Lawrence Seiler arrives by bus at the Onion River Community Access (ORCA) studios on the hill above downtown Montpelier in plenty of time to tape his 12:30 p.m. TV program, “Abled and On Air.” Today’s guest is Joanne Seigel from the Rose F. Kennedy Center in the Bronx, which serves people with disabilities. His program focuses on the needs, concerns, and achievements of the differently abled.
“When I hear disability, I think about what we are NOT able to do. We need to focus on the abilities of people, not the disabilities. I’ve learned to adapt,” Seiler said. He credits his family with supporting his special needs, which include visual impairment, epilepsy, and cerebral palsy. “My mother worked as a nurse. She and many of my family who live in Israel do a good job with people with disabilities.”
Seiler was born in the Bronx, and attended a special education school, was eventually mainstreamed, and is proud of earning an associate degree at LaGuardia Community College, and then his first bachelor’s degree in journalism at Lehman College. He credits a professor there, J.J. Gonzalez, with getting him his first break, an internship at the public access BronxNet. “He gave me a camera and a mic and said, ‘Go out and get me a story.’ It was a baptism by fire.” Later, with more training and confidence, Seiler helped produce a program “Special People, Special Issues” and found his life’s work: using journalism to help others.
Married ten years, Seiler and his wife Arline moved from the Brooklyn, NY to Montpelier in 2015. “ORCA has been great to us, and Vermont has better employment opportunities.” He recognizes Mayor Anne Watson for her advocacy, along with agencies in the area, to serve people in need. “All of us need more compassion, including politicians, to act instead of making empty promises and spending money on guns. Everyone needs to care. But we are making progress.” He praises the Association for the Blind and the other sponsors for “Abled and On Air,” and emphasizes the old saw about teaching a person to fish, to help them if they need help.
Arline Seiler cites some specific needs: jobs, transportation, from how to turn on the oven up to how to create your own job. She says, “Someone gave me a chance once, and that has made the difference.” The two met at a special needs camp as children.
Lawence Seiler reviews the troubling history of caring for the disabled in the United States, citing the time in the 1960s where such children were kept out of sight, or warehoused in the 1970s. After journalists reported on the conditions at Willowbrook State School in Staten Island, it was called a “snakepit” by Robert Kennedy, which spurred reforms. Lawrence has friends who were there.
He sees progress in Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) legislation and hopes that “People will get out of their mindset, using the ‘R’ word, which I hate. There is still work to be done.” He points to Hollywood and the need to hire more people with special needs in front of or in back of the camera. “ABC’s ‘The Good Doctor’ features a man with autism. Why not hire an actual autistic person?”
Lawence Seiler’s goals for the future are to expand media offerings for people with disabilities, writing grants to train them in news and media. He is now working for a second bachelor’s degree at Southern New Hampshire University in history and communications and hopes to continue on to a master’s degree.
In “God Wants Me to Make Lemonade,” his March, 2021 article for “Aish,” a Jewish newsletter, after winning first place from the ADA Achievement Awards in media from United Cerebral Palsy, Lawrence concludes, “The lemonade keeps getting sweeter over time. Here’s the recipe: whatever life throws at you, just use it to make yourself stronger and never give up.”
You can find “Abled and On Air” at orcamedia.net