Thought Wheel

Ann Chiappetta

Ziegler Article

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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.

If you would like to learn more about ILCs, visit:

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The Second Year

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The Second Year: a retrospective in dog guide land

I give the forward command and we begin to cross the street; I hear the car lurch from its place ahead just as Verona walks us out into the cross walk. She stops as the car makes an erratic right on red even though we have the right of way.
“Good dog, “I say, then give the forward command again, and we step out a second time.
The car behind the car that just lurched around the corner on the red decides to do the same and Verona not only stops but backs us up to the curb and does her little dance. I know this dance, it means, “mom, don’t go, we’re in trouble.”

A year ago I didn’t know this signal and felt the whap of a concrete bench on my knee even though she tried to tell me not to take another step. She did her dance then and after that incident, I pay attention to it.
“Okay, Ro, let’s wait a bit,” I tell her and line us up again at the curb. She tries to take me to the perpendicular curb but I tell her no, we need to go this way and she complies reluctantly.

This is where humans and dogs digress in terms of thinking; I know it will most likely be safe this time but she is thinking, wow, it’s going to happen again, and we better get out of here. This is when our mutual trust comes into play and although it seems like we’ll never get across this street, we do it together and do it safely. As we step onto the up- curb, I praise her for being such a great dog by giving her a doggie snack and petting, and we move on to go get lunch.
January 4, 2011 was our second anniversary, what guide dog users call ‘dog day’. I’ve written poems and short essays about this and other aspects of being a first-time guide dog user and this month means we’ve made it past the first two years and our bond is solid and reliable. Verona, whom I now call ro, is a four year old black Labrador retriever weighing in at 60 lbs and about 23” at the shoulder. She is a serious worker but she is also a very playful dog when not in harness. Her ears are too big for her long, wide head and her tail is a rudder like weapon when she’s wagging, which is just about all the time out of harness. She has happy pants syndrome, a constantly swishing rear-end and it hurts if you happen to be in the line of fire of her tail.

But, who, exactly is Verona – and perhaps more importantly, why is she, and other service dogs like her so special?

Her history is fairly typical for a program trained dog: she was a planned birth, her litter the result of Cooper, a black Labrador male, and Eileen, a yellow Labrador female. She is the second of five puppies born on November 24, 2006 at the Guiding Eyes breeding facility in Patterson, New York. At 10 weeks, she was given to her puppy raiser, Carol, who taught her good manners and social skills. At 18 months, she moved from New Hampshire to Yorktown Heights, New York to be proofed for advanced training. She and Carol said goodbye until graduation. Upon passing the test, Verona and her siblings began training for guide dog work.

She lived in the kennel with her buddy, Sawyer, another yellow Labrador until January 2009, when she and I met for the first time. The moment I touched her, it seemed as if the entire time of struggling with vision loss finally held meaning. For the first time, blindness held promise instead of limitations and let downs.

Fast forward a bit, and after years of avoiding events and independent travel, I’m no longer so limited, thanks to Ro and Guiding Eyes for the Blind. I now go wherever I need to with confidence and a safe way to accomplish it.

Ro is more than just a mobility tool, she’s a co-therapist. We’ve visited a local children’s hospital wherein we helped the social worker to ease a nervous teen who was having trouble adjusting to his new environment. She was often the reward for a group of unruly teens as incentive to settle down and work in a group. If they did well, I’d take off her harness and happy pants would take over and relax all of them. We visited our sick friends and recovering clients in hospitals and nursing homes, too. She is now my co-therapist at my new job helping Veterans with disabilities.

Happy Anniversary, Verona, and May your butt always wag so happily.
I love you.

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Flare Ups And Frustration

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Well, don’t know how it happened but I’ve been nursing a sore elbow and hand. Woke up a few days ago and noticed it hurt to bend my elbow and it worsened to not being able to even hold anything in my hand. So, took Advil and slathered on Tiger Balm and figured the weekend would help ease the pain if I rested it. It’s Sunday and as you can tell by my posting, I’m still typing. Not the end of the world but the pain and the limitations are just so frustrating. I’m already blind, what more do I need? Gripe, gripe.

At least I got my nails done and my feet prettied up at the salon today. That made me feel much better.

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The Year In Review

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December 2010

The year in review: at home and other happenings.

The first few months of 2010 were more or less quiet, as Jerry and I were still healing from shoulder and gallbladder surgeries respectively. It certainly felt like the winter would never end and then it was spring. Verona and I celebrated our first year together in January by traveling up to Guiding Eyes and taking part in the graduation ceremony and kennel tour. We’ve come a long way since our training and I’m so glad I’ve got her in my life.

Jerry’s been working for Homeland Security now for over ten years and this year has been full of unexpected changes since the Obama administration has taken charge but for the most part, it’s all been minor.

Anthony hasn’t decided what to do once he graduates high school but we are hoping he will figure it out this year. He’s got a knack for languages and has a great radio voice, so perhaps he’ll look into audio engineering. He’s very good at multi player role playing games, like World of Warcraft, and from what I hear, is well respected and plays with a core group of people who respect and like him. His next step is to find a training program or enroll in a community college.

April has been battling a series of throat infections since May and missed the first half of school due to three episodes of tonsillitis, one so serious she was put on prednisone for a week and two rounds of antibiotics. The specialist finally said the only way to keep these infections from reoccurring was to remove her tonsils, adenoids and excess sinus tissue. As I write this, she is recovering from the procedure which was done on December 15th.

Backtracking a bit, we took our annual vacation in August, piling into the new Toyota Tacoma truck and drove to Pennsylvania. Neeka went with my friend and dog trainer, Jamie while we were away.

We first went to the PA Renaissance festival – Huzzah! — It was hot but bearable. We stayed at a motel, and then drove on to stay near Stroudsburg at a KOA. Our cabin was clean and had air conditioning and a bathroom. The camp grounds had an awesome pool with a fountain at one end and a spiral slide at the other, restaurant, and Dog Park, just to name a few amenities. We went to Hershey Park but left after only half the day due to excessive heat. It was 98 degrees by noon and neither myself nor Verona could take it. April and I did get to go on some awesome coasters, though and I had the best sour cherry slushie ever. The heat reminded me to ask myself, whatever possessed us to take our vacations in the dead heat of summer?Ugh. Verona was so well-behaved, staying on the porch and guiding me expertly through all the crowds, heat, and obstacles, especially at the R. Fair. I would love to get back to that KOA in the fall and bum around all the little towns in Lancaster as well as hit the outlet stores before Xmas crazies. Having ro is a true gift and every year I grow to appreciate it more and more. J

Jerry, April, Carol and Verona and I drove up to Foxwood’s resort and casino for an overnight stay. Jerry and I went to see Jethro Tull at the MGM Grand’s theater while Carol and April bummed around the hotel, mall, and casino. Someone had to stay with Verona while we attended the show. Well, not really but it was a good excuse to get the kid to come so we wouldn’t worry about leaving her at home with only Anthony, who is not a babysitter.

On September 22, Jerry and I celebrated our 20th anniversary by going to a B & B inn Greenwood Lake, Orange County, N.Y. We did some apple picking with Verona, who had to guide me off-road, so to speak. Low hanging branches, gullies, yards and yards of half rotten apples, and little kids wanting to hug her were just some of the most eventful items we negotiated. It was a lot of fun and she did so well, we let her play kill the Frisbee twice when we got back to the room near the lake.

We went to a great German restaurant called The Breezy Point Inn, which is a B & B with a huge dining hall which serves an authentic pig roast buffet. It was excellent, Jerry and I both ate way too much and rolled out of there with fond memories of everything from the schnitzel and apple strudel with vanilla ice cream to the hog’s head on the buffet’s carving table. J

In October I changed jobs and I’m now working as a family therapist for the Veterans Administration located in White Plains, N.Y. It’s been five years since graduation with my master’s degree and I’m finally where I should be in terms of my career. I am so very grateful for the folks who helped me and I’ll never forget those who mentored me to this point. God’s blessings are with me and for that I’m just a humble pie. J

What’s in store for us this year? Number one on our list would be: no more surgeries. After that, we’re happy with whatever comes along.
Love and best wishes to all in 2011!
Annie, Jerry, Anthony, April, Neeka, Verona, and the bird, hamster, and fish.

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