Inclusion Desk

The Inclusion Desk is a multi-platform reporting effort by WXXI News to inform and transform attitudes and behavior about inclusion. The Inclusion Desk grew from the Move to Include partnership between WXXI and the Golisano Foundation. Through programming and special events, WXXI and the Golisano Foundation look to build a more inclusive community by inspiring and motivating people to embrace different abilities and include all people in every aspect of community life.

COVID-19 has meant some difficult times for a lot of people, but those living with disabilities have been facing unique challenges.

A WXXI live forum on the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities aired Thursday night on WXXI TV and radio. The virtual forum featured interviews with people who have disabilities or who are working with those with disabilities.

WXXI News covers Governor Cuomo’s press briefing from Albany. Following that, we have a discussion about issues affecting people with disabilities – especially those pertaining to the pandemic. This week, the WXXI News team has presented a series of pieces about disparities and inclusion. It’s part of the Move to Include project, a partnership between WXXI and the Golisano Foundation.

This hour, our colleagues highlight different issues affecting people with disabilities in our community. Our guests:

  • Erin McCormack, executive producer for WXXI Public Media
  • James Brown, reporter for WXXI News

Memorial Art Gallery

Earlier this month, people around the world sat down to watch "Hamilton" -- the Broadway musical phenomenon written by Lin-Manuel Miranda about the titular founding father.

And they did so from their own homes, giving everyone with a Disney+ subscription access to a show they might not have seen otherwise.

Imagine if art was this accessible all the time.

“It’s not hard to do,” says Gregg Beratan, director of development for the Center for Disability Rights in Rochester. “We have decades of research of making venues more accessible.”

It’s been 30 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, mandating public spaces be accessible to all. But it’s still an ongoing battle.

provided photo

A Rochester organization is hoping that people who are spending more time at home during the coronavirus pandemic will use some of that time to become "inclusion ambassadors."

Rochester Accessible Adventures, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that people with disabilities have access to sports and recreation, is offering online training for children who are in middle school and older.

Woody Livingston, who has very limited vision and uses a cochlear implant to help him hear, gestures with his hands as he stands for a photo portrait at his home in Henrietta, New York.
Max Schulte / WXXI News

Woody Livingston says he's an outgoing guy. 

"I like to go fishing. Go to the lake. You know, travel all around," the Henrietta man said. 

Like a lot of people who've been sticking close to home during the coronavirus, Livingston hasn't been able to do fun things like that. 

But for him, the restrictions have gone far beyond fishing. 

For Livingston, who is deafblind, it meant almost entirely losing his connections to the outside world.

Special Olympics athlete Jacob Booher-Babcock lifts his arms and legs up in a V formation as he takes part in a virtual competition.
Max Schulte / WXXI News

Sweat trickled down Jacob Booher-Babcock's flushed face in the midday sun as he pushed through a series of sit-ups. His hands and feet touched at the top when he stretched his arms and legs into a "V" formation.

Jacob smiled when his coach, Martha Pachuta, told him he just set a new personal record.

Pachuta and Jacob's mother, grandparents, and a young cousin cheer him on as he takes part in a virtual competition in the circular driveway of his grandparents' Churchville home. Normally, the Special Olympics athlete would be performing before a much bigger crowd.

More than 100 concerned community members, consumers and former employees of the Center for Disability Rights and the Regional Center for Independent Living are speaking out about alleged mismanagement, malfeasance and xenophobic remarks made by the organization’s founder, president and CEO, Bruce Darling.

They wrote and signed an open letter calling Darling’s leadership “calamitous.” It said there’s a “lack of accountability,” “nonexistent governance,” and alleges malfeasance and "unethical conduct.” 

Philipe Rivera is sitting in his powered wheelchair on the Monroe County Department of Human Services campus.
Max Schulte / WXXI News

Philipe Rivera goes by "Flip." He's 34 years old and has cerebral palsy. He has a tattoo on his arm, uses a wheelchair, and communicates through a device called a DynaVox. 

"I also use a head pointer for my personal PC," Rivera said. "I cannot use my hands. I rely on people to help me with getting dressed, feeding, bathing, etc."

He's been at Monroe Community Hospital since he was 20. Before that, he lived with his mom who was struggling with substance abuse. She couldn't care for him, so he was placed in the nursing facility owned by Monroe County. He said it's never felt like a home. For 10 years, he's been trying to get out. 

Here's something you may not know: People with disabilities are not guaranteed the right to live in the community.

James Brown / WXXI News

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello has created the Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which is dedicated to creating more equity in Monroe County. 

The new department will be led by a chief diversity officer and will create at least four new positions. The new positions will review county contracts, policies, and strategies with a goal, Bello said, of combating all forms of bias. 

Jerri Lynn Sparks

UPDATE: The New York State Office of People with Disabilities announced Friday that starting on July 15, 2020 in regions of the state that are in Phase Four of the reopening plan, home visits may resume for individuals living in OPWDD certified residences.

The home visits are subject to COVID-19 safety guidelines that include social distancing, face coverings, hand washing, and proper cleaning and disinfection.

The office is urging families to use caution and to limit group home residents' exposure to members of different households and public places.