people with disabilities

Ability Award 2015 - Deb Stanley

The 2015 Ability Award recipient has a vision of improving the lives of people with disabilities by seeing them fully integrated into our communities…. working, living, worshipping and celebrating, side by side with others in the community.

Knowing first-hand what it feels like to be the underdog, tonight’s recipient has spent most of her life protecting and defending the underdog.  Experiencing teasing and bullying and longing to fit in but not knowing how, this person could only imagine what people with disabilities must feel like as they watch from the outside.

When asked if there was a specific incident that motivated her to promote inclusion or a community without barriers, she talked of something that happened when she was in 7th grade. Upon seeing a room of children, sitting in wheelchairs and with other disabilities, she asked the teacher why these children could not be with the rest of the class. The teacher replied, “Because they have disabilities and cannot be with other children.” This did not make sense; they looked like nice children and she wanted to get to know them and be friends. She would never forget peering into that classroom window and wishing there was not a barrier between them.  She shared in her essay, “this specific incident shaped my life, although I did not realize it at the time.”

Tonight’s recipient has spent her life, teaching, advocating, and bridging the gaps in our community. Her passion for helping her students with disabilities goes far beyond the classroom. In fact, knowing how hard it was for her students to successfully find their way into the community, she brought the community to them. She started a Transitions Class and brought presenters from various agencies, careers and backgrounds to talk with the students in the classroom. Before the students graduated, 3 of the 9 in her classroom had employment.  Once the people from the community got to know her students, they were willing to hire the student.

In her essay she wrote, “I love stories of people like Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan who overcame tremendous challenges through pure grit and determination, and the people who help them achieve success.  I hope to become a part of someone else’s story of achieving goals beyond their wildest dreams.”

And that is exactly what she is doing…her career of teaching and influencing students over the years has transitioned to helping people achieve success and fulfill their dreams by connecting them to the community through meaningful employment, mentors and volunteering. She recently resigned her position from Grand Haven High School and started a non-profit called Transition Bridges.

Her goal with Transition Bridges is “to create a profile of our adults so that employers see the person they are hiring with a set of unique gifts and skills, instead of someone with special needs. People in our community need someone to be a community liaison---someone who will connect them with employment, resources, and who will be a consultant to businesses.”

“There is no blue print for this journey that I am on, just one person’s dream of answering her younger self’s question of why people with disabilities are not living, working, and participating in the same activities as those without disabilities. We all deserve the same opportunities to live, work, and experience life side by side. I have made it my life’s mission to do everything possible to make sure that happens.”

We are thrilled and honored to introduce this beautiful, humble, compassionate and genuine woman, Deb Stanley as the 2015 Ability Award Recipient! 

Deb, tonight we honor you as an individual who advocates for inclusive communities, where everyone can participate, contribute, and belong---regardless of ability.

On behalf of Disability Network/Lakeshore, we present you with the 2015 Ability Award.

 

 

Virtual "Access" Online

Lawmakers designed the ADA to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities in five key areas:

  • Public accommodations
  • Employment
  • Government facilities and services
  • Telecommunications
  • Transportation

It is in that first area – public accommodations – that the ADA was initially most evident.

Ramps, lifts, electronic door openers, and restrooms roomy enough for people who use wheelchairs are just a few of the accommodations the legislation required to boost the accessibility of public spaces.

Removing physical barriers helps people with mobility challenges be out and about.

Our world has become a more “virtual” in the last 25 years. People with disabilities need equal access to online communications to be in sync with the world.

Unfortunately, people – especially those with visual or fine motor disabilities - can bemoan the fact that there are no mandated “curb cuts” in the digital “cloud.”

The World Wide Web had not yet revolutionized communications when ADA became the law of the land.

In 1990, few people had email accounts. Online banking was unimaginable. Hand-held communication devices (i.e. mobile phones) were part of the Star Trek universe, but not daily lives of people with no commission in Starfleet Command.

That’s why recent legal challenges lodged under the public accommodations provision of the ADA hover over virtual spaces and services.

The highest profile cases involve Netflix, a popular video entertainment service. Plaintiffs claimed in two unrelated lawsuits in 2012 that Netflix’s online streaming library was in violation of the ADA because no video subtitles were provided.

Complexity of the issue was underscored by the fact that outcomes in two federal district courts were different, although the cases themselves were similar.

One court ruled that the phrase “a place of public accommodation” in the ADA applied only to places with a physical presence.

The other court interpreted the phrase more broadly to include websites, saying they operate like modern-day stores.

The latter interpretation sets an important precedent. Owners of websites that are not designed to be accessible may be sued for failing to take affirmative actions and violating the ADA.

Website accessibility becomes a greater concern every year because:

  • More communication and business is being conducted online.
  • Websites are becoming more sophisticated, graphics-laden and interactive and assistive technologies can’t instantaneously transfer all elements to an alternate format.
  • America is aging and the number of people living with chronic and age-related disabilities is growing.

The courts may have sent an ambiguous message, but Netflix itself is making strides toward greater accessibility.

Netflix has added closed captioning for much of its online streaming video library. It is also adding audio description - a narration track that describes what is happening on-screen – on its most popular original programming.

Let’s hope that the physical accommodations mandated by the ADA to increase accessibility are embraced as a template for removing virtual barriers that people with disabilities often encounter when using the Internet.

Cheers for the Americans with Disabilities Act!

The Americans with Disabilities Act transformed a nation.

If ever a yearlong victory lap was in order, this is it.

The Americans With Disabilities Act became the law of the land on July 26, 1990. As the country celebrates the 25th anniversary of this monumental legislation, it’s fitting that we reflect on ways the ADA has enabled people with disabilities to participate more fully in the workforce and community life.

“I didn’t realize the ADA’s positive impact on my life until I entered college, 10 years after the ADA was signed,” said Lucia Rios, an accessibility specialist with the Disability Network/Lakeshore.

Lucia was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair or crutches to get around. Just 10 years old when the ADA became law, Lucia is among an estimated 55 million Americans with disabilities who enjoy greater opportunities for independence and engagement because of this quantum legislation.

“Because of the ADA,” Lucia said, “there was no question about attending a public and accessible university. When I joined the workforce four years later, I was hired by a company that made accommodations without hesitation.”

Having professional, full-time employment has made it possible for Lucia to provide for herself financially. She owns her own home and is active – really active -- in her community. In addition to her responsibilities at DNL, Lucia is a freelance writer and is currently finishing her first book.

Lucia said, that assured she could roll into higher education, employment, and an ascending career trajectory.

The ADA seeks to protect people with disabilities from discrimination in five key areas:

  •  Employment
  •  Government facilities and services
  • Public accommodations
  • Telecommunications
  • Transportation

The ADA requires accommodations to assure accessibility. These accommodations have become so commonplace that people with disabilities and their allies sometimes forget the quantum difference that eliminating physical barriers has made.

Here’s a short list of changes:

  • Designated parking
  • Ramps into public buildings
  • Curb cuts
  • Handicap accessible restrooms
  • Accessible public transportation options
  • Designated seating for people in wheelchairs at sporting events and in entertainment venues
  • Fire alarms that can be seen as well as heard

The bill, introduced in Congress in 1988, garnered bipartisan support on humanitarian grounds, but there was fierce opposition on cost.

The argument was that ADA-mandated changes might push small businesses out of business.

But the movement for disability rights surged in the wake of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. The public was recognizing the inherent fallacy of “separate but equal” facilities and services. There was a groundswell of acceptance that a more inclusive America would be a stronger America.

Advocacy from many quarters heightened public awareness, but one of the most passionate was Vice Chair of the National Council on Disability Justin Dart Jr., who traversed the nation in the 1980s to conduct public hearings to collect testimonies on disability-related discrimination.

The Disability Rights Movement found champions in the nation’s capitol among President George H.W. Bush and a cadre of lawmakers whose lives were personally impacted by disabilities.

Allies included Atty. General Richard Thornburg, whose son was left physically and mentally disabled as a result of an automobile accident, and California Rep. Tony Coelho, who had epilepsy. Advocates in the Senate included Tom Harkin of Iowa, whose brother was deaf; Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, whose son had a leg amputated, and Robert Dole of Kansas, who sustained lingering combat injuries during World War II.

To be sure, the ideals embodied in the ADA have not been fully realized. It remains a work in progress, yet the progress over the last 25 years is astounding.

In coming weeks, we’ll look at how the ADA has affected life for people with disabilities who live on the lakeshore in the five key areas. Add comments to this story to share your own “then-and-now” observations.

“I’m fortunate that my work allows me to take on an active role in helping eliminate physical and attitudinal barriers about people with disabilities,” Lucia Rios said. “I’ve met many individuals with disabilities who have kept jobs by asking for accommodations, accessed programs for transit or housing, and retained services for additional supports.

“The ADA enables people with disabilities to sustain independent living,” she added, “and contribute to their communities.“

How does the entertainment industry include people with disabilities?

It’s been said that movies reflect life in a way that’s truer than any other art form.

If so, people with disabilities must be riding a crest of popularity.

Did you notice that both “Best Actor” and “Best Actress” in leading role awards at the recent Oscars were presented to movie stars portraying people with disabilities?

Eddie Redmayne was fabulous as the amazing Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.” Redmayne described himself as “the custodian” of the award for Hawking, his family, and all people around the world battling the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Julianne Moore was magnificent in “Still Alice,” a professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease who struggles to stay connected with who she was as her cognitive abilities evaporate. The movie is based on the best-selling novel by Lisa Genova.

Improving the entertainment experience for people with disabilities was also the focus of a campaign launched via commercial during the 2015 Oscars.

The first-ever national advertisement by cable-giant Comcast promoted the company’s new talking guide that reads titles and selections aloud to help people with visual impairments surf through TV listings, program digital video recordings and browse video-on-demand options.

The 60-second ad directed viewers to a short documentary online about a sooooo sweet seven-year-old girl, Emily, who has been blind since birth, but loves watching the movie “The Wizard of Oz” nonetheless. See emilysoz.com.

In the documentary, “Emily’s Oz,” the girl describes how she imagines characters in the story look, and a cast and crew working to create Emily’s vision for viewers with sight.

If you haven’t seen “Emily’s Oz,” please watch. You’ll find yourself celebrating the diversity in a shared human experience.

A minute’s worth of TV advertising during the Academy Awards usually costs about $4 million, but Comcast officials said it hoped to inspire a national conversation about improving access to entertainment for people with disabilities.

In addition to helping the blind, the talking guide could be easier for senior citizens and people with reading disabilities to use, they said.

Features that help people with disabilities tend to be applicable, and acceptable, to able-bodied users, too. That’s the beauty of universal design.

Comcast will also be rolling out a voice-controlled remote later this year.

Amazon.com’s cloud-based Fire TV streaming box also has a voice search option. DirecTV has a smartphone app that allows TV viewers to navigate its program guide by speaking.

Movies can be a powerful way to open eyes and change attitudes in popular culture. Evidence is the ReelAbilities Film and Arts Festivals, which are hosted by disability organizations in 15 cities nationwide, including Chicago, Cincinnati and Columbus. See http://www.reelabilities.org.

These festivals feature award-winning movies by and about people with disabilities. Don’t attend expecting to see Hollywood Blockbuster movies you can catch at a your local multiplex. The emphasis is on excellent independent films.

Let’s compile a list of good movies that fairly portray living with a chronic or age-related disability. (“Forrest Gump,” a terrific allegory, doesn’t really live up to the second requirement.)

We can add these movies to our watch lists on Amazon Prime and Netflix, or borrow them from the library.

Here are some favorites to get us started:

  • Children of a Lesser God (hearing)
  • Scent of a Woman (sight)
  • Soul Surfer (amputation)
  • I Am Sam (cognitive disability)
  • A Beautiful Mind (schizophrenia)
  • My Left Foot (cerebral palsy)
  • Rory O’Shea Was Here (cerebral palsy)
  • Iris (Alzheimer’s Disease)
  • Rain Man (autism spectrum)
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (autism spectrum)
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (aging)
  • Robot and Frank (aging)

Add your favorites in the comments section. And, if you think “Forrest Gump” deserves to be on the list, say that, too.

Rick Diamond

At Disability Network/Lakeshore, 1993 is regarded as a very special year.

That’s not because Bill Clinton was inaugurated as the 42nd president, because Apartheid ended with a new democratic government in South Africa, or because the first graphical user interface browser (Mosaic) made it easy to navigate the World Wide Web.

The year 1993 is a bright light in DNL’s history because that’s when the organization hired Rick Diamond, director of employment services.

“Ruth Stegeman moved in with the furniture at the organization from its inception for 19 years,” Diamond said. “And, I guess one could say that I moved in with the artwork. And, now it’s been 21 years.”

Diamond is the organization’s most venerable employee. Stegeman retired in 2011.

Originally the organization was known as Lakeshore Center for Independent Living, which began as a program of the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC).

A grant from the U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration allowed the organization to grow to provide a range of services to more than 1,200 people with a range of disabilities in Ottawa and Allegan counties annually.

Diamond is the chief liaison between Michigan Rehabilitation Services, which contracts with Disability Network/Lakeshore to provide unemployed people with disabilities job skills training and job search coaching.

“Our focus goes beyond independent living,” Diamond said. “We try to address every issue that’s a barrier to someone getting and keeping a job.”

More often than not, the barrier is reliable transportation. That’s why DNL’s leadership in getting voters to approve the Macatawa Area Express transit millage in 2006 was monumental. It provided funding which expanded local bus service for all people.

Most employers are willing to teach “hard” skills – the tasks necessary to perform the work. Few, Diamond said, are willing to teach “soft” skills like teamwork, etiquette, punctuality, an optimistic attitude, and taking responsibility for one’s actions.

Providing training that helps people with “more abilities than disabilities” land long-term jobs resonates with Diamond’s deepest values about the giftedness of people and helping humankind.

Diamond, who grew up in Marshall and Battle Creek, holds a Master’s of Divinity degree, but decided he wasn’t cut out for the ministry.

Some would say he has found a vocation that allows him to minister to the needs of people in very practical ways.

Attitudes about the organization, like attitudes about people with disabilities, have evolved during Diamond’s two decades on the job.

When he started, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was quite new. Area employers were anxious and fearful they would be cited for noncompliance, Diamond said. Business and industry needed skilled people to fill jobs, but had a hard time believing that appropriately accommodated workers with disabilities could be productive.

It gradually got easier to place workers with visible and invisible disabilities – until the economy “tanked” about 2007, Diamond said.

Following the “last hired, first fired” practice, a lot of people with disabilities became unemployed again.

“We’ve come out of that and employers now feel they have jobs they can’t fill with qualified people,” Diamond said. “They are looking to us again for a pool of potential employees.”

Most of the people Disability Network/Lakeshore is working with in employment services have acquired or age-related disabilities that make it difficult or impossible to continue a previous career.

Many have held long-term jobs, but have a condition or circumstances which require them to “adjust to a new normal, including different employment,” Diamond said.

Diamond calls disabilities “the ultimate equal opportunity employer.” It can strike anybody at any time.

“All people dream of having a nice place, a loving relationship and family,” Diamond said. “They want to live their lives as fully as possible. And most of those who aren’t working desperately want to find and keep a job.”

The ADA hasn’t achieved equal opportunity for people with disabilities, but Diamond says things get just a little bit better every year.

He is proud to be part of an organization that’s part of the solution.

“I’m blessed to have a job that I love and doesn’t feel like work,” Diamond said. “I’m continuing to learn and grow.”