NYAPRS Note: Here are 3 more touching testimonials to Constance. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Consumer Directed Choices, 7 Washington Square, Albany, NY 12205 or to Peppertree Rescue, P.O. Box 2396, Albany, NY 12205 in memory of Constance.
A Life Worth Living
By John W Rodat Publicsignals.Com October 1, 2012
At age 17, doing typical teenager stuff, Constance fell. Her injuries left her paralyzed from the waist down.
After her injury, she suffered from the depression that one might expect, but she found a path that not only changed her life for the better, it changed the lives of many. In 2002, Constance founded Consumer Directed Choices, which serves as a fiscal intermediary and support, enabling home care recipients to direct their own care.
In addition to running Consumer Directed Choices, Constance was a very active board member of Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association of NYS, the statewide association of similar organizations. She served on many, many committees and advisory bodies, never wavering from principles of self-determination.
Constance’s family and many friends and colleagues gathered this past weekend for a remembrance and story telling. Some of my favorites were these:
- Constance once met the Dalai Lama, who approached her when they chanced across one another. Constance’s Mom was quite excited when Constance mentioned the meeting. She asked Constance whether the Dalai Lama had (my words) an aura, or something similar. Constance replied, in a very matter-of-fact manner, “nah, he’s just a regular guy.” Constance wasn’t intimidated or awed by anybody.
- In a meeting with the NYS Commissioner of Health, Constance received a phone call from a client. (She gave her cell number to all of CDChoice’s clients.) She wasn’t awed by the Commissioner either. But more importantly, the clients came first. She excused herself and took the call.
- There were numerous stories of Constance’s “swearing like a trucker,” criticizing someone, pushing them… and then giving them a hug. She was demanding of herself and others, but it always had warmth, heart, affection and good intentions behind it.
- A couple of attorneys, perhaps initially underestimating her, recalled how they had to prepare for meetings with her because she consumed regulations. They said she actually liked reading them and they had to work extra to be ready for her. And these were her lawyers.
- Sensitive to the current political season and debate, one of Constance’s friends noted that freedom is not merely being left alone by government; rather government may aid in self-determination.
Constance was an advocate (“nothing about us without us”), but her advocacy went way beyond words. She started and built an organization that aids persons with disabilities to live self-determined lives. And she herself was an example of both determination and self-determination.
Constance Laymon’s life was too short. But hers was a life worth living because she chose to make it so. And, by example and deed, the lives of many others are better as well. Including ours.
Constance Laymon, advocate for disabled, dies at 46
By Paul Grondahl Albany Times Union September 27, 2012
Constance Laymon talks to students in The Drama of Disability class at the University at Albany in this 2005 photo. (Paul Buckowski / Times Union archive)
COLONIE – Constance Laymon, a fearless advocate for people with disabilities, died unexpectedly on Sept. 21. Laymon, a quadriplegic who was not afraid to chain her wheelchair to a stairwell during a demonstration, was 46.
She had gone to a hospital emergency room Thursday night complaining of shoulder pain, was discharged and did not awake Friday morning at the home where she lived alone with two dogs. Her body was found by her father, and no cause of death has been determined, co-workers said.
Colleagues mourned the sudden loss of a driving force behind the independent living movement and a champion of dignity for people with disabilities.
“She was a fighter,” said Bryan O’Malley, executive director of Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association of New York Sate. “She fought not for herself, but for more inclusion, for less paternalism, for less medicalization and for greater independence.”
She was a frequent presence at Capitol rallies, her yellow Labrador retriever service dog Brandee at her side and a bright pink sign festooned with lipstick kisses that read: “I’m Too Sexy for a Nursing Home!” She kept the sign in her office, ready to spring into service when needed.
She taped a sign to her office door: “Question Normality.”
At 17, her life changed in an instant. Two weeks before graduation from Cooperstown High School in 1984, she fell 40 feet from a shale cliff after horsing around with friends at a keg party in the woods. She broke her neck and suffered injuries to her spinal cord and brain, becoming paralyzed from the waist down.
“All of a sudden you become disabled and you’re asexual, broken, abnormal. It’s a crazy place to be,” she told students in 2005 in a Drama of Disability class at the University at Albany, where she earned bachelor and master’s degrees and was at work on a doctorate in public administration and policy.
She spoke frankly to the students about being “pinned to the wall” by depression and thinking about suicide.
Laymon found her life’s work a few years later at a rally for disability rights in Washington, D.C. In 2002 she founded Consumer Directed Choices, a $6.5 million company with 16 employees that serves as a fiscal intermediary and coordinates Medicaid benefits for more than 450 clients and helps them with payroll for personal assistants. She gave clients her cellphone number and was available to help them 24/7.
She drove a custom van with a lift, used a motorized wheelchair and was described as a workaholic and an insomniac who fired off emails in the wee hours of the morning. She was fueled by Mountain Dew, Sweet Tarts and hard rock played at loud volume, especially Nine Inch Nails and Rage Against the Machine. She liked tattoos, Harleys, Howard Stern and silver jewelry, and she cursed freely.
“She was the kind of person you met once and remembered forever,” said Carole Durante, a program associate who knew Laymon for 15 years before she began working for her.
“She was a mentor to so many people with disabilities,” said Denise DiNoto, community outreach educator for Laymon’s company. “She understood the strength of numbers and refused to let us become invisible.”
“I respected her as a person, as a boss and what she did for this company,” said Executive Assistant Veronica Bowie, who referred to Laymon as the Chief. “If I started feeling sorry for myself, I thought about what the Chief would say, put on my big girls’ pants and dealt with it.”
Laymon confronted violators who parked illegally in disabled parking spaces, complained to merchants without proper access for people with disabilities and reminded strangers that insensitive language is hurtful – speaking as a “woman with a disability” and not a “disabled woman.”
She visited young people in local rehabilitation facilities to lift their spirits as they struggled to come to terms with being newly disabled. But if they were nasty to staff members, she laid into the patients with coarse language and a reminder that a disability did not give them a license to be nasty.
“She didn’t suffer fools,” DiNoto said.
She filled her office with photographs, a memorial collage and mementos of her beloved service dogs, Brandee and Obi. They helped her live independently by turning off lights, picking up items she dropped and assisting her with cooking and other domestic chores.
They formed such a special bond that Laymon, an atheist, made clear that she wanted to be cremated and her ashes spread with the ashes of Brandee and Obi, kept in urns on a bookshelf in her home.
A celebration of remembrance of Laymon’s life will be 5 p.m. Saturday at New Comer Cannon Funeral Home, 343 New Karner Road, Colonie. Calling hours beginning at 2 p.m. will precede the service.
Constance Laymon, 46, passed away suddenly at her home on Friday, September 21, 2012. Born in Smithtown, N.Y., she is the daughter of Moya Williams and Gordon Laymon. In 1984, Constance sustained a spinal cord injury which would influence the direction of the rest of her life. After graduating from high school, she received a bachelor of arts and master of arts in English, both from SUNY Albany. In recent years she was working towards her degree in doctoral studies in public policies and English. Constance was the founder and chief executive officer of Consumer Directed Choices, a non- profit organization whose mission is to provide and advance community-based supports to promote self-determination in people with disabilities and their families. Constance served on several state and local workgroups and councils, including the New York State (NYS) Most Integrated Setting Coordinating Council; NYS Department of Health (DOH) Durable Medical Equipment Workgroup; NYSDOH Long Term Care Restructuring Advisory Committee; NYSDOH Money Follows the Person Waiver Demonstration Workgroup; NYS Office of the Aging New York Connects Nursing Home Diversion Subcommittee; NYSDOH Home Care Reimbursement Workgroup; NYS Health Care Reform Advisory Committee; Albany County Long Term Care Council; and the NYS Medicaid Redesign Team’s Subcommittee on Consumer Direction and Managed Care. Constance was the past president of the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association of New York State. Constance was a passionate and tireless advocate against the unnecessary institutionalization of individuals with disabilities. Constance was a woman you met once but remembered for a lifetime. She was known for her frank manner and outspoken honesty. Constance shared her life with her beloved service dogs Brandee, Obie and her rescue dog Kody who all predeceased her. She leaves behind her two faithful canine companions, Anja and Amos. In addition to her parents, Constance is survived by her brothers and sisters, Gordon Laymon Jr. (Shade) and his wife, Karen Shade, Abby Welch, Roberta Muzzy, James Williams, George Williams, Benjamin Williams and his wife Tammy; her cherished nephews, Gordon Laymon III and Connor Welch; her cherished niece, Erin Williams; and her beloved aunts, Harriett Laymon and Ruth Dornburgh. A celebration of remembrance will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday, September 29, 2012 at New Comer Cannon Funeral Home, 343 New Karner Road, Colonie. Calling hours will precede the service from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Consumer Directed Choices, 7 Washington Square, Albany, NY 12205 or to Peppertree Rescue, P.O. Box 2396, Albany, NY 12205 in memory of Constance. To leave a special message for the family online, visit www.NewcomerAlbany.com