Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Guest blog by Carmen Jones: Six Words that Made me a Brand Ambassador for Discovery Cove

My friend and colleague, Carman Jones, wrote a moving piece about disability inclusion from the "heart," which I just had to share with readers fond of "View from the Chair."

Please take it in as I did, I'm sure you'll you'll take something away from her "view" as I did.

Jim

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July 10, 2018



Swimming with dolphins was on my bucket list for a long time, but as a paraplegic I wasn’t sure how this would happen. After some research, I found Discovery Cove in Orlando. I learned they provided park accessibility including the dolphin swim! So, with a lot of zeal and excitement, this single, wheelchair-using Momma and her little girl set out to for a memory-filled experience.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted at the main entrance and directed to registration. We received additional instructions, and told there was a beach chair I could use to maneuver throughout the park and beach areas. I felt great. However, there was one small detail that I hadn’t considered.

The beach chair needed to be pushed by another person. Uh oh. I knew my 10-year-old couldn’t traverse in the heat and sand to assist. Realizing our dilemma, the Discovery Cove team told me to wait a moment, as they went to an office to discuss the situation.

When they returned, the manager said, “we are here to serve you’ and told me one of their young staffers would assist me. Tears of gratitude came to my eyes. My daughter and I quickly changed into our wet suits and set out for a memory-making day.

The beauty of this experience was that I was just a mom. I wasn’t a mom with a disability or limited in any way. As we floated in the lazy river my daughter said, ‘this has been the greatest day, Mommy.’ We had so much fun that we went around the lazy river three times, while the Discovery Cove staffer inconspicuously sat on a rock and said for me to signal to him when I was ready to get out.

The words “we are here to serve you” are ones that I’ve taken to heart and now share with my clients. When a customer with a disability hears and sees that companies are committed to creating a seamless guest experience, like me, they will become your brand’s ambassador and tell all of their peers with and without disabilities.

This isn’t just a story about a vacation. It’s about creating a memorable, disability inclusive guest experience. Discovery Cove provided accessible dressing areas, level pathways and beach wheelchairs. However, they took the experience a step further by providing a real-time solution. You don’t need a big budget if you understand what people with disabilities need.

When you equip your staff to be disability inclusively customer centric, you’ll create repeat business and customer loyalty. I know this is true as I’ve been to Discovery Cove twice; and the second time with seven additional people. I’ve shared my experience with peers and colleagues – with and without disabilities. My friends who’ve gone have had an enjoyable experience as well. And, they tell their circles of influence.

How has your company created a disability inclusive guest experience and how has this improved results?

http://disability-marketing.com/2018/07/10/six-words-made-brand-ambassador-discovery-cove/

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

JFK Airport "Zero;" Delta Airlines "Won" Regarding Disability Inclusion

I flew home on a business trip this week from Las Vegas, Nevada, to JFK airport in New York, and once again the trip was daunting and frustrating.

Airline travel is tough enough for all of us, however, when you have a disability and are traveling in a wheelchair, it becomes even more challenging. As a backdrop, I've been traveling for more than 35 years as a wheelchair rider and a C5-C6 quadriplegic. I basically travel when I must, especially when there is a business purpose involved.

I was returning from a disability inclusion conference with an organization called Disability:In, formally known as USBLN.  My team and I had just been recognized on behalf of our firm, JPMorgan Chase, as one of the best companies to work for if you have a disability and are qualified to compete for employment opportunities.


A perfect landing, but no wheelchair


I had already done four transfers to and from from my wheelchair by the time I arrived at JFK airport in New York on Delta flight 371. When members of the ground crew arrived to lift me from my airline seat into the narrow airline-provided aisle chair, I was already tired and anxious to get home.

As the last person off the plane, I waited in the jetway for my power wheelchair to arrive from the cargo area. We were soon informed, however, that I had to transfer yet again into another airport-provided chair and pushed to the location where my power wheelchair was being held hostage. That would mean another two transfers for me on my already strained arms and shoulders -- and a total of six lifts and transfers for this leg of my trip home.
When traveling, I sit on an uncomfortable aisle chair ,
such as this one, also at jFK. . 

When I asked why they couldn't bring my power chair to the jetway as usual, which is done at other airports as well as in New York and New Jersey, we were told that the "grounds crew was understaffed" and I had to transfer to another chair and go to their location. 

My response was: "#@%*!"-- I'm not moving!"

We had this conversation while one of the pilots and several  stewards were standing along side us and waiting to "deplane" so the aircraft could be fueled and boarded for the next flight -- with a hundred or more passengers.

When the Delta Airline captain heard what was happening, as told to him by the grounds crew, he said to us that "he'd be right back."

As we all waited with crew and airline wheelchair helpers, a few minutes later the captain arrived with my wheelchair. The captain apologized and said, "I'm sorry you had to go through this." 

I was then transferred into my wheelchair and scooted out of the jetway a few minutes later. As I entered the departure area, there were more than 150 people waiting to board the plane.


Understaffed: Customer focus needed


It's sad, all this turmoil because the NY Port Authority grounds crew was understaffed and could not deliver my wheelchair as they usually do. My gratitude goes to the Delta pilot who took it upon himself to do the right thing. He was incredulous that this incident occurred. Little does he know, this happens more often than not to wheelchair riders and others as we navigate the "friendly skies" of airline travel.

This should not happen in this day and age of the 21st century. People with disabilities should not be subjected to the indignity of the airline transportation industry.

Almost 30 years ago I was able to fly while sitting in my wheelchair. I traveled from New York to Minnesota for a spinal cord injury conference. The airline at the time locked me down in the first class section while in my wheelchair, facing the aisle. I was using an ancient Everest & Jennings model wheelchair, and when we landed, I rolled off the plane to my destination -- without being lifted or transfered.  


A 21st Century Disability Inclusion Opportunity


In this day and age, I can't believe that the airline industry can't figure this out. Every other mode of transportation, such as boating, automobiles, buses, trains, taxicabs all allow for people with disabilities to be transported while in their wheelchairs. Why not the passenger airline industry?

There is just no reason for this except for lack of vision, costs, or ignorance. Airlines, for example, perhaps don't want to give up first-class seats. Well, let's redesign the plane! 

Aircraft manufacturers, who are capable of  redesigning airline cabins, seem to hedge on a universally designed accessible plane for their customers in the airline industry. Universal design works for everyone, especially for folks who may have a temporary disability.

I don't see any reason why this change cannot be made right now -- as we have 1 billion people who have disabilities worldwide, according to the World Health Organization -- who face transportation discrimination and potentially higher travel costs because they may need a companion to accompany them as planes are not accessible. 

According to the Open Doors Organization, there’s an economic case for more accessible airplanes, based on the group's 2015 survey, which found 11 million travelers with disabilities took 23 million trips over the past two years, spending $9 billion on their flights in the process. But 72 percent of those who traveled by air said “they encountered major obstacles with airlines,” indicating there’s a lot of room for improvement. (web article by Aarian Marshall, "The airplane of the future could be much more accessible for passengers with disabilities" )

Because I can't travel in my wheelchair while flying, I have to travel with two people and pay for their seats as well. So, for me traveling costs more, and, I'm afraid to travel alone because I'm completely paralyzed. 

I also believe that if the airline industry changed its passenger aircraft footprint, more people with disabilities would travel alone, as well as with family members or friends -- and with more dignity than we have now.

People with disabilities would also travel more frequently and establish a new airline demographic as people with disabilities usually travel in "packs" -- meaning family members travel with their loved ones who are disabled. 

Here are some quick points to consider: 

1. It's time to come out of the dark ages with wheelchair travel and our airlines. Every other major mode of transportation  has a adapted to a more inclusive model --- trains, cars, buses, vans, and boats. Why not airlines?

2. Major airline manufacturers must redesign passenger aircraft to be more inclusive. What is practiced now is called making an "accommodation," in the world of disability. And, it's not a very good accommodation or "reasonable adjustment," which is a term used in the United Kingdom.

3.  The airline industry, business and government should collaborate to make this happen. This will be good for jobs --  by employing more qualified people with disabilities -- with little or no travel restrictions, and allowing people with disabilities to participate in society more fully, 

This paradigm shift will help break the glass ceiling as people with disabilities will be able to travel more equitably along side their ablebodied colleagues. 

4. I do believe we need a wheelchair standard for flight, which can be designed into "everyday use wheelchairs," as we do with automobiles and other equipment. Let's not create a scenario where we have to buy more than one wheelchair to board a plane.

5. I have been disabled for more than 35 years and still I continue to advocate for airline travel equity and equality. I urge my disability colleagues around the world to continue pushing for change as well.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Henry Viscardi School Class of 2018 Commencement Address

On the evening of Thursday June 21, 2018, 19 talented high school students received their high school diplomas form the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson, New York. 

John Kemp, Viscardi CEO and Beth Daly,
board member, present diploma to 2018 Viscardi graduate.
I was honored to be invited as the commencement speaker for this talented class of graduates, who completed a rigorous education curriculum despite their disabilities.
The Viscardi Center, a network of non-profit organizations, provides a lifespan of services that educate, employ and empower people with disabilities. Its programs and services include Kindergarten through High School education, school-to-work transition services, vocational training, career counseling and placement and workforce diversification assistance to children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities and businesses. View an overview video about The Viscardi Center.

The school was founded in 1952 by Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr. who himself wore prosthetic legs, served as disability advisor to eight U.S. Presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter, and became one of the world’s leading advocates for people with disabilities. View a brief history about Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr.

The 2018 Viscardi School Commencement Address follows:


Good evening everyone!

John [Kemp], thank you for your kind words and introduction!

I am honored to be here with all of you this evening, especially with the class of 2018 … and share this very important graduation event at the Henry Viscardi School.

Before I go on, I want to acknowledge some of the very important people who brought us all here today.

First the parents, relatives and friends who are here to celebrate and support our graduates… without those who love and support us………..our journey would not only be more difficult, but most likely, impossible!

Next…. your teachers, clinicians, medical staff, administrators and the wonderful Viscardi center staff who made this event possible today. Given the school’s 66-year heritage, dating back to 1952, this graduation has become a great tradition.

Finally, I must acknowledge some very talented leaders of this organization, which include your CEO and my colleague and friend, Mr. John Kemp; your Head of School, Mr. Angelo Zegarelli; and members of the Viscardi Center’s Board of Directors.

Let’s give them all a round of applause and thank them for bringing us together tonight….. as well as for coaching our students over the graduation goal line!

Well, now that we have our adrenaline going …. let’s see if we can pump it up some more!

Let me tell you a little bit more about myself.

I was injured while body surfing in 1981 while vacationing in Puerto Rico. I sustained a spinal cord injury, at the C5-C6 level. I was 25 years old.

I basically broke my neck and realized that I was paralyzed from the middle of my chest to my toes. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t use my hands. And, I had no idea what I would do after the injury, or whether I’d live or die.

What I did have, however, was a college degree from Colgate University and a Master’s degree from New York University. My education was pivotal in my quest to get back to work as a person with a disability.

Why? Because my education told potential employers I had developed skills that they could use in their business or organization.

Remember, it’s not just the skills that you bring to a business; it’s the skills you possess that can help a business accomplish their goals.

So, today, I join you sitting in a wheelchair after participating in society for almost 37 years as a paralyzed individual. I had no idea how I would accomplish the things I have done, but I never gave up.

I worked for a tech company called IBM for 39 years, and now I work for J.P. Morgan Chase, which is the largest bank in the United States.

I joined the bank after retiring as a Marketing-Communications executive at IBM.

For the past two years, I have been leading the Office of Disability Inclusion worldwide, and guess what? We hire qualified people with disabilities around the world. So, keep that in mind graduates, as you pursue your higher education!

And, this month represents my 2-year anniversary at the bank. So, Viscardi graduates, we both have something to celebrate!

My point in telling you this is that I have been employed for 41 years and advanced in both of my careers, now at Chase, and at IBM.

So, I’ve been able to work for two great companies, marry my soulmate Maggie, raise two children – Danielle and Jimmy – be blessed with two grand-daughters – Natalie and Julia – and this year, celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary!

Oh, and did I mention I have a disability?

Now, I want to talk directly with our graduates.

Superheroes

So, how many of you are fans of superheroes? Go ahead, raise your hands, clap … whatever works ... let’s hear it … That’s good.

Well, I’ve been a fan all my life … In fact, I have a pretty big comic book collection – Daredevil is one of my personal favorites and, I’ll let you in on a secret – I have Daredevil comic books from #1 through #110!

Once I became disabled, I became a bigger fan of superheroes. You want to know why? Because when people see superheroes in the movies … or read about them in comic books … they don’t realize they’re idolizing people with disabilities.

Yes, think about it … Many comic book heroes have a disability or acquired their superpowers due to a disability. I had to read many comic books to figure that out; but I didn’t read them in school!
Here are a few good examples:

•  Daredevil was blinded by a radioactive substance – but it heightened his other senses. He had the human equivalent of a bat’s sonar, making him tough to beat in a fight for sure!

•  In the Avengers comics, Hawkeye becomes deaf … but his senses are heightened as well – and he becomes a skilled bow-and-arrow marksman and martial artist.

• Let’s not forget Iron Man – wounded in the war, he designed an iron chest plate to sustain his weak heart. Tony Stark uses his intellect to make the world a better place as the invincible Iron Man.

• And Rogue, who is female, is a member of the X-Men. She is a mutant, and was born with superhuman abilities. Rogue has the ability to absorb and sometimes remove the memories, physical strength, and superpowers of anyone she touches. But Rogue considers her powers to be a curse, or a disability.

We’re surrounded in our culture by superheroes who happen to have disabilities. I think that’s fascinating – it just shows that you don’t have to be able-bodied to be a superhero …

And that is true in this very room………considering what you, our new Viscardi graduates, have already accomplished.

Remember, this is just the beginning of your journey; you can accomplish anything you strive for, once you assess what you’re good at.

Work hard, be realistic, be patient, and develop your personal values.

You know the other nice thing about superheroes? They believe in paying it forward. They may have had some tough times and faced their share of adversity, but they came out on the other side, stronger than ever – and willing to make the world a better place.

And if you remember just one thing from my remarks, I want you to remember this:

Always look for ways you can pay it forward and make the world a better place …

Think about some of your experiences here at the Viscardi School, and the teachers who made a difference in your life.

There are some special people here who’ve worked with you -- to get you where you are today – which is your high school graduation!

And just like the superheroes I talked about, you’ve overcome a lot of adversity to get here – there’s no doubt about that.

Today … as you embark on your next journey … it’s your turn to look for ways you can help people … not just tomorrow, not just next week, but throughout your life …

I know from experience that it’s not easy living with a disability … in fact … it still frustrates me.

But you know what? I’ve worked hard to be as competitive and talented as I could, throughout my life.

And, I always look for ways I can pay it forward and help others, including able bodied people and those who have disabilities – every day!

As I close, I want you to know that I certainly don’t consider myself a superhero (although I do wear a poncho over my wheelchair when it rains!)

But as I think back over many years, I could not predict that I would be where I am today – here with all of you, sharing my story, being proud of you….

… I wonder….where do we get the ability to do the things we do, given our disabilities?

I believe our collective story is like Daredevil’s journey …

Sure I’ve got a disability, but I’ve also got heightened abilities as well – and so do you.

I want you to always remember one thing………We all have a little bit of superhero in all of us………think about that.

And now, Viscardi 2018 graduates, you are now official super heroes … !

Thank you……

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For news coverage about this event, click here (photo above). 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

After I broke my neck, I couldn't walk. But I could still lead.

From OZY and JPMorgan Chase & Co., which have partnered to bring you Leadership Journey, stories and audio about how top execs ascended the corporate ladder. Listen below to hear how the head of disability inclusion at JPMorgan Chase got to where he is today. Enjoy the rest of our special series here.
While on vacation, I broke my neck body surfing. I was 25 years old and until then considered myself the best thing since sliced bread. But that life-altering accident changed the focus on everything. I was convinced I was done, that my career was over.

But IBM thought differently. I had already been working for them, and they assured me they wanted me back after my 18-month recovery. I took up a job in technical publications and, 39 years later, in 2015, I retired as corporate director of marketing communications.


 At IBM, I met many people who had a lot of heart. When someone offered me a helping hand, I took it in the spirit in which it was given. But I worked my behind off. I wanted to prove something to myself: that I could be an equal or at least competitive.

I had never thought I would be a leader. After all, it’s one thing to get a title, but can you get people who want to be led by you? Or can you lead people on a mission where they don’t doubt your abilities because you have a disability?  I was plagued by doubts but made it work.

I was waiting in line to buy chicken nuggets for my granddaughters when I received a phone call informing me that JPMorgan Chase was interested in having me interview for a new position they had made available: head of the Office of Disability Inclusion. 


By this time, I had already moved to Massachusetts to be near family, and taking up another job was far from my mind. Who was going to hire a 60-plus-year-old quadriplegic into one of the finest banks in the world? I wondered. But I was floored by JPMorgan Chase’s commitment to the cause.


TRUE ASSIMILATION … MEANS CREATING A CULTURE THAT HAS ENOUGH BANDWIDTH TO AFFORD ALL EMPLOYEES A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD.


I came in to effect a culture change around attitude, and that’s exactly what we are continually striving for. True assimilation doesn’t mean that we want people to be like everybody else; it means creating a culture that has enough bandwidth to afford all employees, including those with disabilities, a level playing field. 


Give them technology tools so they can work independently. Make sure there’s room in the budget so you can fix doors, and put in ramps if needed. Are we putting these folks on a track to get promoted? These are the questions we have been asking at JPMorgan Chase.


The important point here, which I also write about in my blog, View From the Chair, is that the job goes to qualified people, disability or not. And that’s the message the community has to digest. Writing about the issues people with disabilities face has been cathartic for me, and through it I hope to humanize the disabled. We love, cry and hurt like anyone else.

Empowerment is an especially valuable tool. It lets you know you can earn that job and take care of yourself. I often say: “At JPMorgan Chase, we don’t have jobs for people with disabilities; we have jobs for qualified people. Whether or not they are disabled doesn’t matter.” That’s the kind of environment I am working on developing at JPMorgan Chase. It’s been many years since my life-altering accident, but I’m proud of my journey.


Jim Sinocchi is head of the Office of Disability Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase & Company

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Sunday, November 5, 2017

From the Huffington Post: Busting Myths About Hiring People with Disabilities

By Mary Bailey Autism Advocate; Speaker; Co-founder Chase Yur Dreams Foundation; and Chase 'N Yur Face Media

As the subject of disability inclusion in the workforce becomes more prevalent, I wanted to take a closer look at some of the myths surrounding the hiring of people with disabilities, and to seek the insights of someone on the front lines of this movement.  As the Head of Disability Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase & Co., and a C5-C6 quadriplegic, Jim Sinocchi’s knowledge and experience with this topic is unparalleled. Sinocchi thinks and speaks in terms that challenge and change how people with disabilities see and present themselves in the workforce; as well as how employers and colleagues perceive, interact with, and assimilate people with disabilities into their corporate cultures. Through an emphasis on professionalism, partnership, equalizing the playing field, enhancing performance, and opportunities for promotions, Sinocchi dispels the myths about hiring people with disabilities; and provides guidance for ensuring success for employee, employer, and colleagues alike:

1. Cost to accommodate is too exorbitant.  

If we’re thinking about the cost of accommodations when hiring top talent in the form of a person with a disability, we’re focusing on the wrong thing. Enlightened companies think, “What do I have to do to hire this exceptional person?”  

According to national and international research on this topic, most accommodations cost less than $500. Granted, facility or real estate accommodations, such as widening doors, adjusting elevator buttons, adding braille inscriptions, installing ramps, and restroom modifications, exceed that benchmark. However, we’re now seeing newly constructed or remodeled buildings incorporate universal design standards, which ensure the greatest accessibility and accommodations for a building’s population - including lighting and noise considerations for individuals on the autism spectrum.  

2.  More apt to require and exceed sick days.  

Studies provided by  the National Business & Disability Council at the Viscardi Center, have reported people with disabilities had fewer scheduled absences than those without disabilities, and fewer days of unscheduled absences.  

One explanation for this is that employees with disabilities have established routines, and focus on their health so as to keep their jobs, and not give an employer a reason to fire them.

If someone experiences a setback regarding their disability, they may need more time to recover. However, in my experience, people with disabilities in the workforce know how to manage their disability, and likely need the same amount of days as an able-bodied person requires.  

Each situation should be considered individually. If a company has a reliable employee who needs more time off, an enlightened company gives the person a reasonable amount of time off as medically necessary, or as a reasonable accommodation. This sends the message to other employees that says “we care about our employees and will provide the appropriate amount of time needed to get better.”  

3. Too difficult / controversial for employers to take disciplinary action.  

If a manager will not coach, mentor, or take disciplinary action regarding a disabled employee who merited such an action, that manager shouldn’t be a manager. As an employee, I want to be treated as other employees are treated – if I do something wrong or don’t meet my goals, tell me and evaluate me accordingly. If I do well, and exceed expectations and goals, reward me.  

Disabled employees should be treated the same as able-bodied employees – with respect and dignity; as well as given opportunities for advancement and coaching when required. Treating employees with disabilities with “kid gloves” creates a standard that’s not good for the general population of employees, or the person with a disability.

4. Employers are more likely to be sued.  

We live in a litigious society, and people in general have become more apt to sue if they believe they have been wronged. According to the EEOC, the percentage of disability charges has steadily increased from 22% in 2008 to 30.7% in 2016.

However, suing an employer is not the first thing people with disabilities think about when they have grievances. While most disabled employees understand their rights under the law, they would rather work in an organization that is fair and equitable; and they want to be loyal and productive at work. It’s difficult in today’s marketplace to find a job as a disabled candidate - this means that we’re not quick to leave an organization, which took a chance with us. Most of us are grateful to work for a company that recognizes our talent and the contributions we make.

5.   People with disabilities make those around them uncomfortable.  

People naturally feel uncomfortable with people they don’t know. And when you add a disability, that can be more challenging – for both parties. That’s one reason why employers should implement an efficient accommodations process to equip people with disabilities to work independently.  

People with disabilities also have to do a better job making able-bodied people comfortable when meeting us. We must “own our disability,” do a better job of allowing others to engage with us socially, and share our stories in the workplace.  

There were times in my career when I failed to get a person to accept me. Yet, it was my responsibility to find a way to build professional working relationships with even those who had a visceral reaction to me. But there have been dozens of other people I’ve worked with, befriended, and developed relationships with over the years.  

The most important points are to be respectful, approachable, qualified for the job, presentable, and business-oriented.  

6.  Unable to meet performance standards.  

If an individual can’t meet performance standards, that’s a problem regardless of whether or not they have a disability. That’s why accommodations are so important. Everyone should be qualified to do the job they’re hired to do. And if that means an individual needs a specific, reasonable accommodation to do their best, then it should be provided.  

An employee who’s falling behind in their work, needs to take the time to meet with their manager and find out exactly what they need to do to improve, just as any other employee would. Address problems as quickly as possible, and get the help needed to improve. These strategies have nothing to do with a disability, but everything to do with being professional.  


7.  More likely to have an accident at work.  

Again, the data says this is not true. Safety comes first, across the board. People with disabilities usually know their weaknesses, and avoid exposure to danger and accidents. A manager should also assess the circumstances impacting their employee’s particular disability by:  

·        Asking the person with the disability what they think they need to become successful, and consulting with HR personnel to assess the employee’s circumstances and any concerns in performing a job.

·        Taking a fresh look at the work environment to make sure it’s free of obstacles or other workplace concerns. This may include checking with fire, safety, and facilities teams.

·        Implementing necessary changes after the assessment.  

8.  Investment of time for training is too much.  

In some cases, the time to train or make an environment accessible can be longer than that for an able-bodied employee. But the important question is whether the disabled person is qualified to do the work, and competitive in terms of what the job requires. The person with a disability might be better qualified than the able-bodied person, but requires extra, “reasonable” time to train. That should be acceptable, with or without an accommodation, and will  allow a manager to build a strong relationship with the employee,  sending the right message throughout the business.

                                                                  ###

Original Huffington Post article can be reached here.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

11 year-old boy comes to terms with disability 50 years later

Disability comes in many different flavors. As an 11 year-old child it was a mental disability due to a tragedy in my family.  As an adult, it was a physical disability due to a surfing accident. Let me explain.

It has been 51 years since my father was shot and killed in New York City, in the borough of Manhattan. He was killed in October 1966 at the age of 28.

At the time, I was living in a South Bronx project development called the "Moore Houses," adjacent to St. Mary's Park. We lived on the 19th floor, apartment 19L, at 525 Jackson Avenue. We had a great view of the East River and could see LaGuardia Airport from our bedroom windows.

My sisters, Lisa and Debbie, were ages four and two respectively, and shared a room at the rear of the apartment. My younger brother Victor and I shared a room, as well as memories we would never forget.

Although we were on the 19th floor, we could hear the sounds and chatter on the street. The sounds of music, people talking and singing, sometimes fighting and on rare occasions, gunshots. We also heard the sirens of fire engines, police cars and ambulances throughout the night. Each had a distinct sound. Yes, the South Bronx was part of New York City, full of adventure and danger.

As Vic and I hopped into our twin beds one ominous night, oblivious to all the noises on the street, I remember having a dream, a confusing dream, that turned into a nightmare.

I was dreaming that my Dad was driving a white van and a mattress somehow appeared on the front driver's seat and the vehicle flipped over. As with other dreams or nightmares, which can be frightening, my heart was pounding and I was tossing and turning in bed.

As I struggled to wake up, I heard a loud noise coming from the front of our three-bedroom, lower income apartment. Someone was banging on the front metal door of our apartment, and, a second or two later I heard my mother scream, and then cry.

She wailed, "Oh my God, I can't believe it, he was with her, he was with her."
Not more than a few seconds later my
My Mom, Alma, in happier days.
brother and I were sitting up in our beds. My sisters were awake as well.

My grandfather, Poppy, and my Uncle Mike, walked into our bedroom and said, "Jimmy, we have to tell you something."  And before they could speak, I blurted out, "I know, Daddy's dead, he was killed in a car accident."

My Uncle said,"How do you know that Jimmy?" I replied: "I just had a dream that he died in a car accident."

"No no," my Uncle said, "he was shot and killed tonight, in Manhattan. At that point, we all started to cry. I don't remember much after that.

Today, as I sit in my wheelchair inside my rented Midtown apartment on the 31st floor in Manhattan, I still have much in common with that 11-year-old boy in the South Bronx. In 1981, I "broke my neck"  and became quadriplegic, due to a surfing accident in Puerto Rico, which resulted in paralysis from the chest down to my legs.

As I did as a boy, 51 years ago, I can see the East River from my apartment window today in Manhattan. As I think about my father's murder, I now know that I was paralyzed with fear and the uncertain life that loomed before me. I saw no future. My father, protector and role model, was dead.

After my Dad was killed, I didn't know who was going to protect us. Who was going to feed us? How would we pay the rent? Who would shield us from the "bad people" on the streets? At the age of 11, I took it upon myself to "figure out" how to protect my mother, my brother and two younger sisters.
Mom, Dad,Victor (in red) and me.
Try as I may, I was inadequate. I did what I could, with the limited knowledge of an 11 year-old. As the eldest brother of our brood, I did my best to hold us together. I went with my Mom to cash the Social Security checks each third day of the month. This check, my father's death benefit, was all the income we had. We barely had enough money for my Dad's funeral.

In 1966 I budgeted $30.00 for food shopping each week -- for the five of us. I made sure the rent was paid and "paid down" the credit chit we had at the local "bodega" (grocery store). I also nagged my brother and sisters to get home early and off the streets.

After Dad's death:Vic, Deb, Mom.Lisa, and me.
We avoided street gangs. Each neighborhood had a gang -- The Latin Souls, Savage Skulls, Black Spades and Golden  Guinea's still come to mind. The South Bronx was dangerous.

I was too young to make decisions, but I had to. My mother had a drinking problem, she was an alcoholic and fell apart when my father was killed. It was hard for my Mom, I'm sure, as he died in the apartment of another woman -- shot by the woman's estranged husband. Looking back now, this was a classic life tragedy -- which also plays out today in our society. I didn't know that in 1966.

As I look out my 31st floor window, that 11-year-old boy remains close to my heart.  

I went to college at 16, and then went on to graduate school at New York University. While in college, however, I had to transfer back to New York City, with permission from my upstate college, Colgate University, to finish my senior year. 

Why? My mother was assaulted in an elevator in our housing project, and I thought it was best to be with my Mom and siblings at that point. I received my degree from Colgate as planned. Lisa and Victor also attended and graduated from Colgate University. Debbie is a graduate of Syracuse University.
 
After a year with the New York City's Mayor's Office, as an intern with the Urban Fellowship Program, under former Mayor Abraham Beam, I worked at IBM for the majority of my career and dealt with my disability as best I could. Last year, I joined JPMorgan Chase & Co. as the Head of Disability Inclusion.

I eventually married and helped raise a family as a paralyzed adult. Together, my wife Maggie and I, also provided for our family as best we could. We have a daughter, son, and two gorgeous granddaughters.

As an 11 year-old boy, I could not envision a future of success -- I couldn't see it -- I was angry and frightened. In my mind's eye, I hope that boy could now smile and know that we did as well as we could -- given the "hand" we were dealt.

My Mom died two years ago.  May God rest her soul.

As an adult, I see the glass half full

My challenge now, however, is predominantly physical, rather than mental. My life experiences have taught me how to cope with my paralysis.

I've learned to cope, and I know how to tackle fears that still plague me and everyone else with a visible or hidden disability.

As I write this blog, the singer, Whitney Houston, is singing "Didn't We Almost Have It All" on my Bose radio. As I listen to her lyrics, I ponder America. I think about the discord we face as a society today. The protests, the fighting, the unrest, the mistrust, anger and fear.

This is all disturbing to me, given what that "boy" in the South Bronx had to overcome, and what that soon to be 62-year-old adult (your humble blogger) did to try and make a better life for himself and his family.

My hope is that this country will get over our differences and get on with building a better life for ourselves and the people we love.

That 11-year-old boy in the South Bronx, as well as boys and girls around the world, facing fear and uncertainty today, should also have the opportunities to build a better life, just as that boy began to do 51 years ago.

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Local agency helps disabled people join the workforce

Déjà Vu: This column was originally published in the
Journal-News, a newspaper distributed in Rockland County, New York, January 6, 1992.

Jim Sinocchi

I'm re-publishing this column as part of my online blog. I still believe the message is appropriate today and is an example of the activities many of us with disabilities can enjoy in the United States, and perhaps around the world. Photos may be added to this posting from my collection or the web. Some of the organization names may have changed or no longer exist in New York State as of this writing. I hope you find this column helpful and informative.


If you are disabled and trying to get into or stay in the workplace, the local VESID ( Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities), may be able to help you.

Unlike several state or federal agencies I've dealt with, the experiences I've had with VESID and its predecessor organization, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, were positive.

VESID's basic mission is to help disabled people find jobs or keep the jobs they already have. Services range from medical treatment to improving your ability to work, to providing meal allowances, books, tools and transportation during job-training.

Some services, like college sponsorships, for example, are based on financial need. Other services, such as counseling, job placement and vocational testing are free.

I first used the services offered by VESID nearly 10 years ago, as a patient with a recent spinal cord injury at New York University's Rusk Institute, in Manhattan. At the time, VESID was called OVR (Office of Vocational Rehabilitation).

Even in 1982, the counselor's mission was to help me, as much as possible, get back to work so I could be productive and financially independent.

Although I wasn't always confident, this mission made sense because it kept me focused on my goal of getting back to work. And, it made sense for the state because once I got back to work, I would become a taxpayer and contributor to society, not a burden. The counselor also made recommendations that would enable me to better cope with my spinal cord injury once I got home. Remember, I was never physically disabled before my injury, so any help I could get to prepare me for my "new" life was welcome.

The recommendations included making arrangements for transportation to get to work, hiring nursing care and modifying my home to suit my disability – – ramps instead of steps, modifying bathrooms to accommodate wheelchairs and identifying and removing other architectural barriers.

But we're not talking just about advice. What really helped me was the financial and technical assistance I received to equip my van so that I could drive myself to work without having to depend on others.

There's a great deal to consider when you attempt to get severely disabled people on the road again, including passing a new road test and selecting the right equipment for a vehicle. Prices range from $250 for a basic automobile hand control, to $100,000 for a high-technology equipped  van.

As a result of a car accident I had recently while driving my van, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I could receive assistance from VESID once again. In most situations, you can reapply for services and receive additional assistance.

This time, VESID provided temporary transportation for me to get to work while I sought to repair or replace my old vehicle.

What is important to note is that by getting me to work, VESID prevented the possibility of my being fired from my job due to the lack of transportation.

To qualify for VESID services you must have a physical, mental, emotional or learning disability that interferes with your ability to work. There must also be a reasonable chance that you will become gainfully employed if you receive rehabilitation services.

There are also a number of procedures to help ensure that the rights of handicapped individuals are being met, which include administrative reviews and fair hearings, and the Client Assistance Program (CAP).

CAP provides "legal, administrative and other remedies" to protect the rights of disabled individuals. In effect, these all amount to safeguards for individuals looking for help and ensuring that people are not denied services illegally.

A supervisor at VESID said, "Most people with disabilities can engage in some kind of work, so long as their health is stable, their goals are realistic and they persist in the face of inevitable challenges and hardships."

If you are disabled, and want to work, I think a call to VESID is a good place to start. Don't you?

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