Kevin McDaniel speaks with Josh Basile, State of Maryland Independent Living Council board member, about his journey and work in advocacy, what Independent Living means to him, and how one CIL in Maryland is changing opportunities for persons with disabilities through technology.
Flipped upside down
In second grade, Josh Basile had his first personal encounter with disability. Diagnosed with a significant reading disability and ADHD, Josh recalls his first experience in accommodations – tools he had to develop himself.
“I remember that new world of never really processing information at a pace similar to my peers, so I am developing tools to have in my back pocket, and it really helped overcome challenges, to problem solve.”
Aside from his experiences in the classroom, Josh admits that he knew nothing about disability throughout his youth. That changed after a fateful day on the surf.
“When I was 18 my life literally flipped upside down.”
On a trip to the beach with his family, Josh was flipped over his boogie board by a waste-high wave, slamming him headfirst against the ocean floor. Josh says his father knew there was a serious problem the moment he saw him.
"I shattered my neck and became paralyzed below my shoulders. While I was in the critical unit, I was on a ventilator for 4 weeks. I lost my ability to speak. The only way I could communicate was by blinking my eyes. When I regained my voice, I decided that every word would have a purpose, and meaning. That’s when I became an advocate for people with disabilities.”
A life of purpose
Since his injury, Josh has dedicated his life to serving and mentoring persons with disabilities. In 2010 he graduated Cum Laude from the University of Maryland with a B.A. in Communications before going on to attend and graduate law school at the University of the District of Columbia.
After serving as a Law Clerk on the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, he interned with the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, before finally joining the prestigious Jack H. Olender & Associates as an Associate Trial Attorney on medical malpractice and personal injury cases.
Despite his accomplishments, Josh believes he still has so much more to do.
"My paralysis taught me so much about independence, and what independence is. And the perspective, to be successful or keep moving forward, almost gives you a superpower. What I mean is, this injury can either be a major uphill battle, or it can be something that gives you confidence."
The perspective that Josh has, the blessing to see society and the people who live in it as an opportunity to serve rather than an impenetrable and insurmountable obstacle, is something that is so rare − some may never experience it. It is a gift, and Josh is determined to share it with others.
“As a mentor, you get to say ‘I had a piece of that,’ it is so satisfying to know that you can contribute to someone’s life being changed. And then to see them do great things, not to mention the friendships, the connections, it's incredible. It's so satisfying.”
Despite his success, Josh is still leading from the front line.
"When someone becomes physically paralyzed, it's a very scary situation to be in. I try to get to families as soon as possible, it's important to be there and prepare them to fight the mental battles. It takes time to find new ways to do things, but once you find a path, it's a beautiful thing."
Despite his ongoing work at Jack H. Olender & Associates, his role as Community Relations Manager at AccessiBe, and Determined2Heal, Josh continues to serve his community in almost every imaginable way. In 2019, he was appointed by the Governor of Maryland to serve on the Statewide Independent-Living Council (SILC), a publicly funded council that helps keep persons with disabilities active in family and community life rather than isolated in institutions.
From his post on the Maryland SILC, Josh spends much of his time working to influence policy and provide leadership to the state's 7 Centers for Independent Living (CILs).
“Navigating life after a disability becomes overwhelming for most families. There’s so much to think about, and so many decisions that have to be made, how do we do this right? The CILs are game-changing in that respect. They either help you or find the right program for you.”
There are over 400 CILs across the country, all of which are non-residential centers for advocacy that are for and operated by people with disabilities. Consumer controlled and designed to provide independent living services for people with disabilities, their consumers often establish relationships with them that last a lifetime.
“It’s important to recognize that, the CILs are there to help, that’s what they’re funded to do. It’s a matter of working with them. They can be an important part of your life, you can be successful. If you can embrace that, you’ve got a powerful friend.”
Working in advocacy for some time now, I've been fortunate to learn more about what the CILs across the country have to offer, and, while the mandate is the same, there is always something unique and interesting that each CIL does. When I ask him what that is in Maryland, he doesn't skip a beat.
“This is easy. The Image Center in Baltimore, it's run by Michael Bullis. He is a person that is blind, and he, with his CIL, has actually created a program that brings in engineers, a team of engineers, that develop new technology, from start to finish, for consumers with disabilities. Every CIL in Maryland is doing great things, but the Image Center has something that is unique from what I've seen in other cities and states. From assistive technology to slingshot golf, that's what they do, develop technology to help consumers live independently. The work they do, it's life-changing.”
Learn more about the 50th Anniversary of the Independent Living Movement.