Champions of Change Honored at White House

WHChaps 1This week, staff from UCP National, along with several participants in our summer intern program, attended the Champions of Change ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C. The program, “Disability Advocacy Across Generations” recognized the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and nine “Champions of Change” selected by the Obama administration. Each champion has been very influential in the disability community and has brought about major changes, while facing obstacles of their own.

Champion Dilshad Ali, a mother of a son with autism, spoke about how disability is something that is hidden and never spoken of in her Muslim community. Ali discussed the importance of being able to access the support of one’s religious or cultural institutions as part of a panel on Effective Disability Advocacy. There was also Dior Vargas, a Latina woman who suffers with depression and anxiety. Vargas emphasized how many times disabilities are ‘invisible’, and therefore go unnoticed. She brought an interesting aspect to the table, and channeled people’s focus on another kind of disability, mental illnesses, which are often left out of the conversation on disability advocacy.

The day’s speakers included Jim Abbott, a former MLB pitcher and Olympian born without a right hand. Abbott has faced physical obstacles his whole life – especially in sports. He spoke about how he had to do things a little bit differently, but that is what got him to where he is today. He showed the audience how he adapted to pitching a baseball with one hand, and told stories about how former teachers and coaches who were open to “doing things differently,” giving him the opportunity to excel.

Another panel on Owning the Future: Disability, Diversity and Leadership included some Champions, who faced more communication barriers than others. Mike Ellis, who is deaf, explained more about his role at AT &T and working to ensure communication technology was accessible to all. Another champion, Catherine Hutchinson, experienced a severe brain injury and is now quadriplegic used a speech synthesizer to communicate.

At the end of the second panel, Derrick Coleman from the SuperBowl champion Seattle Seahawks worked to motivate the crowd to follow their dreams. He lost his hearing at the age of 3 and is the first deaf player in the NFL. Coleman told the audience to be themselves and love themselves.

U.S Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez closed out the event with information about current initiatives to improve upon worker rights, such as raising the federal minimum wage for all workers and echoed some of the panelist’s comments about the importance of participation in the workforce to true inclusion and independence.

UCP at the “Margarita, With A Straw” NYC Screening!

On May 4, 2015, members of the staff at UCP National were invited to the New York City screening of the film “Margarita, With A Straw” at the Paris Theatre as part of the New York Indian Film Festival. The film centers around a young woman named Lila, a college student with Cerebral Palsy who is studying music. The film explores her desire to be loved and accepted for who she really is, while trying to navigate the world in her power chair. In the beginning of the movie, you see Lila in the mists of trying to win the affection of her band’s lead singer, Nima. After Nima rejects her advances, Lila learns that she has been admitted into New York University.

3075

UCP and CPF (Cerebral Palsy Foundation) staff with lead actress, Kalki Koechlin (Lila).

Lila suddenly goes from her small college in New Delhi to the big streets of NYC. On her first week in the city, Lila happens upon a protest. During the protest, police begin to tear gas the crowd; this is where Lila meets Khanum. Lila and Khanum quickly begin a whirl-wind romance and are soon living together. Lila begins to come to grips with her sexuality, knowing that she will soon have to come out to her closest family member and her caretaker: her mother. Through a series of revelations, Lila’s family and relationship are turned upside down. Lila soon learns that she doesn’t need to seek validation from others, but in herself.

Sonali Bose_UCP

UCP with the film’s director, Shonali Bose.

After the movie, the film’s director, Shonali Bose, and its stars Kalki Koechlin (Lila) and Sayani Gupta (Khanum) talked about how they got into character and prepared for their roles. UCP had the opportunity to meet both Koechlin and Bose, take photos and discuss their thoughts and feelings on the film. For some of the staff at UCP National, three of which were born with Cerebral Palsy, this film was the first time they had really seen a portrayal that echoed parts of their own experiences on screen.

What sets “Margarita, With A Straw” apart from other films about Cerebral Palsy or disability, is the way you see Lila: She is not an underdog or a source of inspiration. She is just living her life, while trying to find her place in the world. As a viewer with or without a disability, you can identify with parts of Lila’s journey. This film gives viewers a look into the struggles that some face with a disability, because in the end, we all want to be loved and accepted for who we are.