15 Inspiring Moments for People with Disabilities in 2019
Here are some of the historic achievements and advances that happened in 2019.
Disabilities are common
About 48.9 million people in the United States have at least one form of disability, according to Dreamscape, an organization whose mission is to help those with disabilities thrive in the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 4 adults is living with a disability. If those numbers surprise you, that may be because people with disabilities are often vastly underrepresented in the media, and disabilities aren’t always apparent.
Disabilities can be varied, but they generally include any condition that affects an individual’s mobility, cognition, hearing, vision, or ability to live independently or care for themselves, according to the CDC. The National Service Inclusion Project cites just a few as blindness, paralysis, cerebral palsy, and developmental disability, but the list goes on. For people with disabilities, here are some of the historic achievements and advances that happened in 2019.
Ali Stroker’s Tony win
Broadway actress Ali Stroker’s 2019 Tony win was unprecedented in that she became the first actor using a wheelchair to take home one of the ceremony’s coveted trophies. Stroker starred in a revival of Oklahoma! as Ado Annie. She won the Best Supporting Actress in a Musical award. “This award is for every kid watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena,” she said in her acceptance speech. “You are.” Musicals can make you inspired in more ways than one—these are the surprising health benefits of music.
LEGO adds instructions in audio and braille
Given that LEGO has been around since 1932, it might be surprising that their instruction manuals have never been made available in audio or braille form until now. In 2019 the company announced that—thanks to entrepreneur Matthew Shifrin who is blind—LEGO is piloting a program that uses AI technology to make the popular construction sets more accessible to those with vision impairment. The company is starting with audio instructions for just a few sets in English, with the larger goal of adding additional languages and support for upcoming product launches.
A woman completes 2,300-mile wilderness adventure
An adventure seeker before she started using a wheelchair in 2013, Nerissa Cannon sought the support of the organization No Barriers, to help her continue her outdoor pursuits. According to Good News Network, Cannon, in partnership with No Barriers and Winnebago, made a 2,300-mile road trip in 2019 that included six states, three national parks, and a number of recreation areas. Cannon even drove the RV across the finish line at the No Barriers Summit in Lake Tahoe, California—the final stop on her trip.
A girl who is a double-amputee walks in New York Fashion Week
In what is considered a first for a child who is also a double-amputee, nine-year-old Daisy-May Demetre walked the runway at New York Fashion Week. Demetre was cast in the Lulu et Gigi Couture show. According to the BBC, Demetre was born with fibular hemimelia, a condition in which either part or all of the fibula bone in the leg is missing. She had both legs amputated as a baby. When talking with a parent of a child with special needs, these are the things they wish you wouldn’t say.
A national park introduces off-roading wheelchairs
Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is now more accessible to people with disabilities thanks to the introduction of track chairs, which are essentially wheelchairs with treads that can handle different terrain. The chairs are considered the first of their kind, available free of charge for guided hikes at the park. According to the National Center on Accessibility, Sleeping Bear Dunes now has a new accessible kayak launch and fishing pier, with plans for accessible exhibits at the ranger station and a tactile park-wide map inside the visitor center, among other improvements.
Target introduces adaptive Halloween costumes
In 2019, Target introduced a line of Halloween costumes to be more inclusive of children with disabilities. They include princess and pirate costumes that have openings in the back for easy dressing, as well as wheelchair covers that can be purchased separately. Other costumes include hidden pockets that offer abdominal access and hoods and other features that can be removed to accommodate sensitivities. “Every child deserves to bask in the fun of a special moment,” said Target’s Julie Guggemos, senior vice president, owned brand management and product design, in a company statement.
New York City street corners will become wheelchair accessible
Cheers for a U.S. District Court settlement requiring the City of New York to make wides spread improvements to sidewalk accessibility for wheelchair users and the disability community at large. This is a monumental decision that was decades in the making. “We’ve been working on this matter for 25 years, and it’s finally resolved in favor of people with mobility impairments,” said James Weisman, president and CEO of the United Spinal Association, in a statement. “We look forward to working with the City to achieve 100 percent accessibility at every corner, on the agreed schedule.”
Candidates with ALS and cerebral palsy win Japanese election
In a July 2019 election, two candidates who use wheelchairs secured seats in Japan’s upper house, according to a report from Reuters. The candidates included Yasuhiko Funago, who lives with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Eiko Kimura, who has cerebral palsy. The National Diet is Japan’s bicameral legislature, with the upper house being the House of Councillors. Want to learn more about ALS? Check out these seven facts everyone should know about ALS.
Daniel Romanchuk is first American to win NYC Marathon wheelchair race two years in a row
For the first time, an American won the New York City Marathon’s men’s wheelchair division back to back. Daniel Romanchuk won with a time of 1:37:24, according to New York Road Runners. He was the youngest person and first American to ever win the race in 2018.
Romanchuk, also the first men’s American wheelchair racer to win both the Boston and London marathons, has also qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
A Christmas Carol’s Tiny Tim is played by actors with disabilities
Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol features a beloved character, Tiny Tim, who walks with a crutch. While the story has been adapted into dozens of movies and produced annually around the world as a favorite holiday play, rarely are actors with a disability cast to play the role of Tiny Tim.
That changed in 2019 when a Broadway production of A Christmas Carol in New York City cast two boys, Jai Ram Srinivasan and Sebastian Ortiz, with disabilities in the role. Their casting followed that of the production in London, which for the last three years has cast children with dwarfism, cerebral palsy, and other conditions, according to The New York Times.
Theater companies in Texas and Illinois have also cast children with disabilities as Tiny Tim. In 2019, Chicago’s Goodman Theater cast an 11-year-old girl with cancer-related spinal compression for the third year in a row.
Court rules retailers to make online services accessible
A lawsuit filed against Domino’s in a U.S. District Court in California claimed the pizza purveyor violated federal disability requirements when Guillermo Robles, who is blind, couldn’t place an order on his phone because their website didn’t work with his screen-reader software. The courts agreed, ruling that Domino’s and other retailers need to make their online services accessible. “At the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), we were relieved to see this common-sense confirmation of long-standing precedent,” the organization said in a statement. “The Americans with Disabilities Act has been the law of the land since 1990, and the Department of Justice first articulated its interpretation that the ADA applies to public accommodations’ websites over 20 years ago.”
WeWalk brings the walking cane into the “smart tech” era
Created by Kursat Ceylan, who is blind, the WeWalk Stick was introduced in 2019 with the intent of helping those who are visually impaired more easily navigate their surroundings using advanced technology. WeWalk is equipped to pair with the Bluetooth on one’s smartphone and uses Voice Assistant and Google Maps software for navigation. In addition, it includes built-in speakers that allow the user to be made aware of locations and details that they otherwise could not easily detect. “As a blind person, when I am at the Metro station I don’t know which is my exit … I don’t know which bus is approaching,” Ceylan tells CNN. “That kind of information can be provided with the WeWalk.”
Sign language now includes 100 new scientific terms
If you’ve ever watched a medical drama on television and had a hard time following along with the jargon, spoken in plain English, you’re not alone (we’re looking at you, Grey’s Anatomy). Now imagine the complexity scientists have when trying to spell out these lengthy words in sign language. Scientist Liam Mcmulkin, who was born deaf, has created over 100 new signs to address the needs of scientific terms for fellow researchers in his situation. “I feel really happy because I know from my own experience how difficult it is to learn during my lectures,” Mcmulkin tells the BBC. “Now the new signs have spread, I feel it will be much better for future students.”
Nearly 60 companies were celebrated for hiring practices
Since 2016 the National Organization on Disability (NOD) has been acknowledging companies that exhibit excellent employment practices for people with disabilities. This year 59 businesses found themselves on the list, including Accenture, Boeing, The Walt Disney Company, and Comcast NBCUniversal. “These winning organizations understand that by harnessing the talents of people with disabilities, they reap the benefits of a more diverse and more productive workforce,” said NOD Chairman Governor Tom Ridge. “The preeminent challenge before us is to ensure that people with disabilities enjoy full opportunity for employment, enterprise, and earnings, and that employers know how to put their talents to work.”
ALS community creates first patient-focused guidance for drug development
ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) has very few drugs available to treat its patients. A 2019 brainstorm of the international ALS community (including caregivers, patients, clinicians, researchers, and organizations) is hoping to change that. They created the first patient-focused guidance for ALS drug development that has been submitted to the FDA. “The creation of the patient-focused Guidance for ALS Drug Development was an inspiring and promising step for the ALS community, as it will initiate faster and more efficient ALS drug development programs, reduce costs, and incentivize the industry to enter the ALS market,” said Andrea Pauls Backman, CEO of the Les Turner ALS Foundation. “Achievements such as the Guidance reinforce the importance of the patient voice and provide hope that additional therapies will be developed quickly and ultimately a cure for ALS will be discovered.”
- Dreamscape: "Why Accessibility?"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 1 in 4 US Adults Live With Disability
- National Service Inclusion Project: What Do We Mean By The Term Disability?
- Time: Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg Announces His Policy Agenda for People with Disabilities
- CNN: Ali Stroker makes history as the first Tony award-winning actor in a wheelchair
- Reuters: Two severely-disabled candidates win seats in Japan upper house vote
- American Foundation for the Blind: American Foundation for the Blind Applauds Supreme Court Decision to Uphold Accessibility Ruling
- LEGO: The LEGO Group to pilot LEGO® Audio & Braille instructions
- BBC: Double amputee model walks at New York Fashion Week
- National Center on Accessibility: Annual Report
- BBC: What's deoxyribonucleotide in sign language?
- CNN: The tech empowering disabled people in cities
- National Organization on Disability: NOD Announces the 2019 'Leading Disability Employers'
- United Spinal Association: United Spinal Association & New York City Disability Advocates Secure Landmark Victory To Make Every Street Corner In Every Borough Wheelchair Accessible
- National MS Society: Prevalence of MS More Than Doubles Estimate