Transportation Is Key For People with Disabilities in America

On October 3, WalletHub released its 2017 list of the Best & Worst Cities for People with Disabilities. A quick scroll through the methodology lets the reader know that economy, quality of life, and healthcare factors were used to determine how a city ranked overall. All three are significant factors that contribute to how, on average, a city provides opportunities for housing, employment, medical well-being, and the ability to enjoy a good meal at a favorite restaurant or a walk in the park.

We think there’s a factor missing in the methodology, though: Transportation. You can’t get there if you can’t get there.

The three quality of life metrics examined in the WalletHub research that come the closest to transportation include: number of wheelchair-accessible trails per capita, share of population within walkable park access, and walkability. All good, and metrics that Easterseals supports as part of its mission to make positive, profound differences in people’s lives every day.

Walking is a form of transportation and getting to parks or trails is dependent on completed pathways, curb ramps, and safe places to cross the road, but WalletHub missed out on the chance to measure a very important metric: availability of public and private transportation options. Whether bus, rail, accessible paratransit, taxi, ferry, shared-ride, bikeshare or a neighbor lending a hand as a volunteer driver, transportation availability is the key that opens the door to education, jobs, doctors’ appointments, shopping, and hobbies.

Easterseals has been at the forefront of helping cities in the U.S. address the transportation needs of people with disabilities. In her reaction to the WalletHub article, Easterseals blogger Beth Finke mentions that the availability of public transportation in Chicago means that she can live more independently, and as Karin Willison, blogger with The Mighty, points out in her own take on the WalletHub list, transportation is essential to quality of life and should not be left out of the ranking equation.

Transportation is important to Easterseals because we know how important it is for people with disabilities who want to live life as independently as possible. Easterseals has collaborated with communities across the country for over three decades to support the availability of ADA-accessible transportation.

From Easterseals Project Action’s work offering training to transportation professionals to the technical assistance we provide through the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center and National Center for Mobility Management to our local-level in-person facilitation that’s part of the Accessible Community Transportation Initiative, we want to help all cities in the U.S. be the best that they can be when it comes to providing affordable, accessible transportation.


What Happens When My Thought Process is Interrupted

A Shinkansen train

A Shinkansen train (source)

When you say my name while I’m in the midst of something, I’ll give a response of, “WHAT?” It sounds as if I’m angry, but here’s the thing: I’m not angry at you. I’m flooded with emotions and confused as to why the proverbial train stopped.

Proverbial train; let’s run with that…

Take the Shinkansen (better known as the bullet trains of Japan) known for their efficiency and high speeds. Let’s say you’re on an express train from Tokyo to Osaka. This, being an express train, has no stops between Tokyo and Osaka and when you’re on this train you’re expecting a quick journey. Let’s say, halfway through the trip, the train begins to slow and come to a stop at a station and the doors open. This isn’t supposed to be happening. There would be confusion among the passengers. Why did you stop? When will you be going again? Will you be stopping again? Of course the passengers will become irritated during this delay because it wasn’t planned for, nor was it expected. This is what daily life with Asperger’s is like.

In any thing I do, when I am doing it, I am like that Shinkansen express train. I am hyper-focused on the goal and when an unexpected interruption occurs, even mildly, my response is like the passengers on that train.

I mean no ill-will when I give a response that sounds angry. It’s easy for us to have tunnel vision and only see what it is that we are focused on. When I was in school, if I was working on something, I’d get irritated and annoyed at any person who spoke to me. Why? Let’s go back to the train example.

Let’s say the efficient Shinkansen wasn’t all that great at getting up to speed. Once up to speed all is well but getting up to speed is a challenge. That’s the way my brain is; once at speed I can focus with perfect clarity but that one interruption can bring about a complete change in ability to focus or achieve a task, hence why the unsuspecting interrupter is going to get what sounds like an angry answer.

This post isn’t to say that interrupting a person on the autism spectrum should be avoided at all costs. Quite the contrary; this post is to highlight the reason why you might get a response of annoyance and that we aren’t truly angry at you, we may just be angry at how difficult it is for us to change speed, to adjust our attention, and our fear of being unable to once again achieve the speeds we had been going.

Aaron Likens on a sailboatAaron Likens, author of Finding Kansas: Decoding the enigma of Asperger’s Syndrome, and the National Autism Ambassador for Easterseals, has spoken to over 80,000 people at over 900 presentations and has given to the world a revelation of how the Autism Spectrum Disorder mind works. His willingness to expose his inner most thoughts and feelings has unveiled the mystery the Asperger’s mind. Join him on his journey from hopelessness to hope.

More posts from Aaron:


9 Questions Kids Ask About Blindness

My Seeing Eye dog Whitney and I took a commuter train to a Chicago suburb last week to talk with third graders. It was Disability Awareness Week at Wilmot Elementary in Deerfield, and I was there to talk about what it’s like to be blind and get around with a Seeing Eye dog.

Whit's always up for a class visit.

Whit’s always up for a class visit.

I started our presentation to the eight- and nine-year-olds explaining three rules to keep in mind if they happen to see a guide dog with a harness on: don’t pet the dog, don’t feed the dog, and don’t call out the dog’s name. “Those things can distract a Seeing Eye dog,” I told them. “It’d be like if someone nudged you or kept calling your name while you were working on your spelling words at school. You wouldn’t be able to concentrate on your work.”

I suggested we come up with a fake name for Whitney. “We’re going to be here at your school for a while today, and you might want to say hello if you see us in the hallway,” I said, explaining that if they use my Seeing Eye dog’s fake name to say hello, Whitney wouldn’t look their way and get distracted from her work — she wouldn’t realize they were talking to her.

I asked the kids what their principal’s name was. “Mrs. Brett!” they called out. “Does anyone know Mrs. Brett’s first name?” I asked. After a moment of silence, one sweet little voice rang out. “I do! It’s Eileen.” And so, it was agreed. The kids would call Whitney by her code name: Eileen.

Most of the questions during the Q&A part of the session had more to do with blindness than dogs:

  • Your dog is really cute. Do you know what she looks like?
  • How do you drive, I mean, like, can you?
  • How do you know what to wear?
  • Did you ever bring your dog to the vet and then he had to stay in the hospital?
  • How do you get in and out of bed?
  • Do you ever even get into a car?
  • Do you know what made you blind?
  • Isn’t it hard to get around when you can’t see?
  • Does it ever make you feel sorry being blind?

I tell kids at school visits they can ask me anything. I promise to give an honest answer, so when that last question was asked I had to say yes, sometimes I do feel sorry being blind. “Not right now, though,” I was able to answer sincerely. “Just being here with you guys, hearing your smart questions? That makes me feel happy!”


Why I Left It Up to My Daughter to Choose Her Halloween Costume

Bernhard's daughter, Elena, outside and smiling with her arms out wide

Bernhard’s daughter, Elena

Last week at school my phone notified me that my tiara and stuffed 18” horse were arriving. Having them delivered to work was a poor choice. How in the world was I supposed to sneak these into my car without any of my colleagues knowing?

As I mentioned in my Easterseals blog post last year, I have always chosen Elena’s Halloween costume for her.

Transforming her wheelchair into a bulldozer or a full on stove was creative and fun, but they were my choices, not hers. I was creating these costumes for my own enjoyment rather than supporting her independence.

So this year I left it up to Elena to choose her costume. This one is all on her.

Because Elena is nonverbal, she uses eye gaze technology to communicate. That, or she looks up for yes or to the side for no. As we were sitting around after dinner one evening, I asked her what she wanted to be for Halloween. “A card dealer at a casino?” I asked.

“No.” Elena replied quickly and clearly.

“I could go as the Beast, and you could be Belle from Beauty and the Beast?”

A noble idea that peaked her interest, but no sale. Eyes to the side.

“A basket of dirty laundry?”

Elena responded with a look of disgust and fear.

Reluctantly, I finally asked the question I didn’t want to. I already knew the answer. “Would you like to be a princess?”

Her eyes shot up, she shared an enthusiastic smile, and her body stiffened with excitement.

OK, now we had an idea, but we needed to get a little more specific. After a full summer of Moana, I was hoping that she would draw some inspiration from that character: a strong figure, and her happiness isn’t contingent on a man. Rather, she finds her own individual strength and identity.

But no. Bust out the glass slippers instead. Elena chose the princess of all princesses: Cinderella.

Halloween has meant so much to us over the years because it’s about making a spectacle of yourself. As a parent of a child with a very visible disability, we make a spectacle of ourselves wherever we go. Whether it’s to the grocery store, shopping at the mall, or eating a meal, people look at us. We attract looks, smiles, and stares. It’s never mean-spirited or cruel, but mostly a warm smile or curiosity. We’re certainly used to it by now, but I often wonder how Elena might respond, and every year Halloween gives us the opportunity to embrace the spectacle and have others be part of it.

So, I spent last weekend reluctantly putting Christmas lights on Elena’s wheelchair and mounting the horse on the front so that it looks like a horse-drawn carriage. Today we are all celebrating that this year, it’s Elena’s costume…and we’re enjoying another spectacle.

More posts from Bernhard about Elena:


Scrambling to Prepare for Halloween? Look No Further!

String lantern lights that look like jack-o-lanternsThe chill in the air, crunchy leaves on the ground, and ubiquitous pumpkin everything can only mean one thing…. Halloween is nearly here!

If you’re a serious Halloween aficionado then you’ve probably thought long and hard about your costume, searching high and low for the perfect pieces to pull together a look that will be talked about for years. But, if you’re like many of us just trying to figure out where summer went, then you probably feel the last-minute scramble to come up with a costume and a plan.

Fear not, though, because we’re here to help you prepare for this day of festive fun and self-expression. Check out these resources to make sure you’ve got all the information and inspiration you need this Halloween:

We wish you a fun, safe, and happy Halloween. If you have any more tips or ideas be sure to send them our way! 


How Do You Define the “Best City” for People with Disabilities?

For the fourth year in a row, the consumer finance website WalletHub has named the Kansas City, Missouri, suburb of Overland Park #1 in a ranking of the best American cities for people with disabilities. San Bernadino, California came in at last place, #150.

The site says it bases its rankings on economic environment, health care, and accessibility. To help people find the best place to live and manage a disability, they review cities for everything from the number of physicians per capita to the rate of employed people with disabilities to accessibility to city parks and recreation.

Lists like these can be fun, and a ton of folks (including me) get drawn into reading them. I don’t think this one holds much value, though.

The term “people with disabilities” (PWD) is pretty broad. A PWD can be someone with age-related disabilities, a person who uses a wheelchair, a child with a developmental disability, a returning veteran with a traumatic brain injury – we all have very different needs. A very quick bit of research on Overland Park shows it has a strong public school system, (ideal if you have a child with a disability) and a weak public transportation system (difficult if you’re like me, and your disability prevents you from driving).

Chicago, where I live, ranked #7 on the list this year. Nine cities in Arizona made the list, and while people using wheelchairs wouldn’t have to deal with snow and ice in the winter there, those of us who use service dogs would have a hard time keeping them hydrated in the summer.

So for now, at least, I’m staying here in the Windy City. The availability of public transportation here lets me live more independently, the roads follow a grid system so it’s easy to know my way around without being able to see, and my Seeing Eye dog loves the cold. What can I say? It’s My Kind of Town!

How accessible is the place where you live? Let us know in the comments below!

More posts about accessibility:


Hidden Words: Emotions, Thoughts and Feelings in the Silence

Writer’s note: I can’t stress enough that, “If you’ve met one person with autism you’ve only met one person with autism” as it applies greatly to this post as these examples are mine and mine alone. Also, to some of these situations, on any given day, the words behind the words could be different…

A lightbulbA teacher once asked me, “Do you need any help?”

What I said: “No.”

What I was thinking: Why did I say no? I do need help, so why did you ask instead of just helping me? I know I need help but why don’t you? I just don’t get this, these fractions make no sense and the rules for inverting or, flopping, or whatever it is when dividing, or is it multiplying, makes no sense. Please come back, help me, but if you ask again I’ll probably say no.

Many times in my life I’ve been told, “Aaron that was a good job!”

I have often responded with a hesitant, “Yeah,” and with a halfhearted, “Thanks”

What I’ve thought: Was it a good job, really? I know I could’ve done better because it wasn’t perfect. With that said, are you just telling me it was a good job or are you just telling me it to be nice because I know that’s what people do so I’m actually confused right now. If I seemed a bit stuck up after your compliment I had no intentions of seeming so, it’s just that I don’t know how to respond because I quite honestly have no idea if what I did warranted praise because I simply did what I did because it needed to be done.

In first grade he music teacher played something to show us what heavy bass felt like and I quickly rose my hand and said, “It is hurting me!” She responded with, “No it isn’t!”

What I was thinking: No it isn’t? Then what am I feeling? I can’t state that it’s hurting again because my classmates will probably laugh at me, but teacher, I’m feeling something I’ve never felt before. My legs and arms feel as if they’re on fire and I’m feeling every bit of noise. Why didn’t you believe me? Maybe someday I’ll be able to explain this, but for now I’ll just close my eyes and try and endure this onslaught of noise.

Many, many times in my life a loved one has told me, “I love you.”

My response is always the same, “…”

What I think: Oh my goodness, I’m silent again, but I do, I do love you, but I can’t say it. I don’t know why I can’t say it, but I do. In this silence is the struggle I face. For some reason expressing emotions just isn’t there but that doesn’t mean that I’m lacking in it.

Maybe it’s fear that someday I won’t hear those words; maybe it’s a fear of your reaction should I say it and this could be even more so because I haven’t said it for so long. This silence must be hard for you, I understand, and you may think you’re talking to a wall as I stare back at you in a blank stare, but I’d like to say so much but am simply unable.

I know I’m loved because you keep telling me and yet I keep responding with silence, but you must, I hope, know that I love you because you keep telling me and each time I wish I could reciprocate, but I hope you understand hidden within the silence, or the words I may sometimes say in brief, are many more emotions and thoughts than you can imagine.

I’m in here, I really am, but sometimes I just can’t tell you what I want, what I’m feeling, and that fact that I truly appreciate you and all that you are and all that you’ve done for me.

Aaron Likens on a sailboatAaron Likens, author of Finding Kansas: Decoding the enigma of Asperger’s Syndrome, and the National Autism Ambassador for Easterseals, has spoken to over 80,000 people at over 900 presentations and has given to the world a revelation of how the Autism Spectrum Disorder mind works. His willingness to expose his inner most thoughts and feelings has unveiled the mystery the Asperger’s mind. Join him on his journey from hopelessness to hope.

More posts from Aaron:


Survey: Share Your Experience Using a Service Animal in Public Spaces

idcardLast month I wrote a post here about an article in Outside magazine. In that article, journalist Wes Siler — a dog lover who does not have a disability — expressed his concern over people without disabilities faking that their dogs are service animals, and now the Southwest ADA Center wants assistance animal users to fill out an anonymous survey to learn more about our experiences accessing public places with our animals. From their press release:

“The information gathered from it will help us 1) understand what access issues people are having with their animals; and 2) to develop and improve the information, support, and guidance needed for the community to improve access for users of assistance animals.
Whether you use a service animal or other type of assistance animal, we would like to hear from you.”

I just filled out the survey myself. After confirming my eligibility for this survey on the first page, I could skip any other questions I preferred not to answer. That made the form easy to fill out. I did it with my talking computer, and it only took about ten minutes.

I hope you Easterseals blog readers who use assistance animals will fill out the survey – people need to know more about our experiences getting access to public places. Any questions about the research study? Contact Vinh Nguyen at the Southland ADA Center at


This Crucial Health Insurance Program for Kids Just Expired

The exterior of a hospital with "EMERGENCY" spelled out in letter on a marqueeOne of our focuses here at Easterseals is ensuring children of all abilities have the best possible start in life. Through our Make the First Five Count initiative, inclusive childcare, and early intervention programs across the country, we’re committed to providing a solid foundation on which kids can grow and thrive. In addition to the services we provide, we’re also committed to advocating for the resources that make these programs accessible and affordable, like the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

If you’re unfamiliar with CHIP, here’s what you should know*:

  • Approximately 9 million children across the United States are enrolled in CHIP, which covers children in families who are do not qualify for Medicaid;
  • 370,000 pregnant women in 19 states are covered by CHIP;
  • CHIP includes immunizations, check-ups, dental coverage, mental health, and substance abuse services;
  • CHIP was first passed in 1997 with sweeping bipartisan support.

So why are we talking about CHIP now? Because on September 30, 2017, federal funding for CHIP expired.

The implications of this expiration are potentially devastating to millions of families.

In a statement issued by leading child health and advocacy organizations, experts warned “By not acting in a timely manner to extend CHIP funding, Congress has caused [families who rely on CHIP] to face the threat of losing coverage altogether. Moreover, the patchwork of state funding deadlines means that a child’s or pregnant woman’s access to continued CHIP coverage will depend on his or her ZIP code.”

Families across the United States, including many we serve, are facing uncertainty as a result of CHIP’s expiration.

Right now, we need your help to make it loud and clear to Congress that they must extend CHIP through the bipartisan legislation that is part of CHIP’s fabric. Here’s how to join the cause:

  1. Use the hashtag #ExtendChip to reach out to your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives, OR tweet out THIS message:

    A tweet that reads: Nearly 1 in every 2 kids with special #healthcare needs relies on #CHIP & #Medicaid. Take action to #ExtendChip.

  2. Contact Your Members of Congress
    Use our action alert to automatically email your representatives.

Let us know your thoughts about CHIP’s expiration in the comments below.

*Thanks to the American Academy of Pediatrics for their advocacy, talking points, and resources regarding CHIP.


How I Feel When People Say “It’s Not That Difficult”

A man sitting on the bank of a body of water watching a very vivid, orange-hued sunsetIn my life there has been one constant that’s been worse than any other event: When someone says, “But Aaron, it’s not that difficult!” When those words are uttered I’m devastated.

Here’s why they hurt: Do you think I’m not aware that it’s easy for others? Do you think I want things that come easy for others to be difficult for myself? I’m a hard enough critic of myself as is but when others point it out and then think I can simply use willpower to make what is difficult easy is, well, damaging.

Do I want things to be easy? Of course I do. I don’t want to create confusion as to why I can do some things great and many things not as well. It has to be confusing as to why there can be this great chasm between being great and simply not being able to do it no matter how hard I try, but when another person uses a tone and those words of telling me that it shouldn’t be difficult, well, to be perfectly honest it creates a storm of self-hatred.

I know certain things are difficult and I know when these things occur I often retreat. I don’t know how others socialize so well, and at social functions I look at the world in utter awe and wonder, “How do these people do it?” They make the impossible seem so easy and I have such a hard enough time talking to people I know.

Now, for those that know me, they won’t think twice about it, but if someone didn’t and saw me, and let’s say they’ve seen me present, they would be confused because there’s a person that has great speaking ability appearing socially paralyzed so why is it so difficult?

I get it, I understand the confusion others must face when encountering Asperger’s and maybe a select few will think that by saying, “it’s not that difficult” they are offering the best form of motivation possible. However, this isn’t the case and the seeds of self-loathing are planted.

There’s a fine line between encouraging words and words that can do harm and telling me what is and isn’t difficult doesn’t help me one bit.

So, what would I say to people who tell me “It’s not that difficult”?

I’d begin with the difficulty of trying to filter everything out in a room be it the noise of the electronics, the voices from other rooms, the noises outside, and the potential hum of the lights. I’d talk about the anxiety walking into a building and wondering if that person, or that person, would stop and talk to me. What would they say? How would I respond? How long would we talk? I’d tell them I’d analyze every potential encounter whether it occurred or not, and then stress as I passed them on whether I should’ve said hello only to redo the whole process once I passed the next person.

I’d talk about the fear of eye contact, the draining nature of experiencing positional warfare, and the constant fear of being a nuisance to anyone and everyone because that’s how I often see myself.

So, you can tell me certain things shouldn’t be difficult but I only wish you could walk a day in my shoes.

Of course, to some, this is simply an overreaction, right? Words shouldn’t hurt, right? It shouldn’t be that difficult, right?

If only they knew how many thoughts and tears have been created by that sentence and for anyone reading this I want to say you’re not alone in the frustration of being told something should be easy when it isn’t. Would it be wrong for me to say that, for those that use that sentence, it shouldn’t be that difficult to understand how much heartache is caused by those words?

Aaron Likens on a sailboatAaron Likens, author of Finding Kansas: Decoding the enigma of Asperger’s Syndrome, and the National Autism Ambassador for Easterseals, has spoken to over 80,000 people at over 900 presentations and has given to the world a revelation of how the Autism Spectrum Disorder mind works. His willingness to expose his inner most thoughts and feelings has unveiled the mystery the Asperger’s mind. Join him on his journey from hopelessness to hope.</em