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.

New In-Home Technologies for Independent Living

Many barriers to independent living exist for people with disabilities, but new in-home technologies can help most families remove some obstacles. While these technology options won’t replace the development of all life skills, they can support  individuals to live more independent lives and offer their families peace of mind. At our housing conference in October, we invited a panel of tech innovators to present their remote support solutions. Read more to learn about these tools.

Night Owl Support Systems

Based in Madison, Wisconsin, Night Owl Support Systems specializes in home monitoring technology. They tailor equipment to each person’s need, so they are able to offer individualized support. Night Owl’s services consist of live remote monitoring. By providing care remotely, Night Owl offers clients independence, safety, and security.

With the use of person pagers, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, temperature and moisture sensors, and movement sensors, remote monitor staff interacts when assistance is needed. This option serves as an alternative to paid overnight care. Prior to beginning services, Night Owl’s staff works with clients to develop support plans. To learn more about Night Owl Support Systems, visit their website today

Rest Assured

Since 2006, Rest Assured has been providing cost-effective care to individuals with disabilities. Rest Assured provides remote support for people with disabilities, whether living independently or with their families.

The support Rest Assured provides can be tailored to the needs of each individual. With varying levels of support, clients can choose from active support and check-ins or emergency watch as needed. Various supports are available, including two-way audio/visual communication, smoke and temperature detectors, electronic sensors, and more. To get in touch with Rest Assured, visit their website

Simply Home

Committed to innovation, Simply Home’s founders dreamed of creating a way for seniors and individuals with disabilities to live at home. With more choice and control, Simply Home’s clients are able to develop their independent living skills.

Beginning with a person-centered assessment, Simply Home then designs a custom system. After activating the new system, individuals with disabilities can often live independently, relying on real-time alerts and insights alongside ongoing customer service. Click here to watch a full demo. Find out if Simply Home is right for you by contacting them.

New In-Home Technologies Make a Difference

Do you or someone you know need assistance living independently? Find out if one of these new in-home technologies is the right choice. Reach out to these passionate, innovative companies to discover what remote supports could mean for you and your loved ones.

In-Home Support Tech Contacts

Night Owl Support Systems, LLC: Duane Tempel

Rest Assured: Dustin Wright

Simply Home: Cameron Kempson

Save the Date: SPARK 2019

Are you looking for a local Evanston fundraising event to support your community? Join on at the Hilton Orrington on Friday, April 26th for our signature spring event, SPARK!

What to Expect at SPARK!

4 individuals gather around an orange chair at SPARK.

At our annual spring party, we use this opportunity to celebrate our whole community, including Center for Independent Futures participants, families, employees, donors, and community partners. That means there will be dancing, dinner, and a lot of opportunity for fun!

The evening begins with reception and the chance to bid on some of Chicago and Evanston’s favorite stores, restaurants, and experiences, followed by dinner and a live auction. At last year’s live auction, winners took home a safari trip, concert tickets to Ed Sheeran and Elton John, a Chicago-style St. Patrick’s Day package, and more! Plus, you won’t want to miss our favorite game, Heads or Tails. Finish the evening by dancing your heart out to a favorite of ours, Euphoria Band!

Watch For More News

Group enjoying games at Evanston fundraising event, SPARKGo ahead and mark your calendars for SPARK today! Event invitations and online ticket sales will be available in early March. For more event information and updates, RSVP to SPARK on the Facebook event page.

All proceeds from SPARK, our largest Evanston fundraising event of the year, directly contribute to programming, services, and sustainability. If you are interested in supporting SPARK as a donor, sponsor, or partner, please contact Niki Moe or call (847) 328-2044 today!

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!

Top 10 Hope-Filled Moments in 2018

2018 was a big year at Center for Independent Futures! From fun and glamorous events like SPARK to meeting new people at conferences around the country, this last year held a lot to be celebrated. Join us in remembering our top 10 moments of 2018!

#1: New Partnerships in CaliforniaLogo for Club 21 in red with blue and green people illustrations to the left.

Club 21, a California non-profit, asked us to present at their Tools For the Journey conference. It was exciting to get out of the chilly Midwest for a few days to share our tools & resources with the Club 21 community.

#2: Hosting Activities in Highland Park

We conducted a meet and greet session with Highland Park community members in March. Since then, we have started including the village in our activities calendar through monthly Gab and Grub dinners. It is exciting to meet members of new communities, and we can’t wait to continue!

#3: A Beautiful Evening at SPARK

5 friends dressed beautifully pose for group photo at SPARK.

In April, our annual gala event was a shining evening! Join us again this year on April 26th at the Hilton Orrington! We will have more live entertainment, the annual Awesome Awards, delicious food, and wonderful auction items for all.

#4: Dream Team Biked the Drive

A group of Bike Club members participated in Bike the Drive again this year! They raised almost $7,000 through their fundraising efforts and had a good time biking in the cloudy weather. We can’t wait for next May to ride Lake Shore Drive again!

#5: Presented at National Down Syndrome Conference

Chrissy & Cynthia at the National Down Syndrome ConferenceChrissy & Cynthia went down to Dallas, Texas, in July to present at the National Down Syndrome Conference. They rocked the presentation and made new connections! We appreciated having this opportunity to present to industry experts and families alike.

#6: Held 2 Summer Camp Options for Transition House Students

Our schools team hosted the annual Life Skills Camp in mid-July, in addition to a new summer camp opportunity. Thanks to the Evanston Community Foundation, we were able to provide a Transportation Camp for Evanston Township High School transition students.

#7: Guided Biggest Marathon Team Through Finish Line

On a rainy Sunday, 18 members of Team CIF completed one of the greatest challenges: completing 26.2 miles throughout the neighborhoods of Chicago. Thanks to our community and team, we raised over $16,000 through the Bank of America Chicago Marathon!

#8: Created Community Connections at Housing Conference

At our housing conference in October, we shared our New Futures Initiative and housing resources with over 100 people dedicated to change. We are thankful for each of our presenters, including our panelists, endnote speaker, and keynote speaker, Micaela Connery of The Kelsey. Watch for video of the day coming soon!

#9: Delicious Food & Good Times at Something’s Cooking

We ate to our hearts’ content at the Woman’s Club of Evanston in early November. Thank you to the 25 wonderful food, dessert, and beverage sponsors for supporting our annual fall favorite! We hope to see you all next year!

#10: Turned Hopes Into Reality on #GivingTuesday

Thanks to all of you, we surpassed our $20,000 #GivingTuesday goal! We also met the requirements to receive the full $10,000 match from the Coleman Foundation. That means we raised a total of over $34,000 with your help!

We are deeply grateful for our caring, generous community after such a big year! 2019 looks like it will be even bigger, so we hope that you will continue on this journey with Center for Independent Futures. If you would like to be part of our story, sign up for our monthly newsletter today and make a year-end gift to support inclusive communities in Evanston!

Community Partner Program at SPACE!

At Center for Independent Futures, the most important part of what we do is community. By building personal networks throughout the community, new opportunities for partnership pop up every year. In 2019, there is a new opportunity we want to share with all of you!

Center for Independent Futures is the first Community Partner in SPACE's new program!SPACE, an Evanston live music hall and recording studio, created a brand new Community Partner Program for 2019, and Center for Independent Futures will be the first designated community partner! From January 1 to March 31, your visit to SPACE or evanstonspace.com can support Center for Independent Futures.

How To Participate in the New Program

Throughout the first quarter of the year, there will be 3 ways to donate to Center for Independent Futures through the SPACE Community Partner Program. Two options are through online giving, while the final option you can choose to participate in at the venue.

  1. When purchasing concert tickets online, you can add $1 to your order to support full lives.
  2. Choose to make an online donation from SPACE’s website without purchasing a ticket. 
  3. Finally, all donations received at the SPACE Box Office will be donated to Center for Independent Futures at the end of the quarter.

About Live Music Venue SPACE

SPACE has welcomed thousands of local and national touring acts to the stage, including The Lumineers, Alabama Shakes, Graham Parker, and many more. SPACE has earned distinction on the best venue lists of DownBeat Magazine, 93XRT, Chicago Tribune. Now approaching their 10th anniversary, SPACE hopes to continue a decade-long tradition of serving Evanston through a wide variety of concerts and community events.

Success Stories

wed17apr4:00 pm5:15 pmVolunteer Club

wed17apr5:30 pm7:00 pmHighland Park "Gab and Grub" Dinner Out

thu18apr6:00 pm8:00 pmAnime Club

mon22apr4:00 pm5:00 pmYoga

mon22apr5:00 pm6:00 pmBook Club

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