In April, OCALI’s Inspiring Change podcast launched a new series of episodes to capture the thoughts, reactions, and stories from parents, OCALI staff, educators, and other professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re trying to capture these moments as they happen, as people are reacting and adapting and processing and trying to figure things out,” said host Simon Buehrer. “There’s a lot of trial and error and DIY-ing going on right now in almost every aspect of our lives, and we wanted to share what’s happening, how people are juggling and managing these complexities and disruptions, and also champion their personal victories – those moments of triumph and success during unprecedented times. These bright spots help us connect and inspire us to keep going during an era of uncertainty and social distancing.”
You can check out the “Voices, Visions & Victories” series at ocali.org/podcasts. Or wherever you get your podcasts.
Each year, Ohio’s Interagency Work Group on Autism (IWGA) conducts a survey to hear from families who have a loved one with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and/or other disabilities. This year’s survey, which will go live on May 20–June 5, will focus on family experiences related to COVID-19. Sharing your experiences and feedback can help ensure resources are accessible, especially where they will do the most good.
The IWGA represents multiple state agencies who meet regularly to review policies, learn from current research and data, and identify opportunities to better communicate and coordinate Ohio’s autism efforts.
Watch for more details by following OCALI’s Office of Policy on Twitter at @OCALIPolicy or visiting https://iwg-autism.org/.
This was a school year like no other. When schools and colleges transitioned from an in-school to a distance learning environment in mid-March, many of our lives were turned upside down. For some, like my son Connor, who is a college student on the autism spectrum, it was a challenge to adapt to the online environment. The good news: we made it. Let’s celebrate our students’ achievements and milestones during this unprecedented time and look forward to what’s next.
For youth with disabilities, the next steps might be unclear. With more time at home, we have an opportunity to prioritize discussions about how our young people will work and support themselves as adults. Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) can provide services remotely to help them identify their strengths, weaknesses, interests, and career goals to help them build a foundation for future success. We can help provide a realistic understanding of the time, effort, and expense required to achieve their goals.
OOD can assist youth with disabilities, beginning at age 14, through career exploration, skill development, and strategies to get a job after graduation (www.OODWorks.com). In-person meetings may not be possible right now due to COVID-19; however, OOD Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors stand ready to serve and are eager to work together with you and your young person remotely. We can help students explore their options, whether they are in the beginning stages of career exploration, desire to work right away, or launch their career after the pandemic subsides.
If you have a college student with a disability, make sure you connect with us. Our Ohio College2Careers program, at 15 public colleges and universities in Ohio, ensures students with disabilities have the support they need to complete their degree and/or credential, earn higher wages, and meet the demands of tomorrow’s labor market. If your student isn’t attending one of the participating colleges, OOD may still be able to provide support for attaining and maintaining employment.
OOD professionals have been creatively supporting individuals with disabilities during this time. Staff have supported students remotely through mock interviews, coordination of virtual job interviews, and connection to essential employment opportunities. Our Division of Employer and Innovation Services’ Urgent Jobs List and process is in place to connect job seekers to essential businesses with urgent hiring needs. Despite these challenging times, in the first six weeks of coronavirus in Ohio, OOD placed a total of 319 Ohioans with disabilities into a broad range of jobs.
Parents, caregivers, teachers, and mentors all play an important role in setting the expectation of work. Have you had a conversation about employment with your young person? It’s a great time to start talking. I encourage you to reach out to get connected with OOD for support and assistance with these conversations.
If you’ve been joining OCALI on Facebook for our daily 4 Minutes at 4:00 p.m. video series, Patty, Rachel, Maggie, and Kelli should look familiar. For the past six weeks, they have been newscasters sharing tips, resources, strategies, and funny stories in short, easy-to-understand video clips on a variety of topics—from learning about accessibility features in Zoom and how to use descriptive language using alt text and audio description to establishing routines and sharing self-care tips.
The 4 Minutes at 4:00 p.m. video series was part of OCALI’s larger virtual #HereToHelp campaign designed for families, caregivers, educators, and other professionals who support people with disabilities.
“With the rapid and unexpected transition to remote learning and families working from home, the OCALI team was looking for innovative ways to connect people with accessible materials, online learning, and other resources,” said Shawn Henry, executive director at OCALI. “When we launched the campaign, our goal was to ensure that people with disabilities and those who live with, love, and care for them were supported during this pandemic. It’s been exciting to see so many people accessing and using our resources, many of which are free.”
“We also wanted the campaign to provide something fun for people to look forward to each afternoon—with quick, easy, and approachable strategies and resources to access live or at your leisure,” shared Kelli Yeagley, community engagement and project specialist.
In case you missed the videos or resources, you can still access everything on the #HereToHelp webpage. There, you will find 100+ resources specifically curated for educators/professionals and families/caregivers, including tips to support accessible, remote learning environments and strategies.
In everything we do, we are striving to connect a community of people—from educators, service providers, parents/families, people with disabilities, community leaders, policy makers, and more. When we collaborate and work together, we bring new ideas and diverse perspectives that benefit our collective thinking, practices, work, and ultimately, impact.
“Our staff has always been good at collaborating,” said Jan Rogers, program director, Assistive Technology and Accessible Educational Materials (AT&AEM) Center. “Planning and developing this campaign virtually provided our staff an opportunity to think differently about how we work together and communicate with each other in new ways.”
“Google Meet and Zoom became great friends during the past few months,” adds Jen Bavry, program director, Family and Community Outreach Center. “It truly was an amazing effort by our staff to quickly gather the information needed for educators and families and organize those into an easily digestible format.”
Our last new 4 Minutes at 4:00 p.m. video will air on May 20. If you missed an episode or want to watch one again, check out our video gallery. We will also be re-running all episodes throughout the summer. The team is also busy planning for the next phase of the campaign, so stay tuned for more information!
“I think there are folks who are hungry for hope, and a vision for what is possible…” — LeDerick Horne, OCALICON 2019 Keynote Speaker
We couldn’t agree more. In a time when things look different—from the way we deliver school and learning, to the way we do business and work from home, and the way we go about our daily lives—we believe we are all hungry for hope and want to be inspired.
Like most of you, our staff has been looking for innovative ways to work, learn, socialize, and connect. As we all do our part to maintain the health and safety of our families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and those we support by staying home, OCALI is even more committed to being a source of support and inspiration.
We Are #HereToHelp Starting April 14, OCALI will launch a new virtual campaign, #HereToHelp. This new campaign is designed for families, caregivers, educators, and other professionals who support people with disabilities. We believe they are critical parts of the equation to ensuring people with disabilities have the opportunity to live their best lives for their whole lives—especially during these unprecedented times.
From tips and ideas, to specific resources and strategies, and inspiring quotes and funny stories, our team is excited to connect with and support you in new ways. Information will be shared in short, easy-to-understand video clips from our staff members through OCALI’s social media channels,Facebook,Twitter, andInstagram, and our website. Resources from OCALI and various partners are also on our website to help you stay informed, connected, healthy, and supported.
We don’t want this to be a campaign where we’re sharing things AT you. We want it to be WITH you. That’s why we will be encouraging you to ask questions and share your own personal ideas and experiences with us. Our staff, who are all working remotely, will be monitoring our social media and email channels to respond to your comments and questions.
While we’re all navigating our new ways of life, our staff remains committed to supporting and encouraging everyone who lives with, loves, and cares for people with disabilities. We’re all in this together.
Throughout the month of April, we will be sharing resources for people with autism, their families, and those who work with and support them through our social media channels, includingFacebook,Twitter, andInstagram. Along with our friends at the Ohio Interagency Work Group on Autism (IWGA), we will be using the hashtags #KnowMoreDoMore, #AutismAwareness, and #AutismAcceptance.
Our Policy Team and IWGA are working to promote April as the time for people to better understand, to accept, and to take action to inspire change and promote access for individuals with autism and those who love, work with, teach, and support them. The Know More. Do More. theme encourages Ohioans to actively seek out resources and information to become better informed about the challenges and opportunities related to autism. By moving beyond just being aware to acceptance and taking action, we can ensure we are all doing our part.
A few months ago, OCALI launched a new podcast, Inspiring Change. The podcast is designed to take listeners on an audio journey with OCALI through a forum of stories and connections from our ongoing work of inspiring change and promoting access for people with disabilities.
Through candid interviews and conversations with leaders and partners in the field of disability, as well as parents, community members, self-advocates, and others, listeners are discovering and hearing how different ideas, perspectives, and experiences help fuel OCALI’s continued efforts to impact lives in Ohio and beyond.
We recently caught up with Simon Buehrer, the podcast producer, to hear about his journey launching the new podcast. Get the inside scoop on his vision for the podcast, some standout moments and bloopers, and future topics he hopes to dive into.
Why did OCALI decide to do a podcast?
The initial idea was to bring to life some of the things that OCALI does in a different way. A lot of what we do here can be abstract or specialized for a particular audience. We’re trying to bring those things to the forefront and craft them into engaging and interesting conversations. An audio podcast gives us new ways of exploring and explaining all of the amazing things we’re doing at OCALI, our many partnerships and alliances, why our collaborative work is important, and helps showcase new insights and ways of understanding and experiencing our work. There’s a lot that you can do with audio as a storytelling medium. It’s portable and multi-taskable. Is that even a word? In all seriousness, audio is freeing. Driving, washing dishes, doing laundry – you can do so many other things while listening and learning. Listening to information is also a great way to fill in gaps and create your own picture of a story, which provides richer opportunities to tap into your own ideas and imagination.
What do you hope listeners will get out of listening to this podcast?
The human story is a powerful thing. And a good story can do many things. It can touch you emotionally, it can challenge you to think about something in a new way, it can transport you, it can help you view things through a different lens. We all have our own way of seeing and interpreting the world. I hope this podcast offers listeners new information and the opportunity to expand their knowledge and understanding while hearing different perspectives around disabilities. I want the content to inform, engage, and inspire and I hope listeners take away new information, voices, ideas, and events. We’re working to keep the content evergreen so that topics and interviews are relevant for long periods of time.
What have been some standout moments since you’ve launched the podcast? Or, have there been any mishaps or bloopers along the way?
It’s hard for a producer to pick just one standout moment, especially since we’re still in the early stages of getting this podcast up and running, but there are a few things that come to mind. Honestly, I’ve enjoyed all of the interviews I’ve done. The interview with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities Director Kevin Miller. at the Ohio State Fairgrounds was great. So was chatting with job seekers at an event outside of Cleveland. I love talking with people and hearing their stories and perspectives – that’s a precious gift, especially when they are open to being vulnerable about their feelings and experiences. You have to hold and share those moments honestly with an abundance of care and respect. I’m learning how to approach people and engage them in a real and authentic way.
I recently interviewed a young couple that attended OCALICON. The wife is autistic and he’s neurotypical. The two of them talked about the dynamics of their relationship, the magical and wondrous moments, as well as some of the challenges for them as a married couple, and how they’ve learned to navigate their world together. For example, the wife has sensory sensitivities and mentioned feeling uncomfortable about wearing noise canceling headphones and sunglasses while visiting a bookstore. So her husband also wore headphones and sunglasses so she wouldn’t be alone. That kind of moment is very real and authentic and I think it’s that type of conversation that makes an incredible story that others can relate to. As far as mishaps, while I’m embarrassed to admit, I had a pretty major technical malfunction early on. It was during our first interview for the first episode and I was super excited. We were recording in a private meeting room and I was getting all the equipment set up and ready to go. I was trying to screw in a mic, and all of a sudden, it slipped out of my hand, fell on top of the recorder, and completely cracked the screen. Fortunately, the recorder still works, but, every time I see it, I am reminded of that first day. On another occasion, it was my very last interview of the day, I was going to hit the ‘record’ button at the beginning of the interview. Well, I was so into the conversation that I completely forgot to hit ‘record’ and didn’t capture the most powerful part of the interview. Fortunately, the interviewee was gracious enough to redo the interview, but, it was certainly a lesson learned.
Podcast Host Simon Buehrer interviews Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities Director Kevin Miller
What topics can people expect in future episodes?
An essential part of the content is to surface stories related to our work, innovative ideas, and our mission of promoting access and inspiring change for people with disabilities. We also want to highlight some of the incredible partnerships we have with other organizations in Ohio and across the country who are doing some really impactful work. We don’t want this content to be vanilla. We want to explore some topics that may push the envelope a bit. We’re not trying to be controversial or sensational – there’s enough of that going on in our modern world – but we really want to get people talking and thinking about important issues in a new way. While we have a lot of our own ideas, we’re always open to new suggestions and recommendations for stories people should hear. If listeners have ideas for future episodes, we’d love to hear from them, too. Drop me a line at email@example.com.
If you haven’t taken a listen, here’s a quick rundown on the current episodes:
Episode 1: Shifting Expectations: Reflections on Ohio’s Continued Transition Toward Community Employment and Individual Choice
Episode 2: A Day at the Fair: The First Sensory Friendly Morning at the Ohio State Fair
Episode 3: An Inspiring Conversation with Kevin Miller
Although it is still winter and Groundhog’s Day revealed an early spring, we are already thinking about summer.
The picnics, vacations, swimming pools, camps, and, of course, the Fair!
Yes, it’s time to think about the summer fairs and the endless fun provided to individuals across the state as they experience the rides, games, shows, competitions, and the food – mouth-watering funnels cakes, elephant ears and deep fried, well, just about anything.
And for those involved in organizing these annual community gatherings, planning for the 2020 season began months ago. In fact, fair staff from across Ohio gathered in early January to network with old friends, connect with new members, learn about the latest attractions, and share experiences. And, this year, OCALI was able to join in on their early planning by providing information on creating a sensory friendly environment.
“This was a tremendous opportunity for OCALI to connect with communities across the state to advance our mission of inspiring change and promoting access,” shares Jen Bavry, Program Director Family and Community Outreach Center at OCALI. “As the Ohio State Fair General Manager Virgil Strickler stated last year ‘the Ohio State Fair isn’t just about the food and rides – it is about the community’ and I couldn’t agree more. When we all come together, we create greater access to meaningful experiences and social opportunities for all individuals in their communities.”
Jen, along with Alicia Shoults, Marketing & Public Relations Director, Ohio Expo Center and State Fair presented to managers and staff at the 95th Ohio Fair Managers Association Convention on January 3, 2020. The session provided an opportunity for participants to learn about the experiences from the first Sensory Friendly Morning at the Ohio State Fair, gain a better understanding of sensory processing and how to provide an environment that accommodates sensory differences, and discuss tools to support hosting a sensory friendly morning.
“It was wonderful to be able to join this group,” explains Bavry. “There was such great energy and interest in the room as we shared our experience, as well as tips to support them in making their community event more accessible. For many, it was just a matter of taking a different approach to the great things they are already doing.”
Session participants were able to walk away with resources to help them in creating sensory friendly environments in their communities, including a checklist of things to consider when planning for their summer fair.
“Ohio’s county and independent fairs are incredibly interested in becoming more inclusive, “ shares Alicia Shoults, “Speaking with representatives from these fairs at the Ohio Fair Manager’s Association convention facilitated an open dialogue on how our fairs can become more sensory-friendly statewide. We feel incredibly fortunate for our partnership with the experts at OCALI. Their insights and expertise allowed us to get a great start in 2019, and we are already building on that momentum with expanded plans for the 2020 Ohio State Fair. This is just the beginning of a wonderful partnership.”
That’s right, planning for the 2020 Ohio State Fair is underway. The Ohio State Fair will once again host a Sensory Friendly Morning. The morning will offer a similar experience as last year with the lights lowered and sounds turned down. Fairgoers needing a break can relax in the OCALI Quiet Room or take in the shade and peaceful surroundings offered by the Ohio State Fair’s own eight-acre Natural Resources Park. In addition to the Sensory Friendly morning, the Ohio State Fair will continue to build on its efforts to expand access and ensure inclusivity during the entire length of the Fair, running July 29 through August 9, 2020.
Save the Date! Sensory Friendly Morning Ohio State Fair 2020 August 5, 2020 9:00-1:00 p.m.
Stay tuned for more information about the Ohio State Fair Sensory Friendly morning, including a special parking permit, sensory friendly activities, and resources to support your visit.
Rather through books, personal narratives, movies, or theater; stories impact our lives from childhood on. Stories are a way for us to learn, explore new or unfamiliar ideas, and possibly even develop emotions, such as empathy. Personally, one of my favorite ways to enjoy a story is through theater. It energizes me, compels me to think and be reflective.
But, what if someone has a negative experience because they cannot access the full story? Barriers exist in many ways that stories are told, especially in videos. Important information is often presented in a visual way that is not also available in the auditory track or cannot be deduced from auditory cues. There might be text on the screen that someone with a reading disability may have difficulty reading. Someone with a visual impairment may hear the noise of an object dropping, but be unsure of what is happening in the video because they did not see the object fall and hit the ground.
A way to remove this barrier is to provide audio description for videos. Audio description (AD) is a recorded narrative or audio track that is added when a video contains visual information that is not naturally included in the audio or explicitly stated by the host or narrator.
As an organization that works to remove barriers, OCALI is constantly investing in professional development for staff to address barriers and work to implement best practices. In July 2018, a team of three of us were given the opportunity to go to St. Louis to attend the Audio Describer Training provided by the American Council of the Blind.
With much excitement and anticipation, we boarded the plane to St. Louis and spent three days fully immersed in audio description with a diverse group (from voice actors to stenographers), totaling 18 trainees. It was energizing to see a range of people with a passion to break down barriers and work to increase access for so many.
After valuable instruction, collaborative work, and a final practicum, the three of us returned home with a certificate in audio description and so became OCALI’s very own #DescriberSquad.
When you study something new, a field or a topic, it opens you up to a whole new set of ideas, thoughts, and contemplations. After our training and taking a week or so to reflect, the #DescriberSquad quickly realized we had a lot of work to do; work that was not necessarily clear. We also realized we had a lot of questions; questions that were not easily answered with a Google search.
We started by developing a spreadsheet to organize our existing and upcoming video content. During this initial phase, it became apparent just how many people would need to be involved in the audio description process. We needed to work with our colleagues who are creating the content, video producers and editors, the web development team, and most importantly, we had to work collaboratively and consistently among ourselves.
The spreadsheet helped to organize our work and set priorities on which videos would be completed first. But we still needed more. We were constantly asking questions: How would you describe this? Where do we send the videos when we are done? Is the quality of my audio recording meeting OCALI standards?
As a result of our questions, our next document was the Audio Description Workflow, which delineates the 11 steps from start to finish. It has been shared throughout the organization and serves to help structure our workflow and also answer common questions from colleagues.
All of our early audio description work culminated in what is now the OCALI Guidelines for Audio Description. The document serves as a ‘go-to’ resource; providing definitions, what to describe and how to describe it, and other general information.
Where We are Now
We have learned so much over the past 18 months. We have made mistakes, realized some inconsistencies, and have also had many successes. Our web development team has recently added the ability to access audio-described videos on our website with ease of access. The #DescriberSquad has provided trainings, both internally and at conferences. Our IT and Media Specialist has an efficient system for audio recordings and video editing. After 38 videos and counting, we have realized both the uniqueness and complexities of our video work as an organization.
If I had to pick one thing that mattered the most in our start with AD, it would be the constant willingness and collaboration. We were never met with “we can’t do that with videos” or “that’s not possible for our websites.” Our colleagues always met us with a willingness to find a solution and an excitement to talk together. We are proud of our work and excited about moving forward and making even more progress.
The end of 2019 marked the five-year anniversary of the passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. As you may know, ABLE empowers people with disabilities by helping them to take better control of their finances and live more independently. After passage of the federal legislation, Ohio was the first state to jump in, launching the STABLE Account program in 2016. Since then, and notably in the last year, the Treasurer’s office has championed the ABLE Act’s purpose
and provided people living with disabilities with a powerful tool to help them plan their financial future.
STABLE accounts are the premier ABLE program in the country, and more than one in four ABLE accounts are STABLE accounts. Since taking office one year ago, our team has made it a priority to grow the program even further and create innovative partnerships that are establishing STABLE accounts as a mainstream financial tool.
The STABLE Account program saw unprecedented growth and success in 2019. Our national presence was cemented in February with the opening of the 10,000th active account. By year’s end, we surpassed 14,000 active accounts, effectively growing overall participation by more than 40 percent. This great news continued into November when STABLE reached $100 million in total participant contributions.
As part of our office’s mission, we’re committed to being bold innovators who improve people’s lives. Our work on STABLE accounts is playing a large part in how we follow through on that mission. New partnerships with the State of Ohio and the City of Cincinnati allow state and city employees to make recurring direct deposits into STABLE accounts. In the coming years, we’ll continue to build these types of partnerships both in the public and private sectors to make contributing to STABLE accounts easier than ever before.
With your help and the support of advocates across Ohio, we’re going to reach even more individuals and have a greater impact in 2020. While a great deal of progress has been made since the ABLE Act became law, I can assure you we’re just getting started.
We look forward to continuing to work with you in the new year. Through the STABLE Account program, we are improving and empowering lives, while also helping to alleviate the financial burdens felt by families across the Buckeye State and nationwide. As always, my door is open, so please do not hesitate to contact me with your thoughts and ideas. Together, we’re helping to build peace of mind and financial security to those living with disabilities.