Joe Borno and Angela Neal spoke about self-advocacy for disabled individuals to 30 different groups in the past year. Borno and Neal, who have been assisted by Jawonio, spent last year traveling around the Hudson Valley to advocate for and inform people about the need for the rights of people with disabilities. They were acknowledged for their disability awareness work with AmeriCorps in a ceremony on Thursday at Jawonio TECH in New Hempstead.
“They let a lot of people know that people with disabilities are like everybody else,” said Jordan Jankus, Hudson Valley regional coordinator for the Self-Advocacy Association of NYS. “They’re just people that want to be appreciated for who they are.”
Jankus presented them with certificates acknowledging their contributions. He noted they will receive financial awards that will enable them to take an educational course. He also praised for providing staff to assist Neal and Borno.
“This is going to continue,” Jankus said of their efforts. “It’s a great example of going out into the community.”
Borno and Neal both stated they will continue their AmeriCorps work as volunteers.
They discussed what they talked about when they traveled throughout Rockland, Westchester, Dutchess, Greene and Ulster counties and met with high school and college students and other groups.
“We explain to them about our lives, how we live and what we do day-to-day,” said Neal, a resident of Jawonio Apartments in New Hempstead.
Borno, who is confined to a wheelchair, said there was an important message for them to share.
“Standing up for what you want in your life,” said Borno, who has been with Jawonio since 1999.
“Talking up for ourselves,” added Neal, who has been with Jawonio since 2008.
In October, Neal and Borno met with a group of 60 SUNY University at New Paltz students studying human services. They presented to special needs groups, heads of agencies and participated in videoconferences.
Borno assisted with a new employee training at Jawonio and suggested the new hires spend time in a wheelchair to know what it is like to live that way.
“Everywhere I go people look at me,” he said. “They think I am helpless.”
Borno wanted the employees to find out what it is like to be in a wheelchair, the challenges, what can be accomplished and what is expected of them. He has also testified before the State Senate on the impact of budget cuts on him and others and spoken before community groups about Medicare funding and benefits. When Courtney Burke, state commissioner of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, visited Rockland on Monday, Borno spoke with her. He has also presented to ARC of Westchester case managers.
Jankus said Neal and Borno, who received training and learned about public speaking, had an impact.
“There’s lot of people now that know about us and in the process of starting self-advocacy groups,” he said. “So they’ve done a spectacular job.”
Borno, who lives in Jawonio Apartments in Spring Valley, has taken over as president of Jawonio’s Advocacy Group from Neal. The organization advocates for the rights of those receiving services of Jawonio with government. Jawonio serves children and adults with disabilities and special needs.
“I enjoyed it,” Borno said of his work with AmeriCorps. “I love what I do.”