Westchester Disabled on the Move: a Lifeline for a Community

For decades, Westchester Disabled on the Move has been there to help the disability community throughout Yonkers.

Westchester Disabled on the Move Inc., or WDOMI, is an Independent Living Center servicing persons with disabilities throughout the county. The 41 community-based ILC’s across the state are tasked with teaching their clients day-to-day skills to operate on their own, providing additional assistance when-needed. While federally-mandated, they are state-funded through the New York Education Department. Together with other partners like CHOICE of NY and Feeding Westchester, they serve a comprehensive need for the disabled community in Westchester County.

A familiar home

Westchester Disabled on the Move operates from the same building it has since it’s founding almost 40 years ago in 1984. Across from the St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers, it’s moved multiple times to different suites within the fully-accessible building before finding its current 4,000 square/foot home on the fourth floor in 2019. Though their lease is up for renewal next year, and there’s been discussion of finding a more economical location, Executive Director Maria Samuels insists that, “we want to stay in Yonkers.” The accessibility of the building–in both the literal and figurative senses–are critical to the success of WDOMI. Since so many of its consumers use the Bee-Line’s ParaTransit, it’s important the 20-person staff are located nearby to a stop for those needing that service.

Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Maria Samuels, Antonio Delgado
Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Maria Samuels, and Antonio Delgado celebrating the anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act- provided by Maria Samuels

And as for these helpful staff, “empathy is a huge must,” says Samuels. Almost the entire board, and many on the staff, have a disability themselves. They attribute part of their success in helping the disabled community by truly understand its needs. From housing to healthcare, those working at WDOMI are present to help the thousands of neighbors just like them.

Opening doors for their neighbors

WDOMI aims to find safe and accessible housing for everyone in its community. Unfortunately, the availability of these units is slim as developers rarely consider accessibility. Maria Samuels stressed the need for organizations like hers to be a part of the discussion early on in development projects–to work with the Planning Board and the developers to ensure there are homes for everyone. She says that the needs of disabled persons should “always be part of the conversation.” Otherwise, some people, even as young as 20 years old, may find themselves residing in nursing homes.

Accessible kitchen
Family in an accessible kitchen – credit: Seth McBride

The transition out of nursing homes and into independent living, or diverting that initial placement altogether, is fundamental to WDOMI’s mission. State-certified professionals currently operate dozens of these cases using tools like the Olmstead Housing Subsidy to help people find housing of their own. But, finding someone a place to live isn’t the end of WDOMI’s work, as they believe that healthcare is a human right.

Your body is (also) your home

With COVID-era programs coming to an end, the regular practice of renewing Medicaid coverage has resumed. And many people with disabilities rely on state-administered Medicaid for critical services. But, due to a tech divide and other challenges disabled people face, many do not discover they are without coverage until they need the services most. As Maria Samuels said in dismay, “unfortunately, people only know us when they need us.” And in that need, her staff are able to renew coverage, help first-time applicants, and even have a 99% success rate in reversing denials.

If a person still isn’t eligible for Medicaid, WDOMI also helps its consumers attain private insurance through the Navigator program. These marketplace insurance plans can be as little as $20/month. Their assistance in finding vital needs also extends to other programs like SNAP.

How to get a helping hand

If you or someone you know could benefit from services provided by Westchester Disabled on the Move, then simply reach out. You can call (914) 968-4717 and speak with one of their intake specialists to find solutions. A comprehensive list of services can be found on their website here: https://wdom.org/services. And Executive Director Maria Samuels wants to remind everyone that, “people don’t have to just settle for what they have.”

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