This year the Rockland Independent Living Center (RILC) in New City marks a quarter of a century of service to individuals with disabilities. Executive Director George Hoehmann said RILC looks forward to introducing new services to expand its role of advocating for and empowering people who have physical, emotional, and psychiatric disabilities in the county and the region. Among the new programs are educational advocacy, promoting public safety and awareness, increasing ADA compliance and volunteering.
“We’re a cross disability agency,” said Hoehmann. “We’re providing services that are unique that people are not providing.”
RILC is one of 31 Independent Living Centers established by the New York State Legislature. Its 11 board members include at least eight who have identified themselves as having disabilities. He said at least 50 percent of its employees have disabilities.
Hoehmann said having that perspective makes RILC unique because people with disabilities provide the services for people with disabilities. Those receiving the services are as young as five years old and up to 103 years old.
“This is person centered, strength based and peer support,” said Andy Kohlbrenner, Regional Recovery Center and Program Development director. In many instances, consumers seeking support get assistance from a peer who has had a similar experience.
While the center has well established programs like PACER, which has been around for 15 years, it is working on new program initiatives. Kohlbrenner said its Peer Recovery Services has been operational for less than eight weeks and already 100 people have been assisted with mental health issues.
He said when peers work with peers, people relate better to each other. He also said the program is not limited to a single location or specific times and the three peer specialists will go to consumers throughout the region.
“But it’s a regional concept so we’re working in concert with Ulster, Dutchess and Orange county as a powerful consortium,” said Kohlbrenner.
Starting this month, consumers will spend time at Cropsey Community Farm in New City. Kohlbrenner said they will learn farming skills and get a bag of vegetables for volunteering their time.
“It’s true partnership with the community,” he explained. “It’s not traditional.”
Another RILC initiative is getting communication cards developed and distributed. The purpose of the cards is to promote public safety and awareness and provide information for law enforcement officers when they are dealing with someone who has a disability. Clarkstown police officers were issued autism awareness cards.
“The purpose of those was to really prevent tragedy,” said Independent Living Services Director Sarah Mitchell-Weed. “People don’t know if they’re dealing with someone with autism.”
She said people might not know how to interpret the behavior. Cards identifying the driver as hard or hearing or deaf were created for people to keep in their vehicles. Mitchell-Weed said Clarkstown began distributing the laminated cards last year and this month Ramapo did the same.
Joel Taveras, PACER director, said the agency has run 11 training sessions at the county police academy to educate officers about disabilities and teach them how to interact with those who are hard of hearing or who have autism. The cards are available through the town clerk, town supervisor or town council’s offices. Hoehmann hopes to expand the program throughout the county.
“I’m hopeful we’re going to get it in all five towns and major villages,” he said.
RILC offers a variety of other programs and services.
Taveras explained the philosophy of RILC’s well-established personal assistant program. PACER stands for Personal Assistant Consumer Employer of Rockland and about 200 people participate.
“The consumer is in full control of the service,” he said. “They are the employers. They are the ones who pick the work, train the worker. They explain how they want their needs to be served. The personal assistant and the consumer receive from technical assistance and fiscal support.”
Taveras said PACER works in conjunction with the county departments of social services and health. Since it operates at a lower cost than traditional home care, he estimated it saved the county about $1 million in 2011. It allows consumers to stay in their homes instead of being institutionalized or moved to a nursing home because of their disabilities. Participants must be eligible for Medicaid or currently be Medicaid beneficiaries needing long term care now or expected to need it in the future.
“We have a different rate that is lower,” he said. “We absorb some of the responsibilities.”
Independent Living Services
Mitchell-Weed said the objective is two-fold: to help consumers live more independently in the community and help the community to be more accepting of those with disabilities and be more complaint with the disability laws.
She listed the core services of her division as housing, benefits advisement and information and referral. The housing services includes locating accessible and often times low income housing and aiding consumers with applying for home modification loans to make renovations so they can remain in their residences. Benefits advisement guides consumers through the processes to apply for food stamps, emergency Medicaid and other financial resources.
The information and referral service helps consumers determine what type of information they need and identifies the agencies or organizations that provide it. Mitchell-Weed said RILC is in the process of becoming an employment network. Currently, the organization helps with resumes, finding jobs, teaching computer classes and advocating for expanded educational opportunities. Its recently opened computer lab is fully accessible and Braille keyboards are available for people with visual disabilities.
She said transitional services to make sure children get the supports they need in school are being implemented. RILC hosted a meeting with 30 agencies to discuss educational transitioning and what gaps exist in the system. Mitchell-Weed said RILC can serve as an educational advocate for young children in school as well as those in their 20s who want to attend college.
Additionally she is working on expanding ADA compliance at gas stations. Mitchell-Weed said self-service stations are supposed to post signs alerting disabled drivers that an attendant will pump their gas, if more than one person is on duty. Those drivers then would be charged the self-service price not full-service cost.
Most of RILC’s programs are free or offered at nominal cost. Its annual budget is $7 million, which comes mostly from the state along with some private foundation money and fundraising revenue.
“We try to operate within the framework of the budget we have,” said Hoehmann.