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How I Self-Direct: Meet Christina Paz

All her life, Christina Paz, 28, from Huntington Station, has dreamt of working for the F.B.I. She hopes that finally having Self-Direction staff will help her to begin a career in criminal justice.

“I wanted to combine my two loves – criminal justice and computer technology,” Christina said.Christina Paz poses in front of a Suffolk County Police vehicle

The former Manhattan native has Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair. With a goal of increasing independence while navigating her community, Christina applied for Self-Direction through Citizens Options Unlimited two years ago.

What is Self-Direction?
Anyone who is eligible for OPWDD services and enrolled in the Home- and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Waiver can choose to self-direct their services. Self-Direction allows people the opportunity to hire their own support staff. A person can choose if they want an agency to help them to self-direct or if they would like to manage their own budget and staff with help from a Fiscal Intermediary and Support Broker.

In that time, Christina has struggled to find community habilitation staff. As a result, she has only been able to take advantage of portions of her Self-Direction budget, like a gym membership at her local YMCA, camp, physical therapy, software related to her disability, staff advertising/recruitment costs, and publicly available training courses.

“I recently used Self-Direction to pay for a crash course on Python coding,” Christina said.

The main support Christina needed was a Community Habilitation Direct Support Professional (DSP). After months of searching online and hanging up flyers across town, Christina finally found someone to support her ―a young woman named Suzy.

“It’s been hard to find staff,” Christina said. “It was a long process, but it’s worth it.”

The two hope to begin working together before the summer ends.

Education and Employment Background

Prior to using Self-Direction, the only support Christina had was her father, who assisted her through the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP), a Medicaid program that allows you to pick a family member or friend to care for you.

Her father attended college with her ― first at Suffolk Community College then at Farmingdale College, where Christina received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Christina was on the Honor Society at her high school, the Henry Alberton Charter School and at Suffolk Community College.

Christina Paz at her graduation“I don’t want to rely on my parents forever,” she said. “I love Dad dearly, but sometimes I want to be social without him. Self-Direction gives me a chance to go out without him.”

While in school, Christina used adaptive technologies and the support of her father to make it through her studies. Due to her Cerebral Palsy, which leaves her spastic and limits functioning in her arms and legs, Christina cannot write or type fast, so her father would write her notes. She also used speech-to-text software to complete assignments.

The 2019 college graduate has since been working with Adult Career and Continuing Education Services-Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR), a New York State Education Department Vocational Rehabilitation program that assists people with disabilities to achieve and maintain employment through training, education, rehabilitation, and career development.

The program assisted Christina with her resume, interview coaching, counseling, and a skills evaluation. After her evaluation is complete, the program will help Christina look for jobs she’s interested in and complete applications.

ACCES-VR will also make sure that Christina applies for accessible jobs and, when the time comes, help her to inform her new boss of which accommodations are needed for her to succeed in her new role.

“I hope I have a boss with an open mind, who’s willing to work with disabled people,” Christina said. As for her future colleagues, “I hope they see that I’m not just a wheelchair. I’m a person,” she said.

The Future is All Mine, and it’s Bright

After Suzy, Community Habilitation Direct Support Professional (DSP), finalizes all of her employment requirements, the two will begin getting out into the community.

“I think we’ll hit it off – we’re both young and want to explore the world together,” Christina said.

Christina hopes that with the support of her new staff member, she can master independence in several areas of her life.

“I think it’s [Self-Direction] an awesome opportunity for people who want to be part of society, but don’t know how to start. It gives you a sense of independence because you’ll get to work on skills you actually want to work on.”

Christina looks forward to attending cooking classes and getting her driver’s permit.

“I’ve always wanted to cook independently: nothing crazy, but easy meals I can make for myself,” she said.

Christina hopes to one day have her driver’s license and an adaptive minivan. She cannot wait to drive to the beach, the movies, or back to her roots in the city.

In the meantime, Christina wants to begin using public transportation, as opposed to always having to take the SCAT bus. One day, she’ll easily take the LIRR to go to work, or a concert in the city (she just saw Ed Sheeran!), to visit family and friends, or to go on a date.

“I’ll be able to go places I never even considered once I get my Self-Direction staff,” she said.

One day, she hopes to also move out of her parent’s house and into an apartment subsidy through Self-Direction.

“I want to live a fulfilling life. I want to experience life like everyone else,” she said. “I don’t consider myself in a wheelchair. I’m so much more. If you think like that, it limits you.”

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