Monday, August 18, 2014

Guest Post: Coping With Disabilities Through Pony Panel Recap

"Our Little Inspirations" back cover artwork by Stoneth
The Code has been promoting and documenting a Brony dad with a visual disability's effort to bring a panel called "Coping With Disabilities Through Pony" to Bronycon 2014, with the aim of showing other fans how the can advocate for and empathize with people with disabilities in the fandom. The panel host and organizer, Matthew Palumbo, wrote in with a report on the panel, so I'm giving him a guest post slot to share the panel report with you all.
The day of the panel was amazing! We all met at 1:00 PM in front of the Hall of the Moon to prep our opening presentation along with Rachel Merryfield's demonstration of Braillemon. 
As we discussed how things would go, I was asked about my Snowdrop plushie by a young lady behind me. I let her see Snowdrop and she began to share how she found Snowdrop very inspirational in feeling understood despite her disability. She then asked me if I was attending the panel. Of course, I stated that I was the lead panelist and how the rest of the team was right in front of her. She was amazed. But what really touched her was how I pointed out how Meredith Sims, the voice and writer of Snowdrop, was right in front of her. The young lady couldn't believe it. So I asked Meredith to come over. The lady was ecstatic to share with Ms. Sims how her work with Silly Filly Studios positively impacted her life. Meredith was nearly speechless. 
Set up was far easier than expected, so the team took time to answer some questions before the panel started. The turnout was ever growing and eventually reached about 90% of the room's capacity. This was truly impressive. 
The introductory videos went over very well with the audience applauding after various segments were shown. I then discussed the meaning behind the videos before turning it over to my son, Ethan, who discussed briefly how a dad was a dad. Disabled or not a parent is there for you and loves you.  
Benjamin Platt spoke on how he became a fan and what it was like to have a brother with Autism and a sister with Down's. He pointed out  how they inspired him by showing how they coped with their respective conditions while also finding their own ways to take part in this great big world of ours. This overall showed that one cannot and should not judge a person by simply a first impression. Doing so makes you miss out on how different people have their own ways of being an active part of all our world has to offer. 
Rachel Merryfield's presentation was next. It was also perhaps the most impactful. The reason for this is that prior to the panel starting a fourteen year old member of the audience announced to us all how he had Autism and felt like he may not have a purpose since nobody seemed to want to listen or understand him. Rachel has Autism but did not intend to note it during her discussion of accessible software. The boy's bravery brought Rachel to not only share how she, too, was Autistic but also prove that individuals with special needs do have a purpose. She went on to discuss how there are people who do genuinely see you for more than your condition who do want to genuinely be your friends while working alongside you in those things you delight in doing. It was an extremely emotional moment that hit home with not only members of the audience but the whole team as well. 
Meredith Sims of Silly Filly Studios was last to speak. She discussed the development of Snowdrop while touching on why she chose to make Snowdrop blind. This being how she knew individuals with no sight were known for having a strong sense of touch. Knowing it took a delicate touch to make a snowflake, Meredith decided Snowdrop being blind would help deliver a more powerful message for the animation.
Ms. Sims also shared how the teacher was based after experiences she had witnessed in her own life while Snowdrop's non stereotypical presentation was inspired by meeting many individuals with special needs in her church's youth group. 
What hit home the most for Meredith was when she asked the audience how many had watched Snowdrop. Nearly everyone in attendance raised their hand! This seemed a most humbling moment for Meredith who, despite having read all the comments on the YouTube video, hadn't truly realized how deeply Snowdrop had positively influenced so many who had special needs. 
After the panel everyone was approached by members of the audience to discuss how delighted they were in how and what was presented. Even Matthew's son, Ethan, was talked to and asked to sign an autograph! 
We look forward to sharing more in the coming days. Thanks to everyone who helped make this panel and its Beyond the Panel aspects a true success!
When I asked Matthew about the "Beyond the Panel" mention, he said it referred to how he had collected 41 stories of inspiration from 5 countries around the world and made it available as an accessible Word document, a PDF, and a physical book. He will also be releasing an audiobook version this week as well and exploring a Braille version. Meredith Sims has also committed to releasing a version of Snowdrop with descriptive narration for the visually impaired.

You can visit the panel website at and contact Matt at

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