Monthly Archives: July 2015

Summer in Chicago

The Importance and Impact of the ADA

By Shannon Kelly, Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley Development Intern

This past Sunday was a huge milestone for the disability community as the Americans with Disability Act turned 25. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the purpose of the ADA which was enacted in 1990 is to “prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. The ADA also establishes requirements for telecommunications relay services.”

This month really made me think about the power that the ADA has in society and what an impact it has on people with disabilities. I was born four years after the ADA was established, so I never experienced sidewalks without curb cutouts or inaccessible government agencies. While these may seem like small matters, the reality is that they make a huge difference.

And since the act was passed 25 years ago, it easy to take these things for granted, but it is important to remember the
advocates that fought diligently to make things like accessible public transportation and employment equality a reality. Their hard work and success in passing the ADA is still affecting millions of people with disabilities each day.

Accessible Metra train.
Accessible Metra train.

The ADA has made a profound impact on my life as a wheelchair user, and my ability to be independent. During the summers, I live at home in Elmhurst with my family and often spend time in Chicago. Last year I had an internship in the city and I often went to Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and attended different concerts and events. Driving into Chicago is not the most exciting thing to do, so I normally take the Metra train to the Ogilvie station and then take buses to get around downtown. The Metra is equipped with lifts and cars with more room for easier access and the CTA buses all have ramps that allow people in wheelchairs to get on. These features make it so much easier for me to get around and do everything I want to do.

Ramps at Millennium Park
Ramps at Millennium Park make it easy for everyone to access.

The ADA has also required buildings and public areas to become more accessible. I went to the Art Institute of Chicago recently, and was pleasantly surprised with their level of access. There was ramps and elevators to every exhibit as well as accessible restrooms. Millennium Park is also one of my favorite places to go in Chicago and it is very accessible for people with all disabilities. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion is a great place to check out events and it has resources to accommodate many different needs.

While the ADA has helped many people with disabilities lead independent lives over the past 25 years, the fight is not over. There is still much to be done in order to ensure people with disabilities have equal access in the community and to opportunities.

Public transportation has been greatly improved since the passing of the ADA, however only 69% of Chicago’s CTA train stations are currently accessible. The city of Chicago is working towards updating these stations, making sure they are more accessible to everyone, but it is a process and doesn’t happen overnight.

Additionally, the ADA requires all buildings built after 1990 to be accessible, but there are many older building and housing complexes that are hard for people with disabilities to access. And while the ADA prohibits companies to discriminate against applicants requesting reasonable accommodations, there is a very high unemployment rate among people with disabilities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that “17.1 percent of persons with a disability were employed, and in contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 64.6 percent.”

Moving forward I believe it is important to continue to improve the infrastructure of buildings and public transportation to make them more accessible. Acceptance also plays a key role. When members of the community and employers become more open minded towards differences, it will help society become more inclusive of people with disabilities.

During the past 25 years there has been great successes and accomplishments through the ADA, there’s no doubt about that. We have come a long way and I can’t wait to see everything that is to come!

The Bean at Millennium Park.
The Bean at Millennium Park.
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Interactive Metronome

By: Laura Van Zandt, OTR/L

Did you know that our brains have an “internal clock” that keeps time? This timing is critical for attention, executive functions, speech and language, social skills, reading and other academic skills, motor control and coordination, sensory processing and integration, as well as many other areas common to childhood development.

Interactive metronome is an evidence-based, intensive computer centered assessment and training tool that can help improve timing, rhythm, and synchronization in the brain. Interactive metronome is used around the globe in hospitals, pediatric and adult clinics, school, and homes.  It can be used to improve a child’s processing abilities that affect attention, motor planning, sensory processing, and sequencing. Children who have been diagnosed with ADHD/ADD, Apraxia/Dyspraxia, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Brain Injury, Auditory Processing Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, Dyslexia, Language-Learning Disorders, Non-Verbal Learning Disorders, Sensory Processing Disorder, Stuttering, and much more can all benefit.

The goals of Interactive Metronome include:

  • Improve independence with activities of daily living
  • Improve physical endurance and stamina for performance in sports and leisure activities
  • Improve overall whole body coordination
  • Improve focus and attention for longer periods of time related to daily function and filtering out internal as well as external distractions
  • Improve academic function performance and ability to follow directions
  • Improve self-esteem and social skills
  • Improve behavior and impulsivity

interactive metronome  interactive metronome2

Interactive Metronome is available through Easter Seals DuPage Occupational, Physical, and Speech Therapy Departments. The therapists at Easter Seals use this program to tailor a treatment plan specific to the child’s needs and family priorities. Interactive Metronome challenges the child to precisely match a rhythmic beat, which can be customized to your child’s unique learning style and challenges, with synchronized hands and feet exercises. Feedback is then is given auditorally or visually based on the child’s goals that tell the child how close they are within milliseconds to the reference tone. This feedback guides the child to attend and problem solve how to stay to the beat for improving their timing and overall coordination.

During Interactive Metronome, the child treatment activities can be customized based on your individual child’s areas of needs. Exercises can include working on crossing midline for integrating both sides of the body together, improving standing balance for strengthening and endurance, improving both upper and lower extremity range of motion for reach and gait, improving impulse control by ignoring specific stimuli, improving attention to increasing longer and more complex exercises, improving working memory  by recalling a series of exercises to shift between with either upper extremities, lower extremities or both, as well as improving coordination tasks with all extremities. The goals of Interactive Metronome are vast and largely customization.

If your child if already enrolled in therapy, talk to your therapist about this exciting new opportunity! If you are not currently enrolled in therapy, discuss this with your pediatrician and obtain a script for a discipline specific evaluation and treatment.

interactivemetronome8

“Interactive Metronome helps me coordinate things. It helps me get better going to the speed of things and getting used to more things. I feel proud of myself and all of my great work and effort. I even ask my parents if they can order it for me.”

More information can be obtained from www.interactivemetronome.com. For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.

Accessible Family Vacations Part 2: 5 Tips for an Accessible Trip to Disney

By: Heather Barilla, Center parent & Travel Agent

Heather Barilla is a mom of 3, one having special needs. I have been traveling to Walt Disney World all my life, visiting over 40 times (but who’s counting?). I have also been traveling to Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley for almost 10 years! I loved planning Disney Trips so much, that I started my own business, Palm Tree Travel Agency, an Affiliate of Magical Moments Vacations.

Now I’m booking and planning Disney trips (and more!) for families just like yours. I have found Walt Disney World is by far the best place to travel with special kids.  The cast members are welcoming and understanding, the parks and resorts to be accessible and easy to navigate.  I have found a place where we can be with our special family, and not be that different after all.  It’s truly become our vacation destination.

When To Go:

A question I hear often is, “When is the best time to visit Walt Disney World?” Anytime is great!  Disney has planned special events throughout the year that are all enjoyable, including the Flower and Garden Festival that starts in March and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in the fall.

Flowers at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

While traveling in the peak seasons can be manageable, planning trips to Disney in less crowded months may provide a more enjoyable experience. My daughter didn’t walk until she was almost 3.  We chose to vacation in September, when it was mostly preschool families and adults. May and October have great activities and less crowds, and can be some of the best times to visit.

Whenever you decide to go, planning is essential in getting the most out of your Disney Vacation.  Dining reservations can be made 180 days in advance of your arrival date, and if you are booked at a Disney Resort, you can make reservations for your entire stay, up to 10 days.

Resorts:

One of the first things to consider when planning a family trip to Disney is accessible accommodation. Disney offers many types of rooms and resorts for all family sizes and any budget.

Each Disney resort has handicapped rooms.  This isn’t just for wheelchairs, there are rooms especially created for visual and hearing needs as well.  For families that need a place that is super wheelchair friendly, I’d choose the Contemporary Resort or the Bay Lake Tower.  The Contemporary Resort has a wheelchair friendly layout with a variety of dining options and the Bay Lake Tower’s pool has a zero depth entry, with a handicapped chair lift.

Disney Resorts have all sorts of transportation options.  Moderate and Value Resorts will offer buses to all the parks.  Some Deluxe Resorts offer monorail, boat and bus service.  Bus drivers will lower the buses to accommodate wheelchairs if you can’t transfer.

Theme Parks:

With multiple parks at Walt Disney World, there is always something exciting going on. Once you enter the park, head for Guest Services where you can obtain the Disability Access Service Card.  You don’t need a doctor’s order, all you need is your personal information, and be willing to have a photo taken. Once inside, you have access to all the different parks.

Magic Kingdom
Beautiful day at Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom is one of the main attractions at Disney World and is where Cinderella’s castle is located. Getting to Magic Kingdom is easy by monorail and buses. So many rides at Magic Kingdom are for the whole family and many don’t require a transfer.  A great escape is Tom Sawyer’s Island.  There are paths and caves and areas to explore and run.  Or, you can sit quietly on a rocking chair and enjoy the view.

Epcot is my kids’ favorite park.  Here you can experience nature, science, and the world. Our favorite exhibit is the World Showcase, where you can interact with cast members from different countries and there is an accessible boat ride in the Mexico exhibit. We also recommend The Seas attraction which is based on the movie Finding Nemo. Each evening at Epcot there are Illuminations which includes a firework show. Accessible seating is available near the Port of Entry shops.

No matter what theme park you go to during your time at Disney, the FastPass+ makes it easy to pre-plan and be prepared.  All parks use the FastPass+ system, and the My Disney Experience App is simple to use on your phone or computer.  I have found that planning FastPass+ selections an hour apart has kept my family moving with minimal waits, and occupied for the morning, ready for our afternoon break.

Dining:

When it comes to dining while in Disney World, there are a variety of options to choose from. Disney s chefs and staff are accommodating when it comes to special nutrition needs.

When booking a dining reservation, you are able to select certain allergies that may be present in your dining party. Once you check in at the hostess desk for your reservation, always mention again that you have a special dietary need.  Your ticket that is taken to your table should have the word allergy stamped on it which alerts your server and the chef.

If you go to a restaurant with a buffet, you can always request that your children’s food is prepared and brought out separately. This will ensure it is not taken from the buffet to eliminate cross-contamination.
In order to ensure that all your dietary needs are taken care of when you arrive, contact Special Diets at Walt Disney World before you travel.

Cruises:

Disney cruise ship
One of the many Disney Cruise ships

Taking a Disney Cruise gives you the opportunity to see destinations such as the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, and Alaska. Disney’s Staterooms are large, as they have families in mind.  The handicapped rooms on Disney Cruise line are huge.  You have tons of space to move around, store your chair, and easily access all your room’s amenities.

One of the unique things that Disney Cruises includes is the Kid’s Clubs. They are designed for kids of every age level and you will have an opportunity to talk with the counselors to make sure all your child’s needs are met, and what extra procedures might be necessary.

Disney Cruise Line gives you a wonderful all inclusive experience with your family unlike any other.  It truly is an opportunity to play with your kids, or have some alone time for just you parents.

Want more information? Email me at heather@palmtreetravelagency.com or check out and like my business Facebook page at facebook.com/palmtreetravelagency.

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.

Myths and Realities of Augmentative Communication

By:  Amanda Nagle, MA, CCC-SLP/L

Frank in therapy
Two-year-old Frank vocalizes the word “duck” while playing with a computer laptop and recorder. Frank attends weekly speech pathology sessions at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley to help with issues that stemmed from food allergies and delayed truck core strength. After a year of therapy, Frank is now quite a talkative young boy!
Photo by: Nancy Kerner

Parents understandably worry when they hear the words “speech generating device”, “AAC” and  “augmentative communication”. Concerns are voiced such as:

  • The Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) doesn’t think she will talk and is giving up on her speech
  • My son talks, why is the SLP recommending a speech generating device? My son doesn’t fit this profile!
  • Won’t that device stop her talking and make her too lazy to talk?

That is just not the case. The American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) defines augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) as “all forms of communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants and ideas. We all use AAC when we make facial expressions or gestures, use symbols or pictures, or write.”

There are many myths around the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) in individuals of all ages but these myths are particularly prevalent with our young children. Below are the most common concerns (myths) that I continue to hear from families and professionals, especially those working with young children.  I want to dispel the myths with the realities surrounding the concerns.

MYTH:  The AAC system will become a crutch for my child.  Parents are frequently concerned that their child will use the device instead of learning to communicate verbally.

REALITY:  Many children’s verbalizations increase when they begin using a voice output AAC device.  Research and clinical practice continue to indicate that AAC does not interfere with verbal speech and actually encourages spoken language.   We frequently see increased imitation and spontaneous verbalizations when children use augmentative communication systems.  Children will communicate with the easiest and most flexible means available to them.  It is easier to use verbal speech when possible than it is to create a message on a communication device.

MYTH:  The term ‘augmentative communication’ refers only to devices with voice output.

REALITY:  There are many different types of augmentative communication with and without voice output.  Some types include using objects, photographs, picture symbols such as Boardmaker or SymbolStix, gestures and manual signs.  Other types are low tech battery operated single message voice output devices with as few as one message.  Mid tech devices are available with multiple message selections.  High tech devices are also available with robust language organization that can be modified for various stages in a child’s receptive and expressive language development. Boardmaker Software

Tablet systems such as iPads have a variety of communication apps from single messages to full robust language organizations.  Frequently, children’s full communication systems include a combination of no tech, low-tech and high-tech AAC, in addition to their unaided communication including verbalizations.

MYTH:  Individuals must progress through a specific hierarchy of skills before they are ready to use augmentative communication or before moving to the ‘next level’ of augmentative communication.

REALITY:  There are no prerequisites for communication.  A child does not need to understand cause-effect before he/she can use AAC.  A child may actually learn cause-effect skills through the use of augmentative communication while she is learning new forms of communication.  A child does not need to know that a picture represents an object.  When a picture is attached to a voice output device or to a low tech surface, the child will begin to associate meaning between the picture and the object she receives when she selects the symbol.

For example, if you attach a picture symbol of ‘bubbles’ to a single message device, your child touches the picture and hears the message ‘bubbles’, then you blow bubbles for her, in time she will begin to associate the picture of bubbles with the actual bubbles.

MYTH:  AAC is a last resort and we are giving up on my child’s speech.

REALITY:  A child’s use of AAC can enhance speech, language and communication development while reducing frustration at the same time. Ideally, augmentative communication strategies should be introduced and implemented prior to communication failure in order to prevent communication failure.  When AAC is introduced early, before increased frustration and communication failure occur, a child may naturally incorporate the system into their typical communication repertoire.  Receptive and expressive language skills can be modeled using an AAC system.  It is never too early to begin to incorporate AAC strategies into a child’s communication development.  When introduced early, AAC can provide a strong foundation for a child’s receptive and expressive speech and language development.

MYTH:  My child speaks and AAC is only for people who are completely nonverbal.

REALITY:  AAC systems and strategies may be used as primary communication systems or as supplemental/augmentative systems for individuals.  Many children are verbal and have trouble being understood by unfamiliar listeners or become frustrated when a familiar listener doesn’t understand a spoken message when the context is not known.

The following are some, but not all of the additional ways that AAC can be used with children who are verbal but may be difficult to understand:

  • repair communication breakdowns
  • set topics
  • word retrieval
  • receptive language development
  • expressive language development
  • expansion

It is important to remember that individuals with complex communication needs should have the opportunity to use augmentative communication strategies if they are not able to say what they want or need, share an idea or story, offer their thoughts, ask questions, tell you that they are afraid and what they are afraid of, and tell you if they are in pain.  Augmentative communication can provide a means for them to share these types of messages to more people in more places more often.It is never too early to introduce AAC into communication intervention.  There are no prerequisites for communication.

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.