March is National Disability Awareness Month, and several Main Liners were front and center last Friday at the Sheraton Downtown Philadelphia Hotel when more than 500 people gathered to honor the winners of the 2016 My City, My Place Brighter Futures awards. The awards day, sponsored by Philadelphia Intellectual disAbility Services, honors community members who go out of their way to enable citizens with disabilities to take their rightful place in the community.
The keynote speaker at the luncheon awards ceremony was Lower Merion native Ted Dallas, the Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department Human Services (DHS). He explained the impact of the budget impasse in Harrisburg and how having to cut $600 million from Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed budget, if the legislature gets its way, would impact negatively on the services for the people served by DHS. Dallas had served during the Rendell administration as a Deputy Secretary under Estelle Richman, and before joining the Wolf administration he had been for five years the chief executive of Maryland’s DHS.
He went on from Lower Merion to Penn for undergraduate work, and then to Temple for a graduate degree. Dallas was interrupted by applause at least a dozen times as he outlined his plans for more community participation, more employment opportunities, and better educational offerings for people with disabilities.
The morning plenary session featured a presentation to Daniel Schidlow, M.D., of Narberth, the Dean of Drexel University’s College of Medicine. Because the theme of the day’s celebration was “Inventive Paths to Brighter Futures,” Dr. Schidlow and his medical school students were right in step with the theme. They have created the Health Outreach Project, which sees the medical students, supervised by faculty physicians, doing weekly health assessments at clinics at facilities like The Arc of Philadelphia, people who often have difficulty expressing themselves. After assessing eyesight, hearing, blood pressure, etc., and learning how to communicate with adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, the students write up reports which are given to the people they met with to share with their families, support coordinators and ultimately their primary physicians for follow-up.
In accepting his award in the morning, Dr. Schidlow quoted someone who had said about the population served by his students’ clinics, “Their bodies and minds may not be perfect, but their souls are perfect.”
The perennial Mistress of Ceremonies for all of IDS’ awards ceremonies is Loraine Ballard Morrill, of IHeartMedia in Bala Cynwyd, the news director of the media giant. Loraine often ends up teary-eyed as she reads out the stories for each award-winner. She also makes it a point to interview providers and advocates on her public service programs.
You may have noticed that there has been a lot of publicity about autism, the increasing incidence of the diagnosis, and the public awareness about the need for more funding for programs. Councilman-at-large Derek Green, Esq., who presented a citation from the City Council at the luncheon awards, talked about his own son who was diagnosed with autism when he was a toddler. Green heads up the City Council committee on what he calls “Differences” — preferring that title to “Disabilities.”
Denise Taylor Patterson, the Director of IDS, and Commissioner Arthur C. Evans, Jr., Ph.D., who heads up the Department of Behavioral Health and IDS, did not select the speakers because of their having family members with autism or other intellectual disabilities, but it seems to have turned out that way. The moderator of the morning plenary session, Terri Matthews, is the CEO and founder of Jaden’s Voice, the nonprofit she founded after her son was diagnosed with autism.
And Sheila Hess, the City Representative who brought greetings from Mayor Jim Kenney, also told the audience about her own inspiring life story, how she was born with spinal bifida but insisted on going to the elementary school down the street from her home, even though it was an ancient building with lots of steps everywhere. But her parents believed in her, and she achieved her goals. She also credited Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities for their assistance when she was an undergraduate at Temple.
A new award was created this year, the Pioneer Award, and it was given to Marianne Roche, a recently retired staff person at IDS who earlier in her career had been director of the Montgomery County department which supervised services for citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She also had a sister with intellectual disability, and she has had a life-long passionate commitment to advocating for people who are, as Councilman Green says, “different.” She now has a new “career” as a Reiki instructor, and she donates her services to people at the Norcom Community Center.
Roche has marched on legislators more often than anyone can count, urging them to pass legislation — and to pass budgets — which include adequate funding for human services and programs.
Scott Stein, who chairs the Science Department at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH), has had his students pairing off with people in the United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) Partial Hospitalization Program since 2009. The inventions which his students and their “buddies” have created are amazing. Using levers and buttons for people with limited physical prowess, the collaboration has created ways for the UCP people to do things most of us take for granted.. Most important of all are the friendships which result from the interaction.