IOScholarships Certified as a Minority-Owned Business

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IOScholarships (IOS), the first of its kind free scholarship and financial education platform for minority STEM students announced it was granted its Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) certification as a validation of its status as a minority-owned business.

The certification verifies that IOScholarships, LLC meets the criteria which requires a business to be at least 51% owned, operated, and controlled by racial or ethnic minorities who are also U.S. citizens.

“Getting our MBE certification was a natural step for IOScholarships as we continue our ongoing commitment to minority students. We look forward to working with our sponsors and partners to continue helping underrepresented students go to college debt-free.” said María Fernanda Trochimezuk, Founder of IOScholarships.

Most of the scholarships featured on www.ioscholarships.com come directly from corporations and organizations, rather than solely from competitive national pools – thereby maximizing the number of opportunities students have to earn funding for their education. Each month IOScholarships adds hundreds of new curated scholarships to its database and also posts “The Scholarship of the Week” on its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram social media accounts (@IOScholarships), making it easy to find new scholarship opportunities. The platform also offers a blog with financial education information and a Career Aptitude Quiz designed to help students identify the degrees and professions that best fit their skills.

IOScholarships is proud to join the National Scholarship Providers Association an organization that offers tools, resources, professional development, and networking needed to administer a successful scholarship and student support program. In 2019, NSPA awarded $4,275,054,382 to 827,327 students.

For more information about IOScholarships visit www.ioscholarships.com or for weekly STEM scholarships email maria.fernanda@ioscholarships.com.

Should Students Be Allowed to Miss School for Mental Health Reasons?

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Several states, including Arizona, Oregon and Virginia, have recently passed bills that allow students to miss school to take care of their mental health, efforts that were often supported or led by students.

Do you think all students should have the option to take a day off from school to rest, recalibrate and take a break from their regular routine? Does your state or school allow students to take mental health days when necessary?

In “Teens Are Advocating for Mental Health Days Off School,” Christina Caron writes:

By the time Ben Ballman reached his junior year in high school he was busier — and more anxious — than he had ever been.

“I had moments where it felt like the whole world was coming down on me,” he said. “It was definitely a really difficult time.”

Before the pandemic shut everything down, his day started at 6:30 a.m., when he woke up to get ready for school. Next came several Advanced Placement courses; then either soccer practice or his job at a plant nursery; studying for the SAT; and various extracurricular activities. He often didn’t start his homework until 11 p.m., and finally went to bed three hours later. Every day it was the same grueling schedule.

“It’s not even that I was going above and beyond, it was, ‘This is the bare minimum,’” said Ben, now 18 and a recent graduate of Winston Churchill High School in Montgomery County, Md. “It’s like a pressure cooker that’s locked down. There’s nowhere to escape. Eventually you just kind of burst at some point, or, hopefully, you can get through it.”

The article continues:

Faced with high stress levels among adolescents and a mental health crisis that includes worsening suicide rates, some states are now allowing students to declare a mental health day.

In the last two years alone, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Virginia have passed bills permitting children to be absent from school for mental or behavioral health reasons, efforts that were often aided or spearheaded by students.

And in March, Utah decided that a “valid excuse” for a student’s absence will now include “mental or behavioral health,” broadening an earlier definition that referred to mental illness. The legislator who sponsored the bill, Representative Mike Winder, a Republican, told the television station KUTV in February that it was his daughter, then a senior at Southern Utah University, who suggested the idea.

Late last year the advocacy group Mental Health America surveyed teenagers about the top three things that would be most helpful for their mental health. More than half of the respondents cited the ability to take a mental health break or absence from either school or work. And in a Harris Poll of more than 1,500 teenagers conducted in May of last year, 78 percent of those surveyed said schools should support mental health days to allow students to prioritize their health.

Ben, the recent graduate, said that as a high school student he had spoken with classmates who were struggling and needed support but didn’t know where to turn. So he organized a coalition of students to improve mental health services for students in his state. This year he spent months supporting a mental health day bill in Maryland, but it stalled in the State Senate.

The article also shares some reasons that mental health days may not become a reality at more schools, at least for now:

In the New York City school system, which has more than 1 million students, a day off for mental or behavioral health reasons “would be treated like any other sick day,” Nathaniel Styer, a New York City Department of Education spokesman, said.

The phrase “mental health day” might make some kids and parents uncomfortable. With that in mind, the school board in Montgomery County, Md., decided that it will excuse absences taken for “student illness and well-being,” starting in the new school year.

“We didn’t want to call it a mental health day, because we know there is still stigma around that,” Karla Silvestre, the school board vice president, told Education Week in June.

Schools are also experimenting with other methods beyond mental health days to help students cope with their daily stressors. The Jordan School District in South Jordan, Utah, is using “wellness rooms,” where students can decompress for 10 minutes if they are feeling overwhelmed. And some schools in Colorado have created “oasis rooms,” a student lounge staffed with peer counselors and other resources.

Click here to read the full article on NY Times.

National Scholarship Providers Association Introduces the NSPA Exchange During National Scholarship Month

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National Scholarship Month, sponsored by the National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA), is a national campaign designed to raise awareness of the vital role scholarships play in reducing student loan debt and expanding access to higher education.

To celebrate, the National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA) has announced the launch of the NSPA Exchangethe first and only scholarship metric database.

Thanks to a partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the NSPA Exchange was created to serve as a central access point for scholarship provider data. Currently, the database is home to metrics from over 1,300 organizations, allowing members to search details about peer providers by location, compare scholarship award amounts, eligibility criteria, program staff size, and more. All information is kept in a secure, cloud-based, centralized database maintained through a custom administration system.

“Our goal for the NSPA Exchange is to ultimately define best practices and industry standards for scholarship providers.” says Nicolette del Muro, Senior Director, Membership and Strategic Initiatives at NSPA.

“With this database, members now have the data they need to make strategic decisions. For example, of the over 15,000 scholarships in the Exchange database, the average application is open for 90 days. And 75% of these scholarships open in the months of November, December, and January. This offers applicants a relatively short window of time to apply for all scholarships. Insight like this could help a provider determine to open their application outside of the busy season or encourage them to make their scholarship criteria and requirements available online in advance of the application open date.”

“The NSPA Exchange is a great resource for IOScholarships as the information is constantly updated and enables members to review and update their own organization’s scholarship data”, said María Fernanda Trochimezuk, Founder of IOScholarships and Individual Affiliate Member at NSPA. “IOScholarships also uses scholarships from the Exchange in our own Scholarship Search, and we trust these scholarships are safe for students, vetted, and current offerings.

To learn more about this exciting new NSPA initiative click here –  Launching a New Member Service: The NSPA Exchange or visit www.scholarshipproviders.org. For more details on how to sponsor the NSPA Exchange, contact Nicolette del Muro Senior Director, Membership and Strategic Initiatives at ndelmuro@scholarshipproviders.org.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL SCHOLARSHIP PROVIDERS ASSOCIATION (NSPA)

The mission of the National Scholarship Providers Association is to advance the collective impact of scholarship providers and the scholarships they award. Currently serving over 2,000 individuals, they are dedicated to supporting the needs of professionals administering scholarships in colleges and universities, non-profit, foundations and businesses. Membership in the NSPA provides access to networking opportunities, professional development, and scholarship program resources.

ABOUT IOSCHOLARSHIPS

By conducting a free scholarship search at IOScholarships.com, STEM minority and underrepresented students gain access to a database of thousands of STEM scholarships worth over $48 million. We then narrow this vast array of financial aid opportunities down to a manageable list of scholarships for which students actually qualify, based on the information they provide in their IOScholarships.com profile. They can then review their search results, mark their favorites, and sort their list by deadline, dollar amount and other criteria. We also offer a scholarship organizer which is completely free to use, just like our scholarship search. There are scholarships out there for diverse students in STEM. So take advantage of National Scholarship Month and search for available scholarships today!

For more information about IOScholarships visit www.ioscholarships.com

What 7-12th Grade STEM Teachers Need to Know About the Presidential Awards

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Nation’s Top K–12 STEM Teaching Honor

Do you teach 7–12th grade? The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST), the nation’s top honors for K–12 STEM teachers, are currently seeking exceptional 7–12th grade teachers for the 2022–2023 application cycle.

Since the PAEMST program’s inception in 1983, more than 5,200 awardees have been selected for this honor. These educators have taught in classrooms across the country – from one-room schoolhouses in rural Montana, to large school systems in the heart of New York City. While their teaching experiences may vastly differ, PAEMST awardees do have one thing in common: they have both a deep content knowledge of the subjects they teach and the ability to motivate and enable students to be successful in those areas. Collectively, they reflect the expertise and dedication of the nation’s teaching corps, and they demonstrate the positive impact of excellent teachers on student achievement.

PAEMST Award WInners

Who can apply?

Full-time STEM teachers at the 7–12th grade level with at least 5 years of experience. Elementary school teachers (K–6th grades) will be eligible to apply during a future cycle.

Who can nominate?

Anyone—principals, teachers, parents, students, or members of the general public—may nominate exceptional STEM teachers. Teachers may also self-nominate.

Why apply?

Recipients receive a certificate signed by the President; a paid trip to D.C. to attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities; a $10,000 award; and join a cohort of over 5,200 award-winning teachers. Watch the video below for a recap of our most recent Recognition Event.

www.paemst.org/file/72c1b007-a1f1-4a67-bcce-52a4f87cd797    

Don’t wait – start an application or nominate someone you know today at www.paemst.org.  Nominations will be accepted through January 9, 2023, and applications are due by February 6, 2023.

What 7-12th Grade STEM Teachers Need to Know About the Presidential Awards

What is PAEMST? The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) is the highest honors bestowed by the United States government for K-12 STEM educators.

Who can apply? Full-time STEM teachers at the 7–12th grade level with at least 5 years of experience.

Who can nominate? Anyone—principals, teachers, parents, students, or members of the general public—may nominate exceptional STEM teachers. Teachers may also self-nominate.

Why apply? Recipients receive a certificate signed by the President, a paid trip to D.C., a $10,000 award, and join a cohort of over 5,200 award-winning teachers.

When is the deadline? Nominations will be accepted through January 9, 2023, and applications are due by February 6, 2023.

Tips for Managing Workplace Safety for Workers with Disabilities

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990 and has made workplaces much more accommodating to disability workers in America. As of June 2022, 38.1 percent of persons aged 16–64 with a disability is in the American workforce.

Many workers have disabilities that may or may not be visible. Either way, those people have needs that every workplace must address. Making a safe and accessible workplace isn’t as easy as adding a few ramps and lifts. There are many measures that a person can take to ensure their workplace exceeds safety standards for disability workers.

Encourage Suggestions

The most important thing to ensure workplace safety is to listen to the workers. Disabled workers deserve to have their voices heard just as much as anyone. No one understands what a person needs better than themselves. Listening to the people affected by these measures is the most effective solution. It is not enough to simply make a series of measures and leave it at that. All safety practices must be subject to alteration and addition as necessary. Receptiveness to disability workers’ needs will go a long way toward making a safer workplace. Ensure that all employees know that they can bring suggestions forward.

Create Specific Emergency Plans

One of the best ways to manage workplace safety is to have a clear and specific emergency plan. Although every building requires a plan of action for fires or other emergencies, these plans often do not account for those with disabilities. It is too easy for someone to be left behind in widespread panic. Create an emergency plan that everyone knows and can follow. A clear plan will reduce panic and make the workplace response much smoother. Talk to your disability workers about the safety measures they require in an emergency.

For example, someone may benefit from designated rescue assistants. Others may require immediate and easy access to assistive technologies. Mobility devices should be accessible to all employees without hassle in case of such an event. Modify and add emergency response plans based on the needs of your workplace and workers. No matter the case, a clear action plan will reduce risk factors for disability workers. Most importantly, work with the workers themselves to design a plan that works for them. Not all safety measures are universal. Personalize them for the workplace and those in it.

Educate Other Employees on Specific Needs

Workplace safety measures work best when everyone is on the same page. For this reason, all relevant parties must know of a worker’s specific needs. Of course, the only information that your disability workers are willing to disclose should be provided, and only to those concerned by the plan. Disability workers have a right to confidentiality that must be respected at all times under the ADA. If a worker wants to disclose their disability status to the workplace or include coworkers in their emergency plans, educate those other workers. Allow the worker in question to outline their boundaries and needs. Make it clear that others in the workplace will abide by their needs and reinforce said position whenever necessary.

Supporting disability workers in their ability to self-advocate and create measures for themselves will contribute heavily to any safety practices.

Utilize Assistive Technology

Many disability workers will already possess some form of assistive technology as they require. Assistive technology is any tool that aids in a person’s ability to engage in everyday life. You can never be too careful when it comes to workplace safety. Backup aids stored in the workplace can provide peace of mind and specific response plans.

For example, consider having wheelchairs and other mobility aids stored in an accessible area. Utilize optional screen readers if computers play a large part in the workplace or supply noise-canceling headphones if loud sounds are a concern. There are many ways to include assistive technology in the workplace. While some common tools are helpful for any workplace such as wireless panic buttons, all should strive to support the specific needs of those who work there. Offer to store backup glasses, medications, or other technology in a safe and secure place on site. This may ease disability workers’ worries and create a much safer environment.

Ensure All Areas of the Workplace Are Accessible

A big part of workplace safety is accessibility. The ADA outlines standards for public buildings and areas, but these accessibility tasks are the bare minimum, not the extent. For example, a workplace may have a ramp that allows wheelchair access to the building, but what about access to rooms and hallways? What about tools and resources that a person with a disability may have trouble accessing without risk?

Workplaces should strive to improve accommodations at all times. Comfort is not the only reason to adjust workplace layouts and paths. Accidents are much less common in workplaces created with accessibility in mind. Outlined below are some common measures that will improve safety.

One method is to make all walkways wide enough for mobility aids. Non-accessible areas are a significant risk. Reduce the number of them wherever possible to reduce the number of accidents that occur. Accessible routes also provide more options for disability workers in an emergency.

Keep commonly-used supplies near the areas of intended use. Workers with disabilities that impair movement will benefit from this simple matter of convenience. More importantly, these items should also be kept in a place that anyone can access without help. Avoid heavy impediments, high shelves, and other inconveniences whenever possible.

Refer to ADA standards for accommodations required in public spaces. As mentioned before, use these standards as a guide, not the result. An accessible workplace is always a safer one.

The Most Common Types of Learning Disabilities Found in Kids and Adults, According to Experts

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having learning disabilities just means your brain operates a bit differently.

By Madeleine Burry, Explore Health

If you have a learning disability, your brain operates a bit differently. Learning disabilities occur “when someone has an impairment in learning or processing new information or skills,” Ami Baxi, MD, psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital, tells Health.

This can lead to difficulty with language, speech, reading, writing, or math.

Defining a learning disability is important—as is understanding what a learning disability isn’t.

A learning disability, or a learning disorder, is not associated with low intelligence or cognitive abilities, Sabrina Romanoff, clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University in New York City, tells Health. Nor is linked to a negative home or school environment, she adds. Instead, learning disabilities can be hereditary, or they may be brought on or exacerbated by psychological or physical trauma, environmental exposure (think: lead paint), or prenatal risks, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Learning disabilities are often diagnosed in childhood, but not always, Romanoff says. Sometimes the disability is mild and goes unnoticed by parents or teachers. Other times it’s mistaken for a lack of motivation or work ethic. In some cases it isn’t diagnosed because kids grow adept at adapting, compensating, and seeking out situations to suit their strengths, Romanoff says.

Without a diagnosis, Romanoff notes, people will lack “answers as to why they have difficulties in certain areas academically or in their daily lives as they pertain to their relationships or general functioning.” That’s unfortunate, since there are ways to overcome the differences in how people with learning disorders organize and manage information, she says.

Here’s a look at some of the most common learning disorders, some of which you’ve likely heard of and others that don’t get as much attention.

Dyslexia
This learning disability “impairs reading and spelling ability,” Holly Schiff, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Connecticut with Jewish Family Services of Greenwich, tells Health. Estimates vary, but as many as 20% of people may have dyslexia, according to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, which notes that it’s the most common neurocognitive disorder.

People with dyslexia struggle to read “because they have problems identifying speech sounds and learning how these relate to letters and words (known as decoding),” Schiff says. As adults, people with dyslexia will tend to avoid reading-related activities, she says. “They may also have trouble understanding jokes or expressions like idioms—where they cannot derive the meaning from the specific words used.”

Dyscalculia
For people with dyscalculia, all sorts of math-related skills—number sense, memorizing arithmetic facts, and accurate calculations—are impaired, Romanoff says.

“Dyscalculia generally refers to problems acquiring basic math skills, but not to problems with reasoning,” Romanoff says.

Tasks that require working with numbers will take longer for people with this learning disorder, Dr. Baxi says. From calculating the tip to writing down someone’s digits, numbers and math-related tasks are ever-present in life, and adults with this disorder may see the impact in many areas of life.

A 2019 study estimates that between 3-7% of people have dyscalculia.

Dysgraphia
People with this writing disability have impaired writing ability and fine motor skills, Schiff says. They find it difficult to organize letters, numbers, or words on page or other defined space, she says.

Anything letter-related is a struggle for people with dysgraphia, Dr. Baxi says. Poor handwriting is common for people with this learning disorder, she notes.

“Dysgraphia in adults manifests as difficulties with syntax, grammar, comprehension, and being able to generally put one’s thoughts on paper,” Schiff says.

Other learning conditions to know
Some conditions are not classified as learning disorders or aren’t formally recognized in the DSM-V, the diagnostic guide used by mental health professionals. But they are still worth noting, since they may overlap or come up frequently for people with learning disorders.

Nonverbal learning disorders
With this kind of disorder, visual-spatial and visual-motor skills are affected, according to the Mayo Clinic. Nonverbal learning disorders (NLVD) can affect social skills and play out as a struggle to decode body language and understand humor, Schiff says.

“Non-verbal learning disabilities are not considered learning disabilities. They are often signs of other disorders,” Dr. Baxi notes. While NLVD isn’t officially recognized, this cluster of symptoms is “recognized by neuropsychologists and in educational settings when it presents itself,” Schiff says.

Click here to read the full article on Explore Health.

The short supply of special education teachers

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A child in a wheelchair at the park with his special education teacher

By the School of Education

Special education teachers ensure an equitable education to millions of students across the nation. With 14 percent of students needing some type of special education service, these teachers play a key role in making sure all students have a chance to thrive academically. General education teachers and students alike rely on special education teachers’ specialized knowledge in skills assessment and the development of learning activities with special needs and disabilities in mind. For this reason, the current special education teacher shortage is especially worrying. So, what’s causing this shortage, and how can leaders begin to address it?

Current and aspiring educators looking for a deeper analysis of the issue should consider American University’s Online School of Education, which offers students expert knowledge about special education challenges, preparing them to address the current shortage.

An Overview of the Current Special Education Teacher Shortage
Special education teacher shortages have persisted for years, putting the education of the country’s most vulnerable students in a precarious position. The Office of Special Education Programs currently lists the national shortage at 8 percent. This large and growing problem affects schools across the country, but the shortage pertains to more than just insufficient numbers of special education teachers.

The shortage also refers to inadequate numbers of properly trained special education teachers. In fact, many first-year special education teachers across the country have not completed special education preparation programs. In California for example, of the 8,470 new special education teachers hired in 2017-18, only 3,274 were fully credentialed.

To gain more insight into the special education teacher shortage, consider the following statistics:

  • Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia lack sufficient special education teachers.
  • Special education teachers leave teaching at almost double the rate of general education teachers.
  • More than half of all school districts struggle to staff well-qualified special education teachers.
  • Ninety percent of high-poverty school districts struggle to staff well-qualified special education teachers.
  • Up to 29 percent of vacated special education teacher positions are due to attrition.
  • Unequal Distributions of the Special Education Teacher Shortage

    While the special education teacher shortage affects schools across the spectrum, it tends to impact high-poverty schools most acutely. They face the greatest challenges when it comes to attracting properly trained and experienced special education teachers.

    In recent years, enrollment in all teacher preparation programs has dropped considerably, and the number of people completing special education programs has dropped 14 percent, meaning fewer credentialed teachers are available for a growing number of vacancies. Low-income and rural schools find it especially hard to attract and retain the dwindling number of special education teachers. The special education teachers these schools do manage to hire often have less experience than those hired by more affluent schools. For example, many special education teachers in urban and rural districts work with provisional licenses after meeting just a few requirements:

  • An undergraduate degree
  • Nine credit hours of coursework covering both general and special education
  • Successful completion of a basic skills exam
  • Typically, special education teachers at high-poverty schools have received less special education training and are more likely to hold certifications in areas other than special education compared with teachers at low-poverty schools.

    Attrition and the Consequences of the Special Education Teacher Shortage

    Data shows that teachers with limited preparation tend to drop out of the profession more frequently than those who finish traditional preparation programs. The reliance on provisional and alternative credentialing programs that send underprepared special education teachers into classrooms contributes to the high teacher turnover rate.

    This constant churn of losing and rebuilding teaching faculties comes at a price. Several studies have shown teacher attrition can lower student achievement in English language arts and math and hurt the overall effectiveness of teachers in a school. In addition to the academic price, teacher attrition has a huge financial price tag: the Learning Policy Institute estimates it costs approximately $8 billion dollars a year. As teachers cycle through the profession in increasing numbers, districts must funnel huge amounts of money into recruiting and training new educators to replace them.

    The public school system is based on equity. The reputations of the teaching profession and the system rest on their ability to provide stable learning environments to all students. As such, the ongoing special education teacher shortage compromises the entire public school system and tarnishes the profession’s reputation. It creates instability, limits students’ learning opportunities, and results in countless hours of lost instructional time. Additionally, the fact the shortages disproportionately affect marginalized students widens the achievement gap and raises questions of educational equity.

    A Look at the Reasons Behind the Special Education Teacher Shortage

    Several factors are driving the special education teacher shortage. As mentioned, steep enrollment declines in teacher education programs, alongside high attrition for special education teachers, contribute to the shortage. Working conditions, low pay, and insufficient training and support also factor heavily.

    Stressful Working Conditions for Special Education Teachers

    Special education teachers often work in stressful environments. Just like general education teachers, they must deal with the challenges of student poverty, insufficient parental involvement, student absenteeism, and a lack of resources. However, they also must contend with excessive paperwork and overwhelming caseloads without the support they need.

    For example, special education teachers can find themselves in classrooms without aides trying to teach 20 students with different special needs who require customized instruction. On top of that, they may have a caseload of 20 students who require individualized education programs (IEPs), annual testing, and regular meetings with parents and other teachers. Additionally, failing to meet deadlines or submit necessary paperwork can constitute a federal offense, as IEPs are federally mandated, which puts further pressure on special education teachers.

    Click here to read the full article on the School of Education.

    Can Virtual Reality Help Autistic Children Navigate the Real World?

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    Mr. Ravindran adjusts his son’s VR headset between lessons. “It was one of the first times I’d seen him do pretend play like that,” Mr. Ravindran said of the time when his son used Google Street View through a headset, then went into his playroom and acted out what he had experienced in VR. “It ended up being a light bulb moment.

    By Gautham Nagesh, New York Times

    This article is part of Upstart, a series on young companies harnessing new science and technology.

    Vijay Ravindran has always been fascinated with technology. At Amazon, he oversaw the team that built and started Amazon Prime. Later, he joined the Washington Post as chief digital officer, where he advised Donald E. Graham on the sale of the newspaper to his former boss, Jeff Bezos, in 2013.

    By late 2015, Mr. Ravindran was winding down his time at the renamed Graham Holdings Company. But his primary focus was his son, who was then 6 years old and undergoing therapy for autism.

    “Then an amazing thing happened,” Mr. Ravindran said.

    Mr. Ravindran was noodling around with a virtual reality headset when his son asked to try it out. After spending 30 minutes using the headset in Google Street View, the child went to his playroom and started acting out what he had done in virtual reality.

    “It was one of the first times I’d seen him do pretend play like that,” Mr. Ravindran said. “It ended up being a light bulb moment.”

    Like many autistic children, Mr. Ravindran’s son struggled with pretend play and other social skills. His son’s ability to translate his virtual reality experience to the real world sparked an idea. A year later, Mr. Ravindran started a company called Floreo, which is developing virtual reality lessons designed to help behavioral therapists, speech therapists, special educators and parents who work with autistic children.

    The idea of using virtual reality to help autistic people has been around for some time, but Mr. Ravindran said the widespread availability of commercial virtual reality headsets since 2015 had enabled research and commercial deployment at much larger scale. Floreo has developed almost 200 virtual reality lessons that are designed to help children build social skills and train for real world experiences like crossing the street or choosing where to sit in the school cafeteria.

    Last year, as the pandemic exploded demand for telehealth and remote learning services, the company delivered 17,000 lessons to customers in the United States. Experts in autism believe the company’s flexible platform could go global in the near future.

    That’s because the demand for behavioral and speech therapy as well as other forms of intervention to address autism is so vast. Getting a diagnosis for autism can take months — crucial time in a child’s development when therapeutic intervention can be vital. And such therapy can be costly and require enormous investments of time and resources by parents.

    The Floreo system requires an iPhone (version 7 or later) and a V.R. headset (a low-end model costs as little as $15 to $30), as well as an iPad, which can be used by a parent, teacher or coach in-person or remotely. The cost of the program is roughly $50 per month. (Floreo is currently working to enable insurance reimbursement, and has received Medicaid approval in four states.)

    A child dons the headset and navigates the virtual reality lesson, while the coach — who can be a parent, teacher, therapist, counselor or personal aide — monitors and interacts with the child through the iPad.

    The lessons cover a wide range of situations, such as visiting the aquarium or going to the grocery store. Many of the lessons involve teaching autistic children, who may struggle to interpret nonverbal cues, to interpret body language.

    Autistic self-advocates note that behavioral therapy to treat autism is controversial among those with autism, arguing that it is not a disease to be cured and that therapy is often imposed on autistic children by their non-autistic parents or guardians. Behavioral therapy, they say, can harm or punish children for behaviors such as fidgeting. They argue that rather than conditioning autistic people to act like neurotypical individuals, society should be more welcoming of them and their different manner of experiencing the world.

    “A lot of the mismatch between autistic people and society is not the fault of autistic people, but the fault of society,” said Zoe Gross, the director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “People should be taught to interact with people who have different kinds of disabilities.”

    Mr. Ravindran said Floreo respected all voices in the autistic community, where needs are diverse. He noted that while Floreo was used by many behavioral health providers, it had been deployed in a variety of contexts, including at schools and in the home.

    “The Floreo system is designed to be positive and fun, while creating positive reinforcement to help build skills that help acclimate to the real world,” Mr. Ravindran said.

    In 2017, Floreo secured a $2 million fast track grant from the National Institutes of Health. The company is first testing whether autistic children will tolerate headsets, then conducting a randomized control trial to test the method’s usefulness in helping autistic people interact with the police.

    Early results have been promising: According to a study published in the Autism Research journal (Mr. Ravindran was one of the authors), 98 percent of the children completed their lessons, quelling concerns about autistic children with sensory sensitivities being resistant to the headsets.

    Ms. Gross said she saw potential in virtual reality lessons that helped people rehearse unfamiliar situations, such as Floreo’s lesson on crossing the street. “There are parts of Floreo to get really excited about: the airport walk through, or trick or treating — a social story for something that doesn’t happen as frequently in someone’s life,” she said, adding that she would like to see a lesson for medical procedures.

    However, she questioned a general emphasis by the behavioral therapy industry on using emerging technologies to teach autistic people social skills.

    A second randomized control trial using telehealth, conducted by Floreo using another N.I.H. grant, is underway, in hopes of showing that Floreo’s approach is as effective as in-person coaching.

    But it was those early successes that convinced Mr. Ravindran to commit fully to the project.

    “There were just a lot of really excited people.,” he said. “When I started showing families what we had developed, people would just give me a big hug. They would start crying that there was someone working on such a high-tech solution for their kids.”

    Clinicians who have used the Floreo system say the virtual reality environment makes it easier for children to focus on the skill being taught in the lessons, unlike in the real world where they might be overwhelmed by sensory stimuli.

    Celebrate the Children, a nonprofit private school in Denville, N.J., for children with autism and related challenges, hosted one of the early pilots for Floreo; Monica Osgood, the school’s co-founder and executive director, said the school had continued to use the system.

    Click here to read the full article on New York Times.

    How this TikTok star became an ‘accidental’ disability rights activist

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    TikTok influencer

    By Sarah Jacoby, TODAY

    Mya Pol recalls being full of energy and “super rambunctious” as a child. “I would literally run laps around the house,” she told TODAY’s Sheinelle Jones.

    But as she got older, Pol said she began to experience puzzling symptoms, which hit a peak in her sophomore year of college. At first, she shrugged it off as a side effect of her life as a student.

    But “the weakness and fatigue continued to get worse until it reached a point where I was collapsing walking back from my classes,” she said.

    Pol was diagnosed with a genetic condition, as well as a probable neurological disorder, that made it necessary for her to use a wheelchair. She soon realized how much more challenging it was for her to navigate the world. So Pol, who calls herself an “accidental activist,” decided to join TikTok to shed light on the challenges that people with disabilities encounter regularly.

    With the username @immarollwith it, Pol posts joyful dance routines, answers questions about her life with a disability and shares resources for others who need mobility aids, for instance.

    “I pride myself in being positive and searching for joy wherever I can,” Pol said. “And regardless of what life throws at me, I want to roll with it.”

    She also shares TikTok videos that show some of the challenges she encounters as a wheelchair user, like the curbs outside of her school’s dining hall, as well as the little changes that make environments more accessible, such as the doorstop-like devices in her dorm room and campus bathroom, which people may not realize can be adjusted to make the doors close more slowly.

    “A lot of them are really tight, which makes the door extremely heavy, which reduces access for people with strength issues, with pain issues, like arthritis or wheelchair users,” she explained. Pol made a post about the doorstop, showing that it has adjustable settings. She received hundreds of positive comments, including from some people who were ready to make their own spaces more accessible.

    At times, Pol told TODAY, she can feel frustrated and invisible. “To know that there’s a world out there that chooses to exclude you, that chooses to not make the necessary changes to create systems that can support you, is soul-crushing,” she said. “To know that for the rest of my life, I’m going to be looking at tens of thousands of dollars extra for anything that I want, is frustrating, soul-crushing and heartbreaking — especially when I know it doesn’t have to be this way.”

    Click here to read the full article on Today.

    How To Get Your Student Loan Forgiven if You Have a Disability

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    Young man with disabilities working on his stock market portfolio for an employer

    By Vance Cariaga, Go Banking Rates

    The Biden administration recently announced that it has cancelled $7 billion in federal student loan debt for about 350,000 borrowers with disabilities through a data-sharing initiative between the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Department of Education. If you plan to apply for forgiveness under the plan, you’ll need to follow certain steps to see if you qualify.

    The first thing you need to know is that there are three ways to qualify for a total and permanent disability discharge, Forbes reported. These involve veterans, those who meet Social Security disability criteria and those with a doctor’s certification. Here’s a quick rundown:

    1. Veterans: You might qualify for forgiveness if you have a service-connected disability that is 100% disabling or an individual unemployability rating qualifies you as disabled.
    2. Social Security Disability: You might qualify if you receive benefits from Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income.
    3. Doctor’s certification:  You might qualify if you have certification from a medical doctor that you’re unable to take part in any “substantial gainful activity” because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death, has lasted for a continuous period of not less than 60 months or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 60 months.

    To apply for student loan forgiveness, you’ll need to submit a Total and Permanent Disability Discharge application on the Federal Student Aid website and provide supporting documentation of your total and permanent disability, Forbes reported. The exceptions are if the Education Department contacts you directly based on information received from the SSA or U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In this case, you don’t have to provide supporting documents.

    The moratorium on federal student loan payments was recently extended until Sept. 1. Once payments resume, you won’t have to pay federal student loans while your application for student loan forgiveness is reviewed.

    If you don’t qualify for student loan forgiveness due to your disability, you might still qualify for forgiveness in other ways.

    Click here to read the full article on Go Banking Rates.

    Recognizing Learning Disabilities

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    student with learning disability in classroom

    As seen in DIVERSEability Magazine

    Many children have trouble reading, writing or performing other learning-related tasks at some point. This does not mean they have learning disabilities.

    A child with a learning disability often has several related signs, and they don’t go away or get better over time. The signs of learning disabilities vary from person to person.

    Please note that the generally common signs included here are for informational purposes only; the information is not intended to screen for learning disabilities in general or for a specific type of learning disability.

    Common signs that a person may have learning disabilities include the following:

    • Problems reading and/or writing
    • Problems with math
    • Poor memory
    • Problems paying attention
    • Trouble following directions
    • Clumsiness
    • Trouble telling time
    • Problems staying organized

    A child with a learning disability also may have one or more of the following:

    • Acting without really thinking about possible outcomes (impulsiveness)
    • “Acting out” in school or social situations
    • Difficulty staying focused; being easily distracted
    • Difficulty saying a word correctly out loud or expressing thoughts
    • Problems with school performance from week to week or day to day
    • Speaking like a younger child; using short, simple phrases; or leaving out words in sentences
    • Having a hard time listening
    • Problems dealing with changes in schedule or situations
    • Problems understanding words or concepts

    These signs alone are not enough to determine that a person has a learning disability. Only a professional can diagnose a learning disability.

    Each learning disability has its own signs. A person with a particular disability may not have all of the signs of that disability.

    Children being taught in a second language may show signs of learning problems or a learning disability. The learning disability assessment must take into account whether a student is bilingual or a second language learner. In addition, for English-speaking children, the assessment should be sensitive to differences that may be due to dialect, a form of a language that is specific to a region or group.

    Below are some common learning disabilities and the signs associated with them:

    Dyslexia

    People with dyslexia usually have trouble making the connection between letters and sounds and with spelling and recognizing words.

    People with dyslexia often show other signs of the condition. These may include:

    • Having a hard time understanding what others are saying
    • Difficulty organizing written and spoken language
    • Delay in being able to speak
    • Difficulty expressing thoughts or feelings
    • Difficulty learning new words (vocabulary), either while reading or hearing
    • Trouble learning foreign languages
    • Difficulty learning songs and rhymes
    • Slow rate of reading, both silently and out loud
    • Giving up on longer reading tasks
    • Difficulty understanding questions and following directions
    • Poor spelling
    • Problems remembering numbers in sequence (for example, telephone numbers and addresses)
    • Trouble telling left from right

    Dysgraphia

    A child who has trouble writing or has very poor handwriting and does not outgrow it may have dysgraphia. This disorder may cause a child to be tense and twist awkwardly when holding a pen or pencil.

    Other signs of this condition may include:

    • A strong dislike of writing and/or drawing
    • Problems with grammar
    • Trouble writing down ideas
    • Losing energy or interest as soon as they start writing
    • Trouble writing down thoughts in a logical sequence
    • Saying words out loud while writing
    • Leaving words unfinished or omitting them when writing sentences

    Dyscalculia

    Signs of this disability include problems understanding basic arithmetic concepts, such as fractions, number lines, and positive and negative numbers.

    Other symptoms may include:

    • Difficulty with math-related word problems
    • Trouble making change in cash transactions
    • Messiness in putting math problems on paper
    • Trouble with logical sequences (for example, steps in math problems)
    • Trouble understanding the time sequence of events
    • Trouble describing math processes

    To find out more about learning disabilities and what you can do to combat these issues, visit nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/learningdisabilities.

     

    Source: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

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    1. City Career Fairs Schedule for 2023
      January 26, 2023 - November 1, 2023
    2. From Day One: Houston 2023
      February 8, 2023
    3. National Association of African American Studies & Affiliates (NAAAS) Conference
      February 16, 2023 - February 18, 2023
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      February 23, 2023 - December 13, 2023
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      March 10, 2023 - March 12, 2023

    Upcoming Events

    1. City Career Fairs Schedule for 2023
      January 26, 2023 - November 1, 2023
    2. From Day One: Houston 2023
      February 8, 2023
    3. National Association of African American Studies & Affiliates (NAAAS) Conference
      February 16, 2023 - February 18, 2023
    4. Small Business Expo 2023 Business Networking & Educational Events Schedule
      February 23, 2023 - December 13, 2023
    5. Los Angeles Abilities Expo
      March 10, 2023 - March 12, 2023