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.

Celebrating World Social Justice Day

February 20th is World Social Justice Day: a day to honor the work of thousands of individuals fighting for a world that is more equitable and just for all its citizens. As a practice, social justice work tries to right past wrongs that harm marginalized communities.

Image with blue background, white text stating "World Day of Social Justice"

People with disabilities have historically been spoken for – not consulted with. Many times, the disability community has been an afterthought to historic legislation, like the Affordable Care Act. People with disabilities and social justice work ought to go hand-in-hand, but what would that look like?

What is Social Justice?

Some people believe that social justice work is unnecessary and takes away from what they already have. That’s a common misconception.

Social justice is actually the effort to create fair and just interactions between disadvantaged people and society. Efforts to create a just society can be measured by the levels of inequality in wealth, housing, employment, and many other issues. For example, does a policy consider who directly benefits? Does a law reflect who needs more support and resources? If not, that legislation may not apply a social justice lens to that issue.

How Can Social Justice Work Benefit People With Disabilities?

Simply put, efforts to include social justice ideas can make life more accessible for individuals with disabilities. By removing barriers to access, people with disabilities live full, independent lives where they follow their dreams.

Student playing with puzzle pieces in colorful classroom settingFor example, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed in 1990. This act mandates that children with disabilities deserve access to the same educational opportunities their peers receive. By creating inclusive classrooms, IDEA helps remove barriers to success as adults. More students with disabilities are enrolling in the growing number of post-secondary education programs available across the country.

Passing IDEA meant that more opportunities became available to a group of people who were historically excluded. With more opportunities, doors to achievement open. The act led to a higher chance for individuals with disabilities to receive excellent jobs or live independently. And that’s just one example.

How Can You Help?

If you are a person without a disability wondering, “How can I help?” we have answers. Commit to socially just and innovative solutions. Listen to people with disabilities when they tell you what they need. Confront ableism when you see it. Use your power to boost the voices of people with disabilities.

Inclusion is everybody’s responsibility, especially on World Social Justice Day. Learn more about our inclusion efforts through the Change Champions program and discover tools to facilitate inclusion.

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.

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!

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

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!

Opportunities for Continuing Education for Adults

Offering continuing education for adults is important to the growth of an inclusive community. That’s why Center for Independent Futures was proud to offer three opportunities to expand horizons last week. Together, we learned from an expert on sexual education and from individuals with disabilities, creating opportunities for new perspectives.

Changing How “Intelligence” Is Defined

On Sunday, October 21st, we were happy to offer a free screening of Dan Habib’s new film Intelligent Lives. On this crisp autumn day, we gathered with members of the Evanston community and beyond to share how we think of intelligence.

A father and son laugh together. The words "The IQ test told us nothing about my child's potential" are in front of brown background.There are nine different, commonly recognized types of intelligence. These different types range from traditional ideas of intelligence, like mathematical-logical thinking and linguistics. However, this idea also includes types of intelligence like interpersonal and existential intelligences.

Intelligent Lives tackles this idea by following the lives of three individuals with disabilities who have received low IQ test scores, yet they are able to thrive in their full, busy lives. Each of these individuals has a different type of intelligence that helps them succeed. Micah, for example, has high interpersonal intelligence and is great with people; Naieer has spatial intelligence that informs his art.

Many of the film screening attendees shared that they enjoyed the film. One young man left the film and, feeling empowered, he told us, “I could be like Naieer or Micah. I could go to school or live on my own like them.”

Reflecting on Sex Education for People With Disabilities

White letters on blue background says Know More. White text on black background says Stop Sexual Violence.Monday, October 22nd, Susy Woods joined us to discuss sexual education for people with disabilities in two separate workshops. Susy Woods has been a disability advocate for 36 years, serves on the ARC of Ilinois Board, is active in Illinois Imagines, and so much more. Over the course of her long career, she found that both parents and educators needed help figuring out how to include people with disabilities in sex education.

In two workshops, one for parents and the other for educators, Susy discussed real-world examples of sexual violence and the warning signs of sexual abuse. We are grateful that Susy took the time to travel from Springfield and share her knowledge. Stay tuned for video from the workshops!

Last week was a big one here at Center for Independent Futures! We all learned a bunch about intelligence and sexual violence prevention. If you are interested in learning more about either of these events, please email Connor Larsen or call (847) 328-2044.

Learn About Sexual Violence Prevention from Susy Woods

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

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

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

Center for Independent Futures Offers Workshops

Flyer for parents’ workshop

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

Flyer for school & agency staff workshop

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

Classes for Individuals with Disabilities

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

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

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

Inclusive Education on Sexual Violence Prevention

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

Success Stories

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