An Accessible Way to Watch Super Bowl LII

A football on a football fieldI’m not much of a football fan. I am, however, a huge fan of new assistive technology, especially when you can try it out for free. So that’s why I’m going to attend AIRA’S Virtual Super Bowl party this Sunday

Aira calls itself a “visual interpreter for the blind,” and on Sunday Greg Stilson, a football fan who is blind will be at the game in Minneapolis sporting wearable smart glasses with an embedded video camera. Trained and certified AIRA agents who aren’t even at the game will use smartphone and portable WiFi hotspot technology to describe what’s in front of Greg remotely in real-time. Here’s how the AIRA web site describes it:

The trained agents see the world through the smart glass worn by the customer and describe the view. They respond to requests for information from the user, working at a specially-designed dashboard that efficiently connects to information via the video camera, GPS, and other sources of data.

Usually you need to subscribe to AIRA to connect with their trained sighted guides to have them describe stuff for you through their special glasses, but You don’t need to be an Aira subscriber to listen in this Sunday. Anyone can join the party starting at 6:00 p.m. ET by doing any of the following:

  1. Call 1-877-568-4108 and enter passcode 536-565-714
  2. Listen to the webcast
  3. Listen on YouTube
  4. Listen on Facebook Live.

If you want to let AIRA know about your Super Bowl experience, you can tweet them at @airaio on gameday using #airabowl.


What One Dad Learned From the ‘Welcome to Holland’ Poem

Guest blogger Keith Hammond is back! Keith is a manager at the adult day services program at Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati, and he’s the father of two children on the autism spectrum. He’s written a number of poignant posts for us before, and I’m delighted to have him back with another one.

by Keith Hammond

A father reading a child a book on a park benchMy wife and I have two children with autism. When you have children with a disability, this means many things. It almost certainly means you have friends, perhaps even family, who have children that are developing typically. The typically developing children are just what you expected to have, but don’t.

I meet many families who have a child who is just receiving an autism diagnosis. Having been new to the world of autism myself at one point, I know the natural tendency is to compare yourself and your children to your friends and their typically developing children. Sadness, depression and a deep feeling of loss are the natural results of these comparisons. You can sink into sorrow as if it were quicksand.

At some point, and maybe New Year’s is that starting point, you have to resolve not to compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy. Comparison steals the joy when your child accomplishes something positive, like a pickpocket grabs your wallet or purse. It only keeps you from fully appreciating the special things your child has to offer.

Let’s say your child with autism accomplishes something a decade after a typically developing child would have. Be proud and happy — your child worked that much harder for their achievement.

Obviously this is all very easy to say. Just as it’s easy to say your resolution is to lose weight, we all know people who say it and never lose a pound. I have no easy answers for anyone, but early on when my children were diagnosed, I remember someone sharing a poem with me written by Emily Perl Kingsley called Welcome to Holland. It’s a quick read, and a very poignant one, as well.

The poem compares having a typical child with having a child with a disability. The former is referred to as Italy, and the latter is Holland. You plan your whole life for a trip to Italy, and the plane lands and…you’re in Holland. And you live in Holland the rest of your life.

The learning of the poem is that if you just give Holland a chance, it’s a pretty neat place. They have tulips, they have windmills, and all sorts of fine and unique things that make Holland a special place. Likewise, your children have many unique characteristics and gifts that you can enjoy if you immerse yourself in them.

The poem acknowledges that losing Italy is still a loss. It’s the death of a dream, punctuated by your friends who constantly tell you how wonderful it is in Italy. I think at some point it helps to acknowledge you have suffered a loss, and some grief, even occasional grief, is to be expected. It helped me to know this is normal, and that this grief can be reactivated throughout your lifespan.

Right now on Facebook, I see friends of mine starting to have grandchildren. There is pain in the knowledge that grandparenting may not be my fate, though, hopefully, tinged with some joy for my friends. You don’t want to dwell excessively on these things, but some acknowledgement that it hurts a little isn’t such a bad thing, particularly if it helps you move on.

Another available comfort is that you’re not alone. Many families in your community face the same issues, perhaps worse than you do. Back in the day, the only time you’d run into these folks was at therapy appointments or support group meetings. Now, with social media and smart phones, you can stay in touch with kindred spirits as frequently as you like. There is strength in numbers and many times you can lift each other out of the pits of despair. That’s the cool part I’ve enjoyed about Holland: you meet a lot of nice people there, people you may have never met otherwise. Excuse me while I start up, “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”

More posts on disability and parenting from Keith:


Oh, the Places You Will Go:  Bridging the Gap Between Transportation and Youth Transition

by Judy L. Shanley, Ph.D.

A mentor and menteeIt is no secret that mentorship is important for young people. But only one in three youth in the United States currently has a mentor (Mentor, The National Mentoring Project). These numbers are even lower for youth with disabilities.

It is also no secret that mobility and transportation options are important  for youth to transition from high school to work, college, and the community. Yet little support (like mentorship) is provided to youth to enhance their engagement as decision-makers in transportation planning.

For this purpose, Easterseals, in cooperation with Partners for Youth with Disabilities, established the Transportation Advocacy and Mentoring Initiative (TAMI) project.

TAMI paired youth with disabilities from Massachusetts with  mentors from the MI PEAC Program. This mentorship program aimed to help youth with disabilities become active participants in planning and advocating for mobility and transportation services in their communities.

The mentoring pairs shared information about transportation options, barriers, solutions, and communication channels to influence transportation planning. The project also introduced youth with disabilities to careers in the transportation industry including mobility management.  Data collected before and after the participation of youth in TAMI indicated that mentoring positively influenced youth knowledge about mobility challenges and options and increased confidence in their ability to use their voices to influence transportation and mobility services.

Findings from TAMI and descriptions of the materials and strategies used will be shared in an upcoming national Webinar. Join us to learn how mentorship, transportation, and more can aid youth with disabilities in their transition into adulthood.

Leveraging Peer Mentoring Strategies to Increase Transportation Advocacy among Young Adults with Disabilities: Results from the Transportation Advocacy Mentoring Initiative

Thursday, February 15, 2018 from 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM (EST)

Register Here.

The Transportation Advocacy and Mentoring Initiative (TAMI)is supported through a grant from the Administration for Community Living and the Community Transportation Association of America. For more information about TAMI please contact Judy Shanley at 312-551-7227.

More posts about accessible transportation:


Accessibility and Fashion: Are Designers Starting to Listen?

In the foreground: A laptop with a jacket design on the screen. In the background: A design studio.Last summer Erin Hawley hosted a Thrive disability and fashion chat on what it means to be a fashionista in a society that doesn’t always consider the accessibility of clothing and style. In a post Erin wrote after the chat, she urged designers to consider accessibility as an integral part of their design process, and you know what? The designers are starting to listen.

Recently TED published a talk by fashion designer Mindy Scheier. She’d put in years of work in the fashion industry at the INC collection and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City before her son was born. Oliver was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at birth, and the degenerative disorder makes it difficult for him to dress himself or wear clothing with buttons or zippers.

When Oliver started school, Mindy and her husband dressed Oliver in sweatpants and a t-shirt for school every day — it was the easiest thing to do. But then one afternoon Oliver came home from school demanding he wear jeans to school like all the other kids.

Mindy stayed up the entire night reconfiguring a pair of jeans for Oliver — opening up the legs to accommodate his leg braces and replacing the zipper and button with a rubber band. The smile on her eight-year-old son’s face as he headed off to school the next morning inspired her to start designing for people who have a hard time getting dressed. And that eventually led to Runway of Dreams, the non-profit she launched to educate the fashion industry about the needs of differently abled people. “Rather than designing my own collection, I knew if I was really going to make a difference, I had to go mainstream,” she says in her talk. “I believed that I just needed to educate the industry of the enormity of this population and the fact that these were consumers that simply weren’t being considered.”

And Tommy Hilfiger listened. When Runway of Dreams collaborated with Tommy Hilfiger, they took Mindy Scheier’s vision to market, making fashion history by launching the first mainstream adaptive collection: Tommy Adaptive.

“And the rest is yet to come,” she says, updating listeners on her son:

Today, Oliver is 13. He wears his adaptive khakis, his magnetic button-front shirt — he feels like the coolest kid around. My boy has total swagger.


Watch: What Life Looks Like From a Seeing Eye Dog’s Perspective

Click on the video to take a walk with me from my Seeing Eye dog Whitney’s point of view. 

I’m working with my fourth Seeing Eye dog now, and I’ve loved — and marveled at — each one. In order:

  1. Dora, a female Black Lab
  2. Hanni, a female Black Lab/Golden Retriever cross
  3. Harper, a male Yellow Lab
  4. Whitney, the 8-year-old female Yellow Lab/Golden Retriever cross who works with me now

I’ve long wished that everyone could see these heroic dogs get me past the tricky, nuanced things we come across every single day. Like getting in just the right position to let me buckle the harness, finding elevator buttons in our hallway, weaving through crowds on sidewalks, slowing down ever so gently when there’s a broken sidewalk or a heave in the pavement, those sorts of things.

And now, you can!

About a year and a half ago, a friend showed my husband Mike how a GoPro Hero camera works. A GoPro camera? “Yeah, people mount them on their heads when they do things like hang-glide, you know, or ride a motorcycle, whatever,” Mike said, explaining how GoPros can be mounted on drones, too. “They make really cool videos.”

As Mike explained all this out loud to me, it occurred to him that he might be able to mount the Hero on our hero dog Whitney. “We could get a dog’s eye view of what it’s like to be a guide dog!” It only took a little Googling to discover, sure enough, Hero sells a harness to attach a GoPro to a dog collar.

Our friend John was generous enough to loan us his GoPro Hero, and in 2016 we mounted the camera on my Seeing Eye dog. Whitney didn’t like wearing it very much, and the camera rocked back and forth as Whitney walked. There was no way to stabilize the camera, so we kept the walk short.

The video spent a year-and-a-half sitting on Mike’s laptop. He ran across it again over this past holiday break, and when he popped it open, the video was a lot better than he’d remembered. He did some editing, added some explanatory captions, and now, here it is, for you to admire!

The video covers a typical walk Whitney and I take around our neighborhood. It ended up longer than we thought — 14 minutes, to be exact — but I hope you’ll give it a look.


Message From the New CEO: A Look Ahead

Angela F. Williams

Easterseals and its clients nationwide reached incredible milestones in 2017! Our entire network strengthened its resolve to protect services for people with disabilities while expanding programs that impacted the lives of nearly 1.5 million people with disabilities including veterans and seniors, as well as their families.

Seeing these successes reaffirms how vital it is that Easterseals continues to make a lasting difference in people’s lives. Because we were there for them, our clients were able to achieve their goals – and set new ones. As we begin 2018, we are inspired and committed to create even more opportunities to assure that people with disabilities, including veterans and seniors, can live, learn, work and play in their communities.

As I join Easterseals’ national office as its President and Chief Executive Officer, I am honored and privileged to lead this life-changing organization, especially as we prepare to celebrate our 100th Anniversary in 2019. The need for Easterseals has never been greater! More people today are living with disability. As the nation’s leading disabilities advocate and service provider, we are driven to achieve our vision of a world that embraces and values people with disabilities – and one that assures they have access to the services and supports they need in their communities to reach their full potential.

I look forward to sharing our plans, work and successes with you in this blog throughout the coming months. I also welcome hearing the ways in which Easterseals could help you and the ones you care for.

Until then, as one of my first official acts as President and CEO, I testified  Thursday, January 18th to the House Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs. As a veteran, I am proud to share with Congress the impact that Easterseals is making in the lives of homeless veterans, delivering employment services for which we are distinguished, to help them find meaningful employment – often the first step in successful reintegration to their communities. In partnership with other community-based organizations, as well as the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA), Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Labor (DOL), Easterseals is a leader at the national and local levels in responding to the needs of veterans and their families – and the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program about which I testified is just one example of the impact we’re honored to make in the lives of our nation’s heroes. I hope you watch my testimony here.

I look forward to getting to know you better. Together, I know we can make a difference!

Learn more about our new President and CEO here


Beam Us Up, Scottie: The Future is Here

An iPad next to an iPhone against a marble background“Alexa, desk light on.”

The bedside lamp clicks on and illuminates my room in a warm glow. So begins my day as a disabled woman assisted by smart tech. From the moment I wake up, technology makes daily tasks easier for me and my caretakers.

I’m old enough to remember when cell phones were huge, gray blocks with a long antenna. When I was a kid, the internet was not a staple in homes or in public spaces. Controlling the lights in my room with only my voice, and communicating with people via voice-to-text and FaceTime was something I thought could only happen on Star Trek.

Alexa is Amazon’s version of Siri, a voice-activated digital assistant that can link with smart devices like light switches and other electronic items. Alexa is also paired to my phone, and I can easily turn lights on and off either by saying a command aloud or tapping the iPhone screen. I also use Alexa to stream music, read the latest news, make phone calls, order pizza (if I’m so inclined), and turn on my space heater. There are many other tasks she can perform that I haven’t tried out yet — Amazon is constantly adding new features.

Alexa’s formal name is the Amazon Dot, and Google has released a similar device called Google Home Mini. The Dot is an Amazon product and is extremely tied in with Amazon and all its services, and the Mini is tied into Google.

The advance smart home technologies highlighted at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) made Star Trek seem like a reality show. From refrigerators with large touch screens that tell you if you’re running low on milk to voice-controlled showers and bathtubs, CES 2018 showed us devices that could greatly benefit disabled individuals and their caretakers.

Someone with chronic pain won’t have to move as much to reach faucets or switches. Voice reminders and automated grocery lists can help those with memory loss. Mentally ill folks can activate calming music or order food without using up many figurative spoons. Smart tech can radically change the lives of disabled people, and the impact can be great.

You may have noticed my use of the word “can” in the previous sentence. I say it “can radically change,” rather than it does or it will, because these smart devices are usually a financial impossibility for disabled folks living on Social Security (SSI) wages. I would even say the smart refrigerator, for instance, is out-of-reach for most middle-class families. Amazon’s Echo is on the affordable end, but you then have to purchase smart plugs to get the most out of its accessibility features. I’m guessing costs related to the Google Mini are similar.

I worry that, as technology advances, the financial disparity when it comes to disabled people will leave them unable to keep up. Accessibility also means affordability. So often we can’t access the tools to improve our lives because they are behind a paywall.

What’s the solution? It’s complex. It involves looking at the very foundation of our sociopolitical system. But I think it’s a conversation that needs to happen if we are to see this tech available to all, especially those who are disabled.

More posts about technology and accessibility:


Breaking Barriers: Dr. King’s Speech Lives In Me

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

by Vilissa Thompson

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was a pivotal moment for the Civil Rights Movement, and has influenced generations long after that historical moment on the National Mall.  To watch videos and view photographs from that day and to hear his strong voice declare the dream he had for this country truly sends chills down one’s spine.  Dr. King was a masterful speaker, and that speech solidified his importance to not only civil rights, but being considered a leader throughout the world because his message was universal to all.

Growing up post-Civil Rights Movement era, I learned from an early age how significant Dr. King’s legacy was to not only African Americans, but to all Americans who fought tirelessly to ensure that all people had the same basic human rights.  Dr. King’s speech showed us that it’s okay to dream of a world that may not exist at that moment.  During that time, African Americans, women, people with disabilities, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and the poor were fighting for a place at the table of equality when they’ve been historically denied, discriminated against, and mistreated because of what and who they were.

Dr. King’s speech told us that dreaming is the way for us to envision a world that, if we work together, can become reality.  Dr. King’s speech was for equal rights and opportunities of everyone; to be judged by the content of your character and not from what made you different from your neighbor or the majority.  Though Dr. King did not his dream take form during his lifetime, we have been fortunate to experience his dream 50 years later.  Though there still remains a long path for us to travel for all to be judged by our character alone, the fact that Dr. King’s speech helped us to begin on that path is undeniable.

Dr. King’s speech lives in me as I make my way to fight for equal opportunities and justice for people with disabilities in America and abroad.  Being a triple minority – African American, female, and disabled – I know that there are obstacles in my path because of the prejudices that some hold about the groups I’m a member of.  Being aware of those prejudices doesn’t make me anger; it makes me proactive and passionate about spearheading change.

I’m proactive about getting the voices of minorities and women with disabilities into the consciousness of society.

I’m proactive about being politically active so that I can demand that those who serve as politicians hear the voices of the voiceless in our society.

I’m passionate about shattering glass ceilings of what disability looks like by pursuing my education, being an entrepreneur, being politically involved, being an aspiring children’s picture book author, and ensuring that my voice and experiences are heard and respected.

I’m passionate about being a leader and history maker, and not being viewed as a victim because I’m disabled.  I’m only a victim if I believe that’s what I am.  I want to urge others to view themselves as powerful and as victors because no one can take away your importance or power without your permission.

Needless to say, Dr. King’s dream resonates deeply within me and the work that I set forth to do.  How does Dr. King’s dream live within you?  I would love to hear your own accounts of what today’s remembrance of the speech and march on Washington means to you and your dreams.

Vilissa Thompson is a macro-minded social worker from South Carolina. Ramp Your Voice! is her organization where she discusses the issues that matters to her as a Black disabled woman, including intersectionality, racism, politics, and why she unapologetically makes good trouble.
Twitter: @VilissaThompson, @RampYourVoice, & @WheelDealPod


An Accessible Evening At the Movies: Part 2

Here’s Alicia Krage, back with Part Two of her post about the challenges and joys of going to the movies with your boyfriend…when neither of you can see.

by Alicia Krage

Alicia and Joe sitting side by side on a beige couch

Alicia (left) and Joe (right)

We’d arrived very early at the theater, so we had time to sit in our seats, talk for a while and munch on our popcorn. It was about ten minutes before showtime when Joe decided we didn’t have enough popcorn to make it through the movie. He insisted we needed a refill.

I’d never done that on my own before, and neither had Joe.

The two of us spent a good five minutes bantering back and forth about how to make this happen, who was going to go get the refill, did either of us remember exactly where the concession stand was, should we go together, or does one of us need to stay back to save our seats.

And then, all of a sudden, I got this idea. I still had the number we called from the bus on our way there. How about we call them? By then the previews (not movie previews, but the weird entertainment stuff they have beforehand), had already started. Would anyone be around to answer? Even if they did, these previews are loud, would they even hear us over the phone? If they answer, what should we ask for? How could they help us? Who should make the phone call? Me? Or Joe? And do we really, really need a refill?

What can I say? My boyfriend is very persistent. So I called the theater and explained what seats we were in. “We’re both blind,” I explained. “And we need assistance.”

The voice on the phone was the same friendly voice I heard when I called earlier from the bus on our way to the theater. And you know what? It worked! Within a few minutes someone was there and more than happy to refill our popcorn for us.

Now, let’s get to the movie. I can confidently say now it is one of my all-time favorites, but don’t worry: there are no spoilers.

In case you didn’t know, though, this movie is based on a novel called Wonder. It was written by R.J. Palacio and tells the story of August Polman, a boy who was born with facial differences. Augie had been homeschooled up until fifth grade, so in the movie he was starting public school for the first time.

The audio description Joe and I listened to in our headsets during the movie was amazing — they even described what Augie’s face looks like. While watching the movie I felt very fortunate that I was never bullied in school for being blind. But Wonder is not just about looks. It’s an inspirational film about accepting who you are, and accepting others, too. Nobody is perfect, and we need to see beneath the surface.

I was so moved by the movie that I was actually crying when the employee came to escort us out when it was over. Joe took the employee’s arm, I took Joe’s hand, and off we went.

As the three of us exited the theater side-by-side-by-side, the employee asked, “Did you enjoy the movie?” The humor in his voice told me he’d noticed I was crying. I smiled and wiped my eyes. “I did!” I said, a little embarrassed by my tears. “It was my second time seeing it. Have you seen it?”

By then I was back to my enthusiastic self — although I’m sure my face didn’t look very enthusiastic. He said he hadn’t seen it yet, and I recommended it to him. I love chatting with people as they’re guiding me (or both of us, in this case). I don’t like to walk in silence.

While Joe and I waited for our bus home, he kept talking about how much he loved the movie, but of course he also took up right where the theater employee had left off, teasing me about crying during the film. All in all, though? It was a wonderful experience!

More posts from Alicia:

7 Advantages of Being Blind

How One Student Who is Blind Planned the Perfect Date

“Dating someone who is blind is honestly not as hard as it sounds”


The Top 10 Easterseals Blog Posts of 2017

Easterseals national logoFrom beginning to end, 2017 was a year packed with landmark moments, inspiring stories, impactful advocacy, and more! Throughout it all we’ve had thoughtful and insightful blog posts from a wide range of perspectives on topics relevant and important to all that happened this year. Check out the most read blog posts of 2017 and let us know in the comments what you’d like to see us writing about in 2018!

1. Stricter Rule for Service Dogs Goes Against the ADA

2. Losing Friends to Ableism

3. Medicaid is My Lifeline

4. Hamilton to be Sued for Accessibility, But is it Reasonable?

5. Asperger’s and Employment: What I Wish I Knew Then

6. What Happens When My Thought Process is Interrupted

7. A Group for Adults with Disabilities Gathers for Fun, Friendship

8. These 68 Companies Score High When It Comes to Disability Inclusion

9. How Asperger’s Syndrome is Like a Checkered Flag

10. Here’s Who Loses Out if Medicaid Funding is Cut