Barriers to Inclusion Part 3: Employment

In the 2018 fiscal year, 16 percent of Minnesotans with disabilities who received state services worked in the community alongside people without disabilities.  Chris Serres, Star Tribune, 3/16/19

How is this real? That number needs to be a hell of a lot higher than 16%. I am NOT one of the 16% by the way… although I did get paid to be a keynote speaker a year ago. That was my first and only paid work.

We have to rethink what employment looks like and be open to a variety of work options for people with a wide variety of abilities. For example, I want a part-time job with the option to work from home. I love to write and advocate for disability rights and am good at public speaking. I love testing out assistive technology, applications, and pretty good at using WordPress. I have a lot to offer, it just takes me longer to do what I want to do.

I think it’s time to rethink traditional college and how some of us with disabilities can get our first jobs – especially those of us with severe physical disabilities. I’ve written about this before, but the amount of time and energy for me to take just 1 college course is a lot. One college course means that I have very little time for doing anything else like writing in my blog, getting out in the community, advocating for disability rights, or more importantly going to concerts. I’m not sure it’s the best use of my time and would take me about 8 years to get an Associate’s degree. So, what kid of job am I going to get without a degree? Or do I need to create my own kind of work because when I’m not a college student, I don’t get to do internships or have those other entry points into the writing or communications work I’d like to do.

Smiling Jennie Delisi, Jay Wyant, Kris Schulze and Justin Smith

Let’s all get more creative and figure out how we can connect people with jobs, especially those of us who aren’t following traditional paths.

Read the article Minnesotans with disabilities fight barriers to inclusion, unfilled promises by Chris Serres. Really, read it right now! And share with all of your friends, family and random strangers!

And read the first two parts of my Barriers to Inclusion blog post week. Really, read them right now! And share with all of your friends, family and random strangers!

Barriers to Inclusion Part 1: Inclusion

Barriers to Inclusion Part 2: Caregivers

Here are a couple of  posts from a younger me related to college and work:


Inclusion in Action

Random Thoughts

Justin in wheelchair with movie lights, 2 men looking at him with video camera


Writing with WordQ (NO POLITICS, really!)

As some of you may know, I’m writing a novel that is currently 130 pages long and going. I couldn’t have written this much independently without word prediction. I am using WordQ, a software that speeds up my writing process a ton.

WordQ is a word prediction software I had tried when I was in later elementary school. Then I stopped using it because my old Windows computer was glitchy and would freeze up whenever I was using that older version of WordQ. So, for many years, I didn’t have any word prediction software. I would either type a letter at a time with my middle right finger or hope that whoever was helping me understood my voice well enough so that they could type what I was saying to speed up the process. Either way, it was a long, frustrating process. Really Long Beyond Words Frustrating.

Three years ago, when I presented at Closing the Gap, I met Fraser Shein, the president of Quillsoft, maker of WordQ. My dad and I talked to him about some of the problems I had when I first tried WordQ and Fraser set me up with an updated version to try out. This time it worked great for me!

I start typing a word and a separate popup screen shows me 5 numbered choices so that all I need to do is type the corresponding number. I usually can type most words in just a couple key strokes. Huge time saver for me! HUGE!

I use WordQ for typing anything – emails, blogposts, social media, and most importantly typing my book. It is simply brilliant! If you’re looking for word prediction software, I strongly recommend that you try it out. Check out this video of me using WordQ as I prepared for Charting the C’s presentations last spring.

By the way, you don’t need to have a disability to use WordQ. My dad is just a bad typist, and it helps speed up his typing, too! Good tech can be used by anybody, whether you have a disability or not! To learn more about WordQ, please check out the WordQ website.

Below is a screenshot of how words show up in the word selection pane. 

Screenshot of WordQ Word Selection panel

Another typical week

Just a reminder – my typical weeks are why we need to protect Medicaid and make sure we have access to good, affordable healthcare!

Speech therapy on Tuesday. Communication device fell off my chair but fortunately seems to be working just fine. My speech therapist made some brilliant changes so that I can’t accidentally hit the speak bar when selecting a word-prediction choice. And, I can more easily program my own buttons now on my Quick Stuff page. Watch out world!

Also, got my thigh strap contraption repaired while I was speech appointing. It broke last week.

Appointment with my complex movement team doctors on Thursday. Trying some new Deep Brain Stimulation settings. 4.5 volts seemed to be too high and ended up making my movement even weirder so went back to 4.0 volts. In a couple weeks, dad will sneakily without my knowing switch to a 3rd new setting that turns on 2 different leads that are deep in my brain. One of the coolest things, was that my neurologist did a “software update” on my stimulator implanted in my chest and now the stimulator should last for another decade before having to be replaced. We had thought that it would need replacement after 7 years which would have been in about another 4 years. The fewer surgeries the better since I have had issues with staph infections. The grand experiment of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) continues.

Friday night was Dead Pool 2 night while charging my DBS. It takes about 1-2 movies a week to charge my DBS.

Upcoming surgery on November 9th to remove my lower braces – and an out-of-whack lower tooth. YAY!!!!!!!

Had an awesome end of the week when I went door-knocking for Ami Wazlawik who is running for MN State House Representative for 38B. She’s awesome! Made my dad come along and help out this time!Back of man and Justin in his wheelchair walking down street

(P.S. I’m actually at my pre-op physical when this is being posted on my blog. The magic of scheduling blog posts on WordPress!)

I’m here and stuff

Welcome to my new blog site! I’ve moved my blog to

I’ve been learning how to set up everything in WordPress, which has been fun. It’s pretty easy to use. So, sign up to receive notifications for when I post a new blog from my new site. Let me know what you think!

It has been a busy couple of months for me.

Charting the Cs Keynote and PresentationsJustin smiling with audience seated at tables in background

I had a great time and met some awesome new people at Charting the Cs. I also got to see some old friends. I loved that families and kids got to get together on the Family Day. It’s so important for families who have kids with low-incidence disabilities, to be able to come together to share fantastic ideas, learn and to have fun together. It is important to remember that even though we may face challenges in living with disabilities, we are also part of families.

And we are part of a larger family and community. This was a great event to have some fun, learn new stuff, enjoy hanging out with others who get what it’s like to be in our shoes.

Charting the Cs was a great conference for educators and therapists to learn and share ideas about helping all kids learn and I was glad to be a part of it. Here are some quotes from my keynote and presentations:

Justin in elevated wheelchair with screen displaying closed captions behind

How are we preparing our young people, with and without disabilities, to live in an inclusive world, if we don’t first have meaningful inclusion in schools. This is where we all are learning to live, work, and play together. Don’t you think that meaningful inclusion in schools would lead to more meaningful inclusion everywhere else? How can we make it work better?

No one ever said it would be easy, there will be barriers along the way, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try. Inclusion matters. Accessibility matters. It’s not enough to talk about it – but we need to figure out ways to do it and to do it better.

So, you may think you have a simple end goal, but the face of reality seeps into life and you just get to figure out how to keep working towards that end goal even when the challenges get in the way.

Technology is changing all the time. It’s important to keep trying to find the tech that works best for you.

This is what my high school paraprofessional said: “You taught me to focus on the ABILITY of a person and not their disability.  There isn’t just one way to complete a task. It’s my job as an educator to find a way for all students to be able to show me their knowledge of the curriculum.”

Happy Belated Global Accessibility Awareness Day

I showed up in a couple Microsoft videos on Global Accessibility Awareness Day this year. What great messages about empowering every person, inclusion, and accessibility! Check out the Microsoft blogs with videos:

Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Ensuring inclusive learning for all your students blog and video

Reimagine accessibility and foster inclusion in the modern workplace blog and film

Time for Some Politics

In two weeks, I am off to Rochester for the DFL State Convention. This will be my first and hopefully not last time as a state delegate. It is so important for people with disabilities to show up and be included in the political process. There are so many legislative attempts right now that could result in cutting services that people with disabilities depend on for living in their communities. I will do what I can to advocate for strong support services and healthcare for as long as I breathe. We need to support candidates that support disability rights, independent living, and real choices!

Video blog for my latest update

Check out my latest video about how I get ready for being a keynote speaker and having several breakout sessions at the upcoming Charting the C’s Conference. At last count, there will be about 650 educators, therapists, and K-12 school professionals at the main conference. 

My keynote presentation title is Reimagining the Possibilities: A Work in Progress. I’ll be sharing my insights and perspectives about living with a disability that impacts movement, speech, hearing, and vision and why inclusion and accessibility matter. 

Watch for my next post in a couple weeks with more about technology that helps me do what I want to do. Lots left to do in the next couple of weeks, so time to get back to work! 

Accessibility: What works for me

Hey there – I’m going to tell you about resources that help me do the things I love to do. Just a reminder, I need to use assistive technology to access my world. I use an adaptive keyboard, joystick mouse, a lot of online resources and augmentative communication device, to help me write, read, and communicate.

I have athetoid cerebral palsy (uncontrolled movement that affects every part of my body), auditory neuropathy (my hearing sounds like a static-y radio a lot of the time), and visual tracking difficulties. Uncontrolled movement makes it difficult for me to do what I want to do. I can type slowly with the middle finger on my right hand. I need text that can be enlarged and it’s very helpful when reading to have text highlighted as the computer reads aloud. I can do so much when my technology is set up to work for me. It’s a work in progress though and I keep discovering new ways of doing things.

Here’s what is working best for me right now


Bookshare is an accessible online library service for people with print disabilities offering audio, braille, large font and highlighting as you read along. It has helped me read for years—for school, as well as for recreation. This service is free for students who have visual, physical or severe learning disabilities and unable to use traditional print books. It is, wait for it….awesome!

Justin looking at computer monitor with hand on joystick mouse
Justin using Clevy Keyboard and n-AbLER Joystick while reading book using Bookshare

Clevy Keyboard with key guard, n-ABLER Pro Joystick

This is the assistive technology I use to type and work on my Mac computer. It has helped me for a decade. I use heavy duty Velcro to attach them both to my desk. I use a 27” monitor so that I can enlarge documents and text.  Find out more at Clevy Keyboard and n-ABLER Pro Joystick.

Other Helpful Websites

 Crash Course

Thanks to Crash Course and John Green, I have the best time in the world! The awesome Green brothers, Hank and John, teach Crash Course World History and US History along with many other subjects. Their humorous, informative videos make learning fun! The videos are closed-captioned.

Physics Classroom

Physics was one of the worst classes for me as far as accessibility ever. Over the years, working with math equations (through Advanced Algebra) has been difficult – imagine being unable to write and trying to solve equations. Trying to do this in PDF or Word documents is incredibly difficult. It was also difficult with experiments because of my physical disability that limited me to an observer role. I found the Physics Classroom website in my senior year and it helped me better understand the basic concepts in Physics.  Resources like this allow me to study and learn independently and not have to rely on paraprofessionals or other helpers to help me out.

Originally published in previous blog site on 8/26/16