Why I Don’t Vote By Absentee Ballot

This week is National Disability Voter Registration Week. Are you registered to vote? If not, learn more here!

polling place, vote here signI’ve published posts here about the obstacles people with disabilities often run into at polling places, and after an op-ed piece I wrote about this appeared in the New York Daily News in 2016, people started asking me why I don’t just vote absentee. The answer is simple. To me, going to the polls is essential. There’s no substitute for the feel of a voting device in your hand or the sound of your vote actually registering. Voting at the polling place gives me a certainty that voting by absentee ballot can’t provide.

And I want my vote to count.

The National Voter Registration Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act and the Federal Rehabilitation Act guarantee the right to vote to all registered voters — including those of us with disabilities.

When I’m in the voting booth, I put headphones on to hear Text-to-Speech software translating the candidate selections on the ballot into spoken choices, I use a special keypad to choose my candidates by touch, and then I confirm my selections by voice again before my ballot is officially cast. It’s when I explain this process to others that I get those questions about voting absentee. “Why not save yourself the trouble,” some suggest with a shrug. “Vote absentee at home.” On a purely technical level, I won’t vote absentee as it’s historically fraught with challenges, including ballots getting damaged or lost, and in many cases not even counted.

It’s the larger imperative that compels me to the polls, however. Voters need to see people with disabilities out there voting with them. The astonished comments I hear from people waiting with my Seeing Eye dog and me in queue tell me they really do want me to vote.

Those of us with disabilities can’t let others forget about us. In the not-too-distant past, people with disabilities did stay home, not just on voting day, but perpetually. We can never go back to those days, and voting publicly is one way to ensure we don’t.

 

Reading List: Books About Disability For Kids and Teens

A stack of books against a white backgroundIndependence Day has come and gone, but there’s still a lot to celebrate this month: It’s the anniversary of the ADA and many cities across the country are celebrating disability pride! One way to celebrate and learn about the contributions of people with disabilities is by reading books about them. Earlier this month I put together a blog post with a list of books about disability for adults, and now it’s time for the kids. Here’s a list of some of the books for children and young adults we’ve reviewed over the years:

For younger kids

For teens and young adults

Happy reading!

 

Calling All Writers: Submit Your Creative Work To This Online Magazine

A close up on two hands drawing a geometric figure in a notebook.Magnets and Ladders publishes writing by people with disabilities, and they’ll be holding contests in the areas of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the Fall/Winter 2018 issue. Cash prizes of $30 and $20 will be awarded to the first and second place winners in each category. Their submission guidelines are pretty clear:

  • Writers with disabilities may submit up to three selections per issue;
  • Writers must disclose their disability in their biography or in their work;
  • Poetry maximum length is 50 lines;
  • Memoir, fiction, and nonfiction maximum length is 2,500 words;
  • Single-space all submissions;
  • Use a blank line to separate paragraphs and stanzas;
  • Spell check and proofread all entries.

Previously published material and simultaneous submissions are permitted provided you own the copyright to the work, and Magnets and Ladders staff asks that you cite the previous publisher and/or notify them if work has been accepted elsewhere.

Magnets and Ladders is an online magazine with a tagline that says it all: Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities. The submission guidelines make it clear the magazine “does not feature advocacy, activist, how-to, or what’s new articles regarding disabilities” and prefers poetry, memoir, fiction and non-fiction. They also welcome innovative techniques for better writing as well as publication success stories. You can read the magazine or sign up for the email edition by visiting the Magnets and Ladders website. Submissions should be emailed to submissions@magnetsandladders.org, and you might think about getting started now — the deadline for submissions for this year’s Fall/Winter issue is August 15, 2018.

 

Reading List: Books About Disability For Adults

It’s July already, and you know what that means: it’s the anniversary of the ADA and many cities across the country are celebrating disability pride! One way to celebrate and learn about the contributions of people with disabilities is by reading books about them. Looking for a book recommendation? Check out this list of some of the books for adults that we’ve reviewed on the Easterseals blog over the years:

Lisa Fenn’s Carry On

The cover of Lisa Fenn's 'Carry On'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Kurson’s Crashing Through

The cover of Robert Kurson's 'Crashing Through'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mary McHugh’s Special Siblings

The cover of Mary McHugh's 'Special Siblings'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See

The cover of Anthony Doerr's 'All The Light We Cannot See'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don Meyer’s Thicker than Water

The cover of Don Meyer's 'Thicker Than Water'
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Hughes’ Running with Walker: A Memoir

The cover of Rover Hughes's 'Running With Walker'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The cover of Mark Haddon's 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temple Grandin’s Thinking in Pictures

The cover of Temple Grandin's 'Thinking In Pictures'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for a list of disability-related books for kids and teens, too? Stay tuned for my next post, and in the meantime…happy reading.

 

A Trend Worth Watching: Accessible and Adaptive Fashion

A shirt, thread, buttons and other sewing materials against a bright blue backdropIs it just me, or have you noticed a trend in “adaptive fashion” lately? It seems more and more stylish apparel is being designed for a variety of audiences:

  • People with disabilities
  • People who have suffered an injury
  • Patients undergoing various medical treatments
  • People with sensory issues who need clothing made of extra-soft materials
  • Older adults.

After hosting a Thrive disability and fashion chat in 2016 about what it means to be a fashionista in a society that doesn’t always consider the accessibility of clothing and style, Erin Hawley posted a blog here urging designers to consider accessibility as an integral part of their design process, and you know what? The designers listened.

I wrote a post here last year when Tommy Hilfiger made fashion history by launching Tommy Adaptive, the first mainstream adaptive collection of clothing. Since then I’ve read stories in print and social media about retail stores like Target and Macy’s offering adaptive clothing, and just this past weekend, A Place For Mom published a blog post called New Family Caregivers Guide to Adaptive Clothingit’s stock full of information about designers specializing in adaptive clothing, what’s available off the rack (everything from magnetic closure button-down shirts to soft jeans with pockets easy for wheelchair users to reach), how to find patterns to sew at home, resources for altering the clothes on hand to make them more adaptive and what kinds of tools can make dressing easier. Being blind, my only major problem with dressing is confirming that the clothes I am wearing match. After reading this guide, though, I’m thinking of investing in a jean jacket with magnetic closures. That just sounds cool!

 

Why You Should Care About the ABLE Age Adjustment Act

A calculator on top of graph paper with a pen to the sideWhen my mother died a few years ago, she left a small amount of money to each of her grandchildren. Except for our son Gus. We specifically asked her not to include him in her will.

Gus has significant physical and developmental disabilities and receives Medicaid and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). Before my mother died, my husband and I had to explain to her that having even a modest amount in savings or assets could jeopardize her beloved grandson’s eligibility to receive those public benefits.

That all changed in 2014. The support of Easterseals and countless other non-profits urged lawmakers to come up with a savings tool to help families save for the future needs of their children with disabilities, and when the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) ACT was signed into law in 2014, it introduced a way for families with special needs to save in a tax-advantaged account as a supplement to private insurance and government benefits. An article in Forbes Magazine reports that more than 30 states have administered ABLE programs, and over 13,000 accounts have been opened so far. I am one of those 13,000 people with an ABLE account now –I opened one a few months ago and will use it to save for future expenses our family may face due to disability.

The ABLE Act Congress signed into law in 2014 limits the savings tool to individuals who acquired their disability before turning age 26, and a new effort is underway in Congress to raise the age limit. Increasing the age limit would ensure that more individuals with disabilities could set money aside for future needs the way that others save up for housing, employment training, personal support services, or other supports to improve their health and independence. So take action now and contact your Members of Congress to tell them to cosponsor and approve the ABLE Age Adjustment Act (H.R. 1874/ S. 817). It’s the right thing to do, and is an essential step toward achieving sustainability for the current ABLE account program.

Stay updated on legislation affecting people with disabilities, and learn how you can take action.

 

Do You Know Your Accessible Transportation Options?

#TransportationOptions Twitter Chat June 20, 2018 2 p.m. Eastern/11 a.m. Pacific

Join us for a Twitter chat to discuss more transportation options.

For people with disabilities and older adults across the country, transportation is key to independence including but not limited to running errands, social activities, and working. At Easterseals, we want to ensure that you know your options when it comes to getting from point A to point B. Check out our overview of transportation options below.

In addition to reviewing this list, be sure to check out the recap of the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC) #TransportationOptions Twitter chat, which took place on June 20th.

The live chat will focus on driver safety, exploration of options beyond driving for older adults and people with disabilities, and how to share information on transportation options available in your community. We’ll post an archive of the questions and answers at www.nadtc.org after the chat.

A man helping an older woman off of a bus

Via Meals on Wheels

Demand response. Sometimes called Dial-a-Ride, demand response transports multiple passengers who are picked up from different entry points and dropped off at separate destinations. This service often
requires reservations to be made at least 24–48 hours in advance.

Medicaid Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT). NEMT is available to persons with Medicaid to travel to and from medical services. Eligibility criteria and types of destinations vary from state to state.

Public transit/fixed route transportation. Public transit agencies provide fixed route service by bus and rail along established routes with set schedules and no reservations required. Limited fixed route services may be available through other community agencies, such as trips to and from a Center for Independent Living or a senior center.

Paratransit. Paratransit must be offered by public transit agencies to individuals who are not able to use fixed route service. This is a requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Paratransit is a complement to public transit, so must operate within ¾ of a mile of the fixed route and is available during the same hours as the fixed route service. Paratransit is a door-to-door service. A personal care attendant can travel with the passenger at no cost. To qualify for paratransit, riders need to meet specific eligibility requirements established under ADA.

Shared Ride Services (also known as Transportation Network Companies or TNCs). These
include Uber and Lyft and connect private pay passengers with drivers who provide transportation in
their own vehicles. These services do not typically offer wheelchair accessible vehicles or rider assistance. Passengers connect with drivers via websites or mobile apps on a smartphone and also pay for the services through a personal account on their phone. A growing number of communities offer access to shared ride services to older adults and people with disabilities through a scheduling phone line which may be operated by a nonprofit organization.

Taxi Services. Taxis are licensed vehicles that offer on-demand services to passengers. Trips usually can be scheduled in advance or on the spot, and fares are charged per mile or per minute. Many communities require taxi companies to have accessible vehicles in their fleets. Some community agencies offer taxi vouchers to older adults and people with disabilities who meet certain
eligibility criteria.

Travel Training. Public transit agencies and local aging and disability organizations provide free instruction to help new riders learn to travel safely on public transit. Travel training may be provided by professionals or peers who are experienced users of public transit. The training generally includes classroom instruction plus a group trip on transit.

Transportation Voucher Programs. Voucher programs provide fare assistance or free rides to low-income older adults and people with disabilities who meet the program’s eligibility criteria. Eligible riders usually receive vouchers for specific types of transportation. Voucher programs may offer rides only to certain destinations, such as medical appointments.

Volunteer Transportation Programs. These types of programs may be offered by local nonprofit and faith-based organizations. Drivers provide rides in their own cars or agency-owned vehicles for passengers to reach medical appointments or other important destinations. Rides are generally pre-arranged. Volunteer transportation programs may also offer door-to-door or door-through-door assistance. Some programs require riders to pay a small fee while others offer free rides.

More posts about transportation:

 

This New Video Series Tackles Awkward Moments With Humor

The Cerebral Palsy Foundation launched the first episode of its new Awkward Moments animated series last month. I. Loved. It. the spots are about a minute long and created to address two audiences:

  1. Average people who aren’t sure what to say or how to act around those of us who have disabilities, and
  2. Those of us with disabilities who don’t always know what to say or how to react when awkward moments occur.

I mean, let’s be real. People with disabilities are in the minority. It’s understandable that others might be unsure how to start a conversation with one of us. They might wonder if it’s okay to ask questions, or be so afraid of saying the wrong thing that they say, well…nothing.

I think this Awkward Moments digitally animated series might help. The social media campaign is a collaboration between Jason Benetti (the voice of the Chicago White Sox), Cerebral Palsy Foundation CEO Richard Ellenson, producer Adam Quinn and animator Peaches Goodrich. Benetti, who himself has cerebral palsy, narrates the playful spots in a way that allows us to laugh at ourselves while simultaneously reflecting on the way we respond to people who are different than us.

In the opening scene of Episode One, Jason Benetti has a clever way of addressing the awkward moment some parents face when their children ask out loud about people with disabilities they come across in public. “It’s cool for a kid to try to figure this out,” he reasons. “Look, I’m a guy who walks a bit different, and whose eyes go in all sorts of directions…” Baseball fans who wonder how a broadcaster with eyes like that can call play-by-play might appreciate the stage whisper afterwards, acknowledging that his cerebral palsy only affects his peripheral vision.

But back to the kid asking an awkward question. I’m totally with Jason Benetti here — I actually like it when kids ask me questions. How else will they learn? Later on in the video Jason Benetti says his cerebral palsy is part of who he is. “It caused damage to the brain,” he acknowledges. “And not damage to the spirit, or the soul.”

I look forward to watching the entire Awkward Moments series. If Episode One is any indication, the entire series is going to arm me with all sorts of tips to stay cool if and when blind moments get awkward. For now, the next time that happens, I’m going to follow Jason Benetti’s lead: reassure people that while retinopathy damaged my eyesight, it didn’t damage my spirit. Or my soul.

Learn more about Awkward Moments at the Cerebral Palsy Foundation web site.

 

Is That A Service Dog?

Beth at the bus stopA small dog yipped and lunged at my Seeing Eye dog Whitney as we checked in for a flight at Chicago’s Midway Airport last month. No one got hurt, but it was alarming.

I know to ready myself for distractions from other dogs when I’m outside with Whitney, I just forget that I have to be prepared for dog distractions inside airports now, too. When we got to the gate, that same small dog barked and lunged at Whitney again. Just our luck: the yippy dog and its owner were going to be on our flight. My husband Mike was with us, and when he told me that the dog who’d lunged at Whitney was wearing a vest that said “Service dog in training,” I asked the owner the two questions federal law allows businesses to ask people claiming their dogs are service dogs: “Is that a Service Dog?” and “What tasks or work does your dog perform for you?” The owner answered “yes” to the first question, then told me the dog keeps her calm and prevents her from getting panic attacks. Another woman at the gate had a smallish dog on a leash — that dog also had a vest on that said “service dog” –and when Southwest announced that people with disabilities could pre-board, both woman rushed to the front of the line to grab the bulkhead seats.

I sat in the 8th row window seat. Whitney, a 60 pound Yellow Lab/Golden Retriever cross, sat with her bottom under the seat in front of us, her head on my feet, and didn’t make a peep during the flight. When I stood up with her after we landed, the couple who’d been sitting in the row in front of us complimented Whitney’s good behavior. “We didn’t even know there was a dog behind us!” they marveled.

“She’s a service dog,” Mike responded with a shrug. “She was trained to behave in public.” I waited for the two dogs in the bulkhead seats to leave before giving Whitney the “Forward!” command. And then? My Seeing Eye dog calmly led me off the plane.

In light of the challenges people working with service animals are facing during air travel, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is making plans to amend and clarify its regulations implementing the Air Carrier Access Act. DOT has issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making (ANPRM) and is seeking comments from the public on these specific issues:

  1. Whether psychiatric service animals should be treated similarly to other service animals.
  2. Whether there should be a distinction between emotional support animals and other service animals.
  3. Whether emotional support animals should be required to travel in pet carriers for the duration of the flight.
  4. Whether the species of service animals and emotional support animals that airlines are required to transport should be limited.
  5. Whether the number of service animals/emotional support animals should be limited per passenger.
  6. Whether an attestation should be required from all service animal and emotional support animal users that their animal has been trained to behave in a public setting.
  7. Whether service animals and emotional support animals should be harnessed, leashed, or otherwise tethered.
  8. Whether there are safety concerns with transporting large service animals and if so, how to address them.
  9. Whether airlines should be prohibited from requiring a veterinary health form or immunization record from service animal users without an individualized assessment that the animal would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others or would cause a significant disruption in the aircraft cabin.

You can submit comments by July 9, 2018 either on line, by fax, or by mail. I’m definitely going to comment – I think clearer rules about traveling with service animals could help eliminate some problems.

 

The Top 10 Most Accessible Cities in America

Just got back from a trip to Washington, DC. While walking around with friends there, I couldn’t help but notice how nice the streets and sidewalks in DC and nearby Alexandria are — guess I’ve become too accustomed to the cracks and potholes and construction cut-outs here in Chicago!

Turns out I’m not the only one to notice such things — a new list of the top ten American cities for accessibility ranks Washington DC #1. Redfin.com offers a custom search filter on its site that allows users to locate accessible homes for sale in their communities, and by combining results from the search filter with additional city data, they put together this list of what they regard as America’s top 10 most accessible cities.

10. Baltimore, Maryland
Number of Accessible Listings in 2017: 17,067
Median Home Sale Price: $171,000
Percentage of People Living with a Disability: 11.9%

Easily accessible transit options, including a subway service and buses, are available in many Baltimore locations to connect residents to the airport, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Washington, D.C. The city’s Inner Harbor area, where you’ll find restaurants and other attractions, is exceptionally well designed when it comes to accessibility.

9. San Antonio, Texas
Number of Accessible Listings in 2017: 5,267
Median Home Sale Price: $231,990
Percentage of People Living with a Disability: 10.4%

With wide sidewalks and many ADA-compliant attractions, such as San Antonio’s River Walk, the Alamo and several historical attractions, San Antonio is Texas’s most accessible city. The city’s bus service, VIA, offers discounted fares and priority seating for people with disabilities, making public transit easy to navigate and use. The San Antonio Museum of Art, Botanical Garden and Missions National Historic Park are only a handful of accessible attractions in the city; there are several disability-friendly parks and recreation areas in and around town, as well.

8. Atlanta, Georgia
Accessible Homes Listings in 2017: 3,855
Median Home Sale Price: $266,000
Percentage of People Living with a Disability: 8.6%

Atlanta, known for its grand old manor homes and several ADA-compliant attractions, such as the Georgia Aquarium, the Atlanta Zoo and the College Football Hall of Fame, is one of the most accessible cities in the nation. The city’s major transportation system, MARTA, is easily accessible.

7. Vancouver, Washington
Number of Accessible Listings in 2017: 3,024
Median Home Sale Price: $300,000
Percentage of People Living with a Disability: 10.5%

Vancouver is home to more than 450 acres of parks, trails and open space, most of which is ADA-compliant (the only exception is space that’s designed to preserve natural terrain). Many accessible hikes and outdoor attractions are available, including sightseeing at Captain William Clark Park Trail and the Columbia River Waterfront Renaissance Trail.

6. San Jose, California
Number of Accessible Listings in 2017: 659
Median Home Sale Price: $780,000
Percentage of People Living with a Disability: 5.0%

Seasonably warm and surrounded by the Diablo and Santa Cruz Mountains in the heart of the Santa Clara Valley, San Jose is one of the most accessible cities on the West Coast. Featuring a booming high-tech industry and serving as a cultural hub for central California, it’s home to several notable ADA-compliant attractions, such as the Sunol Regional Wilderness and the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph. The Municipal Rose Garden, Happy Hollow Park and Zoo and several local businesses all over the city are also disability-friendly.

5. Tucson, Arizona
Number of Accessible Listings in 2017: 7,699
Median Home Sale Price: $210,000
Percentage of People Living with a Disability: 10.9%

Tucson, home to the University of Arizona, is a flat-terrain city and sits between several mountain ranges. It has an accessible bus service: Sun Tran. Tucson attracts visitors to several ADA-friendly attractions, including the famed Mt. Lemmon, the Pima Air and Space Museum and the Tucson Museum of Art.

4. Portland, Oregon
Number of Accessible Listings in 2017: 5,500
Median Home Sale Price: $370,000
Percentage of People Living with a Disability: 9.7%

As one of the most ADA-compliant cities on the West Coast, Portland is home to Pioneer Square, the Harborwalk and so much more – and most locations are easy to navigate. TriMet service runs through Portland and its suburbs while offering reduced fares for seniors and those with disabilities under its Honored Citizen program. Beautiful public parks and green spaces dot the city, and each is accessible and easy to navigate.

3. Tampa, Florida
Number of Accessible Listings in 2017: 876
Median Home Sale Price: $265,000
Percentage of People Living with a Disability: 8.9%

The shores of Tampa Bay are known for pristine beauty, and the city itself is steeped in history; those factors, plus its warm, tropical climate make it a desirable location. However, Tampa is also known for its disability-friendly atmosphere, with wide sidewalks over flat terrain, accessible public parks and attractions, and the Sunshine Line – door-to-door transportation and bus passes for the elderly and people with disabilities. The Florida Aquarium, ZooTampa at Lowry Park and Busch Gardens are all ADA-compliant, and those are only a few of the notable (and accessible) attractions in the city.

2. Salt Lake City, Utah
Number of Accessible Listings in 2017: 1,261
Median Home Sale Price: $265,500
Percentage of People Living with a Disability: 7.5%

Salt Lake City, famed for its high quality of life (thanks in part to the convenient and historic downtown area and breathtaking views of the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains), is close to Great Salt Lake and home to nationally renowned, ADA-compliant recreational areas and charming city parks. Ranking just behind the D.C. metro area on accessible, quality healthcare, The Crossroads of the West is also well-outfitted with curb ramps and offers free parking at city meters for people with disabilities who have a windshield placard or specialized license plate. Salt Lake City is also home to several accessible attractions, including the Salt Lake Temple, Hogle Zoo and Antelope Island State Park, where you can see free-roaming bison grazing in the valleys.

1. Metro D.C. (Alexandria, the District of Columbia, and Arlington)
Number of Accessible Listings in 2017: 10,634
Median Home Sale Price: $580,000
Percentage of People Living with a Disability: 6.7%

Metro D.C., which includes the nearby cities of Alexandria and Arlington, is the most accessible metropolitan area in the nation. The Washington, D.C. subway system also runs through Alexandria and Arlington, and each city has its own bus system; the city of Alexandria is home to GO Alex, a public transit service specifically designed for people with mobility issues. The metro area is packed with community recreational programs designed for people with disabilities, and all federal buildings are ADA-accessible. With wide sidewalks that are easy to navigate, ample access to high-quality healthcare and a number of ADA-compliant attractions, parks and businesses, this metro area has earned the #1 spot on this list.

Information on the methodology used to assemble this list is available at redfin.com.