Martha H. Ziegler Founders Award
Anastasia’s advocacy work began in 1993, when, at the age of 9, she had the opportunity to ask President Bill Clinton to help mainstream her twin sister Alba into the New York City public school system. Anastasia is now leading the inclusion revolution as a human rights advocate, speaker, and consultant. On the first night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, she gave a moving speech on Americans with disabilities. Following her appearance at the DNC, Anastasia traveled the country as a surrogate speaker for the Hillary for America campaign. As a passionate advocate for women’s rights, she is also heavily involved with the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women. Anastasia’s international advocacy has brought her to China, where she works to eliminate the abandonment of babies and children with disabilities. The goal of this work is to open a Parent Education and Resource Center that teaches parents in China about children with disabilities and how to care for, nurture, and love them. In March of 2017, she began working with the Center for American Progress to raise awareness about what is at stake for Americans with disabilities in the Trump era, with a focus on healthcare, Medicaid, and poverty alleviation.
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Alba Somoza was also born and raised in New York City. In 1995, through significant advocacy efforts by her mother Mary and her twin sister Anastasia on her behalf, and with intervention by former President Bill Clinton, Alba became the first significantly disabled student in New York City to be integrated into a general education classroom. Her struggle to receive a proper education continued throughout high school. In 2002, she began auditing classes at Queens College. Through a unique program designed and directed by Dr. Andrea Blau and Dr. Anthony Rifkin, Alba, who is non-verbal, was able to dramatically improve her communication skills. The results were astonishing, and during this time she was able to participate in a training program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a highly skilled artist/docent, Nitza Danieli. An artist, Alba, began painting at Pure Vision Arts, a studio in Manhattan for artists with developmental disabilities. Alba began teaching art to young children by working closely with Standing Tall (now iHope) School in Manhattan, and today teaches art to children with and without disabilities. Alba also conducts tours at the MET, creates artwork at Pure Vision Arts and does presentations on disability issues and special education at Columbia University Teachers College, Fordham University Graduate School of Education, Bank Street College of Graduate Education, New York University and Kean University, in New Jersey.
Mary Somoza is an Irish born mother of four children living in New York City. Two of her children, twins Alba and Anastasia, have cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia and are wheelchair users. When her daughters were born in 1983, Mary was a recent immigrant to the United States. She believed that her “lack of knowledge” of the system was due to her not having grown up in America. She was wrong. The vast majority of people living in the United States do not have prior knowledge of the medical/education system. Parents of children who are born with a disability, some not evident at birth, are thrown into a netherworld of different bureaucracies of mind-boggling intricacies. No one is an expert, until you learn to become one – the hard way.Mary has assisted families across the United States, and her pioneering work in special education, driven by her own determination to insure that her twin daughters received the best medical attention, and the best education possible, made her become a “peoples advocate” and one who constantly worked to not only achieve services for her own children, but for the thousands of others who benefited from her inroads into making the system more parent friendly. Recipient of numerous awards, Mary is the quintessential parent advocate. A passion for justice, and equal rights for children and adults with disabilities, Mary works for the “bigger picture” of what might be ahead in your child’s future. Advising and advocating for what parents want for their child, Mary believes that every child has more abilities then disabilities.