“My Two Cents” — March 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Well when I first heard this news, I smiled and said, ”of course, we are the perfect venue for this kind of news.” 

 
And the news was that NJHMFA wants to announce a new program of financing that will help to fund Special Needs Housing and wanted to do it at our new West Windsor housing community. So, we were honored to have Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver and HMFA Executive  Director Charles A. Richman combine their announcement with our ribbon cutting for our new housing community in West Windsor. Unfortunately, Lt. Governor Oliver eventually could not attend.
 
This Freedom Village site is located off of Old Bear Brook Rd in West Windsor.  This project has been one that has been in the making for over ten years.  I started talks with the owner in the 1990’s and kept in touch with him each year, to see what his timeline was for when this community could begin.  The tricky issue was to get this to conform with the available funding mechanisms, as well as work within the Low Income Tax Credit program, which we did.

Also, the time had to be right for the town politically.  Like what usually happens with our housing, we had an advocate– someone who was a West Windsor resident, and who was also a member of the Project Freedom family.  Her name is Florence Cohen.  Florence was a Board member for Project Freedom for many years, and an advocate for our housing in West Windsor.  She served on the Affordable Housing Committee within the town, and would keep the name of Project Freedom in the forefront of any discussion regarding affordable housing.  Having a family member with a disability only made it more personal for Florence when she talked about Project Freedom housing.

This is not unusual for Project Freedom to have advocates in the towns that we build.  Usually we are contacted initially by parents groups who realize that when their kids get to be adults, there really isn’t any appropriate housing that will meet their needs.  They want to stay in the town and want their now adult children also to live in proximity of where they grew up.  This makes a lot of sense, especially for those with a disability.  So, these people contact Project Freedom to see what we can do to help.  And of course, if we can, we try.

So, having the Lt. Governor asking to come to announce a new housing program was really a feather in the Project Freedom hat.  We have worked hard to build a housing product that fits the need, is sustainable, and is located in locations that are convenient to shops and transportation.  Our West Windsor site is one that fits that bill, with the West Windsor Train station located just a couple of blocks away, and shopping found on the Princeton-Hightstown Road.

So, once again, we have created another housing community that will be open to all—especially those who use a wheelchair or who have mobility issues.  The mission continues.

 

From Norman’s Desk – March 2020

Norman A. Smith looking up at camera smiling dress in a green shirt and cap with CERT written on bothThis month you will be reading and hearing more about the emerging outbreak of Coronavirus-2019 (officially named COVID-19). The situation is very worrisome—especially if you have a disability.
 
Nevertheless, one of the key responses to this type of situation is getting accurate information and trusting the source of it. 
 
I’m going to be blunt about this: The “tinfoil hat wearing wingnuts” are out there already with disinformation to fit their own agendas or mania. These theories are fabricated using facts, half-truths, and outright lies woven together to fit any point of view about health issues or politics. They can be laughable except these flights of fantasies will obscure the correct information and messaging needed to keep us safe and well.  Misinformation is disruptive and will lead to people dying.

I saw one tweet that contained a claim that was not true, and the link for more information redirected me to an online store to buy masks, but then I saw another tweet dismissing the use of masks.  People are trying to make a quick buck from the outbreak, and people are trying to scare us for their own pleasure.

My message is this: Do not rely on Facebook or other social media to for information to make urgent health decisions!  

Your Facebook friends may be  good sources for gossip, recipes, sports trivia, or where to go fishing, but accurate information in these situations may not be a Facebook post shared a zillion times.  The quantity of shares or views does not indicate the quality or accuracy of the information.

Sadly, even our elected officials can pass on erroneous information that they may have heard or read from an unreliable source. It is easy to pass on tainted information as you try to appear to be on top of everything, and it is hard on the ego to appear not to know authoritative information.

By the time you read this, any accurate information that I can pass along will be outdated and may be inaccurate.  Personally, I rely on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for information, I check CDC.gov daily for updates. 

“My Two Cents” – February 2020

Remembering My Friend Nate

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

By now most of the Project Freedom community knows that our friend, Nate Smith passed away in January.  Nate Smith was a tenant and employee at our Lawrence office and served as our receptionist there—answering the phones, and greeting our many visitors each day.  Nate could answer most questions regarding our housing…which application to use, and if there were any vacancies at our other housing sites.  He loved to come to work each day and was an inspiration to all of us who got to know him. 

There is a Chinese proverb, that says, “ It is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness”.  I think that that philosophy is one that best describes my friend Nate.  Nate was born with spinal bifida, and used a wheelchair for mobility.  Because of this condition, Nate had a ostomy when he was a young boy, and lost his sight when he was a young man, so he had his share of problems and issues.  I think for me, having to go each day with what he had to contend with, certainly would have made me a very sour person.

But not Nate Smith.  He talked to me one day, on our trips to the doctors, or wherever, and told me that, early on, he struggled with his limitations, especially when he became blind.  However, I remember him    saying that, he realized that he didn’t want to go through life being a negative person, and holding on to his bitterness.  His attitude was that he accepted his condition, and was going to make the best of what he had.  He was going to be positive in how he comported himself and live his life to the fullest.  He would light the candle, rather than curse the darkness.

And that is what he did.  Anyone who knew Nate, couldn’t help but smile and see his positive, gentle nature.  He was always interested in what I was doing…what new housing project I was working on.. and how it was going.   He was also, always handsomely dressed, and took pride in his appearance.  I would sometimes comment that he really looked good today… saying he could appear as a model in GQ magazine.  He chuckled and said that the credit should go to his friend Essie, who picked out his clothes each day. 

Nate also was fiercely independent, and wanted to make sure that his trips to the hospital at times, didn’t ultimately result in his returning to a nursing home.  This is a fear that I have heard from many of our tenants who are disabled.  He was ever so grateful for his apartment at Project Freedom and for his status as our receptionist, and to be able to live his life as he saw fit, making his own choices.

Our Project Freedom family suffers today at the loss of our friend, Nate Smith.  For someone who lived in darkness, he was a bright light to all of us who knew him.  God bless and God speed Nate, you will not be forgotten.

 

From Norman’s Desk – February 2020

Norman A. Smith looking up at camera smiling dress in a green shirt and cap with CERT written on bothLast month saw the Democratic presidential candidates begin to focus more on people with disabilities and our issues.  This took place as candidates dropped out of the race.

Each of the major Democratic candidates completed the 15-question 2020 Disability Voter Candidate Questionnaire  written by RespectAbility, a nonpartisan national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. The nonpartisan voter questionnaire is about   a variety of disability issues was sent to all the viable presidential candidates. 

This candidate canvasing was being done in conjunction with RespectAbility’s online publication TheRespectAbilityReport.org, an online publication covering the intersection of disability and electoral politics. The    answers to the questionnaire will be turned into nonpartisan voter guides for all 50 states.  The same questions will be sent to candidates for governor and senate as well.

When Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar released her detailed disability policy plan  the senator held a live event. Klobuchar detailed her plan and held a panel discussion with three local disability experts, delving deeper into specific aspects of her plan.

In a press statement released prior to the disability-focused event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Klobuchar cited her “a strong track record of standing up for people with disabilities.” Key highlights of the plan include commitments around long-term care, expanding healthcare access, and advancing economic opportunities as well as promoting disability rights at home and abroad, as reported by Lauren Appelbaum for TheRespectAbilityReport.org

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren continued to outreach to the disability community with a live chat on Twitter with advocates with disabilities from around the country.  Then in her closing statement for the CNN/Des Moines Register Debate last month, Warren specifically mentioned people with disabilities in her vision for what her presidency will bring.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, IN, took to Twitter as well to reach people with disabilities.  Buttigieg himself  answered questions live on Twitter from advocates during a Disability Town Hall.  His campaign also released on Twitter a series of videos featuring supporters with disabilities.

While these efforts are notable, many disability advocates want the mainstream news media to pay attention to disability issues as part of their overall coverage of the candidates.   For the first time in my political memory, a debate moderator asked a question specifically on disability policy during the December debate.

“Are there specific steps you would take to help people like Kyle to become more integrated into the workforce and into their local communities?” asked Politico’s Tim Alberta, citing as an example a young adult with a disability from Iowa.

This sent the “disability-Twitter-verse” into orbit.  Unfortunately, only three candidates were able to respond, but Elizabeth Warren seized the moment to highlight her background as a Special Education teacher.

Readers have asked me which candidates have better disability policies, and my answer will always be as a journalist: Look for yourself. Evaluate for yourself. Make your vote count for what is important to you.

 

 

From Norman’s Desk – January 2020

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director

The new year brings another president campaign and election into greater focus.  People with disabilities are expected to have major impact on this   election, and many campaigns retargeting people with disabilities to gain our votes.

As reported on by Eric Ascher for RespectAbility.org, seven presidential  campaigns made history together last November in Iowa as they participated in a Democratic Party forum, Accessibility for All, focused on issues affecting people with disabilities. This is the first time this campaign season that a forum was held specifically on this topic.

The forum was moderated by Catherine Crist, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party Disability Caucus, and by Cindy Hanawalt, MD PhD, Immediate Past President of the Linn County Medical Society.  Hanawalt’s questions focused more on health care while Crist’s questions focused on employment, education and other disability rights issues, reported Ascher.

Six candidates participated in the Forum themselves: Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. John Delaney, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and businessman Andrew Yang.  Former Sen. Chris Dodd spoke on behalf of Vice President Joe Biden. 

The questions were generated by Iowans with disabilities. There were approximately 100 people in the audience at the Forum, with some audience members coming and going throughout the day, wrote Ascher.

This is another sign that politicians are taking our vote seriously enough to direct time to obtain it.  Time is second to money as a vital resource to any campaign, and six major candidates spent their time to engage directly with people with disabilities on our issues. 

In addition, disability advocates praised last month’s Democratic presidential debate for including a prominent question about how candidates planned to address the needs of people with  disabilities.  Among the three candidates who got a chance to respond, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s comments drew some of the most lavish praise.

Readers have asked me which candidates have better disability policies, and my answer has been and will be: Look for yourself. Evaluate for yourself. Make your vote count for what is important to

you.

People with disabilities need to value their votes by voting for the candidate whom addresses their needs and values the best.

“My Two Cent” – January 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

As I write these words in December, we have just been notified that Project Freedom has won the Low Income Housing Tax Credit award for our new Hamilton project to be known as “Freedom Village in the Woods”.  We still have to obtain a Federal Home Loan Bank Award, which we hope to apply for this coming Spring.  This project will mark our twelfth housing community that Project Freedom has  created.  All our housing is barrier free, making life a bit easier for someone who uses a wheelchair, yet it is also appreciated by someone who is not physically disabled.

Previous special needs housing has been designed for the individual in mind—someone who would live alone.  Group homes were formed that would put three or four individuals together, strangers in reality,     creating a family of sorts, each “family” sharing a single family home.  This model continues today, but     really doesn’t guarantee the independence that many people really want.  Making your own decisions,    and choices, is really what independence is all about.  Our housing, because it is leased based housing, provides a greater ability for the individual to preserve their housing independence by not risking their housing option if they need to change their service provider.

More and More, our housing has evolved into real family housing—not just one bedroom units for single individuals.  Our housing also includes two bedroom and three bedroom units, creating family environments for those who are disabled, and not disabled.  This now creates a new dynamic and greater integration for the person who does have a disability.  Real neighborhoods begin and relationships develop, creating a more natural environment for people to live.   People start to think about their neighbors—maybe even worry about them if they deviate from their normal routine.  They learn their kids’ names and other family members, and often share home baked goods.  That is really what being part of a community is all about.

Over the years, I have seen so many success stories from our disabled tenants.  One such person, who used a wheelchair and lived in a second floor apartment, had to crawl up an outside stairway in order to get into his apartment.  Needless to say, when he moved into one of our barrier free units, it allowed him to access his apartment without that indignity.   I have also seen how our young consumers become more  responsible, maturing by having to make their own decisions, however small they may be at first.  I know in our own family; it is gratifying to see how Jen has become so independent—and more confident in handling her own issues.  This is how we all learn to become responsible individuals—by having the  opportunity to make those decisions and learn from those outcomes.

So, as this new year begins, we look forward to continuing the journey of creating more barrier-free housing that creates an independent environment for everyone.  This year, we hope to open our West Windsor and Gibbsboro developments to new consumers who have the dream of a nice, safe place to live.  One that will allow everyone to become independent.  

Have a Happy New Year.

 

September 11th Remembered

Norman A. Smith looking up at camera smiling dress in a green shirt and cap with CERT written on bothThis month marks eighteen years since the attacks of September 11th. It is also National Preparedness Month is recognized each September to promote family and community disaster and emergency planning now and throughout the year. The 2019 theme is Prepared, Not Scared.  The timing is no coincidence.

For many  the memory of that awful September day in 2001 is fading, but my memories are still vivid down to my shirt and tie.  The day started out so bright, beautiful, and refreshing, but it ended so dark and frightening.  The feeling of anger and uncertainty spread around us like a cloaking fog.

Every year since the attacks, I choose to pay tribute to the three elements that create my memory of that day.  First, I honor the life of my friend and colleague Colleen Fraser who died on Flight 93 with those other selfless heroes who may have saved the Capitol or the White House or thousands of other lives.  Colleen was a fighter, and she was in good company that morning fighting to take back that plane.

Second, I remember the lives of the 343 FDNY firefighters who died that day.  Most knew going into those buildings that some of them would not come out alive.  They knew this instinctively by virtue of their experience and profession.  They still went in with police officers and EMS personnel to save those who could not save themselves.  They went in to save people with disabilities.

And, yes, thirdly, I remember those people with disabilities who died that day in those towers.  I was not watching the horror on television that morning.  I had a meeting at 10:00, and during that meeting I spoke of Colleen and wanting to connect her with someone.  Later, someone told me of the collapse.  My very first thought was that many firefighters had just died; my immediate second thought was that many people with disabilities had died as well.

How many people with disabilities died that morning may never be known.  We do know that the corporations and government agencies housed in those towers hired people with disabilities.  We do know that some people with disabilities made it out because they had a plan, their company had a plan, or some colleague or friend took the initiative to get them out.   We do know that others stayed behind not wanting to burden friends, not wanting to get in the way, or just having unwavering faith that the FDNY would get to them.  We also know that loyal friends stayed behind with them.  We know that some people with disabilities who stayed were rescued but many died with their rescuers.

Every victim of these attacks needs to be remembered and honored.  I feel a personal duty to honor Colleen, The 343, and those almost nameless people with disabilities who stayed behind.

Let us all remember the victims and the heroes of September 11,, 2001, by getting prepared and staying prepared.  You never know how a bright, beautiful, and refreshing day may end. 

 

 

 

An Open Letter to Mothers of Disabled Children

by Erin Andrews, PhD  —  Disabled Parenting Project (www.disabledparenting.com)  

 Erin Andrews serves as a parent advisor and co-researcher for the DPP. She is a board certified rehabilitation psychologist.

As a disabled mother, I can’t help but reflect sometimes on my own entrance into the world. As a member of several online (primarily nondisabled) parenting groups, I find myself triggered by social media posts about babies born disabled or young children being diagnosed with disabilities. As a way to process my own emotions, I decided to write this letter. It is a letter I wish my own birthmother could have had, and I something hope new mothers of disabled children will read.


Dear Mom,

I know you’re confused and scared. I don’t look exactly like you expected. The doctors tell you I’m deformed, that I’m defective. You are supposed to be devastated. Don’t be. Look at me – touch me. Suspend judgment while you explore my tiny new self. Notice how the contours and folds of skins are uniquely mine. I came from you – you made me, and I’m perfect. 

READ more of the Open Letter by Clicking Here

From Norman’s Desk – February 2019

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director

Thousands of people with disabilities turned to YouTube and Facebook at 3:00 pm on January 15 this past month to watch history. A piece of civil rights legislation reintroduced on that day to the 116th Congress to fight for the independence of all people, but especially people with disabilities and senior citizens.

The Disability Integration Act — originally introduced in 2016 by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. — prohibits states or local governments that provide institutional placements for individuals with disabilities who need long-term assistance, and prohibits insurance providers that fund such long-term services, from denying community-based services that would enable such individuals to live in the community and lead an independent life.

Without this in place, people who are eligible for services could be forced into nursing homes or other institutions by their insurance. This legislation ensures that disabled Americans have a right to live and receive services in their own homes.  It prevents people with disabilities from being forced into expensive institutional settings because of government regulation.

The Disability Integration Act also requires public entities to address the need for affordable, accessible, integrated housing that is independent of service delivery.

Watch parties were held at Centers for Independent Living and other advocacy genies throughout the nation. One was held in my office.  We came together with excitement and a tremendous determination to get the D.I.A. passed in the 116th Congress.

A little historical perspective.  The D.I.A. was crafted from 25 years of work dating back to the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The original legislation was first introduced by Speaker Newt Gingrich (R, GA).  Yes, the stalwart of Conservative value and fiscal policies first introduced the basis of today’s D.I.A..     Gingrich saw the value of keeping people with disabilities and seniors out of nursing homes.

Unfortunately, today’s Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), has ignored requests for two years to   become a co-sponsor of the D.I.A. Yes, this champion of Liberal ideas and fiscal policies and her immediate party subordinates have shamefully not responded to the disability community’s requests.  This is the same person who lauded people with disabilities who put their bodies on the floor to stop the repeal of Obamacare.

My point is the Disability Integration Act cannot be looked at through Liberal or Conservative perspectives.  It has an elements of both because it saves taxpayers and insurance company’s money while keeping people living with both freedom and support.

So far, three of New Jersey’s congressional representatives have signed on as co-sponsors. They are: Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. Bonnie Watson-Coleman, and Rep. Donald Payne.  I hope to name more next month as I use my personal Twitter account to “recruit” co-sponsors from our state. 

There is great expectations that the D.I.A. will pass this year.  I expect passage in the House but not in Senate this time, but we shall determine if grassroots advocacy by people who cannot walk, talk, see, or hear works again!

Norman A. Smith
Follow me on Twitter @normansmith02

 

“My Two Cents” – February 2019

So, last month I talked about the scams that are often put upon the disabled and senior communities, and I would like continue that dialogue.  By the way, these don’t only apply to seniors

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

and disabled people; they apply to everyone, and they come in a variety of methods and modes.

Phone Calls:  You may get a call from someone who says they are from Microsoft and have received an alert from your computer that you have a virus, and they want to get your password so that they can fix it.  So, you give them your password and all of a sudden nothing works on your computer,  or, worse, they now have access to all your data on your computer like other passwords, maybe credit card numbers, or social security information.  Usually, legitimate computer agencies do not call you, YOU call them.  Hopefully you contact the phone number of the real organization for help, which can be verified before giving out information.  By you making the call, you helpfully have verified the legitimate contacts for Microsoft ( or whoever ) to address your problem.  Furthermore, if you have been using your computer and haven’t had any issues, chances are the call you got was bogus.

Also, some callers will say they are from IRS or some other company and that you are past due on your bill, and so they are willing to take a payment over the phone.  Never give Credit Card numbers information over the phone unless you have already verified the number and agency.  IRS will NEVER call you, they do everything through the mail; so if someone says they are from the IRS, hang up immediately.

Computer messages:  Again, you may get an email that looks like it comes from Apple or Microsoft, and it may say that you have won a free computer; and in order to get it, you just need to fill out an online form that asks for your social security number and a credit card number.  Again, don’t respond to this email, better yet don’t open up any emails that you don’t recognize the email address.  This is, again, another way to get personal information and or infiltrate your computer.  Once in, they can manipulate and monitor your emails from afar, reading everything you send or get via email.  ONLY OPEN UP EMAILS THAT YOU RECOGNIZE THE EMAIL ADDRESS.  Delete all the others.

Online Purchases: Today we all buy stuff on the internet using our credit cards.  For these purchases only buy from sites that you know, such as Amazon, or from major stores like Best Buy or Walmart.  National brands will have secure website, and only use a credit card, NOT A DEBIT CARD.    Credit cards offer some protection for your purchase for which you can dispute, or send back for a credit if not satisfied.  Debit cards are like cash, once you purchase, it will be hard to get your money back, regardless of the reason.  Credit cards have what is called,” Dispute Resolution” and will do an investigation about the purchase and usually will support you with any returns. 

Finally, there is an old adage that says, “Whatever seems too good to be true, usually is (too good to be true) and therefore unrealistic and false.  And always back away from anyone or anything that has to be done, right away or on the spot, these are usually scams.  Legitimate vendors will be glad to let you think about a purchase before making it.  Most purchases can be held off until the next day, so that you have time to do some research and think about the issue.