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.

Bitty & Beau’s Coffee is Changing the World One Cup at a Time

Blog: Bitty & Beau’s Coffee is Changing the World

As we’ve reported in the past, unemployment among adults living with disabilities remains extremely high—as high as 80% in some parts of the country. That’s despite the fact that many disabled employees make terrific contributions to their workplaces.

That’s why some parents with the means to do so are starting businesses where their children and other disabled individuals can be trained and employed.

Most of these businesses are one-offs that can only accommodate a small group of employees. But Bitty & Beau’s Coffee is an exception.

Established by Amy and Ben Wright in 2016, the Wilmington, North Carolina-based business now has 23 franchises in 12 states that employ more than 200 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Employees, including individuals with Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy, receive whatever accommodations they require. The family sometimes calls the business a “human rights movement disguised as a coffee shop.”

The Wrights were inspired to open the first Bitty & Beau’s by their younger children—Bitty and Beau— who have Down syndrome. Bitty and Beau have two older sisters—Lily, who has autism, and Emma Grace. The couple’s mission is to create “a path for people with disabilities to become more valued, accepted and included in every community.”

In 2017, Amy Wright was named the 2017 CNN Hero of the Year for her work on behalf of people with disabilities. When she accepted her award, Wright told the cheering crowd, “people with disabilities have been in the shadows for too long. But not anymore.” She also had a message for Bitty and Beau, who were watching the presentation at home. “I would not change you for the world, but I will change the world for you,” said Wright.

Wright’s award came with $100,000, which enabled her to expand the business. Eventually, the Wright’s would like to open shops in every state in the United States and beyond.

When prospective employees at Bitty & Beau’s receive job offers, they don’t just get emails. They get parties. For example, when the first Bitty & Beau’s was set to open in Boston, prospective employees were bussed to a location where friends, family, franchise owners and support staff were waiting with surprise job offers, balloons and Bitty & Beau’s logoed aprons. Check out this video of one such hiring event. In other cases, Bitty and Beau’s representatives surprise new hires at their homes surrounded by their families.

Interested in owning a Bitty & Beau’s coffee shop? According to the business’s website, it will cost you between $451,000 and $844,550, including an initial franchise fee of $40,000. Franchise owners must have $200,000 in liquid capital and an $800,000 net worth. Based on the smiles and tears on that video, it’s worth every penny.

For more information about Bitty and Beau’s, visit bittyandbeauscoffee.com.

Adaptive Cockpit Makes Simulated Air Flight Accessible to All

Blog: Adaptive Cockpit Makes Simulated Air Flight Accessible to All

Photo credit: Filma Production


At Enabling Devices, we’re all about finding ways for individuals with disabilities to access life’s peak experiences. That’s why we were so excited when we learned about the invention of a new adaptive cockpit that allows wheelchair users to experience the thrill of flying through the “Microsoft Flight Simulator,” a series of flight simulator programs for Microsoft Windows operating systems.

The cockpit was created during the Microsoft Global Hackathon at the Israel Garage – one of 12 spaces all over the world where hackers, makers and innovators envision solutions to local and worldwide challenges. The Garage team was assisted by engineers at the Microsoft Israel R&D (research and development) Center. Previous Microsoft Garage creations include the Xbox Adaptive ControllerEye Control for Windows 10, and Seeing AI.

The adaptive cockpit is wheelchair accessible, providing adequate space for motorized or regular wheelchairs and room for a copilot. It includes “a portable aluminum structure and three monitors that provide a 180-degree, panoramic viewing angle for the pilot,” writes Suzanne Choney, a writer for the Microsoft News Center.

“From their cockpit perch, they fly alongside birds over oceans, urban landscapes, forests carpeted with trees and golden deserts. … cables are hidden so they don’t get in anyone’s way. The cockpit doesn’t require using a keyboard, except for a sign in, which can be done by a staff member. Players use a hand-operated throttle and joystick to maneuver the plane. While that can be an issue for patients whose hands are not agile, the team modified the joystick’s sensitivity to allow for easier distance control.”

After development of the adaptive cockpit was complete, its first stop was ALYN Hospital, a pediatric rehabilitation center in Jerusalem, where 13-year-old Etai Rimel had the opportunity to try it out. Etai lost his leg and sustained brain injuries after he survived a catastrophic car accident. With a professional pilot at his side, Etai was able to experience the sensation of flying over his home from the adapted cockpit. After the virtual flight, the teen said, “It was a once-in-a lifetime experience to be able to fly wherever I want. …I really enjoyed controlling the machine. For a whole hour, I was in a very different world from my everyday life, like a free bird, like escaping from reality.”

The cockpit’s next landing was at a site that is part of the House of Wheels, an Israeli nonprofit day center for young people with disabilities. There, Netanel Gvili and Yaniv Wanda, both twentysomethings with cerebral palsy, had the opportunity to give it a whirl. After using the flight simulator, Gvili said he enjoyed the feeling of independence that the simulated flight offered.

“I can choose where to fly. How to fly. It really simulates a flight. Computer games are not new to me, but all of the additional connected devices with the adaptive cockpit are really cool.”

Clinicians say the cockpit is therapeutic for users.

“The Microsoft cockpit is especially helpful since it involves hand-eye coordination,” says Dr. Maurit Beeri, director general of ALYN. “It’ll give the child an experience of occupational therapy, speech therapy, concentration, cognitive development – and most importantly, it’s fun.”

Seven Ways to Support Individuals with Disabilities in Ukraine

Blog: Seven Ways to Support Individuals with Disabilities in Ukraine

Warning: This is not your typical celebration of spring blog post.

It’s not that we’re not happy to see signs of spring. Warmer weather, songbirds, and blossoming buds are all welcome harbingers of this wonderful time of year.

Yet, recent current events—i.e., the war in Ukraine—make it difficult to maintain a cheerful and optimistic attitude. The war is catastrophic for everyone in Ukraine but perhaps most of all for the estimated 2.7 million Ukrainians with disabilities.

We’ve seen the news coverage of thousands of Ukrainians fighting to save their country, while others attempt to flee war-torn cities and towns to save their lives. Their efforts are heroic and unimaginable for most of us who live in the West. But what about Ukrainians who are unable to fight or to flee? The story of Ukraine’s disabled isn’t covered as much but is arguably even more tragic. Many bomb shelters are inaccessible to wheelchair users, while individuals who are immunocompromised who make it to a crowded bomb shelter face the danger of contracting a deadly disease. Those who need medication to prevent seizures or other health challenges also struggle to stay alive. The greatest tragedy of all may be that some disabled children in Ukrainian institutions are sometimes left behind.

Wondering how you can help? Here are some organizations working to help disabled Ukrainians that need your support.

1. Fight for Right
This NGO defends the rights of Ukrainians with disabilities. It is headed by Ukraine human rights advocate Yuliia Sachuk, who was selected as an Obama Leader by the Obama Foundation, recognizing her as an emerging leader in Europe who has demonstrated a commitment to advancing the common good. Fight for Right is helping disabled individuals and their families to evacuate safely and providing them with necessary funds. The organization is also aiding those who are unable to leave Ukraine by providing food and medication. To support Fight for Right, visit its GoFundMe page.

2. Joni & Friends
Christian organization Joni & Friends is mobilizing churches in Ukraine to find and evacuate individuals with disabilities in the country. Once disabled individuals are found and brought to safety, representatives from Joni & Friends meet them at the Polish border and transport them to Germany or the Netherlands. As a message on the organization’s website reads: “we are currently working with our contacts to relocate these precious people into welcoming homes where they will have food, blankets, medical care, and urgently needed hospital supplies—things even as simple as catheters for urinary drainage.” Joni & Friends has a 3-Star “Give with Confidence” rating from Charity Navigator.

3. Bright Kids Charity
This Ukrainian organization is focused on providing support such as groceries, high-nutrition food, and hygiene products to families of children with disabilities who are not able to evacuate. Bright Kids Charity is on the GlobalGiving.org giving platform. Global Giving vets all charities it accepts on it site for authenticity and impact.

4. International Committee Red Cross (ICRC)
Among the many other services it provides, the ICRC sends visiting nurses to individuals with disabilities who are sheltering at home. Based in Switzerland, the organization has won several Nobel Peace Prizes and has an excellent reputation as an impactful charity. The organization claims on its website that 93.5% of all monies donated are used for field work.

5. National Assembly of Persons with Disabilities of Ukraine (NAPD)
NAPD is an association of 120 organizations that represents the interests of people with disabilities in Ukraine. The organization remains active during the war and is focused on helping individuals who remain in the country as well as advising those who wish to leave on evacuation, border crossing, and humanitarian assistance.

6. Inclusion Europe
Inclusion Europe is working with the VGO (an all-Ukrainian NGO Coalition for Persons with Intellectual Disability) to help individuals with disabilities and their families who are unable to leave the country. The NGO is providing food, water, medicines, hygiene products, and other goods to these families. Inclusion Europe says that 100% of donations to the Ukraine people affected by the war will be used to assist the disabled and their families.

7. Polish Association for People with Intellectual Disability (PSONI)
Many Ukrainians with disabilities and their families who are able to leave Ukraine, need a great deal of assistance once they arrive in their new countries. PSONI, an NGO that is part of the European Disability Forum, is raising money to provide support for these individuals when they arrive at Poland’s borders. According to the European Disability Forum’s website, the funds PSONI collects will be used for “for short-term and long-term accessible accommodation, accessible transportation to cross the border, rehabilitation equipment (e.g., wheelchairs, crutches, rehabilitation beds…), medical supplies (e.g., catheters, diaper pants…), food, assistant and psychological support, translators of Polish to/from Ukrainian/Russian, etc.”

Consult your tax adviser on tax deductibility of donations to international non-profits before making a donation.

MacArthur Genius Grant Recipient Makes Tech Accessible to the Blind

Blog.MacArthur Genius Grant Recipient - Joshua Miele

When he was just four years old, Joshua Miele was badly burned and blinded after a neighbor with mental illness poured a bottle of acid over his head.

Nowadays, Miele who is 53 and a 2021 MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, is making the world more accessible to other blind and low vision people.

A principal accessibility researcher at Amazon, Miele previously worked at the Smith Kettlewell Eye Research Institute. He studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in psychoacoustics—(the science of sound perception) there.

Originally, Miele planned to use his education to prepare him for a career in aeronautics. But after an internship at NASA, he told People magazine, “the tools a scientist needs for measuring, recording and analyzing data were not easy for someone who was blind to use.”

It was then that Miele realized his true calling—building tools that he and other blind and low vision people could use to better access life-changing technologies. According to Miele’s MacArthur grant recipient page, he has invented various tools including “Tactile Maps Automated Production (TMAP), a web-based software that generates tactile street maps of any location that can be printed with at-home Braille embossers. He designed a set of tactile maps for every station of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system—including platforms and street-level features—that is compatible with an audio smart pen, making it possible for blind travelers to virtually explore and plan their route through the BART system.”

Additionally, Miele has worked to improve features on smart phones and portable devices for blind people. For example, the WearaBraille he built, “has sensors attached to users’ fingers to allow them to type Braille text without a special keyboard.”

Of late, Miele has focused on making visual digital technologies, like graphics and streaming video such as YouTube, more accessible to blind and low vision individuals. During his tenure at Amazon, Miele has lent his expertise to projects such as making Braille compatible with Fire tablets and developing a feature on camera-enabled Echo devices that tells users what’s in their pantries.

Miele also instructs blind students soldering—a process of joining two metals together that is needed for prototyping and building electronics. His goal is encouraging more blind and low vision students to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology engineering and mathematics). Among other things, Miele plans to use the $625,000 MacArthur grant to create an open-source foundation that shares the latest research about accessibility for the blind and disabled.

Despite the challenges he has faced since the childhood attack, Miele told People that his resulting disability and facial scarring “was not a tragedy or horror show. It’s just the way things turned out. Yes, it was painful, yes it completely changed my life. I am now burned and I wasn’t before. But I want parents of blind children and parents of disabled children to know that this is not a tragedy. It is just a challenge. It is something that people just have to get through.”

Winners and Honorees of Schneider Family Book Awards Announced

Schneider Family Book Award

Last week, the American Library Association (ALA) announced the winners and honorees of the 2022 Schneider Family Book Awards. The annual awards, established by retired clinical psychologist and author Katherine Schneider and her family in 2003, honor “an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”

As a blind child growing up in Michigan, Katherine Schneider loved books and loved to read. But it wasn’t always easy for Schneider—the first blind student to graduate from the Kalamazoo, Michigan, public school system—to obtain the books she wanted to read in Braille. It was also rare to find books that depicted the experiences of people with disabilities.

Speaking to attendees at the first presentation of the Schneider Family Book Award at the ALA Annual Conference in 2004, Schneider explained: “When I was growing up, the librarian at the Michigan Library for the Blind was my hero. He sent me books in Braille and on records from the Library of Congress collection. …That special librarian and my mother who read me many books that were not available in Braille or on records, whetted my thirst for knowledge. The upshot of that thirst was a Ph.D. from Purdue and a very satisfying thirty-year career as a clinical psychologist.”

While Schneider was fortunate to have a librarian and a mother who helped her access literature, she was still frustrated that so few children’s books depicted the experiences of people with disabilities. “In the 1950s when I was in grade school, the only media mentions of blind people were of Helen Keller, Louis Braille, and the seven blind men who went to see the elephant [a parable],” said Schneider. “Other disabilities fared no better.”

The Schneider Awards are designed to address that inequity. Every year, awards are given in three categories: young children; middle grades; and teens. Books must feature a main or secondary character with a physical, mental, or emotional disability. However, “the disability experience” must be “a part of a character’s full life, not the focus of the life.” Schneider Award winners receive a $5,000 prize as well as a framed plaque.

In addition to establishing the Schneider Family Book Awards, Schneider, who also lives with fibromyalgia, sponsors the National Center on Disability and Journalism’s “Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability.” The award is the only one of its kind.

Schneider is the author of several books that deal with disability and aging. Her most recent, “Hope of the Crow: Tales of Occupying Aging” (Wheatmark) was published in 2020. She is also the author of “Occupying Aging: Delights, Disabilities and Daily Life” (Dog Ear Publishing) and “To the Left of Inspiration: Adventures in Living with Disabilities” (Dog Ear Publishing).

Below are the winners and honorees of this year’s Schneider Family Book Awards.

 Young Children

“My City Speaks” (Kids Can Press)
Written by Darren Lebeuf and illustrated by Ashley Barron, this picture book tells the story of a daddy/daughter day in the city, described by a young girl who is blind.

“A Walk in the Words” (Penguin Random House)
Written and illustrated by Hudson Talbot, “A Walk in the Words,” is about a boy with a reading disability.
“A Sky-Blue Bench” (Pajama Press)
Written by Bahram Rahman  and illustrated by Peggy Collins, this book tells the story of an Afghani girl returning to school with a new prosthetic leg.

 Middle Grades

“A Bird Will Soar” (Penguin Random House)
By Alison Green Myers, “A Bird Will Soar” is about a child with autism who loves birds.

“Stuntboy, in the Meantime” (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)
By Jason Reynolds, this book tells the story of a boy superhero with anxiety.
“A Kind of Spark” (Knights of Media)
From Elle McNicoll, a neurodivergent author, comes a book about a young girl with autism who rallies for a memorial to the “witches” who were killed long ago in her Scottish town.


“The Words in my Hands,” (Annick Press)
Written by the author Asphyxia, this book tells the story of a deaf teenager searching to discover herself through creativity and social justice work.

“A Face for Picasso: Coming of Age with Crouzon Syndrome,” (Macmillan)
Written by Ariel Henley, “A Face for Picasso” is a memoir about growing up with a facial disfigurement.

For more information about the Schneider Family Book Award and Dr. Katherine Schneider, visit the ALA.

Technology Offers Opportunities for Independent Living

Blog: Technology Offers Opportunities

Here at Enabling Devices, we’re well aware of how technology can change lives for the better. Technology enables individuals living with disabilities to gain independence, participate in their communities and have richer and more satisfying lives.

The expansion of a Tennessee program called Enabling Technology, is set to make a dramatic difference in the lives of disabled people in the state.

Developed by Tennessee’s Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), Enabling Technology began as a pilot project in 2017. The project was intended to help Tennesseans living with disabilities become more independent by providing them with smart technologies they could use in their homes and communities. Initially, 200 individuals benefited from the program, which decreased their reliance on caregivers in various ways.

According to the Government of Tennessee’s website, the Enabling Technology project reduced the amount of in-person attention that disabled individuals needed from caregivers by implementing two-way audio and video communication in their homes that provide “remote support and reminders to assist a person in independent living.”  Caregivers were able to check in with clients without traveling to their homes while clients could reach their caregivers remotely, when necessary, without requiring their around the clock presence.

This aspect of the project was especially advantageous during the COVID-19 pandemic, when in-person care was risky for caregivers and clients alike.

The project also taught disabled individuals to use “sensors, mobile applications, remote support systems, and other smart devices….to gain more control of their environment. “

For example, residents learned to use tablets to regulate thermostats and lighting and to open doors in their homes. Enabling technologies, including Eyedriveomatic, which allows users to navigate their wheelchairs with eye movements, and Voiceitt, which uses speech recognition technology to translate the utterances of individuals with speech differences, make independent movement and communication easier.

And new technologies, such as an app that helps people navigate the transit system, help people with disabilities travel independently. All these technologies increase community participation and options for education, socialization and employment.

The expansion of the Enabling Technology project would not have been possible if it were not for funding from the U.S. Government’s 2021 American Rescue Plan.

As Disability Scoop reports, the ARP prompted TennCare (the state of Tennesee’s Medicaid program) and DIDD to make “a historic investment of $400 million.” Reportedly, the amount represents “the largest single investment in home and community-based services in the state’s history.” TennCare and DIDD plan to use $5.5 million of the $400 million toward expanding the Enabling Technology program.

According to Disability Scoop, “This money is opened up to CHOICES participants, a state program that’s meant to provide seniors and those with physical disabilities support at home.”

Thanks to the increase in funding, more than 2,000 participants stand to benefit from this groundbreaking effort. Will other states follow suit? We sure hope so!

Some Light in the Pandemic Darkness

Blog: Some Light in the Pandemic Darkness

As the pandemic heads into its third year, it’s natural to feel depressed, angry and exhausted. After all, COVID-19 has necessitated all sorts of unwanted lifestyle changes. And people with disabilities have faced even greater hardship than the average person.

But the situation isn’t entirely bleak. The pandemic forced certain developments in the areas of employment, technology, healthcare, entertainment and education that have benefited individuals with disabilities.

Now, we’re faced with the challenge of ensuring that those benefits don’t disappear when the pandemic is finally over. “The experience gained throughout the pandemic could also teach us how listening to and embedding the needs of people with disabilities in ‘non-pandemic times’ might allow us to create systems that are better for everyone, and potentially more responsive in times of crisis,” write Mikaela Patrick and Dr. Giulia Barbareschi for the Global Disability Innovation Hub.

Here are some of the positive changes that have taken place over the last two years.

 1. The American Rescue Plan
On March 11, 2021, President Joe Biden signed The American Rescue Plan (ARP). The plan allocated $12.7 billion for home and community-based services (HCBS) through March 2022. The ARP covered expenses such as internet and assistive technology for individuals with disabilities who worked remotely. It also provided funding for transportation, job coaching and personal care attendants.

2. Remote Employment
The pandemic forced employers to allow their employees to work from home, something disabled workers have requested for decades. The acceptance of remote employment created opportunities for individuals with disabilities to qualify for jobs that weren’t available to them pre-pandemic.

3. Improved Technology
Because so many employees worked remotely during the pandemic, assistive technology was compelled to keep up with the needs of the remote workforce. Thus, online accessibility features got better. For example, “Speech-to-text software has improved dramatically over the last year as more and more people have utilized it while working from home,” writes Lucy Currier of Disability Horizons. “Every operating system now has … accessibility features built-in.”

Likewise, websites have become more accessible and video calling software “has become more inclusive, with new features having been added,” says Currier.

4. Telehealth
The pandemic has brought telehealth into the mainstream with most healthcare organizations now offering patients the option to see their physicians through telehealth platforms. The change makes it easier for individuals with mobility, financial and transportation challenges to receive medical care from their own homes.

5. Food delivery
During the pandemic, food delivery became an option for anyone who could afford a relatively small delivery fee. This benefited anyone wishing to avoid going to the grocery store, but especially people with disabilities facing mobility and transportation issues or increased vulnerability to the virus because of medical conditions.

6. Online classes
While virtual learning was challenging for children—especially those with disabilities—in some cases online classes were a boon. For example, individuals with disabilities looking for convenient option for exercise suddenly had access to fitness classes of all kinds from all over the world.

7. Virtual sightseeing
Listening to a concert or attending a museum online isn’t the same as being there. Yet, the pandemic has forced arts organizations to make their offerings available to visitors who don’t feel safe making in-person visits. Now, you can “travel” to distant lands, enter inaccessible historic buildings, or have a front row seat to a Broadway production just by turning on your TV or computer! We’ll take it!

Looking to Get Healthy in the New Year?

Blog: Looking to Get Healthy in the New Year?

If healthy eating, exercise and weight loss are at the top of your 2022 New Year’s resolutions list, you’re not alone. These goals are very common but also difficult to achieve.

Sticking to a diet and exercise regimen is especially challenging for individuals with autism and intellectual disabilities who “are far more likely to be overweight, with rates of obesity for disabled adults and children 58% and 38% higher than for their able-bodied counterparts, respectively,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The propensity for being overweight and sedentary puts disabled individuals at increased risk for obesity and health problems such as cardiovascular disease, sleep disorders, gastrointestinal problems and Type 2 diabetes.

Yet, with the right information, guidance and community, there is hope for disabled young adults who want to keep their weight down and minimize their risk for obesity-related health complications.

For example, a pilot program out of the University of Cincinnati found that “young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and intellectual disabilities (ID) were able to lose or maintain their weight with a system of education and support in place.”

The year-long program included 17 young adults, six parents and 10 staff members who participated in a program that included lessons on healthy eating and exercising; and group sessions that used goal-setting to motivate participants.

The program taught participants about healthy eating using MyPlate, the United States Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines. The young adults were educated about the food pyramid and five food groups as well as portion size and the presence of vitamins and minerals in food. They were also coached to eat fewer unhealthy foods.

The exercise segment of the program included material about the health benefits of exercise.  Participants were introduced to different types of exercise and helped to recognize how finding exercise they enjoyed makes it easier to commit to a fitness routine.

During the program, the young adults participated in group interviews where they shared their impressions of the program. They were weighed and measured at different intervals throughout the year.  Parents were asked to complete surveys about their adult children’s progress. At the end of the program, two participants had lost significant amounts of weight while the others maintained their weights. According to News Medical Life Sciences, both participants and parents were satisfied with the results of the program.

While this program appears to have positive results, experts agree that the best time to familiarize children with ID and autism about nutrition and fitness are when they are young. According to a report by Bright Hub Education, “children with intellectual disabilities face certain nutritional issues as they reach adulthood, thus increasing the need for nutritional education. … Teaching students about nutrition in school can give them the tools they need to minimize their risks of these conditions by eating healthy.”

Bright Hub recommends that teachers use hands-on lessons to teach students about healthy eating. If classrooms have play kitchens, teachers are advised to use play food to teach nutrition. Teachers are also encouraged to teach students about the food pyramid. One effective multisensory teaching technique is to lay down “a large sized version of the food pyramid with the type of food and the number of servings written in bold in each section.” Students can then be asked to put the appropriate play food in each section of the food pyramid.” If play food isn’t available, teachers can use photos of food in the same way.

Parents can reinforce lessons at school by taking children grocery shopping and involving them with food preparation, menu planning, prep cooking and table setting. Children can also be encouraged to exercise along with their parents and siblings.