2021: The End of the Beginning & Manifesting What’s to Come
By: Shawn Henry, Executive Director, OCALI
Just when we thought we could get off of the roller coaster ride of 2020, it soon became clear that the ride wasn’t over—we have continued to navigate the twists and turns of pandemic life, professionally and personally. At OCALI, flexibility and the ability to embrace uncertainty have been key to responding to the needs of those we serve and taking advantage of new opportunities that have come our way. Being “strategically flexible” has been part of our model since the very day we were founded, and has enabled us to better provide support.
What keeps us on task and on track in this twisting path is what I once read termed the “Primacy of Purpose.” The premise is that you can make quick and nimble decisions in the moment, take risks, and try new approaches because you’re not giving directives and tasks—you’re ensuring everyone in your team, your organization, etc. know what the end goal or purpose is. There is also an understanding that there’s not a straight line to get there.
As I look back at the past two years, I have never been more proud to serve our staff and to witness their hard work, dedication, innovation, and passion for serving people with disabilities and our collective community. We have always been laser focused on ensuring educators, professional, and families had access to accessible materials, online learning, and other resources during the pandemic. I can honestly say that some of our best and most creative and impactful work happened in the past two years.
Leading By Convening
Partnerships have played an integral role in our work and growth. Leading by convening partners has been intentional. Whether it’s convening internal partnerships between staff, or connecting with external organizations locally, regionally, or globally, there’s no question that harnessing our strengths, ideas, and perspectives are powerful ways to scale innovation, tackle tough problems, and expand impact. We have also been intentional about engaging the disability community. They are at the center of our ‘why’ and everything we do, and that’s why we connect and listen to them.
I am grateful for our many partners in education, technology, health care, business and community, policy, and government. Together we are exploring and learning new ways of listening, understanding, and modeling. In 2022, we will continue to work together with our partners because we know that we cannot do it alone. When we collaborate, we bring new ideas and diverse perspectives that expand our thinking, practices, and work. And, ultimately, our impact.
Manifesting What’s to Come
One of my favorite quotes that I often use is from my friend, Jason Barger. He says “Conversations are the currency for change. It all begins with what we are willing to talk about.”
While there never has been a straight line in serving people with disabilities, one thing was clear prior to the pandemic—and that is that nobody was moving the needle fast enough. There weren’t enough conversations happening. The pandemic caused a disruption and forced us to start thinking and talking differently. Conversations about accessibility became front and center across industries. And, as a result, the needle started to move more quickly—and that is a very good thing.
Supporting our collective community and bringing hope and inspiration to the people we serve, has never been more important. As we move into 2022, I am encouraging our team to manifest a vision for how we can better serve and support people with disabilities and those who live with, love, and support them. I’d like to encourage people to envision two things:
- How can we continue to create an environment of accessibility—in our homes, schools, workplaces, and in our communities?
- How can we use technology to create a higher quality of life and increased accessibility?
I am optimistic that we are at the end of the beginning of this new way of living and that we are starting to get our sea legs again about what the future holds. I believe that as an organization, we will continue to work toward our mission in new and exciting ways. We know that there’s no clearly defined path. But we’re going to doing it. You’re going to do it. And people’s lives are going to be changed—and better—because of it!
Here’s to bringing life to our vision in 2022 and beyond.
Q&A With Michelle Motil, Family Support Liaison at the Center for Deafness and Blindness at OCALI
Tell us about Michelle. What are a few things that people don’t know about you?
“Sometimes I get comments that I seem to be an unusually happy and cheerful person. I made the choice to be that way. My sense of humor started out as a coping mechanism, but now it’s part of who I am. I still have hard days, but everyone does. The point is to keep trying and keep going because the only consistent thing in life is change. As for what I like to do, I think I’m a pretty normal person, living an ordinary life with typical hobbies. I enjoy researching the property of plants and how to garden. I love nature. I’m a beachy pool girl when I have the opportunity. I’m an avid reader. I sing and I dance, and I look forward to defeating my opponents at cards.”
What’s one fun fact about yourself?
“This is definitely something interesting—I went to circus school in Jamaica and I did the trapeze. That was a really cool experience.”
What was the intent behind creating the Journey Towards Independence series?
“Initially, my boss presented the idea to me, and she encouraged me to think about sharing my journey and how it might be able to help other people. We wanted this series to be personal and interactive, more about the human, real, and practical sides of life. Sometimes those aspects get lost in the formal and professional parts of serving people with disabilities. It’s so important to consider the person and relate to them in real, authentic ways. It was also important to make sure this was a ‘we’ journey and not just a ‘me’ journey because there are so many people involved. I truly believe in learning communities and safe spaces to share and discuss difficult topics—people need to know they’re not alone. I want to give families and professionals examples of how a real person is living independently and give hope and inspiration to their families so they know their child or family member can live an independent, high quality life. I want to show people that even though it can be hard, it can be done, and I can demonstrate what grit and resiliency look like and show how to push forward during challenging times.”
Tell us how the Journey Towards Independence series connects to the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC), which includes foundational skills essential for people with disabilities.
“When a person is deaf/hard of hearing or blind/visually impaired, they are missing part of the information. Informal learning takes place through observation with the senses, and most kids learn by example. The ECC addresses these skills that a lot of kids pick up without being taught. These skills are crucial for independent living and they need to be explicitly taught. Each episode of this series highlights 1-2 standards from the ECC, and there’s also the opportunity to talk about it in real-time during the interactive part of the session.”
The December 15 episode is about your guide dog, Tonne. How has Tonne changed/improved your life?
“Having Tonne has improved my life tremendously. He has helped me to deal with my anxiety in getting out and pushed me out of my comfort zone. By having a guide dog, I am more willing to go out and try new and different experiences. He is my partner and he helps me to get around safely, and I can also get around much faster. From a social standpoint, now that I have a dog, more people approach me when I’m out, which has created more social opportunities.”
In the January 26 episode, you talk about your new living situation and roommates. Give us a sneak peek of that episode.
“From a socio-emotional and mental health standpoint, it’s nice to have people in the house—just to have the presence of other humans around. Also, when I need help, my roommates are there to help me. This episode talks a lot about the importance of organization and communication, and how that has been important in how we share household duties. Things like, how are we going to organize food, share cleaning duties, pay bills, etc.? This episode highlights my transition and how I’m learning new skills and considerations for daily living.”
How does independent living improve your quality of life?
“Living independently provides more opportunities for empowerment and for me to make my own choices. Sometimes, when a person with disabilities is living with a family member, choices get made for them instead of with them. When you live independently, there is more room for personal growth and strength, which you may not get relying on a family member. I don’t want people to assume they have to live with their parents or in a facility.”
For families who are supporting individuals with disabilities, what advice would you give them to help their loved ones lead/live a more independent life?
“The best thing to do is to be a mentor or coach, and to encourage the person to try new things. Try not to do everything for them. Having high expectations is also important. Failing is a learning opportunity. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about doing good and better until better is your best and good is your better.”
To learn more about the Journey Towards Independence series and to register, visit https://deafandblindoutreach.org/Yes-We-Can-Journey-Towards-Independence.
Behind the Scenes at OCALI
Have you ever wondered how we get all that great footage for our InspirED Virtual Learning series? Well, wonder no more. We have a studio here at OCALI! This is a photo from our recent filming with ODE. If we aren’t in studio, we also rely on tools like Riverside.fm and Zoom to record our guest panelists. Be sure to register for our December 16 InspirED episode on building strong family-school partnerships!
Join Us December 16: New InspirED Session: Building Strong Family-School Partnerships
Families are an important asset in the equation of ensuring people with disabilities have the opportunity to live their best lives. Explore strategies for building partnerships between families and school staff members, including how to nurture these partnerships and navigate the barriers that have been posed by the pandemic.
OCALICONLINE 2021 On-demand
Missed some of the live event or want to go back and re-watch a session or two? Registered attendees have on-demand access to content through January 5, 2022.
Virtual Assistive Technology Vendor Fair
Need professional development seat time? 24 different sessions are available from the AT Conference & Vendor Fair. A ½ hour of seat time is available for each session.
Ensuring Access to the General Curriculum for ALL Learners
Check out this new video-based learning series that explore practical, easy-to-use resources designed to ensure ALL learners have access to the general curriculum. Learn more.
The transition from school to adult Life is an ongoing journey. Youth with complex and unique needs often require teams to have access to a variety of tools, resources, and people to plan and prepare for the future. This webinar series is designed for teams assisting youth with complex support needs and their families to better navigate the process of the own journey to adulthood.
New ATIM Modules
The Assistive Technology & Accessible Educational Materials (AT&AEM) Center at OCALI recently launched four new Assistive Technology Internet Modules (ATIM) modules:
- AT for Workplace Accommodations
- AT for Driving and Transportation
- AT Implementation: Adults with DD
- AAC Implementation: Adults with DD
Looking for a way to make an impact in the lives of young people, while growing a rewarding career with a fun, fast-paced organization? OCALI is hiring professionals with a passion for making a difference for unique positions as Multi-System Youth and Family Regional Coaches. These Regional Coaches will work with youth with complex needs (MI/IDD) and their families in their homes.
It Starts With Families
This new guide supports local professionals serving individuals and families to become familiar with research around family engagement.