Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) applauded the appointments of Port Washington community leaders Dr. Joel Ziev and Stella Spanakos to Nassau County’s newly formed Advisory Council on People with Disabilities. Both were unanimously appointed to the Council by the Nassau County Legislature on Monday, Sept. 19.
During Dr. Ziev’s five-decade career of advocating for the rights of disabled people, he has served as the director of Instructional Services from 1977-1979 for the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson; executive director for the New York Society for the Deaf from 1980-1997; and as a certified impartial hearing officer for the New York State Department of Education from 1979-2022.
In 1997, he established the Port Washington-based Partners for Access LLC. It provides disability access, consulting and support services to public and private agencies, schools, hospitals, and law firms. It advises on meeting Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements for addressing the special programmatic and access needs of people with disabilities.
Spanakos founded The Nicholas Center in 2010, with the mission of delivering robust services to young adults like her son, Nicholas, who is on the autism spectrum. In many cases, people like Nicholas struggle at age 21, because they transition from a supportive educational setting into adulthood with limited opportunities for engagement and employment.
The Nicholas Center is dedicated to ensuring that adults on the autism spectrum have access to the resources and support they need to thrive in the communities where they live and work. Today, the Center provides daily support to over 120 individuals, and the Spectrum Designs Foundation, a custom apparel and promotional items business, is the largest employer of people with Autism in Nassau County.
Dr. Ziev and Spanakos were appointed to the Advisory Council on Monday alongside Nadia Holubnyczyj-Ortiz of Floral Park, and Lora Webster of Point Lookout. Dr. Zeiv and Spanakos took to the podium at the Monday, Sept. 19 Nassau Legislature meeting to thank the county for the nomination and express their enthusiasm to participate in the Advisory Council on People with Disabilities.
“I am really excited about this opportunity to work with the county and make things successful and enhance access for people who have disabilities. I’m not saying you haven’t done a lot, but there is always the opportunity to do more,” said Dr. Zeiv.
“I really feel the largest number of people with disabilities are among the elderly. Many are sometimes referred to as frail elderly,” explained Dr. Zeiv. “I’m excited that this advisory group works both with the department of aging and the office of the physically challenged. Older people may be deaf, blind, have low vision, have a physical disability or have cognitive impairments. Its generally agreed that a significant number of people over 80 are not computer literate and many in this group may have a significant degree of other disabilities. It’s a challenge; everything we do involves computers, and we aren’t serving those people.”
“I look forward to working with [the county] and other colleagues in making things more accessible for people with disabilities and making our services available through specialized outreach services so we can work with people on all levels,” concluded Dr. Zeiv.
Spanakos has worked in the field of autism for close to 30 years now and has built an incredibly successful non-profit to help those on the spectrum.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity to work and help my fellow constituents in Nassau County. I am very grateful to the legislative chamber as well as the county executive for the nomination,” said Spanakos.
“It’s hard to believe, but 10 years ago, with a tsunami of individuals that were transitioning from high school to their adult life, I realized that we were in trouble,” said Spanakos. “I have a 30-year-old son who is profoundly affected by autism and also has a seizure disorder. As far as a high school degree and work, these things were very serious problems. When I was investigating what comes next, I realized opportunities were really far and few.”
“I was discussing options with my husband and, in the course of this discussion, my husband tragically had a massive heart attack and died,” shared Spanakos. “So I was left a single parent of an only child who has some profound disabilities. When you are faced with the abyss of your life, and you’re looking at it, there are only two choices. Either you rise to the occasion, or else you wallow in self-pity.”
Spanakos created The Nicholas Center and the Spectrum Designs Foundation to assist adults on the spectrum, teach them necessary skills and help them find proper employment opportunities.
“Eight-five percent of my workforce has autism. We are the largest employer of individuals with autism in Nassau County,” said Spanakos. “It’s possible, doable, and we need more opportunities. I am very grateful to bring whatever I can to the table to improve the lives of all individuals in Nassau county and Suffolk county for that matter.”
During the Nassau Legislature meeting, DeRiggi-Whitton and other legislators applauded all nominees for their motivation and dedication to the newly formed Advisory Council on People with Disabilities. DeRiggi-Whitton spoke highly of both Dr. Ziev and Spanakos.
“I am blessed to have both Joel and Stella as constituents in the North Hempstead portion of my district, and their friendship has probably been one of the best gifts I’ve had as a Legislator.” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “Joel’s lifelong mission of advocating for the disabled really began with his son, and you can tell the passion he carries in hisheart for this cause, and Stella’s persistence and advocacy on behalf of people living with autism makes her an inspiring beacon in our community. I thank them and all of our volunteers for agreeing to join Nassau County’s Advisory Council and volunteering their time and expertise to make our County a better place for everybody.”
“Stella with her son, Nicholas—I love Nicholas. I’ve been to many of her events, toured all of her facilities— if anyone ever needs any t-shirt or print work, I highly recommend that you Google her services,” said DeRiggi-Whitton about Spanakos. “We have an interesting thing… Stella’s Nicholas who she’s raised so much money for and helped so much, and my Amanda, who has diabetes, are born on the same day, so I have that connection with her. The two of them have influenced our lives and taken us places that we never thought we’d go. Stella, you’ve been a role model for not only just constituents, but for moms. You took a look at the situation and decided to succeed. That’s something we need to be reminded of sometimes.”
Nassau County Legislator Debra Mulé commended Dr. Ziev and Spanakos on their contributions to the community and dedication to their work.
“I don’t know Joel or Stella, but my gosh, what you have accomplished is just amazing,” said Mulé. “I’m just so happy to be supporting you. We are very lucky to have all of you serving on this committee.”
—Submitted by the office of Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton with additional reporting by Julie Prisco