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A Rochester organization that provides programs and services for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities is raising its base wage for front-line workers.

Heritage Christian Services is raising the pay scale for those employees to $15 an hour for all positions, effective May 9. Heritage officials said that their residential staff, which is the majority of jobs at the organization, will now start at $15.75, with more money for certain shifts.

Heritage Christian said that is a 20% increase for all frontline positions since the start of the year.

Jennifer McDonald

When Leilani McDonald was 2 years old, her mom became concerned about some of her behaviors.

Jennifer McDonald said her daughter wasn’t talking and would only make certain noises. Leilani would often marvel at her hands, and clap while walking in circles.

"I let it go for a little bit, but then I was like, let me just bring her in and get her evaluated just in case,” McDonald said.

Leilani was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ASD is a developmental disability often detected in early childhood that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. 

RIT and its National Technical Institute for the Deaf have been awarded a $470,000 federal grant to help deaf and hard of hearing students learn technical skills to better prepare them for the workforce.

The grant from the National Science Foundation will fund a pilot program called DeafTec Ready, according to Rep. Joe Morelle (NY-25).

Max Schulte/WXXI News file photo

A pop-up clinic Saturday will focus on vaccinating Rochester’s deaf refugee population.

The clinic, hosted by the nonprofit Deaf Refugee Advocacy, will offer first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine to deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind new Americans. 

Center for Disability Rights

A two-day COVID-19 vaccination clinic in downtown Rochester is providing Moderna shots for people with disabilities through a partnership with the Center for Disability Rights, AcuteKids pediatric urgent care, and Monroe County. 

The clinic is expected to vaccinate 60 people in a vulnerable population; according to the National Institutes of Health, people with developmental and intellectual disabilities have been harder hit by the pandemic's effects.

When COVID-19 vaccines first became available, a local doctor noticed a gap in access when it came to people with disabilities. Dr. Tiffany Pulcino and her team work with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities and complex medical conditions. They set up mobile vaccine clinics throughout Rochester for their patients. So far, they have helped more than 2,000 patients receive vaccines.

This hour, we discuss the challenges the pandemic has presented for people with disabilities – from access to health care and vaccines, issues related to isolation from support systems, and more. Our guests: 

  • Tiffany Pulcino, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and medical director of the UR Medicine Complex Care Center 
  • Michelle Labossiere-Hall, associate vice president of customized support at Heritage Christian Services 
  • Stephanie Ramos, advocate and patient of Dr. Pulcino

This story is produced by WXXI's Inclusion Desk, focusing on disabilities and inclusion.

Center for Disability Rights

While additional funding for home-based services was excluded from the first two coronavirus relief bills, people with disabilities and their families will finally see some relief in the new stimulus package.

The package includes $350 billion in aid to states and localities to provide services to people with disabilities. 

provided photo

It's been tough for a lot of people to get  a COVID-19 vaccine - with challenges like finding out where it’s available and getting an appointment and even determining whether you are eligible to get the shot.

Having a disability can make the process even more complex.

Autism Nature Trail

A mile-long Autism Nature Trail at Letchworth State Park is expected to open to the public later this year. It’s a project that has been over a half-decade in the making.

Back in 2016, the Humphrey Nature Center opened as a year-round facility that focused on providing educational opportunities. 

New York State Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Erik Kulleseid said Letchworth’s Autism Nature Trail is, in many ways, an offshoot of their most recent nature center.

New York State Senate

Republicans in the New York State Senate claimed Friday that policies enacted by the state during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic may have put residents at group homes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities at risk of contracting the coronavirus. 

The group of Republicans likened the policy, which is still in effect, to one that was briefly enacted at nursing homes, where some believe the change may have led to more deaths.

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