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April brings the beginning of warmth, some booming flowers, and thoughts of what to wear to high school proms. This can be an anxious time for some young ladies, but an event held at Freedom Village at Toms River may have relieved some this anxiety for some.
Around 30 young ladies from neighboring towns came to browse, try on, and leave with any gown of their choice for free, thanks to the efforts of Maria Paradiso-Testa.
“All gowns were donated,” said Paradiso-Testa, who is a professor of Education at both Monmouth University and Georgian Court University, a community activist, and a minister/chaplain.
“I have been a community advocate for many years,” said Paradiso-Testa, “ volunteering wherever the needs of the people are. My daughters always help and support all projects; they both suggested that their gowns be donated to students for their prom.”
From there, this idea grew to an event. .
“As we discussed this further, we decided to ask around,” Paradiso-Testa continued, “ and in less than two weeks, over 100 gowns were donated. There are a lot of good people with big hearts who are willing to help others, and we all work together!”
Park Avenue South Boutique, of Toms River, was a major supporter, donating more than 25 brand new gowns.
“Shoes, purses, and jewelry were also donated,” she continued. “Most came from individual people, word of mouth, social media advertising, and personal requests.”
The Flower Bar of Brick offered free floral bouquets, and a Toms River hair salon offered a discount coupon for services.
Then the event needed a venue. Last year Paradiso-Testa sponsored a Women’s Seminar. “One of the women working with me suggested Freedom Village Community Center because she lived there. We hosted the seminar, and all the people who came loved the center.”
For the prom-gown event “the Freedom Village Community Center location provided a safe, pleasant, and beautiful environment for the girls to come with their friends, parents, and grandparents to have the shopping experience, that was definitely priceless,” added Paradiso-Testa.
Project Freedom’s Toms River management team, Laurie Solymosi and Joyce Cocco, were present throughout the day with Cocco volunteering many hours to the event.
“Special thanks to Joyce Cocco, who assisted from the beginning through to the very end,” offered Paradiso-Testa. “Joyce offered her assistance, provided multiple gowns through sharing her resources, and was a tremendous help the day of the event.”
The young ladies who participated came from area and schools including Toms River, Lakewood, Jackson, Brick, Manchester, Mates, Performing Arts Academy, Bishop Ahr High School, and multiple middle schools. Girls from Freedom Village also participated.
“If it wasn’t for the opportunity provided through Freedom Village at Toms River, this unique experience would not have been such a great success,” said Paradiso-Testa. “The smiles on the girls faces made everything complete.”
HOWELL – Like any college student, Anna Landre was thrilled to land a quality summer internship.
Unlike her peers, though, she faces a brutal decision: Taking the job means losing some crucial health benefits.
The Howell 19-year-old has spinal muscular atrophy type 2, a progressive weakening of the muscles. She uses a motorized wheelchair and needs a personal care aide at her Georgetown University dorm.
“I was shocked when I heard this,” said state Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, who is working on a solution. “It really limits folks who are able to work, who want to work and can make a great impact on our community.”
Landre has much to offer. Last year she graduated Freehold Township High School as valedictorian. She’s used to navigating barriers created by the able-bodied folks who make the rules for society’s disabled.
“A lot of times it’s a matter of people telling you no 50 times, until you call 100 times,” she said. “There are always exceptions that can be made, but you have to push hard. I think the state relies on the fact that eventually you’re going to give up.”
That’s not happening here. There is much at stake for Landre and others who might follow in her footsteps.
Most of us don’t think a whole lot about getting dressed. Sure, we might care about our style, but the actual process of putting on clothes—pants one leg at a time, button through the button hole—is as automatic as breathing.
But imagine you only have one arm. How do you button your shirt now? What if you receive nutrition through a feeding tube implanted in your stomach? Wearing that cute dress means you can’t eat in public, lest you flash everyone in the room. Think about what the tight waistband of your jeans might feel like if you were autistic and had magnified sensitivity to touch.
For years, people with disabilities and special needs have had to improvise. Those with cerebral palsy that affected their hand coordination might replace sleeve buttons with Velcro. Parents of autistic kids would cut the scratchy tags out of their children’s t-shirts. But now, a slew of companies both new and established are creating “adaptive clothing” to meet these needs.
Target has been at the forefront, with a line of adaptive clothing for children, designed by a mom with a special needs daughter. The clothing come without tags or seams, a boon for children who find new textures irritating. Body suits are easy access for diaper changes, while wheelchair-friendly jackets have side-openings and zip-on sleeves for easier dressing. This year, the company added lines for adults with physical and mental disabilities as well. Tommy Hilfiger, best known for its high-end sportswear, just launched Tommy Adaptive, a line of clothing for children and adults with various needs, from jeans that fit over prosthetic legs to shirts with easy-open necklines. The shoe e-retail giant Zappos has also started selling adaptive shoes and clothing, from stability-enhancing sneakers to shirts with magnetic buttons. In 2015, Nike created the FlyEase, an easy-on zippered athletic sneaker inspired by a letter from a teenager with cerebral palsy who struggled with regular sports shoes. The company now makes the shoe in men’s, women’s and children’s sizes.
The Huntington businessman with Down syndrome who gifted George H.W. Bush socks he wore to Barbara Bush’s funeral will be heading to our nation’s Capitol on Wednesday to testify before Congress.
John Cronin, 22, will discuss his business, John’s Crazy Socks, to the U.S. House Committee on Small Business.
John and his father Mark Cronin run a business called John’s Crazy Socks where they donate 5 percent of their earnings to the Special Olympics. The business has become so successful that they now operate from a 6,400 square foot facility in Melville and employ 33 people, including 15 people with differing abilities.
Microsoft is committing $25 million over five years to develop artificial intelligence-powered technologies to help people with disabilities.
The aim of the new program announced at the Microsoft Build developer conference in Seattle this week is to use AI to help people with disabilities deal with challenges in three key areas: employment, human connection and modern life. Microsoft said it will award seed grants of its technology to universities, developers, institutions and others; help scale promising ideas; and work with partners to incorporate more accessibility functions in their products.
Microsoft pointed to a few Microsoft apps that have already helped people with disabilities. Microsoft Translator has been an important investment for the company as it has sought to improve the ability of its AI to help people have conversations in different languages. Last year at Build, Microsoft introduced Seeing AI, an app that uses the smartphone camera to narrate what it’s seeing.
It is May! It is time for my annual rant as we near Hurricane Season.
“In the next decade, the probability of a major hurricane hitting the Northeast is one and a half to two times greater than in recent years. We are returning to the earlier decades where landfalls were more common,” said from Dr. William Gray, Emeritus Professor, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University.
That prediction came true five years ago with Hurricane/Super-Storm Sandy slamming into New Jersey. This year’s predictions by Colorado State University’s team, now headed by Dr. Philip J. Klotzbach, is for a “slightly above” average season for 2018. This is worrisome since last year’s initial prediction was for an “average” season.
This is the 35th year that the CSU hurricane research team has issued the Atlantic basin seasonal hurricane forecast. Recently, the Tropical Meteorology Project team has expanded to include Michael Bell, associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science. William Gray launched the report in 1984 and continued to be an author on them until his death in 2016.
Dr. Klotzbach’s team’s initial prediction is: A total of 14 named storms with seven hurricanes and three of them becoming major hurricanes.
Last year’s prediction was 12 named storms, six becoming hurricanes, and two reaching the major threshold.
The actual number for the 2017 season was 18 Tropical Depressions turning into 17 named storms; ten of these storms turned into hurricanes with six being “major” in power and scale. Remember Hurricanes Harvey and Maria?
The prediction also estimates the probabilities of at least one major hurricane making landfall:
For the Entire U.S. coastline – 62% (Last year it was 42%)
For the U.S. East Coast including Peninsula Florida – 39% (32% last year)
With this year’s prediction in mind, 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.
Severe Weather Preparedness for People with Disabilities—It is important to know in advance what steps you need to take to keep yourself and your family safe.
Do you know the best way to get emergency alerts and warnings? If you have a disability that affects your communication, identify the best ways for you to access emergency information in advance. What television stations in your area offer live captioning? Can you sign up for text, email, or telephone alerts through your municipality? Keep phones and communication devices charged, and always have a backup way of learning about emergencies. Some options for alerts and warnings are listed below.
After determining how you will be notified of an emergency, put together an emergency plan and kit. Involve your friends, family, neighbors, support staff and anyone else that you trust to assist you. Determine how you will contact them in an emergency and what they can do to assist you. Think about where you will take shelter in your home if you need to. Also consider any services you need (personal care assistance services, dialysis services, etc.) and how you will access those services in an emergency. Talk to provider agencies about their emergency plans Learn more about preparing for severe weather at www.ready.gov/severe-weather.
Project Freedom continues to grow our housing units by partnering with several local municipalities in Mercer County as well as those from across the State. Over time we have modified our housing design and amenities to better reflect the needs and wants of our tenant consumers. Our target population has also changed from strictly the physically disabled to also include “regular” non-disabled folks and their families. So, now, we do house families with children and folks who may not be disabled. This is because our State, New Jersey, like so many other states, have recognized that inclusionary housing, that is disabled and non-disabled provides a better more natural and wholesome environment for everyone to live.
Although recognizing this kind of change, we still have continued to make our disabled population a priority. That means we continue to build and design all of our units as accessible, so that someone who uses a wheelchair can easily manage any of our apartments. Anyone can use the roll in showers, the lowered countertops and the accessible kitchens and appliances. Our overall site topography is also created so that there are no serious hills or slopes for which a wheelchair would find difficult to manage.
We also are trying to use less land as the large sites are also much more expensive to develop….more roads and sidewalk to build and maintain. So, in order to maintain our numbers, we are designing a three story building, with elevator, that can provide cost savings overall. We are hoping that these changes will enhance our building design while creating a lower overall cost.
The emphasis on cost reduction is because of the change in the new Federal Tax Law, which has reduced the tax liability for large companies and investors from 35 % to 21%. By doing so, this change has reduced the value of the Tax Credit pricing over .05 Cents on the dollar, which overall can mean we lose about $500,000 for our projects. This loss means that we need to become much more efficient, overall, when budgeting for our projects. The trick here is to figure out what to eliminate without compromising quality and valued amenities.
By building a three story building, rather than a two story, and reducing the total number of buildings from six to four, we hope to save around 20% of the cost of our project costs. These are changes that we need to do, in order to keep within our available funding. Along with these negative pressures on funding, we are seeing more and more demands from local towns to fulfill their affordable housing requirements, which is a positive change. The Affordable Housing issue is currently being dealt with in the courts, with judges negotiating the final numbers. And from what we are seeing, those towns that don’t settle along the way, are getting higher final quotes on housing than they like. This is what is fueling the current demand for affordable housing in New Jersey towns.
So, Project Freedom continues to change and adapt to the current housing market in order to continue to serve our Mission.
Olivia Babis often had to fight for equal rights growing up as a person with a disability.
Now the Sarasota Democrat wants to take the lessons she learned through her personal advocacy and help others who are struggling. Babis, 41, filed this week to run for a state Senate seat covering Sarasota County and part of Charlotte County. She is challenging GOP state Rep. Joe Gruters for the District 23 seat.
“We need representation for the people who are falling through the cracks and feel like their voices aren’t being heard,” Babis said in announcing her campaign.
Born without arms, Babis said that in elementary school she initially was put in a special education class for much of the day with other disabled students, some of whom had intellectual disabilities.
Babis does not have an intellectual disability. Her family pushed for her to be fully “mainstreamed” with children who were not disabled. She finally was moved out of the special education class after testing as gifted in the third grade.
“The bar has been set so low for people with disabilities and I experienced that myself,” she said.
Occupational therapist turned disability rights activist Alanna Raffel has spent her career thinking about accessibility. So for her 30th birthday last year, she turned her passion into action.
Raffel had worked with disabled clients for years in Philadelphia. It wasn’t till late 2016, however, when she became more involved in advocacy, that she learned how difficult it was to find meeting spaces that could accommodate people of varying abilities. It’s particularly challenging in an old city like Philadelphia, where many of the buildings were built more than 200 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed.
So last April she hosted a mapping event in which her family and friends downloaded the Access Earth app and scoured area businesses answering questions, like whether a storefront or restaurant has a step-free entrance or an accessible restroom. The goal: find out what is and isn’t wheelchair-accessible in the Center City district of Philadelphia.
The experience was eye-opening.
While laws like the Americans With Disabilities Act in the US require businesses and public facilities to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, they aren’t always followed or enforced. Many older places are exempt. What this means for someone with a disability is that it’s harder to get around and knowand what’s not.
“It’s like playing the lottery,” said Michele Lee, a 35-year-old wheelchair user living in Chicago. Lee has moved about via wheelchair for the last 15 years following a spinal cord injury from a car accident. “You never know whether train stations have working elevators or if sidewalks are free of construction or whether the restaurant I want to go to has an accessible bathroom.”