Law Day Essay Contest 2013 Georgia

WV Annual Disability History Essay Contest

The Disability History Contest Committee is proud to announce the 2017 Disability History Essay Contest in West Virginia! This contest is designed to provide you with an opportunity to showcase your writing skills, share what you have learned about the Disability Rights Movement, use your ability to form and express opinions, and perhaps to earn some money to help you into your future! All high school seniors are invited to submit an entry. Contest rules are located on the bottom of the entry form.

All entries must include the completed entry form and must comply with all contest rules. While federal law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities we still face barriers every day. Check your community - search, watch, listen - for barriers such as: physical barriers (no ramps, no curb cuts), communication barriers (no Braille signage, no sign language interpreter), and attitudinal barriers (avoiding, not looking in the eyes of, or not talking directly to people with disabilities). Interview people with disabilities (including hidden disabilities like learning disabilities, depression, anxiety, epilepsy, diabetes, etc.) about the improvements made and the barriers that still exist. The essay topic this year is:

"How technology has removed barriers and improved the lives of people with disabilities."

The top award will be presented to the state winner, and awards may be presented to first-place and second-place entries from six Districts of our state. The awards are as follows:


Number of Available Prizes

Prize Amounts

State Winner
District 1st Place
District 2nd Place

One Grand Prize
Six District Prizes
Six District Prizes


All entries must be postmarked, faxed, or emailed by October 31, 2017 and be submitted to:

WV Statewide Independent Living Council
PO Box 625
Institute, WV 25112-0625
ATTN: Essay Contest

Fax: 304-766-4721

Download the Essay Contest Flyer, Transmittal Letter and Entry form below:
2017 Disability Essay Contest Flyer
2017 Disability Essay Contest Transmittal Letter
2017 Disability Essay Contest Entry Form

Each Fall since 2012, the Statewide Independent Living Council and the State Rehabilitation Council has held the Disability History Essay Contest to celebrate Disability History Week in West Virginia. This contest gives WV High School Seniors an opportunity to showcase their writing skills, share their knowledge of the Disability Rights Movement and perhaps earn some money to help advance their future!

The contest is supported by a generous grant from the WV Division of Rehabilitation Services which allows us to award cash prizes to the winners. The winning essays and their authors are recognized and presented with a check each year at the Senior Awards Ceremony at their respective high schools.

This contest is a collaborative effort of the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services, the Statewide Independent Living Council and the State Rehabilitation Council, with cooperation from the West Virginia Department of Education and the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts.

The winners and their essays are published each year in our Special Edition Newsletter.

2016 Disability Essay Contest
2015 Disability Essay Contest
2014 Disability Essay Contest
2013 Disability Essay Contest
2012 Disability Essay Contest

2016 Disability Essay Contest

The 2016 State Winner of $3000 is Lindsey Grace Beane, a graduate of Hurricane High School, is active in her school and community through many clubs, organizations, pageantry and dance. She is an active participant of the National Honor Society, DECA club, Key club and founding member of the Students Against Destructive Decision Club (SADD). When not studying, she enjoys spending her time promoting her platform; Defy Disability: Put People First, which has been a passion of hers. She has provided education both in state and out of state through pageantry through the years. She is the current reigning America’s National Teenager which has allowed her to travel across the nation to spread awareness about. She will be attending West Virginia University pursuing a degree in nursing.

Lindsey's essay is below. You can read the other winning essays in our 2017 Special Edition Newsletter.

"The barriers for people with disabilities in my community and how I can make a difference."

Have you ever stopped and thought about what it would be like to not be able to walk? What would it be like to struggle to speak to others in everyday life or perform simple tasks? How would you feel if your family member struggled with a disability and your only wish was for other people to see them as you do - a happy, loving soul who is just like you and me?

I have a close friend named Anthony. As we spent time together, I would see others treat him differently. From subtle stares to blatant ridicule, I could see they saw him for his disability. They judged from a place of unknowing and fear, as their words and behavior revealed their hurtful thoughts. I wanted people to see Anthony like I see Anthony. He is my friend who still loves to watch Sponge Bob with me, because you are never really too old for Sponge Bob. Anthony always keeps a smile on your face with his humor and wit. You never know what he is going to say next, but Anthony always knows what to say. I saw the effect it had on him when people would stare because his walk is different or would make fun of him because he sometimes likes to rock back and forth. As much as it upset me to watch that happen to my friend, I know it hurt him more. I wanted to do something that would make a difference, not only for Anthony, but others in my community who have a disability. Anthony and my other friends who have been diagnosed with a physical or mental disability do not deserve to hear the words "crazy" and "psycho" in the hallways of my school. How could I make a difference in my community? I started my research around disability rights issues and found my passion. I could advocate for Anthony and others by encouraging my peers to treat everyone with respect.

Words are powerful; they can hurt and they often do. The language a society uses shapes their ideas and beliefs, so I learned the concept of "People First Language." People First Language is a method of communication that shows we see the person before their disability. For example, you would never use hurtful words such as "sped" or "crippled" and you would not say things like "that autistic boy." Instead you call the person by their name. You do not use the disability to describe the person. People First Language is the first step toward eliminating hurtful stereotypes and the devaluing of a person with a disability. Robert M. Hensel, disability advocate and Guinness World Record holder for the longest wheelchair wheelie, said, "There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more." This is why I believe the best way for me to knock down the barriers in my community is to fight the stigma of disability and to make sure we value everyone as individuals with gifts unique to each of us.

People with disabilities face stereotypes, prejudices, and injustices each and every day. For the past two years, I participated in Disability Awareness Day at the West Virginia State Legislature with a focus on promoting the use of People First Language. I was overjoyed when the West Virginia Legislature passed House Bill 2797 one of the items I advocated for on Disability Awareness Day. This bill changed all West Virginia law by removing the term "retarded" from state code. When the bill was signed into law on March 25, 2015, I knew I had made at least a small difference by educating my fellow West Virginians and spreading the importance of People First Language. When I returned as a student advocate for the 2016 Disability Awareness Day, I set my table up just outside the Senate chambers to access as many lawmakers as possible. I focused on advocating for adding a requirement to state code that People First Language be taught in West Virginia schools as a part of Disability Awareness Week. I was able to provide lawmakers and everyone I spoke to with an awareness wristband that promotes People First Language with the slogan, "Defy Disability: Put People First."

I believe it is crucially important to educate both my peers and elementary age children about the importance of People First Language. The greatest strides for change often occur when children learn belief systems that respect and include everyone. I have had the opportunity to go into elementary and middle school classrooms to teach students about People First Language and the importance of putting the person before the disability. I was fortunate to request and receive interactive brochures from the Developmental Disabilities Council that promote the use of People First Language to hand out in my community. When those were depleted, I developed my own interactive presentation about the use of People First Language that definitely kept the interest of the classroom. As I left, I always gave every student one of the, "Defy Disability: Put People First," awareness wristbands. I have discovered that these wristbands are very effective in not only promoting people first language, but also provide the opportunity for continued education about People First Language. I have distributed over 1000 wristbands while promoting the use of People First Language and know that they have led to conversations with those who see them.

My wish is for our culture to progress with the understanding that people have exceptionalities, not disabilities. As I go to college next year, I want to continue learning about the struggles that people living with disabilities face so that I can continue to advocate for kids like Anthony. Everyone has gifts to offer, and we have to look past the labels set by society and promote everyone's abilities, putting people first.

2015 Disability Essay Contest

The 2015 State Winner of $3000 is Blake Huffman, a senior at Winfield High School where he currently has a 3.9 GPA. During his high school years, he has been involved with the General Admission Show Choir, the Marching Generals, the Boys Soccer team, Fuel Bible Club, FCA, National Honor Society, Link Crew, and the Spanish Honorary Society. He is an active member of youth group at Teays Valley Baptist Church and works with the Highways & Hedges Bus Ministry and sings in both the adult and youth choirs. Blake is also an Eagle Scout and was selected as a delegate for Mountaineer Boys State. Blake has logged over 300 community service hours since beginning high school. Blake was diagnosed with Dyslexia his junior year and has worked with the Teays Valley office of WV Division of Rehabilitation. He is extremely excited to be chosen as the 2015 Disability History Essay Contest winner and is very thankful for the opportunity to apply and the funds made available for college.

Blake's essay is below. You can read the other winning essays in our 2016 Special Edition Newsletter.

"How Have the First 25 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act Changed America?"

Imagine standing atop the stairs and overlooking the grounds of the US Capitol Building on a cool March day. The year is 1990, and 1,000 protestors have made their way to Washington to demand that the House of Representative pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Imagine watching as more than 60 activists laid down their wheelchairs, walkers, and crutches and began the ascent to the top of the 83 marble steps. The passing of this legislation would require equal rights for the disabled. The Capitol Crawl, as it is now known, is now seen as one of the most important events leading up to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act passed into law on July 26, 1990. Now imagine walking down the streets of small town America earlier that same year. How different things would things have looked then as compared to the world today. Let's look at the changes in the world today due to The Americans with Disabilities Act. The Act was broken into 5 different titles with each title having a unique effect on the lives of the disabled. Let's look into each of those titles separately.

Title I - Employment
Prior to the ADA many employers would find ways to discriminate against those with disabilities. Accommodations in the workplace were not commonplace. This section of the law brought above positive changes.. Special equipment, scheduling alternatives, and a change in work assignments helped allow those with disabilities to enter the workforce. Special communication devices including blinking fire alarms and braille markings were incorporated into structures to alert deaf and blind employees of an emergency. Entrances and bathrooms were also equipped with wheelchair access. The workplace is a different place.

Title II - Public Entities
With the ADA, every school district, city, county and state had to make all of their services available to the disabled. Whether special testing opportunities in schools for those with reading or developmental deficiencies, equipping school and public buses with wheelchair ramps, making public housing available to everyone, or modifying their streets and sidewalks, the ADA has made significant changes in the world of the disabled. Today, crosswalks are equipped with not only blinking lights, but beeping traffic indicators and voice street directions. Changes have also come to city and state parks. Trails and special parking access has been added to allow those with disabilities to enjoy the outdoors as never before. Our communities are a different place.

Title III - Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities
The ADA has required that all new construction and renovations make commercial buildings handicap accessible. Special parking, ramps, automatic doors, wider entry ways, braille and audio instructions in elevators, and handicap accessible bathrooms were all enhancements to buildings made due to the provisions of the act. Today, you can walk into most restaurants and request a menu in braille and be able to maneuver a wheelchair without assistance into most commercial establishments. The difference continues.

Title IV - Telecommunications
Prior to the ADA, those who were blind, deaf or dumb had major challenges with communication. Today services like text telephone (TTY/TDD) have opened up the world to the hearing impaired. The hard of hearing or speech impaired can use these services to communicate by typing messages which are then relayed and received back in a way they can understand. Closed captioned TV has allowed those with hearing disabilities to keep up with current events or watch their favorite shows without lip reading. Computer generated relay services also allow communication through the internet and even your smart phone will allow hands-free communication through both visual and audio means. Communication is different, much different.

Title V
The final provision of the ADA provided protection from retaliation or coercion. Those exercising their rights under the American Disabilities Act could now do so without the fear of negative backlash. This is a difference, especially to those who have faced retaliation in the past.

Let's now go back to that street in small town America. Twenty five have passed since that July day in 1990. A walk down the street does look and sound different today. The beeping cross walk, the braille menu at Wendy's, a time extension to take standardized testing, or being able to gaze over the New River Gorge at Hawk's Nest, all of these are different as a result of this life changing act. The ADA has made a huge difference in the world and especially in the lives of the disabled. One has to wonder if those brave souls that climbed the Capitol steps that day had any glimpse into the changes seen in the world today. But, the job is not done. The changes are not over and improvements are happening daily. The disabled still face challenges in the world they navigate daily, but the ADA has had and will continue to have a dramatic effect on the lives of the disabled.

2014 Disability Essay Contest

The 2014 State Winner of $2000 is Mason Ryck, a 2015 graduate of Robert C. Byrd High School. Born July 17, 1997 in Augusta, GA, he is the youngest of two siblings, Travis (23), whom resides in Texas and Taylor (20) of Arizona. Mason loves to play lacrosse, picking up the game from his Native American heritage, the Iroquois Mohawks in Canada. He also enjoys boxing and MMA. Mason plans to attend college in Arizona and will be working with his father in industrial construction this summer after graduation.

Mason's essay is below. You can read the other winning essays in our 2015 Special Edition Newsletter.

"Disability Rights Movement"

When I first heard about the 2014 disability history essay contest, I must admit that I had no interest or intent of submitting an entry. Fortunately, my grandfather saw the entry form on our dining room table and encouraged me to enter. He didn't share or elaborate his reasons on why I should enter, except to state the Disability Acts were some of the most important pieces of legislation ever enacted in United States history. Intrigued by his comment, I began to conduct my own research on the topic.

What I found was mind boggling and a real eye opener for a seventeen year old who had no understanding of what people with disabilities had overcome. For centuries, people with disabilities were labeled as helpless, deformed, abnormal, and non-productive. They were viewed as a burden on society which were better served in an asylum, institution, or a circus for entertainment. The disabled were ridiculed based on their physical or mental features rather than their potential value and benefit to society. The Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia was constructed and opened in 1864 to house such physical and mental afflictions.

It wasn't until the early 1900's that the disability movement began its fight for equal rights and protection for people with disabilities. The catalyst for the movement began shortly after World War I when disabled veterans were provided rehabilitation for their military service to this nation. However, the public mainstream continued to view the disabled as abnormal with the primary focus being on a medical fix or permanent cure. This public perception continued even though Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the first American president to have a disability, recognized the need for more rehabilitative care for all the disabled.

Following World War II, veterans once again became vocal about their physical and mental disabilities incurred as a result of war. Veterans were now demanding more employment opportunities so they could re-enter back into society as productive American citizens. This outcry resulted in disabled veterans being entitled to both rehabilitative care and vocational training. However, these veteran benefits did little to address the public access and transportation issues confronting the disabled. In addition, the veteran programs weren't available to the general public thus leaving millions without rights, care, or opportunities.

In the early 1960's the disability movement aligned itself with the Civil Rights movement, demanding equal rights and treatment of all people regardless of race, gender, or disability. During this period, the disability movement was primarily spearheaded by the parents of disabled children. They demanded their children be provided the same educational opportunities as other children, without having to be institutionalized. Legislation was eventually enacted in the mid 1960's protecting the civil rights of people regardless of race and gender; however, it wasn't until the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that the civil rights of people with disabilities were protected. For the first time in US history, people with disabilities were now protected by law for equal employment opportunities. This milestone legislation eventually led to the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975, entitling disabled children equal access to the same public education as other children. In 1996, the act was renamed the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA). In addition to a name change, the new law provided that the parents of disabled children be involved in any educational decisions affecting their children. To facilitate decision making, educators and parents were to complete an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for each disabled child.

Although significant progress had been made in providing and protecting the rights of the disabled in government agencies and public schools, it wasn't until the passage of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 that required all businesses to provide the disabled with equal employment opportunities, equal access rights, and reasonable accommodation. Reasonable accommodation mandated that all businesses would support the disabled through job restructuring, work site modifications, and specially adaptive equipment and technology. Failure to meet these requirements could result in a discrimination complaint on the basis of disability.

Today more than 50 million individuals have benefitted from the disability movement and legislative acts of the 20th century. Disabled people from all walks of life are now fulfilling there lifelong dreams with protection from discrimination or concerns of being institutionalized. They are not only successful in life but have made significant contributions to society as artists, athletes, educators, actors, politicians, public servants, and in numerous other professions and occupations. Some famous people with disabilities who have made a positive impact on society include Stephen Hawking, Christopher Reeve, Peyton Manning, and Helen Keller.

Equally important are the numerous advancements that have been made in medicine, science, and research as the result of the disability movement. Today, there are state of the art prosthetic devices that allow amputees to accomplish physical movements and activities that were once impossible to achieve. Advances in technology now allow those with spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and hearing and visual impairments to perform activities of daily living that many of us take for granted. Housing alterations and adaptive equipment are allowing the disabled to drive automobiles and live independently without assistance from family members, health workers, or local agencies.

I can personally attest to the positive impact the disability movement has had on my own family. A number of my family members have recognized disabilities that in the past would have resulted in institutional care and lack of opportunities. Those disabilities include military injuries, mental illness, visual and hearing impairments, speech impediments, and cleft palate malnormalities. Although I have never viewed these loved ones as disabled, less than fifty years ago society would have labeled and stigmatized them preventing these family members from equal employment opportunities. I now understand and appreciate my grandfather's comment that the disability acts were some of the most important pieces of legislation to ever be passed in US history.

2013 Disability Essay Contest

The 2013 State Winner of $2000 is Alexandra Nicole Rundle from East Fairmont High School. She attends WVU studying Pre-Forensics and is holding a 3.0 GPA. She continues to volunteer in her community on several venues. Alexandra is a part time student worker at WVU in the Career services office where she assists students with a variety of needs including referrals to the disability services office.

Alexandra's essay is below. You can read the other winning essays in our 2014 Special Edition Newsletter.

“How the disability rights movement has shaped our world”

Being an individual with a significant disability at an early age, my first computation was that only the small percentage of people with a disability had any knowledge or even cared about the disability movement. A movement that has shaped our society and opened many doors to promote access to services and supports in our great country for all individuals with disabilities. I spend many of weeks in the children’s hospital receiving treatments for my illness.

At the age of two my ordeal began. Yes it is true that during this period, l could not grasp much of what was going on around me or how it affected my entire family. I could recall my brother, mother, father, grandparents and relatives gathered around me trying to comfort my every minute. As l got older, I learned more and more about advocacy skills, disability rights and the disability movement that had begun many years ago. A movement that surely made my young life easier related to accessing health care and my educational needs. I also learned that over time more and more individuals have made a positive commitment to change.

It has now been over 20 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Through the determination and drive of families and individuals with a passion for equality and independence, more and more people have learned about the challenges and tributes of those that have fought the fight and I continue to learn and live independently.

At the time, l could not imagine a grown man, a man that just wanted to go to college like anybody else, fighting so hard for what he wanted. This man, Ed Roberts also had a dream. He had to leave his sole means of independence at the time, his wheelchair to be carried thru the doors of a college that he so desperately wanted to attend. Also facing other barriers, he agreed to live in a segregated section of the campus due the use of his iron lung and became the first quadriplegic to go to college even earning his Masters Degree. His legacy made it possible for others to achieve their dreams. There was no accessible entrance at the time and barriers still existed; but for him and many others a larger door was opened. For many at the time, there was no equal respect, no access to services for whom many were called “handicapped”, but time will change and change it did.

l attribute most of my knowledge to my Father. He has spent most of his life and career helping others. He has worked as an Advocate in many systems of care. l recall him being away from home all the time. As time went on I understood why. He was attempting to teach others how to advocate for what they wanted , including myself, in an effort to make life a little better and a lot more independent for some. He taught me the same, so here I stand today expressing my feelings.

So, what is my continued impression of how the disability movement has shaped the world? I truly believe it started out with just a few that had big dreams, wishes, desires and that were tired of hearing “NO”. Many individuals worked to build a foundation for others that also cared about the mission. The disability rights movement began in the 1960’s encouraged by African Americans seeking equal civil rights and treatment as well as assistance from woman and the Women’s Rights Movement. At this time, many individuals with different disabilities such as mental, physical, cognitive, visual and hearing impairments came together to fight for their cause. Much like the African American generation faced back in the 1960’s when they decided to be silent no more.

The movement indicated that people with disabilities are indeed the experts of their needs. In 1968 the first federal disability rights legislation passed. The Architectural Barrier Act provided that all federally constructed buildings and facilities were accessible for individuals with physical disabilities. Another groundbreaking piece of legislation passed in 1973, the Rehabilitation Act. This was the first civil rights law requiring equal opportunity for people with disabilities. Primary this law prohibited any entity receiving federal funds to discriminate on the basis of disability. Other important laws during this time frame had a significant and positive impact on allowing individuals to gain employment, education and access to public buildings and services. The passing of the Education for Handicapped Children’s Act helped provide access to education for children with disabilities. Before the passing of these initial laws, many people with disabilities were treated as sub-human. Individuals felt incompetent and pitied. In my opinion, the entire fight to this day was to gain independence through accommodations. Just to have an avenue to live, work, play, etc, just like anyone else.

During this era of time, the largest federal or national protest (sit-in) related to the disability movement took place and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was enacted. This demonstrated how grass roots advocacy can be effective. Section 504 expanded significantly the laws regarding discrimination based on disability. An important individual whom put massive time and effort into the movement was Edward Roberts.

In 1990, a dramatic event occurred following many years of civil rights advocacy. Although the advocacy efforts and the actions of thousands ultimately resulted in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Many called Justin Dart “the father of the ADA” and “the godfather of the disability rights movement” Justin Dart often stated that ”the ADA was the civil rights act of the future”. Indeed it was. I would encourage anyone reading this essay to take a few minutes and educated you about the foundation of these movements. The ADA enhanced the independence of all Americans with a disability. The law was comprehensive and addressed many needs including access to education, employment, public services and accessible entrances and parking.

The disability movement has made a major impact in my life and many Americans that have a disability. It has paved the way for future generations to excel with independence, provide accommodation instead of pity. To continue the growth of the movement, many fought as hard of a battle as those who fought our wars, thus leading to growth and freedom of our country.

Without the disability right movement thousands of individuals including myself would not have had the opportunity to live the lives we have today. The movement brought a sense of importance and respect, as well as independence and purpose to our lives. The movement has transformed our lives and our society. It is our time, my time to ensure the purpose continues.

2012 Disability Essay Contest

The 2012 State Winner of $2000 is Heidi Dennison from Nicholas County High School.

Heidi's essay is below. You can read the other winning essays in our 2013 Special Edition Newsletter.

“The significance of the disability rights movement in today’s world”

If one flips through the pages of any American History book, one would find chapters dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s for the African Americans.The stories of how African Americans suffered for their rights are almost common knowledge because leaders like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. are historic heroes. However, this is not so for the disability rights movement. One would find few pages dedicated to this movement. Names like Ed Roberts and Judy Heumarm are not so common, but these two individuals played just as important of a role in changing history as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. The movement led by Mr. Roberts, Ms. Heumann, and others like them changed the course of American history. Thanks to the efforts of many citizens, acts have been passed by Congress that has changed the lives of people with disabilities significantly, including that of my Aunt Linda.

Before the Rehabilitation Act was passed in 1973, people with disabilities lived rough lives. Often times, individuals with disabilities were not only viewed as incompetent or feeble- minded but as less than human. Very few accommodations were made to meet the needs of these people. For example, buildings did not have passable doorways or restrooms for those who used wheelchairs. Children with special needs did not receive the opportunity to get an education like other students. In fact, many were placed in institutions where they would stay away from those who were viewed as normal. Sadly, the common philosophy was to keep them out of sight and out of mind. There were a few prominent people who set out on the daunting task to change the ideals of citizens and of Congress. A man by the name of Ed Roberts, who had overcome serious obstacles of having polio and becoming a quadriplegic, was among one of the most influential people in the movement. He was among the first people with disabilities to attend college. “Roberts and fellow disability rights leaders would challenge widely held myths that people with disabilities were incapable of being educated, working, caring for themselves, or becoming contributing members of society”. Judy Heumann also made significant strides in fighting for rights of those with disabilities. Ms. Heumann formed a group called Disabled in Action which held protests to gain support against employment discrimination.

Change didn’t come quickly. A few acts were passed in Congress such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This act, gave particle rights to people with disabilities, but it was not the complete freedom so many wished for.

Almost twenty years later, in 1990, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into effect. According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Americans with Disabilities Act was, “the nation’s first comprehensive civil rights law addressing the needs of people with disabilities, prohibiting discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications” This act enhanced life for more than forty- nine million Americans

Since Americans Disability Act was signed, changes have been made to meet the needs of people with disabilities. For instance, many public buildings are mandated to have entrance ramps for those in wheelchairs. Also, handicap parking spaces are provided in front of almost all business. Employers with fifteen or more employees are not allowed to discriminate eligible applicants based on disability (Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago). There are numerous accommodations made for those with disabilities.

lf the disability rights movement had not begun, my Aunt Linda, who was born in 1966, with a genetic deficiency called phenylketonuria (PKU), would not have had the opportunity to reach her full potential. When she was born, doctors tried to convince my grandparents that it was in their best interest to place her in an institution, but being the strong-willed parents they were, they went against the doctors’ suggestions.

Aunt Linda was raised at home alongside her brothers. The PKU caused mild mental impairment which made learning a great challenge. Due to the strides made in the early l970s for rights of those with disabilities, she obtained a high school diploma. The ADA has also given her the freedom to obtain a job at a local therapy business, which gives her a since of purpose. Her story is just one of millions that have been changed thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Not only did the Americans with Disabilities Act provide protection under the law for those with disabilities, but it gave the individuals with disabilities sense of identity. Gone are the days that those with special needs are forced to live in institutions. No longer are they seen as less than human or feeble-minded. American History books may not discuss the details behind the disability rights movement, but this does not alter the significance it made in the lives of those who live with disabilities. Many advances were made by those like Mr. Roberts and Mrs. Heumann, who did not give up until the results they desired were accomplished. Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, many lives have been transformed including my Aunt Linda’s. Judy Heumann once said, “Disability only becomes a tragedy for us when society fails to provide the things we need to lead our lives” (Shapiro). Through the collaborate efforts of many Americans, the lives of those who have disabilities no longer is considered tragic but significant.

What Is “Fundamental”

October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018

Interesting physical systems can be described in a variety of languages. A cell, for example, might be understood in terms for example of quantum or classical mechanics, of computation, or information processing, of biochemistry, of evolution and genetics, or of behavior and function. We often consider some of these descriptions “more fundamental” than other more “emergent” ones, and many physicists pride themselves on pursuing the most fundamental sets of rules. But what exactly does it mean?

Are “more fundamental” constituents physically smaller? Not always: if inflation is correct, quanta of the inflaton field are as large as the observable universe.

Are “less fundamental” things made out of “more fundamental” ones? Perhaps – but while a cell is indeed "made of" atoms, it is perhaps more so “made of" structural and genetic information that is part of a long historical and evolutionary process. Is that process more fundamental than the cell?

Does a “more fundamental” description uniquely specify a “less fundamental” one? Not in many cases: consider string theory, with its landscape of 10500 or more low-energy limits. And the same laws of statistical mechanics can apply to many types of statistically described constituents.

Is “more fundamental” more economical or elegant in terms of concepts or entities? Only sometimes: a computational description of a circuit may be much more elegant than a wavefunction one. And there are hints that even gravity, a paragon of elegance, may be revealed as a statistical description of something else.

Contest Timeline.

This contest is sponsored by The Fetzer Franklin Fund and by The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation.

The goals of the Foundational Questions Institute's Essay Contest (the "Contest") are to:
  • Encourage and support rigorous, innovative, and influential thinking about foundational questions in physics and cosmology;

  • Identify and reward top thinkers in foundational questions; and,

  • Provide an arena for discussion and exchange of ideas regarding foundational questions.

For examples of previous FQXi contests, please see the list to the left.

An expert panel of judges will be instructed (and general readers strongly encouraged) to rate the entries by the degree to which they are relevant and interesting, as more specifically described below, with 1/3 weight given to relevancy and 2/3 weight given to interest.
  • Relevant: The theme for this Essay Contest is: What Is "Fundamental"?

  • This contest does not ask for new proposals about what some “fundamental” constituents of the universe are. Rather, it addresses what “fundamental” means, and invites interesting and compelling explorations, from detailed worked examples through thoughtful rumination, of the different levels at which nature can be described, and the relations between them.

    While this topic is broad, successful essays will not use this breadth as an excuse to shoehorn in the author's pet topic, but will rather keep as their central focus the theme of the contest.

    Additionally, to be consonant with FQXi's scope and goals, essays should be sure to touch on issues in physics and cosmology, or closely related fields, such as astrophysics, biophysics, mathematics, complexity and emergence, and the philosophy of physics.

  • Interesting: An interesting essay is:

    • Original and Creative: Foremost, the intellectual content of the essay must push forward understanding of the topic in a fresh way or with new perspective. While the essay may or may not constitute original research, if the core ideas are largely contained in published works, those works should be the author's. At the same time, the entry should differ substantially from any previously published piece by the author.

    • Technically correct and rigorously argued, to the degree of a published work or grant proposal.

    • Well and clearly written, so that it is comprehensible and enjoyable to read.

    • Accessible to a diverse, well-educated but non-specialist audience, aiming in the range between the level of Scientific American and a review article in Science or Nature.

Applications will be accepted electronically through the form on FQXi's website, as follows:

    • Submission: Essays and accompanying material must be submitted online using the webform between the dates of October 28, 2017 and January 22, 2018 (until 11:59PM Eastern Time). Applicants must provide accurate contact information, an abstract of their essay, a brief biographical statement, and their essay.

      Immediately after an essay application is submitted, the applicant will receive an application confirmation email containing this information at their specified email address. This confirmation DOES NOT mean your essay has been accepted into the Contest; it simply notes that FQXi has received the submission.

      All essays will be reviewed for rule compliance (see "Publication" below) and those that are eligible will be posted online within 10 business days. Essays received on the deadline date will be posted in batches for up to 10 business days after the contest ends.

    • Please note: You will be required to register an email address with and set up an account to enter the Contest. This information is available on the application page.

    • Acceptability: In order to be judged, essays must at least satisfy minimal professional standards of acceptability for publication, both qualitative and quantitative.

    • Format & length: Essays must be submitted as PDF documents via the webform.

    • Eligible essays must comply with these guidelines:

      • The body of the essay may not exceed 25,000 characters (not including spaces). To ensure your submission fits the character count, you can use our online character counter.

      • The length of the body of the essay must not exceed 9 pages, including figures and equations, calculated based on a standard 8 ½ x 11 inch single-sided page with 1 inch margins.

      • The following can be appended to these 9 pages: one page of references, and up to two pages of technical endnotes. No essay text (such as textual footnotes), figures, notations, or equations can be included in the reference section. The technical endnotes are meant to provide an opportunity for additional technical detail while retaining a readable, accessible, and self-contained essay body; all essay reviewers, including the Expert Judges, will be encouraged to focus on the body of the essay, and use the endnotes only as a technical supplement to a self-contained work.

      • Color figures as well as hyperlinks within the document are acceptable.

      • Although FQXi will accept essays from anyone anywhere, the essay must be submitted in English.

    • Publication: After submission and review for rule compliance, each essay will be posted (within 10 business days) in the FQXi Community Forum, under the category 'Essay Contest: Wandering Towards a Goal’, along with each author name and bio. Thereafter, the author and interested readers (including FQXi Members, other contest entrants, and the general public) are invited to discuss and comment on the essay. (Although commenters will be rating the essays, the goal of the forum is to discuss the essays and the ideas they raise; thus commenters are strongly encouraged to cultivate a supportive atmosphere of scientific conversation rather than a judgmental atmosphere of critical scoring and evaluation.)

    • All comments in the Essay Contest Forum must abide by FQXi’s terms of use and appropriate content rules that can be found here.


    • Community evaluation: Every FQXi Member and approved Contest entrant will be provided with a code allowing them to rate essays as a 'Community evaluator', on a scale of 1-10 (10 being extremely relevant and interesting).

      A rating code will be provided to each entrant in the confirmation email. The confirmation code will be at the bottom of your confirmation email. If an essay is considered ineligible in the Contest, the rating code will not be active. Community ratings can be submitted until 11:59 pm Eastern Time, February 26, 2018.

      FQXi expects those providing community evaluations to do so based solely on the quality of the essay assessed. Voting collusion or bartering, mass down-voting, and other such forms of 'voter fraud' will not be tolerated, and participants in such will have (all) their votes discarded or in extreme cases their essays disqualified. Entrants should alert FQXi with information if they witness such activities.

    • Finalists: A minimum of 40 finalists (the "Finalists") will be determined once voting closes. A minimum of 30 finalists will be selected based on the following procedure:

      • Any entry with an author who is an FQXi Member at the time of submission will automatically become a Finalist ( an “auto-inducted entry”), if and only if the following criteria are met:

        • Their essay is eligible as per the Contest guidelines.
        • The Member author has rated 5 other entries and left a suitable comment or question in the online forum for each of the entries he/she has rated.
        • The total number of auto-inducted entries does not exceed 30.
      • In case Member entries exceed 30, the Member Finalists will consist of the 30 auto-inducted essays with the highest Community ratings that have each received at least ten ratings. Furthermore, if the auto-inducted Member entries exceed 15, FQXi will increase the number of Finalists to ensure that there is a fair representation of the top Community rated entries submitted by people who are not FQXi Members.
      • The remainder of a base set of 30 finalists will consist of the entries with top Community ratings that have each received at least ten ratings, not including any auto-inducted essays.
      • In addition to the base set of 30, the Expert Judges will select up to 10 additional entries, at their discretion, to form the full pool of Finalists.
    • Expert Judges: A panel of the applicants' peers, chosen by FQXi, will be asked to carefully review, deliberate upon, and rate the Finalists, based on the criteria specified under "Evaluation Criteria".

      This expert panel of judges will be confidential; their names will not be released, though they are free to post online comments just as any Community or Public evaluator.

    • Final Ranking: The final ranking that determines the First, Second, and Third prize winners will be determined by the Expert Judges using the Evaluation Criteria.

    • Discretionary Prizes:The Judges will also have the option to award any number of Discretionary Prizes to the Finalists chosen for peer review, up to a total amount of $10,000, chosen at their discretion.

    • Public evaluation: Members of the public will also be allowed to rate essays. Ratings from the public will be accepted until May 1, 2018.

      • Public evaluators will have to submit their email address in order to rate essays. As with the Community evaluator, each Public evaluator can enter one score, 1-10, per essay.

      • Prizes will not be awarded directly on the basis of Public ratings, but these ratings may influence either Community evaluations or Expert judging.

    • All decisions of the judges are final and the selection of Winners is at the sole and absolute discretion of FQXi.


    • In addition to the cash prizes listed below, all First and Second Prize Winners will receive a nomination for FQXi Membership, if the applicant is not already a Member. (These top Winners will then be vetted through FQXi's new Member nomination process to ensure they meet the basic qualifications for Membership.) Springer will consider adapted material from the winning essays for possible publication.

    • A total of $40,000 will be awarded. Prizes include:

      • First Prize: US$10,000

      • Second Prize: US$5,000 each

      • Third Prize: US$2,000 each

      • Fourth Prize: US$1,000 each

      • Judging Panel Discretionary Prizes: various amounts, not to exceed US$10,000 total

No purchase necessary to enter or win. A purchase does not increase your chance of winning.

    • The Contest is open to everybody except employees and consultants (including Contest judges) of the Sponsors (Fetzer Franklin Fund, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, Submit, and the Foundational Questions Institute) and each of their respective parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, advertising and promotion agencies (collectively, the "Contest Entities") and their family/household members (defined as parents, spouse, children, siblings, grandparents).


    • No person is allowed to submit more than one essay to the Contest, regardless if he or she is entering individually or as part of a collaborative essay. If more than one is uploaded, all except the first will be disqualified. (On the rare occasion when a replacement is requested by FQXi, this will be handled outside of the usual submission system.) Collaborative essays written by more than one person can be submitted. If such an entry is awarded a Prize, it will be split equally among the collaborators.

    • Sponsors reserve the right to cancel or modify this Contest in the event that an insufficient number of entries are received that meet the minimum judging criteria.

    • This Contest shall be construed in accordance with U.S. law. All Federal, state and local laws and regulations apply.

    • Essays complying with the rules and satisfying minimal relevance and quality criteria will be automatically posted on the FQXi Community Forum website together with authors' names; after Prizes are awarded, contest Winners will be highlighted as such. The Sponsors reserve no copyrights to the submitted work; however, by submitting an entry, the applicant hereby grants to the Sponsors a worldwide, royalty free license to so post the essay, as well as use the essay for internal and advertising, marketing and promotional purposes of the Contest, in perpetuity, in any and all media now known or hereafter invented.

    • By submitting an essay, entrant represents and warrants that the essay is entrant's own creation and is 100% original work; is not subject to, and does not infringe upon, the rights of any third parties, including without limitation, copyright, trademark or privacy or publicity rights; and is not defamatory, obscene or otherwise illegal.

    • Entrants not complying with these requirements will be subject to disqualification. All entrants must have a valid email address. In case of dispute as to identity of entrant, entry will be declared made by the authorized account holder of the email address submitted at time of entry. "Authorized Account Holder" is defined as the natural person who is assigned an email address by an Internet access provider, online service provider, or other organization (e.g., business, educational, institution, etc.) responsible for assigning email addresses or the domain associated with the submitted email address. Any other attempted form of entry is prohibited: no automatic, programmed, robotic or similar means of entry are permitted. The Contest Entities are not responsible for technical, hardware, software, telephone or other communications malfunctions, errors or failures of any kind, lost or unavailable network connections, website, Internet, or ISP unavailability, unauthorized human intervention, traffic congestion, incomplete or inaccurate capture of entry information (regardless of cause) or failed, incomplete, garbled, jumbled or delayed computer transmissions which may limit one's ability to enter this Contest, including any injury or damage to participant's or any other person's computer relating to or resulting from participating in this Contest or downloading any materials in this Contest.

    • All Prizes are subject to United States Income Tax. Winners are required to furnish FQXi with appropriate tax forms for reporting the Prize, and applicable taxes may be withheld from the Prize.

    • Void where prohibited by law. FQXi reserves the right to refuse to award any Prize if doing so violates any applicable laws.

    • By submitting an entry in the contest, the author agrees to release, defend and hold harmless the Contest Entities and each of their respective directors, officers, employees, agents, volunteers, the Contest judges, and their affiliates, heirs, successors and assigns from and against, and waive any right to pursue, any and all claims of any nature whatsoever arising out of or in connection with the Contest, the selection of Winners, and the use of the submitted essay, the author's name, and biographical information as authorized under these Contest rules.

    • All decisions of the judges are final and the selection of Winners is at the sole and absolute discretion of FQXi.


    • Potential winners will be notified by e-mail on or about May 1, 2018, and may be required to execute and return an Affidavit of Eligibility/Release/Prize Acceptance Form within fourteen (14) days of attempted notification. Each participant selected as a potential winner must comply with all terms and conditions set forth in these Official Rules, and winning is contingent upon fulfilling all such requirements. If the winner cannot be contacted within seven (7) calendar days of first notification attempt, if prize or prize notification is returned as undeliverable, if winner rejects his/her prize or in the event of noncompliance with these Contest Official Rules, such prize will be forfeited and an alternate winner will be selected from all remaining eligible entries. Upon prize forfeiture, no compensation will be given.

    • The names of Winners will be posted on on or about May 8, 2018.

    • GENERAL: Acceptance of a prize constitutes permission by Winner to use of his/her name, photograph and/or likeness for advertising, publicity and promotion purposes without compensation (unless prohibited by law).



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