Irvington Theater to Present Free Event on Special Needs Self-Advocates April 12

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The Irvington Town Hall (ITHT) Commission will present its final diversity series event of the 2018-2019 season, “Special Needs: Self-Advocate Stories,” on Friday, April 12 at 7:30 p.m.

The event will feature speakers discussing what it is like to self-advocate – not only the challenges that they face, but ways in which they are improving their own lives and the lives of others.

Kim Gilligan, the ITHT commissioner heading up the series, said this event was important to provide an alternative narrative for those with special needs.

“When it comes to people with special needs, there are a limited number of narratives out there,” Gilligan said. “Too often, you only hear about some kind of heroic deed rather than the real, day-to-day stories of people’s lives. It was important to us — as it was for all our diversity series events — to hear from people themselves. We wanted to give them an opportunity to share their lives in their own words. I hope that families join us for this event, and that people with special needs attend.”

Admission to “Special Needs: Self-Advocate Stories” is free.

One of the speakers, Rachel Flamm, a Manhattaville College junior from Ardsley, was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome at 19 months old.  Flamm said, “I wanted to share my story to encourage people to push the boundaries of what other people say they can or can’t do.”

Michael Gilberg, who is on the autism spectrum and has years of experience as a special education and disability rights lawyer and advocate, said, “I always appreciate the chance to tell my story and inspire others with disabilities.”

Brendan Klein of Pleasantville, the youth advocacy and engagement coordinator at the Westchester Institute for Human Development, is interested in telling people how he learned to self-advocate and use social media to meet lots of friends and do fun activities in Westchester County. “I’m looking forward to seeing everyone there.”

Other speakers include Jiovante “Joe” Guaba, a senior varsity football player at Sleepy Hollow High School who started as an athlete for the school’s Special Olympics Pioneer team, and Laura Mrugalski, a hard-of-hearing, speech/language therapist who has worked with deaf and hard-of-hearing students at the New York School for the Deaf since 2012.

Gilligan said the success of the first two diversity events shows that members of the rivertowns community are interested and engaged in hearing from voices whose experiences might be different from their own.

“I am proud we brought these conversations onto the theater stage; but it’s important to remember that the people who came to watch these events had fun,” Gilligan said. “Our speakers are storytellers, just like the artists who come and share their plays, movies, comedy, and music.”

“Special Needs: Self-Advocate Stories” follows February’s “Lift the Lamp,” which featured immigrant stories, and “My Identity Is Not Your Opinion,” stories from transgender and nonbinary individuals. The series will be back for the 2019-2020 season.

“When we started the series, we knew it was a good fit for the mission of the theater,” Gilligan said. “But we didn’t know what to expect. We are thrilled so many people have come out to hear these stories, and we are excited to present more stories like these next season.”

For information, visit www.irvingtontheater.com. This event will be signed for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

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