Accessibility and Blogging

Hi everyone!

 

I wanted to start this post with some well known and not so well known ideas to make any blog post accessible for everyone, including those with vision impairments.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of best practices:

 

  1. Avoid Low Contrast Colors

As an artist, I tend to think in terms of design elements first. As cool as that may be, that does not work for accessibility.

To ensure clarity, stick with classics like a white background and black text, or a dark blue and white text. This will also give your material a professional, polished look.

      2. Use Clear Text Fonts

For accessibility sake, now is not the time to use fancy swirly George Washington – Downtown Abbey fonts! It may look sweet scribbled on an old document, but clear fonts such as Arial never fail.

     3.Use “Alt Text’ Underneath Images

Alt Text basically in a nutshell provides a brief image description underneath an image, to give clarity and enables a screen reader to decipher images for those who are vision impaired.

 

For more information, please check out an amazing blog by Glenda at Blogaccessibility.com

 

A New Home – A New Life

Photo of Lacy Kendrick Burk

Lacy Kendrick Burk is eagerly awaiting the completion on the construction of her new house. In today’s millennial generation, buying a home is the ultimate status symbol of “making it” or “adulting.” What carries exceptional weight to this symbolic life moment for Lacy is the fact that she has moved on average, at least once a year since 18.

Lacy’s experience in the foster care system, and the quest for purpose through trauma, has been Kendrick Burk’s personal mission for over a decade. Lacy’s experience with depression , homelessness, and other challenges, including the separation from her siblings, has guided her career with warmth, empathy, and relatability that is apparent when you meet her.

Now, The Founding Executive Director of Youth Move National, and Partner in the Consulting Firm Change Matrix, holder of two master’s degrees and winner of the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Voice Award in 2014, is embracing another facet of her identify as a mother (of an adorable baby girl, Gracy) and a wife.

Lacy had always been an entrepreneur with an eye for business and implementation, recalling a memory from the 6th grade. “ I set up an arts and crafts business at school, hiring my classmates and neighbors to help me. That was part of fostering my sense of independence as well as my rebellion.”

What sparked Lacy to ponder her own identity shift as we spoke was a memory she recalled when she was attending a Georgetown University Leadership Academy training. Lacy had always loved work, and had been immersed in it her whole life. Participants were asked to list the top 10 values they each personally held in their lives. Lacy soon realized that after the whole room shared their value list, and her list missed one common answer everyone else had – “family.”

Family was something that touched upon trauma for Lacy – as a teenager, Lacy and her siblings were put into foster care and was shuffled through the system. The statistics can seem grim for youth in our service systems, yet Lacy credits her success from identifying her unmet needs and receiving support for her trauma. Trauma, as we discussed, is not a one-size fits all problem, nor is there a one-size fits all solution. Both treatment and personal development go hand in hand. Although Lacy did not have true role models growing up, due to aging out of systems and the constant shuffling she credits numerous community support workers who have modeled who she wanted to be.

The modeling of behavior, not just though words, is something Lacy is passionate about, and something will continue with her first child of 10 months, Gracy, with her husband Greg “I have seen nearly everything the world can offer, and because of my experiences, I know Gracy will have a completely different life. I will be there to help her develop and inform her sense of self, and to be empowered.”

Learning all of the independent living skills, such as honing her public speaking and presence as a natural introvert, was an unfolding process for Lacy. She urges the practice of extreme self care as the foundation of her advice for everyone. “We all have a strong urgency to fix everything, but that needs to be ourselves first” she says.

One of the things Lacy admits gives her the most satisfaction are the initiatives that have a lasting impact. (Legacy of Lacy?) Those include resource development and implementation, and more specifically, her role in the passing of legislative acts, such as the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (P.L. 110-351)

Lacy is tireless in her pursuit to have authentic youth participation in the mental health and foster care system. She knows that there is a real need for professional opportunities for youth, in tandem with support and opportunity. Lacy is proof that hope is always an option, and that breaking the chains of trauma is possible for all individuals, communities, and nations.

Expectations

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Photo of Water & a Bridge

 

Expectations are kind of like the tide. Too low, and no ships can pass on the water or allow ocean life to thrive. Too high, and you feel like you are drowning.

In this analogy, I can clearly see how this plays out. The “low” tide can be when people do not think someone with a disability is capable. By limiting expectations, we limit opportunity and withhold necessary emotional and tangible support.

When expectations are too “high,” we cut off people from honoring legitimate and necessary adaptations that are needed for full inclusion and self-determination.

As you can see, neither extreme works in life. The solution is to set aside out own personal biases and allow us to meet each person we encounter where they are at.

Holland – A Great life. An Interview on expectations and inclusion

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Photo of a windmill in Holland

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer, who shared her story of her son Hunter. I hope her experience and that of Hunter reminds us what happens when a family unit is collectively determined for the goal of full self determination and full inclusion.

This is her story….

 

  Everything changed for me when he was 17 months. My son, Hunter, was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. I was told he would never walk, talk, or function to a meaningful degree. In fact, I remember what the doctor said to me as if it were yesterday. “He will only be able to use his left hand to stabilize a piece of meat.” Those words weighed heavy on me, as if forecasting his life in that brief moment. I was determined to see him beyond those limitations. Comparatively, Hunter has a milder form of it, but I certainly wanted to be prepared to help him the best I was able to. I searched the internet, looking for anything to help me understand what I was going through, Having a son with a disability didn’t change how I loved him, but it took me a while to feel balance again.

The was a poem I found, “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley. I found it really comforting, because it helped me re-frame my own expectations, and gave me a sense of peace. That life is what you make it. I found comfort in those words, that I had control over how I viewed my life and Hunter.

My husband traveled for business a lot. I could feel the difference in support when he was away. Life became all about supporting Hunter. I was exhausted – learning to take care of him and Brandon, my youngest child while going to school and working became too much. I had considered quitting college at one point. I must have uttered “I can’t do this” at least once a day.

When Hunter was old enough for school, I dove head first into the world of Special Education – I had too. There was so much to understand, and so much to advocate for. Hunter had an IEP until first grade – they felt that he could do everything else the other children could do, even though he only did it with one side of his body. We stopped all therapy at that point, and it wasn’t until this year that I pushed the doctors to reconsider occupational and physical therapy, in addition to having his Botox treatments which allowed him greater range of motion and more use of his extremities

Hunter was always a Determined child. One time a few years later, I was with Hunter at a fair and there was a Bull Riding machine. Hunter asked to go on the ride. I was so scared. I saw Hunter in his Braces, and cringed at the thought of him being hurt. I was afraid – life had been hard enough for him at that point. I remember the ride attendant saying that he would be fine. I thought a lot of things during that moment – but the word “fine” wasn’t one of them. I eventually let Hunter go on the ride.

The amazing thing was – Hunter was fine. And he had fun. It was such a simple moment to an outsider, letting your son go on a ride. But I think that was such a lesson in trust. Learning to trust Hunter, life, and most importantly, myself. That everything would be okay. Hunter also climbed a rock wall using just his chin and right hand!

As a mother, I was watching him enter a period in his life I was dreading. The Middle school years, when kids When notice differences, and start forming cliques. I remember this one incident that was a bittersweet moment- one that looking back was a really transforming experience. It was at Hunter’s 7th grade dance. Some of the other kids were making fun of him at the event., and a girl pushed him. Another girl stood up for him in his defense. It was then Hunter came out of his shell.

Although that was an extreme incident, Hunter had his core group of friends. He loved being the class clown. I think that is one of his gifts – he can find humor in anything. “You know, out of my four children, despite the extra support he needed at times, he gave me the least trouble.”

Almost 2 years ago, in August of 2014, Hunter had his first Gran Mal seizure. It changed everything, He had made so much progress. Hunter’s biggest fear was that he would never be able to drive. Would he ever be independent?

I am so proud of Hunter, and I am so proud of his disability. I don’t let that define him, but I don’t minimize what he goes through either. I credit my success with immersing myself with other who have lived it. I highly encourage anyone who needs support to seek out community resources. Parents and caretakers should be aware that self care is so important, because no one can do it alone.

Right now. Hunter is focusing on enjoying high school, and preparing for his future, like every other kid. Hunter has dreams of becoming an electrician. It is wonderful to embrace life fully, including the silly mistakes teenagers make. Because I am so happy to see Hunter fully participating in life, which is more than any parent can ask for.

As of this school year, Hunter had a Gran Mal seizure after a long period. We currently have to push back our plans for his driver’s license. This is a disappointing setback, because Hunter is so driven for independence and wants to experience an inclusive life. We are currently hoping to come back to transportation, and will continue to support him in every way possible.

 

Wellness

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What creates a good life? SAMHSA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration) defines wellness into eight dimensions.

  1. Emotional—Coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships
  2. Environmental—Good health by occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that support well-being
  3. Financial—Satisfaction with current and future financial situations
  4. Intellectual—Recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills
  5. Occupational—Personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s work
  6. Physical—Recognizing the need for physical activity, healthy foods, and sleep
  7. Social—Developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system
  8. Spiritual—Expanding a sense of purpose and meaning in life

The Eight Dimensions of Wellness., from http://www.samhsa.gov/wellness-initiative/eight-dimensions-wellness

Our wellness is like a puzzle set. You don’t know exactly how it all fits together sometimes, but when a piece is missing, the effects are obvious. We all need a complete and balanced life. We innately need as humans all the component of wellness – that missing piece could be health insurance (physical), gainful employment (occupational) or even the lack of inclusive places to hang out (social.)

As we continue to advocate for people living with disabilities, care must be exercised to ensure ALL areas are adequately covered for each individual. No one deserves to be left with missing pieces of their puzzle.

Reflection Question:

What areas can we most improve on in CT in the disability sector?


2016 Candidates on Disability Issues

vote-1190029_1280 As the 2016 election process is still underway, the 54 million Americans living with disabilities need clear facts when going to the polls.

My blog strives to remain non partisan, and will help to navigate the core facts to inform and educate. Below are links to recent data on candidate stances on disability issues. It is important we remain informed as we hit the polls!

What has not been discussed in depth as much (and beautifully written on the blog”this Ain’t Livin“) is that it is exceedingly hard to satisfy and recognize the entire disability movement under one viewpoint or stance. As every person define their disability and their experience with it, it may not represent accurately what everyone wants.

What is 100% clear, is that some presidential candidates do not support disability rights whatsoever. Below, you will read  on “The Respectability Report” that many candidates did not complete or even answer the disability survey that was given. Time and time again, disability has been an undeserved  population. Through our votes, we can change that

For further stats and ways to get involved, please check out AAPD (American Association for People with Disabilities) and their Rev Up! voting campaign.

Stay informed and active my friends! ~ Michael

 

CT Cross Disability Lifespan Alliance

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I had the pleasure to attend the Cross Disability Lifespan Alliance (CDLA) Meeting on June 2nd in West Hartford. As the name implies, the Alliance is represented by members of diverse disabilities and allies across all sectors.

Their draft vision and mission statement are as follows:

“Connecticut will be a state in which people with disabilities can look at their lives and say, ‘life is good’ They will be able to say this because they will feel respected, engaged and valued in their communities.

The Cross Disability Lifespan Alliance of Connecticut advocates for the full Inclusion and participation in community of people with all disabilities.”

The panel speakers that day were Julie Reiskin, Jeffery Bravin, Nyema Pinkney, and Oryx Cohen. Each spoke eloquently about their disabilities (more to come on their personal context of self definition)

Jeffery Bravin is the executive director of The American School for the Deaf, in West Hartford. He brings a wealth of professional knowledge and expertise to his role, coupled with his lived experience as a man with hearing impairment. He continues to strive for ASL as a powerful method of enhanced communication, even with the rise of technology.

Julie Reiskin is the executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC), bringing her background in clinical social work and consulting to the Coalition. She is a strong believer that we all can make a difference through a unified voice.

Oryx Cohen is the director of the National Empowerment Center Technical Assistance Center, and a leader in the Consumer/Survivor movement. Oryx advocates for alternative options for mental health treatment, seeking to make what society views as alternative treatments, mainstream.

Nyema Pinkney is no stranger to public speaking. As strategic commodity specialist at UTC Aerospace Systems, Nyema is a true wizard at strategy and communications. When a side effect of a medication left Nyema vision-impaired, she sought the new change head on. Nyema embodies resilience and the power of intentional living. She also currently serves as Chair of the State Rehabilitation Council, Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind.

Each panel speaker brought their own personal experiences and insights to the meeting that day, yet one thing was universally clear. CDLA seeks to remove the barriers of separation amongst disability culture by removing silos of separate causes, and create positive change as a unified force.

The CDLA asks that you mobilize with them to help enforce and educate equality and equity for people with disabilities. This is done by showing up, and speaking out.

Continue the conversation, and join the Alliance on Facebook, and check out their online calendar of events here!

For more information on the Cross Disability Lifespan Alliance, please contact Donna Devin at (860)418-8737 or donna.devin@ct.gov