Community Services and Supports
Access to Safe and Affordable Housing
Access to unrestrictive housing and social services that assist in independent or semi-independent living are Human Rights.* However, for much of New Jersey’s Autistic and disabled community, this option has not been provided. ASAN-NJ strongly believes that there must be a wide range of housing options with varying levels of support available. No two people have the same needs, yet for too long, disability housing in New jersey has offered a one-size-fits-all approach.
As with most of New Jersey, Bergen County had limited housing options for the disabled community. In early 2008, the Bergen County United Way created a new wave of supervised living units for the disabled population in Allendale, NJ. Crescent Commons (est. 2012) and Orchard Commons (est. 2010) apartments in Allendale have been examples of successful, inclusive housing in New Jersey. All apartment units are wheelchair accessible and are equipped to accommodate the various needs of residents with disabilities. As such, Tom Toronto, the president of the United Way, would like to expand these living units into other areas of Bergen County and possibly other parts of New Jersey.
Sadly, while Bergen County United Way has proven that these options can work, New Jersey’s Department of Developmental Disabilities’ view on housing needs for the disabled community continues to be outdated. As of early 2015, the Division of Developmental Disabilities wishes to implement a Statewide Transition Plan (STP) that will make it difficult for Mr. Toronto to continue building these apartments. The STP is more restrictive than the Federal regulations and will limit housing options for the disabled by instituting a 25% density limit for public or private housing complexes.
We are strongly against the disabled residents of New Jersey having be forced into residing in group homes. Therefore we, the members of ASAN-NJ, are willing to fight for the right of New Jersey’s Autistic and other disability communities to live independently. We are excited to work with Tom Toronto and the Bergen County United Way to achieve this goal.
* See Article 25, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations
Improving Access to Transportation and Mobility
Adequate transportation and mobility are vital for day-to-day life, yet for the Autistic community of New Jersey, these needs are not currently provided adequately. There are numerous barriers to effective transportation throughout the state. Including:
- A highly fragmented transportation system in which Autistic people and caregivers must often rely on several transportation providers for varying travel times, purposes, and destinations. In many cases, one transportation provider will only cover one travel purpose or geographical area, forcing Autistic people and the disabled community at large to rely on a patchwork of different providers.
- Limited accessibility and universal design implementation in the state’s public transportation stations and facilities. Stations often have minimal, if any accessibility features, poor crowding characteristics, and few if any quiet/low-noise/sensory-friendly waiting spaces. Those who are able to, or prefer to drive are often faced with unpredictable road construction schedules that make it difficult to plan out travel in advance, which is vital for those who prefer to plan travel in advance.
- ADA Paratransit service throughout the state is very limited. NJ Transit, the state public transit agency has historically operated only the Federal Transit Administration minimum required service. This means that many disabled people are left unable to reach more than a handful of destinations, and have limited flexibility in their schedules.
It is impossible for the Autistic community of New Jersey to achieve real independence, freedom, or self-sufficiency when getting beyond the door to one’s house is already a barrier. ASAN-NJ stands in favor of the following transportation policies:
- Adoption of a Statewide Autism Transportation Steering Group that includes substantive stakeholder representation to identify and recommend decisions on policy, funding, and system planning/design in order to promote a transportation system that can serve the Autistic community.
- Integration of currently fragmented accessible transportation services into a single, unified transportation system. This could be accomplished by expanding AccessLink, or through a completely new paratransit service model.
- The current patchwork system in which AccessLink, the 21 counties, and other public and private providers all work independently has led to an uncoordinated accessible transportation system. Expanding and empowering the New Jersey Council on Access and Mobility can help address this, but true improvement will require changes in the way accessible transportation is funded in the state.
- Improved financial support for facility improvements and universal design in all aspects of the New Jersey transportation system. Baseline accessibility and ADA compliance are not acceptable for our infrastructure; accessibility must be considered at all stages of infrastructure planning and engineering. This must be a multi-agency, multi-tier effort, sustained in the long-term.
Interactions with Law Enforcement and First Responders
Interactions with first responders and police are a significant challenge for the Autistic and disabled community. Autistic teens and adults will have seven times more contacts with law enforcement during their lifetimes than members of the general pubic (Debbaudt, 2004).¹ Across the nation, there have been dozens of unfortunate police encounters with the disabled population in the past several years.
- The March 2003 Fatal shooting of 23-year-old Jelani Manigault, who was experiencing an anxiety attack at the time of the shooting;
- The March 2010 fatal shooting of 27-year-old autistic man, Steven Washington;
- The January 2013 fatal shooting 26-year-old Down syndrome man, Ethan Saylor Jr.;
- The February 2013 fatal shooting of a 15-year-old autistic boy, Stephon Watts;
- The February 2016 fatal shooting of 24-year-old Danielle Jacobs, whose YouTube video of her therapy dog went viral a year earlier;
- The July 2016 accidental shooting of Charles Kinsey, a behavior therapist with his autistic client;
- The April 2015 arrest of 13-year-old autistic boy, Kaleb Moon Robinson,
- The November 2005 unethical police interrogation and questioning of 16-year-old intellectually disabled Brendan Dassey, which appeared in Netflix documentary, Making of a Murder.
- The unethical arrest, conviction, and incarceration of 19-year-old autistic man, Reginald “Neli” Latson in May 2010,
- The September 1985 police take down of 18-year-old autistic man, Guido Rodriguez Jr, who lost his kidney due to the incident.
Each of these incidents raises serious concerns, and demonstrates a problem with police-citizen interactions with the disabled community.
In 2008, New Jersey’s State Legislature passed Bill A1908, Police Training Act, which requires police officers and certain first responders to undergo and autism and other developmental disabilities education awareness program. New Jersey is only one of five states (Illinois, Indiana, California, Massachusetts) that require autism awareness training for law enforcement. Such training is designed to improve police interactions and address sensitivity issues with members of the autistic community. Unfortunately, such training is limited in scope, nor is there a set standard for the content, length, and/or credentials of the person administering the training.² Eight years after the passage of Bill A1908, some New Jersey counties are either not adequately adhering to the Act’s requirements, or they are outright violating the Act by failing to offer the required training,
ASAN-NJ strongly supports comprehensive enforcement of the Police Training Act across the entire state. We also support amending Bill A1908 to make it more comprehensive and broaden the scope to include more information about handing members of the autistic community as suspicious persons (opposed to limiting the content to lost/missing persons or victims). We also support amending the current Bill to raise the minimum standards for the content, length, and/or credentials of the person administering the training in order to addresses the present gaps. Such policy must be enforced and ensure all law enforcement and first responders receive adequate and complete training, and are held to high standards of accountability.
The stakes are much too high for first responders and the Autistic community to go into interactions without adequate preparation.
– Lives are on the line – and our lives matter.