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Brain candy for Happy Mutants

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    Ed sez, "With a retired Bozeman engineer's 70th birthday approaching, disabled gamers say they fear there will be no one to replace Yankelevitz, who has sustained quadriplegic game controllers for 30 years almost entirely by himself. The retired aerospace engineer hand makes the controllers with custom parts in his Montana workshop, offering them at a price just enough to cover parts."

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    A disability rights group is suing Uber over charges that the ride-hailing service violates New York City human rights laws by failing to ensure that enough of its vehicles are accessible to physically disabled riders.


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    Standing in the Mütter Museum of medical oddities, contemplating a neat row of  jars, each containing a malformed fetus with spina bifida, Riva Lehrer realized just how easily she, too, could have ended up a specimen in a bottle, an object of curiosity, pathos, and, yes, revulsion. "Their spinal column failed to fuse all the way around their spinal cord, leaving holes (called lesions) in their spine," she writes, in a New York Times essay so scarifyingly honest it feels like self-anatomization. "Some extrude a bulging sac containing a section of the cord. These balloons make the fetuses appear as if they’re about to explode. This condition is called spina bifida. I stand in front of these tiny humans and try not to pass out. I have never seen what I looked like on the day I was born."

    Born with Spina bifida, the survivor of scores of surgeries, Lehrer is "less than five feet tall." She writes, "I have a curved spine. I wear huge, clunky orthopedic boots." Yet as she notes in her Times essay, she no longer winces at her own reflection. Through her stunning, photorealistic portraits of people with disabilities—people like Mat Fraser, a.k.a. Sealo the Seal Boy from American Horror Story; Nomy Lamm, born with one leg smaller than the other; Lynn Manning, a blind actor and 1990 World Champion in Blind Judo shown brandishing his white cane like a katana—she has come to see "disabled bodies as unexpected and charming and exciting. Each one stretched the boundaries of what it meant to be human. They made the world big enough to include me"— and the rest of us into the bargain. Riveting, moving, powerful, profound, her essay as well as her art recall the well-known quote from the Roman playwright Terence: "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto" (loosely, "I am human, and nothing human is alien to me").

    "Theresia Degener," by Riva Lehrer.

    A gallery of Lehrer's astonishing work is online, at her site, here.

    Mark Dery is a cultural critic. He has published widely on media, technology, pop culture, and American mythologies. His latest book is the essay collection, I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-By Essays on American Dread, American Dreams. He is writing a biography of the artist and legendary eccentric Edward Gorey, due out from Little, Brown in 2018.

    Top image: Riva Lehrer, “66 Degrees,” 2016. 24″ x 36”, acrylic on wood panel. All rights reserved.

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    At the Disability Rights Legal Center fundraiser gala this past weekend in Los Angeles, Apple was presented with DRLC's Business and Technology Award for their accessibility work, and 'Infinite Flow - A Wheelchair Dance Company' was featured as a cause auction recipient for an Apple Watch Series 3, which was designed with a number of accessibility-expanding features. Of particular note are its wheelchair-specific features, VoiceOver for the blind, and the Taptic Engine (haptic feedback for navigation and notification).

    What's the connection between Apple Watch and wheelchair dance?

    Activity on the Apple Watch is optimized for wheelchair users. taking into account different pushing techniques for varying speeds and terrain, Apple Watch tracks daily activity, encourages healthy routines through wheelchair-specific workouts, and prompts users to move with Time to Roll notifications.

    (...) With sensors configured to address different surface types, inclines, and transition moments, such as moving from a wheelchair to a seat at a desk, the Apple Watch Series 3 is designed with accessibility in mind and ideal for the variety of dancers in Hamamoto's inclusive classes and performances.

    Infinite Flow was founded in 2015 by Marisa Hamamoto, a professional ballroom dancer who became temporarily paralyzed, then later regained the full use of her body.

    Her group is America's first professional wheelchair ballroom dance company, and works to encourage others to dance inclusively, with and without physical limitations.

    At the DRLC event on the Fox Studios lot, Hamamoto and guest artist Piotr Iwanicki did a live cha cha cha performance.

    They've done other fun projects together, including one in Japan featured below.

    “Thank you, Apple, for continually creating and innovating technology that everyone, including people with disabilities, can use,” said Hamamoto later on the dance group's Instagram.

    More on Apple's accessibility features here. If you missed their video with Sady Paulson when it made the viral rounds last year, you should watch it again. The people behind this work at Apple really mean it, and some of them are my friends.

    Here's a transcript of the DLRC's introduction for Apple at the award ceremony:

    For more than 30 years, Apple has provided innovative solutions for people with disabilities. Apple’s built-in accessibility features make them powerful and affordable assistive devices, drastically simplifying the buying process and learning curve for users with disabilities. By including these features within mainstream products, Apple has cleared the way for more advancements in this important field, opening up countless possibilities for people to be creative, collaborative and independent. We cannot be more honored to recognize them for their commitment to the disability community.

    More of the dance group's inspiring work in the embedded Facebook videos below.

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