Tenants from Robbinsville, Hamilton, and Lawrence gathered at Project Freedom at Lawrence to hear holiday and winter season music from the Lawrence Community Band.
30+ band members and 35 attendees made for a packed night of beautiful holiday music and a joyful atmosphere! The band was spectacular and the audience truly enjoyed singing along to all of their holiday favorites.
Randall Oldenburg is a writer and thinker who is primarily concerned with topics in disability studies. As a philosophy student, he worked primarily on issues at the intersection of disability, language, and ethics.
As a child, I didn’t think being disabled had anything to do with voting, or vice versa. I saw that my parents always voted, but I didn’t see it as an important part of my life as an American. Experience taught me just how wrong I was.
When I was 18 and first tried to vote, I almost didn’t succeed. There were many hurdles, including obtaining transportation, filling in my ballot, and proving my identity.
I had no driver’s license and didn’t yet have a government identification card. My disability didn’t completely destroy my capacity to vote, though. I didn’t have to worry. I had my brother to vouch that I was who I said I was.
“Can you vouch for him?” The volunteer asked my brother, flitting his hand toward me. I was already stressed, and now I felt my identity being doubted. I felt small. Read More Here
The petition begins: The New Jersey Disability Community wholeheartedly opposes efforts by companies, cities, and states to ban single use plastic straws. These policies create barriers to independence, community integration, and daily living for people with disabilities, work counter to our community ideals of universal access, and place an unnecessary burden on people with disabilities to fight for the accommodations we need to live independently.
The petition was started because well-intended but unwitting legislators are proposing legislation that will literally force people with disabilities who need straws to drink to bring their own to restaurants. The proposed legislation is aimed at saving whales and turtles by keeping plastic straws out of the ocean. A noble and worthy cause, but why pick on people with disabilities who need straws?
Many people with various types of disabilities rely on single-use plastic straws to drink, eat, and take medication independently. Many people reading this can relate to this. Currently, no alternatives to single-use flexible plastic straws exist that are safe, sanitary, and affordable for people with disabilities. Until these alternatives exist, it is unacceptable to create more barriers to independence and access by restricting plastic straw use.
Much of the fervor surrounding plastic straws is based entirely on viral videos and false statistics. Plastic straws make up only about .03% of plastic waste in the ocean (fishing nets by contrast make up 46%). To risk the rights to independence and liberty that our community has fought for only .03% of waste is unacceptable to our community! Furthermore, “offer-first” policies at restaurants have been shown to reduce straw use by up to 80% without creating any barriers to access.
Everybody wants to save the whale and the turtle, but nobody outside of our community seems to grasp that straws are tools for people with disabilities to live healthy, independent, and productive lives as equal members of our community. The disability community believes in creating policies that protect the environment, but we also believe that this can be done in ways that do not harm the disability community.
Though some cities and states have incorporated “disability exceptions” into their straw ban legislation, the disability community remains firm in our opposition. Medical exceptions force people with disabilities to disclose their disability to store workers. Requiring this puts an undue burden on disabled customers who already experience discrimination and victimization.
Misconceptions and stereotypes about what a “real” disability looks like can also lead wait staff to question the validity of a customer’s need for a straw causing them to deny, harass, or shame the customer. Do we want teenaged wait staff deciding who has a disability?/
The harsh penalties established by straw ban legislation provide incentive for vendors to err on the side of caution by routinely denying straws to anyone who requests them. It is also unlikely that stores will continue to stock plastic straws because of the (false) perception that people with disabilities make up only a small percentage of the population. This again creates an added barrier for people with disabilities. Now, when we decide to go out to dinner, not only do we have to call ahead to find if the space is accessible, but we must also find out if they have straws
While some may suggest that people who need straws simply carry around their own, this is an unfair request for several reasons. First, with straw bans sweeping the nation, single use plastic straws will inevitably become more expensive and difficult to obtain even for individual use. Second, it creates an unnecessary financial burden on people with disabilities who already experience increased rates of poverty, functioning as a form of “disability tax.” Eventually, these costs will be passed on to the taxpayer as the need for straws becomes “medicalized” to justify them as medical necessity so Medicaid picks up the ever increasing expense
In light of all of these reasons and more, the disability community is asking the New Jersey Legislators three things. First to reject any legislation that restricts access to single use plastic straws. Second, create an action plan to ensure the voices of people with disabilities are heard on all legislation before it reaches a vote. Finally, pass legislation that explicitly protects the right of people to access single-use plastic straws upon request in accordance with the ADA.
Maggie Leppert of the Alliance Center for Independence provided much of the factual foundation for this column. My thanks to Maggie, a future leader in the NJ disability advocacy community.
Norman A. Smith
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So, as most of you know, Project Freedom holds our “Angel Award Dinner Gala” around this time in November. It is our once a year fundraiser which honors four individuals or organizations that have somehow contributed to furthering the cause for those with disabilities . Former Hamilton Mayor John “Jack” K. Rafferty was our first honoree, twenty one years ago, and we have continued ever since. I started this event when I became CEO, in an effort to gain support for Project Freedom and raise some funds for our tenant programs.
And each year I would work along with the Board Committee and Staff to generate auction items and to get people to attend our dinner. So, I was flabbergasted when the Committee suggested honoring me this year, along with our other honorees. Of course, I am humbled by the honor and by the fact that the board would consider me a worthy candidate. However, I am reminded that this is also a fundraiser, so that I am also expected to raise funds by getting as many folks that I know to attend this event. Of course I am happy to do so.
Now, in accepting this award, I need to recognize all our Project Freedom staff. We have had tremendous growth over these past six years, and it is due largely to our Executive Team, but also all staff members. Certainly credit goes to Tracee Battis, our Director of Housing Development; Steve Schaefer, our CFO, my own better half, Marion Doherty and, of course, our co-founder, Norman Smith. Also, our new ( almost two years now ) Compliance / Property Manager, Frank Sciarrotta, who contributes daily in supporting our project managers. These folks make my job much easier and enjoyable.
Big Credit goes to our project managers, who are on the front lines every day. Jackie, Joanne, Ceil, Dara, Laurie, and Sammi, and their support staff, Melinda, Jen, Bri, Joyce, Arlene, Judy, and Savannah, who manage the day to day operations of communities, so that our tenants can live in beautiful, well kept housing.
To our accounting Staff, Heather and Sakina, who now manage the books of twenty four entities, each of which need to be kept separately.
To our maintenance staff, Ed, Doug, Ross, Johnny, Frank, Damien, Mike, John, Len, Tony, Jim and Paul, who cut the grass, fix the plumbing, plow the snow and in general keep our buildings and grounds impeccable– I am always proud to show our properties to any visitors–be it the first project or the last–they are housing to be proud of.
To our recreation staff, Dana, Maria, Esther, Mary who work to create social opportunities for our tenants to enjoy, to get people out of their apartments and experience some fun.
To our tenant workers, Nate, Jen, Coby, Jeffery and Jason, who are always reliable.
Finally, to our Board Chair, Herb Schneider, and our Board of Trustees, who bear the ultimate responsibility for Project Freedom’s growth and advancement. Our Board meetings and committee meetings are robust, discussions, with people who care about Project Freedom and the welfare of our tenants. They are always looking to ensure that we are doing quality work that makes a difference in people’s lives.
So, I am honored to be recognized and to share our successes with all our Project Freedom family.
Project Freedom is pleased to announce the construction of our latest affordable housing community…Freedom Village at West Windsor. This seventy two unit apartment community will feature one, two and three bedroom apartments, surrounding a large Community center, only steps away from the West Windsor Train Station. The buildings are a two story design, with private entrances in front and all are totally barrier free and accessible. The buildings will have elevators, central heat and AC and incorporate Energy Star design features, as well as being LEEDs compliant. Ample off street parking adjacent to each building will provide easy access to each unit.
Although all units are barrier free and accessible, all units are affordable, and welcome disabled and non-disabled families. These units are regulated as to income eligibility under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program
Presently, construction is on-going with the community to be completed in the early Summer of 2019.
Tenant Pre- applications will be taken, beginning January 1, 2019 and ending March 1, 2019. Pre-applications can be downloaded from our website at www.Projectfreedom.org or by calling Project Freedom at Lawrence at 609-278-0075 or by writing to: Project Freedom Inc., 1 Freedom Blvd, Lawrence, NJ 08648. Advertisements announcing the acceptance of pre-applications for West Windsor will begin in December 2018, and will run periodically during the first quarter of 2019.
A Lottery has been tentatively set for March 20, 2019 to be held at the West Windsor Municipal Building. A lottery system will be used to rank prospective tenant applications, establishing a rental list, with interviews being conducted in the order of the lottery ranking.
We will be updating this website from time to time, so if interested please continue to monitor our website for future news regarding this housing development. For more information please call 609-278-0075.
New Jersey held its Eighth Annual Disability Pride Parade and Celebration in Trenton this month. The event is organized by the Alliance Center for Independent Living based in Edison, and I’m proud to have been a part of the parade since the beginning.
I have told this story many times, and the underlying philosophy remains important to emphasize each year. I have recruited people with disabilities to march in past parades. One year my neighbor sarcastically asked me: “Are you proud of that stutter of yours?” Since I’m always reminding him that he cannot see too well and that he is dangerous in a power-chair, this well-aimed barb is routine banter between people comfortable with their disabilities. His comment, however, started me thinking about the incongruity of pride and disability.
It is incongruous to take pride in not being able to do something. There must be some onlookers at the parade each year asking: What are these “broken-down people” with crutches and in wheelchairs doing marching around proclaiming their pride? How can they be proud when they can’t do anything for themselves?
Well, that is the point. Society’s view of people with disabilities can be so negative, so weakening, so smothering of spirit that overcoming that negativity can be empowering and something to be proud about.
As people with disabilities, we put up with so much crap imposed upon us by society, the government, the system, and the people in our lives that it is a wonder that any of us have the energy and initiative to be independent, productive, or active.
But we are independent, productive, active, and we need to own it and show our pride in what we do!
This applies to every person with a disability no matter what their situation. Our lives are a precarious “high-wire acts” of low income with under-funded supports that keep us more dependent than independent. One false step drops us into the abyss of institutional living to be trapped and robbed of personal initiative, independence, and dignity.
Yet every day we get up to perform on the “high wire” defying negative attitudes, preconceptions, prejudices, and fears. Some do it with drudgery. Some do it with gusto. Most people with disabilities live our lives somewhere in between. We do it every single day.
This is why we should have pride. This is why we need to display our pride publicly and loudly. This is why we celebrate our pride in ourselves and our community.
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Join Project Freedom as we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a national campaign to increase awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. The theme for 2018 is “America’s Workforce: Empowering All.”
NDEAM’s roots go back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.”
In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities.
In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month.”
Upon its establishment in 2001, the US Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODP) assumed responsibility for NDEAM and has worked to expand its reach and scope ever since.
Every year, Marion and I and Tracee Battis, our Director of Housing Development, attend the Governor’s Conference on Housing, which is always held in Atlantic City. Now I know what you are thinking, not much work goes on during that time, but probably lots of gambling. Not so with me however. I learned a long time ago that no one wins against the House. So, what I usually wind of doing is spending those dollars in the gift shop rather than at the blackjack table. At least that way, I bring home something for my son or daughter.
This year, I have been asked to be a part of a panel discussion on Supportive Housing. That means that I have to actually prepare a powerpoint presentation about Project Freedom Housing and why we think our housing is a preferred design when compared to other alternatives.
This is easy for me to do, since I live this job every day, and have a good idea as to what is successful and what is not. And the truth is it is really simple. Project Freedom housing is barrier free design, makes it easy for anyone to live in one of our communities. Whether you use a wheelchair or not, anyone can appreciate the functionality that our housing creates. Our units are larger than most, to accommodate a wheelchair; usually one story, or if two story, provide elevators in each building. They have lowered kitchen cabinets, ADA appliances, use sustainable outside materials and are Energy Efficient to the latest Energy Standards. Today, our new units are even LEED’s certifiable.
But I think the most important part of this story, is that our units are built with the understanding that we are creating the most independent environment possible. Our homes are for those individuals who are capable of independence and in making their own life choices. They are not group homes, that are run by one agency, which have caretakers that oversee everyone’s actions. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the group home model, which does fit a certain target population. But our units are for that person, who although may be severely disabled, can make their own free choices, and can therefore live an independent lifestyle. All our tenants have leases, which give them certain rights and responsibilities for their apartment. They pay a rent, and for that, Project Freedom provides good housing, shovels the snow in the winter, and cuts the grass in the summer. We also fix anything that goes down in the units under normal course of business.
In the old days, prior to Project Freedom housing, the choices were very limited to someone who uses a wheelchair. Either a nursing home or hospital were all that was available. Not a good choice for someone in their twenties.
Now however, things are different. Our housing model has spurred other developers to at least build more units that are accessible within their market rate housing. That housing, along with our barrier free housing model are helping to increase the choices for independence that all people what to enjoy.
Disabled advocacy groups are calling on Starbucks to reverse its phase-out of plastic straws from its stores, highlighting the controversy of the decision.
An international coalition of disabled rights groups sent a letter to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, stating that his company’s decision to phase out single-use plastic straws has fomented “considerable anxiety” among the disabled community. The letter calls on Starbucks to research an alternative that satisfies both environmental concerns and disabled customers.
“It has been just over one month since your announcement of Starbucks’ intention to eliminate single-use plastic straws globally by 2020 caused considerable anxiety among the disabled community. Furthermore, the ambiguous follow-up statement has done little to reduce these concerns and has led to many disabled people feeling excluded by the world’s largest coffee chain,” read a portion of the letter to Johnson. Click Here to Read More