Short term New Jersey has some plans in the hopper, most notably the plan to close two developmental centers.

Long term though what are we hearing?

Federally-based agencies such as the Boggs Center and think-tank types like the Heldrich Center have spent significant resources on employment initiatives. Heldrich and Rutgers have been looking into how transportation figures into the mix. We all know the transportation situation for people with disabilities. Not good. Employment not much better, if at all.

The connected employment and transportation problems for people with developmental and other disabilities are entrenched and long-standing, and will require concerted, long-term solutions with cooperation across public agencies and private providers. However, like the efforts to reduce the state’s over reliance on developmental centers, jobs and ways to get to them are vital components for people with disabilities to live and thrive in their local communities. It will take direction and guidance from the top of the public policy pyramid and the consequent participation across state departments and divisions.

Another area where there is a tremendous need for state leadership and agency cooperation is community oversight and quality assurance. Coupled with the support and training of direct care staff we discussed in last week’s blog, oversight and quality assurance of quality residential and daily activity options for people with developmental disabilities in community-based settings is part of the foundation on which a solid community system is built and sustained. There are models for quality programs out there. Look to the leaders in Morris, Essex and Sussex counties to name but a few. But the state has a vital role here. It can’t expect to expand the community system without ensuring that enough qualified people are overseeing, monitoring and helping guide the activities of providers across the state. Many providers will be offering guidance rather than needing it. However in a system this large there will be others that need oversight. Plans for providing that oversight need to run in tandem with, and, ideally, even slightly ahead of expansion plans.

These plans may very well be in the works. I hope so. As we move into the drafts of next year’s budget though, these are questions that advocates need to keep asking.

Finally, for this week’s entry anyway, in addition to having a secure roof over one’s head, and a job and other meaningful activities to look forward to day to day, people need their rightful place in their community.

New Jersey has a robust self-advocacy movement. They should be looked on as a most valuable resource, along with families, in discussions about how best to shape the public system of supports for people with developmental disabilities.

We have come a long way in opening up opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to participate in the shaping of public policy. More needs to be done. Here again, the state could take a more visible leadership role. It requires not only inviting self-advocates to a seat at the table, but providing them with the support they need to make that invitation meaningful and productive.

The state’s relationship with agencies such as the Council, The Arc’s Self-Advocacy Project and others continues to be quite positive. Forging more direct partnerships with the goal of providing the support needed by those with developmental disabilities invited to participate in policy discussions with state representatives might help to ensure that the universal desire to offer these opportunities rises up to that next level of more meaningful participation we all aspire to.

As we move into the busy season and the focus hones in on immediate resources issues and the challenge of keeping the system already here functioning properly, let’s not forget that attention to these longer standing challenges, the ones without easy answers or solutions, needs to continue to be moved along.

Employment, transportation, quality assurance and meaningful participation are tough but essential. We need to keep them on the radar so we can lay the groundwork to make progress on them as situations “on the ground” permit.

What do you think? Let’s hear from you.

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Disability in Focus