New York State Is Closing CWI's Doors, And It's A BIG Mistake

New York State Is Closing CWI's Doors, And It's A BIG Mistake

As someone with a disabled sibling, I cannot agree with this action

I am the younger sister of two older brothers. I get many people asking how I survived my childhood being pushed around by the boys of the family. Those same people have to hide their shock and embarrassment after I tell them I was the one to initiate most of the pushing around, and any sibling rivalry there may have been was exclusively between one of my brothers and me. I never fought with our oldest brother, Lewis, because he is the gentlest soul you could ever meet.

Lewis is also blind and developmentally disabled.

Growing up I did not question Lewis’s disability because it was all I had ever known and I constantly saw just how independent he could be. Of course, life was not easy for him or my parents, but the positives always outweighed the obstacles because Lewis is the most optimistic human being I have ever been around. I truly admire him and the things he is capable of doing, despite the odds that were stacked against him from birth.

So, I guess technically, Lewis is the youngest sibling and I am just as protective of him as any older sibling would be.

When you get to know Lewis you find out a few key details about him, such as, his undying love for tea and coffee beverages (he will tell you all about his favorite flavors), he gets visibly upset if his routine is disrupted and he loves going to work every day (especially the bus ride to and from work).

Lewis is part of the CWI (Community Work Independence) program in New York State. This program allows my brother and thousands of other disabled adults to become part of the community by working a regular schedule, completing a variety of tasks. The members of CWI do get paid an hourly wage for their work, but it is not anywhere near minimum wage.

That doesn’t matter to Lewis, though, because he just enjoys the social aspect that CWI offers, along with a consistent routine that rarely is interrupted. Every day, for at least 15 years, he performs his usual tasks to get ready for work and rides the bus with his friends. Without CWI, I am not sure he would be as independent as he is now.

According to their website, “Today CWI assists 1,200 individuals at nearly 40 locations across four counties. In addition, the not-for-profit organization has grown to become one of the largest employers in the area with over 700 employees and an annual operating budget of nearly $30 million resulting in a substantial impact on the region’s economy.”

However, according to the state of New York, CWI and programs like it actually are not beneficial to the community they serve, which is resulting in all CWI locations closing their doors in March.

The reasoning: CWI encourages discrimination against disabled individuals and hinders their ability to gain employment for a fair wage.

Whereas I agree that receiving at least minimum wage for time spent in the workforce, I cannot agree with the reasoning. Like I have mentioned, I have seen Lewis’s capabilities to live on his own, but I also am realistic. My brother simply cannot perform tasks that the regular working world expects.

Grocery stores and other businesses tend to hire those with disabilities to greet customers, take care of shopping carts in the parking lot or bag items at the register. This allows disabled individuals to learn the skills to be social and successful, and get rewarded for their work with a fair wage.

Except, Lewis couldn’t bag items at the grocery store, because he cannot see what the products are. He cannot walk into a busy parking lot on his own to round up shopping carts and put them back in their correct place. Lewis would certainly love to greet customers at the store entrance, but I think that busy times would stress him out too much with all of the unpredictable noise that accompanies shoppers.

Along with the state’s reason for shutting down CWI, I would have to argue that if a day program that offers a separate place for employment for the benefit of its employees, then wouldn’t handicap parking spots perpetuate discrimination? Wouldn’t classrooms that offer specialized aid to those with disabilities be hindering the quality of education that those individuals receive?

I do not actually believe those points, but I am making the comparisons to prove that shutting down such a helpful program, that many members have served many years of their lives at, would only displace its clients and the hundreds of employees who rely on CWI as their primary source of income to survive.

In a perfect world I would love that discrimination toward any kind of group of people would become nonexistent. I would love to see companies hiring more individuals with disabilities and paying them the same amount as any other employee, but the reality is that employers discriminate whether we like it or not. Along with the fact that many of the clients of CWI have varying degrees of disability, many of them really may not feel comfortable working outside of the program, Lewis included.

I will mention that these people will be offered placement at many other day programs in which they can develop social skills and keep a daily routine. However, that raises a lot of unanswered questions of transportation to and from the program, how the people of CWI will feel building a trusting rapport with new employees and where the employees losing their jobs will go for financial support.

So, what the future of our disabled community members will look like, and how my brother will be able to adapt to these changes is unknown to me. I am hoping for the best, and honestly hoping that my hesitations are proven wrong because those with disabilities are some of the kindest and happiest people I will ever meet, and I really do not want our systems to continue failing these beautiful human beings.

Cover Image Credit: Acacia Ladd-Cocca

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To The People Destined To Marry My Baby Twin Siblings, A Few Words

You really drew lucky cards when you met these people, and I hope that you value them as much as I have.

For seven years of my life, I was a solo act and I was alright with that... until I wasn't. When my brother and sister were born, I knew then that I would spend every single minute of the rest of my life protecting, motivating, and loving these two little people with my everything, and that was what I have done.

Every minute since they were born, I have tried to show them unconditional love and support, offer them guidance, and keep them away from anything that might hurt them. I didn't know that they would end up inspiring me, but they will change the world someday.

For the people out in the world who will someday be lucky enough to call these amazing humans your significant others, I have some advice:

You will never love them as much as I do

I am not threatening you. Don't worry. I am just being honest. I have raised these people to become who they are. I have taught them life lessons, I have been to all of their celebrations for their accomplishments, I have boasted about them to complete strangers, and I have picked them up from some pretty dark places. They have been my motivation their whole lives, and for that, I have an amount of love for them no one will ever be able to match.

We are incredibly close

I have shared some pretty gritty secrets with these people. (We did live together for most of our lives.) The three of us have had spitball contests, alphabet burping contests, sock fights, heated arguments, intense crying sessions, lazy days, family parties, family secrets, and memories that you weren't part of. But, what you have going for you now is that you will be there when we make more. You will get close to us, even if you weren't in all of the past.

They are willing to do anything for the people they love

Throughout our lives, we have been through our share of good and bad. The good was really good, and the bad was really bad. But no matter what, my brother and sister have been dedicated to making sure that the people they love are OK with everything that happens. (They are twins and have literally fought for each other.) So don't ever worry about their loyalty. They protect the people they love with everything in them, and I am extremely proud of that.

They will change your life

You may "know" this already, but you really won't understand until you can watch them changing someone else's life and reflect on yourself. These two people have seriously changed my life. They bring a light into it that no other person I have ever met could possibly do. They have something in their eyes that sparks a revolution in other people. They can motivate, inspire, alter your thinking, and help you see a different side of things you didn't think was possible. They make you a better person, and you will be eternally thankful for that.

You are the luckiest people in the world to marry them

I am not sure if you know it or not, but you are incredibly lucky to be marrying these people. Your entire lives are going to change for the better, and I am glad that someone sees just how special they are. They are two of the best people I have ever met in my entire life, and they deserve the best out there.

You really drew lucky cards when you met these people, and I hope that you value them as much as I have. Let them change your life, they are destined to be great. The amount of pride they will bring into your life is worth any bad days, and you will not find anyone with a bigger heart out there. Don't take them for granted.


A proud big sister

Cover Image Credit: Alyssa Beebe

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Once Upon A Time My Sister Was My Rival And Now She's My Best Friend

Siblings: from rivals to best friends

For as long as I can remember, it has been my job to be the annoying little sister. I did the typical little sister things: I bothered her and her friends, I disagreed with her just to get a rise out of her, and I used all of her things without asking.

To say the least, I was a complete hellion to my sister, Marley.

These crazy antics of mine continued through elementary school and into middle school until she went off to college at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

What was I going to do with myself? I no longer had someone to constantly annoy nor was I going to be able to borrow things "without giving them back.”

But most importantly, I no longer had her there to laugh with, watch movies with, or someone to seek advice from.

Whether my sister knew it or not, she was my role model for absolutely everything. Her clothes, her makeup, and how well she did in school. She was everything I aspired to be like.

As the years went by, I became slightly less annoying--only slightly--and all of my antics began to die down. I no longer felt like it was "my job" to be the annoying little sister.

Now that I’m in college, and she has started a new life with her husband and a new job, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve grown incredibly close.

Marley is the first person I tell things about my life, the person I go to for advice, the one I can call when something hilarious happens on Tru TV’s “Impractical Jokers,” or someone to just catch up with on what has been going on in each other's lives.

On November 11, 2017, I gave a speech at Marley’s wedding where I stated: “I care about my sister more than anyone else here today and, being the little sister I am, I will protect her in every way that I can…” That remains true every day.

No matter the circumstances, I would drop everything to help my sister. She may live all the way down in Florida, but I would book the fastest plane to get me down there if she needed me.

We may fight with our siblings and do dumb things just to annoy them, but we will always have their back and grow closer as the years go by.

Simply put, we went from being rivals to best friends.

And to my sister: thank you for being you and for allowing me to grow up with such an amazing role model in my life. I don’t know where I would be without you.

Cover Image Credit: F8 Photography

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