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!

Partnering with Equip for Equality for Brighter Futures

When graduation appears on the horizon, most high schoolers are excited to transition to their next educational or employment opportunity. But for students with disabilities, the thought of leaving the support of school services often creates fear and uncertainty.

Center for Independent Futures believes that all individuals deserve bright futures after high school. Over the past year, we collaborated with Equip for Equality to support Chicago Public Schools students to create person-centered transition plans based on their hopes and dreams.

Center for Independent Futures School Coordinator Sharon Purdy worked with students identified by Equip for Equality to create plans and resources, meeting with students and their supporters in their neighborhoods throughout Chicago. Sharon used our Full Life ProcessTM to support individuals to identify resources, set goals, and make plans, starting by encouraging the student to articulate their goals.

“It makes a huge difference when the families know what their students want to do. We’re fortunate to be in a position where we can ask students what their dreams are,” Sharon explained.

With those dreams in mind, Sharon and the students created a portfolio of resources to support their transitions to community life after high school. They took inventory of each student’s assets and interests, identified any potential obstacles and support needs, created a map of the student’s personal network of supporters, and then set goals in all of the areas that make up a full life.

Throughout the process, the students had the opportunity to express their own hopes for the future. Margie Wakelin, a supervising attorney at Equip for Equality’s special education clinic, said that seeing students build these skills of self-expression was the most remarkable outcome of the collaboration.

“Center for Independent Futures empowers our students to direct their own transition planning and learn to self-advocate for the support they need,” Margie said. “Through using the tools Center for Independent Futures has developed, the student understands the importance of his or her voice.”

Whether a student is creating a transition plan or an individual is setting goals for the future, the voice of individuals with disabilities forms the core of our Full Life ProcessTM. Through our comprehensive, person-centered planning tools, individuals with disabilities and their families share their dreams and find the tools and resources they need to fulfill them. Our collaboration with Equip for Equality will lead to more students leading fuller lives in the community after graduation.

“Center for Independent Futures’ work has been instrumental in placing our students in a strong position to achieve their transition goals and enter adulthood with a solid foundation,” Margie said.

New Staff Member and a New Milestone

The first month of 2017 brought a new beginning and a long-term milestone to the Center for Independent Futures staff. Chrissy Lewis joined the staff as a Full Life Process Consultant. With our schools consultation team, Chrissy will support schools to use our innovative Full Life Process software to help students set goals, access resources and curriculum, and communicate with their entire support team.

“My vision is to continue the work that has been done and create new opportunities for students to engage with the software,” Chrissy shares. “The Full Life Process software will allow students to access a comprehensive life skills curriculum and support their individual growth through a student-centered approach.”

Chrissy began her career in sales and marketing before earning her master’s degree in education. She gained experience as a teacher, case manager, and guidance counselor in Chicago Public Schools while receiving a master’s degree in counseling. After transitioning into the non-profit sector, Chrissy joined Center for Independent Futures to advocate for educational access and resources for students with disabilities.

While welcoming a new member, the staff also commemorated a milestone as Cynthia Witherspoon celebrated ten years of working for Center for Independent Futures. Currently a Community Life Coordinator and Life Skills Tutor, Cynthia has also worked on the school consultation team and supported the administrative operations of the organization. We’re grateful to Cynthia for all of the effort, insight, compassion, and humor she has shared with us over the past decade.

Success Stories