Reflections on the Rose Parade From Easterseals Southern California CEO Mark Whitley

by Mark Whitley, President and CEO of Easterseals Southern California

Easterseals Southern California CEO Mark Whitley (left) and Easterseals National CEO Angela F. Williams (right), with the Rose Parade float riders.

Easterseals Southern California CEO Mark Whitley (left) and Easterseals National CEO Angela F. Williams (right), with the Rose Parade float riders.

Being a participant in the 2019 Rose Parade was a proud moment in Easterseals’ history. I can personally think of no better way for us to have kicked off our 100th anniversary year than by having an award-winning float in America’s most iconic New Year Celebration.

From volunteers who spent hours decorating our float in the days leading up to the Rose Parade, including preparing seeds, nuts, bark and flowers and attaching them to the float, to the staff who worked tirelessly to create an unforgettable experience, and the supporters who lifted us up in cheers, both virtually and in person, thanks to everyone for making this amazing day possible!

Finally, of course, there were our incredible float riders from around the country and right here in Southern California; they were the “superstars” of the Rose Parade, along with their supportive family members. This group of individuals, ages 12 to 68, brought Easterseals’ message Building a More Inclusive Future to life. I was excited to hear from some of the riders afterwards about how they connected with members of the crowd all along the parade route. Together, we realized how meaningful it was for parade watchers with a disability to see another person like themselves riding on a float in the Rose Parade.

Float riders taking a selfieTo danny Blake, Reagan Crabtree, Lora Glassman, Ernesto Gutierrez, Matthew Jameson, Howard McBroom, Brian Nguyen, Katie Pena, Blake Scribner, Kaison Shipp-Collier, Sabrina Stafford and Sophia Stafford, I say thank you on behalf of Easterseals for demonstrating to the world how people with disabilities should be included in all events and milestones as well as how Easterseals helps people live, learn, work and, in this case, play in their local communities!

Our 100 Anniversary Celebration is off to a great start and I’m looking forward to more Easterseals celebrations and milestones throughout 2019 and beyond!


Emojis and Accessibility: The Dos and Don’ts of Including Emojis in Texts and Emails

Crying laughing emojiA friend sent me a text the other day that said this: “Wishing you a prosperous new year excited face with money symbols for eyes and stuck-out tongue excited face with money symbols for eyes and stuck-out tongue excited face with money symbols for eyes and stuck-out tongue excited face with money symbols for eyes and stuck-out tongue. You guys free tonight? Give me a call.”

I never got to the part where I was supposed to give them a call. The emojis got in the way.

Five years ago I published a post here about how some people who are blind access a program called VoiceOver to use an iPhone — VoiceOver parrots every letter we type into a text, and a key next to the space bar on the iPhone keypad lets us choose from lists and lists and lists of emojis to use with texts. VoiceOver reads the images out loud for those of us who can’t see them. Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a sampling of what I hear when choosing from the list of “Smileys and other people” emojis:

  • “Smiling face with sunglasses”
  • “Unamused face”
  • “Winking face with stuck-out tongue”
  • “Sleeping face”
  • “Nerdy face with thick horn-rimmed glasses and buck teeth”
  • “Neutral face”
  • “Expressionless face”
  • “Smiling face licking lips”
  • “Slightly smiling face”
  • “Smirking face”
  • “Face with rolling eyes”
  • “Face with no mouth”
  • “Flushed face”
  • “Thinking face”
  • “Angry face”
  • “Pouting face”
  • “Disappointed face”
  • “Grinning face with clenched teeth”

You get the picture.

Some of the blind people I know tweet and text using emojis, but usually just one per message. Multiple emojis might be easy to ignore if you see them all the time, but listening to multiple emojis? It’s time-consuming, and if you want to know the truth, kind of a pain.

If you are texting a friend who uses a screen reader, or if you want your tweet to be accessible to all, including those of us with visual impairments, here are some simple tips:


  • Don’t repeat an emoji over and over;
  • Don’t place emojis throughout a message;
  • Don’t put a call to action after the emoji.


  • Do use one or two emojis if you like, most blind people get a kick out of the descriptions;
  • Do put any important information before the emojis so we’ll be more likely to hear them;
  • Do limit yourself to no more than three emojis per message.

If you use texts or tweets to market your business, your blog, your YouTube channel, remember that each of your tweets and texts sends a message out to your community. Approximately 300 million people in the world are visually impaired, and over 50 million of us are totally blind. Go easy on the emojis, and we’ll get the messsage, too!

More thoughts on disability and emojis:


DJ Mermaid’s Family Holiday Recipe for Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Shells

Remember the 9-year-old who wrote a post here for Valentine’s Day years ago about how much she loves her Dad? DJ Mermaid (her pen name) is twelve now, and for this holiday guest post she’s focusing on her mom.

by DJ Mermaid

DJ Mermaid and her mom

DJ Mermaid and her mom

Hi everyone!

Coming to you from our own Italian kitchen… It’s DJ Mermaid and Mommy! In our family, the heart of Christmas is the food. This recipe is one of our Christmas staples, and the story behind it has been in our family for ages.

Enter…. ricotta and spinach stuffed shells. Mom and I both wholeheartedly agree that they are quite a delectable package of cheesy goodness. In order to not get such a high spinach taste, we slather them with tomato sauce to give a pop of acidity.

Mom has a special connection to this recipe because as a little girl she used to make Christmas dinner with her gramma, and this was a dish they would make. Her gramma also used to forget (on purpose) to include ingredients in recipes, but we think this is accurate. Mom and I make it together now to feed our family on the holidays and keep the tradition going. Mangia Mangia! Let’s eat!

Shells: You can use pasta shells out of the box (1-2 lbs), but we like to make the shells from scratch – they are called crepe noodles.
• 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 cup milk
• 3 large eggs
• 1/2 teaspoon salt

Place flour in a bowl; whisk in milk, eggs and salt until smooth. Heat a lightly greased 8-in. skillet; pour about 2 tablespoons batter into center of skillet. Spread into a 5-in. circle. Cook over medium heat until set; do not brown or turn. Repeat with remaining batter, making 18 crepes. Stack crepes with waxed paper in between; set aside.

Filling: Get good quality Ricotta cheese and be sure you drain the water out of it. Combine all of the following in a bowl. Use salt & pepper to taste.

  • 1 ½ -2lbs of ricotta
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tblsp parsley
  • ½ to ¾ c parmesan
  • 8 oz cooked spinach – be sure you squeeze the water out of this too.

Sauce: There’s no written recipe for this in our house. It’s all done to taste & mom’s memory so it tastes different each time.

  • 3 or 4 large (28oz) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 small onion minced
  • Garlic -as much as you want minced
    Oregano, basil – as much as you want chopped
  • 1lb mushrooms
  • Salt, pepper – to taste
  • Splash of red pepper
  • Tomato paste

DJ Mermaid and her momStart with the onions in a deep pot – sauté in olive oil. Once they are translucent, add the garlic & mushrooms. Sautee for another 5 minutes or so. Add the tomatoes, the herbs & salt/pepper/red pepper. Cook for a long time. Mom cooks it all day, so it becomes a thick sauce. Add tomato paste if it seems too watery after a few hours.

To assemble: Spread a little sauce on the bottom of a 9×11 baking dish. Take a shell and fill it with a spoonful of filling. Place it in the pan. Repeat until full. Cover then with sauce. Top with mozzarella cheese and cover with foil. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes depending on your oven. Take the top off then and bake until the cheese gets browned. Serve with extra sauce.


Bernhard and Elena’s Recipe for Holiday Gulasch and Spätzle

Elena with a bowl of gulasch

Elena with a bowl of gulasch

This post is part of our holiday baking and disability series. Today, regular contributing author and Easterseals dad Bernhard Walke shares with us his gulasch and Spätzle recipe that he makes with, and for, his daughter, Elena.

When I was in college, I had the good fortune to study for one year at the University of Vienna, which is where my grandfather studied many many years before. Over Christmas break, my parents and three siblings came to visit me there. They were tired and hungry when they arrived, so I took them to our regular “Beisl” (basically the Viennese equivalent of an Irish pub) for a warm meal and a drink.

Fortuitously, my youngest brother, Mark, had just turned 16. He could legally drink in Europe, so he ordered the two things he recognized on the menu: Bier und Gulasch. When his beer arrived, he took a big sip, let the foamy bubbles pop on his upper lip, and sat back and relished in his newly discovered independence.

His attitude changed when the Gulasch arrived. One look at his plate, and Mark’s face turned to disappointment and regret. We all asked if he was ok or if something was wrong. “No, nothing’s wrong. It’s fine,” he said. “I just can’t believe we just flew 4,000 miles, I ordered my first beer, but I still have to eat the same stuff that we eat at home!” We all howled in laughter. Mark continued eating Gulasch for the next week: it remained one of the few words he could pronounce…along with Bier.

Now, decades later, whenever my daughter Elena and I make this rich beef stew seasoned with paprika, caraway, and marjoram, I’m reminded of this story and how gulasch is in regular rotation at our own house. For Elena, stews are usually the best type of food for her for several reasons: the soft texture of stewed meat and vegetables is perfect for chewing, the texture is easily adjusted by adding water or stock to thin it out or by adding potatoes, rice, or any other starch, it can be thickened, and most importantly, the stew gets better as time goes by. We can reheat it for lunches or dinners throughout the week.

On any given Sunday, my wife and I will make some sort of stew with beef, pork, lamb, or lentils. Gulasch can be served with potatoes, rice, egg noodles, or my favorite: Spätzle. These are those small dumpling noodles that are widely mispronounced throughout the Upper Midwest as spatsel or spackle and eaten widely throughout southern Germany, Austria, and Hungary.

One of the best things about Gulasch is that there is no one singular recipe — we usually make it with what we have in our pantry . I’ve made it with pork, beef, wine, beer, tomatoes, potatoes, and a list of other ingredients. For today’s post, I’m using the version that Elena and I made last week because beef shanks were on sale and I had some extra time to make Spätzle. I actually was feeling lazy at the time and wanted to just do egg noodles, but we didn’t have any on hand. And after Thanksgiving, I don’t know if I could handle another potato. And so, here it is, my recipe

For Gulasch:

1.5 -2 lbs of good stew meat. I used beef shanks because they were on sale and I like that marrow that’s inside of the bone, but one could use chuck, short rib, or even oxtail. Yes, oxtail. It’s delicious!
2 carrots finely diced
2 stalks of celery finely diced.
1 large onion finely diced
4 cloves of garlic finely chopped or mashed.
1-2 red bell peppers finely chopped. I used one because it was large.
1 can of fire roasted tomatoes. They don’t have to be fire roasted; I just had them in my pantry.
¼ cup of Paprika
2-3 tablespoons of Caraway Seeds
2-3 tablespoons of Marjoram
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour Cream (optional)

  • In a large Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, heat a bit of oil on medium heat.
  • In the meantime, season the beef with pepper and salt before dredging in flour. The flour will help thicken the sauce.
  • Once the oil has warmed up, place the seasoned and floured beef into the pan and sear until it is a deep brown on each side. Once this is complete (after about 4 minutes on each side) remove the meat from the pot and put aside.
  • In the same pot, add the celery, carrot, onion, red pepper, and garlic and sauté until the vegetables are tender. Once they are tender, add the paprika to the vegetables and sauté for another minute or so.
  • At this point, you can deglaze the pot with either wine, beer, stock, or water (depending on what you have around) and scrape up all those little goodies that formed on the bottom of the pan.
  • Once this is done, add the tomatoes, caraway seeds, marjoram and beef back to the pot. Pour enough water or stock over the stew to just cover the meat. Bring to a boil, and cook over low heat for at least two hours.
  • Once the meat is fork tender season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with your preferred starch and a nice dollop of sour cream on top. If your brother is coming over, make sure that there is beer in the fridge, too.

For the Spätzle:

1 ½ cups of all purpose flour
½ teaspoon of baking powder
¾ teaspoon of salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.
2 large eggs
½ of milk or water

  • Bring about six cups of water to a boil and while this is happening, mix the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, I usually use a Pyrex measuring cup, combine the milk or water and the eggs and beat. Add the milk and egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix together to form an elastic batter. If it’s too tough, just add more water.
  • Once the water has come to a boil, take small portions of the batter, usually about ½ a cup and push them through a colander or spätzle maker, which is what I use, so that they fall into the boiling water. Once they fall into the water (and hopefully, not on to your stove) give them a quick stir, and when they float to the surface, they are cooked. Carefully remove them with a slotted spoon and place them in a separate bowl. Once all the batter is used up, place a few pats of butter in the bowl, mix, adjust for salt, and snack on a few spoonfuls while setting the table.

Baking and Disability: Beth’s Egg Braid Bread Made By Hand

What is it about the month of December that makes you want to roll up your sleeves and attempt to make a soft, fragrant loaf of bread or chewy cookies to share with friends, family or coworkers? Is it because, as we’re  in the midst of holiday cheer, we’re compelled to create something with our hands and from our heart to express our gratitude for the people who matter to us? Or is it because there is something comforting about getting lost in the meticulous steps of a recipe among the hustle and bustle of the season? Maybe it’s a time-honored tradition to make a recipe that is just as much a treasured family heirloom as your great-great-grandmother’s quilt.

For the rest of the month, we’ll be sharing stories about baking and cooking (including recipes!) from people with disabilities and their loved ones. If you make one of the recipes, we encourage you to share a photo with us on social media using the hashtag #InclusiveHolidays. 

A painting By Anthony Letourneau of Beth baking breadOur son was diagnosed with developmental and physical disabilities when he was just one month old. Gus was immediately scheduled for physical, occupational and speech therapy, and when I Confided my worries about him to my sister that I didn’t notice Gus making progress, she introduced me to a friend of hers who had an eight-year-old daughter with severe disabilities. The first thing this woman recommended? “Start going to church.” She insisted this wasn’t for religious reasons. ““You’re with Gus every day, it can be hard for you to notice some of the little changes,” she said, explaining that people who see her daughter and her in church just once a week notice Susan’s progress. “They tell me so, and that can make me feel better.”

Worth a try.

I started checking out different churches to see where we might feel most comfortable, and the day I visited a nearby Presbyterian church, the pastor’s sermon happened to be a slide show of a construction project the church was sponsoring at a Down’s Syndrome institute in the Yucatan Peninsula. Gus and I would fit in well here. I started attending.

Beth with two loaves of the egg braid bread

A month or two in to our religion experiment, it came time for the church’s yearly phonathon. I signed up to help. A fellow volunteer read names and phone numbers onto a tape recorder for me, I made the calls, raised money with the best of them, and all of us there were so busy that we never got around to eating the treats provided. At the end of the night all of us were asked if we’d like to take any treats home. Never shy when it comes to free food, I shouted “Yes!” and brought home a whole loaf of fancy, untouched, homemade bread.

The bread smelled sweet. I have Type 1 diabetes. I was afraid to eat it. My husband Mike wasn’t interested in it, either, so I told him to take it with him to work the next morning. “Tell them I made it myself,” I instructed. He’d just started a new job, and I wanted to impress his coworkers.

Ah, what a tangled web we weave. The coworkers loved the bread. “Tell her we want more!” One of his new colleagues even asked if she could come over and watch me so she could try making it herself.

Admit my lie, or learn to bake bread? I went with option #2. I called the church secretary to ask if she knew who’d provided the bread the night of the phonathon. “Oh, of course!” she said. “Charlie always bakes bread for the phonathon.”

Charlie? She didn’t mean Charlie, the Pastor, did she? “yes,” she said. “The pastor.”

Lucky for me, Charlie had a sense of humor. I called him, confessed my sin, he laughed and assured me I could bake bread on my own. Bread bakers rely strongly on the sense of touch, he said. Fingers confirm the water is lukewarm, you feel the dough to see if its risen, and you know you’re done kneading when the dough is easy to stretch, but not too sticky. “When would be a good time for me to come over and teach you?”

At my first and only lesson with Charlie, we used a recipe for a bread called “egg braid.” Charlie guided my hands through the stirring, kneading, baking, and glazing. He even taught me how to separate and egg (crack it in half, keep the yolk in one half of the shell , then just let the white drain into a cup below).

No need to teach me how to braid, though – I wore my hair long back then and had braided it for years. Once we were done assembling the loaves, he reviewed all the steps so I could translate them on tape in my own words.

Ever since the winter Charlie taught me to bake bread, I’ve baked loaves of homemade egg braid to share with friends and family during the holidays. To my Jewish friends, it’s Challah. So here’s the transcript of the recipe I recorded on tape back then. You might notice it does not list the ingredients and amounts at the top – that conventional method requires constant rewinding, difficult to do when your hands are full of bread dough!

Egg Braid Bread

Put one-half cup lukewarm water in a large coffee cup. Add one package yeast, stir a bit and let it rise. While you’re waiting, get out a large bowl that’s safe in the microwave. Put 2 cups milk, 2 Tablespoons sugar, 1 Tablespoon salt and one-half stick butter into that bowl. Place it in a microwave, turn the microwave on for 30 seconds, take the bowl out and blend with a big spoon. Touch the mixture lightly with your fingers, and if it’s not lukewarm yet, put it back in. Keep checking every 30 seconds or so, and when the liquid feels lukewarm, take the bowl out and blend three egg yolks and two egg whites into the mixture (save the extra egg white in a small bowl in the refrigerator for glazing later).

In a different bowl, put 4 cups flour, gently push your fist into the middle of the flour to make a well. Put your yeast & water mixture in the well, then add the lukewarm milk mixture Stir, and once its blended start kneading it with your hands while it’s still in the bowl –this prevents flour from getting all over the kitchen, hard to clean when you can’t see!

Once you’re done kneading, take the ball of dough out of the bowl, rub that bowl with butter, place the kneaded ball back into the buttered bowl, roll the dough around the bowl so it’s slightly buttered, place a dry dishtowel over the ball and set it aside to rise for about two hours. While it’s rising, butter two cookie sheets. When the dough is risen, gently deflate it with a fist and then split the ball into six relatively even pieces. Using both hands, Roll each piece against the counter top into a rope about one foot long. Place three of the ropes side by side on one cookie sheet and braid them. Do the same on the other cookie sheet with the leftover three ropes. Cover each braided loaf with plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator for anywhere from 2 to 24 hours.

When you’re ready to bake the bread, set the oven for 375 º. Take the loaf you want to bake out of the refrigerator. Let it sit for a bit while you make the glaze. Use a fork to stir a Tablespoon or so of water into the cup with the egg white (remember, it’s in the refrigerator, too). Use your hands to lightly brush the glaze over the loaf. Bake it in the oven for 35 minutes, or until it feels set. You can double-check if it’s done by thumping the loaf. If you hear a hollow sound, it’s done. Remove the bread from the oven, place it on a rack to cool, and then…Eat!


Thank You, President George H.W. Bush

President George HW BushAfter President George Herbert Walker Bush died Friday, the news has been full of stories about his service. One big story missing in all that? George Herbert Walker Bush is the president who signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law.

The ADA requires “reasonable accommodation” for individuals with disabilities in employment and at places of public accommodation such as retail stores, office buildings, sidewalks and movie theaters. I started losing my eyesight in 1984, six years before the Americans with Disabilities Act became law. At first I didn’t use a white cane or a guide dog. I quit driving or riding my bike, but I could still see well enough to walk to work. Most of my day was spent counseling college students on study abroad options; I could have done that with my eyes closed.

As my eyesight got worse, though, I started making mistakes in the office. One morning I spilled grounds all over the office floor on my way to make coffee. I ran into tabletops. I had to sit close to the office computer screen to see the words. At one point my boss took me aside and told me I wouldn’t be going to the annual convention with my colleagues. “You’ll embarrass the office,” she said.

Months later, she terminated my contract.

I am totally blind now, and I use speech software to write for publications and moderate our blog. I’ve had three books published, and my Seeing Eye dog leads me to buses and cabs to get all around Chicago to teach five different weekly memoir-writing classes for people 55 and better.

We still have a long, long way to go before hiring practices are totally fair to those of us with disabilities. But since the passage of the ADA, things are moving in the right direction. Thanks to the hard work so many disability advocates put into getting this bill passed, and to the late President George H.W. Bush for signing it into law in 1990. The Americans with Disabilities Act has changed a lot of lives — for the better.


Assistive Technology Diary: A UX Designer in Chicago Who Uses a Wheelchair

An Amazon AlexaNovember is Assistive Technology Awareness Month, and this being the last day of November, guest blogger Liz Davis is here to share an assistive technology journal she kept for us one day to remind everyone the important role assistive technology plays in the lives of people with disabilities. A UX Designer at QuikOrder in Chicago, Liz has used a wheelchair all her life. Her experience in dealing with the obstacles of an environment lacking accessibility has granted her a useful perspective in handling design.

Interested in sharing your assistive technology journal? Let us know in the comments!

by Liz Davis

  • 8:00 am: Use my phone as an alarm, or several alarms.
  • 8:30 am: Ask Alexa what the weather is outside and expected for today, so I know what type of gloves or a coat to wear.
  • 9:00 am: At the bus stop and use my transit app to check when the next bus will show up. If it’s a while I will sit under the bus stop shelter.
  • 9:30 am: Get into work and use my work laptop to check calendar of events and tasks for the day. Work until lunch time.
  • 12:00 pm: Use my phone to order food online and have it delivered to my office, or I’ll use it to place an order downstairs so I don’t have to carry it far. I always base my lunch choices on what food is easiest to carry.
  • 1 pm: Back at work on my laptop, sometimes I can take time to order anything I need online or groceries. Work until 5 pm.
  • 5 pm: I pull out Google Maps app on my phone to see how to get to an event I have after work. I plan out my route, and since I don’t trust Google Maps to tell me which stations are accessible I also double check on the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) website.
  • 5:05 pm: I use Google Street view to see if the entrance is accessible by looking at it. If it’s not apparent it’s accessible I might give the place a call, or ask an event organizer. Either way I’d head out.
  • 5:10 pm: Use my phone to track how long it will be until the train arrives.
  • 5:30 pm: Use my Ventra card to get into the station and then roll onto the train.
  • 6:00 pm: Open up my route on Google Maps to roll the rest of the way to my event and find the accessible entrance. Sometimes it’s a game of find the elevator, or find the ramp.
  • 7:00 pm: Either head home on the bus or the train, whichever I find is the most accessible by checking my Google Maps + CTA Transit app.
  • 8:00 pm: Once I’m home I head downstairs to put my laundry in the washer and ask Alexa to remind me when 45 minutes are up so I can go down to collect my laundry.
  • 9:00 pm: Either use my laptop to catch up on personal emails or watch Netflix on my TV before bedtime.
  • 11:00 pm: Use my phone to double check my alarms, and go to sleep.

A Thank You Note to My Seeing Eye Dog

idcardDear Whitney,

Remember when Mike (you know, the guy we live with) read that New York Times story out loud to the two of us earlier this month? Yes. That one. The article about Seeing Eye dogs, and how a trip to New York City is part of the training we do:

The school’s training is done in a suburban setting far calmer than Midtown Manhattan, an hour’s drive away. But for its ultimate challenge, and to assess a dog’s focus, trainers take the student-dog pairs into Manhattan as something of a proving ground.

The New York Times story follows two women and their new dogs on that very route you and I took together seven years ago this month, Whitney: van ride to the Port Authority, squeezing into a packed elevator, through subway turnstiles, avoiding oncoming commuters while climbing a staircase, straining to hear announcements over the noise of passing trains. Friends who sent me the link to the New York Times story when it was published all asked the same questions. “You did that with Whitney? Weren’t you scared?” Not at that point of the trip. My fear wouldn’t kick in until we got off the subway and headed up to street level.

What you couldn’t know, dear Whitney, was that I’d taken that exact same route with another dog a year earlier. That month at the Seeing Eye had provided me with the promise of another long partnership with the new dog, a male yellow Lab named Harper.

But a few months after my new Seeing Eye dog came home with me to Chicago, a vehicle turned right on red just as Harper was leading me across an intersection, and Harper did exactly what he’d been taught to do. He saved both our lives by pulling us away from the oncoming car, but the trauma left him incapable of continuing his work as a Seeing Eye dog.

That near miss had left me more fearful of traffic than I’d been before, and now, here I was, back in Manhattan, this time with you, another new dog. And our first stop? Not just any crossing. Columbus Circle. A traffic rotary. An entire circle of street crossings, with sirens, jackhammers and horns blasting around us. Would you hear my commands? Could you keep us safe? Would you get us across, and across, and across?

You stopped at the curb, just as you were trained to do. I listened the best I could to judge the traffic, just as I was trained to do. When I determined the cars had stopped for the light in front of us, I commanded, “Whitney, forward!” You led me across that street safely, and then again at the next one in the circle, and then the next, too. And thousands of busy Chicago streets in our seven years together since then. Again, from the article Mike read to us:

“The dogs receive four months of training at the Seeing Eye, learning to guide around obstacles and obey commands, as well as street-crossing skills, including how to watch for traffic and keep their handlers safe from vehicles that might be turning or running lights.

Officials with the Seeing Eye said they pair roughly 260 dogs each year with blind people living in the United States and Canada. Most live in some urban environment — largely because of public transportation, walkability and other services — and a handful live in New York City.

Dogs who do not prefer an urban setting can be paired with owners who tend not to be city-goers. Owners train alongside their dogs while boarding at the school for several weeks. Their stay culminates with the trip to Manhattan.

While not exactly a test, Manhattan’s conditions present the dogs with intense conditions that can help reveal training aspects to work on.

‘It’s a training experience that offers more than anywhere else we can take them,” said Dave Johnson, director of instruction and training at the Seeing Eye. ‘Almost anything can happen in one day in New York — it’s a culmination of sensory overload, even for humans.'”

When Mike read this article to us a few weeks ago, I knew I’d be mentioning it in a blog post at some point. Thanksgiving seems an ideal time to do so. I am so thankful to you, Whitney, for working so hard to keep us safe. I am so grateful for the work The Seeing Eye does to make dogs available to those of us who are blind, and I appreciate the New York Times for devoting the time and space to such a well-written and well-researched article about how it all works. I am one lucky woman, having you and Mike on my side.

With love and thanks to you both,



Assistive Technology Diary: How a College Student Uses AT on a Typical Day

An Amazon AlexaNovember is Assistive Technology Awareness Month, and to remind everyone the important role assistive technology plays in the lives of people with disabilities, Northern Illinois University student Alicia Krage is sharing an assistive technology journal she kept on a recent Tuesday at school. Interested in sharing your assistive technology journal? Let us know in the comments!

  • 8:00am: I ask Siri to open Spotify as I get ready for my morning shower. I then swipe on the screen until VoiceOver (the speech synthesizer that comes with iPhones at no extra charge) announces “favorites,” the name of my playlist, and I double tap that. I swipe again until it says “shuffle” and I turn on the music.
  • 8:25am I’m back in my dorm and I say, “Alexa, good morning.” Alexa announces upcoming events on my calendar, the weather, and then plays music.
  • 8:35am: I use Voiceover to read any unread text messages I might have. I then swipe through my messages until I come across Joe’s name, then type out a brief text message. 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. My morning note is usually short and simple: “Good morning, how’d you sleep?” or something of that nature.
  • 8:45am: I swipe through my apps until VoiceOver says “Uber.” It automatically knows my pickup location as “school” (I programmed that in), so I swipe through until I hear “Dunkin Donuts.” It keeps a list of frequently visited places. I hit “request Uber X.”
  • 8:47am: VoiceOver reads the text I have dictated to the driver before I send it: “Just so you know, I’m blind so I won’t see your vehicle pull up. Please come get me when you arrive; I’ll be waiting outside.”
  • 8:55am: VoiceOver announces messages from the app. It tells me to “meet driver,” so I go outside.
  • 9am: As I’m ordering my coffee, I swipe through my apps until I hear “Dunkin.” I open the app and hit “pay” so I can pay from my card on my phone.
  • 9:05am: I’m seated by the door and go back to the Uber app. It says, “How was your trip?” I swipe through and rate the appropriate amount of stars for the trip.
  • 9:10am: My coffee is in front of me (the employees bring it to me). I plug in a set of earbuds into my laptop and use JAWS (the speech synthesizer I use with my PC) to connect to “Dunkin Donuts Guest” wifi.
  • 9:12am: I use the arrows to navigate through my documents until JAWS reads the correct title. It’s usually a document containing parts of a paper I need to finish.
  • 10am: My paper (or other assignment) is usually done by now, so I continue to use my speech synthesizer to navigate to Twitter and Facebook and catch up on social media.
  • 11am: I use VoiceOver to navigate through the apps on my phone until I find Uber. It knows my current location, so I navigate through my “saved places” until I hear “school.” I double tap and then hit “request Uber X.”
  • 11:02am: I paste the message into the text field for my Uber driver. It’s the same one I used earlier.
  • 11:05am: Voiceover announces to “meet driver” so I go outside and he calls out to me to let me know where he is parked.
  • 11:15am: Once back in the building, I use voiceover to rate the trip the appropriate amount of stars.
  • 11:17am: I use Voiceover to navigate through my messages until I hear my boyfriend’s name. I text Joe a brief message catching him up on my day and ask how his day is going so far. We text back and forth while I head down to the dorm cafeteria to eat.
  • 12:30pm: I’m done eating lunch and this is my time to decompress. This usually involves watching reruns of some of my TV shows. Sometimes I use JAWS to navigate websites like to watch “This Is Us” reruns, or Netflix to find something to watch on my phone.
  • 2pm: It’s back to work for a little bit. Most of the time it’s studying, so I use my Braille Note apex to open a document containing my class notes. Sighted people need a screen to see what they’re typing and to use the internet, but I don’t. My Braille notetaker is essentially a screenless laptop, so as I type into my Braille Note, the words appear on a Braille display (a rectangular device with rows of pins that are raised and lowered to spell out letters in the braille alphabet) and I can just trace my finger over the dots to read my notes.
  • 3pm: I use VoiceOver to swipe through my messages until I locate one of my friends that I feel like calling. This is the easiest way to find them, rather than scrolling through my contacts.
  • 4pm: Before I head down to the dining hall, I do one more check of emails. I have the Outlook app on my phone, so I swipe through until I get to it. If it doesn’t say I have “new items,” it means I don’t have any emails – same for the default Mail app.
  • 5:10pm: It’s time to leave for my night class. I don’t use technology during dinner. As I am waiting for the elevator, I swipe through messages again to find Joe’s name, then press the “call” button. We chat briefly before I leave for class – a quick catch-up and ending with “Good luck in class” on his end. We make plans to talk later that night.
  • 6:00pm: Class has begun, and I will spend the next 2 hours and 40 minutes taking notes on my Braille note apex (I’d have to put on headphones to take notes using JAWS or VoiceOver, and that would make it hard to listen to the lecture!) Class is usually done at 8:40pm and I get picked up at 9pm. If we get out early, I use Siri to text the PACE bus driver on their mobile business phone to cancel my 9pm ride and a classmate drives me back.
  • 8:40pm: Class is done and I spend 20 minutes catching up on texts, Twitter and Facebook notifications, and respond to any emails I got in the last few hours.
  • 9:10pm: I’m back at the dorms and I navigate to my Spotify playlist again. I listen to music while I get ready for bed.
  • 10pm: I either use siri to “call my boyfriend,” or he calls me and VoiceOver announces his name while his ringtone plays. We talk for an hour – or at least try to keep it to an hour. I need sleep and have a somewhat early day tomorrow.
  • 11pm: I tell Alexa to set my alarm for 7:30am. She confirms with, “Your alarm is set for 7:30am tomorrow.” I make sure my phone is set to “do not disturb” and that it is charging. And then I call it a night.

Interested in reading more about assistive technology? Check out these articles:


Frida Kahlo, Halloween, and Adaptability

It has become something of a Halloween tradition here on the Easterseals blog to feature a post from contributor Bernhard Walke, whose daughter, Elena, dons a creative, clever and cute costume year after year. In the past, she has been a bulldozer, money bag, lobster in a pot, Cinderella, and a Ratatouille-inspired chef. Here’s Bernhard with a description of Elena’s costume this year, one of our all-time favorites.

Elena smiling dressed like Frida Kahlo with a bright floral headpiece and dress.Elena did an expert job of selecting her princess costume last year, but Halloween 2017 was inauspicious to say the least. Elena was in the midst of declining health back then, and after Christmas she spent two months in the hospital.

In the months since her discharge, she’s been in great health, in great spirits, silly, and even tested at grade level. Suffice it to say, these days we are enjoying her good health and her delightful company.

So yes, she has been doing well on a daily basis, but still my wife and I are apprehensive. At any time, things could take a turn for the worse. As a result, we tend to edit ourselves and place undue pressure on our daughter.

And so, when it came to Halloween this year, we tried to create a simpler costume for Elena. That way, if things went South, we wouldn’t resent our daughter for the amount of work we’d put into the costume. One of the greatest things Elena has taught us is adaptability. If things don’t work out the way we want them to, we always have a plan B, C, or even D.

This year, we all decided that Elena would be Frida Kahlo for Halloween. Why? We have a few reasons:

  • Elena is Hispanic on her mother’s side and European on her paternal side, just as the artist was;
  • Despite the physical limitations of their bodies, both Frida and Elena are very creative;
  • It was a rather easy costume to put together (see above, about being ready in case things don’t work out).

Our local school district hosts an annual parade for Halloween. Students strut around the school playground class by class to show off their costumes. This year’s parade boasted Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, the Notorious RBG, and various Marvel characters. But where was Frida Kahlo? Something must have happened.

Perhaps Elena’s body was tight? Elena wasn’t in the mood? Or then, there’s this: Second graders like the nurse’s office. Maybe Elena wanted to hang out in the nurse’s office instead of being part of the parade.

Elena trick or treating in her bright Frida Kahlo costumeMy wife and I have learned not to be disappointed by things like this. We want Elena to know that she isn’t obligated to perform for others. She isn’t the class mascot. She is not required to show others what she can do. We want her to do things on her own terms.

After the parade was over, Elena emerged with her physical therapist. Our daughter was visibly upset. Seeing me there with her grandparents didn’t help. She started crying. Clearly, this girl was not willing to be paraded around the neighborhood. Unlike her extroverted father, who won’t speak to a crowd smaller than 500, Elena is a bit more introverted.

Instead of parading around that day, Elena knocked off a little bit early from school to spend time with her grandparents, picking flowers in the alley.

And so, instead of forcing our daughter to go trick or treating, we let her do what she wanted: she gave out candy to the friends who came by to visit. Those friends were so kind: they greeted Elena, said they liked her costume, and doled out a few high fives.

When Elena’s cousins arrived, together we managed to go with Elena to each house on the block. We were flattered to discover that several houses had put aside candy that they knew Elena could eat. When steps prevented Elena from getting up walkways to the door of some of our neighbor’s houses, the neighbors walked down the steps themselves to greet Elena on her level. That, or Elena’s cousin Carmen would march up the walkway and skillfully pick through the goods offered to choose candy appropriate for Elena.

And so, okay. The parade was a bust. But who cares? Elena taught us how to respond — rather than react — to a situation. We had a great Halloween.