Indiana Institute on Disability and Community to Administrate State-Wide Disability Resource Database FINDER

From Indiana University Bloomington:

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – For those with disabilities and their families, trying to navigate a complex web of services, programs, and other disability-related community resources can be daunting. In November, IU’s Indiana Institute on Disability and Community (IIDC) partnered with AWS Foundation of Ft. Wayne, IN, to implement Indiana Disability Resource FINDER as part of its library information and referral services.

With guidance from nonprofit organizations, disability-focused state agencies, and Indiana families, FINDER was launched in 2019 through an initiative funded by AWS Foundation. FINDER is a free comprehensive online tool specifically designed to connect people with disabilities, family members, and professionals with disability-related programs and services. It supports local communities anywhere in Indiana.

“Research has shown that locating information about disability services and resources is a major hurdle for community stakeholders and disability professionals. As a state-wide tool, FINDER assists in making information accessible and geographically relevant for all Hoosiers,” said Derek Nord, IIDC director. “Through our extensive work across Indiana that touches on all stages of life, the IIDC is excited to expand FINDER’s reach to make it the go-to resource.”

FINDER provides 24/7 access to community services, is easy to use, and supports first-time users with a step-by-step guide. For more experienced users, it has advanced search features. Regardless of how information is located, search results are immediately available, can be saved for future use and shared.

“As Indiana’s Center of Excellence in Disabilities, IIDC is the perfect partner to administrate the FINDER program and take it to the next level,” said Patti Hays, CEO of AWS Foundation. “Combined with IIDC’s leadership and specialized skills and experience, FINDER provides the latest technology to expand collaboration and develop new partnerships to help empower parents, teachers, caregivers, and others to find answers to disability-related questions and become a more informed advocate.”

Service providers, community advocates, and medical professionals regularly contribute to FINDER, keeping the information current, relevant, and practical. FINDER supports the right for people of all abilities to freely choose how they wish to live their lives to the fullest.

About IU Research

IU’s world-class researchers have driven innovation and creative initiatives that matter for 200 years. From curing testicular cancer to collaborating with NASA to search for life on Mars, IU has earned its reputation as a world-class research institution. Supported by $854 million last year from our partners, IU researchers are building collaborations and uncovering new solutions that improve lives in Indiana and around the globe.

About AWS Foundation

Founded in 2007, AWS Foundation supports a wide range of organizations and service agencies in northeast Indiana, working to develop a community in which people with enduring intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities are engaged fully and meaningfully in all aspects of community life.

 

AWS Logo

Benefits Of…. Employment

In support of October being Disability Employment Awareness Month, I originally wrote an article about the Myths around employment, disability, and benefits. When I was done, it seemed more like a fact sheet. A colleague encouraged me to write and share one of my many examples instead. Though some might find this information confusing (or even boring), I think it a much-needed conversation.

When I was a teacher, transition coordinator, and state-wide trainer, I often heard from parents and students that they couldn’t work because they would lose their Social Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. On top of that, they worried about losing health benefits, often provided through Medicaid.

Some would see this is an ‘excuse’ not to work. I saw it as sincere concern about how families might support the many needs an individual with a disability might have, and how benefits allow them to provide them. It is also a tribute to the misinformation that is rampant around individuals with disabilities entering the workforce.

Early on in my career, I learned to utilize those who knew much more than I did and connect them with families and individuals to help with the issues around going to work. In this story, a Benefits Information Network (BIN) counselor is key.

I worked with ‘Jennifer’ and her family for several years. She was a great worker, had many positive job experiences in school, and (in my opinion) was ready to enter the workforce. Jen lived with her mom, who was a single parent with 3 children at home. Jen’s SSI benefits supported the family in meeting Jen’s needs, including the fact that mom could only work part time and take care of her children. After bringing in a BIN counselor and working with Vocational Rehabilitation, Services, what we ALL learned was this (I upgraded the numbers to reflect 2020):

  • If Jen worked 20 hours a week, making $10.00 an hour, she could earn $800.00 per month
  • She currently receives $800.00 a month in SSI benefits. (which is why someone might think – why work, it’s a wash)
  • Since Jen isn’t involved in what Social Security calls “substantial gainful activity” (SGA), which means she makes more than $1260.00 a month, she ‘technically’ can keep her income and still receive ½ of her SSI payments.
  • Jen now has meaningful employment, earns her own income ($800.00 a month), and receives approximately $400.00 a month from her SSI making her total monthly income $1200.00.

This is a very simplistic take on a very complicated system that looks different for everyone. I only scratched a tiny surface. HOWEVER, whether you are looking at SSI benefits or SSDI benefits, an individual’s combined income from work and benefits is always higher than benefits alone (find more information at: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-64-030.pdf) . It is so important that we educate ourselves, the individuals we serve, their families, and potential employers on how employment may, or may not, impact benefits.

Indiana is an Employment First state; we don’t want a ‘misconception’ to interfere with potential employment. We need to help everyone see that when gainful employment is an option, everyone benefits!

Patti Hays, CEO

From the CEO: Work Inclusion

Recently, I was asked to rate the level of inclusion for our community, on a scale of 1-10. The question prompted a lively discussion with some of our staff. We are part of a city that has been embracing of the concept of accessibility and we acknowledged that this is a work in progress.

 

True accessibility and inclusion for people of all abilities comes when everything is accessible to everyone at all times. Everyone, always, everywhere.

True accessibility comes when no one feels like an “other”.

It is when we all travel the same path; one that is traversable by all.

True inclusion is integral and intentional. It is anticipatory rather than reactionary.

We are rich in resources with disability providers, arts working towards inclusive performances, recreational options with a commitment to adaptive programming and initiatives supportive of enhanced employment opportunities.

There is no checklist for how to make an inclusive community. It cannot be boiled down to a simple “to do” list.

With true inclusion there is no “us” and “them”. In schools there is no “special ed” and “general ed”. Universal design is in every building where accommodations do not need to be made for employees with disabilities. Large employers are scaled up and have work forces of widely varying abilities rather than just individual businesses doing a good deed for a single individual. We are on the path to meeting this vision.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness month (NDEAM). If you are an employer and want to help us on this path towards a more inclusive community, there are many resources available to you this month. Here are a few for consideration.

  • IIDC’s Center on Community Living and Careers has an onboarding curriculum with resources, tips and how-to videos. (https://iidc.indiana.edu/cclc/news/employment-specialists-are-getting-started)
  • The Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities shares the national initiative Work to Include (https://www.worktoinclude.org/)
  • Employment First in Indiana, in collaboration with Indiana’s Work to Include Coalition and other agencies, has shared its plan to encourage the development of statewide initiatives for competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities. (https://www.in.gove/fssa/ddrs/files/Employemnt-First-Plan-Adopted-Set.11-2020.pdf)
  • Self employment is another option and support is available for those considering that path. Zoom meetings are available in early November from IIDC for those seeking one-on-one support on the road to self employment.

Our group gave Fort Wayne a “6”…but let me explain. We are doing better than most other cities but that isn’t enough. AWS Foundation and those we work with have high expectations. We all have visions of what is ideal. We also know how far we have come. We tell stories of what life was like for the person with a disability earlier in our careers. Many of us knew of institutionalization, segregation & marginalization much greater than what we see just 30 years after ADA.

Fort Wayne has NEIDAC (northeast Indiana disability advocacy coalition) bringing together dozens of agencies with a voice of advocacy for those with varying abilities. The City of Fort Wayne and Allen County have organized the Disability Council with similar goals.

Providing opportunities for competitive integrated employment for those of all abilities is a critical keystone for the construction of a truly inclusive community. NDEAM reminds each of that and I encourage each of you to consider how you can help…help us self-score as a more welcoming and inclusive community.

Patti Hays, CEO

From the CEO: A Community that Celebrates People as They Are

My grandmother was born in 1891. When she went to the small Ohio schoolhouse her teacher observed her pick up the pencil with her left hand.  Each day thereafter her left hand was tied behind her back and she was forced to write with her right hand. Those who were left-handed were believed to be unlucky, dishonest, and even stupid. My grandmother was different and that was unacceptable.

How far we have come. Or have we? Now as in 1897, we all have confirmation bias. We search for and favor those like ourselves. Bypassing critical conscious thought, we are attracted to those who are similar. This is a field of expanding study with many corollaries but in that school in 1897, the girl who was left-handed was the one who was different and for that there was an attempt to correct her defect.

Ask anyone who is left-handed and they will tell you that they have had a lifetime of challenges. The world is built for the 90% of us who are right-handed. Scissors, desks, guitars, and even a computer mouse are all created for the right-hand dominant person. In my years of hiring, I am drawn to the lefties. I have found them to be more creative and better problem solvers because they have had to find new ways of doing things all their lives.

Overcoming confirmation bias is a continual process. It is only with repeated consistent and positive exposure to a diverse population that we can override those unconscious actions. It is more than just inviting everyone to the party. It is assuring that everyone feels respected and valued. That is the difference between diversity and inclusion.

The issues we deal with as a society today are not as simple as left or right handedness. Diversity today is different cultures, abilities, religions, sexual orientation, races, genders, and more. For some of us it is about us. For all of us it is around us.

Churchill said “The world, nature, human beings, do not move like machines. The edges are never clear-cut, but always frayed. Nature never draws a line without smudging it.” Are you the one who sees “different” as needing to be changed or ignored? Can you open yourself to greater exposure to that which is different with the goal of celebrating people as they are?

Patti Hays, CEO

From the CEO: Power of Words

One of my oft repeated quotes is from Maya Angelou:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”

July 26th will mark the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a transformational law that continues to protect those with disabilities from discrimination. After 30 years, many of us know better and are trying to do better and still many fall short with their words and thoughts.

What is the power of a word? That old “sticks and stones adage” is wrong…words can harm. While the tongue may have no bones, there is little doubt that its actions can strike the sharpest blows.

It is hard to believe the words used as descriptors in previous generations we would categorize today as derisive. Below are the words used to categorize levels of abilities just 100 years ago.

Idiots—Those so defective that the mental development never exceeds that of a normal child of about two years.
Imbeciles—Those whose development is higher than that of an idiot, but whose intelligence does not exceed that of a normal child of about seven years.
Morons—Those whose mental development is above that of an imbecile, but does not exceed that of a normal child of about twelve years.
— Edmund Burke Huey, Backward and Feeble-Minded Children, 1912

Huey was a recognized 20th century psychologist, but use of these words today would guarantee labeling him as a bully.

Some buildings remain in use today of the Fort Wayne Asylum (later School) for Feeble Minded Children. When the original 1889 school on State Street was demolished in 1983 a single small pillar of the entrance was preserved. Today it stands to remind us of its existence and is marked with a plaque referencing a once “place to learn to be productive citizens”.

Typical of the language of 1983, the students of the school were referenced as “mentally retarded children and adults” on that same plaque. In the mid-twentieth century the words “mentally retarded” with categories of mild, moderate and profound, were created to replace those used by Huey above. It wasn’t until October of 2010 that Congress passed Rosa’s Law. Rosa was an 8-year-old Maryland girl with Down Syndrome who was bullied and taunted by the “R” word.

With Rosa’s law came the requirement that person first language and the more respectful “intellectual disabilities” be used by all federal agencies.

Thanks to Rosa and many others, today we know better on the power of words. AWS Foundation asks you to join us to erase those two outdated words on Monday July 27th at 10am. The bronze plaque will be moved from that brick column to become part of the collection of the Fort Wayne History Center. A similar plaque will take its place but will instead reference the previous home for “children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities”

“Words are the clothes thoughts wear.” –  Samuel Beckett

Social Distancing

Self-isolation looks different for everyone. Some of us live alone, some of us are working from home with a house full of kids, some even live with front line workers. Each situation comes with different challenges; loneliness, distractions, anxiety, etc. Due to their heightened risk of contracting COVID-19, those with disabilities may not get to see their loved ones. They may not understand why they cannot go to their regular activities or that their routines have been altered. This could result in increased behaviors, sadness, and sensory sensitivities. Here are some tips to handle some of these factors.

Staying Connected

For those living in group homes, supported living homes, and long-term care facilities, losing visiting hours means losing connection to family and friends. Phone calls are great, but nothing can compare to in-person human interaction. While you can’t bypass stay at home and social distancing orders, you can do things that are extra-special to stay connected. Video calls are more accessible than ever through smart phone apps, Zoom, Google and even social media platforms. If you have the means, setup regular calls with family and friends; play games, share a virtual meal or just have a chat. For those wanting to go the extra mile, send letters and/or care packages. Hand-written letters show extra care and give the recipients something to continue to read for comfort.

Staying Engaged & Active

It’s easy to get in the habit of watching Netflix and laying on the couch when you can’t leave the house (and a little bit of that is fine). However, for our mental and physical health, it’s important to find ways to continue some of the activities we love in our “normal” lives. As day services, camps and schools are canceled, the daily activities those of all abilities enjoy are on hold. The great news is, many organizations are still offering some activities online! You can get a workout with Turnstone if you check out their Facebook page (they are also providing other wellness activities daily). Every Thursday you can enjoy at-home theatre workshops, including shadow puppets, on the Fort Wayne Youtheatre YouTube page. Check out these activities suggested by YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne Adaptive Services. More traditionally, you can play games, take walks and take up new (and old) hobbies.

Staying Calm

Many feel more anxiety than usual right now, which is understandable. The best way to combat that is to stay informed. Everyone, even kids, hear about COVID-19 daily. Instead of shielding them from the information, help them learn the facts. Put the information into as simple of terms as necessary for their level of understanding. Ensure them that if everyone follows the rules, they will be safe. The Indiana Resource Center for Autism has great social narratives for situations from bathroom routines to schedule changes. Sometimes it’s also a good idea to just turn off the news.

We know that we missed many activities that those of all abilities can enjoy while social distancing. Let us know about them by tagging us on Facebook (@AWSFoundation) and we will share them as we can. Also know that there are resources to support your needs, Lutheran Social Services has an ongoing list. Follow the social distancing orders, wash your hands and find new ways to stay engaged.

COVID-19 with medical icons surrounding it

From the CEO: COVID-19 Takeaway

For many of us, our world has a bit different focus right now than this time last month. For me, it is working from home with my dog and husband rather than in a new building with energetic groups coming in and out at every hour. The focus is less on the path towards an inclusive community where people of all abilities can thrive and more towards a healthier one where we all survive.

Pandemic is now a word we live with and not just a board game. I have an early memory related to a pandemic. It was of waiting in line, as a child, to get a sugar cube to avoid polio. Polio created a legitimate fear that, before 1955, children were kept inside on hot summer days, away from swimming pools and water, to avoid the spread of polio in the summer that could cripple the healthiest of young children as well as adults.

I also recall as a nurse in the early 1980’s envisioning a hospital filled with AIDS wards with the single purpose of providing end of life care to that disease just being identified. Little was known other than the fact that it was terminal and highly contagious.

I have experienced illnesses that are now extinguished, or almost. Pictures of my siblings and me with chickenpox and mumps are part of the family slide show.

Over the centuries we have seen not only polio and AIDS pandemics but also Spanish flu and yellow fever. We have seen tuberculosis and cholera outbreaks that have killed more than the COVID-19 deaths of the last four months. With each we have witnessed significant social change accompanying these major health crises.

With the major cholera outbreaks of the 19th century we saw home bathroom designs transformed to include sinks with running water.

With the fears of the AIDS epidemic we have seen greater acceptance of the use of condoms.

I wonder what we will take away from this  COVID-19 pandemic?

Will handshakes and hugs be the greetings of yesterday? Will our families take on saving patterns more like those of the depression era Greatest Generation so they will be prepared for the next occurrence? Will we see less international travel? Will masks that cover the smile of a stranger be routine? Will we relinquish some freedoms for the greater health of the community? Who knows?

I do know that AWS Foundation will have to work even harder to advocate for the rights of people of all abilities. This pandemic has initiated discussions around value of life when there are limited resources. This pandemic has moved us as a community from almost full employment to double digit unemployment and climbing. Communication is happening behind masks and on visual platforms which will exclude too many with sensory challenges. Public transportation, already not as robust as needed, is even less frequent as people avoid shared spaces.

AWS Foundation has been proud to provide Emergency Grants to more than two dozen nonprofit groups across northeast Indiana for the last four weeks. All we know is that there is more unknown before us. But, as with the epidemics of the past, we are part of a world that moves from identification to treatment and, almost always, to primary prevention. I am confident that is our path with COVID-19. In the meantime, our mission is the same. We are part of an inclusive community where people of all abilities have a path to live as independently as possible.

AWS Foundation provides EAP services for grantees through Crosswinds Grant

The links for the sites mentioned in this news release didn’t get included in the PDF, so we have placed them below:

Crosswinds Counseling Information

AWS Foundation COVID-19 Response

Foellinger Foundation COVID-19 Response

News Release - AWS Foundation provides EAP services for grantees through Crosswinds Grant