A forum focused on promoting social acceptance and inclusiveness of individuals of all abilities took place today in the Dining Commons at Niagara University. It was convened by State Senator Rob Ortt, Senator Chris Jacobs, Assemblyman Angelo Morinello and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, creator of the ThinkDIFFERENTLY campaign.
Launched by County Executive Molinaro in 2015, the ThinkDIFFERENTLY initiative aims to break down barriers and support those living with autism and other developmental or intellectual disabilities. It promotes community inclusiveness by challenging elected leaders, neighborhoods, businesses and organizations to think differently about how they interact with individuals with special needs.
“I’ve been thrilled by the response to our ThinkDIFFERENTLY efforts over the past two years, and I appreciate the cities, towns and villages throughout our state which have accepted our call to change hearts and minds,” County Executive Molinaro said.
Friday’s ThinkDIFFERENTLY event brought together people with developmental disabilities and their families, experts from provider agencies, local and state officials, and other professionals from various local agencies that specialize in services for those with special needs. The campaign encourages collaboration between organizations and community leaders to find new ways to embrace, support and respect individuals with disabilities.
“Tens of thousands of individuals face an autism diagnosis each year,” noted Senator Ortt, who chairs the Senate’s mental health and developmental disabilities committee. “This campaign draws attention to mental health disorders and disabilities while encouraging open dialogue and eliminating stigma in communities. I’m proud to work with County Executive Molinaro and my colleagues in the legislature to help promote awareness, education and social acceptance in Western New York through the ThinkDIFFERENTLY campaign.”
“I am grateful to County Executive Molinaro for bringing this innovative initiative to Western New York,” added Assemblyman Morinello. “The program is more about the way we think than what we do. I urge the Western New York community to embrace the initiative and begin to think differently.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recent estimates in the U.S. show about 1 in 6 children, ages 3-17, have at least one developmental disability, which may include ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, intellectual disability, learning disability, and/or vision impairment.
Niagara University’s College of Education offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs for individuals who are already employed by, or who seek employment in, agencies that provide services to individuals with developmental disabilities.
The university is also home to a first-of-its-kind First Responder Disability Awareness Training program, which has been contracted to deliver disability awareness training to first responders in New York, Arkansas, Missouri, New Jersey and Virginia.
To learn more about Niagara University, please visit www.niagara.edu.