The Right to Vote for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

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Presidential political campaigns are geared up and running at a fast pace even though it’s several months away before we exercise our right to vote in the United States. We, the American public, are bombarded by signs, television ads and political discussions.

The right to vote is recognized by the Supreme Court and protected under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, however, there is no expressed “right to vote” in the Constitution, it is considered a “liberty interest” for which individual states may not interfere.

People with disabilities are often denied voting rights because most states have legal provisions which, at times, deny the right to vote to citizens deemed mentally incapacitated, amongst other criteria.

According to DisabilityJustice.Org:

“The rationales given for this restriction include protecting the validity of the voting process by distinguishing voters who intend to express some preference and affect the election results from those who do not understand the nature of voting, and the preventing of voter fraud, by ensuring that mentally incompetent persons are not manipulated into voting for other people’s preferences.”

The article, The Right to Vote, published on Disability Justice’s website, has exceptional information on how these stereotypes and attitudes were brought forth, and how positive changes have been, and are still, being made to ensure that people with disabilities are included in the voting process.

Although much of the legislation surrounding voting rights for the disabled community focused on accessibility issues, further legislation and mandates address the exclusion of those deemed mentally incapacitated.

A 2007 Bar Association report concluded that “excluding the broad and indefinite category of persons with mental incapacities is not consistent with either the constitutional right to vote … or the current understanding of mental capacity.”

Advocacy groups around the nation argue that intellectual and developmental disabilities should “not be automatic barriers to participating in elections.”

In conclusion, the right to vote has historically been denied to certain classes of Americans including women, ethnic groups, religions and even those who were not landowners. Voting is power, and if people with disabilities voted at the same rate as non-disabled, 10 million more votes would have been cast in the last Presidential election, a major bloc of votes.

Information from the Office of People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD)

Exercise Your Right To Vote.

All Americans have the right to vote, including people with developmental disabilities, and there are federal and state laws to guard and guarantee that right. OPWDD is committed to ensuring that voting rights are upheld for the people we serve, and that every person is given the opportunity to register to vote.

How to Register

You have many options when it comes to registering to vote. The New York Disability Vote Network website has helpful information for people with developmental disabilities, as does the NYS Board of Elections website with tips on How to Register, Knowing Your Voting Machine, Meeting Voter Access Needs, and more.

Agency-Based Voter Registration

OPWDD offers assistance with voter registration for the people we serve. Anyone who would like information or assistance in registering may contact their nearest OPWDD Voting Coordinator.

The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA)

The “Motor Voter Bill” is the federal law that ensures voting rights to all Americans. This act was signed on May 20, 1993, and includes specific provisions all states must follow.

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Recognition and Awards

In December Opengate presented awards to very deserving employees who consistently exhibit their excellence in performance. Employee of the Year, Direct Support Professional (DSP) of the Year, and scholarships were awarded.

Employee of the Year: Vikki Nassetta

Victoria Ribon and Vikki Nassetta

Vikki has been an employee of Opengate since December 1998.  When her department was short a Training Specialist, she played an integral part coordinating the program, exceeding our expectations.

When Resident Managers need to ensure their training is up to date, Vikki is always willing to assist them, often accommodating her schedule, working longer hours, and meeting the needs of the agency. 

Vikki has always shown herself to be an exceptional employee and well deserving of this honor.

DSP of the Year: Sashan Lee

Victoria Ribon and Sashan Lee

Since June, 2016, Sashan has been a valuable member of the Day and Residential Programs. She is respected by the individuals she works with and their families, along with her co-workers and supervisors.

She uses her good judgement skills when completing assigned documents and delivers them promptly and correctly. Sashan has proven to be extremely dependable and takes her position quite seriously, always striving to achieve excellence.

Scholarships Awarded:

Vervelyn Morgan-Pierre

DSP at Auerbach

Attending Fordham University Advanced Program pursuing a Masters in Social Work

Emma Jensen

DSP at Rivera

Attending Mercy College pursuing a Bachelors in Social Work

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Reflections of Self-Advocacy Conference (SANYS)

October 11-12, 2019 Self-Advocacy Association of New York State (SANYS) hosted their annual conference in Albany. The theme for the conference, “Stepping Up, Never Stepping Back” set the tone to encourage participants to speak up for themselves and others and keep the self-advocacy movement going forward.

Opengate SANYS Attendees
Nansi Tepsan (DSP), Wendy, Deborah, Kelly, Nicholas, Richard, Hilarie, and Keisha House (DSP)

Opengate was represented at this year’s conference by Wendy, Deborah, Kelly, Nicholas, Richard and Hilarie. They were accompanied by Direct Support Professionals, Nansi Tepsan and Keisha House for their overnight stay at the Albany Marriott where the conference was held.

Each year the conference agenda is filled with meetings, workshop sessions, and commissioner’s panel with the purpose of educating attendees about changes, how to be the best lobbyist, and knowledge based empowerment of the individual.

A few of the over 15 workshop sessions at this year’s conference included Care Coordination, Transportation Advocacy, Health and Wellbeing, Partners in Policymaking and Leadership Training. All of the workshop sessions prepare the participants to create better opportunities for themselves and others. The wide variety of topics provide individuals with opportunities for learning and networking, along with exchanging ideas to improve their situations.

Ample time for leisure activities was allocated after dinner with the movie Intelligent Lives, which addresses “a catalyst to transform the intellectual disability label from a life sentence of isolation to a life of possibility for the most systematically segregated people in America.” Afterwards, attendees enjoyed music and dancing at a Star Wars theme dance party. 

Opengate is proud to send individuals who have expressed interest in becoming self-advocates to the conference each year, knowing they will return with inspiration, motivation, and new ideas for their futures. We will soon be re-launching our monthly group meetings which allow individuals to learn new advocacy skills, as well as participating in regional activities.

We will rally together, energized with a message to carry back home with us.” -SANYS

To stay apprised of the activities taking place at Opengate we invite you to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn, as well as subscribe to our Newsletter and Blog.

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Ginny Vreeland, Treasured Board Member

Ginny Vreeland and son, Geoffrey

Board of Directors member, Ginny Vreeland, became familiar with Opengate while in the position as a nurse employed there from 1981-1985. When it came time to find suitable housing for her son with developmental disabilities, she already knew where the best place for him would be.

She recalls son Geoffrey’s behavior challenges and how he arrived at Opengate as a frantic, agitated young man. He was eventually able to become more relaxed through the care of staff and programs. Because he is minimally verbal, it takes special attention and time to learn to read his signals and respond appropriately. Now, as a 49-year-old man, he is able to interact more suitably.

Ginny attributes much of the progress and expectations of excellence for the growth of Opengate to the leadership of CEO Brian Hulten along with the professionalism of the members of the Board, and the high quality and dedication of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs). Over the years, she has seen advancements made in the areas of person-centered programs, community-based resources, as well as activities for the residents. But, she says the greatest part of the expansion of Opengate services has been the training and promotion of DSPs and staff members.

Ginny relates a recent incident when Geoffrey displayed highly agitated behavior for no apparent reason. He was examined by Peggy, who knows him well, yet nothing physically was found to explain his agitation. In this state he was unable to be still, was very restless, refusing to eat, or sleep. He would often pull suddenly away from his one-to-one staff and take off running the halls. During one such episode, he fell. Following precautionary procedures, he was taken to the emergency room for further appraisal. Part of the examination process was a CAT scan, a test in which you must be very still, obviously a challenge for Geoffrey at this time.

The DSPs who accompanied Geoffrey sat with him and sang to him for over 8 hours so that all procedures could be done successfully. Elijah, Dallas, Earl, and William knew exactly which songs would quiet Geoffrey and they remained beside him singing as he was having the scan.

Ginny says, “Where do you find people like that!? Even during one of the most stressful situations they remained kind and calm, treating him with gentleness and patience.” As it turned out, a minor tweak in Geoffrey’s medication was needed and he is now back to himself.

Continuing her praise for the staff, she has observed over the years that they know each resident, their triggers, and what it takes to calm them when needed, treating them all as unique individuals. They are excellent at helping each resident, reach toward their highest potential. She says one staff member told her that working closely with these individuals has made them a better person, and they learned so much from each other.

Her fondest memories of her time at Opengate is the fact that staff members have helped her son reach toward his potential, that he is comfortable and happy, and receiving the best quality of life available to him.

To stay apprised of the activities taking place at Opengate we invite you to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn, as well as subscribe to our Newsletter and Blog.

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Annual Holiday Festivities

December 19 Opengate individuals were treated to the annual Holiday Party held at the Crowne Plaza in White Plains.

Along with a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and their busy Elf, party goers celebrated the holiday spirit with a lovely meal, hugs, and gifts.

Everyone at Opengate wishes you a Happy Holiday Season!

Opengate Executive Staff enjoyed themselves at the Crowne Plaza holiday gathering with Employee and DSP of the Year!

Happy Holidays from all of us to all of you! 

Opengate Executive Staff
Kristin Elkins, Grace Verderame, Brian Hulten, June Jarvis and Victoria Ribon

To stay apprised of the activities taking place at Opengate we invite you to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn, as well as subscribe to our Newsletter and Blog.

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