Do Something

PA Client Assistance Program

PA CAP advocates for people with disabilities seeking services from community rehabilitation programs, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Centers for Independent Living, and other programs covered by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

If you or someone you know needs assistance, PA CAP provides information resources and assistance and guidance for appeals.


Learn More

Disability advocacy

The Special Education Advisory Panel (SEAP) advises the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) on the education of children with disabilities.  In addition to the required federal mandates for State Advisory Panel members, SEAP seeks out and identifies best practices and anticipates future needs for special education in Pennsylvania. You can find the schedule of meetings here as well as information on how to register and guidelines for participation.

The Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities works on behalf of Philadelphians with disabilities within City government and the citywide disability community to ensure people with disabilities are employed in integrated workplaces and receive fair, market-based wages, can access affordable housing, ensure children with disabilities are educated alongside their non-disabled peers and receive the necessary skills for work or higher education, and make sure Philadelphians with disabilities are included everywhere in the community.

Be a Better Philadelphia Citizen

Here's how

One of the founding tenets of The Philadelphia Citizen is to get people the resources they need to become better, more engaged citizens of their city.

We hope to do that in our Good Citizenship Toolkit, which includes a host of ways to get involved in Philadelphia — whether you want to contact your City Councilmember about making life for people with disabilities in Philly indistinguishable from those without, get those experiencing homelessness the goods they need, or simply go out to dinner somewhere where you know your money is going toward a greater good.

Find an issue that’s important to you in the list below, and get started on your journey of A-plus citizenship.

Vote and strengthen democracy

Stand up for marginalized communities

Create a cleaner, greener Philadelphia

Help our local youth and schools succeed

Support local businesses

Citizen of the Week: Yvonne Hughes

A West Philly native turned a life-changing disability into a lifetime of advocacy, speaking up for Philadelphians in need — and encouraging others to speak up for themselves

Citizen of the Week: Yvonne Hughes

A West Philly native turned a life-changing disability into a lifetime of advocacy, speaking up for Philadelphians in need — and encouraging others to speak up for themselves

When Yvonne Hughes was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an incurable genetic eye disease that leads to vision loss, she was 26 years old and a married mother of five-year-old twins. “I remember leaving Wills Eye Hospital that day and it seemed like everything around me, even all the traffic, had just stopped. I went back to work and went into the bathroom and broke down,” she recalled.

Now there was an explanation as to why the icons on the computer screen seemed to dance around. She later learned she had other family members with the same condition. Less than a month later, her vision was reduced to what she describes as “seeing shadows.”

In a moment, Hughes’ entire life had shifted from the future she had envisioned — literally. Yet 40 years later, she can’t imagine being anywhere else. Today, she is one of Philadelphia’s foremost unsung champions for people with disabilities, in recovery, needing shelter, who are hungry, and seeking better educational opportunities. She advises the City and the Commonwealth, serves Philly communities through churches, organizes resource fairs for seniors, and has become a trusted friend to countless locals in need.

“I never thought that losing my sight would be how doors opened for me,” she says. For this, Hughes gives credit to God — “It was my faith that kept me.” Still, there’s no denying: Yvonne Hughes is a force of nature unto herself.

Turning a gift into a career

Two years after her diagnosis, Hughes left her sales job at KYW, lost her home, and moved her family in with relatives. A longtime Sunday school teacher, she began volunteering at the Christian school where her then seven-year-old twins were students. She thrived in a school setting and, with training and scholarship support from the Bureau of Blind and Visual Services (BBVS), decided to turn a volunteer position into a full-fledged career.

“I was determined not to quit. I knew there had to be a way to do things I needed to do.” — Yvonne Hughes

BBVS referred Hughes to Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM), where she’d live and learn life and professional skills — while wearing sleep shades. Like most BISM students, she expected to stay months. But her instructors were so impressed with her demonstrated independence, they sent Hughes home after six weeks. From there, she went on to enroll as an undergraduate in education at Eastern University.

Meanwhile, Yvonne Hughes was becoming an adept self-advocate. When BBVS denied her additional services, she successfully appealed through the Client Assistance Program (CAP), which advocates for people with disabilities ensuring they are not discriminated against and that they receive services as mandated by the Rehabilitation Act.

When she started at Eastern, there were no paratransit services available, so she commuted during early mornings to avoid crowds. On campus, she learned to navigate the hills and lack of sidewalks. And, through hours of daily practicing, Hughes learned touch typing using a screen reader so she could complete her assignments.

It took over a decade — and sometimes meant repeating a class or two — but Hughes received her degree in 2007. “I was determined not to quit,” she says, “I knew there had to be a way to do things I needed to do.”

Moreover, she knew if she could achieve, she could help others do the same.

For Hughes, teaching had its own rewards, but she felt driven to help communities outside of school walls.

Advocate Yvonne Hughes, an older African American woman, sits in one of many red chairs at a community meeting and holds a microphone. Her hair is close to her head. She is smiling and wearing sunglasses, long earrings and a cream wrap with dark plaid lines. Around her are other people.
Photo by Albert Yee

A voice for people with disabilities in City Hall

One of her first destinations: Monthly meetings for the City’s Commission for People with Disabilities, which back then, fell under the City’s Department of Human Services. In these meetings, Hughes heard firsthand the challenges facing people with disabilities, from dishonest caregivers to employment discrimination to parents unaware of services available for their special needs child. It was an education for Hughes on how agencies should be serving their communities.

Amy Nieves is the former executive director of the Mayor’s Commission for People With Disabilities (MCPD). She met Hughes years before assuming her current role, when she was a volunteer for the PA Developmental Disabilities Council. (Nieves is now with the U.S. Access Board, an independent federal agency that promotes equity for people with disabilities.)

“When I first met Miss Yvonne, she had a long list of concerns — and she was also very discouraged,” Nieves says. Hughes, then a board member on the Pennsylvania Statewide Independent Living Council, was helping to connect people with housing resources, special educational needs and employment discrimination. Hughes shared with Nieves some of the grievances she was hearing. Once Nieves began to “chip away” at Hughes’ list, “I started to see the light come back,” she says.

In 2021, Nieves asked her to join the MCPD as one of its commissioners, who are volunteers with a variety of physical and intellectual disabilities and the spectrums in-between who serve as representatives for their respective disability communities in order to offer cross-disability representation.

The most recent U.S. Census estimates 13 percent of all Philadelphians live with one or more disabilities, as compared to 10 percent of all Pennsylvanians. (The Center for Disease Control has a more expansive definition of disability and cites numbers twice as high.) Nationally, according to a 2023 Pew Research study, the disability rate nearly doubles at age 65 and more than triples after age 75.

“If you don’t tell your story, no one will ever know. A closed mouth will never get fed.” — Yvonne Hughes

“I told her, ‘We need your voice,’” Nieves says, adding that she joked, “If I don’t see your application, you’re not calling me any more for help.” Hughes joined the commision, representing the blind and visually impaired community. Last year, she was elected Vice Chair.

Hughes came to the position with a clear mission: “I want us [all commissioners across all municipal departments] to come together. Too many times, people operate in silos. For example we can’t address just SEPTA, but what about those of us that use the paratransit system?”

Together, “We can show up before City Council and make some noise,” she says.

Beyond the Commission for People with Disabilities

In her early days of advocacy, Hughes relied on the now-defunct Equal Partners In Change (EPIC) to connect her with people in need. EPIC not only held neighborhood meetings throughout the city, they also offered a leadership training program that Hughes completed the same year she earned her bachelor’s degree. Hughes won first place for her EPIC project assignment on truancy.

“If there was a community meeting somewhere, you would find me there. And I always asked questions. I can tell when someone doesn’t understand something, and I make sure I ask questions for them,” she says.

One of her first formal advocacy positions was at the now-defunct Bridgeway, a non-profit that offered recently released citizens employment resources and training and directed low-income single mothers to food and housing programs.

Last year, Hughes launched Showing Community Other Perimeters of Education (SCOPE), a series of summits designed, she says, to “educate senior citizens about government, non-profit, medical and mental health services.” In 2023, she organized seven such gatherings at senior centers, churches and recreational centers around the city. Each brought up to 50 seniors and 20 vendors of services. Her plans for 2024 include summits throughout the surrounding counties. Meanwhile, through Philly iHub, Hughes is developing a business plan to secure a building that will serve as SCOPE’s permanent headquarters.

This year, Governor Shapiro appointed Hughes to the Special Education Advisory Panel (SEAP), a state-level advisory group to the Secretary of Education and the Department of Education. SEAP advocates for students with disabilities with members serving a three year term. Hughes sits on the family engagement committee and is currently working on a resource packet for parents.

“I never thought that losing my sight would be how doors opened for me.” — Yvonne Hughes

Hughes is also part of the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center’s leadership training program. Director Ann Deschamps recalls that when the organization was seeking a project focus group, Hughes almost effortlessly gathered about 60 people to participate.

Since 2011, Hughes has worked with the North Philly-based grassroots organization It’s Not Your Fault, a non-profit under Genesis Ministrie. The group serves food to anyone in need and provides resources on housing and recovery.

Dorothea Wayne remembers meeting Hughes more than 10 years ago, when she was experiencing addiction and food insecurity. Hughes connected Wayne with other churches that offered free food and introduced her to Genesis Ministries’ recovery program.

Those resources were essential, Wayne says, but it was Hughes’ belief in her that made all the difference. Now married and clean for three years, she refers to Hughes as her “spiritual advisor” and friend.

As she directs people to resources, Hughes also encourages them to speak up. “If you don’t tell your story, no one will ever know. A closed mouth will never get fed,” she says, “I want to know their rights and to stand up for themselves. I want to train them to do my job.”

“My focus is to educate and empower people to know their rights and to stand up for themselves. I want people to know they are victors not victims,” she says, “This is what God has called me to do.”


Yvonne Hughes. Photo by Albert Yee

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil comments. If your post is offensive, not only will we not publish it, we'll laugh at you while hitting delete.

Be a Citizen Editor

Suggest a Story

Advertising Terms

We do not accept political ads, issue advocacy ads, ads containing expletives, ads featuring photos of children without documented right of use, ads paid for by PACs, and other content deemed to be partisan or misaligned with our mission. The Philadelphia Citizen is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and all affiliate content will be nonpartisan in nature. Advertisements are approved fully at The Citizen's discretion. Advertisements and sponsorships have different tax-deductible eligibility. For questions or clarification on these conditions, please contact Director of Sales & Philanthropy Kristin Long at [email protected] or call (609)-602-0145.