Navigating a World Impacted By COVID-19

a child looks at a tablet will sitting on the floor, attending virtual therapy The world is facing an extremely difficult and sobering time. Many of our lives have been put on pause or turned upside down. This is especially felt by those in the Easterseals community. The virus is mostly affecting people with disabilities, older adults, people with complex medical conditions, as well as parents and caregivers who do everything they can to ensure the well-being of their loved ones.

While this may be a challenging time for everyone in our communities, we hold on to our values now more than ever.  Easterseals is not just about delivering services; we are about community. We are about overcoming barriers and obstacles together with the support of our friends, neighbors, families and loved ones.

From the start of the pandemic, we have found new and innovative ways to serve individuals, families and communities who have come to rely on Easterseals for more than 100 years.  We will continue to face the challenges posed by COVID-19 and make it through together. Until then, we are proud and inspired by the commitment of the Easterseals network of 68 facilities which serve 1.5 million individuals and families each year – including now as we face this national public health crisis.

  • Telehealth and Virtual Services. Many Easterseals health care professionals throughout our network are now delivering services through technology or by  telephone. We are still connecting with individuals and families by providing counseling, therapies, guidance on health and wellness, referring people to resources for food and other essential needs, as well as providing stay-at-home activities and exercises.

Take a look at little Isiah from Easterseals Delaware & Maryland’s Eastern Shore completing his last Easterseals speech therapy session virtually! We are so proud of him!

  • Online Events. Several Easterseals programs and events were unfortunately closed, cancelled or postponed during the Coronavirus outbreak. However, Easterseals therapists, early education teachers, and instructors have taken to social media to offer families free resources, activities and tips to help them navigate staying at home during the pandemic.  Sheila, an Easterseals therapist, hosted an online sing-a-long for children looking to make their voices heard! Amica, a teacher, gave us story time for kids. And Danielle, another Easterseals therapist, has created a video series to help families implement positive behavior intervention supports at home.

As mentioned, many Easterseals events and programs used to generate revenue have been cancelled or closed. The good news is that a lot of them have gone virtual! Please be sure to visit your local Easterseals to see how you can support your community, or if you can, please donate here.

  • Community support. As you know, New York is experiencing an alarming number of COVID-19 cases which threatens the health care infrastructure within the state. Easterseals is doing everything possible to ensure essential goods and resources get to families that need them. This includes collecting and distributing food and other necessities (laundry soap, bar soap, shampoo, hand wipes) to over 500 people with disabilities, older adults and their families. Here’s how you can help.
  • Online Resources. We want to make sure people are informed and equipped with the most helpful information to navigate the new normal of sheltering in place during the crisis.  Here are a few resources for you – please share!
    • Coronavirus: Staying Healthy Together – a collection of network-wide resources to support parents and people with disabilities
    • Resources for Caregivers – a collection of resources put together by Easterseals Central Illinois to help parents cope with stay-at-home directives.
    • Coronavirus Resources (Links to a master spreadsheet) – Thanks to Easterseals Colorado for gathering these robust resources, addressing everything from delivery services to physical and mental wellness to socializing. Some of these resources are specific to Colorado but many can be used by anyone.

We hope you find these resources helpful and inspire you to do what you can to stay safe and healthy. We’re in this together!

 

 

The 2020 U.S. Census: We Need to be Counted

Illustrated hands in the air (background). Illustrations of people, some with disabilities (foreground) A couple reporters contacted me with questions about Census 2020 and its importance to people with disabilities. When they asked if I’d filled out the form on my own during the census ten years ago, I had to tell them no. “It wasn’t accessible,” I said with a shrug.

In 2010, the official census form every American received in the mail was not available in an accessible format. People who were blind or had visual impairments were told to ask someone we know to help us fill out a census questionnaire, visit a Questionnaire Assistance Center where a paid Census Bureau staff member could help us, or call a toll free number that was available between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. 7 days a week.

My husband can see, and he filled out the form for us in 2010.

Today, on Census Day, I’m hoping to fill our form out on my own. You can do so too by visiting https://my2020census.gov. The 2020 Census Fact Sheet reports that the 2020 online questionnaire will follow the latest Website Accessibility Content Guidelines (WACG) and that Braille and large print guides can also be provided for those who prefer responding by U.S. mail.

Why do I care about all this? Why is it so important for me, a person with a disability, to be counted – especially while the world faces the impact of COVID-19? Here’s why:

  • Transportation. My community uses 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. I need all of those things to get  around the city safely. The funding our state gets is based on census data. If I am not counted, that could mean less money for my city and state for these projects. I need to be counted.
  • Health and Social Services. My state receives billions of federal dollars to support a wide variety of programs, including funding for services I use that are specifically for people with blindness and vision loss. I need to be counted.
  • Representation. The number of people who respond in my community and state 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. I need to be counted.

Yes. People with disabilities need to be counted. And this year, thanks to accessibility measures, I just might be able to see to that on my own.

 

We’re in This Together! A Conversation with John Lawson, Actor & Filmmaker

This just in: an important message about COVID-19 from some incredible, multi-talented friends within the disability community. Thank you to filmmaker extraordinaire John Lawson for quickly spearheading this urgent public service project!

This video reminds us that we are all in this together…to self-isolate, stay at home, and do your part to stop the spread of this virus – especially because people with disabilities may be particularly vulnerable. Please share with your friends and help us save lives!

And, here’s a fun fact. The filmmaker and everyone you see in this PSA are active participants (and super spokespeople) of the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, including its founder/director, actor and Easterseals Southern California board member, Nic Novicki.

We’re thrilled to host John today for a brief Q&A about this awesome video:

Easterseals: What made you decide to do the PSA?

John: I actually saw a PSA that was done by a major network with some of their TV series regulars, but of course it didn’t include anyone with disabilities. In my own research and seeing information posted about COVID-19, I learned that seniors and some people with certain disabilities or compromised immune systems would be more at risk. Especially early on, with lack of testing available and reports of some people not realizing they could be carriers infecting others, I felt it important to help spread the word about self-isolation as a protection to the public.

Easterseals: In the climate of social distancing, how did you get all those celebrities to participate?John smiling at the camera

John: After being in the trenches for nearly 30 years as an advocate for people with disabilities, especially in film and television, I have worked with and become good friends with many actors of different levels of success. I just email or called everyone and asked them to participate. From New York to New Orleans to Los Angeles, they were all happy to help by filming at their respective homes to help spread the message. Everyone sent their videos to me and then I edited the PSA into its final version.

Easterseals: What do you hope the PSA accomplishes?

John: Hopefully the public will see familiar faces from television and film that they invite into their homes for various forms of entertainment and realize that they could possibly infect not only loved ones within their own family circle, but also those who may be more at risk because of age, disability or compromised immune system.

Easterseals: Anything else you’d like to add?

John: I am really pleased that this little 90 second video, brought together in just 48 hours is being so well received and watched around the world. As the US is now the epicenter in the full grips of this global pandemic, hopefully the public will take the message to heart and realize that “safer at home” has just as big an impact for others as it does for themselves.

Truly, we are all in this together.

 

Visit John’s IMDb page to learn more about his work or check out his many films for the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge.

We’re in this Together features: Danny WoodburnDaryl Chill Mitchell, Marilee Talkington, Sammi Haney’s DisabilityShirts.com, Blair Williamson, Diana Elizabeth Jordan Actor/Solo Performer-Speaker, FilmmakerPatrika DarboNic NovickiAngel GiuffriaRJ Mitte, Tobias Forrest, and Danny Gomez.

 

Coronavirus: Keeping Safe and Healthy

an illustration of a heartSince the beginning of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, our top priority has been to ensure the protection and safety of all. As we continue to monitor the ongoing spread of the Coronavirus, we want to ensure everyone who relies on our services are aware of best practices to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

To stay healthy and safe, please take these actions:
• Cough and sneeze into your elbow or upper arm. Use a tissue.
• Wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap and water.
• Stay home if you are sick and seek medical care.

If you or someone you know receives Easterseals services at any of our centers across the country, be sure to connect locally for updates relevant to your location. If you experience or observe the symptoms below in your household, please stay home and reschedule any appointments. Call a healthcare professional, detailing your symptoms and any recent travel. They will provide instructions on next steps.

• Fever
• Cough
• Difficulty Breathing
• Sore Throat

Practice preventative behaviors at home or work. The CDC has more information about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Easterseals has taken necessary action to ensure all staff, caregivers, and volunteers are trained accordingly to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As a service organization that works closely with people with disabilities, older adults, and people with complex medical conditions, we understand the importance of a quick and swift response in this situation. That is why we have signed the National Call to Action as submitted by the World Institute on Disability, Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, and the National Council on Independent Living in solidarity with other disability organizations. We ask that federal and state governments ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are met as we plan for and respond to COVID-19.

For more information about COVID-19, please visit www.cdc.gov.

 

Disability Inclusion in “The Good Doctor”

On the set of the Good Doctor: Nic Novicki (left), Freddie Highmore (right) Antonia Thomas (middle)

(ABC/Jack Rowand)
Nic Novicki (left), Antonia Thomas (middle), Freddie Highmore (right)

Our guest blogger today is Nic Novicki. He’s an actor, producer, disability advocate, Founder/Director of the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, and Board Member of Easterseals Southern California. Nic makes a guest appearance in ABC’s The Good Doctor, on an episode that will air on Monday, March 9 – tune in! 

Easterseals’ purpose is to change the way the world defines and views disability. This amazing organization exists to make profound, positive differences in peoples’ lives and has been doing so for more than 100 years.

For the past 7 years, the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge’s strategy has been to advance disability representation in entertainment and cast disability in a new light. We are actively partnering alongside the entertainment industry to advance disability inclusion, break down misconceptions and stigmas, and make sure people with disabilities are included in front of and behind the camera.

Our work is paying off. In recent years, there have been a number of new TV shows that devote more airtime to giving dimension to disability and providing exciting new opportunities for actors with disabilities. Groundbreaking shows like Netflix’s Special, ABC’s Speechless and The Good Doctor have been leading the charge in hiring and featuring people with disabilities both in front of and behind the camera.

The Good Doctor in particular has been a great example of not only featuring a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome in a lead role, but also continually hiring actors with physical and cognitive disabilities as guest stars on the show. The show recently won the Visionary Award at the 2019 Media Access Awards. It helps that the writing staff includes David Renaud, a wheelchair user who can authentically speak to disability and often writes it into his episodes. I was lucky enough to get to know David through my involvement with the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge and he was gracious to think of me while writing an episode this season. This Monday night I have the honor of being a guest star on The Good Doctor.

It’s so exciting to experience a real-life example of how Easterseals is advancing careers for people with disabilities in Hollywood, and how it is having a tremendous impact on the way the world defines and views disabilities as a result. The power of quality storytelling is its ability to influence, inspire and change people’s perceptions about who we are, how we see ourselves and how we understand and empathize with other people. Having the opportunity to be on The Good Doctor is incredibly flattering. It fuels me as I look forward to this year’s Easterseals Disability Film Challenge in April to ensure we continue see our participants get jobs as a direct result of the film challenge. We’ve had great success stories of participants guest starring on hit shows like Loudermilk and many exciting soon-to-be-announced projects, as well as opportunities to work behind the camera in film and TV.

This is an exciting milestone, and I will continue to do everything I can to make sure others like me have every opportunity in show business, or in life, to do and be whatever it is they dream.

TUNE IN MONDAY, MARCH 9

“Heartbreak” – Dr. Claire Browne and Dr. Shaun Murphy treat a patient with a rare form of dwarfism. Meanwhile, Dr. Morgan Reznick, Dr. Audrey Lim and Dr. Alex Park treat a young man who had both arms torn off in a previous farming accident and Shaun reacts to an emotional situation, on a new episode of “The Good Doctor,” MONDAY, MARCH 9 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (TV-14) Episodes can also be viewed the next day on ABC.com, the ABC app and Hulu.

Watch a clip below:

 

 

Ready for your close-up?

close up of a camera lens Are you a person with a disability who is interested in modeling? Or do you support someone with a disability who would like to be a model? Now’s your chance!

Illinois ABLE is putting together a new web site and promotional materials and is looking for models with disabilities of all ages, gender, disability type, and ethnicity to represent the diversity of disability and let other individuals with disabilities and their families know about the many benefits of saving through an ABLE account.

What’s an ABLE account, you ask? Well,back in 2014, thanks to the support of Easterseals and countless other advocacy organizations, lawmakers came up with a savings tool to help families save for the future needs of their children with disabilities. The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) ACT was signed into law that year, introducing a way for families with special needs to save in a tax-advantaged ABLE account as a supplement to private insurance and government benefits.

But back to the casting call. Participation requires travel to either Chicago or Springfield, Illinois at the participant’s own expense, but models will receive $300 if chosen. Photo shoots will occur in Chicago on Monday, March 9, 2020 and in Springfield on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Not every applicant will be selected to participate, but hey, you don’t even have a chance if you don’t apply! Fill out the application here no later than Monday, March 2nd, 2020 and add an optional photo if you wish. If selected, you may appear on the Illinois ABLE website, social media channels, brochures, and/or in promotional ads for Illinois ABLE. Good luck!

 

Alicia’s First Solo Flight, Part Three: The Seasoned Traveler

Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of Alicia’s story.

The week I spent in Houston was one I won’t soon forget – I met new friends, visited new places, and got to experience a different perspective on the blind community. The drive back to William P. Hobby airport one week later didn’t make me nervous at all. I’d been through this before, and I knew what to expect this time. Juan’s dad was the one who took me to the Houston airport, and the walk from the parking lot to the entrance of the airport was long, and that wasn’t all: we had to walk even further inside to get to the ticket counter.

Once again, I requested assistance, but this time I didn’t have to sit there by myself waiting for the skycap to get there. Juan and his dad waited with me at the designated waiting area.

So I’d be flying on my own again, but this time everything felt different. The wait felt different because I was less anxious. I knew they wouldn’t forget me. The prospect of flying alone again felt different because I wasn’t nervous. I felt more confident, this sense of freedom and independence, and happy that Juan and his family made it possible.

When the airline assistant arrived, he was a bit confused to see Juan and me standing together. “Oh, am I helping both of you?” he asked – not in a patronizing way, but just for clarification. “I can get someone else to come and assist too,” he added.

“Oh, no, it’s just her traveling,” Juan clarified. His dad looked my way and added, “We’d like to walk with you just to make sure you make it to security, if that’s okay.”

“That’s fine,” I replied, and we all four chatted as we walked – Juan’s dad, Juan, the assistant and me. This assistant wasn’t as energetic and talkative as the one I’d had in Chicago, but he was still nice and I was impressed to have learned that they were prepared to help both of us if need be.

I did not take the wheelchair ride on the way back, deciding to walk instead. The walk was long, and we stopped at the security line to say goodbye. I thanked both Juan and his dad for having me, and they both said they hope I visit soon. “I’m glad you finally got to fly yourself,” Juan said.

Having known me for quite some time, he’d heard me talk about how much I’d wanted to fly all by myself and I finally did. But hearing it – hearing someone say they were happy I finally accomplished this – made me smile. “Text me when you land,” he added.

The security line was not long, and after we were done at TSA I did the same things I’d done at Midway Airport in Chicago – I stopped at the family style restroom, I filled up my water bottle, and I got assisted to the gate.

The only thing that made me nervous this time was when the airline assistant informed me that the gate agent wasn’t currently present. “Okay, but…but someone needs to know that I’m doing pre-boarding and need assistance,” I said, trying to keep the panic out of my voice. When I get too nervous and anxious, my tone tends to come off more forceful than I intend, and I wanted to prevent that.

“They will,” he assured me. “And I’m going to put you in this wheelchair, because they’re more likely to notice you, and they’ll know you need help.” He did just that, and five minutes later, he approached me again to tell me that he spoke with the gate agent who would be coming to talk to me shortly.

The agent approached me a few minutes later just to check on me. He asked how I was doing and assured me that he knew I needed assistance. When it was time to pre-board, I held the agent’s arm as he guided me down the jetway and on to the plane. From there the flight attendant took over and led me to my seat.

The flight home felt short. Maybe that’s because I slept through more than half of it! When we landed, I sent a text to my parents to let them know. My mom texted back to let me know she was at baggage claim. I was the last one

off the plane, and the “meet and assist” (what they call the person helping you at the gate) was chatty and full of energy, even for the late hour of 11pm.

We talked about the weather, my trip, and my first solo flight. All the chatter made the walk from the gate seem shorter than it was, and my mom was there at baggage claim waiting for me with a cheery, “Hey! We missed you!”

I am writing this having been home for two weeks, and the feeling of liberation still hasn’t left me. Flying alone has always been a goal of mine, and at the very start of 2020, I checked it off my list. I hope that means things can only go up from here, and I’m in for a good rest of the year.

 

Alicia’s First Solo Flight, Part Two: Taking Off

an airplane taking off on a runwayHave you read the first part of Alicia’s Story? Check it out!

My parents drove me to Chicago Midway airport for my flight. I had been a little nervous that morning, but once I realized weather wasn’t going to stop me, excitement took over. The anxiety about my first time flying alone started to fade, and I could sit in the car and enjoy the ride.

A good 45 minutes later, my dad was driving circles in the parking lot while my mom led me inside to the ticket counter. My dad had told me they could get special passes to take me from the ticket counter to the gate, but I said no. “The point of this is for me to do this by myself,” I explained to him. He understood. I think. No matter how old you are, or how much you’ve prepared for something, parents always worry about their kids. Then, add a disability to the mix.

At the ticket counter, I showed my ID and requested assistance to my gate. Mom led me to a seat to wait for airport assistance, said goodbye, told me to have fun, and left.

This was the worst part. What is considered a normal wait time? “I’ve been waiting for like 10 minutes,” I texted my friend Juan in Houston. “Is this normal?” He replied in less than a minute: Yes!” Another friend I texted sent a reassuring reply: “They won’t forget about you.”

And they didn’t.

“Ali?” a man said, standing a few feet away. I stood up, smiling. “Hi! Yep, that’s me!”

“Do you need a wheelchair?” he asked me. I thought for a second. I had anticipated this question — when I asked my blind friends about what to expect from airline assistance, they told me that this wheelchair question is very common. Oddly enough, I didn’t have an answer. I wasn’t sure I wanted the ride. “I mean…I don’t need one, but if it’s faster, sure.”

He helped me into the wheelchair, and I laughed and made some light-hearted joke about how I didn’t know what I was doing. “I’ve never been in a wheelchair in my life!”

We zoomed down some hallways, took an elevator down, zoomed down more empty hallways, and wound up at the front of the security line with two people ahead of us. I was instructed to put my phone in my purse, so I did. The skycap took my things, I stood up, and walked through security.

“Okay, you’re through,” the TSA agent said. She sounded friendly and I could tell she was smiling. I smiled back.

“Okay, awesome!” I said – which, okay, probably isn’t your typical response at TSA, but I was feeling so excited and proud of myself that I couldn’t help but call it the way I saw it: it was awesome. The TSA agent laughed. “Is this your first time flying?”

“Sort of,” I said, explaining this was my first solo flight. “I’ve always flown with my parents.” Just then the airline assistant returned with the wheelchair, my purse and my cane. Once I was seated and situated again, the skycap placed my suitcase on my lap. “Before we go to the gate, can we stop at a restroom?” I asked, letting him know I prefer the family style ones. “Those are one-person, right?”

The skycap confirmed that yes, they were, and we started moving again. “Okay, then that would be great if possible, and not too much of an inconvenience. I just hate public restrooms, you know? Wandering around looking for everything,” I laughed. The assistant laughed, agreeing with me. As we rode along, I pulled out my phone and texted my parents that I’d made it through security.

After the restroom I asked for one more request. “Can we go somewhere to fill up my water bottle?” I apologized after I asked. That’s something I’m trying to work on. His job is to assist me; I don’t need to apologize for said assistance. We filled my water bottle and then headed for the gate.

“Can you let the gate agent know I’m here? I’m doing pre-boarding, so I’ll need help,” I told the airline assistant as I got out of the wheelchair and sat at a regular seat. “Absolutely,” he said.

I tipped him when he returned, and he thanked me and went on his way. A lady across from me called out to me then. “Excuse me, mis?” she said. “I can help you as well, if you’d like.”

“Thanks…the airport provides assistance, though, so the gate agent knows I’m here,” I replied. It’s not that I didn’t trust her, but I felt more comfortable having an airport employee help me on the plane than anyone else, just for the sake of assurance that they knew I was there. Or that I’d actually get on. And that’s when I texted my parents (and Juan) to let them know I was waiting at the gate. I’d promised my parents I would text them with updates along the way.

Stay tuned for Part Three, where Alicia talks about how her second solo flight, the trip back to Chicago from Houston, compared to the first time she’d ever flown on her own, and how it feels now to be a seasoned traveler.

 

Studies Show You Can’t Trust Diabetic Alert Dogs to Detect Blood Sugar Levels

a heart monitor graph illustrationI have Type 1 diabetes and have never trusted dog-training companies that claim that dogs can help detect low and high blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. A story called The Hope and Hype of Diabetic Alert Dogs that aired yesterday on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered program tells me I was right to have my doubts.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that can be difficult to manage. We use handheld glucometers or other technologies throughout the day and night to check the amount of sugar in our bloodstream. Low blood sugars can lead to poor judgment, loss of consciousness, even death; over time, high blood sugar levels can cause kidney disease and sight loss. I was diagnosed at age 7, before home blood sugar monitoring was available. Type 1 diabetes is what caused my blindness.

The story mentions a lawsuit where a group of more than a dozen people with diabetes, each of whom had spent $15,000 for a so-called diabetic alert dog sued a trainer for fraud and won a judgment for $800,000. It also reported that Virginia’s attorney general sued a service dog vendor after customer complaints about its dogs, which were marketed as “backed by science” and “100 percent effective.” The piece referred to research on diabetic alert dogs in a 2017 study done by psychologist Linda Gonder-Frederick at University of Virginia. From the story:

Before the study, their owners believed the dogs would prove more accurate than their glucose monitor devices. That didn’t happen.
“Overall, they really were not that reliable or accurate,” she says.

Another Oregon researcher did a study of diabetic alert dogs in 2016 and found only 12% of the dogs’ alerts happened during actual low blood sugar events, and the dogs also had false positives.

The NPR Story comes right out and says it: diabetic alert dogs can’t reliably detect blood sugar changes from diabetes. More than a million Americans have Type 1 diabetes, and many of us with Type 1 wish desperately that dogs could help. I am grateful to NPR for setting this straight, and leave you with this very important warning for parents from the story:

Her research also contradicted what some believe — or hope — is true: That the dogs can be a good safety net for those who worry about blood sugar dropping as they sleep. Some parents have turned to the dogs to safeguard their children during the night.
“The accuracy just plummeted during the night. Dogs have to sleep too. Obviously, a dog cannot work 24/7,” Gonder-Frederick says.

 

Alicia’s First Solo Flight, Part One: Getting to the Airport

I Three luggage bags of different colorlove traveling. I don’t need a big, extravagant trip to feel pleased about my travel abilities, either. Just taking the train to downtown Chicago is enough to make me feel proud of myself, simply because I did it by myself – or at the very least, without my parents.

I’ve taken cabs, buses, Ubers, Amtrak and Metra trains all by myself. I’ve flown many times before, but always with my parents.

I have friends who are also blind and have flown countless times, and thinking about them always left me feeling a mixture of pride and envy. I was proud of them for their independence, but also envious, wishing I had that kind of courage. I really wanted to challenge myself, so I set a goal: this year, 2020, I would fly alone at least once.

A friend of mine who is blind flew out to Chicago from Houston in November to celebrate my birthday with a group of friends, and while Juan was here we discussed my “first solo flight” idea further. I asked him question after question about everything. What airline do you recommend? Any specific airport? Do you do curbside check-in or go to the counter? How did your parents react? Juan’s parents seem similar to mine, especially in how they raised us as children with disabilities. So hearing how his parents reacted to him flying alone gave me the last boost of confidence I needed. Juan invited me to come to visit him and his family in Houston, and I started looking up flights. Imagine how hard it was to get through finals week – my last finals week, no less, as I graduated in December! – spending every minute of my free time looking up airfares. The affordable prices were taunting me.

I was so tempted to act first and think later – buy the tickets, then tell my parents about it. Realistically, I’d never do that, but checking fares and checking my bank account, knowing I could actually afford this…it all amped up the excitement. I can do this!

My parents were very encouraging, and my dad helped me book my flight on the Southwest website. I was pleased that the Southwest website provided me the option to check a checkbox indicating I am blind and needed gate assistance. A few days before the trip I had been waiting so long for, an anticipated snow storm threatened to ruin the entire thing. I spent the day before and the day of the trip asking our Google home device how much snow was expected, already jumping ahead and asking Juan for alternative dates for me to fly from Chicago just in case. He wasn’t worried at all. “This is how Chicago always is!” he laughed. “You’re always supposed to get a storm – it won’t happen.”

And it didn’t!

Stay tuned for Part Two, where Alicia talks about waiting for airport assistance, getting through airport security with a white cane, and, eventually, sitting in the plane ready for take-off.