May 20, 2016

2016 Alpha Award Winner - Victor Calise, Commissioner of NYC’s Office for the People with Disabilities

Commissioner-CaliseIt’s that time of the year again! The 2016 AWSS Alpha Awards are scheduled for Tuesday May 24th at The Broad Street Ballroom in NYC. This year’s honorees include individuals and organizations from a variety of disciplines – united in their commitment to helping individuals though the arts. Among this year’s recipients is Victor Calise, Commissioner of NYC’s Office for the People with Disabilities, paralympic athlete and born-and-bred New Yorker.

After suffering a spinal cord injury in 1994, Victor became involved with disability sports through the United Spinal Association – starting as the organization’s Recreation Coordinator and rising to Director of Sports Marketing. He even represented the United States on the 1998 Paralympics Sled Hockey team in Nagano, Japan. Victor later joined the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation as their ADA Coordinator and oversaw accessibility projects on parks, beaches, recreation centers and historical properties throughout the five boroughs.

Victor has worked as the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities since 2012. In this position, he advises Mayor Bill De Blasio on issues affecting over 900,000 New Yorkers with a Disability and 6 million visitors with a disability.


How did you first learn about The Alpha Workshops?

Through my employee Martha Jackson. She visited Alpha and came to me immediately and said “you need to see this place.” I immediately scheduled a visit and fell in love with their work and passion to train and hire those with disabilities. It was clear I had discovered a real NYC treasure.

What do you think makes Alpha special/unique?

Alpha is a New York based company that never attempts to circumvent all the gains that American skilled workers and artisans have made over the last hundred years. They apply blue-collar skills and fine craftsmanship, incorporating elegant artwork. Alpha shows pride in the fact that their products are handmade by New Yorkers of all abilities, ethnicities and genders. Alpha Workshops is NYC.

During your time with the United Spinal Association you worked primarily with disability sports. Initially, what inspired you to purse more in the field of arts?

Everything seems to be affected by the arts including sports, because everything is affected by composition, balance, aesthetics, and the senses. There is beauty in athletics similar to dance, similar to the composition of a piece of music. The field of Arts is just something that continues to grow on me. When I was younger I was never interested in it but as I studied and learned names like Picasso and Hopper I started to open up further. I have always loved music and it is an art that I express myself through.  Dance and Theater continue to influence my daughters, which in turn influences me.

In your previous role as ADA Coordinator for the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, you worked on many accessibility projects for the city’s historic properties. What was the greatest design challenge you’ve faced when working with older buildings?

How to integrate accessibility in the least intrusive and cost effective way.  And to educate building owners that there is a large percentage of the population that has a disability.  The design challenges were the easier things to change or incorporate –  it was the attitudes that need to be first  observed and then addressed in order to fix. Once I figured that out that access was easy.

How does art inspire your every day?

Art surrounds us in this city and it’s impossible to roll  through this amazing city without being affected and inspired. The architecture, the interior of our buildings from lower Manhattan to the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the murals, gargoyles, reliefs, stained glass, skylights,  cathedrals, our subways stations, botanical gardens and our parks  – Beauty improves the quality of life and NY is life.

What do you see as the future of design?

There are many architects that are designing amazing art in buildings today that inspire culture, creativity and the ah-ah look and I have been very impressed. It’s not what I see as the future of design it’s how I believe the future of design should be. I believe it should be universal and encompass culture, creativity and accessibility along with the ah-ah moment. Access is simple and should be incorporated with grace- at some point we will all need it.

Where do you plan on keeping your Alpha award?

On Twitter, Instagram and Snap Chat, where else would the mass of people see such a beautiful award? In conjunction to that it will be displayed on the window of my office so the outside and inside world can get a good look.

*Biography of Victor Calise: