The Americans with Disabilities Act put the spotlight on a group of people in the USA. This group now has a voice; a constituency that has come of age. This community votes, works and pays taxes.This blog is based on a N.Y. newspaper column I wrote for the Rockland County Journal-News from 1990-92.
Veronique: More Than a A Service Dog for the Disabled
It’s just a little over two years since I brought home Veronique,my service dog. She’s officially known as a Canine Companions for Independence[CCI] service dog, specifically trained for people with disabilities.
Veronique is a Labrador-Golden Retriever mix, and I was told she was the smartest pooch in the class. Well, I bet the CCI trainers say that about all the dogs.
Veronique goes just about everywhere with me, including work, functions and family events. I take her to my IBM office in Armonk, New York, during the week, where she refrains from playing catch with the executives. My wife Maggie and I have taken her to meet New York City Mayor Bloomberg, at his official residence in Manhattan; she has met Senator Harkin of Iowa, in Washington, D.C. and has attended the U.S. Tennis Open in Queens, New York, on two occassions.
Veronique has changed my life in ways I never imagined. Initially I didn’t want a service dog, I didn’t think I needed one. Today, I can’t imagine my life without her. Besides the incredible basic things she does, like picking up objects from the floor, as small as a dime, or opening and closing doors, she has given me more confidence to function as I go about my day. I am a better driver because of her. I began to relax more when she rode in the car with me. And, when I am alone, which I insist on and treasure, my family takes some comfort in knowing that I really am not alone, as Veronique will look out for me.
I can go on, but I would rather share a speech I gave on February 21, 2009, as one of three CCI graduating class presidents. The speech says it all regarding how my classmates and I felt as we formally received our service dogs and companions for life.
Thank you Lauren for that fine introduction. Good afternoon CCI graduates and staff, Puppy Raisers, family, friends, ladies and gentlemen. We appreciate your attendance here today.
I also want to give special thanks to all the puppy raisers and trainers. These highly-skilled dogs have brought us together for this memorable occasion and this day would not be possible without your help and hard work.
Last year, Jessica invited my wife Maggie and I to our first CCI graduation. As many of you know, these graduations can be emotional and intimidating events, especially with more than 50 four-legged friends in the room.
We were astounded at how quiet the dogs were, as they are now. At the time, I didn’t hear one dog bark during the entire graduation ceremony. However, back then, I didn’t know what the command S- P- E- A- K could do.
As a member of this year’s graduating class, I now know more than 40 commands. Honestly, I’m tempted to use S- P- E- A- K just to break the silence in the room. But I won’t.
My class consists of eight families, representing four states. Prior to our arrival at the Miller Family Campus, the only thing we had in common was the belief that these dogs could help improve our lives.
Unlike my classmates, who came to the center of their own free-will, I was kidnapped by my wife and two children, Danielle and Jimmy, and brought to the Center in the middle of the night. I say that jokingly because after being paralyzed for 28 years, I didn’t think a CCI service dog could help me. Well, I was wrong.
After two weeks of intense boot-camp training, I learned many things, not only from our highly-skilled trainers and canine companions, but also from the families who went through training with me.
I saw Sasha, my 14-year-old colleague, begin a transformation into manhood as he took on the responsibility of caring and working with his dog Piute. His mother Betsy, watched with pride as Sasha insisted on becoming a pack leader.
I watched Danny, a 13-year-old boy with Autism, work with his father Brian, to become a skilled companion team with their dog Breen. I learned that Danny had no close friends, no sleepovers, and no one to play with. His father told me that Danny wants to play but he doesn’t know how.
Within one week of associating with Breen, Danny was walking with a new sense of pride, playing and actually laughing out loud – something Danny never did before. Our whole class watched as Danny created a special connection with Breen, which we know will be life-changing for their family.
I saw determination in Heather as she battled with her crutches and wheelchair while going through team training with her husband Eric. With a strong voice and a firm hand, she and her dog Zypher worked through numerous drills to master commands and techniques that will help her become more independent at home and at work.
In Jennifer, a delightful 20-year-old woman with Cerebral Palsy, I saw confidence as she worked with her parents Mark and Jane, her assistant Tiffany, and her dog Vintara. In effect Vintara was responding to four different handlers and performing brilliantly. Using her wheelchair and fighting fatigue, Jenn’s personality became more vibrant as she bonded with Vintara. She and her family inspired the class as they went through various lessons and public demonstrations of her newly acquired skills. Vintara proved to be the perfect match for Jennifer and her family.
In Leslie, I saw courage as she went through the paces with her dog Wheeler. With her husband Warren by her side, she fought back the fatigue brought on by MS and insisted on putting in eight-hour days of training to master her handling skills.
Yesterday, I saw Leslie slip out of her motorized scooter seat to the floor. Team members quickly inquired if she needed help. She waved them away and called to Wheeler. She gave the “Stand” command and Wheeler stood in front of her, steadily, as Leslie put her hands on his shoulders and hips, carefully balancing herself on his back. She was then able to sit in the scooter seat by herself. This incident exemplifies what CCI is all about.
Ken and Mary are also graduating today with their dogs Packard and Wenda, respectively. I too am graduating with my dog Veronique. I am compelled to say that my family was right, I do see great benefits in having a dog like Veronique assist me in my day-to-day activities.
On behalf of the graduating class of 2009, I would like to extend our sincere thanks and appreciation to all of you, for everything you have done to enrich our lives with these wonderful dogs and this innovative program. This day would not be possible if it were not for the puppy raisers, trainers and staff of the CCI organization and all of you. Thank you and have a great afternoon.
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 membe…
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.
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 Cart…
Stem Cell Treatment Comes to Life(Caution: This particular blog describes a wound on my hip, not an uncommon occurrence for folks paralyzed and without sensation on their bodies. Photos of the wound may be too graphic for some readers).
I knew the prospect of surgery was possible, as Dr. Gibbons asked that I have a consultation with Dr. Helm several months earlier during my traditional treatment for this wound. At the time, Dr. Helm basically told me that in some cases, skin is used from another part of the body, the buttocks for example, and used to close the wound in question.
The drawbacks are obvious, as you now have two wounds that have to heal. In my case, I'd be bed-ridden for the majority of the time because I'm paralyzed. And, it could take months for both wounds to heal, if they do heal. To me, it seemed risky, and debilitating. Frankly it scared me.
With that as background, in October of 2015 during a weekly
checkup, my wound was infected and decaying, accompanie…