Coming Together To ‘Think Differently’

A Legislative Column From Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh (R,C,I,Ref-Ballston)

When was the last time that you took a moment to consider ways you could change your perspective on the world around you and how that might make a difference for someone in need? Those of us with family members, friends and loved ones with special needs are all too aware of the day-to-day challenges that these individuals face, but what if we could create a welcoming and supportive environment for this population by simply changing our mindset and looking past our differences?

Now, a Dutchess County initiative is aiming to do just that, and since its launch in 2015, over 60 municipalities have accepted the challenge to “Think DIFFERNENTLY’ about our neighbors living with the challenges of a disability. The program’s resolutions focus on increasing accessibility, promoting inclusive and family-friendly events, and educating members of the business, law enforcement and medical communities on the most effective ways to interact and communicate with individuals with special needs. The results have been overwhelmingly positive and mutually beneficial for individuals of all abilities.

On Wednesday, January 24, I had the honor of hosting a community forum at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library alongside Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, the creator of the “Think DIFFERENTLY” initiative, to discuss the program and the difference it has made across the state. The event brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, including local town supervisors, law enforcement agencies, educators and county officials, as well as representatives from several local organizations, including Southern Saratoga YMCA, the Saratoga County Fair, the Southern Saratoga Chamber of Commerce and the Capital District Chamber for a productive conversation on how we can come together in support of our local special needs community.

I’d like to thank County Executive Molinaro for taking the time to travel to the Capital District and share this program with us. After listening to his energetic and passionate remarks and seeing his inspiring dedication to this worthy cause, it is no wonder that this program has achieved so much over the past three years. His enthusiasm was matched by the forum’s attendees, and if this event is any indication, it’s clear that our community is more than ready to “Think DIFFERENTLY.”

I’m happy to announce that we’ve already begun working to implement “Think DIFFERENTLY” accessible and family-friendly events here in Saratoga and Schenectady Counties. I’m looking forward to working with Jeff Townsend and his team at the Saratoga County Fair to arrange for an early admission date this summer for families of individuals with special needs. Additionally, my office is seeking opportunities to host red carpet movie screenings, which will alter many factors of the screening that would otherwise prevent families from attending.

While we’ve certainly gotten off to a good start, there is still much work to be done if our community truly wants to “Think DIFFERENTLY,” and we need your help to make that happen. If you have any ideas about how we can support our special needs community, or you’d like to learn more about this initiative, please do not hesitate to contact my Albany office at (518) 455-5772. I am confident that together, we can rise to this challenge and unite in a commitment to “Think DIFFERENTLY.”