Vote in Illinois’ 2020 Election

The next chance to vote in Illinois is on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020. During this election, Illinois citizens will vote for a new president, choose our senators, and answer important questions all through their powerful ballots.

A photo of the Capitol building at night against a clear blue evening sky.There are several steps to preparing for an election, like we outlined in our primary voting blog back in February featuring information about primaries, registering to vote, and how to vote. While our primary voting guide has important information, a few things have changed since then!

Steps To Vote In Illinois

First, make sure you are registered to vote. You can check your registration at this link. If you have moved or changed your name recently, you will need to re-register. You can register to vote online until October 18th.

Next, you can decide whether you want to vote in-person during early voting, in-person on Election Day, or by mail. Early voting information can be found on this State of Illinois website.

However, due to COVID-19, the safest way to vote this year is by mail. In order to vote by mail in Illinois, you will need to visit this website to request your ballot. When you fill out this form, you will be asked if you need a military/overseas ballot or a standard vote by mail application. If you choose the standard application, you will then choose your “jurisdiction,” meaning where you live.

Next, you may be directed to another website that is specific to your location. Read and follow all of the directions on the website pages, and write down any important dates on a calendar. If you submit your vote by mail application by September 24th, you will receive your ballot by October 5th. Remember: If you vote by mail, your ballot must be returned in the mail on or before November 3rd.

This image contains information about voting by mail for Chicago. To vote in Illinois, visit the Board of Elections website for more information.

Once you have submitted your information, like your address, the site will redirect you to a confirmation page. This page is important because the page will tell you if your application was successfully submitted!

 

Being A Smart and Prepared Voter

Now that you have checked your voter registration and requested your vote by mail ballot, it’s time to learn about the candidates.

BallotReady logoOne of our favorite tools is BallotReady.org. On this website you can enter your voting address, and the site will break your ballot into each race. It will then give you the opportunity to click on a candidate’s name to learn more about them and their positions. When you make a decision about a race, you select the candidate you want, and BallotReady will save your choice. When you’re ready to cast your ballot, you can use this site to pick the candidates you believe in most.

Don’t forget about the AAPD’s Voter Resource Center! These resources are helpful to people with disabilities because they collect information about candidates specific to disability issues.

Are You Ready To Vote In Illinois?

Does it feel early to get ready for an election in November? We understand that it might. Before COVID-19, many of us could wait until the week before Election Day to start preparing to vote.

To guarantee that you are able to vote this year, start getting ready today. Check your voter registration status and request your vote by mail ballot by August, and then use the time between then and late October to make educated decisions about who represents your interests the best.

Teaching Life Skills to Adults During a Pandemic

Teaching life skills to adults with disabilities is the main responsibility of our life skills tutors. Before the COVID-19 pandemic led us to close our office doors temporarily, a tutor’s daily life varied widely. One day, a tutor would meet with one participant in the office to go over budgets, and the next day they might meet at the McGaw YMCA to support healthy living goals.

New Skills Inventory client practices her kitchen skills as a tutor is teaching life skills to adults.Because of our person-centered philosophy, our tutors’ experiences are different with each participant. Each individual determines their own goals based on their hopes and dreams. After that, tutors work with the individual to create action plans, which are the basis for tutoring sessions. These individualized plans mean that tutors are usually out in the community, supporting local cafes and shops while teaching life skills to our participants.

The pandemic disrupted much of the work we do at Independent Futures, but our Direct Support team pivoted quickly. With many local businesses closed and a stay-at-home order, our tutors needed to start teaching life skills remotely.

Teaching Life Skills To Adults During A Pandemic

Three months into our stay-at-home order, tutoring looks a lot different than it used to. “Tutoring during the pandemic has evolved,” reported life skills tutor Dee Dee Goldman. “Much of what I do is teaching and modeling, so the physical distance has changed that.”

Features Cynthia, winner of staff Awesome AwardAnother tutor, Cynthia Witherspoon, said, “During the first week Independent Futures instituted the work from home policy I met with the participants I tutor using texts, FaceTime, and phone calls.” However, as the governor modified the stay-at-home order, “I returned to meeting in person with most of my participants in their homes. We practice safe distancing and I always wear a mask. For those who have not felt comfortable returning to face to face meetings, I stay in touch with FaceTime or phone calls.”

Turning Challenges Into Opportunities

Photo of two women smiling, one a direct service professional and one a participant.Working and tutoring remotely meant new challenges for tutors and participants. The first step was figuring out how sessions could continue. Dee Dee shared, “We have been very creative by using screen share, dictation, and new forms of learning to do daily tasks.”

Because tutors are teaching life skills to adults with disabilities using new tools, the topics individuals are learning have changed too. The challenges associated with teaching someone how to cook, combined with adapting to remote learning, meant tutoring topics changed too.

During Cynthia’s tutoring sessions, she and participants have gone for walks to change their scenery. She also used the pandemic as an opportunity to discuss, model, and practice safety through personal hygiene routines. But the need for distance learning with life skills led to new technology challenges. 

“One learning opportunity was understanding how to order groceries online,” Cynthia said. “It is surprising how many things need to be considered, like choosing which store you want, using a debit or credit card to pay for groceries, and scheduling time to have groceries delivered. It’s a complex process with a lot of steps to learn.” 

Adjusting To A New Normal

Many of our participants work in grocery stores and remained working as essential employees throughout the pandemic. Still, some participants felt their anxiety increase. For participants who were furloughed, the changes to their routines were difficult. These types of changes in day-to-day activities were difficult for many of us to grow accustomed to.

Some of Independent Futures team in a GoToMeeting video callAs we all adjusted slowly to the necessary COVID-19 precautions, our tutoring participants adjusted too. “At first, participants would tease me about wearing a mask and gloves, maintaining 6 feet of distance, and putting items on the ground,” Cynthia said. “Now everyone sees these as common practices, and they are respectful of the guidelines I follow. They know I am doing it to protect them.” 

Moving Our Supports Forward 

Throughout this time, individuals employed their independent living skills to face brand new challenges. However, only 3 of Dee Dee and Cynthia’s participants left their homes to live with family. Tutoring continued in a new format and adjusted to individuals’ changing needs.

We learned that teaching life skills to adults with disabilities during a pandemic required new tools and flexibility. Our tutors rose to meet this new challenge. By creatively using Zoom, screen sharing, and other tech solutions, the team continued supporting participants near and far. As we prepare for the rest of this year, we are deciding which tools we will continue using. Have thoughts you’d like to share? Email center@independentfutures.com to let us know what you think! 

 

Reopening Update for Independent Futures

June 19th Update: For the foreseeable future, our office will be open from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm. We are open to visitors only by appointment, so please call ahead. The rest of the information in this blog still applies, including requirements regarding face coverings and taking temperatures. 

Dear community members,

On March 16th, Independent Futures closed our office, and our staff started working remotely. As Illinois moves into Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan, we can begin informing you about our reopening update. 

Beginning June 8th, our office will be open from 11:00 am-2:00 pm. In following weeks, we will increase our open hours gradually. To limit risk, all office visitors must call (847) 328-2044 to make an appointment. Along with these limited hours, we have installed a sneeze guard at our front desk and marked 6 foot areas throughout the office. The following policies will apply to everyone entering our office.

  • Everyone must wear masks during any and all in-office meetings. We ask that you bring your own, but if you do not have a face covering, one will be provided for you.
  • We will take your temperature when you arrive at the office. Our staff are also asked to follow this procedure to protect our whole community.
  • Safety practices such as frequently washing our hands for at least 20 seconds and maintaining social distance will be required of all staff and guests.
  • There will be hand sanitizer available in the office. We recommend that anyone entering or leaving the office use hand sanitizer to reduce the chance of transmitting the virus to others.
  • Out of respect for everyone’s health, please stay home if you feel unwell or have a temperature.

While our office has been closed, our Activities Director has continued to provide activities services online. Moving forward, we will be exploring blended activities options. To make our activities as accessible as possible, we will continue providing as many options as possible for the community. Please keep an eye out for our upcoming Summer Activities schedule

We remain thankful for everyone’s patience and support as we make these transitions, and we look forward to seeing you all in person as soon as we can. We will update this blog periodically when we receive new information.

If you have any questions about our reopening update, please email center@independentfutures.com. We will forward your question to the appropriate staff member. In the meantime, stay healthy and take care! 

Warm regards,

Ann Sickon, Executive Director

Community Is A Lifestyle: Community Builders

“I had never heard of Independent Futures before, nor was I aware of any type of supported living model like their Community Living Option (CLO). So when the opportunity to apply for the Community Builder opening came across my desk nearly a decade ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. However, it was clear to me that Independent Futures was something incredibly unique and quite special. From the moment the opportunity presented itself to the day I moved in, it was only a span of two weeks. Needless to say, I was sold. Over eight years later, I’m still a believer.” – Aby Karottu, Community Builder 

Over the past 20 years, Independent Futures’ work has centered the best ways to bolster opportunities to be independent for adults with disabilities. Out of this work, we created the New Futures Initiative™, a training program to help families create housing options for their loved ones. 

Adam poses with friends he has made through Center for Independent FuturesOur training is based on our own experience creating Community Living Options™. Our CLOs are creative solutions to support adults with disabilities who want to live in a community of their choice. 

A key piece of our Community Living Options is our Community Builders. A Community Builder lives in their own apartment in the CLO. They provide support for their building’s other residents as needed. For this blog, we asked a couple of our Community Builders to share what it’s like to navigate their supportive role.

Daily Community Builder Routines

Before the stay-at-home policies, Aby Karottu, Community Builder for Harrison Street, started his mornings early. By 5:00 am, he would start a HIIT workout at Evanston Athletic Club. Then he went to work in Skokie as a special education teacher. When he came home, Aby checked in with the other CLO residents. Every day, he stopped by to say hello to his neighbors. After that, Aby played with his dog, hung out with friends, went on dates, rock climbed, or practiced a number of other hobbies. 

Chicago Marathon Team CIF runner in front of Chicago skylineFor Nick Connell, Community Builder at the Chicago Ave. House, the routine is similar. He and the other residents meet for a daily “hello and chat,” and then he would spend time with his family, play soccer, or practice one of his hobbies. 

Community Builders play a crucial role in supporting the full lives that CLO residents develop. But as Aby shared, “I’ve come to recognize and embrace my role as a Community Builder most closely to that of an overly-concerned neighbor.”

Challenges for Community Builders

When families in our New Futures Initiative learn about Community Builders, they often wonder how they could find anyone who would accept the role. The family members sometimes ask how Community Builders can maneuver the challenges.

Two Something's Cooking attendees poseNick and Aby each face different challenges. For Nick, scheduling and communication can be challenges, “especially in the beginning of forming our community.” These are two challenges that can only be overcome with practice.

As a special education teacher, Aby had trouble taking off his “teacher hat” in the beginning. Since then, he says he has grown into the role of Community Builder. “While I’ll always be an educator at heart, I also honor my very unique role, not as an authority figure, but rather as a role model who’s just here to lend a caring ear and a helping hand.”

Truthfully, the role of Community Builder can be demanding. But there are people who believe in community and are happy to support adults with disabilities in their daily lives. 

Finding Joy in Community

One of our Community Builders makes balloon animals at our annual benefit, SPARK.Though Community Builders face many demands on their time, they find joy in the small interactions the community shares. They see each resident every day. Though the Community Builder may offer support and advice, they also receive support in their lives. 

For Nick, his daily check-ins have brought unexpected connections. “Currently one of my neighbors and I share ingredients and recipes, and then we share whatever we bake or cook. I greatly appreciate the opportunities to give and receive.” 

“I appreciate the intimate nature inherent in living amongst the residents I serve. As such, I greatly value the relationship aspects of what I do,” Aby says of the joys he finds as a Community Builder. “Because of the journeys I’ve experienced, I have a type of joy that’s been unparalleled in my life.”

Finding Community Builders

Though becoming a Community Builder is certainly not easy, “it’s a wonderful way of life,” according to Nick. When families ask how we find folks willing to do that work, we share that it’s not always easy. 

Being a Community Builder is both challenging and joyous. It requires dedication and the willingness to support individuals with disabilities. Agreeing with Nick, Aby says, “It’s not a job. It’s a lifestyle. If you value service, compassion, and community, it will be worth it.”

Creating Housing For People With Disabilities: How To Form A Family Group

At Independent Futures, we offer our New Futures Initiative training program to families who want to see their loved ones find a place to call home. Our training facilitators support families as they explore various housing options and decide which options meet their needs. Most importantly, these trainings allow families to work with others who share the same goal.

What Is A Family Group? 

Family members and staff gather around a group of sticky notes from a planning sessionFor our New Futures Initiative training, we ask that the initial families find others to go through the training with them. A New Futures Initiative training typically includes 5-10 families all seeking to create housing for a loved one with a disability. We call this a “family group.”

The most important aspect of family groups is that you can all work together. Our trainers can help you navigate challenges that arise. Throughout the training process, there will be opportunities to explore what housing options are best for your loved ones.

How Do I Form A Family Group? 

Forming a family group is easiest if you can start with your existing relationships. Existing friendships are a natural starting place to form a family group. However, sometimes it can be difficult to find other families who share your goal of creating a housing option in your community. The following are ideas that can help you find opportunities to connect with other families in your community.

Call to Action Meeting with Independent Futures
A square brown house with red door that is one example of housing options for people with disabilities.
Harrison House created by Independent Futures families, an example of housing options for people with disabilities.

Host a “call to action” meeting in your community. Our staff will explain the need for creative new housing solutions and the New Futures Initiative process. Our staff will work with you to publicize the event, and we will lead the presentation in your community.

Schools – Public and Private

Start by contacting special education professionals in your local schools. Connect with families whose students are in high school transition programs and even families with younger students.  Don’t forget about private schools – in your search, try including faith-based schools and schools specifically for students with disabilities.  

Post-Secondary Schools and Programs (Colleges, Universities, Job Training Programs)

Use ThinkCollege.net to learn about college programs for students with intellectual disabilities in your area. Get in touch with post-secondary programs and service providers focused on employment and job training.

Area Service Providers

Check with service providers in your area. Many may know of families who are also looking for supported independent living options. Some service providers cannot meet the demand for housing and have waiting lists of families looking for a housing option for a loved one.

Disability Advocacy Groups
A tan and beige apartment structure with green awnings over businesses
Integrated Living Opportunities (ILO) in Maryland/DC, created with the support of the New Futures Initiative training.

Engage local disability-focused advocacy groups such your chapters of The Arc and Center for Independent Living. If you’re able, attend conferences, meetings, and events sponsored by these organizations to meet other families.

Disability-Specific Advocacy Groups

Contact disability-specific advocacy groups such as Autism Speaks, National Association for Down Syndrome, and others. Join these organizations and attend their meetings to make connections with other families.

Faith Based Organizations

Faith-based organizations such as churches, synagogues, mosques, and inter-faith organizations may have inclusion coordinators or inclusion services. They could help you get in touch with other families who have loved ones with disabilities.

Social Media

Meetup logoUse social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to publicize your efforts. You can set up a “Meetup” gathering for families in the area who are looking for housing options for their loved ones. Throughout these strange times, our staff can even work with you to organize a virtual meeting through a conference call app like Zoom.

Civic and Community Organizations

Contact your public library to use their space or services, and ask your librarians about other organizations. Your town or city’s Inclusion/ADA Coordinator and community foundations, Rotary Club, or other service organizations might help you connect to other families.

Social/Sports/Arts Organizations

Staff poses to welcome a family group attending New Futures Initiative training to create housing for people with disabilitiesEngage families through programs such as Best Buddies, Special Olympics, Special Recreation Departments, camps, arts and theatre programs, and other types of recreation. 

Taking The Next Step

The process of creating housing solutions for loved ones with disabilities is a journey. The Independent Futures staff who work on New Futures Initiative know this personally. We can help you and your loved ones craft the future they deserve – with a place to call home.

A Message From Our Executive Director on COVID-19

This message was updated Friday, April 24th to reflect an extension of our remote working hours through at least May 30th and a new date for SPARK 2020. 

 

Dear community members,

Over the past 2 weeks, our staff at Independent Futures has considered several options to meet the challenges posed by effects of the Covid-19 virus. Ultimately, our office staff has decided to work remotely until at least May 30th to comply with the state’s stay-at-home policy. 

Thankfully, we are prepared for this type of remote work, and we are prepared to continue moving forward on crucial projects that can be done remotely. Additionally, our Direct Service team is looking into how much of our life skills tutoring programs can be done through technology like FaceTime and Google Hangouts. However, all of our non-essential activities, such as Walking Club and Art Club, have been cancelled through April. 

At this time, the Direct Service team will provide the same comprehensive support to participants that they always have. However, we will also take necessary precautions to keep participants and staff healthy. 

If anything changes, tutors will reach out to participants and family members to coordinate details about tutoring sessions. This will include answering questions like “Are we still meeting?” or “Where will we meet?”

Right now, we are working on coordinating a Plan B for SPARK, which was scheduled to take place on Saturday, April 18th. We will no longer meet in April. Instead, we hope you will join us on the new date of Saturday, November 7th. If you have purchased tickets already and are unable to attend on November 7th, please reach out. We will work with you to find the solution that best suits you.  

To make things easier for our community, we will keep our communications as clear as possible and centralized. You may receive some more emails than usual from us in the next few weeks, and you should keep an eye on our social media for important updates. But as information becomes available, we will update this blog to reflect the most current information at all times.  

We are thankful for everyone’s patience and support as we make these transitions, and we look forward to seeing you all in person as soon as we can. We will update this blog with more information by March 31st.

If you have any questions, please email center@independentfutures.com. Your question will then be forwarded to the appropriate staff member. In the meantime, stay healthy and take care! 

Sincerely,

Ann Sickon, Executive Director

Jonathan’s Double Dutch Trip to The Netherlands and Belgium

Jonathan Shuman is a man who loves to travel the world, viewing the world in a positive and friendly way. He wants to share how he uses our philosophy of “create your journey” to live out his dreams. These are his thoughts from his trip to The Netherlands and Belgium.

Visiting Brussels, Belgium

Three adults stand in the middle of a street in front of intricate European-style buildingsToday, my Search Beyond Adventures group went to Brussels in Belgium. We had to wake up at around 6 am in the morning, and we ate breakfast at around 7 am in the morning. Then, a shuttle van arrived in front of our Amsterdam hotel. We got in the shuttle van, and it took about 2-3 hours to drive in the shuttle from Hoofddorp, Netherlands, to Brussels, Belgium. 

When we arrived in Brussels, the first thing we did was go to a chocolate factory called the Belgian Chocolate Village. We toured the chocolate factory and we learned how to make chocolate from cocoa beans which in turn originate from carob trees. Then, the cocoa beans are harvested. They are dried to prevent moisture, and they have to go through several different processes including a quality check. The cocoa beans are then shipped around the world to factories and are then crushed and formed into chocolate and milk is optionally added to the chocolate. We also saw models made out of chocolate such as the Atomium and Les Arcades de la Cinquantenaire. 

For lunch, we went to a Mediterranean restaurant called Snack Simonis. I ate a chicken wrap sandwich with French fries on the side. After that, our group went into the city of Belgium and we saw the murals of famous Belgian comic strip characters such as Tintin and Asterix and Obelix. I also got my photo taken in front of the iconic Manneken Pis which is the statue of a boy with water coming out of his genitals but it’s a fountain. We also did lots of shopping in Brussels. I bought a pack of stroopwafels that I’m going to give to my mother as a present and souvenir. 

An octagonal sculpture stands tall against the blue sky on a green strip of parklandIn the street, we danced to music by street musicians who did cover versions of songs such as “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. We also went to a cathedral and took photos inside and outside of the cathedral. Later, I ate a Belgian waffle with chocolate syrup on top. It tasted creamy and sweet and tender. 

For dinner, we went to a Belgian restaurant called La Rose Blanche. I ate meatballs in tomato sauce with French fries. It tasted tender and fresh. After our trip was over, we got back into the shuttle van and we drove for 2-3 more hours and we arrived back in Hoofddorp Netherlands. I had such a great time in Brussels, Belgium. It was pleasant visiting Brussels and speaking both French and Dutch.

Tomorrow our group will go to Delft to see a pottery store where the Dutch make blue and white colored pottery items such as plates and tablets, etc.

So for now, Au revoir and Tot ziens and have a goede vakantie.

Learning About Dutch Pottery

Today, we woke up at 7:00 in the morning and went downstairs to eat breakfast at 8:00. Then, we took the train to go to this little Dutch city called Delft. 

When we were in Delft, we went to this pottery factory where the Dutch make pottery that is colored blue and white. A guide gave us a tour of the Dutch pottery factory by a potter who showed us how pottery was made. Pottery can be made by molding a form out of clay, then it is kept in the refrigerator overnight. Then the artist paints the piece white. Next, the artist draws designs in black ink on the piece. After that, the piece is dipped into glaze which conceals the design. Finally, the piece is put into an oven where the glaze is removed and the potter paints the design blue and white. Voilà, there is a piece of pottery that’s completed.

A large building in Amsterdam against a cloudy blue skyAfter we took a tour of the pottery factory in Delft, we ate lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant. I ordered a chicken wrap sandwich with lettuce ketchup and mayonnaise and French fries on the side. After lunch, we strolled through Delft, Netherlands viewing the canals, cathedrals, and even a horse drawn carriage.

Then later, around 3-4 pm, we went back to the Hampton by Hilton hotel and we relaxed for a bit. We tried to eat dinner downstairs but unfortunately the bar that only serves dinner on 5 days – not Sundays. Instead we ordered dinner from a Hawaiian poke restaurant, which is located near Amsterdam Netherlands.

Tomorrow we might do one last thing before we head back to Chicago, Illinois, the next day. Until then, Goodbye or Tot ziens as in Dutch and have a goede vakantie.

Last Day in Amsterdam

Jonathan stands to the right of a green windmill in AmsterdamToday, we woke up at around 5 am and ate breakfast. Then, we went into the city of Amsterdam. Our first stop was to visit the Anne Frank House. This is the same house that Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis during World War II. 

When Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany during the 1930s, the Frank family moved from Germany to Amsterdam where they hid in an apartment’s secret room concealed by a bookcase. They couldn’t make noises and they couldn’t run water or flush the toilet or they would be found by the Nazis. Miep Gies was one of the people who helped Anne Frank and her family hide from the Nazis. 

In 1944, one of the neighbors eventually found the Frank family and Nazis imprisoned the family. The Nazis deported Anne Frank’s family to Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp. Anne Frank died in August of 1945. Her diary that she kept with her when she was hiding with her family still survives even to this day. 

This reminded me about human rights and the negative effects of racism and intolerance inflicted by the Nazis. It also reminded me that human beings are the most destructive forces ever to roam the face of the earth. Humans are also responsible for the evils in this world such as they litter, they drive cars which emit carbon and they destroy the planet and human beings kill other people and animals for food as well. I still think fantasy is better than reality. Which do you think is better: humans or dragons? I honestly think dragons are better than humans.

A canal tour business in Amsterdam with turreted building to its leftAfter we took a tour of the Anne Frank house, we took a cruise ferry tour on an orange ferry along the Prinsengracht canal. We saw the architectural buildings and we learned about the history of the Netherlands and Amsterdam. During the 17th century, there was a Golden Age in the Netherlands when painters such as Jan Steen, Vincent Van Gogh, and Johannes Vermeer flourished.

After that, we took the Amsterdam tram from the city of Amsterdam back to Amsterdam Centraal and from there we took the train to Schiphol Airport. Finally, we took a shuttle bus back to the Hampton by Hilton hotel.

Tomorrow, Tuesday June 11, 2019, we have to wake up at around 4:30 am because our flight leaves at 9:05 am back to JFK airport. Then I will fly into Chicago from New York City.

I want to say Goodbye or Tot ziens to Amsterdam & Brussels. It has been a pleasure visiting. I’m going to miss you two. I hope to see you again someday in the future. Dank je wel.

Have a goede vakantie.

View Jonathan’s England and Ireland trip journals, starting with part 1. You can support participants to “create your journey,” this year’s theme for our spring event, by attending SPARK on Saturday, November 7th.

Vote In Illinois’ Primary Election!

On November 3, 2020, Americans will vote for their next President. The choice will come down to our incumbent President Trump and the Democratic challenger. 

Between now and then, there are a lot of other decisions to be made – like who the Democratic candidate will be. Throughout the primary process, Americans in every state get to vote for their choice to represent the Democratic party. In Illinois, our primary is on March 17. 

Many voters feel this election is the most important of our lifetimes, but that’s far from the only exciting aspect of Election Day 2020. In 2018, people with disabilities came out to vote in record numbers, surging by 8.5%. In 2020, many organizations hope to increase the turnout of voters with disabilities even more. 

Keep reading this blog to learn more about registering to vote & learning about the candidates in Illinois.

How To Register To Vote

An older man holds a sign that reads "Register to Vote"In Illinois, you can register to vote by mail until the February 18th deadline. If you are able to register online, the deadline is extended to February 29th. But first, there are several requirements. Illinois voters must: 

  – Be a U.S. citizen
  – Be 18 by November 3, 2020
  – Live in your voting precinct for 30 days before the election
  – Not be serving jail time as a result of a conviction
  – Not claim the right to vote anywhere else

If you meet these criteria, then congratulations! You can register to vote. The next step is to start Illinois’ online voter registration application. The application will ask you for some basic identifying information such as:

  – Your State ID/Driver’s License
  – Your name
  – The last 4 digits of your Social Security number
  – Your birth date
  – And your address

And that’s how you register to vote! If you are ever encountering problems or need support, you can contact the Board of Elections. Life skills tutors can also support you in registering to vote.

How To Be An Educated Voter

Now that you’re registered to vote, it’s time to make some educated decisions about who you cast your ballot for. To become an educated voter, it’s necessary to learn about the candidates to see who would represent you best and work hard for your interests.

A screenshot from Senator Warren's plan to address the needs of people with disabilities. It reads "Protecting the rights and equality of people with disabilities"Almost all of the major candidates for the Democratic nomination have drafted disability policies and plans – for the first time. As a voter with disabilities, you will want to research these plans, but make sure that you are also researching other issues & local ballot initiatives too. The following major candidates have plans for people with disabilities on their websites:

Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Senator Amy Klobuchar
Senator Bernie Sanders
Senator Elizabeth Warren
Andrew Yang

The League of Women Voters has general information about what will be on your ballot and some research about the candidates. Check out their site for important dates, including when early voting begins and what is on your ballot. 

Finally, the AAPD’s Voter Resource Center includes information specific to disability issues. They have also teamed up with National Council for Independent Living (NCIL) for candidate questionnaires regarding disability issues. Only Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren have completed it; read the candidates’ responses here.

How To Vote

Instructions on voting in Illinois in 5 steps, covering registering to vote, voter education, and getting out the vote! Illinois’ early voting period runs from March 2 – March 16. You can also vote on election day, March 17th from 6am – 7pm. Use the Board of Elections’ Voter Registration Lookup tool to find your polling location.

In Illinois, we have what are called “closed primaries.” This means that in order to vote, you need to pick a party ballot. You can choose between the Republican or Democratic ballots when you enter your voting location. 

Once the poll workers have found your registration information and verified you are at the correct location, you will choose your ballot. After choosing your ballot, you can begin making your choices. 

(PRO TIP: You can download your ballot beforehand from BallotReady and make your choices ahead of time! Just print it out, research the options, and bring it with you to your polling location.)

Poll workers will be able to assist you as necessary, depending on the type of voting machines your location has. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Being an Active Citizen

Photo of a polling stationNow that you’re a registered, educated voter, what are the next steps you can take? This is the time to choose your candidates and then volunteer! You can call, text, or knock doors to spread the word about your favorite candidate. 

So, between now and March 17th, how will you use your rights to become a voter with disabilities and an active citizen?

Looking for information about the 2020 General Election? This blog from July includes important information about voting by mail and how to research candidates.

“Today Was A Good Day”: Finding Your Voice

Employed in a standard workshop, Linda* built small standardized tools. Throughout her days, Linda managed some behavioral challenges. She experienced occasional outbursts of emotion, causing disruptions in the workplace. To the supervisors and coaches at this agency, it wasn’t always clear what was causing Linda’s behavior. They knew something was getting in the way of her happiness and success. 

Over the course of the past two years, the agency that employs Linda invested in rethinking their organizational philosophy. Taking steps to become a “person-centered” agency, Linda’s support team has seen some remarkable changes in her behavior.

Stepping Toward Person-Centered Planning

Two years ago, Independent Futures partnered with an agency on the west side of Chicago. One of our tutors, Rob Larson, initially trained our new partner on what it meant to provide person-centered service. 

Exploring person-centered philosophy, Rob explained our Full Life Model and how we work alongside individuals with disabilities to achieve their hopes and dreams. For many years, the agency employed a majority of their participants in their on-site workshop but realized that job didn’t work for everybody. 

With the Full Life Model and My Full Life online software, this agency began the hard work of altering their organizational culture. Planting the seed for innovation and creative thinking, Rob’s training already leads to big changes. 

A New Kind of Support

Something's Cooking attendees smiling in front of barJake Rohde, a training consultant and tutor, visited the agency late this summer. Whereas Rob taught the organization about our philosophy, now Jake would work to help implement the My Full Life tool. 

We have been a small nonprofit agency since 2002, while our new partner serves more than 300 individuals with disabilities. Founded in the mid-twentieth century, this partner’s leaders saw the change to person-centered philosophy as a difficult step. Jake explained, “Older agencies wonder, ‘How do you go from a structure where everyone is involved in one activity to something so individualized?’”

To do this, our partner agency has taken on meeting with and interviewing every adult they support about their desires. Moving past the fear that these changes brought, staff meets with each participant and asks, “What do you want to do?”

Recognizing the Impact of This Support

When the agency’s staff met with Linda, they offered her the opportunity to take some Montessori-style classes. Either instead of or in addition to the workshop, Linda could explore her interests and take a chance. She chose to take a couple of classes.

two individuals preparing food at a soup kitchenSince then, Linda’s behavior has changed dramatically. Like everyone does, she still may have difficult days. But at the end of most days, Linda visits her coaches and fellow participants with a calendar, marks off the day, and she eagerly tells each of them, “Today was a good day.”

In moments like these, the agency’s staff realizes that our person-centered approach works. Being able to see the tangible, long-term results of person-centered planning demonstrates to them that the hard work of individualized plans is worth their time. 

Building On Person-Centered Philosophy

In 2022, new federal regulations will require that all agencies serving adults with disabilities employ person-centered approaches. For many large agencies like our partner, they have a fear that this approach will be too time-consuming and too difficult to implement on large scales. We know that this is not the easiest path and asks a lot of direct support workers, but the positive impact of person-centered philosophy is great.

heARTwords participant JonathanOur partner’s next step is to continue interviewing their participants, building plans for each individual they serve. Jake will return to train the agency on using My Full Life as a goal-tracking and skill development tool. 

When adults with disabilities are given opportunities to explore their interests and skills, they begin to feel more like themselves. Independent Futures is working to expand those opportunities so every individual with disabilities can say, “Today was a good day.” 

The Perfect Storm: Housing Options for People With Disabilities

For parents of adults with disabilities, the path to an independent future is never without obstacles. Planning for the future requires dozens of extra steps that parents of adults without disabilities may never encounter. From developing trusts to drafting letters of intent, protecting the future leaves so many questions to answer. Yet one question stands above many others: When should families begin to consider independent housing for their loved one? 

The answer? As soon as possible. 

Reasons To Start Planning Today 

A square brown house with red door that is one example of housing options for people with disabilities.
Harrison House created by Independent Futures families, an example of housing options for people with disabilities.

Planning for the future is not a linear process with each step laid out for families to follow. As time passes, systems change alongside changes in perception. In the past, families expected their loved one would continue to live with them or maybe in a group home. 

While many people with disabilities have lived with their family and may continue to, there are several reasons why this option is not as feasible as it once was. 

Relying on Family

Unlike in the past, adults with disabilities are outliving their parents. For the first time, parents may pass at 80 years old, but their adult child with disabilities might be only 60 – and very ready to live a full life. But now, without their parents, the individual lives without parental support and without their family home to go to. 

Families often plan for their disabled son or daughter to live with a sibling, but data tells us that sometimes this doesn’t work out. 50% of siblings say they plan to co-reside with their sibling. Only 10% actually do. These stats don’t tell us why this happens. However, they do tell us that we shouldn’t completely rely on siblings to become caretakers once parents have passed.

Relying on Government Support

Most families of individuals with disabilities know that relying on the government for support isn’t reliable. Few know just how unreliable this option is. 

Current residents smile outside their Community Living Option.

Only 25% of individuals with disabilities receive any financial government supports. Of that small percentage, 71% receive SSI/SSDI benefits, 44% receive Medicaid waivers, and only 15% receive vocational rehabilitation support. So what does this mean? 

It means that your loved one cannot necessarily depend on receiving financial support from the government to live in the community when you’re gone. 

It means that you may be leaving your loved one without options. 

It means that the time to start looking at independent living options is now. 

The Benefits of Community Independent Living

When individuals with disabilities have the chance to live in small community settings, their quality of life increases. Living in this type of setting increases an individual’s access to not only family & friends but also to medical care, preventive care, and employment opportunities.

With better access to community assets, we see increased life satisfaction in almost every individual we work with. They are able to utilize self-determination skills while gaining new independent living skills like cooking and cleaning. 

These benefits of independent living are not simply nice to have. They are the difference between a full life with personal supports or segregated loneliness. 

Developing Crucial Personal Support Networks

One more benefit of living in community settings is the chance to develop personal support networks. These networks consist of natural supports, such as family and friends, plus potential employers, local business owners, or even a school crossing guard. 

A large brown and white community housing option for individuals with disabilities.
Intentional Communities of Washtenaw in Michigan, created with help from our New Futures Initiative training.

A personal support network consists of anyone in an individual’s community. Part of living independently is community acceptance – and small settings, like an apartment or shared home, often lead to greater acceptance from neighbors.

Finally, living in this type of small, community setting often leads to increased community life participation. This can look like being part of a book club, belonging to a church, or volunteering at the local YWCA. 

Each of these increases to quality of life means that an individual’s personal support network is growing. Developing support networks early, before parents pass, means an individual with disabilities can move into the next stage of their life with greater comfort and stability.

Your Next Steps To Independent Futures

Aerial view of Backyard BBQ attendees chatting outside near a tree.By now, you may be convinced that it is time to start planning for your loved one’s next home. After a few frustrating late night sessions with Google, you realize that finding community housing options for people with disabilities isn’t easy. After you have begun applying for or securing funding, what do you do next? 

1. Build Support Networks

Once your loved one knows what type of community they want to live in, it is time to develop relationships. Before anyone moves and before making any commitments, explore opportunities to get involved. The best way to nurture a relationship is to start with connections. 

Is there somewhere your loved one would like to volunteer? Perhaps they want to explore the new library branch? There are many ways to get involved in a community. The hardest part is to start.

2. Focus on Life Skills Development
Tall apartment building where several individuals with disabilities live in an integrated setting.
Sienna communities, an apartment building where several Center for Independent Futures participants reside in an integrated setting.

Our Life Skills Tutors are part of our participants’ key to success. At each session, a tutor will help someone with anything from creating a budget to getting their exercise in. Our Full Life Model illustrates that each aspect of a full life is equally important to another. For example, we know that developing friendships is just as important as creating good nutritional habits. 

To start working on life skills development, begin by asking some big questions. 

  • What does the individual dream of doing?
  • What skills will they need in order to achieve their dream?
  • What skills does this individual already possess? 
  • What has this person had a chance to learn? 
  • What can an individual learn? 
  • What supports does an individual need? 

After talking about these questions, start thinking about how you or a personal support worker can help. Some lesson plans exist to help individual with disabilities learn how to do, rather than how we can “do for” them. 

3. Research Existing Options

Return to your original Google search. The options that exist may not be the perfect Cinderella fit for your loved one. However, the people or organizations that created them may be able to give you a road map to creating your own solution. 

The first step to learning more about existing options is to visit several existing options. Begin talking to other families who have stood where you are standing today. There is strength in numbers, such as shared experiences and knowledge. 

A tan and beige apartment structure with green awnings over businesses
Integrated Living Opportunities (ILO) in Maryland/DC, created with the support of the New Futures Initiative training.

While you are visiting existing housing options for people with disabilities, you will see what an individual’s independent life can look like. Ask your loved one, “If we created our own option, what would you want?” Does that vision include a roommate? A communal space? These are the types of questions to answer before you start building.

The Perfect Storm Is Now

Today individuals with disabilities are included in more opportunities of a full life than ever before. From the time they enter school, there is typically some form of integrated classroom time. When leaving integrated school settings, families and individuals are beginning to demand inclusive options for the future. Whether in the form of community inclusion or employment, it is no longer optional to create inclusive spaces. 

Yet, upon leaving school settings, many housing options are not integrated or independent. Though research argues that small community-integrated settings improve quality of life, many existing housing options for people with disabilities are large settings or removed from the community.

Ultimately, families seeking greater inclusion created a large number of the small community settings that exist. Those options have not been available without hard work, dedication, and commitment to independence. If your loved one hopes to live independently someday, the time to start looking at innovative housing options is as soon as possible. 

Success Stories

thu16jul2:15 pm2:45 pmDance Party with Suzy Crawford

thu16jul4:30 pm5:00 pmAfternoon Exercise with Niki Moe

fri17jul11:00 am11:30 amMorning Exercise with Niki Moe

fri17jul1:00 pm2:00 pmSocial Hour

fri17jul5:00 pm6:00 pmBook Club

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