‘Think Differently’ initiative supports people with disabilities

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‘Think Differently’ initiative supports people with disabilities

The Post-Star
July 31, 2016
Joseph Tingley

LAKE GEORGE — A new initiative calls upon local government and residents to be more conscious and accepting of people with disabilities, especially those on the autism spectrum.

The Lake George Village Board voted unanimously earlier this month for a resolution that calls for the adoption of the “Think Differently” initiative for the village, including residents and business owners.

The initiative also seeks to implement programs that make the community more accessible.

Lake George is among seven towns and counties to adopt the measure since it was introduced by Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro in 2015.

The city of Troy and town of Horicon have also adopted the initiative, according to Colleen Pillus, Molinaro’s communications director.

Molinaro said he proposed the initiative in 2015, partly for selfish reasons. He has a 12-year-old daughter on the autism spectrum, and he wanted to make it possible for her and others to enjoy their community as much as any other child.

“‘Think Differently’ is Dutchess County’s call to ensure that every resident is respected and embraced by the community,” Molinaro said.

Despite the best intentions, Molinaro said he feels there is a low expectation placed on individuals with disabilities in society, especially those who fall within the autism spectrum. He said the initiative is meant to confront this attitude and change it.

Since its implementation, Dutchess County has worked to implement programs that help to make citizens with disabilities feel included and valued in the community.

This has included offering free training to local businesses at the Anderson Center for Autism on how to make their business more inclusive and welcoming for those with disabilities.

Molinaro said they have also hosted a special movie night for families with children who fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, with the bass volume and light turned down, since both can be triggers for individuals on the spectrum. Molinaro said the movie night has been particularly well received.

“We had a family come last year and it was the first time they had come to a movie together as a family,” Molinaro said.

While the event was great for families with children with disabilities, Molinaro said it was also important for everyday citizens to learn about what types of things can be triggers for some of their fellow Dutchess County residents.

As part of the initiative, Molinaro said the county government is hiring a deputy commissioner of special needs whose job it will be to advocate for and assist families with special needs. He said the position is a major component of the initiative, as the government system currently in place is difficult for families to understand.

Molinaro said the county has devoted funds to the initiative, however he feels it is not something extra they are allocating funds for. He said it is simply a matter of ensuring all citizens of the county have the same access.

Another important component of the initiative is ensuring officials know how to handle situations involving people with disabilities.

“Every law enforcement officer on the street within 18 months will have crisis intervention team training,” Molinaro said.

Molinaro said this is especially important given recent events in North Miami, Florida, where an unarmed autistic adult was almost shot by police — with the bullet instead striking his therapist — because he was believed to be armed and did not comply with police commands.

Lake George Mayor Robert Blais said the resolution is merely the first step in the process, and village officials are looking for ways to implement the initiative, hopefully using Dutchess County as a model.

“We certainly felt it was worthwhile, especially as a resort where we get people from all walks of life,” Blais said.

Blais said he has been impressed with how well Molinaro has publicized the initiative, and said he plans to contact him to get his thoughts on the best way to implement the program.

“I wanted to be one of the first communities to pass that resolution,” Blais said.