At ADAPT Community Network, we strive to provide varied opportunities for our people supported, such as employment, recreation, education, and more. This includes our partnership with NYU Tandon School of Engineering through Allan B. Goldstein’s Disability Studies course. Allan, a Senior Lecturer at NYU Tandon, started the Disability Studies course in 2013, having been introduced to Peter Cobb, Director of Community Outreach, by Amy Bittinger from our Family Support team. Then people supported by ADAPT Community Network began attending the semester-long course.
Through the partnership, NYU hires people supported by ADAPT Community Network as consultants who work closely with students to develop person-centered video projects and engage in classroom discussions about assigned readings and videos. Students report that having a person living with a disability in the classroom is much more effective than reading about the disability in a book. In addition, it is a privilege to ask a disability-related question directly to an individual with a disability. This teaching method requires students to write a start of semester self-evaluation and end of semester self-reflection. Allan recalls seeing a shift in the students’ essays. “Many students over the years have highlighted how working closely with people with disabilities changed their lives and encouraged them to complain less as they watch others with disabilities perform similar tasks but with more barriers during group projects,” he said.
Camila Kann, ADAPT’s Theater Specialist and former NYU Student who participated in Goldstein’s class, said, “I learned a lot about inclusion and access and the need to include the disability community in conversations about diversity and equity.” As a result of the course and her experiences working with disabled individuals, Camila is motivated to become a better ally to the disability community. “I became passionate about using theatre as a way for people to express themselves in different shapes or forms to tell their stories, cultivate communication and social skills. I also believed theatre would be a powerful tool to create more visibility for people with disabilities in important cultural spaces in NYC,” Camila explained.
Allan has a sibling with a disability and acknowledges how it has impacted his life choices by trying to escape the disability world at a younger age through traveling, school, and acting. In his memoir, Fred and Me: a Willowbrook Survivor’s Story, Allan discusses becoming his brother’s guardian and shows how they both develop and reconnect.
Fred is a survivor of Willowbrook, the institution exposed for its horrific treatment of kids with disabilities. He lived there from age four until twenty. “We visited Fred every week, but we were not aware of what was happening,” Allan said. “Sundays were visiting days, meaning all the sins were washed away for the day–everyone was dressed, and the halls were shiny, although smelling of urine.” Despite not knowing the horror of Willbrook, Allan believes that their weekly visits had an effect on Fred and the quality of care he received because staff saw that he had a family. “There were many abandoned kids there,” Allan said. “Families, allies, and self-advocates ensure that agencies or institutions are doing the work to serve the needs of people with disabilities best.”
Allan believes there is much to be done to create equality for those with disabilities. “There is still a stigma toward people with disabilities. But the good news is that we have lots of self-advocates, and the best advocates are the people living with disabilities and are fighting for their rights.” “More people with disabilities are graduating college programs and becoming employed,” Allan said. “Opportunities like the consulting work people from ADAPT do at NYU offer exciting and positive learning experiences where they learn from observing and participating.”
Consultants from ADAPT are very grateful to participate in the NYU Tandon Disability Studies course. For Paul Tudisco, this opportunity helped him bring his business idea to fruition. “It’s a great learning experience. I followed students into a field I never knew I’d be interested in. I learned a lot about 3D printing, and without NYU, I’d never become involved in this field.” Today, Paul’s company Limitless Stylus produces custom stylus to help people with limited mobility or amputees operate touch screen devices more easily.
Overall, Allan’s goal is that society recognizes that disability is not a tragedy but just a different way of living. He points out that in some cases, a person with a disability can be better at their job or more valuable to their company than someone who is not disabled–better attention span, never missing a day of work.
ADAPT consultants are looking forward to participating on-campus this coming fall semester to continue the work and contributions they bring to the students at NYU. Our working together shines a light on the importance of inclusivity in all aspects of work and life. By doing so, we are providing additional opportunities for collaboration and raising awareness.