How many homeless people have a disability?

My Friend watches over me at this corner.

Every morning when I take my Seeing Eye dog out for her “constitutional” we pass the same homeless man sitting on a crate. “StreetWise!” he calls out. “Can you give a little hepp today?” StreetWise is a newspaper sold by homeless people in Chicago. The concept is that by selling StreetWise, people down on their luck might get back on their feet.

I’ve always nodded and smiled the vendor’s way as we pass. Since I can’t see to read, though, I never bought one of his papers.

And then came that one wintry afternoon in December.

I left my Seeing Eye dog at home that day to go Christmas shopping with a friend — crowds can be so fixated on shopping that they step on the dog. I cabbed home on my own afterwards, and when I fumbled with my white cane at the curb I heard a voice call out to me with a familiar mispronounciation. “Want some hepp?”

It was the StreetWise vendor. I grabbed his arm, and from the way my hand pumped up and down as we plodded to my doorway I could tell he had an extreme limp. Polio, maybe? I dunno.

When we finally arrived, I held out a bill that had one corner folded and asked for a copy of StreetWise. “They only cost two dollars,” my helper said. “You’re giving me a five.”

“I meant to give you a five,” I said, showing him how I fold money to keep track of the denominations. “Thanks for the help, and keep the change,” I told him. “Merry Christmas!”

W.C. and I have been friends ever since. “Hello Mizz Lady!” he calls out to me when Whitney and I pass him in the morning. And if we don’t pass him, W.C. notices. “You went a different way earlier,” he’ll say. “I was worried.”

A report by The Department of Housing and Urban Development found that 37% of those who sought emergency shelter or transitional housing in 2010 had a disability. October is Disabilities Employment Awareness Month — our nation has recognized the contributions of workers with disabilities since 1945, first as a single honorary week in October and then, beginning in 1988, the entire month of October. In an official presidential proclamation about Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, President Obama urged all Americans “to embrace the talents and skills that individuals with disabilities bring to our workplaces and communities and to promote the right to equal employment opportunity for all people.”

During Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, and every month, Easter Seals helps people reach their employment goals. Need some help? Or do you know someone like W.C. who does? Learn more about Easter Seals Workforce Development services.


Uber and the ride-sharing vs. registered taxis debate

taxi-minivanYou might remember that op-ed piece I wrote last April for the Chicago Tribune called “Should ride-sharing services adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act?” Well, six months later, the ride-sharing vs. registered taxi driver issue is heating up all over the country. Another op-ed article –- this one called “The Dark Side of Uber and Lyft” — showed up in the Chicago Tribune this past week. Ride-sharing has become particularly popular In San Francisco, but an article in the San Francisco Chronicle raised concern that only 100 of the city’s 1,885 taxis are currently wheelchair accessible. And three plaintiffs in Houston and San Antonio have filed lawsuits against Uber and Lyft, claiming the companies violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

No decision on those Texas law suits yet, but perhaps it’s due to concerns from the disability community that Uber launched UberASSIST last month? Uber Assist gives people like me, who have visual impairments, or others, who use wheelchairs, the opportunity to notify drivers of our disabilities before they come pick us up. The idea is that people with disabilities who alert drivers ahead of time will get paired with a driver who can accommodate special needs — an Uber blog post explains that “UberASSIST vehicles are driven by trained UberX partners who are knowledgeable of accessibility needs and can offer assistance for those who may require extra help.”

The post says these vehicles can accommodate folding wheelchairs but are not wheelchair accessible ramp vehicles. Uber says that it will provide options for wheelchair-users who need wheelchair-accessible vehicles with lifts or ramps in the future, but it sure is hard to imagine how that would work: Companies like Uber use freelancers who drive their own vehicles, and freelancers don’t often drive vehicles with ramps and lifts on them.

As for guide dogs, Uber does not have a policy about whether or not their drivers will allow people who use service animals in their cars. The only reference to animals in their policy statement is one that says they “leave the decision whether or not to transport pets at the discretion of your driver.”

Since Uber cars are privately owned and operated by independent contractors, they don’t have to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA says “public transportation authorities may not discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of their services” but it doesn’t say anything about private rides.

In addition to launching UberAccess last month, Uber also announced plans to help reduce the high unemployment rate among military families by hiring 50,000 service members, veterans, and their spouses in the next year and a half. I’m all for hiring veterans and their families, but after the little research I’ve done to write this blog post, I’ve gotta wonder if any of America’s 3.6 million veterans who have been injured serving our country will be able to access the Uber services their fellow vets will be providing. We hope so! What do you think?


Chat with us on finding a job with a disability

ODEP-logoI’ll tell you a dirty little secret: it takes me longer than my sighted peers to get my work done.

I’m not supposed to admit this. Thing is, 70% of people who are blind – like me — are unemployed. The unemployment rate among people who have disabilities is equally appalling, and most of us would like to work. So we’re supposed to say we’re just like everyone else. You know, so employers won’t be afraid to hire us.

But truth is, we’re not like everyone else. Braille takes longer to read than print. Searching a web site by ear with a talking computer takes up more time than using the screen. Cutting and pasting can be slower with a talking computer, too. And so, I wake up early, put extra time in, go the extra mile. And I’m not alone. If you have a disability, and you have a job, you have to be resourceful.

Ben Trockman

Ben Trockman

Join our Facebook chat tomorrow to learn what it takes to find a job when you have a disability, and get some valuable insight on the difficulties that arise when young people with disabilities begin to enter the workforce. “Launching Your Career: An Honest Chat about Navigating the Workforce with Disabilities” starts tomorrow, Tuesday, October 7 at 2 p.m. (EST), and you can join in on the conversation at

A team of panelists selected by Easter Seals are prepared to offer wisdom, advice and their personal experiences finding a job:

  • Sara Fair, a college senior who interned with Easter Seals over the summer and is beginning to job-search
  • Ben Trockman, a college graduate who interned with Easter Seals over the summer and started a job this fall
  • Colleen Flanagan, a working professional with disabilities who has been through it all and now mentors others as a leader of the youth program at Easter Seals Massachusetts
  • Patrick Cokley, a Policy Advisor at the Office of Disability Employment Policy, an agency within the Department of Labor that aims to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Our Facebook chat is open to questions from the audience, so please join in and ask away!

*Prepare for the chat with Claudia Gordon’s 3 tips for launching a career when you have a disability, and offer your comments and ideas below!


The last major movie starring an actor with a disability?

I lost my sMV5BNTMzMzUyMzU4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDMyMjgxMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR3,0,214,317_AL_ight when I was 26 years old. After that, I pretty much quit going to movies.

I can still picture movies I saw on TV or at movie theaters before then, though, and it surprises me now to think how many of them happen to center on disabilities. Some examples:

  • In Coming Home (1978) Jon Voight won an Oscar for playing a veteran who was paralyzed in the Vietnam War
  • In An Affair to Remember (1957) Deborah Kerr’s romantic rendezvous with Cary Grant is nearly derailed by a paralyzing accident.
  • In A Patch of Blue (1965) Elizabeth Hartman as a white girl who is blind and falls in love with a black man played by Sidney Poitier.
  • In Butterflies Are Free (1972) Edward Albert as a blind man attempting to break free from his over-protective mother.
  • In Johnny Belinda (1948) Jane Wyman is referred to as a “deaf-mute”
  • The Miracle Worker (1962) stars Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan and Patty Duke as Helen KellerMV5BMTk4MzYxODE2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDU3ODUyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_

As you can see, ahem, disability-focused movies are nothing new. But wouldn’t you think by now, it being the 21st Century and all, far more movies would feature actors and actresses who actually have disabilities themselves? In all the movies I watched when I could still see, I can only think of one where an actor with a disability played a character with a disability: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) featured Harold Russell (a real-life veteran who lost both hands when a defective fuse detonated an explosive he was handling) as a World War II veteran home from the war. Actress Marlee Matlin is deaf, and of course she won best actress for her role in Children of a Lesser God, but I wasn’t able to see that one – it came out in 1987, a year after I lost my sight.

October is Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, and there must be plenty of actors out there with disabilities, or who are veterans, who are looking for work. (Our friend Kyle Hausmann-Stokes from Veterans in Film and Television will attest to that!)

Can it be true that it’s been nearly 30 years since a major motion picture featured an actor or actress who has a disability? Please leave a comment and tell me I’m wrong!


Easter Seals and the TSA Work Together for Travelers with Disabilities

TSA Community Award 09-24-2014

Donna Smith (center)

Easter Seals just received a Disability and Multicultural Coalition Community Partner award from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The award was presented at the 12th Annual TSA Coalition Conference by John Pistole from the TSA and Kimberly Walton from the Office of Civil Rights.

Easter Seals Project ACTION (Accessible Community Transportation in Our Nation) promotes universal access to transportation for people with disabilities under federal law and beyond. We support and promote TSA’s efforts to improve the experience of travelers with disabilities in all sorts of ways — let me give you some examples:

  • Easter Seals Project ACTION has been providing customer service/sensitivity training to new TSA employees for two years, and in that time more than 700 employees have learned the best ways to serve air travelers with disabilities and their families.
  • Easter Seals Project ACTION also helps promote TSA Cares, a new service that allows air travelers with disabilities to give TSA their travel plans in advance.
  • Travelers with disabilities can also use TSA Cares to access needed information about the screening process as well as arrange for a Passenger Support Specialist to meet the traveler and assist them through the entire security process from start to finish.
  • This year, Easter Seals Las Vegas and Easter Seals Florida helped the TSA conduct roundtable discussions to help them understand what customers with disabilities experience.

When Assistant Administrator Walton from the Office of Civil Rights presented us with the Disability and Multicultural Coalition Community Partner award, she said the training provided by the Las Vegas and Florida affiliates played a major role in TSA’s success in improving the experience of travelers with disabilities, and we couldn’t be happier about that.


How do you write @ and # in Braille?

Seedlings LogoWhether you can see or not, you’ve probably heard of Braille. What most people don’t know about Braille is that over centuries, different Braille codes have been developed for different uses. There’s a Braille code for music, a Braille code for math, another code for mathematical diagrams, a Braille code for science, a special code for chemistry. I could go on. But now, thanks to a new unified English Braille code, I won’t have to.

Last year, a majority of English-speaking countries officially adopted one set of rules that govern Braille used in literary/mathematical/computerized encoding. The new Unified English Braille includes punctuation marks that didn’t used to be so common (@ and #, for example) and will have Braille cells representing visual effects like bullets, bold type, accent marks, and so on.

I can read Braille, but I use my talking computer to write. Over the years I have memorized new key combinations for the symbols I need when using HTML code and writing text messages, blog posts, articles and books. A recent email message from a teacher at the Hadley School for the Blind tells me I use more symbols and punctuation than I thought – she asked for permission to reprint something I’d written and use it in a new Hadley course that will teach the new code to blind students.

The new Unified English Braille course will be produced in Braille only and distributed by mail. When I looked over (okay, listened to) the excerpt they’d chosen, I couldn’t believe all the @ symbols and slashes and dashes in it. I bet you use a lot more of those symbols in the writing you do these days, too. I give the International Council on English Braille credit for figuring out new ways to represent all of these new symbols and such in Braille cells.


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

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 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!


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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.