Love is Blind, Part Four: Thankful for What COVID-19 Taught Us About Relationships

Speech bubble with a heart in it connected to another speech bubble with a heart in itIn the first 3 parts of this series, I talked about the transition between “just friends” and being in a relationship…slowly. Our first date, my first solo flight, and the aftermath of spending a week together.

We’ve learned a lot since then.

One morning during his visit back in September, I broached the subject of the post you are reading now, and asked him if he could help me write this by sharing some things he’s learned — either from me or this experience as a whole. I wanted to hear his perspective, and I also wanted this to be more about us, not just about me. “This is such a great idea,” he had said enthusiastically. So I pulled out my phone to jot down some notes and made a list.

  1. We both learned about patience…very quickly. I’ve made some light-hearted mentions of my level of patience — or lack thereof — in previous posts. But as visits got pushed back due to travel restrictions and quarantine, I had to learn to be patient — to remind myself that this was not a reflection on him, but this was out of our control. He wasn’t blowing me off, we just couldn’t travel. We discussed this further as I took diligent notes to prepare this post, and he added something that I loved and asked if I could quote. “I learned about being mentally strong,” he told me. “Like, you can’t give up so easily, no matter what life throws at you.”
  2. It’s important to stay connected. I’ve mentioned previously how anxious I can get, jumping to worst-case scenarios. I did this pretty early, saying I was worried we’d grow apart with the time and miles separating us. We’d be away from each other much, much longer than we had originally planned. He listened intently and let me get everything off my chest before talking it through with me. To help with this, he was the one that came up with ways we could stay connected. Sometimes he’d send me episodes of a show he was watching and we’d watch it at the same time. Most recently, and my absolute favorite, is participating in discussion groups through the Hadley Institute. Hadley offers a variety of discussion groups, and the one we participate in together is called travel talk. These take place online via Zoom, but you can also dial in via telephone and enter the meeting ID. The Zoom app mutes all other notification sounds while a meeting is in progress, so the dial-in method is the one he and I prefer. Sometimes we text our commentary as we listen in so it feels more like we are doing this together — we want to make sure we don’t miss each other’s messages!
  3. Consistency is so important. Having a routine (good morning messages, regular phone calls — some of them scheduled, others just random check-ins — throughout the day) helps so much. A common misconception of long-distance relationships is that they “aren’t real,” because there isn’t regular face-to-face contact. Having consistency makes us feel more connected and involved in each other’s day-to-day lives.
  4. This one is just for me personally, I cannot speak on behalf of Juan, but I learned how important it is to be with someone who is good for your mental health. I wrote a previous post opening up about how I was doing during quarantine. Some days were really hard. This made for a lot of long phone calls, some of which were one-sided, as I was having a bad mental health day and I just needed to talk about it. This pandemic taught me what people really mean when they say “It’s okay not to be okay.” Things were so much different here than they were in Houston, and sometimes he’d forget that, until I’d bring it up and say I’m struggling. And so, we’d talk about that.
  5. Lastly, while routines are important, it’s also important to include some spontaneity. Surprise each other. This is easy with technology. Send things to the house. Back in August, when I knew Juan had a particularly tough week, I used the Uber Eats app to send breakfast and coffee to his house.

This year has thrown so many things at all of us, and in those times when I become overwhelmed with everything that has happened this year, I remind myself of the good things that came out of it. Even though we won’t be seeing each other for the holidays, I’m still so grateful for our relationship. I’m happy to be with such a kind, caring, amazing person who’s a good listener, whose creativity has strengthened our relationship, and who cares about the people I love.

 

These 17 COVID-Related Song Titles Help Me Feel Thankful in 2020

Trainers at the Seeing Eye school encourage us to talk to our dogs as they guide us. “Remind them you’re there,” they say. “It keeps them focused.” Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzger’s Stay at Home Advisory starts here in Chicago today, but we are still allowed to go outside with our dogs. Since the pandemic hit, I’ve been taking one, and sometimes two, hour long walks with Luna every day, and when I run out of things to talk to her about? I sing to her instead. With Thanksgiving coming soon, I’ve narrowed my sing-along list to titles that express things I am grateful for in this difficult year. Most are songs I listened to as a child and in my young adulthood, and my focus here is on the title of the song, not the lyrics. Here goes:

  1. Every Breath You Take (The Police) Before 2020, I took breathing for granted. Not anymore.
  2. Fever (written by Otis Blackwell and Eddie Cooley, performed by everyone from Peggy Lee to Beyoncé) High fevers are a common symptom of COVID, and when my husband Mike took sick on March 17, his fever spiked at 103 ° and stayed there. No breathing issues, however, and for that I am grateful.
  3. I Can’t Get Next to you (The Temptations) Doctors told us to stay home and assume Mike had COVID, he and I separated into what he referred to as our “two kingdoms” at home for a week before he collapsed from fever and was taken to the ER. Grateful they still had rooms at the hospital, and that we have health insurance.
  4. Gimme Shelter (Rolling Stones) Sheltering in place became the norm, and I feel fortunate to have a roof over my head.
  5. We’re All Alone (Boz Scaggs) Mike tested positive for COVID in the hospital, and new Seeing Eye dog Luna and I were at home alone for ten days.
  6. Puppy Love (Donny Osmond) See above.
  7. And I Miss You (Everything but the Girl) I missed Mike, but was comforted and grateful to dedicated medical workers taking care of him.
  8. Telephone Line (Electric Light Orchestra) I worked on my skills with VoiceOver (the speech synthesizer that comes with every iPhone) to text and answer the phone when Mike called, or when caring doctors, social workers, friends and family contacted me to see how Mike was doing. Three cheers for assistive technology!
  9. Don’t Stand So Close to me (The Police) Determining just how far away six feet is without being able to see is not easy. I give it my best guess when out alone with Luna., and others we come across seem to understand my predicament.
  10. Signed, Sealed Delivered (Stevie Wonder) With Mike still in the hospital, friends and family members signed me up for gift cards at small local establishments, restaurants sealed hot meals into to-go bags, nearby friends picked them up and delivered them to the lobby of our apartment building.
  11. With a Little Help From My Friends (The Beatles)See above.
  12. Makes Me Wanna Holler (Marvin Gaye) columnist Heidi Stevens quoted Mike in a column she wrote for the Chicago Tribune when he was still hospitalized and I was waiting to be approved for a COVID test. Early on in the pandemic, COVID tests were hard to come by (even for someone like me, with a significant disability, Type 1 diabetes, and exposure to someone diagnosed positive). Very frustrating, and I admired journalists and reporters covering stories like ours to help readers better understand a disease none of us had encountered before.
  13. Here We Are (James Taylor) I finally get tested, Mike gets released from hospital, he spends three nights at a COVID Hotel, and finally comes home COVID-free.
  14. Dizzy (Tommy Roe) COVID-free doesn’t necessarily mean symptom-free. A “long hauler” now, Mike still gets dizzy while taking walks, but we both are thankful he’s home and improving.
  15. We’re Gonna Zoom, Zoom Zoom The theme song from a 1970s PBS children’s show becomes my theme song for the memoir-writing classes I lead. Not the same as being face-to-face, but glad for this safe way of keeping up with my writers “of a certain age” every week now. Also grateful to Easterseals for encouraging me to work from home.
  16. Long Ago and Far Away (Joni Mitchell) Running into old friends out and about, giving them hugs, traveling to visit out-of-town family and friends, having people in for dinner, visiting elementary schools to give presentations…Seems like decades ago now.
  17. Happy Together (The Turtles). Over the summer, neighbors started bringing chairs down to our local park, and on especially hot days little kids brought sprinklers, too. While wearing masks and social distancing we were able to catch up with each other. Now, if everyone follows the stay-at-home advisory long enough for numbers to start going down, maybe next year we’ll be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends inside again.
 

Love is Blind: Part Three of a Series About Long-Distance Relationships during COVID 19

Ali, a young woman with short brown and wavy hair smiling with boyfriend Juan, turned slightly towards her, also smiling. They are sitting on a bench and each has an arm around one another.In Part Two of Alicia Krage’s four-part series about long-distance relationships during COVID, she told readers how assistive technology played a role in growing their casual friendship into something bigger. Today, she describes how their bond continued to progress. 

The week that Juan had to cancel his trip to Chicago was tough. My mindset that entire week centered on “he was supposed to be here.” However, the two of us managed to keep ourselves occupied.with phone calls!

One thing I loved about our conversations (and still love to this day) is that they get very in-depth very quickly. I distracted myself from life in quarantine by focusing on his life in Texas instead. I asked him what he’s been doing, where he’s been. He said he was being cautious, and wasn’t going out a whole lot. We have some very deep conversations about blindness, too.
Not the topic of blindness itself, but our lives as blind people.

We talked about what it’s like to date as a blind person (I’m the first totally blind person Juan has ever dated). And when we were discussing getting out of the house, blindness did come up. “When you do go out, will Uber drivers still get out of the car and help you to the vehicle?” I asked. He said yes. Some other things we talked about:

  • Traveling. Where would we love to travel one day? We have big
    dreams! We wondered how COVID might affect travel. How much assistance can we count on — or not count on — at an airport now?
  • Assistive Technology. We compared notes on accessible certain
    platforms and web sites are.
  • Our parents. His parents remind me so much of my own.
  • Growing up. We swapped childhood stories.

Through all that, because of COVID, we knew we couldn’t visit each other in person. We kept in close contact by texting pretty regularly and making looooong phone calls instead. But were we dating?

That question was answered on a memorable day in May – Juan’s dad’s birthday, actually. Juan called me when he found out his brother would be coming in from Fort Hood Army Base in Killeen, Texas to Houston that day to surprise their dad. He wondered if it’d be okay to call when his brother arrived so he could introduce the two of us over the phone.

Then a silence stretched between us as we wordlessly recognized this silly little dilemma: what is he supposed to say? As if reading my mind, Juan nervously asked, “How do I introduce you?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, even though I kind of knew what he was getting at.

“Like, do I…do I introduce you as my girlfriend?”

“Sure!” I exclaimed. “You can do that.”

The words flew out of my mouth before I realized what I had just agreed to. He laughed, sounded a bit confused, and I explained my answer. “I appreciate you wanting to meet my parents before we make it official and everything, I really do, but we don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last and it kind of somehow already feels like we’re together,” I said. “So I’m not really sure what we’re waiting for.”

And so, just like that, there it was. And then it was our responsibility to figure out this long distance thing together, and how we’d stay connected through this pandemic.

Stay tuned for Part Four, where Alicia spells out the things she and Juan have learned to keep a long-distance relationship going during extraordinary times like these.

 

Veterans Day: The Importance of Serving Those Who Served

A older photo of Angela Williams in a uniform jacket that says U.S. Aire Force.Veterans Day was started in 1919 to honor those who fought in World War 1, and as a hope for future peace in the world. Sadly, the world has not been at peace for the following hundred years, but, thankfully, there have been people willing to offer their service to the cause of freedom. Now is the time to think about those soldiers and the sacrifices they have made.

Growing up, I always knew I wanted to serve in some way. My father, Chaplain J.C. Williams and mother, Eleather Williams, instilled in me a sense of purpose and belief in inclusion for all Americans. My dad was commissioned as the 5th Black chaplain in the history of the U.S. Navy, prior to that having served as the Executive Director of the NAACP South Carolina chapter and worked with great Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luthor King Jr. to fight for civil rights. Duty called for me, and I joined the U.S. Air Force as a 2nd Lieutenant. This allowed me to become a lawyer and a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corp (JAG). This experience, when few Black women served in the JAG Corps, was foundational to my commitment to service.

As a JAG, I realized that soldiers are people with frailties and needs, despite their strengths and undeniable work ethics. This makes their service and their sacrifices all the more important to acknowledge; knowing their limitations, they still signed up for dangerous work that often has long-term consequences.

Sometimes it is easy to see the scars that Veterans carry, when they’re missing a limb or an eye, or use a wheelchair to move around. Sometimes it is more difficult to see those injuries, like those dealing with PTSD or other mental illnesses caused by their time in service. The truth is, no one emerges from the battlefield the way they were when they entered it. War is a painful experience, no matter where or how you serve.

Our country and society should not forget to honor and care for its Veterans. Transitioning to civilian life can be difficult, leading to feelings of isolation, struggles with PTSD, and other concerns. At Easterseals, we offer mental health counseling, job training and placement, and respite care for families. We must show up for them to ensure they get the help they need to thrive in the community.

As you celebrate Veterans Day this year, remember the cost that freedom carries, and the importance of those who paid that cost most dearly. In service and with pride, I express my gratitude to my fellow soldiers and carry with them a hope for a brighter future.

 

Love is Blind: Part Two of a Series About Long-Distance Relationships During COVID

Speech bubble with a heart in it connected to another speech bubble with a heart in itIn Part One of Alicia Krage’s four-part series about long-distance relationships during COVID, she told readers about how she and her friend Juan met. Today she describes how assistive technology played a role in growing their casual friendship into something bigger.

Three cheers for assistive technology! After coming home from my January visit with Juan in Houston, we used our smart phones to talk all the time — more than we’d been doing before. We both have iPhones and use VoiceOver (the speech synthesizer that comes with iPhones at no extra charge) to announce unread text messages we have. My usual routine is to swipe through my messages until I hear the voice announce Juan’s name, then type out a brief text message to him.

VoiceOver calls out each letter as I touch them, and when my finger finds the letter I’m looking for, I use “direct touch typing,” which essentially means all I have to do is tap on the screen where the letter is, just like a sighted person would text. In this option of typing, my phone says the word after I hit “space” so I can hear errors and fix them before sending.

There were good morning messages and goodnight phone calls. There were questions about my family: Juan regularly sent “How’s everyone doing?” messages before he even knew my parents or my sisters. He wanted to meet them!

So we came up with a plan. Juan would fly here in April so we could see each other again and he could meet my parents. It was important to him that he met them before we got together, since he was far away and he wanted my parents to be able to put a face to the name, to know just who I had visited for a week, to assure them his intentions with their daughter were good, true and genuine.

And then COVID happened.

Oddly enough, I took the cancelation pretty well. Maybe that isn’t the right wording. I mean, I wasn’t jumping for joy! After all, everything I was looking forward to was no longer happening.

Through phone calls and text messages, I was instantly reassured that this wasn’t a reflection on him or his character. This was out of our hands.

So, that week he was supposed to be here was substituted with lots of phone calls. We’d talk for two-and-a-half hours at a time and laugh about the number of times I called a Texas area code. “Can you imagine our phone bill back in the days when out-of-state calls would cost money?!”

That’s when the dynamic seemed to shift. It’s hard to explain a dynamic shift when communication is limited to just calls and texts. It just didn’t feel like I was talking to a friend. It felt like I was talking to my boyfriend. I knew my feelings were real and genuine. I knew his intentions were real and genuine. We talked through this whole long-distance thing and laid it out all on the table, everything we were afraid of or worried about. We talked through it like adults.

Stay tuned for Part Three to find out what resulted from all those long talks…

 

Why Learn White Cane Skills Before Training with a Seeing Eye Dog?

Illustration of a figure walking with a white caneWith so many elementary school children learning at home these days, my Seeing Eye dog and I haven’t made a school visit in months. I miss being with the kids, but time off gives me a chance to reminisce about visits we’d done in the past. Learning that today, October 15, is National White Cane Safety Day made me think back on a day I especially enjoyed at Eastview Elementary School in Algonquin, IL long before the pandemic hit.

When I found out that three students at Eastview were blind, I arranged to have Braille copies of my children’s book, Safe & Sound sent there before our visit. I’d use one myself to show the kids at different grade levels what Braille looks like and how it works, and the other three copies would be given to Miguel, age 10, and Seth and Ethan, both age 8. I didn’t expect that these three little blind kids would be able to read the Braille books on their own, I just thought that if the other kids at Eastview might be getting books, these three should get a copy they’d be able to read someday, too.

The Braille version of Safe & Sound was produced in contracted Braille, a form of Braille I’ve never been able to master. Contracted Braille has a bunch of shorthand symbols (contractions) for commonly used words and parts of words: there’s a cell for the word “and,” another for the word “the,” and so on. Most of the letters of the alphabet are also used as shorthand for common words, such as “c” for “can” and “l” for “like.” Kind of like texting, only you can’t make as many mistakes!

When I met the vision teacher at Eastview, I apologized that my book was only available in contracted Braille. “No problem,” she said. “That’s the only Braille these guys read!” Sure enough, the little buggers were Braille experts.

Really, all the Eastview kids seemed to have a strong interest in reading. The school’s principal, Jim Zursin, emphasized reading with all the students, and with the help of his staff and the PTO, they were making sure reading wouldn’t end when summer began. Every child who participated in Eastview’s summer reading program and reached their goal would be marching in the Founders Day Parade that summer, each star reader wearing a sandwich board with a drawing of the cover of his or her favorite book on the front. “There’ll be hundreds of books marching down the street,” Mr. Zursin exclaimed. You didn’t have to be able to see to know there were stars in his eyes, just thinking about it. Kids who read that summer would be invited to a community pool party, too, where Mr. Zursin promised to jump off the high dive – with his clothes on!

That’s Miguel on the left and one of the twins in the center. Photo by Andi Butler, www.mrsbillustrations.com.

I’m pretty confident Seth, Ethan and Miguel marched in the parade that year. They’d be swimming at that pool party, too. They love to read, and turns out they can write in contracted Braille, too. Seth, Ethan and Miguel each wrote a poem for me, and they had to work hard to hold back their laughter as I stumbled through some of the contractions when I tried reading their work out loud. They were happy to help me through, and in the half hour the four of us were able to spend together in their vision resource room we became fast friends. Miguel showed me how his talking watch worked, and Ethan and Seth, twin brothers, counted off their favorite rides at Disney World. We all laughed at how other kids find Space Mountain so scary. It’s in the dark” we said. Big deal.

The boys had lots of questions about my Seeing Eye dog, and I told them that in order to train with a Seeing Eye dog you have to learn good orientation and mobility (white cane) skills first. “Knowing where you are by what you hear, how the ground feels, which way the wind is blowing – you’ll need those skills when you get a Seeing Eye dog, too,” I told them. You can’t train with a Seeing Eye dog until you’re 16 years old, so they had a lot of time to perfect their white cane skills before then. “The Seeing Eye wants you to get good with your white cane before you train with a dog. People who know orientation and mobility and can get around with a white cane are the ones who do best with Seeing Eye dogs.”

Later on one of their teachers expressed how glad she was that I’d said that. Apparently the boys hadn’t been using their white canes as much as they should. “Now they’ll have an incentive.”

Before I left their room, each boy proudly presented me with a special collar he had made for my Seeing Eye dog. “We strung the beads ourselves,” Seth said, proud of their work. The collars were made of ribbon, and in addition to the beads, each ribbon had a big bell on it, too. “That’s so you’ll always know where your dog is,” Miguel explained.

The three of them came up after the all-school assembly at the end of the day to say goodbye. When I reached out to shake Seth’s – or was it Ethan’s? – hand, I felt a rubber handle. He was using his white cane!

 

Love is Blind: A Series on Long-Distance Relationships during COVID-19

Ali, a young woman with short brown and wavy hair smiling with boyfriend Juan, turned slightly towards her, also smiling. They are sitting on a bench and each has an arm around one another.Some of you might remember a 3-part series I wrote in January about flying to Houston to visit a friend. That friend is now my boyfriend.

Juan and I go way back. We met in September 2005. I was in sixth grade, and he was 19 and a fifth-year senior (that’s what they called it in the vision department at school). Fifth year seniors graduated like everybody else in their school but then stayed an extra year to focus on vocational goals. One of Juan’s goals at the time was teaching Spanish to blind and visually impaired students. I happened to be taking a mainstream Spanish class and could use all the help I could get, so he was assigned to tutor me. And when our middle and high schools realized they didn’t have enough people to field individual Goalball teams, they combined them and we did goalball together.

We didn’t keep in regular contact much after that, especially after I went to the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, a residential school hours away from our homes in the Chicago suburbs. Juan and I texted on each other’s birthdays and would call every few months just to catch up. Then his father took a job in Houston, his family moved to Texas, and Juan joined them there in 2016.

Fast forward to 2019. Juan was back to visit family and friends, and I was invited to join some of them on a beautiful September day in Chicago. I found myself observing the way he interacted with me, with the people around us, with Uber drivers, and customer service. I observed his confidence, his outgoing personality, the way he spoke of his passions. The way he talked about what it was like to move from Illinois to Texas, the way he tackled all the research to find resources there…all of it. And I thought, “I think I kind of like him. This is someone I could see myself with.”

But I wasn’t sure.

A week later, I drummed up the courage to text him. “I want to make sure I actually like you,” I wrote. “That I’m not just single and like the idea of a person.” I told him I was still figuring out my feelings. When he wrote me back, he said he was doing that very same thing. He added that during the day in Chicago we’d both been observing each other without the other knowing it. Because he was just about to board his flight, the conversation stalled after that. A few days later, he called me to revisit the conversation, and that’s when he told me that his next visit would be in November for my birthday and asked if he could take me on a date.

Great minds think alike, I suppose.

That phone call about taking me on a date came just 11 days after our time together with other friends in Chicago. I was excited, but skeptical. I’d never known anyone to plan so far in advance. I waited for a cancelation that didn’t come.

We went on our first date on November 17, 2019. Then, since he had flown to Chicago to celebrate my birthday, I flew to Houston in January 2020 to visit and celebrate his — you already know about that from a blog post I wrote this past February, 2020. Sometimes I think I like someone and then I spend a lot of time with them and…realize I don’t actually like them.

That didn’t happen this time.

Stay tuned for part two of Ali’s four-part series on how long-distance relationships can work – and thrive — during a pandemic.

 

October is Disability Employment Awareness month: Meet an Architect Who is Totally blind

Hands trace over a piece of paper with raised markings depicting the structure of a buildingOctober is Disability Employment Awareness month, and last weekend’s feature on 60 Minutes about an architect who says losing his sight made him better at his job is a perfect example of how resourceful people with disabilities are at work.

Chris Downey had been a working architect in San Francisco for years before 2008, when surgery to treat a brain tumor left him blind at the age of 45. He said he was so familiar with the city that within six months he was back at work and using a white cane to commute to the office on his own. The 60 Minutes story didn’t answer all my questions about how he works as an architect without being able to see anymore, but I did find an interview at The Architect’s Newspaper where Downey explains how he uses wax tools called wikki stix to sketch embossed plans. Maybe they showed that in the 60 Minutes feature without describing it out loud? Anyway, in that same Architect’s Newspaper interview, Downey described one of the first projects he worked on after losing his sight: a Polytrauma and Blind Rehabilitation Center for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Palo Alto.

“The client and the team were becoming aware that they really didn’t understand how space and architecture would be experienced and managed by users who would not see the building,” he said. “When I showed up as a newly blinded architect with 20 years of experience, there seemed an opportunity to bridge that gap.” The fact that he was a rookie at being blind was a bonus. He said, “I was not that far removed from the experience of the veterans who were dealing with their new vision loss.”

Eight short years later, Downey has his own business consulting on design for people who are blind and visually impaired. In addition to the VA project in Pal Alto, he has worked on renovations of housing for people who are blind in New York City and consulted on the Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco. He teaches periodically for the University of California, Berkeley, Department of Architecture, serves on the California Commission on Disability Access and chairs the Board of Directors for the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco. He also speaks internationally about disability and design.

I did hear the famous architect speak once — virtually. Chris Downey’s TED Talk includes one part where he says urban planners who think of people who are blind as prototypical city dwellers will come up with design elements that make life better for everyone, whether sighted or not:

  • a rich walkable array of predictable sidewalks
  • no cars
  • many options and choices at the street level
  • a robust, accessible, well-connected transit system

I lost my sight in 1985. Since then, my husband Mike and I have lived in a college town (Urbana, IL), a Chicago suburb (Geneva, IL), an ocean town (Nags Head, NC), and a big city (Chicago). We have loved each place for different reasons, and for me, our 15-plus years in Chicago have rewarded me with fantastic job opportunities (moderating this blog, leading memoir-writing classes for older adults, and giving presentations at schools and civic events) and an unequaled sense of independence. I have to agree with Chris Downey when he says keeping accessibility in mind when designing urban architecture really can make things better…for everyone.

 

Count us In: October 31st is the Last Day for the 2020 U.S. Census

Edited 10/5/2020: The Census was extended once again to October 31st. 

Edited 10/1/2020: The Census was extended to October 5th.

The United States has counted its population every ten years since 1790 — it’s mandated by the United States Constitution. A strong proponent of the census way back then, James Madison, figured the only way public officials could “rest their arguments on facts, instead of assertions and conjectures” was if the official count of the population was as accurate and complete as possible. Which means, hey: let’s make sure all of us with disabilities are counted, too! Here’s why:

  • Transportation. Communities use census data when planning for public transit routes, upgrades and changes. Billions of dollars in federal funds are distributed for transportation projects, including public transit, accessible pedestrian signals, and truncated domes at intersections. We need all of those things to assure we can get around safely. The funding each state gets is based on census data. If we are not counted, that could mean less money for our cities and states for these projects. We need to be counted.
  • Health and Social Services. States receive billions of federal dollars to support a wide variety of programs, including funding for services we use that are specifically for people with disabilities. We need to be counted.
  • Representation. The number of people who respond in our communities and states will determine the number of electoral votes we get to help choose who becomes president, the number of seats our state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives, and how the congressional and state legislative districts are drawn. We need to be counted.

After previously stating the census would run through October 31, the bureau announced it was cutting the count short by a month, moving the deadline for responding to the 2020 Census up to October 5th, 2020. This year, while the world faces the impact of COVID-19, people with disabilities need to be counted. More than ever.

My husband can see and in the past he filled out the form for the two of us. This year I was able to fill our form out on my own. The 2020 Census Fact Sheet reports that the 2020 online questionnaire follows the latest Website Accessibility Content Guidelines for people with disabilities. If I could fill out our census form, you can do it, too! Visit https://my2020census.gov now, before it’s too late.

 

Making Online Speech Therapy Work: Tips from an Expert

speech therapist guest blogger Marsha Boyer, woman with shoulder length brown hair, glasses and warm smileHere it is! Part Two of speech-language pathologist Marsha Boyer’s guest blog about teletherapy. The owner of Speech Connections, Inc in Indianapolis, Marsha says she’s seen countless changes in the Speech and Language therapy field over her 27-year career, ”but the year 2020 has brought a new meaning to the word ‘change!’” In Part one of her Education and Parenting guest post, she described how she, the children she serves and their parents made the switch from face-to-face therapy to tele-therapy while sheltering in place. Today she offers tips for speech-language pathologist and parents for the new school year.

by Marsha Boyer, M.A.,CCC-SLP

I believe I speak for most speech-language pathologists and parents when I say that in the early stages of the pandemic we were using what resources we had and trying our best to continue with services. Now that we have had some time to take a step back and assess what we’ve accomplished so far, we can look at making a few adjustments to improve the delivery of services. I’ve learned a lot in the last six months or so, and today I’m sharing my tips to help speech-language pathologists and parents get the most benefit out of your tele-therapy sessions.

Parents:

  1. Try to use a large screen device or computer, and check for good internet connection. Tablets and phones are sometimes what are available when parents also have to be online for work, but I have found these devices often do not allow clients to interact with online activities. Also, find websites that help you check your internet speed and quality.
  2. Keep nearby distractions to a minimum. Siblings and pets are great topics for us to talk about but sometimes they are doing things that draw attention away from the speech therapist.
  3. Finish up those snacks and meals before meeting. Though I would rather have them happy than “hangry”, we lose some quality therapy time while they are eating, leaving me to stand by waiting.
  4. Set up your child in front of the camera so that your speech therapist can see their entire face. Hearing their speech through a speaker often does not allow me to hear those subtle changes. If I also have the visual component, the two together help me make a better assessment of how they are doing.

At this point in the year, most speech-language pathologists have had some experience with tele-therapy and most likely have materials and routines all set. My advice to speech pathologists at this point is to stay true to your style of therapy as much as you can to maintain some normality. For instance, though green screen activities are engaging, if that was not part of your skill set before the pandemic you may not want to tackle that yet. Annotating PDFs and using interactive learning games can address goals just as well. Here are a few additional tips to take your online sessions up a notch.

Speech-Language Pathologists:

  1. Have an external microphone and use headphones or earbuds while meeting with a child.
  2. Plan ahead for creative ways to engage very young children. We all know preschoolers can be unpredictable, but if you have a general idea of how you want to address a particular goal, you reduce the need to scramble for a way to pull in their attention. Even a simple hide and seek game where you ask a parent to help them hide an object while they turn off video, then back on for you to look around and ask them “where did you hide it?” This type of simple activity is great for working on answering questions.
  3. Consider a healthy mix of direct therapy from you and parent/child observation. Parents are happy to help facilitate and be a part of the session, but not all parents are at the same readiness level when it comes to being the leader. To a speech therapist, the parent/child interaction can be valuable information, but several parents I’ve spoken with have expressed feelings of stress and lack of confidence when asked to play with their child while the speech therapist watches and adds tips for drawing out specific skills.
  4. Go the extra mile now and again. I use a specific program for stuttering which involves the child keeping a set of cards that explain their fluency “tools.” I don’t ask the parent to print out these cards at home. Instead, I laminate the cards and send them by mail to their home. I include some fun stickers as encouragement, too, and discovered that kids get really excited about receiving mail with their name on it. Now I make encouragement packages a part of my practice for all of the clients I see.

Whether you’re a parent or a speech therapist, I hope my tips help you get more out of your therapy sessions!