Starstruck: H.W., Obama, and ADAdvocates

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

President George H. W. Bush signing ADAOn July 26th, 1990 President George H. W. Bush signed a bill into law that protects millions of Americans from discrimination. The pursuit to protect the rights of disabled Americans has been taken up by Bush Sr.’s successors.

Just last month President Obama called for a national conversation for mental health aimed at de-stigmatizing the issues to ultimately make it easier for those who need it to ask for help. The Department of Education called on schools and states to adopt principles to protect the safety and dignity of all their students. And the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program was started to get individuals the communication technologies they need to lead independent lives.

You can read much more about Obama’s commitment and contributions to the issue on the White House Blog. But, for me, one fact stands above all the other politics that shows me we are talking about real changes: Under Obama, the federal government has hired more disabled employees in decades.

Today is Starstruck Saturday, but in addition to celebrating the famous people who have made ADA and all associated efforts a possibility –like President George H.W. Bush and President Obama— I want to also celebrate all the ordinary people who dedicate their lives to advocating for and empowering people living with disabilities. For example, all those honored earlier this week in the ADA Anniversary Champions of Change Event.

Equal access. Equal opportunity. The freedom to make our lives what we will. These aren’t principles that belong to any one group or any one political party. They are common principles. They are American principles. –President Obama (20th anniversary of ADA)

Starstruck: Celebrity Pet Edition

Mr. Jon Stewart is the celeb of the day and his celebrity pet is Champ!

Jon Stewart's 3 legged pit bull ChampStewart has rescued 3 pit bulls including Champ, who has only 3 legs. Stewart is a huge dog lover and an advocate for pit bulls. He went so far as to respond to a Sarah Palin comment in 2008 about pit bulls and hockey moms like this:

One is unfairly maligned in spite of evidence that it is no worse than any other dog, and one is an artificial demographic that is no better or worse than any other mom. –Jon Stewart

With the new addition of Champ to his family and his public displays of love and patience towards his disabled dog (who understandably tires easily on walks), Stewart is rectifying yet another “maligned” demographic.

Maybe the handsome duo is out on a walk now! Happy Saturday!

Starstruck: the Terminator

You got me! Today’s post isn’t about the Governator. It’s about his earthly, reality-based reincarnation. He’s likely to be famous tho — my spidey senses say he’s in the running for Dad Of The Year.

Newly equipped with RoboCop – worthy carbon fiber armory, this man one upped every other father who’s sitting on their porch with a shotgun as their daughter’s date tries to pick her up.

Terminator D

This man — the terminator of relationships perhaps — has some legit gear to give back so much he lost in an accident 6 years prior. His bionic prosthetic arm is capable of mind-boggling amount. He can type, crack eggs, deal cards, tie his shoes and if he so chose to, sit on the porch with his shotgun, he has the trigger finger for that too! 😉

Rock and roll! Terminator bionic arm arm dad rock and roll

Starstruck: Wheelz

Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham is a 21 year old Extreme Wheelchairer.

Spinal bifida — a birth defect of the spinal cord — left Aaron in a chair but it did not get in the way of his dreams. A successful moto-cross athlete, Aaron does with his chair things others can only dream of doing on a bike.

Aaron can forever boasts the FIRST EVER double back-flip on a wheelchair, among his many accomplishments alone and those done with Nitro Circus (essentially a motocross “circus” crew of incredibly talented and brave athletes).

Concussions are temporary, backing down is permanent.- Aaron Fotheringham

Fotheringham wants to change the way people see wheelchairs. After seeing this, it will be hard to see a wheelchair the same ever again.

I present, the first wheelchair double back flip:

Happy Fourth of July

Today we celebrate the United States of America’s independence!

On this day in 1776, our Founding Fathers drafted the Declaration of Independence that gave birth to this great nation.

Little celebrated is Constitution Day (September 17, 1787), which marks the birth of our current system of government. The initial system–the Articles of Confederation–was weak. One of the Founding Fathers, James Madison, is one of the major forces responsible for replacing it with the strong system of today.

James Madison - Founding Father of USAWithout James MadisonFounding Father, Father of the Constitution, Father of the Bill of Rights, and 4th President of the United States — the US would not be the great nation it is today.

So today, as you celebrate your freedom and being part of a nation and government that is presently making historic changes for the people, I hope you remember the debt you owe to this great and disabled man.

It is not super well-known that James Madison was disabled; his intellectual achievements tend to overshadow. He was a very frail child and even as an adult he was only about 5’5″ and about 100 lbs–the smallest of all American Presidents.  He had to overcome a speech impairment that prevented him from doing public speaking until he was 30 years old. And around the 1770’s, Madison began to experience epileptic seizures and went into a depression.

The hope of realizing his dream of religious freedom brought him out of his depression and lead him to work on the Declaration of Independence. By the time of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Madison was experiencing a disabling attack of malaria. These attacks continued the rest of his life and became increasingly debilitating in his later years.

With all that is currently happening in our nation, I think President Madison’s words are as true as ever:
James Madison - Equal rights

Read here for more info on James Madison, his accomplishments and disabilities.

Happy Fourth of July everyone!!

Miss You Can Do It

Last month’s coronation of Miss Iowa, Nicole Kelly, was very exciting as Kelly will be the first one-armed contestant for Miss USA.

Kelly, however, cannot claim the title of first disabled contestant on Miss USA. That title goes to Abbey Curran, the 2008 Miss Iowa.

Miss Iowa Abbey Curran at Miss USA

You read that right. I triple checked; they were both crowned in IOWA. There is something very special in the state of the wild rose.

Abbey Curran has a mild case of Cerebral Palsy and has some trouble with muscle coordination required for walking. A high-school teacher told Curran that she could not compete in beauty pageants because of her disability, and that was motivation enough to prove them wrong!

In her royal wake, Curran founded a non-profit which allows girls ages 5-25 to compete in a special pageant: Miss You Can Do It. This year marks the 10th annual pageant for disabled women built upon Curran’s belief that you can accomplish great things when you try.

And boy is Curran an example of that! She was told that disabled girls cannot participate in beauty pageants and she turned that idea on it’s head!

Miss You Can Do It - Big Dreams, Little Wishes, Major Triumphs

This incredible pageant and it’s beautiful founder are featured in an HBO documentary airing this summer. Here’s their summary:

Miss You Can Do It highlights the extraordinary work Curran is doing with the pageant she founded. Curran and a team of enthusiastic volunteers give participants a chance to be celebrated for all they are inside, not just defined by what the world sees on the outside. For one special weekend the young girls, along with family and friends, some who have traveled far distances, spend time in an oasis of fun, femininity and celebration.

No one leaves the pageant empty-handed, with each girl receiving a special award. The real winners of the pageant might be the families and friends, who proudly cheer them on from the audience.

Watch Abbey Curran’s interview with Ellen Degeneres to get a glimpse of how awesome she is and all things she touches. I introduce the original Miss You Can Do It!!

Starstruck: Tom Dempsey

If you haven’t heard of Tom Dempsey… Imagine a disability. Pick the one thing that should be the hardest to accomplish for a person with that disability. Watch them become the best in the world at it. Now you’ve heard of Tom Dempsey.

Tom Dempsey kickerTom Dempsey was born without fingers on his right hand or toes on his right foot. Surely this would be discouraging for an aspiring athlete. But it turns out that even with those disadvantages, he not only kicked for the NFL in the 70’s, he tore it up!!

Dempsey is probably most known for his 63-yard game winning field goal in 1970. In the past 42 years, no one has been able to beat this record! (To be fair, a few have matched it).

It seems like every successful disabled athlete out there has to endure criticism that their disability or their equipment gives them unfair advantages over their peers. As is the custom, Dempsey, too, endured this obligatory scrutiny.

Even though ESPN Sport Science found that Dempsey’s modified shoe gave him no advantage and likely a disadvantage, the NFL decided to add the “Tom Dempsey Rule”. It stated: “any shoe that is worn by a player with an artificial limb on his kicking leg must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe”.

But kicking isn’t Dempsey’s true pride and passion. He loved hitting. He’d tackle anyone; he was absolutely fearless. Unfortunately, after 3 confirmed concussions, 66 year old Dempsey is now learning to deal with a new disability: dementia.

In January of this year, Dempsey shared his condition publicly. He met Dr. Amen (I can’t imagine a more trustworthy sounding name for a doctor. Dr. Amen: the answer to your prayers. Yeah, I just came up with that, no biggie 😛 ) who was doing a study on former football players with brain disorders. He described Dempsey’s condition as ‘an emergency’ upon seeing his brain scans. Dempsey has 3 holes in his brain and is now taking steps to slow down it’s progression.

What an inspiration–going after your dreams with brain-clobbering passion!

Read this great article featuring an interview with Dempsey and his wife about his career and his struggle with dementia. 

Starstruck: Elizabeth Taylor

While studying up for our previous Starstruck article on Mila Kunis’ eyes, I heard Natalie Portman give an interview on the topic. Portman–demonstrating once again that she’d rather be smart than famous–said “[Mila’s eyes] was incredibly beautiful. It was like an Elisabeth Taylor thing that she had.”

I was curious by what she meant with that comment and the world wide web parted for this surfer…

Elizabeth Taylor, in her infinite beauty had violet-blue eyes. It is an extremely rare color, often reserved for people with albinism. Whether this is what Portman was talking about, I’m not sure, because Taylor also had a genetic mutation of her eye lashes: she had an extra pair.

Elizabeth Taylor's eyes

When she was born, her doctor tactfully (*sarcasm*) told her parents that she had a genetic mutation. Any parent would be distraught over hearing this but when he finally explained that distichiasis means simply extra eyelahses, Taylor’s mom said “Well now, that doesn’t sound so terrible.”

Though distichiasis itself means extra eye lashes, it can come with other complications. It is not simply a cosmetic effect, though it is associated with ptosis (droopy lid) and strabismus (cross-eyed). The extra lashes tend to grow inward and damage the cornea. Further, there are associations with congenital heart defects, lymphodema (extreme swelling of extremities), and mandibulofacial dysostosis (facial deformity).

The only issue I could find regarding her distichiasis was when she was a young girl, acting in Lassie Come Home, she was sent back to hair and make up for having too much mascara on. She wasn’t wearing a drop.

Taylor was clearly blessed genetically, not just for her rare violet eyes, but for her mutatiously beautiful eye lashes. Her distichiasis  (in the public eye) was isolated and did not lead to any of these very serious outcomes. However, it is worth saying that Taylor was hospitalized over 70 times for various reasons (one of which was an ulcerated eye), almost died four times (by her count) and finally succumbed to congestive heart disease in March, 2011.

Just because Taylor did not share publically any health problems related to her distichiasis, doesn’t mean she didn’t face those struggles. Even the most famous and public of figures have secrets. So maybe she wasn’t as lucky with genetic roulette. I must admit though, she made a very beautiful mutant.

Starstruck: Jim Abbott

Jim Abbott is a world class pitcher. Pitching for the Olympic Team in 1988, he brought home Gold. In 1999 he ended his 10 season big league career; among his greatest achievements was pitching a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1993. Finally, in 2007 he was elected in the College Baseball Hall of Fame.

Jim Abbott was a great inspiration and an icon–as demonstrated by his guest appearance on Boy Meets World just after his no-hitter–for his amazing skills on the field. Even parents loved him for being a great role model and pursuing his education at Michigan University.

He did all this and all without his right hand!

Jim Abbott baseball

The really cool thing about that, to me, is that Abbott’s achievements were so visible. No one could argue that Abbott was any less talented than his able-bodied teammates. In fact, batters would try to exploit his disability by bunting the ball, but he was prepared and often got them out at first. I think this visibility was an opportunity for people to reconsider what disability means and what obstacles we let get in the way of our dreams.

Abbott is an exceptional player, and he got there because of his “little hand”. This may seem counter intuitive, but his little hand motivated him to prove he could do anything the other kids could do. To fit in.

When I was young my father put a baseball in my hand, and it made sense, and eventually it put me in a place where, maybe, I was a little less different. Baseball, to me, was validation.   -Imperfect

Abbot just released Imperfect: An Improbable Life detailing his life story. I’ve only read bits of it, but it is a unique account where you can get a glimpse of his internal struggles resulting from his birth defect. I really love this excerpt about when he goes to his 5 year old daughter’s career day and, in front of the entire class, asks “Dad, do you like your little hand?” There is no way to do justice to his response, so I won’t even try; read it here.

He took the hand he was dealt, and inspired a generation. Now that he’s put his story on paper, this baseball legend’s legacy will be how his triumphs transcend time and will have a lasting change in the world, for the better.