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There are few professions (or callings) that are as dichotomous (my college education at work) in the American conscious as disability service. Almost all of us who is or has worked in disability service have heard some variation of “you’re such a good person,” or “god will reward you for your work.” We may indeed be good people and divine reward (which is always in some undefined future date) is appreciated, but we disability service providers do live in the here and now.

Here in lies the dichotomy (Professor Hamm would be proud!); the general public seems to feel (or express their) gratitude for the work that we do (sometimes in the most awkward way). After all, we provide services and support for some of the most vulnerable and powerless groups in the United States (perhaps a loved one or someone you know is a member of this group). We have cared for and taught (and learned from) these individuals. We have shared incredible triumphs and sometimes devastating loss both with and because of these folks. Indeed, I recall a “tough as nails” colleague shedding (more than a few) tears at a funeral for a resident of a home I worked at. Working in this field, I’ve also done things I would never have imagined. Indeed, one of my proudest moments (admittedly, I didn’t think so at the time) is when I became a full-fledged member of the PSC guild (NOT Professional Staff Congress but Professional SH*T Cleaner). That experience changes a person and for the better (though it takes a bit of time to recognize that).

Yet despite this, Direct Support Professionals (those who work directly with individuals with an intellectual/developmental disability) only earn about $12 an hour in NYC. This can be confirmed by a causal perusal (I may as well get some use out of my education) of employment websites. Let us use that figure of $12 an hour and say 7 hours a day for 5 days a week. That comes to $420 a week and I’m guessing $330 after taxes (where are the accounting majors?). This in turn comes to about $1320 or so a month for what is (truly) difficult physical and emotional work in one of the most expensive cities in the world. This poor pay forced many of my colleagues to work multiple jobs to keep ends in sight of each other (getting ends to meet usually meant someone was on vacation or sick and you got their hours). This of course not only impacts on job efficiency and job appreciation but it impacts directly upon the health of those we count on to ensure the good health of people with disabilities.

Admittedly, things get better as one climbs the ladder, but one should be under no illusion that wage equality exists. In general a person with an equivalent education, experience, and title will make less in disability service then in other fields.  According to the Pay Scale website, an executive director makes about $71,000 a year and mid-level manager around $40,000 a year. For a good cry, contrast with other industries to see the disparity.  The question is then why do people who care for people, are praised for the kind of work they do, then get the short end of the stick when it comes to being paid a decent wage?

Having said all this, I still love this field. Along with my wife (Hi babe!) and family, this field gave me direction when I had none. It gave me a purpose or as some would say; a calling. I’ve also been fortunate in that my work was noted by various supervisors (not all, unfortunately) and I’ve been promoted a few times with commiserate raises in wages. The field also largely funded my undergraduate and graduate educations. I’ve managed to stay in the field while changing focus. I recently left non-profit disability service and entered into the world of higher education disability service. The environment and the populations I work for (and with) are different but “the calling” remains the same.

Working in disability services can sometimes be difficult and often challenging (physically and emotionally) but all in all, it is an honorable field that one can be proud to be a part of. What I hope for is that one day; it can also be a field which yields wages where one will not have to work multiple jobs to support themselves or their families.

Daniel Chan is a belated student who took the 20+ year plan to get his Bachelor’s Degree. He recently received his M.A. in Disability Studies and is working on his M.S. in Disability Services in Higher Education. His proudest academic achievement is still his GED.

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It is pouring the coldest rain my cheeks have ever felt from heaven as my unprepared Caribbean spring clothes are soaking wet in the middle of a busy street in Manhattan, at the beginning of an unforgettable May. As I accept I am doomed I cannot stop thinking that the never-ending tallness of the buildings don’t do much to protect insignificant pedestrians like me from the unmerciful siege of rain.

Finally, once again as a signal from heaven, an unexpected opportunity to find relief suddenly appears before me. It does not come from the skies though, but from the undergrounds. A miraculous stair cracks in the middle of the sidewalk before my eyes and leads me to an unexpected subway station.

As I descend, stepping on the tiny New Yorker muddy ponds created on the uneven surface of these ancient steps, I hear hundreds of sudden splashes made by running people coming out. The sounds is contrasted with the soft and timid noise of my body enjoying and rejoicing the transition from the hectically cold, wet, and noisy surface to a drier and calmer buried hidden world.

My initial pleasure turned to disappointment as I realized that no human beings sell tickets or assist anyone to find out where to go. It was just an electronic ticket vending machine and me who had to figure out how to jump in. Lucky me I am an experienced international immigration lawyer, and certified translator of many languages; no vending machine represented a small challenge for my objectives for the day.

First, I was asked by a digital screen to choose the language. I selected “English” of course! “It is the least I can do to honor the language spoken by Washington, Lincoln and all the founding fathers,” I thought. But it was interesting to see the extensive menu of languages someone can choose from in order to buy a simple ticket.

I masterfully managed to follow all the instructions, such as choosing from a 7-day pass or a 30-day pass or whether I wanted a single ride or a double ride, etc..

My real problems started when payment was requested. I needed to pay $2.75 for one ride. As I was ready to pay a warning appeared on the screen: “This machine does not temporarily accept bills. Coins and credit card payment only.” With my wallet full for months of one-dollar bill savings, and a little nervous to use my humble Yucatecan credit card, I decided to scratch the bottom of my pockets to figure out if my leftover tokens could complete such a surmounting amount.

One by one my quarters and dimes took me closer to my journey. As I deposited the coins a red figure appearing on the screen and decreased as if it were a rocket launching countdown, but it suddenly stopped as the last 25 cents were still missing when my money ran out. I still had many one-cent coins but then I realized that no vending machine would accept such small value coins, too late perhaps for me that I had already happily accepted many, and suddenly, just like the U.S. Congress, my pockets were full of valueless Lincoln promises.

By then a long line of New Yorkers in a hurry were giving me dirty looks. I was about to abort my mission and let the long waiting line to go ahead of me, when a furious gentleman rudely put a quarter in my account so I could receive my ticket and move on with my life and stop my selfish monopolizing battle with the machine. With my ticket in hand, the rude man whose act of kindness made me forgive his harshness, masterfully recharged his probably 30-day pass, jumped my obstructively massive wet body and rapidly ran into the gates in order to catch his train so suddenly that I couldn’t even thank him.

As I turned my view to the still long waiting line I couldn’t help noticing some judgmental glances by master users of the machine who rightfully accused me of sucking in ticket buying skills. Then my next challenge. I needed to figure out where this red dot line 3 would take me in the spider web of intricate escapes to the Manhattan surface.

With useful signals marking uptown and downtown at least I kind of knew where not to go. A tense calm omnipresently filled the environment as a soft far away metal sound of rails was becoming stronger and stronger and the waiting was going to become almost unbearable until the wagons finally arrived in a glorious underground denouement. Still not certain where I was going I decided to look for a subway map on my poor underground wifi reception. So the best thing to do was to let the first train go by without boarding.

Happy to see how even dogs can commute with more dignity than humans in this city, I soon realized that my cellphone wasn’t working. With an electronic announcement over my head promising that the next train was coming in two long minutes, I could dedicate my spare precious time to look at the details of the station, perhaps I would be lucky and find a casual map hanging around, I thought. As my eyes started to get caught by the graffiti’s on the walls and the litter among the railroad ties an amazing sound started to come out from the tunnel across my side.

Hypnotized by the spell of a metal sound, my eyes tried to look for its sources among the forest of a hundred casted iron columns that little by little unveiled the author of such a beautiful melody. A heavy man wearing heavier clothes was timidly sitting on a bench cornered on such a tiny spot that it could barely touch an inch of the main hall as if he didn’t want to disturb the sounds of the rails. But his music was not a disturbance at all, the perfect acoustic of the tunnels that morning made his sounds more beautiful than those of a requiem in a cathedral.

I do not know if he was blind, but he never opened his eyes, perhaps he was also in a trance enjoying his melancholic melody that was embracing all of us in that subway station as he masterfully played his golden sax. With slow and subtle blows you could see how his bare fingers were making the miracle as they were trying to come out from a pair of rotten dirty gloves. My train finally arrived, but I couldn’t take it, the heavy sound of the rails mingled in a perfect symphony with that of the sax creating the most powerful underground musical experience in my life. In that moment I knew that the sax was absolutely right, despite standing many feet under, it was heaven, I was in heaven, and my heart beat so that I could hardly speak.

Rodrigo Rodriguez is a human rights and immigration lawyer living in the Yucatan among the Mayans. He is a lover of good music and food, and is always looking to be amazed by nature. Rodrigo is a student here at CUNY SPS working on his Advanced Certificate in Immigration Law.

As I write this, I have Microsoft Word open with nothing more than a title on the page. Even the title isn’t sitting well with me. It’s the beginning of a 5-6 page paper due next Friday for which I have a topic, enough background information, and websites for citation purposes. The words are just hard to come by. I’m writing here to vent my frustration with the sometimes overwhelming process of putting thoughts to paper.

In another Word window, I have some sentences down for a project I’m a bit more excited about, though there’s no grade given for that. That’s a personal project. Ideas came to mind, and it was best to write them down. I’ve always dreamed of making a film. Not for fame or fortune because I’m too much of a realist for that, but because it’s the best way I can think of to express some of life’s sensibilities. A diary. I’m not talking about some three hour epic, but something short; 10 minutes, 20 minutes. Maybe several 10-minute sequences over the course of time that add up to feature length. I can post them on a website dedicated to the project. YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram play a part in promotion.

It’s all a struggle. It’s like sometimes your mind just becomes a cloud. The type of cloud with nothing going on inside. No lighting or thunder, no rain or snow. I write, not because I think I’m any good at it (I give myself credit for being pleasantly mediocre), but because it can be very rewarding. Here, I vent my frustration. On another page, an idea comes alive. That’s when I love it. The screen in front of me becomes a form of therapy. Getting started is the hardest part. Then I get started, and the first 500 words become the issue, though once you get into a groove, it can be an infectious feeling. One idea follows another and suddenly you’re several pages in without feeling like you’ve really tried.

What’s the best ending to your story? Forget the story, what’s the best ending to a paragraph? How do I make the simple thought a powerful one? I should let more prolific authors answer those questions. It’s possible the answer isn’t the same for everyone. We each get to a specific point in our thoughts, but go in different directions.

Despite all that, I’ve always been capable of a good paper. Give me a 5 page paper any day of the week over a 50 question multiple choice test. Studying for weeks for a test is arduous at best, excruciating in general. Writing is such an important part of being a student at CUNY SPS. Its helped me view my strengths and weaknesses in equal measure, and with time, improve those deficiencies.

One tip I can give that’s been helpful to me as of late is to find a song, or a type of music you like; something that helps you relax, or puts a smile on your face. Play that music when you write. Not so loud that it’s a distraction, but loud enough so that you feel whatever emotion you’re looking for in the moment. I’d always heard that classical music was a great motivator in the process. I tried it. I liked it. I also find inspiration in a terrific film score. Sometimes it’s dark and creepy, sometimes it’s melancholic, and other times it’s the uplifting sounds that might push you to a place of triumph, so to speak.

Some will use big, thoughtful words, and speak in terms you might not understand. I find as much value in that as someone who just writes what they think in even the simplest of ways. I’ll go back to my open Word windows now and try to piece it together bit by bit. I know it will get done, and done well. It just takes time.

Robert is a current student here at CUNY SPS, pursuing a degree in Communication and Media. He is interested in platforms of media, especially those related to digital media; and a fan of serious film as well as this current golden age of television.

The Academy Awards are this Sunday. Here are some picks and notes for the festivities.

Best Picture

SHOULD WIN: Spotlight

WILL WIN: The Revenant

  • CAROL not being nominated is a travesty. THE REVENANT has abundant momentum. Not a film I enjoyed all that much, but the Oscars often get it wrong.

Best Actor

SHOULD WIN: Whatever (Really, whatever)

WILL WIN: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

  • By far the weakest of the major categories. DiCaprio wins by default in a year with no competition, and for a performance that was lacking (I blame the script more than him).

Best Actress

SHOULD WIN: Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)

WILL WIN: Brie Larson (Room)

Best Supporting Actor

SHOULD WIN: Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)

WILL WIN: Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Best Supporting Actress

SHOULD WIN: Rooney Mara (Carol)

WILL WIN: Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)

  • This category is a major wild card. Perhaps the strongest all around category, this is a pure guess, at best. Kate Winslet is a terrific actress and always a threat, but I’ll stick with these predictions.

Best Director

SHOULD WIN: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

WILL WIN: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant)

  • I’d be disappointed by another Inarritu victory, but with recent victories at the BAFTAs and DGA, it seems likely. Really pulling for Miller or Tom McCarthy.

Best Original Screenplay

SHOULD WIN: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (Spotlight)

WILL WIN: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (Spotlight)

Best Adapted Screenplay

SHOULD WIN: Phyllis Nagy (Carol)

WILL WIN: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph (The Big Short)

  • In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read any of the books these adaptations are nominated for, so I’m not to be trusted with my “should win” pick. I pick Nagy because I loved Carol, but it’s clear McKay and Randolph are the front-runners.

Best Cinematography

SHOULD WIN: Roger Deakins (Sicario)

WILL WIN: Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant)

  • I’d love to be wrong here. One of the great cinematographers of this or any era, Deakins has been nominated 13 times for an Oscar, and has come up empty each time. I could make an argument for each of the other nominees: Ed Lachman for Carol, Robert Richardson for The Hateful Eight, John Seale for Mad Max: Fury Road, or Lubezki. Lubezki does brilliant work, but has won 2 years in a row (Gravity, Birdman). Would like to see a spread of the wealth. Wildly competitive category, and a great year for one of the most vital and powerful parts of the medium.

Best Foreign Language Film

SHOULD WIN: Son of Saul

WILL WIN: Son of Saul

  • Mustang is terrific as well, but this should be a slam dunk.

Best Documentary Feature

SHOULD WIN: The Look of Silence

WILL WIN: Amy

  • This is a shame. Amy has racked up almost every award this season, and while it’s fine (I feel like this doc could be made about thousands of people, making it less unique), it in no way compares to Joshua Oppenheimer’s devastating companion to 2012’s The Act of Killing.

That’s all I got. If you’re into it, enjoy the show. Brace yourselves for the inevitable boredom that will strike somewhere in the second hour (maybe first depending on how well Chris Rock is doing as host), and don’t take it too seriously. A lot of your (my) favorite movies this year weren’t nominated.

****One additional note: World of Tomorrow is nominated for Best Animated Short. It is incredible and at only 17 minutes, well worth your time. I LOVED THIS. It’s streaming on Netflix.

Robert is a current student here at CUNY SPS, pursuing a degree in Communication and Media. He is interested in platforms of media, especially those related to digital media; and a fan of serious film as well as this current golden age of television.

Brenda Burns is a current student in our new BA in Human Relations degree program. Read about her experiences here at the CUNY School of Professional Studies.

Brenda Burns, current student in CUNY SPS BA Human Relations program

1. Why did you choose to continue your education at CUNY SPS?

I continued my education at CUNY SPS because they offered the new B.A. program in Human Relations.

2. What is the single most important professional or personal goal that you would like to achieve during your studies at CUNY SPS or after graduation?

My goal during or after graduation is to be a guidance counselor in a school or a counselor in another organization helping children.

3. How have you grown intellectually as a result of your studies at CUNY SPS?

I have definitely have grown intellectually more than I could have imagined as a result of enrolling with CUNY SPS. I’m forever grateful for all that I’ve learn in the courses that I have taken.

4. What advice would you offer to someone considering applying for admission to the program?

I’ve already given advice to a co-worker that the setting at CUNY SPS is like a family, and any help she might need someone is always available to assist her. Also, I told a co-worker that the courses given are excellent for my professional development as your personal life. She is now enrolled for her second semester and loves it. She thanks me all the time for recommending CUNY SPS.

Brenda also shared some fun facts about her life.

1. Place of residence: Far Rockaway Beach. I worked in the city for 29 years so the travel is not a problem. I love the city.

2. Favorite CUNY SPS course: I can’t say I have a favorite course because they all have something different to bring to the table. However, I can say I lean toward courses that help me understand teaching  children because I work with the DOE

3. Weirdest place you have studied: On the train. Other than that I’m usually studying at home or at work during my lunch break. I can’t study with music on it’s a distraction to me.

5. Best thing about your community or NYC: The diversity of people and all that it has to offerBroadway theaters, Times Square, restaurants, land marks such as the statue of liberty and empire state building and living across the street from the beach.

Thanks, Brenda!

We wish you continued success with your studies this semester.

April Coughlin was one of the CUNY SPS alumni featured in the New York Times article, Disability Studies – A New Normal, on November 1, 2013. We recently caught up with April and asked her why disability studies is an important field for everyone to explore. Here’s what she told us:

As we all know, Disability Studies is an important and emerging field in higher education, and it’s great to see that the New York Times is recognizing this as well. I have had a disability for 28 years and up until three years ago I didn’t even know Disability Studies existed. At the time, I was teaching high school in NYC and thinking about going back for another Masters degree. I perused through the CUNY website and came across Disability Studies at the School of Professional Studies. It sounded really interesting and I saw that the deadline hadn’t passed for the application period, so I immediately filled it out and sent it in. I had no idea that this program would not only inform ways of thinking about my own experiences with disability, but also disability in the classroom and would eventually lead me to pursue a PhD.

Disability Studies has undoubtedly transformed my teaching practices, both as a high school teacher and college instructor.

During the summer I work with the New York City Teaching Fellows who are teaching special education in NYC public schools. I teach a “Perspectives on Disabilities” course that requires my students to question, challenge, examine and shape their understandings of disability in our schools and society. To see the process that my students go through in how they think about and frame disability from the first day of class to the last is really quite impressive. I truly believe that all educators (special and general educators), administrators and staff, heck, the WHOLE WORLD should have exposure to this type of course!

As a high school teacher, disability entered the curriculum and conversations in my classroom on a daily basis, mostly because of the stories and personal experiences that I shared with my students. Even through this, I could see evidence that my students began to look at the world a little differently. Whether it was through the language they used, the access issues in the school building they pointed out, or the broken subway elevators on our field trips that they experienced with me, they were learning about disability – sometimes without even realizing it.

Disability is everywhere. In fact, as technology advances and people live longer, acquiring a disability becomes even more likely. I am grateful for the program at CUNY SPS because it provided me with the opportunity to explore a field of study that is not only extremely relevant to my everyday lived experience, but also enriches my teaching practices and the knowledge that I share with my students.

Finally, I would like to give a quick shout out to all of my former CUNY SPS Disability Studies classmates and professors. Meeting all of you and sharing classes each night that year made the program not only interesting and exciting, but also incredibly memorable.

April Coughlin received her Master’s Degree in Disability Studies from the CUNY School of Professional Studies. 

Tonight, the CUNY SPS 2013 Commencement keynote speaker, Tanya Fields will discuss The BLK Projek’s latest plans for a new mobile food market, and you have an opportunity to join her.

The BLK Projek was founded in 2009 to empower women and youth with the resources to rise out of poverty through the food justice movement. A new key asset in their mission to create economic development opportunities in the South Bronx is The Veggie Mobile Market. The goal is to turn a bus into a solar powered, mobile market that will bring fresh vegetables and “…good food to the ‘Hood’.”

The BLK Projek's Mobile Veggie MarketThe South Bronx community will get their first look at The Veggie Mobile Market at the “Meet the Bus” event tonight at 6pm. It is also a chance for anyone from CUNY SPS that is interested in Tanya’s work to meet her in person. She will be conducting a cooking demo “Fab Food on a Food Stamp Budget” that will be part of the mobile market’s educational outreach program.

Also presenting tonight at “Meet the Bus” will be Dara Cooper, director of the New York City Food and Fitness Partnership at Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation who was a founder of Chicago’s mobile food market, Fresh Moves.

As Tanya explains on the campaign fundraising page, “This project is about food but it is about so much more. It will change the way we see ourselves in our community. It will allow us to hire marginalized folks and pay them a living wage. It will change the way people think about economic development and the way they see the Bronx. It will use food as an empowerment tool!”

Take a moment to RSVP, and if you can’t make it in person join them on Google Hangout.