Paying Tribute to Inclusion

Diverse Group of People in a Circle Hugging

It’s been just over a week since a mass murderer took the lives of 11 individuals during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Penn. Among the dead were two brothers with intellectual disabilities.

Cecil and David Rosenthal, ages 59 and 54, were well-loved by fellow congregants at the Tree of Life and throughout Pittsburgh’s Jewish and secular communities. And while many religious institutions have struggled to make their services, facilities and cultural climates accessible and inclusive to members with disabilities, it seems as if the Tree of Life had it right.

In remembrances published and broadcast across countless media outlets, the brothers were warmly praised for their devotion to the synagogue and their communities, their kindness and the joy they brought to others. During the brothers’ funeral on Oct. 30, their rabbi, Jeffrey Myers told the overflowing sanctuary full of more than 1,400 mourners, “They were two of the sweetest human beings you could ever meet,” according to The Algemeiner.com.

Not only were the Rosenthal brothers beloved, they were active contributors to synagogue and community life. Per Triblive.com, “The brothers were fixtures at Tree of Life. Both helped out before, during and after services. David Rosenthal was meticulous about arranging prayer books and shawls. Cecil Rosenthal was a greeter.”

David and Cecil lived together in apartment supported by Achieva, a social service agency in Pittsburgh. Their lives were full. In addition to synagogue life, Cecil was active with the local Best Buddies Program and was known as “the unofficial mayor of Squirrel Hill,” according to USA Today. Said Jason Bertocchi, former chapter president and local Best Buddies board member: “Cecil became a true staple of our chapter over his 8+ years, and, recently, would always welcome me with open arms and meaningful conversation each and every time we would get together. Our chapter suffered a loss of a family member yesterday. Cecil was a wonderful man and an even better friend.” David worked for Good Will Industries and though more introverted than his brother, was said to have had a terrific sense of humor.

As lifelong Tree of Life congregant Jerry Solomon told the New York Times, the fact that the brothers were staples of the community was taken for granted. “Today we talk about inclusion, but they were just part of the community, and I didn’t think anything about it… It was my introduction to the fact that there are people like that and they are just like the rest of us,” said Solomon.

 

A Plea for More Inclusion in Medical Schools

medical student with teaching doctor

Imagine if your child’s doctor understood first-hand, what it meant to cope with a disability because he or she had a disability too? Alas, a doctor with that particular expertise won’t be easy to find. Despite the fact that 20 percent of the general population has some sort of a disability, the likelihood of finding a doctor with a disability is far lower. “Students with sensory and physical disabilities are underrepresented in medical schools,” according to a 2016 paper published in the American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics.

The paper attributed the scarcity of medical students with disabilities in part, to admissions policies that focus on students’ limitations rather than their strengths. In addition, the report said that schools’ biases against students with disabilities were based on assumptions such as the “potential risks to patient safety posed by accommodations, accommodation costs, and ensuring performance standards such that graduates can pass licensure exams without accommodations.” All these assumptions were without merit said the paper’s authors.

In response to the shortage of medical students and doctors with disabilities, in March 2018, the Association of American Medical Colleges released “Accessibility, Inclusion, and Action in Medical Education: Lived Experiences of Learners and Physicians With Disabilities,” a publication “designed to increase awareness and understanding of the challenges and opportunities for individuals with disabilities at the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals.”

In a press release, the publication’s co-author, Lisa Meeks, Ph.D. said: “Learners need effective structures that sometimes are missing, such as clear policies around disabilities and knowledgeable disability service providers. But that is not enough. They also need a culture that lets them know they are welcome.” The publication —which is the first of its kind— presented “key considerations” for making medical schools and by extension, the medical field more inclusive. The considerations included:

• Hiring a dedicated employee with expertise in disabilities and accommodations who is knowledgeable about the requirements of medical settings
• Ordering an assessment of medical schools’ existing services for students with disabilities
• Having a clear and confidential policy for accommodations requests that is outlined on the institution’s website
• Encouraging students to access supports and take time off for medical and mental health appointments as needed

It may take time for medical schools and the medical field to adapt to inclusion guidelines such as the ones recommended by the AAMC’s publication. But we’re convinced that when the medical field embraces inclusion, we’ll all be better for it!

Beware of Pain Medicines

Nurse Talking to Woman in Hospital Wheelchair

It’s no secret that in recent years, opioid addiction In the United States, has reached epidemic proportions. But did you know that people with disabilities are 2-4 times more likely to become addicted than people in the general population? One reason for the disparity is that physical disabilities are often accompanied by chronic pain that’s frequently treated with highly addictive narcotic medications. According to a 2014 study, “more than 40 percent of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients take opioid pain relievers, while the prevalence of chronic opioid use is over 20 percent and rising.”

What can you do to decrease the likelihood that you or a loved one will become addicted to opioids? Here are some preventive steps you can take.

Be aware of the dangers of opioids
A 2016 study by the National Safety Council found that “Ninety-nine percent of doctors are prescribing highly addictive opioid medicines for longer than the three-day period recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).” Though doctors may be well-intentioned, until recently, many were not well-educated about the dangers of overprescribing pain medications. When you’re prescribed a medication for pain, make sure you know as much as possible about the drug, its side effects and its potential for addiction.

 Try alternative pain therapies before resorting to narcotics.
The same NSC study found that “Seventy-four percent of doctors incorrectly believe morphine and oxycodone, both opioids, are the most effective ways to treat pain. Research shows over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen offer the most effective relief for acute pain.” Other treatments such as physical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis and meditation may also be helpful and safe options for pain relief. Why not try these first?

Take medications as prescribed
Once you and your doctor have determined that opioids are the appropriate treatment for your or your loved one, be diligent about taking your medication as prescribed. Stick to a regular dosing schedule to prevent taking more medication than prescribed and refrain from drinking alcohol or using other substances when taking opioids. Make sure your doctor is aware of all medications you take to prevent dangerous drug interactions.

Don’t stop medications without consulting with your doctor
Stopping medications without consulting with your doctor can result in dangerous withdrawal symptoms. “Depending on the type and dose of drug you’ve been taking,” says the Mayo Clinic, “it may take weeks or even months to gradually and safely reduce your dose and get off your opioid medication.”

Get Help if Needed
According to the Mayo Clinic, it may be time to discontinue your use of pain medications if you experience “serious side effects, reduced pain relief from the same dose of medications over time (tolerance), or behaviors that raise concerns about misuse, abuse or addiction.” In the event that your doctor advises you to taper off your medication and you feel unable to do so, don’t hesitate to ask for help. “Your doctor may recommend combining your taper with counseling on medication use,” says the Mayo. “In some cases, you may also wish to join a substance misuse support group (for example, Narcotics Anonymous) or talk with your religious or spiritual adviser.”

Martial Arts for All

Four smiling boys and girls in karate outfits

In recent days, the topic of sexual assault has dominated the news cycle. What few realize, is that people with disabilities are far more likely to be sexually assaulted than people without disabilities. In fact, a recent report on NPR’s “All Things Considered” found that “people with intellectual disabilities — women and men — are the victims of sexual assaults at rates more than seven times those for people without disabilities.” Likewise, “Not on the Radar,” a new report by the National Council on Disability found that “nearly one in three disabled undergraduate women experience sexual violence.”

For a variety of reasons, people with disabilities can be more vulnerable to sexual predators than others. Some people with disabilities are turning to self-defense training or martial arts to protect themselves.

According to Advanced Martial Arts Connect (AMAC), a website for all things martial arts-related, martial arts styles such as taekwando, judo, karate and others can be useful to individuals with a variety of special needs. For example, says AMAC, the American Taekwando Association has partnered with Autism Speaks to educate instructors about best practices in working with individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

AMAC also recommends martial arts to students with Down syndrome who “tend to have some degree of cognitive and muscle impairment.” Says AMAC: The strength and coordination training that martial arts offers is “invaluable” to individuals with Down syndrome.

Blind people can benefit from martial arts training as well. “Blindness martial arts — Judo especially — are not heavily dependent on sight because they are not typical contact sports,” says AMAC. “In Judo, the experts usually practice blindfolded to improve their reflexes and strengthen their other senses. Karate also is easily adaptable to blindness.”

Those with movement disabilities such as paralysis, multiple sclerosis and other syndromes that cause severe mobility challenges, can also gain helpful self-defense skills through martial arts.

“As well as being therapeutic, martial arts help with confidence and self-defense, both of which can be useful when an assailant targets a disabled person for being a stereotypically easy target,” says AMAC.

The Adaptive Martial Arts Association serves as a clearinghouse for people seeking adaptive martial arts classes, instructors and resources. The organization also offers a school outreach program that helps to match students with disabilities to adaptive martial arts programs in their areas. They even provide free martial arts uniforms and tuition assistance to those who qualify.

Founded by Jason “The Animal” Davis, the association was a response to Davis’ experiences as a youngster with cerebral palsy. When he was 8 years old, Davis was turned away from a martial arts training course because of his CP. But his desire to pursue martial arts remained.

At 31, Davis reached out to a friend who was a martial artist and agreed to train him. The duo set out to adapt a martial arts curriculum for people with disabilities.

“The first few weeks both student and teacher wondered if it would work,” Davis recalled. “But then the physical and mental changes began to appear. When medical doctors and therapists noticed the difference, it was apparent that martial arts training was working in ways both never expected.”

To find a class and trained instructor near you, visit the Adaptive Martial Arts Association.

Signs of the Times

Two Women Communicating with Sign Language

Starbucks will open store for deaf and hard of hearing customers this fall.

As part of the company’s commitment to “inclusion, accessibility and diversity,” Starbucks announced last week that it will soon open its first “signing store” in the U.S. According to a July 19, 2018 press release, the café will employ “Twenty to 25 deaf, hard of hearing and hearing partners from across the country.” It will be located in Washington D.C. at 6th & H Street near Gallaudet University, a federally chartered university for deaf and hard of hearing students. All employees will be proficient in American Sign Language so that they will be able to serve the store’s many deaf and hard of hearing customers.

“The National Association of the Deaf applauds Starbucks for opening a signing store that employs deaf and hard of hearing people,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf. “Starbucks has taken an innovative approach to incorporating deaf culture that will increase employment opportunities as well as accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing people, while at the same time educating and enlightening society.”

This is the second signing store that Starbucks has opened. The first opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016. In addition to employing deaf and hard of hearing partners, the Washington D.C. store will showcase artwork and sell a custom mug designed by a deaf artist.  Baristas will wear aprons embroidered with ASL while hearing employees will wear pins that say “I sign.”

Could this be a trend for other businesses? Enabling Devices hopes so!

Meanwhile, we’re doing our part to make life more accessible for people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing as well as those with other communication challenges by creating and adapting toys and other products. Some of our most popular include:

Visually and Hearing Impaired Activity Center (#540)
The specially designed activity center enables individuals who are visually or hearing impaired to experience the joy of play. Includes a soft cloth that spins when the player presses a bright yellow plate, a bright blue plate that vibrates, and a fan.

Vibrating Personal Pager (#8001A) and MotivAider (#1153)
Ideal for hearing and hearing impaired users alike, these adapted pagers vibrate to either notify the user or to notify others.

Language Facilitator (#5310)
Promote functional communication! This two-switch communicator provides users with the visual and auditory feedback they need to begin forming and producing utterances and words.

Classroom Communication Kit (#9037)
In consultation with special educators, speech therapists, and assistive technologists, we’ve assembled this carefully curated kit of communication devices.

 

Enabling Devices’ Book Shelf

Group of Children Reading Books

One of summer’s great pleasures is the opportunity it often provides to catch up on one’s reading. If you or your kids are in the market for some book recommendations, Enabling Devices can help. In this week’s blogpost, we share some of the year’s best books on disability.

For Young Children:

“The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Temple Grandin”

By Julie Finley Mosca, Illustrated by Daniel Rieley (The Innovation Press, 2017), hardcover, 40 pages, $11.09

A Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award Recipient, this book for children grades K- 5, tells the amazing story of Temple Grandin. Diagnosed with autism at an early age, and at a time when little was known about the condition, Grandin went on to become a renowned animal psychologist who designed animal husbandry techniques that led to more humane treatment of animals. Grandin is also a respected spokeswoman for the autism community. Rhyming verse and colorful cartoon illustrations make this biography easily accessible for young students.

 For Middle School-aged Children:

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess

By Shari Green (Pajama Press, 2017), paperback, 240 pages, $9.56

Winner of the 2018 Schneider Family Book Award in its Middle Grades category, this book tells the story of 6th grader Macy McMillan, who is deaf, and her transformational friendship with an 86-year-old neighbor.

 For Teens and Young Adults:

“Queens of Geek”

By Jen Wilde (Swoon Reads, 2017), paperback 288 pages, $8.79

This young adult novel explores the world of sci-fi and fantasy fan conventions, through the friendship of two high school seniors from Australia — one with autism and one who’s bisexual. According to Teen Vogue, “The book deals head on with issues of mental health, body shaming, sexuality and internet celebrity, handling them with a delicate and skillful touch.”

Adult Fiction:

“The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder: A Novel”

By Sarah J. Harris, (Touchstone, 2018), hardcover, 368 pages, $26

Often compared to Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” Harris’ debut adult novel tells the story of a 13-year-old boy named Jasper with synesthesia, a

rare neurological condition that makes him see colors when he hears sounds. Publisher’s Weekly calls this suspenseful mystery, ‘sparkling” and “fantastic!”

Adult Nonfiction:

Navigating the Transition From High School to College for Students with Disabilities”

By Meg Grigal, Joseph Madaus, Lyman Dukes III and Debra Hart  (Routledge, 2018), paperback, 224 pages, $39.95

Transitioning from high school to college is challenging for all students, but especially for students with disabilities. This new text provides strategies, options, resources and activities to help streamline the process and help students to be more successful.

Inclusive Employment at CVS Health

Man In Wheelchair Working on a Computer

As multiple studies have shown, hiring individuals with disabilities is more than a moral imperative. It’s also good business. These individuals are typically hard-working, loyal, extremely productive, solution-oriented, and go a long way toward improving employee morale and company culture. In spite of all this, people with disabilities are far more likely than their non-disabled peers to be under-employed or unemployed. According to a June 2017 press release from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, “In 2016, 17.9 percent of persons with a disability were employed. … In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 65.3 percent.”

Thankfully, some corporations are taking steps to change the status quo. One such corporation is CVS Health, the largest pharmacy health care provider in the United States.

Through a collaboration with the National Consortium of State-Operated Comprehensive Rehabilitation Centers, CVS has opened “mock stores” where people with disabilities can receive hands-on training that prepares them to work in actual CVS stores.

CVS affirmed its commitment to inclusive employment practices in a Nov. 2017 press release which described plans to open eight mock stores by spring 2018: “Individuals with disabilities receive classroom and hands-on training in life and job skills such as providing customer service, stocking shelves and working at the cash register,” said the release. “Each center is installed with mock equipment and participants work closely with trained staff to learn about the roles and responsibilities of front store and pharmacy technician positions. Individuals who complete the program qualify to apply for a position at CVS Pharmacy.”

Said David Casey, Vice president, Workforce Strategies and Chief Diversity Officer, CVS Health: “CVS Health is focused on breaking down the employment barriers that individuals with disabilities face, which these facilities help to achieve. … We are proud to be working with the NCSOCRC to help people with disabilities access the security and prosperity that stable jobs can provide.”

Currently, mock stores are operating in locations across the country including Baltimore Maryland, Lowell Massachusetts, Johnstown Pennsylvania, Hot Springs Arkansas, Fisherville Virginia, Riverside California and Brooklyn New York.

Virginian, Kaylee Merrick, graduated from the CVS training program in 2016. Currently, she’s employed by a CVS Pharmacy in Northern Virginia. “[The CVS training program) has open arms to anyone and they have a lot of patience. It’s always a joy to see [customers at my job] and interact with them, it’s been amazing!” she said.

Google Maps’ Accessible Routes Help Wheelchair Users Plan Travel

Woman in Wheelchair Waiting for Subway

It seems like a foregone conclusion — public transportation should be available to everyone. Yet, 28 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities and mandated they have equal access to public transportation, accessibility on city buses and public rail systems remains insufficient.

A 2017 study, “Public Transportation: An Investigation of Barriers for People With Disabilities” published in the Journal of Disability Policy Studies, found that despite improvements in public transit “significant barriers to overall access of public transportation systems are still widespread.”

Barriers to public transportation are more than inconvenient. They have major implications for people with disabilities’ prospects for employment, education, healthcare, socialization and independence. In fact, a 2012 report by The American Association of People with Disabilities and The Leadership Conference Education Fund found that inadequate public transportation options cause many people with disabilities to be homebound. According to the report, “Of the nearly 2 million people with disabilities who never leave their homes, 560,000 never leave home because of transportation difficulties.”

Happily, a recent improvement to Google Maps has made travel a little bit easier for people who use wheelchairs to get around. On March 15, 2018, Google posted the following message on its blog site, “The Key Word.”

“To make public transit work for everyone, today we’re introducing “wheelchair accessible” routes in transit navigation to make getting around easier for those with mobility needs.”

The new feature launched in London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney on March 15, but Google hopes to make it available to other cities in the coming months.

In order to gather information about accessible routes, Google assembled 200 meet-ups around the globe. At the meet-ups, local guides (Google content contributors) provided feedback on accessibility on more than 12 million locations. Google says it is also in the process of “capturing and updating street view imagery of transit stations and city centers so people can preview a place or transit station ahead of time.”

To use Google Maps’ wheelchair accessible routes feature:

“Type your desired destination into Google Maps. Tap “Directions” then select the public transportation icon. Then tap “Options” and under the Routes section, you’ll find “wheelchair accessible” as a new route type. When you select this option, Google Maps will show you a list of possible routes that take mobility needs into consideration.”

Happy travels!

Inclusive Design on Display at the Cooper Hewitt

For more than 30 years, Enabling Devices has been creating exceptional products that help people with disabilities engage more actively and more joyfully in the world. At long last, other businesses and cultural institutions are catching on.

For example, a new exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum  in New York City features 70 works that make everyday activities more accessible to people with disabilities. “Access + Ability” on display from Dec. 15, 2017 – Sept. 3, 2018 is part of a major effort on the part of the museum to make the institution and its exhibitions more inclusive and accessible to visitors of all abilities.

According to director of the Cooper Hewitt, Caroline Baumann, “The diversity of works on view in ‘Access+Ability’ embrace the latest developments in digital technologies and fabrication methods, along with a user-driven focus on enhancing what people can do when given the opportunity.”

The hands-on, interactive exhibition is divided into three sections — moving, connecting and living — and contains everything from adaptive clothing, utensils, eye-controlled speech-generating devices, apps for children with autism, “smart canes,” shoes for people with fine motor challenges, wearable navigation systems, bejeweled hearing aids and much more.

Highlights of the exhibition include a racing wheelchair designed in 2016, a prototype for an inclusive voting booth that will be put into use in 2020, fashionable prosthetic leg covers, a watch “that uses haptic vibration technology to allow users with tremors to regain the use of their hand,” and a shirt, “embedded with 16 sensors corresponding to each part of the orchestra—strings, woodwinds, percussion, etc.” that allows deaf people to “feel” music through tactile sensations.

In order to select the most useful, and most innovative objects for inclusion in the exhibition, co-curators Cara McCarty and Rochelle Steiner consulted with people with disabilities, their caregivers, therapists, scientists and designers.

Exhibition designers took care to make the exhibition itself accessible to visitors with disabilities by installing Blindways, an app designed and developed by Perkins School for the Blind, eye-tracking speech-generating devices and accessibility apps by Apple that use Switch Control VoiceOver and voice-command software.

“Access+Ability” was developed in partnership with the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum will offer a series of programs that encourage dialogue about inclusive design.

For a complete list of all items in the exhibition, click here.

Meaningful Employment for All

The statistics are sobering. According to a June 2017 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “in 2016, 17.9 percent of persons with a disability were employed. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 65.3 percent.” Though the 2016 figure was up 0.4 percent from 2015, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in the U.S. remains a critical issue. In response, some parents of young adults with disabilities are taking matters into their own hands by starting businesses that will employ their children.

One example of such a business is Sam’s Canterbury Café in Baltimore, Md. When Sam Myers, a young man with autism reached his teens, his parents began thinking of starting a business where he could be gainfully employed. After Sam underwent a battery of tests, and interned in a variety of work environments, it became clear that he would thrive best in a café/restaurant. Now open for a year, Sam’s Café employs Sam as well as five other adults with autism who work in a variety of roles at the café. Sam’s father Michael Myers says it’s rewarding to see his son looking forward to going to work and he’s pleased by the way the surrounding community has embraced the business.

Long Island N.Y’s Cause Café has a similar mission. Founded in 2016, by Stacey Wohl, a mother of two young adults with autism, the café is co-owned by her children Logan and Brittney and employs 8 other adults with autism spectrum disorders. According to the café’s website, Wohl started the café in 2012 “in response to the growing concern for special-needs individuals on Long Island who are aging out of schools to find job opportunities and a learning environment to acquire real-life skills.”

Likewise, Bitty & Beau’s Coffee in Wilmington, N.C. was founded by Amy Wright, the mother of two adults with Down syndrome. The establishment also hired many other young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who help run the coffee shop. As Wright told health blog “The Mighty,” she hopes to open more locations and “would love Wilmington to be a model (that) integrate(s) people with disabilities into the workforce.” On Dec. 20, 2017, Wright won CNN’s Hero of the Year competition for her advocacy on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

But businesses started as meaningful workplaces for adults with autism aren’t limited to coffee shops. Spurred on by their son Himal’s talent for painting, Virginians Harish and Saket Bikmal started Zenaviv, a website where artists with special needs can market their work. According to Woman’s Day, “Currently, there are seven artists who earn 60 percent of their art’s proceeds; Harish plans to have 25 involved by the year’s end.”

Of course, not all parents of adults with disabilities have the resources to start their own businesses. Sometimes, opportunities for meaningful employment for people with disabilities can be found in unexpected places. Friendship Circle blogger Tzvi Schectman advises parents to explore possibilities for jobs on farms and ranches. “There are dozens of farms currently in the United States that offer programs and employment opportunities for individuals with special needs,” says Schectman. Jobs on farms and ranches can be good options for people with disabilities, he says, because farms and ranches are typically “slower paced and more relaxing,” offer workers training in a variety of vocational skills and can even “offer a perfect opportunity to create a sustainable business for individuals with special needs by selling their produce in the local markets.”