Category Archives: family services

Back to School…. Yay or Nay?

By: Sharon Pike, Parent Liaison

As the first day of school is fast approaching I am hearing two camps of parents.  The ones that are counting the days till the bus comes with the routine of school that brings a sense of normalcy and structure to their homes.  The other camp, is the one that are holding onto summer with all their might, dreading the routine and busyness that the school year promises.

Marita Blanken_4 cropped MG_9142BWhichever camp you’re in, know you’re not alone! Either way it’s time to shift gears and focus your energy on getting everyone ready for earlier bedtimes and wake ups, school lunches and getting out the door in time to catch the bus.

By now you’ve learned who your new teachers are so the kids know it’s coming. No one wants to send their child off to school frazzled so I recommend getting as organized as possible.
How to prepare your child

  • Move bedtime back and set alarms for earlier wake ups.
  • Start having the kids pick out their outfits the night before so everything is together in one spot for quick dressing.  If a schedule in your child’s room helps, make one that outlines the morning routine.
  • Have them help make lunch the night before so it’s all ready to go in the morning.

Preparations with the school before the first day

  • Review your child’s IEP especially the accommodations page so you can go to school and ask that things are in place before the first day of school. You don’t want to wait for the sensory diet items or special chairs to be available weeks later.
  • If your child has medical issues and things changed over the summer, ask to schedule with the school nurse to review any changes.
  • cammy can.pngCreate a one page at a glance about your child in a nut shell.  So, everyone from the principal, school secretary, janitor and lunch ladies understands your child’s unique needs and abilities.

Then hang on, as the first couple of weeks might be difficult. While there may be a few bumps to work out, before you know it will be October  and a nice routine will be established.

For help with your child’s IEP or other back to school assistance, contact our parent liaisons and visit our web resources at: http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/explore-resources/for-caregivers/iep-help.html 

Another great resource for back to school tips is from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

 

 

 

10 Things You May Not Know About Our Parent Resource Library

By: Family Services Department

  1. Our Mary Alice D’Arcy Parent Resource Library at our Villa Park center was created for you! A key part of our mission is to “…provide support for families who love and care for (infants, children, and adults with disabilities) …” We have listened and responded to the many questions we receive by finding highly rated books on those topics.
  2. We have listed many of the books housed in our library onto goodreads to make it easier to browse our shelves from any location. Click HERE to see our goodreads profile and view our book list.
    parent resource lib
  3. We add new books all the time and they may not yet appear on this list. Please ask!
  4. Our children’s section is separated from the parent books and off to the right side of the library. These books can be great for siblings to help understand a diagnosis or for when talking with your child about challenges they may be facing.
  5. Our Naperville and Elgin centers also have small library collections with many of the same books.
  6. We labeled our “bookshelves” on goodreads to match our library shelf subjects. If you find a book you want to look at and it is listed as being on the “behavior” shelf on goodreads, you will find it on that shelf in our library.  If you have any trouble finding a book you are looking for please ask a staff member for help.
  7. Checking out books is EASY! Here’s how:
    Books may be signed out for 3 weeks
    • Please complete the card located in a pocket inside the front cover of the book and return the card to the front desk
    • Please return all books to the front desk

Enjoy!

8. One of the most popular books (please ask for help if it is checked out when you look for it!) is:

parent resource lib 2

  1. We love feedback, suggestions and requests. There is a place for parent comments located inside the back cover of most of the books.  Please share your opinions so we can let other parents know what has been most helpful. If there is a book or a topic we don’t seem to have please come on in and ask.  We have staff bursting with ideas and suggestions and file cabinets full of referral sources we would love to share! If you cannot find a staff member please ask the front desk for assistance.
  2. Our expert social service staff encourage you to come on in, hang out, use the computer, look over the books, read a book to your child, ask a question or simply stop in and chat with a staff member – we are here for our families and we are great listeners and problem solvers!

For more information on our family services including additional resources visit: http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/explore-resources/for-caregivers/family-services.html.

10 great books to help you talk to children about disabilities

By: Karyn Voels Malesevic, Au.D., CCC-A

Many of us have struggled to find the right words when talking to our kids.  Knowing how much to say, or how little, or what type of words to use can be a challenge.

Enter the power of a good book!

Sitting down and reading a book about a character that may have the same disability as your child can be a great way to start the conversation.  Sharing stories is also a great way to help siblings and classmates understand and appreciate differences, or to help your child(ren) prepare for a big transition or difficult news.  A good book helps finding the right words much easier.

We’ve complied a list of ten great children’s books to help confront tough issues.

To view our complete list of book recommendations for parents, caregivers and children, follow us on Goodreads.

  1. Rolling Along with Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Cindy Meyers- In this story baby bear uses a wheelchair, goes to physical therapy, and ultimately makes friends with Goldilocks. The story unfolds many of the familiar scenes of the classic tale ending on a hopeful note.349042
  2. Wonder by R.J. Palacio- August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity preventing him from going to a mainstream school that is until now. He’s about to start 5th grade and being the new kid can be hard. Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?
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  3. We’ll Paint the Octopus Red by Stephanie Stuve- Bodeen- Six-year-old Emma is gladly waiting for  the birth of her new baby brother or sister. She imagines all of the things they can do together. They’ll go to Grandpa’s farm to feed the calves, ride in the back of the mini-van making faces at the cars that go by, fly on airplanes, and someday, they’ll even go to Africa on a safari.264878
  4. Kids Talk about Bullying by Carrie Finn-  People make fun of me for wearing glasses. What should I do? Super Sam the problem solver will give you some strong advice on bullies.1172876
  5. The Way I Act by Steve Metzger- This vividly illustrated story is a fun way to show children how their actions may affect others. This book explores a variety of attitudes and traits, like compassion and bravery. Children will instantly recognize and identify scenarios such as meeting new kids, romping on the playground, and finishing a puzzle. Each scene illustrates proper ways to act and encourages readers to do the right thing.10253343
  6. Rolling Along: The Story of Taylor and His Wheelchair by Jamee Heelan- Taylor and Tyler are twin brothers and best friends. But the twins are different in one significant way: Taylor has cerebral palsy, while Tyler does not. Taylor explains to readers why wheelchairs allow many people to be more independent. This triumphant story offers a valuable look at both adjusting to a wheelchair and facing physical limitations with boundless energy and determination.1403392
  7. No, David! by David Shannon- When author David Shannon was five years old, he wrote a semi-autobiographical story of a little kid who broke all his mother’s rules. He chewed with his mouth open (and full of food), he jumped on the furniture, and he broke his mother’s vase! As a result, all David ever heard his mother say was “No, David!” Here is his story.1062516
  8. Nobody Knew What to Do: A Story about Bullying by Becky Ray McCain- This story tells how one child found the courage to tell a teacher about Ray, who was being picked on and bullied by other kids in school.805575
  9. Sara’s Secret by Suzanne Wanous- This author skillfully manages to go beyond the message to the heart of Sara’s guilt and embarrassment. Sara and Justin are more than stiff cardboard characters, and their humanity poignantly validates the feelings of children who have disabled siblings. Haas’ fluid, striking watercolors convey Sara’s emotions with an intensity that is well matched to the text.3937661
  10. Let’s Talk about It: Extraordinary Friends: Let’s Talk About It by Fred Rogers- How do you get to know someone in a wheelchair? Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin. In his characteristically wise and gentle way, Rogers challenges the stereotypes that often plague children with special needs and celebrates six children who are extraordinary friends.

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There are many great books out there, too many to list here!
Click this link to take you to our virtual bookshelves.  Here you will find the entire list of our recommendations, all available to check out in person at our Parent Resource Library.  Your local library should have many of these as well.

Another extensive list of books can be found HERE.

If you find your family confronted with a serious  issue or unexpected change that impacts your child, it’s important to prepare yourself before having a difficult conversation.  Here are some resources to help guide your first steps in talking about illness, death, divorce or autism:

  1. Helping children when a family member has cancer HERE.
  2. Helping your child deal with death HERE.
  3. An age by age guide for talking with kids about divorce HERE.
  4. Telling your child that they have autism HERE.

It often helps to connect with a professional who can answer questions and recommend an approach.

 

To connect with a social worker or parent liaison at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley visit: http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/explore-resources/for-caregivers/family-services.html


 

SpellLinksLearn more about how Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley is supporting literacy for children with special needs, check out our latest course offering in partnership with Dr. Jan Wasowicz and SPELL-Links.
Building the Brain for Literacy: Prerequisites for Successful Spelling & Reading A Multi-Linguistic, Prescriptive Assessment and Speech to Print Instruction

Tips for Practitioners and Specialists: Considering the Full Reality of Patients and Clients’ Lives

By: Sharon Pike, Parent Liaison & Jordyn Holliday, Communications Intern

Many parents will tell you that trips to the doctors office, specialists, etc. can sometimes make for stressful moments for children and families. When a child has complex needs, the level of stress can be increased. Once you consider factors and obstacles such as medical emergencies and other personal issues that a family may be dealing with, those appointments become tougher to make.

25_SheddJAMES.jpgIt is important for doctors and other specialists to be mindful and reevaluate the judgments they make on parents and caregivers. Before drawing conclusions on why a child may be missing appointments, it is imperative to consider the entirety of that child’s life.

Here are a few tips on how specialists can be more understanding of families:

  • Be Mindful: One important thing to remember is that in the vast majority of cases, no one is more concerned with the well-being of a child than that child’s parents and family. If there are appointments being missed or a lack of communication, there is likely a good reason behind it. Forming a solid grasp of this is a huge step in better understanding a client or patient.
  • Check for Signs: Often times, it is possible to gain a sense that something external may be happening in a child or family’s life. When you are visited by a patient or client, try to look for signals. Are there any noticeable signs of stress? Are there any patterns in appointment cancellations? Asking yourself these questions can lead to meaningful answers.
  • Appropriately Ask the Family: If you are unable to gain insight using the previous tip, think of a kind way to inquire information from the parent/caregiver. This can be done by simply asking how things have been going. By kindly asking how the child and family has been, or even asking about recent medical history, you are beginning dialogue that could help you understand the root of inconsistencies.

Acknowledging the lives of children and families outside of just the scope that you see them in as a specialist is a significant step in building better relationships with them. It’s important not to make assumptions, as they can often lead to uneasiness.

For more information on managing your child’s care and your own, connect with our parent liaisons and family services department at eastersealsdfvr.org/SocialServices.

A Checklist for this Year’s IEP

By: Sharon Pike, Family Services Parent Liaison

As one of the Parent Liaisons at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley, I have experienced many years of not only my own children’s IEP’s, but countless families from our centers.   Here are some strategies that have helped our families feel like a true member of the team and confident that this year’s IEP is a well written plan that will meet their child’s needs.

Prepare for the meeting

  1. Make a list of your child’s strengths and needs. Bring it with you to review during the meeting to insure they are covering things that are important to your child’s success in school. Think about and write down strategies that work at home and with your private therapist to share with the staff.
  2. Know what the law requires. Section 614 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) sets out the process and elements of what needs to be explored to develop and revise and IEP.  States and local school districts add their own policies on top of what is required under the federal law. That being said it doesn’t mean you need to know the letter of the law.   Bottom line… the more you know and understand the easier the process is.
  3. Never attend this meeting alone. It’s important that you and your spouse attend if possible.  If not then ask a grandparent or a friend. Their role is to be support for you and another set of ears!  Often at these meetings we can get stuck on something one member of the staff said and miss important information.  Make sure you inform the school that you are bringing someone with.
  4. Start the meeting with a positive statement about your child even if you’ve had a difficult period there is ALWAYS something positive to say… he has the best smile, she is caring and kind, he loves other children!
  5. When talking to the team, focus on your child’s needs and NOT your wants! Take the I out of IEP. Avoid, I want him to work on, I want her to be in this class, I think she needs….  Rephrase everything. He needs to have these supports in order to be successful. She needs to have sensory break before being expected to do table top activities, as it helps her focus.  The goal of special education is to meet the child’s needs, not the needs of us parents.
  6. Placement is not the first decision. This is determined after the team has decided what services and supports are needed.  This is hard; as it is often the first thing you want to know!
  7. 01_Mason EsquivelTrust your gut. If a piece of the IEP doesn’t feel right, and you can’t reach an agreement with the school, make sure it is documented that you do not agree.  Remember, just because you disagree doesn’t mean it will be changed.  The whole team has to agree to change it.  But I always say, ask for the moon and hope for the stars!
  8. Think about your child’s future! Aim HIGH.  Don’t wait until high school to start planning for what your child can do as an adult.  Every skill your child achieves in elementary school will help him or her be an independent adult.
  9. Establish a clear and reasonable communication plan with the school and your child’s teacher. Stick to the plan.  You and the school are partners in your child’s development and learning.
  10. Remember the IEP is a fluid document and can be amended at any time by requesting another IEP meeting.

After the IEP meeting

Pat yourself on the back for another successful IEP under your belt.

Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley Family Services provide information, education and support that address the concerns and stressors which may accompany having a child with special needs.  Our parent liaisons are highly trained parents of children with special needs.  They provide parents and caregivers with support from the unique perspective of someone “who has been there” in both informal one-on-one and group settings. For more resources and information click here.

My Child is Stuttering; Will He or She Grow out of it?

By: Valerie Heneghan, M.A., CCC-SLP/L

You may have noticed that your child appears to be getting stuck on words or repeating words and sounds recently, what do you do?  Your friends and/or family may have told you not to worry about it as they will likely grow out of the problem, is this true?  How can you tell if my child is stuttering?  When do I seek help for this problem?

In this post, you will be provided with a brief summary addressing questions related to childhood stuttering.

Prevalence

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), in preschool age the prevalence of stuttering can be as great as eleven percent. The prevalence of stuttering is also greater in boys than girls up to 4:1 as the stuttering progresses.

Characteristics of Stuttering

Disfluency is anything that interrupts the forward flow of speech. Stuttering occurs when this disruption occurs within a word.

There are two forms of stuttering:

1) Sound/Syllable Repetition: repeating a single sound or syllable (e.g., g-g-g-going, bi-bi-cycle, etc.) and 2) Sound Prolongations; pausing or stretching out single sound (e.g, g__oing, ____bicycle).

Associated and/or secondary characteristics may also be present for a child who stutters.  These are described as movements as a reaction to the stuttering including but not limited to: distracting sounds, facial grimaces, head movements, movement of the extremities, etc.

Risk Factors

Stuttering is a disorder of childhood with typically emerges between the ages of two and a half and five years old. While genetics and neurophysiology appear to be related to the underlying causes of stuttering, environmental factors, temperament, and speaking demands may influence a child’s reactions to stuttering.

Recovery

80% of children will outgrow stuttering within four years.  During the first year however, 12% recover spontaneously.  Indicators that your child may continue to stutter includes but not limited to: no changes in frequency of stuttering, changes in stuttering type, duckpersistence of associated behaviors six months post onset, family history of stuttering, increased communication demands, etc.

When therapy is recommended

If you notice that your child is stuttering, mark when you first noticed the problem begin.  Initially, do not draw attention to the stuttering, decrease the communication demands and model slow and smooth speech when speaking to or near your child.

If you are concerned about your child’s stuttering, have them evaluated by a Speech-Language Pathologist who specializes in assessing and treating children who stutter.

Holiday Travel Anxiety

Anxious about the upcoming holiday travel? Here are two great resources and perspectives to help you prepare.

The first is a blog post from the Easter Seals Inc. blog with “12 holiday travel tips for families with special needs” by Sara Croft.

Sara Croft compiled “tips from behavior analyst, therapists and respite providers to make holiday traveling a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

Before the airport: 

  1. Make sure you pack everything your child might want/need in a carry-on bag, including a change of clothes. Create a sensory pack with their favorite calming toy, stuffed animal, object or blanket. Sensory items are a great relief for kids who may become anxious due to first time traveling and fear of the unknown.
  2. Discuss what the experience of the ticket counter and the security check might be like to the child before you arrive at the airport. You could simply talk to the child about it, discuss it with them, or use social stories to aid in the explanation.01_Mason Esquivel
  3. Make sure you call TSA Cares at 1-855-787-2227 at least 72 hours before boarding the plane to ask any questions you may have. A TSA Passenger Support Specialist can be requested to provide on-the-spot assistance. The TSA has a helpline for individuals with special needs.
  4. Try to book flights when your child is generally the most able to handle a change in routine. For many children this may be in the morning when they are not tired and overwhelmed from a long day.
  5. Ask your doctor for a letter describing your child’s condition especially if your child has an “invisible condition” such as autism. It might be helpful to show documentation of the disability to airport security or flight attendants. Visit the TSA’s website and print the disability notification card that you can present at the TSA screening.

At the airport and on the plane:

6. To make your walk to the gate easier, approach the check-in or information desk to ask for a ride or shuttle to your terminal.

7. Inform TSA of your child’s disability and how they might react to security screening or waiting in long lines. Most airports have a family line or will allow the parent and child to be screened together.

8. It might be a good idea to bring noise cancelling headphones for the airport and the plane to help drown out some of the loud noise in the airport and the airplane. Sunglasses can block out the harsh bright light in airports and create a calmer environment.

9. Bring your child’s favorite music or no mess activity to keep them entertained on the plane. Colorful string beads, bags of beads, and items that light up are great additions for the traveling sensory pack.

On the road trip:

10. If your child escapes from their seat easily consider getting covers for the seat belt buckles and remember to check the child locks on the door.

11. Make sure your child is prepared for the road trip by creating a social story about the trip to read for them. This story may need to be read several times prior to the actual trip.

12. Have a visual aid to represent how many hours you have traveled and how many are left. A timer can help your child countdown the hours or minutes until the next stop or activity.

These are excellent tips from Sara to make holiday traveling easier for the whole family.

Another great perspective is from a local parent, David Perry, who writes in today’s “On Parenting” section of the Washington Post ,”When traveling with children, all needs are special.” David shares his family’s experience with traveling to Italy over Thanksgiving. It is a terrific story and a good reminder that travel with all children takes some improvisation.

 

6 Tips for a Smooth Transition Back to School

By: Laura Van Zandt, OTR/L

School is right around the corner if it isn’t already here for many of you. With school starting again, gone are the lazy days of summer and once again the hustle and bustle of getting you kids out the door and getting them to do their homework is resuming. Whether your child is just starting school or is nearing the end of his/her K-12 educational career, here are some tips to help ease the transition back to school. You won’t be able to avoid the business at the beginning of your day, but you can try to ease the morning stress to make the day go smoother.

1. Decide when you have to get up. It will be much easier to decide what time your child needs to go to bed if you know what time they have to get up in the morning. Most experts agree children need between 9 and 10 hours of sleep each night to be at their best. If you know your child must be up at 6 a.m. in order to be ready for school by 7:30 a.m., you would want your child to begin getting ready for bed around 7:30 p.m.

You may want to explain to your child the importance of a good night’s sleep. Getting enough sleep is important for the body to heal itself and allow ourselves to have enough energy to stay awake during the day. It also helps us focus and be less cranky when we have to do tasks we are not particularly interested.

2. Call a family meeting and decide who will be responsible for which tasks each morning. For example, dad will make sure the kids are dressed and their teeth are brushed while mom will take care of breakfast and lunches. Don’t forget to assign these tasks or similar tasks to your children too! This will not only help ease the stress of the morning but it will also help develop their executive function skills which will help serve your child well throughout all grade levels in school. For developmentally appropriate ideas for your children click here.

3. Draw up a schedule or start a family calendar. Designate a spot if possible within your home that is consistent for the family calendar. The family spot can also be used to help make returning back from school easier. If you have young children include photos or illustrations representing the task they need to do. Clipboards are an excellent resource for individual family members to have to list his/her own chores.

Family calendars help to keep things organized
Family calendars help to keep things organized.

4. Do what you can the night before. The more you do before you go to bed, the less frantic you are likely to feel in the morning cramming in as much as possible.

  • Run the dishes overnight (bonuses this sometimes can save money!) or run the dryer to have clean clothes. Lay out tomorrow’s clothing.
  • Maintain a steady supply of quick breakfast foods for this days when it just happens and you are running late. Kid’s growing bodies and developing brains need regular refueling. When kids skip breakfast, they don’t get what they need to perform their best.
  • Hang complete outfits together in your closet or put outfits in bins to quickly grab. Keep your children’s matching shirts and pants in the same drawer or on the same hanger so they can find them easily without help.
  • Gather everything that you will take with you the next day and assemble them in one place near the door your exit from in the morning.
  • Teach your children to get everything ready for the next day before they got to bed. Make lunches, distribute lunch money, and pack backpacks. Take a picture of a completed backpack and attach to a luggage tag so all your child has to do is “match the picture” to make sure everything is included.
  • “Match the Picture” is a concept taught by Sarah Ward where the adult can take a picture of the desired end product and assists the child in breaking down the steps to create both a written and visual to match when completing a goal. This concept can be very helpful in eliminating the need to “nag” your child though every step as well as support independence.

5. Ease the transition back from a full day of school to home by allowing your children a break to move and be active. Go for quality, not quantity with after school programs. Your child will benefit most from one or two activities that are fun, reinforce social development, and teach new skills. Remember children need movement. After sitting for an extended period of time during a school day, giving your kids an opportunity to need can be extremely beneficial.

Regular movement has been shown to increase focus in children of all ages. Movement also helps all children regulate (i.e. adjust their energy) and lower rates of behavioral problems. Research shows that physical exercise influences the central dopaminergic, noradrenergic, and serotonergic systems. Together those systems help manage our mood, appetite, sleep, learning, as well as alertness, focus, and motivation.

Ideas for active play might include tossing a ball/back and forth with a peer, playing tag outside, going for a bike ride on the sidewalk, exploring how your body moves by climbing/cartwheeling/summersaulting/etc., or just taking a short walk. Other active play ideas include exploring different textures or drawing with sidewalk chalk. Here is a link to some fantastic indoor play ideas.

6. Set up a time and place for homework. Having a set place to study and complete homework helps send the signal to your children that learning is important. As much as possible, try to make yourself available during homework time….even if that means you still might be cooking dinner or doing the laundry.

One example of a homework station.
One example of a homework station.

Wherever your homework station is in your house and whatever your homework station looks like in your house, make sure you have all the essentials readily available. This will help avoid time robbers (e.g. getting up to find stuff) and help eliminate any headaches over missing supplies. Pinterest has many great ideas for creating a homework station. Right now the bargain bin section in Target also has great supplies for organization. Purchasing a tri-fold poster at Staples is another fantastic idea to eliminate visual clutter and help your child focus.

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

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.

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.