Mel Tanzman is passionately committed, both to the tenets of Independent Living both professionally and personally. He believes the critical issues facing people with disabilities include economic and employment equality; affordable and accessible housing; and access to quality, affordable health care.

From 1986 through early 1999, Mel was Director of Social Services and Director of Health Policy for the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (now United Spinal). His responsibilities combined direct services to severely disabled members with the goal of community integration and social service policy development and advocacy. He served on numerous task forces with all stakeholders regarding the future of long-term care in New York state. In recognition of his work in the area of Medicaid home care, Mel received an award from New York City’s Independent Living Centers in 1992 and was named a Brookdale Center for Aging Fellow in 1993.

Mel became the Executive Director of Westchester Disabled on the Move (WDOM) in May 1999. In this role, he was committed both to ensuring his center advocated vigorously for the rights and independence of people with disabilities at both the individual and systems level. At the center, Mel made sure his staff did everything they could to assist people who came to WDOM for assistance. He often worked with individuals directly, particularly those with the most complicated cases. He assisted numerous people in leaving institutinos and moving back home. As a director, he ensured his staff served consumers with the same level of commitment and passion.

As Executive Director, Mel led several advocacy campaigns to increase access to the community for people with disabilities in key areas. WDOM brought lawsuits against the Westchester County Board Of Elections over inaccessible polling sites, a movie theater chain over inaccessible stadium-style seating, and a local farmer’s market that blocked the only accessible parking spots for several municipal buildings. WDOM also successfully got the Yonkers Housing Authority to set aside a percentage of Housing Choice Vouchers for people in nursing homes who are ready to move home. This was before the NHTD waiver offered rental subsidies, and well before the Olmstead Housing Subsidy became available. This helped dozens of people transition into the community from nursing homes and move into permanent, accessible, affordable housing.

Mel serves on the board of the New York Association on Independent Living and chairs its Health Committee, which plays a key role in setting NYAIL’s Disability Priority Agenda and developing its response to the proposed executive budget. He lends his expertise to assist in advocacy efforts wherever possible.

In addition to his work with United Spinal, WDOM and NYAIL, Mel has served on the Board of Directors for Freedom Gardens and the Steering Committees for Westchester Disability Advocacy Partnership and Medicaid Matters New York. He also co-chaired the Westchester Long Term Care Council and was a member of the Disability In Action Singers. Thanks to his efforts, New Yorkers with disabilities have much to sing about today.

To watch Mel's award acceptance speech, click the video below: