Career Connect offers lifelong skills with temporary employment

amber legos-BobG-blog-4-3-15Beth Finke’s post last Wednesday about the high unemployment rate among people living with autism makes this a good time to publish a post about a job-training program with positive results at Easter Seals Southeast Wisconsin.

We have always encouraged short-term employment opportunities as a way for our clients to gain experience and build a resume, and we are working on more hands-on experiences for participants in our work-training activities. About two years ago we piloted a new program called Career Connect — here’s how it’s described on our web site:

Career Connect is a community-prevocational program designed to increase employment skills needed for success in the workplace. Career Connect consists of a soft skills curriculum, a variety of community outings, and internship experiences. The program is designed to increase social skills, promote career explorations, and provide opportunities to integrate participants into the community. After completing the program, participants will be ready to maintain employment in the community.

Career Connect uses daily group activities, skill-building volunteer activities and an internship component at a local technical college to go beyond individual short-term employment engagements to more individualized support. Two of our Career Connect students recently shared daily reflections about what they are learning, and I thought I’d share them with you here.

1502_Sara_0530-BobG-blog-4-3-15Amber worked in a local daycare, volunteered at a food pantry and spent one day at a local Sam’s Club. Here’s what she said about lessons she’d learned in classes she took in conjunction with her on-the-job experiences: “We also learned about some of the soft skills that we will need to have in order to get and keep a job. Like problem solving, conflict resolution, team work and collaborating, and communication. These are just some of the things that we will need to be able to do in our internships and our jobs.”

Another new worker, Sara, learned that we are all human and make mistakes. She wrote: “Today at work I made a mistake and didn’t clean the pan right. My co-worker helped me out with the pan. They were happy to help me out. It taught me that making mistakes is ok sometimes and people are willing to help me.”

Workshops and training are great, but nothing can substitute for what real-life experiences can do to foster personal and professional growth. Career Connect gives people like Amber and Sara experiences in the competitive work environment, and that is priceless.


Check our Easter Seals national employment training and job placement assistance resources here.


It’s Easter this Sunday – is that why we’re called Easter Seals?

It’s Easter this Sunday, and that gives us another opportunity to explain how an organization like ours that helps people with disabilities and special needs live better lives ended up withan Easter Seal the name Easter Seals.

When we started in 1919, we were called the National Society for Crippled Children. Fifteen years later, in 1934, we launched an Easter “seals” campaign to raise money for our services. The seals were stickers about the same size as postage stamps — donors placed them on envelopes and letters to show their support.

The public support for the seals campaign was so overwhelming that it triggered a nationwide expansion and a swell of grassroots efforts on behalf of people with disabilities. By 1967 the Easter “seal” was so well recognized that we formally adopted the name, and we’ve been “Easter Seals” ever since.

Whether you celebrate Easter or not, we thank you for supporting Easter Seals and hope you enjoy seeing our seals every spring. Happy weekend!


Unemployment rates for adults with autism

autism day form united nationsA proclamation on the United Nation’s website estimates that more than 80% of adults with autism around the world are unemployed. The site also lists a number of hurdles that keep that number so high:

  • a shortage of vocational training
  • inadequate support with job placement
  • pervasive discrimination.

The United Nations World Autism Awareness Day is tomorrow, April 2, 2015, and with that high unemployment rate in mind, this year the theme for the day is “Employment: The Autism Advantage.”

Here at Easter Seals, the one consistent message we hear from families — after the initial apprehension and anxiety of learning their child has autism – is an overwhelming concern about the life-long supports their child with autism may need to be independent.

Our 2008 Living with Autism Study results revealed that parents raising children with autism were very concerned about the future independence of their children. In fact, they were far more concerned than parents of typically developing children — nearly 80 percent said they were extremely or very concerned about their children’s independence as an adult, compared to only 32 percent of other parents. This was especially true when it came to their child’s financial independence, quality of life, social and inter-personal connections, and employment and housing opportunities. While this study was released in 2008, the sentiments probably aren’t that much different today, especially given the 80% unemployment statistic.

Easter Seals continues to use the study results to raise awareness of and advocate for the life-long services millions of families living with autism desperately need — including school-to-work transitions, employment support, residential and community support, and financial planning. In addition, Easter Seals works with businesses to provide resources for employers to support workforce development.

We applaud the United Nations for dedicating a day to autism awareness, and we’ll continue working every day to remind people that individuals with autism deserve to experience life to the fullest.

See all of Easter Seals autism services and resources here.


9 ways life has changed since the Affordable Care Act

ACAMonday, March 23, 2015, we celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and celebrate we should! The road to the President signing the legislation into law was long and complicated, and while we know there have been ups and downs during the implementation process, we also know some things for sure now:

  1. 16.4 million Americans have gained health care coverage since March of 2010 (more people than the 2013 populations of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago combined!)
  2. The uninsured rate in America is at the lowest level recorded across five decades of data
  3. Nearly 3 million young adults have been covered through their parents’ plans up to age 26
  4. The uninsured rate for young adults has dropped by more than 40 percent
  5. 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions can now choose insurance coverage that must cover those conditions and new health issues, too
  6. The availability of insurance coverage, even with a pre-existing or chronic condition, has provided a reduction in the volume of uncompensated care due to lack of insurance or someone being underinsured
  7. Hospital uncompensated care costs were $7.4 billion lower in 2014;
  8. Insurance can no longer be rescinded or ended due to a diagnosis (in other words, you can no longer lose your insurance just because you need it)
  9. 105 million Americans will no longer face a lifetime limit on their health coverage.

It is not hard to imagine the impact of that last point on a family with a child with profound disabilities. Here at Easter Seals, we know provisions of this law go right to the heart of what children and adults with disabilities need to live fulfilling lives: before the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, attaining and retaining insurance coverage was often beyond their reach. Today the lives of literally millions of adults and children are improved by having access to insurance coverage, and we are all better for it.

*All statistics have been referenced from this statement on the Affordable Care Act by the White House.


You are or will be 1 of the 66 million: new caregiving study

317x224EScaregiversThe topic of caregiving isn’t new to Easter Seals. In fact, it’s at the core of everything Easter Seals is about — it’s in our DNA. We’ve always been committed to providing supports and counsel to caregivers to let them know they aren’t alone in what can be a challenging — yet rewarding — experience.

Caregiving has become the “new normal” for 66 million Americans today. Our reputation in responding to the needs of caregivers through high-quality services and supports, as well as through advocacy at the federal and state levels, continues to generate engagement with and support from companies and organizations equally committed to these consumers.

Easter Seals is changing the conversation about caregiving through awareness — building initiatives that promise to enhance our leadership in this space as we continue to impact the lives of caregivers in communities nationwide.

We already know that caregiving looks different for everyone. Whether a young newlywed is taking care of her husband who was injured in war (meet Andrea), a son or daughter taking care of aging or ailing parents, a sibling helping his or her brother or sister with Down syndrome, or a parent taking care of a child with autism or other disabilities, caregiving is pertinent to so many today.

We were able to take a closer look into the lives of caregivers thanks to our partners at MassMutual Financial Group through the Many Faces of Caregiving Study. The study has helped us discover the needs and attitudes of an emerging population of caregivers: Millennials and GenXers. You can check out a snapshot of study results here.

The study results show that caregivers are younger than one might have thought (one-third of Millennials and GenX respondents already identify themselves as caregivers, more than half report providing care on a daily basis) and that overall, we’re not ready to embark on the caregiving journey (70 percent of respondents have not yet had the critical conversation with their families and loved ones about the future as it related to their medical and financial planning).

I want to take this time to recognize our other partners in the caregiving space, too. For example, the CVS Health Foundation shares our commitment to assuring the health and wellness of caregivers as well as others we serve. We’re thrilled to be collaborating with the American Lung Association to leverage their state-of-the-industry Freedom From Smoking® Program starting May 1.

In addition, The University of Illinois at Chicago Family Support Research and Training Center has selected Easter Seals as its partner in a national online dialogue to generate research topics of importance to family caregivers. Join the conversation at

In the military and veterans space, we’re proud that the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to rely on Easter Seals to advance its training for veteran caregivers. To date, 28,000 family caregivers have participated in our multi-modal training options and we’re looking forward to helping many more.

Easter Seals also continues to play a leadership role within the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s National Coalition for Military Caregivers and, moving forward, will spearhead their Respite Services Council.

Finally, thanks to Newman’s Own Foundation, we’ve been able to host additional webinars is our Easter Seals military/veteran caregiver webinar series — and now in Spanish too — to reach out specifically to the 20 percent of post-9/11 military and veteran caregivers of Hispanic origin!

Visit to listen to prior sessions and learn about those scheduled in the months ahead.


6 things people with disabilities need in a transit system

Bus lift public transportationThere’s new legislation to increase transit accessibility being introduced that encourages public transportation providers to improve their services for individuals with disabilities. Since the passing of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), it may be tempting to think that “all is well” in regards to equal accessibility. However, while it is obvious that very significant strides have been made for people with disabilities, there is still more work to be done.

Actually, there are still major issues that warrant attention. For example, almost 25 years ago now, the ADA established this thing called paratransit which requires a door-to-door service for people who can’t use public transportation independently. However, the availability of this service comes with strict disability requirements, making it unavailable to a large population in need of such services. This and many other issues often overlooked in the transportation world are why Easter Seals is excited to support a new act that encourages more creative thought and innovation in accessibility solutions.

Congressman Jim Langevin is leading the introduction of the Transit Accessibility Innovation Act. This legislation will create grants that will be awarded to local communities and transit systems that develop new, creative ways to continue to encourage and revamp accessibility for people of all abilities. Easter Seals and a few other disability, aging and transportation groups helped shape the contents of this bill.

The act will create a competitive grant program, and the most creative ideas will be awarded funding to help bring their ideas to reality. The FTA will evaluate applicants based on six long-term outcomes:

  • community integration
  • safety
  • accessibility
  • quality
  • coordination
  • customer service

Special consideration will be given to innovations that can be replicated for use in other communities as well.

For nearly 100 years, Easter Seals has worked to ensure that people with disabilities can live, learn, work and play in their communities. We see transportation as an important part of that mission and vision, and believe that all people should have safe, affordable, and accessible transportation options. We’re excited for the innovation that this new program would support and we look forward to future implementation. We need your help to make this legislation a reality. Please contact your members of Congress and ask them to support the Transit Access and Innovation Act using our handy on-line system.


Thrive: Advocating for myself and others with disabilities

thriveadvocacy400Easter Seals has been supporting mentorship programs for many years, and in 2012 we helped launch a mentorship program offline, called Thrive, that’s focused on young women with disabilities.

Every month Thrive — now offered online for everyone to access — focuses on a different aspect of disability, and in March Thrive has been talking with women about disability advocacy. It’s important for girls to take action for themselves and others in the disability community, so Thrive reached out to women online this month to gather perspectives on what disability advocacy means in today’s world. While reading through these women’s stories on Thrive’s Disability Advocacy page, I was struck by how many of them use storytelling as a way to advocate for themselves and others. What a coincidence: so do I!

An eye disease called retinopathy caused me to lose my sight at age 26. Until then, I’d been working in an international studies office, traveling and counseling college students who wanted to study overseas. I lost my job when I lost my sight.

While undergoing eye surgeries, I kept journals on tape. When ththriveslidere surgeries failed, my husband bought me a talking computer. I continued journaling.

My journal pieces weren’t initially written with a book in mind. To me, writing was simply cheap therapy, but when friends suggested I try putting my thoughts together in book form, I figured a book project would, at the very least, force me to finally gather my cassettes, floppy discs and other computer journal entries together in one place. In the end, I was lucky enough to find a publisher for Long Time, No See, and ever since it came out I’ve been advocating for people who are blind or have other disabilities by moderating this blog, leading writing classes, giving presentations at schools and speaking at conferences.

Go to Thrive’s Disability Advocacy page to read more stories from women with disabilities about how they advocate for themselves and others with disabilities, and then follow @ability2thrive and use the hashtag #thriveadvocacy to join Easter Seals Thrive for a twitter chat this Thursday March 26th at 2 pm CST to share your experiences and discuss the future of disability activism.


Global accessibility — a commercial drawing attention

samsung-adSamsung partnered with a group of local Turkish neighbors to overcome the barriers a Deaf man had in their neighborhood, and a video of that man’s reaction to all the sign language around him has gotten on the viral train in the last month. If you ask me, that video deserves all the attention it’s getting.

In the video, Muharrem is initially – and understandably — confused by the abundance of sign language surrounding him. The part where it’s revealed that all those people in his neighborhood learned sign so they could communicate with him is the part when my eyes start filling up with tears.

It wasn’t him crying that made my heart sing. It was the fact that a major corporation recognizes that there needs to be accessibility equality throughout the world. This video has been shared over 4 million times, and that really warms my heart. The message of awareness and accessibility is out there.

This year Americans celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Other countries may have good intentions about disability law, but, from what I can tell, they just aren’t quite there yet – they are not moving along quite as quickly with accessibility laws.

It was only last year that Canada got the okay to move along with Video Relay Services, and right now Australia is fighting to provide funding for services to give Australian children who are deaf access to learning Auslan (Australian Sign Language).

Full accessibility to everything is still a dream all over the world for people with disabilities, and a world completely accessible to a Deaf person is something those of us in the Deaf community dream of every single day. I sense that dream is within reach for us here in America, but it’s a long trek for others in other countries.

I hope the popularity of this video from Turkey is a step forward in the right direction in recognizing we need better accessibility laws, accessibility resources and awareness across the globe.


Good accessible NCAA brackets

basketballClose your eyes for a minute and try to imagine someone reading through the NCAA Basketball bracket out loud to you. “Okay, there’s Hampton and Manhattan, and then if Kansas beats New Mexico State and then Wichita State beats Indiana and then Notre Dame beats Northeastern and Butler beats Texas…but if New Mexico State surprises Kansas and then Wichita State beats Indiana and then Northeastern beats Notre Dame…well, that changes the whole bracket.” It’s already mind-boggling, right? And I haven’t even started with seeds yet!

My family and friends have been filling out brackets for the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament for years, and my colleagues have filled out brackets here at Easter Seals Headquarters before, too. I never participate, though. The online brackets aren’t compatible with the speech synthesizer I use with my laptop, and trying to remember or even memorize the brackets and seeds that volunteers read out loud to me isn’t much fun, either.

Eyebrows up! I just found out about a prototype Accessible NCAA Tournament Bracket that’s meant to “make March Madness more accessible to the full spectrum of college hoops fans, including those using non-visual interfaces such as screen readers and those who are physically unable to use a mouse.” The bracket was put together by Terrill Thompson, the technology accessibility specialist with the University of Washington, and part of the reason it’s accessible is that it’s well-structured. Headings, sub-headings and lists make it much easier for users who can’t see to navigate. The site even includes a link for tips on how to use a screen-reader to understand the relationships between the teams.

The pool feature on the Accessible NCAA Tournament Bracket site finally allows those of us with disabilities to make our own tournament picks without help –- or opinions! — from others. Lots of online tournament pools allow users to enter using their computers, but this pool uses HTML forms to capture users picks, which makes it more accessible to everyone.

But wait. There’s more! The site developer is hoping users might be willing to fill out an accessible sports survey to help him collect data about people with disabilities and their interest in sports. He’ll use the data to come up with a business case to motivate online sports authorities to improve their accessibility. Please spread the word!

Related content for sports lovers:


You can help train a guide dog too

The Today Show’s decision to raise an adorable puppy named Wrangler for Guiding Eyes for the Blind has increased interest in the generous work volunteers across the nation do to prepare puppies to head off to train as guide dogs. My friend Mary Ivory and her husband are two of those generous people –they volunteered to raise a puppy for Leader Dogs for the Blind last year. Mike and Mary live on the 12th floor of our apartment building here in Chicago. Imagine how many trips they took up and down the elevator for house training – and that was just the beginning! Mary explains it all in this lovely guest post.

Puppy raising: It changes the street life

By Mary Ivory

Everybody say aaaahhhhhhh! That's Ananda at a very young age taking a nap.

Everybody say aaaahhhhhhh! That’s Ananda at a very young age taking a nap.

My laid-back husband Mike came home one day sounding defeated. “I just walked up the street and no one said ‘Hi’ to me!” We’d been living with Ananda, a female Black Labrador Retriever for 10 months, and we’d just returned her to Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester Hills, Mich., two weeks earlier. Mike had forgotten what urban life without a puppy is like.

We live in a very friendly and close-knit neighborhood, but it’s still the big city. Everyone is in a hurry and distracted with their own lives, but you have to slow down when you are walking a puppy, and when others see you with the puppy, they often slow down, smile and say hello, too.

Watching and knowing what a dog can do for a person’s quality of life is a bit of happy mystery. Watching and knowing what a trained service animal can do for a person who needs assistance is the mystery turned into a real miracle. I have always had animals in my life, and as life would happen, I found myself with time and energy to volunteer to raise a puppy for Leader Dogs. Lucky for me, Mike was agreeable to this adventure.

As the job title implies, puppy raisers are charged with creating an environment and focusing on skills to help a puppy become a candidate for a career as a leader — a guide dog for a blind or visually impaired person.

Puppy raising is about nurturing a calm and focused dog to prepare them for the actual skill training that takes place after they are returned. For the first months of life after they leave the litter they live in homes to learn such skills as becoming housebroken — yes that means going outside hourly when awake when they are very small. Yes, that means even in the winter of the polar vortex you go for a walk. You also are taught how to teach calm walking on a leash, not easy when your pup is sweet and just full of friendly wiggles and licks, and the other ‘basics’ like sit, stay, come, no, heal, down……oh yes and ‘drop it’ or ‘leave it’ as she snuck a sock from the dirty clothes or found a stray chicken bone on the street.

Everybody say "thank you" to Mary, Mike and all the puppy raisers for all the schools. It's a tremendous and generous effort.

Everybody say “thank you” to Mary, Mike and all the puppy raisers for all the schools. It’s a tremendous and generous effort.

And all of this happens during all hours of the day, which means you walk down the street a lot. It’s a busy but fun time — strangers snap out of a distracted or grumpy state to talk about the dog, and people seemingly down on their luck rise up to chat about and pet a friendly puppy.

That mystery of connection with animals and people is powerful and amazing to me. My busy city street transformed into a small town lane during the 10 months Ananda was living with us. And yes, it was hard to take her back to her career home. Ananda, which means joy or bliss in Sanskrit, was an intense and wonderful presence in our lives.

I’ve received an email from the Puppy Development Department at Leader Dogs with the picture above telling us she is progressing in her career training. We miss her but are so happy we had this chance to be a part of this great big task, and who knows? We may do it again. Next time, though, we’ll sign up when the dog doesn’t need hourly walks in deep freeze weather.