From Norman’s Desk – October 2018

Norman A. Smith, proud co-founder of Project Freedom

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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America’s Workforce: Empowering All to Work

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.

For more information, Click Here

“My Two Cents” – September 2018

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

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.


By Jason Hopkins,  August 23, 2018

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

She cleaned for $3.49 an hour. A gas station just offered her $11.25.

Colton Channon needed just 90 minutes each day.

Every morning for about a month, in training designed for him, the high school senior with an intellectual disability practiced making steel brackets for trucks at a Des Moines factory. The skill took more than a few tries to master. But his co-workers, he said, cheered him on.

A supervisor stayed close, showing him how to pack the parts neatly into boxes that would ship to Ford, Honda and General Motors. And the effort produced something the 20-year-old once deemed distant: A job offer he could see turning into a career.

s the nation’s unemployment rate nears the lowest point in 50 years, sinking in May to 3.8 percent, companies are searching more widely to fill vacancies. Advocates say the labor shortage, coupled with growing openness to workers with mental and physical limitations, has brought record numbers of people with disabilities into the workforce — and it has also pushed employers to adopt more inclusive practices to support the new hires, such as longer and more hands-on training.  Click Here to Read More


‘Disabled People Are Not Part of the Conversation.’ Advocates Speak Out Against Plastic Straw Bans

By GINA MARTINEZ, July 12, 2018

Some disabled rights advocates are speaking out against an emerging trend of restaurants and other companies phasing out the use of plastic straws with drink orders, arguing that the alternatives can be inadequate for customers with various disabilities.

Plastic straws have been disappearing from coffee shops, airlines, hotels and more amid concerns that they frequently wind up as ocean waste, presenting an environmental hazard. The campaign against them accelerated this week amid news that major companies like StarbucksAmerican Airlines and Hyatt are drastically reducing their use, in some cases opting for straw-less plastic tops on some drinks instead.

But disability advocates say they feel the campaign against plastic straws is being waged without adequate input from disabled customers.

Click Here to Read More

It Shouldn’t Be This Hard for a Woman in a Wheelchair to Get a Pedicure

BY  –  AUGUST 7, 2018

Early last week a screenshot of a Yelp review for a nail salon started surfacing on Facebook. In the post, a woman from St. Peters, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, wrote about the shock and frustration she felt when a salon manager turned her daughter Beth away from getting a pedicure. The reason, Mintner claimed: because Beth was in a wheelchair.

Like Beth, I live in suburban Missouri, I use a wheelchair, and I enjoy getting my nails done. I also understand that the fairly uneventful experience is uniquely different when you have a disability. It doesn’t change the way kicking back in a massage chair makes you feel—that’s still heaven—but when you’re unsure about how willing a salon will be to accommodate you, something as relaxing as a spa day can be the source of stress and anxiety.

Click Here to Read More

Project Freedom Tenants RevUp the Vote

Nearly 20 tenants from Project Freedom’s Mercer County housing complexes attended the RevUpNJ’s kickoff rally during National Disability Registration Week. 

RevUp is a national nonpartisan effort by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).  RevUp-NJ is organized by the Alliance Center for Independence (ACI) based in Edison, and it is sponsored by the NJ Council on Developmental Disabilities.

 The rally featured information tables and speeches by disability leaders and candidates running in this year’s congressional elections.

Tenants interacted with both during the event.

Trustees Honored for Long Service

Dave Workman (left) is presented with an award for his long service by Board Chair Herb Schneider.

As a not-for-profit organization, Project Freedom is governed by a 21-member Board of Trustees.  Recently two dedicated members of the Board stepped down after long service to Project Freedom’s mission.

Dave Workman served as chair of the Finance and Golf Committees and served on numerous other committees as needed.  Under Dave’s leadership, the annual Golf Outing turn into a major success in rising funds.

Doug Heppe shared his expertise in housing development as he served on the Facilities Committee helping to bring new complexes  through the various stages of development.

Doug Heppe (right) accepts an award for his service as a Trustee from Herb Schneider, Board Chair

Lawrence Tenant Dashes Home with Gold

Project Freedom at Lawrence tenant Rebecca “Becky” Scheick earned three medals last moth at the Special Olympics.
Becky  brought home a Gold and two Silver medals. 
Becky crushed it in the Softball Throw earning herself the Gold medal!
Her silver medals were for the 4 x 100  Meter Team Relay and the 100 Meter Dash. 
Project Freedom is very proud of Becky and all those Project Freedom tenants, consumers, and members who participated in Special Olympics.