When students with disabilities are the teachers


Bernhard, Rosa and Elena

It is an honor to introduce Bernhard Walke as our guest blogger today. Mr. Walke is the ‎Associate Principal at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, and his wife Rosa teaches Spanish and English there, too. They are the proud Parents of 4-year-old Elena, who receives assistive technology services with a Tobii Communicator at Easter Seals DuPage & the Fox Valley Region.

Elena: Our Golden Apple teacher

by Bernhard Walke

Our 4-year- old daughter watched with amused eyes as I oafishly threw groceries on to the conveyer belt and my wife delicately placed them into the grocery bag. Suddenly the teen cashier with dyed, electric-red hair interrupted our progress. “I’m sorry, I really don’t mean to be rude or mean,” she said. “But can I ask why your daughter is in a wheelchair?”

My wife responded with a warm smile. “She has quadriplegic cerebral palsy,” Rosa said. “Her body just doesn’t listen to her brain sometimes.”

“Oh, thanks. Sorry, I don’t want to be rude,” replied the cashier.

My daughter Elena’s cerebral palsy affects all four of her limbs. It prevents her from speaking the way we do, too, but the assistive technology team at Easter Seals DuPage & the Fox Valley Region is teaching her to use a voice communicator, and on her own she’s developed another way of communicating as well. She uses her eyes –and her smile.

After the cashier asked the question about our daughter’s wheelchair, Elena looked at the red-haired teenager with her big bright eyes and responded with muscles she can completely control on her own – her smile. As for me, I chimed in with my usual response. “It’s never rude to be curious and ask questions,” I said. “Thanks for asking and have a great weekend.”

As we were walking/rolling out to the car with our groceries, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my cousin Karin. Karin is a physiatrist, and she told me that when she was in medical school the professor always used to thank the “teacher”: the patient they were studying.

My cousin extended this idea to the fact that while Elena is fortunate to have many teachers in her life (her parents and three of her grandparents are in education), she is the best teacher in our family. Beyond Elena’s ready sense of humor and sly ability to convince her grandparents to occasionally let her play hooky from school, she has taught our family to have a sense of humor — even in the most stressful times.

One example: when Elena was in intensive care several years ago with a particularly bad case of pneumonia, a social worker asked a routine question from a list on a form. “Is Elena having any difficulty with stairs?”

Now, remember my telling you earlier that my daughter has quadriplegic cerebral palsy? That Elena’s cerebral palsy affects all four of her limbs? The social worker’s question might have made us indignant, but with Elena as our teacher, our response was uttered between stifled giggles. “Yeah, she’s terrible at them,” we said. “Actually, walking is kind of a struggle too. The list goes on and on.”

Elena also teaches determination and compassion. Not only to us, but to her classmates, too. When she and her classmate Dennis started Early Childhood at her local school district, he only walked three steps at a time. By the end of the year, Dennis was pushing Elena in either her wheelchair or stander all the way from the classroom to the exit every day — some 100 feet. Another young classmate had the job of helping her gather her things at the end of every day, collecting Elena’s backpack and coat before she left for home.

At a block party in our neighborhood, Elena effortlessly taught all the kids adaptation and inclusion. Instead of using a bike for the standard decorating activity and parade, all the kids pitched in and adorned her gait trainer with glitter, stickers, and streamers. Our 6-year-old neighbor Olivia proudly accompanied her through the streets. As Elena’s feet dragged and shuffled, she smiled brilliantly and let out squeals and giggles of delight audible to everyone on the block.

In our home, Elena has also taught us to ask for help. Rosa and I pride ourselves on our independence and ability to do things on our own, but Elena has shown us that it’s ok to ask for babysitting or just someone to entertain her for two hours.

It’s Labor Day weekend, and as many students and teachers begin the school year — and Elena starts her final year of Early Childhood — it’s refreshing to be reminded that educators often learn as much from their students as they learn from their teachers. Elena continues to teach us new daily lessons and enriches our lives with an expert blend of silliness and compassion.

Learn about our Friends Who Care free resources to teach kids acceptance and understanding in school, thanks to our partner Friendly’s.

Also learn about Easter Seals inclusive childcare for kids with and without disabilities.


Make a website accessible and you could win!

register for the OpenAIR web development competition

Make a website accessible, help a nonprofit, and you could win!

Eight years ago I traveled with two of my Easter Seals colleagues to Austin to attend an annual conference about accessible technology. The conference was sponsored by a nonprofit called Knowbility that helps make the internet and other technologies accessible to people who are blind, visually impaired, hearing impaired, have mobility impairments and cognitive or learning disabilities.

While we were there at the conference, the three of us attended John Slaten Access University (Access U), a series of workshops on accessibility standards. I am blind, and the two colleagues who went to Austin with me have disabilities, too. The three of us were expecting that most of the other people at Access U would only be there because they had to, that their employers had forced them to sign up to learn the bare minimum they’d need to do to satisfy requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Boy, was I wrong! We met lots of people there who attended not because of the law, but because they actually enjoyed the work –and challenges –of making computer technology accessible. The web developers and designers we met at Access U felt good about the work they were doing, and it sure made us feel good to be there with them.

At the conference I befriended Sharron Rush (the executive director and co-founder of Knowbility) and have appeared on panels with her about assistive technology since then. Last month I got an email from Sharron announcing Knowbility’s 18th annual OpenAir competition.

OpenAIR provides training for developers and designers in accessible standards and then pairs teams of those web developers and designers with nonprofits for a “global web accessibility challenge.” The nonprofit organizations end up with accessible new websites that are submitted for judging by world class accessibility experts.

Trophies are awarded, but really, everybody wins. The competition not only raises awareness of the need for accessibility, it also improves the skills of developers and designers to create more accessible websites.

Developers and designers who want to register need to hurry and sign up. The deadline to register is September 20, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. After you register you’ll be able to visit their “Developer Resources” page for tips and tricks on how to prepare your team, select a team captain and other information to help you make the best accessible site you can.

If you don’t have a team, but still want to participate, you can register as an individual and Open Air will connect you with a team. If you work for a non-profit organization that might like to pair up with an Open Air team for the 2015 global accessibility challenge, information on how NPOs can sign up is also available on the OpenAir site.


7 apps for kids with developmental disabilities to help at school

screenshot of iphone setup screen for appShopping for school supplies can be quite a chore for any family, but finding the right tools for students with a learning disability can be especially challenging.

There are so many apps in the iTunes App and Android Google Play stores, but how do you know which one is right for your child? The team here at Easter Seals Crossroads decided to research this topic and recommend seven unique apps that your student might find useful at both school and at home:

  1. ModMath is a free app created by Henry, a student with dyslexia and dysgraphia. This app allows users to type math problems instead of writing them by hand, which can be very helpful for individuals with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADHD. The app displays virtual graph paper and a calculator. It also provides the option for the user to print out his/her work, or email it to a teacher. For more information, check out their Kickstarter page.
  2. Voice Dream Reader is a text-to-speech app that offers the widest selection of high quality voices of any accessible reader. With this app, users can read virtually anything such as PDF, Word, and text files in Dropbox, Google Drive and more. Voice Dream Reader is also fully accessible with VoiceOver support for people with visual impairments. It is highly customizable to fit each individual’s needs. Children with dyslexia, auditory-processing or vision impairments may find this app especially beneficial. This is a great tool to help children learn how to use adaptive technologies to achieve academic and personal goals.
  3. Lectio is an app created by a mom from Indianapolis for her son after he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Lectio is very user friendly and does not require an internet connection; simply launch the app, take a picture, and press and highlight a word to have it read aloud. There is also a dictionary feature that can easily be accessed by pressing and holding down on a word.
  4. Speech Selection Hero

    Speech Selection Hero

    Speech Selection is not an actual app that you can purchase but is instead already built into iOS5; located in the accessibility features in Apple devices. Much like the app Lectio that was mentioned earlier, this feature allows you to select a paragraph and have it read aloud. The text can be read in a variety of languages and also includes a dictionary option. Unfortunately, it does not allow you to take a picture like Lectio and is only available for Apple devices. Still, it is a wonderful option for individuals with dyslexia, visual impairments, or other learning disabilities.

  5. Epic Win is an app that transforms homework, household chores and tasks into an exciting game! By “destroying” a task you earn points to level up your character. Homework and chores tend to be extremely mundane for most individuals. For individuals with ADHD, the dullness makes it ever harder to focus and complete chores. With Epic Win, homework and chores will never be the same.
  6. Inspiration Maps is a visual learning tool that allows students to create organized diagrams and outlines. It is recommended by the International Dyslexia Association for literacy instruction. Inspiration Maps is intended for students in fourth grade and up, but they do have another version for grades K-5.
  7. iThoughts is a unique mind mapping tool that helps students organize the thoughts or ideas they would like to use in a paper. Many individuals with learning disabilities struggle with organization, and with this app, individuals might have an easier time organizing their information, thoughts and ideas effectively.

Shopping for school supplies can be tricky, but we hope that these apps help ease your transition into the new school year. For more information on apps and assistive technology, visit the INDATA Project, or check with your local Easter Seals.

Plus, if you have any app suggestions, we’d love to hear them! Post them in the comments below.


My resume is fabulous! Why no job offers?

Headshot of job-seeker Sara Jane Fair

Job-seeker Sara Jane Fair

Since graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology in December, I’ve been looking for a job similar to the internship experience I had at Easter Seals last summer. When I use an interpreter to answer a help wanted ad by phone, it is immediately known that I’m a Deaf applicant. I don’t think it’s the phone connecting to an interpreter that may bother the potential employers. It’s the concept that if they hired me they’d have the “hassle” of having an interpreter on stand by the whole time I’m working for them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve assured them that I wouldn’t need an interpreter 24/7 at work, I’d just need that for meetings with more than one person. For one-on-one meetings, pen and paper or even typing would suffice.

Most of the time the interviewers are very eager to ask questions about how I would be able to function in their offices, and I’m always glad to explain. But then when the interview ends, they say they’ll reach out to the HR office and get back to me…they never do. They always pick another applicant.

When I get an appointment for an in-person interview, the e-mail messages keep coming until I put in a request for an interpreter. I supply a detailed resource list where they could find interpreters. I even provide my personal phone number and say I’m willing to help them find an interpreter if they have problems finding one themselves. After that, the e-mail exchange is typically over. It’s pretty much radio silence.

People have suggested I keep quiet about interpreters and just show up with a pen and paper ready to talk. I’m not comfortable with concealing the fact that I’m Deaf, but I did try it for one interview, and I’m never doing it again.

Come to think of it, when I was there, I thought that interview went well. The job was at a retail store. Not exactly a dream job — I’m more interested in working in the social media field. After months of unemployment, though, I was answering all sorts of ads.

I felt like I really connected with the interviewer at the retail store, and we had a great time chatting about the store. Next thing I know, I get a phone call that they wouldn’t be hiring me because I wouldn’t be able to use the radio while working the sales floor and because the customers would be “annoyed” with the time-delay when I’d use pen and paper to communicate with them.

Wait, what? That’s discrimination.

I took a complaint to the HR offices, and guess what they told me? “Yeah, the radio use is required in the company policy. Sorry.”

I asked if they were a Disability compliant company. They were, so why was I being discriminated against, I thought? I explained to them that I’ve had multiple Deaf friends working in the retail field without being required to use the radio. They take on extra responsibilities to check in regularly with their managers instead of by radio. They tried to steer me towards a stock position that wouldn’t require any radio communications. I didn’t get the position.

I just let it go. Forget it. They didn’t seem like the company I would have enjoyed working for if they were going to hire me against their own will just to meet the “disability” quota anyway.

Another reason I’ve been having trouble finding work is lack of experience. I think my resume looks FABULOUS with some incredibly successful internships, but nobody is catching my bait. Why? I don’t know.

You know the saying that you don’t have enough experience to get a job, but to get more experience you need to get a job…that’s where I’m stuck at right now. Nothing is jumping into the Sara Jane pool.

Now when I pick up a call from a potential employer, I pray I won’t have to “convince” them that regardless of my Deafness I can do the job. I dread getting “We’ve moved on with someone else” e-mails. Is it because I’m Deaf? I don’t know, and I will probably never find out.

With all the frustration I’ve felt looking for a job the past eight months, have I ever wished I wasn’t Deaf? Never. I keep rallying on, and I’m still extremely proud I’m Deaf. I’m proud to be part of an incredible community and culture, I’m proud of my incredible Deaf friends, and most of all, I’m proud of my incredible family. Dang proud.

Am I proud of those employers in the hearing community who have refused to give Deaf people like me a chance at working? No. Obviously. I just wish the hearing community would ask more questions about us and be more interested, because we’re probably gonna be the best employees.

This is my experience searching for a job, and in no way does it reflect the entire community at large–but this is what most Deaf people will experience and struggle with. This is a part of our lives, our daily struggle to get noticed in the big bad world.

If you had a different experience with your job search, or if you have tips or suggestions, please share them with me in the comments section here below.

And if you’re an employer at a hearing company and you’re unsure about Deaf people, message me and I’ll be happy to answer any questions and try to resolve any doubts you might have about hiring Deaf people into your offices!


Why I often don’t say thank you

My Autism Team logoWhen I give presentations to teachers, I always end with this line:

Teaching a student with Asperger’s [Autism Spectrum Disorder] may be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, because you can go above and beyond the call of duty and the student with Asperger’s may not be able to even say as much as ‘Thank you.'”

AaronLikensIt’s not that people on the autism spectrum have “no emotions.” We do have emotions, but getting from that part where we experience those feelings to that part where we can express how we feel can be like trying to travel down the interstate with many brick walls lining the route. And for a teacher, I’m sure this can be deflating.

I know a high school teacher who had a student with Asperger’s. This person was really the first teacher that this student had ever clicked with. The student and this teacher communicated well together and the student made many strides forward. The student’s ability to learn was unparalleled in subsequent schooling years. But when graduation time came, and this student with Asperger’s was asked to acknowledge the teacher who influenced them the most and changed their life, the teacher chosen was shocked and unprepared for the announcement. “I can’t believe it’s me! I did nothing!” the teacher exclaimed.

What happened? On the surface this may seem like an act of defiance. But as it is with so many other things regarding Asperger’s, there’s much more than meets the eye.

First off, going back to my opening of this post, saying things such as “thank you” isn’t our strong suit. Actually, anything that would have us associate with emotions can be a no-go. Standing in front of a room to proclaim that a person changed their life, motivated them, or helped them? That’d be exposing a lot of one’s self.

So how would a person with Asperger’s solve this conundrum? Well, this particular student did it by choosing the teacher that did the least, because, logically, that eliminated the emotional component of the moment.

Graduation itself can be difficult for a person with Asperger’s, as it is a major life change. I’ve learned in my own life that as more and more stuff is on my mind, my ability to express emotions decreases greatly. I salute teachers that have made this big of a difference in any student’s life, but I know that when it comes to the autism spectrum, a response of gratitude may not be given.

So as this new school year begins, I want all you teachers to know that you really do go above and beyond the call of duty, and many of you are sure to truly be life changers to students on the autism spectrum. Our ability to say “thank you” in person or in front of a room may not be there, but I can assure you the emotions are there.

I can imagine that the teacher I talked about in this post was left to wonder why they weren’t picked as a student’s favorite teacher. It is equally, if not more, difficult to be the individual who wants to simply say, “thank you! Thank you for believing in me! Thank you for giving me a chance when no one else did!”

I feel bad that I was never able to fully thank my 2nd and 4th grade teachers for the seeds they planted that have allowed me to become who I am today. I probably seemed unappreciative, but underneath it all I was appreciative, and am. So I’m saying it now. Thank you, teachers. Thank you all.

Note from Easter Seals: Although Asperger’s is no longer an official diagnosis, and kids are diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Aaron was diagnosed before this diagnostic change. It’s what he is comfortable discussing, so we leave this term, and the blog, in his voice. Learn more about autism terms.


8 things to look for in sign language interpreters

sign-language-okHow on earth could a person who can’t see get a behind-the-scenes look at sign language? Keep reading this blog post for the answer!

When we published a post here last Monday about an accessible theater workshop I’d be participating in here in Chicago, I promised I’d get back to you with details. Before I do that, though, let me refresh your memory.

Arts organizations all over Chicago have been sponsoring special events, lectures and workshops this year to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Victory Gardens Access Project opted to sponsor a workshop for “front of house” staff from theaters all over the city last Monday, August 17. I was asked to sit on a panel there with three other disability advocates to give tips on some of the special needs people with disabilities might have when we attend live performances. People who work front of house tend to do so because they enjoy working with people, they love live theater and they’d like more people to come out to support and enjoy performances.

Okay, now you’re caught up.

Now I have good news: from what I witnessed at the workshop last Monday night, front of house staff and the venues they work for are keen to include more people with disabilities in their audiences! I was pleasantly surprised by last week’s large turnout. Nearly 100 staff members were there, representing everything from storefront theaters to art museums to established art programs.

The workshop took up an entire evening and included many different sessions. My panel was the last event on the schedule, but my Seeing Eye dog Whitney and I arrived an hour or so before it started. When we walked into the Victory Gardens lobby I discovered two sign language interpreters giving a workshop about the things theaters should look for when hiring sign language interpreters for their productions.

The presenters used their voices as they signed, which made it possible for a woman like me to eavesdrop. I did, and learned that the best theater interpreters are ones who:

  • avoid signing every word — it’s more important to convey the overall story and allow the action on stage to tell the rest
  • prepare in advance — a presenter said she studies the written script and listens to recordings of the play for weeks ahead of her sign language performances and attends rehearsals and productions ahead of time to get a sense for the timing and determine which signs to use on the day of her sign language interpretation
  • agree to work in teams if the play has many people on stage at once who are talking over each other
  • use subtle movements, like widening their eyes or raising their eyebrows to add meaning to the words they’re spelling out
  • wear extra dark lipstick so audience members capable of reading their lips can see them better
  • wear dark clothes if they’re very light skinned so readers can see their hands
  • wear light-colored clothing if their skin is dark so readers can see their hands
  • take rings and bracelets off before they start signing

So many things I hadn’t ever thought of! Our panel afterwards went well, and it was a thrill to be on stage with playwright Mike Irvin (founder of Jerry’s Orphans), Rachel Arfa, J.D., (a staff attorney at Equip for Equality, a legal advocacy organization that advocates for the rights of people with disabilities) and Evan Hatfield (Director of Audience Experience at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre).

Mike Irvin uses a wheelchair, Rachel Arfa uses bilateral cochlear implants, I use a Seeing Eye dog, and Evan Hatfield introduced himself by telling the audience he “doesn’t identify as having a disability.” We took off from there.

The evening ended with answers to questions Front of House staff members in the audience had about touch tours before shows, wheelchair-accessible stages, captioning technology, and person-first language like “Mike uses a wheelchair” rather than “wheelchair-bound Mike.” Audience members shared the challenges and successes of accessing arts programs, the night flew by, and I think (hope!) we made a small difference.

Guess I can find that out the next time I attend a performance in Chicago — and I hope that’s very soon.


Starting college when you have a disability

Erin Hawley headshot wearing glasses

Erin Hawley

We’re so excited to introduce Erin Hawley, who is going to share what it’s like to be a college student with a disability.

Hello readers! My name is Erin Hawley, and I’m a Digital Content Producer here at Easter Seals. I manage the microsite for Easter Seals Thrive, which promotes empowerment for young women with disabilities.

Disability advocacy is my passion, and that makes my job incredibly rewarding. I’m so passionate about disabilities that I even have my very own: Muscular Dystrophy! I am not exactly a young woman anymore, but I still definitely relate to Thrive’s young audience. I don’t find Muscular Dystrophy that exciting or interesting on its own, but having M.D. sure has placed me into some interesting predicaments – it’s forced me to face discrimination myself and deal with people who think it’s a miracle that I even wake up in the morning.

My post today is about what it was like to be a college student with a disability. There is so much I want to tell you — I’ve started and erased this blog dozens of times and finally decided there is no clear way to begin. I want to tell you about my years living on campus, and all the ableism I faced there. I want to tell you how my first week of college will forever be etched into my brain as the day the

Twin Towers fell only miles away, and how that event changed everything – for everyone. And I want to tell you about the friendships I built, the ones that fell apart, and the heart that was broken by cute boys next door.

I am the queen of organization, but my experiences during my college years are impossible to organize in one blog post. So much happened that was beyond my personal story – so many events and relationships that were steeped in institutionalized ableism and barriers. I’ll limit myself here to four examples:

  1. Professors who purposely made me feel uncomfortable in front of my classmates
  2. A professor who told me it was a “shame” I was trapped in “that body”
  3. The biology department director who refused to accept my need for assistance in labs and did not give me the extra time required to finish exams
  4. Inaccessible buses that shuttled students to Broadway shows, while I stayed in my dorm wishing I was in the city rather than staring at my computer screen

Looking back on this time, I get angry at all the things I let slide because I didn’t know my legal rights, or because years of internalized ableism took away any confidence I would have had to speak up for myself.

Ultimately, things worked out, but I wish that back when I was in college I’d known how to advocate for myself. I wish I’d had the knowledge I have now, and I wish back then I’d had the disabled community I have now, too.

We didn’t have Twitter yet when I was in college, but now I use it to share knowledge and support with a network of other individuals who have disabilities. So I am really excited about hosting a Twitter chat on disability and academia for a live chat this Wednesday, August 26th at 2pm EST.

Our awesome panelists for the live chat are four fantastic women who have either attended college or work in the field of academia and want to share their experiences with you: Whitney Bailey, Jessica Queener, Sara Fair and Andrea Dalzell.

Young adults with disabilities need to know they’re not alone and that they have rights and options when it comes to their college education. It is so important to know that help is there – we just have to ask for it. Anyone can join in to our Twitter chat and respond to (or ask your own!) questions.

For more information, please visit our Easter Seals Thrive website or Tweet us @ability2thrive using the hashtag #thrivecollege! I hope to see you there.


The potential in students with Asperger’s

AaronLikensSo I was on a vacation out West last month and was golfing at the Gordon Country Club, looking out to the west on the 7th tee on a blustery day, watching the high, groomed grass dancing in the wind. I looked to the north and the land just wasn’t as tended to and was just unkempt land. What a difference a little (or a lot) of work made.

That got me thinking.

I’ve talked so much about the potential a person on the autism spectrum can have. That potential isn’t just going to happen, though. It needs to work very much like the land out here. If it weren’t for the decades (probably more like the century’s!) worth of work on the land out here in Western Nebraska, there’s a good chance, well, a 100% chance, that the land would not be hospitable for much of anything. It’s taken irrigation, proper ranching, and a constant eye to make sure the land and livestock are right.

So why am I going on a talk about ranching and land? Potential. someone, at some point in time, saw potential out here. This community now has a sustainable agriculture economy. If the agriculture goes away, this town would likely go away, too.

How does this relate to anything? It all goes back to potential.

The school year is starting, and once more teachers are going to have students in their classrooms who have Asperger’s Syndrome. Some teachers have a difficult time handling these students, thinking that they are obstinate or defiant. Other teachers will let these students with Asperger’s just be themselves and not offer much guidance.

And then there are teachers who see the potential.

It’s fitting I started this blog post in the midst of an agriculture community, because for years I’ve been ending my presentations like this:

“we live in a society where everyone wants everything to be perfect right now. When it comes to autism we can’t look at it that way and rather we need to look at it like planting seeds; you’ve got to give it time to grow.”

That being the case, teachers have a great chance to plant the seeds. They can instill that potential that might be hidden underneath.

I ended up playing many more rounds of golf and driving by fields filled with cattle and grasslands perfect for food. Not being a farmer or rancher I didn’t always know what I was seeing – there were crops that I couldn’t name, and some fields that were seemingly empty. What was there? What was going on? From my vantage point it was empty, worthless land, but to the right farmer or rancher they may see the hidden potential in the land.

That’s the difference between knowing and not knowing. I can only hope that in this upcoming school year more and more teachers master the art of seeing potential. What may seem like an empty field may someday turn into the most beautiful of creations. It all starts with the planting of just one seed.

A version of this post first appeared on Aaron Likens’ personal blog, Life on the Other Side of the Wall.


When front-of-house staff aren’t trained to help people with disabilities

theater-curtains-down-morguestockI’ve written a post here before applauding the efforts theater companies are making to allow people with disabilities to access their live productions, and I’m pleased to be helping at a accessibility workshop tonight for “front of house” staff from Chicago Theaters.

Let me explain. “front of house (FOH) work encompasses all the things happening with the audience in the lobby and at the concession areas before, during, and immediately after a show — anything from selling tickets to handing out concessions to ushering. People who work front of house often do so because they enjoy working with people, like interacting with audience members directly, and appreciate one of the job’s big benefits: FOH staff often get to see the show for free.

But what happens when front of house staff members haven’t had many audience members with disabilities before?
It’s been my experience that untrained FOH staff mean well but can be sheepish about approaching my Seeing Eye dog Whitney and me or not very skilled at anticipating any special needs. In my case, I appreciate door people or security guards outside the front of the theater who call out to ask if I’m going to a play as I approach and then confirm I am indeed at the right place; staff inside letting me know where “will call” is to pick up my tickets; concession stand workers listing their offerings out loud; and ushers who offer to guide us to the best place for Whitney if she needs an outside break during intermission.

At tonight’s program, theater-goers who are hard of hearing, can’t see, use a wheelchair, have developmental disabilities or issues with memory loss will explain their unique needs and answer questions from front of house staff who will be there from theaters all over Chicago. Attendees will hear from audience members who go to touch tours before shows, use wheelchair accessible stages, read open captioning, take in ASL Interpreted performances, or listen to audio descriptions of what’s on stage. I’m looking forward to talking with front of house staff members tonight to learn more about them and their jobs. I also look forward to discussing the challenges and successes in accessing arts programs with them. I’ll be sure to share all I learn here with you on a future post. For now, its showtime!

If you’re looking for accessible recreation and entertainment activities, see what Easter Seals has to offer.


My 7-week trip to explore accessible travel…alone with 2 kids


Eliza on vacation

Meg Harris is the founder of a website that researches and books accessible travel for families with disabilities called SpecialGlobe.com, and she’s on a seven-week cross-country journey with her daughter Eliza, who has Rett Syndrome, and her son Henry, a typically developing child. She’s capturing this journey on an exclusive vlog on easterseals.com/vacation. Here she is with a guest post about some recent stops out West.

by Meg Harris

Meg Harris and family

Henry, Meg and Eliza

I am Tan! Can’t believe it! I never get so tan! Must be because we’ve spent so much time outside and swimming on this trip.

I’ve loved all the swimming we’ve done these past weeks. We are truly having an incredible experience. I keep waiting for the kids to ask when we’ll be going home, but they are so happy out here exploring new things that they don’t mention it.

Today Henry told me how much he loves making so many new friends on the road. He is super-social, so wherever we go he has a new buddy. He loves that!

He is really loving Paleo camp, too — it’s a great program about paleontology for first and second graders. Jack Horner (the Paleontologist portrayed in Jurassic Park) is here at this museum. He is going to speak to the kids later this week, so that is totally cool.

This is a trip that I will remember always. Just like the kids, I, too, am not ready to go home! It is so much fun out here on the road!

Today we are moving to a new hotel, or, actually, a lodge. It’s very intimate and family-oriented, so it will be REALLY interesting to see how they handle Eliza and Henry and his boundless energy. What’s amazing about this trip is that most everywhere we have gone the hotels or attractions have commented on Henry, not Eliza. When we were checking out of the Inn in Cheyenne, the owner told me that he fully comped my room because of the mission SpecialGlobe is undertaking. He told me I have my hands full and said he was in awe. My Henry…I love him so much but he is truly a wild child!

Thanks, guys, for following us on this journey. Please share our stories with your families. If it even inspires one of you families out there who thinks you can’t travel to give it a try, then I will be happy!

Visit easterseals.com/vacation to follow our journey.

We’re also featuring every travel destination video on the Easter Seals YouTube channel here. Look for the Disability Travel playlist.