Category: Articles

Helping Others

Americans With Disabilities: Giving Back and Growing at the Same Time

People with disabilities serve for the same reasons as anyone else: to give back to their communities, and to become more active and engaged. Many find that service offers real-life work experience, allowing opportunities to test career paths, sharpen skills, and define employment goals and interests. The individuals profiled here represent a small sampling of the many people with disabilities engaged in national and community service. These stories illustrate the diversity of members with disabilities and their service experiences, and show how a national service experience can contribute to employment.

Dwight Owens AmeriCorps State: Linking Individuals to Neighborhoods and Communities (LINC) Collins, Mississippi

Dwight Owens won the 2010 Spirit of Service Award given to an outstanding AmeriCorps member. Dwight served as a member of LINC, where he helped connect people with disabilities with resources and supports to facilitate independence. Dwight remarks that he was proud to help others to gain independence while working to gain independence himself. In 2005, Dwight was a teacher and football coach when he sustained a spinal-cord injury after being struck by a drunk driver. He says that service increased his self-confidence and taught him he could inspire others through his own struggle for independence. Since his accident, Dwight has used his teaching experience to conduct many presentations in schools, churches, and prisons to discourage drinking and driving. Reflecting on his national service experience, Dwight says, “You can’t help but feel good when you are helping other people smile.” He says his national service experience has helped to develop his own self-awareness that he now uses in his public speaking and advocacy.

Frank Meyer Volunteer St. Louis, Missouri

Frank Meyer is a senior who engages in service for organizations across his community, including the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, a local charter school, and the Ronald McDonald House. Frank describes how volunteering has not only given him an opportunity to serve his community, but has also increased his sense of self-worth. Service has even helped his physical wellbeing by keeping him active. Frank’s limited mobility has not curtailed his service to the community. In his many different volunteer positions, he serves as an usher, answers phones, helps to plan community events, and evaluates accessibility for people with disabilities. He was also one of he first bell ringers in St. Louis for the Salvation Army. Frank says he has always been interested in service because he finds it “difficult to spend all [his] time doing nothing…There are really so many things to get into.”

Lise Pace AmeriCorps VISTA Service: Bosma Enterprises Indianapolis, Indiana

During her service year, Lise Pace volunteered for Bosma Enterprises, an organization that supports individuals with visual disabilities. Lise, who has retinitis pigmentosa, trained and recruited many volunteers herself. Lise talks about being very shy and uncertain when she began her VISTA service. She thought that her newly acquired disability precluded her from employment entirely. In spite of this, Lise went on to design and implement a volunteer program that allowed people with disabilities to serve in programs such as Habitat for Humanity. After her service year, Lise was hired as a full-time employee for an AmeriCorps program. She is now very comfortable with public speaking. In fact, through the corporate volunteering program, Lise trained volunteers from all levels within the 150- employee company. Lise said of her VISTA experience, “I really was just like a flower that hadn’t been watered…Once I got watered, I just really blossomed and started standing up straighter.” Her service experience improved her confidence and provided an opportunity for her to rejoin the workforce.

Jennifer Wayne Byerly AmeriCorps State: GRADD Senior Connections Owensboro, Kentucky

Jennifer Wayne Byerly never imagined that joining AmeriCorps would turn into what she calls “the catalyst to change my life.” Jennifer used her professional experience and the training she received in AmeriCorps to work with organizations including the Red Cross, the Medical Reserve Corps, and the Community Emergency Response Team to help seniors and people with disabilities prepare for disasters and other emergencies. Jennifer became one of the first Red Cross Disaster Response Team members to self-identify as a person with a disability. As a result, she became the first person with a mental health-related disability to serve as a consumer representative on a psychiatric response team. Jennifer credits her experiences in AmeriCorps as contributing to her being awarded a grant that will enable her to, as she says, “do even more service in my rural community.”

Oyo Fummilayo AmeriCorps State: 21st Century Program Danville, Kentucky

Oyo Fummilayo was unemployed before she served as a literacy specialist at a middle school. Having previous experience working with teenagers, she specifically chose a middle school because of her passionate belief that pre-teens are at a particularly critical point in their education, when they either become excited about learning or lose interest. Oyo taught the students how to write a newsletter, which they continued after her term of service. She says that her service was a steppingstone to everything she has done subsequently. Her service experience confirmed what she already suspected: She would find her true career in helping others. After her service, Oyo was appointed to the Kentucky Council on Developmental Disabilities. Her interest in supporting people with disabilities is not because she has a disability but because, she says, “I believe that everybody needs to be included in everything…Everything we do should be available to everybody. It doesn’t matter if you have a disability or not.”


Source: National Service.Gov

Assistive Computer Devices & Software

Definition: Defining the Meaning of Computer Software Accessibility

Latest Computer Devices and Software Publications – Click Here for Full List (146 Items)

Source: Disabled World

Down Syndrome Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Down Syndrome: An Overview

While some people have many Down syndrome symptoms, others have only a few. At least 100 characteristics are associated with the condition, including a flat facial profile, an upward slant to the eye, and learning disabilities. In addition, people with Down syndrome are at increased risk of developing certain medical conditions not necessarily associated with Down syndrome, such as congenital heart disease. The extra chromosome 21 arrangement of Down syndrome appears to be one of the most common genetic abnormalities known, occurring as frequently as 1 in every 800 to 1,000 births. While Down syndrome is common, the symptoms an individual with Down syndrome experiences can vary. Some people may have several symptoms; others only a few. Some people experience severe symptoms of Down syndrome; others can have mild ones.

Characteristics of Down Syndrome Symptoms

There are estimated to be over 100 characteristics of Down syndrome. Common characteristics of Down syndrome can include:
  • A flat facial profile
  • An upward slant to the eye
  • A short neck
  • Abnormally shaped ears
  • White spots on the iris of the eye (called Brushfield spots)
  • A single, deep transverse crease on the palm of the hand
  • Smaller than average size
  • Exaggerated space between the first and second toe
  • Poor muscle tone (called hypotonia)
  • Joint looseness
  • Broad feet with short toes
  • Learning disabilities.

Symptoms of Other Conditions Associated With Down Syndrome

Besides the physical characteristics, people with Down syndromeare also at increased risk of developing certain medical conditions that come with their own set of symptoms. Some of these conditions can include:

Down Syndrome Symptoms: Summary

Not everyone with these possible Down syndrome symptoms has the disorder. A number of these features can be seen in the general population, and these symptoms are common in other disorders. Anyone with potential symptoms of Down syndrome should be seen by a healthcare provider so that the problem can be properly diagnosed.


Sources: MedTV

Therapeutic Gardens

Therapeutic gardens are used to help people with chronic illness and disabilities in a variety of settings. Some of the places you may see a therapeutic garden include vocational rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes and hospitals, as well as botanical gardens, nurseries and prisons. The psychiatric and physical value of these gardenshas been noted throughout history. One of the first psychiatrists to note the positive effects of gardening on mental health patients was Dr. Benjamin Rush, who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Definition of a Therapeutic Garden

A therapeutic garden, according to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, is “a plant-dominated environment purposefully designed to facilitate interaction with the healing elements of nature. Interactions can be passive or active depending on the garden design and users’ needs.” Some of the types of therapeutic gardens include sensory gardens, healing gardens, restorative gardens, enabling gardens and rehabilitation gardens.


Working in a garden offers many benefits. Some of these benefits include connecting with nature, social interaction, and learning new skills. Depending upon illness ordisability, horticulture therapy can help individuals to develop fine motor skills, deeper concentration, stamina, hand-eye coordination and a sense of independence and control. People of all skill levels can learn to grow and care for plants, and gardens can be designed so that they are accessible for everyone.

Research has supported the efforts of providing these gardens to a variety of individuals, such as those recovering from surgery. According to the University of Minnesota, “Roger Ulrich, a professor and director of the Center for Health Systems and Design at Texas A & M University, found that viewing natural scenes or elements fosters stress recovery by evoking positive feelings, reducing negative emotions, effectively holding attention / interest, and blocking or reducing stressful thoughts.

When viewing vegetation as opposed to urban scenes, test subjects exhibited lower alpha rates which are associated with being wakefully relaxed.”

Accessible Garden Design

Gardens that are designed for use in therapy must meet certain criteria in order to be designated as accessible. Planning a garden may be done in conjunction with a landscape architect or nurseryman who has knowledge of state and local regulations regarding accessibility. In addition to specific regulations, much more goes into the planning of these gardens. From plant selection to colors, textures, fragrance and sounds (and occasionally taste), the preparation may take months for a small garden to a year or more for larger projects.

Sensory Considerations and Equipment

During the planning phase of the garden, sensory considerations should be addressed. Primarily, who is the garden being designed for? Will it be for a specific population that has physical, mental or emotional challenges? For example, autistic individuals will require a well-organized garden that minimizes stimulation, whereas an individual in a wheelchair will need raised garden beds.

Individuals with sight impairment may benefit from chimes or bells strategically placed in the garden. The needs of the individuals using the space should be carefully considered before the building and planting phase begin.

In addition, the equipment that will be used in the everyday care of the garden needs to be geared toward a disabled population. For example, faucets should be the lever type, and tool sets should include modified equipment for the disabled.


A therapeutic garden can be used for a variety of activities. The garden may be used for residents or specific groups of individuals, as well as for members of a community. Classes may be offered that teach gardening techniques, such as plant propagation, container gardening and herb gardening. The garden may be used to attract birds and butterflies, which in turn could attract individuals from the community who are wildlife enthusiasts.

Some gardens may be used to teach a vocation, and the produce may be sold as well. The resulting income may be used to help make the garden a self-sustaining project.

Hiring People With Disabilities…

Isn’t Just the Right Thing to Do—It’s Good for Business

A new study reveals that hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities doesn’t just improve culture—it improves the bottom line.

What kind of employers hire people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD)? You might imagine that they’re like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life—big-hearted souls that sacrifice their business’s profits to improve their communities. A new study, however, shows that hiring people with IDD doesn’t mean that employers have jettisoned their business interests. On the contrary, hiring people with IDD is good for the bottom line. Mr. Potter should have a look.

The study was conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, or i4cp, a company that analyzes the practices of high-performance organizations. Among some of the striking findings are just how many employers believe that their employees with IDD offer specific benefits to their workplaces. More than three-quarters of employers surveyed ranked their employees with IDD as good or very good on work quality, motivation, engagement, integration with co-workers, dependability, and attendance. Many employers reported being initially leery of hiring people with IDD, only to see their concerns dissolve after the employees were on board.

“The positive impact on the workforce is brought about in two ways: hiring individuals with IDD adds highly motivated people to the workforce (which can lead to increased productivity) and it promotes an inclusive culture that appeals to the talent pool organizations want to attract,” reads the study. “The improved customer satisfaction realized can lead to better sales and customer retention. The enhanced employer brand can translate to a better image in the community.”

People with IDD have historically faced enormous hurdles to getting a job. If they worked at all, it might be in sheltered workshops for significantly less than minimum wage—separate and most definitely unequal workplaces. The employment scenario is hardly any rosier at present, with the unemployment rate for people with IDD remaining tragically high: 85 percent percent of people with IDD do not have paid work in the community.

Based on the i4cp study, the organization Best Buddies International, which facilitates job placement for people with IDD, launched a media campaign called I’m In To Hire. The goal of the campaign is to convince employers that it is not charity, but in their best interests, to hire people with IDD. The Founder and Chairman of Best Buddies, Anthony K. Shriver, told The Daily Beast, “This study creates an opportunity for us to approach a CEO and say, let’s give this a shot.”

One of the business bigwigs Shriver has convinced is Carlos Slim, the second richest man in the world (trailing Bill Gates by a mere $1.2 billion). Slim said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, “It is not only good for the morale of the organization but politically it would be very interesting to change something from a debt into an asset. You can change the equation.” As part of the I’m In To Hire campaign, Slim and Shriver co-wrote a Forbes editorial to convince employers of all the business benefits of hiring people with IDD.

On Thursday, the campaign announced it had received 100,000 pledges of support on its website. Celebrities and politicians of all stripes have tweeted their support for #ImInToHire, including Maria Shriver, Martin O’Malley, Cindy Crawford, Kevin Spacey, and Gavin Newsom.

“Best Buddies had a lot of anecdotal data that suggested the business benefits of hiring people with IDD. We wanted to find some empirical data to back those stories up,” said Eric Davis, Creative Director & Senior Editor at i4cp, in an interview with The Daily Beast. “There had been studies conducted showing the benefits of employing people with IDD on the employee, but we wanted to show the talent and business benefits for the employer.”

i4cp defines a high-performance organization by four factors: market share, revenue growth, profitability, and customer satisfaction. i4cp has found that diversity and inclusion policies generally are not a hindrance to organizations. In fact, they are correlated with high performance. High-performance organizations are twice as likely as low-performance organizations to emphasize diversity and inclusion as a matter of policy at the highest levels, and more than twice as likely to specifically include people with IDD in their diversity goals.

The high-performance organizations did not hire people with IDD simply to gain cushy tax subsidies. “All participants are paid minimum wage or higher. Very few of our employers utilize the tax credits,” wrote Paula Johnson, Director of the Best Buddies Jobs Program, in an email. “Our current average hourly wage is $11.95.” Indeed, the study found that high-performance companies are 37 percent more likely than low-performance companies to hire people with IDD for the straightforward reason that they are “good talent matches for open positions.”

Among the high-performance companies surveyed, more than 80 percent reported a positive experience with their employees with IDD, and a third reported the experience exceeded their expectations. “You usually don’t see those kind of numbers from HR departments that have started new hiring initiatives,” said Davis. “It’s likely the employers had anticipated certain challenges that weren’t there, and the resources to support them were greater than they had realized.”

The satisfaction experienced by high-performance companies did not surprise Shriver at all. “They’ve hired an effective and enthusiastic employee, and now have lower turnover in those jobs,” Shriver pointed out. “The culture of our schools have changed since we began inclusion of people with IDD. Our offices can transform as well.”

Younger people today have grown up in an era of increasing inclusion in schools, and are far more likely to be familiar with people with IDD. However, Shriver suggested that much of the reluctance to hire people with IDD stems from lack of familiarity given previously segregated schools. “CEOs in their 40s and 50s did not grow up with inclusion in the schools and many simply do not know anybody with IDD,” he said. “They don’t know who this population is, what their capacity is when they have the right training to support them, or how to train and support them.”

To find out more about how someone with disabilities gets successfully incorporated into his workplace, I spoke with Brian DeAtley. DeAtley is Senior Research Manager at the Institute for Economic Empowerment at SourceAmerica, a non-profit organization that helps people with disabilities find jobs. He emphasized that employing people with IDD is a triple win: the employer, the employee, and the federal government all benefit. The federal government currently spends hundreds of billions of dollars yearly on services and support for unemployed people with disabilities. DeAtley argues, “Even given the EPTA [a tax credit for employers hiring people with disabilities], employing people with IDD is budget-positive for federal government.”

I also spoke with Ty Ross, who uses his considerable expertise in computers for his job as a data technician in the Davis County School District in Utah. Ross has cerebral palsy, and the Pathways to Careers initiative of SourceAmerica helped him get his position. Before Pathways, Ross had significant trouble finding a job. “My mom would take me on interviews. We got the vibe walking through the door that they weren’t taking me seriously and it was really frustrating,” he said. “I had a lot of schooling, but that doesn’t make it easy to get a job. That’s only the half the equation. You need to get an interview and get someone to give you a chance to get your foot in the door.”

Pathways operates on the premise that employing people with disabilities should never be done simply because it’s the right thing to do. “It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t sustain itself, and then they’re out of work 4-5 months later with neither side knowing what went wrong,” said DeAtley. Pathways also avoids delivering platitudinous messages about people with IDD such as, She’s such a happy person or He’s just so grateful to get a job. These, DeAtley suggests, communicate to the employer that the worker isn’t really a valuable employee.

Instead, like Best Buddies, Pathways argues that people with disabilities can and should be the right person for a given job. And they mean all people with disabilities. Pathways offers employment services no matter the intensiveness of the disability (they have a lottery system).

“The important work is upfront,” says DeAtley. Pathways first works with employers. Many employers don’t have an official open position that could be a fit for someone with IDD, but Pathways identifies how someone with disabilities could nonetheless add value to the company in a different way.

Then Pathways expends a good amount of effort discovering what each client can do and finds a job for him to choose from. With the right person in the right job, the need for on-the-job support is diminished. Kim Stuart, Ross’s aunt and guardian (whom he calls “mom”), agreed that the upfront work was what helped Ross get settled so well. “Pathways spent hours and hours one-on-one learning about Ty. They talked about his strengths, and how to turn them into employable skills.”

Ross started as a paid intern with a internship facilitator who helped smooth any initial bumps with his employer. For example, when Ross’s difficulties with coordination made it troublesome to use the keyboard, his facilitator found him a modified keyboard. At the end of his internship, the Davis County School District decided to hire him.

“We had thought that Ross was going to have to live on Social Security and that was that,” Stuart said. “This job totally changed his life. His outlook on life is totally different and so is the way he feels valued. That’s just as important as his getting a paycheck.”

“I’ve made close friendships. I feel like I’m making a difference when they ask me to ask me to do something and I know I’ve contributed to the overall running of the district,” Ross affirmed. “This is the first month I haven’t been receiving benefits. I’m self-sufficient.”

Shriver wants every workplace eventually to be like Ross’s. “We will finally have integration and inclusion for people with disability. It’s going to happen at some point,” he declared. “Corporations will have people that are focused on diversity, instead of me running around trying to explain the benefits and sending in staff to train them. The company itself would have that training in place. We need to give people an opportunity to demonstrate their skills. We need that door open for them, and then we can go to town.”

Source: Elizabeth Picciuto received an MA in Cinema Studies from New York University and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Maryland, College Park. She lives, philosophizes, gardens, and watches lots of TV in Silver Spring, MD.

A Point of View: Happiness and Disability

Surveys reveal that people with disabilities consistently report a good quality of life, says Tom Shakespeare. So why is it often assumed they are unhappy?

Have you ever thought to yourself: “I’d rather be dead than disabled?” It’s not an unusual reflection. Disability, in everyday thought, is associated with failure, with dependency and with not being able to do things. We feel sorry for disabled people, because we imagine it must be miserable to be disabled.

But in fact we’re wrong. It’s sometimes called the “disability paradox”. Surveys reveal people with disabilities consistently report a quality of life as good as, or sometimes even better than, that of non-disabled people.

Impairment usually makes little difference to quality of life. Research shows, for example, that overall levels of life satisfaction for people with spinal cord injury are not affected by their physical ability.

Even the clinical facts of whether their spinal lesion is high or low, complete or incomplete – all aspects that affect functioning – don’t seem to make much difference. Human flourishing is possible even if you lack a major sense, like sight, or you can’t walk, or you’re totally physically dependent on others.

So what’s going on?

If you think about it for a moment, you realise that people born with an impairment have nothing to which they can compare their current existence. Someone lacking hearing or sight has never experienced music or birdsong, visual art or a sublime landscape. Someone with an intellectual disability may not consider themselves different at all. Someone like me, born with restricted growth, has always been that way. Even if life is sometimes hard, we are used to being the way we are.

For people who become disabled, there’s a typical trajectory. I can say this from personal experience, having become paralysed in 2008. Immediately after the onset of injury or disease, one can feel profoundly depressed, and even contemplate suicide. Yet after a period of time, people adapt to their new situation, re-evaluate their attitude to the disability, and start making the most of it. Sometimes, they are driven to greater achievements than before. Remember those amazing Paralympic athletes…

Maybe you are sceptical about the subjective nature of quality-of-life data. Bioethicists sometimes describe these self-reports in terms of the “happy slave” concept, in other words, people think they are happy because they do not know any better. Perhaps these cheerful people with disabilities are deluding themselves. Or, perhaps they are fooling others. Maybe in private they admit to misery, while in public they put on a brave face. Either way, it’s said these folk must be in some kind of denial.

But these explanations are patronising, not to say insulting. More importantly, they’re wrong. Research in a field called hedonic psychology has supported disabled people’s self-reports of good quality of life. Scientists such as Daniel Gilbert have done very thorough testing of what people say and how they think. They’ve come up with the concept of hedonic adaptation – which refers to the way in which after trauma, quality of life eventually returns to approximately what it was before the trauma struck. Amazing, eh? Unfortunately this also happens in reverse – so, if you are lucky enough to win the lottery, you’ll feel like £10m for a year or two, but then you’ll go back to being as miserable or cheerful as you were before your stroke of luck.

So if these self-reports are true, we will need to find better ways of understanding the disability paradox.

To start with, we can offer more nuanced accounts of the psychological processes that go on in the mind of a person with disability. Adaptation means finding another way to do something. For example, the paralysed person might wheel, rather than walk, to, places. Coping is when people gradually re-define their expectations about functioning. They decide that a stroll of half a mile is fine, whereas previously they would only have been content with a 10-mile ramble. Accommodation is when someone learns to value other things – they decide that rather than going for walks in the country with friends, it’s far more important to be able to go to great restaurants with them. This teaches us an important lesson – human beings are capable of adapting to almost any situation, finding satisfaction in the smaller things they can achieve, and deriving happiness from their relationships with family and friends, even in the absence of other triumphs.

Our appraisal of life with impairment may have less to do with reality than with fear and ignorance and prejudice. We wrongly assume that difficulties for people result in misery for people.

Even to the extent that impairments do entail suffering and limitation, other factors in life can more than compensate for them. Take the recent French box office sensation Les Intouchables, in which the protagonist, Philippe has tetraplegia, but despite this, he is able to have a good quality of life because he has money. Even people who aren’t lucky enough to be wealthy Parisian aristocrats can enjoy the benefits of friendship or culture, despite the restrictions that impairment places on them. By contrast, it is plain to see that someone can have a fully functioning body or mind and yet lack the social networks or the personality necessary for living a happy and fulfilled existence.

This highlights the importance of the environment in determining the happiness of disabled people. As in most areas of life, it’s structural factors that make the real difference. Participation, not impairment is key. Do access barriers stop you going to school with your friends? Do you have a job? Does society meet the extra costs of having an impairment through a welfare system which is fair and non-sti

gmatising? Do you face hostility and hate crime? Unfortunately, in most of these respects the situation for disabled people has been getting worse, not better, in recent years. According to the Centre for Welfare Reform, this government’s spending cuts have had a hugely disproportionate impact on the lives of disabled people in poverty.

In arguing that social barriers are more of a problem than the impairment itself, I am not suggesting that fear is completely irrational. For a start, disability is very diverse in ways that mean we have to soften the claim that “disability is no tragedy”. Some illnesses and impairments undoubtedly involve greater degrees of misery or suffering than the average human should have to endure. I’m thinking of depression, for example, which biologist Lewis Wolpert memorably labelled “malignant sadness”. There are some nasty and painful degenerative diseases. Impairments that involve considerable pain, whether physical or mental, are obviously less compatible with a good quality of life.

It’s also true that in general, disabled people usually have fewer choices than non-disabled people. Most societies still have limited accessibility. Even in a barrier-free world, the disabled person is more likely to rely on mechanical devices that periodically malfunction, rendering the individual excluded or dependent. I have been stranded thanks to a flat tyre on my wheelchair or a broken lift numerous times. Most disabled people become inured to the frustrations of inaccessibility or breakdown, but it certainly makes life less predictable and less free than it is for the non-disabled.

But my point is that while disability is not simply an irrelevant difference, like the colour of your skin, neither need it be a tragedy.

And remember: Mere existence entails problems. Hamlet, listing reasons why death is to be preferred, highlights “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”. To be born is to be vulnerable, to fall prey to disease and suffering, and ultimately to die. Sometimes, the part of life that is difficult brings other benefits, such as a sense of perspective or true value that people who lead easier lives can miss out on. If we always remembered this, perhaps we would turn out to be more accepting of disability and less prejudiced against disabled people.

Source: A Point of View is broadcast on Friday on Radio 4 at 20:50 BST and repeated on Sunday at 08:50 BST. Catch up on BBC iPlayer