A Scary Reality For People With Disabilities

July 17, 2013




7/17/2013 @ 9:55AM |104 views


I had a candidate reach out this week which really hit me close to home. It was actually the sister-in-law of a candidate. The sister and candidate both have cognitive disabilities of some sort. They are both in their 50s now and have led independent lives, thanks to parents who demanded they could and advocated for their abilities. The woman who contacted me was nervous because her sister’s physical disability had become too profound for her to continue working and her brother-in-law lost his job of 15 years when the company closed shop. The only government assistance they had ever received wasSection eight housing, housing assistance for very-low income families and they were now struggling to meet their rent. Someone had referred her to Opportunity Works, Inc., the staffing and recruiting company I started two years ago, with a focus on recruiting candidates with disabilities.

At the end of the call I realized something. I had graduated high school with the person on the other end of the line. I never knew about her sister. I grew up thinking there were not many people with disabilities around me. There weren’t. Her sister didn’t go to our school. She went to a “center” school, a special school for students with disabilities. Thanks to battles probably fought by her parents, my son goes to his neighborhood school. All of our schools accommodate students with disabilities now.

This call concerned me for a couple of reasons. First, Opportunity Works is a tiny company only operating for two years. So to think that someone in dire straits has been referred to me is scary because I don’t have job orders in high volume. Second, the choices the parents of this woman made sound very much like the choices I am making for my son. They chose not to enroll her daughter in government services with the notion that she was capable of doing for herself.

She has her driver’s license and a car and she is married and lives independently with her husband. It all sounds good, but she is on the brink of homelessness and now and being turned down for services because she’s never needed them before. This is the scary reality of people with disabilities who have worked in earnest not to take advantage of services available to them. The result is the services not being there for them when they do need them.

Many times I have told people that I have gambled my livelihood on my ability to prove the value of including disability in the workplace. This week, it has occurred to me that I have gambled my son’s potential at some type of assistance. I am so glad I hadn’t thought in these terms 18 months ago because I might have given up at the thought of that risk. Luckily two years into this, I’m seeing signs that it was a good gamble. I am encouraged that there are three other companies in this country striving for the same mission Opportunity Works is striving for, so I’m not alone in this. I am encouraged to know that some of the big dogs in this industry, like Manpower MAN +1.14% are focused on this largely untapped talent. And, I am encouraged to know that large companies like Lowe’s are training their leaders and aggressively learning how to accommodate and recruit people with disabilities.

More importantly this week, I am happy that I had a job order that very well matches this candidate’s skill set. I am recruiting for one of my dream positions to recruit for, a position with generally high-turnover and almost impossible to find reliable help. I have provided a candidate who has 15 years with his previous employer and the only reason he left is because they closed their doors. He had a phone interview with the HR Manager and will next be meeting with the hiring manager. I think he’s a shoe-in because this organization is spending a fortune dealing with turnover and unreliable help. I hope he’ll get the job because if he does I will feel much better knowing that his family isn’t going to fall through the cracks into homelessness and I will feel much more confident, once again, about the decisions I am making for my own family.

Judy Owen is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Opportunity Works, Inc. a full service staffing company focused on recruiting people with disabilities.


Senator Calls For Transition Action Plan

July 16, 2013



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A new proposal in the U.S. Senate would allocate federal dollars to develop a national plan to help those with developmental disabilities transition to adulthood.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said Monday that he’s introduced a bill that would fund research to determine the most effective interventions and support services for young people aging out of the school system. The legislation calls for the creation of a national strategic action plan and would provide grants to train “transition navigators” who would help youth with disabilities access the supports they need to live independently.

Currently, many individuals with disabilities lose access to needed services when they finish high school.

Though Menendez highlighted the increasing number of individuals with autism who are entering adulthood in bringing forward his proposal, the bill he introduced addresses the need for housing, employment, transportation and other services for individuals with all types of developmental disabilities.

“For too many young people with autism spectrum disorders, the end of high school means the end of the support and skills training they need to succeed in the new world of adulthood,” said Menendez in unveiling the legislation known as the Assistance in Gaining Experience, Independence and Navigation Act of 2013, or the AGE-IN Act. “We need a national response to ensure that resources are available to enable these young adults to lead the productive, fulfilling lives they deserve.”

Disability rights advocates press for accessible technology

July 16, 2013


Kimberly Railey, USA TODAY10:04 a.m. EDT July 14, 2013

While technology takes on a greater role in the college classroom, disability rights groups are seeking to ensure visually impaired students aren’t left behind.


Jordan Moon graduated from Arizona State University last year with a lesson that may outlast his journalism and political science degrees: how to get help.

As a visually impaired student, some assignments, like newspaper designs, were nearly impossible to complete on his own.

“There are a lot of times where materials are way too print-featured and graphic-oriented that you have no choice but to get an aide,” says Moon, who is legally blind. “Braille and software technology can only do so much.”

ASU’s disability resource center handled Moon’s academic needs but he had to rely on third-party vendors to purchase big technology items, such as a laptop or Braille note-taking device.

To remove that additional step, disability rights advocates are pushing to ensure that students with visual impairments do not have to seek out technology on their own to compete with their sighted peers.

“The burden of getting equal access now is falling on the student,” says Lauren McLarney, government affairs specialist for the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). “It doesn’t have to be like that.”

The NFB is leading the effort through a draft bill that would mandate that the Access Board, a federal independent agency, create national accessibility standards for higher education technology. The regulations would make all technology used in classes accessible to blind students, preventing them from having to find alternatives through schools’ disability resource centers or outside vendors.

The NFB is working with Wisconsin Rep. Tom Petri, a Republican, to find common ground on the legislation and aims to introduce a bill in the House by the end of August. Petri’s office is still exploring the issue, said Lee Brooks, the representative’s spokesman.

“We are continuing to meet on it,” Brooks said.

As colleges have increasingly embraced digital learning, students with disabilities have faced many challenges due to inaccessible learning materials, a 2011 federal study found. Of the roughly 2.1 million U.S. college students with some type of disability, about 63,000 have visual impairments.

Currently, individual colleges set their own standards for technology accessibility.

At George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., employees at its Assistive Technology Initiative review the accessibility of learning materials before classes start if visually impaired students indicate their enrollment.

But dealing with vendors to acquire comparable technology can be a difficult and lengthy process. Some will push back or do not understand the accessibility needs of students, says Kara Zirkle, the university’s IT accessibility coordinator.

“Sometimes we have to take more time to educate them,” Zirkle says. “It takes away time from testing the product.”

In 2010, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice sent a letter to college presidents saying that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits inaccessible education technology. However, it did not define accessibility standards, leaving the responsibility to manufacturers, universities and students.

Even if there is accessible technology on campus, it may not always be readily available.

Aaron Linson, a blind student at Indiana University Southeast, says the two campus computers with screen reading software are frequently taken by other students, so he brings his own to campus.

Other times, the school software is not up-to-date and is “literally unusable,” he says.

National guidelines, like those in the NFB bill, would integrate more accessible products into the classroom, similarly to how pen grips became widespread, Zirkle says.

“That was once an assistive technology, but now we don’t see it like that because everyone is using it,” she says.

The proposal, called the Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act, has garnered support from other disability rights groups and the Association of American Publishers.

July is National Park and Recreation Month – And a Great Time to Start Exercising

July 2, 2013


Posted on July 2, 2013 by 

Boy outsideOne great way to improve your health is to go outside and get moving.  During the month of July, parks all across the United States will be celebrating Park and Recreation Month by holding fun events open to everyone.  By taking part in these events, you will not only have a good time but you can also improve your health by exercising.

Exercising can help you stay in shape and keep a healthy weight.  But, it also has other benefits. Activities like horseback riding can help improvecoordination and physical fitness. Also, exercise can also help prevent heart disease, reduce risk of certain types of cancer, and improve mental health.  Whether you enjoy playing basketball, practicing yoga, biking, swimming, or any other physical activity, staying active helps improve your health.

But, how much should you exercise per day?  All adults – those with and without disabilities – should exercise at least 5 days a week for 30 minutes to stay healthy.  Children should exercise at least 5 days a week for 60 minutes a day.  While people with and without disabilities can do many physical activities, everyone should make sure to exercise at a safe level so they do not strain or hurt themselves.   There are also resources specifically for people with disabilities that you can use to get ideas of how to stay active and healthy.  The Arc’s HealthMeetprogram also promotes good health among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with local health assessments, webinars on health topics, and other information available online.

With so many different fun events and healthy activities available, July is the perfect month to visit your local park or recreation center.  For more information about how to get to a park or how to get around a park, contact your local park or find information about accessibility for people with disabilities online.

With this information in mind, we hope you can make the most of your summer and get outside!

The Changes to the DSM

July 2, 2013


The new Diagnostic Statistical Manual has arrived with much controversy. There are major changes in two all too common diagnoses, ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome. The major change is that Asperger’s Syndrome has been removed from the lexicon. Individuals with that diagnosis will no longer be classified in that way.  Some will receive an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis and others may receive a Social Communication Disorder diagnosis.  Further, Autism Disorder is now called Autism Spectrum Disorder.

ASD requires “persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction; repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests or activities; the presence of symptoms in early childhood and the symptoms limit and impair everyday functioning.” (Pathfinders for Autism)  Autism is now diagnosed by the presence of social communication and interaction deficits as well as patterned behavior, interests and activities.  These symptoms arise in early childhood and continue throughout the individual’s life.  Moreover, they affect how the individual functions on a daily basis. ASD is also modified by the level of supports required, ranging from the most severe (3) to the most mild (1).

The DSM 5 also includes a new diagnosis, Social Communication Disorder.  “This diagnosis addresses impairment of pragmatics and is diagnosed based upon difficulty in the social uses of verbal and nonverbal communication.” In other words, people with this diagnosis have difficulty understanding verbal and nonverbal communication in their natural contexts. It limits social functioning.  It is not related to an Autism Syndrome Diagnosis.  Finally, it is present in early childhood.

The impact of this change is uncertain.  What is known is that people with Asperger’s Syndrome, who are generally more cognitively able, will be left out of the diagnosis. Some may fall into the Social Communication Disorder, others may not.

Related to service delivery, it is important to know that neither DDA nor the MD State Department of Education follow the DSM.  Therefore, there should not be any service delivery interruption due to these changes.