“Beam Me Up, Scotty”

This iconic command from Captain Kirk in the 1960’s Star Trek series quickly became a favorite catchphrase.  Getting “beamed up” to the Starship Enterprise meant a speedy escape from unfriendly aliens armed with powers and weapons to destroy the Enterprise and its crew.  Aside from the humorous notions of earthlings using the command to escape their own undesirable situations, it did serve as an intriguing vision of future transportation.

Back on earth, transportation options are increasing – think Lyft, Uber and self-driving cars – yet six million people with disabilities are still unable to access transportation for their basic needs, according to the most recent government transport survey conducted in 2003. The Americans with Disabilities Act provided equality for riders but only for public transport:  all new vehicles used for public transit must be accessible, transit operators must provide paratransit services for individuals who cannot use available mass transit, and existing rail stations and all new rail stations and facilities must be accessible.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that everyone takes transportation for granted and is usually the last thing we think about, if we think about it at all.

E.B. White, the author of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, said, “Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car.” As we advocate for inclusive employment, social and recreational opportunities, transportation has to be central to the conversation. Not just the accessibility but also affordability.  Allen County’s transportation services for the disability community are good but keeping up with ridership demand is an ongoing challenge.  Citilink’s Access service projects 58,000 passenger trips in 2017 in addition to 22,000 trips departing from the fixed routes.  An alternative to mass transit is CTN, providing 50,000 passenger trips annually for 3,800 individuals unable to access public transportation.  Federal funding cuts in all transportation programs make service expansion difficult, if not impossible, especially in rural communities.

Local taxi services, along with Lyft and Uber drivers using accessible vehicles, can help meet the demand however, there are too few and the costs are often unaffordable.  Self-driving cars offer the next best solution to meeting ridership capacity and hopefully, are also affordable.  Disability and transportation advocates have been working with companies on accessible design such as style of door handles, floor height, lighting, ramps, lifts, voice-activated navigation and communication systems to accommodate individuals with any type of disability.

The future is promising for how quickly people with disabilities will get to where they want to go, and when they want to go.  Scotty – we may not need you after all.

Patti Hays

From the CEO: Transportation

Earlier this year I visited Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and learned a little more of the story of the Wright Brothers and their first flight.  That initial flight of just 852 feet opened the door to a rapid evolution of not just flight but discovery of a freedom through a new means of transportation.   One cannot look at the news today and not see stories that center on transportation.  There are stories about travel to Mars with SpaceX’s Elon Musk as well as the promise of autonomous (self-driving) vehicles. We also viewed the devastation of Puerto Rico when, without transportation, there was no way to distribute supplies after Hurricane Irma.

Transportation and specifically travel are synonymous with freedom and independence. Slaves could not have traveled without the necessary papers.  Loss of driving privileges for the elderly has been linked with serious depression and suicides.  For the person with a disability access to transportation is life transforming.  Whether it is walking, public transit or vehicle travel, transportation is the access to work, shopping, recreating, socialization and medical and spiritual care.  One third of people with disabilities have NO public transit available to them. For too many the biggest barrier to work is dependable transportation.  For too many there is no sense of freedom.

Northeast Indiana has a mixture of urban and rural areas with varying transportation options.  With more than 100 miles of trails (for those with the ability) shopping, churches and socialization may be a little more accessible.  Public transit and paratransit with Citilink and CTN in Allen County and regional providers in surrounding counties are invaluable as they provide access to planned medical care and events.  Spontaneous opportunities or sudden changes of plans, however, can be problematic.  For the person where income isn’t a problem, there are significantly less transportation problems…but those are not the routine.

In 1800, a trip from NYC to Indiana would have taken five weeks on horseback.  In just 50 years, that was trimmed to just two days as trains were introduced. Now, astronauts circle the globe in about 90 minutes. AWS Foundation dreams of an evolutional change to provide the freedom of transportation for the person with a disability.  The promise of autonomous vehicles will be truly transformational if we can overcome the barrier of cost.

The United States, one of the only countries with the ability to put people in space does not even rank in the top ten globally for public transportation. The country that can have an astronaut seeing two sunrises and sunsets in an hour and a half, can surely find a consistent, reliable and responsive means to get a person from home to a destination to see that same sunset or movie and experience some sense of independence.

The Best Prize

Remember when you landed your first job?

If you were a high school student, you probably didn’t have much work experience, if any, but that didn’t matter. You were willing to work, the business was willing to hire you because there were job openings and you would get on-the-job training.  Applying for the job was easy. Fill out the application in person, maybe an interview was required and shortly the phone call or letter came. Now think about what influenced your decision to accept the job. Immediate need for money, your parents told you to get a job, or you had a career goal and pursued a specific job.

Self-employment might have been an option such as mowing yards, babysitting, cleaning houses or setting up a lemonade stand. Family and friends likely were encouraging supporters both financially (by hiring you) and emotionally by telling you that “whatever you set your mind to you could do it.”

If you were a high school student with a disability (intellectual or physical), would you have had the same opportunities and support? You were willing to work, jobs were plentiful and on-the-job training was available. Then barriers appear – completing the application was challenging, as was the interview. Add to that skepticism from others on your ability to do the job or becoming an entrepreneur.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far and away the best prize life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities, employment rates have not risen significantly in spite of appropriate accommodations in the workplace, accessibility to buildings, schools and public transportation. In the 90’s the employment rate of individuals with disabilities was 50.2% compared to 84.4% without disabilities. However, the recession took its toll on any progress as the first to lose jobs were those with disabilities.

Given our country’s current robust economy the employment outlook is, not surprisingly, encouraging. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Report for July 2017 indicated 33.1% of people with disabilities were working yet the unemployment rate tells a different story – the number of individuals with a disability looking for work is twice that of individuals without a disability.

As Indiana approaches a near historically low 3% unemployment rate, “we are hiring” signs are everywhere. But who are we hiring?

A key initiative of AWS Foundation is advancing Education and Employment for individuals of all ages and abilities. We believe linking education and employment helps ensure that students with disabilities acquire skills to be successful in the workplace – counting money, placing an order, telling time, learning a work process, taking public transportation, engaging in informal conversation or problem-solving, describing a situation or issue. In-school experiences coupled with community experiences reinforce learning and help students identify potential careers. Such job-readiness activities close the experience gap for jobs posted “no experience necessary.” Grants supporting several organizations in northeast Indiana are becoming models for how to best teach these skills, track progress and ultimately place graduates in jobs.

So, what can you do to give a person with a disability the best prize life has to offer? How about that first job…

Want to explore hiring individuals with a disability?  Several new efforts are underway to connect employers with organizations providing training and placement. Let us know how we can help.



Patti Hays

From the CEO: Education

When I was born in the time of poodle skirts and Elvis Presley, infants born with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD) were often institutionalized or perhaps remained at home under the care of a family member. Since the advent of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) in 1990, we now see more than 90% of those born with ID/DD go on to a mainstream education in public schools.

Since 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that “states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to the more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.” Amended in 2015, this law states that “Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.”
I am hopeful that Indiana’s recent commitment of funds for pre-school education as well as enhanced career and technical education funding will result in better outcomes for the more than 32,000 special education students across the state in achieving those educational results. AWS Foundation is proud to provide grants to some of the schools in Northeast Indiana to try to augment those already stretched state and local funds.

We have some wonderful elementary education teachers out there who are trying with outstanding fortitude to see every one of their students make progress with each school year towards that goal of full participation and economic self-sufficiency. Yes…they work towards those goals with all students in primary grade school.

That vision for possibility starts far earlier than high school graduation. Every person has a dream and a vision for what the future holds for them. Each child deserves the same message and vision of a life as a contributing member of a community; that learning is lifelong; and that they have potential. The “tyranny of low expectation” has held back too many from independence, friends, income and a feeling of self-worth.

There has been recent discussion of whether or not to enforce IDEA (yes, it is a law and thus needs to be enforced). This is a civil right for these young students and not an “irritating problem” as some would suggest. Students who are in diverse classrooms are more likely to grow to adults welcoming and appreciative of diversity. Our communities are better when all members are invited to participate as they are able. We have seen great progress in my lifetime but imagine “What are the possibilities?”

AWS Foundation Announces $504,708 in Grants

Fort Wayne, IN ─ The AWS Foundation recently awarded $504,708 in grants to 18 non-profit organizations that benefit individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities in Northeast Indiana. These organizations include:

Achieva Resources: $70,000 for the Guardianship Program.

Audiences Unlimited: $13,910 to pilot a Music Enrichment program at Life Adult Day Academy.

Carey Services: $13,250 matching grant for vehicle purchase and accessibility modifications.

Churubusco Elementary School: $12,500 for classroom sensory kits.

Coesse Elementary School: $10,000 for sensory room.

Community Transportation Network (CTN): $23,264 matching grant for two lift-equipped vehicles.

GiGi’s Playhouse: $27,500 for a career development program.

Huntington University: $35,000 for the ABLE program.

Joe’s Kids: $25,000 for operating support.

Magical Meadows: $15,000 for the therapeutic riding program.

Mental Health America: $30,000 for Kids on the Block; $75,000 for Volunteer Advocates for Seniors and Incapacitated Adults (VASIA) program.

Pathfinder Services: $12,500 for Creative Abundance program.

RSVP of Allen County: $25,000 for I CAN volunteer program.

Scherer Resources: $30,000 for vocational training and job placement program.

The League: $20,000 for Youth Services program.

Trine University: $36,000 for medical dispenser market research.

University of Saint Francis: $5,784 for Jesters’ North Campus Auditorium sound board.

Visiting Nurse: $25,000 for patient care and grief services.

AWS Foundation donates Buddy Benches to area schools to promote friendship for all people of all abilities in celebration of their 10th Anniversary.

Fort Wayne (August 10, 2017) – AWS Foundation, in celebration of their 10th Anniversary, will donate ten buddy benches to area schools to promote friendship for all people of all abilities. The buddy bench, combined with an education program, teaches children the importance of inclusion. Each bench displays an original design created by a local artist to honor four of the foundation’s founding board members: Ian Rolland, Ben Eisbart, Andy Brooks and Patti Hays.

“As we celebrate our 10th anniversary, it is important to recognize and honor the work done by several of the foundation’s founding board members as they retire from the board. With the community’s recent loss of Ian Rolland, this recognition seemed even more poignant,” says Tom O’Neill, AWS Foundation Board Chair. “Without their vision and leadership, AWS Foundation wouldn’t exist. They have helped thousands of people with disabilities in northeast Indiana.”

While it is common for any child to go through at least some period of social discomfort, studies show that children with intellectual and developmental disabilities tend to be less accepted by their peers, struggle more in social situations and experience feelings of isolation for extended periods. The buddy bench is a simple concept that has been adopted by educators around the world to support social acceptance.

“When a child feels lonely, they sit on the buddy bench to let others know they want someone to play with,” Patti Hays, CEO of AWS Foundation states. “Fellow students playing in the area see someone on the bench and know to ask them to play. It’s an easy way for kids to connect and make friends.”

Teachers spend countless hours in the classroom helping children improve academically. A buddy bench program helps educate children on the importance of acceptance, peer support and inclusion when they are at recess.

At Home with a Disability

As children we dream of what we want to be when we grow up and of all the places we will go. For many, this dream includes where we will live and what our home will look like. Coming of age and moving out of the family home is seen as a rite of passage to adulthood but for someone with a disability, their dream of independence can bring added challenges. For them, leaving the family home may not be an option.

The stark reality is that of everyone with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the United States, it is estimated that 89% are supported by family members with only 13% receiving support services while residing outside of their family home. While the Indiana Medicaid Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) Waiver program provides individualized supports to assist individuals, it’s estimated that 75% of those living at home do not receive any support services. This means that a family member must provide for all of their loved one’s needs for their lifetime. As parents and other family caregivers grow older, their need for help and support becomes even more urgent.

When it comes to caring for a family member, most people think about the need to care for elderly parents. But a parent taking care of a child who is unable to move out on their own is often more long term and comes with its own unique challenges. Parents in their 70s and 80s continue to struggle to care for their adult child. In many cases, their child is not eligible to enter a Community Integration and Habilitation Waiver Program until the death of their parents as their primary caregiver, until their parents are over 80 years old or until they are unable to care for their child and there is no other family member to care for them.

That’s why AWS Foundation is working to increase access to housing for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families that reflects their personal needs, wants and abilities. We understand why it’s important to support grant making to organizations providing home modification programs such as NeighborLink that give individuals and families the ability to age in place, offer assistive equipment or upgrade areas of their home. For aging parents and individuals living with mobility impairments, behaviors or sensory issues, a home with universal design features such as stepless entrances and wider doorways, an open floor plan, specialized lighting, hard flooring and accessible bathroom features are not just convenience items but may be required for daily living.

We believe that every individual should have the opportunity to live in the home of their own choosing that supports their desire to live as independently as possible. Whether an individual’s dream is to navigate their family home without assistance or, if they do have the opportunity to live independently, working to expand shared living opportunities, AWS Foundation wants to help.

AWS Foundation Announces $1,514,122 in Grants

Fort Wayne, IN ─ The AWS Foundation recently awarded $1,514,122 in grants to 19 non-profit organizations that benefit individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities in Northeast Indiana. These organizations include:

Bowen Center: $15,000 for Autism Center Certification.

Children’s Choir of Huntington County: $10,000 for the Joyful Songsters Inclusive Choir.

Citilink Access: $50,000 for on-demand Access service.

East Allen County Schools: $10,032 for TeachTown social skills curriculum for special needs elementary school classrooms.

Fairfield Elementary School: $10,000 for Pedals for Success classroom sensory equipment.

Fort Wayne Civic Theatre: $14,000 for Project “Lights Up!” productions.

Fort Wayne Youtheatre: $6,000 for Backstage Insight program.

Greater Fort Wayne, Inc.: $7,600 for two 2018 Leadership Fort Wayne scholarships for individuals with disabilities.

HearCare Connections: $25,000 for low-income hearing loss clinic and related services.

Indiana Deaf Camp Foundation: $5,000 for camper scholarships.

Junior Achievement: $30,000 for functional skills curriculum development and volunteer training.

Life Adult Day Academy: $30,000 for fire sprinkler system.

McMillen Health: $25,000 for Varied Abilities Days health and wellness programs.

NeighborLink: $30,000 for home maintenance and repair services for individuals with disabilities.

Passages: $70,000 for the Spotlight Avenue performing arts program and $20,000 for Creative Abundance arts program.

Turnstone: $114,490 for sports, recreation and wellness for youth and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities; $1,000,000 to help fund the Phase 2 Construction Project shortfall.

Visually Impaired Preschool Services: $17,000 for early intervention services in Northeast Indiana.

Woodside Middle School: $10,000 for a sensory room.

YWCA: $15,000 for inclusive playground equipment.

The 8th Annual disAbilities Expo Was a Success!

We’re glad that so many of you chose to participate in this year’s disABILITIES Expo. This one-stop resource makes it convenient for individuals and families to connect with others, learn answers to so many important questions and understand what’s available to improve quality of life for those living with a disability. AWS Foundation is proud to provide financial support for this valuable resource that helps so many in our community. Whether attending, performing or an exhibitor, we hope the day was productive for you.

On behalf of the Expo Planning Committee and AWS Foundation, thank you to those individuals and organizations that helped people with disabilities explore opportunities, expand possibilities and experience everything!

 General Attendance: 1254

Volunteers: 49

Exhibitor Booths: 114

Performances: 10

Sports Exhibition Games: 2

Patti Hays

From the CEO

“People are more than just the way they look.” (Madeleine L’Engle)

I received a vacation booklet in the mail last month and tossed it away, even though it highlighted a few trips that my husband and I have considered. He asked why I dismissed it so quickly and I said “the pictures were all of old people…I want a more active trip”. Now, I have long passed the point where I could be considered in my youth, but I knew that I was looking to join a group of people who were not all retirees with great grandchildren. I was looking for an image that represented how I saw myself. I wanted to fit in and belong.

Imagine being a person with a disability and seeing every commercial, every store insert, and every vacation brochure filled with only able bodied individuals…no one like you. No one visually impaired, no one in a wheelchair, everyone with four functioning limbs and no one with one of the myriad of diagnoses and syndromes who make up 20% of the country’s population. Advertisements are more diverse than what I saw growing up, but today’s more diverse ads primarily address racial diversity….until recently.

Photo by Steve Vorderman

Look now at the ads and catalogs from local manufacturer Matilda Jane or perhaps Target, Nordstrom or Gap. These and many more companies are redefining diversity. Fashion companies are leading the movement and there is one powerful woman who is helping to shake things up….Katie Driscoll and her non-profit organization Changing the Face of Beauty (CTFOB). She knows that people with disabilities are the biggest untapped minority in the world and thus is encouraging all companies to show people of all abilities in their advertising. http://changingthefaceofbeauty.org/

Photo by Kera Cervoni

AWS Foundation was able to do one small thing to help advance Katie’s vision earlier this year. With our disABILITIES Expo in May, we held a CTFOB head shot photo clinic. One of the obstacles in getting people with varying abilities in advertising and stock photography portfolios is the barrier of getting possible models in front of advertisers. With a wonderful group of volunteer photographers, 37 area young people were able to get professional head shot photos completed at nominal cost to themselves. Through Changing the Face of Beauty, these images will be shared with modeling and advertising agencies to help identify a larger pool of models; models who may not match that traditional image of “perfection”.

A special thank you to all the volunteers who helped make this special event possible. Each of you moves us one step closer with providing a more accurate portrayal of special needs people and promotes inclusion and awareness. Just as I wanted to see a person like myself in that vacation brochure so does the person with a disability seek the image of the person like themselves as a consumer, an athlete, a student, a musician, as a member of their community as portrayed by the media.


Thank you to our CTFOB volunteers:


Michelle Snyder, Erica Brown, Steve Vorderman, Kera Cervoni, Jill Kocian and Bonnie Manning

Hair, Makeup and Clothing Experts:

Abby Miller- Matilda Jane Trunk Keeper

Sarah Richendollar- Hair Styling

Alicia Lewis- Noonday Jewelry