I have a soft spot for the disabled. I grew up in a family with two handicapped siblings; a younger sister Jane and my big brother, Kev. Both were born with mental retardation—what they called it at the time–and cerebral palsy. My brother was fascinated with mechanical things and loved to figure out how they worked. He always knew when it was time to change the batteries or turn in an old TV for a new one, or just fix it. Whenever my Grandfather would visit, he’d always check in with Kev. “So, what needs fixing?” and Kev would show him and stand by his side as his apprentice.
My sister Jane did not learn how to speak until she was 8 years old, but we understood her completely through her animated gestures and sounds. My other siblings and I loved to play with her and she had a good sense of humor. As fate would have it, God took her one November afternoon in a car accident on our corner and she is now our angel in Heaven. She taught us understanding, patience and the frailty and wonder of the human condition. It was the 70’s and unless you had a direct relationship with a disabled person, whether they lived in your home or your neighborhood, they were often hidden from the general public, misunderstood and misrepresented.
Few services were available to the disabled outside of the school system, but since 1949, United Cerebral Palsy has provided services and support to the disabled and their families. This organization was formed by two families with children with cerebral palsy who wanted to help other families and it continues to thrive as one of the most prominent organizations of its kind. Similar organizations exist including the AHRC (Association for the Help of Retarded Children) and Lifespire who advocate for the disabled through workshops. My mother was President of the AHRC when I was growing up and I am a volunteer with Lifespire in New York City.
But that’s just some of my story. I want to tell you about a dynamic woman that I had the pleasure of interviewing on Genesis Global Radio recently. Her name is Evelyn Stypula and she is a devoted, loving advocate for the disabled and this has become her life’s mission. Her work is far reaching. She is the Vice Chairwoman of the Governor’s Cabinet and Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities. In her current role, Ms. Stypula serves as an advocate for the state of Pennsylvania, and she systematically and enthusiastically reviews, campaigns for and supports legislation for cross-disabled individuals on a statewide basis.
Ms. Stypula supports the needs of disabled members of her community by standing up for their basic rights as a consultant for the Pennsylvania Government’s Conference for Women. She loyally works to create an indelible impact and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities by researching and resolving the scores of obstacles they face, including transportation, housing and employment issues. As a professional who has honed a local presence that spans more than half a century, Ms. Stypula specializes in non-profit organization management, and she shines in this field, as she is committed to helping the disabled in many ways. She currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the United Cerebral Palsy of Pittsburgh, and is the co-founder of the ACCESS Para-Transit System of Allegheny County.
In her endless efforts to increase public awareness on the needs and capabilities of persons with disabilities, Ms. Stypula maintains affiliations with several organizations in her community. She is the legislative chairwoman of the Governor’s Advisory Committee, a member of the Advisory Committee of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, and a member of the Allegheny County 365 Committee. And, she is also Founder and President of Big Heart Bridges, an organization that is committed to helping the disabled by influencing positive change. She strives to facilitate processes that will make their lives easier by helping them to realize that they deserve adequate services as much as anyone else. She makes every effort to affect positive change and to be of service to those whose voices often go unheard.