Celebrities Who Have Overcome Disabilities

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Whether you were born with a disability or developed one over time, it’s important to know that you are not disabled, you are simply differently-abled. While it may seem like you have a list of things you cannot do, here is a look at some people in the spotlight who have overcome disabilities that could have stopped them from reaching their dreams. The difference in making it and not making it was their determination.


Kyle Maynard

Congenital amputation is the term used to describe someone who was born without limbs. MMA fighter Kyle Maynard was born as a quadruple amputee, but he and his family decided early to refuse to let that hinder him from pursuing his potential. When Maynard was 2 years old, his father decided the family would no longer help him eat, but he was going to learn to take care of himself. It’s hard to believe his father expected him to become the first quadruple amputee to climb Mount Kilimanjaro without prosthetics but that’s exactly what Kyle did.


John Nash

World-renowned mathematician John Nash overcame schizophrenia to become one of the faces of academia. The inspiration behind the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” Nash talks openly about how he was able to come out of a place of irrational thinking without the use of medication. Nash managed to defeat a disorder that sought to destroy his mind and become one of the greatest thinkers of his time.


Keira Knightly

You would think that dyslexia would make reading countless scripts a nightmare for any actor or actress, but Keira Knightly has overcome the learning disorder to become one of Hollywood’s top starlets. Instead of letting dyslexia hinder her from pursuing her acting dreams, Knightly says that she used her desire to be an actress to overcome her disorder because she had to beat it to be able to act.


Ty Pennington

The extroverted host of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Ty Pennington is very open and honest about his battle with ADHD. Before Pennington was the host of the show he worked as a successful carpenter, even entering the world of television on shows like Trading Spaces where he would build custom furniture pieces with incredibly short notice.


Your diagnoses are not something that is meant to stop you from pursuing your dreams. It is simply a part of the story you can tell when you reach a place of success.

This blog was originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.

Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapy

Russ Ewell - ABA Therapy (1)

Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapy (ABA) can teach skills and change behaviors. The therapy is used as a system of treatment for autism and essentially uses rewards and consequences to teach behavior. This practice has been around for an incredibly long time. The idea is that by applying behavioral goals and then carefully measuring the results there can be a success in achieving specific outcomes.


There is a bit of controversy surrounding ABA. Some people believe that it is disrespectful or even damaging to the individual while others are strong advocates for the therapy. Dr. Ivar Lovaas, a behavioral psychologist first applied ABA to autism in 1987. He believed that social and behavior skills were taught in everyone through the method and that behavioral symptoms of autism could be modified or even completely removed.


Lovaas’s approach could be very harsh and is generally frowned upon by today’s experts. However, his techniques have been studied over time and modified by therapists so that there are significantly different versions of behavioral therapy today. The best ABA therapies of today bring together a combination of social and emotional engagement as well as behaviors.


ABA therapy can be practiced anywhere, however, it is most commonly practiced at home or in a learning center. There are advantages and disadvantages to both center-based and home-based therapies. Center-based therapy indicates that learning may happen faster, possibly due to fewer distractions. Home-based therapy can make a child and the parent feel more comfortable. Every family is different and the availability of both home- and center-based can vary from location.


Applied Behavior Analysis is the only therapy that has repeatedly been researched and shown to work at modifying behavior for children with ASD over the years. It does not matter where a child is on the spectrum, ABA therapy can help shape behavior into more socially appropriate outcomes and make life easier for both the parent and the child.


There are ABA programs everywhere and often times they are free. It can help to control more challenging impulses and make a huge difference in how a child manages social experiences, such as school. As with any approach to autism, it’s important to understand that everyone is different and make sure that any therapist you work with is highly trained and compatible with your family.

This blog was originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.

Accessible Fashion for People with Down Syndrome

Russ Ewell - Accesible Fashion for People with Down Syndrom

Children, teenagers and young adults with Down syndrome will soon have more options when it comes to fashionable clothing. The University of Delaware’s Innovation, Health and Design Lab is working closely with those who have Down syndrome to develop a size guide. The size guide will be the first of its kind. Those with Down syndrome are hopeful that a size guide will help clothing makers develop clothing that fits their unique body shape.


Clothing Concerns


Those with Down syndrome face several problems when it comes to buying clothes. People with the condition don’t have the same body shapes as those without Down syndrome. Those with Down syndrome typically have rounder bodies, shorter limbs, and sensitivities to tags and some fabric textures.


Zippers, buttons, and snaps can be difficult for those with Down syndrome to maneuver. This makes it frustrating to find clothing that looks fashionable and for people with Down syndrome to dress independently.


How the University of Delaware is Helping


The University of Delaware’s Innovation, Health and Design Lab opened in late 2018 by biomechanical engineer Martha Hall. Hall is a fashion designer who became interested in designing clothes for people of all capabilities after witnessing the work of professor Cole Galloway. At the time, Galloway was designing clothing for children with motor deficits. After working with Galloway, Hall dedicated her life’s work to improving the lives of children with disabilities with functional and fashionable clothing.


The lab has 34 students and several professors who are currently working on 22 projects to improve children’s lives. These projects range from wearable devices for premature infants to athletic apparel for teenagers.


The Down Syndrome Size Guide and Jean Project


Team leader Kiersten McCormack is determined to develop a size guide that can be used across the fashion world for those with Down syndrome. She is interviewing more than 1,000 children with the condition. She talks with caregivers to learn each child’s specific needs, such as clothing and fabric preferences. Children have then given clothing the opportunity to be measured and to pick out a pair of jeans with different colors, fabrics, and designers.


A 3D avatar is made of each child and then the jeans are designed to fit each child’s unique body. The size information is being compiled to make a size guide that will be sold to designers. At the end of the project, each child will receive their own unique pair of jeans and the hope that other clothing designs will soon follow.


This blog was originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.

Technology Spotlight: Project Understood

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Google is a seasoned pro when it comes to developing reliable and modern technology that promotes inclusion amongst all users. We are living in an era where voice technology is becoming the norm as pivotal software to assist users with a variety of tasks. Digital voice assistants like Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa have quickly become a necessity through all tech mediums like smartphones, tablets, and home devices.


However, the Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS) noticed that voice technology can lack the capability to correctly understand and transmit the voices of individuals with Down Syndrome. The way that individuals with Down Syndrome speak can be anomalous compared to those without, making the software difficult to use. Although, it is likely that individuals with a number of disabilities would benefit from the technology the most.


With this mission in mind, the CDSS set forth to find partnership in one of these major tech companies to not only recognize the issue at hand but join them in developing a solution that they have named Project Understood. Google was quick to jump on board and, with the society’s help, is testing its technology.


The initial test was to record 1,700 words and phrases spoken by individuals with Down Syndrome. From there, researchers could analyze whether or not Google’s voice technology was able to learn from the repetitive input of this voice data. They started with about nine volunteers.


After the initial testing, researched could confirm that Google’s voice technology was able to understand about 2 of 3 words spoken by individuals with Down Syndrome and that it has the capabilities to learn more with further data. Now the project just needs to secure more volunteers to feed Google’s voice technology more data.


Google and the CDSS are now seeking to collect about a thousand different voices of individuals with Down Syndrome to donate their time to developing this dynamic software. Not only will this help teach the system to learn to recognize speech from individuals with Down Syndrome, but it should also benefit other individuals with disabilities or atypical speech.


Google and the Canadian Down Syndrome Society are just a few of a number of companies that are working to build a more inclusive future for individuals with disabilities. Voice recognition, along with other smart technologies, has the capability to enhance the lives of all users, no matter their differences.

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Carnival Cruise Ships Sail Towards Inclusion

Carnival Cruise Lines Sail Towards Inclusion Russ Ewell.png

In recent years, a growing number of institutions have been doing their part to be more sensory-inclusive and help those with autism, Down’s syndrome, PTSD, and ADHD. Now, Carnival Cruise Line is taking part as well.


In an announcement made this month, Carnival revealed that KultureCity, a non-profit, Alabama-based group whose purpose is the promotion of accessibility, has certified six of their ships’ crews based in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale as sensory inclusive.


This includes the Carnival Sunrise, based in Ft. Lauderdale, and the Carnival Horizon, Carnival Magic, Carnival Victory, Carnival Conquest, and the Carnival Sensation, all based in Miami. According to Carnival Cruise Line spokesman Vance Gulliksen in an interview with USA Today, employees across the entire Carnival fleet will be sensory inclusive certified by March 2020.


In What Ways Can a Cruise Ship be Sensory Inclusive?

Hundreds of Carnival’s staff members who interact with guests will be trained within these inclusive guidelines, whether that’s in guest services or through direct work with children with Carnival’s Camp Ocean youth programs. The staff will be fully capable of answering any questions that the guests may have in regards to how the various attractions onboard the ship may affect those suffering from sensory issues.


On top of this, all youth staffers have been trained in how to spot the signs of a sensory overload. They are able to then differentiate this from a regular run-of-the-mill tantrum and deal with it accordingly. They will be expected to can assist the child or children and help them to calm down safely and effectively. Special gear such as weighted vests, conversation cards, and sensory games will also be part of the standard uniform to help ensure that the staff has everything they need at their disposal.


KultureCity has also curated special “sensory inclusive bags” for guests to use during their cruise which will be available free of charge. The bags include fidget toys, noise-canceling headphones, and a special feeling thermometer which allows guests to non-verbally express their emotions and needs with pictures. A lanyard is also part of the kit to help aid the crew in knowing who they can assist. Sensory Inclusive Bags will be available at guest services.


Co-founder of KultureCity Dr. Julian Maha has said, “We appreciate Carnival Cruise Line for taking this important step in making their vacations accessible to everyone.” Carnival Cruise Line is just one example of many accommodation companies that are making it possible for the entire family to enjoy a safe and relaxing vacation.

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Sensory-Friendly Shopping Russ Ewell.png

The holiday shopping season can be quite unnerving for most people. Long lines, loud music, bright lights, and what sometimes feels like 100 screaming children can be annoying at best and overwhelming at worst. For families with children with autism, ADHD, or any sensory-triggered disability, shopping in public can be an uneasy and unpredictable experience.


That’s where shopping chains like Toys “R” Us and Target shine with their inclusivity efforts. In the United Kingdom, toy retailer Toys “R” Us hosted sensory-friendly shopping days, where families with children who have disabilities could enjoy a quieter, relaxed, and calmer shopping experience. With displays of sensory-friendly toys available to try, and the ability to navigate the store easily made for a successful experience.


This caught the attention of an autism advocacy group in Pennsylvania. With a little effort and teamwork, the Toys “R” Us store in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, offered a sensory-friendly day. The event was marked as a success for local families.


One child, whose only communication ability comes from an application on a tablet, was able to pick out his own bed for the first time. With a generous helping of tears from his mother and associates alike, this child felt comfortable enough to sit, and then lay, on a beautiful red car bed. His mother returned to buy the bed the following Monday.


It is experiences like these that turned the local Target to happily agreeing to a similar shopping experience. Though there are no plans to continue forward with the experience nationally, the local Target did set up a day for sensory-friendly shopping and received similar success and praise from appreciative families.


Bass Pro Shop, located in Foxborough, Massachusetts, had rolled out an initiative called “Sensitive Santa”. This allowed families with children who have disabilities to enjoy a Santa visit before regular store hours bring packs of visitors. They even included a pictograph guide explaining each step of the process so that there will not be any surprises – something that can quickly upset individuals with disabilities.


Initiatives like these show fantastic support for sometimes overwhelmed families, making life just a little easier and happier. Inclusion is necessary, and understanding the needs of the community is essential. Bringing joy to everyone during and after the holiday season is what a good community should strive to do.

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Supporting the Siblings of Children with Disabilities

Supporting the Siblings of Children with Disabilities Russ Ewell.png

There is nothing quite like having a sibling. From arguments over toys and bathroom time to presenting a unified front to the world, a sibling makes life fun, challenging, and interesting. However, being a sibling to a child with a disability comes with its own sets of complications and rewards. Understanding and helping a child navigate this potentially rough territory is imperative to foster healthy and strong relationships throughout the family.


The first step is to allow a child to express their emotions. It can be awkward for a child to express their emotions to friends and teachers, but allowing a safe space for those thoughts and feelings to be communicated is essential. Regardless of being positive or negative, children need to be able to express themselves without fear of anger or backlash resulting from communication.


Setting high but achievable expectations are also important. Every child in a household should be expected to shoulder the same responsibilities and chores if able. Keeping the expectations similar for each sibling will cut down on rivalry and the feeling that a double-standard regarding the disabled child exists would be nullified. Children should be treated as equally as possible.


Make sure there is individual time for each child. It can be hectic and overwhelming at times to raise a child with a disability, but every child needs time, love, and attention. Being present and available to siblings is just as important as being there for the disabled child. Bear in mind that there will be conflict. People argue – it is natural and part of growing, learning, and understanding. Allow for healthy conflicts and help each child work through issues both individually and together.


Be sure to celebrate each child’s individual milestones. It is important to remember that every child needs to feel seen and appreciated. While milestones for a child with disabilities might seem to be cause for larger celebrations, siblings need to know they are cherished as well. Keeping that in mind helps children to see that they are equally loved by their parents.


There are many other ways to help siblings understand their unique family dynamics. Making sure information is readily available at age-appropriate levels can answer unasked questions. Forewarned is always forearmed and understanding is essential to raising healthy, happy siblings.

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