50 Years After Its Debut, A Blind Actor is Cast In ‘Wait Until Dark’

The promotional poster for Wait Until Dark, featuring the main character, Suzy, at the forefront.

c/o The Original Theatre Company

When Chicago’s Court Theater produced Wait Until Dark on stage in 2008, they asked me to be a technical consultant. Nine years later, progress! For the first time ever, a blind actress is playing the leading role.

Wait Until Dark was written for the stage but is better known for the 1967 film version. Audrey Hepburn played the lead role: a newly-blind woman alone at home who is terrified when a psychopath breaks into her apartment.

I loved being a tech consultant, but when I bragged about the actress playing the Audrey Hepburn character coming over to watch how I move around our apartment, or when I shared some of the questions handsome actors (why picture them otherwise?) had been asking me on the set, my friends would inevitably ask, “So why don’t they just have you play the part?”

The easy answer was that I am not an actor and don’t know a thing about acting. The more complicated answer was that back then, even if I’d studied acting, I wouldn’t have been considered: actors with disabilities were not getting many roles on stage or in Hollywood nine years ago.

But that’s beginning to change. last year I wrote two posts about actors with disabilities scoring major parts:

The CEO here at Easterseals had an article in The Huffington Post last year, too, touting A&E’s Born This Way (a show chronicling the lives of young adults with Down syndrome) after it received an Emmy for best unscripted reality television series. And then there’s four-foot-five actor Peter Dinklage. A star on HBO’s Game of Thrones, the accomplished actor won an Emmy for his role as Tyrion Lannister.

Fast forward to today. Actor Mickey Rowe is one of the first actors with autism to play a character with autism on a major professional stage: he’s playing the lead role in the Tony award-winning play Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Indiana Repertory Theatre before it opens at New York’s Syracuse Stage October 25.

And yes, finally, nine years after my debut as tech consultant, for the first time ever, an actress who is blind has debuted as the lead in Wait Until Dark — British actress Karina Jones lost her sight as a young teenager.

I got in touch with Karina after she landed the Audrey Hepburn role, and she shared a link to an interview acknowledging her surprise at learning she’s a first. “It’s 2017 and yet I am the first blind actress to take the role of a blind person in a play that has been around since the 60s. Why?” More from the interview:

“Producers and directors should give disabled roles to disabled actors. A blind person wouldn’t be auditioned for, say, Desdemona – we’re not there yet – but with roles that are written as disabled or impaired I think it is only fair that they should be played by disabled actors. In this play I’ve totally got an advantage [over a sighted actress] because I’ve got a lot of shorthand. I’ve got a head start because I have real insight into the character. Playing this part is, for me, an amazing thing; a real push forward for equality. It’s brilliant.”

The play opened at Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne on August 24, 2017 and has been touring ever since. The show opens in Exeter next week and continues its UK tour until December. For tickets and more information, visit www.waituntildark.co.uk.

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A Blind Art Teacher Instills Creativity, Confidence in Her Students

Jessica Jones helping one of her students.

Art teacher Jessica Jones working with one of her students.

Lavelle School for the Blind in New York contacted us this past summer about their gardening program for kids with visual impairments. Horticulture therapy programs for students who are blind or have other disabilities are popping up all over the country, and while Lavelle’s gardening program is terrific, I’ve heard of gardening programs like theirs before. What I’d never heard of is someone teaching art to blind students…who is blind herself.

Jessica Jones lost her sight at age 37 due to complications of Type 1 diabetes. Before then she’d been employed by New York City’s Department of Education teaching art in the schools, and she was determined to continue that career after she lost her vision.

“It never even occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to go back into the public school classroom and teach art,” Jessica told me during a phone interview. “But when I actually was out there interviewing I was shocked at how difficult it was; I was utterly shocked. But did I ever think I couldn’t do it? No.”

Difficult as it was, Jessica persevered and eventually landed her job at Lavelle, a public-private school in The Bronx. These notes from our phone interview help explain how she teaches art to the 100+ students with blindness and other disabilities who are enrolled there:

Jessica: I do just about everything that you can imagine. I’ll start at the top of the list and when you get tired just tell me. We do a lot of painting, I will always have some sort of tactile element involved if the child requires it, or if they want to go back and feel what they’ve done. There are always the obvious things like sand or lentils, and there’s also Ms. Jessica’s Magic Paint, which is plain old tempera paint that has school glue and shaving cream added to it. So it gives you a really raised surface to feel.

One of Jessica Jones's students

One of Jones’s students

Beth: What other tactile stuff do you do? Mosaics, sculptures, clay?

Jessica: We do a lot of print making. Cardboard is an art teacher’s best friend, and the kids make their own printing plates out of cardboard. I’ll give them a two-foot square of cardboard and then if they have the ability to cut out their own shapes they do so and glue those down where they’re composing their image. If they’re not able to, I give them pre-cut shapes and they’ll glue those down where they want. And then, just like print makers do with linoleum, you apply the ink that has been mixed with sand to the surface of this cardboard printing plate with a brayer, put your paper on top and you rub, rub, rub. Pull it off and you have a captive print.

Beth: Sounds like fun! Is printmaking one of their favorites?

Jessica: I honestly have to say, the primary love among my kids is sculpture. I have a lot of kids who have really taken to sculpture both figurative and abstract. They use things out of the recycle bins. I’m always pushing kids to recycle because I believe in recycling. I tell the other teachers all that stuff you’d send to the Salvation Army, put it in the art room. I’ll find a way to use it!

Beth: What thing do you like best about your job?

Jessica: Oh gosh, what is the best part? I think the best part is probably seeing the light go on. You know, I’ve been teaching at the same school now for 11 years. There are some kids that I’ve been with since they were three and a half years old, and it may take them that long to get something as simple as folding a piece of paper, but once they do it, and they do it all by themselves, they’re just so absolutely pleased with themselves. “I get it… now I get what she’s been trying to get me to learn for so many years, and I hated her for trying to get me to learn it, but now I get it”. That’s what I love, is seeing their lightbulb go on over their heads.

Beth: Can you share a specific example of a lightbulb moment?

Art created by Jones's students.

Art created by Jones’s students.

Jessica: I’ll give you an example where it happened for all of my students at once. We put on our second annual Lavelle school art show in April of this year and people came from all over to see it. Friends of mine that work in museums, people from the community, people from the State Commission for the Blind, people from the Department of Education, newscasters and newspapers. The first year the kids were absolutely thrilled to get all that recognition, but this year I noticed something different. They stepped up the work they were doing for this year’s exhibit.

They recognized they were bringing their abilities to the community at large, not just mom and dad. Not that mom and dad are not important because goodness knows, they are. But the children, this year they stepped up the work they were doing to be a part of the community at large — which a lot of time they are not. It wasn’t just about the attention anymore, it was more about being an artist. “I’m not just a student, I’m an artist, and I have something to contribute to the community at large, that you might not think I have the ability to contribute.”

Easterseals offers art therapy programs for children and adults with disabilities at select locations across the United States. Find your local Easterseals for more information.


How Asperger’s Syndrome is Like a Checkered Flag

A checkered flagToday’s blog is going to use the most traditional of all things in Motorsport, the checkered flag, as a concept to describe Asperger’s.

The thing about the checkered flag is that it’s so contradictory. In the top corner is one color and if you go just far enough you’ll reach another, but then keep going and you’ll be back to where you started and so on and so forth. What does this mean? My experience in having Asperger’s is one of stark contrasts and it gets tiring. Here’s what I mean…

I want to be part of the social world but the social word tires me.

I want to be part of a team but I often can’t see the concept of teamwork.

I have extremely good sense, especially when it comes to hearing, but I often wish I could turn it off.

I want to be alone but being alone is extremely isolating.

I need to be perfect in things that I do but there is no satisfaction at achieving perfection.

I can give some incredibly witty remarks but often miss out on when someone is being witty.

I want to make sense of the world but often the more I know about things the scarier the world is.

Being in my Kansas is awesome but I often wonder what life is like out there.

I yearn to be normal but normal seems so boring.

I can do some things great and many things not so great.

Hard things come easy and what is easy to most comes at a high degree of difficulty to myself.

I want to care about others but allowing myself to feel is overwhelming.

I want to tell others what they mean to me but expressions of any kind are paralyzing.

Do you get the idea by now? It’s a constant struggle to be wanting both sides of the coin; to want something but to know if I had it the results would be just as difficult as living without it. Living with Asperger’s, at least for me, is living a life full of contradictions.

Aaron Likens on a sailboatAaron Likens, author of Finding Kansas: Decoding the enigma of Asperger’s Syndrome, and the National Autism Ambassador for Easter Seals, has spoken to over 80,000 people at over 900 presentations and has given to the world a revelation of how the Autism Spectrum Disorder mind works. His willingness to expose his inner most thoughts and feelings has unveiled the mystery the Asperger’s mind. Join him on his journey from hopelessness to hope.


Your Legislators Need to Hear From You

A stethoscope on top of a generic medical recordThe Senate Finance Committee is meeting this Monday, September 25 for a hearing on the Graham-Cassidy Amendment (the one that proposes to repeal the Affordable Care Act). The Congressional Budget Office Score will likely be published Monday night as well and be narrow in focus.

We probably won’t see much of anything there on Medicaid, but since the Medicaid provisions are similar to those on past House and Senate bills, we are pretty certain of the negative impact they’ll have on people who have disabilities.

If you’re feeling anything like I am, you’re thinking this is all painfully familiar. Didn’t we do this already? Don’t our legislators already know how we feel? Do I have to contact them again?

Yes. We do. Now more than ever.

So here’s something you can do Right now. Send a comment to the Senate Finance Committee at GCHcomments@finance.senate.gov and be sure to cc your senator on that message as well. Tell them this bill is harmful to people with disabilities.

If you want more information, you can link to our Easterseals Action Alert. Sharing a personal story about yourself or someone you love who has a disability can be especially effective. Send a photo along. A video. Let them know who you are. And how you feel.


Why You Should Think Twice About Faking a Service Dog

A yellow Labrador retrieverI’m blind, my Seeing Eye dog Whitney guides me safely wherever I need to go, and in the past I’ve been pretty clear here on how I feel about people in America faking their pet is a service dog to get them into places dogs are not allowed.

Most of the blogs, tweets and podcasts I hear chastising dog owners who do this have been written by someone like me, who has a disability. So it was refreshing to read this compassionate article called Stop Faking Service Dogs by a dog lover who writes for Outside online magazine. Reporter Wes Siler doesn’t have a disability himself, and in his article he questions why others like him think it’s okay to fake it.

The article describes what qualifies a dog as a service animal in a way any average person should be able to understand.

Siler explains that the Americans with Disabilities Act limits the definition of a service animal to one that is trained to perform work or a task that helps a person who has a disability, and Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. “So, while a dog that is trained to calm a person suffering an anxiety attack due to post-traumatic stress disorder is considered a service dog,” Siler writes. “A dog whose mere presence calms a person is not.”

Still, people claim their therapy and emotional support dogs qualify. In his article, Siler quotes a man named Randy Pierce describing a flight he went on once with his guide dog Autumn that also had an unruly emotional support dog on board who barked incessantly during the entire trip. “My dog was not barking back, but the barking was changing her behavior,” Pierce said. “That makes it harder for her to do her job; she loses her focus. I’m 6’4″, so if she loses her focus, it means I’m going to hit my head on an exit sign or a doorway or, if we’re on a street, maybe even step out into traffic.” From the article:

“Pierce’s dog, Autumn, completely ignores other dogs, doesn’t beg for food, sits quietly for the duration of long flights, and generally minimizes her impact. That’s the result of lots of money—service dogs cost upwards of $20,000—and thousands of hours of training. Pierce, for example, has developed a routine with Autumn that involves the dog communicating when she needs to go to the bathroom, and then doing so in a specific orientation to Pierce that enables him to easily find it and collect it in a baggie. A true service dog is essential to its human partner’s well being, as well as a huge financial investment that other untrained dogs in public places put at risk.”

Note: when it comes to the cost for training guide dogs for people who are blind, most of the funds come from donations to the organizations that train them. The cost to train some service dogs to help people with other disabilities can fall directly on the person with the disability, though.

The article refers to a study conducted at the University of California at Davis that says between the years 2002 and 2012 the number of “therapy dogs” or “emotional support animals” registered by animal control facilities in the state of California increased by 1000 percent, and that the increasing presence of emotional support dogs on flights and at businesses is creating a backlash that impacts true service dogs (Pierce said on his flight with guide dog Autumn he overheard a flight attendant telling her colleague that she “wished they wouldn’t allow service dogs”).

I hope you’ll read the entire article – there’s a lot more oomph to it than I can fit into a blog post here. How about I leave you here with my favorite part, where reporter Wes Siler just lays it out for readers:

“Look, I get the desire to bring your pet along with you everywhere you go. My dogs are as important to me as my friends and family. The first criteria my girlfriend and I apply to where we eat, drink, and travel is whether our dogs can enjoy it with us. But out of respect for the needs of disabled people, for the incredible work that real service dogs perform, and for the people managing and patronizing these businesses, we will not lie. We do not take our pets places where they’re not welcome. We never want to compromise the ability of a service dog to perform its essential duties.

As an animal lover, don’t you want the same thing?”


What Does School Choice Look Like for Students with Disabilities?

A box of crayonsAll the attention — and destruction — Hurricane Irma has brought the state of Florida this past week got me thinking about all the kids who have had to have there brand new school year disrupted. And that made me think of a story I heard about the experiences two families in Florida who have sons with autism have had with public schools and “school choice” there. I’ve been wanting to blog about that story here ever since I first heard it on NPR.

“Today we’re going to meet two special needs families in Florida,” the story opens. “President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have repeatedly touted the state as a national model for the expansion of school choice.”

The first Florida family they feature on the radio story has a child named Ayden, who has autism and had meltdowns when he attended a public school. His mother told the reporter that he came home from school one day with injuries from being physically held down. “I was horrified,” she says in the interview. “He was covered in bruises.” NPR reported that St. Lucie Public Schools would not comment for the story, citing privacy.

Aiden’s mother pulled her son out of the public school after that and started searching for a private school instead. From the story:

“Helping kids like Ayden find a better fit is exactly why vouchers for special needs students were created. Ayden is eligible for the McKay, which provides about $11,000 to attend a private school. McKay is the biggest and one of the oldest such programs in the country.”

Sounds good, but while several private schools nearby advertise they take students with autism, Aiden’s mom couldn’t find a school within driving distance that will accept her son. “The minute you call them, they’re like — oh, well, we don’t really have the staff to handle your child.”

Our son Gus has developmental and physical disabilities, and we had good experiences with the public schools he attended when he was younger. A number of other kids with disabilities at the different public schools Gus attended came from families who sent all their other children to private schools. When I naively asked the parents why they didn’t send their special needs child to the same Lutheran or Catholic school the siblings attended, they’d just shrug and point out what, to them, was obvious. Public schools are required by federal law to take every student no matter what. Private schools don’t have to.

The NPR story interviews another family whose son Reed, who has autism, attended a tiny Christian school in Florida until middle school. “The family brought in a therapist for Reed at their own expense and had her train the teachers in following Reed’s behavioral plan,” the reporter explains. “But the school ended after fifth grade, and the family was rejected by several other private schools.”

Reed sings in the choir at the public school he attends now and is making A’s and B’s in mainstream classes. “We’re a regular old comprehensive public school,” Reed’s school principal tells the reporter, noting that means they have an autism specialist on staff.

I hope you’ll give the NPR story a read. It does an excellent job of pointing out what many Americans don’t realize: families have fewer legal protections outside the public schools, starting with the basic right to an education. And given the services some children with special needs require, often a voucher is not enough.


Think Ahead: Apply Now for 2018 Summer Internships

The U.S. Flag by a windowWait a minute. Didn’t the school year just start? Well, if you are in college right now, or will just be finishing college in 2018, or plan on attending law school or grad school,believe it or not,the AAPD Washington DC Summer Internship Program for Students with Disabilities is already accepting applications for their 2018 program.

AAPD stands for the American Association of People with Disabilities, and their summer internship program provides college students, law students, new graduates and other graduate and professional students with all sorts of disabilities the opportunity to work in public service for 10 weeks on Capitol Hill and at federal agencies. Each intern is matched with a mentor who will assist them in their career goals, and as if that isn’t enough, the internship also provides the interns with a stipend, transportation to and from Washington, DC, and fully-accessible housing. From the AAPD web site:

“At the beginning of the summer, interns participate in a 1-week orientation session to learn about AAPD as well as the disability rights movement, meet the other interns, and participate in a variety of engaging workshops and events. As part of the AAPD network, interns also receive opportunities to attend events on Capitol Hill, conferences, community events, happy hours, and more.”

If you qualify, I guess it’s never too early to apply! The application is available online now. and is due on November 6, 2017.


These 68 Companies Score High When It Comes to Disability Inclusion

A close up on two hands drawing a geometric figure in a notebook.I hear stories on TV and radio business shows that say people with disabilities are a large and growing market, and they always leave me wondering: Don’t businesses understand that one good way to tap into that market might be hiring workers with disabilities at their companies?

I can quit wondering, I guess — results of this year’s Disability Equality Index (DEI) reveal that many of them do.

This is the third year that the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) have teamed together to evaluate inclusion and equality for people with disabilities, and 95% of the 110 companies that participated reported having recruitment efforts in place that are specifically geared toward hiring individuals with disabilities (that’s an 11 percentage point increase since 2014)., a record 68 employers have earned the top rating of 100:

  • 3M
  • Accenture LLP
  • aetna
  • AMC
  • Ameren
  • American Airlines
  • Anthem
  • Aramark Corp
  • AT&T
  • BAE
  • Bank of America
  • Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Blue Care Network
  • BMO Harris Bank
  • Booz Allen Hamilton
  • Boston Scientific
  • Brown Forman
  • Capital One
  • Cargill
  • Cigna
  • Comcast NBC Universal*
  • CVS Health*
  • Delta
  • DTE Energy
  • Dupont
  • DXC Technology
  • Express Scripts
  • EY Building a better working world
  • Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)
  • Florida Blue
  • Freddie Mac
  • General Motors
  • Goldman Sachs and Co
  • GSK
  • Health Care Service Corporation
  • Hewlett Packard Enterprise
  • HP Inc.
  • Huntington National Bank
  • Intel
  • J P Morgan Chase & Co.
  • Kaiser Permanente
  • KPMG
  • Lincoln Financial Group
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Manpower Group
  • Mayo Clinic
  • Microsoft
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  • PNC Financial Services Group
  • Prudential Financial
  • pwc
  • Qualcomm
  • Southern Company
  • Sprint
  • Starbucks
  • Synchrony Financial
  • T Mobile
  • TD Bank
  • The Boeing Company
  • Dow
  • The Hartford Financial Services Group
  • The Procter and Gamble Company
  • United Airlines, Inc.
  • Verizon
  • Walgreens
  • Walmart
  • Wells Fargo
  • Whirlpool Corporation

The site where this list appears is quick to note that a score of 100 does not mean to convey perfection, it simply means that a company adheres to leading disability inclusion practices featured in the Disability Equality Index. “AAPD and the USBLN recognize that there is no one ’right way’ to practice inclusion, and that some practices may be more practical for some companies or industries than others.”

*Notes an Easterseals partner


7 Advantages of Being Blind

Easterseals National blog readers might recall a post called Taking on college and getting around campus when you can’t see it that guest blogger Alicia Krage wrote last year during her first weeks at a large university. Alicia starts her second year at Northern Illinois University this month and is back with an update.

Ali and Joe.

Ali and Joe.

by Alicia Krage

Sometime last year during my first semester away at college, I had a few consecutive days where everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. What made this even worse was that everything that went wrong was because of my blindness. My bus was late because scheduling got messed up, my screen reading software wouldn’t read a document correctly, and on and on. My mantra on those days seemed to be “This would be a lot easier if I could see.”

If I could see, I could’ve just walked to class. It would’ve taken a while, but it probably would’ve been more effective than waiting for a bus. Better yet, maybe I could’ve driven there. If I could see, I wouldn’t have accessibility issues; I’d read things on the computer like my classmates do.

So after a few consecutive days of continuously having things go wrong, I talked to my boyfriend about it. I was very upset and was confiding in him about everything that went wrong and how that made me feel.

My boyfriend Joe is also blind, and I was sure he had these days too.

He had.

He also told me that it had taken him a while to feel confident and accept his disability — and that yes, some days are harder than others.

But then, after patiently waiting for me to finish up my stories and get everything off my chest, and after he offered some words of encouragement, he reminded me that while it does have its setbacks, being blind does have its advantages, too. And so then we discussed them.

  1. Not being able to see allows me to get to know somebody based on their personality rather than their looks. I can tell a lot about a person based on how they converse with me. If somebody greets me and sounds cheerful, I can presume that they’re an outgoing person who’s relatively easy to talk to.
  2. I’m a good multitasker. As a blind person, I have to listen to multiple things at once, such as various sound clues when traveling. At a coffee shop I can listen to various conversations and observe many things at once. This is a natural thing for me, so wherever I am I’m very observant of my environment.
  3. Being able to fully focus on a TV show or movie while in another room. There have been several occasions where I’m watching a TV show and doing something in another room, but as long as the volume is up, I’m perfectly capable of following along since I don’t have to look to see what’s going on.
  4. Communication is a lot easier. My boyfriend is blind, too, so I’ll use my relationship with him as an example . Communication has always been something we’ve been very good at, and part of that is probably because we can’t just look at the other’s face to see if they’re okay, if something’s bothering them, or if something’s wrong We must say these things out loud in order to make the other person aware of it.
  5. I’m resourceful and able to learn things that others might find difficult. I have a lot of blind friends, and they have taught me how to do various things on my iPhone or on my computer that a sighted person probably wouldn’t be able to teach me.
  6. Appreciating the little things. I find happiness and beauty in the smallest things: the sounds of the crickets at night, waking up to the birds outside my window, or falling asleep to the rain (when it starts to rain as I drift off to sleep, it’s relaxing and a really nice sound).
  7. Reading. I listen to audio books on my phone, and I can do this while I do laundry or other tasks. This makes reading a lot easier. I like reading Braille, but I’ve read more books since I’ve gotten a Bookshare account and listen on my phone

Talking with Joe about all this really made me realize that while yes there are some setbacks, there are great things that don’t require vision — there are great moments in life you don’t have to see with your eyes.

More posts by Alicia Krage:

How One Student Who is Blind Planned the Perfect Date
“Dating someone who is blind is honestly not as hard as it sounds”
Taking on college and getting around campus when you can’t see it
Taking on college with a disability, part two
Do I prefer to date people who are blind or not?


How Can Parents Help Their Children Have Disability Pride?

Every couple of months here at Easterseals, we host Twitter chats centered around issues relevant to people with disabilities and their families. Past topics have included financial wellness, fearlessness, media representation, and inclusion.

On July 20, 2017, we were joined by an incredible group of folks who tuned in using the hashtag #DisabilityInFocus to discuss disability pride and unity. The conversation was insightful, with a diverse array of perspectives represented.

A few weeks ago, we featured tweets from the chat on self-advocacy, and today we’re talking tips on how parents can help children with disabilities have pride in themselves. Stay tuned for more featured tweets from this chat, and if you’d like to read our full conversation, be sure to check out our recap!