While I appreciate our Managing Editor’s heartfelt story that appears later in the Magazine, allow me to take a different approach. In the Summer of 2001 I successfully defended a dissertation titled “An Exploratory Study Concerning the Education and Graduation of Students with Disabilities.” Only one guest faculty member and one guest student showed for the defense aside from my three dissertation committee members. When I applied for business faculty positions, I was told that I had not written "a business dissertation." This was the case despite the fact that most of the research involved business administration faculty. Thankfully, Dr. Dorothy Germano, now President and Chief Academic Officer of Hawthorn College, thought otherwise. I would like to publically express my gratitude to her for allowing me to become a full-time Associate Professor of an accredited post secondary institution. It is ironic that I am now CEO of a private business that provides job placement and supports to people with disabilities for profit (see www.universalabilities.net). Perhaps my dissertation topic was business-related after all.
The point that I am trying to make is that do not let the status quo
determine the nature or the direction of your vision. A vision is
forged by imagination and the willingness to be unconventional and
proactive. We can all be visionaries: let’s make the Universal Abilities
Success Story Magazine a collective vision. We value how you have met
your challenges. Most importantly, we value your triumphs as students
and ultimately as employees. I hope that Dr. Laube’s story serves
as an inspiration to all of you with challenges to overcome. Our motto
is Abilities…Not Disabilities! Let’s put an end to stigma and transform
the manner in which the public views the collective talents of over 53
million Americans with disabilities. Our mission is to promote the
educational and career aspirations of persons with disabilities. Will
you join us in our quest to fulfill this vision for the future? Please
enjoy the contents of this magazine - they will always be free to the public.
Richard Morfopoulos, Ph.D.
Universal Abilities Magazine
A Helping Hand from Universal Abilities
By Dondi Farmer
Before my relationship with Universal Abilities, I can tell you that it was like the horror movie right after the first episode. After the introduction nothing goes right. Employment, economic and financial areas on my life was a big downhill snowball. There are really no people on the planet that just give up. We just go into realms of despair, depression and the roads that lead anywhere. For me it was going back to my traumas in childhood. Prison, street life, and even drug abuse. I can only say that there hasn’t been a movie made yet to reflect walking that thin thread wire Path of Life between chaos and destruction on one side, and, a bottomless deep and endless darkness on the other. However, the part when this story hits age and physical injuries, homelessness, unemployed and funds from a check that only set off sparks of big economic loss. That was when the “glimmer of hope” for some future episode did arrive in my life. Universal Abilities came in Hollywood Style; “just in the nick of time.”
Well I told you a little of what it was like… but this is what happened. I touched base with Dr. Morfopoulos, at Universal Abilities (631-880-7929 x120; http://www.universalabilities.net). I was prospecting from a computer. I was looking for work but stumbled upon a resource for help. I made the decision to call this advertised resource for help. The greeting was as it always is with the business world in America: courteous, attentive and amiable. The ‘fast pace let’s get it done and over with’ was not there at all. This table turned when patience entered from the left side of the stage. This is when I was beginning to see that this was not just a businessman’s act. How can a stranger take his time to ask questions about me and then listen to me?
I can tell when someone is expecting a call and want to get me off the phone. Instead I was treated like a big league contract for the firm: time was not the essence. You see, when Dr. Morfopoulos questioned about my skills. I thought about how skills are just always written down and submitted for whomever needed to read them. Then there was Jamie K., to whom I discussed my skills with. They defined my skills to him in a way that I talk to my friends, not business persons. He is a person that wanted to hear what I had to say. Dr. Morfopoulos and Ms. Ryan, Jamie and Universal Abilities became my friends.
No. Really. Although that is what happened, at my first call experience it was not the end. Because everything that I verbalized to Jamie of my experience, skills, gifts, talent and qualifications. I was also asked to make a list of these as my foundation. We listed people, places and organizations as substance. I felt we were building. I was told that my life experiences are jewels in the crown of my life. Can you imagine every trophy, plaque, ribbon, social group attended, schools I’ve attended, certifications, experience, volunteer work, trainings, knowledge based abilities? Even just the organizations involved with and persons from these organizations from which ‘transferable skills’ could be extracted. These all was taken into the laboratory of Universal Abilities. The bottom line foundation was laid by Dr. Morfopoulos and Jamie K., for our continued relationship. Appointments were made.
Conversations took place frequently. And I was invited to call at liberty. Leave messages. Call backs were timely. Since grade school, I was always told that I had “potential”. With Universal Abilities I was always encouraged about myself. I was led to believe that Universal Abilities would get me into the work force; a full-time job. No capitulating about my felonious history. Dr. Morfopoulos always asked about my feelings. I felt like the patient in an important operation. If I answered that there was a need. Sleeves were rolled up and the operation to fix my need was in effect. Dr. Morfopoulos told me that he “would do everything in his power to get me a job”. He took my résumé. He critiqued it. He gave me corporations and institutions to contact. He kept constant contact throughout job search and interviews with potential employers.
Housing counseling is provided by Ms. Paula Ryan of SILO. This included subsidized housing applications, communicating with township leaders for housing. The necessary constant contact for the business of an individual life has been phenomenally magical. When processing economic and employment areas of my life by myself, I would constantly be revising the first step in my plans. I am working now in the field of my choice. I am a Credentialed Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor. It was a tool necessary for the duties of my job. I did mention ‘magical’. Because to want a job and not have the tools means that I have to find a job that I do not want to do.
I am now shopping for a vehicle on my days off. I experience breath taking days of praise for steps in a plan, process to goals and accomplishments. Being told that I already have what it takes for my success has been different when the day before interview I can call Universal Abilities and speak with Dr. Morfopoulos. I can call Ms. Ryan from SILO and ask questions while sitting in the office of a Realtor. I suggest to everyone that I know who is on Social Security income and want a real life to call Universal Abilities because everyone has a trade, skill, talent, ability, gift or contribution to make to their family, community, society and to the World. Universal Abilities is the place to call and discover what you have to make your goals and dreams a reality.
By Tina Behnstedt
No one really knows what your future is going to be like, will your dreams and hopes you have set for you will come to life. My plans for my children, their childhood, teenage, college years, I had it all planned out. I had a husband, a home, a job, a car, life is great. What more can I ask for? Nothing right???
In August of 1993, I was legally divorced, diagnosed with frontal cranial meningioma, and no health insurance all in one day!
“A meningioma is a type of tumor that grows from the protective membranes, called meninges, which surround the brain and spinal cord. Most meningiomas are benign (not cancerous) and slow growing; however, some can be malignant. Symptoms typically appear gradually and vary depending on the location and brain area affected. Because these are slow growing tumors, not all meningioma’s need to be treated immediately. Treatment options focus on removing the tumor and relieving the compression on the brain.”
When my MRI was completed and pictures were read by neurology I met the best Neurosurgeon, Dr Robert Decker, at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. He very calmly informed me that I need to have surgery (cut my head open from ear to ear) to remove the tumor. I was dumbfounded. I asked him to please repeat himself, I didn’t understand him, how was this possible, I told him I have two kids to raise, I didn’t have time this surgery he was talking about.
Dr. Decker, again calmly said “if I don’t have surgery now I will go blind and die in 6 months” guess what I had the surgery. No real choice in the matter.
Surgery was a successful even though I looked like the elephant man.
As we all know there always major complications that come along with surgery. I was in and out of the hospital for about 6 months; due to blood clots in my lungs, lost my sense of smell, lost part of my vision and was losing more and more of my vision which led to another brain surgery, lots and lots of meds.
But like I said surgery was a success….I’m still alive and legally blind… that was 23 years ago.
This little brief bio is not to make anyone feel sorry for me or to be inspirational, it’s just to say that my life was still fulfilled even though I am a person with a disability. I went college, met a new man, got married again, raised my kids, became a grandmother, got a job, own my home again, life is good…. can’t driveanymore….so I use Suffolk County Accessible Transit (SCAT) to travel!
What more can I ask for!!!!!!!
As a newly diagnosed individual with a disability I was able to secure SSDI due to my work history, however, we all know that Social Security Disability Insurance, SSDI is not enough to support me and my family even though my husband is employed. Life is expensive!!!
What I decided to do was to take advantage of Social Security’s Administration, SSA, and Work Incentives for People with Disabilities. After graduation I from college I was able to secure employment with Suffolk Independent Living Organization, SILO, (where I did my internship for my Social Work Classes) as an advocate and benefits specialist for other individuals with disabilities.
SSA’s Work incentives gave me the courage to take a chance to return to work. I understood that I was not going to lose my income right way and also I was not going to lose my health care. My paycheck helps me to pay for bills, my mortgage, SCAT, etc. just like everyone who is not disabled.
As a person with a disability I understood that SSA work
incentives were put in place to help me regain the life I
knew before my disability. That I was able to earn money again,
my own pay check every week, not once a month. That I can do
and spend money (after the bills are paid, have to be responsible)
again without answering to anyone again.
Darren Brehm: Climbing the Ladder of Success
Written By Ian Ruder | June 01, 2015
Article first appearing in United Spinal Association’s New Mobility Magazine
Darren Brehm remembers what it is like to look up at the corporate ladder and feel like even the bottom rung is out of reach from your wheelchair. In 2002, nine years after a rollover car accident made him a C4-5 quad, Brehm had adjusted, gotten married, started a business and graduated from college. Yet still, he didn’t see a way to start climbing.
“I had very low self-esteem regarding my spinal cord injury as far as how do I apply for a job,” he says. When do you tell employers you are in a wheelchair? What accommodations do you ask for? Are they really equal opportunity employers? What if my disability scares them away? The questions raced through his head. “I found myself wondering, ‘How am I going to be successful in a corporate environment?”
He started his climb with a job at Boeing in 2002 and hasn’t looked back since. He went on to graduate from Harvard Business School, work at one of the world’s most demanding consulting firms and currently works for one of America’s largest grocery manufacturers, all while raising a family. He’s learned how to thrive in the corporate system while overcoming the obstacles a spinal cord injury can present. The philosophy that has helped him succeed is pretty straightforward. “I don’t identify myself as a quad or anything like that. I’m just Darren, a guy that had a spinal cord injury a long time ago… I’m going to work really hard and I’m going to try to be the same guy I was, just sitting down now.”
Finding His Niche, Making a Mark
Brehm’s injury in 1993 forced him to withdraw from San Diego State following his sophomore year, but it didn’t dampen his natural entrepreneurial tendencies. He mastered working with computers and got into building and repairing them and designing websites. He started a business buying pinball machines in Europe, shipping them back to the United States, refinishing them and reselling them. He even launched his own “.com” business. Around that time, his wife, Faith, who had been injured in the same accident with Brehm and whom he married in 1996, pointed out that he seemed to have rehabilitated himself and suggested maybe it was time to return to school.
As a businessman with an international company, Darren travels more than most people. This photo was taken during a recent trip to Shanghai, China.
Brehm quickly found confidence in his abilities at community college and transferred back to SDSU to finish his finance degree. He graduated as the Internet bubble burst and the economy tanked. He credits a mentor for helping him overcome his insecurities about applying for a job as a wheelchair user in a market where jobs were scarce. “He said, ‘Darren, you just need to get some job experience. It doesn’t matter where it is; you’ve just got to go get some experience. ’” Brehm ended up applying “to every company I could” before landing a job on the finance team for Boeing’s defense program.
Immediately his concerns began to fade away. “I found that when I went to Boeing, there really weren’t any constraints - just like there hadn’t been any in school,” he says. “They said, ‘What do you need?’” Brehm got the height-adjustable table, trackball and Dragon software he needed and found the company had no problem with Faith checking in occasionally to help with food and restroom needs.
“I found that at Boeing I was able to leverage the same tools that made me successful at school and at home, which is technology,” says Brehm. “I became a pretty quick expert in tools like Excel, and the computer really became my enabler. I became an expert at Boeing and I went from being the guy that nobody wanted because I was a wheelchair guy to being [in demand].”
With a better understanding of the realities of the corporate workplace, a growingly confident Brehm quickly realized that his salary and California’s pricey economy weren’t a good match. Despite having lived his whole life in California and having all his family there, Brehm moved east to attend Harvard Business School. He got his degree while Faith finished hers at the University of Massachusetts - Boston. A happy Brehm found himself facing another dilemma upon graduating: return to Boeing, where the company would repay his student debt and he would be comfortable, or join McKinsey, one of the world’s largest and most demanding consulting firms.
Again, sage advice from a mentor helped him choose his path. Brehm approached a professor he respected with his dilemma. She drew a parallel between her experience as a lesbian in the workforce to his as a wheelchair user.
“She said, ‘You know Darren, the world’s not a fair place. You’re in a wheelchair and I’m a lesbian, the discrimination is real and we’re not going to change that overnight. But you’ve got this really pretty resume and a nice story. You go to work at McKinsey for a couple of years, nobody is going to question your disability ever again. You’ve only got to suck it up for two years and it would be really good for your career.’”
Brehm accepted McKinsey’s offer and he and Faith moved to Chicago for the next step in his education. Over the next three and a half years he worked 65-80 hours a week, often traveling up to four days a week. That’s a heavy load for anyone, much less a high quad.
A Family Man Rises to the Top
Early on at McKinsey, Brehm realized his previous setup, with Faith and attendants coming in to assist him, wouldn’t work for McKinsey’s rigorous schedule. “My friends were like, ‘What are you doing, dude? Why is your wife helping you at McKinsey?’ I thought, I don’t have a choice; the job is so good I don’t want to say anything. They said, ‘No, dummy, you should say something’.” Finally he did, and to his surprise McKinsey agreed to provide $50,000 per year so he could pay attendants. He hired his mom, and she moved to Chicago and spent the next two and a half years traveling with him and helping him. “That’s what private firms can do,” he says. “The unique thing about that experience was that they would just value the brain. The brain is doing what they want, and they’ll bend over backwards to accommodate that. They don’t answer to anybody but the partners, so they make the decisions.”
Darren Brehm and his wife, Faith, are shown celebrating the fourth birthday of their 4-year-old fraternal twins, Teagan and Sophie.
Despite the positive setup, with twins on the way, Darren and Faith knew the long hours and crazy travel wouldn’t work, and in 2011 Brehm took a job as an associate director with Kraft Foods in the Chicago area. The $50,000 budget was no more, and Brehm wasn’t senior enough for a personal assistant, but the company did agree to pay for travel assistants. In 2013, Brehm was promoted to director of procurement for North American ingredients. He manages a $950 million budget and a team of 13. “You don’t hear many people say, ‘When I grow up, I want to work in procurement,’ but I find it tremendously satisfying,” he said in a profile for SDSU.
Managing work and the growing demands of having a family is a continual challenge. Not being able to help Faith with many of the physical needs of their kids brought out Brehm’s insecurities and frustration. “My wife’s on her own completely. She’s a stay-at-home mom, and she’s got her hands full with our two kids plus having to take care of me at the house and doing all the work at the house that I can’t do as the partner on the team, right?” he says. &ldquot;So it’s kind of like - I mean, unfortunately my wife has the burden of being a single parent of two kids and a kid with a disability, right?”
He says he tries to avoid the anger and provide what he can. “ I try to be helpful, like I can still be like a machine that generates as much money as I can for all the stuff we’re trying to do,” he says. "So that’s one of the things I do is I work really hard and I’m always trying different angles to make money. I am a financial contributor, which is OK. And, I can support my wife to be helpful there, so that’s check number two.”
The mutual support the two provide for each other, coupled with the support - both physical and emotional - of friends and family, has been invaluable to Brehm’s success. &ldquot;Whether it’s my wife, or whether it be a family member, you need to have that person there for logistics and everything else,” he says. “That’s the trick. I don’t think anybody with a spinal cord injury - maybe a small handful - is wealthy enough that you can buy all the support you need to do all this stuff without any kind of help, whether it’s a wife or family member doing it. You just can’t afford - I couldn’t afford - to orchestrate all this without her.”
In 2008, Brehm started and ran a website called Ability Trip that provided accessibility information for travelers. He also started and runs Pinball Armor, a manufacturer of custom covers for pinball machines. Additionally, Brehm donates his time as a peer ambassador at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and he joined the United Spinal Association board of directors in March 2014.
That’s more than enough to keep anyone busy, so it’s easy to understand why right now Brehm says he is “kind of chilling out.”
“I imagine having two kids at age 4 is a pretty good sized project for a while,” he says.
A Coworker’s View
Rob O’Brien has worked for Brehm the last two years at Kraft and says the secret to his colleague’s success is simple. “He’s a really smart guy who doesn’t micromanage. He sets a high level of direction and says, ‘Hey, get there,’ and he’s there for you if you need any help along the way.” Together, Brehm and O’Brien are part of Kraft’s ingredient procurement unit and are responsible for sourcing and purchasing the many ingredients Kraft needs to fuel its global enterprise.
O’Brien, like many Americans, had never worked with or for a wheelchair user prior to working for Brehm, but says his boss made him feel comfortable by the end of his initial interview. &ldquot;He was very open and direct and told me about using a wheelchair and how he got injured. He addressed it up front and it just didn’t seem like a big deal.”
That openness also manifests in how Brehm works with his staff. “You can come to him with any idea or proposal - however crazy - and he’ll help you think through it,” says O’Brien. “He’ll tell you what he thinks and give you really good feedback. You always know where he stands on a subject.&rdquot;
In addition to working closely together, Brehm and O’Brien have gotten to be good friends outside the workplace. Between trips to water parks with the Brehm family, after-work drinks and hours bonding over pinball, O’Brien has developed an appreciation of Brehm’s well-rounded approach.
“He’s just a really cool dude who happens to be in a wheelchair,” says O’Brien. “He hasn’t let being paralyzed get in the way of him being a cool person, a great dad and a successful businessman.”
The Difference between college and high school for students with disabilities
By Alyssa Provenzano, LMSW
Assistant Director of Accessibility Services at New York Institute of Technology
When a high school senior and his or her parents sit down in my office for an initial meeting, I am always met with the same look of nervous trepidation, a look that seems to say “I don’t know if I can do this.” As the meeting progresses, both the student and the parent seem to relax as the possibility of not only going to college but succeeding becomes a real possibility.
I am the Assistant Director of Accessibility Services at New York Institute of Technology. I have held this position for about three years. Before I came to NYIT, I had received my License in Social Work and had about 5 years’ experience in the mental health field. I thought this would prepare me for my position at NYIT, but much of the education I received was trial by fire. One of my biggest and first lessons was the major differences between getting accommodations in high school, and getting accommodations in college.
In New York, High School students are covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. This act is included in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The mission of IDEA is to provide state and federal assistance to educational agencies that provide special education to children with disabilities. Students ages 3-21 that are deemed eligible in a variety of different categories can receive special accommodations provided by the school. These categories include but aren’t limited to, autism, processing disorders, hearing impairments, emotional disturbances, learning disabilities, speech impairments, traumatic brain injury or visual impairments. These are not the only disabilities that can be deemed eligible, but they are the most common.
Assistance takes the form of special accommodations. These accommodations can include extended time on exams, a separate location for exams, audiobooks, designated readers, note takers, scribes for exams, resource room, large print for handouts, frequent breaks and other modifications that can come at the discretion of the committee and teacher.
If you are a parent of a student who has had an Individual Education Plan from your local school, you understand the process to get your student the accommodations they need to be successful. A parent must apply and meet with a 504 committee to determine of the child is eligible for accommodations due to a disability. If the child is eligible, a 504 plan will be put in place. Eligibility is determined by a committee who includes teachers, a special education teacher, the parent, the student, the school principal and social workers. There is no standard 504 plan that is required by law, every school district handles 504’s differently. Most 504 pans will include accommodations, names of supports (teachers, administrators, tutors, etc.) and the person who will ensure that the 504 plan is implemented. As one can see, there are many supports for students who need accommodations in high school. This is where the transition into college becomes a major obstacle for many students with disabilities.
Many students come to NYIT fresh off a high school career filled with committee meetings, IEPs, resource rooms and other state funded programs that assist them in getting into college. Students who have had IEP’s and parent advocates often come to college unknowing of how to advocate for themselves. During the summer months, I will receive more calls from parents than I do students wondering how to get their students accommodations. It is my pleasure to discuss these issues with parents but I also want to make it clear that life is much, much different in college. Professors (no matter how polite they might be) would prefer to work with the student, rather than work with their parents. This poses a major problem for students with disabilities. In high school, students are identified. In college they must self-disclose to the universities Office of Disability Services, otherwise, they will not receive the accommodations they require. In high school, it is the school’s responsibility to arrange all accommodations. In college, students must advocate for themselves. I have many examples of students who are afraid to discuss their disability with their professor in fear of being treated differently. It is explained that it is their individual right not to self-disclose but it would be in their best interest to do so as in college, professors will not report to Disability Services due to confidentiality issues.
While I present this information to students at our initial meeting, it often doesn’t take hold until the student is knee deep into the semester. There have been many examples in the past where students are struggling in classes but at not utilizing their accommodation or not self-advocating and unfortunately failing their classes. If it is late into a semester and a student is failing, it is almost impossible for them to bounce back successfully, which is why I stress how important it is to make accommodations and to make yourself known to professors. They are there to assist but only if you do the work.
If I can stress any piece of advice to parents who are looking to send their child to college, it is to instill a sense of self efficacy and self-advocacy early in your student. You have been your child’s advocate since their educational careers have begun and you have done an excellent job. If you can, help to educate your student on how to be a good self-advocate. This includes knowing their strengths/weaknesses and understanding how their disability affects the way they approach school. You’ve done the best job for them, now you want them to learn from the best.
It is difficult to navigate college for even the savviest of students. If a high school junior/senior is prepared for what colleges can provide in way of accommodations, their chance of success increases dramatically. It is important for them to understand that accommodations they receive how to receive them and how to work with their professors/Disability Services to ensure a successful and productive college career.
One of the most rewarding parts of my job is to see a student come into his or her own as a self-advocate. It instills a sense of confidence that students can carry with them throughout their lives. I am very proud to witness these transformations and hopefully, play a small role in their success.
Upon Suffering a Stroke
By Dr. Mitchell Laube
I suffered a minor stroke located in the basal ganglia of my brain on January 9, 2015. At first, I was paralyzed on my left side. I could not open my left hand and my left leg from the knee down was weak. The very next day I was able to stand using my right leg. I started rehabilitation therapy the next day after I stood. I sat up in a chair in my room and then a nurse gave me a rubber heart shaped object and she told me to squeeze it with my left hand. After about three weeks I was able to open my left hand and grasp objects. One of my most appreciative accomplishments was that I was able to hold and squeeze a toothpaste tube in about four weeks. Another week later I was able to hold a nail clipper and squeeze it to trim my own nails. I learned how to wash, shave and dress myself using mostly my right hand (which was not affected).
In therapy, I tried to walk using a walker with wheels and a quad cane. The quad cane has four contact points with the ground. I could not master the walker but I immediately was able to stand and take steps with the quad cane. At each therapy session I was able to stand longer and longer and take walking steps until I developed a pain across the bottom of my left knee. My therapist suggested that I be fitted for a brace to ease the pain. The first day that I wore the brace I was able to walk twice as much distance than I had the days before. My balance improved. I could walk for longer periods and longer distances. I entered therapy on February 1st and was released to go home on June 6th. I now take blood pressure pills daily with aspirin as a blood thinner. I have had no problems since.
I know my success in recovery was due to my desire to recover and my perseverance for doing the therapy. I never missed one therapy session or refused any instruction from my therapists. Once I was at home and developed a normal routine over a few weeks, I asked my doctor if I could drive again. At first I was allowed to drive only five miles in one direction. After a few more weeks my driving restrictions were removed. I asked my doctor if I could return to work and was told that I could but to do only what I felt I could do. Now I work at least three days a week and will do more very soon. I drive to and from work everyday and almost anywhere else that I want.
Now, when I look at other peoples’ problems, I feel that mine are not that great at all. I have almost resumed my regular life. Each day I become stronger and stronger.
Today I work for a wonderful organization, Universal Abilities. Our organization is an employment network that finds jobs for people free of charge, between 18 and 64 years of age with disabilities who are currently receiving Social Security Supplementary Insurance (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and who want to work at jobs that pay more than Social Security does. I am an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist with over thirty years as a college professor of psychology. I have worked with many students with disabilities in the past. Interested persons can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, my e-mail address; or telephone me at (631) 740-2567.
Independent Living Centers
By Joseph M. Delgado
Executive Director/Suffolk Independent Living Organization (SILO)
It is amazing how many services are available to United States citizens that so few of us know about. This article is to introduce you to Independent Living Centers (ILCs). ILCs are authorized under title VII of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Their purpose is to:
‘Promote a philosophy of consumer control, peer support, self-help, self-determination, equal access, and individual and system advocacy, to maximize the leadership, empowerment, independence, and productivity of individuals with significant disabilities, and to promote and maximize the integration and full inclusion of individuals with significant disabilities into the mainstream of American society by providing financial assistance to States.’
There are over 200 independent living centers through the United States. Most states participate in the development and implementation of ILCs. New York State has 39 ILCs distributed throughout the State. Each Independent Living Center, although operated by an independently owned incorporated non for profit, adheres to the independent living philosophy and provides the same services no matter where you go in New York State and through-out the United States. My experience has shown that each ILC has its own individualized personality based on the community or the services area that they represent.
I happen to be the proud Executive Director of one of the premier independent living centers in New York State. The agency’s name is Suffolk Independent Living Organization, affectionately known as SILO. SILO services area is the county of Suffolk on the far eastern end of Long Island. Suffolk County is the largest in area of Long Island’s four counties (which includes Brooklyn, Queens and Nassau County) and the second-largest of 62 counties in New York State. Suffolk County measures 86 miles (138 km) in length and 26 miles (42 km) in width at its widest. The western end of the county is only 49 miles away from the heart of Manhattan, New York. The eastern end of the county is only 3 and half hours from downtown Boston, Massachusetts if you travel by ferry.
There are 1.4 million people in Suffolk County. For the fiscal year 2014-15 SILO provided services for over 3,100 people of ALL disabilities. This is a first time head count. Our typical consumer takes advantage of three or more of our services over the course of a year. We have continued to provide services to consumers who initially started with us in the 1990’s. SILO is well known and recognized assisting people of all disabilities, the elderly and their family with all aspects of living, learning and earning for optimum health and quality of life.
SILO likes to think of itself as an Advocacy agency first and foremost. We have taken to task the hotel, motels and cooperatives in the Hamptons for lack of accessibility to its patrons and been successful in acquiring their cooperation and support. We are currently working with our County government to enhance the counties transportation system so that people with disabilities that depend on the fixed transit route, have bus stops that are safe and accessible. We are working with the County government so that our para-transit system is available to all County resident no matter where they live or travel within the County. We advocate for traffic signals that are ADA complaint for those with visual impairment. We work with apartment management companies to insure accessibility for its tenants. We are the agency people turn to when an entity (government or private) or an individual is denying accessibility to someone with a disability.
SILO also prides itself on the work we do to assist families, especially of those with children exiting the school system prepare themselves when applying for social security benefits and other federal entitlement programs. We help families navigate through the mountain of paperwork to become eligible for Rehabilitation services or other medical related supports.
Our Independent Living Department provides travel training, Activities of Daily Living Training and Information and Referral Services. This department also provides housing assistance, architectural and communication barrier consultation, and personal counseling that is non-clinical. It has developed and implemented support groups that are specific to a disabilities group. We are experts at peer counseling, alcohol and gambler support and we are a care givers support group. We also provide a variety of consumer social events.
SILO partners with the New York State Associations on Independent Living (NYAIL) to provide the federal initiative Money Follows the Person Demonstration Program. This initiative assists people who want to leave institutional care and receive services in their community. SILO also partners with the New York State Department of Health in the delivery of the Nursing Home Transition and Diversion Waiver and the Traumatic Brain injury Waivers. These Waiver use Medicaid funding to provide supports and services to assist individuals with disabilities and seniors toward successful inclusion in the community.
We also partner with State University of New York on the Diabetes 2 Self-management classes and other preventive care and management classes for chronic illnesses.
SILO’s Lending Closet works closely with the administrator of the Technology Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities (TRAIDS) Grant. This grant intent is to increase the access and acquisition of assistive technology to those with disabilities. SILO’s Lending Closet has over 300 medical devices and equipment to loan individuals on a temporary basis.
SILO partnered with Universal Abilities on the implementation of its Employment Network which is discussed in detail in other articles of this magazine.
Our array of services assist consumers with all disabilities to live fully integrated and self-directed lives. The ultimate goal is to provide the necessary support for people with disabilities and the elderly to live independently in within their communities. Familiarize yourself with your local ILC, because you never know when you or a family member may need the services provided by them.
Investing in your employees: Is it worth it?
By Andrea Seitz
Director of Marketing for Castella Imports & President of Handle That Now
Starting a new business can be financially challenging. It can also be rewarding when avoiding some common mistakes.
Prior to opening a new business, entrepreneurs are strongly advised to create business proposals to outline their financial capital, income potential and growth projections. Whether the business is selling a product or providing a service, a common factor often missed is staffing and service planning. New business owners often lack the capital necessary to hire staff and service professionals immediately so they provide the beginning to end experience themselves. It is challenging to find employees with similar passion and leadership, especially with the starting pay you can offer. Therefore, many business owners get caught in the vicious habits of what I like to call the “I’ll do it myself syndrome”.
New business owners can work 10-12 hours to get their business up and running. RealBusiness reported Entrepreneurs working 63% longer than the average worker.
Networking, sales, paperwork, and the delivery or implementation of goods can be time consuming. But it doesn’t end there. Channeling customer inquiries or circumventing customer service issues can monopolize a significant part of your day.
Long Island business owner, Michael Philbrick, understands work. He owns a dance studio and a microbrewery in the heart of Port Jefferson, both operating seven days a week.
Philbrick comments, “I own two businesses that keep me very busy; it’s not a nine to five job. I can work seven days a week, even if it’s just for customer service issues, a last minute delivery, or one of the many shows we do. You have to be available for your customers or they will go elsewhere.”
With Philbrick’s four small children and an active lifestyle, we asked him how he’s able to balance his family life with his businesses.
“I hire people that care about my businesses. They treat it like their own which allows me to forgo micromanaging and focus on growing my business instead. It also gives me more time to spend with my family. I love working for myself. I call the shots, determine how much I make and I can have a somewhat flexible schedule to be at my daughter’s dance recital” Philbrick explains.
Now it’s time to hire someone to help you grow your business and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Who you hire and the time invested in training will determine if you have just helped or hurt your business. Will this employee take the time to assist your customers the way you would? Will your new employee enter orders incorrectly, ship materials late, steal from you?
Some employers argue the inability to effectively train their employees due to lack of time or high turnover. One-on-one training can be time consuming but there are other ways for employees to receive training. Through your website, webinars and even YouTube, has many educational videos. I, myself learned the basics of Paint.net from a fifteen year old on YouTube years ago.
Taking the time to teach your employees product knowledge, better selling techniques and the value of customer service can be a huge impact. Scheduling twenty minutes per day to sharpen their strengths and discuss feedback will communicate to your employee that you are vested in them. They, in turn, will work harder knowing you value them.
Let’s discuss what could happen if you choose not to not invest in your staff’s future.
Joe owns a hardware store. Joe knows the names of all of his regulars and greets them each day with a smile. He’s their “Go-To” guy. Knowledgeable about the products he sells and the time he takes to assist customers, they enjoy the overall experience. Joe hires Tim who is unfamiliar with his product or best practices. Joe is too busy to train Tim and therefore Tim acts as a body behind a cash register. He gets bored and his work ethic suffers. Joe’s regulars stop coming in. It could be because they are not greeted with a smile. Maybe they ask questions that Tim doesn’t know how to answer. So they find another hardware store to gain the experience they lost.
Joe has just lost customers, and a piece of his financial investment. Even if you change employees, you will still have to invest money for new customers. More importantly, you will have to re-invest more money to get disgruntled customers back. What if some of these customers had shared their experience online? Through Social media channels you can receive bad ratings or bad reviews that make it very hard for a business to come back from.
Successful President and owner of Castella Imports, LLC, Chris Valsalmos argues the validity of investing in your employees.
“When we hire new additions to our team, they are not just an ‘employee’, they are an investment in the future of Castella. A few key things I look for in a new recruit is their personality, work ethic, leadership skills, and their willingness to learn. They have to fit our culture and be comfortable with change, because our company is ever-changing”, says Valsalmos. “Taking the time to develop your employees allows them to become good leaders making good decisions. That is what we strive for here at Castella.”
So if you’re considering the start of a new business, or looking to improve your current business, make sure you build an action plan for staffing, training and service. Don’t forget to hold yourself accountable for the development of your staff. Your business is only as strong as the faces that represent it.
The Most Overlooked Leadership Trait and How to Get It
By Mat Larson 03/14/2014
In 2002 McDonald’s Corp. was struggling when compared to their historically prodigious success. Although sales overseas were strong, sales stateside were slumping. Unlike the celebrated McDonalds that we had come to know, service had become slow, almost lethargic, and quality was all but lost. Some attributed these unusual problems to American consumers’ new found concerns over obesity while consumers in a 2001 survey by Sandelman and Associates rated McDonalds dead last for taste and quality. Whatever the issues were, they would soon be corrected by a brilliant, charismatic, but out of shape leader. On January 1st 2003 Jim Cantalupo was appointed Chairman and CEO and turned the flailing McDonalds around. Under his leadership the company’s stock price doubled as they posted double-digit sales gains from new innovative and healthier products with a trendy focus on promoting good lifestyle habits such as exercising and a balanced calorie intake. Herein lays the ironic tragedy of Jim Cantalupo.
Jim was not a fit man by any measure. He was known for being overweight throughout most of his 50s and having a heart condition. While at the helm of McDonalds he appeared lighter and more energetic. This was certainly an ideal improvement for a leader that was promoting health through a fast food chain. However, it was too little too late. In April of 2004 Jim passed away from a heart attack. In a comment to the Associated Press, Dick Adams blamed Jim’s heavy international travel schedule for the death. Yet, 10 years later we know more than ever that being overweight and stressed is a recipe for a heart attack.
As social entrepreneurs, we are faced with the undeniable reality that the hours will be long, pressure from the VCs will be nerve-racking, and the fear of failing will push down upon our shoulders like the weight of the world on Atlas. These physical demands, high stressors, and heavy weights, that all entrepreneurs carry, are not unlike those faced by professional athletes. Still, the athletes have a particular advantage. They have prepared their bodies for battle with hours of physical training and good nutrition. We can learn from them and not just for the benefit of ourselves but also for the benefit of those that rely on us. Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the economy. We drive growth. Our businesses support our families, our employees, and their families. If you desire to be a responsible leader for your company, you must take full responsibility for your health and develop the most overlooked leadership trait, the trait of fitness.
Great leaders are fit. They make time for physical activity and time for resting a priority. They watch what they eat and manage their diet with the same ferocity as they do their P&L. The best leaders don’t over indulge in unhealthy activities like smoking, binge drinking, and habitual sleep deprivation. You cannot lead your company when you’re tired or dead. But how can a social entrepreneur in a startup environment with all these crazy demands and stress ever find time to work out, eat a healthy sit down meal, and release a little stress without over indulging? It’s actually simpler than you would think.
The first step is acceptance. You must accept that you will perform better when you are in better shape. You may think that you don’t have an hour a day to dedicate to exercise. Yet, that couldn’t be further from the truth. As busy responsible leaders, we don’t have the luxury of letting work get in the way of our ability to perform at the top of our capabilities. In a 2013 interview, Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford Motor Company, was asked how he can run such a large company for so long and maintain his mental and physical stamina. He responded by sharing that he manages his energy just like his time by combining work demands with lifestyle demands. He suggests using one integrated calendar with scheduled time for family, exercise, and spiritual well-being. Here we have one of the most successful CEOs of our era telling us we need to schedule in exercise and rest to maintain our stamina.
The second step is elimination. You will put off your family and skip your workout and spiritual well-being appointments whenever your business calls, unless you’ve taken measures to free up the time for those appointments. Herbert Simon famously wrote, “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients.” Your attention needs to be on your health and your business. Start by eliminating unnecessary information. Stop reading the news; most of it has no impact on you or your company. Instead scan the headlines and only ready what touches you. Stop reading every email right as it arrives. Instead check your email in batches and never after the workday has ended. You cannot take care of yourself if you’re thinking about work when you should be resting. Why stay up all night thinking about something you can’t do anything about until tomorrow? Plus, you won’t be tempted to skip that morning gym session just to respond to an email that will and can wait. Lastly, stop eating and drinking when you’re full. Those extra calories will only make you feel bloated and slow you down. Elimination is very important for balancing your health with your work demands.
The third and final step is engaged commitment. You’ve made the leap and have filed the papers, raised the capital and launched your dream. Social entrepreneurs are go getters who can get things done. Yet, too often we run ourselves into the ground, if we could only commit some of that same dedication to our fitness. You can, you just have to value it as much as you value your business. You must engage and commit to it knowing that the return on investment is a better life, a happier life, a balanced life, and a successful company. We aspire to be great leaders and world changers but will never succeed if we donít tune-up the engine from time to time. Now get up, get engaged and go take care of yourself so that you can take care of your business. Success is calling.
The True Power of Innovation:
Symbiotic Synergism, Social Entrepreneurship & Disability
By Richard Morfopoulos, Ph.D
CEO and Chair of Universal Abilities
In this summary of the role that “symbiotic synergy” (energy from dissimilar parts) plays with social entrepreneurship and disability the author points out the role that dissimilar forces play with innovation. Diversity alone is not the answer. Dissimilar parts that do not work in harmony do not necessarily equate to the building blocks of systematic, progressive change. It is only through synergy, where the integration of the parts transcend and transform the power of the individual components, that the process of symbiosis lends great power. Persons with disabilities and other dissimilarities can add to the improvement of the workforce and society at-large.
The greater the symbiotic synergy the more powerful the creation
tends to be. A case in point is the most symbiotic synergy known
Water + soil + sunlight + plants = the staff of life
All of creation relies on this symbiotic synergy. This is the power of innovation. Social entrepreneurship is no different. Self-interest and altruism are two different entities. When these two concepts are successfully integrated the result is powerful. A company that is successfully socially entrepreneurial has a sustainable competitive advantage. The positive public relations garnered by such activity can lead to greater customer loyalty in the community.
To start, creativity is a prerequisite of innovation. Something new is creative; something new and useful is innovative. The more symbiotic- or dissimilar- a creation is the more novel it becomes. Creativity has been defined by Graham Wallas (1926) as being comprised of four phases. To paraphrase:
Great innovations, especially when premature, can be needlessly blocked by detractors. The more symbiotic the creation, the more likely it “runs across the grain of the status quo.” The very things we may try to eliminate are actually responsible for societal advancements when we try to accommodate for them instead. An example of this type of accommodation is speed ramps to assist incapacitated individuals in an airport - they are convenient for everyone. Another example is allowing children extra help in their class work - all of society benefits in their progress (Morfopoulos et al, 2006). Another real-life vignette of symbiotic synergism, disability and social entrepreneurship follows.
Universal Abilities (www.universalabilities.net) is a for-profit organization. It is based on the notion that persons with disabilities between the ages of 18-64 can transition from Supplementary Security Insurance (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to full-time, gainful employment. Universal Abilities (UA) is responsible to for placing and supporting such American workers in the workforce. People with disabilities are often traditionally marginalized in the employment arena of the United States. UA is compensated by the federal government as employees that UA places into full-time positions reach employment milestones. Having workers transition from SSI/SSDI can be considered a symbiotic process. Profiting from such an endeavor is arguably a socially entrepreneurial endeavor for UA and UA’s stakeholders.
As UA becomes more of a profit center, the organization promises to become more socially entrepreneurial by developing a unique Social Entrepreneurship Center (e.g., Knowledge Base). By empowering persons with disabilities to work, taxpayers also benefit. Since the UA service is free to both the prospective employee and the prospective employer, it can be of benefit to other stakeholders as well. Last but not least, UA benefits by performing a socially responsible task while earning a profit.
According to Austin, Stevenson, and Wei-Skillern (2006):
“Social entrepreneurship is innovative, social value creating activity that can occur within or across the nonprofit, business, and public sectors.”
By extension, Austin et al’s (2006) point carries over to the value and innovations created by symbiotic contributions of society’s persons with disabilities. The notion that limiting some of the so called “undesirables” - who in fact have contributed to the overall forward progression of our human species - would have produced favorable results is gravely flawed. Let’s take a brief look at some of them: Thomas Alva Edison (Learning Disabled and Hearing Impaired), Abraham Lincoln (Depression), Alexander Graham Bell (Learning Disabled), Helen Keller (Deaf and Blind), Albert Einstein (Asperger’s Syndrome suspected), George Washington (Learning Disabled), Henry Ford (Dyslexic), Pythagoras (Epileptic), Sir Isaac Newton (Epileptic and Stutterer), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Mobility Impaired), Pablo Picasso (Dyslexic), and Leonardo Da Vinci (Dyslexic). What would our world be like now if these “undesirables” were not here to make their contributions? Their symbiotic contributions and added value to society are profound (Morfopoulos et al, 2006).
Further and expanded empirical analysis should be undertaken to substantiate the relationship between symbiosis, social entrepreneurship and disability. Organizations that harness the power of symbiotic synergism and disability should be further studied and assessed. Much has been made of the power of diversity. Diversity is just a prerequisite to developing innovation: symbiotic synergism takes the process of innovation one step further. By becoming more innovative through symbiotic synergism, a social venture can devise a strategy that is truly value-added. The following proposal is offered that would lend support to future socially entrepreneurial ventures involving the community of persons with disabilities:
Innovation, Diversity, and Social Entrepreneurship Center
The purpose of the Center would be to promote social entrepreneurship, mentoring, diversity, innovation, and funding for individuals interested in catalyzing positive social change. To do so the following projects are planned as part of a proposed alliance between a private company, a nonprofit, and a private sector post secondary institution. The online Social Entrepreneurship course compiled by Dr. Morfopoulos can serve as a means for collecting revenue for the Center from participating colleges:
This Center involves both free and for fee services. Free services include:
For fee services will include:
The purpose of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship Mentoring is to empower college students with disabilities that are registered with the student disability services regarding the students’ efforts to navigate through and graduate from post secondary institutions as social entrepreneurs. The services of the CSEM include:
Social entrepreneurship tutoring includes but is not limited to:
The criterion for social entrepreneurship covers the following questions:
Underwriting for a stream of prizes and resources could turn this vision into a bridge that transforms the dreams of its clients into working, socially responsible realities.
The mission of the SEEC is to provide funding opportunities for socially responsible E-Commerce businesses of college students with registered disabilities. Through the alliance’s partnership with the Elite Entrepreneurs Alliance organization, downloadable social media tutorials will be included for financial contributions. The following social media tools will be developed when starting a business depending on the amount contributed by the sponsor:
The idea is for the AISEC to provide interviews of representatives of adjoining “social entrepreneurship” organizations:
A clearinghouse of information will be provided through links and interviews of a variety of Social Entrepreneurship Centers encompassing public, academic, private, industrial, and nonprofit entities. Included will be a clearinghouse/guide of potential funding sources for social ventures.
These contests will be underwritten by participating post secondary institutions with scholarships: the proposed ventures must be realistic, affordable, profitable, and good for society and proposed by students with registered disabilities. The contests will be based on an already existing social entrepreneurship mentoring program that is established so that aspiring social entrepreneurs can seek guidance, advice and (eventually) monetary support from angel investors. Contests such as these will be uniformly judged according to the conceptual framework of social entrepreneurship posited earlier (Morfopoulos et al, 2006).
Once an idea has been conceptualized, there is a need for professors of social entrepreneurship to serve as mentors for social entrepreneurship business plans. Other characteristics of the cyber-incubator include providing funding, mentoring, informational exchange, and networking opportunities for social entrepreneurs. In addition, there is a need for matching up legitimate “angel investors” with worthy social entrepreneurs who are students with registered disabilities. The Social Entrepreneurship and Crowd Funding recipients can also have their businesses posted on the site for a nominal “pay pal” type fee. This will assist in the funding of the incubator and allow for a stipend for participating professors. There are two key questions which must be resolved:
The following online course has been designed to fund the Center:
This is a survey course dealing with the topic of social entrepreneurship, or “doing well while doing good.” Through exercises mainly provided by Dr. London’s and Dr. Morfopoulos’s text on social entrepreneurship, students will conduct analysis of a social venture of their choice. Students will develop and promote their own plan for a new product or service that is judged by the professor to be: (a) realistic; (b) affordable to produce and purchase; (c) profitable and (d) above all, good for society.
The venture should be realistic, affordable, profitable (or financially sustainable) and good for society.
Innovation refers to that which is not only new, but new and useful to society.
Multiculturalism refers to the potential synergies that exist between and among individuals of different cultures.
Mentoring refers to the educating and guiding of social entrepreneurs and advocates.
Funding refers to the financial assistance that social entrepreneurs often require to be successful.
Incubation refers to the need to mentor, fund, guide, exchange and network as an aspiring social entrepreneur.
Advocacy refers to the ability to protect and promote the interests of a specific group of people, in this case persons with disabilities.
The Innovation, Diversity, and Social Entrepreneurship Proposal can provide tremendous educational, service learning, societal impact, and revenue sharing opportunities for all its participating allies.
www.ashoka.org retrieved March 7th, 2015.
Austin, J.E., Stevenson, H. and Wei-Skillern, J. (2005).
Corporate social entrepreneurship: a new vision for CSR.
In Mair, Robinson, and Kai Hockerts (eds.),
Great Britain: Palgrave Macmillan, 22.
Barringer, B.R. (2009).
Preparing Effective Business Plans: An Entrepreneurial Approach.
Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 1-15.
Dees, J. G. (2001).
Social Entrepreneurship in Dees, J. Gregory, et al., eds.
Enterprising Nonprofits: A Toolkit for Social Entrepreneurs.
New York: Wiley, 1-18.
Guralnik, D.B. (ed). (1978).
The Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language (2nd ed). USA:
Williams Collins & The World Publishing Co. Inc., 467.
Hartman, L. P. (ed). (1998).
Perspectives in Business Ethics. Chicago:
Irwin McGraw-Hill, 5-11.
www.kiva.org retrieved March 7th, 2015.
Morfopoulos, R., Newman, P., Newman, J., Laube, M., and Harper, T. (2006).
A Collegiate Alliance to Develop a Learning Center for Social Entrepreneurs.
Paper for ABAS XIV International Conference, Cyprus, Turkey, 11-14.
www.universalabilities.net retrieved March 7th, 2015.
Wallas, Graham, “Stages of Control,” The Art of Thought. (1926).
New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.