“Dark Disabled Stories” Opens at NYC’s Public Theater

Blog: “Dark Disabled Stories” Opens at NYC’s Public Theater

A new autobiographical play by New York-based playwright and actor Ryan J. Haddad gives audiences a firsthand look at what it’s like to negotiate an environment that’s not designed for people with mobility challenges.

“Dark Disabled Stories” began previews at New York City’s Public Theater on Feb. 28. The play’s official opening will take place on March 9 – coinciding with both Developmental Disabilities Month and National Cerebral Palsy Month. (We don’t know if that is intentional, but it’s pretty cool)!

Directed by Jordan Fein and performed by Haddad, who has cerebral palsy and uses leg braces and a walker, “Dark Disabled Stories,” encompasses a series of vignettes that illustrate Haddad’s real-life experiences living in an inaccessible city.

Joining Haddad onstage is deaf actor Dickie Hearts who will provide sign language interpretation and wheelchair user Alejandra Ospina who will provide audio description.

“Dark Disabled Stories” is Haddad’s first off-Broadway play, but not his first foray into the entertainment industry. His first one-man show, Hi, Are You Single? was performed as part of The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival and he has also appeared in various regional theater productions. Haddad can also be seen on Netflix’ “The Politician”, in which he has a recurring role, and in shows such as “Madam Secretary” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Despite his success in television, Haddad attributes his career to the fact that he has written roles for himself. As he told MetroWeekly back in 2022, “it’s no secret that the reason I have a career at all is because I wrote my way toward a career with this play and the subsequent plays that have yet to be produced but will be soon, and the stories that I keep telling. … the thesis of what I’m trying to say is that I am an actor, but 70 to 75 percent of the work I do on a daily basis or a monthly basis or a yearly basis is writing my way towards an acting opportunity that I have created for myself.”

Haddad says that’s the case because the entertainment industry still provides few opportunities for actors with disabilities.

While Haddad acknowledges that the entertainment industry is making progress toward the inclusion of disabled actors, he says “we’re not there yet. We haven’t arrived at the moment of, ‘No, no, we will not cast a non-disabled person in a disabled role.’ It’s still accepted in many instances.”

For the duration of “Dark Disabled Stories’” run, The Public Theater has taken steps to make the theater and production more accessible to disabled audiences. Not only does the show include ASL interpretation, open captions and audio description, the theater has also added extra wheelchair seating to ensure that all audience members can be comfortably situated. Additionally, The Public is relaxing its usual audience etiquette so that individuals “can be free to be themselves” during performances. Finally, deaf and disabled individuals can access discounted tickets to performances with a code available on The Public’s website.

For more information, visit publictheater.org

Love is in the Air!


Happy Valentine’s Day! Today is the perfect day to remember that all human beings desire love and intimacy. Sadly, common misconceptions, stereotypes and ignorance can make dating more challenging for individuals with disabilities.

According to Dr. Danielle Sheypuk, a dating expert and disability activist specializing in dating for people with disabilities, “The biggest stigmas are that we’re still seen as asexual and not beautiful. Our bodies are different than what people see on a daily basis, [so] it’s unknown territory for them. In the media, we’re never portrayed as sexual people. We’re never associated with anything sexual or glamorous or beautiful. Therefore, people don’t in general make that association.”

Stigmas about disabled people are reinforced by the fact that there is so little awareness and exposure to the experiences of disabled people. This is the case despite the fact that approximately 25% of Americans have some sort of disability.

Since non-disabled people have so little knowledge about what it’s like to live with a disability, they may shy away from pursuing a disabled partner, says Sheypuk.

Like so many singles in today’s world, singles with disabilities frequently utilize dating apps to find love. But unlike their non-disabled counterparts, dating app users with disabilities face additional challenges. First and foremost, many struggle with the decision about whether to disclose their disability in their dating profiles. Some disabled dating app users report that disclosing their disability up front means that fewer prospective matches show interest. But not disclosing disability up front may result in rejection later on, which can be even more disappointing.

So, what’s the best course of action?

In a Q&A on vantagemobility.com,  Sheypuk says it’s best to make your disability known right from the start.

“I think [disclosure of your disability] needs to be written on your profile and there needs to be pictures that show you have a disability,” says Sheypuk, whose personal story can be found at https://wheelinsexyinthecity.wordpress.com/.

“It avoids a lot of rejection and a lot of heartache, I feel. The opposite side of the argument is: Don’t put it there and let them get to know you. They’ll see you for who you are. [Then], you’ll reveal you have a disability, and they won’t care. That is most likely not going to happen. Yes, they might get to know you and really have feelings for you, but when you reveal you have a disability, they could feel lied to. It’s just like people being dishonest with their age, weight or marital status. It’s just good to put who you are right up front.”

While there’s no reason why disabled people should limit themselves to dating others with disabilities, dating sites geared to disabled singles eliminate the disclosure dilemma and may reduce some of the stress associated with online dating.

Here are some of the most reputable ones.

1. Whispers for You is one of the longest running dating sites for disabled singles. In 2016, the site was nominated for best niche dating site in the industry’s iDate awards ceremony. According to its website, Whispers for You enrolls hundreds of new members every week. Typical site users are people with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, amputations and those with intellectual disabilities.  The site is open to individuals of all abilities.

2. Founded by sisters Alexa and Jacqueline Child, Dateability is a brand-new dating app for people with disabilities. The sisters founded the platform after becoming frustrated with traditional dating apps. As Jacqueline told Channel 7 in Denver, “I had a lot of ableist experiences with people telling me that I shouldn’t have children in case my conditions were hereditary and people’s families not accepting me because of my health conditions,” said Jacqueline Child. Adds Alexa, “Dating apps have been around for over a decade now, and they’ve had their time. They’ve had the opportunity to be more inclusive of the disability and chronically ill communities, and they haven’t.”

3. Dating4Disabled.com has been around since 2005.  The site bills itself as an “online community where people with disabilities can meet, connect and date other people with disabilities.” The site includes blogs, chats and forums, and it’s free to register.

4. My Special Match.com was started by the parents of a young woman with a brain injury that resulted in physical and intellectual disabilities. After she graduated from high school, Amanda had difficulty meeting friends and potential partners. Her parents founded the dating site to help their daughter and others in similar situations find a safe and comfortable place to meet each other.

5. Special Bridge.com is a family owned and operated community for individuals with mental and physical disabilities. Whether you’re seeking friendships or romance, Special Bridge provides opportunities for forming relationships at your own pace. As its website explains, “meeting new people face-to-face can be intimidating for some people, [so] Special Bridge allows for online connections that can be made through the site’s messaging system.” The messaging system makes it simpler for individuals who have trouble expressing themselves verbally to communicate with others. “The beauty of Special Bridge is that technology helps to even the playing field, allowing users to feel less self-conscious about their ability levels.”

Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

Game On!

Blog: Game On!

©2023 Sony Interactive Entertainment

Listen up all you gamers! PlayStation’s new adaptive controller will soon be here!

Recently, we reported on the many reasons why gaming is awesome. For example, gaming helps players to build cognitive and educational skills; provides opportunities for social interaction; offers multisensory stimulation and much more.

In recent years, gaming has become increasingly accessible for individuals with mobility challenges. Earlier this month, PlayStation announced that Project Leonardo, a highly customizable accessible controller kit designed for physically disabled players, is finally in the works. Following its release, the kit will be compatible with PlayStation 5.

According to the PlayStation blog, the new kit is “designed to remove barriers to gaming and help players with disabilities play more easily, more comfortably and for longer periods on PS5.”

To be fair, accessibility isn’t an entirely new concept for PlayStation. Many of the company’s games including mega favorites “God of War Ragnarök” and “The Last of Us Part I,” offer lots of accessibility features. But until now, PlayStation’s hardware wasn’t nearly as accommodating for users with mobility challenges. In fact, Microsoft Xbox was way ahead of its competitor, offering an adaptive controller since 2018.

To ensure that Project Leonardo was truly accessible, PlayStation consulted with accessibility experts, community members, and game developers including AbleGamersSpecialEffect and Stack Up. The result is a controller that enables players with mobility challenges to create an individualized and enjoyable gaming experience.

Project Leonardo’s unique split design is an important difference when it comes to making the controller accessible. As Sony Interactive Entertainment designer So Morimoto told Wired magazine, “Our team tested over a dozen designs with accessibility experts, looking for approaches that would help address key challenges to effective controller use. We finally settled on a split controller design that allows near freeform left/right thumbstick repositioning, can be used without needing to be held, and features very flexible button and stick cap swapping. Because players can customize it according to their needs, there is no one ‘right’ form factor. We want to empower them to create their own configurations.”

Another benefit to Project Leonardo’s design is that it can be used with a “variety of external switches and third-party accessibility accessories.”

In other words, it’s highly likely that the wide range of switches and mounts made by Enabling Devices will be compatible with Project Leonardo.

So far, there’s no release date or price point listed for Project Leonardo. Stay tuned for more details!

Bionic Leg Sleeve May Help Tens of Millions

Blog: Bionic Leg Sleeve

The Cionic Neural Sleeve by Cionic

Thirty-five million Americans with mobility challenges such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, stroke and spinal cord injuries could soon benefit from an invention called the Cionic Neural Sleeve. The sleeve, designed to be worn on the leg, is sometimes referred to as “bionic clothing.”

Developed by Jeremiah Robison, founder and CEO of the San Francisco startup company Cionic, and the father of a girl with CP, the neural sleeve makes it easier for individuals with gait impairments to walk more fluidly and more securely.

Robison, who had worked in the technology sector for many years, was inspired to invent the sleeve to help his daughter Sofia. As he told Carolyn Said of the San Francisco Chronicle, “I had enough knowledge and a huge motivation to say, ‘Since nothing is available for my daughter, if not me, who? If not now, when?’”

The leg sleeve is “embedded with sensors, that [monitor the wearer’s] movements, and electrodes that stimulate [the wearer’s] muscles to activate as needed,” writes Said.

It is sold with a small rechargeable battery-operated device that fits inside a pocket built into the sleeve.

“That device communicates with an app on the wearer’s smartphone that allows the user to customize stimulation settings and offers exercises to help increase strength and reinforce motor learning.”

One of the advantages of the neural sleeve is that it can be used by people with a range of motor impairments. The sleeve works on the shin, calf, hamstring or quad. Remote training and “fine tuning” are offered by Cionic’s mobility specialists.

In addition to the physical benefits provided by the neural sleeve, it also provides emotional advantages. Says the inventor’s 13-year-old daughter Sofia Robison, who walks with the sleeve: “For me, just being the one left behind (because she’s slower than friends) can be mentally really difficult. Helping people not be the one left behind can be really important. ”

The neural sleeve is expected to be released to the public in early 2023 and Cionic has already received FDA approval and state licensing. At first, it will only be available for adult use. Following its release, the sleeve will be sold at the introductory price of $200 per month. After a year, the sleeve becomes the property of the buyer. Since it is so new, Robison says that insurers are unlikely to provide coverage in the near future.

People interested in receiving a Cionic Neural Sleeve can add their names to the waitlist on Cionic’s website at cionic.com.

Airbnb Adds New Adapted Category for Disabled Renters

Photo credit Airbnb

In November, Airbnb, the highly popular home rental platform, updated its website with a new “adapted” section that includes 1,000+ homes around the world with accessible features for users with mobility challenges.

As reported by Disability Scoop, “These wheelchair accessible homes with wheelchair accessible features have been reviewed to ensure they have step-free paths into and through the home and to one or more bedrooms and bathrooms and also at least one accessible feature in the bedroom or bathroom.”

To accomplish the website improvements, Airbnb partnered with a space data company called Matterport to create 3D maps of each home in the adapted category.

“[They] have gone in and have scanned every single home to make sure that the features that [hosts] say they have are accurate, including the width of corridors and the width of the entry,” Catherine Powell Airbnb’s Global Head of Hosting told Forbes. “We’ve taken some of those images from the 3D scans, and that’s what you will see in the listings.”

As the business community begins to recognize that disabled individuals make up approximately 20% of the population, companies are making long overdue changes to their policies and online features.

Airbnb is an example of a company that was subject to criticism from disabled customers in its earlier years, but has since made significant modifications in the way it does business with disabled customers and employees.

In 2016, the company introduced a non-discrimination policy designed to make the company a more inclusive place for disabled employees to work. The policy seems to have succeeded as Airbnb received 100% on the Disability Equality Index for 2021 and 2022 and was recognized as a DEI Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion.

The company has also worked to improve the Airbnb experience for disabled users. In 2017, the Airbnb purchased Accomable, a small startup that works similarly to Airbnb but is exclusively geared toward disabled travelers. The acquisition added “roughly 1,100 house and apartment listings that can accommodate guests with physical disabilities,” according to Reuters.

“Airbnb hired Accomable’s founders and most of its seven-person staff to build out Airbnb’s wheelchair-accessible housing inventory and provide more complete and accurate information to disabled travelers, who often rely on a hotel emailing pictures of a room to determine whether it is accessible.”

In 2018, the company added 21 new accessibility search filters that allow users to search for accessibility features such as step-free entry to rooms, wide entryways for wheelchairs, elevators, wheelchair accessible showers, ramps, and more.

Three years later, Airbnb updated 13 search filters and also added an accessibility review process which helps to ensure that homes rented are truly accessible. Hosts submit photos of the accessibility features in their homes, and a trained team of Airbnb employees review them.

Interested in listing your adapted home on Airbnb? Check out this video by wheelchair user and Airbnb host Sophie Morgan.

What Are Reasonable Accommodations?


Last week, television viewers across the country watched Pennsylvania Senate candidates John Fetterman and Dr. Mehmet Oz debate a host of issues affecting Keystone State residents. The debate was noteworthy not just because Pennsylvania is a battleground state, but also because Fetterman, who suffered a stroke back in May, was permitted to use closed captioning technology to assist with stroke-induced auditory processing difficulties.

This blog isn’t about politics and we aren’t taking a stance on who should win the Senate seat. But the debate did get us thinking about the issue of accommodations and why employers are sometimes resistant to providing them.

In many cases – particularly with regard to hiring decisions — employers overestimate the expense and/or burden of providing accommodations. They may mistakenly believe that individuals with disabilities are receiving special treatment or that they are being forced to hire a disabled person.

These misconceptions may come from a lack of knowledge or a misunderstanding of the regulations stipulated by Title I of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Here are the facts:

According to ADA.gov, “Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others. For example, it prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment. It restricts questions that can be asked about an applicant’s disability before a job offer is made, and it requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship. Religious entities with 15 or more employees are covered under Title I.”

But what are reasonable accommodations? The Department of Labor explains them as follows:

“Reasonable accommodations are intended to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have rights in employment equal — not superior — to those of individuals without disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a modification to a job, work environment or the way work is performed that allows an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform the essential functions of the job, and enjoy equal access to benefits available to other individuals in the workplace.”

Contrary to popular belief, most accommodations aren’t expensive. In fact, the majority of disabled employees (56%) don’t require any accommodations to do their jobs. Those who do require some accommodation usually cost their employers no more than a measly $500 according to a 2020 survey by the Job Accommodation Network. Surely, that’s not too much to spare for employees the Journal Nature contends are among the most productive, motivated, loyal and creative team members.

“The results of countless studies speak for themselves,” says Nature: “If the right people with disabilities are selected for the right job and are given responsibility, they often outperform other employees, with higher levels of efficiency, productivity, accurateness, commitment, loyalty, and satisfaction. This, in turn, increases the company’s profitability and overall shareholder value.”

Sounds like a win-win to us! We believe that all employees should receive the accommodations to which they’re entitled!

Celebrate Deaf Awareness Week By Honoring These Nine Recommendations

Blog: Deaf Awareness Week

It’s Deaf Awareness Week, a time to celebrate deaf culture, highlight the organizations that support deaf individuals and encourage the inclusion of people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

What will it take to create a truly inclusive society that is welcoming to deaf and hard of hearing individuals? As many deaf advocates put it, “there is no inclusion without accessibility.”

Below are some suggestions for how to make be inclusive of those living with deafness and hearing loss.

1. Just ask
Deaf people are individuals just like everyone else. They may have distinct communication preferences. When starting a conversation with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, ask them how they prefer to communicate. Then, try to meet their request. Some deaf or hard of hearing individuals may prefer lipreading; some may wish to use writing; others may prefer transcription apps or other communication methods.

2. Get their attention
Wave your hand, gently tap them on the shoulder or ask someone who has their gaze to point to you to let the deaf or hard of hearing person know that you wish to communicate with them.

3. Don’t yell
Though you may mean well, yelling at a person who is deaf or hard of hearing will not help them to understand you. It will only appear disrespectful.

4. Maintain eye contact
Regardless of whether the deaf or hard of hearing person is accompanied by an interpreter, looked directly at the person, maintaining eye contact at all times. Do not talk to the interpreter, even if the deaf person is looking at the interpreter while you’re speaking. Likewise, always face the deaf or hard of hearing person when you are speaking to them. That way it is possible for them read your lips and observe your body movements and gestures which can help to facilitate communication.

5. Make office spaces accessible
Danielle Guth, a blogger for HearingLikeMe.com, recommends “providing visual cues like flashing lights for things like fire alarms, doorbells, phones, and computers.” She also advises holding meetings in spaces where everyone can face one another and using close captioning for any video or audio presentations. Using “note-taking systems like NoteTaking Express or Otter, which transcribe meetings into real-time text transcriptions” is also a helpful resource, says Guth.

6. Watch your language
Never refer to a nonverbal individual as “dumb.” This is an outdated, highly offensive and extremely inaccurate term.

7. Hire an interpreter
When arranging a meeting, performance, seminar or lecture, make sure to provide an interpreter for deaf or hard of hearing guests.

 8. Consider studying American Sign Language
Did you know some colleges offer ASL as an alternative to foreign language study? Even if it’s not realistic to become fluent in ASL, it may be helpful and fun to learn a few words or phrases.

9. Be patient and respectful
When communicating with someone deaf or hard of hearing, you may need to repeat yourself or adapt your language usage to accommodate lipreading. Take your time, and don’t give up. With patience your message will get through.

Your 2022 Back to School Checklist

Blog: Your 2022 Back to School Checklist

In many parts of the country, kids are already heading back to school. That means their parents are busy with back-to-school shopping.  But finding accessible back-to-school supplies, clothing and shoes can be more challenging for children with disabilities. Here are some items to make back-to-school shopping fun, fashionable, accessible, and oh yeah – educational.

1. Adapted Scissors
Scissors are an item you’ll find on most school shopping lists. But what if your child needs switch adapted scissors? No problem. You’ll find them on our website.

2. ADL Boards
One of the hardest parts of sending kids back to school is getting them up, dressed and out of the house. Our ADL Board helps them build the fine motor skills necessary to dress independently. There are boards that teach buttoning, zipping, snapping and lacing.

3. Slant Board
Kids with fine motor challenges will benefit from our slant board. It is ergonomically designed to encourage correct wrist position, posture, stability and good penmanship.

4. Weighted Handwriting Gloves
These gloves provide the proprioceptive input and compression, students need for legible handwriting and other fine motor tasks.

5. PenPalz Handwriting Helpers
Another tool to improve penmanship, PenPalz help students to find the proper writing position. Plus, their high cuteness quotient will make younger kids the envy of their classmates.

6. Adaptive School Uniforms
if your child attends a school where they are expected to wear uniforms, Lands End’s website could be your go to adaptive clothing spot. They offer adaptive shirts, pants, shorts and skirts specially designed for neurodivergent and physically disabled children.

7. Fashion-forward Adaptive Apparel
Kohls has been offering adapted versions of some of their children’s styles since 2019. “With features including abdominal access and sensory-friendly and wheelchair-friendly options, the new adaptive clothing is thoughtfully designed, making stylish, quality apparel accessible to all,” says a press release from the department store. And Kohls isn’t the only store that offers adaptive clothing for kids. Designers are getting on the band wagon all the time. Some of the best collections can be found at Tommy Hilfiger; Target, JC Penney and Patti and Ricky.com.

8. Myself Belts
Even if your child can get his shirt and pants on independently, he may not have the coordination to fasten his belt. Myself Belts close with Velcro, making it simple for children with fine motor challenges to get dressed.

9. Adaptive footwear
Nowadays, more and more shoe sellers are making adaptive shoes that are easy to get on and off. One fashionable choice is Nikes FlyEase shoes. FlyEase are laceless and have a zippered heal so that wearers can just slide their feet in, zip up and go. Other brands to consider are: Hatchbacks, which sells its “Elites” line of shoes designed to accommodate ankle foot orthotics (AFOs). Billy offers shoes and sneakers with universal design, which means they are appropriate for people of all abilities. According to Billy’s website, the company’s “goal was to combine fashion with function—dissolve the line between adaptive and non-adaptive—and create mainstream shoes for the masses, yet still preserve the functionality for those that need it, like Billy.”

10. Chew Necklaces
Some kids with sensory challenges focus better when they’re chewing. Gum has its drawbacks, mainly risk of swallowing, and isn’t usually allowed at school. Chew necklaces make it possible for children to receive oral stimulation while they learn.  It’s easy to find all styles on Amazon.

Words to Drive By

Blog: Podcasts

Despite high gas prices, many Americans – 683 million according to the American Automobile Association (AAA) – will travel to vacation destinations by car this summer. If that sounds like a hot mess, take heart! We’ve got a strategy that will make your road trip go by just like that!

Listening to podcasts and audiobooks on long car rides is an entertaining and informative way to pass the time.

For your listening pleasure, we’ve compiled a list of some of the top disability-related podcasts and audiobooks. Happy road trip!


The Accessible Stall
In this refreshingly honest podcast about living with disabilities, hosts Kyle Khachadurian and Emily Ladau aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. The cohosts share their experiences and provide frank and sometimes controversial opinions on a range of disability topics. They’re always interested in hearing listeners’ feedback as well!

Disability Visibility Project
Hosted by renowned disability activist and author Alice Wong, this 100-segment podcast features discussions with fellow activists and members of the disability community that explore issues related to identity, culture, intersectionality and politics.

Beyond Awareness: Disability Awareness That Matters
Geared toward special educators, parents, and other concerned citizens, this progressive podcast with Diana Pastora Carson, M.Ed, asks questions, confronts myths and assumptions and seeks to increase inclusion, mutual respect and disability rights.

The Disability Equity Podcast
Brought to you by Johns Hopkins University’s Disability Health Research Center, this podcast hosted by Dr. Bonnielin Swenor and Dr. Nicholas Reed explores topics such as health care, voting, and politics through a disability lens.

Two Disabled Dudes
In this engaging and humorous podcast, hosts Sean Baumstark and Kyle Bryant, two young men who live with the rare disease Friedreich’s ataxia, discuss disability, bike racing, rare diseases and more. Guests include Paralympians, authors, inspirational speakers and others.


The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism & Asperger’s
Scientist, educator, animal welfare expert and autism activist Temple Grandin authored this revised, updated book on the myriad issues facing individuals with autism, their families and teachers. Grandin, who has autism, used personal experiences and research to explore topics that shed light on autistic perspectives. The book includes chapters on early intervention, sensory integration; education; career opportunities; and alternative medicine as they related to people with autism.

Mean Baby
In her new bestselling memoir, actor and multiple sclerosis advocate Selma Blair shares the story of her life up until now – her behavioral challenges in childhood and adolescence, the depressive episodes she medicated with alcohol, her path to motherhood, and coming to grips with her MS diagnosis.

Being Heumann: An Unrepentent Memoir of A Disability Rights Activist
Judith Heumann gained notoriety after she appeared in “Crip Camp” — a documentary about a 1970s summer camp for adolescents with disabilities — but she’s been working to increase rights for disabled people almost all her life. Learn more about Heumann’s incredible journey in her acclaimed memoir.

Seeing Clearly: A Memoir of Vision Loss, Emotional Blindness and Finding My True Self
When author and marine corps officer Christopher T. Monnette learns he has neovascular macular degeneration, an incurable retinal disease, at age 54, he is forced to allow himself to become emotionally vulnerable for the first time. The result is Monnette’s ability to live a more authentic and ultimately, more satisfying life.

Far From the Tree
This award-winning anthology by writer/lecturer Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents raising exceptional children – how they mourn, how they cope and how they love. “Far From the Tree” is a long listen, but every word is worth it!

Be Alert Around the Water

Blog: Be Wary Around the Water!

Last week, the American Lifeguard Association announced a nationwide lifeguard shortage. The shortage has necessitated the closing of one-third to one-half of all swimming pools across the country. Though most beaches will remain open, many will be unguarded and swimmers will be advised to “swim at your own risk.”

In other words, water safety precautions will be even more important than ever – especially for individuals with autism who are prone to wandering and attracted to water. Tragically, drowning is one of the leading causes of death in individuals with autism.

To ensure a safe and happy summer, we’ve put together an updated list of water safety suggestions.

1. Provide swimming lessons from a young age
Help your child to become a competent swimmer by signing them up for swim lessons as early as possible. (Note: In the past couple of years, swim lessons have been hard to come by due to pandemic closures. Now that many people are fully vaccinated, swimming lessons should resume in most places.)

2. Use the buddy system
No one should ever swim alone. This is especially true when there isn’t a lifeguard on duty. If you’re not in the pool or ocean with your child, make sure a friend, sibling or preferably another adult swims with them.

3. Talk about water safety
Even strong swimmers can get into trouble in the water. “Be honest with your child about why they must wear a life vest. Explain why they should never swim when you aren’t with them. Talk to them about the importance of avoiding deep or murky water,” says the YMCA. Also make sure your child understands the dangers of diving in shallow water.

4. Wear a life jacket
“Young or inexperienced swimmers should wear a Coast Guard-certified life jacket around water,” the YMCA advises. Other products such as water wings, noodles, etc. are no substitute for the real thing. Likewise, Coast Guard-certified life jackets are not a substitute for watching your child in the water. Have your child wear a life jacket and keep a constant eye on the pool to keep your child safe.

5. Use social stories to teach water safety
Many children with autism respond well to social stories. According to Autism Parenting Magazine, a social story is a narrative made to illustrate certain situations and problems and how people deal with them. They help children with autism understand social norms and learn how to communicate with others appropriately.” You can create your own social story about water safety or download this one from Positively Autism.

6. Keep pools fenced and gated
If you have a swimming pool on your property, be sure to install a fence and keep gates or doors that lead to the pool locked when not in use.

7. Don’t be distracted
Not even for a second. Don’t walk away, glance at your phone, or hold a conversation while your child is in the pool or ocean. And don’t let little ones or weak swimmers swim alone. According to safekids.org, “Young children can drown in as little as one inch of water, so it’s important to keep them within an arm’s reach of an adult.”

8. Avoid swimming near pool drains
Many drownings occur when children’s hair or bathing suits get caught in an uncovered pool drain. Teach your child to stay away from them.

9. Take CPR training
Make sure you’re prepared in an emergency by receiving training in CPR. Check out your local Red Cross or YMCA or a local hospital to find training programs.

New Platform Helps Neurodiverse Find Employment

Blog: Career Connector

In recent years, American business leaders have finally begun to catch on to what many in the disability community have always known—hiring individuals with disabilities is good business.

Not only do individuals with disabilities bring diverse perspectives, high productivity, strong problem-solving skills, low turnover and fierce employer loyalty, they also “improve your company’s bottom line,” writes Forbes Council member Karen Herson in a December 2021 post for Forbes.

In the same piece, Herson cites research illustrating that “many adults with autism possess higher-than-average abilities in pattern recognition, memory and mathematics—highly sought-after skills in the technology field and many other sectors.”

That’s one of the main reasons why many large corporations such as Ernst and Young, Dell Technologies, Microsoft, Freddie Mac, Ford and JP Morgan Chase have developed or are in the process of developing programs to train and recruit job candidates with autism spectrum diagnoses.

Now, a new job search platform aimed at autistic and other neurodivergent job seekers simplifies the job search for these individuals. According to Disability Scoop, “the Neurodiversity Career Connector is intended to connect neurodivergent job seekers with openings at companies that have neurodiversity hiring programs in place.”

Job openings include employment opportunities at well-known corporations such as Dell Technologies, Google, Travelers, IBM, Microsoft, Salesforce, Freddie Mac, HP, Ford, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Prudential and SAP in locations across the United States.

The idea for the Career Connector was conceived through a business collaborative called the Neurodiversity@Work Employer Roundtable. A program of Disability: IN, “the leading nonprofit resource for business disability inclusion worldwide,” the Roundtable is made up of approximately 50 employers with hiring programs aimed at attracting neurodiverse employees. These employers are all seeking prospective employees with brain differences such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette Syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

According to Disability: IN’s website, “[employers who are part of the Roundtable] share a belief that organizations thrive when they tap into the unique talents of their employees, and individuals thrive when they can present their best self at work.”

The Roundtable is open to new members and its webpage includes information for employers interested in starting their own neurodiversity focused hiring programs. Also on the webpage, employers can list job opportunities on the Career Connector, and find resources and blog posts related to neurodiversity in the workplace and diversity employment and inclusion topics. Webpage visitors will also find diversity hiring stories from Roundtable members, and testimonials from neurodiverse employees.

As recently as 2021, 85 % of college graduates with autism spectrum disorders were unemployed. Here’s hoping that programs such as the Neurodiversity@Work Employer Roundtable and its Career Connector platform can help bring about the change that’s desperately needed.

Disabled Parents Need More Support

Blog: Disabled Parents

This year, Mother’s Day falls on May 8, while Father’s Day will be celebrated several weeks later on June 19. In today’s blog post, we’ll be highlighting the unique challenges confronting the approximately 4.1 million parents with disabilities in the United States.

These days, women with disabilities are becoming pregnant at approximately the same rates as non-disabled women. Yet, disabled moms (and dads) face obstacles that other parents do not. In particular, many parents with disabilities face discrimination because of their disabilities.

Unfortunately, such discrimination is nothing new. Though the right to parent is protected under the United States Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, discrimination against disabled parents remains a significant problem. Parents with disabilities are routinely mistreated by the child welfare system, the medical establishment, the foster care and adoption system, and the legal system. According to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, as recently as 2016, “thirty-five states include disability as grounds for termination of parental rights.”

More specifically, a 2012 report by the National Council on Disability (NCD) revealed the following:

“Removal rates where parents have a psychiatric disability have been found to be as high as 70 percent to 80 percent; where the parent has an intellectual disability, 40 percent to 80 percent. In families where the parental disability is physical, 13 percent have reported discriminatory treatment in custody cases. Parents who are deaf or blind report extremely high rates of child removal and loss of parental rights. Parents with disabilities are more likely to lose custody of their children after divorce, have more difficulty in accessing reproductive health care, and face significant barriers to adopting children.”

The Reeves Foundation encourages disabled parents to know their rights. Along with the NCD, the Foundation created the Parents with Disabilities Toolkit to do just that. The toolkit includes information about adoption, family law, the child welfare system, child custody and more.

Another good source of information and guidance for disabled parents is the National Research Center for Parents with Disabilities of Brandeis University (NRCPD). The center “conducts research and provides training and technical assistance to improve the lives of parents with disabilities and their families. A recent study by NRCPD sought to find out how mothers with disabilities adapted their childcare to meet their own needs and the needs of their children. The study found that disabled mothers manage by “finding or modifying accessible baby-care equipment, home modifications and adaptations, accessing support and information, learning how to communicate in ways that ensured both their and their children’s safety, and receiving help from others.”

But the survey also found that more advice, support and information was needed.

“Mainstream parenting books rarely discussed the intersection between disability and parenting. Participants found general-purpose parenting forums similarly wanting; one mother said that she felt unwelcome and that ‘disabled moms were often isolated.’ Even the occupational therapists some participants worked with were not well equipped to help them develop the skills they needed to care for their children.”

Based on the results of the study, NRCPD concluded that disabled moms and the organizations and systems that support them need:

  • Increased financial support for adaptive baby-care equipment and home modifications
  • More comprehensive training on parenting with a disability for service providers and policymakers
  • Stronger peer networks for parents with disabilities
  • Expanded publicly funded PCA (personal care assistant) services to cover childcare needs

All parents face challenges. Depending on the nature of their disabilities, disabled parents may face additional challenges compared to their non-disabled peers. As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Parents with disabilities deserve the assistance of knowledgeable, compassionate professionals, the creation and implementation of fair, equitable policies that support their rights as parents; and accessible, inclusive communities that take their needs and the needs of their children into account.