Saturday, December 12, 2009

How To Become Your Own Best Advocate

By Barbara Davis

Last week my son and I needed advice and advocacy on a matter involving a government agency. I asked a friend and advocate to go with us to meet with the agency staff. When I did this, some eyebrows were raised, probably because asking him to go with us looked like we could not advocate for ourselves. In truth, I was afraid of that myself. While my son usually does a pretty good job for himself, this was a new situation for him. Also, I was so overwhelmed at the time that I lacked confidence. I thought having someone come with me would serve as a reminder to stick to my guns, which it did.

Over the past thirty years I have come a long way from the non-assertive, shy wimp I once was. With the help and advice of others, I have attended assertiveness and self-advocacy workshops and read numerous self-help books. My favorites among these are The Dance of Anger, What Smart Women Know and So You Had Controlling Parents. Healing from the fallout of toxic relationships is a huge step toward healthy assertiveness.

It is not easy to become your own best advocate, but with determination and persistence, it is possible, no matter how shy and non-assertive you may be now. Below are some tips that I have learned along the way:

Learn everything you can about assertiveness techniques

Read, attend workshops, and seek advice from people whom you feel are excellent self-advocates.

Keep abreast of current legislation that can impact your rights

It is difficult to advocate for your rights if you don’t know what those rights are. The internet is a terrific place to search for information. Social service agencies often provide workshops pertaining to the rights of a specific group of people. The library and other community organizations generally keep postings on their bulletin boards about these workshops. Find a workshop that pertains to you and attend it.

Put what you learn into practice

Granted, learning your rights and how to become assertive is an important first step. The second most important step is to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t attempt the assertiveness techniques that you have learned, you are not very likely to become a successful self-advocate.

Don’t let your failures drag you down

You are not going to run before walking or crawling. Begin with baby steps. If you don’t succeed, give yourself a pat on the back for at least trying. Be patient with yourself, and don’t give up. Eventually you will see that the more you assert yourself, the easier it will become to continue doing so.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

We all slip and slide in our quest for self-improvement. Grief, financial hard times, an overwhelming number of hoops to jump through, and illness or injury can erode our self confidence and sap our energy. This makes it easy to fall back into old non-assertiveness habits. If you feel you need to, ask someone you trust to go with you. It could be that simply having that person there will serve as a reminder that you need to stay on track.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Some Random Thoughts on Job Search

By Keith Hosey

It’s no question that unemployment from the downed economy has affected many families across the country. Many people are submitting applications and interviewing for the first time in years, while others, who may have ever only had jobs through their personal networks, are doing it for the first time ever. There’s more competition for fewer openings and jobseekers everywhere, with and without disabilities, are looking for ways to get ahead of the crowd and stand out above the rest. In this economy, I believe traditional job search will only get you so far. Here are some tips and tricks for finding a job, some of which are anything but usual.

Network, Network, Network. I don’t think anyone can stress this enough. It’s still the staple of good practices for finding a job. Get out there and network. Tell everyone you know that you are looking for work. They may have a friend of a friend of a friend who is hiring. Not only that, they may become you’re best advocate by taking on your cause and helping with job leads, a good reference and more.

Stand out, but don’t stick out like a sore thumb. I’ve heard of some interesting things job seekers have done recently to stand out of the crowd and get the attention of recruiters. I’ve had people tell me they put their resumes on pink paper, so it will immediately draw the attention of the recruiter. I read an article a while back about a man who mailed a shoe with every resume and a note that said he’s “trying to get a foot in the door.” No joke. While these incidences make us laugh and do gain the recruiters attention, are they drawing the right attention or are they drawing negative attention? It’s important to walk a fine line between standing out and sticking out like a sore thumb.

Do something productive. They say that looking for a job is a full time job itself, but you can’t put that on a resume. Volunteer or join a group so you can show something current on your resume. Volunteering keeps your skills fresh and gives you something to put on your resume that says “present,” which is important on a resume. There are professional groups associated with many careers. Not only are you increasing your networking when you join your respective professional group, but many times you’re accessing the inside track on job openings and keeping you knowledge of the field current. It looks good on your resume too. You may want to think about joining other community groups like Toastmasters, where you can even polish your speaking skills.

Make the internet work for you, not against you. Have you ever Googled yourself? Well you should. Fifty-five percent of employers report checking candidates out online, including through Google and social media sites like Facebook and Myspace. So if your Facebook profile has pages and pages of pictures or comments about you that you don’t want a potential employer to see… make it private. Hopefully that’s not the case. I would suggest examining your email name too. I had an individual whose email address was similar to (I’ve changed it to protect identity). You get the idea. I suggest

We live in the information and technology age, so don’t limit yourself to only real world networking. Get a LinkedIn profile, you’ll be amazed at who you might find. You’ll be amazed at who might find you. There are also free and cheap web hosting options. You can set up a website touting your skills and achievements (let them Google that). Get on Twitter or use, seriously. There are a lot of professionals tweeting resources, including job openings. I saw three job opportunities in my feed today alone and I’m not even actively searching for them.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thirteen Economy-Friendly Christmas Gift Ideas

By Barbara Davis

This Christmas can be a challenging time for many who are unemployed or in fear of becoming unemployed. We may think that we have to forgo Christmas gift-giving altogether. Fortunately, with some planning, creativity, and a little help from Google, we can manage to put together some low-or-no-cost gifts. A few of these are listed below:

Help a local charity

Charity donations fall during economic hard times. To help offset this, and take care of your Christmas shopping at the same time, make an affordable donation to a charity someone on your gift list is passionate about. You can also purchase inexpensive gifts or treats from charity thrift stores and bake sales.

Make life easier for someone

If you have an elderly or chronically ill person on your list, think of some budget-friendly items that will make his or her life easier. Assemble these things in a box, booklet, folder or other container. Items assembled can be anything from an address booklet complete with contact names and numbers, stamps, gift cards, pens and papers, a pill organizer, a box of non-perishable food, large-print books or anything else that might benefit the intended recipient. This same idea is useful for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by the circumstances in their lives.

Frame a child’s artwork

Purchase an inexpensive frame for the adorable picture a little one created. Let the child decorate some plain brown wrapping paper or plain white paper. Wrap the picture in the paper for a gift Grandma and Grandpa (or others in the child’s life) are sure to love.

Shop at a dollar discount store

A treasure-trove of nice-looking gifts can be found in stores where everything is a dollar. Depending on your budget, you can create themed baskets or boxes for the college-bound teen or the young adult who just rented her first apartment with gift items from these stores. is an excellent source for buying cases of items throughout the year, which can help in creating themed baskets or boxes without blowing the budget.

Turn used items into neat gifts

Plant some herbs in a never-used ceramic teapot for the cooking enthusiast on your gift list. Transform a variety of old clothes and accessories into a “dress up box” for a child. Decorate a box or purchase one at a dollar discount store. Glue colorful buttons on the box in the formation of the child’s name. Use your scanner and printer to create copies of Grandma or Grandpa’s old photographs to give to the history buff on your gift list. Used book stores and flea markets are excellent sources of inexpensive gift items as well.

Craft a favorite quote

If you sew, needlepoint, paint, or have artistic-looking handwriting, create your favorite quote on cloth or paper to frame. If you don’t feel you possess any of these skills, get creative with your computer or printer to create a beautiful and unique framed quote.

Use your printer and computer to transform ordinary household items into pretty gifts

Experiment with colors, font sizes, border art, and Google Images to create labels and pictures. Almost anything can be personalized in this way. Plain candles get a boost when several of them are labeled with beautifully crafted letters and grouped together to spell words.

Fill a pretty container with samples or trial size products

Pretty containers found in discount and thrift stores, yard sales or flea markets can make wonderful gifts when filled with sample or trial sized products. These can be purchased a little at a time to be easier on the budget.

Inventory your talents

Take a good look at the many things you do well – almost any type of talent can lend itself to gift-giving. A child is sure to enjoy a tape of you reading their favorite book. Your parents might like the scrapbook you made of trips you took with them. Delight others on your wish list with hand-made booklets containing household hints, favorite recipes, or anything else you may be skilled in or knowledgeable about.

Raid the flower garden or house plants

If you have plant-lovers on your wish list, buy several inexpensive containers and pot some flower cutlets in them. Wrap a decorative ribbon around the containers.

Decorate a large home-made cookie

Instead of making a dozen cookies from your recipe, bake the entire batch in a large round cake pan. Decorate it in whatever theme or colors is inspired by the intended recipient. Wrap with colorful plastic wrap and a pretty ribbon.

Create a “throw” with fabric remnants

Fabric remnants come in a wide variety of materials, designs, colors, patterns and themes. Choose something that reflects the interest of the intended recipient, and trim with matching ribbon. If you don’t sew, use hemming tape to secure the ribbon.

Brainstorm your own ideas

Write down the names of the people you want to give gifts to. Beside each name, write their interests, passions, or personality traits. Explore your own talents and the magic of cyber space to come up with unique and thoughtful low-or-no-cost gifts that are sure to please everyone on your list.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


By Keith Hosey

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’d like to preface this blog post with two things about me. The first is that I don’t, and never will, understand why or how one human being could ever treat another human being with complete intolerance based in the simple fact that they differ in some way. This isn’t just disability related, but race, religion, sexuality, etc. The second is that about ten years ago I made a conscious decision to strike words that hurt other people out of my vocabulary. This included many commonplace phrases in the English language that were in some way originally based in some type of prejudice. You may say, “So what? I wouldn’t use them in the first place”, but when’s the last time you called something you didn’t like “gay” or maybe insinuate that a cheap friend was of a certain religious denomination? Never?

I recently became aware of the campaign to stop the use of the “r-word” by the Special Olympics, “Spread the Word to End the Word” ( This is a word that I have in the past used regularly and recklessly. When I stumbled upon this campaign I was floored. My heart dropped into my toes and I wondered how could I have ever overlooked the power and pain of this word? I work with people with intellectual disabilities and their families. People who I consider good friends have relatives with intellectual disabilities. I have relatives with intellectual disabilities. How did I rationalize this unacceptable use of language?

I sifted through some online articles, blogs, etc. and stumbled upon the term ableism (the term for prejudice against people with disabilities). I’ve been reading a lot of stuff out there about the topic of ableism, the good, the bad and the ugly. For every article or blog post talking about ableism, there were 10-100 responses and comments ranging from the too common sentiment of “political correctness has gone too far if we have to watch what we call these people” all the way to very shocking hate language that I choose not to repeat here.

Why is it so much more socially acceptable to discriminate against people with disabilities than other minority groups and why is it ok for most of society to ignore that discrimination? It’s 2009 and I’ve seen a political campaign mocking their opponent’s speech impairment, celebrities and comedians throwing the “r-word” around because they think it’s a victimless crime. It’s every day. Fifty-five years after “separate is not equal,” students with disabilities are still segregated. If we can’t teach equality in grade school, how can we achieve it as adults?

In my search for answers, I asked a family friend about his childhood in Kentucky and how he could do nothing while segregation occurred. He told me that while he didn’t necessarily think it was right, “it’s just how it was” and what could he have done about it. His answer was honest and simple and helped me frame the essence of bigotry better in my mind. It’s easier to go with the group-think, the status quo, isn’t it? It gives us a sense of belonging. Norman Kunc, a disability rights activist, once said about prejudice’s role in that sense of belonging “if I hate the same guy you hate, we must be friends.” So if our first African-American President can make a joke about the Special Olympics, then I should feel better about laughing at people with disabilities?

But I think there’s light and hope at the end of the tunnel. History has shown that acceptance of people with disabilities increases every time there’s an influx of wounded warriors in this country. We have many brave men and women returning from war with disabilities and it is our duty to make sure we welcome them with compassion and respect and to ensure they have an equal seat at the table. We have the new Hate Crimes Act protecting individuals with disabilities (recent studies have shown that People with disabilities over the age of 12 are 50 percent more likely to experience nonfatal violent crime than those without disabilities). Progress to equality marches on.

You and I can be part of that guiding light of tolerance and acceptance at the end of the tunnel, too. In a film called Including Samuel (a child with Cerebral Palsy) Samuel’s mother says, “I can’t believe that I was so blind… there was this huge amount of prejudice going on and I never noticed it before… and now I can’t believe that not everybody sees it.” Whether you are one of the 20% of Americans living with a disability, or non-disabled, watch your language and actions and think about the people it hurts. Don’t stop with yourself, do your part to end ableism by speaking out against others words and actions, don’t be silent.

Here is an additional resource on disability etiquette and words with dignity.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ten Ways To Make Navigating The System Easier

By Barbara Davis

In today’s economy, more people without jobs are feeling the need to jump through a variety of hoops in order to get financial assistance, housing, food stamps and other services. This can be an overwhelming and frustrating process for anyone. For individuals with disabilities or the parents of young children with disabilities it can be a nightmare. The application process for disability benefits, health care, accessible housing, attendant care, housekeeping assistance, various therapies (speech, occupational, physical and counseling) and other services can be extremely daunting. Add the hassle of getting accommodations for appointments into the mix and well, it’s not a pretty picture.

With a little creativity and some planning, there are ways to make this process easier.

Get a loose-leaf binder and fix it up so that you can put everything you need in one place

Create pockets to hold envelopes and stamps to be used for mailing completed forms. Use sheet protectors for documents such as birth certificates, shot records, school records and others. Keep a calendar for tracking appointments and an address book (with phone numbers and addresses of schools, service providers, etc.) in the binder also. Include a notebook in your binder for writing questions you may have or information you need to remember. If you have more than one child, or you are receiving multiple services, keep several of these binders on hand.

Rely on 211 if it is available

If you are a “systems navigator veteran” you may think you are fully versed on programs, services and resources in your area. However, new services are often added and old ones are sometimes dropped when funding ends. Newbies to the system may not have a clue where to start. Using 211 can be a lifesaver for both “veterans” to the system and newbies.

Join Support Groups

Long-term members of support groups have become experts at navigating the system and finding resources for themselves or their families. They can help newbies and each other find appropriate health care providers, support services, recreational activities and resources. If you are a parent of a child with disabilities, joining a support group specific to your child’s disability can provide information and support to help with schools, healthcare, locating adequate daycare, and many other issues. Adults often find such support groups to be beneficial socially as well, which can be a great stress-reliever in these difficult times.

If possible, set aside the same day each week for appointments

It will be much easier to make, remember and keep appointments if all of your appointments are on the same day of each week, or the same several days, if necessary. For example, if your parent/teacher conferences usually get scheduled on Fridays, try to schedule all appointments on Fridays. If you have to take your kids for their allergy shots on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons, try to schedule other appointments for earlier on one of those days. Obviously it may not be possible to always schedule appointments this way, but the more often you can do it, the easier it makes it for you.

If there is an overwhelming amount of paperwork to be completed at the same time for different service providers, work a little bit on each form, every day, until it all gets done

Most paperwork will be redundant. Nearly all of them will want your social security number, birthdates, physicians’ names and addresses, your name, address, and phone number, and the same information for other members of the family. If you allot yourself a certain amount of time each day, you can easily select sections of each form to complete. On the first day you can complete the sections requiring information you can retrieve from memory. During the ensuing days, you can pick sections requiring you to look up information, such as previous hospital stays. Work in this way until you get all the forms completed and in the mail.

Keep copies of all completed forms

If you have to look up your bank account number, your doctor’s address and phone number, or any other piece of information in order to complete a form, keep a copy of the form in your systems binder. By doing this, you will save yourself from having to look up the information again for another service application. If you are lacking in organizational skills, ask a family member, friend or caseworker who is organized to keep copies for you.

Be a packrat for awhile

You never know when a service provider is going to want your child’s shot records from five years ago, or your income tax papers from three years before. It pays to keep any of these types of documents on hand for at least five years or longer. In some cases, such as with school transcripts, you may want to keep the documents permanently.

Be cautious with your systems binder

Whether you keep a systems binder or not, chances are you will be carrying documents with sensitive information from place to place. Keep in mind that most of these forms and documents will contain your social security number and birth date. Keep these documents in your sight at all times when you are away from home. In the home, keep them in a safe place, preferably one with a lock on it.

Let Google be your friend

The internet is an excellent source for looking up directions, addresses, phone numbers and websites for service providers. In many cases, forms, documents and applications can be printed off of these websites. If you MapQuest any directions to a service provider, print them out to keep in your systems binder for future reference. You will also want to print out the instructions and regulations found on the website for the service you are applying for, and store these in your binder.

Delegate some of the load to others

If you are truly overwhelmed, ask a friend, family member or case manager to help you. Case managers and social workers have been instrumental in helping me to complete a mountain of forms. My grandmother kept my sons occupied while I completed forms, and friends provided sound advice on what to write on the forms. In my experience, everyone was more than happy to help. By accepting this help with gratitude, I was able to get through the process much more smoothly than I would have on my own.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

President signs hate crimes bill into law

President Barack Obama signed an expanded hate crimes bill into law Wednesday making it a federal offense to commit a crime against a person based on their disability. The law entitled the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, expands current hate crimes law to include violence based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. The law is named after two murder victims from 1998 who were targeted for attack because of bigotry. Federal law already includes protections for crimes committed based on race, color, religion or national origin.

President Obama Stated, “No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability. At root, this isn't just about our laws; this is about who we are as a people. This is about whether we value one another -- whether we embrace our differences, rather than allowing them to become a source of animus.”

Quoting President Johnson from when he signed civil rights legislation into law in 1968, Obama said that "the bells of freedom ring out a little louder," when he signed the Act into law.

“You understood that we must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits -- not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear,” Mr. Obama said, “You understand that the rights afforded every citizen under our Constitution mean nothing if we do not protect those rights -- both from unjust laws and violent acts. And you understand how necessary this law continues to be. “

People with disabilities are 50 percent more likely to experience nonfatal violent crime than those without disabilities, according to a Justice Department study released in early October. The study found that about one in five crime victims with disabilities believe their disability was the reason they were targeted.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Help End Institutional Bias

Join your fellow disability advocates for a second national Day of Advocacy this Thursday,
October 8 to ensure the CFC Option and the CLASS Act make it into the final health care reform bill.

You can call using this toll-free number: 866-324-0787. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.

In addition to calling your two Senators, the following Senators are influential in the processes of
merging the legislation, and our message must reach them:

  • Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico

  • John F. Kerry, Massachusetts

  • Blanche L. Lincoln, Arkansas

  • Ron Wyden, Oregon

  • Charles E. Schumer, New York

  • Bill Nelson, Florida

  • Robert Menendez, New Jersey

I strongly support the Community First Choice Option and the CLASS Act as a part of
the final healthcare bill in the Senate. I urge the Senator to please support both of these
priorities for people with disabilities as the Senate Finance and HELP Committees merge their bills.


The Community First Choice (CFC) Option was proposed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) as a way to get
the key provisions of the Community Choice Act (CCA) in the healthcare reform bill. The option would
encourage states to provide Medicaid home and community based attendant services (rather than require them
as the CCA would do). The CFC Option would be a major step in helping to end Medicaid's institutional bias.
The CFC Option is included in the Senate Finance Committee's healthcare reform bill.

The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act (also called the CLASS Plan) would create
a national voluntary long term care insurance program. It was developed to help people better prepare for their
long term care needs and to help take pressure off of the Medicaid program. The CLASS Act is in the Health,
Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee's version of the healthcare reform bill. The CLASS plan would reduce the
federal deficit by an estimated $58 billion.

Whether the CFC option and the CLASS Act make it into the final Senate health care reform bill is up to us. The time to act is now!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Community First Choice Update & Action

Please contact your Senators and let them know that you support the Community First Choice Option in the Senate Finance Committee bill, and that it is critical that it be kept in the final version approved by the Senate. It is also important to thank those who have made this possible. Senator Baucus (MT) and David Schwartz (from the Senate Finance staff) were crucial in making this happen. NCIL also appreciates the efforts of Senator Schumer (D-NY) for submitting the CFC Option Amendment and Senator Harkin, our Senate champion who has tirelessly fought to eliminate the institutional bias. Call and thank them!

You can call using this toll-free number: 866-324-0787. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.

The Exact Language of the Amendment:

To Accept with Modification Schumer Amendment #C13:

On page 50, at the end of the Long Term Services and Supports section

Insert - The Chairman’s Mark would establish the Community First Choice Option, which would create a state plan option under section 1915 of the Social Security Act to provide community based attendant supports and services to individuals with disabilities who are Medicaid eligible and who require an institutional level of care. These services and supports include assistance to individuals with disabilities in accomplishing activities of daily living and health related tasks. States who choose the Community First Choice Option would be eligible for enhanced federal match rate of an additional six percentage points for reimbursable expenses in the program. The option would sunset after five years.

-The Community First Choice Option also would require data collection to help determine how states are currently providing home and community based services, the cost of those services, and whether states are currently offering individuals with disabilities who otherwise qualify for institutional care under Medicaid the choice to instead receive home and community based services, as required by the U.S. Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C. (1999).

- The Community First Choice Option would also modify the Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration to reduce the amount of time required for individuals to qualify for that program to 90 days.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


This is huge news!

New York Senator Schumer introduced the Community First Choice amendment to the Senate Finance Committee's health care reform! The next step is to urge the Committee to pass the amendment.

The Community First Choice (CFC) Option has been included in the Chairman's Mark. This means that the CFC Option amendment offered by Senator Schumer is incorporated into the Senate Finance Committee bill and won't need to be debated or approved by the Committee.

Please contact your Senators and let them know that you support this language and that it is critical they keep it in the final version they approve. You can call using this toll-free number: 866-324-0787. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.

Now, we need to call on our friends and family across the country to contact their Senators and urge them to support the amendment. Have them call their senator using this script.



"I support the Community First Choice amendment to the Senate's health care bill, and I want Senator [name] to help keep it in the final version! Everyone should have a choice to get home care and not be stuck in a nursing facility."

[If asked what the amendment does, here is more information] The amendment would give states increased federal Medicaid matching funds for providing attendant services and supports as an alternative to nursing facilities and institutions.

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that home care costs taxpayers $44,000 a year less than a nursing home stay


You can call the Senate switchboard using this toll-free number: 866-324-0787. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bad Access Flickr group

Have pictures of bad accessibility? Want to show the world? Share photos and info about poor accessibility in your community. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been around for almost twenty years, but many places still have bad access. If we can't laugh about it, we might cry... share your photos and frustrations about ridiculous access. Check out the Flickr bad access group.

Monday, August 10, 2009

From Alabama Live (July 28, 2009):
Arrested in silence: Police use Taser, pepper spray on deaf man

Mobile, AL police used pepper spray and a Taser on a deaf and mentally disabled man Friday after they were unable to get him to come out of a bathroom at a Dollar General store, authorities said. After forcibly removing Antonio Love from the bathroom of the Azalea Road store, officers attempted to book the 37-year-old, on charges of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and failure to obey a police officer, but the magistrate on duty at the jail refused to accept any of those charges......Police were called to the store at 12:22 p.m...When the officers arrived, they pounded on the door but got no answer, Bagsby said. They pounded again. No answer. Love...said he was in the bathroom because he was sick to his stomach. "I wait and sit toilet," Love's note read. "I think about someone try break door. I hold door hard." At that point, Bagsby said, the officers saw movement from under the door, indicating that there was someone inside. They then shot pepper spray under the door...
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Friday, August 7, 2009

Accessible Gardens

Planting seeds: Accessible gardens available for people with disabilities
Ron Hornsby demonstartes the tools and beds used at the Cache Community Garden in Hyde Park on Monday. (Meegan M. Reid/Herald Journal)
Wednesday, August 5, 2009 3:12 AM CDT
Arie Kirk Community gardens are places where locals can grow food and harvest friendships but Kate Stephens said often times, those gardens are not easily accessible to people with physical disabilities. For local residents that have physical limitations, members of the Utah Conservation Corps have changed that by constructing table top gardens, raised gardens and adaptive gardening tools available for use at the Cache Valley Community Garden.“This garden was designed with accessibility in mind so that people with disabilities, who represent about 20 percent of the population, can come out and be a part of the community garden so it’s truly representative of everyone in the community,” said Stephens, assistant director of Utah Conservation Corps. Located on about two acres of land west of the Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Hyde Park, the community garden features accessible gardens that were completed and ready for use this spring, Stephens said.

Designed to look like a native Utah orchid from an aerial view, the accessible gardens feature nine raised beds, two table top gardens, five transfer sit-down beds and hardened pathways, said Utah Conservation Corps member Luke Leclair-Marzolf. As Ron Hornsby worked in a raised garden Monday, he said, “I’m able to weed the garden, plant the garden, harvest the garden from my wheelchair. And down on the ground like that, that’s a little difficult, can do it but it’s uncomfortable and hard.” “And for some people, it’s impossible,” Stephens added.“Exactly,” Hornsby said. “And I’m very fortunate that I can get out of my chair. Some people cannot so they have a very difficult time trying to do their gardening. Gardening is work and, often times, hard work and for people in a wheelchair; they’re a little bit restricted.” Hornsby then began working on a bed that has tiled seating. Transferring from his wheelchair to a seat, he inspected the tomatoes, rhubarb, peas and cabbage that are growing in the plot.Cache Valley Community Garden opened two years ago. In respect to the accessible gardens, Stephens said they spent the first summer developing tools and some raised gardens. There are now 25-30 accessible plots. To have a plot, Stephens said there is a nominal fee.Over time, Stephens said about 40 people, including Conservation Corps members and community volunteers, have helped develop the area. The Utah Conservation Corps inclusive crew, which currently has eight members, was the driving force behind the adaptive gardens. Stephens said half of the group have physical disabilities which makes the group one of the first, if not the first, to have an inclusive crew.“The neat thing I guess about all of this is it’s an accessible garden that was designed by people with disabilities for people with disabilities so people with disabilities have been a part of the process from start to finish,” she said. The gardens may be ready for planting or already growing, but the crew still has plans to broaden its accessibility. Crew leader Quintin Williams said they are considering putting Braille signs in the garden. In addition to the basic gardening hand tools, Leclair-Marzolf said they also offer an adaptive wheelchair that works well in rough terrain. To raise awareness and encourage public use of the accessible gardens, Utah Conservation Corps is hosting a workshop Friday, Aug. 7 at the garden. Williams said they are hoping the workshop will be educational and also get people to the Cache Valley Community Garden.From 9 to 10 a.m. there will be a class about accessible gardening and the available tools. Afterward, from 10 a.m. to noon, attendees will be able to work in the gardens.Stephens said they will plant fall crops Friday. Hornsby said these could include lettuce or broccoli but will depend on who comes and what they’d like to plant. Hornsby will be one of the instructors at the workshop. Williams said the garden “gives community members an opportunity to serve and get involved and kind of see what they are capable of.” Members of the inclusive crew agreed the project has proved to be a learning experience for all who participated. “Even I, who have lived in the community of people with disabilities for a long time, had no idea what it was like for a wheelchair user or someone with limited mobility so it’s definitely been a learning experience for everybody involved, not just those with disabilities ... everybody comes to the table with something to offer and that’s sort of the whole joy of the project,” Williams said. Crew member Zak Young said working on the gardens has made him realize how much people take for granted every day. Having a crew that included people with physical disabilities also offered a much-needed perspective in the creation of the gardens and tools, he said. “It’s not just people with disabilities that we have. We’ve included people of diverse abilities in this crew and so I think those of us who are not disabled have learned so much,” he said. Even for new crew members, the accessible gardens have made an impression. Dan Varela, whose first day in the gardens was Monday, said, “I think it’s an amazing idea.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Freedom for people with disabilities

This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court Olmstead decision, which admonished segregation, sought to put an end to discrimination and opened the door to freedom for thousands of people in the United States. It was not about race or gender, but about freedom for citizens who happen to have disabilities. The court ruled that “the unnecessary segregation of individuals with disabilities in institutions may constitute discrimination based on disability.”

Years ago, it was common for people with disabilities to be segregated in institutions. Today, citizens who happen to have a disability can live the life they want in the community because of two brave women in Georgia, living in an institution, who wanted to leave.

However, for many, the struggle continues. Missouri has six institutions. Ten other states have none. Medicaid is required to pay for expensive nursing homes and institutions. Almost 5,000 are waiting for community services. There is no demand for institutions.

Is this the year that people cry out against injustice and policy is passed that reflects what we all have a right to — a real life in the community?

Shelly Shetley
Self-advocate and chair Missouri Planning Council for Developmental Disabilities
Kansas City

Friday, June 19, 2009

Managing Chronic Illness at Work

Juggling work demands and sick time isn’t ever easy, but when you have a chronic illness like diabetes or multiple sclerosis, sick days can disappear quickly and bosses can become impatient. Read More.

Van Giveaway

Check it out! BraunAbility is teaming up with Toyota, Great Clips & Braun Racing to give away a one-of-a-kind wheelchair van!
Use this link to enter: href="">

Doctors group: Obesity not a disability

Sun-Times News Group

Chicago, IL - The American Medical Association Tuesday said obesity shouldn't be considered a disability, because it could limit doctors' ability to talk to patients about their weight.

Defining obesity as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act would enable advocacy groups to challenge weight discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere.

But the AMA is concerned that it could also open the door to discrimination lawsuits if overweight patients take offense to a doctor discussing their weight.

The doctors group, in Chicago this week for its annual meeting, passed a formal resolution on the subject Tuesday.

"We have to have the freedom to talk to our patients and help them lose weight," said Dr. Domenic Federico, a member of the Michigan delegation that proposed the measure.

Also on Tuesday, the AMA's house of delegates pledged to lobby Congress to ban the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies nationwide, on the basis that pharmacies are part of the health care system and should not sell tobacco.

The AMA meeting concludes today with a vote on the organization's stance on a "public option" health insurance plan for the uninsured.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

North Pole Now Wheelchair Accessible

North Pole Now Wheelchair Accessible
Quadriplegic Reaches Geographic North Pole: A Historic First

Press Release Source: Team Independence

Monday April 13, 2009, 10:05 am EDT

TORONTO, April 13 /PRNewswire/ -- The North Pole has now been made wheelchair accessible. On April 11, 2009 a disabled parking sign
was raised at the North Pole on the 100th anniversary of the first successful polar expedition. David Shannon became the first person in
world history with quadriplegia and in a wheelchair to reach the Pole. He along with expedition co-leader and fellow Canadian, Chris
Watkins, developed "Team Independence 09" to promote breaking barriers to accessibility and greater community inclusion.

David upon reaching the pole stated, "This sign represents all peoples who have faced challenges or adversity in their lives
and have dreamed of overcoming them. If we as people, work together in our homes, our cities, our countries and in our global village,
there is no dream that cannot be realized."

Chris Watkins who himself was injured in 1988 stated, "David and our team represents the long-shot win of the underdog. But it shows
that there is no dream too big to dream and no challenge to big to overcome. What David has left us with is a world of infinite horizons."

Media is invited to go to for more information and a media package on this historic first North Pole
expedition. A photo of their arrival at the North Pole is available.

During the expedition the team struggled with adversity. In addition to the cutting arctic winds, David's spinal
cord injury compromised his ability to maintain body heat. The week of the final polar push, this heat retention problem was compounded
by a significant infection, which caused increased susceptibility to the life threatening cold temperatures. David and Chris have returned
exhausted and with some minor injuries. For example, Chris suffered some frostbite to his fingers and a cut to his foot. They are recovering
in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway with their team mate Darren Lillington. This is an island still within the Arctic Circle north of Lapland.
They will return to Canada in a few days.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Disability discrimination in the workplace

Disability discrimination
Disability discrimination means treating individuals differently in employment because of their disability, perceived disability, or association with an individual with a disability. Some examples of disability discrimination include:

discriminating on the basis of physical or mental disability in various aspects of employment, including: recruitment, firing, hiring, training, job assignments, promotions, pay, benefits, lay off, leave, and all other employment-related activities.

harassing an employee on the basis of his or her disability.

asking job applicants questions about their past or current medical conditions, or requiring job applicants to take medical exams.

creating or maintaining a workplace that includes substantial physical barriers to the movement of people with physical disabilities.

refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation to employees with physical or mental disability that would allow them to work.

If any of these things have happened to you on the job, you may have suffered disability discrimination. If you have a disability and are qualified to do a job, there are federal and state laws protecting you from job discrimination, harassment, and retaliation on the basis of your disability. You are also protected if you are a victim of discrimination because of your association (family, business, social or other relationship) with an individual with a disability.

Federal law(s) cover people with disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and The Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), makes it illegal for private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions to discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment.

The Rehabilitation Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of Federal contractors. The standards for determining employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act are the same as those used in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

These are the primary federal laws that apply to workplace discrimination, although there are many other federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability. The laws of most states also make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability, and some state laws have different standards than the ADA for determining who is covered by state disability discrimination law.

By Steve Spiegel
Seattle Workplace Examiner

Thursday, June 11, 2009

PROMISES, PROMISES: Polling places lack access

WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite high-profile promises over the past 25 years, many disabled Americans still are unable to fully participate in their democracy.

Advocates say they field complaints from around the country from disabled people who have problems getting into polling places or can't independently and privately cast their votes. T.K. Small, who doesn't have the use of his hands because of a neuromuscular disorder, said a 2002 law mandating access to voting for the disabled feels like a broken promise.

"My right has been completely frustrated," said Small, 44, a New York attorney who finally cast an absentee ballot on Election Day after workers at two separate precincts in his Brooklyn neighborhood were unable to work the voting machines equipped for the disabled.
New data backs up the complaints from voters like Small.

A Government Accountability Office report to be released Wednesday found that in last November's historic election, nearly one-third of polling places failed to accommodate voters in wheelchairs. Twenty-three percent had machines for the disabled that offered less privacy than offered to others — some even positioned in a way that other people could see how they were voting.

The study of 730 polling places in 31 states said improvements have been made since the agency's last similar survey in 2000. But it found that 73 percent of polling places had some sort of impediment, such as narrow doorways or steep curbs, that might impede access to the voting area for people with disabilities. Nearly half of those sites offered curbside voting as an alternative.

"We are a far cry from where we need to be," said Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, who requested the report. He said in a statement he would work with the Justice Department, which has jurisdiction to enforce federal election laws, to seek improvements.

In 1984, Congress passed a law requiring states to make polling places more accessible to the elderly and disabled. The issue was addressed again in the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. The issue was addressed again in the 2002 Help America Vote Act, and it came with money — at least $54 million has been given to help states implement it.

"When problems arise in the administration of elections, we have a responsibility to fix them," President George W. Bush said at the time. An author of the law, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., called it "nothing less than the first civil rights legislation of the 21st century."

But seven years later, some local jurisdictions refuse to move polling places, arguing that voters won't know where to vote or that there's no place in the jurisdiction that meets the disability access requirement, said Lee Page, associate advocacy director at Paralyzed Veterans of America.

That leaves disabled voters the option of having the ballot brought out of the polling place to them, being reassigned to a different jurisdiction, or voting absentee, Lee said.

"You want to vote with everyone else at your jurisdiction because it's ... part of the community," Page said. "To find barriers in this simple issue is really disheartening, truthfully," Page said.
The issue is expected to take on greater prominence as baby boomers age and become less mobile. In last year's election, about 16 percent of voters were 65 and older. By 2040, it is anticipated that 40 percent of all voters will be at least 65.

Today, an estimated 15 percent of Americans have some sort of disability.
Jim Dickson, an advocate at the American Association of People With Disabilities, said there's been an increase in the number of polling places that offer voting machines usable by the disabled. But that doesn't guarantee they're being used, he said.

"This problem of poll workers not wanting voters to use the accessible machine, not knowing how to set the machine up, in our election incident collection, that was the biggest single problem faced by people with disabilities," Dickson said.

Rick Birge, 55, of Dardanelle, Ark., a Vietnam veteran who lost his left leg and right foot in a truck explosion after his military service, said he's benefited from the law change.

In some past elections, Birge said he avoided voting altogether because it was difficult to get in and out. But he said his voting polling place in recent years moved from a courthouse to a civic center, and he had no problems voting in November.

"If people have trouble getting into the building, they'll actually come out and get you here," said Birge, an officer in the veterans group AMVETS. "They've changed a lot of things for people like us."

Curtis Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, said he hopes the new government findings will bring about additional improvements so that others can witness the changes that Birge has seen.

"We thought we'd turned the corner with the (Help America Vote Act) bill because it has really good language in there about mandating accessible voting, but clearly it's a pretty intractable problem that needs more work and more attention," said Decker, whose organization assists states in complying with the law.

On the Net:
• Center for Accessible Living, Inc.:
• Senate Special Committee on Aging:
• U.S. Election Assistance Commission:
• Paralyzed Veterans of America:
• National Disability Rights Network:
• American Association of People with Disabilities:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New Website for College-bound Students with Disabilities

New Website for College-bound Students with Disabilities
This new website has been developed to help high school students learn about living college life with a disability. The site provides video clips, activities, and resources that can help students get a head start in planning for college. Video interviews with college students with disabilities offer a way to hear firsthand from students with disabilities who have been successful. Modules include activities that will help students explore more about themselves, learn what to expect from college, and equip them with important considerations and tasks to complete when planning for college.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dear Fellow Advocates:
As the petroleum industry shifted from a full service to a self service industry, they forgot about us. Many of us drivers with disabilities actually need help getting gas into our vehicles and by law they are required to pump our gas if there is more than one employee on duty. The two basic problems with this are:
1) We don't know how many employees are inside.
2) We have no consistent way of letting them know we need assistance when we get there.
There are millions of us drivers out there and we need to let our voices be heard.
We need you to do 5 things!
1) Watch these news videos about how drivers all over the country can't get gas in their car.
2) Fill out the survey (takes about 5 minutes).
3) Write legislators on Federal, State and local levels to share your frustrations. Visit our document library to see model legislation to fix this problem.
4) Share this site with other drivers with disabilities.
5) Write to the Department of Justice and let them know your thoughts about the current guidelines (PDF) that they are giving the petroleum industry. They are the enforcement arm of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and if they don't hear from you - then they won't know it's a problem. Here is the address:
United States Department of JusticeDisability Rights Sections
PO Box 66738, Washington, D.C. 20035-6738
Please take the time to read up on this issue. Many of us have a local gas station that know our cars when we pull up; however, if I were to come to your state, I would have no idea how and who was the "good guy" to pump my gas, thereby limiting my ability to travel.
The changes we are asking for are simple, clear, not too onerous and they would make our lives so much better. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
Mike HarrisExecutive Director
Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America
(248) 476-9000

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New ADA Resources Amendment Act

The new ADAA became effective on January 1, 2009. While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has not yet completed the regulations for the new legislation, the Job Accommodation Network has developed a publication and a resource page featuring information that is currently available about the Act. The new publication is called JAN's Accommodation and Compliance Series: The ADA Amendments Act of 2008. It will be periodically updated as additional information is made public and can be found at

GOOGLE Lime Scholarship announced

Google recently added this scholarship for individuals with visual impairments, the Google Lime Scholarship for Students with Disabilities. We're partnering with Lime to offer scholarships to students with disabilities who are pursuing university degrees in the field of computer science in Canada or the U.S. Lime is a not-for-profit organization that brings together global corporations and people with disabilities, bringing to light an untapped source of talent. Scholarships will be granted for the 2009-2010 academic year, and recipients will be invited to attend an all-expenses-paid retreat at the Googleplex in Mountain View in 2010. We hope that this program will increase opportunities for students with disabilities and encourage them to pursue careers in computer science. We also hope to foster long-lasting relationships through which these students can support each other over the course of their academic studies. The deadline to apply for this year's Lime Scholarship is June 1, 2009. For
complete details, visit

Monday, April 13, 2009

American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
You may have noticed that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 recently signed by President Obama provides for the one-time payment of $250 to individuals who get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security benefits. SSA expects everyone who is entitled to a payment to receive it by late May 2009. The additional good news is that this one time stimulus payment will be disregarded by SSA. There is no need to report it to SSA, or to otherwise worry about what this payment will do to eligibility for benefits or monthly payment amount. For additional information

Friday, March 20, 2009

Competition for Young Artists with Disabilities

Competition for Young Artists with Disabilities VSA Arts and VolkswagenDeadline: June 19, 2009Number of Awards: 3Award: 1st prize: $20,000, 2nd prize: $10,000, 3rd prize: $6,000 The program is open to artists between the ages of 16 and 25 who are living in the United States and who have a physical, cognitive, mental, or sensory disability. Submissions must be original work completed within the last three years and after the onset of disability .Eligible media include, but are not limited to, paintings and drawings (oil, watercolor, acrylic, pencil, or charcoal), fine art prints, photography, computer-generated prints, digital art, and time-based media (video, film). Work must have a visual component. Both representational and abstract work are welcomed.