Saturday, December 19, 2015

In these hectic times, the holidays are vital to families

Déjà Vu: This column was originally published in the Journal-News, a newspaper distributed in Rockland County, New York, December 23,1991.

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.
Christmas tree

This time of year is special for families. With the pressures families must face to survive these days, there were very few occasions that really bring family members together. That's why this holiday season is so important.

More than ever before, both mothers and fathers are working and nurturing separate careers. Children are in school and then off to day care centers or with "sitters" until the parents can pick them up. And, five-minute microwave meals barely give families enough time to sit together at the dinner table.

With hectic schedules and lifestyles like these, it's no secret that families are in trouble. There's really no time to share feelings or communicate the events of the day anymore.

In-laws and other relatives are under the same pressures. There is no time for extended families. The occasional birthday, Hanukkah or Christmas cards serve as a vague reminder that there are relatives in Florida, New Jersey or the Bronx.

Holidays are important because they give us a chance to reconnect with one another. They allow us to be reunited with loved ones, express goodwill and relieve the guilt we've accumulated during the year. Holidays also let us reestablish family ties, make up for lost time or forgive past sins.

As a child, the holidays were magical to me. I spent many holidays at the Bronx walk up apartment of my grandparents--Nana and Poppy to me. At Christmas, Nana and Poppy always had a huge Christmas tree. The smell of the tree and the decorative lights, some with moving "water bubbles," commanded my constant attention.

Although my grandparents lived modestly, their apartment was emotionally warm and filled with good things to eat. My brother Victor and I would immediately ask for the red and white candy canes which dangled on the branches of the tree. Tomato sauce for the pasta was usually simmering on the stove. Italian bread, pastries and salad sat on the table, waiting to be eaten. 

Mannorah, web
At the dinner table, my father and his two brothers would discuss sports, politics, or just disagree about things I didn't understand -- you know, the way brothers often do. The discussions would come to a sudden halt when my father would yell, "Jimmy, put that candy cane back," or, "get out from under the table!."

Looking back now, with today's economy as a backdrop, I don't know how Nana and Poppy could afford to feed their three sons, wives and children during our family gatherings. But they did, year after year.

I guess the values were different back in the early '60s, Poppy didn't work a lot of overtime or go on frequent business trips. Neither did my dad. My grandmother didn't work outside the home, Poppy spent a lot of time with us, especially after my father was killed in 1966 (My dad was 28 years old.).

Today, my eyes see life's events differently. Poppy died several years ago, Nana is almost 90. My brother is married and has his own son. My two sisters are professional career women. I'm 36 years old and disabled.

Muslim Great Day of Sacrifice, web

A disability can cloud the way you view the world, if you let it. My Christmas trees are not always real, nor do they seem as large as the ones I remember as a kid. But the holidays are still magical to me.

Watching my son and daughter enjoy the enchantment of the Christmas season removes many of the clouds over my eyes. Their smiles ease my pain, their wonder gives me hope, and their joy gives me pleasure.

There are many things to be concerned about in the world today. But I found that a strong family can help make things seem a little brighter.

If I were granted two wishes for the holidays, one would be to keep our family strong and hope that people would spend as much time as possible with the people they love. 

Here's the other: I wish all of you, and your families, a joyful holiday season.


Monday, December 14, 2015

2015 Henry Viscardi Achievement Awards Announced

Awardees from the United States, Canada and Kenya

On December 10, The Viscardi Center, a network of non-profit organizations providing a lifespan of services that educate, employ and empower people with disabilities, announced nine 2015 Henry Viscardi Achievement Awards recipients at an event in New York City.

The international Awards recognize exemplary leaders within the disability community and their extraordinary societal contributions, while remembering the spirit and legacy of the Center’s founder, Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr., who himself wore prosthetic legs. 

As one of the world’s leading advocates for people with disabilities, Dr. Viscardi served as a disability adviser to eight U.S. Presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter.

John Kemp
“Every day people with disabilities are leaving their mark in communities all over the world, and their work often transcends the geographical boundaries of where they live,” said John D. Kemp, President and CEO of The Viscardi Center. “This year’s Award recipients are a dedicated, diverse and trend-setting group that reminds us all that our work can be far-reaching and does make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.”

The 2015 Award Recipients include:
  • Jim Gibbons - President & CEO, Goodwill Industries International
  • Mark Johnson – Chair of The ADA Legacy Project and Director of Advocacy at Shepherd Center
  • David Krupa - CEO, The Range of Motion Project and Certified Prosthetist
  • David Lucas - Founder, The Ed Lucas Foundation; Sports Journalist
  • Lonnie C. Moore - Program Analyst, Career and Education Readiness Branch, U.S Army Warrior Transition Command
  • Winfred G. Mugure - University of Nairobi
  • Toby Olson - Executive Secretary State of Washington; Governor's Committee on Disability Issues and Employment
  • Marilyn E. Saviola - Senior Vice President for Advocacy and the Women’s Health Program, Independence Care System
  • Mark Wafer – President, Megleen, and owner of six Tim Hortons restaurants in Toronto, Canada
About the Recipients

Jim Gibbons
As a person who is blind, Mr. Gibbons understands the challenges people with disabilities face, particularly with achieving their employment dreams. His professional career has been devoted to increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities at all levels.

He is President and CEO of Goodwill Industries International, Mr. Gibbons has made diversity and inclusion a key cultural attribute to the organization. Over 27,000 people with disabilities are employed by Goodwill as CEOs, managers, processors and other roles.

Mr. Gibbons has actively supported policy changes to increase employment-first initiatives and supported employment programs. At the National Industries for the Blind, Mr. Gibbons led the country’s largest and most successful socioeconomic and employment program for people who are blind. He also developed the highly effective Business Leaders Program, the first executive training program for people who are blind, which prepares them for executive jobs and leadership development.

Mark Johnson
While the Director of Advocacy at the Shepherd Center, Mr. Johnson helped galvanize the nation to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act this past year.

As Chair of The ADA Legacy Project (TALP), he has focused on preserving the past of the disability rights movement; celebrating its present milestones; and educating future generations on disability rights.

By securing a grant, Mr. Johnson led a nationwide effort to bring awareness to ADA25. This effort was the springboard for the curation of numerous permanent and temporary exhibits, an ADA25 commemorative publication, hundreds of grassroots events around the U.S., and The ADA Legacy Tour featuring the “Road to Freedom” bus which logged over 23,000 miles and more than 115 stops in 33 states from July 2014 to July 2015.

Under his leadership, TALP continues to educate, engage the next generation of disability rights advocates and change social attitudes about people with disabilities.

David Krupa
As a prosthetist and the Founder and CEO of the Range of Motion Project (ROMP), Mr. Krupa has provided custom-made prosthetic and orthotic devices to 5,394 of the western hemisphere’s most vulnerable individuals through a three-tiered delivery model emphasizing high quality clinical care; local investment; and advocacy.

The majority of children and adults served need to return to work, care for young children, and support their families through physical labor.

Through his volunteer commitment to ROMP, he is directly responsible for this replicable and scalable healthcare delivery system now serving amputees in Guatemala, Ecuador, Mexico and the U.S.

An amputee himself, Mr. Krupa believes mobility can be critical in an individual’s pursuit of life’s many aspirations – family, community, work, active play and adventure. This fuels his continued drive to expand his impact on the healthcare of under-served populations.

Ed Lucas
Since sustaining an injury in a sandlot baseball game that cost him his sight, Mr. Lucas has been a true pioneer. He was the first graduate of the Seton Hall journalism program, and the first professional sports broadcaster and journalist, with a disability. He earned the respect of his interview subjects and fellow reporters by taking a different approach, often focused on describing things that sighted people take for granted.

On a personal front, he became the first person with a disability to win full-time custody of his children in a landmark court case still sited around the country. Mr. Lucas is also the co-author of the best-seller, Seeing Home: The Ed Lucas Story. The Ed Lucas Foundation was established as a way to give an assist to others who are blind and/or disabled so that they may pursue their dreams and independence, just as he was helped when beginning his journey.

Lonnie C. Moore
Mr. Moore is a United States Army Veteran and Program Analyst at the Career and Education Readiness Branch for the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command. Having lost his right leg in combat in Iraq, Mr. Moore has an unwavering commitment to making a lasting impact on people and veterans with disabilities.

He has conducted peer visitations to hundreds of service and civilian amputees, trained and certified hundreds as amputee peer mentors, guided Career and Education Readiness programs, and has been involved with numerous efforts to assist individuals in regaining their self-purpose and esteem.

The multiple services he has created and implemented have provided a road map for over 60,000 wounded soldiers to transition from the military to employment and meaningful civilian life. He also helped found the widely recognized “Wounded Warrior Project.” Moore’s work and advocacy continues to help wounded veterans and people with disabilities around the country.

Winfred G. Mugure
Ms. Mugure, who has tetraplegia, has made it her mission to empower people with disabilities in Kenya. She is conducting research at the University of Nairobi to assess the effects of psycho-social adjustment, economic independence and personal development of spinal cord injury survivors and their reintegration into schools and gainful employment.

The goal of the study is to influence review of disability policies at the national level. Through counseling, therapy, and sourcing of orthoses and mobility devices, Ms. Mugure is also helping to enhance these individuals’ independence and accessibility to learning institutions and places of work.

Toby Olson
The Executive Secretary to the Governor's Committee on Disability Issues and Employment for the State of Washington, Mr. Olson has written, co-authored, and secured passage and enactment of more than 40 state laws expanding the rights and opportunities for people with disabilities in such areas as employment, civil rights, education, housing, transportation and healthcare.

He has been instrumental in crafting hundreds of policy proposals and initiatives and obtained critical grant funding for programs to increase individuals’ knowledge of rights and to foster advocacy skills.

Mr. Olson has also chaired and sat on numerous national Councils and Committees. He continues to encourage public dialogue that actively challenges the preconceptions and stereotypes about people with disabilities in an effort to evoke change.

Marilyn E. Saviola
Leading by example, Ms. Saviola has helped countless people with disabilities to advocate for themselves. Her own self-advocacy began at a young age when she contracted polio. Residing in a hospital, her first efforts were to persuade its administration to provide the services she, and a group of young people with disabilities, needed to go out into the community and attend college. After fighting to attend college and earning a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, Ms. Saviola went on to direct a premier independent living center and advocated for accessible healthcare and the home care assistance people with disabilities need to maintain their independence.

Since 2008, she has been a powerful voice for ensuring preventative health services for women and created a replicable model so health professionals are properly trained and people with disabilities can receive quality medical care. Ms. Saviola co-authored a report which sparked the New York City Council to allocate public funds to make women’s health care facilities more accessible and offer more competent care.

Mark Wafer
Mr. Wafer is the President of Megleen and owner of six Tim Hortons restaurants in Toronto, Canada. For more than 20 years, he has employed people with disabilities in meaningful, competitively paid positions. Born deaf, Mr. Wafer speaks publically, from firsthand experience, about the economic and business case advantages of an inclusive workforce on local, national and international stages. A peer to peer initiative he created, resulted in the employment of more than 1,000 disabled individuals in six years.

Recognizing the true worth of having a job and bringing home a paycheck, Mr. Wafer devotes his time to working with corporations, service sector employees and governments to change the attitude and mindset of society towards people with disabilities so they, too, can contribute to our communities and live a full life.

Selection Committee
The Selection Committee was co-chaired by former U.S. Senator, Robert Dole, and Rosangela Berman Bieler, Chief, Disability Section – Program Division, UNICEF (2013 Henry Viscardi Achievement Award recipient). The Committee also included Rohini Anand, Senior Vice President and Global Chief Diversity Officer, Sodexo; Cari Dominguez, Former Chair, U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; Ricardo García, former Global Business Development Manager, ILUNION Technology & Accessibility; Sherwood D. Goldberg, Esq. (Col. Ret), Senior Advisor for Asian Affairs, Center for Naval Analysis; James Sinocchi; Susan Sygall, CEO, Mobility International USA (2014 Henry Viscardi Achievement Award recipient); and Frances W. West, Chief Accessibility Officer, IBM Corporation. For more information about the Awards, visit

About The Viscardi Center
Founded by Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr., who served as disability advisor to eight U.S. Presidents and became one of the world’s leading advocates, The Viscardi Center educates, employs and empowers people with disabilities. It provides Pre-K through High School education (age 3 to 21), school-to-work youth transition services, vocational training, career counseling and employment placement, assistive technology, and adapted driver education to children, adolescents and adults with a wide variety of disabilities. The Viscardi Center also assists businesses in diversifying their workforces and developing and advancing disability inclusive cultures in their workplaces.


Contact: Kim Brussell:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Would you hire a person with a disability?

Déjà Vu: This column was originally published in the Journal-News, a newspaper distributed in Rockland County, New York, November 11, 1991.

I'm re-publishing this column as part of my online blog. I still believe the message is appropriate today.Photos, web links or other annotations have been added to this posting from my collection or the web, as noted.

Some of the organizations and programs mentioned here 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 a manager looking to hire new employees, would you consider hiring a qualified, disabled person for the job?

And let's say you did hire a disabled employee, would you be able to treat both your "non-disabled" and "disabled" employees fairly? 

Would you be able to offer raises, special assignments and promotions equitably, and not discriminate?

These are just some of the questions facing managers across America as more and more disabled people enter and remain in the workplace.

Image result for disabled people
Whether they like it or not, managers will have to deal with these issues at some point in their careers for these reasons: First, labor consultants predict a shortage of people with skills to fill jobs ranging from clerical positions to white-collar professionals in the next five years. In a recent survey of companies, more than 60% of respondents said they expected difficulty in filling positions for jobs. 

Second, the recently enacted Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees rights for the disabled and encourages their entry into the workplace.

With the expected shortage of skilled labor, managers today cannot afford to exclude job applicants simply because of a disability. Managers will have to overcome their personal feelings and decide if a disabled person is qualified to do the job. And, if they are, consider hiring them.

Once a disabled person is hired, however, there are organizations and consultants willing to assist managers, such as the (former) President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, in Washington DC, Jawonio and Camp Venture industries here in Rockland County, N.Y.

Modifications to accommodate a disabled person in the workplace are usually inexpensive and federal tax breaks are also available. Making the decision to hire a disabled person for a job is considered a big step by some employers, usually because the company has never done it before. 

But once a disabled person is hired and accommodations are made, if needed, supervisors and managers may find the day-to-day interaction with a disabled person the most challenging.

Although not a replacement for interpersonal skills, I've compiled a list of  "do's and don'ts" for managers, supervisors and employees who may be fortunate enough to have a disabled person working with them.
Disabled People
Web Stock Photo, Canada
  • Focus on the person not the disability. 
  • Treat the disabled employee as you would a regular employee. Disabled people want to be treated fairly and equally. 
  • Don't block opportunity for your employee because of a disability. If he or she is qualified and eligible for promotion, discuss the pros and cons of the job, then let the employee determine what needs to be done, and see if it can be worked out. If it can't, or the employee needs help, he or she will tell you.
  • If a sensitive issue concerns or troubles you, ask about it directly. 
  • Gain an understanding of your employee's disability by asking questions about it. Most disabled people will tell you exactly what the disability is, how they became disabled, and what their needs are. 
  • Don't make assumptions about the disabled employee's capabilities. Many have had to become innovative and creative in order to overcome the numerous obstacles they encounter every day. 
  • Modify the work facilities as necessary. If your employee uses a wheelchair, make sure meeting places are accessible; if he or she is blind, try to get publications in braille or on cassette tape. People have different disabilities, so be sensitive to the one your employee has. 
  • Don't patronize disabled employees, they get enough of that outside work. 
  • Don't exclusively talk about disability, medical research or accessibility issues exclusively in casual conversations with your employee. He or she is just as interested as you are in baseball, football, fashion the opera or the weather.
Today, an employer's refusal or reluctance to hire disabled people may find themselves overlooking a valuable and skilled employee, and, possibly putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage in the labor market.  

Section 503: New hiring rules by the U.S. Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) in effect next year. 

Despite nearly 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities continue to face barriers to equal opportunity in employment.
Image result for dol logoIn 2012, the overall employment rate of adults with disabilities was 33.5%, as compared to 76.3% for others. Further, the full-time/full-year employment rate for people with disabilities was 20.9%, as compared with 56.4% for others. 

The newly revised Section 503 Regulations aim to change these statistics by requiring employers who are federal contractors or subcontractors to set affirmative action goals and report progress toward meeting these goals.

Coverage and enforcement: A new benchmark

The new rules require federal contractors and subcontractors to aspire to, and track progress toward, employing individuals with disabilities. Though RA Section 503 has been in effect since 1973, there has not been a specific benchmark defining what the percent of individuals with disabilities are to be in the workforce of covered employers. 

The 7% workforce goal (7-8% for veterans)
Covered employers must now attain, or show progress toward attaining a workforce that consists of at least 7% of people with disabilities.
Called a utilization or aspirational goal, this requirement is not a quota, but a way to ensure that federal contractors include disability in their strategies around recruitment and hiring. The seven-percent-goal will apply to each job group in the workplace or to the entire workforce if there are fewer than 100 employees.

Effective March 24, 2014, contractors are required by the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) to develop a written affirmative action program (AAP) and must also establish a hiring benchmark for protected veterans each year or adopt the national benchmark provided by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).