Understanding Differences Workshop Sept 16, 2004


(Original publication: September 17, 2004)

Dan Windheim wants people to think less about their differences and more about their similarities.

Windheim, who has brain injuries from an auto accident in 1979 when he was 15, finds it painful that people shy away from him because of his slow movements and difficulty organizing his speech and thoughts.

So he and a neighbor in Garnerville, Dan Mignone, organized the first "Understanding Differences Together" forum last night at the Nyack Library.

They and others at the meeting, which drew about 40 people, plan other discussions to increase awareness of disabilities, and the need to look beyond them.

"My point is that disabilities are so misunderstood," Windheim said before the program. "Some people have invisible disabilities. They're treated like there's nothing wrong and that's unfair."

Alicia Andrzejewski of New City can be one those in the "invisible" category. She has multiple sclerosis, a disorder of the central nervous system that has affected her vision, as well as the organization of her thinking.

Thinking, she's found, can sometimes be physically exhausting. She finds that sometimes she annoys people by parking in a space reserved for those with handicaps.

"I may be too tired that day to walk far," she said, "and having to justify myself is frustrating."

County Legislator John Murphy, R-Orangeburg, told the group that their talk was the first of which he had ever heard in the county. Murphy, who has spent decades advocating for the rights of the disabled, said they had long been an unseen part of the population.

"People who don't have disabilities are embarrassed around people who are," Murphy said. "They don't know how to act. They're so afraid that what they might do would be inappropriate, that they'd rather do nothing."

To Nancy Housner of Wesley Hills, who had a severe hearing impairment for most of her life until a cochlear implant a year ago, the answer was for people to treat others as they liked to be treated.

"Our disability is secondary," Housner, 62, said. "When I was a child, I felt like I was just one big ear. But I was a young girl and I wanted friends and to go to the prom just like everyone else."

Reach James Walsh at jawalsh@thejournalnews.com or 845-578-2445.


1) Draft a letter to inform others on your intention to hold a function bringing people of all types together, to share personal knowledge and information on these differences; strength, perseverance and create a valuable existence. "We are all alike, in that we are all different. Some obvious differences some not.

Example below:
To whom this may concern,

An educational forum regarding “Understanding Differences, Together”, is in the process of being organized. This event is scheduled for [insert date] and will be held at the [insert location]. As part of this forum we are looking to have a panel of approximately ten persons with various so-called disabilities (representing the many different faces of “disabilities”) to speak to the public on their experiences.

We are currently informing people about this upcoming event, and are looking for individuals to be part of our guest panel, or to show up and give emotional support through their presence.

Please contact me at [insert contact info] to discuss any questions you may have regarding this event. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

[insert your name]

2) Request assistance of known friends who have a disability (or not) to join you in this valuable experience, of bringing individuals together.

3) Compile a list of known individuals with an apparent disability, and list of agencies who serve individuals with disabilities. Start a mailing to form this panel of individuals, and others who would attend such a forum.

4) Contact a local hall, library, or center to request use of a space to hold a town hall type meeting.(you would want this space to be physically accessible for all who might attend).

To prepare for this function it will require a number of preparatory meetings. Select a facilitator; secretary to keep notes at meetings, and someone to contact local businesses for donations (such as coffee or muffins, cookies.

In my community we recently held this type of workshop, and was met with acceptance, and progress toward growth.

To share knowledge, is a movement toward change.

The above text is a rough example for beginning your educational workshop. Such a workshop will take commitment, perseverance, and cooperation. Where there is a will there is a way.

Feel free to contact me for input,

Daniel Windheim Dan@tbilife.com
website- www.tbilife.com