Building disability awareness

June 24 fair highlights services, schools


Roughly a decade before she became an assemblywoman in 2016, Atlantic Beach resident Melissa “Missy” Miller traveled to New Jersey with her then 7-year-old son, Oliver, for what she described as a “carnival” that offered an array of information on services for people with disabilities.

Oliver, now 18, suffers daily seizures, compounded by blindness and developmental delays that stem from a seizure he had before he was born. Last year, after years of effort to get him the services and programs he needs, and remembering when her family sought services for her elderly grandmother, Miller created the Disability Awareness Fair.

Now in its second year, the free event is scheduled for Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m., near the universally accessible playground in Andrew J. Parise Cedarhurst Park, at the intersection of Cedarhurst and Summit avenues.

Nearly 140,000 people under age 65 in Nassau County were classified as disabled in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. “I think back from my experiences [with Oliver] . . . and going back to my grandma, there was no place to find information on services and programs,” Miller said, explaining why she was motivated to create the fair, “and it wasn’t always easy to get these services and programs.”

Aiming to be a one-stop shop, with an assortment of vendors with information on support services and equipment for people of all ages with special needs, the fair will also have representatives from developmental preschools and special-education schools on hand, as well as an attorney who specializes in special-needs cases.

The Lawrence-based National Council of Jewish Women–Peninsula Section was instrumental in building the first universally accessible playground on Long Island in Cedarhurst Park in 2001, and the facility has been expanded since then.

“Missy Miller asked us to do the Disability Fair last year, use our playground and partner with us,” said NCJW Administrative Director Bonnie Sperry. “It’s one of our passions. We wanted everyone to have access to facilities. We’re pleased to be a part of it.”

Kulanu, a center for special services in Cedarhurst, offers a variety of educational, social and recreational services and program to people of all ages with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said Amy Eisenberg, director of Kulanu’s Parent Advocacy and Recreation divisions. “The Disability Fair is a great informational opportunity for our community,” Eisenberg said, “and we support Missy and her efforts in educating her constituents.”

SULAM-LI, a Jewish religious school for children with special needs at the Barry & Florence Friedberg JCC in Oceanside, also takes part in the fair. Libby Adler, the school’s educational director, noted that parents of special-needs children frequently have to cope with a range of issues, including physical complications, academic difficulties and the need for varying therapies and resources they are often not aware of, which can create a feeling of being overwhelmed.

“We feel it is a wonderful service to the community to have events like this, which enable parents to see all of their options in one place,” Adler said, “so when they’re ready to make a decision on religious education, they’ll have the information they need.”

Five Towns synagogues Congregation Sons of Israel in Woodmere, Temple Beth El in Cedarhurst, Temple Hillel in North Woodmere, and Temple Israel in Lawrence, along with the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre in East Rockaway, Temple Am Echad-the South Shore Reform Congregation in Lynbrook, and Congregation B’Nai Sholom-Beth David in Rockville Centre, collaborate on supporting SULAM-LI, in cooperation with the Jewish Education Project of New York and the NCJW.

The fair will offer face-painting and games for children, as well as a performance by Lawrence High School’s Life Rhythms ensemble, which includes students with special needs. Both kosher and non-kosher refreshments will be served.

“It’s about having access to information, and we’ve made a lot of progress,” Miller said. “We’re very excited that there will be many different vendors and schools.”