DAT has received funding from the Dan D’Andrea foundation to train disability advocates in Western New York on how to train, educate, and work within their municipalities so as to ensure proper response by elected officials and Town/village employees to the needs of individuals with disabilities in their communities. DAT has partnered with The Advocacy Center in Rochester, NY, who has run the NYS Partners in Policymaking program (I’m a 2007 graduate) and has access to disability advocates who, as part of their commitment, are responsible for ongoing advocacy. We will also recruit other advocates through an application process.

DAT has identified Town Hall Training as one of the main initiatives to ensuring total inclusion. Through my role on the Town of Amherst (NY) Committee on Disabilities, I have seen the lack of awareness and subsequent poor response to the needs of citizens. The base of this is accessibility, hiring practices, department specific understanding (i.e. Police, Emergency services) and program options (i.e. Recreation, Parks), and employee education. This does not mean that employees and elected officials don’t care and are not willing to learn, but it is a  reflection of today’s society and their lack of knowledge as to what is NOT being done to bring equity to the disabled community. This is often times discriminatory (unknowingly) and, quite possibly, a violation of federal law. Recent Department of Justice audits in WNY have cited the city of Niagara Falls and Chautauqua County for non-compliance. We do not want to have to bait municipalities into responding appropriately but if it takes the threat of DOJ citations, we will help the Town to be proactive so as to avoid any greater issues.

What DAT will do is develop a Train the Trainer program that will teach disability advocates how to educate their audience, develop a committee, seek out and provide resources and materials, and ensure this is ongoing. We will be there for technical support and to answer all questions of concern the municipality may have, all in the best interests of their residents with disabilities. We are helping to ensure a community where each belongs and is accepted as a person.