While I am the new President and CEO of United Spinal Association, neither I nor United Spinal are new to a commitment to racial equity and diversity inclusion.
For years the focus of my work with my past employer, The Coca-Cola Company, was inclusiveness and intersectionality with disabilities and a wide spectrum of diversity. United Spinal, itself was born from the undying commitment of a diverse group of veterans, who fought for equitable treatment from a government and country which they had defended and given so freely and so much of themselves.
But no matter how strong our past commitments, events of the recent past, demand deeper soul searching from every American and every organization, to do more. Black History Month takes on increased value this year as we reassess our commitments to our fellow citizens and communities of color.
Black History Month began as a wake-up call to everyone by one man armed with an historical truth, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, that the contributions of Black Americans and the black experience was being excluded from America’s educational system. As the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, which Dr. Woodson founded, succinctly framed the initial idea for Black History Week, the predecessor of today’s month-long celebration, “a special time for us to collectively celebrate our racial pride as well as collectively assess white America’s commitment to its professed ideals of freedom.”
James Weisman, my predecessor and our General Counsel, laid down a lasting marker in concrete commitments to communities of color, “As Americans celebrate the heroism of essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis, many of whom are ethnic minorities, we must demand systemic change to address the disproportionate lack of access to healthcare, loss of life and rate of arrest and incarceration in their communities. We call on the US Congress to conduct hearings to expose systemic racism and discrimination, propose equitable solutions to systemic problems and address the specific problem of racism and disability discrimination in law enforcement.”
Our long serving Board of Directors member and Vice Chairwoman, Carmen Jones, hosted a wide-ranging webinar on race and disability. And our free monthly magazine, New Mobility, also covered the topic in its August 2020 edition.
Those of us with a disability realize that freedom, independence, and all that springs from those values are often won millimeter by millimeter over extended periods of time. Indeed, one’s disability teaches patience. But we also know, when we combine our individual progress into a collective force, it takes on renewed power and recognition. This Black History Month, we mutually pledge to renew our commitments to equity in diversity and we do so heeding the lessons of giants like, Carter Woodson.
For while today, it is evident, Dr. Woodson was a visionary, let us never forget that all Black History Month accomplishes today, began with his sincere commitment to a single idea, setting the record straight about Black contributions to our collective history. As a teacher, let us always remember the lesson he left for each of us, that from the seed of an idea, great trees of productivity can grow. And that if we each do our part, greater returns will inevitably flow.
Whether it is a personal goal of yours or a goal of an entire organization, like United Spinal, combine Dr. Woodson’s vision, his commitment to a tangible idea, his ability to lead through teaching others, along with a healthy dose of practicality and you have a recipe for success. Dr. Woodson put it best, “A teacher in a rural school takes up a penny collection among her forty pupils and adds a twenty-five cents or a dollar and sends it to the national office in Washington. The amount contributed is small, but the lesson in self-help may be far-reaching. Years hence the pupils who gave only a penny each may give thousands to a worthy cause.” We at United Spinal will constantly strive to be worthy of Dr. Woodson’s relentless spirit.
—Vincenzo Piscopo, President & CEO, United Spinal Association
Ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities and/or people who are perceived to be disabled. Ableism characterizes persons who are defined by their disabilities as inferior to the non-disabled.
Ableism refers to “discrimination in favor of able-bodied people,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. But the reality of ableism extends beyond literal discriminatory acts (intentional or not) to the way our culture views disabled people as a concept. Ableism is also the belief that people with disabilities “need to be fixed or cannot function as full members of society” and that having a disability is “a defect rather than a dimension of difference,”
This interpretation of difference as defect is the true root of ableist acts that cause far too many to feel marginalized, discriminated against and ultimately devalued in this society. Here are just six forms of this behavior that, though largely normalized, need to be retired immediately.
1. Failing to provide accessibility beyond wheelchair ramps
Perhaps the most obvious form of discrimination people with disabilities face is the inability to access places and services open to their able-bodied counterparts — even with laws in place to prevent such inequality.
As Tumblr user The (Chronically) Illest noted, while most people think “just [putting] wheelchair ramps everywhere” is sufficient, true accessibility accommodates all types of disabilities — not just physical disabilities that specifically bind people to wheelchairs. Accommodations can also include “braille, seeing-eye dogs/assistant dogs, ergonomic workspaces, easy to grip tools, closed captions … class note-takers, recording devices for lectures” and other services and alterations.
2. Using ableist language
“When a critique of language that makes reference to disability is not welcome, it is nearly inevitable that, as a disabled person, I am not welcome either,” Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg wrote in a 2013 Disability and Representation article. But beyond individual feelings, ableist language can contribute to a foundation of more systemic oppression of people with disabilities as a group.
3. Able-bodied people failing to check their privilege
It may not seem like a big deal in the moment, but able-bodied individuals fail to recognize the privilege of having access to every and any space accessible. As Erin Tatum points out at Everyday Feminism, plenty of people may not directly discriminate against people with disabilities but effectively do so by using resources allocated for them. For example, many able-bodied people use handicapped bathroom stalls or take up space in crowded elevators, rather than taking the stairs and leave room for people with disabilities who don’t have other options, without a second thought.
4. Assuming people with disabilities have no autonomy
“There is a very narrow-minded perception of disability,” Cannington told Mic. “That narrow-minded assumption that all individuals with disabilities need and want certain things,” and assuming those individuals “constantly need help without actually asking the person [if they do],” is a common ableist experience Cannington and far too many others have faced.
“Automatically helping us without asking first should never be done,” Tiffiny Carlson said in a 2013 Huffington Post article. “We know when to ask for help. Just wait for us to speak up.”
5. Feeling entitled to know how people became disabled
“Able-bodied people will often assume that our existence represents some kind of mystery that they need to get to the bottom of,” Tatum explained at Everyday Feminism. But putting the onus on people with disabilities to explain themselves.
6. Assuming disability is always visible
Though their experiences are undoubtedly distinct from individuals with physical disabilities, people with non-apparent disabilities certainly face ableism as well. There is pervasive stigma surrounding mental illness, for example, and it can and often does lead to inequitable treatment, such as forced institutionalization and medication and a lack of agency in treating one’s mental health, Cannington told Mic.
“As human beings we need to check our privileges in regards to our abilities,” Cannington concluded. “In order to harness the power and diversity and innovation of our society, we have to realize that our minds and bodies experience the world in very different ways. If we are able to create access and be more intentional about how we create access, then we are doing everyone good.”
Mic Magazine, by Julie Zeilinger, July 7, 2015
With unemployment at levels not seen since the Great Depression, the need for government benefits has grown from a stream into a flood. We are treated to daily pictures of food banks overwhelmed and unemployment offices incapable of keeping up. All this has made things even more difficult for those who are seeking federal, state and local benefits due to disability. The massive increase of those in need has caused slowdowns with other offices, especially as states shift employees from other departments to unemployment and food assistance.
The most important thing to remember about all benefits in the COVID era is that work continues. At all levels the process remains the same despite physical offices being closed. While more people are applying than ever before due to the economic situation, they can feel comfortable that their benefits will come. Applications are accepted and processed, documentation is received and redeterminations continues. The only difference is that they’re being done over the internet or the phone. It will require patience and the work of a good partner to help navigate the process, but that maybe one of the only signs of normality during an abnormal time period.
The benefit utilized by our clients where online or over the phone isn’t sufficient is In-Home Support Services (IHSS). The process and situation are no different than any other benefit during this period. Everything is done over the phone, fax line or internet including completing the necessary forms, applying for Medi-Cal and initial determination meetings and assessments. As with everything else, no face to face contact is needed.
That however doesn’t apply to finding the right caregiver. There is no good formula for what makes a caregiver-client relationship work. Obviously, there is a long list of required qualities including compassionate, diligent, focused, hard-working and kind hearted. All that being said, the primarily determination on what makes for a good caregiver-patient relationship is the connection between both. Much like any relationship it can’t be determined by any means except face to face meetings and time together. This is not to imply that caregivers who don’t mesh with a client are not excellent caregivers, it just means they’re not a fit with that client. No different than any other business or personal relationship, sometimes there’s just no spark or there’s no good way to establish chemistry.
Just because the world has changed and more people are in need doesn’t prevent patients from getting the support required. As with everything in this day and age, the process remains the same even if the method has changed drastically. Face to Face meetings for the vast majority of things will not be happening. In the end for certain aspects, nothing can change its importance or in having a face that you can count on like Rehabilitation Care Coordination.
Director of Operations, Attorney, Adjunct Professor
ABLE accounts encourage and assist individuals with disabilities and their families in saving private funds to help maintain health, independence, and quality of life and provide secure funding for disability-related expenses.
These accounts are tax-exempt and a qualified ABLE program established and maintained by a state, or by an agency of a state, pays for the following type of expenses: expenses for education, housing, transportation, employment training and support, assistive technology and personal support services, health, prevention and wellness, financial management and administrative services, legal fees, and other expenses. Your Medicaid and Supplemental Security Benefits are not cut due to your opening an ABLE account, except for certain distributions related to some housing expenses under the Supplemental Security Income program and for amounts in an ABLE account exceeding $100,000.
United Spinal Association today announced Vincenzo (Enzo) Piscopo, an experienced professional in diversity, inclusion and social causes, has been appointed president and CEO by the organization’s board of directors.
Piscopo will begin his tenure as United Spinal’s president and CEO on November 16, 2020 replacing James Weisman, who is retiring after 40 years of service to the disability community as an advocate for disability rights and accessible transportation.
“I’m honored to lead United Spinal’s important mission to improve the quality of life and independence of people with spinal cord injuries and disorders and to ensure the inclusion of wheelchair users in all facets of our society,” Piscopo said. “When we do this, not only do people with disabilities win, but our communities, employers, and all of society wins.”
“As we approach our 75th Anniversary next year, we are grateful to have Enzo continue United Spinal’s legacy of providing our members programs and services that maximize their independence and enable them to remain active in their communities,” Weisman said.
Piscopo, a wheelchair-user who was paralyzed from a herniated disk in 2010, previously worked at The Coca-Cola Company for 25 years in a variety of strategic roles both in the US and internationally.
In his most recent position as the Community and Stakeholder Relations Director at The Coca-Cola Company, Piscopo managed and cultivated company relationships with disability, veteran and Hispanic organizations and advocates for these communities.
“With the help of United Spinal’s talented staff and dedicated chapter leaders, I remain committed to advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, strengthening their voice and empowering them to have a positive impact in their community,” Piscopo added. “I’m looking forward to continue building on the amazing work James did to take this organization to the next level.”
Piscopo has based much of his work on the belief that people with disabilities are assets for corporations because of their resilience, perseverance, and creative problem-solving skills. “For corporations to hire us is not only right, but also smart,” he said.
Piscopo is also the founder and Executive Director of the Wheels of Happiness Foundation which helps people with motor disabilities in disadvantaged areas of the world, and a member of the board of directors of the organizations Respectability and Friends of the Disabled Adults and Children.
Born in Venezuela of Italian immigrants, Piscopo currently resides with his wife and four children in Atlanta, Georgia.
He has a bachelor’s degree in economics, an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University, and a Masters in Creativity from Buffalo State College.
On July 26th, 2020, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrates its 30th Anniversary.
The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
United Spinal Association has been active in disability rights since its founding in 1946, and has promoted integration, inclusion, and accessibility for as long as it has existed.
Throughout our history, United Spinal has used the ADA to advocate for greater access to public transportation, the built environment, public facilities, and employment. We have used the ADA to fight for inclusion of wheelchair users in all aspects of our society.
It is our obligation to the disability community and to our society to complete the yet unfinished work that the ADA has begun.
Change is made by the people who speak up.
That’s the most important principle of advocacy. People can believe very strongly in a principle or an idea, but unless they express it, those with the power to make that idea a reality will never know just how much support that idea has.
We at United Spinal know how important it is that every elected official – everywhere – hears from our community about our priorities, our challenges, and our perspectives on policies that affect us. That’s why we re-launched our Grassroots Advocacy Network this summer with the goal of having a critical mass of committed advocates in every congressional district in the United States.
This initiative is based on two basic principles. First, our community needs to stay engaged with our elected officials throughout the year. In order for all the good work that goes into our annual Roll on Capitol Hill to be most effective, it needs to be paired with emails and phone calls from our Grassroots Advocates to their members of Congress on issues of importance throughout the year.
Second, we know from experience that members of Congress place great value on hearing from their constituents. That is why we’re looking for individuals who are interested in sharing their stories and perspectives with staffers for their Representative and Senators as an ambassador for our community. Congressional staff will sometimes look to reach out to particular constituents to include them at official events, use their stories in speeches or at committee hearings, or ask for their perspective on how a policy they are considering would affect them. Building those kinds of relationships with Congressional offices deepens their bond with our community.
You can have just as much of an impact by sending messages through United Spinal’s Action Center and making phone calls throughout the year to your members of Congress as you could by meeting with their staff in Washington, DC. Both are incredibly important. Together, these forms of advocacy combine to provide a comprehensive outreach approach that allows United Spinal to best advocate for policies that benefit our community.
So, please consider joining the Grassroots Advocacy Network. We will send you action alerts on important issues throughout the year that we need our advocates to contact their Representatives and Senators about. The messages will be written for you – all you need to do is input your name, address, and email address and click send. We may also reach out to you if we are planning a virtual meeting with your Representative or one of your Senators. If you have any questions about this program, you can email United Spinal’s Advocacy and Policy team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Self-employment is a solution for the person who wants to be self sufficient, productive and to be able to contribute to the economy but have challenges within the confines of a workplace setting. Issues such as transportation, dependence on caregivers and limiting conditions associated with the disability and perseverance of one’s own health are all qualifiers for choosing to work for yourself and have control over your abilities.
Self-employment is definitely worth exploration and you will find amplitude of great resources for people with disabilities to determine if this type of business organization is for you.
In addition to a productive lifestyle, the pride and fulfillment of owning and operating your own business, you may benefit from self-employment status in controlling your income level and maintaining needed benefits through business expense deductions for disability related work needs that may keep your income low enough for eligibility.
In addition, incentives for working while disabled may offer you some benefits that losing would not be worth being self-employed. One such program that has benefitted me by supplying health coverage for people with disabilities who get jobs is the IHSS Working Disabled 250% program. Because I require a caregiver, I have been able to pay a monthly premium so that I can still earn money above the eligibility cut-off amount. This premium allows me to be Medi-Cal eligible without a huge share of cost to defray my caregiver and medical expenses.
Self-employment can be a realistic goal for people with disabilities. That being said, self-employment is not for everyone – disabled or not. Being your own boss and working at your pace and when you want to have appeal. That is if you are self-motivated and self-directional and disciplined!
Are you willing to make a business plan to outline how much profit you’ll need to keep your business afloat and cover your personal needs? Monitoring your expenses is vital for success. Keeping abreast of your industry and business conditions is just as important for the stay at home entrepreneur as it is for a multi-level corporation. Are you willing to learn how to be a successful entrepreneur?
Are you disciplined enough to stay on track to complete your projects as well as handle all the business administrative support that would be provided if you had a business organization behind you to support sales, billing, compliance with government and industry regulations such as taxes or licensing?
Fortunately, with today’s technology there a lot of apps that streamline and make these tasks easier for you. As well, there is an online gig economy where you can find low cost hires around the world to handle your business affairs.
Having a plan before venturing out on your own is important. Not only are you your own boss, you are your own administrative support; and head of marketing, bookkeeping, sales and Human Resources.
To succeed, you must do the following exercises to determine if your business will be feasible. In other words, how much money will your business need to make?
- What do you need to support yourself – i.e., your living expenses – food, rent, utilities, insurances, auto expense, cell phone, Netflix …… . Add up your living expenses.
- Would you be better off working for someone else or can you make it on your own? Let’s say your living expenses are $4,000/month or $48,000/year. If you work on average 40 hours a week on your business (with 2 weeks of holiday/sick time), then at a base minimum, your target hourly rate will be: $48,000 (40 hours x 50 weeks) = $24.00/hour
- Note – you’ll have costs of the business and your pricing strategy to determine what you will really need to make. This is just a rough estimate of what time commitment and profit you’ll need to survive.
- How much capital do you need to start your business? – I.e., equipment purchase or rental, supplies, labor, services, leases, licenses, taxes, etc…
- How much profit will you need to earn to grow your business, plan for contingencies and support the extras you desire in your own personal life. To calculate profit, you need to determine your expected business expenses and project your expected income.
- INCOME – EXPENSES = PROFIT/LOSS
- Is your business feasible?
- Will your profit cover your personal and business expenses, your capital costs, and as well costs to grow your business and cover unexpected contingencies?
By doing this business planning, you’ll get a feel of what will work and where you need to look at other options for efficiency or cost control. You’ll also be able to analyze where you can make changes in your plan to be successful such as controlling costs, creating efficiencies and developing competitive pricing strategies.
Lastly, and very importantly, you need to be honest with yourself to determine the amount of time, energy, skills and resources (i.e., cash) you can commit to your business goal. You also need to look deep into yourself and your purpose to be successful. Are you self-directional and self-motivated? Are you your good boss? Will you get things done?
What are your resources? Resources are more than cash. They include other means to support your business. Perhaps free rent or a family member that will work with little or no compensation when your funds are low?
Resources also include organizations that can help you get your business off the ground. Surviving as a self-employed individual is dependent on the “you eat what you kill” concept. Learning to be self-employed has a steep learning curve. Fortunately, you can find lots of resources to help walk you through the whole maze of developing your business – often free or low-cost.
Most communities have a Small Business Development organization. Here, in San Diego, Accion is an excellent one offering education to prepare you, business development counseling, mentoring and even access to funding. Similar to entrepreneurial Training Programs offered in communities all across the country, take a look at the low cost $49 Refundable upon completion 10-week training program offered by Accion. Research online and on YouTube for other instructional trainings.
In addition, you will find governmental programs offering a cushion of support as an incentive to get people with disabilities into the workplace. Disability Benefits 101 is a great resource as a website with tools and information on employment, health coverage, and benefits. Further discussions of the resources I’ve mentioned in this article are included on this site.
- Social Security has a PASS (Plan to Achieve Self Support) and a Ticket to Work program that offer assistance in training, access to equipment needed and financing as well as retention of benefits so you’ll have a cushion for your housing, food and medical needs while you transition into self-employment.
- Your state has a Vocational Rehabilitation Program that will assist you in job retraining and/or readiness. Along with counseling, advice on resources and grants for education and equipment costs are provided.
- Often grants and other types of assistance are available to special groups such as Veterans or disability specific organizations or through your community. Research or talk to a counselor about your options
Understanding the income limitations of any benefits you receive is an important consideration. Many people with benefits choose not to work out of fear that they will lose their benefits. You can utilize the Disability 101 Benefits and Work Calculator to see how your benefits may be affected. Fortunately, special considerations are often made to encourage employment. Often, transition steps are implemented so benefits are available even while working.
Here are a few other resourceful web sites that are useful to review if your re interested in pursuing self-employment.
The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is the only non-regulatory federal agency that promotes policies and coordinates with employers and all levels of government to increase workplace success for people with disabilities.
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN), an ODEP-supported service, provides individualized technical assistance, consulting, and mentoring services to individuals with disabilities, family members, and service providers. JAN consultants handle each inquiry on a case-by-case basis offering self-employment and small business development expertise and referrals regarding business planning, financing strategies, marketing research, disability-specific programs, income supports and benefits planning, e-commerce, independent contracting, home-based business options, and small business initiatives for disabled veterans. JAN customers can expect to receive a resource packet tailored to their specific entrepreneurial goals with consultants available throughout all stages of the process who can provide ongoing supports.
 IHSS Working Disabled 250% program. (https://ca.db101.org/ca/situations/youthanddisability/benefitsforyoungpeople/program2f.htm)
 Accion Nonprofit (https://us.accion.org/about-us/our-approach/)
 Accion Training Program (https://us.accion.org/resource/accion-academy-for-entrepreneurial-success/)
 PASS (Plan to Achieve Self Support (https://ca.db101.org/ca/programs/job_planning/pass/program.htm)
 Ticket to Work (https://ca.db101.org/ca/programs/work_benefits/ttw/program.htm)
 Disability 101 Benefits and Work Calculator (https://ca.db101.org/planning/(S(qrlfwcum5txht5v5igjqskky))/b2w2_start.aspx?screen=start&l=b2w2)
 The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) (https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/SelfEmploymentEntrepreneurship.htm)
 JAN (https://askjan.org/info-by-role.cfm#for-individuals:entrepreneurship)
Look for Part 2 “Choosing Self Employment” by Tami Ridley in our June Newsletter
Over this past weekend, I was reflecting on my current situation and realized that I was happy and content. But when I looked to the future and thought, would I still be this happy and content a year from now or two years if everything stayed the same. Not quite sure so I asked myself three questions which I’d like to share with you.
- What do I like and dislike about my current life situation? I made a list hoping that the scale would be tipping more to the like side. Then its a matter of trying to keep the items on the like side as you move forward and looking to see what you can do about the dislike side. Can you fix things or simply eliminate them.
- Where do I want to be in three years? I choose three years but it can be whatever time frame works for you. So knowing where I am right now and where I want to be in three years, I just had to draw the roadmap. What will I need to do to make it happen. It’s good to choose small steps because if something isn’t happening as it should, it’s easier to make the adjustment and get back on track.
- Let’s jump ahead even further, I chose five years and what I need to do to retire. I made a list and as I wrote down action items, I put a timeline together on when I would like to have each action item completed. Here’s an example; I want to have the mortgage on the house paid off by the time I retire. So I have the action item, then I wrote down how I was going to achieve or complete it and then the time frame.
Most of us have some free time right now, so it seemed like a great opportunity to make my way through this little exercise. My roadmap is complete and I’m looking forward to digging in and making it happen. If you have questions or something you’d like to share, leave a comment.
If your plans involve going back to school or looking for employment, let us know how we can help.
During the “normal” days before the pandemic, if we were to be at home it was ok because if we got bored or had a bit of cabin fever we would just go out somewhere. But knowing that we can’t do that or shouldn’t be dong that changes our mindset and we know the best way to fend off the blues is to stay busy. Well as the days go by, staying busy becomes a bit more difficult. How many YouTube videos can we watch or Netflix movies. How many phone calls or text messages, how much time can we spend on social media before it all becomes somewhat dull. Then the blues, which by the way were just sitting back waiting, begin to creep in and our thoughts are less positive and our problems are more pronounced and overall we just feel less happy.
So what can we do to fend off the blues? For me, I’ve set up a schedule that I try to stick to each day, starting with that much needed cup of coffee and some breakfast. A side note here, since we are less active for obvious reasons we need to be more aware of what we eat and how much, otherwise when this is all said and done, we’ll be looking for a wider chair to roll. Next, I go over emails, I check out my social media pages and post an update or two, spend some time on YouTube looking some for fun and interesting videos, I took advantage of a special offer from Babbel and I’m hoping to learn Italian, I brought the Ukulele out of the closet, dusted it off and realized that this simple and small four stringed instrument is far more complex that I first thought. I’m working on developing some level of proficiency with the instrument. I then make a call or two to check on family and friends. I spend time goggling new resources that I can put up on our website to help our community. I must confess, I do have a video game that I enjoy playing so I spend some time with that and later in the evening I watch an episode or two of whatever series I’m watching on Netflix or Prime Video.
So as you can see, this plan helps to keep my mind active each day, it’s not a fool proof plan but it works for me. Certainly worth a try if you find that your mental state isn’t as fresh as it should be.