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Kaleidoscope, Lisa Armstrong (Interview)

Interviewed by Marcos Colon


I conducted my interview with Lisa Armstrong, the Director of Communications at the UDS Disability Services located in Akron, Ohio and editor at the services’ publication, Kaleidoscope, a magazine aimed at exploring the disabled experience through art and literature. The UDS itself is a disability services non-profit that helps adults and children with disabilities.

Kaleidoscope is just one aspect of the United Disability Services of Akron, Ohio. Could you tell us what services you offer in your community?

SOCIABILITIES provides a variety of social, recreational and therapeutic activities for people age 18 and over. Participant input, choice making and self-direction are encouraged in every activity. For more information, contact Lana Stryker, director of adult day services, at (330) 762-9755 or 138 individuals served in 2020.

BRAVO! helps participants explore community resources, develop community integration and social skills, and enhance personal abilities with a sense of accomplishment gained through a variety of volunteer experiences. For more information or to schedule BraVo! volunteers contact Heidi Imhoff, program supervisor, at (330) 762-9755 or 51 individuals served in 2020.

PRE-VOCATIONAL SERVICES assists adults age 18 and older by improving work habits and developing new job skills within a friendly production environment. Personal care attendant services are also coordinated through this program. For more information, contact Lana Stryker, director of adult day services, at (330) 762-9755 or 157 individuals served in 2020.

COMMUNITY EMPLOYMENT SERVICES provides people who have a wide variety of abilities at all skill levels with the support and guidance needed to assist them in finding employment. For more information, contact Kristen Campagnano, Community Employment manager, at (330) 762-9755 or 164 people served in 2020.

RESIDENTIAL SERVICES provides services in a variety of settings including shared living and semi-independent living depending on the needs and preferences of the individuals served. For more information, contact Laurie Freedman, director of Respite and Community Living Services, at (330) 762-9755 or 18 individuals were served in 2020.

ALL-STAR TRAINING CLUB is a unified sports program for children and adults with or without disabilities where everyone, regardless of ability, is encouraged to participate on the field of athletic competition. For more information, contact Laurie Freedman, director of Respite and Community Living Services, at (330) 762-9755 or 615 participants in 2020 for in-person sports, plus additional participation in remote activities.

JUDITH A. READ LOW VISION SERVICES provides services to children and adults in Northeast Ohio who are experiencing visual difficulty that cannot be corrected by medical treatment, surgery or conventional glasses. The clinic also offers a variety of low vision aids and a bioptic driving program.

For more information, contact Dr. Cheryl Reed, director of Low Vision Services, at (330) 762-9755 or 237 patients in 2020.

THE TOY & RESOURCE CENTER loans developmental toys and resource materials to anyone working with a child birth to six years of age with special needs or a child developing typically. Membership is open to individuals and organizations including parents, teachers, therapists, students and childcare centers. A division offering specialized adaptive switches, toys and computer software is also available. For more information, contact Audrey Sentz, toy library supervisor, at (330) 762-9755 or 287 children/families served in 2020.

TRANSPORTATION SERVICES provides transportation for adults attending the adult day services, and organizations and other community groups under contract. In- and out-of-county, non-emergency medical transportation is available for those who qualify through the Department of Job and Family Services. For more information, contact Brian Joyce, director of Transportation Services, at (330) 762-9751 or 59,561 passenger trips totally 540,618 miles in 2020

COMMUNITY RELATIONS educates and informs the community about agency services through tours, presentations, a community newsletter, brochures and participation in community events as well as coordinates the agency’s volunteer program. The department also publishes Kaleidoscope magazine, which explores the experience of disability through literature and the fine arts. For more information, to volunteer or schedule a tour contact Lisa Armstrong, director of communications, at (330) 762-9755 or

The Covid-19 pandemic dramatically impacted services in 2020. UDS staff found creative and innovative ways to safely provide services including virtual, one-on-one and small groups during these unprecedented times and will continue to do so in 2021.

How did Kaleidoscope get its name? What does it represent based on the mission of your press?

The name Kaleidoscope represents diversity and the beauty created when a myriad of different shapes and colors come together. Our differences as humans should be celebrated and appreciated in much this same way.

The magazine was founded in 1979 at a time where the perception of disability was different from what it is now. Since its creation, what has your magazine done to change these perceptions and empower diverse writers and artists with disabilities?

You have identified the very reason that Kaleidoscope was created. It began as a creative project by participants in our vocational workshop. The first issue (see attached cover image—we’ve come a very long way!) would make Kaleidoscope a pioneer in the exploration of the experience of disability through the lens of literature and fine arts. Fiction, personal essays, poetry, articles, book reviews, and various artistic media including two-dimensional art, three-dimensional art, drama, theater, and dance are featured in the page of various issues. This internationally recognized, award-winning publication expresses the experience of disability from a variety of perspectives including: individuals, families, friends, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and educators, among others. The material chosen for Kaleidoscope challenges stereotypical, patronizing, and sentimental attitudes about disabilities and is selected solely on merit—not disability. For many individuals with disabilities, the arts are an empowering means of individual expression. Kaleidoscope provides a powerful medium to create meaningful conversation and a deeper understanding of issues of disability, diversity and inclusion.

What was your introduction to publishing and editing?

I started writing for a local daily newspaper when I was sixteen and earned a BA in business and organizational communications from The University of Akron, and an MA in Journalism and Mass Media Communication with a public relations concentration from Kent State University. I’ve always like telling storytelling but found I really wasn’t really cut out for deadline pressure of working on a newspaper and wanted something that offered more freedom. I discovered public relations while in college and it has lead me down a most interesting career path.

How did you become involved with this organization?

I have always been service minded and have spent my 30-year career in healthcare and nonprofit public relations. I completed an internship with an organization call Summit County Family Services (now called Greenleaf Family Center) while still in college which is what inspired me to choose this path. The organization offers counseling services for adults, children, and families; educational programs to strengthen individuals by teaching them how to navigate through life's challenges successfully; and programs for pregnant moms, drug and alcohol prevention and treatment, deaf and hard of hearing individuals and families advocating for their children in the school and judicial systems. I worked also worked in healthcare for a local hospital and the Girls Scout before landing at UDS. It seemed like a natural progression of my career and Kaleidoscope was definitely an unexpected and welcome bonus that I would not have found at another nonprofit. I was definitely up for the challenge.

What are your responsibilities as managing editor and director of communications?

These are two very distinct jobs with very different responsibilities, which on most days can prove to be a bit of a balancing act. My role as managing editor is a little slower and contemplative. We pour through roughly 350 submissions per issue. The selection, notification and editing process is on a six month cycle as we only publish twice per year; January and July. Our editor-in-chief recently retired after nearly 35 of volunteering in that role with the magazine. Filling that role has proven challenging for a couple of different reasons. She has cerebral palsy with extensive mobility issues and brought a perspective to the magazine that I do not. We are fortunate that she still reads submissions for us but I’m not sure how long that will last. She was also solely dedicated to the publication, and because of my other job responsibilities that is a luxury I don’t have. I am currently contemplating putting together a manuscript review panel to help not only fill that role but also broaden our diversity.

My role as communications director moves at a much faster pace and is a more traditional public relations role. I am responsible for all our print and digital communications, marketing, strategic PR planning, and providing counsel on all matters having public relations ramifications for the agency including issues relating to branding and reputation. I currently supervise a staff of four including a graphic designer, digital marketing specialist, administrative assistant and receptionist, a position which represents PR in its purest form. The community relations department is also responsible for educating the general public and creating awareness of not just the services we provide but also advocating on behalf of those we serve.

What is the submission process like at Kaleidoscope? What are you specifically looking for in accepted pieces, whether digital or in print?

Unfortunately, after many years Kaleidoscope is no longer available in print due to budget constraints but can be downloaded online at no cost. We are looking for thought-provoking pieces that demonstrate the real experience of disability. We are not looking for the old tropes, like superheroes, that are so often used when depicting individuals with disabilities. The material chosen for Kaleidoscope challenges and overcomes stereotypical, patronizing, and sentimental attitudes about disability. We accept the work of writers with and without disabilities; however, the work of a writer without a disability must focus on some aspect of disability. The criteria for good writing apply: effective technique, thought-provoking subject matter, well-developed characters and in general, a mature grasp of the art of story-telling. Writers should avoid using offensive language and always put the person before the disability.

What is your publication process for both editors and authors?

As editors we are always looking to strike a balance between the genres submitted (fiction, essays, poetry, etc.) as well as the subject matter. If we receive several submissions that are thematically similar, we will select what we feel is the best one and perhaps hold the others for another issue.

Publishing information for authors:

· Considers unsolicited material

· Accepts simultaneous submissions

· Publishes previous published work – credit information must be included with submission

· Reserves right to minor editing without author’s approval; substantive editing with approval; substantive editing with approval

· Submission should be attached to an email, typed, double-spaced, pages numbers, and with author’s name on each page. Submit work electronically through United Disability Services’ website or via email or snail mail. All submissions are acknowledged when received. Final acceptance of pieces may take anywhere from 3-12 months.

· All rights revert back to the author upon publication

How do donations assist Kaleidoscope and your organization as a whole?

Donations are critical to the survival of Kaleidoscope. We are committed to recognizing the value of the work submitted to Kaleidoscope and we rely on donations to pay our contributors for their work.

Kimberly Gerry Tucker, the featured artist in a recent issue of Kaleidoscope, shared her thoughts on the impact the publication has on writers and artists. “Kaleidoscope is everything it promises to be. It is as colorful as its name suggests. Each issue is a new and interesting layout of meaningful stories and fine art. It is important to so many people who have contributed to be recognized and honored for their work. As a person who is considered disabled, it makes me feel very abled to receive a check for my work and an audience who appreciates it.”

What does the press consider to be its greatest successes? What do you consider to be your greatest successes?

The greatest success of Kaleidoscope is our 40-year legacy of helping to change the perceptions of disability by presenting the work of hundreds of talented writers and artists over the years. What began as a project for participants in a sheltered workshop as grown into a both a nationally and internationally respected publication. This is quite a feat for a small press not affiliated with a university. We are a bit of a unicorn. Personally, my greatest success will be to uphold this legacy to the best of my ability, but as they say, “it takes a village.”

What is most challenging for the magazine and the organization?

Funding. Hard stop. Adequate funding for the arts is always a challenge; now more than ever. A good portion of my day is spent working with our development director to identify new sources of funding either through grants, corporate sponsors or individuals. This is my very least favorite part of the job. We are also experiencing changes in state and local funding and in service models for individuals with disabilities on the program side. These changes reflect a need for more inclusion of people with disabilities in our community through work, volunteerism and social/recreational opportunities.

What was it like to work on the latest issue that dealt with the COVID-19 experience? How was your organization impacted by the pandemic?

Like so many other nonprofit organizations, the current pandemic is further stressing already lean budgets, yet the need for writers and artists with disabilities to be able express themselves creatively during this time is greater than ever. In the very first months of the pandemic, my entire staff was furloughed which left only me to tend to the magazine. We average approximately 350 submissions per issue but have seen a marked increase of 450-500 submissions since the pandemic began, which is stressing staff resources as well. (Not enough hours in the day for our very tiny staff!)

One last question: What are the future goals of Kaleidoscope and your organization?

We were just notified last week that we have been awarded a $5,000 corporate grant to begin producing a podcast for Kaleidoscope. This is very exciting and presents us with a new opportunity to expand our outreach. The goal is to produce an audio podcast to enhance the online edition of the magazine by amplifying the voices of the writers and artists who contribute to Kaleidoscope through a series of insightful and thought-provoking interviews. Upon further research, there appears to be very few, if any, podcasts that address issues of disability through literature and the fine arts. Included will be readings of published pieces of fiction, personal essays, creative nonfiction and poetry from the magazine, an exploration of the arts, and a discussion of issues important to our readers and contributors from the perspective of the arts and culture. Podcasts are portable and an effective means by which to reach individuals with visual impairments or other disabilities for whom reading can be challenging. Podcasting also serves as an avenue for repurposing or recycling meaningful content for potentially longer lasting impact beyond that of a one-time special event. The podcasts will be made available on UDS’ new accessible website as well as through a podcast aggregator for distribution on various podcast listening apps. A podcast will also open new opportunities to partner with other funding sources and online influencers. (Note: podcasting has grown in popularity and according to the media research company, Edison Research, the number of Americans listening to a podcast each week has grown 120% over the past four years, and 90 million Americans listen to a podcast every month.)


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