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Disability Action Center NW

'What's Happening!!' star inspires; businesses honored for hiring disabled

A child TV celebrity, record attendance and 22 business award winners were the highlights of Wednesday’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month Awards at Poughkeepsie’s Mid-Hudson Civic Center.

The breakfast was held by the Mid-Hudson Employment Alliance to honor employers who integrate people with special abilities into their work forces. In addition to 20 local businesses, two regional winners were recognized — Walgreens in Poughkeepsie and Enterprise Process Services Inc. in Fishkill.

Delivering the inspirational address was Danielle Spencer-Fields, who played Dee on the 1970s TV show “What’s Happening!!”

“I am disabled,” she told the audience. “I remember the date exactly. It was April 11, (2004).”

At first, the actor-turned-veterinarian thought the pain and numbness in her legs would pass and she would be back to work. But after back surgery that temporarily paralyzed her, she became depressed and questioned her life.

“I thought, ‘How will I be a vet?’ ‘How will I be a wife?’ ” she said.

Spencer-Fields said her turning point came when she realized “I still had my mind and that’s all I really needed.” With extensive physical therapy, she was able to walk and work again, and now speaks to others with disabilities, telling them, “If you are going through a struggle … think about how you can help others.”

Elizabeth Brito-Rodriguez is manager of Fishkill’s Enterprise Process Services office, which employs two workers with disabilities out of a total of six said.

“I believe in all people being given the opportunity to develop their God-given talents,” she said.

Bruce Solomkin, the mid-Hudson manager for Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities, said that in his district, 1,060 people with disabilities were hired this fiscal year ending Sept. 30, an 8 percent increase in employment outcomes over the past fiscal year.

Reach Sarah Bradshaw at or 845-437-4811.