Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Americans With Disabilities To Gain New Protections Under Hate Crimes Bill

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express

WASHINGTON, DC--Legislation that would expand hate crimes protections to include people with disabilities is headed to the White House for President Obama's signature.

Current federal law increases penalties for perpetrators who commit crimes against people because of race, color, religion or national identity.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act would add protections against crimes based on a person's disability, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

On October 8, 2009, the House of Representatives voted 281 to 146 to pass its version of the hate crimes legislation. Last Thursday, the Senate passed its own version on a vote of 68 to 29.

Both the House and Senate versions were attached a major defense spending bill.

President Obama is expected to support the measure, which is named in part for James Byrd, Jr, a man with intellectual disabilities that was murdered in rural Texas.

In June 1998, three men beat the 49-year-old African-American man. Then they stripped him naked, chained his ankles to a pick-up truck, and dragged him for three miles down a secluded gravel road.

An autopsy later indicated that Byrd died after his head hit a culvert along the side of the road.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Recent Work from Interact Theater

Here are some excerpts from recent works at Interact Theeater in Minneapolis. Interact Theater, founded in 1992 as a professional theater company that include actors with disabilities, Interact expanded its vision in 1996 to become a recognized center for both the performing and visual arts.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Duck Whisperer

As I sat watching the first episode of "The Amazing Race" last night, I was introduced to Zev Glassner one of the contestants in the competition. One thing that sets Glassner apart from the other contestants is that he has Asperger's Syndrome.

This is the third season that "The Amazing Race" has featured someone with a disability. The show excels at showing that while people with disabilities may have difficulties in some areas they can excel in others....just like the rest of us, really.

In last night's episode there was a challenge where the contestants had to herd a group of ducks. Many of the participants struggled with the challenge but Glassner's race partner, Justin Kanew, dubbed him "The Duck Whisperer" because he calmly led the ducks through the challenge where others could not.

I will enjoy watching Glassner this season and hope they have a long run on "The Amazing Race." To read an interview with Glassner on the Disability Scoop website, click here.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ability Beyond Disability’s P2E Program Using CDS Has 63 Graduates – and All 63 DSPs Are Still There

It is not everyday that you have an employee run up and give you a hug because they got into a training program, but at Ability Beyond Disability we are getting used to just that! Since beginning our Pathways to Excellence program in May of 2008, hugging has been on the rise.

Maybe that is because Pathways to Excellence (P2E) is more than your typical training program -- it is a career path that engages employees in our organization’s vision. At Ability Beyond Disability in Bethel, CT., we have a 55-year history of providing support to individuals with disabilities. But equally as important is our dynamic vision for the future -- Vision 2013. It is a vision of growth, creative solutions, and new possibilities for providing support to twice as many individuals with developmental and neurological disabilities in Connecticut and New York. Each year, we serve approximately 1,300 individuals through community-based residential, vocational, behavioral, nursing and rehabilitation services.

Anyone in our field knows the direct support staff story – low pay, lack of training, lack of recognition, and lack of career growth and advancement. Ability Beyond Disability employs 715 direct support staff, and have been challenged by annual turnover rates ranging from 30 to 35 percent. We knew something had to change if we were going to grow to meet the increasing support needs of those in our communities. We did a lot of research, and found the College of Direct Support (CDS) to be the leader in direct support training and best practices.

We have put a lot of new workforce ideas and best practices in place over the past few years, but nothing compares to the success we have seen in the past year since implementing our P2E program, with CDS as its core curriculum.

We began P2E, a career path program for our direct support workforce, with two goals -- to advance the skills, knowledge and ability of our direct support workforce, and at the same time provide promotional opportunities and financial rewards. The program was designed by a focus group of direct support staff and frontline supervisors from across the organization. Before we could start, we needed the approval and support, both in spirit and financially, from our entire organization. It soon became clear the program had overwhelming support! Our focus group became our initial pilot group and began in May 2008. All 17 participants graduated in November 2008 and P2E has been rolling ever since.

Here’s how it works. The first phase of the P2E Program is the Direct Support Professional (DSP) training program. Prospective participants self-select into the program and are required to complete an application, including a brief statement of what they wish to gain from the program and future career goals. Criteria for the program includes having worked in direct support with us for at least one year, compliance with all required trainings and certifications, no disciplinary actions within the past 12 months, and a letter of support from their supervisor. We run the program similar to college semesters, with a specific application period and a three-hour “kick-off” to orient participants to the program.

Ability Beyond Disability's Graduates and Staff

Participants must complete about 120 hours of online CDS lessons over a five-month period. Monthly group meetings are held to discuss a pre-selected course andparticipants are responsible for a written reflection of the course being discussed and to share what they have learned. Most participants have expressed the positive impact the CDS courses have on them, including sparking new ideas to provide better support, and viewing themselves as professionals, excited by the career possibilities that lie ahead as a result.

Recognition is a crucial element. We make sure we recognize the successful completion of the DSP program, not only internally, but with the greater community so that they may understand the importance of direct support. Let’s face it -- did any of us have a high school guidance counselor tell us about a career in direct support? Upon completion, graduates are promoted to a new title of DSP, which comes complete with a 50-cent hourly pay increase and a graduation ceremony. Graduates invite their co-workers, family, friends and those they support. The crowd rises to their feet and they file in to the now infamous chant “D – S – P! D – S – P!” They are presented a framed certificate along with a completion bonus of $1,000 by members of our Board of Directors and senior leadership. Photos and a press release are sent to each participant’s hometown paper in an effort to share their achievements with their neighbors and friends.

The next step in the P2E program is still in development. It includes specialty certifications with their own 40-hour training programs combining classroom and CDS courses not completed as part of the first step of the program. The specialty certifications are designed to assist our organization with our Vision 2013 goals.

Our organization has made a tremendous investment in our direct support workforce. To date, we have had 63 graduates, amounting to $63,000 in bonuses alone. In addition, we have 45 current participants in the program, and a waiting list of qualified applicants eager to start. This is a large investment, but with an equal if not larger return. In the past year we have seen a decline in our turnover rate – from 30% to 21%. We realize that the poor economy helps us retain employees, but also realize that it is how we treat people now, when the economy is poor, that will help us retain them when things improve.

Since beginning the P2E program in May 2008 we have had NO turnover among participants. All 63 graduates are still working here, eagerly awaiting the development of the specialty training programs. For each employee we retain, we save money on recruiting and on-boarding costs such as background checks and training. Each employee retained means the individuals we support know and recognize the person working with them each day, and it means that his or her family member recognizes the staff member working with their loved one. Can you put a price on that? As the credit card commercial says – PRICELESS. The success of P2E has shown us that by investing in our employees, they are, in turn, investing in a career with us.

“Our greatest asset is our workforce, and therefore, I can’t think of a better investment than our Pathways to Excellence program. It is a win-win for all. Our staff have the opportunity to develop professionally, and the people we serve benefit from having consistent and highly qualified staff,” said Thomas H. Fanning, President/CEO, Ability Beyond Disability

It makes one proud to work for a company that has a vision, especially in the tough economic climate that we all find ourselves faced with, and prouder still that our organization recognizes the importance of the direct support workforce who make the support we provided yesterday, today, and tomorrow possible. Oh, and of course, I love the hugs!

Written by Kristine Foss, Workforce Planning & Development Administrator at Ability Beyond Disability in Bethel, CT. You may reach her at 203.826.3066 or via email at

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Valerie Jarrett's Remarks at the Signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Ms. Jarrett: Thank you Ambassador Rice. Ambassador Rice has been a trusted advisor and friend of President Obama and has provided invaluable advice and counsel and guidance throughout both his campaign and in the early months of his administration. We are so proud of her efforts and hard work and the men and women serving at the U.S. Mission, working on the front lines of the Administration’s effort to usher in a new era of engagement.
I am thrilled to be joining Ambassador Rice on this occasion, as the United States takes this historic step toward advancing our global commitment to fundamental human rights for all persons with disabilities.
Last week, the President took a bold step forward for our country and announced that the United States of America would sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Now we fulfill his commitment, and the United States of America proudly joins the 141 other nations in signing this extraordinary Convention – the first new human rights convention of the 21st century.
Today, as Susan mentioned, 650 million people – ten percent of the world’s population – live with a disability. In developing countries, ninety percent of the children with disabilities do not attend school. And women and girls with disabilities are too often the subject of deep discrimination. This extraordinary treaty calls on all nations to guarantee the rights of those that afforded under the Americans with Disabilities Act, urges equal protection and equal benefit before the law for all citizens, and reaffirms the inherent dignity, worth, and independence of all persons with disabilities worldwide.
It is fitting that we are signing this Convention just a few days after the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Due in large part to the ADA, we have made great progress. But as the President said last Friday, and as the Ambassador just said, we are still not satisfied. We have much work to do.
Today, the President, together with Secretary Clinton, once again demonstrate their commitment to people with disabilities at home and around the world, and I am pleased to announce the creation of a new, senior level disability human rights position at the State Department. This individual will be charged with developing a comprehensive strategy to promote the rights of persons with disabilities internationally; he or she will coordinate a process for the ratification of the Convention in conjunction with the other federal offices; last but not least, this leader will serve as a symbol of public diplomacy on disability issues, and work to ensure that the needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in international situations. By appointing the necessary personnel to lead and ensure compliance on disability human rights issues, the President reinforces his commitment to the UN Convention.
We look forward to the Senate giving swift consideration and approval to the Convention once the President submits it them for their advice and consent.
With this signing, we once again confirm that disability rights are not just civil rights to be enforced here at home; they are universal human rights to be promoted around the world. So we proudly join the international community in protecting the human rights for all, thank you very much.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Young Voices: Bringing the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities to Life

From the young voices website: Young Voices is a project of the Leonard Cheshire Disability Global Alliance.

It brings together groups of young people with disabilities from 18 different countries around the world. It gives an opportunity for them to share their experiences, learn about the UN Convention and their human rights. It gives them training in campaigning, advocacy and media skills to help them hold their governments to their obligations under the UN Convention.

The original idea for the Young Voices project came from discussions with groups of young people with disabilities, NGOs and development agencies in West Africa. These highlighted that young disabled people were a neglected group whose voices were rarely heard.

Starting with a pilot project in 2005, Leonard Cheshire Disability worked through local partners to support groups of young people with disabilities in twelve countries. This covered the last two years of the development of the Convention. As these young people became knowledgeable about the Convention, they began to understand how to use their voices to influence policy.

A highlight for participants in the early years of the project was the opportunity to attend the ad-hoc committee of the UN in New York, where they organised a side event. Their passion and enthusiasm reminded everybody deep in negotiations that the rights of millions of people around the world were at stake.

Three years on, groups of young people with disabilities have been formed or are being developed in the following 18 countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Namibia, Swaziland, Botswana, Kenya, Uganda, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, China, Guyana, South Africa, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and the Philippines. A network of effective advocates working closely with disabled people’s organisations and others in civil society has come to life.

During 2008 and 2009 the groups have been telling their stories through film. You can view some of their films on this site now and others will follow shortly.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

'Benefits Go Beyond Sports' Autistic Children Find an Outlet In Swimming

Here is a great article from the Washington Post's Bill Oram about the benefits of swimming for kids with autism. Click on the title of this post to read the article.