Day Habilitation and Community Habilitation Services

Our community offers more than just a network of connectivity: it gives us a sense of self. Everyone is a part of it, and everyone shares in its benefits – and that includes folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Everyone learns, works, and plays at their own pace. No matter how far along a person is on their learning journey, we all want, need, and deserve to thrive as a member of our community. Beyond that, everyone is entitled to live with independence, dignity, and self-determination. 

The Importance of Community Services

Unfortunately, many services designed for IDD individuals are insular establishments that can lead them to feel isolated from their community. Group homes and residential programs located on campuses or private property limit engagement, making the people who live there feel cut off from the world – to their detriment.

Beyond the lack of connection, many IDD folks struggle with the lack of accessibility to community services. A dive in funding for disability services has resulted in decreased quality and availability of these kinds of public programs.

Fortunately, community-based programs like those at Independent Learning Association are working to fill those gaps. Assisted community living and day programs for IDD individuals are crucial for promoting health, wellness, and independence at every level.

There are countless documented benefits to a smaller community-based model of IDD living. Individuals living within their community experience a greater sense of control and safety, more social relationships, an increase in community engagement, and overall happier, more satisfying lives. 

That’s why ILA offers both day habilitation and community habilitation services. Here are some of the features and highlights of our programs:

Day Habilitation

Our Day Habilitation programs, located in Brooklyn and on Staten Island, offer services Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 3 pm. Each location has a meeting hub, but the focus is community based activities. Our services include games, arts and crafts, gentle fitness routines, a variety of training modules, ranging from everyday life skills to enjoyable hobbies. This service also offers the foundations of pre-vocational training skills to teach our clients the basics of entering the workforce.

These programs are designed so that IDD individuals can socialize, integrate, and improve their existing life skills. Our goal is always to support and facilitate learning, participation, growth, and development. To us, there is nothing greater than supporting individuals in achieving their goals.

Community Habilitation

ILA’s Community Habilitation services assist individuals out and about in the community. It’s about meeting clients where they’re at, and independently supporting them through daily activities. Accompanied outings, both for chores and entertainment, help foster a sense of accomplishment, enthusiasm, and pride in those who use the habilitation services.

ILA’s services can help improve an individual’s self-esteem, confidence, motivation, self-sufficiency, and ability. After all, everyone feels good when they can contribute and give back to their community!

Our community engagement services prioritize meaningful participation, the ability to make choices for oneself, manage responsibilities, and live their best lives. After all, there’s nothing quite like being included and getting involved in something greater than yourself.

To learn more about ILA, visit our website, or give us a call. We are always happy to answer your questions anytime.

Staying Nourished During the Pandemic

In recent months, we’ve been bombarded with information about how to keep ourselves COVID-free. By now, you know the drill—wash your hands, wear a mask, don’t touch your face, sanitize all surfaces—it’s all excellent information, and people need to understand it. What we’ve seen less of, but which is no less important, is how to keep our bodies and minds healthy during COVID

The Importance of Good Nutrition

During the lockdown, it’s easy to lose sense of things: nutrition, exercise, mental stimulation, emotional regulation. After the initial shock, many of us have settled into a strange sense of comfort with this new routine. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good one. 

We have to keep our bodies healthy because good health means increased immunity levels. Especially within vulnerable communities like IDD individuals, a compromised immune system can be risky. 

A strong immune system is just one piece of the puzzle that is overall health. The healthier you are, the less at risk you are for catching the virus, and this is especially important for those with disabilities and chronic illnesses or conditions. 

Let’s take a look at ways to stay healthy and nourish our bodies during this difficult time.

Develop Healthy Habits

Eating habits have done a 180. With so many folks lacking a structured regimen, we sometimes find ourselves eating at strange times, ordering in more than usual, and snacking due to boredom. Conversely, if you’re busy with work, maybe you’re foregoing cooking in lieu of fast, low-effort solutions. 

Here are some tips to give your routine a boost:

  • Always eat breakfast. Eating a good breakfast not only strengthens your immunity and promotes healthy weight management, but it can also boost your mood – something we all need right about now! Make sure you get plenty of fiber and protein. Nuts, seeds, eggs, fruit, and muesli are all great ways to accomplish this.
  • Don’t skip meals. Skipping meals can lead to imbalance in your diet and is actually a significant risk factor for hormonal imbalance and weight gain. Beans, lentils, vegetables, and whole grains provide the basis for a well-rounded meal.
  • Be mindful when reaching for snacks. It’s easy to binge on unhealthy treats when you’re not paying attention. Choose healthy alternatives, like fresh fruits and raw veggies. Drink lots of water, and don’t overindulge on caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea, or liquids that are high in sugars, like soft drinks, sports drinks, and juice.

IDD Specific Nutrition Tips

The suggestions above are pretty good advice for anyone who wants to achieve a healthy, balanced diet. But for some folks living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, there are specific limitations when it comes to mealtime.

Genetic disorders may cause difficulty with healthy weight management and obesity. An individual may have trouble holding utensils or be unable to swallow or digest meals properly. These are factors that can disrupt nutrition for IDD individuals.

To ensure they are eating a well-balanced and healthy diet, some IDD folks may benefit from the support of a Registered Dietician or Nutritionist, either full or part-time. A nutrition specialist will not only help with feeding, but can also create learning programs and structural supports for the IDD individual, their caregivers, and loved ones.

During the COVID lockdown, staying safe means making sure that you’re eating right too. The better your nutrition is, the safer, healthier, and happier you will be.

To learn more about how we support IDD individuals and those who care for them, reach out today

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash.

Visitations to ILA Group Homes Will Resume

Diana and Kevin McConnell haven’t seen their son, Ryan, since March 9. Eileen Nesselt has not seen her son, Robert, since mid-March. These families along with many others, whose loved ones live in Independent Living Association (ILA) group homes throughout the New York City area, have had their lives dramatically changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Following mandatory State and OPWDD guidelines, ILA–which operates over 35 homes throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island–was required to suspend all personal visits to group home residents.

Good news though! 

A message from Arthur Palevsky, the Executive Director of ILA, recently notified families that in-person visits to group homes will be allowed once again. Of course, there are policies, procedures, and guidelines that must be followed to ensure the safety of the residents, the families and the staff.  House managers will determine the specifics of the visits.

The McConnell family, with the assistance of the group home staff, has only been able to have video visits with Ryan every Saturday afternoon as well as send him care packages. With visitations set to restart, they know how happy Ryan will be to see them in person very shortly. Along with their other children, the McConnells are anxious to resume their Sunday outings with Ryan when permitted. 

Similarly, Mrs. Nesselt has been speaking with Robert every day and occasionally through video visits when opportunity presents. However, as a mother, she would constantly wonder how Robert has experienced the separation. Even though the staff of the Canarsie home and the entire ILA leadership have been incredibly helpful and supportive, the hugs and personal closeness have been sorely missed by both parent and child.

Robert and Ryan themselves, like many of the almost 250 intellectually and developmentally disabled residents of ILA’s group homes, have also missed the daily Day Hab activities. No announcements have been issued concerning the re-opening of the Day Habs. 

In the meantime, the inventive group home staff will find ways to keep their residents engaged, productive, and most importantly, safe and healthy. 

For a complete list of policies and procedures for Visits to ILA Sponsored Homes click here.

The Struggle of IDD Individuals & Pandemic Living

Adjusting to the effects of COVID-19 hasn’t been easy for anyone. It’s lonely, frightening, and uncertain. But for most of us, it’s still possible to navigate within our communities. We can make virtual connections, pick up groceries, and take small pleasures in our hobbies.

But for those living with intellectual and developmental (IDD) disabilities, even these everyday tasks can become significant obstacles to wellness. 

The Plight of Social Service Workers

Workers in the social services field are already familiar with an uncomfortable truth: the disabled community is direly underfunded and understaffed. Even in the best of times, carers, respite workers, direct support workers, and other social service professionals are stretched woefully thin. There are simply too many folks needing help and not enough professionals to go around. 

Unfortunately, all challenges faced by the disabled community in non-pandemic times are magnified tenfold during a global health crisis. Now, the field is stretched to the breaking point. Workers who are employed may not be able to enter the homes of their clients for fear of spreading the virus. Often, workers have multiple clients, increasing the possibility of transmission.

Everyday Needs

Because of the stay-at-home and social distancing orders, IDD individuals cannot access some of the most basic services. These services are essential for safe and comfortable everyday living, like home care, getting groceries, and even proper handwashing techniques. Many of these activities require close contact, which poses unique challenges, both for those living independently and in care facilities. 

Fear of spreading the virus is limiting these services for IDD individuals and putting many at risk, both physically and psychologically.

How do you have that conversation with a disabled loved one? Some caretakers would rather avoid it entirely. “Well, it will just upset them,” they’ll say, or, “They won’t understand it.”

Categorically, this is not true. An IDD doesn’t stop someone from recognizing that the world has been turned upside down, and it isn’t a reason to exclude them from the conversation. Not being in the know can be frightening, and downplaying their emotions can have adverse effects.

The Breakdown

We all know what it feels like to be isolated by this illness. For IDD individuals, however, this can mean a total lack of community access, leading to isolation from all social interactions. It interrupts the flow of routine, and IDD individuals will struggle to accept these drastic changes. Routine represents security and normalcy, which is especially important right now.

Beyond these disruptions, staying at home, day in and day out, can make anyone restless. The absence of mental and emotional stimulation can be particularly taxing for folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Resources That May Help

Although our situation is dire, just know that you or your loved ones don’t have to go through it alone. There is help available. 

Here are just a few resources to get you started.

For more information, or to find out how you can help, reach out today

ILA Frontline Healthcare Workers are Heroes—Today and Every Day

Did someone say ‘Parade’?

There are so many people who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak. They continue to help keep our communities safe and the world running. To celebrate the Independent Living Association’s courageous workers for their ongoing sacrifice–Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), Cooks, Maintenance, and all Support Staff–a special “Thank You for Your Support” parade was recently held in their honor.

And what a parade it was!

Omar James, the Brooklyn Area Coordinator for 4 group homes, believed that those dedicated ILA employees who interact directly with the Individuals residing in the homes should be given special recognition. Beyond any monetary incentives, Mr. James felt that the staff would genuinely appreciate a festive (if socially-distanced) acknowledgement of and salute to their work and caregiving–and thus the idea of a parade was born. 

With the leadership committee all on board, Mr. James, along with Linda Schnabel and Jonelle Best, began parade planning in earnest. 

Over the course of two days on May 6 and May 14, with parade routes mapped out earlier, every group home in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island was visited by ILA’s leadership, management, administrative and IT personnel. As the ‘parade brigade’ dropped by each home, those dedicated frontline workers and the residents stepped outside to be greeted and met with great fanfare, applause and heartfelt accolades. 

A number of donors also contributed gifts for the staff. Further marking the occasion was seeing the group homes’ neighbors coming out to extend their own gratitude to all the extraordinary workers. 

Independent Living Association operates over 35 group homes throughout New York City where over 250 developmentally and intellectually disabled men and women are given the opportunity to live productive lives. Even though their lives now are somewhat restricted due to COVID-19, the staff have come up with alternative ways for them to carry on with, and enjoy, their lives.

Mr. James noted that the ILA team was not able to directly show appreciation for our Battery Place home because of the environmental challenges presented by an apartment building, but Mr. James promises we will.   And, it is not long after the successful tribute to the frontline workers that Mr. James is already pondering “What’s next?” 

His answer, “Let’s just wait and see.”

The Impact of Direct Support Professionals

Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) work directly with intellectually or developmentally disabled people. Their task is to assist their clients, enabling them to live their lives to the fullest. They act as a bridge between a client with a disability and the community, strengthening both in the process.

But the role of a DSP is no longer just that of a caregiver. Over the years, the profession has shifted towards teaching, support, and mentorship. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities don’t always need to be looked after; they often benefit more from learning how to look after themselves. With the assistance of a DSP, people with disabilities can blossom, becoming independent, sociable, and confident in their abilities.

Knowing this, it’s clear that DSPs are indispensable assets to the disabled community. They are primarily supporters, although they may also specialize as clinicians, personal administrators, and social coordinators. They effectively do it all. For their clients, this can mean everything from assistance with bathing and dressing in the morning to helping them access education and entering the workforce.

The Unsung Heroes

DSPs are the unsung heroes of the healthcare community. They provide essential services for thousands of people with disabilities every single day. They are frontline healthcare workers, the same as doctors and nurses, yet they often go overlooked.

It’s high time for everyone to recognize the good work done by direct support professionals. Like so many of our other frontline workers, they deserve our praise and gratitude.

The Breaking Point

With COVID-19 taking an unprecedented toll across the board, everyone is bearing down, trying to make ends meet. This is proving to have especially serious consequences for DSPs and the disabled community. Under the extreme financial strain, many service providers are being forced to impose care rationing. Service providers are being stretched too thin. They are overworked and underpaid. 

In short, there simply aren’t enough DSPs to go around. The industry was already struggling before the pandemic; the turnover rate was high, leaving vacancies that desperately needed filling. It was near unsustainable. Now, the industry has reached dire new levels of systemic strain, and disabled folks are suffering as a result. Beyond that, there just aren’t enough medical supplies to go around. DSPs work in close contact with their clients, leaving both clients and workers vulnerable to the spread of illness. 

Even if scores of unemployed people flock to the DSP field, the necessary skills can’t be taught in a few days or weeks. It takes months and even years to become a trained and qualified DSP, as they are often called upon to perform tasks like tube-feeding and administering medication. 

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, while Governor Cuomo has done so much to strengthen New York’s healthcare system and unite its workers, there is more yet to do. If we take the time to learn more about DSPs and what they do, we’ll be better able to serve them in return. Human service professionals everywhere need your support now, more than ever. 
If you are looking for a way to be part of the solution, reach out today to learn more about what you can do to support our DSPs.

Independent Living Association Receives Mask Donation from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has made a most generous unsolicited donation of 100 hand sewn masks to ILA in appreciation of the care and dedication of the ILA staff during the challenging pandemic.

The materials used for the masks, according to Julia Carlson, Associate Conservator in the Department of Textile Conservation, and Melina Plottu, Associate Conservator in the Costume Institute, are high quality conservation materials: Pima cotton, acid free polyester Pellon and 100% cotton muslin. The masks are water repellent, washable, and the 300 thread count cotton outer layer and Pellon inner layer helps block out most particles.

The Met mask making project was undertaken by 21 volunteers and staff from six museum departments and has been spearheaded by Janina Poskrobko, Conservator in Charge in the Department of Textile Conservation and Minsun Hwang, Conservator in Textile Conservation.  Smart Local 28 of the sheet metal workers union donated the metal strips for the masks .…  a true collaboration of New Yorkers caring for each other.

Besides ILA, other recipients of the masks have been three hospitals, four other non-profits, women’s shelters, veteran’s housing and essential workers in various departments in the Museum. Over 1700 masks have been donated thus far.

ILA employs over 700 people, operates 35 group homes (Individual Residential Alternatives) across New York City with a total of 247 beds and has a day habilitation center that many of the developmentally and intellectually disabled men and women attend. Like many similar organizations, COVID-19 has dramatically affected the daily structure and routines of these individuals. Direct Support Professionals staff the homes 24/7 and are responsible for the care and safety of the residents, no easy task especially during these times. Arthur Palevsky, the Executive Director of ILA, is extremely appreciative for the Met donation as well as other contributions of both money and Personal Protective Equipment

Even though a number of individuals have been affected by the virus, the entire staff of ILA is committed to the continuous care of all its individuals and “our staff”, says Mr. Palevsky, “continues to be nothing short of amazing”.  

Cover image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Funding Home and Community-Based Supports

As COVID-19 shelter in place orders enter their third month, Americans everywhere are struggling. While everyone is trying to make the best of the situation, it is becoming increasingly clear where support systems are failing those in the disabled community.

Financial Challenges

It’s well-documented that people with disabilities are at a disproportionately higher risk of experiencing food and housing insecurity than non-disabled members of the community. During lockdowns, disabled workers, like so many others, are losing their jobs. While the government is rolling out emergency financial assistance programs for unemployed workers, it’s these same unemployment programs that interfere with the recipient’s eligibility for other necessary programs that help feed and house them.

Medical Vulnerability

Disabled and chronically ill folks are more likely to have pre-existing medical conditions. These conditions make them especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, requiring the need for them to take greater precautions. Sometimes, it is simply too difficult for them to take these extra steps on their own.

Dependent Living

People with disabilities are not always able to live independently. Some live alone but require help from aides, nurses, or assistants. Other folks may need accessible transport. Still others live in nursing facilities or group homes, where social distancing is virtually impossible. The sheer number of residents, as well as the limited roster of staff that rotates through the facility, makes spreading the virus far more likely. 

Even within these support systems, resources are limited. It’s becoming more difficult by the day to offer these essential services. Providers are sinking under the added weight to an already struggling system.

With the combined effects of medical vulnerability, job loss, dependence on various supports, and financial duress, it’s clear that the disabled community is facing an uphill battle. As they attempt to weather wave after wave of hardship, it becomes more difficult to cope.

Though members of the disabled community are dealing with COVID-19 differently, there is a shared understanding: living with a disability during a global health pandemic is no easy task.

It’s because of these factors and others that people who live with disabilities are experiencing a higher risk level during the COVID pandemic. And it’s because of them that support services do their utmost to help those who need it.

Support Is Needed

Of course, no two disabilities are exactly alike. Individuals have vastly different needs depending on their level of independence. No matter what’s going on in the world around us, that need for care does not change. 

Currently, service providers for the disabled community are experiencing higher than average demand due to illness and other reasons related to the virus. There are simply too many people that need help and not enough employees or funding to help them all. 

Providers are facing unprecedented challenges – on top of lost revenue and higher operating costs. The financial weight is significant, but there are so many people who can’t live without these services. With no definitive end in sight for social distancing measures, home and community-based services need more funding to bring help where it’s needed.
Independent Living Association works tirelessly to serve the disabled communities in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and Staten Island, NY, but we can’t do it alone. Please consider donating to help support our community efforts. You can be a part of the solution.

A Message from Arthur Palevsky

Dear ILA Families,

As you will note above, embedded in ILA’s logo is “A Culture of Caring.” It’s more than just a slogan; it’s our mission and our guiding principle.  It’s our way of life.    
With New York State’s closing of day programs more than 1 month ago, a positive step towards health and safety, Individuals have been quarantined 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It is awesome to witness how well our Individuals have adjusted.  I see socially distant meals and activities, and as best as can be tolerated the use of PPEs. I say this with great pride, which is how I hope you are experiencing this as well. 

Also with the closing of programs, our residential staff have become day service providers, and our day program staff have become residential providers.  The transition was seamless, and also awesome to have witnessed.  Staring directly into the face of COVID-19, ILA’s staff come to work with a “rarin’ to go”, positive attitude. This goes for Direct Care and Support Professionals, On-site Administration, Field Administration and Central Office Administration. So it is no surprise that our staff continue to be nothing short of amazing. We must all thank them for their continuous care of our Individuals. 
All along ILA has followed the guidance of the NYS Department of Health and the Office of People With Developmental Disabilities.   We thank them for disseminating essential information which has been of great assistance in keeping your loved ones healthy.  Additionally, we secured enough (currently) Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) through suppliers and donors to make it possible for our people to adhere to the central principles of the State’s advice. WEAR MASKS.  PPEs, though, are a changing landscape to which we are providing continual attention. 

Regarding masks, of particular note is that this past Thursday, ILA received an unsolicited donation of 100 hand-sewn masks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The materials used for the masks are typically used by the museum to conserve works of art.  The materials are now used to conserve human life.  New Yorkers helping New Yorkers. 

A few facts: Over the past week and one half, there has been no new reports of Individuals testing positive for COVID-19. Over the same time period, there has been one report of a staff member testing positive, and one report of a staff member who was medically cleared to return to work testing positive.  This is a downward trend of infections, but not an indication that we will lessen our efforts, nor an indication that we are out of the woods.  All Individuals who have tested positive and are convalescing either in our homes or in a rehabilitation center are progressing well.  Some are cleared from isolation. Of the two hundred and forty seven ILA beds, seventeen Individuals tested positive. Our census is lower than the number of beds.  Of the approximately seven hundred employees of ILA, thirty-eight tested positive.  Many have been medically cleared to return to work.  Information from our statistical review yields that there is not a contagion outbreak in any of our homes correlated to the presence within a home of an Individual released from isolation or a staff member returning to work.  Bear in mind that Individuals and likely staff are tested only if they display symptoms of COVID-19.  And as we all are aware, most sadly, over these past few months we have lost four Individuals to COVID-19. There are statistics I can share of the age or underlying conditions of the Individuals, but no matter.  Each life was precious.   

Going forward, we will continue to follow the highest standards achievable for PPEs, social distancing and sanitation.  We are confident in the measures we’ve taken to keep our Individuals and employees as safe as possible. We will continue to respond to newly issued guidance’s from NYS and work to keep our homes positive places to be during this time. We thank you for your support as we continue to learn and ensure progress is made daily.

Arthur

Pawsitive Impact: Assistance Dogs and Intellectually/Developmentally Disabled Individuals

It’s no secret that a dog is man’s best friend. But beyond that, they may also be man’s best assistant. 

Assistance dogs have been in the profession for ages, but as time goes by, science is proving the true versatility of trained support pooches.

Animals Help Us Feel Better

Animals, as it turns out, have an extremely positive impact on mental health. When you’re feeling low, curling up with your dog really helps. They show unconditional love for their humans and seem to possess a profound emotional intelligence that makes you feel warm and fuzzy. 

Knowing this, it’s no surprise that they can make a big difference in the physical and mental health of individuals with developmental disabilities.

What Can Assistance Dogs Help With?

Developmental disabilities can span a range of diagnoses and a wide variety of symptoms. Issues with cognition, motor function, speech, and social interaction can all be symptomatic of developmental conditions. One thing is sure, however: assistance dogs have an incredible, positive impact on those with developmental disabilities.

Service dogs can be trained to perform a variety of tasks for developmentally challenged people. They can be a mobility aid, and help their person develop an increased sense of independence. They can understand physical signals and non-verbal cues, making everyday life safer, easier, and more enjoyable.

Making Connections

But assistance dogs can do so much more than that. Besides keeping their humans safe from physical harm, they can also help them interact with others. A dog can be a source of connectivity to the rest of the world.

Assistance dogs can also be wonderful companions, an aspect that is just as important as the physical part of their jobs. Folks with developmental disabilities may feel different from their peers, which can lead to feelings of isolation. They might sometimes feel too heavily dependent on others, which leads to feelings of shame or guilt. 

Assistance dogs are the perfect companions for those who struggle to connect. They ask for so little and give so much affection in return. They provide the kind of emotional connection and support that is not always easy to find in other humans.

Reduced Fear, Loneliness, and Anxiety, Increased Independence and Fulfillment

Research shows that disabled youths aged 18 to 35 who were paired with assistance dogs showed significantly decreased levels of loneliness, isolation, fear, and anxiety – a difference of over 80% in each category! These dogs also helped them navigate social situations with more confidence, and simply made them feel more accepted and at ease with their disabilities. Plus, there was an increased sense of independence, which often leads to a more fulfilling life.

It’s incredible to see the difference these animals make in the lives of their humans. Not only can they make life easier and more accessible, but they can provide a vital emotional connection.

Overwhelmingly, assistance dogs make their handlers feel confident, accepted, and loved. Dogs don’t see people’s differences as something negative. They love you exactly as you are. It’s a quality we should all aspire to! 

The relationship between an assistance dog and a developmentally delayed individual is a truly special relationship – and it may just be a match made in dog heaven.

If you have an assistance dog, we’d love to hear your story! 
Learn more about ILA and our services or click here to donate. Your contributions help improve the lives of hundreds of developmentally disabled Individuals.