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Can I Enjoy the Solar Eclipse Without Seeing It?

A show called The World aired a story on Public Radio International (PRI) this past week about an app called eclipse soundscapes made especially for people who are blind or have visual impairments.

I am blind now, but trust me, that isn’t the result of staring at the sun! I could see fine when I was a kid, and I watched the total eclipse of the sun on March 7, 1970 using a pinhole camera our school teachers taught us to make out of cardboard shoeboxes. I didn’t lose my sight until 15 years later, and that was due to a totally unrelated eye disease called retinopathy.

Hearing things touted as allowing “the blind to see” usually leaves me feeling sad. Audio description does not help me see a movie, and special lessons for the blind to teach us to plié might help me understand the moves dancers are making on stage, but they won’t allow me to see the performance. So when I found out the PRI story was titled “Helping the Blind See the Solar Eclipse” I almost switched it off. As cool as this new eclipse app might be for people who are blind, I knew it wouldn’t allow us to watch the eclipse.

But something about this thing being created for “NASA’s Heliophysics Education Consortium” and the Smithsonian Astrophysicalogical Observatoryby with an astrophysicist from Harvard and co-sponsored by the National Park Service, well, gee whiz, it caught my attention!

The PRI story included a link to a web site for more information about the eclipse soundscapes app, and the wording there was just right. It says that for people “who are unable to see the eclipse with their own eyes, the Eclipse Soundscapes Project delivers a multisensory experience of this exciting celestial event.” Not a word about us seeing the eclipse. They acknowledge we can’t see.

The site explains that the ap includes a narration of the eclipse’s progression in real time and a rumble map that will let us use our sense of touch to “geolocate the user and start the narration to align with the planetary movements as they occur.” Maybe I’ll be able to tell you what that all means next week. I am so taken by the way this site describes what it will do for those of us who are blind that I’m going to give it a try . Tune in after Monday, August 21, 2017 for a blog post here about my eclipse experience.

Source: Easter Seals And Autism (http://www.easterseals.com)

What Do Disability Pride and Self-Advocacy Have in Common?

Every couple of months here at Easterseals, we host Twitter chats centered around issues relevant to people with disabilities and their families. Past topics have included financial wellness, fearlessness, media representation, and inclusion.

On July 20, 2017, we were joined by an incredible group of folks who tuned in using the hashtag #DisabilityInFocus to discuss disability pride and unity. The conversation was insightful, with a diverse array of perspectives represented. Together, we tackled questions such as:

  • How parents can help their children with disabilities have pride in themselves;
  • Ways society can work together to ensure disability is viewed with pride and positivity;
  • How someone can be a good ally to people with disabilities;
  • And more!

In the coming weeks, we’ll feature some of the ways our panelists and participants addressed these topics, beginning today with the theme of self-advocacy. Stay tuned for more featured tweets from this chat, and if you’d like to read our full conversation, be sure to check out our recap!

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Can I Wear Sunglasses to a Job Interview?

Not all people who are blind wear sunglasses — some of us think it makes us look too, well….blind. A post BlindBeader wrote for her own blog explains how she decided whether or not to wear them during a job interview. BlindBeader is a gifted young writer who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, with her husband, their cats and her guide dog Jenny. You can read the post in its entirety on her Life Unscripted blog, but for now, here’s an excerpt to wet your whistle.

by blindbeader

A pair of sunglasses on a white desk next to a keyboard and mouse.When I asked several people I knew – sighted and blind – through the instant question-answer format of social media, I received so many answers, and many conflicted with each other. I had no idea the types of division I would stir up. All paraphrasing is mine, but the general ideas went something like this.

“Absolutely not! Your interviewer NEEDS to at least have the semblance of eye contact.”

“Why not? Your eyes hurt; you need to be functional.”

“It’s SUCH a blind thing to do.”

“If they’re fashionable, wear them!”

One friend, whose blindness is due to Retinoblastoma, described in vivid detail being forced by parents or teachers to wear them. Retinoblastoma can sometimes lead to facial scarring that may be off-putting to some, and my friend would get in trouble in school if she took them off. Even now – as a grown woman – if she’s in her family’s company, the comment is made that she needs to wear them. Like it or not, she is judged on her appearance. She has a very complicated relationship to glasses today, for the simple reason that they were pushed at her so much as a child and teenager and even now as an adult.

Asking questions about an accessory that most people wear without a second thought opened up far more questions for me than it answered, and yet, I made my own piece with my sunglasses. I chose to wear the sunglasses during my interview. They had been purchased years before and were both fashionable and moderately functional for my purposes. The frames were basic black with round lenses, and they didn’t scream “blind person!” to anyone who looked at them.

The instant I put them on, just before leaving my house, I felt my entire face relax, and the stabbing pain in both eyes magically disappeared. When I left the interview and went about my day, my sunglasses still in place, I noticed something else I hadn’t considered before.

People treated me better.

You see, if you were to look at my eyes directly, you would know that I am blind. My left eye is, for all purposes, unusable. My right eye won’t stay still. Walking down busy downtown streets that morning – even with a guide dog – while wearing those sunglasses, people seemed more inclined to make general non-blindness-related conversation with me, or accepted my assertions that I didn’t require their assistance. I loved how it felt.

But those glasses I wore to that interview no longer flattered my face the way they had years ago when I had first purchased them. I needed, as a friend stated, a more fashionable pair.

So what does a girl do when she needs a stylish pair of sunglasses that she doesn’t need to see clearly through? She goes to Walmart, and finds the coolest, most professional-looking pair of sunglasses they have that also covers her eyes and flatters her face. I spent a grand total of $15 on my sunglasses, and the compliments from friends, family, and strangers make me feel like I should’ve spent more. My cute sunglasses make others more comfortable with me, which makes me more comfortable with myself. And when I wear them, people generally treat me better, like I’m any other office worker or customer or pedestrian.

I wonder why that is.

And I wondered why I had resisted them for so long.

More posts by blindbeader:
Girl on the run: you do what with your guide dog?

“I want you to see more than just my blindness”

Source: Easter Seals And Autism (http://www.easterseals.com)

9 Lollapalooza Tips for People with Disabilities

This weekend hundreds of thousands of music fans will descend upon Grant Park in Chicago for the much anticipated four-day Lollapalooza music festival. Featuring top billed acts and emerging artists, a variety of local food vendors, and a beautiful view of the city skyline, the festival is sure to have something for everyone. For festival goers with disabilities accessibility is key.

When I got in touch with Lollapalooza’s ADA Access Program Manager Cari Wieland before the festival, she shared some tips to help people with disabilities make the most of their four days here:

  1. Use the accessible entrance closest to Buckingham Fountain;
  2. Start off the festival by checking in at the Access Center on Columbus at Congress in front of Buckingham Fountain;
  3. Ask at the Access Center for detailed information about viewing platforms available to anyone with mobility limitations. These are available on a first-come/first-served basis and are not limited to those who use wheelchairs;
  4. Music fans with mobility issues may also bring one companion to these viewing areas. Make sure you (and your companion, if you’re bringing someone along) pick up a wristband at the Access Center allowing access to these areas;
  5. Arrive early to the platforms, especially for any act you really want to see — they fill up quickly for the most popular acts;
  6. Companions and patrons who are able to step off the platform and into the enclosed area are asked to give priority to those who use mobility devices/wheelchairs when the platforms are crowded;
  7. Lollapalooza provides American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters at many of the stages, ask for details at the Access Center;
  8. The festival schedule will also be available at the Access Center in Braille as well as large print when requested;
  9. The Access Center also provides outlets to charge power wheelchairs when necessary.

Lollapalooza does not have ADA parking, but the festival does offer wheelchair accessible grounds and special designated festival entrances for people with disabilities.

You can read a full list of the festival’s accessibility accommodations at Lollapalooza’s web site.

Lollapalooza encourages any guest with a disability to contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with specific inquiries or requests.

Are you going to Lollapalooza or any other large music festival this summer? If so, share your experience and tips!

Source: Easter Seals And Autism (http://www.easterseals.com)

What the ADA Means in the Past, Present, and Future

You don't have to stand up to be counted.

A historical ADA campaign poster

Last Thursday Mary Schmich’s column in the Chicago Tribune introduced readers to the Grand Marshals of Chicago’s 2017 Disability Pride parade: Karen Tamley, Kevin Irvine, and their 11-year-old daughter Dominika. The column opened by explaining that the family is accustomed to getting stares.

“In an airport not long ago, a passing traveler, dragging a wheeled suitcase, did what many people do, which was to gawk at them while walking by.

The traveler stared first at Dominika, an 11-year- old who has grown up being asked what happened to her fingers and her face. The traveler then turned to inspect Dominika’s mother, who was using a wheelchair.

And then the distracted traveler walked straight into a concrete post.”

Dominika was born with Apert syndrome, a genetic disability characterized by facial differences and fused fingers and toes. Her mother, Karen Tamley, is the commissioner of the Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. She was born with a rare disability of the lower spine and uses a wheelchair. Dominika’s father, Kevin Irvine, has had HIV for 35 years and sometimes walks with a limp or with crutches due to complications from hemophilia or treatments for HIV.

The couple adopted Dominika when she was 5 months old, and the column said having disabled parents helps Dominika put her own disability into perspective. “I feel less self-conscious when I look at my mom,” young Dominika told Schmich.

Beth and her son, Gus, when he was a baby

Beth and her son, Gus, when he was a baby.

In some ways, I can relate to the family in this Chicago Tribune story. I got married in 1984 and started seeing spots in front of my eyes when Mike and I were on our honeymoon. Back home, eye specialists diagnosed retinopathy and scheduled me for eye surgery. I was 24 years old, I had a position at a major university, I was young and newly-married. I assumed the eye surgeries would work, and the spots would go away.

A year later, in 1985, I was completely blind. My contract was terminated, and I had no where to turn. I didn’t know of any other blind people with jobs. I supposed my boss was right. Blind people can’t work.

Our son Gus was born the next year with a rare genetic abnormality that had nothing at all to do with my blindness: Trisomy 12p. Specialist diagnosed him as “profoundly and severely handicapped,” but when he was still small enough to lie under blankets in a buggy, he looked like an average sleeping infant.

Back then I didn’t have the courage that Dominika and her family has. I’d fold up my white cane, hide it in Gus’ diaper bag and have Mike push the pram so we would look “normal.” I walked alongside with one hand near Mike’s on the handle. I wanted to look like other mothers, and I wanted Gus to look like other infants. I didn’t want anyone staring at us. I didn’t want anyone to know Gus and I were “handicapped.”

Gus was a year old when Senator Harkin of Iowa and Senator Lowell Weicker of Connecticut introduced the first version of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Disability advocates worked three long years to get the American public and the Congress to understand that discrimination on the basis of disability took many forms — myth, stereotype, fear — and that this discrimination was counter to our values as Americans. The hard work so many people put into getting this bill passed helped me come to understand that my urgency to hide the disabilities Gus and I had were also based on myth, stereotype and fear. Disability rights were civil rights.

For millions of people, this is their first bus pass

A historical ADA campaign poster

Gus grew out of his buggy, and in 1989, the year he turned three, he transferred to a wheelchair and started school. In 1990, the year the ADA passed, Gus learned to propel his wheelchair himself. That same year I traveled on my own to Morristown, New Jersey to train with my first Seeing Eye dog. I learned to use a talking computer, too, and started writing. I’ve been moderating this Easterseals blog for a decade now, and I lead four different memoir-writing classes every week for older adults in Chicago. My third book, Writing Out Loud: What a Blind Teacher Learned from Leading a Memoir Class for seniors was published by Golden Alley Press just a few months ago.

Gus is 30 years old now. He lives in a group home near a park in a small-town neighborhood in Wisconsin where he attends a workshop with his three roommates every weekday. When we visit, Mike pushes Gus in his wheelchair to that nearby park, and I give my dog Whitney the “follow” command so we can take up the rear. I guess you could say we’re our own Disability Pride parade.

Mary Schmich’s Chicago Tribune story said that being this year’s co-grand marshal of the Chicago Disability Pride parade unsettled 11-year-old Dominika a bit. “I have mixed feelings,” she told Schmich. “I mean I like it, I like the idea of it, but…I feel self-conscious about it, marching and having people stare at you.” I know what she means. People still stare at us, too, and I still feel self-conscious about it.

Ever since the Americans with Disabilities Act passed, though, more and more people with disabilities are out in public. We’re on TV shows, in movies, at workplaces, in athletic events, at schools, on public buses, in big city parades and at neighborhood parks. People are getting used to having us around, and columnist Mary Schmich sees that as a good omen. “Maybe one day, by the time Dominika is old, the disabled won’t be so conspicuous,” she writes in her column’s conclusion. “In that future world, a traveler passing Dominika and her family in an airport might feel no need to stare, knowing that in the great and varied human species, that’s what people look like, that’s who families are.”

Join us for a Virtual Disability Pride Parade TODAY (7/26) to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the ADA!

Learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its impact

Source: Easter Seals And Autism (http://www.easterseals.com)

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