica, Christy Wise is one incredible athlete herself. She not only lost a leg, but nearly her life, when a boat cut into her leg as she swam with a friend one night in a South Florida cove near Destin.
She almost died, but Christy survived and, true to her spirit and personality, immediately went from tragedy to affirmation and commitment to helping others less fortunate.
Christy, David and Jessica launched One Leg Up On Life, a non-profit organization designed to help furnish third-world kids with prosthetic limbs. Christy’s story is remarkable, and her dedication no less inspiring.
Christy is in South Korea this week to cheer on her brother, who is donating 10 per cent of his winnings to One Leg Up. David’s victory Thursday was a family affair.
Check out http://www.oneleguponlife.org/and what led to it all – https://oneleguponlife.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/what-happened/
For more on David and Christy’s athletic prowess, see story in L.A. Times.
David Wise celebrates gold with his wife and kids (Laurent Salino/Getty Images)
Welcome to ALC – the Adaptive Life Co. blog. This is a site where we champion voices and hope to brighten your day with positive messaging and inspiration.
On ALC, you’ll find breaking news, as well as the latest behind-the-scenes information and product introductions. We’ll also feature interviews with Adaptive Warriors making a strong impact and spotlight individuals who go above and beyond.
We wouldn’t be here without your support. And we aim to share information that’s relevant to our adaptive cause. We invite you to submit your own personal adaptive stories, restaurants featuring good food and adaptive seating, life hacks, health tips, travel advice, adaptive sports, and more.
Stay connected and we’ll grow this adaptive community blog together. Watch this space and submit those stories. We love humor and inspiration – it’s our fuel!
Sign up here to receive regular updates and follow us on Instagram and Facebook. Tag us in your posts @adaptivelifecompany and #AdaptiveLifeCompany to let us know how you’re staying Adaptive Warrior strong.
Let’s get started!
Your ALC Team