Disability conference resumes at Old Bethpage for the first time since the start of the pandemic

Sometimes the greatest desire of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is simply to be heard, and agencies and nonprofit organizations came together this week to encourage them to speak up for themselves and their rights.

The Reimagining Advocacy conference was held Wednesday for the first time in three years, hosted and hosted at Old Bethpage by the nonprofit organization Family Residences and Essential Enterprises Inc. (FREE), which supports people with intellectual disabilities and development, as well as people with mental health problems. diseases and traumatic brain injuries.

“Historically, people with disabilities didn’t really sit at the same table in terms of having a say in their own plans,” said Jaime Crispin, FREE’s director of advocacy and community engagement. “I think that in the last 15 years or so the movement has certainly been to make sure that all people have a voice in their own plan, with their own life. These are basic human rights.”

Allowing people with disabilities to advocate for themselves about where they live and work, among other aspects of life, gives them authority over the direction of their lives, Crispin said.

The COVID-19 pandemic greatly reduced outreach efforts in recent years, but in-person events have begun to resume and the nonprofit is relaunching a speakers bureau that allows self-advocates to share their stories with communities to raise awareness.

Wednesday’s conference also highlighted Prideability, a statewide advocacy and support group for people with disabilities who identify as LGBTQIA, which has been a highly marginalized population.

“Having a disability in general and wanting to be seen as a whole person, having your full humanity recognized, and our sexuality is part of being fully human, is something we need to keep talking about,” said Pamela Boyle. , group co-facilitator and AHRC Nassau socialization and sexuality specialist. “Our goal is to reduce the feeling of isolation, to reduce the feeling of ‘no one else can understand and I’m on my own.’ ”

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Christopher Whirl, a peer support specialist at FREE, often draws on his own experience: At age 19, he was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury. It was while he was recuperating on a day program that he said he realized his calling to become an advocate.

“I saw how people in this population struggled and how people in society looked at them and responded to them, and also how they didn’t respond and how they were dismissed,” Whirl said. “People must be heard.”

Michelle Flood, regional coordinator for the Albany-based Self-Advocacy Association of New York State Inc., said people are often unaware of the lack of access given to people with disabilities. A recent trip to inspect polling places found ramps that were not up to code, elevators that only had one person and other obstacles to voting, she said.

Marisol Getchius, a regional organizer for the organization who has cerebral palsy, said the hope is that awareness advocates can dedicate more funding to secure needed resources.

“We don’t want anything special,” he said. “We just want to level the playing field.”

Sometimes the greatest desire of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is simply to be heard, and agencies and nonprofit organizations came together this week to encourage them to speak up for themselves and their rights.

The Reimagining Advocacy conference was held Wednesday for the first time in three years, hosted and hosted at Old Bethpage by the nonprofit organization Family Residences and Essential Enterprises Inc. (FREE), which supports people with intellectual disabilities and development, as well as people with mental health problems. diseases and traumatic brain injuries.

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“Historically, people with disabilities didn’t really sit at the same table in terms of having a say in their own plans,” said Jaime Crispin, FREE’s director of advocacy and community engagement. “I think that in the last 15 years or so the movement has certainly been to make sure that all people have a voice in their own plan, with their own life. These are basic human rights.”

Allowing people with disabilities to advocate for themselves about where they live and work, among other aspects of life, gives them authority over the direction of their lives, Crispin said.

The COVID-19 pandemic greatly reduced outreach efforts in recent years, but in-person events have begun to resume and the nonprofit is relaunching a speakers bureau that allows self-advocates to share their stories with communities to raise awareness.

Wednesday’s conference also highlighted Prideability, a statewide advocacy and support group for people with disabilities who identify as LGBTQIA, which has been a highly marginalized population.

“Having a disability in general and wanting to be seen as a whole person, having your full humanity recognized, and our sexuality is part of being fully human, is something we need to keep talking about,” said Pamela Boyle. , group co-facilitator and AHRC Nassau socialization and sexuality specialist. “Our goal is to reduce the feeling of isolation, to reduce the feeling of ‘no one else can understand and I’m on my own.’ ”

Christopher Whirl, a peer support specialist at FREE, often draws on his own experience: At age 19, he was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury. It was while he was recuperating on a day program that he said he realized his calling to become an advocate.

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“I saw how people in this population struggled and how people in society looked at them and responded to them, and also how they didn’t respond and how they were dismissed,” Whirl said. “People must be heard.”

Michelle Flood, regional coordinator for the Albany-based Self-Advocacy Association of New York State Inc., said people are often unaware of the lack of access given to people with disabilities. A recent trip to inspect polling places found ramps that were not up to code, elevators that only had one person and other obstacles to voting, she said.

Marisol Getchius, a regional organizer for the organization who has cerebral palsy, said the hope is that awareness advocates can dedicate more funding to secure needed resources.

“We don’t want anything special,” he said. “We just want to level the playing field.”

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