Alvaro Gutierrez Interviews Loreen Loonie, Senior Vice President for Community Relations, Independent Care System, New York

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Hello and welcome to Project Access, today our guest is Loreen Loonie. She is the Vice President of Community Relations for Independence Care System. So first of all thank you again for being here with us.


Interviewer: Alvero Gutierrez

A Gutierrez: Hello and welcome to Project Access, today our guest is Loreen Loonie. She is the Vice President of Community Relations for Independence Care System. So first of all thank you again for being here with us.

L Loonie: Thanks for having me.

A Gutierrez: My pleasure and I would like to know more about your organization. I know if you are located, if I’m not mistaken you are located in New York?

L Loonie: Yep we sure are, Independence Care Systems is a non-profit organization located in New York City, and we provide services to senior adults and people with physical disabilities who want to remain home and stay in the community. And they may need services such as home care or other services that will help them stay independent.

A Gutierrez: Can you tell me a little bit how the process works and for what kind of person with disabilities is this, meaning what kind of age or what situation?

L Loonie: Sure, right now ICS has two kinds of plans. We run a manage long term care plan which has been the plan we had traditionally over the last thirteen years that ICS has been in existence, and then we have just added since the beginning of January 1
st, we had just fully integrated a duals advantage plan, and both of these plans are targeting people who are 18 and older who have, who need assistance to remain in the community so, the people that we serve live in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan or Queens. They’re over 18; they have physical disabilities, for the FIDA plan actually, which is the second plan we just added you have to be over 21 years for that plan. The managed long-term care plan is 18 years and older, so but all our members need assistance staying in the community and that comes in the form of homecare. Some of our members have as little as 4 hours of home care, and a lot of our members have as much as 24 hours of homecare to remain independent in the community.

A Gutierrez: That is a great service for our listeners to learn about. Later on we’ll talk about the website. I will like to know you how the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, how has that helped your organization in particular, people with disabilities in general, in advancing the cause that we are all interested in, meaning access and inclusion in society?

L Loonie: So, I like to tell people that the Americans with Disabilities Act, if it didn’t exist, ICS wouldn’t exist. The ADA really has helped to form an expectation amongst the community of people with disabilities that they could and should live in the community. Because of that people with disabilities pushed for opportunities to have funding for things like homecare so that they could remain in the community. Without the ADA, ICS and places like ICS simply couldn’t exist.

A Gutierrez: Well that says it all Loreen. Now that we are in the 25th anniversary of the ADA, why do you think it’s important to celebrate this?

L Loonie: Well I think that a remarkable amount of change has taken place, and I have actually
been very fortunate because I started working, my entire work career has spanned the life of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And I started out as an access advocate at and independent living center in Albany 1991, so I’m showing my age here, but, so I really was, started working around people with disabilities, and with people with disabilities at the time that the ADA was passed and implemented, so I really have seen the whole growth of this particular law and have done a lot of work to help implement this law both at both at the independent living center and later at Eastern Paralyzed Veteran Association where I met Commissioner Calise. So I feel like the reason to celebrate is because people with disabilities have greater access and greater opportunities to participate fully in community life and we all win because of that.

A Gutierrez: Now in New York in particular, what kind of changes you have seen in how people with disabilities are treated because of the passing and execution of the ADA?

L Loonie: I think that people have become more familiar with people with disabilities, and as the law has been fully implemented seeing a person with a physical disability in your school or in your job, or at your grocery store or at the movies has become so much more common that people with disabilities are just common place at this point. That’s a victory and that’s a victory both for people with disabilities and that’s a victory for our society.

A Gutierrez: Now we have come a long way since the ADA and seen so many people fighting for Civil Rights. But still there are many things that need to be accomplished or need to be improved. Is there any area or areas in particular which you think needs to be done?

L Loonie: I think that there is a continual need to be vigilant around the issues of the ADA. It feels like in many ways many things have been improved. There’s better access to
transportation, there’s better access to employment, but at the same time the ADA is a living document and things like construction which is ongoing and in New York kind of constantly changing you have to remain vigilant to make sure that the new places that get built and the places that get renovated continue to be accessible to people’s with disabilities. I spend a lot of my time when I was working as a young person working on transportation issues and I feel like transportation has come a long way to help people with physical disabilities get connected and be in the community, right, if you couldn’t get to your job because you didn’t have transportation you couldn’t work and we see a lot of people with dishabilles working now but the numbers are still very low and the community has a very very high rate of unemployment but really needs to be address because without financial independence, there is no independence.

A Gutierrez: Now many people ask, where can I read, hear, and learn the whole ADA legislations so I can understand what is going on?

L Loonie: So if you go to the Department of Justice which has a great website, it is and it has the entire ADA there and you can read all the legislation and all the regulation for the ADA.

A Gutierrez: Okay, very important information. Now let us talk a little bit about what can any American with disabilities who is listening to us today do if they are feeling discriminated, or they have any issues ADA related. Where can they go, who can they talk to, where can they find information to feel empowered to do something about it.

L Loonie: Well I think that depending on the community where somebody lives, I would first
look for their local Independent Living Center and there are Independent Living Centers all across the country that are charged to provide resources to people with disabilities, about kind of preventing discrimination or how to act if they were discriminated against and in different locations there will be different laws that apply and somebody at an Independent Living Center can kind of help you know which law is the best one for you. So for example, in New York State we have coverage under the New York City Human Rights Laws, New York State Human Rights Laws, and then we have the Americans with Disabilities Act. And somebody at an Independent Living Center could kind of help you know which law is suited to your complaint and how it will be resolved the fastest. And in some instances the people who work in those agencies make all of the difference so I know in New York City, for example, we have a man named Ted Finkelstein who works at the New York City Human Rights Commission who has a long history of really helping people with disabilities to resolve complaints sometimes without even filing a complaint through his negotiation and advocacy. So it really depends on where you live but if you go back to that website there is information there about how you can file a complaint based on the ADA so that is a good place to start. But an Independent Living Center in your community gets you in touch with a real live person who knows a lot about people with disabilities and what is best for what your particular complaint might be.

A Gutierrez: Are you aware if the ADA as it is today protects the kids with disabilities from being bullied in schools or colleges?

L Loonie: So that is a really interesting question. Technically it does not protect people who are being bullied because what the ADA is designed to do is protect you against discrimination so it wouldn’t necessarily. So somebody who bullies a person with a disability is a bad person but it
doesn’t necessarily mean that they are discriminating against them under the law so I would say if somebody is being bullied they should take that up with their principal or with the administration in their school because bulling is a big problem that needs to be addressed but I wouldn’t necessarily say it is an ADA issue.

A Gutierrez: OK, interesting. Now talking about your organization can you tell us like the most important sections of your website and your website address?

L Loonie: OK so Independence Care Systems, our website is and if you go to our website you can learn more about how we provide services and we certainly feel like we provide services to people with physical disabilities in a different way than a lot of other plans do. Our plan has a lot of people with physical disabilities working here and as a result of that, just to say including two long time disability advocates Marilyn Saviola and Anna Fey, they bring a disability confidence and awareness to our process that we feel really makes the services different at ICS. You can see a little bit about what we consider to be the ICS difference at our website under a tab called the ICS difference. You can also check out services, who’s eligible, what kind of news or information there is out there around people with disabilities. ICS also has a blog that goes out once a week called ICS Voices and you can access our blog on our website as well, and then finally you can see information about our social programs. We offer social programs to our members and also to the community of people with disabilities that really help people to get together and engage and to form a community and we believe very strongly in community at ICS and that desire to be connected remains regardless of your physical health and we believe that people have social needs and medical needs and our plan, we look to meet both of those needs.

A Gutierrez: Now, obviously when we’re producing an interview we forget questions. Is there anything you would like to address before I give you a little surprise of someone who will asked questions of you?

L Loonie: [Laughter] I think that the opportunity to celebrate the ADA is one that we should take very seriously. This legislation is and has been life changing and so many people, I use to work with young people with physical disabilities at a program at the YWCA of the City of New York and I met a young woman there at one point doing some work at a high school, -------------- High School in downtown New York. The time when I met her I said to her, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” And she said, “Oh I am going to collect SSI, I’m so excited.” Through my work at ICS, that young woman is a member and years later I run into her and said “What are you up to?” And she said, I just graduated from college, I got a job, I’m doing great and that transformation is made possible by the ADA. 25 years ago, she would have thought that collecting SSI was the answer and what she was capable of and because of the ADA and because she had opportunities because she went to an accessible high school, because she found an accessible college she is a productive, working person who needs support to live in the community. She needs home care to live in the community. So we have to look at all of the components of a disability. But without the ADA, that life, that transformation wouldn’t have been possible.

A Gutierrez: Great message to me. Now the surprise, so it gives me great pleasure from New York City I would like to present from the MOPD, the New York Commissioner Victor Calise, with some inspirational questions for you so listen up.
Victor Calise: Hi Alvaro and hi everybody listening, I’m Victor Calise, the Commissioner of The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. First, thanks for all your help, for your support and your commitment to New York City’s ADA 25 Anniversary. My first question for you is, what does the ADA and this 25th Anniversary mean for you?

L Loonie: So hello Victor, it’s nice to talk with you. I think that your first question about the ADA and the 25th Anniversary and what it means to me, I feel so fortunate to have been working in this community in New York City with people with disabilities to increase participation and increase awareness for as long as the ADA has been around I have been doing work and I feel like what a great thing to celebrate inclusion and success and people with disabilities being full participants in our society.
Victor Calise: My second question, as you know the ADA looks out for the wellbeing of people with disabilities, so all of these areas where the ADA is improving people’s lives; employment, transportation, public accommodations, public services and telecommunications, which one do you think needs the most improvement?

L Loonie: I think that the ADA has improved lives in a lot of different cases. I think that there is a lot of work still to come. I think employment is an area where we really need to concentrate and get more people with disabilities working. There are a lot of policy issues that are barriers to people with disabilities working and I think we need to address those as a society. But I think in general that if you speak to some of my colleagues who are people who have been living with disabilities for forty or fifty years, they talk about just how different the world is when you go to a restaurant and are able to get in and able to eat and hang out with their friends and do everything that everybody else wants to do I think that that is where you need to recognize the
success of the ADA.
Victor Calise: And my final question, what’s your message for any young people listening to encourage them to help celebrate and keep the spirit of the ADA moving forward?

L Loonie: I think this is such a great question because the third wave of any movement is always the hardest one to engage because young people today are enjoying the fruits of the labor of the folks who have become before them. They are able to get on an accessible bus on a regular basis. The bus runs there is no problem with the keys, they’re able to get in restaurants and store, and their colleges are accessible. But somebody had to work for that and I think you have to honor that and acknowledge that in order to make the next level of changes that have to take place which is getting rid of those barriers to employment, figuring out a way to support people with disabilities living in the community with the supports they need and really moving forward to financial, economic independence so that people can really participate in society.
Victor Calise: And finally, I want to make sure everyone knows about the NYC Disability Pride parade taking place on July 12th which is a great way for people with disabilities to celebrate their pride. So I hope to see you on July 12th marching with us in the Disability Pride parade.

L Loonie: Getting involved with this year’s Disability Pride parade is just a huge huge deal and people are going to be able to learn more about the Disability Pride parade in a very few weeks on your website Victor there’s going to be some information and also people can go to the website for ADA25 which will have a whole bunch of information about the organization Disability Pride NYC, which is really spearheading the parade along with a whole bunch of non-profits and the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and Commissioner Victor Calise and
including Independence Care System, and United Spinal, and lots of Independent Living Centers in New York City. We are all going to work together to really recognize the accomplishments and to celebrate the freedom that I see that the ADA represents.

A Gutierrez: Any final thoughts before I say good-bye?

L Loonie: I’m excited. I’m excited to have experienced so much success and to see young people working here in my organization, people that I knew 15 years ago who never thought full time work was possible and they’re here and they’re doing it. They are living the dream and I am just so happy to be a part of it.

A Gutierrez: That’s a wonderful message. We hope that so many people are going to participate in the Disability Pride parade and that everything related to the ADA at 25 and everything beyond the ADA at 25 celebrating who we are as people with disabilities. Thank you so much Loreen for your time with us. It has been a wonderful having you on and if you can give us an e-mail address for people to contact you.

L Loonie: Sure my e-mail address is loonie (l-o-o-n-i-e)

A Gutierrez: Wonderful. Loreen have a wonderful wonderful day and for our listeners remember to like us on Facebook at Project Access for All and follow us on twitter and you can e-mail us at so from Alvaro and from ABS Project access for All. Thank you so much for listening. Have a wonderful day.