U group studies Sept. 11 effects on developmentally disabled

Amy Hackbarth

Mary Hayden, research director at the University’s Center on Community Living, has heard the stories of developmentally disabled people living near the World Trade Towers during the Sept. 11 attacks.

When the towers fell, Hayden said, emergency workers told everyone who lived near ground zero they had 10 minutes to retrieve their belongings from their homes without the help of another person.

“For most people, that would be easy, but a mentally retarded person might need someone to help them problem-solve so they would know what to bring,” she said. “We need to be inclusive and think of these things, to take a broader view outside ourselves.”

Hayden and other employees at the center plan to document the stories of developmentally disabled people and their care workers who were affected by the Sept. 11 attacks.

With the aid of a $100,000 yearlong grant, the center will create a video documentary and research report chronicling the experiences and treatment of the developmentally disabled during the emergency.

The Administration on Developmental Disabilities, a federal agency, called center director Charles Lakin to create a project that would detail those experiences.

“Charlie Lakin and the center are known throughout the country for their work with the developmentally disabled,” said Steve Holmes, administrative coordinator for the Self-Advocacy Association of New York, a nonprofit organization that helps the developmentally disabled.

Jerry Smith, media producer for the center, said he hopes to record the experiences of developmentally disabled people during a handful of trips to New York. The association will help Smith find people to interview.

“There are people who were in the building and got out safely,” Holmes said. “There were people who saw the planes hit the buildings. They want to share what they feel, just like everyone else.”

Hayden said it is important to recognize developmentally disabled people as people affected by the attacks without pitying them for their disabilities.

“This isn’t a story about the poor people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities, and because they’re in this situation they’re more pitiful than everyone else,” she said. “They are just like everyone else.”

Hayden will create a research report to accompany the video that will examine the care system provided to developmentally disabled people after the attacks.

She said care organizations such as the Manhattan Office of Mental Retardation responded admirably to the attacks, guiding developmentally disabled people out of ground zero and housing people whose homes were blocked off after the towers fell.

Smith said he expects to start the project in January and finish it in May. The grant covers the expenses of 500 copies of the video, which Smith will distribute to media outlets in hopes of getting airtime. He said he aims to see his segment on PBS.

“My hope is that it will be of interest outside of the University and the developmentally disabled arena,” Smith said. “This is an opportunity to remind people that there are many people with disabilities, and their stories need to be told.”

Amy Hackbarth welcomes comments at [email protected]