People living with disabilities have strong advocates in Philadelphia

Alicia Colombo

By Jay Nachman


Full inclusion for people living with disabilities is a two-way street, between agencies supporting those who are disabled, and the public advocating and being supportive of full inclusion, according to Shane Janick, executive director of The Arc of Philadelphia.

Based in North Philadelphia, The Arc’s mission is to advocate with and for all children and adults living with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, as well as to promote active citizenship, self-determination and full inclusion.

Janick was inspired to enter the field by his older brother Dave, who lives with an intellectual disability and other medical complexities.

Individuals can advocate for people living with disabilities by promoting inclusion in all aspects of life. For example, by promoting inclusive hiring practices and providing supportive employment for people with disabilities in workplaces. There is also the importance of supporting home- and community-based services that people living with disabilities utilize for their independence.

On an individual level, Janick said, “For the most part that comes down to civility and etiquette, being aware of what’s appropriate and what’s not necessarily appropriate when it comes to conversations and interactions with people. And that’s changed a lot over time for the better.”

In the past, he said, people living with disabilities may not have gone to the movies or social settings because of the negative experiences they would encounter, like being stared at or being treated differently. Another negative experience would occur when a person living with a disability would go out with a support staff person and the people they encountered would talk to that person rather than the person with the disability.

Over time Janick has seen much more acceptance and understanding by the public and more active promotion of full inclusion. “All that’s shifting for the better,” he said. “We don’t see too much of the (negative) public attitude (anymore). But we still have a lot of work to do as far as the practices that can promote those interactions.”

For support, the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) facilitates applications for an array of services and programs that people living with disabilities can access that are not directly related to health care services, such as home- and community-based support staff; respite for family members; and employment, transportation and residential services. DBHIDS waiver programs are available to support eligible individuals living with disabilities over many stages of their lives. There is no cost to the participants or their families.

Janick noted that disability shouldn’t be a niche topic, a conversation only held within the disability community. One in four people in the United States identifies as having a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A large number of those disabilities are related to aging, he said.

The Legal Clinic for the Disabled (LCD), located in Center City, works to promote inclusion, independence and justice for individuals living with disabilities by providing free legal representation to overcome legal obstacles that would otherwise affect their independence, health or quality of life.

As an example, a parent or grandparent may be going through a custody dispute and the other side tries to inappropriately use the disability as a negative factor against that person. Lawyers at the clinic challenge that bias and remind the court that people living with disabilities are often perfectly capable of adapting and providing for their child or grandchild’s needs, said Theresa Brabson, the clinic’s legal director.

In the landlord/tenant context, Brabson said, the clinic sees a lot of landlords take advantage of tenants by assuming tenants don’t know their rights or how to exercise them. The LCD has seen a few instances where landlords have not made repairs on steps that were completely disintegrated.

“It was unsafe for people to get in and out of their houses, so they were essentially homebound, not because of their disability, but because maintenance issues actually prevented them from exiting their homes,” Brabson said. “We also receive calls about elevator problems that directly impact an individual’s safety and well-being.”

The LCD is a partner agency of the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project, which assists approximately 1,800 tenants each year who are facing eviction through legal representation, financial counseling, a live hotline, a court help center, community trainings and educational materials.

“We work to proactively educate and advocate for our clients,” Brabson said. “We want to empower people to do what they can on their own. But often having a professional advocate who can help address the issue so they don’t have to go it alone makes a difference Please reach out. That’s why we’re here.”


For information and assistance:

  • The Arc of Philadelphia | 215-229-4550 | ArcPhiladelphia.org
  • Legal Clinic for the Disabled | 215-587-3158 | lcdPhila.org
  • City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services | 1-888-545-2600 (24/7 non-emergency hotline) | dbhids.org

Jay Nachman is a freelance writer in Philadelphia who tells stories for a variety of clients.

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