A handful of Union College professors are spending their summer vacation learning how to build a housing project for the disabled.
But this isn’t just an academic discussion. For them, it’s personal.
Many members of the group have highly functioning disabled children. They’re trying to create a future for those teens, in hopes of giving them a more independent life than they could lead in a group home.
They’ve only just begun to discuss their ideas — so far they have held one meeting in which they hammered out the barest outline of a proposal — but they hope to fill in the details within six to eight weeks.
The goal is to develop a housing project that allows their children to move out and live independently — without winding up miserable and depressed in lonely apartments.
“What a lot of people do is they keep their children until they absolutely can’t anymore,” said Anthony Hynes, who has an autistic teenage son named Terrence. Hynes isn’t a full-time Union professor, but he lectures on entrepreneurism at the college. He is taking the lead on the project since he runs a nonprofit sports league for the disabled in his spare time.
He said a group home would ensure that his son isn’t lonely, but wouldn’t let him to live his life to the fullest. Too much would be done for him, Hynes said.
“There’s so much more to learn if you’re living on your own,” he said. “To get the most they can out of their lives, they need to be challenged.”
He’s also all too aware that he can’t keep Terrence at home forever.
“He could probably have a very nice life, but it’s not a typical life,” he said. “I want him to develop skills so when I’m gone, he can live a nice life.”
Hynes lives in Burnt Hills, but his son will probably never be able to drive. So Hynes has checked out every city in the region, and he’s decided that the only suitable place for his son to live is Schenectady.
“You can walk downtown. The library is close, opportunities for jobs are close — you can walk to a lot of places,” he said. “You can’t do that many places. And it has to be affordable. You can do all that in Schenectady.”
His son could live in a group home in the suburbs, but Hynes shudders at the thought.
“There’s no sidewalks, there’s nothing you can walk to that anyone would be interested in,” he said. “If the people living there are going to have experiences more than 100 feet from their front door, they have to be loaded into a bus or van and taken somewhere. I wouldn’t consider that to be as much of a life as being able to walk down the street and get a cup of coffee and a bagel.”
His son will be able to work and take care of himself. But Hynes is afraid that if Terrence simply gets an apartment in the middle of the city, he’ll wind up isolated and alone.
“That’s autism — you tend to live inside your own head. You need someone to pull you out of that,” Hynes said. “You need someone to say ‘hey, there’s a hockey game, do you want to go?’ Someone who will arrange transportation. Moderate support.”
He envisions a nonprofit running an apartment complex that would set aside a certain percentage of its units for the disabled. The rest of the units would be open to anyone, allowing the disabled to interact with the rest of the community rather than socializing only with other disabled residents.
He wants the project placed near Union College, in hopes of securing an arrangement with the college that would allow the residents to use Union’s athletic facilities.
“We’ve only had one meeting — it’s all a twinkle in my eye,” he said. “But I think there’s a probability this could actually happen. I would be thrilled if it did.”