Transforming Disability Care

November 5, 2012 | CUNY Matters, The University

These are extraordinary faculty who connect the University to its community, engaging their students in the complex challenges facing the city.

From its beginning 165 years ago, The City University of New York has always had a dual mission: Deliver high-quality education — and serve the citizens of the city.

NAME: Mariette Bates; COLLEGE: School of Professional Studies; TITLE: Academic Director of Disability Studies Program and Distinguished Lecturer; FOCUS: Creating educational programs for administrative and supervisory workers in the field of developmental and behavioral disabilities

Today, CUNY’s 6,700 full-time faculty carry on this legacy, contributing in ways that truly transform our city, benefiting the lives of millions of New Yorkers every day. Many provide critical training for the city’s diverse workforce. They teach young scientists to explore new fields like photonics, biodiversity and nanotechnology; they train municipal employees in emergency preparedness for large-scale disasters; they create programs that teach health industry professionals how to detect early incidence of oral cancer and better care for people with developmental disabilities.

These are extraordinary faculty who connect the University to its community, engaging their students in the complex challenges facing the city.

Take Allan Wernick, for example, the Baruch College law professor who launched Citizenship Now! the largest immigrant-aid organization in the city, which assists thousands of people every year — for free — in its nine centers throughout the five boroughs. Or Mandë Holford, a professor of chemical biology at Hunter College who has created a unique program to mentor young urban scientists — while she conducts her own remarkable research on the natural poisons found in sea snails that are now being used to help alleviate chronic pain in cancer patients. Or still others, like William Solecki, the director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities, who brings together diverse groups of researchers and public policymakers to hammer out collaborative solutions to threatening environmental changes.

In the following months, you’ll find the compelling stories of these and other CUNY faculty in this publication. These are just a few of the remarkable men and women whose service reflects the unique, historic bond between the University and its city.

When Mariette Bates started her career in mental health advocacy in the mid-1970s, there were no courses on how to provide community care. She had to learn her skills on the job — several jobs, actually.

Bates began as program director at One to One, a foundation started by television journalist Geraldo Rivera after his expose of neglect and abuse of mentally disabled patients at Willowbrook State School on Staten Island. The foundation’s mission was to help bring people out of state institutions like Willowbrook, and Bates was responsible for an array of complex funding, training and technical assistance tasks needed to set up new community-based programs.

Then she focused her attention on helping parents find care for children who were hard to fit into the system, such as those with multiple disabilities or language barriers. As co-founder, and vice president of the Maidstone Foundation for 25 years, she assisted parents’ groups and more than 600 nonprofit organizations with strategic planning and training, with a special focus on developmental disabilities and youth services.

Today, as academic director of the Disability Studies programs and Distinguished Lecturer at CUNY’s School of Professional Studies, Bates is widely recognized as a leader in creating educational programs for administrative and supervisory workers in the field of developmental and behavioral disabilities — an area frequently underserved in the broader field that includes physical disabilities.

When William Ebenstein, now University Dean for Health and Human Services, developed the first stand-alone master’s degree in disability studies in the country, Bates came to SPS to lead it. Launched in 2009, the program now has about 90 students, most of whom are middle- and upper-level managers employed by service providers (about 20 percent of them also have some form of disability themselves).

This fall, SPS is launching the nation’s first online bachelor’s degree in disability studies, designed to provide frontline workers with a broad foundation in the field, as well as opportunities for in-depth study in one of four concentrations. “We’re focused on educating the workforce,” says Bates. “We need to give workers the tools they need to do a good job.”

Noting the recent controversy over charges of physical abuse of the developmentally disabled in state-run group homes, Bates stresses that “the quality of life of people with disabilities depends on those who interact directly with them.” The underlying idea, she says, is to create services for people with disabilities that nondisabled people would find acceptable for themselves.

“Part of what we’re doing is trying to transform the system of care,” says Bates. “I’m a big fan of our students. I feel lucky to be here.”