DeafBlind Community Speaks Out About COVID-19 Fears

Photo of Beth and her black Lab.

That’s me in my big red coat along with my Seeing Eye dog Luna in January, before we started sheltering in place.

I live on the seventh floor of a high rise in Chicago. These days I don a mask and disposable gloves any time I have to leave the apartment. When it’s time for me to take my Seeing Eye dog outside to “empty,” she knows to guide me through a long hallway right to the buttons. “Luna, sit!” I say, and she stays still as I put on my disposable plastic gloves and feel for the one that says “down.” When an elevator dings twice, I know it’s arrived and will be going down (one ding means up, two dings mean down). I point that way, command “forward!” and Luna leads me to the opening. “Anybody in here?” I ask. I’m not so sure our elevators here are even six feet wide, so if someone answers, I urge them to go ahead without us: I’m not pressed for time.

I’ve made a great discovery in the past four weeks: when wearing plastic disposable gloves, you can still feel the Braille dots in the elevator! Assuming bad guys are staying home during the pandemic, I am fearless when out with Luna after dark for her final “empty” of the day. Once outside, without being able to see, unless people talk — or walk — loudly, it can be difficult to judge what six feet is, but Luna and I do our best.

Read those last couple of paragraphs again and you’ll notice how heavily I rely on my sense of sound to navigate the world and keep myself –and others –safe: one ding from the elevator tells me it’s about to head up, two dings means it’s going down; if no one responds to my question at the elevator doors, I know it’s okay to enter; using footsteps, along with a little eavesdropping, to alert me where others are and allow me to do my best to keep a required six feet between us.

How would I accomplish all this if, in addition to being blind, I couldn’t hear? A Washington Post article called They are deaf and blind, and social distancing has now taken their ability to touch answers that question. The article addresses how important the sense of touch is to those of us who can’t see, and, especially, to those who are both deaf and blind. “The DeafBlind community includes people who have zero ability to see and hear, and those who have so little that they have been medically deemed deaf and blind,” the article explains. From there the reporter interviews individuals from all over the country who are DeafBlind to ask how they are faring during the unthinkable times we are living in now.

While I couldn’t relate to all of the experiences , some of the things people who are DeafBlind are going through do, dare I say, ring a bell:

  • Social distancing creating unique worries and exceptional challenges
  • Isolation forcing us to grow increasingly disconnected when, more than ever, we need to be aware of what’s happening around us
  • It being uncomfortable to rely on your sense of touch at a time when grabbing a doorknob or standing closer than six feet from a stranger carries risks.
  • The story pointed out a feeling many of us with disabilities have right now: the worry that hospitals facing scarce resources will decide not to save the lives of those of us with disabilities. Haben Girma, the author of a memoir titled Haben: The DeafBlind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law, was interviewed for the article and told the reporter that ”there is an ableist assumption that causes some people to think it’s better to be dead than disabled” and that, plus the worry that she might not be able to communicate with medical staff if she does end up hospitalized, is what keeps her up at night now.The story ends with a quote from an email message sent by Ali Goldberg, a DeafBlind student at Gallaudet University majoring in education who uses tactile sign language to communicate:

    In that email, he described feeling “afraid for the future.”
    He also expressed an appreciation for being able to talk about how social distancing is affecting him and a hope that it would help more people understand what the DeafBlind community is going through right now.
    The experiences of the DeafBlind community may be unique, but their concerns shouldn’t be theirs alone.
    “As a Deaf-Blind individual like myself, we are left out of everything going on around us,” he wrote. “Let’s get through this together.”


Celebrated Actors with Disabilities Team with Easterseals to Encourage Us All to #StayHomeSaveLives

Screenshots of celebrities from the Easterseals PSA Introducing our guest blogger for today – Mark Whitley, president & CEO of Easterseals Southern California.

Over the last few years, Easterseals Southern California has made a concerted effort to partner alongside the entertainment industry to advance disability representation and inclusion across film and TV. Because we believe quality storytelling – the compelling, authentic, honest and entertaining stories we all consume – have the power to alter our hearts and minds, shift our perspectives, tackle deep-rooted stigmas, reverse misconceptions and ultimately, change the way the world defines and views disability. Simply put, good stories can change our society for the better.

You’ve likely seen or heard of our key efforts including the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge or the Media Access Awards presented by Easterseals. And if not, I’d encourage you to dive in and watch some of the powerful films and TV highlighted within each – it makes for great binge-watching while we’re all safely holding up at home.

Through our collaborative work here in Los Angeles, Easterseals has made incredible friends, who are actively working at all levels of entertainment to advance disability inclusion, while, at the same time, building tremendous careers and sharing their many talents with all of us. And, these very same friends – celebrated filmmakers and actors with disabilities – have now volunteered their time, without hesitation, to help Easterseals share a critically important message about safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Check them all out in our brand new #StayHomeSaveLives PSAs – watch them now!

Virtually everyone featured in the PSAs has also, in some way, been involved in the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, including Nic Novicki, the Film Challenge’s founder/director and member of Easterseals Southern California’s Board of Directors. Spearheaded by filmmaker John Lawson, the PSAs include clips and soundbites from 20 different actors with disabilities, including: Ed Begley, Jr., Coby Bird, Jamie Brewer, L. Scott Caldwell, Patrika Darbo, Tobias Forrest, Micah Fowler, Angel Giuffria, Jenni Gold, Danny J. Gomez, Sammi Haney, Diana Elizabeth Jordan, RJ Mitte, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, Nic Novicki, Cole Sibus, Millicent Simmonds, Marilee Talkington, Danny Woodburn, and of course, John Lawson, himself.

The PSAs reinforce that we are all in this together, and asks us to self-isolate, stay at home, and do our part to stop the spread of this virus – especially because people with disabilities, older adults and individuals with chronic diseases may be particularly vulnerable. There are more than 61 million children and adults living with a disability in the U.S., making it the largest minority group in the country.

Here’s my ask of all of you – please share these life-saving PSAs with everyone you know! Through these videos, we see the strength and commitment of a multi-talented group of people, proudly representing the disability community and offering support to our communities in a meaningful and tangible way.

Now that’s what I call a good story!


Schooling at Home Especially Difficult for Special Needs Families

a young child is writing in a notebook in front of a laptop that shows a video their teacherFinding it difficult to have your children with special needs at home every day while their schools are closed? You are not alone. A story on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning featured a special education consultant in North Carolina who is working at home while she, her Husband and their two daughters shelter in place for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of this special education consultant’s work these days involves helping special needs families as they adapt to the new normal, and she has first-hand knowledge of what this is like: their oldest daughter is 12 years old and has Down syndrome.

“This tends to be a common theme with children with downs syndrome, they’re very sociable, people matter to them in ways that almost doesn’t have words,” she told the NPR reporter. “They love their people, and they need their people, too.”

While working at home, this mom says she tries to keep everyone on track, and her oldest girl out of trouble. Like her, most of her client families are in a survival mode at home as well, struggling to keep their children occupied and following school assignments at home. “I try reassuring them that getting through a day is really your success,” she said. “If learning happens, that‘s great, but if it looks like a hot mess, that’s okay, too.”

Easterseals is working with families facing the same challenges. If you haven’t already, take a look at some of the resources for parents who are looking after kids with disabilities while schools are closed. 


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 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, 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


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.


“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, 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.