ALBION — The advocacy for children and adults with disabilities is a mission often undertaken by families, not-for-profit agencies, legislators and communities.
But their messages and goals are never as passionate or impactful as those coming from self-advocates who stand up for their own rights and the programs that support them.
Jonathan Doherty, the fundraising chairman of the Self-Advocacy All-Stars in Orleans County, has worn a path for others to follow, attending Albany more than a dozen times, traveling out of state for conferences and meeting with leaders of all stripes.
He also makes sure everyone he can reach is aware of All-Stars’ regular car washes, including one scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Albion Save-A-Lot; and their role in community.
“I love advocating for myself and other people in my group because if you don’t get your voice out there, no one will hear what you want,” Doherty said.
For the self-advocates, personal goals are intertwined with the larger financial security of the Arc of Orleans, which provides services like the Orleans Enterprises workshop, Rainbow Preschool and the Rainbow.
Funding for both agencies like the arc and the future of workshops for the disabled have both been threatened in recent years, a fight self-advocates have risen to face.
It’s an issue deeply important to their members, for both the success of the workshop and it’s beneficiaries.
Doherty said the Orleans Enterprises workshop employs 20 to 25 people who would otherwise have difficulty in finding comparable and fulfilling work, especially in an area where job opportunities are limited.
“Their parents like where they area, the people that they’ve served like it,” Doherty said. “I have a huge concern (for if they are closed).”
The possibility that the workshops could be closed and employees forced into employees into a job search was a major theme of the Self Advocacy Association of New York State’s West Region Conference earlier this month.
It was both a rallying point and a time for recognition for the Orleans group, honored by SANYS as the western region’s Self-Advocates of the Year. The plaque they won was proudly carried by Doherty in the Albion Strawberry Festival parade, a week after they followed the SANYS conference with a winning float in the Holley-Murray Junefest parade.
Walking in the line-up of bands, fire companies and civic organizations is a small act, but it provides the public awareness for a group that has steadily grown since 2006, when Doherty, Russell Johnson and Gladys Harper were its first members.
They know have three dozen active members who work to promote the Arc of Orleans and their events and others with disabilities.
“We’re advocating for ourselves and showing people in the community that we are people with disabilities and want our voices heard,” he said.