Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hear Yee!-Registration Now Open for 2012 RicStar's Camp

Registration for RETURNING campers is now open for the 10th Annual Eric 'RicStar' Winter Music Therapy Camp at Michigan State University's Community Music School (aka RicStar's Camp). Camp registration will open to all new campers beginning March 1st.

The 2012 RicStar's Camp will be held Thurs. June 14 thru Sat. June 16th. Fees are the same as 2011. Financial aid available. You must return a completed 2012 Registration form and payment to hold your spot.

Reminder: Register early! Camp always fills up quickly.

For more info, including opportunities to sponsor a deserving camper, signing up teens without disabilities for our popular Buddy Up Program, becoming a guest musician or an adult volunteer, please click here.

Music changes lives, especially here. But we can't make the magic happen without you.

Lives worth living. Focused on ability.

Photo Judy Winter 2012

Monday, January 30, 2012

Reminder-Last Call for VSA 2012 Entries for Young Soloists

Final call!!
Application deadline is tomorrow January 31st.

Equal time for musicians!! The VSA 2012 International Young Soloists Award Program is looking for entries from musicians, ages 14-25, with disabilities. Cash award and an opportunity to perform on the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts stage in Washington, D.C.!! Find our more here.

Focused on ability.

Photo RicStar's Camp by Judy Winter 2012

Best Buddies International-YouTube Friendship Video

Among other important work, Best Buddies International provides opportunities for one-one-one friendships between individuals with and without disabilities. Check out the YouTube video of one such friendship between Bridget and Eric, friends for two years.

Watch it here.

Courtesy logo.

Thanks, Oprah! I'm Lovin OWN's Super Soul Sundays

Wasn't so sure when it first started, but now I like what Oprah's been doing with her new network OWN. After channel flipping through the vast wasteland of Sunday morning television a couple of weeks ago and landing on OWN, I'm now hooked on Super Soul Sundays, and I'm pretty fond of Oprah's Master's Class too.

Thanks, Oprah, for continuing your quest to offer rich, intelligent and powerful discussions that help motivate me and feed my soul, and that of millions of others.

The woman gives great TV.

Photo Judy Winter 2012

Words of Wisdom from Iyanla Vanzant- February 2012

"Create what you want, instead of being stuck in what you don't have." -Iyanla Vanzant

Photo Judy Winter 2012

Kudos to Hallmark & A Smile as Big as the Moon

Okay, I admit I'm a sucker for all those sappy Hallmark Hall of Fame Specials. I like how they transport viewers to a simpler, gentler, more civil time, with no guidette or wayward housewife in sight. But last night's A Smile as Big as the Moon about a Michigan special education teacher who fights to take his class of students with diverse needs to Space Camp, captured my heart more than most. I savored every single moment of the program, and yes, it made me cry. Best of all, this wasn't just Sunday evening feel-good family television, this was based on a true story.

My son would have loved this story, all the kids in it, and going to Space Camp. I would have been in the thick of things helping make that happen, and then writing about it, too. Instead, I was cheering loudly at my television.

Kudos to Hallmark, one great Michigan teacher, and everyone involved with this terrific program.

More, please.

Courtesy image.

Media Alert! -NY Times-Ritalin Gone Wrong

Major op/ed feature in yesterday's New York Times about the use/abuse of Ritalin and other drugs. With millions of kids now being medicated, this piece is well worth the read and valuable discussion. It's written by L. Alan Sroufe, professor emeritus of psychology of the University of Minnesota Institute of Child Development.

Do the drugs really work or do they create bigger problems than they solve?

There are no quick fixes.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

REMINDER: Tonight-Special Needs Media Alert! Hallmark Hall of Fame

Can't wait to watch the new Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, A Smile as Big as the Moon, airing this Sunday, January 29th, on ABC at 9 p.m. E.T. The film's based on a true story/book about Michigan special educator and football coach, Mike Kersjes, who fights to realize a dream to have his special education students take part in Space Camp, a highly competitive educational opportunity that promotes the study of math, science and technology.

Extra perks? John Corbett, Aiden Shaw, of Sex & the City fame, plays the teacher, while many of the actors appearing as special education students, actually have special needs. Big progress.

Read more about the terrific movie here.

Education at its finest, and focused on ability.

Courtesy Image.

Judy Winter

Friday, January 27, 2012

Minute Vacations -Happy 175th Birthday, Michigan!

Haven't shared a Minute Vacation with you in a while, so here you go, a brief escape from the big and little demands of the day. This shot is of the Mackinac Bridge (aka Mighty Mac), which joins the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of my beautiful state of Michigan, which celebrated a birthday yesterday.

Happy 175th Birthday, Michigan! Your beauty still dazzles.

You can enjoy the Bridge WebCam here. But it is prettier in the summer.

Want to visit this incredibly beautiful state,? Click here. We are about more than just automobiles. Although, our cars are cool, too. They help drive the economy big time.

Photo Judy Winter 2012

Good Resource -Disability.gov

Disability.gov is the federal government website with lots of good information on national and local programs, communities services and valuable links for additional resources of importance to those with special needs, and to those who care about them and disability issues.

There's even a blog with guest bloggers.

Check it out here.

Courtesy logo.

Judy Winter

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lives Worth Living -Blessing Offor, Musician

Recently, I posted the 2012 VSA Call for Musicians with Disabilities. In case you need a little extra motivation to enter, here's an update from VSA, regarding Blessing Offor, recipient of the 2010 VSA International Young Soloists Award.

Offer, who now has his own CD, 'Guilty Pleasure,' performed on the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage one year ago today.

Watch Offor's performance here. Music changes lives.

Life worth living. Focused on ability.

Courtesy photo.

Judy Winter

Lives Worth Living -Stephen Wiltshire-Artistic/Autistic Savant

I admit I only recently became aware of the incredible work of artist, Stephen Wiltshire (thanks Facebook friends!). Wiltshire paints and draws the most remarkable cityscapes with painstaking detail after studying them, sometimes only briefly. Wiltshire, who didn't speak fully until age nine, is also autistic.

The amazing story of this 38-year-old artistic savant is much too rich and beautiful for me to do justice to in a short blog post. Check it our for yourself, here. Well worth your time.

Life worth living. Focused on ability.

Photo of Chicago street artist by Judy Winter 2012

Kudos to Richard Redlin & New Web Series About Disability StarringLauren Potter

Hoping to create greater awareness of actors with disabilities, Richard Redlin, an actor with a disability, has created the new interactive online web series Leader of the Pack, a quirky comedy featuring kids with and without special needs. Redlin wanted to tell a great story, but with a more diverse cast.

The series will launch February 1st and stars Lauren Potter of GLEE fame. Potter has Down syndrome and has become a popular and vocal advocate for those with special needs.

Check out Leader of the Pack here.
Check out the Facebook page here.
Read why Lauren Potter agreed to star in the webcast here.
Check out Executive Producer/Creator Richard Redlin here.

Progress in Hollywood. Kudos to Richard Redlin and everyone involved in this ground-breaking series.

Courtesy photo.

Random Thoughts -Take it Inside, Governor Brewer

Don't really care what your beef is with the President, Governor Brewer. Pointing your finger at Barack Obama's face, especially in front of eager reporters recording every dirty look and angry word, is neither politically/media savvy nor cool.

Take it inside, please, and have a private conversation.

Photo Judy Winter 2012

Transportation Security Administration Launches TSA Cares

The Transportation Security Adminstration (TSA) has launched TSA Cares, a toll-free helpline to provide information and assistance to passengers with disabilities and medical conditions and their families before they fly.

Learn more here.

Friendlier skies on the horizon????

Photo Judy Winter

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gabrielle Giffords Officially Resigns From House of Representatives

Watch Gabby Giffords official resignation.

Love this woman. What a remarkable spirit she is, and an example for all. Can't wait to see where this new path takes her.

The world needs more Gabby Giffords.

Cool Photos- Eddie Tuduri of TRAP

Love this photo of Hani Naser of Hani Naser Band, and drummer, Eddie Tuduri, founder of the The Rhythmic Arts Project (TRAP), an international effort which uses percussion to facilitate learning in individuals with intellectual disabilities. Tuduri, who has played with such legends as Ricky Nelson and The Beach Boys, founded TRAP after breaking his neck in a surfing accident that left him temporarily paralyzed. The drummer used his music expertise to help himself recover, an event which dramatically changed the trajectory of the rocker's life.

Learn more here.

Photo courtesy of TRAP. Used with permission of Eddie Tuduri.

Special Needs Activism- Johnnie Tuitel Fights for Rights of Airline Passengers with Disabilities

Update on my friend, Johnnie Tuitel, who was removed from a US Airways flight in September 2010 after they deemed the popular author/speaker too disabled to fly. Johnnie is now working with lawyers and legislators to change a law that currently prevent him from suing the airline for damages. He's also creating a new Facebook page to support his venture entitled, Let Em All Fly. In case you missed it the first time around, I've included my original post on Tuitel's air-travel fiasco below.

You can watch an interview on Johnnie's latest advocacy efforts on behalf of all those with disabilities who fly, here.

Find out more about Johnnie Tuitel the man, here.
Former Post: October 15th, 2011

Just when I thought it was safe to take a day off from the blogsphere, a story comes up that hits far too close to home to ignore.

It's a disturbing story about US Airways allegedly taking a man off a late September flight because he was deemed 'too disabled to fly.' An agent then advised the passenger that he could only take the flight with an able-bodied companion who could assist in case of an emergency, a policy stated on the airline's website.

The man they removed from the aircraft is my good friend, Johnnie Tuitel, a motivational speaker, entrepreneur and author of the popular 'Gun Lake Adventure Series,' which features a child with cerebral palsy as its hero. The series is loosely based on Tuitel's life. The author is a family man, a college graduate who has traveled by air 500,000 miles the past two years alone to make a living and help support his family. That family includes three great sons, all of whom volunteer each year at the camp I co founded to honor my son's life called RicStar's Camp. Johnnie Tuitel serves as our camp emcee each year, and as a powerful example of ability for the campers. This year, his unselfish actions earned him our 2010 RicStar Award for Outstanding Community Service.

I met Johnnie years ago. Once you meet him, you never forget him. It becomes easy to ignore the wheelchair. As a journalist who'd recently turned her focus to special needs parenting, I was immediately fascinated by Johnnie's life story and his example of overcoming tough odds to live a productive life. Meeting him helped me see what was possible for my own son in light of his significant physical disability. I met Johnnie Tuitel at a time I most needed his example. Johnnie helped energized me for the advocacy work ahead. I've been forever grateful and we've become great friends.

After publishing a newspaper column as part of a series I did profiling successful adults with disabilities, I decided to also include Johnnie's story in my book. His story and spirit are equally remarkable. Johnnie has spent his entire life challenged by the physical realities of cerebral palsy. Given his big personality, that's not an easy reality. But Johnnie lives life to the fullest and doesn't waste time on 'why me?' He forges ahead, as he will after this recent event. He's smart, funny, hard working and charming, with a tremendous commitment to helping others as he heals from his own sense of loss of mobility. The author doesn't believe life owes him anything because of his disability. That's why this story hits so hard.

The man I know beyond the wheelchair is someone who would most likely help the crew get others off the plane safely in an emergency before even thinking of himself. Then, he'd crawl out if he had to, probably making jokes and laughing on the way out. He has spent his life fighting hard to promote human rights/dignity/independence for himself many others with disabilities, impacting countless numbers of individuals in life-saving ways. If anyone can turn this outrage into effective advocacy and necessary change, Johnnie Tuitel can and will. That's my friend.

Johnnie finally reached his destination to speak at the 2010 National Self Advocacy Conference in Kansas City on Delta, but he missed his professional gig.

I feel the sting of his outrage and the injustice, too. I'm again reminded of how far we've come, and how far we still have to go to ensure the rights of those with special needs.

I'm 'Team Johnnie,' all the way.

See the story/video here.

UPDATE Oct. 11-Fox News
UPDATE: See Johnnie Tuitel on CNN here.

Special Needs Media Alert! Hallmark Hall of Fame

Can't wait to watch the new Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, A Smile as Big as the Moon, airing this Sunday, January 29th, on ABC at 9 p.m. E.T. The film's based on a true story/book about Michigan special educator and football coach, Mike Kersjes, who fights to realize a dream to have his special education students take part in Space Camp, a highly competitive educational opportunity that promotes the study of math, science and technology.

Extra perks? John Corbett, Aiden Shaw, of Sex & the City fame, plays the teacher, while many of the actors appearing as special education students, actually have special needs. Big progress.

Read more about the terrific movie here.

Education at its finest, and focused on ability.

Courtesy Image.

Judy Winter

Monday, January 23, 2012

VSA 2012 Call for Musicians with Disabilities

Equal time for musicians!! The VSA 2012 International Young Soloists Award Program is looking for entries from musicians, ages 14-25, with disabilities. Cash award and an opportunity to perform on the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts stage in Washington, D.C.!! Find our more here.

Focused on ability.

Photo RicStar's Camp by Judy Winter 2012

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Life Worth Living -My Take on Gabby Giffords Resignation

So many people now making comments on social networking sites and in the media appear to feel sorry for and badly about Giffords announced resignation from Congress, while others have been calling loudly for just that.

But not me.

Because my family life also was completely turn upside down by the unexpected disability of my second child two decades ago, I see this development a bit differently than most. Like Giffords, my tough reality rocketed me into a challenging universe filled with amazing career and personal opportunities and special needs activism that I'd never envisioned for myself. I, too, left a job I loved, a glamour job in public television, unsure of anything except the need to help my son have a better life, a 24/7 commitment.

The need was immediate. Our futures uncertain. My future career path a huge question mark. That reality still stings. But I know I made the right decision, one that significantly impacted the quality of my son's life, and my own. It was never easy, but it was ultimately so rewarding. The toughest job I've ever held, with the greatest teacher I've ever known.

Since that day I walked out on my dream job (a no-choice choice), I've since had more impact on others than I ever would have if my life course not been so dramatically altered. I believe that's exactly what Giffords will do without the frustrating and sometimes selfish and painstakingly slow confines of the political process to impede her. I, for one, can't wait to watch it all unfold. Disability changes everything, and there is still healing to be done. She deserves time to prepare for this new chapter of her amazing life.

Gabby Giffords survived for a reason. I know.

Remarkable woman. Life worth living. Watch out world.

Watch the beautifully stated announcement here.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Life Balance -New Shoes!

Love my new Gaga-like shoes. I wear them while sitting at my desk and stare. They provide me with creative, youthful inspiration. A shoe muse, if you will. But I can't walk in them, which clearly makes this aging-wanna-be-baby monster fashionista a bit of a woos.

Time to change into my cute Borns and go run errands.

Photo Judy Winter 2012

Peter Dinklage Dedicates Golden Globe to Martin Henderson

With regards to the rights and dignity of those with special needs, one part of this post celebrates how far we have come. The other, how far we've still to travel.

When Peter Dinklage, a successful and talented actor, who also has achondroplasia, a form of short-limbed dwarfism, accepted his Golden Globe this week for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, he dedicated his win to Martin Henderson and then advised people to google the man. Turns out Henderson is an aspiring actor in England and was recently the victim of senseless act of something called 'dwarf tossing.' A stranger picked the actor up against his will and threw him to the ground resulting in partial paralysis.

I will never get used to such unforgivable, senseless examples of man's inhumanity to man, ever. But I will always raise my voice loudly against them.

Read more here. And kudos to the talented Peter Dinklage.

Special Needs Media Alert! -Push Girls to Debut in April

This new program
produced by Gay Rosenthal for the Sundance Channel about four Hollywood models who use wheelchairs, sounds promising, especially since Rosenthal also created the popular 'Little People. Big World.' I'll be checking it out when it debuts in April. Special note: three of the four women acquired their disability due to auto accidents, a sobering reminder that disability can happen to anyone at any time (not to mention the real dangers of distracted drivers and driving while drunk).

Now, if we could just get the media to quit using the outdated terminology 'wheelchair bound.' People don't live in wheelchairs. They use them to get from Point A to Point B.

A special needs activist's work is never done.

Find out more about 'Push Girls' here.

Courtesy photo.

Judy Winter
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations
Winter Ramblings Blog
Flickr Page

The Power of Technology & Autism & Personal Expression

Until age 11, a young girl with autism was locked inside a body and disability, unable to express herself in ways that others understood, until technology changed everything.

The ABC 20/20 Medical Mysteries segment featured below explains how Carly was able to break out of her body and communicate with others, especially her family, and show her intelligence. The resulting reality is both beautiful and life changing. The story reminded me of the first time my son, Eric, was able to express his own independent thoughts by using a computer, a memory which still brings tears to my eyes. He was finally able to prove that his wheelchair use and physical challenges did not also automatically equal an intellectual disability. Game changing. People treated him differently.

In the future, we had hoped state-of-the-art technology would give our son the freedom to pursue and showcase his love of music and song writing and attend college, dreams cut far too short.

Technology has opened up the world for so many people with disabilities, as has the unconditional love and perseverance of so many remarkable parents and some exceptional professionals. Bless them all.

Watch 'Autistic Gril Expresses Unimaginable Intelligence' here, and become inspired and further motivated regarding your own personal goals.

Photo Jenna Winter

Judy Winter

Heads Up-Free IEP Seminar in Detroit Jan. 25th

FREE IEP Seminar in the Motor City next week, in case you live nearby or plan to be in town. You can hit the 2012 North American Auto Show and Eastern Market, too!

Find out more about the seminar here.
Photo Judy Winter 2012

Child model with Down syndrome inspires thousands

I've already posted about how the Internet has been abuzz over a recent Target ad (love them!) that includes 6-year-old Ryan Langston, who has Down syndrome. The ad has received kudos because of the way in which Ryan's disability was never highlighted. In short, he was presented as just another model. This is an example of a growing and popular trend of using children with special needs in advertising, media efforts which have inspired many.

After working for twenty years to increase awareness of the value of kids with special needs, and their families, I can't tell you how excited I am to see this huge progress being made in the tolerance, acceptance and awareness of our kids in the media, not to mention greater appreciation and respect for the often overlooked purchasing power of their parents.

One note regarding the video below, I was left wondering why Ryan is not being educated in a regular school and classroom, especially given his status as just another kid in the media. Food for thought.

Learn more about Ryan's story here.
Child model with Down syndrome inspires thousands

A life worth living.

Judy Winter

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2012 Call for Young Artists with Special Needs for CVS-VSA 5th Annual Competition

Calling all Young Artists with Special Needs!!!

Two of my fav resources, CVS Caremark’s All Kids Can CREATE program and VSA (the international organization on arts and disabilities) have again joined together to offer the 5th annual opportunity for young artists to see their work in action, and on display for all to see.

This year’s theme, What Inspires Me?, invites children to showcase their answers through original artwork. Appropriately enough, the contest kicked off yesterday on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. Artwork submitted before April 8, 2012, (click here) will be featured in an online gallery and considered for display in the “What Inspires Me” exhibition debuting at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. in August 2012. One hundred and two pieces of art―two from each state and the District of Columbia―will be part of the exhibition. Last year’s call for entries resulted in more than 4,700 submissions from across the country and featured paintings, photography and sculptures.

Children are invited to stretch their imagination by using traditional art materials as well as non-traditional ones, such as wrapping paper, newspaper or aluminum foil. In addition, teachers who submit their students’ artwork are eligible to receive one of four $1,500 cash awards to use in their classrooms.

The deadline for the 2012 All Kids Can CREATE Call for Art is April 8, 2012. To submit artwork, click here.

“CVS Caremark is proud to partner with VSA for the fifth year on the All Kids Can CREATE campaign, furthering our commitment to inclusion and giving children of all abilities a unique opportunity to express themselves through their artwork,” said Eileen Howard Boone, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications and Community Relations, CVS Caremark. “The artwork celebrates each individual student and raises awareness in schools and in local communities about the importance of inclusion.”
You know I like this stated mission, so get busy expressing your creative self and help change perceptions about what artists with special needs CAN do.

All Artwork from 2011 contest courtesy of CVS Caremark. All Kids Can. Used with permission.
Top: Shades of Grey-Martin Luther King, Jr. by Isabelle, age 11
Middle: A Color World by Jacob, age 12
Bottom: African Elephant by Tucker, age 5

Special Needs Kudos -Ricochet the Surf Dog

Update on that remarkable surf dog, Ricochet.

He's been one busy pup.

Watch it here.

When one door closes.....

Random Thoughts- Mood

Moody landscape. Gentle rain tapping on skylight. Jack curled up on my office chair, snoring gently. Sporting purple form-fitting post-holiday sweater dress with confidence (me, not Jack). SNAP! Breathing in steam of fragrant Ginger Peach tea from oversized mug cradled in my hands. Public Radio on loudly for inspiration and renewed spirit.

Perfect writer's day.

Photo Judy Winter 2012

Unearthed Treasures #5

Another unearthed treasure, a test shot taken years ago by the terrific Donna Terek, now a staff photographer for the Detroit News. The shoot was part of a Parents magazine photo essay of kids across the country with special needs and included Eric.

I love it!

Photo by Donna Terek

Celebrating a Decade of RicStar's Camp!

Getting in the mood for all the upcoming hoopla over the 10th year of the Eric RicStar Winter Music Therapy Camp!!! More soon, including info about 2012 camp registration.

Focused on abilities!

Photo Judy Winter 2012

Special Needs Thump on the Head to Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall

There's so much I need to share with you today. Let's get started with some news from Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, news that both infuriated me and also seemed particularly timely.

While speaking at a conference against funding for Planned Parenthood, conservative Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall (R), allegedly said, "God punishes women who have had abortions by giving them children with special needs," a statement that has fueled national outrage. Read that reported news here. Marshall denies that he either said or believes that statement and blames a student journalist for taking liberties with his words.

I watched the conference snippet and what Marshall said was, "the number of children subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengence on the subsequent children."

Say what???

Vengence is a particularly potent term here, one Marshall now says he regrets using. In his defense, not that I am defending the guy, (however, I do believe in fairness and accuracy in the media), studies back the reality that having an abortion can have serious future medical challenges, including increased risk of having a child with a disability, which was supposedly Marshall's poorly worded point. But his word choice and emotional presentation left his insensitive statement open to angry, defensive interpretation. Now, he's trying to stop the resulting firestorm that has ensued and save his political career.

On the plus side, this has generated opportunities for more valuable discussion and awareness of special needs, and revisited that stubborn belief by many that having a child with special needs is some sort of parenting curse, a outdated, cruel stereotype that needs to die. There is no shame in having a child with a disability. I repeat, no shame, unless you allow it to be placed there.

I watched the video that included Marshall's remarks and found them insulting and insensitive. Watch it here and add your take. Guilty as charged? Or, were liberties taken by an inexperienced reporter?

For the record Mr. Marshall, I've never had an abortion, but I was blessed, not cursed, with a remarkable child with cerebral palsy for nearly thirteen years. Like most parents, I didn't do anyting to create my unexpected and challenging parenting reality, but I did everything in my power to raise Eric as a child of value. In all his apparent imperfection, my son became my greatest life teacher. Eric could have taught you a great deal, too.

I believe strongly that someone needs educating, and it's not the people to whom Mr. Marshall appears to have hurled insults. Choose your words more carefully next time, Mr. Marshall. True leadership and compassion is what this country really needs, now more than ever.

Being a bit more media savvy wouldn't hurt, either.

Photo Judy Winter 2012