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Expands Access to Services to Underserved Communities

Recently, Mrs. Leah Steinberg, Agudath Israel’s Special Needs Advocate and Director of Project LEARN, proposed changes in inter-agency cooperation policy between the New York State Education Department (NYSED) and New York State’s Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). The changes proposed would ensure that the OPWDD provide information on services and programs for the disabled in places that are accessible to nonpublic school students – thus empowering millions of individuals with disabilities throughout New York State.

As a member of New York State’s Developmental Disabilities Advisory Council (DDAC) of the OPWDD, Mrs. Steinberg strongly advised that the yearly communication/forums from OPWDD include both public and nonpublic school students. In addition, and even more importantly, the brochures given out to special needs children at Committees on Special Education (CSE) meetings, where these children are evaluated for special education services, and in follow-up mailings, should include information on disability services from all State agencies. This information has long been available in public schools and will hopefully be available, in the near future, to individuals attending nonpublic schools.

“Enabling the disabled to help themselves is the goal,” said Mrs. Steinberg, “many individuals with disabilities do a free-fall after services for school age children end because they have no idea that they may be eligible for similar supports through other government agencies. These children never go to public school, so if the information isn’t disseminated at the evaluation meetings at the CSE offices where these children are served, there is a strong possibility that they will never find out what services and resources are available.”

The DDAC, the key body which promotes and helps implement policy directly with the NYS OPWDD Commissioner, gleans its information from a number of subcommittees. These subcommittees recommend policies that improve the day-to-day operation of the OPWDD at ground level. Mrs. Leah Steinberg is also a member of two DDAC subcommittees, The Vocational/Post-Secondary Opportunities Subcommittee and the Subcommittee on Self-Direction, which is now being formed.

The Subcommittee on Self-direction will determine the process by which parents in the Self-direct Initiative apply for and obtain services. Self-direction is a relatively new service model where special needs individuals approved to receive OPWDD services are allotted a specific budget and then control how and by whom the services are delivered. “That subcommittee is still formulating the self-direction process; I’m trying to make sure that it takes the specific nuances of our community into account at the earliest planning stage possible.”

Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s Executive Vice President, said, “We are proud of Mrs. Steinberg’s strong and tireless advocacy for the Jewish special needs community. She is active on two levels – both in the Advisory Council and in its subcommittees – creating policy and fine-tuning it for the benefit of our community. When she sits on these committees, she is truly a voice for the klal.”