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National Service and Inclusion Project

Inclusion: The active engagement of people with disabilities as service members in all levels of national and community service

Visit NSIP's sister site The National Service to Employment Project (NextSTEP)


Photo of Arline Shier Participants: Arline Shier

Program: Central Vermont Council on Aging (Neighbor to Neighbor)
Service: Engages youth and community volunteers in a range of activities to keep elders and persons with disabilities living as independently as possible; Plans and facilitates connections between elders and youth in her community: has conducted disability awareness training for other AmeriCorps programs in Vermont.

Click here to read some of Arline's writing

Interview with Arline Shier, December, 2000



1. INTRODUCTION:              real audio clip icon

My name is Arlene Shier and I’m working with a Neighbor-to-Neighbor Americorps program coming from the Council on Aging in central Vermont based in Barre. I’m working in the town of Williamstown, working with elders and youth, trying to form a bridge so that each can gain the knowledge and wisdom from the other. I’m working on a lot of successful aging issues. I’m working in Williamstown Square which is a housing project for the elderly and disabled. ..I am the disabled. Mostly everyone here is elderly….Basically what I’m doing is I’m trying to create a situation where people can get the services that they need so that they don’t need to go into a nursing home, unless they choose to. It’s to give people independence and to give them choices, and to make them aware of their choices.

2. DISABILITY AWARENESS:              real audio clip icon

EMILY MILLER: How did you find out about AmeriCorps and get involved?

ARLINE SHIER: I had been looking for employment for about 4 years and was working with Weber, [a vocational rehabilitation service for people with disabilities], trying to find something. They told me that I was not employable because I have transportation barriers and Medicaid barriers. I was waiting with baited breath in order to be able to become part of the program with the work incentives of being able to keep your Medicaid or buy into it. It came through, and I still did not qualify. I could get a job that would only pay me bare minimum.. And my transportation costs were more than what I would make, and I would end up taking $54 out of my disability check in order to be able to make ends meet (laugh), in order to be able to work.

EMILY MILLER: It sounds like employment disincentive!

ARLINE SHIER: Very much so, very much so, and anyway, I started working with Weber and they told me of a position that was available and that they were... looking you know, toward people with disabilities. I went for an interview, and of course was hired, and I’ve been delighted with it ever since.

EMILY MILLER: Were some of the barriers that existed with employment present also with the [living allowance] volunteer work with AmeriCorps?…In terms of the cost of transportation or money taken out of disability?

ARLINE SHIER: That hasn’t happened yet because I am allowed a 9 month trial work period and beyond that I’m allowed another 3 months to see if its gonna work before my disability is touched. I have been able to buy into Medicaid just this week. It’s taken a while because the people who deal with it in the system did not know how. They weren’t aware of the new law that was passed by the Federal Government that allows me to buy into Medicaid.

EMILY MILLER:What was appealing about AmeriCorps and this program [Neighbor to Neighbor] specifically for you?

ARLINE SHIER: For me personally it was the idea that I had no transportation barriers. I live in Williamstown Square and that’s the people that I serve. So I have my office in my home. And also any rides that I need, I get mileage through AmeriCorps, and all I need to do is pay my driver by the hour, which is probably the bigger portion of my transportation costs. But because I am on Disability and getting a living stipend, I can afford to pay the driver. If I was on one or the other, I would not be able to afford it. It’s the combination of the two that makes it possible.

3. ADVICE TO PROGRAMS 1:             real audio clip icon

EMILY MILLER: For program coordinators to understand what their resources are where they can go to get more information to assist members with disability who are receiving disability.

ARLINE SHIER: I was told to find my own answers because they didn’t know anything about it. I told them that I didn’t know whether or not I’d be able to take the whole stipend because I didn’t know what it would do to my benefits. I knew that I had a 9 month trial period and then a three month grace period. And I figured that I could use it to the max because I would end up spending more time on the program because of the fact that I am out sick.

[In order to get the 9 month trial period of keeping my benefits] I have to send my living [allowance check] stubs to Social Security and they will keep track of how close I am coming to what my maximum is. If I was working half-time or part-time I would be able to do it without getting involved with my disability at all. You are allowed to make $699 before you need to report it to social security for your disability. Of course I’m making more than that but this was the only job that was open to me. I wanted to work so badly I told myself, “I’ll take my chances and see where it takes me.”

4. SERVICE:              real audio clip icon

ARLINE SHIER: I decided that what I needed to do was get out there and be present, and show them that disabled people are here, that we are visible, that we are a contributing factor to the community. We want the opportunity to prove ourselves. We all have gifts. And AmeriCorps has finally given me my opportunity to do something for others, to become a useful member of society, to pay taxes, to help other people, and also to become visible again myself.

EMILY MILLER: What else should people know about you?

ARLINE SHIER: I just wish that everyone could feel as good as I do about myself at this point…that I am out there. I’m out there and I’m …oh it's just a wonderful, wonderful feeling. I feel as though I’m worth something; I’m useful; I’m helping others people and really that to me is what life is all about, always has been. And I have found that my regional director is very good as far as helping build self-esteem. She helps me solve any problem that I might have. I just feel like a whole new person. I feel as though it’s been a rebirth, not of who I was and who I am today, but it’s just a rebirth of all my abilities coming into play again.

5. ADVICE TO PROGRAMS 2:              real audio clip icon

EMILY MILLER: If the Corporation for National Service came to you and said: we want to increase the participation of people with disabilities we want to benefit from the skills of those who are not engaged in our programs. How should we do this?

ARLINE SHIER: Actively seek them out. Go to your voc[cational rehab[ilitation] places. Contact Centers for Independent Living. Find them.

EMILY MILLER: They need to reach out to disability organizations?

ARLINE SHIER: Yes. And maybe where they have “equal opportunity employment,” maybe make those in bolder letters in their ads. Or say “Inclusive Employment. Employment for all.” Just so that people would get the idea. It’s society again. People need to feel good about themselves in order to feel that they have something to contribute. And when society keeps telling them that they are worthless that they’re invisible its not going to help. It’s not going to make it happen.

EMILY MILLER: So part of reaching out to people with disabilities is saying, “we want to benefit from your skills. You have skills.”

ARLINE SHIER: That’s right. It’s the same identical thing as the elders in the community that feel isolated and alone and worthless, that they too have more wisdom underneath their fingernails than a lot of people who are walking around who are not elderly or disabled. And they need to be counted; they need to be there; and they need to be visible. The same people that we are trying to help are the people who are giving us the answers.

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©The National Service Inclusion Project (NSIP) is a training and technical assistance provider on disability inclusion. NSIP partners with the Association on University Centers on Disability, National Council on Independent Living, Association on Higher Education and Disability and National Down Syndrome Congress to build connections between disability organizations and all CNCS grantees, including national directs, to increase the participation of people with disabilities in national service.