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Islip councilman's effort to help disabled hits close to home

James O'Connor says having an autistic son inspired him to take the lead in reviving the town's disabilities advisory board.

Islip Councilman James O'Connor displays artwork done by

Islip Councilman James O'Connor displays artwork done by his son, who has autism, at his office in town hall. Photo Credit: Daniel Goodrich

An Islip councilman charged with reviving an advisory board for the disabled hopes to lean on his life experiences raising his autistic son to bring change.

"It's an area that I know a lot about and something I would like to share my knowledge, my abilities and my enthusiasm to try and do something positive," said James O'Connor, chairman of the Town of Islip Americans with Disabilities Advisory Board.   

O'Connor,  whose 22-year-old son was diagnosed with autism at age 2, was named as the advisory board's chairman on Aug. 21 by Supervisor Angie Carpenter. The councilman spoke recently from his town hall office, which proudly displays his son Matthew's artwork. 

"The supervisor of the board, when I was first elected, understood I had a child with a disability," said O'Connor, who began his first term in January. "She asked me if I would be willing to take on the assignment. ... We can serve as a vigilant reminder to the town that there is a disabled community here in the town of Islip and we need to take their needs into account."

The town initially created the advisory board in October 2015. It held no more than four meetings between February 2016 and February 2017, he said, and became "dormant" when its former chairwoman retired.

O'Connor, 55, said some of the goals for the advisory board could include securing grants to make town parks more accessible for the disabled, publicizing programs available in Islip for special-needs residents, and working with the business community to help disabled people obtain jobs.

He pointed to the construction of two ramps at the newly opened Olympic-sized pool at the Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood as the type of positive change the board can bring.

“The pool has ramps on two different locations and chairs to allow the disabled to access the pool,” O’Connor said. “It’s a small thing, but not so small if you’re trying to get around town in a (wheel) chair.”

Douglas King, 46, of Central Islip, was one of the 14 members of the former advisory board. King, who was born with spina bifida, will remain on the board.

"We have new blood this time," King said. "It's going in the right direction where everybody will be able to work together and get things accomplished."

The advisory board has five new members in addition to O’Connor. The 14 board members will be unpaid and serve two-year terms.

Some of the board members are disabled, have children or loved ones who are disabled, or manage programs to assist the disabled, O’Connor said.

New member Raymond Samson, 52, of Brightwaters, has a 12-year-old son with Down syndrome and is president of the nonprofit Challenger Athletics in Bay Shore. It helps physically and mentally disabled people participate in sports such as lacrosse, basketball, flag football, yoga and surfing.

“Having a child with a disability, you become acutely aware of things that could be done differently or slightly better,” Samson said. “This board gives us the opportunity to do that.”

Goals for the Town of Islip Americans with Disabilities Advisory Board:

  • Review and improve bylaws
  • Create a mission statement
  • Secure grants to make Islip parks more accessible for the disabled
  • Publicize programs in Islip for the disabled
  • Work with businesses to help disabled residents land jobs 

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