Sandra Schnur

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Sandra Schnur (30 July 1935 – 2 February 1994) was a pioneer American disability rights leader, working mainly in New York City.

Early life[edit]

Schnur was born into a Jewish family on 30 July 1935. Schnur contracted polio in 1950 at age 15. The disease rendered her a quadriplegic. She had a long period of rehabilitation, including much time spent in an iron lung. After a period in residence at Warm Springs, she was home schooled to complete her high school education.

In 1952 Schnur was evaluated by the New York Vocational Education program, and was advised to become a basket weaver. Schnur requested instead to be allowed to attend college. The program advisor did not like her refusal to accept his recommendation, and marked her as "uncooperative".[1]

Career as activist for disabled persons[edit]

In 1963 a wheelchair-access guide to the city that Schnur wrote was published by the Easter Seals Society.[2] She was employed in the Mayor's Office for the Handicapped, under Eunice Fiorito.

In 1965 the state agreed to allow Schnur to attend college. She attended Hunter College, earning a Bachelor's degree and Master's degree in Counseling.

Schnur became Director of the New York City Half-fare Program for the Handicapped. As one of the few disabled administrators in the Department of Transportation at this critical time, she played an important role in providing wheelchair-accessible buses and vans to nonprofit organizations, as well as the introduction of pedestrian ramps/curb cuts and lift-equipped city buses.

In the late 1970s, New York City officials decided that they no longer wished to provide direct personal assistance services for seniors and persons with disabilities, but would oversee contracts with private nonprofit vendors. By this time Schnur had written several position papers with the assistance of Marilyn Saviola on what she called "self-direction," — severely disabled persons with disabilities had the capacity to manage their own personal assistance services, as opposed to the "medical model" where the agency is the employer and the consumer is not in charge of his or her own household. She brought together a group of individuals, which included Marilyn Saviola, Muriel Zgardowski, Vincent Zgardowski, Ira Holland, Ed Litcher, Daniel Ginsburg and Gertrude Schleier, to demand consumer-directed personal assistance services.

This group protested (with attached ventilators) outside a Board of Estimate hearing. When Schnur was about to be honored as an "outstanding" city employee by Mayor Beame in a ceremony at Gracie Mansion, home care administrators, hearing of her plan to denounce the pending vendorizing of home care services, told her that it was unnecessary because she had won her point.

Schnur believed that consumers should have even greater independence. She formulated a paper calling for a voucher program, a precursor to the Consumer-Directed Cash and Counseling project that was eventually adopted in several states, which she presented to the administration of Governor Mario Cuomo. In Schnur's voucher program, severely disabled individuals would receive one check, which the consumer could use as he or she wished to manage their home care needs, including personal care services, without restrictions. Although the program was adopted by the Governor and passed by the State Legislature, no startup funding was provided.

In 1980, following a series of meetings with consumers and Department of Social Services administrators, this group agreed to create the Client Maintained Plan, the pioneer Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program, and have it administered by Concepts of Independence, Inc.

Concepts of Independence, was a consumer organization that was founded in 1977 by Victoria Holland, Ira Holland and Ed Litcher, and formulated to be a Fiscal-Intermediary; to receive Medicaid funds and to pay salaries, taxes and benefits to personal care workers based upon information provided by the consumer. Subsequent to the death of Victoria Holland in 1979 and the adoption of the new Consumer Board of Directors in 1980, Schnur became the President of Concepts of Independence. Schnur served in this capacity from 1980 until her death from melanoma in 1994.

During this period, Schnur was a founder of Women with Disabilities United, received appointments to the Mayor's Commission on the Status of Women and as the only consumer on the Governor's Home Care Council.


Schnur married Marvin Wasserman in 1983.

Concepts of Independence awards an annual plaque in memory of Schnur, the Sandra Schnur Emerging Leadership Award.[3]

Schnur's husband also began hosting an annual memorial Seder after her death, to which large groups are invited.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Doris Zames Fleischer & Frieda Zames, The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation, Temple University Press (2001), ISBN 1-56639-811-8, p. 35
  2. ^ Fleischer, p. 36
  3. ^ "Photos (Council Member Gale A. Brewer with Lawrence Carter-Long, recipient of the Sandra Schnur Emerging Leadership Award)". 504 Democratic Club. 2006-05-21. Retrieved 2016-11-29. 
  4. ^ "Yahoo! Groups". Retrieved 2016-11-29.