By Rachael Eyler and Andrea Keckley
Efforts to revive the town of Islip’s Disability Advisory Committee lead by Councilman James P. O’Connor has resulted in a first meeting being scheduled for Sept. 28.
Islip has one of the highest numbers of disabled individuals in Suffolk County. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that an increasing number of children in the United States are being diagnosed with a developmental disability. O’Connor himself is the father of an autistic son. And as research on disabilities like these evolves, communities such as Islip are tasked with progressing their thinking on how to accommodate individuals with disabilities.
After reviewing their bylaws, O’Connor will then decide what the committee wants to accomplish by creating a mission statement. “Before we can do anything we have to be able to tell ourselves and tell the rest of the world who we are and what we hope to do with this committee,” he said. “Some of my ideas are to work with other agencies and government institutions to try and get more funding…to improve the town facilities so that they are more accessible for the disabled community.”
Progress starts with knowledge, Clinical Coordinator at Hofstra University’s Diagnostic and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders, Zach Rose, said.
“I would say public knowledge would be the first and foremost route to take,” Rose said. “Public knowledge is about spreading the word about resources, about different research that has been published over the last few years about potential treatments, things like that.”
As research for disabilities like autism progresses, technological advancements are also being used as potential ways to accommodate and support people with disabilities. Autism self-advocate and member of the New York State Independent Living Council Marc Rosen believes in expanding access to communication technology.
“We definitely need to be mindful of expanding communication,” Rosen said.
The use of advanced technology will better autistic students in education, with wearable trackers, Co-founder and President of the Autism Science Foundation, Alison Singer, explained.
“[Wearable trackers] can be used in people with autism to predict when they may have an outburst or an aggressive incident, based on monitoring their heart rate and their blood pressure” Singer said. “You can preempt a lot of these violent episodes using technology.”
Assisted communication devices can also help communicate a person’s wants and needs with the tap of an iPad, Singer added. But iPads can only go so far, said Debbie Fox, whose son, Nicky, 10, is non-verbal and uses an assisted communication device.
“He gets frustrated because he can’t tell you if something hurts or if he doesn’t want to do something,” Fox said. “Even with the iPad he doesn’t know how to express and understand his feelings.”
Islip has added some new disability accommodations to their town over the past months. The town unveiled their new ADA compliant swing set in the Bohemia Recreation Center on September 19. They also re-opened the Roberto Clemente Pool last August, which will now have two handicap accessible ramps and chairs.
“We’d love to be able to say that we can do more of that,” O’Connor said.
The revived committee contains people disabilities including, for instance, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida and legal blindness.
“It’s really meant to embrace the entire disabled community,” O’Connor said.
The board also includes people who have children with disabilities or work with the disabled community. For instance, Raymond Simpson is the father of a son with Down Syndrome and President of the nonprofit Challenger Athletics, an athletic program for people with disabilities in Bay Shore, a hamlet in Islip.
It is important to listen to people with disabilities like autism, Rosen said.
“They [his k-12 school] had barely any idea of what to do with me, and I think that actually helped,” Rosen said. “They didn’t assume they knew better. They didn’t call themselves experts. They asked questions. That was the single best thing they ever did.”