Beauty, Culture, and Accessible

Beauty, Culture, and Accessible

i Nov 14th 1 Comment by

The principle of universal design addresses the attention of the diverse needs of all people.  This will lead to well-designed buildings that seamlessly integrate thoughtful solutions and appropriate materials for those not specifically for but including the special needs community. By designing for a diverse population, universal designers integrate usability by everyone into their work on a routine basis.  This approach leads to greater inclusion for many groups often neglected in the design process, (e.g., children, the elderly, people of small stature, frail people, etc. (Universal Design New York, Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities)

I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City with a couple of dear friends.  It was such a special day.  As an interior design contractor, I found it to be an inspiring and enchanting venue of tremendous beauty.  It is a place for all to enjoy.  The facility is accessible and features exhibits that touch the heart, expand the mind, and enrich the soul.  I highly recommend it.   Let us view this as an example of what is available for all to enjoy.  What programs, for visitors with learning and developmental disabilities, can you think of to bring to your community (big or small) that is fully accessible?

NYC - Metropolitan Museum of Art: Armor for Man and Horse

Metropolitan Museum of Art  Discoveries-Power and Protection: A Look at Armor

The Metropolitan Museum of Art invites you to Discoveries, a Sunday program for adults and children with developmental and/or learning disabilities, together with friends and family members.  Each Discoveries workshop focuses on a theme and includes a gallery tour followed by a related art activity in the studio. (Free, but reservations are required)
Camille Gallo

Justice Center for Special Needs: Special Needs Lifeline Question of the Week

i Jun 24th 1 Comment by

When Andrew Cuomo assumed the office of New York State Governor in 2011, he condemned the extensive abuse of state facility residents with disabilities. As numerous published reports of employee misconduct have unfolded in recent months, disability rights legislation has ascended to the top of Governor Cuomo’s administrative agenda.

Last week, the states Assembly and Senate collectively passed a bill to establish the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs. The Justice Center will be an autonomous law enforcement agency, monitoring allegations and investigating incidents of abuse. In a press release from Albany, Governor Cuomo celebrated the legislative achievement, proclaiming “New York State has raised the bar to put in place the strongest standards and practices in the nation for protecting people with special needs.” (June 20, 2012).

Aspiring to protect the civil rights of individuals with disabilities is a good and righteous ambition. However, when those protections are framed by bureaucratic interests, we have historically fallen short of the sanguinely anticipated results. Not surprisingly, several prominent advocacy groups have expressed overwhelming support for the new law.

There is a lot to be excited about: substantial enhancements to employee oversight and evaluation, a 24/7 statewide abuse allegation hotline, comprehensive data collection and analysis, severe penalties for criminal perpetrators, and a full-scale movement towards program transparency.

On the other hand, The Justice Center has considerable drawbacks. Cuomo’s most determined critics are the family members of, and witnesses to, the victims of institutional cruelty. Michael Carey, an opponent of the legislation,  is a disability rights advocate who lost his 13-year-old son Jonathan in 2007 when he was improperly restrained by a staff aide at a development center outside Albany.

Several whistleblowers have publicly complained that their accounts of abuse to program directors were ignored, and even prompted internal threats. I can appreciate their skepticism under the circumstances. A fully sovereign agency is capable of purging any external regulation necessary for legislative compliance. How will we really know if the reforms are being effectively put into practice?

I suspect we will just have to remain cautiously optimistic. It is the Justice Center, after all.

Question of the Week: How do you feel about the new state regulations designed to protect people with disabilities? What particular elements of the law do you agree with or disagree with, and why? Would you feel secure if a loved one with disabilities was a resident at a state facility?

We encourage you to reply to the question of the week. Please be respectful of the opinions of our fellow community members. There is no right or wrong answer. Reflecting on challenging questions will help keep us informed.

College and Career Readiness: Special Needs Lifeline Question of the Week

i Apr 15th 2 Comments by

The issue of college and career readiness might appear far off in the distance for parents of young students with disabilities. After all, most parents are understandably preoccupied with more immediate concerns, things that involve more urgent readiness. Without a doubt, supporting the day-to-day affairs of a special needs child can demand an enormous amount of time and energy; but that time and energy should not be spent at the cost of minimizing a parent’s conviction for the future success of their child.

In February 2011, I had the great privilege of joining the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) in Washington, D.C. for the Buddy Walk on Washington. The NDSS invited disability activists from across the country to the nation’s capital for advocacy training, and the opportunity to meet with State Senators and Members of the House of Representatives to discuss our policy agenda. I paid close attention to the guest speakers and self-advocates who all made extremely compelling arguments for sponsorship of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. The ABLE Act intended to lift the cap on savings funds imposed for people with disabilities. The legislation was originally designed without any expectation for people with disabilities to work or pursue higher education. The ABLE Act was a rude awakening to a system established through the marginalization and discrimination of the special needs community.

It was at the Buddy Walk where I was introduced to the Mason LIFE (Learning into Future Environments) Program at George Mason University in collaboration with the university’s Helen A. Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities. The program accommodates young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who aspire to engage in the college experience. The program exemplifies the principles of full inclusion, and lays the foundation for valuable exploration of the workforce, academic life, social life, and self-exploration. Similar programs are forming at other universities.

Our national education standards are currently undergoing a transformation consistent with the guidelines of The Common Core. These standards reflect an effort from federal and state agencies to uniformly adopt certain goals for all students, including college and career readiness. There are serious implications to measuring all students along the same standards, which operates under the false assumption that all students belong to a homogeneous population. But anxious parents can be comforted to know that they have allies in organizations and institutes, like the ones mentioned above, that believe in and promote the premise that everyone deserves the right to work and the right to pursue a formal education.

Question of the Week: Are you aware of any other programs like the Buddy Walk, or Mason LIFE, which empower people with disabilities to fight for equal access? What about programs that do just the opposite? How would you define college and career readiness? Should it be a phrase that can apply to every student or should it only be relevant for certain students?

We encourage you to reply to the question of the week. Please be respectful of the opinions of our fellow community members. There is no right or wrong answer. Reflecting on challenging questions will help keep us informed.

Disabled War Veterans Part II: Special Needs Lifeline Question of the Week

i Apr 2nd 1 Comment by

Last week, I reflected on the struggle of disabled war veterans who are denied job opportunities or face employer discrimination. Subsequently, our Executive Director commented about the U.S. Department of Labor’s outreach programs. She inspired me to seek out other federal and state resources for our wounded warriors, and to get a sense of how effectively our laws are protecting their rights. I have listed certain important laws and assistance programs below:

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title I - This law prohibits employers from enforcing discriminating hiring policies against ANYONE with a disability, including disabled veterans.

Rehabilitation Act Section 508 - This law guarantees access for people with disabilities to electronic and information technology as employees or customers of a federal agency.

U.S. Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Services (VETS) - This program offers employment and training services to ALL veterans. The Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP) and Local Veterans’ Employment Representatives (LVEP) collaborate to raise the awareness of employers seeking to fill available positions and explain the benefits of hiring disabled veterans.

New York State Department of Labor Veterans’ Services – This program is the New York state extension of the federal program. Disabled veterans are offered job search guidance, unemployment assistance, emergency relief, and apprenticeship opportunities. Here is the website address:

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – This department offers a variety of services for eligible military members, but there is one branch in particular I want to elaborate on, the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD has captured a great deal of attention in recent years, mainly because it is such a complex diagnosis. PTSD symptoms can occur when someone has been exposed to an intensely traumatic and life-threatening event; for veterans these typically coincide with combat zones. Memory loss, decreased ability to feel (both physically and emotionally), and avoidance of any elements associated with the traumatic experience are all typical symptoms of PTSD.

The National Center for PTSD strives to expand clinical care and research, develop treatment, and advance educational resources and opportunities. Like most mental health disorders, PTSD can raise a red flag for potential employers. It is essential that information about PTSD be disseminated to the general public; the better we understand, the better equipped we are to help.

We encourage you to reply to the question of the week. Please be respectful of the opinions of our fellow community members. There is no right or wrong answer. Reflecting on challenging questions will help keep us informed.

Spousal/Parental Refusal in Medicaid: Special Needs Lifeline Question of the Week

i Mar 18th 1 Comment by

A signature from Governor Cuomo on a proposed new Medicaid law could spell financial disaster for New York State seniors and families with disabilities. The Spousal/Parental Refusal policy is on the proverbial chopping block. If this statute is eliminated, Medicaid applicants and their families will be forced to take extreme and emotionally devastating measures to obtain essential services.

The Spousal/Parental Refusal initiative, which has benefited New York residents since 1989, is crucial for families who cannot afford the care services provided by Medicaid. Spousal Refusal allows one member of a couple to shelter their personal income and assets from the cost of health care for the other member. Without this protection, these couples would only qualify for assistance at the expense of divorce or mandatory institutionalization.

Parental Refusal allows parents to obtain Medicaid Waiver services for their children with disabilities that would otherwise be unaffordable for them. The new law would place an overwhelming economic burden on the parents who would subsequently have to consider an unthinkable alternative: termination of parental rights.

Therefore, eligibility for Medicaid will come at a troubling price. Health services would be denied to some seniors unless they seek a divorce, relinquishing joint financial support. By continuing to obtain supports for their children with disabilities, some parents would risk catastrophic financial consequences attempting to meet the costly demands of out-of-pocket expenses. Furthermore, parents would still be liable for the exorbitant cost of institutionalization, and the prospect of compulsory separation from their children.

Question of the Week: What can be done about this? How can we restore the Spousal/Parental Refusal policy?

If there was ever an opportunity for the special needs community to unite and advocate for disability rights, that opportunity is now. We must take action.

Contact your Senator, Assembly representative, or Governor Cuomo’s office directly. Make a phone call, send an e-mail, and share this information with your friends and colleagues. This is definitely not an issue that the New York State government is unaware of.

To find your Senator, please visit By entering your address and zip code you can see which Senator oversees the district where you live. My Senator is Liz Kruger, District 26. Her local office phone number is (212) 490-9535.

To find your Assembly member, please visit Towards the bottom of the web page you will notice the question “Who is my Assembly member?” in red letters. You can narrow your search through the Assembly directory by entering your address and zip code. My Assembly representative is Dan Quart, District 73. His local office phone number is (212) 605-0937.

Governor Cuomo can be reached via his website By clicking “Contact” in white letters near the top of the web page, you can provide your own contact information and submit a comment to the Governor. His office phone number in Albany is (518) 474-8390.

No matter who you reach, or how you reach them, tell them to protect the Spousal/Parental Refusal Policy. You may believe that one person alone cannot make a difference. But you are not alone. Special Needs Lifeline is a network established to empower everyone who is touched by a disability.

And together, we can create positive change.

Seclusion and Restraint: Special Needs Lifeline Question of the Week

i Mar 11th 2 Comments by

The principles of inclusion are steadily gaining acceptance in our schools. Children with disabilities are emerging in general education classrooms with mostly positive results. When administrators and researchers observe those inclusive classrooms, they see for themselves a diverse and successful learning environment. However, the controversial practice of “seclusion and restraint” is not apparent under those conditions. It is essentially an alternate form of segregation, bordering on institutionalization.

When students lose control, emotionally or physically, and school personnel are not equipped to defuse the situation, they sometimes isolate those students in order to protect the students themselves and those around them. Occasionally, there are allegations of abuse. Less frequently, but no less dreadful, students will die. One of the most urgent issues surrounding the practice is the complete lack of oversight; there are no strict guidelines, at the federal or local levels, to inform schools about safe and effective methods of handling volatile situations. Incidents of seclusion and restraint are entirely self-reported by the schools themselves, so the numbers we have access to are substantially influenced by the honesty of the administrations, and their personal interpretations of what constitutes this highly unpredictable practice.

There are immediate steps that schools can take to reduce, or eliminate altogether, incidents of seclusion and restraint. Schools can hire appropriately trained staff with knowledge of and experience in handling students who lose control. Teachers and students can practice emergency drills in their classrooms so in the case of an actual crisis everyone will be prepared, instead of overwhelmed by panic. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” can no longer apply to students with disabilities who are the victims of school mismanagement and poorly trained staff.

Question of the Week: What can be done at the local, state, and federal level to ensure that students with disabilities are safe in their learning environments? Who do you think should step in and get involved? The parents? The principals? The government? How can we change the school culture for the better?

We encourage you to reply to the question of the week. Please be respectful of the opinions of our fellow community members. There is no right or wrong answer. Reflecting on challenging questions will help keep us informed.

Disabilities and the Job Market: Special Needs Lifeline Question of the Week

i Feb 12th 6 Comments by

When President Obama approached the nation in his State of the Union address last month, he called attention to the challenges we face in the education system. He said:

To prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier.

The recent decline in unemployment numbers is certainly an encouraging statistic. If greater educational opportunity leads to increased employment and better economic circumstances, then we are witnessing a positive boost in academic achievement. But are the jobs of tomorrow really accessible to people with disabilities?

Although unemployment officially dropped among people with disabilities last year (from 13.5% to 12.9% according to the U.S. Department of Labor), the data are deceptive. Essentially, fewer people with disabilities are unemployed because fewer people with disabilities are actively seeking work. This is not a consequence of laziness, nor is it an exploitation of social welfare. This is structural discrimination. The core of the problem is low societal expectations, and these are reflected in how we educate students with disabilities.

Question of the Week: How can we improve access to jobs overall for people with disabilities? Should the special education system dedicate more resources to prepare their students for the jobs of tomorrow? What would need to change?

We encourage you to reply to the question of the week. Please be respectful of the opinions of our fellow community members. There is no right or wrong answer. Reflecting on challenging questions will help keep us informed.

High School Admissions: Special Needs Lifeline Question of the Week

i Feb 5th 1 Comment by

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott is targeting the elite city high schools for increased admission of students with special needs.  In an effort to improve the educational opportunity for every city student, Walcott is encouraging screened high schools (schools that select students based on test scores, essay submissions, and interviews) to expand their outreach into the disabled community.

Special needs advocates are generally supportive of the Chancellor’s request, but the proper supports must be arranged to accommodate a more diverse student body. Admitting the students with special needs, and depriving them the access to essential resources, would be as good as preparing them to fail.

I followed this story on another education website, and I was struck by a very critical post in the comments section by someone who accused the city of compromising school quality to satisfy political correctness. This is a perfect example of a person’s assumptions obscuring the truth: the term special needs does not necessarily imply the presence of a learning disability, it incorporates any student with a physical disability who would otherwise be denied the education they are entitled to.

Question of the Week: How can schools develop better outreach programs for students with special needs? Think about your own personal experience in school, were students with special needs given the same opportunities as students in general education?

For more information, check out this article from the Daily News:

We encourage you to reply to the question of the week. Please be respectful of the opinions of our fellow community members. There is no right or wrong answer. Reflecting on challenging questions will help keep us informed.

Parents and the IEP: Special Needs Lifeline Question of the Week

i Jan 22nd 6 Comments by

The process of starting an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for a child with special needs is often very challenging. Parents are faced with tough decisions that will ultimately shape the course of their child’s education. The IEP meeting participants include teachers, principals, service providers (i.e. occupational/physical therapists), and paraprofessionals. Walking into a room filled with experts can be intimidating. Parents are likely to become nervous if they feel unprepared, uninformed, or if they have no idea what to expect. Under these circumstances, Mom or Dad might fail to notice that they are, in fact, the most powerful member of the IEP meeting.

Without a doubt, the parent is the most important contributor to the IEP process. They are entitled to ask questions, review documents, and receive assistance from a translator if necessary. Parents have the right to obtain support outside the school system if they desire a second opinion, and parents can be accompanied to the IEP meeting by anyone they choose. Being organized, and feeling comfortable, is not against the rules (even though sometimes it might appear that way).

Question of the Week: Do you feel like your school has included you as a valuable member of their IEP team, and the school community-at-large? If you have experience with IEP meetings, were they positive or negative? Was there anything you wish you had known that you were not made aware of at the time? Even if you have not attended an IEP meeting, please contribute to the discussion by sharing any stories or details from your own experiences.

We encourage you to reply to the question of the week. Please be respectful of the opinions of our fellow community members. There is no right or wrong answer. Reflecting on challenging questions will help keep us informed.

Special Needs Lifeline Now Offers a Drama Therapy Interactive Show

i Nov 6th 2 Comments by


Brunch and Drama Therapy Interactive Show – For the Entire Family

The Special Needs Lifeline on-site drama therapy production will now be offered to the New York City special needs schools and facilities.  It is a fairy tale story of a princess where no matter what the king has brought to her, she remains cold. Luxurious items, a multitude of the townspeople’s possessions, the enormity of an evil man’s offerings, yet she remains cold.  It is only after her connection with love, that she then becomes warm.  The message is connection and love, which is the basis of Special Needs Lifeline.

Would you be interested in this production at your school?  At your special needs facility in the five boroughs of New York City?  We look forward to hearing from you.