Unique summer internships from Project SEARCH

I am pleased to introduce Susan Feider-Kelly as a guest blogger today. Susan is a member of the Project SEARCH staff here at Easter Seals Southeast Wisconsin, and she has a special summer to share with you.

Can’t think of a better way to spend a summer

by Susan Feider-Kelly

With autumn upon us now, I have time to reflect on the past summer. I spent most of it with five young people in a Project SEARCH program at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. This pilot project was geared to the needs of young adults on the autism spectrum, and the primary focus was awareness and improvement of workplace communication and social skills.

The Project SEARCH staff and Easter Seals Autism Department staff worked in partnership to deliver a unique summer internship. Before the program even began, an Easter Seals Behavior Analyst from our Autism Service team assessed each intern and suggested strategies to help each intern adjust to the expectations of the workplace. After a few days of orientation, the intern began their rotations in various areas of the hospital. Here’s a list of the interns and how their rotations worked:

  • Collin worked in one of the Children’s Hospital Clinics. His primary task was the quick turnover of exam rooms after a patient left the clinic. Collin quickly mastered that task and was soon trained to stock medical supplies and sanitize blood pressure cuffs. The clinic staff came to depend on him and commented on his growth in asking to do more.
  • Dan had expressed an interest in improving his data entry skills so his placement in Inpatient Data Entry was a good fit for him. He learned to navigate electronic records entering patient information. Dan sharpened his problem-solving skills as he had to decipher the handwriting of several nurses. He dived into some organizational projects for the department that had been on their to-do list for a long time.
  • Justin said that he wanted to work with his hands, so he was placed in Facilities Operations. He quickly became their “electronics specialist” and was relied on to test new gaming systems as well as new video games. Needless to say, Justin really liked his rotation! He didn’t play games all day, though! He was part of a team that was changing every soap dispenser on campus. Justin prepped 1000+ soap dispensers before they were installed, and he tapped new talents working a cordless screwdriver to attach the handles to nine new wagons for the kids at the hospital.
  • Marquis was looking for marketable job skills, so he was placed in Environmental Services. He worked with a trainer to learn quick cleaning in the clinics building. He cleaned restrooms and common areas. Marquis learned the sequence of tasks and became a valued team member.
  • David liked to be active and was placed in the dish room. He excelled as a pot-scrubber and was able to load the dish machine at an appropriate pace. By the end of the program, David was demonstrating independence and initiative.

In addition to the work in their rotations, the summer interns spent time each day in the training room with me and a staff member from our autism department to process what they were learning as a group. Each intern learned about the “unwritten” rules of work that challenge us all. We talked about how to take feedback from our supervisor and colleagues, how much information to share about ourselves and our personal lives. We talked about managing a relationship with our supervisor.

Each intern learned new strategies to manage the daily stress that comes with a job. These “soft skills” and strategies will be invaluable as David, Marquis, Dan, Collin and David head out to join the work world. I can’t think of a better way to have spent the summer than working with these young men and opening new possibilities in their lives.


Download this booklet on advocating for your child at school

Download the Partnering With Your Child's School booklet (PDF)With kids back in school now, this is the perfect time to recommend a free booklet (PDF) from the HSC Foundation to help parents learn about resources available to them.

The booklet also offers information to help parents develop a partnership with their children’s schools, and the information is available in English and Spanish. The HSC Foundation Family Supports Initiative describes its goals like this:

  • Provide knowledge regarding systems of care, home and family care practices and community resources
  • Support family needs through technical training, counseling and peer support
  • Strengthen skills in the areas of negotiation, conflict management and advocacy
  • Support related research, development and evaluation

I was especially happy to read that third goal: most parents of children who have disabilities would agree that we need all the help we can get in honing our skills in negotiation, conflict management, and advocacy!

The content has been reviewed by groups of parents, youth, and educators. The booklets are produced in partnership with George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, the Council for Exceptional Children and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.


Related Content on EasterSeals.com:

A mom shares how to diplomatically achieve the best for your child’s IEP (individualized education plan).


Who’s on top of the latest technology for people with disabilities?

Wade Wingler from Easter Seals Crossroads

Wade Wingler (Photo credit: Kelly Wilkinson for the Indianapolis) Star

Five years ago, Wade Wingler — the Director of Assistive Technology at Easter Seals Crossroads
— hired me as a summer intern in the assistive technology department. Wade asked me to create an exhibit of vintage and antiquated assistive technology devices for the Indiana Assistive Technology Act (INDATA) conference, and my fresh-out-of-college art history degree was put to good use! Here I am five years later, still working at Easter Seals Crossroads, just in another role.

Wade Wingler was recently featured in The Indianapolis Star for a Q&A piece called “How I Got My Job.” He shared his journey from writing computer software at the age of 8 to obtaining a degree in sociology from Butler University in Indianapolis.

This year Wade celebrates 21 years at Easter Seals Crossroads, keeping his brain on high alert each and every day to find ways to bring brand new innovations and technology to individuals with disabilities. Technology and assistive devices have changed drastically in the 21 years Wade has been here. “The impact of smartphones and mobile/tablet devices has had an enormous impact on my industry,” Wade said in the newspaper story. “In the past, people who were blind would spend several thousand dollars to buy a computer with a screen reading system. Today, every iPad can become a talking computer with a few simple commands and at no extra cost.”

This constant change means Wade and his staff of 15 are always reading articles and attending trainings to stay ahead of the curve. When I walk to Wade’s office, I pass a room with a glass window that shows his podcast studio — an addition he made two years ago. Wade told me once that he always wanted to be a radio personality. Now, with this podcast studio, his personal interest has met his career goals: his Assistive Technology Radio podcast is #1 in iTunes for “assistive technology” and was rated the #1 Radio Show and Podcast for people who are blind or visually impaired by About.com. Wade shares information about assistive technology to everyone who listens to his podcasts, not just those in Indiana, but all over the world.

“Being a good listener, being able to understand needs and opportunities as they arise, and being able to put together a plan of action has been key to my career success,” Wade told the Indianapolis Star reporter. I can attest to Wade’s ability to listen and communicate clearly with his staff and those he serves. Wade is my mentor, my colleague, my friend, and someone whom I am grateful to have in my life. Congrats to Wade on getting such great recognition for all the work he does for Easter Seals Crossroads!


Related Content from Easterseals.com:

We’ve also got technology recommendations from Easter Seals’ BridgingApps, founded by Cristen Reat. Find out Cristen’s favorite apps for her children with special needs and without.


A new memorial in Berlin: Forgive but never forget

Blue wall of the memorial in Berlin

Blue wall of the memorial in Berlin

I am blind, and my husband and I have a son who has physical and developmental disabilities. I usually have a lot to say when writing blog posts about disabilities, but when I was asked to write about a new memorial in Berlin, I originally said no.

The memorial commemorates the children and adults with disabilities who were murdered by the Nazis when Hitler was in power, and an Atlantic Monthly article about all this was so disturbing I didn’t want to deal with it. Here’s how the article begins:

In July 1939, Richard and Lina Kretschmar, two farm workers from eastern Germany, wrote to Adolf Hitler to ask for permission to kill their son. Gerhard Kretschmar had been born five months earlier with one arm, one leg, and vision loss. The Kretschmars were loyal Nazis, and “The Monster,” as they referred to Gerhard, was considered both burdensome and incompatible with the pursuit of genetic perfection. Gerhard was killed a few days later at a hospital near his home, likely by lethal injection.

That story makes my stomach turn every time I read it. I know these horrible things happened, but I don’t want to read accounts of them, and I’m not exactly sure I want a memorial erected to remind me of them, either.

When my husband got home from work that evening, I told him how I felt about all this. He listened, and he was understanding. But then he wisely reminded me of a story I’d told him once, about a visit I’d taken to Dachau when I was a 20-year-old exchange student.

I could still see back then, and my visit to the former Nazi concentration camp was my first real confrontation with the war crimes I’d read about in memoirs and history books. I saw where prisoners had been punished for breaking camp rules, where Nazi doctors conducted their “medical experiments” on prisoners, and where American liberators found piles of dead bodies after the war was finally over.

My tour of that concentration camp was sobering, and I think it was something I needed to do to honor the wish of its survivors: “Forgive but never forget.”

As time passes, World War II seems long ago. Today’s younger Germans could decide to try to sweep memories of those terrible times under the rug, but instead they feel a stronger need to remember the horrors that began in their country. I need to remember those horrors, too, even if it makes my stomach turn when I do. I commend Berlin for unveiling this new memorial to innocent victims like baby Gerhard. Forgive but never forget.


Recent studies on autism and what we know for sure

A couple of interesting articles were published recently on the prevalence of disability in young children and the identification of disability in young children.

First, the Academy of Pediatrics reports that the incidence of childhood disability is actually growing, and while the prevalence of disability is higher among children living in families with low incomes, the rate of growth in the number of children with disabilities living in higher incomes is growing faster.

Then last week, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about how children with autism may be identified as babies. We’ve known for a while that autism can be diagnosed reliably around 2 years old, and that young children who receive therapy tend to do better than those who are diagnosed after they start school. Here at Easter Seals, we want to help EVERY child get a great start in life. We want every parent to feel well equipped with the knowledge of how to help their child learn and grow. And, for young children with disabilities, we have decades of proof that these kids succeed in school alongside their peers when they receive early intervention services. That’s why we encourage parents and caregivers nationwide to take the Ages & Stages Questionnaire. This child development screening tool is available online and at no cost, in English and Spanish, and it helps parents and caregivers track a child’s development through age 5. The survey, which should be completed every six months until the child reaches age 5, helps a parent to know exactly how their child is growing and learning. And we all know that knowledge is power.

The jury is out on why there are more young kids with disabilities and why the prevalence of autism continues to grow. But, armed with the right information, services and supports, young children can learn and grow and be hugely independent and successful adults.

Spread the word.


Polio and the Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts

“The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” debuted last night on PBS, and if you ask me, this seven-part documentary by Ken Burns is living up to all the good reviews it’s received so far.

FDR Blog

Franklin D. Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio in 1921.

Last night’s Part One ended with U.S. Vice President Teddy Roosevelt becoming president after William McKinley is assassinated. It was great, and now I’m really looking forward to Part Four on Wednesday. That episode is called The Storm, it covers the years between 1920 and 1933, and I’m curious to find out how Burns will handle FDR’s polio diagnosis during that time.

The treatment of polio is part of our history here at Easter Seals. In the early 1900s, the dramatic increase in polio cases caused the disease to be regarded as an epidemic. Thousands of children and adults were paralyzed by polio, and Easter Seals founder Edgar Allen raised funds and built a hospital where children with polio could stay and attend school. Children were also fitted for crutches and leg braces at the hospital.

Today, Easter Seals provides services to people with all sorts of disabilities, and we still treat people with post-polio syndrome.

I’m hoping Part Four of the documentary will show some of the exercises and equipment used early in the 20th century — maybe that way I’ll get a better idea of how therapies have changed over the years. Guess we’ll all just have to stay tuned.


Coming of age after 9/11

As I reflected on what 9/11 means to me, I got to thinking about those with whom I served who enlisted after 9/11. This blog post is for them, and for all of our readers who came of age after 9/11.


There’s a good reason why the number of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will jump by 26 percent by 2016.  These veterans joined the military after terrorism invaded the U.S., driving increased security and also increased patriotism and civic engagement. It was this desire to tangibly support their country that propelled many so-called “millennials” to volunteer for military service, even though it meant deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan.

I personally believe that 2 million Afghanistan and Iraq veterans, nearly two-thirds of whom are millennials, are poised to become our nation’s next “greatest generation.”

I led thousands of millennials during multiple tours in Iraq, including as the Brigade Commander in the volatile Diyala Province for 15 months in 2006-2007.  I watched my troops carry out remarkable feats of bravery and perform selfless acts of courage.  They demonstrated all the qualities one could want in the toughest of situations – smarts, guts and compassion.

But if I asked you today if you know someone who served in the U.S. military, how would you answer?  Too often, the response is no.  So to me, a good place to start is by connecting those millennials who have served with those who have not.

I’m committed to doing this because we now need the peers and classmates of these young veterans to step up and leverage their social connections to help support the next “Greatest Generation.”  How can this new generation support its peers?  It can be done through small, simple acts.

•    Think local.  Support an organization in your community that helps veterans such as Easter Seals.  Volunteer once a week or once a month right where you live.
•    Be inclusive.  Through that community organization, you’ll meet many vets.  Why not get to know one better through peer-to-peer mentoring?  Introduce him or her to your social network and watch the connections grow.
•    Encourage hiring.  If you’ve created your own start-up, consider hiring a vet.  You’ll be surprised at the leadership and organizational skills they bring to the table.  Or ask your HR department to be more proactive in hiring young veterans for entry-level positions.
•    Tutor a vet.  If you’re still in school, see if your college has a Student Veterans of America chapter.  Offer your services to tutor or review papers.  It’s another way to expand your network and see a different world view.

Your generation has spent more than a decade at war.  As we transition into peace, it’s time to reach out to the 1.25 million veterans who are part of the Millennial Generation.  With just a small amount of your understanding, attention and support, they are ready to become the next “Greatest Generation.”

(This blog is adapted from a 2013 commentary published on PolicyMic.)


Do you know the crosswalk laws? Why you should!

Donna Smith and her Seeing Eye dog Farlow. Have dog, will travel.Six years ago a motorist ran over my foot when I attempted to cross a driveway in a supermarket parking lot. My foot was fractured in multiple places, took months to heal and still causes me pain. It took me months to be able to cross driveways and roadways without significant stress, and to this day, I can’t filter out the distraction of what could happen if a motorist fails to yield or stop when I’m crossing the street.

In the grand scheme of things, mine was a fairly minor accident. Too many other pedestrians are not so lucky: pedestrian deaths constitute 14% of all traffic-related fatalities in the U.S.

The number of pedestrian fatalities is rising, too. It increased by 6.4% since 2011 (4,743 pedestrian deaths in 2012). Pedestrian injuries increased 10% over statistics reported in 2011 as well. With these staggering numbers in mind, I’d say that we could all benefit from learning a little more about crosswalk laws.

Walking and using public transportation lessens automobile congestion, and it can improve health and environmental conditions, too. The focus on the benefits of walking means states are getting tougher enforcing crosswalk laws.

Crosswalk laws differ widely from state to state, and the nuances that make them different can be confusing. Fortunately, an article by the National Conference of State Legislatures lists information about crosswalk laws state-by-state here.

Our roadways are shared by motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike. While state laws have the final word on which party is to blame when accidents occur in crosswalks, we as users of roadways have the responsibility to exercise precaution and consider the safety of those around us. Taking time to consider the best way to approach a shared crosswalk takes only a very few minutes of our time. Failing to take the time to make the best decision possible could result in devastating consequences that could impact the rest of our lives. Please travel safely!


Learn about accessible transportation resources at Projectaction.org.


The lipreading scores are in!

Remember last week’s post about a lipreading challenge? Cam Robbins (Interactive Marketing Manager here at Easter Seals Headquarters) and I took the challenge, and, as promised, we are here to report our scores.


Score: 26 out of 55 correct


I have a diagnosed learning disability (LD), so you’d think with my LD, I would know better than to assume anyone can lipread. Sometimes I just forget.

I have a lot of trouble with accents (enough trouble that sometimes I need captions for movies. The web site with the lipreading challenge is British, not American. As if lipreading isn’t hard enough to begin with! I got 26 out of 55 right, and according to the website, that’s actually really good. Say what? I don’t think mom would have been pleased if I ever came home with a 47% on a test.

I looked at each video more than once (this felt like cheating after the third time) and even though it was a multiple choice question, and I had 4 options to choose from, I got fewer than half of them right. Here are my reactions to specific challenges:

  • Third question. I… what? This woman spoke more with her teeth than her lips, so it was a lot harder to understand. I had to totally guess on that one.
  • Fourth question. Now I have the opposite problem. This woman barely moved her lips. I watched this one again and again and again, and I had no idea. Had to resort to another process of elimination.
  • Seventh question: I groaned when I opened this one. He had a mustache, and a beard! I had to guess this one because I just couldn’t read his lips at all. Facial hair and lip reading do not get along well.
  • Tenth question. This woman appeared really excited by the way she moved around so much. I could tell she had a thick accent, but that was about all. I could only get the first part of what she was saying and had to guess at the rest.

Overall, it was a frustrating and eye-opening challenge for me, so let’s see how Cam did.


Score: 44 out of 55 correct


The challenge was multiple-choice (it gave you answers to choose from after every challenge), but I wanted to keep the challenge legit, so at the start I didn’t read the answers before I watched the video. On my own I could only catch one or two words on the first video I watched, and there was no way I could have figured out the entire phrase. So, I read the answers and used process of elimination.

I couldn’t always decide between two answers on the rest of the videos, and when that happened I’d watch and re-watch the video until I decided what they were saying. “Boy” instead of “joy,” for example.

When I got to question 10 and saw that the woman on that video was really excited, I figured her emotional state would make it easier to interpret what she was saying.

I figured wrong: her excitement actually made it more difficult to figure out where the words began and ended. I watched some of these videos many, many times, but of course in real life you can’t watch and re-watch a conversation. I feel like I was cheating. I’m pretty sure I’d fail lipreading in an actual conversation. Not being able to understand word-for-word or even half of what people were saying was frustrating and surprisingly tiring.

*Mac here again. I challenge you to take the lipreading challenge and leave your score in the comments! What surprised you about lip reading? Which challenge did you find particularly easy? Which ones were difficult? Don’t be shy, share your experience. Read my lips: we want to hear from you!


Trusting our kids who are adult with disabilities to the world

Our son Gus was born with a rare genetic disorder called Trisomy 12p, and at first, no one was sure he’d make it past that first day. Thanks to excellent and skilled medical care, Gus did make it: today, September 3, is his 28th birthday.

Gus lived with us until he was 16 years old, and his dad and I went to visit him at his group home Saturday to celebrate. Here’s my husband Mike with a guest post about that visit.

Happy Birthday, Gus

by Mike Knezovich

Gus and Beth.

Gus and Beth

Every time we visit our son Gus in his little yellow house in the quiet little town of Watertown, Wis., we love seeing him. And we are always, just a little, discombobulated. Even after 12 years of his living away from us.

Gus is severely disabled. He can’t talk. He can walk a short distance, clumsily, using a walker, but he spends more time in his wheelchair—which he can propel and steer well enough to get around the little ranch home he shares with three other developmentally disabled guys, and with the staff of Bethesda Lutheran Communities, which operates the home.

He invariably recognizes us, letting us know by letting out a sort of shriek of joy, just as he claps his hands right in front of his face. He makes Gus noises—anyone who’s been around him knows what that means. For those who haven’t, I don’t think I can describe them adequately. But they tell you a lot—whether he’s happy, sad, puzzled, anxious.

When we visited to celebrate his birthday, he was especially pleased to see us. The shrieks and claps and laughs went on pretty much all afternoon.

Beth caught a few rays on Saturday.

Beth catching some rays

We walked him in his wheelchair to the little park across the street. We wheeled up to a picnic table, where Beth reclined to catch some rays. Some kids were there—and it was a scene that I remember well from my youth but which I rarely see today. They were anywhere from, oh, 5 to 11 years old. They were playing kickball on the baseball diamond, while their bikes sat parked near the pavilion.
There were arguments about in-bounds and out-of-bounds, cries of joy when some one kicked a good one. And then they broke up and reconvened to start a new game of dodgeball of sorts on the playground. It was a game that an outsider could only partly understand, but they clearly had crafted and memorized their own rules.

What really stood out about the whole scene: There was not an adult in sight. The kids had organized this themselves. It was straight out of our childhoods. During summer vacation, we’d leave early and come back late. Entertaining ourselves with invented games, getting bored, inventing new ones. It all was kind of quietly astounding, a dreamy escape to the past.

Gus enjoyed it all, too. He can tell when people are having fun, and he gets tickled by that.

While we sat and took in the breeze and the sun, a little guy— one I reckon to be 5—came by to pet Beth’s Seeing Eye dog Whitney, who was off harness. He told us about his dog. Pointing to Gus, he asked whether “that guy broke his knee.” After some back and forth, we surmised that his grandma had “broke her” knee and had been in a wheelchair, hence the question.

Our new buddy eventually returned to the playground, and we walked Gus back home. We said our goodbyes. It was a good visit.

When he first moved away, we’d stay longer, and usually stay overnight to see him again the next morning. Things changed when we realized: He’s happy to see us, but really, he’s got his own life now. Not like our contemporary’s kids—who are going off to college, starting careers and such. But it’s his life nonetheless. He’s happy to see us, we’re happy to see him. It’s our normal.

Always, I wish we lived closer than the 2-1/2 hour drive we have, so we could just drop by when we felt like it.

But always, I leave grateful that he has a home. That he’s done just fine out of our house. There have been glitches, sure, but there were glitches when he lived with us. We didn’t get everything right.

There was a time when I thought I could never let him live elsewhere. To trust him to the world. That’s what all parents have to do. In that way, Beth and I are like all parents who watch their kids leave. Except we’re not. Of course we’re not.

Years ago Beth, in her infinite wisdom, arranged for me to talk to another father who’d thought the same way about his son as I did—no one can take care of Gus like we can. Like I can. And that father ended up hitting an inevitable wall.

That helped me see ahead, and realize, I needed to learn to trust Gus to the world. For me, for Beth, and for him. So far the world’s doing a good job.

*Back to me, Beth. Every family living with a person who has a disability faces unique challenges. Early detection and intervention are the essential first steps, but there is also an urgent need for increased funding and services for children once they grow up. A number of our Easter Seals affiliates offer services for adults with disabilities, and you can search here to find out if the Easter Seals near you is one of them.