Posted on May 13, 2016
An inclusive opportunity over spring break gave the blogger (second from left) the chance to plant a garden and develop friendships. Photo courtesy of Sue Witte, Urban Tree Connection.
I have always wanted to help my community, to do my part to make the community better. As a student with a disability, I don’t always get those opportunities. I finally got the chance to do this through the University of Delaware’s Alternative Spring Break Program, called UDaB, a program for UD students to serve communities across the country. During my trip, I lived with 21 other students for the week, sleeping in a church in Philadelphia and creating an urban garden. This was the first time that someone from UD’s certificate program for students with intellectual disabilities was able to join in the UDaB experience.
UDaB was different than any other club I’ve been a part of, because at UDaB I wasn’t there as a student with a disability. I was just there as a UD student who wanted to help out and have fun! I liked that I was never treated differently because of my disability. I had to go through the application and interview process and be chosen just like everyone else. I had coaches that supported me with the application, but I didn’t need or want a coach to go with me on the trip. That would have made me feel different, like I was being treated special, which I didn’t want. I would sometimes get support from the site leaders, upper level students who were leaders who had done these trips before. They were the people everyone went to for support, so it didn’t stand out that they supported me too.
I was nervous at first because I had never gone away for this long without my family or having special support. I wasn’t sure if I would get along with the other students. But working together with other UD students, all of us wanting to help this community, it helped us feel really close. I became friends with lots of students on my trip – now I know so many more people on campus! Since the trip has ended, I’ve stayed in touch with my friends. I’ve been invited to hang out at my friends’ apartments, have lunch with them, and I also went out for someone’s 21st birthday. I enjoy hanging out with them because I feel included. They don’t have to invite me out. We’re not on a trip together anymore. But they choose to ask me to do these things because we had the chance to get to know each other during UDaB. That hasn’t happened from my other clubs.
I think some people may have thought that people with disabilities wouldn’t be capable of doing this trip because they may look or act differently than people without disabilities. But I proved them wrong. I’m proud of what I accomplished! I think there should more trips and opportunities like UDaB that allow people with disabilities like me to participate. It’s a great way to connect with others and form friendships. My trip with UDaB was one of my best college experiences and will be something that I remember for a long time.
Posted on December 23, 2015
Like millions of other children, I grew up watching Sesame Street for its colorfully entertaining characters. Looking back, I realize that these characters not only opened my eyes to the world of education at a critically young age, but helped me develop an extremely open mind toward diversity. I may no longer be part of its target demographic audience, but I can’t help but be captivated once again by Sesame Street and the introduction of its newest Muppet playmate, Julia.
In case you haven’t heard, Julia has autism. According to numerous reports, she was created to better reflect and respond to the growing prevalence of autism in the world, to minimize bullying towards children with autism, and to give parents of children with autism another resource that encourages social interaction and mental growth. As a digital character, Julia also quite naturally appeals to many children with autism who are drawn to various forms of technology, and Julia’s accompanying song, “The Amazing Song,” amplifies what typically and non-typically developing children have in common.
My school, the University of Delaware, shares my passion for disability studies. And Annalisa Ekbladh, who coordinates autism planning initiatives at UD’s Center for Disabilities Studies, actually had a hand in helping Sesame Street develop the character of Julia. Sesame Street came up with the initial concept of Julia’s character. But Sesame Street also asked CDS to help it gather critical information about autism from focus groups comprised of family members of individuals with autism. Ekbladh and her team at CDS recruited the focus group members from Delaware’s Kent and Sussex counties. Among the information gathered from those focus group sessions: families who designed and used step-by-step routines for their children said that when the routines were directed by a Sesame Street character, such as Elmo, their children were much more likely to follow them. Because of that discovery, the parents said they’re always thrilled whenever electronic characters appear on the same devices that their children with autism utilize for communication and intellectual development.
I suspect the introduction of Julia will benefit many children with autism and their parents. But her introduction should provide another advantage: For more typically developing children who tune into Sesame Street, when they come face-to-face with an individual with a disability in school or anywhere else, they simply may perceive that person’s disability as a difference. A difference, and nothing more.
“So much of what we have to do to promote equality is to change people’s minds about people with disabilities,” Ekbladh told me. Sesame Street’s proactive approach, she said, should only help.
This entry was posted in autism, Center for Disability Studies, developmental disabilities, diversity, Education, inclusion, The Arts, Uncategorized and tagged autism, Elmo, Julia, Sesame Street, The Amazing Song.
Posted on October 23, 2015
Janell Booker and Zach Martin at Disability Mentoring Day.
Janell Booker connected with a shoe retailer and Zach Martin with a U.S. senator’s district office as part of Disability Mentoring Day in Delaware. Here’s what the students, who are enrolled in UD’s Career and Life Studies Certificate (CLSC) program for people with intellectual disabilities, had to say about their experiences.
For this year’s Disability Mentoring Day, I went to New Balance, a sneaker store. I really enjoy sports and exercising and last year I spent Disability Mentoring Day at the Carpenter Sports Building. I’m really good at connecting with people, whether it is little kids, UD students or adults.
The people at New Balance were really nice. They showed me how they help people find the kind of shoes customers are looking for, count money at the cash register and scan bar codes. They also taught me about people with flat feet and arthritis and how they need special shoes with an arch in it. I learned that lots of people come into the store with the wrong shoe size and when you work at the store, you can help them find the right size. That’s really important because it helps people feel more comfortable.
As I think about finding a job, I have worried a little bit that some people might not want to hire me because I have a disability. They will probably think that they have to show us the ropes a little bit more. But my experience with Chris, the supervisor at New Balance, was really great. I was a little nervous at first about having to count money at the cash register – I’m not that good at math. But he told me that he has trouble with it too sometimes, which made me feel better. We divided up the task and the total came out exactly right! That made me feel really good. Overall, I had a great day. I really enjoyed being around all those sneakers – it’s my element! I think that the people at New Balance and other employers also learned on Disability Mentoring Day that people with disabilities are pretty nice and that it doesn’t really matter that we have a disability. That shouldn’t stop them from hiring us.
I hope to get a job someday at New Balance or another place like it. Overall, participating in Disability Mentoring Day made me feel better about finding a job after I am done at UD. It feels easier. At first I thought I couldn’t even get a job because of my disability. Today made it feel different.
At UD this semester, I am taking an undergraduate public policy course to learn more about how legislation is made and how government works.
For Disability Mentoring Day, I was placed at U.S. Senator Chris Coons’ office. I was not really sure what it would be like. It was much better than I thought! I saw pictures of Senator Coons with the president, which was really cool. I met a lot of different staff members and everybody was really friendly and willing to share. I learned that the office gets a lot of email – TONS – and the staff have to answer each one carefully and respectfully. I was impressed with how they handled challenging situations.
Disability Mentoring Day was important to me because learning on the job first-hand is much easier than finding a job just by having to read a book, like for my public policy class. But I know that both are important. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
I know that it is more difficult to get hired when you have a disability. I’m not sure how willing people are to change their ways so that more people with disabilities can get hired. But you have to put yourself out there and help people get to know you. I hope that employers on Disability Mentoring Day learned that disabilities is just a word. You can have a disability and still graduate from high school and college. Also, I hope they learned that disability doesn’t mean the same thing for everybody. Disability doesn’t mean you’re not qualified. These employers were probably given a chance at one point, so they should probably be open to giving other people a chance. And for my site, at Senator Coons’ office, because they work on issues related to people with disabilities, it would probably be a lot easier to understand those issues if you had us around and employed us.
I’m hoping to get a job after CLSC advocating for people with disabilities or doing other things with the law, maybe with the people that I met today. Going there today gave me a really excited feeling. It made me feel more connected to Delaware and helped me to see how others in the world are connected.
This entry was posted in accessibility, Education, employment, inclusion, intellectual Disabilities, people with disabilities, self-advocacy, Uncategorized and tagged Career and Life Studies Certificate (CLSC) program, Carpenter Sports Building, Disability Mentoring Day, New Balance, President Barack Obama, Senator Chris Coons.