For the past several months, Project Freedom’s co-founder, Norman A. Smith, worked with other NJ disability advocates to address the gaps, shortcomings, omissions, and faulty planning of the State’s COVID-19 response as it impacted on people with disabilities. They came together as the Disability Action Committee for COVID-19, and collectively they released our Initial Report at the end of October.
The Committee was convened by Javier Robles, J.D, the current director of The Center for Disability Sports, Health and Wellness at Rutgers University. Robles is the former deputy director of the NJ Division of Disabilities Services and a former member of Project Freedom’s Board of Trustees.
“This committee submits the New Jersey COVID-19 Disability Action Committee Report with our experience and recommendations for our state’s residents with disabilities’ future resiliency,” said Robles in his cover letter for the Initial Report. He noted earlier in the letter that “our state’s health and social justice mechanisms must protect the health and wellness of people with disabilities and uphold their federal, civil, and state rights. We must do better, and we must prepare now for the next wave of this pandemic, the following national catastrophe, or any other emergency that awaits us in the future.”
Current Board of Trustee member Kelly Boyd also served on the Disability Action Committee and worked with Smith on the emergency management/preparedness section of the report
Emergency management and preparedness including people with disabilities has been a priority for Smith since 1999. Smith has worked with emergency management professionals for more than 20 years to provide critical, disability-specific input on statewide planning and preparedness procedures. He has also worked closely with New Jersey’s 11 Centers for Independent Living Centers (CILs) to educate people with disabilities on how to be better prepared for emergencies and disasters.
I’m deeply concerned that New Jersey’s response to COVID-19 did not adequately anticipate the needs of people with disabilities,” said Smith when the report was released. “Having to write letters to remind government officials that people with disabilities have the civil right to life-saving critical care during this crisis is an indication that proper planning has not occurred with direct input from people with disabilities.”
“I strongly believes that New Jersey has the wherewithal and willingness to do better for its citizens with disabilities before, during and after emergencies and disasters. New Jersey must do this not only as a matter of law but, also, because it is the right thing to do,” said Smith