Two local organizations have joined forces to raise funds for their respective programs that are aimed at improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. Advocacy for Respect and Choice (AR&C) and Disabled Student Services (DSS) of California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) are planning to host a fundraising dinner at The Grand in Long Beach on Saturday, Oct. 13.
AR&C, which was the subject of a recent two-part series in the Signal Tribune, provides job training, employment, and adult day care for people with intellectual disabilities and other physiological disorders that hinder their ability to work. DSS, founded by students in 1973, provides assistance to CSULB students with a wide variety of disabilities.
DSS Director David Sanfilippo explained that DSS lost its state funding several years ago due to budget cuts mandated in Sacramento. He added that the organization, with an annual budget of approximately $900,000, now survives on its share of student fees, grants, and private donations, but even its share of student fees has diminished recently. “Our budget has been cut by a total of 27 percent in the past three years,” he said.
Sanfilippo noted that CSULB has about 33,500 students and DSS provides assistance to approximately 1,200 students. A majority of them have what he called hidden disabilities– physical or intellectual problems that are not easily noticed. “Those kinds of disabilities include learning disorders, diabetes, heart problems, severe allergies and a number of other problems that you would not see just by looking at the person,” he said.
Sanfilippo explained that DSS has several components in its program. “One of our major components is support services,” he said. “We provide in-class services like aides who take notes and serve as writers when a disabled student takes a test.” He added that DSS also offers its Workability Program, which focuses on helping disabled students find suitable employment after graduation.
“We have services for the hearing-impaired, which include sign-language interpreters or stenographers who sit with the hearing-impaired student to enable them to understand what the professor is saying during a lecture,” Sanfilippo said. “The stenographer is basically a court reporter who enables the student to see the lecture on a computer screen as the words are being spoken.”
He added that DSS also assists vision-impaired students in a variety of ways, which sometimes include converting an entire book to Braille.
“Our High-Tech Center assists vision-impaired students and others with various disabilities,” Sanfilippo noted. He explained that the center offers raised tables and computer technology that converts course materials into alternative formats such as large print or Braille. “In addition, the center has screen reader application,” he said. He explained that, with that technology, reading materials are scanned and then read aloud by a computer.
Sanfilippo also noted that DSS offers the Stephen Benson Program, which provides counseling and support services to students with learning disabilities.
In addition, DSS provides a wide range of other services including disability management counseling, mobility assistance, tutorial support, and liaison services between students and faculty, administration, and off-campus governmental agencies. DSS also helps students obtain specialized educational and adaptive equipment.
“Our program is really individual-based,” Sanfilippo said. “No two disabled students have identical obstacles to overcome. We tailor our services to meet the individual’s needs.”
He noted that DSS also assists students with temporary disabilities due to injuries, surgeries, or other conditions that are expected to last for a few weeks or months. “We give them temporary disabled parking permits and provide note-takers if they need them,” Sanfilippo explained.
In 1994, Neena Strichart, who is now the publisher of the Signal Tribune, needed DSS’s temporary assistance. “I had broken my foot while I was in my senior year at Cal State Long Beach,” she said. “I was having a rough time getting from lower campus parking to my classes, which were in the upper campus.” Strichart explained that another student saw her struggling to walk with crutches and recommended that she get assistance from DSS.
“I told her I am not disabled, but she told me that even though my condition was temporary, I was in fact disabled,” Strichart said. “So I went to DSS, and they gave me preferential parking that enabled me to park much closer to my classes. Without that, I think I would have had to skip that semester.”
Strichart added that she is very grateful for the assistance DSS gave her. “I want more CSULB students to know that DSS is available, whether it’s for temporary, permanent, or hidden disabilities,” she said.
Sanfilippo says DSS provides a level playing field for students with disabilities. “We want them to have just as much of a chance to excel in their studies and careers as students who do not have disabilities,” he said. “It’s also important to realize that an accident or unexpected illness can happen to any of us, and our lives can be permanently changed in a heartbeat.”
Sanfilippo added that the upcoming fundraiser is important because it will bring much needed resources to both organizations while raising the public’s awareness of the programs both groups offer.
Harry Van Loon, AR&C executive director, agreed. He noted that the two organizations were linked in many ways. “We are both essentially serving people with disabilities,” Van Loon said. “We also have CSULB students studying business administration who come here for in-service training at our Work Activity Center. While here, they learn about diversity in the employment setting.”
Van Loon explained that the proceeds of the dinner will be split 50-50 by the two groups. “We’re happy to join with DSS to raise funds to help people with disabilities reach their highest potential,” he said. “The fact that state funds are shrinking for both organizations means that we have to do our best to subsidize our finances.”
Rob Schlesinger, a DSS volunteer, is the lead organizer for the fundraising dinner. With the help of DSS, Schlesinger received his bachelor’s degree in speech communication in 1991 and his master’s degree in counseling in 2011. He earned both degrees at CSULB and plans on starting his own counseling office in the near future.
Schlesinger, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months old, said he could not have earned his degrees without the assistance of DSS. “I didn’t want to use DSS at first, but eventually I realized I needed their help,” he said. Schlesinger noted that DSS aides read textbooks aloud for him, took notes for him, and filled in the answers for tests as per his instructions. “DSS also arranged for me to have large-print tests and extended time to take tests,” he said.
Schlesinger has been volunteering his time to DSS in a variety of ways since graduating in 1991. He noted that he has been working on plans for the fundraising dinner for more than a year. “Our guests will enjoy a fabulous surf-and-turf dinner,” he said. “And we are pleased to have Frank DeCaro of Sirius XM Radio and his partner Jim Colucci, the managing editor for CBS Watch Magazine as our masters of ceremonies.”
During the dinner, special awards will be presented to Schlesinger, former State Senator and Assemblymember Betty Karnette, and AR&C President Marion Lieberman for their many years of work on behalf of the disabled.
The dinner– entitled “Make a Difference”– will take place Oct. 13 beginning at 6:30pm at The Grand, which is located at 4101 E. Willow St.
Tickets for the dinner are $70 and may be obtained by phoning Schlesinger at (562) 981-1933 or DSS at (562) 985-5401, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org .