Former Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg, a Long Beach Democrat who often advocated on behalf of the developmentally disabled during his 25 years in office, has created a nonprofit with his wife that will provide an online “resource center” for the families and caregivers of those with special needs.
Weisenberg and his wife, Ellen, are the parents of a developmentally disabled son, Ricky. The couple’s experience navigating through various agencies and programs to find the best care for their son was part of the inspiration behind creating the Harvey and Ellen Weisenberg Special Needs Resource Corp., the retired lawmaker said in an interview Monday.
In February, the nonprofit will launch a free smartphone app that will provide users with information about social service programs and agencies catering to special needs residents. The app will also provide access to laws aimed at protecting the developmentally disabled and feature video interviews with special needs families sharing their experiences, Weisenberg said.
“I know what it’s like not to have the resources available to make the decisions that are best for your family,” Weisenberg said.
Weisenberg, who retired from office in 2014, built a reputation as a champion for the disabled during his time in Albany, often sponsoring legislation aimed at improving services available to special needs families and speaking out against funding cuts for social service programs.
Though he is no longer in public office, Weisenberg said he continues to receive calls from people looking for help and advice concerning their special needs children, which was another reason he and his wife decided to develop the virtual resource center.
“All the things I have learned from my own life’s experience, will be in this resource center,” Weisenberg said.
Weisenberg said he hopes the app empowers families who may be unaware of their rights under laws such as the American Disabilities Act or Jonathan’s Law, a measure he sponsored that was signed into state law in 2007, which requires special-needs facilities to notify families of abuse allegations involving their loved-one.
David E. Feldman, program director for the nonprofit, said they hope to eventually expand the app to provide information about programs and laws in other states.
“Our goal is to first serve the citizens of New York State, especially the families and caregivers of people with developmental disabilities,” Feldman said. “From there we will branch out to other disabilities and, we hope, to other states.”
The organization was incorporated and registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in New York last Nov. 30, Feldman said.