When last we left veteran NYC Occupational Therapist Debra Fisher back in 2014, she had been suspended for 30 days without pay by the NYC Department of Education. Debra and others in the school where she worked had set up a Kickstarter fundraising drive aimed at helping a student on her caseload, Aaron Philip, put together a book and film to help other disabled kids — a project the school enthusiastically approved and supported. In fact, the school participated in the campaign by sending out ongoing emails to the entire school community of both parents and staff. Debra was none the less accused of “theft of services”, and the story was picked up by the major NY newspapers, including the NY Times and the Daily News.
By August 2015, NYC’s Special Commissioner of Investigation found that an Education Department investigator made inaccurate statements and drew the wrong conclusions in his probe. In short, Debra’s “punishment” was rescinded by the DOE’s School Chancellor Carmen Farina. Shortly there after, the publicity surrounding this story attracted the attention of the publishing house, Harper Collins, and this past February This Kid Can Fly: It’s about Ability (NOT Disability) by Arron Philip was published. Written with award-winning author Tonya Bolden, This Kid Can Fly chronicles Aaron’s extraordinary journey from happy baby in Antigua to confident teen artist in New York City.
Aaron has since graduated from PS 333, where Debra still works, but the two will be reunited on May 20, 2016. Aaron, who currently attends the school at Blythdale Children’s Hospital following hip surgery returns to PS 333 for a special Town Hall Meeting where he will read from his book and sign copies. This great accomplishment will finally overshadow and put to rest the initial circumstances that brought this story into the public domain.
There could be no better validation for Debra. Along with others, she founded This Ability Not Disability (TAND), a non-profit organization that works to find ways to support children, teens and young adults with significant physical disabilities develop the self-determination, self-advocacy and leadership skills to foster their own and everyone else’s belief that they can have a dream for their lives and work towards it like other youth. Its inaugural activity was supporting Aaron’s Kickstarter that allowed Aaron to work with artists and animators at the Children’s Museum of the Arts to create his first children’s book and video, TANDA.
This is why we do what we do. Congratulations to Debra for her longstanding service to the children of New York, and her fortitude and spirit in demonstrating all that is great in Occupational Therapy. There is no doubt that she and Aaron will continue to inspire many of us for years to come.