The University Record, October 22, 2001

Neubacher award recognizes work of Wild Swan Theater

By Elizabeth Manasse
University Record Intern

U-M alumnae Hilary Cohen and Sandy Ryder envisioned a form of theater that could be enjoyed by all people, including those with disabilities. Over the course of 20 years, their vision of a theatrical experience available to families with disabled members has become a reality, the Wild Swan Theater. Because of the contributions they have made on behalf of people with disabilities, Cohen and Ryder received the 2001 James Neubacher Award from the U-M Council for Disability Concerns (CDC) at a ceremony Oct. 12.

As founders and co-artistic directors of the Wild Swan Theater, located in Ann Arbor, Cohen and Ryder have made theater accessible to disabled individuals through full-scale productions and workshops. Wild Swan has given 400 performances interpreted in American Sign Language, with the signing completely integrated into the dramatic production. Many of their performances include pre-performance backstage “touch tours,” allowing visually impaired individuals to feel the performers’ costumes and props and experience the physical space in the set. Also, “audio description” provides blind audience members a complete description of staging, which they hear over receivers during pauses in the dialogue.

The James Neubacher Award was created in October of 1990 by the CDC as a memorial to Jim Neubacher, an alumnus of the University and an effective advocate for equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities. In his Detroit Free Press column “Disabled in Detroit,” Neubacher battled for the rights and dignity of those who are disabled.

The CDC also presented Certificates of Appreciation to acknowledge persons affiliated with the University whose actions have significantly benefited people with disabilities on campus. This year’s recipients were Pat McCune, program coordinator of Dialogues on Diversity; Roy Christian, assistant director, Family Housing; Marita Inglehat, associate professor of dentistry; Henry L. Kanar, associate professor emeritus of dentistry; Joe Kennedy, area facilities manager, University Housing; Anne Mend, activity therapist, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital; Ramiro Obando, technical support; Bukuri Aliko, manager of development events; Jacque L. Dunham, associate director, Office of University and Development Events; Jodi Berris, student; Jeremy Bloom, student; and Anna Boonin, student.

Jack Bernard, chair of the CDC, presented certificates of appreciation. “Seeing the acknowledgment of such deserving recipients is my favorite event of the year,” says Bernard. “Each recipient has stepped up to make the University a more accessible and embracing environment for faculty and staff with disabilities—not out of necessity, but out of human kindness.”

The Council selected October for the presentation of the Neubacher Award to coincide with the state of Michigan’s observance of Investing in Ability Week, which promotes the employment of people with disabilities by encouraging employers and the general public to focus on abilities, rather than perceived disabilities. Each year, U-M sponsors a series of programs and events which correspond with Investing in Abilities Week. This year’s events celebrated 12 years of educational programs and events designed to increase awareness of disability issues and to promote a greater recognition of the skills and talents that people with disabilities contribute to the University and the greater society.