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. 

Why Hire People With Disabilities?

What do you think it takes for someone to work in theatre? 

Immediate answers that might come to mind include an interest in drama, interpersonal skills, great communication, and an interest in learning new things. Thousands of people meet these qualifications – but how often do you encounter a person with disabilities working at the theatre?

People With Disabilities Working in Theatre

One of Independent Futures’ participants, Sarah, was working with a job coach from Jewish Vocational Services when she earned an apprenticeship with Piven Theatre. After exploring what Sarah might like to do for employment, Sarah’s job coach helped her get in touch with Piven Theatre. 

Sarah smiles during a photoshoot wearing a lavender shirt and using her wheelchair.Together, the pair went over tips and what to expect in informational interviews. Sarah’s dream job was to be an assistant teacher. “The best I thought I could shoot for was taking tickets,” Sarah said. But then, her informational interview took a positive turn. 

She was offered an apprenticeship where she could learn about teaching. After looking at schedules and options, Sarah accepted.

Learning New Skills & Building Dreams

Throughout her apprenticeship, Sarah worked with 4th-8th graders in Piven Theatre workshops. She got to know the students, and she was responsible for making sure they were safe. 

Interacting with the students as often as she could, Sarah was able to support the students in many ways. A budding writer herself, Sarah helped one student write a poem. This was one of Sarah’s favorite parts of her apprenticeship.

“The apprenticeship was an important way for me to get out to see what I want to do in terms of a degree or job and what field I want to go into. It was a way of finding myself,” Sarah shared. 

History of American Disability Employment

In 1988, the government announced October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. During this time, government agencies will publish articles and host events to highlight the opportunity to hire individuals with disabilities. Corporations will tout statistics about how many people with disabilities they hire. 

New Skills Inventory client practices her kitchen skills.For the rest of the year, startlingly high unemployment rates for people with disabilities persists. We dream of a day when more individuals with disabilities have opportunities like this one that Sarah had, when community employers discover the gifts that individuals have to share.

Before we get there, we need to understand where we have been and the milestones that advocates before us have achieved. Employers without disabilities sometimes think that there are limits to what someone with a disability can achieve, but these employers are proven wrong over and over. Over the last century, people with disabilities’ fight for employment equality has been long, hard, and limited by perception.

Beginnings of Anti-Discrimination Legislation

In the early and mid-twentieth century, only physical disabilities were eligible to receive public services and benefits for disability employment. When the Smith-Fess Act passed, the act established vocational rehabilitation for people with disabilities – but only physical disabilities. 

In 1945, President Truman announced “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” Later, the word “physically” was removed, making the week more inclusive in the 1960s. Eventually, this week turned into National Disability Employment Awareness Month, dedicating more time to the need for employment among the disability community. 

Expansion of Civil Rights 

By the ‘60s, creating inclusive spaces became increasingly important. While the courts had not caught up, President Kennedy introduced the President’s Panel on Mental Retardation. This committee explored ways that people with disabilities of all kinds could be included in every day life. 

two individuals preparing food at a soup kitchenIn 1972, the Independent Living Movement was born partially in response to President Nixon’s veto of the Rehabilitation Act. Later passed in 1973, the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination based on someone’s disability by federal agencies and contractors. The Independent Living Movement is alive today, working to protect every individual’s right to choose where they live and how they are supported in community. 

It wasn’t until 1977, when the government implemented Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, that people with disabilities gained civil rights. This was also when legislation acknowledged every student’s right to be in a public classroom. The precursor to supported employment, the “Try Another Way” campaign, was also born paving the path for us to where we are today.

Redefining Ability & Disability

Through the 1980s, the U.S. passed several pieces of legislation that supported individuals with disabilities’ employment prospects including the Job Training Partnership Act (1982) and the Employment Opportunities for Disabled Americans Act (1986).

The Americans with Disabilities Act was finally passed in 1990, expressly prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in hiring or career advancement. Since then, the perspectives of employers have been slowly evolving with the help of the federal government.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit passed Congress in 1996, providing tax credits to businesses that hire people with disabilities. The government’s support led to an increase in community employers hiring disabled employees. 

Beyond the Americans With Disabilities Act

Woman's Club and Center for Independent Futures volunteer to make soupSince 1990, disability continues to be defined and redefined again. The Olmstead Act promoted community-based, independent living whenever possible. Recently, the ADA Amendments of 2008 altered the definition of “disabled” so it is easier to establish eligibility for protections. 

Since the Obama administration, the federal government’s employment agencies have supported integrated employment policies. This includes updating and improving access to services, implementing accommodations, and community outreach. 

Why Should Businesses Hire People With Disabilities? 

There are tons of reasons to hire individuals with disabilities, not the least of which is that they are just as capable as able-bodied employees. In fact, employees with disabilities are excellent problem solvers, stable workers (30% higher retention), safer in the workplace, and more productive.

Plus, much of the disability community is an untapped market. There are 56 million Americans with a disability of some type. The discretionary income of people with disabilities of working age alone is $21 billion. Add into this number individuals’ connections, like family and friends, and businesses realize they are missing a huge market share.

Most accommodations for employees with disabilities cost nothing. The majority of accommodations that employers pay for cost less than $500 – and this cost can be offset by the tax credit businesses receive for hiring employees with disabilities. 

Sarah smiles in foreground of photo with two women standing behind her, one in green and the other in blue.At the end of the day, there are many reasons to hire people with disabilities and very few reasons not to. Ability is not a marker of a great employee; many individuals can work successfully without accommodations while allowing a person with disabilities to grow and achieve their dream. 

For Sarah, her apprenticeship at Piven Theatre was a big milestone. Her experience “marked the first time I had a job that wasn’t through a friend. I had to show up on time. More importantly, I had to do it for somebody else.” 

 

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!

Success Stories

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