Accessible Gaming

Steve SpohnBy Steve Spohn
Editor-In-Chief, The AbleGamers Foundation

Accessibility is an elusive subject when it comes to universal design. When I talk about accessibility am I talking about how easy it is for an audience to access the content on different devices, how wide of a market the content can reach or literally how accessible it is?

The word gets thrown around a lot in the design industries, but when AbleGamers—a non-profit dedicated to getting people with disabilities access to video games—talks about accessibility we mean, “How much of the disability community can access your game?” Continue reading

Defining “Normal”

By Connie Horn

Normal DefinitionRecently I received a “Disability and Me” article from Zacharay Lassiter, a young man diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. His recent article A Struggle to be Normal really had me thinking about what normal is.

According to, normal means: conforming to the standard or common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural. Continue reading

“Differently-Abled” Toy Catalog: Integrated or Segregated?

Toy BearBy Ellen Hierl

You’re making a list, checking it twice and trying desperately to figure out what to give everyone on that list.

Not an easy task for sure. But then as you go down the list you see the name of a child who has a disability, and the task of buying a gift seems even more challenging. You question whether the age guidelines on the box will apply to this child? Will the child know how to use it? Will it be safe? Basically, you just aren’t sure how to approach this.

Maybe you will just get a new sweatshirt instead. Continue reading

Answers Left Unquestioned

TASH Conf LogoBy David Morstad

So Many Answers Left Unquestioned was the theme of the most recent TASH conference in Long Beach, California. As themes go, I like it. It’s clever, insightful and actually very appropriate to this field. We have a certain legacy of leaving important issues, trends and accepted truths go unquestioned. Continue reading

When Beliefs and Reality Collide

By Connie Horn

It has been 24 hours since the phone call.

My grandson was having tests done. I was patiently waiting for the phone call to hear the results. I was also thinking about some of the behavior changes I’ve seen in him over the past few months. He used to respond when you called his name, now I can say his name over and over, with no response. Not even a glance my way. He used to let me hold and snuggle with him, now it is a struggle to get him to hug me or to sit on my lap.

Then the call came.

It is not easy to hear your grandson has autism. Continue reading

Voting: People With Intellectual Disabilities

By Ellen Hierl

We just completed national elections. Many of you exercised your right as a citizen to vote for the candidates of your choice.

But what about the people you support who have intellectual disabilities? Should they have the right to vote? Should their right to vote be limited based upon guardianship status or other measurements? If they do vote, how do we ensure they are not manipulated by people who support them?  Continue reading

What if they DIDN’T have a disability?

By Connie Horn

I’ve recently read several news articles about people with disabilities, and it made me question the motivations of media coverage and how people with disabilities are portrayed.

Headlines that caught my eye were… 

Continue reading

Behind Schedule

By Rachel Patterson
Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD)
Sibling Leadership Network- D.C. Chapter

I’ve set out to write this post about 20 times. Those at the Bethesda Institute Blog know that this post is far behind schedule. When they first contacted me back in April, I promised them a post within a matter of weeks. But every time I sat down to write, I found a reason to avoid it. I had much more pressing work to accomplish, or other tasks to complete. I was too tired or stressed to write well. Continue reading

Rosa’s Law… 2 Years Later

By Gigi Marcellino
Rosa Marcellino’s sister

It’s hard to believe it has already been two years since we were invited to the White House to watch President Obama sign Rosa’s Law on October 5th, 2010.  Even though the excitement of all of the reporters and interviews is gone we are all still proud that we made a change that will continue to affect people in the future.  Continue reading

Employment Opportunities

By Connie Horn

As we start Disability Employment Awareness Month many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are successfully employed, but as a whole, unemployment among people with disabilities still remains high. One reason for this is the barriers they face to employment.

Continue reading

The Successfully Innovative Organization

By David Morstad

I am fresh from a Leadership Retreat within my own organization.

Its theme was innovation – how to foster it, how to more effectively create a culture in which it might flourish, and maybe just how to stay out of its way. One of the focal points of the week was a morning of conversation with representatives from two businesses with no real connection to the field of developmental disability support services:  GE Healthcare and Trek Bicycles.

What do these two companies, both high preforming and highly innovative, do when it comes to encouraging and benefiting from the innovative process? A couple of important ideas emerged from the conversation. Continue reading

The Sibling Role

By Katy Geisleman

In many children’s lives, parents tend to play a more “protective” role in the development of their children. Parents are the ones who provide for their children’s needs, who teach and train them and who advocate for them every step of the way. This is especially true when the child has a disability.

Growing up with a brother who is autistic and nonverbal, I saw my parents take this role very seriously. Not only did they provide for Matthew’s basic needs, they went out of their way to make sure he had the therapies and other supports that he needed. They were – and still are – incredible advocates for him. They have fought many battles for him in regards to schooling, employment, etc. Continue reading

Creativity and Innovation (Part 2)

By Albert Van Kleeck
Albert Van Kleeck Consulting

Last month we began a conversation about creativity and innovation in human services. Several examples of how different companies define creativity and innovation were presented and the question “How do you define creativity and innovation?” was asked.

Finally, the expectation was that this month we would focus on specific services we are all familiar with and begin to think about how we might be creative, or more creative, and innovative in how these services are developed, redefined, invented, and operational. And so, we begin where we left off. Continue reading

I Want To Find A Job.

By Matthew Hobson

“According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Labor, over 41 million Americans currently deal with the challenges of disability, including an unemployment rate in excess of 72%. In addition, 13 million Americans have a ‘go-outside-the-home’ disability.”

- National Telecommuting Institute

People can often overlook those of us with disabilities like we have nothing to offer.

Employers seem uninterested or too afraid to give us a chance to prove what we can do. The jobs we can do vary as much as we do. The types of jobs for people with disabilities can obviously depend on the type of disability the person has. I want a job where I can use my typing ability. I do not have any other skill since I do not have the ability to use my hands well to do many jobs. Continue reading

Disability and Pity

By Connie Horn

Recently I attended a “lunch and learn” where I work. A lunch and learn is where staff get together to discuss a topic, while you eat your lunch.  The topic this day was about “pity” and people with disabilities. The discussion was based around a documentary by Drew Morton Goldsmith:


If you wish me well, do not stand pitying me, but lend me some succor as fast as you can; for pity is but cold comfort when one is up to the chin in water, and within a hair’s breadth of starving or drowning.

- AESOP, Fables

Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, male or female, or have a disability or not, chances are you would never want someone to pity you. Yet, many people think pity is ok as long as they do it to someone else.

Continue reading

‘Fixing’ the Disability

By David Morstad

As Christians, themes of healing and wholeness come naturally. We seek to be compassionate and make right that which appears broken, wounded or wrong. It is a noble and blessed calling.  In the lives of people with disabilities, we see undeniable need.

But what is the curative solution we seek? Are we more likely to pray, “God, take away that person’s disability,” or to pray, “God grant me patience to listen, grant me acceptance, grant me a voice to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, grant me forgiveness, grant me the wisdom to learn from those who have so much to teach me?” Continue reading

Disability and American Semantics

By David Morstad

It’s been nearly a year since Lydia Brown posted a very well-written piece titled, “The Significance of Semantics: Person-First Language: Why It Matters” on her blog, Autistic Hoya. I had missed it at the time but, thanks to a link from a friend, I had the pleasure of reading it today. I highly recommend it.

When it comes to the person-first language debate in disabilities, the autistic community has always been a bit of an outlier for exactly the reasons Ms. Brown outlines.

There’s no general consensus.

In fact, there is a fundamental difference of opinion among those most directly affected. That’s understandable. This is not a relatively clear-cut instance, e.g., ending the R word. At its core, it’s a discussion about the conceptualization of a disability and its relationship to personal identity.   Continue reading

Families and Disability

By David Morstad

Family life is subject to strain. That conclusion is hardly a dazzling new discovery. Families are a series of relationships, and relationships, by their nature, are complex. Toss in a few contemporary issues like unemployment or other financial stress and day-to-day family life becomes even more complicated.

And then, there are the children. Specifically, children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

What is the truth about the rate of divorce among families of children with disabilities? Continue reading

Anniversary of the ADA

By David Morstad

“Three weeks ago we celebrated our nation’s Independence Day. Today we’re here to rejoice in and celebrate another “independence day,” one that is long overdue. With today’s signing of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.”

George H. W. Bush 1990

Those word s were spoken on July 26, 1990 as President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. The words were what they were supposed to be – honest, beautiful and celebratory.   Like all ceremonies, the signing of the ADA recognized the struggle that had gone before and looked to brighter days ahead. It was not a time to highlight uncertainty, opposition and fear on the part of people without disabilities, though a great deal of that swirled about. It continues to do so today. Continue reading

Creativity and Innovation in Human Services – Some things to think about…

By Albert Van Kleeck
Albert Van Kleeck Consulting

Creativity and Innovation, what’s the difference and how do you define these? Are you creative? Are you innovative? Do you know anyone who is creative, innovative? Do you work with anyone who is creative or innovative? Is there even a place for creativity and innovation in the Human Services industry?

Industry! What? This is an industry? Doesn’t that mean we’re just another business?  What we do is so much more than just being a business! And what we do and how we do it is pretty much mandated by all sorts of regulations and rules and the confines of funding streams. Where is the room for being creative and innovative? The answer to these questions depends on how you define things. Continue reading

The Continuing Journey

By Sheryl von Westernhagen
Dir, Metrics & Compliance
Diversity & Inclusion

As a company that emphasizes equal employment opportunities, OfficeMax® has had on its radar the hiring and retaining of individuals with disabilities.  There are different ways to accomplish this goal.  Some companies do a minimal of outreach and if an individual with a disability happens to apply and then happens to be a successful hire, it is counted as a win.  Others develop multiple programs, set goals, and drive a culture shift to ensure that all individuals can be successful in the workplace and be valued for who they are.

OfficeMax is on a continuing journey to be the latter type of organization. Continue reading

Paratransit Services… A Luxury?

By Connie Horn

Recently I came across the following article in The Baltimore Sun. The writer of the article said:

“The Metropolitan Transit Authority’s mobility program for the disabled looks like an expensive and unnecessary luxury. On a recent 20-minute trip to West Baltimore I spotted three of these vans that were either empty or had only a single passenger. This program must cost millions of dollars; how can we possibly afford it? If there is a justifiable need surely it can be met more efficiently by a private carrier. It seems there could be a good story here about an opportunity to cut excessive government spending.”

In the past few months I have written blogs on the topic of community accessibility for people with disabilities, so this article hit a nerve with me, especially when the writer said “looks like an expensive and unnecessary luxury.” Continue reading

Vaccines, Beliefs and Practices

By David Morstad

Research published in the most recent issue of the American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AJIDD) is an article that revisits the dangerous – and mythical – connection between vaccines and the incidence of autism. Continue reading

My Campaign to Ban the R-word

By Katie Pullano

My name is Katie Pullano! I’m a 15 year old from Bedford, Texas. I don’t have an intellectual disability. I don’t have a family member with an intellectual disability. But I do have a best friend with Down syndrome. Several years ago, I met Kalli and Colby, at a Special Olympics swimming event while volunteering as a unified athlete with my older brother. Little did I know those two athletes would change my life forever. Continue reading

Assistive Technology for Everyone

By Jane Vincent
Assistive Technology Lead
University of Michigan

Assistive technology is defined in multiple laws as “Any item, piece of equipment, or system…that is commonly used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.” Continue reading

Job Coach Skill Sets

By Lynn Wiles
Bethesda Lutheran Communities

According to the U.S. Department of Labor – Office of Disability Employment Policy, the national unemployment rate of people with disabilities is 12.5%, as compared to approximately 7.6% for the general population. Continue reading

Are all Leaders Supervisors? Are all Supervisors Leaders?

By Ellen Hierl

I have been immersing myself in supervisor and leadership materials recently in preparation for a project on leadership.  The more I read the more convinced I am that leadership does not equal supervision.  In fact, I think we deceive ourselves when we think that supervisors are naturally the leaders of the people they manage. Continue reading

Real Jobs With Real Pay

By Lynn Wiles
Bethesda Lutheran Communities

Bethesda Lutheran Communities’ Portland office is heading up a pilot project in Supported Employment, offering “real jobs with real pay” to the individuals we support – those both from Bethesda residential programs, as well as from outside referral sources such as the State Vocational Rehabilitation office and county DD branches. Portland serves a three-county area.

In July of last year, I started managing the supported employment venture.

At this time, Portland has seven people working in community-based jobs for at least minimum wage: Continue reading

Dare To Make a Difference

By Gretchen Block

Andrea and I have had the opportunity to work together for a little while now. We both work for Bethesda Lutheran Communities.  Different jobs, different responsibilities, but co-workers nonetheless. Last week she attended training on personal outcome measures (POM). I had the opportunity to do so a few years ago. We spent some time talking about our experiences. Continue reading

Does Disability Mean Inability?

By Connie Horn

Sometimes, it is easy for people – even people with disabilities – to be lulled into believing that disability is a virtually impenetrable barrier to success. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Continue reading

Autism Awareness Month

By Matthew Hobson

Since April is “Autism Awareness Month,” I wanted to tell what autism is like for me.  In my book, I’m So Glad You Found Me in Here, I give a little idea of what living with autism is like. Continue reading

The Old and The New

By David Morstad

Those words were part of the keynote address by Patti Stonesifer at the annual conference of Lutheran Services in America. Ms., Stonesifer currently serves as Chair of the White House Council for Community Solutions. Continue reading

A Few Basic Things

 By David Morstad

Last week in Pittsburgh, Lutheran Services in America held their annual conference. On Tuesday afternoon, the Disability Network of that group sponsored an open forum titled “Long Term Supports and Services,” featuring Dr. Charlie Lakin, director of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. Continue reading

Advocacy for Change

By Gretchen Block

Change…change…more change. Why is it that things always seem to be changing? Who decided that a change was needed again? Can’t we ever slow down? We just get used to something and then there we go, changing things again. So this time, it’s a new employment opportunity for people that choose Bethesda as a provider?  Hmmm…

Bethesda is in the process of filling six new positions in our organization – Advocacy Mentors. Continue reading

Just tell me how many!

By David Morstad

Occasionally, I have the chance to speak to people about developmental disabilities and the people who have them. “How many people have a developmental disability?” is among the most basic questions. People deserve a good answer and it would be helpful to provide a simple percentage upon which everyone agrees. Unfortunately, that’s just not as easy as it sounds. Continue reading