A Lifetime of Advocacy

Last week ICS’s Marilyn Saviola, Senior Vice President for Advocacy, received a 2015 Viscardi Achievement Award. Henry Viscardi, and more!Last week ICS’s Marilyn Saviola, Senior Vice President for Advocacy, received a 2015 Viscardi Achievement Award. It wasn’t until I read several New York Times articles about Henry Viscardi, Jr., whose own achievements these annual awards pay homage to, that I understood the parallels in the lives of these two.

Marilyn was chosen for this award in recognition of her decades of advocacy fighting to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Like Viscardi, Marilyn has been unwilling to settle for anything less than a world where people with disabilities are “active, independent and self-sufficient participants in society.”

Marilyn and Viscardi each spent much of their childhood in hospitals for children with disabilities, but insisted on adult lives of autonomy, engaging the world on their own terms, challenging and disproving misinformation and stereotypes.

Viscardi, who was born without lower limbs on his legs, attended college and law school at a time when he had not yet been fitted with prosthetics. He went on to live a life defined by his personal credo: “No donations, no charity, just a chance to compete on the open market.”

Not only did Viscardi have a diverse and rewarding career of his own, at the urging of Eleanor Roosevelt, he founded a nonprofit organization dedicated to the goal of private jobs for people with disabilities. It started with eight adults, primarily World War II veterans who were considered unemployable by traditional standards. Eventually, hundreds of people with disabilities obtained jobs in non-segregated workplaces.

When Marilyn decided to attend college at Long Island University, New York State’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation initially refused to pay for her education, claiming that her disability was too severe for her ever to be gainfully employed. She fought that assessment and won, graduating college and going on to earn a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from New York University, which she put to use helping people with severe physical disabilities to meet the challenges of leaving institutions and moving out into the community.

In addition to the countless people she has helped to fulfill their desire for autonomy and independence, Marilyn’s work at ICS today challenges the routine denial of access people with disabilities encounter in the health care system and has resulted in hundreds of women receiving essential breast cancer screenings and gynecological care, some for the first time.

Another similarity between Viscardi and Marilyn lies in their habit of bringing the concerns of people with disabilities directly into the halls of power. Viscardi was an influential advisor on policy to eight U.S. presidents. Marilyn not only brings the deficits of New York’s health care system directly to state and city lawmakers – which has already led to greater accessibility – she organizes and empowers other people with disabilities to do the same. And she’s just getting started.

International awards showcase a world of self-advocates

The Viscardi Center conferred nine awards in total this year. Taken together, the recipients illustrate a wide range of advocacy and achievement being carried out by people with disabilities.

As John Kemp, President and CEO of The Viscardi Center, put it, “Every day people with disabilities are leaving their footprint in communities all over the world, and their work often transcends the geographical boundaries of where they live. They remind us all that our work can be far-reaching and does make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.”
In addition to Marilyn, the 2015 Award Recipients are:

  • Jim Gibbons – President & CEO, Goodwill Industries International
  • Mark Johnson – Chair of The ADA Legacy Project and Director of Advocacy at Shepherd Center
  • David Krupa – CEO, The Range of Motion Project and Certified Prosthetist, Ecuador
  • Ed Lucas – Founder, The Ed Lucas Foundation; Sports Journalist
  • Lonnie C. Moore – Program Analyst, Career and Education Readiness Branch, U.S Army Warrior Transition Command
  • Winfred G. Mugure – University of Nairobi
  • Toby Olson – Executive Secretary State of Washington; Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment
  • Mark Wafer – President, Megleen, operating as Tim Hortons

ICS congratulates each of this year’s awardees. You can read their biographies and learn more about The Viscardi Center here.

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