Adriana Quinones moves beyond a crippling car accident — finding her voice and identifying what kind of relationship she wants. And working on getting a driver’s license.
Laura and Mike were seeking mental health rehabilitation when they went to the Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse in Pittsburgh. They got a lot more than they bargained for — each other.
“Social inclusion is the ‘next frontier’ issue in intellectual and developmental (IDD) research, policy, and practice,” says the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities are our classmates, coworkers and neighbors. But the AAIDD says: “Social inclusion goes far beyond just being present in the community. It’s about the roles we take in civic life, who we love, and how we build fulfilling relationships with others.” The third season of A Valid Podcast brings listeners into the lives of people with intellectual disabilities and asks what society could do better to support social inclusion.
The podcast is produced by All-Abilities Media at the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University. The podcast will be published via Unabridged Press podcast channels. Images and written material will appear on PublicSource. A Valid Podcast is on Apple Podcasts, Anchor.fm Spotify, Google Podcasts and others.
Point Park University’s Claire Lindsey interviewed Adriana Quinones and Monica Ruiz, thanks to support from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership. Jennifer Szweda Jordan hosts this season with commentary from award-winning podcaster Erin Gannon. PublicSource Managing Editor Halle Stockton provided editorial advice. Jeweltone Production’s Liz Reid mixed audio and interviewed guests. Cover art was created by Mick Fisher, with assistance from Creative Citizen Studios. Music on this series performed by Lilly Abreu (guitar), George Casselberry (harmonica) and Jane Ondrusek (piano) from the Woodlands Foundation.
Shawn McGill, Shawn McGill Counseling
Joe Herbick, Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse, Jewish Residential Services
Laura & Mike
QUINONES: Your Honor, my name is Adriana Quinones. I’m here to tell my side of the story. I was thoroughly injured in a car accident on April 19, 2020.
JORDAN: Adriana Quinones read these words at a sentencing hearing. It was for a man who, after drinking, crashed his truck with her in the passenger seat. Her words were part of a victim impact statement. She talked about how the accident affected her family, especially her little brother. The boy wrote her a letter saying he cried all day when he learned she was in the hospital.
QUINONES: I couldn’t believe it — the words he was saying and the feeling he felt. I couldn’t believe my 10-year-old brother. I can’t (sound: stops, gets choked up).
MONICA RUIZ (Adriana’s mother): That’s OK.
JORDAN: These words hit Adriana hardest when she read them at the sentencing. And now over a year later, it’s the same. The impact statement proved hard for other reasons too. Adriana has an intellectual disability that makes writing and reading difficult.
A counselor advocate from the Center for Victims helped her write the statement.
QUINONES: She’s so awesome. She’s, like, helping me a lot. And she’s the one who helped me with the impact statement, because I decided not to go to court to see his face.
MUSIC: “Soft sky urban chilling” podcast theme from Pond5.com
JORDAN: Welcome to the third season of A Valid Podcast. We’re examining the landscape of relationships among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Why? Well, decades have now passed since the era of large-scale institutionalization. But the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities says that the next frontier for this community is social inclusion, that is, navigating healthy relationships. People with intellectual disabilities are now at much greater risk of abuse, and also a lack of autonomy in relationships, then the general population. Today, more about how Adriana uses her voice after the accident. We’ll also meet a couple who have learning disabilities and mental illness. And their relationship formed and blossomed at what’s technically a rehab center, but really much more. First, though, my fellow All-Abilities Media podcaster Erin Gannon inspired this look at relationships. In 2017, we watched a feature movie called “Sanctuary.” Here’s a conversation we had about it recently.
JORDAN: We saw a film. I don’t know if you remember it — from Ireland. There was a couple. And they both lived in, I think they lived in a group home. I’m not really sure how they knew each other, but they paid off a staff person. They, like, broke their piggy bank or something so that he would get them into a hotel. They wanted to be alone together. They wanted to have sex.
GANNON: Oh, that one I remember
JORDAN: Do you?
JORDAN: It was actually funny, right? Because all these — they snuck out at a movie and everybody went their different ways. And some people went shopping and some people went out drinking and things like that. And I just remember that you said — like, I said, “What did you like most?” And you said, “The people trying to get together.”
JORDAN: And at the end, they actually separated them because — like forever, because it was illegal for people with intellectual disabilities or Down syndrome to like, have a relationship — have a romantic relationship.
GANNON: No. That’s not true.
JORDAN: What’s not true? It was illegal.
GANNON: It wasn’t legal.
JORDAN: They changed it in Ireland.
GANNON: But they changed it in Ireland.
JORDAN: But only in the last few years. For a long time, it was illegal.
GANNON: But now they should change it.
JORDAN: They did. Yeah. Why do you think they should change it?
GANNON: One, people with disabilities can have a relationship. And it has to be on their level.
JORDAN: What do you mean on their level?
GANNON: I want in that film — that I want them to use their, like, their own voice to speak out what they want to do.
JORDAN: That idea of having a voice — whether for autonomy or advocating — it came up in another conversation for this season of A Valid Podcast. Social worker Shawn McGill offers behavior support coaching to people with intellectual disabilities and autism. He has a technique to help people resist abusive or dangerous situations.
MCGILL: So I’m standing sometimes, and just teaching people to scream at me, or to say the word “no” to me. Because if someone is going after you, and they’re trying to hurt you, the best thing you can do is make a lot of noise. Right? We teach compliance to people with disabilities, which is the worst thing that you can teach. We want people to make noise.
MUSIC: Guitar — “My Journey,” Lilly Abreu, courtesy The Woodlands Foundation
JAMES SHIRLEY: A Valid Podcast is brought to you by All-Abilities Media. The project is a collaboration between Unabridged Press and the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University. We’re grateful for support from Pittsburgh philanthropies. The Staunton Farm Foundation funds mental health programming. Staunton Farm’s vision is “investing in a future where behavioral health is understood, supported, and accepted.” Learn more about our mental health-related events and media at allabilitiesmedia.org.
JORDAN: Now back to Adriana. In the last episode of A Valid Podcast she talked about working with a therapist to identify red flags in relationships. She’s also focusing on how and when to voice her needs — including when she wants to share with a new friend or love interest that she has an invisible disability.
QUINONES: In the beginning. I don’t like to talk about it because it’s personal. And it’s hard to explain, like, why I take medication because it’s personal and it’s hard. I just do it when I’m ready and if a person is OK. And, you know, it’s really hard to explain everything. Because if I can’t explain it. I be like, ‘Mom, can you please explain (to this) this person.’
JORDAN: Besides the therapist and her mom, Adriana also receives support from a life coach from disability services organization Achieva. She meets with the coach twice weekly. It’s supported by public funding. While finding her voice in relationships is key, the coach helps Adriana with other ways to navigate relationships — literally. The life coach is helping Adriana pursue a drivers license. Having a car is another matter.
QUINONES: In the future, I will buy a car. Because this is expensive. Like first, buying a car is expensive and then you have to, like, if something’s wrong with the car and it’s a lot of money.
JORDAN: For now, Adriana rides Pittsburgh’s light rail known as the T and also takes the bus. And when she heads out to meet a new friend — these days, she’ll be going to a public place for safety’s sake. She’s taking to heart that advice from her mom.
Overall, Adriana says her mom is her relationship role model because of how she relates to her husband, Adriana’s stepdad.
QUINONES: Because, like, I’ve never seen a relationship like that. And like, they’re so nice or like, really lovable and really kind. And then, he’s really nice to my mom, and, you know, he’s really nice to me. You know, they joke around like that. I wish I had somebody like that.
JORDAN: Adriana says she’s making better choices in her own relationships. and she’s learning when to say goodbye.
QUINONES: Actually, I just broke up with my boyfriend yesterday. But it didn’t work out like it’s supposed to. But I’m okay. You know, I’m strong. But like, I was like, OK, you want me to listen to you, but you don’t want to listen to me. Like, really?
MUSIC: “Soft sky urban chilling” podcast theme from Pond5.com
JORDAN: Thanks to Adriana for sharing her story. She was interviewed by Point Park University student Claire Lindsey. Claire’s work was supported by the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.
I asked my fellow podcaster Erin Gannon to help wrap up this part of our episode with some dating advice.
So how do I know I’m in a good relationship?
GANNON: If you are in a good relationship, the key sentence — um, sense that you will learn, not learn, but to what to do.
JORDAN: Like what?
GANNON: How to fight for yourself. The guy that you pick, does he love you? Does he care about you? With a guy that is not good for you that will be abusing you verbally, and treat you with respect.
MUSIC: Harmonica, George Casselberry
SHIRLEY: PublicSource, the Pittsburgh nonprofit news outlet is providing editorial advice for this podcast as well as photos on its website. Please do check it out at Publicsource.org. Unabridged Press, and the nonprofit All-Abilities Media first partnered with PublicSource last year for the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Adriana was featured in a video along with others with disabilities reading from the ADA — which she did in Spanish. Please visit adapittsburgh.com
JORDAN: And now A Valid Podcast visits Laura and Mike. I’m not going to tell you their last names just yet, for reasons that will become clear later. Trust me, it’ll be fun.
LAURA: I see his beauty on the inside and out. He is a very giving person.
MIKE: I just love her a lot. And she’s special to me. I never want anything bad to happen to her.
MUSIC: Piano, “Yes, Sir That’s My Baby!,” by Jane Ondrusek, the Woodlands Foundation.
JORDAN: Laura and Mike met at the Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse in Pittsburgh. The place supports people whose lives have been disrupted by mental illness.
And it’s really nurtured Laura and Mike’s relationship.
The center is run by Jewish Residential Services and it’s part of an international movement called Clubhouse. Those who use the center refer to each other as colleagues.
Liz Reid interviewed Laura and Mike for A Valid Podcast, with help from Claire Lindsey.
MIKE: This is Sally’s Cafe is primarily where I do most of my work and stuff.
We have fig bars, fruit snacks, mini candy, Pirate Bootys. We have Beyond Burgers for people, for our colleagues who are vegetarian.
JORDAN: Mike and Laura’s love grew at the cafe. He’d been in some difficult relationships before. He’s divorced and things with his previous girlfriend were going south. And then…
REID: How did you meet?
MIKE: We met through my ex-girlfriend.
Yeah, she was a colleague in the Clubhouse. And we were dating her and I. My ex-girlfriend and I were dating. And Laura was a friend of hers.
REID: You are grinning. Why are you grinning?
LAURA: Because I was friends with (bleep out). And then I started to be friends with Mike.
JORDAN: And note to the listener, Laura did not call the ex and expletive, we just bleeped out her name since we didn’t get her side of the story.
REID: Who had feelings first, or was it mutual?
LAURA: You had feelings first.
MIKE: I had feelings for Laura first, but I was scared to tell her I felt because I thought it would scare her away.
REID: What made you like why did you have a crush on her? What was it about her?
MICHAEL: Her personality, her outgoingness, her sense of caring, beautiful smile. She’s just a lovely person.
REID: So when was this that you guys met?
MICHAEL: About a year, year and a half ago. We decided we had good chemistry.
REID: What was the typical date?
MICHAEL: We would go out to dinner, or I’d cook her dinner at my place.
REID: How did you woo him? What kind of things did you do for him when you were dating?
LAURA:I wooed him in a different way. I did it by going on walks with him outside. I like to go on walks, especially on the trail at the waterfront.
REID: What did those walks mean to you?
MIKE: They meant a lot to me. I’d walk her home. And then I walked back to my house and always made sure she got home safely. Because I cared about her. I didn’t want her to walk in the dark by herself.
JORDAN: Clubhouse director Joe Herbick, says Laura and Mike’s relationship represents the best of what can happen in a supportive environment.
HERBICK: That’s kind of what psych rehab is, like putting those little pieces back into someone’s life. And so to see that kind of happen and blossom in front of you, it tells me two things. One, they’re both succeeding, and they’re feeling confident enough to take on a relationship. And so it just makes me happy to be there and be a part of it.
JORDAN: In 2020, Despite everything else that was going on with COVID, Mike was ready to take the next step.
MIKE: We went to Yokoso Japanese Steak House. I planned this in advance. I made a reservation. And I went in there, asked them to decorate the table and gave them the ring to put on the table so I can ask her to marry me.
MUSIC: Synthesizer Hava Nagila, Wikimedia Commons
JORDAN: And sorry, not sorry, but you’re going to have to wait until the next episode of A Valid Podcast to hear what happened. And we’ll also learn more about what brought the couple to the clubhouse and how the community there supports them. Thank you so much for listening. A Valid Podcast is part of the All-Abilities Media Project based at the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University.
The majority of us producing this work have one or more disabilities. Others on the team don’t identify as having disabilities.
PublicSource’s Halle Stockton was the lead editorial consultant for the podcast. Liz Reid of Jeweltone Productions is our audio engineer and sound designer. Darah Thompson interviewed Shawn McGill. Disability advocates Dr. Rachel Kallem Whitman and Erin Gannon consulted on the content of this podcast. George Casselberry performed his original harmonica piece “Beautiful Christy.” Lilly Abreu (ah-BRAY’-oh) played guitar for The Woodlands Foundation. And another musician who played for this and the last episode can tell you about herself:
MUSIC: Piano, “Yes, Sir That’s My Baby!,” by Jane Ondrusek, the Woodlands Foundation.
ONDRUSEK: Hi I’m Jane. I’m a piano accompanist at The Woodlands Foundation. I am from Beaver County, Economy, PA. I just played two pieces at The Woodlands called “Always,” a Broadway hit from the 1920s and “Yes, Sir That’s My Baby!” from the 1920s also. Those are the two pieces I played. So I hope you enjoy them. Thank you.
JORDAN: And thank you, Jane Ondrusek. I’m Jennifer Szweda Jordan. I publish Unabridged Press and manage the All-Abilities Media Project at the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University under its director, Dr. Andrew Conte. He and I are co-executive producers of this podcast. I hope you’ll check out the great photos of Adriana and Laura and Mike that accompany this podcast on PublicSource.org. I’ll catch you next time. Do take care.
This podcast was made possible with financial support from The Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust.
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Through Dec. 31, the Wyncote Foundation, Loud Hound Foundation and our generous local match pool supporters will match your new monthly donation 12 times or double your one-time gift, all up to $1,000. Now that's good news!
Readers tell us they can't find the information they get from our reporting anywhere else, and we're proud to provide this important service for our community. We work hard to produce accurate, timely, impactful journalism without paywalls that keeps our region informed and moving forward.
However, only about .1% of the people who read our stories contribute to our work financially. Our newsroom depends on the generosity of readers like yourself to make our high-quality local journalism possible, and the costs of the resources it takes to produce it have been rising, so each member means a lot to us.
Your MATCHED donation to our nonprofit newsroom helps ensure everyone in Allegheny County can stay up-to-date about decisions and events that affect them. Please make your gift of support now.