Sharifa Abu-Hamda: An Advocate For People With Disabilities

Civics League for Disability Rights AdvocacyAs people with disabilities continue to face a number of obstacles, including cuts in funding for crucial services, New York State’s Global Cap on Medicaid spending, and threats to the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP), the Civics League for Disability Rights (CLDR)—led by President Sharifa Abu-Hamda—has remained steadfast in advocating for quality of life services for people with disabilities.

Sharifa—who is also a member of Independence Care System (ICS) and manager of its Independent Living Program—has been a longtime member of the CLDR, an independent, volunteer-led group of New Yorkers with disabilities who advocate for themselves and their community while sharing ideas, tools and information about how to effect change. Sharifa and CLDR members are gearing up to take action—including planned protests—to call on New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Department of Health to preserve services for people with disabilities while garnering new CLDR members.

ICS spoke with Sharifa about the challenges people with disabilities face, the CLDR and its membership drive, and her experience with the ICS Independent Living Program, which addresses the needs of members with spinal cord injuries (SCI) and multiple sclerosis (MS) by pairing them with mentors who have adjusted to living with similar conditions.

The CLDR is advocating for reinstating essential services for people with disabilities that have been cut. In September, the State cut $75 million from CDPAP, which many depend upon to maintain their independence. A court order called for those cuts to be reinstated, but the State will likely pursue an appeal. There’s also the State’s Global Cap on Medicaid spending. What’s your take on what’s happening in New York?   

These are major issues. People with physical disabilities want to live independently in the community without being forced into nursing homes or confined to their homes. We want to live normal lives, to go out with family and friends, and to work.

Gov. Cuomo is attacking Medicaid. It’s become more problematic, especially since they closed down two Managed Long Term Care programs that supported us. Now, we fear for our lives. Are we ending up in nursing homes? Will there be more hospitalizations? Will people die if they don’t receive proper care? We need to raise our voices and let them know we’re here. We should not be pushed to the side.

Why is the CLDR searching for new members?  

We are looking for new members to assist with our team and advocacy efforts. With the number of challenges we’re facing, we can achieve more in greater numbers.

People are aging and the elderly need services. These disabilities can happen to anyone, not just people suffering now. New York State needs to wake up and realize there will be more people with disabilities in the future. If Gov. Cuomo is going to cut services, more members need to fight for the health and wheelchair services they’ll lose.

You manage the ICS Independent Living Program. How’s the experience been for you?

I pair Independent Living Associates with members and oversee the progress of those pairings. The program is still in its infancy, but members tell me it’s rewarding.

Mentors—who are staff and volunteers—support their “mentees.” Members may need to improve coping skills, need advice on dating and relationships, a partner to exercise with, or overall guidance. We provide them with self-care tools and knowledge through our personal experiences to empower them to be active, happy, healthy, expressive, independent and more comfortable with themselves.

Has the CLDR made a differences for people with disabilities?

It’s absolutely empowered members to be more vocal and to advocate. Members have traveled to engage elected officials on issues important to them. They’ve been involved in letter writing campaigns calling for change.  Some have even attended MTA board meetings for improving Access-A-Ride services, and more members are voting in elections.

Next year, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will turn 30. Much has been accomplished, but there’s more to do. The more members who join, the more we can advocate. There’s a lot that has to improve in New York—transportation, housing, care services. The louder we are, the more Gov. Cuomo will hear us.

Why should members join the CLDR?

No one is going to get what you need for you. You need to get it yourself. If you show up and advocate, you may get the change you desire. If you sit back and wait, you won’t. Come to our meetings. Hear the discussions. If you want to advocate and affect change, this is the place for you.

Who can join the Civics League and how does someone join?

The Civics League is open to anyone with a disability, as well as family members, friends, and anyone who wants to support the rights of people with disabilities. All you need to do to join is email civicsleague@gmail.com and ask to be added to our mailing list. Once you are on the list you will get notices about meetings and are welcome to attend. You will also receive emails about protests, actions and issues that the Civics League is concerned with.

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