Friday, December 18, 2015

Above & Beyond Their Call of Duty

There are so many talented people working at The Choice Group and each year we like to recognize those who go above and beyond their call of duty.  These are exceptional people working on teams to help bring the best service to our customers and why we've been able to grow so much over the years!  Congratulations to you all!

Rising Star Award: Rebecca Allen
Advocate Award: Senior Counselor John Callahan
Rookie of the Year: Tiffany Brown
MVP award: Shadi Zadeh
Order Out of Chaos award: Lisa Marie
Rock Award: Justin Sheets
Go-to Award: Cate Engel
Rising Star Award: Heather Gilman
Team Award: NOVA
Stretch Award: Caitlin Igoe
Joe Edwards Leadership Award: Erica Johnson
Humanitarian Award, in memory of Dottie Edward: Theresa Anderson
Mary Smith Award: Pam Russel

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Celebrating A Year of Success!

The Christmas Party for all of our staff members was a success!  We are so glad that all of our offices could come together and have a great time celebrating their hard work.  The Choice Group was started with just a small group of people with a vision and now we have a network of more than 100 employees who are all so amazingly dedicated to their jobs.  It was good to cut loose and watch people have fun in the selfie-corner!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sylvia Frye: Virtual Resume

Sylvia’s virtual resume is a great example of how innovative and resourceful our counselors can be in helping clients find work they’re passionate about. Click here to find out more about Sylvia Frye, or to hire her!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Giancarlo & Advocacy for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Take a look at some of the valuable services and supports that DARS can provide for individuals with disabilities and what this has meant for a young man with autism as he has progressed through postsecondary education and  preparing for his ideal  job in the technology industry.  

Monday, November 30, 2015

Two brothers using AT intervention strategies to find success

This video shows Assistive Technology intervention strategies that have proven invaluable for two brothers as they work with our Vocational Rehabilitation program to expand their knowledge, skills, and independence and strive toward their dreams of education, meaningful careers, and self-sufficiency.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Disability Services at Universities

    At The Choice Group, we strive to help people with disabilities discover their ability.  This includes young adults in transitional periods of their lives.  From leaving home for the first time to attend postsecondary schools, to preparing meals, or scheduling transportation, The Choice Group is here to help our clients work through any challenges they may face step by step.

     A greater awareness of issues like accessibility and inclusive work or educational environments help make these transitions less daunting for people with disabilities.  This article by Michelle Diament sheds light on how unprepared universities seem to be for the growing number of students with disabilities, and how we need to step up the game!

Greater Transparency Urged for College Disability Services

Amid concerns from advocates, a U.S. senator is calling on federal education officials to make information about disability services at the nation’s colleges more readily available.

In a letter this week, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., asked the U.S. Department of Education to offer better guidance for those with disabilities and their families as they investigate postsecondary education options.

“As colleges admit greater numbers of students with disabilities … it is vital these students have transparent disability services information,” Casey wrote in the letter addressed to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and John King, who is slated to take over Duncan’s job later this year.

Sixty percent of students with disabilities pursue postsecondary education within eight years of high school, according to a 2011 federal report. But, just 40 percent of these students complete college programs compared to 52 percent of students without disabilities.

Advocates say that a lack of information is partly to blame. While all schools are obligated to provide a minimum-level of assistance to students with disabilities, some colleges and universities do more than others to highlight their offerings, according to Lindsay Jones, vice president of policy and advocacy at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

“We’ve received increasing parent concerns about the transition to college,” Jones said, adding that families are struggling to find answers to basic questions like what services are available and what type of documentation they will need in order to request assistance.

“The reality is that it’s uncharted territory because most people at colleges and universities are unprepared for people with disabilities to attend,” she said.

Simple steps like collecting more data about the disability services offered on college campuses and making it easier for students and their families to learn about such offerings would go a long way, Casey said.

In particular, the senator recommended that the Department of Education move to make questions about disability services mandatory on questionnaires sent to colleges and universities and add a special search option on the agency’s College Navigator website so that students with disabilities can find relevant information.

Casey also cited the Obama administration’s College Scorecard, a nearly 2-year-old website allowing families to compare colleges and universities based on cost, size, location and graduation rate, among other factors. Currently, however, he indicated the scorecard offers no information about disability services on campuses.

Recently announced plans to create a National Center for Information and Technical Support for Postsecondary Students With Disabilities are a step in the right direction, Casey said.

“These small yet significant changes will clarify to the thousands of students with disabilities graduating high school each year and their families that disability support services are available and that college is a place they can succeed,” Casey wrote.

A spokesman for the Education Department said the agency had received Casey’s letter and would be responding.

For the full article on, click here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Franz Stillfried Barrier Free Achievers Honor Roll

Ericka Neville- Manager, Hampton Roads

Thank you to Ericka Neville and her staff for nominating the winner of the Franz Stillfried Barrier Free Achievers Honor Roll.  This award is given to recognize the efforts made by individuals, businesses or organizations for the removal of architectural, attitudinal and environmental barriers.  The winner was an individual by the name of Keith Johnson employed by Hampton Roads Transit as the Manager of Paratransit Operations.  Keith was so impressed by the words spoken about him he asked who wrote them - it was a collaborative effort, so again thank you Hampton Roads team!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Join us in honoring our dedicated employees!

     Adair Jensen-Smith received the President’s Award from the Virginia Rehabilitation Association. This award is given to an individual for outstanding service to the association and its goals.  It was noted that Adair always goes above and beyond and at The Choice Group we already know this and that is one of the many reasons we appreciate her and honor her!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Congrats to our VARL Emerging Leader - Erica Johnson!

Congratulations to our Area Manager, Erica Johnson for the Northern Virginia office, on earning the VARL Emerging Leader Award!  She does such a great job, but is so shy she didn't even want us to take this picture.  But too bad Erica, we are proud of you!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Meet Our Virginia Beach Counselors!

      Meet our Virginia Beach Staff!  With such a large area to serve, including an abundant military presence, our counselors are dedicated to their clients.  It is a source of deep personal satisfaction when we help our clients achieve a new level of independence through gainful employment.  Some of our clients are looking to supplement their disability benefits while others are working to achieve full financial independence through various programs such as Ticket to Work.  Whatever your financial goals, finding meaningful employment can be a part of a well-rounded, enriching lifestyle.  Our knowledgeable and resourceful staff can help you lay the groundwork for whatever your employment goals may be.

Tracie Showalter

Renee Arnold

Kim Heisser

Lisa Handke

Rebecca Allen

Sarah Morgan

Kim Yoakum

Rachel McGregor

Liz Collison

Katherine Edwards

Roxanne Monroe

Amorita Clark

Nancy McNamara - Lead Counselor

Monday, November 9, 2015

Meet Our Counselors in Northern Virginia

     We have four offices throughout Virginia dedicated to helping people with disabilities find meaningful employment.  Our staff goes above and beyond every day to help people understand their benefits, find a job suited for them, and help their clients reach goals they might not have thought previously possible.  This is why we'd like to introduce our enthusiastic counselors in the Northern Virginia area that are committed to helping our clients reach their employment goals.

James Tarawali

Shadi Zadeh

Kisha Joseph

Tiffany Brown

Jamie Malloy

Erica Johnson - Manager

John Callahan

Travis Greene

Kim Warfield

Stephanie Hill - Lead Counselor

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Funding for Vocational Rehabilitation

A recent article on Disability Scoop by Shaun Heasley sheds light on the funding that will be shared with our great state of Virginia to make employment for people with disabilities a reality.

Millions Pledged For Vocational Rehabilitation

The U.S. Department of Education is handing out more than $12.6 million designed to enhance employment outcomes for people with disabilities.
The money from the agency’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services will be divvied among agencies in 10 locales across the country to “help improve the outcomes of individuals with disabilities — from cradle through career,” the Education Department said.
Some of the grants are for centers that offer technical assistance while other funds will go toward programs aimed at pairing people with disabilities looking for jobs with employers struggling to find workers with specific skills.
“We want all individuals with disabilities to have opportunities and succeed,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in announcing the funds. “These are part of our commitment to ensuring all students — no matter their zip code, family income or disability — have a chance to be successful in college, careers and life.”
Funding is headed to entities in Mississippi, Arizona, Georgia, Nebraska, Virginia, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Louisiana, California and Washington, D.C.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Improving Disability Inclusion in Your Workplace

     In staying with the theme of October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month, from the U.S. Department of Labor Blog, here are some tips for employers to improve disability inclusion in the workplace:

5 Tips for Employers on Improving Disability Inclusion

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the recent White House Summit on Disability Employment explored how we can better include people with disabilities in the workplace. Here are five top takeaways from the summit for employers on improving disability inclusion:

1. Connect with local disability advocacy organizations

Advocacy organizations across the country are available to provide assistance with training, recruiting and hiring individuals with disabilities. Let them know your business needs and goals and they can help improve your disability employment program.

2. Provide on-the-job training

Apprenticeship programs, paid internships and on-the-job training are essential to having a full workforce. Make sure these programs are inclusive of individuals with disabilities.

3. Learn by example

Following the business practices of companies that excel in disability inclusion is one of the best ways to learn how to recruit, hire, retain, and promote people with disabilities. SSB BART Group is just one example.

4. Start a mentorship program

Fostering relationships and mentorship between senior leaders and employees with disabilities allows workers to learn from and about one another.

5. Invest in the future

Even if you do not hire a person with a disability, always be sure to keep his or her resume on file. Reconsider the candidate when new openings arise and share the resume with your networks.

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we have to do everything possible to continue expanding opportunities for people with disabilities, especially in the workplace. We need every worker off the bench and in the game, and this starts with prioritizing disability inclusion. Want more ideas? Find all of the takeaways from the summit here.

For the full article, written by Meredith Ausenbaugh, click here

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Benefits of Workplace Diversity

     Straight from EARN exchange, Business and Disability Blog are top reasons why having an inclusive and diverse workforce has a strategic advantage.  During the month of October, National Disability Employment Awareness month, take time to think about how your business could benefit from diverse perspectives.

Benefits of Diversity

Diverse workplaces have a distinct strategic advantage over less diverse competitors.

Some of the most significant benefits of workforce diversity include:

-The opportunity to capitalize on the diverse knowledge-base of workers when relating to different groups, including customers, partners and staff
-Increased innovation and creativity
-Reduced skills shortages
-Improved customer services
-Increased opportunities for external interactions and communications
-Reputational benefits related to valuation of social responsibility
-Increased organizational stability

Embracing diverse workplaces is increasingly important in light of demographic shifts as millions of baby boomers enter retirement and minority groups make up an increasingly large share of the workforce.

Disability IS Diversity

Traditionally, workplace diversity has focused on race and gender, but in more recent years this concept has evolved to include a much wider range of attributes, including disability. Disability is a unique diversity category that crosses all racial, gender, education, and socioeconomic lines.

People with disabilities account for over 5.5% of those employed nationwide. While the precise percentage varies among sectors, individuals with disabilities represent an important segment of every organization's diverse workforce. 

To read the full article visit 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

10 Inspirational Figures


In continuing to honor National Disability Employment Awareness month, here is a list of inspirational figures throughout history who have not only overcome limits put on them by convention, but became leaders in their field!  

This list, compiled by Family Home Pro, highlights 10 people who didn’t let their disability define them.  

We are lucky to be working in a field where we are surrounded by success stories!

The Ten Most Inspirational Disabled Person Success Stories News

Many people who have a disability don't let it prevent them from leading full and rich lives, indeed some are an inspiration to both disabled and non-disabled people alike. Below is a list of disabled people who have achieved outstanding success despite their disability.

1. Stephen Hawking is probably one of the world's best known high achievers with a disability. He's an internationally renowned physicist / mathematician who suffers from Motor Neuron Disease. At 35 he was Cambridge's first Gravitational Physics Professor and received the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics Award. he's written a best selling book which was later made into a film called A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes.

2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the 32nd President of the United States. He contracted Polio in 1921 which left him paralysed from the waist down. Refusing to accept his paralysis he tried different therapies and methods to try and walk and did master walking short distances using iron braces and a cane. He was careful not to be seen in a wheelchair in public. He established a foundation to help others with Polio and directed the March of Dimes program which eventually funded an effective vaccine.

3. Another successful politician, Pat Stack is a left wing revolutionary and part of the Socialist Workers Party committee. A child born from a Thalidomide pregnancy he uses a wheelchair. A great political mind and brilliant orator he holds meetings every year at Marxism in London and wrote 'Stack on the Back'. The Socialist Review until 2004.

4. David Blunkett was an MP, Education Secretary, Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions at various times. he's been blind since birth and has never let this fact hold him back in any aspect of his life.

5. Tanni Gray Thompson OBE is probably the best known disabled athlete, representing Britain in distances from 100m to 800m. she's won 14 Paralympic medals including 9 gold's and she's broken over 20 records. she's also won 5 London Marathons as a wheelchair athlete and has become a TV presenter.

6. Marla Runyan is a legally blind marathon runner and has set several track and field records at the Paralympics in Atlanta, 1996. she's represented the US at the 2000 Olympics and became the first legally blind athlete to compete in an Olympics.

7. Itzhak Perlman is an Israeli-American violinist, conductor and teacher. He's a renowned musician who contracted Polio at age four and today uses crutches or a wheelchair and plays the violin while seated. In 1986 he received the Medal of Liberty from President Reagan. He's also an advocate for people with disabilities and promotes laws to allow easier access to buildings and transport.

8. Francisco Goya (1746-1828) was a Spanish painter who suffered an illness which left him deaf at 46. He went on to create some of the best known Spanish art of the 19th Century. He provided inspiration for the work of later artists including Picasso and Monet.

9. Helen Keller was an American author, political activist and lecturer who was blind, deaf and mute. She was the first deaf and blind person to be awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree.

10. Albert Einstein, the famous mathematician and physicist, had a learning disability and didn't speak until he was three years old. He found maths and writing difficult at school but went on to become one of the best known scientists of all time winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921.

To visit the original article, click here.  

Friday, October 9, 2015

Counselors Needed in VA Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth Area

URGENT NEED- Counselor / Brain Injury Focus - Southside Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth- The Choice Group
Do you have education or experience in human services and counseling?  You must reside in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, or Portsmouth areas due to the job requirements and reimbursements?  Put your skills and passions to work helping individuals with disabilities, with a focus on brain injuries, achieve independence.  This is not an office job.  Exact hours will depend on your clients' needs.  You must have a valid driver’s license, dependable transportation, ability to plan your day and then shift gears, if necessary, to accommodate last-minute developments.  This is initially a part time job for approximately 20 hours per week, but could lead to a full time position depending on your qualifications.

Application Process: 
Please email resume and cover letter as Word attachments , indicating "VC - BI" in the subject lineThe Choice Group retains submitted resumes and cover letters for 180 days, so candidates who have applied within that period need not reapply.

Job Description:
Provide supported employment, life skills training and related services to persons with disabilities.  At least a Bachelor degree in a related field and related experience, including prior work with brain injury rehabilitation, is needed.  This position requires a self-starter with computer and time management skills, who can work a flexible schedule.  Good driving record and documentation of adequate insurance required.  Compensation based on education, skills, and prior knowledge of and experience with Brain Injury Rehabilitation.  Outdoor Recreation education a plus.

Specific job duties include:
* Assess client skills and abilities and requirements of specific employment situations for the purpose of job/client matching;
* Write Individual Service Plans (ISP), for each client outlining all goals, objectives and methods of evaluating goal attainment;
* Maintain required documentation on each client;
* Prepare written reports in the appropriate format for the referral source on a monthly, quarterly, or as-needed basis;
* Communicate with employers at local businesses to develop employment opportunities for specific clients with severe/most severe disabilities;
* Assist clients with application and interview process and coordinate arrangements for job placement;
* Train and counsel clients, in competitive employment using systematic instructional techniques, compensatory strategies, job adaptation/modification and positive behavioral support techniques;
* Monitor and evaluate client work performance by collecting skill acquisition and production data and obtaining feedback from client, employer and coworkers, providing additional training or intervention as needed;
* Provide on-going assessment and follow-along services as needed and authorized;
* Provide Independent Living Skills & Life Skills Training, to clients in community based, individual settings;
* Prepare written materials for clients, employers and counselors;
* Communicate with referral sources and other service providers on an on-going basis in a holistic approach to providing long-term service to persons with severe/most severe disabilities, including the need for (and use of) authorized hours in advance;
* Perform intake assessments;
* Provide job site consultations and back-up support as needed;
* Advocate the employment of persons with severe/most severe disabilities with family members, service providers and employers through one to one and group presentations;
* Participate in the process of achieving and maintaining CARF accreditation;
* Use a computer and telephone effectively;
* Communicate effectively with clients and staff verbally and in written form;
* Manage time effectively and have availability to work various hours of the day and night;
* Complete paperwork in a timely manner;
* Attend and actively engage in Employer Network meetings;
* Attend and actively engage in Supported Employment Provider Forums;
* Obtain and report relevant ongoing education;
* Participate in appropriate rehabilitation professional associations;
* Assist Director in training new staff;
* Perform other duties as assigned.

Full-time benefits:
401-K/Retirement Plan
Dental Insurance
Flexible Benefits
Flexible Work Schedule
Health Insurance
Life Insurance
Sick Leave
Short-term disability
Education and tuition reimbursement
Mileage reimbursement
Cell phone

EOE/VEVRAA Federal Contractor - All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, or protected veteran status.

            Compensation: Compensation is based on qualifications, education, and experience.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Monday Inspiration

It has been rainy and dreary all along the East Coast going on over a week now.  And, after all of the excitement over the bike race, the “slower pace” of these rainy days seems to be affecting Richmond citywide.  This article provides some much needed Monday Inspiration.  It is easy to keep a closed mind about yourself and the world around you and that’s what this article highlights as the biggest disability of all.  Believe in yourself and what we can accomplish as a community through inclusion of everyone.  

Here are some of the solutions the article offers:


- Use digital technology to offer free mindfulness training - and practice support - to every person on the planet who can access the Internet.

- Prioritize delivery of training to all the caregivers of people with recognized disabilities - like mental illness or chronic conditions or developmental impairment. (There is already some research supporting the approach.) The idea is that once caregivers embody better balance, awareness and self-integration they will not only give better care to those with disabilities, they will also be able 
to help those they care for to practice mindfulness themselves.

- Harness compassion to offer support. Recruit volunteers who already practice mindfulness. They can use the internet to offer support to those who are learning.

- Use a lean startup model for agile development. The first year would be a pilot to try it with a 
relative small number of people and find out what works and what doesn't. Once we have a 
working model, we can scale. Over 10-20 years, perhaps. But always with the ultimate goal of
 serving all those who want to learn. Once we feel caregivers are really benefiting, we start to 
develop specialized training designed to serve those folks whose disabilities require a more 
customized approach.

- Those people with recognized disabilities that chiefly serve as their own caregivers will be given 
priority in the very first offering of this online training.

- The system that delivers mindfulness training to caregivers via the Internet can also connect
 people with disabilities to services, including health care.

For the full article by Steven Candrell,  which is truly inspiring for all, click here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Virginia Rehabilitation Association Golf Tournament

Recently, the 16th Annual Virginia Rehabilitation Association Benjy Burnett Memorial Golf Tournament was held and we were so happy to have a team participating for such a great cause. Proceeds of this tournament go towards VRA's educational programs for rehabilitation professionals as well as services for people with disabilities.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ayeisha Johnson, A Choice Group Success Story!

     Early in Ayeisha’s life, when first beginning a new career in New York City, she had big
responsibilities.  She was in charge of the printing department at a major company, using creativity and technical know how to problem solve solutions for those within her company.  She got things

     Because of a stroke Ayeisha suffered in her twenties, she incurred a brain injury which caused Hemi-Paresis.  Hemi-Paresis left her without the use of the dominant side of her body, meaning that even simple tasks had to be re-learned.  After the brain injury, Ayeisha moved to Richmond to be closer to her family.

     When Pam first started working with Ayeisha, it seemed that office work would be her best fit
considering her previous responsibilities.  When starting employment at Feed More Inc. her
responsibilities included a lot of computer and phone work.

     “Sometimes it’s hard to place a person with a disability into clerical work, because it involves so
much, but [Ayeisha} is not afraid of a challenge,” said Pam when first trying out for the Feed More
Inc. position.  Pam recalls her demeanor completely changing as she took on more responsibilities
and learned what she could accomplish in her work.

      At first there were the simple tasks to overcome such as answering the phone while jotting down
messages.  The simple solution of a headset allowed her freedom to take notes or type on her left-
handed keyboard.  Even something as simple as an automatic stapler was a tool that helped get
Ayeisha the most out of her time and efforts.  The employer, Feed More Inc., jumped in and helped
provide equipment that would assist Ayeisha with her job tasks when they could.  Pam worked with
her on task analysis and breaking things into checklists.  Now she manages the schedule and
makes sure everyone knows what’s happening for the day at the facility.  As new tasks were
assigned, Pam helped Ayeisha break them down into easy to remember steps.  The employer
assists in continuing to present new things Ayeisha can do and, along with Pam, has been
instrumental in helping Ayeisha to expand her duties.

     A major example of how extraordinary Ayeisha is how she got her license back.
Transportation was a huge issue for her when first starting the job.  Although she would call to
arrange rides, often times the vehicle would be late.  While her employer was supportive, Ayeisha
was getting frustrated and wanted a better solution.  She petitioned for her license, saved up money
for her own car, and now she drives herself to work every day!

     A truly determined individual, Ayeisha has been with Feed More Inc. for 6 years and progressed
from a cubicle to the Front Desk.  She is and continues to be a success, pushing her own limits to
find out what she can accomplish next!

The Disability Inclusion Movement Affects You

At The Choice Group, we always strive for inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce. There are so many benefits gained by including diverse groups of people in this field, the studies are overwhelming.  Yet, there still seems to be a stigma held by employers on hiring a person with a disability.
This article by Shanna Belott really outlines how everyone is affected by this "sector of our population," and how we can change for the better!

Think the Disability Inclusion Movement Isn't About You? Think Again

Twenty-five years ago, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), ushered in a new era of opportunity and expectation for people with disabilities. But this landmark legislation paved just the start of the civil rights struggle for those with disabilities, particularly developmental disabilities. The next phase of the battle is changing hearts and minds. 
Sixty million Americans live with some form of disability, including disability acquired by aging. That's 20% of the U.S. population, with virtually every American family able to point to a child, sibling, neighbor, or friend with a disability. As disability advocate Jay Ruderman puts it, it's the only minority group almost all of us are guaranteed of joining at some point in our lives.
Yet this huge sector of our population is still discriminated against and marginalized in nearly every aspect of life, from schooling to employment, community life and housing. It is the loneliest part of the population and the poorest, with an unemployment rate at a staggering 70%.
Segregation in separate housing, sheltered workshops and in other forms of community life was long deemed to be the best way to treat those with disabilities. But today, the tide has changed: separate is no longer equal. The movement for disability inclusion is premised on the belief that those with disabilities are entitled to lives of opportunity, independence and dignity. Moreover, society as a whole benefits when this population is included and empowered.
Ruderman is the President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which promotes inclusion of people with disabilities in society, and his organization is one of a growing army leading a revolution called the disability inclusion movement. I spoke to Ruderman recently to get his perspective on this historic grassroots effort.
"I believe that we're coming out of the traditional mindset around segregation," he notes, "but it's slow and it's a struggle, similar to the struggle of the civil rights movement for African Americans. In my discussion with members of congress, business leaders, and community leaders - people don't yet get it. This is especially true for older Americans, who have grown up with institutionalization, segregation, and the belief that people with disabilities are better off separated."
The Ruderman Foundation supports progressive nonprofits, programs and policies that help people with disabilities live and work in the community as included members of society. The foundation's leaders try to understand the gaps in support, and one key effort is to foster greater education of the media on issues of inclusion. "We want to put our resources in leadership and innovation to get society thinking and acting differently," he says. "Through popular entertainment and media you can affect the perspective that many people have about those with disabilities."
As such, Ruderman makes a point to correct media and public leaders who perpetuate stereotypes about people with disabilities. When a White House official referred to someone as "aspergery," the Ruderman Foundation was quick to speak up and quickly issue a press release. The organization has publicly objected to discriminatory behavior, such as when a United Airlines flight made an emergency landing to remove an autistic teen and his family from the plane. "It's important to be outspoken when we see people with disabilities treated in a derogatory manner," says Ruderman.
A particularly important area for the foundation is employment. Ruderman sees how companies that hire people with disabilities experience practical and emotional benefits to their entire workforce, and those employers become the greatest champions of disability inclusion.
One example that moved Ruderman was seeing personnel from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston attend the graduation of young people with disabilities whom they had worked with on job skills. "These mentors - who worked in foodservice, as orderlies - were in tears seeing the people they had worked with graduate. For these employees, it was one of the most meaningful things they have ever done in their jobs. They were improving people's lives."
Ruderman believes that when you don't see companies hiring people with disabilities, it's often based on stigma and misconception that people with disabilities can't really work and will be a costly investment. His foundation helps employers move past the stigma. "Too many corporate leaders overlook the ability and just focus on the disability," he notes. "I would urge business leaders to not be on the wrong side of history."
There is clear evidence that the disability inclusion movement is making headway. The 2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey found that the majority of Americans with disabilities are striving to work and overcoming barriers to finding jobs and succeeding in the workplace. How does this square with the continued high unemployment rate for people with disabilities? Unlike other studies, this survey highlighted the successes in finding and maintaining employment rather than focusing on the barriers to employment.
As reported by Elaine Katz, Senior Vice President for Grants and Communications at Kessler Foundation, "Americans with disabilities are encountering - and overcoming − barriers in finding and maintaining employment. The top three barriers to finding work were lack of sufficient education or training, employers' assumption that they couldn't do the job and a lack of transportation. In the workplace, the top three barriers were getting less pay than others in a similar job, and the negative attitudes of supervisors and coworkers. A substantial percentage of employees reported overcoming these barriers."
Ruderman's commitment to inclusion has led him to launch the inaugural Ruderman Inclusion Summit this year, to be held on Nov. 1st and 2nd in Boston. The goal is to pull together all stakeholders in the disability and inclusion community for strategic advocacy and awareness, peer to peer learning, best practices, and networking. "Everyone has a role in moving this agenda forward," says Ruderman. "Federal government officials, state government leaders, nonprofits, family members, individuals, special programs. We want to strengthen the network of advocates who can go out in society and demand change."
We have a long way to go before people with disabilities aren't just perceived as charity cases but as individuals entitled to have their rights honored by society. But Ruderman is encouraged by the breakthroughs he's seeing, and heartened by the trend he sees amongst younger generations, for whom labels are less important and acceptance of diversity is more common. "Ten years ago, could you have imagined that marriage equality would be the law of the land today?" he asks. "I believe that this message of inclusion as a civil right is being heard. American society is attuned right now to not allowing discrimination to continue."
That's good news for all of us, who may someday find ourselves personally needing the inclusion movement, if we haven't already.

For the full article, visit The Blog on

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Amazing Race

Dear Friends and Supporters of Community Brain Injury Services,

We have about 8 hours left in the Amazing Raise.  If you have not made a donation yet to support our services for survivors of brain injury, please consider taking a moment to do so.   The services we provide through our case management and Clubhouse programs provide hope, opportunity, and support for hundreds of survivors and their family members each year.   Yet, it is still not enough. Right now, over 70 survivors and families sit on our urgent waiting lists for our critical services. I would like to ask for you to step up right now and make a donation for our services through the Amazing Raise, so we can continue to serve the intense demand for our services as quickly as possible.  

Donating is really easy. Just click here:  
Make your donation before 6pm today to support us in The Amazing Raise.

On behalf of Community Brain Injury Services, and the survivors of brain injury we serve, thank you so much for support,

Jason Young, MSW, CBIS
Executive Director
Community Brain Injury Services

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Technology and Innovation Increases Accessibility

     What is so amazing about this article and so any others that we’ve come across is exactly that, the quantity!  There are so many events that we hear about facilitating creativity and technology to help people with disabilities.  This article by Christina Farr is about finding solutions to everyday tasks that may prove challenging with the use of crutches or wheelchairs.  Technology can broaden the scope of ability and accessibility for people that rely on them, ultimately achieving more and more through innovation and colaboration.  

Techies and People With Disabilities Team Up for ‘Makeathon’

Corbett O’Toole wants to disrupt the wheelchair.

I met O’Toole, a disability rights advocate, last Friday at a bustling maker space in downtown San Francisco. TechShop, a do-it-yourself workshop crammed with tools and equipment, was hosting a 72-hour “makeathon” for teams to develop assistive technology alongside people with disabilities.

And O’Toole’s idea is to rig up a wheelchair that can help people use an accessible bathroom without needing another person to help them.

O’Toole, who says she’s been in a wheelchair for 40 years, says she’s met many women who receive assistance getting from their wheelchair to the toilet only twice a day: At morning and at night.

“They have three options: A diaper, a surgical procedure, or a catheter,” she says. “None of these are ideal.”

Teams assembled at TechShop in San Francisco over the weekend, worked on developing assistive technology products. 
Teams assembled at TechShop in San Francisco over the weekend to develop assistive technology products. (Christina Farr/KQED)
So O’Toole wants to work with Bay Area techies to design a wheelchair in which the user could press a button to raise the chair up and forward, to help them maneuver more easily inside a bathroom stall.

“When on a date or at work,” she says, “they could use the bathroom on their own.”

A Focus on Real Needs 

Among the 100 techies and people with disabilities at the weekend makeathon were teams working on “smart” crutches to help people carry beverages, a device to help people grab and transport objects with their mouths, and an application for Google Glass to help people who can’t speak express themselves.

Each team had a $500 budget for tools and equipment to build the first version of the prototype.

What stood out to me right away was the focus on understanding people’s needs. Each team was assigned a “needs knower,” who understands the problem and can describe their experiences in detail.

Corbett O'Toole is heading up a project called "Free the Pee." 
Corbett O’Toole is heading up a project called “Free the Pee.” (Christina Farr/KQED)
“At these kind of events, many people come up with solutions and [then] look for problems,” says Sefi Attias, chief technology officer for Tikkun Olam Makers, an Israeli organization that sponsored the event, alongside Google Dot Org and United Cerebral Palsy of the North Bay. “We wanted to do things differently.”

At one table, a group of developers huddles around Zebreda Dunham, a needs knower from Pasadena, California, who has limited use of her hands. Dunham is a budding maker herself, having already hacked a pulley system to help herself eat.

Dunham is working with a seven-person team, including techies and occupational therapists, to develop a more sophisticated version of her pulley system. Over the course of the weekend, Dunham will test out a range of possibilities for the feeding system to ensure it’s comfortable.

Futuristic Technology

At another table, I met a needs knower from Orange County, Danny Kurtzman, who assembled a team to build what he calls a “21st-century wheelchair” that can be controlled by a smartphone.

Kurtzman says he also wants to make a lightweight chair that’s capable of traveling on any terrain, including the beach. In future versions, he hopes to add health tracking tools to the dashboard of the chair, so he can see how far he’s traveled each day.

“I’m in a wheelchair all day but it doesn’t do very much beyond getting me around,” he says. Kurtzman has used the same model of wheelchair for more than a decade.
On the first day of the event, Kurtzman struck up a friendship with an engineer, who offered to help him out with another project idea on the side. Kurtzman says virtual reality has vast potential for people with disabilities.

Instead of describing his idea, he asks me to try out a pair of virtual reality goggles from Samsung. I was transported to a three-dimensional world where I was flying in a small airplane. Almost immediately, I felt that familiar dizzy feeling you might get during takeoff and landing.

Kurtzman and his new friend plan to take the goggles out this weekend to simulate the experience of running across the Golden Gate Bridge. It will give a huge mental health boost to people in wheelchairs, he says, to feel that sensation of running across the iconic bridge.

For the full article by Christina Farr on KQED Science, click here.