Thursday, October 31, 2019

Save the Dates! The IDRAC Conference Is Nov. 1 & 2

8th Annual
International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference
November 1-2, 2019
The Sojourner Auditorium, Virtual Ability, Second Life®
“We Health Each Other,
We Help Ourselves.”

Virtual Ability’s eighth annual International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference (IDRAC) will be held on Friday and Saturday, November 1 and 2. The conference theme is “We help each other, we help ourselves.”  The conference is free and open to the public.

We bring together academic researchers and practitioners to share their wisdom with our audience in a variety of formats. This year our presenters are from Canada, China, Italy, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, the UK and the US.

The conference schedule is available on our website. Check out the intriguing topics and highly qualified presenters.  

The conference is held in the Sojourner Auditorium on Virtual Ability island. 

The SLURL is
If you can not attend in the virtual world, the live stream URL for Virtual Ability, Inc., is

As with all Virtual Ability conferences, IDRAC is presented in text and voice to ensure maximum accessibility.

Text transcripts from past conferences are archived on our website.

We hope you can attend our conference on November 1 and 2!

IDRAC 2019: November 2 @ 1 pm SLT, The representation of autism in the narratives of

Black and white picture of the Tecnológico de Monterrey logo, which features a torch with stylized flames and the name of the Institute.
Tecnológico de Monterrey

The IDRAC session on Friday, Nov. 1 at 1 pm SLT (Pacific time) explains the results of a research study related to the representation of autism in  Through the participation of members of the autism community in writing these stories, autism spectrum disorder is portrayed differently than it is in commercial fiction. The researchers are two professors from Tecnológico de Monterrey, Queretaro Campus in Mexico.  Nohemi Lugo is a researcher and professor in the Media and Digital Culture  Department and María Elena Melón is in the Department of Art.

Dr. Lugo’s research goal is to design and develop methods, processes, materials and technologies intended to foster education,  social inclusion and health. She is writing a book about digital culture and informal learning strategies for children with autism. She coordinates two related research projects: one about mobile devices use by children with disabilities; the other about how mothers of children with autism can learn from  mothers with similar experiences through collective storytelling and an on-line course.

Dr. Melón’s research interest is in physical interfaces and interactive media applications. She has participated in two research and technology grants given by Tec de Monterrey to create alternate reality games and a virtual reality platform to learn to operate industrial design equipment.  Currently she is participating in two research projects related to Autism.

This event will be live-streamed via Virtual Ability Inc.'s YouTube channel:

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

IDRAC 2019: November 2 @ 6:30 am SLT, Hearing Our Voices

Rob Castellanos

Alyssa Hillary

Kirk Munsch

Historically, persons with disabilities and illnesses were hidden away from the rest of their community, either at home or in institutions. Now, we are beginning to realize the importance of telling our life experiences so that everyone recognizes our common humanity.

One way we let others hear our voices is through publication (blogging, vlogging, Facebook, podcasts, self-published or professionally published memoirs, articles and books). Another way is by participating in patient registries, which are collections of information provided by persons with similar diagnoses, symptoms and concerns. These registries support research and lead to improved understanding of and support for the quality of life of those living with disabilities and illnesses.

Panelists for this session are Rob Castellanos, Alyssa Hillary, and Kirk Munsch. The panel moderator will be Shyla the Super Gecko. The panelists will tell about their work and its importance to the overall disability community. Then they will respond to questions from the audience.

Rob Castellanos is a patient living with Ankylosing Spondylitis, OCD, and Anxiety. Traditional healthcare gave him 5+ years of misdiagnoses and years of seeking what could help him manage his conditions. What changed his life was learning what he could do from people in the same shoes as himself. This prompted him to quit his job and found Syndio Health, an online health community for sharing real knowledge and experience with chronic illness.

Alyssa Hillary is an Autistic Ph.D. student in the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program at the University of Rhode Island. Depending on the moment, they study brain computer interfaces, augmentative and alternative communication, neural engineering, and/or disability studies. Their work can be found in several Autonomous Press anthologies, and they blog at

Kirk Munsch is the Patient Advocacy Manager for Rare Patient Voice and a Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis patient.  He is passionate about connecting patients and their non-paid caregivers (family and friends) to projects where they make their voices heard to shape products and services being developed on their behalf.

This event will be live-streamed via Virtual Ability Inc.'s YouTube channel:

IDRAC 2019: November 2 @ 1:30 pm SLT, The Autistic People of Color Fund

Headshot of Lydia Brown, young East Asian person, with stylized blue and yellow dramatic background. They are looking in the distance and wearing a plaid shirt and black jacket. Photo by Adam Glanzman.
Lydia X. Z. Brown

Lydia X. Z. Brown is a disability justice advocate, organizer, attorney, educator, and writer whose work has largely focused on violence against multiply-marginalized disabled people, especially institutionalization, incarceration, and policing. Lydia is 2018-2019 Justice Catalyst Legal Fellow at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, defending and advancing the educational civil rights of Maryland students with psychosocial, intellectual, and developmental disabilities facing disproportionate discipline, restraint and seclusion, and school pushout.

Lydia is also Founder and Co-Director of the Fund for Community Reparations for Autistic People of Color’s Interdependence, Survival, and Empowerment, which provides direct support and mutual aid to individual autistic people of color. Previously, Lydia designed and taught a course on disability theory, policy, and social movements as a Visiting Lecturer at Tufts University. They were also Chairperson of the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council, becoming the youngest appointee ever to chair any state developmental disabilities council.

Lydia is co-editor and visionary behind All the Weight of Our Dreams, the first-ever anthology of writings and artwork by autistic people of color and otherwise negatively racialized autistic people, published by the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network. They have received numerous awards for their work, including from the White House, American Association of People with Disabilities, and Society for Disability Studies, and written for several community and academic publications.

Lydia’s IDRAC presentation will be at 1:30 pm SLT (Pacific time) on Saturday, Nov.  2.  The title of her talk is “The Autistic People of Color Fund: Building Networks of Mutual Aid by/for Negatively Racialized Autistic People.” In 2019, Lydia worked with the Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network to launch the Fund for Community Reparations for Autistic People of Color's Interdependence, Survival, and Empowerment, which has given out over $15,000 already in microgrants to negatively racialized autistic people globally as a form of mutual aid and community care.

This work follows in a long tradition of informal collective care and support networks among hyper-marginalized sick, mad, neurodivergent, and disabled communities. Lydia will talk about how and why this fund came into existence, how we've worked on the process of developing it, and what we can all do to expand and sustain this work.

This event will be live-streamed via Virtual Ability Inc.'s YouTube channel:

IDRAC 2019: November 2 @ 12 pm SLT, Disability Accommodation and Intersectional Identities

Dr. Katherine Breward

At Noon SLT (Pacific time) on Saturday, Nov. 2, Dr. Katherine Breward will present her research about disability accommodation in the workplace. Disability accommodation is crucial to ensure equitable access to paid employment. Yet despite this, many people with disability-related needs are reluctant to request accommodations in their workplaces.

Employers have a legal responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations, yet these imperatives are not always reflected in managerial decisions related to special needs. Dr. Breward’s presentation will review original research that examines the role of Intersectional aspects of identity (such as gender, ethnicity, and immigration status) on accommodation requesting and granting. Differential rates of accommodation requesting and granting are explored with an eye to identifying barriers, perceptual errors, and stereotypes that may contribute to unequitable outcomes based on identity-related variables.

Dr. Breward is an Associate Professor at the University of Winnipeg. Her research is centered around labour market access for historically disadvantaged populations, with a particular focus on best practices in disability accommodation. Her research has appeared in the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, the Case Research Journal, and Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion: An International Journal.

Dr. Breward is also a strong advocate of case-based teaching and an award winning case writer. She teaches a range of HR related courses, including her signature course “Leadership and Fairness in Complex Organizations”. When not working Dr. Breward enjoys spending time on her 25 acre berry orchard with her husband and a menagerie of pets and reading inclusive science fiction and fantasy.

This event will be live-streamed via Virtual Ability Inc.'s YouTube channel:

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

IDRAC 2019: November 2 @ 10:30 am SLT, Challenges and Opportunities in Community-based Rehabilitation and Emancipatory Disability Research

Sunil Deepak

Sunil Deepak, a medical doctor, is originally from India and now lives in a small mountain town in Italy. For about 35 years, he worked as a trainer, facilitator and researcher in disability programs in different countries of Asia, Africa and South America.

Dr. Deepak has worked with different agencies of United Nations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), as well as with many humanitarian organizations. A key area of his work is about how to simplify specialized knowledge and make it easier to understand for non-professionals.

Dr. Deepak’s presentation will begin at 10:30 am SLT (Pacific time) on Saturday, Nov. 2. He will focus on two approaches used by and in collaboration with disabled persons in poor communities, both of which had a great impact. These approaches worked in places where persons did not have any access to services, professionals and technology. Through Community-based Rehabilitation (CBR), persons and their families learned about their disabilities and took action to improve their own well being and social participation. Through Emancipatory Disability Research (EDR), persons with disabilities became researchers about their own lives, learning to look at barriers and finding ways to overcome them.

This event will be live-streamed via Virtual Ability Inc.'s YouTube channel:

IDRAC 2019: November 2 @ 9 am SLT, Which factors influence access to assistive products for people with intellectual disabilities?

Dr. Fleur Heleen

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched a programme called Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology (GATE), to improve access to high quality, affordable assistive products for all people in need, globally. A specific group of people who could benefit from assistive products are people with intellectual disabilities. However, people with intellectual disabilities use fewer assistive products as compared with other persons in need. Access and use of assistive products for this group is a neglected area in research and practice; it is currently unknown how many people with intellectual disabilities globally have access to appropriate assistive products and which factors influence their access.

Dr. Fleur Heleen Boot will discuss her research in this area at 9 am SLT (Pacific time) on Saturday, Nov. 2. She is an Intellectual Disability Physician and a Researcher from The Netherlands. Her research projects have a focus on improving access to healthcare and assistive products (technology) for people with intellectual disabilities in differently resourced settings. Countries she has worked in include India, South Africa, Ireland, The Netherlands, and Chile. Her specific interests are Intellectual Disability, Global Health, Health Inequity, Access to Healthcare, Assistive Technology, and Inclusion.

This event will be live-streamed via Virtual Ability Inc.'s YouTube channel:

Monday, October 28, 2019

IDRAC 2019: November 2 @ 8 am SLT, The Bench

Cameron Burnett

“The Bench” is a thought-provoking and award-winning short video by Cameron Burnett. Documenting a random encounter between only two characters, you might think it is easy to understand. But it isn’t.

We will watch the video together then discuss what it means, in light of the conference theme, beginning at 8 am SLT on Saturday, Nov. 2.

Text transcript provided by Mook Wheeler.

This event will be live-streamed via Virtual Ability Inc.'s YouTube channel:

IDRAC 2019: November 1 @ 11:30 am SLT, UDL in Higher Ed

Dr. Frederic Fovet

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based education approach that uses flexible teaching, learning and evaluation to accommodate differences in learners’ capabilities.

Starting at 11:30 am SLT (Pacific time) on Friday, Nov. 1,  Dr. Frederic Fovet will examine the current use of UDL in Higher Education and the future potential it offers campuses in managing access in a more sustainable way.  The presentation will examine three questions: why? how? when?

Why?  Higher education practitioners can be overwhelmed by the vast amount of variables, frameworks and priorities they constantly juggle.  It is essential to offer a concise, clear and immediately pertinent explanation as to why UDL is relevant in the current landscape if we hope the field to start paying attention.

How?  Even once campuses have become convinced of the benefits of UDL, many fail to push its implementation successfully. The presentation will examine the common pitfalls and attempt to draw a blueprint for sustainable cross-campus implementation.

When?  Timing is crucial for successful UDL implementation.  How do we prepare the various stakeholders for the roles they are to play? How do we support management of change and a shift in mindset?  When is a campus ripe for genuine and sustainable UDL implementation?

Frederic Fovet is an Associate Professor in the School of Education and Technology at Royal Roads.  His research and his practice both focus on the inclusion of students with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.  Over the period of his Ph.D. Frederic held the position of Director of the Office for Students with Disabilities at McGill University; his work has, as a result, become considerably informed by Disability Studies.  Over a period of 4 years he led a cross campus push for Universal Design for Learning implementation.  He was the instigator and Program Chair of all three Pan-Canadian Conferences on UDL.

This event will be live-streamed via Virtual Ability Inc.'s YouTube channel:

Sunday, October 27, 2019

IDRAC 2019: November 1 @ 10 am SLT, Disability and Media Representation

Catalin Brylla
Catalin Brylla, Senior Lecturer in Film from the University of West London, will discuss “Disability and Media Representation” at 10 am SLT (Pacific time) on Friday, Nov. 1. He will speak about disability representation (especially the case study of blindness), social stereotypes, bias and his own film work that tries to bypass disability stereotypes. The main objective of this presentation is not to highlight the media stereotypes that most people are familiar with, but to highlight mechanisms of stereotype formation and maintenance, which can help media producers create alternative portrayals. Dr. Brylla’s research aims for a pragmatic understanding of documentary spectatorship with regards to social cognition, stereotypes, experience, empathy and narrative comprehension. In a larger context his work also advocates for the filmmaker's understanding of how audio-visual and narrative representation impacts on society's understanding of stigmatised groups, such as disabled people, women and African cultures. He has published two edited books, “Documentary and Disability” (with Helen Hughes) and “Cognitive Theory and Documentary Film” (with Mette Kramer), and he has directed the feature documentary “Zanzibar Soccer Dreams” (with Florence Ayisi).

This event will be live-streamed via Virtual Ability Inc.'s YouTube channel:

IDRAC 2019: November 1 @ 8:30 am SLT, Reading the Personal and the Social in Disability Studies and Trauma Studies

Anne-Marie Callus with Arleen Ionescu

On Friday, Nov. 1, two presenters, one from Malta and the other from China, will be presenting together at Virtual Ability’s IDRAC conference. Their session begins at 8:30 am SLT (Pacific time).

Anne-Marie Callus is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Disability Studies, Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta. Her main research interests are the empowerment of persons with intellectual disability and cultural representations of disability. She lectures on these topics as well as on inclusive education and the rights of disabled persons.

Arleen Ionescu is Professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Her major research and teaching interests are in the fields of Critical Theory, Memory Studies, Holocaust Studies and Trauma Studies. She has published widely on trauma. At present, she is co-editing and with Maria Margaroni (University of Cyprus) a volume entitled Arts of Healing: Cultural Narratives of Trauma (forthcoming 2020).

In their joint presentation, they will discuss the focus on the personal and the social in Trauma Studies and Disability Studies respectively. They argue that these different focal points enable the two areas of study to complement each other and to show that experiences of disability or trauma are never purely personal or purely social. Thus, it is by attending to both aspects that the complex nature of such experiences can be fully appreciated.

This event will be live-streamed via Virtual Ability Inc.'s YouTube channel:

Saturday, October 26, 2019

IDRAC 2019: November 1 @ 7 am SLT, The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute

Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute
Mari Kimura, PCORI

Lynne Gauthier, University of Massachusetts Lowell

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is a US government-sponsored organization authorized by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It is funded through a trust fund authorized by the US Congress.

PCORI funds research “that can help patients and those who care for them make better-informed healthcare choices.” Its work “improves healthcare delivery and outcomes, by producing and promoting high-integrity, evidence-based information that comes from research guided by patients, caregivers, and the broader healthcare community.”

At 7 am SLT (Pacific time) on Friday, Nov. 1, Mari Kimura and Lynne Gauthier will present “The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI): Mission and Successes.” Their presentation will provide an overview of PCORI and how it funds research done differently. They will highlight some of PCORI’s successes in funding research to improve patient-centered outcomes for people with disabilities.

Mari Kimura is a Program Officer in the Healthcare Delivery and Disparities Research program at the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). Her portfolio includes studies aimed at addressing health and healthcare disparities in vulnerable populations, including people with disabilities.

Lynne Gauthier is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Kinesiology at The University of Massachusetts Lowell and director of the Neurorecovery and Brain Imaging Laboratory. Her research utilizes new motion capture technology and data analytics to derive personalized insights into motor recovery. Her laboratory has secured 7 years of continuous funding from competitive institutes, including PCORI.

This event will be live-streamed via Virtual Ability Inc.'s YouTube channel:

Monday, October 14, 2019

Hugo Award News

Man reading against brick wall
Man reading against brick wall

Submitted by Virtual Ability member Linn Darkwatch

August 18th : 'Uncanny Magazine' wins Hugo Award in Semi-Prozine category, making Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, editor of the magazine's special "Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction" issue, the first Deaf-Blind ever person to win a Hugo award.

The actual issue of Uncanny Magazine in question may be found at

Also published by Uncanny Magazine was the recent issue, "Disabled People Destroy Fantasy," which can be found at

Saturday, October 5, 2019

TIP - Check out the US Access Board YouTube channel

The US Access Board is a federal agency charged with developing guidelines and standards about accessibility that will allow people with disabilities access to the built environment, public transportation, information technology, and medical diagnostic equipment. They deal both with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the ABA (Architectural Barriers Act).

Last year, they set up a YouTube channel as part of their information dissemination strategy. You can find it here:

What will you find in this collection of videos?

A welcome by Executive Director David Capozzi, who explains the mission of the Access Board:

An explanation of what the Access Board does:

An overhead animation of how toilet stalls are to be designed to be accessible from wheelchairs:

A video about the ADA and ABA requirements for parking and passenger loading zones:

There are several other topics as well. You may want to subscribe to receive updates when new material is added.