Sandra sticking her tongue out at the camera, pictured from the chest up

In 1952, Vocational Rehabilitation evaluators advised 17-year-old Sandra Schnur to go into basket weaving.  She informed them that she wanted to go to college – a request that led her to be labeled “uncooperative.”   Despite this discouragement, Sandra earned both a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College and a master’s from New York University, both in counseling.

In an era when people with severe disabilities rarely left their homes or institutions, Sandra was determined to be part of the community.  She attended concerts, plays, movies, restaurants and special events, drawing on these experiences to write “New York With Ease,” a guidebook for navigating the Big Apple in a wheelchair.

In the late 1970s, New York City decided to contract personal care services out to private vendors. Recipients of these services feared they would be subject to “medical model” care and have little control over their own lives.  Sandra, then a city employee, teamed up with Marilyn Saviola, fellow disability advocate and 2018 inaugural Hall of Fame inductee, to write a series of position papers supporting self-direction in personal care services.  She also organized Marilyn and other fellow consumers for a demonstration at City Hall against the vendorization of services.

As one of the few managers with a disability in the city’s Department of Social Services (DSS), Sandra was able to persuade them to set up a self-directed care program if a minimum number of consumers could be recruited.  Sandra used private paratransit to promote the program in far-flung neighborhoods from the Bronx to Coney Island. 

When her agency was transferred to the Department of Transportation, Sandra was instrumental in getting the city to purchase its first accessible buses and create curb cuts and pedestrian ramps.  She also served on a committee overseeing the granting of wheelchair-accessible buses to community nonprofits.

In 1980, a core group of leaders including Marilyn Saviola, Muriel and Vincent Zgardowski, Ira Holland, Ed Litcher, Daniel Ginsburg, and Gertrude Scheler met with DSS administrators in Sandra’s office and negotiated the establishment of Concepts of Independence as an organization governed by a consumer Board of Directors.  DSS indicated a desire to have Sandra serve as Concepts’ executive director, but she declined because she wanted the freedom to advocate for self-directing home care consumers.  Instead, she served as its board president until her death in 1994.

As an advocate who also worked in City Hall, Sandra knew her way around both sides of the aisle and earned the trust of consumers and administrators alike.  Because of her ability to articulate the needs of the disability community to those in power, generations of individuals with disabilities have enjoyed the benefits of a self-directed, independent life.