Working for an Independent living Center
By Ann Chiappetta
For three years, I worked in an Independent Living Center (referred to as an ILC) located in Yonkers, New York. Westchester Disabled on the Move, Inc., is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to upholding the equal and civil rights and independence of people with disabilities. ILCs can be found in every State and also in other countries. The core programs at our center included, but are not limited to, advocacy, housing, vocational support, access barrier resolution and other State and/or federally funded programs.
I held many job titles in that time period, including a youth leadership coordinator, transportation survey coordinator, and a Medicaid program service coordinator. The tasks I completed for each position held challenges for me both as a blind person and as someone returning to work after a ten year break from the workplace. Some of the challenges were simple to overcome, others weren't so easy. For instance, I had hardly any trouble acclimating to the computer related elements of my new job but I struggled with finding a system to manage the paperwork and hand written documents generated by both the center and the paperwork required by other State or federally funded programs. More often than not, I created accessible documents because the center or agency working with us found certain documents impossible to change or replicate. I had to choose my battles, so to speak, when it came to accessible materials. As much as I wanted to manage the paperwork independently, it just wasn’t feasible without some sighted assistance. Being an ILC and founded upon tenets of equal access, our Center’s executive director and office staff stepped in and provided a reasonable accommodation by scheduling daily and weekly meetings to help me sift through paperwork which wasn’t accessible to me otherwise. I still had complete control of what I wanted and needed to do the job and the staff acted only as an added means of compliance. No one ever told me how to do my job nor did they take away any of my job-related responsibilities.
The list of the most difficult of these documents were always state and federally generated documents. Inevitably, when we would succeed in obtaining a specific accessible electronic set of documents for a program, we would begin a new program and have to start the process all over again. This often led to time lapses in project turn around times and delays.
Despite the paperwork barriers, I found my time was split between coordinating services and referring consumers to other service providers. I became an advocate for our consumers, quite often the only advocate for an individual. I learned that a service coordinator not only assists the person with navigating the various systems but also mentors and/or collaborates with them. Quite often the consumer receiving services is unable to grasp the complexity of a given program. New York State’s Department of Social Services is one example of a public assistance program that intimidates people. I accompanied the consumer every step of the way, from the application process to case review interviews.
A service coordinator also must possess excellent communication skills and be proficient in organizing the care of whatever the consumer requires.
All in all, working for an ILC was extremely important for me because I not only learned how to help others but I also learned how to advocate for myself in the workplace.
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