WNYIL Summer ACCESS news

From the Desk of the CEO: You never know where a chat with a neighbor could lead

By Douglas J. Usiak, Chief Executive Officer

If you have been reading my articles with any regularity, you know that I like to expound on anything relating to our rights as full and equal partners in society. My 
own experiences have proven to me that people with disabilities can certainly make a change for the better, raise a family, and contribute, with the ongoing support of our communities’ values.

Just the other day, while we were getting our travel trailer ready for our annual vacation trip with my grandson, my wife, Becky, started an odd conversation with someone. 

She said, “Hi there, selling something? Why don’t you come up here and show me what you have?”.

Now as a blind guy, I was filling the water storage up, didn’t see what was happening (of course), and really got confused as to why my wife was prompting someone to sell something and wondered what had captured her interest. Then, I heard a man’s voice respond.

“Hi, there! We live in the yellow house over there, and my boys here are selling popcorn for the Cub Scouts. We have all kinds, and if you don’t see what you like here in the wagon, here is a catalogue you can look at. And if you order something, you can have it in two days.”

Well, we chatted a bit, and then this guy said, “You know, your house is the first house we stop at every Halloween. My boys here, 8 and 10-years-old, have to come and see what you folks are doing. You guys are the best in the neighborhood!”

You know this guy just sold me a truckload of popcorn with that comment! Halloween is the best day of the year for me. Each year, my buddy Ernie, sometimes my family, and I set up a little live costumed front-door show for the neighborhood to be entertained, interact, and get free candy, snacks or trinkets… That is, after we all converse and laugh, shake our heads in embarrassment, or run in fear from the experience. (Some little kids scare SO easily, but that’s not our intent!) Even with all that said, this is the day I prepare for, and do my best to see that those who come to my house are fully entertained. So, as you’d expect, getting this kind of unsolicited accolade for our efforts on Halloween was just the best thing I could’ve heard! …And to know that the neighborhood got a kick out of it was even better!

After getting over having spent $20 on popcorn, I started thinking. You know, he didn’t say anything about the fact that the guy who does this thing to entertain his kids was blind. Unlike some newspaper columnists, he didn’t say “how inspiring [I] was for overcoming my disability to do this Halloween thing”. He definitely did NOT pat me on the head, telling me that I “must be so strong to fight through my disability”. He didn’t say any of those things; (thank goodness!) He simply said, “thanks for entertaining my kids on Halloween”, and the two little boys gave me their own big thanks and went on, down the street, to make it big in the popcorn trade.

I really liked that short interaction; meeting and chatting with a neighbor and supporting his kids’ Cub Scout Troop. It felt good to be appreciated for being something memorable in the neighborhood, and even being identified as a house they could hit on for that donation. And all of that without any big whoop or fanfare just a thanks for being there on that one… no, make that two days out of the year.

So, if you really give it some thought, you’ll discover that’s what Independent Living is all about. Empowerment! Making sure that -- as people with disabilities -- we can live in our neighborhoods, work in our communities, and engage with our society, as we take on the responsibilities of being full and equal partners!

Halloween display

The Value of Having Social Supports

By Julia Lange, NY Connects Region 1 Program Assistant

There is an African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This means that the whole community impacts a child’s growth. But this continues past childhood for our vulnerable populations. People with disabilities, mental health diagnoses, and aging populations need as much of a village to help take care of their needs so they can stay independent in their communities.

Without help from the community, these people may become isolated or feel lonely. This can impact their physical and mental health.

Symptoms of isolation and loneliness include:

  • Heart Attack
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Suicide
  • Increased stress
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Greater alcohol and drug abuse
  • Memory loss
  • Faster progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Inability to concentrate

Meeting basic needs and even the slightest social interactions can improve the life of someone who is isolated. Yet, many people in need of supports and services don’t know where to turn. That is where NY Connects can help.

Funded by New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA), NY Connects was a statewide initiative to offer information and referral services to seniors and their caregivers. Offices for the Aging (OFA) linked older and their caregivers to community resources, helping consumers make informed choices, and apply for public benefits.

NY Connects has since expanded into a partnership between independent living centers (ILC) and local offices for the aging (OFA) to give these services to people across the lifespan.

Region 1 Coordinator, Amanda Pinter, oversees 17 counties and one territory in Region 1 of NY Connects. Amanda works with seven ILCs, including the three in the Western New York Independent Living family of agencies. People in need of services in Erie, Niagara, Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming, or the Seneca Nation of Indians may contact NY Connects at 1-888-564-5171 between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Voting 2019

By Cathy Colicchia

For the first time in our history last year, Western New York Independent Living’s Independence Express offered free rides to people with disabilities to vote in the 2018 election. We’re happy to announce we will be doing the same for this year’s election day on Tuesday, November 5, 2019.

We will make transportation available to transport people with disabilities to polling places in their communities. Our goal is to get as many people with disabilities as possible to their polling places to use the accessible machines that are available at every polling place. So, if you don’t have any transportation available to you, such as friends or family members, OR you do not have the resources to pay for a ride, Independence Express can help.

We will require people to call by November 1, 2019 for the ride, but it will be publicized earlier so that people are able to make arrangements beforehand. Rides will be assigned on a first come, first served basis and will be available in Erie, Niagara, Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. There will be no rides scheduled between 1:00 p.m. -2:00 p.m. so that the drivers will have a break. Also, we cannot assist people in or out of their residences. If you wish to reserve a ride to your polling place, please call 716-836-0822 ext. 108.

WNYIL strives to provide full inclusion for people with disabilities in their communities. This endeavor addresses one of the most fundamental rights that we enjoy as Americans, and we will do whatever possible to assist those who want to independently exercise their right to vote.

New Staff

By Dan Colpoys

The WNYIL Family of Agencies would like to welcome the following new staff and colleagues.

  • Christopher Warden, Health Homes Care Coordinator, WNYIL
  • Kristen Yansick, Independent Consumer Advocacy Network Coordinator, WNYIL
  • Hannah Ossman, Education Navigator, ILC-Erie County
  • August Edwards, Mobil Transition Services Peer Specialist, MHPC 
  • David Hardy, Peer Specialist, MHPC
  • Staniquea Brown, Enhancement Program Employment Specialist, MHPC
  • Krystle Babbs, Independent Living Specialist, ILC-Erie County
  • Mark Shaw, Independent Living Specialist, ILNC
  • Jullianne Ingalls, NY Connects, ILGR
  • Alliyah McIntosh, Independent Living Specialist, ILC-Erie County

Fall is Coming

by Renee Law-Coronado

Fall is coming quickly, and with fall comes back to school season! Often times a source a stress for the young students in our lives, it can also be a major source of anxiety for parents as well. Here are some tips to make things easier for both parents and children during this yearly time of transition.

  1. Begin easing you and your child into the school schedule before school even starts. This means adjusting things like bedtime and having structured breakfasts in the morning to make sure you’re all ready when the real first day arrives.
  2. Talk! Speak with your child about how they feel, but try to avoid blanket statements like “everything will be fine.” Instead, try talking to your child about how you used to feel on the first day of school, or even reminding them how nervous they were last year and that they had a great school year.
  3. During transitional times, children look towards their parents as pillars of support emotionally. So, for this reason, stay calm! Your child will be mirroring many of the emotions you feel about this transition, so remaining calm about the approaching school year will help your child stay calm too.
  4. Try organizing a play-date or suggest to an older child to get together with friends the day before. This final time together before the school year allows children to express their anxieties together and also remember that they are not in it alone.
  5. Know the signs if things start to get serious. Anxiety before a new school year is normal. But if your child or a child you know starts showing changes in eating habits, sleeping habits, isolation or sudden temper tantrums, remember that these are signs that something more serious may be wrong and it is time to consult a professional.


Formally introducing the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service

by Mike Benzin

The Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service was founded in 1987 to help people who are blind, have low vision, macular degeneration or other vision impairment, and / or have other physical or mental disabilities that make it difficult or impossible to read. Because they cannot see or turn the pages of a publication, volunteers read for them. Materials include books, magazines, newspapers and other print publications.

Radio reading services are authorized to capture and re-deploy copyrighted content by the US Chafee Amendment to the Copyright Act, which states that nonprofit or governmental entities may provide copyrighted works in specialized formats to blind or disabled people. These readings are broadcast over a radio frequency subcarrier to listeners who have a special receiver, they are not available to the general public. About 280,000 hours of material has been broadcast since 1987 and our listenership has grown to more than 500 people.

The Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service is located at 1199 Harlem Road near the intersection of Harlem Road and Clinton Street in Cheektowaga. The site includes one live broadcast studio and four recording studios. Michael Benzin took over as Executive Director in December 2018. Volunteers are perhaps the strongest asset of the service. More than 120 active volunteers regularly lend their voices to words so that our listeners can get the same benefits from reading as everyone else.

On December 1, 2018 the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service began its affiliation with WNY Independent Living. The relationship brings professional support to the agency for bookkeeping, payroll, IT, maintenance and other needs, allowing the Service to dedicate more attention to strengthening its core mission, improving listener outreach and the program experience, fundraising and volunteer recruitment. The affiliation is allowing the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service time to rebuild its fundraising and marketing program and to pursue the renovation of its building.

By the Numbers
Current Listeners - about 500
Number in WNY who are blind or have low vision - 22,000 (estimated)
Number of people in WNY who have a print disability - 60,000 (estimated)
Broadcast Transmitters - Two, WNED 94.5 FM Buffalo simulcast on WNJA 89.7 FM Jamestown
Number of volunteer readers - 130 active regulars and 300 occasional
Number of volunteer hours per week (live and recorded) - 71 hours per week or 3,692 per year

Why is the NFRRS important?
While more-and-more content is being delivered electronically every year, printed books, newspapers, magazine and other items remain critically important tools for the dissemination of news, information, entertainment and culture. Studies have shown that people who read are more open-minded, creative, and show enhanced cognitive engagement in vocabulary, thinking skills, and concentration. Reading has been shown to reduce stress and numerous studies have shown that reading keeps your brain functioning effectively as you age. One study found that elderly individuals who read regularly are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their peers. Readers also have stronger capacities in things that can affect empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence.  Boiled down, people who read are more positively engaged in their community than people who don’t.  And people who are more actively engaged in their community are more likely to hold a job and be a contributor to our society.

In addition, listeners have told the Radio Reading Service that listening to a volunteer read over the radio feels like having that volunteer sit next to them while they read, providing a sense of connection and companionship that other forums cannot match.

Coming soon - NFRRS 2.0
The Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service already boasts a multi-studio digital live production & recording system. Content, whether live broadcast or recorded, is delivered to our transmitter in the Boston Hills digitally by a dedicated T1 data line. NFRRS 2.0 envisions going beyond the radio broadcast and delivering the same content online through computer browsers, smart phone apps, and smart speakers. In addition to the live feed, listeners will have on-demand access to all the Service’s stored content in the form of podcasts and file downloads.

By adding this new online delivery platform, we expect to grow our listener base fivefold, or by 2,500 people in the first year and even higher after that. This significant improvement in market penetration will have a discernible impact on our community. 


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Embrace the Difference

We are all connected, no matter what difference we may have. WNYIL is a partnering charity!
Learn more at: www.EmbraceTheDifference.org

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