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Never Lose Sight of Your Worth: A Letter To My Younger Self

Los Angeles, CA, March 31

My Dear Younger Self,

Courtney Munnings smiling headshot wearing a black suit jacket and pink shirtI’m sorry to tell you, you’ll always be different. You won’t always see it, but you’ll feel it. And others will too. The problem is, there are more of them than there are you. So, you will feel wrong. And you won’t fit in. But it won’t be for lack of trying.

For many more years, you will feel desperate to belong. Because belonging means safety, so your mind will make it happen. You will do subtle things to mimic your peers in the same way that you breathe –automatically. You mostly won’t know that you’re speaking or looking or moving like the Others; you will only know that they like you. A lot. But you won’t take it for granted. In fact, you will be hyper-vigilant about people-pleasing. All of your interests and personal goals will relate to being good, looking good, and doing good for others. [continue reading…]

Indie-Rock Band Delta Spirit Debuts Music Video Featuring Actors with Down syndrome for New Single “What’s Done is Done” at SXSW 2022

Los Angeles, CA, March 30 – An authentic story with a universal theme can connect with anyone on a global scale. Any true creative strives to tell such a story in their career, and the band Delta Spirit successfully achieved this in their latest music video for their single “What’s Done is Done.” Directed by Michael Parks Randa and starring Zack Gottsagen (The Peanut Butter Falcon) and Jamie Brewer (American Horror Story), the music video recently premiered at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival and was released online on March 21st for World Down Syndrome Day. This is the first music video starring two individuals with Down syndrome.

The music video chronicles a love story of two individuals with Down syndrome. What makes the video high impact is its subtext: love is universal. Rarely is romance accurately explored within the disability community, especially in commercial filmmaking. This music video shows that people with Down syndrome explore romance and have romantic issues the same as everyone else. The stigma that romance does not apply for people with disabilities is so wrong. Not only is Zack and Jamie’s chemistry onscreen enigmatic but it had me as an audience viewer envious that love so beautiful exists. [continue reading…]

CODA Makes History at the 94th Academy Awards, Proving Authentic Casting Wins

Los Angeles, March 28 – “This is dedicated to the Deaf community, the CODA community, the disabled community. This is our moment,” Troy Kotsur said when making history after winning the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for CODA.

Indeed, it was Kotsur’s – and the deaf and disability community’s – moment during the 94th Academy Awards, as CODA won all three awards it was nominated for, including Best Picture.

CODA first made news when it sold for a record-breaking $25 million during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival to Apple TV+. Kotsur then broke several records throughout this year’s awards season, and on Sunday evening, he became the first deaf male actor to win an Oscar. He is the second deaf person to win an Oscar after Marlee Matlin (CODA costar) won best actress in 1987 for Children of a Lesser God. [continue reading…]

Advice to My Younger Self: Finding Independence Through Community

Abigail Shaw smiling seated on a bench outside

Photo courtesy of Rick Guidotti, Positive Exposure 109

New York City, March 25 – A couple of weeks ago I received a larger-sized envelope on my doorstep. Initially I thought it was something for my partner. I’m blind, and I use a lot of different techniques or apps to adjust to a predominately sighted world. For this task, I scanned the mailing label with an app on my phone that converts text to speech to uncover who the sender was. In the end, it was indeed addressed to me, and it was my master’s in social work degree diploma.

For a moment, I caught myself reflecting on the care-free, and seemingly invincible version of myself from 12 years ago. I had been focused on getting a college degree, moving to a big city, and recording and producing stellar music. In contrast, the somewhat wiser, still witty as ever, and more cautious 30-year-old iteration of me is not meeting the expectations of my youth. It’s taken some time to embrace and love all the facets of what has made and continues to make me Abigail.

The me back in the early days of undergrad had envisioned the “grown up” me being Miss Independent. She’d have this super satisfying job that paid well and was, most likely, in the music industry. All of the stereotypes she tried to run away from about disabled people and traditional roles for women would magically dissolve if she lived in a big progressive city. From the outside looking in, you could have said I was well on my way toward accomplishing [most] of these things. [continue reading…]

Unlocking Society’s Mold of Expectations

Ketrina Hazell seated in her wheelchair, smiling

Ketrina Hazell
Photo courtesy of Rick Guidotti, Positive Exposure 109

New York City, March 25 – Professionals always have tried to frame the expectations of my life, whether they were an educator, service provider, or medical professional. Doctors told my parents I would never be able to see, hear, walk, talk, or live a “normal” life. What is normal? Despite my parents being given low expectations of me, I am no less of a human in their eyes.

I asked my parents one day why I can’t walk or do certain things. At that moment I learned what my story is. We all have a story. What’s your story?

I was born premature weighing only two and a half pounds, so doctors said that I needed to stay in the hospital for weight gain. While there I received a lack of oxygen to my brain, and as a result my motor skills were impacted. At nine months old, my parents expressed concerns about my lack of progress in my milestones, and this early intervention is when my parents learned the name of my disability. Cerebral Palsy is a part of me. [continue reading…]

Genre-Bending Documentary Drama Film Shadow, Created by and Starring People with Intellectual Disabilities, Makes World Premiere at SXSW 2022

A still from Shadow with one of the main characters looking at the camera in a meeting roomAustin, Texas, March 17 – “When artificial intelligence overtakes human intelligence, how will people be treated?”

This is the question at the heart of the groundbreaking film Shadow, which made its world premiere at SXSW Film Festival earlier this week. Produced by Back to Back Theatre, a genre-bending drama with documentary elements, the film was created by individuals with intellectual disabilities and centers people with disabilities. Shadow unravels questions surrounding the disability community, ability, and the emergence of artificial intelligence. It tackles these innovative themes with fervor and a beautiful sense of artistic direction.

Three activists with intellectual disabilities, Simon, Scott, and Sarah, are leading a town meeting about the future impacts of artificial intelligence on the disabled community. However, things quickly go awry when there is tension between the three leaders and those they are speaking to. We come to understand that there is more than meets the eye in regard to the question of what artificial intelligence can do for people with intellectual disabilities. AI might be the consequence of a society that holds little value and humanity for those that don’t meet ableist, and sometimes absurd, standards. [continue reading…]

Hartley Bernier, Voice of Ari in New Series “Team Zenko Go!” is Breaking Barriers for Representation of Kids with Chronic Illness Everywhere

Los Angeles, March 15 – With less than one percent of children’s content featuring a disabled character, the new animated preschool series “Team Zenko Go!” is breaking barriers. The show follows a group of stealthy do-gooder kids who harness the art of distraction to perform anonymous acts of kindness for the residents of their town, Harmony Harbor.

One of the show’s main characters is a boy named Ari who recently has moved to town with his mother, and also happens to be a wheelchair user. Ari is voiced by Hartley Bernier, an actor who has lived with Intestinal Failure due to Total Hirschsprung’s Disease since birth, and also occasionally uses a wheelchair due to chronic pain.

“I think it’s really important for kids to see themselves represented on screen,” Bernier said. “There aren’t a lot of characters who have disabilities or medical complexities represented in mainstream kids programming.” [continue reading…]

Writing Myself Into Existence: by Leo B. Allanach

(Trigger warning: sexual assault, bullying, homophobia, ableism)

Leo Allanach headshot smilingLos Angeles, March 14 – When you’re disabled, when you’re trans, when you’re a child growing up in a rural community of abuse, your body does not belong to yourself. The most important thing you can do, as impossibly difficult as it is, is to reclaim yourself.

I always thought part of my problem was taking up space. No matter how much I try, I feel like I’m on center stage, forcing everyone to look at me by virtue of existing. But it’s a negative space. I’m not seen as a full person when I use my cane – people come up and ask intrusive, rude, even hurtful questions. I’m not seen as something binary, and therefore “real,” but some strange queer Other, due to my transness and gender presentation. I’ve never had space to breathe, never had physical space to take up fully as myself. Nowhere was safe for me to exist. So, for a long time, I didn’t. [continue reading…]

The Crash of Learned Carelessness

Christina Link smiling headshot

Christina Lisk

Los Angeles, CA, March 12 – My wake-up call to learned carelessness came in Summer 2021, when a violent crash forced me out of a work-induced haze. Until then, I had spent years in a modus operandi wherein I was expected to treat my pain as though it didn’t matter. Physical, mental, emotional—none of it mattered when I was expected to fulfill the traditional definition of work. “Traditional” is the key word when coming from a background wherein other forms of work were treated as inferior, and illness was seen as an excuse.

For the five years leading up to that crash, I staggered through work as I struggled with two undiagnosed illnesses: hidradenitis suppurative and Lyme disease. I worked as a housekeeper, pet sitter, intern, volunteer mentor, and freelance writer. None of it mattered, however, as it didn’t lead to the “good job” with benefits or offer the opportunity to climb within a corporation. In the days leading up to the crash, I was throwing myself into work in hopes of getting this “good job” at long last.

Had I allowed myself to see the signs, I would have stepped away from work much sooner to take care of myself. In summer 2021, my health was in serious decline after various forms of stress sent it spiraling out of control. Along with stressors from the pandemic and a broken hearing aid, I had been left by my partner because I didn’t agree to his timeline for children. I swallowed Aleve like candy, chased it with caffeine, and tried to hide migraine symptoms under a theatrical smile. [continue reading…]

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