VMI Presents the 2017 United States Quad Rugby Association Nationals

PHOENIX, Ariz. (Oct. 28, 2016): Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center will play host to nation’s the top 16 wheelchair rugby teams at the 2017 United States Quad Rugby Association (USQRA) National Championship Tournament, April 20-22, 2017.

The tournament is presented by Vantage Mobility International (VMI), one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of wheelchair accessible vehicles.  Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center is located at 5031 E. Washington Street in Phoenix, Arizona.

Tournament teams will be seeded in two divisions following regional and sectional tournaments in February and March across the country involving 45 teams in eight divisions.  At the national tournament, teams will compete in preliminary round robin formats with national champions to be determined through single elimination contests in the final round.

The defending 2016 Division I national champions are the Texas Stampede from Cedar Park, Texas while the Brooks Bandits from Atlantic Beach, Florida are the defending Division II champions.

For more information about the United States Quad Rugby Association, visit www.usqra.org.  For more information about Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center, visit www.ability360.org.

wheelchair halloween costumes and how to make them vantage mobility

Amazing Wheelchair Halloween Costumes and How to Make Them

Last year VMI had an online contest in search of the best wheelchair halloween costumes out there. To say we were blown away by the community’s creativity would be an understatement.

This year, we followed up with two of our winners to get a step-by-step list of instructions for how they put the costumes together and what special considerations they kept in mind.

Each costume was put together extremely differently, with one taking a whole month of prep work and the other taking essentially one day. Whether you go with a more intense option, like Allison’s bookworm, or a simpler option, like Shannon’s crazy cat lady, one thing is for sure: putting together an amazing wheelchair Halloween costume is possible no matter what the time constraint.

How to make a wheelchair bookworm costume, by Allison Bungard

Halloween-Wheechair-Costume-VMI-Winner-Bookworm

How long did it take to make?

I usually think about and collect ideas throughout the year, including pictures of costumes for persons using wheelchairs and costumes for persons who do not use wheelchairs. The website Coolest Homemade Costumes and social media sites like Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram are great resources.

About a month prior to Halloween, we make a decision, buy materials and begin work on the costume. We usually need sufficient time to account for drying time between steps, weather that might affect drying time, work and school activities, and medical and therapy appointments. Because our son uses his wheelchair at school during the day, we can only do “costume fittings” after school and on weekends.

What materials did you use?

  • Several pieces of foam insulation board – 2″ or 3″ thick (available at hardware store)
  • Gorilla glue
  • Hot wire foam cutter and hot knife foam cutter
  • Newspaper
  • Bulletin board paper
  • Masking tape
  • Plastic resin glue
  • Paint
  • Paint brush
  • Fine point black marker
  • Cardstock (for lettering on books)
  • 4 Swivel plate casters
  • Screws (to attach casters)
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Mask with filter (to protect from fumes)
  • Tarps (to protect work surfaces)
  • How did you put the costume together?

    Measure
    I used a book as a model for the two books in the costume. I measured the wheelchair and used algebraic proportions to calculate the dimensions so the costume would cover the length, width and height of the wheelchair.

    Outline and Cut
    I outlined the pieces of the books on the foam insulation board. Then, using a hotwire foam cutter and a hot knife foam cutter, I cut out the pieces.

    Calculate Number of Pieces Necessary
    Each book has six pieces. The top and bottom of each book are the same size, so I cut out four rectangles of the same size for the book covers, two for each book.

    The pages of each book consist of two rectangles of the same size on the ends and two longer rectangles of the same size running down each side of the book. For both books, I needed four of the smaller rectangles and four of the larger rectangles.

    With Gorilla glue, I glued the pieces together in the shape of the books. The glue needs to dry for approximately 24 hours.

    Cut a Hole for the Wheelchair
    Using the hot knife, I cut into each book a hole for the wheelchair. The hole for the wheelchair fit within the entire rectangle portion of the book, but the wheelchair hole is off center inside of the rectangle because it is actually centered in the structure of the entire book and binding (which was added later).

    Create the Book Binding
    To make the binding, I drew five semicircles on the foam and cut them out using the hot knife. I glued the semicircles to the book.

    Next, I attached strips of masking tape between each semicircle and stuffed the area between the strips of tape with wadded up balls of bulletin board paper. Once there was sufficient stuffing, I enclosed the entire binding with masking tape.

    Cover the Foam Boards with Masking Tape, begin Paper Mâché Process
    Prior to starting the paper mâché process, I covered each book in masking tape to protect the integrity of the foam board. Then, I tore the newspaper into long strips. I followed the directions to make the plastic resin glue. The plastic resin has terrible fumes, so while applying the paper mâché, you should keep the books in a well-ventilated area. I wore the mask to help with the fumes as well. I used the plastic resin glue and newspaper strips to cover the books in paper mâché. The paper mâché needed to dry for at least 24 hours. The plastic resin glue produces a sturdy paper mâché, and we did not need to cover the books in a second coat. If you use another type of paper mâché medium, you may need multiple coats and additional drying time.

    Paint
    Once the paper mâché was completely dry, I painted the book covers and binding. Then, I painted the pages in a shade of white. Once dried, I applied a second coat of paint. I drew lines for the pages using a fine point black marker.

    Cut out Book Letters, Glue them on
    I used a Cricut Expression to cut the letters for the titles and authors as well as the designs on the cover and binding. I decoupaged the letters and designs onto the book.

    Drill
    Using a drill, I placed holes for the swivel plate casters on the bottom cover of the book and then screwed the casters onto the foam. The casters are part of why you need thicker foam board. Swivel wheels will also help with uneven sidewalks and roads during Trick or Treat.

    Get dressed
    The worm costume was not homemade. We ordered the worm costume, graduation cap, and glasses from an online costume store.

    What were some of the special considerations for decorating your child’s wheelchair?

    We usually have to think about where the costume will be worn — the school costume parade, Trick or Treating, Halloween parties, etc. We try to consider any door widths and whether we will need to transport both the wheelchair and the costume in our vehicle at the same time. [Consider whether you have a wheelchair accessible vehicle or not] as these issues will affect the size of the costume.

    If you want the wheelchair costume to go everywhere, then you need to create something that will fit through doors. If you need to transport both the wheelchair and the costume at the same time, then both need to fit in your vehicle at the same time.

    Thus far, most of our costumes have had two components: a costume for our son that can be worn with and without the wheelchair costume and the component that is made to costume his wheelchair. This allows our son to wear a costume even when we go places where it might not be practical to bring his wheelchair costume.

    What were some additional steps taken to ensure the safety & comfort of your child in their costume?

    As you are designing and making the costume, you have to make sure your child has enough room to move without damaging the costume. You also need to make sure your child can carry his or her treat bucket to present it to people who are passing out candy.

    You also need to consider how you will push, stop and set the wheel locks (brakes) of the wheelchair while using the costume. You also need to consider how the costume will handle any curbs and uneven surfaces.

    How did you come up with an idea that could incorporate the chair?

    My inspiration for costumes is my son — his interests, things I want him to learn about our family, and concepts that I want him to learn about the world around him. We have made six costumes incorporating our son’s wheelchair.

    To celebrate the memory of his grandfather, our son dressed as a postal worker driving a postal truck that we made for his wheelchair. One year, I was anxious for him to learn about community helpers, so he dressed as a firefighter, and we made a fire truck for his wheelchair. Last year, I wanted him to understand that books and reading are important, so we decided upon the bookworm costume.

    The base is the hardest part of the costume to make. You can either create a base for the costume around the frame or handles of the wheelchair. Or, as with the bookworm, you could make a base with wheels that goes around the wheelchair, and the wheelchair essentially pushes the rolling costume.

    Remember: you don’t necessarily need to start from scratch each year. In some years, we reuse our base because it’s the most time-consuming component to make. For example, we repainted the postal truck to become the fire truck. We got two great costumes out of one cardboard truck.

    How to make a crazy cat lady costume for wheelchair users, by Shannon Feiler

    How long did it take to make?

    This costume was very easy to make and didn’t take long to put together. The longest part was attaching the stuffed cats to her chair with duct tape.

    What materials did you use?

    Lots of stuffed cats: we found many at garage sales and borrowed from friends to keep the cost down
    Duct tape to attach the cats to her chair and the box
    A box to fill with a bunch of stuffed cats
    Robe, slippers, crazy glasses and curlers for her hair

    What were some of the special considerations for decorating your child’s chair?

    We made sure nothing dragged on the ground or would get caught in the wheels. We also wanted the cats visible, so we attached them after she was sitting in the chair and used a belt to keep the box of cats on her lap.

    What were some additional steps taken to ensure the safety & comfort of your child in their costume?

    We had to make sure her robe wasn’t too long so it wouldn’t get caught in her wheels. The costume was super comfy because she could wear her PJ’s under her robe and stayed warm as well.

    How did you come up with an idea that could incorporate the chair?

    We are always looking for a way to incorporate her chair on Halloween. This was perfect because we could just make it look like she was sitting in a chair. Not much extra [work] needed. My daughter loves animals and has a ton of stuffed animals, so for her this was a perfect costume. She loved having all the cats around her! We saw a picture of a similar costume online, but the child was walking…I thought this would be so much more fun to make with her sitting and we could have so many more cats using her chair. It all worked out, and she was the hit of our Halloween adventures!

    amazing-arizona-fall-road-trips

    Six Amazing Arizona Road Trips to Take this Fall

    Arizona has some of the most beautiful, well-known scenery in the country. Whether it’s Historic Route 66, the red rocks in Sedona, the Grand Canyon up north, or Antelope Canyon in Page, where the world’s most expensive photo ever sold was taken (Phantom, sold for $6.5 million) — the number of breathtaking landscapes could probably suffocate a person.

    The fall season makes Arizona even more desirable and pleasing with its snow-crested mountains, browning leaves and pleasant weather. Perhaps no one knows this better than the folks at Arizona Highways, who spend each day writing and posting images online about the beauty that is the Grand Canyon State.

    Noah Austin is the associate editor at Arizona Highways Magazine, and is in charge of coordinating scenic drives for the publication’s readers. We asked him a few questions about the best road trip practices and to coordinate a few road trips for VMI readers, too. In the comfort of a wheelchair van, why not take a roadtrip with loved ones in the great southwest?

    VMI: What makes a road trip great?
    NA: For me, a road trip isn’t just about great scenery. It’s also about history and culture along the way. For example, Arizona has one of the country’s longest stretches of Historic Route 66, and parts of that road — the parts you can still drive, anyway — aren’t particularly “scenic,” but you’re driving on a route that people have been using to get from the Midwest to the West Coast since the 1920s. There’s one section, between Kingman and Oatman, that eventually was bypassed because it was too steep for the car engines of the 1920s, which were gravity-fed rather than using fuel pumps. People would actually drive their cars backward up the hill to get around this problem. So I find little bits of history like that fascinating, although a scenic landscape along the road is wonderful as well.

    VMI: When and where was your favorite road trip? Why is it your favorite?
    NA: My favorite road trip actually happened earlier this summer. I had to go to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, a place I’d never been, for an assignment in a future issue of the magazine. The North Rim is so remote — from Flagstaff, it’s an extra 130 miles to reach the North Rim compared with the South Rim. It’s almost like being in another state; it’s about 8,500 feet above sea level, and nighttime temperatures get down into the 40s, even in July and August. The scenery on the way there is spectacular — Navajo Bridge over Marble Canyon, the Vermilion Cliffs, the spruce and fir forest on the way to the rim of the Canyon, a herd of bison that really shouldn’t be there but are there anyway, etc. I wish I could have stayed for longer. I spent about 15 hours in the car over two days, and I didn’t even listen to any music. The scenery was that spectacular. I’m already trying to figure out when I can do it again.

    VMI: How far in advance do you plan a road trip?
    NA: I usually plan a road trip about a month in advance. Sometimes I’ll print out an itinerary, so I can make sure I stay on schedule if I have dinner reservations somewhere. Often I’ll map the route in Google Maps so I have an idea of how long each leg of the trip will take. Arizona is a big state, and sometimes it can be hard to picture how long it’s going to take to get somewhere, so online tools really help. When possible, I try to map a “loop” route so I’m not going over the same terrain twice, but this isn’t always an option.

    VMI: What are your must-have road trip snacks?
    NA: Beef jerky. Provided it’s not too greasy, it’s a perfect thing to keep you going on the road. There’s a place in Quartzsite, out in Western Arizona, called Really Good Beef Jerky, and it lives up to its name. I try to stop there anytime I’m in the area.

    Arizona road trip ideas for the fall season

    NA:
    Route 66 (Kingman to Topock)
    This is the Route 66 section I mentioned earlier. This is the original alignment of Route 66 before it was bypassed due to the steepness of Sitgreaves Pass, but today’s cars have no problem with it. It goes through Oatman, an old mining town where burros descended from prospectors’ animals roam the streets. It ends near the Old Trails Bridge over the Colorado River.

    State Route 89A (Oak Creek Canyon)
    This is another route with a lot of hills, but it shouldn’t present any trouble. Especially in fall, when the oaks and cottonwoods in the canyon start to change color, this is a spectacular drive. Definitely stop at the vista at the top of the canyon. Important to note: It is wheelchair accessible.

    Saguaro National Park East (near Tucson)
    This is an easy, flat loop through the saguaros and other desert plant life. [You] might even see some javelinas. There are several overlooks and picnic areas as well.

    Kingman to Pearce Ferry (Lake Mead)
    Despite the photo [in the link], this one doesn’t actually go to Lake Mead anymore — the water has receded too much, unfortunately. But there’s some history to it, and it passes through a stunning forest of Joshua trees, maybe the most unique plant species in the Southwest.

    Volcanoes and Ruins Loop (near Flagstaff)
    This drive passes through Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki national monuments. You have to pay to enter the monuments, but there are wheelchair-accessible areas there, and the drive itself offers some great views, particularly when the aspens in the area are changing color in September and October.

    Catalina Highway (near Tucson)
    This one goes to Summerhaven near the top of Mount Lemmon. It can be a 30- or 40-degree temperature difference from the bottom to the top. Again, some nice fall color along the way, though Summerhaven is still recovering from a 2003 wildfire.

    If you and your family decide to take one of these recommended trips, tag VMI! We’d love to see the fun you’re having on the road in your wheelchair van.

    types-of-service-dogs-their-benefits-tasks-provided

    Types of Service Dogs and What Tasks They Provide

    There are many types of service dogs, and each type provides tremendous benefit to the handler. But among service dogs, assistance dogs, guide dogs, therapy dogs and others, it becomes difficult to remember which dog does what.

    We spoke with animal trainer Jessa Sterling from the Arizona-based assistance dog organization Power Paws to discuss the wide range of service dog types. She also provided service dog FAQ answers and information regarding the legal protections for assistance dog handlers and business owners under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    Service Dogs

    Service dogs are dogs who do work for people. This could include: police dogs, search and rescue K9s, assistance dogs and more. These dogs are protected under ADA.

    Assistance Dogs

    Most people think of assistance dogs when someone says service dog. The difference between an assistance dog and a service dog is that an assistance dog is trained to carry out a specific task (or tasks) that mitigates the disability of its handler; for example, a guide dog for some visually impaired. It is acceptable to use service dog and assistance dog interchangeably because an assistance dog does work for the handler; however, ‘assistance dog’ is the more accurate term.

    Emotional Support Dogs

    Emotional support dogs provide comfort and relief to handlers with psychiatric disabilities. These individuals can receive a ‘prescription’ from their doctor for an emotional support dog. These dogs are not trained in specific tasks, and are therefore not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Emotional support dogs are, however, given access to flying in the cabin of an airplane via The Air Carrier Access Act and access to non–pet friendly housing via the Fair Housing Act. For individuals with severe psychiatric disabilities, many will choose to train their dog in a task to help subside their disability. This qualifies the dog as an assistance animal and is therefore protected under ADA. For example, some dogs can be trained to abate PTSD flashbacks by using ‘tap therapy,’ where the dog will lean into its handler and step on his or her foot to keep the handler from going into a flashback.

    Therapy Dogs

    A therapy dog is typically a well-behaved pet who has been trained to interact with a large variety of people to provide emotional therapy to them. This might include visitation and petting the dog, which Sterling says has been shown to lower stress hormone levels and increase the output of positive hormones in the brain. Therapy dogs can go where they are invited, for example: nursing homes, courtroom settings, hospitals and more. Therapy dogs can also help as an assistant to a human therapist. For example, someone re-learning to zip a zipper or button a button after an accident might find these tasks humiliating and frustrating. But if the person is practicing these tasks on a dog wearing a vest full of zippers and buttons, the positive reaction to the dog might balance out or subdue the frustration.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Working Dogs

    What commitments should I consider before getting a working dog?
    Working dogs require a lot more planning. You have to make sure: do I have everything I need, and everything that my dog may need to go out on this outing or excursion? Do I have stuff to protect my dog from the heat or cold? Is the weather too severe for me to work my dog today?

    Some organizations, like Power Paws, require handlers to boot their dogs. They wear special shoes to protect their feet from hot pavement. There are also cooling blankets or jackets to help keep dogs cool in warm environments.

    You need treats, and you need a cleanup kit. Accidents happen. It’s also important to remember that you may get a lot of attention in public, especially people with invisible disabilities. People will wonder, “Why do you have a dog with you?” They might stare at you, talk about you or whisper about the dog.

    Finally, there’s the financial commitment. You have to provide high quality food and veterinary care. Some organizations are able to cover costs for the lifetime of the dog, but most organizations ask that the handler be capable of caring for his or her animal and its needs.

    What does a service animal cost?
    The cost of a service animals all depends on where you get your animal. Some organizations have the resources to give dogs to people in need completely free. Most service animal organizations require a fee to ensure the handler is committed. Some companies will charge thousands of dollars for dogs. Wherever you get your service animal, be sure to ask about the organization or company’s credibility and what the policy is if the service animal isn’t a good fit after a few weeks.

    What temperaments does a service dog need to have?
    The main behavioral trait a service dog needs to have is the desire to learn. Sterling says any breed can be a service dog, so long as the dog is willing to be trained. But each type of assistance dog needs special skills depending on the task it is trained to mitigate. For example, guide dogs need to possess what is called intelligent disobedience. This means the dog can selectively disobey the handler when it’s in the handler’s best interest. If a visually impaired handler tells the dog to guide him or her across the intersection, but the dog sees cars coming, the dog must disobey the command and stay put. This is very difficult for dogs, and many assistance dogs retire when they cannot learn this skill.

    Can I self-train my service dog?
    Yes. You do not have to have a certification from any organization to make your dog a service dog. The benefit of this lack of regulation is that people without the means to pay for training have the option to self train. They may even bond better with their dog because of it. The downside to this lack of regulation is it’s hard to know which organizations are reliable.

    How long does it take to train a service dog?
    Many organizations, like Power Paws, train their service dogs from birth to two years of age before setting the dog with a handler. However, the length of training varies based on organization or company. It’s important to also note that training is a lifelong process for service animals. Without practice, dogs may forget their skills. Handlers should be prepared to work with their dogs to sharpen skills for the duration of the dog’s life.

    Which service dog organizations are reliable?
    Due to lack of training regulation in the U.S., one way to identify credible service animal organizations is asking whether or not they are accredited through Assistance Dogs International. ADI sets very strict standards for the training of the dogs, how the dogs are raised, how organizations work with their clients, the care provided to the clients after that and more. Japan, the United Kingdom and parts of Canada only accept certified, registered service dogs — many of which are accredited through ADI.

    What are the benefits of a service dog?
    The greatest benefit, Sterling says, is the independence a service dog allows its handler. The ability to get through life without the help of a human caregiver is a huge stride toward independence. Additionally, service dogs can provide a feeling of protection for handlers. Sterling recalls a former client who said if he dropped his cell phone, he would wait for someone who looked trustworthy to pick it up and hope that person didn’t run off with it. Now, his dog can pick it up for him.

    Legal Protections under ADA for Handlers and Business Owners

    Handler Protections

    Visit the ADA website for a comprehensive list of protections for both handlers and business owners. Below are some answers to the most frequently asked questions regarding service animals.

    Handlers do not have to provide any physical proof or documentation that their dog is a service animal.

    Some cities or states may require all dogs to be registered and licensed. Service dogs must comply with this law; however, no city or state can mandate a special service dog registration.

    Service animals in training do not constitute as service animals yet, and are therefore not given the same protections and levels of access under ADA.

    Hotels cannot restrict people with service dogs to specific pet-friendly rooms. Under ADA, “a guest with a disability who uses a service animal must be provided the same opportunity to reserve any available room at the hotel as other guests without disabilities.”

    Facilities are not allowed to deny access to people with disabilities who used service animals. This constitutes as discrimination. If a business does so, the handler can file civil charges against the business.

    Business Owners’ Protections
    If a person with a disability enters a business with a service dog, and the service dog is disruptive or behaving poorly, the business owner or employee reserves the right to ask the person with the disability to remove the animal from the premise. Failure to do so could be considered trespassing.

    Regarding the denial of service dog admittance, ADA specifies:

    “The ADA does not require covered entities to modify policies, practices, or procedures if it would ‘fundamentally alter’ the nature of the goods, services, programs, or activities provided to the public. Nor does it overrule legitimate safety requirements. If admitting service animals would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program, service animals may be prohibited. In addition, if a particular service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or if it is not housebroken, that animal may be excluded.”
    Handlers staying at hotels must keep their dog with them at all times. They cannot leave their dog in the hotel room alone.

    Religious institutions and organizations are exempt from ADA, but there may be state laws that apply to them.

    Disabled Dating Tips and Websites with Dr Danielle Sheypuk

    Disabled Dating Tips: For People With or Without Disabilities

    When it comes to dating for people with physical disabilities, Danielle Sheypuk is the expert. Dr. Sheypuk specializes in “dating, relationships and sexuality among the disabled,” but some people simply refer to her as a disability “sexpert.”

    Most people would know Dr. Sheypuk from winning the Ms. Wheelchair New York pageant in 2012, being the first model to “walk” down a runway in New York Fashion Week, her popular TedX talk at Barnard College, her successful private practice in Manhattan, or her recent interview on PBS, where she dives into the stigmas surrounding disabled dating.

    We recently asked her about the stereotypes people with disabilities face on a regular basis, and what she thinks we should do to change it. Here are her thoughts:

    Media does not typically portray people with disabilities as romantically available

    DS: The biggest stigmas are that we’re still seen as asexual and not beautiful. Our bodies are different than what people see on a daily basis, [so] it’s unknown territory for them. In the media, we’re never portrayed as sexual people. We’re never associated with anything sexual or glamorous or beautiful. Therefore, people don’t in general make that association.

    Able-bodied individuals don’t understand what it’s like to date someone with a disability and therefore sometimes avoid it

    DS: When you’re trying to enter the dating world, [for] people that you come into contact with, it might be the first time they’ve ever spoken with someone in a wheelchair. You [encounter] all these obstacles and hurdles right from the start [because] people don’t know anything about what it’s like to have a disability, and it’s hard to get over. When they do find out aspects of your disability, they don’t know how … that would work in a relationship. [They might ask]: “You use a motorized wheelchair all the time?” So then they quickly think, “How would we get around? How would we go places together? How does she get out of the wheelchair?” It’s just a total lack of exposure. That’s why I do so much media work [and] try to expose [the issue to] people as much as I can.

    Advocacy must focus on two things: breaking society’s stigma surrounding disability dating and building romantic confidence in people with disabilities

    DS: I have my private practice where I work [with clients] on issues regarding dating and sexuality, rejection and how to handle it. [For example], when some guy asks you something personal about your disability: Do you want to answer it? Do you not? So we work on those types of things, boosting self esteem [and] recognizing that you’re someone beautiful who has a lot to offer. You’d be an amazing partner. [We also look at] what you are looking for in a partner. At the same time, we need the general public to come around too. If everyone’s going to tuck their tail between their legs and run away from a woman in a wheelchair when it comes to having a girlfriend or a wife or sex, then it’s going to be feudal. We need both things to happen.

    People with disabilities should not be restricted to only dating other people with disabilities

    DS: You should keep your mind open to date whomever you connect with romantically and sexually. You can make anything work physically, so keep your options open for that crazy, awesome romantic connection. I’m against the idea that people with disabilities should only date people with disabilities … Just because we’re both in wheelchairs doesn’t mean we have anything in common. [Upon first recognizing this stigma, I thought], Is that what people think? That because I have a disability I can’t enter the dating world like everyone else? I have to be restrained to people with disabilities?

    People with disabilities should be open to online dating and open about their disability

    DS: I’m a big proponent of that. I think it needs to be written on your profile and there needs to be pictures that show you have a disability. It avoids a lot of rejection and a lot of heartache, I feel. The opposite side of the argument is: Don’t put it there, and let them get to know you. They’ll … see you for who you are. [Then], you’ll reveal you have a disability, and they won’t care. That is most likely not going to happen. Yes, they might get to know you and really have feelings for you, but when you reveal you have a disability, they could feel lied to. It’s just like people being dishonest with their age, weight or marital status. It’s just good to put who you are right up front.

    Everyone experiences dating rejection, with or without a disability

    DS: I talk with my clients about how rejection is a huge part of everyone’s dating experience. Everyone has been rejected, and it feels awful, and it happens more than we want it to happen. I congratulate them after they’ve been rejected or turned down the first few couple times; I congratulate them on officially entering the dating world. That’s often an accomplishment in it of itself for people. Some people with disabilities just avoid dating, avoid putting themselves out there [and] are fearful of rejection. So you did it. You just got rejected.

    It’s easy to blame rejection on disability, but it’s better not to

    DS: Sometimes we go on dates, and we don’t get that call back that we think we’re going to get, so the easiest thing for us people with disabilities is [to blame it on] our disability, like, “Oh, it must be the wheelchair. It’s the fact that I have curvature of the spine, I know it. That’s what it is.” But we don’t know for a fact that that’s what it is. I think [rejection] can happen because [of] your disability and for other reasons as well, and sometimes it’s hard to keep that apart. We’ll never know.

    Exposure will help break the stigma surrounding disability dating

    DS: The more journals or papers or magazines that publish about it, the more exposure it gets… We also need people with disabilities in commercials [and] magazine advertisements for beauty, cosmetics, and fashion. That’s a very female example, but … we need to be targeted more in mass media. That’s what would be the most helpful. Even a TV show. There’s a show coming out now called Speechless. The kid … is non verbal, and speaks with a computer. And that’s super great because how many people know someone who’s nonverbal and needs a computer to speak? It helps to destigmatize it.

    The general public, on a very personal level, can open their mind and give somebody with disability a chance to be their partner. Instead of closing it off right away, entertain the idea if you feel attracted to someone in a wheelchair or an amputee. Let that grow. That’s the whole point of my Ted [TedX Talk]. Most people are unhappy in their romantic relationships and unhappy with their sex lives. Maybe it’s because you’re excluding a whole group of potential romantic partners: people with disabilities. We make great romantic partners.

    Dating for people with disabilities is not a hopeless concept

    DS: I think we’ve made progress. Since I started in 2012, we’ve seen more and more media exposure. There are more and more people talking about it. I get more and more fan mail saying, “That sexual part of me was dormant for a long time, and I saw the PBS Special, and it really stirred things up for me.” That’s an important part for me.

    Dr. Sheypuk runs a successful private practice in Manhattan and is currently accepting new clients and accepts some insurances (Skype appointments available if out of state). Contact her at DanielleSheypuk.com.

    danielle-sheypuk-headshot-disabled-dating-tips

    Nautic Partners with Management to Acquire VMI

    PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Nautic Partners, LLC  announced that it has partnered with management to acquire Vantage Mobility International.  VMI is a leading manufacturer of wheelchair accessible vehicles which it sells at mobility dealers across the United States and Canada.

    “In Nautic, we have found an ideal partner to support VMI’s continued growth,” said Doug Eaton, CEO of VMI. “Nautic offers a compelling combination of manufacturing, healthcare and financial experience to help VMI bring its life-changing products to even more disabled individuals and their families”.

    Doug Hill, Managing Director of Nautic commented, “VMI is an excellent fit with Nautic’s strategy of investing in market leading niche manufacturing businesses with strong competitive positions and excellent management teams. We look forward to helping VMI increase the awareness of its compelling and differentiated products, and to support the Company as it continues to bring new offerings to market.”

    Kayne Anderson, Triangle Capital, Goldman Sachs, City National Bank, and Amalgamated Bank provided financing for the transaction, and Ally Financial provided a new floorplan facility to support VMI’s chassis acquisitions. Lincoln International acted as financial advisor to the Company.

    Raising-Children-with-Cerebral-Palsy

    What It’s Like Raising Children with Cerebral Palsy

    To skip the full story and get straight to the tips, click here.

    “I spent the first six years of his life, quote on quote, trying to ‘fix him,’ when there was really nothing wrong with him to begin with. I was the one who had the problem.”

    It takes a strong person to willingly admit and expose their errors in thinking. As the mother of an 18-year-old son, Robert, who was born with cerebral palsy, Laura Knight has had plenty of time to reflect on what it’s like to raise a child with CP.

    Robert and his twin sister, Madeline, were born three months premature; the idea they would have some type of disability didn’t come as a complete shock to nurses and doctors.

    But Knight and her husband, Stanton, had been unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant for three years. They used in vitro fertilization to conceive Robert and Madeline.

    The couple spent what should have been the most joyous first week of their twins’ lives in hospital hallways praying their babies would survive.

    “We would have silly conversations like, ‘Oh, what if she grows up to be this? What if she grows up to be that?’” Knight recalls. “We had this perfect relationship and this perfect marriage, and you think you’re going to have this perfect life…We just could not wrap our heads around (the fact that) this was happening to us.”

    Robert’s muscles were so stiff and tight that nurses stuffed towels between his tiny thighs to pry them open.

    Knight says she’s glad she didn’t understand the gravity of the situation back then.

    Doctors couldn’t officially diagnose Robert with CP because he was too young, but all signs indicated it was a serious, if not definite, possibility. They were right.

    Denial. Grievance. Acceptance. A Cerebral Palsy Journey.


    “I felt like if my faith was strong enough and (if) I prayed hard enough, (then) everything was going to work out. Little did I know, it (would) work out…it is the way it’s supposed to be.”

    Knight took her twins to church and playdates and lived as though Robert were perfectly healthy.

    Until he turned three.

    By then, the differences in growth were undeniable. Robert couldn’t speak or walk. Knight’s denial was “painfully obvious” to those around her, she says, but she still didn’t want to believe it.

    She avoided interaction and kept to herself. At home she wasn’t forced face-to-face with the certainty that cerebral palsy made Robert different.

    Knight says she became “the mom who tried everything.” There wasn’t a physical therapy, speech therapy or occupational therapy session Robert didn’t try. They went on countless trips to the doctor and visited “every leading specialist” they could find, she says.

    The doctors’ responses?

    Go home and love your child. He has cerebral palsy.

    Finally, one doctor made a statement that shook her to the core.

    “He said to me, ‘Stop trying to fix him. (In the future), he’s going to think, ‘What was wrong with me that my mom kept taking me to all these doctors?’’ And that hit me hard,” Knight says.

    Robert’s sentiments echoed those of the doctor’s when he entered first grade. He begged and pleaded to stop using his walker and transition to a wheelchair full time.

    Knight says she and her husband were stuck on wanting Robert to walk, and she even convinced herself that her son’s love of sports would be his motivation to learn.

    “We kept pushing, but my son is everything he’s supposed to be,” Knight says. “He’s following the plan. He’s right where he’s supposed to be.”

    If she could have fast forwarded 10 years, then she would’ve known she was right, but in a different way. Robert’s love of sports would eventually do him wonders.

    Growing up. Transitioning. And the Challenges Associated with CP

    Robert is in a wheelchair full time and has proven himself to be a valuable asset on school sports teams.

    In seventh and eighth grades, Robert managed the school’s basketball team; his freshman and sophomore years of high school, he switched to managing the baseball team. His junior year, the family moved from Phoenix to Nashville, and he volunteered in any area of sports he could. Now a senior, he calculates statistics for the basketball coach and works as the head football coach’s assistant.

    In the future, Knight says Robert speaks of becoming a minister and reporting sports news for ESPN.

    “He’s the neatest kid,” Knight says. “He just goes for it.”

    But Robert has had his share of struggles along the way.

    Moving states and growing up
    Robert has moved states three times with the family, and Knight says unfortunately, each move gets a little harder.

    “Anytime we would move, it would creep up again,” she says. They had to repeat the process of making friends, explaining why he was in a wheelchair and finding kids who accepted his differences.

    The move to Nashville was probably the most difficult. “You almost have to work a little bit harder when you’re that kid in the wheelchair because by the time you’re in high school, people don’t know what to say,” Knight says. “He has to really make an effort to put himself out there… (but) he never misses a beat.”

    CP has also brought new meaning to typical teen experiences.

    Knight recalls one particularly heartbreaking memory when Robert mustered up the courage to ask his crush to the homecoming dance. She said yes, only to take it back the next day, saying she had family plans she had forgotten about.

    Robert was devastated, she says, and he blamed CP for why she backed out. Knight was quick to respond, though, and she told him, “Honey, girls are girls. She may not have wanted to go with you because you’re in a wheelchair, but it might have been because you have glasses. It might be because she doesn’t like blonde boys … Girls are girls.”

    Regarding maturity and CP, Knight seems to have an enlightened way of understanding.

    “As kids are growing up in middle school and high school, it’s just a hard time in life anyway,” she says. “The more we can do to make our kids comfortable with our differences, the better off our kids are going to be.”

    Growing out of the Wheelchair
    The wheelchair process can be “daunting” and “frustrating,” because there are so many steps and factors to consider before choosing a chair, Knight explains. One of those factors includes choosing a chair that will collapse and fit into a car for families who don’t own wheelchair vans or wheelchair lifts.

    Dave Thompson, a seating specialist for NuMotion, a mobility product and service company, says wheelchair manufacturers today are focusing on longevity and how to create wheelchairs that last up to five years. Robert is 18 and has already gone through five.

    Longer-lasting chairs will combat the costly nature of the products, which Thompson says can be around $2,500 for a basic-level chair for people with CP. They increase with complexity and can range between $6,000 and $9,000 or more.

    One of the most popular choices for children with cerebral palsy (one that Robert has used, as well) is the growth kit, Thompson says. The growth kit makes chairs expandable for when children grow larger. Some kits allow chair frames to expand by 2 to 4 inches.

    Other options include allowing room for growth. Thompson says certain wheelchair components have to be exact measurements for safety reasons; for example, the headrest and footrest. But he says sometimes, seating specialists can allow an extra inch on each side of the seat for children to grow into.

    The Unexpected Joyful Days of Cerebral Palsy


    “This is who you were meant to be. God doesn’t screw up. He didn’t mess up on you; you’re not damaged goods. You are part of God’s plan. I think teaching my son that gave him a lot of confidence.”

    One year Robert ran for student body president. When he made his speech in front of the audience, he said something no one expected.

    “I really think I’m pretty good at solving problems,” Knight remembers him saying. “We’ll try to figure it out together, and if not, then I’ve always been pretty good at rolling with it.”

    Everybody burst out laughing. Knight says jokes like this aren’t unusual for Robert and their family. They’ve learned to make light of what they can and laugh whenever possible.

    Knight’s Inspiring Advice for Parents of Children with Cerebral Palsy


    “It’s okay to feel the way you feel. It’s okay to be angry; it’s okay to feel guilty. Don’t ever stop fighting for your child.”

    There have been times when Knight was asked to help other parents who recently discovered their child has CP. Though always willing to be there for moral support, Knight says the biggest lesson those parents have to learn is they are on their own journey.

    No two people react the same way, she says, and everyone experiences unique feelings specific to their situations. Go through the emotional journey, Knight advises; be shocked, sad, angry, or whatever other emotion you need to feel, and then accept it.

    Her second biggest piece of advice comes from a decision she and Stanton made early on. They decided to teach Robert that it’s okay he is different, and that it’s okay for people to be curious.

    “People are going to look at you; people are going to point. They’re going to ask questions,” Knight says. “Answer them. That’s the way we learn!”

    The decision to be outwardly open about Robert’s CP also helped her and Stanton tighten the reigns when it came to their son’s education and social skills. There was a time, she recalls, when he needed serious disciplining, but because he had CP, she found many family members, friends and even school teachers gave him a pass. She and Stanton, however, maintain that they have very high expectations for Robert.

    “We want to make sure that people know, you don’t get a special break because you’re in a wheelchair,” she says. “You still have to follow the same rules. I expect him to go to college and move out of my house someday.”

    Above all, Knight emphasizes how teaching openness has made moving and switching schools easier for Robert, his classmates, his teachers, and herself and Stanton.

    Takeaway Tips for Raising Children with Cerebral Palsy

    1.] Let yourself feel your emotions. It’s okay to feel angry, upset, scared or guilty. Living through the tough beginnings will allow you to get through to a happier, more peaceful side.

    2.] Recognize CP is not always to blame. Robert blamed his homecoming date ditching him on CP, but Knight reminded him: it might not have been because the wheelchair. “It’s because girls are girls.” There are plenty of other reasons.

    3.] Encourage your child to get involved and enjoy life. Robert always loved sports. Although Knight originally hoped it would motivate him to learn to walk, she now sees it has given him other sports managerial and leadership opportunities.

    4.] Be patient during the wheelchair process. There are many factors to consider and many steps before actually receiving the chair. Try to take a deep breath and remember everything will work out. If possible, try to keep a backup chair available.

    5.] Be open about CP. Being open and willingly explaining CP, and how it affects Robert, has helped the Knight family in nearly every aspect of their lives. Knight emphasizes how being open can help spread awareness and promote understanding, which leads to acceptance.

    6.] Keep expectations high. Knight says she and Stanton are strict with Robert and expect him to succeed in life. He has challenges most people don’t, which she says they understand, but they won’t let those challenges keep him from achieving his dreams.

    team-usa-wheelchair-basketball-2016-rio-paralympics

    Rio Paralympics: Meet the Team USA Wheelchair Basketball Captains

    This year’s Olympic Games have come and gone, but the competition and excitement isn’t over yet. The 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio begin Sept. 7, and despite the strong critiques of Rio’s unpreparedness for such games, we know Team USA is going to enter the arena ready to win the gold no matter what.

    How do we know this?

    A few weeks ago Vantage Mobility interviewed Christina Schwab and Steve Serio, the team captains for the women’s and men’s wheelchair basketball teams, respectively. This year won’t be Schwab and Serio’s first time to the Paralympics — for Schwab, this will be her sixth, including four times for basketball and once in London for track, and for Serio, his third.

    Both captains were confident their teams had the training, motivation and camaraderie to defeat the opposing countries’ most skilled paralympic athletes.

    Q&A with Christina Schwab and Steve Serio

    When did you get into basketball, and when did you decide to train to be a professional?
    CS: I played basketball when I was 11 years old in the junior division, and I started playing for a women’s team when I was about 14. By the time I was 15, I was asked to go to a bunch of Team USA developmental (events), so I would say when I was 15 I started really focusing on basketball. I became an alternate for the ‘96 Paralympic Team. I didn’t go to those games, but I was an alternate, so that was kind of what triggered me and got me really focused on the sport.
    SS: I had my spinal cord injury accident when I was 11 months old, so I’ve been paralyzed for almost my whole life. Growing up, I had my able-bodied friends; I played able-bodied sports. I … didn’t know anything about the adaptive sports world until I got to high school and my local school basically told me that I wasn’t allowed to play sports with my friends anymore. There was an injury risk for me and for them, so they basically told me I had to go the manager route if I wanted to be involved. I was looking for an athletic outlet (and) there just happened to be a (wheelchair) basketball team 10 minutes away from where I grew up. I went down one day and never left.

    Would you mind explaining your disability?
    CS: I was born with spina bifida. So I’m a T12, L1 paraplegic.
    SS: I was born with a benign spinal tumor that went misdiagnosed when I was a baby, and … it became infected and inflamed. Basically, it severed my spinal cord. It’s just like another spinal cord injury. I’m basically paralyzed from the knees down.

    What do you tell yourself to push through a tough game or practice?
    CS: I’m pretty self motivated, but as I get older, I’m pretty motivated right now with the olympics on… I know that I’m representing my team, my country, my family and everybody who’s gotten me to this point. I can’t let them down. They want to see me succeed, and I want to succeed for them. Especially right now I know that my 11 other teammates are working just as hard as I am, so I know I got to get through this workout so I can be the best athlete I can be for the team.
    SS: The beauty of a team sport is you have other people to fight for. If there’s a training session that I personally feel I’m too tired for, or I get tired in the game, I kind of just think to myself that I’m not just fighting for myself. I’m fighting for these 11 other guys that are on my team who are relying on me to perform, and that usually gets me through any fatigue.

    You both have been to the Paralympics before. As captains, what makes this year’s teams special or different?
    CS: I think every year you have something special about the team, and it changes from game to game. You can never recreate what there was in the past. There’s different personnel, different personalities; different strengths and weaknesses. For me … I’ve taken on a leadership role in the past, but now I’m a co-captain. I’m the oldest one on a team. We have a pretty young squad, and they look to me for experience and guidance…I have to be that role model and work hard so I can be that example for everybody… But the team (is) just so unique because everybody on this team, they’re all friends. I think that’s important for this group of girls… (With) this team, if something arises, we squash it. We know we’re here for the greater good. We’re here for one goal in mind: that gold medal. And we’re better every time we get together.
    SS: In the previous Paralympics, we’ve had really talented teams, we just hadn’t figured out a way to put it all together and enhance everyone’s strengths and play our best. The best thing about this team is our camaraderie and our closeness. We all fight for each other, (and) we all get along really well on and off the court. We have this really unique ability to push ourselves extremely hard during workouts and really battle each other, and then on the court, be each other’s best friends and let it go. We’ve become a really close team. I think that’s the difference.

    Besides winning, do you have any other goals for the Paralympic Games this year?
    CS: My overall goal is to take it all in and enjoy it because I know this is my last one as an athlete. I just want to experience things with these girls and have it be the best experience that it can be.
    SS: To just make every Paralympic experience special. Some of the guys only get one opportunity, and … this will be my third. I want to make it as memorable as possible. I treasure walking into the opening ceremonies arena. I love playing in front of all those people and playing at the highest level… (Also), when I was growing up, I was inspired by players like Paul Schulte and Patrick Anderson; they set a great example, not only in winning Paralympic medals, but also in how they conducted themselves off the court. To wear those three letters across your chest, USA, is a completely unique experience that is just once in a lifetime. I hope we can set a good example on and off the court and inspire the younger generation to work hard and accomplish their dreams.

    Finally, do you think your teams have what it takes to win?
    CS: Absolutely. I think we have everything in our little piece of the puzzle that you can put together for a gold medal team.
    SS: Absolutely. We have a great mix of talent with the young guys who’ve never been there before and then some older veterans who know what to expect. (They) can help our young guys through some of the ups and downs. Like I said, this is one of the closest teams I’ve ever been on. When you combine having a lot of talent with all the camaraderie that we have within our team, I think it’s a recipe for success.

    VMI Introduces Industry’s First Chrysler Pacifica Side-Entry Conversion

    PHOENIX, Aug. 29, 2016 — The Vantage Mobility International (VMI) Pacifica wheelchair conversion was unveiled this week to the Dealer Council Executive Committee in Chicago, IL. Among the exclusive guests were Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) executives, Len Norten, Chairman of VMI’s dealer council and the new VMI spokesperson, TEAM USA wheelchair rugby player and Paralympian, Joe Delagrave. Set to begin full production next week, the VMI Northstar Access 360™ side-entry conversion also features highly-anticipated interchangeable front seats and a new backseat footrest that allows for an additional 2 inches of floor space.

    “The Chrysler Pacifica is big news in the auto industry, and VMI is proud to be the first in the mobility market to offer the power side-entry in-floor ramp and interchangeable front seats. Coupled with Pacifica’s 100 safety and security features, VMI’s features position the Pacifica wheelchair conversion as one of the top choices for consumers,” said Doug Eaton, VMI president and CEO.

    VMI introduces industry’s first Chrysler Pacifica side-entry conversion to the Dealer Council Executive Committee in Chicago, Il. Shown here at the event are from left, Doug Eaton, VMI CEO, Michael Ring, FCA, Steve Crandell, VMI COO, Len Norton, Chairman of VMI Dealer Council, Joe Delgrave, Team USA, Paralympian and new VMI spokesperson, Tim Barone, VMI CFO, and Matt Huber, FCA.
    “At VMI we are always working to improve the customer’s quality of life and independence,” said Steve Crandell, VMI COO. “The Northstar Access360™ in-floor ramp is the easiest to use and most accessible mobility solution in the world. This conversion raises the bar for wheelchair accessible minivans, providing owners with maximum freedom and convenience,” he said. The interchangeable front seats are first of their kind and allow the seats to easily switch from a passenger position to a driver position and vice versa. Pacifica’s third-row seating is equipped with a newly designed footrest to combine comfort and function for all passengers in this new generation minivan.

    Northstar Access360™ Features:

    • A ramp that stows under the floor, creating more room for wheelchair maneuverability
    • An obstruction-free doorway that allows able-bodied passengers to enter and exit the vehicle without deploying the ramp
    • A full 30″ wide ramp with 800lb capacity accommodates large power chairs

    About VMI
    Vantage Mobility International (VMI) is a leading manufacturer of wheelchair accessible vehicles built on Chrysler, Dodge, Toyota and Honda minivans. It has advanced the mobility industry for 30 years with a robust portfolio of power and manual ramp conversions, platform lifts and transfer seats. VMI is based in Phoenix, Arizona where its manufacturing facility utilizes Six Sigma techniques to employ continuous process improvements and deliver high quality products for personal use and commercial applications. For additional information, contact Penny Malone at VMI 602-243-2700 or visit www.vmivans.com.

    For more information:
    Donna Tinoco, APR
    donna@FloridaPRPro.com
    281.229.0180

    SOURCE: : http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/vmi-introduces-industrys-first-chrysler-pacifica-side-entry-conversion-300319292.html

    mainstream-special-needs-students-back-to-school

    Back to School: Mainstreaming Students with Special Needs

    Many parents are busy checking off items from the school supplies list, but parents of children with disabilities may be concerned about something else.

    The decision to mainstream students with special needs into a general education classroom is complex; parents must consider a range of factors that will contribute to their child’s well-being, such as:

    • Educational accommodations for learning, homework and test taking
    • Physical accommodations for wheelchairs, braces, etc.
    • Making sure teachers and school administration understand your child’s needs
    • How other students will react to your child’s disability
    • Your child’s ability to make friends

    To improve the chances of your child’s academic and social success in a general education classroom, consider the following tips from Elizabeth Ouellette.

    Ouellette is a board member with the CMT Association; her son, Yohan, has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a neurological disorder that affects peripheral nerves, resulting in weakened muscles, poor motor skills and more.

    Plan ahead for special accommodations

    When Yohan started school he had kyphoscoliosis, — a hunched back and sideways curvature of the spine — and he needed a foot rest and back cushion for proper support. He also used colorful foam pencil grips for his weakened hand muscles. Other accommodations included regular stretching, extra time on tests and occupational therapy sessions.

    Her advice:

    • Prepare a typed document explaining your child’s disability and his or her special needs, medical or otherwise.
    • Schedule a date to meet with your student’s teachers, principal and nurse. Walk through the document with them, and explain anything you or they deem necessary.
    • Brainstorm what other accommodations might be necessary to ensure your child’s academic success. Teachers might think of things you never considered.

    Check eligibility for an IEP or 504 Plan

    Obtaining an individualized education plan or 504 plan means the government formally recognizes your child’s disability and puts a process in place to ensure that student’s success.

    These plans came out of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. With an IEP or 504 plan, schools are required to document the student’s needs, list any necessary accommodations, plan yearly academic goals and determine how to measure the success or failure of those goals.

    Read about the differences between the IEP and 504 plan here.

    Think about how other students will perceive those accommodations

    Ouellette says she was stunned when Yohan told her how his fellow classmates reacted to his accommodations. “Brutal” and “hurtful” were how he described his bullies, she says.

    “As a parent, I was thrilled that he was receiving the help and care that he needed,” Ouellette wrote in an email interview. “Never did I consider the consequences of what looked like VIP treatment to his peers until he came home sobbing because of … a few class bullies.”

    There’s no bullet-proof strategy to stop bullies, but peer education and predicting potential outcomes may help teachers, parents and the student prepare their reactions.

    Develop a strategy to cultivate empathy and awareness

    “Kids who bully often lack empathy for the feelings and experiences of their targets,” Ouellette says. “In my opinion, parents and teachers play a key role in cultivating empathy and teaching compassion, tolerance and acceptance to their children and students.”

    Some strategies to deal with bullying include:

    Create a disability awareness week

    When Yohan was in elementary school, Ouellette took part in a parent-run program called “Disability Awareness Week.” Throughout the week students participated in various activities that simulated a broad range of learning and physical challenges — from attention deficit disorder and dyslexia to fine motor challenges, hearing problems and mobility impairments.

    “We even brought in leg braces, wheelchairs, crutches and walkers for the children to try out,” Ouellette said. “When the kids were given the opportunity to put themselves in the shoes of another child…attitudes changed and lives were transformed.”

    Plan a school-wide fundraiser for a disability organization
    To combine awareness and excitement, jog-a-thons, carnivals and penny wars are great examples of interactive fundraisers that will get kids excited about learning and raise money for noble causes.

    Have a sit-down conversation with the class or school
    Plan some time to sit down with your child’s classmates (invite your child’s therapist, too) and explain to them how and why your child is different and also how your child is the same. Let them ask questions to create a better understanding and thus, more acceptance.

    Have a thoughtful discussion with your child before school starts

    Make sure to talk with your child about his or her worries or concerns regarding the school year. It’s important they feel comfortable in their skin and their fears are addressed. This is also imperative before addressing classmates. Your child should feel 100 percent comfortable sharing personal (and perhaps fragile) information to peers.