The first Broadway play I ever saw was in 1980, the Tony winning Children of a Lesser God with actress Marlee Matlin portraying a deaf janitor. I was mesmerized in the fluid dance-like sign language that was so much a part of the play. Matlin is the only deaf performer ever to have won an Academy Award when she later portrayed that same role of Sarah Norman in the movie of the same name.
Earlier this month we witnessed a first when Ali Stroker won a Tony for her role in Oklahoma. This time, instead of the choreography of American Sign Language (ASL), we saw the challenging dance performances that included this woman in a wheelchair. Who would have considered casting the enduring and coquettish Ado Annie with an actor in a wheelchair?
Patty Duke played Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker and received a Tony for her performance in 1962. She was recognized as a great actress in light that she was able to so convincingly portray a deaf and blind girl. At that time it was inconceivable to have had a woman with an actual disability on stage. Bradley Cooper portrayed John Merrick in The Elephant Man and Daniel Day Lewis was Christy Brown in My Left Foot. There are many other great roles of individuals with disabilities who are too often portrayed by able bodied actors.
The author of Oklahoma envisioned a character who was flirtatious and naive when Ado Annie’s role was written. These are not attributes restrictive of a person with a disability. In her acceptance speech Stroker said “There’s a wealth of great performers who identify with having a disability that deserve stage time…”
In Fort Wayne recently, Summit City Music Theatre made performances of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown more welcoming when cast members were added who signed during the performance. This was not an interpreter standing off stage but were ensemble actors, often center stage, signing the entire production.
We make strides in recognizing all abilities when a deaf actress portrays a deaf character. But when actors with visible disabilities portray roles whose descriptors are silent regarding senses, height, mobility or other attributes, then we have a more open and fluid sense of community. CBS has recently pledged to work for authentic representation in entertainment casting to audition actors with disabilities and to cast and hire people with disabilities.
As a community we continue to work toward the vision of an inclusive arts community. Audiences are increasingly diverse. There is still opportunity to ensure that the stage is fully accessible to all. Previous casting types do not have to dictate future. How can we accept Ali Stroker’s charge to be sure that backstages are accessible? When we see individuals like ourselves in a role then we learn that role is available for us!
I can’t say “NO”
Maybe you’ve heard Eleanor Roosevelt’s philosophy: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
It served as my mantra on more than one fear-filled occasion, because there’s a lot of wisdom packed into that one sentence. However, what Eleanor really said about fear was:
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.
You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”
The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
This month, 90 people got the chance to do just that – face their fears and do the thing they thought they could not! The mission, should they choose to accept it, was to rappel down a 14-story building, Tom-Cruise-style….
It was all to raise money for a good cause – GiGi’s Playhouse! GiGi’s playhouse, for those who don’t know, provides free educational and therapeutic programs for individuals with Down syndrome.
And while GiGi’s received corporate sponsorships for the mission, NO ONE from several of the sponsoring employers was willing to take the risk and participate. So…when AWS Foundation was offered a spot, Eleanor’s words came to mind, and I accepted GiGi’s invitation.
Heights don’t bother me….falling, yes….but not heights. Roller coasters, high dives, bungee jumping are not in my purview of entertaining ideas, but rappelling is a controlled and safe descent. I am all about control. I thought I could do it.
When I woke the morning of the event, I heard thunder and rain falling. I will admit the thought that I had “dodged that bullet” occurred to me. By 9:00AM, however, the rain had stopped and people began to descend.
I suited up: a harness, grappling lines, walkie talkie, gloves and helmet. I readied for my instructions. Lightening and storms meant we were nearly two hours behind schedule. Again, I thought I might have received an 11th hour reprieve… However, while I waited anxiously, I heard story after story of excitement from those who’d already rappelled. I could feel the adrenaline. Finally, we got the all clear.
I can do this!
Cameron, a young man with Down syndrome went before me. He admired my Spider Man shirt. I admired his unwavering excitement. He was the first to volunteer in our group to control his own lines and release the safety locks. Bravely, he hoisted himself onto the wall of the room and showed us how it was done. He shared the trip with a mentor who recorded the experience with her GoPro. He got tired part way, he went too fast and his safety line locked, he radioed up for help and with encouragement finished the descent. We weren’t allowed to look over the edge until it was our turn but I heard everyone cheering as he safely placed his feet on the ground below.
If you want to see more, from the safety of the ground, check out our video below. This was a great fundraiser that also raised awareness of the great activities provided by Gigi’s, but there was much more to be gained. I retold my story over the next few days and posted the picture on Facebook as I stepped off the edge of that building. My take away was more than the pictures and bragging rights, however. I learned so much more in watching the young man go before me. His lesson for me applies to many other situations in life for those with disabilities who are trying to face a daunting challenge.
- Be Prepared. Practice in a safe space where mistakes can be identified and corrected by those who care about your success.
- Have a safety line. Even with the best practices, a back-up plan can help ensure a successful journey.
- Take a break when you need it. Catch your breath, ask for help, and keep at it.
- Share the journey. Any journey is better when shared.
- Be sure to celebrate. We all have challenges in life. Share in the successes of others and go ahead and brag so they can celebrate with yours.
I suspect years from now it won’t be my journey to the ground that will replay when I am faced with a challenge but rather the bravery of Cameron and how he exemplified the spirit of Eleanor’s words…
“Do one thing every day that scares you… even the thing you think you cannot do.” This is the routine for many of those with disabilities.
Fort Wayne, IN ─ The AWS Foundation recently awarded $504,708 in grants to 18 non-profit organizations that benefit individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities in Northeast Indiana. These organizations include:
Achieva Resources: $70,000 for the Guardianship Program.
Audiences Unlimited: $13,910 to pilot a Music Enrichment program at Life Adult Day Academy.
Carey Services: $13,250 matching grant for vehicle purchase and accessibility modifications.
Churubusco Elementary School: $12,500 for classroom sensory kits.
Coesse Elementary School: $10,000 for sensory room.
Community Transportation Network (CTN): $23,264 matching grant for two lift-equipped vehicles.
GiGi’s Playhouse: $27,500 for a career development program.
Huntington University: $35,000 for the ABLE program.
Joe’s Kids: $25,000 for operating support.
Magical Meadows: $15,000 for the therapeutic riding program.
Mental Health America: $30,000 for Kids on the Block; $75,000 for Volunteer Advocates for Seniors and Incapacitated Adults (VASIA) program.
Pathfinder Services: $12,500 for Creative Abundance program.
RSVP of Allen County: $25,000 for I CAN volunteer program.
Scherer Resources: $30,000 for vocational training and job placement program.
The League: $20,000 for Youth Services program.
Trine University: $36,000 for medical dispenser market research.
University of Saint Francis: $5,784 for Jesters’ North Campus Auditorium sound board.
Visiting Nurse: $25,000 for patient care and grief services.
Fort Wayne (August 10, 2017) – AWS Foundation, in celebration of their 10th Anniversary, will donate ten buddy benches to area schools to promote friendship for all people of all abilities. The buddy bench, combined with an education program, teaches children the importance of inclusion. Each bench displays an original design created by a local artist to honor four of the foundation’s founding board members: Ian Rolland, Ben Eisbart, Andy Brooks and Patti Hays.
“As we celebrate our 10th anniversary, it is important to recognize and honor the work done by several of the foundation’s founding board members as they retire from the board. With the community’s recent loss of Ian Rolland, this recognition seemed even more poignant,” says Tom O’Neill, AWS Foundation Board Chair. “Without their vision and leadership, AWS Foundation wouldn’t exist. They have helped thousands of people with disabilities in northeast Indiana.”
While it is common for any child to go through at least some period of social discomfort, studies show that children with intellectual and developmental disabilities tend to be less accepted by their peers, struggle more in social situations and experience feelings of isolation for extended periods. The buddy bench is a simple concept that has been adopted by educators around the world to support social acceptance.
“When a child feels lonely, they sit on the buddy bench to let others know they want someone to play with,” Patti Hays, CEO of AWS Foundation states. “Fellow students playing in the area see someone on the bench and know to ask them to play. It’s an easy way for kids to connect and make friends.”
Teachers spend countless hours in the classroom helping children improve academically. A buddy bench program helps educate children on the importance of acceptance, peer support and inclusion when they are at recess.
Fort Wayne, IN ─ The AWS Foundation recently awarded $1,514,122 in grants to 19 non-profit organizations that benefit individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities in Northeast Indiana. These organizations include:
Bowen Center: $15,000 for Autism Center Certification.
Children’s Choir of Huntington County: $10,000 for the Joyful Songsters Inclusive Choir.
Citilink Access: $50,000 for on-demand Access service.
East Allen County Schools: $10,032 for TeachTown social skills curriculum for special needs elementary school classrooms.
Fairfield Elementary School: $10,000 for Pedals for Success classroom sensory equipment.
Fort Wayne Civic Theatre: $14,000 for Project “Lights Up!” productions.
Fort Wayne Youtheatre: $6,000 for Backstage Insight program.
Greater Fort Wayne, Inc.: $7,600 for two 2018 Leadership Fort Wayne scholarships for individuals with disabilities.
HearCare Connections: $25,000 for low-income hearing loss clinic and related services.
Indiana Deaf Camp Foundation: $5,000 for camper scholarships.
Junior Achievement: $30,000 for functional skills curriculum development and volunteer training.
Life Adult Day Academy: $30,000 for fire sprinkler system.
McMillen Health: $25,000 for Varied Abilities Days health and wellness programs.
NeighborLink: $30,000 for home maintenance and repair services for individuals with disabilities.
Passages: $70,000 for the Spotlight Avenue performing arts program and $20,000 for Creative Abundance arts program.
Turnstone: $114,490 for sports, recreation and wellness for youth and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities; $1,000,000 to help fund the Phase 2 Construction Project shortfall.
Visually Impaired Preschool Services: $17,000 for early intervention services in Northeast Indiana.
Woodside Middle School: $10,000 for a sensory room.
YWCA: $15,000 for inclusive playground equipment.
We are pleased to announce that our very first Community Report is now available! Growth and opportunity were central themes this past year with a record number of grants and dollars awarded totaling over $3.6 million.
Our 2016 Community Report offers an inside look at the positive impact our grant making has on individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities, their families and caregivers. It features a few of the foundation’s nearly 100 grantees that highlight our five initiatives; Social Enrichment, Education and Employment, Transportation, Early Diagnosis, and Housing. Each reminds us that there are many facets to a life well lived and keeps us focused on our mission to make a difference in every way we can.
This report truly expresses who we are, what we do and our aspirations for tomorrow. We are excited to share it with you and to hear your feedback!
Click on the icon shown to view the report online. If you would like a copy mailed to you, please complete the form below.
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The new Pixar movie, Finding Dory, premiered this past weekend to a record-setting opening for an animated film. I was eager to hear about the next adventure of that charming little blue fish and visit once again with her friends-both old and new. Just as expected, the unique personalities and depth of each character brought the story to life.
Characters Hank, a traumatized seven limbed octopus (Septapus) and master escape artist in search of solitude, Bailey the beluga whale who can’t echolocate and Becky, a disoriented bird who cleverly employs a pail as a rescue device all become our new friends. Destiny, the near sighted Whale Shark, as well as the returning Nemo the clownfish with one malformed but amazingly functional fin, remind us of our own individual challenges. This flawed but uniquely functional cast exemplifies the message that “…you can do whatever you put your mind to”.
I went in expecting a simple movie but was met with a film that gives each of us the opportunity to not only share this beautiful film with our children but to also discuss disability. At the beginning of the movie, we see the sweet and easily distracted Dory, identified as having “short term memory loss.” We learn how her parents support her path to independence by providing love, encouragement and realistic assistive devices. We see determination and hard work paired with inspirational peer support helping others to reach their goals. My favorite life message in the movie is preparing the child for the path rather than the path for the child demonstrated by Dory providing inspiration to Nemo and others to “just keep swimming.”
Unfortunately, Becky is characterized as “dimwitted” and there are images of bullying by a couple of sea lions to a smaller and less adept pup. The audience I sat with laughed at these depictions but I hope that parents will see the opportunity to explain to their children other ways of seeing those with cognitive disabilities rather than as the object of humor or derision.
Dory is told by her parents that the best things happen by chance, and perhaps this film is a chance for families to include discussion about everyone’s varying abilities in life. At AWS Foundation, we envision a community in which people with enduring disabilities are engaged fully and meaningfully in all aspects of life. Finding Dory reminds us that working together; communities of diversity and inclusion are the ones we want to live in. See the Finding Dory preview by clicking here.
Patti Hays, CEO
Fort Wayne, IN ─ The AWS Foundation recently awarded $624,760 in grants to 19 non-profit organizations that benefit individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities in northeast Indiana. These organizations include:
Achieva Resources Corporation: $62,079 to fund a volunteer guardian coordinator position and state and national certification training.
Bi-County Services: $50,000 challenge grant toward the $600,000 capital campaign for an inclusive community playground in Bluffton.
Cahoots Coffee Café: $35,000 to hire a job coach and develop a vocational training program with the Northeast Indiana Special Education Cooperative.
Camp Red Cedar: $25,000 for camperships and adaptive recreation equipment.
Carey Services: $40,000 for Creative Abundance consultants and training for the new creative arts program.
Children’s Choir of Huntington County: $10,000 for the inclusive Joyful Songsters choir.
Deer Ridge Elementary School: $17,378 to expand the school’s sensory room.
East Allen County Schools: $26,700 for sensory rooms at Prince Chapman Academy and New Haven Middle School and develop an online sensory room training module.
Family Service Society: $25,000 for diagnostic and evaluative services for low-income children at risk for autism spectrum disorder, behavioral and related intellectual disabilities.
Fort Wayne Civic Theatre: $22,500 for three sensory-friendly performances for Project Lights Up!
Fort Wayne Museum of Art: $7,500 to research artists with disabilities for a proposed art exhibit.
Fort Wayne Youtheatre: $6,000 for the Backstage Insight sensory-friendly theatre program and workshops.
Greater Fort Wayne, Inc: $5,500 for two Leadership Fort Wayne scholarships for individuals with disabilities.
HearCare Connection: $30,000 for hearing aids and audiology services for low-income individuals with disabilities.
Ivy Tech Foundation: $50,000 for the greenhouse which will provide future hydroponic and culinary arts training and education for individuals with disabilities.
NeighborLink Fort Wayne: $25,000 to expand volunteer programs and home repairs for the disability community.
Parkview Huntington Family YMCA: $14,695 to purchase the multi-sensory BEAM system for the new Movement Studio.
The League: $20,000 for the Youth Services program for low-income special needs young adults.
Turnstone: $152,408 to expand recreational and social programming to the intellectual/developmental disability community and hire a program coordinator.