Group of two women working at the office. Mature woman and young woman with Down syndrome working at inclusive teamwork.

More Than Awareness

By: Andie Mosley

As an autistic person, “awareness” months always make me chuckle. Often interpreting things literally, I think, “people aren’t aware this exists?” Of course, I understand the actual purpose is to spread awareness of the struggles, needs, messages, etc., of whichever cause or group the month is celebrating. Bringing awareness leads to action, usually in volunteering time or donating money to reach a specific goal, for example, cancer research. However, during this Disability Awareness Month, I would like to propose a new challenge for the celebration.

Last year in April, known as Autism Awareness Month, autistic self-advocates made the change to celebrate “autism acceptance” rather than awareness. I’m not suggesting copying that specific idea, but I like the thought of shifting the message to something more direct. Rather than just being aware of the challenges faced by people with disabilities in our communities, think about what you can do to become an ally. Donating to organizations that serve individuals with disabilities or volunteering your time to these organizations is indeed important. Still, there are things we can do in our everyday lives that are as easy as simple changes in mindset.

A common mistake I see when people try to support individuals with disabilities is infantilization and sometimes dehumanization. If you’re talking about kids, treating them like kids is fine. But a disabled adult has adult emotions, adult experiences, and adult aspirations. It’s both dangerous and offensive to treat us otherwise. Think of disability as an identifying factor such as race or gender. Having a disability doesn’t make us less capable, we just experience the world and approach challenges differently. And this is not to be inspiring, nor does it warrant a “sure you can.” It just is. If someone with a disability gets asked to prom, it makes national news; but a non-disabled teenager does not make news for the same. Neither situation is newsworthy. Paralympians coming home with a medal is exciting because they represent our country as some of the best athletes in the world. Trischa Zorn should be no more inspiring to you than Michael Phelps. It takes zero effort to treat someone as your equal, yet it is the most important thing you can do to support individuals with disabilities.

Another aspect of disability allyship is to consider how decisions impact us. Are you aware of how policies made by our leaders affect our livelihoods? Are you calling out friends and family that use offensive language such as the “r” word? Small acts of kindness such as ensuring the sidewalk in front of your house is clear of snow or debris can make a huge impact on someone who uses a wheelchair or crutches. Be sure your kids understand inclusion and that they are kind to kids with disabilities at school and on the playground. Please encourage them to make friends with kids that are different than them. Remember that before you help someone with a disability, you ask them if they would like your help. When approaching a disabled person who may have someone else with them, address the person with a disability directly, do not assume they can’t speak for themselves. I could list examples all day, but it comes down to treating people with disabilities as people and expanding your horizons to understand people that experience the world differently than you (which can go beyond disability).

This advocacy should bleed into our work as well. Create an environment where a person with a disability feels comfortable and safe to self-identify. When working on diversity, equity, and inclusion, remember disability is part of that. When planning events or projects that impact the community, include people with disabilities, in not only the decision-making but also the ideas.

A wiser person than me once said that when you design for disability, it benefits everyone. If we design how we think about disability to be better allies, we will be better equipped to treat all people with equity and inclusion.

platform for wheelchairs, prams, elderly people in the cabin of a modern and comfortable city bus or electric bus.

From the CEO: Accessibility Around the World

“We are so lucky to have ADA in this country.”

That was my thought when I recently visited a city that, while beautiful with its cobblestone streets and trams throughout, made me wonder how a person with a physical disability could navigate those historic streets. I quickly concluded that the person with a disability was likely living a life of seclusion when, at the end of the week, I realized I had seen no wheelchairs and only one person on crutches.

Inability to navigate environments that are both visually oriented as well as busy and cluttered limits daily mobility and contributes to fear of traveling for those with disabilities.

Consistently, the most accessible cities are those with accessible 24/7 transportation.

No city can claim to be fully accessible because the definition of accessibility is as unique as the person, but I still decided to do the research. Is there a “most accessible” city? What I found was a list of attributes that were highlighted in a particular city. What can Fort Wayne do to enhance accessibility?

  1. Pedestrian crossings can be activated by approved cards to allow a longer time for crossing.  (Singapore)
  2. ALL buses are wheelchair accessible. (Barcelona)
  3. Beacon technology helps visually impaired residents move independently with the use of a smartphone.  (Warsaw, Poland and Seattle, WA)
  4. Pavements in good repair with curb cuts and tactile paving.  (Denver)
  5. Public toilet map including accessible bathrooms with changing place. (Melbourne, Australia)
  6. Universal design principles for all new buildings, products, and environments. (Oslo, Norway)
  7. Handrails on both sides of stairs, wider gates, and hearing loops throughout the metro system. (Seattle, WA)
  8. Hotels with rooms that include ceiling hoists.
  9. Subways with priority elevators, tactile wayfinding, and visual & audible indicators on platforms. (Singapore)
  10. Taxis that accommodate wheelchairs for airport transfers.
  11. Removal of cobblestone and brick-paved streets. (Warsaw, Poland)
  12. Accessible attractions offering ability to go to the head of the line, free entry for companion, guide dog-friendly rules, and free shuttle services.

Fort Wayne International Airport is in the process of a multi-year renovation that will include many enhanced features. These changes will include a family bathroom and changing place, a sensory room, a hearing loop, and a cane trail. This month they announced the implementation of The Sunflower Program to help identify those with invisible disabilities who might need a little extra assistance as they navigate the airport. Watch for more information as AWS Foundation provides grants and ongoing training to help us be a little more accessible to those who call Northeast Indiana home….or just come to visit.

Board Member Feature: Susan Trent, Chair

Susan TrentI serve as the AWS Foundation Chair because some experiences shape a person’s life.

For me, it was a gym class full of 5th grade square dancers in 1980. Square dancing posed two equal discomforts: 1) boys; and 2) the order of selection. This was especially true for a quiet bookworm who sported a hairstyle consisting mostly of tangles and two large barrettes, who wore Toughskins rather than Jordache jeans and whose Jelly shoes were devoid of beaded, friendship pins. Last to be picked – guaranteed exclusion – and a spot on the sideline. It was there, against that wall, that I would inevitably watch my classmates “Promenade” and “Do Si Do” for the hour-long gym class.

In a scene reminiscent of a John Hughes film, Chip Baxter (the most popular, athletic, smart, attractive boy in school) stood at one end of the gym – and slowly and very intentionally pointed his index finger – and through the sheer magnetic power of his grammar school social status – silently commanded the adolescent foursome pairs to split in two – not unlike Moses with his staff causing the Red Sea to part for the people of Israel.  It was at the other end of that gym that I sat with my back against the wall. Above the din of these Swatch Watch-wearing preteens, Chip pointed at me and roared: “I want to dance with you!”

To this day, I struggle to fully describe the initial wonderment and enormity of being really seen for the first time by every kid in that gym – and my great joy at being included in the dance. Those jubilant feelings were quickly dashed when Chip qualified his public pronouncement with “… because you are the only girl I haven’t danced with.” Holding back tears, I sat down and sat silent – resuming my place on the wall.

For the Chip’s in this community – our community and business leaders – your informed and thoughtful words, decisions and actions genuinely matter to removing needless barriers and creating significant and varied opportunities benefitting and enriching not only those with disabilities but the community as a whole. For the person on the wall – the disabled individual who may feel marginalized – they can tell you better than anyone how very empowering it is to be seen, heard and valued, to be able to contribute to and participate in the life of this community, to live as independently as possible and to reach their potential.

AWS Foundation, through its grants to amazing nonprofits in this community, through the FINDER program, and through strategic partnership with our affiliated organizations, namely, Benchmark Human Services, the AWRC, and AWS Holdings – educates and empowers – helping to take diversity from a meager, static measure in time – to inclusion as an achievable, flourishing investment in everybody’s future.

Shall we dance?

Young woman in blue shirt posing with her arm around a boy with a disability in a red shirt. They are at a playground.

From the CEO: Collective Effervescence

In May, I attended an outdoor gathering with my husband’s partners and co-workers when I fully realized how much I had missed the joy that comes with gathering with friends. We have been cautious during the pandemic and limited face-to-face meetings with anyone. Masks, social distancing, limited group sizes, and short times together were the routine for all but our inner circle. Enough people had been vaccinated in that May gathering that masks were shed in that large, ventilated room.

By the end of the evening, I was energized. I had talked with people with whom I had only seen via social media for more than a year. There was a back-and-forth exchange of stories and updates that filled my heart. I did not fully realize what had been missed since the spring of 2020.

I learned earlier this month the name of that feeling: Collective Effervescence. In his New York Times article, author Adam Grant shared that term, first coined by sociologist Emile Durkheim, as “the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose.”  He goes on to write that even introverts are energized with social interaction. Emotions, as with COVID 19, are contagious.

We laugh more when we are in a group than when we are alone. In a crowd, I sing louder with my favorite Jimmy Buffet song than when in the car alone.  My cheers with a homerun are always more exuberant with the hometown crowd. Even yoga practice in a group brings greater peace and inner calm than the one done in private.

That shared exuberance is the desired outcome of the grants from AWS Foundation when we fund the arts, parks and all areas of social enrichment. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that those opportunities for collective effervescence are available to everyone. Since March of 2020, we have all lost that shared purpose. Church services, book clubs, and family gatherings can all happen via zoom, but they lack the shared energy and harmony.

Every day more and more of us are vaccinated. There are many days of warm weather left in the summer. Parks give us room to stretch out and laugh, sing and dance in a group. Reach out to your neighbors, FB friends, and all those who you haven’t seen in the past year. Invite them over for a dose of collective effervescence.

Black History Month

From the CEO: A Year in Our Building

As we wrap up 2020 (Thank God), it is our last newsletter of the year. Andie Mosley is very organized with identifying themes for each month’s newsletter at the beginning of the year. We know when articles are due and what the focus should be, often timely to the given month.

Looking at the title for this month, it was all I could do not to laugh out loud(I did let out a little bit of a chuckle).

It was December of 2019 that we were able to move into our new building and the one year anniversary was the opportunity to reflect on a year’s worth of activities.

Looking from the outside you can see that it is a beautiful building. You will just have to take my word that it is similarly magnificent inside because since March, we have been in a virtual lockdown.

Our goal was to have a building that would host diverse community groups in this accessible space built and furnished with universal design concepts. We anticipated groups in the evenings and on weekends. We envisioned providing internships and work experience for individuals with varying abilities. Two well-equipped classrooms would host educational sessions and board meetings. We included a spacious parking lot to manage the throngs. You can credit the Yiddish proverb or Public Enemy, but we were reminded: Man plans God laughs (or Woman plans God laughs).

It has been our home for 2020 and it has done its job even if it was not as envisioned.

PJ and Patti preparing masks for service providers

  • When office space is designed to accommodate power wheelchairs or service animals using extra-wide halls and space between work stations, it is ideal for social distancing
  • Protected doorways with high porticos served ideally for distributing masks and gallons of hand sanitizer on blustery April days to dozens of grantees and service agencies
  • A large parking lot is an ideal spot for a food distribution site
  • Remote conferencing facilities built to allow inclusion of those who might have transportation problems were ideal for Zoom staff calls and virtual board meetings
  • A family bathroom helped minimize the spread of germs through body waste by providing extra private use. Look it up
  • Our new phone system seamlessly transferred all calls to individual cell phones giving the perception that the office was staffed by everyone on each business day
  • Sidewalks and landscaping provided a path for staff to walk when fresh air was the best medicine
  • One touch door opener makes it easier to open doors with a touch of the elbow after washing hands

Sure, we missed seeing all of you in our offices but we have gotten very good at zoom virtual site visits. While you haven’t been visiting, the birds have been enjoying the bird feeder and there was one red tailed hawk that had a spring banquet on a couple of goslings.

Celebrating Vicki’s birthday via Zoom

It has been a busy year, perhaps not how we had planned, but we have had a safe and efficient work environment that has kept us working as a team to meet our mission. We will plan for a better 2021. Did I just hear another laugh?

Giving Tuesday 2020

Every year, philanthropy is an important part of community involvement. This year, non-profits need your help more than ever. AWS Foundation offers a match to direct disability service providers in Northeast Indiana each year in the amount of $10,000. This means, that if you donate to these organizations on December 1, 2020, your donation will double. These are the organizations eligible for the match this year:

Man in wheelchair at base of large staircase unable to move up. Able-bodied man running up the stairs to financial gain.

From the CEO: The Hardest Part of Disability is Being Ignored

I have been saturated lately with “…ism” words. Words like racism, sexism, and ageism to name a few.  They each reference a form of oppression. Cruel or unjust treatment to individuals in our community who are different, often through no choice of their own.

One other ism is ableism. Ableism is when a person with a disability is stigmatized, stereotyped or pitied or, in a simpler definition, ableism is the belief that disability is a bad thing.

Oppression can be expressed in different ways. It can be exhibited personally through attitudes and behaviors. Are you likely to interrupt a woman before she is done speaking or do you overlook an older applicant? Oppression can be demonstrated culturally through language and norms. What words are in your vocabulary that might reflect that cultural oppression? Girls? Sweetie? Thug? Or is the oppression seen institutionally with restrictions with education and housing? How diverse is the neighborhood you live in?

Fort Wayne has started a new initiative to address all oppression and AWS Foundation is joining. I would encourage you to learn about United Front. Throughout Fort Wayne, individuals, work groups, anyone who is interested, is learning about the damage of oppression and working to identify a path towards the goal of equity and inclusion. We are joining in that path to inclusivity for all because we know that true inclusive thinking is acknowledging that:

disability is a wonderful part of diversity
disability is a part of Fort Wayne
disability is more than a diagnosis; it is a cultural identity
people with disabilities have the right to live where they want and the way they want.
I heard someone this week say that we needed to get used to the “D” word. There are many who have a physical and/or mental condition that limits how they interact with their environment (yes, that is the definition of disability). Our opportunity is to meet that disability with compassion because the hardest part of being disabled is being ignored.

To quote the philosopher Schopenhauer, “Compassion is the basis of morality”. I aspire to meet each person with a disability with compassion. Not pity, for that is ableism.

Compassion is kindness and caring and the willingness to help another. Compassion literally means “to suffer together” but I also believe it is compassionate to prevent the suffering of others. If we work to allow an individual equal standing and access in our society, isn’t that compassion? To see and acknowledge all persons, to introduce yourself, to call each person by name, to include them in the conversation, to invite each to join in, to offer a seat at your table, that is compassion in that you have truly engaged and not ignored.

The opposite of compassion is indifference. We are a moral community. We cannot be indifferent to those who are different.

Voting with a Disability

Your vote ensures your perspective is considered in the determination of our public officials at the federal, state, and local levels. Individuals with disabilities need to be included in that decision. All Indiana citizens, minus a few considerations, have the right to vote. This involves individuals with disabilities. Better yet, you have the right to access voting by any means needed. So, what are your options?

In-Person Voting

If you are willing and able to show up on November 3rd, go for it! You can also vote early at the locations, dates, and times determined by your county’s election board. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires that there be at least one accessible voting machine at each polling location. You are also entitled to assistance either from a friend or relative, or two poll workers (one from each political party). If you bring someone to assist you, make sure they remember to bring their ID too.

Voting by Mail

You may be uncomfortable receiving assistance at the polls or unable to physically make it to your polling location. That’s okay! Individuals with disabilities are eligible for absentee voting by mail. The first step is completing the absentee ballot request form which can be found at https://indianavoters.in.gov/MVPHome/PrintDocuments. You can mail that request to your county’s election board (a list of locations by county will be attached to the form). The request for an absentee ballot is due by 11:59 pm on October 22. Once the request is submitted, you will receive your ballot in the mail. It is better to request your ballot as soon as possible as the mail does take time. Once you receive your ballot, fill it out and mail it back to the election board, or hand deliver it to their office, by Noon on November 3. Remember, the ballot must be in their office by this deadline, please mail it with as early as possible to ensure it makes it there in time . The United States Postal Service suggests two weeks.

Voting by Traveling Board

If you do not wish to mail in your ballot, you are entitled to have a traveling board of a bi-partisan team come to your home with your ballot. A member from each party is present to ensure everything is processed fairly. You can fill out your ballot yourself, or with the assistance of a family member/friend/caregiver, or the traveling board team, then hand the ballot to the team to take with them that day to be counted. If you are unable to sign the ballot yourself another person present can do this for you. The person signing for you must write their name and address on the ballot as well. If you are able to make a mark, it is recommended to do so. You can find the form to request a traveling board vote at https://indianavoters.in.gov/MVPHome/PrintDocuments, which must be submitted to your county’s election board by noon on November 2.

Whichever method you choose, get out there and vote! The deadline to register to vote is October 5 and you can do that online at https://indianavoters.in.gov.