For a Brighter Future—Advocate Stevie Wonder still keeping the dream alive

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Stevie Wonder performs onstage during The Stevie Wonder Song Party at The Peppermint Club

By Erica Sabino

The world may know Stevie Wonder as a legendary musical artist, but not everyone is aware of the many ways in which he influences the community beyond sharing his love for music. While music does play a big part in his life, the 25-time GRAMMY Award winner’s impact reaches way beyond the music industry and the people who listen to his work.

He may be a celebrity, but Stevie Wonder is one famous figure who uses his popularity to influence positive change in the world for all people, for generations to come.

Stevland Hardaway Judkins was born on May 13, 1950, in Saginaw, Michigan. Born prematurely, he experienced complications with the growth of blood vessels in his retinas, causing his blindness. That, however, did not hinder the child prodigy from learning to play multiple instruments at a young age. From the harmonica to the drums to the piano, Stevie taught himself how to play them all before he reached the age of 10. He was also singing in his church choir by that time.

Stevie’s entrance to the music industry did not begin until he was discovered by singer and songwriter Ronnie White of The Miracles. He was then introduced to Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, was given an audition, and later signed to the record label. It was Gordy who dubbed Stevie “Little Stevie Wonder,” which was changed to “Stevie Wonder” as he grew older.

And what a wonder he was. According to his biography in Rolling Stone, “[Stevie’s] third single, ‘Fingertips (Part 2)’ was a number 1 pop and R&B hit eight months later. Both on records and in live shows, he was featured playing harmonica, drums, piano, and organ, as well as singing—sometimes all in one number. During his first three years in show business, Wonder was often compared to Ray Charles—much was made of the fact that both were blind.”

Stevie Wonder, sons Kailand Morris and Mandla Morris, and designer Kai Milla attend the 4th Annual Kailand Obasi Hoop-Life Fundraiser at USC
Recording artist Stevie Wonder, sons Kailand Morris and Mandla Morris, and designer Kai Milla attend the 4th Annual Kailand Obasi Hoop-Life Fundraiser (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

But Stevie’s brilliance was his own. As he broke out into his career, Wonder became self-sufficient inthe studio—writing his own music, playing his own instruments and even producing his own work. Noted in his Rolling Stone biography, the Signed, Sealed, Delivered singer also distinguished himself with music and lyrics “with such socially conscious subjects as ghetto hardship and political disenfranchisement.” It was not surprising that he was a lifelong advocate of nonviolent political change patterned after Martin Luther King Jr.

Stevie met Martin Luther King Jr. at a rally when he was just 15 years old. Three years following MLK’s assassination, Stevie joined in the decade-long movement to pass a bill that would make King’s birthday a national holiday. He composed the song “Happy Birthday,” which became a rallying song for the initiative. According to journalist Marcus Baram in an article at Cuepoint on Medium.com, “Wonder put his career on hold, led rallies from coast to coast, and galvanized millions of Americans with his passion and integrity.”

“Why should I be involved in this great cause?” Wonder asked as he addressed the crowd at an MLK rally. “As an artist, my purpose is to communicate the message that can better improve the lives of all of us.”

Through his career, Stevie Wonder created a platform to not only share his talents but also make a difference and inspire others to do the same. His many accomplishments can be attributed to his drive, his perseverance, and his determination, both as a musician and an advocate for the causes he believes in.

A true philanthropist, Stevie Wonder promotes AIDS awareness, donates to humanitarian relief efforts, and holds an annual House Full of Toys benefit concert to provide toys for children in need. Wonder has also worked on the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, the Children’s Diabetes Foundation, Junior Blind of America and the creation of the Wonder Vision Awards Program.

Zucchero, James Taylor, Trudie Styler, Elton John,Lyle Lovett, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Wonder, Shawn Colvin, & Sting at the Carnegie Hall in New York, New York
Zucchero, James Taylor, Trudie Styler, Elton John,Lyle Lovett, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Wonder, Shawn Colvin, & Sting at the Carnegie Hall in New York, New York (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

In 2009, Wonder was named a UN Messenger of Peace, with a focus on persons with disabilities by the United Nations in 2009. At the news conference to announce his new position, then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon had this to say of Wonder: “I recognize that he has consistently used his voice and special relationship with the public to create a better and more inclusive world, to defend civil and human rights, and to improve the lives of those less fortunate. Stevie Wonder is a true inspiration to young people all over the world about what can be achieved, despite any physical limitations.” In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded Wonder the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Wonder was asked by The Guardian if he had ever considered “that it’s his ‘disadvantages’—being born blind and black—that have made him what he is.” To this, the award-winning artist responded, “You know, it’s funny, but I never thought of being blind as a disadvantage, and I never thought of being black as a disadvantage. I am what I am. I love me! And I don’t mean that egotistically—I love that God has allowed me to take whatever it was that I had and make something out of it.”

Stevie has found success both on and off the stage. Whether he is going on Twitter to encourage people to share their dreams, performing at the dedication ceremony of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, attending a conference to learn about assistive technologies for the blind or visually impaired, or advocating for an international disabilities treaty, Wonder has continuously taken steps to make a positive impact with everything he does.

In 2013, Stevie met with young Viet Nam’s Got Talent singer Crystal (real name: Nguyen Phoung Anh) at the United Nations General Assembly to push jointly for greater inclusion for children with disabilities. Crystal, now 21, became a singing sensation when she auditioned for the popular show in 2012. She was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, or “glass-bone disease,” a genetic disorder causing fragile bones. “My bones have broken 30 times or more,” she says. “We stopped counting, because we thought it didn’t matter anymore.” The 16-year-old adds, “Crystal is my alter ego, because it is fragile and shiny.”

“No one should be excluded because they’re blind, or because of any disability or because of their status or their color,” Wonder said. “We cannot allow our differences to let our fear put dreams to sleep.”

In 2017, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) announced the presentation of the first Key of Life award to Stevie Wonder for his groundbreaking “contributions to the world through his music.” According to the association, future recipients of this honor will be given to “songwriters and composers who best exemplify [Stevie’s] legacy through their commitment to the art form he elevated through his talent, dedication and unparalleled heart.”

Stevie Wonder is a man who is driven by his beliefs. “You need to put your heart into making a difference,” Stevie told The Guardian. Upon receiving his key of Life Award, Wonder had this to say about an artist’s social power: “There’s always power in the work… So those of us who have been blessed with the gift of expression, don’t be afraid to express your truth. But do it with love. When you think about it, music is probably the most integrated thing that we have. We’re all influenced by each other.”

With Stevie, it’s not just his music that inspires others but also the man that he is. His actions and words go hand in hand in nurturing a movement to help make the world a kinder place. He has become a true inspiration for people all over the world.

First Female Amputee to Climb Everest Receives Honorary Doctorate

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Arunima Sinha is a serious mountaineer—she was both the first female amputee and the first Indian amputee to climb Mount Everest. And last November, she was awarded an honorary PhD from the prestigious University of Strathclyde in London.

She has made it her life’s work to encourage others, saying, “I have achieved my goal, but now I want to help physically challenged people achieve their goals so that they can also become self-dependent.”

A former Indian national-level volleyball player, Sinha had her left leg amputated below the knee after being thrown from a train while resisting a robbery. Sinha was traveling to sit for an examination to join The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), a central armed police force in India. She was pushed out of the train by thieves and lost her left leg below the knee as a result.

While recovering, she resolved to climb Mount Everest and later trained with Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest, at the Uttarkashi camp of the Tata Steel Adventure Foundation (TSAF). Sinha became the world’s first female amputee to summit Mount Everest with a prosthetic leg on May 21, 2013.

Since that achievement, she has gone on to be the first female amputee to climb some of the tallest mountains in Africa, Europe, Australia and South America.

Her book, Born Again on the Mountain, was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December 2014. In 2015, she was presented with the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award. She was named one of the People of the Year in India’s 27th edition of Limca Book of Records in 2016.

“Arunima is an inspiration to amputees around the world. Not only has she shown real spirit, courage and determination in overcoming adversity, she is using her compassion and positivity to help other people,” said Professor Jim McDonald, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde. “Arunima embodies the values of Strathclyde, and we are delighted to recognize her achievements by making her an Honorary Doctor of the University.”

The award also recognizes Sinha’s charitable work through the Arunima Foundation, which seeks to empower women and people with disabilities, and generally improve the health and social and economic situation for poorer communities. “Our mission is to inspire and empower people to change their world,” the foundation says. For more information, visit the Arunima Foundation on Twitter @FlucknowA.

Source: Wikipedia, newindianexpress.com, momspresso.com

Making Social Media More Accessible to People with Disabilities

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Social media is a very popular tool among people with disabilities to stay connected despite the fact that most social media tools are not fully accessible. Staying connected electronically is even more important if a disability prevents a person from being able to easily travel.

By posting pictures or videos of themselves and discussing issues that impact them every day, people with disabilities are also bringing awareness to their very particular and personal issues.

It is important to understand that people and companies posting on social media have no control over the platforms’ infrastructures. That being said, there are practical limitations to what corporations can accomplish with respect to accessibility on the social media channels they choose to use. Most social media platforms have accessibility teams, and accessibility improvements are continually rolled out as technology continues to improve at a rapid pace.

Many people posting content to social media platforms – for either personal reasons or as part of their job – do not consider or use accessibility features. While the social media platform may not be friendly to all forms of assistive technology, companies can and do control the content they post and should take the necessary steps to make that content as accessible as possible. In many cases, even if the platform doesn’t natively offer accessibility tools, workarounds can be implemented to improve accessibility.

For the complete article, continue on to 3 Play Media.

Ten Tips for Communicating with People with Disabilities

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communication advice

We all find ourselves in situations in which we don’t know what to say or do. We may meet someone who moves or acts differently from us, and we wonder how we should react.

When you’re communicating with people with disabilities, the most important thing is to remember that they are people first. People who, like everyone else, want to be appreciated, respected and productive.

As changes in civil rights laws have helped more people with disabilities pursue employment, attitudes toward people with disabilities are also changing. Creating a truly integrated society; one in which people of all abilities live and work together, starts with good communication.

Here are some tips to help you avoid feeling uncomfortable about communicating with people with disabilities:

1 Speak directly to the person rather than through a companion or the sign language interpreter who may be present.

2 Offer to shake hands when introduced. People with limited hand use or artificial limb can usually shake hands and offering the left hand is an acceptable greeting.

3 Always identify yourself and others who may be with you when meeting someone with a visual disability. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking. When dining with a friend with a visual disability, ask if you can describe what is on his or her plate using the clock to describe the location of the food, i.e., “Potato is at 3 o’clock.”

4 If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen or ask for instructions.

5 Treat adults as adults. Address people with disabilities by their first names only when extending that same familiarity to all others. Never patronize people of short stature or people in wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder.

6 Do not lean against or hang on someone’s wheelchair or scooter. Bear in mind that people with disabilities treat their wheelchairs or scooters as extensions of their bodies. The same goes for people with service animals. Never distract a work animal from their job without the owner’s permission.

7 Listen attentively when talking with people who have difficulty speaking and wait for them to finish. If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, or a nod of the head. Never pretend to understand; instead repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond.

8 Place yourself at eye level when speaking with someone who is of short stature or who is in a wheelchair or on crutches.

9 Tap a person who has a hearing disability on the shoulder or wave your hand to get his or her attention. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly, and expressively to establish if the person can read your lips. If so, try to face the light source and keep your hands away from your mouth when speaking. If a person is wearing a hearing aid, don’t assume that they have the ability to discriminate your speaking voice. Do not raise your voice. Speak slowly and clearly in a normal tone of voice.

10 Relax. Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use common expressions such as “See you later” or “Did you hear about this?” that seem to relate to a person’s disability.

Source: United Cerebral Palsy Association

New Children’s Book Offers Highly Effective Anxiety Coping Strategies

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Reena B. Patel, a licensed educational psychologist and author, has a new book that will help parents, educators, and children with combating anxiety.

April 2nd is International Children’s Book Day, making it a great day to consider the impact that some books can have on today’s youth. One author, Reena B. Patel, is on a mission to help children learn how to identify and address stress and anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the country, affecting 18 percent of the adult population and 25 percent of children between the ages of 13 and 18. Many children under the age of 13 also experience anxiety disorders, making it an issue that impacts the population as a whole.

“Starting at a young age, children are plagued with worry and anxiety, yet we are not always good at providing them with the coping skills that will help them overcome it,” explains Reena B. Patel, a parenting expert, licensed educational psychologist, and author. “This is often because parents and educators are not sure what coping skills work, so they can pass that information on to the children in their lives.”

That’s where Patel aims to change things. Her new book, “Winnie & Her Worries,” explores the area of worry and anxiety. While the book was written for kids ages 3-10, the information and coping strategies offered are effective for all ages dealing with anxiety. The book provides examples of common stressful situations, which are often brought on by living in a competitive world that has high demands and unrealistic expectations. The book also provides coping strategies that can be used to help address the fear and anxiety.

Coping strategies are thoughts and behaviors that people can use to help them get through emotionally difficult times, such as when they have anxiety, which is the fear of the unknown. Patel’s book aims to help parents, educators, coaches, and caretakers be able to help them identify anxiety in a concrete way and learn the coping strategies they can use to become more confident and less fearful.

“Too many people experience anxiety on a regular basis,” added Patel. “The good news is that there are numerous things that people can do to address the situation. It’s just a matter of someone showing them what works, which is exactly what my new book does.”

In the January 2017 issue of the journal Annals of Psychiatry and Mental Health, researchers reported that chronic stress leads to anxiety and depression. Their report noted that stress is often neglected in day to day life when it could play a detrimental role in one’s mental health. They advise that social support, explanatory styles, locus of control, personality types, and coping skills can be significant when dealing with stress.

Winnie & Her Worries” offers healthy habits for the whole family. The book was written to target young kids, because it is harder to change maladaptive habits as teens and young adults if they do not have coping skills. Those who read the book will find that they will be able to better identify anxiety triggers, as well as gain valuable information regarding preventative tools and coping strategies for anxiety and stress. The tools are aimed at helping those who use them to feel more confident, comfortable, and able to engage in their everyday routine with ease and no worries or stress. This book has been created using professional techniques that are easy to implement, even amidst busy lives, making it an important book to have in every classroom and home.

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, where she provides this information to health professionals, families, and educators. She is also the author of two children’s books that teach compassion and kindness, called “My Friend Max: A Story About a Friend with Autism,” and “reenabpatel.com.

About Reena B. Patel
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 @reenabpatel.

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Sources:

Annals of Psychiatry and Mental Health. Chronic stress leads to anxiety and depression. https://www.jscimedcentral.com/Psychiatry/psychiatry-5-1091.pdf

Anxiety and Depression Association of America.Facts & Statistics.https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

Balancing Work and Life With Your Unique Abilities

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Achieving work-life balance requires intentional effort

If you have a job and family, you know how hard it can be to juggle your work and your home life. Taking care of things both at home and in the office isn’t easy for anyone, and people with disabilities can often find it even harder to achieve a healthy balance.

Studies show that working is good for you, both mentally and physically, and contributes to an overall better quality of life. But taking good care of yourself is an important factor, and that’s particularly true for people with disabilities.

Erika Hagensen is a public policy consultant for The Arc of North Carolina and the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities. She spoke to Professional WOMAN’s Magazine about how she strikes her own work-life balance while living with a physical disability.

“With The Arc of North Carolina, I monitor federal and state public policy and frame issues so individuals with disabilities and their families have a voice in things that impact their daily lives,” Hagensen says. “Helping people become knowledgeable and feel confident responding to critical, complicated topics is a dream job.”

Balancing Work and Life

Hagensen doesn’t claim to have any magic formula for juggling work and family—it’s an ongoing effort for her, just like the rest of us. She says, “I’m not sure how well I balance work and life—both throw curveballs on a regular basis, and I just try give it my best shot. In our inter-ability household we say, ‘function over form.’ Meaning it doesn’t matter if I use arm crutches, a walker, a wheelchair or if an activity takes twice as long—we decide what we want to do as a family and build a solution backwards.” She’s learned to lend that philosophy to the notion of work/life balance, which she approaches in three ways. “First, instead of focusing on balance, I pay attention to what a balanced life feels like for me and my family, and figure out how to make it happen. For us, it means healthy meals and eating at a small table in the kitchen. We don’t get hung up on whether it’s home cooked, frozen, or takeout from our favorite hole-in-the-wall dumpling shop—we focus on dinner together. Bonus points if the kids help make or plate it. Second, I’m happier when I exercise. I’m not going to lie and say I make it every week, but I try my best to work out at least once for an hour even when I’m sure I don’t have the time. When I do, I think more creatively, play more with my kids, and fall less.” Finally, she says she actively walks away from comparisons. “Other people’s career trajectories, kids’ activities, or social Rolodex aren’t a part of my thinking or daily calculus,” she explains. “In fact, I’m not on social media—a rare move in the public policy space.”

Challenges

Hagensen has limited time and, she adds, “as a person with a physical disability, limited energy.” That means she has to choose her priorities carefully, which can be difficult when her job isn’t predictable. “It turns out Congress, courts, legislatures and federal departments don’t work in a 9-to-5 framework with weekends off,” she reveals. “And a time-sensitive policy response doesn’t change if my son has a fever, or my daughter’s school shuts down with snow.

Resources

Tools can be helpful in the daily juggle of appointments, request and general demands. “Google calendars are a must to mesh work, kids, and family schedules, but I still love the satisfaction of crossing off handwritten lists.” She says she and a group of other parents schedule their kids’ activities and summer camps together so they have trusted backups when life gets complicated. In addition, she appreciates convenience apps that allow her to take care of some of the more mundane tasks, such as shopping for groceries and either picking them up on the way home or having them delivered to her door. “When life is really busy, we get help with the house and organizing,” she says. “It helps keep things moving forward, takes off the pressure, gives us more time at the dinner table.”

Advice for Others

When asked what advice she would give to others trying to find a good work-life balance, Hagensen answers, “Be kind to yourself. Avoid ideas or choices that start with ‘should’—it’s often steeped in comparison or guilt. Spend time with people who make you smile.” Finally, she advises, “Sleep.” A basic need that sometimes slips to the bottom of your list of priorities!

Before becoming a public policy consultant, Hagensen was executive director of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation and Director of Disability Rights, Family and Technology Policy for The Arc of the United States and United Cerebral Palsy’s Disability Policy Collaboration (DPC). She received the OMB Watch (now The Center for Effective Government) “Public Interest Rising Star” award for her pursuit of government accountability, citizen participation, and social justice. She holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Washington.

Resources for Business Owners with Disabilities

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disability-owned business

These resources can help prospective business owners living with a disability make their dream of owning their own business a reality.

Fact: Self-employment is a more popular choice among people with disabilities than it is with the general population. The Small Business Administration reported that 12.2 percent of the general population chose self-employment, and 14.3 percent of people with disabilities started businesses.

Alice Doyel, author of No More Job Interviews: Self-Employment Strategies for People With Disabilities, suggests five clear advantages of self-employment for people with disabilities.

  • Work activities that fit personal interests and capabilities
  • Control of the company
  • Workplace supports and accommodations to meet needs and enhance success
  • Connections with other community business members
  • Long-term employment with the opportunity for personal growth

Any person with a disability who has worked in the labor force may be familiar with the concept of Customized Employment (CE). Customized Employment starts not with a job description, but by identifying the strengths, conditions and interests of a job candidate. After this process of discovery, an employer or job counselor can identify a position that matches the candidate’s profile.

The same framework can be applied to identifying self-employment opportunities.

Joe Steffy is a young adult with Down syndrome and autistic spectrum disorder. When Joe was in his teens, teachers and school administrators didn’t think he’d ever work – at best, he’d spend his days at a fully supervised workplace, also known as a sheltered workshop.

Then Joe worked with a Customized Employment expert, and together they discovered Joe’s interest in popping kettle corn. Joe’s family bought equipment, and he began popping and selling kettle corn at local businesses and farmers markets. He started when he was 15 years old, and in three years, teenage Joe’s sales grew to $50,000 with a staff of five part-time employees. Joe works five or six hours a day popping corn and delivering it to stores.

Joe is in his 30s now, and Poppin’ Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn is still going strong.

Going through the Customized Employment framework is a good first step for any person with a disability thinking about starting their own business.

Melony Hill, who has been diagnosed with PTSD, depression, anxiety disorder, dissociative identity disorder, and fibromyalgia, launched a successful speaking, writing, and coaching business called Stronger Than My Struggles.

A big part of her success came from identifying a profession that worked for her rather than one focused on money. “Instead, I sought to find ways I would feel I was living peacefully and doing things I enjoyed,” Melony says. Now she teaches others to do the same.

Once a potential business owner has identified their unique strengths and abilities, the fun begins – identifying a business that is a right for them.

The PASS program

Usually, federal supplemental security income (SSI) payments are reduced or eliminated once the recipient finds a job. With the PASS (Plan to Achieve Self-Support) program, SSI recipients wanting to start a business can continue to accumulate SSI payments while they work and use the money to fund their startup.

PASS money can be saved up and set aside to pay for the following:

  • Transportation to and from work
  • Tuition, books, fees and supplies needed for school or training
  • Childcare
  • Attendant care
  • Supplies to start a business
  • Equipment and tools to do the job, and
  • Uniforms, special clothing and safety equipment

The Social Security Administration will not count money set aside under this plan when they decide on an SSI payment amount, so recipients may end up getting a higher payment. However, they won’t get more than the maximum payment for the state in which they live.

To qualify for PASS, the intended recipient can’t have a net worth exceeding $2,000 or $3,000 for couples. However, assets or equipment to be used for the business don’t count toward this amount.

PASS participants must get their plan approved by the Social Security Administration. Examples of businesses that have been approved include a carpentry business, a music production business and a candy vending business.

To qualify, recipients must complete paperwork, including the creation of a business plan. Here’s more about the PASS program:

Writing a business plan

Creating a business plan is a requirement of applying for PASS. It’s a vital step for any business owner.

A business plan outlines the goals of the business and details the steps needed to achieve them. The plan will include specifics like equipment needed, how the business will be promoted, and anticipated revenue.

Continue on to Business.com to read the complete article.

Best and Worst States on Jobs for People with Disabilities

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disability friendly states

By Philip Kahn-Pauli

Floridians with disabilities experience the biggest jobs gains of any state, with more than 23,000 people with disabilities entering the workforce. Of the 50 states, 29 states saw job gains for Americans with disabilities.

Vermont, under Gov. Phil Scott, becomes one of the top 10 states with the best employment rates and Rhode Island, under Gov. Gina Raimondo, jumps from 47th in the nation to 19th. New statistics recently released show that Americans with disabilities saw a slowdown in job gains compared to those of the previous year. The Disability Statistics Compendium, released by Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, shows that the employment rate for people with disabilities has risen to 37 percent. The Compendium also shows that geography has an impact on employment outcomes for Americans with disabilities. People with disabilities in North Dakota are twice as likely to have jobs as West Virginians with disabilities.

The newly published 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium compiles data collected by the Census Bureau. The Compendium is intended to equip policy-makers, self-advocates and others with clear statistics on disability in America today. Out of over 20 million working-age people with disabilities, 7.5 million have jobs. This data also shows the serious gaps that remain between disabled and non-disabled Americans. 37 percent of U.S. civilians with disabilities ages 18-64 living in the community had a job, compared to 77.2 percent for people without disabilities.

“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.”

Further analysis by the nonpartisan advocacy group RespectAbility shows that 111,804 people with disabilities entered the workforce in 2017. That number is down from the previous year’s increase of over 343,000 new jobs for people with disabilities. Different factors explain the slower pace of job growth. A slowing economy is one factor, as is changing patterns of growth in different sectors of the economy. One lesson is clear to Andrew Houtenville, PhD of UNH’s Institute on Disability: “there is still a long way to go toward closing the gap between people with and without disabilities.”

“Employment rates only tell part of the story,” added Philip Kahn-Pauli, Policy and Practices Director at RespectAbility. “When you look across the intersection of disability and race, you find serious gaps in outcomes.” Only 28.6 percent of African Americans with disabilities have jobs compared to the 38.6 percent of Hispanics with disabilities and 41.2 percent of Asian Americans with disabilities who have jobs.

Some states have higher employment rates for people with disabilities than others. North Dakota leads the nation with 56.3 percent of its citizens with disabilities employed and is closely followed by South Dakota with a 51.3 percent disability employment rate. One of the biggest surprises in this year’s data is Vermont. Under Gov. Phil Scott, Vermonters with disabilities have seen a 5.7 percent increase in jobs, bumping their employment rate to 47.2 percent. For a full break down of the top 10 states, please see the table below.
 

State Ranking State Total # of Working-Age PWDs # of PWDs Employed Total Job Gains and Losses Disability Employment Rate 
1 ND 37,320 21,019 -2267 56.3
2 SD 49,546 25,419 -904 51.3
3 UT 150,964 74,754 -13 49.5
4 NE 112,418 55,391 2068 49.3
5 MN 305,082 145,697 617 47.8
6 VT 47,113 22,234 1728 47.2
7 KS 191,769 89,069 4807 46.4
8 MT 69,553 31,935 -1484 45.9
9 IA 170,186 77,746 -2670 45.7
10 WY 41,825 19,063 578 45.6

 
Of the 50 states, 29 states saw job gains among the disability community, while people with disabilities lost economic ground in 21 states. Census Bureau data shows an astounding 23,953 Floridians with disabilities gained new jobs. Illinois saw the second biggest job gains for people with disabilities with over 20,000 new jobs even as 50,000 people without disabilities left Illinois’ workforce.

Rhode Island deserves credit for seeing a major turnaround. As reported by RespectAbility, Rhode Island under Gov. Gina Raimondo ranked 47th in the nation last year with an abysmal 30 percent disability employment rate. As a result of a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice, Rhode Island began to close shelter workshops where people with disabilities had been paid subminimum wages. Through sustained efforts to promote competitive, integrated employment Rhode Islanders with disabilities are now experiencing new success. Over 7,000 people with disabilities entered the workforce in 2017, pushing Rhode Island to stand 19th in the nation. As bipartisan consensus grows around ending subminimum wages, Rhode Island shows that transformative success is possible.

Continue on to RespectAbility.org to read the complete article.

How little person Leah Smith is teaching her average-sized daughter, 2, to love her body

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Leah Smith

Disability rights activist, Leah Smith, learned a lot about her body while growing up as the only little person in a family of average-sized people. Now, as a parent to two average-sized children herself, Smith is doing her part to teach her little girl and boy about loving their bodies no matter what, and using her own experiences to do so.

“I grew up in an average-sized family and I was the only little person, so I do understand that aspect of being different,” Smith shared at the 2019 MAKERS conference on Thursday. “But I think when I first had Hazel [her daughter], I wasn’t sure how it was gonna play out. I didn’t know if well, maybe we don’t understand each other or whatever.”

She and her husband, Joe, faced challenges being first time parents after their daughter was born two and a half years ago. But raising a child who would need to understand both of her parents’ disabilities came with additional pressure — and ultimately led to Smith’s decision that Hazel needed to learn about the importance of body positivity from a very early age in order to embrace difference.

“I have this radical notion that I need to teach her how to completely love her body. And I’ve been amazed that even at 2 how many times she overhears other women talking about how they don’t like their bodies,” she shared, “‘Oh I don’t like my legs, I don’t like my whatever.’ And really trying to send a different message to her.”

That message is one that Smith had to learn the hard way, after coming face-to-face with what made her different. During her first job in retail as a 16-year-old, Smith explained that she encountered blatant discrimination for the first time, and decided that she needed to do something about it.

She and her husband, Joe, faced challenges being first time parents after their daughter was born two and a half years ago. But raising a child who would need to understand both of her parents’ disabilities came with additional pressure — and ultimately led to Smith’s decision that Hazel needed to learn about the importance of body positivity from a very early age in order to embrace difference.

“I have this radical notion that I need to teach her how to completely love her body. And I’ve been amazed that even at 2 how many times she overhears other women talking about how they don’t like their bodies,” she shared, “‘Oh I don’t like my legs, I don’t like my whatever.’ And really trying to send a different message to her.”

That message is one that Smith had to learn the hard way, after coming face-to-face with what made her different. During her first job in retail as a 16-year-old, Smith explained that she encountered blatant discrimination for the first time, and decided that she needed to do something about it.

“People just started thinking that I was in a space that they could just comment on my body openly, and it was the first time that I had ever really faced that,” she explained. “It was the moment that I realized how am I gonna deal with this, how am I gonna move forward? This is obviously a reality, and so how do I not internalize this? How do I not make sure that this doesn’t effect me and what I want to do with the world?”

For Smith, the answer seemed to be within the fashion industry and discovering the ways that she could change it herself. Until she realized that clothing is not the underlying issue.

“I didn’t really understand what I was tackling,” she said of her goal to illustrate that bodies of all types were just as beautiful as the 6-foot standard. “And so, I was determined the finish the degree but then after that I said we’ve got bigger fish to fry. We have got to create a space for us first before we can worry about our clothes.”

Now, Smith is tackling those bigger issues as an activist. But she refuses to neglect the important details, like accessible clothes.

Continue on to YahooNews to read the complete article.

Highlighting African-Americans with Disabilities in Honor of Black History Month

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As we celebrate Black History Month, which takes place every February, RespectAbility recognizes the contributions made and the important presence of African-Americans to the United States. It is important to note this includes more than 5.6 million African-Americans living with a disability in the U.S., 3.4 million of which are working-age African-Americans with disabilities.

Therefore, we would like to reflect on the realities and challenges that continue to shape the lives of African-Americans with disabilities.

Only 28.7 percent of working-age African-Americans with disabilities are employed in the U.S. compared to 72 percent of working-age African-Americans without disabilities. This is in line with the rest of the country, with fully one-in-five Americans having a disability and just 30 percent of those who are working-age being employed, despite polls showing that most of them want to work. This leads to approximately 40 percent of African-Americans with disabilities living in poverty compared to 22 percent of African-Americans without disabilities.

Deafblind lawyer Haben Girma advocates for inclusion in both education and Hollywood.

For many of the 1,199,743 black students (K-12) with disabilities in America today, the deck is stacked against them. Frequently “invisible disabilities” such as ADHD are not diagnosed and students do not get the supports they need to achieve. Frustrated, they can act out and become suspended. African-American students with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by suspension in schools, with more than one in four boys of color with disabilities — and nearly one in five girls of color with disabilities — receiving an out-of-school suspension.

Studies show that when students miss too many days, either for being truant or just being absent, they get so far behind in class that it can lead to them dropping out of school. As documented in Disability & Criminal Justice Reform: Keys to Success, this can lead to the school-to-prison pipeline. Today there are more than 750,000 people with disabilities behind bars in America. Many of them do not have high school diplomas, are functionally illiterate and are people of color.

Harriet Tubman did not let her epileptic seizures stop her from risking her life to free slaves through the underground railroad.

Overall, only 65 percent of students with disabilities graduate high school compared to 84 percent of students without disabilities. However, only 57 percent of black students with disabilities graduate high school compared to 74.6 percent of black students without disabilities.

Some celebrities and business leaders are using their voice to share their stories, educating people about both visible and invisible disabilities. They are defying the statistics and have remained highly successful with their disabilities. These role models make a big difference in setting high expectations for youth with disabilities. People with disabilities of all backgrounds can be amongst the highest achievers on earth. Harriet Tubman had Epilepsy, actress Halle Berry lives with diabetes, business leader and Shark Tank superstar Daymond John is dyslexic and Stevie Wonder is blind. Each of them is a positive role model for success. They are perfect candidates for RespectAbility’s #RespectTheAbility campaign, which is shining a light on individuals with disabilities who are succeeding in their chosen careers.

Continue on to Respectability.org to read the complete article.

Turning the Tassel—Helping people with autism spectrum disorder earn a college degree and be prepared to enter a competitive workforce

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By Rebecca Hansen, Ed.D.

Meet Jeff Staley. Jeff is from Sewickley, Pennsylvania, and is currently studying computer and information technology at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.

Before graduating from Poolesville High School, Jeff earned 15 college credits from coursework in algebra, calculus, analytical geometry, and statistics. Jeff was accepted into The West Virginia Autism Training Center’s College Program for Student’s with Autism Spectrum Disorder following his junior year of high school. For five weeks, between the months of July and August, The College Program hosts a high school summer transition program, in which students who have been accepted by Marshall University take one college class of their choice, live in the residence halls, and participate in social skill development workshops and activities led by peer mentors and mental health counselors.

For the past 10 years, students have reported that this experience helped to ease the transition from high school to college by providing them with newfound self-confidence, autonomy, and understanding of the expectations of advanced learning.

Jeff spent the summer following his junior year of high school earning an additional three college credits in general psychology. During this summer experience, Jeff learned how to balance free time, live away from home, create and maintain peer relationships, and navigate a college landscape. Many people with autism spectrum disorder find comfort and reassurance in experiencing the physical layout of a new environment in advance, guided by a trusted professional who understands how anxiety producing establishing a new routine can be. Proper planning and anticipation of a change in routine can help alleviate the stress and anxiety related to it. The College Program recommends visiting a variety of college campuses to find out the types of supports that may exist to help with academic demands, social opportunities, and residence life needs.

An impressive 94 percent of students who have received services from The College Program have graduated or are currently on track to graduate from Marshall University.

Jeff Staley
The College Program provides individualized skill building and therapeutic supports to degree seeking students with Autism Spectrum Disorder through a mentored environment while navigating a college experience at Marshall University.

The College Program is dedicated to create safe spaces for people with autism spectrum disorder throughout campus, in the community, and on the job. The College Program’s Allies Supporting Autism Spectrum Diversity movement works to educate people who wish to provide a safe and accepting environment for individuals living with autism spectrum disorder. The one-hour training provides participants with the opportunity to better understand challenges with social communication and provides practical ways in which to best communicate with someone on the autism spectrum. Many people are still afraid to talk to someone with autism because they don’t know what to say or how to best interact. Our advice? Don’t shy away. Invest time in learning more about how autism affects someone’s daily life. Oftentimes, they will thank you for it. Knowledge decreases the fear factor and leads to an environment where everyone can experience a life of quality.

People with autism, such as Jeff, can feel empowered by talking about how the disorder affects daily life. These conversations are at the crux of creating an inclusive campus culture. Neurodiversity is becoming better understood and sought after on campuses throughout the nation and beyond the graduation stage as employers are now seeking to hire people with autism. Employers are beginning to see the benefits of hiring someone with autism because they have established creative interviewing practices so that the candidate’s skill set is emphasized over their potential inability to maintain small talk.

Every June, for three weekdays, The College Program offers an employment preparedness workshop where participants have the opportunity to learn more about the job search process, cover letter and resume development, the proper use of social media, issues surrounding disclosure, self-advocacy skills, finance management, and the importance of networking. A panel of local employers from a variety of businesses and non-profit sectors participate to share the necessary skills to obtain and maintain employment. The College Program recognizes the importance of meaningful employment and the need that exists for practical information to assist students as they transition into more independent adults. What to learn more about Jeff? Check out marshall.edu/collegeprogram/employment-preparedness and watch the six-minute video about the Employment Preparedness Workshop.

To learn more about how to become an ally, participate in the employment preparedness workshop, or to apply to The College Program, please visit marshall.edu/collegeprogram or call 304-696-2332.