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Onondaga County will vote on Molinaro's special needs initiative, 'Think Differently'

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Onondaga County Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon (center) with Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro (right).

The Onondaga County Legislature will vote on a resolution at their next session, that would promote awareness and acceptance of individuals with special needs. More than 100 communities have embraced the "Think Differently"initiative since it was launched by Republican gubernatorial candidate and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro in 2015.

Speaking in Syracuse last week, Molinaro said too often, individuals with developmental disabilities feel left out and marginalized by those not addressing their concerns.

“I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity as county executive, to change the dialogue and to encourage businesses, organizations, communities and government to break down barriers, to embrace everyone of every ability and to ensure that those families trying to support their friend, family member, child or parent living with a disability, knew that we were going to fight for them,” Molinaro said.

Molinaro, the father of a 14-year-old daughter on the autism spectrum, said the initiative can be as simple as accommodating basic ADA compliance or as bold as hosting a Special Olympics.

In Dutchess County, he said they have appointed a deputy commissioner of developmental disabilities, adopted special education programs, and hold a disabilities day at their county fair, where the lights and sounds are turned off on the midway. 

“It’s not about money," Molinaro said. "You choose what to make of it. Just starting by encouraging people to look and think differently at those who are living with disabilities, you change minds, you change hearts, you change lives. That’s what’s valuable.”

Onondaga County Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon, who is sponsoring the resolution, said he will bring the item to a committee to determine what changes can be made within county government first, before collaborating with partners in the private sector, community college and school districts.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.