Well, let me see, where do I begin?
In 2001, the year I began working in the disability field, was the first time I heard and learned about the various disability programs in the CNMI, as I was a teacher prior. As I began working with our fine folks in the disability related offices in the CNMI, I began to realize that we have great potential because of the people, and the skills they bring to the table. Slowly but surely, our collaboration began, and continued.
In 2004, the CNMI Tri Agency group collaborated and met with the heads of the Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) in Hawaii. The Tri-Agency is made up of three entities, the Northern Marianas Protection & Advocacy Systems, Inc. (NMPASI), Council on Developmental Disabilities (CDD) and the University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities out of the Northern Marianas College. The Tri-Agency met with counterparts from American Samoa, Guam and Hawaii with the ADD. The ADD expressed their pleasure with the CNMI’s level of collaboration.
In 2009, the collaboration reached a new high when the disability related organizations came together to support the Autism Society of the CNMI (ASCNMI), which was a parent support group at the time, as well as an agent for promoting autism awareness. With the support of the Tri-Agencies group collaborating with the CNMI Public School System’s Special Education Program, and an NMC student Jan Reyes, we were able to pull off the first Quiz Nite with over 120 participants and the first Hot Dog Walk and Family Fun Day for Autism Awareness.
In 2012, more disability related agencies got together including the tri-agencies, ASCNMI, the Center for Living Independently (CLI), the Independent Living Group out of CLI, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, and self-advocates participated in a gathering in Honolulu by the Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) to promote the creation of a grassroots self-advocacy group in the CNMI. Another level of collaboration was reached with this event as the CNMI showed just how well we work together, and was evident to the ADD. The result was the creation of the CNMI V.O.I.C.E.S. (Very Outspoken Individuals Can Each Succeed) with Chapters on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. Today, the CNMI VOICES chapters are active and push for change and inclusion, as they promote their rights through self-advocacy and awareness in our islands.
In 2015, another milestone was reached as far as collaboration by our disability related agencies with the official creation of a coalition called the CNMI Disability Network Partners (DNP) in October during the aftermath of Super Typhoon Soudelor. The DNP has over a dozen member agencies including but not limited to:
1. The CNMI Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR)
2. The CNMI Office of Transportation Authority (COTA)
3. The Center for Living Independently (CLI)
4. The Independent Living Group (ILG)
5. The CNMI Tri-Agencies (CDD, UCEDD, & NMPASI)
6. The Statewide Independent Living Center (SILC)
7. The State Rehabilitation Council (SRC)
8. The Special Education Program (SPED)
9. The CNMI Public School System (PSS)
10. The Autism Society of the CNMI (ASCNMI)
11. The Children with Special Medical Needs Program (CSMNP)
12. The Maternal Child Health Program (MCH)
13. The CNMI Respite Care Program (CRSP)
14. The CNMI V.O.I.C.E.S. Self Advocacy Group Saipan and Tinian Chapters (Very Outspoken Individuals Can Each Succeed)
15. The Pinnacle Staffing Company
The DNP operates under the following three goals which were proposed by Floyd Masga of UCEDD. These goals were adopted unanimously by the founding members of the DNP on November 19th, 2015, at the NMPASI Conference Room in Gualo Rai. They are as follows:
1. To partner or support each other in sanctioned events and activities.
2. Reach out and provide services to as many individuals as possible.
3. Be the forefront in support of disability rights in the Commonwealth.
On Monday March 7th to the 9th 2016 at the World Resort’s Taga Room, the culmination of years of collaboration by your disability related organizations will come together with this three day event. The CNMI Office of Vocational Rehabilitation usually celebrates the National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) in October, but due to Soudelor last year, it was postponed. The Council on Developmental Disabilities also has an awareness month in March called the Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (DDAM). Because of our continuing teamwork, OVR and CDD have agreed to share the month of March 2016 as their joint awareness month. So, for the first time ever, the two awareness months, NDEAM and DDAM, were put together and the DNP came up with the first ever Developmental Disabilities Employment Awareness Month (DDEAM)! This disability employment awareness conference is the biggest effort so far by your DNP. It will have many topics and presenter panels including but not limited to: Information on Disability Awareness and Etiquette, Individualized Education Plans, Individualized Plans for Employment, 504 Plans, The Americans with Disabilities Act, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, The Rehabilitation Act, Workforce Investment Opportunity Act, Tax Incentives, Self-Advocacy, The CNMI Workforce panelist presentations and so on. So don’t hesitate as seating is limited. To register, call OVR at 322-6537 or 8 to register with Vai or Maggie for this first time event!
For more on DDEAM and or disability related issues, please do not hesitate to call NMPASI at 235-7273 or 4, TTY or Fax at 235-7275, or online at www.nmpasi.org.
Thank you for your time and hope to see you at World Resort on Monday!
Happy first ever, Developmental Disabilities Employment Awareness Month!
Thomas M. Thornburgh
DDEAM Committee secretary
Disability Network Partners