100 veterans and counting!

Randall Rutta and S. California affiliate at Padres baseball game (Photo credit: Sandy Huffaker)

Easter Seals President and CEO Randall Rutta (2nd from the right) at the Padres game (Photo credit: Sandy Huffaker)

Earlier this week I returned from a trip to Southern California, where I had the privilege to connect with Delores and Bob Hope’s granddaughter Miranda Hope and join her in celebrating the 100th veteran to obtain employment through Easter Seals.

Less than two years ago, the Bob and Delores Hope Foundation invested in Easter Seals’ efforts to support veterans with securing employment, creating the Easter Seals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program. In partnership with Easter Seals Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services, Easter Seals Southern California has in that time helped 100 veterans to secure jobs and supported nearly twice that number with job-readiness, transition to education, and relocation.

This exciting program milestone was celebrated by CVS Health and Easter Seals last Monday, where Mike Brotherton pitched the first ball in a Padres-Mets game. While he successfully threw a fast, straight pitch directly into the catcher’s mitt, things didn’t go as well for the Padres.

Five hundred CVS Health associates attended the game, raising $5,000 for Easter Seals’ veterans employment services. Regional CVS Health executives Hank Casillas and Doug Palmieri joined Easter Seals Southern California CEO Mark Whitley, Veteran Program Director John Funk, Miranda Hope, and me on the field for the check presentation and a shout out to Easter Seals for our work with veterans and their families.

It was a proud night for our CVS Health partners, the Hope Family and Easter Seals, and you can find out more from the local NBC story about Mike and Easter Seals veterans employment program.

My thanks to all of you Easter Seals blog followers for your enthusiasm for Easter Seals’ support of the military and veterans communities. We are truly making a difference for the men and women that have so bravely and selflessly served our nation.

 

Accessible beaches around the world

Beach with straw umbrellasSummer’s here, and for lots of us, that means fun at the beach. But what if you — or the people you travel with — use a wheelchair? Easter Seals is featuring information on accessible beaches in the United States, but I thought I’d share a great post that mentions cities around the world that have great beaches.

It’s a post from a wheelchair travel blog called CurbFree with Cory Lee, in which he suggested ten with, he thinks, have the most accessible beaches in the world:

  1. Pattaya Beach Resort, Thailand
  2. Virginia Beach, Virginia
  3. Rehab Point in Oxnard, California
  4. Sirens Resort, Loutraki, Greece
  5. Freedom Shores, Isla Aguada, Mexico
  6. Hanauma Bay, Hawaii
  7. Cancun, Mexico
  8. Key Largo, Florida
  9. Manly Beach, Australia
  10. Tuscany, Italy

The CurbFree with Cory Lee post links to each beach he chose, and the post goes into detail about why they made his Top Ten list. Cory is one tour guide you can trust on such things — he’s a travel expert who uses a wheelchair himself.

Cory concedes that while he thinks the ten beaches and resorts on his list are the best, they are by no means the only accessible beaches in the world. “The only way to find the others is for you to continue traveling,” he says. “You never know what undiscovered gem you might find waiting for you in a small corner of the world.”

Check out our list of accessible beaches in the United States.

 

Aging out: A young man with autism travels home

Ben-Karen-wave

Ben

I’ve been keeping tabs on a story that I listened to on National Public Radio about the decision David Royko and his wife made to move their son, who has autism, to the Oconomowoc Developmental Training Center (ODTC) in Wisconsin when he was 12 years old. The segment was titled “Unconditional Love” and originally aired on the award-winning radio show This American Life.

Ben aged out of the ODTC when he turned 18 and moved to the Monarch School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Ben turns 22 on July 30 this year, so now these parents need to transition their son back to his home state. This excerpt from a post David Royko wrote last month on his blog about Ben is an honest account of a father’s concern for his extraordinary son:

We don’t know Ben’s degree of understanding what’s coming. We talk with him a lot about moving back to Illinois, seeing Mom and Dad more often and his brother and his aunts and uncles and cousins, and the long, long drive he’ll get coming back. He seems happy when we talk about it. I just don’t think he really knows what’s coming…

Ben-Woods

Ben

Later on in the post, David Royko questions what is best for his son. “We don’t know if this will be different, though it won’t be the first time he’s done this, so he might understand a bit,” he writes. “But really, would that be better or worse for him? Always more questions than answers.”

Transitions are emotionally draining for parents and children with disabilities, especially when everything is so unknown — short term, medium term, long term.

Those of you facing a new transition with a child who has autism might find reading these honest assessments from a loving father very helpful. And if you missed the This American Life radio essay about Ben’s original transition from his home in the Chicago suburbs to the facility in Wisconsin, you can still hear it online.

 

4 fantastic books about disability for your child’s summer reading list

RevisedChapter4PanelsIf you missed the post Cece Bell wrote for us last month about her reasons for writing her graphic novel El Deafo, by all means, read that post now! CeCe’s guest post is terrific, and so is her book.

When I introduced CeCe Bell’s guest post, I explained that El Deafo is a loose biographical account of her childhood living with deafness, and that the book had won a Newbery honor this year. What I didn’t explain was just how big an honor that is —
El Deafo was one of only two Newbery honor books this year (Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming was the other one).

CeCe Bell’s El Deafo is near and dear to my heart. It portrays the strength and confidence that can come with using supports to learn, and it brings a positive message that assistive technology of all kinds – like the talking computer I am using right now to compose this post — can be empowering.

A Boy and a Jaguar book coverThe Schneider Family Book Awards, which honor an author or illustrator for the artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences, were named at the same time El Deafo won the Newberry honor. Recipients of the Schneider Family award are selected in three categories: birth through grade school (ages 0–8), middle school (ages 9–13) and teens (ages 14–18). I’ll list this year’s Schneider winnners here so you can add them to El Deafo on your summer reading lists.

  • A Boy and a Jaguar, written by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by Catia Chien, won the award for young children. It’s a book about Alan Rabinowitz, a boy who felt alienated due to his uncontrollable stutter. Relief comes when he speaks to animals, and he vows to be their voice and keep them from harm.

 

  • Rain Reign, written by Ann M. Martin, won the award for best middle school title. Rose is a young girl on the autism spectrum, and when a superstorm causes a tumult to her life (and the lives of people in her community) she has to make a courageous choice.

 

  • Girls Like Us, written by Gail Giles, won the teen award. Biddy and Quincy, two teens with intellectual disabilities, complete their high school’s special education program and then are placed as roommates – to Biddy’s delight and Quincy’s horror. They find out they have a lot to learn about life from each other — including a sense of family.

Happy reading!

Related Resources on easterseals.com:

We’ve curated storytelling apps that’ll help keep your kids sharp and engaged this summer — and these apps are great for nonverbal children, too!

 

The best supports I had after becoming disabled

Beth and Whitney, racking up the stepsDC Matthews @macdoodled left a comment on twitter about a post I wrote last week about visual art. In the post, I’d said “I lost my sight in my 20s, and one thing that helped me adjust was figuring out what I could still enjoy.” DC Matthews @macdoodled responded by asking:

Were you able to get slowly acclimated & not lose housing & safety net? Many injured/other disabled lose all and get less SSI /Medical. I think if we compare experiences we can see how better supports makes people more able and have far less losses.

My answer is yes. I was very fortunate — I acclimated slowly, and was able to do so without losing my housing or a safety net. I received so many services and so much emotional support from friends and family that I could write a book.

Wait a second. I did!

No one was more surprised than I was when my memoir, Long Time, No See got published. I lost my job when I lost my sight. I was depressed, but I couldn’t afford to see a counselor, and writing was therapeutic. So I wrote.

I’d kept journals while undergoing eye surgeries. When the surgeries failed, my husband got a no-interest loan from some of those supportive friends I mentioned above and bought me a talking computer. My husband has continued supporting me both emotionally and financially — we’ve been married 30 years now.

I used my new talking computer to continue journaling, but those journal pieces weren’t initially written with a book in mind. Writing was simply cheap therapy. When those supportive friends of mine suggested I write a book, though, I started checking out the competition.

My blog post last Friday described BARD, the free audio book program the Library of Congress provides for people who are blind or have physical disabilities that prevent them from reading print. I got signed up for BARD while I was still in the hospital recovering from eye surgeries, and once home I started listening to audio books written by authors who were blind.

Most had either found God or performed amazing feats, like sailing across the Atlantic alone. I’d done neither. Was there room for a book by an nonathletic pagan who’d lost her sight?

I decided to find out. A book project, I reasoned, would force me to finally gather my cassettes, floppy discs and other computer journal entries together in one place. And if I managed to get published, maybe I could parlay my literary success into a career of some sort.

I received Social Security while I worked on the book and went to a residential facility in Chicago for free rehabilitative services to learn Braille, daily living skills and orientation and mobility. A few years later I trained for four weeks with a guide dog at the Seeing Eye school in New Jersey for a month, all for the nominal fee of $100 (they let me pay in 20 five-dollar monthly installments). That Seeing Eye dog changed my life, and so did the other blind people I met during the training there. Nearly all of them were working –some of them were professors, attorneys, social workers –and they served as living examples of how life could still be meaningful and fulfilling without sight.

All to say that various supports can make all the difference with transitioning into this, well, this new way of life, and you really can come out okay on the other side. Whether it’s knowing where to learn about programs and resources, or accessing the family and friends who can help, the transition will undoubtedly be hard work. For me, at least, it was well worth the effort.

Related Resources:

If you’re a young women with a disability and looking for support, as Beth was, try logging on to Easter Seals Thrive, an online community for young women with physical and mental disabilities.

 

This free kit helps kids with disabilities with air travel

airplane parked at airportMemorial Day was so early this year it caught me by surprise. If it’s summer already, I better get ready for vacations!

The Autism Program of Illinois, Have Dreams and The Hope Institute for Children and Families have come together to create aviation accessibility kits they say could make the trip from ticket counter, through security, on to the gate and into the air easier for people with disabilities.

The kits lay out the steps involved in moving through an airport in words and pictures. They were made with the help of the Chicago Department of Aviation but are intended for use at many other airports across the country. The site also has links to a medical accessibility kit and library accessibility kits.

You can download the aviation accessibility kits here for free – check them out!

 

A free Library of Congress resource got me through tough times

Books stackedOn Wednesday we published a post I wrote about an accomodation that doesn’t work so well for me — how about today I write about one that does?!

When doctors told me I might lose my sight completely, my main concern was how I’d survive without being able to read. Library of Congress Talking Book Program to the rescue. My eyes were patched while I was in the hospital recovering from eye surgeries, and a social worker brought in a big plastic box, the size — and weight — of a Chicago phone book. “A special tape recorder,” she explained. “They’re free, from the Library of Congress.”

That tape recorder saved my life.

The Library of Congress provided me with free books on tape in the hospital. Listening to books was my escape from the medical tests, the pain, all the bad news.

In the end, the surgeries didn’t work. I lugged the Library of Congress tape recorder from the hospital with me and arranged to have books on tape mailed to me at home. Had it not been for audio books, I might have given up completely.

Thirty years later, I am a blogger, a teacher and a published author. I get around Chicago with the help of a lovable Seeing Eye dog. I’m happily married, and Mike and I are the proud parents of a 28-year-old grown son.

But I still need an escape every once in a while. That over-sized tape recorder from the Library of Congress has been replaced by a digital device the size of a candy bar. I download books rather than waiting for cassettes in the mail, and these days (thanks to all of you sighted people who listen to audio books now, too!) books are available in audio versions the same time they’re published in print.

I listen to books while I fold laundry, unload the dishwasher, and travel by train to the presentations I give. My digital device slips easily under my pillow to read me to sleep at night, too.

I read more books now than I did when I could see. Talking books saved my life 30 years ago, and I still rely on them to keep me amused, alert and alive.

What outlet helped you get through some tough times? Share with is in the comments below.

 

Can you visualize art with a 3-D version when you can’t see?

prado4-5-25-15_wide-b6253ed44f3b9d68e76679bb4086e7b54fc003ee-s700-c85

A blind visitor at Spain’s Prado museum. (Ignacio Hernando Rodriguez/Courtesy of Prado Museum)

Yesterday National Public Radio’s Morning Edition show ran a special feature about how Spain’s famous Prado Museum has made 3-D copies of some works in its collection so that people who are blind can feel them.

Ho hum.

The Art Institute of Chicago has been doing this for years. They provide 3-D and 2-D representations of some of the most renowned works in their collection, and these “TacTiles” are meant to help people who can’t see interpret the artwork. I got a special one-on-one tour of the Art Institute’s special programs once from Lucas Livingston (Assistant Director of Senior Programs at the Art Institute) and the poor guy had his work cut out for him.

At best, I’m ambivalent about these special programs. I credit museums and theaters and institutions for trying. I really do. And some special accommodations–like the advance tour before plays at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre here in Chicago — have truly enriched my experience.

That’s me and my Seeing Eye dog Harper with our Steppenwolf hosts during the on-stage touch tour of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Me, my Seeing Eye dog Harper and our gracious Steppenwolf hosts Hilary and Malcolm, on stage during the touch tour for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

But when it comes to static, visual art, none of the special services I’ve tried have been particularly satisfying or enlightening.

My tour at the Art Institute began with four busts in the Elizabeth Morse Touch gallery, each made of bronze and marble from different time periods and locations so I could compare medium and style. The touch gallery was created with blind people in mind (each bust is labeled in both large type and Braille) but anyone can go in there and touch them. The Art Institute website suggests that through touch, visitors can “discern an artwork’s form, scale, temperature, and texture in ways that sight cannot.”

Hands might be good at judging temperature and texture, but my experience during my Art Institute tour did not convince me that one can discern form and scale any better with the sense of touch than with sight.

From there, Lucas guided my Seeing eye dog and me over to a gallery to take in Renoir’s “Two Sisters”, one of five masterpieces represented by a TacTile — two-dimensional tiles (each one about the size of an iPad) that represent a painting and include a description of the piece in large font print and Braille. It wasn’t until we got to the Medieval to Modern European Art gallery that Lucas remembered, uh-oh, “Two Sisters” was gone!

I can’t remember if Lucas said “Two Sisters”was being cleaned or lent to another museum, but after he got over his initial embarrassment, we both had to laugh. I didn’t need the painting there anyways. I stood where it used to hang and felt the textured tile while Lucas described “Two Sisters” from memory.

We had better luck finding the other paintings represented by TacTiles, but the Two Sisters experience left me wondering. What was the point of going to where the painting was? Maybe to hear what people around you are saying about the art? The day of my tour happened to have been a slow day, though. We were the only ones at each of the paintings I felt my way through.

Lucas told me that with 3D printing more accessible now, the Art Institute might create 3D printed pieces in addition to the TacTiles. They already have 3D replicas of some of the sculpture in the museum, and when we got to a statue of Buddha, Lucas placed a 3D replica in my hand. “What’s the antenna coming out of the top of his head?” I asked. It was a flame. At another Asian exhibit, everything was behind glass. Lucas placed a small bronze container in my hand, I guessed it was a cup, but it was a bell. “One of our interns here made it,” Lucas said, explaining that the intern worked in bronze and had cast a replica of an antique bell that was behind the glass we were standing in front of.

Adapting visual artwork for the blind, curating special tactile art exhibits, creating 3-D renditions of popular pieces of art. Good people have gone to such great lengths to help visually impaired people enjoy the art, that it can leave me feeling guilty when I don’t. For me, the simple truth is that the sense of touch is nothing like the sense of sight. Touch is too particular. Whether it be a bust I can touch, a TacTile, or a 3-D rendition, I can only touch one tiny bit of the artwork at a time. It’s just not the same as when I could glance at a piece of art. My interpretation is limited to a part of the piece that’s just one fingertip wide.

I lost my sight in my 20s, and one thing that helped me adjust was figuring out what I could still enjoy (I can’t ride my bike anymore, but I still ride a tandem; I don’t enjoy movies much now, but I can go to live theater, where the emphasis is more on dialogue than special effects) and things I shouldn’t bother with (I can’t see art, so I don’t go to art museums). The Art Institute of Chicago offers audio art guides for free for visitors who are blind or with low vision and their escorts, but the idea of paying to get into a museum so I can walk around listening to a monologue isn’t appealing to me.

I don’t speak for all blind people–and because I used to be able to see, my experience is probably substantially different than someone who has been without sight their entire lifetime. I can imagine the experience of helping someone who has never been able to see to conceptualize. Or maybe if someone has a visual impairment but can still see a little bit, the “tactile” will help complete the picture for them. But not for me.

 

5 ways summer camp fosters kids’ healthy development

Horseback-riding at an Easter Seals campJune is only 10 — count them, 10 — days away! That means our respite staff and therapists are eagerly planning activities for the four summer camps we at Easter Seals Crossroads coordinate each year, and more Easter Seals staff across the country are preparing for their summer camps, too.

Summer camp is an experience for kids of all abilities as it offers ways for them to engage in relationships, build communication skills, explore and learn through problem solving, increase playing and movement – all of which are developmental milestones.

CampAbility_11-Crossroads

Having fun at an Easter Seals summer camp

I spoke with Claire Werner, an occupational therapist at Easter Seals Crossroads, and Joelle Samples, our respite manager who maintains two of our summer camps, to find out why summer camp is so beneficial for kids with and without special needs. They gave me 5 reasons kids of all abilities should attend summer camp:

  1. Playing: Children learn from doing. At camp, they look to their left and observe what their peer is doing. Then they look to their right and observe what another peer is doing. There is a good chance that after observing behaviors, the child will participate in them as well. Seeing behaviors exhibited by peers of their age group is important. In addition, play time often incorporates sensory experiences of seeing, touching and hearing through finger painting, gross motor playing on the playground, and water play, which is often the favorite part of our summer camps!
  2. Relationships: At CampAbility, the staff-to-child ratio is primarily one-on-one. Strong and trusting relationships are formed quickly between camp staff and children. And at our week-long Gadget Camp, all the children who attend utilize augmentative communication devices. This camp environment gives them the opportunity to see other children their age use similar devices. Children begin to build relationships with others whom they see as similar to them. Proper socialization experiences provide children with an opportunity to learn from one another and to develop important life skills and friendship bonds. Values, societal norms, and cultural guidelines are learned through a lifelong process of interacting with others.
  3. Communication: Summer camp is full of activities, field trips and time spent winding down after a long day. Communication and language skills are often the invisible benefit from a child attending camp because they are communicating all day long to their peers and camp staff. Children who utilize communication boards and augmentative communication devices learn new words associated with camp activities and begin to form a vocabulary that will stay with them for life.
  4. Exploring and Learning: Camp activities stimulate a child’s desire to explore their environment and learn through new experiences. Placing hands in shaving cream, blowing bubbles, or drawing are all ways in which children begin to learn through problem solving while utilizing their senses in different ways. Sometimes children are hesitant to participate in these experiences during daily life due to sensory processing disorders, but camp provides them with the ability to explore these things at their own pace and to participate with their peers through supports as needed by the staff.
  5. Movement: Summer camp is all about enjoying the summer weather. At our Camp ROCKS, children and young adults participate in rock climbing, basketball, horseback riding, nature hikes and other fun outdoor activities at Bradford Woods. These kids may be participating in an activity for the first time and are encouraged to do so through the support of their peers and camp staff. A favored CampAbility field trip is at Center Grove High School where children interact with football players on the field to experience physical movement in new ways.

At Easter Seals, we understand the importance of identifying developmental milestones in children before the age of 5. Summer camp is a great opportunity for children to build the foundation of important developmental skills that will stay with them for their life time. Visit the Easter Seals free Ages & Stages Questionnaire to see your child’s developmental milestone progress. And check out Easter Seals nationwide camp directory today.

Related Stories and Resources:

Hear first-hand about one young teen’s first time at summer camp.

 

Hollywood Takes Action on Meaningful Employment for Vets

rob-riggle-in-easter-seals-psa

Rob Riggle in Easter Seals 2015 PSA video

I’ve heard people say that Hollywood is tough, but when the going gets tough, the tough get going. That’s certainly true of the veterans who worked on the latest public service announcement for Easter Seals Dixon Center. These men and women, who comprised most of the cast and crew, busted their chops to create an outstanding PSA that took months of prep, a 19-hour shoot day and many more weeks of post-production.

We were able to work with so many former service members because of the Easter Seals partnership with Veterans in Film and Television, a nonprofit networking organization that seeks to unite current and former members of the military working in the film and television industry. This very successful group helped us select Air Force Combat Camera Officer Jim Fabio from more than 50 directorial candidates (all veterans) and made the connections that have enabled us to hire 45 vets across all three of our PSAs.

I’m honored by the actions of retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel, actor and comedian Rob Riggle, who volunteered his time to play a leading role in the PSA as an executive interviewing a job candidate who happens to be a veteran. I’ll let the PSA speak for itself. It serves as an example of the quality work product veterans produce on a daily basis in the civilian sector, whether for their companies or communities.

This PSA became an opportunity to tangibly support our cause by offering Hollywood powerhouses an actionable connection to veterans. Two years ago, my former boss, Admiral Michael Mullen (former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) spoke at a Variety event in Hollywood. One of the audience members was award-winning director, producer and writer Judd Apatow. Judd was so impressed after hearing Admiral Mullen that he reached out to Easter Seals and asked what he might be able to do. Since then, Judd has hired multiple veterans for his productions. He also served as a mentor to our director Jim Fabio and overall advisor on this PSA.

Hollywood is often accused of being all talk, but the work done on this PSA is another instance that demonstrates just the opposite. Please take a look at the PSA. If you like it, I’d encourage you to share it on your social media sites like YouTube. Bzzz!

Watch the PSA with Rob Riggle now!