First in Nation GPS Support System for Students, Communication Disability Law Verification Form Available, Youth Leadership Forum

An update and information report for doctors who provide consultative exams for OOD’s Division of Disability Determination

What's Inside:

First in Nation GPS System for College Students with Vision and Mobility Impairments

Governor Kasich
Governor John Kasich spoke at the launch of the BlindSquare technology at Columbus State Community College.
Columbus State student Patrick Simmons demonstrates how a smart phone app helps him navigate the campus.


Governor John Kasich, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) and Columbus State Community College announced on July 30 that Columbus State is the first community college in the nation to offer BlindSquare, an innovative navigation support system for blind and low-vision students at its downtown campus.


Through OOD funding, the college is now navigable by smart phone technology through the free BlindSquare Event app, which utilize Bluetooth technology and GPS beacons at key locations on campus. The BlindSquare beacons interact with the app to guide users by supportive audio instructions around the school and to adjacent public transit.


Governor Kasich, OOD Director Kevin Miller and Columbus State President David Harrison announced the collaboration, which makes it easier for individuals with vision impairments and other wayfinding disabilities to successfully pursue higher education and career advancement.


“Universities and community colleges across this state ought to fund this immediately,” Kasich said. “There is a lot of progress that can be made, but we’ve got to do this together and make sure this is just the beginning. With Columbus State here, you’re looking at the future of education.”


BlindSquare works by determining a user’s location using smart phone GPS capabilities and looking up information about the surrounding environment, which at Columbus State is provided by a series of beacons around campus and in select buildings. After finding directional information, the app speaks in a clear, synthetic voice. It can track the user’s destination and periodically announce the distance and direction while traveling, as well as mark locations so they can be found more easily later on.


“Embracing technology that supports assisting those with disability challenges is rapidly becoming the norm,” Miller said. “Innovative approaches to removing barriers are necessary in this age of technology. OOD’s partnership with Columbus State is a standard for which others should follow.”


“Columbus State is proud to be a leader in serving people with disabilities among our students, faculty, staff and visitors,” Harrison said. “Incorporating BlindSquare functionality advances our commitment to inclusion while furthering accessibility for anyone who can benefit from location and directional support.”


To find out more about how OOD is transforming lives of individuals with disabilities through technology, visit BlindSquare Fact Sheet or see a video of the event at the Ohio Channel.

Communication Disability Law Verification Form Available

The new Communication Disability Law verification form is available on the OOD website for individuals with a medically-diagnosed communication disability who drive. By voluntarily enrolling in a database that connects to the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System (LEADS), individuals with communication disabilities (e.g., individuals who are deaf or have autism spectrum disorder) or someone who regularly has a person with a communication disability in their vehicle, can apply. Officers will be made aware that the driver or a person in the vehicle may have difficulty communicating and reduce any potential misunderstandings or communication problems. Only law enforcement will have access to this information. 


Individuals who are interested in self-identifying can complete a verification form and take the completed form to their licensed medical practitioner who can validate the individual has a communication disability. For more information, visit Communication Disability Law.

Twenty Years and Counting: Ohio’s Youth Leadership Forum

YLF Statehouse
Youth Leadership Forum delegates, mentors and volunteers at the Ohio Statehouse.


This year marks the 20th anniversary for Ohio’s Youth Leadership Forum (YLF), a five-day education and advocacy training program in Columbus for high school juniors and seniors with disabilities from around the state.
Co-Chair Brianne Riffle has attended every year since Ohio’s first YLF.


She first came as a youth delegate. “I knew I had an Individualized Education Program (IEP), but I did not identify as a person with a disability,” she recalls of her debut in 1999 as a high school junior. “However, once at the forum, I realized I belonged to a larger community of individuals with disabilities.”



YLF Brianne
YLF Co-Chair Brianne Riffle


Today’s YLF program includes activities ranging from a panel discussion about planning for college, to a fashion show revealing what not to wear to a job interview, and the traditional visit to the Statehouse, a huge hit among the delegates.


This year’s event included 23 first-year high school delegates, plus 14 peer mentors who returned to the forum to enhance what they learned as prior delegates. A staff of volunteers, consisting mostly of YLF alumni, heads these small groups in discussions and helps individuals plan their future. 


The experience of Brianne’s first YLF was very powerful, which is why she continues to come back year after year as a volunteer who assists with workshops and mentors the youth. “It’s all about seeing the change in a young person coming in scared and unsure and then seeing their personal growth in such a short time. It’s great to hear them say ‘I don’t want to leave. I don’t feel alone anymore,’” said Brianne. For more information, visit OOD YLF.

Ohio Business Leadership Network is Now Disability:IN Ohio

After 11 years helping local businesses become more inclusive of people with disabilities, the Ohio Business Leadership Network is changing its name to Disability:IN Ohio to signal its commitment to creating an economy where people with disabilities participate fully and meaningfully.


The name change is part of a larger rebranding effort by the United States Business Leadership Network, which changed its name to Disability:IN to give more visibility to the cause nationally. The organization’s 40+ affiliates across the country will be joining in the effort of creating a more unified brand to create more awareness of the importance of including people with disabilities throughout the workforce, supply chain and market place. Companies that hire people with disabilities are not only demonstrating good corporate citizenship, but benefit from a more inclusive culture. This diversity of talent has been shown to lead to improved innovation and decision-making, as well as more accessible products and services which open markets to a wider audience of consumers.

Several Ohio Businesses Named Best Places to Work

OOD congratulates several Ohio employers who were recently recognized as 2018 Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and Disability:IN (formerly the US Business Leadership Network). To earn this distinction, businesses must score 80 points or higher on a scale from 0 to 100 on the Disability Equality Index (DEI), a national benchmarking tool that allows America’s leading corporations to self-report their disability policies and practices. The Index measures key performance indicators across organizational culture, leadership, accessibility, employment, community engagement, support services and supplier diversity.


The following Ohio employers scored 100% on the DEI: American Electric Power (AEP), Aramark, Booz Allen Hamilton, CVSHealth, Huntington National Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Manpower Group, Meijer, Procter & Gamble, Synchrony, US Bank and Verizon. Those Ohio employers scoring 90% include Northwestern Mutual and United Parcel Service (UPS); 80%: Amazon and Norfolk Southern Corporation.


Collectively, OOD has assisted more than 300 individuals with disabilities to obtain employment with these businesses since January 2017. OOD partners with these 2018 Best Places to Work employers plus hundreds of other companies throughout Ohio to promote employment for individuals with disabilities. OOD also provides services to employers at no cost, including recruitment assistance of job ready candidates with disabilities, disability etiquette and disability awareness training for employees, plus hiring events and job fairs.


More information about how OOD’s Business Relations staff support disability inclusion practices in the workplace can be found at OOD Employers - Business Relations Team. An Employer Toolkit that provides information about recruiting, hiring and retaining workers with disabilities is available at ODJFS Employer Toolkit.

STABLE Account Helps Individuals with Disabilities Save for the Future

STABLE Account
Anne Gerhardt contributes to her STABLE Account with money earned from her jobs.


STABLE Accounts, which are made possible by the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) act was the nation’s first savings and investment account for individuals with disabilities. Ohio leads the way nationally and has the largest plan, overseen by State Treasurer Josh Mandel. This account dramatically improves the lives of individuals with disabilities and can be used for educational expenses, living expenses, transportation expenses and more.


Prior to the STABLE Account, individuals with disabilities were limited by resource-tested public benefits like Medicaid and Social Security Income (SSI) as to how much money they could save before they became ineligible for government benefits. Now individuals can save and invest up to $15,000 per year without losing their benefits. Also, if the person with a disability is employed, up to $12,060 in additional earned wages can be contributed.


Anne Gerhardt is 21 years old and is working two jobs this summer. She is an intern at the CincinnatiUSA Regional Chamber and is also a courtesy worker at Kroger. With these two jobs, Anne and her family put money in her STABLE Account for things she wants and needs. “Anne puts money from her jobs into her STABLE account to save for her own apartment,” said her mother, Jane Gerhardt.


OOD works with individuals who have disabilities to gain and maintain independence. The STABLE Account helps assist in this process by giving the individual financial independence. Signing up for a STABLE Account is a quick and easy process. For more information, visit the STABLE Account website.

The Continuing Disability Review Process

The Social Security Administration (SSA) periodically reviews cases to make sure that people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits are still considered disabled and entitled to those benefits.


This process is called a Continuing Disability Review (CDR). The law requires SSA to perform a medical CDR at least once every three years; unless it is determined a medical condition is expected to improve sooner. If a medical condition is not expected to improve, reviews are made every seven years.


If it is determined that the individual no longer has a qualifying disability, the decision can be appealed. The first step of appeal, called reconsideration, occurs at the state level with OOD’s Division of Disability Determination (DDD). An adjudicator who has had no prior involvement with the case reviews the file to ensure an appropriate decision was made. If the decision is upheld, individuals then have the opportunity to meet with a disability hearing officer to explain why they believe they are still disabled. They can review their case file, submit new information and provide witnesses. If the unfavorable decision is upheld, appeals can continue through the administrative law judge for a hearing and appeal, and on up through the federal court. 


Individuals have 60 days to appeal decisions at the next level. This past year, DDD processed 37,732 CDR decisions and 4,273 hearings. They are projected to process 38,243 CDRs and 4,800 hearings this fiscal year. 

A Link in the Chain: Kristen Alexander

Link Kristen


Kristen Alexander is a disability claims supervisor in OOD’s Division of Disability Determination. Watch as she talks about how DDD helps Ohioans who are facing challenges in their lives. To see Kristen’s video, visit A Link in the Chain: Kristen Alexander.

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The services described are funded, in part, with federal funds awarded by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) under the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), Supported Employment Services, and the Independent Living Services for Older Individuals Who are Blind (OIB) programs. For purposes of the VR program, the federal VR grant paid 78.7% of the total costs of the program. In federal fiscal year (FFY) 2018, the VR agency received $100,336,097 in federal VR funds. Funds appropriated by the state paid 21.3% of the total costs $27,155,767 under the VR program.

The Pre-Employment Transition Services provided under the VR program, described, are funded 100% through a grant from the U.S. DOE. For FFY 2018, the total amount of grant funds used for these services is $15,050,415.


For purposes of the Supported Employment program (youth with a disability program), federal funds paid 100% of the total costs. In FFY 2018, the VR agency received $303,725 in federal supported employment funds (youth with a disability program).


For purposes of the Supported Employment program, federal funds paid 95% of the total costs. In FFY 2018, the VR agency received $303,725 in federal Supported Employment funds. State appropriated funds paid 5% $33,747 of the total costs under the Supported Employment program.


For purposes of the OIB program, federal funds paid 90% of the total costs incurred under the program. In FFY 2018, the agency received $1,174,400 in federal grant funds for this program. Funds appropriated by the State paid 10% $130,489 of the total costs incurred under the OIB program.


The services described are funded, in part, with federal funds awarded by Health and Human Services (HHS) under the independent living (IL) program. For purposes of the federal IL program the federal grant paid 90% of the total costs of the program. In FFY 2018, OOD received $632,411 in federal IL funds. Funds appropriated by the state paid 10% of the total costs $70,268 under the IL program.

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