30 Years After a Landmark Disability Law, the Fight for Access and Equality Continues

By Abigail Abrams, Time, July 17, 2020

Judy Heumann remembers the day she went to register for kindergarten in 1952. She’d gotten dressed up and her mother had pulled her wheelchair up a flight of stairs before the principal intervened. Her disability, he said, meant she was not allowed to attend the school. Heumann had polio as a child, and it left her legs paralyzed and limited her use of her hands and arms. Throughout her time in the educational system, and after she graduated and became a teacher and activist, she had to fight for access at every turn.

“It’s totally different today,” she says. That’s thanks in large part to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the civil rights legislation that was signed 30 years ago this month, on July 26, 1990. Under that transformative law, schools and workplaces are now required to have ramps, elevators, designated parking spots and curb cuts, and to provide accommodations for people with a range of disabilities, including those who are blind or deaf.

Taking inspiration and legal concepts from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA was designed to protect people with disabilities against discrimination and to ensure that they can participate fully in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications. The results today are powerful: most public buses have lifts for wheelchairs; disabled children attend school alongside their nondisabled peers; and employers are generally aware that people with disabilities have civil rights they cannot violate.

But if the 61 million Americans with disabilities are now less likely to confront the same problems that Heumann did decades ago, their fight for true equality is far from over. “The ADA is ultimately a promise that has been tremendously impactful in some areas and has yet to be fulfilled in other areas,” says Ari Ne’eman, a senior research associate at the Harvard Law School Project on Disability and the co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.   Read More Here

Long Road To Hollywood: Why Actors With Disabilities Have Yet To Be Recognized

By Wendy Lu, The Huffington Post, July 19, 2020

A pedophilic circus performer. A comedic womanizer. A killer.

These were just a few of the roles that Danny Woodburn was offered when he began auditioning for film and TV roles in the early 1990s. Woodburn, a self-described little person, quickly found that nearly every character he portrayed was “miserable,” broken or evil.

“The go-to, I think, for little people is to make them creepy or animalistic,” the actor and producer told HuffPost.

Even after landing a recurring role on “Seinfeld” and scoring gigs on shows including “Watchmen,” “Jane the Virgin” and “CSI,” Woodburn said he still came across casting opportunities that recycled tiresome tropes invoking pathos for “the sad little man.” Just a couple of years ago, casting agents tried to pitch him on a role in a Christmas special by saying he’d get the chance to kiss a famous performer.  Read More Here

Area Service and Community Groups Aid Tenants

In times of disasters and national emergencies, individuals and organizations have always stepped in to fill the gaps in the response. The COVID-19 response has been no different with individuals making masks or going shopping for people who cannot get to the stores safely.

Community organizations serving Mercer County have stepped up to support the tenants of Project  Freedom’s three legacy complexes, Robbinsville, Hamilton,, and Lawrence.

This  support was exemplified by the  Princeton Corridor Rotary Club. This long-time supporter of Project Freedom sponsored $1,500 of groceries for the tenants.  In the past, this socially-minded club supported the acquisition of a generator for Robbinsville.

 Meanwhile, Project Freedom tenants in Robbinsville, Hamilton, and Lawrence were lent a helping hand by the Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) of Greater Mercer County.

JFCS is a nonprofit community service agency with a mission to strengthens individuals and families by empowering people to care for themselves and others.  Family Resources are available including an on-site health food pantry and a wide network of community partnerships.

The JFCS Mobile Food Pantry Truck  began bringing the resources of the JFCS brick-and-mortar pantry to distribution sites in Mercer County since January. The 16-foot truck is a healthy-choice food pantry that for people with food security issues in Mercer County.

The pantry-on-wheels delivered bags of fresh food in Wegmans’ reusable shopping bags to tenants in Robbinsville and Hamilton. In the following weeks, the truck visited the Lawrence complexe as well.

Another community organization, Arm In Arm, also delivered food to Lawrence, Hamilton, and Robbinsville tenants on a regular basis.  Formerly known as The Crisis Ministry, the  organization founded in 1980 by leaders of Nassau Presbyterian Church and Trinity Church in Princeton to help community members who were struggling financially.

Today as Arm In Arm, 20 staff members and hundreds of volunteers welcome more than 4,000 families to its food pantries and other support services.

NOAA predicts Atlantic hurricane season will be unusually active

The NOAA outlook calls for a 60 percent likelihood of an above-average season, with a 70 percent chance of 13 to 19 named storms, six to 10 of which will become hurricanes. Three to six of those could become major hurricanes of Category 3 intensity or higher, and there is a chance that the season will become “extremely active,” the agency said.

The agency is basing this outlook on several factors, including an above-average West African monsoon season, below-average wind shear across the Atlantic, and an absence of an El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean that can stifle Atlantic hurricane activity. Much of the North Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea currently has unusually mild sea surface temperatures for this time of year, including record warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes get their energy by siphoning moisture and energy from warm ocean waters.

Read the complete article from The Washington Post by clicking here

From Norman’s Desk – May 2020

Norman A. Smith looking up at camera smiling dress in a green shirt and cap with CERT written on both
Norman A. Smith, Co-Founder Associate Executive Director

It is May!  It is time for my annual rant as we near Hurricane Season.

It is time to focus on the looming hurricanes season and the predictions by the Colorado State University tropical study program.  This year is no different—especially because we are in the tail end of the first wave of a pandemic.

Yes, I wrote “the first wave.”  Historically, pandemics come in three waves, and the severity of those waves vary.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, has already stated that the next wave of COVID19 will hit this Fall and will be more severe.  

Fall is also the peak of hurricane season, and the idea of a major hurricane crashing into to the US during another severe wave of COVID19 is frightening.  But it needs to be anticipated and planned for with the     lessons we have learned the past three months. We have already seen tornado rip through states this past month complicating the fight against COVID19.

As I write this, the American Red Cross is sheltering nearly 900 people in four states hit by tornados.  Luckily, hotel rooms were available for a better sheltering option than public schools during this outbreak.  Imagine Super Storm Sandy happening now or a major extended power outage.

So now is the time to prepare for both the second wave and foreseeable disasters as we look to opening back up again. If you realized that you should have done a specific task or tasks before the COVID19 shutdown, use that knowledge to prepare yourself better for the next wave and other potential disasters.

That prediction came true over five years ago with Hurricane/Super-Storm Sandy slamming into New Jersey.  This year’s predictions by Colorado State University’s team, now his for a “slightly below” average season for 2019. 

This is the 37th year that the  hurricane research team at the Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University has issued the Atlantic basin seasonal hurricane forecast.  Dr. William Gray, Ph.,  launched the report in 1984 and continued to be an author on them until his death in 2016. He team is now headed by Dr. Philip J. Klotzbach.

Dr. Klotzbach’s team’s initial prediction is:

A total of 16 named storms with eight hurricanes and four of them becoming major hurricanes.

Last year’s prediction was 13 named storms, five becoming hurricanes, and two reaching the major threshold. Thus, the prediction for this year is for more storms with a greater potential of severity.

The actual number for the 2019 season was 18 named storms; three of these storms turned into hurricanes with two being “major” in power and scale.  So they under-estimated the number of storms but overestimated their severity.

The prediction also estimates the probabilities of at least one major hurricane making landfall:

For the Entire U.S. coastline – 69% (Last year it was 48%)

For the U.S. East Coast including Peninsula Florida – 45% (28% last year)

With this year’s prediction in mind and remembering what we have just gone through, it is not too early to start thinking about severe weather and being prepared for it.  The first step is being more aware of both the potential threat and the “emergent” or imminent threat.  Here is what FEMA recommends that people with disabilities do to address that need.

 

 

 

 

Holiday Party Thank You from Lawrence

‘Twas the night of December 18th, a highly anticipated night for our tenants at Project Freedom at Lawrence, as our Annual Tenant Holiday Party had arrived. The room was filled with joy and laughter as almost 30 tenants, as well as their guests, entered the green and red winter wonderland. Snowflakes guided their path, holiday music playing the background and a beautifully decorated tree lit the room.

Their happiness was evident and their eyes were beaming as bright as the lights on the Christmas tree when they saw the astounding amount of generous gifts before them covering over nine tables amounting in over 100 donations! Gifts donated by the kind hearts of past and present 3Main Deborah Heart and Lung Hospital employees, Gene Menges and amazing anonymous supporters. Not one person left empty handed. Many leaving carrying a multitude of gifts in their hands and a huge smile on their face!

Each tenant had a personalized gift bag donated by Gene Menges in memory of his beautifully spirited wife Michele Menges who played an instrumental role in the orchestration of this wonderful event for the past four years.

An unforgettable historic night it was! While enjoying a delicious dinner from Mamma Rosa’s, the festivities began. The baskets were overflowing with tickets as the Silent Auction commenced. Everyone was excited with the hope of winning one of the marvelous gifts ranging from clothing, household necessities, home décor, games, gift cards, movies and many more.

However, with all of those generous gifts from Deborah Heart and Lung Hospital we couldn’t possibly pass them out alone! Halfway through the night Saint Nicholas himself came ringing his bells riding in on a firetruck with the lights flashing escorted by his elves from Slackwood Firehouse. Santa Claus came just in time to take pictures with the tenants, pick some winning numbers for the remaining gifts as well as pass them out to the lucky winners. Everyone was smiling ear to ear to see Santa himself. Santa definitely enjoyed his time visiting our tenants stating he could stay here forever! He continuously expressed the amount of joy he felt in his heart to see the smiles on their faces.

This indescribable night would not have been possible without the bountiful donations of past and present 3Main Deborah Heart and Lung Hospital. This event would also not have been possible without the beautiful spirit of Michele Menges. The staff and tenants at Project Freedom would like to thank these Angels for all they do!

“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.

 

“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.

 

 

Project Freedom Awarded Funding for New Hamilton Complex

Opening the door to over 1,200 new apartments affordable for families, seniors and residents with special needs, the Murphy Administration announced today it has awarded over $22 million in annual 9% federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). The highly competitive tax credits are expected to generate $214.7 million in private investment to create 17 developments totaling nearly $325 million to help build a stronger New Jersey.

Among the 2019 awards, administered under the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency’s (NJHMFA), was one for Project Freedom for its Freedom Village at Hamilton Wood located in Hamilton Township, Mercer County.  This is the 12th successful award of LIHTCs for the organization. Once completed by 2022, Freedom Village at Hamilton Wood will be the second Project Freedom complex in Hamilton Township and the seventh in Mercer County

The LIHTC program, which was established by the Tax Reform Act of 1986, is the most prolific source of funding for new affordable rental apartments for residents. Under this administration to date, NJHMFA has financed or awarded tax credits toward the creation or rehabilitation of over 6,400 affordable apartments across the state, and an additional 440 market-rate apartments with a total development cost of $1.45 billion.