How to Live With the Fear of Risk

When we first meet with a new family seeking services, we begin with a skills inventory of their loved one. The questions we ask can range from “Does your loved one know how to do their own laundry?” to “Do they know to lock the door when they leave?”

One individual’s parent told us, “We’ve never let our daughter walk in front of us.”

“They have never gone to 7/11 alone,” one mother explained. “What if someone took advantage of them?”

Another parent tells the story of when they were afraid their child shouldn’t take public transportation. “I worried they would get lost. Then their teacher told me they were already successfully riding the bus with other students.”

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.In each of these every day activities, these parents realized that their own fear was holding their child with disabilities back. Fearing the risks that come with everyday life, parents become overprotective and try to remove obstacles for their child. However, parents understand they can’t protect their child forever. They realize that they need to let some risk in, no matter how small.

Learning How To Live with Risk

Part of parenting is learning how to live with the fear of risk for your children and letting go. But for many parents of individuals with disabilities, this fear rises among surmounting challenges including funding for services, navigating benefits and life, building skill capacity, and more.

Black and white photo ofWith increasingly integrated classrooms and the rise of the independent living movement, adults with disabilities have greater access to community inclusion than ever before. As parents realize this, they wonder, “My child needs more support than other adults. How can they live on their own?”

Like with all children, parents of individuals with disabilities should begin by accepting that daily life is associated with risks. Affording your child the right to take reasonable risks benefits their self-esteem, skill development, and basic dignity.

In 1972, disability rights champion Robert Perske first wrote about the risk taking that all adults require to live a full, independent life. He wrote, “Overprotection can keep people from becoming all they could become. Many of our best achievements came the hard way: We took risks, fell flat, suffered, picked ourselves up, and tried again. Sometimes we made it and sometimes we did not. Even so, we were given the chance to try.”

Living Independently, Leading By Example

At Independent Futures, we encourage all family members to consider how they accomplished their greatest achievements. Could you have achieved your goals without help? The answer is most likely no.

Individuals with disabilities often need support in activities like budgeting, cooking, or planning. However, support professionals – and parents – can promote risk taking by teaching these crucial life skills through lessons designed to encourage independence and letting individuals experience adversity.

Jenny, in pink, poses with her mom who is wearing a gray shirt with red neck line.Supported by life skills tutoring, individuals with disabilities can choose their goals, based on their hopes and dreams. With the support of their community – which can include family, neighbors, employers, as well as direct service professionals – people with disabilities’ quality of life can be improved immeasurably.

Our life skills tutors challenge family members of individuals with disabilities to accept risks as a necessity to living a full life. This is a marathon of a challenge that all parents have to acknowledge.

Armed with goals and action plans, adults with disabilities can take advantage of the opportunities of a full life. By teaching life skills and asking your loved one to take on new responsibilities, they can live, work, and give back in the communities of their choosing.

How We Prepare for Bike the Drive

For the last four years, participant Caleb Streeter has joined our Bike the Drive Dream Team biking up Lake Shore Drive. Over these four years, the event has become a family tradition for the Streeters. Caleb’s father, Bill, joins the Dream Team too, and together they typically bike from Buckingham Fountain to Sheridan. But this year Caleb and his dad are looking for a challenge.

Caleb and his father smile at the camera, both wearing purple shirts and blue helmets“We’re going to start from downtown and go all the way to Sheridan this year. That’s 15 miles,” Caleb explains. “Plus, me and my dad’s church friend wanted to accompany us this year. We’ve been talking to him about it, and he decided this is the year to do it!”

Biking with the team is part of what makes Bike the Drive so much fun for Caleb. “It’s more enjoyable than riding by myself. I like having a person to talk to, somebody watching me. My dad and me are used to it because back home we bike together too.” Biking Lake Shore Drive with a team also means that Caleb can look out for his friends and family, and they can help him too.

How Caleb Is Getting Ready

Caleb wears green, the same as Lindsay on the left. Caleb is preparing for his 15-mile bike ride with longer rides, especially since the weather is finally getting warmer. But first, he needed to get his bike checked out at Wheel & Sprocket after the long winter. This year it was time for some upgrades for Caleb’s light gray Giant Revel bike. “I had to install new wheels because my old fat tires were getting hard to lock up outside my apartment, so I got thinner ones.” Caleb continued, “My bike seat was old and it kept getting loose. The bicycle people said I should get a new seat. It would just slip out, and I couldn’t deal with that anymore!”

In preparing for Bike the Drive, Caleb demonstrates responsibility and enthusiasm, but he knows to ask for help when he needs it. His tutor, Ricky, supported Caleb in figuring out how much air should go in his tires and how to secure his bike better after his old bike was stolen. With Ricky’s help, Caleb is more confident and safer when he is biking.

Caleb is excited to continue participating in Bike the Drive and our Bike Club. The club meets on Wednesdays, and Caleb joins Activities Director Jeff Morthorst and several other participants in biking around Evanston. The group often bikes around Northwestern University or along the lakeshore.

How You Can Help Caleb & the Dream Team

Caleb and his dad prepared for Bike the Drive together and stand in front of colorful mosaic wallThe Dream Team fundraises every year to support activities Independent Futures provides like Bike Club. Every dollar donated helps to keep our activities calendar full of exciting events. If you donate today, the funds you contribute will support supplies for Art Club, snacks for Saturday Cinema, and bicyclists in getting to and from Bike the Drive.

Explaining his favorite part of Bike the Drive, Caleb shared, “Doing Bike the Drive, you have a different vantage point than what you would normally see. It’s fun! I’m getting excited about it! The more people the better!”

With the support of our generous community, we hope to continue providing participants like Caleb with opportunities like Bike the Drive for many years to come. Donate today to help the Dream Team achieve their goals!

SPARK 2019: Igniting Dreams

Did you miss out on igniting dreams at SPARK 2019 at the Hilton Orrington? Or maybe you were there and just want to relive the fun? This year was the FIRST year we sold out at SPARK! The Hilton’s ballroom was jam-packed, and we enjoyed seeing everyone there to celebrate independent, full lives with us!

Awards and Winners

As always, we awarded three very special honorees the Jane Doyle Awesome Awards! The Awesome Awards celebrate individuals and organizations that embody Independent Futures’ core values. Read our new blog on the Awesome Award winners to find out more.

Preparing for the Golden Ticket raffle drawing. A woman in green stands on the left, next to the golden raffle drum and a woman in red. A man in a gray suit speaks into a microphone as another man pulls the winning ticket.We want to offer congratulations to the winner of our annual Heads or Tails game, Linda Hauser! She won a gift card to Hotels.com plus tickets to the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

Finally, we want to say congratulations to Stephanie Olsen, the winner of our first ever Golden Ticket raffle! Stephanie purchased her Golden Ticket before SPARK and chose the live auction item Take Me Out to the Ball Game. She won four behind-home-plate tickets to a Cubs game this summer!

Silent and Live Auctions

People dance at SPARK after the end of the program.2019 was our biggest year yet in many ways! Though our silent auction had fewer items, our supporters still helped us raise more in this area than we could have hoped. Not to mention: this year’s live auction blew past years out of the water!

Independent Futures could not work toward the future we envision without the help of our supporters. As a small gift to all of you: Everyone can now find photos of the night on our Facebook page now!

Thank you to everyone who came to SPARK 2019, donated, or otherwise participated in igniting dreams at this year’s SPARK! We’ll see you next year!

 

2019 Awesome Award Winners

SPARK is an annual celebration of our community, but it is also a chance for us to celebrate the stellar individuals and organizations who support this work every day. Recipients of the Jane Doyle Awesome Awards represent Independent Futures through dedication, innovative leadership, personal integrity, and community-forward thinking.

On April 26, we honored three community members who embody these qualities with the Jane Doyle Awesome Awards. These awards are given to a staff member, a participant, and a community partner. Read on to learn more about this year’s honorees!

Stellar Staff: Jackie Eddy

Jackie stands with Jane to accept the staff Awesome AwardWith more than 20 years of service, Jackie has been with Independent Futures since day 1. Really, she has been here since before day 1, meeting Jane at the bus stop where their children were picked up for school. The two bonded over the need for better access to future opportunities for people with disabilities.

Since then, Jackie created the “voice” of Independent Futures, mentored new staff, and developed the New Futures Initiative training program. Jackie’s work at Independent Futures means new opportunities for individuals with disabilities to be independent across the country. Jackie demonstrates passion and commitment to creating opportunities for individuals with disabilities to fully live, work, and give back in their communities.

Professional Participant: Nestor Gonzalez

Ann, Jane, and Nestor stand together with the framed Awesome Award certificate.Since joining Independent Futures’ community, Nestor has grown in a variety of ways. He is a hard worker, a leader, and an active community volunteer. Over the last few years, Nestor joined the Young Professionals Board where he acts as a liaison to the Advisory Council.

As a member of our community, Nestor seeks new and creative ways to maintain a productive relationship between our young professionals and participants. He enjoys his job and a healthy, loving relationship – all with grace and a professional demeanor!

Creative Community: Evanston Community Foundation

Marybeth of Evanston Community Foundation stands next to Jane and Ann with their new, gold Awesome Award statue.We awarded our final 2019 Awesome Award to Evanston Community Foundation. The foundation has walked alongside Independent Futures since the beginning. Evanston Community Foundation awarded Independent Futures our very first grant many years ago.

Since that first grant, the foundation has generously provided many new collaborative grants, funding opportunities like our Transportation Camp and Life Skills Camp. The support of Evanston Community Foundation helps us make Evanston a more just, vibrant, and inclusive place for individuals with disabilities.

Congratulations once again to each of this year’s winners! As one of our core values, community means everything here at Independent Futures. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for walking this path with us.

Building Deeper Relationships: Oak Wealth Advisors

For many years, we have worked with the planners at Oak Wealth Advisors. As trusted special needs financial advisors, the professionals at Oak Wealth Advisors demonstrate the work it takes to focus on an individual and plan with families.

A Night With the Experts

Oak Wealth Advisors logoAs a resource partner with Oak Wealth Advisors, we were proud to offer “A Night With the Experts,” a town hall event on Thursday, April 11th. Our Executive Director Ann Sickon, Dr. Meghan Burke of University of Illinois, and Mike Walther of Oak Wealth Advisors joined together to discuss the most challenging issues facing families with loved ones with disabilities.

Topics covered during the panel included transitioning through different phases of life, preparing your family for the future, communicating plans to others who will be involved, and building community relationships. Each of the three experts brought a unique perspective to offer on these topics, while answering in-depth and intriguing questions from the audience.

Oak Wealth Advisors Consultation Scholarship Opportunity  

Thanks to the generosity of Oak Wealth Advisors, we are excited to present an opportunity for one family to receive a scholarship for a 90 minute special needs financial planning consultation. During this consultation, Mike Walther and the Oak Wealth Advisors team will:

  • Conduct a comprehensive review of the family’s current financial position
  • Provide recommendations on government benefits
  • Explain the benefits of ABLE accounts and Special Needs Trusts
  • Give advice related to titling assets
  • Recommend elements to include in a long-term care plan
  • Offer referrals to other special needs professionals

Oak Wealth Advisors has generously offered a second scholarship! Email clarsen@independentfutures.com to receive the second consultation scholarship.

Thank you again to our partners at Oak Wealth Advisors for allowing us the opportunity to offer this consultation.

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!

Ignite Dreams at SPARK With Us!

In just under a month, we will be dancing the night away and sharing the dreams of our community at SPARK. A night for our community to get together and celebrate all we have achieved this year, SPARK is a night out you don’t want to miss. This year we have some new and exciting features, plus we have been making changes to guarantee you will have the most fun possible!

Silent Auction Prizes

One part of the evening that won’t be changing is our silent auction! We have roughly 70 wonderful packages for guests to take home at the end of the evening.

Florida house view over the ocean with deck railing in frame

From wonderful dining experiences to enjoying excellent theatre performances, we hope that our guests will all find something to bid on! A few examples include a weeklong stay at a condo in Florida, two roundtrip tickets to anywhere in the U.S. from Southwest Airlines, an astounding package from SPACE, and so much more.

Watch for chances to start bidding early about a week before SPARK!

The New Golden Ticket Raffle

In past years, SPARK featured an awesome raffle where the winner was able to “split the pot” with us, but we are trying something new this year! We are happy to be introducing the Golden Ticket raffle!

Sunset in Costa Rica with palm trees in frame, the sky is painted different shades of blue, pink, orange, yellow, and purple.We are selling a limited 150 Golden Tickets, meaning you have a 1/150 chance of winning when you purchase a single ticket. Golden Ticket holders choose their prize selection at the time of purchase from our amazing live auction items. Whether you want to go to Costa Rica or see a Cubs game with stellar seats, we have an item for everyone’s needs.

Winners need not be present to win, but we hope you will stay the whole evening to dance and ignite the spark of our community’s dreams with us!

Changes to Our Program

This year, we are making exciting changes to our program! It is our hope these will allow us to better ignite dreams at SPARK. We will be shortening the program to allow for more of everyone’s favorite part of the night – dancing! We will still be honoring stellar supporters through the Jane Doyle Awesome Awards, but we will end earlier so your dancing shoes see some awesome moves!

Thank You Sponsors, Entertainment, and Guests!

Finally, we want to thank some amazing individuals and businesses who are supporting us at SPARK this year. First, our entertainment, Euphoria Band, will be putting on a great show for us again this year.

Crowd of guests dancing at SPARKNext, thank you to our sponsors because we could not put together such an amazing celebration without each of you. Thank you PSAV, Sidley Austin, Inland Bank, Byline Bank, Monahan Law Group, Rubin Law, Northwestern University, Oak Wealth Advisors, Simon Cordwell Buenz, and Nike Whitcomb & Associates for your support!

And last but never least, we thank our guests at SPARK who will join us in honoring this community. None of the hopes and dreams we help make reality could ever be possible without every one of you! Get your tickets today!

“You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know”: Our Partnership with Club 21

Logo for Club 21 in red with blue and green people illustrations to the left.Center for Independent Futures partners with agencies that strive to create a society enriched by the inclusion of individuals with disabilities. Club 21 Learning and Resource Center, located in Pasadena, California, is an educational learning center that provides tools and resources that enable individuals with Down Syndrome to be fully included. As her daughter approached the end of her high school career, Club 21 Executive Director Nancy Litteken was desperately searching for person-centered tools to support Molly’s independence.

Discovering My Full Life™

It wasn’t until well into the early hours of the morning when Nancy discovered our work through an exhaustive internet search. She spent time reading through the Center for Independent Futures website, including our My Full Life online application. An entirely person-centered approach, Nancy wondered if My Full Life might be exactly the tool she was looking for.

Nancy discovered our comprehensive person-centered tools and became excited. “I was blown away,” Nancy recalls. “Their process is hopeful. I think having tools that equip families, educators, and agencies gives freedom, hope, and choice. It helps you dream.”

Making Dreams Into Reality

Adam poses with friends he has made through Center for Independent FuturesTo turn hopes and dreams into reality, our My Full Life process provides structured tools such as the Skills Inventory to help families develop a roadmap to independence. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” reflects Nancy. This realization led Nancy to go a step further with My Full Life by seeking our Skills Inventory certification.

Two members of our staff, Cynthia Witherspoon and Chrissy Dale, have gotten to know Nancy and Club 21 very well. Cynthia has visited their offices several times throughout training Club 21’s three Skills Inventory Consultants. Each of these consultants is now certified to use our approach in working with families. By completing the Skills Inventory, Nancy says, “you realize what you don’t know, and then the tool helps you discover what you need to do about it. It’s pretty phenomenal.”

Our online application also allows greater freedom for agencies to tailor our tools to their specific population. Nancy explains, “I love that we can upload pictures to My Full Life. Our participants with Down Syndrome are very visual learners, and we can keep adding visuals and adapting the curriculum.” My Full Life Director Chrissy Dale says, “When we developed My Full Life into a learning management system using technology, we realized the potential to impact lives has no limit.”

As the demand for person-centered tools increases locally and nationally, we are ready to work with organizations like Club 21. Nancy observes, “I think we are reimagining what life with a disability looks like. I think it’s the job of Center for Independent Futures and Club 21 to redefine disability from the start.”

Get In Touch!

Learn more about My Full Life and how your agency can get started with person-centered approaches today! Fill out the form for more information on our School & Agency page to hear from a consultant soon.

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.

Exploring Identities with Disabilities

February is Black History Month, a time to reflect on injustices toward, and successes of, Black Americans throughout our country’s history. During this month, we will see many tributes to incredible people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Obama, and Frederick Douglass. These are all men who have done extraordinary things, but it is important that we include all types of people in reflections during Black History Month, specifically black individuals with disabilities.

Discussing History Through Intersectionality

Example of intersectionality in a chart.Every person has a complex identity that is made up of many parts, which can sometimes come into conflict. Those way those parts of your identity work together are known as intersectionality. Your identity is made up of your history, heritage, race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and more. That is a lot of pieces to fit together!

One aspect of identity that isn’t always considered is ability. Disability exists in every group of people, and it should be taken into consideration in every community. Movements that don’t include people with disability cannot be a fully just movement. That’s why we are highlighting members of the black community who have lived with disabilities.

Exploring Disability in the Black Community

Fannie Lou Hamer with a microphone speaking to a crowd.Fannie Lou Hamer was born in Mississippi at the beginning of the twentieth century. She was born into a family of sharecroppers, and she picked cotton for the first part of her life. Over the course of her life, she became a leader of the Civil Rights Movement, a powerful speaker who engaged crowds much like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did.

Also like Dr. King, Hamer was arrested during a protest. After her arrest, she walked with a limp and had a permanent blood clot behind her eye. Her disabilities didn’t stop her. She continued to fight for civil rights, and eventually included human rights in her fight after being sterilized without her knowledge.

Vilissa Thompson in a white and black dress with her wheelchair.The obstacles that come along with being both black and having a disability have not ended since Hamer’s death in 1977. Today, a leader for the black disability community is Vilissa Thompson, creator of the Ramp Your Voice movement. Thompson has osteogenesis imperfecta, a developmental disability that is known as brittle bone disease.

Thompson is a social worker and an expert in educating the public about disability issues. Through her work, she has been able to highlight issues that directly affect people with disabilities, educating the public through a large online following and public appearances. Thompson always brings with her an intersectional lens to her events, including her identities as both a person with a disability and a black woman.

Intersectional Issues and Policy

Many areas of disability policy revolve around the rights of individuals with disabilities, like housing, education, and employment. It is clear that disability rights are civil rights, and it’s important not to forget people along the way.

Disability policy is often siloed into “disability issues.” But no one is only disabled. People with disabilities are varied and come in every type and color. Instead of segregating issues, policies affecting people with disabilities must be an intersectional fight, inclusive of many different identities at once.

Success Stories

tue18jun7:00 pm8:30 pmTalent Show & BBQ

wed19jun4:00 pm5:15 pmVolunteer Club

wed19jun6:30 pm7:30 pmBike Club

thu20jun6:00 pm8:00 pmAnime Club

sat22jun3:00 pm5:30 pmHeARTwords Workshop

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