By Jesse Schwartzman

The past year was a successful one for the disability community! Workability offers people with disabilities who are working, and whose income would otherwise make them ineligible for Medicaid, the opportunity to receive full Medicaid coverage. This legislation was signed into law by Governor Murphy this past year to remove income and age caps will finally be implemented in the coming year. As you may or may not know, this legislation has the potential to positively improve the lives of thousands of individuals with disabilities. This legislation would not have been possible without disability advocates and disability organizations coming together to advocate. It was beautiful to see, and I hope to see it happen more often this upcoming year.

Another victory includes legislation signed by Governor Murphy to make New Jersey a state  Model Employer of People with Disabilities (Same). The program was announced in May and the goal is to provide more employment and advancement opportunities for people with significant disabilities who have been underrepresented in state government. Many self-advocates say that they never speak to a government worker who has a disability. That lived experience is so very important and could be difficult to explain. We would like to see more government workers who look like us and sound like us. This legislation is long overdue and once again has the potential to improve lives within the disability community. The program is ongoing and will take shape at the start of the new year with multiple state departments already looking to hire members of the disability community.

Governor Murphy also signed legislation to extend the time a parent has to file a special education due process petition related to COVID-19. Thanks to the legislation families now have until September 1 2023 to file a claim for a hearing in the state’s Office of Administrative Law for additional services for students who missed out on special education classes/services due to the pandemic. For example, if a student missed out on 20 classes of physical therapy, then they may be eligible for an additional 20 classes of physical therapy. The legislation could aid over 230,000 special education students in the state of New Jersey.

The disability community in NJ has had some great victories in the last couple of years but there is so much that still needs to be done. I have learned from these bills signed by Governor Murphy that advocacy does work. When we all advocate together, we can all accomplish great legislative victories. There is also no need to ‘reinvent the wheel” since self-advocates know what works. What works is meeting with your legislators the more self-advocates the better. We know that personal stories matter, and your legislators sincerely want to hear them. Regardless of what their political affiliations are I have learned that our legislators are constituent focused. They know what we tell them. It is up to self-advocates and families of self-advocates to never give up on advocacy it is a long journey but well worth the trouble when you have the potential to help improve the lives of thousands of other people with disabilities in the state of New Jersey.

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Disability in Focus