Friday, February 26, 2016

New Hiring Quota Called For

This is great news regarding the representation of people with disabilities in the workforce!  This article from outlines goals the EEOC is trying to achieve with policy change and how it will attempt to enforce them.

Federal Proposal Calls for Disability Hiring Quota
By: Shaun Heasley

Under a new proposal, the federal government would be required to take sweeping steps to utilize affirmative action to increase the number of workers with disabilities in its ranks.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said this week that it is proposing a rule that would require federal agencies to work toward a 12 percent workforce representation rate for people with disabilities and a 2 percent representation rate for those with targeted or severe conditions including intellectual disability.

Moreover, the rule calls for government agencies to provide personal assistance to employees with disabilities who need help with eating, using the restroom and other basic human functions while at work.

“This rule can be a game-changer,” said EEOC Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum who led the group that developed the proposal. “Since 2013, federal contractors have been required to meet goals for the employment of individuals with disabilities. EEOC’s proposed rule will hold the federal government to an even higher standard, particularly with regard to hiring people with targeted disabilities and providing personal assistance services.”

The hiring goals would apply to all levels of federal employment, the EEOC said. If agencies fail to achieve the stated minimums, the rule would require them to take various steps to increase their hiring and retention of people with disabilities, depending on the particular circumstance.

Federal agencies already must have affirmative action plans for hiring people with disabilities under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act. Such plans are subject to approval from the EEOC.

However, no single rule has ever outlined what those policies should look like. The EEOC said it is attempting to clarify expectations with its current proposal, which is up for public comment through April 25.

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Jeffrey Barksdale, his success with Nude Fude in Charlottesville

Kate Gariepy, a Vocational Counselor with The Choice Group in our Central West region, sent in a story about one of her clients to the Virginia Rehabilitation Association (VRA) newsletter, News Notes.  Her work with Jeffrey Barksdale landed him the job with his current employer, Nude Fude. Here's the article as it reads in News Notes.

A core part of our mission at Nude Fude is to foster a strong sense of community amongst our patrons and staff. To help you get to know us better, we feature one of our stalwart employees each week in a Facebook post.

No question, Jeffery Barksdale is the guy we want to represent us front-n-center. Officially, he's our dishwasher, but he's also the hardest working man at NF and the engine that allows the kitchen to hum. Quick with a joke and even faster in the dish pit, Jeff brings tremendous energy to the restaurant. Hailing from the Danville-area, Jeff used his skills developed as an Eagle Scout to great success at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind before making his way to Charlottesville. When not slaying dishes, Jeff enjoys live music and brags about the 2 DMB shows he has notched already this year. Thanks for all that you do, and the way that you do it, Jeff!

Please check out the NewsPlex feature for October 2015 on Jeff to hear more about his story from him!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Vocational Counselors/ Job Coaches Needed Throughout Virginia!

Do you have an interest, education or experience in human services?  Put your skills and passions to work helping individuals with disabilities achieve employment and independence.  This is not an office job.  Exact hours will depend on your clients' work hours.  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.

Application Process: Please email resume and cover letter as Word attachments , indicating "VC - BI" in the subject line. The 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 backup 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.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"Change in Sign, Change in Attitude"

We love this "active and engaged" alternative symbol!  It's been adopted already in a few cities and under consideration all around the nation.  What do you think Virginia?  Check out the full article by Anne Quito on Quartz.

"There's a movement underway to update the universal symbol for disability access"

Since the 1990s, several designers have attempted to re-think the seated figure on the internationally recognizable symbol for disability access. Now, efforts to imbue the utilitarian signage motif with a political message appear to be gaining traction.

Connecticut governor Dannel P. Malloy is proposing that the state’s new handicap parking signs, license plates, stickers, and tags, starting in January 2017, use “a logo with a dynamic character leaning forward with a sense of movement.”

Malloy, whose bill comes in the wake of a citizen-led petition called “Change the Sign. Change the Attitude” and was filed for the February session of the state general assembly, wants to use a design that originates from a guerrilla street-art project in 2010.

Design activists of the Accessible Icon Project created the “active and engaged” alternative symbol, printed them on semi-transparent stickers and (illegally) patched them over street signs in Boston to draw attention to accessibility issues.

Their design has since gained wide attention and has been adopted by several US cities and private establishments. The new symbol has even been “acquired” by the Museum of Modern Art for its permanent collection.

If Malloy’s bill becomes law, the new design will replace the 47-year-old International Symbol of Access, first drawn by Danish graphic designer Susanne Koefoed to indicate spaces with “barrier-free access.” Koefoed’s original concept did not have a head and the circle was later added to humanize the figure. The updated version was adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), enshrined in the American Disabilities Act (ADA), and endorsed by the United Nations.
In 2014, New York became the first state in the US to adopt the more active access symbol, declaring the update a “major step to prohibit discrimination on the basis of a disability.” But the state mandate was later found to cause confusion since the ISO and the ADA still prescribe the original design, as the Observer reported. Businesses that displayed the new dynamic icon complied with New York state law but essentially were in violation of US federal regulation, which follows the ADA design standards.

Confusing, yes—but nothing like the era before standardization arrived in 1969. Before then, a variety of access symbols were used around the world, which caused a “messy situation,” explains Rehabilitation International, which led the initiative to find a clear and practical symbol.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Project SEARCH Open House

A lot of our clients have found much success through the Project SEARCH program.  Providing internships in the medical field with participating hospitals, these Students with Disabilities often go on to fulfilling, full-time employment where they've held their internships.  Congrats to the 11 students who have completed the program, and good luck to those about to start!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Rock the Disabled Vote!

This article by Huffington Post Accessibility is full of great information on voting options available to people with disability as far as assistance and accessibility.  It's also full of pertinent information on candidate's stances on issues that may affect people with disabilities.  Check out the first ever "Score card" on disability as well as Project Vote Smart!

Observations From Below: If You're Not at the Table, You're on the Menu
Bryan Dooley

Disability Rights Advocate and Journalist

"If you're not at the table, you're on the menu."- Michael Enzi

While this saying is probably true for most people, it is especially true for most people with disabilities, unfortunately, people with disabilities vote at a much lower rate than the general population. According to a voting document found on Disability Rights NC, only 55 % of people with disabilities voted in NC, compared to 69% of people without disabilities.

There have only been a few notable times when disability was a political issue that the general population paid attention to. Most recently, Hillary Clinton came forward with a wide reaching autism initiative. Donald Trump mocked a reporter who has a physical disability, which garnered attention. Ted Cruz is in support of people with disabilities working. Marco Rubio spoke to his personal experience with his grandfather, who had polio as a child.

All of this being said, The RespectAbility organization released the first ever score card on disability rights issues. The first poll ever to specifically focus on disability issues. According to the poll, Clinton and Sanders scored 100%, Jeb Bush 94%, while Trump, Cruz and Rubio all scored 0%. The scores reflect that they answered 16 disability related questions and have plans, rather than judging them on the content. They each have dramatically different ideas. I am glad there are finally organizations specific to disability issues and I hope that makes a difference.

As Ed Roberts, said many years ago, people with disabilities could have a lot of input and are an untapped source of power. In order to have influence, obviously, more people with disabilities have to vote. In NC, there has been a lot of interest in voting rights, because of the debate around voter identification.

From what I understand, voter identification is not meant to be a hindrance. According to Disability Rights NC, as of 2016, voters will be asked to show a photo ID to vote in-person at the polls, however, no voter will be turned away because they lack acceptable photo ID. Voters may claim a "reasonable impediment" and vote a provisional ballot, which will be counted later. Examples of reasonable impediments include, lack of proper documents, family obligations, transportation problems, work schedule, and illness or disability, among others. Voters will sign a declaration describing their impediment and will provide their date of birth and last four digits of their Social Security number, or present their current voter registration card, or present a copy of an acceptable document bearing their name and address (such as a utility bill, bank statement, paystub, or government-issued document). If the voter does have ID, acceptable forms include a drivers license, a state ID card, a passport, a military ID card, a veterans ID card, a tribal enrollment card, and a drivers license issued by another state.

•The first important step for voting is to be registered. You can check to see your registration status online. If not, register!
•Determine when and where to vote. It is a good idea to call ahead to the board of elections and your polling place to determine accessibility.
•Voting by mail Absentee Ballot Request is also an option.
•If your polling place is not accessible and you would still like to vote in person, rules allow a special option for people with disabilities called "curbside voting." In that case, your car becomes a voting booth and a poll worker will bring the ballot to you.
•If someone helps you vote, that person cannot try to influence your vote or tell anyone how you voted. If that happens, you can report the person to the poll workers or to the local Board of Elections. In Person: you can have any person that you choose assist me, other than your employer or someone associated with your employer. Health care facility and support staff can assist you in-person at the polls. By Mail: you can have any person that you choose assist you, except if you live in a hospital, clinic, nursing home or rest home. The staff of the healthcare facility is prohibited from assisting with voting. *If you live in a hospital, clinic, nursing home or rest home, you need to request that your local board of elections send its Multipartisan Assistance Team to assist you with the voting process. You may request assistance from the local board of elections by checking the box on your State Absentee Ballot Request Form.

It can sometimes be hard to find out about candidates specific standings on different disability issues, but it is important to research all you can about each candidate and make the best choice. One good website is Project Vote Smart.

As a disability advocate, the best way to get a politician's attention is to vote for or against them. Come to the table by being an informed voter or you'll likely end up on the menu.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Give Kids a Smile Day, 3 Tips on how to make learning more fun for children with learning disabilities

     Today is "Give Kids a Smile" Day, you know, one of those random holidays you never knew existed, like "Talk Like a Pirate" day and "Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast" Day!  Well, in honor of today's holiday AND tomorrow's "Take Your Child to the Library" Day, we thought we'd share this thoughtful article with tips on how to help make learning fun for children with learning disabilities.  It can seem hopeless and disappointing to any child who isn't given the proper attention when trying to learn in school, which can make them give up altogether.  With just a little bit of knowledge in part of the educator, learning can be fun again for students with learning disabilities.  

3 Tips to Make Learning More Fun for the Child with Learning Disabilities 
By Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA 

Academic tasks can be challenging for kids with learning disabilities and related disorders (such as dyslexia, ADHD, Autism, etc.). If your child struggles with academic work, it makes sense that he tries to avoid doing the work or that he tries to rush through it to simply get it done and almost gives up trying to do quality work. Consider how it would be to have to do something that is so challenging for you day after day for many hours a day.

If your child struggles with learning academically, consider using the following tips to help him learn to like learning at least a little bit more.

1. Use Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is presenting something immediately after the behavior or activity of interest and then that behavior or activity happens more often in the future, as well. So, if you want your child to learn to spell and to hopefully not mind spelling, present something he enjoys such as video games immediately after one instance of spelling a word correctly. Then, build up how many words he needs to spell correctly in order to get the reinforcement.

Also, do not provide the preferred activity (video games) unless the child completes the learning activity without any negative behaviors (like crying or whining). People don’t typically learn to enjoy something if they whine all the way through it. Additionally, whining/crying is a way of displaying that you don’t want to do something. We want the child to “want” to do the activity.

2. Use Behavior Traps

The concept of behavior traps refers to how natural reinforcement contingencies can promote the development of new behaviors. This basically means that things that a person likes can support that person’s development of new skills and behaviors.

For example, present reading opportunities within activities that your child enjoys, such as video games. Another example for a child who is learning to spell is to have your child learn to spell words that are meaningful to them. Again, if your child is interested in video games, find words that they often see in the game or words that are related to the game to have them practice.

Albert and Heward (1996) described the use of behavior traps. They discuss the following five steps (excerpt from Amanda Yeager, M.A., BCBA, of Step by Step Academy):

“1)    Identify your prey—what academic/social areas does the student need the most help? Be sure to target behaviors that are relevant, functional, and behaviors that lend themselves to frequent practice opportunities
2)    Find powerful bait—what does the student like? Watch them when they’re alone or simply by asking the student and/or their parents and provide a variety for them to sample.
3)    Set the trap—place coveted materials in the student’s path. You can do this by forming classroom clubs, find classroom jobs for the student based off his/her interests, and/or enlist the help of his/her peers.
4)    Maintain your trap—Start small. Use variety and give your trap a break periodically
5)    Appraise your catch—assess the changes in the targeted skills frequently and directly. Make modifications or set another trap if ineffective.”

3. Decrease Response Effort and Decrease the Task to Reinforcement Ratio

In addition to not providing the “reinforcement” until the learning task was completed without problem behavior (as in #1), also be sure to make the learning task as easy as possible at first to make sure that the child can be successful for a few times before you make it more challenging. This is decreasing the response effort. Then very slowly make the task a little bit more difficult.

This is also related to decreasing the task to reinforcement ratio. For example, if your child is expected to sit through 3 academic worksheets before taking a break, let him complete only one quarter or one-half of a worksheet and then take a break. And slowly build the task requirement up from there.

This tip is meant to help your child experience more success academically so that he is more likely to feel that he can do it and maybe even have more of a chance to like learning once he realizes that it’s not so bad.

The expectations for every child may be different. Consider how your child is currently doing and what your ultimate goal is when trying to figure out how easy to make his work or how much work he should do before you allow a preferred activity and so on. A Board Certified Behavior Analyst may also be able to assist you with your child’s learning if you are in search of more help.

Regarding all 3 Tips, it is important to be consistent. You will rarely make long-term change in kids by only doing things differently one or a few times. Instead, be consistent and use the tips regularly and you are likely to see more improvement.

For the Full article on, click here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ability Awareness Training

     We found this great article by Teresa Thomas on!  We need more outreach committees actively creating awareness and an inclusive environment for all students to learn and play.  We especially loved that they were calling it Ability Awareness, "because we want kids to focus on the fact that we all have abilities even though we're different."  That's the message we try to send out through our work at The Choice Group- that skill, talent, and hard work aren't exclusive traits but can be fostered in inclusive workplace environments.

Kids Get 'Ability Awareness' Training
by Teresa Thomas, Mail Tribune/TNS | January 26, 2016

MEDFORD, Ore. – Hayden Allen, 9, gestured wildly as he tried to communicate instructions to his classmates without using words.

As he acted out “arranging toy cars in a row,” his classmates guessed that he was counting, dancing and even flying.

Hayden finally gave up.

“It was hard and frustrating, and I couldn’t do it very well,” he said.

Hayden and the rest of the fourth-grade class at Griffin Creek Elementary School last week participated in a series of simulations intended to teach students what it’s like to live with a disability.

The exercises are part of the Medford School District’s Ability Awareness Campaign, which was proposed by the Special Education Parent Outreach Committee.

“We call it ‘Ability Awareness,’ because we want kids to focus on the fact that we all have abilities even though we’re different,” said special education specialist Vanessa Campbell. “It’s about acceptance and awareness.”

Over the course of the next month, Campbell will visit all 14 elementary schools in the district to talk to fourth-graders about different types of disabilities and conduct simulations so they have a better understanding of the challenges facing people with disabilities.

“Some kids had judgmental preconceptions about disabilities, and I challenged them to think about them differently and not use the words ‘weird’ or ‘wrong,'” Campbell said.

The fourth-graders learned about Helen Keller, Joni Eareckson Tada and other people with disabilities, including some of their favorite celebrities – Justin Timberlake, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Orlando Bloom, who has a learning disability, and Cameron Diaz, who has obsessive compulsive disorder.

Following Campbell’s presentation at Griffin Creek Elementary, the fourth-graders participated in a variety of exercises that exposed them to some of the challenges facing people with disabilities.

At one “learning station,” the students had to tie a pair of shoes while wearing gloves so they could better understand how a person’s coordination is affected by Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy and other physical conditions.

The students also were asked to trace shapes and read letters using a mirror, write their name without using their hands, pour water while blindfolded, use a mouth stick and gestures to communicate and spell their name with Braille.

“It’s really hard to not be so frustrated and not be able to do certain things,” said Elijah Dahlstrom, 10, after attempting to write his name with a pen in his mouth. “To them (a person with a disability) pouring water, they just want to be refreshed, but it’s so frustrating because they have to do it over and over and don’t get it.”

Tania Tong, the district’s director of special education and student services, said the Ability Awareness Campaign corresponds with the district’s ongoing anti-bullying campaign and encourages the use of inclusive practices.

“The goal is to increase awareness for students, teachers and staff that everyone is unique and has talents, gifts and capacities and that they shouldn’t be judged solely by their uniqueness or challenges they face,” Tong said.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Free IRS Tax Prep Help!

Many of the clients we work with struggle with the process of filing taxes.  There is a free service that we recommend to anyone in need of assistance in preparing and filing their tax forms this year! The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Programs offer free help for taxpayers who qualify.  Across the country, this program provides IRS-certified tax experts for in-person assistance with self-filing through Free File.  Assistance sites are usually located in community and neighborhood centers, libraries and schools!  Find a location nearest you for Facilitated Self-Assistance, or start filing today by visiting