Tag: disability programs

VaxAbilities Disability Friendly Vaccine Sites

The Arc of Massachusetts has an update to share regarding vaccines and boosters from colleagues at the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and our state’s Developmental Disabilities Network.

This is about disability vaccine-friendly sites and options; please note volunteers are needed, too.

I. Disability-Friendly Vaccine Sites or Mobile Events

  • Disability-friendly vaccine sites or mobile events can be found by going to https://vaxabilities.com/
  • Organized by UMass Medical and Shriver Center in cooperation with our Developmental Disabilities Network (which also includes ICI, MDDC, and DLC). These events are scheduled to take place across the Commonwealth after the anticipated approval of the COVID vaccine for 5-11-year-olds this month.
  • The goal of these events is to support people with sensory and/or other accommodation needs in Massachusetts to have the most positive and comfortable vaccination experience possible.
  • We will accomplish this by bringing in clinicians with sensory training to partner with vaccinating clinicians, physical tools to assist with numbing and distraction, strategies for positioning and distraction, and the assistance of volunteers to help with logistics and engagement. Most events will offer vaccines to both children and adults.

Disability-friendly Vaccine Events

We also want to note that planners are hoping for clinicians and volunteers to sign up for the upcoming “VaxAbilities” disability-friendly vaccine events! Currently, they are looking for:

  1. Sensory-trained clinicians who will partner with vaccine-administrating clinicians to understand and use strategies to support the sensory needs and accommodations children or adults may have through the vaccination process (paid or volunteer)
  2. Pediatricians on-site to answer parent and child questions about the COVID19 vaccine (paid or volunteer)
  3. Volunteers that can help direct visitors, help engage children as they wait for vaccines, hand out distractor items/toys, assist with vaccine station cleaning and collect survey responses, etc.

Sign up to volunteer.

The Human Service Workforce Crisis in Massachusetts

Hello, my name is Cheryl Dolan and I work in human services.

I moved from the UK in 1999, when many humans service agencies could not find staff and went overseas to hire them. We still have this problem today. We need to look at why this is and what we can do to change it.

Why is there a shortage in staff?

  • More people need support and services than before so need more staff
  • Wages are low and not too many ways to get promoted
  • Lack of people who are trained to do the job well

How does this affect people?

  • People have high turnover or unqualified staff working with them
  • People not getting the best care
  • Programs have to close, People  are losing services or are on wait lists
  • Families become stretched and have no help

What are human service agencies doing to address the issue?

  • Looking at how technology can be used to support people and reduce some staffing needs
  • Working with local and federal government to support them by applying initiatives for state employees to human service agencies
  • Looking at how to attract, train, and retain skilled employees.

How can you help fix this?

  • Make your voice heard! Make the people you vote for know you want to see increase in funding for wages
  • Support agencies seeking increased funding to provide higher wages for staff
  • Join advocacy movements like The Caring Force     

"The Caring Force logo"

Additional materials

Who Will Care? The Workforce Crisis

The Caring Force

Boston Herald: Opinion  Workforce Crisis Threatens Community

Chicago Tribune:  Article– Care Worker  Shortage

Why Early Identification is Important to Me: A Parent’s Point of View

Picture of a BabyThis month we are pleased to introduce Elaine Gabovitch, a respected professional in the field of disabilities. Elaine has many titles; State team leader, Faculty Member, and Director to name a few. Yet this month, she shares a personal view from one of her most important roles in life, parent of a child with autism.

It’s personal

Every year in April, people who care about autism observe and even celebrate Autism Awareness Month. One thing I personally celebrate is how far we’ve come in identifying autism spectrum disorders in young children.

It was 18 years ago when early identification became vitally important for our son. Back then, I didn’t know a thing about autism, but I knew our son wasn’t meeting his developmental milestones on time. When we shared our concerns with his pediatrician, he advised us to “wait and see.”

Instead, I self-referred to Early Intervention who evaluated my son and sent us to specialists. Soon he received a diagnosis, Early Identification services started, and our long trip forward began. Over time, I met other parents whose pediatricians also reassured them to “wait and see.”

It was a growing problem in need of a solution.

That was back in the 90’s, and while early identification has come a long way since then, it still has a long way to go with heightened public awareness.

It’s Prevalent

Only last year, the CDC estimated that every one in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder. That’s one in every 54 boys and one in every 252 girls. This past month, a parent telephone survey study reported one in 50 children may be diagnosed on the spectrum.

That’s 2% of all children!

It’s Urgent

Early intervention works. The earlier the screening, the better the results for children and families. But for children who have families from diverse cultural and racial backgrounds, real disparities exist. We can and must do better.

By teaching all families about healthy developmental milestones and what to do when concerned, we can do better. And by training all pediatric clinicians about screening, we can change the conversation from “let’s wait and see,” to “let’s do a routine screen,” leveling the playing field for all children.

It’s Treatable

Take it from me, autism spectrum disorders are treatable. Over the years I have met many children with autism and their families and each has a different story to tell. Early intervention was a crucial part of those stories, as it helped beyond what those families could possibly have imagined at the time of diagnosis.

Identification is the key to getting help. Let’s build awareness here in Massachusetts by getting everyone on board through education, participation and identification.

Over the month of April, we’ll hear from other members of the Massachusetts Act Early state team about why early identification is important to them too.

About the authorElaine Gabovitch

Elaine Gabovitch, MPA is the Director of Family & Community Partnerships for the UMass Medical School-Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, family faculty in the Shriver Center’s LEND program, and an instructor in the UMMS Department of Family Medicine & Community Health. She currently serves as state team leader for the Massachusetts Act Early program and as one of 25 national ambassadors appointed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to promote the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” public health program in Massachusetts. For more information, visit the Massachusetts Act Early Web Site

LEND Provides Invaluable Opportunity

Amy-Weinstock-Signing-at-FenwayThis week we are pleased to introduce guest blogger, Amy Weinstock, Director of the Autism Insurance Resource Center and 2005 LEND graduate.

Learning about LEND

I first learned about LEND when one of my daughter’s therapists told me she’d have to rearrange her schedule starting the next month, because she was about to start a LEND fellowship program. At the time, I was focused on getting help for my daughter, and didn’t pay much attention to anything else.

Two years later, another therapist told me she was applying to the LEND program. This led to two realizations on my part; the first being that I had really good therapists, and the second that LEND was a pretty big deal.

A good fit

At the time, I was working in corporate banking, and had become very interested in the topic of insurance coverage, or more accurately, lack of insurance coverage, for autism treatment. My knowledge of the health care system consisted of an insurance card, a sick child, and no coverage for her treatment.

I went to the LEND website, and quickly realized that the training at LEND was exactly what I needed. My goal was to begin working on the systemic change I believed was necessary in order for families to obtain insurance coverage for autism treatment.

Although I didn’t have all of the direct pre-requisites, I applied and was invited for an interview. I left that interview more convinced than ever that LEND would be critical to my goal of merging my professional experience in the corporate world, with my personal passion to work in the disability field.

LEND education supports change

My LEND Capstone project, “Expanding Insurance Coverage for Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Treatment for Children with Autism” became the blueprint for my work over the next five years. It culminated with unanimous passage by the Massachusetts House and Senate of one of the country’s most comprehensive autism insurance bills.

The education I received at the LEND program, and the introductions to many of the leaders in the disability service and advocacy fields, was invaluable, and is a major reason people in Massachusetts affected by autism have this coverage today.

Join us next week to hear from another LEND fellow and how the program impacted their life.

LEND Program Offers Exciting Opportunity for All

When I think back to turning 50, I was pretty comfortable with my life. My professional career had been fulfilling, and my two sons had finished college and were off following their own dreams. Consulting part time was an option, but I really wasn’t looking for too much in terms of a professional challenge.

No, I was ready to relax a little.

LEND opens a door

Until one day, I was speaking to a friend who told me about the LEND program; Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities. She described it as a wonderful opportunity to attend a graduate level training program with others committed to leadership in the field.

So I decided to check it out.

What I realized is even though I had started my own nonprofit, I learned through trial and error only. Going back to school would offer a whole new dimension of learning.

Getting accepted

After doing some more research, I came to the realization that the program sounded wonderful and I really wanted to be accepted.

The good news was even though my undergraduate grades were not impressive, (college in the 70s,what can I say?), perhaps they thought I could bring credible work experience to the group, and I was accepted into the program.

I was in and I was nervous.LEND Graduates 2010

The impact on my life

Over the next two years I was the class nerd. I relished my time in the classroom, enjoying the opportunity to research and write on topics of interest and eventually completing my masters at Suffolk University. It was truly a life changing experience.

I guess in many ways it was what I expected in terms of the academic challenges, yet what I hadn’t envisioned was the intimacy in friendships that would be made both with my professors and colleagues. We learned so much from each other and I will be forever grateful for the impact they made on my life.

Today, I am honored to teach in the LEND program, which is an opportunity I never imagined. I only hope that I will have the same positive impact on my students in the years to come.

This month, join us to hear from other alumni and students in LEND as they share their own experiences. Who knows. With applications now being accepted, you may find yourself in one of our classrooms this fall.


Resources for Deaf, Late-Deafened and Hard of Hearing People

Debra Lobsitz, Information and Referral Specialist from MCDHHThis month we have been focusing on the services and resources available for people living with hearing loss. As the Information and Referral Specialist at the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH), I respond to inquiries from individuals and organizations on a broad range of topics.

There is never a dull moment in my job! A day doesn’t go by that I don’t learn something new about the technology, services, or needs of the people living with hearing loss in Massachusetts.

Common Topics Of Discussion

Some of the most common topics I discuss with people include American Sign Language (ASL) classes, Deaf Culture, becoming an interpreter, working with interpreters, and who is responsible for paying for interpreters.

Assistive Technology (AT) is also a common topic including related funding, and vendors for AT use in the home, the classroom, and the office.

Direct services available for deaf and hard of hearing people of all ages are a resource shared with many, as well as hearing aid technology, funding, coverage, and how to choose the best hearing aid. I also get a lot of questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act and its application.

Why I Love My Job

In my position I discuss the physics of sound and the physiology of hearing with individuals and organizations making inquiries. The range of technology includes everything from pen and paper to Smartphone apps; the simplest assistive technology in use for decades to the newest technology still in a development phase.

The best part of it all is I have the privilege of seeing the power of information change people’s lives.



The following  ASL videos highlight services offered by the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

 Additional Resources

Best Practices: Assistive Listening Devices and Systems / Information for Consumers and Information for Vendors
These documents are made available in keeping with the Mission of MCDHH to provide accessible communication, education and advocacy to consumers and private and public entities.

The Savvy Consumer’s Guide to Hearing Loss by Karen Rockow
This wonderful resource guide provides invaluable information for people that have lost all or most of their hearing during their teenage or adult years.

 Improvements in our Educational System for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Schoolchildren- MNIP Fact Sheet
Aurora Wilber, Project Coordinator at the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, is the contributor for information on this fact sheet.

For additional information, contact Massachusetts Commission for Deaf & Hard of Hearing at  (617) 740-1700 TTY, (617) 740-1600


The Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Programs and Services

MCDHH-bannerThe Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is the principal agency in the Commonwealth for enabling Deaf, late-deafened, DeafBlind and hard of hearing people full participation in all areas of life. This is accomplished through efforts to facilitate effective public policy, provision of technical assistance, offering specialized services, advocacy, and public education.

Debra Lobsitz, Information and Referral Specialist from MCDHH

This month we are pleased to introduce Debra Lobsitz, Information and Referral Specialist from the Commission to share her expertise and personal experience at the Commission.


Addressing Questions

As the Information and Referral Specialist, I try to provide people with up to date information on topics of interest to the people we serve. Most recently, The Children’s Hearing Aid Bill – Chapter 233 of the Acts of 2012 (HB 52) was implemented. As of January 1, 2013, on the date of renewal for your medical insurance, hearing aids for children must be covered by your medical insurance. There have been several questions about the details and I want to address some that are most frequently asked.

Who is covered?

Children 21 years old or younger with fully insured medical plans. Self-funded/self-insured plans are not required to conform to this legislation. Here is a list of self-insured employers in Massachusetts.

What is covered?

Expenses up to $2,000 for one hearing aid per ear requiring a device are covered every 36 months. In addition to that, the initial evaluation, fittings, adjustments, and supplies are also covered. Batteries are considered supplies.

Where can I find more information?

The Massachusetts Hearing Aids for Children Coalition or MassHAFCC , a grassroots statewide network that focused on the passage of the Bill provides a blog. This blog offers guidance on what steps to take if coverage is denied.

Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations issued a bulletin on December 31, 2012

Topics for the upcoming weeks will include improvements in our educational system for Deaf and hard of hearing students, a personal account of receiving a cochlear implant, and technological solutions for communication access.

Join us in the weeks ahead to learn more.

Understanding the “Invisible” Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Dawn RussoTo begin the year, we introduce Dawn Russo, Senior Program Manager for the National MS Society. Dawn will be sharing her thoughts about how to support people with MS beyond their physical needs.

There are many challenges to living with a chronic illness, but the “invisible” symptoms that a person with multiple sclerosis may face can be uniquely challenging. Invisible symptoms can include pain, fatigue, cognition, bladder problems, numbness, etc. Without specifically sharing the details of these symptoms, friends and family may be unaware of the impact they have on a person’s daily life.

This is true of one of the common symptoms of MS: depression. Studies show that the MS population has a higher prevalence of depression than the general population. Unlike the physical presence of a wheelchair, depression is not immediately identifiable and people may do their best to hide this symptom. Unless someone tells you about the challenges they are facing due to depression, this struggle may go unrecognized.

Causes For Depression

MS can progress differently in different people and not knowing what the future may hold can make it difficult to cope. In addition, the losses that people face as the disease progresses can be particularly challenging, such as leaving a career, giving up certain activities, changes in relationships, etc.

Depression can be a direct result of the disease as well. MS is a disease of the central nervous system, and as the myelin that protects the nerve fibers is attacked, parts of the brain that control our emotional responses can change. Depression can also be a side effect from medications.

What to do about it

If you suspect that you or someone you know is struggling with depression, there are steps to take. A mental health professional can help to identify if those feelings are true depression and what treatment options are available. The National MS Society has information on our website and in print. We have support groups throughout our chapter area and can provide referrals to professionals with experience working with people with MS.

Just because we can’t see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. And sometimes what we can’t see can be the hardest to deal with. Depression, like other invisible symptoms, can impact your everyday life and activities. It can also impact your family, friends and caregivers. Through my role at the Chapter, I speak with many people who have MS or who have loved ones with MS. The impact of depression can be significant and reduce quality-of-life.It can be hard admitting that depression is real, that you need help, and seeking help.

But help is available. You just want to be sure to have the conversation if needed.

One of our future blogs will discuss the impact of invisible symptoms on caregivers. Next week, we’ll hear from Alex about his experience with MS. Hope you will join us then!

For more information about Depression, please visit the National MS Society website.

For information about emotional support programs available through the Greater New England Chapter, please visit our website.

Perkins Braille & Talking Book Library

Imagine a library right at your front door! That is what Perkins Library provides. This month we will learn more about this wonderful resource from our Guest Blogger, Debby Smith, Library Outreach Coordinator for the Perkins School Library.

A Library that delivers

We are the free public library for people who have difficulty reading regular sized print. Audio, large print and braille books are delivered to the homes of our patrons by the US postal workers. No postage is necessary.

Our patrons may have difficulty seeing regular sized print. They may have difficulty holding a book due to a physical condition such as arthritis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease. Or, they may have a reading disability.

Whatever the reason, if they want to read, we are here.

US Postal Worker

A wealth of resources

And we don’t just have books.

There are magazines, movies, museum passes. Even the opportunity to read over 300 newspapers across the country and from around the world is available by signing up for a service called Newsline. Subscribers access the service by telephone or computer.

Having worked with people who are blind or visually impaired for over 31 years, it is exciting to see how print materials are so much more accessible. The idea that you can listen to today’s newspaper, the entire thing, any time you want, not depending on someone else, is amazing.

Dean Denniston

Books offer lifeline

As the Library Outreach Coordinator, I have the privilege of going into the community to spread the word about the Perkins Library. It is so rewarding to be able to tell people that they can still enjoy reading.

When I meet with patrons they tell me that books are their “lifeline”. Some people say they read more than ever before because there are so many wonderful books available to them. When I talk to new people they cannot believe that this service is here; it is easy, it is accessible and it is free!

person listening to book


For more information about the Perkins Library, or to get an application in order to apply for services, visit our web site at www.perkinslibrary.org or call 1-800-852-3133.

Also, be sure to read more about our library in the October blogs to follow.

Gateway Arts Prepares Young Artists with Disabilities for the Future

Gateway Arts LogoAt Gateway Arts, we understand the need for supporting young people with disabilities through transition. It is a tough time for all of us during these years entering adulthood, and for people with disabilities it can be even tougher.

Yet we have found a creative approach through art that makes a difference. As we have seen time and again, when students at Gateway begin to create, their confidence builds and their potential replaces their disability.

The Power to Grow

Neri, a student at Gateway ArtsOne such student is Neri Avraham, who came to Gateway at age 17. Neri attends Newton High School, loves art and has autism. One of his challenges is patience. Waiting for a bus, for example, would annoy anyone, but for him it’s a real ordeal.

Yet when Avraham paints, he can sit and concentrate for hours. He says it’s allowed him to become more comfortable with uncertainty. He’s currently enrolled in classes at Gateway which help him refine the new behaviors and skills he finds through artwork and channel them into his development as a successful artist and adult.

Neri’s mother, a strong advocate for talented young adults with disabilities, says, “…that to be in a regular society is what pushes people to improve” and, “…that it is better to be a tail of a lion than the head of a small animal”. Gateway gives all young people with disabilities the opportunity to be part of the Gateway family and the mainstream art community with the power to grow to their full potential.

Flowering Through Art

A Painting by Neri AvrahamNeri loves flowers. A recent acrylic work of his has been described as ‘…a sea of flowers in many shades of blue and purple, sprouting up from grass so green it looks like it’s been showered with sprinklers every day’. His works are exhibited and sold in the Gateway Gallery, online, and at outside venues. He is also training to arrange flowers for events at and away from Gateway.

Gateway accepts diversified funding including the Department of Education, the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services, the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, the Statewide Head Injury Program, the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission and private payment. Gateway is a CARF certified service of Vinfen Corporation which provides additional administrative and clinical support.

More information  at www.gatewayarts.org or 617-734-1577/x10 to set up a visit or screening.