Sensory-Friendly Holiday Events Happening Across Illinois

November 22nd, 2022

Santa gives a stack of gifts from DSCC staff to an eager Club Compass student.

Events feature sensitive Santa, holiday lights, craft activities and more!

Are you looking for sensory-friendly events that the whole family can enjoy this holiday season?

There are a number of sensitive Santa opportunities, festivals and other holiday activities going on across Illinois.

Our Special Events page includes a roundup of opportunities designed specifically for youth with disabilities and special healthcare needs.

Here’s a look at some of the special programs available and other event guides for parts of the state:

  • The Secret Sleigh Project coordinates volunteers to provide in-home Santa visits to children who are medically fragile nationwide. See our Secret Sleigh event listing for more details on how to request a visit.
  • The Santa Cares program from Autism Speaks and Cherry Hill Programs provides sensory-friendly Santa experiences in Illinois and the St. Louis area on Dec. 4. These visits are free. Keepsake photo packages will be available for purchase. Reservations are required. Visit the Santa Cares website for a complete list of Santa’s stops. Be sure to select “Santa Cares”, “Caring Santa” or “Sensitive Santa” when checking your location. (Note some event dates may vary. Please check your location to confirm your date and time.)

Be sure to check our Special Events page often as we add more holiday activities to the list. If you know of a good sensory-friendly event to share, please email us at dscc@uic.edu.

Happy Holidays!

Please note, the University of Illinois Chicago’s Division of Specialized Care for Children (DSCC) is not involved in the organizing or scheduling of these holiday events. If you have questions about a specific event, please contact the event sponsor or organizer.

Resources for Voters with Disabilities

November 1st, 2022

Red, white and blue "I Voted" stickers scattered on a white background

Accessible guides and information on your rights and options as a voter with a disability

Election Day will be here soon. Voting is a meaningful way you can have a say in what happens in your community and government.

If you or a loved one need accommodations or have questions about your rights, there are several resources to help you at the polls:

  • The Arc has a Disability Voter Guide that includes information in plain English and Spanish on how voting works, how to register to vote, how to help others vote and more. Visit https://thearc.org/vote for the guide and other helpful resources.
  • The American Association of People with Disabilities has a voting information hub that includes answers to common voting questions from voters with disabilities, state-by-state voting guides and more.
  • The Autistic Self Advocacy Network has “Your Vote Counts: A Self-Advocate’s Guide to Voting in the U.S.” that includes how to prepare to vote and how to get accommodations when voting.
  • Easterseals has a Voting Checklist for People with Disabilities to explain your rights, what to do if your rights are being violated and more.
  • The National Association of the Deaf has a voter information hotline to help individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing with questions about voting.
  • The National Federation of the Blind has guides for voters who are blind and information about accessibility and the Help America Vote Act.

If you have questions or need help finding more resources, contact us at (800) 322-3722 or email dscc@uic.edu.

New Fund for Adaptive Athletes With Spina Bifida

October 3rd, 2022

Illinois Spina Bifida Association logo with the text, "Kendall Gretsch Fund for Adaptive Athletes"

The Kendall Gretsch Fund for Adaptive Athletes promotes sports to Illinois children and adults with spina bifida.

Four-time Paralympic gold medalist Kendall Gretsch has partnered with the Illinois Spina Bifida Association (ISBA) to promote sports to children and adults with spina bifida.

The new Kendall Gretsch Fund for Adaptive Athletes helps Illinois individuals and families living with spina bifida pay for sports-related registration, equipment and travel expenses.

ISBA is administering the fund and will award grants of up to $250.

Kendall was born with spina bifida and grew up in Downers Grove, Ill. She is a three-time Paralympian and four-time Paralympic gold medalist. Kendall competes in cross-country skiing and biathlon during the winter and paratriathlon in the summer.

“I wish for everybody to be active and find a passion for sports,” Kendall told the ISBA. “Now when a family living with spina bifida needs some adaptive sports equipment or help with the cost of travel and event participation, this fund will be there to help.”

You can read more about the Kendall Gretsch Fund for Adaptive Athletics and Kendall’s multisport career at i-sba.org/sportsfund.

ISBA is sending fund applications to people on its mailing list who are living with spina bifida. You can contact ISBA at (773) 444-0305 or info@i-sba.org to sign up for the fund’s free mailing list.

Spina bifida is a neurological condition in which the spine fails to close properly during the first month of pregnancy. It can cause physical and developmental disabilities that range from mild to severe.

ISBA works to improve the quality of life of more than 900 Illinois children and adults living with spina bifida by promoting skills development and independence. Visit the ISBA website to learn more.

Spina bifida is also an eligible medical condition for the Division of Specialized Care for Children’s (DSCC) programs. Visit our “How We Help” page for more details.

New Nationwide Three-Digit Mental Health Crisis Number

July 13th, 2022

A dark-skinned woman looking out a window and smiling with text above her that says "988 24/7 Crisis & Support"

Individuals facing mental health crises can call 988 anytime for help and life-saving services

Starting on July 16, a simple three-digit number will connect anyone in the United States to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (also called the Lifeline).

The new 988 dialing code will help people facing mental health crises immediately connect to individuals who are specially trained to respond to such situations. It is available for calls (multiple languages) and text or chat (English only).

The Lifeline is free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Lifeline crisis counselors understand what callers are going through and know what local resources might make a difference. Anyone who needs support for a suicidal, mental health and/or substance use crisis may dial 988.

The new 988 number aims to strengthen efforts to transform crisis care nationwide. It will serve as a universal entry point so that no matter where someone lives, they can reach a trained crisis counselor who can help.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five Americans will have a mental illness in any given year.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that in 2020 the United States had one death by suicide about every 11 minutes. Suicide is also a leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34 years. Additionally, more than 100,000 individuals died from drug overdoses from April 2020 to 2021.

You can learn more about how 988 works and the support it provides on the 988 Frequently Asked Questions page.

This fact sheet also explains the basics about 988. (You can also see the fact sheet in Spanish.)

The current Lifeline phone number of (800) 273-8255 will remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, even after 988 is launched. 

Individuals may also continue to text the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741). Both offer free, confidential help around the clock, 365 days a year.

You can also visit our online Resource Directory for more mental health services and support.

UIC Launches New Certificate Program for Students With Disabilities

June 23rd, 2022

group of students taking a selfie in a grassy area of the UiC campus

The Co-Op Program will provide inclusive classes and community work placements to help students achieve competitive careers

Are you interested in going to college this fall?

The University of Illinois Chicago (UIC)’s Co-Operative Career Experience Certificate (Co-Op Program) could be a good fit.

This new certificate program aims to help students with intellectual and developmental disabilities achieve competitive careers in the community.

The Co-Op Program will prepare students through inclusive classes and community work placements. It is designed to support students who may not be able to access post-secondary education in traditional ways.

UIC’s Department of Disability and Human Development is now accepting applications to the Co-Op Program for the fall 2022 semester. The deadline to apply is July 13.

Students in the program earn undergraduate credits from UIC’s Department of Disability and Human Development. Participants have an academic transcript just like any other UIC student.

Co-Op staff members are available to help students get the accommodations needed to complete assignments and take classes alongside other UIC students.

In addition to learning in the classroom, students in the Co-Op Program will build skills through practical work placements in the community.

The combination of classroom and on-the-job experience helps students network and create a path toward career opportunities after certificate completion in:

Students must complete a total of 36 credit hours to complete the program.

To be eligible for the Co-Op program, applicants must:

  • Be a high school graduate
  • Be 18 years old or older
  • Have a diagnosed intellectual or developmental disability

For more information about the program, admission and costs, visit the Co-Op Program website.

Interested Co-Op applicants must use the program’s specialized application form to apply.

If you need help with the application process, the Co-Op team can assist in several ways:

Formula Shortage Resources for Families

June 21st, 2022

Baby bottle graphic with the text, "Resources to Help Families Find Formula During the Infant Formula Shortage"

Helpful information and tips to find formula and keep children healthy

The infant formula shortage continues to affect families across the country.

Formula is not only important for babies’ nutrition but also for some young children, teens and adults with medical needs.

Several resources are available nationwide and here in Illinois to help families during the shortage:

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) website has resources in a variety of languages to help families find infant formula during the shortage. These resources include information on safe substitutes, formula company contacts and community programs.
  • The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) has trained caseworkers to help families with formula questions. You can contact the IDHS Help Line at (800) 843-6154. The Help Line is primarily for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) participants but is open to all Illinois residents.
  • For Illinois WIC participants, a waiver now allows for flexibility in the size and type of formula available to buy with WIC benefits. More details are on IDHS’ “Having Trouble Finding Formula” page.
    • Illinois WIC programs also provide a wide range of support for breastfeeding mothers and funds for healthy foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables. More information and updates can be found on the Illinois WIC website. Families can also call (217) 782-2166 for additional support
  • HealthyChildren.org, the parenting website of the American Academy of Pediatrics, provides tips on finding baby formula during the shortage and what you may safely consider if you can’t find any. The site is updated regularly with helpful information and the latest guidance.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released information on the international formulas that will soon be on store shelves in the United States. Some of these formulas have different mixing guidance and will require conversion from milliliters to ounces. The FDA has a “Tips for Preparing Imported Infant Formula” handout available to help. (The handout is also available in Spanish.)

Remember that you should not water down your baby’s formula to stretch it out. You also should not make formula at home or discard formula unless it is expired or part of the recall.

HHS notes that in most cases, you can feed your baby any brand of formula that is available.

If your child has special health needs, be sure to check with their doctor about medically appropriate and safe feeding alternatives. Your doctor may have samples in stock or know of other local organizations that can help.

Please contact your pediatrician for guidance on adjusting feeding practices and be sure to stay in touch about any issues or concerns with your child’s nutrition.

Award Opportunity for Students Who Fight Ableism in Education

June 9th, 2022

Logo for the Heumann-Armstrong Award 2022 for students with disabilities

The Heumann-Armstrong Award is for students in sixth grade and up, including higher education

Ableism can take many forms. It is discriminating against someone because of their disability. It can also include bullying, isolation or the refusal to give accommodations to a student with a disability.

Like other forms of discrimination, ableism shows up in ways that are both blatant and subtle.

The Heumann-Armstrong Award is for students in sixth grade and up, including higher education, who have experienced and shown a passion for fighting ableism in education.

The American Association for People with Disabilities, The Coelho Center and Equal Opportunities for Students (EOS) sponsor this award program.

The award started in May 2021. It is named for two disability rights champions:

  • Judith (Judy) Heumann, a lifelong and internally recognized advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities
  • Elijah Armstrong, who has epilepsy and founded the EOS organization to help tell the stories of marginalized students in education

The award program defines a disability as any physical or mental condition that affects how someone attends classes, participates in extracurricular activities or socializes with classmates.

Students can submit an application in writing or by video. All applicants must be willing to do a video interview upon winning the award.

Six individuals will receive an education award that includes a $1,000 prize and a video interview posted on EOS social media platforms. Six semi-finalists will also receive recognition.

See the 2022-23 Heumann-Armstrong Award application page to apply.

You can also check out the Heumann-Armstrong Award frequently asked questions and the 2022-23 award opening video for more details.

The deadline to submit applications is July 22.

If you have questions, contact equalstudentopportunities@gmail.com.

Affordable Connectivity Program Helps Lower Internet Costs

May 13th, 2022

Affordable Connectivity Program graphic

Eligible families can receive discounts on internet service and devices in their homes

Having affordable and reliable internet service at home is more important than ever.

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is a federal program to help families afford the cost of internet service and devices in their homes.

Households can qualify in a number of ways. Eligibility can be based on income, participation in other assistance programs or if anyone in the household already receives a Lifeline benefit.

Under the ACP program, eligible households may receive:

  • Up to $30 per month discount for broadband service
  • Up to $75 per month discount for households on qualifying tribal lands
  • A one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, desktop computer or tablet purchased through a participating provider. The household must contribute more than $10 but less than $50 toward the purchase price.

The ACP is a program of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The program is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.

To apply, go to ACPBenefit.org. You may submit your application online or print a mail-in application in English or Spanish.

Applicants also must contact their existing or preferred provider to select a plan and have the discount applied to their bill.

For complete details and to access American Sign Language videos about the program, visit www.fcc.gov/acp.

The ACP Support Center is also available to answer your questions daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at (877) 384-2575 or ACPSupport@usac.org.

For more utility and financial assistance programs, visit our online Resource Directory.

Summer Camp Fun for All Ages and Abilities

April 19th, 2022

Summer Camp written on chalk board

Here’s a list of day, overnight and virtual camps to help you find the right fit for your child

It’s hard to believe another school year will soon come to an end.

The good news is there are a variety of opportunities to help your children stay engaged and continue learning during the summer break.

We’ve compiled a list of virtual, day and overnight camps across Illinois for all ages.

Does your child want to make new friends? Develop new skills? Meet others with their condition or foster their independence?

Our 2022 summer camp list can help you find an opportunity that is the right fit.

Many camps are returning to in-person sessions this summer. Virtual camp opportunities are also available.

All these camps are accessible for a variety of special needs and abilities, including many of our program’s eligible medical conditions.

Our events calendar shows the summer camps listed by date. You may also search for events in your area by clicking on a regional office near you.

Know of an in-person or virtual summer camp opportunity to add to our list?

Send us the details at dscc@uic.edu. We’ll continue to update our list of camps and activities, so please check back often. 


Free At-Home COVID-19 Test Options for Families

March 9th, 2022

at-home rapid antigen COVID-19 test sitting on a tabletop

How to access at-home test kits at no cost

If you need a COVID-19 test, there are many ways you can test at home for free.

COVID-19 home test kits are available at no cost by mail or pick-up at specified locations.

You may also be eligible for insurance reimbursement or Medicaid coverage at participating pharmacies. Here is a summary of the current options:

  • Individuals with disabilities can also contact the Disability Information and Access Line (DIAL) for help with available testing options, including ordering free at-home test kits.
    • Contact DIAL Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at (888) 677-1199 or email DIAL@usaginganddisability.org.
    • Individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing can reach DIAL using the 711/Video Relay Service (VRS).

You may also visit www.covidtests.gov/ to see where at-home tests are available for sale. The website includes a list of free testing sites available by state. It also provides information about other testing resources.

If you have questions about testing your child, this article from HealthyChildren.org gives a helpful overview of the different types of COVID-19 tests available and what parents need to know.

Your child’s pediatrician can help you determine when testing is a good idea and which type of test would be best. Please contact their office with any questions.

For more information on testing options, assistance programs and caregiver support, visit the Division of Specialized Care for Children’s COVID-19 Resource Directory.