How To Create Inclusive Person-Centered IEP Plans

At too many IEP meetings, educators focus on student deficits. They get stuck when it comes time to explore a student’s strengths. Educators and families alike wonder why these meetings are tense and difficult.

Families are constantly fighting to discover and create inclusive spaces for their loved ones. IEP meetings should already be inclusive and safe for students with disabilities but they’re traditionally difficult for teachers, families, and students. Hosting inclusive person-centered IEP meetings is crucial to a student’s long-term success. 

What Is a Person-Centered IEP?

Image of a blackboard with letters ABC on it with books and chalk in the foreground.IEPs, or Individualized Education Plans, are meant to be documents supporting the development of a student with disabilities. Required by law under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), an IEP should track students’ success in achieving learning goals. It also documents what services the student needs to succeed.

IDEA states that all children, with or without disabilities, have the right to an appropriate, free, and public education that meets the student’s needs. Because of the requirement of an appropriate education, parents and educators meet to discuss student performance and goals.

To make an IEP person-centered, it is important to include students. From there, educators can develop plans based on the students’ vision of their future. Read more for 3 ways families and teachers can put an inclusive person-centered IEP into practice.

  1. Support Each Other Through the Process

No IEP meeting is easy. Working together with understanding and compassion can make the process better though. 

New Skills Inventory client practices her kitchen skills.Teachers can start by interviewing the family about how past meetings went. What could have been better? What conversations went well? This interview is all about how you can help increase positivity throughout the process. 

For families, supporting your child’s school team is important too. Try to spend some time reflecting on your past experiences. What do you need to feel secure about your student’s education? Be clear and upfront with the education team and have goals of your own as your enter the room.

  1. Advocate for Students and Schools

Remember why you are all at this meeting: to support and advocate for the student. Family members’ main goal is to advocate for their loved one. But don’t forget, as a family member, you can advocate for educators too. Schools, especially special education programs, need to be fully funded; teachers need to be paid living wages; and resources have to be allocated to support these goals.

Teachers can advocate for their students in the classroom, but don’t forget to continue advocating outside the classroom. Have conversations with adults who live with disabilities – what is their daily life like? Teachers can also support the development of self-advocacy skills in their students. Read more about 3 ways you can teach self-advocacy skills to your students.

  1. Practice Self-Determined Transition Planning

Young man taking a book off of a shelf at the library with many books surrounding him and glass windows in the background.For this tip, teachers and family members can work together. Focus on the student. This may sound simple, but it is actually a much more involved process. Educators can focus on teaching students how to create their own measurable goals. Once the student understands the concept of self-determination, move on to helping them map out their dreams with action plans. 

Families can help at home with these important skills. Bring your child along to their IEP meetings, and allow them to articulate their own future. 

None of these solutions are easy to implement. However, both teachers and family members will find that these 3 ways to create an inclusive person-centered IEP will lead to better futures for students with disabilities. 

Not an educator or family member? Forward this blog to someone who needs it! 

How to Reduce Costs of Care Without Sacrificing Quality

Families of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities face many difficult decisions. From choosing how to manage care to determining how an individual can live in the community, none of these decisions are easy. But it is possible to reduce costs without sacrificing the quality of care.

Determining What Supports Are Necessary

Man holds out microphone to young woman in front of small audience.Happiness is one factor in many families’ decisions. The costs associated with care are another concern. According to data from 2009, the average cost of a person with disabilities living in an institution was more than $180,000 a year. For someone living in a community-based setting with supports, the cost is closer to $42,000 per year. 

These home and community-based services costs are averages and don’t reflect how costs are distributed. When individuals need more support, it is possible that community-based care could cost more. But for many individuals, learning life skills reduces costs by decreasing the amount of support needed for everyday activities. 

For families who aren’t sure independent living is an option, a life skills assessment is a great place to start. An assessment can help you and your loved one understand where they need more support. This helps your family can decide what care costs your loved one truly needs.

How Learning Independent Living Skills Reduces Costs

Photo of two women smiling, one a direct service professional and one a participant.When direct service professionals focus on teaching life skills, such as cooking healthy meals and cleaning their home, an individual’s need for support in skill areas decreases. Learning life skills like these doesn’t only help individuals with disabilities maintain their spaces. It also helps them build community connections and employment skills.

Increased skill capacities have the potential to reduce staffing costs and limit the need for support. In fact, an Independent Futures direct service team member shares, “After learning life skills, the hope is that an individual is able to reduce tutoring hours. And most of our participants are able to do so, saving money and living independently as a result.”

While most individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities will always require support, their potential remains limitless. By using life skills tutoring and person-centered planning, new windows of opportunity are within reach.

Impact of Person-Centered Planning

Person-centered planning takes place when direct service professionals account for the individual’s existing skills, hopes, and dreams. This type of care results in individuals setting their own goals and learning the skills they need to achieve their dreams.

That is just one benefit of person-centered plans though. In addition to self-directed goals, individuals with disabilities seem to have fewer requests for specialized care. Part of the reason why could be related to what funds are used for when a person’s hopes and dreams are considered. 

Volunteer supports participant in volunteer activityHome and community-based services funds have the potential to be used for a number of non-medical needs. Supports like employment help, remote monitoring equipment, and peer services aren’t traditionally covered. But with home and community-based services, access grows. Each of these supports can help an individual with disabilities achieve their dream of living in a community.

Reduced Costs and Independent Futures

For most people, moving out of our family’s home is something we look forward to excitedly. Finding the perfect apartment or house, decorating it to fit our own style, and having new freedoms changes someone’s life. Many individuals with disabilities have this same dream. 

Knowing that loved ones are able to advocate for themselves will provide you with renewed peace of mind. Learning independent living skills and living in the community means families of adults with disabilities can reduce costs without sacrificing quality and rest easy. 

 

Developing Inclusive Technology in Chicago

Stage at 1871 Chicago event with six blue chairs and purple lights highlighting 1871 logos behind stage.Last Thursday, Center for Independent Futures hosted an educational and engaging panel event at 1871 focusing on inclusive technology in Chicago. When developing our online learning management system, My Full Life, Independent Futures chose to focus on creating inclusive technology that would support adults with disabilities. In the last year, our consultants have met other technology professionals doing similar work. We were honored to bring these experts together for a conversation bringing accessibility and inclusion to the technology field.

Inclusive Technology in Chicago: What’s Next

Jake Joehl introduces our panel and moderator using assistive technology like braille and a screen reader.One of our community members, Jake, kickstarted the event by explaining how technology helps him in his daily life. Using screen readers, Jake is able to navigate the world and stay informed. His phone and computer both support him in living his full life. In fact, Jake used a screen reader to introduce our moderator, Roger Liew of Impact Engine.

Throughout the discussion, Liew asked important questions of our panelists about the future of technology and accessibility. Richard Brown (Infinitec/UCP Seguin), Cameron Kempson (SimplyHome), Chrissy Dale (My Full Life), and Marcelo Worsley (Northwestern University) broke down exactly why they think inclusion is the next forefront of technological innovation.

At Northwestern University, Marcelo researches how to build accessibility Panelists listen to each other speak on inclusive technology in Chicago on stage at 1871.into the design process for developers. He noted, “Accessibility at big companies tends to start with compliance, but it has to move forward.” Cameron agreed, but she says even that isn’t enough. “People should start to look beyond big tech to companies like these that are developing with accessibility and inclusion in mind.”

As businesses start to realize what a large market people with disabilities and their families are, they will figure out that accessible technology is just good business. Moving beyond compliance with the ADA is the next step for companies designing tech solutions.

Designing For All: Focusing on the Individual

Part of person-centered planning centers the concept “dignity of risk.” That means that each individual is afforded the ability to try new things and encounter the risks that comes along with new experiences. At 1871, Chrissy explained that legislative changes and technological advancements helped us spread My Full Life throughout the country. “Starting with asking someone about their hopes and dreams, My Full Life allows individuals with disabilities to learn independent living skills and branch out on their own.”

Panelists pose for a photo on stage after a successful and engaging event!Richard expanded on this idea, explaining the biggest barrier for some people with disabilities has simply been “the technology catching up to they want to do. With technology, they can live their best full life.”

Building Inclusive Technology, Designed For Everyone

Do you want to learn more about accessibility in tech? Reach out to us today to learn more about My Full Life and how it could benefit your community! Inclusive technology in Chicago is only a starting point. The need for technology solutions like these are widespread and growing each day.

Missed the 1871 event? We filmed the panel, so keep an eye out for the video, coming soon!

A Guide to Person-Centered Planning

At Center for Independent Futures, our Life Skills Tutors commit to providing person-centered planning and life skills development. From day one, we have understood the power of asking an individual, “What are your hopes and dreams?” We are proud to have been one of the first agencies in Illinois to put the individual at the heart of our services. As more agencies ask themselves how to implement person-centered services, we want to share our experiences with you.

What is Person-Centered Planning?

Current residents smile outside their Community Living Option.Historically, people with disabilities were institutionalized and excluded from society. However, over time American society has come to realize that institutions are not the answer. Moving away from institutions, states have largely chosen their own standards of care and have created new policies at varying rates.

Person-centered planning is one of these policies that states are implementing at different speeds. At the core of this policy lies an individual’s vision for their own future. The goal of person-centered planning is to support an individual with disabilities in creating the future of their dreams. A tutor or team then decides on necessary supports based on individual goals.

These personalized support plans are never cookie-cutter designs. They are based on individual dreams, and then enacted using individualized support options. Because person-centered care is radically different from traditional supports for people with disability, sometimes agencies struggle with this change and wonder: how can we implement these ideas?

How Does Person-Centered Work?

In our office, we think of person-centered care as continued evaluation of a person’s hopes and dreams – and the action steps necessary to achieve their goals. With our participants, we begin by meeting with the individual’s support group, made up of family, friends, and community members.

We begin by asking about hopes and dreams, and then we identify obstacles and assets. This information helps to define goals and create action plans. Throughout this process, we listen, look, and learn to understand how we can best help someone create and reach goals.

Supplemented by our skills inventory and curriculum, individuals work with tutors to identify what life skills can help attain goals. Each part of person-centered care requires reflection and revision from time to time. As skills develop or dreams change, these plans have to be flexible enough to allow for new ideas.

Want to Learn More?

My Full Life application on iPad

In the last 5 years, Illinois mandated that by 2022 all agencies must use person-centered planning to work with their participants and clients. For agencies and educators, we offer our My Full Life™ online application. My Full Life includes an in-depth skills inventory, plus the most comprehensive skills curriculum available.

If you are interested in learning more, please visit our Schools & Agencies page and request more information through our My Full Life form. We can’t wait to help you on the journey to providing person-centered care.

How to Teach Self-Determination Life Skills

As Americans rethink the ways we manage education, concepts like self-determination are making way for individualized instruction. Many teachers are beginning to ask themselves, “How can I teach self-determination to my students – especially students with disabilities?”

This question is crucial for all students, but for students with disabilities, navigating the world with critical self-determination life skills makes a whole world of difference. In fact, according to a University of Illinois article, students with disabilities in self-directed learning programs are more likely to achieve academic and non-academic goals! Find out how you can incorporate these concepts into your curriculum.

What Are Self-Determination Life Skills?

Student playing with puzzle pieces in colorful classroom settingSelf-determination skills are developed through a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs. Those pieces of self-determination help people engage in goal-directed, self-regulated, autonomous activity. Learning how to act in a self-directed manner empowers every student who gains these skills.

There are many components of self-determination that facilitate self-directed goals for students. Teachers might use curriculum that focuses on decision making, problem-solving, goal setting, self-awareness, and self-advocacy, among others. We can all imagine that dedicating time to skills like these benefit personal development, but how can teachers implement these concepts into their classrooms?

Approaches to Teaching Self-Determination Life Skills

While soft skills are difficult to measure, teachers should be able to fit these skills into existing curriculum with just a little extra effort. Some ideas to include this type of life skill involve:

    • Invest time in facilitating student-driven IEPs and transition planning, and check in with students to make sure they are prepared for meetings. All students are capable of being involved in planning their life.
    • Teach skills and enhancing knowledge of skills like problem-solving and decision making directly, creating lesson plans around these types of skills.
    • Embed instruction into general curriculum. For example, in any lesson plan, a teacher can begin by asking students to create a goal. In the next step, students will take action toward their goal. By the end of the lesson, students can reflect and revise their goal, learning about self-awareness.
    • Dedicate time to person-centered planning, an approach to plan and develop supports to help a student or any person achieve their goals.

Teaching Self-Determination Through Adulthood

These tips are great for teachers who can shape the future for students with disabilities, but what about adults who have already transitioned out of school programs?

Our My Full Life™ online application includes planning, skills inventory, and life skills curriculum designed to support individuals with disabilities living independently in the community. For educators and agency professionals interested in learning more, please visit this page and contact us for a demo.

California Dreamin’ with Cynthia & Chrissy

As temperatures dropped last month, two members of our staff escaped to California to work with our partners at Club 21 Learning and Resource Center, VTC Enterprises, and New Horizons. Community Life Coordinator Cynthia visited to conduct life skills software training through our My Full Life tool. A couple of weeks later, Chrissy visited to present at their Tools For the Journey conference.

Life Skills Software Training

New Skills Inventory client practices her kitchen skills.For the past twelve years, Cynthia Witherspoon has been working with the Full Life Model, developing tools and resources. She is an expert in our online application for life skills development, My Full Life, and shares these resources with our partners across the country. She visited Club 21 and VTC Enterprises to help them work with our My Full Life Skills Inventory over the course of six days.

During her time in California, Cynthia met with several young adults with disabilities who will be using our Skills Inventory. On one day, Cynthia joined a young woman named Lily at a coffee shop. She then observed her grocery shopping and cooking delicious tacos.

Throughout her trip, Cynthia says, “Parents of individuals completing a Skills Inventory had ‘ah ha’ moments.” The parents plan to encourage their children in pursuing more opportunities to practice independent living skills. Next, we will continue supporting the brand new Skills Inventory Consultants Cynthia helped train, completing written reports for the families.

Presenting Tools For the Journey

My Full Life Director Chrissy Dale also escaped to California during Chicagoland’s intense cold. Chrissy presented at the Tools For the Journey conference, hosted by Club 21. Using our Skills Inventory as a Road Map to Independence, Chrissy demonstrated how families can support the growth and development of their child.

Club 21 Executive Director Nancy Litteken strives to provide role models of adults living full lives with disabilities. By showing families examples of what is truly possible, those families can begin to dream bigger. According to Chrissy, community member Danny was “the perfect example of how families can dream bigger for their child.”

After the conference, Chrissy shared, “What excites me the most is Club 21 students transitioning into adulthood while working with our most recent agency collaboration, New Horizons, aligning our missions by taking a person-centered approach.”

Moving Forward and Igniting Dreams

Want to learn more about what Cynthia and Chrissy were up to? Check out more information about My Full Life to learn about the Skills Inventory! You can also connect with Chrissy online or schedule time to talk about how My Full Life can help you.

How to Teach Self-Advocacy Skills to Students with Disabilities

Young student working hard. Learning self-advocacy means developing a set of skills that are based on self-knowledge, communicating your understanding, and knowing your rights. When educators teach self-advocacy skills to students with disabilities, that knowledge opens doors to success that might otherwise never have appeared.

Unfortunately, students with disabilities historically have not been included in learning intangible skills such as the development of leadership abilities. To develop a skill set of self-advocacy tools, dive into cognitive functions like goal setting, intrapersonal functions such as building confidence, and interpersonal functions like collaborating on teams. Teachers seeking to support all their students, including those with disabilities, can read more from the National Council on Learning Disabilities to understand how to implement self-advocacy skill curriculum to your classes.

Develop Self-Awareness Through Skills Assessment

Educators can teach self-advocacy skills to students in a variety of ways. This image shows an individual in a wheelchair with two others on a grassy lawn.Begin by understanding the students’ strengths and weaknesses. Teachers can conduct a skills assessment, and then they should try to focus on the strengths. Starting with strengths helps students refrain from internalizing low expectations. With a solid understanding of their talents, students will leave class with greater self-awareness.

Making Skill Development A Priority

The next step sounds simple: make teaching self-advocacy skills a critical priority. But this step is like the foundation of a house. It will require a deep dive into lesson plans, adding opportunities for students to express their needs and desires. Without baking these ideas into the classroom’s curriculum, students most likely will not succeed in advocating for themselves.

Flexible Classrooms Teach Self-Advocacy Skills

A teacher in front of their classroom, photographed from the students' perspective.Teachers who want to support students in upholding their rights should try to create learning activities that engage all of their students on this topic. Some schools are beginning to move toward Universal Design for Learning, or UDL. UDL allows teachers to accommodate individual learning preferences, while also guiding the development of flexible classrooms.

Finding Real Opportunities to Learn

Finally, schools that support this skill development should consider ways to make learning this skill tangible. Because self-advocacy is not easily measured, learning experiences that are collaborative and engaging will help gauge students’ capacities. Schools could begin making connections with local businesses to see what opportunities students could have in the community. Through learning collaborations in the community, students gain real-world experience, and most will transition out of school ready to succeed.

How We Can Help Educators & Agencies

Teaching current students how to advocate for themselves is obviously crucial to their post-school success. But what about adults with disabilities who weren’t taught self-advocacy skills in school? My Full Life™ can help. An online learning management system, My Full Life consists of three parts: a skills assessment, planning process, and skills curriculum.

Agencies that serve adults with disabilities can request a free demo of My Full Life today! This offer is also available to educators teaching transition skills to students with disabilities. Reach out today to learn more!

Dr. Al Condeluci Presenting at QIDP Conference

This month, on January 29, the ARC of Illinois is hosting their 17th annual QIDP Conference for service professionals and self-advocates. Held at the ARC of Illinois office in Frankfort, Illinois, the conference begins at 8:30 am and ends at 4:30 pm. Don’t miss out on this chance to learn about how to build community and teach self-advocacy, plus four unique breakout sessions in the afternoon!

Al Condeluci: Building Community Through Social Capital

Dr. Al Condelucci, who will be presenting at the QIDP ConferenceThe ARC’s keynote speaker this year is Al Condeluci, an advocate and leader in the field of disability study. Dr. Condeluci’s work focuses on using social capital and interdependency within communities.

In his keynote presentation, Dr. Condeluci will discuss how to build community using the social capital that exists around you. Throughout his presentation, attendees will learn major elements of social capital, 4 key steps to developing new friendships, and how interdependent paradigms interact.

Al Condeluci is no stranger to Illinois. In fact, he was also the keynote speaker at the first Center for Independent Futures housing symposium! If you missed his presentation on social inclusion 3 years ago, view the video here.

Breakout Sessions: From Self-Advocacy to Government Benefits

Each attendee at the QIDP Conference will attend two out of four breakout sessions. Bruce Handler & Nora Fox will present on the safety and the dignity of risk, while Tara Ahern will be speaking about empowering survivors of sexual assault.

ARC Illinois logo, ARC Conference Attendees will also have the opportunity to hear from Sherri Schneider about government benefits and what has or hasn’t changed. Last but not least, the final option for breakout sessions will be Krescene Beck on why self-advocacy matters.

How to Register for Annual QIDP Conference

Are you interested in attending the QIDP Conference? Check out the brochure for this event and fill out the registration information! Several of Center for Independent Futures’ direct service staff will be there – go ahead and say hello!

Learn About Sexual Violence Prevention from Susy Woods

In the age of the #MeToo movement, it is becoming common to speak out against sexual violence within many industries and communities. Center for Independent Futures supports all who speak up against sexual violence, and we believe it is crucial not to leave out one population that is disproportionately affected by sexual violence – but is often the least heard.

People with disabilities are part of a historically marginalized group who often rely on others for assistance and care. Unfortunately, sometimes the people designated as caretakers or friends take advantage of a lack of sex education for individuals with disabilities.

The following workshops are from Susy Woods. Susy conducts workshops year round about educational rights and sex education for individuals with disabilities. Her previous audiences include Public Health departments and DRS staff, as well as families and agency staff.

Center for Independent Futures Offers Workshops

Flyer for parents’ workshop

Thanks to generous funding from the Woman’s Club of Evanston and the A. Montgomery Ward Foundation, we are offering two workshops on Monday, October 22 at One Rotary Center. The first workshop from 1:00-3:00 pm is for parents of students with disabilities in high school or transition programs. The second workshop is for teachers and agency staff from 4:30-6:30 pm and covers topics like the warning signs of sexual assault and what to teach.

Flyer for school & agency staff workshop

Susy Woods is presenting these workshops to educate families, teachers, and agency staff about sexual violence prevention and how to handle sexual violence accusations. To register for the parent workshop, visit the event page. For school & agency staff, register here. The Rotary Center has very limited seating, so act fast!

Classes for Individuals with Disabilities

Finally, we are offering classes for individuals with disabilities to teach them about self-defense and sexual violence. Many sex education classes exclude people with disabilities, even though this group has the same natural feelings that any other group of adults may feel.

We are offering six classes for women with disabilities, including self-defense classes at Tier 1 Training Center. We will also host six classes for men with disabilities. Led by a male staff member, the class will cover topics including definitions of sexual violence and consent.

We will include these classes on our upcoming activities calendar and added to the online calendar. You can find registration details there as well.

Inclusive Education on Sexual Violence Prevention

We are proud to offer these workshops and classes to the Evanston and North Shore communities. To the Woman’s Club of Evanston, we want to offer our thanks for making these events possible.

3 Things to Know About the ADA

Logo with ADA on it, as well as traditional symbols for various disabilitiesIn 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in a step to shift the country toward accessibility for all. The 28th anniversary of the bill’s passage is on July 26th. Since 1990, the ADA has been defined and redefined again to include all levels of disabilities, including mental health challenges.

Laws can change as new situations arise. In fact, that is how the United States has expanded the ADA so far. With new challenges, lawmakers include additional elements or amendments to solve similar problems in the future. What are some other ways the law has changed? What else do individuals with disabilities and families need to know?

How to Get Accommodations You Need

For most, if not all, accommodations, it is necessary to have the proper documentation ready. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, disability documentation may take the form of a letter on medical letterhead stationery, records from a government agency that issues benefits, or certification from a private counselor that provides benefits.

Other documentation may apply, so always ask to make sure you know what you need.

How to Receive Support at Universities

The process of receiving support differs from school to school, but similar documentation is usually necessary. Following documentation, students can work with the appropriate office to coordinate support.

Being a self-advocate is important to receiving support in college. Students with disabilities may need to approach their teachers and discuss their support needs in person. For example, when classes are in inaccessible buildings, it could even be possible to move the class to an accessible classroom.

How to Check for Accommodations at Businesses

Logo for ADA Network checklistAll government buildings and offices, as well as businesses and nonprofits, must be accessible to people with disabilities on an equal basis as others. The ADA National Network provides checklists online to help with this.

The ADA Network has several checklist versions available, including fillable and non-fillable Word documents and PDFs. The sections in this checklist include accessibility of entrances, bathrooms, and access to goods and services.

Finding accessibility resources is not always easy. But if you know what businesses and buildings are supposed to have, you can help make the world more accessible for everyone.

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