DD Council Connection - August 2019

logo of dd council connection newsletter bannerDD Council Connection is a way for the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council to introduce to you our Council members, provide updates on the work we do and the grant projects we manage, and inform you on the activities and initiatives of Ohio's community of self-advocates and others who work on behalf of people with disabilities and their families. We hope you enjoy this e-newsletter. Please share your thoughts, story ideas and event calendar submissions with us at DDCInfo@dodd.ohio.gov.

This month's articles include:

The State of Tech: Getting and Communicating Information

Logo with the words The State of TechThis is the second of a four-part series, The State of Tech, as it applies to technology access for all Ohioans with develomental disabilities. Last month, we covered the overall state of technology access in Ohio in the article Technology Access in Ohio. This month, we look at how people are getting and communicating information about technology. The next article will be released in September 2019 and will discuss the need to expand broadband access in Ohio. We hope you find this information helpful and invite you to send us your comments on this issue brief series. 

Mainstream Technology and People with Disabilities

When talking about his Amazon smart speaker with Alexa, Robert Shuemak catches himself using human pronouns to describe the device. Like many Americans, he uses his speaker, laptop and cell phone every day. But Shuemak has been legally blind since birth and was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy ataxia at the age of 20, and these tools weren’t designed to assist him.

Off-the-shelf technology refers to devices or applications that were not created specifically as assistive technologies for people with developmental disabilities, but individuals like Shuemak use them to increase their productivity, get information and communicate daily. Without these technologies, he says, he wouldn’t be able to be a part of society today.

“Anything you can do on a computer, I can do,” said Shuemak, an advocacy support advisor for the Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services. “And without the technology of a screen reader I would not be able to do it. That’s how I got through college, is with assistive technology.”

Shuemak reads his emails using JAWS, a text-to-speech converter, and he answers them by dictating a response, which he can do on his iPhone. Despite the variance in individual need and ability, many people with developmental disabilities can get value out of off-the-shelf technologies, especially with slight modifications or additional software.

In addition to being an avid user of technology, Shuemak is heavily involved in educating and informing others about technology and the needs of people with disabilities. In addition to his work at Hamilton County DD Services, he is a former member of the Ohio DD Council and served as the first chairperson for Council’s Technology & Communication Committee. He was also named to the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities Technology First Council and provided valuable input to help shape the recommendations made to the Governor to increase technology access for everyone.

Take Action! Be a part of the technology movement! Find ways to become involved within your community to educate and inform about the importance of technology for people with developmental disabilities. Take a look at Robert’s video series, How I See It, for ideas about advocating for accessible technology.

Discovering What Technology Can Do for You

“One girl is in her mid-20s,” said Connie Hartman, an assistive technology specialist for the Medina County Board of Developmental Disabilities. “She had never had a device before, and she’s nonverbal. Over the last two years, she’s started using an iPad with communication software on it, and she presents at board meetings, she engages with people, she’s able to tell people that she likes The Hunger Games and that she’s part of 4-H. And now people have found out she has this wicked, fun sense of humor, and she’s really engaging.”

The ability to use a laptop or tablet to communicate, as opposed to a clunky, older piece of assistive technology, allows people with disabilities to use the same technology as people without disabilities. Likewise, a growing effort in the technology industry to provide built-in accessibility features for devices, applications and websites indicates that a more inclusive digital world is possible. As the Internet continues to grow more integral to society, disability support specialists are working to make sure no one gets left behind.

“As society gets faster and faster with technology, I think there’s a high potential that there could be a big gap with people with disabilities,” said Hartman. “That’s why now, before that gap is even bigger, we need to support and include, and we need to put technology in people’s hands with disabilities. It’s not optional anymore. It’s like if they don’t experience and get at least functional with some technology, they aren’t going to be able to do doctor’s appointments or check out books at the library. It’s an absolute need that people with disabilities have to get their hands on it, or that gap will never be able to be filled.”

Take Action! Learn more about you and others can learn how to use technology. Begin by looking at our list of assistive and supportive technology resources. There you will find links to websites, smart technology applications (APPs), webinars, blogs, videos and more that provide online training and resources to help you become tech savvy!

Image with the words Notice of Funds Available and Ohio Developmental Disabilities CouncilNotice of Funds Available: Data and Policy Research Grant

On July 31, 2019, the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council announced a new Notice of Funds Available. The Council is seeking applications for the Data and Policy Research Grant, a project of the Council’s Public Policy Committee. The research topic for this project is Employer Resource Networks. The Council is seeking an independent evaluation of ERNs to determine their effectiveness at retaining employees in the position of Direct Support Professionals and to examine other aspects of ERNs. This 1-year grant project will be funded by the Council in the amount of $100,000. There are no restrictions on who may apply for a DD Council Grant.

More information about this NOFA can be found at https://ddc.ohio.gov/Portals/0/nofa-data-policy-7-31-19.pdf. To apply for this project, go to https://www.ddsuite.org/.

Questions about this Notice of Funds Available should be directed to Paul Jarvis at (614) 644-5545 or by e-mail at paul.jarvis@dodd.ohio.gov

To be notified of new NOFAs, please subscribe to receive email notifications.

Macy's Hosts Sensory-friendly Shopping Day

Two young woman from Macy's and Children's Hospital assist a young girl to blow up a balloon.Macy’s Department Store located at the Polaris Fashion Mall in Columbus hosted its first Sensory Friendly Shopping Day to provide parents of children with disabilities and their children a fun day of shopping for back-to-school items.

The idea was thought of by Elizabeth Merrick, a merchandise manager, who also has a daughter with a disability. “The whole idea was to create an environment that allowed families to enjoy a social outing and get ready to go back to school together,” she said.

Partnering with Nationwide Children’s Hospital Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, the day was filled with activities and services tailored to make the shopping experience memorable and comfortable.

Teenage girl blows bubbles at a sensory station.The store opened three hours early and staff made sure that lights were lowered, the music was turned off, and there were sensory stations across the shop. Sensory stations had different types of activities, such as blowing balloons, coloring, and more to allow kids to play and relax if they were getting overwhelmed. Also, the colleague room was turned into a sensory friendly lounge that had one color and more lowered lights to allow children and their families to decompress in the middle of shopping.

And even before the event, the staff and executive team at Macy’s Polaris went under a training by Nationwide Children's to provide different tools that would support the families and children who would come to shop.

“It was such a fun day to see families enjoying the day together,” said Merrick. “I had a mother who shared that she hadn’t been able to shop for more than 15 minutes, but she and her son were able to walk out with a full back-to-school wardrobe. It wasn’t just a day of shopping -- we saw lives get impacted and are able to support our community thoughtfully,” added Merrick.

The store placed signage to let all customers know about sensory friendly shopping to make sure that all participate. Many customers embraced the day, and supported the store’s efforts.

According to Merrick, the company is taking a step further to make sensory friendly shopping as a part of their normal business hours. And already, the word is spreading to other Macy’s stores to bring a sensory friendly shopping day to their own cities.

Macy’s Polaris is planning to host more sensory friendly shopping days closer to the holidays.

Editor's note: We would like to thank DD Council member Jean Jakovlic for letting us know about this event. Jean and her son attended the Sensory Friendly Shopping Day and both enjoyed their experience. The Ohio DD Council hopes this initiative will serve as a model to other retail clothing stores to consider doing too.

Register for the Ohio Transportation Equity Forum!

Picture of a woman in a power wheelchair and her dog entering an accessible van.Access to affordable, safe and accessible transportation is often the determining factor of whether people with disabilities and the aging population can experience community inclusion. The Ohio Aging and Disability Transportation Equity Coalition invites you to join in for a day of learning and lively conversation addressing barriers to transportation, potential solutions, upcoming practices, and the connection between health and transportation. Presenters include state and national subject matter experts, including legislators, representatives from several State of Ohio agencies and more.

What: Ohio Transportation Equity Forum 

When: Thursday, October 3, 2019 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Where: Xenos Conference Center located at 1394 Community Park Drive, Columbus, Ohio

Cost: FREE! Lunch will be provided. Limited funds are available to reimburse persons with disabilities with travel costs associated with attending the forum.

Click here for more information and to register

 Questions? Kathy Foley at 216-731-1529 or email at kfoley@sil-oh.org.