On March 25, the Third Annual Celebration of Individuals with Disabilities in Film concluded at Pace University’s Michael Schimmel Center. The night was culmination of a week-long festival showcasing films starring and made by people with disabilities. James Lawler, DPS, Professor of Information Technology at Pace Univeristy’s Seidenberg School chaired and organized the festival, which was free and open to the public. AHRC New York City is a community engagement partner with Pace University. Screened during the event, Lefty’s Lie: The Musical, starred and was directed by people supported and staff at AHRC NYC’s Betty Pendler New York League.
A distinguished panel discussed issues relating to people with disabilities in society and their portrayals in film. The panel included Victor Calise, Commissioner for the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities; Alice Elliot, Director of Welcome Change Productions; George Gallego, CEO of Wheels of Progress; Allan B. Goldstein, Lecturer at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering; Marie Hodermarska, Teacher at NYU and a parent of a person with disabilities; Gary Lind, AHRC NYC’s Executive Director; Evan Yankey, Regional Coordinator of SANYS; and Isaac Zablocki, of ReelAbilities. The panel was moderated by Marijo Russell O’Grady, PhD, Dean for Students at Pace, and Kristen Thatcher, a self-advocate and graduate of AHRC NYC’s Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program at the College of Staten Island.
The first question asked to the panel regarding the portrayal of people with disabilities in film and television. Alice Eliot mentioned that she had recently worked on a movie with a filmmaker living with multiple sclerosis and said that she “feels optimistic in my little microcosm.” Isaac Zablocki suggested that Hollywood is changing, and filmmakers can now reach more people than ever before without having to use the traditional distribution methods, and expressed hope that this would greatly benefit filmmakers looking to feature people with disabilities. Victor Calise mentioned a positive and accurate portrayal in recent popular culture, Breaking Bad, which starred RJ Mitte, an actor with cerebral palsy. Gary Lind said that “personal media has a made a difference” in allowing people with disabilities to be shown how they want to be seen.
Five of the best films from the festival were screened, including: Midfield, a Portuguese short documenting the immensely satisfying work and sports life of a man who has had multiple amputations; The Kiss, a hilarious narrative featuring an unusual and awkward encounter between two couples; The Gift of Impermanence, showcasing a dance company that incorporates typical and non-typical body types; Coaching Colburn, a documentary made by students at Trinity College which profiles a man living with Fragile X syndrome and his family, and also has gorgeous cinematography; and Guest Room, a film featuring young people with Down syndrome experiencing the complications of relationships, sex, and pregnancy; it stars Lauren Potter from the TV show Glee and was featured at this year’s South by Southwest fesitival.
The films were inspiring and emotional, and helped spur spirited discussions from the audience and the panel. Towards the end of the event, George Gallego told the audience an inspiring message. “Society looks at a person with a disability and says ‘That’s something that needs to be fixed.’ I don’t need to be fixed. This is who I am.“
Saturday, April 25, 2015 and Saturday, May 2, 2015
from 10 am – 2:30 pm
AHRC New York City’s Main Office, Penthouse
83 Maiden Lane New York City 10038
Will this technique help my loved one with a developmental disability to communicate?
Can this method be used with very young children?
After attending this workshop series will I be able to use what I learned immediately?
The answer to all of these questions is YES! Difficulties with communication are frustrating for many individuals with developmental disabilities. AHRC has developed a teaching model known as Word Sign – a total communications curriculum designed specifically for people who have trouble communicating. Word Sign employs the use of signs and words along with facial expression and body language. Come and learn this comprehensive technique that can be used with individuals who have developmental disabilities and are nonverbal or those who have difficulties in spoken receptive and/or expressive language.
Presenter: Ray Franzem, Ph.D., Director of Social Services for Education, AHRC New York City
How to Register:
Please note – You must be able to attend both Word Sign sessions.
Having a sibling with a developmental disability is a uniquely challenging experience that few can understand. AHRC New York City‘s Sibling Services offer a variety of ways for brothers and sisters to connect and help each other through professional assistance and peer support. On March 9th, AHRC NYC staff, leadership, families, and siblings gathered at India House in Lower Manhattan to support programs for brothers and sisters of those with disabilities and provide professionally guided opportunities for peer support and education. The night included raffles, silent auctions, food, and speeches from siblings, board members, and professionals.
“When we were growing up, many of us felt very alone,” Ruth Pickholz, AHRC NYC Board Member and a sibling of a person with disabilities, said. “We felt that we were the only ones and had no one to talk to. But now there is a place.”
Laura Kennedy, President of AHRC NYC and President of NYSARC, Inc., has a daughter with a developmental disability and stated that her first interactions with the agency were with the sibling committee. “I thought ‘Wow, this great agency really thinks about the siblings,'” she said. “When AHRC NYC was founded 65 years ago, siblings were home, siblings were not included. But over time siblings and family members are now part of the leadership and advocates for our loved ones.”
Three people supported by Sibling Services also shared their experiences. Patricia Wright has an older sister with autism. “What’s the number one question I get asked about my sister?” she said. “It’s ‘How do you live with a sibling with disabilities. It’s easy through the sibling support group.” Patricia has been attending the group since she was five years old. “I can honestly say that the sibling support group has become like family to me.” She said that she had raised money through her school for the event and that she plans to walk with friends at the upcoming Autism Speaks Walk NYC in May.
Gina and Donna Celentano also have a sister with autism, (whom is also Donna’s twin). Each of them mentioned their early struggles with coping with their sister’s disability. “I wasn’t upset at her,” Gina said, “I was upset that she had a disability and I couldn’t do anything to help her.” Donna expressed a similar, heart-wrenching sentiment. “When I was younger I used to cry to my mother because I thought I gave her a disability,” she said. “Once I came to SibShops I learned that it wasn’t my fault.” Donna said that she learned activities to help her connect with her sister. Gina also spoke on how SibShops help her cope. “They taught me ways to share my emotions and that what I was going through is completely normal.”
Alexander Torres, a longtime artist who receives services at Brooklyn Day Hab and is part of the art collective Artemoose, was recognized for his digital designs and paintings by the Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC). Alex received a Community Arts Grant, which was made possible by BAC through the support of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
Alex was nominated by Megan Hummel, a former Community Support Professional at Brooklyn Day Hab who now works at a shelter in Brooklyn. “[Alex] has been working so independently in a lot of his art projects and I thought he would make a great candidate,” she said.
The grants ceremony was held on March 18 at Brooklyn Borough Hall and featured speeches by a number of distinguished guests, including Ella J. Weiss, President of BAC; Eric L. Adams, Brooklyn Borough President; and Edwin Torres, Deputy Commissioner of the Dept. of Cultural Affairs.
“I feel happy about this grant because I love my art,” Alex said. He thanked his parents; Raquel Pinnock, Program Director of Brooklyn Day Hab; Chad DeRoche, his friend and fellow Artemoose member; Megan, for her longstanding assistance and mentorship; and “everybody who supports and helps me achieve my goals in life.” He also passed along some inspiration for his peers. “I know that people like me with disabilities can always do art and win every day. I hope that winning this grant will inspire people like me. I promise one thing by getting this award – to get more goals and achieve more. I won’t stop doing my art any day.“
Yankees Magazine created this great video about the 35th Annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner and the meaning behind it.
The AHRC New York City Foundation is a fund-raising and grant-making entity that supports programs for children and adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities and who live in New York City.
The Foundation is the primary source of philanthropic support for AHRC New York City, which provides a wide array of social services for approximately 15,000 people with disabilities.