By Cecelia Sharp
As a parent of two mentally disabled young adults and an advocate for others, I wish to express my fears if the funding for the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities is reduced by as much as 6 percent, through the budget proposals of New York State.
My oldest disabled child is now 40; his sister, also disabled, is 37. For 40 years, I have attempted to offer them the opportunity to learn to the best of their ability and to become the people God put them on this earth to be. I attended many Committee on Special Education meetings during their school years, many parent information sessions, toured numerous residential and workshop settings and made some difficult decisions along the way. I have seen my children discouraged, angry, frustrated and asking why they are different from others. I have helped with SABAH, connected with therapeutic riding programs, served as a Boy Scout leader (so my son could be in the troop), started a special education religious class and the list goes on and on , as it does for any parent of a disabled child.
My children are happy young adults at this time. Each has a home in an appropriate residential setting with adequate and appropriate supervision. My children are attending daily work programs that let them feel good about themselves. My son attends the Starlight Studio and Art Gallery at 340 Delaware Ave. in Buffalo, and through this program he has found who he is. “I am an artist and I would have no place to go if they close Starlight.” He has sold his painting to an East Aurora art gallery and there are many more that he can create, with the right guidance, to let him be who he is. My daughter has learned how to use her ability to care for people, taking meals on wheels to the elderly and visiting in nursing homes to help with crafts, all to the best of her ability. She makes others smile.
We have a master of social work who is dedicated to our needs. I have the opportunity to choose agencies that have my children’s best interest in mind. I feel secure that there is adequate personnel. I am almost ready to start feeling secure about when I am no longer able to advocate for my children and they will need to turn to someone else for support.
Now, New York wants to allow all this to go away. No more art program, less staffing, fewer choices of agencies, fewer disabled residences for those leaving high school. Is there no compassion or understanding for the needs of others in New York State? Are buildings and football stadiums in a budget more important than human needs? Do these people who are voting on this budget proposal not understand how fortunate they were to have family and children not affected by a disability?
Please do not allow this budget cut to happen and harm so many people. I am praying that our society is compassionate and caring.
Cecelia Sharp of Amherst is an advocate for the mentally disabled.