Help More Adults like Aiden and Amanda Fulfill their Hidden Potential.
Aiden and Amanda are twin girls who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Throughout their childhood, both girls attended public school. Aiden has graduated from high school and is now enrolled in classes at Ivy Tech Community College; she aspires to work with children and infants. Amanda plans to complete her GED and then further her education in the field of nutrition.
In addition to school, both twins hold jobs: Aiden is a day care helper and Amanda is a Kmart stock clerk. The girls live together (by themselves and in their own home) and share chores, laundry and cooking duties. Currently, the twins receive ongoing support from skills coaches and Amanda is participating in the Supported Employment Program at Easterseals Crossroads. This past year, both Aiden and Amanda were awarded their driver's licenses after completing the Driver's Evaluation and Training program at Easterseals Crossroads. For these sisters, their new-found transportation freedom is an intregal part of their overall path to adult independence.
Wednesday, February 28, 2024, 1:50 PM
By Mike Ervin Every once in a while, I have what I call a “green-bus nightmare”: I’m out…
By Mike Ervin
Every once in a while, I have what I call a “green-bus nightmare”: I’m out and about and all of a sudden, a public transit bus goes by and it’s painted green and there are three big steps inside the front door — so it’s inaccessible as hell for someone who uses a wheelchair, like me.
The public transit buses in Chicago are much different today. They’re painted white, red and blue and inside the front door is a ramp that flips out onto the curb when the driver flips a switch so a wheelchair user can roll right in.
So in my nightmare, I’m mad as a hornet when I see the green bus go by. I say to myself, “What the hell is this? I thought those inaccessible buses were long gone!”
And then I wake up and realize it was just a bad dream.
But that’s how things were in Chicago prior to 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. The ADA requires that all public transit buses put into service must be wheelchair accessible. But without any federal mandate like that, there wasn’t a single accessible bus in the street fleet of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). You can imagine how frustrating that was for anyone who didn’t have the physical ability to board CTA buses. It was as if the CTA system didn’t even exist. To give people today some context on that situation, I ask people to imagine that the entire CTA system is suddenly and indefinitely shut down! How would that impact their lives? How would they get around? How isolated, abandoned and angry would they feel?
This is why I became an activist. I graduated from college in 1978 and I was living with my mother and sister in the house in which I was raised. The house was on a main street and a green CTA bus passed by several times a day. Come about 1983 or so, I began hearing word-of-mouth tales from other disabled folks about a group of disabled activists in Denver, Colorado who called themselves American Disabled for Accessible Public Transportation (ADAPT). There were public transit buses with wheelchair lifts in operation in Denver mostly because ADAPT organized aggressive protests where people in wheelchairs did things like surround inaccessible buses that were on the street waiting at intersections. The protesters wouldn’t move for several hours so the bus couldn’t move either. And sometimes ADAPTers even got arrested for protesting like that.
Right around that same time, a man from Chicago named Kent Jones, who used a wheelchair, went to Denver to attend an ADAPT organizing training for people from around the country. When he returned, he called a meeting for the purpose of organizing a local chapter of ADAPT.
I attended the meeting because I was mad. Hearing about the exploits of Denver ADAPT forever changed my perspective on those green buses that passed my house daily. I now saw them as an essential public facility as much as city hall or the library. Thus, I was mad at myself that I wasn’t as mad a lot sooner as I was now about what the inaccessibility of that public facility meant. It meant that if I wanted to go somewhere, I either had to spend a lot of money purchasing a vehicle and adapting it to be accessible, spend a lot of money hiring an accessible vehicle such as a med-i-car, to take me there or just forget about it and not go. But if my neighbors who weren’t wheelchair users wanted to go somewhere, all they had to do was wait at the bus stop. And that meant that those who designed the CTA thought that disabled people like me never could or should use it.
The ADAPT principle of direct-action protest says that you take your demands directly to the person or entity that has the power to meet your demands. In our case, that was the seven-member CTA board of directors. Four are appointed by the mayor of Chicago and three are appointed by the governor of Illinois.
So for our first action, we attended one of their monthly public board meetings where all of their decisions are made. We presented our demands and the first one was that every bus that they ordered from now on must be equipped with a wheelchair lift. We disrupted the meeting with chanting and noisemakers to demonstrate our resolve.
But the CTA board voted unanimously not to include lifts on any new buses. So we continued disrupting their meetings, blocking traffic in our wheelchairs so buses couldn’t get through and staging similarly aggressive but nonviolent protests. Sometimes we got arrested. We also pursued a discrimination lawsuit against the CTA with the help of pro-bono lawyers.
The lawsuit eventually went to trial and in January of 1988, the judge who presided over the trial ruled that CTA illegally discriminated against the disabled under state law by not having any mainline accessibility. Shortly after that, the CTA board, which now had a member who was a wheelchair user who was an ardent ADAPT supporter and had been appointed by Mayor Hafold Washington, voted 6-1 to equip future buses with wheelchair lifts.
And shortly after that, the ADA was signed.
When I reflect on all this, I feel our campaign to make public transit accessible was motivated by love — love for ourselves as people with disabilities and love for the disabled community. It’s true that we simply wanted more freedom to travel independently. But there was much more to it than that. It was so important to us because we were insulted that we were being denied a basic freedom just because we were disabled. We loved and respected ourselves and each other too much to accept the notion that we deserved and should settle for less because of our disabilities. We deserved to be accommodated and included and we wouldn’t take no for an answer.
We also hoped that bringing about this change would pay dividends far into the future, not just by making it easier for further generators of disabled people to get from one place to another but by lessening the debilitating sting of disability stigma, which is so often used to rationalize exclusion. The more we are a natural element of the daily routines of people whose lives aren’t affected by disability, the less they will be inclined to believe that we don’t deserve to be among them. And hopefully that has made and will make it easier for others to break down the many other walls of disability segregation.
A famous quote by Che Guevara is, “the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”
Regardless of one’s opinion of Che Guevara, he was sure right about that.
Mike Ervin is a writer and disability-rights activist living in Chicago. He is a columnist for the Progressive magazine and writes the blog Smart Ass Cripple.
Monday, February 19, 2024, 1:41 PM
By Andrea Jennings Community Love: Cultural Humility and Accessible Solutions In the tapestry of hu…
By Andrea Jennings
In the tapestry of human experience, accessibility is intertwined with love, shaping the fabric of a compassionate and inclusive society. One example is disability justice advocate Mia Mingus, who coined the term “access intimacy,” which describes the feeling when someone who is not necessarily from the disabled community understands your access needs.
As February unfolds with the celebration of Valentine’s Day, it’s an opportune time to reflect on how we all share love, express love, and foster accessibility, extending the significance beyond mere observance to embody a lifestyle of inclusion, cultural humility, and genuine care.
From childhood, I was fortunate to learn the true essence of love from my mother, particularly during Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t just about exchanging chocolates and flowers and embodying Agape love—selfless, unconditional, and inclusive. My mother’s teachings transcended romantic notions, emphasizing the importance of spreading love beyond our immediate circles. Together, we embarked on a tradition of making Valentine’s cards for friends and everyone in my class, ensuring no one felt left out. This act of kindness extended to our family members, neighbors, and anyone who crossed our path. Through these gestures, my mother instilled in me the belief that love knows no bounds and should be shared generously with all.
Reflecting on my upbringing, I realize the parallels between love, accessibility, and cultural humility. Accessibility is not merely a privilege or favor but a fundamental aspect of humanity. Just as we wouldn’t frame love as a favor granted to select individuals, accessibility should not be viewed as something we should be grateful for. It is a basic human need and a right for all individuals.
Fostering accessibility is a manifestation of love in action. It removes physical, social, and systemic barriers that hinder full societal participation. Whether implementing wheelchair ramps, providing signage, or offering assistive technologies, accessibility ensures everyone has equity and equal opportunities to engage, participate, and succeed.
Cultural humility serves as a crucial aspect of fostering accessibility and inclusion. It empowers us to recognize our own biases and privileges while actively seeking to respect the experiences of others. By approaching interactions with humility, openness, and a willingness to learn, we create spaces where diversity is celebrated and everyone feels valued and included.
In addition to advocating for ourselves, Disabled individuals often face micro aggressive comments and assumptions when it comes to romantic relationships. Society’s narrow perceptions of disability can lead to intrusive questions and misguided beliefs about the nature of our relationships.
Microaggressions can manifest in various forms, such as asking personal questions that would not be directed at non-disabled individuals or making assumptions about the dynamics of our relationships based on our disabilities. For example, comments like “you’re so lucky to have a partner despite your disability” overlook the possibility that both partners contribute equally to the relationship or that the non-disabled partner may also benefit from the relationship.
These microaggressions not only perpetuate harmful stereotypes but also undermine the autonomy and agency of disabled individuals in romantic relationships. Instead of being seen as capable of experiencing love and intimacy on their own terms, disabled individuals are often objectified or pitied, reinforcing the notion of their otherness.
Challenging these microaggressions in our community and the media requires a commitment to dismantling ableism and fostering genuine inclusivity in all aspects of society. Changing those perceptions is one way we shift paradigms.
Advocating for ourselves in a world that often overlooks or dismisses our needs can be exhausting. Not only do we face external barriers to accessibility, but we also frequently find ourselves in the position of having to justify our disabilities and access requirements. This constant need to explain and defend our existence can affect our mental and emotional well-being.
While advocating for our rights and pushing against the status quo, it’s crucial to remember the importance of self-love. This means being kind and compassionate to ourselves. Self-love entails acknowledging our worthiness and deservingness of respect and accommodation without needing to justify or apologize for our disabilities.
While in college, I asked for a specific accommodation, and that instructor replied, “oh yes, I know you want this to be easy-peasy.” Not only was this comment unnecessary, but it was condescending in nature and an example of microaggression that I often encountered. After these constant assumptions, it is important to remind ourselves of our worth.
Embracing self-love while advocating for ourselves is an act of self-preservation and a radical resistance against ableism and discrimination. It allows us to reclaim our narratives and assert our agency in spaces that often seek to marginalize us and not recognize our autonomy. Advocating for accessibility and recognizing our independence becomes pivotal in this context.
Self-love also involves setting boundaries and prioritizing our well-being. It means recognizing when to rest and recharge and not feeling guilty for prioritizing self-care.
Integrating the understanding of the spoon theory offers valuable insight into managing energy levels for those with chronic illnesses or disabilities, reinforcing the importance of self-care and advocating for our well-being. Within this framework, acknowledging the nature of energy reserves and learning to pace activities enables individuals to prioritize their well-being and cultivate a sustainable approach to self-care.
Moreover, self-love empowers us to challenge internalized ableism and embrace our disabilities as integral parts of our identities. Instead of viewing our disabilities as something we need to change, we can celebrate them as unique aspects of who we are and understand it is the barriers that need to change. This allows us to embrace our authenticity and cultivate a sense of empowerment and pride in ourselves.
In conclusion, prioritizing accessibility and cultivating love in various spheres — community love, romantic love, and self-love — is vital for fostering inclusivity and empowerment. By collectively prioritizing accessibility, challenging microaggressions, and promoting nurturing self-compassion, we construct a world where every individual’s worth and uniqueness are celebrated.
Andrea Jennings, M.Mus., is a Disability & Accessibility Strategist, Actress, and filmmaker passionate about music, law, and entertainment. Her journey led to creating Shifting Creative Paradigms – Leveling The Playing Field® Multi-Media Production Co., advocating for social justice through Disability culture, film, music, and art. Her work has graced prestigious platforms like Park Avenue Armory, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Rutgers University. Her work is also recognized in Forbes, Billboard Magazine, The Atlantic Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, and The New York Times.
Tuesday, February 13, 2024, 11:15 AM
By Alicia Krage Since moving in with my boyfriend last year, I’ve thought a lot about the various wa…
By Alicia Krage
Since moving in with my boyfriend last year, I’ve thought a lot about the various ways I can show love, especially around this time of year. We’re often thinking about love this month as Valentine’s Day approaches.
I’ve learned that showing love, especially in a relationship, could mean accommodating your partner’s disability, or learning how your disability coincides with your relationship. It’s important to create a space of acceptance and inclusion while also addressing the other person’s access needs. It’s in these simple acts that I feel show the most love because it addresses that, yes, we are both blind, but this doesn’t have to be a defining factor — as people or as part of our relationship. This comes into play when planning trips, too. For example, Juan and I are taking a trip to San Antonio in a few months and, while it’s not a far trip, it’s our first solo trip together. This means making accessible travel plans, as well as researching accessible touristy activities we can do. Juan is really into artsy things, so we’re looking into tactile art museums that we’d be able to enjoy. I think dating with a disability allows us all to become open minded about different ways of doing things and different accommodations that can be made.
This could apply to platonic relationships as well, which is something I’ve thought about immensely since relocating from Chicago to Houston. I remember a conversation I had with my mom on my last night in my hometown. She asked me what I was most nervous about, and the answer came easily: “Making friends. Because making friends as an adult is hard.” Almost a year later, I realize that wasn’t anything I needed to worry about.
Aside from the friends I’d made during previous visits, I only have a few new friends here, but that’s okay. I like my circle small.
I met my closest friend Desiree at a book club. I found it on Facebook, actually, because how else do people meet outside of college or work? I didn’t know. She posted asking if anyone was interested in joining one, so I responded. We messaged here and there and swapped numbers. Closer to the date of the first meeting, I told her that I’m blind and please look out for me during the first meeting because I wouldn’t know where to find anyone. Unphased, she said, “Absolutely! I’ll help in any way I can!”
Since then, our friendship grew outside of book club and evolved into constant texting, exchanging book recommendations and exploring various local coffee shops and going out for the occasional brunch. I know it seems trivial to say, but I’ve never felt like “her blind friend.” I’m just her friend who needs help sometimes. She’ll let me know what type of place we’re going to — if you just walk up to the counter and order or if it’s a sit-down place — in case I arrive first. If we’re going out for a meal, she’ll always ask if I need her to read me the menu. When I went to her house the weekend before Valentine’s Day for a “Galentine’s Day” get-together, we played games, but they were simple enough that I could definitely participate. I constantly feel loved in our friendship because she has always provided me a space to be myself, to advocate for my needs without feeling like I’m asking for too much, and meeting my access needs.
My family has always been good at this, too. It’s in the way they adapt card games if necessary, or plan accessible activities during family vacations. They also recently started activating audio description when we watch TV shows or movies. My mom always said that the people audio describing know what information is important, so it’s better to have that feature turned on. I felt weird about it at first because I thought it would annoy them and it would be hard for them to tune out. But they assured me several times that they didn’t mind. And so that’s how we’ve been doing things.
I’m fortunate to feel so loved in all of my relationships — romantic, platonic, and familial — because my blindness has been something to accommodate at times but nothing that has ever felt like an inconvenience. And I’ve learned that those are the people you surround yourself with. Enjoying time with family comes easy because I know it’s second nature to them to adapt things.
Enjoying time with friends, old and new, comes easily because they’ll accommodate me too, and if they are new to this and don’t know how, they’ll ask. I’ve assured them that if they ever have questions about my blindness, it’s always okay to ask. I can’t expect them to provide a safe space for me if I don’t do the same for them. By providing a safe space for them to ask questions, they do so and accommodate as necessary — and provide a safe space for me, too.
All of this has taught me what love really is. A lot of people think acts of love are these big, grand gestures showcased in TV shows, movies, and books, but it’s those little things that really matter. I used to be stuck in that comparison trap in relationships and wanting my partner to show me the kind of love I read about, or saw in all those rom-coms, but I’ve learned to stop looking for that because that’s all fiction. And I’ve learned to truly appreciate those who show love in the disabled community by educating themselves on our disability, whether someone is blind, deaf or hard-of-hearing, uses a wheelchair, etc. I have friends with all types of disabilities which helps me understand what love is to them, too. It’s educating and asking questions, wanting to learn. It’s learning their story and any accommodations they may need if you choose to meet up, and making things accessible to them. It’s finding audio described media, or wheelchair accessible restaurants, or providing the closed-captioning headset in movie theaters. There are many ways to show love to people with disabilities, and it’s often in the smallest ways that mean the most.
Alicia Krage is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. She relocated to Houston, Texas in early 2023 where she found a great community of people with disabilities. She has a passion for writing, centering her posts on advocacy, inclusivity, and relationships as a totally blind person.
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