‘ThinkDIFFERENTLY’ urges communities to better embrace people with disabilities

Photos by Tom Rivers: Marc Molinaro, Dutchess County executive, discussed “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” with community leaders on Thursday at the Genesee Orleans Arc in Batavia. Elected officials, school superintendents, police officers and agency leaders attended the forum.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 May 2018 at 8:51 am

Marc Molinaro, who is running for governor, says parks, public buildings, businesses need to better accommodate people

BATAVIA – Before he was running for governor, Marc Molinaro was pushing communities across the state to better embrace people with disabilities.

Molinaro is the Dutchess County executive, who also is challenging Andrew Cuomo for governor. Molinaro was in Batavia on Thursday to meet with community leaders about the “thinkDIFFERENTLY” campaign. His visit was planned before he announced his campaign for governor.

Molinaro said better accommodating and embracing people with disabilities is good for businesses, which will see more customers.

Molinaro, 42, said Dutchess has a wide-ranging effort, from making parks more accessible for children in wheelchairs and walkers (no wood chips to pass through), to training police officers to respond to people in crisis who have autism.

Movie theaters and the county fair have designated times where the sensory stimulations is dialed down, with less sound volume and lights. The Dutchess County Fair has one day without sound in the Midway. Otherwise, the Midway and fair has too much stimulation for some people. Those loud noises and pulsating lights can be debilitating to some people.

Government leaders have also tried to tame the bureaucratic maze so families can more easily receive services and Medicaid for children, and housing for adults.

“We are building communities that value everyone equally,” he said. “We’ve done some little things and we’ve done some big things.”

Molinaro has a 14-year-old daughter with special needs. He recalled helping his daughter tie her shoes. Molinaro’s wife told him to not overcompensate in trying to help their daughter.

Molinaro said it was a watershed moment, making him aware of the “quiet prejudice of low expectations” for people with disabilities.

His daughter ties her own shoes, rides a bicycle without training wheels and does much more.

About 100 municipalities and organizations have adopted “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” since it was first introduced three years ago in Dutchess County.

The “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” campaign has been officially adopted by about 100 municipalities and organizations across the state.

Making cross walks, parks, public spaces and businesses more accessible for people with disabilities is good for commerce, Molinaro said, resulting in more customers for businesses and more participation in the community.

“This is about making opportunities so kids can enjoy being kids,” he said.

Many people with disabilities need public transportation and their work schedules are often part-time. However, Molinaro said the bus schedules would pick up someone in the morning but not be available to bring them home until late afternoon. Dutchess has redesigned its bus schedules to serve people with part-time work schedules.

“ThinkDIFFERENTLY” should also include mental health services that meet community needs. “Jails have become the psychiatric facilities of last resort,” he said.

Molinaro was joined at the forum by State Assemblyman Steve Hawley. Molinaro used to be a colleague in the Assembly with Hawley.

Launched by Molinaro in 2015, the community-wide ThinkDIFFERENTLY initiative aims to break down barriers and support those living with autism and other developmental or intellectual disabilities.

The campaign promotes community inclusiveness by encouraging elected leaders, neighborhoods, businesses, and organizations to think differently about how they interact with individuals with special needs.

State Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, is among the elected officials who have embrace ThinkDIFFERENTLY. He issued this statement in August 2017.

“This campaign draws attention to mental health disorders and disabilities while encouraging open dialogue and eliminating stigma in communities,” said Ortt, who is chairman of the Senate’s Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Senate Committee. “It challenges elected officials and community members to think differently about those who are differently abled. I’m proud to work with County Executive Molinaro and my colleagues in the legislature to help promote awareness, education and social acceptance in Western New York through the ThinkDIFFERENTLY campaign.”

For more on ThinkDIFFERENTLY, click here.

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