Monday, September 29, 2014

U.S. Legislation implementation of guidelines could mean equal digital access for disabled students

Bills in Congress could mean equal digital access for disabled students

article by By: Ben Sheffler | USA TODAY | September 28, 2014
Imagine not being able to access your course materials online because you have a print disability such as dyslexia or blindness. The technology and capability for access is out there, but your college has no rubric to follow to use the tools that provide it.
That’s reality for some students with print disabilities, but recent legislation in Congress could mean an implementation of guidelines that would provide equal access to information in educational technology, such as a college’s online library database. It would also provide equal access to digital instructional materials, such as handouts scanned into a PDF, online quizzes or lab assignments.
The Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (TEACH Act), introduced late last year, and an August proposal to rewrite the Higher Education Act would, if passed, require the U.S. Access Board to create guidelines for the educational technology used at colleges, giving students with print disabilities the same access as everyone else. Universities could use technology that doesn’t conform to the guidelines, but they’d still have to provide equal access to materials for all students.
While this Congressional session is nearly over, supporters of the bill, including the National Federation of the Blind, are hopeful it passes soon.
“We know for a fact that blind students can’t afford to wait,” says Lauren McLarney, government affairs specialist at the NFB.
Currently, digital instructional materials either have to be reformatted or read aloud to students at their respective disability services center. But students sometimes have to go without access.
Jamie Principato, a blind student who attended Florida State University as a sophomore, says when she started her algebra class, it did not provide a Braille textbook, any electronic materials to use and all of the tests, quizzes and homework assignments were on an online system that were not compatible with her screen-reading software she uses on her computer.
Principato has since transferred to Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, Colo., and due to credits not transferring and a change in major, she’s a freshman Her course materials are still not entirely accessible.
“We’re getting to a point where technology is growing faster than we can keep up with it in the accessibility industry, and it needs to start being developed accessible from the start,” she says.
Kyle Shachmut, president of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) of Massachusetts, says it’s hard to describe what access to digital information looks like right now, but that’s why the guidelines would help.
“There are (no accessibility guidelines) for educational technology, which is why we so desperately need them, because there’s nothing stimulating the market to say, ‘we aiming for this standard of accessibility.’”
As the use of technology in the classroom has rapidly evolved, it’s left some students behind.
“There’s a whole host of technologies that are employed in the classroom,” Mark Riccobono, president of the NFB, says. “The problem is that right now, the universities are often implementing these technologies without real attention to whether or not they’re accessible to people with disabilities.”
Riccobono uses the analogy of a new building, which would require access for the disabled, to point out the need to make educational technology accessible at its conception.
“If the university was going to build a new building, they wouldn’t put up a new building and then later say, ‘you know, we really should’ve put in an elevator, let’s see how we can accommodate getting students in wheelchairs to the third floor,’” he says. “That’s kind of what some universities have been doing with technology.”
Without the access to digital information, students with disabilities at the University of Florida have to be accommodated in a less-efficient manner.
“Currently, we meet individually with students who may need specific access to course materials or textbooks, and we have several different options to find the best solution for them,” says Jim Gorske, assistant dean of students and director of the Disability Resource Center at UF.
Gorske, who says about 1,500 students use the center’s services each year, 20-25 of whom need visual services, supports the TEACH Act.
“It gives the university guidelines of what needs to be put in place,” he says. “Not that disability services offices don’t do a good job of addressing that now, but it sometimes winds up being more of a retro-fit … rather than being able to be proactive.”
But not everyone is convinced the TEACH Act is the best solution for providing equal digital access.
Ron Zwerin, director of marketing for EDUCAUSE, a non-profit association of higher education information technology (IT) leaders and professionals, says while the organization agrees with supporters of the bill about the importance of improving the needs of students with disabilities, they believe “it would have a significant impact on the ability of higher education institutions to advance teaching and learning and provide the best possible learning opportunities for all students.”
“(The TEACH Act) would impose only on higher education a new standard for accessibility that colleges and universities can’t meet for all students, disabilities and technologies,” he says. “The use of this new standard makes the bill’s proposed voluntary IT guidelines de facto IT standards, and at the same time denies institutions the flexibility provided under existing law to meet student’s individual needs when technology alone can’t.”
And while the bill says that updates in guidelines would be made every three years, Zwerin says the process by which they’d be developed has yet to produce updated federal IT accessibility standards in eight years.
Zwerin says EDUCAUSE hopes to work with the bill’s supporters “to advance our shared goal of improving accessibility where reasonably possible.”
“We would welcome a discussion about voluntary guidelines based on the flexibility provided in current law, which has existed for decades,” he says.
*Ben Sheffler is a junior at University of West Florida.

Tamekia Hall of East St. Louis, Illinois Pleads Guilty To Medicaid Funds Fraud

 Press Release | Sept 26, 2014
United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois

Stephen R. Wigginton, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, announced that on September 25, 2014, Tamekia Hall, 38, of East St. Louis, Illinois, pled guilty to submitting false and fraudulent bills in relation to personal assistant services in the Home Services Program, a Medicaid Waiver Program designed to allow individuals to stay in their homes instead of entering a nursing home. The investigation determined that Hall was falsifying time sheets in order receive personal assistant payments during times when the customer was actually in the hospital. Also, on today’s date, Stephen R. Wigginton, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, announced that Maketa Davis 33, of East St. Louis, Illinois, pled guilty to submitting false and fraudulent bills in relation to personal assistant services in the Home Services Program, a Medicaid Waiver Program designed to allow individuals to stay in their homes instead of entering a nursing home. The investigation determined that Davis was falsifying time sheets in order receive personal assistant payments during times when she was actually working at Lessie Bates Home.

Both of these cases resulted from United States Attorney Wigginton’s emphasis on targeting those involved in the blatant theft of funds from cash-strapped programs designed to help persons in need. “These are just another two prosecutions in the long line of successes stemming from these operations, dubbed, ‘Home Alone.’ While not representing enormous thefts, the importance of these cases lies in the recovery of the funds and in the message sent to potential thieves – do so at your peril.” United States Attorney Wigginton noted.

The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General and the Illinois State Police’s Medicaid Fraud Control Bureau. These cases are being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Michael Hallock.

14 More Personal Health Care Assistants Indicted

To date, 43 have been indicted

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (KMOX) - U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois Stephen Wigginton announced 14 new indictments for alleged Medicaid fraud.
The fraud involves personal health care assistants who claim to take care of patients but do not, and continue to get paid through the program. So far there have been 43 indictments and 26 convictions.
It’s called operation “Home Alone.”
Wigginton announced 14 indictments of home health aids in nine different communities:
  • Connie D. Evans, age 50, Belleville
  • Quincy O. Gamble, age 39, Cahokia
  • Jody R. Wooters, age 46, Centralia
  • Felicia M. Gibson, age 47, East St. Louis
  • Beatrice L. Randall, age 59, East St. Louis
  • Charlietta M.Lee, age 51, Marion
  • Tamekia L. Hall, age 39, East St. Louis
  • Maurice L. Burks, age 43, East St. Louis
  • Christopher W. Spivey, age 30, Olney
  • Angel D. Jones, age 50, Collinsville
  • Lawrence M. Thigpen, age 53, Collinsville
  • Lakeshia W. White, age 23, Centreville
  • Margaret R. Teriet, age 31, Mt. Vernon
  • Maketa N. Davis, age 33, East St. Louis
The charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, along with up to three years of supervised release.
Wigginton said the Home Alone operations will continue.
“Many of these individuals just don’t get it,” he said. “They either don’t care or don’t believe me when I say we will continue to investigate and root out those defrauding the program.”
Those charged in the latest wave of indictments include four defendants where the personal assistant or customer were in jail during the times the services were supposed to be performed. In six cases the personal assistant or the customer was in the hospital. In one case the customer was dead and the personal assistant continued billing for months after the death.
“We will continue to do Home Alone rounds three, four, and five, I look at it this way, it could be round three of a 15-round championship fight, and I like fights,” Wigginton told KMOX.
There are some 20,000 personal health care assistants in Illinois. The cost of the program in Illinois for one year is about a half-billion dollars.
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Illinois First medical marijuana licenses issued to patients

as reported by BECKY SCHLIKERMAN | Chicago Sun-Times | Sept 28, 2014

Seriously ill Illinoisans are starting to find out if they'll be able to legally use medical marijuana.
Army vet. Jim Champion, who has multiple sclerosis, was the first person to apply to be part of the state’s Medical Cannabis Pilot Program. He got an acceptance letter last week telling him he’s in the program, he said. | Supplied photo
Jim Champion, who was the first person to apply to be part of the state’s Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, got an acceptance letter last week telling him he’s in the program, he said.
“I was shocked it came so fast,”  said the 48-year-old  Army veteran who has multiple sclerosis. “I’m very excited.”
Champion, of Somonauk, led the pack of more than 2,000 seriously ill Illinoisans who applied to the program in the first few days applications were accepted.  
Those accepted into the program will receive registration cards, which will be needed to buy marijuana at a dispensary. No dispensary is yet open.
People with qualifying conditions whose last names begin with the letters A through L can submit their applications for the program until Oct. 31.
Then patients whose last names begin with the letters M through Z can send in their information Nov. 1 through the end of the year.
Last week, state officials announced more than 350 entrepreneurs applied to grow and sell medical marijuana.  
There were 158 applications submitted for those seeking to operate cultivation centers, according to the state. Only 22 licenses will be granted statewide. And 211 applied to open dispensaries, according to state.  Only 60 of those licenses will be granted. 
The state netted $5 million in non-refundable application fees from those potential business owners. 
Officials hope legal medical marijuana will be available to patients — who suffer from predetermined conditions like ALS, severe fibromyalgia and Tourette’s syndrome — in early 2015.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Illinois Community-based care people with intellectual and developmental disabilities | voice of an advocate

wanted to share a well written 'Letter To The Editor': The Southern Illinois News | Sept 27, 2014

To the Editor: 
I am writing to applaud the court's ruling of July 21, supporting the closure of the Murray Developmental Center in Centralia. This is a victory for the disability community and allows people with intellectual and developmental disabilities the opportunity to live beyond a state-operated developmental center (SODC) and be a part of a community of choice closer to family and friends.
Judge Marvin E. Aspen stated that the "community can provide the same if not better services than state-operated institutions," and I couldn't agree more. Supported by individualized, person-centered supports and services, community living offers all people with disabilities the opportunity to thrive and lead fulfilling lives in the community There are many true stories of self-advocates all over Illinois who have have moved from SODC's and are now living full lives in communities they call home.
The transition process provides each individual with a customized, person-centered plan to meet individual needs that include 24-hour care, 365 days a year. Judge Aspen further adds, "The initiative seeks to make community-based treatment a reality for more Illinois citizens who need and desire it, using the ACCT (Active Community Care Transition) process to help determine whether the community can accommodate a particular individual."
Even after the closure of Murray, Illinois will still have six state-operated facilities serving over 1,500 people with disabilities-continuing to make Illinois one of the most institutionalized states in the nation. Judge Aspen's ruling will help guide Illinois in the right direction and is in line with the national trend. People with disabilities should not be separate and deserve to live with choices, freedoms and equality.
Krescene Beck
Blue Tower Training

Illinois Sec of State’s office Check Disabled Placards Of Cars Parked At Chicago's Soldier Field at Bears game

as reported by CBS Chicago..

CHICAGO (CBS) — The Bears versus the Packers meant the parking lots filled up quickly and officers were watching to see who was taking the handicapped spots.
The Illinois Sec of State’s office had been on a campaign to let Bears fans know they will pay dearly if they park in a handicapped spot when they shouldn’t. Officers were out checking every vehicle that parked in a handicapped spot to make sure the person who the placard was issued to had to match up.
Bill Bogdan is in a wheelchair and says it’s a matter of safety for those with disabilities and convenience too.
“It gives me enough room so that I can open up my door wide enough and I can get my wheelchair directly out of the car where I don’t have to worry about car door bumping up against another car or what have you,” Bogdan said.
Since the state started the crackdown there have been fewer tickets. It used to be about a dozen were handed out each Sunday but now it’s just one or two.
If you’re caught illegally using someone’s disability placard the fine is $600 and it could mean a six month suspension of your driver’s license.
For more information on Illinois Disability Placard programs, visit:

Friday, September 26, 2014

Legal Requirements for Accessible Doors

as posted by ADA National Network (2013) 

Opening Doors To Everyone

People with disabilities are the largest and fastest-growing minority in the U.S. They control $1 trillion in total annual income. They have friends, family members, and business colleagues who accompany them to events and outings. And they use businesses and facilities that are accessible to them.
How can businesses provide access to people with disabilities?  They can begin by opening their doors, literally. Accessible doors welcome everyone – and they’re required by law.

Legal Requirements for Doors

The Basics

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers a wide variety of private businesses, as well as all the agencies of state and local governments. The ADA requires that these entities provide access to their programs, goods and services.
Businesses or buildings that are open or offer services to the general public are called  “places of public accommodation” by the ADA. Places of public accommodation and buildings constructed by state or local governments must be fully accessible to people with disabilities if built after January 26, 1992.
Places of public accommodation built before that date must undertake “readily achievable barrier removal.” This consists of activities that can be easily carried out without much difficulty or expense. What is readily achievable will vary from one business to another, and will depend on a number of factors, including existing structural conditions and the financial resources of the business. Tax incentives may help defray some of the costs (more info:
State and local governments must also take steps to ensure access to the programs and activities they offer in inaccessible facilities. In addition, state and local building codes may require different or additional accessibility features.

Door Accessibility Requirements

Which doors should be accessible?

At least one door should be accessible at these locations:
  • Each accessible entrance (at least 60% of public entrances in newly built facilities must be accessible to individuals who use wheelchairs or have mobility impairments).
  • Each tenant space in a mall or other building with multiple business tenants.
  • Accessible rooms and spaces within buildings.
  • Entrances to buildings from all parking structures, tunnels or elevated walkways.
  • At least one restricted or secured entrance (if applicable).
  • Along each building’s required route of escape or evacuation.
  • Public entrances serving different fixed routes within transit facilities.
Good to know: Although automatic doors can provide greater accessibility, they are not required by the ADA Standards.

Common Door Accessibility Issues

Clear width

Accessible doors should provide at least 32 inches of clear width. Clear width is measured between the face of the door itself and the opposite stop.


Door hardware must not require more than 5 lbs. of force to operate. It must also be operable with one hand and without tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. Lever handles and some other types comply with this requirement. Traditional round doorknobs are not accessible, as they require tight grasping and twisting to turn.


Thresholds cannot be higher than ½ inch at accessible doors, including sliding doors. However, ¾ inch is allowed at all existing doors when beveled on each side with a slope not steeper than 1:2. Thresholds higher than ¼ inch must be beveled at 1:2 slope maximum.

Maneuvering space

Doors require a certain amount of clear space around them to allow individuals using wheelchairs or other mobility devices to:
  • Approach the door;
  • Reach the door or door hardware;
  • Open the door while remaining outside the swing of the door (if it’s a swinging type);
  • Maneuver through the doorway; and
  • Close the door behind themselves.
The space required varies depending on the type of door and the direction of approach.  In all cases, the maneuvering space should have a level surface, that is, a maximum slope of 1:48.


Lowered peepholes are not typically required. However, in certain types of accessible rooms, such as a hotel guest room, it’s considered best practice to provide two peepholes. One peephole should be at “typical” height, and the other located 43 inches above the floor.

Closing speed

Doors that snap closed quickly make it difficult for users, particularly those with disabilities, to get through safely. Doors with closers should take at least 5 seconds to move from the open position at 90 degrees to 12 degrees from the latch. Doors with spring hinges should take at least 1.5 seconds to close from the open position of 70 degrees. Closing times for automatic doors vary depending on the type of door (swinging, sliding or folding) as well as the dimensions and weight of the door. American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A156.10 covers the requirements for “full power” automatic doors; ANSI A156.19 addresses “low energy” or “power assisted” doors.


Interior accessible doors should require no more than 5 lbs. of force to open. This applies to interior hinged doors and gates, as well as sliding and folding doors.  The ADA Standards do
not specify the opening force for exterior doors, though some state and local building codes may have requirements. Typical maximum opening force for exterior doors ranges from 8.5 to 10 lbs. Doors designated as fire doors must have the minimum opening force allowed by the local authority.

Smooth Door Surfaces

Canes, wheelchairs and other mobility devices can snag on projections on door surfaces.   The push side of new swinging doors and gates that are within 10 inches of the finish floor or ground must have smooth surfaces. The smooth surface should extend the full width of the door. Any spaces created by the addition of kick plates should be capped. These requirements do not apply to sliding doors and some tempered glass doors.

Content was developed by Northwest ADA Center, and is based on professional consensus of ADA experts and the ADA National Network.
This information product was developed under a grant from the Department of Education, NIDRR grant number H133A110014 and H133A110015. However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

DogFest Chicago Walk fundraiser for 'Canine Companions' - Oct 18th

Haven’t registered for DogFest Walk ‘n Roll yet? No problem – there’s still time!

Register online at We encourage you to raise money and earn great DogFest incentive prizes while helping Canine Companions match more highly-trained assistance dogs with people with disabilities free of charge. 

Grab a leash and be part of Canine Companions DogFest Walk ‘n Roll in Naperville on Saturday, October 18, 2014! 

DogFest Walk 'n Roll is a family friendly one-mile dog walk that is open to the community and supports the mission of Canine Companions for Independence. 

Join us for a fun day of activities at the beautiful Naperville Riverwalk. Prizes will be awarded to the best dog costume and best team (dog and human) costume. 

You can register as an individual walker or put together a team of friends, family members and coworkers. Once registered, you can begin fundraising to earn a cool DogFest prize. If you raise $100, you'll get a DogFest bandana to sport at DogFest. Click the Event Info tab to view rules regarding dogs on event day.

Schedule of Activities 

Registration: 10:00 - 11:00 am

Canine Companions Demonstrations: 10:45 am 

Walk: 11:15 am 

Lunch: Available for purchase beginning at 12:00 pm 

Dog Tracking Demonstration: 12:00 pm 

Costume Contest/Service Dog Games: 12:30 pm 

Raffle Prize Announcements following the Games 

Dollar General Sued by EEOC for Disability Discrimination

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Diabetic Employee Fired for 'Grazing' to Stave Off Hypoglycemic Episode, Federal Agency Charges
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A diabetic sales associate suffering from a hypoglycemic episode while on duty at a Maryville, Tenn., Dollar General was fired for consuming orange juice, which she paid for as soon as the medical emergency had passed, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged in a lawsuit it announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, the employee, who has insulin-dependent diabetes, was working the cash register at Dollar General when she started to experience symptoms of a hypoglycemic episode. Customers were in line, so the former employee grabbed an orange juice from Dollar General's cooler and consumed it to stabilize her blood sugar. She paid for the orange juice after the customers left. The former employee told her supervisor on several occasions that she had diabetes, and she requested that the store allow her to keep her own juice near the cash register, but the store denied those requests. Dollar General fired the employee for violating its grazing policy, which prohibits employees from consuming merchandise before payment.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Dollar General, Civil Action No. 3:14-cv-00441) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Knoxville Division, after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC is seeking injunctive relief prohibiting Dollar General from discriminating against employees with disabilities, as well as lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages, and other affirmative relief for the former employee.
"This employee took a life-saving precaution by drinking the orange juice," said EEOC District Director Katharine Kores. "She should not be fired for having diabetes or tending to her health concerns - especially in such an emergency situation. Businesses need to use some judgment and restraint when faced with such an episode.  The EEOC will continue to fight for discrimination victims such as this lady."
According to company information, Dollar General is the nation's largest small-box discount retailer. It is a convenience store offering major brands with many of their products costing a dollar or less. The company with corporate headquarters in Goodlettsville, Tenn., operates 11,000 stores nationwide.
The Memphis District Office of the EEOC oversees Tennessee, Arkansas and parts of Mississippi. The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. 
Further information about the EEOC is available on the website at

Tourette Syndrome Gala Event 'Movement of Imperfection!' Fundraiser - Elmhurst, IL. Nov 22nd

as shared by...

When & Where:
Wilder Mansion
211 Prospect Avenue Elmhurst, IL
Sat Nov 22, 2014 7PM - Sat Nov 22, 2014 11PM CST


Set to Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors," the video shows Sarah Grace's peers treating her differently because of her Down syndrome, while her 11-year-old brother "MattyB" raps about acceptance. By the end of the video, the other girls have taken the song's lesson to heart.

YouTube Published on Sep 2, 2014 by MattyBRaps Channel 

Thanks for watching the brand new cover of one of MattyB's all time favorites #TrueColors! This has been one of the special projects that MattyB has had the privilege to work on so far and he hopes you enjoy it as much as he enjoyed creating it. 

We live in a world where differences are all around us. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in these differences, especially when we see them in the people that surround us everyday. MattyB believes that everyone deserves the same thing: love. It's not always popular to love someone and embrace their differences, especially when others make fun of them. But being a leader means standing up for what you believe in and choosing to do the right thing... even when it's not always popular. 

Special Thanks to Olivia Kay for helping out with this project! 

written & performed by:
  • Category

    • Music
  • License

    • Standard YouTube License

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How to Talk to Kids and Teens About Mental Illness

Do it the right way, and you'll help dispel misconceptions and stigma

By Kirstin Fawcett | U.S. News | Sept 23, 2014

Ask a group of 13-year-olds if they know what cancer is, and they’ll most likely provide you with a resounding “yes.” Ask them to explain bipolar disorder, however, and you’ll probably receive a jumbled answer – or a puzzled stare. 
Around 42.5 million American adults suffer from some mental illness each year, according to data compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. But despite the prevalence of conditions such as depression, bipolar and schizophrenia, many children and teenagers know little about these real – and treatable – diseases. 
It’s important to correctly educate children and teenagers about mental illness, health professionals say. It helps dispel misconceptions and stigma, and it provides them with the understanding and resources they need if they – or someone they know – struggles with a psychiatric disorder. 
Curious how to tackle the topic with your own kids? Here are some tips:
Know Your Facts 
To successfully teach a kid or teenager about mental illness, you first have to teach yourself, says Judy Davis, author of “Those People,” a book inspired by the years she spent as a chaplain in a psychiatric ward, helping families and patients deal with mental illness. 
Don’t know the symptoms of depression? Find a book written by an authoritative mental health professional and learn them. Stymied by the difference between schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia? Speak with a physician who can explain the distinction. “You can't just make a blanket statement and say that [all mental illnesses] are the same and they should all be treated the same. They differ a lot, and [diseases like] schizophrenia and depression are pretty far apart,” Davis says. “Parents should read up on them so they'll understand what they're talking about.” 
It’s also important for parents to understand that they don't need to have all the answers right away. “It's OK to say [to your child], ‘I'm not sure, but I can try to figure it out,” says Cathryn Galanter, director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship Program at SUNY Downstate/Kings County Hospital Center. 
Dispel Common Myths
Most kids cobble together a working knowledge of mental health topics through bits and pieces gleaned from their peers, parents and the media, says Kenya Sesay​ of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a nationwide grassroots nonprofit that provides treatment, support and advocacy for the mentally ill. However, Sesay says, this body of information is often inaccurate. 
Kids “know more about the stereotypes [for mental illness] than what it actually is,” says Sesay, who serves as the youth program director of NAMI’s Montgomery County, Maryland, chapter. “They don't really know the symptoms. They don't really know what the person goes through.”
There are many misconceptions about mental illness: that all people with mental illness are violent; that psychiatric diseases are moral or character flaws; and that those who have them can’t live normal lives. In reality, the majority are nonviolent, and coping methods ranging from medication and therapy to exercise can help individuals stay healthy and productive. The main point that Sesay and NAMI try to make to kids? Mental illness “has nothing to do with you. It doesn't make you any less of a person.” 
Find a Teaching Opportunity 
“It can be helpful to bring [mental illness] up in context – for example, if your child knows that someone is having difficulties with their mood or behavior and has questions about it,” Galanter says. “As mental illness becomes less stigmatized, we are also hearing more about people in the news with mental illness. This can be a good opportunity to start a discussion. As with any more serious discussion, choosing a time when you and your child can focus is helpful, such as over a meal, in a long car ride or during a quiet time at home.” 
But you don’t necessarily need to use a news peg or a media moment as an excuse to raise the subject, Sesay says. A discussion about mental illness, she emphasizes, is “a conversation that anyone can have. It shouldn’t be like a ‘birds and the bees’ type of talk.” 
Tailor Your Language to Different Age Groups 
“When speaking to your child or adolescent about mental illness, it's important to keep in mind their age and developmental level,” Galanter says. “For preschool children, keep it simple. With this age, you may only need to have these discussions if someone they know is affected. School-aged children may have more questions. With this age, it's helpful to be clear, simple and direct, and to follow their lead in terms of how much information you give them.” 
With teenagers, Sesay says, you can be more specific – especially because their age group faces a high risk of depression and suicide. Teaching them the names and traits of various illnesses gives them the knowledge and coping skills they need if they, or someone they know, experiences a psychiatric disorder firsthand. That way, they can seek support from a teacher, a parent or a counselor. 
Tell Them They Have a Safety Net 
Since mental illness is fairly common – with as many as 61 percent of people experiencing a well-specified psychiatric disorder by age 21​, according to Galanter – children may first learn about it through personal experience. In this case, they’re usually advised to confide in a trusted adult. But a fear of stigma often keeps them from coming forward. “A lot of the time, [kids] believe if they have a mental illness, nobody should know,” Sesay says. “They think people will look at them differently.” 
Let them know that’s not the case. Mental illnesses are “like other medical illnesses. It's not your fault,” Galanter stresses. “They are diagnosable and treatable. Help is available.”