Millersville University and The Ware Center in downtown Lancaster, which is also a part of the University, have gone above and beyond in our community trying to not only raise awareness about the needs of individuals that are differently abled, but also acceptance of them by presuming competence of their abilities.
Recently, I got the privilege of taking part of two film viewings and a show at the different theaters Millersville has on both their campus and downtown in our community. Each of the productions highlighted different areas of challenges and stories from the perspective of those that are Autistic, hearing-impaired, and are experiencing life-long disabilities and facing the age old question–what happens if a parent is no longer able to care for their loved one with a disability?
My first experience happened a few weeks ago, when I had the privilege of attending a screening and participating in a panel for the film “Deej” — the story of a young man diagnosed on the autism spectrum who also happens to be non-verbal and also happens to be the first person to graduate from Oberlin University, a top US University, while being a non-verbal autistic individual.
As I mentioned during my panel discussion, I don’t want to ruin this film or any subsequent topics I bring up in the blog below by giving you all the talking points from the film, but I will suggest highly that you do view it. While, yes, there are some points that were brought up during our discussions that bear some debate, overall the film was a beautiful example of what can happen positively in the life of an individual if a community bands together to be TRULY inclusive and doesn’t limit the paths that person can use to reach their full potential. Some controversy exists about the ability to duplicate the effects of what happened in Deej’s life, but perhaps it is because I can also view this through the hopeful eyes of a parent that will never give up on a child I love, that I can see the merit in looking beyond studies and doing what works for a child–as an individual. The reality is that regardless of whether the featured therapeutic approach in the film–facilitated communication–is or is not an effective method for the vast majority of individuals on the autism spectrum, that in the case of this specific young man it was effective and allowed him to not only attend, but also graduate from one of our nation’s most prestigious institutions.
My next experience happened just a few days later when I got to experience the very last showing ever of the play “Butterfly”. Created by internationally acclaimed Deaf storyteller Ramesh Meyyappan, it was a striking adaptation of Madame Butterfly, exploring themes of love, disappointment, loss and hope.
This modern multi-disciplinary piece used visually poetic narrative and movement, and beautiful, handcrafted puppets to tell the tale of Butterfly, a female kitemaker, whose life has been shattered following the departure of her lover, who left her alone, isolated and traumatized. The viewer got to follow this beautiful, complex character as she decides to conjure a happier life for herself in her head, but as she flits deeper into her imaginary world, her tale takes another tragic turn.
Prior to one of the showings of this very last viewing of this amazing production, the audience was treated to a free 20 minute Audience Perspective Lecture given by deaf poet Dr. Meg Day of F&M College.
Mimi and Donna
Finally and in collaboration with the Elks Nurses and Special Kids Network, I was able to reunite with my long-time friend and fellow advocate, Kay Lipsitz, former Director of Parent Education Network, for a viewing of a film that made me necessarily uncomfortable and emotional for all the right reasons. It was a film that explored the often feared topic of “what happens if I am no longer able to care for my loved one with a severe disability?”
“Mimi and Donna” is the story of a mother who is 92 at the start of the film who is still caring for her elder daughter, aged 64, who has a diagnoses of intellectual disability among others. The Director of the documentary is the granddaughter and niece respectively of the title characters who during the course of filming discovers that her own son also has a diagnosis of Autism.
I haven’t had such a big cry in a long time but it was totally a film that I recommend emphatically and whole-heartedly for anyone that does have a loved one that they know they will care for, for a long time and if you’ve ever uttered the words “I can’t never die.”
I want to take this time to personally commend a few people in our community who are really going that extra mile to create an inclusive community and to provide opportunities to educate anyone who has ears to hear and a heart open for change and growth. Thank you to Millersville University for taking positive strides to establish itself as a leader in acceptance for the differently abled and their families in Lancaster County. Your efforts in just two weeks time were immense and very telling of your commitment to your mission.
Additionally, I want to thank Barry Kornhauser and Kay Lipsitz, two individuals that continuously strive to inform others about the needs of those that are often misunderstood, under-appreciated and undervalued but who are competent, loving, artistic, and in many ways more able that many around them give them credit for.
Please consider attending events put on by the Ware Center when you get a chance and certainly take advantage of their Sensory Friendly performances. You will not only not regret the decision–you may find that the experience changes your perspective and life for the better.
The next sensory friendly performance will take place on Saturday, Oct. 28th, 2017 at the Ware Center in Downtown Lancaster. For tickets go to their box office. Should you have questions about the performance or should you want a social story for it, please email Barry directly. The Tommy Foundation will be providing a sensory hour prior to the performance to help those that need it get some sensory breaks and input before the show.
Hope to see you there supporting the arts and our growing, inclusive community!