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!


Related Content from

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


A new memorial in Berlin: Forgive but never forget

Blue wall of the memorial in Berlin

Blue wall of the memorial in Berlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Recent studies on autism and what we know for sure

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

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

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

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

Spread the word.


Polio and the Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts

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

FDR Blog

Franklin D. Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio in 1921.

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

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

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

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