In Memoriam

Woman using a wheelchair.

We are deeply saddened to announce that Paula Wolff, who was a board member and staff member at CIDNY for nearly three decades, as well as a longtime disability rights advocate, passed away last night.

Paula joined with other disability rights activists in the 1970s in acts of civil disobedience in order to make NYC buses accessible. Through these efforts, all NYC buses now have lifts which enable wheelchair users to use the same method of transportation as people without disabilities. This victory wouldn’t have been possible without their activism.

She was involved in efforts to make other transportation accessible, to make police stations accessible, and more. She fought for fair and effective laws and policies and was an excellent educator of city and state officials.

Paula had a Masters Degree in Social Work. She was a fierce advocate on behalf of the people she worked with, coming up with solutions and working intensively with people to help eliminate the barriers they faced to independence. She helped people wade through the systems that complicate their housing, health, education, employment, transportation, and more.

She mentored many of our benefits counselors along the way. Her encyclopedic knowledge of disability-related benefits and resources was legendary in our community. She will be greatly missed by the people she helped and by those of us who worked with her.

Susan Dooha, Executive Director of CIDNY, recalls: “Paula had an extraordinary skill that all advocates need to learn. That is, how to see the possibility of change in individual experiences. She understood when people were being blocked by law, regulation, or policy. She activated people as advocates and helped them understand how to be part of making a change. She was an essential advisor in our advocacy meetings and with lawmakers.”

She was an enthusiastic dancer who enjoyed the outdoor music and dancing at Lincoln Center. She was a creative playwright. She loved spending time with friends.

Paula lent a hand whenever she could, to Disabled in Action, ADAPT, Helping Hands, and Not Dead Yet. She leaves a legacy of achievement as a leader in these groups.

Image of a lit candle.

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17 thoughts on “In Memoriam”

  1. I lost a great friend and mentor today. Paula Wolff is in a better place now and at peace at last. Those who know her, love her for her commitment and dedication to friends, colleagues and consumers. Despite her disabilities, Paula lived life to the fullest – thriving through friendships, and creative endeavors, while handling a full work load and devoting countless hours of volunteerism to many worthwhile causes. Through words and deeds, she demonstrated to me that complacency and mediocrity are not acceptable approaches to life and adversity, rather, conquer fear, pain, trials and tribulations with steadiness, determination, tenacity, kindness, generosity, empathy and vigor. I am still trying to learn these lessons from Paula. I miss her greatly and appreciate the past 17 years of friendship and mentorship…RIP Paula.

  2. I have been privileged to work with Ms. Paula Wolff since my joining of the CIDNY/NY Connects team.
    Ms. Wolff has been available for my team and myself numerous times. Her expertise was phenomenal and the modesty with which she would dispense this knowledge was touching us all.
    When she would seek assistance, she would do it with such a kind smile that I would drop everything and try to provide it to the best of my abilities and knowledge.
    Ms. Wolff loved life and lived passionately even the minutest pleasures of office camaraderie (a smile, a greeting, pizza, a cake, cookies).
    She helped countless individuals coming at CIDNY, with their varying desires, abilities and needs. Her participants and our participants, staff and clients, we all benefitted from this wonderful light amongst us, called Paula Wolff.
    She was the living embodiment of the famous Talmudic saying: “she who saves a person, saves the world.” And she did save many, by assisting them with the needed services, assistive devices, social work expertise, housing –to name just a few- and with a perennial empathetic ear, by being a good sound-board.
    She was, is and will always be to me the quintessential inspirational person, who truly makes a great lemonade out of lemons.
    Because she has been such an inspiration to my colleagues and to me, I believe that she will always be with us.
    For inspiration traverses people, places, actions and time.
    Thank you Ms. Wolff!

  3. I agree with you Helen that Paula had all those attributes plus a great sense of humor. DIA mourns her loss. Our organization and we personally will miss Paula so much.

  4. I enjoyed working with Paula when I served as President of Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York twice. She was a wealth of information and never spoke negatively about anyone. I will miss her.

    1. Paula was a great friend somebody can come to you when you had a problem. I will miss her greatly!

  5. Wow this one caught me off guard I was in a cab when I got the news been thinking of what to say all afternoon, Paula was a champion a real worker a great advocate & friend I’ve known Paula my entire career 6 year’s I started off at Disabled in action she was already there very smart very straight forward she gave me personally great help as I looked for housing in my most darkest difficult time in the past 19 months she always checked up on me even when I forgot I asked her for help in the first place. 

    As a staff member at CIDNY she showed many times why u can always count on her I saw her desk area empty the pass 3 times I was there never knew anything was wrong I wish I asked instead of assuming she was on vacation.

    The office won’t be the same without her may she rest in peace and may her memory, dedication & contributions to CIDNY & the disability community as a whole never ever be forgotten thank you Paula ??

  6. I feel honored to have known her. She was a truly kind person. This world needs more people like her. Thank you Paula.

  7. Paula was also the very long term recording secretary for DIA where we will miss her

  8. She helped DIA have its meetings at Selis Manor. She was DIA recording secretary for many years. I first met her last year; she was very active, and helped many others. What an inspiration to many of us in the disABILTY community! We must never forget her example…

  9. I knew Paula when we served on the advisory committee of the Children’s Museum on the upper west side, making it welcoming and accessible to children with all levels and types of disabilities. Our lives crossed on numerous occasions in other disability causes, special education, the inaccessible school system, and as others have said above, her ability to imbed humor into serious situations put everyone at ease and lightened our work. Very sad to see such a tremendous advocate leave us. She will be greatly missed. Mary

  10. I will miss you Paula. Thank you for your assistance, kindness and friendship.

    1. I was a CIDNY consumer. Paula Wolff assisted me with my housing and medicaid issues. She was very helpful, kind and understanding. I will miss you. Thank you Ms. Wolff and may you rest in peace.

  11. I was a CIDNY consumer. Paula Wolff assisted me with my housing and medicaid issues. She was very helpful, kind and understanding. I will miss you. Thank you Ms. Wolff and may you rest in peace.

  12. Paula Wolff was my advocate since 2006. With her understanding and compassion as well as her expertise and communication skills she changed my life for the better. Her humor, insight and knowledge guided my late partner and I. We both enjoyed her company. I will miss her greatly.

  13. A few words about CIDNY’s late, great Paula Wolff, of whose passing last April I just learned.

    Paula was a titan among disability advocates. Her citywide achievements in disability rights, particularly accessibility, are well known. In my own case, with infinite patience, she advised me on everything from non-toxic solutions to omnivorous rodents who liked vitamins (“Oh, healthy mice!” Paula joked) to negotiating special accommodations with less-than-willing landlords. Her knowledge of the law was formidable; in conversations about complex legal matters, you could easily have assumed she had graduated from law school with honors.

    All the while, she was confronting her own challenges, about which she was a remarkably reticent warrior. I know she used a chair but managed to commute to work by bus (which I, with serious Fibromyalgia pain but use of my legs, cannot accomplish). She once stayed late at CIDNY specifically to talk over a troubling issue with me, missing her ride. I fretted about it; she fluffed it off. Only because I nagged her relentlessly to read my books did I become aware of her visual difficulties. I was deeply honored that, on learning that I write, she confided in me that she was a playwright.

    My one regret is that, although it would have constituted crossing a boundary, I did not have the opportunity to take her with me to the beach; the idea intrigued her. That’s the way it is: you postpone and postpone, thinking that of course there’s always time. And then there is no more time, not one New York nanosecond, and it’s not negotiable. (Self-effacing to a fault, Paula might have demurred about the personal praise, but on that she would have agreed.)

    Paula is free now. May she fly with the angels. That she will be missed is a considerable understatement. She leaves an enviable legacy, and a hole in disability advocacy that may never be completely filled.

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