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October 2020

James and Kathy running in Race for Abilities on October 18th.

Student Spotlight: James Gilliard

On Sunday, March 8th, James Gilliard completed an indoor triathlon tethered to another person. This was not abnormal—as a legally blind athlete, he relies on his “sight guide,” another person who serves as his eyes to keep him on course.

Just over a week later, on the 16th, the rest of the year’s races were called into question when Governor J.B. Pritzker issued a ban on mass gatherings. Since that point, most races have been postponed, made remote, or altogether cancelled. Although he continues to compete in virtual races, Gilliard says he is anticipating the return to in-person races.

“I miss having that comradery, to be quite honest, after being mostly isolated for the last 6 months, I miss the people," Gilliard said. “But I will always gladly do them to support organizations and people that have helped to support me.”

In October, Gilliard is competing in the Healthy Driven Naperville Half Marathon & 5K, one of the many races which has gone virtual in the wake of Covid-19. He is racing with Team Donka to raise money for Donka, Inc., a DuPage-based nonprofit which provides job-ready assistive technology training to those with disabilities where he previously received training.

Although the race is fully virtual, members of Team Donka met on Sunday, October 18th at Veterans Park in Naperville to trek together and enjoy fellowship – all while practicing social-distancing. (See Race for Abilities below.)

Gilliard was initially referred to Donka for training with JAWS (Job Access with Speech), a screen reader program that allows visually impaired users to operate their computers without relying on sight. According to Gilliard, instructor Ann Byrne helped prepare him to enter the workforce outside of just teaching him how to use the software. Because she was blind since birth, she was could draw from her own experiences to advise Gilliard on dealing with obstacles he may encounter going forward.

“I believe that [Donka] provided an invaluable service to me,” he said. “In my opinion, one of the biggest things that helps someone like me move forward is having that independence, not having to ask someone every time, ‘Can you read this to me, can you read me my email?’”

Although he now has custom harnesses purpose-built for each leg of his races, it took a while to get to this point. His first tether was basically just a mass-market child leash, Gilliard says. He has become used to improvising and finding his own way forward to overcome his limited sight.

"Sometimes the need comes out of frustration that something isn't working, or you can't do something like you used to," Gilliard said. "I've found ways over the years to adapt, even if there isn't specific adaptive technology."

As for the future, Gilliard’s race schedule is packed for the first 10 months of 2021, adding, “Assuming things get back to some semblance of normal.” His blog, “No Crappy Excuses,” (http://nocrappyexcuses.com) chronicles his racing and training experiences and offers insight on the struggles he has overcome as a vision-impaired racer.

There is still time to make a donation to Donka on James’ behalf: visit https://donkainc.org/marathon-2020/ to make a contribution through October 31st.


National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is a month-long celebration of the 75th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month – which recognizes the critical importance of employers, legislators, educators, concerned citizens, and organizations – like Donka – working together to increase employment opportunities and accessibility for people with disabilities. It is also a time to celebrate their many workplace contributions and achievements.

As October comes to a close, Donka asks that you open your eyes every day of the year to the potential of people with disabilities. We ask that you discard any assumptions you might have – consciously or unconsciously – that because they are differently-abled there are limits to the jobs people with disabilities can perform and the career goals they can achieve. This is simply inaccurate.

Donka knows because for nearly 34 years we have trained hundreds of individuals with physical and visual disabilities to use assistive technology to operate a computer on their own and learn applications – like Word, Excel, and Outlook – and navigate online systems that allow them to get a job or enroll in college or vocational programs to prepare for future employment.

“I am inspired by our Donka students and graduates every day as I see them using computer skills and assistive technology in their daily living, for communication, correspondence, for school, and for work!,” exclaims Leanne Stavenger Vos, Donka’s Executive Director

She further reflects on how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical value of tech skills for employment. “I believe we are all in a “race for abilities” to advance our job skills and use new technologies as we navigate through a shifting environment. So proud of the Donka students, graduates, and Donka staff who are meeting (remotely or safely in person) to advance their skills to realize goals for a successful and hopeful future!”

National Disability Employment Awareness Month is also a great time for employers and employees to learn more about their roles in advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The Job Accommodation Network has a terrific disability etiquette guide you can download here that outlines tips for becoming an advocate for people with disabilities with whom you work or supervise.

Additionally, you can help individuals with disabilities you might know who have employment needs by linking them to career and training resources – like Donka – in your community. To learn more about Donka or to refer someone to our assistive technology computer training program for persons with disabilities, contact Samantha Moore, Program Manager, at [email protected] or 630-665-8169, Ext. 11.


Local DiverseAbility Committee to Host Workplace Inclusion Webinar on October 28th

Speaking of learning more about workplace diversity and inclusion, join Donka and our DiverseAbility Committee partners on Wednesday, October 28th at 1:00 pm for a complimentary webinar entitled “Creating Inclusion in Your Workplace.”

The webinar will be especially informative for human resources professionals, hiring managers, business owners, and employers who are interested in increasing diversity in their workforce. A CEU credit of 1-hour is available to participants upon completion of the webinar.

Kevin McCloskey

Keith Meadows

We welcome Keith Meadows and Kevin McCloskey from Disability Solutions as our keynote speakers. Through their discussion, participants will gain an understanding of the benefits of hiring a person with a disability and learn how to dispel the fear and stigma of hiring individuals with a disability.

The DiverseAbility Committee members include the Association for Individual Development (AID), Division of Rehabilitation Services (State VR), Donka, Inc., Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), Parents Alliance Employment Project, and Waubonsee Community College.

Follow this link to register: WAUBONSEE.EDU/INCLUSION2020


Race for Abilities Annual 5K Walk & Run Fundraiser: A new look for 2020

Donka’s annual 5K Walk/Run fundraiser, Race for Abilities – part of the Healthy Driven Naperville Half Marathon – has looked a little different this year. First of all, the race, which was scheduled for October 18th, was changed from an in-person to virtual event. And then, because it was no longer a big one-day event in downtown Naperville, the Marathon Committee decided to that runners/walkers could complete their treks at any time and at any place during the entire month of October.

Despite 2020 being such a challenging and frustrating year, Team Donka – our Race for Abilities participants – has had a great time completing their treks and supporting the event. Just a few Team Donka highlights are featured in pictures below:

Several runners and walkers met on Sunday, October 18th at Veterans Park in Naperville to compete their trek. Team Donka members present included: Jodi Canup, James Gilliard, Kathy Mueller, Dave Patsavas, Rhonda Pavicich, Leanne and Jack Vos, Rosalie Laramore

Team Donka left to right: front - Rosalie Laramore, James, Jodi, and Kathy; and back - Dave, Rhonda, Leanne, and Jack

Team Donka without their fashionable masks, but socially distanced!

Left to right: Team Donka walkers, Leanne, Jack, and Rhonda

Left to right: Team Donka runners, James, Dave, and Kathy

One Team Donka member, Bridget Elliott, completed her trek while on vacation in Washington. She and her family started their journey at the Northwest Trek and completed it at Paradise near Mt. Rainier’s summit. Another supporter, Sandy Quaid, who was a Donka volunteer for more than 12 years, showed her support by wearing her Donka mask.

Right to left: front - Bridget Elliott, Marceil Van Camp; back – Melissa Van Camp, and Kati Knauff

Sandy Quaid poses at home with a spooky friend

Donka would like to give a big shout out to our Race for Abilities sponsors for their support – Thank you!





AT Highlight: Google Chrome Extensions

Google Chrome offers a variety of free extensions that are especially helpful for students with disabilities. Donka’s Program Manager, Samantha Moore, and Instructor, Ty Pavicich, have developed a “Chrome Extensions” workshop designed to help teachers, students, and parents connect to and use these applications to help individuals with learning challenges study and complete assignments.

Most recently, Samantha and Ty presented the workshop to a group of teachers and students from the transition program at Indian Prairie School District. The information was well received.

“It was a pleasure meeting with the IPSD transition students and staff. The Chrome extension Ty and I presented are available for free on the Chrome browser. We use assistive technology every day and don’t realize it. Chrome extensions make browsing the web accessible to everyone,” Samantha notes.

If you or your organization is interested in learning more about Google Chrome Extensions for school success – or scheduling a workshop – contact Samantha Moore at [email protected] or 630-665-8169, Ext. 11.

In the meantime, here are a few Chrome Extensions you might want to check out:

Color Enhancer
A customizable color filter applied to webpages to improve color perception for persons with visual challenges

Read More

Google Dictionary
View definitions easily as you browse the web; makes reading and writing a more seamless.

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Google Translate
Instantly translates words, phrases, and web pages between English and over 100 other languages. Especially useful for students who are learning English.

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Read Aloud
Uses text-to-speech technology to convert webpage text to audio. It works on a variety of websites, including news sites, blogs, fan fiction, publications, textbooks, school and class websites, online universities, and course materials. Great for students with visual challenges and auditory learners.

Read More

Check out more Chrome Extensions at the Chrome Web Store.


Save the Date: Giving Tuesday

On Tuesday, December 1st, millions of people across the globe will celebrate Giving Tuesday by donating to charities that provide programs and services that make our world a better place to live.

This year, however, Donka is celebrating Giving Tuesday from November 1st – December 1st and offering a fantastic opportunity to maximize your donation. Thanks to a grant from the Coleman Foundation, your gift to Donka of $75 or more will be matched 2-1 by the foundation, making the total value of a $75 donation with the matched dollars $225 ($75 + Coleman match of $150).

Stay tuned! More information about Donka’s Giving Tuesday celebration will be coming soon.


Welcome to Donka!

Donka is excited to welcome Ty Pavicich to the Donka team. Ty joined us in August as our Communications Manager and Instructor. He holds a BS in Journalism and Mass Communication and processes experience in nonprofit marketing, corporate communications, and journalism – including working as a Donka volunteer. Ty is training Donka students and manages Donka’s social media presence and helps to organize and execute webinars.


Copyright © 2020 Donka Inc., All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
400 N. County Farm Rd.
Wheaton, IL 60187
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