Thursday, September 29, 2016

Listen, Look, and Learn from Our Youth

We recently finished our Giving Voice program, a partnership with AIGA Austin, which consisted of pairing 8 young adults with disabilities with 8 professional graphic designers. Each pair met for 3 hour-long sessions. The mentors listened to their students to find out what topics were important to them and to understand their take on the world. Together, the teams worked on how they could turn these discussions into visual representations of the topics. Using their professional skills as graphic designers, the mentors were able to help their students turn ideas into images, resulting in 8 posters, with each relating to a social cause.

This past Saturday a team of us hung these posters along with supporting materials at the Laura Bush Community Library. As is typical of physical labor work events that happen on Saturdays, spouses and significant others were dragged along to help! Thanks to Jen Bigheart, PR Supervisor of Westbank Community Libraries, and her wife Betsy, and Kim Hopson of AIGA and her boyfriend Robin, we hung the show in just under 2 hours.

The Opening Reception will be this Saturday, October 1st from 1:00-3:00 PM at the Laura Bush Community Library, 9411 Bee Caves Road, Austin, TX 78733. The event will include a silent auction of the original signed posters. The auction will close at 2:00 PM, and winners will be announced at that time. You will also get a chance to meet the young artists and their mentors. Don’t miss this unique event! But if you do, don't worry – it will be on display through January 6th, 2017, and smaller poster prints will be available for sale online.

The final posters have not been revealed to the public yet! So those of you reading this blog are getting a sneak peek. We look forward to seeing you at the event this weekend! Invite your friends to attend through our Giving Voice Opening Reception Facebook event page here.
Jen directs Robin on the ladder as Kim waits nearby with tape
ready to secure the wires behind the poster designed by Colton.
Robin and Kim secure wires behind the poster designed by Danielle.
Betsy gives a thumbs up from the ladder in front of posters by Madison, Pearl, and Max.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Wings of Color: Magic Happens at Moody Gardens

It’s a beautiful day at Moody Gardens here in Galveston, Texas, the site of our 5th Annual Art in the Gardens festival sponsored by VSA Texas and Moody Gardens. This free event for schools gives students with disabilities an opportunity to show off their creative side through interactive art stations. This year’s theme is "Wings of Color" and we have over 15 local art groups and 4 performance groups providing activities and entertainment for these kids.

Well we better start getting busy setting up. The schools, performers, and art groups will be arriving soon, and we got a big fun-filled event to put on!

We have an adhesive foam butterflies activity provided by The Galveston Art League:
The Galveston Art League table covered in clipboards and butterfly outlines 
A bin of brightly colored foam stars and other shapes
Making animal face masks with Tide Way. Got those creative juices flowing!
Coloring and cutting out various animal face masks
Hey, I see some dancing going on by the Down Syndrome Association Pantomime Dancers.  Fabulous costumes! The kids are loving this.
Pantomime dancers donning circus costumes
Another pantomime dancer in a colorful tutu carefully walking an imaginary tightrope
More pantomime dancers, this time dressed as cars
Oh my gosh, it’s a Penguin Mascot from Ryan's RazzMaTazz! Maybe I can get his autograph, see what kind of fish he likes and if he has a girlfriend.
The penguin mascot greeting one of the kids
Where are all these bubbles coming from? Why it’s from VSA Texas' own bubble making machine attached to this wheelchair. Bubbles everywhere!!
The wheelchair bubble maker attachment blowing bubbles in all directions
More bubbles!
A big shout out to all the volunteers provided by Moody Gardens that are working hard to make this such a special day for all the kids!
Someone dressed up as a bright blue and yellow bird. A penguin admirer? 
Ah, I think it’s lunchtime now for us as well as the kids, but I don’t know, they are loving this live music provided by School of Rock. Look at some of these kids' moves. They know how to rock!
A student grooving to School of Rock with the help of a teacher
Well, it seems like we just got started and now it’s pack up time and thank you's to do for all our great participants. We saw many creative expressions on this year’s theme “Wings of Color.” The kids are off now to see the Rainforest Pyramid compliments of Moody Gardens. This event has been a delight every year and the art community always pulls together to donate their time and creativity in making this event so special for the kids and their families and teachers. Galveston is such a welcoming and beautiful city here on the waters behind Moody Gardens, so magical.
The VSA team behind the magic: Janelle, April, and Lynn
See ya next year!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Call Me Disabled, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Word

I first heard about the movement to do away with the word "disability" ten years ago from a peer in California. His problem was with the prefix "-dis" which according to most dictionaries means some version of "a negative or reversing force." I don't quite remember what he had in mind to replace  "disability" with – it might have been "differently-abled," "uniquely-able," "special needs," or even just "ability" – but I remember being supportive, nodding in agreement, and wishing him luck in that struggle. After all I was eighteen, fresh out of the Youth Leadership Forum, and filled with tremendous pride in this community of which I was a part. So if my disabled friend wanted to get rid of the word "disabled," I thought more power to him! But I also remember thinking as time went on, "Is that really the most important issue affecting people with disabilities? What about attendant care? What about people still locked away in institutions? What about accommodations in school?"

Several recent experiences, culminating with the non-disabled host of a radio program about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) devoting airtime to articulate why we should replace the word, have brought the issue back to mind, and I have come to believe that the words we use to describe ourselves are more important than ever, only I believe we instead need to embrace the word "disability" and discard the others. Here's why:

First off, I adhere to the social model of disability, which means that I am not disabled by Muscular Dystrophy but by the society that refuses to include me. In this way, my actual "disabilities" are stairs, heavy doors that don't open automatically, unlivable personal care attendant wages, the lack of affordable, accessible housing, the cost-cutting practices of insurance companies and government agencies. This list is by no means exhaustive, but the idea here is that if these problems did not persist in my life, I would not feel "disabled," and I honestly wouldn't even think of myself as "disabled." And if we do away with the word disability in favor of a soft alternative with an opposite meaning, we may risk losing this social perspective which is at the core of the disability rights movement.
 Holding my hands up in terror as I sit in the shadows before a steep staircase.
I think the stairs are the real problem here.
Disability is more than just a word. It encapsulates a movement, a culture, and a source of pride for the millions of us worldwide who identify as members of the disability community. When I hear the word disability, I feel good because it refers to my brothers and sisters and some of my greatest role models and friends. Taking ownership of the word – and the identity – is akin to showing solidarity with the community and helping to preserve its history and culture. Moreover, proudly using the term, rather than skirting around it, actually strengthens the community, validates its experience, and shows people without disabilities that a disability is not some terrible, scary, or shameful thing. Disability is a fact of life that nearly everyone will experience at some point in their lives, so it benefits everyone when we make the world a more accessible and inclusive place.
On my first ADAPT action. Disabled and proud!
But isn't the word disability necessarily negative? In short, no. I don't believe disabilities are viewed negatively because they're called disabilities; they are viewed negatively because they have been represented that way and thought of in that way for as long as we can remember, and everything from books and TV shows to movies and other media reinforce that perception. If we simply change the word, the ableist structures that oppress us will persist, especially if we distance ourselves from the label of disability at the prodding of those without disabilities. We need to attack ableism at its core, and we do that by shouting "disabled and proud!"
A blast from the past: long-haired,
18-year-old me and stranger dog checking
out the accessible entrance.
Of course this is only one disabled guy's opinion. Ultimately I believe each individual should determine how they personally want to identify – be it "unique ability," "disability," person first, identity first, or not at all – as long as they have complete autonomy to do so. But if you call me anything, please call me disabled.

Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments section below, or explore the various perspectives on this complex issue by reading these other articles:

Eric Clow
OMOD Project Coordinator
VSA Texas

Thursday, September 8, 2016

For All The Writers Out There!

Originally posted July 28, 2016 at Reposted with permission.

Stop Looking for Something to Be Wrong!

Sit DOWN, and Write!

AND Look for What’s Right in Your Life.

Because there is more right than wrong, isn’t there?

My name is usually Nicole Cortichiato, but sometimes I use my pen name, Nia Spaghetti. I’m also a person with a disability and a writer. I am going to talk to you about getting YOUR stories out there and my writing process.

What have I written? Fiction, flash fiction, memoir, children’s books (below), plays, and poetry.
The cover of my first children's book, "The Independent Hand"

Where have I been published?
  • Austin Rio Review
  • Pen to Paper Contest (2nd place)
  • Badgerdog (Public library writing program)
  • Imagine Art Artist Retreat (Directed and wrote two short plays)
  • Helped write for TILT Performance Group’s production of “Free Patterns”
  • And I’ve self published

My writing process
  • I like to write in the morning, always with plenty of coffee and some breakfast.
  • I didn’t start writing seriously until 2011. By serious I mean actually finishing my stories and doing something with them. Before then, I just journaled a lot.
A tiny plate of eggs and bacon in the palm of my hand

This is how I make it happen:

1. I take creative writing classes at Austin Community College! I swear by this! Favorite teachers: Sidney Brammer and Charlotte Gullick. Why take classes?
  • Because you get to learn new things, see your growth, and because there are assignments, readings, and deadlines.
  • You can take as many classes as you like, you can even take the same class more than once.
  • You always have to hand in a portfolio of your work at the end of the semester. Yeah! Finished pieces!
  • It is required for you to submit your pieces to literary magazines. This is good exercise for any writer.
  • You can also take these classes online. Woohoo! Trust me, it’s easy to learn.

          2. I attend writing and storytelling events!
          • Open mics: These are crucial if you’re a writer. Listen, learn, then participate. Reading your work out loud is super helpful.
          • Storytelling events: Bookstores like Bookpeople, Malvern Books, or BookWoman have regular author events. The Writers League of Texas is another place to learn, and you can volunteer there too.
          Reading at the Lion and Pirate Open Mic

          3. I joined a writing group where we critique each other’s stories.
          • Make sure before you join a writing group, you familiarize yourself with the art and rules of critiquing someone’s work. Bottom line: you want to encourage someone, not crush their dreams. For example, say what worked in a piece instead of what you hated.

          4. I meditate before I write!
          • I believe we have to own what we put out in the world so I seriously think about what I want my writing to do for people. How do I want them to feel or grow? I meditate at least 10 minutes before I write.

          That’s it folks! Now, what’s write with you today?

          Thursday, September 1, 2016

          Hooray for Arts in Context: Body Shift!

          We are so excited! Austin-based KLRU TV announced that Eve Tarlo and her production team members Anna Ramirez and Christopher Kim have been nominated for a 2016 Lone Star Emmy Award in the Human Interest category. The Lone Start Emmys are awarded by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Lone Star Chapter. They are the standard-bearers for excellence in the television broadcasting industry and the gatekeepers of the prestigious regional EMMY Awards in Texas. Lone Star EMMY represents the most experienced and talented television professionals from all disciplines of the industry and from all of Texas’ 19 television markets.

          We wish Eve and her team the very best of luck in winning this award. We will hold our collective breath until the October ceremony! Until then, check out this beautiful video of Silva Laukkanen and the ECHO dancers as they prepare for their site-specific performance in September 2015.

          Thank you to everyone who helps to make this program possible: IMPACT Austin, Texas Commission on the Arts, City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, Keating Family Foundation, Rosedale Foundation, AISD Fine Arts and Creative Learning Initiative, Forklift Danceworks, the VSA Texas Board of Directors, Olivia O’Hare, and all our individual supporters. Body Shift thanks you from the bottom of our beating hearts.

          To donate in support of the work of VSA Texas and Body Shift, please click here.