UCP National Talks Assistive Tech with Provail

This post was written by UCP Summer 2017 Programs and Development Intern, James O’Connor

 

“We try to ask ourselves: what would make this person’s life better, faster, easier?”

This is what motivates Brenda Chappell, Director of Clinical Services at Provail, a UCP affiliate located in Seattle, Washington. Brenda recently spoke to us about Provail’s assistive technology programs.

[Image Description: A white woman with short brown hair wearing a green sweater and a black scarf holds a smartphone to a book while reading in what appears to be a children’s classroom. She is looking off to the side.] Photo: Lawrence Roffee

 

Assistive technology is an umbrella term that covers equipment, software, system, or any item that is used by people to find and or maintain a job and/or perform activities of daily living. Technology can be big, like an automated lift for van or bath, or small, like a Velcro-attached grip for a fork or a pen. It can be new-age interactive voice activated software for speech therapy or a wheelchair component. It can be high-tech–a computer screen operated by eye movement or low-tech, like a specially-designed door handle for people with muscle strength or dexterity problems.

Assistive technology can often be complex and very user-specific, and this is where Provail’s team plays an important role. At their AT (assistive technology) clinic, they take a holistic approach to finding the best technology for each person.

Brenda and her colleagues’ AT  programs bring professionals from Provail into schools and homes to recommend AT, and teach users, parents, teachers, therapists, and caregivers the best ways to put a person’s AT to best use. Provail works with kids as young as 4 years old, as well as adult clients, and individuals all the way through the lifespan.

Brenda notes that students with earlier access to AT have overwhelmingly better outcomes in both learning and lifestyle. She makes it clear that enabling mobility and communication at an early age are core to the program at Provail. “Before this unique program, we would see adults coming into the clinic with no AT and no mobility. Now, parents doing a 10-week program with us are finding successes that they never knew were possible.”

On top of helping people find and use the best possible AT for their needs, Provail also helps connect users with typical and alternative funding sources, making the stressful process of financing AT easier for many of their clients.

As assistive technology becomes more complex, more varied, and more common, it is important to put people first and keep in mind Brenda’s important question: what would make this person’s life better, faster, easier?
Check out your local affiliate to find out more about what type of AT services may be available, including financial resources that may be available.

#KnowMedicaid

 

As Google search results indicate, many more Americans have grown concerned about losing their (or a family member’s) Medicaid benefit. We at UCP are receiving an increasing number of inquiries about Medicaid and the services and supports it provides for many individuals with disabilities and their families.

 

Even without a pending health care bill in Congress, it can be overwhelming to navigate the process of accessing the funding and benefits necessary to receive the support needed so you or your loved one can live a life without limits. While there is no one way to simplify the process, there are ways to make it a bit easier. The tips and tricks below will help you in your conversations with Medicaid and other agencies.

 

When you’re done checking out our tips, you will also find a PDF guide with the contact information for Medicaid (and related agencies in all 50 states) at the bottom of this post.

 

Keep Records of All Conversations, and Be Sure to Seek Clarification When Necessary:

 

Whenever calling your state or any other entity) regarding services and supports, be sure to keep notes about your conversation including: who you speak with , what department they are in, what department they refer you to, and any other pertinent details.

 

This is really important in the case that there is any confusion or conflicting information during the process , because you will be able to provide past information about what you were told and when.

 

It is also a great idea to ask the person you are speaking to to follow up with an email, if possible; that way you are able to see their summary of the conversation, and open up a dialogue that may help in the future should there be any misunderstandings.

 

Remember That State and Federal Agencies Are Not Identical:

 

When working with Medicaid, or any other government program or agency, it is important to be aware of the difference between the agency in your state, and the federal agencies in Washington, DC.

 

While agencies can be connected, the state agency handles state programs and issues and the federal agency counterpart handles national ones. When getting information about services and supports, it is vital to differentiate between what is available and provided by your state, and what might also be available on the national level.

 

This is also key because these differences affect how programs are funded, and may alter the process required to become eligible. Sometimes programs may be jointly run on the state and national level, but it is still important to be aware of when you’re talking to, or about, your individual state versus when you’re looking at things on a national level.

 

Not All States Run Programs the Same Way, (or a Call Agencies by the Same Name):

 

Another reason it is important to be aware of the difference between state and federal programming is because the way programs, such as Medicaid, are administered can vary significantly from state to state.

 

Therefore, be sure to investigate how things are run in your specific state, and not go off of the experiences of an individual who may live someplace else. A program that is provided through the Department of Health and Human Services in one state may be provided through the Department of Welfare in another.

 

Before getting discouraged and thinking something doesn’t exist, always remember to try a different name or department, because you never know what it might fall under in your state.

 

Always Ask for Other Options:

 

Just because one program, grant, or service is not an option for you, doesn’t mean there isn’t something out there that can help with your situation. Even if you find out that the program you are looking into will not work (or be available) based on for your situation,, be sure to ask the person you’re speaking with if they know of any other programs that may be able to help.

 

When considering your options, it is also important to remember that different programs have different eligibility requirements. So, be sure to provide as much information as possible to determine if you are eligible for a specific program.

 

Obtaining services through Medicaid (or other agencies) is rarely a simple process, but we hope that these tips– as well as our guide of various state offices involved in the administration of services and supports for individuals with disabilities– will make your journey a bit easier.
Do you have any other tips or tricks you would like to add to the list? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #KnowMedicaid. To learn more about Medicaid in your state, check out our resource guide.

National Disability Voter Registration Week

Compared to other highly-developed nations around the world, the United States has about 20%-30% fewer registered voters of citizens who are legally eligible to vote. This number might not seem like a lot. However, the importance of voting cannot be minimized, especially for people with disabilities. That is why next week, July 17th through the 21st, is National Disability Voter Registration Week.

Voting gives citizens a voice in their local, state, and federal-level politics. As a constituent, their voice can make a difference. The greater the turnout, the more truly representative our government becomes. This is because voting empowers citizens to communicate their opinions and have the opportunity to influence all levels of government.

While the 19th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act secured voting rights for many historically disadvantaged voters, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 established the requirement of polling centers to have features that make voting areas accessible for citizens with disabilities. More recently, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), includes a provision that aims to further ensure that polling places as well as the registration process are universally accessible, whether accessed online or in person. HAVA also ensures that balloting equipment is accessible to everyone, and directs election administrators to train those who work at the polls on how to adequately and efficiently assist voters.

But, why is voting so crucial? It gives citizens a chance to express how they feel about a variety of issues. Whether it is a social issue, or a matter concerning the economy, casting a vote communicates constituents’ priorities to their elected representatives. Accordingly, representatives vote on legislation that matters to their constituents. Essentially, a democracy does not exist without the vote of the people.

Most people believe that the presidential election is the most important election to vote in. Despite that, votes can greatly influence politics at a state and especially at a local level. State and local policy issues are also usually the ones that impact us the most as a community.

As important as it is to vote, one must register first. Registering is a process that is simple for many, but accessibility is still too often a barrier for people with disabilities. The week of July 17-21 is National Disability Voter Registration Week 2017. To learn more and to host a voter registration event, find more information here.

UCP Wants To Hear From YOU In 2016!

Happy New Year!

Get. Excited!

New Years is many things. For me, it is the time to remember successes of the past year and the time to get excited for the year to come. It’s all about…time. Counting down. Counting towards.

I’m Jennifer McCue, UCP’s Director of Advocacy. I’m new here to UCP – just a few months in. Before we talk about the new to come to UCP in 2016, let’s reflect quickly on what has happened in 2015. You can learn in detail here, but in a snapshot, here’s what happened: 

  • The 25th Anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act celebrated 25 years.
  • Congress passed a funding bill that included provisions to fund caregiving and respite care programs.
  • Provisions to cap reimbursement for complex rehab technologies were delayed for a year.
  • Education legislation was passed that includes improved provisions for the disability community.

In a year, where successes were few and far in between, it seems the needle may be moving. Consider me a skeptic, but while there is indeed reason to be excited and reason to be hopeful there is a greater reason and necessity to want more.

On the horizon for 2016 we have a Congressional election. Efforts are underway to implement education and reimbursement provisions along with housing reform and home and community based services, provisions for personal care attendants and caregivers are in motion and independent living efforts and activities are being put forward by the Administration for Community Living.

We are also going to create a platform here at UCP for you.  A place to be heard, a place for information, a place to connect, a place to tell your story and use it towards change.  A place for me to know you.

With all that is happening here in DC, and with you at home we will be sending you a series of communications to update and engage but also to ask you – what is important to YOU?  What would you like to see happen?  What NEW do you want to see this YEAR? You can tweet us (we’re @UCPNational) or tell us on Facebook using the hashtag #UCPNEWYEAR!

A lot is on the horizon and we will need you, your stories, your voices, and your support to make sure we are on the path towards a life without limits. We are counting on you.

So, tell me… what does UCP mean to you? 

Happy New Year!

Talk soon.

Champions of Change Honored at White House

WHChaps 1This week, staff from UCP National, along with several participants in our summer intern program, attended the Champions of Change ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C. The program, “Disability Advocacy Across Generations” recognized the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and nine “Champions of Change” selected by the Obama administration. Each champion has been very influential in the disability community and has brought about major changes, while facing obstacles of their own.

Champion Dilshad Ali, a mother of a son with autism, spoke about how disability is something that is hidden and never spoken of in her Muslim community. Ali discussed the importance of being able to access the support of one’s religious or cultural institutions as part of a panel on Effective Disability Advocacy. There was also Dior Vargas, a Latina woman who suffers with depression and anxiety. Vargas emphasized how many times disabilities are ‘invisible’, and therefore go unnoticed. She brought an interesting aspect to the table, and channeled people’s focus on another kind of disability, mental illnesses, which are often left out of the conversation on disability advocacy.

The day’s speakers included Jim Abbott, a former MLB pitcher and Olympian born without a right hand. Abbott has faced physical obstacles his whole life – especially in sports. He spoke about how he had to do things a little bit differently, but that is what got him to where he is today. He showed the audience how he adapted to pitching a baseball with one hand, and told stories about how former teachers and coaches who were open to “doing things differently,” giving him the opportunity to excel.

Another panel on Owning the Future: Disability, Diversity and Leadership included some Champions, who faced more communication barriers than others. Mike Ellis, who is deaf, explained more about his role at AT &T and working to ensure communication technology was accessible to all. Another champion, Catherine Hutchinson, experienced a severe brain injury and is now quadriplegic used a speech synthesizer to communicate.

At the end of the second panel, Derrick Coleman from the SuperBowl champion Seattle Seahawks worked to motivate the crowd to follow their dreams. He lost his hearing at the age of 3 and is the first deaf player in the NFL. Coleman told the audience to be themselves and love themselves.

U.S Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez closed out the event with information about current initiatives to improve upon worker rights, such as raising the federal minimum wage for all workers and echoed some of the panelist’s comments about the importance of participation in the workforce to true inclusion and independence.

How Well Does Your State Serve People with Disabilities?

Arizona, Maryland, Missouri, New York & Hawaii Top 2015 Case for Inclusion Rankings

 

United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) released the 2015 Case for Inclusion today, an annual report and interactive website used to track state-by-state community living standards for Americans living with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD).

To download and read the entire Case for Inclusion report or explore the data, visit cfi.ucp.org.

TCase for Inclusionhe annual Case for Inclusion examines data and outcomes for all 50 States and the District of Columbia (DC), ranking each on a set of key indicators. These indicators include how people with disabilities live and participate in their communities, if they are satisfied with their lives, and how easily the services and supports they need are accessed. The report is a product of a comprehensive analysis of each state’s progress or failures in providing critical services to individuals living with disabilities.

In addition to rankings, the report digs deeper into two critical issues facing people with disabilities and their families: waiting lists for services and support and transitioning from high school into an adult life in the community.

Since 2006, the rankings have enabled families, advocates, the media and policymakers to measure each state’s progress or lack of improvement and gain insight into how the highest-ranking states are achieving their success. An interactive website allows visitors to compare and contrast results among selected states and dig deeper into the data.

The report puts each State’s progress into a national context to help advocates and policymakers in their missions to improve life for people with disabilities and their families.

  • Advocates should use this information to educate other advocates, providers, families and individuals, policymakers and state administrations on areas needing improvement. The data can support policy reforms and frame debates about resource allocation. Advocates can also use the information to prioritize those areas that need immediate attention and support funding to maintain high quality outcomes, eliminate waiting lists and close large institutions.
  • Elected officials should use this report as a guide on which issues and States need time and attention and, possibly, more resources or more inclusive policies.
  • Federal and State administrations should use this report to put their work and accomplishments in context and to chart a course for the next focus area in the quest for continuous improvement and improved quality of life.

Stephen Bennett“Ultimately, the goal of all of this is to promote inclusion and enhance the quality of life for all Americans,” said Stephen Bennett, President and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy. “UCP is committed to shining a light on how well states are actually serving people with disabilities and, by extension, their families and communities. Also, we want to provide the proper national context for this data so that we can truly use it to drive progress.”

 

How is your state doing? 

 

  1. All States still have room for improvement, but some States have consistently remained at the bottom since 2007, including Arkansas (#49), Illinois (#47), Mississippi (#51) and Texas (#50) primarily due to the small portion of people and resources dedicated to those in small or home-like settings in these four states. Mississippi and Texas also do not participate in NCI.
  1. 32 States, down from 38, meet the 80/80 Home and Community Standard, which means that at least 80 percent of all individuals with ID/DD are served in the community and 80 percent of all resources spent on those with ID/DD are for home (less than 7 residents per setting) and community support. Those that do not meet the 80/80 standard are Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
  1. As of 2013, 14 States report having no state institutions to seclude those with ID/DD, including Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. Another 10 States have only one institution each (Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming). Since 1960, 220 of 354 state institutions have been closed (5 more in the past year alone), and 13 more are projected to close by 2016 in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey (3), New York (2), Oklahoma (2), Tennessee (2) and Virginia (2).
  2. For people with disabilities life should be without limits26 States, up from 18, now report meeting the 80 percent Home-Like Setting Standard, which means that at least 80 percent of all individuals with ID/DD are served in settings such as their own home, a family home, family foster care or small group settings like shared apartments with fewer than four residents. The U.S. average for this standard is 79 percent. Just eight States meet a top-performing 90 percent Home-like Setting Standard: Arizona, California, Colorado, D.C., Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
  1. Ten States, up from seven last year, report at least 10 percent of individuals using self-directed services, according to the National Core Indicators survey in 29 States. These States include Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Utah and Virginia.
  1. 42 States, up from 39 last year, participate in the National Core Indicators (NCI) survey, a comprehensive quality-assurance program that includes standard measurements to assess outcomes of services. A total of 29 States, a 50% increase from last year, reported data outcomes in 2014.
  1. Only 14 States report that they are supporting a large share of families through family support (at least 200 families per 100,000 of population). These support services provide assistance to families that are caring for children with disabilities at home, which helps keep families together, and people with disabilities living in a community setting. These family-focused state programs were in Arizona, California, Delaware, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Alabama and Pennsylvania reported that they were providing higher levels of family support in last year’s ranking.
  1. Just 8 States, down from 10 last year, report having at least 33 percent of individuals with ID/DD working in competitive employment. These States include Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire (newly added), New Mexico, Oklahoma, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia (newly added). Louisiana, Nebraska, Oregon and Virginia reported that they met this threshold in last year’s ranking, but reported a decrease in competitive employment this year.
  1. 14 States report successfully placing at least 60 percent of individuals in vocational rehabilitation in jobs, with fifteen States reporting the average number of hours worked for those individuals placed being at least 25 hours. Three States report at least half of those served got a job within one year. Only California met the standard on all three success measures this year compared to last year’s ranking, when Nebraska and South Dakota were the only two states to report meeting all three thresholds.
  1. Waiting lists for residential and community services are high and show the unmet need. More than 322,000 people, 5,000 more than last year, are on a waiting list for Home and Community-Based Services. This requires a daunting 44 percent increase in States’ HCBS programs. 16 States, a decrease from 22 last year, report no waiting list or a small waiting list (requiring less than 10 percent program growth).

2013_donation_overlay_buttonYour support makes The Case for Inclusion possible each year. Make a gift today to help UCP continue to fulfill its mission of a Life Without Limits for people with disabilities and their families by providing advocacy, support and services. 

UCP Releases Case for Inclusion Rankings and Report

Arizona, Maryland, Missouri, New York & Hawaii Top 2015 List

 

Washington, D.C. (July 16, 2014) – United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) released the 2015 Case for Inclusion today, an annual report and interactive website used to track state-by-state community living standards for Americans living with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD).

The Case for Inclusion examines data and outcomes for all 50 states and the District of Columbia (DC), ranking each on a set of key indicators, including how people with disabilities live and participate in their communities, if they are satisfied with their lives, and how easily the services and supports they need are accessed. By taking these factors into account, UCP is able to publish this comprehensive analysis of each state’s progress or failures in providing critical services to individuals living with disabilities.

In addition to rankings, the report digs deeper into two critical issues facing people with disabilities and their families: waiting lists for services and support and transitioning from high school into an adult life in the community. Two case studies examine how states are approaching those issues.

Since 2006, the rankings have enabled families, advocates, the media and policymakers to measure each state’s progress or lack of improvement and gain insight into how the highest-ranking states are achieving their success. To enhance the usability of the report, UCP publishes tables of the data from which the report was compiled on an interactive website where visitors can compare and contrast results among selected states.

“Ultimately, the goal of all of this is to promote inclusion and enhance the quality of life for all Americans,” said Stephen Bennett, President and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy. “UCP is committed to shining a light on how well states are actually serving people with disabilities and, by extension, their families and communities. Also, we want to provide the proper national context for this data so that we can truly use it to drive progress.”

To download and read the entire Case for Inclusion report or explore the data tables, visit cfi.ucp.org.

 

Significant Takeaways from the 2015 Ranking

Promoting Independence

  1. All States still have room for improvement, but some States have consistently remained at the bottom since 2007, including Arkansas (#49), Illinois (#47), Mississippi (#51) and Texas (#50) primarily due to the small portion of people and resources dedicated to those in small or home-like settings in these four states. Mississippi and Texas also do not participate in NCI.
  1. 32 States, down from 38, meet the 80/80 Home and Community Standard, which means that at least 80 percent of all individuals with ID/DD are served in the community and 80 percent of all resources spent on those with ID/DD are for home (less than 7 residents per setting) and community support. Those that do not meet the 80/80 standard are Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
  1. As of 2013, 14 States report having no state institutions to seclude those with ID/DD, including Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. Another 10 States have only one institution each (Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming). Since 1960, 220 of 354 state institutions have been closed (5 more in the past year alone), according to the University of Minnesota’s Research and Training Center on Community Living. Another 13 more are projected to close by 2016 in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey (3), New York (2), Oklahoma (2), Tennessee (2) and Virginia (2)
  1. 26 States, up from 18, now report meeting the 80 percent Home-Like Setting Standard, which means that at least 80 percent of all individuals with ID/DD are served in settings such as their own home, a family home, family foster care or small group settings like shared apartments with fewer than four residents. The U.S. average for this standard is 79 percent. Just eight States meet a top-performing 90 percent Home-like Setting Standard: Arizona, California, Colorado, D.C., Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
  1. Ten States, up from seven last year, report at least 10 percent of individuals using self-directed services, according to the National Core Indicators survey in 29 States. These States include Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Utah and Virginia.

Tracking Health, Safety and Quality of Life

  1. 42 States, up from 39 last year, participate in the National Core Indicators (NCI) survey, a comprehensive quality-assurance program that includes standard measurements to assess outcomes of services. A total of 29 States, a 50% increase from last year, reported data outcomes in 2014.

Keeping Families Together

  1. Only 14 States report that they are supporting a large share of families through family support (at least 200 families per 100,000 of population). These support services provide assistance to families that are caring for children with disabilities at home, which helps keep families together, and people with disabilities living in a community setting. These family-focused state programs were in Arizona, California, Delaware, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Alabama and Pennsylvania reported that they were providing higher levels of family support in last year’s ranking.

Promoting Productivity

  1. Just 8 States, down from 10 last year, report having at least 33 percent of individuals with ID/DD working in competitive employment. These States include Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire (newly added), New Mexico, Oklahoma, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia (newly added). Louisiana, Nebraska, Oregon and Virginia reported that they met this threshold in last year’s ranking, but reported a decrease in competitive employment this year.
  1. 14 States report successfully placing at least 60 percent of individuals in vocational rehabilitation in jobs, with fifteen States reporting the average number of hours worked for those individuals placed being at least 25 hours and three States reporting at least half of those served getting a job within one year. Only California met the standard on all three success measures this year compared to last year’s ranking, when Nebraska and South Dakota were the only two states to report meeting all three thresholds.

Serving Those in Need

  1. Waiting lists for residential and community services are high and show the unmet need. More than 322,000 people, 5,000 more than last year, are on a waiting list for Home and Community-Based Services. This requires a daunting 44 percent increase in States’ HCBS programs. 16 States, a decrease from 22 last year, report no waiting list or a small waiting list (requiring less than 10 percent program growth).

Making Technology Accessible for Everyone

The following post from Microsoft Chicago’s director and community advocate Shelley Stern Grach first appeared on www.microsoft-chicago.com on April 23. United Cerebral Palsy’s Life Labs initiative is hosting it’s first Innovation Lab at Microsoft‘s Technology Center in Chicago May 19-20. Find out more about the event and how you can be a part of this intense two-day design challenge at www.ucpinnovationlab.org

 

How many of you are aware that 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the American Disabilities Act?

I wasn’t until a few months ago, when I received  a call from United Cerebral Palsy. They were interested in hosting a hackathon for 100 people in May, and were looking for space to hold the hackathon. Fortunately, the Microsoft Technology & Innovation Center is ADA-compliant, and we are now thrilled to be hosting this wonderful program on May 19-20, when developers will be creating apps to help people with disabilities. At about the same time, I received a call from Chicago Public Schools to see if we could host a job shadow day for CPS students with disabilities. Those two calls sparked my interest, and  I also started to pay more attention to ADA 25 and to how meaningful technology can be to those who have a disability. To recognize and celebrate the important strides for people with disabilities, 2015 will be celebrating ADA 25 all year long and Chicago will be celebrating ADA 25 Chicago. This blog is the first in a series recognizing ADA 25 and its impact.

Our mission and social responsibility at Microsoft is to enable people throughout the world to realize their full potential with technology. To that end, we invested in creating an environment that capitalizes on the diversity of our people, and the inclusion of ideas and solutions, that meets the needs of our increasingly global and diverse customer base.

And that means developing technology that is accessible to anyone – regardless of age or ability. Technology has the potential to become our sixth sense.

People with disabilities are among the most marginalized groups in the world. People with disabilities have poorer health outcomes, lower education achievements, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities.

Microsoft has a long history and commitment to accessibility. For more than 25 years, Microsoft has focused on creating technologies that make devices easier to use for individuals with a wide array of difficulties and impairments. Microsoft has listened, gained insights, and applied what it’s learned. The result is an increasing momentum toward the goal of making devices accessible and useful to all people. Today we empower hundreds of millions of people of all abilities around the world to use technology to enter the workforce, stay connected with friends and family, get things done and take full advantage of a digital lifestyle. We’ll spend more time in May looking at how apps can positively impact the lives of people with disabilities.

Today, I want to share with you how impressed I am with the teachers and students at CPS who visited us last week.

Making Technology Accessible for EveryoneLet’s start with CPS teachers like James Taylor. First, you just have to love his name! But more importantly, James spends his time focusing on all the students with disabilities at CPS, and one small part of his day is putting together field trips for the students to businesses, so the students can experience the corporate world. Originally, James thought we would have 2 or 3 students sign up. We had 27! Everyone arrived early and we began our day with a wonderful presentation by Paul Edlund, Chief Technology Officer – Microsoft Midwest, about the future of technology. It was a highly interactive session, with lots of questions and student engagement.

We then had a full tour of the Microsoft Technology & Innovation Center, led by Beth Malloy, Director, Microsoft Technology Center – Chicago and Bradley Trovillion, Technical Solutions Architect. The students examined our Internet of Things Fishtank, played Xbox and used the Kinect to understand motion capture of movement and worked real time on our PPI.

Making Technology Accessible for Everyone

After lunch, we had a terrific presentation via Skype by Patrick Maher, Director of Civic Engagement, SPR Consulting. SPR is a Microsoft Partner and Pat suffered a spinal cord injury during college. In addition to his very motivational personal story, Pat emphasized the great opportunities for careers in technology for people with disabilities. Pat runs a meet up group called ITKAN, which supports people with disabilities in the Technology field.

Making Technology Accessible for Everyone

He also showed an amazing video which I highly recommend:

The entire staff of the Microsoft Technology and Innovation Center were honored to support these wonderful teachers and students at CPS. It’s most rewarding when we received the following thank you note from James, which told us that our message hit home and that we have helped to fill the pipeline of students who are interested in careers in technology:

“Pat and Shelley I want to say thank for participating and hosting the students.  Overall the students enjoyed the experience and I’m hoping to get a few involved with ITKAN in the next few months.  A majority of the students are gearing up to graduate and after this job shadow day, some are being swayed over to the computer field.  Pat I want to say thank again for sharing your experience with us, and giving motivation to the students.  And again, thank you and the rest of the team for being great hosts.  Hopefully we can do this again later this year or next year and open some doors for upcoming graduates.  I will share these videos and get some feedback, hopefully this will generate some questions for opportunities and get the students more involved with the IT world.” 

To learn more about Microsoft’s investment in accessibility, see how our products have built-in accessibility features.

Advocate Explains Basics of the ABLE Act

Guest blogger Melissa theSeed is a mother, wife, advocate & blogger with two children with medical needs. She advocates for social and civil justice for people with disabilities through her blog and online communities. She is co-founder of a NY-based nonprofit called “Forward RISE” that is committed to bettering communities and improving disability awareness through education and social experiences.

You can contact her via email at info@forwardrise.org or call Forward RISE at 631-291-9328. Check out her blog at theseed9811.blogspot.com or her website at Forwardrise.org. And, she is on Facebook. Feel free to contact her with any comments or questions.

ABLE ActThe Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) was finally signed into law by the President on December 19, 2014. It is now up to each State to implement the new law which would allow for tax-free savings accounts to be built for a population that has historically been forced to live in poverty. Up until now, in order to be eligible for SSI and Medicaid, a person could not have more than $2,000 in cash and property ($3,000 for couples) or make more than $700 monthly (!) in order to be eligible for Medicaid or SSI.

This means they can’t save money for things that Medicaid and SSI don’t cover like education, housing, a job coach or transportation. While the rest of society is encouraged to save for emergencies, unforeseen expenses and rainy days, people with disabilities – who have naturally higher expenses and higher medical needs – were forced to scrape pennies and do without due to archaic laws and discriminatory notions held by society in general.

What Is the ABLE Act?

 

Once enacted by the States, this bi-partisan piece of legislation will give people with disabilities and their families freedoms and security never before experienced. It amends the IRS code of 1986 to allow savings accounts to be set up for individuals with disabilities much like the college tuition accounts known as “529 accounts” that have been around since 1996. The Treasury Department is currently writing all of the regulations. There will then be a period of time where public comments on the proposed rules will be allowed. Before the end of 2015, every State is expected to establish and operate an ABLE program.

  • Allows savings accounts to be set up for individuals with disabilities
  • Recipients do not have to count funds as income
  • Recipients do not have to pay taxes on funds if they are used for disability-related expenses

How does it work?

In a nutshell, once enacted by a State, an ABLE savings account can be opened up by an individual with a disability or by someone else on their behalf. Up to $14,000 may be deposited yearly untaxed, with that amount to be increased as inflation rises. If an account surpasses $100,000, the owner of the account will no longer be eligible for SSI but would not be in danger of losing Medicaid. When a person dies, Medicaid will be reimbursed first from the account before it is dispersed to the person’s estate.

  • Can be opened up by an individual with a disability or by someone else on their behalf
  • Up to $14,000 may be deposited yearly
  • Up to $100,000 can be accrued without affecting SSI

Who is eligible?

Individuals with a disability wanting to establish an ABLE account must have acquired their disability before turning 26. If an individual is over the age of 26 but their disability onset was prior to turning 26, they will be still be able to establish an ABLE account. Individuals who meet this requirement and receive SSI or SSDI are automatically eligible to establish an account. Individuals who do not receive these services may still be eligible if they meet SSI criteria regarding who is eligible. The Treasury Department will further explain standards of proof in the regulations they are currently completing.

  • Onset of disability must have occurred prior to turning 26 years of age
  • Must meet SSI eligibility criteria

What can the funds be used for?

While the details are still being finalized, it is anticipated that the funds will be allowed to cover any disability-related expenses, including:

  • Education
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Employment training and support
  • Assistive technology and personal support services
  • Health, prevention and wellness
  • Financial management and administrative services
  • Legal fees
  • Funeral and burial expenses

This is a great step forward in the right direction for this community. Let’s hope the regulations are completed sooner rather than later and that the States take quick action in adopting them so that individuals and families can begin saving for a better life! Equality for All, ALWAYS!

Because of My Disability, Not in Spite of It

Lorraine Cannistra is an author, speaker and wheelchair ballroom dancer who writes mostly about her personal experience with disability.The guest post here is an intimate look at her life, recalling the first moment she truly understood what she could accomplish when she focuses on what she can do.You can read more about her journey on her blog atwww.healthonwheels.wordpress.com or contact her at lorrainecannistra.com.  

lorraine_cannistra and Leah

 

Leah, my black Lab service dog, lies at my feet. She has just had breakfast and done her thing outside. After we cuddle for a bit, she sighs deeply and goes back to sleep.  We have been together long enough for me to know the drill.  She will wake every ten minutes or so to make sure all is well.  If she senses something wrong, she will take things as they come, do her best to fix it and then go back to sleep. Sometimes I tell myself I need to take “laid back” lessons from my dog.

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I took a deep breath and tried to wrap my mind around what I had just heard, in a moment that was both surreal and wonderful.  “Could you say that again?” I asked my coach through the phone.  I wanted to be sure I wasn’t just a young teenager who was dreaming.

“I just got word Lorraine,” he repeated. “You are one of 37 athletes that have been chosen from across the country to compete in the International Games for the Disabled. (What is now the Paralymics) You did it! Let it soak in for a minute.”

It was hard to describe what I was feeling, an overwhelming mixture of pride, excitement, relief.  But in that moment something else happened as well. My mindset shifted.  I understood, deep in my soul, that I had accomplished something huge because of my disability, not in spite of it. I knew that none of this would be happening if I had been born with the ability to break dance.

I had joined a sports team specifically for people with cerebral palsy almost four years previously. Being an awkward and painfully shy freshman at the time, I was used to being excluded.  Being part of that team meant that I met people with disabilities who were older than I was for the first time. Not only was I part of the group but they helped me to see a positive future.

Over time I excelled in sports and with the training of the head football coach at my high school, I was challenging international records in track. At every practice I pushed myself hard, being motivated by all the times in the past when I was expected to be content to sit on the sidelines and watch. Every lap I completed took away a bit of the sting of not being able to play tag or hopscotch. I knew I couldn’t walk. But I could race, and I was good at it. I started to concentrate on what I could do.

A few months later I went to college.  Coming from a big city, it was important to me to find a very small school that was completely accessible. In the days prior to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, finding a school that met that criteria was like searching for the wizard on the yellow brick road.  But in 1987 I started attending Emporia State University in Kansas, where I eventually earned a Bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Creative Writing, as well as a Master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling.

Lorraine CannistraBrandon and Lorraine Dancing

It was in college that I found that writing helped me make sense out of the world. If something made me angry or upset, writing about it could get the negative emotion out of me. It was also in college that I fell in love with advocacy.  I found that when I use my voice to speak about programs that enhance the lives of people with disabilities, I feel understood in a profoundly positive way. Over the years I have provided testimony to senators, representatives and the governor. When those programs become reality, the high I feel always outweighs my desire to climb a tree.

In 2007 I had the honor of being crowned Ms. Wheelchair Kansas.  It was during that year that I started speaking to various groups about disability awareness and empowerment.  In doing so I discovered what I was born to do.

I have to be honest and say I have my share of difficult days, when I wish for a world where everyone is treated with the respect they deserve.  But when my reality is different, I try to do what my dog does.  When I sense something wrong I take things as they come, do my best to fix it and then go back to sleep.