People with disabilities are in the fight  

Sarah K. Lanzo

It may seem as though the COVID-19 pandemic has put a great many peoples’ lives “on hold,” but do you know what individuals with disabilities are doing? You may be surprised to learn that the largest organization in Western New York, of and for people with disabilities, Western New York Independent Living and its local office, Independent Living of Niagara County, are in the community helping us win this war.

Here is a snapshot of where people with disabilities are on the frontline, assisting people with disabilities to live and thrive in our communities:

— The drivers of Independence Express van transportation service, many of whom have disabilities themselves, are delivering food, paperwork and medicine to people who are unable to get to and from the stores, offices and businesses, free of charge.

— Working from home, Peer Counselors are using state-of-the-art technologies to provide person-to-person contact, offering relief for the isolation of dozens of individuals trapped in their homes.

— Independent Living Specialists, Peer Advocates and Health Home Care Coordinators are employing true and tested mechanisms to ensure that people with disabilities who are in need continue to receive their benefits, participate in government programs and services, are given instructions on independent living skills like cooking, cleaning, money management and other aspects of organizing a person’s life.

— Health Homes Care Coordinators are assisting consumers in managing their health care plans, so that people with disabilities are not forgotten during this time when monitoring one’s health is critical.

— The team that works in the Medicaid Application Assistance Program is working to make sure that individuals who are blind, over 65 years old, or disabled can acquire and/or maintain the appropriate health insurance that they need.

— Our Taking Control Consumer-Directed Personal Assistance Program has been identified as an “essential program,” ensuring that people with disabilities in need of in-home health care are receiving the service, that their Personal Assistants (PAs) are given proper orientation to perform the job, that hours and work benefits are managed appropriately, that the PAs are paid on time and that they are reliable.

— NY Connects works with state and local Offices of the Aging or Senior Services to enable the elderly, persons with disabilities and caregivers have access to needed information and services during this time of anxiety.

— The Addict 2 Addict programs offer peer counseling, providing online, telephonic support and sharing lived experiences with individuals who want to rid themselves of substance additions and are struggling with the current fears of the pandemic.

— Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service’s volunteer readers provide current news and information, as well as respite from the hour-by-hour stress of the pandemic by broadcasting the printed word seven days per week, 24 hours per day to people with a print disability.

In the spirit which has long made America great, our local Independent Living Centers, along with the hundreds of community-based ILCs, have joined the fight, and are working to assist thousands of their brothers and sisters with disabilities to stay safe and healthy while remaining in the community. The men and women of Independent Living are not only overcoming their own disabilities but are giving back to the communities in which they live, work and now fight for all of us.

If you know someone who is in need of any of the above programs or services, call Independent Living of Niagara County at 284-4131, or go to our website at www.wnyil.org, to feel the relief of knowing that you too are not alone or helpless.

Sarah K. Lanzo is the director of Independent Living of Niagara County, a member of the Western New York Independent Living Inc. family of agencies that serve individuals with disabilities. For more information, call 284-4131, extension 200. 

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