Thursday, July 30, 2015

"The sky's the limit, the question is, how are you going to get there?"

 
    Recently, The Choice Group was fortunate enough to have a dynamic guest speaker.  She is almost fully blind and has been most of her life.  Her experience is not unique, but her perspective on disability is.  She shared with us this perspective and how she gained it when seeking to learn the martial art of Krav Maga.

     When she first approached her martial arts teacher revealing her desire to learn Krav Maga, he sat in thoughtful contemplation for a minute, before replying.

     “Krav Maga is a striking art, which relies heavily on awareness from a distance of your opponent’s motions and location.  What if you tried Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, instead?” He replied.  “It’s a grappling art, and might be better suited to someone with reduced vision.  Lots of people practice Jiu-Jitsu with their eyes closed.  You are in close contact with your opponent the whole time, which would allow you to grapple without having to rely on seeing where they are or what they’re doing."

     This marked the beginning of our guest speaker’s paradigm shift.  
    
     "Focus on what they CAN do, not what they can’t." she began to tell us, talking about working with people with disabilities.  This is small shift in perspective can be tricky.  As she pointed out, people with disabilities are reminded every day of what they cannot do either implicitly or explicitly.  Shifting your focus on what they can do will immediately expand horizons in a world of CAN’Ts. 
    
     She illustrated her point even further by comparing the experience to drawing a circle in the sand around a person with a disability.
 
     "We know that they cannot step outside of the circle.  We know this, because they have a 'condition of being unable to step outside of circles.’” She said. " However, what if we shifted our focus to everywhere the person can go within the circle?  Then you start focusing on how big the circle can get, rather than what’s outside of the circle.  The goal is to take limitations and push them as far back as they can go.”  

     At the Choice Group, we make it a goal to find and focus on our client’s strengths. By assisting our clients in finding employment, we hope to help them realize their full potential as individuals.

     So many people we work with get defined by their disability.  It’s important to take the time to get to know them for who they are.  Asking them what they’d like to do is miles away and far different from asking them what they can do because, unfortunately, it often conjures a list of “cannots."  Find out where their interests and motivations lie.  It only takes an opportunity to explore and try new things to realize that what they are capable of.

     Our speaker shared the second key component to working with people with disabilities; problem-solving.  Our insight into problem-solving is that often times a person with a disability has become a master at problem-solving.  Managing throughout daily life in unique ways that those without disabilities don’t ever have to think about. 
 
     "After all,” she said, “They’ve survived this long with their disability.  Chances are, they know a thing or two about how to get things done."

     Problem solving is key to helping them figure out how to expand that circle in the sand. 
    
     “This works kind of like the idea of transferrable skills in the world of jobs and hiring.  You don’t need to have done that exact job before, if you have demonstrated that you have the skills required to accomplish what needs to be done.”  Knowing the motivation behind our client’s dreams and goals will light the path to helping them realize it, even if it’s through slightly different methods.

     “Often, we define disabled people’s limitations based on other people’s methods of accomplishing certain tasks…The issue is not if a person can do what they want to do, it’s ‘how’ are they going to do it?”  Our speaker’s discernment of the two concepts is a great starting point and something that we, at The Choice Group, along with anyone else who works with people who happen to have a disability, should consider!


     We were fortunate to have our guest speak with us about her insights into working with those who have disabilities, and as she so poignantly said, “The sky’s the limit.  The question is, how are you going to get there?" 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

REACHcycles





   A couple of weekends ago, The Choice Group's very own Chris Lavach played in the Summer Moon Music Festival that took place over the span of 2 days.  Taking place at the Center of the Universe Brewery in Ashland, there were 13 local bands that played, each one collecting money for their own charity.  Chris’s band, Buckville Hootenanny partnered up with REACHcycles, started by veteran James Howard.  It’s an organization that provides adapted cycles for children with disabilities and disabled veterans.
     This coming weekend, there will be another event where James from REACH cycles will award 12 customized cycles to children and veterans.  The event will be held at Robious Landing on Sunday, August 2nd.  

Be sure to check out ReachCycles.org for more information to come!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

ADA Breaks Barriers

This past Sunday was the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act being passed.  The president spoke on the progress that has been made since the ADA has been in effect and how progress needs to continue in the advocacy of inclusion for people with disabilities.  The young lady whose story follows is her personal reflection on the struggles she faced as a deafblind student and how she was motivated to become an advocate herself.  Not only were her barriers external, she fought an internal battle to succeed.  She fights for equality in technological access for people with disabilities, which is a vital component in almost every aspect of living in today's web-based world.  Read on to be inspired.

The White House, Washington

The President shared a moving story of how, in the years before Congress passed the ADA, his father-in-law -- who had multiple sclerosis -- would sometimes hold himself back because he didn't want his disability to inconvenience others. With that story, President Obama reminded Americans that "We've got to tear down barriers externally, but we also have to tear down barriers internally."

As someone who has struggled against attitudinal barriers, I loved hearing our President encourage the world to view access for people with disabilities as a civil and human right.

As a deafblind student, I witnessed advocates using the ADA to change social attitudes. The National Federation of the Blind regularly referenced the ADA when explaining to technology developers why designing access for people with disabilities is a necessity and not some optional cherry atop the Silicon Valley sundaes. I heard how the National Association of the Deaf used the ADA to increase closed-captioning online, and how Disability Rights Advocates used the ADA to compel Target's tech team to make their website accessible to blind Americans.

Impressed by the success of the advocates, I felt inspired to join them. Back then, and even now, I encountered so many barriers in the digital world. Not because of my disability, but because of attitudes among tech developers that trivialize access for people with disabilities.

When I entered Harvard Law School, I encountered a serious question: How would a deafblind student succeed? I remember the first time I presented my communication system to a real-live lawyer. I felt many of the insecurities probably experienced by President Obama's father-in-law. Would the lawyer think I was somehow inconveniencing her or slowing her down?

Knowing the power of confidence, I hid my insecurities and put on a smile: "Would you mind typing on this keyboard since I can't hear you? I'll be able to read what you type on this braille display." To my surprise, she started typing.

I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I would survive law school.

Not only does the ADA make it possible for people with disabilities to obtain a world-class education, but it also empowers us to overcome our own insecurities in pursuit of our dreams. Two years after law school, through my work at Disability Rights Advocates, I helped achieve a legal victory in National Federation of the Blind v. Scribd, the second decision to hold that the ADA applies to e-commerce.

Twenty-five years after the ADA, advocates still encounter attitudinal barriers among tech companies that continue to insist that they don't have to provide access for people with disabilities. Given the necessity of accessing online services in today's world, all of us with disabilities will continue to turn to the ADA to tear down barriers.

President Obama leads our nation in the quest to remove external and internal barriers. I received the honor of meeting our President at the White House celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ADA. Even though he had never communicated with a deafblind person through a digital braille display and QWERTY keyboard, he gracefully switched from speaking to typing.

Through our conversation, I experienced the genuine warmth of our President, his attentiveness to people, his understanding of the value of technology in connecting people, and his sincere belief that people with disabilities, like his father-in-law, should never let attitudinal barriers stop us from pursuing our dreams.

Do you have stories of the ADA helping you tear down internal barriers, digital barriers, or physical barriers? Share your stories using the hashtag #OurADAStories.

Best,
Haben

Haben Girma
Skadden Fellowship Attorney
Disability Rights Advocates


Visit WhiteHouse.gov

Thursday, July 23, 2015

25th Anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act


    Sunday, July 26th is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  President Obama made a speech last week stating that while this Act has moved us forward when it comes to making this nation “belong” to everyone by ensuring equality for people with disabilities, there is still a long way to go.  He specifically mentioned the ever growing awareness of inequality in the workplace for those with disabilities, noting that talented, willing and able people who “have so much to contribute” are still unemployed.  


     It’s true that statistics has shown disparaging numbers of unemployed people with disabilities but, with the array of new laws and awareness that currently surrounds this issue, The Choice Group is proud to be a part of progress on this front. 

The article by Michelle Diament on DisabilityScoop.com is as follows:

Obama: ADA 'Fight is Not Over'
In marking a quarter century since the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act became law, President Barack Obama said much more work is yet to be done.
Obama spoke Monday before a packed house in the East Room of the White House about the impact of the ADA at an event just days ahead of the law’s 25th anniversary, which will occur Sunday.
“Thanks to the ADA, the places that comprise our shared American life — schools, workplaces, movie theaters, courthouses, buses, baseball stadiums, national parks — they truly belong to everyone,” the president told the crowd, which included former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, former U.S. Rep. Tony Coelho and other leaders responsible for making the ADA a reality.
Despite the progress, however, Obama said more work is needed to ensure equality, specifically in regard to areas like employment where people with disabilities continue to lag.
“Now, days like today are a celebration of our history. But they’re also a chance to rededicate ourselves to the future — to address the injustices that still linger, to remove the barriers that remain,” Obama said. “We all know too many people with disabilities are still unemployed — even though they can work, even though they want to work, even though they have so much to contribute.”
The president committed to continue working on disability rights for the duration of his time in office and beyond.
In addition to the White House ceremony Monday, events honoring the anniversary of the civil rights law are planned this week at a variety of government agencies in the nation’s capital and at the Smithsonian Institution.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

VA Schools Earn Top Rating for Serving Students with Disabilities

 
    It’s great news to hear that we live in such a progressive state when it comes to showing educational support for our growing children with disabilities.  We strive to help transitioning graduates by continuing their support after graduating and into their college education or blossoming careers.  Helping people with disabilities achieve their maximum potential and leading full happy lives is our ultimate goal and we are happy the Virginia Public School System sees it that way, too!

Virginia Schools Earn Top Federal Rating for Serving Students with Disabilities
Virginia’s public education system received a pat on the back from the U.S. Department of Education (USDE), according to a release out of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office.

The USDE reported Virginia’s public schools registered the nation’s highest overall rating and second-highest score for serving students with disabilities under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
“In every school division in the Commonwealth, there are special educators who are committed to preparing all students to succeed,” Governor McAuliffe said in the release. “These accomplishments are the result of their efforts, as well as successful partnerships between the state and localities in developing innovative programs to improve outcomes for students with disabilities.”

The federal education department scores and rates states each year based on the participation and performance of students with disabilities in state and national assessment programs. States are also evaluated on the progress they show in narrowing achievement gaps and improving graduation rates among students with disabilities.

Virginia earned the maximum possible points on 13 of the 14 indicators, achieving a total score of 95.83 from the USDE. Virginia is also one of 21 states and territories earning a “Meets Requirements” designation, the highest overall rating on the 2015 IDEA report card.

The lone indicator in which Virginia fell short of the maximum possible points was an indicator that rates states on percentage of students with disabilities who graduate with what the federal education department considers a “regular” diploma, which, in Virginia, includes the Standard Diploma and the Advanced Studies Diploma.
However, Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples said in the release that that can be chalked up to the high standards the state sets for its graduates.

“The state Board of Education’s rigorous diploma standards put the Commonwealth at a disadvantage compared with states that do not set as high a bar,” Staples said. “We will address this challenge by maintaining high standards for all students while making sure that students with disabilities are able to take advantage of appropriate alternative assessments and accommodations as they work toward meeting their diploma requirements.”


The 2015 IDEA state report cards are based on data from the 2012-2013 school year. 

For the full article by Ethan Levine on Patch.com click here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Connecting Individuals to Their Past and Future Potential


   One of our colleagues, Shawn Chase of Neuro Community Care, is an amazing person we’ve had the privilege to work with over the years.  His dedication and advocacy to help individuals who have suffered from brain injuries and other cognitive impairments hasn’t gone unnoticed by us, or Cary Magazine, who has recently featured an article about him and his work.  Often times Shawn has referred clients to us who he thinks could benefit from the help of The Choice Group when it comes to counseling, career training or otherwise. Lucky to have him as an ally, we look forward to hearing about his continuing good works in the future.


To read more about what drives Shawn, check out the article by Nancy Pardue on carymagazine.com 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ditch Outdated Misconceptions & Let Your Workplace Thrive!

 
    There are a lot of misconceptions out there among employers surrounding the topic of hiring people with disabilities.  False ideas that employees with disabilities will need more sick days or leave, ideas that job accommodations will be costly, and even that work tasks will not be performed to par.  In so many cases, this could not be further from the truth.

     The profile of an employee with a disability is that of a top performing employee.  With little to no absences and a steady output of progress on tasks assigned to them, a person with a disability can be the backbone in your workforce.
     
     Job accommodations for people with disabilities are most commonly low-tech solutions that won’t cost the employer very much if anything at all.  Through the Job Accommodations Network (JAN), employers have access to free consultations and advice no matter the size of their business and even compliance assistance for federal or state employers. 


     An inclusive work environment has proven time and time again to boost morale within the workplace which bolsters all around productivity.  If you’re looking for such an opportunity in your business, The Choice Group continues to be a preferred resource for employers seeking to hire individuals with disabilities.  We not only provide continuing support and on-site job training, it’s at no extra cost to the employer.  Let your workplace thrive! 

Monday, July 13, 2015

People with 'Invisible Disabilities' Fight for Understanding, an article on NPR

Read or listen to this article by Naomi Gingold on npr.org about one young lady's challenge to work with her "invisible disability."  It is unclear how many people in this country struggle with finding work due to their unseen disabilities that many, including doctors, don't fully understand yet.



People with 'Invisible Disabilities' Fight for Understanding

Some disabilities are more obvious than others. Many are immediately apparent, especially if someone relies on a wheelchair or cane. But others — known as "invisible" disabilities — are not. People who live with them face particular challenges in the workplace and in their communities.

Carly Medosch, 33, seems like any other young professional in the Washington, D.C. area — busy, with a light laugh and a quick smile. She doesn't look sick. But she has suffered from Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel condition, since she was 13. There have been times, she says, when she's "been laying on the floor in the bathroom, kind of thinking, 'Am I going to die? Should I jump out in front of traffic so that I can die?' Because you're just in so much pain."

More recently, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition that leaves her in a state of full-body chronic pain and intense fatigue.

For Medosch and others who struggle with an invisible disability, occasional hospital stays and surgeries are not the hard part. Mundane, everyday activities can be more difficult.

"Washing my hair, blow-drying my hair, putting on makeup — those kind of activities can exhaust me very quickly," says Medosch. "So you kind of blow-dry your hair and then you sort of sit down for a little bit."

Walking to the subway or even bending down to pick something up can take a lot out of her. But that isn't apparent from the outside.

"I kind of call it being able to pass," she says. "So I can pass as a normal, healthy, average person, which is great and definitely helps ease my everyday life — especially in interactions with strangers, getting your foot in the door in a situation like a job interview."

It is hard to pinpoint the number of Americans with an invisible disability, but it's estimated there are millions. Their conditions may range from lupus to bipolar disorder or diabetes. The severity of each person's condition varies, and the fear of stigma means that people often prefer not to talk about their illnesses.

But in employment disability discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 2005 and 2010, the most commonly cited conditions were invisible ones, according to analysis by researchers at Cornell University's Employment and Disability Institute.

"You know, it's that invisible nature of an illness that people don't understand," says Wayne Connell, the founder and head of the Invisible Disabilities Association. He started the group after his wife was diagnosed with Lyme disease and multiple sclerosis.

"We'd park in disabled parking and she didn't use a wheelchair or a cane, and so people would always give us dirty looks and scream at us," he recalls.

"When they see someone in a wheelchair, OK, they get that they're in a wheelchair. But what if they have chronic pain, what if they have PTSD — anything from cancer to peripheral neuropathy to autism?"

Medosch has had similar experiences with her handicapped parking tags. She also says that she faced challenges obtaining accommodations from a prospective employer.

Joyce Smithey, a lawyer who specializes in labor and employment, says that's not uncommon. When people with invisible disabilities request accommodations, Smithey says, some employers respond, "We don't do that as a policy."

"And that's a problem," Smithey says. "Because that person is not asking to partake of a benefit that's offered in a policy; that person is asking for an accommodation they're entitled to under the law."

When a disability isn't immediately obvious, others — at work, school or even at home — sometimes doubt it exists and accuse those who suffer from invisible conditions of simply angling for special treatment.

Medosch says she's comfortable being vocal about her disability now because she's well protected at her current job. She hopes discussing her own experience will help boost understanding, but acknowledges invisible disability can be hard to fathom — especially when so many people who live with it seem, outwardly, at least, to be just like everyone else.

The original article post by Naomi Gringold can be found and listened to, here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Successful Transitions Start with Continued Support

     These individuals represent what is possible with the strategy that we, at The Choice Group, implement when helping young people through a crucial time in their lives.  Making the transition from high school to college, school to work,  living at home to living on your own can all be exciting and challenging for any individual.  People with disabilities face unique challenges when it comes to the changes they’re facing at this stage in their lives.

     We believe in centering our support around the individual’s needs.  Helping them with things like transportation and finance to gain their maximum independence and achieve continuing success.  Success, we believe, is found by reducing support over time once the individual has had practice at tasks such as cooking, laundry and housekeeping.  Walking, busing, biking to and from school or work is key to an independent and healthy lifestyle that builds confidence and future success. 


Find link in text and also here