Archives - February, 2016



27 Feb 16

By Rick Stevenson

This seems a fitting time for us to re-issue a 2020 guest blog post originally published two years ago on the topic of “access”–in the sense of having a level playing field so that all people, whatever their challenges or disabilities might be, are able to participate in activities they love.

Massachusetts-based non-profit Waypoint Adventure shares 2020 Vision Quest’s commitment to helping people overcome and/or work around disabilities. They are holding their annual spring fundraising party this Friday evening, March 4th in Cambridge, and Randy is the keynote speaker!

Why not come out and enjoy a chance to hear one of Randy’s keynote presentations while meeting many great people and learning about a worthy organization? Learn more and register here.

Read below a post from March 2014 about how Waypoint works in communities to create and improve access for youth and adults with disabilities.

By Rick Stevenson

Access: (n.) - the ability, right, or permission to approach, enter, speak with, or use; admittance. (www.dictionary.com)

For our friends all around us with various disabilities, it’s all about access. It can be about other factors too, of course, but access is often a huge issue. Access to some things can be relatively simple: a home or office… a database… a person’s attention… property. But how about a mountain trail… a pristine forest near your home… a wall at a climbing gym… a glassy-calm river in summer? Are these easy for all to gain access? Unfortunately, no, not yet. That’s not as simple as adding a new wheelchair ramp or railings, but people and organizations are out there making progress.

Front L to R: Tim and Dew, in sleeping bags and on “sit-skis,” on the way down the   Tuckerman Ravine Trail with the rest of the team (Rick, Jim, Joel, Dan, Julia, Adam).

Front L to R: Tim and Dew, in sleeping bags and on “sit-skis,” on the way down the Tuckerman Ravine Trail with the rest of the team (Rick, Jim, Joel, Dan, Julia, Adam).

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the privilege to be involved in two events offered by Waypoint Adventure, an eastern Massachusetts-based non-profit organization that provides life-transforming outdoor adventure programs for people with disabilities. One event was a weekend in February at Pinkham Notch, NH (at the base of Mount Washington) when eight of us ascended the Tuckerman Ravine trail toward the floor of the huge bowl. Two of the group had cerebral palsy and rode up in “sit-skis”—modified lightweight chairs mounted on pairs of cross-country skis, with ropes and bars for pulling and restraining. With an afternoon temperature of around 15 degrees F and the wind from the west howling down the trail at us, the trip up and down the famous trail was adrenaline-pumping, hard work, exhilarating and full of joy for all eight participants. Trust was critical, especially on the descent—when anything less than excellent execution would have meant too much risk—and teamwork and communication were superb.

Tim Kunzier tries out the adaptive climbing harness at the Central Rock Gym.

Tim Kunzier tries out the adaptive climbing harness at the Central Rock Gym.

The second event was a Volunteer Appreciation Night held at the Central Rock Climbing Gym in Watertown MA, at which Randy Pierce was guest speaker. About 50 current and/or future Waypoint volunteers packed a room at the gym for a great meal, brief presentations about Waypoint, and expressions of appreciation, as well as Randy’s keynote about ability awareness, goals, and how important an engaged, enthusiastic community is to a volunteer-based organization. Afterward, attendees had a chance to try out the walls of the gym and/or take a certification class in belaying.

Waypoint’s mission is to “…help youth and adults with disabilities discover their purpose, talents, and strengths through the transforming power of adventure.” They believe that all people, regardless of ability, should “…have opportunities for adventure and through them realize their personal value, strengths and abilities. These experiences will help people become stronger individuals and community members.”

Access is, almost literally, about leveling a playing field. It’s also, thankfully, about pushing the envelope of what was previously thought to be impossible, so that people of all ages with disabilities can keep having new, exciting, stimulating experiences. Problem-solving. Creative thinking. Often that’s all that stands between a person with a physical disability and a challenging, thrilling, life-changing adventure, and here’s where some of the similarities between Waypoint Adventure and 2020 Vision Quest become most obvious.

Randy Pierce, as an adventurer who happens to be blind, has a need and a strong desire for access. Access to mountain trails, road races, ski slopes, a martial arts gym, a tandem bike. He’s solving challenges every day of his life, either in teamwork with his guide dog or human guide or on his own; whether training for a road race, hiking a trail, getting around his house or around Nashua, or running 2020 Vision Quest. And in turn, one of 2020 Vision Quest’s many value-adds is helping other vision-impaired people gain access–to whatever is most special in their lives.

Then there’s Waypoint Adventure, the creator of the two events mentioned above and pictured here. Run by co-founders Adam Combs and Dan Minnich and program coordinator Julia Spruance, (one of whom, I’m proud to say, is my daughter, but I won’t reveal which one), they not only create adventure programs but also invent and fine-tune unique “access methods” that allow individuals with disabilities to enjoy many of the same adventures as others. Methods and tools like the “sit-ski” (photo above left), an off-road wheelchair, an adaptive kayak, or an adaptive rock-climbing harness. You could say they’re in the access-creation field.

A final story that helps define and illustrate access: at a 2013 indoor climbing gym event run by Waypoint for teenagers from the Perkins School for the Blind, one of the boys, after some training and a few exhilarating trips up and down the wall, asked a Waypoint volunteer if she worked at the gym.  Hearing that no, she was with Waypoint and this was a gym open to the public, he asked, “So is this a gym for blind people?” The volunteer explained that no, there were sighted people there too. Final question: “Then am I climbing on a special wall?” Upon hearing her final answer, that “…no, you’ve been climbing on the same walls as everyone else,” he lit up with a wide grin. His biggest thrill of the day—perhaps the week or month—was realizing that he had been climbing on the very same walls as everyone else.  There’s that access again. Behold and marvel at the difference it can make!

Learn more about Waypoint Adventure.

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21 Feb 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy and his former Guide Dog Quinn climb one of the NH 4,000-footers during the winter of 2012-2013.

Randy and his former Guide Dog Quinn climb one of the NH 4,000-footers during the winter of 2011-2012. Quinn passed away in January 2014.

For me the winter of 2016 has finally arrived. Shortly before Tracy, Autumn, and I departed for the New England Visually Impaired Ski Festival at Mt. Sugarloaf in Maine, the first appreciable snow arrived to our home in Nashua, NH. Travelling north and into the mountains of Maine, we encountered more snow, though still a winter with considerably lower than average snowfall. Shortly after our arrival more snow was delivered, and several days of skiing later it felt like winter had arrived. Returning home reinforced this as another snowstorm arrived and our first deep freeze of below zero temperatures soon afterwards.

Sitting by the fire with a cup of coffee, my mindset turns to the winter of 2012 and the epic hiking experiences. I’m recalling Quinn and me adapting to the notion of winter hiking and solving the challenges in order to receive the rewards available. In my quiet moments, I bask in the nostalgic recollections and occasionally seek out a blog from those times to help me experience the moments again. Where do you explore in your cherished nostalgic moments?

On this simple week I hope you might turn the clock back just four years to my first season of winter hiking:

Hiking Sacrifices for “Super” Goals

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13 Feb 16

Randy shouting from the mountaintop

The countdown is finally done and we’re shouting our news from the mountaintops!

By Randy Pierce

“I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

Reverend Edward Hale

I wanted a short and powerful blog this week. I wanted to record a one minute video from atop Sugarloaf Mountain where I was attending the New England Visually Impaired Ski Festival. I was unable to achieve my goal, and yet the news is something powerful and wonderful that I do indeed want to shout from the mountain tops:

We have been granted our *independent* 501(c)(3) status!!

We have been an approved and official 501(c)(3) organization since our inception due to NHAB choosing to fiscally sponsor our charitable efforts. Thanks to an incredible amount of hard work by many volunteers and you, our incredible community, we achieved the enough success that we were required to apply for our independent status. This was granted as a sign of confidence and achievement for which I am incredibly proud.

This changes nothing about our mission or our approach and we hope similarly nothing about the support which has allowed us to reach so many goals. As such I’m also using this announcement as a Call to Action: What choice, great or small, can you make to help our cause?

As we close in on providing presentations to our 50,000 students just within schools and a quarter of a million dollars to the two beloved organizations to whom we pledge our support, and as we continue to provide inspiration, encouragement, and support for an ever growing number of people–will you make a choice to help?

Will you make a donation? 

Will you book a keynote or suggest us to  a company or conference?

Will you refer us to a school teacher or administrator?

Will you connect to us on Social Media or share our links with your contacts?

Would you suggest to us ways you think we might enhance our efforts and achievements? Email me!

I hope you will answer this call to action and I hope we continue to be worthy of the confidence and support we have shared over our first five years. I may not be literally shouting it from a mountain top but I think this news and your choice are both significant and necessary. Thank you!

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6 Feb 16

By Jo Swenson

2015 was a landmark year for Broadway. It boasted a handful of new hits as well as long-running classics. One of the aspects of last year on Broadway was the diversity of characters represented, from the 2015 Tony Award-winning Fun Home that was the first musical to star a lesbian main character to Hamilton that cast the founding fathers as people of color. Along with these new musicals there was also a revolutionary revival of Spring Awakening.

The original production of Spring Awakening opened in December 2006 starring Lea Michele, of Glee fame, and Jonathan Groff, who you can hear as the voice of Kristoff in Disney’s Frozen. At the time the production was a bold new musical that explored teenage sexuality and life at the turn of the century (the musical was based on a play by the same name). Given the setting the characters spoke formally but when it came to the songs they employed contemporary musical styles and language. The show was successful and gathered a strong following of young people before it closed in January 2009.

It is unusual for a musical to be revived on Broadway less than 10 years after the original production closed but the 2015 production added a new, revolutionary element. It was going to star hearing, deaf, and hard of hearing actors alike and be accessible to both hearing and deaf audiences. As opening night of the revival approached many wondered how it was possible for a musical to star deaf actors. Many people I know thought that there was not going to be any singing, just signing. Others were unsure how many of the actors were actually going to be deaf or if it was simply going to be hearing people signing and singing. Yet director Michael Arden pulled it off beautifully.

About half of the cast was deaf and half was hearing. Of the three main characters two were deaf and one was hearing. All of the actors signed the majority of the show. The moments when they were not allowed to sign—for example, in a classroom scene where they were told off for signing instead of speaking—the words were projected onto a screen that was incorporated into the set. The characters who were portrayed by deaf actors were given another actor to sing for them. This allowed for the musical to employ deaf actors without the show being silent for the hearing audience members. It worked seamlessly and even at points added an extra depth to the characters as the actors and singers interacted. Also having deaf and hard of hearing characters play characters who are misunderstood and not listened to by the adults of the show was a powerful thing.

In addition to employing more deaf and hard of hearing actors than any other musical currently running, the show also had the first person in a wheelchair on Broadway. Well, I should clarify while there have been actors who have been in wheelchairs as part of their characters, but none of them needed the wheelchair. Ali Stroker uses a wheelchair on and off stage and was cast as a character who was not written as needing to have a wheelchair but she was the best actress for the role so she got it no matter her mobility.

This revival of Spring Awakening proved that anyone who works hard enough has a right to be on a Broadway stage. The original production did not include deaf and hard of hearing actors or anyone in a wheelchair, yet this new production musical still had the same power, if not more, with an inclusive and diverse cast. Hopefully 2015 was the beginning of a trend of diversifying Broadway.

If you would like to see what the production looked like, here is a link to one of their rehearsals (warning: mature language):

For more information about Deaf West (the theatre company that put on this production) head to www.deafwest.org

 

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