The Able newspaper in October 2023.

The Able newspaper in October 2023. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The remarkable life of Brooke Ellison, the disabled Stony Brook University bioethicist who died recently at age 45, is an inspiration to all Long Islanders, especially the disability community. Her example is a reminder that we must always be attentive to the hopes, needs and voices of the more than 500,000 adults and children living here with some form of disability.

As a young girl, Ellison was struck by a car and paralyzed. Yet with the help of her family, she became the first quadriplegic person to graduate from Harvard University. Later at Stony Brook, she became an advocate for stem cell research — hoping it might develop therapies for spinal cord injuries like her own — and pushed to make health care accessible to those most in need.

In her extraordinary life, Ellison gave speeches, ran for the State Senate, and saw her life made into a 2004 movie directed by Christopher Reeve, who suffered a paralyzing accident of his own.

But unlike Ellison, not every Long Islander with a disability has the ability or opportunity to have a strong voice in our society. That's why continued coverage of these issues by Able Newspaper, which recently relaunched under new nonprofit ownership, is so important. Its previous publisher, Angela Miele Melledy, who founded Able Newspaper as a voice for the disability community in 1991, retired in October. It was taken over by the Albertson-based Viscardi Center, as part of the nonprofit's overall commitment to educate, employ and empower people with disabilities.

Able Newspaper’s new editor is Emily Ladau, 32, from West Babylon, who was born with Larsen syndrome, a rare genetic physical disability that affects the development of bones throughout the body. “What has always been most important to me is ensuring I am making space for a wide range of voices and perspectives,” Ladau explained. She also wants the newspaper, through fresh and original reporting, to “dismantle the biases” that some have about people with disabilities. It’s a worthy goal.

Some 61 million Americans have a disability, including 3,895,000 in New York — about 25% of the population. A wide range of people, many of them elderly, have functional disabilities caused by a host of reasons, including injury and illness. Many have mobility issues in walking and climbing stairs. Others have cognition disabilities with serious difficulty concentrating. Still others have trouble with hearing and vision, dressing or bathing. In Suffolk, about 18% have a disability — 283,000 adults and children. Similarly, there are over 250,000 adults and children with disabilities in Nassau.

The passing of Ellison and the news of Able Newspaper’s new ownership reminds us of the importance of Long Island’s large population with disabilities and the continuing need to ensure that they have opportunities to thrive in an equitable community. 

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.


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