ACT Now+

A five-year demonstration project funded by PADDC has improved the ways Berks County families, self advocates, schools, agencies, and businesses work together to support teens with developmental disabilities as they take action for their future.

Through the Berks County Transition Coordinating Council (BCTCC), these diverse stakeholders work toward their shared mission – empowering youth with disabilities to plan and prepare for the future they desire.

BCTCC learns from youth and families in a variety of ways to understand the support gaps that impede young people’s transition to their post-high school goals. The ACT Now project has demonstrated how some of these gaps can be bridged through an ongoing “local community of practice” for transition.

A sample of ACT Now highlights:

Empowering Families

Families must access and understand a wide range of information to effectively support youth in making informed transition decisions. Through the ACT Now Board, families helped to design a variety of user-friendly ways to provide transition information including:

Cross-systems information and resource events

  • offered at diverse evening and weekend times and places
  • with young adult and parent co-presenters and peer supporters
  • involving staff from schools, agencies, and post secondary institutions, businesses, financial, legal, and health specialists
  • with personalized information and support for families
A user-friendly transition website to be launched in June 2012 that will link families to the best transition information sources on the net. This website will be an invaluable resource for families throughout the state and beyond.

Partnerships with pediatricians, counseling centers, libraries, and other public places will provide basic transition information and next step resources.Connecting with Adult Agency Supports

BCTCC designed a simple process that enables families to initiate the actual intake for Office of Developmental Programs services at a student’s IEP meeting. This simplified process significantly increased the number of students who apply five years before high school graduation.

Students can initiate their Office of Vocational Rehabilitation application at school on the phone with teacher support. This avoids the confusion often caused when attempting to use the online application at home.
Postsecondary Education Connections
By developing a partnership that supports students to take an on-campus community college course while in high school, BCTCC has helped students, families, teachers, and transition coordinators learn the following processes through actual experience:
    • College application process
    • Informed decision-making regarding disability disclosure
    • Disability documentation process
    • Requesting and accessing accommodations
    • Placement testing process
    • Self-advocacy on campus
    • Time management, organizational, study and communication skills

BCTCC also organizes ongoing Transition Academy days at various area colleges, providing high school students with immersion experiences and opportunity to connect with college students with disabilities.

Career Connections

BCTCC has formed collaborative relationships among businesses, schools, and employment support agencies. These relationships have led to hundreds of job shadowing experiences, as well as simulated interviews and job tryouts for high school students. In addition, summer work experiences and employer-facilitated learning experiences related to career networking have grown from these collaborative relationships that have been facilitated through BCTCC.

Through the ACT Now project, BCTCC engaged in strategic planning with employment support agencies and schools to identify systems limitations that impede students from reaching career goals. This kind of collaborative planning in a local area is extremely rare. A key personnel training need was identified in the area of effective workbased instruction for students with communication, social skills and behavioral needs.

As a result, training was provided in partnership with Peter Gerhardt of the Organization for Autism Research and Gloria Satriale of the PAAL program. School-based teams learned strategies for using effective instruction and technology in intensive work-based learning experiences based on students’ interests and strengths. The schoolbased teams have developed action plans for using the skills they have learned to support students with ongoing coaching support from the Berks County Intermediate Unit’s training and consultation team.

Self Advocacy and Youth Leadership

ACT Now has helped BCTCC support the formation of a young adult advocacy and leadership group committed to providing leadership and advocacy training to high school students with disabilities. BCTCC has subcontracted with Josie Badger,, former president of the National Youth Leadership Network (NYLN), and the Pennsylvania Youth Leadership Network (PYLN). Josie is currently promoting her platform of youth leadership throughout the nation as Ms. Wheelchair USA. She is also working on her doctoral dissertation in Healthcare Ethics at Duquesne University and is the Youth Coordinator at the PEAL Center in Pittsburgh.

Ms. Badger has designed a dynamic collection of youth leadership and advocacy training activities that can now be used by young adult leaders to teach advocacy and leadership skills to high school students.

This innovative collection of activities will be on the BCTCC website beginning July 2012. It will be promoted for use by advocacy groups throughout Pennsylvania and the United States.

Ms. Badger has already “field tested” the activities at the BCTCC Employability Expo and will be holding a “train the trainer” weekend with interested young adult leaders in June 2012.

Moving Forward

As the PADDC grant comes to an end, the Berks County Transition Coordinating Council continues to plan and work as a local “community of practice.” In fact, a doctoral student at George Washington University is currently studying BCTCC collaborative plan and act toward their future goals.

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Stop Violence and Victimization Against People with Disabilities+

While every person is at risk of becoming a victim of violence, risk factors are frequently rooted in oppression and inequality. These factors place certain groups at greater risk of being victimized, such as children, people in later life, people who do not speak English, and people with disabilities.

According to the 2007 National Crime Victimization Survey Crime Against People with Disabilities:

  • Age-adjusted rate of nonfatal violent crime against persons with disabilities was 1.5 times higher than the rate for persons without disabilities.
  • A person with a disability had an age-adjusted rate of rape or sexual assault that was more than twice the rate for people without a disability.
  • A person with a cognitive functioning disability had a higher risk of violent victimization than a person with any other type of disability.
  • People with more than one type of disability accounted for about 56% of all violent crime victimizations against those with any disability.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 violent crime victims with a disability believed that they became a victim because of their disability.

( )

Despite the many laws that require equal access to goods and services for all Americans, people with disabilities often find the services they most need after experiencing an assault to be unavailable and physically, programmatically, and/or attitudinally inaccessible.

To address the gap between crime victimization and service provision, The Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council awarded the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) a grant to develop a curriculum for people with disabilities on abuse. Additionally, the council requested that PCAR develop a specific module for care provides on abuse. The project team included Project Director, Karla Vierthaler, Dr. Beverly Frantz from the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, and Monica Gould of Strategic Consulting Partners, who served as the curriculum manager. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape is an organization working at the state and national levels to prevent and address sexual violence. Incepted in 1975, PCAR continues to use its voice to challenge public attitudes, raise public awareness, and effect critical changes in public policy, protocols, and responses to sexual violence.

To provide quality services to victims/survivors of sexual violence and their significant others, PCAR works with its statewide network of 51 rape crisis centers serving all 67 counties in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The centers also work to create public awareness and prevention education within their communities. In addition to providing technical assistance in a variety of areas, the role of PCAR is to oversee the rape crisis centers’ contracts, monitor relevant legislation and public policy issues, provide library resources and educational trainings, and create public awareness campaigns.

An active advisory council, which included 23 members representing crime victims and disability services organizations, staff from the Office of Developmental Programs, and self-advocates guided the development of the curriculum.

Titled the S.A.F.E. (Stop Abuse for Everybody), the curriculum was developed to empower people with disabilities and their care providers to reduce the risk of becoming a crime victim identify risk factors, and report abuse. The content and design was developed based upon input from the Advisory Committee, focus groups, and pilot testing with self advocates, family members, and direct support staff across the Commonwealth.

The S.A.F.E. curriculum is designed to educate adults with disabilities about abuse and their rights. The major theme of the curriculum is empowerment. For the purpose of this curriculum, empowerment is defined as the power of knowledge. The curriculum is designed to help participants know their rights. Their rights to safety, speak out, and get help. Knowledge and empowerment are core principles in personal safety.

This curriculum consists of five modules. The first four modules are designed for persons with disabilities. The fifth module educates care providers on the signs of abuse, strategies for identifying abusive situations, and what to do.

The modules are:

Module 1: Financial Abuse – a safety guide on how to prevent and handle financial abuse to one’s money and personal belongings.

Module 2: Neglect and Withholding Support – a safety guide on how to prevent and handle situations where consumers are neglected or prevented from garnering the support they deserve.

Module 3: Physical and Verbal Abuse – a safety guide focused on preventing and handling situations where someone may be physically or verbally abused.

Module 4: Sexual Abuse – a safety guide exploring ways to prevent and handle sexual abuse situations.

Module 5: Curriculum Overview for Care Provider – to include but not limited to support coordination/agency employees and “care” providers which also includes family members and agency staff.

The care provider training module is an overview of the other four modules. It highlights a care providers’ responsibility to ensure the safety of the individuals they support.

Each module explores different types of abusive behaviors and is structured in the same manner as the previous modules. Each module follows the same format. The beginning of each module provides an introduction and overview of a specific type of abuse. The middle part of each module explores examples and experiences associated with a specific type of abuse. The last part of each module provides the participant with information on their rights, responsibilities, and local resources. Each module also shares the following objective for participants:

• Be able to define words related to abuse
• Be able to disclose and report abuse
• State their rights and responsibilities

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Volunteers of America of Pennsylvania - Entrepreneurship Grant+

High rates of unemployment are still a fact for individuals with disabilities. In February 2012, the employment rate for persons with disabilities was only 20.1% while the employment rate was significantly higher at 69.3% for persons without disabilities ( For those individuals with disabilities who are employed, underemployment is often the reality.

The good news is that “Entrepreneurship is alive and well in the wake of the Great Recession. Although the rate of new business creation dipped during 2011 and startup founders remained more likely to fly solo than employ others,” ( self-employment is a viable option proven to improve the lives of people with disabilities, disadvantages, low incomes, and/or obstacles to traditional employment.

According to the U. S. Small Business Administration, “small businesses account for 99.7% of all employer firms and 64% of new jobs created in the U.S.” (SBA: Frequently Asked Questions Fact Sheet). Self-employment, small business ownership, or entrepreneurship – call it what you will – is trending toward entrepreneurship and is the economy’s fastest growing sector.

In 2007, Volunteers of America of Pennsylvania, Inc. began a five-year project through its Working Order program to create a network of resources across the state for persons with disabilities who want to pursue selfemployment. With grant support from the PADDC, this project has traveled across the state and reached to over 4,000 individuals. Ruby Wilkosz, project director and Regional Director of Working Order, a small business incubator program of Volunteers of America has experienced all the expected reactions: genuine excitement, doubt, pushback, and participation.

Through the project, Volunteers of America is excited to be able to offer a FREE Internet directory resource to any business, agency, or entrepreneur across the state with services for persons with disabilities. The Entrepreneurial Resource Directory is available to companies that offer products, to service providers who care for dependents, to small businesses that want to sell products and services, and to entrepreneurs who are reaching out to the marketplace for new opportunities. The website offers everyone the ability to log on, create a listing, and upload business information. The directory serves as a resource for people with disabilities who are interested in starting a small business.

“The Great Recession has pushed many individuals into business ownership due to high unemployment rates,” said Robert Litan, vice president of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation. Often this can mean cobbling together a couple jobs to net a meaningful financial difference. Today, we hope that finding support is a little easier.

Since 1996, Working Order has believed in the value of self-direction and entrepreneurship for individuals with or without disabilities. This small business incubator is a commitment to each person’s right to work at employment of choice, including self-employment. With a unique mix of entrepreneurs from a wide range of challenges to employment, Working Order has successfully helped over 600 potential entrepreneurs in the past 16 years and launched 185 small businesses into the marketplace.

Volunteers of America’s Working Order program provides the business advice and support needed to test the feasibility of individual business concepts, write business plans, develop marketing plans, create branded marketing materials, learn financial systems, develop branding strategies, and offer technical assistance for setting up the tools needed to run a business. For new entrepreneurs in the Greater Pittsburgh area, the shared business incubator and resources save on startup expenses and provides ongoing coaching and learning opportunities.

Self-employment is not easy. There is always a real fear of failure. It is, however, a myth that most small businesses go out of business within a couple years, and it is true that even traditional employment opportunities offer less than a three-year run for most workers today. Working Order continues to focus on the individual’s right to work at an occupation of choice, and we know that the reward of self-employment can more than offset the hard work.

Danny Shirey launched DAJ Consultants to serve his community by engaging schools and institutions in conversations about living with a life-time disability.

Alyssa Verner is sole proprietor of Verner Office Service of Apollo and uses the business incubator to shred paper for private clients.

Vicky Illar operates two businesses out of her home. She sews for individuals who want tailoring that fits their needs and their physical disabilities. Kids Kreations and More has been in business for over five years and continues to support the community of individuals who need extra help in their clothing choices. Vicky also offers data management for small nonprofit organizations under her company name, Illar’s Office Support.

All of these entrepreneurs find that having their own businesses and serving the community by using their capabilities provides them with a sense of selfconfidence, self-respect, and a few extra dollars to help support their life style.

There is risk. Testing the feasibility of self-employment is an important part of determining the odds of success.  This is vital to avoid loss of income, loss of assets, and falling prey to predatory lenders for a business that is likely to fail. Each business concept needs to be carefully thought out. The tasks involved need to be clearly understood, accommodations need to be considered, and the product or service must be marketable at the right price. A good financial projection looks at every expense- marketing costs, insurance, supplies, travel, taxes, legal expense, salaries, as well as the cost of making the actual product. And let’s face it: if you don’t have a customer, you don’t have a business. The answers concerning feasibility, planning, marketing, and launch will help a new business decide where their dollars will best be spent. For people with disabilities who are dependent on government benefits and who have little startup money, there are financial considerations that should be discussed with a benefits counselor before beginning self-employment.

Join us in supporting this viable trend for people who want to work. Go to . and add your listing to the directory. Please contact Ruby Wilkosz, Regional Director for Volunteers of America’s Working Order program, at 412-782-5344 ext. 211, if you would like to learn more about self-employment initiatives and resources in your area.

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Free Assistance: To Help Disability Advocacy Groups Improve Their Skills!+

DASH can answer your advocacy and organizational questions such as:

  • Legislative and policy advocacy
  • Community organizing
  • Organization development
  • Grants and fundraising
  • Effective planning
  • Different advocacy approaches
  • Networking and coalition building
  • Effective media strategies
  • Corporate, legal, and fiscal issues relating to non-profit
  • Management of small non-profits

These are just some examples. How can we help you? DASH project staff and consultants can talk to you (and your group) on the phone, share e-mails and, in some cases, meet face to face. So, for a quick question or more in-depth help, contact DASH – Call toll free at 866-915-3274 OR send an email to

(Assistance is provided by the Disability Advocacy Support Hub – a project of the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania and
is funded by the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council)

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