Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Of Alec and Älek: A Journey to Pandora – The World of Avatar, by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

Alec Frazier in the Valley of Mo'ara
Kaltxì! That means “Hello!” in Na’vi, the language of the people of the same name in James Cameron’s film, Avatar! I am a massive fan of said movie, and am very proud to share a special experience with you. You see, I belong to the official fan group, called AvatarMeet! Earlier this month, November, 2017, a number of us gathered in Florida and went to Pandora – The World of Avatar at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.
Mountains Through Fog
The day we first went, it was foggy in the morning. We got to the park, and met with our guide, Diego Parras, the Communications Manager at Walt Disney Imagineering. Imagineering is a job that is very specific to Disney properties. It involves creating entire new worlds to explore through architecture, engineering, landscaping, and other forms of creativity. From the front area of the park, called the Oasis, we saw the gigantic floating mountains of Pandora through the dense fog.
Bridge to Pandora
One heads into Pandora via a bridge from the central area of the Animal Kingdom, which is called Discovery Island. It is at this point that you leave Earth, and travel to the moon of Pandora orbiting gas giant Polyphemus in the Alpha Centauri system.
Baja Tickler
In the film, Col. Miles Quaritch reminds you, “You’re not in Kansas anymore. You’re on Pandora!” This is immediately apparent as you see a ginormous plant that resembles a massive pod that glows from within. It is called a baja tickler by humans, although the Na’vi name is txumtsä’wll, which means “poison-squirting plant”. It squirts moisture and glows when people interact with it
Floating Mountains
Then, as if in the film itself, the fog lifted, and we saw the floating mountains of the Valley of Mo'ara, the area of Pandora which you visit in this park. The science behind the floating mountains says that they formed when Pandora was in the molten state, with geological deposits rich in the magnetically repulsive mineral Unobtainium repelling themselves from the ground and dragging the rest of the mountains with them. These mountains are absolutely awe-inspiring, and are covered with plants and waterfalls.
Dr. Paul Frommer Teaches Na’vi
We rode the Flight of Passage ride with Diego and Dr. Paul Frommer, our good friend who invented the Na’vi language. More on that later. We then went to Satu’li Canteen, where we were treated to a Na’vi lesson over an alien inspired brunch.

Signature of Diego Parras in My Copy of  theActivist Survival Guide
I also got Diego to sign my copy of the Activist Survival Guide, an in-universe guide to Pandora that was created and sold when the movie initially came out. Diego said that, more than any engineering manual, this book was his and the other Imagineeers’ guide in creating Pandora.
Lunch from Satu'li Canteen
At another point, I had lunch at Satu’li Canteen. The idea is that it provides alien-inspired foods that humans can eat. They make these delicious bowls of food combining salad, meat protein, and sauce. Everything, including the meat at this location is organically grown. There are a number of vegetarian options. You can actually see them cooking the meat in the location. There is also an exhibition of Na’vi cookware in the canteen.
Banshee Rookery at Windtraders
We also went to the gift shop, Windtraders, where they have a number of really awesome products. The highlight is a banshee rookery where you can select a banshee, or ikran, as the Na’vi call them—or it just might select you! These ikrans are robotic, and come with sound effects, and can be mounted to your shoulder or to a perch that you may purchase. I have named mine Tìronsrel, which means Imagination in Na’vi.
Älek
I have also purchased an avatar, which I have named Älexänter te Frayzer Txawnält’itan, or Älek, for short. My personal mythology says that it has been turned into Na’vi by passing through the Eye of Eywa, much as Jake Sully did in the film. They actually scan your face and let you choose a number of the characteristics of your avatar, including stripe pattern, age, gender, hairstyle, eye color, and other facets. It takes at least half an hour to render your face into the Na’vi form. A note about Na’vi naming: The first name is the given name. The “te” comes from the word “ta”, which means “from”. The second name is the family name. The third name means “son or daughter of…” Males have their father’s name mentioned in the third name, while females have their mother’s name. I would imagine that intersex children may choose or have both. Dr. Frommer is very friendly to LGBTQ causes.
Night Blossom
There is also a refreshment stand called Pongu Pongu, which sells exotic alien-inspired drinks! My favorite is the Night Blossom.
My Friends and I in Front of Pongu Pongu
A number of my friends and I also posed in front of Pongu Pongu, where they have an old AMP suit, or military exoskeleton, from the time when humans and Na’vi were enemies on Pandora. Pongu Pongu is also decorated with other old artifacts from the former military times on Pandora such as dog tags and various drinking vessels.
A Stream with Alien Plants
Please note that the Valley of Mo’ara and Pandora as you see it at Disney World take place several generations after the events of the films, when humans and Na’vi are at peace. A number of the plants are artificial alien plants, but the Imagineeers also took advantage of the rich abundance of Central Florida and the plethora of plants that grow there. One of the big draws of the film Avatar is the feeling of serenity you have after seeing it. This feeling of serenity exists in the theme park, as well.
Getting on the Boats for the Na’vi River Journey
One of the theme park rides is the Na’vi River Journey, in which you journey along a bioluminescent river as it glows in the dark, and creatures move around you. The amazing thing is that, although some of the creatures and all the plants are three-dimensional, most of the creatures and the Na’vi are actually on screens embedded in the foliage. At the end, the Na’vi tribes also gather around you, and you are greeted by the Shaman of Songs, easily the most advanced robotic ever built by man, who looks like she is actually real. Following the greeting from the Shaman, you see a number of totemic artifacts left by the Na’vi.
A Totem in the Valley of Mo'ara
Throughout the ride, you will hear the Shaman Song, at first sung by faceless Na’vi, and later sung by the Shaman herself. Here it is below, first in Na’vi, and then in English.

The Shaman Song

Na’vi

Ma Na’rìng alor, mì Na’rìng lu tsngawpay.
Atokirina’
Awnga leym, lereym san…
Ma Eywa, Ma Eywa, Ma Eywa.

’Awstengyawnem, Ma Sa’nok aNawm
Atokirina’
Awnga leym, lereym san…
Ma Eywa, Ma Eywa, Ma Eywa.

Tìnewfa leNa’vi, Na’rìng tìng lawr
Atokirina’
Awnga leym, lereym san…
Ma Eywa, Ma Eywa, Ma Eywa.

English

Oh beautiful Forest, there are tears in the Forest
Woodsprites
We call out, calling out…
Oh Eywa, oh Eywa, oh Eywa.

Connected as one,
oh Great Mother
Woodsprites
We call out, calling out…
Oh Eywa, oh Eywa, oh Eywa.

By the People’s will,
The Forest is singing
Woodsprites
We call out, calling out…
Oh Eywa, oh Eywa, oh Eywa.
Swotu Wayä Navi Drum Ceremony
Another highlight is the Swotu Wayä Na’vi Drum Ceremony, where human drummers who have assimilated to Na’vi culture sing, dance, and play drums, inviting you to join them and the clans on this magical world. The lyrics of their songs are as follows, first in Na’vi, and then in English.

Song 1: Spaw Eywati (Believe Eywa)

Na’vi
Spaw! Rol! Rey!
Swotu!
Eywa ngahu!
Rol! Srew! Spaw!
Wou!
O-ey-o!

English

Believe! Sing! Live!
Sacred Place!
Eywa be with you!
Sing! Dance! Believe!
It’s awesome!
Oay-oh!

Song 2: Leym Ayolo’ru (Call the clans)

Na’vi

Leym san ma Tipani! Za’u! Za’u!
Leym san ma Kekunan! Za’u! Za’u!
Leym san ma Tawkami! Za’u! Za’u!
Leym san ma Anurai! Za’u! Za’u!
Leym san ma Omatikaya! Za’u! Za’u!

English

Calling the Tipani: Join us! Join us!
Calling the Kekunan: Join us! Join us!
Calling the Tawkami: Join us! Join us!
Calling the Anurai: Join us! Join us!
Calling the Omaticaya: Join us! Join us!

Song 3: Slu Na’viyä Hapxì (Become one of the people)

Na’vi

Eywa! Lawnol! Kato! Toruk Makto! Omatikaya!
Ma Sa’nok aNawm! Tìnew leNa’vi!

English

Eywa! Great joy! Rhythm! Toruk rider! Omaticaya!
Oh Great Mother! The People’s will!
Linda Drumming
During this last song, the drummers invite a member of the audience to come up and join the clans. I was absolutely thrilled to see my friend Linda, who is quite possibly the most loving person I’ve ever met, join in and drum in this celebration of life.
Totemic Figure of an Ikran
The single greatest attraction on Pandora is Flight of Passage, a ride in which you actually get to fly with the Na’vi through the rich landscape of Pandora. The ride actually starts with the beginning of the line, at which there are totemic figures made out of sticks and reeds by the Na’vi.
Could this be Jake Sully?
After that, you enter a cave system containing a number of cave paintings left by the Na’vi. One noteworthy illustration depicts a triumphant Na’vi rising above a blue avatar handprint superimposed on a red human handprint. Could this be a representation of Jake Sully, the Toruk Makto from the original film?
Toruk
In another part of the cave, the Toruk soars above all.
The Book on Pandoran Botany Written by Dr. Grace Augustine
Further on, you come across a human lab with a number of experiments going on, and a number of materials paying reference to parts of the film and the ride introduction sequences.
The Avatar
There is also an actual avatar floating in its tank in suspended animation. The quality of Disney workmanship is absolutely superb. Most of the time, Disney rides and attractions are above and beyond any other entertainment experience. In this case, Pandora at the Animal Kingdom is above and beyond anything else that Disney has ever done. You eventually go through and are matched to an avatar, as well as being decontaminated of parasites, educated about conservation, and about various aspects of Na’vi culture there are, in fact, three different levels of the ride, each with different intro sequences. You are then mounted on a link chair, and transported onto the back of a banshee. The sights, sounds, feelings, smells, and everything else will convince you that you’re really there. You even feel the creature breathing beneath you, smell the plants of the forest, and get sprayed by the water beneath you. The ride also adds new elements to the Avatar mythology, with new plants and wildlife making appearances for the first time.
The Handprints of James Cameron, Joe Rohde, and Jon Landau
The first time I rode Flight of Passage, I was between Diego Parras, the head of communications for Disney Imagineering, and Dr. Paul Frommer, inventor of the Na’vi language. A number of times during my first couple times on the ride, I broke into tears with how wonderful the experience was for me. At other times I was hooting and hollering in the exhilaration. I told Diego after we got off the ride that, according to my five senses, I was actually party to riding on a banshee. It is by far the best ride I’ve ever been on. Diego told me, “Here at Disney, we do not build roller coasters or Ferris wheels. Instead, we strive to build emotional connections.” It clearly worked. At the exit of the ride are the handprints of Avatar producer and director James Cameron, Avatar producer Jon Landau, and the chief Imagineer on the project, Joe Rohde. For those who are interested in the lines said by your guide during the ride, I include them below, first in Na’vi, and then in English.
My Ikran, Tìronsrel, which means Imagination in Na’vi
Na’vi
  1. Alaksi srak? Nong oet!
  2. Fìfya’o!
  3. Nìler.
  4. Nari si.
  5. Tam. Var kiva.
  6. Tsun tivam.
  7. May’ fikem sivi.
  8. Eywa ftxoley.
  9. Alaksi lu nga. Tsun fikem sivi.
  10. Siva ko!
  11. Soleia!
  12. Makto ko.
  13. May’ fikem sivi.
  14. Eywa’eveng. Oey kelku.
  15. Nìn tsat, sätaron.
  16. ’Ä’ … Ke li!
  17. Oel ngati kameie.
English
  1.  Ready? Follow me!
  2. This way!
  3. [Fly] steadily!
  4. Careful.
  5. Okay. Keep going.
  6. Not bad.
  7. Try this.
  8. Eywa has chosen.
  9. You’re ready. You can do this.
  10. Rise to the challenge!
  11. You rose to the challenge!
  12. Let’s ride.
  13. Try this!
  14. Pandora. My home.
  15. Look, a hunt.
  16. Whoops … not yet!
  17. I See you. (singular)
The Sagittaria
There are a few living creatures depicted in the Valley of Mo'ara as well. One is the Sagittaria, a squirting aquatic creature that resembles a cross between a mollusk and a crustacean.
The Sagittaria at Night
At night, everything lights up, including these creatures, resembling the bioluminescence of the plants and animals in the film.
The Base of the Floating Mountains at Night
Some of the plants that light up only light up on the tips of their blooms.
More Foliage at Night
Whereas other plants light up in total.
Alec and Älek
Pandora is absolutely amazing, and I am so glad that I have got to share just a small portion of my wonderful visit with you. As they say on Pandora, “Oel ayngati kameie,” or “I see you.”

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Dare to Dream: An Autistic Advocate’s Visit to the Kennedy Space Center, by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

I was in Florida for the 2017 meetup of fans of James Cameron’s Avatar. On one day during our meetup, we went to the John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC), our nation’s port in our adventure towards the stars.
Photo of Alec Frazier with Astronaut Mike Foreman
I started the day by hearing a briefing about our nation’s state of affairs in space. We have several programs taking place at the current moment, as well as partnership with several other nations. One of these greatest programs is the International Space Station (ISS), arguably the grandest symbol of international peace and cooperation ever produced by humanity, in which individuals from several nations and materials from several regions of the globe are used to work in unison for the betterment of mankind. We also learned that within a year and a half, Americans will continue launching into space from the Kennedy Space Center. After this briefing, we in the audience got to hear from Mike Foreman, an actual astronaut who had been on two missions. His first mission was as a general-purpose specialist on the Space Shuttle. On his second mission, he helped several others restock and resupply the ISS, and he even did two spacewalks. Resupply missions are vitally important, and maintain our continued presence in space. After giving his talk, people were given the opportunity to meet and have photos taken with Foreman. I met him, and he saw my Ithaca Is Gorges T-shirt, and asked if I had gone to Cornell. I told him I had gone to the State University of New York at Buffalo, but that Ithaca is my hometown. I told him that I do disability rights advocacy, and we each told the other how proud we are of each other’s work.
The Rocket Garden
After this, I had lunch with people from the fan meetup, followed by a tour of the Rocket Garden. The Rocket Garden chronicles our mission to perfect the ideal space going vehicle. In the beginning, we were literally using missiles intended for weapons to shoot people into space. These missiles were relatively small, and also gave a really rough ride, not at all intended for human beings. Our tour guide talked about the first few satellites, and the first manned space programs, Mercury and Gemini. We saw the rockets use to launch each satellite and program. Mercury was meant to see ourselves into space. There were no scientific goals, and no way to actually live in space. There were intended to be seven astronauts, but we wound up with six. The first two were sub-orbital flights launched by the Redstone missile. Unfortunately, the Redstone lacked the thrust to get us into orbit, but thanks to computers like Katherine Johnson, we learned that the Atlas rocket could. The Gemini program was meant to actually test how we could live in space. In Gemini, we ate, slept, spacewalked, did detailed tasks, and even celebrated Christmas. We also learned how to dock with other vehicles, how to manipulate the course and direction of our spacecraft, how to rendezvous with other spacecraft, and achieved other significant goals. The Gemini spacecraft were launched aboard the Titan II missile, which gave an incredibly rough ride. Finally, it was time to launch the Apollo program, and get ourselves to the moon. The first few Apollo launchers took place on the Saturn IB rocket, which launched us to Earth orbit in the Apollo capsules. The Saturn IB was also launched to get us to the Skylab space station. We saw all of these rockets, and more, and also tried out basic versions of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space capsules.
The New Kennedy Space Center Headquarters Building
After this, I went to the gift shop, of course, and then waited for my friends. You see, we had booked the opportunity of a lifetime. We were going to be shown the headquarters facilities and launch facilities for the American space program. We started out being shown the Industrial Area Facilities of the Kennedy Space Center. It is here where the American space program and its missions are administered. A lot of activity is currently taking place! They are currently demolishing the old computer building, after building a new one. We saw both. Computers have gotten smaller and smaller, and so the space needed to contain them has as well. In addition, it is not a bad idea to have an updated building for such sensitive materials. There are also two headquarters buildings: the old one, which is being phased out, and the new one, which is just being finished. There is another building dedicated specifically to operations on the ISS. There are other buildings dedicated towards the development of outer space missions, as well as a communication center, a gas station, and a fire station.
Vehicle Assembly Building
Next, we got to see the Launch Pad 39 Complex. For the longest time, American rockets and space vehicles have been constructed inside the massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The VAB is the sixth largest building in the world by volume. The volume of the Empire State Building could fit inside it five times. It is 526 feet in height. The American flag painted on its side is 21 stories tall, and each star is 6 feet across. Rockets and other space vehicles are built inside it on top of mobile launch platforms, and then wheeled out to one of the launch pads in the complex. Because of the massive weight that the mobile launch platforms must transport, they move incredibly slowly. Much more slowly than the walking human being. There is a joke that if someone sees a turtle walking the same direction in front of the mobile launch platform, they should let it be, because it will get to its destination more quickly than the launch platform will! There are also several buildings surrounding the VAB, including buildings formerly used to outfit the Space Shuttle, which are currently used for outfitting other vehicles. The military is also using one of these buildings for a top-secret project. In addition, there is a launch control Center next to the VAB, and the nearby area for the press.
Alec Frazier with the Launch Pad 39A
We next went to see Launch Pad 39A. Over half of the Space Shuttle missions launched from this launch pad. More importantly, every single mission that humanity launched to the moon launched from here as well. The fact that we have gone to the moon is the realization of an incredible dream, the journey of mankind. At the next stop, we got to see that journey up close and personal.
The Firing Room in the Apollo/Saturn V Center
As you enter the Apollo/Saturn V Center, you learn about the absolute failures of the early American space program, and how achieving any real progress in space seemed like a pipe dream at the beginning. You are shown the failure of rocket after rocket, failures so horrible that they look like a bad blooper reel. Then you learn about the launch of the Mercury program, and the challenge a few days later by President John F. Kennedy to land a man on the moon and get him safely home by the end of the decade. That was a truly Herculean task to live up to. They talk about the progress of the early Apollo program, and the tragic loss of the crew of Apollo 1. Then, you are led into the Firing Room. The Firing Room is the exact same launch control room that was used during Apollo 8, the first manned launch of a Saturn V rocket. This is the biggest and most complex machine ever produced by mankind. In the Firing Room, you are on pins and needles as you witness the successful launch of Apollo 8. Then, as if in a dream, you are led to see the stunning achievement of humanity. 
The Engines of the Mighty Saturn V
Here, laid on its side before you, is the massive Saturn V rocket. It is the biggest, most complicated machine ever created by man. There is only one that has been maintained intact into the current day, and it stretches out before you, seemingly endlessly. Alongside it are the mission patches of the various Apollo missions, hanging from the ceiling. There are also various artifacts, including a bona fide Command and Service Module (CSM), as well as a Lunar Module (LM). There is also a mockup of the cockpit of the LM so that you feel like you’re actually there on the moon.
Apollo 14 Command Module Kitty Hawk
There are other artifacts as well. There is the command module of the Apollo 14 mission, which was given the callsign Kitty Hawk, after the location of the first heavier than air flight. There is a moon rock for you to touch, and an equipment wagon and a lunar Rover made for lunar operation.

Statue of Snoopy
There are space suits, various lunar artifacts, and Snoopy… Wait a second… Did I just say Snoopy!? Well, you see, several the Apollo program engineers started informally drawing Snoopy, so they asked peanuts cartoonist Charles Schultz whether they would be allowed to make the famous beagle’s likeness. He said no, absolutely not, but that he would make it for them. As such, Snoopy became sort of the mascot of the Apollo program, and there is a statue of him in a spacesuit. However, try as they might, NASA physicists cannot figure out how his nose would have fit into the helmet. An intractable problem for the ages!
The Doors from the Apollo 1 Capsule
There is also a monument and a gallery dedicated to memorializing the astronauts lost in the Apollo 1 mission. At the time, American spacecraft used a pure oxygen atmosphere. If one remembers the Hindenburg disaster, they will recall that hydrogen is combustible. Oxygen is not combustible, but it is incredibly flammable. Some electric equipment sparked while the Apollo 1 crew was having a test on the launchpad. The triple-layer door was too difficult to open, and they all completely cooked in the capsule. Those doors are on display in the gallery. Because of this terrible accident, over 38,000 changes were made to the engineering of American space technology, many of which still last to this day. These changes have saved many, many lives. The door now takes a fraction of the time to open, and the atmosphere aboard all American spacecraft now has mixed content just like Earth’s atmosphere instead of being pure oxygen. Some people will die in our quest for space, that is a given. The quest for the stars is too great a dream, though, and we should never lose sight of our goal.
Mars, Space, Earth, and the International Space Station behind the Darkened Apollo 11 Landing Site as Neil Armstrong Speaks on the Dream of Mankind
Finally, you head into the Lunar Theater, where the landing of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, Eagle, is actually reenacted on stage in front of you. You see video of astronauts both playing and studying on the moon. The American flag is planted, and there is more video of those same astronauts talking about the terrific wonders that we have achieved. The ascent module then lifts off to join the command module Columbia and head home. There is then video of the dreams of children, many of whom wish to go into space. Finally, the late Neil Armstrong appears on video. He talks about how, when he was born, we had just managed to cross the Atlantic by airplane. He says that when he was a kid, he thought that landing on the moon would take place centuries into the future, and certainly had no clue that he would be the first person to do so. He states that we came not from one country, but in peace for all mankind. He says that you should never be afraid to dream. The vision of Mars appears on stage. Our guide at the Kennedy Space Center confirmed to us that NASA plans to get us to Mars and back safely by 2035. That is within my lifetime. What once was considered impossible is now attainable
Alec Frazier Speaking at the US Capitol
Now for a personal story. When I was in early elementary school, the authorities behind the school tried to have me locked up for the rest of my life. They said that I would never amount to anything, and that there was no use in trying. My loving family fought tooth and nail, and parents and professionals, as well as friends, raised me into who I am today. I have since made endless friends, graduated from college with a master’s degree, gotten an excellent job, and helped change the lives of millions, especially those of us with disabilities. Never, ever be afraid to dream. Dreams are attainable. The impossible is possible.

The late Carl Sagan was fond of saying that we are all made of star dust. In our journey to the stars, we are simply going home. Thank you, for joining me on this tour.

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

SUNY University at Buffalo Alumni Survey, by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality


  • Person’s name: Alexander Frazier, but you can call me Alec
  • Occupation/Profession: Disability rights advocate, Director of Autistic Reality, DBA, and Editor at BBDO Worldwide
  • Years in Profession: I have been a disability rights advocate doing public speaking and lobbying for the cause since at least 1994, when I was in third grade. I have received payment for disability rights services since a few years later.
  • Description of job: As Director of Autistic Reality, my own disability rights firm, I do public speaking, lobbying, peer advocacy and mentoring, surfing on a number of panels and committees, and many other various and sundry services. As an Editor for BBDO Worldwide, I edit stories written by disabled authors and others, as well as producing my own content. Pay for my position as Director of Autistic Reality takes place whenever funds are available. Pay for my position at BBDO Worldwide is $25 an hour.
  • College: My bachelor’s degree was in the College of Arts and Sciences. My master’s degree was interdisciplinary, but was managed by the College of Arts and Sciences.
  • Major: My major for my bachelor’s degree was in political science. My major for my master’s degree was in disability studies.


Questions:


1. What core skill sets, knowledge, or experiences do you feel will best prepare a current college student interested in pursuing work in your field?

Any college student with disabilities such as myself should be well-versed in how to receive accommodations from the college or university in question. For example, I needed my textbooks in electronic format, and also needed assistance with writing exams and papers, which was provided by voice-activated software both at home and that the school. I provided my own at home, but the school provided the software for exams. More importantly, having an accommodations office that is nice to you and honest with you and recognizes their own shortcomings is crucial. Having professors who meet the accommodations guidelines is also extremely important, not to mention the fact that it is the law. This addresses some concerns that people with disabilities may have whilst obtaining a college degree.

Moving beyond basic concerns, internship experience is extremely important for someone engaging in the disability advocacy fields. The school’s disability studies program requires either a thesis or internship experience. In my opinion, internship experience should be the only option. Nothing prepares the advocate like actual experience in the field. That said, there are limited opportunities in Buffalo, and, more importantly, the disability studies program lacks proper personnel, resources, and funds to explore new internship experiences. As such, the internship options are extremely limited. I only had my internship options available because I had an “in” with the organization I interned with. In my opinion, the school’s disability studies program should also have those connections, which means having the time, resources, and personnel to develop them.

The ultimate internship experience for someone engaging in disability studies who has disabilities themselves, such as myself, is the annual summer internship for the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). This internship would be extremely difficult to render as a school experience, but the school can foster connections to it. An amazing percentage of current disability leaders are coming from the pools of people who have gone through this internship. It also teaches about the national disability rights movement, its history, its composition, its socioeconomics, and its politics.


2. If you were in a position to design a college program from the ground up specifically to prepare students to enter your field, what would you ensure was included (specific training, course content, experiences, etc.)?

First, one must understand that there is nothing like a disability studies master’s. It is to the disability field as gender studies or women’s studies are to sexuality and gender issues. It is not a medical degree, and takes pride in not being one. Instead, it explores disability from a philosophical point of view, and is extremely heavy on coursework and material. There is a growing opinion of people in the disability rights field and other rights movements that people with my master’s degree should be doing much of the work that social workers are currently doing. I concur. Social workers do not have the in-depth training and sensitivity necessary to the disability rights movement and philosophy. We do.

I have already mentioned working with the AAPD. In addition, the disability studies master’s at UB should work much more extensively with other national disability organizations such as the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN), and a number of other organizations. To this end, there should also be extensive classes in disability rights organizations and their philosophies, as well as training in various disability rights movements. Training in the independent living movement (IL) is especially crucial to this degree. A great deal of disability rights work uses the IL movement as a guide, and students in any school’s disability studies program should be made aware, and well-versed in their credo and techniques.


3.         Were there specific experiences, courses, or content you received in college that helped you succeed in your career?

A number of my courses were extremely important to my current career. Master’s courses like American social history, disabled veterans, accessible design, a history of madness, and the at least three disability-oriented classes I took for that degree as well. A number of the papers I did for that class have been or are getting published, and not just published online, but as actual printed books. One of the papers in particular has helped me get business with Marvel Entertainment, of all people, and many appearances at comic con throughout the Northeast. Make no mistake, I love doing literature reviews, and my current employer is paying me handsomely to do a number of literature reviews in that vein. That is a huge benefit from my master’s classes.

A number of the bachelor’s classes were also very important. My constitutional law classes taught me a lot about people’s rights, how they developed, and what people are entitled to. I took a disability anthropology classes in undergrad as well. Believe it or not, the Magic, Sorcery, and Witchcraft class taught by Philip Stevens has been cited often in my experience, as it teaches that whatever one believes to be real is real to them. It also teaches a number of cultural nuances that I have not learned anywhere else in my academic training. Other political science classes such as legislative politics, politics abroad, and American presidency have also been very important.

The internships were also incredibly useful in gaining practical experience. My internships were at the local independent living network, as well as another local disability rights center. Nonetheless, I suggest that the school develop disability studies internships with places like the local psychiatric center, local autism services, and other disability agencies in town. Perhaps even working with county and state agencies in the area, as well as other organizations that provide services for the disabled, would be incredibly beneficial. I know, however, that convincing some of these organizations to lead a student in would be difficult, especially because my degree is not a medical one. There is an inherent bias in favor of the medical model of disability over the social model. Please look up these two models. They would broaden your horizons significantly.


3. Are there specific experiences, training, content you wish you received in college that you think could have helped further your career?

In addition, having a disability rights network in school would help a great deal. More specifically, I mean a student organization, not one run by the Wellness Office or Accessibility Resources, or the Intercultural Diversity Center (IDC). During my time at UB, I received patronizing disservice from all three of those offices, under the intent to help. In fact, it is a well-known fact that the only true disability rights organizations are those that are disability-run.

You may not know this, but UB had a disability-run disability student union for over twenty-five years. They were known either as the Disability Student Union at UB, or as The Independents. I have worked with a number of their former members. The reason why they no longer exist is because UB was and in some cases still is inaccessible in many ways, and the members of this student union tend to sue the school for their rights when necessary. UB has since changed its admissions standards to discriminate against certain disabilities that tended to unionize at school.

I have noticed a great deal of discrimination against the disability population by offices such as Wellness, IDC, and even accessibility resources. We need to recognize that this is an issue. We need to stop saying sorry and talking about the problem and instead actually work to fix this. For example, I have noticed IDC talking a very good game about inclusion, but when it comes down to it, they’re not at all inclusive of people with disabilities. In fact, at one point they emailed me asking for a written response. When I politely asked for more time due to my writing disabilities, they accused me of litigation and referred me to their legal team. I understand that in the SUNY system in general, but also at UB, the administration is incredibly wary of such things. However, in this case, that is outright halting your inclusion of the populations you claim to embrace.

There is actually a current disability group at UB called UB Accessible. It is an absolute insult the disability rights movement. It is run by people without disabilities, and has no requirement that people with disabilities have any say in it. It has a lot of funds, and a lot of publicity, and has almost nothing to do with the actual viewpoints of people with disabilities.

I would gladly accept the opportunity to speak at your school, or work with you, to ensure proper inclusion.


5.         What problems, frustrations, or concerns do you see with recent college graduates entering your field these days?

There is one, gigantic frustration for people like me. People with disabilities. The unemployment rate for persons with a disability was 10.5 percent in 2016, about twice that of those with no disability, which was 4.6 percent. In Buffalo and Erie County, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is much, much worse. Once again, solving this problem is discussed quite frequently, but doing things about it is not. UB talks a good game about employing those with disabilities, but in reality, it does not. UB does not employ very many people with disabilities. In addition, alumni networks should really network with disability organizations. My alumni network in Washington, DC should network with national disability rights organizations, since we are all right here in the national capital region.

Another fact that should be mentioned is that, although my training is in disability rights, the actual job I managed to get his for an advertising firm. I do plenty of work in disability rights, but the actual job is as editing and compiling written records for publication. A great deal of work in the disability studies field is a catch-all. It may not be what you initially looked for, and it may not even be what you are seeking, but it could still be a decent or even amazing job. That is a large benefit to my master’s degree in disability studies: the fact that it was interdisciplinary, and engaged in a great deal of training in social theory, not just in disability.


6.         Are there any other issues or suggestions you would like to provide us as we work to overhaul our curriculum to better serve our students and potential employers like you?

I do believe I have covered most of it. I don’t believe that I can remember everything at this time, but I will leave you with some parting advice.

Life is wonderful. Life is what you make of it. There is limitless potential, and endless opportunity. Having an education only increases that potential, that opportunity. If you are having a tough time finding work, never give up, and be flexible. Everyone has the right to succeed. You will, too.

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

Friday, September 22, 2017

He Belongs to the City: A Film Review of Good Time, by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

Connie Nikas Coming Out of A Bottle of Acid in a Poster for Good Time
The film Good Time, directed by the brothers Benny and Josh Safdie, is an absolute thrill ride and it epitomizes how a very good film can be made on a small budget.

Summary:

Connie and Nick Nikas in a Poster for Good Time
Robert Pattinson stars as Connie Nikas, a Resident of Queens of Greek descent. He cares a great deal about his brother, Nick, played by Benny Safdie, and does try very hard to do right by him. Connie shows up at the beginning of the film to take his brother out of a counseling session. You see, Nick has developmental disabilities, and Connie just wants to do right by him. Of course, the counselor also wants to do right by him. The views of family members versus the views of “the system” often conflict. Often there is not a clear answer of who is in the right. On the one hand, the questions during the counseling session are making Nick cry, on the other hand, Connie does not have the best of intentions either.

The main thrust of the film starts when Connie manipulates his brother Nick into attempting a bank robbery with him. A chase ensues, and Nick gets arrested. Connie tries to use the stolen money to get Nick out on bail, but since the money is dirty, he ends up having to go to his girlfriend, the significantly older Corey Ellman, who is played flawlessly by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Ellman has quite a fickle personality, and this obviously means that she has a great deal of trouble making decisions. This is further evidenced by the fact that she lives with her mother, with whom she has a bad relationship; they bicker and argue frequently. Connie lies to Corey about the reason why his brother is in jail, but it is all for naught as when Corey tries to use her bank card to bail Nick out, she finds that her mother has canceled it. The night spirals downward even further from here.

Nick had gotten into a fight with another inmate, and was placed in a hospital under guarded supervision. Connie finds out which hospital, finds the police guarding a room, and breaks out the heavily bandaged man handcuffed in that room. He proceeds to further manipulate his way to a very bad neighborhood in residential Queens, and into an old lady’s house, where he attempts to distract her 16-year-old granddaughter, Crystal, played by newcomer Taliah Lennice Webster, with sex. Keep in mind that Robert Pattison is 31, and we are to assume that Connie is of a similar age. The inmate Connie broke out of the hospital wakes up, and pries off his bandages, only to reveal that he is a stranger, Ray, played by Buddy Duress. Connie manages to calm him down with painkillers, and they trick Crystal into accompanying them on a trip in her grandmother’s car.

References on the television throughout the film infer that law enforcement is getting closer to finding Connie, we also see police talking to people seen previously in the film. We learned that Ray had a wild ride of his own the previous day, and left a bottle full of acid and a bag of cash in an amusement park ride a few streets down from where he, Connie, and Crystal are currently laying low. Ray and Connie break into the amusement park, leaving Crystal in the car. They are cornered by Dash the security guard, played by Barkhad Abdi. Dash calls the police, but Ray and Connie managed to overwhelm him. Connie then impersonates the security guard, and the paramedics and police take away Dash, who has been force-fed some of the acid. At the same time, Crystal is also taken in for questioning. Connie and Ray escape to Dash’s apartment in his security vehicle. Upon arriving at the apartment, it is becomes apparent that Dash engages in illicit activity as he is living well above his means. Connie has Ray call his dealer and demands the cash he needs to bail out his brother Nick. The dealer leaves, ostensibly to get the cash, but in actuality to get a gun with which to kill Connie. It is at this point that the police close in on them. Ray accidentally kills himself when trying to escape the apartment, and Connie is taken away by the police.

In the final scene, the therapist from the first scene in the film takes Nick Nikas to a boring, monotonous group activity for those with developmental disabilities, while remarking that Connie is now in the right place, and that Nick is in the right place, too.

Analysis:


This film is incredibly thought-provoking. It goes beyond questions of right and wrong, and into degrees of personal accountability. One thing that should be noted is that this entire film after the bank robbery and before the final scene takes place over the course of just one night. During that night, we get to delve deep into the psyche of Connie Nikas. It is extremely clear that he loves his brother a great deal. At one point, he tells Nick that it is just the two of them against the world. It is true that they both have a very aged grandmother, but she is incapable of looking after them. Connie obviously believes that the bank robbery will be simple and easy. He lacks foresight, and this makes him a poor planner.

After the robbery, Connie’s dive into further crime is gradual. It all starts with a lie he tells Corey as to why his brother has been incarcerated; he tells her that Nick lashed out against his therapist. Connie clearly does not like the idea of Nick going to therapy, and this is consistent with toxic masculinity as well as some Greek-American cultural norms, which believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Throughout the film, Connie consistently believes that things are either out of his control or most definitely not his fault, or both. For example, Crystal mentions that her last boyfriend was her drug dealer, who was significantly older than herself. This makes it a non-issue to Connie when he starts to force himself upon her a while later. Ironically, Connie later attempts dealing drugs himself with the bottle of acid.

It is as if Connie does not notice how deep he is slipping. He quite willingly suggests drugging the security guard and posing in his place. Breaking and entering into the amusement park is nothing to him. Given that Connie’s first significant act in this film is a bank robbery, we can only hazard a guess into his past, although we are made aware at one point during the film that he has a record; we see a past mug shot of Connie on the news.

Connie shows a great deal of willingness to manipulate others. He is aware that Corey has psychological issues that give her weakness and malleability, as well as a willingness to help with finances. It is hinted that before the events of this film, they were planning a trip to the Caribbean, perhaps to be assisted with the money from the bank robbery. Nick is also incredibly malleable, doing whatever others tell him to do. Connie uses this to his advantage in getting Nick to assist him with his various nefarious schemes. The therapist is equally able to convince Nick to do his bidding. It is not in Nick’s best interest to spend his days in monotonous, clinical group activities. However, Nick does not have an in-built group of friends, and the clinical system is still often ill-versed in the social needs of those with disabilities.

The amazing thing about Connie is that he probably believes that everything he has done, including the bank robbery and the actions of this fateful night are without question and in the right. Connie is extremely well-intentioned, but he has shown himself to be addicted to bad behavior, and even deeply sociopathic. The fact that he thinks nothing of kidnapping a 16-year-old girl or having sexual relations with her is proof of this. At one point, Ray asks him about his intentions. Connie makes it clear that he is focused on the here and now, and not the consequences of his actions. There is something deeply flawed about Connie Nikas, but he is portrayed in such a way that we can still have a tremendous amount of empathy for him.

Robert Pattinson on the Cover of Wonderland Magazine
This portrayal, of course, comes courtesy of Robert Pattinson. Pattinson was thrust into the film world by the Harry Potter and Twilight films. He jokes that if he had his way, he would be a nobody in a British dive bar playing guitar and singing for a living. Pattinson is absolutely stunned and surprised by his fame, but not unhappy with it. He has spent his time since the Twilight franchise becoming a fixture in the independent film community. Pattinson is definitely a more artistic type, as is shown in his quite recent photo shoot for Wonderland magazine, in which he pays tribute to Yayoi Kusama, who is arguably the greatest artist alive today. In the photo shoot, Pattinson pays homage to Kusama by wearing gender-ambiguous costumes similar to hers, and posing amongst backgrounds evocative of her art. An artist is truly fearless when they are willing to deny social constructs such as gender, and Pattinson is clearly that brave.

Yayoi Kusama with One of Her Famed Pumpkins
In addition to acting, Good Time is also noteworthy for its locations. The film shies away from the glitzy and famous locations in New York City, instead placing itself amongst bad neighborhoods, mostly in Queens. There have been far too many films exploiting the New York City of tourists, and far too few focusing on the city of everyday people. The Safdie brothers are to be praised for their realism.

Good time defies one specific genre. It is incredibly philosophical, action-packed, and dramatic all at once. It is clear that none of the characters in the film are actually having a Good Time, but this is a very, very good film, and you, the audience, will.


Five out of five stars, or 10 out of 10. Absolutely flawless.

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!