Commentary: Preparing College Students with Disabilities for Success

Going to college is by far one of the fondest time periods in my life. Meeting new friends, having fun on weekends after particularly busy weekdays and even the countless sleepless nights I spent preparing for final exams are some of the memories I will always cherish from my time at the University of Illinois. Looking back to these years, I also realize that attending college and obtaining my degree in journalism was one of my greatest challenges. College is difficult for anyone, and people like myself with disabilities have additional barriers to overcome.

recent report highlights some of the difficulties perspective and current college students with disabilities face while pursuing higher education. Some of the challenges for these students include not having adequate time management, organization and advocacy skills. The statistics are especially alarming. Only about a third of students with disabilities obtain a college degree. It’s not that students with disabilities cannot handle rigorous college schedules or the academic assignments, but rather they are ill-equipped to take on these challenges. Often, students do not receive sufficient training or information about available resources while in high school.

As someone who is blind, I consider myself incredibly fortunate. During high school, my teacher of the visually impaired made sure I learned to advocate for my needs. By my junior and senior years, it was up to me to inform my mainstream teachers about how they could best help me. I would obtain the class handouts or other materials from them, and my vision teacher would then transcribe them into Braille. During this time period, I also began learning about resources that would assist me once I started college. These included the state’s department of rehabilitation services, as well as the office of disability services at the University of Illinois. This was in addition to learning about assistive technology, scholarships and transportation resources that could make my life easier in college.

Regardless of the disability, it is critical for all students who are about to graduate from high school to learn the important skills they will need to succeed in college. They should be taught – both in high school and at home – how to manage their time, advocate for their particular needs, and about other organizations or resources that will help them throughout college. In the case of students with vision loss, learning about such things as assistive technology and orientation and mobility is also vital. Services like the Youth Transition and College Scholarship programs at The Chicago Lighthouse are a wonderful resource for high school students with vision loss, their teachers and families. These programs help students learn important independent living skills and obtain other resources that will help them better prepare and succeed in college. Best of all, they allow them to network and get advice from fellow students with visual impairments.

College students with disabilities have the same dreams and aspirations as their non-disabled peers. Unfortunately, many of these students are ill-prepared to undertake higher education, and may even struggle to obtain a degree. It is extremely important for high schools and other individuals working with students with disabilities to teach them college readiness skills prior to them entering higher education. In the end, this will allow students to be better prepared for college and ultimately for their future careers. This will also ensure that their college experience will be something they cherish for the rest of their lives!


Guest Commentary: Please Do Not Distract Service Dogs!

This week’s guest commentary is written by Wayne Scace, a long-time dog guide user who is visually impaired. Wayne comments on two recent experiences he faced while out in the street with his guide dog, Harley.

Wayne Scace and Harley

Recently, I experienced two incidents within twenty-four hours that interfered with my guide dog and ultimately endangered our lives. During the first incident, I was making my way home walking along Randolph Street towards Millennium Station in downtown Chicago to catch a Metra train. Suddenly, I heard someone crouch down while calling ‘puppy, puppy, puppy!’ at my guide dog in an upbeat way. The person then proceeded to take a flash photo of Harley (I am not totally blind, so I could see the flash.)

Had Harley become distracted, these actions could have endangered us. Furthermore, Harley’s vision could have become impaired temporarily by the flash. These actions were also an invasion of my privacy. If the individual had politely asked to take a photograph of Harley, I would have probably said yes. However, the person’s poor judgement took away my choice, my privacy, and endangered our team.

The second incident happened the next day while Harley and I were walking along Wood Street towards Polk to get to the El station. As we were approaching the intersection, there was an open grassy area to my right. Just as we began walking along the grass, Harley alerted me to the presence of another dog with his body language. I then heard a shout, and about 10 seconds later someone’s off-leash dog came charging at Harley and me. For a guide dog team, any rapidly approaching off-leash dog is considered a threat until proven otherwise.

When the owner finally caught up to us, he said that his dog was really friendly. I asked him where the leash was, and he waved it at me and responded that he was just playing ball with the dog in the park. I explained to him that doing so in an unsecured area was dangerous because his dog could have been injured or killed. Not to mention that Harley or I could have also been hurt. This incident was extremely dangerous, because while I was focusing on moving to keep myself between Harley and the other dog, Harley was not able to guide me. He did not lunge, or vocalize, but because I had him tucked tight to my left leg, Harley could not do his job. Besides endangering his dog and mine, the owner was in violation of the leash ordinance in Chicago.

Both of these incidents highlight why it is extremely important not to distract service dogs. Many people have tried distracting my guide dogs over the last 17 years, but these incidents are, by far, the most egregious!

Too many members of the public either do not know, or simply choose to ignore that distracting the cute service dog could endanger the lives of the team. A medical alert dog that is distracted by someone trying to pet it could miss a critical warning and the owner could die. A distracted guide dog could walk its handler out in front of a car, or into an obstacle. A wheelchair user could have their chair overturned by someone distracting their service animal. Off-leash dogs have injured service animals so badly that they had to retire. Other times, service animals have been killed, or had to be euthanized due to the severe injuries suffered from an off-leash dog. In some states it is a criminal violation to interfere with the work of a service animal team.

Bottom line, these highly trained dogs are out in public to work, not to provide people with entertainment. Service animal owners simply want to go about our day like everyone else. Fortunately, there was not a negative outcome from these incidents, except the sour taste left in my mouth.

Again, please, do not distract the service dog you encounter out in the street! We know he/she is cute, but that does not give you the right to take their photograph, or let your off-leash dog come charging up to us.

Why Teachers for Students with Visual Impairments Are So Important

Throughout my childhood, I attended mainstream classes in the public school system. This meant I could learn math, science and social studies alongside my peers who could see. At the same time, I received services from teachers of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility specialists. They taught me how to read and write Braille, use special technology for my classes and travel with a white cane. These teachers would also order my textbooks and transcribe class handouts into Braille, so I could participate in my mainstream classes.

During my years in elementary and junior high, I received this specialized instruction in a vision resource room with other blind and visually impaired children. Without a doubt, this allowed me to receive the individualized, one-on-one assistance I needed from my teachers to learn these critical skills. Learning alongside other students with visual impairments also gave me a sense of camaraderie because our vision loss meant we could all relate to each other’s challenges and successes. By the time I entered high school, I received these services from an itinerant teacher, who would go to my school several times a week to work with me and other visually impaired students.

Recently, I read this article about the ongoing shortage of teachers for the visually impaired in Illinois. Over the years, the number of these professionals has significantly decreased, thereby causing this shortage. If this trend continues, current and future generations of students who are blind or visually impaired will no doubt be negatively impacted. Many argue that students with disabilities should be fully mainstreamed and included in their home districts. As someone who benefited from mainstream education, I think this is a valid point. Going to classes with sighted peers provided me with invaluable social skills and the incredible opportunity to educate others about disabilities (I was the only blind student in my classes, so naturally my peers were curious to learn about Braille and the special technology I use.) However, I believe that having the support of a teacher of the visually impaired is imperative for students with vision loss.

Michael Hansen, who is blind and now works as a call center agent at The Chicago Lighthouse, agrees. He attended his local elementary school for several years, but says he found it very difficult being the only blind student in the entire school. This all changed when he began attending a program which offered a resource classroom and services for students who are blind or visually impaired. Although his bus ride to and from the school was about an hour each way, he says he “wouldn’t have done it any other way.” Being in this program provided Michael with both a mainstream education, while receiving the supports and services he needed due to his visual impairment.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have received both the opportunity to attend classes with my sighted peers, while at the same time learning the skills necessary for me to become an independent and successful blind person. This was thanks to my teachers of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility instructors. The assistance these professionals provide is invaluable to students with vision loss. I sincerely hope more educators will consider the field of blindness and visual impairment for their future careers. This is an extremely rewarding career that will enable blind and visually impaired individuals to live successful and independent lives.

What’s New with CRIS Radio?

CRIS logo_sandys view

For nearly 40 years, Chicagoland Reading and Information Service (CRIS) Radio has provided individuals who are blind, visually impaired or have other reading disabilities with important information and entertainment broadcasts. CRIS Radio is the largest and oldest radio reading service in Illinois, and has been housed at The Chicago Lighthouse since 2003. The station covers a variety of topics, including daily readings of newspapers and other entertainment broadcasts. Some of the newspapers include The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times, among others. Programming includes The Beacon, FAACT, On the Air, The No Look Pass and various audio described movies. CRIS broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Recently, many readers have asked how they can access CRIS Radio. Long-time listeners are familiar with the special receivers through which CRIS can be heard. While we are no longer distributing the receivers, listeners can still tune in to CRIS with this equipment. These are the other (and newer) ways individuals can listen to CRIS:

  • On your computer or mobile device: CRIS Radio is available on our website. There you can either listen to the livestream, or to podcasts of previous shows. CRIS can also be heard on the TuneIn app, available for both iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. While in the app, simply search for CRIS Chicago and start listening. Make sure to add us to your favorites! Users of the Victor Reader Stream device can also find CRIS on ooTunes. This app is also available for iOS devices.
  • By telephone: listeners who may not have access to the Internet can dial 712-832-2724 from anywhere in the United States. Please note that calls use mobile minutes, and long-distance rates may apply.
  • Listen to The Beacon on radio: recorded at CRIS, The Beacon is the nation’s only show for individuals with disabilities, senior citizens and Veterans. The weekly broadcast covers various topics of interest to these communities, including health and entertainment. Those of you in the Chicagoland area can catch The Beacon on WCPT 820-AM Sunday mornings at 7 am. You can also listen to the show’s podcasts on our website.

We would also love to get your feedback! In order to better serve our audience, CRIS is currently working on developing new programming. We invite you to please take this survey and tell us more about what you’d like to hear on CRIS Radio. You can also visit our Facebook page and stay connected and updated on the latest developments at CRIS Radio. Thank you for listening, and stay tuned!

Roundup: Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities

Guest Blogger Tyler Bachelder

In light of the tragic and devastating results of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, we at The Chicago Lighthouse would like to offer our sincerest condolences to all who have been effected in the United States and across the world.

Disaster preparedness is important for everyone, but especially so for people with disabilities, as our needs vary so widely. With that in mind, I’ve compiled some resources to help in planning for events like these. Nobody can predict the future, but if we ask the right questions, we can be ready for it.

So what are the right questions, exactly? That’s determined by your own needs and situation. Most of the resources below will help you consider your needs and may shine a light on the unconsidered ones. Taking the time to think about those needs can mean the difference between panic and calm, and remaining calm is vital in an emergency. It is important for everyone to do a few very basic things. Prepare an emergency kit with first aid supplies, non-perishable food, water, backup batteries, flashlights, a radio or other means of getting the news, some basic tools, and other essentials.

As a person with a disability, your kit may be more extensive. Make sure you have access to your most important contacts in a format accessible to you, whether that be Braille, large print, an audio recording, or whatever suits your needs. Family and friends are the first and best means of support if you have a disability, as they know your needs better than emergency responders will. If you have a service animal, consider its needs. Do you have food, water, and the equipment needed to work with the animal? What about identification tags? Do you use any equipment that is necessary for you to live, such as a dialysis machine? If so, how will you power it in the event you lose access to electricity? If blind, do you have a spare cane? If in a powered wheelchair, do you have a lightweight manual one available to you? Is your environment easy for you to navigate quickly? Are emergency exits unobstructed?

As you can see, the needs of people with disabilities are quite complex. Although no one source can ask or answer every question, these tips are a good starting point.


•The National Rehabilitation Information Center wrote a blog post to help Harvey survivors with disabilities find needed resources during the recovery process.

• The American Foundation for the Blind offers a general overview on emergency preparedness with further links to resources at the end of the article including those from the CDC, Red Cross, and more.

• Writing for the Vision Aware blog, Maureen Duffy discusses the importance of emergency preparedness with a focus on her harrowing personal experience with flooding.

• FEMA is required by law to provide accessible services at its disaster recovery centers so that people with disabilities can be made aware of the resources available to them. Here is an overview (pdf) of the services offered at their recovery sites for disabled people.

• Oregon’s Business Continuity Management Program, a division of the Department of Human Services, has a list of guides for businesses and organizations to better serve the disabled population in the event of an emergency, but they also feature guides for individuals as well.

We cannot stop emergencies from happening, as they are an inevitability of life. But with preparedness, we can mitigate their impact. Being prepared also means being calm and confident in a difficult situation, and a calm person is better able to take care of themselves and others. The more of us who can do that, the better off we are as a community. And when we move forward into the long and difficult rebuilding process, it’s the communities that matter the most.

Commentary: Remembering Bill Jurek


This past weekend, members of The Chicago Lighthouse family were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Bill Jurek, director emeritus of The Lighthouse’s CRIS Radio. CRIS Radio is the oldest and largest reading and information service in Illinois for people with visual impairments or who have other disabilities, and broadcasts programming specifically targeted to these communities. Bill, who was himself totally blind, had been the station’s director since 2006. He was also the host of The Beacon, the country’s only advocacy radio show recorded for and by people with disabilities. Prior to joining The Lighthouse, Bill worked for many radio and television stations, including WLIT-FM, WGN, WIND, WLS-AM and NBC. He was also the voice talent for numerous companies. Bill lost his vision in 1995, and was a strong mentor and advocate for people with vision loss, especially those interested in the broadcast journalism field.

I first met Bill nearly four years ago, when I was looking for a job after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. My supervisor at the organization I was interning for at the time suggested I contact Bill Jurek. After all, Bill was also blind, and it wouldn’t hurt to ask him for some words of advice for my future career. Bill’s reply to my email was completely unexpected! He told me CRIS Radio could possibly offer me an internship, and asked me to call him right away. I began my internship with the station a few months later, where I helped schedule and record interviews for The Beacon. Little did I know that this internship would help launch my future career as a journalist! I now work full-time at The Lighthouse, both as an associate producer for CRIS Radio and development assistant.

I will always remember Bill’s kindness and great sense of humor. Ever since our first conversation over the phone, I could immediately tell he was a friendly and caring individual. I will always treasure the wonderful and fun memories of working with him. Whether discussing future segments for The Beacon, or recording the show, our conversations would inevitably turn into talking about food, some of the funny or embarrassing experiences we encountered as people who are blind or other random musings! I could always count on Bill to learn about good restaurants or other places I might want to check out.

The Sandy’s View team and The Chicago Lighthouse extend our deepest condolences to Bill Jurek’s family, friends and colleagues. We all lost a great friend and mentor who will always be remembered. Bill’s services will take place this upcoming Saturday, September 9. For more information and to read more about Bill’s work with CRIS Radio, please visit this page. Thank you Bill for being a great friend and mentor. Most importantly, thank you for giving me an opportunity and opening the path to a wonderful career for myself and countless others. The following is a video Bill and I recorded nearly two years ago for the Chicago Community Trust, where we talk about CRIS Radio, and the high unemployment rate faced by individuals with vision loss.

Commentary: Accessibility in Business Should Be More Than An Afterthought

Commentary written by guest writer Tyler Bachelder

Did you know that businesses are letting over $8 trillion slip right through their proverbial fingers? Me neither. But Caroline Casey, an Irish disability activist does, and she wants to show them the money. That sum is the estimated amount of disposable income possessed by approximately a billion people with disabilities worldwide. She believes that with the right insight and guidance, businesses can begin tapping that money for their own gain. But this isn’t just a naked appeal to greed. It’s also good citizenship. It starts with a consideration for disabled consumers in the boardroom. She wants companies to know that they need to do more than pay mere lip service to accessibility. To her, this is a win-win situation. Businesses cater to the needs of disabled people, and in return they get loyal customers who feel appreciated and valued, plus the wallets that come with them.

Take a look around and you can see this ethos already paying off. The go-to example that most blind people would likely jump to is Apple. Apple has, through the entirety of its design process, considered the needs of disabled people, and it’s been revolutionary for us. Their suite of accessibility tools is comprehensive. The iPhone has screen magnification, LED flash to notify deaf users of alerts, image recognition to describe photos, the ability to type in Braille on the phone, shaped buttons for color blind users, guided access to minimize distractions for users with cognitive disabilities, and so much more. And those tools are generally replicated on a Mac. Apple is something of a prestige brand. Consumers pay a premium for its products. Often, disabled people don’t have as much money individually, due to lack of inclusion in the workforce. But, limited income aside, blind people flock to Apple devices no matter the cost. Why? Because Apple cares about their needs. For a lot of us, Apple is the brand, not a brand. Imagine, for a moment, what that means for this segment of the market. Apple has it largely on lockdown.

And that leads us to Casey and her mission. She imagines a world in which companies consider accessibility at all levels of operation, from supply to design to service to the built environment. That sort of consideration can engender a lot of loyalty from a demographic that often feels underserved and neglected. It’s also a clear win for public relations. Search Google News for Apple Accessibility and you’ll witness journalists frothing over how thoughtful, how philanthropic, and how cool Apple is for doing this work. What company doesn’t want that kind of public goodwill?

Let’s also remember that accessibility can benefit everyone, not just disabled people. How many times have you taken an elevator when stairs would work? Be honest, I won’t tell. You’ve had a bear of a day at work, the commute home is a nightmare, your feet hurt, all you want is to, for a second, be at rest. So into the elevator you go, and you’re grateful right? That elevator is intended for wheelchair users, but I’ll bet what’s left of my eyesight that you’re thankful for those precious thirty seconds of stillness, aren’t you? That’s accessibility at work.

Casey wants companies to realize that the investment of time and money into accessible products and services pays dividends both financially and in the court of public opinion. Too often, due to a lack of education about what it means to be disabled or what it would take to improve the status quo, businesses neglect it altogether. If informed at all, they’re usually misinformed, mistakenly believing that these considerations would be prohibitively expensive. For instance, minor changes like high contrast colors in design, larger signage, appropriate lighting, products that feature tactile elements, websites built with screen readers in mind, digital versions of manuals, TTY phone numbers, most of these things are insignificant changes with very little cost attached. And it’s much less expensive to design while considering accessibility, rather than retrofitting something later, because often if you change one small feature, others must change to make way. I’m thinking here of buildings built before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, specifically, but the principle applies generally too.

So Casey plans to travel to Colombia and ride horseback across the country, all the while documenting her journey on social media. The #valuable campaign is meant to educate, rather than cajole. At the end of her journey, she will beseech over 500 companies to consider their lost money. Let’s hope this effort can create at least one more Apple in the world. The changes won’t happen overnight, but there is momentum. I’ll be in the elevator, waiting for the doors to open on a brighter future.