Transition to Independence

This time of year, we gather together to watch our young people prepare for life after high school. It’s a time for celebration and joy, as well as a time for apprehension and sadness.

The transition to adulthood can be overwhelming for any family but can be especially difficult for families of children with disabilities. For many, the difficulty stems from the lack of available and meaningful options for employment, education and independent living.

Not every student will choose the same path, but everyone should have the opportunity to make a choice and fully participate in that chosen lifestyle. Young adults with disabilities want the same things as their peers without disabilities: to learn, to have friends, to be successful, to accomplish goals, to work, to be self-directing.

Advocacy for policy, programs and legislation that support inclusion and opportunity is so important for this generation of young adults. Some opportunities already exist. They include IDEA funds, Plans for Achieving Self-Support (PASS Plans), vocational rehabilitation, family funds, other rehabilitation programs to help students with developmental disabilities access post-secondary education, and integrated employment services. 

The transition programs and the policies and legislation that support these programs ensure students have the options and opportunities that will shape the rest of their lives. AIM Independent Living Center can assist families during this transition period. For more information about available programs and options, visit

Beyond the blue light

April is Autism Awareness Month. In these first days of the month, we have been flooded with autism awareness campaigns, fundraisers and stories of inspiration and hope. We have seen famous landmarks and local buildings illuminated in blue light, and a number of businesses and brands are taking advantage of this marketing opportunity in support of autism awareness.

Autism has been widely recognized as a social disability since the 1980s. And with the recent statistics indicating 1 in 68 children are identified as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it might be time to move past the idea of awareness. It’s time for acceptance and action.

It’s not enough just to be aware. Taking action to support individuals with autism and their families means generating a greater understanding and knowledge of autism. It means advocating for public policies that support children and adults with autism. It means changing the way we look at disability. And it means working together to challenge misconceptions and outdated ideas.

One in 68 children will grow up to be adults with autism. The shift from awareness to action needs to happen now. Moving toward acceptance means better support for individuals and families that live autism every day, not just in April.

Debates about service dogs and #TheDress reveal lingering social attitudes about invisible disabilities


Invisible disabilities are not immediately apparent – if ever apparent – when meeting someone. Invisible disabilities can be confusing. Without the traditional indicators of disability such as a wheelchair, cane or hearing aids, it can be hard to accurately judge based on appearance.

Invisible disabilities can range from debilitating pain to social disabilities, mental health issues and hearing or vision impairments. People living with chronic pain, color blindness or autism see, hear and feel the world differently than others, yet many of us make judgments about ability and experience based on our expectations of what disability “looks like.”

Disability can present in a variety of ways, so don’t judge based on appearance and take the time to challenge stereotypes. Yes, Maltipoos can be service dogs, #TheDress is black and blue, and invisible disabilities are real. #challengewhatyouknow

Disability and diversity at New York Fashion Week

Rex Features via AP Images

Diversity in media and advertising is on the rise, and New York Fashion Week took note. For most of us, what happens on the runway during NYFW has little to no impact on our daily lives. But when we see the obvious changes in social attitudes reflected at NYFW, we take note.

Wrong to generalize Super Bowl ads as “inspirational porn”

The commercials featured during this year’s Super Bowl were an obvious departure from what is traditionally touted during the big game. From the NFL’s Domestic Violence PSA to the even more chilling ad for Nationwide Insurance to Carnival’s ad featuring the John F. Kennedy monologue, there was a deep, if not sobering, theme that resonated with many of the commercials that aired Sunday.

Super Bowl 49 commercials also put a spotlight on disability. Microsoft, Toyota, and McDonalds all featured individuals with disabilities in their multimillion dollar ads. Paralympian Amy Purdy was front and center in Toyota’s Camry ad, Microsoft ran a profile of a young boy using prostheses, and McDonalds featured a third-grader with Down syndrome and her family in their “Nothing but lovin’” ad.

The representation of disability in the media during one of the biggest viewing nights of the year might be considered a big win in conquering stigma and marginalization, but the other side of that is the idea that ads like these only aim to sensationalize people with disabilities.

In an article written for the online news publication, journalist Elizabeth Heideman is quick to point out the media’s tendency to sensationalize disability. She writes specifically about the idea of “inspiration porn” as it relates to the Super Bowl ads for Toyota and Microsoft. “Both commercials were meant to inspire and motivate viewers with Purdy and O’Neill’s stories, but for disability activists, that’s exactly what’s wrong with the ads,” Heideman writes.

While Heideman’s article brings up many valid points about exploiting individuals with disabilities, it is a difficult sell in connection to these particular ads. It is true that having a disability doesn’t automatically make someone an inspiration to others. But what if you are a professional athlete who happens to have a disability? Where do you make that distinction between exploitation and storytelling – or traditional athlete product endorsements? And is it possible that the individuals in these commercials were just faces; not the face of disability or some inspirational misrepresentation of disability?

To generalize that someone with a disability shouldn’t be looked at as remarkable or impressive doesn’t promote inclusion and full representation, either. It’s important that we are careful not to diminish the accomplishments of anyone—disability or no disability.

No doubt there is a fine line between exploitation and reporting, but the positive representation—or unremarkable depiction—of disability during this significant viewing event is an encouraging step toward the goal of full inclusion.

ACTION ALERT: Increase federal funding for the Independent Living Program

The following is an action alert from the New York Association on Independent Living and the National Council on Independent Living.

President Obama’s FY16 budget was released today, and it includes a request for $111 million for the Independent Living Program. This is a $5 million increase over the FY15 enacted level, and it is the first time in many years that such a request has been made.

NCIL has been pushing Congress and the administration to invest an additional $200 million in the Independent Living Program. While we are happy to see the president’s budget requests an increase, it certainly does not go far enough. Furthermore, the president’s budget is only a request, and these increases need to make their way into the House and Senate budget resolutions, as well. For this to happen, Congress needs to hear from you!

TAKE ACTION: Call or visit your senators and representatives and ask them to increase funding to the Independent Living Program by an additional $200 million in the FY16 budget. Help them to better understand how vital the Independent Living Program is to their constituents around the country.
You can locate your representative here.

Additional information: The president’s budget intends to strengthen middle class economics, and the administration has acknowledged that Americans with disabilities must share in the nation’s economic prosperity. The White House has released a fact sheet entitled Expanding Opportunities for People with Disabilities (PDF) that outlines how the president’s budget works toward that. In addition to the Independent Living Program funding increase, there are specific focuses on extending the Money Follows the Person rebalancing demonstration and expanding eligibility for the Community First Choice and 1915 (I) HCBS state plan options. Additionally, the budget addresses transition for youth with disabilities, improvements to the VR system, access to HCBS long-term services and supports through ADRCs, HUD Section 811 expansion, and new transit investments.

The media and mental illness

Nearly one in five Americans experiences some type of diagnosable mental illness each year. It is safe to acknowledge that we have all been touched by the effects of mental illness. Yet, as a culture, we continue to endorse and perpetuate stigmatizing attitudes about mental illness.

Media portrayals of individuals living with mental illness are often exaggerated and unrealistic.  For instance:

  •  When a mass shooting happens, mental illness is often overstated, eliciting fear from viewers.
  •  When a celebrity displays bizarre behavior, mental illness can quickly morph into entertainment.
  •  When pitying a character with a mental illness is the sole intent of a TV show or a movie.

How the media represents mental illness undoubtedly helps to shape public attitudes—for better or worse.

Stigma erodes the reality of mental illness within our culture and perpetuates prejudice and discrimination. Stigma makes a difference in how individuals access treatment, how they live in their communities, and how they internalize their illness.

We can all challenge stereotypes and fight discrimination by educating our peers and communities. Media literacy is an important part of this education. By challenging and questioning how the media portrays mental illness, we can begin to change stereotypes and prevent pervasive discrimination.

Educating other people so they understand the facts about mental health issues and treating people with respect and compassion are good first steps to de-stigmatizing mental illness within our culture.