At Digital Scribbler, we are passionate about innovation and improving the lives of individuals with special needs. One of the ways we hope to do that is by connecting people within the special needs community with resources that can change their lives for the better. These are a few innovative special needs organizations we are excited about because of their creativity and passion for creating inclusion in unique ways.
This is by no means a definitive list, but it’s one we hope to update over time. It includes some well-established non-profits as well as some burgeoning organizations whose innovative ideas we hope to help spread.
Some of these organizations are accessible nationwide, while others are specific to a local area. Depending on where you live, you may not be able to get involved in every one of these organizations. But we hope they will inspire you about what’s possible or may already exist in your community.
We love learning about new programs being developed and offering our expertise and support. If you have a favorite special needs organization you don’t see on this list, let us know about it!
At its inception in 2000, E-Sports was just a few friends at a local field hoping to create an inclusive sports experience for their kids (both special needs and typical). Now, it has grown to a sprawling organization spread across dozens of locations. They’ve collaborated with major organizations like the San Jose Earthquakes and Golden State Warriors.
E-Sports is not to be confused with the popular world of competitive online gaming. It is an inclusive sports program that gives typical and special needs kids the opportunity to participate in fun athletic activities together. It’s a source of hope and joy for parents of special needs kids, and a great opportunity to develop character and empathy for typical kids.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, consider checking out one of their 20+ locations hosting weekly sessions while in season. Sports offered include soccer, basketball, Karate, fitness, dance, and surfing. Best of all, it’s free!
2) Hope Technology School (HTS)
HTS is an award-winning and highly sought-after inclusive school in Palo Alto, CA. The school’s inclusive education philosophy has been highly successful and received international acclaim. Teachers and staff at HTS work hard to help every student reach their full potential, which attracts typical students and students with special needs.
Through inclusive classes, HTS provides “opportunities for every student to thrive academically, physically, and socially in order to develop into globally responsible citizens.” Hope Technology School also teaches students to become proficient in using technology, media, and in utilizing information.
3) Magical Bridge Foundation
The Magical Bridge Foundation promotes inclusion in one of the most important places in a child’s life – the playground. The first socially inclusive Magical Bridge Playground opened in Palo Alto, CA, in 2015 and now attracts over 20,000 visitors annually. The playground is “mindfully designed to be socially inclusive for children and adults of varying abilities, including those with physical and cognitive disabilities, autism, hearing and visual impairments, and even the aging population.”
Due to the overwhelming popularity of the playground, plans are underway for four new locations to open in the Bay Area. It’s a fantastic group that is passionate about providing resources for children with special needs.
4) Disabled Sports USA
This organization was founded by Vietnam War veterans. It has expanded its scope to include anyone with a permanent disability who wants to participate in sports but may not be able to do so in a typical setting.
Disabled Sports USA provides adaptive sports opportunities to over 60,000 youth, wounded warriors, and adults annually. Through participation in community sports, recreation, and educational programs, Disabled Sports USA helps individuals with disabilities develop independence and confidence, in addition of course to fitness. Their presence is nationwide, with over 120 community chapters in 40 states.
5) Friendship Circle International
Isolation and fatigue are formidable issues for many special needs families. One of the things we love about the Friendship Circle International is that they train teenagers to channel their time and energy into building relationships with children who have disabilities. This provides friendship for the individual with special needs, respite for parents and siblings, and also teaches empathy and inclusion to the volunteers and the community.
Friendship Circle International is a fast-growing Jewish organization with over 80 chapters worldwide. They provide home visits, respite for parents and siblings of individuals with disabilities, holiday programs, camps, life-skills training and other special needs resources.
6) Special Olympics
Special Olympics is perhaps one of the most widely-known organizations that help people with disabilities, and with good reason. They aim to improve the lives of every one of the 200 million adults with intellectual disabilities around the world. They do this not only through offering Olympic-style sports opportunities, but through improving access to healthcare, creating social inclusion in schools, and teaching leadership skills to individuals with intellectual disabilities.
7) Inclusive Technology
Inclusive Technology has been developing technologies and products specifically meant for educating children with special needs and disabilities. Recently, Inclusive Technology released the Inclusive ClassVR, a virtual reality headset designed specifically for the special education classroom.
A virtual reality environment allows class lessons to be customizable, helping meet specific needs for each child, regardless of age or ability.
8) Inclusion Solutions
The work this organization does to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities is worth mentioning – especially if you have a loved one who could benefit from their products. Inclusion Solutions is a business that works to provide affordable ways for people with disabilities to gain access to restaurants, businesses, shopping areas, polling places and more.
9) Texas A&M Aggie ACHIEVE
We love hearing about innovative and inclusive higher education opportunities for individuals with special needs, and this program piqued our interest. Aggie ACHIEVE (Academic Courses in Higher Inclusive Education and Vocational Experiences) is a 4-year inclusive education program available at Texas A&M University. Young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have exited high school are eligible to participate. Students get an inclusive and immersive college education in addition to internships and vocational training.
This program is localized to Texas A&M so you may or may not be able to participate in it personally. But we love the idea of inclusive and innovative higher education and the possibilities it opens up for other institutions to follow suit.
10) Autism Village
Autism Village is a very inspiring example of innovation and technology converging to help individuals with special needs. This app was created by Topher Wurts, a dad whose 13-year-old son has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This Yelp-like app helps families and individuals with ASD find “autism-friendly” restaurants, parks, museums, and other places. On this app, families and adults with ASD can rate and share places that are sensory-friendly, not too noisy, accommodating of dietary needs, and friendly to children with autism.
AUMI stands for Adaptive Use Musical Instrument. Their software enables the user to play music using gestures and movement. The interface can be used by anyone, but the designers primarily focused on helping children with physical disabilities. The experience of playing a musical instrument has great benefits and we love that this software creates an inclusive way for every child to participate.
12) Special Needs Alliance
Special needs families have unique financial and legal needs. The Special Needs Alliance aims to connect families with attorneys who are experienced and have high ethical standards in special needs law.
13) Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities
This coalition of national organizations works together to advocate for federal public policy that ensures the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in all aspects of society. The CCD has been responsible for recommending public policy changes in areas like healthcare accessibility and fiscal rights for individuals with disabilities.
14) The UCP Heartland Gibbs Center for Independence
The state-of-the-art UCP Heartland Gibbs Center for Independence in Jefferson City opened in Jefferson City, Missouri last year. Built specifically for adults living with disabilities, the center offers things like adult-day programs, residential programs and employment services. The center uses modern developments, such as eye-tracking technology, to allow adults to nonverbally communicate with others.
We love their example of using technology to help adults with disabilities discover new opportunities for their lives.
The founders hope it will be a model for future centers serving individuals with disabilities.
15) Federation for Children With Special Needs
If you are a parent of a child with special needs, you need to know about the Federation for Children With Special Needs. They place tremendous value on the positive power of parents to shape their children’s lives. They aim to empower, inform, and educate parents with the information and resources they need to navigate education and public policy that affects their children.
16) Best Buddies International
Best Buddies has a powerful and simple goal: to help everyone have a friend. And this is important because individuals with disabilities are often dehumanized in society and experience physical, social, and economic isolation.
Best Buddies helps individuals with special needs build meaningful friendship, find inclusive living situations, develop communication and leadership skills, and secure successful jobs.
17) Parents Helping Parents
Parental fatigue is one of the biggest challenges facing special needs families. Parents Helping Parents does some great work to help parents build meaningful and supportive relationships with other families.
This organization provides crucial support in a wide variety of areas for parents navigating the their child’s diagnosis. They can connect you with people who will help you navigate the educational system, legal services, medical care, and the complex emotions of understanding your child’s diagnosis.
Easterseals provides high-quality resources to help individuals with disabilities reach their full potential. They are America’s largest nonprofit healthcare organization and they serve over 1.4 million people annually.
They offer a wide range of services at 69 affiliates nationwide, from in-home care to autism services and day camps.
19) Ventures Travel
We love the innovation and vision of this nonprofit organization, whose motto is “Because everyone deserves a vacation!” Travel is an often overlooked issue in the lives of those with special needs. Ventures Travel works hard to give opportunities for fun trips and memories to those with disabilities. They offer pre-planned trips as well as custom trips, and support staff to ensure travelers have a safe experience.
20) Advancing Opportunities
Advancing Opportunities has a pretty cool program that is close to our hearts at Digital Scribbler: a free assistive technology lending program. New Jersey residents with a disability who would like to trial assistive technology can contact them, sign up for free, and begin borrowing right away. Currently the program is only free for New Jersey residents, but we hope their innovative idea will spread to other states and beyond as it gains traction.
Additionally, the organization offers some tremendous resources to individuals with disabilities, including tools to help with employment and independent living.