Easter Seals: Where Hope Springs Eternal

Out of tragedy blossomed an organization that has served millions since 1919 — Easter Seals. Most of us will be familiar with the organization’s name, but many of us will not know how it originated. Enter Edgar Allen.

In 1907, Allen was a wealthy self-made businessman whose son was killed by a streetcar in Elyria, Ohio. Inadequate medical services contributed to the boy’s death. From his suffering, Allen drew inspiration. He sold his business and put his money into building a hospital to care for the citizens of Elyria. To his dismay, he also learned that children with disabilities were mainly hidden from view, receiving virtually no assistance that could improve their lives. By 1919, Allen had founded the National Society for Crippled Children, the very first organization of its kind.

A campaign to raise funds for the Society in 1934 included donors placing seals on envelopes and letters to demonstrate their support. The Easter lily was first used in 1952 on the seals to signify hope and new life, a hallmark of the Society. By 1967, the organization adopted the Easter lily as its official symbol.

Today, more than 1.4 million men, women and children annually receive multilayered services provided by the Easter Seals. And the Massachusetts Chapter is an exemplary part of that organization, one that assisted a local family.

When Adam Kaner speaks about his mother, Carol, his feelings of pride, awe and love for her are palpable.

“She kept on teaching; she planned vacations; she lived her life,” he shared. Kaner credits the Easter Seals for allowing his mother to continue being a full and productive member of her family and community in spite of a debilitating neurological disorder. Nearly 10 years since Carol’s passing, Kaner has continued his personal involvement with the Easter Seals.

“Easter Seals stepped in and helped my mother with assistive technology,” Kaner said.  “I want more people to be aware of the wonderful work Easter Seals does.”

Kirk Joslin, President and CEO of Easter Seals of Massachusetts, explained that adapted services are “a combination of outreach such as speech, occupational and rehabilitation services.” These services allow persons with disabilities to receive training, therapy and equipment that improve their lives and their ability to live in society.

Joslin detailed that Easter Seals’ assistive technology programs include equipment called augmentative communication devices. Augmentative and alternative communication, known as AAC, describes various methods of communication that helps people who are unable to use verbal speech to communicate. Devices and tools can be low-, medium- or high-tech items. The high-tech systems include complex electronics and computer components with applications geared to the needs of the disabled person. Easter Seals of Massachusetts takes pride of place in this category with a premiere cutting-edge Assistive Technology program. Many recipients now lead full and productive lives, which otherwise would have been compromised had it not been for Easter Seals.

“We go right into peoples’ homes, places of work and schools, assessing their needs,” Joslin said. Easter Seals has a network of trained in-field professionals from speech pathologists, special education, physical and occupational therapists whose goal is to match the needs of a person with the technology available to bridge their functional gaps. Using a combination of computer programs, various types of keyboards, and other integrated digital equipment, people are talking, writing, and communicating and thereby living more complete lives.

Joslin went on to explain that Easter Seal staff liaisons with other local, state and federal program providers to bring services and adaptive equipment to the people in need. This multiagency approach results in the difference between living and just existing for many hundreds of people in Massachusetts.

“Easter Seals worked with my mother to adapt her equipment and programs,” Kaner said, “so she could keep on teaching French and Spanish.” One can imagine how many lives Carol Kaner touched with her determination. It is now exemplified through her son’s commitment.

Today, Kaner is on a regional Easter Seals Board of Young Professionals. This group organizes such fundraising activities as softball, volleyball and basketball games hosted at local venues.

“I love it,” Kaner said. “It’s a blast, and I get to see some of my buddies from ORR!”

“You can take two roads,” Carol Kaner said late in her life. “Be lazy, or get things going.” She got things going, and so has her son Adam.

“I love giving back,” he said.

This year, the Massachusetts Easter Seals chapter is celebrating 25 years of pioneering Assistive Technology programs that have allowed people with disabilities to achieve their full potential.

“We were first in the country, not just Easter Seals, but any organization, pulling together all aspects of technology,” Joslin said. “I’ve seen what it can do.” Joslin cited a local college student who is attending classes and participating just like all the other students because he has been “given a voice.” He uses augmentative equipment secured by the assistance of Easter Seals.

“We provide technology services right in the place where the person needs it,” Joslin said. “Every disability is different, and every person with a disability will be affected differently.” Easter Seals provides a unique and personalized response to those differences via technology.

As Easter Seals founder Edgar Allen said, “Your life and mine shall be valued not by what we take … but by what we give.” If you or someone you know might benefit from the services of the Easter Seals, visit www.ma.easterseals.com.

By Marilou Newell

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