Last Saturday, women from all around the tristate area gathered for the 6th Annual From Within conference for women with physical disabilities. They included ICS members, long-term disability rights advocates, university students, professionals, mothers, daughters and sisters—women with disabilities from all walks of life.
Independence Care System, along with co-sponsors the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, the MS Society, the United Spinal Association, and the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities (CCSD), were proud that this year’s From Within was the largest ever, with over 150 guests attending the event. Victor Calise, Commissioner for the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and a supporter of ICS and From Within for many years, was invited to speak at this year’s conference, which was an official event of ADA25NYC.
“I’m amazed by the number of participants that have come out to From Within 2015,” Commissioner Calise said. The event began in 2010 with just 29 attendees. “Seeing the growth in numbers at this event is important and speaks to the need to address health care issues for women with disabilities.”
This year, in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, the opening plenary session focused on the history of accessibility and equal rights for people with disabilities. Anna Fay, ICS Senior Vice-President for Independent Living Services and long-time disability rights activist and advocate (pictured left, with plenary speakers Marilyn Saviola, Ketrina Hazell and Marcus Johnson), reminded attendees of just how far disability rights in New York and around the United States have progressed in her lifetime.
The message clearly resonated with the audience. ICS Member Faith Gayle (pictured below) has attended two previous From Within conferences and was thrilled to hear from Ms. Fay, who played such a significant role in drawing attention to the rights of people with disabilities and affecting real changes.
“The From Within conference is always informative and helps to broaden people’s horizons,” Faith said. “This year it’s been particularly interesting to hear the history of the disabilities movement. Seeing and hearing from individuals who fought for the rights of people with disabilities—my hat goes off to them. They had all of those doors slamming in their faces, all of those obstacles, but they continued. Ramps, grab bars, curb cuts—they all make a huge difference to people’s lives. I don’t take that lightly.”
Marcus Johnson, ICS Member Advocate, emphasized how important it is for people with disabilities to know the movement’s history. “I was injured in 1991, so I became part of the disability community after the ADA had already passed,” Mr. Johnson shared. “I’m thankful for that, because I know about the years of struggle that went in to creating the ADA. We are all fortunate to have had such fierce advocates and strong leaders go before us.”
Following the plenary session, participants attended workshops based on their personal interests and experiences. Women learned about GYN and breast health from clinical director of the ICS Women’s Health program Dr. Susan Wolf and nurse educator Carole Baraldi. Others attended a healthy eating workshop presented by Sydell Bryant, food services director for The Bridge, a not-for-profit agency that provides meals daily to 250 people. Some women practiced meditation with Angela Aim, founder of IsisLight Center, which works to help people release mental, emotional and physical inhibitions. Small groups had conversations about domestic abuse with Amairis Pena-Chavez, Deputy Director of the New York City Family Justice Center. All workshops were fully accessible and tailored to women with spinal cord injuries, MS and other conditions that limit their mobility.
Christopher Rosa, CUNY Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, spoke proudly about CUNY’s collaboration with ICS and the 2015 From Within conference. The conference’s diverse workshops and the focus on empowering women with disabilities align with many of the goals of the CCSD.
“At CUNY, we spend a lot of time and effort creating spaces where people can explore their identities, with a particular emphasis on intersectionality, and From Within offers women with disabilities a unique opportunity to more richly understand the intersection of gender, disability, ethnicity, and other key elements of their identity,” Mr. Rosa explained. “In that respect, our partnership with ICS represents the most important collaboration we could have.”
Alexandra Wang (pictured left, in pink), Member of CCSD and President of the PossABILITIES Club at Hunter College, which raises awareness about lesser known disabilities such as Dyscalculia, attended the event for the first time this year and agreed that the conference was valuable.
“The From Within Conference 2015 has been really rewarding,” she said. “I’ve learned about my school [Hunter was the first fully accessible college in New York City] and also about myself. I thought it was great that there was a self-defense course [led by Darrius Dakim Minoras]. People with disabilities can be vulnerable, so it’s important that they learn to defend themselves. And I thought the Chair Zumba workshop [led by Sanya Williams] was a great idea. Everyone could participate and felt comfortable. I think the workshop also changed many participants’ beliefs about dancing. They probably learned that anyone can dance, able-bodied or not.”
For Ms. Wang, growing up with a disability has made her the woman that she is and she believes that events like From Within and groups like the PossABILITIES club help people embrace their disability as an identity. “I am visually impaired and grew up with a speech impediment,” she said. “I believe both disabilities have shaped who I am today. I have learned not to give up, despite having many challenges. I have also learned how to encourage others to always have hope.”
So many of the strong women who attended From Within last weekend live by a similar motto, and we thank all of them—as well as all of our presenters, guests and awardees—for making this year’s event such a success. We look forward to seeing many of you again in 2016!
To see more images from the event, visit our Special Event Galleries page.