Teaching Life Skills: Our Partnership with Lake Zurich Schools

To reach more individuals with disabilities and help them lead full lives, we work to get our tools for teaching life skills into the hands of creative transition teachers. After seeing a presentation by our school and agency experts, teachers at Lake Zurich High School knew that our My Full Life™ curriculum was the resource they needed.

Visualizing a Full Life

Lake Zurich School District logo with teal background and blue globe surrounded by four differently colored icons of people.Using our Full Life Model™, transition teachers at Lake Zurich help their students set goals and identify obstacles. “I love the visual representation of all of the areas of a full life,” said Annamarie Bader, special education teacher. “I feel like this gives us the structure to help students identify the goals they will need to work on to have a full life. It helps us concentrate on each student’s hopes and dreams.”

Annamarie taught in a self-contained classroom in California for 15 years before returning to work in Lake Zurich’s transition program. In the Lake Zurich transition program for students with disabilities, students spend half of their day in the classroom learning life skills like cooking and goal setting. The remaining half of the day is typically spent out in the community, instead of in the classroom.

“Our students prepare for their futures by going out to the grocery store, eating out at restaurants, and doing some recreational activities. Getting students out into the community, and having access to those resources is beneficial for their goals. Other times, students go out to job sites to gain work experience with a job coach. We’re pretty busy!”

Teaching Life Skills for Independence

A teacher in front of their classroom, photographed from the students' perspective.The Independent Futures’ curriculum, My Full Life, equips transition teachers with the resources they need to save time. With these lesson plans, learning is more targeted to students’ specific needs. “When you are teaching life skills, you are pulling material from everywhere,” Annamarie said. “My Full Life helps me keep track of my students’ accomplishments.”  

With our online application, Lake Zurich students may use computers or mobile devices to engage in the learning process, set specific goals, create action plans, and track progress. “Because the curriculum is online, they can easily access it on their iPads,” observed Annamarie. “It’s so great for everybody, but specifically for our students who are visual learners.” According to Center for Independent Futures’ School and Agency Consultant Marney Orchard, “It is great to see the young adults at Lake Zurich discovering new things about themselves and making plans for their futures.”

Impacting Students’ Futures

woman leaning over to help student at a computerAll of the components of My Full Life result in real improvements in students’ lives. Annamarie can use My Full Life to track IEP goals, conduct skill assessments, and see each component of full lives. And students can take this information with them into their future. “It’s helpful to have something for students to take with them after leaving the program at 22,” Annamarie explained.

Asked if she has seen its influence directly, Annamarie explained, “I absolutely have! It all starts with focusing on hopes and dreams. I am working with a student who wants to take college classes. Using the self-determination, goal setting, and action planning resources, he is advocating for his dreams.”

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!

“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.

A Guide to Person-Centered Planning

At Center for Independent Futures, our Life Skills Tutors commit to providing person-centered planning and life skills development. From day one, we have understood the power of asking an individual, “What are your hopes and dreams?” We are proud to have been one of the first agencies in Illinois to put the individual at the heart of our services. As more agencies ask themselves how to implement person-centered services, we want to share our experiences with you.

What is Person-Centered Planning?

Current residents smile outside their Community Living Option.Historically, people with disabilities were institutionalized and excluded from society. However, over time American society has come to realize that institutions are not the answer. Moving away from institutions, states have largely chosen their own standards of care and have created new policies at varying rates.

Person-centered planning is one of these policies that states are implementing at different speeds. At the core of this policy lies an individual’s vision for their own future. The goal of person-centered planning is to support an individual with disabilities in creating the future of their dreams. A tutor or team then decides on necessary supports based on individual goals.

These personalized support plans are never cookie-cutter designs. They are based on individual dreams, and then enacted using individualized support options. Because person-centered care is radically different from traditional supports for people with disability, sometimes agencies struggle with this change and wonder: how can we implement these ideas?

How Does Person-Centered Work?

In our office, we think of person-centered care as continued evaluation of a person’s hopes and dreams – and the action steps necessary to achieve their goals. With our participants, we begin by meeting with the individual’s support group, made up of family, friends, and community members.

We begin by asking about hopes and dreams, and then we identify obstacles and assets. This information helps to define goals and create action plans. Throughout this process, we listen, look, and learn to understand how we can best help someone create and reach goals.

Supplemented by our skills inventory and curriculum, individuals work with tutors to identify what life skills can help attain goals. Each part of person-centered care requires reflection and revision from time to time. As skills develop or dreams change, these plans have to be flexible enough to allow for new ideas.

Want to Learn More?

My Full Life application on iPad

In the last 5 years, Illinois mandated that by 2022 all agencies must use person-centered planning to work with their participants and clients. For agencies and educators, we offer our My Full Life™ online application. My Full Life includes an in-depth skills inventory, plus the most comprehensive skills curriculum available.

If you are interested in learning more, please visit our Schools & Agencies page and request more information through our My Full Life form. We can’t wait to help you on the journey to providing person-centered care.

How to Teach Self-Determination Life Skills

As Americans rethink the ways we manage education, concepts like self-determination are making way for individualized instruction. Many teachers are beginning to ask themselves, “How can I teach self-determination to my students – especially students with disabilities?”

This question is crucial for all students, but for students with disabilities, navigating the world with critical self-determination life skills makes a whole world of difference. In fact, according to a University of Illinois article, students with disabilities in self-directed learning programs are more likely to achieve academic and non-academic goals! Find out how you can incorporate these concepts into your curriculum.

What Are Self-Determination Life Skills?

Student playing with puzzle pieces in colorful classroom settingSelf-determination skills are developed through a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs. Those pieces of self-determination help people engage in goal-directed, self-regulated, autonomous activity. Learning how to act in a self-directed manner empowers every student who gains these skills.

There are many components of self-determination that facilitate self-directed goals for students. Teachers might use curriculum that focuses on decision making, problem-solving, goal setting, self-awareness, and self-advocacy, among others. We can all imagine that dedicating time to skills like these benefit personal development, but how can teachers implement these concepts into their classrooms?

Approaches to Teaching Self-Determination Life Skills

While soft skills are difficult to measure, teachers should be able to fit these skills into existing curriculum with just a little extra effort. Some ideas to include this type of life skill involve:

    • Invest time in facilitating student-driven IEPs and transition planning, and check in with students to make sure they are prepared for meetings. All students are capable of being involved in planning their life.
    • Teach skills and enhancing knowledge of skills like problem-solving and decision making directly, creating lesson plans around these types of skills.
    • Embed instruction into general curriculum. For example, in any lesson plan, a teacher can begin by asking students to create a goal. In the next step, students will take action toward their goal. By the end of the lesson, students can reflect and revise their goal, learning about self-awareness.
    • Dedicate time to person-centered planning, an approach to plan and develop supports to help a student or any person achieve their goals.

Teaching Self-Determination Through Adulthood

These tips are great for teachers who can shape the future for students with disabilities, but what about adults who have already transitioned out of school programs?

Our My Full Life™ online application includes planning, skills inventory, and life skills curriculum designed to support individuals with disabilities living independently in the community. For educators and agency professionals interested in learning more, please visit this page and contact us for a demo.

California Dreamin’ with Cynthia & Chrissy

As temperatures dropped last month, two members of our staff escaped to California to work with our partners at Club 21 Learning and Resource Center, VTC Enterprises, and New Horizons. Community Life Coordinator Cynthia visited to conduct life skills software training through our My Full Life tool. A couple of weeks later, Chrissy visited to present at their Tools For the Journey conference.

Life Skills Software Training

New Skills Inventory client practices her kitchen skills.For the past twelve years, Cynthia Witherspoon has been working with the Full Life Model, developing tools and resources. She is an expert in our online application for life skills development, My Full Life, and shares these resources with our partners across the country. She visited Club 21 and VTC Enterprises to help them work with our My Full Life Skills Inventory over the course of six days.

During her time in California, Cynthia met with several young adults with disabilities who will be using our Skills Inventory. On one day, Cynthia joined a young woman named Lily at a coffee shop. She then observed her grocery shopping and cooking delicious tacos.

Throughout her trip, Cynthia says, “Parents of individuals completing a Skills Inventory had ‘ah ha’ moments.” The parents plan to encourage their children in pursuing more opportunities to practice independent living skills. Next, we will continue supporting the brand new Skills Inventory Consultants Cynthia helped train, completing written reports for the families.

Presenting Tools For the Journey

My Full Life Director Chrissy Dale also escaped to California during Chicagoland’s intense cold. Chrissy presented at the Tools For the Journey conference, hosted by Club 21. Using our Skills Inventory as a Road Map to Independence, Chrissy demonstrated how families can support the growth and development of their child.

Club 21 Executive Director Nancy Litteken strives to provide role models of adults living full lives with disabilities. By showing families examples of what is truly possible, those families can begin to dream bigger. According to Chrissy, community member Danny was “the perfect example of how families can dream bigger for their child.”

After the conference, Chrissy shared, “What excites me the most is Club 21 students transitioning into adulthood while working with our most recent agency collaboration, New Horizons, aligning our missions by taking a person-centered approach.”

Moving Forward and Igniting Dreams

Want to learn more about what Cynthia and Chrissy were up to? Check out more information about My Full Life to learn about the Skills Inventory! You can also connect with Chrissy online or schedule time to talk about how My Full Life can help you.

How to Teach Self-Advocacy Skills to Students with Disabilities

Young student working hard. Learning self-advocacy means developing a set of skills that are based on self-knowledge, communicating your understanding, and knowing your rights. When educators teach self-advocacy skills to students with disabilities, that knowledge opens doors to success that might otherwise never have appeared.

Unfortunately, students with disabilities historically have not been included in learning intangible skills such as the development of leadership abilities. To develop a skill set of self-advocacy tools, dive into cognitive functions like goal setting, intrapersonal functions such as building confidence, and interpersonal functions like collaborating on teams. Teachers seeking to support all their students, including those with disabilities, can read more from the National Council on Learning Disabilities to understand how to implement self-advocacy skill curriculum to your classes.

Develop Self-Awareness Through Skills Assessment

Educators can teach self-advocacy skills to students in a variety of ways. This image shows an individual in a wheelchair with two others on a grassy lawn.Begin by understanding the students’ strengths and weaknesses. Teachers can conduct a skills assessment, and then they should try to focus on the strengths. Starting with strengths helps students refrain from internalizing low expectations. With a solid understanding of their talents, students will leave class with greater self-awareness.

Making Skill Development A Priority

The next step sounds simple: make teaching self-advocacy skills a critical priority. But this step is like the foundation of a house. It will require a deep dive into lesson plans, adding opportunities for students to express their needs and desires. Without baking these ideas into the classroom’s curriculum, students most likely will not succeed in advocating for themselves.

Flexible Classrooms Teach Self-Advocacy Skills

A teacher in front of their classroom, photographed from the students' perspective.Teachers who want to support students in upholding their rights should try to create learning activities that engage all of their students on this topic. Some schools are beginning to move toward Universal Design for Learning, or UDL. UDL allows teachers to accommodate individual learning preferences, while also guiding the development of flexible classrooms.

Finding Real Opportunities to Learn

Finally, schools that support this skill development should consider ways to make learning this skill tangible. Because self-advocacy is not easily measured, learning experiences that are collaborative and engaging will help gauge students’ capacities. Schools could begin making connections with local businesses to see what opportunities students could have in the community. Through learning collaborations in the community, students gain real-world experience, and most will transition out of school ready to succeed.

How We Can Help Educators & Agencies

Teaching current students how to advocate for themselves is obviously crucial to their post-school success. But what about adults with disabilities who weren’t taught self-advocacy skills in school? My Full Life™ can help. An online learning management system, My Full Life consists of three parts: a skills assessment, planning process, and skills curriculum.

Agencies that serve adults with disabilities can request a free demo of My Full Life today! This offer is also available to educators teaching transition skills to students with disabilities. Reach out today to learn more!

5 Wonderful Reasons To Give For Independent Futures

As the holiday season approaches, we are reflecting on a year of growth at Center for Independent Futures. Looking back on the year, we want to thank each of you for your support and suggest five reasons to add us to your year-end giving. We have come up with five reasons for you to give for independent futures. Thanks to community members like you, the lives of more individuals with disabilities have been enriched and the reach of our community has expanded.

#1: We Combat Isolation & Exclusion

Individuals with disabilities face social isolation at a much higher rate than others. Through our Change Champions project, we partner with public and private organizations like public libraries and YMCAs to create cultures of inclusion. Over the last year, this program has introduced several community institutions to the strengths that individuals with disabilities bring to the table.

#2: We Bring Innovation into Classrooms through My Full Life™ 

woman leaning over to help student at a computerWe dream of a future where all individuals can share their gifts with the community of their choice. My Full Life™ is our innovative online solution to help teachers identify how students can reach their goals. With your continued commitment, educators access our innovative online curriculum to train life skills and identify the strengths individuals can bring into their communities.

#3: Our New Futures Initiative™ Brings Hope to Hundreds

Challenges concerning housing and independent living support persist for individuals with disabilities everywhere. Our family-guided New Futures Initiative™ housing approach gives hope to groups across the country. From California to Canada, you help us make a difference in hundreds of lives.

#4: We Strive to Fill the Gap

In the state of Illinois, opportunities for people with disabilities continue to be underfunded year after year. The need for community-based solutions is greater than ever. With your help, we hope to help fill the gap that is created by diminishing state funding. Our robust activities and events calendar provides support for individuals with a variety of interests, including our whole community.

#5: We Are Committed to Person-Centered Solutions

Since our founding in 2002, Center for Independent Futures has been focused on the individual. We have always started at square one by asking each participant, “What are your hopes & dreams?” Thanks to supporters like you, we continue to be leaders in person-centered approaches today.

Adam poses with friends he has made through Center for Independent Futures

We have a lot to look forward to in 2019, including welcoming more family groups to New Futures Initiative training and sharing My Full Life™ with more schools and agencies throughout the country. We are dedicated to helping families live with greater peace of mind and sharing our resources with community leaders. With such a big year coming up, we know we will need your help. Can you give for independent futures today? Please consider making a year-end contribution to Center for Independent Futures today.

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