Comcast to include video description with NBC’s production of ‘The Wiz Live!’

Comcast will include a national video description pilot program with NBC’s broadcast of the hit Broadway musical The Wiz Live! on December 3, making it the first live entertainment program in U.S. history to be accessible to people who have a visual disability. Video description is a narration track that is included between the natural pauses in dialogue that describes the visual elements of a show or movie like facial expressions, settings, costumes and stage direction.

“Comcast’s commitment to include video description with the performance of The Wiz Live! is ground-breaking,” said Kim Charlson, President of The American Council of the Blind (ACB). “The path to accessibility is a journey of inclusion of all audiences. Just like the yellow brick road is the path to the heartfelt wishes of Dorothy and her friends, the blindness community is very happy to travel on this new path with Comcast and NBC.”

The described broadcast of The Wiz Live! is a national pilot program that is available across the country, wherever SAP (Secondary Audio Program) audio feeds are available. To deliver the service, Comcast and NBC are partnering with Descriptive Video Works, an industry leader in the delivery of quality described video and audio description for people with a visual disability. The company has provided more than 1,000 hours of Live Description, including the Olympics, Paralympics, and the Royal Wedding.

In addition to providing accessible content like The Wiz Live!, Comcast also has developed technologies that help people with disabilities enjoy entertainment independently. For example, customers who have the company’s X1 platform now have access to a talking guide, a voice-enabled TV menu and interface, and a voice controlled TV remote control, a device that simplifies the search process.

“The combination of accessible content and technology is powerful,” said Tom Wlodkowski, Comcast’s Vice President of Accessibility. “We’re working hard every day to make a positive impact in the lives of millions of customers by making our products and services more accessible and opening new doors to independence for people with disabilities. The broadcast of The Wiz Live! represents a real milestone in how people with visual impairments experience television.”

“Earlier this year, I attended a theater production of The Wiz and without description, found it very difficult to follow the characters and action of the play,” said Carl Augusto, CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind. “This nationally described television broadcast will not only be a godsend to people with vision loss, but also to those who describe action to people with vision loss, and the general public, who will learn about the importance of audio description.”

The Wiz Live! is adapted from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, with a book by William F. Brown, and music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls. The production opened on Broadway in 1975 at the Majestic Theatre and won seven Tonys, including best musical.

The Wiz Live! stars Queen Latifah (The Wiz), Mary J. Blige (Evillene), Shanice Williams (Dorothy), David Alan Grier (Cowardly Lion), NE-YO (Tin Man), Elijah Kelley (Scarecrow), Amber Riley (Addaperle), Stephanie Mills (Auntie Em), Uzo Aduba (Glinda) and Common (The Gatekeeper).

Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (“The Sound of Music Live!,” “Peter Pan Live!,” Oscar-winning “Chicago”) will executive produce. Kenny Leon (Tony winner, “A Raisin in the Sun”) is stage director and Matthew Diamond is TV director, with Harvey Fierstein (three-time Tony winner, “Torch Song Trilogy,” “Hairspray” and “La Cage aux Folles”) providing new written material.

Esteemed choreographer Fatima Robinson (“Dreamgirls,” “Ali”) is also on board, along with music producer Harvey Mason Jr. (“Dreamgirls, “Pitch Perfect 2”) and Stephen Oremus (“The Book of Mormon,” “Kinky Boots”) as music director, orchestrator and co-producer of the music.

“The Wiz Live!” is produced by Universal Television in association with Cirque Du Soleil Theatrical.

The Wiz Live! premieres Thursday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. ET. December 3 is also the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Film explores murder of Jordan Davis

Special to NNPA News Wire from The Washington Informer

It was a death that dominated the headlines.

Jordan Davis, an African-American teenager, and a group of friends were sitting in their parked car in Jacksonville, Fla., playing rap music and, otherwise, just minding their own business.

But Michael David Dunn, a 45-year-old White man and software developer, didn’t appreciate the music and, after a brief argument, returned to his own car where he grabbed a loaded handgun and fired 10 rounds into the car occupied by Davis and three others.

Only Davis was hit and the 17-year-old died of his injuries.

Today, that incident has been turned into a documentary titled, “3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets” which airs this month on HBO.

On Monday, Nov. 23, the third anniversary of the shooting, the Center for American Progress’ Reel Progress hosted a screening of the film beginning at the Landmark E Street Cinema on E Street between 10th and 11th Streets in Northwest.

The screening featured a discussion by Davis’ parents Lucia McBath and Ron Davis.

“When we started this journey, our aim was make sure that Jordan’s story was not going to be forgotten, that he would not become a statistic in an increasingly violent world,” Marc Silver, the film’s director, said in a statement. “We are now certain that Jordan’s story will reach the widest, most diverse audience possible.”

Earlier this year, the film won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Social Impact at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

The documentary takes viewers into the altercation between Davis and Dunn that ended with Dunn firing 10 shots into Davis’ vehicle and then fleeing.

It details the exchange of angry words on that night at a Gate Gas Station on Southside Boulevard over the volume of the music coming from the Dodge Durango in which Davis was seated.

The documentary also includes police interrogation footage, prison phone recordings between Dunn and his fiancé, who was at the scene of the shooting, and interviews with Jordan’s friends. It also has footage from Dunn’s trial and scenes of Davis’ parents – all shot over 18 months beginning in summer 2013.

After fleeing the scene of the crime, Dunn ultimately was apprehended by Florida law enforcement and later attempted to use the shield of Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law to justify his actions as self-defense, which former Neighborhood Watch Captain George Zimmerman successfully used after he killed unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin.

After two years and two trials, Dunn was convicted of murdering Davis and is now serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Patti Brigham, who chairs the League of Women Voters of Florida’s Gun Safety Committee, said the film is an eye-opener.

“It’s about a sort of infamous ‘Stand Your Ground’ case in Florida,” said Brigham. “Michael Dunn, middle-aged white man, Jordan Davis, African-American teenager. It was a shooting in Jacksonville at a gas station over the volume of the music coming from the young man’s car, Jordan Davis. And, Michael Dunn wound up firing 10 bullets at the car, which was filled with unarmed teenagers.”

Brigham told reporters in Jacksonville that the goal of the film is to not only depict racial bias, but to show what can occur when guns are introduced in certain situations.

“This film coincides with our concern about guns on campus because if you allow guns on campuses, then you’re setting up situations that Stand Your Ground – that defense could apply – or would be used, not necessarily apply, but where a ‘Stand Your Ground’ defense could be claimed,” she said. “So, we’re very concerned about that.”

Obesity group with ties to Coke shuts down

— An anti-obesity group backed by Coca-Cola has closed after criticism of ties to the soft drink maker.

The Global Energy Balance Network had argued that exercise the key to combating obesity, downplaying the need to cut back on consumption of sugary soft drinks.

But it has shut down its Web site. A message on it says the group was “discontinuing operations due to resource limitations.”

The University of Colorado’s medical school had received a $1 million grant from Coke to support scientists in the group, and the University of South Carolina had received $500,000.

But the University of Colorado returned the money. “While the network continues to advocate for good health through a balance of healthy eating habits and exercise, the funding source has distracted attention from its worthwhile goal,” the school said in a statement last month announcing the return of the funds. The University of South Carolina kept its grant money from Coke.

The anti-obesity group had denied it was letting Coke affect its findings.

But at one point its Website included a video from South Carolina professor Steve Blair, the vice president of the group, in which he said: “Most of the focus in the popular media and the scientific press is, ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on, and there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact is the cause.”

Other public health experts criticized the Global Energy Balance Network and its funding support from Coke, comparing it to the tobacco industry’s funding of scientists who denied a link between cigarettes and cancer.

“Unfortunately, Coca-Cola and its academic helpers won’t accept the well-documented evidence that sugary drinks are a major contributor to obesity, heart disease and diabetes,” said a letter signed by 36 public health advocates after Coke’s support for the group was first disclosed by the New York Times.

For a time, the group pushed back against the criticism.

“GEBN is not about minimizing diet or even the role of sugar-sweetened beverages in development of obesity,” it said in response to the attacks. Its mission was to find an “evidence-based approach to ending obesity.”

Neither Blair nor University of Colorado professor James Hill, the founder and president of the group, responded to a request for comment on its closing.


™ & © 2015 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

8 dangerous HIV myths debunked by the experts

HIV/AIDS is one of the highest profile diseases of our times, but many of us are still ignorant about key aspects of the illness, how it works and how to live with it.

HIV has killed an estimated 39 million people to date, but making it more dangerous are the misunderstandings and stigmas that surround it. We asked experts to debunk some of the most prevalent and damaging myths about HIV. This is what they said.

Myth: If you are infected with HIV, you’ll know about it.

It can take many years for symptoms of HIV to show up, which means you could be carrying the disease for a long time without experiencing any warning signs.

“In the average adult it takes between eight to 10 years for someone who is HIV positive to show signs that they’re infected and ill, so it’s almost impossible for people to tell if someone has HIV early on,” says Owen Ryan, executive director of the International AIDS Society.

This means it’s extremely important to be checked for the virus if you are sexually active. And of course, using a condom correctly every time you have sex can greatly reduce the chance of becoming infected.

Myth: If you have HIV you don’t need to start drug therapy until you get very sick.

The WHO recommends that people who are newly infected start treatment early on to protect their immune system. The treatment involves antiretroviral therapy (ART), which means taking drugs every day to suppress the virus in your body.

“There is a dramatic impact on a person’s health and well-being throughout their life if they start HIV treatment immediately,” explains Ryan.

“And it’s not just for them, it’s for their families and partners as well. People who are on HIV treatment who are responding well to treatment, they are 96% less likely to pass on HIV to their partners.”

Myth: We don’t need to worry about HIV anymore.

Just because we have made huge leaps in battling HIV over the past few decades, it doesn’t mean we should become complacent, argues Ryan.

“I think the biggest myth is that HIV is no longer a problem,” he says. “What I find a lot in my job is that a lot of people think that HIV is a problem of 10 years ago.

“I don’t think people know that there were 1.2 million deaths to AIDS in 2014. If more people knew that they’d be shocked. Six hundred children a day are infected with HIV; that’s just an outrageous statistic.

“I think we’ve moved into a period of apathy which we really have to push against. So the big myth that HIV is over is far from true.”

Myth: If you are pregnant and HIV positive your baby will always be infected.

If a pregnant woman is HIV positive the baby will not necessarily become infected. Even without treatment the chance of the baby acquiring the disease is about 25-33%, according to professor Salim Abdool Karim, director of the Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA).

But this risk can be significantly reduced with PrEP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis), which involves giving antiretroviral drugs to HIV negative people that are at risk of becoming infected.

“We can provide antiretroviral drugs to protect and prevent mother to child transmission, such that the transmission rate is now below 1%,” Karim explains.

Aside from PrEP, it’s also possible to wash sperm for artificial insemination. HIV is carried in the fluid around the sperm (rather than by the sperm itself) which means it can be removed before the female partner is inseminated. But while this may be a highly safe method, it’s not without its costs.

“It’s not done very often these days,” says Karim. “It’s not a cheap process because it involves many steps and it also involves artificial insemination, which is quite expensive.”

Sperm washing can greatly reduce the risk of infection, but does not guarantee it.

Myth: You can’t get HIV from tattoos or body piercing.

HIV can be transmitted through blood, which means you could get infected by shared needles, or tattoo and piercing tools that haven’t been sterilized properly between uses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that tools that cut the skin should be used once, then thrown away or sterilized.

“For places where tattoos or piercings are unregulated, or where they’re happening in settings that are open to infections, then of course there’s going to be a risk there,” says Ryan.

“It comes down to a basic rule. Anywhere where you’re sharing something that has come into contact with blood and hasn’t been cleaned, you are at risk of HIV infection.”

Myth: HIV is a death sentence.

There is no cure for HIV. There is also no vaccine for the disease. However, the quality of drugs has developed significantly over time.

People can now reduce their viral load (amount of HIV in the blood) to undetectable levels using ART. This means that the infection stops progressing as quickly, protecting the immune system from the disease.

“Most patients, well over 95%, even up to 99% of patients on therapy should have little difficulty in leading a normal life, and carry no concern about mortality provided they take their treatment properly,” says Karim.

Myth: HIV is the same as AIDS.

HIV is the virus that leads to AIDS. But, with the right treatment, HIV positive people can live their entire lives without getting AIDS, which is the final stage of the disease when the body’s immune system is severely damaged. As Myron Cohen, the director of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina explains, having HIV is very different from having AIDS.

“The detection of the virus has almost very little to do with AIDS as long as the replication of HIV is stopped. So HIV does not (always) and should not ever evolve to AIDS.

“In the early days before we knew HIV was the cause of this infection, and before we had treatment, the hospital was filled with people who had AIDS. Now, in our thousand plus bed hospital it’s weird if we have anyone with AIDS admitted, it’s a rare admission.

“We would prefer never to see AIDS again. HIV is the cause of AIDS but it doesn’t need ever to evolve to AIDS.”

Myth: If you are diagnosed with HIV you won’t live as long as everyone else.

This myth stems from the idea that being diagnosed with HIV is a death sentence. However, with new developments in treatment technology, that needn’t be the case.

As Cohen explains, taking treatment early on, and taking it properly, “Leads to robust health, no signs or symptoms for the most part, and an entirely normal lifespan.”

Treatment for HIV has improved dramatically over the years, and according to Cohen a variety of new treatments are being tested and could be used in the near future.

“In 1985 there was nothing. In 1995 there was one pill. In 2005 we had gone from one pill to three pills that were now combined into one pill a day.

“In 2015 we’re looking at two injectable agents in combination that last for maybe up to 8-12 weeks. So you’d only need four shots a year under some circumstances … But these are experiments. Its good news that we’re trying, but everything’s an experiment.”

Cohen adds: “The goal is the end of AIDS. I’ve been doing this for about 35 years; I started my own personal career when we became aware of HIV, and I continue to work and I can see the end game. That’s the same for many other investigators, that’s not just me. We’re seeing the beginning of the end.”


First officer goes on trial in Freddie Gray death

— The first of six city police officers went on trial Monday in a closely watched case involving a 25-year-old black prisoner who died after being shackled and placed without a seat belt in a Baltimore City police van.

The April 19 death of Freddie Gray made him a symbol of the black community’s distrust of police. His name is now invoked with those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio; Eric Garner in New York; and other black men who died during encounters with white police officers. In Gray’s case, three of the officers charged are white; three black.

On Monday, jury selection began in the trial of Officer William Porter, 26. Porter, who is black, is charged with manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment. He has pleaded not guilty.

The first pool of potential jurors included about 75 people, some 40 of whom are African American. The others are white, with the exception of one Latino and one East Indian.

All of them told Judge Barry Williams they knew about Gray’s death and about a financial settlement the city had reached with his family.

Inside the courtroom, the chants of protesters outside could be heard clearly: “All night, all day, we’re going to fight for Freddie Gray.”

Following preliminary questions, potential jurors were individually questioned in a conference room out of view of reporters. About half of the potential jurors said they had been either the victim of a crime, investigated by law enforcement, convicted, incarcerated or were under pending criminal charges.

On Tuesday, a new pool of potential jurors will be brought into the courtroom for similar questioning. Some of those questioned Monday will be told they don’t need to return; the remaining jurors from Monday will be asked to return on Wednesday.

Williams said opening statements and testimony would begin in the next few days and that the trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court would be over by December 17.

Officials have said Gray ran from officers who were trying to arrest him on April 12. He was taken into custody near his home in a public housing project called Gilmor Homes, in the heart of a West Baltimore neighborhood called Sandtown-Winchester. The streets there are lined with boarded-up row houses.

Still to be answered is one of the most troubling questions in this case: How exactly was Gray injured? Was he the target of a “rough ride,” a reputed police tactic reserved for particularly resistant suspects?

This much is certain: Gray was animated and angry before his arrest. As he was being transported in the police van, Gray complained of having trouble breathing and asked for medical help. He was unconscious when he arrived at the substation. And a week later, he died in a hospital.

Although he is the first to go to trial, Porter isn’t facing the most serious of the charges. Prosecutors have indicated in court filings that they consider Porter a potential witness against some of the other officers. If he is convicted, prosecutors could try to force his testimony in their trials.

Five of the six officers charged in Gray’s death, including Porter, gave statements to investigators. They deny using force and have pleaded not guilty to charges ranging from official misconduct to second-degree murder with a depraved heart. The sixth suspect, the van driver, refused to talk with investigators.

Gray’s death spawned protests that erupted on April 27 — the day of his funeral — into violent clashes with police and widespread looting and arson. Hundreds of people were arrested, more than 100 police officers were injured. City officials imposed a curfew, and the governor called in the National Guard to help restore order.

Now, seven months later, the trials of the officers are beginning at a time of increased national focus on alleged mistreatment of young black men in police custody. Despite interest in the officers’ trials, no cameras or electronic devices are permitted in the courtroom. No daily transcripts will be provided. And the lawyers on both sides are under a gag order.

All six officers are being tried separately and consecutively. Next up is the van driver, Caeser Goodson, whose trial is set to begin on January 6. Goodson, a black officer who is the lead defendant in the indictment, is charged with the most serious offense — second-degree murder with a depraved heart.

Despite the strained atmosphere, which has led to protests outside the courthouse at some hearings, winning convictions won’t be easy for prosecutors. Juries tend to be reluctant to convict police officers — especially when the witnesses against them have criminal records.

Prosecutors face an even steeper uphill battle in Porter’s trial: His alleged crime is one of inaction, of failing to heed Gray’s pleas for medical help and failing to secure him inside the police van with a seat belt.

Porter did not witness Gray’s arrest; he was called in as backup after Gray was in custody. He told investigators that he noticed the prisoner appeared to be in medical distress. The Baltimore Sun, relying on a source close to the investigation, has reported that Porter also told investigators that while he informed the van’s driver, he also questioned whether Gray could be faking.

Porter’s lawyers have indicated in court documents that he will testify in his own defense, as will another prisoner who was with Gray in the police van.

At 25, Gray already had a lengthy rap sheet. Porter said in an interview with The Washington Post that Gray was known to officers as a “frequent flyer” with several arrests dating back to his teens. Most of them involve possession or sales of heroin and marijuana.

The city and police officials have acknowledged serious errors in the way Gray was handled in custody. In an unusual move, the city agreed to pay Gray’s family $6.4 million to settle legal claims before the criminal trials began.

Editor’s note: A reference to Freddie Gray’s mother was removed from this story because it appeared out of context.

CNN’s Miguel Marquez and Jean Casarez contributed to this report.


™ & © 2015 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Special teams fuels Ravens to last second win over Browns

— Monday Night Football showcased yet another nail biter of a game by the Baltimore Ravens. This time the Ravens came out with a victory. It was the special teams that pushed the Ravens over the top against the Cleveland Browns by a score of 33 – 27.

Many people said the game wouldn’t be any good because of the two teams that were playing along with the fact that the quarterback matchup was Matt Schaub against Josh McCown. The nation wanted to see Joe Flacco against Johnny Manziel. Schaub vs McCown turned out to be a pretty exciting game.

Schaub was able to rebound from throwing a pick six by leading the Ravens on a 99-yard drive capped off by a 15-yard touchdown throw to Kamar Aiken. Schaub ended the day having completed 20 of 34 pass attempts for 232 yards. He had two touchdowns and two interceptions.

The second interception put the Browns in what appeared to be position to secure the win after getting in field goal range. Austin Davis, in for the injured McCown, scrambled to the Ravens 33-yard line with 18 seconds left in the game. The play took up 32 valuable seconds from huddle to whistle, which costs the Browns a shot to advance the ball further.

Travis Coons came on to attempt a 51-yard game winning field goal. The ball had a low trajectory and was blocked by defensive end Brent Urban. The 6-7 second year player was playing in his first NFL regular season game since tearing his biceps in training camp. He blocked the punt with his left arm which coincidentally was the same arm that he injured. The injury kept him out until the Browns game and he made his first game count.

Urban’s blocked field goal was the fifth game in a row in which the Ravens blocked some sort kick.

Will Hill picked up the blocked field goal and ran it back 64 yards for the game winning touchdown. It was a chance at redemption for Hill after he was responsible for a touchdown by Travis Benjamin that tied the game. Hill bit on a teaser crossing route by Browns tight end Gary Barnidge and that opened up a huge window for Davis to throw to Benjamin on a post route.

Hill said he was desperate and frustrated to make a play after giving up the touchdown. His chance came and he knew exactly what to do with it.

“I was praying for a block. The ball came my way and I said as soon as I pick it up, I’m scoring,” Hill said. “This means everything, just to fight and come out on top with these guys, this organization. All I was worried about was not stepping out of bounds and getting to the end zone.”

The Ravens special teams got things started when Kaelin Clay returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown. Clay credited his teammates for paving the way for him with timely blocks that he was able to set up as he made his way to the outside before accelerating to the end zone.

“We had a great scheme. I studied this punter for a long time,” Clay said. “I knew I’d have room to catch the ball. I just had to get it and go. I credit the other ten guys for great blocking.”

John Harbaugh was especially excited for the win. He cut his teeth in the NFL as a special teams coach, so to see the special teams unit score two touchdowns was especially pleasing to him. “This was one of the greatest football games you’ll see as far as excitement,” Harbaugh said. “We play hard on specials teams. It goes back to the leadership and our special teams coach, Jerry Rosburg.”

Tips to prep your home for holiday houseguests

Nearly 99 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home during the holiday season, according to AAA. So how do you ensure it’s the most wonderful time of the year for guests and hosts, alike?

Don’t wait until the last minute to tidy up. Instead, prepare your home with these helpful tips.

Mudroom Makeover

It’s the first place guests see when they step inside the house. But it’s also where coats are strewn about, shoes are kicked off and winter gear is hung out to dry. Declutter with a row of hooks to hang items, and a bench to sit down and pull on boots.

Donate coats you’re no longer wearing; and temporarily store seldom-used garments in a vacuum sealed bag to make additional space for visitors’ belongings. Or, simply buy an inexpensive coat rack that can be placed near the front door so visitors have a place to hang outerwear.

Gorgeous Guest Bathroom

The powder room and guest bath are perhaps the most heavily trafficked areas of the home during the holiday season. Before visitors arrive, make sure your space is both functional and stylish.

An easy way to make a statement is by updating the bathroom faucet. Choosing one with a variety of configurations, like Moen’s Wynford faucet, will allow a new piece to blend seamlessly with existing décor. It features a high-arc design for easy hand washing, and is kind to the environment, conserving water with a reduced flow rate. Using less water is also good for your wallet, and who wouldn’t want to save a little this time of year?

To give overnight guests a truly spa-like experience, install a rainshower showerhead for exceptional water coverage. Did your guests forget shampoo? No room for conditioner in their carry-on? Simply fill a glass container with essentials, such as travel-size bottles of shampoo, conditioner or lotion for visitors to grab and use.

Hotel Hospitality

Thoroughly clean your guest room, especially in areas you might not pay attention to regularly. Dust baseboards, drapes and window blinds, and don’t forget the headboard and footboard.

Freshen up carpeting and rugs by sprinkling baking soda over the area. Wait 15 minutes and then vacuum. You can also make stale smells disappear with potpourri; make your own by placing holiday scents, such as cinnamon sticks or nutmeg in a bowl. Or, eliminate this step by hiring a professional cleaning crew — think of it as an early holiday gift to yourself.

Ensure guests get VIP treatment with crisp linens, cozy blankets and plush mattress toppers. Make it easy for them to acclimate to the unfamiliar space by adding a night light. It’s an easy way to keep visitors from falling in the middle of night, and provides extra comfort for young ones who may not travel often.

Having a plan will help make your holidays stress-free. Focus on these areas ahead of time, so can enjoy the season as much as your guests.