ARISE Opens a World of Possibilities for Those with Disabilities

The organization provides opportunities so that people with disabilities can live freely and independently in the community

By Steve Yablonski

ARISE is a nonprofit, community-based organization that works to ensure that everyone, regardless of disability, has the power to make life choices and achieve their dreams.

Navigating the world of disability services can often be confusing and overwhelming for many families.

Since 1979, ARISE has provided opportunities so that people with disabilities can live freely and independently in the community.

It all started in Onondaga County. That’s where the main office is located.

“As a designated non-residential independent living center, we are organized and directed by people with disabilities,” said Tania S. Anderson, chief executive officer. “If you have just a simple question or don’t know where else to start, ARISE can help.”

“A number of our staff does have some kind of disability. Our board chairman has a disability,” added Bill Pfohl, community engagement coordinator. “Who better understands the needs of a disabled person than a disabled person?”

Everything ARISE does is based on the independent living philosophy, the belief that people with disabilities have a right to self-determination, the freedom to make choices and work toward achieving personal goals and systems change, Anderson explained.

Each year, ARISE serves more than 7,000 people from its offices serving five Central New York counties: Onondaga, Oswego, Madison, Cayuga and Seneca.

The Cayuga County satellite office also covers Seneca County.

Many of the services ARISE offers are available to people of all ages who have all types of disabilities. Those services include things like ramp construction, ADA accessibility assessments in homes and buildings, help finding housing for people with disabilities, and an adaptive design service that creates specialty products that serve people with disabilities.

A disability can mean something such as using a wheelchair or cane or other aid, according to Pfohl.

“When people think of ‘disabled,’ they think of things like blindness or being confined to a wheelchair,” he said. “But it’s so much more than that. It’s a whole spectrum. According to the domestic violence record, if someone is hurt in an accident and they need rehab for six months, we can help. They need assistance for that time with things like getting in and out of bed or taking a bath. The ‘disability’ probably won’t last longer than six months, but we can help during that time.”

“We also have many services for senior citizens and people with disabilities to ensure that they can live safely in their homes in the community. ARISE offers respite for families and programs for people with traumatic brain injuries,” Anderson said. “Our services include education advocacy, employment programs, independent living skills training and habilitation programs.”

“Our mental health services have been in high demand during the pandemic,” she added. “Our education advocacy services also have been in high demand during this period of remote learning.”

During the pandemic, they have provided mental health services online for people unable to have a face to face meeting. “It’s been a big help,” Pfohl said.

“Many people benefit from our outpatient mental health services and school-based mental health programs. Being an independent living center, it is important we emphasize services and programs that help people grow socially and emotionally,” Anderson agreed.

ARISE offers recreation and arts programs like ARISE and Ski, ARISE at the Farm and social and support groups. It also encourages artistic expression through its arts and literary magazine, UNIQUE, which is published annually.

Last year, it was able to offer a summer camp experience.

“We had to wait for a thumbs up from the state; there were procedures to follow. It was outside and we were able to do it safely,” Pfohl said. “ARISE and Ski was canceled last year due to the pandemic. We wanted to ensure everyone was safe. You have to be a lot closer than six feet when you’re helping someone ski. It was a great program. There were a lot of smiles.”

ARISE at the Farm is an accessible, inclusive recreation center located on a 77-acre working horse farm in Chittenango.

Focused on the needs and interests of individuals with disabilities in the Central New York region, ARISE at the Farm is open throughout the year and offers a variety of recreational activities. From therapeutic horseback riding to summer camps, an accessible fishing pond and a high ropes course, all ARISE at the Farm programs are inclusive and welcome people of all abilities.

They are wrapping up a first step in a large capital improvement project at ARISE at the Farm in Madison County. “We are starting a project to expand our very successful ramp program in Oswego County into Madison and Cayuga counties,” Anderson said.

“Our funding sources are a diverse mix of grants, donations and fee-for-service payments from federal, state and local sources,” Anderson explained. “All our programs are consumer-directed, maximizing choice and opportunities for the people we serve.”

“We help people live independently. We help with employment­­—writing resumes, assist with schools and a lot of different areas,” Pfohl said. “The adaptive design program helps people who have trouble with things like writing, to be able to hold a pen, for example.”

Recently, the program created a “wheelchair” for a very young child.

“The design team created something to allow Grant, a Central New York toddler, to become more independent. He was too small for a conventional wheelchair. So, they adapted and software enhanced a Wild Thing (child’s toy from Fisher-Price).”

For more information on ARISE, call 315-472-3171 or visit

Photo: Grant Trout, 3, with his father, Jon, and his mother, Christina, enjoying his redesigned Fisher-Price “Wild Thing” toy.