Friday, March 30, 2012

Teachable Moment -Disabled Student Sidelined During Choir Performance

I've always got my advocacy antenna up for special needs stories that spark outrage and generate hot comments that quickly take over social media. I've got a doozey today.

I'm still shaking my head over what happened to Alex Pollard, a student from Georgia. The young choir member, who has special needs and uses a wheelchair, was left alone off one side of a stage, separated from his fellow choir members during a recent school performance (see video link below). No one stepped up to fix it the obvious snafu. How this happened is now the subject of much-heated debate.

The story breaks my heart. But I'm not surprised it happened.

I experienced this kind of inexcusable exclusion with my own son during his short life. But we must remember that including children with special needs is still a new, unfamiliar concept (surprise) to far too many people. To make things better for all kids/families with special needs, we must be teachers whenever we can, proactive vs reactive. This is one of those critical teachable moments.

I believe we should all take a deep breath and not crucify anyone involved in this travesty, including the choir teacher, especially since all the facts are still not clear. Not that I think there's a good excuse. But in our passionate support of and love for our children and others with special needs, it's easy to get caught up in volatile emotions and want to call for someone's head. We forget that successfully including children with special needs in our schools and elsewhere is still difficult, uncomfortable and dicey terrain to many, and sometimes people screw up.

That's the ugly reality. Now, how can we change it?

We should recognize this terrible event for what it is, a hearbreaking occurrence that should never have happened, and accept that many people failed this young man in this moment. But now that it's occurred, we've been provided a valuable teachable moment in which we can and should focus on educating everyone involved about what went wrong. Then, work to ensure it doesn't happen again. That is especially important since rumor has it The Today Show may already be on the story. National exposure is good for critical awareness. It's okay to be angry, but let's use that anger and outrage to create positive change.

Schooling the misguided choir teacher is an important part of that necessary change.

Let's not promote or support pity or floggings or fuel stereotypes. Instead, let's hold people accountable and speak loudly and respectfully to help educate and ensure this doesn't happen again, while understanding that it probably will, somehow, somewhere. And know, that as those who care deeply for all those with special needs, we will again need to step up and educate others to help preserve the rights and dignity of this population, and correct inexcusable wrongs. This is an on-going human rights struggle that requires our continued advocacy. It's hard work with no simple solutions. This story presents a valuable, teachable moment. Let's treat it as such.

And let's make sure Alex receives the apology he deserves.

This is not Glee; this is real life.

All that said, how tough would it have been to simply move the choir down to the right of the stage?

Watch/read it Disabled Student Sidelined During Choir Performance here.

Jenna Winter Photo

Thursday, March 29, 2012



Images courtesy of Design by Raven Muse, the mom of an 18-year-old with autism. You can get a ribbon there, too.

Words of Wisdom from Susan McHenry -April 2012

"Everyone's bald underneath their hair."-Susan McHenry

When it comes to special needs parenting, never lose your sense of humor. Life saving, and good for your health.

Judy Winter Photography

Light it Blue Mackinac Bridge!

April is Autism Awareness Month. I'm pleased to report that my fav bridge (Mackinac/pronounced MackinaW) near the Island I adore (Mackinac/pronounced MackinaW), and which joins MackinaW City with St. Ignace, is g
oing Blue on April 2nd to celebrate April's Autism Awareness Month.

Check out the Light it BLUE Michigan campaign here.

The state's Lt. Governor, Brian Calley, has a child with autism, which can't hurt the autism-awareness cause.

I love blue, the vibrant color of of our Great Lakes.

Light it BLUE Michigan courtesy image.
Bridge shot: Judy Winter Photography 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Media Alert-NY Times Hiring the Blind

I like the article from Sunday's New York Times entitled: Hiring the Blind While Making a Green Statement by Nicole LaPorte for three reasons, its focus on being environmentally responsible, use of American goods, and employing good people who happen to be blind. My way of paraphrasing the title.

The company decisions by SustainU make good business sense.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Technology is Changing the Lives of Those with Disabilities, Including Christopher Hill

Below is a link to a short video that highlights just how technology continues to open up the world for those with disabilities, including Christopher Hill, who has cerebral palsy and uses a head switch to activate his computer.

In the video, Christopher talks the viewer through his work process, and in doing so, gives us all a lesson in determination, patience and fortitude. Please, take time to watch, listen and learn.

Technology had begun to open up my son's world in terrific ways shortly before Eric passed away, too. So I find this clip both exciting for what it offers others with special needs, and bittersweet for what could have been for my own child.

State-of-the-art technology continues to unlock the world for deserving individuals in priceless ways. That equals cherished freedom of expression.

Watch the video here.

Judy Winter Photography

Friday, March 23, 2012

Special Needs Media Alert! -CVS Caremark All Kids Can Features RicStar's Camp

I recently did an interview with CVS Caremark All Kids Can about the 10th anniversary of RicStar's Camp. That feature just landed on both the CVS Caremark website and its Facebook page. One important note, I founded the camp along with my husband, Dick Winter, and RicStar's Camp director, Cindy Edgerton. We've made a great team!

Thanks so much, CVS Caremark All Kids Can, for recognizing our incredible camp.

Read RicStar's Camp: Fostering Musical Expression and Creativity here.

Celebrating a Decade of Stars, and focused on Ability.

Your music lives on in beautiful ways, Eric. xoxo

CVS Caremark All Kids Can Profiles RicStar

Read it here.

Last Call for Campers for 2012 RicStar's Camp!!

Only 7 coveted spots left for the 10th annual RicStar's Camp.

Act now! Click here.

Photo Jenna Winter

Say What? -Wheelchair bungee jump video goes viral | CTV News

Wheelchair bungee jump video goes viral | CTV News

I'm too chicken to try this without a wheelchair! But not so Christine Rougoor. Now, she's a viral sensation. Helping her to realize her bungee-jumping-in-a-wheelchair dream was Karim Ladki and 9 Lives Adventures, which helps atheletes with disabilities pursue outdoor travel adventures.

You go, girl, and Karim!!

One Mom's Honest Words on OCD

Good post today on the Facebook page of that terrific resource Easy to Love, but Hard to Raise by writer Barbara Claypole White about the challenges/rewards of life with a child with Obsessive Complusive Disorder (OCD).

Read S--t, the OCD's Back here.

No easy answers, only resilient, creative parents and determined kids.

Courtesy image.

Judy Winter

Apolo Ohno Reflects on Travels to Japan for Special Olympics

Olympic gold medalist in speed skating and winner of Dancing with the Stars, Apolo Anton Ohno, recently traveled to China and Japan in his role as a Special Olympics Celeb Supporter.

Read his reflections on that trip here.

Pure gold.

Photo of Special Olympics athlete courtesy Special Olymics. Used with permission.

Worth Repeating-CVS All Kids Can Create 2012

Reminder-Deadline is April 8th! Get busy creating!!!

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

Tribute -Thanks for a Great Year, Spartans!

Nothing bleeds like a wounded Green heart. But what a year! What a coach! What a team! What a leader in Draymond Green! Thanks for the great ride, Spartans! Next year.

Good Words -7 Things You Don't Know About a Special Needs Parent

Maria Lin's 3-year-old son, Jacob, has a rare disorder of the 18th Chromosome, which has resulted in numerous medical and developmental challenges for her son and for Maria. She's penned a piece that will strike a cord with many other parents struggling with their own special needs issues, an honest soul searching that describes well the early challenges of coming to terms with special needs parenting.

Lin's thoughtful piece about what life is like for her in her challenging new role is familiar to me. Over the past two decades, I've written about my own such struggles and joys many times; they were the basis for my book. As I digested Lin's emotional words, I felt an immediate kinship and unique understanding of where she's coming from, and where's she headed. I felt her exhaustion, her humanness, her pride in and unconditional love for this child she didn't expect. I recognized her dicey journey, one that at times challenges the limits of human endurance, while it tugs hard at heartstrings and redefines perfection.

Sharing such words not only helps other parents relate and deal with their own uncertain special needs journeys, but it helps create important awareness about these families and their struggles and joys with the general population.

That, is a good thing.

Read 7 Thing You Don't Know About a Special Needs Parent here.

Thanks for sharing, Maria. You are not alone.

Courtesy photo.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Media Alert -NY Times and MSU Coach Tom Izzo

Nice piece on Michigan State University Head Basketball Coach, Tom Izzo, in today's NY Times. He's not called him Mr. March for nothing.


Read it here.

Love my Spartans, and yes, I got my degree there.

Judy Winter Photography

Kudos to Ty Pennington and ABC's The Revolution/ADD

Kudos to Ty Pennington and ABC's The Revolution for today's in-depth coverage of adult Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Pennington has become an effective and vocal advocate for creating greater awareness and understanding of the two disorders by honestly addressing his own struggles with ADHD whenever he gets the chance. The popular host joined the new one-hour talk show this year.

In looking at ABC's website, it appears The Revolution's segments may air the day after they first run. But here's the link so you can check back later today or tomorrow to view what went down today. Good info. Worth the wait.

Kudos Ty Pennington. Lives worth living. Focused on ability.

Check it out here.

Judy Winter Photography

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

World Down Syndrome Day Message from Chris Burke

Possibly the most celebrated actor with Down syndrome, ever. Long before there was talk about using actors with special needs in regular acting jobs, Chris Burke was breaking ground as Corky on the popular series 'Life Goes On.' He's now a consultant for the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS).

Watch Burke's interview here.

Photo courtesy of DSALA.

Lauren Potter Shares A World Down Syndrome Day Greeting

A World Down Syndrome Day Greeting from Lauren Potter.

Watch it here.

Courtesy photo. Used with permission.

Judy Winter

Best Buddies International

"Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization... that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD)."

Find out how you can get involved in this terrific organization and mission here.

True inclusion happens peer to peer.

Spread the Word

Sign the pledge here.

Courtesy Image. Used with permission.

Judy Winter's Words in Articles, Columns and Books

Some of you have asked about my career as a writer, especially as it impacts special needs. Over the past twenty years, I've written dozens of newspaper and magazine articles on special needs parenting issues, including as a past contributing newspaper columnist to the Lansing State Journal. That column highlighted my own journey raising my son, Eric, who had cerebral palsy and passed away far too soon in 2003 at age twelve. I was doing this work long before there was the Internet to help families research and connect. It was the parenting dark ages. If you read this blog, you know that I've also authored my own book, Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations, and my words are included in three others:

-Enabled in Words: The Real Lives, Real Victories of People with Disabilities.

I will continue to share links to some of my past, timeless work with you on this blog.

I'm proud to say that I continue to be a strong voice for the special needs cause, and I'm not done yet. In the future, I'll continue to do my best to share, and make your challenging lives easier and more productive.

A passionate advocate's work is never done. Speak loudly, and with respect.

Judy Winter Photography

Judy Winter

March is a Busy Month of Recognition

I've been so busy that I've neglected to post all the reasons March is extra special, besides the unusually warm weather in the Midwest. So here we go:

In addition to World Down Syndrome Day, the March calendar honors many things, including:

I also like the on-going blog on The Arc's website. Check that out here.

Click on the above links and catch up before April arrives. If I forget any key celebrations, please post a comment, and don't forget to wear helmets during spring activities like biking.

Better late than never.

Image courtesy of The Arc.

Feel Good Story -Girl’s best friend is dog who carries her oxygen

The world is overflowing with dire news. That's why I love sharing stories that touch people's hearts. This is one of those. It honors a little girl with a disability and her special bond with man/woman/child's best friend, two things I love to support whenever possible. Read about Alida and her buddy/service dog, Mr. Gibbs, at link below.

Jack (and I) give the tale/tail four paws up.

Judy Winter Photography

Obama Signs Back to Student Who is Deaf

When a 26-year-old Prince George Community College student named Stephon, used American Sign Language (ASL) to greet the President of the United States when Obama visited Washington, he wasn't expecting him to sign back. But that's exactly what Barack Obama did, creating a captivating and humanizing moment that put decisiveness and politics aside. Refreshing.

"I am proud of you," the student signed.

Thank you," signed back the President.

A President of the people- ALL the people. And one determined, gutsy young man focused on ability.

Read/watch it unfold here.

Judy Winter Photography

Happy Birthday, Bach!!

Happy Birthday, Johann Sebastian Bach!

Considered by many to be the greatest composer of all time, Bach went blind at age sixty four, but he continued to compose beautiful works.

Read more about Bach here.

Random Thoughts -First Day of Spring 2012

Michigan and Mother Nature have gifted us with an unusually warm winter and a warmer than normal spring. We celebrated that first day of spring last night on our deck with our grown up kids, three excited dogs, and no technology in sight. Windows were opened to capture a rare mid-March summer breeze, leftover white holiday lights contributed to the celebratory mood. Sat down to grilled blackened tilapia, marinated tender asparagus and a delicious tossed salad, light on the lettuce please, followed by my creative dessert concoction of fresh pineapple, strawberries, Greek yogurt and angel food cake topped with leftover Thin Mints (how'd we miss those???). Washed dishes the old-fashioned way while breathing in the remaining, intoxicating joy and energy, laughter and love left behind as our daughter, son in law and cherished granddoggies returned to their full, productive twenty-something lives in the big city.

Life doesn't get any richer than that.

Celebrate your best life/family moments whenever you have them. They'll help you face the tougher days.

Judy Winter Photography 2012

Reminder: Down Syndrome in Arts & Media Has Launched

Continuing with today's Down-syndrome theme, a reminder that my friend, Gail Williamson, special needs talent coach/contact extraordinaire, has launched her new venture Down Syndrome in Arts & Media (DSiAM), an online resource that connects actors with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities with real acting gigs.

Check it out here.

I love Gail and Blair.

Photo of Gail Williamson and working actors with intellectual disabilities courtesy of Gail Williamson. Used with permission.

Lauren Potter Talks about Her New Web Series Leader of the Pack

UPDATE: Here's the link to the first episode.

In honor of World Down Syndrome Day (see prior post), here's an update regarding a previous post about Richard Relin's new web series Leader of the Pack, originally slated to launch in February. Designed to create greater awareness of actors with special needs, the series features popular actress/activist Lauren Potter of GLEE fame. My post today includes a link to a recent video of Lauren Potter commenting on her new role. The Leader of the Pack series launches online today, coinciding with other World Down Syndrome Day efforts.

Read my original post about this series and access additional links here.

Watch Lauren's comments here.

Live worth living. Focused on ability.

Courtesy photo. Used with permission.

World Down Syndrome Day 2012

Along with many others, I'm today recognizing World Down Syndrome Day. This important yearly event, which takes place on March 21st each year, is honoring its seventh anniversary. According to the World Down Syndrome Day website, the date (21/3) represents the 3 copies of chromosome 21, unique to people with Down syndrome.

According to the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles (DSALA), the key mission of World Down Syndrome Day is to promote awareness and understanding, seek international support, and achieve dignity, equal rights and a better life for people with Down syndrome everywhere.

Find out more about World Down Syndrome Day international efforts here.

Focused on ability.

Image courtesy of DSALA.

Judy Winter

Friday, March 09, 2012

Heads up! RicStar's Camp 2012 is Almost Full

Heads up! RicStar's Camp is filling up faster than ever before. It's almost full already. So if you want to be part of the music magic, don't delay!

New addition this year, a shorter-day group for the youngest campers (under age 5?) unable to handle a full day. You must submit a registration form and payment to hold a camp spot. Scholarships are available.

We're all about making camp the best it can be for all. That, and celebrating individual abilities.

Find out more, here.

Photo Jenna Winter

Special Needs Media Alert! -Gail Williamson Interview on LA Talk Radio

Here's the hour-long interview with Gail Williamson on LA Talk Radio about employing actors with Down syndrome, in part, in response to the recent cover story about actors with Down syndrome that appeared recently in Entertainment Weekly (read it here).

My friend, Gail, is the founder of Down Syndrome in Art and Media (DSiAM), and for years has been the industry go-to liaison in L.A. for making such successful connections and working gigs happen. Through DSiAM, Gail continues to help actors with developmental disabilities find work in the industry.

Hmmmmm.... that would make a good reality show.

Listen here. Note: there is a delay before the audio begins. Be patient.

Photo of Gail Williamson with her son, Blair, a successful working actor. Used with permission.

Judy Winter

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Kudos to the The Miracle League of Mid Michigan- Play Ball!!

Love! Love! Love! I've waited a long time to see this video by the Miracle League of Mid Michigan, the realization of a terrific effort in my own backyard. My heart is singing.

I remember when all I wanted was for my son to be able to access the swing in our neighborhood park. I even penned a newspaper column on the subject, highlighting one mom's effort to make an accessible playground happen, one of my many special needs articles reprinted at Eduguide. Read it here.

Eric would have loved this news, and so do I.

Kudos to all involved.

Play ball!

Watch it here.

Courtesy image.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

I Heart Someone with Cerebral Palsy

An Especially Valuable Take on the R-Word- The Voices of Sibs- My Heroes

Watch it here.

Out of the mouths of babes.

Image courtesy of Special Olympics. Used with permission.

Guest Post on Maria Shriver's Blog - It All Begins with Us by Susan Senator

Read the guest post on Maria Shriver's blog about use of the R word by Susan Senator, author of Making Peace with Autism: One Family's Story of Struggle, Discovery, and Unexpected Gifts, here.

Image courtesy of Special Olympics. Used with permission.

CNN & Ending the R-word. Ban it or Understand It?

Good CNN piece today by Emanuella Grinberg about efforts to eliminate the word retarded from our language. The piece includes an interview with mom/blogger Ellen Seidman of Love that Max (see last post).

Today has become a huge day for intelligent conversation, and that represents big progress for the disability community.

Read Ending ther R-word. Ban it or Understand it? here.

Image courtesy of Special Olympics. Used with permission.