The status of New Jerseyans with disabilities has diminished over recent years, rather than improved. Children and adults with special needs have taken a step back in employment, housing, health care, transportation and community acquiescence.
The general public is overwhelmed with trying to deal with the issues of meeting property tax requirements, escalating college tuition for their children, disappearing jobs, lower salaries, ever-increasing health care costs, and a cut back in public services.
At the same time, local, county and state agencies are finding it more difficult to provide services that, until a few years ago, the public took for granted.
The elimination of a large percentage of municipal police forces has led to an increase in crime rates, especially in the inner cities. Similarly, the elimination of school teaching positions has led to larger class sizes and a diminished delivery of educational services. All of these “stresses” on the lives of working families and the impact that the suffering economy has had on governmental services has had a devastating impact on the lives and very existence of people with disabilities.
An attempt will be made to at least create an ongoing dialogue among lawmakers, policy makers, public and private agencies and people with special needs, via a statewide summit and conference in East Rutherford on Oct. 3, 2011. This public forum, conceived out of desperation by public policy organizations and the disability community, is designed to gather together the players who are capable of achieving positive change.
Some lawmakers have maintained a commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities. Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle introduced a bill earlier this year that would require the Department of Human Services “to collect and disseminate data about persons with developmental disabilities.”
The bill was co-sponsored in the Assembly by Upendra Chivukula, Ruben Ramos, Canda Rodriguez, Mila Jasey, Angel Fuentes and Albert Coutinho. A Senate version was sponsored by Robert Gordon and Linda Greenstein.
Assemblyman Gary Schaer has maintained a commitment to improving the lives of New Jersey’s children with autism. Parents of children with autism, led by Deborah Waterlik of North Arlington, have fought to make the public aware that these children are not unlike non-disabled children in New Jersey. They merely need the support and opportunity, given with proper intervention, to grow up to be productive members of society.
New Jersey Transit has worked for years to provide people with disabilities with independent or supported travel to job sites or doctors offices, or engage in shopping, or visit friends and have a reasonable quality of life.
Other groups, such as the Supported Housing Association of New Jersey, have worked to provide reasonable living conditions for people with disabilities.