Disabilities

Visually impaired dancers find passion at Brazil ballet school

Photo Credits: Cia Ballet De Cegos

“I learn everyday to close the eyes of the sight, which are extremely full of preconception, and to open the eyes of the heart.”

 

Such are the words of Fernanda Bianchini, the founder of Fernanda Bianchini Ballet Company. The dance school is the only one in Brazil, and one of the few in the world, to cater to visually impaired dancers. Since its inception in 1995, the school has been offering free classes that are mainly funded through donations.

 

Bianchini says that the school's main goal is for students to improve their posture, balance, spatial sense and self-esteem, in addition to breaking barriers and prejudices about people with handicaps.

 

Without the aid of sight, the process of learning dance is very different for the visually impaired, and comes with a much steeper learning curve.

 

“The method is all through touch and body perception. The students touch my body, feel the movement and afterwards try to reproduce it in their own bodies,” Bianchini told AJ+.

 

Geysa Pereira, an instructor at the school and herself visually impaired, acknowledges the difficulties of dancing as a visually impaired person.

 

 “Since the beginning, my biggest difficulty is to turn. It still is today.” - Geysa Pereira

 

Nevertheless, the dancers at Fernanda Bianchini’s school have proven that their passions can – and do – triumph over these hardships. They stage regular performances, and in 2012, four dancers were selected to dance with the Royal Ballet in London during the closing ceremony of the London Paralympics in 2012.


“It was a wonderful and unforgettable experience for us, an opportunity that I could never imagine,” said Marina Guimarães, one of the dancers who performed in the ceremony.

Acrobat instructor brings people with disabilities to new heights

IG: @pitublazquez

IG: @pitublazquez

At Pitu Blazquez’s acrobatics school in Argentina, students are hanging from trapezes, walking on balance beams and cooling down with a stretch. But the school is a little different from what you might expect: it offers free classes for people with disabilities.

“These people are doing something incredible, which is extremely difficult, being five meters high and giving their soul and their art,” Blazquez told AJ+.

People who live with disabilities are a marginalized community in Argentina; most do not have medical insurance and only one in 10 are employed.

“Nothing is built with disabled people in mind. They don’t think [about it],” one of Blasquez’s students said.

Through offering people with disabilities classes free of charge, Blazquez hopes to give them a chance to engage in an activity they otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to. Instead of specifically setting aside sessions for people with disabilities, he integrates them with other students in class to help everyone understand the challenges these people face.

“It teaches my other students to work with people who can’t walk, people who can’t see, but can do a lot of things,” said Blasquez.


“What I see inside them is a fight, is a courage that is an example for everyone. It’s very rewarding.”

 

NYC personal trainer empowers the disabled through strength

Tom Clement goes to the gym twice a week for an hour each time. He works primarily on upper body strength, emerging from the gym stronger with every session.

But Clement is not your average gym goer. To begin with, he’s well into his sixties; he’s also been in a wheelchair for most of his life since falling off a roof and severing his spinal cord. For the past 15 years, Clement has been a regular at Ned Norton’s Warriors on Wheels gym, a training facility catered to the most marginalized of communities in the world of fitness: people living with disabilities.

Named one of the CNN Top Heroes in 2014, Norton, 58, has been running non-profit organization Warriors on Wheels for over 20 years. Formerly a competitive power lifter, a three-time finisher of the NYC Marathon and a fitness trainer with 35 years of professional experience, Norton has found passion in bringing what he loves most ­– fitness – to the lives of those who otherwise never get to experience beating a personal best.

“I never worry about what they can’t do,” said Norton. “I worry about what they can do, and make them as independent and capable as possible.”

 

It all started when Norton was managing a gym and training athletes back in 1988. A football player he was training expressed concern for a friend who had been left paraplegic after an accident. He asked Norton if he could train him at the gym and help him recover not just physically, but also psychologically. Tailoring a program for his friend with the help of his doctor, Norton began training him and saw rapid progress in him within six months.

Now, Norton trains more than 120 people every week. His clients are affected by a wide range of disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and vision impairment. The gym is located in Albany, New York, on the fourth floor of a public housing project high rise. The Albany Housing Authority donates the space to him so he doesn’t pay rent, and Norton’s side jobs, support from private donors as well as regularly held fundraising events help keep the project going. Some of the money goes towards the state’s transport authority, which provides STAR, or Special Transportation at Request, to arrange buses that bring people with disabilities to and from the Warriors on Wheels gym.

Norton charges a rate of $10 for 10 visits, but many of his clients subsist on welfare and disability payments, making the fee difficult to afford. In fact, just over 30 percent are able to pay. But Norton is happy to waive this fee, believing that everyone should have access to his training regardless of financial ability.

“If they can pay, fine, but I don’t really keep track of those who don’t,” Norton said. “Most of the people I work with are on very limited incomes.”

 

Clients at Warriors on Wheels use adaptive equipment that has been specially designed by Norton and his team to facilitate improvements in strength and conditioning. Traditional machines like the shoulder press and bench press have been modified, and the seats are cut off from multi-stations, which includes a pec deck, lat pull down cable and preacher curl, so that those in wheelchairs can use them too.

Jamal Burgess is autistic and has been coming to the Warriors on Wheels gym for over 15 years.

“The repetitive motion is good for him,” Norton said of his swift punches as his laced up boxing gloves hit the heavy bag.

“I love it here. I like to work out with Ned,” said Burgess.

Working out at Warriors on Wheels have led clients to see more than just an improvement in their physical health. Norton says many have gone on to find employment, drive again and pursue their interests without allowing their disabilities to get in the way.

 

Clement thanks Norton for helping him live a full life and increasing his ability to maintain the stamina of everyday work.

"The physical benefits are obvious. People have an easier time getting in and out of wheelchairs or opening heavy doors,” said Norton. “The psychological benefits are even more significant. There's a feeling of accomplishment, of self-confidence. The program makes people more independent."

Photos: CNN

 

 

Children affected by autism spectrum disorders find solace at Toys R Us’s “quiet hour”

To kids affected by autism spectrum disorders, bright lights and loud noises can be painfully overwhelming. That’s why multinational chain retailer Toys R Us’s newly introduced “quiet hours” are making a huge difference to these children and their families.

In November, Toys R Us stores across the UK piloted an effort to open one hour earlier as part of a pre-Christmas event. Lights dimmed, music was switched off and announcements were withheld for the event, allowing customers to browse toys in a calm environment.

“Making slight adjustments to stores and creating a ‘quiet’ shopping period allows children and young adults to experience the fun in a toy shop regardless of their disability,” the chain’s marketing director said.

The one-off initiative was well-received by the community and many are calling for this to be done more regularly.

One mother of an autistic child said on Facebook that the event was “brilliant”, and she “had no idea what a difference low-lighting could make”. Another remarked a “complete change in behavior” of her son and thanked the retailer for their inclusivity.

Toys R Us is not the first to head such an event. UK supermarket giant Asda in Manchester Fort began a “quiet hours” initiative for shoppers affected by autism, and inspired eight other outlets to do the same. Toys R Us stores in America, where the retailer is based, is also looking into this.

Launching a “quiet hours” initiative costs little to shops, but simply lowering noise and turning down the lights can make a world of a difference to shoppers affected by autism. Toys R Us’s efforts are a start, and we hope to see more stores around the world doing the same.