Grand Rapids, MI, April 5, 2022
Hockey, Hops, and Hope is normally a time where individuals can get together with their favorite Grand Rapids Griffins players, sample some great wine and brews, and support a great cause. However, in light of the ongoing pandemic, Easterseals Michigan and The Grand Rapids Griffins made the tough decision to not hold the physical event. This year’s Hockey, Hops, and Hope was held March 25th through March 28th in the form of an Online Auction.
The auction featured items donated by our wonderful sponsors and amazing community, as well as autographed items for the sports, music or movie lover, printers, and sports and entertainment packages.
This year we are proud to announce that the Hockey, Hops, and Hope Online Auction raised over $20,000! Funds from this auction will be used to help provide services at Easterseals Michigan.
Special thank you to our partner, The Grand Rapids Griffins, and our sponsors, EOTECH and Amway. Events like this one help make it possible for Easterseals Michigan to lead the way to 100% equity, inclusion, and access for people with disabilities, families and communities. On behalf of these individuals, we thank you for your support.
We look forward to hosting this event in person and hope you join us in 2023!
Tuesday, October 4, 2022, 3:12 PM
This blog was also published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Having an employer that believes in yo…
This blog was also published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Having an employer that believes in you – the whole you – is incredibly important for success.
When I suffered a spinal cord injury 15 years ago, I had a tremendous lack of confidence, a trait I know I share with many people with and without disabilities. I didn’t know it at the time, but after graduating college a few years after sustaining my disability, ready to enter the work world for the first time, I needed an additional support system. I needed someone to believe in me at the same time I was trying to believe in myself. What I didn’t know is that support system would be my employer.
In my “short” professional career of nine years, I’ve worked for two tremendous companies who have prioritized disability inclusion, and, in my opinion, it’s made a world of difference – not only just for me, but for all employees. When companies like Change for Balance prioritize inclusion and culture, the “trickle-down effect” is real. Everyone feels included, and deeper and more understanding friendships are formed.
Our partners at Change for Balance may not take all the credit for this, but by being inclusion-minded in our recruitment approach, the composition of our team, and even being thoughtful and strategic to ensure accessibility as we plan meetings and travels, our company is more compassionate, allowing each of us to become the most confident and strongest versions of ourselves.
As an employee, if you are “hitching your wagon” to an employer, I suggest other potential employees seek out a company like Change for Balance, a company who cares about culture and inclusion. No doubt you’ll have a more thoughtful company, but an even more successful career.
The same can be true of many of our clients who have prioritized hiring people with disabilities as part of their DEI&A practices. Among them is Easterseals where Erin Hawley, a talented and accomplished influencer in the disability community, is on the national marketing team as its organization’s Communications and Digital Content Producer. She brings an important and authentic perspective to initiatives on which Easterseals is focused in their mission to advance full equity, inclusion, and access to people with disabilities.
Thursday, September 22, 2022, 2:44 PM
It’s hard not to notice the media’s attention on COVID-19 and its impact on employment. Since 9.6 mi…
It’s hard not to notice the media’s attention on COVID-19 and its impact on employment. Since 9.6 million people lost their jobs in the U.S., it makes sense. However, very little spotlight is put on the 5.7 million workers ages 55 and up that lost their jobs during March and April of 2020 alone. Currently, older workers are 17 percent more likely to become unemployed than their slightly younger peers (AARP). Perhaps there is a sentiment that this issue only concerns matters of retirement. Some may believe that people entering retirement just need to be a little scrappier with their finances, but in the end, they’ll be okay. Crystal Odom-McKinney knows there’s more at stake than that.
Crystal Odom-McKinney is the National Director of the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) at Easterseals. SCSEP is the largest federally funded program for older job seekers. After over 20 years managing nonprofit programs and working with underserved populations, Odom-McKinney has a deep understanding about how complex an issue like unemployment can be for communities that often don’t get as much attention. For her work, Odom-McKinney was recently honored at 15th Annual Chicago Defender Women of Excellence Awards, which celebrates local African American women who inspire others through their vision and leadership. During National Employ Older Workers Week, we thought it would be a great time ask a few questions about what this award means to her and why she is so passionate about the work that she does.
What does being recognized as a Chicago Defender Women of Excellence Honoree mean to you?
It is such an honor to be recognized for what I do both inside and outside of work. I give all gratitude to my family, friends, and community, because this is what drives my purpose. One of my favorite quotes by Mahatma Gandhi is “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.”
Why is it important that we recognize National Employ Older Workers Week?
Mature job seekers remain a vital part of the workforce. First, we are living longer healthier lives. We have more options now and retirement is just one. Many return to work to pursue different types of disciplines. That said, mature adults also bring unique value to companies and organizations with attributes such as reliability, dependability and a unique perspective due to life experiences. Employers need to be educated on the myths and truths about hiring workers. For example, retraining or retaining mature workers may be more cost-effective than hiring and onboarding their younger counterparts.
Why are Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) services important to meet the needs of communities today?
I have many stories from the field where I’ve been told, “this program changed my life.” But there is one powerful story about a job seeker who said this program saved her life. This particular SCSEP participant overcame obstacles like homelessness, unemployment, learning challenges with technology, ending an abusive toxic relationship, and seeking out support for her mental wellness. On many occasions, she felt hopeless and that no one cared. Since enrolling in the SCSEP program, opportunities opened in every way: she now has a home and steady income. She’s learning new skills, is comfortable using a computer, and has support on her mental wellness journey from years of being unheard.
And this is what it is all about. SCSEP is about bringing hope back to those who felt like every door was shut on them. It’s about providing opportunities and options for those who need that added support. It’s about bringing harmony to communities across the country through training opportunities at local organizations. We’re sharing these stories with lawmakers in D.C. to have elected officials reach out to local businesses and encourage the employment of these job seekers. This is the magic of the SCSEP program and why it is so important!
Tuesday, August 30, 2022, 2:55 PM
This post is a reaction to a Disability Scoop article about wheelchair accessibility and air travel.…
This post is a reaction to a Disability Scoop article about wheelchair accessibility and air travel.
While a headline of “maybe” might not sound super exciting – it’s far better than a “no.”
Person by person, conversation by conversation, email by email – accessible airlines are coming.
10 years ago, after crafting a blog post with the passion and plan to make airlines more accessible for wheelchair users, and wielding a petition with thousands of signatures, my family and I took the 726-mile drive to Washington DC to meet with elected officials and the Department of Transportation (DOT).
With a wickedly connected Legislative Affairs Assistant from Easterseals – an organization I’ve become deeply acquainted with after serving as a Easterseals National Representative in 2012 – we had high hopes for our meetings. I was out to change the world of airline travel for thousands.
While I had a life-changing experience traversing the Capital, navigating our countries most historic office buildings, making my way up and down 110-year-old elevators, waiting anxiously outside those elected officials’ offices, and – the highlight of a lifetime – meeting the architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Tom Harkin – to say I left “the Hill” disappointed was an understatement.
I don’t get worked up often, but I distinctly recall having to hold back harsh words of frustration, while an official at the DOT – on speakerphone, mind you – told me all the reasons why a wheelchair on an airplane wouldn’t work. Money. Regulations. Excuses. All while her colleagues in the room looked at me with despair, realizing my sharply rising blood pressure after traveling halfway across the country for this meeting.
In 2012, it was clear to me that accessible airlines weren’t a priority. I got a “no.”
Luckily, there are fellow fighters and advocates out there. My friend, Michele Erwin, and crew at All Wheels Up (AWU) – the only organization in the world crash testing wheelchairs for commercial flights – and a boatload of advocates, who share the same passions I had while staring those DOT officials in the eyes – have accessible airlines a top priority and have pounded the pavement since I was in DC.
There has been a lot of progress. Wheelchair crash testing. More and more meetings with elected officials and airline representatives. There have been studies commissioned at multiple universities – and, with each of these examples – I’m just speaking about the work done by All Wheels Up!
Yes, I buried the lead with this story, but after 10 years of work, and now under the leadership of a fellow Hoosier at the Department of Transportation, and years of advocacy efforts – we are making progress! A hard “no” is now a “maybe,” and while it could be a few years for implementation, the very fact that Secretary Buttigieg is making statements using the terms “wheelchair users on airplanes” makes me teary-eyed with excitement.
While I certainly wasn’t the first to bring up the concept of a wheelchair spot on the airlines, and I only carried the torch for short amount of time, it is nonetheless exhilarating to read a “maybe” in the headlines.
“Maybe” someday I’ll fly to DC to advocate for another worthy cause. Maybe someday I’ll fly to LA to meet with my coworkers. Maybe, someday I’ll finally make my lifelong bucket list trip to Australia.
Monday, August 8, 2022, 12:54 PM
A couple of weeks ago, someone published a tweet making fun of Vice President Kamala Harris for intr…
A couple of weeks ago, someone published a tweet making fun of Vice President Kamala Harris for introducing herself at a Disability Committee meeting by stating her pronouns and describing what she was wearing. The tweet comes with a link to a video so followers can hear for themselves: “I am Kamala Harris,” the vice president says. “My pronouns are she and her, and I am a woman sitting at the table wearing a blue suit.” The poster claimed it was “one of the weirdest things” they’d ever seen and said the video left them LOL=laughing out loud.
Disability advocates who responded to the tweet explained that the vice president was introducing herself to a Disability Committee, and that giving a description of her appearance like that is “accessibility protocol” for people who are blind or visually impaired.
A few followers responded with short replies like “Thanks, I hadn’t thought of that” and “Oh, that makes sense.” What was shocking was seeing how many of the loyal followers took their cue from the influencer and left rude comments about people who are blind or visually impaired — ridiculous replies like, “I wear glasses, do I count?” and “What if you’re color blind?”
Declaring something as “accessibility protocol” and the idea that people choose cruelty over understanding has left me pondering two questions:
Pretty heady questions, eh? I had to do some research! If you ask me, we could have all the assistive technology and accessible protocol in the world, but if we can’t conquer the fear average people have about disability and address the assumptions they have about us, disability discrimination and ableism will never go away.
Philosopher Bertrand Russell said that fear is one of the main sources of cruelty, and that: “To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” I don’t see enforcing “accessibility protocol” as a good way to conquer the fears people have about us – at its worse, it could leave people worrying about doing or saying the wrong thing and not engaging us at all.
Being blind or having another disability does mean we do some activities differently than someone without a disability, but “helper tools” can make nearly all activities possible. I am blind, and in the past year or so I’ve attended more and more events (live and virtual) where the speakers or participants are told to “self-describe” themselves before starting their presentations. You know, for the “benefit of people in the audience who have a visual impairment.” But asking people to describe what they look like can be awkward. It points out what people who are blind or have visual impairments are lacking.
I haven’t asked many of my friends who are blind what they think of self-describing. They might enjoy hearing people say what they look like, and if they do, that’s great. I’m not going to call them “weird” or make a joke about it just because it’s not something that personally benefits me.
As for the accessibility protocol itself, I’d like to have whoever it is who decides what accessibility protocol is to figure out who needs it, what situations come up where they need it, and think of ways to make changes less complicated. Hopefully, this way of implementing “accessibility protocol” will begin to build bridges.
Thursday, July 28, 2022, 9:08 AM
Every July since 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed into law, I’ve felt …
Every July since 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed into law, I’ve felt the urge, or more accurately the pressure, to write something thoughtful that includes the essential message that disability is just one of many factors of the human experience and those of us who live with disability are no less human for the experience. Of course, I deliver this message all the time both at work and in my personal life, not just during Disability Pride Month. I have been delivering this message since I was old enough to understand that a lot of people have a large knowledge gap about disability and their fear of what the experience might be prevents most from really thinking about it beyond something to avoid at all costs. As a result, this fear/avoidance translates into poor performance when encountering people with disabilities and a world designed without due consideration of the needs of all the people living in it. Yes, the ADA and similar laws were passed to help offset this discrepancy and we are seeing an improvement in the design of buildings, public spaces and when really smart people are involved, less discrimination in the workplace and in service delivery.
While my 43-year career has focused on increasing equity for people with disabilities, disability is also deeply personal for me. I find that at 63 years old, I am well and truly angry about disability discrimination and the willful, continuing ignorance that allows that discrimination to linger and even grow. I find that some people are only giving lip service to disability equity while they are all too ready to abandon the concept whenever it is openly challenged. Technology companies large and small develop software and web-based applications as tools to enhance productivity in the workplace, and every day I struggle to keep up because how these technologies interface with my screen-reading software is at best inconsistent, cumbersome and lagging behind every upgrade release, or at worst never considered at all, making it difficult for me to compete with my colleagues. I’ve instead risked my health over the years by developing a pattern of overachieving in other ways in order to make myself a beneficial employee despite the difficulty in filling out time sheets or collaborating on documents in shared spaces. The fact that this has been necessary frustrates me. True equity would afford me the opportunity to maintain employment while being an average worker. The number of people who I personally know who are blind and who have been seriously injured by drivers who didn’t see them because they weren’t considering pedestrians as they maneuvered their vehicles through traffic, continues to grow, while legal remedies for such negligence are still mostly nonexistent, and this enrages me almost beyond rational thought.
So, am I turning into a curmudgeon who shakes her fist at all perceived infractions against people with disabilities in this still mostly inequitable world? Probably not, though I reserve the right to shake my fist when I feel like it. I still believe that the best path forward is to continue to educate and allow people to build their knowledge base around disability and evolve into a social consciousness that no longer shuns diversity, but I’m also done pretending that ignorance is acceptable. It’s just not. Most of what people need to learn about the disability experience are things I can’t actually teach. Real change requires that knowledge shared is internalized, processed and used to inform thought and action. Each of us must take on that responsibility for personal growth if we want to really create change. So rather than waiting for me and others like me to teach you what you need to know about disability, try educating yourself.
The next time you are walking around the neighborhood, think about what the experience would be like if you were sitting in a wheelchair. How would that change your line of sight as you look around? Would it change the path you choose? What would it feel like? Is the path smooth and easy to roll across or are there barriers that limit progress?
Stop wherever you are right now and use senses other than vision to experience the space you are in. Close your eyes if that is helpful, but it’s not necessary. Just focus on sound or smell, or touch. What do you hear? What can you deduce about your surroundings through sound alone? How would adding touch to the experience improve what you know about what is around you?
When people are asked to think about what it is like to be blind, they spend a lot of time thinking about the not seeing part. I get it. It scares a lot of people and makes even more feel uncomfortable. But you’re not being asked to go blind, just to think about it rationally. What happens after you spend an inordinate amount of time pondering the concept of not seeing? Can you make yourself work past this just a little bit to think about alternative ways of accomplishing the things you already know how to do? Would you really choose to give up on experiencing life because one of your five senses doesn’t work like everyone else’s? Isn’t it more likely that after you are done wallowing in this sense of loss for a while, that you’d start to adapt? And once you start adapting, might you also then start to consider how to build some serious skills that would provide even more independence? And if you’ve made it this far, can you entertain the notion that there are advantages to developing a better sense of touch, hearing, smell, and taste? Might it actually change your view of life around you because you now have additional perspectives from which to observe the world?
So, this is my disability pride message for 2022. I’m blind. I use my other senses and select tools I find useful to do the same things everyone else does. I’m not amazing. I’m not subpar. I am a subject matter expert in a few things, and am of average intelligence in a lot of other things. I try to be kind , but I’m not very patient. I am generally upbeat, but I can also be a grouch with a sharp tongue.
Wait. Is this becoming an song? “And what it all comes down to is that [we] haven’t got it all figured out just yet. I’ve got one hand [on my cane] and the other one is giving a peace sign.”