UCP Chats with U.S. National Paralympic Soccer Team

UCP recently spoke with Stuart Sharp, Head Coach of the U.S. National Paralympic Soccer Team, and two of the team’s players, Chris Ahrens and Rene Renteria to learn more about the sport. Chatting with us fresh after a team’s practice in San Diego, California, Sharp discusses the rules of the sport, its classification system, ways people can become involved and more. Ahrens, who has cerebral palsy and Renteria, who has a traumatic brain injury, share their stories of how they became involved with Paralympic soccer, as well as discuss their training routines. Check out the full video below! If you would like to learn more, you can follow the team on Facebook and Twitter or visit http://www.ussoccer.com/paralympic-soccer.

 

Remembering a Great Camper, Volunteer, Staff Member and Brother

Guest post by Bill McCool, Executive Director of UCP of Delaware

 

Petey & Mary 2

Peter Collins was a camper, volunteer and staff member for United Cerebral Palsy of Delaware’s Camp Manito.  Mary Arden Collins, who is a singer/songwriter in Los Angeles, recently produced a video about her wonderful brother Pete, who passed away in May of this year.  The video tells a great story about Pete, who found ways, both big and small, to give back to the camp and the people he loved.   

Pete started at Camp Manito when he was three years old.  His mother put him on the bus that came to pick him up at their house, but she secretly followed the bus to make sure that he was going to be ok.  It must have worked out, because for the next 35 years, Pete came to camp every summer.

Mary Arden also has her own camp memories.  As a teenager, she became one of the camp volunteers and eventually a counselor.  Mary Arden pursued a music career, but she has always been proud of her association with UCP’s Camp Manito.  When she would come back to Delaware, she would come to the camp and perform for the kids.  She and Pete, who played a bodhran drum, performed together.

Pete & Mary edit.jpg

There has always been a sense of family at UCP’s Camp Manito, probably because we have watched so many children grow up here.  As small children, they are campers; as teens, they become volunteers; as high school and college students, they become staff; as adults, they move into the community and they find ways to give back to the program and to the kids who are following after them.  And while the progression is not the same for everyone, there is a feeling of belonging and sharing that envelops all of the staff, volunteers and campers.

When Peter was too old to attend as a camper, he became one of the camp staff and then a volunteer.  His annual position here was camp receptionist.  He answered the phone, directed callers to UCP staff and took messages.  In the morning, he greeted campers and their parents when they arrived; in the afternoons, he used our public address system to call campers to the lobby when their parents came to pick them up.  He chased down staff to give them their messages.  During the off season he stayed in touch with his camp friends, calling them and talking about good times at camp, telling them he was anxious for summer’s return. He was here every June; he always came back to take care of the phones and do his job.  He was good at what he did, and he was reliable; we always knew we could count on him.

Like any charitable organization, UCP has had its up and down periods, and during one down period, UCP had to cut back the number of weeks the camp could be open from six to four weeks.  Pete made a decision that changed the course of that summer for all of the children who were here.  He donated enough money to help UCP stay open for an additional week of camp.  His love for the camp, our campers, and the work he was doing meant a great deal to Peter.  He gave his donation happily, and he was here that week doing his job as usual.  His donation meant others could enjoy what he had always enjoyed – a longer summer together with the friends they loved.

Pull together any group of adults who attended camp when they were younger and the stories you will hear will amaze you.  It’s the power of camp; it’s the power of their shared experience.  They have an appreciation for the program and a love for the people they grew up with.  Peter was that person too.  He showed his deep feelings for our children and the camp that particular summer and every summer he was here.  We lost Peter this year, but he will never be forgotten by the folks who all shared the same love he had for Camp Manito.

Please take a few moments to watch and hear the video put together by Mary Arden.  The song was written by Mary Arden and Pete was her inspiration.

Bill McCool

 In Memory of Peter Collins, by Mary Arden

 

Family Ties Ensure a Life Without Limits

The following is a guest post by Betsy Mays, 24 who has three older siblings including Blake (31), Lauren (30), and Jamie (26). Lauren has Cerebral Palsy. 

Mays Family at the Beach

Mays Family at the Beach

“My sister Lauren is one of my best friends and she has Cerebral Palsy. Growing up I don’t think I realized that there was anything too different about my sister. I knew that she couldn’t walk, but that didn’t stop my brothers and I from wheeling (or dragging) her around. I knew she couldn’t talk, but my family created a type of communication that worked for us; we are all REALLY good at 20 questions. I knew she couldn’t care for herself, but that’s what we were all there for!

I loved and still love being around my big sister at every waking moment. She is my audience when my parents or brothers couldn’t stand to watch one more of my performances. She is my go to person when I want to go swimming, and she is the one person in my family that knows all my secrets!

Mays Family PortraitGrowing up my mom always told my brothers and I that not everyone would always be as kind to my sister as we would hope or that people may stare at her because they simply didn’t understand what Cerebral Palsy is. So, being the outspoken little ball of joy that I was, I loved to educate my friends (and strangers who loved to stare) about my sisters condition! I would let everyone know that my sister wasn’t “crippled” but that she was just like everyone else, and she just so happened to have Cerebral Palsy.  My sister has always, and continues to, live a life without limits.

I remember when my siblings and I were little we would put her on a sleeping bag or a bean bag and pull her around the house so she could play with us. My brothers and I made sure to always include her, and my parents made sure that Lauren was involved in anything she wanted to! She was an excellent student, participated in school plays, Special Olympics, and and graduated with a regular high school diploma!

She loves to go to the beach, swim, and loves to be around the whole family. My nephews and niece are growing up around my sister and they love their Aunt LaLa. At such a young age they have learned that a person is not defined by a disability!

Now that we are all older, my sister has developed health problems that my family was not quite prepared for. We have never really needed any extra assistance because my sister’s health has never been an issue that we couldn’t handle on our own. Lauren was the person in our family that was virtually never sick! Thankfully my family is really close and we have great friends who continue to show us love and support, and my sister is tough as nails!

Mays Halloween

Halloween

I am thankful that my sister has always been treated with respect and compassion by everyone she encounters. All of my siblings have grown up to be in helping professions- go figure! Blake is a police officer, Jamie is currently in school for health promotion, and I am a social worker. We all try to be advocates for people living with disabilities and I hope that other families out there are doing their best to educate family, friends, and strangers about what it means to live with a disability. I cannot speak for everyone, but my family lives to ensure that Lauren can live a life without limits!”

Navigating the Worlds of Education and Employment with a Disability

Special guest blog post by Maureen Marshall, Electrical Engineer

 

Maureen Marshall 3

Having cerebral palsy (CP) definitely has its challenges and there is no denying that, but there are also so many possibilities for achievement in both education and where that education leads you down your career path.  I was diagnosed with CP at the age of 2 and, though my parents were told I may never attend regular classes in school or actually ever learn to read and write, I proved everyone wrong and successfully attended regular classes– even advanced classes because I pushed myself to prove everyone wrong and excel.  I graduated, not once but 3 times: I graduated from high school; I have a Bachelors of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, a Master of Business Administration degree in Technology; and a Certificate in Strategy and Innovation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

 

Believe it or not, the biggest challenge I had in school was with the teachers.  While I was in elementary and middle school, I was forced out of orchestra class because I did not hold the bow correctly and I failed typing because I did not type with both hands.  In both cases, neither teacher was willing to recognize that I physically could not do what they wanted me to do, nor even the fact that I was able to succeed through modifying the way I performed the task.  Not having full use of my right side, I held the bow with a firm grip; no pinky finger up and I typed with one hand; not both. 

As I moved through high school and college, I learned to not register for classes that would be a physical challenge for me and cause further pass/fail issues, such as gym and swimming classes.  It was not worth the fight with the school administrators to get them to accept my limitations.  Instead, I enjoyed sports with my friends, who accepted these limitations and took swimming classes on my own where there was no pass/fail criterion.  When it came to choosing a field of study in college, I recognized that I would need a career that focused on my strengths and one that I could advance in.  I always loved and did well in math and science courses, so engineering was the path I chose to take– which I have had great success. Engineering allows me to use my knowledge and experiences, with little or no physical activity. There are so many different engineering positions and fields to chose from– one can definitely find one that fits not only their strengths but their abilities.  I have also found that industry is very accommodating to those with disabilities and will make every effort to ensure all obstacles are removed.  For instance, if you chose to work in a manufacturing plant, where getting around can be difficult, they have been known to install elevators or even mark walkways to allow wheelchair accessibility.

Maureen Marshall 2

I’ve experienced some interesting moments from the time I graduated to now– and one I’ll never forget is my first interview!  During the middle of the interview, I had to leave the room to get a form at the request of the person interviewing me and, when I came back to the room, I landed flat on my face.  For some reason, from the time I left the room to re-entering it, someone had placed a 2×4 board across the bottom of the doorway, which I tripped over when walking back into the room.  Mortified and embarrassed, I decided to get up as quickly as possible, gain my composure, laugh (instead of cry) and simply comment, “Well, that wasn’t there before!” and move on with the interview like nothing happened.  To this day, I will never know if that was an interview tactic or a simple mistake of someone working in the office area.  However, I am happy to say I got the job and I think a lot of that had to do with how I handled that situation! 

I have never called out my disability to any potential employers or future colleagues and over the years very few have inquired, even though it is very noticeable.  What worked for me, is taking on every situation, like there is nothing limiting me, and simply ‘adjust’ as needed.  An obstacle I have to overcome on a daily basis is when I am with a group heading either to a meeting or out to lunch and they head for stairs.  I will simply let them know to meet me by the elevator or ask where I could meet them after I find the elevator.  I have to say I have been very blessed with employers and colleagues that have never called out my disability either.  Do not get me wrong, there have also been a few challenging moments throughout the years too.  

Several years back, there was an incident where I was out of the country for a business trip. While at dinner with a group of colleagues, one of them decided to call me “Crip” (a term short for cripple).  I was shocked when I heard this reference and especially from a superior.  At first, I ignored what I heard, hoping I was mistaken.  However after he repeated it several times, I quickly stated in return, “I am sorry.  Are you talking to me?  Because if you are, I do not answer to that, nor does my disability change who I am and why we are here.”  Unfortunately for him, he continued to refer to me as “Crip,” even after my request throughout the dinner.  All I could do was continue to ignore him.  I was very surprised that the others around the table never participated nor tried to stop him right then and there.  However, once we landed back home and returned to work, he was fired on the spot because they had addressed their concerns with our Human Resources Department without me knowing– taking quick care of the issue. 

I have also had bosses that have treated me differently than others, not because of my performance, but because they were not comfortable with my disability.  In cases like this, I have learned it’s best to move on and get out from under them as quickly as possible– take actions in my own hands and find a new position.

Maureen Marshall 1

In today’s day and time, if one is treating someone differently– not promoting them, holding them back from situations or otherwise– it’s their problem and not yours! 

In the end, I am very proud to state that I am witness to the fact that the professional environment for persons with disabilities has improved over the last 20 years.  More and more buildings are accessible and employers are welcoming the diversity in the workplace.  Unfortunately, there will always be those that still need to be educated on acceptance of persons with disabilities.  The good news is that we are the change agents and it is up to us to teach them that those with disabilities are very capable of being high performers.

If I were to offer advice to students with disabilities who are interested in careers in engineering and technology, it would be– do not let anyone or anything stop you! 

 

Marshall is from Royal Oak, Michigan and has been married for nearly twenty years. She has three sons and has held a career as an Electrical Engineer in the automotive and defense markets for more than twenty years.

Social Security Disability Benefits: Can I Apply?

by Lisa Giorgetti, Community Liaison, Social Security Disability Help

 

LisaProfile

Everyone is encouraged to live life without limitations, no matter who you are and what you face on a day-to-day basis. Just as many people encounter daily obstacles, the disability community has additional challenges to face, from going to physical therapy to paying dreaded medical bills. Health and other costs of living can certainly add up and put strain on your wallet. Social Security Disability benefits can help your family obtain some desired financial relief. Knowing all the facts and information about disability benefits helps better prepare you for the application process in order to file a successful claim.

 

 

Preparing for the Disability Application Process 

There are a number of steps to take in preparation for the application process. These steps will help ensure the success of your Social Security Disability claim.

 

Disability Benefits Programs

The first thing to consider when applying is to decide which program you’re eligible for, either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

If you’ve been a member of the workforce and suddenly find yourself unable to complete any sort of work activity and receive income, you could qualify for SSDI. You need to have paid the correct amount of Social Security taxes, depending on your age, when you were working. http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/ssdi/qualify-for-ssdi 

But what if you haven’t had the chance to obtain enough work credits or if the SSDI payments aren’t enough? Then SSI could be your answer as it’s a need-based program. You will just need to prove that your assets and household income are below the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) threshold. Also, if you have a child living with a disability and you meet the asset and income limit, you would want to apply for SSI through the parental deeming process. http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/ssi/qualify-for-ssi

 

Determining Disability Under SSA Guidelines

No matter what disability benefits program you apply for, whether SSDI or SSI, you need to be classified as a “disabled” individual by the SSA. This means that your condition needs to be long-term, at least 12 months, or permanent that absolutely prevents you from performing any sort of work activity whatsoever.

The SSA also has published a “Blue Book” of medical listings with detailed criteria required to qualify for disability benefits as a result of a disabling condition. If your disability is listed in the Blue Book, you will just need to prove that you meet the requirements set forth. If, on the off chance, your condition isn’t listed, don’t worry. You will just have to prove that your condition meets the criteria of one of the listings or that it results in absolute inability to work. http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/disabling-conditions

For example, cerebral palsy is found in the Blue Book in Section 11.07 under neurological disorders. Since cerebral palsy is a long-term condition, your chances of receiving benefits can be likely. This is because cerebral palsy is considered by the SSA to be a “presumptive disability”. As a result, you may be able to: 

  • Start receiving payments, while the SSA reviews your application;
  • Receive these payments for up to six months during the application process; and
  • If SSA then denies your claim, you do not have to pay back the money sent to you.


Getting Together the Paperwork You Will Need
           

When getting ready to apply for benefits, you will need to show SSA proof of:

  • United States citizenship or legal residency in the US
  • Age
  • Living Arrangements
  • Medical Records
  • Income and Assets
  • Work History

Make sure to provide originals with your application, and keep copies to yourself (the only copies the SSA will accept are certified copies from the entity that issued them).

 

Meeting Eligibility Requirements 

As previously stated, each medical condition listed in the Blue Book has eligibility criteria that need to be met in order to be considered disabled. If you’re able to meet the requirements, you will need to prove to the SSA with proper documentation, such as doctor’s notes or observations from a therapist. 

In the example of applying with cerebral palsy, as an adult or child, the specific requirements vary:

For a child to be eligible to receive benefits due to cerebral palsy, the SSA will compare the child’s motor skills and abilities to those of children within the same age group. For example, if the cerebral palsy interferes with the ability to:

  • Take care of personal hygiene
  • Feed himself or herself
  • Participate in activities for children within his or her age group without assistance
  • Problems with one of the above, coupled with seizures, a low IQ for his/her age, and/or speech, hearing, or vision impairments
  • Using his or her hands, arms, and/or legs

For an adult applying for SSI or SSDI benefits due to cerebral palsy, they must keep in mind that in order to qualify for benefits, the disability has to affect the applicant’s activities of daily living. These activities include:

  • Walking
  • Standing
  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Speaking
  • Writing
  • Household chores

If your cerebral palsy interferes with these activities, then you have a higher chance of being approved for disability benefits.

 

The Application Process

There are many SSA field offices located throughout the country; so it should be easy to find a location that is close to you. However, you may apply either:

  • In person
  • By mail
  • By filling out an application online

 If you decide to apply in person, it would be better to call in advance to schedule an appointment, since sometimes the field offices are crowded and you may have to wait in line.

 

What Happens if Your Initial Claim is Denied?

If your claim is denied, no need to panic. There’s still a possibility to be approved for benefits. In fact, most people are denied when they first apply for benefits. No matter how tempting it may be, don’t simply apply again. Instead, use the appeal process. The denial letter will include the information about how to file an appeal. Make sure you appeal within the 60-day period provided for doing so. It’s also helpful to know that:

  • Some jurisdictions require a reconsideration process before you can get a hearing; while others will allow you to schedule a hearing without the reconsideration step.
  • The person who will be in charge of your hearing will be an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
  • The ALJ was not involved in your initial application process
  • Sometimes, a videoconference hearing will be allowed. If this is the case, the SSA will notify you beforehand.
  • The ALJ will ask you questions about your disability
  • A vocational expert may also be present and ask additional questions

  

What Can You Expect in Terms of Benefits? 

Once you’re approved for Social Security Disability benefits, you can expect to receive additional payments (beyond the initial presumptive disability payments):

  • Between four to six weeks from when you receive your notification of approval
  • On the first day of every month
  • SSDI benefits are based on the applicant’s work record and earnings while working
  • SSI benefits are independent on the applicant’s work record; so even if you have never worked, you can still be eligible to receive SSI benefits.

 

Should You Hire an Attorney? 

Disability lawyers and representatives can assist you throughout the entire process of applying for SSI or SSDI benefits. When initially applying for benefits, getting all of the paperwork together can be done by you or a loved one; so if you are comfortable getting that part of the process done without legal assistance, then you can do so.

However, if your benefits are denied and you have to go to a hearing, it would be best to appear with an attorney, since they will know which questions to ask you to better show the judge that you are entitled to benefits. 

You don’t need to worry about having to come up with the money to pay your Social Security Disability lawyer. Their fee is a percentage of the benefits awarded to you in the form of back pay. Also, you don’t have to worry that your funds will run out in order to pay for your lawyer, since, by law, they can only take up to 25% (up to a maximum of $6,000) of any past due benefits owed to you. 

Although the process can appear to be daunting, every year, thousands of people are able to get their benefits successfully. If you or your loved one lives with a disability, you have the option to apply for SSI or SSDI benefits. These are benefits you may be entitled to by law, and they can significantly alleviate any financial stress you may be experiencing. 

 

Lisa Giorgetti is from Boston, MA and is the Community Liaison for Social Security Disability Help where she works to advocate for disability awareness and assist people throughout the Social Security Disability application process. For more information about Social Security Disability assistance, visit http://disability-benefits-help.org or contact via email help@disability-benefits-help.org.

UCP’s Summer Interns Soak In Affiliate Visit

by Kyle Khachadurian, External Affairs Intern, Kaitlyn Meuser, External Affairs Intern and Michael Wothe, Affiliate Services and Public Education Intern at UCP’s National Office

 

outside pathways academy

Recently, we took a trip to UCP of Central Pennsylvania (UCP of CPA) in order to get a taste of what an affiliate does and how it operates. The first thing we noticed is that UCP of CPA is huge! Working in UCP’s national office, we interact with people through referring them to their local UCP affiliates and/or other resources. Seeing, firsthand, an affiliate that treats the slogan “life without limits” in such a direct way refreshed all of us.

 [Left: Staff from UCP National and UCP of Central Pennsylvania at Pathways Academy]

The work going on at UCP of CPA is quite spectacular. We were able to visit several of their departments and programs: Pathways Academy, a residence for adults with disabilities that is fully equipped with SmartHome technology. The SmartHome technology consists of sensors on all of the windows, doors, and even chairs and beds to let the house staff know if any of the residents may have left and need assistance. 

interacting CACC kids 2

[Right: Interacting with children at the Capital Area Children’s Center]

Our next stop was at their Capital Area Children’s Center, which is a preschool for young children, ages six weeks to five years old, with and without disabilities. The school has 75% of its students without disabilities and 25% with a range of disabilities. Aside from various therapies, which happen in the classroom, the children with disabilities are taught the same things, at the same pace, as the children without disabilities– and it works. When we visited, a 4-year-old girl came up to us and said hello. She started telling us how she was graduating the following day. We later learned she was non-verbal when she began school there! It was absolutely incredible to be able to see the “real world” results from the programs at UCP of CPA.

The last stop on our UCP of CPA journey was at their Assistive Technology/Changing Hands Center. There, we seemingly saw every kind of assistive technology you could possibly think of, and several that you’d never think of, such as a button shaped like a face. There was also a pile of board games that were all in braille. After that, we saw the Changing Hands Center that was a sort of “exchange” for mobility aids and devices. If someone needs a type of device, he or she calls and asks for it. If UCP of CPA has one available, the device gets cleaned, and the person comes to pick it up free of charge. You can also donate old equipment that you no longer need to the Changing Hands Center.

AT includees games

[Left: Checking out board games in braille]

The striking thing about the work this UCP affiliate is doing is that their passion for what they are doing is apparent and absolutely infectious. It was great to see the positive impact technology can have on the lives of individuals with various disabilities, as well as the positive impact that early intervention and inclusion can have on young children — seen from the bright, smiling faces of the kids enrolled at UCP of CPA’s Children’s Center. Nearly all of the staff we met has a connection with cerebral palsy or other disabilities, be it a family member, friend or loved one. They treated us like we belonged there, and we truly felt welcomed. UCP of CPA is a shining example of the great work UCP affiliates are doing across the United States, in Canada, and Australia!

 

An Open Letter to Weird Al Yankovic

Dear Mr. Yankovic (may we call you Weird Al?),

Thanks for your catchy summer hit “Word Crimes.” We were having a lot of fun bopping to the beat of this parody of “Blurred Lines” and laughing along with your clever lyrics. That is until we reached the final chorus, where you sang “cause you write like a spastic.”

You may not be aware, but “spastic” can carry a very un-funny meaning for people born with cerebral palsy (CP) and other disabilities and their families. We understand you were poking fun at people who don’t use proper grammar by implying that they lack intelligence. There are only so many ways you can say that – “moron,” “clown,” “stupid” – so we understand you have to reach a little for more examples.

But, you should know that “spastic” is a term that describes certain aspects of CP and it has no bearing at all on a person’s intelligence. The term is far too often used to insult people with disabilities, instead of simply describing a condition. Similarly, the word “retarded” long ago moved from the realm of clinical jargon to disrespectful slang for someone with an intellectual disability. It is now rejected as being not only outdated, but also incredibly offensive. When you go on to say “get out of the gene pool, try not to drool” in your song, you are portraying people with disabilities (inaccurately) as somehow less intelligent and less valuable than other human beings.

Here are some facts about CP that you might want to know: there are 17 million people in the world who have CP; it is estimated that 1 in 323 children is born with CP (that’s a pretty big fan base); CP results when an injury to the brain occurs before, during or after birth; and CP can affect mobility, speech and other functions specific to which part of the brain was injured. While people with CP sometimes have other co-occurring disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, it doesn’t automatically mean that they lack intelligence (or a good grasp of the English language). And, it certainly doesn’t mean that they are not deserving of your respect.

Weird Al, we hope you will take this into consideration when you’re writing. We all love a  good laugh,but not at the expense of people with disabilities and their families and friends.

Thank you,

United Cerebral Palsy 

Albert Pujols “Pinch Hits” to Support 20th Anniversary of the Toys“R”Us Toy Guide For Differently-Abled Kids®

 

Toys“R”Us® announced the release of its 20th Anniversary edition of the Toys“R”Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids®, an easy-to-use toy selection resource for those who know, love and shop for children with disabilities. Now in its second decade of annual publication, the complimentary shopping guide is a go-to for families, friends and caregivers involved in the special needs community, and is available in Toys“R”Us® and Babies“R”Us® stores nationwide, as well as online at Toysrus.com/DifferentlyAbledin both English and Spanish. This year, Toys“R”Us is teaming up with baseball World Champion, proud father and special needs advocate, Albert Pujols, who appears on the cover alongside Cameron Withers, a 5-year-old boy from Los Angeles.

While Pujols is known for his passion on the diamond, his dedication to the special needs community is even greater. As a parent to a daughter with Down syndrome, Pujols serves as a vocal advocate for children with special needs through the Pujols Family Foundation. Since 2005, the Pujols Family Foundation has worked diligently to provide children and families living with Down syndrome with the tools they need to thrive. As part of the launch of this year’s Guide, Pujols will bring that same devotion to his partnership with Toys“R”Us in helping to reach its customers nationwide and raise awareness of this one-of-a-kind resource.

“As a proud dad to my beautiful daughter, Bella, who lives with Down syndrome, I understand how important it is to have resources like the Toys“R”Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids to help in making informed choices to support a child’s development. And, as a professional athlete, I truly value the importance of play and recognize the impact it has in the lives of children who face everyday challenges – for these kids, playtime is not just about fun, it’s an opportunity to explore their strengths and experience success in reaching each new milestone,” said nine-time All-Star baseball player, Albert Pujols. “I have a tremendous amount of passion for this cause, and I’m excited to partner with Toys“R”Us to make it easier for gift-givers to find toys for the special needs children in their lives that will inspire their imagination, encourage inclusive play and help them develop new skills.”

Trusted Toy Recommendations Tailored to Children’s Individual Abilities

Serving as a trusted resource for family, friends and caregivers of children with special needs, the Guide is packed with everyday playthings selected for their unique ability to help kids build critical skills, such as creativity, fine and gross motor and self-esteem, during playtime. Each of the toys featured in the 63-page buying guide has been vetted in partnership with the National Lekotek Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making play accessible for children of all abilities. 

To equip parents with targeted recommendations as they set out in selecting a toy for their child’s specific set of abilities, each toy in the Guide is paired with skill-building icons, which help users easily identify the playthings that are most suitable for the child they’re shopping for. The following are examples of toys featured in the 2014 Guide, highlighted by the skill they promote:

  • AuditoryBaby Einstein Octoplush from Kids II®
  • CreativityMega Bloks Build ‘n Learn Table from MEGA® Brands
  • Fine MotorHot Wheels KidPicks Super 6-in-1 Track Set from Mattel®
  • Gross MotorMonster Dirt Diggers from Little Tikes®
  • LanguageDoctor Role Play Set from Melissa & Doug®
  • Self EsteemClassic Doodler with 2 Stampers from Fisher-Price®
  • Social SkillsElefun & Friends Chasin’ Cheeky from Hasbro®
  • TactileCyclone from Radio Flyer®
  • ThinkingConnect & Create Geometric Set from Imaginarium
  • VisualMarker Maker from Crayola®

Through the Toys“R”Us Children’s Fund, Toys“R”Us, Inc. has long supported the special needs community through organizations such as: American Society for Deaf Children, Autism Speaks, the Pujols Family Foundation, HollyRod Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Down Syndrome Society, National Lekotek Center, National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, National Center for Learning Disabilities, Special Olympics, Spina Bifida Association and United Cerebral Palsy. For more information, please visit www.toysrusinc.com/charitable-giving/

Shopping the Guide, In-Store, Online and On-the-Go

Those who prefer to browse online can take advantage of the shop-by-skill option at Toysrus.com/DifferentlyAbled. Customers can narrow their toy selection by focusing on a specific skill to refine their search. Shoppers can also view the Guide via their smartphone by scanning the QR code featured on dedicated signage located at their Toys“R”Us store’s Customer Service Desk. Those searching for mobile apps can also download the official Toys“R”Us App Guide for Differently-Abled Kids. Using the same skills criteria featured within the traditional Guide, the App Guide provides a convenient, on-the-go resource for viewing, researching and comparing mobile apps designed to build individual development skills for children of all ages. All apps featured within this helpful resource can be found in the App Store for iOS or the Google Play Store for Android.

In addition to finding toy recommendations, parents can peruse the Guide’s “Top Ten Tips for Buying Toys,” prepared by the National Lekotek Center, as well as “Safe Play Tips for Children with Special Needs,” which were created based on research collected from leading safety and special needs organizations, to help avoid playtime injuries.

Join the Conversation Using #ToysforAll

Throughout the year, Toys“R”Us will continue to leverage its social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, to share toy-buying tips and recommendations found in the Guide, as well as exclusive behind-the-scenes content from the cover shoot with Albert Pujols. The company is encouraging fans and followers to join the conversation and support the power of play in the lives of all children by using hashtag #ToysForAll. For more information about the Toys“R”Us Toy Guide For Differently-Abled Kids, visit Toysrus.com/DifferentlyAbled.

UCP Seguin Volunteers Show Support for Vets at The Moving Wall

UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago paid a visit to The Moving Wall as it passed through Berwyn, Illinois August 7 through 11. The Wall, a smaller replica of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial in Washington D.C., has been touring the United States for 30 years. Berwyn Mayor Robert J. Lovero and the Berwyn Development Corporation sponsored the wall’s visit to the Chicago areas and and UCP Seguin’s “Community Connections” program jumped in to provide some of the many volunteers needed to ensure a meaningful experience for local veterans and others. 

A group of people, some older, some younger, posing for a picture in the middle of a field.

Seguin volunteers, including people with disabilities and staff members, helped loved ones locate the names of their friends and family members on the exhibit. Afterwards they assisted with routine maintenance of the exhibit.

“We are especially proud of the way people with disabilities and staff generously contributed to this poignant memorial,” stated John Voit, UCP Seguin President and CEO. “The Moving Wall brought together, side by side, people with and without disabilities to commemorate the brave souls we have lost to war. Not only do the people we serve benefit from this experience, but so does the whole community.”

The “Community Connections” program helps people with disabilities give back to their community. UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago is an affiliate of United Cerebral Palsy serving 1000 children and adults with disabilities throughout the Greater Chicago area.

Dating with a Disability

By D’Arcee Neal

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and articles related to disability and dating recently and they tend to present you with these epic checklists that most able-bodied people aren’t going to sift through, because much like two people on a first date, no one likes to play 20 questions. So I’m going to try to boil it down to what is essential, in my opinion.

 Last summer I was at dinner with a married couple who both used wheelchairs and I decided to ask them about relationships. I asked them very candidly if they found it difficult to be in relationships before they found each other. I was interested to see how different genders would answer that question. The husband replied almost immediately, “Oh I had no trouble at all. I had so many dates in college I had to tell them to go away.” When I turned to his wife, she took several seconds to answer.

“It was hard. Very hard,” she said. “I never really realized how difficult until I was graduating from college, but I guess men are different that way.”

Whether you’re a man or a woman with a disability does have an effect on your dating experience. Based on what I’ve seen and been told, women tend to put physicality lower on the scale of attractive traits when looking for a potential partner whereas men are much more attuned to what a woman’s body is like. It may not top the list of what they’re looking for, but for most guys, it’s a major factor

D'Arcee Neal

D’Arcee Neal

As a gay man I can only speak to the experiences that I have had, and certainly not for all people with disabilities, but I also think that the type of disability you have alters the perceptions of the people you’re attempting to woo. While some may argue that dating with any disability at all levels the playing field in regards to the degree of difficulty, I argue against that. I think we tend to believe that what we see is what we get, at least at first glance, and a visible, physical disability can put the brakes on a relationship before it even gets started.

In the world of online dating, when crafting a profile you are given the opportunity to present to the world the face of your choosing, and with less visible disabilities, it is your decision to withhold that information until a better time. This could be for better or for worse, depending on the severity of the disability. At first glance, people will immediately begin creating perceptions of what they think you are like. I do it. You do it. It’s what we do.

But I think this is the crux of what makes dating with a disability so difficult. I would like to believe that people are generally accepting of the majority of people with disabilities as far as friendships go, but once you move into the realm of more intimate, romantic intentions, that person is suddenly confronted with their own personal comfort level at having to include the person with the disability into their lives, from the routine issues like transportation, to the far more personal idea of sex. In the gay community, I believe that many people are not ready to handle the idea of something outside of the norm of what they already expect.

Take the ubiquitous statement “I enjoy long walks on the beach” as a measure of compatibility. People without disabilities may think, “Could we walk in the park? Maybe you like hiking or camping instead?” That’s still in the realm of compatible since those options are about sharing some sort of physical activity with one another. When dealing with wheelchair users, that idea is immediately fractured because rolling in sand (or up a mountainside) is a cumbersome and energy-sapping endeavor that leaves you looking sweaty and ridiculous. When first setting up an account or updating information, many people with disabilities (myself included) struggle with the idea of including that information. It’s nice to be honest and upfront with people, but come on, it’s also nice to be noticed and taken at least halfway seriously before you start in on what could potentially be the mood-killer.

So how then, to handle these pitfalls? I’m not going to say that I’m a guru of information and that what I suggest is a fix-all approach, but in my experience, there are some things that can make for better dating regardless of disability:

  • Decide how important your disability is to you before publishing information online. Don’t let others dictate how to see yourself. If to you, it’s a minor inconvenience, then treat it as such. It’s nobody’s business but yours until you choose.
  • Align yourself with people whom you have basic ideals in common with. If getting around is a hassle to you, trying to date someone who likes to audition for American Ninja every weekend probably isn’t going to work out well.  This seems like a basic thing to say, but for people with disabilities, the basics get even more basic when it comes to things like walking.
  • Know your comfort level. Sometimes a lunch can be just that. Sometimes it can be more, and if all your wanting is dessert (both metaphorically and actual) then make sure that information is made apparent.
  • Being single can be amazing, if you let it. You deserve the person that is ready for YOU, not the other way around. Most of the time people with disabilities can’t alter their circumstances anyway, so either let the person you want to date appreciate your uniqueness, or find someone that will. There’s nothing worse than being shoehorned into a situation and praying it will fit.
  • Last but not least, understand that not everyone is ready for your awesomeness. This is a very hard lesson and it’s one that I feel like people with disabilities get more than our fair share of heartache. Dating someone with a disability is the same as dating someone without one, with a few modifications and a lot of understanding. Some people are okay and ready to learn. Some aren’t and you can’t force someone into a place they’re not ready to go.

 Is dating people with disabilities harder? Yes, but only because the world is unaccustomed to it. The world is full of billions of individuals and each of them deserves to find their share of happiness. With body shaming, ableism, gender biases, homophobia and mass media reflecting so many idealized images these days, it’s a wonder anyone manages to find their significant other. But they do, and sometimes they have disabilities and life goes on. Sometimes they’re passed over for that prettier, thinner, able-bodied face. It’s up to you to own that knowledge and then to use it. You’re awesome, now let them know it.