Tribute to Nancy Seyden, Former Chair of Yolo County In-Home Supportive Services Advisory Committee
by Marty Omoto, California Disability Community Action Network and Laura Williams, president of Californians for Disability Rights (CDR) Frances Gracechild, Director of Resources for Independent Living, Sacramento and current chair of the Yolo County IHSS Advisory Committee, and Frances Smith, Director, Yolo County Public Authority
“You’ve come a long way, Nancy”
Nancy Seyden of Davis, a longtime and beloved advocate for disabilities and senior rights in Yolo County and across the state, died Saturday, January 22, 2011.
“When she was twelve years old, Nancy Seyden contracted Guillen-Barre Syndrome following a polio vaccine. (The only movement) she had left was some control of her lips and her eyelids, which she used as her only way of communication.
The nurses would say the alphabet slowly and Nancy would blink her eyes or stretch one corner of her lips at the letters that spelled what she wanted. Nancy was in this condition for three years, after which her voice started coming back and her facial muscles loosened. Later her hands and arms recovered some movement.
From the iron Lung and Rocking Bed she was changed to portable respirators on a wheelchair, both of which she used to her death. Nancy was in the hospital for eight years, day after day, to a heaping two thousand, nine hundred and twenty days, except for those weekends when she went home. In the hospital she had a home teacher. When Nancy left the hospital, a young woman of 19, she attended junior college and then went on to the University of California at Davis. There she lived in the Health Center on campus.
Nancy continued to advocate for persons with disabilities, her latest project being the emergency battery back-up system her local chapter devised with the local fire station. The Yolano Chapter (of Californians for Disability Rights), under Nancy’s leadership, donated the seed money for the first batteries to be held at the Fire Station, and made available during power outages for persons needing power for life saving equipment. Nancy lead this project after a several day power outage in her home town led to a hospitalization to stay alive.”
A Partial List of Seyden Activities and Accomplishments
- Chair of Yolo County In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) Advisory Committee from 2001 to 2010.
- Board member of the Sacramento based Resources for Independent Living
- Counselor and outreach resource for the Disability Resource Center at UC Davis
- Member of the Davis Human Rights Commission
- Speaker and presenter at many events, including a segment on Pulse: UC Davis Medical Center’s award-winning health magazine show that featured “Living with Neuromuscular Disease: Qualify of Life”
- Lecturer at UC Davis Medical School to medical students to develop awareness of the abilities of people with disabilities and the barriers they face every day
- President of the Yolo County chapter of Californians for Disability Rights
- Member of the City of Davis ADA Compliance and Human Relations Committee
- Founding member of the UC Davis Forum on Disability Issues
- Founding vice-president of for the statewide California In-Home Supportive Service Consumer Alliance
If you “Google” Nancy Seyden, her name comes up hundreds of times, mainly in relation to Capitol Action Days in Sacramento when people from disability groups, their family members and supporters fought back against proposed budget cuts for services, freedom and a way of life. Nancy was not just one of the thousands who showed up at rallies, she was one of the organizers and speakers.
When Nancy retired from her employment at UC Davis in June 2008 she was able to devote more time, with her devoted husband, Peter, to traveling, bird watching, gardening, attending festivals, and yes, advocating for people with disabilities.
Nancy’s teaching and advocacy touched the lives of thousands; those who attended her classes, heard her speeches, saw her videos and those who never met her. Her wheelchair tracks will be hard to fill.
Nancy was an outstanding peer role model. She led a quality life… giving and receiving the personal respect that we all crave as human beings. Our memories of Nancy will be how uniquely tough and tender she could be. She always stood up for the consumer voice in public policy and program services. When she encountered resistance she would calmly but resolutely restate her position and produce another example to make her point. She was cut from the same swath of cloth as the Ralph Naders and the Rosa Parks of our world. She valued civic participation and service and she expected that her right to participate with dignity (access) would be valued and protected. Now that Nancy has gone ahead we that are left behind will have to work in honor of her service.