Peter Dinklage’s impressive way of choosing roles

dinklage-gameofthronesPeter Dinklage is probably most well-known as Tyrion Lannister on the smash hit HBO series “Game of Thrones.” However, what has always impressed me most about his work is his precision with choosing roles. Throughout his career, the four-foot-five actor has gone out of his way to choose roles that upend stereotypes about the parts usually offered to those his height — he says his role as Tyrion “does address the size issue, but it doesn’t knock you over the head with it. Because you don’t really need to.”

I first saw Dinklage in 2003 in the film “The Station Agent.” In the film, he plays Finn, a man who moves to rural New Jersey after his only friend dies. Finn wants to live in solitude, but he is befriended by two locals. One thing that I absolutely loved about the movie was that, while Finn’s disability is implied as the reason for his self-induced loneliness, as Dinklage said about his Game of Thrones role “It doesn’t knock you over the head with it.”

Peter-Dinklage-2014The befriending of Finn by the locals In “The Station Agent” does not feel like anything close to pity, either, and that’s something I’ve noticed in other films where a main character has a disability. In fact, Dinklage’s dwarfism is rarely spoken about in The Station Agent.

“Game of Thrones” takes an approach to disability that is similar to “The Station Agent.” Tyrion’s disability is spoken of negatively to a certain extent in “Game of Thrones” (it’s implied that it has negatively impacted his relationship with his family) but it by no means overshadows his character.

Dinklage has shared that he initially had concerns about accepting the role as Tyrion because “dwarves in these genres always have a certain look.” He said his guard was up until he realized the “Game of Thrones” role had “no beard, no pointy shoes” and was “a romantic, real human being.” Dinklage himself wasn’t always as comfortable with his disability as he is now – he says that as an adolescent he was bitter and angry, and that he put walls up around himself. “But the older you get, you realize you just have to have a sense of humor,” he says. “You just know that it’s not your problem. It’s theirs.”

This refreshing viewpoint shows in both his remarkable acting and in his choice of roles. I, for one, am extremely excited to see what Dinklage chooses next, and I know I’ll be following his career for many years to come.

 

Getting a good job without losing benefits

Ben Trockman

Ben Trockman

In my last post I promised you I’d be back to explain how I found the M.E.D. Works program offered in Indiana and how that program allowed me to start my career at Old National Bank while continuing to receive Medicaid benefits.

Well, here you go: soon after I graduated from the University of Southern Indiana with a degree in Public Relations, Old National Bank in Evansville offered me a position as a Community Outreach & Employment Specialist. A job offer right out of college — amazing, right?

The purpose of my role at Old National is to help make our community become a better place for hiring people with disabilities (PWD). This includes educating employers and making them more comfortable with those individuals with disabilities. I am also challenged with learning the never-ending list of resources available (people and programs) and helping those PWD with building their resumes and their job readiness skills.

Over the past few months, my boss and I have already helped three individuals network in our community, mend their resumes, and improve their understanding and attitude of the hiring process. The ultimate goal of our work is to match these individuals strengths with a caring employer that will not only give them a job, but start them on a path to a prosperous career.

I’ve also been meeting with numerous providers for PWD, including vocational rehab professionals and multiple passionate advocates. I’ve even met up with the disability coordinator at my alma mater, the University of Southern Indiana. I want to learn as much as I can about all the resources available for PWD in our community so that I may be able to direct a person with a certain problem to the right resource. Let’s get it right the first time!

One example of the programs available is the M.E.D. Works program I mentioned earlier. The “M.E.D.” stands for Medicaid for Employees with Disabilities, and after enrolling, it allows a person with a disability in Indiana to increase their income without losing the valuable resources offered by Medicaid.

Finding this M.E.D. Works program was very difficult for me, and I had to work with an attorney to understand the rules, and how to appropriately sign up for M.E.D. Works. It took me about three months to research and finally enroll in this program.

Now that I know how to sign up for the program and I’ve experienced the process myself, I will be able to help other individuals sign up for M.E.D. Works, too, so they won’t have to worry about losing their benefits. Believe me, before I enrolled in MED Works, the idea of losing my benefits was keeping me awake at night! I don’t want anyone to have to go through that!

I give you that example as just one of the many things I am starting to learn so that I can share them with others and help them be successful in their lives. Old National Bank and I are dedicated to helping individuals in our community, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of this organization. I don’t think there are many businesses out there that would hire a guy like me to help their community in this fashion. I can only keep smiling about all of the tremendous change and positive outcomes that we are going to accomplish along the way.

 

Get advice from pros on how to launch a career when you have a disability.

 

Can Ben’s “23 Blast” movie review convince you to see it?

23Blast-posterI am not a football fan. Any sport with a 100% injury rate is too much for me. And if you read the comments to my post earlier this month about actors with disabilities, you know that while I’d like to see (okay, hear!) more films with people who have disabilities in them, I prefer we just be part of the fabric of the movie, not necessarily the heroic central figure.

So when I heard a movie called 23 Blast is opening in theatres nationwide today, I wasn’t particularly interested. 23 Blast is a movie based on the real-life story of Travis Freeman, a teenager who grew up in a small town in Kentucky and lost his sight overnight when an unusual infection destroys his optic nerve. His parents love him, his physical therapist challenges him, and a high school football coach inspires him to compete on the gridiron. In the end, of course, his Corbin High School team advances to the state playoffs.

I wouldn’t have given this movie a second glance, ahem, until colleagues told me that my fellow blogger Ben Trockman got to see it in advance of today’s opening.

Ben said Blast 23 is actually a pretty good film. “It’s not a documentary in any way,” he said. “But they portrayed the disability pretty well, and they also included a good amount of entertainment and humor in the film.”

Ben said 23 Blast was inspirational, and that most anyone could watch it. “No cursing or offensive actions,” he said. “It was put together to tell a real person story, and it communicated a real message on a bond between friends, family, and a football team.”

The film’s release today includes a descriptive audio channel, which means people who are blind or have visual impairments can use headphones in theaters to take it all in. Who knows –maybe I’ll give it a listen.

If you see this movie, let us know what you think kin the comments below!

 

What’s it feel like to have Autism Spectrum Disorder as an adult?

I am pleased to introduce Aaron Likens as a guest blogger today. Aaron was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (now Autism Spectrum Disorder) at age 20 and is now the Autism Ambassador for Easter Seals Midwest. This guest post was originally published on Aaron’s personal blog, Life on the Other Side of the Wall.

The island problem

by Aaron Likens

Aaron LikensI’m sure at some point in time I’m made a metaphor or two involving an island and, once again, I’m coming up with yet another island metaphor. It’s going to get difficult to remember all these islands I’m creating….

In the midst of this period of feeling down I’ve done a lot of thinking, too much probably, but I’ve noticed an unique pattern that I can only explain using an island as an example. I don’t know about others with Asperger’s, but for myself I feel like I’m on an island. I used to say a deserted island but I have come to learn that this island actually has two bridges connected to two mainlands.

These two mainlands represent two different worlds. On the bridge leading to the right we have normal. Now remember I don’t believe anyone is normal, however wanting to be more normal is something I feel and there is an illusion of normal, all of which are on that island.

As we turn to the left and see that bridge, it leads to a place that is rather uninhabited. It’s a place that often times I feel I want to be and herein lies the problem; both mainlands don’t feel right and I spend my time on the island in the middle always thinking that the place I came from isn’t as good as what lies on the other side of the bridge.

This island in the middle is a place of deep thought. When I spend too much time in the land of normal I get tired with the constant conversing, socializing, and random encounters so I look across the sea and think back to the mainland that is empty and yearn for it. I mean, how great is it to go through life without interactions? When I’ve spent too much time on the land of normal this is how I feel.

When I get frazzled from normal, or not fitting in within the land of normal, I make the trek across the bridge and get to the island where I quickly cross the second bridge to the land of emptiness where I am sure I will find happiness. Each time though the happiness is fleeting and I look back across the bridges from which I came and think about how great it would be to be a part of the land of normal.

After a while this journey across the bridges gets tiring and this island in the middle feels like home. I’m not on either land and yet I’m a part of both. It becomes difficult to decide if staying on the island is the surest bet or if I want to venture out into the world of normal.

When I think about how great the land of emptiness would be I think about how much I would have missed had I stayed there. I certainly wouldn’t be presenting, I wouldn’t have met such wonderful people within the SKUSA and USAC series, and my life wouldn’t extend much outside the walls of my house.

However, when I get exhausted, when life gets overwhelming, or when a major social disaster happens I think about how safe the other place would be. Hence why there is this island problem and staying on the island often times isn’t so much a choice rather a necessity.

This metaphor has been made in so many different ways, but as I was thinking last night about a new way to present it. I came up with this and I could visually see this island in the middle and it felt perfect, and writing this — I hope I did a good job of writing it because it sure made sense as I thought about it — has just confirmed just how apt this is.

For others I’m sure it is different but for myself this is the best way I can describe to you the feelings that go through my body and how I see the way my life is.

 

A great way one school recognized Disability Employment Awareness Month

An elementary school in the Chicago suburbs celebrates Disability Employment Awareness Month every year by asking people with disabilities to come talk about their jobs. Last week my Seeing Eye dog and I went to Wilmot Elementary to talk about my job moderating the blog here at Easter Seals Headquarters, and the kids there had already enjoyed a special guest before Whitney and I showed up. Melissa Stockwell, a three-time Paratriathlon World Champion and decorated U.S. Army veteran, had been at Wilmot the day before us.

Melissa was serving in Baghdad in 2004 when a roadside bomb hit the HUMVEE she was traveling in, resulting in the amputation of her left leg above the knee. She was the first female to lose a limb in active combat, and four years later, she was the first Iraqi War veteran to qualify for the Paralympics: she represented the United States on the swim team.

After Beijing, Melissa took to triathlons. She is currently a three-time World Champion, and when she isn’t running, swimming or bicycling, she works as a certified prosthetist at Scheck and Siress Prosthetics in Chicago, fitting people who have had amputations with artificial limbs.

Whit's always up for a class visit.

Whit’s always up for a class visit.

When my talks at Wilmot were over, I took Whitney’s harness off and let any of the interested kids come by and pet her. As Whitney flipped over and over again for belly rubs, one of the school volunteers there told me that after the presentation the day before, Melissa Stockwell had the kids come up and touch the prosthetics she works with.

How cool. “I want to go to this school!” I exclaimed to the gaggle of kids at my feet, all of them reaching out to pet Whitney. “I know,” one of them said. “We’re lucky.”

 

Best and worst cities for people with disabilities

I’m a Chicago baseball fan, but with the way the Royals have been playing during the 2014 post-season, I’m starting to wish I lived closer to Kansas City. And now, a new ranking of the best American cities for people with disabilities gives me even more reason to move there: the Kansas City, Missouri, suburb of Overland Park was named #1.

The consumer finance website WalletHub says it based its rankings on economic environment, health care, and accessibility:

We analyzed the 150 most populated cities across 23 key metrics, ranging from the number of physicians per capita to the rate of employed people with disabilities to park accessibility. By doing so, we aim to ease the process of finding the best place to live while managing a disability.

Lists like these can be fun, and a ton of folks (including me) get sucked into reading them. I don’t think this one holds much value, though.

In Chicago, the red line subway gets us to 2 major league ballparks!

In Chicago, the red line subway gets us to 2 major league ballparks!

The term “people with disabilities” (PWD) is pretty vague. A PWD can be someone with age-related disabilities, a person who uses a wheelchair, a child with a developmental disability, a returning veteran with a traumatic brain injury – we all have very different needs. A very quick bit of research on Overland Park shows it has a strong public school system, (ideal if you have a child with a disability) and a weak public transportation system (difficult if you’re like me, and your disability prevents you from driving). Three cities in Arizona made the top five, and while people using wheelchairs wouldn’t have to deal with snow and ice in the winter there, those of us who use service dogs would have a hard time keeping them hydrated in the summer.

Chicago ranked way down at 141 on the list, but at least we weren’t last: that honor went to Providence, Rhode Island, at #150. For now, at least, I’m staying here in the Windy City and will settle for watching the Kansas City Royals on TV. The availability of public transportation here lets me live more independently; I know my way around already; and my Seeing Eye dog loves the cold. It’s My Kind of Town.

 

Get more information on accessible transportation from Easter Seals Project Action website.

 

What I learned about finding a job with a disability

Ben Trockman

Ben Trockman

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a discussion on the Easter Seals Facebook page about what it takes to find a job when you have a disability. Our chat was called “Launching Your Career: An Honest Chat about Navigating the Workforce with Disabilities” and was a pleasure to join. I was one of a team of panelists selected by Easter Seals to give some — hopefully valuable — insight on the difficulties that may arise when people with disabilities begin to enter the workforce. Others on the panel with me were:

  • Sara Fair, a college senior who interned with Easter Seals over the summer and is beginning to job-search
  • Colleen Flanagan, a working professional with disabilities who has been through it all and now mentors others as a leader of the youth program at Easter Seals Massachusetts
  • Patrick Cokley, a Policy Advisor at the Office of Disability Employment Policy, an agency within the Department of Labor that aims to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Our discussion covered topics such as disclosing your disability, resume writing, interviewing for a job, and much more. We answered some important questions from the crowd and shared our experiences.

For me, after graduating with a degree in Public Relations from the University of Southern Indiana, my “real job” experience started with an internship with the Public Relations Department at Easter Seals Headquarters. After I started the internship, I was excited to receive a job offer from Old National Bank in my hometown of Evansville, Indiana.

The job, as a Community Outreach and Employment Specialist (more to come in my next post) is an absolutely perfect match for me! But, before I accepted my position at ONB, I had to explore the feasibility of earning a “fair” wage, while continuing to receive Medicaid benefits — the benefits that provide for my nurse/assistant to come to my home in the mornings, get me ready for work, assist me throughout the day, and get me home safely.

Be sure to check out the Easter Seals blog next week. In my next post, I’ll give you more details about my new career at Old National Bank, and explain how I found the MED Works program offered in Indiana, the program that allows me to go back to work while continuing to receive Medicaid benefits.

These are the types of issues we discussed in last week’s Facebook chat, and you can read the whole panel discussion on employment on Easterseals.com. If sharing my story helps other people with disabilities successfully transition back into the workplace, well, I am doing my job!

 

Costumes for kids with disabilities

enhanced-buzz-wheelchair-icecreamtruckFall can be such an exciting time — apple cider, pumpkin picking, and the favorite holiday for many children: Halloween. Finding just the right Halloween costume can be stressful for parents of children with disabilities, however: certain costumes overload the senses, impede mobility, or are just plain uncomfortable to wear. Here are some tips to help your child enjoy Halloween as much as you do:

  • Let your child’s interests shine: Help your child choose a costume that reflects his/her interests
  • Learn to incorporate your child’s wheelchair into his/her costume: If your child uses a wheelchair, a lot of great and creative ideas can incorporate the chair into their costume.
  • Do a trial run before the big day/night: Some costumes might be unexpectedly uncomfortable or cumbersome, and you’d hate to wait until 5 minutes before you’re about to leave for school or trick-or-treating to find that ouBatman costume in wheelchairt!
  • A week or so before Halloween, take a walk with your child around the house, or the block, to make sure that they’re comfortable, and that they’ll be able to enjoy the costume and move in it easily.
  • Talk to your child about what they might expect. Sometimes Halloween means your child is exposed to things that might frighten him/her : haunted houses, scary costumes or noises. Talk to your child about things they might encounter during trick-or-treating, and practice self-calming skills in case they do get frightened while out that night.
  • Research the sorts of treats your child can eat. Many children with disabilities may have food allergies or sensitivities that limit the treats they’re able to eat.
  • If your child is non-verbal, Halloween can be a great opportunity to work on initiating communication! Program your child’s communication device to say “Trick or treat” or ask his/her teacher to design a picture symbol your child can use as he goes door to door.

Buzzfeed had an especially impressive list of costumes –- complete with pictures –- that work with wheelchairs, and you can find a list of candies that don’t contain the top eight allergens on a blog called Sure Foods Living.

Anything special you’ve done over the years to help a child have an amazing Halloween? Share your ideas with us here in the comments.

 

How many homeless people have a disability?

My Friend watches over me at this corner.

Every morning when I take my Seeing Eye dog out for her “constitutional” we pass the same homeless man sitting on a crate. “StreetWise!” he calls out. “Can you give a little hepp today?” StreetWise is a newspaper sold by homeless people in Chicago. The concept is that by selling StreetWise, people down on their luck might get back on their feet.

I’ve always nodded and smiled the vendor’s way as we pass. Since I can’t see to read, though, I never bought one of his papers.

And then came that one wintry afternoon in December.

I left my Seeing Eye dog at home that day to go Christmas shopping with a friend — crowds can be so fixated on shopping that they step on the dog. I cabbed home on my own afterwards, and when I fumbled with my white cane at the curb I heard a voice call out to me with a familiar mispronounciation. “Want some hepp?”

It was the StreetWise vendor. I grabbed his arm, and from the way my hand pumped up and down as we plodded to my doorway I could tell he had an extreme limp. Polio, maybe? I dunno.

When we finally arrived, I held out a bill that had one corner folded and asked for a copy of StreetWise. “They only cost two dollars,” my helper said. “You’re giving me a five.”

“I meant to give you a five,” I said, showing him how I fold money to keep track of the denominations. “Thanks for the help, and keep the change,” I told him. “Merry Christmas!”

W.C. and I have been friends ever since. “Hello Mizz Lady!” he calls out to me when Whitney and I pass him in the morning. And if we don’t pass him, W.C. notices. “You went a different way earlier,” he’ll say. “I was worried.”

A report by The Department of Housing and Urban Development found that 37% of those who sought emergency shelter or transitional housing in 2010 had a disability. October is Disabilities Employment Awareness Month — our nation has recognized the contributions of workers with disabilities since 1945, first as a single honorary week in October and then, beginning in 1988, the entire month of October. In an official presidential proclamation about Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, President Obama urged all Americans “to embrace the talents and skills that individuals with disabilities bring to our workplaces and communities and to promote the right to equal employment opportunity for all people.”

During Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, and every month, Easter Seals helps people reach their employment goals. Need some help? Or do you know someone like W.C. who does? Learn more about Easter Seals Workforce Development services.

 

Uber and the ride-sharing vs. registered taxis debate

taxi-minivanYou might remember that op-ed piece I wrote last April for the Chicago Tribune called “Should ride-sharing services adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act?” Well, six months later, the ride-sharing vs. registered taxi driver issue is heating up all over the country. Another op-ed article –- this one called “The Dark Side of Uber and Lyft” — showed up in the Chicago Tribune this past week. Ride-sharing has become particularly popular In San Francisco, but an article in the San Francisco Chronicle raised concern that only 100 of the city’s 1,885 taxis are currently wheelchair accessible. And three plaintiffs in Houston and San Antonio have filed lawsuits against Uber and Lyft, claiming the companies violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

No decision on those Texas law suits yet, but perhaps it’s due to concerns from the disability community that Uber launched UberASSIST last month? Uber Assist gives people like me, who have visual impairments, or others, who use wheelchairs, the opportunity to notify drivers of our disabilities before they come pick us up. The idea is that people with disabilities who alert drivers ahead of time will get paired with a driver who can accommodate special needs — an Uber blog post explains that “UberASSIST vehicles are driven by trained UberX partners who are knowledgeable of accessibility needs and can offer assistance for those who may require extra help.”

The post says these vehicles can accommodate folding wheelchairs but are not wheelchair accessible ramp vehicles. Uber says that it will provide options for wheelchair-users who need wheelchair-accessible vehicles with lifts or ramps in the future, but it sure is hard to imagine how that would work: Companies like Uber use freelancers who drive their own vehicles, and freelancers don’t often drive vehicles with ramps and lifts on them.

As for guide dogs, Uber does not have a policy about whether or not their drivers will allow people who use service animals in their cars. The only reference to animals in their policy statement is one that says they “leave the decision whether or not to transport pets at the discretion of your driver.”

Since Uber cars are privately owned and operated by independent contractors, they don’t have to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA says “public transportation authorities may not discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of their services” but it doesn’t say anything about private rides.

In addition to launching UberAccess last month, Uber also announced plans to help reduce the high unemployment rate among military families by hiring 50,000 service members, veterans, and their spouses in the next year and a half. I’m all for hiring veterans and their families, but after the little research I’ve done to write this blog post, I’ve gotta wonder if any of America’s 3.6 million veterans who have been injured serving our country will be able to access the Uber services their fellow vets will be providing. We hope so! What do you think?