A Kent State recruit is the first player with autism to earn a scholarship for a Division 1 NCAA team sport

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Kalin Bennett

A Kent State basketball recruit will become the first player with autism to earn a scholarship for a Division 1 NCAA team sport when he joins the team next year.

Kalin Bennett, an 18-year-old from Little Rock, Arkansas, was recruited by several schools, but chose Kent State University not only for its basketball team but for its dedication to autism awareness, his mother, Sonja Bennett, told INSIDER.

Bennett, a 6’10”, 300-pound center, signed a letter of intent to join Kent State’s team earlier this month, according to Cleveland.com.

Now Bennett, who is attending a gap year program at Link Year Prep in Branson, Missouri, wants to use his platform to inspire others.
“It feels good to be able to make history like this,” Bennett told INSIDER. “It feels good to hear stories about other people struggling with autism looking up to me.”

He hopes that his rebound talents, positive attitude and ability to be a team player will help Kent State succeed next season.
“They someone who can hoop — and I can hoop,” he said.

Doctors didn’t know if Bennett would ever speak or walk

As a child, doctors that Bennett would remain nonverbal throughout his life, and early diagnosis suggested he may never walk. But Bennett prevailed, and through hard work and therapy he overcame his struggles to become the basketball player he is today.

His coach at Link Year, Adam Donyes, said Bennett is the glue that holds his team together.

Continue on The Insider to read the complete article.

What It’s Like Living and Working With a Chronic Illness

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woman writing in journal about managing chronic illness and work

By Alex Haagaard

It’s 6 AM and your alarm is going off. You hit the snooze button, hoping for a few more minutes of sleep before you drag yourself out of bed. This is a morning routine most people are familiar with. But for workers with chronic illness, it can look very different.

Five years ago, I was working as a research assistant at a design school. I was also struggling with several undiagnosed illnesses, including narcolepsy, an immune condition, and a painful connective tissue disorder. Every night I’d set twelve alarms, turn the volume up, and plug my phone in on the other side of my bedroom. And every morning I’d sleep through them all. I started every day feeling like I’d already run a marathon and been hit by a truck as I crossed the finish line.

Why It’s So Hard to Work With Chronic Illness

In many cases, chronic illness limits how much you can get done in a day. You start with limited energy levels, and when you add in things like chronic pain and immune problems, everyday tasks can drain your batteries before you even get to work. (Not to mention that doctors’ appointments and endless phone calls chasing after prescriptions and referrals can take hours out of your day.)

Learning to manage your energy levels is essential when living with chronic illness. You get used to checking in with your body, assessing how much any activity will cost you, and creating a kind of energy budget to figure out exactly what you can get done without pushing your body past its breaking point. But what happens when there’s just no way to balance the budget?

This is a huge challenge in workplace cultures that place a premium on constant productivity. Chronically ill employees often end up going into energy debt trying to keep up with what’s expected of them. Pushing your limits is often seen as a way of committing to your own personal development, but it can have a serious negative impact on your personal life and health, especially if you have a chronic illness.

Caitlin has fibromyalgia and currently works from home, but she used to work in retail. “My quality of life at the time was non-existent,” she says. “I couldn’t do anything except lie in bed or on the couch when I wasn’t at work. I couldn’t even job hunt because the pain and fatigue were so severe that I couldn’t think straight. I ended up quitting with nothing lined up.”

Chronic illness is also unpredictable. It’s one thing to manage your finances when you know how much money is coming in every month, but as any freelancer will tell you, making long-term plans becomes a lot more difficult without that certainty. Similarly, when you’re working with chronic illness, you often find yourself in a position of having to create weekly or monthly energy budgets without knowing what resources you’ll have at your disposal from one day to the next.

No, We’re Not Just Lazy and Incompetent

When your illness is invisible, you often face doubt from colleagues. Laura, a middle school teacher with an immune disorder, also struggles with PTSD because of harassment she faced at her previous job.

“I was told I was being ridiculous and overdramatic, that I was ‘letting kids down and setting a bad example’ by not pushing myself,” she says. Even after leaving that job, that experience continued to impact her work relationships. “It took probably five years in my current position before I didn’t have anxiety attacks if my boss needed to speak to me or I needed to speak to my boss about something.”

When you’re chronically ill, it often feels like doubt rules your life. People doubt that you’re sick. They doubt how hard you’re trying. They doubt that you’ll follow through on your commitments. And eventually, you begin to doubt yourself.

“To be uncomfortably honest, I am probably more disappointed in myself than [others] are,” says Kristina, a designer and digital modeler who has epilepsy. Struggling with even the most basic adulting tasks can leave her riddled with self-doubt, she explains: “One day I am fully capable of a task while the next day I struggle with generally simple things like brushing my teeth or getting dressed.”

When your abilities change so dramatically from one day to the next, you can end up questioning your own grip on reality. You know none of this is your fault, but deep down you can’t help but wonder if maybe, somehow, it is.

How I’ve Made Working, Work For Me

Three years ago, I had to stop working in my chosen field so that I could begin working full-time as a patient. And it was work, even though I wasn’t getting paid for any of it. My weekdays were suddenly filled with doctors’ appointments, lab tests, and phone calls to social services. I essentially had to become an administrative assistant to the six clinics I was dealing with, a biomedical researcher, and a health justice advocate. Just like my previous jobs, I often felt like I was just barely treading water, trying not to drown.

Last spring, I finally received the diagnoses I was fighting for and this fall, I went back to work as a consultant with a disability-led design group. Although I expected to feel overjoyed about returning to paid work, I’d become so used to struggling and failing that for weeks all I felt was terror.

But I’m still there, loving the work and starting feel more confident that I can actually do this. I’m also realizing that my experiences with chronic illness can be an asset. They’ve made me conscientious about time management, connected me to an amazing community of disabled creatives, and given me insights into how public systems and services are designed—for better and for worse.

Here are three key things that have helped me succeed in my new job:

Continue on to The Muse to read the complete article.

Maysoon Zayid: Advocacy With Humor

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Maysoon-Zayid standing before an audience at a conference waving a hand

By Brady Rhoades

What do you see when you look at Carol Burnett? How about Rosie O’Donnell or Margaret Cho? As for Maysoon Zayid, an actress who’s butted up against thousands of closed doors, she saw beauty. The beauty of opportunity.

“I realized that comedy was my way into Hollywood,” said Zayid, a stand-up comedian set to debut her new television series, Can Can. “I lucked out because I’m funny.”

Zayid galloped after her acting dream once she earned her degree in theater from Arizona State University … but it was a rocky start.

“I realized very quickly that casting directors were not taking me seriously because of my disability, cerebral palsy,” said Mansoon, in an interview with DIVERSEability Magazine. “I also became acutely aware of the fact that I didn’t see people who looked like me, a multiple minority, on TV.”

Born and raised in Cliffside, New Jersey, Zayid is of Palestinian descent.

She’s done plenty of comedic work, including starring in Stand Up: Muslim-American Comics Come of Age. She’s also appeared in films, most prominently in Adam Sandler’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.

As an advocate for equal rights for people with disabilities, she’s a shot in the arm to others who continue to face closed doors.

“People who have CP or other disabilities have often thanked me for being shameless about my shaking,” Zayid said. “Parents of kids with disabilities who are not disabled themselves tend to be inspired by how influential my father was in my life. They say it gives them hope that if they, too, are a good parent their child will thrive. People who feared disability seem relieved to be able to laugh about it while learning to be more inclusive. Some people just laugh because it’s funny. They are not learning, they are not inspired, and that is totally fine by me.”

ABC agreed to pick up Can Can last year—Zayid is still waiting for the word on when it will air.

Serena Williams and Maysoon Zayid at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women 2018 in Philadelphia.
Serena Williams and Maysoon Zayid at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women 2018 in Philadelphia. MARLA AUFMUTH/GETTY IMAGES

“I am creator writer, star and producer on Can Can,” she said. “I definitely don’t want to direct myself. It is a comedy series that revolves around a woman who happens to have CP balancing work, family and relationships. That’s all I can tell you for now. Stay tuned!”

You might learn a lot by watching Can Can, or you might learn nothing at all but simply laugh out loud. Either way, Zayid will be pleased.

“I’m here to make people laugh, not to preach. If they learn to be better people in the process, that’s great, too,” the 45-year-old comedian said.

Zayid started her acting career spending two years on the popular soap opera As the World Turns, and she has also made guest appearances on Law & Order, NBC Nightly News and ABC’s 20/20.

During her early acting experiences, she found both her disability and her ethnicity repeatedly limiting her advancement. Zayid then turned to stand-up and began appearing at New York’s top clubs, including Carolines on Broadway, Gotham Comedy Club, and Stand Up NY, where she tackled some serious topics, such as terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

She co-founded the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival in 2003 with comedian Dean Obeidallah. Held annually in New York City, the festival showcases Arab-American comics, actors, playwrights and filmmakers.

In late 2006, Zayid debuted her one-woman show, Little American Whore, at Los Angeles’ Comedy Central Stage; it was produced and directed by Kathy Najimy. In 2008, the show’s screenplay was chosen for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. Production began with Maysoon as the lead in the fall of 2009.

Zayid usually tours by herself or as a special guest on the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. She also co-hosts the radio show Fann Majnoon (Arabic for “crazy art”) with Obeidallah.

Zayid performs onstage during Ms. Foundation for Women Comedy Night
Comedian Maysoon Zayid performs onstage during Ms. Foundation for Women’s 23rd Comedy Night at Carolines On Broadway. ASTRID STAWIARZ/GETTY IMAGES FOR MS. FOUNDATION FOR WOMEN

Zayid can be seen in the 2013 documentary, The Muslims Are Coming!, which follows a group of Muslim-American stand-up comedians touring the United States in an effort to counter Islamophobia. The documentary also features various celebrities such as Jon Stewart, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo and Rachel Maddow.

Cerebral palsy is extremely difficult, even torturous, so how does one make it funny?

Here’s Zayid in one of her stand-up routines, talking about getting passed over for the part of—can you guess?—a person with cerebral palsy.

“I went racing to the head of the theater department, crying hysterically like someone shot my cat, to ask her why, and she said it was because they didn’t think I could do the stunts,” Zayid said, with a quizzical, comical look. “I said, ‘Excuse me, if I can’t do the stunts than neither can the character!’”

Welcome to Zayid’s world, where one’s misfortune can be funny. It’s okay.

Audiences probably feel for her—“It’s exhausting,” she says of the constant shaking. But soon enough, they’re laughing from the gut up as they become more familiar—and following Maysoon’s lead, more comfortable—with her condition.

That’s key. Her shows have a family feel. Out of decency, respect and, yes, fear, folks do not laugh about a disability until they’re given permission to by an insider.

Here’s how Zayid-the-insider introduced herself at one show in San Francisco: “I don’t want anyone in this room to feel bad for me,” she said, scanning the crowd with her trademark goofy gaze. “Because at some point in your life, you’ve dreamt of being disabled. Come on a journey with me: It’s Christmas Eve. You’re at the mall. You’re driving around in circles looking for parking, and what do you see? Sixteen empty handicapped spaces. And you’re like, ‘God, can’t I just be a little disabled?’”

Of people with disabilities, Zayid says, “We are not happy snowflake angel babies. We grow up, have relationships, experience a range of emotions, and deal with things like chronic pain. Not everybody in the disability community wants to be ‘cured.’ We can have multiple disabilities and also be multiple minorities. Disability intersects with every community.”

She points out that about 20 percent of Americans have a disability. “Disability doesn’t discriminate—you can become part of this group at any time,” she said. “We are 20 percent of the population, and disability rights are human rights.”

So, if you haven’t already, put Can Can on your radar as a must-see show. It’s possible you might learn a little something, but one thing is sure—you’ll definitely laugh.

PEAT’s 2019 Future of Work Podcast Launch Spotlights Inclusive Apprenticeship

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Two men sitting at conference table, one man in a wheelchair

The Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) recently launched the 2019 season of their Future of Work podcast. This podcast is a partnership with the leading HR blog Workology.com to explore how emerging technology trends in the workplace are impacting people with disabilities.

The first episode, How to Create a Global Apprenticeship Program, features a conversation about accessible technology apprenticeship programs with Neil Milliken, Global Head of Accessibility & Inclusion for Atos. Companies worldwide are striving to make their products accessible, but face a shortage of talent due to the accessible technology skills gap. Apprenticeship programs are helping Atos to quickly bring in new and more diverse talent with these in-demand skills.

Continue on to Peatworks.org for the Podcast and the conversation.

Wheelchair Accessible Air Travel is Playing Catch Up

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All Wheels Up image of wheelchair in an airplane seating area

By Michele Erwin, president & founder of All Wheels Up

“Wait, what? There is no wheelchair spot on the plane for you?” Unfortunately, most people outside the wheelchair community don’t realize this is an issue until we make them aware of it.

When we stop and think about it, we might reflect on how far we’ve come so that we can put the next “steps” to accessibility in perspective.

Although not quite as old as humanity itself, wheelchairs appear to date as far back as the fourth century B.C.E., entering Europe possibly around the twelfth century. The idea of an electric wheelchair first arose in 1916 but was unsuccessful until 1952 and not ready for mass markets until 1956. The first wheelchair-accessible bus was invented in 1947 for veterans returning from WWII in Canada. In the 1970s, a team of students at Queen’s University in Ontario, invented the first wheelchair securement system. The earliest research into wheelchair securement introduced the concept that wheelchair users with reduced mobility have unique safety needs requiring unique safety solutions—hence the brand name Q’straint for wheelchair securement systems, or what we colloquially call tie-downs.

In 1966, Ralph Braun created the first wheelchair lift and personal wheelchair-accessible vehicle. In 1972, the Braun Corporation began to sell these accessible vans. With the passage of time, wheelchairs, wheelchair securement systems, and accessible travel have been modified to 21st century standards. They’ve been made faster, safer, and easier. The wheelchair community has embraced travel as part of everyday life in some shape or form for the last 40 years. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Americans in wheelchairs can use Amtrak, taxis, subways, ferries, and local buses to get out and about every day to travel, work, attend school, explore, shop, and meet friends. In other words, they can participate in life!

However, truly accessible air travel—that is, a designated in-cabin space for a wheelchair securement system—has not yet happened. Air travel is covered, not by the ADA but instead by the Air Carrier Access Act, which doesn’t require an in-cabin wheelchair spot—yet. Why not? Is it because we haven’t had a powerful protagonist push for this change? No. In 1942, the very first wheelchair accessible airplane was designed and modified for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). The plane, adapted for both the president’s political safety and personal dignity, was built with an elevator, with aisles wide enough to navigate in his wheelchair. Sadly, 1942 would be the last time a wheelchair user would be considered in the design of a plane.

Why were wheelchair users not taken into consideration during the 1960s, the golden age of commercial aviation? Rather than call out the industry for excluding the wheelchair community, let’s try instead to understand what is preventing wheelchair spots from being implemented. Today’s aviation engineers are empathetic to wheelchair users’ needs, and if given the opportunity to build an accessible airplane, these engineers would make it possible. However, the reason no one organization has taken on researching a wheelchair spot is the difficult nature of the solution: it can’t be created without involving many different groups and industries, and the cost of research is enormous.

The good news? All Wheels Up (AWU), established in 2011, has already brought the parties together to start the conversation. All Wheels Up is the first organization to take the steps to inquire about an in-cabin wheelchair spot. Our goal is not just advocate for a wheelchair spot, but to fund and conduct the research needed to prove the feasibility of wheelchair securement systems and wheelchairs for commercial flight. While there are many amazing advocacy groups that have taken on accessible air travel as a platform, no other organization is funding the research to make it happen.

In 2011, Q’straint tie-downs surpassed 20 G of force. (The FAA testing standard of airplanes seats is 16 G.) In 2016, AWU funded the construction of the first HYGE sled (a simulation platform for crash testing) that could hold a wheelchair, to study how wheelchairs might perform during important aeronautical situations such as turbulence, takeoff, and landing. Recently in one of these facilities, AWU conducted eight specific tests requested by the FAA—and the wheelchair securements all passed. The next step is creating a prototype for commercial use, for which more research and development is needed. AWU will be benchmarking wheelchairs—for future R&D of a FAA-approved wheelchair on January 28, 2019. The results will also be published in their feasibility study.

So, while a wheelchair spot on commercial planes is some 40 years behind the times, things are moving in the right direction. Keep in mind that back in 1947 when wheelchairs were first placed in buses—and even in 1970 when Ralph Braun created accessible vans—standards and regulations were not yet part of our daily lives. Wheelchair travelers can rest assured that once wheelchair securements are approved for airline travel, they will be safe and secure because of scientific testing.

Safety is one issue; economics is another. After all, airlines are a businesses. However, with about 4 million wheelchair users in the United States, the market is large and demanding. Airlines, airplane manufacturers, and governments are listening and they are listening to the consistent collaborative message from All Wheels Up. All Wheels Up is the only organization to conduct a working group with all Stake holders including Airlines, plane manufactures, and wheelchiar manufactures from all over the world.The United States is the only country to currently address a wheelchair spot in a signed bill of law. On October 5th, 2018, The FAA Re-Authorization Act, was signed by President Trump, which included the “feasibility study of wheelchairs for in-cabin use”. Our cause still needs your help, contact your representatives in Congress and the United States Access Board (access-board.gov), which was assigned the task of choosing the team that will continue the research for a wheelchair spot and tell them you support All Wheels Up and their work. As the only organization that has dedicated the last nine years to a wheelchair spot on planes, All Wheels Up remains the leader in the field. All Wheels Up is proud to be working toward true accessible air travel—on a global scale with all the parties involved. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to stay informed about our progress.

Headed to Disability:IN 2019? Discover The Magnificent Mile!

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Picture of the Marriott Hotel on Chicago's Magnificent Mile with a sunset background and other tall buildings

While you’re in town for the 2019 Disability:IN 22nd Annual National Conference & Expo July 15–18, 2019, check out some of the fine food that Chicago is so well known for. We’ve assembled a list of several accessible restaurants, as well as shopping, other necessities, and the transportation to get you there.

All these businesses are within easy reach of the Disability:IN host hotel, the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile, located on downtown Michigan Avenue. This popular area of Michigan Avenue offers much to see and do, with fine hotels, restaurants, shopping, art, music, architecture, museums and parks.

Restaurants

312 Chicago

Italian

136 N. La Salle St

(312) 696-2420

Elevator use, WC-accessible seating, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Spiaggia

Italian

980 North Michigan Ave

(312) 280-3300

No steps, WC-accessible seating, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Chicago Cut Steakhouse

Steaks

300 N LaSalle

312.389.1800

Elevator use, WC-accessible seating, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Cocoro

Japanese

668 N Wells St

(312) 943-2220

No steps, WC-accessible seating, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Coco Pazzo Café

Italian

636 N Saint Clair St

(312) 664-2777

WC-accessible seating, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Epic Restaurant

Contemporary American

112 West Hubbard Street

(312) 222-4940

Private dining not accessible, WC-accessible seating, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Frankie’s Pizzeria & Scaloppine

Italian

900 N Michigan Ave

(312) 266-2500

No steps, WC-accessible seating, accessible bar area, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Big Bowl

Chinese

60 E Ohio St

(312) 951-1888

WC-accessible seating, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Accessible Transportation

Open Taxis

Centralized dispatch service for all Chicago wheelchair-accessible vehicles

(855) 928-1010 or (773) 657-3006 (direct line for pickup)

Special Needs Chicago

Wheelchair-accessible nonemergency transportation provider

(630) 668-9999

Shopping, Pharmacy & Dry Cleaning

The Shops at North Bridge

520 N Michigan Ave

(312) 327-2300

Walgreens Pharmacy

757 N Michigan Ave

(312) 664-8686

Randolph Cleaners

100 W Randolph St #209

(312) 357-6433

Register for the 2019 Disability:IN Conference at Disability:IN.org

Sources: wheelchairjimmy.com, choosechicago.com

Expansion of Best Practices leads to 19,745 new jobs for Californians with Disabilities

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man sitting in a wheelchair at his desk talking on the phone while looking at his computer screen

By Philip Kahn-Pauli, RespectAbility Policy and Practices Director

Washington, D.C., April 9 – Nationwide 111,804 people with disabilities got new jobs last year, including 19,745 new jobs for Californians with disabilities. The Golden State now ranks 35th among the 50 states in terms of the employment rate for people with disabilities.

The newly published 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium shows there are 1,980,677 working-age (ages 18-64) people with disabilities living in California. Out of that number, 721,536 have jobs. That means California has a disability employment rate of 36.4 percent.

Further analysis by the nonpartisan advocacy group RespectAbility shows that California’s disability employment rate has slowly increased over the past two years. However, even as more and more people with disabilities are entering California’s workforce, other smaller states such as North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah have higher employment rates for their citizens with disabilities.

The economic exclusion of people with disabilities is reflected in the stories that Hollywood tells. According to a recent report by The Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC, only 2.7 percent of all speaking or named characters in film were shown to have a disability in 2016. According to GLAAD’s reporting, less than two percent of characters on television have a disability.

The disability community in California is hopeful that newly elected Governor Gavin Newsom will prove himself to be a strong ally in the Governor’s mansion. Diagnosed with dyslexia at age five, Newsome has been open about his experiences with an invisible disability.

California is also home to a range of best practices and programs to empower people with disabilities into the workforce. Project SEARCH is a perfect example of the types of opportunities now open to more and more youth with disabilities in California. SEARCH is a unique, employer-driven transition program that prepares students with disabilities for employment success. In California, new partnerships between the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nonprofit Best Buddies and Kaiser Permanente are having transformative impacts on the lives of young people with disabilities. Nationally and locally, more than 70 percent of Project SEARCH alumni now have jobs.

California has a unique network of Regional Centers, originally established in the 1960s, which provide legally mandated support and services. The state also adopted a Competitive Integrated Employment Blueprint just last year to promote competitive job opportunities for all.

“Clearly California leaders understand the steps needed to increase employment opportunities for those with disabilities,” added Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility. “But what is also evident from the data is that more needs to be done.”

“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said Hon. Steve Bartlett, current Chairman of RespectAbility, who co-authored the Americans with Disabilities Act when he was in Congress. “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.”

A National Issue

Beyond California, how is the workforce changing for people with disabilities? What is driving these changes? The answer is simple. According to Vincenzo Piscopo of the Coca-Cola Company: “People with disabilities bring a unique skill set that it is very valuable for companies.” He went on to add, “As it relates to employment and competitiveness in the workplace, we have to stop thinking of disability as a liability and start thinking of it as an asset.”

Brand-name companies such as JP Morgan Chase, Coca-Cola, Ernst & Young, IBM, Walgreen’s, Starbucks, CVS and Microsoft show people with disabilities are successful employees. These companies also know that these workers improve the bottom line. “People with disabilities bring unique characteristics and talents to the workplace,” said RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi. “Hiring people with disabilities is a win-win-win for employers, people with disabilities and consumers alike.”

As more companies hire employees with disabilities, conversations are shifting to focus on inclusion. “Disability inclusion is no longer about automatic doors, curb cuts, ramps, and legislation,” says Jim Sinocchi, Head of the Office of Disability Inclusion at JP Morgan Chase. “Today, the new era of disability inclusion is about “assimilation” – hiring professionals with disabilities into the robust culture of the firm.”

According to the Census Bureau, there are more than 56 million Americans living with a disability. Disabilities include visible conditions such as spinal cord injuries, visual impairments or hearing loss and invisible disabilities such as learning disabilities, mental health or Autism.

An Election Issue

Voter research, conducted by RespectAbility, shows how disability issues connect to all aspects of American life. “Fully three-quarters of likely voters either have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with disabilities,” said former Representative and Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett. “People with disabilities are politically active swing voters, and candidates should take note of the important issues they care about.”

As 2019 moves into 2020 and the political campaign season heats up, continuing job growth for people with disabilities will be a crucial indicator of the health of the American economy.

Continue on to RespectAbilityReport.org to read more.

High school robotics team builds electric wheelchair for boy whose family couldn’t afford one

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Rogue Robotics team member attends to the wheelchair that the little boy is sitting in

A group of Minnesota high schoolers built an electric wheelchair for a 2-year-old boy whose family couldn’t afford one.

When parents Krissy and Tyler Jackson found out their insurance would not help cover the steep price of a mobility device for their son Cillian, they reached out to the “Rogue Robotics Team” at Farmington High School to see if they could help.

The team’s coach, Spencer Elvebak, told KARE that when he presented the idea to the group, his students agreed to help the family without any hesitation.

After a few weeks of dedicated labor and a little help from the University of Delaware’s GoBabyGo program, which creates custom vehicles for children with limited mobility, the science-minded high schoolers constructed a special electric wheelchair for Cillian, who has a genetic condition similar to cerebral palsy that makes it difficult to move around.

The customized piece of equipment was created using parts of a Power Wheels riding toy, a harness from a child bicycle carrier and a joystick, which was created using a 3D printer and even has Cillian’s name engraved on it.

Similar mobility devices can reportedly cost upwards of $20,000, a hefty price tag Cillian’s parents say insurance would not cover due to their son’s young age and lack of “maturity and focus to drive an electric wheelchair in a public setting.”

Cillian’s mother told KARE that her family is extremely thankful for the chair, as it helps her son “explore like he’s never been able to do before.”

Continue on to AOL News to read the complete article.

CSUN Assistive Technology Conference Showcases Innovations For a More Inclusive World

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Photo by Lee Choo

By Jacob Bennett

The CSUN Assistive Technology Conference has a specific purpose — to advance knowledge and the use of technology that improves the lives of individuals with disabilities — but its impact is wide-ranging.

In addition to companies that specialize in such things as captioning technology for people who are deaf and hard of hearing and voice-controlled devices for people who are visually impaired, the 34th annual conference, held March 11-15 in Anaheim, was attended by representatives from banks, grocery stores, retail chains, medical companies, airlines and many more companies with vast customer bases.

If attendees weren’t developing assistive technology, they were certainly interested in using it.

At a corner booth in the bustling exhibit hall, the three-person team from Feelif, a tech company from Slovenia, found themselves addressing a steady stream of potential business partners. There was no time to check out other areas of the conference, as the Feelif team was busy showing off their premium tablet for people who are blind and visually impaired, which uses vibrations to simulate the experience of feeling Braille dots.

“It’s very busy,” said Rebeka Zerovnik, the company’s international business development associate. “We don’t have enough people to work the booth.”

The 34th CSUN Assistive Technology Conference — organized by the California State University, Northridge Center on Disabilities, and known in the industry as the CSUN Conference — attracted exhibitors, researchers, consumers, practitioners, government representatives and speakers from around the world.

For the first time, the conference was held at the Anaheim Marriott after a long run in San Diego. The change of venue didn’t seem to hurt attendance — final attendance numbers hadn’t been tallied early this week, but attendance approached 5,000.

Peter Korn, director of accessibility for Amazon Lab126, a research and development team that designs and engineers high-profile consumer electronic devices such as Fire tablets and Amazon Echo, said this was his 28th CSUN Conference, beginning when he was with Berkeley Systems, which developed the outSPOKEN screen reader so that Macintosh computers could be used by people who were blind or partially sighted, and continuing for the past five years with Amazon. In that time, he said, the company has dramatically expanded its footprint at the conference.

“CSUN is the premier assistive technology conference in the world,” Korn said. “Of course we’re here.”

The conference included more than 300 educational sessions, with updates on state-of-the-art technology as well as insights into where the industry is headed. For example, attendees could learn about how artificial intelligence will be critical to improving assistive technology applications, and best practices for including people with disabilities in usability studies.

A seventh annual Journal on Technology and People with Disabilities will be published after the conference and will highlight the proceedings from the conference’s science and research track.

A highlight of the conference was the exhibit hall, where 122 booths showcased time-tested and brand-new solutions. A wristband used sonar to locate obstacles near people with visual impairments, then vibrated to help navigate around the obstacles. An app connected people who are blind or have low vision to trained agents who serve as “on-demand eyes.” A real-time transcription and captioning service helped students who are deaf and hard of hearing access distance-learning courses.

The new venue kept all informational sessions and the exhibit hall on the same floor, which had not been the case in San Diego.

“We were very pleased to see that the attendance stayed strong at our new venue for the 2019 event,” Sandy Plotin, managing director of the Center on Disabilities. “The benefits of having all the conference activities consolidated on one floor in a ‘mini-convention’ space seems to be providing the positive outcome we were looking for. I’ve heard people say they’ve been able to network even more, and that’s probably the most important component to having a successful conference experience.”

Johanna Lucht, the first NASA engineer who is deaf and who has taken an active role in the control room during a crewed test flight, delivered a keynote address that aimed to remove barriers to developing assistive technology. She noted that many of the most beneficial technologies for people with disabilities were not designed with that purpose. As an example, she noted that ridesharing services such as Uber removed potential miscommunications that occurred when people who are deaf and hard of hearing ordered taxis through interpreter services — the new apps have enabled people to type in exact addresses.

Conversely, closed captioning can benefit even people without disabilities: For example, it enables people to understand what sportscasters on TV are saying in a noisy and crowded bar.

Lucht noted that assistive technologies are designed to level the playing field for people with disabilities, which implies a sense of “catching up.” Instead, she advocated for designers to think in terms of “universal design,” identifying potential barriers and fixing them before products are launched. She showed a zoo fence that would disrupt the view for visitors in wheelchairs. An assistive design would install a ramp to see over the fence, she said. A universal-design alternative would be a see-through barrier that provides views for everyone.

“The point I’m making is, society is too hung up on the definition behind assistive technology,” Lucht said. “This technology can also benefit everyone.”

Teens praised for teaching boy with autism how to skateboard on his birthday: ‘It brought me to tears’

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Teens at skatepark showing an autistic five year old boy with his helmet on how to skateboard

A mother from South Brunswick, N.J. shared an emotional note on her community’s Facebook page after a recent experience with her son, 5-year-old Carter, at a skatepark.

Kristen Braconi took Carter, who is on the autism spectrum and has ADHD, and his behavioral therapist to the park to celebrate his fifth birthday, where a group of older kids noticed him playing on his scooter. The teens took it upon themselves to teach Carter how to skateboard.

“They were absolutely amazing with him and included him and were so beyond kind it brought me to tears,” the mother shared on Facebook, including a few videos from the day. “I caught a video of them singing [“Happy Birthday”] to my son and one of the kids gave him a mini skateboard and taught him how to use it. I can’t even begin to thank these kids for being so kind and showing him how wonderful people can be to complete strangers.”

“I wanted to recognize the kids and their parents because when you can show their parents how kind and respectful they are when [their parents] aren’t around you know you have done a great job!” Braconi told CNN. “They did so much more than they knew.”

Braconi told the outlet that the young teens didn’t know that Carter has autism and that their kindness and inclusion boosted the 5-year-old’s confidence.

Braconi and Carter left the park and returned with ice cream for the teenagers, but the video inspired the South Brunswick Police Department to try to track down the “superheroes” as well.

Continue on to Yahoo News to read the complete article.

Author Teams Up with Autism Society San Diego for National Autism Awareness Month

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Book Cover image of My Friend Max-A Story About Autism

April is National Autism Awareness Month, which has a mission of helping to increase the understanding and acceptance of those who are autistic. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 out of every 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). One author, Reena B. Patel, is on a mission to help children learn how to become friends with those who have ASD.

In an effort to help raise awareness and acceptance, she has teamed up with Autism Society San Diego and has written a new book, titled “My Friend Max: A Story about a Friend with Autism” (Kind Eye Publishing, 2019). “The chances are high that your child will be a classroom with a child who has ASD” explains Reena B. Patel, a parenting expert, licensed educational psychologist, and author. “It’s a great life skill for kids without ASD to learn how to interact with and develop friendships with those who do. That’s where my book comes in, because I provide the tools to help teach about the importance of inclusion and kindness to bridge that gap.”

Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to the CDC, is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. Children who have ASD tend to have an impaired ability to interact socially with others. They also have a reduced motivation and a delay in skills for engaging others. They may not seem interested in their peers, or they may be interested in them and not know how to relate to them. Children who have ASD may engage in restricted, repetitive or sensory seeking behaviors, or may enjoy activities that seem unusual compared to their peers. Often times, those with autism want friends, but they simply don’t know how to go about interacting with them in an effective way in order to form a friendship.

Patel is an ASD specialist, and her book has been expertly written in a way that will help people learn about the importance of inclusion, how to interact and develop friendships with those who have autism spectrum disorder. The book focuses on teaching kindness, compassion, and provides effective tips on how to be friends with someone with autism. The book is geared for kids ages 3-10, and offers a helpful story that children can relate to, while also offering a concrete list of tips in the back for parents and educators.

“This is a book that should be in every classroom,” added Patel. “There’s a high prevalence that a child with ASD is in every classroom, and children and educators need tools to help them learn how to engage and understand and how to interact in a positive way to relate to that child. That’s exactly what my new book does. It’s important to note that individuals with ASD do want friendships and this book provides tools for anyone who may be around a child with ASD and teaches them how to initiate friendship with them.”

Throughout the month of April, Patel will be donating 20 percent of all book sales to the Autism Society San Diego. The organization was founded in 1966 and is on a mission to help improve the lives of all those affected by autism. They offer programs that serve the community in a variety of ways. “We are thrilled to partner with an author like Reena who is writing books for parents, teachers and children that bring people together and provide the tools to help teach kindness and compassion toward those with autism,” explains Amy Munera, president of Autism Society San Diego, who also has three autistic children.  “Hopefully her message is well received in schools around the country, which will help everyone who is touched by autism.”

Patel is the founder of AutiZm& More, and as a licensed educational psychologist and guidance counselor, she helps children and their families with the use of positive behavior support strategies across home, school, and community settings. She does workshops around California, and virtual workshops globally where she provides this information to health professionals, families, and educators. She is also the author of a book that helps children with anxiety coping strategies called “Winnie & Her Worries.” Both of her books are available on Amazon. To learn more or order the books, visit the website at reenabpatel.com

Based in the San Diego area, Reena B. Patel (LEP, BCBA) is a renowned parenting expert, guidance counselor, licensed educational psychologist, and board-certified behavior analyst. For more than 20 years, Patel has had the privilege of working with families and children, supporting all aspects of education and positive wellness. She works extensively with developing children as well as children with exceptional needs, supporting their academic, behavioral and social development.  She was recently nominated for San Diego Magazine’s “Woman of the Year.” To learn more about her books and services, visit the website at reenabpatel.com, and to get more parenting tips, follow her on Instagram @reenapatel.

Founded in 1966, Autism Society San Diego serves the community with helping those affected by autism. The organization is all run by volunteers, and serves as the voice of resource of the local autism community. Membership includes autistic individuals and their parents, friends, advocates, medical professionals, and educators through the San Diego area. They offer a wide variety of programs and services to the community, including summer camps, an adult summer program, AWARE, biannual family camp weekends, two monthly family recreational events, and seven monthly support and information groups, as well as a variety of special events throughout the year. They offer direct support and referrals via our office administrator, our website, and our social media channels. For more information visit: facebook.com/autismsocietysandiego/

Those who would like to donate to Autism Society San Diego can do so through the Coin Up app: coinupapp.com/

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disordercdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Autism Spectrum Disorder.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html