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.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact

    This month, JAN, the Job Accommodations Network, released the findings of a study they conducted beginning in 2004.  JAN is a service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor.  Interviewing over 2,000 employers, the JAN report covers a range of industry sectors and sizes.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act and regulations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission refocused attention on workplace accommodations by broadening the definition of disability.  In interviewing employers, the study found that cost of accommodations was a concern of employers, however, the study showed that workplace accommodations are not only low cost but positively impacts the workplace in many ways. 

     These are their main findings:

1.  Employers want to provide accommodations so they can retain valued and qualified employees

2.  Most employers report no cost or low cost for accommodating employees with disabilities.

3. Employers report accommodations are effective.

4.  Employers experience multiple direct and indirect benefits after making accommodations.

     The study results consistently showed that the benefits employers receive from making workplace accommodations far outweigh the low cost.  The employers in the study reported that a high percentage (58%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500.

     What is the bottom line? Workplace accommodations are low cost and high impact, and JAN can help employers make them, free of charge.

For more information and the full JAN report, click here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

10 Years of Employment; A Choice Group Success Story

     This year marks the 10th anniversary of a Choice Group client at her present employer, U-Haul.
For the purpose of this story, we will call her Laura.

     Laura is in her early fifties, and while U-Haul is not her first job, it is where she’s found a home.
To mark the occasion, she is receiving a ring engraved with the words “Virtuous, Valiant, Victorious,” and in another 5 years can receive a stone to be placed in the ring.  This is a wonderful honor for
Laura and has been accomplished in a joint effort between her and her counselor at The Choice
Group, Pam.

     Pam has been involved with Laura during 10 years of her employment at U-Haul.  Having worked with The Choice Group for so long, many members of The Choice Group staff has interacted with
the client and are recipients of annual Christmas cards from Laura.  She loves staying in contact with
everyone that’s been involved with her success.

     Some of Laura’s responsibilities at the U-Haul Storage Center are cleaning out storage lockers as
they become vacant and preparing them for new customers.  She also shares in some janitorial
duties, odd jobs, and general upkeep of the grounds and facility.  Pam has worked with her over the
years as she gains new responsibilities and as a general support between Laura and her managers.
The facility has seen changes in management through her employment there and all have viewed
her as an asset to the company.  She is there through rain or shine and always asks for more hours.
Occasionally she even covers for people at other locations and enjoys her walk to work every
morning.  This job is extremely important for Laura and her family, as her monetary contribution to
the family helps keep food on the table and roof over their heads.

          We congratulate Laura in all her accomplishments and can’t wait to mark the next 5 years of
employment with a beautiful new stone in her ring!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

9 Tips for Working with People Who Are Blind

An article recently written by Jim Denham, "9 Essential Tips for Working with People who are Blind" on expresses what The Choice Group has often said about working with people with various disabilities.  Often times, the solution to making the workplace accessible for people with disabilities is a simple one.

Nine essential tips for working with people who are blind

With more people who are visually impaired in today’s workforce, following these simple do’s and don'ts is smart business etiquette

It’s not difficult to work with people who are blind.

In fact, if you have coworkers who are visually impaired, or if your job takes you to companies with employees who are blind, following some simple guidelines will make your interactions more respectful and productive. While some of these suggestions may seem like basic common sense, others may not be so obvious.

DO identify yourself when initiating a conversation. You shouldn’t assume the person will recognize your voice. Just as you identify yourself when conducting a phone conversation, it’s helpful to quickly identify yourself when speaking to someone who is visually impaired. You don’t need to formally introduce yourself each time. A quick, "Hi there, it’s Mary" is usually just fine. Similarly, when working with a group, it’s often helpful to go around the room and have everyone state their names so the individual who is blind knows who’s attending the meeting.

DON’T censor your language when speaking to individuals with disabilities. It’s perfectly okay to use words like watch, look and see when talking to someone who is blind. For example, asking, "Did you see that show last night?" won’t offend most individuals who are blind.

DO describe the layout of large rooms. When entering a meeting or conference room with someone who is blind or visually impaired, a brief description of how the furniture is arranged can make it easier for that person to navigate his or her surroundings. Generally, an extended description is not needed. A description such as “The table is U-shaped and we’re at the open end” or “The room is set up classroom style” works well.

DON’T be afraid to ask questions. If you’re curious about the technology a person is using or if you want to know what they can or can’t see, don't be afraid to ask. Most people with a disability would rather have you ask questions than just make assumptions.

DO give a verbal indication when you walk away from a conversation or leave the room. If the individual to whom you’re speaking can’t see you, they may not know you walked away. A quick word that you need to leave will eliminate any awkward moments.

DON’T speak to or touch a guide dog. These dogs are working, and touching them or talking to them may distract them from their job. This could potentially result in injury to the individual being guided. Even if a dog is at rest, ask the owner for permission before petting the dog.

DO provide electronic copies of materials you’ll be handing out in hard-copy form or presenting via PowerPoint prior to a meeting. This gives staff with disabilities the opportunity to load the documents onto their computer or other device and print them in an accessible format, or listen to them in auditory format. Providing copies ahead of time is simple courtesy. Just as you would never give a handout to all the tall people in the audience and tell anybody below 5'10" you’ll send them a copy later, don’t make people who are visually impaired be the last in line to receive essential information.

DON’T use highly stylized typefaces. When preparing documents, avoid using stylized or graphical fonts, as these can be difficult for individuals with low vision to read. Instead, use easy-to-read, sans-serif fonts with clearly defined letters and clear spacing between the letters, such as Helvetica, Verdana or Arial.

DO add alternative text tags to graphics. If you insert a graphic or photograph into your PowerPoint presentation, Word document or webpage, add alternative text tags which briefly describe the image. Depending on the software you’re using, this can usually be done by right-clicking on the graphic and choosing “Properties.”

In today’s high-tech workforce, it’s becoming more and more common to work with people who are visually impaired. So following these simple do’s and don’ts is not just good business etiquette – it’s good business.

Jim Denham, who is visually impaired, is director of assistive technology for Perkins’ Educational Programs. He has worked in the field of assistive technology for almost 20 years. 

For the full article please click here.