Staff and Self Advocates in Westchester Keep Spirit of ADA Alive

Wed, August 11, 2010

Every week, Bridget DeLuca-Garcia, Lynn Cruz and Allison Downer make sure that democracy works.

You probably wouldn't know it from their job description: The three women work at YAI residences for adults with developmental disabilities in Westchester. Ensuring the growth, independence and well-being of the people they serve is key. But they don't stop there. They are also committed to helping the residents make their voices heard.

Bridget, Lynn and Allison work diligently with YAI’s Self-Advocacy Group in Westchester to keep alive the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a historic piece of legislation that brought civil rights to people with disabilities. The group comprises nearly 20 adults with developmental disabilities who live in YAI residences.

The ADA, which marked its 20th anniversary on July 26, is responsible for making buildings, businesses and parking spaces accessible for people with physical disabilities. However, its impact, thanks to self advocates committed to promoting the rights of other people with developmental disabilities and to the staff – including Bridget, Lynn and Allison – who support them, is much greater.

“When you look back historically, and see how people with disabilities were treated years ago , now we’re seeing how many people have been fighting for their rights and this is all coming together,” said Bridget, Assistant Supervisor at YAI’s Wagner Residence in Mamaroneck. “Today, self-advocates recognize that they are important and that their voices are heard.”

Allison, Assistant Supervisor at YAI’s Belvidere ResIdence, created a mock voting booth so that self advocates could practice voting. She says that the exercise motivated the residents to become more involved in the community, and that working with the group has helped her to see “the capabilities of these individuals and has taught us how to bring that out in each of them.”

Indeed, the self advocates who participate in the group are thriving in response to new opportunities to contribute.

Natalie, who lives in YAI’s Wagner Residence, serves as secretary of the Self-Advocacy Group. For her proficiency in this role, Natalie recently received an award from the group. “It made me feel happy because I was recognized,” she said.

For Helen, a resident of YAI’s Wagner residence, being part of the self advocacy group has meant sharing her optimism and can-do attitude with others.

“It has opened my heart to other people who have more severe disabilities than I have,” Helen said. “I want to encourage them and build their self esteem. I tell them that no matter what your disability, you can do whatever you want.”

But it’s not only the self advocates who have gained a new sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Lynn, a Direct Service Professional at YAI’s Belvidere Residence in New Rochelle, had spent several years working in real estate before deciding to build a career working with people with developmental disabilities. According to her, helping to empower self advocates brings with it tremendous gratification.

“At the end of the day, I’m happy,” said Lynn. “And that’s how I know that this is the field I want to be in.”