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?


Monday, August 21, 2017

From The Huffington Post: At JPMorgan Chase & Co. Diversity and Inclusion is Helping People Build Careers and Independence

 For Jim Sinocchi, Head of Disability Inclusion, Business is Personal

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

In matters of disability, diversity, and inclusion there’s no one better qualified to address and conquer obstacles than Jim Sinocchi. He’s the ambitious and accomplished Head of Disability Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase & Co., who’s also a C5-C6 quadriplegic.

And his solution-oriented, no-beating-around-the-bush or pulling-any-punches approach makes him the perfect champion for working people with disabilities.

“There are qualified people with disabilities working right now –contributing to the bottom line,” declares Sinocchi. “People with disabilities are in the workforce with the right qualifications and competing for the same jobs that able-bodied people are doing. We shouldn’t be just a diversity metric. We have the skills to build professional careers and want to be part of a thriving business.”

When it comes to leveling the competitive field, maximizing performance, and supporting success, Sinocchi says, “People with disabilities don’t want to be a burden. If we can make the environment accessible, it’ll allow us to work as independently as we can, dispelling a myth that employees with disabilities always need assistance. This is no longer the era of ramps, wheelchairs, and minimum-wage jobs. This is the era of full assimilation into the corporate culture. It’s about proactive leadership, building careers, earning a living and partnering with leadership and colleagues as they manage their personal career trajectory.”

“The firm has been focused on disability inclusion since 1924” shares Sinocchi. “The last century in Corporate America was about giving work to qualified, diverse people, but people with disabilities were historically underrepresented and left out of the conversation.”

This, he says, is in part because what worked for hiring and assimilating other groups (black, Hispanic, women, LGBT etc.), doesn’t work for the disabilities group. Sinocchi isn’t afraid to voice the hard issues, saying, “Why are we afraid of this group of people? Why are people with disabilities traditionally looked at with discomfort? It’s human nature to have a visceral reaction to differences. But when you call a person in for a job, you call them because of their resume of abilities. Why then do we get nervous when we see that they have a disability? It doesn’t change their already-acquired skills and abilities.”

 As a roadmap to help people create a dynamic, inclusive environment, Sinocchi advises them to examine the “4 A’s”: Attitude, Accommodations, Accessibility, and Assimilation. “These are not technical or invented. They’re already in our vocabulary and represent exactly what we know them to mean. How do you feel about people who are different than you? How do you engage them? How do you get employees the accommodations they need to perform their job? You can’t have people with disabilities going around asking for help from others to do their job because the environment isn’t accessible. Do employees have the opportunity to assimilate into the company? Do they believe they have a shot at advancing their career from the mailroom to the boardroom?”

To open the doors of communication further and demystify disabilities, Sinocchi and JPMorgan Chase started “Disability Dialogues” – video interviews of executives asking people with disabilities questions about their life. “Questions everyone wants to ask, but were afraid to because they didn’t want to offend anyone,” says Sinocchi. “The videos are shown across company, all over the world. We’re getting real with this population, changing perspectives. It’s a different dialogue.”

The firm has implemented other significant mechanisms to make inclusion more seamless, including an Accommodations Fund, which is a program that enhances the reasonable accommodations process already in place to help requests get completed as quickly as possible. This frees managers from worrying about the cost of accommodating an employee, and empowers them to hire people with disabilities.

The company also maximizes technology to provide accessibility worldwide. “I’ve been able to experience firsthand, how JPMorgan Chase supports inclusion through actions, not just words. It’s in their DNA and they just keep advancing the culture. Right now, major initiatives (in addition to Disability Inclusion) include the military and veterans hiring effort, Advancing Black Leaders, and one of the best LGBT equality initiatives around. This is important because if we’re inclusive inside, we’ll be inclusive outside with our customers.”

“I tear-up a lot in this job because I get to see great moments of humanity in my role. I met a woman a while ago, who’s legally blind. She acquired the blindness while working on the job, diagnosed with an eye disease that took away most of her vision. She was on track to become a Vice President, but she didn’t feel she could get there because of her diagnosis.

JPMorgan Chase worked with her to get the accommodations she needed to keep doing her job, moving her to a new position where she could be successful, and she did. She’s intelligent, efficient, and terrific at her job. Last January, she sent me an email saying she just got promoted to VP! This is what JPMorgan Chase is about.”

Sinocchi had this to say about starting a career at JPMorgan Chase. “We don’t have jobs for people with disabilities; we have jobs for people who are qualified to work here, including people with disabilities. If you want to work at JPMorgan Chase, own your disability, and demonstrate that you’re qualified. We’re hiring for what you can do for our company and our customers. It’s not charity. When we hire a person with a disability, we want them to succeed and advance. ”

Original Huffington Post Article with photos can be reached


Sunday, August 20, 2017

A disability tests the depth of one's inner strength

Déjà Vu: This column was originally published in the
Journal-News, a newspaper distributed in Rockland County, New York, December 9, 1991.
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 I became disabled, I could never handle it," is a comment I hear sometimes from people considering my disability.

Coping with a disability is not easy. But there are many strengths, qualities and experiences that help people handle the hardships a disability brings on.

One quality I've admired in some friends who are disabled is their ability to forget they are disabled.

I'm specifically thinking of three friends: two are attorneys and one is an insurance agent. There are times when it seems like they don't think about the disability. Because they are able to focus on their jobs, they effectively put their disabilities out of their minds for a while.

Forgetting I'm disabled helps me reduce some of the stress and frustration my disability brings to my daily activities. I work on removing obstacles that remind me of my disability. I establish routines, plan my day and don't take on unnecessary risks.

For me, growing up in the infamous Fort Apache section of the South Bronx has also helped me cope with my disability. In my old Bronx neighborhood, I knew there were things worse than being poor and without a father. I could have been a drug addict, homeless or afflicted with AIDS. And, I know these conditions are still possible, so I now feel blessed, despite my disability.

Other childhood experiences also help me now. I learned which neighborhoods to avoid, because I wasn't the right color or race. I learned to flee, instead of fight street gang members who belonged to groups like the Savage Skulls, Bachelors Seven and the Black Spades.

One incident I clearly remember is a walk through St. Mary's Park, in the Bronx,with my best friend Ruben. Two men stopped us and asked for money. When we said we didn't have any money, they pulled out knives and robbed us of our leather coats.

I then learned the sense of helplessness that comes from being mugged at knife point, knowing that our coats would never be recovered.

Because of people like Mr. Garin, my sixth grade teacher at P.S. 27, I learned to cope with the death of my father at age 11. Mr. Rodriguez, my swimming coach at the St. Mary's Park Recreation Center, taught me to do my best, despite being poor. And Mr. Stern, my physical education teacher at Evander Childs High School, gave me the confidence I needed to apply for, and then succeed in college.

In many ways, growing up in the South Bronx prepared me for a physical disability. I now avoid buildings with steps. I don't attend social events being held at locations that can't accommodate my wheelchair. And, I now avoid people who discriminate or who just don't like being around disabled people.

Today, I have feelings of helplessness when I can't use the copier at work, can't pick up and hold my son or daughter at home, or do" fix it" things things around the house.

And, I still strive to do my best, even though I'm paralyzed from my chest to my feet, and cannot use my hands. I have great admiration for people who cope with head injuries, deafness, birth defects, blindness and others who face severe disabilities.

I feel the same way about able-bodied people in tough financial situations or people experiencing other personal hardships. I've learned that you can't always predict from what source your strength will appear when you are faced with adversity or disability.

And, you don't really know how you'll behave in another person's condition or situation -- unless you walk where he has walked, or, until you have worn her shoes.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The passage of time yields progress for everyone

  Déjà Vu: This column was originally published in the Journal-News, a newspaper distributed in Rockland County, New York, February 17, 1992.

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.

Change tends to creep up on you. Before you know what has occurred -- what was in is now out -- and what used to be out appears in at an antique shop in Nyack, New York.

For example, I turned on my stereo the other day at the request of my two-year-old son Jimmy, who wanted to dance.

As Jimmy "hopped" around the living room, I took an inventory of my stereo equipment: one receiver and one single cassette tape deck, both about 15 years old, and one
single-draw CD player, about five years old. Something was missing: no turntable.
Web:Illustration Only

As a kid in the South Bronx, there seemed to be a turntable or record player, as we called them, in every apartment. In fact, my last count of 45 r.p.m. records and vinyl albums was a little more than 500 – – and I grew up poor.

My, how things have changed, I thought. My son and daughter, Danielle, are growing up in a house without a turntable. Boy, did I feel old.

Old-fashioned cash registers also seemed to have gone the way of the record player. "Scanning" groceries at the supermarket checkout counter, a relatively new technology for consumers, is now commonplace.

When I joined IBM in 1976, scanners weren't as popular as they are now. Everything is scanned into the computerized cash register today, from groceries to clothes to auto parts.

Changes have also crept up on people with disabilities during the span of just 30 to 50 years. Before World War II, a person sustaining a spinal cord injury would almost surely die – usually because of complications with the kidneys and bladder.

In the 1940s and '50s, Dr. Howard Rusk and other medical pioneers discovered how to manage a person with a spinal cord injury, and now many more of us are kept alive today.

And back then, a severely disabled person driving herself to work was unheard of. Today, thousands of people drive cars and vans with hand controls, wheelchair lifts and other technological wonders.

Now, disabled people can participate in all kinds of sports: snow and water skiing, swimming, wheelchair races and wheelchair basketball. There are even travel agents catering to the needs of the disabled traveler.

Love and courtship have changed, too. There was a time when disabled people were kept in institutions, segregated from society. Now, able-bodied people date and marry disabled people, and they even raise families together. And sadly, they even divorce.

What about a law guaranteeing the rights of people with disabilities? Unheard of just 30 years ago. Now, there's a tough and aggressive Americans with Disabilities Act, with teeth to protect rights and to literally remove architectural barriers obstructing disabled people today.

Just look at how far we've come. I believe that change will come even faster as technology and medical expertise combine to cure all types of ailments, from spinal cord injury to blindness to birth defects.

The question I marvel at when I think about all of this is: "How far can we go?"

The song is over and Jimmy is asking me to find another radio station. "Sure, Jimmy," I said. "Who knows? In 10 years I may be 'hopping' with you."


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Hospital Visits: Patients' Best Medicine

Déjà Vu: This column was originally published in the 
Journal-News, a newspaper distributed in Rockland County, New York, March 16,1992.

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.

Visiting relatives and friends in hospitals and nursing homes is difficult for many people. It's tough for me because I know what it's like living in an institution. But I also know how important visits can be to patients.

I spent almost eight months at New York University's Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation, and I've been in and out of hospitals over the last 10 years since my spinal cord injury.
Web photo: Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation

My grandmother is now in a nursing home. What strikes me every time I visit "Nana" are the reactions of the other patients. When my children, Danielle and Jimmy, walk into the facility, many of the elderly people perk up. There eyes seem to brighten at the sight of these young visitors. They approach the kids to touch them, talk with them or just say hello.

Since the 1960s, the number of residents in nursing homes in the United States has more than doubled. There are about 23,000 long-term care facilities in the United States, housing more than 1.3 million people – – 85% of them over 65 years old.

I think I know what some of the patient's are feeling. When I was a patient, I didn't really know if I would ever leave the facility. And, I thought people would forget about me. No matter what you're told as a patient, you still believe that you may die in a place that is foreign to you and with people you don't know. You're not at your "real" home, and you're always afraid.

Your moods change frequently. Sometimes you want to be left alone to weep or just cope with your situation in your own way. Other times you want to have people around you, to share feelings and to find comfort in people who care about you.

I found that the best medicine for people in hospitals or nursing homes is to have visitors regularly. First, visitors can pick up the patient's spirits, and second, it lets the staff know there are people who care about the patient and worry about the quality of care being given to a friend or loved one.

The patients I knew at Rusk all looked forward to visits from their friends, relatives or spouses. Yes, some would complain about the visits, but it gave them something to talk about other than their ailments or TV soap operas.

One patient, who had lost the ability to speak, could communicate very well with his wife. Although he could only grunt and groan, she alone new exactly what he needed and wanted. Try as they might, the nurses could never break the code. He was eventually transferred to a rehabilitation center in the South, where he could be closer to his wife and family.

When a patient has visitors, the nursing staff benefits. In many ways, it makes their jobs easier. Family members can help with the patient's care and emotional well-being. Patients don't feel forgotten or worthless, and are not as likely to become depressed.

In my case, when visitors were expected, the nursing staff would take extra care getting me ready to receive my guests.
The staff didn't want me to look ill or unhappy.

Unfortunately, patients who were expected to remain in the facility for long periods of time usually get the greatest percentage of visitors when first admitted. Then the number of visitors and the frequency of visits taper off. That's when the patient feels alone and forgotten and the patient's well-being starts to slide and the nursing care seems to decline.

Because of the increasing numbers of people living beyond the age of 65 and changes in lifestyles, which separate the elderly from being cared for by their families, more and more people will find their way into nursing homes.

A great many of those people never get well. But that doesn't mean they should be forgotten or hidden from the public. If you have a relative or a friend in an institution, take a trip and visit him or her this Sunday. The trip will do you both some good.