Crossing the Line

March 9, 2011

A friend and I attended the Devils game last with our children. My son is a rabid Devils fan. He makes comments when rooting for the Devils that “cross the line”. The crowd will scream “you suck” when the Devils score. My son will take it one step further and say that a particular play “swallows”. We spent a good part of the evening explaining to him that hat he said was crossing the line. The line is not something that you can see. It is not something that you can literally cross. It is a figure of speech. For people with intellectual disabilities, picking up on social cues is difficult if not impossible. Understanding right from wrong when it is not clear is confusing. I know my son struggles with this. I believe that life is full of “teachable moments”. This was just another one.


White House Says No To Autism Speaks Effort

March 9, 2011
By Michelle DiamentMarch 4, 2011 Text Size  A  A

Despite a social media push from Autism Speaks, the White House says it will not be lighting up blue in honor of World Autism Awareness Day next month.

Autism Speaks encouraged its members to flood the White House with messages on Facebook and Twitter to encourage President Barack Obama to light his home blue on April 2 in honor of autism awareness.

Already, over 250 landmarks around the world will participate in the advocacy organization’s annual “Light It Up Blue” initiative including the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Niagara Falls, Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil and the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

“Lighting the White House, America’s most prominent building, blue would certainly elevate awareness of autism and World Autism Awareness Day to another level,” said Adam Pockriss, an Autism Speaks spokesman.

But the White House told Disability Scoop on Friday that 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. will not participate. No reason was given for the decision.

“The administration looks forward to commemorating autism awareness month and world autism day and remains committed to finding the causes and treatments for autism as well as providing community-based services and support for persons on the autism spectrum,” said White House spokesman Shin Inouye.

Last year, more than 200 buildings went blue in honor of World Autism Awareness Day, which was established by the United Nations in 2007.


Parenthood’ Named TV With ‘Conscience’ For Asperger’s Storyline

March 9, 2011
By Michelle DiamentMarch 8, 2011 Text Size  

The pilot episode of NBC’s “Parenthood” is among eight television shows that will be honored this spring by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for serving up “television with a conscience.”

Adam Braverman (Peter Krause) talks to his son Max (Max Burkholder) on the pilot episode of "Parenthood" on NBC. (Chris Haston/NBC) Adam Braverman (Peter Krause) talks to his son Max (Max Burkholder) on the pilot episode of “Parenthood” on NBC. (Chris Haston/NBC)

The awards for television shows that aired in 2010 will highlight programs that took on topics ranging from sexual abuse to racism, teen pregnancy and childhood obesity.

The first episode of “Parenthood” was selected for exploring how autism affects an entire family. During the show, parents Kristina and Adam Braverman learn that their son Max has Asperger’s syndrome.

The awards, which will be presented in May, honor shows that “celebrate the power of television to change attitudes and lives,” the Academy said.

Aside from “Parenthood,” other programs that will be recognized include “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Friday Night Lights.”

This is not the first time that television programming focusing on disabilities


Oprah Network Winner Opens Up About Cerebral Palsy

March 9, 2011
By Michelle Diament

March 8, 2011 Text Size  A  A

A year ago, Zach Anner, 26, was an unknown Austin, Texas filmmaker. But that all changed when he posted an audition tape online last summer for “Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search For The Next TV Star.” In the video, Anner told viewers that he has “the sexiest of the palsies” and pitched a “travel show for people who never thought they could travel.”

Within days, the video went viral, attracting the attention of singer John Mayer and plugs on sites like Digg and Reddit. Anner ultimately garnered over 9 million votes from the public and scored one of 10 spots on an Oprah Winfrey Network reality show where the winner would receive their own TV program.

In a twist, Winfrey said last month that she would award both Anner and another finalist from the reality show, Kristina Kuzmic-Crocco, with shows on her new network.

Now, as Anner prepares to produce a six-episode run of “Rollin’ Around the World with Zach Anner,” he opens up to Disability Scoop about his new show, working with Oprah and living with cerebral palsy.

Oprah Winfrey awarded Zach Anner and Kristina Kuzmic-Crocco their own shows on her new cable network. Oprah Winfrey awarded Zach Anner and Kristina Kuzmic-Crocco their own shows on her new cable network. (Rahoul Ghose/OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network)

Disability Scoop: How do you feel after winning?

Zach Anner: I am feeling like I could take on the world right now, which is good because I have to. I’m just so excited because I really feel like this is an opportunity to change the world and change perceptions. We’ve known since October, so it’s been really, really tough to keep a secret for that amount of time. I had to live like a hermit. It’s just so amazing to have that weight lifted.

Disability Scoop: What can you tell us about the production of your travel show?

Zach Anner: It’s going to air sometime in the next few months and we’re going into pre-production soon. OWN is very concerned with making sure that my voice is heard throughout the creative process, so I think it’s going to be a collaboration on all fronts. I would like to do an episode in Austin and then go to places like New Orleans and maybe San Francisco — just really awesome, unique cities around the country to start. I also would love to incorporate some of the natural beauty that we have in this country.

Disability Scoop: Have you had an opportunity to spend much time with Oprah?

Zach Anner: Not that much, but I’ll tell you what, she is absolutely everything that you see on TV. She is such a genuine person. I’m really looking forward to her being my boss.

Disability Scoop: Why create a travel show?

Zach Anner: I think that the best way to get a broader perspective on your life is to travel and to just take life as it comes. Some of the best adventures that I’ve had have been traveling with my dad. We’ve gone to Europe and had to completely adapt to inaccessible countries. We had to take apart my electric wheelchair so that we could shove it on a train in seconds and I’ve carried luggage as my dad pushed me up a mountain.

We thought this would be a great travel show. It was something that I’ve wanted to do for years and it’s something that I thought people would really respond to. If you’ve been putting traveling off for one reason or another, like physical ability or financial, this might inspire some people to get off their ass and have a good time.

Disability Scoop: What does having cerebral palsy mean for you?

Zach Anner: Obviously my speech is somewhat affected, my movement is, but it’s something that I’ve learned to embrace and make it reflect my personality rather than trying to hide it. When people think of me, I want them to think of a travel show host who’s really funny and good at his job and I think eventually the CP won’t even play into it, or at least that’s the goal.

Disability Scoop: Oprah said multiple times during the “Your OWN Show” competition that she worried about whether you have stamina for a TV show. Do you think that was a valid concern?

Zach Anner: I feel like when you have a disability the tendency is to think, can this person do this? I don’t blame anybody for thinking that because they may not know what I’m capable of or what I’ve done and every disability is different. Sometimes, it may affect stamina, but in my case it hasn’t. I’m a bundle of energy all the time.

Disability Scoop: What would you say to other people out there with disabilities who are watching you?

Zach Anner: The key is to never let your disability define you in any way. It’s something that you deal with everyday, but find out who you are beneath all the difficult stuff. Then, facing those physical challenges will become so much easier. I know that a lot of people watching have really related to what I’m doing and my message to them is that anybody can do this. It’s just a matter of having faith in yourself and knowing that anything is possible.

Disability Scoop: Have you gotten much feedback from viewers?

Zach Anner: When my audition video first started getting a lot of attention, my phone number was still online so I got about 100 calls a day. I got a call from a man who was in tears. His son had been in car accident and he said that my video had inspired him to go traveling with his son. That’s when it struck me that it was much bigger than what I had even intended. It was just a fun little travel show and I didn’t realize that it might be able to change people’s lives in some real way until that moment.

Having a disability and growing up with one, you’re always looking for a place in the world where you fit and where you can excel and make the best use of all your talent and your ability. Knowing that I’ve found a path where I can make a difference in people’s lives, it means the world to me.

Disability Scoop: Last summer John Mayer said he would write and perform a theme song for your show. Will he be following through?

Zach Anner: I think so. We’ve been chatting back and forth and he’s been really great and supportive. I just can’t wait to hear what he comes up with.

Disability Scoop: What does the future have in store for Zach Anner?

Zach Anner: I’d love to be People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive,” but I think that that’s a ways off. I have to stop wearing sweat pants and then we’ll work on that. But the travel show itself has been a huge goal for me for a long time and I’d just love to continue on this path and see where it takes me.