My journey with disability began on March 13, 1990 – I was 14. It was that day that I fractured C6, a vertebra in my neck, while diving. I damaged my spinal cord and caused permanent, but incomplete, paralysis. I spent nearly three months in Strong Memorial Hospital recovering and beginning rehabilitation. One month after I was discharged and returned to living at home with my parents and younger brother, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. I had no idea then what immense impact that law would have on me, both personally and professionally.
Throughout my high school experience, my mother worked diligently to ensure that the school district provided what access I needed. During my college years, I came to be an advocate for myself, addressing issues on a near-daily basis. As I gained experience and wisdom, I prepared to be an advocate for others, whether I knew it or not.
In my final semester at Nazareth College, I began work at the Center for Disability Rights. I started part-time, working directly with people with developmental disabilities or traumatic brain injuries. It was my job to teach these individuals living skills, drawn largely from my own experience with disability. This experience broadened my understanding far beyond my own disability. Truthfully, I’m sure I learned far more from the people I served than they ever learned from me.
I have continued to learn about disabilities – my own and many others. In addition to my employment at the Center for Disability Rights, I have been involved in many other disability-related organizations, including ADAPT, the National Council on Independent Living, National Spinal Cord Injury Association, New York State Independent Living Council, Rochester’s Deaf community, and Rochester’s wheelchair rugby team – the WNY Wreckers. This breadth and depth of experience is vital.
In the years following my injury, and the enactment of the ADA, I learned how much work there was to be done in order to ensure that people with disabilities were able to live as fully productive members of our society with equal opportunity for success. And I learned how inaccurate stereotypes permeate the thinking of the non-disabled people within our society. While we have come a long way since 1990, there is still a great deal of work to be done.
After graduating from Nazareth College, I began work at the Center for Disability Rights. I worked in direct service, providing independent living skills training to individuals with developmental disabilities or traumatic brain injury. I would go on to supervise these services, hiring, training and supervising hundreds of employees.
After several years providing and supervising these services, I became the Director of Advocacy for the Center for Disability Rights. In this role, I was privileged to lead systems advocacy efforts to enhance compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and to improve access and integration for people with disabilities in the Greater Rochester area, across New York State, and the nation. During that time, our community achieved successes including:
New programs to enable people with disabilities to live at home, instead of costly and unwanted institutional placements
Improved policies regarding accessible housing, more accessible housing
Improved policies and procedures for accessible public transportation
Improved procedures regarding snow removal from city sidewalks
After seven years as the Director of Advocacy, I served for three years as the Chief Operating Officer at CDR. In this role, I continued advocacy for improvements in the lives of people with disabilities and, also, returned to being involved in the programs directly fostering the independence and integration of people with disabilities.
After nearly 15 years, I left CDR and became the Chief Operating Officer at the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency, now know as Common Ground Health. Common Ground Health is a health data and planning organization, focused on improving the overall health of all residents in the Finger Lakes region. During my time with Common Ground Health, I helped the organization through dramatic shifts in leadership with a new CEO and the retirement of three key employees with 70 years combined experience with the agency. Also, I played a vital role in:
Establishing more consistent policies and procedures,
Enhancing internal communication, and
Increasing professionalism of support staff.
I left Common Ground Health in summer 2016 to establish my own consulting business, returning my focus to improving the lives of people with disabilities through eliminating barriers in our community.
During my career, I have been personally involved in improving access in our community, including the following projects:
RTS Transit Center
Port of Rochester and the Fast Ferry
PaeTec Park / Sahlen Stadium
Memorial Art Gallery
Polling Site access
I currently serve on the design committee for the Athletic Training Center at Nazareth College and in the past, I was a member of the Mayor Robert Duffy transition team’s housing subcommittee.
In addition to efforts to assure that our nation is physically accessible, I have vast experience in teaching and training non-disabled people about the community, culture, needs and barriers facing people with disabilities.
I currently teach on course at Monroe Community College. The course is focused on preparing people to work as direct support professionals with people with disabilities. In addition, I’ve provided trainings to:
Social work professionals
High school staff and teachers
Staff for Centers for Independent Living
Churches and religious leadership
In the summer of 2013, I helped establish the WNY Wreckers, the only wheelchair rugby team in Upstate New York. The Wreckers have since incorporated as an independent 501c3 nonprofit and I serve as president of the board. More importantly, it’s a great sport offering fierce competition for the approximately 20 individuals with disabilities who have played with the team over the course of the past couple years. There are eight regular players, including myself.
Nazareth College, B.A. in Sociology, Magna Cum Laude
Awards / accomplishments
Person2Person, Class of 2016-2017
Rochester Business Journal, Forty under 40, 2015
Most Valuable Player, Northeast Passage Wheelchair Rugby Tournament, Fall 2015
National Council on Independent Living, Region 2 Advocacy Award, 2013
Leadership Rochester, Class of 2011
New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS) Advocacy Award 2009
Personal Profile / Family
I grew up in Dansville, NY and graduated high school there.
Started college in engineering, but decided that my career should be more people oriented. I graduated from Nazareth.
I live in Brighton, NY, with my wife, Jill and our two children, Annika and Kyle. Jill is a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist by trade and was running an adapted sled hockey program when we met in 2001. She graduated from SUNY Brockport in 1996. Annika was born in 2003, is even more artistic than her mother, is a Steelers fan and adopted Field Hockey as her sport. Kyle was born in 2006, loves video games like his father, the Seahawks, and baseball.