It started will a simple question: “What do you want to do?“. The answer given by a number of people during CQL interviews led to a path of advocacy that will lead the way for others. Self-advocates supported by AHRC New York City were given the opportunity to discuss issues of importance to them directly with legislators, legislative leaders and the Governor’s staff in Albany this February.

Preparing for Albany

Kristen Thatcher and Paul Scherzinger, both of whom attend or graduated from AHRC NYC’s Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program at the College of Staten Island, were joined by Jessica Giorgio, Higher Education Support ProfessionalCarmine Cammarata, Commuity Support Professional, and Al Kaplan, AHRC NYC’s Senior Policy Advisor. At several sessions organized by Carole Gothelf, Director of Individualized Supports and Matthew Weiler, Program Director at the College of Staten Island and Kingsborough Community College, prior to their trip to Albany, they met to prepare for this exciting opportunity to speak for themselves about their lives and what they as citizens wanted from their legislators. Al Kaplan spent several hours over several sessions advising the group on the logistics of budget legislation, the way government operates, as well as assisting them in understanding how to state their case and the specific issues that are at play legislatively at the current time.

Legislators pick and choose what issues they focus on, and so do we,” Al explained. “You have things that are a concern to you, and you want the people who represent you to know what they are.”

Al gave Kristen and Paul an assignment to bring to one of the meetings. He asked them to answer three questions:

“Who am I/what’s my story?”

“Why am I here/what are my concerns and issues?”

“What do I want you (our representative) to do?”

Kristen, who is 26 wanted to focus her conversation with legislators on employment issues. “I want to talk with them about jobs for people with disabilities,” she said. “I don’t think there are enough jobs and we’re limited in the kind of jobs we can get.

Paul decided to talk about an issue that was personally affecting him. “My issue is that Medicaid stopped covering my physical therapy after 26 weeks,” he said. “My mom can’t afford to pay for it without insurance.”

Speaking Up for What Matters

Al encouraged Kristen and Paul to speak more freely,