By Michael Lizzi | October 13, 2020

photo credit: Paul Grondahl, Albany Times Union


I am flesh-and-blood proof that having a job can change the life of a person with a disability.

So are my two daughters, literally. That’s because I met the woman who’d become my wife while we were both working at the Center for Disability Services in Albany. I still work there. Melissa and I have been married for 18 years.

Life is the most precious thing we have, and the Center has given me life more than once.

I’m asking our state’s leaders to do all they can to make sure the Center and other non-profits that employ people with disabilities have life too and for years to come. Not only do we do a great job, but we save taxpayers money.

This is a critical time for New Yorkers with disabilities, and not just because we suffer disproportionately from the effects of COVID. Despite the proven value of the work we do for government agencies and private businesses, the recent cancellation of a major state contract for my employer – which is costing 50 people their jobs – makes us very worried about the future.

The Center for Disability Services saved my life for the first time when I was 2 ½ years old, after my dad got into a bad car accident in which I was thrown through the roof of our car and into a field. I spent 21 days unconscious in intensive care with traumatic brain injury, cracked skull on both sides, and brain swelling. It left me with permanent neurological damage and reduced peripheral vision. I’ve undergone multiple surgeries.

Not long after, we moved to the Albany area, where a friend connected us to what was then called the Center for the Disabled.

For nine years, the Center provided me with all the rehab services and supports I needed. I learned to walk again and got my life back. Later, I earned degrees in hospitality and business at Rochester Institute of Technology and worked for 10 years in the restaurant business.

Then, 26 years ago, the Center gave me life again – by offering me a job when I was out of work. I’ve gone from being a classroom aide to working in operations to front desk receptionist to my current position as administrative assistant (and general troubleshooter) at the Center’s mail fulfillment center in Albany.

Working here has taken me full circle – first as a client and now as an employee. I come to work every day, support my family, engage with colleagues as part of a team, and focus every hour on doing the job right and on time for our customers. Most of my co-workers have some kind of disability.

At the mail fulfillment center, most of our customers are state and local government agencies, who hire us under a state program created to help people with disabilities live more independently and contribute to the community.

report done by the Rockefeller Institute of Government found this program has created thousands of jobs for people with disabilities, like me. It also helped generate tax revenue and reduce costs for public assistance programs.

The work done through this program is life giving as well. It provides us with a chance to be the people we want to be and can be – to feel that you’re not only a person but a person who can be productive in society.

That’s all people with disabilities want. They just want to make their own story their own way.

I don’t feel like I have a disability. That’s all up here in your mind. You have to go and tackle each obstacle you come across and rise to that level. You realize you can attain anything you want to as long as you want to work hard and put the time in.

The cancellation of the Center’s contract with the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance has us all worried. I feel sad for the colleagues I won’t see again because they’ve lost their jobs because of it, and for the new people I won’t meet because they won’t be hired.

I’d like to tell Governor Cuomo, our legislators and all the good people who work for them, we’re all people too. We have goals and aspirations like everybody else. We know how to do the job.

Why not give us a chance? We can do it in a way that makes ourselves proud and the people we serve proud as well.  And we can make the Governor proud.

I just want Governor Cuomo to understand that this is very important, not just for the Center but for all the other agencies that hire people with disabilities. They’re all in the same boat.

People need to understand what this means to us as a community. It’s an opportunity to do a job that we love, to hire more staff, to help them better with their lives, and maybe they’ve never had that before.

It is a big deal and we’re hoping that the Governor reconsiders and does the right thing. I just want him to realize that taking away this contract — which we’ve been working on for a long time — feels like the rug’s being yanked out from underneath us for no reason.

Thank you for hearing my story.