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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A Letter To My Sister For Her First Semester In College

Some Advice to My Sister For Her First Semester

To My Sister,

I'm going to start by saying how proud I am of you and your accomplishments thus far and making it to the first step of a long but important journey of your life, college.

It seems like only yesterday we were just two kids who wanted to both be pop stars when we grew up so we prepared by performing at places like nursing homes and festivals to prepare (even though we got over that phase by the time we hit 5th grade). I'm writing this letter to you in hopes of giving good advice and wisdom from my 5 years of struggling as a college student.

Never Give Up On ANYTHING

You need to believe that you can do anything that you set your mind to because YOU CAN. I know it seems like the impossible when you're trying to pull that first all-nighter to finish a paper that is due in the morning but you got this! Even if you don't believe in yourself just remember that I do.

Stay Focused On What You Want To Accomplish

College is an awesome, fun experience in your life and I know how distracting everything else can be but make sure to focus on your projects and assignments. I know I sound like our mom but trust me when I say do your assignments for your classes because good grades lead to the things that you want most to accomplish in the future. Stay focused on what you want to accomplish and the rest will follow suit.

Always Know I'm Here For You

I promise that I will always be a text or call away if you need any help with anything. Even if you are having a tough time with deciding what you want from Taco Bell, just give me a call. You also have a wonderful family that will make a great support system (You know because I'm part of that family). I will always be by your side no matter what happens; it is kind of my job as your big sister after all.

Go Out And Explore

Explore on your own and figure out what you are most passionate about. Go join some clubs or participate in an intramural sports team. Find your passion; who knows it might just lead to what you want to do for the rest of your life.

Have Fun

Go make some friends, go to social events organized by the campus, go party (just not too hard). Remember that there is always time to take a break from the work of college and have a little fun. You can't just sit in your room all day and study till your brain is fried. Working hard comes with the relief of having a break every once in a while as well. College is a once in a lifetime experience so don't miss out on it.

I love you with all of my heart. We have been through thick and thin together and can't wait to see what the future has for the two of us. I'm ready to see what you can accomplish and know that YOU CAN DO IT!

With Love,

Your Big Sis



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When You're The Youngest Sibling, This Is Your Life

The youngest siblings always get thrown under the bus, but we win our parents' hearts.

Being the youngest sibling definitely has its perks, and your older siblings are jealous. Your parents take your side in arguments that you start, you get to take clothes, and you are able to boss around your older siblings to drive you around. It's not always the greatest being the youngest sibling, however, because you are constantly being watched and must live up to the standards of your oldest brother or sister.

1. Sneaking through your older siblings' closet

Being the youngest sibling means free clothes; however, it’s not very simple snatching these clothes from your sibling’s closets. There’s a strategy to sneaking around, but the second you hear footsteps up the stairs, you suddenly become a track star.

2. Lasting impressions on teachers

You are never excited to see a teacher on your schedule that your older sibling once had. “Oh you’re _____’s sister?” can either mean a constant competition to live up to your sibling’s standards or an automatic terrible first impression because of your sibling’s misbehavior in the past.

3. Your parents always take your side

Let’s face it, you constantly fight like cats and dogs with your siblings. Even if you started the battle, your parents always take your side.. Watching your older siblings get punished after because of something you started was always the best sight to see.

4. You have your own chauffeur

Your older siblings are always there to drive you around, and they can’t say no to the baby of the house. However, when your siblings picked you up, it could have been really embarrassing.

5. Baby pictures who?

Remember when you had to look for a cute #tbt or a baby picture for your senior yearbook, and all you could find was pictures of your older siblings? Your parents had professional photo shoots for the older brothers and sisters, but the only pictures you could find of yourself were only a few snapshots in the back of the albums.

6. They know how to push your buttons

The teasing never ends when you’re the youngest of the family. Your siblings know exactly how to make you angry, and they will constantly do so even after you throw a meltdown.

7. They're always on your case

You don’t get any privacy as the youngest. Your siblings always know what is happening in your life. You constantly think of new ways to keep your life private, but it always fails.

8. The oldest sibling gets priority, and you get hand-me-downs

You usually get your way in most situations, but when it comes to big items, seniority rules. You have to act like this doesn't hurt you. When doesn't the youngest sibling get their way?

9. You’re thankful to have them by your side

Through constant unjust battles, hair pulling and stealing clothes, you are more than thankful to have great role models to look up to. No one messes with you because they have to go through your older siblings first.

No matter how many hairs are pulled, skin is broken, or clothes are stolen, siblings always stick together.

Cover Image Credit: Erica Wriedt

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